Super Mario Odyssey Review

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Super Mario. Those two words mean a lot of things for many people. For some, it references the nostalgic days of playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES in the 80s. For others, it’s about modern installments such as going through the new arrivals list in Super Mario Maker. And then for the rest, it’s a constant reminder of what quality platforming looks like. Super Mario Bros. was not the first video game, but it set the standard of what a quality platforming adventure is all about. In fact, Mario has been in the business of setting standards in the video game industry. First with Super Mario Bros., then with Super Mario 64 which defined 3D platforming going forward. This year marks a special time for Nintendo. The company released its latest console, the Switch, in March. Just as with any Nintendo home console, a new main Mario game was announced. That game was Super Mario Odyssey.

When Mario was jumping over barrels in 8-bit form while Mayor Pauline sang the now iconic ‘Jump Up, Superstar!’ at New Donk City, it was at that moment I knew that Super Mario Odyssey was a revolution. Not only was it a revolution, it was a celebration of what has made Super Mario the face of video gaming as a whole. It takes the concept of previous platformers, specifically Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 64, and delivers an exciting experience for the current generation. As you walk up the stairs of the dark Ruined Kingdom, and later rush into the wedding hall for the final showdown, you know that Odyssey will go down as a legend.

“In the skies above Peach’s castle…” the text says as you start a new game. We’re then shown as exciting  sequence of Mario doing battle with Bowser atop the latter’s airship as Princess Peach hangs in the balance. Bowser in his new wedding tuxedo manages to hit Mario with his top hat, and the hero falls a great distance. Mario’s hat is shredded by the airship’s propeller, and soon we meet Cappy. The opening isn’t quite as thematic as the intro to the first Super Mario Galaxy, but it still nicely sets up the story. So, Mario meets a little ghost whom can transform into different hats and “possess” other characters. It turns out that Bowser also kidnapped Cappy’s sister, so he and Mario have a common goal: stop Bowser’s wedding with Peach. Cap Kingdom serves as a great tutorial area as the player gets to know Mario’s controls (anyone who has played Super Mario 64 will feel right at home) and how Cappy works. Let’s discuss Cappy for a bit.

Some part of me was worried that the game would rely too much on Cappy’s “capture” ability. This ability was heavily featured in marketing. It looked fun, but at the same time, if the game relied too much on the gimmick, some of the quality platforming could be lost. This is not the case. Cappy is used to enhance the experience and provide unique ways to go through the levels. From Mario becoming a frog in Cap Kingdom, to becoming a Banzai Bill to break through stone blocks, Cappy is smartly utilized. I haven’t mentioned how thrilling it is to become a Tyrannosaurus Rex or to swim through the water as a Cheep Cheep. Cappy is also utilized greatly in the boss fights, such as possessing a Gushen to blast water at Mollusque-Lanceur, and having Madame Broode’s golden Chain Chomp ram into her. Also, there’s almost nothing as satisfying as reigning down blows on Bowser with the Koopa King’s own hat.

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The boss battles are well designed and a lot of fun. Who can forget taking control of Knucklotec’s fist and then ramming it into his face? How about using a tank to blast away the MechaWiggler that’s wreaking havoc in the Metro Kingdom? I’ll never forget those, but perhaps the most epic was the fight against the Lord of Lightning atop the Ruined Kingdom. This was an example of showing how realistic graphics can exist in a Mario game. The Broodal fights are simplistic, but fun. Typically, the boss battles aren’t too difficult. This is understandable because the Mario series has been known for being accessible for all ages. Whereas a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might attract older players, the Mario series attracts audiences of all ages. The boss fights, while not too difficult, are unique and provide a memorable experience. The final Bowser battle provides some good challenge and patterns to memorize.

As with previous Mario games, the worlds in Super Mario Odyessey are incredible. Whereas Sunshine and Galaxy are limited by theme, Odyssey holds no limitations. We have the standard grassland in the form of Cascade Kingdom, the frosty Snow Kingdom, the food-themed Luncheon Kingdom, the New York City-inspired Metro Kingdom, among other fantastic worlds. These worlds are a nice size. They are not too big where players feel like they’ll never get all the moons. (None of the worlds are as annoyingly daunting as Hazy Maze Cave from Super Mario 64.) A fantastic soundtrack accompanies the kingdoms. From the soft Lake Kingdom theme to the intense Lost Kingdom theme, the music is a treat. And of course, ‘Jump Up, Superstar!’ is an absolute masterpiece. As a whole, the soundtrack might not be as strong as the Mario Galaxies’, but it’s still fantastic.

Finally, Odyssey is full of special surprises. I had a blast going through the short 8-bit sequences, which are an incredible throwback to Super Mario Bros., reminding the player when Super Mario began. I already mentioned the incredible sequence with 8-bit Mario jumping over barrels and eventually defeating DK as a homage to Mario’s first ever appearance in the arcade game, Donkey Kong. There is also this atmosphere of grand gameplay never before seen in the franchise. No one will forget when Mario turned into Lord of the Rings as the player faced a dragon at the Ruined Kingdom. Maybe even more epic was the Moon Kingdom, doing an even better job at putting Mario in space than the Galaxies. (The ominous wedding bells were excellent.)

It’s here in the Moon Kingdom when the game features a Metroid-like escape climax. As the characters break through blocks to escape as the beautiful song ‘Honeylune Ridge: Escape’ plays, it’s at this moment when the player realizes this might not just be the greatest Mario game, it might be the greatest game ever made. That’s why the final scene is a letdown. To really finalize the epic experience, the game should have had Mario tie the knot with Peach. The game plays around with that idea, but then it doesn’t happen. It’s a shame and insulting to over 30 years of the characters’ relationship. After such an epic climax, it’s too bad the game ended on a comedic note.

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Overall, Super Mario Odyssey should be remembered as one of the greatest games of this generation. The kingdom designs are diverse and engaging. You will not want to put down the controller. Cappy is the new F.L.U.D.D., and he’s just as smartly utilized as the water hose. There’s so much else to love about this game. It’s inviting and enthralling, not to mention epic. The callbacks to older games is an awesome touch for players who have grown up with the series. Aspects, like the hats/outfits and 8-bit sequences, enhance the experience. The soundtrack is a treat, and features two well done lyrical songs. Replay value is high, because there are over 800 Power Moons to collect. The game ended on a disappointing note, but the worlds, level design and just about everything works together so perfectly that I can’t hold back the perfect score. Super Mario Odyssey joins The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the finest games Nintendo has ever made.

10/10

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Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

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The Mario franchise is no stranger to different genres. Platforming is what the series is known for, but there have been many different types of games. There have been sports, RPGs, and even a dancing game on one occasion. Despite all this however, I don’t think many expected Mario to feature in an XCOM-style adventure. That’s the case with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This game was a surprise when it was first announced. Not only is it the hero’s first foray with this kind of battle style, it’s also Mario’s first new game on Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. Kingdom Battle delivers something special. It’s a unique, fun and sometimes quite challenging game that brings the heavily strategy-based XCOM gameplay into the colorful worlds of Mario and the Rabbids.

The story begins with the Rabbids warping into a human girl’s home. It’s a shame the story never went back there because she being a Mario fan was quite meta. Anyways, the Rabbids eventually warp to the Mushroom Kingdom. Because of one Rabbid’s fiddling of a helmet capable of merging, the Kingdom is now out of whack. Now Mario, the Rabbids and a few other Mushroom heroes go through four worlds to fix the Kingdom. The story is fun and engages the viewer from the start. Of course, part of that enjoyment is going to hinge on the Rabbids. Kids will probably like them, but for older players they can become jarring. Thankfully, the Rabbids never become overbearing. (I’m still wondering why we didn’t get Mario + Rayman instead.)

As fun as the story is, the gameplay is the primary winner here. Chances are if you’ve never played XCOM before, Kingdom Battle might look complex. Kingdom Battle’s gameplay however is quickly understood. By the end of World 1, the player is confident to press on. What makes this style of gameplay truly great is the amount of strategy it requires of the player. Players must make decisions on which weapons to use, which special abilities to implement, (should I heal my guys or make their weapons stronger?) which skills to upgrade, and how to use the environment to their advantage. One example is a battle that featured a Chain Chomp stage hazard. Eventually I figured out that I should use the Chain Chomp to my advantage. Another example of careful strategic planning is a battle that features an environment that circles around. The enemies featured here are mostly powerful Smashers, which do a large amount of damage. They however do not move very far; so players have to carefully maneuver and then attack them.

As one can see, there’s quality strategic play at work in this game. Sadly, quite a few battles are on the easier side. It’s understandable that Kingdom Battle works as an accessible point into the XCOM world, but more battles could have been given a slightly harder push. With that said, the game does feature quite a few genuine challenges that forces players to carefully evaluate their losses and come up with new strategies. When it’s hard, Kingdom Battle is a masterpiece when it comes to strategic play. The final boss heals himself twice, and makes the player ask the questions, “Should I concentrate on the minions and then focus on the boss, or focus all firepower on the boss? Can I do both?” The boss battles are diverse, from Rabbid Kong’s shockwaves to having to turn off the spotlight on Phantom of the Bwahpera.

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To switch things up, the gameplay sometimes features “get to the goal” battles. Instead of fighting enemies, the objective is to get to the appointed yellow area. These were a nice change of pace. It especially gets interesting when you have to escort a non-fighter, such as Toad, to the goal without that character being depleted of his/her health.  While battles are the primary part of the game, you will spend a good amount of time exploring the maps. Here Mario and friends go from level to level often looking for secret areas that can yield artwork, new weapons, and other nifty things. You will also solve puzzles of varying difficulty. They are not a bad way to keep that strategic thinking going between battles.

The soundtrack is wonderfully orchestrated. From the tension-filled ‘Into the Pit’ to the epic ‘Bowser Returns,’ the music in this game is well done. It’s a shame there weren’t many Mario remixes, but since this is a crossover game, it makes sense the soundtrack wouldn’t be 100% focused on delivering Mario-specific themes. There are four worlds to trek through. That sounds like a small number, but each world has nine main sections, and they usually are not short. There are many collectibles to find for completionists. As for multiplayer, there are co-op challenges. That’s fine, but it’s shocking that there isn’t a versus mode. How fun would it be to challenge a sibling or friend whom has come over for some strategic play? Ubisoft made a mistake not implementing a competitive mode.

Overall, Mario + Rabbids is an unexpectedly great crossover. The amount of depth to the gameplay is amazing. Many battles you’ll think up different strategies as you see how far an enemy can move. You’ll use the environment to your advantage (while the computers do the same). The characters have diverse weapons and abilities. I personally liked Rabbid Peach’s heal ability and had her on my team. Maybe you will like Rabbid Yoshi’s Gatling gun-type weapon. There are other things to consider, such as skill points, further adding to the depth. More battles with higher difficultly would have been welcome however, and a lack of competitive multiplayer is almost a crime. Despite those things, Kingdom Battle is definitely worth a look, whether or not you’re familiar with XCOM. If you’re not familiar, this game will give you an appreciation for it.

8.5/10

My Little Pony: The Movie Review

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On October 10, 2010, the world of pop culture was forever changed when a show called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered on The Hub/Discovery Family. This show began the fourth generation of the My Little Pony franchise. It was different than previous incarnations. The character designs were unique and it attracted a fan-base of both men and women of all ages. Seven years later, and that fan-base has grown to amazing proportions. The series has aired over a hundred episodes and shows no signs of finishing anytime soon. Essays can be written on why the show is appealing, but I’ll sum it up in one sentence: In a time when animated shows are devoid of substance, My Little Pony offers genuinely good writing, developed characters, and moral-filled messages. The show must obviously be doing something right, because this year marks its first wide release theatrical film.

Granted, the series had a couple of spin-off films (Equestria Girls) appear in the theater, but those were limited releases. The Movie is the first “true” theatrical experience. Director Jayson Thiessen has been with the series for awhile. He does the show justice with the film. It’s an exciting adventure for both longtime fans and those looking to see for the first time why Pony is a pop culture phenomenon. Though it’s not perfect (a weak climax for one thing), The Movie is well worth the price of admission.

The opening scene features a beautiful overview of Canterlot. The show has been known for its sharp animation, and the movie multiplies its unique look: the animation is gorgeous. Soon we’re shown our main character: Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship. In typical Twilight fashion, we’re shown a character whom easily becomes a nervous wreck when it comes to planning something big. The Friendship Festival is a solid way to start the film, as it introduces viewers to each of the main ponies. Rarity’s attention to detail when designing the ribbons for the stage, and Rainbow Dash’s brashness in decorating the place in the blink of an eye (with no attention to detail) much to Rarity’s dismay was classic. Right before the festival can kick off with a song from Songbird Serenade, the conflict makes itself known.

The arrival of the Storm King’s ship was handled brilliantly. The sky grows dark and the music changes as the ship draws closer to the ground. We’re not introduced to the eponymous villain yet however. Instead, a little creature named Grubber announces they’re here by order of the Storm King and proceeds to introduce Commander Tempest. Voiced by Emily Blunt, Tempest makes herself known by requesting the immediate surrender of all four princesses. Blunt does a fantastic job here and the rest of the film as Tempest. There’s a genuine menace to her voice, and also gives the impression that Tempest genuinely hates friendship. Back to the raid, naturally the princesses don’t surrender and this leads to an exciting sequence as Tempest turns Princess Celestia, Luna, and Cadance all to stone. It’s mayhem as the Storm King’s troops attack as the pony civilians run in fear. There is however something that needs to be noted about the entire sequence.

Viewers of the show know that Twilight Sparkle is one of the most powerful magic users in Equestria. However, she’s useless during the raid. She doesn’t teleport away as the orb approaches her. She almost doesn’t fight back at all when really she could easily beat Tempest. That’s a problem for almost the rest of the movie: Twilight seems to be genuinely scared of Tempest, despite the fact that she (Twilight) battled a demonic overlord all by herself in the past. That’s why the raid sequence was a little hard to believe. If someone however has never seen the show, this wouldn’t be a big deal.

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Next, the core part of the movie begins: Twilight and her friends’ journey to finding the Queen of the “Hippos.” It’s an adventure story at its finest; the ponies travel to a shady western-like town, a pirate airship, a mermaid-like place, and finally back to the castle. The new settings have memorable characters. Capper is a charismatic cat brilliantly voiced by Taye Diggs. Captain Celaeno is a great pirate character. This is one case though where the film could have benefited from being a bit longer. We’re shown that she and her band of pirates are forced to do the Storm King’s bidding. Rainbow Dash gives her a speech on being awesome again: she doesn’t have to follow the Storm King. Dash’s speech is well done, but some additional minutes would have been useful in developing Celaeno’s character progression. In the mermaid, or rather seapony place, Princess Skystar is another great character. We’re shown her genuine longing for friends, especially with not having interacted with the outside world for awhile.

Before we move on to the climax, let’s discuss the main ponies themselves. Each of their diverse personalities are nicely displayed. It’s fun seeing their different reactions, from Rarity saying how her mane is worth more than a character was willing to pay for it, to Pinkie’s bubbly reaction to a certain character’s real name. Now, unfortunately some of the ponies don’t technically get to do much. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity have few notable scenes. At least Fluttershy had one memorable scene when she “battled” a Storm King trooper – I can’t say the same for Applejack or Rarity. Other than Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie seem to be the show’s most popular characters. That’s probably the reason why those two were given more prominence in the film.

Pinkie Pie was one of the highlights. The show can have a hard time balancing her comedic relief persona and being an engaging character. The film balances that perfectly, and even goes further toward the climax when she and Twilight discuss a controversial matter. It was one of the most emotional scenes in the entire franchise. It’s amazing how much emotion can be shown in the characters’ eyes. This was also helped by the superb voices of Tara Strong and Andrea Libman. Spike is given a good role as well. His fire-breathing is put to excellent use.

Now we come to the climax and the Storm King. Storm King steals the show in the few scenes he’s in. Liev Schreiber does a fantastic job voicing the villain with comedic flare. Storm King is a character whom likes to have fun as he’s ruling over the masses, and it shows. Unfortunately, the climax doesn’t do him full justice. Now, him mainly appearing in the climax as build-up can be a good thing  – if the film delivers something exciting. We do get some good dialogue from the King, and the obligatory ponies-uniting scene to put an end to his reign. But there’s no real battle. There’s virtually no showdown with the antagonist. The show has had better climaxes. In “Twilight’s Kingdom – Part 2,” Twilight battles Tirek; magical beams are shot and Twilight is thrown into a mountain. Keep in mind, that “Twilight’s Kingdom” was aired as TV-Y. The Movie has a film budget and a PG rating, and yet has a mediocre climax in comparison. It’s not terrible, but with how little the Storm King appears, more was needed. (I recommend reading the prequel graphic novel; it shows more of Storm King’s character and motivation which you won’t really find in the film.)

One of the greatest aspects of the show is its emphasis on quality music. You’ll find many amazingly written tunes in the film as well. As an example, part of the lyrics of the song, “We Got This Together” is: “I am the princess of friendship – But that is more than just a crown.” This speaks volumes on the type of character Twilight is, and the responsibly she carries. Daniel Ingram has been composing heartfelt songs for the show for years. He continues that quality work in the film, along with every other artist who worked on the soundtrack. Tempest also has a song as she explains her emotional backstory on how her horn became broken. The background themes are also great. The soundtrack overall is an A+.

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Overall, My Little Pony: The Movie does the show justice. It features all the great characters longtime fans have come to love throughout the years. The story is a classic adventure filled with memorable new characters. Tempest is a highlight, and no one will soon be forgetting the laughs they had while watching Capper. Like the show, the film  deals with different themes. It deals with the power of friendship, losing faith in friendship, broken friendships, and of course the fight against evil. Quality writing is abound. There are a few gripes. Twilight is portrayed as severely weak throughout the film. The climax was more on the mediocre side, and the Storm King, though a great character, was given too little screen time and not enough payoff. These things shouldn’t wreck your enjoyment of the film however. My Little Pony has become a brand associated with quality. The Movie is a story filled with the quality message of friendship.

8.5/10