Hands-On With ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ On The Nintendo Switch – Forbes
My second appointment at E3, following the parade of pre-show conferences, was with Nintendo.
I arrived at the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center Tuesday and shuffled in with the massive swarm of attendees, precariously navigating my way through the crowd to the Nintendo booth for my noon appointment.
Nintendo had set up a huge enclave and decked it out as New Donk City, one of the areas from the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey game on Nintendo Switch.
The public area was dotted with terminals you could wait in line to play games on, though “line” at E3 this year might be better described as “jumble” or “mob.” At the back and center was the Nintendo Treehouse stage, where Nintendo broadcasts gameplay and announcements from the show floor. Starting later that day were the first Splatoon 2 tournaments.
I had no idea where to go, so I flagged down a helpful Nintendo worker and she guided me back to the press check in desk, where I waited until a PR guy came and guided me up a flight of stairs, out of the crowd and into the cloistered press area.
Here a number of terminals were set up with helpful Nintendo reps at the ready. A young Japanese woman helped set me up, helpfully securing the Joy-Cons to my wrists. We started with Super Mario Odyssey.
The biggest surprise for me playing Super Mario Odyssey this week at E3 was the game’s heavy emphasis on motion controls. You might as well call this Motion-Control Mario.
As you run around the weird open-world-ish stages with Mario, you’ll find yourself shaking your Joy-Cons, twirling them, and so forth to do all manner of things, from tossing Mario’s hat at enemies (it works kind of like Yondu’s arrow in Guardians of the Galaxy) to zipping across electric lines. Want to climb a pipe faster? Shake those controllers!
I’ll admit, this took some getting used to, though part of the problem was one of communication. In a short game demo, it’s important to get the controls down quickly, and my helper—who was incredibly nice—had a very thick Japanese accent and spoke quite softly. It was difficult to follow along. Still, once I’d figured things out I found things chugged along nicely.
I’m not at all an advocate of motion controls as they’ve been applied to most video games since the Wii. The Kinect was an abject failure. Sony’s motion controls were more accurate, but rarely made any PlayStation game better. The Wii U used some leftover motion stuff from the Wii era, but mostly it was gimmicky and optional.
But I’ve noticed with the Nintendo Switch that Nintendo has refined its use of motion-controls in interesting and, frankly, almost astounding ways. Part of this is simply doing less with motion, but making sure that what you do use them for is effective and fun. My best example of this is aiming your bow and special powers in The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.
In that game, using motion controls to aim an arrow at an enemy was far, far more effective and easy than trying to aim with a thumbstick. It made me wish I could do the same while playing Horizon Zero Dawn on the PS4. This was one of the first times I used a motion control and thought “Wow, I really like this.”
I’m less enthusiastic about the controls in Super Mario Odyssey. For one thing, it’s quite a lot more than aiming. You flick your wrists to toss Mario’s hat. You shake them to climb up things faster, and so on and so forth. It’s core to much of what Mario does, though traditional controls still govern his movement, jumping and so forth.
On the other hand, you can still do all of this on a Pro Controller without the motion controls, or in handheld mode with the Joy-Cons attached, so there’s options. And even though there’s quite a lot more motion controls here than in Zelda, none of them are difficult and all of them felt incredibly responsive. There’s nothing floaty about it. You do the proper motion and you get the proper response. The Switch is quite good in this regard.
It’s impressive in other ways, too. In New Donk City I hopped on a motorcycle and drove around. It’s a weird place. Honestly, it’s creepy as hell. The humans feel…wrong somehow.
But as I drove, both my Joy-Con controllers buzzed in my hand, as though I were gripping an actual motorcycle’s handlebar. (Well, a very gently rumbling scooter’s handlebar in any case.)
Lots of little, clever things abound in Super Mario Odyssey. I came across a wall with 2D Mario stuff basically painted on its side. Bricks and question-mark boxes and Bullet Bills. The cool thing was you could go through a pipe and actually appear as 2D Mario on that wall, navigating a 2D mini-level that looked straight out of the original game.
Meanwhile, interacting with some objects lets you become them. You can become a rocket, for instance, and blast off to a new area. Or possess an enemy. All of this is done with Cappy, Mario’s all-powerful hat (who can also be controlled by a second player in local co-op using two Joy-Con controllers.) Really, you could call this game Super Mario Hat and it would be pretty accurate. You can even possess a T-Rex, though I wasn’t able to experience that in my time with the game.
All told, I’m pretty excited for this game. I’m not 100% on board with the motion controls, and I’ve yet to make up my mind about how much I like using the hat so much, but the sheer level of creativity and level variety is exciting. Nintendo makes a ton of Mario games, and it always surprises me that they can keep things so varied and unique still even after all these years.