Partway through Super Mario Odyssey, in the New Donk City level, there is a moment that pretty elegantly sums up the entire soul of this game. Mario helps Pauline to put together a festival for the citizens of the city. It all culminates with a jubilant scene that serves as one of this game’s highlights. That’s what Oddysey is–it’s a celebration of Mario‘s long 30-year history. The whole thing from front to back radiates joy, tugging endlessly at your nostalgia while simultaneously being like no other Mario game before it.
This is your spoiler warning: This review will speak about the game’s structure. I will be mentioning things such as the amount and size of the levels, what you do in them, and the amount of moons in the game. However, there are tons of surprises in this game that I don’t want to ruin for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, so I will avoid stuff that I think should be a surprise.
Prior to releasing Odyssey, Nintendo very clearly laid out that this was a return to the free-roaming Mario titles of old; namely Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. That’s true, of course, but that’s not the whole picture. There are tons of segments that wear their Mario Galaxy or 3D World influence on their sleeve, and the 8-Bit Super Mario Bros. segments are more numerous and important to the game than you would initially think. Mario Odyssey is not a callback to just one game, but to all of the games in Mario‘s past.
At the same time, Odyssey makes a point to separate itself from past Mario games. Whether it be the Nightmare Before Christmas vibe of the Cap Kingdom, the realism of the Metro Kingdom or the technicolor strangeness of the Luncheon Kingdom, this game continually introduces things we’ve never seen before in the series, and it’s all the better for it.
Freedom Like You Never Knew
Odyssey starts out with an impressive cutscene of Mario trying to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser’s grimy claws. Bowser has kidnapped Peach again, this time with the intention of forcing her into marriage. Bowser ends up being too much for Mario, and our hero falls from the airship to his doom. He lands in the Cap Kingdom, where he meets Cappy, whose sister Tiara was also kidnapped by Bowser. The two team up and go on a globe-trotting adventure to stop Bowser’s evil plans.
Yeah, the story is as simple as you’d expect from a Mario game. It’s got a Saturday-morning cartoon weirdness that keeps things funny, but it also has a couple of twists that set this apart from other Mario games. The ending will especially be something that I think people will be talking about for a while, and I appreciated it as a cute subversion of what you’d normally expect in a Mario ending. I particularly loved how far the game runs with the wedding theme–expect plenty of hilarious gags related to that.
As you’d expect, Odyssey is really nice to look at. Super Mario 3D World was a really pretty game in its own right, but Odyssey‘s weirder worlds really make it stand out more. There is a lot of visual variety, and there are a lot of neat surprises that you wouldn’t expect at all. The best aspect of the presentation is the music. Mario has always had fantastic music, but Odyssey raises the bar with its diverse soundtrack. Highlights include the triumphant orchestral pomp of Fossil Falls, the jazzy theme of New Donk City and the voiced songs in the game (Yes, “Jump Up, Super Star” is not the only one!).
It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
At its core, Super Mario Odyssey is a collectathon platformer, akin to Super Mario 64. This time around, your targets are Power Moons, which function similarly to Power Stars or Shine Sprites from 64 and Sunshine respectively. These moons are hidden throughout the stages, and it’s up to Mario to collect them. Stages vary pretty dramatically in size, with the largest few containing a massive amount of moons. The smallest (Outside of the two kingdoms that really only serve as boss arenas) are comparable in size to a typical world from 64 or Sunshine, while the largest are much, much larger than that, and contain a large amount of moons to match.
During the story campaign, you are free to hunt for moons as you please, but you will have main story objectives that you are always directed to. Collecting moons is your key to unlocking more kingdoms, thus progressing the story further. There are more than 800 moons in the game, and you only need a tiny fraction of that to beat the game–that is where the post-game comes in. After the credits roll, you are set free to simply go to whatever kingdom you want to collect moons. At that point, moons only really serve to unlock a few additional levels and costumes for Mario. Believe me, it’s more than enough incentive to keep you playing until you find them all.
Now, the number of moons in the game would lead to you to connect them to Breath of the Wild’s Korok Seeds. While those were cleverly hidden, there were only a handful of puzzles that you would see repeatedly. That is not the case in Odyssey. While there are moons that you can find lying around, most of them are hidden behind puzzles, platforming gauntlets or special tasks. There are a handful of these that do repeat in each kingdom, but those are in the minority, and they even change enough from level to level to make them feel different. For example, each kingdom has its own Koopa race, but it’s obviously different in each kingdom.
I was really pleasantly surprised to see that Odyssey is bursting at the seams with platforming challenges. Every kingdom has secret doors and pipes that transport you to linear platforming segments akin to something you’d see in Super Mario 3D World. These really helped mix up the gameplay to give you an alternative to the exploration-driven mechanics of the game. There really is something for everyone in this Mario. Variety is the name of the game–one moment you will be hopping over moving platforms, while the next you are fishing for Power Moons as a Lakitu.
Oh wait, did I forget to mention something? Yes, it’s the pillar around which this came is built: Cappy. Cappy is the heart of Mario’s moveset this time around. By throwing Cappy at an enemy, you can “capture” them, possessing the enemy and inheriting its appearance and abilities. This adds a ton of depth to the action and puzzle solving you have to perform, and the game encourages you to exploit your enemies in order to get more moons. This mechanic is easily the best gimmick any 3D Mario has ever presented, and really reminded me of the way Banjo-Kazooie used its transformations, except they are way better here.
Aside from the capture mechanic, Cappy also serves as Mario’s main attack, and can be used to extend Mario’s jumps. Mario can throw Cappy in front of him, serving as a platform he can jump from. In addition to that, Mario has a new roll move that lets him quickly move on downward slopes, and other moves return here, such as the wall jump, ground pound, dive and triple jump. This moveset can be deceptively simple at first, but it has such a ridiculous amount of depth that I was still learning new ways to use Cappy as a tool to scale walls and cross huge gaps, even long after beating the game. It helps that the controls are the tightest they’ve ever been in a Mario game–simply moving around is insanely fun this time around.
Moons, Moons Everywhere
You are encouraged to use the Joy Con controllers in their split configuration, since there are some actions that require you to shake the controller. It actually works just fine with the Pro Controller too, but I found that shaking the whole system didn’t really feel that great in handheld mode. Thankfully, these “shake” actions are mostly optional, stronger versions of button moves–they’re only required at all to get a handful of moons in the game. Let’s be honest here, Mario is more of a couch game, so this isn’t really a problem.
Super Mario Odyssey is much more than just a sequel to Super Mario 64. It is a love letter to the entire Super Mario franchise, paying tribute to the 30-year history of our favorite mustachioed Italian. It all plays with a confidence that only a series with that kind of history could develop, and it’s easy to tell that a lot of love and hard work went into the creation of this game. This game gives off a feeling of wonder and grandeur, and it is worthy of calling itself an “Odyssey.”
Most of all, Super Mario Odyssey exudes joy and positivity. It feels like everything that happens in the game does so with the purpose of putting a smile on the player’s face. At many points, it even made me kind of emotional. Like Breath of the Wild, Odyssey wants you to be in the moment. It wants you to let your imagination and curiosity run free, picking and prodding at its world with amazement when you find its ingeniously hidden secrets. It is one of Nintendo’s greatest games, and what Mario has been building towards for so many years.
- Tons of content to keep you busy for dozens of hours, especially after you reach the end credits.
- The music is magnificent, nailing everything from orchestral pieces to pop punk and jazz.
- You can tell the developers let their imaginations run wild with the graphics, and the kingdoms all look really distinct and special. There are some genuine surprises that occur with visual directions that you wouldn’t expect from a Mario game.
- Mario’s controls have been perfected, and simply moving Mario around is extremely enjoyable.
- Mario’s moveset is very flexible, allowing for simple play as well as for crazy acrobatic moves.
- Each kingdom is visually distinct and filled to the brim with personality.
- There is a ton of variety, from exploration-driven moon hunting to the more straightforward platforming challenges.
- Mario has a huge wardrobe of clothes you can change into. Most of them are cosmetic, but some are the key to unlocking certain moons.
- The capture mechanic is brilliant, and is easily the best thing introduced into any Mario game ever.
- That it had to end.