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Super Mario Odyssey hands-on: This could well be the best Mario yet

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Super Mario Odyssey is, on the surface, a wildly different Mario game. It’s an “open-world” game – a vast adventure compared with previous titles – bucking the trend of puzzle-based level traversal, and it introduces an entirely new sidekick, Cappy.

The internet’s opinion is split. Die-hard Nintendo fans will always be excited when a new Super Mario adventure arrives, but others remain skeptical, unsure if the changes could ever return 3D Mario to the heady heights of Super Mario 64. Some, rather unfairly, have compared Cappy with F.L.U.D.D., Mario’s companion in one of his least popular adventures, Super Mario Sunshine.

Well, there’s no need to worry. After my short hands-on time with Nintendo’s E3 build I can confirm Super Mario Odyssey is shaping up to be the plumber’s finest outing yet.

Super Mario Odyssey hands-on: What you need to know

Super Mario Odyssey is a Nintendo Switch-exclusive Super Mario game and it’s set to launch in October of this year. The basic premise revolves around Bowser stealing away Princess Peach, causing Mario to team up with a magical hat called Cappy in a bid to rescue her.

It’s unclear how many different worlds you’ll travel to on your journey – I’ve seen glimpses of five so far – but each one is a huge sandbox for you to explore, making it the biggest Super Mario title yet. I barely had time to scratch the surface in the time I had had with the game, but it’s clear Nintendo is onto another winner.

Super Mario Odyssey hands-on: Setting

Odyssey goes back to the series’ roots, putting Princess Peach at the mercy of Bowser as he travels between worlds gathering everything he needs to finally – and forcefully – marry her.

It’s an antiquated theme, and one I hope Nintendo turns on its head somewhere along the way, but it does help draw parallels between Mario’s most loved 3D adventure and this new entry. The similarities don’t stop there, either. As in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Odyssey tasks you with collecting Moons (instead of Stars) to help you explore new worlds and get closer to saving Princess Peach.

These Moons are hidden absolutely everywhere. I stumbled upon one hidden in a crate, while another was hidden under some tarpaulin. You’ll find others just floating out in the wild and some require you to pick up shards dotted around a fiendish obstacle course. Nintendo hasn’t revealed how many Moons there are to find in Super Mario Odyssey, nor how many are needed to power your hat-shaped spaceship – called the Odyssey – to find new worlds. We do know, however, that there are around 30 to 50 Moons to be found in each of Super Mario Odyssey’s sandbox levels.

Unlike Super Mario 64, Sunshine and Galaxy, Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t kick you back into some hub world once you’ve snatched up a Moon. In this outing, everything just carries on as before. You can search high and low for Moons, safe in the knowledge that you won’t disrupt the key objective in a given world until you’re ready to progress.

Grabbing the story-critical Moons, though, which usually lie at the end of a more traditional Super Mario platforming-style challenge, opens up further levels by uncovering new areas for exploration or shifting the current world into a different state of existence. This encourages you to dive back in and explore these new and reworked areas in search of even more Moons.

Super Mario Odyssey is all about feeding your curiosity, making you explore every nook and cranny of the gorgeous world Nintendo’s team has built. If you thought The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a good-looking Switch game, Super Mario Odyssey will blow your mind.

Super Mario Odyssey hands-on: Gameplay

To really make the most of his new exploratory freedom, Mario has dug out some of his old moves. The backflip, long jump, side jump and wall hop are all present and correct but this time they’re joined by a new forward-roll and the addition of Cappy, Mario’s new sidekick – a sentient hat he wears on his head.

Mario’s acrobatics are enough to help him navigate the more standard aspects of each world he visits, but Cappy adds an extra dimension. Not only can Mario throw Cappy up, down, forward and in a circle around him to take out enemies when surrounded but can also help Mario jump that little bit further.

Cappy’s main trick, however, is the act of short-term possession, imbuing Mario with the ability to inhabit objects and characters for a limited period of time, opening new routes for exploration and the potential to discover more Moons. You can’t take control of just anything though, Bullet Bills are fair game, allowing you to guide them into obstacles or cross wide gaps, but Goombas are seemingly off-limits. You can also take control of lookout points to help spot Moons or scout out levels or use electrical wires to zip around levels.

Super Mario Odyssey hands-on: An early verdict

Super Mario Odyssey is incredibly good fun to play. The open-world layout adds a level of depth and breadth I’ve never seen in a Super Mario game. And far from being a gimmick, used mainly to differentiate Odyssey from its predecessors, the addition of Cappy genuinely seems to add an extra dimension.

One thing I’m sure of, though, is that I’m itching to spend more time with Super Mario Odyssey. I want to uncover its secrets, explore its worlds and I want to sit out in the sun and play Super Mario Odyssey on my Switch until I get blisters on my thumbs.

Alas, I’m going to have to wait until October before I can do that.

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