When the most popular and successful franchise in all of videogame history releases a new main series entry, people pay attention. Main series Mario games have shaped the history of the medium. Super Mario Bros standardized home console games and brought the medium out of its crash. Super Mario 64 standardized many aspects of 3D gaming, including some we still use today. To put it simply, we expect a lot from Mario, and early previews of Super Mario Odyssey looked impressive. Now that the game is available, we can see why.
Odyssey returns to the more sandbox-style 3D gameplay last seen in Sunshine. Over a series of large stages, Mario and his new friend Cappy are tasked with collecting Power Moons to power their airship and chase Bowser. The stages are full of Moons, and you won’t be kicked out after you find one. There are hundreds of them in total, and most of the levels are designed to inspire exploration. Each one has a different style and a different citizenry, with the clear standout being the Metro Kingdom. A realistic world is just one of the many strange locations in which Mario finds himself. There are secrets hidden in every nook and cranny, with even more unlocked after finishing the game. While we may not have the wide open world of Zelda, the sense of exploration is still present. The stages look beautiful as well, especially the tropical Cascade Kingdom and the desert Sand Kingdom. As with Zelda, this game proves that open exploration and top notch visuals are right at home on the Switch, even though it isn’t quite as powerful as other consoles.
Super Mario Odyssey isn’t simply a retread of its 64-bit cousin though. The main new mechanics focus on throwing Mario’s hat, which has been replaced with a friendly character named Cappy. It’s Mario’s primary way of attacking enemies (besides jumping, of course) and unlocking secrets in the game, giving him a bit more range. It also increases his movement options tremendously, as he can bounce off of Cappy, which pairs with a new diving move to allow for some crazy jumps. But of course, what really stands out is Cappy’s ability to “Capture” enemies and other creatures and things, allowing Mario to possess them. This opens up even more possibilities for puzzles and attacks, and brand new ways to get across the stage. Granted, some just feel like simple power-ups, but it’s cool to control anything from a frog to a Goomba to a Tyrannosaurus rex and see what you can do with their abilities. While a bit more variety in the creatures you can capture might have been nice, the mechanic adds a ton to the game and really makes it feel like a unique take. The controls are smooth as silk as well, as one would expect from this series, and it’s easy to figure out how to use each creature and to master Mario’s own moves. I could see this mechanic crashing and burning in another series.
All of this is great, but what really makes the game astounding is the attention to detail and extra content. 8-bit sections in the levels are far from the only call backs to Mario’s history; most of the costumes Mario can unlock are based on existing art, ranging from the obvious (like the mechanic outfit from Super Mario Maker) to the insanely obscure (like the scientist costume from an old Super Game Boy commercial). The Metro Kingdom’s New Donk City is a massive love letter to Donkey Kong, both the original classic and the series it inspired, right down the original game’s background music being part of the theme song performed there. And after you beat Bowser, in a stunning finale I won’t spoil, you gain access to the Mushroom Kingdom itself, with its own Power Moons (in the form of Stars), its own kingdom-specific collectibles, an exciting new creature to Capture, and more references to Super Mario 64 than anyone could have expected.
As great as all of that is (and it’s really great), I do have some complaints. The game’s main story progression is extremely short and easy, and while the post-game content adds new areas and challenges, I still felt like I breezed through it all a bit too quickly the first time around. Another large stage in the same vein of the Metro Kingdom or Sand Kingdom would have been nice and really made the game feel full to the brim (no hat pun intended). Getting around in some of the stages is also a lot more difficult than it should be, which is why there are still some I haven’t revisited at all after beating the main story. And finally, there are a few enemies you can Capture near the end of the game that I really with appeared elsewhere, not only because they’re fun to control, but also because they’re classic enemies.
But all of that aside, Super Mario Odyssey is a masterpiece. Its presence on the Switch is almost dangerous, as the game is nearly impossible to put down. It brings the series back to its 3D roots with a ton of fun mechanics, levels, and surprises to keep it fresh. It may be short, but that doesn’t mean you won’t spend a ton of time playing it anyway. To put it simply: Super Mario Odyssey is a delight and a true worthy successor to the all time classic of Super Mario 64. While there are imperfections, there’s no denying that this is one of the best games to come out this year. Prepare to keep telling yourself, “I’ll go to bed soon, just one more Power Moon…”
Let's do the Odyssey
Gameplay - 10/10
Design - 10/10
Difficulty - 8/10
+ Great visuals and design
+ Excellent gameplay and control
+ Tons of detail and polish
– A bit too short