Mario caught on in the ’80s and continues to thrive more than 30 years after his debut in part because the games he headlines are masterfully designed, but also because Nintendo knows how to make you fall in love with the worlds he inhabits. Super Mario Odyssey is a delight for these exact same reasons, and though it blatantly leans into nostalgia at times, its high marks go above and beyond cute nods to the past.
Odyssey’s dozen-plus kingdoms are ornately crafted, with adorable details and bite-sized challenges seamlessly interwoven throughout. And the range of themes therein go a long way to keep things interesting from start to finish. New Donk City is both a kooky metropolis with oddballs to gawk at, and a playground made up of cars with trampoline roofs and slingshot-action pylons. Luncheon Kingdom is a candy-coated hideaway with a colorful exterior that belies its lava-drenched dangers. And who can forget taking Mario to the moon and jumping around in low gravity–shout out to the cute space-helmet wearing pup who’s always down for a game of low-g fetch.
Mario runs, jumps, and gleefully hollers his way through Odyssey’s environments with effortless grace. Granted, Nintendo seemingly “perfected” 3D platforming controls years if not decades ago, but rather than rest on its laurels from game to game, it manages to dial-in physics and finely tune controls just a little bit more for each new outing. Odyssey’s inclusion of Cappy adds yet another tool to Mario’s repertoire, and with it he can extend his leaps just a bit further than before. Odyssey’s tightly designed platforming challenges don’t force you to master the use of Cappy, but with the game’s collectible Power Moons lurking in hard-to-reach spots, you’re rewarded for developing these skills early on.
Cappy is useful for so much more, however, as he lets you possess the bodies of 24 different types of enemies. This feat replaces Mario’s typical costume-based power-ups–don’t worry, there are plenty of cosmetic costumes to acquire if you so desire–and this makes the already diverse game even more surprising as you venture from one world to the next, taking control of enemies new and familiar alike. This concept alone makes Odyssey a fascinating experience. Every enemy you possess changes your perspective on the world around you, and feeds into the game’s ever-present frivolity.
Odyssey is, in effect, a massive playground that encourages you to test the limits of Mario’s abilities and your own ingenuity in the face of myriad options. With throwback outfits and retro Mario levels inserted into otherwise 3D spaces, it no doubt appeals most to people with a fondness for Mario’s (and Nintendo’s) past. But Odyssey is the type of game that feels like a no-brainer for anyone who enjoys the act of play. It’s what we at GameSpot call an “essential” game. It not only finds success in playing fast and loose with one of gaming’s most recognizable mascots, it succeeds at reaffirming the reasons why Mario is held in such high regard at all.