E3 2017: Super Mario Odyssey Effortlessly Possesses Our Hearts (Hands-On)

June 19, 2017

One look at the floor at E3 2017 would be enough to tell you what was the most popular title on show – Super Mario Odyssey. The first proper Mario title on the Nintendo Switch, and the first open-world Mario title since Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, the game was the main focus for Nintendo on the floor, transforming their entire booth into a replica of New Donk City from the game. On the first day of E3, Tuesday, it may just as well have been Times Square on New Years Eve – packed wall-to-wall with people forming an impenetrable mass, all waiting for their first chance to play Super Mario Odyssey. And the demo didn’t disappoint, offering two 10 minute glimpses at levels in the game (the desert and New Donk City) – and from going hands-on, I can tell you, it was worth lining up for (although perhaps not for 3-4 hours like some attendees). Super Mario Odyssey has all the hallmarks of an unforgettable Super Mario experience, and evolves the series into new and exciting directions.

When I first got my hands on Super Mario Odyssey, the first thing I tested out was the most important part of any Mario game – the controls. I started trying out Mario’s quick turns and side-jumps, triple jumps, crouch long-jumps, and just spinning around. In fact, spinning around sends Mario into a brand new move – a pirouette where he throws his hat around him, forming a kind of flying shield. Let’s talk about Cappy – Mario’s new hat, and the central character that Super Mario Odyssey is based around. He can do so many things, and adds so much to the gameplay, that it’s almost overwhelming, and will definitely take a lot of time to master. Cappy can be thrown as a ranged attack, be thrown as a mobile platform that Mario can jump on, collect items from a distance (and have his range increased by pinball-like bumpers), and most importantly of all, allows Mario to possess objects and enemies. This can sometimes be surprising – when I threw my cap at a Bullet Bill in the desert world, I wasn’t expecting that I would actually become the Bullet Bill, basically granting you temporary flight to cross gaps that would otherwise be tough to platform around. In New Donk City, Mario can possess electrical wires to travel quickly up skyscrapers, or flagpoles in order to spring himself around long distances.

That’s not the only thing that Nintendo have changed up with Mario – he now has his health wheel back, as seen in Super Mario 64, and it isn’t re-filled by collecting coins, but by heart containers or by passing checkpoint flagpoles. These flagpoles also form warp points that you can use to fast travel around Super Mario Odyssey’s huge levels. Mario now has infinite lives, which means that if you die, the main setback is being sent back to the last checkpoint – making finding and utilising these your first priority when scouting out a new area. 

Along with regular coins, there are also purple world-specific coins that Mario can collect – since coins don’t refill health in this game, or grant lives, their primary purpose is just like normal coins – to buy stuff. There are stores in the desert level and in New Donk City that sell customisable costume options for Mario – yellow coins will buy you more generic items that can be found world-to-world, while purple coins are used for more world-specific stuff. For instance, in the demo, the desert world shop has a safari outfit you can buy for Mario to wear. These won’t necessarily affect gameplay, but instead what areas you can access – NPCs may not allow you to enter an area unless you meet the dress code, so to speak. And speaking of collectibles – the main objectives in this game aren’t Stars or Shines, they’re Moons this time around, and there are multiple Moons to collect in each level with different objectives each time – just like 64 and Sunshine.

I haven’t even started to talk about some of the cooler gameplay gimmicks, like a very The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds-esque mechanic that allows Mario to enter walls as a painting, and play through 2D Super Mario Bros inspired levels wrapped around 3D objects, in order to re-emerge at a more advantageous location. In New Donk City, which seems to be a hub-world of sorts, you almost feel like you’re playing an Assassin’s Creed game as you scale towers, looking for handholds to make your way up, and collect any goodies which may be awaiting you on the rooftops.

As people have pointed out on the internet, New Donk City is indeed reminiscent of the hub-world for Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, both in its use of regular humans and the side-quests Mario can undertake there. In the demo, he’s asked to find four musicians and collect them in a theatre to perform. It’s a fetch quest, but it’s made a pleasure thanks to the design of New Donk City itself – everything is a platform or a challenge, from Question Box streetlights to cars which launch you into the air. You can possess electrical wires to get to the top of a building quickly, or find any number of ways to experiment and traverse the world. It’s actually fun finding the musicians, even if the quest itself is a little mundane.

The fact that there’s so much to talk about from the mechanics involving Mario’s hat alone should be enough to tell you that this is a big game. In fact, it’s Mario’s biggest game in a long, long time and I can tell you first hand that it controls like a dream, and sucks you in instantly. Super Mario Odyssey is out 27 October this year, and if you were holding out on an exclusive title to justify purchasing a Switch – it looks like this could very well be the one.