Super Mario Odyssey is a near-flawless revisit to classic 3D Mario. Its bright colors and innocent, but innovative, gameplay make it a very enticing game. But is it worth it if you’re visually impaired? I’ve thought up nine categories to help you decide if this is something you’re ready to invite into your life.
About me and my play style: I have albinism. My visual acuity fluctuates between 20/100 and 20/500 depending on if I’m wearing contacts and how tired I am. I have color vision, but no depth perception. I also deal with eye strain if I have to focus too precisely for too long. I primarily play in handheld mode so I can hold the screen closer. I tend to play on my long commute with no sound because I need to keep my ears free to listen for my stop to be announced.
Visual Characteristics 5.5/6
(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)
Visually, SMO is definitely above average. The colors are bright, and the textures help differentiate objects. In most of the game, the platforming is quite open, which reduces clutter. Much of the game is focused on exploration of the general world, not tiny details. There certainly are small detail-oriented tasks, but these are not necessary to beat the game, and certainly not necessary to have a good time. Visual tracking is simple due to Mario’s energetic movement. You can also unlock different outfits for Mario that make him easier to see. Contrast is generally excellent, as is the lighting. I docked points because the outlines around objects are light. They look natural, but if they were thicker, the game would be more accessible. There are certain portions, particularly in the 2D sections, where the contrast suffers. However, these detractors do not create an overall negative experience for me.
Accessibility Features 1/6
Accessibility features don’t exist in this game aside from the assist mode, which I will rate and discuss separately. It would be lovely to see large print options. Or additional auditory cues. Or the ability to remap controls. Or anything really.
Assist Mode 5/6
The assist mode is great. It gives you additional health and will pop up blue arrows to direct you if you get lost. The arrows are only present until you beat the game. The arrows will not help you get all of the moons in the postgame. It also will not work in Luigi’s Balloon mode or some of the moon challenges. It won’t help you directly other than to give you more health and regenerate health by standing still. However, this still offers a challenge in the game. Some bosses are still quite difficult due to the need to aim quickly. I will say that I wish that the assist mode could help with race elements. Perhaps they could create an assist mode for the races for moons that wouldn’t allow you to post your time to the leaderboard but would still allow you to get the moon. However, you can beat the game without doing the races or the balloon mode. I’m docking points because the assist mode doesn’t offer enough flexibility for things you might need help with. Like aiming!
Non Visual Cues 3.5/6
Rumble. This score is based almost entirely on rumble. The rumble tells you when you are walking on a secret and will direct you. Auditory cues exist for some things, though I didn’t use them too terribly much because I play on the metro and need to listen for my stop. Also, they weren’t that helpful, anyway. Improvements could be made, especially in an assist/accessibility mode to rumble when you get close to objects or danger. However, the nonvisual cues are helpful as is. Not great, not terrible. This is still a primarily visual game.
Decent Fonts 2/6
The fonts are cartoony and cutesy. Mostly, they are too darn small. The outlines are decently crisp, and the contrast is fine, but nothing to write home about. I would guess that the text is comfortably readable in handheld mode if you’ve got somewhere around 20/200, though your mileage will definitely vary on that. The text varies from white to black and having dedicated text bubbles with a solid background to using the gameplay background. But it could be worse.
Necessity of Text 4.5/6
This category is graded higher if the text is unnecessary. Most of the text is completely unnecessary. Some of the text gives you instructions, but you can generally figure out what to do by context and trial and error. There are in-game shops where you can buy clothing, health, and power moons. These dialogue exchanges aren’t particularly necessary, and you can breeze through them without reading them if you’ve read it once. You will need to read your moon and coin counts in the corner of the screen, but I didn’t find that particularly taxing. I have difficulty with eye strain if I try to read small text for too long, and I never had any issues. I just skipped through most of the text. I docked points here for the shop interactions because the text is quite small there. Though I suppose you could just try to buy things and it wouldn’t let you if you didn’t have enough coins.
Handheld Play Functionality 4/6
Handheld play is doable. Some parts of the internet will complain endlessly about it, and they are justified. However, the game is playable. And if you can only play in handheld because that is the only way you can get it close enough to see it, do not let the handheld difficulties prevent you from playing. The game can be beaten in handheld mode. Additional moons after beating the game may be way more difficult. The handheld motion controls ARE a bit of a pain. Shaking the switch should have been mapped to a button. There should have been a mode to allow to remap your controls. The docked points here come from the motion controls. They’re not great. They’re fine. Just not great. I recommend Arlo’s YouTube review for a more in-depth discussion of it.
Precision Required 5.5/6
This category refers to how precise you need to be in order to be successful. For the main campaign, the game is very forgiving. You have no time limit for most things, and the time limit things aren’t generally required. The main campaign is generally easy (read, doable when you have the additional challenge of struggling to see it), and you can try as many times as you need to. In the postgame, things get a bit harder, but you can still have many more hours of fun. There are many, many moons in the postgame that are just as doable as the main game. I’m docking a point here for one specific boss that made you aim quite precisely and gives you only moments to aim. That was the only time in the main game where I was truly frustrated and felt like I was at a significant disadvantage.
Depth Perception/Camera 5/6
By nature, 3D platformers have to translate a 3D world for our 2D screens. SMO does a good job of it. The camera is quite good, and that is a significant help. I can nearly always get the exact angle I need to make depth perception a nonissue. When I can’t, the depth perception doesn’t matter too much because platforms generally aren’t so small that I need to be that precise. And even when precision is key, you can attempt the thing as many times as you need to get a feel for what’s going on. Only a couple of moons gave me issues with depth perception issues, and they weren’t in the main campaign.
Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment of main campaign
I would recommend around 20/600 vision or better. My guess is anything beyond 20/600 would give you a much more frustrating experience. Moderate visual tracking skills are necessary, but you generally aren’t tracking objects that are smaller than a slow-moving goomba, so I don’t think your tracking skills need to be amazing. On the 2D portions, I did occasionally hit myself with koopa shells, but that’s pretty standard Mario fare. I’ve played the game when my vision was about 20/500, and I found it just as enjoyable, so you could probably push that a bit, however I found 20/500 on the edge of enjoyable for me. There were definitely things that I felt like I couldn’t see fast enough as when I was closer to 20/200 or 20/100.
Overall, I heartily recommend this game. It’s fun enough that it’s worth the fairly minor annoyances. I definitely recommend assist mode. Don’t go into it expecting that completionism is going to be possible. It easily may be if you’re good at platformers, but there are significantly more challenges in the postgame that make getting all 999 moons very frustrating. Even so, this is the best 3D platformer I’ve played from an accessibility perspective. And in general.