Super Mario Odyssey is a wild, ambitious game. It has secrets, dinosaurs, and the type of flawless jumping you'd expect from a new main Mario made by the design wizards at Nintendo. It's less Super Mario 3D World, more Super Mario 64. And it lets you throw around Mario's hat, which I promise is more exciting than it sounds.
In fact, hat-throwing is the core mechanic of Super Mario Odyssey, which will be out on October 27 for the Switch. You can hurl your hat like a boomerang to break bricks or collect coins. You can swing your hat in a circle, damaging any Goombas or Koopa Troopas in your perimeter. You can throw it in different directions and even hold down your throw button to keep it hovering in the air for a few seconds so you can hop on it like a platform. It's a fun, satisfying gimmick that takes some adjustment (thanks to motion controls!) but feels really good.
You can also use your hat to take over people's bodies. You can inhabit Bullet Bills and use them to ride across gaps. You can capture a Chain Chomp and send it flying to break a big rock hiding a critical path. You can take over Koopas, tanks and, yes, even dinosaurs, as Nintendo teased during a trailer this morning. This mechanic has replaced Mario's traditional power-ups, which I imagine will keep the whole game feeling fresh.
"We started the project by taking Super Mario's theme of surprise and simply riffing on that to come up with things that were purely fun," said director Kenta Motokura during a presentation to reporters yesterday. "The result of that was, the team just came up with a seemingly endless stream of fun prototypes. We wanted to use all of them, and so we thought sandbox spaces would be the best way to play all of those fun ideas."
That's Super Mario Odyssey: A collection of sandboxes. The game is separated into a whole bunch of worlds ("kingdoms"), not unlike Super Mario 64 or Sunshine. Each of these worlds is full of Power Moons, which are Odyssey's equivalent of Stars or Shines, although the developers say Power Moons are far more common. You'll need to collect these Power Moons if you want to make progress to new worlds (via your hat-shaped spaceship, the Odyssey). You can find them anywhere, snagging them every time you do a mission or creep through a secret passage.
"By coming up with lots of different fun ideas and placing them all over these fun sandboxes, we were able to come up with stages of very high density gameplay elements," Motokura said. "You'll want to check behind every suspicious wall, jump up every cliff, kill every boss you find. Almost everything that draws the player's attention could potentially reward them with a Power Moon."
Collecting a Power Moon won't take you out of the map the way it would in Mario 64 or Sunshine, Motokura added. "The game is designed so you can explore and play without interruption. And no matter which Power Moons you collect, you'll still be able to advance the story."
Density is the watchword. Yesterday at Nintendo's E3 booth in the LA Convention Center, I got a chance to play around 30 minutes of Super Mario Odyssey. I hopped around the Manhattan-esque grids of New Donk City, climbing skyscrapers and digging through the sewers for secret treasure. (After a bit of exploring, I even found Captain Toad standing on a girder. Good old Captain Toad.) Then I strolled through a large desert area, taking over Bullet Bills and hunting for Power Moons amongst sandy dunes and towers.
What's clear, even just from 30 minutes, is that Super Mario Odyssey is packed full of secrets. They aren't lying when they say it's dense. In New Donk City, for example, the winding streets and alleys are packed full of things to discover and smack with your hat. You can climb to the top of buildings and try to jump between the skyscrapers, crawl into the sewers and find a hidden maze, or find a rocketship that will take you to a platforming challenge. This is a Mario game that appears, from the short time I spent with it, to be more about exploration than progression.
Some other tidbits:
- Each of the game's kingdoms is large enough to fit multiple checkpoints, and every time you hit a checkpoint -- here's a new one -- you can fast travel to it. Fast travel in a Mario game! Who would have thought?
- There are no lives or 1-ups. When you die, you'll lose coins. "We wanted to have a more appropriate use for coins in this game," Motokura said when I asked why they'd ditched lives. "We also wanted people to be able to get into a kingdom and just continually keep going into that kingdom without being pulled out, so that was why we wanted to get rid of the lives idea."
- Development of Super Mario Odyssey began right after Super Mario 3D World launched in the spring of 2013, so it's been around three and a half years.
- There's a SONG. You heard it in the trailer: Nintendo wrote and composed an original song for Super Mario Odyssey.
- What about multiplayer and online features? Well... "Since this is the Nintendo Switch and it does have two controllers, it's very easy for you to imagine handing it to another person," said Yoshiaki Koizumi. "So there's probably something you'll hear about multiplayer. But the timing is not quite there so I hope you're able to wait just a little bit longer to hear about that. And then as for network features, since this is something the hardware is capable of, there might be something you'll hear about there as well, and I hope you'll look forward to it."
- You can't capture every enemy -- just the special ones.
- There are shops that sell outfits and other useful items, which you can buy with one of two types of coins. There are the standard gold coins and then each kingdom has its own specific currency, represented by purple objects that change shape depending where you are.
- There are white, wedding-themed Amiibos coming alongside Super Mario Odyssey.
- Where did the hat-throwing come from? "It just came down to what would be the most pleasing action," Motokura said. "We just settled on throwing a hat as the most fun thing to do with the JoyCon controller."
Also, you can play as a dinosaur.