The wait for Super Mario Odyssey was one of the most painful waits I’ve had in a while, especially for my inner child. I was an insane Mario fan as a kid…bedsheets, plushies, comic books, posters, a box set of the Super Mario Brothers Super Show…you could find love for the iconic plumber in almost every corner of my bedroom and gameroom. (Yeah, I’m still going to call him a plumber despite Nintendo recently stating the contrary, sue me!) I had finished Super Mario World countless times, managing to get all of the secret exits and access to star road without a strategy guide. To this day, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 remain one of the (very) few games I have finished 100 percent. I’ve waited since the Wii to sink my teeth into another massive 3D Mario game and three days ago, I finally got to.
Bowser’s Taking It A Step Further This Time
Super Mario Odyssey takes Mario out of the Mushroom Kingdom to go on a globe-trotting mission to (you guessed it) rescue Princess Peach from Bowser. Not content with just the kidnapping thing that’s been happening for thirty odd years, Bowser intends to put a ring on it this time. Not only that, but he’s stolen various treasures across the land for the wedding that Mario and Cappy need to restore. I’ll give this bad guy credit…he finally changed things up a bit (and finally got some clothes…he actually looks quite dapper!).
A New Friend
Fortunately, Mario’s not alone this time. He meets a creature early on known as Cappy, a ghost-like creature whose sister is also held hostage by Bowser. He rests inside Mario’s cap similar to the small luma from the Galaxy games and grants Mario the ability to take control of his adversaries.
You’ll Feel Right At Home
The gameplay structure of Super Mario Odyssey sticks close to what has always worked for 3D Mario titles. You take on over a dozen different areas (known as kingdoms here) and must pick up a set number of collectibles (power moons in this case) to unlock new areas and ultimately confront Bowser at the game’s conclusion. This is where the similarities to the past big 3D Mario adventures end, though.
Teaching An Old Plumber New Tricks
The introduction of Cappy brings two new mechanics. First, Mario can toss his cap as a means of attack (and as a makeshift platform if the button is held down). More importantly, however, it allows Mario to possess many of each kingdom’s monsters. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be a Goomba (or a Chain Chomp, or a Koopa Troopa), you’ll get to here. Each character you take control of handles a bit differently and come with their own abilities to aid in solving puzzles and making progress. The vast majority of these handle intuitively enough, although some have more of a learning curve than others.
Money Makes The World Go ‘Round
Odyssey also introduces multiple forms of currency strewn throughout the kingdoms. While there are the traditional yellow coins fans have come to known and love, there are also a number of purple coins to seek out that are unique to each kingdom. Shops within each kingdom offer Mario new costumes to purchase (which will in turn allow him to access certain missions that would be gated off otherwise) as well as doo-dads and stickers for the Odyssey (the transport vessel Mario and Cappy use to travel the world).
No Game Overs Here
Curiously, Nintendo has decided to do way with the lives system almost every single Mario game before has used. Instead of having to worry about losing lives and getting game overs, the punishment for death in Odyssey is the loss of yellow coins. While perhaps not as detrimental to progress as lives/game overs, the fact that coins hold more importance than they have in past titles means that a player still can’t sloppily trudge through the game and expect to get far.
Bigger Worlds, More Features
Odyssey‘s worlds are also a bit larger than that of previous games. As a result, there are some helpful features akin to other open-world games (such as Grand Theft Auto or Nintendo’s own Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) to keep the player on track. First, each kingdom comes with a map that allows him or her to fast travel to different spots once they’ve hit the respective checkpoint flags once. There’s also a mini-map in the right hand corner of the screen, but I didn’t get much use out of it until post-story or unless I had purchased hints from another new character- Hint Toad.
Hint Toad To The Rescue (If You Need Him)
For those players who, like me, have an awful sense of direction when it comes to open world games, Hint Toad will eventually pop up near the landing point in each kingdom. For 50 coins a pop, he’ll mark a spot on your map that’ll nod you in the direction of a power moon. While he’s not as important early on, the Hint Toad has proven very useful post-story to find the more well-hidden power moons. Even better, I don’t feel like a chump for using his aid- “X” marks on a map don’t tell me what to do…just where to go. In many cases, that’s all I’ve needed to keep adding to my power moon collection if I’m in a slump. Aside from the possession mechanic, I’ve found this little dude to be one of the best wrinkles added to the formula. You’re never forced to use him (similar to the Super Guide in the more linear Mario adventures such as the New Super Mario Bros. line), but he’s there if you’re struggling.
What truly makes this game stand out to me are the kingdoms themselves. While some of them are what a player can expect from a platformer (jungles, seasides, a kingdom made entirely of food), a handful shoot for a representation of different cultures and real world locations. An early kingdom in the game features Hispanic influences, with new characters who resemble the skeletons often seen in celebration of Dias De Los Muertos.
Some Incredible Homages
New Donk City, as the player might guess, is loosely based on New York City and features skyscrapers as well as realistic cars and people (kind of like the city from Sonic Adventure). In addition, there’s a ton of fan service here. Pauline (who seasoned gamers might recall was the original damsel in distress with 1981’s Donkey Kong) turns out to be the mayor of the town. One mission even sees Mario returning to his pixelated form in one of the best homages to Donkey Kong I’ve seen outside of fan creations on the internet. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of nods to Nintendo’s legacy in the game…I’m not going to spoil the content players are rewarded with after the campaign is said and done. Let’s just say there is more than enough to see and do once you’ve foiled Bowser’s plans and plenty of things to trigger nostalgia for long-time Nintendo fans.
While I can agree that Super Mario Odyssey is an incredible game with tons of clever design, great platforming challenges and new mechanics that only help add to the experience, I cannot say it is a PERFECT game like some other reviewers are exclaiming. It took a genuine effort, but I did find a few things that weren’t to my liking.
A Few (Minor) Problems
First, not all of the characters you can possess are incredibly fun to use (although most are, don’t get me wrong). I didn’t quite care for the frog or this bird-like creature late into the story. It was harder than it should have been to make precise leaps as the frog thanks to his horizontal distance being pretty poor. I also couldn’t get the hang of the bird creature who utilizes his beak to fling himself forward no matter how hard I tried. Second, I’m a bit baffled by the fact that the map system doesn’t allow the player to set landmarks/beacons as many open-world games do. I get that some will see this as nitpicking (and I guess it is), but it just doesn’t make sense to me to include a detailed map, mini-map/compass and not include this simple feature.
But Still Worth Buying A Switch For
Those minor gripes aside, I can say with confidence that Super Mario Odyssey is not a game to be missed and one of the highlights of 2017’s lineup of great platform games. It may not be perfect (in my eyes, no game is), but it’s damn close! If you’ve been holding off on buying a Switch and need that one killer-app (since Breath of the Wild was also on Wii U), Odyssey is reason enough to go out and get one before shelves are left vacant come Black Friday.