Upon entering the arid and scenic Sand Kingdom (after turning down a romp through New Donk City), I decide to visit the local shop. I pursue its wares and notice a snazzy black suit and matching fedora up for sale. How can I resist? I drop my hard-earned coins and within moments, Mario’s stomping on goombas dressed as the world’s most adorable mob boss. That’s just an example of Super Mario Odyssey’s delightful strangeness. After getting my hands on the hotly anticipated title during E3 2017, I’m itching for another chance to return to the plumber's wackiest outing in years.
Mario’s new adventure takes place far away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Joining him is Cappy, a sentient top hat somewhat resembling a Boo, who resides within Mario’s cap. I played Odyssey using the twin Joycon configuration. Swinging both Joycons up in the air, down to the floor, or in a horizontal circle sends Cappy flying like a Frisbee in the chosen direction. Players can even manipulate Cappy’s trajectory by tilting the controllers mid-flight, allowing for quick adjustments. Motion controls felt very responsive, and tossing Cappy around is strongly reminiscent to lobbing the wrench in the Ratchet & Clank games, functioning as both an effective long-range attack and a useful method of snagging distant collectibles.
Speaking of collecting, Mario hunts new Kingdom Coins in addition to the traditional gold coins. These purple-colored currency are kingdom specific, meaning they can only be spent within the world they occupy. The Nintendo representative manning my demo informed me that there were a hundred of these coins in the Sand Kingdom, which I imagine will be the case for every world. Kingdom coins are spent in stores to buy items such as health and clothing, such as the Sand Kingdom’s sombrero. Additionally, green moons have replaced the signature gold stars as Odyssey’s primary collectible.
If you've seen any of the bizarre gameplay videos, you know that throwing Cappy at other characters lets Mario possess them and gain their unique talents. I hijacked a Bullet Bill which allowed me to soar past platforming segments and even reach a moon stranded on a distant pillar. However, Mario can only stay in Bullet Bill form for about 15 seconds before it explodes, reverting him back to normal.
My Nintendo rep proposed a trip to a secret area, an offer I promptly accepted. She led me to a hidden sand vortex that transported to a platforming gauntlet that reminded me of Super Mario Sunshine’s secret areas. This world consisted of a series of slippery, narrow ice bridges. Waiting at the end of each pathway were bounce pads that led to higher, more difficult frozen platforms. My mastery of the controls was pushed to its limit here. I had a tough time adjusting the camera using the right stick while simultaneously spinning the remotes to attack without veering off the edge. It’s far too early to tell if Odyssey’s control scheme is flawed, but it did take getting used to.
After I escaped my frozen hell I met Jaxi the Taxi, a sphinx that can give Mario a lift to almost anywhere in the level. Jaxi accelerates on his own while players steer. Controlling Jaxi was easier said than done as he sprinted like a wild horse while I fought to aim his trajectory. I eventually got him to drop me back on the main path as I continued my trek towards my goal: an inverted pyramid.
One of the neatest mechanics showcased in the demo were the 2D NES segments. Echoing the wall painting ability from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, entering special pipes protruding from walls transforms Mario into his 8-bit sprite. That surface then forms the canvas for a classic-style platforming segment as players hop on pixelated blocks and confront vintage versions of enemies. The effect is like playing a scrolling animated wallpaper–even my gangster suit made the 8-bit transition in a nice attention to detail. I used this ability to make my way up a towering pillar, evading Bullet Bill sprites along the way. Upon reaching the top I was tasked with locating five shards in order to open up the overturned pyramid. Unfortunately, my 10-minute time limit expired before I could enter its mysterious walls.
Overall, the entire level felt straight out of Super Mario 64. The Sand Kingdom's design resembled the open hub-style worlds of that game, filled with side diversions that I could explore at my leisure. The traditional three-hit health bar returns, ditching Mario 3D Land/World’s incorporation of mushroom health into the 3D format. If you loved Mario 64 or Sunshine, you’ll likely get a kick out of Super Mario Odyssey.
I walked away from my session wanting nothing more than to barricade myself in a room and play the full game. The possession feature opens a wealth of gameplay possibilities as players are no longer constrained by Mario’s specific skillset. Using the Bullet Bill to skip platforming segments almost felt like I was breaking the game but Odyssey accommodated for it. I'm curious to see how the rest of the design caters to what could be a plethora of different abilities. Once I'd gotten a handle on the controls, platforming felt as polished as you would expect from a mainline Mario title. Perhaps most of all, I simply can't get enough of the game's surreal premise and tone. As the catchy theme song suggests, Super Mario Odyssey should be a wild and wacky time when it launches for Nintendo Switch October 27.
Edited by Marcus Stewart