Everyone loves Mario. The Italian plumber returns to his 3D platformer roots in Super Mario Odyssey, due for release on Nintendo Switch on Octover 27, 2017. And we got to play two levels for 10 minutes a piece at E3 2017.
But Odyssey isn't a straight-up Mario game as we know it. Sure, there are some core elements true to Mario, but Odyssey's introduction of "hats" - thrown and used to take-over and control objects and enemies in the game - turns out to be a new gameplay ace. Taking over a Bullet Bill to navigate to a new area works a treat.
However, some of Odyssey's settings and characters are downright oddities. Playing as Mario runing around a pseudo New York (called Metropolis) with shonky looking human characters feels like a step away from the other-wordly wonder of what Mario is all about; it's a step too close to Bob Hoskins in the 1993 Mario Bros movie. Using hats to effectively become taxis, dinosaurs, even electricity in Odyssey is just, well, not very Mario.
How much that will distract from the full game we're yet to see. Because playing the Sand Kingdom felt like true, classic Mario. It's got the look, the feel, the level design that makes it oh so Mario. With added maracas.
Controlling Odyssey on Switch makes full use of the Joy-Con controllers. We held one in each hand, with a physical flick motion being critical for Mario to sling his hat: flick both in tandem in the same direction and the hat circles Mario, defending from surrounding enemies; flick up and there's verticality; flick in a single given direction and the hat can be used to specifically target. It took a little getting used to, but works well, without feeling like an overly fussy control system.
Navigating the Sand Kingdom also exposed one of Odyssey's other interesting features: Mario can change into different clothing and hats, with the explorer outfit available in this demo. Later, in the Metropolis demo, we were able to collect enough coins to buy a hard hat and overalls from an inter-city shop. All manner of other outfits are available too. There are purple coins in addition to the usual gold ones.
There's also no small Mario. Instead it's a three-strike system before you're defeated and teleported back to the previous save flag.
One excellent homage to the earlier Mario titles is the ability to enter green pipes which paste a 2D Mario across a wall; a mirror of the original game, adding a different point to play. Switching in and out of these sections is seamless, which makes for a clever dynamic.
As per all classic Mario games, Odyssey throws in mini games and has hidden gems - moon shards in this instance - hidden around levels that will require exploration to locate them all. That ought to add some replay value.
At the heart of Super Mario Odyssey is a classic Mario title - one that seems to have gone a little overboard in its use of some settings and characters, but one that we're sure we'll come to love when the full game is released.
Super Mario Odyssey is released exclusively for Nintendo Switch on October 27, 2017.