Ask a non-gamer to name famous video games and we’re willing to bet a lot of gold coins that Super Mario will be up there on that list.
The superhero plumber may be one of the most recognisable of the virtual characters, yet you’d be surprised to learn he has fewer stand-alone titles than you might think.
Mario Odyssey then is his first full-length 3D blockbuster game in years.
Its premise will be immediately familiar to anyone who spent years playing Mario 64 back in the 90s.
Despite many kidnappings, it seems as though Princess Peach still hasn’t invested in a good security team. She’s once again been captured by Bowser and, in true pantomime style, is all set to wed the giant villain, who we think probably just needs a hug.
This, as you can imagine, doesn’t sit well with Mario, and so our intrepid fixer-of-things decides to chase after Bowser and rescue Princess Peach.
As Mario follows Bowser across the globe, he will explore large open-world maps, fight his way to a boss and, after beating said opponent, secure his passage through to the next world.
It’s hardly revolutionary and actually quite old-school. But where Odyssey adds value is in the staggering levels of depth and variety of Mario’s new worlds.
Each new environment is packed with a dizzying array of things to do, from finding hidden caves to accomplishing little errands for the inhabitants.
Rather than shaking things up, this game is an exercise in masterful level design. These design choices feel as if they were tailor-made for the Switch’s portability.
Mario can never truly experience a ‘Game Over’ moment, which means – thanks to an abundance of save points – you can happily play this game as either a quick fix on your daily commute or for a long session on the weekend.
It also gives complete freedom to explore these worlds, too – before a drop off a cliff might mean certain death, in Odyssey it’s an exploration into the unknown.
Just as Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle seduced us with its lovingly implemented attention to detail, Odyssey looks, feels and sounds absolutely spot on.
It’s hard to talk too much about the content itself without spoiling the best bits,, but we can’t help but mention one game mechanic.
Throughout the worlds you’ll encounter a wall which features a level in the original Mario games style.
As you enter these levels the music changes to a chirpy 8-bit interpretation of what was playing before. They’re a lovely break from the sometimes overwhelming nature of Mario’s 3D world. And who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia?
Now as you journey through these worlds you’ll be accompanied by a new character (of sorts). It’s called Cappy and it appears to be some form of sentient hat.
Cappy gives Mario the ability to embody objects and creatures around the world of Odyssey. In an early world you’ll encounter a sleeping T. rex (don’t ask) and Cappy allows you to embody this dinosaur.
Of course it being a Nintendo game, the T. rex will now sport Mario’s red cap and a rather dainty moustache. It’s utterly absurd, but somehow it works.
In addition to creatures, Cappy can help you traverse through the worlds by letting you embody objects, such as power lines. These let you travel faster around various parts of the map and explore more of what’s on offer.
Finally, Cappy can also be a useful offensive weapon with Mario throwing him out like a boomerang.
One of our favourite gameplay elements is the depth there is to controlling Mario himself. On the surface he seems like a simple character, but as you progress further through the game you’ll find that actually our overworked plumber has a quite complex array of moves that can be mastered from long jumps to backflips.
Looking back on our time in Odyssey it’s clear that this game doesn’t exactly rock the boat. With that in mind, there was one disappointing aspect of the game: once again we were rescuing Princess Peach.
This was the same for Zelda and honestly, it would just be nice to try and see something a little different. Peach has to be bored of getting kidnapped and it’s not like our red-hatted hero is getting any younger. Consider this, we’ve been rescuing Peach since the 80s, it might be enormous fun to see Peach actually take matters into her own hands (see: Super Princess Peach).
In many ways we were spoiled by the daring success that was Mario + Rabbids. It felt so refreshing, and yet so respectful of Nintendo’s flagship franchise that playing Odyssey almost felt a little too safe.
To be clear, that’s no bad thing. Odyssey is as good as you’ve heard and then some. It’s beautifully-made, enormous fun to play and most of all it revels in the sheer simple joy of just having fun.
Who should play Mario Odyssey?
The arrival of a stand-alone Mario title is big news and we’re happy to report that Odyssey lives up to all our expectations. If you love exploring beautifully crafted open-worlds and are happy to embrace quite a large dose of silliness the Odyssey is for you. Like so many of Nintendo’s best titles, this game also manages to appeal to both children and adults alike.
Who shouldn’t play Mario Odyssey?
It’s actually really hard to think of someone that wouldn’t enjoy playing this game. If we had to really pick out some elements that might put you off the silliness could be one of them. There is absolutely no emotional gravitas here, so if you’re looking for a deep, meaningful storyline then you might want to look elsewhere.
Mario Odyssey is available now on the Nintendo Switch for £41.99.