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Axiom Verge (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo Switch)

Developer(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Publisher(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Developed solely by former Petroglyph Game engineer Thomas Happ and five years in the making, Axiom Verge was released back in 2015 to overwhelming critical acclaim from critics, garnishing a plethora of favorable reviews and received a nomination for best indie game award for 2015 at The Game Awards. I felt no different about this game; it is most definitely one of the better Metroidvania games that I have had the pleasure of playing through delivering in every aspect.

Graphics – 9/10

The game is set on a planet called Sudra and in lieu of Metroidvania tradition features many varied and wonderfully designed environments with a lot of different enemies to contend with throughout. There is also a species of giant humanoid robots called the Rusalka, which are unlike most things I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. Most gamers will immediately be reminded of Super Metroid when looking at his game, as indeed I was. But there are elements of the conceptual design that reminded me of other games too. For example, the environments, which look almost alive with floors and walls moving and pulsating, reminded a lot of Abadox for the NES, although in the case of Axiom Verge, there’s even more attention to detail put in. The Rusalka also adds a certain eloquence to the conceptual design of this game, reminding me in particular of the film Ghost in the Shell. 

Gameplay – 9/10

The game plays out ostensibly like a traditional Metroidvania game, with the player having to navigate through a 2D open world and constantly backtracking to reveal new areas or secrets hidden within the game. But what makes Axiom Verge as exciting to play as it is is it’s combat, with the player being able to find a variety of different guns throughout and to strategize according to whatever enemies are in front of them. The world of Axiom Verge is reasonably big, so there is a lot of backtracking involved as players gain new abilities to access new areas. There is also a speedrun mode for more adept players who wish to complete the game in record time, which gives the game some additional replay value. 

But regardless of whether players may be veterans or entry-level, it’s a reasonable challenge I thought; not too hard to the point of being inaccessible but not too easy either. More important than that, however, the game is extremely satisfying to immerse in; backtracking to old locations is always fun as the opportunity to experiment with new weapons constantly presents itself and there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had in this respect. The boss fights are also as intense as that of any Metroidvania game, again requiring players to strategize according to what weapons they may have as well as enemy attack patterns. 

Controls – 9.5/10

The game’s control scheme also presents no problems for the most part; it essentially uses the blueprint of Super Metroid in its general gameplay and weapons system, as well as how ammo and health works. The one minor gripe I had with the controls, however, concerns how the address disruptor works. 

The address disruptor is a gun that either corrupts or de-corrupts enemies or certain walls. This is a tool that needs to be used in order to bypass certain areas of the game. The problem is with it is if a player removes a certain section of wall and not another if the player fires again it can reverse the process for the section of the wall that’s already been removed, leaving the player having to slowly reverse the process again in order to traverse through walls. However, it’s something that’s easily rectified anyway and I can’t fault the developer for trying something new. More important than my concern is that this is a game mechanic unlike many others seen in the Metroidvania genre and it adds more to the game than what it takes away. 

Lifespan – 7/10

On average, the game can be made to last there around 15 to 20 hours, which for a Metroidvania game is fairly impressive. A sequel is currently in development and is scheduled for release in the autumn of 2020, so here’s hoping that the lifespan is increased with the new game. Without giving the end away, I think there will be a great deal of scope to expand the lifespan for the sequel, but the first game lasts more than an adequate amount of time

Storyline – 8/10

The story follows a scientist named Trace, who is running a lab experiment in New Mexico. Suddenly, something happens in the lab that causes an explosion; after which, Trace wakes up on the planet Sudra and finds himself embroiled in a one-man fight for survival, all while uncovering the wonders and mysteries behind the planet Sudra and to help the Rusalka defeat the entity known as Athetos. As the story progresses, it unfolds into something a lot deeper, which makes for a story, which like the visuals, is unlike a lot of things I’ve seen in sci-fi.

IGN gave this game a somewhat less favorable review than me, citing several problems they found with the game that I whole-heartedly found myself disagreeing with; one such criticism was that they thought the story was forgettable. But in my opinion, the story is anything but forgettable. The most prominent theme throughout the story involves moral ambiguity; the intentions and the character of the Rusalka most definitely comes into question more than once and will make the player think whether what Trace is doing is right, which once players play through it, will make them anticipate the sequel even more. 

Originality – 8/10

Again, the originality of this game has been brought into question by many other reviewers, due to it’s obvious similarities to the likes of Super Metroid and Xeodrifter; the game clearly has its influences and most fans of the genre will be able to identify them from the get-go. But outweighing its similarities to other games is its differences; the conceptual design of this game really makes it stand out from other titles in the genre and its soundtrack is exceptional, sound even more otherworldly than Super Metroid in my opinion. Its story, as I said before, is also not as straightforward as Samus Aran striving to defeat Ridley, but rather making the player question what happens at the end was for the greater good; not just for Trace, but for the planet Sudra. 

The fact of the matter is that this game comes into its own with potentially massive mythology to be spawned from it with the introduction with even more games and scope for an even bigger plot to unfold along with it and in my experience, with the exception of games like Dust: An Elysian Tail and Ato, there haven’t been many Metroidvania games that have made me feel like what I felt after having played this one through to the end. 

Happii

Overall, Axiom Verge is definitely a must-have for fans of the Metroidvania genre; it’s also a must-have for any fan of science fiction. It’s a very enjoyable game with variety in combat and conceptual design with an extremely memorable story and a lot of promise as a big gaming franchise for the future. 

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Little Ricebowl Games

Continuing on with my efforts to uncover new games coming out of the indie community, another Kickstarter project I came across this week was a simulator RPG named The Kingdom of Gardenia. Under development at Little Ricebowl games based in Birmingham, the game put the player in the shoes of Roman, a former soldier who has come to Gardenia looking for work. Stumbling across a job advert for a groundskeeper, Roman applies and the game begins. The player must plant flowers, hunt food, and interact with the townsfolk by catering to their needs in accordance with what their favorite flowers are and what food they like to eat. Along the way, the game’s main story also starts to unfold the further the player progresses, which is somewhat unusual for a simulator game. My first thoughts were that not only does it encompass elements from Stardew Valley (which was one of the developers principal sources of inspiration), but Dark Cloud also sprung to mind to a certain extent as not only does have an element of simulator games to it as a georama game, but it also has a rich story as an RPG.

But eager to find out more about the game, I contacted the game’s core designer Paul Trochowski to get a clearer insight into the development of the game and what players can expect to see with the finished project. Here’s what Paul had to say about The Kingdom of Gardenia:

What were the influences behind your game? 

I got the idea for the concept of the game after playing Stardew Valley a few years ago. I’m a huge fan of the game and I really liked the notification about the train passing through town, which you then run towards, to see if it drops any packages at the station. This got me thinking about having a train station as the focal point of the game and the player getting excited about who would be getting off the train each day.

Going back to my childhood days, I was first introduced to gaming with the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The art style and soundtrack were so iconic, and I loved the challenge of the boss battles with Bowser. I could never beat them as a child and I only properly beat the game recently when I played it on the Nintendo Switch! I’m working on a challenging boss battle for my game that will hopefully keep people coming back for the amazing satisfaction you can only get from beating a tough boss. There are also some adventure and puzzle-solving elements, inspired by games like A Link to the Past.

What has the developmental process been like?

I started out by learning how to make basic pixel art, I would sit with a mini laptop on my daily commute and draw NPCs, flowers and trees, a little bit at a time, then carry on in my lunch breaks and after work. Over time I realized I had enough content to start thinking about learning how to code and making the NPCs move around with some basic AI. I don’t have a background as an artist or a computer scientist, so learning both areas was a huge uphill battle for me, but also amazingly satisfying when I started to see things come together.

The game is based around a day/night cycle and train schedule, this became really difficult to put together with the more NPCs I started to create, as I found they would clash at certain points that I hadn’t anticipated and I would have to go back a re-work huge sections of their paths/timings. Each new visitor to the kingdom is a huge amount of work, but I’m planning on adding more visitors overtime via free content updates.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I’m at around 80% completion at the moment. I had originally planned on completing the game by April, but unfortunately, I fell really ill with coronavirus and had to put the release back a few months. I’m running a Kickstarter project to help fund production costs and the release of the game.

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

I would have to say putting in the sound effects, the game doesn’t really come to life until you start investing in some better quality sound effects and tweaking the settings to improve the audio. I still have a lot of work to do in this area but hearing footstep sounds change when the player moves from wood to the path to grass is really exciting for me.

Another exciting moment was when a colleague from work did some playtesting for me. Seeing someone new play the game for the first time was a great buzz, and I took away a lot of great ideas for how to improve the gameplay mechanics and things that were missing that the player needed to get accustomed to the world of the game, like adding in a compass! At one point I had a message in the game that tells the player to head east, but I hadn’t put in a compass yet!

Where did the inspiration come from where the soundtrack is concerned?

My favorite game soundtrack would have to be Undertale, Toby Fox is a musical genius, I’ve listened to that soundtrack so many times and I never get tired of it. I used to play guitar in a local indie band, we had some minor success and got some national radio play, but it didn’t quite work out. After leaving the band, I really missed creating music and was looking for another outlet to start recording again. You’ll hear a lot of guitar in the soundtrack, I’ve tried to work in some sounds inspired by some of my favorite guitar bands, like Thin Lizzy and The Strokes.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Solving coding problems! The soil tiles took me a long time to work out, all the possible iterations of what happens to the surrounding tiles when you dig holes in the ground was a challenge for me, but it felt great once I’d finally solved it.

I also came across a number of frame rate slow down issues with collision checking for the trees, I wanted all of the trees to turn semi-transparent when you walk behind them, so you can see where you’re going. Some of the trees in the game are really big and there were way too many collision checks going on, but I think I’ve fixed it now. Interestingly. they decided to avoid this problem entirely in the latest Animal Crossing game. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the camera angle issues of not being able to see behind trees!

  

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

How well has the game been received so far? 

A lot of people have shown interest in the Kickstarter project and given some great positive feedback to images and posts about the game on Instagram and Twitter. We have a small following at the moment, but I’ve been really pleased to see that people are genuinely getting on board with the concept of the game and eager to find out more about the story and the world of the game.

There has been some feedback too from fellow developers, who have warned me against putting a game out with such a stripped back, retro art style, insisting that I get a designer in to improve the look of the game. My motivation for continuing with this art style, which I know is going to be an acquired taste, comes from the overwhelmingly positive reception that Undertale received, despite the minimalist look of the game. There is something unique about a game that has been made entirely by one person, I’d be worried that the character of the game would be too far from my original idea if I get someone else to re-work all of the sprites. 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Initially, the game will be released on PC and then I’ll be looking at a Mac/Linux version before moving on to Switch. I might consider a mobile version after that, but porting to each new platform will bring significant challenges for me as a new developer, so I may need to get some outside help with this.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this? 

Making a game can at times feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. You will come across design or coding problems that you feel like you’re never going to get past. But stick with it, come back to it the next day, and the next – don’t listen to people who tell you it’s not worth all the effort, there’s nothing more satisfying than solving problems that you previously thought were impossible. And when you’ve got something you’re happy with, which you’re ready to share with people, it’s a great buzz to find out that there are people out there who like your work and want to follow the project.

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

You can check out my project on Kickstarter: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingdomofgardenia/the-kingdom-of-gardenia

You can also follow the progress of the game through these links:

Website: www.kingdomofgardenia.com 

Twitter: @LittleRice_bowl

Instagram: @LittleRice_bowl

Facebook: @kingdomofgardenia

Youtube: Little Ricebowl

Do you have anything else to add?

I would ask people to please check out the Kickstarter page for The Kingdom of Gardenia and back the project if you like what you see. I’ll be working hard to finish the game and spread the word over the next few months. Thanks so much to everyone who’s supported the project so far!

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

As always, I’d like to thank Paul for sharing his insight into this wonderful-looking game and hope you guys will check out the Kickstarter project as well as Paul’s additional links to more information about the game as development progresses. The Kingdom of Gardenia looks to be a particularly promising game in my opinion and I can’t wait to see what the finished will have to offer players. I’d also like to wish Paul and Little Ricebowl Games the best of luck with the project. 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch)

Developer – Next Level Games

Publisher – Nintendo

Director – Bryce Holiday

Producer – Alex McFarlane, Bjorn Nash & Kensuke Tanabe

Originally intended for release on the Wii U, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was eventually released on Halloween of 2019 for the Nintendo Switch and garnished both critical and commercial acclaim new ideas. After having played through this game myself, I was thoroughly impressed by what it had to offer; so much so I consider it to be one of the best releases on the console so far. 

Graphics – 9/10

The latest installment of the series is set not in a mansion, or a series of mansions like in the previous games, but in a 15-floor hotel; each floor with it’s own distinct theme, such as one for Medieval England, another themed on film, one on fitness and one on Ancient Egypt to name but a few. From the point of view of conceptual design, it’s certainly a lot more diverse than the previous two games, which whilst they remained fresh with different kinds of rooms throughout, the third game simply enhances what was already great about the first two games, which will be a recurring point I’m going to be making throughout this entire review.

The only minor gripe I had with the game in terms of graphical quality was that the areas surrounding the mansion, ie grassland, trees, mountains, etc, are greatly simplified compared to everything else in the game. But it’s only a minor issue since they’re just that; they’re additional background details that aren’t to be paid too much attention to anyway. The real attention to detail is perpetuated within everything besides; the textures the developers used for Luigi, in particular, are extremely impressive, with everything down to visible stitching on his clothes to the internal machinery in his latest weapon, the Poltergust G-00.

Gameplay – 9/10

Again, the gameplay in this title is yet another example of how the developers took the blueprint of the original two games and greatly expanded upon them. It perpetuates most of the ideas that were established with Luigi’s Mansion 2, such as the dark light mechanics to uncover hidden secrets and the strobulb used to stun enemies, but also combines them with the Gooigi mechanic that was first preliminarily introduced as a co-op mechanic in the 3DS remake of the original Luigi’s Mansion and making it an integral part of the single-player campaign, with players having to use Gooigi to traverse through insubstantial barriers such as drainpipes and shuttered doors to either uncover more secrets and solve puzzles. It reminded me of the mechanics in the original Soul Reaver that allows Raziel to pass through similar obstacles.

The setting of the game also clearly allowed for expansion on the general idea of gameplay, giving players a lot more to do than in the previous installments, which in my opinion, was greatly needed for if Nintendo ever did decide to develop a series of sequels to the original Luigi’s Mansion. The second one came close to being better than the first, as there was more added to that game in comparison to the original, but the third expands on this idea to an even greater extent, making for an extremely enjoyable gaming experience overall. 

Another aspect in which this game improves on its predecessors is the quality of the boss fights. The boss fights in the first game were particularly good and the second game offered creativity in this respect but failed to top those of the original game, but the boss fights in the third are even more well thought out and even more challenging, as some of which require the use of Gooigi and therefore require the player having to periodically switch between him and Luigi to beat some of the bosses. The best example of that is the boss fight against Hellen Gravely, whereby the player must use Gooigi to switch off security systems that can hurt Luigi from underneath the floorboards, whilst also using Luigi to avoid Hellen’s attacks and defeat her. 

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme of the third game is taken largely from Luigi’s Mansion 2, which in itself was a largely simplified variation of the control scheme for the original game, but it also introduces a lot of new mechanics to keep things fresh. But at the same time, it presents no issues. The combat system is largely refined in comparison to both 1 and 2 and the increased ghost types also necessitate the modification of strategy to best suit them; it all makes for one of the most unique titles to have ever come out of Nintendo in my personal opinion. 

Lifespan – 8.5/10

Whilst not being quite as long as Luigi’s Mansion 2, it still makes for a delightfully lengthy gaming experience, requiring at least 20 hours to complete to 100%. Again, it’s the idea of having a hotel with multiple floors is the means by which Nintendo have expanded on the lifespan of a game within this series. I think If they were to make a fourth game, a good idea would be to set it inside a haunted skyscraper with over 100 floors and more side quests complete with a courtyard at the base. But I digress; an expanded lifespan is exactly what was needed to further develop the ideas perpetuated by the original two games and Nintendo delivered on this greatly with the third game. 

Storyline – 7.5/10

The story begins with the Super Mario Bros along with Princess Peach, three Toads and Luigi’s pet ghost dog Polterpup taking a vacation to The Last Resort Hotel, whereby once they all check-in and settle into their rooms, Luigi falls asleep whilst reading a book. When he wakes up, he finds that the hotel has turned into a ghostly apparition of itself and that the others are missing. It turns out that with the help of the hotel’s owner, Hellen Gravely, King Boo has returned, possessing the hotel and capturing Mario and the others and trapping them in picture frames. Luigi must defeat King Boo whilst finding and freeing the others from him with the help of Luigi’s old ally Professor E. Gadd, who sets up a secret lab in the hotel basement once Luigi finds and rescues him from his own picture frame, whilst also offering Luigi advice from afar and modifying his Poltergust G-00 with new abilities throughout. 

Whilst basically copying the plot of the original Luigi’s Mansion, I like this game’s story for the same reason why I liked Super Mario Odyssey’s story. Despite the fact that both games simply perpetuate the same idea in terms of story as most of every other game in their respective series; before it, Luigi’s hardships and successes are conveyed better through emotion and body language than in previous games, which is most likely part of the reason why this game won the award for best in-game animation of 2019. Spoken dialogue within the game is strangely a lot more diverse than what players would normally find in a Super Mario game, with Luigi saying various phrases upon defeating bosses.

Originality – 10/10

As I pointed out before, this game perpetuates some of the most original ideas that I’ve found in any Nintendo game before it. Not only because of the modifications that have been made to the game’s control scheme, but in every other aspect as well, from the gameplay to the conceptual design. It always baffles me how Nintendo are able to take their series’ and expand on the ideas perpetuated by previous installments and the third Luigi’s Mansion game is no exception.

Deliirious

To summarize, when I first started playing Luigi’s Mansion 3, I immediately thought it was going to be at least on par with the original two games. But having played it through to the end, I put it above the other two. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is unanimously the best game in the series; it takes the best of Luigi’s Mansion 1 and 2 and expands on them to introduce new gameplay mechanics, better boss fights and overall far more enjoyable gaming experience. I can’t recommend this title enough. 

Score

54/60

9/10 (Excellent)

Ori & The Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One & Switch)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Gennadiy Korol

Created by a massive collaboration of developers worldwide over a period of four years, Ori & The Blind Forest is a Metroidvania game following the adventures of the game’s titular character Ori and companion Sein as they set out to restore the forest of Nibel, which has come under threat having lost the balance between three elements; waters, winds, and warmth. After having played this game almost 100%, I was enthralled with it from beginning to end. Everything from its art style and the soundtrack to it’s direction in terms of gameplay and story made for one of the most standout gaming experiences of the eighth generation. 

Graphics – 10/10

Similar to games like Cuphead and Child of Light, the game features entirely hand-drawn graphics, though in this case influenced largely by the works of Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Locations within the game range from a mixture of light-filled and dark forest settings to vibrant, sunny glades, icy chasms, and fiery volcanic formations. No matter the specific location, however, everywhere in this game has a level of eloquence to it in one way or another and it all highlights the meticulous dedication the development team showed to bringing the project to life. The accompanying soundtrack perfectly fits every location, as well as every situation the player finds themself within the game; be that whilst peacefully traversing through sunlit greenery or whilst having to dash away from a volcanic eruption. But even during moments of both absolute tranquility or absolute calamity, the game still maintains that same level of eloquence throughout; in my case, so much so that I didn’t care how many times I died in moments of urgency, which was a lot. I thought it was worth attempting that many times just to soak up the game’s wonderful atmosphere.

Gameplay – 8/10

As a Metroidvania, the game follows most of the typical tropes you would expect to find in a game of the genre; most notably having to gain all manner of different abilities to access each area as the play progresses. However, Ori & The Blind Forest offers players a very interesting spin on things with a unique combat system encouraging players to strategize in accordance with what enemies they’re up against. Combat can also even be a means to access new or hidden locations throughout the game. There is also an ability tree that players can use to upgrade pre-existing abilities or learn new ones by gaining experience in combat, giving the game an RPG feel to it. The combat isn’t as intense as what it is in other Metroidvania games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but it demands almost as much from gamers as enemies become stronger over time and different abilities need to be used to overcome them. The game also demands a fair bit from players in the respect of exploration, as there are many challenging platformer obstacles to traverse and puzzles to be solved throughout. It challenges players, but not to the point of it becoming inaccessible. 

Controls – 10/10

As in many Metroidvania titles, the staggering variety in controls becomes more and more apparent as the player progresses through the game with the different abilities to learn and incorporate throughout. At first, I thought that it may become a problem, as the same buttons are used for different abilities in varying different respects, but all it is is a matter of getting used to strategizing in accordance with whatever situation the players may find themself in. It reminded me a lot of Metroid Prime in that respect because although that game was a first-person shooter, it doesn’t entirely feel like one in many respects and I found it to be the same case with Ori & The Blind Forest; it’s a Metroidvania game, but there are certain instances in which it doesn’t feel like one in the respect of its control scheme, further adding to the game’s sense of uniqueness. 

Lifespan – 5/10

To complete the game to 100% can take there around 12 hours, which to me, is undoubtedly this game’s biggest drawback. Although this game was undeniably labor of love and that it shows in every little detail, it just seemed to be a criminally short amount of time for a game of this quality to last. It’s in this aspect where I’m desperately hoping that this is where the sequel, Ori & The Will Of The Wisps comes in; similar to the transition between Onimusha and Onimusha 2. 

Storyline – 8/10

The game’s plot follows Ori, a guardian spirit that fell from the Spirit Tree of the forest of Nibel. Ori is later found by a forest inhabitant named Naru, who adopts Ori and raises her. Later, Naru dies of starvation, and Ori is left to fend for herself. She later becomes embroiled in a quest to restore the forest of Nibel, which has begun to deteriorate since the forest has lost balance between the elements of waters, winds, and warmth. Matters have also been worsened by the fact that the core of the Spirit Tree had been stolen by a demonic, shadowy owl named Kuro. Throughout, Ori has to traverse the forest to restore the three elements and the core of the Spirit Tree, whilst coming under the threat of the forest’s many dangerous creatures and natural obstacles whilst also avoiding the clutches of Kuro.

The game’s story, as well as it’s art direction, was also heavily inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki; it’s vivid, fantastical, and packed with emotional moments that will have players on the edges of their seats. But it also perpetuates a sense of moral ambiguity; especially towards the end. So much so that I found myself questioning who the real hero was and if the villain truly is a villain at heart. This works to separate it from the works of Studio Ghibli as moral ambiguity isn’t that prominent a theme in the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and others who worked for the company and it’s something new to compliment a story that was heavily inspired by the two aforementioned film directors. 

Originality – 8/10

Whilst critiquing the control scheme, I mentioned that there are certain instances in which the controls make it feel like more than a conventional Metroidvania game. But this can be said for every other aspect of Ori & The Blind Forest in addition. It’s largely unconventional in its gameplay, it’s the scenery, the soundtrack, and its story. Ahead of playing it, I knew that I was in for something special with this title, but I wasn’t quite prepared for exactly how special it would turn out to be. Everything from its combat system to it’s environmental design to its themes of loss, tragedy, and moral ambiguity makes it stand out from most of every other game I’ve ever played. 

Happii

Overall, Ori & The Blind Forest is a must-have not only for Metroidvania fans but for gamers in general. It’s a title that has had every element handled with a degree of love and care that every standout game should have and whilst it didn’t last as long as what I thought it had the potential to, it’s certainly worth at least one playthrough at minimum. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Kenta Motokura

Producer(s) – Yoshiaki Koizumi & Koichi Hayashida

PEGI – 7

Released in the holiday season of 2017 for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey presents players with a return to the open-ended 3D style of play of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, and invigorates the series with new abilities and environments, as well as incorporating elements of classic Super Mario gameplay, such as side-scrolling. From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this title, and whilst it didn’t become my favorite Super Mario game of all time, it certainly goes above and beyond many other games in the series in recent years.

Graphics – 9/10

The first thing to say about the visuals is that on a technical level, this is the best that Super Mario has ever looked. Each character and level found throughout the game is wonderfully detailed, and the blending of 3D and 2D make for something particularly special in terms of graphics. Conceptually, the game does fairly well to stand out from the rest of the series in addition, which is quite remarkable given the astounding amount of transition the series has gone through over the 32 years it’s been around. After having watched the trailers for the game before it’s release, I was skeptical as to how some of the environments that were shown would fit with a series like Super Mario Bros, but after playing, I was posthumously proven wrong. Each level especially the Metro Kingdom, which I was most skeptical about, adds a new dimension to the series that I hadn’t thought possible beforehand.

Gameplay – 9/10

Much like Super Mario Galaxy 2, the objective of the game is for the player to find power moons, instead of stars, to power up Mario’s newfound ship named The Odyssey to advance from one level to the other in order to reach Bowser and rescue Peach from him. The most standout feature in terms of gameplay is Mario using his new anthropomorphic hat named Cappy to possess certain enemies throughout the game, and thus use their abilities to the player’s advantage. Much like the new settings, it adds another unique twist to the series’ tableau, as well as a new approach to gameplay, which has scarcely been seen in games before. And in lieu of 3D Super Mario tradition, the game simply doesn’t end with Peach being saved from Bowser. After the main game has been completed, there is a plethora of additional power moons to find, as well as additional objectives given to players for completion on a scale never seen before in a Super Mario game.

Controls – 10/10

Since the 3D Mario formula has existed for over 20 years, it would be more than reasonable to think there would be no issues with the controls; and so there aren’t. Super Mario Odyssey plays out as seamlessly as any other 3D Mario game since Super Mario 64, and the way in which new combat abilities and enemy abilities that Mario can adopt are also seamlessly integrated into the rest of the formula.

Lifespan – 9/10

The base game will take players there around 10 hours to complete, but after which, that hardly even counts as scratching the surface. Each level has a number of collectibles to pick up that is unfathomable compared to every other Super Mario game before it. It will easily make for 60-70 plus hours of gameplay, and an excellent addition to the collection of extremely long games on the Nintendo Switch along with Breath of the Wild, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Skyrim.

Storyline – 7.5/10

Following the usual Super Mario Bros formula, Super Mario Odyssey follows the story of Mario having to save Princess Peach from Bowser; only this time, Bowser plans to marry Peach after stealing various relics from each kingdom throughout the world. Mario is also joined by the aforementioned anthropomorphic hat named Cappy, who is also out to rescue a female anthropomorphic hat named Tiara, whom Bowser has Peach wear in preparation for the wedding. Though for the most part, the story is largely unoriginal, especially for anything seen in a Super Mario game prior, what makes the way in which his story is told in Odyssey stand out fractionally more than other Mario games is the projection of emotion found throughout. Mario is portrayed as slightly less of an unstoppable superhero capable of beating anyone he comes across and is shown to feel the difficulty and hardship of what it is he is setting out to do. On several occasions, Mario comes painfully close to rescuing Peach from Bowser before the final battle, but he is shown to suffer setbacks, which visibly frustrate him, and though these are not things that haven’t been seen in games prior to this by any stretch of the imagination, it is something new to the series, which in terms of story, has needed for quite some time. But in terms of depth in plot, it still leaves players wanting much more in this respect. It’s certainly my biggest criticism that I have to levy against this game.

Originality – 8.5/10

With that one main qualm I have out of the way, the fact of the matter remains that this game is the most unique Mario experience released since Super Mario Galaxy 2 in terms of every other aspect aside from the story. The settings are outstanding and the gameplay is even more so. In recent years, the originality of this series has been very much hit and miss in my opinion, with me contrasting the uniqueness of games such as Super Mario 3D World and Paper Mario: Colour Splash, but Odyssey could possibly pave the way for more unique Super Mario experiences in the future, introducing new elements to the series, which could potentially be either expanded upon or could be spun off into even more new elements depending on what direction Nintendo want to take it into.

Happii

Overall, despite lacking in story, Super Mario Odyssey delivers players, which is in my opinion, the best Super Mario game since Galaxy 2. And whilst it may not be anywhere near as good as the former, it certainly spells a bright future for the franchise, as well as giving players what is probably the longest Mario experience ever.

Score

53/60

8.5/10 (Great)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch & Wii U)

Developer(s) – Nintendo EPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director – Hidemaro Fujibayashi

Producer – Eiji Aonuma

PEGI – 12

Our years in development, and released as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch, as well as being the last game to be produced by Nintendo for the Wii U, and met with an overwhelming amount of critical acclaim, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the wild retains some conventions of the Zelda series, but gives players a much more open-world and open-ended experience than ever before. It also incorporates elements new to the series, such as breakable weapons, cooking food, and brewing elixirs, using a variety of different armor sets and a massive variety of things to do and quests to complete, which puts many open-world games to shame. Whilst this isn’t my favorite Zelda title (that honor would go to Ocarina of Time), Breath of the Wild has unanimously cemented itself as, in my opinion, one of the greatest video games ever developed, and most certainly worth the amount of praise it has been given worldwide.

Graphics – 10/10

Incorporating cel-shaded visuals reminiscent of games in the Wind Waker series, as well as Skyward Sword, Breath of the Wild takes place in a post-apocalyptic Hyrule, which is mostly abandoned countryside with the exception of a few small settlements and towns, including Gerudo Town, Rito Village, Goron City, Zora’s Domain and both Kakariko and Hateno Village. Despite the devastation that ravaged Hyrule a century prior to the start of the story, the in-game world looks captivating, to say the least. Hyrule still retains a staggering level of natural beauty, as well as curious ruins and additional places to explore.

It’s also interesting as a Zelda fan to be able to identify the many different buildings that have appeared throughout the series that now lie in ruins, such as Lon Lon Ranch, the Temple of Time, and the Bridge of Hylia. The game’s soundtrack also does extremely well to add to the atmosphere o this new Hyrule, as well as fit in with each respective situation the player may find themselves in, be that either simply traveling throughout the land in peace, or when battling monsters or mini-bosses. It’s also refreshing to see that the conceptual design of the series, in general, has undergone some dramatic changes, concerning elements like Link and Zelda’s conceptual design, as well as the elements of futuristic technology that existed in mass before the events of the game, such as the Guardians, the shrines and the watchtowers scattered throughout Hyrule.

Gameplay – 10/10

The gameplay has also been dramatically changed to give players a Zelda experience like no other since. The main objective is of course to defeat Ganon, but players may choose to either put this off for as long as possible and go off and do many other things there are to do in the game, or they can even choose to go straight ahead to the final boss from the get-go. Either way, players will not be at a loss for how best they wish to approach the game. Players will also not find themselves with a lack of things to do, since there are a wide range of different side quests and collectible items to find, such as building your own house, completing all 120 shrines, finding all 900 Korok seeds, finding Link’s lost memories, filling the Hyrule Compendium and conquering the four divine beasts to name but a few. As far as gameplay goes, it is unanimously the most extensive Zelda game in terms of things to do, and I was thoroughly impressed from start to finish.

Controls – 10/10

In terms of controls, I also didn’t come across any unnecessary complications. The climbing system is actually reminiscent of what a lot of people tend to do when playing games such as Skyrim and Oblivion; trying to find the best route to climb up mountains despite how steep they may be. In Skyrim and Oblivion, for example, players do this without the game encouraging them to do so, but in Breath o the Wild, this is actually an integral part of the gameplay and is widely encouraged. The combat system can also present a welcome level of challenge in my opinion; especially against multiple enemies.

Lifespan – 10/10

With a massive amount of activity to engage in, Breath of the Wild can easily be made to last over the 100-hour mark, which dwarfs the lifespan of every other major entry in the Zelda series, as well as a vast majority of video games in general. Zelda games would generally last a long time prior, but the sheer scale of this game puts every one of them to shame in this respect.

Storyline – 10/10

The place of Breath of the Wild in the Zelda timeline is uncertain, as Nintendo has not revealed that, but the game takes place in the land of Hyrule 10,000 years after Calamity Ganon had attempted to invade the land, but was thwarted by Link and Zelda, with the aid of four divine beasts and futuristic technology developed by the Sheikah race. A century prior to the start of the story, Princess Zelda conducted further research on Sheikah technology and chose four champions to pilot the divine beast in case Ganon were ever to return. Upon Ganon’s return, he turned the divine beasts and the Sheikah technology against Hyrule, using it to ravage the land, while he remained confined to Hyrule Castle. After fighting the menace, Zelda returns to Hyrule Castle in order to ensure that Ganon is kept confined there, whilst link is taken to the Shrine of Resurrection to awake 100 years after Ganon’s return when he is then tasked with freeing the divine beasts, and to finally defeat Ganon, and drive him out of Hyrule once again.

Being the first main entry in the Zelda series to include voice acting, the story is a lot more emotionally charged than ever before, and it offers a much newer perspective on each character, excluding Link, who is still the same silent protagonist. Although the voice acting is a little below par, the game’s story is a welcome departure from many conventions of past Zelda titles; the portrayal of Princess Zelda herself, for me, being the best feature. Players are sternly reminded of the reason why the series is named The Legend of Zelda since she carries an aura of mystery and beauty, and to a much greater extent than before, a great depth to her character that Shigeru Miyamoto was inspired by in the first place when naming her after Zelda Fitzgerald; the wife of the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Originality – 9.5/10

Breath of the Wild is definitely much more evolutionary than it is revolutionary in my opinion, which is why I would personally place it beneath Ocarina of Time. Regardless, the game takes the concept of open-world gameplay, and introduces a wide range of new ideas and gameplay elements, making it one of the most unique titles of the eighth generation. It seems Nintendo has looked at a lot of limitations in open-world gaming and developed on them, such a in the case of climbing mountains compared to The Elder Scrolls games. I’ve heard people complaining that there isn’t enough in Breath of the Wild to make it seem like a Zelda game, but to me, that’s a reason that makes the game stand out so much in a positive way since Nintendo has become accused by critics of merely recycling the games, and giving them a new coat of paint; particularly where games for the Wii U are concerned. But to me personally, the departures that this game seems to have taken from the rest of the series are positive ones, and it makes for the best Nintendo gaming experience in a very long time.

Deliirious

Overall, Breath of the Wild is most certainly one of the best games Nintendo has ever developed, as well as being one of the best games ever developed in general. There is a lot of things to do, the world of Hyrule has never looked so compelling, and layers will be engaged in the story on an entirely different level to anything seen in the series before.

Score

59.5/60

9.5/10 (Outstanding)

Overcooked (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Ghost Town Games

Publisher(s) – Team17

PEGI – 3

Released in late 2016, and published by Team17 after various expo tours to bring the game to the attention of wider audiences, Overcooked is a cooking simulator in which the objective is to raise as much money as possible in each respective level by preparing as many dishes as possible. I first became aware of Overcooked hen I went to my first expo, Play Blackpool 2015, and I had been following the progress of the game closely until it’s release. After playing the final product, I can say that I was not at all disappointed.

Graphics – 7/10

The game’s variety of conceptual design is heavily based on the layout of each level’s kitchen; many taking place in outdoor and indoor restaurants, whilst other levels take place in more varied locations, such as volcanoes and pirate ships. It also comes with quite an impressive soundtrack, but it’s the variety in scenery that truly makes the game stand out. It speaks of games with some of the most diverse settings conceived, including Super Mario Bros and Banjo-Kazooie to sight a few of many examples.

Gameplay – 8/10

The object of the game is to serve as many customers as possible in each level, and to finish with a possible total of three stars, similar to Angry Birds or 10 Second Ninja X. Interestingly, it alludes to the fact that 3 Michelin stars are the highest accolade a chef can attain in the cooking profession. It’s an extremely challenging game, but at the same time, it’s also extremely fun. It’s satisfying to be able to adapt to the layout of each kitchen, and plan your strategy in accordance with the food that is being ordered by the customers; much like being an executive chef, in fact. There are penalties for overcooking food, as well as sending the wrong orders, which is also an integral part of where the game’s level of the challenge lies. Whilst looking simplistic, beneath the surface, there is a system that is easy to learn, yet difficult to master.

Controls – 9/10

At times, the controls can be somewhat unresponsive, but not to the extent that it ruins the gameplay, like what has happened with many other challenging games that have been developed in the past. Most often than not if a player makes a mistake, it is down to how they perform in the game, which is how it should be. Apart from this one minor gripe I have, I was particularly impressed with how the developers had handled the controls scheme; it makes it, unlike any other game I’ve played.

Lifespan – 7/10

The single-player campaign mode has 28 different levels, as well as an end boss fight, which dependent on player skill, can take up to 4 or 5 hours to complete. However, the game was designed to be a primarily multiplayer experience, whereby two players control two chefs at the same time, which can make for many hours of entertainment. There was also DLC released for the game in addition, but with or without it, it does have a great deal to offer in terms of longevity. The only thing it lacks is an online multiplayer, which I think would go a long way to improving the experience even further, but that may be an idea to implement with a possible sequel. The idea of a second game would be particularly exciting to me since there is potentially a lot the developers could do to expand upon the concept even further,

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story involves the chefs having to save the world from an entity known as the Ever Peckish by traveling the world and cooking. Although a story may not have been necessary, it is a nice extra detail the developers added to give the game that little more substance. The concept may sound ridiculous on paper, but some of the greatest games developed have had very outlandish stories attached to them, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing speaking from experience. For example, a plumber saving a princess from a dragon may sound strange, but it’s made for the most iconic gaming franchise ever created.

Originality – 8/10

As I pointed out, Overcooked is unlike any other game I’ve ever played; it’s gameplay layout and control scheme does extremely well to make it stand out from both mainstream and indie releases, which is why I had been excited about it ever since I first laid eyes on it. As I watched it develop, my excitement and expectations only increased as time went on, and in retrospect, I think it’s deserved of the accolades it’s received since it’s release.

Happii

To summarize, Overcooked is a charming; yet challenging gameplay experience that is certainly worth playing again and again. The developers had outlandish ideas ever since the game’s inception, and to see all these ideas come together so well in the final product made believe it was well worth the wait to see it fully released.

Score

46/60

7.5/10 (Good)