Mario’s Bizarre Adventure
It feels redundant to even write this review at this point, after all that’s already been said about Super Mario Odyssey. It’s an odd position for me, too. I hold the Super Mario Galaxy games in esteemed regard, personally. I only came back to the roots of Super Mario 64 this year, after a decade away, and experienced Super Mario Sunshine for the first time this year as well. I don’t think of myself as some kind of quintessential Mario veteran. Quite the contrary, actually; I didn’t get into the adventures of the world’s most iconic plumber until I was already a teenager. Given that, I feel like the values I place on Mario games are a little bit different than those of someone who grew up with him. But one thing is for sure. The joy and innovation at work in Super Mario Odyssey are palpable and undeniable, regardless of how old you are or how familiar you are with the type of voyage on which you are about to go.
It’s no secret that Mario’s new best friend, the whimsical and ghostly companion Cappy, is kind of the star of the show in Super Mario Odyssey. Mario himself has everything from the double jump to the ground pound, as ever. But Cappy adds a whole new dimension to things, one spinning toss at a time. And, as evidenced by my tower of 13 new best friends here, it’s a pretty freaking good time.
There’s a real sense of discovery to using Cappy. Some things are obvious, namely enemies. Look at a Goomba, a Chain Chomp, or any of the new and unusual enemies awaiting in Super Mario Odyssey, and you’ll think “aha, I can do the thing with that.” And you’d be right! More fun, though, are the moments where possessing things becomes a real act of exploration; to say the same thing more bluntly, the points where it happens purely by accident. At one point in the game, I was wondering through a forest and threw Cappy to collect some coins. As the cap always flies straight back to Mario, even if he’s moving while throwing, the thing got caught in a tree, and next thing I knew, I was, in fact, possessing seven-ish feet of majestic, piney arbor. Why? I don’t know, my dude, probably because it’s a Mario game.
The general rule with Cappy is that, if it moves and doesn’t wear a hat, you can probably capture it. If it doesn’t move, you might still be able to. From there, see what you can do with whatever you’ve gotten. Mario has always been about figuring out how to use skills to your advantage, and Odyssey is no different. The only change is that, here, you get handed a new toolbox every half hour.
A 1-up girl in every kingdom
Now, here’s another Mario signature echoed perfectly in Mario Odyssey. The series has, for what feels like forever, been known for wildly different worlds. Super Mario 64 had everything from Bob-omb Battlefield to a world made of clocks, and everything in between. The New Super Mario Bros games summed things up well, going from desert to snow to woods to beach, and so on. Mario Galaxy basically took whatever the fuck it wanted and made it happen. The world-to-world vibe of Super Mario Odyssey seems closer to that of Super Mario 64 than anything, maintaining a general sense that all of these places exist in the same larger world.
That said, they up the ante on making those worlds stand in stark contrast to one another. Mario goes from the Tim Burton-esque homeland of Cappy and his kind to the cheery and cartoonish frozen desert of Tostarena. There’s an overgrown ancient factory covered in plants, watched over by a race of gardening robots likely inspired by Wall-E. There’s the already-iconic New Donk City, a metropolitan kingdom full of fairly realistic people. Then there’s (seen above) a trippy, food-based kingdom with low polygon counts and color choices straight out of about a dozen vaporwave albums.
Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t have a unified hub world like the series’ 3D entries typically do, but that’s at least somewhat made up for by the design of each individual kingdom. Each one has its own people, and as a result, its own sort of hublike areas within. Some of them do feel a bit too small, at least at first, but all can be home.
Like in any Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey has you collecting something, alright. This time, instead of stars, it’s power moons, needed to keep powering up the Odyssey – Mario’s positively fantastic new hat-shaped ship – on its voyage to catch up with Bowser and his evil wedding plans. Moons aren’t treated quite like stars once were. You don’t go into a world specifically to get one, and then get booted back out. Instead, you find them wherever you damn well find them. I frequently found myself wandering across multiple puzzles per world that turned out to be the homes of moons, purely by coincidence or through my own curiosity.
This is the one place where it seems like Super Mario Odyssey could have done better; and yes, I do mean literally the one and only place. There are some worlds where I didn’t come close to collecting all the moons I needed before moving on, but others where I easily found them all, or where it even seemed I had no choice but to do so. It’s not that any of the puzzles or challenges in Mario’s way are bad, but rather that, in some places, it almost doesn’t feel like there are enough of them right off the bat. There were a couple particular kingdoms it felt like I breezed right through without really doing all that much. Everything opens up further after you beat Super Mario Odyssey, and while all of the new things that come up post-victory are fantastic, one has to wonder if all of them actually needed to be post-win.
Even so, Super Mario Odyssey is a joy to explore and solve. One of my favorite elements of the game is the collection of points where crawling into a pipe will cause Mario to go 2D, turning into original NES sprite form as he explores walls and ceilings, in a rather FEZ-like fashion. There are quirks to the worlds so unique that they feel like characters themselves. Just as it should be in any Mario game.
Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute charmer of a production. If we’re going to talk about different types of games, there some games that are the best at being absolutely teeth-gritting hard. There are also games that are the best at telling a story, and making you feel something for the characters and worlds presented. Super Mario Odyssey, meanwhile, is one of the best at just making the player feel good, all the time. Super Mario Odyssey could have used some better dispersal of its lunar objectives, but absolutely sticks the landing when it comes to nonstop positive vibes and creative new ideas that only get better, and better, and better.
Final verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch ; Publisher: Nintendo ; Developer: Nintendo ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: October 27th, 2017 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10 and up
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.