Mario’s been with most of us since childhood. His weird, little “wahoo” and jumping noises will always be something of a nostalgia trigger, so there’s always a certain trepidation when it comes to a new Mario adventure. Especially with one so clearly presented as a strange blend of old and new, and on an almost brand new console nonetheless. Mario even has that brand new hat. However, it’s clear even from the opening hours that Odyssey has something for all existing fans, but also shines as the Mario for new fans too, rewriting most of the things you already know about a Super Mario game and successfully making a 30+ year old series feel fresh and new.
When Nintendo announced that Mario’s new hat, Cappy, would allow him to possess - capture, sorry - a variety of creatures and people, half the fanbase thought Nintendo had gone mad. But in reality, it’s a very, very clever mechanic. This is the Mario of the future, without losing any of his history. The little Nintendo mascot can still do all the traditional stuff - leaps, jumps, ground pounds and all the rest - but by giving him the power of capture, suddenly Mario proves he can learn new tricks after all these years.
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Mario’s new moves
I was annoyed at first that you can’t just capture anything you fancy in Super Mario Odyssey, but the fact that you can ensnare over 50 different things means that there’s a lot to learn, gameplay-wise. Taking control of traditional Mario enemies is easy enough; you know how a Bullet Bill, Goomba or Cheep Cheep works. But then you add in all the new enemies and Mario’s moveset massively multiplies. From the accordion-like Tropical Wigglers and flying lizards known as Glydons, to onion-esque Uproots with growing legs, and a T-Rex, there are plenty of unknowns to explore and take control of. A lot of the fun of Super Mario Odyssey has to offer is by learning how each of these new enemies works and how you can use their abilities to get around each Kingdom.
The new mechanic also subverts the family-friendly history of Nintendo in some ways. You thought Mario wielding a gun in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was weird? How about Mario becoming a tank? Yes, it might have little eyes, Mario’s trademark moustache and seemingly shoot colourful exploding confetti balls rather than any kind of bullet... but it’s a Mario tank. Wouldn’t get that in Super Mario 64 now would you?
There are plenty of firsts for Mario in Super Mario Odyssey. The whole concept of Odyssey itself - both in the literal sense of the word meaning a great journey and also being the name of Mario’s new ship - is an unknown quantity for Mario. He’s leaving his happy, safe confines of the Mushroom Kingdom and instead of just taking a little holiday, he’s off on the most epic quest yet to rescue Peach. Again.
Here we are in 2017, a mere 32 years since her first appearance in Super Mario Bros. in 1985 and Peach is still getting kidnapped by Bowser. Surely, in those 32 years she could have put in some precautions to stop this from ever happening again? Panic room? Safe house? Witness protection? A restraining order? Or just moving somewhere else aside from that massive castle in the Mushroom Kingdom? Just a thought. Thankfully, Peach manages to redeem herself in my eyes by the end of the game. Although I wouldn’t dare spoil anything to do with Odyssey’s storyline, Peach becomes more of a modern woman than I ever expected her to in this adventure.
The opening moments of Super Mario Odyssey though are rife with the feels - and not just with my anger over the whole Peach thing. It’s in these first few minutes that you have to watch Mario’s trademark flatcap get turned into hamster bedding in the propellers of Bowser’s massive airship. It might be the set-up for the entire game, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of emotional anguish it would cause me. Especially when paired with watching our favourite plumber (or is that former plumber?) lying face down, unconscious in the most monochrome world the Super Mario series has probably ever seen.
Bowser’s got this idea in his head, you see, that he and Peach are going to get married - whether she likes it or not. But for this wedding of the century, he’s got to have the best of everything. The best dress, the biggest diamond ring, the rarest flowers, the most delicious food etc and so on. To get all that though, he’s got to travel to the places where they’ve got the best of the best. And that’s where the idea of the Kingdoms comes in. Bowser’s stealing something precious from each one and you’re going to follow him.
An evolving and intriguing world
When you actually get to each Kingdom though, it’s easy to forget why you went there in the first place. Again, I won’t spoil all of the surprises, but moving from lush forests full of flowers to a desert where Day of the Dead skull people call their home and everything in between is a huge part of Super Mario Odyssey’s charm. It’s amazing how much Super Mario Odyssey can keep surprising you. With each new Kingdom comes a plethora of new creatures, new mechanics and new challenges that manage to astound and delight - even if the precision required for some side-missions might make you want to through your Joy-Cons in a temper tantrum. The nature of a 3D Mario game means that platforming can be incredibly treacherous with one missed jump meaning sudden death and a warp back to your starting point, and this can be the bane of your life in Super Mario Odyssey’s side-quests. It wouldn’t be a Mario game without a little frustration, right?
But you won’t feel that frustration when fighting the bosses. Bowser isn’t doing all of this alone, and he’s enlisted help from a set of well-dressed rabbits known as Broodals, who’ll try and stop you from getting to the next Kingdom. There are only four of them, so prepare yourself for repeated battles that only get incrementally harder each time. And they’re not taxing in the first place, which makes you feel like progressing through the story isn’t exactly a chore.
The main collectible in the game, Power Moons, are required to fuel your ship and keep you progressing through the game. Like most Super Mario games, they’re locked behind various activities, including platforming sections, timed runs, Koopa races, an assortment of puzzles or merely just donning the right costume to unlock a secret area. It’s always a treat to find a suprise 2D section too, where Mario reverts to his pixelated form for a time... and you spot the fact he’s still wearing whatever outfit he was in before the pipe sucked all the 3D out of him.
That’s not the only way you’ll be drowning in nostalgia in Super Mario Odyssey (if you’re a long term fan). The game is crammed with Easter eggs and nods to Mario’s past that regularly had me giggling in glee. I spent far too much time in a cinema in Metro Kingdom doing secret things and playing fetch with a Nintendog who seems to be in every Kingdom if you want to find him, but that’s all I’ll tell you. Regardless of what you’re doing it’s easy to spot Mario’s history everywhere, to the point that Super Mario Odyssey feels like a beautiful homage to Mario’s history, but also his future. It’s clear that this new formula works for Mario and as you play you’ll realise this is an evolution taken from all the learnings Nintendo has had along the Super Mario journey.
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Collectibles as far as the eye can see
There’s so much to Super Mario Odyssey and when you consider there are over 800 Moons to find, it’s amazing that it never feels like it’s rehashing elements from previous worlds. Discovering each of the collectibles is quite the delight, even if the realisation of just how many there are can feel a little daunting: from the Moons themselves to the individual Kingdom currencies, Captain Toads, Goombettes, portraits… the list goes on, and on.
That sheer vastness of content is something that Nintendo is very much making its ‘thing’ this year. By starting the year with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and finishing out with Super Mario Odyssey, it’s given Switch owners enough end-game content to fill all the days in between and beyond. If this is how Nintendo is doing its big games now - cramming so much stuff into each game that even mini-games could almost stand by themselves - then I’m very much on board.
In fact I’m so on board with Super Mario Odyssey that it’s very hard to fault - aside from the control system. Or more precisely the fact that it doesn’t really utilise all of the Switch’s features. Unless you use motion controls, you won’t actually get access to all of Mario’s moves, including the incredibly useful spin and targeted throws. So if you’re wanting to use a Pro pad or simply just play Super Mario Odyssey on the move, you’re going to find yourself restricted. Also, if you’re going full motion control, you can enlist a buddy to control Cappy in co-op mode. It’s definitely not the best way to play, but it’s a great option for families looking to get in on the Odyssey action together.
Thankfully the gripes are so small that it’s easy to say Odyssey is the most glorious of Mario’s adventures to date. And not to mention adorable. Have you seen all of his outfits? Nintendo’s ability to jam secrets and side-quests into every pixel continues to astonish and means I’ll be playing Super Mario Odyssey for many Moons to come.
Before you get started, don't forget to check out our ultimate Super Mario Odyssey guide for all the hints, tips and collectibles advice you'll ever need.