Nintendo’s decade of games has taken us on all sorts of adventures through many highs and lows. In the waning days of the 2010s, a reflective, celebratory spirit mandates that the highs take center stage. New IPs, rejuvenated franchises, and continued excellence from the usual suspects have left us dazzled year in and year out. So many games are worth spotlighting, but in the end, only one can stand above the rest on each of our respective mental pedestals. For me, 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey is that game.
With a renewed emphasis on sprawling levels and exploration, Odyssey marked a triumphant return to form for a series that never really strayed in quality, only in its gameplay styles (which isn’t such a bad thing, but that’s a discussion for another time). Paired with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it was the landmark latter half of the one-two punch that cemented Nintendo’s return to center stage after the wayward Wii U era.
Exploring the fun collection of kingdoms, solving puzzles, hunting down moons, and just taking in the sights and sounds of the adventure before you made for an incredible game. The tight controls and inventive enemy captures gave us the series’s hallmark fluidity in movement in a whole new way. Save for the rare motion control hiccup, Mario just feels right in Super Mario Odyssey, like a natural extension of the Joy-Con or Pro Controller. Learning all of his different moves and jumps lets you quickly spot and exploit shortcuts in the surrounding environments. Before long, you are snagging moons with as much style and flair as your imagination allows.
Beyond just feeling good, Super Mario Odyssey earns its stripes with a beautiful array of kingdoms and challenges. The hustle and bustle of New Donk City; the colorful, jagged edges of the Luncheon Kingdom; the mysterious, quiet atmosphere in the Ruined Kingdom — nearly every area in the game evokes the whimsical sense of wonder that characterized the N64’s classic collectathons, but evolved to another level. Granted, moons are often a bit too easy to acquire, but with over eight hundred individual moons to collect, hundreds of them are still locked behind fun platforming and satisfying puzzles.
After its blisteringly positive reception upon release, Super Mario Odyssey seemed to be quickly overshadowed by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild once year-end awards came around. As a huge fan of the 3D Mario series, however, it was wonderful to see a return to exploration after over a decade of linear (but still amazing) experiences in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World. I really, really hope to see more out of this beautiful formula before moving onto the next 3D Mario subseries.
Super Mario Odyssey hits all of the right notes. And for me, not only is it better than 2017’s Breath of the Wild, but it is better than anything on the Switch so far and stands above all else in Nintendo’s decade of excellent games. It encapsulates the magic that Nintendo is all about, and after so many were disappointed in the Wii U, it could not have come at a better time. Super Mario Odyssey proved that Breath of the Wild was not just lightning in a bottle, establishing momentum that Nintendo has carried well throughout the life of the Switch. Nintendo had its missteps in the 2010s, but thanks to games like this one, we know that they still have a lot in the tank and the 2020s are looking as promising as can be.