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Review: Super Mario Odyssey
Gaming Writer Sam Nason is cap-tivated by the Switch's newest title, Super Mario Odyssey
I can think of no better way to begin this review than saying I absolutely love this game. The graphics are beautiful, the music sublime and the atmosphere and environments incredibly charming - I would wholeheartedly recommend Super Mario Odyssey to anybody who owns a Switch.
The myriad of perfect review scores from other journalists, after all, speak for themselves. 2017 has been an amazing year for Nintendo, producing not one, but two solid Game of the Year candidates and, even if (somehow) neither win, two masterpieces that have revolutionised their respective franchises. Super Mario Odyssey is a blast from beginning to end, catering to every single different type of gamer and is the most fun I’ve had with a game in a good while.
Is it still necessary to mention the story of a Mario title in a review? Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, with Bowser preparing an incredibly elaborate wedding for the two. The story is by no means the spectacle of the game, as is the case with all Mario titles, but it is nice to see it have an active presence as you fly from kingdom to kingdom. It’s perhaps not as complex as Super Mario Galaxy, but Mario’s pursuit of Bowser and Peach helps drive the game and, by implication, the player.
The heavily pushed new mechanic of the title is the Capture ability, made possible by Cappy, Mario’s new sentient hat. Essentially, you can throw Cappy at most enemies and he will ‘cap-ture’ them (how punderful), allowing Mario to gain control of them and their unique characteristics. This feature is so much fun to play around with and really allows for some interesting solutions to puzzles in the pursuit of Moons (this game’s collectibles), or to just mess around with - the first time I witnessed Mario capture a Goomba and saw his moustache planted on its face, I burst into hysterics, just because it was such a surreal and humorous sight. Cappy also functions as a second player in local multiplayer and, while I haven’t tried this myself yet, I’ve been assured it’s an incredibly fun mode and better than the rather passive multiplayer of Super Mario Galaxy.
While this game definitely feels like more of a successor to the classic Mario title (like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine) than the Galaxy games or Super Mario 3D World, it is still very different. I’d be partial to say it has more features of a ‘collectathon’ than your traditional platformer as you explore the nooks and crannies of each kingdom in pursuit of Moons which act as rewards for completing little quests. Whereas in Super Mario 64 there were only about six stars per stage, Odyssey boasts way more, with the most being 69 Moons on offer in the Sand Kingdom. The nature of Moons is different to Power Stars however; with Stars there would usually be a clearly defined objective in the stage that you would have to follow to obtain one, with the stage changing occasionally to cater for said objective. With the Moons they’re literally dotted all over the place, and it’s not uncommon for you to come across two or three on your way to the main objective - for lack of better terms, they’re simply there, waiting to be collected. So, while Odyssey does offer maintain a certain degree of linearity in its overall structure and objectives, it gives the player the freedom to discover the kingdoms at their own pace and recover all the Moons they want to, which is awesome.
This is not to say there is a complete absence of platforming in the title - exploring the kingdoms does, after all, require platforming to manoeuvre. Some of the most difficult Moons to collect are preceded by platforming challenges, and though many are soul-crushingly hard they are all immensely satisfying and never unfair. Many platforming sections in the title hark back to classic ‘Nintendo-Hard’ difficulty which is refreshing to see in a franchise that one might associate with ease nowadays.
The kingdoms themselves are absolutely amazing, each one feeling unique and maintaining an identity of its own. Without spoiling anything you have your Sand, Snow, Metro, Woodland and Seaside Kingdoms to name a few with each offering such distinct locales that you will never get tired of all the exploring before you. The interesting thing about the game is that, feasibly, each kingdom would only take you an hour to beat - however this is only if you’re doing the bare minimum in each one and only acquiring the Moons you need to move on. The kingdoms are so wonderfully expansive and offer both extremely easy and creatively challenging collectables to acquire - seriously, in the Sand Kingdom I was pulling my hair out trying to get one specific Moon for the best part of an hour. No matter your experience, Odyssey is a game that caters for both newcomers and Mario veterans, making it amazingly accessible for everyone.
Something small that I love about this title is how alive each kingdom feels. There was not a single kingdom I went to that felt empty or uninhabited (apart from kingdoms that were obviously meant to give off that vibe) because of the friendly characters I met along my journey. I was particularly astonished by New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom which, again without spoiling anything, may be my favourite Mario stage ever. It was cinematic and bustling, completely filled with personality and character, an absolute pleasure to explore (a sidenote, but I find it absolutely hilarious that, if the Mario universe reflects our own, there is potentially a place simply named ‘Donk’ somewhere).
Coinciding with this is the amazing musical choice for each stage. Of course, you’ve probably heard ‘Jump Up, Super Star!’, the song Nintendo marketed heavily along with the title (it does feature in the game, and the way it does is too cool to put into words), but the background music of each kingdom fits so well and provides an amazing sense of atmosphere and individuality. The Woodland Kingdom’s music has been stuck in my head since I got the game because of how vibrant and dynamic it is, and I guarantee it will be stuck in yours once you get there too.
Graphically too the title does not disappoint. The worlds are so bright, colourful and spirited that I couldn’t help but just collect myself for a second every time I landed in a new place and just look around my immediate surroundings, in awe at what I was exploring. Just like the music, each kingdom looks so distinct that it is an utter joy to explore each one. Also in the game is a new Snapshot mode, giving players lots of camera creativity and allowing them to save images along their journey. With the introduction of different filters, camera angles, levels of focus and zoom options, there is so much freedom in the tool alone that has given birth to many amazing wallpapers I’ve seen over the internet.
Another new feature in the title is the ability to customise Mario’s clothing and dress him up as you see fit, not previously seen in a main Mario title. This is so expansive and there are a huge range of different costumes to choose from, making for some hilarious combinations. More than anything though, this customisation makes the game feel unique to each individual player - their Mario is not the same as everybody else’s, and so there’s something quite fulfilling and fun about dressing everybody’s favourite plumber up. On a personal level, my Mario has been running around in an aviation cap and boxer shorts - appropriate attire for any globe-trotting adventure.
My absolute favourite thing about the title, though, is just that it’s fantastic to play. It’s so much fun to explore, to find different Moons, even to see what other characters in the kingdoms say! The writing and dialogue is witty and every character has something informative to say. For die-hard Nintendo fans there are also some great tongue-in-cheek references to a myriad of things that will leave you cracking up. In many sections of the game there is also a return to 2D Mario platforming - literally, with the sprites from the original Super Mario Bros. and everything. Hearing the kingdom’s music in 8-bit, or seeing your Mario’s costume as an NES-like sprite is very enjoyable and just shows how much effort, care and love the developers put into the title.
Super Mario Odyssey is the best Mario game ever made. Bold claim, I know, but I wholeheartedly stand by it. Its gameplay, its music, its graphics, its personality - they’re all perfect, and the game caters for hardcore gamers or those jumping in to their first Mario title. It just goes to show that in an era of increasingly popular multiplayer and online games, single player titles are still as invaluable and enjoyable as ever. I will be playing this game for months to come, and it is my personal Game of the Year (yes, I’m saying that with two months of the year left!) If you have a Nintendo Switch, you will do yourself a disservice by not picking up this game as you will be instantly cap-tivated (sorry).