Need help capturing enemies, beating bosses, or moon-gazing? Check out our Super Mario Odyssey guides.
When I received my review code for Super Mario Odyssey, people asked me "Is Super Mario Odyssey like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, or Super Mario Galaxy?"
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Now that I've finished the game and embargo is up, I can offer my answer: "Yes."
The "Odyssey" in "Super Mario Odyssey" has a double-meaning. It describes Mario's journey around the world, but it also recalls many of his past adventures, each of which is an odyssey by itself.
That's not to suggest there isn't a thick dusting of new experiences here, too. When you feel like you're re-treading old ground in Super Mario Odyssey, it's in the best possible way: Recalling past experiences, meeting old friends (how's it going, Captain Toad), going face-to-face with familiar enemies—and then gaining a whole new perspective when you take over their minds and gain control of their unique abilities.
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Super Mario Odyssey would be a top-tier Mario game even without the presence of the sweet-mannered Cappy and his ability to "capture" each level's enemies and native fauna, but exploring each Kingdom with their aid is what makes Mario Odyssey "special" rather than "excellent." There are over 50 transformations in the game, each of which let you see Mario's world through a fresh set of eyes—and let you explore Odyssey's exotic terrain with a new pair of feet. For example, a tropical Wiggler can't jump or defend itself, but its ability to stretch its body, accordion-like (appropriate sound effects included), make it a champion at nabbing coins perched in precarious places. Overall, Odyssey's capture mechanic makes exploring your surroundings a treat; even the lowliest Cheep-Cheep can dive to the bottom of deep trenches with a swift grace two-legged Mario can never hope to match.
Some transformations are even utilized to call back to previous 3D Mario releases. Earlier, I mentioned Odyssey references Mario adventures from years past, and a good example comes courtesy of the Gushen enemy. When Mario captures this little purple octopus native to the Seaside Kingdom, he gains abilities nearly identical to the ones FLUDD bestows upon him in Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube. Gushen-Mario can jet high into the air, zip across the water's surface, and render hazards like lava harmless.
Playing around as a Gushen is just a fraction of what the Seaside Kingdom offers in terms of activity and exploration. It's hard to articulate just how dense Mario Odyssey is. It took me about ten hours to complete the game, but I finished the story with close to the minimum number of the Power Moons necessary to power up the titular Odyssey. I rarely had to "grind" for Moons: The little rascals are everywhere. Some are sitting in plain sight, while others must be won by solving puzzles, exploring crevices, or utilizing your sharpest platforming skills (I never found Mario Odyssey overwhelmingly difficult, but the later parts of the main storyline aren't always a cakewalk—and getting all the moons takes quick reflexes thanks to the return of challenge rooms clearly inspired by, again, Mario Sunshine).
The Super Mario and Legend of Zelda series have always borrowed ideas from each other, and Mario Odyssey's emphasis on secrets and exploration confirms the symbiotic relationship is thriving. Like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey constantly tempts you to stray off the path. One minute you're searching for a Moon that's important to the game's story, and the next minute you're capturing a Paragoomba and fluttering off to the misty horizon of the Cap Kingdom because something shiny caught your eye.
Resisting the urge to explore is made especially difficult thanks to Odyssey's clothing monopoly, Crazy Cap. The wacky outfits and hats available at this worldwide vendor inspire you to search high and low for each kingdom's special currency. Regular gold coins are plentiful in each level, but there are very limited quantities of specialized coins—and said coins are typically well-hidden and scattered.
How does Mario Odyssey's economy work if money is seeded over lava and on window ledges hundreds of feet in the air? Beats me. All I know is searching for special coins so I can buy Mario a cowboy ensemble serves as a much better motivator than being rewarded with a Moon / Star, which is what other Mario games typically give you for going out of your way.
Of course, despite the obvious cues Mario Odyssey takes from Breath of the Wild, the former's levels are much more compact than the latter's seemingly endless overworld. That's not a bad thing; despite the series' spiritual similarities, it's important for Nintendo to draw a line and distinguish the two. Breath of the Wild is more or less a uniform experience across its hundred-plus hours, whereas Mario Odyssey shakes you up every time you travel somewhere new. Every corner in the game is teeming with items and secrets, and every Kingdom requires you to bust out a new set of skills. The laid-back Cascade Kingdom is all about learning the ropes, the Luncheon Kingdom is about careful platforming and counter-attacking, and New Donk City is about climbing and exploration. And in a couple of instances, Nintendo throws a total surprise at your feet and you find yourself in a struggle you wouldn't expect in a Mario game.
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And when the day is finally saved—following one of the most fun Bowser confrontations in the series' history—Mario and Cappy decide they enjoy each other's company too much to part ways. Thus begins the robust post-game content. I hope you don't have any major commitments for the rest of the year.
The Nintendo Switch isn't hurting for must-have titles, and Super Mario Odyssey is a proud addition to its library. Like Breath of the Wild before it, it takes you on a journey that's not short on cool sights, epic battles, and coy suggestions to "see what's over there." Pack a suitcase and get on board; there's so very much to do.
The Nitty Gritty
- Sound: In my opinion, Mario Odyssey's soundtrack stops just shy of touching Mario Galaxy's epic orchestra, but it still comes very close. It's impossible not to get down to the Wooded Kingdom's '70s funk, and if you're like me, you're still singing Pauline's anthem, Jump Up, Super Star. Odyssey's sound effects are perfect, too. The perpetual sound of broths and stews bubbling in the Luncheon Kingdom are guaranteed to get your stomach rumbling.
- Visuals: As you might expect, Super Mario Odyssey's graphics opt for style over realism. 99 percent of the time, the game looks great. Beaches boast crystal-clear waters and blazing sunsets, the Luncheon Kingdom looks good enough to eat, and the stormy, rain-soaked New Donk City is quite a sight. New Donk City's uniform residents still freak me out a little, though; their faces are just off enough to make me say "oh no." There's that 1 percent.
Super Mario Odyssey honors much of what makes other 3D Mario games great, plus it adds plenty of its own flavor to the Mario stew thanks to its capture mechanic. Mario Odyssey can keep you busy for hours and hours if you want it to, and you probably will. Outside of a few instances where the camera took on a mind of its own, I can't think of a moment when I wasn't enjoying myself while journeying with Mario and Cappy.