The core innovation of Super Mario Odyssey is Mario’s companion, Cappy. Cappy is a hat that can magically possess everything from non-living objects to living characters. Toss Cappy at an enemy, and the enemy will sprout a Mario moustache and a signature red hat. Mario gains full control over the creature’s movements and abilities.
There are 52 different transformations that Mario can make throughout the game. Here they are, ranked from worst to best.
Possess the letters, move them to spell “M-A-R-I-O,” and get a Power Moon. At its best, Odyssey rewards the player for clever insight, experimentation, or completion of a difficult play sequence. This Letter challenge requires none of that.
There are 880 unique Power Moons that Mario can collect. That number feels like it was inflated by filler challenges such as these. Possess and move the Cactus? Get a Power Moon. Possess and move the Rock? Get a Power Moon. Power Moons ought to mean a little more than simply tripping over them.
It’s a car with a moustache!
Mario can possess a salt-encrusted slab of meat. First, you shake loose of the salt by “twitching.” Then, you quiver and flop about until the bird boss carries you to the final Luncheon Kingdom battle. Honestly, it’s kind of gross.
The rocket feels really good to use. You hold down the B button, and there’s a unique controller vibration that coincides with the rocket’s blast-off.
Ty-foo is fun in theory but less so in practice. His special ability is that he can blow stuff away. Given his size, you’d think he could kick up snow drifts and tidal waves. Instead, he blows what could be generously described as a light breeze.
As Lakitu, Mario should be able to fly into the heavens and rain down Spiny Eggs on his hapless opponents. Instead, you fish. If you ever wanted to replay the fishing mini-game from Wii Play, here’s your chance.
You get goggles that let you see into the distance and zoom in and out. Enjoy looking at exciting things that you would rather be doing.
These are visual sight gags that grant you passage to hidden areas. They’re fun, but unfortunately, they only occur in two levels. The zippers are in the Lake Kingdom, and the manholes are in the Metro Kingdom. The game holds your hand a great deal (a little too much), so there’s never a question of when to use them.
These challenges taught me that my visual memory is poor (I initially failed the tracewalking sequences as well). To cheat, take a snapshot of the Goomba before his features are scattered.
Moe-Eye, Moai. Get it? Possess these monolithic Easter Island-esque heads, and Mario can see platforms that would otherwise be invisible. It’s a cool idea that, after several themed challenges, you never want to see again.
These puzzles tax your spatial reasoning instead of your memory. You roll puzzle pieces around on a grid, and you lay them into place on their correct side at the correct orientation. They’re extremely satisfying to solve; unlike the other challenges that grade you on a point scale, you either solve these puzzles or you don’t.
The Piranha Plants are difficult to possess. If you throw Cappy, the Piranha Plant will eat it. Instead, throw a boulder, and while the Piranha has its mouth full trying to eat it, throw Cappy and capture the Piranha.
The biggest problem with the Poison Piranha Plant is that the purple goo you excrete doesn’t disappear on its own. Every time you spit you might kill a baddie, but you’re also creating a puddle that could kill you.
The Jizo statues look exactly like the Tanooki Mario statues in Super Mario Bros. 3. You can’t do much with them except hop around. They’re also heavy, which lets you break through wooden floors if you hop in the right area. Still, they’re one of the better callbacks to Mario’s 8-bit era.
This is the better of the two Piranha Plants, because the fireballs travel far away—you won’t risk burning yourself after you exit the transformation. The circumstances to use either Piranha, however, are pretty rare. Since the Piranhas are rooted to the ground, their applicability is limited.
There’s something unsettling about the humans in the Metro Kingdom. They all have the same drab look, like the drawings in an airline safety manual. Possessing one allows you to drive a remote-controlled car and post your best lap times on a global leaderboard. Here’s nice bit of nostalgia: the race music is the Mario Circuit theme from Super Mario Kart.
Here’s another transformation that feels really good. You can bend the poles or the Volbanons (spoons) all the way back and launch yourself across the screen. They’re springy, fun, and excellent for reaching high places and futzing around.
When the Chain Chomps first debuted in Super Mario Bros. 3, they were terrifying: hard to kill, randomized, and aggressive as hell. In Odyssey, they’re far more manageable. They give you a clear, barking warning before they launch themselves at you.
Capturing a Chain Chomp allows you to use it like a slingshot to strain against your chain and then launch yourself at a target. Again, its applicability is limited; any puzzle that requires a Chain Chomp is confined to its radius.
The spark pylon allows you to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Mario leaves a jagged trail of sparks in his wake, and the wire gets so hot that it smokes. You can get even more sparks and smoke by tapping the buttons on your Switch. It’s one of the best visual effects in the game.
As a Shiverian racer, Mario takes part in the Bound Bowl Races; you compete with other Shiverians by bouncing down a wooden gauntlet. It feels free wheeling and random—which is the point—but there’s definitely a strategy to selectively bounding on declines and corners in order to maximize your speed. I never mastered it, but I got lucky enough times to earn my Power Moon.
Yoshi is on top of Peach’s Castle in the Mushroom Kingdom, which is exactly where he was in Super Mario 64. As Yoshi, you eat apples to earn Power Moons, and you can even flutter jump. The only problem is there aren’t enough enemies in the Mushroom Kingdom. We’ll all have to wait until 2019 to get our real Yoshi fix.
[Correction 12:06 pm—A previous version of this article stated there aren’t any enemies in the Mushroom Kingdom, but there are some Goombas.]
Mario’s first transformation in Odyssey is also one of his best. When he transforms into a Frog, Mario can leap extremely high, and if you shake the Joy-Cons, Mario flips and leaps even higher. The best transformations in Odyssey go beyond the cosmetic; they fundamentally change the way Mario interacts with his world. As a Frog, what was once inaccessible is now in reach. Equipped with this new knowledge, you find yourself looking up in addition to looking directly around you.
I love end bosses with massive hands. I loved Master Hand in Super Smash Bros. I loved Andross in Star Fox. I love Naga Sotuva in Ninja Gaiden II. So of course, I love Knucklotec, whom you defeat by punching him in the face with his own fist. Knucklotec bobs and covers up when you’re on the offensive, which makes it extra satisfying to cut in at a sharp angle and jack up his jaw.
The most common Hammer Brother in Odyssey is not armed with hammers, but with frying pans, which he can throw with blurring efficiency. In the original Super Mario Bros., the Hammer Brothers were the trickiest enemies in the game, save for Bowser himself. In Super Mario Bros. 3, the Hammer Bros. suit was the most prized power-up in the game.
But in Odyssey, you never feel strong as a Hammer Brother. It’s probably because whenever you get to play as one, you’re always facing off against multiple other Hammer Bros or an even more powerful enemy. Yes, you have some good firepower on your side, but you need every bit of it to survive.
There’s only three of these in the game, and they’re almost impossible to find. They’re camouflaged, and you’ll probably come across them by accident unless you know what you’re looking for. Capturing a Coin Coffer earns you 30 coins. You can also use coins to attack; you can spit them out one-by-one, or you can shake the controller and spit them in a circle. It’s a decent attack, but quite literally, the cost is too high.
This little dinosaur’s job is to glide, which makes sense, because you always find him on top of the highest tower or hill, where you can survey the land and pick out a target in the distance. Glydon takes some practice to use to his full potential, because he descends fairly quickly. To get the most air time, start shaking the controller as soon as you jump off the ledge. It’s always better to overcompensate than undercompensate; you can always dive bomb out of the sky if you overshoot the landing.
The Paragoomba and Parabones both outrank the Glydon, because their flight is easily controllable, and they can hover indefinitely. Like all the best transformations in Odyssey, the Paragoomba and Parabones alter how you engage with the environment. Lava and pits are no longer a problem; you can fly right over them to access remote areas of the map.
The better, more powerful version of his cousin the Hammer Brother, the Fire Brother has one of the best weapons in the game. Unlike the hammers or frying pans, which disintegrate upon contact, the fireballs ricochet off barriers, guaranteeing that they’ll hit something before they fizzle out. The only problem is mobility; both he and the Hammer Brother hop-walk at a slow pace. But they can also perform a mid-air jump, similar to the one by Rattly the Rattlesnake in Donkey Kong Country 2.
It’s a mini-tank, and once you capture it, you’ll want to hold onto it for as long as possible. Its turret has a full range of motion and can take out enemies both above and below it. It can break down walls and barriers. And Mario needs it to defeat bosses in both the Wooded Kingdom and the Metro Kingdom.
Sherm is also, against all odds, a family-friendly tank. When its explosive shell hits a target, it bursts into rainbow confetti streamers.
There are all sorts of Wigglers in the Mario franchise. The original Wiggler of Super Mario World lived in the Forest of Illusion, and it became enraged when you stomped on his head. The most imposing Wiggler is in Odyssey; it’s a massive Mecha on the peak of the Metro Kingdom’s Empire State Building.
The Lost Kingdom is where you meet the Tropical Wiggler. It can stretch from one platform to another, and it can snake around obstacles instead of operating in a straight line. It also has a great sound effect. Whenever it snaps back into place, it sounds like beads colliding against one another.
Uproot comes at exactly the right time. You’re in the Wooded Kingdom, surrounded by massive trees, with no way to climb and reach the high ground. Just as you start wondering what to do, along come these stretchy plant creatures. The Wooded Kingdom is vertically dense, a unique attribute in the Mario franchise.
One of the cool things about the Uproot is that when you hit something with its head, it registers multiple times, like the business end of a jackhammer. You can clearly see this mechanic when you take on the Torkdrift boss at the end of the Wooded Kingdom.
The Bullet Bill is a staple of the Mario franchise, and the Odyssey developers gave it its due. It feels right—it curves and banks at just the right angles, and it never feels beyond your control. And that’s a good thing, because right away in the Sand Kingdom, the game puts your Bullet Bill skills to the test by winding you through tight corners and roundabouts.
Odyssey does a great job of mixing its art styles. Mario is a human, but he’s a different sort of human than the ones who populate the Metro Kingdom. Bowser is a dragon, but not like the Game of Thrones-esque dragon of the Ruined Kingdom. And Yoshi is a dinosaur, but not like the monstrous, reptilian death machine you meet in the Cascade Kingdom.
The T-Rex in Odyssey is the rough equivalent of the New Super Mario Bros. Mega Mushroom. It plows through barriers and enemies alike. Unfortunately, the T-Rex has a timer. It’s the only captured creature who will kick Mario out of its body if he lingers too long.
The Luncheon Kingdom is a series of narrow spaces and cramped platforms. It’s the least fun of all the game’s worlds, because there is more lava in the level than land. That’s exactly why the Lava Bubble transformation feels so liberating. You can swim and dive in the lava instead of delicately tiptoeing around it. Later, you defeat the Luncheon Kingdom’s Cookatiel bird by transforming into a Lava Bubble and launching yourself at your opponent’s head.
The toughest baddie in Super Mario World was the Chargin’ Chuck—a football gear-clad Koopa that required multiple head stomps to defeat. In Odyssey, he makes the most of his limited screen time by charging through a barrage of boulders. The developers use a low angle shot to emphasize your size and strength as every obstacle turns to dust around you.
You know that seat-of your-pants feeling in Uncharted 2, when you’re barely staying ahead of the road as it collapses behind you? This sequence conjures the same epic sweep.
The Banzai Bill is used in Mario games for its shock factor; the point is to appear huge and imposing. Its first appearance was in Super Mario World, where it appeared in the very first level. Since then, Banzai Bills appear almost exclusively in the final levels of Mario games. In Odyssey, the Banzai Bills surprise you by breaking through massive brick walls. Once you possess one, you’re able to bust through walls too. After so many years of running and cowering from these things, it’s a thrill to finally control one.
The humble, disarmingly cute Goomba’s defining quality in Odyssey is its stackability. You can create a massive, improbably tall Goomba towers to reach high places. Late in the game, one particular puzzle requires you to stack ten Goombas to earn a Power Moon.
The other defining Goomba characteristic is that it’s surefooted; it can walk over ice-covered floors without slipping into a nearby pit. Most of the baddie transformations have a single function, but the Goombas have multiple functions depending on their environment. They’re understated but essential, which is in keeping with their character.
Water levels are, by and large, the weakest parts of any Mario game. The franchise’s strength is its on-land platforming; Mario is at his slowest and clumsiest in the water. This is why the Frog Suit in Super Mario Bros 3 was such a prized commodity. It evened the playing field between Mario and the more nimble sea life that attacked him.
When you possess a Cheep Cheep for the first time in the Lake Kingdom, you get a bit of that Frog Suit feeling. You can finally swim with fluidity, attack instead of avoid, and not worry about your oxygen supply. When you go to the Snow Kingdom, you don’t have to worry about freezing to death either.
Odyssey, unlike many other Mario games, is exploratory and meant to be played at a leisurely pace. In the numerous water-based kingdoms, the Cheep Cheep allows that to happen.
The Cheep Cheep moves at a decent clip, but the quickest water transport is the Gushen, which shoots water to propel itself across the water’s surface like a jet ski.
The Gushen can also shoot water straight down, which launches it skywards. Once in midair, you can shoot horizontally and fly for a brief period. Once you run out of water, you’ll drop back down to Earth.
As the Gushen, you have to keep track of how much water you have left, which you replenish by touching the water again. The Gushen is exclusive to the Seaside Kingdom, and it’s useful no matter where on the map you go. It’s essential to beating the level’s final boss, a massive lava octopus called a Mollusque-Lanceur.
Possessing Bowser just makes sense. The Mario developers have a habit of repurposing a game’s core mechanic into the final boss showdown. In Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, Mario faced a rabbit-eared Wario. In Super Mario 64, Mario attacked Bowser by running around him, grabbing him by his tail, and swinging him, which highlighted the game’s innovative 3D perspective. More recently in Super Mario 3D World, Bowser donned a Super Bell and became Meowser for the final chase sequence.
The entire transformation sequence in Odyssey is an amalgamation of old and new. As Mario and Bowser’s minds become one, you see a rapid flash of previous Bowser battles through the years. And when you finally get to control Bowser, it’s everything you wanted. You can claw. You can breathe fire. And when you briefly enter 2D mode, you even get to play as 8-bit Bowser, with 8-bit Peach perched on your shoulder.
Bowser is incredible to use, but he serves a single, brief purpose: to break everything in front of him and get the hell out of Dodge. Small and slow Pokio, on the other hand, has weaknesses in addition to strengths. The needle-nosed bird is balanced, which gives it a depth of play that the other transformations lack.
Pokio’s attack is a straightforward sword lance. It can kill enemies and repel obstacles, but since it hugs close to the ground, the target also must be rolling or walking towards Pokio. It has to jump or time its stabs to account for jumping enemies or bouncing obstacles, such as the bombs during the Mecha Broodal battle.
Pokio can also poke into a wall, bend its lance, launch itself, and then poke into the wall again—sort of like a self-climbing ice axe. It requires a little practice to use well, but it’s a fair challenge.
Most of the transformations make Odyssey’s gameplay significantly easier; they serve as hard counters to whatever challenges await. But the Pokio manages something more impressive: it gives you the tools to succeed, but not to dominate. It immerses you deeper into the world, rather than providing a “win button” that removes you from it.
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