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Game Review: Super Mario Odyssey – Hats Off to This Instant Classic

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming. Lately Nintendo seems like they’re doing something they’ve never done before: what the fans want. Super Mario Odyssey is exactly the game every child who had owned a Nintendo 64 wanted as a sequel. Extremely fun, colorful, and surprisingly full of Super Mario lore (!) Odyssey is a near-perfect adventure platformer that borrows a bunch from previous Mario titles and a few other Nintendo franchises.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Peach has been captured by Bowser (again) and Mario must save her (again). The setup is familiar, but now along for the ride is sentient hat-creature Cappy, whose beloved Tiara has also been taken by the king of Koopas. Together, Mario and Cappy trek across the world attempting to thwart Bowser’s plans on marrying Princess Peach. Cappy is a great companion – not only can Mario throw him and use him as a platform from which to jump, Cappy also enables Mario to possess the bodies of various creatures, people and objects which drastically change how you interact with the world. The body possession mechanic is the largest gameplay difference that sets Odyssey apart from other games in the franchise and is used in many ways: from combat to puzzle solving. Fly as a winged Goomba, throw hammers as a Hammer Brother, and discover lots of other different fun transformations.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

The rest of Mario’s move set is similar to that of his Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy days. There is the normal jumping and head stomping, but that is augmented with back flips, dives, long jumps, etc. that add quite a bit to what Mario is capable of doing. Mastering Mario’s different moves isn’t necessary for a casual playthrough, but if you’re a completionist or if you enjoy pushing Mario to the limit there is a high skill ceiling, and it’s amazing the feats people are already getting Mario to pull off. Using a similar idea found in 3DS title Zelda: A Link Between Worlds there are NES/8-bit inspired side-scrolling sections that not only serve as a way to reach different parts of levels, but are used cleverly to access or hide secrets. These side scrolling sections are based on the original Super Mario Bros. and while they are fun, they don’t feel as involved and challenging as they could have been. They are usually very short sections with simple obstacles, but they’re visually impressive and utilized well.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Besides Bowser, there are a group of rabbit antagonists that look inspired by the recent Mario+Rabbids game called Broodals. These Broodals are a constant bother and act as several boss encounters throughout the game. While initially fun, you fight them a few too many times over the course of the game with little variation. They aren’t bad enemies, but with as much care and attention that has been put into the rest of the game, their repetition is just disappointing.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

A sail/balloon driven top-hat called the Odyssey serves both as your vehicle and as a home base. Collecting Power Moons increases the range of the Odyssey, enabling Mario and Cappy to travel further in the hopes of stopping Bowser before it’s too late. There are many Power Moons to find, and that takes up the majority of the gameplay. Power Moons can be anywhere – in plain sight, or hidden behind elaborate puzzles. Power Moons aren’t the only thing to collect, though as you can buy stickers, statues and plush props to adorn the Odyssey with each world’s collectable regional currency. Also, the Odyssey contains a wardrobe to allow Mario to change between the many costumes that can be acquired in Odyssey. Aside from a few specific puzzles, costumes don’t affect gameplay but are extremely fun to collect. Some costumes can be gotten through the Amiibo functionality.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Odyssey handles Amiibo well,  as every single Amiibo does something even if the game doesn’t explicitly recognize which Amiibo it is. Amiibo can also be used to heal Mario, grant him invulnerability, etc. These actions can actually be taken in the middle of, say, a boss fight which makes cheating essentially possible – but tapping an Amiibo in the middle of a fight isn’t the easiest thing to do. Amiibo are in no way essential for the game, and some costumes that are unlocked through Amiibo are able to be found in-game.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Super Mario Odyssey does a few things that no other Mario title before it has done. The biggest one of these is the amount of lore that is packed into Odyssey. There are subtle references galore to previous Mario titles, and their incorporation into Odyssey adds a strange legitimacy to Mario’s world. The Super Mario franchise has always been united by characters, setting, and plot but was still a disconnected set of games. Odyssey manages to tie a lot of the Mario franchises together, and for the first time you can see how the Mushroom Kingdom fits in with the rest of the planet Mario and co. inhabit. I don’t want to spoil anything, as it’s a joy finding these references for yourself.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

There isn’t traditional 2-player support in Odyssey but there is some multiplayer functionality. A partner can take control of Cappy while the first player controls Mario. This sounds good in theory, but in practice doesn’t really work that well. Cappy is essentially Mario’s greatest strength in Odyssey, and putting his control into another’s hand removes a significant part of the gameplay experience. This would be forgiven if it was fun for either party, but realistically Cappy has little to nothing to do most of the time and Mario just ends up being handicapped.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Super Mario Odyssey made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning, and that feeling has yet to completely fade as I gleefully scour the world for every last Power Moon and outfit. A near perfect treat for any Mario fan that wants to relive their childhood, Super Mario Odyssey  is packed with fan-service, lore, and many hours of fun. If you own a Switch, get this game. If you love Mario but don’t have a Switch, now is the time to get one. Super Mario Odyssey is available now on the Nintendo Switch.

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