Super Mario Odyssey is a burst of joy, in the purest form. I don’t know any better way to describe it than that.
In that vein, the closest comparison I can make to anything is the feeling of playing on a playground when you’re little, exploring each new part; there are the slides, there are the swings, there are the jungle gym, and so on, and here’s how it all fits together. Here, Nintendo has created the their own digital playground, much more intricate and detailed and interesting than the real world ones people are used to. And then, they went and did twelve more times.
The level design work in Odyssey is superb, a case study for anyone who’s interested in video games as a creative medium, with hundreds of things to pull apart. In my article on Splatoon, I alluded to my desire to see more games return to using well-constructed “hub worlds” in navigating to the levels. Mario Odyssey doesn’t do that, yet I hardly found myself missing them.
All of the care that normally went into designing those massive, connecting levels is instead here applied to each individual world, making each feel massive without actually making them large or cumbersome. The amount of things to do in each one is deceptive, and contributes to the illusion of feeling grander than it is; even the largest world could be completely be circumnavigated in less than ten minutes, but each is so densely packed with interesting challenges and exploration that it feels more massive (again, just like a little kid in a new playground).