Nintendo’s Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch is the hottest game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
Demos for the 3D platformer are attracting giant lines. Super Mario Odyssey’s trailer has the most views of any from E3 on YouTube with over 3.4 million. After playing it, I know that it deserves all this attention ahead of its October 27 release.
Super Mario Odyssey could be the gaming icon’s greatest adventure yet. It’s a beautiful and vibrant game filled with clever ideas, like Mario’s ability to possess enemies, people, or even inanimate objects. But Super Mario Odyssey has a lot more going for it.
During my short time with two of the game’s levels — the fiesta-riffic desert stage and the metropolitan New Donk City — five things stood out to me as especially delightful.
Mario’s new hat abilities
Like I said earlier, Mario can use his hat to possess things. At one point, I took over a Bullet Bill — the sentient flying torpedo enemy that’s become a staple of the series — to help float over a perilous gap. Later, I took over a pedestrian of New Donk City (whose proportions are comically accurate compared to Mario) to drive his RC car. I could even possess a bendy pole to help fling myself to far away platforms.
Just seeing what you can take over with your hat and how it can help you is a constant source of joy and discovery. But you can also use the hat as a short-ranged attack. And if you hold down the attack button, it’ll float in position for a second. This gives you an extra jumping platform.
These mechanics are what make Super Mario Odyssey feel fresh and unique from its predecessors, sort of like the gravity-focuses stuff in the Super Mario Galaxy games for the Wii . I’m excited to see just how crazy Nintendo gets with this whole possession thing.
Coins as an actual currency
You can’t have a Mario game without coins, but their function has changed from game-to-game. Usually, you just collect them because getting 100 of them will give you an extra 1up. In Super Mario 64, getting 100 coins in each level gave you a Star. Collecting Stars were necessary to beat the game.
Sometimes, coins are actually currency, but usually just in the Mario role-playing games like Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi. But coins in Super Mario Odyssey actually serve that purpose.
The game has two types of coins. The yellow ones are universal, but purple ones are rarer and unique to specific levels (each world has 100 of them). You can use these coins at shops to unlock things like Moons (this game’s equivalent of Stars) or new costumes for Mario.
The yellow coins also replace the old 1up system. Mario no longer has lives. Instead, dying just takes away some of your currency. So, if you’re saving up for some fancy outfit, you really want to stay alive.
Speaking of those outfits, man, they look great. In the demo, I was able to buy a suit for Mario that made him look like an old Chicago gangster. I was also able to equip a beige adventurer outfit (above). These clothes didn’t give Mario new abilities, but I love being able to dress Mario up in different styles. He even retains these looks for the game’s 2D sections, which revert back to Mario’s classic 8-bit look.
Nintendo did note that some outfits will give Mario access to new moves that help him reach new areas. That’s been a mechanic in the series since the first Super Mario Bros., where touching a flower would give Mario a different-colored outfit and let him shoot out fireballs. We could see something similar in Super Mario Odyssey.
It’s bizarre to play a Mario game that has a map screen. It almost feels like I’m playing something like Grand Theft Auto or Far Cry. You can even touch flagpoles and activate them as fast-travel points.
Sure, it’s convenient, but I love how the map itself looks. It’s like a travel brochure, with the map in the middle and tourist information on the side giving you information about the city. This is the kind of Nintendo/Mario stuff that I love — taking something mundane like an in-game map and making it fun and interesting.
The nooks and crannies
Super Mario Odyssey is the most open Mario game since Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube. It encourages players to run around and explore, and there is a lot to explore. New Donk City was especially open. I spent 10 minutes inside the level, and I was constantly discovering new areas, secret paths, or trying to use Mario’s acrobatic moves to reach distant places.
As much as I adore the Galaxy games, it’s more linear levels made them lack this sense of discovery. I love reaching some high place, checking out my surroundings, and noticing a dozen different places I want to investigate.
I could happily spend the rest of my time at E3 replaying that Super Mario Odyssey demo. I’m a big fan of this series’ 3D games, but this one has the potential to be the best yet. It’s the perfect combination of Galaxy’s creativity and the open sense of discovery that I loved in Super Mario 64.
The Switch has already had one killer app with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As incredible as that game is, Super Mario Odyssey could still end up being Nintendo’s best release this year.