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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (334)

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The Incredible Adventur... 4/5
Fallout 4 3/5
Tomba! 5/5
Odallus: The Dark Call 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 4/5
Call of Juarez: Bound i... 3/5
Drakkhen 3.5/5
Unravel 3.5/5
Zero-K 2/5
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes... 4.5/5
AereA 1/5
Arcanum: of Steamworks ... 3/5
The Yawhg 3.5/5
Dungeon Defenders II 4/5
Spelunky 0.5/5
Hard Reset Redux 2.5/5
Girls and Dungeons 4/5
Time Tenshi 2 3.5/5
Time Tenshi 2.5/5
We Are the Dwarves 1/5
Shadow Warrior 3.5/5
Torment: Tides of Numen... 4.5/5
Hammerwatch 1.5/5
Metro Redux 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 3/5

Next 25

Super Mario Odyssey   Nintendo Switch 

He’s Still Our 1-Up Boy.    5/5 stars

It has been a long, long time since Nintendo produced a ‘properly’ 3D entry in the ‘Super Mario’ platforming franchise. Indeed, the last time we got to play a ‘Mario’ game whose lineage can be traced back to those first cumbersome steps taken by “Super Mario 64” it was 2010, and the game in question was the expansion-pack-flavored semi-sequel, “Super Mario Galaxy 2,” which was so good and so well-designed that I believed Nintendo had finally figured out what they were doing with regard to Mario and 3D. Then, three years later, Nintendo floored us by releasing “Super Mario 3D World,” which scrapped all of their hard work and seemed to want to reboot 3D ‘Mario’ games into something more in-line with traditional 2D ‘Mario’ titles. As one of the few rare critics of Nintendo’s first tentative steps into 3D game design on the N64, I couldn’t help but notice “Super Mario 3D World’s” backsliding on simple things like camera control and movement in 3D space. It was like Nintendo forgot everything they’d learned in the course of a decade.

I don’t know what I expected from the brand new Switch sequel in the 3D ‘Mario’ platforming series, but I hoped it would be more like “Super Mario Galaxy” and less like “Super Mario 3D World.” Fortunately, not only did Nintendo deliver exactly such an experience, in “Super Mario Odyssey” (“Odyssey”) the Japanese videogame giant has blended together all of the best of classic ‘Mario’ from nearly every generation, along with some truly excellent original gameplay mechanics that fill in the gaps where it felt like pieces had always been missing from the 3D ‘Mario’ formula.

As a Switch launch window game, “Odyssey” does an impressive enough job at showing off what the dockable (a term I hope to coin in reference to hybrid devices that can be used portably via battery or stationary while plugged into a docking station of some sort) is capable of. Mario and his surroundings are big, bright, and beautiful. All of the big empty spaces of “Super Mario 64” are gone, as are the disjointed outer-space spaces of the ‘Galaxy’ games. Mario’s jam-packed environs feel dense and lively, and only contain fog when they intentionally contain fog. The game’s polygon engine looks incredible, with textures clear and sharp enough to make signs legible. Even Mario’s trademark mustache is textured now! Animation is likewise very impressive, bringing to life a huge array of ‘people,’ from the pedestrian to the truly surreal.

Unfortunately, the Switch isn’t quite 100% up to the task of rendering these gorgeous visuals, as there are a few noticeable jaggies when playing in docked mode, and an overall drop in visual quality while playing in undocked mode. Still, the undocked visuals on the Switch’s 6.5” screen absolutely blow away the cramped, blurry visuals of the 3/DS dedicated handhelds.

The audio is “Odyssey” is just… wow! The inclusion of nostalgic remixes is fairly minor in “Odyssey,” with the game instead accompanied by a whole slew of incredibly catchy ear candy. Each kingdom (stage) has its own theme, and every single one of them is really, really good. The audio department really earned their checks with this one! In addition to the expected background music, “Odyssey” features not one, but two excellent vocal tracks that are tied to special in-game events. These songs are likewise phenomenal, and excellently dubbed into English (though the Japanese versions are still in the game for weeaboos who insist on ‘purity’). Between the excellent soundtrack and amazing vocal tracks, “Odyssey” is the first game I’ve played in a long, long, looooooong time where I want to own the soundtrack (and it’s not even an RPG!).

Unfortunately, the game still isn’t fully voiced. While the vocal lyrics for the songs are in English/Japanese, the game’s large stable of NPCs all speak a variety of subtitled gibberish, with the occasional recognizable proper noun.

Technically, “Odyssey” is exemplary of quality Nintendo code. The physical version of the game doesn’t install anything to the Switch’s internal memory, and I chose to forego any patches due to keeping my Switch entirely offline. There are noticeable load times, especially when starting the game cold. However, the Switch’s ‘Sleep Mode’ allows for instant resuming of play from exactly where the player left off, and the load times between kingdoms (stages) are fairly quick and usually covered by travel cutscenes (though choosing to skip those cutscenes replaces them with a cute 8-bit version of the game’s titular airship, which is a cool Easter Egg). There are also a handful of glitches in “Odyssey,” but they’re all of the ‘fun’ old-school type you’d find in “Nintendo Power Magazine’s” ‘Classified Information’ section, not the Bethesda Softworks game-breaking catastrophe type.

“Odyssey” also has a couple of odd inclusions that seem to have been missed by Nintendo of America’s localization team. First, there’s a caption for one of the in-game travel guide images that states, “You just want to yank it, don’t you?” Sure, it refers to a giant wall zipper, but really? The other bit of localization goofiness is the fact that the most human-looking gibberish voiced shopkeepers in the game greet Mario by clearly saying, “I just want to die!” I know working in retail is Hell, but this seems like an even bigger oversight than the “SEX” grass growing on the underworld walls in “Super Mario All-Stars” version of “Super Mario Bros. 1.” Personally, I found these inclusions/oversights to be friggin’ hilarious, but I can imagine grumpy, stuffy, religious fundamentalist soccer moms flipping-out over them.

I’ve gotten used to giving ‘Mario’ games a pass in the story department. While there is plenty of rich lore in the Marioverse thanks to the RPG spin-off games, Nintendo has seemed content to ignore all of that stuff and produce simple, rehashed excuse narratives that don’t even rely on any dialog to get their point across.

All that changed with “Odyssey.” Nintendo’s latest ‘Mario’ outing features cutscenes and dialog galore, all spinning the tale of Bowser’s latest kidnapping of Princess Peach and Mario’s attempts to rescue her (some things never change).

It seems that after all of his many attempts at making the Princess love him by kidnapping her and locking her in a SEX dungeon, Bowser has lit upon the idea of actually marrying her in order to get under her skirt. The game opens with Bowser, clad in an immaculate white tuxedo, stealing a sentient tiara – named Tiara – from the Cap Kingdom, a region of the world inhabited exclusively by Hat Spirits, who look like Boos (ghosts) wearing tophats. Bowser wants Peach to wear this thing during their wedding, naturally. Mario catches up to his foe and attempts to rescue both Peach and Tiara, only to get sucker-punched off the deck of Bowser’s airship, which promptly leaves the scene. Teaming up with Cappy, Tiara’s brother and fellow sentient Hat, Mario sets off in pursuit… but first he must travel to a nearby kingdom to retrieve an airship of his own, the titular Odyssey, which is, itself, shaped like a giant tophat (Are you noticing a theme, yet?).

As Mario and Cappy tail Bowser across a bizarre and surreal version of not-quite-Earth, they pick up on the fact that the giant dragon turtle is actually stealing all of the best wedding planning supplies the world has to offer – from wedding dress to flowers to the reception meal. Yes, Bowser is finally ready to make an honest woman out of Peach and prove that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to give her the best of the best… even a worldwide crime spree.

Helping Bowser in his wedding planning shenanigans are a slew of new villains called the Broodals. These evil white rabbits all give the strong impression of antebellum Southern gentlefolk, and their very name invokes more comedy than any one word has a right to: Broodal is a pun on “Bridal” (they are the bridal party, after all), a cognate to “Brutal,” and a reference to the fact that they are a brood of rabbits and obviously breed like such.

Between the hilarious premise of a giant, fire-breathing monster planning a wedding, the strangeness of the new supporting villains, and the fact that every stop on Mario’s journey makes sense in the build-up of the overarching plot, “Odyssey” has all the makings of a top-notch comedy. I couldn’t stop smirking and chuckling at the story the game was telling me, and continually wanted to know what hilarious thing Bowser would do next: That’s good narrative.

All in all, I’d say the main story in “Odyssey” clocks in at around 20 hours, which is a nice length of time to spend in a single-player game. However, upon completing the main story, the player is still free to pursue an unbelievable mountain of optional things. This post-game content easily triples the amount of play time one can get out of “Odyssey,” and nearly all of it is enjoyable (even without any additional narrative bits).

“Odyssey” incorporates everything Nintendo has learned about 3D ‘Mario’ games since 1996, combining linear, mission-based progression with free-form exploration. This blended gameplay style provides two main goals for players to reach: First, they need to pursue the mandatory objectives to advance the story, and second, they need to pursue optional objectives in order to give the Odyssey enough power to follow Bowser’s trail across the globe.

Whereas “Super Mario 64” and both ‘Galaxy’ games had the player pursuing Stars and “Super Mario Sunshine” had players pursuing Shine Sprites which looked like little Suns, “Odyssey” has the player in pursuit of Power Moons, which apparently provide a form of clean energy that can power a variety of Marioverse machinery, including hat-shaped airships. Completing a story objective typically involves defeating a boss, for which the player is awarded with a Triple Moon (in a nod to the 3-Up Moons from “Super Mario Bros. 3”), whereas other objectives award a single Moon.

The bosses in “Odyssey” deserve special mention themselves for how unique and engaging they are. One of the things I absolutely hated about “Super Mario 64” was how every boss was just an exercise in running around it in a circle and grabbing it by the ass because ‘LOOK GUYS! ANALOG MOVEMENT!’ Bosses in “Odyssey” still involve pattern memorization and each take three shots to defeat – as is ‘Mario’ tradition – but they all feel very different in the way Mario must deal with them. Whether it’s possessing a giant statue’s fist and telling him to stop hitting himself or swimming up a stream of projectile vomit to bash a giant bird on the head, “Odyssey’s” bosses are never boring.

One of the more noteworthy things about “Odyssey’s” world design is that there is NO hub world. Instead of hopping into a painting or blasting off to some floating orbital debris, each kingdom, as the stages are called, in “Odyssey,” is a self-contained hub where all the action happens. Finding a hidden Moon no longer poops Mario back out into the hub, but instead allows the player to bank the Moon and keep going in pursuit of their main goal or in wandering aimlessly in search of more hidden Moons. I found the uninterrupted flow of exploration in “Odyssey” to be just what the doctor ordered. And let me tell you, there are a LOT of Moons to find in “Odyssey”: 880 to be exact! However, most of these Moons are entirely optional post-game content. However, with that many Moons crammed into the game’s 14 main and 3 post-game kingdoms, it can be tough to sniff them out unaided. Fortunately, two NPCs, Hint Toad and Uncle Amiibo (who looks more like a Roomba vacuum than anyone’s Uncle) will provide the player with hints as to the locations of unacquired Moons. Hint Toad charges 50 coins per hint, but Uncle Amiibo gives them away for free… provided the player has at least one Amiibo figurine to show him.

The kingdoms themselves in “Odyssey” are some of the most creative ‘Mario’ world designs we’ve ever seen out of Nintendo. While the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ series and “Super Mario 3D World” had worn formulaic ruts in the pattern of “Super Mario Bros. 3” (Grass World, Desert World, Water World, Jungle World, Ice World, Sky World, Lava World, Boss World), “Odyssey” really shakes things up and leans more toward the surreal than the banal. Granted, “Odyssey” does include a Desert World, TWO Water Worlds, a Jungle World, an Ice World and a Boss World, but it breaks up the familiar with a Prehistoric World (okay, we saw that in “Super Mario World”), a Foggy Hat World (not to be confused with the band Fog Hat), a Steampunk Garden World, a ‘Dark Souls’ World (*screams silently into the void*), a City World inspired by “Donkey Kong” (it even has Pauline, Mario’s original damsel in distress, make a significant cameo as the mayor), and a Food World situated in a lake of boiling stew. Even the predictable Boss World is unique in “Odyssey,” as it proves without a shadow of a doubt that Bowser is Japanese… or maybe that he’s a huge weeaboo who has suddenly decided that traditional Japanese architecture and samurai-themed décor are a better fit for his personality than gray bricks and lava pits.

The first two 3D ‘Mario’ games largely threw power-ups out the window, and suffered greatly for the loss. The boring temporary hats in “Super Mario 64” and the water-powered F.L.U.D.D. in “Super Mario Sunshine” felt like a huge step backwards compared to the Mushrooms, Flowers, and crazy Suits of pre-3D ‘Mario’ games, so I was incredibly pleased to see proper power-ups return in the ‘Galaxy’ games. “Odyssey,” once again, doesn’t have traditional ‘Mario’ power-ups… instead, it has Cappy, whose unique capabilities completely replace the traditional power-up system with something truly original and well-thought-out. See, Mario can fling Cappy like a boomerang. If Cappy hits a compatible enemy or object, he will ‘capture’ it, crushing its willpower and allowing Mario to take over its mind (if it has one… some things Cappy can capture are rather odd… like a giant slab of… meat). What’s better than wearing a Hammer Brother Suit? WEARING A DAMNED HAMMER BROTHER! Who needs a Frog Suit when you can wear an ACTUAL FROG?! There are gobs of capture-based power-ups in “Odyssey,” and all of them provide for interesting, unique gameplay opportunities. Indeed, the only down-side to the capture system is that Mario can’t take captured forms with him when he transitions between areas (like via warp pipes or doors). There are only a couple of power-ups that don’t involve Cappy, one being the Super Heart, which, seemingly inspired by “Super Mario Bros. 2 USA” doubles Mario’s health meter from 3 to 6 units; and temporary invincibility, which never actually appears in-game, but can be triggered at will with any Mario Amiibo figurine.

On top of the excellent capture power-up system, Mario has a handful of new moves of his own. For the first time ever in 3D, he can roll down slopes (or up them!), perform a slightly-floaty spin-jump, and bounce off Cappy for an extra boost. These new moves all add to Mario’s stable of older 3D moves, like the triple-jump, long jump, backflip, wall-jump, etc. With all of these movement options, the version of Mario in “Odyssey” is the most maneuverable he’s ever been.

Even the platforming tasks required of the player are incredibly diverse and incorporate ideas from the entirety of the franchise’s history. While most of “Odyssey” plays out with a very well-behaved trailer camera (which can FINALLY be adjusted by the player using the right analog stick), there are plenty of platforming segments where the camera adopts a more fixed orientation to allow the player to see what they’re doing. Additionally, the game features a large number of chunky, voxelized warp pipes that suck Mario out of the 3D plane and stick him to a 2D surface for some old-school “Super Mario Bros. 1” style platforming. These 2D sections are, unfortunately, somewhat lacking compared to the 3D sections, as Cappy doesn’t work in 2D and there are no power-ups.

Finally, it bears mentioning that “Odyssey” finally does away with that hoary chestnut of the arcade-driven past: The Lives system. Mario still collects coins, and these can be spent to buy a variety of costumes and brick-a-brack. However, upon death, instead of using a precious and rare 1-Up mushroom to try again, Mario simply drops a meager 10 coins where he dies and gets to try again from the last checkpoint. And if he’s out of coins, there’s no penalty. In a seeming nod to ‘Dark Souls’ (*screams silently into the void, again*), the player can even re-obtain the coins Mario drops when he does, provided the coins don’t fall into a pit or something. “Odyssey” also does a great job of saving the player’s progress, with frequent autosaves, and a save-anywhere manual save feature. In general, “Odyssey” feels like perhaps the least punishing ‘Mario’ title since “Super Mario World,” which is a very wise move on Nintendo’s part.

“Super Mario Odyssey” feels, in a way, like the ultimate culmination of all things ‘Mario.’ It provides an undeniably joyful experience for newcomers and series veterans alike, plus a nearly unprecedented amount of engaging optional content. Anyone who owns a Switch needs to own this game.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Overall (not an average): 5/5



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