Recently, I had an experience- one of those lifelong dream experiences. I got to go to California to attend E3! And the highlight of that experience? I waited an hour and a half to play Super Mario Odyssey for 10 minutes while I was there. I get funny looks whenever I tell that story to people since I have gotten home. But, I’m not ashamed to admit it. That whole process was the highlight of my trip and I would have done it again in a heartbeat.
The release of a New Super Mario game has always been significant for me. In a way, Mario games have served as gatekeepers to new and interesting experiences. I was never on the bleeding edge of gaming technology when I was younger. My family just didn’t have the money to indiscriminately blow cash on games and consoles unless it was for a birthday or Christmas. And, since Mario games were family favorites in our house, it meant that these games were ones to introduce me to new ways to play games.
A Long History
The original Super Mario Bros was the first game I ever played on the NES. It is fairly archaic when you look back on it now. But, it was perfection back then. I was enthralled by every bit of that game. Super Mario Bros was the first game I played where I actually felt myself making progress and improving my play style and techniques. I was pushed forward through a series of levels, each one slightly more challenging than the last. I learned something every time I had a game over. In a way, this helped to form the foundation of the way I play games.
Super Mario World launched with the SNES and was the first game that I ever remember wanting to explore. It was the first game in the Mario franchise to let players replay levels a second time to find secret exits or hidden coins. Color block temples spread throughout the game also reinforced that exploration mentality. Completing the temple would spread colored blocks throughout the world that would let you run and jump in placed that would have been almost certain death before.
Super Mario 64 was the first game I ever played that took advantage of 3D movement. I still remember the first time that I could just run in circles. I must have spent an hour in that first open area just practicing all of the different ways I could run and jump. I also remember being amazed at how open it was. It was awesome being able to take on the different challenges in any order I pleased. It was also nice to be able to skip levels that I found frustrating and save them until the end. This is a big deal because all of the Mario games before it were more or less linear affairs.
Super Mario Sunshine expanded on the openness of Mario 64 by presenting its challenges in a much more contiguous world. It wasn’t an open world game the way that we think of them now, but it was a very strong step in that direction. I also really appreciate that Nintendo was willing to try something VERY different by, essentially, giving Mario a gun for the first time. It wasn’t a true gun like the ones he will be utilizing in Mario + Rabids Kingdom Battle, but instead it was a super strong water hose attached to a backpack. It was the first time that I remember Nintendo proving to me that they were willing to take risks with their main character.
Super Mario Galaxy is one of my favorite games of all time. It took the 3D movement from Mario 64 and applied it to levels based on spheres. This resulted in one of the coolest collections of levels I have ever seen in a game.
All of this brings me to my time with Super Mario Odyssey. My demo was only 10 minutes long, but it was a very dense experience. It really felt the culmination of everything I had played in the series before. The biggest difference now is that the game feels truly open. I chose a desert based level that had a small quest hub at its entrance. I was then set free to wander the level looking for coins, objectives, and purple moon pickups (this game’s equivalent of the stars from Mario 64). I had complete freedom to move around the level and take on challenges in whatever way (or order) I chose.
This was all accentuated by the new capture mechanic. In Odyssey, Mario can throw his hat Cappy at enemies in order to “capture” them. When he does so he assumes their form and can move like they do. At once point I mind controlled a Bullet Bill and was able to fly over a previously unpassable canyon. This is going to be one of the biggest mechanics in the game and I can’t wait to see how Nintendo lets us use it.
I spent the better part of this year so far in awe at the freedom I was given in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It looks like I might be doing the same with Super Mario Odyssey when it hits the Nintendo Switch on October 27th, 2017.