Mario’s debut adventure on Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey, assumes a little prior knowledge of the Mario, Peach, Bowser love triangle. If you weren’t fully versed in the unspoken complexities of their modern, three-way relationship, the game’s intro would seem to frame our hero as a total nuisance, showing up to a wedding uninvited and violently attacking the groom, before travelling around the world in a hat-shaped airship in a vain attempt to swipe wedding essentials before Bowser can get to them.
You’re off to the beach to find the booze (well, ‘sparkling water’), to an underwater kingdom of lakes to retrieve a wedding dress, and then a forest kingdom to steal a bouquet. Each themed world is its own self-contained adventure, usually with a town of friendly natives surrounded by enemy-strewn cliffs, dunes, pools and skyscrapers.
Super Mario Odyssey is varied and densely detailed, with each world designed to be replayed for its hidden collectibles. They’re all delightful to explore, and frequently surprisingly. There are sudden shifts from 3D to 2D platforming, impromptu beach volleyball games, unexpected races, and an entire song and dance number.
The twist, however, is Mario’s hat trick, which initially feels like a novelty but quickly becomes an indispensable tool for getting around the place. You can chuck his sentient cap at objects and foes to possess them and gain their abilities – fling your hat at a Goomba and you can waddle about, stacking yourself on top of other Goombas to form teetering towers. Become a fish and you can swim around for as long as you please, or flop about on land like an idiot. It’s freeing. Each new destination offers new stuff to try hurling your chapeau at, and discovering what happens when you take on other forms is much of the game’s appeal.
Super Mario Odyssey is light on challenge but heavy on fun, feeling designed to entertain rather than to test. The result is relentlessly joyous.