No matter how many travel proverbs you dish out, none quite prepare Mario for his first jaunt out of the Mushroom Kingdom. Nintendo’s mascot is being dragged out of his comfort zone for the first time and forced to voyage across the world to save Princess Peach from Bowser’s clutches (and a wedding). Who says romance is dead?
Super Mario Odyssey is Mario’s biggest adventure yet, taking him across plenty of unknown worlds that we’ve seen but glimpses of in trailers. The section I play lets me explore just some of those worlds, getting a good feel for what Odyssey will have to offer when it drops in late October. At E3, I got to explore New Donk City and the Day of the Dead themed Tostarena of the Sand Kingdom. But here, it’s time for three brand new worlds: Bonnoton in the Cap Kingdom, Mount Volbono in the Luncheon Kingdom, and Bubblaine in the Seaside Kingdom.
Odyssey is a return to the sandbox style gameplay of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, but for me each of these new worlds feels more alive and densely packed with discoveries and secrets that the whole game very much has its own unique identity. I start in Capland, a world with all the colour sucked out of it and I learn that our new pal Cappy, who’s taken the form of Mario’s classic red cap, is also trying to rescue someone. His sister, Tiara, has been taken by Bowser to be Peach’s wedding crown, and so the newly friended pair set off on their worldwide adventure.
As you’d expect with a Super Mario game, you can just follow the waypoint in each world, or get lost trying to discover every secret coin or collectible that has been strewn across the world. Even here, in Cap World, which is the smallest of the Odyssey Kingdoms I’ve seen so far, there’s plenty to explore with Cappy’s help. He expands Mario’s normal jump and spin moveset to include a number of hat-related attacks that are triggered using the Joy-Con motion controls. Flick them one way and you launch an attack that spins Cappy around Mario, while a different gesture sends Cappy off in front of you, ready to capture and possess anything he can. It’s a nice idea but in practice it’s actually a lot more fiddly than I expect. Sometimes I just want to attack an enemy rather than capture it and it’s not as easy as you’d expect. Cappy sometimes just feels in the way. I’m not sure how it’ll all work with the Pro controller as yet, but I’m sure that a large number of players are going to get fed up with the motion controls.
And of course, this capture system is one of the key mechanics for Super Mario Odyssey and, in my session, I try to find as many of the possessable beasties I can. Annoyingly you can’t capture everything and it’s not clear what you can and can’t grab just by looking at them. But it seems to be that any ‘classic’ Super Mario enemies are ripe for the capturing, and everything else is a case of trial and error. Bullet Bills, Cheep Cheeps, Goombas and different forms of Koopa are all up for grabs, but I also transform into a bouncing fireball, little purple octopus, a fork and even a hunk of meat as I play. All complete with Mario ‘tache of course.
Capturing stuff is great fun, mostly because there’s just something magical about exploring these new worlds and new abilities with a familiar hero. You know how Mario works and how the enemies of old function, but discovering new abilities and working out how to use them in each new Kingdom is a huge part of the enjoyment.
It helps that each of the worlds that I explore is totally unique and expertly crafted to the point that it does truly feel like you’re travelling to different and distinct territories. After Cap World I move into the brightly coloured Luncheon Kingdom, in a location called Mount Volbono, where a pesky bird is looking to steal a massive steak that’s perched on top of said mountain. But before I can get there, I’m diving into the plethora of other activities that distract me along the way, whether it’s flinging turnips into a cooking pot to help out a chef, or exploring the boiling pink waters that surround Mount Volbono. Or even spending far too long in the clothing shop (mirroring real life) buying new clothes for Mario, including a fantastic clown hat (not mirroring real life). It’s great to see how well the different moves you gain as you capture enemies affect how you explore too, with one portion forcing me to grab a Chef Koopa just to break through a dense wall of cheese.
Later I explore a section of the Seaside Kingdom known as Bubblaize, where once I defeat the massive octopus boss blocking up the fountain, swimming in the crystal clear waters actually makes the Joy-Cons fizz like you’re doing breaststroke through a sea of San Pellegrino (other sparkling waters are available). That’s when I’m not playing volleyball on the beach against a snail wearing a set of pearls or falling in love with a little dog who looks like he’s jumped straight out of Nintendogs. There’s so much to do in each world it’s easy for me to lose track of my main objective, and that’s no bad thing because every moment I get with Odyssey is an absolute delight.
In fact, the only thing that annoys me about Super Mario Odyssey is the fact you’ve got to watch the Moon cutscene every time you find one, with that big red unskippable screen showing you what you’ve found and when. It’s great and all the first time around, but it feels arduous when there are so many to discover in each world.
But that’s just a tiny thing, of course, and probably down to personal preference. Bottom line: Super Mario Odyssey is a joy to play, and anyone who thinks jumping out of the Mushroom Kingdom is a bad move for Super Mario is likely to be proven very, very wrong.