What a year it has been for Nintendo! Not only do they turn the ship around with the Switch, but they also give us Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey in the same year? As a long time Nintendo fan, this year ranks up there as one of the best, if not the best year in their rich history. Mario has really come full circle now with Odyssey, a game that incorporates ideas from nearly all the Mario games while still pushing forward into new uncharted territory. It should come as no surprise to anyone that it is amazing. But just how amazing is it? Where does it fall along the pantheon of amazing Mario games? Is it game of the year over Zelda? These are the thoughts that kept bouncing around in my head as I played Mario’s latest adventure.
What I do know for sure is Super Mario Odyssey isn’t powered by code, but by pure unfiltered joy. This game explodes onto your screen with bright lucid colors and rides a creative high that never waivers. It’s an intoxicating experience, one that only gets interrupted by your inability to actually jump inside the world and escape the nagging reality from which you come from. Nintendo has never shied away from making their games happy, and colorful, but no Nintendo game has been able to capture such a pure form of it as this one. A lot of that comes from the fact that you can take it with you, wherever you go, as an instant pick-me-up to brighten even the sourest of moods. But mostly what makes the joy so pure is that Nintendo allows the player to be unchained by traditional structure, opening up the game’s worlds and puzzles to be found or missed.
The result is a confidence in players natural desire to explore and to push the boundaries of the world without arrows telling you where to go, or pop up indicators for when you’re near something. The level design is in a lot of ways the inverse of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Initially, it appeared that Mario was getting the Breath of the Wild treatment and the worlds would be sprawling— that is not the case. In fact, some levels when you first jump in seem almost disappointingly small. Cramped even. But as you explore and push against those boundaries, you find more and more level tucked inside itself, spiraling into directions and dimensions you couldn’t even fathom. It’s borderline insane how complex these worlds become once you find all the hidden secrets. In Super Mario Odyssey there’s a journey inside a journey inside a journey each time you boot the game up, regardless if it’s for 20 minutes or two hours.
While the story may be a riff on the familiar save the princess bit, it’s simply used as a vehicle to contrast how radically charged the creativity is around it. Each world requires Mario to find only a few moon pieces to pass, and finishing the story can be done in a few hours. But it is simply impossible to race through this game just to hit the credits and never play a second more. It’s all about collecting the moons and there’s over 800 of them. To help you do that Mario has a new super ability, one that is so significant Nintendo removed all of his traditional power-ups from the game. That new ability is actually his hat, named Cappy, and when thrown on enemies, or objects, Cappy allows you to potentially posses and take over that thing. So each level becomes a mix of what can Mario accomplish by himself as Mario, and what can Mario do as…a Goomba, or as… a Hammer Bro, or as… a T-Rex. Yes, as shown in the previews for the game, Mario can take over a T-Rex and smash through the world. You’ll even use some possessions to help you beat the game’s varied and interesting Boss battles.
But Cappy is not all that’s crazy about this game— Mario actually shows up in a New York City look-a-like world that has him interacting with “humans” and bouncing off taxi cabs and climbing skyscrapers. If it hadn’t been shown off in previews, this section would have literally blown everyone’s mind the first second you show up there. But thankfully, the previews don’t show everything the game has to offer— There were plenty of places to go and things to do that I didn’t see coming that kept raising the bar. While the game can feel easy if you just track the bare minimum to complete the story, once you begin digging deeper post-credits the challenge will ramp up considerably. Beyond that, some of the best challenges come from simply figuring out what you’re supposed to do, or how to do something. As a player you’ll gain skill in maneuvering Mario, commanding him to make riskier moves but you’ll constantly feel stumped with figuring out where those hidden moons are. Yes, there’s lots in plain sight, but once they’re all snatched up you’ll ask yourself how there could still possibly be so many still left.
Obviously if you own a Switch Super Mario Odyssey is a must-own game. It is also a system seller, a game so worth the price of admission that it makes other games that ask $60 seem like a complete joke. The amount of love in this game is almost dizzying and the attention to detail is a high watermark for not just Nintendo games but the industry as a whole. So is it the best Mario game ever? Is it better than Zelda? If I had to rank it right now, at over 30 hours in and over 420 moons collected, I would say it’s better than the Galaxy’s, Sunshine, 3D World and Land, Mario 1 and 2 and the New Super Mario Bros. games. It’s in the same realm as Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and Mario 64. As far as is it better than Zelda: Breath of the Wild? I would still give the nod to Zelda, but it mostly has more to do with personal preference than any objective reason. In all reality, it could be Mario that endures the longest, but it’s too soon to tell. All that’s important though is that Nintendo has not once, but twice captured lightning in a bottle with their two most significant franchises in one year and it’s a beautiful time to be a gamer.
Super Mario Odyssey Gets:
5 out of 5
+Creativity is at an all-time high
+Graphics are smooth and look fantastic
+Incredible musical score
+Tons and tons to do
+Challenge really ramps up post-credits
+Works great in bite-sized or in long play sessions