Hats off to Cappy.
Stevivor’s had a second round with Super Mario Odyssey, shedding the uncanny valley of New Donk City for stylised gameplay that looks more like Super Mario Sunshine and plays like the challenging Super Mario Galaxy.
The urban jungle was cast aside for neon mountains, giant birds and sentient forks as Mario found himself in a kingdom where every single entity existed to cook a giant stew. The stew, of course, had been hijacked, and it was up to our favourite plumber — or, favourite sports star, rather — and his new partner, Cappy.
We experienced Mario’s latest adventure in TV mode, though a Pro controller (my control of choice) was cast aside for a pair of undocked Joy-Cons. As you boot up Odyssey, Nintendo reminds you — every single time — that they recommend this control scheme; it provides the chance to use additional motion controls. As I threw Cappy onto a nearby frog, possessing it in a short scene that is sure to induce nightmares, an on-screen tooltip advised that a Joy-Con waggle would give me a jump with extra height. In another, water-filled kingdom, the waggle was used to deliver a special water attack when possessing fishy baddies. Though I’d turned motion controls off in the game’s settings menu, that need to waggle persisted. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to achieve those special attacks without a waggle. That’s bad news for us couch potatoes.
Kingdoms are largely open world affairs, with a main quest line that can be abandoned for side endeavours. Mario’s ultimate goal is to collect a number of Moons on each world; each Moon is unlocked by defeating a boss or mini-boss, solving a puzzle and — in one instance per kingdom — simply buying it from a shop. There are two forms of currency used in Odyssey — the standard Mario coin, which also is tied to the number of lives Mario has, and a purple-coloured, kingdom-specific currency. In the neon cooking kingdom, the purple coins took on the form of tomatoes. Not all Moons are necessary to continue onto another kingdom, but it pays to catch ’em all — levels will change and offer more to do as Moons are discovered.
While you can uncover other Moons along the way, Odyssey is very good at pushing you through the main questline. The possess-a-baddie functionality offered through Cappy takes a bit of getting used to, however, and players might be stumped at various places in a kingdom. As an example, I needed to grab a Moon at the top of a sea of lava, but couldn’t figure out how to get there. Turns out, Cappy was necessary to possess a fireball to then traverse the lava. Obvious after you’re used to Cappy, yes, but not to a Mario player in the mindset of head-stomps and the occasional Fire Flower (though they’re available through the possession of other baddies too).
Still, this is Nintendo we’re talking about — the possession of the fireball was specifically placed in that area because it would come back again as a boss mechanic. Boss battles are truly where Odyssey shines — challenging, varied and most importantly, great fun. Cappy can be thrown to hit a boss, get rid of physical barriers or even to delay a spinning turtle shell that was homing in on poor ol’ Mario. In the vein of Mario + Rabbids: Kindgom Battle, I struggle how younger children will cope with such demanding mechanics.
On the topic of demanding, Odyssey‘s platforming ranges from a walk in the park to the fieriest day in hell. I was stuck on a section with narrow ledges and giant, boulder-like capsicum for a good twenty minutes before I finally got the hang of jumping from ledge to ledge, avoiding fast-moving obstacles. I felt like I needed an award for finishing that section afterwards.
I settled for the discovery of a 2D, old school platforming sequence hidden within a warp pipe. It, like Odyssey itself, was a great throwback to the Marios of old.
Challenge aside, the 90 minutes I had with Odyssey felt like 5 (apart from those damn ledges; those felt like an eternity). It was painful to hand the Joy-Cons back to my Nintendo handler, but at least I can take comfort in the fact there’s not much longer to wait for the title — Super Mario Odyssey heads to the Nintendo Switch on 27 October. It’s a good as you expect.