As I bring my favourite Gaming Moments of 2017 to a close, it would be remiss of me not to include the game that made me smile the most this year. Super Mario Odyssey is a true joy to behold. Even putting to one side the facts that the game is so full of new ideas and packed full of charm, what you can’t get away from is this game just makes you happy when you play.
Super Mario Odyssey is a shining beacon of what games are meant to be all about – pure and simple fun, and it’s clear Nintendo haven’t lost sight of this fact in this new outing of their most famous mascot. Not for a long time has a game actually made my jaw hurt because of how much smiling I’ve been doing whilst grabbing the myriad of Power Moons in the game. Each of said moons is a mini adventure in itself, with different types of challenges and varying degrees of difficulty from the simple to the downright fiendish.
And for me easily the most treasured of these Power Moons was the New Donk City Festival.
To set the scene, I’d been all over the various teaser trailers leading up to the launch of the game, and in particular had developed a bit of a soft spot for the E3 trailer, which has the “Let’s Do The Odyssey” song – the one from the New Donk City Festival – playing in the background. To the point where up until the game arrived and I could play it I’d wander round the house chirping “Odyssey, Ya See!” over and over again, much to the annoyance of my wife who’d be incredibly sleep-deprived due the new arrival of our baby girl. I’m guessing her displeasure was because I was mispronouncing “Ya See!” as “Yessie!” until the game box corrected me when it arrived. Yeah, it must have been that…
So, anyway, I was hyped for the game and also looking forward to reliving that song in-game. So naturally as I progressed through the game I had my eye on when I would finally reach the Metro Kingdom. And after the game had finished with mugging me off with its brief interlude to unexpected other worlds, I finally arrived. A frantic boss-fight later, and I’m in the world proper and I head to the City Hall. There I’m tasked with putting together a Beatles cover band, and after finding all of the Fab Four – including a saxophonist who I sincerely hope doesn’t suffer from vertigo – I was all set.
But nothing really prepared me for what was next. I’m not sure what I was expecting, I’d seen snippets in the aforementioned trailers that hinted to something but thankfully I’d avoided social media like the plague since about a week before the game’s release. As such I entered unspoiled into the most pleasant surprise the game has to offer.
Spoilers ahead naturally, but for an overview of the entire experience, see the below video:
For me what Nintendo created with this 5 minutes of gameplay is a perfect summary of what the entire of Super Mario Odyssey is about. It mixes strong gameplay, a dash or two of nostalgia, a pinch of challenge, a splash of good music and a generous helping of fun to cook up a truly wonderful and ultimately happy experience. It’s a perfect fusion that sends Mario to his humble beginnings whilst also being bang up to date, and showing that of all Nintendo’s cherished franchises, he is by far the most loved, and most timeless.
It’s why so many people still play old Mario games, it’s why Mario Maker as a game exists, it’s because Mario as a game, as an idea, as a concept, resonates with so many of us. Overcoming that challenge, getting to that flag, saving the princess, it’s all such a simple, rewarding and ultimately joyful experience, and the New Donk City Festival perfectly encapsulates that emotion.
And it’s not Nintendo patting themselves on the back, or paying homage to their past successes, what it is, is through sheer clever execution Nintendo have managed to hit that special sweet spot that seems to elude so many developers, seemingly scared to show that it’s OK to just have a good time while playing games.
Very few Mario games have such a stand out moment – and that’s not even discussing the end of the game, which for me comes a very close second in the smile stakes – but I wouldn’t be surprised if in years to come people are still talking about that Festival in New Donk City. That moment when we were all reminded of how good it felt to have fun with games and celebrate a mascot who has given so much joy over the last 30-odd years. For me the absolute highlight of gaming in 2017.