Within eight months of its release, the Nintendo Switch has received one of the best chapters in The Legend of Zelda saga, and one of the best Super Mario games ever. Not too shabby Nintendo, not at all. Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic Mario game, perhaps the best ever, especially if you leave nostalgia aside, as Nintendo added several new ingredients to the Super Mario formula in a game that stands on its own, but has countless surprises and Easter eggs (and other eggs!) for fans of the franchise. It's a true tribute to the character and to those who have accompanied him on this long journey - and what a fantastic trip it has been.
Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D Mario game which shares several similarities with Super Mario 64; the campaign is divided into Kingdoms, which function as medium-sized worlds, the way you approach each level is non-linear, and you can accomplish the goals in a completely different order from other players. That said, the platform segments themselves are linear, and you can look at them as a series of levels connected to a bigger world. It's an approach that works quite well, although, in terms of the overall experience, it's not particularly risky or innovative.
The game kicks off like so many others: the abduction of Princess Peach. Bowser has decided to marry the princess against her will (it's getting increasingly difficult to be sympathetic with Bowser), leaving Mario behind. Defeated, Mario ends up in the Cap Kingdom, where he meets Cappy, Nintendo's biggest new feature in Super Mario Odyssey. Cappy is a creature that resembles a hat, and has great magical properties, as not only can he take the form of any hat, but he can also offer Mario control over other creatures. The duo decides to join forces to pursue Bowser, who not only has the princess, but also Cappy's sister (Peach's hat).
To pursue Bowser, Mario and Cappy need a ship, the Odyssey, which is powered by Power Moons. In each kingdom, you'll need to find a specific number of Power Moons to advance, both by eliminating the local boss (another requirement to continue your journey) or by exploring the Kingdom, as each level includes many more than the number needed to progress. One word about these bosses, they appear in the form of evil rabbits that are helping Bowser prepare his marriage. Although not particularly difficult (we defeated the majority without dying once), they are imaginative and entertaining, and you'll face them all more than once, usually in a slightly more difficult version than the previous one. There are other bosses too... but those we won't spoil.
Each kingdom consists of several platforming sections, and countless secrets. There's a lot to explore in each realm, and some Power Moons will require a lot of effort from the player, either through precise platforming, fortuitous exploration, or imaginative objectives. From collecting all the lost sheep for a character to exploring watercourses, there are countless ways to find Power Moons, and a player that devotes themselves to finding them all will be gaming far beyond the story campaign. In this regard, there is content that only unlocks after finishing the story... and it's a treat.
In addition to Power Moons, each level also includes special coins in addition to traditional coins. While traditional coins can be used in all realms, special coins are specific to the level in question. With traditional coins you can buy a heart that enhances Mario's life, a Power Moon, and standard suits, but with special coins you can acquire other suits to help with the level in question, and decorative items for the Odyssey, also themed after the kingdom. Unlike traditional coins that reappear after some time, or if you return to the level later, the special coins are one time items and can only be collected once.
One of the changes that Nintendo has made involves the "lives" system, which has been completely revamped for this new adventure. Super Mario Odyssey instead uses a checkpoint and continue system. There are several checkpoints scattered across the levels, and when you die, you are returned to the nearest one. Mario also has health, in the form of hearts. A heart allows for three hits, but if you get an extra heart, it will offer Mario a tolerance of six strikes. It's a system that keeps the game accessible, even more so since you never lose progress when you die, only time, as you get pushed back to the last checkpoint.
Regarding gameplay, Super Mario Odyssey includes the usual Mario moves: jumps, triple-jumps, crouching jumps, side jumps, and all the range of movements you may already be familiar with. The biggest new feature is, of course, the introduction of Cappy. You can throw the hat forward, make it spin around Mario, and even keep it spinning in the air for a few seconds to use it as a platform. As we've already mentioned, you can also take control of other creatures with Cappy, including fish, cannonballs, frogs, turtles, and goombas. Each kingdom has a unique type of creature to control, with unique abilities, and much of the design of a level involves using those abilities. It's fun, and something that helps keep the experience varied. Oh by the way, you get to control a T-Rex, even if only for a few moments.
Another feature of Super Mario Odyssey is a throwback to the original Super Mario Bros. As you enter special tubes, both Mario, blocks, and enemies are transformed into 2D pixelated versions of themselves. Imagine something similar to the 2D effect of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. These moments are fun, and at the Metro City level there's a very special surprise that we won't be spoiling here either.
Super Mario Odyssey is far from being the most complex game in terms of gameplay, design, and artificial intelligence, but within its particular field, it's a fairly polished experience. The gameplay works almost flawlessly, and the level design is brilliant. Some levels are clearly superior to others, especially thematically, but in terms of design, all offer high quality. Having said that, Mario in "real-world" surroundings (Metro City) seemed strange to us when it was shown a year, and it continues to be so now.
Staying on the topic of less positive aspects, we must refer to the Joy-Con motion sensor controls. As is so often the case, these controls aren't really usable, since their degree of precision isn't that good. Several times we tried to throw the hat up, and it went down instead. Fortunately, these controls are optional. The story is also quite predictable and simple, with low production values, and although the audio is pleasant, there's nothing memorable. And while the graphics are cute, they're not particularly impressive by today's technical standards. You can also play co-op with a friend, with one controlling Mario and the other Cappy, each with a Joy-Con.
Super Mario Odyssey is a delightful game, and one of the best available on the Nintendo Switch. It's extremely entertaining, has some lovely moments, and there are even some surprises that will put smiles on the faces of Super Mario fans. Is it the best game ever, as some seem to have suggested? No, we don't think so. On the other hand, it may just be the best Super Mario we've ever played, and that's more than enough for us.