Perhaps the most intriguing thing revealed in Nintendo’s E3 presentation on Tuesday was Mario’s new possession ability in the upcoming Switch title Super Mario Odyssey.
In the game, Mario can toss his seemingly sentient hat at an enemy or NPC (non-player character) and BOOM—that thing is now inhabited by the essence of Mario, giving him complete control of whatever is now wearing the hat. Oh, and the character also gets Mario’s trademark mustache for as long as he indwells it.
In the trailer, we see Mario possess a host of different enemies:
But not just enemies. He also takes over a tank, a taxicab, a random passerby on the city street, and of course… a T. rex:
It’s all pretty wild, and it will be fun to see how Nintendo uses Mario’s crazy new ability to expand the gameplay in Super Mario Odyssey once it is released this October.
Even though it’s not a particularly common game mechanic, this isn’t the first video game where the main character has the ability to possess enemies and NPCs. If you can’t stand the thought of waiting four more months to engage in psychic takeovers of in-game characters, here are five other games that you can play today that also let you get your possession on.
1991, Arcade, Game Boy
Originally released in 1991 as a 2-player arcade game, then later for the Game Boy, Avenging Spirit gives the player control of the titular spirit, the ghost of a man shot to death by members of a crime syndicate, as he … you guessed it, avenges his own death (and saves the girl, because of course there’s a girl).
The gameplay is your typical side-scrolling beat-em-up, with the twist that as a ghost, the main character’s only ability is to possess any of the enemies he comes across (except the bosses, of course), thus gaining their unique fighting style and abilities.
Released in 2000, Messiah‘s main character is Bob. Bob is a cherub sent to Earth by God to clean up corruption and put a stop to humanity’s despicable plans to invade Heaven, or something like that. As a tiny angel-baby, Bob has only one real power: possession. The gameplay is a third-person mix of platforming and shooting. The story is infused with a dark humor throughout, and the plot line is nothing if not ridiculous.
In GameSpot’s original review of Messiah, Erik Wolpaw described the possession mechanic as “a wholly original element to the [third-person platformer] formula.” Oops! I guess he hadn’t heard of Avenging Spirit, which beat Messiah to the punch by nine years. Or Space Station Silicon Valley, which came out just two years before Messiah (see below).
Geist is a 2005 GameCube exclusive with a story that starts off in a very similar way to Avenging Spirit. The main character dies, becomes a ghost, and now must move through the game world via possession of one enemy after another. The unique ingredient that Geist brings to the formula is that in addition to living creatures, your character can also possess inanimate objects — even a mop bucket.
Unlike Avenging Spirit or Messiah, gameplay in Geist takes place entirely from a first-person perspective. Yes, even when you are a mop bucket. Don’t ask me how a mop bucket is able to see anything. It just does.
Geist is the least convenient title on this list to play today, since you’ll need either a GameCube or a GameCube-compatible Wii, but at least it’s cheap. You can pick up a used Geist GameCube disc for around $10 on eBay.
2011, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Windows, & Mac
In the 2011 game Driver: San Francisco, the possession game mechanic takes an interesting turn: instead of possessing people (or mop buckets), you fly around the city possessing a huge variety of cars. Okay, so you’re actually taking over the driver of the car, but as you fly above the city it’s the car that’s highlighted and named, not the driver.
In case the name didn’t tip you off, Driver: San Francisco is a driving game, set in San Francisco. Unlike the other possession games we’ve discussed up to this point, the main character is not a ghost or other spiritual being. Instead, he’s only mostly dead, lying in a hospital bed in a coma for nearly the entire game. Somehow while in this coma, his consciousness is able to float around the city, diving into the bodies of other drivers at will to complete a variety of missions and advance the story.
Yeah … don’t overthink it. The developers obviously didn’t.
I’ve actually played this game all the way through and if you’re a fan of driving games it’s definitely worth the time, despite the wacky plot. I mean, who really needs a serious plot anyway when you’ve got a game mechanic as fun as this?
You can buy Driver: San Francisco today on Amazon for around $20 (price varies by platform).
2012, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows
Dishonored is a first-person stealth action-adventure game released by Bethesda in 2012. The game takes place in a steampunk-like world, in a city called Dunwall. The main character is a former bodyguard who was framed for murdering the Empress and becomes an assassin with a host of sweet gadgets and mystical powers, including possession.
In Dishonored, your character is fully alive, and goes back to his own regular earthly body in between possessions. In this way, Dishonored seems to have the most similar possession mechanic to what we will see in Super Mario Odyssey
Gameplay in Dishonored is more varied than the other games in this list, since your character is not dead, and possession is just one of his many powerful abilities. The game places a heavy emphasis on stealth as you explore and assassinate your way through a variety of levels on your way to clear your name and foil the plot of the group that framed you. When you initially unlock the possession ability you can only possess small animals like rats, but as you progress through the game you can upgrade the power to allow you to gain control of humans as well.
Possession also returns as one of the powers at your disposal in the 2016 sequel Dishonored 2, available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows.
A few bonus games
There are even more games that use the possession mechanic, although many of them are more rare than the ones above and a little harder to find and play today.
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997, PlayStation, Game Boy, Windows)
Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus (1998, PlayStation, Game Boy Color, Windows)
Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee (2001, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Android, Windows & Mac) – The Oddworld series of games are puzzle-platformers in which the main character has a limited ability to telepathically control certain NPCs. Unlike many of the other possession games, the main character’s body remains corporeal in a trance-like state, leaving you vulnerable to attack while your focus is on controlling the other character.
- Space Station Silicon Valley (1998, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, PlayStation) – The twist in this one is that you’re a mostly dead robot, crawling around a space station as a little electronic chip. You take over animals to solve a variety of puzzles.
- Omikron: The Nomad Soul (1999, Windows, Dreamcast) – In this game you play as … yourself! You are “The Nomad Soul,” able to jump from one body to another as the story unfolds in the fictional world of Omikron. Gameplay is a mashup of adventure, shooter, fighting, and puzzle games. It also featured music and voice acting by David Bowie.
- Metal Arms: Glitch in the System (2003, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360) – A third-person shooter in which your character, a robot named Glitch, is able to use various terminals spread around the game to remotely control other robots.
- Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (2010, Nintendo DS, iOS) – You control a recently-deceased ghost, possessing inanimate objects to perform tricks to solve puzzles. Also you apparently can possess corpses and travel back in time in their bodies to save them from dying.
- Murdered: Soul Suspect (2014, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows) – Here’s an original plot! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The protagonist in this game is murdered at the start of the story, and plays the rest of the game as a
ghostsoul that must solve his own murder. Hmm, it seems that the possession mechanic lends itself well to this particular story. There is one twist in this incarnation of the story though: When you possess someone, you get to read their mind.