*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
Reach for the moon…
The Super Mario series requires no introduction; to say that it is synonymous with the video game medium would be an immense understatement. Its cadence to this unanimous praise is heavily warranted as the Super Mario series is game development at its finest. One staple and undisputed fact that has remained a constant of sorts for the legendary series is its profound sense of unadulterated fun; no other series is able to emit an equivalent sense of elation or wonder. However, Mario’s strongest backbone and alluring element is its ability to adapt and evolve. The core ingenious structure has remained intact for over three decades, with innovative ideas and constructs implemented into each new iteration of Mario. It’s a successful formula that rightfully acknowledges and respects the past, but also leaves way for innovation and improvement, encompassing a disposition for unpredictability and audacity. Super Mario Odyssey is a prime example of Nintendo’s pristine ability to take the familiar and beautifully mold it into something brilliantly exotic. In a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a renascence of the 3D sandbox platformer, however this magical adventure is far more than the sum of its parts. It redefines the structure of the series in terms of its gameplay variance, level design, and progression structure, while paying homage to its roots and acting as a celebration of sorts for the beloved franchise. It’s a delicious adventure that is equally parts exploration and platforming, and is chockful of enticing secrets and goodies to discover. Super Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation of each minute element that validates the series’ perfect standing; this foundation is enhanced considerably through Nintendo’s ingenious use of inventive concepts and implementations, crafting an experience that is constantly evolving in surprisingly brilliant ways. It’s an unabashed masterpiece that surpasses the insurmountable standards set by the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is the definition of perfection and is a glorified testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled sense of creativity and innovation.
Mario games have always encapsulated a magical aura of wonder and awe, and Super Mario Odyssey is no exception – if anything, it is the embodiment of a magical experience. From its opening moments, Mario Odyssey boasts a sense of unpredictability and sets itself apart from the renowned repertoire with its heavier, cinematic quality. While this shift in direction never reaches the cinematic standards of contemporary storytelling in gaming (nor does it have to), it’s an audacious proclamation of Mario Odyssey’s inherent ability to surprise and foreshadows the innovation that’s to come. While many traditional elements of Mario Odyssey receive innovative treatment and augmentation, its narrative is by no means novel, but a charming rendition of one of gaming’s oldest stories. However, what manages to impressive is Mario Odyssey’s aesthetically varied Kingdoms that are simply oozing with idiosyncratic characteristics and are nothing short of a visual spectacle. Whether if you’re roaming the glistening sands of Tostarena, rolling down the frosty plains of Shiveria, or leaping across skyscrapers in the illustrious New Donk City, each Kingdom is brilliantly crafted – with some of the best level design that has ever graced the gaming landscape – and is chockful of tailored characters and creatures that further accentuates Mario Odyssey’s gameplay mechanics and level of variance. Mario Odyssey captures the essence of adventure in a multitude of brilliant ways; travelling from one Kingdom to the next emits a familiar sense of euphoria – with each vibrant sandbox boasting a unique culture and cast of characters that are undeniably heartwarming. Even the map detailing each Kingdom takes the form of a travel brochure, with neat little tidbits cleverly added into each description, complimenting its immaculate world building. Mario Odyssey’s heavy reliance on exploration is also a remarkable factor to its sense of adventure as each Kingdom is ripe with brilliantly constructed secrets, challenges, and puzzles that further cement Mario Odyssey’s profound level of scope. This is the most fully-realized world in a Mario game and it’s constantly breathing new life and unprecedented levels of charm into new wonderful areas. In terms of visual prowess, Mario Odyssey is a radiant colouring book of sorts, with vibrant pallets of colour beautifully scattered throughout its canvass. Its sense of scale is no where near the technical achievement that is Breath of the Wild, but its attention to detail and level of variance is exceptional nonetheless. One moment Mario could be covered in soot following the aftermath of an explosion or shivering profusely as the chilling frost envelopes him; it’s a delightful element that profusely complements Mario Odyssey’s charming nature. Mario Odyssey’s music is an impeccable work of art, with certain tunes radiating a remarkable sense of audio bliss. One would only have to listen to its theme song, “Jump up, Superstar”, to understand and appreciate its infectious repertoire. Certain moments even incorporate renditions of the orchestrated soundtrack in beautiful 8-bit fashion. Each traditional element in Super Mario Odyssey is perfected to a tee, implementing one novel concept after another, however its true brilliance lies within its impeccable gameplay and newfound sense of variety.
With the introduction of Mario’s head-wearing companion, Cappy, inventive concepts and intricate possibilities are constantly thrown in left, right, and center, with each proving to be more impressive that the last. This adorable apparition gives Mario the ability to capture a copious amount of different creatures and inanimate objects, each with their own set of varying gameplay mechanics; using their idiosyncratic attributes to solve intricate puzzles or overcome impossible obstacles/challenges is an astute element of problem solving, creative thinking, and experimentation that implores an avantgarde mindset. You can wreak havoc onto the destructible plains of the Cascade Kingdom as a menacing T-Rex, create an elongated tower of captured Goombas to win the heart of a lovestruck Goombette, or reach inaccessible heights as a stretchable Uproot – the capture ability opens a flood of new gameplay possibilities that were simply unfathomable in the Mario games of yesteryear. It’s a masterfully crafted mechanic as it follows the established rules of each respective Kingdom, while never breaking the game’s fundamental structure – it adds significant depth to a formula that was already perfect, redefining the conventions of Mario. Each Kingdom in Mario Odyssey acts as a large, expansive stage of relatively traditional sorts. The stapled structure of numbered stages has been removed entirely; instead Mario Odyssey adopts a more harmonizing design, as each imperative element is inherently weaved into the Kingdom’s structure and design. As opposed to each stage feeling disjointed and tied together by a common theme, each hidden stage in Mario Odyssey is a unified, bite-sized experience that acts as a reward for the player’s curiosity and explorative ambition – differentiating them from the traditionally obligatory existence. Pieces of every Kingdom are discovered and experienced in a natural manner that implores an unadulterated sense of curiosity and wonder. While Kingdoms do act in a stage-like manner, they also serve as a sandbox hub world, littered with hidden stages, collectibles, and engrossing challenges, which further cement Mario Odyssey’s impeccable level of exploration and discovery. Kingdoms also boast a sense of dynamic evolution – with each Kingdom’s environmental change coinciding with your current state of affairs, as certain inaccessible areas and goodies become attainable upon objective completion. What’s waiting for you at the end of these remarkable challenges, stages, and puzzles are the glorious Power Moons that fuel Mario’s ship, the Odyssey.
Aside from the narrative purpose of rescuing Princess Peach – for the umpteenth time – and Cappy’s sister Tiara, the driving factor of Mario Odyssey’s addictive formula is collecting its celestial goodies. Power Moons are scattered throughout Mario Odyssey’s vast Kingdoms and are intricately weaved into hidden rooms, peculiar challenges, complex puzzles, and wonderful bonus stages. Super Mario Odyssey incorporates explorative freedom in a similar vein as Breath of the Wild, imploring players to venture off the beaten path when discovering a tantalizing Power Moon off onto the horizon. The sheer thrill of brainstorming the neat tricks and capture combinations required to attain these celestial prizes is a magical experience as each collectible Power Moon is a puzzle in and of itself. Power moons can be hidden in the most brilliant of places, so constantly excavating every nook and cranny is heavily advised. The most complex of Power Moons to obtain are the ones hidden via Kingdom Art – pieces of hint art that act as a clue to the whereabouts of super secret Power Moons inconspicuously hidden within each Kingdom. These Power Moons are located on different Kingdoms and provide no traditional audio or visual cue – you must use the hint art as a treasure map to pin point its exact location. However, my favourite and the most challenging Power Moon activities are the post-game stages that remove Cappy from the equation. Here, you must solely rely on the traditional art of platforming to complete the challenging stage. These stages can be downright punishing at times, but emit a glorious sense of satisfaction upon completion. With over 900 Power Moons to collect, Super Mario Odyssey is a glorious experience filled to the brim with quality content, one that will keep you occupied for a very, very long time. The second, equally as tantalizing collectible are Mario Odyssey’s Regional Coins. These purple coins act as an exclusive currency to their respective Kingdom and are brilliantly scattered throughout its sandbox. They can be used to purchase exclusive items, such as outfits, stickers, and souvenirs for their respective Kingdom – each providing an immense amount of joyful personality to this magical experience. Shiveria’s snowflake-shaped coins can be used to swathe Mario in an embracing parka, while the shell-shaped coins of Bubblaine allow Mario to cosplay as a Pirate or a laxed tourist. These outfits, while purely cosmetic, also provide access to unlockable rooms if your attire matches the aesthetic requirement of the inhabitant guarding said room.
Another brilliant element seamlessly weaved into Mario Odyssey’s immaculate structure is its 2D platforming segments. Entering an iconic pipe in the 3D world transports you into a bite-sized 2D stage that wraps around the surface of an object in the sandbox. These integrated segments pay homage to the pristine roots of the franchise while also implementing intriguing elements that never graced Mario’s 2D scene such as gravity flipping or the 2D space constantly moving and shifting. Mario’s current outfit is also brilliantly translated into the 2D landscape – with each combination being rendered in 8-bit glory. It’s a simple aesthetic touch that complements Mario Odyssey’s joyous aura. As I previously mentioned, each orchestrated piece is accompanied with a brilliant 8-bit rendition upon entering 2D segments. It’s these smaller elements and attention to detail that truly let Mario Odyssey shine luminously. While boss fights tend to lean on the easier side of the spectrum, they are remarkably well designed and undeniably memorable. Boss fights tend to rely on specific capture combinations to emerge victorious; some repeat encounters replace the original captured creature with another which completely changes the structure of the fight, either introducing new challenges and obstacles to overcome or providing significant aid when using a new captured ability. Mario Odyssey is not necessarily a difficult game, as it’s ten-coin death penalty is far from unforgiving, but its sense of challenge lies within its exploration, puzzle solving, creative thinking, and post-game stages. Speaking of post-game content, Super Mario Odyssey boasts an exceptional array of content that’s waiting for you after the credits have finished rolling. After an extraordinary final boss fight and exhilarating escape sequence, all of which acts as a magnificent crescendo to this magical experience, Mario Odyssey maintains its sense of wonder and continues to be a delightful surprise. Exploring a familiar Kingdom after the credits roll is a relatively novel experience as there are over a dozen new power moons to discover, exhilarating timed challenges to partake in, new bonus stages to complete, and peculiar sights to see. On top of the content added to the existing repertoire, Mario Odyssey’s post-game content also introduces new Kingdoms to explore and exceptionally challenging Cappy-omitted stages. Lastly, Mario Odyssey incorporates a surprisingly competent motion control scheme, which shies away from a mandatory existence, instead complimenting and enhancing the traditional controls. It’s a natural evolution and fitting adjustment to Super Mario Galaxy 2’s impeccable motion controls. While the Switch’s portable mode compliments Mario Odyssey’s addictive and bite-sized nature extremely well, it also removes its conventional use of motion controls, locking additional control options that provide significant alleviation.
Super Mario Odyssey is an undisputed masterpiece that raises the insurmountable bar set by the legendary franchise. Set pieces such as the Metro Kingdom’s exuberant festival act as a remarkable love letter to the beloved series, paying a poignant homage to the roots of gaming’s greatest icon. The revolutionary capture mechanic and Mario Odyssey’s non-linear explorative structure shine new light into a series that is constantly evolving and innovating. Super Mario Odyssey is inherently the best of both worlds, catering to its imperative history and novel concepts that simply break the preconceptions of Mario. Whether if you’re competing in a free-running challenge against the Roving Racers, discovering a hidden Power Moon in a secret room or platform, soaring through the vast skies as a captured Glydon, or cruising across poisonous plains atop of Jaxi, Super Mario Odyssey constantly throws one delightful activity after another. It’s an endearing experience that’s filled to the brim with wonderful things to do and see, in whichever manner the player sees fit. Super Mario Odyssey is a constant, joyous surprise, that never failed to put a smile on my face – it’s a remarkable testament to why I love video games. Super Mario Odyssey is a magical adventure that’s charming, surprising, innovative, and undeniably brilliant – an impeccable master class in level design and gameplay variance that easily surpasses the gold standards of the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is not only the best game in the legendary series, it’s arguably my favourite video game of all time.