‘Super Mario Odyssey’ video game review
By Mike LeMieux, Contributor
It’s been 21 years since the release of 1996’s Super Mario 64. In the time since then, developer Nintendo has released what I would consider two (and a half) spiritual sequels.
2002’s Super Mario Sunshine was the first, which tried to expand on the Mario 64 formula by amping up the story. It… didn’t go so well. Reception at the time was mixed, and Sunshine’s legacy hasn’t fared well. Super Mario Galaxy and its direct sequel came out in 2007 and 2010 respectively. While being better received critically, the Galaxy games eschewed Mario 64’s open area exploration for level based “runs.” Nintendo never truly followed up on what made Super Mario 64 easily one of the best games of all time. As much as I hate to end an opening paragraph with a cliché like “… until now,” that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Super Mario Odyssey, which was released late last month for the Nintendo Switch, is the follow-up to Super Mario 64 that I personally have been waiting over two decades for. Mario finally returns to the open environment collect-a-thon genre. In Odyssey, you’ll find many extremely varied and dense environments to explore and do Mario things in. I can’t stress how dense these levels are; there’s always something to do or find or experience. Whether it’s a large boss fight, jumping rope, keeping a lonely businessman company, or flattening yourself into two dimensions and running along the wall, there is something to reward the player in every single nook and cranny. Where Super Mario 64 topped out at 150 Stars to obtain, Odyssey‘s collectable Moons number near four digits, which is quite a lot.
Much like the book Odyssey shares its name with, the story opens in medias res, with Mario already mid-battle with Bowser, who is in the process of (again) kidnapping Princess Peach and a mysterious sentient tiara, named Tiara. After announcing his plans to finally wed the princess, Bowser uncharacteristically gets the upper hand and soundly defeats Mario, destroying his iconic hat in the process. Broken, defeated, and—worst of all—hatless, Mario finds an ally in Tiara’s brother Cappy, a magic talking hat-ghost thing that can allow Mario to forcibly possess any living (or non-living) creature that isn’t currently already wearing a hat. Sure, okay. Together the pair set off on a globe-spanning adventure to stop Bowser’s matrimonial machinations.
Mario plays great in Odyssey. The controls are tight, responsive, and can sometimes feel like an extension of yourself. With the maneuverability options at your disposal in Odyssey you can pull off some pretty cool stuff. Unfortunately, there are some motion controls that you can’t disable that are less than great, but are mostly ignorable. The possession mechanic is really what Mario Odyssey hangs its hat on. Much of what you’ll be doing in the game is looking for the right enemy or ally to assume control of to accomplish whatever task you’ve set for yourself. Most of the 52 possess-able characters and objects play completely different from Mario and introduce new mechanics and options for getting around the world.
Super Mario Odyssey is just a joy, top to bottom. From its optimistic bright worlds to its witty writing to its excellent jazz-pop soundtrack, you will likely just be sitting there with a big goofy smile on your face while playing. Odyssey’s “just one more” style of collection gameplay is also the perfect fit for the Switch. Seemingly borrowing at least some design philosophy from this year’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you are never more than a minute or two away from something new and cool to do. Perfect for the bus or train.
The last thing I’d like to mention about Super Mario Odyssey is that he goes to the city from the original Donkey Kong and it’s called New Donk City. That’s all, I just thought it was important that you, the reader, know that.