Nintendo has given us an outstanding year for games. Coming off the diminishing failure that was the Wii U console, March saw the release of their brand new console, The Switch. Launching with Breath of the Wild, an immaculate game and a refreshing take on the original Zelda formula, The Switch would usher in a new year of successes for Nintendo. From Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to Splatoon 2, Nintendo was going from strength to strength throughout the year. In a year that was already jam-packed with fantastic games, Nintendo managed to cut through the noise many times throughout the year with games that will be remembered as some of 2017s best. Not content with just one game of the year in 2017, Nintendo decided to close out the year with Super Mario Odyssey – the platforming Yin to Breath of the Wild’s adventuring Yang. Just a few weeks ago it was determined to be the fastest selling Mario game in Australia, and has received universal acclaim from critics. Today, I find myself falling in line with this opinion; Super Mario Odyssey is fantastic and the best Mario game to be released since Super Mario 64 was first released in 1996.

For those not in the know, Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D exploratory platformer, which means you run around open environments jumping, climbing, and crawling around elaborately designed worlds in search of Power Moons. Power Moons are used to power Mario’s new flying ship, the Odyssey, which he is using to chase down his nemesis Bowser across the globe. Each level contains several dozen Power Moons, a percentage of which are which are required to advance to the next Power Moon-filled world.

This much, we’ve all come to expect from a 3D Mario game. But whereas previous titles like Super Mario 3D World have relied almost entirely on well-tuned difficulty curves and immaculate level design, Super Mario Odyssey takes those design skills and flavours them with elements of surprise and joy. Super Mario Odyssey is a game that will constantly present you with opportunities to be delighted. Whether it be giving you control of a giant stompy T. Rex, or giving you a jetpack that lets you sprint across bodies of water at top speed, the game appears to have meticulously designed every moment of the game as an answer to the question, ‘what makes people happy?’ Until Super Mario Odyssey I hadn’t been able to articulate quite what 3D Mario games had been missing all these years, but now I know the answer: ‘whimsy’. Setting aside the technical and design achievements of Mario Odyssey – the challenge, the level design, the perfect synchronicity between the button presses of the player and the elegant movements of Nintendo’s chubby mascot – what sets the game above other Mario titles is the way it embraces fun for fun’s sake. Each level has multiple costumes to dress Mario in and decals to be purchased for the exterior of your ship. Functionally, these do nothing for the way the game plays, but the changes it makes are real and felt in the heart. I’ll be damned if I sit idly by and let someone tell me that giving players the opportunity to remove Mario’s shirt and let him chase a dog along the beach doesn’t constitute an important departure for the series.

If the stars in Super Mario 64 were like a six-piece feed of Original Recipe Chicken, then each new world of Mario Odyssey feels like a box of popcorn chicken – filled with delightful golden nuggets of addictive deliciousness*. The next Power Moon is never far away, and often getting one presents the player with ideas on how to get more. Each level also has a boss or two, which will reward the player with three Power Moons. The path to each boss is broken up with checkpoints, and Power Moons are presented along the way that reward player curiosity in new, temporary mechanics for the level. It’s a clever way of wordlessly tutorialising new mechanics and ideas to the player that will be called upon later for the boss battles.

Speaking of new mechanics, there are a few new twists in Super Mario Odyssey that come with the introduction of a new side-kick character called Cappy. Cappy is a magical transforming hat that replaces Mario’s usual red cap, and can be thrown a short distance to attack enemies and provide a temporary piece of footing for Mario to get an extra, mid-air jump on. These are neat additions to the 3D Mario formula, but by far the most significant change Cappy brings to the table is the ability to let Mario possess certain enemies, objects, and other non-player characters. This presents the player with an array of fun new ways to play the game, as well as some fundamentally troubling questions about the nature of autonomy in the expanded Mario canon. But it’s fun and nobody gets hurt. Well…nobody other than the enemies anyway. Okay it is pretty messed up now that I think about it. But I mentioned it was really fun, yeah?

Some ethical discomfort aside, Super Mario Odyssey is a genuinely remarkable game, topping off a year of great games on the Switch. I would say it’s worth owning a Switch for, but that doesn’t adequately reflect the stellar lineup of first party, third party, and indie titles already available on the Switch. At this stage, Super Mario Odyssey is more of a gateway drug to lure people into the Switch’s varied and interesting catalogue. Plus Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is coming out on my birthday.

Whatever Nintendo has been putting in its water this year, can I get my hands on some?

*For vegan readers substitute all instances of chicken in this metaphor for Oreos and Oreo Minis.

About The Author

Angus is a writer, a worrier, and a digital media wanker. He is a devoted fan of Dark Souls and Bayonetta with a profound weakness for alt-games, visual novels, and cute anime trash. Firmly supports diversity, video game accessibility, and believes there’s a game out there for everyone. Tweets and shitposts @angusuow.