[Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch]
This year we’ve had a lot of huge releases, from returning franchises like Metroid and Sonic, to the just-recently-released IP’s like Horizon Zero Dawn and Nioh. Just when you thought that the year’s initial releases couldn’t possibly be equalled by its Q4 counterparts, Mario comes in to prove us wrong.
Super Mario Odyssey was initially a surprise tease from the announcement of the Switch last year. Super Mario Odyssey was initially expected to release in 2018 yet Nintendo surprised us by announcing Super Mario Odyssey was releasing the same year as the Switch.
Putting the Odd in Odyssey
The oddity starts when a ghostly figure named Cappy comes up and seeks the help of Mario. Thought to be inspired by Japanese Yokai lore, Mario partners up with Cappy in order to save Peach and Cappy’s sister, Tiara. The first level also adds to the oddity as well, as it is devoid of the usual colour and joy. It is much unlike the tutorial levels of the game’s predecessors, Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. Nevertheless, the Cap Kingdom is a fantastic hors d’oeuvre for all those old-school 3D Mario mechanics, namely the triple jump, the backflip, and the sideflip.
This tutorial level doesn’t only delight you with experimentation and button combinations, it’s a full-fledged Mario sandbox in its own right with secrets and seemingly-unreachable goals in sight, enticing any gamer to take on the challenge.
Like any Mario game, you can’t push through any challenge without the necessary tools. The controls are a joy to use, and while playing the 2D sections of the worlds, the feel of controlling Mario never strayed far from the old-school responses you are used to. Compared to some games, like Bubsy or even (forgive me fans) the new Crash Bandicoot game, Mario has always felt like an extension of your thoughts. If ever he falls down a pit, it definitely feels like your fault. The difficulty you receive from the game is inversely proportional to your skill. The higher your skill, the easier it is to breeze through game levels.
One thing that is apparent in the game is its straightforward mechanics and its traversal of each of the 14 levels, making you feel you are indeed playing a Mario game. Some of the obstacles in the game are reminiscent to a lot of levels from the old Mario games. It’s as if Mario Odyssey is being groomed to be a nostalgia bomb, a culmination of all things good in past Mario games.
Odyssey features some rage-quitting puzzles and platform sections we’ve come to know from Mario game. This is good news for players who love challenging games.
On the flip side, the game remains accessible to more casual gamers who simply want to enjoy the entire experience. In fact, the game features some easy yet atmospheric paths to Moons which are a delight to navigate.
A factor that could criminally label the game as “too easy” are the creature capture mechanics. This mechanic replaces the block power-ups you find from the likes of Super Mario 3 or Super Mario 3D World. It’s exhilarating to traverse the open levels unrestricted by the simple jump-land-jump-again mechanic that might’ve staled the Mario franchise forever. It’s a welcome addition, allowing interesting traversals of worlds while giving us hilarious moments in the game. In fact, the last half of the game presents experiences never felt in a Mario game before because of these captures.
The game is wonderful because of its beautiful art style, clever mechanical combinations, and well-thought level design. This would have been a flawless game if not for Nintendo doing another Nintendo Move, forcing the player to use motion controls through its joycons. I always preferred using the Switch pro controller while traversing the levels as I personally like to build combos with a steady hand.
I did try the use of the joycons (never in handheld mode) and though it felt natural to throw them towards your TV (to simulate a hat throw, for instance), I still prefer a more precise button press similar to the way I would play in Cuphead or Dark Souls.
Although there are some collectibles in the game that are borderline unreachable if not for the required motion control, I never found it distracting from the sheer joy of conquering the worlds, besides the recurring worry of having to potentially break your TV when swinging your joycons around.
Having played plenty of Mario games in the past, I found plenty of references, easter eggs and fan service from different worlds. I won’t spoil much of these areas because they are better experienced first-hand. It is amazing how Odyssey stands on its own considering the sheer amount of callbacks from earlier Mario games. The game doesn’t try to be like another Galaxy, Sunshine, or even another 64. With every hat-throw and capture, the game reminds you that you are playing Odyssey and nothing else.
I didn’t mind the lack of a hub world (Super Mario World / Super Mario 3 superfan here), nor the tough-as-nails bosses (Mario never was and will be about tough bosses). It’s still as grounded to its roots as I still remember Mario, but still reaching to the skies with its branches filled with inspired innovations.
Beyond the actual experience, I was left contemplating how jaded we’ve become with playing games these days: how microtransactions have become the detested norm, how games are measured by long play times, or how every gamer is badged with KDRs and fancy intangible “gears”. The gaming industry needed Odyssey like it has needed a Power Star.
Odyssey for me is a surprise of a polished game for a system that isn’t even a year old, a testament to the genius Nintendo has displayed in the gaming industry for several years now. And hopefully with Odyssey, Mario is and forever will be that shining superstar that video games deserve.
Check out my livestream of the first two hours of Super Mario Odyssey from our Facebook Page.