Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Super Mario Odyssey (2017) - Nintendo Switch

So, where to begin? First off, it's difficult to even write something like this, because the Super Mario series - as a whole - has transcended the concept of review, in a way. I mean, when was the last time you played a bad Super Mario game? Hotel Mario and Mario is Missing aside. Really, all we can do here is talk about how good Super Mario Odyssey is, but I do have some weird feelings about the game, so hopefully there's something of interest here.

To begin, let's talk about how long I've waited for a game like Super Mario Odyssey. Back in 1996, Nintendo published Super Mario 64 on their then flagship system, the Nintendo 64. It was a wild departure from the constant of the series, featuring 3D platforming and navigated with Nintendo's all-new (crazy) controller. Instead of the usual "run to the end of the stage" gameplay everyone had grown to love, the player was given an open world and told to play however they wanted to find secret hidden stars in each of the varying stages found within Peach's Castle.

A new beginning for Mario - Only For Nintendo 64!

This new open gameplay was very refreshing for me and Super Mario 64 stands as one of my favourite Mario games of all time. Nintendo followed the success of Super Mario 64 with Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube, which was met with mixed reviews. It continued the newly minted open Mario playstyle, but featured the gimmicky F.L.U.D.D. pack, which resulted in some seriously buggy 3D platforming.

After Sunshine, there were the Super Mario Galaxy games on the Wii, which although they feature the same play of Super Mario 64 - or at least the DNA is there - there is a lot of linearity and the fun of exploration isn't present. This was the same with Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS and Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. Both are great games, don't get me wrong, and the 3D platforming is on point. It's that exploration and open world experience that's missing here, as these games go back to the "run to the end of the stage" gameplay I mentioned before.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of my favourite 3DS games

So finally after all this time - 21 years to be exact - Nintendo has finally made a Super Mario title with that open world exploration I loved about Super Mario 64 in Super Mario Odyssey. As it has been 20+ years, everything about this game is bigger and better than any Super Mario title before it.

Just look-a how-a happy he is when you-a save-a your game!

The game features an entire world, loaded with completely new lands for Mario to explore, chock-full of all new baddies and power-ups that the player has never experienced.

For power-ups, much like in Super Mario 64, it's all about Mario's hat. In this game, the hat is actually a being from another world on a quest to find his friend, kidnapped by Bowser. The Princess has once again been kidnapped, as well, so Mario and Cappy - the aforementioned hat - set out to stop the villainous King Koopa once again.

This time around, however, there's almost no limit to the power-ups Mario can acquire, as Cappy can turn Mario into anything the plumber throws him at. Want to be a Goomba? Throw your hat at one! A giant T. Rex? No problem! A zipper? Kinda weird, but sure thing!

Mario and Cappy have a long way to travel to find and defeat Bowser this time around, so they need a ride, which comes in the form of an old, battered airship, The Odyssey. With this they can land in each and every world Bowser ransacks in his ultimate goal of marrying Princess Peach and becoming the King of the Mushroom Kingdom!

Mario as a Fire Bro!

As I said, each stage is all-new. They may feature some tried-and-true gameplay, but there are totally fresh enemies intermixed with some of your favourites, like the Hammer Bros. or Bullet Bill. The variety here is astounding. When you think about how much work the programmers had to put into the game, considering Mario can become pretty much any enemy he sees, it blows your mind.

And for all that's new, there's so much fan-favouring and nostalgia here. Occasionally you'll find these fun little challenges where you actually go into an HD 2D form of the original Super Mario Bros. They are all-too brief, however. Every time I discovered a 2D section I found myself wishing they'd make a whole new Super Mario Bros.-style HD game. It was so much fun.

In a way, Super Mario Odyssey is the penultimate Mario game. It's a love letter to fans of the series, while still delivering something fresh and wonderful.

I did have some issues with the game, however. To be honest, I'm completely torn. I want to love Odyssey. I really do. And some of the time I spent with it was borderline whimsical. My major problem with the game is a hang-up of my own, really, which is why I made sure to make this counterpoint very carefully.

This game is a collect-a-thon. Much more than any Mario game before. In Super Mario 64, each new world would feature seven Power Stars. The player didn't need to collect them all, just as many as they needed to continue through the game. Only 70 of the stars were needed to face Bowser, but 120 were available to collect in total. Some of these required you to collect 8 red coins in each stage, or 100 regular coins. So, Super Mario 64 definitely had a collect-a-thon aspect to it.

In Super Mario Odyssey, this has been turned up to 11.

To power the Odyssey on their adventure, Mario and Cappy need to collect more and more Power Moons from each new world. You only need so many to power the Odyssey and move on, but in some of the stages you can have up to 70 or 80+ moons to collect and there are a whopping 999 in total. Now, the collect-a-thon hound might see this as a great thing. There's so much game here!

For the crazy completionist, like myself, this was painful and daunting. I usually would force myself to complete all the available moons in a level before moving on to the next, but it was taking forever and I found myself sick of playing the same stage for so long trying to find them all. I literally don't think I could play the Wooded Kingdom if I tried right now.

Hmm, what's this?

Cool, a puzzle for another hidden Power Moon!

I eventually had to overcome my own hangups and just play through the game organically. Sometimes I'd try and collect lots and lots of Power Moons, while other times I'd just get enough to move on. This made the overall experience more enjoyable, but also simultaneously annoyed me.

In Super Mario 64, you were given a general hint to find the next star and you would have to route it out. It made for plenty of exploration, but not too much. In Super Mario Odyssey, some of the Power Moons are right in front of your face and easy to find, but some are hidden diabolically. Couple that with the sheer number and you can find yourself, like myself, completely bored and tired with a level.

Now, with that negativity aside, I still came out enjoying Super Mario Odyssey. Once I decided to just move through the game and worry about the collecting later I had a blast.

The whole experience was amplified by the fact that I played through the game with my son. He was three at the time and this was his first real Super Mario experience. I've played some of the older titles with him, but he kind of lost interest. This game, however, was such a grand adventure he was completely riveted. I actually played the majority of the game with one Joy-Con, because he wanted to hold the other and "play along". It was a bit of a handicap, but completely worth it.

The ending of the game might be one of my favourite gaming moments of all time. I won't spoil what happens, but my son and my wife were both staring in rapt attention, shouting and yelling in excitement as I navigated the final throes of the game. It was legitimately exhilarating and so much fun.

In the end I really enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey, but I wanted to love it. I wanted to feel the way I felt about Super Mario 64 and even though this game has it all on paper, I still find myself enjoying its predecessor more.

I need to spend some more time with Super Mario Odyssey now that the "pressure is off" and I've completed the storyline. There's a whack of end-game content to complete on top of getting all the 999 Power Moons and I know there's a lot of fun there. Altogether I put about 25 hours into the game and I'm certain there's another 45+ waiting for me.

At the end of the day, Super Mario Odyssey is, without a doubt, the most ambitious Mario game to date. It's a true love letter to the fans and a reason, in my opinion, to own a Nintendo Switch. If you're a fan of the series, you owe it to yourself to play it. Just don't be crazy like myself and try to enjoy the experience, instead of grinding your gears worrying about all those Power Moons.

As always, I hope you enjoyed,

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Nostalgia Bomb! - A Garfield Christmas

What was it?
A Garfield Christmas was the seventh Garfield television special directed by Phil Roman and written by Garfield creator Jim Davis for CBS between 1982 and 1991.

A Garfield Christmas is often referred to as A Garfield Christmas Special, as well, as it is here on the title card

The specials were initially produced by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, but as their company was primarily focused on producing the famous Peanuts TV specials, Phil Roman later took on the producer role, as well.

It aired for the first time on December 21st, 1987 with a run-time of 24 minutes and featured music by Ed Bogas and DesirĂ©e Goyette, with the singing talents of Lou Rawls. Garfield was famously voiced by Lorenzo Music, who voiced everyone's favourite grumpy orange cat in each of the Phil Roman specials. Thom Huge and Gregg Berger voiced John and Odie, as they did in all of the other specials as well, and Pat Carroll played John's grandmother, famous for her many acting roles and her portrayal of Ursula in Disney's The Little Mermaid.

This particular episode featured John, Garfield, and Odie heading off to the Arbuckle family farm for a good old fashioned Christmas.

When was it available?

The special was aired every Christmas on CBS from 1987 to 2000, at which point it inexplicably dropped off their holiday schedule. In 2004 the DVD Garfield's Holiday Celebrations was released, which included A Garfield Christmas, as well as other holiday favourites Garfield's Halloween Adventure (1985) and Garfield's Thanksgiving (1989). From my understanding the DVD was produced until at least 2007 and after its production run became a highly sought after collector's item, fetching big sums on eBay.

A second DVD was released in 2014 as a Walmart exclusive and featured the same episodes as the 2004 disc, but also added Garfield on the Town (1983) and Garfield in Paradise (1986), which aren't really holiday-themed, but are a nice addition. This DVD is also out-of-print and fetches high prices on reseller sites.

What about today?
In 2017 A Garfield Christmas was released on streaming services Amazon Prime Video and Apple iTunes in the US. One thing to note, however, is that there were some oddities with the final DVD release of A Garfield's Christmas, such as a scene featuring John's brother "Doc Boy" and Grandma playing Christmas music on the family piano, which was removed. This is the version that can be streamed from the above services, so it typically rubs viewers the wrong way!

Garfield Holiday Celebrations DVD from 2004

I personally streamed it from YouTube this year. There are several uploaders with the special on their channels. I'm pretty certain that none of them are legit, however, and could likely be stuck with copyright notices at any moment, so linking one here would probably be folly. If you want to watch the original special intact, however, this is probably the best avenue. The version I watched was at least DVD quality and contained all the scenes and original music.

Why do I remember it?
A Garfield Christmas is one of my absolute favourite Christmas TV specials of all time and I've done my best to take it in every single Christmas all these years.

After it stopped airing on TV, I was forced to become a pirate and find sites that either streamed the show or allowed for a download. Once I had a copy of the special that I liked downloaded, I often went back to that copy in subsequent years, but I've found YouTube pretty reliable as of late. I personally never saw the aforementioned DVDs, so from 2001 onward getting my Garfield fix at Christmastime became a yearly mission.

Up until the last few years, I had a copy on my tablet that I would break out when I was wrapping presents, alongside a copy of A Muppet Family Christmas, which is another amazing Christmas special from '87 that doesn't air on TV any longer and has a shoddy history on DVD.

The Arbuckles gather 'round Grandma as she receives here gift from Garfield

A Garfield Christmas is purportedly an autobiographical account of Jim Davis' personal Christmas memories and features a really fun look at the Arbuckle Christmas, but also has a sub-plot about John's Grandma that will get you right in the feels.

The music in this special is on-point with great tunes sung by Lou Rawls that you'll find yourself singing around the house right alongside Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley.

I cannot fathom why this special isn't aired today alongside all the other greats, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In fact, CBS usually aired A Garfield Christmas right next to the Peanuts classic from '87 to 2000. I can't find any solid information on why the show was dropped, but it could just be due to viewer count, I suppose.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Garfield Christmas commerical from CBS

The fact that the scene with Doc Boy and Grandma playing the piano was dropped from DVD releases kind of makes me wonder if there's some sort of rights issue at play, but they're playing "O Christmas Tree", so I find it hard to believe that's the problem in this case.

Although it was hard to find for almost 20 years, outside of a few DVD releases, which I personally never saw here in Canada, you can now enjoy A Garfield Christmas via streaming services (in the US, at least) or on YouTube, and I can't recommend enough that you give it a watch.

I viewed the show with my kids this year and I saw them laugh and sing along at the same spots I did when I was growing up, which made this year's viewing all the more special.

And that's why A Garfield Christmas is a blast from my past, but also - hopefully - a future family tradition!

Hope you enjoyed,

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Theatrical Cut - Halloween (2018)

Hot off the heels of getting to see the original Halloween in theatres, it's now finally time for Cole and I to check out the latest in Michael Myers' saga, again titled Halloween.

Hope you enjoy,

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Theatrical Cut - The Predator

I forgot to post this, but a few weeks back Cole and I went and saw the latest in the Predator franchise, the aptly titled The Predator.

Here are our thoughts going and after the film!

Hope you enjoy,

Theatrical Cut - Halloween (1978)

Cole and I took in a screening of John Carpenter's Halloween for it's 40th anniversary. Here's the video!

Hope you enjoy,