Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) ★★★★★★ Age: 3+
Hats off to Nintendo but it’s done it again. As if the latest Legend of Zelda wasn’t reason enough alone to own a Switch console, Super Mario Odyssey effortlessly confirms the theory that no one can conjure gaming magic like Nintendo can.
Seven months on from Zelda’s stunning release, SMO easily challenges it as Switch’s finest hour and instantly assumes the mantle of greatest, funniest Mario ever. Paradoxically, it does so by forcing the plumber to share the limelight with a new sidekick, a hat named Cappy.
The hat expands Mario’s traditional move set in myriad ways — it’s a weapon, it’s a tool, it’s a leg-up — but, more importantly, Cappy permits him to inhabit the bodies of other characters and adopt their powers. One minute he’s a rampaging T-Rex, the next a limber frog, a stretchy centipede, a waddling Goomba, a Cheep Cheep fish — the cast is both long and hilarious.
But what defines SMO most is the element of surprise — you’re never far from a laugh-out-loud sight gag, a cheekily hidden secret, rib-tickling encounter or wacky costume change. The open-world design of the colourful levels, each with a catchy theme tune, enables the game to tease you endlessly with the promise of something delightful and new.
Oh Nintendo, you spoil us. Six stars out of five. It’s that good.
(PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 7+
The creators of the agreeably odd Bastion and Transistor return with an even more offbeat concept. Pyre melds the studio’s strong suit of storytelling with a celestial variant of basketball. Yes, quite.
Naturally, it boasts a lush, ethereal art style teamed with a fabulous roster of oddballs lost in a purgatorial land. As a game, it comes off like the love child of an unholy union between The Banner Saga and Rocket League, all portentous story but with a gleefully manic 3-vs-3 sports angle.
The two don’t necessarily gel, though, with the glacial-paced narrative likely to irritate players attracted by the intricate but hectic ball game.
(PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 15+
Echo withholds its core for what seems like an age, the opening half-hour is a tedious crawl of exposition while infiltrating a gigantic baroque palace as your intruder seeks a MacGuffin object. But it kicks up a gear once you encounter multiple hostile clones of yourself who learn from your behaviour.
If you run, jump, shoot or sneak, the clones will adopt the same tactics — at least until the palace “reboots” every few minutes and they forget. This sets up a delicate tightrope act where you must decide the least obvious moves to achieve the most in the shortest time. It’s intriguing and yet repetitive, cleverly structured but frustratingly constricting.