Nintendo offers new Super Mario Odyssey details and demo of Square’s intriguing ‘Project Octopath Traveler’

Nintendo announced a few items today to hold gamers over until the holiday season — and to appease would-be SNES Classic buyers. It announced a few details of its most anticipated upcoming games and even a demo (remember those?) of a throwback title from Square Enix that caught everyone’s eye way back at the Switch launch event.

After a warm-up with some bones thrown to the hungry 3DS crowd (some Pokémon updates and a new orange and white variant of the handheld), Nintendo moved on to the main event.

First was a nod to retro gamers with the Arcade Archives: Mario Bros series, a collection of arcade games including, of course, the titular one, but also Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Pinball Something, Clu Clu Land, Punch-Out! and a few others. They’re all true to the arcade versions (as opposed to the original NES ports in the ’80s) and support multiple players. I’ll definitely be getting it.

After a few other small announcements and a lengthy overview of the new Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which looks great, if rather involved, the Nintendo Direct video moved on to the still awkwardly named “Working Title: ‘Project Octopath Traveler.'”

This RPG blends contemporary and retro ideas and graphics techniques with, it has to be said, considerable panache. The sprites and backgrounds are very clearly derived from Final Fantasy VI, which some (including yours truly) still consider the pinnacle of the series. But the nonlinear structure suggests newer ideas in the actual gameplay, while 3D lighting and camera effects spruce up the beautiful and unapologetically 2D art.

As a pleasant surprise, the game has a demo now available on the Switch eShop, which I’m downloading as I type this. It seems like kind of a beta test, as players will be polled on various aspects of the game. Hopefully this means they just want people to get involved, and not that there’s some kind of conceptual directionlessness.

After the RPG section came the much-awaited new info on Super Mario Odyssey. We know the game is coming out next month on the 27th, so right now everyone is just hungry for details. And details we got: Nintendo showed off new snowy, beachy and tropical worlds, as well as the unusual capability in the game for players to customize Mario with new clothes.

You always changed your outfit when you got a fire flower or Tanuki suit or whatever, but these are straight-up outfits, some themed, others just for fun. This was known before, but we got a few new outfits, including what I’m guessing is the least clothing Mario has ever worn (top).

A really nice-looking photo mode to capture the many insane moments you’ll encounter in this game was icing on the cake. There’s even a vertical composition mode for sharing on smartphones.

I got to play Odyssey at PAX West for a short time on two levels, and I have to say I’m dying to get my hands on the real thing and play it at my own pace. The controls feel great and the hat-possession thing becomes second nature after a few short minutes. It seems to combine the inviting wandering of Mario 64’s levels with the idea density of later games. Each level hides dozens of moons, not the handful of stars and secrets of the Nintendo 64 classic.

Lastly, there will be a nice-looking Switch bundle with Odyssey, so if you’ve been holding off until this game (Zelda wasn’t enough? Really??) you can do it that way and get a pair of handsome red Joy-Cons, as well.