Super Mario OdysseyOctober 27th, 2017
Super Mario Sunshine tends to be the black sheep of the Mario family these days. FLUDD isn’t exactly remembered with the greatest amount of fondness, and Isle Delfino, while a wonderful locale to visit for a while, can get a bit boring. After all, every level was some variation on a sunny holiday destination, not the usual video game-y mix of ice stages, lava levels and such. The lack of variety and FLUDD itself hurt the game overall, but there was one aspect that was absolutely perfect: Mario’s movement.
In Super Mario Sunshine, Mario’s jumps, wall jumps, spin jumps, they all felt precise and perfect, and so despite the lacklustre stage design and Mazza’s talkative water gun, I couldn’t help but believe it to be one of the very best platformers, and it was my favourite for the longest time. That was, all the way up until I was able to play Super Mario Odyssey.
When I first played Odyssey at demo events, I wasn’t enthused. Interested, exciting, sure, but there were some small issues I couldn’t get my head around. Mario felt different to control, his new hat partner Cappy felt like an “extra” gimmick, not necessarily an integral part of Mario’s moveset. Well, all of the doubts I had following playing demos of Super Mario Odyssey have completely washed away. Every inch of this game is chock full of secrets and dripping with game design genius. Super Mario Odyssey just might be the greatest 3D platformer of all time.
Let’s start with Mario’s movement. For the most part, his Super Mario Sunshine moveset is intact, just with a few refinements and additions. The triple jump is here of course, backflip, spin jump, but it also goes much deeper than that now. You can long jump, throw Cappy, then cancel a ground pound into a dive, bounce off Cappy, and execute another dive. It sounds odd at first, but essentially, Cappy has added a huge amount of variety and possibility to Mario’s jumps. While FLUDD in Super Mario Sunshine had the hover nozzle to increase your jumping power, it also killed your momentum, making it feel like an extra, something superfluous and not a natural part of Mario’s moveset. Cappy, on the other hand, enhances and improves Mario’s existing techniques, instead of merely adding a small extra jump on the end or something. This goes beyond Galaxy’s extra spin or Sunshine’s aquatic nonsense, Cappy is an extension of Mario himself, and executing long, risky jumps feels like inputting a combo into a fighting game, complete with the satisfaction you feel.
Cappy, of course, is much more than just a hat. He’s a Bonneton, a resident of the Bonnet Kingdom, and he’s with Mario in order to rescue his darling Tiara, who has been kidnapped by Bowser, along with Peach. Typically, Bowser wants to marry Peach, and isn’t going about his proposal all that well, leaving Mario to step in and interrupt things - but first, Mazza’s gotta collect a whole bunch of Power Moons, the latest celestial body that Mario has to stuff his pockets with. Power Moons power the Odyssey, Mario and Cappy’s airship which will allow them to travel the world, hot on Bowser’s trail.
Power Moons might actually be one of the smallest, but most impactful changes to how a Mario platformer operates. In Super Mario Galaxy, each stage progressed linearly, wanting you to seek out a Power Star before sending you back to the hub world - with a similar story playing out in both Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. In Odyssey, there are many more Power Moons than there ever have been either Power Stars or Shines, but also the effort you’ll put into finding a majority of them will be much easier than ever before.
The fact is, Nintendo have taken some lessons from the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, so instead of warping you out of levels each time you find something special, it’ll keep things moving. That’s a good thing too because Power Moons are everywhere. Literally, one thing you’ll quickly learn about Super Mario Odyssey is that, if you can set your foot there, there’s probably a secret lying in wait. Moons will be under the ground, making your controller vibrate until you ground pound the right spot, lurking just off-stage while hovering above massive caverns, tempting players to jump well outside of their comfort zone.
Your attention will often be divided by the sheer number of things that you’ll want to explore. Clearly Nintendo took a fair share of game design inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, because here, just as in that game, you’ll be making your way to the top of high vantage points, surveying your surroundings, and making your own decisions on where to go, based entirely on what you can see. It sounds simple enough, but it can’t be understated that this is all calculated. The designs of the levels, many of them with a large, central structure which you can easily use to orient yourself, usher you about the levels using multiple paths, splitting off in different directions, often with every split of the path leading to a different Power Moon - it’s the kind of adventurous exploration that Mario has been gasping for, far away from the linear stages of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World.
That doesn’t mean quantity has overtaken quality, however - although it’s easy to come to that conclusion initially. The fact is, Nintendo has cleverly designed Odyssey with both portable and at-home gamers in mind. If you wish to sit in place, controller in hand, and explore and collect for hours on end, you can do that (and believe me, I did). But also, if you wish to pull your Switch out on the train, or on the bus, and are confident that you’re not going to get robbed, then you’ll have enough time to quickly and easily grab a couple of Power Moons or a few extra Purple Coins, just the same way you would grab a Korok Seed or finish a Shrine in Breath of the Wild.
There’s more that Mario has learnt from Zelda, too; the classic dungeon puzzles of Zelda were confined to the Shrines in Breath of the Wild, it was a nice way to reward world exploration with a small piece of classic Zelda gameplay, and in each of those shrines you can find a hidden treasure chest or two, gently coercing you into fully exploring each stage and pushing the limits of the puzzles within. Super Mario Odyssey follows a similar pattern with its abstract stages you’ll find hidden away in underground tunnels. You’ll be given platform challenges, usually with precariously floating beams or tasked with collecting five Moon icons, and grabbing the main Moon from each of these stages is simple enough - but they all have at least two, and the second is rarely as easy to grasp. Sometimes it can be hidden away in an absurdly hidden location, and other times it’ll be in plain sight, just not where you’ll be angling your camera. Staying aware and exploring every inch of these stages is pretty important. One of the best quality of life features in these stages though is that on re-entering one of these stages, Cappy will remark that you’ve been there before, and will let you know if there’s actually anything left to search for. Very helpful.
Of course, Cappy helps in more ways than just bigger jumps and a few pointers, he can capture enemies in the world, too. Simply throw Cappy at an enemy that’s not wearing a hat, and he can take control of it. You can speed across the world as a Bullet Bill, march as a Goomba, throw things as a Hammer Bro, and that’s just naming a few classic Mario enemies - the fact is, I don’t want to go into all of the enemies/characters you can capture in Super Mario Odyssey, but the total number is over 50, and all of them can be used in unique ways to solve puzzles and explore the game world.
And what a game world it is. From the sands of Tostarena to the Lake Kingdom and beyond, Super Mario Odyssey follows the traditional pattern of elementally-themed worlds, but they’re all wonderful. Sure, some are considerably smaller than others, but here’s a fact; I don’t want to spend as much time in the water or ice worlds as I do in some of the others. It’s almost as if the fickle mechanics of slipping on ice and swimming through water - though capturing enemies makes both of those things much easier - were too obviously frustrating, and the designers, instead of hamfistedly shoehorning in an equal amount of collectibles in each level, cleverly decided that each level should only have as many collectible items as the players will want to gather - and they got the balance very right, as soon as I was becoming burnt out on a stage, I was happy to see I was already nearing its end.
Each Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey wants you to explore every single inch of it, helped by the Purple Coins. Like collecting 100 coins in Super Mario 64, or more accurately, like Notes in Banjo-Kazooie, and they’re hidden absolutely everywhere. Up trees, hanging in the air, hovering just over the edges of precarious cliffs, they’re the impetus to explore parts of the stages where you just wouldn’t otherwise go, and searching out the last few you’re missing from any given world will inevitably have you searching absolutely everywhere, uncovering all manner of minor hidden secrets in the process. It’s just another way that Super Mario Odyssey makes the player fully explore their environments, for any small piece of the world that’s been obscured from your camera angles are likely hiding yet more secrets to unearth.
But if that wasn’t enough, Super Mario Odyssey is packed with secrets. Just, flooded and dripping with them, and I’m not talking about hidden Moons and coins. The fact is, going into Super Mario Odyssey after playing the game at events and watching far too much gameplay footage, I was convinced I’d seen too much. And yet, the game kept surprising me. Honestly, I’m not going to spoil a single surprise for you here, but the game successfully managed to stay inventive, and impressive, all the way up until the end. And yes, those final few Moons will really challenge your jumping prowess, with a couple of particularly memorable struggles actually causing me to lose almost 60 lives in a single sitting. Luckily, you only lose 10 coins when you die now instead of actual lives, but it quickly adds up on the more difficult stages.
Can you believe I’ve typed nearly 2,000 words without talking about Mario’s extensive wardrobe, the fantastically speedy load times, the smooth 60FPS? The fact is, the impressive running of this monster game is a footnote to all of its miraculously good game design. There are simply too many positive things to gush and talk about all before getting anywhere close to talking about how it runs. And, on that note, yes, it runs wonderfully. 60FPS a vast majority of the time with an adaptive resolution - in certain scenes, like turning your camera in a large area, will cause the resolution to drop for a short burst, and causing multiple items to be affected by the physics engine, such as knocking over a pile of bouncy cans, can cause the framerate to drop momentarily and, yes, the framerate is tied to game speed, so this causes slow down. Luckily, this never happened in a platform intensive moment, and when it did occur, it would be for about a second, if that. The fact is, when actually playing, Super Mario Odyssey runs as good as it looks, and it looks incredible.
Review code provided by the publisher. You can purchase the game on Amazon.
Super Mario Odyssey is the best 3D Mario game. It just is. Level design, the way Mario moves and jumps, collectibles, it’s all just… Practically perfect. This is the Mario game I’ve been wanting for so long, and I already know I’m going straight for 100% completion.
- Excellent level design
- Loads to collect and explore
- Biggest and best surprises the Mario series has ever had
- Minor, infrequent framerate drops in select situations