My childhood memories are liberally dotted with the bright, pixelated world of Mario and his super brother. To this day, the ‘sent mail’ indicator on my phone is the original soundbite of Mario jumping. Sadly, Mario has also long been considered a nostalgic memory for me, as I simply fell out of love with the Super Mario Bros. series, and platformers as a whole at some point; so much so that I didn’t even play the free levels of Super Mario Run. Still, filled with fond memories, I stepped up to the Super Mario Odyssey hands on at E3, and much to my surprise and delight, this game brought me a kind of joy which had nothing to do with the joy-cons in my hands.
While my time was short, I was able to briefly explore two areas, Tostarena and New Donk City. I learned the ropes of Super Mario Odyssey on the crowded streets of New Donk City, which, given the name, I found surprisingly lacking in Donks of the Kong variety. Maybe I just didn’t get to explore the city enough?
For the first time in a Mario game, I really felt like I was free to roam in an open-ish world. I was told to speak to the mayor, and pressing the – (minus) button on the joy-con brought up a mini map of the area, which included a balloon indicating the Mayor’s location, as well as a variety of checkpoint flags and other areas of interest. Having been well trained by many years of quest-based gaming, I immediately made a beeline towards the mayor’s location, but the official Mario attendants overseeing my play session suggested that I instead explore the city a bit. As one of my pun-cracking handlers explained: “Super Mario Odyssey is about the journey, not the destination.”
So, instead of making a straight, platformer-styled line for my target, I wandered. I jumped on top of cabs, stole a scooter and drove it into a wall (I clearly don’t play Mario Kart), hopped onto tiny flagpole shaped, warp-enabled check points, and curled myself into a ball, rolling down a busy city street, keeping momentum by flailing my right joy-con. For the first time since Super Mario RPG, I simply explored my world, looking for coin boxes hanging from lamp posts, disrupting traffic, and using my magical hat to possess those foolish enough to cross my path without covering their heads. I even did some shopping, changing Mario’s traditional outfit to a safari get-up, and eventually into a black suit, complete with a fedora. Not all Marios.
Cap-turing people and objects is incredibly fun, a crowning achievement, as my handler explained. It allows you to explore the world in a way Mario normally cannot, and the possibilities seem to be un-capped. I took control of a man driving a remote controlled car, allowing me to (poorly) drive it through a little obstacle course and to a goal. I embraced my inner projectile, and with the flick of a hat, I stopped trying to kill Bill, and simply became a Bullet Bill, albeit a mustachioed one in possession of a red hat. As Bullet Bill, I was able to fly across previously insurmountable empty areas to collect coins and other goodies. Anyone or anything foolish enough to cross my path without a hat was at risk of surrendering themselves to my control, and if there was no target in sight, I simply entertained myself by doing my best Sonic the Hedgehog impression, tucking into a ball and rolling away.
With the final few minutes of my gameplay approaching, I hopped my badonkadonk out of New Donk City and headed over to the Sand Kingdom, where the locals were incredibly upset that their desert town had frozen over. Urged on towards a secret by my handlers, I ignored the upset skull people and their icy plight to find a peculiar sight: A pixelated green pipe peeking out from an otherwise beautifully rendered cliff face. Upon entering the pipe, pudgy, smoothly curved Mario suddenly transformed into a side-facing pixel rendition of himself pressed flat against the side of the cliff, alongside a series of nostalgic, 2D pixel art platforms and coin boxes. The effect looked similar to Link entering a painting in The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds, something which managed to pry an embarrassingly girly cry of delight from my lips.
My love for the Mario series has never truly died, though it has cooled to a slow, nostalgic simmer in the years since the release of my all time favorite Mario game: Super Mario RPG. In one twenty minute gaming session, Nintendo has reignited my passion with this punny and delightfully inviting, easy to pick up title. With a taste of only two of the six promised kingdoms, I can honestly say that I have not been this excited about a Mario game for twenty years. I can’t wait to see what adventures and secrets this new world and its many kingdoms hold, how many different things I can cap-ture, and how many different puns Nintendo has under their hat.
Super Mario Odyssey is coming exclusively to the Nintendo Switch on October 27th, 2017. Check out my Sand Kingdom gameplay at the top of the article.