Saturday, November 11, 2017

Super Mario Odyssey Review

Super Mario Odyssey is a homecoming for 3D Mario games. We’ve had 4 3D Mario games since Super Mario Sunshine, but they didn’t have the big free-roaming levels that Mario 64 and Sunshine had. Odyssey feels like a sequel to Mario 64. A sequel that has the benefit of being able to pick and choose the best parts of all the 3D Mario games.

The game starts off with Mario and Bowser battling it out on top of an airship. As usual, Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, and Mario is there to save her. There’s a twist this time, though. Bowser is planning to marry Peach! Mario tries to stop this nonsense, but Bowser has a magic top hat, and Mario has no counter for it. Mario gets his red hat torn to shreds, and gets smacked down into Bonneton, home of the Bonneters, a race of ghosts with top hats. There is actually nothing close to a bonnet here. Here is where Mario meets Cappy, his new hat, with eyes, and an annoying voice. Cappy is the Jar Jar Binks of the game. He is a character made to appeal to kids. Thankfully, his talking scenes are limited.

The structure of Super Mario Odyssey is very similar to Mario 64 and Sunshine’s. You’re free to explore each level and find challenges to complete, which reward you with moons. Unlike in 64 and Sunshine, there isn’t a hub world connecting everything. Instead, Mario’s ship, the Odyssey, travels around the world through a menu, much like in Super Mario Galaxy 2. There also are no preset goals, different start points, or different versions of the levels, depending on what moon you want to get, like with stars in other 3D Mario games. Every level lets you grab whatever moon you can, in any order you can, and doesn’t restart the level after you get one. The only time different moons become available, is after you beat Bowser and see the credits.

There are 999 moons in the game, but you can beat Bowser with around 150. New costumes, levels, and a lot more moons only become available after beating Bowser. There are also levels which only have moons in them after beating the game. The main quest is actually kind of short and easy, so I urge everyone to go back through each level to get more moons. You’re really missing out if you stop playing after seeing the credits. The post game is where you will find the best moons.

999 Moons might sound like a lot of work, but a lot of them really aren’t very hard or time consuming to get. You can find moons on top of trees, by butt stomping the ground, and playing minigames You can even buy them at the store for 100 coins. They’re all over the place! Of course, there are also plenty of moons at the end of challenging platforming sections and as rewards after beating bosses. I think they’ve found a good balance for players of all skill levels to be able to beat the game.

Mario has the biggest arsenal of moves out of all Mario games in Odyssey. Mario can long jump, triple jump, dive, flip, and wall jump. He can even roll out of falls, so you can completely avoid stuns from falling, even off a skyscraper in New Donk City. There’s only a few moves missing, like 64’s punching and Sunshine’s fish flop. Throw in Cappy, and it starts feeling like you’re cheating. Mario can throw out Cappy and then bounce off him, like a trampoline. You can use this to more than double your jump distance. You can do a long jump, throw Cappy, dive and bounce off Cappy, and then do another dive off that, for example. Mastering this technique allows you to completely skip some platforming obstacles. Throwing Cappy while in midair also allows you to float for a moment, and turn mid jump, for even more acrobatic hijinks.

Of course, Cappy is more than just a hat shaped trampoline. Cappy is what enables you to “capture” things, the game’s big new mechanic. Capturing is basically possessing things. Cappy is a ghost, so that makes sense. You can capture everything from Goombas and Koopas, to electric sparks and poles on the streets of New Donk City. Nintendo has made a big deal out of the capturing mechanic, but it’s not like the whole game is about capturing. Capturing is really Odyssey's powerups. Instead of fire flowers and tanooki tails, you can turn into Para Goombas and Hammer Bros. I Think they’ve found a good balance between challenges involving capturing, and ones in which you platform jump as regular Mario.

Capturing isn’t the only way to play dress up in Odyssey. There’s a ton of costumes for Mario to wear. Some of these costumes have small perks, like faster swimming, but most are purely cosmetic. Some are required to get into some areas to get moons. For example, in New Donk City, you have to dress up in the Mario Maker costume, because they need someone who can fix stuff. I mean, like really fix stuff, not just the plumbing. There’s all kinds of costumes that reference nearly every game Mario has ever been in. There's Dr. Mario, Donkey Kong arcade Mario, Wario, Mario’s Picross Mario, and even Yoshi's Cookie Mario.

If there isn’t a costume that references a Mario game, there’s probably an NPC, sign, sound effect, or piece of Music that has it covered. Maybe it has become cliche to say, but this really is a celebration of all things Mario. There’s references to nearly every game Mario has ever been in here. There’s Mario Kart music, Galaxy sound effects, signs with Donkey Kong Country character names on them, and even characters like Captain Toad and Toadette show up. The only game I’m having trouble finding a reference for is Super Mario Sunshine. You’d think there would be a Shine, FLUDD, or a Pianta somewhere, but I haven’t seen anything.

There really aren’t that many levels, but most of them are really big. There are also a few that are very small, like the Cloud and Ruined Kingdoms. Every kingdom has its own unique theme, and even though the enemies and challenges might appear in other levels, they always feel like they fit right in. One my favorites is the Sand Kingdom. It has Egyptian style pyramids and a Mexican style village inhabited by Dia de los Muertos inspired skeleton people. It even references Sarasaland from Super Mario Land. The Cap Kingdom is also really cool looking. It’s almost all black and white, and has buildings with top hats on them. It looks like something out of a painting.

Odyssey doesn’t just have awesome 3D levels, though. There’s a bunch of awesome 2D Mario levels in here too. Sometimes, you’ll see a sort of fake 3D pixelated pipe you can go into, and when you come out the other side, you’re in an 8-bit style 2D Mario level. These levels are usually played on the side of a mountain or building, and you can turn corners in 3D. It reminds me of Viewtiful Joe. These aren’t just plain old NES levels, though. These levels can get pretty crazy. They like to play with gravity and going from 2D to 3D. They’re very creative. If you wondered where 2D Mario could go now that they’ve given everyone the tools to make their own with Super Mario Maker, here’s your answer. I’d love to see a 2D Mario with levels like these. And oh yeah, every costume has an 8-bit version in these levels. Talk about attention to detail.

The art style in Odyssey is strangely realistic. Warp pipes have chipped paint and rust on them, Toad’s mushroom hats have skin-like bumps, Bullet Bills are all scratched up, and you can see the strands in Mario’s hair and mustache. It’s kind of weird seeing such realistic details in a Mario game, but this is without a doubt the best looking game Nintendo has ever made.

They really outdid themselves with the music. There’s just so much original stuff in here. A lot of it doesn’t even sound like Mario game music, and that’s Ok. All the musical styles really fit the traveling theme of the game. Of course, the New Donk City Festival song, with vocals by Pauline, is awesome. My favorite is the Steam Gardens theme, though. It has that kind of Surf guitar sound I really like. I also love the Tostarena: Town theme, because it sounds like a mariachi version of Peach’s Castle theme.

I’m very impressed by the HD rumble in this game. I have games with HD rumble, but nothing like this. Everything has its own unique rumble. The rumble of a stack of Goombas changes depending on how many you have in a stack! It’s that detailed. I recommend turning the rumble strength to the max for this game.

Super Mario Odyssey definitely lives up to the hype. Everything about the game is just so good. Everything from the gameplay, to the music, rumble, and graphics is top notch. It has pretty much everything you could want in a 3D Mario game. This game really feels like the best Mario game Nintendo can make right now, and it’s definitely my new favorite 3D Mario game.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Destiny 2 PC Review

Destiny 2 is the sequel to Bungie’s 2014 “Shared World Shooter”, Destiny. What the hell is a shared world shooter, you ask? It’s basically Halo meets Diablo. Destiny takes all the little perks you got from pickups in Halo game, like different kinds of grenades, jetpacks, and energy swords, and makes classes, talent trees, and gear out of them. Destiny is a shooter with something for everyone. It has a story-driven campaign, competitive multiplayer, cooperative multiplayer, and open-world exploration. There’s a lot to Destiny 2. I’ve mostly played the Hunter class, I’ve barely touched PVP, and the raid just launched on PC, so I haven’t done that either.

Destiny 2 is all about hitting the reset button on the series. Yes, already. The story revolves around the destruction of the Tower and the imprisonment of the Traveler by Dominus Ghaul, the leader of the Cabal faction, The Red Legion. Everyone’s gear is gone, everyone’s light is stolen, and everyone has to start over from scratch, so it fits in perfectly with what Bungie wanted to do with the game. They wanted to give everyone a fresh start and make big changes to the way a lot of things worked in the game.

Destiny 1’s campaign paled in comparison to Bungie’s Halo games. Destiny 2’s campaign actually has a complete story, memorable characters with good voice acting, large scale battles, and even some vehicles. There’s nothing quite like Halo 2’s Scarab battle, but the tank missions are a big step up from anything in Destiny 1. You’re not just going somewhere and hitting a switch and killing some aliens anymore. Story missions have more varied objectives, bosses, and some pretty cool cutscenes tying it all together. I wouldn’t recommend buying Destiny 2 just for the campaign, but it is pretty good. It feels much more like a big budget FPS campaign than Destiny 1’s.

It’s a shame that you can’t redo the story missions on different difficulties, like in Destiny 1 and Halo, because that was always a lot of fun. The whole Normal, Heroic, Legendary thing is gone, and now, you can only redo story missions in the form of “Meditations”. These Mediations are just weekly quests to redo specific missions for rep rewards. Last week I only got 3, but this week I got 6. I’d like to just be able to do them whenever I want, without starting a new character.

As you progress through the campaign, you’ll unlock each zone for open-world gameplay. Each zone is full of monsters to kill, treasure chests to loot, and places to explore. Quests and Adventures supplement the main story, explain what the aliens are doing in these places, and give you a bit of backstory on the zones. Patrols are MMORPG style quests that have you doing stuff like, killing a bunch of aliens for specific drops. Public Events are timed events that appear throughout the zone, which will have a boss or waves of enemies that everyone can take part in killing. At the end of a Public Event, a big chest with loot appears for everyone who took part in the event. Each zone also has “Challenges” that have you doing certain tasks, like killing 75 enemies of a certain type, or looting a chest at the end of a cave, for even more rewards. All these activities take place in the same zones the story missions and strikes take place in, so each zone feels like a huge, interconnected, FPS playground.

Destiny 2’s shooting hasn’t changed much from the first game, it’s still a game that's just fun to run around and shoot aliens in. There have been a lot of tweaks to the 3 classes, talent trees, the UI, and gear, though. All 3 classes have had their talent trees redone, and all 3 got a new spec. You can unlock your second and third specs through class quests. I got items to start the quests from Public Events. These class quests are fully voice acted, and really give you a feel for what these specs and your class are all about. The ones I did for my Hunter had me going into a dark forest and hearing Hunter NPCs, like Cayde-6 and Hawthorne, talk about Hunter things. It wasn’t as elaborate as the Artifact Weapon quests in WoW or anything, but they were pretty cool.

The way you upgrade gear has changed a bit. There is still infusion, which lets you feed gear to other gear, to raise its power level, but gear no longer gains talent points to spend, like in Destiny 1. Now, each piece of gear only has a few talents and they’re all unlocked from the start, so they don’t require leveling. One of the new things they added to customize gear is the mods. Mods let you change one talent from maybe better health recovery to shorter grenade cooldown, or change the damage type of a weapon.

Gear vendors have been completely reworked. You used to be able to just buy stuff from NPCs, if you had a certain amount of reputation or tokens in Destiny 1. In Destiny 2, all the vendors have their own reputation, which is not like the old reps, since they’re infinite now. Now, you fill a bar with token and material turn-ins, once you fill the rep bar, you get a bundle with random stuff from the things that NPC has. These bundles always have a piece of gear, money, and maybe some armor shaders or mods. You can’t outright buy stuff anymore, but the new rep system is much better than the usual rep grinds.

The UI got a pretty big upgrade with a much needed map, in-game clan system, and in-game text chat exclusive to the PC version. The map can be pulled up at any time, has icons that tell you where all the different activities are, and lets you fast travel between landing zones. That’s another welcome addition. You can now land in a few different places in each zone, and can fast travel between them without having to go back into orbit. The map even has timers for public events, so you know if they're in progress, or about to start.

Text chat is a welcome addition, but it’s so well hidden, that not many people seem to know it even exists. You have to press T to pull the chat log up, otherwise, all you see it a tiny notification on the bottom right corner of your screen when someone types something. Nothing ever tells you to press T to chat. I only found out about it, because I saw it while changing keybinds. I bet a lot of people are wondering what that little white square thing is. The game is also lacking public chat channels for each zone and clan chat. These are things that are standard in online games, like Diablo, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. And did I mention that whispers from strangers are turned off by default? You can’t even ask for help from someone right by you if they haven’t changed their settings. They sure have made it hard to communicate and group up in this online multiplayer game!

Destiny’s version of dungeons, the Strikes, have also gotten a big upgrade from the original game’s. Destiny 2’s strikes have much more interesting obstacles and bosses. Destiny 2’s strikes actually test more than your shooting skills, with things like platforming, and bosses with attacks that require you to do more than just take cover and kill adds. There’s definitely still a lot of killing adds and taking cover, but it just feels like they’re not afraid to ask a little more of the players now.

The influence from other sci-fi series in Destiny’s aesthetic is obvious, but it does look cool. A lot of the gear has vaguely Mandalorian and Stormtrooper looks, which I like, and the Cabal look like something straight out of Warhammer 40,000. The graphics are amazing. As usual in Bungie games, the skyboxes are beautiful and full of all sorts of details. I think the environment designs are the real star of the show, though. They just look so natural. It’s not so much that the graphics look realistic, it’s more that the layout looks natural. The way the vegetation has grown over the buildings, the water has eroded the ground, and the placement of puddles, rocks, plants, and trees all just make sense. The attention to detail is pretty remarkable.

The music in Destiny 2 is beautiful. It actually sounds more like a swords and sorcery RPG soundtrack than a sci-fi FPS soundtrack, but it fits incredibly well with the starting over theme of the game. There are still a few faster paced techno tunes, but a lot of it is orchestrated music with violins, horns, and chanting choirs, like something you might expect to hear in Skyrim or Lord of the Rings.

If you like Halo and loot, this game is for you. I love Bungie’s Halo games, WoW, and Diablo, so this game is right up my alley. It really sucks that the in-game chat is so limited, though. I really hope they add in more features, like the ones you find in Blizzard’s games.