This has been one helluva great first year for the Nintendo Switch so far. First we get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a launch title, a great sequel to Splatoon and a brand new IP within a month of each other, fantastic updated ports of Pokken Tournament and Mario Kart 8, and is so far the only system that offers a physical option for The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth Plus. And now with the recent release of Super Mario Odyssey, it's pretty much gotten to the point where it feels like Nintendo has finally pulled through their dark times with the Wii U. But how does the game fare compared to past 3D Mario games?
First of all, once the game is started it just throws you right into it without pomp and circumstance. You are introduced to a cutscene of Mario engaging in fisticuffs with a sharply dressed King Bowser Koopa as he is abducting Princess Peach in order to force her to marry him. Mario loses and lands unconscious in the monochrome town of Bonneton in the Cap Kingdom and is greeted by a ghostly being resembling a white top hat named Cappy who is in a similar predicament in which someone he cares for, his sister Tiara, was kidnapped by Bowser to be used for his sham of wedding to Peach. He and Mario team up, which grants Mario the ability to possess certain objects, animals and enemies with an action known in-game as "capturing," so they can find a working airship that can chase after Bowser, defeat the wedding planners that Bowser hired known as the Broodals, and rescue Peach from his clutches as he commits grand larceny in several kingdoms so he can obtain only the best quality items to be used in the ceremony. Seems like a lot to take in all at once right here, but trust me it is much easier to follow the plot in the game than from reading my explanation here.
Now as to be expected from a 3D Mario game, Mario has a ton of movement options, but with the addition to his normal running and jumping techniques that have been a staple since Super Mario 64, Mario can also roll into a continuous somersault which can be linked into a long jump and back again, and he can throw his hat to be used as a temporary platform that can be jumped on. All of these movement options coupled with such fluid and responsive controls makes it feel REALLY good traversing the massive kingdoms that Mario must explore in order to find Power Moons, the game's chief collectible and fuel source for the Odyssey, Mario's top hat-shaped airship, and he will need a lot of these moons to power his ship so it can get to new kingdoms. Luckily each major kingdom has more then enough moons to find usually having around 30-50 moons each. In addition to the sheer number of moons, each main kingdom also has either 50 or 100 regional purple coins to collect that can be spent in a Crazy Cap store for special costumes or souvenirs for your ship. Not necessary for finishing the game, but needed for 100% completion.
Compared to some of the other 3D Mario games, this one has one major change that completely changes how the game is approached; There are no more 1-up mushrooms. Instead, every time you die you lose 10 coins and considering that coins are much more important in this game than in previous entries, those unnecessary deaths are much more of a problem now. Luckily though you will never see a game over screen no matter how long you've been playing; no 1-ups means no way that you can run out of lives. In addition to this, coins no longer restore health. Instead, if you are low on health then you will need to find and collect a heart to restore one portion of his 3-HP meter. These new mechanics make the game feel more modern and makes collecting coins fun again without devaluing them considering they are no longer a source of health.
Now my biggest fear before I started the game was thinking that a good chunk of the kingdoms would just once again be rehashed ideas that have been used in many Mario games before. Thankfully, Odyssey only follows this trend to a bare minimum instead using those old design tropes as merely guidelines and greatly expanding on those and turning them into their own thing. Instead of a regular water-themed area, you have Lake Lamode of the Lake Kingdom which is heavily inspired by Greek architecture and French fashion designs; instead of plain lava area, you have Mount Volbono of the Luncheon Kingdom which is all bright colors and low polygonal models; and my personal favorite and what could possibly be considered a fresh twist on the jungle-level trope, New Donk City of the Metro Kingdom: a vertically impressive urban jungle modeled after what could possibly be Times Square of New York City and the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. Needless to say, I never found myself bored from exploring as there is so much detail in even the smallest things and there is a lot of stuff to do, and it is all condensed into an impressively small 6gb package.
There are just too many good things that can be said about this game. The music is fantastic, it feels really good to collect all of those power moons, the 8-bit 2D segments are a great nostalgic change of pace and don't break up the flow of the game too much, the capture mechanic is ingenious, and the worlds are so unique despite them mostly being the same old stage tropes from past entries. I only have one real gripe about the game, but I'll save that for another article; let's call that one part 2, but until then, I'll be seeing you.