Super Mario Odyssey is a love letter to every Mario game that has come before and is an absolute delight to play. It’s a must-have game for the Nintendo Switch.
Super Mario Odyssey is the latest major entry in the franchise since Super Mario 3D World and the first entry on the Nintendo Switch. Odyssey is full of brilliantly designed open worlds and sandbox playgrounds that will have you puzzle hunting for hours and hours. I found it hard to put down the game and after 20+ hours and 300 power moons, I still have so much left to do.
This has to be the biggest Mario game ever, and that becomes readily apparent after you beat the game. The end game is where the fun really starts. Don’t worry I’m not going get into spoilers. Going in mostly blind is the best way to go. I’ll admit, I blew through the story and was annoyed at how easy it was. I was having fun but I wasn’t being challenged. This all changes once you finish the game and revisit past locations. The challenge factor ramps up and the game will really test how skilled you are. If you do find the game challenging, you can turn on an assist mode in the settings.
It’s been a while since we’ve been able to run carefree with Mario in an open sandbox and as much fun as I had with Super Mario 3D World I still longed for a spiritual successor to Super Mario 64. We all did. Odyssey is that game. Odyssey captures what made Super Mario 64 so good; the love for each Kingdom. There’s so much detail and beauty within each world with callbacks to past Mario games sprinkled throughout.
Each Kingdom has dozens upon dozens of Power Moons to collect that will power up your Odyssey (It’s like the balloon house from UP) allowing you to visit other Kingdoms. There are also purple coins that will help you in buying Kingdom specific outfits and gold coins that let you buy clothing, moons, and hearts. The costumes in this game are incredible and I want every one. Mario has three standard life hearts and can either buy or stumble upon a super heart that will give you 6 life pieces. When you die you will lose 10 coins and restart at a checkpoint, usually the last checkpoint flag you’ve touched or door you’ve entered. Coins are easily obtainable and even if you have less than 10 coins when you die you won’t be faced with a Game Over screen.
Nintendo has done an incredible job at keeping the flow of the game very fluid. When you die, you’ll be thrown back into the action almost immediately. Likewise collecting moons doesn’t send you back to the start of the level when you find one. Instead, it encourages you to wander and get lost in the inventive environments and play around. It’s a small difference but it changes the standard Mario adventure in a profound way.
With so much innovation in Odyssey, I’m surprised that the story largely remained the same as what we’re used to. It’s got a paper-thin plot and isn’t a major focus but the now-classic “save the princess” motif is incredibly dated. In Odyssey, Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach once again and is forcing her to be his bride, which is a horrifying idea in itself had it not been for Mario’s G-rated presentation. To slow down Mario, the game introduces Broodals, four bunny-like wedding planners that can’t have Mario ruining the perfect wedding they’ve conjured up.
There’s a bit of redemption for the princess near the end of the game, but it doesn’t do much to reduce the simplicity and extremely dated gender roles that are on full display. Sure it’s easy to ignore, but it’s worth noting and does drag down the experience. It would be nice on Mario’s next adventure to spice things up a bit and give Princess Peach more to do.
To get to Princess Peach, Mario must travel to various Kingdoms that truly feel alive. Each map screen has travel agent style write-ups that give you the lay of the land and places to check out. Most Kingdoms have little villages where Mario can shop and be greeted by various inhabitants. Some of them will give you secrets and missions or give you a snappy one-liner.
There are your standard Kingdoms such as the ice, wooden and desert Kingdoms we know and love but there’s also a hilarious cooking-themed Luncheon Kingdom and my favorite New Donk City. This might be the best Mario level of all time. It also features one the best songs ever written for a video game.
Odyssey runs at 60 frames per second exceptionally well. It’s an impressive feat but it does come with compromise. Super Mario Odyssey really pushes the Switch’s hardware to its limit. You’ll notice that the game drops to 30fps when you’re in a busy scene with lots of characters on-screen. If you step back a bit more you might even see it cut down to 20. You’ll mostly notice this in New Donk City, and it’s a pretty common performing saving technique. The animation is heavy on CPU, and dropping the frame rate is a trick we’ve seen in many other games including the recent Destiny 2.
This is a minor annoyance but doesn’t take away from the game. It’s rare and for the most part, the game runs incredibly well. The performance, for the most part, is buttery smooth. There are so many small touches on display you really have to appreciate how hard these developers worked. For example, if you roll down a dirt hill you’ll notice small dirt marks on Mario that will wash off when you get wet. Or take a look at Mario as he’s walking through New Donk City to see his head and eyes looking wildly around him. Can you blame him, he just ended up in a world full of very thin humans.
If you leave the controller unattended, Mario will fall asleep and dream away while different birds will land on his nose. Environmental weather also plays a factor and he will sweat in the desert and shiver in the colder levels. This level of detail is incredible and worth looking out for as it’s easy to miss.
Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are very similar games. In fact, I’d say this is the most Zelda inspired Mario game of all time. The hundreds of power moons are similar to the hundreds of Korok seeds from Link’s Hyrule except the Moons don’t feel like a chore. Power Moons unlock more levels and special prizes and are worth collecting, unlike the Korok seeds. I have about 500 more moons to collect (999 total) and I don’t know what the prize is for collecting them all but I am curious. Unlike in Zelda however, each area in Odyssey is packed with things to do. There is little to no wasted space.
Through your adventure you’re giving very little guidance and finding these power moons is up to you. They aren’t marked on your map unless you pay for hints using in-game coins, so what you choose to do is up to you. My advice would be to wander and take it slow. You never know what you might find around any given corner.
Through Mario’s journey, he is joined by his new friend Cappy. Cappy is a sentient hat who is also looking to save a woman from Bowser. This woman is his sister who’s a wedding tiara. It’s confusing and I love it.
Mario can toss Cappy a short distance as a makeshift weapon, or use him to extend his jumps. You might have seen videos of people using Cappy get too far off places, which is not easy to do. Even after finishing the game I’m still learning new things Cappy can do. It’s worth spending time learning how to use Cappy as it will make obtaining power moons and purple coins much easier in the latter half of the game. Being able to jump up, throw your hat, do a lunge forward, land on the hat, do a double jump, and then do another lunge isn’t easy to master but once you do the game really opens up.
Cappy can also possess enemies and inanimate objects by landing on their head. Once possessed objects sport Mario’s trademark cap and mustache to indicate they’ve been temporarily possed. It’s great fun controlling a Chain Chomp or a Hammer Bros., but there is plenty of new creatures to control including frogs, squids, and a T-rex. In the later game enemies start wearing fancy hats, so you’ll have to knock those over first before you possess them. This new mechanic truly changes the game up and it’s like learning to ride a bike all over again.
I’ve primarily played my Switch in handheld mode, and Mario Odyssey really wanted to change that. It encourages the player to try the Joy-Cons for the full experience. I gave it the old college try and docked the system but I found myself leaning more towards the Pro controller when docked. On the big screen you can really take in the world around you but I enjoyed my experience on the handheld all the same. I don’t like motion controls and I wish there was a way to turn them off in the game.
There’s also a co-op mode included, while interesting on the surface the execution isn’t very good. It’s really awkward to play. Each player must hold a single Joy-Con horizontally, which makes it very hard to control the camera. It’s frustrating and I wouldn’t suggest trying it unless you really have to play with someone else. This is a single player game through and through.
While writing this I stopped and picked up my Switch multiple times to revisit the game. Super Mario Odyssey is very good. It’s also incredibly massive and I still can’t believe I have so many more power moons to collect. I’ll be playing this game for a very long time, much like I did with Super Mario 64 trying to find all 120 stars. I want to scour over every last detail trying to find all the game secrets. There are some amazing secrets hidden after the credits roll that will please longtime fans. Especially for those of you that remember the website “Beyond 120 Stars“. Other than the half-assed plot, motion controls, and some frame rate issues, Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best Mario games of all time.
Mario is one of the most iconic franchises in video game history, he’s a legend, he singlehandedly saved the video game industry in the 80’s and Nintendo is really on another level with this masterpiece. Well done, Nintendo. Well done. Every Switch owner should own this game.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher on the Nintendo Switch.