Best of 2017: A year to remember

We’ve made it. Another year gone, another chapter in our lives finished. Looking back on the year that was can be either sentimental, regretful, or really any type of feeling depending on what you may or may not have accomplished in the last 365 days. There was a lot of good, but also a lot of bad that happened throughout 2017: our country divided, possibility of war, questionable political decisions to say the least, natural disasters ravaging people’s lives, and much more. But, let us not dwell on the bad, for plenty of good arose from 2017. Let’s take a walk down old memory lane and reminiscent on the best games, movies, and television shows that brought us so much joy and entertainment.

Games:

Persona 5

My personal Game of the Year, Persona 5 was a welcoming return to the world of turn-based JRPGs. I’ve never played a Persona game before, so the sheer scope of it was overwhelming. However, once I got past that, it was a wonderful game. The art design blew me away and the character development was superb. Atlus did a perfect job crafting a well-told story, presenting intense situations and memorable characters. Hopefully the next major entry doesn’t take nearly a decade like the gap between Persona 4 and 5, because I believe many more people, myself included, are anxious to experience more of what Atlus has to offer.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Sony has a treasure trove of iconic figures: Nathan Drake, Crash Bandicoot, Kratos, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank. Now, we can add another one to the list in Horizon Zero Dawn‘s Aloy. The young orphaned warrior conquered the tremendous odds stacked against her to help save not only her tribe, but her entire world from utter destruction. The idea of a post-apocalyptic world has been thrown through the grinder many times before, but Guerrilla Games took it one step forward and added their own unique twist to it: robotic dinosaurs. Just imagine if Jurassic Park and Terminator had a baby, well Horizon Zero Dawn would be that offspring. Guerrilla’s presented a gorgeous world and the story was riveting full of twists and turns. Sony has ruled supreme when it comes to exclusives and Horizon Zero Dawn was no different.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If there’s one company that might not want 2017 to end it’s Nintendo. What seemed like forever of playing third fiddle behind Sony and Microsoft, the fabled company erupted out of the gates with their brand new console the Nintendo Switch. Initially clouded with skepticism, the Switch quickly broke sales records and became a staple in consumers homes. Something that might’ve helped the Switch hit the ground running was the latest entry in Link’s never-ending battle against evil, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The first open-world Zelda game in the franchise, Breath of the Wild added new dimensions and evolved the franchise in the best way possible. Having the freedom to go and explore any part of Hyrule you’d like at any given time was a type of flexibility that’s never been seen in a Zelda game. The art design was incredible and the story felt a bit more mature. Moving forward, it might be time for Nintendo to give Link a voice perhaps?

Super Mario Odyssey

If we had to pick a developer that won 2017 it would be Nintendo hands down. Starting the year with the Switch and Breath of the Wild to only cap off 2017 with Super Mario Odyssey might be one of the best 1-2 punches out there. Mario’s latest adventure was one of his best, as he battled the King Koopa Bowser to rescue Princess Peach. Odyssey overflows with charm, and the various kingdoms are wonderful to experience. Introducing the ability to literally take over other beings and objects by the use of Cappy was a fresh new take on Mario. Also, the final scene of the Metro Kingdom in New Donk City was arguably the best moment in games this year.

Cuphead

Microsoft didn’t have the greatest of years in 2017, but lucky for us they gave the world Cuphead. Studio MDHR’s indie platformer garnered much attention due to the colorful art design reminiscent of the old 1930s cartoons. Although the art style looks quite welcoming, the actual play-through of the game was very difficult. That gratifying feeling when you finally vanquish a boss after countless deaths was one of the best feelings I’ve experienced all year.

Fortnite

The end of 2017 was pretty major for me as I was properly introduced to PC gaming. My friend helped me build a quality gaming PC and the first game I downloaded was Fortnite. After watching a few of my favorite Twitch streamers play it (CDNthe3rd, Ninja, and Summit1g), it instantly hooked me. What separates Fortnite with other battle royale games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and H1Z1 is the bright, colorful art style and the exclusion of vehicles but the inclusion of building mechanics. Epic Games has done a tremendous job of listening to what players want in the game, and seem hellbent on supporting the Fortnite community well into the future.

Movies:

Get Out

Known for his comedic role on Key & Peele, Jordan Peele made his directorial debut with the thriller Get Out. While the movie took a surprising turn near the end, Peele was able to encapsulate the idea of what it feels like being black in a white world. The many obstacles that must be hurdled along the way is highlighted perfectly in his movie. Lead actor Daniel Kaluuya was tremendous, and hopefully he continues to find himself on the big screen.

Wonder Woman

Warner Bros.’s idea of a connected D.C. cinematic universe to rival that of Marvel’s hadn’t gotten off to the start that many had hoped. Man of Steel was adequate, Batman vs. Superman was laughable, and Suicide Squad wasn’t a true representation of what its trailers presented. So, in an 0-3 hole, Warner Bros. turned to the Princess of Themyscira to save them. Wonder Woman righted the ship, for now, and showed audiences that we can have a quality D.C. superhero film. Gal Gadot was absolutely brilliant in the film and I hope remains a staple in the future D.C. movie plans. Although the rest of the cinematic universe seems to be crumbling down (i.e. Justice League), at least there’s been one constant joy and that’s Diana Prince.

Blade Runner 2049

The long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner 2049 is a spectacle to behold if anything else. The visuals and cinematography throughout Dennis Villeneuve’s entire film is breathtaking and makes the near three hour run-time feel like nothing. Blade Runner 2049 presented a strong cast which featured Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, and the return of Harrison Ford. The end of the film left it open for a continued story, so let’s hope the next entry doesn’t take another 25 years.

IT

It was only a matter of time until someone remade the 1990 IT film, but thankfully, this iteration was something special. The children of Derry battled back against the forces of evil and, for the time being, vanquished their clown foe. Bill Skarsgård’s rendition as Pennywise was excruciatingly terrifying. Unlike the 1990 version where it transitioned back and forth between the past and present, this film was set strictly in the past. The next film will be part two and feature the children as adults.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Many Star Wars fans thought the previous film, The Force Awakens, was a bit too safe and essentially a carbon copy of the fourth film, A New Hope. Lucky for those fans, director Rian Johnson took this eighth film and ran with it in the opposite direction. No Star Wars film has had this much scrutiny and discussion surrounding it since the prequels and Jar-Jar Binks. Whether it be Finn’s character arc to Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker, there’s many, many things that this film introduced that will have people talking until the final entry in this trilogy. The Last Jedi and Johnson blazed their own path, and in an age where people tend to avoid risks, it’s refreshing to see someone take a plunge like he did. It’ll be very interesting to see how J.J. Abrams concludes Rey’s story as she continues to walk down the path of the Jedi. However, if there’s one thing that Johnson did perfectly in The Last Jedi, it’s that he crafted Kylo Ren into one of the best Star Wars villains.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Baby Groot. That’s all.

TV Shows:

Game of Thrones

Truthfully, I hadn’t gotten aboard the Game of Thrones train until this year. Previously, I had watched the show through the infamous Red Wedding, but stopped shortly after that right before Joffrey’s demise. I persevered though, and thankfully I did, because stuff really hit the fan in Season 7. Finally, after years of waiting, Daenerys Targaryen made landfall on Westeros and her claim for the Iron Throne truly began. Seeing her dragons wage war against the Lannisters was a spectacle to behold, but what was truly terrifying to witness was the rise of the White Walkers. Game of Thrones is known for having epic season finales and this season was no different. The Night King, with a zombified-dragon in tow, had begun his march down south, and oh, Jon Snow and Daenerys were having sex while Bran’s voice over revealed them to be aunt and nephew. Go figure.

Stranger Things 2

Netflix has taken audiences by storm with the quality of their original content, and they easily hit a gold mine in Stranger Things. The second season picked up where we left off with Will Byers trying to get accustomed back to society after being trapped in the Upside Down. The creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, did a phenomenal job of expanding the cast just enough to introduce compelling characters, while also spending quality time building on already established characters. Discovering that there are other people out there with unique abilities like Eleven opens up this world to new possibilities, even when this story of Stranger Things ends. Hopefully Season 3 either offers a firm resolution to Eleven’s story and the Upside Down, because it does feel to be on the verge of redundancy. Oh, and also Steve Harrington better not die or we’ll riot.

Master of None

After I finished watching Season 2 of Master of None, I confidently proclaimed it to have been one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever watched. Looking back on it, I’d say the exact same thing. Aziz Ansari’s Netflix-original is a thoughtful, slightly comedic, deep look into people’s lives. He examines the everyday issues people go through like finding a job, making friends, dealing with unexpected situations, love and heartbreak. One of the best episodes is when Aziz is hardly even in it. In the episode “New York, I Love You”, it shows how the lives of random people in New York intersect together. It’s a wonderful, charming episode that encapsulates the idea of America being a melting pot of culture and perfectly showcases the notion of “walking in someone else’s shoes”.

Mindhunter

Why does someone decide to murder another person? Why do they decide to do it multiple times? Netflix’s Mindhunter tells the story of FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench studying how the minds of sequence killers (soon to be serial killers) work. Based on the true crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Ford and Tench expand upon the simplicity of how people view crimes. They cross-examine real murderers and find that sometimes there’s extreme thought that goes into the process, and some reasons for killing people are due to actual mental problems that they’ve suffered in the past. For a person who’s not super into the history of serial killers, this was a amazing story that does a great job conveying the information in an interesting way.

Rick and Morty

Just like Game of Thrones, I hadn’t fully gotten introduced to Rick and Morty until this year. In my mind, better late than never. The cleverness and thought that goes into this show is literally out of this world. One of the most well-talked about moments in entertainment this year, regardless if you watch the show or not, was Pickle Rick. The first two seasons were pretty lighthearted up until Rick turned himself in to the Galactic Federation, but Season 3 is really when things start to take a dark turn. There never really seemed to be an overlaying plot in this show, but during the third season it’s revealed that an evil Morty has effectively taken over the Council of Ricks, setting Season 4 up to be quite a dozy.

The Punisher

Jon Bernthal’s iteration of Marvel’s Punisher burst onto the scene in Daredevil Season 2. Listening to him and Matt Murdock battle psychologically with their ideals of how crime-fighting should happen was quite interesting and eye-opening. Sometimes heroes that perform well in a supporting role might tend to take a step backwards on their own, but that’s nowhere near the case with Frank Castle. The pseudo-origin story of Castle is a wonder to behold in that Castle has suffered things that no man should ever have to suffer, and he continues to fight everyday. Bernthal himself continues to make himself a household name, bringing a truly gut-wrenching performance in a good way. I’m still holding out hope that we somehow see the Netflix Marvel heroes on the big screen, because the idea of Castle interacting with Captain America, or I guess whoever remains after Infinity War, would be fantastic.

Wrap-up

As you can see, this year produced a tremendous amount of good, and this was only a small sample of it. I’m sure there were plenty of other games, movies, and shows that captivated your attention as you got through 2017, and I hope you found just as much joy in it as I did. No year will ever be perfect, we will always have to overcome obstacles and bad days; but remember, no matter how bad it gets, we will get through it. I’ve grown a lot over 2017 and my eyes have opened up to many things. Keep growing and know that when things seem rough you’re not alone. I thank everyone that has helped me this year and can’t wait for what 2018 has in store. I’ll see everyone next year!

Happy New Year’s!

Advertisements

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi review: The Force is mostly strong in this one

**SPOILER-FILLED REVIEW**

Coming out of The Force Awakens in 2015, many fans voiced their concerns that Episode VII was merely a carbon copy of Episode IV: A New Hope. Director J.J. Abrams was described as being “too safe” and didn’t take many chances in further expanding upon this incredible universe. While The Force Awakens was still received in a fairly positive light, new director Rian Johnson had a difficult task before him: continue down that safe path that Abrams paved or ruffle up the feathers, so to speak.

And boy, did he do some ruffling.

There were quite a few questionable decisions that Johnson made in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that we won’t know how big of an impact they’ll be until this current trilogy concludes with Episode IX. One of the biggest mysteries heading into The Last Jedi was Rey’s parentage. Many fan theories linked her with the Skywalkers or even Obi-Won Kenobi, due to her raw power of the Force. She had to be some long-lost relative of either of those Jedi names, there was no other way to explain it.

Well, Johnson took those theories and threw them out the window. In the aftermath of Supreme Leader Snoke’s surprising demise (more on that later), Kylo Ren tells Rey that “she came from nothing” and that “her parents sold her for drinking money”. That’s a bit of a disappointment, considering most Star Wars fans had been trying to piece together Rey’s origins for the past two years. Johnson’s message behind this revelation is that heroes can come from anywhere, which includes nothing. You don’t need to be born into power to amount to greatness. While I admire this concept, I’m still holding out hope that this was one big fake out for the ultimate reveal in Episode IX. Fans have already begun creating new theories, the most interesting one being that Rey might be a clone from Luke Skywalker’s severed hand.

Now, let’s circle back to Snoke. Abrams built this polarizing villain in The Force Awakens who was shrouded in a cloud of mystery. This “being” was the one responsible for turning young Ben Solo to the Dark Side, the leader of the tyrannical First Order, and determined to destroy Luke. It was never explained where or how Snoke became to be in Episode VII, and now, it looks like we may never know those answers. While it’s unknown what sort of plan Abrams had in store for Snoke, Johnson decided the Supreme Leader had overstayed his welcome. Kylo Ren dispatched his former master and ascended to the top of the First Order hierarchy. Snoke’s early demise was a shocker to say the least and makes the upcoming Episode IX that much more intriguing, but still leaves me wanting more. I understand we aren’t owed anything from Johnson, or Abrams to that extent, but it’s strange that Johnson included moments in the movie where Snoke proved to be a pretty important character, like when Luke explained to Rey that Snoke had already turned Ben to the Dark Side in his flashback while at his Jedi temple. Johnson’s explanation behind Ben succumbing to the Dark Side feels incomplete. Again, we can hope at the very least that Snoke and Kylo’s early relationship gets flushed out in the next movie.

If there’s one thing that this new trilogy has not had a lot of, it’s lightsaber battles. This notion doesn’t change with The Last Jedi, but it does feature the best lightsaber fight scene of the new films. After Snoke’s shocking demise, Kylo Ren and Rey team-up to take down the former Supreme Leader’s Elite Praetorian Guards. Seeing Kylo and Rey work together, even if it was for different reasons, was pretty cool to see. The continued character development for Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver throughout The Last Jedi was very interesting to watch, as they both struggled with the ideals of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. Kylo seems overwhelmed by the idea that he is destined to be the new Vader and wants to pave his own path in the galaxy (possibly explaining why he ended up killing Snoke). He also believes it’s too late for him to return to the Light. Rey, on the other hand, appeared to have been inching closer to the Dark Side. On Ahch-To, she descended into the mysterious dark hole that Luke told her was the Dark Side to search for answers about her parents. And following her team-up battle, she gave the brief impression that she was at least thinking about joining Kylo and the First Order. Although Rey ultimately escaped Kylo’s grasp and seemed to be fully committed to the Light, I can’t help but think there’s more behind her lack of resistant toward the Dark Side. Maybe the idea of “balance in the Force” is effectively using both the Light and the Dark Sides?

Even though Rey and Kylo’s character developments continued in a proper way, others did not yield the same progression. John Boyega’s Ex-Stormtrooper Finn is an intriguing character. Since The Force Awakens, we’ve seen him defect from the First Order, join the Resistance by accident, try to flee the Resistance to find Rey, lead a virtual suicide mission with newcomer and fan-favorite Rose, attempt an actual suicide mission but fail due to Rose, and then seemingly engage in a confusing and quite rushed romantic relationship with Rose. To put it simply: Finn’s development has been all over the place. Is he a coward? A hero? Somewhere in between? Johnson didn’t do Finn any favors with how his story played out in The Last Jedi. Instead of feeling like Finn is a definitive member of this new trinity with Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Rey that mirrors the original big three of Luke, Han Solo, and Leia, Finn comes across more as a complicated third wheel. Sure he’s proven his ability to rise up to the occasion in fighting the First Order, but something just feels “off” with his overall character. And the romance with Rose, if it’ll blossom into that in the final installment, doesn’t seem right (and that’s not because I personally endorse the idea of Poe and Finn getting together). There never seemed to be any chemistry between the two, other than Rose gawking over Finn when they first met because she thought he was some famous hero. The two spent less than 24 hours with each other during the failed mission in disabling the First Order’s tracking device and that somehow correlates to romantic feelings? I’m not buying it. I’m going to keep my dream of Poe and Finn finding happiness together alive.

The use of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi was a little puzzling as well. Mark Hamill was a treasure once again as the former Jedi Master, but with what was viewed as one of the biggest moments of cinema in 2017, the return of Luke Skywalker, I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. Essentially a hermit now following the horrific events at his Jedi temple, Luke seems to be a fraction of the hero we last saw in Return of the Jedi. While he eventually decides to teach Rey some Jedi lessons (which were a bit on the lame side), Luke never really displayed his tremendous Jedi power. Having him speak with Force ghost Yoda and seeing R2-D2 try to convince him to help the Resistance by playing the old Leia “You’re My Only Hope” recording was a nice shout-out to nostalgia, but other than that, what really was Luke’s purpose? He filled in the plot hole of what happened to him following Episode VI and how he’s mostly responsible for Ben taking that final step toward the Dark Side. So why was Luke so sheepish to help the Resistance? Wouldn’t he have been eager to right his wrong and try and bring Ben back to the Light, just like he brought Anakin back? Even though it was a clever plan of Luke’s to use the Force to project an image of himself to confuse Kylo Ren, did he really have to die? I’m assuming Luke will be back in Episode IX as a Force ghost to give Rey additional guidance, just for the simple fact that I’m not sure his ending in The Last Jedi truly honors him.

Johnson and his team had big shoes to fill, as anyone would when it comes to properly making a Star Wars film. Coming off of what was basically A New Hope 2.0, it was up to Johnson to deviate from that path and not re-create The Empire Strikes Back. He might’ve not hit the right cords for some fans, he did accomplish what he set out to do and that was to create an overall compelling, fun, and intense Star Wars adventure. The subtle inclusion of witty humor throughout the movie made it feel fresh, and the character developments of Rey and Kylo were done perfectly. Finn and Snoke felt underutilized, and the overall reveal of Rey’s origins were a huge disappointment. Luke’s overall arc felt slightly confusing and out of place for the former Rebel hero. However, with so much stacked against Johnson, he was still able to deliver a quality middle entry in this trilogy.

Final Score: 8.75/10

 

*Special Carrie Fisher note*

Johnson’s portrayal of Leia could not have been executed any better. Actress Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016 was devastating, but Johnson effectively showcased why everyone grew up loving her. The hope, wisdom, and courage she’s presented over her illustrious career has impacted so many people. The Last Jedi properly displayed how strong and important Leia is to the Resistance, and in extension, Fisher in real life. The end credits put every fan’s emotions toward Fisher very nicely:

In loving memory of our princess, Carrie Fisher.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus Review: Killing Nazis never felt so good

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus released in a very unusually bright spotlight. Already regarded as a highly-anticipated holiday title, Bethesda’s game posed a scary resemblance to real-life developments happening in America. The emergence of “Alt-Right” believers and Ku Klux Klan followers brought the crazy “what-if” scenario of if the Nazis had won World War II in the world of Wolfenstein to the forefront. The idea of fighting against such atrocities and exterminating Nazis in The New Colossus already seemed like a wonderful idea, but now there’s a heightened sense of satisfaction in killing Nazis.

The New Colossus continues the story of protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz following the events of the first game, The New Order. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the first entry, because New Colossus presents an informative video at the beginning to get you caught up. Wolfenstein’s campaign runs for about ten hours depending on which difficulty you select. There are five different difficulty selections, and while it might seem there isn’t much difference between them based on their descriptions, think again. I learned the hard way that there is a considerable spike in difficulty even between the two easiest ones.

Once you’ve figured out which difficulty suits you best, the actual game is fantastic. The gameplay reminded me a bit like DOOM (not surprising, as DOOM is a Bethesda product as well) with a nice variety of weaponry and fast-paced movement. The different types of weaponry range from simple pistol-type guns to full blown lasers. Most of the weapons can be upgraded through kits found throughout the game that can provide enhancements such as silent gunfire, faster reload, or larger magazine clips. While most of the action is heavily fast-paced, certain areas tend to be easier by taking a stealthier approach. Wolfenstein 2 has perk lists that keep track of the different types of kills you perform: stealth, explosive, environmental, heavy, and dual-wield. Each perk presents a permanent bonus for Blazkowicz that helps him take down Nazis.

It’s hard to give criticism toward a “what-if” situation, but certain technological advances in a bizarro 1961 are a bit too far-fetched to believe sometimes. Flying drones, laser guns, and giant robotic fire-breathing dogs are just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the Nazis prioritized different scientific areas when they won the war to further their grip on the free world? Who knows? From a video game standpoint, it makes for a kickass experience. From a historical perspective, however, I’m sure there would be an endless list of questions to answer.

Blazkowicz might not be the most engaging of characters, but his team of Nazi-killers more than make up for it. Whether it be his wife Anya Oliwa, former Black Revolutionary Front member Grace Walker, or Nazi-turned-freedom fighter Sigrun Engel, each supporting character deservedly feels needed in aiding the fight against the Nazis. In between missions, Blazkowicz can interact with other people and explore the submarine headquarters that they are stationed in. Standing by and listening to them talk to each other was an unexpected joy. New Colossus does a decent job developing characters during the normal progression of the game, but the more meaningful and deep connections can only be discovered through a player’s own exploration in the base.

Although much of Wolfenstein 2’s secrets are discovered through thorough exploration in the game’s submarine hub world, I long for more linear games. As I mentioned earlier about being similar to DOOM, I would’ve enjoyed if Bethesda created Wolfenstein more in that aspect as something that pushed you forward and didn’t have much options of side activities. The endgame content is a nice treat for more hardcore players and fans, but having to spend time running around (a much larger than originally thought) submarine to encounter new experiences is tedious. It might be the fact that so many games released nowadays contain some sort of sandbox-element to them that for once I’d like a more linear experience.

Even without the craziness of reality, Bethesda’s Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is another gem among the treasure trove of what 2017 has had to offer. Yes, the frighteningly close similarities between alternate 1961 and real life 2017 are striking, but there’s an underlying joy in it all. Channeling your frustrations of the world into slaughtering virtual Nazis and white supremacists might be the best remedy. From a gaming angle, the gun-play is one of the fastest FPS I’ve played which creates many hectic situations. The variety of weaponry and different ways to kill people add a funny, creative way to dispose your enemy. Wolfenstein’s characters, Blazkowicz to a certain extent, push the story forward in a compelling way; if only there was more in your face development and not hidden among side conversations. Finding concept art throughout the levels and seeing how the Bethesda team designed them was also very interesting to look at, and I wish more developers would follow suit. Regardless of if you’re a Wolfenstein fan or a newbie like I was, New Colossus is a wild ride that should absolutely be ridden.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Super Mario Odyssey Review: Another gem for Nintendo and fans

Nintendo’s iconic plumber has not only been a staple in the company’s illustrious history, but in video game lore as a whole. The adventures of Mario battling the King Koopa Bowser in trying to save his beloved Princess Peach has spanned over three decades and numerous gaming platforms. Mario’s latest quest has him sailing the open skies upon the airship Odyssey, hoping to rescue Peach before being forced to wed Bowser.

Super Mario Odyssey kicks off with Mario already battling Bowser on his pirate airship. The King Koopa gets the upper hand on Mario, as the plumber is thrown off the ship and lands in the Cap Kingdom. Mario comes across sentient hats, and one of them named Cappy offers his assistance in stopping Bowser. We learn that Bowser has not only taken Peach as prisoner, but also Cappy’s sister, Tiara.

Cappy’s abilities in assisting Mario are quite interesting. Other than using the hat to smash objects or jump on for an added boost, Mario is able to temporarily take control of most living things by way of Cappy. By throwing the hat onto other things, such as Goombas, Bullet Bills, or even frogs, Mario’s “soul” gets sucked into them and he takes control. Certain puzzles are only solvable if Mario uses this ability, so be sure to properly assess your surroundings in a kingdom.

Speaking of puzzles, the main objective in Odyssey is finding Power Moons. These moons are scattered throughout the 14 initial kingdoms. Starting from the Cap Kingdom, Mario must amass a certain amount of Power Moons in order to fuel the Odyssey to make the voyage to the next kingdom. The minimum number of moons needed to successfully complete Odyssey’s campaign is 120, but there’s a grand total of 999 moons to collect. By that count, Odyssey’s campaign only accounts to roughly 12 percent of what the whole game has to offer, meaning there’s a whole lot of endgame content.

Each kingdom that Mario and Cappy land on has an unique monetary system besides the standard gold coins. This other system comes in the form of varying purple coins that take a region-specific shape depending on the kingdom. Collecting these purple coins allow you to purchase cosmetic outfits for Mario (that are also region-specific) and other statues or stickers of the kingdom to decorate the inside of the Odyssey. There are exactly 100 purple coins sprinkled throughout each kingdom.

The beauty of Super Mario Odyssey resides in the little things. I never thought I would have so much fun collecting the cosmetic outfits for Mario, and expressing pure joy seeing him perform his own little fashion show. Other than the various clothing options, Odyssey adds certain things that you’d need a keen eye to notice. For instance, when you don’t move the controller Mario decides it’s the perfect time to relax and take a nap. A bird will land on his nose, but it will always be a different bird depending on the kingdom you’re in. Also, whenever Mario finds a Power Moon, he changes his hand gesture that’s reminiscent of past 3D Mario games like Sunshine, Mario 64, and Galaxy. The following tweet thread goes more in-depth with the many small details Nintendo put into Odyssey.

Knowing how important the history of Mario is to Nintendo and players alike, Odyssey takes a giant leap into the nostalgia territory, and crushes it. There are certain puzzles throughout the game that has Mario “deforming” from his normal 3D-self into his old 8-bit appearance. Seeing how flawless the transition is between the two is absolutely impressive to behold. It amazes me every time I go into a green tube and emerge flat against the wall, running through that small portion like the early SNES days.

The most interesting kingdom, and I’m sure many already assumed it would be from trailers, is the Metro Kingdom, better known as New Donk City. This entire kingdom is nothing Mario has ever experienced, seeing real-life, normal-sized human beings! It begs to wonder if Mario is simply a short person or something entirely different. Anyway, New Donk City is a tremendous kingdom for Mario to explore and the end of that kingdom in the campaign presents a very special moment for hardcore Mario fans.

Nintendo continues to have an unprecedented year. The success of the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier in the year would’ve been remarkable for any company, but sandwiching Super Mario Odyssey at the end of 2017 is the absolute cheery on top. The immense joy I felt playing Odyssey is something I haven’t experienced in a long time. While the main campaign was shockingly short, the endgame content is where this game takes off. The plot of saving Peach before she marries Bowser was a bit too whimsical for me, but it did feel nice to play through a lighthearted game. This is the prettiest game on the Switch thus far, the music of each kingdom is memorable, and the nostalgia feels hit home hard. Super Mario Odyssey is a game that fans will keep coming back to, if not for the desire to collect all the Power Moons, but to simply experience the happiness that Mario continues to bring us.

Final Score: 9.75/10

Thor Ragnarok Review: God of Thunder’s third adventure hammers home

Chris Helmsworth’s portrayal of Marvel’s God of Thunder has changed dramatically since his debut in 2011. Thor Odinson was slightly self-absorbed, not really caring about the problems of the other realms. Following his feud with his brother Loki and his subsequent romance with Jane Foster, Thor began his transformation from being an all-powerful god into an intelligent individual who sought to protect those that needed protection. Yes, his godlike powers and Mjolnir made him an ideal Avenger, but Thor’s development into being much more than that was interesting to witness.

When we last saw Thor, he told Tony Stark that he was going to seek answers regarding the Infinity Stones after seeing various visions in his sleep. While he doesn’t necessarily uncover information regarding their importance in what’s to come, the first end credit scene does a good job setting up the next Avengers movie.

Marvel’s cinematic universe has been the pinnacle of superhero movies for the past decade, but the films have always had a recurring problem: its villains. Luckily, Ragnarok does not fall into that category, as Hela the Goddess of Death is more than a worthy adversary for the Asgardian. Her wraith and deadly personality were enough to make even my skin crawl, while she wrecked havoc upon the realm. Her inclusion in the film also presented eye-opening backstory regarding Odin and the kingdom of Asgard. In the comics, Thanos’ true love was Hela so it remains to be seen whether her demise will pose any future consequences for Thor.

As we move toward the ultimate superhero mashup of Infinity War, more and more Marvel movies are presenting smaller superhero collaborations. We saw Spider-Man swinging through New York with Iron Man and the Falcon testing the limits of Ant-Man. In Ragnarok, we finally get what everyone was wishing for: a Thor and Hulk team-up. Last we saw of Bruce Banner, he was flying away in a Quinjet amid the destruction of Sokovia in Age of Ultron. Many have pegged Ragnarok as a pseudo-Planet Hulk film, because we learn that the green giant has found refuge on the war-torn world of Sakaar. The evolution, and subsequent de-evolution, of the Hulk remains one of my favorite ongoing Marvel story lines. Watching Thor try to find the man beneath the monster is a bit poetic, as Thor had to find himself beneath the god.

Aside from the brilliance of Mark Ruffalo, the rest of the supporting cast was phenomenal. Marvel should make the executive decision of somehow including Loki in every movie, because Tom Hiddleston continues to be one of my all-time favorite actors in the MCU. Cate Blanchett turns in a devastatingly perfect performance of the Goddess of Death, Tessa Thompson played a hard, slightly drunken, warrior in Valkyrie, and Jeff Goldblum is always an absolute treasure to see onscreen. But the person (or alien?) that absolutely stole the show whenever he (it?) was onscreen was none other than the director himself Taika Waititi as Korg. This sentient rock being was somehow the best comic relief in an already hilarious film. Every word spoken broke a smile and laugh from me. I was hoping the end of the film would say “Korg will return in Avengers Infinity War”, but alas only Thor. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for more of the Kronan warrior.

Thor Ragnarok sits as one of the best Marvel movies to date. The humor of it never overtook the severity of the situation, on the contrary, it was the perfect balance. Helmsworth had arguably his best performance as the God of Thunder, and continues to show that he can be as beloved as Stark or Steve Rogers. And while we may never see a solo Hulk film, finally taking the time to dive into Banner’s internal struggles with the monster was sorely needed. As we inch closer to the reckoning of Infinity War and possibly the demise of some of these characters, Ragnarok at least gave us one (last?) adventure that any Thor fan will be proud of.

Final Score: 8.75/10

The Evil Within 2 Review: Out of the frying pan and into the fire

In 2014, Bethesda and Tango Gameworks released an unexpected smash-hit in The Evil Within. Playing as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, you ventured through Beacon Mental Hospital investigating the scene of a mass murder. During your investigation, Castellanos, along with his partners Joseph Oda and Juli Kidman, confront a mysterious man known as Ruvik. Throughout the course of the game, Castellanos pieces together what happened at Beacon through Ruvik’s memories, and later, discovers that he was actually inside of Ruvik’s mind the entire time through a system called “STEM”.

As convoluted as that summary of the first game sounds, playing through the actual game might be more confusing. The sequel does an excellent job conveying a more structured plot, where not only did I know exactly what was happening, but I also cared about the characters. Castellanos returns in the second installment as a beaten down, depressed alcoholic who’s lost everything since the end of the first game. His daughter, Lily, was killed in a fire and Castellanos blames himself for not being able to save her. His wife, Myra, tried to convince the former detective that their daughter was still alive, being held captive by a mysterious agency known as Mobius. Obviously, Castellanos doesn’t believe her and Myra goes off on her own to search for Lily.

The Evil Within 2 picks up with Castellanos looking down at the end of a bottle. He’s approached by his former partner Kidman, and she tells Castellanos that Lily is still alive and she needs him to help rescue her. It’s revealed that Lily is being used by Mobius (Myra was right!) as some sort of Core for their STEM project and she’s essentially gone missing. So, just like in the first game, Castellanos heads back into the STEM virtually reality world, but this time, it’s personal.

With most horror-genre games, it’s a bit difficult to effectively please everyone. The first entry presented terrifying creatures, bone-chilling bosses, and a setting in Beacon that made me have nightmares. The only thing that it was missing was a coherent story. In its successor, Bethesda was able to improve the story and nail down the exposition, but completely scaled back on the overall horror that made the first one so good. Unlike the first entry, there weren’t any notable boss fights. Ironically, the most notable boss fight comes during the second half of the game against three enemies that will look frighteningly familiar to past players.

Although Bethesda and Tango Gameworks do a better job creating a story with more depth and character development, there still remains one huge question mark for me: what exactly is STEM? I understand that it’s some sort of artificial, virtual reality built in someone’s head it seems like, but why is it so important to Mobius? It’s said throughout the game how whoever controls the Core (Lily) would have immense power at their fingertips. Hopefully the presumed third entry will dive more into the creation of STEM and why exactly it’s such a hot commodity.

The Evil Within 2 switches up the setting from the tightly-confined, disturbingly scary mental hospital to a more open, somewhat quaint town in Union. Exploration becomes an important tool here, as there are many areas to search around Union. Playing on easy let me freely roam the town without a huge fear of dying, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The common enemies resembled zombies, while certain advanced baddies could shoot acid bombs at you. There was a good enough variety of enemies throughout the course of the game that let you be a bit creative in how to kill them, but the standard “aim and fire” tactic is still the most effective.

A major difference from the first game is the inclusion of side missions. Like I stated before, exploration is just as important in this game as staying alive. Scattered across the map are Resonance Points, which are small fragments of memories that fill in small plot holes. Discovering the points will reward Castellanos with anything from ammo to Green Gel (used to apply upgrades). Other times, you might not be so lucky as some of the points would alert enemies to that location. Much of the game will have you running through the streets of Union, so if you miss any of the points you’re more than likely able to still find them. There’s plenty of running back and forth from areas you’ve visited before, so don’t feel too upset if you initially miss something.

The upgrade system from the first entry returns with nurse Tatiana guiding you. Green Gel is the currency for upgrades, with Red Gel being the item used to bypass certain locks for other enhancements later on in the game. Castellanos can upgrade things such as health and stamina, being more quiet while crouching, and increasing your ability to dodge deadly attacks. Other than those upgrades, you can also increase your weapons individually at work tables. I focused on upgrading the handgun and shotgun, as you could go through the entire game not increasing a single attribute for any other gun and still survive. Besides the handgun and shotgun, everything else is used more situational.

The Evil Within 2 is a quality sequel to a surprisingly, yet exceedingly terrifying adventure. Although it takes a step-back in the scare department, the second installment does a phenomenal job in portraying a coherent story where you care about the characters well-being. The development of the characters, especially Castellanos, was one of the major elements and themes in the game’s plot; a much-needed relief compared to constant terror. The enemies and boss fights were overall forgettable, and don’t match up with the horrors of its predecessor. Castellanos’s second adventure into STEM concluded on a somewhat happy note, but left the door open for what should be a third, and final, installment.

Final Score: 8.25/10

Cuphead Review: Dying hasn’t looked this pretty

When I first saw the trailer reveal for Cuphead, it instantly connected with me. Seeing the old 1930s cartoon art design mixed with classic platforming mechanics was something I didn’t know I wanted, but desperately needed.

Weeks before Cuphead released, I began reading previews that said Studio MDHR’s indie was difficult. Like Dark Souls, but more friendly-looking. Having never played Dark Souls, but briefly experienced those types of games with my few hours of Bloodborne, I was a bit hesitant to get on board. However, the memorizing art style was too much to resist, as well as wanting to blow off the dust from my Xbox.

If you’ve never experienced what a true love-hate relationship is, then you need to play Cuphead. Right from the beginning, I suffered at least a dozen deaths trying to fight the first boss. As you make your way through the islands collecting souls for the Devil, (yes, things get dark very fast) the contracts you must fulfill become more difficult and more complex. One fight you’re taking on two boxing toads, and the next you’re flying an airplane battling a Medusa-esque sea monster. Not only are each encounters different, but the enemies rarely do the same routine during each brawl. Every boss fight and run-n’-gun level presents their own unique challenge, and Cuphead must be properly equipped to take them on.

Cuphead, also the name of the title character, is able to unlock various attacks and special abilities. While that type of customization is  welcomed, it’s an unfortunate inconvenience not being able to restructure your layout during a level. In order to do so, you must head back to the actual map of the island to switch things up.

The default button layout was a rather interesting decision by Studio MDHR, to say the least. For some unknown reason, someone over there thought it was a good idea to have the shoot button as X. After having played through about 200 deaths and not knowing you could rearrange the buttons, I got used to having the shoot button kitty-corner to the jump button. It might be beneficial to switch shooting to the right trigger to get a more familiar feel to it, but using X has been relatively fine with me.

Cuphead’s biggest challenge comes in the way of not knowing where you are in a fight until you die and see the progress made, and most of the upgrades. During every encounter thus far, and I’m halfway through the third isle, you never know when the boss is close to dying. Not having that precious piece of information makes every attempt that much more intense and when you fail, which you will, and see that you were an inch from victory is a feeling you won’t shake until you do succeed.

Certain upgrades are obtained after completing the various mausoleum levels found throughout the isles, while others are bought at Porkrind’s Shop. Porkrind has clearly seen better days with his eye patch (pun intended), and most of his upgrades have too. The only absolute must-have upgrades are the Spread (weapon) and Smoke Bomb (invisible dash). The Spread is essentially the standard Peashooter you start with, but in a triple spread with increased damage. Only downside is the Spread option is the lack of distance, so it’s best suited for close combat. The Smoke Bomb should be one of, if not, the first purchase you make. Initially, Cuphead can perform a slight dash in order to evade enemies. This skill allows him to briefly turn invisible in a puff of smoke and reappear a few feet in the given direction to 100 percent avoid damage. Other upgrades that I’ve used for more situational battles were the Lobber (slowly lobs balls) and Roundabout (boomerang projectiles that’ll fly backwards if they don’t make contact at first).

For a game that costs only $20, Cuphead might be one of the best values this year. Yes, the insane level of difficulty could turn the average gamer off, but the sheer satisfaction of finally defeating a boss after countless attempts has never tasted sweeter. The art design in of itself is a good enough reason to purchase this game. Studio MDHR could’ve done a better job with the default button layout, but did give the player maximum customization with being able to rearrange the buttons to their play style. And although the majority of the upgrades aren’t necessary (don’t get the extra heart life, because it’ll lower your overall attack power), there are still a few that will make your time in Cuphead a little more forgiving. In terms of exclusivity, 2017 hasn’t been kind to Xbox gamers, but luckily, Cuphead reigns supreme for loyal Microsoft supporters.

Final Score: 9/10

*Disclaimer: This review is based off roughly 80% completion of the game. I hope to one day make it to 100% without breaking any of my controllers.