So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, March is once again “Mario Month” and I am spending every Thursday of this month celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.
Released: 27 October 2017
Developer: Nintendo EPD
After the videogame industry crumbled under the weight of numerous overpriced consoles and lacklustre titles, Nintendo basically single-handedly rebuilt the industry with the blockbuster success of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) and, following the “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties, Nintendo and their portly plumber continued to be an innovative and reliable staple of the videogame industry. On 3 March 2017, Nintendo struck again with their first high-definition console, the Nintendo Switch, an inventive little machine that could be played on the go or “docked” to play on televisions, with gamers using detachable “Joy-Cons” (with the usual motion control trappings Nintendo is now known for) to play. Accompanying this new console was an all-new Mario title, one that was aimed squarely on Mario’s long-term fans and would emphasise dense, open-world exploration over linear gameplay. To mix things up, producer Yoshiaki Koizumi aimed to have the player travel across multiple worlds (known as “Kingdoms”) and collect Power Moons instead of Power Stars, and to bolster Mario’s move set with Cappy, a mechanic specifically designed to incorporate the Switch’s unique control schemes. Upon release, Super Mario Odyssey received critical acclaim as critics lauded the game’s addictive gameplay, and originality, and it became a best-seller for Nintendo’s powerful little system.
Bowser, the King of the Koopas, has once again kidnapped Princess Peach and his underlings, the Broodals, have laid waste to the Bonneteer’s Cap Kingdom. Mario teams up with a Bonneteer, Cappy, a sentient hat who joins him on his quest to power up the Odyssey airship and chase after Bowser before he can force Peach into marriage!
Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D, semi-open world action/adventure with a heavy emphasis on platforming, exploration, and performing elaborate jump tricks to progress further and track down the game’s 880 (!) Power Moons. Although you only need 124 to finish the main story, and 500 to unlock every Kingdom in the game, you’ll quickly find that collecting Power Moons becomes an addictive and fun-filled adventure as you spend another ten, twenty, thirty minutes scouring the latest Kingdom for one more Power Moon. If you’ve played any of Mario’s 3D adventures before, you’ll be instantly familiar with Mario’s controls; for me, the game clearly draws inspiration from Mario’s moveset from Super Mario 64 (Nintendo EAD, 1996) and Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo EAD Tokyo, 2007) and Mario features all of his athletic abilities from those games. Players press A or B to jump; pressing either button in consecutive order will see Mario perform a triple jump to reach higher platforms, and he can crouch with ZL to enter small spaces or perform a backflip by pressing B. If you press ZL and B while running, you’ll fly ahead with a long jump, and pressing ZL and Y in mid-air will see him dive ahead. You can also perform a ground pound to flatten enemies or uncover secrets by jumping and pressing ZL (you can even press B as Mario hits the ground to spring up for a boost jump), perform side jumps, wall jumps, pick up and throw items, and swim through water by tapping B. While you can rotate the left stick to spin around and knock back enemies, you’ll notice that Mario can no longer punch or kick enemies; instead, you need to hop on their heads to defeat them or press X/Y/flick the Joy-Con to toss Cappy at enemies.
This will allow you “capture” certain enemies; sometimes, you’ll need to knock a hat or other headwear off their heads first, and not every enemy can be captured (and you can sometimes capture inanimate objects such as boulders and trees), but this is the game’s big new mechanic. Cappy can be used to uproot posts, collect Golden Coins, activate switches, clear away poisonous gunk, open doors, smash and hit brick blocks and ? blocks, and extend Mario’s jumps by holding Y to spin it in place. However, you can capture Goombas to walk along slippery surfaces without fear (and even stack them up to reach higher areas), frogs to leap to higher platforms, a fireball to safely pass through lava, and capture a spark pylon to travel across powerlines as a bolt of electricity. You can even capture bigger creatures, such as Chain Chomps that let you bash through blocks and a Tyrannosaurus rex to barge across the landscape (though this latter puts a great strain on Cappy). Capturing Bullet Bills lets you fly across the Kingdom for a short time, as do Paragoobas (though you need to tap B to keep these aloft), while Glydons let you glide across the landscape, Cheep Cheeps let you swim without far of drowning, and Uproots let you extend up to new areas. Moe-Eyes are slow but let you see hidden platforms, Wigglers let you stretch across gaps like a xylophone, Gushens let you blast up and across the area with temporary jets of water, and you can capture Hammer Bros, Yoshi, and even Bowser in the finale! You can press ZL at any time to return to normal, and often get a jump boost at the same time, and the enemy will temporarily remain nearby if you need to capture it again, but the capture mechanic really helps to expand your abilities and is essential to solving puzzles, reaching new areas, and finding more Power Moons so be sure to toss Cappy at everything you see.
Once again, Mario’s health is measured by a pie chart; you’ll need to collect Power Moons or life hearts to replenish Mario’ health, and can temporarily extend it up to six hearts like in Super Mario Galaxy, and you can open up the map screen with the – button to read up on the Kingdom and warp around the map to the checkpoint flags you’ve activated. Mario can take three hits before failing, but the life system has been abandoned. When you fall, land in instant-death gunk, or lose all your health, Mario will lose a number of his accumulated Coins and respawn back at the last checkpoint flag. Coins are also used as in-game currency and can be spent at shops in each Kingdom to purchase additional hearts, Power Moons, and outfits for Mario to wear; each Kingdom also has its own unique currency in the form of Purple Coins that can be used to buy regional outfits, stickers, and souvenirs. If you’re having a hard time with the game, you can activate “Assist Mode” to have arrows guide you along and bounce you back after a fall, but the game really isn’t too difficult for the most part so you shouldn’t really need this as various non-playable characters (NPCs), menu screens, Cappy, and tutorials are available to keep you on track. When you reach a Kingdom, you’ll be encouraged to explore high and low for Power Moons, which you can collect multiples of without having to restart the Kingdom. Some of these are hiding in plain sight, others require a bit of wall jumping or platforming, others need you to race across or up temporary platforms (sometimes without the benefit of Cappy) against a time limit, and others are hidden underneath bridges, behind walls, or even underground and require a ground pound to spit out. You’ll also come across rabbits that need to be caught, find Captain Toad hiding out in each Kingdom, race against Koopas, open chests (sometimes having to open them in the right order), destroy blocks or pillars, enter pipes and cross spinning or moving platforms, blossom flowers, herd sheep, pace walk across arrows, and complete picture puzzles to collect additional Power Moons.
Power Moons can also be bought, assembled by collecting Moon Pieces, spawned by collecting musical notes against a time limit, navigating mazes, finding hidden areas using Cappy, activating scarecrows to take on timed platforming challenges, rocketing up to new areas, playing a Slots game, and clearing away snow, gunk, or enemies and blast open cages to find even more Power Moons. “P” switches will activate temporary platforms or bridges, the Switch will rumble when you’re over secrets to indicate a ground pound, and you’ll need to capture and stack up multiple Goombas to activate pressure pads. Sometimes a vulture will steal Cappy from you, meaning you’ll need to chase after it and lure it near to columns that you can raise up by ground pounding a neighbouring column to knock Cappy loose. You’ll also need to plant seeds to grow vines to reach new areas, enter pictures to warp to secret, far away areas of the game’s Kingdoms, and capture puzzle pieces to solve puzzles. Thankfully, there are no sections of the game that require the use of the Switch’s motion controls; you can even turn these off at the main menu, and the motion controls are nicely focused on giving the console a shake to boost Mario’s speed or attacks in certain situations. The story also quickly offers the choice to travel to different Kingdoms and back so you can explore and play the game at your own pace. The hunt for Power Moons will be where you’ll find the bulk of the game’s variety, as you’ll often have to capture a variety of enemies or objects or use your jumping abilities in interesting ways to clamber over the environment and find hidden areas. You can even enter the iconic Mario pipes and pop out in 2D areas that harken back to Mario’s 8-bit routes and see you hopping onto or over enemies and fireballs, traversing ledges and girders, and collecting Coins and Power Moons and bringing you out to new areas.
Graphics and Sound:
Super Mario Odyssey is easily the most colourful, charming, and graphically advanced Super Mario title I’ve played so far. As is always the case, cutscenes play out using a mixture of gibberish, limited sound bites, and subtitles but the body language of Mario, Bowser, and Peach make these perfectly adorable and there’s very little, if any, distinction between the in-game graphics and the few cinematic sequences. While there are some noticeable loading times, especially when travelling between worlds in the story mode, most of these seem to be purposely implemented as an excuse to have Cappy give players a quick rundown on Mario’s abilities as you can eventually skip these sequences with the + button. Mario, especially, looks at his very best; his cap lifts off his head when he jumps, he gets covered in ash when burned, and has a number of idle animations (falling asleep in most Kingdoms, sweating in others, or shivering when cold) and is full of life and charm, which is good as he’s the only character you’ll be playing as this time around. For a sentient cap, Cappy is surprisingly full of life as well; occasionally, he’ll hop off your head to deliver hints and his big, cartoonish eyes make him very expressive.
As you might expect from a Super Mario title, the game is full of unique and interesting locations to visit; you start off in the Cap Kingdom, which has been covered in ash from Bowser’s attacks and is full of large hat-like structures and a thick fog that masks a death pit. You’ll then travel to thirteen additional Kingdoms, each one sporting their own unique trappings, currency, and Power Moon designs; you’ll hop around waterfalls and prehistoric terrain in the Cascade Kingdom, cross a vast, scorching desert in the Sand Kingdom, and explore the depths of the coral-like Lake Kingdom in your search for Power Moons. In the Wooded Kingdom, you’ll find a great forest, dark undergrowth, and an overgrown factory while poisonous lakes and large tropical trees await you in the Lost Kingdom. You can also briefly travel to the upper atmosphere above the clouds in the Cloud Kingdom and battle Bowser’s vicious dragon in the medieval ruins of the Ruined Kingdom, brave an aggressive blizzard in the Snow Kingdom, and explore the beach at the Seaside Kingdom. Upon first visiting many of the Kingdoms, you’ll find the region in a state of chaos that must be addressed by defeating a boss; this will calm the blizzard in Snow Kingdom, for example, and restore power to Metro Kingdom.
Metro Kingdom is probably the area most familiar to people since it featured heavily in the game’s advertising; New Donk City is a massive city full of skyscrapers, construction sites, realistic NPCs, and numerous references to the Super Mario franchise and, more specifically, the Donkey Kong franchise (Nintendo R&D1/Various, 1981 to present). Not only does Pauline make a long-awaited return to the series but you can even race across an expanded 2D section that is a fantastic call-back to Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D1, 1981) and many of the street names, business, and billboards directly reference characters or locations from the franchise. The Luncheon Kingdom is probably the game’s quirkiest area as it’s populated by anthropomorphic cutlery and a veritable explosion of vivid colours and giant foods, while Bower’s Kingdom is fittingly the largest and most dangerous area in the game and draws its aesthetic inspiration from Japanese temples. The finale takes place in the Moon Kingdom, where gravity is much lighter and allows you to jump much higher and fall much slower; while the surface of the Moon is a barren wasteland, you’ll find an ornate church there and battle your way through a lava-and-trap-filled cavern to reach your final confrontation with Bowser. After besting the Koopa King, you get to travel to the Mushroom Kingdom, which is both a loving recreation and an extension of the same area from Super Mario 64, featuring paintings, Toads galore, and even Power Stars replacing the Power Moons. Each area is further bolstered by remixes and recreations of classic Super Mario tracks, and even a catchy vocal tune, “Jump Up Super Star!”, by Kate Higgins.
Enemies and Bosses:
Long-time fans of the series can rejoice here as many of Mario’s most famous enemies make a return in Super Mario Odyssey, and can even be controlled thanks to Cappy; you’ll bounce off Goombas and Paragoombas, stretch across gaps as Wiggler, smash trough blocks with Chain Chomps, barge through obstacles as Chargin’ Chuck, and hop on Koopa Troopas and use their shells to smash apart blocks. There are also some new enemies to be found here, such as the Trapbeetle (which captures Cappy when he’s thrown at him and charges at you, but you can use this to clear blocks from your path), the Stairface Ogre (who tries to squash you with a giant mallet but leaves itself vulnerable and allows you to reach higher ledges), Sherms (tanks that are great fun to take control of), Pokios (needle-nosed birds that let you awkwardly climb up and across the walls of Bowser’s Kingdom), and Chinchos (mummy-like creatures that Cappy simply passes tough harmlessly). Many of these can be captured and used to your advantage, but many more will also respawn, especially if you need to capture them to progress, and while they’re all pretty goofy and simple to get around, you’ll also find them placed in precarious positions or in large numbers as the game progresses, which helps keep the game’s difficulty nicely balanced. To restore each Kingdom or solve problems for the NPCs, you’ll have to battle a few bosses; defeating these earns you a “Multi Moon” that counts as three Power Moons. Although each Kingdom features at least one boss, the game does reuse and recycle these for other Kingdoms and boss rushes, the most obvious cases being that of the Broodals.
These mean little bunnies replace Bowser’s usual Koopalings and are each fought at three separate points throughout the game, with the battles getting tougher each time. Topper bounces around and is protected by his green top hats; you must throw Cappy at him to knock these off and avoid being hit by them as they ricochet around so you can bounce on his head. As the fight progresses, more hats come into play and Topper swings them around to try and hit you as well. Harriet’s head is protected by a spiked helmet and she tosses explosive maces at you that you can hit away with Cappy, but they leave temporary flaming puddle son the floor. When she tries to crush you with the maces on her pigtails, you can smack these back to stun her, and you can also knock her out of the air when she withdraws into her helmet by hitting the bombs she drops. Spewart protects himself by spraying poison gunk all over the place, but you can use Cappy to clean it up and stun him, and to knock him away when he retreats into his hat and leave a trail of the muck in his wake. Rango tosses his sawblade-like hat at you from afar, but you can flip them over with Cappy and use them as a trampoline to twirl onto his head; as the fight progresses, Rango tosses more hats and also hops around trying to hit you, and you’ll have to battle each of the Broodals again in Bowser’s Kingdom and in succession in a gruelling gauntlet on the Dark Side of the Moon Kingdom.
You’ll encounter the Broodals’ mother, Madame Broode, in the Cascade Kingdom; this rotund bunny sends her golden Chain Chompkin after you, but you can easily avoid it, knock its hat off, and capture it to launch it back at her. Although she tries to swipe at you, and more hats are added to later bouts, it’s pretty easy to stay out of her way and knock her on her ass. In the Sand Kingdom, you’ll find Knucklotec, a statue-like head who tries to crush you with its fists. However, you can trick it into hitting ice so you can capture its fist and fly it right into its face, but you’ll have to watch out for the projectiles it shoots out to protect itself. Torkdrift, a large UFO, awaits in the Wooded Kingdom; luckily, there are Uproots nearby for you to capture and stretch up into Torkdrift’s glass underbelly, but you’ll have to dodge the shockwaves it sends out and the flaming lasers it fires, and smash through thick blocks to flip it over and deliver additional damage to it. After unsuccessfully trying to attack Bowser’s airship, you’ll fall into the Ruined Kingdom and face off with the Ruined Dragon, a massive beast that sends out rings of lightning; when it collapses from exhaustion, you have a brief window of opportunity to hop onto its head, remove the stakes from its skull, and ground pound its weak spot but its attacks will become more aggressive and harder to dodge as the fight goes on.
The latter Kingdoms offer some of the more interesting boss battles; Metro Kingdom’s Mechwiggler clambers about on the side of a building firing energy bolts at you and charging at you through portals, but you can pilot a Sherm to blast its glowing weak spots and deal big damage to it, and you’ll have to battle two at once in the Mushroom Kingdom rematch. Similarly, you’ll need to capture a Gushen to chase after and defeat the Seaside Kingdom boss, Mollusque-Lanceur, a giant octopus that floats around the beach (or above the clouds in the rematch) firing torpedos and spiked bombs. However, he’s vulnerable on his head so you can jet after him with Y and gush water down onto him with B once you’re hovering over him. In the Luncheon Kingdom, you’ll do battle with Cookatiel in a giant stew pot; Cookatiel spits vegetables as projectiles, but also spews up a stream of vomit that you can travel up as a fireball to bounce on his head. Each of these bosses is fought again by jumping into paintings in the Mushroom Kingdom, and the battles are made harder by the presence of additional enemies and hazards, less health items, bottomless spits, and more aggressive attacks from the bosses.
Before you can finally face off against Bowser, you’ll have to battle the Broodals once again, this time in a giant mech! To defeat the RoboBrood, you’ll need to avoid the bombs it throws out and capture a Pokio to hit them back at its feet, toppling it over and leaving it vulnerable for you to fling yourself up and attack each of the Broodals’ pods. The RoboBrood becomes temporarily invincible after each pod is destroyed, targets you more directly, and it gets harder to scale it with each hit as well. Bowser himself is also fought twice, once in the Cloud Kingdom and again in the Moon Kingdom (and a third time at the end of the super-hard Darker Side of the Moon Kingdom). Both times, you must toss Cappy at his top hat to flip it over and take possession of it; you must then hop over the shockwaves caused by his jumps, avoid or punch away the rocks he throws at you, and put a beating on him when he’s stunned. As the fight progresses, Bowser jumps faster, throws more projectiles, defends himself from your punches and tries to swipe at you with his tail, and spews out flames in anger, but he’s not particularly difficult to best in the main encounters. After defeating him, you’ll need to capture him to use his massive claws to escape, which is pretty fun (if harrowing because of the temporary platforms).
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Mario’s primary power-up is his ability to capture enemies and other objects with Cappy; this allows you to leap higher, protects you from lava, activates switches, allows you to flip, fly, or travel to new areas, and is crucial to solving some of the game’s puzzles and tracking down the Power Moons. There are, however, other power-ups you can find in each Kingdom; bubbles will restore your air meter when swimming, Life-Up Hearts temporarily add three extra hits to your life meter, Keys unlock additional Power Moons, scooters and catapults will allow you to travel quickly across areas, and Rocket Flowers let Mario blast ahead, and up sharp inclines, with a burst of speed but at the cost of his manoeuvrability.
Although there are no extra life mushrooms, cap power-ups, leaves, or invincibilities in the game, you can capture Yoshi in the Mushroom Kingdom and use his flutter jump and long tongue to eat fruit, and you can also spend your Coins on stickers to adorn the Odyssey with, souvenirs to fill it with, and outfits to change Mario’s appearance. Each Kingdom has one door that is blocked to you unless you buy and wear the regional outfit, but otherwise these are purely cosmetic items to wear. However, the range of them is quite impressive: you can dress up as Doctor Mario, Luigi, Waluigi, Wario, and even Diddy Kong; wear Mario’s Hawaiian shirt, his spacesuit, and even be rendered as his polygonal model from Super Mario 64 or in blocky 8-bits. You can dress up in the Broodals’ outfits, wear Peach’s wedding dress, and even mix and match the head wear with the clothing to create bizarre combinations. Sadly, though, these are simply costumes rather than new skins and the only character you’ll ever play as is Mario, which is a shame considering Luigi was playable in Super Mario Galaxy.
With nearly 900 Power Moons to collect, you’ll never be short on things to do in Super Mario Odyssey. After you defeat Bowser, you can travel to the Mushroom Kingdom to find more Power Moons (this time rendered as Power Stars), rebattle the game’s bosses, and be awarded additional Power Moons for completing Toadette’s objectives. You can also return to the previous Kingdoms to track down Princess Peach for another Power Moon and break open Moon Rocks and access tough platforming or puzzle sections for additional Power Moons, and cause even more Power Moons to be spread across each Kingdom. You can keep track of these in the – menu by reviewing your lists, and once you have powered up the Odyssey with 250 and then 500 Power Moons, you’ll unlock two new areas of the Moon Kingdom.
Dark Side has you scaling a tower and battling the Broodals in a tough gauntlet with no checkpoints or health power-ups between or during the bout, and the Darker Side is home to the game’s most challenging, and frustrating, course as you must cross lava, avoiding spikes, fireballs, and all manner of hazards and obstacles in a true test of you skills. Furthermore, players can find Luigi in each Kingdom and take on the Balloon World mini game, which is basically an online version of hide-and-seek and has you racing to locate balloons and comparing your time and scores with other players. The game can also be played in a rudimentary two-player mode where one player controls Mario and the other controls a captured enemy, and you can also use Amiibos and the Switch’s snapshot feature to find additional hints or unlock costumes, respectively.
I was actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey. I had heard so much about the game since it first released, all of it nothing but praise, and it was getting to the point where the game felt a little overhyped to me. Once I got a Nintendo Switch, I knew that the game was going to be a must-have for my collection, but I was a little apprehensive as I have a bit of an odd relationship with Super Mario games. However, it didn’t take long for my worries to be completely set aside; Super Mario Odyssey harkens back to the days when games could be played in fun-filled little bursts and its addictive gameplay and eye-catching visuals make it a title that’s simple to pick up and hard as hell to put down. The game gets progressively more challenging as you progress and visit new Kingdoms, but it’s never unfair or punishing and any mishaps you might make simply come down to a mistake on your part rather than due to a janky camera or controls. Mario’s athletic prowess and the additional abilities afforded to him by Cappy mean that there is always another way, or multiple ways, to accomplish tasks, explore further, or obtain Power Moons and the sheer amount of options available to you is impressive, but never too daunting. Colourful, endlessly entertaining, and fun from start to finish, Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic entry in the franchise; I loved the call-backs to Super Mario 64, particularly the rendition of the Mushroom Kingdom, and all the outfits available to you (though it was disappointing to only be able to play as Mario again). The Kingdoms were all fun and unique areas, finding Power Moons was a great little distraction, and the bosses were enjoyable little challenges that never outstayed their welcome. There’s something on offer here for players of all skill levels, from beginners to advanced players who fancy tackling the super-tough optional areas, and I found myself having a great time from start to finish.
Have you every played Super Mario Odyssey ? If so, did you enjoy it and how do you think it compares to other 3D Mario titles? Which of the game’s Kingdoms was your favourite? What did you think to Cappy and the capture mechanic, and which enemy was your favourite to take possession of? Did you enjoy collecting Power Moons or were you a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount to find? What did you think to the game’s bosses and the Broodals? Did you ever best the Dark and Darker Side of the Moon Kingdom? Which outfit was your favourite and would you have liked to see skins or other playabale characters? Whatever your thoughts on the Mario’s cap-based adventure, feel free to sign up and leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media.