These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2017 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2017, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.
Super Mario Odyssey brings about the first return of a superlative, and it’s an apt one. Odyssey returns Mario to the throes of adventure. After the Wii U’s more structurally confined Super Mario 3D World, Mario is allowed to breathe again.
In classic Mario format, the titular plumber must once again save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. But instead of the purposelessness that Bowser’s usual kidnappings bring, the Koopa King’s latest attempt comes with a devilish new intent. Similar to Super Mario Sunshine, where Bowser Jr. kidnaps Peach believing she is his mother and wishing to make the family whole again, in Odyssey Bowser kidnaps Peach to force her to become his lawfully wedded wife.
Some may see this unseemly setup as only adding extra color to the same old Mario motifs, but it creates a framework for one of Mario’s greatest adventures. In Bowser’s quest to collect all the assortments needed for a perfect wedding – a dress, a ring, a cake, some soup for the reception, a bouquet of flowers for the bride – he drags Mario in a chase across the globe.
You visit exotic locales from sunny deserts to frozen tundras to landscapes made entirely out of food. While there, you’ll use your toolkit of running, jumping, and hat possession to bound across the map and collect as many power moons as you can before chasing Bowser to the next kingdom. Each world is a dense puzzle box that you poke and prod with your abilities until all the moons come spilling out. Even when you feel like you’ve seen everything a kingdom has to offer, you’ll find that there are still some moons that you’ve overlooked.
The vast kingdoms breathe new life into the Mario series while also remixing classic designs and characters from games past. There’s Pauline, who’s gone from Mario’s original damsel in distress to the prestigious mayor of the Metro Kingdom’s New Donk City. Fans of Super Mario 64 will be happy to hear that numerous references to that entry make their way into the game in heartwarming fashion. Even the water pack mechanics from Sunshine make a brief appearance in the Seaside Kingdom.
All of these set pieces pulled from the franchise’s legacy make this game feel like ur-Mario, the entry that all future Marios will be compared too. There’s a case to be made for that. Instead of making it feel like a bunch of mechanical levels strung together with a threadbare plot, Odyssey’s numerous worlds feel like they’re teeming with life, where Mario can soar through blue skies, swim through vast oceans, and meet new friends. It’s an amazingly charming, breathtaking, feel-good experience.