LOS ANGELES – Nintendo’s plucky plumber Mario has encountered some incredible creatures across many strange worlds. But in Super Mario Odyssey, he’s meeting some of the weirdest of all: human beings.
At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo – the annual video game trade show that draws tens of thousands of game developers, retailers, media and fans to Los Angeles – Nintendo offered an up-close, hands-on look at its newest Mario adventure, coming to the Nintendo Switch console on Oct. 27.
It’s the first full-fledged 3D Mario game for the incredibly popular and perpetually sold-out Switch, and will see Mario journeying between a huge variety of wildly different worlds as he tries to put a stop to the wedding between his beloved Princess Peach and his longtime nemesis, Bowser.
This week at E3, I went hands-on with two levels in the game, including one set in New Donk City, a world that feels inspired by modern-day Manhattan – except that everyone is dressed like it’s the 1950s for some reason. Hey, it’s Mario. It doesn’t have to make sense – it just has to be fun.
And it definitely is fun. Super Mario Odyssey introduces some new gameplay elements to the series, most notably Mario’s ability to take control of different creatures and objects by tossing his red cap onto them. From classic Mario foes, such as Bullet Bills and Hammer Bros, to critters like frogs, dinosaurs and even regular human folk, Mario can take dozens of different forms as he searches for the Power Moons he needs to advance to new levels in the game.
As I explored New Donk City in search of four musicians to fill out Mayor Pauline’s festival band and earn myself another Power Moon, I was struck by how delightfully odd it felt to have Mario walk among skyscrapers, yellow taxis and normal-looking human beings. That said, New Donk City still has plenty of classic Mario enemies, tons of hidden coins to discover and many tricky platforming sequences – all very much in the classic Mario vein, yet all feeling incredibly fresh.
It felt perfectly natural to use the Nintendo Switch’s pair of Joy-Con controllers to run, leap, and toss Mario’s cap with a flick of my wrist, so much so that I often found myself playing with my arms hanging at my sides, relaxed, with a Joy-Con in each hand.
The always-chipper Mario “will see a lot of things in his journey that you’ve never seen in a Mario game before,” producer Yoshiaki Koizumi said in an interview before the game’s E3 debut. "We’re aiming for a design that allows anyone in the world to pick up and play at a glance.”
While Super Mario Odyssey is Nintendo’s flagship game for 2017, the company also announced a slate of upcoming titles, including action-adventure games starring beloved characters Yoshi and Kirby, the sprawling role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles 2, downloadable expansions for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a Nintendo Switch version of the massively popular soccer-with-cars game, Rocket League. A new core Pokemon game and a fourth entry in the Metroid Prime sci-fi shooter series were also unveiled, but no details – including release dates – were provided, meaning those games likely won’t arrive until 2018 or later.
In the meantime, Nintendo fans will likely have their hands full with Mario’s latest adventure. Just from the short taste I had of Super Mario Odyssey, it already feels like a potential classic, and possibly the most imaginative Mario game yet. Now if I could just figure out where in New Donk City that dang guitarist is hiding.
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