About 10 hours ago, I lucked into a copy of Nintendo’s coming “Super Mario Odyssey.” I’ve since been playing it nearly nonstop.
Good news: So far, “Super Mario Odyssey” is excellent.
“Super Mario Odyssey” feels brand new, despite starring a decades-old character. It looks far better than it should on the Switch, a console that’s not quite as powerful as the competition.
And it seemingly evolves the long-running franchise once again, letting you play as dozens of unique characters.
Like Mario’s old pal Bullet Bill, for instance:
Here are my full impressions of the biggest game of the year, “Super Mario Odyssey,” after 10 hours:
WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead for “Super Mario Odyssey,” including story and gameplay.
I’m going to speak explicitly about “Super Mario Odyssey” – this is a preview, after all. If you don’t want anything spoiled, turn back!
It doesn’t waste your time with a bunch of needless story.
The premise of “Super Mario Odyssey” is delightfully quick and simple.
Mario’s permanent nemesis, Bowser, has kidnapped Princess Peach and is forcing her into marriage. Mario’s not into that, which is seemingly why Bowser’s doing it in the first place. He shreds Mario’s hat and takes off in an airship. Typical!
But also whatever, right? How much motivation do you need to take out a villainous turtle dressed like a pimp?
Relax: All of this plot setup plays out in short order.
“Odyssey” jumps right into the action.
After falling from Bowser’s airship, Mario lands in a world ruled by hat-obsessed ghosts – a convenient twist given his immediate past. One such ghost hat, named Cappy, befriends Mario and offers to team up on a mission to save their respective significant others.
What that means for playing the game is that you can start throwing around Mario’s hat pretty much immediately. And that’s great, because that’s the new element at the heart of “Odyssey” – Mario can “capture” and inhabit various things, both living and not.
Before I fought a boss or even found the all-important airship (named “Odyssey”) that Mario uses to travel from kingdom to kingdom, I’d “captured” a frog and done some insane things.
My first capture: The frog.
The world of “Odyssey,” like “Super Mario 64 before it, is a mix of friendly and hostile characters. The frog is seemingly neither – it exists to be captured, so that Mario can jump super high.
Playing as the frog above, I leapt massive heights. I remembered areas I couldn’t reach before, and retraced my path to find secrets. I spent time acclimating to how entirely different it felt to play the game as this frog rather than as Mario.
It’s important to recognize that this “capture” ability means you can play as literally dozens of unique characters, each with their own abilities. That’s no small feat, and – more importantly – it’s a huge change to how Mario traditionally has worked.
In “Odyssey” there are no power-ups, but there are dozens of things that Mario can become.
I played as dinosaur Mario, and as frog Mario. and many more. You can “capture” at least 52 different things, from Bullet Bill to boulders.
The standard Mario vocabulary must be thrown out for “Odyssey.” Early on, I found myself trying to figure out how to use Mario’s prime skill – lots of different jumps – to solve this or that puzzle.
As it turns out, that’s almost never the solution in “Odyssey.”
Instead, follow this rule: When in doubt, throw your hat.
It’s astounding how quick I was to forget that I should be using the throwable hat for everything. Not only can it be used to “capture” things, but it can also be used to collect hard to reach coins or as an extra platform.
In one of the game’s first few kingdoms, I was taking over Bullet Bills and navigating all sorts of places I usually couldn’t go with just Mario. Though the camera angles can get a bit iffy while controlling non-Mario characters, it’s beyond worth it for the ability to fly around as a longstanding enemy of Mario.
“Super Mario Odyssey” seems gigantic.
Upon landing in each kingdom, I was overwhelmed by stuff to do. A dozen different paths immediately drew my attention, and it was hard to know where to go first.
Since this is a Mario game, there are no special powers required to get anywhere – everything you can see, from the very start of a kingdom, is something you can access or solve immediately.
In this way, “Odyssey” follows the structure of “Super Mario 64” almost exactly. You’re given a big open world with a set number of collectibles, and given free reign to collect them as you wish. There are a few exceptions, like doors that won’t open until certain conditions are met, but they’re rare.
Each kingdom differs in how many moons there are to collect (the “Odyssey” equivalent of stars in “Super Mario 64”). Bonneton, in the Cap Kingdom, has under 20 – still plenty considering that at least a dozen of those are more puzzle than collection. Tostarena, in the Sand Kingdom, has a whopping 69.
Moons can be as simple to acquire as reaching the top of a building, or as difficult to acquire as defeating a boss.
There are secrets everywhere in “Odyssey,” which makes its massive worlds feel dense with stuff to do.
Much like Nintendo’s enormous “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” did earlier this year, “Super Mario Odyssey” fills its world with little snags everywhere that you can pull.
Is that a little 8-bit art hidden on the wall over there? Why is everything in the desert frozen? And what in the world is this rocket doing in here?
From the big to the small, the world of “Odyssey” is rife with curiosities to dig in on. I’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of figuring out what’s what.
More than just the challenge of the platforming, the most exciting aspect of “Odyssey” is simply trying to understand its world.
We’ll have much more “Super Mario Odyssey” coverage in the coming days — the game launches for the Nintendo Switch on October 27. Check out the latest trailer right here: