Super Mario Odyssey Review

By Blair Nokes on November 13, 2017

The Super Mario franchise is one of those very few video game franchises that need no introduction; Mario himself has been collectively ingrained in all of video games as one of the industry's champion mascots. Over the decades, Mario games have branched out into all sorts of genres, like sports games, party games or RPGs like the all-time classic Super Mario RPG, but Nintendo's mainline entries tend to consist of three archetypes: the 2D (or 2.5D) sidescroller, the 3D Platformer, or the 3D Adventure titles. The New Super Mario Bros. series is now the ambassador for the 2.5D sidescrolling platformer, retaining much of the core gameplay that most Mario fans would have grown up with the 8 or 16-bit era. The 3D Platformers tend to vary in style; the purely single player entries like Super Mario Galaxy offered bold and unique new takes on platforming, while Super Mario 3D World offers the charming multiplayer fun that New Super Mario Bros. offers, but with more complex 3D environments.

My personal favourite archetype of a mainline Mario title would have to be the 3D Adventure games. Beginning with Super Mario 64 back in 1996, the game truly innovated the typical ideas behind a Mario game with a very large Peach's Castle, complete with loads of secrets to uncover, and portals into other worlds and levels. Super Mario Sunshine tends to be rather underrated, but actually offered a more refined adventure experience overall and was still very remarkable title for its time. Set in the very open Delfino Plaza, players would be introduced to an impressively clever water gimmick which altered how Mario fundamentally traversed about each level, and how he could attack.

The idea of having these open hubworlds with loads to do and explore was part of the immense charm behind the adventure titles. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch, fans were give a glimpse of an all new entry into this line of adventure titles. Super Mario Odyssey released on October 27, 2017 and, outside of my nostalgic attachments to its predecessors, stands as the best 3D Mario adventure game to date.

Bowser is indeed fed up of the constant rivalry between he and Mario over Princess Peach and decides enough is enough. To truly get ahead of the plumber, he must marry Peach! With that idea in mind, he kidnaps the Princess and takes her aboard his large airship, flying to other destinations to assemble his wedding day. It was during the prologue to this where Mario meets his companion, a sentient-hat aptly named Cappy. He is on his own quest to find his sister Tiara - who is naturally used as Peach's tiara for the wedding. With that, the two team up to try and follow Bowser's trail in hopes of foiling his wedding and rescue the two damsels in distress. To do this, they need to recover a run-down ship in Cap Kingdom - the Odyssey. The plot is both comically absurd and charmingly silly, and basically serves as a device to bring players to each new Kingdom, where there is a specific item necessary for Bowser's grand wedding.

Cappy is the crux of Mario's fundamental gameplay mechanic, "Capture." Using Cappy as a pseudo-boomerang projectile, you can take possession of an NPC in any Kingdom and control them for as long as you would like. From the basic applications like Capturing a Goomba or a Cheep-Cheep, to taking on a full sized Tyrannosaurus Rex or man who's controlling a remote-controlled car, Super Mario Odyssey makes sure that each Kingdom is full of creative targets to Capture, and cleverer puzzles that require specific enemies' abilities. For example, the Lost Kingdom will have areas that have pillars far too distant for any form of Mario's jump; by Capturing the Tropical Wigglers, the caterpillar-like body stretches out much farther, allowing Mario to reach platforms not previously available. I can't find a single detriment to this mechanic; every iteration in every Kingdom was so well-thought out that it became a bit of a side-mission for me to see who and what could be Captured.

Outside of the new Capture mechanic, using Cappy can also greatly improve upon Mario's core 3D controls. While holding the Y button, you can hold the spinning Cappy in place, allowing you to use it as a platform to jump off of - giving you a slight boost in jump height. While shaking the Joycons, you can have Cappy circle around you; a necessary move to either clear enemies or fulfill certain puzzles scattered about each Kingdom. Seasoned players will have found ways to abuse all of these mechanics, which end up being extremely needed for the post-game races you can compete in.

There are fourteen main story Kingdoms, and three post-game Kingdoms to explore, and each individual Kingdom honestly feels like they're vastly larger than the entirety of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. Every Kingdom has its own unique aesthetic, and thematic gimmick associated. Some Kingdoms are tropical beach paradises, while others are Kingdoms made entirely of food. My absolute favourite had to have been New Donk City; it is a New York inspired city, complete with skyscrappers to cleverly scale, cars to Capture, and people to interact with.

It doesn't stop with just these grandiose open worlds to explore, Nintendo have included these delightful 8-bit sections, where a 2D sidescrolling level is superimposed onto a 3D object within that Kingdom. It's as if they took the concept of Super Paper Mario, or The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and have taken it to a new level. Some of these seem simple in execution until you reach the crescendo of 8-bit levels in New Donk City, which acted as both a brilliant way to conclude the Kingdom and also a wonderful love-letter to those who happened to know or play a very important arcade game.

The objective for each Kingdom is to find a certain amount of stars - which fuel and improve the Odyssey, before travelling to the next Kingdom. On top of that, you are to intercept Bowser and his gang of anthropomorphic rabbits known as the Broodals. The prerequisite for each Kingdom seems rather simplistic; Kingdoms will have an average of 30-40 stars, with a few clear exceptions, but the requirement to progress rarely goes beyond 10. Having stumbled onto far more than each Kingdom's prerequisite, I feel that they could have comfortably increased this set number without it feeling too restrictive. If anything each world feels too easy to pass. Thankfully you can stay in each Kingdom as long as you'd like, so while the prerequisites for completing each Kingdom may be low, nothing is stopping you from continuing on exploring that level in its entirety. And while the game's main quest may not take too long, the game actually begins once you've completed the main story and have the additional Kingdoms to explore. I won't go into details regarding those Kingdoms as they were some of the greatest inclusions and surprises.

Super Mario Odyssey is littered with side objectives. There are purple coins scattered throughout each Kingdom that are used at the Crazy Cap store. There, you can purchase new outfits for Mario, or add accessories and decals to the Odyssey. There's another section that allows you to purchase costumes via regular coins as well. While purely cosmetic, some of these are actually required to enter sectioned off areas in Kingdoms, which entices players to want to try and collect all the costumes. On top of that, it's just genuinely charming to see Mario in beach attire or a Pirate outfit. There are loads of little mini-games to take part in, some I completely stumbled into; New Donk City has a park where people are skipping a rope. I was running through the map when I ran into it and suddenly the game started counting the number of successful jumps. The little things like these instances tend to be the most noticeable for me, as they're elements that are totally unnecessary in the game, but were clearly thought of, and implemented as a "just-because" inclusion.

The outfits you collect also have a secondary usage in Super Mario Odyssey's impressive photo mode. At any point when in-game, you can press the down directional button to freeze the frame and manipulate the camera angle, adjust the zoom and apply filters to your image to take with the screenshot button. The filter range from typical blurs, and fish-eye lens, to novel NES, GameBoy and SNES filters. Taking a quite browse online will showcase just how important this feature is to players, as they've managed to take some incredibly impressive shots.

Nintendo's development team still baffle me; from a hardware standpoint the Switch is definitely not as "advanced" as its competitors, and they also tend to not incorporate anti-aliasing techniques to smooth out rough edges; and yet Super Mario Odyssey's visual fidelity is absolutely sublime. Each Kingdom is meticulously crafted, with character models that have wonderful detail to them, to elemental physics effects like the way the sand moves, how ice interacts, and especially how the water looks are all wonderful feats for this console. That its able to handle all this, while retaining a target of 60 frames per second is sheer wizardry. It more than makes up for the rare instances where a texture may not look up to par, or that the games aren't rendered or displayed in 4K. It's no secret that Nintendo's mantra have collectively placed an importance of gameplay over graphics, and yet from a purely aesthetical standpoint, Super Mario Odyssey is as impressive as some of the technical marvels to grace us this generation of gaming.

Final Thoughts

Super Mario Odyssey had me smiling from start to finish, and was one of the few games to genuinely encourage me to take my Switch on the go as I just wanted to continue exploring each Kingdom, refusing to put it down. There's a lot to be said about a game that keeps your attention after the main story has ended, and this game certainly does that. The new Capture mechanic offers a wonderful balance of gimmick and function, and that's made clear with some of the advanced mechanics you can do with it, that greatly improve your mobility, and above all that it feels great to take control of these enemies that we're instinctively reared to stomp on. Super Mario Odyssey will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest Mario titles in its daunting list of games in the classic franchise.

Brilliantly designed Kingdoms, each with their own unique look and feel.
Cappy serves as both a clever gimmick to take possession of certain enemies, but also a functional innovation on Mario's classic movement.
The 8-bit segments are absolutely charming, and a clear nod to fans of the series.
Photo mode has quickly become a dream for ePhotographers, as they continue to post artsy shots of Mario in serious or hilarious poses.
I still feel like they could have increased the number of stars needed for each level without it being too hard to accomplish.
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