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‘Super Mario Odyssey’ Review: Brilliantly Bodacious, Ingeniously Incredible

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You may not be familiar with Super Mario Odyssey. It’s a somewhat underrated video game from the humbly sized development studio, Nintendo, and whilst a select few dedicated followers have been casually awaiting its release, for most, it’s entirely swept under their radar.

This, of course, is sarcasm. Super Mario Odyssey is arguably the most bombastically big video game release of this entire year (being rivaled only by another Nintendo home run: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). With such an overwhelming degree of anticipation surrounding it, and knowledge that the probability of it failing to reach the lofty expectations of Mario fanatics the world over is more unlikely than the announcement of an Animal Crossing title set within an abattoir, it comes as no surprise that Super Mario Odyssey is brilliantly bodacious, ingeniously incredible, and wonderfully wild from beginning to end.

Super Mario Odyssey has been described by many, including Nintendo themselves, as a globetrotting adventure. This rings true, as Mario’s quest (or Odyssey, as it has been referred to in one particular instance) sees him exploring various regions of his uniquely fictional iteration of planet Earth. Accompanied by his new ally, Cappy (who also serves for granting Mario a bucketload of new hat related tricks), the two heroes are tasked with putting a stop to Bowser’s schemes to marry Princess Peach (who he has kidnapped because Bowser evidently enjoys doing that on occasion). Whilst the story on display is far from Persona 5’s degree of intricacy and depth, that is far from the draw of a title such as Super Mario Odyssey. Rather, it’s wow factor lies in its admirable ambition and the sheer addictiveness of its engaging gameplay.

Super Mario Odyssey tasks players with collecting trinkets in the form of power moons. Mario and Cappy use these to energize their spaceship, the Odyssey, which allows them to travel further in pursuit of Bowser and Peach. Most areas (known as kingdoms) will boast a hefty sum of power moons available for discovery, but will only require a minute quantity of them to be harvested before Mario and Cappy can proceed to the following kingdom. This results in Super Mario Odyssey being a breeze to dash through, but a gargantuan mountain to ascend for the dedicated completionist, as the collective sum of power moons scattered throughout Super Mario Odyssey’s entire experience creeps extremely close to the one thousand mark.

The variety on display regarding the aesthetic of each and every kingdom, alongside the means by which Mario and Cappy can acquire power moons, results in Super Mario Odyssey never sinking into a state of mundane dullness. It is an endless cascade of freshness that refuses to withdraw from the limelight, resulting in a consistently steady stream of engrossing exploration and rewarding discovery. Furthermore, the many bosses that attempt to thwart Mario and Cappy in their efforts to succeed are beautifully designed (the Broodals are deserving of an honorable mention, they are ridiculously fun recurring antagonists), displaying attacks that are elegantly simple, yet visually eye-popping. Super Mario Odyssey’s many stellar and memorable moments are punctuated by a soundtrack that confidently indulges in a variety of genres, from subdued ambiance to uptempo wackiness. Really, there is a crazy amount to fall in love with in Super Mario Odyssey’s design.

A major point of emphasis within Super Mario Odyssey’s promotion is the earlier mentioned ‘hat related tricks’ that are provided to Mario via Cappy. The most noteworthy of these is the capture mechanic, which allows for Mario to hurl his hat at almost any foe he lays eyes on, and then control them. Such a concept could quite easily backfire and be tediously gimmicky, but this is far from the case. Each and every foe, from Goombas to Chain-Chomps, controls wonderfully and provides Mario with brilliantly beneficial abilities. Whether blasting bullets as a tank-esque Sherm, or darting through the air at breakneck speed as a water covered Gushen, Super Mario Odyssey’s capture mechanic works wonders due to the simplicity of controlling foes, and their distinctness from one another. With only the mildest of learning curves required, inhabiting the bodies of and controlling foes is un-intimidatingly accessible and joyously quirky.

So the burning question is this: Is Super Mario Odyssey perfect? Is it a flawless experience, void of even the most minuscule of faults? Well, not exactly. Sadly, even such a terrifically assembled experience such as this has its irritations. There aren’t many though, three to be exact, and they are as follows:

1. Mario doesn’t quite always do what may be desired of him. With such an eclectic array of manoeuvres at his disposal, an incorrect flick of the analogue stick of the tiniest degree will cause the denim-clad hero to side flip from a platform he was precariously balancing on, resulting in him enduring the long plummet to his eventual demise below. Mario’s expansive range of commands, whilst enjoyable to experiment with, can feel somewhat finicky at times, leading to frustrating failures during segments demanding intricate platforming.

2. Some of Super Mario Odyssey’s kingdoms are a little too grandiose for their own good. Whilst the task of venturing into a brand new world never fails to evoke sensations of excitement, it’s also downright daunting, especially after taking a peek at the absurdly long list detailing the more than sixty power moons and one hundred region specific coins required for full completion of that area. The most enjoyable kingdoms within Super Mario Odyssey are significantly smaller in scope (approximately equaling the size of Super Mario 64’s stages), but still contain a generous horde of discoveries. Striking a perfect balance between offering opportunities for rich exploration, whilst being modest in size as to avoid overwhelming players, areas such as the Lake Kingdom and Snow Kingdom shine brightly as some of the most enjoyable segments of Super Mario Odyssey to digest. By not demanding such an extensive quantity of time to collect and discover everything they have to offer, smaller kingdoms avoid outstaying their welcome in the way that areas such as the Sand Kingdom and Woodland Kingdom do not.

3. Really, the single biggest criticism against Super Mario Odyssey is this: Whoever believed integrating a mini-game involving jumping a skipping rope that progressively increases in speed is a cruel, sadistically vicious human being. Furthermore, to unlock a specific power moon within the Metro Kingdom, said skipping rope must be leaped over one hundred times. Upon reaching approximately half of this quota (which is difficult in itself), the skipping rope becomes so ferociously fast that only by maintaining a rhythmically flawless flow with the jump button can one come anywhere close to beating this tense challenge. Personally, I conquered this hurdle after an hour of attempting it, and it was a miserable hour of sheer stress, with more than just a few curse words uttered. The jump rope challenge moves far beyond the ‘difficult, but satisfyingly addictive’ status, and ventures into the realm of ‘monotonous tedium that can easily be the catalyst of severe misery, proceed with careful caution’. Being challenged by an intelligently designed hazard is often thrilling, but being tested in a method that simply isn’t satisfying to overcome is entirely undesirable (at least to those lacking masochistic tendencies), and leads to a hollow victory as a result. For all of Super Mario Odyssey’s instances of genius, its jump rope challenge drastically drops the ball (and on the subject of dropping the ball, the Seaside Kingdom boasts a volleyball mini-game that is even more brutally painful than the aforementioned jump rope challenge, so good luck with that one).

These frustrations aside, the fact remains that Mario has always been the undisputed king of the video gaming universe, and a true icon of the medium. Super Mario Odyssey re-solidifies this statement, cementing Nintendo’s mascot as a model hero for each and every one of us. It is staggering in its scope and delivers a plentiful plethora of discovery and exploration, held afloat by its wealth of charming charisma. It flawlessly marries modern and classic concepts, as controlling a terrifying tyrannosaurus rex will be immediately followed by an 8-bit foray within a pixelated warp pipe, stylishly taking a venture into Mario’s two-dimensional origins from long ago. Nintendo’s latest heavy hitter is a tour de force in modern platforming gameplay, and a firm declaration that Mario, the short moustache flaunting Italian responsible for resurrecting the video game industry from its abysmal crash during the 1980’s, continues to proudly hold the mantle of ‘the best of the best’ to this very day.

Super Mario Odyssey is truly something special.

I have spent my life in England finding entertainment in both video games and music. Whilst not indulging in the latter, I invest my time in playing all manner of video games, and as of 2017, writing about all manner of video games. Email: harrymorrisharrymorris@yahoo.com

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    October 29, 2017 at 12:28 am

    I beat the slipping rope challenge on my second try.

    • Harry Morris

      October 29, 2017 at 12:28 am

      Over 100? Well in that case I hate you.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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