Alright folks, fall keeps moving along and I’ve been playing many, many games (read part 1 here) that I’m finally ready to talk about. So let’s get this seasonal train rollin so I can get back to them.
Super Mario Odyssey
I have a tiny confession to make dear reader: I never really played Super Mario 64. There. I said it and I feel so much better. I can say that I jumped on the 3D Mario train with Galaxy 1 & 2, and enjoyed both quite a bit even with the unnecessary motion controls. With Odyssey, I was sold immediately upon seeing the trailer exposing the core gameplay mechanic of Cappy. From start to finish Nintendo just seems like they are showing off just how GOOD they are at treating their properties with reverence, as well as pushing the gameplay forward.
From the first time I “captured” a frog the the “final” level (which must be seen to truly appreciate) I found myself constantly grinning from ear to ear, It just plays so perfectly, with a simple yet effective progression system that always keep you moving forward. And once you finally do roll the credits the game opens up even more. I’ve dipped back into the game a few times since then and still find new ways to be surprised with a particular puzzle or platforming section.
If you’ve been on the fence about a Switch and have any nostalgia for the “days of old” pick up a Switch, Zelda and Mario and you won’t be disappointed.
Wolfenstein Double Header (New Order & New Colossus)
I had picked up the first game some time ago during a random Steam sale and let it sit in my backlog, but after more and more people I trust began to sing the praises of the sequel I figured it was finally time to take “Terror Billy” out and see what the hubub was. Upon the suggestion of many, I bumped the difficulty down to Easy and dove in. Most of the criticisms of these games is well founded: The combat difficulty can swing wildly from super easy to frustrating at times, but since I was on a low difficulty the penalty for failure was low. The combat is fun enough, with your character being able to deal out an obscene amount of punishment to the Nazi hordes trying to stop you. A few bright points I enjoyed about the gameplay itself was the perk system built to reward you for a particular style of play. Want to dual wield machine guns and wreak havoc, no problem. Would you prefer to sneak around the edges of a particular encounter and quietly eliminate them up close and personal, well they’ve got you covered as well.
But the main reason I wanted to play these games is the story and characterization work being done across both titles. I was impressed to hear that the game has significantly different scenes depending on a choice you encounter early on in the first game (and asked to confirm before starting the second). From unique characters being introduced to completely different dialogues, the game really does make choice seem to matter (for the record I chose Wyatt).
Battle Chef Brigade
It may come as no small surprise to you that the Unique Drops crew has been anticipating this game since seeing it a PAX for the past 3 years. Just getting a small taste of the game made our anticipation and excitement all the more palpable. When the developers finally announced a release date as well as the fact that the game would be coming to the Switch it was a magical moment. After spending several hours with the game (I’m still in Chapter 4 of 6) I can tell you it’s been worth the wait.
The gameplay is an excellent blend of 2D action/combat and then transitions to an excellent Match 3 style puzzler. The game also does an excellent job of slowly ramping up the difficulty of the puzzles by introducing new gameplay elements that affect your cooking in unique ways. There’s a great deal of customization when it comes to your character’s “setup” with 3 different categories of gear to upgrade (combat, cooking & cookware) that always keeps the proverbial “carrot on a stick” progression that’s vital to keep me interested. If I had a criticism, it would be that the minigames which break up your day could all be equally good. The puzzle and short order cooking games are both great and get your mind working on how to tackle the chef battles. The hunting minigame is extremely shallow and doesn’t feel like it teaches you anything worthwhile.
As for presentation, the game shines in it’s aesthetic and the fact that nearly all of the dialogue is voiced. The characters introduced all have a unique personality and motivation for being there beyond simply being an obstacle for the main protagonist Mina. The game world itself is an amazing mix of what looks like hand animated characters and beautiful water color like backgrounds (I only ask that the developers give us a full shot of the map for more than half a second). This makes all the characters really “pop” and allows you to appreciate them even more.
Assasin’s Creed: Origins
So many thoughts on this one...I was ready to write off the game completely and wait for the inevitable holiday sale to pick this one up. Yet again positive buzz for the game forced my hand (and also the fact that their Xbox One X enhanced update got released). After spending more than 40+ hours in Ancient Egypt I can say for sure that this is a good game, but I still don’t think it’s enough of an Assasin’s Creed game to carry the badge.
First the good: The game looks incredible with a 4K HDR setup and really shows off what both technologies can do under a AAA studio. The game world itself is just plain beautiful to look at, with the best water I’ve seen in a game ever (just find a clear body of water in the daytime and dive underneath to see what I’m talking about). The world design itself is also very good, with an exceptional mix of dense cities and wide open spaces that all seem unique enough from each other to not feel formulaic. Aside from being a technical powerhouse, the character of Bayek is actually the most interesting male protagonist since Ezio. The subtle ways they show his depth as a character really shines when he’s interacting with children and his wife Aya. And while his motivation isn’t the most original, it does feel genuine.
Now onto the not so good: the gear progression in the game (while a welcome addition) does leave a bit to be desired. The cost of keeping your gear leveled seems excessively high, and the component cost for non-weapon upgrades seems a bit too steep at some points, forcing you to either buy materials (if you pick that ability) or spend an excessive amount of time hunting animals which can kill the momentum you have when trying to progress the story.
Finally, The combat in the game, while functional, isn’t what I’ve come to expect from a game in the series. Tried and true methods previously used are no longer an option, and your character is as fragile as he’s ever been. The change is most notable in the buttons being assigned for attack (RB for light, RT for heavy) and block (LB). If you’re thinking to yourself that sounds familiar. Guess what, it is. The “Souls” series has found its way into my beloved AC, and I’m not really a big fan. It’s perfectly serviceable but doesn’t really “wow” me the way the Witcher 3’s combat did with its flexibility.
And honestly, that’s about the best way to sum up what AC: Origins ACTUALLY is: a well crafted version of The Witcher 3 set in the AC universe. Even down to the map icons, fast travel and gear progression it all feels like “cribbing” off of what CD Projekt Red did and smoothing off some of the rough edges.
And that's a wrap folks, it's been a completely bonkers season of game releases in a completely bonkers year overall. I don't envy anyone trying to come up with a "best of" list for this year, but it's truly been one for the record books.