Last month, outside of the manic hot-house of E3, I was fortunate to get the chance to sit down with Super Mario Odyssey, and bask in the vast potential of Nintendo’s first flagship Mario title since Super Mario Galaxy.
Like Mr Schreier at E3 last month, I explored part of the Sand Kingdom, Tostarena, and the already iconic, human-occupied New Donk City. Instead of going over old ground though, I decided to get stuck into game's more obscure elements; the hidden nooks and crannies and the many different ways that players can obtain Odyssey's coveted Power Moons.
Watch any coverage of Odyssey and you’ll get a fair idea of the scope of each area. It doesn’t want to impress with sheer size, but instead focuses on adding substantial depth to each stage. Galaxy had players visit areas with an express purpose in mind, a set mission or star to collect, while Odyssey just wants players to run free, exploring and uncovering secrets on their own.
It feels like Nintendo is building on its Breath of the Wild mantra in Odyssey, doubling down on the idea that freedom is fun. While skipping merrily around Tostarena, I found my first Moon hidden — tucked sneakily away in a secret passage — simply by wandering off the beaten path.
Exploration is key in Odyssey; if you can see something, you can eventually reach it, but getting there often requires a bit of wacky experimentation. In New Donk City, for example, I managed to find an entirely new area by popping open a manhole cover and hopping inside.
You'll want to explore as thoroughly as possible too. Diligent adventurers can uncover new currency in each world that can be used to purchase Power Moons and unique items. At one point, I was able to buy Mario a sombrero and poncho that gave me access to a restricted area — as well as letting me see him perform the ultimate mariachi dance.
It's obvious that Nintendo has found real inspiration in the idea of Mario going on holiday. From the unique currency to the game’s tourist brochure-style maps, Odyssey is fully committed to its globe-trotting holiday motif.
Thankfully Mario’s equipped with all the right moves to make travelling feel fluid and engaging. Whether you're possessing enemies or dashing up poles, movement in Odyssey has been perfectly honed to help you get Mario exactly where you want him to go, without feeling like a chore. All the classics moves are back, including ground pounding and wall jumping, along with some new additions like Cappy.
Cappy, as you'll have no doubt spotted in Nintendo's lively E3 videos, functions more or less like a boomerang. This is where the Switch's motion controls really come into play; you can shake one Joy-Con to throw Cappy forward, and snap both together to make him perform a spin attack. Both feel very satisfying, and ended up as my default method of attack.
If you're super keen to acquire Power Moons in Odyssey, there are plenty of options outside of exploration. For instance, trying doors in Tostarena led me to a simple little match-3 slot machine game, and I even discovered some giant acorns that could be planted in pots to tease out new rewards.
It's safe to say that collecting Power Moons feels a lot quicker than gathering Stars or Shines ever did. Every few minutes of play in Odyssey brings another reward and a greater sense of achievement as you explore each sandbox-style level, which is an approach I can firmly get behind.
And god, there is so much charm. It's an obvious thing to say about a Mario game, but Odyssey is something else, and Nintendo's attention to detail really makes the different locations shine. There's the way Mario’s animations change depending on his environment, the little cabbie hats on New Donk City's Bullet Bills, the posters of Bowser kidnapping Peach hidden across each map — these small touches really help to bring each unique environment to life.
If I were forced to choose, I’d probably have to say that Tostarena is a better stage than New Donk City at this point. Compared to the russet-coloured sands and wide horizons of Tostarena, New Donk City just feels a little cramped and dull. And to be honest, I'm still not completely sold on the merits of putting Mario in any kind of ‘realistic’ environment. I want bold ideas and new directions from Nintendo, and New Donk City doesn't quite deliver.
Not that Super Mario Odyssey is short of weird creativity. One of its greatest strengths is the way it constantly spits out strange new surprises, something that you immediately want to share with other people. Did you know, for instance, that piranha plants will swallow Cappy whole if you throw him in their direction, or that you’ll have to jump on their heads to free him?
Super Mario Odyssey often feels like an Easter Egg hunt, a game that's designed specifically to reward your curiosity and sense of adventure. Imagine the open-world elements of Sunshine mixed in with the tight controls and variety of Galaxy, and you’ve pretty much got Odyssey down to a T. It's wonderful playground of discovery, and classic Nintendo through and through. And remarkably, we've only seen a tiny fraction of Super Mario Odyssey's enticing world.