Super Mario Odyssey Review
Super Mario Odyssey has just hit the Nintendo Switch. The long awaited “true” sequel to Super Mario 64 and a flagship title for the system and the Nintendo brand itself. At the time, people were left a little burned by Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube and it wasn’t until Mario Galaxy on the Wii that we had another smash hit 3D Mario game. However, despite the objective excellence of the Galaxy series, we never had a true thematic sequel to 64’s open world adventuring – Until now.
Super Mario Odyssey is an absolutely fantastic game. Let’s just get this out in the open – SMO is currently sitting atop a hoard of perfect scores like some kind of Metacritic version of Smaug the dragon and the praise being heaped upon the game shows no sign of slowing down. I too intend to add my praise to the pile, although not without some critique. SMO is almost magical at times with its gorgeous art style, charming characters, brilliant animation and awesome soundtrack – But it is also marred by some small flaws that keep it from perfection.
Odyssey what you did there…
The story hits the same old beats. That dastardly bowser has kidnapped the princess yet again, and it’s up to everyone’s favourite overweight Italian plumber to run, jump and butt stomp his way across the world to take her back. This kind of simplicity allows the game to focus on what people really play Mario for – Platforming and adventure.
Going back to it’s Super Mario 64 roots, SMO is much more focused on exploration than the more recent games in the series. Levels are large(ish) open worlds, ready for you to get stuck into. While not huge, these worlds are highly dense and packed to the brim with things for you to see and jump over, not to mention a dizzying amount of minigames, activities and puzzles for you to participate in. Completing a challenge within a level will more often than not reward you with a power moon. Similar to stars in previous Mario titles, each new world is gated by a minimum number of moons you must collect within the world you currently inhabit before being granted access to the next. Also true to classic Mario formula, there is many more than the minimum amount (an insane 900+) should you be in the mood for treasure hunting as well.
Those bonus moons are where the challenge comes in. Make no mistake, SMO is easy. Very Very easy. I did not die once before the 7th world, wherein I finally met my match by slipping off a platform and into a bottomless pit. This goes a long way to making it a very accessible game for children and the whole family, which is nice, but those of you seeking to put your platforming skills to the test will need to stick around for new game plus mode, where some of the moons you are hunting can be hidden behind seriously fiendish platforming feats.
Super Fashion Bros.
The major feature that distinguishes SMO from its peers is “Cappy” your ghostly hat. He is your partner throughout the game and by throwing Cappy at enemies, you are allowed to possess them and take control of their bodies. Pretty much anything moving, and some things not, are able to be possessed and controlled. Turning Mario into some kind of eldritch demonic horror that enslaves the minds of friend and foe alike is just as fun (and often downright hilarious) as it sounds. Each baddie becomes a potentially new style of gameplay or tool for solving a puzzle. This adds a tremendous level of depth that would otherwise be missing from a straight-up platformer. Cappy can also be used to smash boxes and even if thrown with enough skill, can be used as a mid-air platform to jump from (this game will become a speed runners dream). There are also quite a few super charming parts where you become 2D and play through retro NES Super Mario Bros. style sections. These rival even some of the most creative player made levels I’ve seen in Mario Maker.
So with all the praise I’m heaping on the game, you must be wondering where these flaws I hinted at are? Well, they are everywhere – Small and mostly easy to ignore, like cracks in a window, they creep up on the corners of your vision and detract from making this the definitive Mario experience.
The art style, for example, is pure Nintendo gold – but the Switch really isn’t up to the task. The resolution is low and muddy, with severe motion blurring when turning the camera. Jaggies and aliasing abound, particularly noticeable on a larger 4K display like mine.
The music, while downright amazing when it gets going, is noticeably lacking. Quite many zones will have you running about in pure, stony silence. It totally kills the mood.
The game is also very short. I played through from beginning to the end credits in a single weekend. I spent a few more hours running around in new game plus mode and realised I simply don’t have the time and energy to scour every world for 900 darned moons. Of which, due to their sheer volume, many of them are not rewarding at all to collect – Many simply sit there in the open like a regular coin to be nabbed.
The controls are not very good in my opinion either. Particularly with the joycons. Lots of awful motion controls have been shoehorned into the game and some moves cannot be performed without jerking your controller. This becomes problematic if you are in a crowded Metro train playing in handheld mode and need to jerk your entire switch around like a twit to make Mario jump on the things. It plays much better on the pro controller, but with 2 buttons used for jump and 2 for throwing the hat, that’s 2 wasted buttons they could have easily mitigated the motion controls to. Mario himself feels a little slipperier to control than id like. He lacks the gloriously tactile precision of games like Ori and the Blind Forest or Rayman Legends.
Despite all those flaws, Super Mario Odyssey is still one of the best games released this year and one of the best 3D platforming games, period. If you are looking to re-kindle that classic Nintendo 64 era of platforming and maybe Yooka-Laylee didn’t quite do it for you, then you absolutely must play this game. A charming, fun and smile-inducing game that lets you run from a T-Rex while riding a Vespa, dressed in boxer shorts and a sombrero. Just like you’ve always wanted, I’m sure…