As mentioned while discussing Super Mario Galaxy, there are now two major variants of the Mario formula. While it took over a decade for the series to finally manage effortlessly smooth gameplay in 3D, both Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World were designed in the classic obstacle course style. It took another decade for Nintendo to return to the open level exploration formula with these smoother controls. Luckily, they went all out with Super Mario Odyssey, featuring 14 massive kingdoms. After 21 years, Super Mario 64 finally has a worthy successor.
Though not quite an open world game, Odyssey captures the magic of gigantic areas with little things to explore around every corner. These levels are loaded with power moons, which Mario needs to gather to move on to the next kingdom. There are so many of these that the initial trip through the game only requires gathering a fraction of the total, making it easy to choose which ones to chase after until you inevitably return for 100% completion. With over 800 scattered across these many worlds, Odyssey provides a reason to search every corner.
Odyssey makes a major departure by doing away with the traditional power-ups, instead introducing a hat which can possess over 50 different entities. Like Galaxy, this results in powers being more situational. For example, the Moe-Eye statues have sunglasses which reveal hidden platforms, but their movement is limited, especially while wearing the glasses. Glydon allows Mario to glide down from great heights. One section involves racing a round Shiverian who moves faster by bouncing off corners. All of these are simple to control as a Mario game should be, but it offers a large variety in navigation.
The kingdoms are wildly different and feature some of the best visual designs Nintendo has offered. The gloomy Cap Kingdom which opens the game is covered in fog and is almost monochromatic, yet it still captures the Mario charm with its rolling hills and friendly residents.
The Metro Kingdom hits twice. Upon first arriving, New Donk City is cast in the darkness of night and Mario must navigate a modern city under siege. After that, Mario gets to explore a bright and colorful city full of skyscrapers to climb. This can be a bit jarring with its realistically-proportioned human residents, but Nintendo is clearly having fun with that choice. One of the game’s most unforgettable power moons comes from sitting next to a lonely man on a bench. If the power moons are there for us to explore every inch of these kingdoms, there’s something charming about using some to capture the spirit more than the physical layout.
Even the Ruined Kingdom, which serves more as an interlude than a true kingdom, stands out. Despite their various designs, the other kingdoms all fit within the Mario aesthetic. The Ruined Kingdom pointedly does not, instead looking like it was pulled from a Dark Souls game. Yet this clash in design helps build it up as a truly unique location, which is key in making it a minor yet memorable sequence.
Though it took a few decades for the Mario series to really recapture the design of Super Mario 64, plenty of other great games followed in its footsteps. Like Super Mario Bros. 3 and World, what makes Super Mario Odyssey stand above many of its competitors is the simplicity and smoothness of the basic mechanics. These many kingdoms are largely fun to explore because of how easy it is to get around with Mario. With Super Mario 64 not aging particularly well, Super Mario Odyssey has taken its place as Nintendo’s definitive open-level platforming game.