As the credits for Super Mario Odyssey began to roll, I placed the controller down in front of me and began to—much to my partner’s bemusement and confusion. After an interplanetary traversal to the finale that exuberates sheer joy, backed by an epic outro song—roughly 300 moons later, I’d “beaten” Super Mario Odyssey.
Feeling bittersweet to be arriving at the conclusion of my experience, I was immediately metaphorically gut-punched by a hit of nostalgia, arriving at a kingdom familiar to one I had visited many times in my childhood days.
It seemed that I’d only scratched the surface of the Italian plumbers latest adventure, a surprising and bewildering journey through an array of creatively constructed kingdoms—each one offering a unique and refreshing take on its predecessor. Super Mario Odyssey kept me captivated from the get-go, with a gameplay style that aligned perfectly to the manner of play expected from the Nintendo Switch. Odyssey offers varying playgrounds that reward exploration yet also allows for contained chunks of play. This was a perfect compliment to the daily commute, in which I was able to duck in and out over the course of a train journey, yet also feel like I’d worked towards and achieved something in a short space of time.
Nintendo opted against having vast, open spaces like in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and instead chose to create comparatively smaller worlds, packed with lots of tiny details that can be missable at first. The replayability of these Kingdoms is a fantastic reason to re-visit. The inspiration for this stemmed from a Japanese gardening concept known as ‘Hakoniwa’ — or box garden. I found myself constantly returning to past kingdoms, especially in the endgame, due to the extraordinary offering of new moons that become available to collect.
Every moon is a reward for tackling and completing a puzzle, or overcoming a specific obstacle, with each one being a step towards something new. With a plethora of moons to collect you are left to wonder what each milestone will provide—this increase in curiosity and continuous gratification for extensive exploration creates a hook that keeps you coming back. Nostalgia can be heavily abused in video games, overly used in a manner that can almost be viewed as a cheap cash-in. With Odyssey, Nintendo has treated the franchise with total respect, as they routinely do, offering nostalgia in a very subtle way. The 2D sprite puzzles, that pay homage to Mario’s 8-bit days, are constructed in a 3D context, scattered about in various kingdoms.
Another fantastic use of Mario’s vast heritage comes in the form of outfits and accessories that can be bought with in-game currency, some more familiar than others, with some outfits paying homage to Nintendo’s estranged past, surprising even the most dedicated fans. As with every title Nintendo produce, their attention to detail is second to none. If you look closely at Hint Toad, who will help you locate Power Moons in exchange for coins, the map he is holding is a reference to Bob-Omb Battlefield from Super Mario 64. None of these small nods to Mario’s rich history get in the way of the gameplay though or leave a newer player feeling as though they have missed something.
Odyssey managed to capture the excitement I felt when I first experienced the joy of Super Mario games. My earliest gaming memory comes from playing Super Mario All-Stars, a 1993 compilation of previous Super Mario video games, on the Super Nintendo, and an old CRT TV, in the mid 90’s
Although the series has spanned over 33 years, with Super Mario being the most recognised video game character of all time, there’s one thing that has always remained constant in the series—aside from the coin collecting, goomba stomping or princess saving—Super Mario has always managed to offer an unyielding desire to surprise and spread joy.
Odyssey is no different, It’s simply bursting with wild creativity and imagination, constantly offering new ideas and new ways to play, exemplified more than any game in the series with the addition of Mario’s hat mechanic—Allow you to take control of a variety of other characters, such as Stacking Goombas, Frying pan-wielding Hammer Bros, Taxi Cab and even a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
Yet through all of this strangeness, the game remains a constant delight to play. The variety of moves offered by the hat mechanic alone, combined with the unique moves of each captured enemy, allow the player to utilise a combination of them to accomplish the game’s puzzles in their own unique way. The sheer joy I shared with others in discussing how we’d managed to overcome a certain puzzle, both to realise we’d manage to complete it in an entirely different way was fantastic.
The joy experienced from this heartfelt instalment of Mario’s latest adventure has managed to remain fresh and exciting, which is a very rare occurrence for a series that has spanned over three decades. Super Mario Odyssey is captivating and imaginative—a true reinvention of the series. Nintendo proves once again why they are the best at what they do.