Every Mario journey is a voyage through the fantastical and the outlandish, sending our mustachioed hero spinning through space or leaping through dimensional paintings on his eternal quest to rescue Princess Peach. While each game builds on the ones before, Nintendo’s latest offering pushes gameplay to its highest peak yet, sending Mario through tons of secret-packed worlds on his Super Mario Odyssey.
But, first things first. When the game starts, Mario has already lost. Somehow, he’s made his way to Bowser’s airship—but a full-powered Bowser stands in front of him, Princess Peach tantalizingly just out of reach, and all of the trappings for Bowser’s imminent wedding already assembled. One punch from the king koopa and Mario is sent flying off the ship, his hat lost on the breeze and shredded by a propeller.
Upon crash-landing in the Cap Kingdom, the full extent of Bowser’s devastation is made clear. The villain hasn’t just kidnapped Princess Peach this time around. Determined to finally marry the princess, Bowser has ransacked his way through the Kingdoms in search of wedding decorations, stealing a bouquet here, a famous wedding dress there, a sacred ring on the side, and much more. One of the many victims of Bowser’s thievery is a citizen of the Cap Kingdom, Tiara, and her brother Cappy immediately teams up with Mario in an attempt to recover their kidnapped loved ones.
Cappy proves to be much, much more than a sidekick. After taking over the shredded remains of Mario’s original hat, Cappy packs a punch—Mario can toss Cappy out to bust through obstacles and knock out enemies in front of him, and can even use Cappy as a temporary platform to leap off of for a boosted jump. Most important, though, are Cappy’s capture powers, which allow Mario to take on the form and abilities of dozens of the inhabitants of the Kingdoms.
Nearly every enemy that Mario encounters on his journey can be captured in this way. Plonk Cappy down on the head of an enemy, and Mario will immediately possess that creature, temporarily gaining its abilities, drawbacks, and appearance (plus mustache and hat). The possibilities are nearly endless, and the ability is far more than a cosmetic change. Each and every capturable enemy moves differently, with Hammer Bros hopping with every step, Goombas shuffling securely over ice and slippery surfaces, Lava Bubbles leaping in high, slow arcs, and more.
In a game that’s all about platforming and exploring, this obviously opens up tons of new potential, but also tons of challenges. Frogs can leap up far higher than Mario could ever dream, but can’t defend themselves as well. Lava Bubbles can’t cross land—unless you run across first, defeating other lava-themed enemies to leave a path of lava puddles behind. Moe-Eyes can flip down their sunglasses to see invisible paths, but shuffle too slowly to beat a timer. With a few exceptions (Bullet Bills explode after a while, for example), there’s no limit on how far you can take any single captured target within a Kingdom, and I personally can’t wait to see what kind of speed runs and clever solutions players will be able to discover.
Mario on his own is no slouch, either, with many returning moves and a few new ones letting him bounce through the levels. He doesn’t just ground pound and wall jump, but also reacts to the world around him, spreading his arms out joyfully as he runs down a hill and picks up speed. The Joy-Cons or Pro Controller also react to the world, fizzing when Mario drops into a sparkling sea or rumbling to detect hidden items in the ground.
The amount of hidden items and collectibles is truly phenomenal, and it feels like there’s always more to see and other secrets to find. You’ll travel through more than a dozen worlds on your journey to stop Bowser’s wedding (with even more waiting after the credits). It seems that Nintendo kept many of the same design principles from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in mind while designing Super Mario Odyssey. No matter where you are, you’ll always be surrounded by intriguing sights and slightly suspicious spots to investigate.
There are two main hidden collectibles to find in each world. First and foremost are the Power Moons. These crescent-shaped collectibles provide the power for Mario’s airship, the Odyssey, and you’ll need to collect a certain number of them on each world in order to fly to the next. This number carries over, however, so you’ll always be rewarded for taking the time to explore more than you—three extra Moons found in one world is three less you’ll need to find in another. There’s no worry about failing to find them all, however, since there are far more in every world than you’ll need to advance.
The Power Moons are hidden in all of the most unlikely of places, and it’s always rewarding to find one. Many of the puzzles are designed to be just tricky enough to make you feel clever for solving them. Sometimes it’s tilting the camera in just the right way, or noticing a path that extends around a corner. There are also many secret doors in the world that open up to reveal self-contained, extra-tricky platforming puzzles or challenges, and you’ll often get a Moon just for clearing one (and most or all of them also contain a second, secret Moon if you poke around enough or go the extra mile). Others are found under the ground, in breakable crates, inside of shops, as rewards for completing tasks from NPCs, or after defeating bosses.
The second collectible comes in the form of purple currency. While there are normal golden coins all over the place, these purple ones are limited, often require some extra platforming or searching to find, change shape from world to world, and only work as cash in the world you found them. They’re another obstacle in the way to a 100-percent clear of the game, but you don’t use them to progress. Instead, they can be spent at each Kingdom’s respective Crazy Cap store, and unlock special world-exclusive outfits for Mario to change into. These costumes don’t provide any mechanical benefit, but they’re a ton of fun, and you can set up some great staged shots with the game’s Snapshot mode.
All together, that sounds like a ton of collectibles, and it is—I thought I had combed the Tostarena Desert pretty thoroughly, getting far more Power Moons than I needed, only to be shocked at how many I’d missed when the game finally provided a checklist after beating it—but if anything, exploring the world of Super Mario Odyssey is much more the point of the game than the platforming. Often, you’ll happen across crazy scenes and totally out of the blue surprises. I won’t spoil any of them here, but investigating areas thoroughly will often reward you with uproarious scenes that are far more rewarding than just a Power Moon (Hint: check out all of the ground-level doors in New Donk City).
Despite all of that, Super Mario Odyssey manages to avoid the trap of getting bogged down in its own collectibles. In fact, the game actually moves along at a rapid pace; there’s a saying about time flying when you’re having fun, but I was surprised to find myself at the end of the game already during my second day playing it. After the credits, though, there’s still much more to do—not only do you get the aforementioned checklist of everything you’ve missed, but a ton of additional collectibles and areas unlock, encouraging players to go back and explore. There are entire extra worlds that only become available once the story is done, and when I was immediately dropped into one post-credits, I wasn’t about to stop playing.
There’s simply so much to see, and so many little details to appreciate—hidden Cat Peach sprites, music that changes from symphonic to 8-bit when Mario goes through a pipe, semi-hidden capturable enemies that can put a whole new spin on a world, and some of the most nostalgia-inducing throwbacks to Super Mario 64 that Nintendo could put together. It’s worth taking your time to try and explore and savor the story and details as you go, but even if you sweep through it quickly, Super Mario Odyssey is a game that can keep you playing long, long after the credits roll.
A mix of the nostalgic, the fantastical, and the wonderfully bizarre, Mario’s latest adventure provides more than a dozen tantalizing playgrounds to explore. With hundreds of collectibles, Kingdoms full of delightful details, and secrets waiting around every corner, Super Mario Odyssey is bound to keep players exploring long after the credits roll.
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|Super Mario Odyssey is available on Nintendo Switch. Primary version reviewed was for Switch. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Emma’s early gaming was mostly done in secret, as the only gamer in a family of normal people. She still retains skills from this dark period in her life, such as the ability to teleport instantly across the house away from the computer, and holds a gold medal in the Olympic sport of “Hide the Gameboy.” Sorry, Mom, now you know.