Super mario odyssey
The plumber’s spaced-out quest is Switch’s latest shining star
We know you’re excited, and we’ve pulled out all the stops for this review, exploring every inch of Mario’s globe-trotting adventure. Is it good? It’s bloody brilliant, and we’ve given it a score to match.
Everyone’s favourite dungaree-clad dude has been a jumping jack-of-all-trades down the years. Occasionally he pops up as a kart-racing speedster. Other times he’s a suspiciously agile tennis player. And on extra rare occasions, you may even catch him impersonating a puzzle-solving GP with a questionable doctorate. Yet it’s only now the iconic Italian can claim to have starred as a cap-wearing tyrannosaur. Welcome to Super Mario Odyssey: the second bona fide masterpiece to hit Nintendo Switch, and the plumber’s boldest outing in two decades. Much of the credit for this revitalised new direction can be credited to Cappy, the sentient top hat Mario meets five minutes into Nintendo’s latest platforming wonder. Replacing his traditional shiny red bonnet, the bug-eyed headwear is one hell of a useful sidekick. As the pair chase after Bowser – the demented dino once again capturing Peach, this time with the intention of marrying her – Cappy also proves to be the galaxy’s foremost hypnotist. With a quick press of Y or a flick of the Joy-Con, it can instantly control all manner of colourful creatures spread across Odyssey’s diverse selection of kingdoms.
It’s these critter-capturing hjinks that make up the core of many of the game’s bite-sized Power Moon hunts, resulting in an adventure that never fails to subvert expectations. Such is the seemingly boundless scope of Nintendo’s wonderfully daft imagination, the scrapes you get into with these brainwashed foes are dizzyingly varied. Quirky new features are introduced at every turn, then quickly thrown away without ever running the risk of outstaying their welcome. In lesser titles, the entire experience could be built around any one of these creature-possessing mechanics – we’d gladly play an entire game as the contorting, caterpillar-like Tropical Wriggler. But in Odyssey, they simply pop up for a few Power Moons, briefly delight you, and are then cast aside for an equally engaging idea.
One minute you may be crushing pesky Chain Chomps beneath the massive feet of a T-rex in Cascade Kingdom (that’s seriously satisfying,) and the next, you’re using the stretchy limbs of an Uproot to scale the walls of Steam Gardens’ enormous intergalactic greenhouse. And a few moments after that? You could be bundling about as a roly-poly yeti, using the beast to win a frosty fun run around the ice caps of Shiveria. Considering there are enough brilliantly silly ideas in Odyssey to fill ten average games, the end result is a hugely varied adventure that feels effortlessly inventive.
Not that hacking into dinosaurs and Bullet Bills is Cappy’s only party trick. It turns out the little hat-chap also excels at improving Mario’s platforming abilities and attacks. Shake the Joy-Con from side to side to take out enemies in a 360-degree flurry of murderous millinery. Hold Y and Cappy spins on the spot, providing Mazza with an impromptu trampoline to vault from. Hurl him at a pole in the Big Apple-esque New Donk City, and you can ping the portly
“This is Switch’s second bona fide classic, and Mario’s boldest outing in 20 years”
tradesman 40 feet through the air to the balconies above. Compared to FLUDD from Super Mario Galaxy, Cappy naturally complements Mario’s core abilities in the sort of fluid, unfussy fashion the gimmicky jetpack was never really capable of.
Even without his killer cap, this is the most versatile version of the plumber to grace the screen since Super Mario 64. His array of buttery rolls, long vaults, cartwheels, and butt smashes can all be chained together in hypnotising ways. Whereas the Galaxy games stripped down Mario’s base skills in favour of more contextual interactions with the environment – say, spinning the Wiimote to open up paths – Odyssey revels in its hero’s playful, forever-pliable platforming moves. Hell, the core controls are such fun, we could happily run around chaining Mario’s triple jumps into mid-air somersaults for hours at a time. Simply put, Odyssey’s acrobatic plumber is one of the most endlessly fun characters we’ve ever controlled.
Kingdoms of heaven
This being Nintendo, the worlds Mario gets to stretch these stumpy legs in are predictably a brilliant hoot to explore. Most of the game’s 14 kingdoms are expertly designed. A series of vertically layered sandboxes that showcase both a superb eye for detail and canny ways of maximising space, they act as twisting, hair-raising platform playgrounds to get lost in. The differences are more than cosmetic. Whether furiously paddling Mario’s stubby arms around the giant fishbowl that dominates the lagoons of Lake Kingdom, or taking advantage of a moon level’s lack of gravity to propel the plumber hundreds of feet into the air, you rarely interact with any two worlds in quite the same way. And some of them are also bloody bonkers. Soon after landing in Luncheon Kingdom, you quickly realise you’re essentially exploring one big bowl of steaming soup.
A special mention for New Donk City, too. Mario’s take on New York is electrifying. A densely packed maze peppered with taxi roofs to spring off, mopeds to race around in, and skyscrapers to scamper up, on first inspection it’s one of the least Mario-looking levels that’s ever been. And yet despite this foreign appearance, it taps into the core spirit of the series’ joyful, bouncy platforming better than any single stage from the Wii-U’s still-stellar Super Mario 3D World.
Odyssey is a game that begs you to prod and push at its edges at every opportunity. Wander over to an obscure corner of the map and investigate that glowing bump in the ground. Fling Cappy at a scarecrow and watch an on-the-fly obstacle course suddenly pop up nearby. Inhabit a giant slab of steak to entice the area’s resident boss, which fancies itself an expert avian chef. Giving in to your curiosity is almost always rewarded, and there are few games on Switch (or any other platform) that have so much respect for player agency.
Mario himself is a great example of Nintendo’s determination to make
“After landing in Luncheon kingdom, you realise you’re exploring a big bowl of soup”
everything in Odyssey’s world its own diverting plaything. Not since the days of Mario 64’s slapstick rubber-faced start menu has the Big N encouraged you to play around with its mascot like this. Rather than stretching out Mario’s pudgy cheeks, though, the game offers a variety of different costumes to unlock. Mexican-themed Mario! Snow Suit Mario! Samurai Mario! Pirate Mario! Tuxedo Mario! And, for those who’ve always longed to see more of the plumber’s pasty flesh – seriously, seek help – say hello to Boxer Shorts Mario!
Switching up Mario’s wardrobe doesn’t just provide the innate pleasure of seeing a great gaming icon dressed up in the sort of cheesy tourist gear normally reserved for pensioners on Mediterranean cruises, it also has practical implications. After all, certain Power Moons can only be unlocked if you’re wearing a specific piece of clobber – like the one in Lake Kingdom that demands Mario strip down to his speedos in order to catch a glimpse of a special gown. Don’t ask.
As a technical showcase for Switch, the level of polish on display in Odyssey is unmatched. There’s nothing else out there on Nintendo’s handheld hybrid that even comes close. And yes, that does include Breath Of The Wild. While games like Zelda look pin-sharp played on Switch’s lovely 720p screen, Mario is one of the few games on the system that can genuinely compete with top-tier PS4/ Xbox One titles when you play it on a TV.
We spent most of our 40 hours with the game playing on a 55-inch 4K screen, and despite a lack of anti-aliasing the core art design and glorious colour palette are so vibrant, Odyssey is easily one of the most impressive-looking games of 2017. Just as important as all that artistic flair? Regardless of whether you play docked through a TV or in handheld mode, Mario almost never dips below a silky 60 frames-per-second. The balancing act between ultra-precise controller response and decadent design doesn’t come much more eye-arousing than this.
The only slight issue stopping Odyssey from pulling in an even higher score? A few of the game’s kingdoms disappoint. An ice and beach level stick a little too closely to samey genre tropes, while excursions to a fog-filled Halloween town and a teensy cloud world are too insubstantial to stick in the memory. Even the game’s best playgrounds can’t quite match the audacious flip-flopping playfulness of Mario 64’s Wet-Dry World or Tiny-Huge Island. Though the galactic journey to scupper Bowser’s wedding plans is a constant thrill, it falls agonisingly short of toppling the plumber’s very best work.
Of course, when you’re comparing Odyssey to one of the best games of all time, there’s no shame in Mario’s latest taking a runner-up’s place on the podium of all time greats. Not only is this one of the two best games on Switch, it’s one of the most energised, exciting titles Nintendo has released in years. This is both a thoroughly progressive update to a beloved series and a modern classic that’s always respectful of its storied lineage. Be it washing away puddles of muck a la Sunshine or winks to the character’s NES origins, thoughtful nods to Mario’s past are everywhere.
With hundreds of Power Moons to unlock and some kickass secrets to discover – including the coolest end-game Easter egg we’ve ever seen – only BOTW can match Odyssey as the most must-have package on Switch. Mario’s star has rarely shone brighter.
In Odyssey’s two-player mode each person takes a Joy-Con, with one controlling Mario and the other Cappy.
Swimming is nowhere near as graceful as Mario 64, but at least the underwater bits look glorious.
Some of the boss fights are ruddy mad. Yes, that is Mario flying a statue’s own hand into its ugly mug.