Man of Many Hats – Super Mario Odyssey Review

Over his many years of adventuring, Mario has worn many proverbial hats.  We’ve seen him as a doctor, an athlete, and most notably, a plumber.  Super Mario Odyssey puts this figurative transformation into a more literal one, by giving Mario the ability to capture and inhabit enemies with his new sentient hat, Cappy.  Mario and Cappy travel from kingdom to kingdom, jumping and through a variety of challenges.  With Bowser and Peach’s forced wedding looming in the distance, Mario aims to save Peach yet again.  Does Nintendo succeed with their consciousness switching spin on Mario platforming, or is this better left in the past?

Super Mario OdysseyPartners in Peril

Like most Mario titles, Super Mario Odyssey is considerably light on story.  Despite the fact that Bowser, Peach, and Cappy can all speak full sentences (well, in gibberish at least), most characters don’t have too much to say.  Bowser has once again kidnapped Peach, and this time around, he is keen on marrying her.  After a failed attempt at rescuing her, Mario finds himself powerless and stranded as Bowser’s ship travels towards the wedding.  Luckily, he’s quickly met by Cappy, a sentient hat who is also pursuing a loved one.  Like Peach, Bowser has kidnapped Cappy’s beloved, a sentient tiara sitting atop Peach’s head.  Deciding to team up, Mario and Cappy head off to prevent Bowser from collecting items for the wedding, and ultimately take him down.

Super Mario Odyssey mario and CappyCappy’s Captures and Conquering Kingdoms

Mario and Cappy are able to travel to and from a variety of kingdoms thanks to the Odyssey, a space ship fueled by power moons.  Power moons function as Super Mario Odyssey‘s star.  However, power moons are much more abundant than your average Mario star, with Super Mario Odyssey containing over 800 unique moons to collect.  This is no small task, as power moons can be awarded through a variety of ways.  You may find one by smashing a specific block, reaching a particularly tough spot in the world, or completing a variety of challenges.  In this way, exploring the kingdoms of Super Mario Odyssey feels more about exploration and experimentation that anything else, encouraging you to search through every nook and cranny (especially after the credits have rolled.

Each kingdom does have a set of moons to collect in order to progress, and these are pointed out to you.  After completing the main set of moons, the Odyssey will require a few extra in order to take off for the next kingdom.  You’ll do a bit of exploration and complete side missions, working your way through the main game.  The majority of the challenges (both main and secondary) are well done, with only a few being frustrating.  Super Mario Odyssey rarely punishes the player, so retrying particularly difficult sections (of which there are only a few) isn’t that bad.

Mario can throw his hat onto a variety of enemies and characters, and while some kingdoms are built around one or two transformations, you’ll spend a lot of your time as Mario himself.  Sure, taking the form of a goomba and creating a stack ten high is entertaining, as are the various challenges that require you to take the form of other creatures.  Sometimes the capturing can feel a bit gimmicky, but most of the forms are well done and feeling intuitive to use.  However, the hat throwing ability opens up a bunch of movement options for Mario, giving the player a large amount of freedom in exploration.  This expansion of Mario’s core move set feels natural, like it’s always been there.  It may take a little adjustment time, but soon you’ll be throwing your hat into extended long jumps like a pro.

Super Mario Odyssey Kingdom

Many Forms to Take

Super Mario Odyssey does a lot in the way of changing Mario’s look.  The main feature of the game is the ability to transform into other characters, but that’s not where things end.  The game doesn’t actually feature the concept of “lives”, so the new item of importance is coins.  Dying making you lose 10 coins (a very minor sum), but keeping a high coin count isn’t only useful for staying alive.

Each kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey features a shop where you can spend coins to unlock costumes, power ups, and a variety of stickers and items for your ship.  Two kinds of currency are accepted, standard gold coins, and world-specific purple coins (of which there are a limited amount).  The shop’s wares are updated as you earn more power moons, ensuring there’s always a new costume to come back and purchase.  Costumes function mostly as cosmetic, but some get ups will give you access to previously blocked areas.  Most custom costumes have an 8 bit counterpart, which appears when you hop into one of the game’s many retro platforming sections.  For the most part, costume changes are for the fun of it, and I would be lying if I said that Mario in swimming trunks and pool floaties isn’t amusing.

Super Mario Odyssey Ship

End Game Content

Reaching the credits in Super Mario Odyssey qualifies as beating the game, but just barely.  Like Super Mario 3D Worlds, Super Mario Odyssey doubles down on its amount of content once you’ve reached the story’s end.  Honestly, the best parts of the game are within this post-credits content, including my favorite costume and favorite kingdom.  Not only does the game add in more costumes and challenges, but a considerable amount of additional moons, and even completely new kingdoms.  Beating the main story will see your moon count at around 250, but Super Mario Odyssey’s end game content makes it easy to raise that number to well over 500.  The game is also very nice to completionists, offering features that make sure you won’t get stuck on any particular area for too long.

Super Mario Odyssey BossMario’s Mistakes

Unfortunately, there are two issues I have with the game.  Although minor, these two glaring oversights make it hard to award Super Mario Odyssey a perfect score.  Firstly, cooperative play is more or less a joke.  Unlike Super Mario Galaxy‘s completely passive “wave your icon around the screen” multiplayer, Odyssey gives some control to the second player.  The second player takes control of Cappy, and is able to move the hat freely (with some restrictions on how far away from Mario you can get).  This is useful for collecting out-of-reach coins and collectibles, but that’s about it.  You’ll often make the first player jump accidentally by serving as an involuntary platform.  Pair this with lackluster combat and movement options, and cooperative play is awkward and makes the game less enjoyable for both players.

Additionally, Super Mario Odyssey forces the player to use motion controls.  Some of Mario’s moves can only be performed by whipping your Joycons up and down, left to right, or sharply in certain directions.  They work to moderate success, but not being able to map these moves to a button is silly.  You can often avoid sections that require motion controls with some tricky jumping, but unless you’re a speed running master, you will probably want to use these moves.  For those who play in handheld mode, I hope you enjoy whipping around your $300 system.  A glaring oversight and one that feels dated, forced motion controls are one of the biggest issues with the game.

The Bottom Line on Super Mario Odyssey

Despite all this, Super Mario Odyssey is a joyful game full of nuanced yet approachable platforming and a decent amount of gameplay variety.  The worlds are visually exciting, and although not entirely memorable, a ton of fun to play around in.  You’ll spend hours searching for every last moon, and have a ton of fun along the way.  A few mistakes keep it from being a total masterpiece, but it’s one of Mario’s finest adventures.

Super Mario Odyssey is an interesting ride, and one definitely worth taking.  Fans of older 3D Mario titles may be put off by the pure number of collectibles, but I firmly believe it’s a more interesting direction for the series.  I enjoyed exploring Super Mario Odyssey‘s kingdoms, and although they’re not the most unique or memorable I’ve seen, they’re well designed and dense with content.  For Mario fans both new and old, this is one of the Switch’s best games.

Rating: 9.5/10

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