Check out the rest of our previews over in our newly launched Nintendo Switch section.
There’s something we tend to forget about the Super Mario games. They’re weird. Like, really weird. We embraced that during the early days, when kids delighted in eating flowers to shoot fireballs, while adults made jokes about magic mushrooms. But Mario has become ubiquitous and his titles a bit rote. He’s lost a bit of that early magic. Enter Super Mario Odyssey , a 3D Switch platformer that’s looking to make Mario weird again.
While the most recent fully 3D Mario games, the Galaxy series, were largely made up of linear levels, Super Mario Odyssey takes the series back to the sandbox-style gameplay found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine . In fact, with the size of the worlds we’ve seen in the game’s first trailer, it appears to be giving Mario more freedom and space than ever before.
In a discussion with Nintendo Treehouse, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto noted that the Mario series always has a push and pull between titles meant for “core” gamers and those meant to be accessible to a broader audience. Since the broad audience currently has Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Run to play with, Super Mario Odyssey is meant to be a title that core action gamers can really get into.
There’s been a push and pull between old and new Nintendo staffers during Odyssey ‘s development as well. A number of the new worlds and characters in the game were pitched to Miyamoto by younger members of the team, as mentoring a new generation of Nintendo developers is one of the veteran’s major goals right now. Miyamoto sometimes worried that Mario wouldn’t fit into these new worlds, but stated that’s the kind of game it ended up being.
And those new worlds are precisely how Super Mario Odyssey brings “weird” back to the Mario series. The first new world we see is a modern city that somewhat resembles New York, complete with taxicabs and huge, Broadway-style billboards. Mario looks incongruous running and jumping around this space, especially when he passes by humans of ordinary size and proportion. The major design differences between these civilians and Mario make it clear that whatever Mario is, he’s not human. Like, whoa.
Other strange worlds include a desert land, vegetable world, and giant forest. In one area, the desert land hosts an adobe village inhabited by Day of the Dead-inspired skeleton people. Behind the village are some traditional Egyptian-style ruins like we often see in Mario desert worlds, but with the odd twist that the pyramids are upside-down. The vegetable world is pastel-colored and looks a bit more like a traditional Mario world, but the fork people who live there are certainly new to the series. In the same world we see some Hammer Bros who toss frying pans, showing that we’re not losing our old faithful Mario foes, just seeing them from a new angle. We haven’t seen much of the giant forest yet, but it combines a realistic wilderness look with bizarre things like dancing watering cans. This mixture of realism and cartoonish characters seems to echo through several of the game’s worlds, adding to the off-kilter feeling of the game.
Mario has some new moves in this weird new world, as well. His hat, which sometimes sports googly eyes, appears to be a bit of a character in itself. Mario can toss the hat and use it as a platform, something that is sure to be a boon to sequence-breakers and speed-runners. We also have some hints that there will be vehicles in the game. We’ve seen Mario riding a flying saucer reminiscent of Pikmin from world to world, and we also see him riding an animated lion statue in the desert world. Miyamoto muttered something about “vehicles” during his Treehouse interview before quickly switching topics, too, so we’re betting there are more on the way.
I’m loving this return to sandbox-style 3D Mario gameplay, as well as Nintendo’s apparent commitment to a weird vision for the petite plumber’s latest adventure. Gaming’s most recognized mascot was in desperate need of some fresh ideas in his games, and Super Mario Odyssey looks like it’s just what the doctor ordered. It’s a return to Mario’s oldest tradition of delightedly casting off reality, but it’s doing so in a new and interesting way. Here’s hoping we see even more exciting new worlds and characters on the road to Odyssey ‘s holiday release.