Mario has been the face of Nintendo in one form or another for almost 40 years. His debut as “jump man” in Donkey Kong signaled a new era for video gaming, and when Nintendo moved from the arcades to the living room, it fell on the jumping plumber to carry the vanguard during the dawn of consoles. Now, almost four decades later, Nintendo and Mario are both still going strong, Nintendo with the hot new Switch, and Mario with his greatest adventure yet, Super Mario Odyssey.
Homer Has Nothing On Mario
Perhaps the best thing about Mario’s newest adventure isn’t in the story itself, but the journey that the player will take in experiencing that story. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach yet again, and this time he’s going to marry her, no matter what. Using an enchanted hat from a kingdom of living headwear to empower his bold move, Bowser also kidnaps a living tiara for Peach, and then whisks her away on his quest to collect various items for the wedding. Standing in his way is Mario, who is teamed with a hat of his own, named Cappy, and together, the two heroes set off on an adventure that will take the player on a memory trip like no other.
Super Mario Odyssey has all of the hallmarks of the classic 3D Mario games, like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, but add some new jumps and abilities, and of course, Cappy brings a whole new skill set. Mario can throw Cappy to use as a weapon, as a jump pad, or he can use him to effectively possess others. If Mario throws his hat on, say, a hulking T-rex, he can control the great beast (complete with a comical mustache), and that adds a whole new level of what Mario can do. Possessing various denizens and even classic enemies of the huge world becomes a quest in itself, and he can take control of not only 50-plus characters, but various inanimate objects, like manhole covers and huge chunks of meat. This new mechanic drives Super Mario Odyssey, but it does not take away from all of the things that make a Super Mario game great. If anything, it accessorizes them.
An Odyssey Across The World
The world in Super Mario Odyssey is huge. This is as close to a sandbox game that Mario has ever been. Mario and Cappy will visit new kingdoms, as well as old. He’ll meet new friends and some classic characters, like Pauline, the damsel in distress from the original Donkey Kong, who is now mayor of the bustling New Donk City in the Metropolitan Kingdom — a kingdom full of realistic looking citizens. Of course the players will navigate through snow kingdoms, water kingdoms, sand kingdoms, and the like. Each kingdom has a boss battle with Bowser’s allies, the Broodals, who are twisted, angry, rabbit creatures. This is a fun nod to the recently released Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, where Mario also fought twisted “rabbids.”
The kingdoms in Super Mario Odyssey have their own communities that Mario will interact with on his quest for power moons. You can spend days exploring each kingdom trying to find all the moons and purple coins that are scattered throughout. Some are easy to find, and others take skill and determination to uncover. This is a good mix of difficulty, and means that players of all ages and skill sets can play and enjoy this game. There are reportedly over 800 moons to find, with a good portion opening up in post-game, giving Super Mario Odyssey a long residence in your Nintendo Switch.
For the first time ever, the player can pick and choose what Mario wears on his journey. The new outfits and hat combos don’t do anything to his stats or abilities, but they look cool and give the player one more thing to collect. Players collect coins, both classic and purple, to be used to buy new items, souvenirs, and stickers for Mario’s ship, aptly named the Odyssey. Coins also represent Mario’s “continuing” ability, as it takes 10 coins to continue after he dies. Coins are also everywhere, so this is never an issue. Amiibo support also unlocks new costumes and coins, and there is a three-figure set made especially for Super Mario Odyssey with Mario, Peach, and Bowser, all dressed up for the wedding.
The graphics and color palette push the Switch to the brink, as they leap off the screen and treat the eye to some visual goodness in every single world, but most significantly in the Luncheon Kingdom, which is a buffet of color and sound. This is, by far, the best looking Super Mario game to date. The Switch allows various control options, including motion control with the disconnected Joy Con controllers. As a handheld (undocked), there is little-to-no difference, making Super Mario Odyssey a mobile title as well as a console title. This could have easily been a launch game, as it shows off much of what the Switch can do, if, after seven months, you still don’t know.
What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Bowser kidnapping Peach is nothing new, and Mario going after them is also a bit stale. The biggest difference here is that his quest to save his true love is not the true “odyssey” of the title, it’s in the property itself. The developers have taken the entirety of Mario’s history and used it for effect in Super Mario Odyssey. The odyssey here isn’t the adventure at hand, it’s the 40 year odyssey of the character, and Nintendo plays to that exceptionally well. There are certain parts of levels that drag Mario back to his 2D, 8-bit roots. There are call backs and bits of music in almost every world that have some place in the greater Mario mythos.
In New Donk City, Mario will even revisit his origin by taking on Donkey Kong one last time, and there is one scene at the very end of the game that I won’t spoil, but Mario gets to see his entire life literally flash before his eyes, and it was a nostalgic journey for me as well, as Nintendo basically reminded me of the odyssey that this character has taken in all of his forms in all of his games, and that nostalgia overcame me and I got tears in my eyes. It was a special moment — probably my favorite gaming moment in 2017 — as it reminded me why we all love Mario and Super Mario games, and in turn, why we love Nintendo.
This is Super Mario’s odyssey, and the in-game adventure is just a vehicle for fans to revisit everything that Mario has meant to us all — and to Nintendo and even to video gaming itself. To pull that off, wrapped in a stellar, lengthy, and incredibly fun adventure game, is astounding, and makes Super Mario Odyssey the best Mario game to date.
Super Mario Odyssey is available now for the Nintendo Switch. This review is based off a copy of the game purchased at retail.
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