Title: Super Mario Odyssey
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Summary: In 1996, Nintendo released Super Mario 64, a groundbreaking open world platformer that added a third dimension to a traditionally 2D world. Woven into the fabric of many childhoods, Super Mario 64 remains a nostalgic staple that would give rise to other titles in the franchise, including Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. This past weekend, the highly anticipated Super Mario Odyssey dropped on the recently released Nintendo Switch. Scoring perfect or near-perfect scores among major critics, I had very high hopes for Nintendo’s largest title release since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild back in March.
Three, Two, One Blast Off
Cracking open a cold cannabis-infused apple cider and filling my lungs with the sweet lemon-lime smoke of XJ-13, I was straight-up giddy as Super Mario Odyssey booted up with a stunning cinematic intro. The rich colors and stunning textures felt new and unique to the Nintendo Switch without breaking away from the distinct aesthetic cultivated over decades.
True to form, the game takes a few short minutes to set up the narrative: Peach is once again kidnapped by Bowser and must be rescued by Mario lest she be married to a large turtle against her will. But the spin that separates Odyssey from its predecessors is the added element of an animated hat named Cappy, who you can throw around as a weapon or as a tool for “possessing” the bodies of your enemies. You’ll spend the entirety of the game solving puzzles using this novel aspect as you take the shape of Goombas, Chain Chomps, Cheep Cheeps, and many other strange creatures native to the classic imagination of Mario’s world.
Immersion and Atmosphere
I never held Nintendo to the same graphic standards as Xbox or Playstation, but since getting the Switch, all that has changed. With Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo demonstrates that even cartoonish animations can be stunning in their own right. The attention to graphic detail can be found everywhere, from the fine textures of the sand to the mirrored reflections in Bowser’s metal boot. I can say with certainty that the sensitizing and immersive effects of XJ-13 paired perfectly with this strange, beautiful space.
Not only is this game visually astounding on the micro level, the macro environments are brilliantly built, too. Traveling through time and space across deserts, lakes, and cities all the way to the moon, there’s no section of the map that underwhelms. Even sights on the distant horizon have the ability to wow you, defining borders and distance with more realism than you’d ever expect from a Mario game.
Super Mario Odyssey has a soundtrack that spans many styles of music, for better or for worse. The game opens with an amazing orchestral score that sounds written by some sky god vacationing in Italy, a symphonic sound that defines most of its soundscapes. But in what seems an overzealous attempt to be hip, Super Mario Odyssey drops a few out-of-place cringe-tastic songs, including one that sounds like it was performed by a K-Pop Josie and the Pussycats garage cover band.
But overall, Nintendo’s designers and animators really flexed their skills with Super Mario Odyssey, painting a breathtaking environment that will surely go down as a hallmark in the franchise.
As you drop into the game and explore controls, you’ll soon realize Super Mario Odyssey flies closest to Super Mario 64 than any sequel since. Mario’s movements and objectives are nostalgically similar to that of the 1996 classic as he leaps, jumps, and skids across puzzles to find “moons,” which are essentially rebranded stars from the original. Once you find enough moons, you are granted passage to the next area on the map.
The motion controls, enabled by the Switch’s two joy cons, are the largest deviation from the gameplay of the Nintendo 64 original, as you have to swing and nudge the controllers using various motion commands. The responsiveness of the controllers can be a bit finicky, sometimes confusing two different but similar motion commands.
An endlessly entertaining aspect of this game is the many dorky outfits Mario can wear. Ever dream about Mario wearing nothing but boxers and a cowboy hat? Well, thanks to Super Mario Odyssey, your fantasy is now reality—if you collect enough coins, that is. Achieve wealth and your Mario can become a city slicker, a sailor boy, the Michelin Man, an obnoxious tourist, an American patriot, and so many other personas. It’s truly one of the most rewarding aspects of this game.
The storyline can easily be completed in a single weekend, taking just about 12 hours (maybe 15 if you’re as stoned as I was). However, don’t curse at the credits as they roll by, thinking Nintendo’s swindled you out of $60 for such a short game. There’s plenty of post-story content (up to 40 hours of gameplay) and new worlds to explore even after you’ve successfully torn Peach from the claws of poor, forever-alone Bowser.
Characters and Plot
The characters and plot of any given Mario game are as flat and two-dimensional as the original 1983 Mario Bros. But giving this game a compelling plot or intriguing characters would feel almost irreverent to its long-standing history of cutting the storyline bullshit and getting right into the action.
That being said, we’re left to evaluate this game based on the low standards it has established for itself over the years. Sure, bringing to life a piece of clothing and granting it powers of possession is a random and entertaining twist on an otherwise static plot. But here’s what I loved most: Many characters felt hilariously out of place, like the dinosaur that looks like a Turok copy-and-paste, or the realistic Sims-like humans of the metro kingdom that make Mario look like a small, disproportionate alien man. I found these anachronisms to be all the more endearing as they cemented Super Mario Odyssey in my mind as a strange, psychedelic delight I won’t be putting down any time soon.
All in all, Super Mario Odyssey has proven to be a standout game in the history of Super Mario titles. With so few titles available on this young console, why not treat yourself to a game that will awaken your inner child while still challenging your intelligence and dexterity?