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Super Mario Odyssey: How Fun Is Controlling a Sentient Hat?
By Jordan Erica Webber
Posted: October 26, 2017 5:59pm PDT

In life, a few things are inevitable: death, taxes and the continual kidnapping of Princess Peach. But after more than 30 years of at least one new Mario adventure per Nintendo console, it helps to have a feature that differentiates the latest from the last. For Super Mario Odyssey, the first proper Mario adventure on the Nintendo Switch, it's a new sentient hat.

A brief introductory cutscene explains: Bowser -- already optimistically dressed for his wedding -- incapacitates Mario for long enough to make off with Peach, but not without stomping on his signature red cap. As luck would have it, a hat-shaped ghost-like figure called Cappy is floating nearby and offers to help Mario pursue Bowser and rescue both Peach and Cappy's sister Tiara. Cappy shapeshifts into a replacement hat, and soon demonstrates that he offers more than a warm head; Mario can throw him to “capture” (Nintendo's approved verb for “temporarily play as”) other creatures.

Throw Cappy at a frog and Mario will disappear leaving the frog sporting both a red cap and a mustache. Mario appears to get sucked into the hat, though where that leaves the essences of both Cappy and the frog is an unanswered but philosophically fascinating question.

Each creature you capture has its own moves, which usually come in handy for the ensuing section of the level. A frog can jump much higher than Mario can, for example, even though jumping is probably Mario's key skill. A “Sherm” -- a tank presumably named after the M4 Sherman -- can destroy obstacles with its gun, with the help of motion-controlled aim assistance. A statuesque “Moe-Eye” can put on special sunglasses to see hidden platforms.

Capturing a creature with different rules for how they can move through the world instantly alters your perspective on whatever level you're in: the “Cheep Cheep” fish makes the obligatory water level much less annoying, while the T-rex makes quick work of obstacles but cannot jump. It's also just a joy to capture a new creature, especially if --" like the Chain Chomp, Bullet Bill or Goomba -- it has been an enemy for decades.

There are 24 different creatures to capture, and each new one is listed like a collectable in the “Capture Actions” section of the menu, but Mario can capture other things too, from zips to manhole covers. This capturing mechanic is often required to navigate a particular part of a level or defeat a particular enemy, but most of the time you're just regular old Mario.

Cappy is useful in other ways too. You can throw him to collect coins, pull levers, open doors, clean up puddles of poison or take out enemies. You'll find yourself chucking him all over the place just to see what happens. You'll even want to use motion controls, since they make it much easier to pull off tricks such as spinning him in a circle or throwing him straight up in the air. Similar to Super Mario Galaxy with its Wiimote shaking, this is a traditional Mario adventure that nevertheless manages to smoothly incorporate the new tech of the platform. The Joy-Con controllers make it easy to play cooperative multiplayer, with one player controlling Mario and the other flying around as Cappy. Some small sections even make use of the Joy-Con's HD Rumble feature to pinpoint hidden treasures.

In a small deviation from previous games, those treasures are not Power Stars but Power Moons, required to run Mario's hat-shaped airship -- the titular Odyssey -- so that he and Cappy can chase after Bowser as he embarks on a weird scavenger hunt in pursuit of the perfect wedding.

Most worlds through which you travel are undergoing some sort of major catastrophe that, once resolved, will reward you with multiple Moons: head underground in New Donk City (otherwise known as Metro Kingdom) to switch the power back on, deal with the giant octopus that's drinking all the sparkling water in Beach Kingdom, and so on.

But most Moons come to you via smaller platforming challenges: beat the Koopa to the top of the hill, transform into 2D Mario and navigate the old-school obstacles, leaping across the clouds before they disappear. Some of the best parts of the game are individual platforming challenges accessible via warp pipes. These colorful rooms often require quite a bit of familiar platforming skill, plus the use of Cappy to pull levers or activate temporary platforms.

Each World has a different amount of Moons to find, which somehow makes the journey feel more organic. The Worlds come in different shapes and sizes, and are big and open enough to feature fast travel, but none are overwhelming. They vary thematically too: some fall back on stereotypes (like the Mexico-inspired Sand Kingdom) but others are more refreshing. Luncheon Kingdom is basically the obligatory lava world, but here it's used to cook a giant pot of stew. Wooded Kingdom, where Bowser heads to get the perfect bouquet, is a forest full of the typical wonders of nature -- and robots.

As well as the usual yellow coins, some of which you lose if Mario dies, each World also features 50 or 100 purple coins, unique to that world. In the Wooded Kingdom, for instance, they look similar to nuts, as in nuts and bolts rather than assorted nuts. Coins of both colors can be spent in shops, but purple coins buy World-specific items: themed outfits for Mario to wear and items to decorate the Odyssey. Mario can use these outfits to gain access to yet more Moons, but really these items add additional charm oto an already incredibly charming game.

Cappy could have joined the ranks of annoying video game sidekicks, but he has some lightly funny lines, and it's sweet to watch him read to Mario from a kind of tourist pamphlet for each new World as they approach in the Odyssey (you can even see these pamphlets for yourself, any time you open the in-game map).

Although it's still just as fun to run around as Mario, especially as he leans his body to the side and sticks out his arms like an uninhibited infant, Cappy is a welcome new companion; he gives you so much more to play with.


© 2017 Guardian Web. Syndicated here under contract with YellowBrix, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

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