When the Nintendo Switch was revealed all the way back in October 2016, there was one particular thing that caught my eye: the back of Mario. I hadn’t seen him from this angle in many years; it had me on the edge of my seat. I am of course referring to the perspective in which Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, the last truly non-linear Mario games, were played. Fans had been asking for a return to this style of gameplay for over a decade, and Nintendo had finally listened.
In Super Mario Odyssey, Mario travels aboard a flying mechanical hat (known as 'The Odyssey'), which takes him to various kingdoms. The difference between this and the aforementioned games is that there is no centralised hub-world (Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64 and Isle Delfino in Super Mario Sunshine). I wasn’t too pleased when I heard this, but when I started playing I realised many of these kingdoms were detailed enough to be hub-worlds all by themselves.
Each have their own inhabitants, for instance you have the fork people of the psychedelic Luncheon Kingdom, the mermaids of the tranquil Lake Kingdom and the humans of the New York City-inspired Metro Kingdom. Yes, Mario interacts with other humans in this game and he is nowhere near proportional. It’s kind of creepy.
Every new Mario game has to have a unique twist in its gameplay. Super Mario 64 was Mario’s first jump to 3-D and consequently inspired 3-D platformers as well as 3-D games in general for years to come. Super Mario Sunshine introduced ‘Fludd’; a contraption that allowed Mario to shoot out jets of water in a variety of different ways, all of which had different uses such as hovering, or spraying enemies. Super Mario Galaxy played with gravity, letting Mario jump between planets. It created some of the most interesting platforming challenges to date such as 'Freezeframe Galaxy' and 'Melty Molten Galaxy'.
With the help of Mario’s new companion ‘Cappy’ (Mario's new living hat), Mario can now capture and take control of his enemies. This is the main draw of the game as there is so much to experiment with. When you capture an enemy, a prompt will appear on screen telling you how to control the enemy; it broadens the gameplay and there’s always a secret to find with them.
Speaking of secrets, there are tons of them. You have 999 ‘Power Moons’ to collect as opposed to 120 ‘Power Stars’ in Super Mario 64. Collecting a power moon doesn’t boot you out of the level either like previous games, contributing to a perfect pick-up-and-play system.
You also have two forms of currency: the standard yellow coins and the purple coins, which are exclusive to each kingdom. The purple coins can be used to buy outfits that fit in with the design of the kingdom, as well as souvenirs to keep in your Odyssey. The yellow coins can be used to buy Power Stars, classic outfits and they also replace the dated ‘Lives’ system. Instead of getting a ‘Game Over’ screen with no real consequence, you lose something you actually care about when you take a fall: 10 yellow coins.
Unfortunately the game is fairly easy, with only some of the levels right at the end posing a real challenge. Anyone can run through all the kingdoms in a weekend so it’s definitely worth taking the time to explore and pace yourself. The game does open up somewhat after completion, encouraging second visits of previous kingdoms, but I couldn’t help but wish the game was structured differently. They could make it harder to get to the next kingdom in first place. This was obviously done to appease all consumers and cater to the younger demographic.
One of the major grievances I have with the game is how it forces the use of motion controls on you. There is no simple button mapping for some of the moves you can pull off with a swish of the Joy-con, and some moves with captured enemies can only be pulled off with motion controls. This will annoy some gamers more than others. I actually really enjoyed playing the game with motion controls, but as someone who plays predominantly in handheld mode, it’s awkward and ridiculous shaking your Switch tablet about.
Apart from this, it’s the perfect game for the hybrid nature of the Switch. You can play for 5 minutes and get a moon, or 5 hours and truly experience all a kingdom has to offer. It utilizes virtually all of the Switch’s features. HD rumble is used when trying to locate a moon underground by finding the spot where the rumble is most prominent. There are elements of online play; you can set records to compete against your friends and people around the world, in the ‘Jump Rope Challenge’ and ‘Koopa Races’ for instance. Motion controls are of course in the game, and there is even an option for co-op play; with one player taking control of Mario and one player taking Control of Cappy.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on this fantastic game, I haven’t even gone into the creative 2-D sections or how Mario can now roll about like Sonic The Hedgehog. The game is littered with Easter Eggs, surprises and call-backs. It is a game about discovery and a celebration of all things Mario, but I won’t say anymore. Just go out and play it.