When the Japanese version of the Nintendo website edited Super Mario’s biography earlier this year – confirming he was no longer a plumber – plenty of jokes were made about the long-standing character retiring.
But any question of the little Italian slowing down is completely quashed by his antics in his latest adventure, Super Mario Odyssey.
The flagship title is the first major Mario release on Nintendo’s new Switch console, and has been hugely anticipated because of its 3D world set-up and shake-up of traditional gameplay.
Mario isn’t alone for this one. His new companion, Cappy – quite literally an animated version of his famous red cap – can be used as a weapon and interaction tool, as well as to take control of other characters, a major new quirk of Mario gameplay.
On Nintendo’s bold new home/mobile hybrid console, Odyssey has been developed to be just as bold a shift for the platforming series.
From the moment the first trailers of Odyssey appeared, and its 3D open world and platform combo style was revealed, it has been mooted as a true successor to the classic Super Mario 64.
The good news is this label is far from a hopeful tag – Odyssey manages to capture the imagination with new Mario gameplay while also throwing so many loving glances to the past that the game verges on paying homage.
Firstly, this is a wonderfully colourful and diverse game. The various kingdoms and worlds Mario travels to in pursuit of Bowser range from lush forests to cityscapes and freezing deserts.
The maps are all much broader than they first appear too.
Though the game has a linear feel to it, with 3D platforms constantly in front of Mario for him to work his way through, players can also branch out and explore more freely.
There’s plenty of reward to this, with extra Power Moons and Easter eggs to be found by being inquisitive, and setting out to discover.
The main platforming is true Mario as well – jumps, breaking blocks and collecting coins and hearts. Thirty years since the original game, the same formula is still being well used.
Cleverly deployed in 3D, it also means new tactics are needed alongside the old familiar moves to reach ledges and new areas.
Meanwhile, Cappy might just be the star of the show, even above Mario.
The animated cap can be tossed to grab coins or stun enemies, but its most useful skill is to take control of certain enemies and aid Mario’s advance.
One early stage sees Mario and Cappy able to take over a T-Rex, which players then take control of, and clear a path through rock and a wave of enemies to a flagpole checkpoint.
Bullets too can be possessed – and come in handy when Mario needs to navigate a gap too wide to jump across, or to blast a way through blockades.
The body-swapping element has been so well integrated into Mario’s box of tricks by Nintendo that it feels a completely natural part of gameplay. Crucially, it still feels very Mario.
Controls and Nostalgia
So much of what’s good about Odyssey is the way in which new gameplay has been woven into an already famous gaming universe.
Outside the on-screen gameplay though, the way Odyssey takes advantage of the Switch controllers and their motion sensors is also a pleasing addition to the experience.
Almost actively encouraging players to remove the two Joy-Con halves from any dock or the Switch screen, Mario can fling Cappy with a shake of either of the controllers.
In two-player mode it’s possible for one person to control Mario and another Cappy, again introducing a nice twist to traditional Mario gameplay.
The healthy doses of nostalgia that are dished out during the game are best served through the 2D challenges that occasionally appear.
Throughout the various Kingdoms, some walls are scaled not by climbing, but by entering 2D mini games inspired by the original Super Mario Bros – complete with original animations – in order to proceed.
It serves as nice nod to the past in the midst of a game that seems set to shape the future of the Switch.
Much like Super Mario 64, Odyssey deserves to be considered a key landmark in the lifespan of the Super Mario series.
The game is a perfect blend of classic Mario platform gaming, taking place in a brand new 3D world that wants to be explored beyond its linear main activities.
Much in the same way Breath Of The Wild reinvigorated the Legend Of Zelda series earlier this year, Odyssey feels like it provides a new lease of life for a long-standing gaming universe.
Crucially for Nintendo too, it serves as a new and genuine reason to buy a Switch. This game is at its best on this system, and the Switch catalogue of games, until now still lacking variation, is now much closer to being essential.