When I sat down to play Mario Odyssey at a recent preview event, I expected to experience something linear, with clear objectives and set missions. Instead, I walked away from my three hours with the game feeling like I had experienced something much grander in scope.
If Breath of the Wild was Nintendo’s blueprint for modern open-world adventure, Odyssey feels like a refinement of that concept. The worlds are dense, offering a diverse array of challenges, boss fights that aren't what you'd expect from a Mario boss, and a mix of long and short form missions that felt perfect — surprise, surprise — for playing at home and on the go.
Mario Odyssey is a huge, sprawling, funny, emotive, precise, creative platformer I can’t wait to get lost in. I just want to keep playing this darn game.
In my time I was able to get hands-on with three different kingdoms; the Cap Kingdom, the Luncheon Kingdom and the Seaside Kingdom. Each of these levels featured a boss fight objective, as well as a set number of standard moons that need to be collected in order to progress on to the next kingdom. While the Cap Kingdom was essentially a tutorial world used to set tone and kick off the narrative, both the Luncheon and Seaside Kingdoms showed that simply getting enough moons to progress between worlds was not what this game is about.
Collecting moons to progress felt like it was barely scratching the surface of each world. I accomplished the progress requirements of Seaside Kingdom in around 40 minutes of play, but still felt like there were a huge number of areas I'd skimmed over or missed entirely. I could have left the Seaside Kingdom without realising there was an adorable flying dinosaur high up on a tower, which can be used to glide to new areas of the map, or finding an entire spa to explore.
I almost missed my chance to play fetch with a dog wearing a fedora. We're talking real game of the year material here.
Odyssey wants players to complete the bare minimum requirements of each world, but then it just wants you to stick around, and achieves this by throwing gimmick after minigame after challenge at you. These places are absolutely packed and, where Breath of the Wild’s open world was an exploration of sprawling expanses, Mario Odyssey's worlds are more like jam-packed toyboxes.
One of the biggest surprises was how much I gravitated towards using motion to control Cappy, which I had expected to completely avoid. When controlling Cappy without motion controls, you have to aim Mario so that the enemy to be taken control of is directly in front of you, before pressing a button to throw Cappy directly forwards. If you miss, you’ll have to wait until he gets back to you before trying again. It’s precision based, and for many that’ll be part of the fun, but for me the looser style of Cappy control when using motion controls was just more fun, and allowed me to focus on what I was most enjoying.
Mario Odyssey’s motion controls are fairly reminiscent of early Wii era waggle, like how you'd shake the controller in Twilight Princess to swing Link's sword and it added a nice tactile element to combat without requiring precision. Waggle throws of Cappy are less strictly forward throws, with wiggle room to lock onto a target that’s slightly off centre, and Cappy can be re-thrown much faster using motion controls, seemingly before his full animation has even finished. If I defeated an enemy, removed its hat, and wanted to possess it, I felt much happier pulling that off with a quick thoughtless shake rather than needing to line up a shot and fire Cappy in a precise straight line.
I was also caught off guard by how quick, easy and natural switching back and forth between Cappy and Mario was in the heat of gameplay. Watching footage of the game doesn’t do justice to how natural it feels to do a long jump across a gap as Mario, throw out Cappy, land on your hat and make an additional leap, before once again throwing Cappy at an enemy on the other side of your jump to pull yourself a little further and cross this huge expanse without touching the floor. It doesn't do justice to how good it feels to fling yourself up a wall by inhabiting a spring, launching upwards, then recapturing the next sprint up the wall in a fluid motion. Nintendo has taken a control scheme that on paper looks convoluted, and made it feel incredibly simple and intuitive.
Odyssey’s visual presentation is also top notch. From flashy and expressive visual animations to smart integration of mid gameplay cutscenes, everything in Odyssey’s world felt colourful, alive and emotive. I think my only real visual gripe was that when playing in handheld mode, reds became visibly pixelated when viewed at a distance. This is an issue many games had when played on the Wii U gamepad, and the issue is certainly mitigated by the sheer number of outfits available for Mario which are not primarily red, but a few times with a zoomed-out camera, the handheld image had trouble keeping reds crisp. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, the game still looks gorgeous on a handheld screen, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Finally, I want to talk a little bit about Odyssey’s photo mode, which I have quickly fallen in love with. Pretty much every image in this article was taken using photo mode, which is mapped at all times to down on the d-pad, and having it always easily accessible with a dedicated button made it really easy to pop in and capture a good shot of cool in-game moments.
The ability to zoom and rotate a paused scene on the fly made getting decent pictures much easier, and has somewhat inspired me to catalogue the world when I get my hands on the full game. I basically want nice photos with every domestic earth animal I find. I am going to take so many pictures with cute cats and dogs.
After three hours with Odyssey, I walked away sure of a few things. Mario’s next adventure is huge, densely packed with content, beautifully detailed, and an absolute blast. I seriously didn’t want to stop playing when my session with the game was up, and I’m itching to jump back in. It feels like Nintendo has something special on its hands here.