Super Mario Odyssey review: Into a bright, rosy dawn

Credit: Nintendo
Credit: Nintendo /

Super Mario Odyssey embodies (much-needed) joy in a way that no other game does. It’s an adventure with a warm welcome ready for anyone who needs a smile.

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 27, 2017

It’s a plot that needs no introduction: Peach is kidnapped. Mario must save her. Bowser sends his minions to stop him. And an unlikely alliance is forged–this time, between Mario and a hat named Cappy. Nintendo understands that we need very little exposition for why these things are happening (why is Bowser intent on such a lavish wedding? who cares!). They have no need to captivate us with a detailed story in Super Mario Odyssey. The journey they’ve offered speaks for itself.

There is little in the base details of the game that makes Super Mario Odyssey stand out from its other 3D Mario predecessors. Mario has a few more moves with Cappy at his side, the Stars and Shine Sprites are now Power Moons, and he travels from world to world pursuing Bowser not through paintings, doors, or graffiti, but in a hat-shaped ship known as the Odyssey. The basic building blocks of Mario are all still present; the doors of the franchise have not been blown open as The Legend of Zelda’s were with Breath of the Wild. Instead, Super Mario Odyssey hones and perfects what it means to be a 3D Mario game. It realizes the vision of Super Mario 64 and embraces it with a spirit that is purely, enthusiastically Nintendo.

super mario odyssey
Credit: Nintendo /

Enter any given world in Super Mario Odyssey, and you’re immediately presented with a wealth of interesting activities within hat’s reach. Colorful characters with cleverly written (and at times very self-aware) dialogue, heights to climb, tunnels to dig into, strange glows on the beach, fizzy oceans, bouncy mushrooms, dogs that chase your cap…no matter where you turn, there seems to be a new delight. And even beyond the seemingly endless series of small, exciting moments in each world, the story itself presents a few triumphant sequences that will leave you beaming at both the nostalgia and the modernity.

The level of variety and detail in each new activity quickly makes you forget that, at the heart of it, you’re still just collecting moons. The collectible reward is satisfying, but almost every task you run across has fun gameplay merit on its own. And all of it is backed by an incredible musical score with an impressive variety of genres, and augmented often by the best use of HD Rumble I’ve seen in a Switch game so far.

super mario odyssey
Credit: Nintendo /

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Furthermore, the game meets you where you are. If you’re a casual player without much time or someone with less platforming skill, Super Mario Odyssey’s basic story objectives are easily within your grasp. You’ll get a tour of the kingdoms, and while you might miss the completionist post-game, you’ll see the credits roll and perhaps visit again to hone your skills. But if you’re seeking a challenge, don’t write the game off as a walk in New Donk City Park until you have combed every inch of the kingdoms in the post-game and faced their toughest challenges. There are something like 800 Power Moons in this game, and while some can be found just by tripping over them, you’ll need to muster all your platforming prowess for many others.

Here, then, is my primary qualm about Super Mario Odyssey, and it’s one you’ve likely heard repeated elsewhere: the motion controls are great, but they’re required for a full experience. You need your best motion controlled hat tricks not to complete the game’s story, but to get all of its moons–even some that are relatively “easy” to get from a gameplay standpoint. Unless you want to shake your whole controller or, in handheld mode, your entire console, you’d best play with the Joy-Cons separate. And this is not a set-up that many Switch users are likely comfortable with, nor is it one that lends itself well to playing on public transit or in similar locations.

super mario odyssey
Credit: Nintendo /

Super Mario Odyssey is a delighted host, enthusiastically waving its guests inside and welcoming them with a rich feast, a warm fire, and good, good company.

I didn’t want that to affect my enjoyment of the game. But because Mario has all his skills from the outset, progression in the game is defined entirely by what the player learns how to do themselves. Without tight, comfortable, intuitive controls, so many of the games’ Power Moons are less about player skill and more about figuring out what configuration to get your controllers in so Mario will throw his Cap properly. I find it thrilling to watch clips of skilled players executing incredible jump/throw combos to reach impossible areas, but Average Gamer me can’t even get close when I’m still not comfortable with all the moves by the end of the game’s story.

And yet, and yet…Super Mario Odyssey oozes so much fun, so much color, and so much unbridled joy that it’s hard to dwell on the control scheme for very long. There’s simply far too much to do to be hung up on how any of it might be done. Even after the credits roll, there are hours upon hours of Power Moons waiting for activities as simple as finding a person to talk to, or as complex as some of the game’s trickiest 8-bit platforming puzzles. And despite the initial smallness of some of the worlds, every corner is stuffed with secrets. Come back a second, third, tenth time, and you’ll always find something new in areas you thought you had scoured.

super mario odyssey
Credit: Nintendo /

Beyond its excellent gameplay, silly throwbacks and humor, beautiful and intelligent world design, or anything else, I have fallen in love with the pure spirit of this game. Super Mario Odyssey is a delighted host, enthusiastically waving its guests inside and welcoming them with a rich feast, a warm fire, and good, good company. Almost every single element of the world beams at you as you pass, hoping you’ll visit and walk away happy. I’ve never before played a game so endlessly pleased with itself and with the player. Even though I’m not a 100% collectibles kinda gal, I’m drawn back to play again and again just to experience that joyful spirit once more.

. Super Mario Odyssey. 9.5. Super Mario Odyssey is here at the end of a difficult, trying year to give everyone a reason to smile, even laugh. With the exception of some very occasional control frustrations, Super Mario Odyssey is a visual, auditory, and structural treat to play from start to finish for anyone at any skill level, and seems to delight in the player’s enjoyment. You will be hard-pressed to stop yourself from visiting the Odyssey over and over again.. Nintendo

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.