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It was a long queue. Man, queue is a strange word. Look how it’s spelt! Queue. That’s one too many useless U’s. And E’s. Do you really need the second UE? I think in the future, it’ll be spelt kyoo. I was waiting in the kyoo for over an hour. Yeah, kyoo.

 

Having recently attended this year’s annual Japan Hyper Festival in London’s East-end docklands, I was fortunate enough to get some valuable and informative hands-on time with Nintendo’s upcoming big Triple A title for the Nintendo Switch; Super Mario Odyssey.

Nintendo has a certain amount of pressure to deliver another great Mario game…

The company’s mascot returns to the 3D platforming genre after a several year hiatus which saw several 2D platformers, Mario Maker and many other spin-offs filling the gap since Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. Arguably, the last true 3D release in this prestigious line of masterpieces was 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the original Wii; which re-used assets from the first one. Therefore, I would imagine Nintendo has a certain amount of pressure to deliver another great Mario game. This is Mario for the new generation after all.

Odyssey presents a somewhat fresh approach to the franchise. Yes, it is, once again, a large scale, 3D platforming adventure game which sees the eponymous plumber tackle various challenges across multiple imaginative worlds in his search for Stars and/or Princesses, but it also proposes a new gimmick, one that encompasses the Switch’s very ideals in the fact that it can be played on a TV or on the go. For the first time in its history, we will be getting a fully-fledged Mario experience as a home console release and a handheld game in one glorious package.

…ingenuity, precision and sheer genius…

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It was a long kyoo.

While I didn’t get a chance to play the game on the Switch’s tablet-like screen, I did manage to get a precious and scant 10 or so minutes with the game using two loose Joy-Cons. What follows are my thoughts on what promises to be one of the best technical achievements of game design seen in the genre in recent years.

Nintendo were, and still are the kings of the platform genre. Some tough competitors have come and gone (hi and bye Sonic!) but when it comes down to ingenuity, precision and sheer genius, the Mario games have stood head and shoulders above the upstarts that have failed in their disparate attempts at staging coup d’etats against them.

The point is, nobody can beat Nintendo at the type of game they pioneered. So it is with slight trepidation that I witnessed a change in proceedings: An iconic, cartoonish and slightly chubby plumber in vibrant dungarees traipsing around a (realistic?) city environment, bouncing between skyscrapers, swinging on telephone poles, dodging cars and talking to NPCs who look like they got their fashion tips from 1950s film noir. Seeing the gameplay videos at E3, it seemed slightly odd but novel, but seeing it close up, being played by regular people in front of me, the experience was quite jarring and disorienting. It really threw me for a loop. Images of Sonic Adventure 2 flashed through my mind, but there was no surfing down a San-Franciscan road this time. Here was Mario, denizen of the Mushroom Kingdom, jumping on cars and taking side-quest orders from characters who wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Mad Men. The environment was very reminiscent of Crazy Taxi and I admit it took some getting used to. The city in question is New Donk City, and the mayor is Pauline, who many players will know was Mario’s original damsel-in-distress in Donkey Kong. The connection between the simian and the city named in his honour remains to be seen but perhaps a cameo is in the works?

From what I had seen of New Donk City, there was much platforming fun to be had here…

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Mario and John Hamm set off to stomp Bowser’s reptilian ass.

New Donk City acts as the game’s hub world, and it has its own set of quests. I watched players speak to Pauline who informed them of an upcoming festival which required musicians who had gone missing. The players then had to locate them and accomplish objectives that would secure their support. Completing these tasks would net the player a “power moon”, which I suppose is the equivalent to the classic Stars of past Mario titles. There was much to do in the city, and players had a lot of fun exploring and getting used to the new features. These included the ability for Mario to use his cap, named Cappy, to possess certain enemies and transform into them, or be thrown to collect hard to reach coins.

Cappy can also be used to help Mario travel. When thrown at a pylon, Mario teleports into it and transforms into a ball of energy which can zip around on wires to reach other buildings, or he can be thrown high into the air by transforming into a flexible pole on the side of one of the skyscrapers and getting flung. The potential for using this mechanic is huge and it was more evident in the actual stage I got to play. From what I had seen of New Donk City, there was much platforming fun to be had here, even though it looked odd.

The control scheme is as tight and precise as you could hope a Mario game could be…

Crazy Taxi anyone?

Crazy Taxi anyone?

When it was my turn to play, I went against the common choice and selected the 2nd of the two options available: the Sand Kingdom. Here, I was introduced to the rolling red dunes of a typical Mario-esque stage. I could see my objective; a tower, off in the horizon, and a variety of obstacles between us. My first instinct was to test the controls. I am happy to report that Mario plays like a dream, the control scheme is as tight and precise as you could hope a Mario game could be. His Olympian agility is still present and most of the classic moves are accounted for. I was able to jump, triple jump, crouch and back-flip and cartwheel across the sands and up stone monuments like not a day had passed since Super Mario 64. Mario himself looks fantastic in his new Switch guise; you see the seams of his clothing and his hair has never looked as fabulous. The way Cappy bounces on his head as his little legs thrust him forward has all the charming animation you expect from Nintendo. The level design, though I didn’t get to explore all of it, hides hints of genius that become more apparent as you attempt to tackle the objectives and get those all-important Power Moons.

Mario can traverse large gaps by thundering across wires in the form of a lightning ball.

Mario can traverse large gaps by thundering across wires in the form of a lightning ball.

Of course the new gameplay mechanic that will feature most prominently is the use of Cappy. Pressing the Y button throws Cappy like a Frisbee, allowing Mario to knock most enemies out, like Goombas and other vermin.

It’s funny, clever, and a very inventive way of navigating the puzzles you’ll find in each zone…

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Every now and then, you’ll enter retro mode. Old school platforming segments await!

Flicking the Joy-Con in a given direction extends the duration and direction of the throw; I was shown how you could throw Cappy forward, flick the either Joy-Con to the left, and Cappy would shoot off in the same direction, hitting another enemy before returning to Mario’s head. This felt gratifying and there were even more cool moves to pull off. Flicking both Joy-Cons downward would have Mario throw Cappy like Kung Lao’s death-dealing hat, spinning forward in a saw-like fashion. Flicking them up sends Cappy spinning up in the air, no doubt allowing you to Sho-Ryu-Ken some would-be aerial assailant. Finally, flicking both Joy-Cons round in a circle deals out an area attack that clear space around you. Some objects, as well as NPCs can be possessed as I have mentioned and in this area, I found stone golem-like beings I could transform into and stomp around with. Pressing Y lowers your spectacles, allowing you to see hidden paths. I didn’t get time to try this out, as I wanted to see more of the level. You’ve probably seen the videos of this in action; it’s funny, clever, and a very inventive way of navigating the puzzles you’ll find in each zone.

I had to do some classic platforming and this is where Mario games really shine for me…

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I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth. *touches Padme*

Continuing on, I came across some Bullet Bills and promptly took them over, transforming into a moustachioed version of one and rocketing across gaps. Entering an iconic green pipe, the camera pulled back and I was switched to a 2D mode perspective. I navigated a small tower, grabbing coins and dodging spikey enemies and now 2D Bullet Bills. I escaped by smashing some bricks and was switched instantly back to 3D at the top of the tower, seamlessly. It was nice to see the retro style make a comeback in such an innovative way. At one point I had to do some classic platforming and this is where Mario games really shine for me. Jumping from platform to platform avoiding obstacles and nabbing coins brought a smile to my face. As the platform moves along a fixed track, you could throw Cappy to get some coins that were otherwise beyond reach. I noticed some strange floating device and flicking the Joy-Con when Cappy reaches it makes it fly out even further, so long as you flicked in the right direction of the floating lines of coins. It adds another dimension to the classic tropes of a Mario game; a physical element that makes you think of your hand movements as well as your hand-eye coordination and traditional gaming skills. One of the objects you could hit was a kind of explosive mine that sends shockwaves out in concentric circles, requiring you to carefully jump to avoid getting knocked off.

Nintendo looks set to dominate the market once again…

Colourful NPCs dot the landscapes.

Colourful NPCs dot the landscapes.

Should you fall (and fall I did), you are sent back to a fairly spaced checkpoint but the spokesperson on hand advised me that opening the map allows you to fast travel to the various checkpoints you can find and unlock in each world. Should you wish to go back to an area you previously visited, this is now much easier. I didn’t go too far in this level but it seemed vast, with areas to explore not only in the distance but also above and below you. Level design therefore seems to be on par with previous iterations of the franchise.

I'm here to check your plumbling

I’m here to check your plumbling

Nintendo looks set to dominate the market once again with yet another brilliant entry in the Mario series. My concerns regarding the somewhat unharmonious or contradictory graphical styles of New Donk City aside, gameplay looks solid and I can only imagine what fiendish and addictive platforming shenanigans lie in wait. I trust Nintendo to deliver a perfect game once again, made better by the fact I can take it anywhere. This is the kind of game the Switch was designed for. Innovative, big (yet somehow compact) and in its core essence: pure fun.

October can’t come soon enough.

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Seif

Born in Iraq, grew up in London. Been a massive gamer and geek for years and years! Love writing and hope to be a screenwriter/voice actor! Gamertag: Razorus PSN: Razzorus Nintendo: Razor87

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