Memories of Super Mario Odyssey

Exactly two years ago today, Nintendo released Super Mario Odyssey, the first next-gen Mario title on the Switch. The release also punctuated what may be any console’s best one-two punch in releasing a brand new Mario game only eight months after a new Zelda title – Breath of the Wild; this is further impressive considering it was within the very first year of the Nintendo Switch(spoiling us all…). I have mentioned numerous times in the past how much I absolutely love Super Mario Odyssey, so it seemed like a perfect excuse opportunity to talk about some of my favorite memories of the game and what made it so special to me. <Mario voice> Here we go!!

Gameplay – The most important element of any Mario game is how well it plays and Mario Odyssey is quite possibly the smoothest playing, most well-constructed 3D Mario title. The game takes the foundation of prior entries like Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. The controls are nearly flawless, with the camera being a huge improvement over the aforementioned titles. I have also mentioned frequently how a remaster of Mario Sunshine with the improved camera and controls of Odyssey would be a dream come true(please, Nintendo…). The core gameplay mechanic of throwing your wearable sidekick Cappy at items and enemies also works much better than I had anticipated after first seeing the E3 trailer back in 2017. I have since seen others who have dismissed Odyssey in same way that Sunshine was back in 2003 by stating it’s just simply a gimmick and doesn’t provide “an actual game”. Every 3D Mario game since Mario 64 has involved some sort of “gimmick” to facilitate the central gameplay, combat or even attempting to further any in-game narrative outside of Mario rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser.

Another game design of Odyssey that I loved was the fact that it was laid out as a more open-world, sandbox-type game. I love the fact that you aren’t simply sent back to the beginning of a level after collecting a Power Moon, like in previous games like Sunshine or Mario 64 after collecting a star or Shine Sprite. This also makes it easier for someone like me, who has such ADD(as any blog post would indicate…) when playing most games that in the past I would often get quite sidetracked on one objective only to end up completing another in passing before ever getting where I was intending. Playing through Mario Odyssey reminded me in multiple ways of the older N64-era collect-a-thon games like Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie. The overwhelming number of Power Moons(999 to be precise) available to collect in the game didn’t annoy me as much as others; I simply loved playing the game that much I gladly spent 90+ hours doing everything within the game. The fact the game encouraged you to search every nook and cranny of the game and turn every stone was a fun experience that I enjoyed, yet certainly understand it may not be as enjoyable for everyone. The game also provided a number of puzzle stages similar to Mario Sunshine or Galaxy that would really test your patience and platforming skills, especially to collect the additional moons unlocked upon completing the relatively short main storyline.

Worlds – The level design of Mario Odyssey was another memorable part of my hours upon hours of playing; I would rank the playable worlds in Odyssey second only to the Mario Galaxy games. From the foggy Halloween Town look of Cap Kingdom to the arid expanse of Sand Kingdom to finally reaching the low-gravity Moon Kingdom and everything in between provided a different and unique experience. My personal favorite worlds were the Seaside Kingdom – a scenic beachfront level complete with giant soda-water tower offering many Power Moons to be obtained above or under the sea(ha! it’s stuck in YOUR head now too!). My other favorite and probably most memorable location in Mario Odyssey would have to be the Metro Kingdom – the bustling city of New Donk City where Mayor Pauline is in need of assistance to defend the city from Bowser and then preparing for the annual festival, a true highlight of the game in which you will replay the first stage of Mario’s first foray into video games(though he was known at the time as Jumpman).

The playable 2D section during the New Donk City festival

Nostalgia – I would not be able to write a post about Mario Odyssey without mentioning the numerous nods and references to our favorite plumber’s long and prosperous history. The sheer number of acknowledgements to the many games in which Mario has starred is impressive and could almost be viewed as a Mario History course of sorts. Whether it be little references within the worlds themselves or the crazy amount of old throwback caps and costumes to unlock for Mario throughout the game, the game showcases recent as well as more obscure titles. If the name New Donk City wasn’t conspicuous enough, the fact Nintendo brought back Pauline as the current mayor of the city was a great dash of nostalgia – bringing everything back to the beginning. There’s also unlockable costumes to remind you of previous games such as: Mario’s red white and blue overalls as first seen on NES Open to the medical attire worn in Dr. Mario to other outfits like the construction worker from Mario Maker or the cowboy costume from Mario Part 2. Another nostalgic gameplay element was the ability to travel into the 2D pipes which would then display Mario as a pixelated character as you would make your way through a short 2D platforming section similar to that used in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Possibly the sweetest bit of nostalgia comes from immediately after completing the main story by confronting Bowser in a wedding chapel on the moon(yup…), you are able to travel to the Mushroom Kingdom in a wonderful recreation(kind of…) of the overworld outside of Princess Peach’s castle in Mario 64. You are able to enter the castle, though only to speak with Toad rather than jump through any paintings to enter a level, though there are paintings around the castle depicted the various world you have visited on your odyssey(pun!). Once in the Mushroom Kingdom you even come across Yoshi who is playable in only small section of the world, sadly. Nintendo has since stated they wanted Odyssey to appeal to their longtime Mario fans and casual fans alike; as someone who has spent thirty years of their life playing Mario games, I absolutely loved and thank them for it.

Even the Power Moons in the Mushroom Kingdom changed to look like the stars from Mario 64

Memories – Mario Odyssey has provided some memorable gaming moments in its time since release; some of my most memorable moments of the game would be: coming across a T-Rex for the first time and throwing Cappy at it and transforming into a giant Mario T-Rex and destroying nearly everything in my path on the Cascade Kingdom or the first time you reach New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom where you must defeat the giant electrical…caterpillar to restore power to the city after which the gloomy storm clouds clear and give way to a nice sunny day. I can still vividly recall(only two years ago…) much of my time as I would sit in the living room playing as I had my computer sitting next to me auto-playing endless YouTube videos; I think I watched just about every Angry Video Game Nerd episode while hunting down all 999 Power Moons. Since first completing Mario Odyssey I have come back to the game many times as what I usually refer to as one of my “comfort food games”; a game that I have already played for endless hours but still find myself sitting down to play during times of stress, sickness, or simply feeling kind of burned out by other games. Mario Odyssey is currently my favorite Nintendo Switch game, and I still absolutely love playing it two years after its release. I’ve included below a little collection of some of my in-game memories 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Blogtober 2019 – Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

For today’s Blogtober game entry, I’ve chosen Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, quite possibly my favorite DLC, along with cover art of any game(many consider The Witcher 3’s Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine to be the greatest, I regrettably have not gotten around to playing those…yet). Undead Nightmare was released in October 2010 as a stand-alone expansion to what was already regarded as a defining moment of the console generation in Red Dead Redemption(released just earlier that year) by combining two of our most beloved American institutions – the wild West and zombie b-movies. It was a rush of excitement and nostalgia playing Undead Nightmare again as Rockstar Studios masterfully blended Red Dead’s epic western motif with schlocky zombie horror.

Undead Nightmare begins in black and white, evoking a setting similar to sci-fi/horror films of the 50’s and 60’s as our narrator sets the scene of former outlaw turned bounty hunter turned farmer John Marston returning to the homestead just as a violent thunderstorm begins. John returns to his wife Abigail and son Jack and voices his feeling of something being amiss, though unable to quite determine what. Before retiring for the evening John asks whether anyone has seen Uncle, the elderly layabout tagging along with John since his days running with the Van der Linde Gang; Abigail simply assumes he’s “waiting out the storm in some house of ill-repute” as they head off to bed. Later that night Uncle, who has been turned into a zombie breaks into the Marston home and bites Abigail, who then in turn bites Jack, before John is able to put a bullet through Uncle’s undead skull. John then quickly proceeds to hogtie both Jack and Abigail and lock them inside a bedroom before heading into nearby Blackwater with the hope of figuring out what exactly is happening. He reaches Blackwater only to find the town all but abandoned as the undead roam the streets. After coming to the aid of several survivors in town, John attempts to question those left as to why this is happening. The Blackwater resident’s explanations for the recent occurrences range anywhere from being the fault of “that snake oil salesman”, “the man with the glass eye” or Mexican immigrants; others think it simply God’s judgement. John then travels westward to seek out the con-man Nigel West Dickens and the grave robbing ghoul Seth Briars, both of whom acquaintances he was obliged to lend a helping hand during the storyline of Red Dead Redemption; thus begins John Marston’s old-west journey of horrors through the zombie apocalypse.

Undead Nightmare’s core gameplay elements are the same as Red Dead Redemption: riding and shooting your way across the territories of West Elizabeth and New Austin, but rather than chasing bandits as a bounty hunter you are fighting hordes of the undead on both sides of the border – you eventually make your way down to Nuevo Paraiso to confront Abraham Reyes regarding an ancient mask taken from an underground Aztec tomb. You ride across the forest, desert, and plains stopping at different locations and undertaking(get it?) various tasks as indicated by icons on your map, like the majority of Rockstar games. In place of clearing out bandit hideouts, you will need to clear out each settlement as they have been overrun by zombies; you must assist the remaining townsfolk by eliminating the zombie population, which in turn provides you a safe place to rest, change outfits, or save your game. The town will inevitably be overtaken after the cycle of a few days, so you will find yourself returning to different areas several times as you roam the countryside. An early mission finds you “cleansing” several cemeteries around New Austin and in Blackwater by burning the wooden coffins lying about, before putting any of the walking dead back in the ground…hopefully for good.

After nearly a decade Undead Nightmare still plays remarkably well and the shooting still feels great and in my mind, just as good if not better than the weighty feel of Red Dead Redemption 2. The biggest complaints with the controls are the cumbersome feel that seems to be another Rockstar trademark, an at times, downright clumsy mix of the jittery movement of earlier Grand Theft Auto games and the lead-in-your-boots feeling of RDR2. The lack of precision in your movement is amplified greatly when trying to clear out a town as you need to move quickly to stay one step ahead of the swarm of zombies and in order to assist the surviving townspeople a moderate amount of platforming is required as they are generally perched upon a rooftop. Another issue is the number of bugs found encountered within the game, just in the short time replaying the game the last week I found myself teleporting through buildings while clearing out a town, or levitating along the ground instead of running. A few times while cleansing a cemetery zombies would emerge from underground without any heads which would usually signify a glitch that would prevent the final “boss zombie” from surfacing and I would have to restart the sometimes lengthy process.

The overall tone and mood of Undead Nightmare are more over-the-top and absurd in contrast to the sober timbre(mostly) of the main adventure. The story and characters within the game are closer to Shaun of the Dead, than it’s George Romero inspiration Dawn of the Dead. Undead Nightmare also offers no shortage of Rockstar Studio’s trademark darkly, humorous satirical take of the old-west ethos. In addition to roaming hordes of zombies, John also encounters other mythical creatures steeped in folklore like chupacabras; you can also unlock a unicorn as a mount to sparkle dash around the countryside. In addition to the other mythical creatures featured in the game, you are able to discover each of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Each one having its own unique appearance and attributes, along with having unlimited stamina. The “War” horse is covered in flames and will set fire to any zombies who come to close or the “Death” horse is a pale color(obviously) and will cause any nearby zombies to explode upon approach…awesome! One of the most memorable parts of the game is the side mission Birth of the Conservation Movement in the Tall Trees region where John happens upon an old man shooting into the forest and exclaiming that Sasquatches need to be hunted down, them being a danger to civilized humans who feed on babies. John is then tasked by the old man to hunt down the six Sasquatches in the Tall Trees region, with a circle on the map indicating the approximate location of each one. You…dispatch the first five upright ape-men before coming across the sixth and final Sasquatch sitting alone by a tree alongside the river. As you approach the final creature he speaks out to you and describes the horror of the last of his kind being hunted down by some sort of monster and asks politely asks John to shoot him, ending his misery in knowing he is the final one remaining. The narrative twist of “humans being the true monsters” isn’t anything unique in a sci-fi or horror setting, it did provide a memorable moment amid the ten hours or so of rampant zombie splattering.

Aside from a few technical issues to the game, I still feel Undead Nightmare is one of the best expansion offerings in the recent decade. The simplest way to describe Undead Nightmare is “Red Dead Redemption…with zombies”, though it provides a horror movie experience exceeding most games of the era. This was still in the earlier years of what would become an increasingly crowded expanse of media, not just video games, but movies and tv featuring zombies. It’s since become foregone conclusion that any AAA FPS title will include a “zombie mode”, but Rockstar did an impeccable job of inserting the eerie, yet campy sensibilities of zombie b-movies into an epic western setting. I know I’m not alone in hoping that Rockstar would release another expansion similar to this for their most recent masterpiece Red Dead Redemption 2.

That’s all for now, have you played Undead Nightmare? What do you think are the best zombie game offerings out there? I still have one more retro zombie game coming up next week for my Halloween Blogtober, with my next post featuring a horror-themed arcade title that has become a cult classic. Thanks for reading!