Super Mario Odyssey feels a little like a dream come true, from the 90 minutes or so that I've played of it. It's a proper evolution of my favorite genre, the now rarely attempted 3D platformer.
It's a very pretty game that carries all of the elements that Mario games have done so well for years: exceptional controls, an abundance of gameplay verbs, level design that encourages exploration and acrobatic feats. But it also has new, evolutionary traits—a touch of adventure game DNA, a sprinkling of self-aware humor—that work really well within the structure.
There is one thing that irks me, and let's get to it right away, because that's what the game does. In the intro, it's established that, yup, Bowser wants to marry Princess Peach, and kidnaps both her and the younger sister of Cappy—the living hat that offers Mario unique powers in Odyssey (which, yeah. Hat sister. Sure.) It's a double-damsel situation, which is less than awesome, but thus far its my only beef with the game. Peach was a rad playable character in Super Mario 3D World, as was Rosalina, so going back to the drawing board on gender seems pretty regressive.
I'll reserve judgment for the final game since Breath of The Wild actually did something clever with Nintendo's other major princess: She was the real brains of the story and not a weepy damsel in distress. The game's trailers, however, made it look differently. Here's hoping.
After seizing control (and Nintendo made sure I played using pro controller, handheld system, and motion-control joycons at various points), I was dropped into a sort of hat town. That's where you get down to business and learn how to utilize the game's new core mechanic: throwing Cappy at objects and characters to take over their bodies and abilities.
In doing this, Odyssey digs deeper on an idea already brilliantly implemented in Stacking, Double Fine's underrated re-envisioning of the traditional point and click adventure. In Stacking, you were a matryoshka doll in a world of comical dolls, all of whom had some sort of power or special property that would allow you to solve puzzles in the environment. It was essentially making the classic inventory system a part of the world itself—you had to find the right doll to solve the problem, or portion of the problem, and move on to the next. Many puzzles had several solutions.
In the same fashion, Odyssey encourages you to experiment and try that hat on EVERYTHING. The very first Capture (I didn't make up that pun, it's in the game!) has you taking over a frog and leaping to fantastic heights.
Once I stepped into the colorful luncheon kingdom, the possibilities exploded: take over a fireball to traverse lava, or inhabit a frying pan-hurling Hammer Bro to destroy giant blocks of cheese (and any enemy in your path). There's even a massive hunk of meat you can inhabit to accomplish a particular objective.
Even in my brief time, I saw many paths through the stage. All of them valid, all leading to the coveted moons, Odyssey's version of stars. I personally love this sort of freedom and support for experimentation; one of my only discomforts with the Galaxy games was the feeling that there really was only one correct way to accomplish many objectives. (That and the motion controls. Lord.)
During my demo, I was in the room with a few folks from Giant Bomb. Though we were in the same stages, we didn't encounter many of the same elements. Several times, someone at Nintendo would direct one party's attention to the other screen to make sure we saw the cool thing happening down another path. That's how I saw the giant Meat Mario slab, and it's how the other folks saw the rad 2D Mario puzzle I stumbled upon in the beachy Bubblaine Kingdom.
No, this isn't Mario as an "open air adventure" the way Breath of the Wild was. But it speaks to a freer, more creative approach to a genre that needs new life.
This all sits on top of Mario's already expressive and fluid moveset. Everything is there: the buttstomp, the triple jump, the running jump, the spinning backwards jump, the wall jump. A player who knows what they are doing can quickly make incredible things happen with this moveset, as they've been regularly doing since 1996. The new stuff being integrated so beautifully is *chef's kiss.*
The supporting details are also wonderful. In each world, the map screen is presented as a tourism brochure, with little blurbs (serving as hints, with a few good puns!) and pretty pictures to direct your attention towards points of interest. And the clothes! In each kingdom, you can purchase new hats and outfits for Mario. Of course, in the tropical Bublaine, I was sure to grab Mario's bathing suit, so I could run around shirtless, along with a cute explorer hat.
By the way, Mario's swim trunks are officially known as "boxer shorts" in the game. Here's the flavor text:
"Comfortable, breezy boxers in a vibrant, mushroom-like pattern."
I did try to get comments on the thinking behind Mario's first shirtless appearance, but our demo folks simply laughed and commented on their favorite tweets, loving that someone said Mario had the "ultimate dad bod." Alas, I'll need to speak to someone on the art team to really find out about, say, Mario's nipples. Stay tuned.
Super Mario Odyssey launches on October 27th.