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Super Mario Odyssey review: Why can't everything in life be as much fun as Super Mario Odyssey?

In a remarkable combination of masterful design, gameplay and nostalgia, Super Mario Odyssey is arguably one of the best Mario games ever made.

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Jeff Bakalar
JeffHSurban2012.jpg

Jeff Bakalar

Editor at Large

Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.

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This is the weirdest Mario game yet and I couldn't be happier. 

The Good

Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game that introduces Mario's ability to "capture" items and creatures around the world. It's filled to the brim with inventive kingdoms, superb gameplay, tons of secrets and so much more.

The Bad

Using motion controls isn't always fun or intuitive, especially when playing on the go.

The Bottom Line

Super Mario Odyssey is a brilliant addition to the library of Nintendo's most notable character and is an absolute must-own for anyone with a Nintendo Switch -- and a prime reason to buy one if you don't have one already.

Super Mario Odyssey is easily one of the best Mario games ever made and its mere existence is a rarely seen acknowledgement by Nintendo of the evolving video game landscape. The Nintendo Switch tandem of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and now Odyssey display a precise threading of the needle, expertly balancing the delicate nuances of Nintendo's legacy and modern gameplay archetypes.

Simultaneously, Nintendo has evolved Mario into an open-world experience that extends far beyond platforming or action-adventure -- all while honoring the character's 30-plus year journey by nodding at so many cornerstones along the way.

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Mario disregards all traffic rules in New Donk City.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Super Mario Odyssey works so well because it takes chances and rarely plays it safe. It's the progression of Mario you've always wanted but could never put into words. The openness of Mario 64 matched with the creativity and surprise of Super Mario Galaxy are on display here, which result in something that genuinely feels fresh.

Nearly everything about Odyssey, from the tiny expressions on Mario's face to the infectious music throughout the entire game, all feels like a meticulously handcrafted work of art. Its painstaking attention to detail can be found right in front of you or hidden away for only a select few to ever find.

In the game players will take control of Mario as he chases Bowser from kingdom to kingdom in a search for Power Moons, the fuel that propels his ship, the Odyssey. After an initial encounter, Mario's hat is destroyed and resurrected by Cappy, a hat-like-creature-thing that is able to morph into various hats Mario can wear.

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I always wanted to be a Chain Chomp.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Cappy lets Mario toss his hat at enemies and items, and more interestingly, "capture" stuff as well. There are so many things I did in Odyssey that I never thought I'd ever see Mario do. I became a T. rex, a zipper, a tank -- it just goes on and on.

As a mechanic, capturing is a great jump off to various different play styles that keep the game surprising and inventive. Each kingdom has a unique theme and encapsulated storyline, along with items that can be purchased for regular gold coins or an exclusive currency to that world. In addition to the many hats and costumes available, there are also trophies and souvenirs for completionists to gawk over. I didn't think I'd be so obsessed with changing Mario's appearance as much as I was, but there are incentives for trying on different clothing.

Odyssey leans into the Nintendo fan service with throwbacks, references and Easter eggs throughout, but it's the 2D 8-bit NES elements that are really special. They're also a major component of the game, showing up often and usually implemented ingeniously. There's a remarkable meshing of dimensions that Odyssey pulls off so wisely -- it's a novelty that strays far from ever feeling stale.

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Throwback NES gameplay is a major component in Odyssey.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

So while the introduction of the cap-throwing ability is evidence of an evolution to the series, it's also exemplified in a handful of first-evers to the franchise. Each kingdom has a map that Mario can consult, along with warpable checkpoints scattered throughout. These are a huge asset when chasing down leftover Power Moons after you've completed the main quests in a world.

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There's even details about the kingdom in each map.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Then there's photo mode, a welcome excursion to the experience that lets you pause gameplay and cycle through tons of options, angles and filters to get that screenshot just right. I mean, look at the art I made for you:

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This is art.

Nintendo/Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

There's so much hidden in Super Mario Odyssey that it's tough to judge how long you'll actually spend with the game. Even after you complete the regular campaign, there's much more to do that's back-loaded after the credits roll. And that's actually the best part of the game: discovering secret areas and exploring. Finishing a boss is one thing, but timing a cavalcade of jumps and maneuvers just right to reach a hidden spot that holds a Power Moon is priceless.

There's isn't much Odyssey stumbles with, save for maybe the motion controls that are pushed upon you. Most actions can be accomplished with button presses and combinations, but a few are motion-only and that stinks. Plus, performing motion gestures in handheld mode is just, well, wrong. It doesn't feel right.

Perhaps an update could come along that would bind certain actions to buttons, but it's definitely something Nintendo needs to revisit -- especially considering its inconvenience when handheld. The majority of my time playing has been with the Pro Controller or in handheld mode, though using the Joy-Con grip is just fine as well.

Super Mario Odyssey marks a major milestone in Mario's legacy. This will likely be the game his future endeavors get measured against. It's an absolute no-brainer to buy for anyone with a Switch. And if you've been waiting on Odyssey as a validation for a console purchase, I'm here to tell you the time is now.