It’s safe to say that the most recent Mario games haven’t held my attention too well. Maybe that was because of the hardware they were running on, or perhaps it was just that I was finding them too samey. The ‘New’ Super Mario Bros. formula hasn’t been ‘new’ in a while, and the 3D Land and 3D World games felt like extensions of these. So now, after putting a focus on continuing the sandbox style of design not seen since Super Mario Sunshine, has Nintendo successfully reinvented the formula with Super Mario Odyssey?
This reinvention begins by forgoing the hub area approach that 64 and Sunshine both used and instead integrates this open-map concept into a range of themed kingdoms to explore, complete objectives and discover hidden Power Moons (Odyssey’s version of Stars). These are placed throughout the open areas of each kingdom, but also in more focussed sub-areas that feel like throwbacks to Super Mario Galaxy’s excellent linear challenges. This results in a refreshing level of player choice that still maintains a solid structure.
The Power Moons collected in each kingdom are required to increase the range of Mario’s new hat-shaped ship, the Odyssey, though so many are offered that it isn’t normally difficult to progress. Indeed, there are over 800 Power Moons available across the game, though only about a quarter of these are required to reach the final boss. It’s safe to say that the post-game content should keep those looking to 100% the game busy for quite some time.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Odyssey comes from something that may initially sound fairly straightforward - Mario can now throw his hat. Lesser developers might think of a single set of mechanics for this and leave it at that, but in Odyssey, Mario’s hat is a perfect symbol for the breadth of content on offer and what may be the single most significant expansion to Mario’s move-set out of any game in the series. The range of uses of this mechanic goes from the hat acting as an extra platform to jump on, to a method of smashing multiple blocks in quick succession, to possessing just about any living thing that isn’t wearing a hat of its own. Yes, possess…
Odyssey’s steady stream of new and surprising mechanics represents a clear design philosophy Nintendo is employing when bringing their long-standing franchises to Switch - reinvent everything.
The possession mechanic allows Mario access to the ability set of whatever he takes under his control. As a result, each kingdom has an aspect of its structure that is tied to the abilities of a particular enemy. Take one example of an onion-like creature that can grow taller at will. A simple concept on the surface is expanded into multiple platforming challenges focussed around reaching high up areas. It then turns to using this onion-headed monstrosity to break hard-to-reach treasure chests and eventually attack giant hovering spaceships! Why not?
Odyssey’s steady stream of new and surprising mechanics represents a clear design philosophy Nintendo is employing when bringing their long-standing franchises to Switch - reinvent everything. This began with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier this year and the always-evolving Mario shows that this hasn’t changed just yet. And like with Breath of the Wild, it has resulted in one of the most refreshing masterpieces Nintendo has ever produced. Hats off to them.