Super Mario Odyssey has finally launched on the Nintendo Switch, bringing the portly plumber to the next generation in a game that's more than worth your time. In my full review I break down why you should run out and grab it immediately!
A Simple Proposal You Can Say Yes To
Nintendo’s latest Mario adventure finds our favorite Italian plumber in a giant game of “Catch Me If You Can”, as his mortal enemy, Bowser, has kidnapped Princess Peach, Mario’s one true love, in Super Mario Odyssey. It may sound as if you’ve heard this one before, and frankly you have, but the difference with this game is that there is an actual purpose to Bowser kidnapping Peach. He plans to marry her, despite her protests. It’s not directly explained, but it seems as if he’s doing it to become King of the Mushroom Kingdom. Nevertheless, it’s up to Mario to once again be the hero and save his damsel-in-distress.
The story starts out at a heart-racing pace, opening up to Mario on board Bowser’s ship already attempting to rescue Peach. After a brief cinematic conflict, Mario is forced off the ship, falling toward the unknown. Where he ends up is a dark, drab town, filled with ghost-like hats. (Full disclosure, I thought Mario was dead and this was Nintendo’s way of creating an after-life in the Mario Universe) One of these ghost hats explains that Bowser invaded, stole his sister (a Tiara), and made off to the next town, after destroying nearly all the homes in the town. This hat, Cappy, becomes your best friend and guide on your voyage to crash Bowser’s wedding.
And what a voyage it is. Super Mario Odyssey lives up to its name in more than one way. Not only is the old airship you’re flying named Odyssey, the campaign sees Mario and Cappy on a long adventure, traveling to about 10 different regions. Every place you go has a certain elemental theme and an artifact that is key to Bowser’s pending nuptials. It becomes pretty obvious, early on, that the Nintendo team was obsessed with hats and weddings when creating Super Mario Odyssey.
While the story isn’t much, it is a charming tale of heroism and friendship, as most classic Nintendo games are. Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t have that life-altering story with decisions that have consequences. However, that’s what is great about Mario, he doesn’t need that to be fresh. All he needs is an updated graphics card, addicting puzzles, and a motivation for why Bowser is terrorizing the world’s inhabitants. Heck, that last part, alone, is revolutionary enough.
Not Your Parent’s Mario Mechanics
Over the years, Nintendo has made it a point to give Mario different powers, with each new game in the franchise. The classic 2-D side-scrollers featured a jump and stomp technique that has become a mainstay of the series. In other games, Nintendo has had fire powers, gigantism, power packs of water, just to name a few, but none of them have had an ability as versatile as the one Cappy provides.
In Odyssey, Cappy is more than just a friend and guide, he’s a tool for success. He holds the abilities to attack, pull, jump boost, and possess take control of Bowser’s lackeys. These new abilities are what make Super Mario Odyssey worth playing. If you’ve ever played a Mario game and wondered how cool it would be to a Goomba or whack people with hammers as a Hammer Bro, this is your chance to do so. It’s just as satisfying as you’d think it would be.
That’s something you have to love about this new Nintendo approach to gaming. They’ve made it their purpose to reinvigorate their flagship characters by giving them more substance. Part of their process is reflecting on their characters and comparing them to other franchise characters to see how they stack up. They improved Link, in Breath of the Wild, by doing this. By giving Mario a bigger move-set and the opportunity to customize his outfits, they’ve improved the Mario experience, as well.
Fun, Easy, Predictable Dungeons
Keeping with the normal pattern of Mario games, there isn’t anything that will catch you off guard. Once you get through the first level (or dungeon), the rest follow the same predictable pattern. Enter the area, see what Bowser took this time, collect Power Moons (the Odyssey’s power source), and jump through all the hoops until you get to the boss. Then, you either have to beat the boss, then, or hit a checkpoint that unlocks a new part of the dungeon, to which you have to re-complete the level and ultimately beat the boss to move on.
The downside of predictable playthroughs is that the gameplay isn’t very challenging. With each boss only taking 3 hits to defeat, deaths only equating in the loss of 10 coins (I’m at 4,000+ at the moment), and the gameplay mostly about finding Power Moons, the story in Odyssey can be completed within a weekend. Unlike most games, Mario Odyssey doesn’t include a Hard mode. It’s designed with kids in mind, not try-hards. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a try-hard to want to be challenged from time to time. Nintendo did create a way to replay the bosses with a higher difficulty, once the story is completed, but it’s clear that it’s still not challenging enough.
While the combat may not feel inspired, what is inspired are the different levels and their unique themes. For instance, there is a land where the water is completely carbonated and will crackle underneath your feet, and a land where the entire place is filled with giant food that is about to be cooked. Even Bowser’s area is remarkably unique. Everything from the architecture to the puzzles are inspired by ancient Japanese culture. There is even a samurai outfit to go along with it. While Odyssey may not be challenging, the attention and love they gave to each and every level is enough to give that one blemish a pass.
New Age Graphics With Tributes to the Classics
The video game industry has a knack for looking ahead to the future, and only looking back to the past for nostalgic moments. For years, the belief was that Nintendo was being left behind in the gaming arms race, due to their hesitance to conform with the times and move on from the past. When the Switch and Breath of the Wild came out, earlier this year, the narrative began to change to Nintendo being geniuses. With Super Mario Odyssey, that narrative continues to hold true.
It’s not often said, but sometimes it’s ok for games to stay in their lane. Be true to themselves. That’s exactly what Nintendo did in Super Mario Odyssey. They didn’t try to reinvent their flagship character into something he’s not. Instead, they went back to their roots to make a game that is nostalgic and enjoyable. The result is a gorgeous game that seamlessly integrates the classic 2D side-scroller from the NES into the 3D graphics of today. In fact, a lot of the areas can’t be complete until you’ve gone 2D, within the 3D world, to complete and old school dungeon. Once again, Nintendo revolutionized what many thought couldn’t be revolutionized by integrating the past with the present.
It doesn’t even stop there, the entire Super Mario Odyssey game is riddled with Easter Eggs and nods to Mario’s past. In fact, you can actually purchase that blocky N64 Mario costume for Super Mario 64 and run around as blocky Mario in a 3D world. This where the true heart and soul of the game is. It’s not in the enjoyable story or the incredibly detailed levels. It’s all the tributes of past Mario games, penning a touching love letter to the 36 year-old character, that give Super Mario Odyssey its heart and soul.