GAME REVIEW: Super Mario Odyssey

written by David Steffen

Super Mario Odyssey is a new 3-D platform action game in the beloved and long-running Super Mario series of games, released by Nintendo for the Switch platform in October 2017.

The villain Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, for the bajillionth time, and he is going to try to force her to marry him.  It’s up to Mario to rescue her with his new sidekick companion Cappy, a shapeshifting and possessing ghost hat.  Mario throws the hat and it latches onto an enemy and transfers Mario’s control over the enemy’s body, so Mario can become a Goomba or a Bullet Bill or a variety of new enemies introduced for this game, giving him their abilities for enhanced attack or mobility.

Mario travels using a hat-shaped airship that is fueled by power moons (apparently a slight variant of the power stars collected in Super Mario 64?), so most of the game is spent trying to find power moons to build up enough power to reach new lands as Mario gives chase to Bowser, to try to catch them to stop the wedding.  Bowser has also hired a band of mercenary rabbits to help with wedding planning, who mostly spend their time picking fights with Mario while Bowser escapes.

Not to overexamine a children’s game, but if this were not a beloved children’s franchise, and/or if the graphics weren’t so cartoony, I would think that people would be more bothered by the ethical issues here.  We have a hero who uses a ghostly familiar to possess the bodies of enemies and bystanders to put that other creature in the way of bodily harm for his own objectives.  I mean, obviously Bowser is a villain here, kidnapping Peach and trying to force her to marry him, but I think Mario might be more in the wrong than Bowser here, kidnapping stripping the autonomy from random apparently sentient (at least some of them) creatures and endangering them along the way.  If it weren’t such cartoony graphics, that would be straight up grimdark fantasy territory there.  It’s pretty messed up, if you think about it.

The cartoonish look you’d expect for a modern Mario game.

I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the audio, so I guess it’s pretty much what you’d expect?

I wish that the bulk of the game were somewhat more challenging.  I breezed through quite easily, collecting enough power moons without any particular effort by just interacting with anything that seemed to be a little bit unusual.  I think only one or two boss fights took more than one try, and the number of power moons you have to collect to get through the main quest of the game was not a major obstacle.  There are some things that you can unlock after the main quest that involve extra levels that are significantly more challenging than the main quest.  Those are difficult enough to be challenging, but even then much of the “challenge” is more frustration over very long levels without save points so that you can play perfectly for twenty minutes but then misstep into lava and then you have to start over again.

Super weak.  Recycling the same old Mario story.  Could we be done with the “Bowser kidnaps Peach and then Mario goes to rescue her”.

I mean, is it too much to ask to let Peach have some agency?  Why does she always have to be the object of the game?  We had Peach as a playable character in Super Mario Bros 2, and she’s been a playable character in Super Smash Bros games, can we give her a chance to be a playable character again?

I mean, you could even use the existing structure to try something new, like have Bowser kidnap her but then she as the playable character fights her way away from Bowser to save herself, maybe at some point meeting Mario on her way out and they becoming a fighting team or something, or Mario is player 2 of a multiplayer game or something.  I don’t know, I feel like the Mario story team could find something new after decades of Mario games.

Session Time
As with any Switch game, easy to sleep and wake at will.

Simple enough controls, with some of the complexity that is there seeming unnecessary (i.e., you have several different kinds of ways to jump slightly higher, what’s the point?).  There are some additional controls you get if you are using the dual handheld scheme, which means that if you prefer the snapped-onto-the-mini-screen handheld system you don’t get some of the functionality.

The “main” quest of the game only requires you to find less than half the power moons that it takes to unlock harder areas, and when you beat the main quest it unlocks a bunch more of them.  So, there’s probably more of the game AFTER the main game then there is before.  If you want to find all the power moons and buy all of Mario’s outfits and unlock all of the areas and buy all of the collectibles, this will probably keep you busy for a while.

The plot is the same plot Mario’s pretty much always had.  The gameplay for most of the motion mechanics is pretty similar to all the others since Super Mario 64.  The main difference here is the hat sidekick and it’s posession mechanic.  Since you can borrow the bodies of enemies and friends along the way it does keep the gameplay a little fresher because new levels will make available new bodies for Mario to take over.  Some of my favorite games of all-time involve being able to change into different forms in some way or another to keep the gameplay fresh, so this is a sound design strategy.

I finished the main quest in about 20 hours, and unlocked the harder areas in maybe another 10 without really major effort.

Same old Mario plot with familiar play mechanics when you’re in Mario form, but this game offers the new mechanic in the form of being able to “borrow” the form of many enemies (and friends) in order to mix up the gameplay and allow new abilities to experiment with.  The game is not very challenging, so experienced gamers may be disappointed by lack of difficulty.  And in my opinion it doesn’t have the novelty and awesome level design that Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 have because of the weird gravity mechanics.

Not a bad game unless you’re an experienced player looking for a real challenge. $60 for digital download from Nintendo or physical cartridge from various retailers.


Published by

David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

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