The first video game that I ever played was Super Mario 64. One of my earliest memories is my clumsy, chubby hands trying to grasp the Nintendo 64 controller, and figure out how to make Mario jump. Once I got the hang of it, I never really competed in any of the levels; I jumped around Peach’s castle, swam in the moat, and ran around the grounds and the courtyard.
My first foray into video games was enjoying the feeling of exploration that Super Mario 64 gave you just for being curious about your surroundings. There hasn’t been a Mario game that’s made me feel that happy exploring until Super Mario Odyssey.
The game rewards you for running around in a way that hasn’t really been captured by a Mario game in the last 20 years. Play jump rope! Corral some sheep! Go scuba diving! Odyssey feels like the developers want you to explore every single inch of the map that they poured over for months. There have been times where I’ve fallen off the map and gotten ready to have to restart, only to find that there’s an entire other world hidden beneath the one I’m in. At some point, I gathered about 35 Power Moons in a Kingdom and smugly checked my map to check the last “couple” I had to do, only to find that there were 81 moons total.
Additionally, it looks incredible. Playing the game on a TV screen is often breathtaking, and I find myself revisiting certain kingdoms (have you SEEN the Lake Kingdom?) just because I love the way that they look. Being able to play wherever I want in the Switch’s handheld mode is liberating for sure, but part of the fun of the game is thrusting Mario into beautifully crafted worlds.
The game also shines in its use and references to other Mario games. To be sure, Super Mario Odyssey is the most worldbuilding Nintendo’s done to the franchise in years, if not forever. Still, I love the sudden drifts into 8-bit Mario. I thought from the trailer that they’d be few and far between little throwbacks, but they’re used often and well, and bend around corners and circular walls to add some depth to the game that I hadn’t expected. Super Mario Odyssey has all kinds of little tidbits like that, that feel like they’ve taken the best parts of all the 3D Marios and mashed them together.
If I had to ding Super Mario Odyssey for anything, it would have to be the almost forcibly included motion controls. Obviously, you can turn them off at any time. However, there are certain moves (certain REALLY HELPFUL moves) that can only be done with motion controls. This is problematic for a couple reasons, the first being that the game literally shows you all the different ways you can use your controller when you load it up.
Secondly, for a game that’s so enjoyable limitless, being told I can’t do some neat trick with my hat because I don’t feel like unseating my Joy-cons and swinging my arms around is a huge bummer.
That said, if my biggest complaint about the game is that it contradicts how perfect the rest of the game is, then that’s probably saying something. If you’ve been waiting for the Switch to have enough good games on it to justify the purchase, Super Mario Odyssey just rounded it out with another fantastic, creative, and just fun addition.