In January 2017, at the Nintendo Switch reveal event, Producer Yoshiaki Koizumi touted that the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey would follow in the footsteps of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. For long-time fans, this announcement of Mario’s return to an open-world sandbox adventure was a long time coming. As such, the excitement surrounding this entry has been full of optimism and intrigue. On the heels of a strong initial lineup for Switch, with acclaimed titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2, Odyssey has some very large shoes to fill compared to its Switch counterparts and its GameCube and N64 predecessors.
While attending Fan Expo Canada 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, we were able to go hands-on with this upcoming Mario adventure. The demo, as at previous events, consisted of two separate demos, one for each of the playable game kingdoms. For clarity’s sake, Super Mario Sunshine is one of this writer's favourite games of all time, and served as a benchmark for comparison throughout the demo. Thankfully, I am happy to report Super Mario Odyssey lives up to expectations thus far, with excellent controls, secrets to discover, and a game world that is visually and audibly stunning.
One of the reasons that Sunshine is one of our favourite Mario titles is the amount of control players have. The controls are perfectly tailored to Mario’s movement and level design, even more so when paired with the companion FLUDD. As such, we are happy to report that Mario Odyssey’s controls fit perfectly alongside Sunshine and Mario 64. During this demo, we played using the Joy-Con, with one in each hand. Upon loading up into the Metro Kingdom, our first instinct was to get a hang of the controls and explore Mario’s moveset. All the staples are here: the long jump, the side flip, and the triple jump all return and control very similar to Mario 64. A new addition, the somersault roll, works well for world traversal and is easily achieved using an ZL + Y input.
That’s not to say the controls are perfect. Using the Joy-Con motion controls for Mario's caps definitely doesn't feel like the preferable way to play, at least from our perspective. Compared to the amount of control found when using the analogs and buttons, having to perform a set gestures to throw the cap upwards or spin it doesn’t mesh well. We have to say the definitive way to play for veterans will be using a Joy-Con grip or Pro Controller.
At Nintendo’s E3 presentation, one of the highlights for many was the title song shown during the Super Mario Odyssey segment. While exploring the Metro Kingdom and unlocking the various musicians for Pauline’s concert, the jazzy undertone that has been heard in the promotional media is a joy to listen to and perfectly accompanies the city setting. Visually, both worlds presented a game with crisp and sharp visuals, with deep colours and impressive draw distance, showcasing the vastness of the kingdoms. When landing at the Sand Kingdom, seeing the flipped pyramid in the distance provokes an adventurous spirit for the task at hand.
The level structure of both the Metro and Sand Kingdom - the only two playable kingdoms - presented two unique styles of play. The Metro Kingdom focused more on platforming and exploration, with the skyscrapers to scale and the surrounding scaffolding to conquer. During this session, we spent much of the time exploring the building areas, trying to collect as many moons and purple coins as possible - not to mention experimenting with Cappy’s ability to possess characters and objects. Taking over a traffic cone to fling Mario across the level is one of the many new ways this mechanic can be used. We get this impression that this mechanic will be similar to Link’s wall merging ability from A Link Between Worlds. A mechanic that on paper, may seem gimmicky, but presents clever puzzle solving options and unique means of world exploration.
Comparatively, the Sand Kingdom takes a different approach with a larger world focusing more on combat. After passing through the small village, enemies such as Bullet Bill accompany the small platforming challenges and provide a different experience than that of New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom. One of the most unique experiences was the 2D segments on the ruin walls. After passing through a traditional pipe, Mario transitions to a more traditional NES-style section. The switch between play styles is seamless and is a unique and fun addition, while also serving as a callback to Mario's 8-bit heritage.
The vastness of the Sand Kingdom in particular evoked a feeling very much akin to Breath of the Wild, with a large open world and things to do in every visible direction. You can proceed towards the main objective, or explore the nooks and crannies of the towns and ruins and discover new purple coins for outfits. The openness kindles the sense of exploration both Sunshine and Mario 64 accomplished excellently.
Throughout our play session, we were able to collect a variety of different moons - some from completing sidequests, others from world traversal and using Mario’s new abilities. This transition from the traditional one star or shine per level is different, as it seemed as if moons are overabundant in the playable levels. But it seems likely than many will require a mix of skill and exploration and cater to both new and veteran players.
Super Mario Odyssey is an interesting game to say the least. Compared to Mario's adventures of old, this game is noticeably different in terms of style. Yet the fundamentals of what made those older titles great - controls, world exploration and charm - are all here, and will please any Mario fan, new or old.
Are you looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey based on what you’ve seen? Or are you cautiously optimistic? Let us know in the comments.