Written by Nabil Boustani

Super Mario Odyssey is Nintendo’s latest addition to one of the longest-running franchises and has proven why it has reigned supreme to other series. Super Mario Odyssey is a collection based sandbox, 3D platformer designed to promote exploration and free play. This breaking of typical linear games suggests to the audience Nintendo’s definition of the word “fun” in relation to video games. We here at Games Academia are not going to always provide a simple review on our thoughts about the game, rather go into in-depth analysis and what key game design aspects were placed to provide the audience with a successful or unsuccessful game.

To sum up the game for those who haven’t had the chance to play it, Super Mario Odyssey story focuses on bowser kidnapping peach to marry her, as we continue our journey to rescue the princess, Bowser steals a wedding item from each world and causes us to essentially clean up after bowsers mess. Ultimately Mario stops the wedding and wins the princess once again. With Nintendo’s other ground-breaking game this year; Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the game tends to not really focus the player’s centre around the story, rather focus on each level aesthetics, playability, and maximum usage of the new mechanic. Super Mario Odyssey focuses on open world exploration, platforming challenges and intriguing yet differing boss fights. In the game you will have to collect power moons; to traverse through the game and get the true ending. Gold coins; which allow you to buy power moons, costumes and health presented by shops in each world. Lastly, we have purple coins; which are level exclusive coins designed to buy specific costumes and sticker for your odyssey ship.

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Coupled with basic platforming mechanics we have come to get accustomed to in 3D Mario games, all this stimulates from the source of the games new mechanic, the hat. The use of the hat can vary from object movement, enhancing your platforming capabilities by using it as a foothold, or capturing enemies with it. Capturing enemies allow the player to take control of classic enemies such as the Goomba and Bullet-Bill while providing the player’s other animals to capture such as a T-Rex and a frog. These are all in relevance to traverse your environment in different ways and gather power moons, gold coins and purple coins. While the game focuses on exploration throughout the world, the game provides the audience with a low number of power moons to collect to finish the game. Out of 830, 120 is required to complete the game; it should be noted that you will also need 500 to get the true ending. This design tactic promotes free exploration and allows players to play the game in the manner they wish, rather than focus on the story.

When discussing the aesthetic of the game and its frame rate, it’s hard to forget about the Switch’s limited hardware and the issues it has with loading big worlds. While Legend of Zelda’s: Breath of the Wild suffered from occurrent frame rate drops while in hand-held or docked mode, Super Mario Odyssey appears to not suffer from this issue, running at 900p and a smooth 60fps while docked and 720p at 60fps in its hand-held mode, with only the most noticeable frame rate drop being in “New Donk City”, where graphics are sacrificed for framerate. NPC’s appear in 2D while they are in visual range and animated at 30fps, yet become 3D when getting closer. The addition of bevelled objects and crisp texture detail up close adds to the experience of the adventure. Lighting has been used well in the game, highlighting the environment, and presenting a nice hue of light such as the sand kingdom where the light was producing a red lighting due to the reflection of the heat of the sand. The aesthetics in the game are portrayed in a new style in this game to promote the new handheld/ console hybrid and suits the game well and presents a sense of wonder and excitement to each world, providing a new sense of atmosphere and meaning to each world visited.

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Due to the game being an open exploring/ collection type game, the environment must play an important role in the game, it needs to allow the players not to be limited by the controls, rather feel as they have complete freedom to be creative in the way they tackle each challenge. Super Mario Odyssey has captured this feeling well and has presented the audience with 17 levels (14 regular games + 3 postgame levels) each looking different from each other and having their own atmosphere. The environment is provided to the player in an open world sense, allowing us as the audience to play as we see fit to go through the level, coupled with the key mechanic of the hats platforming and capturing capabilities allow hidden locations in the map to be reachable and rewarding. Each environment provides its own atmosphere through each level presenting their own enemies to capture, music, characters/race and bosses to overcome. This sets each world apart, presenting its relevance to the story through wedding related items and endless possibilities of traversing the world as you, the player, sees fit. Each world simultaneously acts as a hub world providing hidden linear challenges in relation to their world setting for the player to complete, hiding their own secrets as well provides the audience to keep a close eye on the game.

While the game allows a bare minimum of power moons to be collected to navigate through the game, Super Mario Odyssey keeps the audience on their toes to find each level hidden secrets and varied challenges, causing the players to constantly change their camera perspective of each world and engage in each new possibility presented to the player, focusing on minor details in a much larger space presented to the player. Super Mario Odyssey’s design team have the players to not only work in each level collecting moons and coins but rather enjoy the gameplay and process presented through capturing your enemies, platforming presented in each new world.

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Super Mario Odyssey’s controls bare similarity to Mario’s previous Sandbox 3D games such as Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube), Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64) and even Super Mario Galaxy (Wii), with basic 3D platforming controls which we’ve come to enjoy. The addition of the new core mechanic, Cappy the Hat, has provided a more advanced method of platforming allowing the player opportunities to get around each environment in constructive or linear ways. The only serious drawback with the game’s control was the addition of motion controls, where it feels awkward turning the pro controllers or even the hand-held device itself. This has its remedy by not having a major role to play in most collections, limiting its usefulness in the game. Capturing is another key mechanic presented through the hat, allowing the players to control enemies to help the player in each level. Such as capturing Cheep-Cheep in water levels to traverse it faster or using the T-rex to bash your way through the level, each enemy presented to capture in each level fit to their themes in a way where enemies tend not to feel out of place, rather suit the environment and are all usable to get where the players need to go in the game.
The addition of 2D 8-bit Mario allows the players to travel through a pipe and become classic 8-bit Mario, mainly to progress through the world to reach other areas. While 2D sections seem like a throwback mechanic at times to present players the old classic Mario feel in a new fun way, the addition of 2d sections seems out of place most of the time in the game, forcing players to become 2D to progress through the map rather than a simple enjoyment.
Super Mario Odyssey has presented the audience with a new and improved Mario where many features, mechanics and environmental tone take harmony in a simple collection game to provide the players with a strong definition of what Nintendo has always classified as fun. Mario Odyssey delivers an all-around adventure in which we as the player have complete control over, breaking through linear cycles which some sandboxes have struggled with and developed a simple masterpiece for players to explore and enjoy.

Nabil Boustani is a game designer and buyer of expensive collector’s editions.

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