Mario has gotten up to some weird shenanigans in his 30 year existence. He's been a doctor, Olympic athlete and graffiti removal expert, but none of those dalliances will ever rival the sheer madness of Super Mario Odyssey.
In this all-new adventure your favourite plumber can be a flagpole, a fire hydrant and a dinosaur. And that's just what we've seen so far of this Switch game’s delirious charms. An open world platformer that's every bit as ambitious as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, we really can't wait to play it in full when it hits stores in just a few months time.
Not got a Switch yet? This could be all the excuse you need.
So you're probably wondering how the hell a dungaree-revivalist can assume the form of a dinosaur? Through the help of a magic, eyeballed hat called Cappy, of course. As if there would be any other answer.
Just fling Cappy at your chosen object, inanimate or not, and there's a fair old chance Mario’s consciousness will subsume it. In a totally non-creepy way. Every controllable object gets a Mario-style hat, eyes and moustache, and in the brief time we spent with Odyssey this visage rarely proved anything thing less than hilarious.
There is a point to this incongruous approach to exploration, and it’s to make Mario seem new again. As much as we’ve never seen Nintendo’s greatest creation roam around on an enormous scale before, you could pretty much imagine how that might go were this game set in Mushroom Kingdom again. Instead you’re tasked with traversing skyscrapers of New Donk City or uncovering the desert sprawl of the Sand Kingdom, and initially have no idea how to interact with their many landmarks and citizens.
The only way to make sense of it all? Fling your hat at everything that moves and plenty that doesn’t. With this simple mechanic the old rules of Mario have been totally rewritten, just as Breath of the Wild tossed aside a load of old Zelda conventions without a second thought. Even if Odyssey turns out to be more Super Mario Sunshine than Galaxy, you still have to admire its chutzpah.
While Cappy is by far most noticeable introduction to Odyssey there’s plenty more about it that’s different. Mushrooms are no longer used to power-up your health, costumes can be bought with the coins you collect and you quests are handed to you by various denizens of the game. Also, did we mention the dinosaur thing? It’s kind of a big deal.
Crucially, there’s still enough of the old Mario games in Odyssey to ensure you’re not completely bamboozled by it. Anyone who’s played his recent 3D World or Galaxy outings will be familiar with both his controls and impossibly acrobatic move-set. That’s not to say Princess Peach’s protector doesn’t have a few new tricks up his sleeve. He can now roll into a ball and spin along a level, as well as use Cappy to traverse across chasms and slay Goombas for good measure.
Odyssey gives you all the means rule supreme over its many worlds, however unfamiliar they may seem at first. And that’s what makes its many challenges fun, at least from what we’ve played so far.
If you know anything about Odyssey already, it’s probably that it’s the Mario game with actual humans in it. These people - as opposed to whatever kind of being the moustached one is - all reside in New Donk City: which marries New York with a litany of Donkey Kong references both obvious and obscure. For example, the mayor of city is the same Pauline that Jumpman (a.k.a. Mario) tried to rescue way back in 1981. While we didn’t catch sight of ol’ DK himself, it seems impossible that he won’t turn up in the final game.
In the meantime, we were contented ourselves with collecting Power Moons that fuel Mario’s ship - the Odyssey - and further his quest to rescue the kidnapped Princess Peach from Bowser planned wedding to her. While it’s a shame that the most revolutionary Mario game yet is still happy to stick with Peach as a damsel-in-distress, the idea of scattering a load of collectables across one huge world is a good one.
Even in our brief time with Odyssey, we found loads Power Moons scattered around New Donk City. From secret levels below manholes to the top of the Empire State Building, this game makes a great effort to reward your curiosity and the same went for our time in the sunny climes of the Sand Kingdom. That you can go from playing an 8-bit, 2D side-scrolling section to leaping about on a Sphinx-like taxi called a Jaxi in the space of a minute speaks volumes of the creativity that’s been crammed into the game.
Better still, each world we delved into had its own unique art style and challenges. Rather than sticking to the usual formula of fire world, ice world, water world, it seems as though Nintendo has done its utmost to break conventions and confound expectations. Having gone into our time with Odyssey with some degree of suspicion how everything would fit together, we came out of it wanting to see just how ludicrous it might get.
Super Mario Odyssey initial verdict
If making a new kind of Mario game after three decades seems like an impossible task, then Odyssey makes that challenge look easy through sheer force of inventiveness. Who knows whether it’ll all hang together come October 27, but for now we’re delighted with how unexpected the whole thing proved to be.
The worst Marios of recent time have been content to rely on an inspiring cocktail of nostalgia and formula. Odyssey sees such a routine as an affront to fun: it’s big and risky and creative. Even that doesn’t all add up to great game in the end, we can’t help but applaud Nintendo’s intentions.