Super Mario Odyssey Hands-On Preview

September 20, 2017

It’s still hard to believe that only nine months ago we were shown Super Mario Odyssey for the first time and now there’s only a month to go until it’s in our hands. Following in the nearly forgotten footsteps of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, Odyssey promises to be a Mario game that we haven’t seen in two console generations. Sandbox worlds ready to explore, multiple objectives to complete, hidden secrets to discover and, of course, that trademark Mario charm to experience. I recently had the chance to go hands-on with three of the game’s Kingdoms and walked away believing that Nintendo have something seriously special on their hands.

In recent times Mario games have stuck to a certain style without failure. While there were differences in the type of terrain in each world and level, the underlying style and artistry remained the same throughout the entire experience. This certainly isn’t true of the Kingdoms I tried in Super Mario Odyssey, with each having their own unique style. First there was the Tim Burton-esque Cap Kingdom, which serves as the game’s tutorial Kingdom, then the surrealist and stylised Luncheon Kingdom, and finally the inviting sandy beaches of the Seaside Kingdom. Each was completely different from the last in look and feel, but all of them looked fantastic as well. Super Mario Odyssey looked great when it was originally revealed, but it was apparent in my time with the game that a new level of graphical polish has been accomplished in recent months.

The uniqueness of each Kingdom wasn’t just apparent in their styles, but also in their layouts and enemies. The Luncheon Kingdom was filled with a strange pink substance that almost looked like molten taffy, resulting in a landscape that was often hostile and dangerous. The Seaside Kingdom, however, was much more inviting, with sandy beaches and clear waters inviting you to swim and explore. In that beautiful seaside landscape, enemies skewed towards what you would expect from a beach and ocean, with Cheep Cheeps, Octopus enemies and Pirate Goombas wandering the Kingdom. On the other hand, the Luncheon Kingdom was home to tomatoes that turned into a puddle of lava when stepped on and Lava Bubbles jumping out of the molten surroundings.

These themes, designs and enemies ultimately flow into what you can expect to do in each of the Kingdoms as well. While most gameplay footage shown of Odyssey so far has focused on exploration and hidden secrets, I can assure you that precision platforming is still often required in the game. This was especially true in the Luncheon Kingdom, where you had to carefully jump on rotating platforms, floating food and dodge runaway ingredients, all while avoiding falling into the molten world around you. I had to repeat a few platforming sections, as the difficulty certainly ramped up during the latter stages of levels. Some of those sections could also be completed in different ways if you captured and took control of your enemies, opening alternate paths and sometimes leading to extra coins and secrets.

While the Luncheon Kingdom focused on platforming, the Seaside Kingdom took a different tact, eschewing some of the more difficult platforming in favour of exploration. While the Seaside Kingdom looked smaller than the Luncheon Kingdom at first glance, I realised this wasn’t quite the case when I went under the water for the first time. It was almost another world under the ocean’s surface, with caves, nooks and crannies to explore throughout. The world felt more relaxing than the Luncheon Kingdom and was a nice change of pace. These two Kingdoms presented one after the other certainly gave a good impression of the variety Nintendo is looking to provide in Odyssey.

While there were differences in each Kingdom, a couple of things stayed the same. One of these was the inclusion of numerous secrets you could find, such as warp pipes that transported you into a short 2D platforming section, rockets that sent you into secret levels and mysterious framed paintings that look mightily similar to the ones found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. There was certainly no shortage of secrets to find.

The other constant was Mario’s surprisingly responsive controls. It might sound weird to call out the responsiveness of the controls in a Mario game considering the series’ great history, but that should also give you an idea of just how responsive they really are in Odyssey. Movements were instant whenever I moved the analog stick on my Joy-Con, with absolutely no delay, and Mario effortlessly changed direction whenever I needed him to. In fact, the controls were so quick and responsive that it took me a few tries before becoming adept at getting Mario to go in a straight line. Triple jumps, long jumps, crouch slides and more classic Mario moves return as well, giving you a myriad of ways to traverse levels. There are even some new and simple motion controls in the game, not too dissimilar to those included in Super Mario Galaxy, for those who play with split Joy-Con. Effortlessly flicking your wrist sends Cappy out in front of you to hit enemies, while flailing your hands in particular motion allows you to attack mercilessly as well. There’s something especially fun and exciting about capturing a Hammer Bro (or in this case a Chef Bro) and flailing your hands to send out an endless stream of frying pans at anything that gets in your way.

I walked away from my time with Super Mario Odyssey even more excited than I had been in the past, just like Adam did after his hands-on time at E3 2017. If the rest of the game can remain as unique, beautiful and engrossing as the Kingdoms I got to try, then I have no doubt we’re in for something truly special here.

Super Mario Odyssey releases on October 27th, 2017 exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.