Jumping for joy: the delightful world of Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey bursts with charm. Nintendo has always done colour and whimsy well, and Mario Odyssey is no exception. Filled with an imaginative array of creatures and clever little touches, it’s one of the most cheerful games I’ve played.

Super Mario Odyssey bursts with charm. Nintendo has always done colour and whimsy well, and Mario Odyssey is no exception. Filled with an imaginative array of creatures and clever little touches, it’s one of the most cheerful games I’ve played.

I can pinpoint the moment when Mario Odyssey won my heart. In the first hour of the game, I came across a sleeping Tyrannosaurus rex lying on a small hill in the Cascade Kingdom, a colourful island of waterfalls and soaring cliffs. By now, I’d encountered the island’s hostile creatures — spiky little swarming monsters; big, snarling Chain Chomps — and down the hill from the T-Rex, there were more Chain Chomps up ahead. The game’s “capture” mechanic had already been introduced — Mario can transform into other characters by throwing his hat at them. So I took control of the T-Rex.

Mario’s hat and moustache appeared on its face.

The T-rex roared.

This was going to be good.

A T-rex under Mario’s control

A vivid and varied cast. Each level of Mario Odyssey is full of weird and wonderful inhabitants such as the snoozing dinosaur; while some are hold-overs from previous Mario games, many are new. For example:

  • A stronghold modelled after Japanese castles is defended by jingasa-hatted warrior birds – you need to capture the birds, jab their sharp beaks into walls, and vault upwards to climb the walls.
  • The fastest way around a desert temple complex is to ride a galloping jaguar statue summoned from bus stops.
  • At one point you need to compete against rotund racers who bounce up and down along the course.

Little touches seal the deal. There are the local outfits Mario can acquire as he travels from level to level, ranging from samurai armour (pictured below) to a pin-striped suit:

One of the many costumes Mario can unlock

There’s the conceit behind the level maps — they’re not just a convenience for the player, they’re taken from in-universe tourist brochures. And there are the tourists themselves — check out the screenshot below, featuring a group of visitors to the desert level.

A group of tourists in Super Mario Odyssey’s post-game

A treat for all ages. While Mario Odyssey is mechanically satisfying, what kept me coming back was how much I enjoyed its world. I enjoyed exploring each level; I enjoyed dressing Mario up in new costumes; I enjoyed wandering around in the post-game, seeing what had changed. Here’s to Nintendo, and its sense of joy.

Tearaway – The Verdict

Tearaway - riding pig
“Look, Mum! No hands!”

A good toy is an object that is fun to play with.

A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.

– Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

 

One part game, one part tech demo for the PS Vita, and one part toy; that’s Tearaway, the latest platformer from Media Molecule, the studio behind LittleBigPlanet. It’s short and easy as far as games go, but what makes it special is how those ingredients come together.

Continue reading “Tearaway – The Verdict”

Now this is inspirational – how one LittleBigPlanet fan was hired on as a developer

Talent + Hard Work + Opportunity = Success

 

The above formula is something of a truism, but in this week’s issue of The Escapist, I stumbled across a spectacular example in the video games industry: John Beech, a construction worker who hadn’t even finished high school, but who loved creating levels for LittleBigPlanet. His creations caught the eye of Media Molecule, the developer of LittleBigPlanet, and after seeing his levels in person, MM hired him on the spot: what Beech called “one of the best moments of my life”.

 

That article is well worth a read. Inspiring stuff…

 

(Note that the events chronicled happened some time ago – subsequent Googling reveals this Computerandvideogames.com article from November 2010 – but I believe they’re still worth highlighting.)

Terraria first impressions: Patience seems to be required

Dig, fight, explore, build! Nothing is impossible in this action-packed adventure game. The world is your canvas and the ground itself is your paint. Grab your tools and go! – official Terraria blurb

 

I picked up Terraria, the 2D Minecraft-alike, over the long weekend, and I’ve spent a little bit of time messing around with it. So far, I can see how this could become either very addictive, or very tedious.

 

My first in-game day was a lot of fun. I knew I had to build shelter before nightfall, when monsters would come out, so that immediately gave the game a source of tension. I hacked down trees, dug away at the earth, and finally threw up a simple house for myself. It was satisfying to plonk each bit of wood down to form a floor, wall and roof, add a door, and build a workbench.

 

The problem became every day after that. Most games are built around offering the player a constant stream of rewards. In Civilization, this means building new farms and mines, researching the wheel or electricity, or completing a Wonder of the World. In RPGs, this consists of levelling up and recovering cool loot. And in Terraria, this consists of obtaining higher-grade ores that I can then use to craft better gear. Unfortunately, so far I’ve found very little in the way of decent ore. I have wood and stone aplenty; and I’ve found crumbs of iron and copper and even gold; but nowhere near enough to feel as though I’m actually making significant progress. So after several in-game days, or possibly even a week, my gear consists of a basic helmet and nothing more intimidating than a wooden sword.

 

Now, this issue undoubtedly arose from my inexperience leading me to “play the game wrong” (I’ve read the wiki and some forum threads, but I’m still very much learning as I go). I seem to be doing a little better now – tonight I found a cavern where I recovered some decent ore. But I was perilously close to boredom before I found that cavern, and I no longer have enough free time to be able to invest significant amounts of time in a game while I wait for it to become fun (or resume being fun). So the jury is still out….

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: awww!

Kirby’s Epic Yarn for Wii is one of the cutest, most adorable games I have seen in some time. You can check out gameplay footage here at Giantbomb. I particularly love how Kirby’s eyes seem to float as a result of inertia when he jumps or bobs up and down. Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet had better watch out, lest he lose his crown as cute platformer mascot…