Joey Nasser has been playing and discussing video games for about as long as he's existed. Recently enamored with Animal Crossing and Doom.
A new 3D Mario game is usually a pretty big deal in the gaming world, but something about Super Mario Odyssey was drawing even more attention than usual. Maybe it was the return to the collect-a-thon, sandbox-style gameplay that made Mario’s N64 and GameCube outings fan favorites. Conversely, it could have been the endless possibilities afforded by the new capture mechanic. Whatever it was, the excitement surrounding its eventual release was palpable, even outside the usual Nintendo sphere. Did it live up to those lofty expectations?
- Developed By: Nintendo
- Published By: Nintendo
- Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
- Available on: Nintendo Switch
- Rating: E10+
- Release Date: October 27th 2017 in NA
Odyssey wastes no time getting right into things, opening with a brief snippet of Mario on the losing end of a climactic clash with Bowser. The Koopa King makes short work of our hero, sending him flying into the horizon and shredding his iconic hat for good measure. With Peach in tow, he leaves the plumber to his seemingly grim fate, and begins making preparations for his unholy matrimony.
It’s a cliché at this point to complain about the formulaic nature of the plot of Mario games, and while it does essentially boil down to saving the princess from Bowser yet again, the scenario and circumstances are just different enough to make it feel fresh. Stakes are as high as they’ve ever been, and this time Bowser has a concrete plan worth stopping. Doing so will take you far outside the Mushroom Kingdom, to worlds, unlike anything Mario has ever explored. Using the titular Odyssey, a hat-shaped ship capable of soaring from continent to continent, it’s up to Mario and his new hat/companion Cappy to crush Bowser’s hopes and dreams like an unlucky Goomba.
Mario Odyssey is, at times, absolutely gorgeous. Mario himself is exquisitely detailed, down to the stitching on the letter “M” on his cap. He’s extremely expressive, and animates fluidly and convincingly. Lighting is vibrant, and expertly conveys shifts in tone from dark and moody to jovial and festive.
If you go in expecting standard Mario fare, you might be a bit surprised to see the overall change in art direction. Everything has a more realistic, tangible appearance than prior titles, and the art style can change drastically from kingdom to kingdom. There’s a wonderful sense of exploring the unknown as you discover areas that vary from low poly, high saturation wonderlands to gloomy, unnerving locales that look straight out of something like Bayonetta. While the overall graphical presentation is marvelous, the change in art direction ends up pushing the Switch in ways it’s not especially well suited for, and the visual quality occasionally suffers as a result. Some low res textures, in particular, can be a little bit jarring, and the realistic humans of New Donk City can look rough.
From a technical perspective, the game runs at a mostly-solid 60 frames per second, with a variable resolution that can shift anywhere from 1600x900 to 1280x720 while docked. Some areas, particularly New Donk City, have trouble running at 60 fps at times, and while it’s still perfectly playable, it can be a bit distracting. Handheld and docked play are comparable when it comes to performance, but the resolution dips even further in handheld, which can lead to the game feeling a bit muddy, especially when rotating the camera.
Mario’s always had some of the catchiest tunes in the business, and Odyssey doesn't disappoint. From the grand, sweeping orchestral score of Fossil Falls to the subdued funk of Steam Gardens, the soundtrack is varied, matches the locales to a tee, and is an utter joy to listen to. 8-Bit remixes of the soundtrack when entering an old-school side-scrolling segment are a nostalgic, delightful touch. Of course, it’s hard to talk about the soundtrack without mentioning “Jump Up, Super Star!," the standout tune so popular it breached the iTunes top 40 chart upon its release. With an infectious sense of celebration, it’s one of the most joyful songs in all of gaming.
Good luck getting it out of your head, though.
The sound design is no slouch, either. All of the sound effects perfectly match the onscreen action, and old-school sounds are mixed expertly with higher fidelity samples to make things like the firing of a bullet bill sound like an NES game with added oomph and clarity.
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Not to be left out, Charles Martinet’s signature wahoo’s and yippie’s are back in full force, and perfectly compliment the game's unbridled sense of glee.
Structurally, Odyssey ditches the linear objective-based design of games like Super Mario 3D World to return to the wide-open sandbox exploration popularized by the likes of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Interestingly, it’s actually Banjo that the game ends up resembling most, due to the fact that you can complete any number of objectives without being booted out to a hub world. In fact, there’s no hub world to speak of here. Instead, there’s a basic map screen to select which kingdom you’d like to travel to next.
Each Kingdom itself then acts as a hub of sorts to smaller, more linear challenges that feel right out of something like Super Mario Galaxy. Unlike that game, which was stuffed to bursting with linear platforming challenges, Odyssey sees you simply exploring just as often as pulling off trick jumps. At times, it can feel more like a scavenger hunt than a platformer, but an abundance of expertly hidden collectibles ensures that no matter what you’re doing, it’s an absolute blast.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to unearth a deviously hidden secret, or survive a taxing obstacle course, Odyssey has some of the smoothest, most expressive controls of just about anything out there. The simple act of moving around is fun, and it only gets better the more you play. Mario’s movement options are deceptively deep- you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that gives you more ways to jump. The beauty of it is that while advanced maneuvers can get you to your objective in unintended ways, or let you take death-defying shortcuts, you never actually have to utilize them. Not only does this give the game a great deal of replayability, allowing you to tackle older objectives with your newfound prowess, but it ensures that newcomers aren’t left out in the cold. To that end, there’s also an Assist Mode that allows less experienced players to enjoy the game without the threat of falling into bottomless pits or getting lost, thanks to on-screen arrows always guiding you towards your next objective.
Mario’s core moveset already affords him more flexibility than just about any other platformer protagonist out there, but he’s got one other trick up his sleeve, and it’s a big one: the ability to "capture" your foes by throwing your hat at them. Upsetting implications aside, this is pretty brilliant, and adds a lovely layer of variety. Different enemies grant Mario completely different skill sets, whether it be the tank-like shooting of the Sherms or the offensive onslaught of Hammer Bros. Capturing leads to some of the most memorable moments throughout the adventure, and the gameplay opportunities the mechanic opens up are one of the game’s biggest strengths.
If I have any issues with the gameplay, it’s the baffling inclusion of motion controls for some actions. Motion controls aren’t an absolute evil—I love using Gyro aiming in titles like Splatoon 2—but the way they’re implemented here is clunky and frustrating. Some actions, like Mario’s new rolling maneuver or throwing his cap, can be augmented with the use of different motions. This works alright while playing on the TV with split Joy-Con, but with any other set up it’s a bit of a nuisance. Jerking the pro controller up or yanking it to the side never feels natural, and playing with the Switch in handheld mode is even worse. It isn’t a game-breaking issue, as aside from one or two moons it’s never explicitly necessary to use the motion-controlled moves, but it’s a frustrating misstep in a game with otherwise fantastic controls.
You can blow through the main story in a matter of seven hours or so if you’re really booking it, but that’s far from all the game has to offer. To put things in perspective, you need 124 moons (the game’s primary collectible) to see the ending out of a total of 880. A good number of those are only attainable after you’ve beaten the game, at which point each area is repopulated with a fresh group of moons to discover. You can easily spend dozens of hours tracking down every last thing the game has to offer. While doing so isn’t quite as monotonous as going for every Korok seed in Breath of the Wild, not every moon is a winner, and a good number start to feel like filler moons if you go for all of them. Still, if you’re a completionist, expect to have your hands full for a good while.
"The Good so Far Outweighs the Bad"
It’s clear why people were so excited for Super Mario Odyssey, and it’s my great pleasure to say that it lives up to the hype. Boundless creativity, wonderful presentation, heaps of content, and expressive, empowering controls make Odyssey the best 3D platformer in over a decade, and one of the best Mario games yet. It isn’t perfect—some objectives feel less inspired than others, there are a few brief technical issues, and the implementation of motion controls is poorly handled—but the good so far outweighs the bad that even the pickiest of players won’t have much to complain about.
|The Good||The Bad|
Some Uninspired Objectives
Minor Technical Issues
Loads of Content
Clunky Motion Controls
My Rating: 9.25 out of 10
Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic experience absolutely dripping with joy. Its few annoyances do little to distract from a game that, at the end of the day, is just plain fun.
© 2020 Joey Nasser