Stay on target Hands-On: ‘Mario’ and ‘Zelda’ Switch VR Are Nint…Nintendo Adds Labo VR Support to ‘Mario’ and ‘Zelda… You should just play Super Mario Odyssey. I love spoilers more than most, but surprises power the engine this game uses to fly. It’s the reason you never stop jumping towards the next hill, village, or unexplored patch of sand using the game’s impeccable, nimble, and expressive 3D platforming physics and controls. Even when you think you’ve solved one secret, there’s always another right behind it, rewarding that little extra bit of curiosity. It’s pure joy.And it’s joy you should honestly discover for yourself. I spent the last big stretch of Super Mario Odyssey just shouting at what I was seeing and hearing, and that extended into the substantial post-game as well. While I’d love to talk about those things here, it just won’t be the same unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. So for this review I’m focusing on one particular aspect of the game that makes it so great but doesn’t require tons of specific details.Super Mario Odyssey is a great video game because it looks stunning, plays like a dream, and is chock full of increasingly inventive open-world 3D platforming ideas. But it’s also a “great” video game because is takes the deep wonderful weirdness that has always defined the Mario series to new heights. Even if this wasn’t masterful on a gameplay level, which it is, the hysterical hipster irony alone would make the game worth playing. Super Mario Odyssey isn’t just an instant, modern classic. It’s also a camp classic.Just look at this real musical ad!What do I mean by this? Well consider the fact that, in a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey feels like Nintendo’s version of Sonic Adventure except good. Like Sonic, Mario now has a homing attack (one of the less-than-ideal motion-controlled hat powers) and a fast little roll move. Grabbing a rocket flower lets you run at dizzying speeds. One of the flashy 2D retro side-scrolling bits, this time projected against the walls of New Donk City, features Mario running up a loop just like a Genesis classic. And while we’ve all heard the jazzy “Jump Up, Super Star!” song featuring vocals by Mayor Pauline, there’s also another later vocal track with some big Sonic Adventure 2 “City Escape” vibes.But the biggest similarity between Super Mario Odyssey and Sonic Adventure is the hilarity that ensues from dropping cheery playable cartoons into environments they clearly don’t belong in. Mario has traveled the stars, his own dreams, and lands populated by dinosaurs. But nothing is more alien than the diverse array of kingdoms he travels to on his own (alleged) home planet. Marvel as the short fake Italian plumber man pals around with festive desert skull dancers, sad fish ladies, the ghosts of hats, and a race of living forks.The crown jewel of this absurdity is of course the game’s New Donk City stage, named for famous ape Donkey Kong which is itself a great non-sequitur of a name. Not only the game’s best kingdom on a gameplay level, there’s just nothing else here that tops the rush of confusing emotions you’ll feel as Mario runs around an offputtingly realistic city talking to actual human beings. Mario jumping through a crowded subway station full of stagehand Don Drapers in gray suits is a visual I simply wasn’t prepared for. It took me aback.Characters still speak in the same globalized video game gibberish you hear in Animal Crossing and Star Fox, but it’s extra unsettling and hysterical when the gibberish is approximating real human speech and is coming from a lady who popped out of Garry’s Mod. The game seems to realize what it has here, too, because while New Donk City plays a large role in the game’s marketing, you actually can’t go there until about halfway through the campaign. Can’t start the show with a showstopper.The weird juxtapositions, like Mario cheerily running through a ruined gothic cathedral or making his way through a snowy tundra with realistically low visibility, aren’t just funny. They also tie back into the constant sense of surprise that pushes you forward. With no precedent for Mario in these types of situations, you truly can’t predict what you’ll see or do next, so you’ll seek it out. And with literally hundreds of Power Moon collectibles to discover, intentionally or not, you’ll be seeing new unbelievable things the developers have concocted for you again and again and again.And you’ll want to share those things with the world. Right now my Switch photo album is nothing but meme-tastic screenshots I’ve ever found or composed with the game’s in-game camera feature. On the surface, this is just a logical extension of the game’s travelogue nature. But really, it’s an acknowledgement that everything dumb and wacky and so so strange about this journey shouldn’t be hidden but celebrated. It’s no wonder Nintendo has just rolled out the new Switch firmware allowing video capture alongside the release of this game. There are so many Super Mario Odyssey videos that need to exist, that people need to see.I’ve said this much and I haven’t even talked about the game’s biggest, weirdest gimmick! Mario can throw his hat on things to possess them. Turn into a horny tower of goombas, a cactus, a gliding lizard, a manhole cover, a blowing cloud monster, a T-rex with a mustache, a taxi cab, a ball of pure lightning or magma, and dozens more. This is first demonstrated in a fever dream cutscene where Mario violently, unwillingly enters this glowing abstract void representing the consciousness of a frog. And because these transformations take the place of traditional power-ups, they all have their own set of puzzling mechanics with hilarious explanations. Get ready to “Press Y to Stretch.”But the “capture” mechanic is truly the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to Super Mario Odyssey’s camp pleasures. While you can possess a bunch of things, more than you may be expecting, you can’t capture everything. And to wordlessly communicate this to players, you can only put your hat on things that aren’t wearing hats themselves or that have hats you can knock off. This whole hat visual grammar means the game’s entire aesthetic is littered with hats! All the people wear hats. The skulls wear sombreros. Your ship is shaped like a hat. The tanks wear hats that make them look like Uncle Sam (cheeky). You can throw your hat and it’ll be caught by a dog who is wearing his own hat! Mario can pull up a travel brochure to learn about local hat culture and then fast travel with his hat.All of this fresh, exciting weirdness also exists alongside, and creates a manic tension with, the game’s instinct to very much be a part of the Mario canon. Super Mario Odyssey specifically calls back to the more exploratory sandbox 3D Mario games Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine (I’d argue Super Mario Galaxy fits there too even if Nintendo doesn’t). But the entire Mario lineage is represented here, from recent favorites like Cat Mario and Captain Toad to deeper pulls like Pauline and Poochy and NES Open Tournament Golf. Every big Mario game has tried to act as a culmination of the series’ storied past, but with Odyssey there’s so much here that’s so expanded upon it’s like the game is about to explode.Just look at the gleeful breadth of the whole Mario dress-up system, a great left-field way of taking advantage of Mario’s most detailed HD character model ever. Certain sections of the game require you to wear a specific outfit. Put on a rugged Mario Maker uniform to enter a construction site. Impress a prehistoric Toad with your caveman rags and filthy high-fidelity hair. Strap on some swim trunks, complete with Mario’s smooth nipples, to dive deeper into a lake domain. But even if they aren’t all necessary, there’s so much joy to be found saving global and regional coins to buy up every new hat and outfit you can, seeing just how crazy they are willing to get with the references and concepts. It’s a riot. Instead of lives, you now lose coins upon death, and if that delays you from having Mario become a skeleton with a fancy top hat that’s honestly a more severe punishment.Oh, and did I mention that the whole reason Mario is getting dressed to the nines and traveling the world is so he can stop a pimped-out white-tuxedoed Bowser from straight-up marrying Princess Peach?!? How good does that sound?!? It’s definitely way less tedious than the similar plot in the overly wordy Super Paper Mario. There’s a late-game mission here that maybe contains the funniest four-word sentence I’ve ever read in a video game.The wedding lore also introduces Super Mario Odyssey’s main recurring bosses, The Broodals and their mistress Madame Broode. On paper, the foes serve the same role as major henchmen baddies like the Koopalings, but I love that the developers decided to invent something new. These are fancy evil rabbit wedding planners from the dark side of the moon with character designs that do justice to that chef’s kiss of a camp concept. And their powerful leaps, along with love of weaponized haberdashery, make them great foils for Mario. One of their fights invokes the visceral, cathartic satisfaction of something like the Koloktos battle in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It’s been a great year for rabbits in Mario games.Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game, full stop. But the inevitable question is whether or not Super Mario Odyssey is better than that other fantastic Nintendo Switch game from this year, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s an arbitrary question, but the games are worth comparing for reasons beyond just being the latest massive entries in Nintendo’s biggest franchises on the company’s hot new piece of hardware.Both Zelda and Mario have taken a lot of great lessons from modern open-world games, a genre we now know works beautifully with the seamless home/handheld convenience of Nintendo Switch. They create sprawling landscapes that still feel handmade, not mechanically assembled (Ubisoft) content blocks. They effortlessly evoke overwhelming feelings of wanderlust pushing you to never stop exploring, feeling the HD Rumble of your footsteps in Mario’s case, and poking at every corner. Mario’s world may not be as interconnected as Link’s, but it is much more diverse.Super Mario Odyssey’s rewards are more uniformly satisfying. If an Odyssey kingdom is somewhere between Zelda’s massive overworld and its tightly designed dungeons, Odyssey’s hundreds of collectible Power Moons are between the crafted shrine challenges and the fun but more throwaway Korok seeds. The game strikes this inexplicably perfect balance between generosity and restraint when it comes to Power Moons. You always want to bumble around having fun in the sandbox (especially in co-op) because soon enough you’re bound to trip over some treasures, but enough moons are also locked behind legitimate challenges that reaching them feels like a real accomplishment.So why do I think Breath of the Wild is a slightly better game? It’s a matter of taste really. Odyssey is a more concentrated blast of immediate fun in every regard. And the substantial post-game full of delightful original new content and surprises, including tough pure platforming sequences I worried the game might lack, more than made up for the main campaign I thought ended a little too fast.But I’m not sure I could spend quite as many meaningful dozens of hours aboard the Odyssey airship as I could in Hyrule. Zelda’s mechanics and systems and sheer scale, from the crafting to the elemental effects to the enemy behavior, are just deeper and more conducive to long-term satisfaction. And players won’t walk away from Odyssey with an infinite number of unique, branching, procedural, incredible adventure stories like Breath of the Wild players did. I don’t think Mario needs extensive, role-playing-style progression to be great. He’s perfect as is. But if we’re splitting hairs between two truly phenomenal video games, I still have to give the edge to Zelda’s breathtaking complete franchise reinvention.However, I do think Super Mario Odyssey may be the best Mario game ever made. Initially the game failed the make the same cosmic, mind-bending impact on me that Super Mario Galaxy did a decade ago. But the more I played and the more I saw the more I began running out of reasons to put Galaxy above Odyssey that weren’t based on nostalgia. I spent much of this review praising the funny, ironic elements of the game, and those are swell. But all kidding aside, in a year full of too many terrific video games to count, Super Mario Odyssey soars as one of the absolute best.Want to learn more? 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