E3 2017 Hands-On: How Super Mario Odyssey Brings Back 1996

It’s been noted in the past how, during the development of Super Mario 64, Mario-creator Shigeru Miyamoto spent tons and tons of time simply trying to nail down how it should feel to be exploring a 3D space as Mario. The 3D Super Mario games have always lived by the credo that simply exploring and running around a 3D place should be fun in and of itself. It stands to reason then, that all that time Miyamoto spent working on the feeling of moving around was done in a completely empty setting. Super Mario 64 would go on to define its genre, and not only was simply moving around the castle and garden a joy–but the more toys, tricks, and tasks that Mario received, the more the whimsical feeling would sink in.

Super Mario Odyssey takes the magical concept born in 64 and breathes new life into it, while at the same time revisiting the familiar feelings many players had upon booting up the 1996 classic for the very first time. It was pure, absolute joy to play. If you have had any apprehension about the look of Mario’s latest, fear not: This is the Mario game that we’ve been asking for. A game that embodies the pure, inherent fun of exploring a 3D world. While Mario Galaxy’s somewhat linearity and the bite-sized portion of Mario 3D World might have left you wanting–The Urban Kingdom of New Donk City in Mario’s latest is just what the doctor ordered.

A new sense of life fills the environments. 

The level, while not massive, certainly feels sprawling. Various human beings patrol the streets, leisurely walking in their business attire, which while absolutely bizarre, gives the level a sense of life that not a lot of Mario games have been able to come close to matching. Taxi cabs move through the street, people speak, for goodness sake. The entire presentation of the level feels like a step forward–and one very much in the right direction. There are multiple ways to get around the city, be in hopping onto a cab, zooming up one of the power lines with the help of Mario’s new abilities, or wall jumping off buildings–it lives up to the phrase from one of Mario 64’s earliest commercials: “Go anywhere you want to go, do anything you want to do.”

Mario moves quickly and smoothly through the environment in a variety of ways.  

The new controls felt fluid and natural, with Mario’s new roll and hat throwing ability taking center stage. I played with the Joy-Con controllers detached, and it very much felt like the way the game is intended to be played. I could shake the left Joy-Con while Mario rolls to speed him up a bit–and the feedback was snappy and responsive. Gone are the clunk of early Wii waggle controls. Mario’s other ability, to throw is hat, is even more impressive. Mario can throw it in many different directions, and combo it into many different kinds of attacks–which is a welcome change to the franchise. Yes, combos in a Mario game. But it feels good and gives a sort of depth to the combat that the franchise has been missing. It felt great to leap over an enemy and slam my hat down on them from above.

While I was given a main objective to recruit four musicians for the Mayor of New Donk City, Pauline (Who first appeared in the original Donkey Kong!) I found it much more enticing to explore the city instead and see what it had to offer. Like all Mario games, you’re collecting a primary objective currency, this time it’s moons rather than stars or shines. And despite the game not telling me to, I wandered into secret area after secret area, discovering not only moons for collecting, but also unexpected gameplay types–a credit to the breadth and depth of this game’s design. There was a portion where I merged into the wall and began playing classic, side-scrolling Mario. Another had be performing precise wall jumps to shimmy my way to a hidden moon. And even beyond that, I found a series of poles beset by bullet bills that I had to climb and leap across with expert timing. The game also offers Mario the ability to posess certain items and enemies with his cap, allowing for new and interesting ways to move through the terrain–whether it be as a frog, or as a taxi cab. This game aligns nicely with the mindset of Breath of the Wild in that it feels more like my own solitary adventure than anything that is being scripted.

Gameplay transforms on the fly in fun, interesting ways. 

Included in New Donk City, and one of the most interesting aspects of Odyssey, is the Crazy Cap shop. Yes, you can fully customize Mario’s attire by purchasing it with the coins you buy–some of it standard, and some, kingdom specific. Lending again to Nintendo’s Zelda masterpiece from earlier this year, you can dress Mario up as you see fit, and create your own wild adventures in the process.

Super Mario Odyssey is a love letter to the fun and freedom of the Nintendo 64 era of games, and while the mascot platforming genre has had a small resurgence with games like Yooka-Laylee, Odyssey is not content with simply revisiting the formula. Nintendo instead is opting to blow the doors off and take everything so many players loved to the next level. We can’t wait to see what other creative aspects of this game lay ahead of us.

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

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