For a character nearing 40 years old, it's amazing that Mario has remained not only a beloved character but one whose games are generally expected to be great. From that perspective, it's no surprise that Super Mario Odyssey is, yes, a great game. But more than that, it's a fantastic, even fundamental addition to Mario's legacy. From a plumber to a doctor to a tennis star to, uh, a Goomba, Mario has endured. No, this will not be the last Mario game, but it is almost certain to be lauded as one of his best.
At the beginning of this review, I outed myself as someone who's not a huge South Park fan, but I've watched enough of the show to understand that this is its modus operandi. It foregrounds loud, over-the-top, “edgy” humor, and it backgrounds surprisingly thoughtful character arcs. South Park: The Fractured But Whole matches the show's strange mix of intentions; it is totally aligned in that way. And in that way, it provided the perfect reminder for why the show (and, to a lesser extent, this game) aren't for me.
It's a brilliant horror game, one that understands when to ratchet up tension and when to pull back and let you collect yourself. If the first game was a failed attempt to capture the spirit of Shinji Mikami's classic Resident Evil 4, the sequel is a successful attempt at something much better: finding a chilling, exhilarating voice of its own.
If you can get past the microtransactions, Shadow Wars seems set to provide a much meatier extended playtime than Shadow of Mordor ever offered. But more than anything, that's my biggest disappointment with Middle-earth: Shadow of War: Everything about it seems to come with a caveat, some small annoyance or two that you need to dig past to get to the still-very-fun game underneath. The Nemesis System is still a wonder that has yet to be replicated. The movement and combat are thrilling.
Story has never been the pull of the Ys franchise for me, though, and if you're not yet familiar with the series, it's not why you should give this game a chance. And make no mistake: You should give Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana a chance. Developer Nihon Falcom has always been talented, but this project represents a new high for the studio, a game where each piece comes together and interlocks in a way that feels damn near perfect. Don't let the obscure name fool you; forgettable story aside, this is one of the best action-RPGs of this generation.
Despite the new protagonist, this game serves as a celebration of everything the Uncharted series has come to represent over a decade of mostly strong releases from Naughty Dog. And because of the new protagonist, it also offers a glimpse into what the franchise could become in the future, with some new developer leading the way. Naughty Dog did right by our memories here, and I hope that whoever takes on Uncharted next does right by them.
Much of the pull of this world is delivered through Pyre's narrative, which drives the game forward in spite of the repetition of its sports game-style core. Sharply written dialogue is interspersed between rites, illuminating a story that branches in dozens of different ways. That plot is carried on the shoulders of a wonderful cast of characters – party members such as the gruff demon Jodariel, the bitter bog witch Bertrude and my personal favorite, Sir Gilman, a snake with a single large eye who wears a clunky metal helmet and wants nothing more than to be an honorable knight.
It successfully pushes this series to new heights of polish, allure and charm. It has a few blemishes, enough to distract a bit from the intriguing and weighty themes that the game wrestles with. But even through the rough patches, Persona 5 doesn't give up a drop of its colorful personality.