Super Mario Odyssey

Introduction

With Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, Yoshiaki Koizumi gave Nintendo’s mascot two unforgettable, interstellar journeys. Players would launch Mario through the reaches of space, often having him jump between planets in an effort to save Princess Peach. Both games were complete successes, selling well over five million units apiece. When playing them, it is clear Nintendo’s Tokyo branch gave it their all; the sheer amount of creativity it took to conceive such games is something that only occurs a scant few times per generation. Given that both games demonstrated Nintendo’s continued relevance going into the 2010s, a sequel would seem inevitable. This was easier said than done. How could anyone possibly go about following up not one, but two of the most monumental titles of its generation?

The year 2012 marked the launch of the Nintendo Wii’s successor: the Wii U. Despite its initially positive reception and launching with the latest installment in their popular New Super Mario Bros. subseries, consumers were slow to adopt this console. There were various reasons why this ended up being the case. Many people assumed the Wii U was a mere upgrade of the Wii rather than being a separate console. A larger strike against it, however, concerned its lackluster library. Although several highly praised games such as Bayonetta 2 and Super Mario 3D World would debut on the Wii U, they weren’t enough to sway the market in Nintendo’s favor. The general consensus among independent critics is that Nintendo jumped the gun in their attempts to release a console before Sony or Microsoft. Damningly, it was the first console to lose money for the venerable company. Compounded with their rivals releasing the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, Nintendo found themselves in a dire situation.

A journalist writing for The New York Times felt Nintendo’s hardware sales were comprised thanks to mobile gaming gaining steam around this time. The president of the company at the time, Satoru Iwata, felt they would cease to be Nintendo if they entered the market, though he eventually relented, securing a business alliance with mobile provider DeNA. Tragically, he would pass away on July 11, 2015 due to complications from cholangiocarcinoma – also known as bile duct cancer. He was 55.

Despite the fact that they retained a devoted fanbase, Nintendo’s fate looked grim with gamers gravitating towards the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and one of their greatest technical wizards dead. Even with the odds stacked against them, Nintendo had no intentions of giving up. As early as 2012, they drafted ideas for a console to follow the Wii U. However, they didn’t want to settle for making this new piece of hardware a mere successor to the Wii U or the portable 3DS. Tatsumi Kimishima, the new president of Nintendo, stated the new console was to provide a “new way to play” that would have a greater impact than the Wii U.

The company had historically always featured one handheld console and one home console in a given generation starting in the fourth. One of the criticisms lodged toward the Wii U concerned its GamePad. While players did enjoy using it, they wished it could be used as a standalone console. As it was, it would stop functioning if moved too far of a distance from the console. Therefore, this new console was to bridge the gap between Nintendo’s two major markets, being a portable home console.

Dubbed the Nintendo Switch, the console was released in March of 2017. Despite market analysts expressing skepticism over the Switch, it quickly became a bestseller, moving more units than the Wii U ever did within a year. Keeping to their strange pattern, a mainline Mario installment akin to Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy was not among the Switch’s launch titles. However, unlike the GameCube or the Wii, gamers wouldn’t have to wait long for Nintendo’s mascot to make a triumphant debut on the Switch.

Immediately after the release of Super Mario 3D World in late 2013, the same team began work on a new Mario installment with a little help from 1-Up Studio. This company was formally known as Brownie Brown – the company best known for having developed Mother 3 alongside Shigesato Itoi. Led by director Kenta Motokura, this new installment was going to revolve around the concept of surprise. Taking note of the surge in popularity of open-world sandbox gaming, Mr. Motokura and his team sought to make next Mario installment appeal to the series’ core audience. Up until that point, they had focused on capturing the attention of causal players.

This game, Super Mario Odyssey, was released in October of 2017. It was notable for having been released in the same year as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This made 2017 the first calendar year in which Nintendo released both a console Zelda installment and a console mainline Mario game since 1986. On top of that, 2017 is popularly considered one of the greatest years in the medium’s history. With no shortage of strong competition, did Super Mario Odyssey stand out from the crowd?

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Super Mario Galaxy 2

Introduction

Though Nintendo paved the way for 3D gaming with Super Mario 64 in 1996, the fifth console generation saw them gradually lose their dominance as a result of driving away a significant portion of their third-party support. This downward spiral continued into the sixth console generation when Sony’s PlayStation 2 proceeded to dominate its competition. Even the most critically acclaimed GameCube titles such as Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker did nothing to turn the tides in Nintendo’s favor. To make matters even worse, Nintendo began gaining a reputation as a kiddie company as a result of mainstream releases on the PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox gearing toward a more mature audience. In order to remain in the business, Nintendo realized they had to do something drastic. Their lifeline came in the form of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. With its novel motion controls, the Wii soon found itself outselling its more technically capable competition when it enticed gamers and non-gamers alike.

Though an instant bestseller, those who had been following Nintendo since the NES days were asking the same question. Where is Mario? Nintendo’s mascot had, without fail, featured in some way in every one of the venerable company’s home console releases. Even the GameCube had Luigi’s Mansion, which cast his brother in the lead role, yet when the Wii launched, he was nowhere to be seen. Fans received their answer shortly after the Wii’s launch: Mario was to star in a game that would see him travel the cosmos. The name of the game was Super Mario Galaxy. When it debuted in 2007, the reception was unlike anything the franchise had seen before. It was commonly said that while Super Mario 64 invented 3D platforming, Super Mario Galaxy perfected it. Yoshiaki Koizumi again found himself in the lead director’s chair, and after adding a personal, auteur touch, created one of the most beloved games of its generation.

As soon as Nintendo’s Tokyo branch finished work on Super Mario Galaxy, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto approached the team and suggested they should produce a follow-up. Originally, the team was going to create a version of Super Mario Galaxy that featured slight variations its planets in a manner reminiscent of the Master Quest edition of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Because it wasn’t intended to be a true sequel, their tentative titles for this game were Super Mario Galaxy More and Super Mario Galaxy 1.5, and they expected it to be finished in a year’s time. At first, they implemented elements that were scrapped from Super Mario Galaxy. Before they knew it, they were adding so many new ideas to the game that they decided the end product should be a fully-fledged sequel. Joined by one of the series’ central figures, Takashi Tezuka, Yoshiaki Koizumi set forth with the Nintendo EAD Tokyo team once more to make it into reality. To reflect this change, the game was redubbed Super Mario Galaxy 2.

By the seventh console generation, gamers accepted that every one of Nintendo’s consoles would boast but a single mainline Mario release. This was especially obvious when observing the series’ 3D installments. The Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64 while the GameCube saw the debut of Super Mario Sunshine – neither installment would receive a direct sequel. However, this could be seen as early as the fourth console generation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being more of a standalone spinoff than a true sequel to Super Mario World. The fans read the writing on the wall, and with Super Mario Galaxy being such a monumental game, they assumed they had seen the last of Nintendo’s mascot for the rest of the Wii’s lifespan. They could never have expected Nintendo to unveil the existence of a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy during the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2009 in Mr. Miyamoto’s private conference. He even stated that the game would have 95%-99% new features – the rest being holdovers from Super Mario Galaxy.

Although Mr. Miyamoto stated the game was nearing completion, Super Mario Galaxy 2 would eventually be delayed to 2010 because New Super Mario Bros. Wii had been released in late 2009. The game became playable for the first time during the Nintendo Media Summit in February of 2010 shortly after a second trailer had been released. Here, its North American release date was revealed: May 23, 2010. Seeing a release in other regions later in the year, and in the case of South Korea, early 2011, Super Mario Galaxy 2 enjoyed the same level of universal acclaim as its predecessor. It is now considered one of the greatest games of all time, and many have declared it the single greatest entry in the Wii’s library. Could Super Mario Galaxy 2 have possibly surpassed such an acclaimed title?

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Super Mario Galaxy

Introduction

Originally codenamed the Revolution, the Wii was to be Nintendo’s entry in the seventh console generation. While Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 console focused on providing players with high-definition experiences, Nintendo opted to go in a different direction. Rather than appealing to the existing gaming fanbase, they sought to make their console for everyone, hence why the name sounds like the English first-person, plural pronoun “we”. One of the Wii’s touted features lied in its unique control scheme. In lieu of fashioning a classic controller, the Wii was to employ motion controls, which would be executed by a remote outfitted with an infrared sensor. Though met with a degree of skepticism within the gaming community, the Wii became the best-selling console of its generation. Despite its successful launch, many gamers were wondering why a mainline Mario installment was not among its launch titles. Even the GameCube had the spinoff Luigi’s Mansion, yet when the Wii launched, Nintendo’s mascot was nowhere to be found.

After the release and overwhelming success of Super Mario 64, Nintendo began working on a sequel. One of the first names for this hypothetical game was Super Mario 64-2. It was slated to launch on the 64DD (Dynamic Drive), a peripheral for the Nintendo 64 that would afford players new freedoms such as the ability to create their own content. However, the commercial failure of the 64DD ensured it would never leave its homeland. In response, many 64DD projects were reformatted for the Nintendo 64, saved for future consoles, or cancelled outright. Super Mario 64-2 was one of the projects to suffer the last fate. Despite this, Nintendo wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. With the impending launch of the Nintendo GameCube, they needed something with which to demonstrate its processing power. In 2000, a proposed game entitled Super Mario 128 was showcased at Nintendo Space World. The game was heavily retooled and outfitted with a tropical island theme, hence the 2002 release Super Mario Sunshine. Though stuck in the shadow of its more popular predecessor, Super Mario Sunshine was highly acclaimed in its own right, and became one of the console’s premier titles.

Though many ideas from the Super Mario 128 demonstration were excised by the time it became Super Mario Sunshine, one person continued to see potential in them. That person was none other than the demonstration’s director, Yoshiaki Koizumi. Super Mario Sunshine marked the first instance in which he found himself as the lead director, and though he was satisfied with his work, he wanted to set his sights higher for the inevitable follow-up. One part of the demonstration featured Mario moving freely around a spherical platform. This concept did not make it into Super Mario Sunshine due to it overtaxing the machine’s technical capabilities. Nonetheless, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto remained interested in the concept, and he decided to form a team who would help bring it into reality.

The year 2002 marked the founding of the Nintendo EAD Tokyo Software Development Department. The purpose of this branch was to recruit fresh, new talent from Japan’s capital and most populated city. Their inaugural game was released in 2004 under the name Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. It was among the first titles to star Donkey Kong in the lead role after the revered Rare entered a partnership with Microsoft. The game was praised for the most part, though many critics deemed it inferior to Rare’s Donkey Kong Country trilogy due to its lack of returning characters. Nonetheless, the game stood out from its competition in how characters were controlled with a set of bongos – an aspect that captured the attention of various non-gaming publications. Impressed with their work, Mr. Miyamoto asked EAD Tokyo if they wanted to make a high-profile game starring one of the company’s mainstays. This prompted one member of the staff to suggest they possessed the skills to make a new Mario title. Mr. Koizumi, taking note of the experience the staff developed creating Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, felt they could make the idea involving spherical platforms work and recruited them into this new project. In a bit of a twist, Mr. Koizumi set his attention to the Wii.

With a basic concept in mind, all Mr. Koizumi needed was a central theme, necessitating his team to draft several ideas and find ways to implement them. Co-designer Koichi Hayashida and producer Takeo Shimizu were skeptical about the idea of incorporating a spherical playing field into a 3D platforming game. The latter in particular felt a sense of danger when the plan was approved. Only when he began debugging the game did he realize how fresh the experience felt. Once the team was convinced of the concept’s viability, they quickly settled on setting the game in outer space, believing most players would see the spherical shapes as planets. As an entire region separated EAD Tokyo from Nintendo, a system was put in place so both offices could playtest the game. The development team was pressured to finish their work at or close to the Wii’s launch. However, keeping true to the ethos of Mr. Miyamoto, they deemed a polished Mario game was more important than a rushed one.

The efforts of EAD Tokyo saw their completion in November of 2007 under the name Super Mario Galaxy. It is nearly impossible to overstate just how much praise this game received upon release. Mere days afterwards, Super Mario Galaxy was considered one of the greatest games ever made. Fans declared it the first truly worthy sequel to Super Mario 64, and even those who didn’t care for the Wii were thoroughly impressed. With Super Mario 64 having one of the most profound impacts of any game in history, was Super Mario Galaxy truly able to surpass it?

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Super Mario Sunshine

Introduction

Several attempts at three-dimensional gaming had been attempted since the medium’s inception. Many games from the eighties would place players in a maze of flat, two-dimensional building blocks to create the illusion of depth. Though this was serviceable for its time, that the player character could only ever turn at 90 degree angles betrayed the strict technical limitations the developers were saddled with. In the nineties, id Software would light up the PC gaming scene when they released Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Though not terribly different from its spiritual predecessors in how it used clever programming techniques to project the illusion of 3D, id’s effort compelled other development teams to begin seriously consider where the medium should go from there. This sentiment was punctuated with id’s release of Doom the following year.

Though many companies would try their hand at 3D gaming with varying degrees of success, it was Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, and Yoshiaki Koizumi of Nintendo who were the first to successfully explore this uncharted territory in the form of Super Mario 64 in 1996. The sheer amount of critical acclaim it received forever changed the face of the gaming industry. Suddenly, 3D gaming went from being considered a pie-in-the-sky scenario to the industry standard in less than a year’s time. Such was the extent of its impact that many subtle techniques from Nintendo’s groundbreaking effort are still being employed today. Becoming the Nintendo 64’s bestselling game with eleven million copies sold, a sequel seemed inevitable.

As early as January of 1997, Shigeru Miyamoto talked about a sequel to Super Mario 64, tentatively entitling it Super Mario 128. As Nintendo put the finishing touches on the Nintendo 64, they included a slot at the bottom of the console that would allow the use of peripherals. The most prominent one they were in the process of developing was the 64DD (Dynamic Drive). In a manner similar to the Famicom Disk System, the 64DD would allow the Nintendo 64 to utilize a new form of storage media. It was to feature a real-time clock for persistent game world design and afford players many new freedoms. They could rewrite data and create movies, animations, and even their own characters. Nearing the end of 1997, Super Mario 128 was renamed Super Mario 64-2. Much like how Super Mario 64 before it generated interest in the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64-2 was to be the 64DD’s premier title. However, the 64DD was a commercial failure when it launched in December of 1999, only selling 15,000 units in total. By the end of its short run in February of 2001, only ten original titles had been released for the unit. Any other proposed title for the unit was reformatted into a Nintendo 64 cartridge, ported to future consoles, or cancelled outright. Among the titles to suffer the last fate was Super Mario 64-2.

Despite this setback, Nintendo wasn’t ready to give up on a potential follow-up to Super Mario 64. During their SpaceWorld event in August of 2000, they unveiled a technology demo to showcase their then-upcoming GameCube console. The project they elected to demonstrate was a Mario game – once again under the working title Super Mario 128. Taking its proposed name literally, the GameCube’s technical capabilities were demonstrated when it rendered multiple Mario models at once, eventually reaching 128 of them.

One year later, at the following SpaceWorld event, fans learned that Super Mario 128 had undergone a complete reinterpretation. Gone was Princess Peach’s iconic castle. Instead, a tropical paradise awaited players. To reflect this change, the game was now titled Super Mario Sunshine. It was notably the first time Yoshiaki Koizumi found himself in the lead director’s chair. The first great impression he made on his superiors was when he wrote the memorable scenario for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. He worked his way up from there, and his ten-year-long apprenticeship culminated in him getting to lead in the creation of the newest Mario installment. The game saw its release in 2002. Though not as impactful as Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine was a well-respected game in its own right, having little trouble amassing critical acclaim and becoming one the console’s bestselling titles. Did Mr. Koizumi’s first shot as the lead director result in a classic experience?

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Luigi’s Mansion

Introduction

The Nintendo 64 marked Nintendo’s official entry in the fifth generation of consoles. The success of one of its launch titles, Super Mario 64, helped jumpstart the medium’s 3D revolution. Though countless developers from id Software to PF Magic had dabbled in 3D for quite some time, Super Mario 64 ended up being ground zero for the leap. What made it such a remarkable effort was that there were no signs of growing pains. The camera could be controlled by the player, yet was incapable of phasing through walls due to being operated by a real character. Mario’s shadow could always be seen underneath him because it helped players gauge where he was on a platform. Levels were made far less linear because players would be naturally inclined to explore the space in which they found themselves. Though these design choices sound prototypical when summed up on paper, future development teams attempting to create three-dimensional experiences would take cues from Super Mario 64 and many of Nintendo’s other pioneering 3D efforts such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the coming decades.

Despite the acclaim these games received, Nintendo’s success did come at something of a price. Thanks to a combination of Nintendo sticking with ROM cartridges in lieu of adopting the increasingly popular optical disc format and third-party developers having to adhere to their strict policies, they soon found themselves face-to-face against Sony and their PlayStation console. The juggernaut electronics company had entered the console race as a result of the failed partnership between themselves and Nintendo to create a CD-based peripheral to compete with the Sega CD. Because many prominent developers such as Capcom, Konami, and Square began making games exclusively for the PlayStation, Nintendo began rapidly losing their dominance. Even the overwhelming critical success of games such as Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time did little to make up for their loss in market share. At that point, they needed to innovate quickly in order to remain in in the business.

The year 1997 marked the launch of a graphic hardware design company named ArtX. It was staffed by twenty engineers who previously worked at Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) – the company that helped develop the Nintendo 64’s hardware. They were led by Dr. Wei Yen, who had been SGI’s head of Nintendo Operations and outlined the console’s architectural design. ArtX partnered with Nintendo in 1998 in order to craft Nintendo’s entry in the rapidly approaching sixth console generation. Initially codenamed “Flipper”, the project was first announced to the public at a press conference in May of 1999 as “Project Dolphin”. Shortly after this announcement, the company began providing development kits to second-party companies such as Rare and the newly formed Retro Studios.

ArtX was then acquired by ATI in 2000, though the Flipper graphics processor design had been mostly completed. A spokesperson claimed ATI was to become a major supplier to the game console market and that the Dolphin platform would be the “king of the hill in terms of graphics and video performance with 128-bit architecture”. The console was formally announced as the Nintendo GameCube at a Japanese press conference in August of 2000. It was at the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2001 that the GameCube’s fifteen launch titles were unveiled. Curiously, there appeared not to be a single Mario game in the lineup. However, a closer examination revealed that a game set in the Mario universe would be among the launch titles, but with his brother Luigi in the lead role.

During the Nintendo Space World exposition of 2000, many technological demonstrations were designed to showcase the GameCube’s capabilities. These took the form of full motion video clips – one of which depicted Luigi running from ghosts. After creating the footage, Nintendo decided to turn the demo into a fully realized game. It was shown again at the 2001 Electronic Entertainment Expo alongside the other launch titles and the console itself. This game, Luigi’s Mansion, was to offer an experience the likes of which had never been seen in a Mario title. Though the idea for the game had been conceived as early as 2000, once it became a GameCube project, Luigi was chosen as the protagonist to keep the experience new and original.

The GameCube launched domestically on September 14, 2001 and in North America the following November before receiving European and Australian releases in May of 2002. From a commercial standpoint, Luigi’s Mansion was the most successful GameCube launch title, being the single best-selling game in November of 2001. Nintendo attributed Luigi’s Mansion as the driving force behind the GameCube’s launch sales, for it sold more copies in its opening week than even Super Mario 64 in its own. Critically, Luigi’s Mansion was mostly positive, with critics especially taken aback by its stellar presentation. Despite this, the reception wasn’t quite as warm as that of Super Mario 64. Was Luigi’s first true adventure precisely what the GameCube needed for a successful launch?

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4 Ways in Which Gamers Are Ahead of the Curve

Back in August of 2018, I had the pleasure of responding to a Sunshine Blogger Award. After I answered the eleven questions, I, in turn, proposed eleven of my own. To shake things up a bit, I tagged more than twenty random people at once. Though I enjoyed reading these answers, I have to confess that one in particular stood out – and not in a good way, unfortunately. One of the questions I asked concerned what cinephiles could learn from gamers. One individual, in lieu of actually answering the question, took this opportunity to go on a rant on how gamers are anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, exclusionary, and any number of pejoratives anyone versed in the hobby has heard countless times. In doing so, they unfairly put every single well-adjusted person who enjoys gaming into the same box as white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and any number of unorganized bullies they would want nothing to do with.

The sad part is that it’s a typical example of how gamers tend to get portrayed in the media as well. It’s so pervasive that certain gamers have bought into it, and actively feel shame engaging in the hobby. You should never feel shame doing something you like – provided it isn’t immoral, of course. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out the media constantly putting down gamers could be a contributing factor to their bad behavior. After all, gamers have spent entire decades trying to prove they’re not monsters, yet the media pushes that narrative without any signs of stopping. If you tell a group of people they’re monsters for a long enough time, you don’t get to act surprised when they abandon their humanity and become just that. Note that being shunned doesn’t give a person a blank check to behave poorly; barring a debilitating neurological impairment or a truly extenuating circumstance, everyone has the ability to do the right thing.

Fortunately, despite the media’s best efforts, it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, one thing I’ve observed over the years, which has become much clearer as time has gone on, is that gamers are remarkably progressive in certain fields compared to consumers of other media. Despite being apparent to anyone willing to do even the slightest bit of cursory research, they barely ever get reported in favor of clickbait articles detailing outlying gamers losing their minds, with the writers not knowing or not caring there’s much more to them than that. By this point, I think I’ve demonstrated that I’m not one to blindly go with the flow, so if the mainstream media wishes to demonize gamers, here’s an article praising their strong suits.

Now, to make things clear, the purpose of this editorial isn’t to ignore reality. I cannot deny certain pockets of gamers have certainly proven to be all four of those things that individual spoke of and more. I also don’t wish to downplay the very real instances in which would-be gamers have been shunned for incredibly petty reasons. Any of these grievances deserve to be called out for what they are. However, by that same token, you have to remember that many of these issues aren’t endemic to gamers specifically. One of the biggest reasons they tend to get the worst of it is because video games still haven’t quite reached that level of mainstream acceptance where most people can rightly dismiss the bad apples as not representative of the group as a whole. After all, if a mass murderer were to cite a favorite film as the blueprints for their crime, the media wouldn’t then go out of their way to damn cinephiles. In fact, if the film in question was mainstream, they would likely dismiss the perpetrator as a lone wolf. So now that I have established where I stand when it comes to gamers’ representation in the media, here are four ways in which I feel they can claim to be ahead of the curve.

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150th Review Special, Finale: March of the Masterpieces

As anyone who has read my reviews knows, I tend to be very sparing when handing out 9/10s or 10/10s. While mainstream outlets tend to hand them out like penny candy when a game is promoted enough, I make games (and films, for that matter) work for those grades. I have it so that when a work earns a passing grade, even if it’s a 7/10, it’s a cause for celebration. With me having awarded no 10/10s in this block of 50 reviews, all we have left to discuss are the ones I awarded a 9/10. These are the games I point towards when talking about the hallmarks of a given era or decade, so if you’ve haven’t played them, check them out right away.

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150th Review Special, Part 3: Green Means Go!

Now that the bad/middling games are out of the way, we can finally start talking about the ones I can actually recommend. This has been a great year for me personally because I managed to write three reviews that were over 10,000 words long. The best part? They’re all of games I like. Whereas before, my longest review was that of The Last of Us, I can now safely say that anyone who believes it’s easier to be negative than positive clearly isn’t trying hard enough.

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150th Review Special, Part 2: Throwing Caution to the Wind

I use yellow scores whenever I can’t officially recommend nor dissuade people from playing the game in question. The exact score I use depends on which way I would go if somebody pressed me enough with a 4/10 meaning probably avoid, a 5/10 meaning I’m not sure, and a 6/10 meaning play if you’re a fan. Either way, we’re officially done talking about bad games from this point onward.

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