It almost seemed like a crime that one of Mario’s best outings came out on Nintendo hardware that not a lot of people had the good sense of investing on. Fortunately, the release of Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch sees the company back in the game with an impressive user base that had presumably been eagerly awaiting Mario’s latest outing.
In his latest adventure, Mario finds that everyone is really into headgear and it’s the latest fashion trend in every kingdom that he explores. This all stems off the idea that Mario’s companion in this title consists of a living sentient creature fittingly called Cappy that can transform into any hat and has a couple of other abilities that come in handy.
Cappy and Mario are both on a quest to rescue their loved ones who have been kidnapped by Bowser in his latest scheme to force Princess Peach to marry him. His plan consists of forcibly acquiring several special items from various kingdoms, so that he can then use them in his sham wedding. One that thanks to a rather massive ring will unite both parties in a way that not even a divorce, annulment or an escape attempt in the middle of the night will give Princess Peach the chance to be free.
Fortunately, Mario and Cappy are in hot pursuit of the nefarious Bowser with the help of the Odyssey flying ship. In this adventure, Power Moons are used as a power source for just about every piece of technology from the Odyssey to a sprawling metropolis kingdom. As expected, it’s necessary to collect a specific amount of these items before being able to move on to the next kingdom.
Unsurprisingly, instead of making the task of collecting Power Moons feel like a chore, Nintendo turns it into a fun and engaging exercise. Most of the Power Moons required are earned by completing main quests that involve dealing with Bowser’s merry band of wedding planners and undoing the damage this motley crew unleashes in each kingdom. The fact that each kingdom is an open area does wonders for Mario’s well known collecting formula. It makes every area within each kingdom feel connected since it doesn’t make use of levels in the traditional sense. Instead players are free to explore as they wish and more nooks and crannies to explore become available after completing the main quests for a kingdom.
Even puzzles encountered along, the way that will result in earning Power Moons once solved, don’t feel like a chore and it’s always a delight to complete them. It’s telling that gathering each specified amount of Power Moons is an easy feat, given that the title is designed in a way that makes it impossible not to feel compelled to explore.
Besides the usual abilities that make Mario seem more fit than an Olympic Games athlete, the title also makes use of Cappy’s various unique abilities. Cappy can not only be used to attack enemies with his impressive amount of attacks, such as one where he spins around Mario, but he can also be used to control certain characters and objects. Whilst it might seem like a simple concept, it’s one that provides all kinds of creative ideas. This power can be used to progress further or to just partake in relaxing activities such as fishing. It just feels natural to actively find ways to make the most of this feature and it encourages players to explore and think about how they want to go about playing the title.
Super Mario Odyssey is also a masterful and even efficient manipulating lesson in how to make excellent use of your game character’s rich retro history. It’s extremely difficult to not smile when experiencing the likes of the joyful 2D flat Mario segments that are seamlessly added to every kingdom and the glorious throwbacks to moments like Mario’s first appearance in Donkey Kong, as the hero that rescued Pauline, who just happens to be a mayor in a kingdom in this title. What’s even better is how this doesn’t entirely feel like fan service and more like it all genuinely fits in with the theme of Odyssey. After all, the title is all about exploring and what better way to represent this than seeing Mario revisiting his past and witnessing the journey that eventually turned him into one of the most widely recognised characters in the history of gaming.
Whilst each kingdom has its own unique traits that make it very interesting to explore, there is no doubt that Odyssey’s fast paced nature is one of its strengths. Those that are keen on focusing on the main story can easily enjoy the local sights whilst collecting the required amount of Power Moons and then move on. It’s a good idea since it won’t take long to be able to move on to the next kingdom and it will result in keeping players engaged. On the flip side, those that wish to linger will find that there is much to do within each kingdom and there’s always the option to come back.
What makes each of the kingdoms so memorable is how distinct they look and feel. In previous Mario titles, each of the levels within each area didn’t always feel like it belonged in that area. Odyssey’s willingness to embrace an approach to open areas means that each kingdom gains an individual look and it makes it easier to remember it as a whole, rather than just focus on one or two standout levels. It’s certainly useful that the mellow soundtrack works in helping to give each of these kingdoms a distinct look.
Everything in Super Mario Galaxy has a functional purpose and this applies to even tasks that may seem trivial on a superficial level. It certainly helps that every moment in the title is injected with so much charm that it feels like a waste to not experience it. There is no doubt that its successful attempt at humour on several occasions is also a contributing factor. The on-going joke about Mario always being late to stop Bowser and his wedding planners from taking every item never fails to amuse. Those that pay close attention will no doubt come across bizarre sights involving the likes of background characters.
Even if completing the main story doesn’t feel as much of an effort compared to recent Mario adventures, it doesn’t make it any less of a joy to play through. In fact, new challenges and areas to explore are still popping up after the main story has been completed. Even the inclusion of achievements makes sense since it is linked to earning more Power Moons by completing various tasks and further emphasises the fact that no idea is used in a superficial manner.
Whilst Odyssey’s obsession with headgear is adorable and seeing the likes of a Goomba wearing a wedding veil makes for quite the sight, it’s also possible to play dress-up with Mario. Mario can use coins and local currency for each of the kingdoms to purchase a variety of outfits and headgear at shops. This and the inclusion of a photo mode make it far too easy to spend hours fooling around and taking photos of Mario wearing the likes of underwear and pirate gear.
It’s wonderful to see Nintendo not only embracing modern gaming in their own unique way, but to also appeal to the social media masses who will do just about anything to get hundreds of likes in their social media posts.
In a way, Super Mario Odyssey is reminiscent of the structure used in Pikmin games. In that both titles make use of flying ships to get around a whole planet, but it’s also to do with how it’s necessary to defeat a boss or two and collect enough items before moving on to the next area. Not a surprising comparison given that both franchises are developed by Nintendo.
Super Mario Odyssey is not only an absolute delight to play through, but it’s also another important step for Nintendo as it continues to experiment with its key franchises in ways that make them just as relevant to modern gaming as they have been in the past.