‘Super Mario Odyssey’
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: Everyone 10 and up
By now, gamers are familiar with Mario. They’ve followed his evolution from Donkey Kong’s nemesis all the way to Nintendo’s iconic mascot. Players know his every jump. They know the basic plot for nearly every adventure.
Despite all this, Nintendo has always managed to surprise and delight players with his adventures in the main series. Learning from the failures of “Super Mario Sunshine,” developers have refined its formula, focusing on inventive but linear level design. Stages were often abstract, but offered players a challenge in a 3-D space.
“Super Mario Odyssey” is different. It’s a throwback to the modern classic “Super Mario 64,” with a familiar narrative. Mario once again has to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, who has plans to marry her. His rescue attempt leads him to the Cap Kingdom, a land inhabited by talking hats.
That’s where Mario meets Cappy, his sidekick for “Odyssey.” The hat wants to rescue his sister, Tiara, who has also been kidnapped by Boswer. Cappy and the level design are the stars of the campaign. Mario can fling the hat to defeat foes. It can act as a platform so that the mustachioed hero can reach higher areas. But Cappy’s most impressive ability is to take over enemies and objects.
This is essentially a power-up that gives Mario remarkable abilities. With Cappy he can inhabit a Goomba. Its shoes won’t let it slip on ice, and each time Mario jumps atop a fellow minion, the Goombas stack. That lets Mario reach higher areas. Taking over an enemy named Pokio lets the heroes climb plaster walls by snapping its beak and flinging itself upward.
Often, these minions are the key to defeating bosses or accessing hard-to-reach areas. Cappy’s powers open up gameplay that’s more varied than the standard Mario jumps. They create new ways for Mario to amble around “Odyssey’s” diverse worlds.
With more than 16 kingdoms to explore, players will have plenty of content. Nintendo has revamped the structure of the game, focusing it around the collection of Power Moons. They fuel the Odyssey, a chapeau-shaped ship that ferries Mario and Cappy to each kingdom.
These kingdoms are scattered through each level, and at first they come at a steady clip. They can be purchased as shop items or earned by doing favors for characters facing problems, but soon they become harder to find, and that’s where the challenge and the fun lie.
“Odyssey” brings back the exploration aspect of “Super Mario” games. Players have to search high and low for Power Moons, and there’s joy and astonishment with each discovery. Mostly that is in how the Cappy gameplay and level design play off each other.
In the prehistoric Cascade Kingdom, players can control a Tyrannosaurus rex and break bricks and knock out rocks to uncover Power Moons. In the food-based Luncheon Kingdom, Mario and Cappy take over lava bubbles that leap out of boiling water. That’s how the heroes rifle through the kingdom’s nooks and crannies. Being a lava bubble also is also a good way to heat stews to a boil.
Nintendo further incentivizes exploration by hiding Kingdom-specific coins. These can be spent in shops, where Mario buys new costumes and souvenirs that changes the look of the Odyssey. Interestingly enough, Mario’s varied outfits are needed to gain certain Power Moons.
All these aspects of “Odyssey,” including Mario’s new roll and ground-pound jump, foster a sense of adventure that permeates every pixel of the game. These keep players guessing as they wonder what new experience lies around the corner.
The fact that “Super Mario” games have been around for years, yet still stir excitement and astonishment from players is a testament to Nintendo’s indomitable imagination.