'Super Mario Odyssey' was a ray of light over a drab E3

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 09:00 AM Written by 

 

 

A successful E3 needs an identity. That identity is usually established with a console reveal or a shiny new peripheral like VR, or the promise of a functional Kinect before that. On the hardware side of E3, this was a year that was tailor made for the Xbox One X (previously known as Project Scorpio) to steal the show. But it didn’t, because it can barely be considered as a new console.

 

It’s a powerhouse that is going to be curbed by its currently unbreakable link to the current Xbox One. New hardware is always more exciting than software. It’s what grabs the headlines. But, the One X in all of its teraflops couldn’t muster up the excitement. Instead, that spotlight was stolen by the anti-Xbox: the mascot of a company that has pushed back against an entire tech world that year after year tries to push power over substance. At the end of E3 2017, the “bigger, stronger, faster” mentality of the video game world was outshone by a plumber and his wonderful scene-stealing, body-snatching cap. “Super Mario Odyssey” was the star of E3 2017, and it wasn’t even close.

 

A single player Mario experience is rarer than a new console. To get specific, there have been six new console announcements and launches since the last single player Mario game. If you’re checking my math, here’s what they were: Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X and Nintendo Switch were all announced and launched between “Super Mario Galaxy 2” and “Super Mario Odyssey.” It’s easy to forget that the Wii U never had a proper Mario experience. “Super Mario 3D World” comes close, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “Galaxy” and “Galaxy 2” classics for the Wii.

 

Not only are single player Mario games rare, but they’re a big deal. Look at the Super Mario pedigree. There’s “Super Mario Bros.,” “2” and “3,” “Super Mario World,” “Super Mario 64,” “Super Mario Sunshine,” “Super Mario Galaxy 1” and “2” and soon to be “Super Mario Odyssey.” At least six of those eight games are always in the conversation of top ten games ever made. There’s a proper reason to be excited for “Super Mario Odyssey.”

 

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All of this was swirling around my mind as I was handed the Joy-Con for my hands-on preview of “Super Mario Odyssey.” This could be a glimpse of an instant classic. The format was one Joy-Con per hand. It was an odd choice at first glance, but Nintendo always know what’s best. They knew motion controls would be the best way to play “Splatoon,” which nobody could’ve believed before getting hands-on. Having a two-handed control scheme that was similar to “Galaxy’s” Wiimote and Nunchuck setup felt perfect. You can also play with a Pro controller and the many other controller setups of the Switch, but having a Joy-Con in each hand is the preferred method.

 

Mario’s new hat with god-like abilities replaces his usual attacks. The new hat can assume the role of many different characters and creatures throughout “Odyssey.” Flicking the Joy-Con to the left or right performs a hat spin attack that destroys the goomba vessels in a radius that apparently aren’t worth possessing or maybe they don’t have souls to possess. The metaphysical abilities of the hat are a discussion for another time.

 

“Super Mario” games aren’t about the combat, although that is always a very polished aspect of the gameplay. It’s about the wonderment of exploration and impeccable level design. I was able to play ten minutes through two of the game’s kingdoms. What used to be called “worlds” are now called “kingdoms.” Those two kingdoms were the Metro Kingdom of New Donk City and the Sand Kingdom.

 

New Donk City is new ground for Mario in that it’s built like a place for humans. These are human characters who walk and wear suits on sidewalks that separate them from moving cars on the street. Mario can run and catapult off of those moving cars, walk on skyscrapers and converse with the townsfolk. Seeing Mario in this very human setting isn’t unsettling. It’s a trip.

 

There are a number of things to collect in “Super Mario Odyssey.” The game has the standard gold coins that are a staple of any “Super Mario” game. In the 20-minute demo it appeared that coins have replaced lives. If I died, I restarted from a checkpoint and had a few of my coins deducted from my total. Each kingdom also has its own currency. These are purple coins that are a unique shape to their kingdom and can only be spent at that kingdom. The coins can be spent on different outfits for Mario. From what I saw, it doesn’t look like the outfits change Mario’s abilities, but just give him a unique appearance for his surroundings.

 

Moons fill the role of stars or shine sprites. These are scattered around the world and can be collected in real time. Moons are eventually spent to unlock other Kingdoms. I didn’t get specifics as to how many moons we can expect to see in the game, but I was told that there would be more than any number of stars or sprites in any previous Mario adventure.

 

I was still getting my bearings throughout my 10-minute stay in New Donk City, so that time was pretty much spent taking in the sights and the awe of playing a new Mario game. I did however climb the tallest building in New Donk City, jumped off the top of it and floated safely all the way to the streets below. To put it succinctly, it was a joy.

 

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I felt like a seasoned “Mario Odyssey” veteran by the time I entered the Sand Kingdom. The Sand Kingdom oozed that Mario charm that we’ve seen in every mario game to date. There was colorful sand, with glass formations that could be shattered for coins, stone structures. Friendly skeletons who wanted to strike up a conversation and Moai heads wearing sunglasses. I was able to possess one of the Moai and walked around as one for a bit. He couldn’t jump, but wearing his sunglasses did reveal secrets that were once invisible. Through him, I discovered an invisible platform that stretched across sinking sand where I could earn a moon. That’s just a taste of the variability of the gameplay thanks to the hat.

 

After exploring some more and possessing a Bullet Bill to fly across gaps, I found a classic Mario pipe, but this pipe transported me to the 2D plane complete with 8-bit graphics. The 2D segment only lasted about 30 seconds, but I’m sure it was a small taste of the classic 2D platforming exploration we can expect to see in the final product.

 

“Super Mario Odyssey” has so much going for it. Every new “Super Mario” game tries to put a new spin on the platforming adventure game, and it looks like Nintendo has done it again. Time and time again they come up with new ideas and new concepts for video games’ favorite plumber. This was the game to see at this E3, and as soon as it releases on October 27, it will be on the fast track to Game of the Year.

 

 

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