Nintendo’s year has been a wildly successful one – their mobile presence, though increasingly derided, has been significant; they have won back the adulation of the press and the wallets of the many with their latest console, the impeccable Switch; and their roster of exclusive releases was jaw-droppingly impressive. The masterful Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a clear and instant classic, a game that brilliantly sells the Switch’s allure with its scope and vision.
Yet it was Mario, the definitive Nintendo mascot, who stole the show with Super Mario Odyssey, a delectable and platform-defining exercise in exceptional game design. The Switch is designed to accommodate ‘console-quality’ gaming under any circumstance, and Odyssey seems to have been designed as a proof of this concept. It can be binged, explored for hours at a time, just as readily as it can be nibbled at in tiny chunks; its levels are expansive wholes just as they are composed of myriad minute challenges, and progress is measured constantly by equally minute yet satisfying rewards.
Mario’s traditional royal rescue mission is this time aided by Cappy, a sentient hat with whose help Mario can possess any hatless enemies and certain items in the game worlds visited. These possessions massively change the manner of movement employed by players, making for a constantly reinventing sense of traversal. From high-jumping frogs to rolling tanks and stretching millipedes, these control and movement changes are inventive and delightful.
For, as with all Mario games, movement and control is the game’s core, and its genius. Playing a modern Mario feels as much like an exploration of combos and player growth as any fighting game, and Odyssey is no exception.
Exploring the sprawling levels, from desert to metropolis via beach and volcano, the game offers environments so impeccably designed as to be equally rewarding and thrilling whether you can only manage a running jump or are a master of the running cap-throw-jump-and-bounce moves that can be chained so mesmerisingly by speedrunners. This is a control scheme that, like the best button mashers, can fit the player using it. If you’re content to bounce on enemies and make the jumps Mario’s been making for decades, you’ll have a wonderful time. If you’d like to conquer the art of fast movement, this game will provide an altogether different breed of challenge.
Travelling the world, Mario and Cappy must collect Power Moons to power up the Odyssey, a spaceship they will use to chase down Bowser. These Power Moons number in the hundreds; they are densely packed into levels, and in the post-game become redistributed in fresh arrangements, lending impressive longevity to game that would be impeccable even without it. Progress is measured in access to new levels and, surprisingly rewardingly, camp costumes for Mario.
In its balance of lighthearted story vignettes and platforming challenges, Odyssey is a game for all occasions, and yet another example of Nintendo’s mastery of design – the most impressive game released in 2017.