Super Mario Odyssey Review (Switch, 2017)

Long have fans waited to get another Mario game akin to SM64 and Mario Sunshine. Before we finally got Mario Odyssey there was a span of more than 15 years without a game of its kind. The Galaxy games and 3D World are all great titles, but none of them offer anything close to the experience that made Mario's first two 3D games so memorable. In a way Super Mario Odyssey brings us back to the early years of 3D games.

This time it's not enough for Bowser to kidnap princess Peach — he goes out of his way setting up a wedding with her. Naturally Mario can't allow that to happen and together with his new friend Cappy pursues Bowser around the globe, visiting many different countries on a quest to bust said wedding. To actualize his journey Mario uses an airship shaped like a hat that requires power moons as fuel to cover its distances, so these fulfil the same pupose as power stars and sun insignias did in their respectve games, allowing the player to track their progress and unlock new levels.
Cappy is like his name suggests a cap that allows Mario to use a wide variety of new moves on top of his old and trusted techniques he's known since the N64 days. On one hand there's many ways in which Mario can throw Cappy at enemies, up, down, in a circle around himself or make it home in on a target. Then on the other hand Mario can let his friend hover in mid-air, using him as a stepping stone to either cover more distance with his jumps or to climb heights he wouldn't be able to without his new companion. Mario throwing his cap at enemies to damage them makes a lot more sense than him punching and kicking about, a clear step forward since Mario 64. The advanced movement techniques are the real merit of Mario's new cap, they add a lot to Marios skillset and allow him to tackle individual platforming challenges in even more various ways. Furthermore Mario can abuse the hell out of Cappy and practically cheat his way through the game collecting many power moons in ways not intended by the developers. For that reason the game only teaches you these techniques after beating the final boss, but much like the walljump in Super Metroid they are actually available from the start of the game. Knowledge is all that's needed to perform them.

But that's not all. Some enemies won't take damage when Mario throws Cappy at them: instead Cappy forces himself on their heads, allowing Mario to take over and control them. This capture mechanic (pun intended) adds even more variety and all kinds of unique puzzles and challenges to this game. For example Mario can Capture a Goomba, jump on another one and staple them on top of each other to reach high places, or capture a Bullet Bill to speed across huge gaps. Other captures allow him to fly or climb across walls. In a way there are next to no limits to what Mario can do in this game and there are real wow moments nobody would have ever seen coming in a Mario game.

The game is divided into a good number of stages of varying sizes. These come in all kinds of themes: there's a forest, a lake, a jungle, a snowy peak and many more. Among them a city stage themed after real-life New York. You'd think Mario looks out of place in a real world inspired setting, but that's not the case at all. Nintendo did a great job with the art in Odyssey, the game looks great in general in a way you barely notice that you aren't playing on a truely powerful system like a PS4. Furthermore the art direction allows Mario to seamlessly fit into all kinds of worlds, even the cityskape I just mentioned. Likewise the game has a great soundtrack, although I have to say that I don't find it as memorable as the sounds of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine.

This is the first game in which Mario has a mulitude of outfits he can wear. Next to a fixed number of purple coins in each stage (so called local coins) that can be used to purchase stage specific outfits and souvenirs , there's a total of 880 power moons placed all over the game that await the avid collector. That's a huge amount, and in fact one only needs to collect a comparatively small number (around 120 I think) of them to get to the final boss and clear the game. Because there's so many power moons are not only used for unlocking additional stages. Even after unlocking the last hidden level at 300-something power moons collecting more of these keeps unlocking more and more hidden outfits for Mario. Personally I cleared the game with 5xx moons. When I came back later to collect the remaining one's with a walkthrough of the game it mostly felt like a slog. This is where Super Mario Odyssey stops being a master piece.

The reason that despite all the cool general improvements over Mario 64 I still consider the Nintendo 64 classic the better game is that Super Mario Odyssey has too much content for its own good. The number of stages and variety of themes may be just right, but some of its stages are just too large. That means sometimes instead of really playing the game you just spend time walking around empty space. Most power moons aren't really hidden and difficult or challenging to find, you just collect them as you go for a quick reward every few minutes or even seconds. Some gimmicks are repeated over and over, for example there's a Goommba stacking puzzle in nearly every stage. Super Mario Odyssey sadly just gets old quicker then I'd like. There's also an issue with cutscenes and loading screens. Story cutscenes are skippable, but there's an unskippable cutscene that plays everytime you return to your ship with newly collected power moons. With 880 power moons in the game that happens a lot and that cutscene quickly bothered me a lot. Then there's a good minute of downtime each time you want to leave a stage and enter another one, that also gets old after a while.
Still the good points here heavily outweight the demerits of the game. In many ways Super Mario Odyssey is a master piece without question and I had many hours of fun playing this gem. For people that didn't grow up playing Super Mario 64 it's definitely a reason to own a Nintendo Switch today.