Most people with even a subtle interest in gaming will admit the Mario series is one of the most important properties in the industry. Super Mario Bros. on the NES pretty much grabbed the gaming industry by the ear and dragged it back to a relevancy many thought impossible following the crash of 1985. So, whenever Nintendo unveils a new Mario title it’s a big deal. While fans have known about Super Mario Odyssey for months, Nintendo finally has the game in a playable state, and there’s no better place to show off the anticipated Switch title than at E3 2017.
Nintendo has admitted that Super Mario Odyssey is bringing the franchise back to its sandbox days, taking inspiration from titles like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, and in the gameplay demo available at E3 2017, it seems pretty spot on. The first thing players will notice is how strikingly beautiful Super Mario Odyssey’s art direction is. Much like instalments in the past, Super Mario Odyssey opts for a simple design of bright contrasting colours that pop out on the screen with a hint of sheen that has become commonplace in Mario games of recent memory.
What is different from newer instalments in the Mario franchise is the scale of the game. Players will have to go all the way back to Super Mario Galaxy to find a title that comes close to the scale that Super Mario Odyssey accomplishes, and even then, is small in comparison. Super Mario Odyssey works as one big world with several smaller kingdoms that players traverse. In the gameplay demo at E3 2017, players were treated to a cityscape area and a Central American-inspired desert where users can literally go wherever they want. Obviously there is a start and end point, but the scale of each level leaves players a lot of room for exploration.
While players explore, they can use Mario’s hat to utilize the new “gimmick” in this entry. Power-ups have always been a big part of Mario’s adventures, and his hat is probably the most perfect execution of that mechanic in the series. By flicking a Joy-Con, players can take control of almost anything. This includes cars, people, enemies like Bullet Bill, and even other objects that don’t appear to be controllable at first glance. The entire hat mechanic is utilized rather well, and there are multiple ways to throw it for different situations—including attacks. What makes the hat such a novel concept is the extent to which each iteration changes the feeling of the game. Whether it’s a slot car or a rock man, each upgrade offers something different—though not necessarily better—and in that regard, it makes Mario that much more interesting. The power-ups are no longer required to make Mario stronger; they’re used to solve puzzles or issues within each level.
Another game mechanic added to Super Mario Odyssey takes cues from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Throughout my time in the dessert oasis, a pipe lead inside a wall, which is pretty standard stuff for Super Mario, but this time, it didn’t lead Mario to a new area. Instead, Mario was brought into the wall as a painting, giving the level true 2D portions. Visually, he looked more akin to his 8-bit style, and while it is an idea completely lifted from another title, it feels right at home in a platformer like Odyssey.
This is also the tightest I recall Mario controlling. He’s able to turn on a dime and make tight movements that were never really available in other entries. A lot of that is thanks to a completely controllable camera, which feels like a first for the series. Instead of a locked camera that can be redirected to behind Mario himself, players are given full reign with the camera, which is welcome following the fixed angle from the 3D series that caused many issues for those with depth perception issues. Now, the game isn’t finished, as it is planned to launch this holiday season, but I did encounter a few hiccups with the camera—especially in tighter corridors where Mario is required to triangle jump. It almost felt like I was fighting the camera, though there are many instances where players can see a shadow of Mario if there is an obstruction. Again, there are still several months between now and Super Mario Odyssey’s Holiday 2017 release date, but it is something to keep in mind going forward.
Overall, Super Mario Odyssey is shaping up to be the next great Super Mario title and a potential classic for the Nintendo Switch. While it might be hard to believe, the hat mechanic adds so much to the game—changing the way players actually use Mario. From the look of things, Super Mario Odyssey works on so many levels, and while there are some hiccups in terms of camera controls, it hardly hindered the E3 2017 demo Nintendo had on display.