How Nintendo still manages to reinvent Mario after three decades is beyond recognition. Whether he's saving the princess, riding in a go-kart, partaking in some tennis or golf, or even playing second fiddle as a background character, the character who helped keep video games relevant always manages to throw in a new kind of fun for us all to experience. His latest foray, Super Mario Odyssey, somehow takes the cake and passes us all a giant slice to shove right down our throats with glee.

Princess Peach has yet again been captured by Bowser, who is prepping for the most diabolically delicious wedding imaginable. Mario attempts to stop it from even getting past the planning stages, only for the spiky Koopa to knock him off his luxurious and possibly pricy ship. When he comes to Mario is introduced to Cappy, who is a special spirit that can take almost any nearby object or enemy and have Mario possess them for his own personal gain. It's up to the mustachioed hero in overalls and his new head-warming compadre to save the Princess, and once again put a stop to Bowser's nefarious deeds.

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With the addition of Cappy to the fold, Mario is given the chance to turn the tables on many of Bowser's minions. Taking control of the likes of Goombas and Bullet Bills all have their perks, especially when it comes to collecting coins and power moons, the latter of which is needed to access each new area. Discovering what each character can do is all part of the fun, bringing forth new & exciting ways to tackle any situation that the worlds thrust upon Mario.

Speaking of worlds, not since the first Super Mario Galaxy has there been as mesmerizing of a layout quite like this. Be it worlds of sand, ice, food, or jungles, there's a lot to take in via these gorgeous settings. Of course no area shines as brightly as Metro Kingdom, where players roam through New Donk City. With Mario's first damsel-in-distress Pauline as Mayor, you find yourself discovering hidden gems and homages to Mario games of the past. Every corner of this world is both breathtaking and heartstring-tugging, with reminders placed everywhere of why this franchise is still one of the most beloved in the world.

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One of the key aspects to Super Mario Odyssey is the importance of dressing the part. Throughout the worlds you'll be able to find coins both regular to unique to each specific world. With these coins Mario will be able to don many different hats and outfits throughout the worlds, some of which will be required to grab if you are to find every power moon in these worlds. You can look spiffy in a tailored suit, combat the cold in an Eskimo outfit, be the life of a salsa party in a sombrero & poncho, or throw your cares away and just roam around in your boxers.

Another key aspect is its way of presenting the nods to the past in one of the most heartfelt and retro ways. In some areas you'll come across a pixelated pipe, which will transfer Mario to a flat 8-bit 2D world reminiscent of his NES days. There he can collect hidden coins and moons, with the sprites even looking like whatever Mario is wearing at the moment. No two areas are the same, with even newer enemies appearing as if they'd fit perfect with 1980s-era Mario games. It may not appear too much in the game, but you'll find yourself grinning ear-to-ear whenever you come across this area.

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Super Mario Odyssey is filled with many surprises at around every corner, to the point where I feel it'd be a disservice if I were to spoil too much of what one can expect. To be blunt, what we experienced in past games like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and even the recent Super Mario 3D World were all just place-setters for what Nintendo was conjuring up little-by-little. The amount of imagination, stylized gameplay, and love & care placed into this new chapter in the Mario franchise is beyond anything I've seen encased into one singular adventure. One could easily compare this jump in gameplay uniqueness to that of the original Super Mario Bros. and the beloved Super Mario Bros. 3, with the former a blueprint of what's to come and the latter giving players the first sort of inventiveness that Mario has been known to deliver from here on out.

I will say this, though: this has the very best soundtrack I've ever heard in a Mario game. Mixing up rock, folk, classical, and jazz throughout all its areas, the score composed by Naota Kubo, Shiho Fujii, and Koji Kondo has some of the most memorable sounds since Sunshine went with a more tropical route with its music. One cannot talk about this soundtrack without mentioning the insert song "Jump Up, Super Star!", performed by Pauline's voice actress Kate Higgins. A trained jazz pianist, Higgins brings about a flare and style that surprisingly results in one of the best swing songs in years. (Trust me: you'll be humming it to yourself for the next couple years.)

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Although there's nothing here in this game that I can really complain about, there are two things in Super Mario Odyssey that don't quite work as much as they intended. For starters while the motion controls have their perks, I often found myself struggling to use them properly throughout the game's runtime. It's a good thing this aspect is optional -- unlike Star Fox Zero was on the Wii U -- and I could easily play the game with the GamePad instead. Maybe next time around they'll find a way to make the motion controls work far better.

The other minor complaint is its boss battles, which were a little bit more on the easier side than in past games. Granted, each boss had its own unique means of defeating them, but once you figured out their weak points it was fairly simple to tackle the enemies head-on with this knowledge. With that being said, these fights were imaginative in every way possible, which makes this issue very minor.

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In spite of these tiny flaws, Super Mario Odyssey is a true video gaming gem. Even after you complete its main story in around 20 hours, there's still many more moons to discover throughout the worlds. (Hell, there's even an entire new world that won't unlock without a specific amount more moons collected.) The addition of mini-games like RC racing, jump rope, Beach Volleyball adds more fun to the mix, with a competitive aspect thrown in to see who around the world is the best out of everyone.

PROS:

  • Inventive gameplay
  • Beautiful worlds and characters
  • Loads of challenges

CONS:

  • Motions controls are hit-or-miss
  • Boss battles tend to be on the easy side

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Once again, Mario keeps showcasing why he's still relevant after over three decades. Super Mario Odyssey is a blast from start-to-finish, thanks to some amazing gameplay, gorgeous worlds, and one of the best soundtracks to grace the franchise in years. Not since the Brooklyn plumber visited Island Delfino has there been a Mario gaming experience as wondrous and memorable as this. In short: if you love video games, Super Mario Odyssey is an essential.

FINAL GRADE:

Background Noise: Black Track by SOIL & "PIMP" SESSIONS - This Tokyo-based sextet has proved on and on again why they're the kings of the death jazz genre, and their 2016 record is one worthy enough for any New Donk City DJ to give a proper spin. The swing is hard & fast in songs like "BLACK MILK" and "Papaya Pai Pai," with moments of chill with the aid of Xavier Boyer in "In2 My Soul" and Bambu & Nia Andrews in "By Your Side." It's toe-tapping, flows with the greatest of ease, and is the epitome of cool in every way possible.

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