Article By: Michael Savich
It’s fascinating that whenever a new 3D Mario game appears on the horizon, one question people don’t ask is “Will it be good?” To Nintendo’s credit, there hasn’t been a poorly-received 3D Mario game yet. Granted, Nintendo likes to take their time when making Mario. Odyssey is only the fifth 3D game in the series since Super Mario 64 broke ground over two decades ago. While I’m not sure what Nintendo has done to maintain a batting average of .1000, I can say that with Super Mario Odyssey, they’ve hit it out of the park once again.
The game opens up with Mario getting trounced by his longtime adversary Bowser, who once again has abducted Princess Peach. During the ill-fated fight, Mario’s iconic red cap is destroyed. After a brief fall from grace, Mario encounters his new partner, Cappy, a half-hat, half-ghost creature, who uses his spectral abilities to adopt the appearance of Mario’s deceased headwear.
As is frequently the case with Mario, a new partner character is merely an excuse for a new core mechanic, and in Odyssey that is the ability to “capture” (read: possess) other creatures. Simply toss Cappy onto an enemy and you will become that enemy. While being controlled by Mario, the host organism will grow a familiar mustache so you always know who is Mario at any given moment.
As other creatures, Mario can perform new actions. What’s brilliant about this mechanic is that you generally don’t need to be taught these new moves— you can usually learn what abilities a potential target has by observing them. You’ll become a bullet bill to fly across gaps, or a � Here we go, off the rails � caterpillar to stretch your body around tricky bends. Every world Mario visits brings new enemies, and with them, whole new ways to play.
Speaking of worlds, the game’s title is a nod to the newly global scale of Mario’s adventures. Mario trots the globe aboard his tophat-shaped airship, the Odyssey. Unfortunately, the theme of travel feels a little tacked-on, as Mario never visits any locations that would have looked out of place in a game like Super Mario Galaxy, with one notable exception.
That exception is New Donk City, an unapologetic clone of New York City. If you’ve seen any marketing for this game, odds are New Donk City is the location they’re showing off. And indeed, it’s worthy of the top billing— there is something uniquely euphoric about swinging from stoplights, springboarding off of taxis, and hopping on the heads of NDC’s realistically proportioned human inhabitants, who are aptly referred to as New Donkers. New Donk City is far and away the highlight of the game, complete with a fireworks-infused conclusion where Mario’s old flame Pauline (from his first appearance in Donkey Kong) sings the game’s theme song, a jazzy swing tune that only gets more catchy each time you listen to it.
The game doesn’t end there though. Your primary objective in each world is to collect Power Moons, special items that can be used as fuel for Mario’s ship. These moons are hidden everywhere, and all told there are over 800 moons to collect in the game. You only need to collect a fraction of these to actually “complete” the game, but searching every nook and cranny of the game’s packed worlds is such a treat that you’ll want to catch them all.
Super Mario Odyssey is a game that will have you grinning from ear to ear as you explore everything from a desert covered in ice crystals to a beach resort where the water is carbonated. Beyond the gameplay, there are innumerable easy-to-miss details that give the game an overflowing sense of charm— such as the piping hot coffee aboard Mario’s hat-shaped ship being served in appropriately hat-shaped coffee cups, or fossils of Mario’s classic 8-bit enemies trapped in the bedrock of the Jurassic-themed area.
Actually, the word “overflowing” describes Super Mario Odyssey quite nicely. The game is overflowing with colorful worlds to explore, secrets to find, challenges to attempt, jokes to laugh at, and more. Primarily though, Odyssey is overflowing with joy. Mario games have always been upbeat, but traditionally focused more on platforming challenges to make the player feel clever. In contrast, Odyssey has far less of that sort of challenge, and replaces it with exploration. The joy of Mario and the joy of discovery meet in the middle to make a game that feels fresh yet undeniably familiar.
Odyssey is yet another feather in the cap of Nintendo’s new console, the Nintendo Switch. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, released earlier this year, was another, though it was originally built for and simultaneously released on Nintendo’s ill-fated Wii U system. In a sense then, Super Mario Odyssey marks the real beginning of the Nintendo Switch’s lifecycle— and it’s off to a phenomenal start.