Preview: Super Mario Odyssey

Like a strange sense of Deja Vu, stepping into Super Mario Odyssey was equally as familiar as it was new. Upon placing the Joy Cons in my hands, and pushing forward on the analog stick, followed by a three jump combo, everything just felt right. It was like seeing an old friend who had grown up over the years, but still had all the quarks that made them unique in the first place. This is a Mario I welcome back with open arms.

I played Super Mario Odyssey in docked mode. The rep insisted that I played the game using motion controls, never really making it clear that all the motion control functions were available as buttons.

I don’t hate on motion controls. In this game, however, I felt absolutely no need to use them. In Splatoon 2 and Breath of the Wild, the motion controls enhance the player’s performance, making for more accurate shots that are otherwise too precise to achieve on an analog stick alone. In Super Mario Odyssey, I felt like I was brought back to the early days of the Wii, when every game’s motion controls were focused on vigorously shaking all the time, just for the sake that you could. Thankfully for Odyssey, motion controls aren’t a requirement. I’ll be playing this one with a grip or Pro Controller.

Of the two levels available to play, I chose the Sand Kingdom level, which takes place in a desert known as Tostarena. A world influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead culture, populated with mariachi skeletons. Being able to freely move around and roam wherever I wanted was immediately reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy. However, I found this experience weighing more towards Sunshine because of the more grounded terrain and level design.  The design did a good job pushing the player forward to the other end, opposed to leaving the world massively open. It was a good balance of exploration but straightforward narrow design.

I used Mario’s hat, also known as Cappy, to take control of bullet bills and fly through obstacle courses. I went through a green pipe that transferred Mario into pixelated Super Mario Bros. 1 form onto a wall, A Link Between Worlds-style.

All-in-all, it felt like Mario. It controlled exactly as it has in all previous 3D Mario games. A new move added to Mario’s roster is a tumbling crouch roll. Mario squats into a ball, and by shaking the controllers, fiercely rolls forward smashing through enemies and obstacles

Though I’ve been a massive fan of the most recent Mario games like Super Mario 3D Land and World, it’s about damn time Nintendo has has taken the wants of its audience in consideration. It’s undeniable that consumers, myself included, have wanted a more mature control structure for Mario again. And again, I’m not putting down Land and World, but this is the Mario game we need right now. Aside from its loyal core audience, Nintendo has struggled to keep the attention of the every day gamer. From the brief time I had with this Odyssey, I have utmost confidence that this will satisfy our needs of real modern Mario game.

I wasn’t able to check out New Donk City, or try on any of the outfits that the game had to offer–which is a new addition to the series. But all those things would have been an enhanced bonus to an already seemingly great game. I  won’t fully know until October 27.

Kurt Indovina
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Preview: Skyrim Switch

It works. It works really well. I can’t help but have had skepticism of how the massive open world rpg would play on the Switch, but it just works, and without skipping a beat. Skyrim’s been remastered, repurposed, and re-released over and over again since 2011. So upon seeing its appearance on Nintendo’s initial Switch launch trailer back in October 2016, I blown away at the idea of having a game as demanding as Skyrim—even from six years ago—in your hands on the go, but I had to see it to believe it.

Nearly a year later, I was able to test it out for myself. At the Nintendo booth it was only available to be shown in handheld mode, and this seemed entirely intentional. Nintendo and Bethesda wanted this game to be seen in a way that Skyrim hasn’t been seen before, and in such away that was bound to impress even the most salty Nintendo hater. With that said, I had no comparison to how it looked in docked mode versus handheld mode.

In handheld mode it played very smooth. It’s obvious that this is not the HD remaster that was released for the PS4 and XBONE earlier this year. But that’s okay. That’s forgivable in exchange for a well performing game that’s as loaded as Skyrim on the go. That said, the game definitely lacked some of the visual graphical depth that we’ve grown used to. Some of the textures to me seemed a little flat; a tad muddy. Shadows weren’t very apparent, and the field of view did not stretch as far as the eye could see. But damn did it play well, and subtle graphical nuances aside, it felt amazing. And never did I think I’d ever be saying this, but, it felt a little at home on the Nintendo console.

During my short playthrough, I visited Riverwood. I was eager to test combat and the limitations of the game, so I began attacking chickens and villagers. Most of the hiccups and frame drops that I had become so familiar with my PS3 copy were not present. I only hoped that after six years, and several re-releases, that the game would be optimised better by now. And it is.

I am one of the few who’ve only purchased this game once, and I never got around to getting any of the DLC. I was admittedly on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to buy it again, but after finally getting it in my hands, and feeling how well it played, despite its now dated graphical capabilities, I’m in. I’m going to buy it. Besides, there’s no denying the absolute coolness to taking Skyrim anywhere, wherever your heart desires.

Kurt Indovina
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Splatoon 2 Review in Progress

When Splatoon first came out two years ago on the WiiU, I had a feeling of hesitation. A feeling that is actually quite similar to what I’m feeling with ARMS right now. I was interested, but equally a little off-put for a number of reasons. First, I’m not a competitive online gamer. Second, it didn’t look like anything else to come before it; there was nothing to compare it with, which made it exciting but also wary to approach. It’s hard for me to justify $60 for any game, especially one that resembled 90’s era Nickelodeon and a tentacle fetish. So I left Splatoon to the early adopters.

I noticed from afar that Splatoon had managed to sustain a community of players. So now as a Switch owner (desperate to play something new), and with Splatoon on its second rodeo, I decided to give it a shot. Or, in this case, a squirt — er, actually, I take that back.

I’m equally glad and ashamed that I waited till the second game to join in, but ultimately enlightened to find that Splatoon is making me something I thought I would never become: a competitive online gamer.

You take the role of these tween humanoid squid kids known as inklings. The spine of the game is focused on competitive 4v4 matches, the most prominent mode being “Turf War.” Armed with a super soaker filled with ink, the objective is to splat as much territory as possible. Covering the map with ink also increases you and your team’s mobility. The inklings can change form into small squids that can move faster, cover, and refill their ink gun when emerged in your team’s ink.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

Every two hours the maps rotate, allowing only two maps to be played during that window of time. Though at first I thought it was a bizarre approach, I eventually found it to be a very clever. It gave variety to how I played, and never allowed me to get too comfortable. It also stopped the majority of players from weighing on one map specifically. Made me think back to my brief and short lived time playing Black Ops, and how Nuketown was always obsessively voted on as the next map. It became predictable and boring.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a competitive gamer. I’d much rather be fighting alongside someone against NPC’s than actual players. I just have more fun that way. Splatoon 2 is warping my perception of that, however. It has a very approachable leveling system that actually makes me feel like I’m progressing. Between levels 1-10, you’re only allowed to play “Turf War” (which is all I’ve been able to play). After level 10 I can progress to other modes such as Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Tower Control. All of which can be accessed in either Ranked Battle, and then once you level up high enough, League Battle.

And though it may sound like I’m just grinding match after match to slowly level up to more competitive modes, there’s a satisfying reward system along the way that’s keeping me engaged and wanting more. Also, the matches are short, which is a huge plus for keeping me on my toes, and constantly wanting to play just one more round.

As you level, you gradually unlock different weapons and gear to purchase. Different gear has different attributes, like walking through enemy ink faster, or decreasing damage taken. As you play wearing that gear, it’ll level and unlock new buffs. Also, gear gives you the opportunity to customize and dress your inkling like a J-pop star. A dream I’ve wanted to fulfill in reality (I’m too tall to fit most Japanese clothing brands).

There’s a much broader variety of weapons which is a contrast to the first game if I understand correctly. From normal squirt guns, to paint rollers, or even umbrellas, each weapon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and favor a very specific playing style.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

There’s also a campaign mode which I’ve only played for an hour or so. It follows a pretty old-school liner approach which is reminiscent of games circa 1996-2000: play a series of levels; fight boss; move onto next world. The campaign thus far feels like a very extensive bootcamp for crafting players’ skills to play online. It teaches a variety of mechanics, while giving the player an opportunity to test out different weapons in varying scenarios. Also, this is probably the first time where I’m more inclined to play online than I am the campaign.

Salmon Run is Splatoon’s attempt at a horde mode. You play cooperatively with three other players, as you try to survive wave after wave of mutated salmon creatures. The variety of enemies is staggering, each one having devastating a attack, with a specific weakness to take it down. This mode, more than anything, could desperately benefit from voice chat. Which the game has… sorta.

I haven’t been able to try out the voice chat feature of Nintendo’s corresponding smartphone app that enables voice chat yet, and frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. Also, its use is limited to only working with players you know. So until I have three other friends who have the game and a willingness to play it together, I can’t even use it if I wanted to.

Salmon Run is only available to play in 12 hour intervals a day, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around as to why. Is it to build that sense of exclusivity, thus building hype and anticipation to play it? I don’t entirely hate it, because it gives me something to look forward to (which is maybe its intentions, and in that case, it’s working). But not everyone is as patient, so I can see it being annoying.

It’s hard to admit now, but when looking back on my hesitation of games like Splatoon and ARMS, I didn’t try them because they were different. Nintendo time and time again challenges its consumers by attempting new things. But this time around, they took something as familiar as the competitive shooter, and instead of completely trying to redefine it, they skewed it just a bit, and added their own new weird-ass mechanics. It works. And I love it. Though I haven’t invested a ton of time into it, I’m already well invested, maybe even addicted.

For money sake, however, I’m still gonna hold off on ARMS.

Now, only if Nintendo could implement this style of online gaming for Pikmin. A girl can dream, can’t he?

Kurt Indovina
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Life Update: I’m going to the GameStop Expo in Las Vegas

I never thought I’d be going to Las Vegas. I remember when I was younger declaring that I’d never go. I also felt the same way about Florida. The place where old people go to die. But recently I’ve started to lighten up. I’ve started to make an effort in examining things differently. This shift in thinking has allowed me to look at a place like Las Vegas, and instead of cringing at all the things overtly wrong with it (its exploitation of mankind’s worst habits: prostitution, gambling, Elvis impersonators), I’ve come to embrace it in all its tacky peculiarities. From a distance, it looks like a Frankenstein’s monster of the world’s most stereotypical cultures. A confused amalgamation of everything that’s wrong—and also arguably great—with America. I’ve become fascinated by it. I want to go. And serendipitous enough, I’ll be going there for work.

I was able to receive a press pass for the 2017 GameStop Expo happening in Las Vegas on August 27. I haven’t applied for a press pass before. I assumed I wouldn’t get it. But I suppose I got lucky. I’m going as an independent journalist which means I’ll be paying my whole way there and back. I was financially stressed at first, but this is something I have to do. Not only to attend my first convention as press, but to experience Las Vegas.

At the moment, I don’t really have a game plan. I prefer that. I’ve been to PAX West so I have an idea of what to expect, but I get the impression the GameStop Expo is nowhere near as big as PAX. PAX is also happening two weeks later, and I imagine if patrons had a choice to attend one or the other, they’d go to PAX. But who am I kidding? I actually have no idea what I’m talking about.

Accompanied by my girlfriend Juliana—who’ll be armed with a DSLR—I plan on getting as much footage as I can. Really, that’s the plan. She, however, has big dreams of riding Vegas’ famous gondola. How authentic.

What I’m looking forward to playing:
If Super Mario Odyssey isn’t on the showroom floor, I’m going to pay a prostitute to hold me while I cry. Juliana will be too busy reenacting her playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas to comfort me in the case that SMO isn’t present.

Though I’ve already had my share of time with it, I’d like to give Skyrim a shot on the Switch.  Whether or not there’ll be a playable demo, I don’t know. But I’ve been on the fence with re-purchasing the game for when it comes to the Switch. I think I’m more in love with the idea of it being portable than I am with actually playing it again. I think having it in my hands will make or break that decision.

I hardly give Microsoft a chance. So I’m going to make it a point to hang around its booth, and like my perception of Vegas, try and find something to embrace. I’m hoping to see some of its exclusive indie releases like The Artful Escape, or the highly anticipated Cuphead. Good on Microsoft for swooping up some good looking indies.

In the meantime, I’ve been gearing up for the trip. I’m currently on the hunt for a good travel bag. Something that can hold my camera, a couple lenses, my mic, and any other gear I’ll need to take with me.

What am I currently playing?
I had the pleasure of a long weekend. One of those days was dedicated to playing What Remains of Edith Finch. I’m placing that one firmly in the inspiration folder of my mental attic.

Last weekend I got Realms of the Haunting from GOG. I hadn’t played the game prior, but it seemed perfectly in place with my love and fascination for full motion video games. GOG has been a wonderful blessing to allow me to experience cult pc games that I otherwise completely missed. I haven’t been able to put too much time into it… yet.

What am I reading?
I’ve been reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Yes, it’s a New York Times Bestseller, and I’m sure if you’re a creative, it’s been recommended to you—as it was to me on a few occasions. I’m about halfway through, and I love it. It is, to me at least, preaching to the choir. Most of what’s in it I’ve learned along the way as a creative. But it’s always assuring to have it in print, and in a tangible book that I can refer back to when I’m in a rut. I have a shelf of books that I often go back to and skim through if I’m having trouble moving onto the next step. It’ll have a nice home there when I’m done with it.

I’ve also been picking through Jeff Lemire’s Roughnecks. Contemplating on doing a review. Not sure yet.

Also, I started a YouTube Channel. New videos every Thursday. Currently my main objective with the page is to build my onscreen presence. More specifically, I’m using this as a means to get overall more comfortable on screen, and build my skill as a cohesive speaker. I still think I have a long way to go. Here’s the channel trailer:

Thank you for reading. Till next time.

Kurt Indovina
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Kurt’s E3 2017 Highlights

Original article courtesy of WarpZoned.

Detroit: Become Human
I remember the first time I spent an entire night playing Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy from start to finish in a single sitting. It was unlike any game experience I had had up to that point. I became invested in whatever video game developer David Cage and his studio, Quantic Dream, would put out.

Detroit: Become Human is the next installment in his signature “interactive drama” genre, and this time, with a bigger more ambitious sci-fi take than previous games. I admit that I’m not enthralled with its setting, nor the main characters based off what I’ve seen. But Cage is only one of few who delivers a truly cinematic feeling and pacing to games that I cherish dearly, an approach I love to see done in an interactive medium like games. I miss the David Fincher-esque noir/thriller style of Heavy Rain, and though Beyond: Two Souls went off the rails at times, I can’t deny that I played it more that once. I respect Cage and will play just about anything he puts his name on.

Super Mario Odyssey
“And the weirdest looking game award goes to…”

No, but really, talk about Nintendo doing whatever the hell they want. Mario can possess any object he wants with his hat? Humanoids in a Mario game? Realistic dinosaurs? I’m curious to know what ideas from the brainstorming sessions for the game won’t make it into the final product. For the first time in a while, it seems that Nintendo is listening to its fans after all. It’s been seven years since we’ve seen a full blown 3D Mario game and I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all been hungry for one. But this is also the first time in while that it appears they’re using the franchise to really push the boundary beyond previous installments, while still maintaining all the things that make it a Mario game. If Nintendo manages to do with Super Mario Odyssey with what it did for Breath of the Wild, 2017 could be shaping up to be one of my favorite years in gaming since 1998. Waiting till October for its release will be torturous, but from the looks of it, hopefully very well worth it.

-Kurt Indovina

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An earnest reflection on my console bias and video game consumerism.

I was there at the midnight release of the Nintendo Switch. I was a consumer. I’d like to believe that I don’t have a bias of systems. I want to say “if there’s an exclusive I want to play on a specific system, I’ll do what I can to make it happen.” It’s why I bought an Xbox 360 from a kid in the hood on an ATV off Craigslist to play—what was an exclusive at the time—Deadly Premonition, and why I inevitably settled on a PS4 when Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Bloodborne were announced for it. And of course, I shouldn’t have to list Nintendo’s exclusives. But I can’t quite say that I was at the midnight for the Switch solely for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I sure as hell can’t say the same for why I had the Wii U day one. If I were to be honest, this goes beyond bias, but actually touches on my PTSD trying to get my hands on a Wii when I was 15. But more seriously, I think at its core, it’s just about consumerism.

Now, at the time of the Wii’s launch, yes, Twilight Princess made me want to get that system (even though I owned a GameCube and could have easily just experienced it on that). But it was the Wii. It had bowling. It was a no-brainer. And like the old story goes, it was very successful upon its release. That made it extremely difficult to find, and I hadn’t got my hands on one until close to a year of it being out. In a silly nerd-like way, it traumatized me. I hated not having it as soon as I could, and was quite frankly, jealous of my friends who did. I spent weekends scouring all the stores in my neighborhood, calling them, just to see if one was in. It eventually went beyond me just wanting a new system (and a game that I could have already played anyway), but it became a vendetta; a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was pathetic. I fell victim to Nintendo’s infamously effective way of supply-and-demand. The hype was raised due to sparsity, and I didn’t just buy into it, I became a slave to it.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not one of those “Nintendo or nothing” fans. Yes, I worked at Nintendo of America; Yes, I bought the Wii U day one; Yes, I blindly pre-ordered and paid the Switch off without a single feature, or even the user interface being announced. Well, hm, actually, shit… Let’s move on.

I talk a big game on my minimalistic habits, and try to be mindful of what I buy and don’t. I’ve come a long way since I was 15—now being 26. But at the end of the day, for whatever reason, Nintendo games, Nintendo products, they just add a great deal of value to my life. I’d be damned if I didn’t say BotW hasn’t inspired me, gotten me excited, or sparked a sense of instant nostalgia that I haven’t felt playing a game in a long time.

Now to make it clear, I don’t buy that many games. I do when I can. And though this analysis of myself would otherwise suggest I’m a consumer with no self-control, I do actually have a pretty strict discipline as to when I allow myself to consume media (comics in the morning, video games on the weekend, and Sundays are specifically for point-and-click adventure games). I also limit myself from buying something new unless I’m done with what I already got. But there’s something to say when I can’t control the unnecessary impulse to buy into—what appears to be—Nintendo’s very good marketing ploys. And again, like Twilight Princess, I could have played BotW on my Wii U.

I sure as hell didn’t feel that urge to get a PS4 at midnight, and Sony consoles are what I was primarily raised on. I waited almost two years until I settled on picking one up once the price was right and more games were out. That fact alone tells me that I don’t entirely have a bias on my conscience.

And who the fuck am I kidding? I think the Switch is cool. That’s why I wanted it. Whether or not I needed it day one, however, is the truly debatable nature of this week’s rant.

This was intended to be a “what am I playing this week,” but instead this post tripped over itself, down a stairwell leading to a dark basement of self-reflection and acceptance. Especially when I realized that what I was playing was what, in most cases, the same as everyone else.

NOTE: To even the plane, I managed to borrow an Xbox One from someone just so I can play Quantum Break (I actually purchased a copy just to do so). And eventually, somehow, I’ll play D4 with a Kinect.

– kurt

What I’m reading this week:
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Doom Patrol by Gerard Way and Nick Derington
Mother Panic by Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards
Moonshine by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

What I’ve been playing:
Little Inferno
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild