Regardless of how Cappy might be a name that’s a little too on the nose for Mario’s new hat, one thing’s for sure: it’s a fun new mechanic that works wonderfully well, and just happens to be one of the new crazy new things being introduced by Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo’s lovable plumber’s newest adventure was the first to be booted up during my E3 appointment, and it surely did not disappoint.
For anyone who’s played Sonic Adventure, Super Mario Odyssey’s initial setting might feel a tad familiar. Like Sonic and friends excursions through Station Square, Odyssey’s New Donk City’s more realistic visuals are also a shocking departure from the saturated and cartoony style of the Mushroom Kingdom. Seeing short and stocky Mario interacting with realistically proportioned humans is bizarre, even more so because you’re tasked with talking with them during the first section of the E3 demo. Mayor Pauline — you know, the gal from the original Donkey Kong and some of the Mario vs. DK games — is looking to form a new band for the city’s night club, and it’s up to the stashed crusader to hop about town looking for them.
That’s where New Donk City sheds its layers and show that it’s totally in with the flair and playfulness of the world of Mario. Jumping around and eventually making your way to the top of the buildings in the city — thanks to a very convenient light bulb and electricity wiring system that you can take over with Cappy — leads you to some great platforming sections, such as the small section of walkable blocks that connect one skyscraper to another, where one of the musicians was hanging out at. Not all of the people I had to find proved to be really good at hiding — some were just out there in the world — but since the city felt so large, I found it a little difficult to just look for who I had left without referring to the in-game map. Super Mario Odyssey is the first Mario game I can think of — outside of the RPG games, anyway — that offers a map that isn’t just a means to move from level to the other. And in that regard, the map worked did its job well by pointing out where I needed to go and, get this, allowing me to teleport to previously visited locations.
Open-world Mario. That’s where we’re at now in 2017. While calling Super Mario Odyssey an open-world game at this point in time might be a little premature, having the ability to zip around a big map is something that hasn’t been done in a Mario platformer at all: in fact, Odyssey didn’t feel like a sidescroller for obvious reasons, but it also felt a whole lot different from the hub world-based design of say, Super Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Plaza. Then again, the demo didn’t point to the means with which Mario will go from world to world, outside of the hint from the demo in the form of an airship.
Speaking of different worlds, the second section of the demo took me to a Day of the Dead themed world set in a desert, which happened to be frozen. Right off the bat, I was (politely) nudged by the kiosk presenter to check out the first building. It turned out it’s a store where Mario could spend coins to buy new costumes, a bigger health bar, and a moon, this game’s equivalent to the collectible stars. The suit in question didn’t give Mario any special abilities, and to be quite honest, I didn’t feel like making the poor guy sweat out there, so I decided to spend my coins on more health, doubling his hit points to six, something that will probably be permanent in the final build. But let’s back up a second. We now get to spend the coins that we’ve been painstakingly collecting for years… or at least the ones we do in Super Mario Odyssey. Yeah, it’s another element of this platformer that people will scoff at, but making currency actually matter is an interesting avenue that makes grabbing coins more than merely for the sake of being a completionist. That’s a neat touch. I will get all the coins and make some terrible decisions in the actual game for sure.
As for the touches themselves, the ones that involve Mario’s hat, boy, there were a whole bunch of things to take over in the desert. For the few that I concentrated on, namely the bullet bills and the moai heads, they felt really good to use. Flying around as a bullet ended up being extremely useful not only to follow the route up to the tower in the middle of the level, but also in how it allowed me to have more freedom to look in otherwise inaccessible nooks, which proved worth it in the end, since I got a moon that way. The moai heads also ended up being useful, although in a more direct way. It’s thanks to them and their cool sunglasses that Mario’s able to spot hidden platforms; in the case of the demo, those platforms let to a bit of tricky traversal across a pit of quicksand around a pillar sunk deep in the sand. With what Mario could transform into by picking up power-ups before now being entirely dependant on what his hat is thrown at spins the entire concept of playing Mario, in the way you deal with enemies, or better yet, become them.
And don’t even get me started on the throwbacks to the 8-bit Marios that go all A Link Between Worlds whenever you go into a pipe on a wall. They already had me back at Pauline’s nightclub, where they played some of my favorite series’ songs after rescuing all of her band members…!
I could go on and on about just how good it felt playing this with both Switch controllers and motion controls. I had the opportunity to play most of the demo with the flick controls that are involved with Cappy and the rest of Mario offensive skills, and for the slice of time I did ask to try the more conventional controls, they also worked great. According to some post-E3 reports, there’s also going to be some sort of cooperative mode for two players, one controlling Mario and the other, the hat, but I didn’t catch it at the show.
I’m very excited to get to play this thing way more than the forty or so minutes I had at E3. We only get a bonafide Mario game every so often, and frankly, Super Mario Odyssey feels like a moon leap ahead in comparison to what we’ve got from the platforming side of the franchise lately (don’t get me wrong, Super Mario 3D World was amazing at what it did too, but it was a very safe bet). I got the same vibe that I felt with Super Mario Galaxy back on the Wii. If the complete version of Odyssey turns out as good as that, it’ll be the game to get a Switch for, no doubt.
Super Mario Odyssey comes out exclusively for the Nintendo Switch on the day a lot of wallets will cry out in terror, October 27, 2017.