Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch could be the weirdest Mario game yet, and that’s saying a lot for a series that has had cat suits, water-powered jetpacks, skeleton turtles, and numismatic hyperinflation. I tried out Super Mario Odyssey at E3 2017, and I was impressed and baffled by what I played.
Cappy the Ghost Hat
The general thrust of Super Mario Odyssey’s story is similar to most Mario games. Bowser abducted Princess Peach and Mario has to save her. This time he’s assisted by a magic hat named Cappy, and flies in a hat-shaped spaceship called the Odyssey between different worlds. Well, Cappy isn’t just a hat. He’s a ghost hat that gives Mario magic powers; his “normal” form is a floating white top hat with eyes, and he seemed to simply possess Mario’s red hat, replacing the trademark M on the front with those same eyes.
Cappy is more than just Mario’s guide through Super Mario Odyssey. The ghost hat has plenty of useful tricks up his neck to help Mario out. He can be flung like a boomerang, tossed out a short distance by Mario to hit enemies or float around Mario protectively. Cappy can also float in place when he’s tossed out, providing a bouncy platform for Mario to jump on. If these were the only things Cappy could do, he’d already be a fairly useful addition to the game and serve the same role as the F.L.U.D.D. backpack in Super Mario Sunshine for giving Mario maneuverability and offensive options. But that isn’t enough for Cappy.
Cappy can possess things. Rather, Cappy can let Mario possess things. Flinging Cappy into certain objects and characters puts Mario’s hat on them and causes them to sprout a mustache, indicating that you now control whatever Cappy sits on. Possessing a Bullet Bill flying at you lets lets you control that Bullet Bill and steer him in different directions to cross gaps Mario can’t jump across on his own. Possessing a generator lets you zip along power lines. You can even possess certain human beings, like I did in New Donk City to use a bystander’s remote control car to find a collectible item hidden behind a fence.
Not everything is possessable by Cappy. Flinging Cappy at Goombas simply hurt them instead of controlling them, and objects like question mark blocks, crosswalk lights, and trash cans simply gave me coins rather than turned me into a literal trash man. Cappy’s powers seem to be fairly limited and specific, with possession serving as a tool to augment Mario’s usual platforming and puzzle-solving abilities rather than replace them.
Besides cap-tossing and erratic object-possessing, Mario moves and acts similar to how he does in other 3D Mario games like Super Mario 3D World. His punch has been replaced by his Cappy throw, but Mario can still jump around, double- and triple-jump to reach higher platforms, and both slide down and kick off of walls. He isn’t quite Spider-Man, but he can move.
New Donk City and Beyond
The demo took me through sections of two worlds, a desert-themed area and a city-themed area (the fabled New Donk City of the original Super Mario Odyssey trailer). I started in New Donk City, where the Odyssey landed in an empty lot and I was given the direction to meet with Mayor Pauline (who long-time Mario fans will recognize as Mario’s original damsel in distress from Donkey Kong). She stood a distance away, in front of City Hall. Instead of running to her, I got distracted by the many, many different things I could see and do in the city.
Electrical generators near buildings let me reach their roofs and go sightseeing, collecting both standard gold mario coins and special world-specific purple coins in the process. A man with a remote control car let me play with his car after I possessed him with my ghost hat, which revealed a moon collectible that seems to serve the same progression-granting role as shine sprites and stars in other 3D Mario games. A pipe connected to a wall tagged with 8-bit graffitti sent me into that wall, where I played through a short 2D platforming section reminiscent of the original Super Mario Bros. I even hung out with some dapper-looking buskers on the street.
The buskers seem to serve a short-term purpose in the game’s plot, since as soon as I finally met with Mayor Pauline she asked me to find four musicians to prepare for some festivities. I only found one musician before the New Donk city section of the demo ended, but it gave me another moon.
The desert area was a bit more direct. Instead of meeting with the leader of the area’s skull-faced, sombrero-wearing denizens, I was simply directed to climb a tower in the background. It was a small hike that included possessing a Bullet Bill to fly over a gap, jumping across sand spouts that launched me into the air, and going into another pipe that turned me into 2D graffitti to scale the last part of the tower. I still found a few distractions, including a hidden moon floating on some rubble I reached by possessing a Bullet Bill and flying in a completely different direction.
I enjoyed both gameplay segments, but they didn’t give a very good picture of the size and scope of the levels. I’d like New Donk City to be an adventure-filled metropolis and not just a street with a handful of buildings. While I could freely run around the part of New Donk City I saw, I didn’t get a sense of whether it’s indeed a city and not just New Donk Avenue. Hopefuly the different areas of the game will be sprawling, expansive settings like in older 3D Mario games like Super Mario Sunshine, and not the fairly straightforward obstacle courses of more recent 3D Mario games like Super Mario 3D World.
Health and Hats
Super Mario Odysysey doesn’t have lives like in previous Mario games. You can still take three hits before you have to start part of the level over (or six if you find a power-up heart), but this setback takes away 10 coins from your total rather than depleting a life and getting you closer to a game over. Because of this, collecting 100 coins no longer gets you an extra life, and coins appear to be more rare in general. That’s because gold coins are now used for actual currency in Super Mario Odyssey.
A hat store in New Donk City gave me the option to spend gold coins and purple currency. Gold coins can be collected anywhere, but purple currency is specific to each world. For New Donk City it’s purple coins, but the desert world has purple triangles. I could spend the gold coins on power-ups for Mario, like a heart that doubled his life meter, or on cosmetic items. I fittted Mario with a dapper black suit and a matching black fedora (which get eyes as soon as Cappy possessed it) and went out on the town. Suited Mario played exactly the same as overall-wearing Mario, but I really liked the new look.
The purple currency seems to be much more special. I didn’t have enough purple coins to buy anything in that section, but I saw options to get an orange construction outfit from Super Mario Maker and a handful of models and statues. Whether the construction outfit gives Mario any extra abilities remains to be seen, but the models and statues appear to be decorations you can place on the Odyssey between adventures. Between the statues and the suits, Super Mario Odyssey seems to offer the most cosmetic customization options of any main series Mario game.
Super Mario Odyssey is a very strange game in a very strange series, and I can’t wait to see more of it. The addition of a ghost hat that lets you possess different things adds a lot of potential for puzzles and gameplay, and the open structure of each world calls back to games like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. We’ll see just how big Mario’s adventure turns out to be when Super Mario Odyssey comes out in October.