Hands On: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch, 2017) is pure, concentrated delight

I’ve now played Super Mario Odyssey twice. The first time was at E3 in Los Angeles earlier this year. The second was at Nintendo’s Australian headquarters in Melbourne earlier this week. From these two brief sessions, I can tell you this — I love Super Mario Odyssey so much.

The question I was asked most often after playing Super Mario Odyssey at E3 was “Did it feel like Super Mario 64?” I’ll answer that here — for those who played Super Mario 64 there is an instant familiarity. Much of Mario’s moveset remains the same as it did back then, and rightly so! They’re good moves, why change them? Even translated to the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, I was only seconds into my 90-minute sit down with the game before I was triple-jumping, wall-jumping and spinning my way around a tutorial area with a Nightmare Before Christmas-vibe. As I was driving home after the fact, it occurred to me that it had been a bit like riding a bike. I’d known intuitively which buttons to press the moment I picked up the Joy-Cons.

Speaking of, the game makes rather interesting use of the Joy-Con controllers (free of the Grip and resting in either hand), introduce new movement-based interactions. At one point I was using a two-handed chopping motion to fling hammers about as a Koopa Troopa, the next I was flicking the left Joy-Con upward to propel Mario up a series of wobbling flagpoles. Wiggling the left Joy-Con would make Mario perform a spin attack. Neat as this was, I am left to wonder how many people will actually play the game this way. There’s options for the Grip and Pro Controller available, along with Handheld Mode, and I can see a lot of players taking those routes purely for expediency’s sake. I’ll be keen to spend more time exploring this when we review the game next month.

Beyond the tutorial area, I was shown two worlds. One was a brightly coloured place made out of confectionery. Think Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph and you’ll be in the ballpark. The other was a mountainous, seaside level that made me reflexively think of Super Mario Sunshine. This was not the first moment I could detect Super Mario Odyssey‘s connection to the games that came before it. It actually wears in-design references to older titles on its sleeve — there’s one method of traversal that has Mario leap into a wall, returning to his 8-bit form as he goes, before popping out the other end in 3D again. Both worlds felt like fairly quintessential Super Mario design, taking age-old platforming tropes, (many of them invented by this very series) and finding new ways to approach and implement them using the game’s most-talked-about feature, Cappy.

Cappy, the living, breathing hat seen in most of the game’s marketing, allows Mario to temporarily possess a nearby creature, enemy or, in one particularly memorable moment, a gigantic and wholly inanimate object. Possessing a creature, like the aforementioned Koopa Troopa, grants Mario certain powers and abilities. In the Koopa’s case, I could hurl hammers at breakneck pace. A squid-like creature allowed me move vertically and horizontally at great speed. Other creatures, like frogs, augmented my existing abilities, allowing me to leap extremely high into the air. In the hour-and-a-half I spent with the game, much of my time was spent throwing Cappy at different objects and creatures just to see what would happen.

Super Mario games have always rewarded exploration but this is the first time I can really remember a Super Mario game going out of its way to reward experimentation. Indeed, the game feels designed in such a way that the two go hand-in-hand. Cappy is your primary method of interacting with the world around you and experimenting with him leads to finding new ways to access areas of a level or world that were previously off-limits.

As with any Super Mario game, there is a running theme that informs everything within it, from design to presentation. In Super Mario 64 it was that the game was operating in three dimensional space. In Super Mario Sunshine, it was water. In Super Mario Galaxy, it was flight and gravity.  In Super Mario Odyssey, that unifying factor is clothing. Not only does Cappy’s inclusion mean that Mario’s iconic headgear has changed, you can even go the extra step of changing him out of his equally iconic red shirt/blue overalls ensemble and into any number of other fashionable duds.

I went with a beret and the now-infamous nipples-and-swimming-trunks configuration and I maintain that this is A Look.

Due to the non-disclosure agreement I signed with Nintendo prior to playing the game, there’s a lot I can’t tell you about my 90 minutes with Super Mario Odyssey. What I can assure you of is that all of it, every minute of it, was a delight. I had a smile on my face the entire time the Joy-Cons were in my hands and I was in a great mood for the remainder of the day. The knowledge that I can take the game with me anywhere I go is almost too much to bear. Super Mario Odyssey already feels like the kind of master class Nintendo is known for. That it is also portable feels, if anything, like too much kindness.

On my way out the door, I jokingly complained to my Nintendo contact that it was cruel of her to let me play the game and then make me wait a month for more. She said she understood.

Super Mario Odyssey launches exclusively on Nintendo Switch on October 27.