Review: Super Mario Odyssey

My wife and I got a Nintendo Switch over the holiday break. We purchased two games with it: Breath of the Wild, which she’s playing through, and Super Mario Odyssey, which I’ve been playing. This new Mario game is absolutely fantastic; I beat the main story over the holiday weekend, but there’s still so much more to do and I’m eager to get into it–but before I discuss my opinions on the game any further, let me say a few things about the Switch.

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Switch controller, with Joy-Cons connected, in the foreground. Thanks to my lovely model, Aizen the Cat.

I think it’s a lovely little console. It’s an affordable entry price point for a new console. It’s incredibly easy to set up and use. The console base’s back section organizes and hides the wires you hook up. Everything’s sleek and lightweight. The games look good on the screen, even though not hyper-realistic like with Nintendo’s competitors. The console, when not connected to the TV, doubles as a handheld, of course, and the screen on it is great, with crisp images. Hooking up Joy-Cons to the controller base, or using them separately with wrist straps, or connecting them to the console in handheld mode, is super-easy and intuitive. There were virtually no instructions for how to use the product, and none have been needed. I have had occasional issues with delayed controller reaction, or a Joy-Con losing connection, but these issues all appear to be traced to line-of-sight issues (we have the console dock set on a low level of our TV stand, so a crossed leg or thrust-out end table have been the typical culprits behind the problems, and addressing those concerns has resolved the issues). The only true downside I’ve observed so far is that the handheld mode is a bit bulky and unwieldy, not ideal for extended use. While not a negative, it’s also weird to have a console that is so minimalist; after the rise of Sony and Microsoft, I’ve become accustomed to video game consoles serving as platforms for home entertainment more generally, but the Switch is fashionably bare-bones in a way that’s new to me but nonetheless enjoyable.

It’s also impressive how well the hardware, console operating system, and Nintendo-published games all flow together. The motion sensitivity in the controllers is fun. And the record button on the controller is great; you can save pictures and videos and make small edits, then upload directly to social media, basically encouraging a steady stream of Nintendo-branded video game meme images.

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I’m not good at memes.

As to Super Mario Odyssey itself, I don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to the console. It makes use of all features of the controller and console quite well (motion sensitive controls for more precise or faster moves, recording tool to capture specially placed hint images, and so on).

It’s also an incredibly fun game. It innovates, but more than being revolutionary it’s a lovely evolution of play in the way that Nintendo does so well, taking the familiar and adding layers to it. Much of the platforming gameplay is reminiscent of Super Mario 64, with the open-world levels and star (or, in this case, moon) collection and even how Mario moves, how he’s controlled, and what his abilities are. Mario is joined in this adventure by Cappy, a sentient hat spirit who can take the form of different hats and who enables Mario to possess many creatures in the game. He joins Mario to rescue his sister Tiara, who was captured by Bowser as one of many wedding accessories the villain has assembled from across many kingdoms for his planned forced marriage to Princess Peach. With Cappy, there are additional moves and tactics for interacting with the environment, but his possession abilities especially open up a whole new world of possibilities (and feel like a growth from the Kirby concept), and his ability to cut through poison spills and the like made me think of Mario’s water gun in Super Mario Sunshine. There are 2D segments as well, which draw connections to the earliest of Mario games (there’s a great extended sequence where Mario participates in an urban festival by recreating elements of the original Donkey Kong game), and of course the gameplay transition from 3D to 2D wall-scrolling comes from other Nintendo titles like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. This game does not just pull from older games–it celebrates them. There are many references to other games, my favorites being the aforementioned Donkey Kong sequence, an advertisement for a “Diddy’s Mart” on “Dixie Street” (for the Donkey Kong Country fans out there), and a brief montage of Bowser’s evolution over the course of the games in the final level.

Another fun addition is the ability to purchase collectibles in each level. Since you’re kingdom-hopping by way of a magical airship, the idea of travel and tourism is played up considerably. Each kingdom has a unique flair, and so does the merchandise! There are two types of monetary systems–a global coin and a local currency. These currencies let you buy different types of regionally appropriate outfits, stickers for your airship, and little statues and other such souvenirs. There are so many costumes, and I had fun buying many of them as I went through the game. My favorites were the silly and bizarre costumes. The costumes aren’t purely cosmetic; some areas of the game are locked unless you’re dressed appropriately, though I only recall this coming up in side quests for extra power moons, never in a way that forced you to invest in the costumes.

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Before I wrap up, I’d also like to point out that the music in this game was really quite good. It serviced the game rather well, and there were some fun throwback melodies. But highlights were the lyrical songs–the “Jump Up, Super Star” theme sung in-game by Pauline, as well as the end-level song, “Honeylune Ridge: Escape,” which feels rather like something out of a 2000’s Sonic game. And just to show how splendid this whole package is, let me point out that Nintendo Switch cases are very lean and minimalist, with often beautiful artwork adorning them; Super Mario Odyssey has the lyrics to “Jump Up, Super Star” printed against a red background inside the case.

I had a lot of fun with this game. A lot of fun! The different zones were so colorful (mostly, except for some worlds that were deliberately drab and somewhat creepy) and unique and sometimes somewhat mind-bending. It was Mario silly absurdity at its best. Yes, the same tired tropes get dragged out to provide a simple overarching plot (though somewhat lamp-shaded in the end, in a cute way), but a lot of the specific moments in the game were memorable and intriguing. And anyway, while I typically prefer narrative-focused games, Mario’s not about that. Mario’s about having fun, and this game was a rousing success in that regard. You will find something you like to do in this game, and the game will have some way of rewarding you for doing it. And nothing required to beat the main story was all that frustrating or stressful, though it could be challenging, especially in boss fights and hard-to-reach side quests.

I’ve finished the main story, but now I’m left with the whole world open to me. I still have a lot of costume-shopping and exploring and power moon-collecting to do before I put this title aside. And I’m really looking forward to it!

I don’t know if people still talk about “killer apps” in relation to consoles anymore, but I’d suggest Super Mario Odyssey is a game that justifies the console purchase all on its own. I highly recommend it.

 

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