Well, I’ve had about a week to sink my teeth into Mario’s latest adventure, so what do I think so far?

So far, so good. There are obvious comparisons to be made with Mario’s other 3D open-world adventures, some of which I have enjoyed and others, not enjoyed, but where does Odyssey stand in the hierarchy? It stands pretty tall.

As is by now fairly normal for Mario’s 3D outings, Odyssey introduces a gimmick, a means of helping the player, albeit a fairly novel and interesting one. In Super Mario 64 you didn’t really have any extra gimmicks, aside from new jumps and leaps. In Sunshine (urgh) you had the soaker, in Galaxy you had the power to throw gems to stun enemies, but in Odyssey you have the power to take over certain enemies and use them to help you out. This gives rise to a pretty wide range of abilities, all of which serve a purpose, existing to help you progress, rather than being included for the sake of it.

For example, it can be pretty fun to throw Cappy (your latest companion, who is quite literally a hat) and take over a Bullet Bill, but it soon becomes clear this is actually more than just fun – you’re going to need to in order to destroy certain walls and move on through your quest. At times you’ll take over Podoboos (the odd name for the fireballs that jump around in various Mario games) in order to traverse particularly fiery or hot lakes. You can take over Goombas (who are firm-footed even on icy terrain), Hammer Bros and all sorts of creatures, all with their own useful traits.

Graphically the game is gorgeous, reflecting the increased power of the Switch over its predecessors, offering big, detailed and varied worlds, ranging from deserts to a beach world, to New Donk City (which offers up an incredible nostalgia treat for the player), to a world devoted to lunch. The soundtrack is unobtrusive, letting you get on with the game.

As you can see, there are passages within the game that recreate the original Super Mario Bros – these sections are absolute gems and a clever touch.

My only, tiny complaint so far is that it’s pretty easy, though Mario games aren’t necessarily aimed at experienced gamers, but rather, are intended to be accessible for everyone. That being said, whilst I’m flying through the main quest, I am very far off finding all the power moons (this games key collectible), having recently learned that there are 52 in the beach world alone – I have found enough to move on to another world, but finding all of them will be a major quest in itself.

All in all, I am finding this game to be a cut above Mario’s previous open world adventures. It is full of secrets, so many in fact that it reminds me a little of Super Mario World, and I would quite happily put Odyssey up there with the best of Mario’s adventures. 9/10.

The 2017 F1 season has reached its conclusion, in rather tame fashion, with a reminder that Mercedes remain the team to beat. They took a comfortable 1-2 finish for only the fourth time in 2017 (a mark perhaps, of how the gap has closed), with the twist that Valtteri Bottas emerged the winner. He qualified on pole, led every lap and took the fastest lap too, thus earning the grand slam.

He had teammate Lewis Hamilton close behind for much of the race, though the nature of the track (especially the final sector) meant Hamilton was only rarely able to get to within a second when the DRS zones were in play – he had been hoping Bottas would make a mistake, but one of the defining characteristics of the Finn is his grace under pressure. Bottas proved to be unflappable.

Sebastian Vettel was some 20 seconds behind and very much adrift. He had gotten pretty clear of his own teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, to end up having a lonely race. Raikkonen had the Red Bull of Max Verstappen for company, but as with the Bottas/Hamilton battle, Verstappen wasn’t able to get close enough and would have to settle for fifth. It would have been sixth, but Daniel Ricciardo’s season ended with a hydraulics failure in his own Red Bull whilst running fourth, something that also allowed Raikkonen to overhaul him in the standings.

The only other spark in an other mundane race was an error by the Renault pit crew, who failed to secure Carlos Sainz’ front left tyre, leading to him having to retire. His teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, finished sixth, a result that proved enough to lift Renault to sixth in the constructor’s championship, representing several million pounds of extra prize money. Renault were therefore the chief winners of Sunday’s race.

Beyond that, there’s nothing to report. Abu Dhabi provides a picturesque venue but not great racing, especially when the key battles have already been decided. Hamilton said afterward that as a track it needs to change, something other drivers have previously suggested.

One other thing – this was the last race to feature truly open cockpits. Next year the halo system will be introduced, in order to provide an extra measure of head protection. How this will influence the designs of the cars remains to be seen, but Abu Dhabi represents – for now at least – the end of an era.

At some stage in the near future, I’ll be reviewing the entire season. I hope you enjoy!

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So maybe this is unfair, but right now I really hate Ed Sheeran’s music. The radio station we have on at work is obsessed with him, to the point where I am starting to leave the radio off for long spells, out of disgust. I have nothing against Ed himself, or in fact his songs, except for the ridiculous over-saturation going on. I get it, he’s big right now, but there are other artists out there. Enough is enough already!

I’m not a fan of time-wasting customers – they come in, wander about aimlessly, decline offers of help and then mill about some more. Are you going to do anything or just take up our time needlessly?

There are some stupidly loud motorbikes that go up and down the road outside the shop. Is there really any need to deafen both yourselves and every passer-by? Is the noise of your exhaust inversely proportional to the size of your manhood? Because it seems like you’re compensating for something from where I’m sitting.

 

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Rule 1 – control your bloody kids! Earlier today a couple came in with their two young daughters. From the instant their kids entered the shop they decided the place was a playground. It’s not. It would have been nice if the parents could have actually done more than meekly tell their kids to stop, but they didn’t, so their kids didn’t. When dealing with expensive shower enclosures, ceramic products and brassware, this can be a recipe for disaster. How nothing was broken I will never know.

I mentioned in a recent post that my family and I had recently visited the Warner Bros Studio Tour – here, we took in all the magic from the Harry Potter films, which was quite the experience! What did we see? Well, we saw pretty much everything there was to see. Even if you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, the tour offers an incredible and detailed insight to the process of making big movies. The level of work that goes into producing films like this is astounding.

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(how about a letter to Hogwarts?)

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(every wand was distinctive and every credited member of cast and crew received their own personalised wand)

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(there were thousands of bottles of various weird things and potions and each one had its own, unique, handwritten label)

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(we’re off to Hogwarts!)

What we saw was not merely a faithful reproduction of the sets and props – we saw the actual sets and props. It made the experience all the more special to know we were walking through and standing in the places where these movies were made.

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(the Knight Bus, circa The Prisoner of Azkaban)

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(one of the weird plant baby things)

We took hundreds of pictures, which I can’t go through here! Needless to say, it was a fantastic experience (by the way, butter beer is wonderful), and I don’t think we scratched the surface of what it was like.

So, that’s it. If you get the chance to go, go!

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What’s coming up? Well, in a personal sense, there is some moving and shaking soon – I am about to enter my final week with my current employer, before moving on to new pastures. This is obviously quite a big deal, with short-term and long-term repercussions and not a step taken lightly, but after deliberating and discussing and considering, it was a leap that needed to be taken. I have nothing but admiration, respect and friendship for the guys I currently work with, but this new job offers the opportunity to make more money, which will in turn bring other, positive impacts. I had to base my decision on what would be best for my wife, daughter and myself, and so, soon, it will be time to move on from bathrooms.

I need to tell you all about my recent visit to the Harry Potter Experience. It was a birthday treat for both my stepdaughter and myself and it was thoroughly enjoyable. There’s a lot of photos, so I need to spend a bit of time on that one. It would take a while to thoroughly describe the experience!

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Speaking of birthdays, my stepson and his girlfriend stunned me by getting me Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch. That’s in addition to a big Star Wars Cross Sections book and a Star Trek Borg ship model. I think they spent waaaaaaaaay more money on me than they should have, but guys, if you’re reading this, I am very grateful! At some point I need to offer up some early thoughts on Odyssey, and also on the Breath of the Wild download content, which was a birthday/Christmas present from my wife (along with my favourite tipple, Old Speckled Hen!).

The homemade birthdays from my little girl and my granddaughter were delightful! My daughter drew me a Star Wars-themed card and my granddaughter drew me a picture of Scrooge McDuck! It’s like they know me too well…

 

If one word could sum up the past couple of days at work, it would be ‘tedious’. On Wednesday I was on my own (a consequence of rotas and conferences), but I was easily able to manage, whilst today hasn’t been that different. I keep swinging around to the idea of doing some writing, but it’s hard to be creative when there’s always the possibility of someone walking in to the store who wants help – goodbye to momentum.

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We’ve reached the end of the 2017 F1 season, a season that gave us a resurgent Ferrari and an inkling of how competitive Red Bull can be given the right conditions. It’s seen the breakdown of McLaren’s relationship with Honda and post-Europe implosion from Ferrari. It’s seen Lewis Hamilton break the record for all-time pole positions and seem Hamilton win his fourth world championship – whilst Mercedes have made it four from four in the turbo era.

The top five places in the constructor’s championship are sorted  – there is a faint mathematical chance for Toro Rosso – currently 6th – to catch Williams, but they’d realistically need a one-two finish with Williams picking up hardly any points, so in reality, they’ll be aiming to finish ahead of Renault and Haas. The gap between these teams is just six points, so, with big financial rewards on offer, there’s some serious motivation to do well. Further up the field, pride is the main motive – Sebastian Vettel won last time out in Brazil and will want to finish the season strongly, as will Ferrari.

In terms of the venue, Abu Dhabi has come under criticism for a lacklustre track, though the atmosphere surrounding the venue itself is usually quite positive. Overtaking will come about from the DRS zones, as much of the circuit – especially turns 12-21 – will not offer the opportunity. Without anything serious at stake for the top teams, they might well let their hair down and the drivers will be able to race each other without the pressure of a title fight. This might produce a good race.

I’ve mentioned in the past that Super Mario World is one of my all-time favourite games and it is easily my favourite Super Mario game. It woul be remiss of me to fail to mention its beautiful sequel, Yoshi’s Island.

Story wise, it’s the tale of how various Yoshis take baby Mario through a perilious world to re-unite him with baby Luigi. The various multi-coloured Yoshis have to traverse various worlds, facing off against the dasterdly Koopa wizard Kamek, who pops up from time to time to turn ordinary enemies into huge bosses.

The mechanics of Yoshi’s Island are very different from the first Super Mario World, which is hardly surprising as you’re no longer controlling Mario but instead an enemy-eating, egg-throwing dinosaur. The ability to turn almost any bad guy into a weapon to then pelt at other bad guys is ingenious, giving the player plenty of scope for tackling the various obstacles that show up. However you have to beware, for whilst there is no time limit to complete a level, should you be hit by an enemy or trap, baby Mario will float away from you (did I mention you’re carrying Mario on Yoshi’s back?), and if you don’t retrieve him quickly enough, Kamek will swoop in and you lose a life. Therefore, you can’t be too reckless.

I can only lavish praise upon the gorgeous (certainly for the time) graphics. Yoshi’s Island was released a few years after Super Mario World, so benefited from the experience of the designers, who devised amazing levels with terrific attention to detail and depth. Moreover, the creativity of the levels was equally impressive, with the bosses being delights to face and the challenges faced at various points being devious and clever.

I don’t think this game gets the recognition it deserves. It’s easily one of the best titles to ever come out on the SNES, and a rewarding experience for any Nintendo fan. 9/10.

Yesterday’s Brazilian Grand Prix was about fighting back, in more ways than one. For Lewis Hamilton, it was about making the most of a pit-lane start after a crash in qualifying. For Daniel Ricciardo, it was about overcoming a poor start and a grid penalty, and for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, it was about reminding everyone that they are still competitive.

Vettel had lined up second on the grid, behind the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, with the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen behind them. Would Bottas (who took the third pole of his career) be able to convert his excellent qualifying performance into victory? Well, that opportunity took a blow into the first corner, with Vettel getting a better start and diving down the inside of turn 1 to take the lead. Behind the leaders, a little bit of chaos erupted.

First, Ricciardo took a spin when tagged by the errant McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, who had been hit by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. Ricciardo was able to keep going but both Magnussen and Vandoorne were out. Further up the road, the second Haas of Romain Grosjean took out the Force India of Esteban Ocon; a spot of clumsy driving from Grosjean saw him bump into the side of Ocon and give his fellow Frenchman not one but two punctures. Grosjean would earn a 10-second penalty and two penalty points for the incident.

The first incident triggered an early safety car spell, allowing Hamilton to close up on the pack and giving Ricciardo a chance to pit and get his car checked for damage. Once the race resumed, both men would start to charge up the order. Hamilton was aided by a new engine, allowing him to turn up the power and really push. Ricciardo, with a somewhat temperamental Renault engine, had to be more careful, but this didn’t stop him from pulling off a few trademark late braking moves into turn 1.

Up front, Vettel eked out a small gap over Bottas, who in turn was keeping ahead of Raikkonen. Behind them was Verstappen, who lacked the power to threaten for a podium, whilst further back, Felipe Massa, enjoying his final home grand prix, was frustrating Fernando Alonso. With superior Mercedes power, the Williams was keeping the McLaren at bay, despite struggling with the super-soft tyres as the pit stop window approached. With that window approaching, Bottas began to slowly reel Vettel back in, then Mercedes pulled the trigger on the stops, swapping the super-softs for the softs and sending Bottas out, hoping to make the undercut work. It nearly did, with Vettel only just coming out ahead after his own stop, but it wasn’t quite enough. On the soft tyre the Ferrari looked stronger, and Vettel began to pull away again.

For Hamilton and Ricciardo, their strategy was inverted – long stints on the soft tyre with the faster super-soft tyre coming later. This enabled Hamilton to briefly lead the race, then end up in fourth, with the chance to chase down Raikkonen for a podium. Ricciardo ended up fifth but with a faster Verstappen on his tail, and it wasn’t long before Ricciardo let his teammate through. Massa was continuing to hold up Alonso, with Sergio Perez in the Force India closing in to join in the fun. The McLaren worked well through the winding corners of the middle sector but couldn’t live with the Mercedes-powered Williams elsewhere, allowing Massa to just about stay ahead, even with Alonso picking up DRS. Whereas last season Massa’s ‘final’ Brazilian race saw him crash out, this time he would hold on to pick up seventh place and do himself proud. Alonso had to settle for eighth, fending off Perez. Nico Hulkenberg picked up tenth and the final point for Renault, albeit a lap behind the rest.

Hamilton, despite a late charge, wasn’t quite able to challenge Raikkonen for third, whilst Bottas wasn’t able to threaten Vettel for the win. The result was a much-needed tonic for Ferrari, after a dismal spell, especially in Asia, completely ended their title hopes. For Vettel too, the win was much needed, his fifth of the season and a reminder to everyone of his quality. He will now want to build upon that going into F1’s final race in Abu Dhabi.