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Nintendo Switch  header logo

Super Mario Odyssey review - The wildest ride on Switch


For: Switch
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Mad as a hatter

Product: Super Mario Odyssey | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: Switch | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
 
In Super Mario Odyssey, the Nintendo Switch finally has its flagship game.

You could make the argument that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the better, more cohesive experience. But that game was conceived for a different Nintendo console entirely.

Super Mario Odyssey, on the other hand, is a true Switch original. Like the host console it's a colourful box of unexpected delights; a generous jumble of inspired ideas - and the occasional bum note.

Mostly, though, it's just wonderful.

Marriage made in hell

We join Mario in medias res, battling a spectacularly unenlightened Bowser as he attempts to steal Peach away for a forced marriage.

Mario's failure sets up an epic chase across a dozen or so open hub-like worlds (plus several smaller off-shoots), which must be plundered for their moon-shaped currency.

Along for the ride is Cappy, a sentient hat who acts as both boomerang and portable platform. Beyond that, throwing Cappy on certain enemies will cause Mario to possess them, temporarily adopting their unique abilities.



Soaring across the level as a Bullet Bill is an obvious highlight of this system, as is stacking up Goombas into a precarious tower, and stretching up to the heavens with a curious plant-based stilt creature.

Combining these seemingly game-breaking abilities with Cappy's jump-extending powers and Mario's huge moveset really opens the levels to creative interpretation.

This isn't the vast open canvass of Zelda, but Super Mario Odyssey's deliciously sculpted arenas invite more experimentation than any Mario before.

That plumber came for the moons

Let's go back to those moons for a second, because its these that fuel your exploration in Super Mario Odyssey.

Moons are roughly akin to the Power Stars or Shines from other 3D Mario games, but they're far more plentiful.

I've collected around 250 moons to date, and while that was comfortably enough to see me through the game's main story with ample room to spare, it appears to represent a little over a third of the grand total.



Odyssey's moons turn up everywhere. You're as likely to find one with a carefully positioned ground-pound of a sparkly floor tile as at the end of a daunting climb or mini-boss battle.

This liberal scattering of collectibles is part of what makes Super Mario Odyssey such a great Switch game. If you're playing in handheld mode, you can quite conceivably dip in for the odd 20 minutes and come away with five to ten fresh moons to add to the total.

The sheer flood of collectibles (there are also two kinds of currency to grab in each world and loads of new outfits to acquire) can be overwhelming, but it means that frustration and boredom are alien concepts in Super Mario Odyssey.



Your next shiny achievement is always just over that perfectly round hill.

Coupled with the low moon count required to access each world, it can make Super Mario Odyssey feel a little easy, and even lightweight at first.

I certainly experienced fewer stiff individual challenges than in previous Mario games during my initial run through.

But without wishing to spoil anything, the main story has rarely been less important. Seeing off Bowser is merely the start of a hugely accessible and free-roaming game of hide and seek - and finding everything in each secret-infested world is the single biggest challenge here.

Putting the 'odd' in Odyssey

It's been mentioned plenty in the build-up, but Super Mario Odyssey really is quite weird. Most of the best mainline Mario games throw a barrage of ideas at you, but there's typically a unifying theme to tie them all together.

If the theme here is that Mario is off on a globe-trotting holiday, however, then that vacation is equivalent to a free-spirited teen's manic gap year filled with bizarre events and questionable substances.

There's a real mish-mash of concepts and art styles on display, and the composition is three parts refreshing to one part jarring.



Without getting too specific, here are just a few elements that materialised a question mark box above my head:

New Donk City's freakily 'realistic' citizens. The whole forced-wedding storyline. The violent possession of enemies and benign creatures alike.

Mario in a wedding dress (admittedly an Amiibo bonus). Bowser's downright unpleasant rabbit lieutenants. A bizarrely tacked-on boss battle that seems to have escaped from a Dark Souls game.

It's not that any of these things are bad as such. They just feel a little... tonally off kilter.

Crazy good

Fortunately, this weirdness is far more often to the game's benefit. None of the worlds are quite what they seem at first pass.

There are the kind of fire, snow, desert, beach, castle and snowy levels that you might expect from a 3D Mario game, but without exception they're given a hefty twist.

Elements of each bleed into one another in unexpected ways - a desert level filled with ice, for example.



You'll also encounter numerous side-scrolling sections that harken back to Mario's roots. These sections never outstay their welcome, they're brilliantly worked into the 3D stages, and they always manage to raise a smile.

Indeed, Super Mario Odyssey is packed full of loving nods to its own past, as well as a number of pop culture references. There's a lot of love in this one.

Woohoo

Super Mario Odyssey's controls are pretty spot on. The game encourages you to play with the two Joy-Cons held separately, which is probably the best way for most people.

When on the TV I played mostly with the Pro controller for the superior precision of its analogue sticks, but this made the game's handful of motion-activated commands a little fiddlier to activate.

To be honest they're not exactly fool-proof on the Joy-Cons either. You have to shift both sideways to initiate a looping Cappy attack, and up for a vertical Cappy toss.

Neither has really clicked with me so far, and it's frustrating there's no button-based alternative.



Otherwise, barring a few inevitable camera mishaps, Super Mario Odyssey plays and controls beautifully.

It looks great too. There's a crisp clarity to the visuals that makes everything feel solid and instantly readable without sacrificing that sense of wonder. Fans of Splatoon 2 or ARMS will know how this goes.

Glittering pools of water beg you to dive in, gloopy pink blancmange is the most inviting deadly substance in gaming, and Bowser's fortress has never looked this elegant or formidable.

A shout out is also due to the Nintendo sound department, with a bunch of memorable ditties utilising a deft mixture of orchestral and synthetic instrumentation. Although, I'd probably add the two vocal tracks to the 'eh?' pile.

What a trip

Super Mario Odyssey is the Italian plumber's most freewheeling 3D adventure yet, but it's also somehow his most accessible.

There's just a whole bunch of instantly gratifying stuff to do here, whether you're dashing across a timed obstacle course, playing beach volleyball, blasting tanks to smithereens, catching a rabbit, or figuring out how to reach a remote island.

It's invariably possible to find something meaningful to achieve within minutes of booting the game up, yet it can suck you in for hours at a time, and its deepest secrets will have you perplexed deep into the hefty post-game stretch.



Sure, it's got a freaky side. But like the Switch console that hosts it, you'll come to embrace those quirks as part of a uniquely entertaining package.

Super Mario Odyssey is a wild trip, and every single Switch owner should be booking their tickets right now.
 
Super Mario Odyssey review - The wildest ride on Switch
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 26 October 2017
Wild, Weird, and packed full of imagination, Super Mario Odyssey is the first platform exclusive that every Switch owner needs to own
 
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