By John Messer

Super Mario Odyssey logo

Odyssey’s flashy new logo proudly shows off the character of Cappy, and its imbedded planet hints at the globe-trotting adventure to come. (Source: Flickr)

I recall a while ago Nintendo claiming that “Super Mario Odyssey” would be a spiritual sequel to classics like “Super Mario 64” and “Super Mario Sunshine,” as opposed to more recent Mario games that have been considerably more forgettable and lackluster. I was incredulous to say the least. On the one hand, if they had an interest in making a good game like that, they would have by now. On the other, Nintendo isn’t one to make claims like this lightly or often, so it got my attention. Having played the game, it certainly lives up to the hype.

In “Super Mario Odyssey,” you play as who else but Mario, as he traverses levels in a quest to stop Bowser and save Peach. Even people who don’t play games know this beat, but as in every Mario game, the gameplay is more important than the story. In “Odyssey,” the controls are tight, and the levels are fun to explore. As a whole, it feels like aspects from “Mario 64” and “Mario Sunshine” have been cherry picked and mixed with new ideas.

The main new gameplay feature is Mario’s new companion, a sentient, shape-shifting hat named Cappy. He lets you temporarily possess certain creatures in the game world to acquire unique abilities. These abilities range from a high-jumping frog, to a rock-smashing Chain Chomp and to a swift swimming fish. Further, these captures replace the power-ups earlier games had.

Gameplay resembles “Super Mario 64;” in fact, it’s obvious that Odyssey very much wants to be “Mario 64.” The levels have multiple challenges, the progression is nonlinear and there are multiple ways to earn each of the Power Moons, this game’s replacement of stars from earlier titles. However, the formula isn’t ripped off wholesale, and in a lot of ways, it’s improved. For instance, collecting a moon doesn’t end the stage the same way stars did; you can just keep playing.

I am also reminded a lot of the little known “Super Mario Land” from the original Game Boy. The globe-trotting, zany enemy types and departure from formula are what tie my mind to that gem.

“Super Mario Odyssey” is a huge joy to play. It has catchy tunes, easy-to-learn/hard-to-master controls, cute charm and portability thanks to the Switch. This is by far the strongest Mario game in many years, and is a must have for any Switch owner. In fact, the tag team of “Super Mario Odyssey” and “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” would be a system seller on its own, even ignoring anticipated releases like an untitled Pokemon game and next week’s port of “Doom” (2016).

Now, I wouldn’t give the game a 10/10 score like so many have given it, but it is definitely up there. Many of the over 800 Power Moons are far too easy to earn, the main game is far too short and many parts of the game are overly simplistic, but it’s a fantastic step in the right direction regardless.

If you have a Switch, buy it. If you’ve been considering a Switch, this could very well put you over the edge. Nintendo is back on top in my eyes in this last year, and I hope to heck they keep it up.

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