Returning to Mario’s open-world format has been long overdue. Players haven’t been free to explore the gorgeous landscapes that Nintendo creates and find stuff to do since the Gamecube. While built in the mould of Mario 64 and Sunshine – the most underappreciated game in the series; don’t argue with me – Odyssey is in fact a heartwarming love letter to of some of the greatest games ever made over 25 years. Exploring three of its worlds, I’m fairly certain the developer has once again built another moustachioed masterpiece.
If you’re a Nintendo nerd like myself, you’ll quickly fall in love with the feeling that Odyssey is a mix of classic Mario titles. For starters, once again we have “missions” within every open world – although, unlike in 64, you don’t choose one before jumping in. In Odyssey there’s one main objective that requires completion in order to open up the next area of the map, but there will also be plenty of other tasks to discover and complete.
The focus here is on collecting Power Moons. These cute little crescents are used to power Mario and Cappy’s (the new companion enthused with Mario’s hat, giving it the power to be thrown and take control of enemies and objects) ship to visit new worlds. Much like Stars, Shines and Power Stars before, there’ll be plenty to collect, and much of the fun is in finding them.
Up first is the Luncheon Kingdom, a food-inspired world that Bowser’s minions have overthrown in the hunt for the finest ingredients for the upcoming wedding. Oh yes, the plot of this game is that Bowser is forcing Peach into marriage, and Mario has to stop it, while simultaneously rescuing Cappy’s sister, Tiara. It’s very weird.
The Luncheon Kingdom is gorgeous, and another fine example that the Switch doesn’t need to be the the most powerful console on the block to offer some of the most visually stunning and creative games on the market. It looks like Mario running around in Candy Crush; vibrant pinks, purples and greens leap off the screen as you jump across giant corn on the cob, bounce off spicy tomatoes and chat to walking forks.
There are 18 Power Moons to find – and as already mentioned, while the game offers up one main objective, there’s nothing stopping you from wandering off and discovering other missions along the way.
Their variety quickly becomes apparent. A fork chef is guarding entry to a door, access is only granted to those dressed for the kitchen. I have to collect a plum-looking in-game currency, from around the Kingdom to buy a chef’s outfit to get in the door. This opens up an entire new mechanic, there’s a shop called “Crazy Cap” in every kingdom, where you can buy costumes suited to that land. It’s a great feature that quickly becomes obsessive as I strive to don Mario in every variant of attire in the demo.
There’s also a Power Moon right on top of the building where I started, waiting for me to learn how to climb it, a female Goomba sat on a ledge flees as soon as Mario gets close, so I must learn how to keep her around long enough to work out whether or not she also possesses a Power Moon. There’s so much to do; every nook and cranny of the landscape is stuffed with something to unlock.
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At this point, I was still getting used to Cappy. Hitting ‘Y’ launches your hat, but it can be used to traverse objects as well as damage or even control enemies. First up along the path was a Goomba, and after becoming it I realised that jumping onto other Goombas allowed us to stack, meaning I could reach higher points. Later on, a couple of cooking Koopa Troopas blocked my path, flinging pots and pans all over the place. Taking over one allowed me to use said pans to smash the blocks of cheese in the Kingdom.
You can also use Cappy on objects. In Luncheon Kingdom you’ll see some forks dug into walls; throwing Cappy at one will allow you to springboard off them and reach the above ledge. Holding down ‘Y’ after throwing Cappy into a space ahead will see it hover in the air, allowing you to run and bounce off your hat – a move that becomes very handy in boss fights. The new mechanic, as you’d expect from Nintendo, has way more depth than first appears.
The surprises dotted around the world are what make Odyssey shine. In the far corner of Salt Pile Isle, I find an island with falling vegetables. To one side of it is a warp pipe that looks unlike the rest of the game, almost like it’s made of Lego bricks. Going through it I realise this is a hidden 2D 8-bit level hidden beneath the falling veg. This put such a huge smile on my face; I genuinely felt all warm and fuzzy inside.
After spending much time in the Luncheon Kingdom, I then went over to the Seaside Kingdom, located in the beautiful resort of Bubblaine. Here, little water-bubbled octopus you can control are able to squirt water on the floor to “clean” certain areas of lava.
I had less time to explore the Seaside Kingdom, but I did see three cool things. The first was volleyball – a mini-game to which Mario must return and keep a point going for as long as possible to achieve the hi-score. Maintaining a rally of 15 or higher will reward with a Power Moon. Score chasers will be happy to discover that their final score can be uploaded for comparison against other players, encouraging you to play way longer than is necessary. 35 was my highest; when the game launches next month, submit your best on Twitter.
Next was the land’s boss fight, which was much fun. A giant octopus is drinking all the Sparkle Water in the land, ruining the holidays of the sunning snails. After completing a series of objectives around the area to uncork four tubes, each striking the tentacled beast, you must take him down. Much like most Mario bosses, they often lack in difficulty, but never in creativity.
Last but by no means least is Odyssey’s new Snapshot mode. This really cool feature allows you to freeze-frame the action at the touch of a button, angle the perfect shot, and add filter effects to create the perfect screen for sharing on social media or even using for your smartphone. Once I discovered this mode included Game Boy, NES and SNES filters, it immediately became my favourite photo mode.
However, in an adventure platformer, capturing the perfect screenshot proved tricky. Trying to snap the moment just before Mario was trounced by a Cheap Cheap proved much harder than I expected – but I’m willing to sacrifice a life or two in the name of getting a cool screensaver.
From what I’ve seen so far, I could go on for an age about how brilliant Mario Odyssey is. Packed with references – both from a visual perspective and mechanically – from all previous games, it brings them together in a melting pot that’s shaping up to rival the Galaxy series as the best Mario game we’ve ever seen.
Every kingdom is a joy to explore, to the point where I obsessively want to collect every Power Moon in it – not just enough to get to the next place. Not that we expected any less, but Odyssey is going to be special.
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