One thing that becomes clear within minutes of getting your hands on Super Mario Odyssey is that Nintendo is fully embracing the weird with Mario’s next 3D adventure. Much has been made of the new hat possession mechanic, which sees Mario taking control of everything from a frog to a dinosaur in the new trailer Nintendo showed off earlier in the week, but after spending some time messing around with it, I can confidently say that it’s no gimmick. Rather, the whole game feels centered around Mario’s hat and its various functions, and in practice, it feels like what FLUDD should have been back in Super Mario Sunshine — a gameplay system that complements Mario’s core mechanics rather than distracts.
Nintendo showed off two of Odyssey’s many HUB worlds in their E3 demo — New Donk City and Sand Kingdom — and I was able to get a taste of both levels. New Donk City represents an odd first for the franchise, as Mario interacts with human NPCs, a sight that is somehow both disturbing and endearing. I spent far too much time throwing my hat at people trying to possess them like in the trailer but according to Nintendo’s Andrew Colins, who was on-hand to demo the game for me, this only works with certain humans in New Donk (most of them don’t like it, understandably).
The best moment of the demo by far was when I threw Mario’s hat at a random sewer grate, which enabled me to move it aside and let Mario jump in for a hidden level. Colins told me that he didn’t even know that was possible in the game, which highlights just how much detail Nintendo has put into Odyssey’s environments and gameplay systems. I can’t wait to see what other secrets can be found just be tossing Mario’s hat at them.
Sand Kingdom does a good job of showing off Odyssey’s impressive visuals (for the Switch, of course) but it also features a gameplay system I wasn’t expecting. While trying to climb a building, certain walls have murals on them that look like 2D Mario games. However, rather than being fancy graffiti, these murals are actually interactive. If you move into a warp pipe on the wall, the game briefly switches to a 2D Mario platformer. It felt very reminiscent of the wall movement stuff from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and is a creative flourish in a game that seems to be overflowing with them.
Overall, I walked away from Super Mario Odyssey impressed and wanting to play more. By doubling down on mechanics and level design that is both fun and downright bizarre — seriously, that hat possession stuff has me rethinking everything I thought I knew about Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom — Nintendo has found a way to make a 3D Mario game that feels like a true successor to Super Mario 64, while also avoiding the “now what?” problem that cropped up after Super Mario Galaxy took Mario to space. With the game set to release on October 27, 2017, it’s wild to think that Nintendo will potentially have released two game of the year caliber titles for the Switch in the same calendar year.