Super Mario Odyssey – Review
2017 has been a great year for videogames and one of the indicators is the release of both a new 3D Zelda game as well as a 3D Mario game. It’s also remarkable that Nintendo didn’t announce Odyssey way in advance as they have done with Zelda. The public only learned about the new 3D Mario game at the beginning of this year and the prospect of getting a proper sequel to Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine has driven expectations through the roof. But how good is Super Mario Odyssey and does it have the qualities needed to be another beloved installment in the series? Let’s find out!
The classic story of Mario saving princess Peach has been used so often now that it became a cliché played upon by a myriad of pop culture referencing works like cartoons and songs. Odyssey is fully aware of this which becomes apparent on quite a few occasions during the main game, but it seems to be indecisive on how to act on it. On one hand it is still just used as an entry point and mild motivation for the character of Mario, on the other hand stakes are seemingly higher than ever with Bowser this time not only kidnapping Peach but also trying to force her into marriage which serves as an antogonistic motif to wreak havoc over multiple kingdoms. It becomes obvious that Nintendo has somehow given up on using story in a Mario platforming game for anything more than an alibi to introduce new worlds and mechanics. Once again, if you are expecting some lore based world building (which for example Breath of the Wild did pretty well) or some serious storytelling you won’t find it here. It’s something that – at this point of the franchise – shouldn’t be expected but it wouldn’t hurt an iconic veteran protagonist like Mario to give him an additional dimension; especially since he is travelling across the world and meets many new faces that – weirdly – are able to be much more interesting characters than Mario himself through their actions and motivations.
The game itself is broken down into multiple kingdoms, larger areas which led some people to denote Odyssey as an open world 3d platformer. This is not the case. The areas rather act like a mixture of large levels and hub worlds into smaller levels. But what do you do in this game? You need to repair and power up “The Odyssey”, an airship that Mario and his new friend Cappy use to chase after Bowser in his renowned flying fortress aircraft. Powering up the Odyssey works by feeding it “Power Moons” which can be found all over the world. Each kingdom requires you to get a certain amount of those moons in order to proceed but actually a lot more can be found. This serves two purposes:
- there are enough “easy” moons so every player will be able to get at least through the main part of the game without frustration; stuck on a certain moon? Just go ahead and find yourself another one
- after the main part of the game is over, additional moons will unlock a couple of new areas and outfits so the challenge is there for players not satisfied after they finished the story
Interestingly moons can also be purchased with coins in case you want to unlock the additional areas and outfits but are stuck finding or reaching them. The game really does a great job providing you options so you’re not at the mercy of the lvel designers and that’s a good thing because a lot of them moons especially in the end game can be devilish and sometimes outright frustrating.
The platforming gameplay is of course the heart and soul of Odyssey and everything from the backflip to the head dive is there. Nintendo also did a great job bypassing a lot of the problems commonly found in 3D platformers by changing the distance between Mario and the camera according to the surroundings. Still, it can be hard sometimes to land on certain platforms or nail a jumping passage without manually moving the camera to a better position which can be problematic when you don’t have enough time to do. So there is still room for improvement in the future but it tells a lot about the genre if Nintendo has been the only developer for quite some time now to try and improve it.
But as usual with Nintendo games, Odyssey does feature a new mechanic. Mario is this time joined by Cappy, a hat ghost that he can throw on objects and enemies. Sometimes, cappy will just get an object (like coins) or defeat an enemy but often the player can take control over an enemy (or object, I’ve been a rock and a tree in this game more than once) and this is where Super Mario Odyssey goes from being a first class 3D platforming game to a showcase of masterclass gameplay design. Not only do the different abilities of the enemies lead to new puzzles never seen before in a Mario game, some of them are actually so superb that a complete smaller budget title could be made out of them. It really shows how the designers were allowed to run wild with ideas and it’s almost saddening to think that Odyssey could remain the only 3D Mario title in the series to feature this mechanic. Another neat gameplay mechanic to shake up the standard 3D platforming gameplay are the 2D sections where Mario becomes an 8Bit representation of himself painted onto a wall with small 2D level layouts to proceed through. They are almost always tailord towards the theme of the respective kingdom you will find them in and feature different mechanics. The whole game is just filled with so much creativity in gameplay design that keeping it all together with nothing more than a boilerplate story and the task of collecting one type of item is remarkable.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. Technically it aims at a 60 FpS framerate which really supports the platforming gameplay and has been one of the key areas that Nintendo seems to be pushing with their own releases (save for Breath of the Wild). The general art direction for the different kingdoms is also something I’d like to praise. From the very monochromatic hat land to the multicoloured food kingdom there is a lot of variety. Some could even argue there is so much variety that the game lacks some overarching art direction. Where the game is sometimes lacking is in detail. This may have something to do with the fact that the Switch doesn’t have a lot of power left for pushing higher detailed models at 60 FpS, it could also be a general design direction to emphasize the puzzle areas. Either way, the game can look bland at times. The music though is best in class with memorable pieces that you won’t get tired of listening to.
All in all the game is just a bag full of joy, a diamond of design that shines bright even if it very rarely can seem a little bit rough on some of its edges. The main part of the game is easy enough for unskilled players to complete while certainly offering some challenges for players who are not satisfied with the easy go-to solutions. The post-game content is noticeably harder though, giving you the option to perfect your skills if you want to put in the time.
Conclusion: 4.8 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let me start this conclusion by telling you that I had a lot of moments where I thought “now that’s a 5/5 game if I ever have seen one”. But over time I did encounter some situations where I just wasn’t satisfied fully with the game or even decided to put it down for half an hour. Now Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 aren’t perfect games either (both received a rating of 5 from me) but as I mentioned in one of the reviews: there will never be something like a perfect game. I try to evaluate the qualities of a game based on what I think the game wants to be and offer. To receive a rating of 5, the game can have weaknesses but if the game masterfully does what it wants to do, little issues will not affect the rating of the game at all. This is not quite true for Mario Odyssey I think. The platforming could be just a little bit better and the presentation sometimes takes away from the absolutely brilliant game design. I might be unfair on this but I always think that 3D Mario games could be that little bit better. Still, this game is outstanding! It’s a must buy if you own a Switch and have even the slightest interest in the genre and it’s filled with so much fun and creativity. It can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels and is indeed a worthy entry for the core 3D Mario series. Well done, Nintendo! The year 2017 has been indeed a great year for videogames, and Super Mario Odyssey seems like the cherry on top of the icecream.
- gameSketch 382
- DOOM on Switch – Hands on report and experiment
- The Nintendo Switch Paradox | How Everyone Got It Wrong
- Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – Review
- ARMS – Review
- My E3 findings
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Review
- Ready to make the Switch?
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Review
- Nintendo Switch Spec Analysis