Super Mario Odyssey is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and it met and exceeded our expectations. It’s certainly a contender for Game of the Year in 2017, and we’re excited to tell you what we think of this groundbreaking title.
Super Mario Odyssey opens with our plumber in his typical predicament: fighting Bowser on an airship in the skies above Princess Peach’s Castle in an attempt to rescue the princess. Bowser, clad in a fashionable white tuxedo complete with a top hat, plans to finally pull off the forced marriage of a lifetime with Peach—and after this initial skirmish with our mustacheo’d plumber, Bowser succeeds! As Mario is knocked off the airship, his hat is caught in the airship’s propellers and shredded to pieces, and this is where our hero’s story begins.
A hat-shaped ghost from Bonneton in the Cap Kingdom stumbles upon a piece of Mario’s shredded hat and finds Mario disoriented from his fall. Upon revealing himself as Cappy, the ghost explains that not only has Bowser destroyed Cappy’s airships and attacked his own Cap Kingdom; the monster has also kidnapped Cappy’s sister Tiara to be used as Peach’s wedding headdress. Mario and Cappy decide to team up with the end goal of stopping Bowser’s plans and saving both Tiara and Princess Peach, and they plan to use the Odyssey—a cap-shaped airship—to chase after Bowser. The catch? The Odyssey hasn’t flown in a while, so Mario and Cappy must collect energy-filled Power Moons to make the airship fly again! Their quest for Power Moons takes them through many different kingdoms in an effort to build enough energy to catch and defeat the Koopa King himself!
GAMEPLAY AND CONTROLS
Super Mario Odyssey revolves around Cappy and his incredible abilities. The most central of these is the capture feature: by throwing Cappy at an enemy, you can capture control of its body, which allows Mario to do things that he normally couldn’t do. For instance, capturing a T-rex lets him smash through walls of rock; possessing a frog lets him jump to great heights; capturing a Goomba makes him sure-footed on the slippery ice; capturing Cheep Cheeps allows him to breathe underwater—and the list goes on and on. Capturing enemies is core to the experience of Super Mario Odyssey, and it adds a depth and variety to the game that many other Mario titles simply do not have.
In addition to the capture feature, Cappy offers so much more, and you’ll want to make a habit of throwing him at almost everything you encounter to see just what he can do. We couldn’t possibly list all of Cappy’s uses here, but for now, we’ll offer this little tip: with a slight shake of the controller, Cappy will hone in on the nearest interactive item, whether it be a coin, an enemy, or even a patch of budding flowers. This is a great option if you find yourself stumbling to collect and interact with items in a 3D world, as some players often do.
Super Mario Odyssey also revolves around the collection of Power Moons, and searching for them is addictive and fun. You can get these coveted moons by winning races, completing platforming challenges, solving puzzles, and much more, and each of these challenges is aggressively charming; we found ourselves wearing near-constant grins during our time spent with the puzzles found in this game. But if you want to find every power moon, you’ll need to master a variety of classic Mario moves, including crouching, ground pounds, running long-jumps, back-flips, and triple-jumps—plus, you’ll be introduced to plenty of new moves that present an extra challenge allow for even more proficiency in your movement.
As with all Mario titles, boss battles feature prominently, and the boss fights in Super Mario Odyssey are delightful diversions from normal gameplay. Boss fight mechanics are varied, ranging from dodging poisonous pools to smacking bombs around to jumping over rings of fire—and if you’re not one to obsess over finding all the Power Moons, these boss battles crop up often enough to provide refreshment in a game with relatively little focus on combat.
This game is full of hazards and perils, and you might die often—and each time you die, you lose 10 coins and any health bonus you might have acquired. But there’s good news: you can make the whole game a bit easier by playing in Assist Mode, which is perfect for less experienced players. Assist mode starts you off with 6 health instead of 3 (and your health can increase to 9 with a power-up), it prevents you from losing coins when falling off a ledge or into a toxic pool, and it guarantees that you’ll never be lost, since there’s always an objective marker pointing you in the right direction.
For this review, we played Super Mario Odyssey with every possible control configuration, and our current favorite is to play in docked mode with the Pro Controller (although handheld mode is a close second). However, we’ll note that we found the motion controls slightly unreliable in handheld mode—especially Cappy’s spin attack, which is an important attack to master. We’re also a bit disappointed that certain controls have to be motion controls; this definitely isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s also not ideal.
GRAPHICS AND DESIGN
Mario games have always featured plenty of pleasing, curious, and joyous designs on all fronts, and while Super Mario Odyssey isn’t the absolute pinnacle of design, it’s still quite memorable with its quirky and intricate world and characters. Let’s look at the game’s characters. First, there’s Cappy, the helpful hat with eyeballs. You meet Cappy almost immediately after starting your file, and he’s one of the game’s most prominent characters. Even though he’s “just a hat,” Cappy’s personality is surprisingly distinct, and we loved seeing him interact with the Mario universe.
Let’s turn to the game’s enemies. From old classics like Goombas and Koopas to newcomers like frogs and a T-rex, there are plenty of creatures to fight and marvel at in Super Mario Odyssey. Of course, Odyssey also features plenty of new bosses, the most prominent of these being the Broodals, a gang of rabbits who have joined forces with Bowser to help plan his wedding. While they aren’t the most striking of Mario bosses, they do bring something new to the Mario franchise; when you’re fighting them, you don’t feel like you’ve already beat them in an older Mario game. In addition to the Broodals, there are higher-level bosses that we don’t want to get into here. (We don’t want to spoil the game for you!) However, we will say that these bosses are unique while still offering what we’ve come to expect from Mario boss battles: challenges built on patterns.
In terms of graphics alone, it’s clear that Super Mario Odyssey is some of Nintendo’s best graphical work so far, rivaled only by Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The Odyssey world is breathtakingly gorgeous whether you play in handheld mode or on your TV: its lush, rich colors fill every corner of your screen in both modes of play, and even the game’s dullest kingdoms (like Bonneton, where you begin the game) look brilliant and bright. And to top it all off, we never encountered skipping of any kind while playing in either handheld or docked modes, which means the smooth, 60 FPS holds up perfectly. In short, we’ve never seen Mario look this good.
Now let’s turn to the many kingdoms of Super Mario Odyssey. Each of the 17 kingdoms is based on real-world ideas and places, giving Odyssey far more real-world grounding than you’d ever expect a Mario game to have. For instance, the Metro Kingdom looks surprisingly similar to a real-life metropolis, the desert kingdom looks like an actual desert, and the jungle kingdom looks like an actual—you guessed it—jungle! Of course, in classic Mario style, this game still retains quirky, surreal, and magical elements that you wouldn’t find in real life, but it’s definitely far more realistic than you might expect. So whether you’re in the eerie Cap Kingdom, the fluffy Cloud Kingdom, or the chilly Snow Kingdom, you’re sure to lose yourself in your surroundings—in the best of ways.
Finally, we’ve got to talk about outfits! For the first time in Mario history, you can change Mario’s look by purchasing new outfits with coins, and there are hundreds of combinations to choose from. Want to run around the freezing desert in a swimsuit? Have at it! How about barreling around the Mushroom Kingdom in pirate’s garb? Go for it! And if you really just want to visually mesh with your surroundings, you can do that, too, since each kingdom sells unique outfits that let you blend in with the locals. Many of the game’s outfits pay homage to past Mario titles and other Nintendo franchises—even some obscure ones, like Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally. We love that fans of all ages have a chance to soak up some nostalgia from the outfits in this game—and as an added bonus, each piece of clothing comes with a brief description that Nintendo fans will appreciate.
MUSIC AND SOUND
Most AAA titles these days have decent, if not memorable, music, and Nintendo almost always one-ups the competition in this arena. For this reason, we’re not at all surprised that the music in Super Mario Odyssey lives up to this standard. The game’s music credits include Nintendo veteran Koji Kondo, but it appears that Naoto Kubo, who composed the music for games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Super Mario Maker, did most of the heavy compositional lifting for this title.
Each kingdom in Odyssey has its own musical theme: while wandering around the creepy Cap Kingdom, you’ll hear a John Williams-esque orchestral score, and as you explore New Donk City, you’ll enjoy a funky jazz soundscape. No matter what kingdom you’re exploring, you’ll hear a score that fits perfectly with your environment. A good deal of the game’s soundtrack borrows from past Nintendo titles, and seeing how Nintendo has arguably given us the most memorable video game music of all time over the last 30 years, there is plenty of fantastic music for Odyssey to borrow from, and the game’s borrowed sounds blend with brand new ones in a remarkably seamless fashion.
Just as stunning as Odyssey’s music is its sound design, which adds to the game’s realistic feel. For instance, when underground, the music echoes and becomes hollow, making you feel like you’re actually underground. Of course, offsetting this realistic feel are classic Mario sounds, including jumps, hops, and thwacks—and new on the Mario sound scene are Cappy’s swishing, zinging, and popping noises. Together, Odyssey’s music and sound design are a feast for the ears; the game’s rich, varied, and atmospheric soundscape always enhances and supports an already-incredible gameplay experience.
We’re blown away to have another fantastic AAA Nintendo title for Switch this year, and we’re sure Odyssey is a game that players will always come back to for years to come. If you’re a Mario fan and have loved past 3D Mario titles, we know you’ll love this game, but Odyssey isn’t just for these players; it’s really a game for everyone, and if you like what you’ve seen in our review, we think you’ll want to give it a shot. If you haven’t already picked up your copy, you can get it right here!