Category: Reviews

Review: Super Mario Odyssey

This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of Super Mario Odyssey.

Until last fall, the core Mario franchise was in danger of becoming the video game version of Mickey Mouse: an iconic legend with a lack of current relevance. After a string of disappointing entries such as New Super Mario Brothers U & Super Mario 3D Land on the low selling Wii U, the mustachioed man of mushrooms was at the nadir of his illustrious career.

Super Mario Odyssey blows away that disappointing recent history with an experience that is profoundly ambitious & creatively inspired. The latest Mario adventure combines the best elements of Super Mario 64’s platforming with the bright visuals of Super Mario Sunshine & a deep collection of fresh, vibrant new worlds to explore. The unique mechanic in Odyssey is Cappy, a sentient ghost that perches itself on Mario’s head as a cap that can be thrown onto creatures, objects & even people to interact with them. This manifests itself in a variety of fun results from flicking Mario around a dense urban landscape to controlling classic foes, gigantic animals & even bewildered humans (!) to collect moons, a collectible that powers your vessel that traverses from kingdom to kingdom in pursuit of the kidnapped Princess once again.

The quality that makes Odyssey truly special is its focus on the freedom to explore. Gone is the 1-up, replaced by a symbolic penalty of 10 coins for each death which is often replenished in seconds after respawning. The power moons required to progress from world to world can be earned in a wide variety of ways, allowing the player to skip almost any challenges that are too difficult or less appealing to hit each power moon tier before flying to another kingdom. The different levels range from the expected snow, water & sand levels to entirely new creations such as New Donk City, a brilliant take on Manhattan that stands out among a deep collection of wonderful worlds. Without spoiling any particular moments, there are some optional set pieces & retro throwback sequences that are joyous tributes to earlier games which made me exclaim in delight.

It looks brilliant on the Switch’s display, filling the screen with worlds dense with detail & hidden treasures that become progressively more nuanced as they are explored. The focus on design through placement, creature behaviour & modifiers such as shimmering on interactive elements¬†are combined with the extensive use of procedural vector elements over rasterized assets (the entire game is a remarkably small 5.7 GB in size), resulting in worlds with far reaching draw distances as well as nearly instant load times. The cheerful bobble of friendly characters, staccato hopping of Goombas, tenacious pursuit by Bullet Bills, loopy swim patterns of aquatic creatures & much more imbue the world with an energy that never fades.

The melody focused music blends remixes of classic themes with springy, toe tapping new tunes to accompany each adventure. The new tracks aren’t as iconic or immediately etched into memory as the theme songs from the 2D era games, but they inspire the same sense of upbeat fun when exploring each kingdom: from the light percussive tones of the Sand Kingdom to the wind swept harmonies of the Snow Kingdom, each world has a distinctive aural composition. Bouncing off of enemies, flinging Cappy, snaring a Power Moon & every other action has a quick, bright audio accompaniment that is the unmistakeable signature of Nintendo: composers Shiho Fujii, Naoto Kubo & the legendary Koji Kondo deserve special recognition for their work.

The game is so rich with options that many of them can be missed during a completed story experience. I managed to finish the core story mode without using the Cappy sustained throw & jump that creates a temporary landing pad for Mario, missed a lot of the optional moon side quests & barely scratched the surface of repeated missions like the riddles or time attack races that populate each world. I kept both Joy-Con controllers firmly affixed to the Switch while I played exclusively in portable mode, navigating each world without using the variety of motion sensitive controls for spin attacks or specialized throws. For players with a completionist approach, this game can devour well over a hundred hours with carefully crafted puzzles, hidden areas & increasingly difficult challenges to gather a fortune in addictive collectible moons.

Super Mario Odyssey is a remarkable achievement for the adventure franchise. By offering the most powerful combination of old & new since the Nintendo 64 launched with a similarly revolutionary platforming experience in Super Mario 64, it serves as the capstone of an incredible 2017 for the Nintendo Switch & redefines the Mario franchise for the current generation of Nintendo hardware.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: Titanfall 2

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Titanfall 2.

One of the downsides of modern video games is missing out on great games due to an overwhelming flood of options: from a continual release of AAA titles to a tidal way of free-to-play & affordably priced mobile options, there are more quality options to choose from than ever before. Titanfall 2 suffered a particularly challenging release as part of an aggressive fall 2016 publishing strategy by Electronic Arts to challenge the dominant Call of Duty franchise by releasing both the Respawn developed shooter & Battlefield 1 closely together, resulting in an adverse impact on the futuristic shooter’s sales.

Fortunately, Titanfall 2 has a completely revamped story mode paired with a compelling multiplayer experience that still holds up over a year after release. Respawn has replaced the original concept of campaign as quick intro/outro voiceover on multiplayer maps with a full narrative paired with story mode specific levels & sequences comparable to Call of Duty or Battlefield. As pilot by necessity Jack Cooper, the sprawling levels are explored with sentient Titan BT-7274 as the upstart militia battles the assembled armies, level boss mercenaries & treacherous terrain to prevent annihilation. There is a massive game changing event that happens midway through the campaign which completely changes the perception of combat as well as exploration, a big risk by Respawn that upheaves the established design of the Titanfall series but successfully grabs the player’s attention with its creativity.

The multiplayer is a mixed bag, objectively good but subjectively strange compared to the innovative approach of the original game. Titanfall 2 abandons all of the titan frames from the original game for new classes that are restricted in their weapon choices, movement options & chargeable core abilities. The new designs are interesting, but the dramatic changes feel like a deliberate choice to mirror similar class structures in other modern shooters. Burn cards are gone & the presence of AI controlled units are dramatically reduced, focusing the combat more on pilot & titan matchups rather than the ongoing, changing areas of battle that the original game introduced. The silky smooth controls, fast reaction times & low latency servers carry over but the online experience overall is a slower, more deliberate version of the breakneck pace that made the original game unique.

My delayed start time with the game also afforded an opportunity to try it out with the Xbox One X, hardware that Titanfall 2 takes full advantage of with a resolution & texture upgrade that improves the visual fidelity to near high end PC quality. Load times were already quite fast online, but the campaign loads a lot faster & the multiplayer menus are slightly more responsive on Microsoft’s newest console.

There are newer & trendier options that have emerged since the release of Titanfall 2, but the sequel to Respawn’s debut title is not to be missed. It makes a concerted effort to build upon the unique but admittedly barebones structure of the previous game with a lot of attention to adding features & narrative. Some of the uniqueness of the experimental original game is lost in transition but the meaningful additions to narrative, weapons & titans form a worthy addition to the crowded first person shooter genre.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: Full Throttle Remastered

This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of Full Throttle Remastered.

There was a brief, glorious moment a few years ago when Sony invested in a large slate of indie games & PC remasters. Among this group of revitalized games was Tim Schafer’s LucasArts titles, including the cult classic Full Throttle with a fully revamped set of graphics and audio that brought tough as nails biker Ben into the HD era.

Diving into the world of biker gangs, Corley Motors, the scheming Adrian Ripburger and the overall world of Full Throttle for the first time is a disjointed but oddly captivating way to experience the game. The modern day presentation is paired with classic adventure game navigation, requiring a deliberate approach of carefully scrolling and prodding level elements to progress (and unlock rare trophies). Taking on leadership of the Polecat motorcycle gang, tough as nails Ben’s journey from ambushed biker to fugitive on the run and eventually combating Ripburger for justice and the biker way is a fun ride! The dialogue trees are worth exploring for in-jokes and sly references to biker culture, the exaggerated characters are campy without becoming annoying and the protagonists have a distinctly 90’s mix of earnestness and brash confidence. It’s fun to look at, poke, open and interact with every element to fully explore the world.

Full Throttle Remastered has fully redrawn graphics in the same style and fidelity as the Day of the Tentacle remaster, rather than the inferior upscaling used for the Grim Fandango port to console. The clean lines, thin inks and flat shading feel tonally consistent with the original 1995 version; there’s a toggle between classic and remastered graphics that show the stark contrast after 22 years. I recommend switching between versions at quiet moments to fully appreciate the effort and care that Double Fine invested in the new edition.

It sounds great as well, each voice imbuing their character with a distinct tone that I can still hear clearly in my head. Double Fine used the original master recordings of Roy Conrad, Mark Hamill, Kath Soucie and the rest of the cast to retain the original dialogue flavour while the various punching, motor revving, explosion and other sound effects pop without the bass heavy, exaggerated volume style of many modern era games.

The game struggles with some pain point sequences, I found it frustrating to figure out the rock/paper/scissors type system to weapon swap through an extended Road Warrior bike battle and land stunt jumps at a climactic car battle. I may be spoiled by modern systems with obvious visual hints to problem solve; the grind of determining the sequences and nailing the precise timing to pass those sequences nearly derailed me from finishing the game (but grinding through them was ultimately worthwhile).

Full Throttle Remastered is a fresh, vibrant version of a classic game that everyone should experience. Whether it’s a return visit to a beloved favourite or a new introduction to¬†the world of Tim Schafer, spending a few hours with Ben, Maureen, Ripburger and company is time well spent.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars