Nintendo has always had a knack for the uncanny. Look closely for the most part any popular Nintendo series-past the colors and the music and the charming aesthetic-and you will discover something strange. Kirby is a casino game series about an insatiable, omnivorous, amorphous pink blob with lungs strong enough to suck in trees. In the Metroid franchise, the most frightening, dangerous creatures in the complete galaxy are floating jellyfish who are allergic to the cold. And Mario, of course, is a string about an Italian plumber rampaging boots-first through a technicolor nightmare of Alice in Wonderland mushrooms and murderous turtles on the path to steal your girl.
Super Mario Odyssey, like a lot of Nintendo’s best games, succeeds by virtue of layering on a lot more of this uncanny sensibility before whole proceeding feels as though a giggling surrealist parlor game. Think the giant, smiling moon in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, or the implied drug trip converted into a genuine one in Yoshi’s Island; dealing with bizarre, primal images, Nintendo’s developers will always be able to build a thing that feels as if it had been destined to exist. Nintendo’s surprise is not simply in producing, because they claim, “gameplay-first fun,” however in building that fun out of ideas that needs to be nightmares.
In Super Mario Odyssey, the first official Super Mario game for the Nintendo Switch, and the first fully-3D Super Mario in seven years, that nightmare is possession. Early in the overall game, Mario’s trademark red cap is fused with a sentient top hat, and Mario gains an eerie power: whatever was created to wear Mario’s cap becomes Mario. Throw it on a dinosaur’s head, for example, and that dino is quickly fused with Mario-and you, the player, end up playing as a dinosaur. Manage goombas, electric poles, other things that suits your fancy. Mario’s vision into the future is a cap resting on an enslaved head, forever.
This comes with its internal logic, which quickly becomes impossibly goofy. Mario can’t own anything that’s already wearing a hat, naturally, so all of the new enemies in the overall game have flamboyant headwear. Classic enemies are suddenly winging fedoras and Carmen Sandiego bowlers at the plumber as he jumps and wa-wa-wahoos around. Several boss fights count on the conceit that Mario must first take away the enemy’s hat before rendering them vulnerable. Never has any game paid so much mind to millinery fashion.
This is, as I believe I’ve established right now, immensely bizarre, but because Nintendo approaches it with absolutely zero irony, it delights instead of disturbs. Playing this game, you sense that at no point did anyone at Nintendo see Mario manage a frog’s innocent mind, pause, and have themselves, “Isn’t this sort of fucked up?” Instead, these were too busy imagining how it could possibly be so entertaining that real-world logic totally flies out the window.
And as of this, they succeeded. Super Mario Odyssey is light, fluffy, slightly gluttonous fun, cotton candy in game form. Mario’s journey is a quest to (altogether, now) save Princess Peach, who’s being forced right into a wedding by a white-tuxedo’d Bowser. And discover them, you hop over the globe-and seemingly across dimensions-in an airship powered by collectible magic moons, solving problems and fighting Bowser’s band of wedding planners, who all are actually bunny rabbits. This goofy premise is accompanied by probably the most fluid, comfortable action ever felt in a Mario game.
Playing this game, you sense that at no point did anyone at Nintendo see Mario manage a frog’s innocent mind, pause, and have themselves, “Isn’t this sort of messed up?”
Mario’s 3D moveset has been largely static since his introduction in to the polygonal world in Super Mario 64, but it’s never felt so responsive, so pleasant, so light. He’s still, occasionally, a lttle bit slippery to regulate, sliding from ledges when he shouldn’t, and directing jumps accurately in three dimensions is never likely to be as satisfying since it could possibly be. But Mario’s new hat friend-his name is Cappy!-serves as a supplement, making possible a number of melee attacks and a fresh kind of jump (furthermore to, you know, supplying a portal of possession into other bodies). Like another 3D Mario game, Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo smartly uses its new mechanic to supplement the weaker points in the plumber’s moveset, and like this game the weakest occasions in Odyssey are while you are forced, with regard to challenge, to forego the brand new abilities, which reveals how limiting Mario’s base moves could be.
Odyssey also incurs problems when it gets too swept up in its playfulness and forgets that there surely is, in fact, a genuine world out there. It has issues with cultural representation, largely in a desert-themed world that plays as a clumsy mashup of Latin American and Pacific Islander stereotypes. Its denizens are skeletons in Dia de los Muertos makeup, Maori-themed statues roam around the sand dunes, and fix some challenges Mario must decorate in a sombrero and poncho such as a thoughtless college or university student at Halloween. This reads not really much as deliberate racial insensitivity as just just obvliousness: the overall game is so swept up in its dream logic that it does not recognize these are real cultures that are being playfully considered, mashed together, and tossed away one hour later. In a casino game that so thoroughly succeeds elsewhere in conjuring a global from imagination, it’s a disappointing misstep.
Yet Super Mario Odyssey may be the type of giddy, absurd triumph that Nintendo hasn’t pulled off in years. It really is constantly rewarding and variable. In the 1920s, when the surrealist poets and writers in Europe met up, they’d play a casino game called Exquisite Corpse: Each player would write a sentence of a tale on a bit of paper, then hand the paper to another person, who write another sentence after only reading the last sentence written. Each writer, with only partial information, pushes the story in increasingly unreal and irrational directions, until a complete emerges that might be totally unimaginable from just the start. Odyssey, using its fluid play and absurd mishmash of ideas and images, can be an exquisite corpse, given life and bought out by a sentient red cap. That is a Nintendo game, in the end. As long as it’s fun, anything goes.