Dozens of Mario Odyssey reviews have been written and read. Analysis, high scores, troll reviews, playthroughs — they’ve all come out for this game. I’d like to add something new to the discussion: love.

With a game like Odyssey, there’s a flood of accolades — then a sort of “calm down” period. After a time, maybe two or three or four years — we’ll all collectively be able to look at Odyssey more “objectively,” without the excitement or haze of the new. Some games, like GTA4, don’t hold up to our memories. And some do. But still — there’s something missing from this process.

And that’s feeling.

Because Mario, above all things, isn’t just a game. It’s a love letter. Mario is a game made in and through love. Love for itself. Love for its characters. Love for its players. Love for its history. Love for this wonderful thing we call play.

I’m still grappling with the experience and what it meant to me; what it means to all of us.

We so often forget, in our zeal to damn or celebrate game developers, that this industry is rooted in the kid in all of us. In kids of all ages. Without kids, there would be no games.

Here’s one kid: A 32-year-old lifelong Nintendo fan (editor’s note: I’m a 31-year-old lifelong Nintendo fan). Born around the time Mario was born, give or take a half-decade. As I’m playing this game about travel and weddings and massive playgrounds with hidden multicolored moons I’m thinking… this is all so new but all so familiar.

I loved this feeling when I was a kid. In 1996 when the Princess’ Castle felt impossibly large and I wondered what was on top of that so hard to get to the roof.

I love this feeling when I was a teen. In 2002 when Isle Delfino felt so strange and modern and new. When FLUDD gave me control unlike I’d ever had before in a video game. When Mario went to a place that felt like the place I grew up, Miami.

And yeah — every Mario game comes with this feeling. But some games are… well… just really good Mario games. Continuing the tradition set forth almost three decades ago. Infusing it with modernity. Taking it portable or adding four players or bringing old graphics and trends up to modern standards.

But some Mario games… they’re clear expressions of love for what Mario is about and Mario embodies what games encapsulate.

Games are about play. The joy of trying and failing and persevering in a fantastical fantasy world; the joy of mistakenly falling off of a forest into a completely different forest; A deep forest with a T-Rex in a top hat; The joy of zooming around as a bullet and seeing how far you can go just because; The joy of awkwardly jumping around and throwing pans — because it’s sometimes fun to not walk or skip or spin – but just hop around all goofy like. This perseverence is actually a metaphor for life and is why Mario resonates with millions of people all over the world.

Games are about fearless curiosity, about wondering what’s at the top of that castle (spoiler, it’s ****) or what’s at the bottom of that pyramid… and then going out there and figuring it out. It’s about trying to break things to reach new heights and finding a reward for your jump, spin, hat, or dive combo that somehow works. It’s about throwing a hat experimentally – first only at enemies – then at friends – then at potholes and inanimate trees.

Games are about imagination and possibility. About worlds where moons contain weddings chapels and exactly one frog. About running around as a clown in a Japanese garden or a cowboy at a seaside seltzer resort or an astronaut in the dinosaur age.

For me, Mario Odyssey is a game about the big-beautiful themes of play. The principles of this thing we call gaming. It’s a game about playful interactions that breech the walls of logic and sense, time and space, and just directly aim for the heart.

No sequence captures the spirit of Mario… of games in general… like The Festival. Oh that festival. As I popped between two and three dimensions. As I tapped my feet to this song that was both completely new and different and completely familiar and comforting at the same time. As characters I’d never seen before said my name, my action, and my mission “Jump, man!” As I tured upside-down and inside-out of history. My history. Our history. Mario’s history. Nintendo’s history. I knew I was in love.

I knew I had been in love for the last 30 years. And that they loved me back. And that they loved this thing I loved. And it just felt… good. It felt joyous. It felt like I had won. Like we all won and that it would be okay in the long run.

We forget, sometimes, that games are as universal as they are. That kids play these games as new generations of children, children whose lives are largely filled with play and love. As I played that festival, I thought about how, for them, this would be a new foundation of love for play and Mario and games. How we might share that one day. How we all share, through 30 years, a common love of the themes and things so wonderfully celebrated in Odyssey.

Play. Imagination. Possibility. Fearlessness. Love.

That’s the power of play. That’s the power of Mario. That’s the power of infusing something you love with some more love. It’s clear, to me, that Mario Odyssey is the game of a generation already because it plays with this ultimate power.

And I can’t wait to see what a Nintendo aware of the power of love can do next.

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