Metroidvanias sure are different these days!
If there’s one thing Super Mario Odyssey is, it’s rewarding. Odyssey is the ultimate carrot on a stick game, deftly leading you through its worlds with constant validation. You can barely take a step in any direction without running into a puzzle or traversal challenge to grab another Power Moon to fuel your adventure. It’s pretty blatant, but it helps that nearly every second of this Mario is enjoyable.
Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D Mario game in the vein of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. There have been other 3D Mario games since then, but this is the first time Mario has had an open world 3D adventure since Sunshine. Odyssey takes that mold and moves things a step further, forgoing a hub world in favor of a system of kingdoms accessible by the Odyssey, Mario’s hat shaped aircraft. Our hero teams up with Cappy, a hat/ghost hybrid, to save Princess Peach from a forced marriage to Bowser. (Side note: Yes, I think the kidnapping thing sucks. Yes, I think Bowser looks amazing in a tux.) The exclusion of a core hub is for the better, as it allows the kingdoms to breathe as you explore them without getting sucked out every time you find a Moon.
Odyssey never lets you be without something to do, and that’s where it shines the most. Every video game has a goal, of course, but in Mario Odyssey, you can feasibly do anything in any map available to you. Get stuck on a Moon? Turn twenty degrees to the left and you’ll find another one to tackle. Get bored? Go back to a previous kingdom and you’ll continue to progress, just as long as you continue to gather Moons. With over 800 Moons in-game, you’re never left wanting for a distraction, and nearly everything is fun to interact with. Throwing your hat at a dinosaur and immediately being able to stomp around in the first level is incredible, as is taking over a Goomba and stacking yourself on top of others to reach a girl Goomba and make her swoon for a Moon. Experimentation is key, with the game not faulting you for trying something risky. Instead of an outdated life system, when you die in Odyssey, you just lose a few (easily recouped) coins and are thrown right back into it.
Odyssey has the same controls you expect from a 3D-style game. He can jump, buttstomp, sommersault, and crouch to traverse areas and platform around. The new mechanic is Cappy himself: Mario can throw his hat at an enemy or object to possess it and use their abilities to solve puzzles. No matter what you possess, the controls are easy to learn, and it’s simple to take a look at the environment and find not only the initial quest you need to use this power on, but a variety of other things you can do that you’ll find looking around the surrounding area. You won’t get every Moon in one swoop of an area, so repeated searches with fresh eyes are essential and thankfully never feel too boring. Post game, you can even activate an event to nearly double the amount of Moons on each level, expanding the game and giving an excuse to keep hopping around the map in search of new puzzles.
The controls are a bit stiff at times, however, mostly when motion controls are demanded of you. The game sometimes tasks you with flicking the joycons to use abilities such as a circular hat throw, and oftentimes these controls don’t work how you want them to. The recommended control scheme is the joycons alone (as the game reminds you, frustratingly, every time you turn it on), and if you try otherwise, it’s possible to play, but you’ll run into a few small hurdles. This doesn’t kill the game in any way, but the motion control functions could have easily been regulated to button presses when motion controls are turned off, which IS a menu item but doesn’t seem to actually change how anything is interacted with. Prompts just become non-existent.
It helps that Mario’s presentation is top notch as always. Whether you play on the TV or handheld mode, Odyssey looks and sounds incredible. Each kingdom has unique design that draws you in almost immediately, such as a dinosaur kingdom littered with Chain Chomps and a robotic forest that everyone and their mother will be making Nier jokes about for months. It helps that the kingdoms’ design is complimented by outstanding art direction, with gorgeous colors and fun character design throughout. The stand-out is, of course, New Donk City, a sprawling New York pastiche with former damsel-in-distress Pauline as the beloved mayor. New Donk has so many adorable references to the original Donkey Kong arcade game, all culminating in a festival run by Pauline to welcome Mario to the city he saved. Said festival also features “Jump Up, Superstar,” the most toe-tappinest list of game mechanics since the Octodad theme song.
Super Mario Odyssey is a delight. You’ll have fun no matter where you go, what you do, and how you play. It’s easy to lose yourself in every facet of Mario’s design, and you’ll be glad you did. Gathering Moons is a seemingly never-ending struggle, but it’s constantly worth it, even after you get to the sensational post-game content. Odyssey feels like the culmination of a lot of things Nintendo has learned since Mario 64, and this cohesive package is exactly what a modern 3D platformer should be.