When I reviewed Astro Bot Rescue Mission last year I purposefully kept myself from calling it the Super Mario of VR. Not because it wasn’t awesome — it’s still one of VR’s best games — but because I assumed the real Super Mario of VR would one day be, well, Super Mario. That may still come to pass, but Nintendo’s first shot at Mario in VR isn’t worthy of any such grand titles.
Super Mario Odyssey VR is a free update to the Nintendo Switch classic that supports the new Nintendo Labo VR Kit. Given that it’s just a small bonus for Labo owners (though it can be played without a headset), we weren’t expecting much. But even this barebones offering left me underwhelmed.
You get three levels to visit, each taken from the main game. The camera is rooted down in the center of one area and Mario runs around the space, with you following him. The initial effect is magic; for the first time ever (or second if you’ve been lucky enough to try Mario Kart VR) Nintendo’s iconic plumber pops up in front of you and gives you a signature smile. It’s a wonderfully surreal few seconds, so much that you might forget you’re actually in full control of him.
Let’s Do The Abridged Odyssey
Each level tasks you with finding instruments for three musicians. It’s easily done; look for musical notes on the map and then collect them up before time runs out. You can beat a level in mere minutes and once you’ve got all three instruments it automatically ends. It’s at its best when the objectives are close to the player, giving you a chance to properly appreciate the 3D effect. The further you move away, the more you combat Switch’s pixelated screen, to the point where Mario himself is a blur in the distance.
I appreciate that Nintendo is going for a snackable kind of VR for the younger audience — the screen even fades to black and asks you to take a break after about 15 minutes — but I can’t help wishing there was more to Odyssey VR. The gameplay shows none of the invention you’ve come to expect from the main game and VR doesn’t feel fully utilized as, say, the 3D feature in Super Mario Land 3D. It would have been nice to see a native experience that truly embraced the headset.
The wait for a true Nintendo VR experience continues, then. I love the core Labo package and still think it’s worth picking up if you’ve got someone young to share it with. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the full Nintendo VR package isn’t going to be unearthed inside its cardboard confines.