This Week in Games - Super Mario Odyssey

by Dustin Bailey,
Folks, I've some sad news to share. The next edition of This Week In Games will be my last. It's been a wonderful ride, but I don't have the time I once did to bring you my entirely unimpeachable views on video games every single week. I know, I know, it'll be tough—but let's be honest here. Summon Night 6 is actually out, so my work here is pretty much done. Anyway, who has time for long goodbyes? There's a new Mario out.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is among the best games Nintendo has ever made. It's colorful, charming, and a dream to control. The fact that all this sounds pretty obvious is a testament to the year the Mario factory is having, but don't try to downplay it. In a year we'll need to start having some real serious talks about what the best 3D Mario actually is.

The adventure begins as Bowser pulls a page from the Super Paper Mario playbook and kidnaps Peach with the intent to marry her. (Bowser may be a jerk, but at least he's a jerk with an eye for tradition.) Aided by a cabal of evil, wedding-planning rabbits, Bowser's troupe scours the globe to get all the food, party favors, and decor necessary to ensure the hitching goes off without a hitch, and of course it's up to Mario to raise some objections.

That plot serves as a pretty apt analogy for the game as a whole—take a familiar base and dress it up in so many fun, eclectic variations that it becomes fresh again. Levels might have Goombas, Chain Chomps, and a realistically-rendered T-Rex all hanging out right next to each other. It's maybe strange to talk about spoilers in a Mario game, but there's a reason you should be reticent about seeing too much—half the fun is in discovering those creative new areas, the quirky new costumes, and all the tremendous little surprises that permeate every inch of the game.

Of course, the other half of the fun is actually playing in these worlds. This is perhaps the best Mario has ever controlled, with every jump and tiny maneuver feeling impeccably precise. Odyssey is even open more exploratory than the likes of 64 and Sunshine, so everything's a bit slower-paced, with more intense platforming challenges tucked away to the side in bonus areas, but there's never a point where your abilities feel mismatched to the tasks at hand.

Progressing down the main path means seeking out a series of clearly-defined objectives in each world that shine as beacons in the distance. Each one of those main objectives you complete changes the world state a little, opening new areas to explore and new Power Moons to collect, and the subtle gating of progress encourages you not to obsess over 100%-ing any given world the first time through. Instead, like Breath of the Wild before it, it encourages you to meander, slowly making your way to something “important” in the distance while getting distracted by a dozen little fun things along the way.

Getting distracted is the fun part. The stages are all massive, open sandboxes that you can explore corner to corner without impediment. They don't even have the selectable, world-changing goals at the opening that past 3D Mario games do. Instead, it's all open for your discovery from the start. Nintendo made a Rare-style platformer, slow-paced, about exploring and slowly digging up secrets and collectables. In place of backtracking and purchasing abilities, though, you're instead using your hat to capture nearby enemies and reach new locations. It's smart, and most of all fun—from the little mustache that adorns captured foes to the way the new moves feel as you hop through the levels.

Each challenge is all classic Nintendo-design, introducing an idea, making you comfortable with it, and having you repeat it under increasingly difficult circumstances until you can complete it. Just making progress is easy, and reaching the credits is a breezy journey that seems to only take a handful of hours—but even that's just a precursor to the “real” game, opening up infinitely more challenges and places to explore and things to see, beginning the truly devious part of the game.

The one material complaint I can level against the game is its insistence that motion controls are good. They certainly work as advertised, allowing you a few extra options when tossing your hat around, like homing in on enemies or making sweeping, circular attacks. You only occasionally need to use these moves, but they're useful enough that you'll want to, forcing you again and again to jiggle your controller in a way that I really hoped we had moved past. The controls work, but they would work better with buttons, and no matter what controller you're using half the inputs remain unused. There's no reason for there not to be a totally traditional control option. If all the praise seems a bit meandering, that because it is—but so is Odyssey. There's no one thing you'd point to and say “ah, this is it, this is what make a genre-defining game.” Instead, it's an infinite number of little things—tiny surprises that dot the journey, making it feel like a real trip through a colorful world, and a delight the whole way through.

NEWS

NINTENDO'S 2017 SUCCESS ISN'T JUST IN YOUR HEAD

Super Mario Odyssey's quality certainly isn't going unnoticed beyond the realm of enthusiast media. Its release was timed just before Nintendo's financial results briefing, and the company estimates over two million copies sold over its first weekend. That's well over a quarter of the 7 million Switch owners buying a game within three days, and even it's not super surprising that Mario is a game capable of doing that. What is impressive is that this is the fourth “must-have” title for the platform after Zelda, Mario Kart, and Splatoon, which is already a lineup of games that dismantles Nintendo's historical problem of not having enough software to support their platform.

Speaking of things selling over two million units, the SNES Mini also hit that threshold just over a month after release, and—prepare for shock here—Nintendo plans to continue shipping the thing “moving forward.” Yes, the company will continue to sell a product so that you may purchase it, and as they previously announced, the NES Mini is coming back into production. Imagine it with me: adorable little emulation boxes available for purchase with minimal effort. Truly, Nintendo is fulfilling dreams here.

The premium-priced mobile experiment, Super Mario Run, has also topped 200 million downloads, though it's perhaps pointed that Nintendo hasn't revealed how many sales they've made. They've apparently “not yet reached an acceptable profit point” on the game, which is certainly unexpected after the weighing fear that Nintendo would abandon traditional games once they got a whiff of that mobile money. Fire Emblem Heroes has been successful and it certainly seems that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp will follow suit, but if there was any concern Nintendo would stop seeing console games as their primary business I'd say that fear should be put to rest.

SONY'S DIVING IN TO THOSE HOT MONSTER HUNTER MARKETING DEALS

Monster Hunter World is trying to be a much bigger worldwide deal than its predecessors. That's natural, and it's been obvious since the game's debut. How big a deal? Well, Sony is investing marketing money into it, securing a PlayStation Plus-exclusive beta and a Horizon Zero Dawn-themed armor and weapon set.

That beta will run December 9th through December 12th, and will feature three quests—so yes, this is a demo beta and not a beta beta. As one of the “curious about Monster Hunter but never able to penetrate it” people they're making this game for, I'm definitely curious to dig. I wanna hunt the monsters too, guys.

THAT SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS REMAKE IS OUT IN FEBRUARY AND LOOKS REAL GOOD

Amid all the questionable violence of Sony's Paris Games Week presentation, at least we could all agree that it's still cool to stab colossi in the head. Or rather, that it's not cool—I don't know, honestly, it's been a long time since I've seen the ending to the game. But what better way to get reminded than the Shadow of the Colossus remake, which now has a February 6th release date?

Marvel at the detail of the new trailer. They say a good remake looks just as vibrant as you remember the original, but no, this looks way better than even my memories of SotC. It doesn't seem substantially different from the original in any area other than visuals, but the graphical upgrade looks pretty phenomenal. And really, any excuse to return to Shadow of the Colossus is a good one.

UPCOMING RELEASES

SONIC FORCES
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / Switch / PC
Release Date: November 7
MSRP: $39.99

The next big game from Sonic Team has been rather overshadowed by the excellence of Sonic Mania, and even divorced from that context the early impressions of Sonic Forces have not been incredibly positive. But hey, hopefully things will pan out in the end. This one not only features a combination of 2D and 3D platforming, it'll also give DeviantArt a run for its money by letting you play as your own Sonic OC. I'm not sure the world is prepared for this day.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Not a big week for major Japanese releases, but we do have Call of Duty: WWII taking advantage of the fact that we're over a decade past the height of World War 2 fatigue in games.

It is, however, a tremendous week for ports, DLC, and rereleases. Hitman: Game of the Year Edition will add some new missions and set the stage for the return of elusive targets, while Horizon Zero Dawn gets a big expansion in the form of The Frozen Wilds. Nioh also hits PC, and a nifty little platformer escapes the bonds of VR with Super Lucky's Tale. All that plus a PC version of the .hack//G.U. trilogy that includes new content.


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