LOS ANGELES — The new “Super Mario” game coming to the Nintendo Switch is fantastic. That’s the most important thing you take away from this.
Would you expect any less from a game that looks as weird as this?
Just as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” was a massive evolution of the long-running, celebrated “Legend of Zelda” franchise, “Super Mario Odyssey” appears poised to challenge and evolve the Super Mario formula.
The game arrives this October exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, but Nintendo offered attendees of the annual E3 video game trade show a chance to play a 20-minute demo. I played that demo this week during E3 2017, and am here to tell you that it was rad.
'Super Mario Odyssey' is an open-world, non-linear Super Mario game. Remember 'Super Mario 64'? How about 'Super Mario Galaxy'? Those are open-world, non-linear Super Mario games.
If you're thinking 'Grand Theft Auto,' that's not entirely accurate. 'Super Mario Odyssey' is segmented into worlds. 'New Donk City,' seen above, is one of those worlds -- it's a massive open environment that you can explore to your heart's content. There's no timer; your only limitation is survival.
In traditional 'Super Mario' games, your goal was to reach a flagpole that symbolized the completion of a level. In 'Super Mario Odyssey,' your goal is open-ended: Collect moons, of which there are many in each area.
In 'Super Mario 64,' little Mario entered paintings that acted as doors to massive, distinct worlds. In those worlds, there were six stars. After collecting each one, Mario would be whisked back out of the painting. You could choose to jump back in and go after another star, or you could move on (if you had enough stars to open the next area).
'Super Mario Odyssey' works very similarly. Each area has a number of moons. Those moons are used for powering your ship (seen above), and that ship is how you reach new places.
So it goes: You could go to, say, New Donk City and focus on collecting as many moons as possible. Or, you could collect just enough moons to power your ship to the next area.
There are two major differences here that I noticed which make the moon system in 'Super Mario Odyssey' distinct from the star system in 'Super Mario 64':
1. You can collect as many moons as you want in one run. You're not 'reset' as it were -- a short, celebratory animation plays when you grab a moon, and then you're able to continue exploring. Similar to 'Super Mario 64,' moons you've already collected will continue to appear as ghost items (you'll get a few coins for grabbing them again -- no biggie).
2. There are many, many moons in each area. They're all over the place -- hidden inside of girders, across perilous gaps, on top of seemingly insurmountable buildings. There's a focus on exploration in 'Super Mario Odyssey' that I did not expect.
The premise of the game is that perennial antagonist Bowser is forcing Princess Peach into marriage. The game's main enemy? The evil wedding planners.
The actual plot, of course, is 'Defeat Bowser.' That's always the conceit of Super Mario games, and it's almost certainly the case here as well.
The path to get there, of course, is what's most important. To that end, 'Super Mario Odyssey' is seemingly built for exploration. In my short time with the game, in both New Donk City and Tostarena (the desert area), I was overwhelmed by the amount of places to go and stuff to do.
One example that I particularly love happened in New Donk City. I was running around an area on the street level when I came upon an alcove with a glowing door. What could it be?
I ran into the doorway and it transported me to a distinct area with a one-off platforming puzzle to solve. I leapt (as Super Mario, of course) from moving platform to moving platform, carefully avoiding Bullet Bills along the way. When I reached the end, I was rewarded with -- what else? -- a moon. Then I was whisked back to where I came in.
That's exactly the kind of personalised, hand-crafted delight that Nintendo does so well in its Mario games.
There's a new gameplay hook in 'Super Mario Odyssey,' and it's all thanks to Mario's new friend 'Cappy.' Yes: His hat.
Caps don't have eyes. That's because Mario's hat is alive in 'Super Mario Odyssey,' personified by the name 'Cappy.' And Cappy enables Mario to do some pretty neat stuff.
But, more importantly, you can use Cappy to take over stuff -- everything from enemies to inanimate objects!
That you can take over and play as so, so many things in the world of 'Super Mario Odyssey' is both incredibly impressive and truly strange. Flying around as Bullet Bill, you'll easily reach areas that previously seemed unreachable.
This is the most profound change I experienced in my time with 'Super Mario Odyssey.' I swapped Mario into enemies, into electricity (enabling me to move through telephone wires), and into a construction pole (enabling me to fling Mario up high). There's a depth of exploration available through this mechanic that I was unable to grasp in my short time with the game, but it's clear that -- with time spent mastering the controls and learning the world a bit more -- it's there.
It's also just ridiculous -- and ridiculously fun -- to play as enemies that you've been fighting for so long. Just look at this Mario-as-Hammer-Brother:
As hinted at earlier, there's a concept of outfits in 'Super Mario Odyssey.' These can be purchased using in-game money, and they have different applications.
In one instance during my demo, I came across a building in Tostarena (the desert area) with a bouncer. When I asked him what was up, he told me (Mario) that I had to be dressed appropriately to go inside.
Given that he was wearing a sombrero and a poncho, and so was everyone else in Tostarena, and I (Mario) was wearing blue overalls with a bright red cap, it stands to reason that I was not dressed appropriately. He alerted me to as much anyway, and I went on my way.
Here's how things might've played out had I owned the right outfit:
(image url='http://static.businessinsider.com/image/59414aaac4adee63658b564c/image.jpg' alt='Super Mario Odyssey' link='lightbox' size='primary' align='center' nocrop='false' clear='true')
As it turns out, I could've retrieved the appropriate couture from the Crazy Cap shop. It's not clear how these outfits impact gameplay, if at all, but they clearly play a role in the game in different ways.
You probably assumed as much -- and you were right -- but the game controls exactly as well as you'd hope. It's a 'tight' Mario platformer.
Like riding a bicycle, such is 'Super Mario Odyssey.' Everything from Mario's long jump to his reverse backflip to how he leaps off seemingly backward from the top of things -- it's all in there. Wall jumping from the 'New' Super Mario franchise? Yep, that's in there too.
Just as Mario games build upon themselves, teaching mechanic after mechanic until you've mastered a suite of different abilities that can be chained together, such is the evolution of Mario himself. It's as though the Mario in 'Super Mario Odyssey' is the sum of all previous Marios (whoa).
His jumping feels as precise as ever, which is to say that it's kind of floaty intentionally. But it feels right, and that's what matters. I had no problem easily jumping into the game -- it felt like old times made new once again.