(Pocket-lint) - The Nintendo Switch couldn't have had a better start, with a game as scintillating as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and sales figures the Wii U could only have dreamt about. After its spring launch, however, things went quiet.
We've had other great first-party games in the shape of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms and Splatoon 2 in the interim. And there have been a few decent third-party titles, like Lego City Undercover and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
But, when compared to rival consoles, the Nintendo Switch looks positively underserved. If you simply look at the last few months, it'd be hard to recommend the console over a PS4 or Xbox One. We even started to fear, once the hype had died down, for the Switch's future.
Nintendo, though, wasn't quite as nervous. It had Super Mario Odyssey up its sleeve. And it's an out-and-out masterpiece.
Is Mario Odyssey the best Mario game ever?
Odyssey, quite simply, is the best platformer we've played in many a year. In fact, it's one of the best games full stop.
It's the best Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy at the very least, maybe even on par with Super Mario 64 – with which it shares plenty of DNA – and it is the game to revitalise the Switch just in time for Christmas 2017.
It's not that easy to explain why Super Mario Odyssey is so good without giving away a massive amount of its appeal. It's jam-packed full of secrets, collectables, innovation and inventiveness, all of which you should savour for the first time without spoilers. Save to say that every turn, jump, nook and cranny is filled with giddy excitement and we are sure you will be as delighted in the adventure as us.
What is Cappy, Mario's new hat?
What we can say is that the gameplay mechanic we most feared of on paper - Mario's ability to effectively transform into other characters (both animate and inanimate) by using Cappy, his cap - actually works so wonderfully that it will surely be a mainstay in Mario games going forward.
Cappy is a sentient hat creature from an alternative kingdom that not only takes the place of Mario's own cap but can be used as a weapon to dispatch many foes through a well-timed fling from the wrist.
You can also use Cappy to takeover many enemies and, in some cases, objects, in order to use their abilities to progress. Throw Cappy onto a Big Chain Chomp and you can use it to bash down obstructions, even other Chain Chomps. Lob him onto a T-Rex and you can rampage through walls. You can even takeover a Bullet Bill and fly to an otherwise impossible-to-reach platform.
Finding out the different uses of Cappy is a major part of the fun throughout, including during the numerous boss battles across the 15 plus kingdoms. And while it seemed to be a gimmick initially, you soon realise that it is the very tenet that makes Odyssey so special.
A platformer at heart
Of course, Mario can still perform a variety of miraculous leaps and bounds, although there are no other power-ups beyond Cappy, so we feel the game is better focused as a result.
The invention comes in the wild variety of puzzles and play types in each of the markedly different kingdoms. The Lake Kingdom, for example, is mostly underwater so a lot of the action is focused on ensuring you reach your goals without drowning. And the much-publicised Metro Kingdom, aping a real-world city (New York, cough), has tall buildings that add plenty of verticality to play.
Exploration is rewarded, not least because you have to collect hidden Power Moons to move from kingdom to kingdom. Like stars in former games, Power Moons are rewarded for completing story missions or even smaller tasks, and you cannot progress until you have nabbed a set amount. We actually found this easy enough, but even lingered on each kingdom longer to collect even more than needed – such is the fun of each puzzle or quest.
We will even happily go back to locations to snag the remainders now we've completed the story, as will you, we have no doubt.
A classic story?
The story itself doesn't take too long to complete if you just go for it head down, but in doing so you will miss much of what makes Odyssey so special. The open-world kingdoms aren't really designed to just rush headlong through. Metro Kingdom, again, even gives you the choice of staying for one last, delicious segment after you have enough moons to scarper. And if you like Donkey Kong, you'll absolutely love it.
If you are a collector like us, you'll also love finding enough in-game coins to buy the various outfits, hats and bonuses from shops on each level. You'll realise that some of them are even needed to get into certain venues in order to get elusive Power Moons. It's something that makes Super Mario Odyssey seem fresh and interesting in comparison to former games – and getting rid of the dungarees is liberating.
Also fresh, for a Mario game anyway, is the mix of 2D old school Mario and the 3D world of Odyssey that encroaches at times. It's another mark of brilliant game design that always takes you in new directions even when you think you've seen it all.
And that sums up Super Mario Odyssey superbly. It is a masterpiece in game design.
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Classic sound and graphics
We purposely ignored the graphical fidelity, which maintains a 900p resolution when docked, 720p on the move. And haven't said anything about the superb soundtrack until now. That's because each soon became inconsequential to us while playing. It could have been a bunch of brickmen wandering around a two-toned background for all we care, the gameplay would still be as good.
Throughout the game there are throwaway moments you don't realise are important until you hit a point where the skills you have learned are suddenly vital – even a few kingdoms down the line. That is the craft of a game design team at its very best. Your hand is never held, but your ability is enhanced without you even knowing, so you are always ready for what's just around the corner.
We've been reviewing games for a very long time, since the late 80s, and there are only a handful of games able to boast such talent. And they generally have Mario in their title.
You might have guessed by now that we like Super Mario Odyssey. A lot.
It is a wonderful game that dispenses with the need for fancy 4K HDR visuals and Dolby Atmos. It is instantly pick-up-able and a devil to put down again. And what's more, you can play it on the Tube.
There's a reason why, no matter how many slip-ups it makes in hardware terms, Nintendo is always one of the most loved gaming brands around. It makes some of the greatest games on the planet and in Super Mario Odyssey it has done just that yet again.
If Zelda: Breath of the Wild wasn't enough to convince you to get a Switch, then this outing of the diminutive, rotund tradesman must surely be.