After finishing Super Mario Galaxy about 10 years ago, I wondered how the series would ever evolve past space. Mario’s intergalactic adventure was inspirational and jaw-dropping, and the sheer scope of Galaxy and its sequel seemed un-matchable. When Super Mario 3D World was announced as the next console Mario, I felt as if my fear of a Mario stagnation was confirmed, and that the series would never again hit the height of the plumber’s foray into the starry abyss. While 3D World was a tightly-made, enjoyable game, it never quite scratched the itch the same way as its predecessors. The emphasis on platforming certainly made it a compelling entry in the series, but the lack of pure, unadulterated adventure failed to evoke the same emotional response that past 3D Mario games had done. Despite the quality of the entries between Galaxy 2 and Odyssey, it was hard not to wonder if Nintendo had finally exhausted the magic from gaming’s most popular mascot.
Thankfully, I was dead wrong. With the release of Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo has reaffirmed Mario’s place at the top of gaming’s ever-changing hierarchy. Mario’s latest journey comes close to flawless, and Nintendo continues to dominate an incredible 2017. In a year as claustrophobic as this one, the fact that two Nintendo titles will likely be the main competitors for game of the year is a testament to the level Nintendo is currently operating. Only briefly removed from the Wii U’s colossal failure, Link and everyone’s favorite plumber have catapulted the Nintendo Switch into legitimate competition with both Microsoft and Sony — a feat that the Wii U miserably failed at throughout its entire cycle.
I am not treading any new ground by mentioning that Odyssey brought me to tears on several occasions. Within moments of moving around the Cascade Kingdom, I was overwhelmed with joy. I anticipated sheer happiness throughout my entire time with Odyssey, but I didn’t realize the cathartic experience that exploring its world would bring. I, for better or worse, didn’t shy away from pre-release coverage of the game. Because of this, I didn’t expect that my first moments with the game would carry the magic they ultimately did. Yet, every single kingdom within Mario Odyssey impacted me in a unique, profound way. While some were inevitably stronger than others, each one felt like a powerful effort. Even the kingdoms which have seemingly been the target of more criticism, like the Luncheon and Lake Kingdoms, shine with the polish that only Nintendo is capable of producing.
Each locale is filled to the brim with discoverable content. The amount to find in each nook and cranny is hard to comprehend, and this density is part of what makes exploration in Odyssey so appealing. Despite having already finished the game and completed my main objective, simply frolicking through the kingdoms and searching for the remaining moons is enough to keep me enthralled and engaged.
Most of the kingdoms lean strongly into the game’s “capture mechanic,” and, for the most part, it always pays off. The variety that the capture mechanic brings to platforming around the beautiful worlds is what keeps the adventure fresh throughout. Players spend a majority of the time as Mario, but with just the right frequency, they are tasked with transforming in order to platform in ways that standard Mario cannot. Again, these brief moments of transforming are some of Odyssey’s brightest — just about everything Mario may capture controls excellently.
Despite the fact that each kingdom is intensely packed with discoverables, progressing through the main story of Odyssey only takes around 10 hours. Just a fraction of the game’s total moons are required to finish the story. This journey on its own is remarkable and kept me on my toes the entire time. I spent some time doing extra exploration on each kingdom, but I tried to keep a brisk pace in order to make my later revisits more significant. The game’s climax is as good as everyone says, and the game’s post-game content similarly lives up to the hype. Actually, I’d say some of this game’s most memorable moments come after the original credits role. Mario games almost always excel at making post-game play rewarding, and Odyssey continues this trend in a powerful way.
While we already saw Mario in HD in 3D World, the truly 3D nature of Odyssey is next-level. Each kingdom possesses a beautiful and unique aesthetic, and the game’s seamless transitions to 2D represent the celebration of the franchise that Odyssey was clearly created to serve as. The 3D-to-2D transition didn’t just wow me visually, though. The immediate shift from orchestral music to 16-bit shocked me the first time I noticed it in the Cascade Kingdom, and the jarring impact of it stuck with me the entire time. The game’s entire score is masterfully crafted, and beating the game allows you to play any track at any time – a great way to freshen things up after spending long amounts of time in one kingdom.
If Odyssey has one fault, it’s an over-reliance on motion controls. For whatever reason, Nintendo is having a hard time moving past this. While the motion controls are not necessarily bad, requiring them is a poor design choice. These motion commands are rarely necessary, which is solid consolation, but again, there is no need to require them. Odyssey does not use every button on the Switch, and there is no reason a motion-less alternative could not have been given to the players.
Of course, this small gripe does nothing to smear the already clear legacy carved out by Odyssey. Nintendo is on an absolute roll, and there’s no reason to think they’ll stop anytime soon. I’d say there is no way for them to follow up a game like Odyssey, but then I remember I thought the same about Galaxy.
Odyssey is a crowning achievement that will stand out in the hearts of gamers for years to come, and I envy the children who will grow up with Odyssey as one of their cornerstone gaming experiences. Nothing is more magical than Mario, and Odyssey is jam-packed with the wonder that drew many of us into this hobby in the first place.