Most sequels would get away with offering up exactly the same thing you’ve seen before with just a dash of new ideas to feel fresh. This doesn’t apply to Mario – a series that refuses to do anything less than completely reinvent itself with each new release. Just take a look at how it has evolved through history: from its NES origins as a 2D platformer, its breakout into 3D with Mario 64 and the perspective-shattering pair of Super Mario Galaxy titles. It’s incredible that over thirty years Nintendo is still finding new places to take the pint-sized plumber.
Super Mario Odyssey is no different. It still begins – as it always seems to – with Peach’s kidnapping at the hands of Bowser, but Mario has a new ally to assist on his adventure. Cappy is the expressive little hat responsible for many of the game’s new ideas. With a flick of the wrist, you can fling him at an enemy or an inanimate object to temporarily gain control of it. That may be something simple like a stump in the ground or a Goomba, or it can escalate all the way up to a T-Rex or tank, with each takeover hilariously signified by Mario’s fluffy moustache pinned to the front.
This ability forms the basis of many puzzles and challenges in each of the game’s kingdoms, and Nintendo draws every last drop of ingenuity from such a simple skill. For example, a kingdom covered by a poisonous sea is populated by creatures who can stretch out their bodies – a talent you must use to lunge across platforms to avoid the purple goop below.
While that’s cool enough on its own, it’s the way Nintendo naturally and creatively expand these skills over the course of a stage that really impresses. There’s no heavy tutorial that overtly explains what you need to do, but you’re subtly clued in by what previous sections of the game have asked of you. When that cog turns in your brain and you see exactly how to progress you’ll be so pleased with yourself and so in awe of Nintendo’s design prowess.
It’s helped further by some stunning level design that’ll take you on a journey across yawning deserts, frozen tundras, glistening beaches and even a human city – to name just a few locations. Each semi-open space has a set of objectives to complete in order for you to unlock the next one, but there are so many Power Moons (Odyssey’s equivalent for stars) dotted around to collect that you could spend hours in each place. To find every single one you’ll need to master Mario’s smooth movement and poke around to find the secrets hidden in hard to reach places. Even when Bowser has been dealt with, Super Mario Odyssey is far from over.
It’s difficult to pick out flaws, but if we must then Odyssey doesn’t feel as inventive or revolutionary as Galaxy. Those two Wii games brought something wholly unique that would be near impossible to replicate. Still, that hardly dents the flair and finesse to be found in Odyssey. There’s even some fun to be had in dressing Mario in a range of silly outfits and taking some ridiculous holiday snaps. It’s a game that never tires of showing you something new, nor does it ever seem to run out of new ideas. Another absolute joy.
Release: 27 October 2017