Super Mario Odyssey has more in common with Bungie’s Halo games than you might expect. Halo is, somewhat famously, known for its “30 seconds of fun” outlook on development. It’s a philosophy that fun should come in bursts and, in the case of Halo’s hectic combat, that means every 30 seconds you’re presented with something to shoot at. Super Mario Odyssey takes that philosophy and multiplies it. In Nintendo’s latest Super Mario game you’re never very far from something bringing a smile to your face.
Super Mario Odyssey review: At a glance
Super Mario Odyssey is both the first proper Mario game on Switch (and no, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t count) and Nintendo’s first fully 3D Mario adventure game since Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the Wii. It boils down what made Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and the Super Mario Galaxy entries so fantastic and then ramps it all up to 11 – and that’s before you factor in being able to take it anywhere thanks to the portability of the Switch.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Story and setting
On the surface, Super Mario Odyssey’s tale is simply a retreading of old ground. Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser so he can host a forced wedding in front of captive witnesses. As per usual, it’s unclear if his motives are because he wants to combine the Mushroom Kingdom with that of the Koopa Kingdom, or if he’s simply just head over heels in love. Either way, this kidnapping sparks the start of Mario’s journey as he leaps to the rescue once again.
Instead of simply being a repeat of past adventures, though, Super Mario Odyssey changes the template by partnering you with Cappy – Mario’s latest weird sidekick who also happens to be a hat. Hailing from the land of Bonneton in the Cap Kingdom – where Mario’s journey begins – Cappy joins Mario’s cause so he can rescue his sister Tiara from Bowser’s clutches. Together, the two power-up Mario’s new airship (the Odyssey) and set sail on a journey around the world to discover Power Moons and track down Bowser.
It’s not quite Around the World in 80 Days, but Super Mario Odyssey is Nintendo’s take on Jules Verne’s classic. Instead of a race around the world, Mario and Cappy’s journey takes them to wild new kingdoms as they repair the damage done in Bowser’s wake. It’s an ingenious move by Nintendo as it gives us a wider look at the Mario universe beyond Super Mario Sunshine’s Isle Delfino. It also means Nintendo can do what it does best and flex its creative muscles.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Gameplay
Super Mario Odyssey’s gameplay works in a similar way to previous Super Mario titles. Instead of Stars, Shines or Star Bits, this time around Mario is after Power Moons, an unexplained rock capable of powering the Odyssey on its journey across the world. These Power Moons are hidden across the various kingdoms, tucked away under rocks or hidden behind elaborate puzzles. Some are even locked away as part of story-based objectives a-la classic Super Mario 64 and Sunshine. This time around, however, you aren’t thrust back into a hub world after each Power Moon, everything just carries on.
When Super Mario Odyssey was first announced, it was said to be an open-world game. That was something of a mistranslation. It does have separate levels and most of these are large expanses allowing for free-form gameplay but each one is more of a sandbox for exploration and experimentation than an “open world” as in Breath of the Wild.
If that sounds like a criticism, it most certainly isn’t because Nintendo’s approach works perfectly; there’s plenty of variety in each world to keep you engaged with a huge variety of different puzzles to solve. Some are classic platforming gauntlets, others are simply about figuring out the best way up to a high platform or the fastest way to a point on the map in a no-holds-barred race to the finish.
And for those who feared the inclusion of Cappy as a repeat performance of Super Mario Sunshine’s FLUDD, there’s no need to worry; Cappy is an entirely different beast. Instead of usurping Mario’s abilities, he enhances them.
If you’re a Mario purist, you don’t have to use Cappy except for when he’s absolutely necessary. But, for the most part, you’ll find yourself wanting to make the most of Cappy’s abilities. His ability to act as a floating platform, a jump extender for Mario and even a wide-area attack open up a broad range of gameplay opportunities and completely changes how you interact with the world Nintendo has built.
Nintendo has engineered Super Mario Odyssey around the Switch’s Joy-Cons controllers, too, with the ideal way to play holding an individual controller in each hand instead of docked at the side of the screen or in the Grip. A flick of a Joy-Con throws Cappy, snap both sideways and he’ll spin around you and a flick up or down throws Cappy in the corresponding direction. This doesn’t mean it’s any less of an experience played in any other way, but a Joy-Con in each hand certainly feels best.
It’s also worth mentioning that, once you’re done and dusted with the game’s main story, Nintendo has gone above and beyond itself with endgame content. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say there’s an awful lot of nostalgia involved, and a heck of a lot more Power Moons to find.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Visuals
Super Mario Odyssey is also an absolutely beautiful title, not just in terms of the Switch’s catalogue, but as a game released in 2017. It’s gorgeous to behold and Nintendo has gone above and beyond to bring the many colourful kingdoms of Odyssey to life. The effervescent waters of the Seaside Kingdom’s Bubblaine fizz and pop while the sticky hot candy caramel lava of the Lunceon Kingdom’s Mount Volbono oozes and bubbles – you can almost feel the heat radiating off of it.
What Nintendo has constructed here is a marvel. Just like Breath of the Wild was a triumph of open-world design and a visual powerhouse for the seemingly underpowered Switch, Super Mario Odyssey is a stunning tour de force. Playing Odyssey on the Switch’s screen is an absolute treat and it holds up well on a TV, too, despite not running at a fully native 1080p. But, if anyone is going to be able to create a Switch game that’s as visually arresting as this, it would have be to Nintendo.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Verdict
It was obvious that Super Mario Odyssey was going to be fantastic, but I didn’t realise just how fantastic it would be until I finally got to spend a serious amount of time playing it. It is, quite simply, brilliant. It’s the first real Super Mario game without series creator Shigeru Miyamoto right at the helm and yet it’s arguably the most creative and enjoyable entry in the series yet.
That’s a sentiment that won’t sit well with long-time Super Mario fans, mostly because they believe Miyamoto is integral to the series but Super Mario Odyssey is a game that transcends one man. This is a game borne out of collaboration and a spark of true genius. It playfully breaks your expectations and simultaneously feels so familiar you can’t help but sink hours into it.
Playing Super Mario Odyssey will give you the same tingle you first experienced entering Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64, the same sense of civic duty Super Mario Sunshine instilled, the wonderful curiosity that both Super Mario Galaxy games threw at you by the bucketload. But this isn’t just another Mario game; this is 30-plus years of game design refined, honed and polished and placed right in the palm of your hands.
This is Super Mario Odyssey, and there’s never been a game quite like it.