After such a difficult time with the Wii U console, Mario is back with Super Mario Odyssey. Is it a game changer for the Nintendo Switch?
Genre: Casual, Action
Release date: October 27, 2017
Guess what came in the mail…
Glee. No, childlike amazement and anticipation. The whole family huddled in the living room for this one. My 10-year-old was literally jumping up and down like Mario on fire as he opened the package. I had pre-ordered Super Mario Odyssey and it had arrived on Saturday morning. From the very first animation, there was electricity in the air. It felt something along the same lines as when we got Breath of the Wild the first day, almost as if our Nintendo Switch included the ability to form an actual manifestation of the extraordinary. We became spellbound by the uniquely Mario persona that honestly makes the Switch feel like it has come of age.
I might add, Mario also looks AMAZING. This is the clearest I’ve ever seen Mario in any Nintendo game. Seriously, it felt like putting on new glasses and realizing how blurry your vision actually is. Here, we are introduced to Cappy, a living piece of headwear in the form of a top hat in the Cap Kingdom which possesses Mario’s cap. Apparently, Bowser took off with not just Princess Peach, but also a tiara that just so happened to be Cappy’s sister. It’s up to Mario and Cappy to save the day and rescue them both.
Very early on, I could see the similarities to Super Mario Galaxy 2 in the gameplay, with Cappy instead of Yoshi. But, oh, there are so many new possibilities with Cappy. You can jump on him, attack with him, possess other bad guys with him, and even throw him in midair for a cap boost. It’s such a drastic change to the method of gameplay that it felt like a completely new way to play, yet wonderfully familiar. The possible options to beat levels is astonishingly immense. Cappy is the key here, it gives you a sense of freedom right from the beginning, and that’s so terribly important in this game because freedom is the central theme with the sandbox play. If I can’t make it across a gap, possess a bad guy. What about multiple possessions chained together, go for it. Maybe grab all the coins in the area, attack a Gooma, cap boost mid-air, and traverse an area to possess something and somersault to the boss? Easy peasy. It’s almost like a Jedi Mario as you get into a rhythm with all the abilities available to you with Cappy. It’s a game changer and completely feels like the correct evolution of the series. It’s more than a 3D platformer, it’s almost like a ballet.
Now the key difference here are these free to roam sandbox kingdoms. It’s so very bright and inventive. Whether you are in a desert land of the Tostarenans with dancing skeletons shaking maracas and playing guitars, the smile invoking Steam Gardeners with boomboxes in the Wooded Kingdom, or the straight up city noir of New Donk City jumping off power lines, it’s fun to play and fun to watch. I mean that. The whole family was just enjoying the gameplay. It’s fast and addictive, there is no need to pause or get bogged down with mechanics. You go for a joyride and play for as long as you like. In this way, I have to say Mario Odyssey balances that visual kaleidoscope to make the uninterested, interested. My 9-year-old and wife don’t even like Mario, but it was enthralling for them to watch for hours without any desire to move off to watch something else, it’s that entertaining for the family. Like no other Mario game I can remember, this game captivates.
Another wonderful find in-game are some 8-bit Mario levels that are transcribed into the 3D world in a sort of 2.5D method. These are located many times throughout the game and are a wonderful throwback to play, often interwoven seamlessly into the level design. It doesn’t feel forced, it feels incredibly natural. Even the Bullet Bills will pop out of the 8-bit area and become 3D while you are jumping around them.
Howl at the Moon
Now, the core purpose of the game is to collect Power Moons, much like the Power Stars from the Galaxy series. These are used to power your flying top hat ship and to travel around the world to all the kingdoms. These Power Moons are located in what seems like completely random locations. I swear, I have no clue where all of them are but it’s incredibly addictive to keep searching for them. For the treasure hunters out there, collecting 250 moons opens the Dark Side, 500 moons opens the Darker Side, and 880 moons, not counting store bought ones, will turn the ship sail gold and unlock a harder version of the battle with Bowser. So, what does this addiction do for the game? It propels the player to explore. You begin to look about and examine every square inch of a kingdom to find them all and this exploration innately develops your skillset with Cappy. It’s brilliant.
Besides this, there are wonderful outfits to purchase. Most are just for fun, but some are required to get certain Power Moons, or just to shake your booty. Overall, they are fun to change out and add an extra dimension of personality to the game. It’s once again a nod to allowing more freedom in the gameplay. You are free to change your look, your clothes, your hat, even your boxers.
Choose your Mode
On top of all this freedom is the ability to play casually in Assist Mode with extra help and guides. My son really preferred this method of playing and since he has issues with frustration and anxiety, it was almost like a relief to be able to play like that. Super Mario Odyssey makes it a point that the game should simply be fun, allowing you to choose a normal mode or not. It’s entirely up to the player to play how they like and you can turn it on or off at will. You don’t get an easier gameplay, but you do get a more lenient penalty for dying and the ability to really rack up the hearts.
As for two-player mode, it should really be called little brother or sister mode. Basically, all you can do is fire Cappy back and forth, or simply shake him if you don’t feel like aiming. It’s fun for all of five minutes. Pretty much no one wanted to play in this mode and it completely breaks the rhythm of the game mechanics.
I will mention here that motion controls are back. Uhhh. I can live with it I suppose, but wow I was really tired of motion controls already and this doesn’t exactly thrill me. I still have flashbacks of getting stuck on motion controls with Zelda and I’m honestly not a fan of them. Before you ask – YES, getting stuck on motion control platforming can happen. It’s not pretty, but also doesn’t entirely ruin things.
The main campaign’s length is somewhat short, but not horrible. Give it 14-20 hours to complete on average. Once you are done with the campaign, it’s not the end, however. Far from it, to be frank. You’ll be able to revisit those kingdoms and find even more moons as well as unlock hidden kingdoms. I’m not going to mention them to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say it’s like a whole extra game after you complete the main campaign and many of the new moons are harder than before.
As for the difficulty, I have to rack this up as easier than Super Mario Galaxy 1 or 2. It’s more dynamic, but also feels like Mario Party somehow leaked into the game. Which, honestly, is not a bad thing. It makes the gameplay more fun and varied. So, it’s a minor difference in difficulty, but nothing to be concerned about. Also, as stated before, once you finish the main campaign it ratchets up the difficulty for you automatically. If you are a platformer junkie, I might say hold off on the purchase. It’s not N++ with hairline margins of error, but it a great amount of fun as a whole.
It’s no surprise that Super Mario Odyssey is as perfect as it can be, Mario is the headline icon of Nintendo after all. The amount of time and effort it took to develop this game, a game that will likely go down as one of the most beloved Switch games and probably one of the most enjoyable Mario games period, is simply mind-boggling. There are hundreds upon hundreds of puzzles to be found here and it isn’t even just that. For instance, being able to jump into the body of a tank and begin having our own little Tank battle in New Donk City is something I never dreamed of doing before. Super Mario Odyssey is more than a platformer, more than a sandbox, even more than a new mechanic in a well-worn franchise. This game has tied together all the previous versions of the game and managed to evolve the gameplay rather than rehash old ideas in the hopes no one notices. It’s amazing. If you have Switch buy it. If you don’t have one and are thinking of a Switch for the holidays, look for the Mario bundle where the game is included and feel no trepidation that the Switch will falter in the coming year. The current exclusive lineup of Super Mario Odyssey, Zelda Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and Mario Kart Deluxe has made Nintendo a full-fledged contender once again.