Super Mario Odyssey Is a Skillful Blend of Old and New 3D Mario [E3 2017 Preview]

For years it was difficult to imagine how Nintendo might expand on the grandeur of its 3D Mario titles. After breaching outer space with Galaxy and its stellar sequel, great-in-their-own-right followups 3D Land and 3D World--while meticulously designed and brilliant in their considered reservation--just felt like something was missing. Odyssey solves this issue not by one-upping Galaxy’s high concept but instead its mechanics and execution, bringing to life oversized, freeroaming worlds rife with characters, discovery, and yes, even gameplay tasks that resemble quests. From what I tried during my E3 demo, this curious amalgamation is so crazy that it just might work.

You’ve likely seen Odyssey referred to as Grand Theft Mario, and I’d dismissed the characterization as frivolous until I found a motorized sit-down scooter within two minutes of playing and began buzzing it all across New Donk City. Donk’s urban stylings are just one of the two stages on display at E3 and likely many more slated for the final game, and yet it truly felt like a sweetened, perhaps miniaturized sampling from the vast urban cityscapes so many open-world titles have rendered us used to. A dose of Mario magic is exactly what these locales need, and I found Odyssey’s take to be both novel and every bit as Mario as I wanted.

The motorized scooter I acquired could turn and accelerate as you’d expect, but in Mario games things must jump - as such, the scooter did so with a press as if it were perfectly normal. Before long I was chatting with New Donk’s mayor Pauline, strapped with a quest requiring I track down four musicians and set them up with a festival gig arranged by the city’s mayor herself. This of course strongly encouraged exploration, the search for the four musicians (often found shucking and jiving in hilarious places) spurring my discovery of countless other minigames, challenges, and charms.

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The central mechanic of how Mario controls this time around has to do with his sentient hat, which can be tossed, twirled, and generally thrown any which direction via either a button press or physical thrust of the right Joy-Con in the desired direction. The motion controls are precise, taking into account both angle and trajectory when determining what the hat will do, even allowing special moves if you can figure their required button combos or motions. Your hat can also be suspended in midair with a button hold, creating a temporary platform on which to leap or simply attain extra airtime, not dissimilar to Mario’s motion twirl from Galaxy (and arguably, if used skillfully, more useful).

Nintendo has returned to the triple-jump based platforming of Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy, leaving behind the simplified control schemes of recent games to fully unleash Mario upon Odyssey’s sprawling areas. Further exploration unlocked a plethora of things to do across the span of just over ten minutes, from controlling a miniature toy car to retrieve an important collectible, jumping rope at the (quite merciless) whim of too nearby cityfolk looking to test Mario’s skills, and even Mario launching himself from the tops of skyscrapers in hope of sticking a landing in exchange for reward. In most cases rewards come in the form of “Moons,” Power Star-like fragments Mario can use to fuel the hat-shaped sailship serving as transportation between stages in the game. It may not make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn’t have to - Mario’s strength has always been a singular emphasis on gameplay, and anything that enhances it is fully inbounds.

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The general theme of hats pervades Odyssey, and as my demo time drew to a close I discovered a clothing shop that I likely would have located far sooner had I not been so preoccupied with the motorized scooter and making Grand Theft Mario a reality. The shop is hosted by an oddly Sim-like man in a yellow suit, peddling wares that can drape Mario in anything from a Mexican sombrero to an all-black suit and fedora. Before I could try too many outfits my demo concluded, leaving me instantly wanting and curious about how EPD Tokyo’s endless disparate and compelling elements will come together with the final game. That may sound too abstract to be praise, but when it comes to Mario I consider it the highest of compliments.

Super Mario Odyssey is really not that far off, scheduled for release on October 27th on Nintendo Switch just in time for the holiday season. Past Nintendo console launches have been chastised for lacking Mario and Zelda in their formative years, so with both on the table by the end of 2017 Nintendo is taking zero chances. I’d rather not get caught up in logistics, though - it’s been too long since I let go the stresses of reality and explored Mario’s world, and the sooner I can get back there, the happier I’m going to be.