After Nintendo knocked it out of the park for the Switch’s launch with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, fans praised the title for its depth and long-overdue innovation to the Zelda formula. They then sat with bated breath to see if the company could make lightning strike twice with the next Mario instalment which it teased last year.
Once again, Nintendo nailed it.
Jumping into Super Mario Odyssey feels like pure instinct to anyone pining for another exploration-based Mario game along the likes of 64 and Sunshine. This time, Mario is travelling the globe in a hat-shaped spaceship, inspecting every nook and cranny of open levels for Power Moons (this game’s version of Shine Sprites and Stars). Every level flaunts the sort of world-building that Nintendo rarely reserves for Mario games. New races, kingdoms, characters, songs – it’ll be a real shame if Nintendo can’t keep this kind of creativity up in future instalments.
The game runs beautifully on Switch. Colours pop, environments are lush with detail, and models look detailed all around with only some notable aliasing getting in the way. Even in portable mode, the game remains at a rock-solid 60fps and still looks great in 720p. As soon as control is given to the player, the moves Mario can perform are responsive, intuitive, and also recognizable. The plumber still has the tried-and-true triple-jump, backflip, sideflip, and dive – all moves that can be found in the game’s tutorial menu, but there’s hidden depth in his move-set that reinforces the Nintendo design philosophy of “easy to learn, hard to master.” The main star adding to this hidden depth: the capture mechanic.
Joining Mario on his globetrotting adventure to save Princess Peach is Cappy, a floating member of a new hat-shaped race. He takes form as Mario’s red cap, and functions into Odyssey’s central mechanic of ‘capturing’ certain enemies, characters and objects. At the touch of a button, Mario will throw Cappy forward. Mario will then be sucked into whatever Cappy touches mid-flight and take control of it (think Kirby, but with more possession). With the captured target now sporting blue eyes and a fetching moustache, the player can now use whatever moves are usually accustomed to the capture in question. So, let’s say Mario uses Cappy to capture a Bullet Bill – the player is now controlling a fast and manoeuvrable Mario missile able to fly across long distances and blow up objects.
Even without the capture mechanic, the player can discover through experimentation just how useful Cappy can be when linking together certain moves. Groudpound-jumping, bouncing off a wall into throwing Cappy midair only to dive and bounce off of him is just one example of move-chaining that is both encouraged and rewarded. It seems there’s never a ledge too high or far, and never a place the developers didn’t expect you to reach. It’s this sense of freedom in the game’s control where Odyssey truly shines.
But it wouldn’t be Nintendo without some intruding gimmicks, and unfortunately, Odyssey’s controls fall prey to a few. Many of Mario’s moves can also be pulled off through motion control by flicking the Switch joy-cons in different directions. Some moves can only be triggered through this, but annoyingly are nigh-impossible to perform when playing in portable mode, unless you enjoy waving your console around like you’re trying to swat away bees. Other motion controls, such as gyroscope aiming, simply don’t work in portable mode, which is odd considering how well they functioned in Breath of the Wild.
The game can still be easily completed without the use of these moves, with an emphasis on ‘easily’. It takes quite a while for the difficulty to catch up with veteran players, especially if they find themselves experimenting with the aforementioned move-chaining. Luckily, there’s so much extra content to challenge the most hardcore platforming gamer that you’ll wonder why the credits rolled when they did.
Super Mario Odyssey will make even the most tired of Mario fans pay attention. With some control blemishes aside, its reimagining of classic features in both its structure and gameplay thanks to Mario’s new trusty headwear/sidekick deserve all the praise coming their way. Now, with two must-own first-party Switch games made in just under a year, all eyes are on Nintendo to see if they can pull off a hat-trick.