It’s been a while since we’ve seen a full-blown Mario game from Nintendo. Sure there have been 2D call-backs on Wii, 3DS, and Wii U, and 2015 brought us the incredible Super Mario Maker. But nothing has been quite so genre-defining as Nintendo’s 3D platformers of yesteryear.
Super Mario Odyssey takes inspiration from the likes of Super Mario 64, and the more recent Galaxy, while also putting its own unique spin on the formula. The result is a game with tight platforming, and all the cutesy Nintendo charm the audience has come to expect.
The main differentiator though is Mario’s cap, which can be thrown as a weapon. When catching it, you can also use the momentum to start spinning in circles, turning the Italian plumber into a whirlwind of death. There are a range of other things you can do with the cap too, and they can be a little hard to learn in a short window.
But the game’s pace isn’t intimidating, meaning you don’t need lightning-fast reflexes. Part of that may also be due to the inclusion of motion-controls. While not necessary, you can perform hat-throws and other kinetic actions with the flick of a wrist. You aren’t doing anything exaggerated or tiring, and by the end of my demo I was using a mix of traditional controls and motion to string jumps, sprints, and hat-throws together.
Super Mario Odyssey is also delightfully weird, in a way that Mario games traditionally aren’t. By throwing your hat on certain enemies, characters, or objects, Mario can inhabit them. While the animation is a little terrifying (he basically gets sucked into them), they each provide a new set of tools for you to try out.
Throw your hat at a Bullet Bill? Now you can fly freely around the stage. Throw it at a taxi? Now you’re a black-and-yellow car sporting a stylish red hat. Throw it a Moai head? Now you’re a hopping stone slab, wearing a moustache, with the ability to put sunglasses on-and-off. Why? Because they let you see invisible platforms, silly.
It’s weird. And that’s OK.
Each level is a themed sandbox, and a lot of the enjoyment comes from finding what can-and-can’t be inhabited. Thankfully when you do jump into a new creature or object, you aren’t overwhelmed with new controls; each one only has a single ability that sets them apart, often with a single button press. This is smart, because I imagine by the end of the game you’ll probably be inhabiting everything that isn’t nailed down (and some of the things that are).
Inside these levels, you’ll also be engaging in side quests, like collecting members of a band for a young socialite in New Donk City. Completing these will grant you Moons – Odyssey’s equivalent of Stars or Shrines. But you can also find these on your own, by exploring the world and completing platforming sections.
There are also more literal throwbacks to Mario’s history in Odyssey too. The occasional platforming section will see you enter a digitised pipe, which then paints the classic 8-bit Mario game on a wall or surface. Clearing the section and breaking the blocks on the other side allows Mario to swap seamlessly from his 2D retro aesthetic to his slick new 3D one.
Super Mario Odyssey is weird, but right now that’s just what the Italian plumber needs. If the Switch is a system for Nintendo to blaze new trails with – in the same way Breath of the Wild bent and broke the traditional open-world formula – then I’m excited to see what else falls from Odyssey’s cap.