There’s a baseline level of quality when it comes to Mario, an assurance that – even with the most middling of titles – you’ll always have a good time. The franchise’s highest points are timeless, and used as benchmarks for the genre; platformers that marry tight and responsive controls, with a cute and carefree attitude.
Super Mario Odyssey is one such title.
The moustachioed plumber’s latest adventure features simple and clean platforming, embedded in a bright-and-colourful world full of secrets to uncover, challenges to take on, and mysteries to solve. But more than that – it’s not afraid to get weird.
As is par for the course, Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and is trying to marry her, and it’s up to Mario to save the day. Teaming up with the anthropomorphic Cappy, you embark on a globetrotting adventure, flying between continents on your airship and disrupting Bowser’s wedding plans – one frantic hat-throw at a time.
Mario’s classic movement options return, but Cappy expands his repertoire further. Triple jumps, leaps, and rolls, are now mixed up by throwing Cappy and jumping on him, or using him manipulate parts of the environment. Levels are keenly tuned to these abilities, and are a joy to explore due to their lenience; edges are wide and clear, and pitfalls are generously proportioned. No part of Super Mario Odyssey is overly difficulty – and that’s OK. It’s bright and breezy, and perfect for the pick-up-put-down nature of the Switch.
The biggest draw of Odyssey is Cappy’s other ability, which lets Mario inhabit enemies or objects – each with their own unique mechanics. You’ll be jumping into a lot of different shoes in your time with the game, but Nintendo never make it overwhelming thanks to simple controls. Whether it’s a Bullet Bill, Lakitu, or Cheep Cheep, each one has a special ability tied to a single button. You can even shake your Joy-Con to achieve the same results, although this is a little harder to do when they’re attached to the system in handheld mode.
Levels are wide open, but never intimidating in scope due to the game’s structure. Entering one for the first time will present a smaller slice of the environment; frigid temperatures encase parts of a desert in ice, or blackouts in a city prevent access to other buildings. Perform enough objectives and you’ll return the level to its natural state, opening it up for wider exploration. By the time this happens, you’ll already be comfortable with the enemy abilities at your disposal, and the types of platforming expected.
The main draw is collecting Moons, which are scattered throughout the levels. Collect enough, and you can power up your airship to move on to the next area. While some Moons are rewarded for more directly solving platforming challenges or puzzles, others are hidden away in hard-to-reach corners, or bonus stages. Levels don’t feel like checklists for Moons either – they’re breathing, organic things, that reward you for poking and prodding, and being curious.
Peppered throughout levels are your traditional gold coins, and level-specific ones too. Find enough of these, and you can cash them in on cutesy outfits for Mario to wear. Occasionally these will have benefits (like letting you in to specific areas), but more often they’re simply for your own enjoyment, as you deck Mario out in ridiculous attire.
Throughout your journey there are also boss battles. While they never graduate from the formula Nintendo is known for, each one is a visual, aural, and physical treat; the way they flinch when hit, and how perfectly the Joy-Con rumbles in-step to the action on the screen. You do see repetition later in the game as some bosses reappear, but the fights are so fast that they never outstay their welcome.
Super Mario Odyssey also pays homage to the series’ roots. While referencing previous games could come off as twee – or in the worst case, sad and desperate – Nintendo do it with a level of care that make it anything but. Diving into 8-bit pipes will project a classic sidescrolling stage onto a wall, along with a sprite-Mario – wearing appropriate attire to his 3D counterpart. A lot of these segments toy with perspective or orientation, incorporating elements of the environment in them. They marry old and new assets, and they’re lovingly crafted.
But the best part is, the game isn’t afraid to get weird. The way they slap a moustache onto dinosaurs, manhole covers, or giant steaks to denote that “Mario inhabits this thing now” is never not funny. Some creatures look straight from an 80s cartoon, in the best possible way; talking cutlery, or rotund seals with baggy Christmas sweaters dangling loosely over their arms. Maps are presented as tourist pamphlets, with surprisingly detailed sidebar information, worded in Lonely Planet-esque prose. Even the way the game interacts with the Switch’s system-level features is fascinating, asking you to take screenshots of puzzle clues so you can reference them later. Wrap this up in a big band jazz soundtrack, and Super Mario Odyssey cements itself as one of the most stylistically unique entries in the series.
As I’m sitting here writing this review, all I want to do is play more. Even after the credits, there’s still so much to see and do. From the tight platforming, to its cute and peculiar world, Super Mario Odyssey is a delight from start to finish.