Super Mario Odyssey review: Mario’s globetrotting adventure shows Nintendo hasn’t lost its magic
“We’ve worked to fill Super Mario Odyssey with as many surprises as possible, so that people can play and experience a Mario game that they’ve never seen before,” explained Super Mario Odyssey producer Yoshiaki Koizumi, and its director Kenta Motokura, in a letter bundled in with our review code. Within the opening few moments of Super Mario Odyssey, it’s clear to see they’ve succeeded. Even after the credits roll, there’s still plenty of secrets to uncover – and you’ll desperately want to delve into every aspect of Mario’s new adventure.
My insatiable desire to find every secret hidden away in Super Mario Odyssey could be because it’s been seven years since Nintendo last treated us to a delicious 3D Mario game with the excellent Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sure, Super Mario 3D World landed in-between, but it was an entirely different beast, riffing on the classic Super Mario World titles instead of building upon the brilliance of the 3D platforming systems of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine.
Thankfully, Super Mario Odyssey has been worth that near-decade wait. In fact, what Nintendo has created is easily above and beyond anything that’s come before in the Super Mario series of games. Not only is it the best 3D outing Mario has ever been on – yes, even more than Super Mario 64 – it’s one of the most fantastic platformers ever made.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Your princess isn’t even in a castle
Harking back to the traditional Super Mario story, Bowser is at the centre of Super Mario Odyssey’s plot. As always, the king of the Koopas has kidnapped Princess Peach from the Mushroom Kingdom and plans to marry her. To complete his plan and arrange the most fantastical marriage ceremony in all the lands, Bowser travels the globe snatching up each kingdom’s rare artefacts – which just so happen to be the perfect fit for a wedding of the ages. Okay, look: nobody picks up a Mario game expecting Citizen Kane.
Anyway, being the chivalrous fellow he is, Mario springs into action to rescue Peach from Bowser’s clutches. However, this isn’t any straightforward adventure and so Mario teams up with a sentient hat creature Cappy to power-up his abilities to bring the Princess back. Together the two travel all across the world repairing the damage Bowser has wrought while simultaneously meeting the inhabitants of the wider world – meaning this gives us a glimpse of the lands outside of the Mushroom Kingdom and Isle Delfino.
The duo hop from kingdom to kingdom using the eponymous Odyssey airship collecting mysterious Power Moons to fuel the ship on its journey. These moons are strewn all across each land and, like the stars of Super Mario 64, require a fair bit of effort to seek out. The number in each kingdom varies wildly, some have around 20, others reach well over 60, with some having as few as two to uncover.[gallery:2]
Finding all of these Power Moons, which number well over the 500 mark, may sound like a chore but it’s anything but. Unlike previous Super Mario titles, you aren’t thrown back into some sort of hub world when you’ve picked up a star – be it a story-led one or simply a hidden one – instead, everything just carries on.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Doff your Cappy
This is because Super Mario Odyssey isn’t a set of closed-off levels. It’s not quite the “open world” that it was mistakenly translated to be during its initial unveiling, but each level works as a free-form sandbox, a playground of exploration. These spaces aren’t as vast as the likes of any environment in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but they’re larger than the spaces seen in previous Super Mario titles. Despite this, they’re still just as tight and expertly crafted to encourage play.
Anyone worrying that the inclusion of Cappy would be a repeat performance of Super Mario Sunshine’s divisive FLUDD needn’t worry. I’ve always firmly been on the pro-FLUDD side, but Cappy is a whole different beast – he’s the perfect accompaniment to Mario’s abilities. His attacks accentuate Mario’s tried-and-tested head stomp and butt-slam; his ability to work as a mid-air platform or a beacon to dive towards enhance Mario’s traversal abilities. If anything, he feels like an extension of Mario, rather than a tool waiting to be used.
Combine Cappy’s abilities with the excellent level design and Super Mario Odyssey is unequivocally the best entry into the series yet. It does help that it’s absolutely bursting at the seams with content – even after the credits roll there’s plenty more to do – but Odyssey’s triumphs go beyond content alone, it’s a triumph of design.
Visually, it’s stunning, and not just for a Switch title. I’d have expected nothing less than the best from Nintendo, but each world is imbued with so much life. The effervescent waters of the Seaside Kingdom’s Bubblaine fizz and pop, while the sticky hot candy caramel lava of the Luncheon Kingdom’s Mount Volbono oozes and bubbles like you can almost feel the heat radiating off of it.
Super Mario Odyssey review: Verdict
It would obviously be more controversial – and certainly more headline-grabbing – to slate certain aspects of Super Mario Odyssey. It is by no means perfect, but what game actually is? Its endgame content is vast, but arguably a touch repetitive and if you’ve never been a fan of Super Mario games, this won’t be the game to sway you. However, if you are, Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute tour de force.
Nintendo Switch owners have been spoilt, and the console hasn’t even been out a year. Not content with launching alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – the best open-world game since The Witcher III – nine months later, we have another strong contender for 2017’s Game of the Year.[gallery:34]
Not only is it the best entry in the Super Mario series yet, but it’s packed with thoughtful game design that encourages you to explore and play. It’s a universe of limitless possibilities and moments where you feel you’ve managed to pull one over the creators by creating a cheeky shortcut – regardless of the fact it was almost certainly designed to be that way. It’s a title that distils everything that makes Nintendo wonderful. Just like Lego reignites a passion for creativity no matter what your age, Super Mario Odyssey reminds you why you fell in love with games in the first place.