There were multiple moments while playing Super Mario Odyssey when I vocally wowed and awed in amazement at the utter creativity that the design of the game exudes. As I’ve made my way through the various kingdoms in the game, I’ve found myself laughing at surprises and left turns. I could feel my heart melt during barrages of cheeky references. I’ve even cheered aloud at moments that so perfectly encapsulate the wonder and essence of Super Mario. Super Mario Odyssey is not only a triumph in 3D platforming, it’s a celebration of gaming’s most cherished franchise.
Odyssey sees Mario embark on a journey beyond the Mushroom Kingdom into worlds like Tostarena in the Sand Kingdom and New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom. Bowser has once again abducted Princess Peach, however this time around his motive is more specific. Bowser is putting on a wedding and it’s up to Mario and his new pal Cappy to save the princess. The game sets up a similar formula as Mario 64. The worlds are open and free to explore in a non-linear fashion. This then changes the main focus of the game from the linear platforming sequences of Mario Galaxy and Mario 3D World, to a more puzzle and discovery focused experience. Exploration taking on a heavier role in the gameplay then bleeds into the theme of the game, odyssey, which emphasizes journey and travel. It all fits together and makes for an excellent frame and set up that opens room for the new cap mechanic in the game to be introduced.
Cappy is more than just a friend in Mario Odyssey; he also serves the role of embodying the game’s main unique mechanic, capturing. Capturing allows Mario to possess an enemy, character, or even an inanimate object. Capturing then allows you to use their abilities to solve puzzles, attack others, or just plain mess around. This mechanic serves as more than just a gimmick as it widens Mario’s move-set and serves as a fun substitute for power-ups. I had a blast as I captured a plant like creature that let me stretch to reach tall heights, and also as I captured bullet bills in order to turn the tables and maneuver my way onto areas I couldn’t previously have reached. Aside from capturing, Cappy also grants more options in terms of Mario’s mobility and actions. Attacking enemies with Cappy is fun but my favorite use for the sentient head wear is to throw him, dive, bounce off of him and doing it all over again. I spent an obscene amount of time playing around with Cappy’s functionality to try and uncover creative ways to get around. Mario feels awesome to control in this game and a large part of that is due to Cappy.
Odyssey is a love letter to the Super Mario franchise. This is evident in moments and references that harken back to the origins and pivotal moments Mario has created in gaming culture and pop culture in general. The homages to Mario’s history range from the 2D sections that place you into the shoes of Mario in the original Super Mario Bros to the whole level of New Donk City which serves as a standalone love letter to the original Donkey Kong. From the street signs that are named after characters of the Donkey Kong franchise to Pauline being the mayor of the city, New Donk City is one of my favorite levels in a Mario game period not only because of its aesthetic and fun design, but because of how it celebrates the franchise in such a sincere and over the top way. Mario Odyssey doesn’t even stop there. There are cheeky references to other games in the franchise including 64 and Galaxy and it is all packaged up in a charming way that uplifts Mario as a series and a cultural icon.
Not only is Odyssey a great addition to the Super Mario franchise, it is also a step forward for the 3D platforming genre. It takes cues from the old Rareware games like Banjo Kazooie and Conker and lets Mario explore worlds freely without ever being kicked out of a level after finding a moon. This allows for more freedom in exploration. Each level is also packed full with moons to discover. When I first saw that there were sixty-nine of these things in the Sand Kingdom, I was blown away. I still have so much to discover even after having beaten the game. Each kingdom serves as a fun playground and the more moons you find, the more difficult the game becomes as you have to find the better hidden moons and solve puzzles that may have escaped you earlier. The post-game amps things up even more but that’s for you to discover on your own.
The sizes of the worlds vary which is great but what’s even better is that the design of these worlds both aesthetically and layout-wise are impressive. I was taken back by the detailed texture of the ground in Cap Kingdom, and New Donk City is like an actual city in the sense that it’s easy to get lost with so many twists and turns. The verticality of that level helps to make the act of exploring even more dynamic and fun. All of the kingdoms look beautiful. My only complaint is the two water-based kingdoms. These were the ones I enjoyed the least. Mario isn’t the most skilled swimmer which makes these specific worlds less fun; however I still enjoyed those Kingdoms, just not as much as I enjoyed the others.
Super Mario Odyssey is the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year. Feelings of joy and happiness are practically jam-packed into this game. I’ve found myself smiling upon entering into certain levels because of how unexpectedly cool they can be. Super Mario has been in need of a game like this for around twenty years and I am happy to say that Odyssey delivers. Super Mario Odyssey fulfills that 64-shaped hole I have in my heart and it does it with confident, vibrant presentation and a smile-inducing presence.