DISCLAIMER: This review will be covering the game, and will therefore inevitably contain something that some people will consider spoilers. If you are worried about that sort of thing, beat the primary campaign and come back here. It won’t take you long, I managed it in one day, so go knock it out now. If you’re wondering if you should buy it but don’t want spoilers, then my short review is this: If you own a switch, buy this game. If you don’t have a Switch, buy a Switch and this game and Breath of the Wild. End warning.
I honestly never thought that when I bought Super Mario Odyssey at 9:30 am, I’d have beaten the main story 12 hours later. Nowadays, I have trouble completing games I get at all, let alone marathoning them. “The days where I could sit in front of a TV for hours on end are just behind you,” I told myself, “you’re an adult now. You have other things to do. Plus, game’s just aren’t as entertaining to you now as they were a decade ago.”
And yet, here we are. The game encoded a feeling in me I haven’t had since I played its predecessors. At the time of this writing, I have beaten the game, as well as the first of what I’m assuming will be many post-game challenges, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what about the game was so captivating (pun intended.) So, to help me out, I’ve brought in my good friend Mayor Pauline.
You see, throughout the trailers and even during part of the game you hear this song, Jump Up, Super Star!, and the more I heard it, the more it became clear the song’s lyrics weren’t just for show; they were talking about the game itself. So I’m going to go through some of the lines from the song, in order, talking about what I think they mean in the context of the game itself, and why I think this game is the sequel to Mario 64 we’ve been waiting for over the last 20 years.
“Here we go, off the rails, don’t you know it’s time to raise our sails? It’s freedom like you never knew!”
In addition to Mario often starting his adventures with his iconic “Here we go!” the game does, in fact, revolve around raising your sails. Mario is must travel around the world collecting Power Moons to repair his (or more accurately Cappy’s, but we’ll get to him later) ship, and whenever Mario completes a repair, more of the ship’s sail gets filled in, allowing you to travel more and more of the globe.
And about that globe: It is real freedom like we never knew. I grew up plastered to the TV playing Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, and let me tell you this is something more. The game indeed takes most of its DNA from 64, with some story Moons that the game focuses on but also allowing you to collect other side-quest like Moons along the way, unrelated to the task at hand.
The main difference is in the sheer quantity. Reliable numbers are hard to find, but the consensus right now is that there are over 800 Power Moons you can find in the game, needing at least 500 to unlock everything (though I suspect there will be even more after that.) That is a ludicrously large number, and yet many of them remain elusive. If you want to find all the Moons in this game, you’re either going to need to shell out some substantial coins to Toad to find hints about their location or be ready to spend a long time scouring every inch of the map for any secret you can imagine.
“Don’t need bags, or a pass, say the word I’ll be there in a flash! You could say my hat is off to you…”
Ah yes the elephant (or should I say T-rex?) in the room: the hat. Mario’s hat, in this game, is possessed by a spirit named Cappy. That’s why you see those goofy eyes on it all the time. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure about that Cappy stuff. I mean maybe I’ve just played one too many Zelda games, but I’m always anxious about plucky side kicks helping our hero out.
But it turns out Cappy is much more than just a way of telling Mario where he needs to go next. Think F.L.U.D.D. from Sunshine; Cappy gives hints to where to go from time to time, but his primary purpose is mobility. By throwing and bouncing off Cappy, Mario can access all kinds of areas of which his long jump could only have dreamed. Already videos of people using Cappy to achieve crazy acrobatic feats are all over Reddit, and my hype to see people speedrun this game is through the roof.
Cappy’s most important ability, however, is without a doubt being able to throw him onto the head of over 50 different NPCs in the game and being able to use their abilities as your own. Nintendo has been very clear this is to be referred to as capturing, but I think the term possession does get the idea of what’s happening across better. Mario goes into the enemy’s body and the enemy’s eyes turn blue and their nose sprouts a bushy mustache and you’re on your way. This replaces the more conventional power-up system from previous games in a beautiful way. Who hasn’t wanted to torment others as a Hammer Bro, or run around as a Goomba? After watching these creatures harass you for over two decades it’s incredibly satisfying to get to walk a bit in their shoes. It’s a brilliant mechanic that sets this game even farther apart from it’s predecessors.
This replaces the more conventional power-up system from previous games in a beautiful way. Who hasn’t wanted to torment others as a Hammer Bro, or run around as a Goomba? After watching these creatures harass you for over two decades, it’s incredibly satisfying to get to walk a bit in their shoes. It’s a brilliant mechanic that sets this game even farther apart from its predecessors.
“We can zoom all the way to the moon from this great wide wacky world! Jump with me, grab coins with me, oh yeah!”
Calling Odyssey’s world “great” “wide” and “wacky” may be the understatement of the year. The game features 14 different worlds to collect moons in during the main quest alone, with much more (including, in my opinion, the best of them all) unlocked after beating the main story.
For context, Mario 64 had about 15 worlds, Mario Sunshine only had 7, and of course, Mario Galaxy was swimming in more than anyone cares to count with just a modest number of stars in every world to collect. Now I’ve already gushed about how densely packed each of these worlds are (with a few exceptions), so I’ll forgo that, but needless to say, these worlds are massive and an absolute joy to explore.
And as for wacky, the game relishes in being goofy. Whether it’s Mario being chased down an urban center on a motor scooter by a realistic T-Rex or being able to run around in his boxers and a clown wig, nothing in this game takes itself too seriously. Bosses you beat disappear in a puff of smoke only to show up again later with no explanation, there’s a race of people whose national sport involves them racing by bouncing their round bodies down a mountain. Not all this is great, mind you.
Some seriousness might be welcome in the game from time to time, most notably during an equally silly ending to the primary campaign that sort of hand waves everything away. But by allowing themselves to embrace this wacky feeling, Nintendo has captured how we all feel about those old Mario games: it’s just fun, in every way.
I could go on and on. I haven’t even touched the details of each kingdom, the insane number of hidden information and easter eggs, the plethora of mini-games, the myriad of costumes you can buy and wear, but the bottom line is this: this game is some of the most unadulterated fun I’ve had in recent memory. It is almost definitely worth picking up, especially if you have a Switch already.
Nintendo has crushed 2017 so far and is lined up to finish strong too. And with no plans to slow down anytime soon, I’m more excited than ever to see what they have in store. To expect anyone to make a game better than this would be ludicrous, and so I rate Super Mario Odyssey 4 stars out of 4.