Note: I plan to keep this review spoiler-free for the most part, but I will be talking about some of the areas, tasks and powers from various stages in the game, and I can’t promise that we have the same definition of what consists of a spoiler.
You may remember a little game called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that released earlier this year to massive praise for, among other things, completely reimagining the Zelda franchise in a totally fresh and very compelling way. Admittedly, it was a bit difficult for me to imagine how Super Mario Odyssey would fare in the shadow of such a behemoth. Yes, of course Mario would be great, Mario is always great, but the media I saw (admittedly not much) suggested to me that this would just be another typical 3D Mario game in a new setting, but without a clear hook to make it stand out from the 3D Mario games that came before it. I was wrong. Super Mario Odyssey is certainly not like the more recent 3D Mario games (Galaxy 1 and 2, 3D Land and World), and if anything it more closely eschews to the formula that Super Mario 64 created and Super Mario Sunshine built upon with open-area playground stages, but even that is not a particularly apt description of the game. The reality is that, much like they did with Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has yet again completely reimagined a classic series to make it feel fresh. However, also like Breath of the Wild, this involves some give and take.
Welcome to Jurassic Ma… wait, the T-Rex was from the Cretaceous period.
I won’t say too much about the story, which starts off about as typical as a Mario game can. Someone kidnaps someone else, and if you have played a Mario game in the past you probably already know who those someones are. There are a few other bits to the story, mostly revolving around your new partner “Cappy” (a magical hat that also doubles as a core gameplay mechanic), a planned wedding and a group of evil rabbit wedding planners (what?) called the Broodals. Really though the story is fairly irrelevant throughout most of the game, and the Broodals are not particularly inspiring new baddies. There is an interesting cutscene near the end though. I won’t spoil it.
You won’t find traditional power-ups in Super Mario Odyssey, but Cappy more than makes up for it by giving you the “capture” ability: simply throw Cappy at a capturable enemy, creature, or, in some cases, non-living object, and you will “capture” them, with Mario going inside and taking control (it’s a bit creepy if you think about it.) There are over 50 living and nonliving things you can capture, and although some of them are standalone captures used in simple ways to obtain a single power moon, for the most part they are clever and useful captures that give you not just a new power, but often a whole new way of moving around the world. I won’t spoil them all here, but you have probably seen one of the most exciting captures, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and there are a host of others, including a frog, a zipper, a tank and a Bullet Bill. A large part of the gameplay of Super Mario Odyssey revolves around using these captures to complete some task.
Super Mario Odyssey has a wide variety of locales with a wide variety of inhabitants.
The main goal of Super Mario Odyssey is collecting power moons, and it would probably be reasonable to assume that they fulfill the same role as stars and shines have in the past. Go out and collect 6 or so per area (called kingdoms) for a total of 120 or so in the whole game and you’re done, right? Nope! I won’t spoil the exact number, but there are well over 800 power moons to collect in this game. And this large number of power moons is smack in the middle of why Super Mario Odyssey feels unlike any other 3D Mario game. If you’re looking for a more traditional structure, each kingdom has what I will call “story-based” power moons (typically from 1 to 3 per kingdom, sometimes a few more) that have a meaty chunk of gameplay that often takes you pretty deep along a specific path in that kingdom. If you stick to the path, Super Mario Odyssey will feel a bit like Super Mario Galaxy while working towards power moons. However, each kingdom also has plenty of non-story-based power moons (numbering anywhere from a small handful to around 100!) that you can discover through exploration. Whether you knock out all of the story moons first, explore a bit while mostly heading towards your main goal, or just plain ignore the main goal and run all over these huge playgrounds looking for moons is really up to you. However, you will eventually need to collect a certain amount of power moons (different per stage, ranging from a small handful to 20 or so) in order to power up your ship and be able to move onto the next kingdom.
I should also note that not every power moon will be available right away. Pretty much every kingdom has power moons that will appear after making some progress in obtaining the story-based moons, and some kingdoms change pretty dramatically after certain story-based moons are acquired, so the kingdoms feel almost brand new again. Oh, and even if you look far and wide, there are some power moons that you just simply won’t be able to obtain until you come back after something happens much later in the game, at which point every kingdom has even more to do. It’s pretty amazing how the various kingdoms manage to feel fresh over and over again throughout the game.
Don’t get buried Mario! At least he is dressed for the weather.
Let’s talk more about these power moons, as they are the core of the game. As I said above, there are a handful of story-based power moons in each area, and those are more or less what you would expect from a 3D Mario game. You’ll get some task, work your way to it, and obtain a power moon after accomplishing it. These are generally the longest, meatiest segments in the whole game, and whether you’re navigating an inverted pyramid or scaling a huge skyscraper to fight a boss on top, they tend to be well made and very rewarding. For better or for worse though, the story-based power moons are just a small part of the content of the overall game. The overwhelming bulk of the power moons are the non-story-based, optional ones that you will discover by exploring the kingdoms.
And this is where Super Mario Odyssey gets pretty amazing, but it’s also where some of my issues arise. As I said, there are a lot of these power moons hidden all over the kingdoms, and they come in a much wider variety than I would ever have expected. Never has a Mario game rewarded exploration as much as Super Mario Odyssey does. The kingdoms range in size, but whether a tiny kingdom like the Cap Kingdom (Bonneton) or a much larger one like the Metro Kingdom (New Donk City), the world will be packed full of power moons at every turn. Some of them involve somewhat traditional platforming challenges, especially within the tight, self-contained areas that you can discover using doors, rockets, and vines. Often these challenges revolve around a specific capture power. Some involve fully exploring a kingdom’s nooks and crannies, and are often hidden away in some hard to reach area or obscure corner of the map (if you think “I wonder if I could get up / over there, the game very well might reward you for it!) Still others involve a wide variety of on-the-fly challenges, like capturing rabbits, collecting spontaneous patterns of music notes before they disappear, or short challenges where you quickly get to the power moon before the time runs out. Some of the most interesting power moons, however, fall under what I would call “uncategorized”, just truly unexpected and bizarre tasks. I hesitate to speak too much about these because part of the joy of the game is the sheer novelty, so I won’t spoil too many here, but they involve jump rope challenges and RC car driving, among other things. And there are, of course, boss battles, which are generally pretty fun, though some of the Broodal fights repeat a few too many times for my taste.
New Donk City is huge with a lot of verticality, and you never quite know what you will find.
Still, not all of the power moons are winners, which is understandable considering the sheer amount of them, but it can make the game feel a bit slower than it has to at times. And while you don’t have to collect every one of the over 800 power moons, it’s tough to really know in advance whether the next power moon you work towards will be a win or a dud. Often times I would be running around spending a lot of time retreading areas I had already been over before and only discovering a handful of the less satisfying power moons, like carrying seeds to pots or ground pounding glowing spots. Many power moons barely contain much of anything that I’d even call gameplay, it’s often just a matter of finding them in the world. And even some of the better non-story-based power moons are often over so quickly that I didn’t feel totally satisfied by them. Chopping up the gameplay into so many tiny little, diverse elements makes for a pretty packed and interesting world, but it can also often make it feel like Super Mario Odyssey is more appetizer than main course, at least in regards to core platforming challenges.
Another thing that I felt was missing was more focused, challenging platforming segments built into the design of the kingdoms themselves. While some of the kingdoms do a better job than others (especially some of the later ones, a few of which are outright brilliant), it often felt like most of the serious platforming is hidden behind the doors / rockets / vines / etc. mentioned above, while the main area of any given kingdom is built more for exploration without too much serious platforming to get in the way.
There are often a variety of ways to get to your goal.
Of course, part of the appeal of Super Mario Odyssey is the exploration itself, and when you get into a nice string of exploration -> platforming -> exploration -> platforming with some bizarre yet enjoyable mini-games thrown in the mix, the feedback loop can be very satisfying. One tiny but very excellent decision Nintendo made was to not kick you out of the world every time that you obtain a power moon. In most cases you simply grab the moon and keep moving from there, so you can spend hours in a kingdom running around, exploring, finding various secrets and challenges, all while having it feel like a single, coherent experience (often with new elements popping up around you as you unlock them.) This is a very much appreciated shift from past 3D Mario games, which generally kicked you out of an area when you completed a single task. Still, it feels to me like overall there just aren’t as many meaty platforming sections in this game as there are in games like the two Galaxy games and 3D Land / World. Super Mario Odyssey is more of a hybrid exploration / platforming game than a straight platformer.
Since there is so much to find, it can get easy to get overwhelmed. If you are getting stuck and don’t know where to head next, there are a variety of ways to get hints about power moons, including paying the “Hint Toad” or using Amiibo to get an X on your map that marks the spot of a power moon, or talking to Talkatoo, a bird who will tell you the name of a power moon, which generally gives a pretty big hint of where to find it. I have a small complaint about how an X on a 2D map loses some of its effectiveness when it is, for instance, placed right on top of an area with a lot of verticality, and certain areas aren’t strictly part of the map (the town in Shiveria comes to mind) so the hints for power moons inside of those areas just get stacked on the map on top of the entrance to the area, which still leaves a lot of uncertainty in where to look, but it’s not a huge deal.
2D and 3D combine in such fluid and brilliant ways!
Hmm, what else? A trend in recent 3D Mario games has been including 2D gameplay as well, and Super Mario Odyssey meshes 3D and 2D Mario (heavily inspired by the original Super Mario Bros.) in the cleanest way have seen yet, often jumping back and forth between the two right within the kingdom without any cuts or fades to pull you out of the action. Nintendo also added (most likely as a nod to Super Mario Galaxy) some gravity mechanics / spheroid platforms to the 2D sections, albeit they’re a lot more limited than they are in Galaxy. There are also about 40 different outfits Mario can wear, which helps add a little personalization to the character. Although these are mostly cosmetic, some of them will unlock special doors in the kingdoms that lead to moons. There is a “snapshot mode” that lets you add various filters and other things to screenshots of the game before sharing them. There are leaderboards for many of the mini-games, so you can see how you did against your friends and the world. Oh, and Mario can ride on a motor scooter. Why this wasn’t handled with captures (after all, you can capture a tank) I’m not totally sure, but it’s fun either way, and specifically it is involved in one of the coolest “setpiece” segments of the game.
I’ve seen some arguments on the Internet whether the controls are the best 3D Mario has seen or not. I don’t really have a strong opinion there, but for my money, the controls felt pretty spot on… for the most part. I preferred to play with separated Joy Cons and use the motion controls, which mostly worked fine, but at times they did feel a bit oversensitive, and Mario would throw Cappy when I was simply adjusting my hands. Also the tank capture feels a bit odd using motion controls, as you don’t seem to be able to aim your turret very easily using the motion, so I would stick to analog aiming, but again, since the motion controls were still on, small adjustments would throw off my aiming a bit. Of course if you don’t like motion controls you can simply turn them off, although for some reason this doesn’t turn off the cap throwing stuff, and there are a few (mostly optional) moves that are hard or even impossible to do with the motion controls turned off, so it seems Nintendo really intended for people to use them. And there is at least one late-game power moon in particular that, as far as I can gather, is impossible to obtain without using motion controls.
Hang in there Mario! Get it? Because he is hanging...
On the presentation side, Super Mario Odyssey is certainly a beautiful game, with some pretty crisp looking areas and great art design. I’m not sure that it tops Breath of the Wild for best looking Switch game, but it is up there. The draw distances are pretty solid too, although I would notice some pop-up far off in the distance sometimes. The soundtrack is pretty top-notch as well, with a large variety of songs, though outside of the lyrical “Jump Up, Super Star!” (vocals by Kate Higgins) it never quite seems to find its own style (for instance, one of my favorite songs in the game feels like it’d be at home on the Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack.) In fact, if there is anything that I would say is missing on the presentation side of things, it is that Super Mario Odyssey seems to struggle a bit to find its identity. The main thing that makes the game stand out to me is how strange it can be sometimes (there is some seriously weird and unexpected stuff in this game), and at times it feels like it’s about to go all out with its oddness and create a game that totally owns wackiness as its identity, but it usually pulls back into familiarity quickly enough. There are definitely a few standout areas though: New Donk City comes to mind as something that feels truly fresh for a Mario game from start to finish, in visuals, audio, and gameplay. It will certainly be an icon of the series moving forward.
Super Mario Odyssey is so big and bold on its own that it doesn’t really need any extra modes, which is good, because it doesn’t really have any. Outside of a 2-player mode that splits up the controls a bit (one player controls Mario and the other controls Cappy) there is no real multiplayer (certainly nothing comparable to Super Mario 3D World’s 4-player platforming), and once you collect all of the 800+ power moons, there isn’t really much to do besides collect more outfits and the likes. Still, I can’t stress enough how huge this game is. It took me over 65 hours to finish, which is a pretty monstrous chunk of my life. With that said I wouldn’t have minded a challenge mode with more tough platforming challenges (though the game certainly has some challenge, it’s not particularly difficult on the platforming side), but perhaps we will see that in DLC?
I never expected to drive RC cars in a mainline Mario game.
At the end of the day Super Mario Odyssey is a game that blew me away in a lot of ways, but also left me a little torn. While I think it took several steps forward for the 3D Mario series, including opening up the worlds for exploration packed with content at every turn, merging 3D and 2D in very clean, intuitive ways, and a novel capture mechanic that stands as one of the best new core mechanics Nintendo has added to a Mario game (sorry F.L.U.D.D.), I can’t also help but feel that it lost a little bit in the transition. Yes, the game is packed with content, and most of it is solid, but some of that content feels like filler. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that Nintendo probably could have removed the worst 100 or so power moons and not lost much, creating a tighter experience in the process. And if you’re just looking for a bunch of focused, meaty platforming challenges, the Galaxy games have Odyssey beat.
With that said, I think broadening the worlds, bringing back exploration within them and packing them full of content feels like the right direction for the franchise, and makes for a pretty exciting experience. Super Mario Odyssey isn’t quite where I want the series to be yet, but it’s pretty darn close. Tipping the scales back a bit towards longer, meatier platforming challenges while still maintaining the exploration and packed stages is probably the direction I’d like to see an Odyssey sequel go, even if it means smaller kingdoms and less power moons. But I’m still very satisfied with Super Mario Odyssey, and whatever Nintendo does next, I’ll be right there waiting.
The motor scooter is so much gosh darn fun to cruise around on.
I kind of like how you're just tripping over Power Moons everywhere you go in Odyssey. The science of happiness suggests that the best way to sustain happiness with a steady stream of small pleasures, rather than a few big payoffs. That's why Odyssey is so brilliant.
The only flaw for me is that the music is a bit uneven. Jump Up, Superstar is awesome, though.
Also, the motion sensitivity is adjustable, right?
@Anand If I remember rightly, there is an option to adjust the sensitivity, though it isn't a slider. It is a "low - medium - high" choice.
There is a "Turn off motion controls" option, but this is a little misleading as the only thing it does is disable motion camera control.
A GameCube controller could be used to not have motion, but I wouldn't recommend it as the motion actions can be pretty useful. You also can't click the right stick to enter first-person view with a GCN controller, nor is there rumble.
I think the design philosophy on the simpler/more numerous Power Moons is interesting and could probably warrant a full separate discussion in and of itself. I agree that there are probably less straight-up A-to-B involved missions like in Galaxy (although the off-course rocket/pipe/etc areas feel a lot like this).
The nice thing about having so many Moons, though, is that it subconsciously encourages exploration. While finding a Moon around a corner or under a suspicious-looking hill isn't really a challenge to get, it instills the idea in the player that there are secrets and rewards everywhere, and to leave no stone unturned. This has the pleasant side-effect of also giving the player some sort of payoff for checking just about everywhere, and I definitely felt the Moons were a better reward than 1UPs (which past 3D Marios used for that purpose). Of course, there would naturally be a point of diminishing returns, like if there were thousands of these things just out in the open or whatever, so I'm curious where the "sweet spot" would be for the Moon number to get the best of both worlds.
I rated it a 9.6. Both it and BotW are my favorite video games in a decade.
The nice thing about having so many Moons, though, is that it subconsciously encourages exploration. While finding a Moon around a corner or under a suspicious-looking hill isn't really a challenge to get, it instills the idea in the player that there are secrets and rewards everywhere, and to leave no stone unturned. This has the pleasant side-effect of also giving the player some sort of payoff for checking just about everywhere, and I definitely felt the Moons were a better reward than 1UPs (which past 3D Marios used for that purpose).
That's a terrific point I hadn't considered, thanks for the thoughts on the subconscious aspect! Quite useful as I continue my study of game design. :)
I thought it was very positive overall?! I tried to be careful with my language, for instance:
At the end of the day Super Mario Odyssey is a game that blew me away in a lot of ways, but also left me a little torn.
While I think it took several steps forward for the 3D Mario series [list those things here] I can’t also help but feel that it lost a little bit in the transition.
To be honest to me a large part of how I feel about this game is in comparison to how I feel about other 3D Mario games, so like I say early on, of COURSE it's great, that was probably never even a rea concern, to me it's more like... how great? So my review is a lot of me working through my expectations, which were probably a tad bit higher (especially after all the GOTF review scores) than my final experience, which is why I might sound a bit disappointed. But it's still a really great game that kept me hooked for over 65 hours and wanting to experience everything (I got every single power moon.)
For context my scores for the 3D Mario games are...
Super Mario 64 - 9.9 Super Mario Galaxy 2 - 9.9 Super Mario Galaxy - 9.8 Super Mario Odyssey - 9.7 Super Mario 3D World - 9.7 Super Mario 3D Land - 9.6 Super Mario Sunshine - 9.0
In that sense it falls right in the middle. Even a disappointing 3D Mario like Sunshine is still a 9ish to me. And Odyssey is way better than Sunshine. I'd probably give it the edge over 3D World as well.
@Secret_Tunnel@Zero My comment was actually more referring to the way Zero/you talked about the game in the discussion thread, or rather the way I interpreted his/yours impressions there. I didn't think he/you enjoyed the game quite as much as he/you evidently did.
Er, this is a confusing way for me to adress people, isn't it.
For context my scores for the 3D Mario games are...
Super Mario 64 - 9.9 Super Mario Galaxy 2 - 9.9 Super Mario Galaxy - 9.8 Super Mario Odyssey - 9.7 Super Mario 3D World - 9.7 Super Mario 3D Land - 9.6 Super Mario Sunshine - 9.0
This would be my lineup as well, almost to a T. I'd swap the Galaxy and Odyssey scores, probably, and of course my guilty-pleasure-but-I-know-it-had-issues Sunshine would be higher. Otherwise, yep, totally agree.
@carlosrox I go by how they made me feel then. I haven't even played a lot of these games since the original experience so I would have no way to rate them based on how they add up now.
Of course, since I never really put a number on a lot of these games until I started this site, I had to rate them based on my memory of how I *think* I felt during the original playing many years ago... which might not be 100% accurate to how I would have actually rated these games back then. Who knows?!
@carlosrox I mentioned this in the discussion thread before, and I think this would be the Mario game that is best suited for DLC. Slapping on a new world wouldn't feel out of place, and the gameplay is good for an expansion. That being said, if it comes I would want Nintendo to treat us to it or possibly have easily defined chunks of content at set prices, and not some season pass or microtransaction bullshit.