Oh no! Princess Peach has been kidnapped! Again!
It's a familiar story that somehow has never got old, and one that never fails to raise a smile. Loading up a new Mario game and anticipating the crazy adventures that lie in wait is one of life's finest pleasures, and thankfully Super Mario Odyssey certainly didn't disappoint!
As we've already established, Peach has been kidnapped for what must be the hundredth time. Bowser now intends to marry the Princess, but first he needs to collect a range of items from across 15 themed “kingdoms” in order to plan the perfect ceremony. With help from Cappy the ghost, Mario sets sail in an airship called the Odyssey to track down and defeat Bowser and rescue the Princess once again. There's only one hitch - the Odyssey needs power moons to function, so Mario will have to collect as many of these as possible to travel between kingdoms.
Some power moons can be won by meeting specific objectives which advance the story, while others are concealed by miscellaneous puzzles and platforming trials within each kingdom. When a moon is found, Mario continues from that exact spot so that he can seamlessly keep running around to find more moons, making Odyssey the closest thing to an actual open-world 3D sandbox Mario game that we've seen so far. Sure, there have been plenty of 3D Mario games, but objectives have traditionally been divided into their own self-contained sections. Odyssey isn't one single huge expanse of land like your Grand Theft Autos or Breath of The Wilds, but it's a remarkable departure that really works in the game's favour.
Another first for the series is the removal of power-ups. No mushrooms, no fire flowers (or not in the way we're used to seeing them, anyway), no nothing. Instead, Mario now throws his cap at enemies to possess them and utilise their abilities. There are over 50 “useful” enemies in the game, and every single one of them is quite honestly a joy to control. Another new addition is the Crazy Cap shop, where Mario can spend his coins to buy outfits and items. These outfits don't really alter gameplay in any way, although most of the “special” outfits (purchased by using stage-specific collectable purple coins) are required to access certain areas. Plus it's just fun to dress Mario up in silly clothes for the sake of it.
The actual gameplay in Super Mario Odyssey isn't too challenging and lives are unlimited (there's a ten-coin penalty for dying, but there's no penalty at all if you're out of coins), but moons can be fiendishly well-hidden and finding them all will be quite a challenge for completionists. At the latest count, there are well over 800 of these celestial secrets to be found - we suspect this number is down to Nintendo having so many ideas that they thought they might as well put everything in, rather than landing on a figure and then having to work out where they were going to hide them all. Don't worry though, you don't need to find anything close to that amount in order to finish the story. Beating Bowser adds a ton of extra moons to the world, and more moons equal more crazy outfits becoming available from the shop as well as gaining access to a couple of unlockable extra (more challenging) hidden worlds, so there's plenty to keep you going in the replay stakes.
All in all, Super Mario Odyssey is every bit as good as you might have heard. Nintendo have clearly put their heart and soul into making this game, and their passion for the series is abundantly evident. The superbly orchestrated original soundtrack is filled with nods to previous Mario titles, and each kingdom is thoroughly memorable thanks to the game's huge amount of ideas and impressive overall design. Special mention must go to the mid-game Metro Kingdom, where Mario mixes with humans for the first time in New Donk City. The festival that takes place at the end of this stage is one of the most joyful things we've ever come across in a videogame, and deserves to be experienced by as many people as possible!
Players of a certain age will find it impossible to think back to their first time playing 1996's Super Mario 64. Partly down to the similar control scheme (although thankfully without the N64's unwieldy controller!), but also due to the inescapable sense of wonder when arriving in a new location. Mario 64 remains one of the most fondly-remembered titles in the series to date, and it isn't difficult to imagine Odyssey being held in the same high regard 20 years from now. It really is as good as you might have heard. Without any glaring issues or fault to be found whatsoever, we can't really rate this one anything other than...
SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY / DEVELOPER: NINTENDO EPD / PUBLISHER: NINTENDO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW