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August 2018

Super Mario Odyssey

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2017

About Andreas Salmen

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Switch Review - 'Super Mario Odyssey'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 1, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Mario embarks on a new journey through unknown worlds, running and jumping through huge 3D sandbox-style worlds.

Buy Super Mario Odyssey

Every new Super Mario release is a celebration of the 3D platformer genre, but Super Mario Odyssey on the Nintendo Switch is the first proper Mario title since the pair of Galaxy games on the Wii. Super Mario Odyssey delivers what we expect from the series while still being progressive and enjoyable, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Super Mario Odyssey is an effort to return the series to more open-world gameplay, like in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. That means it's less linear and focuses on larger open areas that encourage exploration. Even for a Mario game, the plot in Super Mario Odyssey feels shallow and not as engaging as it could've been. The story feels like an excuse to string together many different locales, and it fails to establish a connection to the characters, whether friend or foe.

Unsurprisingly, Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, this time for a spontaneous wedding to permanently join them. As Mario, players try to save the princess but fail and end up in the Cap Kingdom, where we unite with a magical top hat, whose sister is a tiara that has also been kidnapped by Bowser. What ensues is a chase around the globe in our hat-shaped airship, the Odyssey, while collecting hundreds of power moons to fuel our engine but remaining one step behind Bowser and his minions.

Thanks to his magical hat companion, Mario has a few new tricks up his sleeve. We can throw the hat to collect coins, destroy crates or capture enemies, the latter of which is probably the most interesting addition to Super Mario Odyssey. Over 50 enemies have to be captured to collect power moons and get through the story. We can slip into Gumbas and stack them, capture Bullet Bills to blow up things or control plant-based enemies that can stretch to otherwise unreachable heights. The variety added by this feature is astonishing and fun. The first capture is as memorable as the last, and certain enemies are needed to win the boss fights.

On top of the capture mechanic, the magical hat also adds skills to Mario's movement set. After a throw, the red hat stays in place with the hold of a button, allowing players to jump on it and travel. The second addition is a long jump that's triggered after jumping, adding even more reach when combined with a hat throw. This takes a bit of practice, but after a short while, this move can be executed rather easily.

The controls are very smooth and feel spot-on most of the time. It's unfortunate that Nintendo decided to use separate Joy-Cons as the primary input method. Upward, downward and circular hat throws can only be triggered by motion controls. Players can complete the game without the special hat throws, but those moves don't feel intuitive for those using the handheld mode or the Pro controller, and the control accuracy also suffers.

Aside from the gameplay, the main attraction is the kingdoms. Over the course of the story, we experience 15 kingdoms of varying sizes, and there are some additional ones after the story concludes. With the variation in size, the moons we collect in each kingdom also varies, with as few as nine moons in one kingdom and over 100 in another one. The best kingdoms have previously been shown by Nintendo, and the standouts are the massive sand kingdom and the busy metro kingdom. Not all of the kingdoms leave a lasting impression, though.

The main goal in Super Mario Odyssey is to collect moons, but they lack significance in this iteration. They are comparable to korok seeds in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, both in sheer number and ease of discovery. You may simply stumble upon some, others are well hidden, and special ones require the completion of a certain parkour sequence. There are some original ideas and set pieces, but they're not commonly found.

Players who enjoy exploration and discovery will enjoy Super Mario Odyssey, but some may be disappointed because it partially takes away the significance of achievements in the early game. Completing the story is incredibly simple and requires the collection of a few moons, and boss fights are too easy for experienced players. There is no life system, so losing a life deducts 10 gold coins, but even if you reach zero, there are no ramifications other than having to repeat a short section. When going through the story, I was both awed and let down by the beginning of the game, and the lackluster cut scene after the final level was disappointing.

For me, the game improved from that point on. Returning to the kingdoms after completing the story made me appreciate the game in a new way. No matter how many moons you collect while beating the story, you won't and can't find all of them. The game unlocks multiple new moons in each kingdom after the story, and once you defeat the final boss, all of the maps change to some degree.

Finding all of the moons after the story ends is where the challenge lies in this Mario title. It feels like an exciting mix of Mario, Zelda and an old Rare collect-a-thon game. If that description checks your boxes, Super Mario Odyssey will excite you in unimaginable ways.

If you are into collecting stuff, there are a million things to do after the final credits roll. Mario can unlock new costumes with purple coins, which are exclusive to each kingdom, or with the gold coins that we still collect throughout the game. Beyond that, there are the hundreds of moons and achievements to fulfill, and they pose the biggest challenge of all. This aspect of Super Mario Odyssey has already consumed more of my life than it should've.

On a technical level, Super Mario Odyssey is astounding. A high frame rate and beautiful visuals make the gameplay and varied kingdoms stand out even more. It plays great in both TV and handheld modes, although the latter appears to be too blurry on-screen. The metro kingdom occasionally brings the frame rate to its knees. All of these are minor hiccups, and the overall quality of the game and its visuals are breathtaking. Like Breath of the Wild, the beauty is in the meticulous details; you'll make many exciting discoveries in this title if you pay enough attention.

I love Super Mario Odyssey, but it isn't flawless. The kingdoms are mostly open and varied, and they encourage fun exploration. However, the main story and beginning of the game are a bit of a letdown. The postgame is where experienced players will find the most enjoyment. This is not the best Mario title, but it pushes Mario in a new and refreshing direction, and it may even develop into a Switch evergreen. There are plenty of things that I'd like to see rectified in the inevitable sequel.

Score: 8.7/10

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