'Super Mario Odyssey:' Best Mario Game Ever?

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“Super Mario Odyssey” manages to move the storied franchise forward while keeping an eye cast back to its past.

In a year when the Nintendo Switch has seen “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” on its screen, it might be hard to say “Odyssey” is a console flagship. However, the game propels Mario and friends to greater heights, putting it among the best of all Mario games.

The famous plumber runs, jumps, and flings his hat through huge 3-D open worlds in his quest to – wait for it – rescue Princess Peach from the amorous clutches of Bowser. This time, the arch nemesis has matrimony on his mind, and Mario is on his trail as Bowser collects items from the different worlds to make the perfect wedding.

Mario has a partner in this rescue effort. Cappy, a denizen of the Hat World, has a rescue mission as well and joins our hero in his quest. Cappy’s unique ability of taking over other creatures, enemies, and equipment is the main weapon in Mario’s arsenal.

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As Mario and Cappy track down Bowser, they must collect power moons, not stars, to fuel up their world-traveling ship. The environments range from water to desert to otherworldly, and each has their own set of dangers to be navigated.

A city, New Donk City, is populated with real looking people in a downtown setting, and it is a little disconcerting to see how the typical human, Mario, looks when he walks among the residents. His dance steps are unbelievable, and I sat and watched him dance to the music for more moments than I’d like to admit.

In a definite nod to its past, 2-D levels are sprinkled in the worlds, requiring Mario to transition to his old moves, without Cappy, to advance. It is a nice homage, and the side-scrolling action is a welcome break from the open world challenges.

Exploration is key, and many areas are hidden or locked away to be discovered after searching the expansive environments. Indeed, it seemed like I spent more time just running around each new kingdom than focusing on trying to rescue the princess.

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The worlds felt like they were broken down into mini-segments, which made playing very manageable. It was very easy to start and stop playing time without feeling compelled to draw out to reach the next checkpoint or goal.

The combination of the old jump-and-stomp with addition of Cappy offers a myriad of choices during combat. While the idea of possessing your enemies and turning them against others is brilliant, there is a tinge of guilt when you realize you are using someone else’s form against their will.

But in the land of Mario, is that really any worse than stomping on a goomba’s head until it is dead?

As always, there are coins. Each death takes away 10 coins, but the currency can also be used to make purchases in each world’s store. The twist is that there is also a world specific currency in each kingdom, which is used to make specific world purchases.

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While most of the stuff you can buy is cosmetic, a power moon can be bought in each store, and themed clothes and hats can be obtained. This themed attire will also unlock special areas in each world, making it a required purchase for those who are completionists.

It isn’t your typical Mario games, but the new challenges and gameplay make the adventure more enjoyable. It is a fantasy ride to fantastical worlds, and the ability to take over other characters is really fun.

The world boss battles didn’t seem that challenging, requiring recognition of attack patterns in the manner of old school gaming. The real adventure was getting to them at all instead of wandering all over the place.

And if you think it is all done when the princess is rescued, there are plenty of moons, which some have now transformed into stars, coins, and other collectables to find. Of course, the princess is missing again, but her disappearance takes on a new twist.

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The excitement and imagination of the game is palpable. There is so much that’s new in “Super Mario Odyssey” and so much that is familiar. Mario shows he still has a lot more potential to thrill gamers of all ages.

“Super Mario Odyssey” is a wonderful journey and provides unique gameplay with a new look at the relationship between Mario, Peach, and Bowser. The ending to the campaign has a touch of sadness, but it fits with everything else that happens prior to the climax.

It was the most fun I have had with a Mario title in a few years. It is the game to which I constantly return when I’m out and about with my Nintendo Switch.

Is it the best Mario game ever? You decide.