While I’ve had a passion and love for Nintendo handhelds throughout my life, their consoles fell by the wayside as I focused my attention on other consoles. So, unlike many other gamers, I haven’t had much of a history with many Nintendo consoles. It wasn’t until the Wii U released in 2012 that I made the jump back to Nintendo consoles and begun discovering what I had missed out on. With my interest piqued and a newfound love of all things Nintendo, I’ve attacked the Switch’s line up with a vigour that surprised me, fuelled mostly by the regularity and quality of the games Nintendo have released in the console’s first six months. This quality has continued with the release of Super Mario Odyssey, which I am comfortable calling the best 3D platformer I have ever played.
You’re thrown right into the action from the opening scene of Odyssey, as Bowser defeats Mario – kidnapping Peach and destroying Mario’s signature cap in the process. This is where you meet Cappy, a citizen of the Cap Kingdom whose sister has also been kidnapped by Bowser and while his kingdom has been razed to the ground. Here is where you begin your adventure to save Peach, stop Bowser and reverse the damage he has caused in every Kingdom he attacks to steal items for his upcoming wedding. The story itself is a slightly varied approach on the traditional story found in other Mario games, not really deviating from its generic nature or introducing any shocks or twists. This might sound disappointing, but in reality, the story in Odyssey is only there to provide a loosely threaded reason for you to visit and explore the myriad of environments and Kingdoms in the game. The story is inoffensive and generic, but it fits its purpose perfectly and does culminate in a couple of spectacular set pieces, including the finale of New Donk City, which was the most memorable moment of the entire game.
The real meat on Odyssey’s bones comes from that same myriad of incredible Kingdoms, the variety they represent and the insane number of secrets within them. The Kingdoms you visit all vary in size, with some being massive open areas, while others are small and intimate, or even just a glorified boss stage. The one thing they all have in common is the incredible amount of detail and design put into them, easily allowing for hours and hours of gameplay in every single one. Exploration is immensely satisfying, as the smart level design always rewards you for taking the time to go out of your way to check every nook and cranny of the world. Never is there a time in Odyssey where investigating something slightly out of place doesn’t reward in some way. While the Kingdoms aren’t as large or cluttered as similar sandbox or open-world games, the level of thought and detail put into the placements of items, characters, platforms and secrets in unparalleled. It feels similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you always seem to find something new to explore or discover, but supercharged. Not once during my exploration of Odyssey’s Kingdoms did I feel bored or unrewarded for the time I spent.
As you explore Kingdoms, finding their hidden areas and secret spaces, you collect three different types of collectibles. Two of these are forms of currency, golden coins which are universal to every Kingdom and purple coins which are Kingdom specific, and Power Moons which power the titular Odyssey and drive the game forward. Golden coins are used to buy a selection of costumes that expands as you collect more Power Moons, as well as extra Power Moons themselves and temporary life boosters. Purple coins are used to unlock special costumes based on the Kingdom they’re from, and trinkets and stickers to decorate the Odyssey. As of writing this review I’ve now unlocked 26 costumes, with still more to unlock as I collect more Power Moons and return to earlier Kingdoms. Every costume is unique and fun, with my favourite being the Mario 64 costume that transforms Mario into his pixelated former self. Even after hours of enjoyment, when I normally would have put most games back down and moved on, I find myself coming back to Odyssey and finding more to discover. This is also aided by the introduction of even more Power Moons and areas to discover after the conclusion of the game’s story.
The collectables and level design aren’t the only reason for my love of Odyssey’s Kingdoms, with their sheer variety in artistic direction being nothing short of amazing. From the Tim Burton-esque Cap Kingdom to the realistic nature of the Metro Kingdom and beyond, every single Kingdom is unique to the ones that have come before it. Every Kingdom is populated with unique characters and enemies, as well as props, plants and textures, making sure there is a clear differentiation from Kingdom to Kingdom. No matter what you look at in the game, it’s basically impossible to find any flaws in the presentation and graphics in Odyssey. Textures are detailed, models are detailed and more importantly, everything is interesting and a pleasure to look at. Odyssey isn’t just the best-looking Switch game to date, it gives games on other consoles a run for their money as well.
This continues to the soundtrack of the game, which includes some of the best sounding music and composition I’ve heard in a game to date. Each Kingdom has a unique soundtrack, tailored to match and complement its artistic design. New Donk City has an upbeat jazz track, filled with saxophone and bass guitar, to match the hustle and bustle of the Metro Kingdom. On the other hand, Lake Lamode has a light and restful piece that brings a sense of serenity to the placid waters of the Lake Kingdom. Every one of these unique Kingdom themes also has an accompanying 8-bit version, for the times you find yourself inside a wall playing as 8-bit Mario. It’s clear that an immense amount of thought and care was put into the composition and style of music in Odyssey and it’s easy to appreciate and love.
The unique Kingdom designs and their similarly unique enemies also tie into the biggest addition and change to the Mario formula in Odyssey, Cappy. While Mario games are known for their platforming, the introduction of Cappy and his Capture mechanic brings a freshness to the formula that I certainly appreciated. Different enemies have different abilities and uses when captured, linking into each Kingdom’s level design and creating new platforming and puzzle opportunities. A great example of this is the Uproot, a plant bulb that can be Captured in the Wooded Kingdom. It can’t jump or attack traditionally, instead all it can do is waddle around and extend its legs, pushing its bulbous body upwards. While I initially felt bored by the Uproot’s lack of mobility, I quickly began to discover new secrets I couldn’t reach before as its ability introduced a new level of verticality to the Wooded Kingdom. Every Kingdom has a similarly unique enemy tied into its general level design, including boss battles, helping to ensure that every Kingdom feels unique and stands out from the rest. While I was excited to see the Mario formula shaken up, similar to Breath of the Wild earlier in the year, I couldn’t have imagined just how inspired a choice Cappy and the Capture mechanic was until I played the game.
While much of the talk about Cappy has centred around his ability to Capture enemies, his importance to Mario’s attacks and mobility shouldn’t be ignored. Using different motions or combinations of button presses, Cappy can be used to attack in a variety of different ways. He also augments Mario’s impressive arsenal of mobility actions, making Odyssey’s Mario easily the most versatile and mobile Mario to date. Throwing Cappy forwards and jumping on him causes you to bounce up into the air, but the initial throw also provides a short thrust of movement forwards, which can be used when wall-jumping to get some extra distance or change directions. Mario has a variety of jumps, including the classic long jump and backwards somersault, as well as a new ground pound jump that thrusts you high into the air after a ground pound. While it takes a while to start meshing together, these actions can be linked together to create some insane aerial jumps. Throwing Cappy off a platform, jumping onto him and bouncing, then throwing him again and dive jumping forwards to bounce once again is just one of the combinations that I wouldn’t have imagined earlier in the game. This level of variety and mobility is combined with controls that are as near to perfect as I’ve seen, with Mario responding to the slightest of movements of the joystick. In Odyssey, controlling Mario is nothing short of a dream.
Ultimately, Super Mario Odyssey is an incredible game and feels perfect as both an introduction to and continuation of the 3D Mario series. Nintendo took a risk by altering the standard formula of the game, focusing on Cappy and Capturing enemies, but it has paid dividends. Odyssey feels fresh and its smart level design, beautiful graphics, eclectic level design and wonderful soundtrack left me craving more and feeling more excited than ever about the future of Nintendo. Not only is Super Mario Odyssey a must buy for absolutely any Nintendo Switch owner, I would also highly recommend it as the reason to buy the console if you don’t already own one.
- Inspired and rewarding level design
- Incredible amount of variety between Kingdoms
- Best soundtrack of the year
- The Mario formula is refreshed and renewed
- Capturing enemies is unique and fun
- Cappy is the best addition to the Mario World since Rosalina
- Story is a little generic and short