E3 2017: Super Mario Odyssey makes a positive, wacky first impression

Mario games have always been weird, but Super Mario Odyssey manages to be even stranger than its predecessors.

New trailer at E3 trade show reveals Mario's hat-like companion, Cappy

Mario visits many worlds unlike the Mushroom Kingdom — including New Donk City, populated by normal-looking humans — in Super Mario Odyssey. (Nintendo)

Super Mario has always been weird.

An Italian plumber bouncing off turtles, fish and other enemies to save a human princess in a kingdom filled with walking, talking mushroom people, after all, is a strange starting point for any fictional setting.

But Super Mario Odyssey, the latest game starring Nintendo's marquee cast of characters, manages to be even stranger than its predecessors.

The trailer wowed critics and fans at the annual E3 games conference in Los Angeles, and Nintendo of Canada gave CBC News a rare hands-on look at the game in Toronto this week.

As usual, the turtle-like monster Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach but this time he wants to marry her. He has hired a team of evil wedding planners to organize his upcoming nuptials and it's up to Mario to save the day (again).

Helping Mario in his quest is Cappy, a ghost-like creature who has possessed the plumber's hat.

A creature named Cappy has taken the place of Mario's signature red hat. You can throw the hat as a weapon, to collect items or to possess enemies. (Nintendo)

​More than just about any developer in the world, Nintendo knows the player must enjoy simply moving around in the game's 3D space before introducing enemies, obstacles or anything else.

I started the demo by spending about a minute doing nothing but make Mario run around in circles, jumping and leaping around a rooftop.

This time around, you can throw Cappy like a boomerang, letting you hit enemies or break wooden boxes to open up new paths. You can swing it in different directions with a flick of the controller's motion sensor. You can also hold a button to keep the hat spinning in place and leap onto the hat giving Mario a springboard to reach higher platforms.

Mario can control many enemies in the game, like these Goombas, adding his red hat and mustache to their appearance. (Nintendo)

But when you throw Cappy at certain enemies or objects, Mario "captures" them, allowing the player to take control and use their abilities. Throw your hat at a Bullet Bill, for example, and you'll turn into it, allowing you to fly over bottomless pits. Throw it at a power line, and you'll turn into an electric spark allowing you to travel along the line between buildings.

We got to play an area of New Donk City, a New York-like location where Pauline, the original damsel in distress from 1981's Donkey Kong, now presides over as mayor. It's a bizarre setting for a Mario game, replacing green hills with an urban landscape more akin to Grand Theft Auto.

You can roam the city grounds, climb buildings looking for coins, or complete mission objectives for Pauline, like finding musicians for a local concert.

You'll be looking to collect Moons — similar to Stars from Super Mario 64 to progress. You can find them by finishing missions or reaching certain checkpoints, but you can also find them hidden around the world. In New Donk City, for example, you'll be awarded a Moon by filling empty planters with seeds, or playing a game of jump rope with some citizens.

These mini-puzzles feel a lot like the well-received Korok Seed puzzles from this year's standout game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

New Donk City easily made the biggest impression as the least un-Mario-like location in the game. But the playable demo also included a nifty frozen desert with red sand glistening with frost, populated by creatures inspired by Mexican folklore. Other areas shown off in trailers included a tropical desert and an area seemingly made out of giant fluorescent fruits and vegetables.

A snappily dressed Bowser has intentions to marry Princess Peach, and he's hired a squad of evil wedding planners to help. (Nintendo)

By taking some cues from other open-world games — features like mission waypoints, fetch quests and an overworld map are rare if not unheard of in non-spinoff Mario games — Odyssey feels like it will shake up the traditional settings Nintendo fans are used to. There hasn't been a real shake-up to the 3D Mario formula since 2007's Super Mario Galaxy.

Gamers won't know whether Super Mario Odyssey delivers on the promising first look until it hits store shelves October 27, but for now it's made a very good — and wacky — first impression.