Whether as a moustachioed frog, tank, bullet or T-Rex, players will spend as much time inhabiting the bodies of their foes as the title character’s trademark dungarees in Super Mario Odyssey. By hurling sentient headpiece Cappy — a new addition to the Mario world — the plumber can now hat-jack his enemies, utilising their abilities, as well as his own acrobatics, to traverse the game’s varied worlds.
It’s a twist that represents the series’ most audacious reinvention to-date and a bold move for Nintendo, whose previous attempts to spice up Mario’s core mechanics have been both hit (Super Mario Galaxy) and miss (Super Mario Sunshine). Adding enemy skills to an already expansive move set (Mario has never had so many different leaps and tumbles) adds an entirely new dimension to the business of coin collecting and puzzle solving. Judicious deployment of Cappy now forces a degree of lateral thinking that goes far beyond the saga’s legacy of pixel-perfect jumps and the occasional sweaty-palmed speed-run.
Enemy skills add an entirely new dimension to the business of coin collecting and puzzle solving.
The plot is one area where things have not advanced, however, with (a particularly well-dressed) Bowser once again swiping princess Peach, intent on forced matrimony with the help of some demented bunnies named The Broodals. With Mario’s crimson cap shredded in the game’s prologue, he and Cappy traverse the game’s many worlds (including the disconcertingly realistic Metro Kingdom) to collect spaceship-powering moons and avert the unwanted nuptials.
The bodyswap mechanic might be the major selling point but it’s far from Odyssey‘s crowning achievement. From the intricate boss battles (most with an appropriately millinery flavour) to the huge, open levels and delightfully varied challenges (fight, race, jump, swim or puzzle your way to the next moon reward), this is Mario at his most polished. Running around the freeform worlds evokes a sense of elation we haven’t felt since 1996. But if Odyssey feels a natural successor to Super Mario 64, it more overtly doffs its cap to Mario’s 1985 debut. Thanks to a series of beautifully retro 2D sections, seamlessly integrated into the landscape, the game pays stunning tribute to the series’ 8-bit roots while showcasing the Switch’s power in every other respect.
With Breath Of The Wild, Nintendo’s Switch managed to pull off the defining Zelda experience. Improbably, with Super Mario Odyssey it has done something comparable for Nintendo’s other tentpole franchise. This is the Mario’s most accomplished outing yet, one of the finest titles of the year and the overriding reason for everyone to own a Switch. A towering achievement — hats off.