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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Super Mario Odyssey Review!

More Nintendo Switch Games, Yay! *ahem* Today we'll be talking about one of the Switch's best selling games, as well as the main reason people are even buying Switches in the first place...

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In case you don't know what Super Mario is, where have you been for the past 30 years? It's the SINGLE MOST WELL KNOWN, BELOVED AND FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL VIDEO GAME FRANCHISE OF ALL TIME!!! You wanna know how massive this franchise is? 353. That's how many Super Mario games have been created since the Mustachioed Hero's debut in 1981. Basically, Super Mario is the video game equivalent of Star Wars.

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But in the event your parents have somehow sheltered you from this franchise until now (why would your parents do that, anyway? Super Mario has always had children and people who grew up with the old school games as it's main audience), basically, the premise follows Mario, a plumber from the Mushroom Kingdom who speaks in an exaggerated Italian accent and is normally given the task of saving the world from Bowser, a giant, part-human-part-turtle-part-dragon hybrid who normally causes trouble in some way shape or form, whether it being kidnapping beautiful maidens, sabotaging Mario's birthday party, or... Cheating in sports tournaments? Yeah, this franchise gets pretty freaking weird pretty freaking quickly.

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In Super Mario Odyssey, Bowser's latest scheme is to force Mario's girlfriend, Princess Peach, into marrying him. And because it's Bowser, his wedding has to be as dramatic and over-the-top as humanly(turtley?) possible, so in addition to arranging a forced marriage, he's also specifically going out of his way to steal the most extravagant wedding supplies imaginable. And also because it's Bowser, he can't just ASK for permission to use those legendary artifacts for his wedding, he's like "You know what? Planning a wedding is hard, so I'm gonna steal everything I need because I'm so evil that I ooze bad boy charm!". And that bad boy charm is a real thing, because Bowser is actually one of my favorite villains in not just video games, but modern fiction in general. Why? Because in an age where villains are generic bringers of the apocalypse or murderous madmen, Bowser is literally just a really, really selfish multi-billionaire who happens to be turtle-dragon. Heck, his "evil" deeds are less like morally unforgivable acts of villainy (which is BORING) and are more akin to childish pranks.

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Anyway, it's up to Mario to go on a world-touring adventure (or should I say an ODYSSEY!?) to fix all the messes Bowser's made and ultimately rescue his beloved. But it's not that simple. Because Bowser easily Shreks Mario in the opening cutscene thanks to the power of his DAPPER MODE, and Bowser managed to destroy the Mustachioed Hero's iconic red hat...

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Which brings us to Cappy, a brand new character who looks like the love child of a Yo-Kai and a Banjo-Kazooie character. Anyway, Cappy is basically Mario's sidekick for this adventure (because his actual sidekick is busy hunting ghosts in Luigi"s Mansion: Dark Moon). Cappy is... Interesting, as his main motivation to join Mario is to rescue his sister, who Bowser kidnapped so he could use her as a wedding tiara for Peach. But Cappy's importance is much greater than being a ghostly hat version of Navi from Legend of Zelda!

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Mario can use Cappy's ghost powers to possess- er, "Capture" enemies and take their powers for himself. Because of this, the humble Goomba (pictured above), who after decades of being mocked as the weakest and most easily defeated of Mario's adversaries, is now genuinely useful. The Capture mechanic is the bread and butter of the game, and actually replaces the power-ups of old. So no more Fire Flowers for you! But it's a neat concept and works surprisingly well in practice.

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Anyway, Super Mario Odyssey is really big on exploration and collect-a-thons, unlike most Super Mario games, which put emphasis on platforming and speedrunning. Why is that? Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of this wacky franchise as well as half a dozen other well known franchises such as Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong, was tired of making several incredibly linear Super Mario games in a row and wanted a non-linear game to serve as a much needed change of pace.

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The story of the game is seemingly bare-bones, but considering Mr. Miyamoto's design philosophy of designing the gameplay mechanics and then writing a story around those mechanics, that's to be expected. It's actually an improvement over the previous games in the franchise, because this time, we finally have a clear motivation for Bowser's shenanigans and Mario, as a character, has decent enough motivation beyond being a good guy for the sake of being good. It actually reminds me of Super Mario Sunshine, one of my personal favorite Super Mario games, because we got an ACTUAL story and not just the "Rescue the obligatory Damsel-in-Distress because someone told you to!" schick that the franchise overuses (Sunshine's story being Mario is mistaken for a shapeshifting supervillain who is later revealed to be Bowser's son and has to do community service to clear his name). Plus, the game's ending is utterly hilarious. I won't spoil it here, but rest assured, Odyssey has the best ending in the franchise by FAR.

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Now, some folks criticize the game for being too easy (partly because Mario now has infinite lives but suffers a coin penalty), because to be quite frank, this is probably the easiest Super Mario game in a while, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. First of all, this is definitely no Dark Souls. Second, Odyssey's difficulty comes from tracking down and collecting Power Moons (with a boss battle sprinkled here or there for the sake of variety), which are scattered throughout the world and get increasingly difficult to track down, starting off in laughably easy to reach locations and eventually needing you to make a massive detour around the entire map just to get to one. Oh, and there are 820 Power Moons in the game. Have Fun!

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You can customize Mario with dozens of different
outfits. All of which are purely aesthetic, but customizing
the Mustachioed Hero leads to some funny moments.

Anyway, Mario himself is also really fun to control. His movements are fluid and acrobatic, and using his dozens of abilities to navigate the world is incredibly satisfying. He can do back-flips, somersaults, Spin Jumps, Long Jumps, Triple Jumps, a Sonic the Hedgehog style rolling dash, and can even use Cappy as a temporary platform to extend his air time even further. Frankly, Mario's at his best when he can jump around like a frog on steroids (ironically, frogs actually are a capturable enemy type).

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There's only one downside to this game, and that's the fact there are motion controls. Now don't get me wrong, motion controls can make a game better. If they're done right. And Odyssey does get the motion controls mostly right. But it gets really annoying how the game constantly reminds you to keep the Joy-Con (the bits of the Switch that detach and becoming whole controllers) separated to use the motion controls, because I normally have them connected into one big traditional controller because I am Sony trash and it's easier for me to play video games in that style. It's even worse in Handheld Mode, where you still have to use motion controls. But in handheld mode, you're literally shaking the Switch itself, leading to disorientation and confusion. As such, if you're going to be playing this game, try to spend as much time in Docked Mode (where the Switch is connected to a nearby TV) as possible. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a console scrub, either. What makes the motion controls even worse is the fact that you can't turn them off, and to add insult to injury, for every motion control in the game, there's a button press that does almost the same thing. It makes you wonder why they even bothered including motion controls aside from just showing off that the Switch is capable of it. Then again, system selling flagship franchises have a bad habit of including features that are almost completely irrelevant just to show off that the console CAN pull it off *cough cough* Uncharted: Drake's Fortune *cough cough*.

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Oh, and Mario possesses the ability to go into an 8-bit mode, effectively transforming the game into a throwback to the old school Super Mario games. These moments are neat, and the blend of 3D and 2D is novel, but these moments are spaced out enough so they don't outstay their welcome. And even when they do appear, they change something up to keep things for getting stale, such as inverting the flow of gravity or have Mario go inside a paper door (the kinds you see in Japanese palaces from back in the day).

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As for the presentation, this is easily the best looking Super Mario game ever made. The various Kingdoms, which replace the Worlds of old, are each creatively designed and put a neat twist on familier video game archetypes. For example, the Luncheon Kingdom, serving as the stereotypical volcano region, is designed to look like a low polygon-count kitchen overflowing with oddly retro-looking food.

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The Seaside Kingdom is also neat, being one of the two water-themed locations. The idea behind the Seaside Kingdom being it's a resort where the ocean's "Sparkle Water" is commonly used in wedding ceremonies (in case you don't understand, the entire ocean in this Kingdom is made of champagne!). Normally water levels are mediocre, in my opinion, but the Seaside Kingdom is enjoyable, partly because of special flowers scattered around that, if picked up by Cappy, will give Mario a massive burst of speed, which is handy, because Mario's movement slows to a crawl when he's underwater.

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The character designs are also good, being just as wacky but simplistic as literally any other Super Mario game. Something that is both impressive and somewhat unsettling is the fact that the hair on most characters' models is registered in individual hairs, including Mario's iconic mustache or brand new Broodals' fur. Speaking of the Broodals, let's talk about them really quick, shall we?

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The Broodals are a band of new characters that were hired by Bowser to be his wedding planners. And they're rabbits. So obviously, they must be really good at their job, because rabbits are the animal kingdom version of a casanova. Or a female casanova. What's a female casanova called? It doesn't matter, you get my point. Anyway, the Broodals basically replace Bowser's more iconic minions, the Koopalings, which has made Koopaling fans salty because the Koopalings are actually absurdly popular. I never understood the hype for them, personally, because they are all palette swaps of each other and their boss battles aren't particularly exciting. The Broodals, on the other hand, are much better, since their designs are unique and varied, on top of having some really fun boss battles. Plus, the final showdown with them looks like something straight out of Power Rangers. But with rabbits.

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The only Broodal that was underwhelming was Madame Broode, who is APPARENTLY the leader of the Broodals, but if anything she's just kinda... There. She never helps in Bowser's wedding, nor do we actually get to see her interact with the rest of the Broodals, she's only seen twice in the game, and both times she feels like she was just sloppily put in there because Nintendo couldn't think of what to do with her. Heck, she doesn't even have a rematch in the SPOILER!!! location, unlike the rest of the Broodals, who get remixed versions of their boss fights in boss rush style.

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Also, Pauline is back. Who's Pauline? Pauline was a character from the original Donkey Kong. In that game, she was kidnapped by Donkey Kong and Mario (who at the time was called Jump-Man)  had to rescue her, mostly for the sake of rescuing her. Here, she's now the mayor of the Metro Kingdom (which is a blatant rip-off of New York City) as well as the lead singer for the game's theme song, "Jump Up Super Star". I find the fact that Pauline made it in to a 3D Super Mario game before fan-favorite Princess Daisy to be hilarious. Because at this point, we can pretty much confirm that Nintendo has completely forgotten about Daisy, kind of like how they forgot about Metroid until literally everyone on the planet was screaming at them to make more Metroid games, because people really like Metroid. That's a franchise I should look into, now that I'm thinking about it. Anyway, Pauline's inclusion is a neat tip of the hat to the very first Super Mario game because believe it or not, Donkey Kong and Super Mario were, at one time, part of the same franchise, but was later split into two separate franchises thanks to copyright shenanigans. It doesn't stop the two from collaborating all the time though.

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Ignoring my rant on new and returning characters, the music in this game is also good. "Jump Up Super Star" is the first song in the franchise that uses vocals, and the result is a catchy, jazzy tune that can, and will, get stuck in your head. The rest of the soundtrack is also really good, as almost every song captures the style of each location perfectly.

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Overall, I give Super Mario Odyssey a 9/10. It doesn't get a perfect ten from me for two major reasons. The first reason being the motion controls are annoying and render the game basically unplayable if you try using Handheld Mode (your mileage will vary depending on how much you actually like motion controls. Some folks, like me, despise them,while other folks adore them). The second reason being they could have done a much better job handling Madame Broode. But other than that, this is by far the best Super Mario game I've ever played, which is high praise, because my previous favorite was Super Mario Sunshine, which was released on the Gamecube ages ago.

P.S. Happy New Year's, by the way.

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