Super Mario Odyssey exceeds expectations.
I asked myself if there was anything that kept Super Mario Odyssey from being a 10.
I asked myself if there was ever a moment where I was needlessly frustrated. Or if the camera prevented me from executing a maneuver. If something wasn’t polished to a glimmering sheen. If there were any forgettable elements… I asked myself: could I substantiate a 9.8… and sleep at night.
I asked myself all of those questions, and more. The answer always came up the same.
Super Mario Odyssey is a masterpiece.
It starts with sheer imagination.
Mario is out to stop another of Bowser’s kidnappings, but this time is serious. Bowser intends to marry Peach, and he and his rabbit wedding planners will do everything they can to make sure their perfect wedding goes off without a hitch. That means you’ll be chasing them across extravagant kingdoms as they gather everything they need- from the right ring and the perfect cake to the right bouquet and proper stew. Its exactly the sort of silly, light-hearted story that has always driven Mario to collect Stars (or Power Moons, in this case) and stop his nemesis.
Super Mario Odyssey marks the end of an era- the era where Mario games sterilize casts into traditional allies and enemies. Here, every kingdom has a new race of friendlies and a new host of foes, from plump snow-people obsessed with racing to fork-fingered, vegetable-headed chefs, and from very tall onions to elongating worms. Even traditional enemies change when you have the ability to take them over. Cappy, Mario’s ally wedding-crasher, provides many of the game’s surprises with his possession ability. Traditional enemy encounters are turned on their head as you help Goombas find love, launch Chain Chomps into rock walls, and swim through water as a Cheep Cheep.
Of course, you can still jump on Goombas to kill them.
For every radical new idea, Mario relishes in maintaining its language. The triple jump, side flip, back flip, ground-pound jump, and long jump are all just as you remember them. The distance and timing of every jump is in our blood just as much as it is Mario’s. The hat throwing adds to the distance and height, allowing for some smooth combinations of movement, and when combined with power lines, poles, and more, Mario truly flows. Just crossing New Donk City without slowing to a jog (or hardly touching the floor) is a fantastic feeling. Controlling Mario is, as ever, its own reward.
Not that Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t give out rewards generously- a Power Moon is around every corner and under every leaf. Chasing one will often lead you to another, much in the way traditional open world quests do, but it rarely feels like those. I’ve explored my fair share of open worlds and sandboxes, scurrying after one feather or spark or another, but collecting Power Moons is unique.
Perhaps this is attributable to the genre of game, or perhaps is simply because Super Mario Odyssey executes so well.
Not every moon is unique (under every leaf is an exaggeration, but there are certainly moons under leaves), but the majority of them reward disparate activities. Secret underwater caves, ballsy deep dives, navigation puzzles, boss battles, collection quests, fishing holes, challenge rooms- all of these, and dozens more, all grant Power Moons in the same tiny span of one relatively small world.
They come with such great regularity, and reward such bizarre tricks, that you can’t help but experiment. Much like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is built to make you want to try things, just to try them, Mario relishes in probing your imagination. Taking a Cheep Cheep from the lake, over a cliff, across the land, and to the other side of the map might not always give you a Power Moon, but the satisfaction is often reward enough.
Just the sheer maybe of every action drives it: maybe this will get me a Power Moon. Maybe there’ll be a coin, or two, or three, or a challenge room door, or a the start of another puzzle, on the other side. And so often there is.
Even between riding taxis and controlling hammer bros, there is plenty of traditional game-play at hand.
When you visit worlds for the first time, story missions will drive you linearly towards a high point in the world (well, linear might never be the best word here), making sure you face off against Bowser’s wedding planners, and on occasion the lean, green, sharply-dressed machine himself.
By the time you’ve finished these mainline missions in each area, you’ll have more than enough Power Moons to move on to the next. You’ll rarely be ready to however. That’s because during your adventure you will have seen dozens of possible other Power Moon locations. On top of that, new ones will have opened up with collection of specific Power Moons. They will demand your attention. I found I wasn’t ready to go to the next world until I simply could not find any more Power Moons.
Even if the game says I’ve only gotten 6 out of 17 for that location. Some of them are devilishly and delightfully hidden. A rare few of them are inaccessible the first time through, as Super Mario Odyssey thankfully forgoes a Metroidvania style progression. I rarely think about how frustrating it can be to find a collectible locked away, until I play a game like Super Mario Odyssey. It does not design away your ability to collect. If you can find it, you can find a way to get to it.
The music is typical mainline Mario fair, which of course means that it is vibrant, beautiful, and undeniably amazing.
Super Mario Odyssey refuses to follow the big budget gaming trend of music that fades away to silence, and only sometimes comes to the foreground. The soundtrack here is proudly in front, and demands you at least whistle along at all times. These are the melodies that will stick with you on the walk to work. For that matter, at work, and on the way back from work before you can play again.
And in support, the delightful cheering of Captain Toad, the musings and mutterings of skeletons with maracas, and the ever endearing pitter-patter of Mario’s feet. Artistically, whether in visuals or audio, Super Mario Odyssey is a triumph. Nintendo shows again that vibrant colors translate directly into fun.
Super Mario Odyssey is not a 9.8. It did not frustrate me- it excited me. Nothing, from the worlds to the music to the individual surprises, was forgettable. Super Mario Odyssey is a 10, and to suggest it’s anything else would leave me with sleepless nights. The game is visually arresting, endlessly polished, and fundamentally captivating. If you own a Nintendo Switch, buy Super Mario Odyssey. It’s as straightforward as that.
Super Mario Odyssey
Release Date: October 27th, 2017
Platform: Nintendo Switch