Have you ever wanted to possess a T-Rex and obliterate a semi-destructible environment for monetary gain and sick achievement status?
Thanks to one weird little ghost cap, now you can. Well, actually, Mario can. Everyone’s favorite plumber made his first sandbox debut back in 2017 with Super Mario Odyssey, a 3D platformer with open world RPG elements and a phenomenal legacy to live up to. And boy, did it deliver.
What sets this game apart from previous Mario titles isn’t the context or the plot or even the graphics (though they are stunning for a Mario game). All these elements feel quintessentially Mario, or at least quintessentially Nintendo, but with just enough outside-the-box ideas and combinations to keep it interesting. All of it fits together in such a believable way that it’s almost easy to forget that it IS a Mario game, and lose yourself in the flow of balanced challenge and ease that characterizes every Nintendo game.
What Mario Odyssey manages to do best, though, is combine every aspect of previous Mario titles into one game, tying in mechanics from the first 3D Mario titles, original 8-bit sequences, pipes, puzzles, directional and motion controls, and classic and new enemies and abilities. It feels like I’m playing all the Mario titles at once; jumping through paintings like Mario 64, into New Donk City where I need to avoid rolling barrels and rescue the city from Donkey Kong, into a water level that utilizes Super Mario Sunshine water physics. At any given time, you can transition seamlessly between the past, present and future of the franchise, and not lose any quality, quantity or context.
Speaking of quantity and quality, this game is jam-packed with content, but it does a great job of never overwhelming you. I’ve played enough open world sandbox RPGs to know that you can easily lose yourself in a world that’s too big, or too full of quests and activities. Odyssey is different, though. Never once did I feel like overstimulated, or under stimulated, despite finding something to do every time I turned my camera. Developers and level designers for Odyssey managed to incorporate recurring but unique content across 16 worlds (14 regular, 2 special areas), giving players enough familiarity and mystery to keep them engaged but still itching for more. What really stuck out to me, though, was that I never felt stuck. Sure, once or twice I had to look up where some of the bonus content was, or how to get my hat back from the thieving bird (Klepto is the bane of my existence and owes me at least 500 coins for my troubles), but on the whole, I never felt like progression was slowed by my skill level or hidden from me in any particularly challenging way.
Once I got the hang of the controls early on, the elements of the world that I could interact with, destroy, possess and utilize became incredibly obvious very quickly, but I still had to figure out how to utilize these things the right way to get the desired outcome. Making your world completely accessible and easy to understand, encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny, and not requiring them to find everything or do everything in order to progress were all big help. I knew I could power through the main areas of the world, get the necessary moons to continue, and move on, but the fact that I had that option and didn’t have to work too hard to progress took a lot of the pressure off me as a player, and made me WANT to explore more, as more of a personal accomplishment than a requirement. I wanted to see what sort of challenges Nintendo had crafted, figure out every puzzle and experience everything, and when it eventually did get too difficult or frustrating, I could easily move on to something else and come back. Between the excellent balance, flow and humor that this game provided, I would say without a doubt that this is probably the best Mario title in the entire franchise, bar none. It pays homage to the old while pioneering for the new.
I beat this game in three days, and I don’t regret a second of it.
Sarah Nowack is a senior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. Her days are spent haunting the local library, consuming copious amounts of coffee, playing unpopular video games, and making terrible puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.