Initial release: 27 October 2017
Super Mario Odyssey is yet another triumph for Nintendo. It lovingly leverages the best parts of the franchise, old and new, and adds a hefty layer of heart. Frustrating motion controls and a over-easy difficulty can’t put a dampener on what is certainly one of the greatest Mario games ever made.
What a fantastic year Nintendo is having. Rising from the ashes of the misfire that was the Wii U, the company has managed to completely turn the tides by focusing on the core tenants of what makes their games so special. By punctuating each quarter with a solid exclusive, along with a great collaboration with Ubisoft and innovative hardware, Nintendo have managed to dominate the gaming landscape of 2017.
Leading up to the release, I had my worries about Super Mario Odyssey. The core mechanic seemed gimmicky to me and after Breath of the Wild pushed the open-world genre, I couldn’t see how the game could measure up. I’m delighted to say that not only is this one of the best Mario games ever made, it is a perfect celebration of the series and wreaks of a company having fun with its most established brand.
There’s plenty to love about Super Mario Odyssey, but for me, its the sheer amount of heart which makes it stand out. Pre-release details and trailers definitely showed off some of the game’s special moments, like the T-rex, but throughout my playthrough I was dumb-founded by just how many genuine surprises and delights are on offer here. There are two set-pieces in particular that had me grinning ear-to-ear and absolutely nailed exactly why I love the series.
The new addition, Cappy, is a wonderfully versatile mechanic. By arming Mario with a projectile which also enhances his movement capabilities, the game gives you a version of the mustachiod plumber which feels better than ever. Mario can also possess enemies this time around, which opens the game up to limitless possibilities as far as puzzles are concerned. And there are puzzles galore. With 800 power moons to collect, the game is a rich and varied playground which lures the player with a dizzying amount of tasks and challenges. Not all power moons are created equal though, and while some are clever and engaging mini-quests, others boil down to less interesting and grindy fare.
The main story rolls credits after around 15 hours, but that’s only the first piece of the puzzle. The end-game is huge and forces players to comb through and pull apart each and every inch of the game’s array of beautifully designed world’s. Super Mario Odyssey is paced perfectly, always pushing the player forward towards the next world. You can stay for as long as you want in each area of course, but sheer curiosity and the promise of new adventures always keeps you moving. Each world is distinct and singular, with its own costumes, collectables and soundtrack. The game’s central hub, the odyssey, is customisable with plushies, stickers and pets which adds an extra layer of flavour. There are a couple of areas in the game which tread new ground for the series. I won’t spoil anything here but let’s just say that New Donk City isn’t the weirdest world in the game.
Super Mario Odyssey is definitely a greatest hits of all Mario games which have come before it. The game leans heavily on Mario 64, its actually a spiritual successor in many ways, but also feels a hell of a lot like Galaxy and lovingly pays tribute to the older, 2D games which pioneered the gaming landscape. There are awesome 2D puzzle sections which tug on the nostalgia strings, variations in gravity which recall everyone’s favourite star-bound adventures and portals manifested as painting which remind us of how important Mario has been over all of these years. There is a down-side to this though in that the game struggles to carve out its own identity. The hat motif doesn’t really demand enough attention to single out this game among the others and it ends up making it feel more like a compilation as a result.
Being Nintendo there is, of course, some wacky control-schemes present which do get in the way to a higher extent than in previous games. You see, in order to perform certain attacks with Cappy, specific gestures have to be made using the Joy-cons. This is no problem when playing on a TV in the Joy-con in each hand configuration that the game recommends. When playing in a controller configuration, these gestures become tricky to execute and they’re even harder to pull off when in portable mode. This can become a serious issue in certain boss battles where it is advantageous to use a variety of attacks and lead to a few unnecessary deaths in my time with the game.
Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute treat for the senses. The rich and bustling world pop with colour and imaginative character designs. When playing in handheld mode it is genuinely astonishing just how good the game looks and how flawlessly it runs, cementing exactly why the Switch is such a genius concept. The game’s soundtrack pulls from old and new, blending them flawlessly and using specific classic themes to leverage some serious emotional reactions. There are several moments in Super Mario Odyssey which pay homage to classic Mario elements in such a way that really tugs at the heartstrings, and the music is a huge part of that. The game’s main theme song is a rip-roaring success and reminded me of the music in the Persona series, never a bad thing.
The game puts fresh spins on many elements from the now staple franchise. Characters like Princess Peach and Bowser are given new depth and cadence, which is something the series hasn’t experimented with for quite some time. I only wish that Mario’s sidekick Cappy was given more to say. Given that you spend the entire adventure with him, he’s surprisingly lifeless, offering only snappy words of encouragement and the occasional one-liner.
Super Mario Odyssey might just be one of Mario’s least challenging offerings. The main game is easy to say the least and never really demands much from the player. Boss battles are wonderfully designed so it is a shame that they are over so quickly and so simple to work out. This disappointing lack of challenge is alleviated somewhat i the end-game where the player is thrown harder variations of bosses and slightly harder mini-games. I rarely died in Super Mario Odyssey and found myself wanting the game to push back a little bit more.
Super Mario Odyssey is yet another triumph for Nintendo. It lovingly leverages the best parts of the franchise, old and new, and adds a hefty layer of heart. Frustrating motion controls and a over-easy difficulty can’t put a dampener on what is certainly one of the greatest Mario games ever made. The new possession mechanic is inspired and open up the world in creative ways and the story is full of so many genuinely awesome twists and turns that the game will leave you smiling long after the final battle.
Verdict – 9 Out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game by Nintendo for review purposes