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Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) artwork

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) review

"Super Mario Odyssey proves that even great games packed full of content can leave a person wanting a little more."

Super Mario Odyssey is arguably the ideal showpiece for the Nintendo Switch hardware. Whenever I play it, I start to believe that if there's anything truly important a game must accomplish during this console generation, the Switch platform and capable software developers can deliver it in spite of any technical limitations. For that reason and numerous others, the game gets a five-star rating from me... even though I plan to spend plenty of time complaining about minor flaws in this review.

For the first time since Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mario has appeared in a proper 3D platformer along the lines of Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine. Players can move the camera freely, which provides unobstructed views of intricate, lively worlds. Any new Super Mario title seems to feature a bold new twist, and the big twist this time around is that you can throw your cap to assume control of a variety of familiar enemies from the franchise canon, including Goombas, Bullet Bills, Podobos and Hammer Brothers. Throughout the main campaign, which is significantly simpler than the surprisingly expansive and difficult post-game content, you're rewarded for looking in every nook and cranny available... and you'll probably still miss a bunch of secrets you can return to at a later date.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

My favorite 3D platformers have always allowed me to find high ground and look out over a world filled with numerous attractions worth exploring. Super Mario Odyssey offers many such vistas. There are around 16 sprawling environments to explore, many inhabited by unique monsters and citizens. Their primary purpose is to serve as givers of Power Moons, magical energy hunks you must collect so you can rebuild your ship and pursue Bowser to a complete sham of a wedding he plans to have with an enthralled Princess Peach. You'll gather hundreds of those shimmering objects by the time the credits roll, and possibly hundreds more even after that. Luckily, your industry is typically rewarded with new locations to explore and additional scenarios to discover, not to mention a selection of collectible outfits you can mix and match (typically for no reason other than that it's fun).

Mario has appeared in enough games over the years that no new installment in the series could possibly hope to meaningfully reference each past highlight--to say nothing of the smaller but still memorable moments between--but the team responsible for Super Mario Odyssey still gave it a shot. Most of the available costumes owe their roots to sideline titles, and there is an extended sequence about halfway through that pays homage to Donkey Kong. Periodically throughout the adventure, you can also find pixelated pipes that grant entry to side-scrolling worlds that look like they belong on the NES. Familiar music plays in some of the hidden bonus areas (to accompany a variety of all-new tracks that fit into the mix beautifully), and there are some delightful callbacks to past adventurers that I wouldn't dream of spoiling here. Longtime fans are in for a real treat, and that familiar content is presented in ways that newcomers should love, even without the familiarity and nostalgia.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

I could keep gushing for a long while yet, but I feel like I would be doing you a disservice if I failed to also mention those aspects of Super Mario Odyssey that left me less than completely delighted. I don't see any of them as deal breakers or even a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and I want to emphasize that they don't prevent the game from providing frequently exemplary entertainment for the dozens of hours the game will likely keep you busy. Think of them as just nitpicks.

First up, there are the controls. Super Mario Odyssey lets players take a variety of approaches, and for the most part everything feels great. You're encouraged to play with a Joycon in each hand, but you can use a Pro Controller or other setup if you prefer. For the record, I preferred to do just that. The problem I sometimes ran into is that Mario must often manage tricky jumps while throwing a hat. The timing is occasionally more difficult to get right than it probably should be. Sometimes you also have to shake the controller, and that feels odd in the middle of a more standard approach to platforming. There were numerous times when I would press a button and Mario would plummet to his doom, even though he shouldn't have. Losing a life typically isn't a big deal, since the primary cost is 10 coins from an easily resupplied stash, but it can be frustrating if an apparent control quirk sets you back too far (as sometimes happens repeatedly when you're chasing after a particularly elusive Power Moon).

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

Though the game dresses it up admirably, it's also difficult to completely ignore the realization that essentially you're spending your time gathering trinkets. There are so very, very many Power Moons. In a lot of past Mario titles, you could ignore coins and other such goodies if you didn't feel like spending time with them, but you're not entirely safe ignoring anything in this latest adventure. Gathering stuff is practically the whole point. So you go about your tasks and, if you're like me, eventually the whole affair becomes somewhat routine. The rote nature of your quest is just easier to forgive than it would be in lesser games because everything is so darn beautiful.

If you're a long-time Mario fan, you may also start to think the game has nothing to challenge those elite skills you've honed over the years. You would be wrong, but the early hours certainly aren't concerned with providing a stiff challenge. Sometimes I would encounter a boss and defeat it on the first attempt without even coming close to taking damage, and I'm certainly no 3D Mario whiz. Those simple encounters were quite imaginative, but it sometimes felt like the only way I could lose was if I did so intentionally. I can imagine that setup being off-putting for some, but at least it doesn't last. The credits eventually roll and then the Power Moons stop coming quite so easily. Situations you thought you had licked return in more difficult forms, and the safe playground you once knew exacts cruel revenge.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

My biggest gripe with the game, though, was the developers' tendency to rely too much on winning concepts from the past. They didn't bother introducing a whole lot of new ideas we'll probably want to revisit later. There were some neat new highlights, like when I got to rampage across half an island as an enormous dinosaur, but those surprising moments didn't come along as often as I expected them to. There also weren't a lot of moments that really took advantage of the new powers I gained when I possessed my enemies. I would have liked to have more freedom to roam the environments and push past boundaries like I did in Nintendo's own The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As impressive as it often is, Super Mario Odyssey feels like a template Nintendo might use to produce more enjoyable follow-ups somewhere down the road, rather than the realization of that potential. And yet, it all did come together well enough that even voicing that concern makes me feel a bit ungrateful.

I'm happy with Super Mario Odyssey, despite my various complaints. It's a delightful adventure of the sort Nintendo does best, and I often found myself being sucked into absorbing locations I wished I could visit for real. If you've been waiting for the next great Mario adventure, this is definitely it. I just can't help but believe Nintendo is capable of even better. I hope a sequel comes along sooner rather than later and proves me right.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 01, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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