Travel is said to broaden the mind. But when you’re Mario, it’s liable to transform you into a T-rex, a tank, a ball of electricity or fire, and sometimes a weird squat plant creature with telescopic vegetation legs. (I’ll try to explain that one later.)
Super Mario Odyssey has been referred to as Mario’s return to the sandbox, a successor to Mario 64 and Sunshine. But ‘sandbox’ isn’t the right word, says Nintendo. In Japan, they use the word hakoniwa, a form of miniature gardening. The idea is to create an intricate and stylised landscape, where every element is placed with care and though. This is the philosophy shaping Odyssey’s Kingdoms. So while a single area isn’t huge – you can triple-jump your way across New Donk City in a few minutes – thanks to this concentrated, considered design, it feels far bigger.
Walking down the street in this Mario-refracted version of New York, it’s easy to get distracted. I only spent 10 minutes exploring, but it was enough time to climb its tallest building and jump off the very top, gliding through the sky, and diving into a swimming pool on the roof of a nearby building. (I may have accidentally splashed the business-smart citizens chatting poolside, but they didn’t seem to care.) I spoke to the mayor, Pauline, and helped recruit a drummer for a four-piece band she’s putting together. I precariously rode a scooter up some scaffolding. I visited Crazy Cap, a clothing store where I bought a smart pinstripe suit, but opted to wear the adventurer’s outfit that was already stashed away in my wardrobe. I also skipped rope in the park. You can get a lot done in 10 minutes.
Some of these antics resulted in the appearance of a Power Moon, Odyssey’s main collectible. There was one hidden at the top of New Donk’s tallest building, but you wouldn’t know it was there. Like Breath of the Wild’s Korok seeds, it’s a reward for being curious. But in the Sand Kingdom – a desert area with Mexican-influenced elements – I received one for successfully completing a more traditional bit of platforming. They appear to be awarded for showing ingenuity, curiosity, or skill – or combinations of the three.
They a serve a practical purpose, too, fuelling Mario’s hat-shaped vessel, the Odyssey, and ensuring passage to the next Kingdom. Beyond Bowser once again kidnapping Princess Peach – and forcing her into marriage this time – story elements aren’t being revealed just yet, but it’s clear Mario is journey far from the Mushroom Kingdom in pursuit of her.
Sailors often returned home with fantastical tales of weird and wonderful creatures they encountered on their travels. After playing Odyssey, I can relate. It’s bursting with surprises and some wonderfully weird stuff. A lot of this is down to Cappy, Mario’s new hat and companion. He can use it to destroy objects, retrieve distant items, and as a makeshift platform to jump just that little bit further. You simply tap X to throw him, or alternatively, you can flick the right Joy Con.
Interestingly, separated Joy Cons was presented as the preferred control scheme, and there are several motion controls related to Cappy. Flick them both upward or downward, and Cappy is sent in that direction. A coordinated shake left or right with both Joy Cons sends Cappy violently spiralling towards enemies for added damage. Despite Cappy having many motion-controlled actions, according to Nintendo everything can be replicated on the Pro Controller. Based on my limited play time, the motion controls will take some getting used to. The main problem I had was accurately throwing him while also engaging in some more demanding platforming.