Journey to the Center of the Sandbox
Well jeez, you didn’t think we were going to go through all of E3 without covering this one, did you? Who do you think we are, dude? Super Mario Odyssey made a big splash at E3 this year. Nintendo didn’t quite do what they did last year, when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the sole presence the studio made. There were a few Nintendo games this year, but they nevertheless all existed in a booth space decorated to look like the main street of Super Mario Odyssey‘s amusingly-named New Donk City.
There was something really alive about the booth space. There was a real and genuine sense of showmanship to everything that surrounded us. And it’s now safe to say that Super Mario Odyssey itself delivers on that presentation; every showtune, and every dapper outfit.
If This was Final Fantasy, It Would Be “Super Mario 64-2“
The first thing I was told when I was handed a pair of joy-cons by a charming attendant was that this was intentionally built as the first Mario game with freedom on the scale of Super Mario 64. I didn’t get to play around in the game’s hub world, so I can’t attest to the highest mark. But I can say this: the world I entered into during my demo felt exactly and precisely like something straight out of the Nintendo 64 classic, as if it had been made today.
I was given a choice between two levels. One was a city section like the first we had seen of the game. I was told that this would include a lot more collecting- and challenge-focused gameplay, with NPCs asking our heroic plumber to perform various tasks. The second was a desert marked by out-of-place chunks of ice. I was told that this one had a little more action to it, and so there it was that I went.
I entered into a desert town, with quirky locals panicking over the sudden flash-freezing of their precious water supply. I got to run around for a bit, and eventually made my way to a stone temple in the desert that seemed like a low-poly version would have been right at home in 64.
As we saw in the trailer for Super Mario Odyssey in Nintendo’s E3 Direct stream, Mario can now use his hat to posses objects and enemies. The hat-throwing is also a good way to dispatch enemies (although jumping is still every bit as valid as ever). You can throw it out and hop on it for a platform, or use it to collect coins; anything, as long as its on the same vertical level you are.
It’s the possession, though, that’s the main attraction. In my demo, I was mainly only able to possess Bullet Bills, but the effect was not lost on me. The first time it happened, I was scrambling around on a dusty brick outcropping. I happen to throw my cap at one of them, and voila. I was now the one blasting around, still stuck to the single vertical level but free to blast all round. There was a puzzle platform area that I could almost entirely circumvent by taking one of the angry guys over. I couldn’t posses Goombas, but we’ve seen that as a confirmed part of the full game.
The one other really exceptional choice Nintendo made here was the inclusion of segments of 8-Bit 2D areas, in the style of the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The coolness behind this idea is in it’s execution. I found a sheer wall I had to climb, with a pipe sticking out of it. One such 2D area was physically laid out on the wall, and entering the pipe sucked me in. I then climbed through the microlevel in order to continue along my main quest. A later one was plastered around a stone pillar I had to scale, minimizing the amount of the level I could see as I went through it. Oddly enough, areas like that were my favorite part of what I played.
Super Mario Odyssey has a ticket to ride onto shelves on October 27. one of the Nintendo Switch’s biggest upcoming titles. While I wish I had been able to enjoy the other available segment, what I played made me happy on a level that goes back to childhood. My favorite 3D Mario is Super Mario Galaxy, but the familiarity Super Mario Odyssey draws from the likes of the common Nintendo 64 ancestor is unmistakable.