Generally speaking, there has only been one way to beat a Mario game. For the old 2-D games, this is literal—you run to the right—but it’s even true of the more elaborate 3-D games, too. Super Mario 64 and the Galaxy games featured different ways to replay their individual levels, but depending on which one you chose, they’d still play out the same way, with a clearly defined path and endpoint and maybe a few secrets along the way. There’s some choice to the order in which you tackle the levels, but in the end, you’re hitting the same notes in the same order.
This is all blown to hell by Super Mario Odyssey, which features a series of large open spaces full of little activities you can tackle in any order you like. This can feel a bit like some of the many open-world games released by other developers, which often start in something of a training area before ferrying the player through a series of more varied environments. Each one will be loaded up with different things to do, and there’s always a sense that you want to sort of toy around with all of them before moving on. You’d be ill-advised not to. Open-world games implore a sense of leisure, and you’ll likely feel that old impulse as you arrive in Odyssey’s colorful kingdoms, each teeming with adventures and secrets. You’ll want to dilly-dally, meet the locals, and buy all the hats on sale. There are a lot of hats to buy.
But I want to advise you to do the exact opposite of this. Each time you set foot in a new kingdom, you will have a very clearly defined number of moons to acquire, as well as a broader mission. You should get the exact number of moons that you need to proceed—as well as a hat or two because, come on, you’re human—and then haul ass out of there. Those glittering adventures on the horizon? Screw’em. You’ve got a new kingdom to discover. Proceed like this—doing the bare minimum required—right up until you’ve found Bowser, kicked his ass, and watched the credits roll.
Now, to be clear, I am a Mario completionist. His latest games really only begin after the credits roll, when a new suite of challenges opens up and, over the course of hours, you develop a zero-ping kinship with Mario, hurtling through the most punishing gauntlets the game’s designers can muster. Some of the challenges leveled at you in recent Mario endgames—particularly Mario 3D Land and both Galaxy games—are almost new games unto themselves, forcing an understanding of the little plumber’s movements that borders on the psychokinetic. The fullest appreciation of Nintendo’s craft comes here. The games’ main “campaigns” are sort of guided tours through the worlds you’ll eventually be spending much more time in, and Odyssey is no different, even though if, by its very open-world design, you could play it much more slowly. But here’s the thing: After Bowser is defeated, a few more overarching quests open up to guide your progress through the vast post-game bounty. Let that be your guide, not whatever sparkling thing hides just beyond the next hill.
Interestingly, this is the diametric opposite of the advice anyone would give you about Nintendo’s other 2017 masterpiece, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. That was built upon the notion of felicitous, free-spirited wandering, which is part of what makes it such a good game to pick up and play months after its release. Its main quest was an almost forgettable set of pit stops in the midst of a larger journey; you could beat the final area in an afternoon, after which the game was well and truly over.
But Odyssey was built with a big, rangy endgame in mind, gently easing you into a lifestyle of dopey, spirited wandering. Enjoy its campaign the way you would something like Destiny’s, as an elaborate and lushly designed tutorial. The real odyssey begins when that’s over. The sooner you get there, the better.