‘Super Mario Odyssey’ review: Nintendo tips its cap to the past

Nintendo’s (NTDOY) Super Mario is finally ready for his next big adventure Thursday with the launch of “Super Mario Odyssey.” Available for the Switch, “Super Mario Odyssey” is both a leap forward for the franchise and a love letter to its storied past.

After bringing Mario and crew back to its side-scrolling inspired roots in “Super Mario 3D World,” Nintendo has dropped Mario into an open world-style game that’s a callback to “Super Mario 64” and “Super Mario Sunshine.”

‘Super Mario Odyssey’ is a wonderfully quirky experience that pays homage to its past.

“Odyssey” lets you travel between various kingdoms as you try to save Princess Peach from the clutches of the evil Bowser. So yeah, the plot isn’t very original. But it’s how you travel the world, and the various ways in which you interact with it, that makes “Super Mario Odyssey” among the best “Mario” offerings in recent memory.

Come fly away with me

Mario doesn’t play alongside his brother Luigi in “Odyssey.” Instead, the mustachioed one is teamed up with a living top hat named Cappy. It turns out, Bowser wants to force Peach to marry him and he’s kidnapped Cappy’s sister, who happens to be a tiara named Tiara, to act as her headdress.

Bowser has kidnapped both Peach and Cappy’s sister Tiara.

Mario and Cappy give chase in the Odyssey, an enormous top hat-shaped ship that runs on power moons. Your goal is to collect power moons from each world you visit to refuel the Odyssey and ensure you can reach Peach and Tiara in time.

Toss your hat in the ring

Cappy is the most unique sidekick in Mario’s long, storied history. He’s also indispensable, as throwing him at enemies allows you to take over their bodies. Does it make sense? Nope. But then again neither does an Italian plumber from Japan throwing fireballs at giant man-eating plants that live in sewer pipes. So get over it.

Taking over enemies and using their abilities is fun, sure, but it’s also the key to solving the majority of “Odyssey’s” puzzles. Want to dive deep underwater? You’ll need to take over a Cheep Cheep. Want to fly? Grab a Koopa Paratrooper. It’s a slick mechanic that allows you to take an inventive approach to the game’s various challenges.

Mario and Cappy aboard the Odyssey.

You can also use Cappy as a floating stepping stone to reach distant platforms, or as a spring to jump up to out-of-the-way areas.

“Odyssey” also takes advantage of the Switch’s motion-sensitive Joy-Con controllers. Flick the Joy-Con in one direction and Mario will toss Cappy. Flick the controller in a different direction and Cappy will spin around you, clearing out any enemies that have surrounded you.

The motion controls worked well, but I preferred playing with the Joy-Con Grip, since it feels more like a traditional controller.

The best looking ‘Mario’ game to-date

A strong sense of exploration permeates “Odyssey.” And that’s just how producer Yoshiaki Koizumi and director Kenta Motokura planned it. “Odyssey” focuses on the excitement of travel and discovering new locales, which pushes you to look into every nook and cranny of the game world to find its seemingly endless secret areas and items.

From ancient islands with an enormous T-Rex that, yes, you can take over, to long-forgotten towns and beach resorts, Nintendo has managed to craft a game where each new kingdom feels unique unto itself.

Even the game’s maps are designed to look like travel brochures for the various worlds you visit complete with points of interest.

New Donk City is a standout among ‘Odyssey’s’ many quirky worlds.

It’s important to note just how beautiful “Super Mario Odyssey’s” kingdoms look. New Donk City, a New York City analogue, has the feel of a living world, right down to the rats that scurry past your feet near dumpsters, while the Seaside Kingdom’s Bubblaine made me long for a chance to lounge at a beach resort.

“Odyssey’s” graphics look even more impressive when compared to the game’s 8-bit side-scrolling sections inspired by the original “Super Mario Bros.” title for the Nintendo Entertainment System. During one particularly tricky area, I found myself bouncing between an 8-bit section and the game’s 3D style, and the difference was staggering. It felt as if the 3D Mario was almost real.

I was also taking muscle relaxers for my strained back, but still.

Ready player 2

Like any great “Mario” game, “Super Mario Odyssey” includes a two-player mode. Interestingly, “Odyssey” lets your friend jump in and play as Cappy in the middle of a play through by simply opening the pause menu and selecting 2 Player mode.

The co-op aspect of the game doesn’t limit what you can do with Cappy, either. You’ll be able to jump off Mario’s head and attack enemies, reach out of the way coins and take over objects and adversaries.

Yes, Cappy can even take over this T-Rex.

It also makes for some interesting tag teaming experiences. At one point I was stuck on a platform that was about to fall out from under me, so the person I was playing with flew over as Cappy and let me jump on him, saving my skin.

That said, since you’re traversing a fully 3D world, you need to rotate the camera to get the best view available at any given time. And since both Mario and Cappy move independently, it becomes difficult to ensure both players have the right angle, which can be frustrating.

Should you get it?

Mario’s big debut on the Switch is a joy to experience. Its beautifully realized worlds, excellent platforming, admiration for series’ past and new gameplay mechanics make “Super Mario Odyssey” worthy of the portly plumber’s legacy.

My only real issue with “Odyssey” is the camera experience during co-op play. Still, this is a game that is focused primarily on the single-player aspect, and is an incredibly wonderful one at that.

If you’ve got a Switch, get this game. If you don’t have one, “Odyssey” just moved in alongside “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” as one of your biggest reasons to snag one.

What’s hot: Gorgeous, endlessly explorable game world; Cappy adds an inventive gameplay mechanic; Fantastic callbacks to the franchise’s best moments

What’s not: Camera can be difficult to control in co-op mode.

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