Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) review

This review, like all the reviews on Tired Old Hack, contains no major spoilers. The only plot mentioned takes place during the game’s intro, and any worlds or items mentioned are limited to those previously revealed in official promotional material (trailers, screenshots etc).


Nintendo / Nintendo EPD
Nintendo Switch

“It’s cute listening to you playing that game.”

When I reviewed Super Mario Galaxy a decade ago for Official Nintendo Magazine, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 three years later for the same publication, I was on my own.

Sitting at Nintendo UK’s headquarters, I was essentially left to my own devices in a room with nothing more than a Wii, a television and a copy of the final code freshly emailed over from Nintendo’s Japanese office.

This time, reviewing Super Mario Odyssey in the comfort of my own home, I’m not alone. My wife Louise has been sitting in our wee home office, using our PC while I’ve been playing on the living room TV next door.

Back then, the Galaxy games felt special. I could tell I was playing something out of the ordinary, something that connected with my inner child in a way that was nothing short of pure joy.

I felt it again with Odyssey. But this time those feelings were reinforced by Louise saying to me after my second night with it:

“It’s cute listening to you playing that game.”

Usually when I’m reviewing something I’m pretty much silent, save for the odd “fuck off” when I die. But Odyssey has me spontaneously laughing, giggling, whistling along to the music and gasping as I play, to the extent that my wife hears the difference.

This game is a Galaxy challenger. This game is a Galaxy beater.

Don’t look at me like that, I’m serious

For those not aware of the story, Peach has once again been kidnapped by Bowser, who this time has decided enough is enough and it’s time to finally get hitched to seal the deal.

After a scuffle in which Mario fails to stop Bowser, the big fella destroys Mario’s trademark cap and flies off in an airship. It’s harsh but you’ve got to give it to him: as far as symbolic “up yours” gestures go, it’s a pretty strong one.

A dejected Mario soon encounters Cappy, a living hat creature with the ability to transform into any other type of headwear. A cap of all trades, if you will.

Cappy informs Mario that his sister Tiara is part of Peach’s wedding outfit, and as such has technically been kidnapped by Bowser too.

Mario and Cappy decide to team up and chase after Bowser, using a hat-shaped ship called the Odyssey to follow his airship.

The twist is that the Odyssey needs power to work, and that power comes in the form of Power Moons. These are dotted around each of the kingdoms Mario and Cappy visit in the game, and essentially act like the Stars in previous 3D Mario games.

The general concept, then – at least during the main story – is that you land in a new kingdom, find enough Power Moons to power the Odyssey so it can fly to the next kingdom, then repeat this until you catch up with Bowser.

It’s essentially a new way of doing the ‘collect X number of Stars to unlock the next area’ thing you’ve seen in every 3D Mario game to this date, which is fine: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just tweak it a bit.

Now, let’s be clear here. There have been arguments among some (including me) about whether Odyssey plays more like Super Mario 64 and Sunshine and their open worlds, or more like the Galaxy games with their more linear missions.

In reality it plays like both, and like neither.

Yes, its kingdoms (worlds) are free-roaming affairs that you can wander around at your pleasure like in Super Mario 64 and Sunshine.

Some of the areas even feel like they could belong to direct sequels to those games. The Cascade Kingdom, the grassy area which appears very early in the game, would easily pass as an evolution of the likes of Bob-omb Battlefield from Mario 64.

Meanwhile, the Seaside Kingdom naturally feels like a successor to any of Super Mario Sunshine’s worlds you’d care to mention.

Despite this, there are also some sections that feel more like the Super Mario Galaxy games. Some of the later kingdoms (without wishing to spoil things) have sequences that feel exactly like you’re playing Galaxy 3, with Mario travelling between smaller areas (electrical wires separating them this time instead of Launch Stars).

The result is that fans of either type of game (or, indeed, both types) will find something here that pleases them greatly.

The truth, though, is that Odyssey is not a new Mario 64, or a new Sunshine, or a new Galaxy. It’s the first Odyssey. It has a very distinct structure of its own, one that also borrows a bit from The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.

Well, sort of

Even the ‘open world’ 64 and Sunshine still had a degree of linearity to them: you were still presented with a list of stars and had to choose which one you were aiming for. If you found others along the way, great, but you were still heading towards a specific goal.

Odyssey does away with this altogether. Save for a couple of Power Moons the game asks you to get when you first land on a kingdom to progress its story, there are no menus asking you which Power Moon you want to go for next.

Instead, they’re dotted liberally around each game map and it’s up to you to find them. Think the Korok Seeds in Breath Of The Wild, only far more enjoyable to track down.

While each Kingdom is relatively small in the grand scheme of things – they’re a little bigger than those in the Nintendo 64 and GameCube offerings but not by a great deal – they’re absolutely crammed with Power Moons.

Much like the latest Zelda, this is a game that encourages inquisitiveness and almost always rewards it. “I wonder if I can do this” almost always ends with “yes, you can, and here’s a reward for being curious enough to check.”

This is a game that jams smiles into every corner and waits for you to uncover them all. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve let out an uncontrolled giggle after trying something silly and getting a Power Moon for my troubles.

“It’s cute listening to you playing that game.”

Most of the antics to be found in Odyssey stem from Mario’s new possession mechanic. Throwing Cappy at certain enemies or inanimate objects will let Mario take control of them.

These range from the obvious – Goombas, Bullet Bills and the like – to more obscure things like telescopes and… well, let’s not go there. There are over 50 things to possess, so discovering them is something you should do yourself.

They’re almost all a treat to control too. These aren’t afterthoughts: each feels very different to play as, and yet doing so with each is immensely entertaining.

There’s one beaked enemy later in the game – I won’t go into any further detail – with a mechanic so satisfying that I’d happily play a full game with it.

And that’s the thing. That’s the key element that’s been the founding principle of Mario games for at least the past decade, something I’ve said in other reviews and remains true here:

This game introduces mechanics that are so solid that lesser studios would build an entire game around them… then ditches them after a single use.

It’s the same reason the New Super Mario Bros games introduce a brand new enemy or obstacle in every single level (play it with a notepad and write them down, it’s true).

It’s the reason why, out of 242 Stars, only two in Super Mario Galaxy 2 had you playing as Boo Mario and only two had you playing as Spring Mario (and in the case of the latter, you could avoid doing so entirely).

Like the very best Mario games, Odyssey constantly throws a barrage of ideas at you and, rather than treating them as central game mechanics, treats each like a single memory, something that makes you go “what!” or “ha ha!” or “noooo!” and is then gone before you know it, quickly replaced by another curio, and then another.

“It’s cute listening to you playing that game.”

Odyssey rewards long-time fans to a degree that I’ve never seen in a Nintendo game (Smash Bros aside).

Mario games making reference to the older titles is nothing new. Indeed, for a while I was getting sick of hearing the classic Super Mario Bros theme and seeing Mario sprites appearing in every bloody game. It was starting to feel like low-hanging fruit, an easy way to pander to our sense of nostalgia without much effort.

While there are once again references to retro gaming here, rest assured there’s been plenty of effort made this time and then some.

There’s a slew of special outfits that refer to past Mario guises, from the well-known to the obscure to “oh my GOD, I can’t believe that’s in there”.

Some kingdoms have nods to previous Mario games in there, and there are two sections in particular that are easily the most glorious throwbacks I’ve ever seen in a game. Do whatever you can to see these before they’re inevitably plastered over every website with a “Super Mario Odyssey has X in it” headline.

To go into further detail would be nothing short of criminal – you absolutely have to experience this stuff yourself without anyone ruining it for you – but be aware, at least, that the occasional retro 2D platforming sections you may have seen in trailers are only the tip of a memory-riddled iceberg.

Even the pause screen is full of unbridled joy

Speaking of platforming, anyone concerned that the stronger focus on exploration would mean a lack of old-school polygon-perfect jumping sections will be happy to know that’s not the case.

Each kingdom has a selection of entrances – pipes, doors, what have you – that, when discovered, take you to separate standalone areas where running and jumping is very much the order of the day.

Once again, it’s similar to Breath Of The Wild, in that they act like the Shrines dotted around the otherwise free-roaming environment which, when entered, provide a more focused challenge.

The similarity is also much closer than you’d think when you realise that each of these areas not only rewards you with a Power Moon at the end, but almost always has a second one hidden somewhere within the stage, much like the second treasure chests in each BOTW Shrine.

This is one of the ways in which Odyssey tries to appeal to players of all skill levels. Those newer to the genre can focus on getting to the end of the section, collecting the Power Moon and continuing on their journey, whereas those keen on clearing the game 100% can put the extra effort in to find the hidden Moons too.


To motion or not to motion

One thing that may irk some players is that Super Mario Odyssey tries its very best to make you use motion controls. Every time you start the game you get a splash screen suggesting you try it out because it offers extra moves.

Don’t worry: in reality, you don’t need to play with motion controls. There are three major moves that the game claims can only be performed with motion: throwing Cappy straight up into the air, throwing him down to roll him along the ground, and a spin attack.

I’ve managed to beat the game and collect the vast majority of Power Moons using only the Pro Controller or handheld mode. I haven’t ever needed to use the first two moves, and while the spin attack is genuinely useful it actually IS possible with standard controls: the game just doesn’t tell you how and leaves you to discover it for yourself.

If you’re lazy, here’s a short video guide I’ve made showing how to do it, ensuring you need never flick your wrist at any time if you don’t want to:


In a game that has infinite lives, the challenge in Odyssey isn’t in the platforming or combat (although those looking for that sort of challenge will definitely find it much later on), but rather in your ability to discover the game’s seemingly endless stream of hidden secrets.

It isn’t actually endless, of course, but for a while it’ll feel like it. In all there are well over 600 Power Moons to find, and while you can use helpful Toads and amiibo stations for hints to locate the missing ones – though it does feel a bit like cheating, like when you could send away for the last few stickers you needed in a football sticker book – you’ll still take many, many hours to find them all.

My advice, though, is to concentrate on finishing the game’s story first. You see, the only real concern I had while playing Odyssey was never knowing whether to proceed to the next kingdom because I didn’t know if I was going to get a chance to collect the remaining Power Moons after I’d beaten the main game.

You don’t need to suffer the same dilemma I did: rest assured that not only does the post-game let you continue to clear up the remaining Moons, it’s actually impossible to collect them all before reaching the end credits so don’t stress about it: finish the story and worry about the post-game stuff later. Because what a post-game it is.

I never thought I’d see a day where Super Mario Galaxy would be surpassed. That game came at a key time in my life: having joined ONM I had been living in London for about a year, and as a young chap at the age of 24 I was struggling to accept that along with my family, friends and home, I also had to leave my childhood behind.

Galaxy showed me that I didn’t have to: that it was okay to be a kid again. As 24-year-old me relented and gave way to 10-year-old me, I’m not ashamed to say I sat sobbing alone in that room in Nintendo UK’s headquarters, overcome at the joy of playing a new Mario game again, feeling how I felt the first time I saw Mario fly in Super Mario Bros 3 or jumped on Yoshi in Super Mario World.

A decade has passed since then and I’ve never been that emotional playing any other game, not since that epiphany that it’s alright to be a child again: not all the time, but only in very special circumstances.

As one of the best Mario games ever created, Super Mario Odyssey is one of those special circumstances. There are so many beautiful, hilarious and impressive moments in this game, and they’re delivered to you with such relentless frequency and quality that it doesn’t just raise the bar: it possesses the bar and flings itself up into a tree.

For the past fortnight I’ve felt it again. That feeling. I’ve been sitting on my TV, reunited with 10-year-old me once again, like I was back in 2007. Laughing, giggling, whistling along to the music and gasping.

“It’s cute listening to you playing that game.”


Super Mario Odyssey is out tomorrow, priced £49.99 / $59.99 on the Switch eShop. You can also buy the physical version from Amazon UK or buy a download code there for cheaper than the eShop price.

In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.

If you enjoyed these reviews and want to help me write them more frequently, please consider donating to my Patreon account.

Alternatively, if you’re a UK reader and can’t afford to support me on Patreon, please do your normal Amazon UK shopping via this linkTired Old Hack is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.co.uk and affiliated sites.

Header art by Jonathan Traynor.

12 thoughts on “Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) review

  1. Back in 2007 (when I was 13 years old) I didn’t save enough money for Mario Galaxy on release, so I had to wait an entire month for my next paycheck so I could get this game… and I spent that month spoiling myself rotten with playthroughs of the game on the internet. Surprisingly even after that when I finally got the game for myself it was still (somehow!) a magical experience that I’ll never forget.
    Reading this review makes me belief that the same thing will happen again tomorrow (without the spoiling this time)!

    Like

  2. Amazing review
    I know how you hold Mario galaxy in such high regard so if this beats that, it must be good.
    I can’t wait to play this game iv taken the day off for it.
    It’s like Christmas eve.

    Like

  3. Brilliant review Chris! Just the right balance of information but not too much to ensure the game will feel fresh for those of us who have avoided pretty much everything apart from the odd trailer.

    Like

  4. great review, i can’t wait to jump in! good to hear about not needing to 100% it before the games ends, i’ll be gunning for the finish and then 100% it later on. 7 more hours to go!

    Like

  5. Ever since onm, I’ve held your opinion above all the gaming websites – you always have been, and possibly always will be, the most character-filled and honest reviewer I’ve ever read. And that’s what I miss about ONM: how the writers were allowed to be funny and charming in their reviews, and maybe go off on unrelated tangents, because it was entertaining to read. But at the end of the day, their passion always shone through, as it so clearly does in this review. Nice work Cress.

    Like

  6. Great review. I was also twenty four when Galaxy released, and weeks away from beginning my first semester of college. Galaxy was the perfect sendoff to my young care-free days. I’ve been thinking lately about how you could reasonably argue that each mainline Mario game (besides Sunshine IMO) is the best game on its respective console. Metroid is my personal favorite series, and as much as I also love Zelda, I don’t think you can make the same claim for either of those series. Anyway, really looking forward to playing Odyssey.

    Like

  7. So I’m currently playing Odyssey and had to stop to report something: You can perform a downward throw WITHOUT motion controls! All you need to do is throw your hat immediately after landing a ground pound, and I cannot believe It took me until the post-game to learn that!

    Like

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