E3: Hands-On With Super Mario Odyssey

We got to play Mario’s latest adventure!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/15/2017 15:45 Comment on this     ShareThis

Hands down, Super Mario Odyssey was the marquee game for Nintendo at E3 this year. The booth that the company sets up every E3 is always resplendent and theatrical; last June it was decked out to look like attendees had stepped right into the world of Breath of the Wild, for instance. This year was no different, with every inch of the enormous space tailored to depict the environment of New Donk City, one of the many locales in Odyssey. The carpet mimicked asphalt and grass, the walls were adorned with the brick facades of buildings, and Mario’s titular exploration vessel sat right at the opening of the grand booth, with his cheery face grinning from ear-to-ear. It’s fitting that Switch’s first E3 would be headlined with not just a Mario game, but likely what will go down as one of the best series installments since the Galaxy duo on Wii.

The premise is a fun spin on the usual “Bowser captures Peach” setup—- the villain is also planning to marry her this time around! Thus, Mario’s objective is now twofold in that he must save Peach but also do it before she’s wed to his arch nemesis. Nearly every 3D Mario game that’s been released since Super Mario 64 has employed some kind of new mechanic to spice up the core platforming gameplay and Odyssey is no different. For this adventure, Mario’s cap has come to life and goes by the name Cappy. The cap’s unique addition to the Mario formula is the ability for the plumber to possess enemies, objects, and more, as well as to act as a quick platform for him to hop onto. It presents some wildly clever new elements to consider while out exploring, which we’ll get to momentarily.

Before we launch into the demo that was on the show floor, I want to stress just how insanely creative this game is from a purely visual standpoint. Mario’s home console releases have had a fairly consistent art style that dates back to Super Mario Sunshine on GameCube. While that look carries over here, there are a ton of different things that pop up on-screen that don’t look like anything else I’ve ever seen in a Mario game. The hyper-realistic tyrannosaurus that started off the trailer during Tuesday’s broadcast is just the tip of the iceberg in Odyssey. From the environments to the people walking the streets of New Donk City, it’s clear that Nintendo wants this game to go beyond the pale of every Mario game that’s preceded it. In a way, it reminds me of the zany, experimental feel of Super Mario Bros. 3, which is a good thing. While I still feel that the look of the New Super Mario Bros. series has become stagnant and predictable, the same can’t be said for Odyssey.

As far as the gameplay itself goes, this is the Mario we’ve all come to know and love in the third dimension. He long jumps and trots along just as he always has, which is, as per usual, perfect for both new players to pick up and learn his moves quickly, while also ideal for longtime fans to slip into Mario’s skin with ease straight out of the gate. I’m part of that latter camp of players and I was thrilled with how snappy and smooth Mario controlled. What threw me for a loop was his new repertoire of cap-based abilities, but after just a few moments I was immediately in synch with what Cappy brings to the table in Odyssey. Mario can zip his way up power lines, hop across chasms, and even take control over things all with his cap. It might sound overpowering, and I certainly did feel empowered with Mario’s new skills, but at the same time there was a balance to Cappy and its use that didn’t overwhelm the experience. In short, Cappy is a tool, and a good one, at that.

Cappy isn’t the only change I came across, however. Lives are out; a deadly fall or encounter will instead see Mario lose ten Mushroom Kingdom coins and find himself dropped back to the last checkpoint. Checkpoints themselves are also different; there are multiple checkpoints per world and, once activated, they can be used as quick travel beacons. Part of the rationalization behind this is to make it easier for players to explore the vast environments on offer in Odyssey. There’s a lot to see and do, and by offering multiple checkpoints that Mario can teleport to instantly, it prevents players from being burned out by backtracking. Currency has also evolved for Odyssey, with different worlds having different money to procure and spend, while the universal payola of the game are the aforementioned Mushroom Kingdom coins. The money itself is important, as rather than bestow 1-Ups, it instead allows Mario to unlock new things like costumes (of which there are a ton). They’re also pulled from Mario’s rich history, as well. There are more changes besides, but what’s important to take away is that all of these adjustments and tweaks feel organic and add new layers to the 3D Super Mario blueprint.

Exploring New Donk City and the Sand Kingdom was a blast. The game is still a ways away from its October 27 release date, but anyone would be hard pressed to prove this wasn’t a final build. Odyssey runs at a buttery 60fps and looks even better than the already gorgeous Super Mario 3D World on Wii U. It’s a testament to the power of Switch that Odyssey looks as breathtaking as it does; I was mesmerized by the screen as I zipped around the two demo worlds. Odyssey is also impressive thus far in how handily it demonstrates the versatility of the Joy-Cons. Similar to the setup of Nunchuk and Wii Remote in the Galaxy games, Odyssey has players controlling Mario with the two Joy-Cons detached, one in each hand. I found the arrangement very comfortable and was impressed by the numerous things I could do with the two controllers. Guiding Mario atop a scooter felt incredibly natural, for instance. The game is easily as playable in portable mode, as well; I thought it was wonderful that Nintendo utilized the “park” in its booth to have players sit on benches to play the game, mimicking what many fans will likely end up doing in real life.

Super Mario Odyssey has the potential to be the best 3D Mario game ever made, which I don’t say lightly. As someone who considers Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be the apex of the series, it’s going to take a lot for me to be persuaded that another installment can dethrone it. Odyssey, at this point, is a marvel and appears as though it will handily do just that. It looks the part of what a premier, blockbuster game should, and it controls like a million-dollar sports car. Breath of the Wild was the next evolutionary leap for Link and company, and I believe that Odyssey will do much the same for Mario and friends, as well. Keep it tuned here as we march towards October and the game’s release for full details on Super Mario Odyssey!

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