Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Word Party (Wii U eShop) Review

Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the United States, where SuperPhillip Central is headquartered. The next game to be reviewed seems like a perfect one for casual and core gamers and family members to sit around the TV after a big turkey dinner to enjoy together. It's Word Party, and here is SPC's review.

A party game that's true to its words

From the creators of Word Search by POWGI, Lightwood Games is back with another word-oriented wonder for the Wii U eShop. This time the studio's offering moves away from the single player experience of playing word searches and goes towards the mayhem that is known as local multiplayer with Word Party, sporting 28 unique mini-games for up to six players to enjoy. Does this party disappoint, or does it deliver beyond words?

Word Party sports a robust amount of mini-games, and as you can probably suspect, all of them relate to words in some form or another. All games utilize the Wii Remote as the main controller for inputs, and you use the IR functionality to point at the screen to choose from menus and make selections.

Take turns changing letters to spell new words. The pots with
more flowers in them will earn you more points.
The games have great variety to them. Some games task you with clicking on the right bee among a horde of them with different three letter combinations on them like "ill" or "uoy", making sure the one you click on forms a word that begins with the letter "B". Other games have you pointing at magnetic letters on a refrigerator door, creating words up to six letters; competing in a word search where the player that finds the most words is deemed the winner; and a multiple choice game where you click the word the definition in the center of the screen is describing.

In Spelling Bee, point and press the A button on the bees
that will spell out a word beginning with "B" to earn points.
Starting off, you have a selection of 14 mini-games that are randomly chosen from in the standard play mode. The play mode chooses a handful of mini-games in a random order for up to six players to play. Points are earned each round based on each player's position in a given mini-game. For example, 1st gets 10 points while 2nd gets a little less, and so forth. The winner of the multiplayer match is the one with the highest number of points at the end of all of the randomly chosen mini-games.

If you wish to just play mini-games from YOUR choosing rather than the game's own selection, you can play practice mode. This gives you the opportunity to replay mini-games however many times you want without waiting for them to pop up in the game's rotation in play mode. That notwithstanding, if you want to unlock mini-games, you'll have to go through the somewhat tedious process of playing multiplayer games in play mode over and over again. It's unfortunate because half of the mini-games in Word Party is locked up content that you have to satisfy conditions to open up for play.

This robot building game is one of the more challenging ones in Word Party.
Furthermore, each round in Word Party in play mode is rather short, lasting at most 30 seconds. Many times our multiplayer fun would be short lived because the round would be over before we knew it, making us want more. It would have been nice to see options allowing for beefing up or selecting the time limit for the mini-games, so our word party wouldn't be over so fast each round.

Word Party sports a charming art style and a pleasant user interface. The ability to use Miis for player icons make for an additionally nice touch. By no means is what is shown on screen during menus or mid-mini-games mind-blowing, but the art direction and cute style gets the job done, adding to the festive personality of the game. The music is suitably bouncy and upbeat, though it's nothing that you'll want to listen to outside of the game.

Each round sets aside points for each player based on
their position in the last mini-game played.
If you like word games like crossword puzzles, word searches, definition games, etc., don't mind the double digit price tag, and you have at least two players to share the experience with, then Word Party is an enjoyable game. It's decidedly not for everyone, but it's also a game that serves its niche well. If you like to party hearty with words, it only makes sense to look into Word Party.

[SPC Says: C]

Review copy provided by Lightwood Games.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rank Up! - Super Smash Bros.

Over the weekend it was Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's first anniversary. With that in mind, it seems like the perfect time for SuperPhillip Central's Rank Up series to return to count down the best of the Super Smash Bros. series as a whole. There are five game in the series, and SuperPhillip Central is going to list them from least greatest to the best. Here are the games we'll be mentioning:

Super Smash Bros. (N64)
Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)

With that, let's get to ranking these games!

5) Super Smash Bros. (N64)

The original Super Smash Bros. kicks off this countdown of Smash Bros. supremacy. This is Smash at its most basic, offering a modest selection of characters (eight to start with, four to unlock), a fun assortment of stages, and several modes to enjoy like the amazing Classic and Target Blast modes that would return in future installments. This was the beginning of something very special for Nintendo and its fans, and the original Super Smash Bros., like every other game in the series, is worth playing for multiplayer fun even to this day.

4) Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)

The first and only Super Smash Bros. game on a handheld, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS broke new territory and blew minds as Masahiro Sakurai and his team successfully converted the console gameplay of past Super Smash Bros. games to the small screen with almost everything you'd want from the series intact. The same arsenal of characters from the Wii U version were all available for play without much in the way of making concessions. Smash Run was the exclusive mode for the 3DS version, and it offered a maze-like dungeon of enemies to defeat to get your character stronger for the final round, a match of some kind against AI opponents. The stage variety was quite good, too, delivering well designed stages like The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks' train, Nintendogs' Living Room, and Fire Emblem: Awakening's Arena Ferox. While it's not a game that competitive players went to in droves, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is a wonderful Smash Bros. game that feels complete and great to play on-the-go.

3) Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

It seemed like we were waiting ages for the Wii's Super Smash Bros. game to be released, constantly getting teased with new information every weekday with the Super Smash Bros. Dojo website. When the game finally came out, it was a mixed blessing, more of a positive one than a negative one, though. Packed with amazing stages with seldom a stinker in the bunch, an incredible amount of characters with such newcomers as Wario, Kid Icarus's Pit, Kirby's Metaknight and King Dedede, as well as a first for the series, third party characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake of Metal Gear Solid fame. Super Smash Bros. Brawl featured a campaign with it with engaging and charming cutscenes, allowing for up to player to join in on the 2D side-scrolling levels. The amount of content in Super Smash Bros. Brawl is amazing, and that fact is something that is a tradition with the series itself. However, not all was great with Brawl. One issue that ruined its chances as a competitive title was the inclusion of tripping. While great for a party game, not really well suited for tournaments. Still, for the millions of people who just enjoy the games as Nintendo fighters and not the small number of players who seek a tournament-caliber competitive game, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was a legitimately great game.

2) Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN)

This next Super Smash Bros. game, Melee, is still played competitively and enjoyed by players all over the world. It says a lot about the legacy of this near-launch GameCube title. What I enjoyed about Super Smash Bros. Melee was how it really began the content-packed tradition that games following Melee would possess. Melee saw the introduction of trophies, a collectible that showed well known and forgotten characters, items, settings, and objects with wonderful descriptions. It was a virtual museum and shrine of Nintendo. The solo mode, Adventure, continues to be my personal favorite single player mode of any Smash game, taking players through familiar Nintendo settings like the Mushroom Kingdom, a Legend of Zelda temple, and even an F-Zero race track. The stage design is some of the series' best without a doubt, offering great locales like the Fountain of Dreams, Mute City, Temple, Kongo Jungle, and so many others. Then there is the cast of characters that introduced Fire Emblem as a series to the West and brought memories of Nintendo's Game and Watch systems back into the limelight (or for many, the first time ever). Super Smash Bros. Melee is the complete package, but at the same time, it's not the best that the Super Smash Bros. series has to offer.

1) Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)

The latest and what SuperPhillip Central considers the greatest Super Smash Bros. game is the recently released Wii U sequel. Although its board game mode isn't the best, everything else more than makes up for it. Everything including the largest roster of Super Smash Bros. characters ever to be contained in one game-- from Nintendo staples like Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus Aran, and Pikachu, to third party greats like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and now even Street Fighter's Ryu and Final Fantasy VII's Cloud Strife. The immense amount of excellent stages with plenty of dynamic hazards and obstacles to concern yourself with give them as much character as the fighters you battle with. The variety extends to the game's many modes like returning delights like Classic mode, All-Star mode, Event mode, Special Orders, Multi-Man Smash, Target Blast, Home-Run Contest, and Trophy Rush. The addition of mostly lag-free online play (something that Brawl sadly balked on) makes it easy to join up and play intense battles for up to four players over the Internet. Finally, the creation of Omega versions of stages makes it so the Battlefield and Final Destination aren't the only backdrops competitive players will have to put up with, as all stages now feature a Final Destination version. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the most content-rich, enjoyable to play, and magnificent Smash Bros. game to currently exist. Once again, Masahiro Sakurai and his team delivered sublimely.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 (PS3, 360) Review

As a fan of a handful of Gundam series, it is with disappointment that I present to you this Better Late Than Never review. It's for Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3, a game that visually looks striking-- at least the mobile suit part. Unfortunately, it takes more than beautiful cel-shaded mobile suit models to impress SuperPhillip Central. This review shows just that.

Gun...damn, is this game repetitive!

Last year I had the great experience of playing Hyrule Warriors, a Dynasty Warriors style game that featured The Legend of Zelda. Its gameplay and content were both quite excellent. Perhaps I should have lowered my expectations when entering another game with the Dynasty Warriors moniker, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3. Instead of a game that could easily be played for 50+ hours without complaints, I received a game that just would never end. I constantly wished for the massively boring and worthless story to be told to be over, thinking the game could go screw itself after fake ending after fake ending. Sadly, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 is a turkey of a Dynasty Warriors game.

The story of Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 takes all of the familiar and even unfamiliar pilots and characters across numerous Gundam series and puts them into a parallel world. The goal is to find their way out of this world, forging new alliances and participating in battle after battle until the whole thing gets horribly repetitive and wears out its welcome. I couldn't tell you much else about the story other than I was more than glad to just mash the X button to fast forward through the insanely cheesy dialogue. That was only after subjecting myself to some of the most inane discussions I've had to witness in quite a while. I know this is anime and all, but seemingly every conversation led nowhere or was the same thing only with different characters.

"Oh! You're in this parallel world, too? How did you get here?"
"I don't know. I'm going to tell you the last thing I did before I was transported to this world, and it's going to be similar to the fifty-six other characters' tales. Now, let's have forty more lines of dialogue that is positively aimless in order to annoy Phil."

While the story and especially the dialogue are better left for a high school drama student's audition, the presentation of Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 gets points for being visually interesting, if only for the stars of the game, the mobile suits.. The amazing cel-shaded look of mobile suits really is eye-catching and look brilliant. Sure, everything else isn't very compelling, especially texture-wise, but at least what you control and you destroy look great. The music borrows some themes verbatim from past Dynasty Warriors: Gundam games, but that music wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination to begin with. If it ain't broke, right?

The mobile suits are indeed the star of the visual show.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 is a cruel temptress. It promises a game packed with countless missions to complete, but they end up all being so similar to one another that one has to ask what the point is. Mission Mode from past Dynasty Warriors: Gundam games returns to the spotlight with this third installment. This time there are a smorgasbord of mission types to select from. History missions focus on reenactments of battles throughout an assortment of Gundam series like Mobile Suit Gundam, G Gundam, Gundam Wing, Turn A Gundam, among many others. In Collection missions, clearing these unlocks rare mobile suit designs to add to your arsenal. Memorial missions unlock after achieving certain in-game goals such as taking down 100 ace pilots, for instance.

It feels great to go in the middle of a huge group
of enemy mobile suits and take them all out.
There are also plenty of other types like the more difficult Challenge missions, Friendship missions, Relation, and Special missions to do. You might think that with all of these mission types that you'll have a lot of variety in the actual missions you battle in. You'd be thinking wrong, however.

Most battles in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 play out in a similar fashion. There are different areas of the map to capture for your side (e.g. repair hangars to replenish health of allies, mobile suit factory to replenish your forces' gauge, and catapults that can send you across the map in an instant), and the aim of a typical Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 mission is to get the enemy forces' gauge down to zero by capturing their controlled areas and defeating rival ace pilots. The former is performed by destroying enemy mobile suits within a given area; thus lowering the control gauge. When it hits zero, your side has taken over control of that area.

Don't mind me. I'm just upping my kill count.
When the enemy forces' gauge empties, the commander of the forces enters battle. Defeating him or her results in a victory. The same thing happens for your side's defeat as well. If your side's gauge hits zero and you or your commander are destroyed, it's game over.

It's only when you hit certain History missions that Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 offers any semblance of variety. Sometimes you'll be asked to take down 1,000 mobile suits. Others require the capturing of certain bases, while others are time limit oriented. These are so few and far between that you can't help but feel tedium rears its ugly head into the picture.

Additionally, the progression of missions is often too confusing or worse yet, totally obtuse. It's not a good sign when there's an interface that shows what missions are available to proceed in the game, and it isn't always the most up to date and helpful. Many times I'd be cycling through my assortment of Gundam and mobile suit pilots, hoping I'd pick the right one to advance the story.

When two ace pilots strike at the same time,
you get a scene and engagement such as this one.
The actual gameplay of Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 is done well enough. Mobile suits control tightly, and each have a nice sense of, well... mobility, about them. You can use a suit's thrusters to speed along the battlefield, though it can run out if used too much, requiring a quick cool-down period. Essentially only two buttons are used for attacks, square and triangle, and these need to be alternated to perform the more visually interesting and powerful combos from each mobile suit. In addition to regular attacks, you can utilize a super-strong special attack or call in a partner for some temporary destruction by sacrificing some energy from your mobile suit's special gauge. Heaven help you if you end up in a battle in a close quarters situation, though. The camera is not well suited for these types of engagements.

The Unicorn Gundam is burning red!
Hey, that's Domon Kasshu's gimmick!
After each battle, your pilot earns experience and can level up to a maximum level of 50. Each level earned grants higher stats like melee strength, shot strength, and armor strength. You also get mobile suits based on ace pilots you defeated and what suit you were piloting in that mission. Each boast different stats, and if you find a suit you really like, you can upgrade its slots with higher stats benefits for a price (each suit has a different amount of slots, and doing harder difficulties can grant you suits with up to 10 slots). This makes it where you can pilot immensely powerful mobile suits that can take down ace pilots like they were butter. It's pretty satisfying like much of the gameplay in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3.

That's why it's just a shame that the mission structure is so obtuse and the missions themselves seldom change things up. It makes Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 such a chore to play in extended sessions or even after a set amount of hours of total play time. Yes, the gameplay is still the good old fashioned Dynasty Warriors that fans of the series can enjoy, but the lack of mission variety hurts the game tremendously. Mission abort!

[SPC Says: D]

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Thankful for Even More VGMs Edition

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, so SuperPhillip Central is delivering a healthy plate full of VGM goodness. We start things off with some timely Killer Instinct: Season One music, and then we go a bit retro for three VGMs with music from Resident Evil, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Finally, we wrap this nutritious and delicious edition up with music from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. You can be sure there are no turkeys here!

Check out past VGM volumes with the VGM Database at this link! Now, onto the VGMs for this week!

v1011. Killer Instinct: Season One (XONE) - The Tiger Warrior (Jago Theme)

Let's get tribal to kick things off with this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. It makes sense to start off with a track from Killer Instinct's reboot, as that game is two years old now! In fact, with the December update, a new UI and a shadow version of Jago, the subject of this VGM volume, will be released. What a perfect way to welcome both than with this VGM!

v1012. Resident Evil (PS1) - Ending Theme

Smile and say cheese! No, really. This ending theme for the survival horror classic that started it out is pure camp and cheese, much like the acting that the original Resident Evil was packed with. Like one of the YouTube comments says, it really does sound like something that would play at the freeze frame of a 80's movie.

v1013. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES) - Scene 2, Part 1

We're going even further back into the past with this NES classic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Obviously, the subtitle tells us that this game is a port of the highly popular arcade game, but what it doesn't tell you is that the NES version housed a couple of extra stages not part of the original arcade game. The visuals and sound may be less impressive, but the extra levels more than made up for it.

v1014. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (SNES) - City

In the Beat-em-up special edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, we brought up the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers movie as one of the games. This time we look at the original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers game that was more nonlinear in the fact that you got to choose which Power Ranger you wanted to play as, each with his or her own level to go through.

v1015. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GCN) - Against the Black Knight

We finish off this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with one of the GameCube's more valuable releases cost-wise. It's Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, part of a series that is no stranger to SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. The soundtrack uses synth symphonic sounds to deliver a tense and action-packed soundtrack, such as this theme that plays when going against Path of Radiance's main villain, the Black Knight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Eight

Level design is something that has always fascinated me. Its importance in making a game fun to play cannot be spoken enough. In fact, level design can be the difference between a solid game and a poor one-- no matter how good your gameplay actually is. Of course, even some of the greatest games possess a level that make you think the intern got to design it on the main designers' days off. That is what this series of articles focuses on-- those poor levels in games that are either poorly designed, just plain boring, tedious, annoying, frustrating, hard for the wrong reasons, or a combination of several of those ideas. Once you have looked at the examples provided, feel free to chime in with your own picks for bad gaming levels.

For a look at past installments of Bad Levels in Gaming History, look no further than these links:

The Library - Halo: Combat Evolved (XBX, 360)

Whether you're playing the original Halo: Combat Evolved on the O.G. Xbox, or playing the remake in the Halo Anniversary Edition for the Xbox 360, one level that stands out as a slog no matter which version of the game you play is the Library level.

You get an NPC, 343 Guilty Spark, as your guide, and your job is to walk the master of unlocking (move over, Jill Valentine) to various locked doors that need opening by said guide. When you aren't dealing with the ever-annoying Flood enemies as you progress through the level, you're trying to survive in various firefights against Flood of various shapes and sizes (and weapons in the case of the rocket-toting variety).

All of it is an immensely slow and admittedly boring going of it through a level full of Halo's most annoying enemies. It's not well designed, it's certainly not fun, and it wasn't really made better with Halo Anniversary Edition.

Grannies World Tour, 8-Bit Edition - Rayman Legends (Multi)

Rayman Legends' predecessor, Rayman Origins, gave players who strove for 100% completion a wonderful final level to play. It was a hard-as-nails, but fair platforming challenge known as the Land of the Livid Dead, unlocking once all ten skeleton teeth were collected from treasure chase levels.

It seemed that Rayman Legends had a lot to live up to in giving the player a great reward for making it to the end of the game, a true platforming challenge. Instead, Rayman Legends was a loud fart of a final bonus level. In fact, the entire bonus world was pretty lame, but most notably the final bonus level, Grannies World Tour, 8-Bit Edition stunk the most.

The bonus world featured the popular music levels in the base game. Only this time different graphical effects got in the player's way as a means to sabotage their run. Such things included making the player play the level on an upside down screen, pixelating the screen to massive proportions, static and fuzz a la old CRT sets, and having a 4 x 4 display of miniature screens of the level.

What tricks does Grannies World Tour, 8-Bit Edition have under its sleeve? Why, it puts the player through all of these visual and graphical magical tricks to make going through a level where timing and precision jumps are necessary to survive next to impossible. Yes, jumping to the beat of the music is important, but when you have no visual in a section where you're running up a shaft filled with spikes on either side of the wall, this becomes mighty tricky, and frustratingly so. It's not a hard level because of its design; it's purely because of the cheap graphical tricks in action that makes the level so unnecessarily and aggravatingly difficult. That is not good or fun level design, no matter how you slice it.

Demolition Man - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2, XBX, PC)

We mentioned Supply Lines from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in a previous volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History. Now we look at San Andreas' predecessor with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and its ultra annoying mission Demolition Man. A key difference between Supply Lines and Demolition Man is that the former is an optional mission, although incredible unfair, while the latter is a mandatory story mission.

What does Demolition Man entail? Well, actually the demolition here comes from a miniature RC helicopter which protagonist Tommy Vercetti is forced to pilot through a multi-story building being constructed. The goal is to drop bombs at several key locations, and this is all the while workers take potshots and attack your hard-to-control toy helicopter as you fly it through the construction site.

Not only is the helicopter a pain to move around the tiny, cramped spaces offered by the building under constructed, but the goons trying to bat your copter down are quite persistent. Plus, did I mention you have a limited amount of time to do all this? What all this adds up to is a mission that is worth praising for trying to keep Vice City's mission variety fresh, but one that fails in being anything close to fun.

Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon - Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64, PC)

With it being exactly one month until the North American release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems like the perfect opportunity to dig deep into the Star Wars series of games, particularly Shadows of the Empire. Now, this game was a fantastic early 3D Star Wars game for the Nintendo 64, releasing the same holiday season as the system itself. A PC port released the following September in North America.

While the opening level is indeed one of the game's best, a different vehicle mission holds some notoriety in these parts of SuperPhillip Central. It's the mission that takes place in Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon, a speeder bike run through both locales. It has Dash Rendar chasing after several bikes, having the player attempt to careen through the tight and narrow spaces of the course while trying to smash into the bikes, jostling them into walls.

This level is, dare I say, fun in some regards, but it's also a nightmare in others. The controls aren't the tightest, and the narrow passageways that you have to go through and tricky turns make for a ride that is less than fantastic. It's a problematic level in many forms of the word, but thankfully, it's just one rough level in an otherwise enjoyable early 3D Star Wars game.

Death Mountain - Zelda II: Adventures of Link (NES)

A bad level can easily be well designed or at least designed competently. However, in Death Mountain's case from Zelda II: Adventure of Link, the area in particular seems to do more in the way of being designed to frustrate and aggravate the player rather than make them feel fairly challenged.

Death Mountain is a labyrinth of caves that offer the game's hardest regular enemies as well as troublesome platforming challenges. Throw in many dead ends, as a maze is wont to have, and you are dealing with a truly difficult area of the game in an already difficult title to begin with.

To have a chance of surviving Death Mountain, your Link needs to have a fair amount of health, magic, and other attributes that most likely need to be grinded to high levels just to stand said chance. It's too annoying of a place to pass as anything but bad by level standards because if you need to grind in an already grind-heavy game to stand a chance of survival, then you know your level isn't very good. At least this is the argument that SuperPhillip Central presents. Do you agree?


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