Reviewed on Nintendo Switch – Console Exclusive
Release Oct 27th 2017
“Odyssey – a long and eventful or adventurous journey or experience”
Very few game titles capture the spirit of the game quite like Nintendo’s newest entry of its flagship IP. I’ve been playing Odyssey for 4 days solid since release and I still don’t feel like I have scratched the surface, such is the scope and breadth of the game on offer here.
Coming 7 years after Mario Galaxy 2, Odyssey is the first true 3D follow up in a long time for the franchise. As such it comes with an air of expectation and fever pitch excitement that few other games can solemnly generate. Questions are always going to be asked, can it live up to expectations?, can Mario stay relevant in today’s gaming landscape? Can it live up to the hype??
We join Mario as he is currently battling Bowser, trying to rescue Peach and stop the maniacal fiend from marrying her. Things quickly go sideways and Mario is defeated (WHAT MARIO DEFEATED!) He is expelled from the ship, his cap destroyed in the process and Bowser and Peach are seen sailing off into the sunset.
Mario has never been know for its gripping story line and Odyssey is no different. However, it does a great job of setting the framework for what lies ahead. Tasked with finding a way to catch up with Bowser, rescue Peach and save the Kingdom. Thus setting the scene for our adventure.
Finding himself in the Cap kingdom after his fall, Mario is woken by a strange magical floating cap. This Cap is “Cappy” Mario’s newest companion. He too has suffered at the hands of Bowser. His Kingdom attacked, his sister kidnapped, he to wants revenge and the two plucky heroes team up.
Cappy tells Mario about a broken airship they can potentially fix (The Odyssey) and thus give chase after Bowser. To do so they will need to collect “Power Moons” which will repair and also provide fuel for the ship. What follows is mad-cap (pun intended) dash across the globe as Mario and Cappy collect the moons, fight Bowser’s minions and try and stop the most tacky celebrity wedding since David and Victoria Beckham.
Gameplay always takes front and centre in a Mario title. Nintendo are renowned for creating the modern 3D Platformer so every new title comes with an air of expectation and pressure. Mario has over the years managed to re-invent himself and stay relevant more than any other character in video game history. Nintendo have this magic ability to pull something out of the bag that completely feels like a new game, while still feeling warm and friendly for returning veterans. Odyssey is no exception.
Returning players will be thankful that Mario’s full 3D repertoire is accounted for. Triple Jump, Ground Pound, Long Jump, Somersault etc are all accounted for as well as some new additions such as the high speed roll. Nintendo’s are masters of their craft in this space with Mario responding sublimely to every player input. Half the fun of a Mario game is just moving Mario in a 3D space and the impeccably tight controls will have even the most modest player platforming like a veteran in no time.
However, this wouldn’t be a Mario title without some new gameplay mechanic. This is delivered in the form of Cappy. A magical hat that affords Mario new moves and gameplay possibilities.
At his most basic level, Cappy is an extension of Mario. Giving him abilities such as a ranged attack, a platform for a secondary jump and the ability to collect items that are just out of regular reach. However, that is not where Cappy shines, it is his unique ability to possess other creatures. By throwing Cappy, Mario is able to inhabit the many creatures and enemies of the kingdoms and by doing so opening up a plethora of gameplay opportunities.
What this creates is a sense of wonder and emergent gameplay that I haven’t experienced in a game in a very long time. By possessing said creatures, impossible to reach moons are suddenly reachable. “See that power moon over that big chasm?” no problem, just possess a Bullet Bill and fly over to it. “Cant get through that wall?” possess a Chain Chomp and bust it to pieces. These are just some early scenarios, I wont spoil it for you. It truly is wonderful.
However, there is one draw back to this fantastic new mechanic and that is the controls. Cappy can be controlled in 1 or 2 ways, either through motion control (the games recommended setting) or by a press of either the Y or X button. Though incredibly easy to control, his most advanced moves are limited to the motion control. Such as his homing attack, or his upward throw. Though not essential to complete the game, what this unique situation creates is a disadvantage in the Switch handheld mode, with some of Cappy’s moves seemingly locked out. It is a strange design decision by Nintendo given the uniformity of its other titles.
Another fantastic addition to the gameplay is the use of 2D sections within the 3D world. Usually accessed via a retro looking pipe, Mario is transported into a 2D overlay reminiscent of the very first Super Mario Bros. These little sections are masterfully done and conjure up a feeling of nostalgia, especially in older gamers like myself. They really are a little love letter to the older fans.
Finally, there is also an interesting mechanic is the change from having actual lives. Instead of the usual green mushroom depicting how many lives you have left it is now tied to your coins, with Mario losing 10 coins every time he bites the figurative bullet bill. What this creates is an interesting trade off between using your coins to buy outfits or stockpiling for the trickier platforming sections.
That’s right, you heard right. Mario is now able to purchase additional hats and outfits. Some are tied to collecting moons but for the most part its just a way for the player to have fun and experiment. The best bit? non of these outfits or hats are behind a loot box or tied to a micro-transaction.
Mario purists will be pleased to see the welcome return of challenge courses and also the huge deluge of end game content delivered to the player after the credits roll, it really can’t be understated. In true Mario fashion, these courses and moons represent the games greatest challenge, requiring ninja like levels of platforming precision. Completionists will be thrilled at what’s on offer here and will want to seek them out for their elusive Moons.
With the Nintendo Switch, gamers finally have a chance to see what more powerful hardware can finally do for the franchise. Mario titles are renowned for being polished to within an inch of their life on their previous hardware iterations, with Nintendo EPD seemingly able to conjure digital witchcraft and punch well above their weight. Odyssey follows this trend.
This first hits you as a player when you travel to the Cascade Kingdom, a beautiful space that see’s a flowing waterfall take centre stage. Light shines and reflects off the water as it flows downstream, grass sways in the breeze, it truly is beautiful. Character models are also expertly animated, with Mario, Cappy and co looking like they have come straight out of a Disney Pixar production.
I haven’t had this sense of bewilderment in a Mario title since Super Mario 64.
This doesn’t end with the Cascade Kingdom, each subsequent area has its own unique feel and soul that will delight players. Nintendo truly are masters of creating joyous 3D spaces. But it isn’t just how good these area’s look, what will strike you as a player is how expansive some of these areas are. Entering the Sand Kingdom for the first time is a sight to behold, with the level expanding well into the horizon, something that would only be possible on the Switch’s improved hardware. Possibly the only flaw I saw in this immaculate presentation was the occasional “pop in” on the more expansive stages. However, this isn’t unusual for games of a sandbox nature.
As Beautiful as all this looks, it wouldn’t mean anything if Mario didn’t have a rock steady frame. Thankfully Nintendo EPD deliver again with what seems a perfect 60fps across all scenarios (Docked and Handheld). Something that is absolutely essential for a platformer. In over 20 hours of play I haven’t noticed one area of slowdown and the developers need to be applauded.
Sound in a Mario title is almost as important as the gameplay itself. Many iconic melodies have originated from the series (you’re humming the Mario theme tune in your head now aren’t you?) with Nintendo being able to masterfully pair both music and the feel of a level perfectly. Odyssey doesn’t disappoint.
Not only do we have the welcome return of old favourites, again massaging that nostalgia. We also have some great new tunes that you will find yourself humming even after you have stopped playing. Especially after New Donk City!
I always find one of the acid tests for audio in a Mario game is the ability to recognise it without seeing any visual imagery. What amazed me was my wife knowing what I was playing without seeing the screen. Sound effects, such as the iconic chime when you collect a coin or when you travel down a green tube are all beautifully complied. Sound, as a whole is delivered impeccably to the player.
Mario Odyssey, in it’s most simple description, is a triumph. How Nintendo manages to take a tried and successful formula, mould it into something fresh without breaking it is an outstanding achievement. However, Odyssey is much more than that. When Mario 64 launched in 1996 the world gasped; how did Nintendo manage to craft such an amazing experience? Well, now 21 one years later they seem to have done it once again. From the precision crafted gameplay mechanics to the beautifully created 3D worlds, Odyssey excels on all levels. It also offers incredible value for money with the sheer amount of content on offer. In a landscape where traditional single player games are becoming more scarce, Mario leads a shining example of what can be achieved.