Super Mario Odyssey Review
The core Mario franchise has constantly defined and redefined video games. Super Mario Bros and Super Mario World built and perfected the 2D platformer, with Mario World continuing to be the benchmark of quality over 25 years later. Mario 64 established the qualities necessary in a 3D platformer equally strongly, and the franchise has been working towards perfection since.
Super Mario Odyssey is that perfection. It’s a pure distillation of fun that bends expectations in countless ways. It’s familiar but exciting. Approachable, yet daunting. It’s breathtaking, it’s whimsical, it’s monumental. To be absolutely clear: Super Mario Odyssey is one of the greatest achievements in the history of our industry.
According to Odyssey’s director and producer respectively Kenta Motokura and Yoshiaki Koizumi, Super Mario Odyssey’s main theme is surprise. Deep down, I rolled my eyes. How could a franchise that has literally gone intergalactic conceivably surprise me? How could a game, in a world with endless gameplay trailers and hundreds of daily releases, possibly come up with something unexpected? It can, and it did.
“Super Mario Odyssey is a masterpiece.”
Super Mario Odyssey begins on familiar ground, with Bowser kidnapping Peach. This time, he intends to marry her for presumably nefarious Koopa king purposes. Following an initial struggle, Mario finds himself in the mysterious Cap Kingdom: a Kingdom whose residents are all, well, hats. Mario meets Cappy, a magical hat whose hat friend (a tiara!) has also been captured by Bowser. Recognizing the potential for a symbiotic partnership, the two link up and set off in pursuit. Their mode of transport? A hat shaped (obviously) hot air balloon that’s powered by Power Moons.
I was a bit concerned initially that Odyssey might be a bit short. I racked up moons at an alarming pace, wrongly assuming that there would be the traditional 120 to find. Not even close. I completed the main story portion of the game in about 15 hours, collecting 143 moons along the way. My quick math indicates that there are well over 600 spread across the numerous Kingdoms. The Metro Kingdom (New Donk City!) has 66 on its own. It’s anything but short.
This means Power Moons are hidden all over the place and can be gathered in various manners, most of which involve utilizing Cappy’s unique ability to take control of almost anything in the world. This opens up a huge number of gameplay beats, none of which overstay their welcome. The loop itself is superbly well defined. You’ll always know what’s next – gathering more moons – but at the same time it was hard to predict what form that would take. Would I be stacking Goombas, flicking Chomps, stretching Wigglers, or Cheep Cheep-ing through the sea? Yes, all those, and countless more.
With all the mechanics being thrown around, it would be easy to get overwhelmed. Each of the mechanics is completely intuitive though, thanks to the simple-but-complicated-enough button layout. Contextual control layouts are frequent while playing, and while they were handy at times, I really wish there was an option to turn them off. Why? Super Mario Odyssey happens to be the most precise 3D game I’ve ever played, and discovering how to handle the various creatures on my own would have been my preference. Running and jumping is unbelievably responsive, and rarely did I feel that failure was caused by anything but my own mistakes. I played primarily using the Pro controller, but Odyssey can be played using a single Joy-Con if you like, complete with motion controls I chose to entirely ignore.
The challenge you’ll face along the critical path in Odyssey is pretty relaxed, with only a few situations where I died trying to figure out what to do. The game also offers an ‘assist’ mode, making Super Mario Odyssey accessible even for those who rarely play games but are still nostalgic about the older titles.
Speaking of older titles, Super Mario Odyssey has quite a reverence for the past. Many of the grin-inducing moments in the game occur in 2D segments that look and act very much like the original Super Mario Bros. In these rather frequent sections, everything takes on a suitably 8-bit cast. The enemies, the scenery, the music, and even Mario’s costumes directly ape the NES classic.
Costumes? Yes. The gold coins and Kingdom specific purple coins you collect on your journey can be brought to your local Crazy Cap store to be traded for collectibles like stickers for the Odyssey, or different suits for Mario to wear. There is a huge number to buy, and some (or all?) of them grant access to special sections of the Kingdoms. It’s plain to see that a lot of thought and effort went into the designs, which is a microcosm of the game at large.
“It’s breathtaking, it’s whimsical, it’s monumental.”
Put bluntly, the attention to detail is staggering. Every nook and cranny has a specific purpose, intuitively designed and logically navigable, but unpredictable at the same time. Familiar ground is covered at length with the requisite ice, water, lava, and underground segments, but the level design is brilliant and makes even the well-worn tropes breathtaking to explore.
Even with all that detail, Super Mario Odyssey’s performance is superb. It’s locked in at 60 FPS even while docked and looks undeniably gorgeous. I don’t know or care how many p’s Mario is packing, but the rich color saturation, buttery smooth animation, fantastically whimsical design, and excellent weather effects make this one of the prettiest games going, and by far the most impressive on the Switch.
The writing is excellent as well, which sounds weird even as I type it. Writing as a strong point in a Mario game? Bizarre, but accurate. The characters you run across aren’t usually voiced at all outside of a Toad yelling “HIIIIII!!” or the occasional “Oh?” from Mario, but the text dialogue is intelligent and snappy. It’s context sensitive, packed full of callbacks and chuckle-worthy goofs, and is never repeated, even in areas with dozens of characters.
Dozens of characters could also refer to the brand new designs packed into Odyssey. From watering can shaped robots to hat-wearing everythings, fun and unique designs are being dropped in your lap constantly. I’m absolutely itching to write about them all here, but I promise I’d be doing you a massive disservice by ruining the surprises.
I can’t recall a time that I’ve been so completely engrossed by a game. Super Mario Odyssey lit up the child in me like Christmas morning, grinning from ear to ear and endlessly asking my wife to “come look at this!” The last hour or so of the main story is an absolute joy that I hooted and hollered my way through like a complete maniac. I’ll rephrase again: if you dislike this game, get a doctor to check that your shriveled Grinch heart is still present.
Super Mario Odyssey is a masterpiece. It surprised me regularly, delighted me constantly, and smashed my expectations in ways I’d never have predicted. The deftly woven combination of nostalgic themes, intuitive gameplay, and incredibly inventive design make this not only the best Mario game to date, but one of the most joyful and compelling games ever made.
*** Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher ***
- Incredible design and world building
- Satisfying gameplay loop
- Classic formula made brand new
- Unnecessary motion controls
- Giant control tips