Developer: Nintendo EPD
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Released: October 27, 2017
Copy supplied by publisher
I was among the fortunate few to get an early hands-on preview with Super Mario Odyssey earlier this year at E3 2017. I left that gameplay session pleasantly surprised with the direction the development team was taking the 30-year-old flagship Nintendo franchise. Nintendo faced a tall task in creating a new Mario game that stays true to the franchise while introducing something new and exciting for their longtime fans.
After completing the Super Mario Odyssey campaign, it’s safe to say that Nintendo has successfully crafted a unique gaming experience, while still providing its fans with plenty of nostalgic callbacks to previous Mario games. Odyssey is not only one of the best Super Mario games of all time, but also deserves a spot among the greatest video game releases in history. If I had to sum up my experience with Odyssey in one word it would be “joy,” as I found myself with a permanent grin on my face during my playtime with the game. The development team at Nintendo’s Entertainment Planning & Development division (EPD) has successfully breathed new life into the decades-old 3D platforming formula that began with the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 in 1996.
Super Mario Odyssey includes some of the best (and strangest) characters, level design, and gameplay in Nintendo’s storied history. The game features a new possession mechanic that allows Mario to use his new friend “Cappy” to take control of all sorts of wacky characters, allowing for a staggering amount of new gameplay possibilities. Mario can also use Cappy during combat and platforming sections to enhance his own abilities. While the game builds upon the foundation created by the likes of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, there are also plenty of nods to earlier eras. The game features some wonderful sections that incorporate classic 2D platforming into the 3D level design. These classic 8-bit-themed sections serve as a welcome change of pace and one particular section of throwback gameplay is among my favorite moments in the entire game. I won’t spoil it for you here, but anyone who has beaten the New Donk City level can probably guess what I’m referring to. In many ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a love letter to a series that already has a place in most of our hearts.
Super Mario Odyssey takes place across 12 different Kingdoms that are each stranger than the last (I’m looking at you, Luncheon Kingdom). Nintendo’s ability to constantly innovate on a genre that it’s been producing for more than 30 years is nothing short of amazing. Throughout the 12 expertly-crafted Kingdoms, Odyssey constantly provides new gameplay mechanics and a delightful world that brings back that same sense of wonder that I felt when I first played Super Mario 64. The gameplay loop revolves around traveling to a new kingdom in your ship (The Odyssey) and collecting enough moons (dozens of which are hidden in each level) to travel to the next location. Pro Tip – you can’t collect all of the moons on your first playthrough, as more are unlocked after you finish the story. Speaking of the story, it’s the standard Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach fare, but with a twist. Bowser has also kidnapped Cappy’s sister Tiarra in order to be used as a prop in his upcoming wedding to Peach. Throughout the “story,” you’ll be fighting a new gang of enemy rabbits (The Broodels) in order to put a stop to the royal wedding.
Super Mario Odyssey features some excellently-crafted boss battles, with each member of the charming Broodels family taking a shot at stopping Mario. I enjoyed the boss battles and feel they did a great job of incorporating gameplay mechanics that you have learned during platforming sections. The battles never seemed to get stale, but I did find their difficulty a little uneven. In fact, I found the game overall to be slightly easier than previous Mario titles, but that was made up for by the difficulty of both discovering and collecting some of the moons scattered throughout the levels. Collecting the required amount of moons to travel to the next level wasn’t all that difficult, but collecting them all is a real challenge. There’s a great push to search for collectibles in the game in order to purchase all of Mario’s outfits, as well as trinkets and stickers to decorate the Odyssey. While certain outfits grant you access to locked off sections of a map, Mario’s multiple clothing options are for the most part a cosmetic upgrade. I especially appreciated that the current costume that you have equipped will appear in cutscenes. Once again, Nintendo has provided an extensive amount of fan service in including some amazing classic outfits, including my personal favorite which becomes available in the last Kingdom of the campaign.
Controlling Cappy is fairly intuitive but unfortunately, Nintendo has designed the game to play best in the dual Joy-Con control configuration. There are certain moves in the game that can only be pulled off through “waggling” the controllers, which presents an issue for those playing the game in the Switch’s handheld mode. I have to give Nintendo credit for also adding an Assist mode for younger and less accomplished gamers. Assist mode will give the player an expanded health bar, an objective arrow, and also removes the death penalty for falling off the level and drowning in the water sections. Odyssey also comes with what at first feels like a tacked on co-op mode that allows one player to control Mario and the other controls Cappy. The mode is a good opportunity for less accomplished gamers to join in on the fun and after some time playing the mode with my son, I learned to enjoy it quite a bit. The control scheme is a little awkward at first but once the two players get on the same page, you’re able to reach items with greater ease as Cappy can be controlled independently from Mario. These modes are subtle touches that not everyone will play or appreciate but are welcome additions regardless.
There’s a lot to do in Super Mario Odyssey and beating the campaign is only the beginning, as the end-game will keep you busy collecting Power Moons for a long time. I finished the game in about 12 hours with 220 Power Moons, but your game time will vary based on how much time you put into finding additional moons and special coins. After the story is completed you’ll unlock a special surprise Kingdom from Mario’s past. Being back in this world brought a smile to my face and is yet another instance of the game providing some wonderful Nintendo nostalgia. Once the story is complete, the game will scatter hundreds of Power Moons throughout the other 12 Kingdom, substantially extending the gameplay time. Collecting all of the Power Moons is rewarded by unlocking even more costumes for Mario to wear in the game and after completing the story I immediately felt compelled to find them all.
Super Mario Odyssey is yet another fantastic addition to the franchise that put Nintendo on the map. The game surpassed my expectations on every level and was able to consistently surprise me with newly introduced mechanics. The characters and world that have been created by the development team are as wonderfully strange as ever and rank among Nintendo’s best. Odyssey is yet another fantastic addition to the Nintendo Switch library and a game that you need to play, like, right now… so get to it!