After over 30 years of video-game domination, how many moves does Mario have left?
Aside from his standard excellent platforming fare in 2D and 3D, the iconic overall-clad hero has played tennis, raced go-carts and participated in three different generations of stellar and still-vastly overlooked RPG spin-offs.
All credit goes to the geniuses at Nintendo and the third-party companies they have entrusted with their biggest star. Because of their willingness to take risks, Mario has remained an icon in the past and present rather than simply fade into the collective nostalgia or nausea, like some of his former rivals (looking at you, Sonic).
Still, how much longer can things stay fresh? Surely, one day the innovation well will have to dry up. The release date of ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ Oct. 27, was, emphatically, not that day.
The game, available on Nintendo’s wildly successful Switch system, triumphs both as a fresh take on Mario’s 3D platforming bliss while also being a deeply-felt love letter to all that have come before it.
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It starts in media-res, as many Mario games do. After an intense airship battle with age-old nemesis Bowser, Mario finds himself deposed in a strange, spooky world filled with ghost-like hat beings. Like all great Mario games, Nintendo cares little about introducing new characters out of thin air. Bowser, as it turns out, has also stolen this realm’s Princess Tiara as part of his evil wedding plot.
Thus Mario and Cappy, one of the caps, team up. From this the player jumps right into action, and the game’s defining new mechanic is introduced. With Cappy at the helm (get it?), Mario’s signature red hat is now transformed into a tool and weapon. Toss it in the air to grab a coin, create an extra jump or destroy an enemy.
These new techniques are mostly subtle adjustments to the game’s overall feel. Unlike beloved F.L.U.D.D. of Super Mario Sunshine, Cappy’s addition serves as a nice remix to typical Mario action rather than a complete overhaul. The one exception to this is that when thrown at certain enemies or characters, Cappy allows Mario to possess them and gain new abilities. Possess a frog to leap dozens of feet in the air, or a T-Rex to destroy everything in sight. This new power also allows you play as some of Mario’s most iconic foes, such as Goombas or Bullet Bills.
These moments — they don’t come too often — are welcome and offer fun breaks from the at-times very challenging platforming action.
The other bid adjustment to the game is its format. Similar to Super Mario Galaxy 2, the game has a map layout but spans the entire globe, which is composed of various kingdoms. One-by-one, Mario visits these kingdoms and ends whatever mischief Bowser and his cronies might be causing. Each one ranges in moderate size to being humongous, and each is packed to the brim with secrets and fun quirks to discover.
After the first Cap Kingdom, Mario finds himself in Cascade kingdom — a prehistoric land with some mighty vistas. These differing Kingdoms summon the lovely contrast of all the galaxies of SMG2, but also allow the player to spend dozens of hours within each one. Seriously, there is so much to find and do within each one.
The new cap-maneuvers and the jam-packed worlds make up the different ice cream flavors and whip cream of this delicious sundae of a game, but then there are also the little things which provide the proverbial cherry. Interspersed are little charming moments and characters, which capture all the light the Mario series has provided to millions over the years in addition to the entertainment.
Sometimes these come in the forms of segments where you play in a retro 2D-mode that recalls Mario’s N.E.S days. Other times it’s moments where you sing and dance in a Skeleton fiesta. It’s moments like these which make this Mario game, and all of them, more than just games. They are, at their best, escape methods into a world that’s more colorful, more playful and ultimately just better than ours is.
Super Mario Odyssey is the new blueprint for what every video game ought to be, and it knows it too.