Super Mario Odyssey E3 2017 gameplay preview: Downtown boogie


Super Mario Odyssey engulfs its players in things to touch, jump off, collect, and explore, even in a brief E3 2017 gameplay demo.

I wasted away weekends as a teenager happily bopping about Isle Delfino in Super Mario Sunshine, enthralled by the density of things to collect and explore. There, as in any Mario game, I found myself visually lead to new destinations with rewarding levels and items for the taking, so much so that I almost lost track of the gameplay it took to get there. 3D Mario adventure games in particular capture this “close-at-hand” aspect of exploration, for me, far better than his 2D platformers (or recent linear 3D challenges).

Oh, how far we’ve come.

I spent ten minutes of hands-on time with Super Mario Odyssey at E3 2017 sprinting and leaping through a desert world, and was able to watch a colleague take another ten-minute session in New Donk City. The first thing you notice as you drop into either vibrant, colorful world is the way the Joy-Con controllers change the feel of what you are about to do. Mario sports the same moveset anyone will remember from past 3D Mario adventures, but with a welcome addition in his new friend, Cappy.

Credit: Nintendo of America official image

Cappy, a hat with eyes, is your key to unlocking the world around you. He can be thrown as an attack, and then controlled for an even longer throw or in specific directions via motion controls on the Joy-Cons, or even the Pro Controller. He can be spun around you in a circle with a flick of the wrist, or held in place and used as a platform to jump off. These controls did take a bit of getting used to, and I still didn’t quite have the hang of them when I had to put them down again, but I did not feel this was due to an inherent obtuseness. They’ll just take a bit of practice on a day when I’m not trying to squeeze as much into a ten-minute demo as possible.

While the recent Legend of Zelda title focused on seeing something in the distance and having Link pursue it, Super Mario Odyssey loves to keep everything at your fingertips.

Once I knew what Cappy could do, I immediately set out into a charming little desert town, full of inhabitants very upset that someone had put a bunch of ice all over the place. Unable to imagine who could possibly be responsible for wrongdoing in the Mario world, I bounced around the houses for awhile, collecting coins on rooftops and enjoying my newfound powers. Cappy can be thrown at certain objects to possess them, or “Cap-ture” them and use their powers. For example, I flung Cappy at electric wires and was able to become a spark climbing them up and down, reaching new places.

After using my coins to buy a very fancy suit and hat at a local kiosk, Cappy and I set our sights on a distant desert temple inhabited mostly by Bullet Bills and Goombas. Goombas were easily dispatched with a flick of my wrist to control Cappy, but when I threw Cappy at a Bullet Bill, something wondrous happened: I captured it! I was able to fly around as Bill for a brief period of time, crossing large gaps and smashing into large blocks to blow them up and remove them from my path.

Credit: Nintendo of America official image

Whether in the town, the temple, or in the heights of New Donk City, I was struck by the sheer amount of stuff right at hand. New Donk City in particular felt like a playground as I watched Mario swing on poles, bounce on traffic cones, and find entire, smaller cities on rooftops. I couldn’t help but contrast the game to Breath of the Wild as I played. While the recent Legend of Zelda title focused on seeing something in the distance and having Link pursue it, Super Mario Odyssey loves to keep everything at your fingertips. Despite the volume of interactable objects, paths of coins, and interesting things to capture, I never felt overwhelmed during my demo. I simply latched on to the first thing I saw and got to work trying to climb it or jump across it, following my instincts and the intelligent level design we’ve always adored from Nintendo.

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Never has a Mario game felt more rewarding, either. For the first time, coins can be used to buy things, providing a reason to collect beyond completion or extra lives. Gold coins are universal, while purple coins are exclusive to each world and can be used to make special purchases. At the end of each small jumping challenge, I found a collectible Moon. I have no idea what these cute, shiny Moons do, but they got a neat collection animation, so they must be important and felt good to find.

Rewards are not merely limited to collectibles, either. Sometimes, you stumble across brilliant gameplay discoveries, such as when my colleague put together a four-musician band in a sidequest, resulting in a hot jazz party with the Mario theme music blaring on the sax. Or when I tripped my way further up the desert temple to discover a brief 2D platforming minigame in the style of the original Super Mario Bros. I was presented with a Moon for my success, but dropping into a pipe and discovering that little world was delightful on its own.

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I didn’t think any game could surpass Breath of the Wild for my attention on the Nintendo Switch, but after my brief stint at E3 with it, Super Mario Odyssey has me wondering if it’ll come darn close. That comes from simply being fun at every turn. It’s fun to jump, it’s fun to throw Cappy and see what you can capture, and it’s fun to turn a corner and find a new puzzle or challenge unlike anything you’ve come across before. This game will certainly be the highlight of my holiday season when it releases (none-too-soon!) on Oct. 27 for Nintendo Switch.