Super Mario Odyssey is straight out of this world, literally. Mario adds another entry into his already extensive resume as a globetrotter in this latest iteration of the series. No longer confined to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario takes to the skies in the hat-shaped Odyssey with a new partner in tow: Cappy, a ghost who now inhabits Mario’s hat. Mario ventures off to distant lands to, let me hear you say it, rescue Princess Peach who has of course been kidnapped by Bowser to be wed. I’m telling you, Bowser has been the protagonist all along…
The joy of Super Mario Odyssey is that this time around, Nintendo took the training wheels off and asked, “What if?” A lot of the best parts of this game are cemented in its surrealist elements: possessing other characters, traveling between different dimensions, and the idea that Mario may very well be a species unique to the worlds he travels. This last point jumped out to me because, as we see when Mario hits the streets of New Donk City, he stands out quite a bit against the eerily realistic-looking denizens of the city. While we may treat this similarly to the anime syndrome of the main character stealing the spotlight with a very noticeable appearance, the question then raised is, how on earth can he take control of their minds? Why does he look inhuman compared to his counterparts?
My ramble aside, Odyssey is quite a wonderful game. No longer restricted to individualized levels and lives, Mario is free to explore the worlds however he pleases, being guided forward by the plot in the background much like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Mario’s new companion, Cappy, takes the show as the charming hat, which can be used in many ways: as a boomerang projectile, the means to take control of enemies, and other ingenious ways. Also serving as the guide that teaches the player how to perform more complex maneuvers, Cappy is essentially driving the plot forward in his own way as he tries to rescue his companion, who now lies in Bowser’s clutches. Mario himself is much more athletic than he lets on, bouncing, rolling, and jumping all over the place as if he’s a parkour expert. It suits him well in the expansive overworld. The removal of the lives system, the aged mechanic from yesteryear, is now replaced by the coins. You’re going to get a lot of those. When Mario “dies” this time around, ten coins are lost and easily replaced. Instead, the real goal is to obtain the many, many Moons that are scattered all over the world, which are the game’s actual currency or achievement.
Let’s talk about these Moons for just a second. With these Moons, they’re the primary currency to allow Mario to travel around the world in the Odyssey. To advance around the various worlds, Mario must first gather a certain number of the Moons to power up his ship.
Each world that Mario visits has many of these fellas laying around. Some of these Moons are incredibly easy to obtain, some can be bought, and some can only be obtained with some serious thought. My one problem with this is that, at the end of the day, a Moon is a Moon is a Moon. Granted, there’s 999 of these guys laying around, but I felt that the impact was kind of cheapened, for lack of a better word, by the fact that in this scenario, all Moons are created equal. The Moon I spent the last thirty minutes jumping for is equivalent to the Moon that I spent 100 coins on at the store. Sure, I can definitely feel a sense of accomplishment in the jumping puzzle Moon, but the thought that creeps in the back of my mind is that at the end of the day, they’re all equal.
Super Mario Odyssey opens up the book quite a bit and when it does things well, the features shine. The encouragement of exploration, of leaving no stone unturned, is what will allow me to spend many hours more playing this game, long after the conclusion of the plot. It’s going to be hard to choose between this and Breath of the Wild on my flights back home. The collection of the Moons and extra outfits to customize Mario’s appearance is going to add a lot of time to my gameplay. On an extended note, the outfits Mario can wear are great. From a sombrero to nothing but boxer shorts, this game has it all. The worlds are polished with their Nintendo shine, and look beautiful when playing in handheld mode on the Switch. The switching from the 3D overworld to the 2D, pixelated sprite modes is incredibly well done. From the sound effects of the older titles to the retro music, Nintendo hit it out of the park. When these sequences occur, they’re some of the best parts of the game, taking the unique shape of their 3D structure in the main world and converting it into its own obstacle course in two dimensions. The voice acting, which sounds often like complete gibberish, is oddly charming. Charles Martinet must have had a grand time in the recording booth with these lines. Mario has made a solid step forward into the future, and becomes one of my favorite titles to date in the series.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the Mushroom Kingdom this time around. The controls for this game are a bit awkward at times, and the camera is difficult to use, in that my perception of the game’s depth is a bit off at times. Here’s a better translation: I probably just sucked at the controls in this particular Mario game. That jump that looks fairly close is, unfortunately, not close enough for Mario to avoid the plummet into a pit. It took some adjusting, but I found a way to make the game a lot more tolerable in that department. Playing with the Pro Controller alleviates those issues as well. In addition, the overarching plot takes a backseat with no real mixing to the formula in exchange for the freedom to explore, similar to Breath of the Wild. Princess Peach is still as vulnerable as ever, and it’s a bit hilarious how she’s being wed to Bowser, who dons a dapper tuxedo. Beyond that though, the plot still has not changed much from its original course after all this time, and it could use a boost. The princess isn’t in another castle this time, she’s in another world. Try again, Mario.
This being said, Super Mario Odyssey is an excellent title to add to your Nintendo Switch for the holiday season. With fresh and exciting gameplay, hours of exploration, and a beautiful world as the canvas to explore, it’s a wonderful chance to take to the skies and marvel at the little details that Nintendo has thrown in. Even though there are some minor quibbles, Super Mario Odyssey is still an excellent title, and another home run in Nintendo’s books that makes the purchase of a Nintendo Switch worthwhile.