Saturday, July 4, 2015

600th Review! Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA) Retro Review

Here's where the true fireworks are tonight! It's time for SuperPhillip Central's 600th review! Think of all of the books on figuring out world problems like hunger and curing cancer that I might have written with the words used instead for the previous 599 reviews!

...Actually, don't. Instead, let's celebrate this occasion with one of my favorite video games of all time, Perfect Dark! This game comes from a genre I don't hold much love to, so it's obviously something special if it managed to hook your buddy, jaded old Phil! See why I love Perfect Dark so much with my review!

You're really on the mark, Ms. Dark.


I'm a bit of an old fart when it comes to certain gaming genres. For instance, the first-person shooter has come really far as a genre, especially this past decade. However, I still enjoy the basic gameplay of games like GoldenEye, and yes, the subject of this review, Perfect Dark. There's something special about how these games were designed that make them preferable to me than something like Halo or Call of Duty-- though I'm not saying both of the latter series are totally similar. To this day I find Perfect Dark one of the greatest first-person shooters around. It's a philosophy and foundation that developer Rareware had that makes this game still so enjoyable to me that we don't see in first-person shooters of today. A real shame, too, as I'd probably love and play the genre more if more games went the Perfect Dark route with its design.

Perfect Dark has the lead Joanna Dark, an up and coming special agent for the Carrington Institute on her premiere mission, an extraction at the DataDyne Corporation of a person of great interest, Dr. Caroll. What follows is a (pardon the pun) dark scheme and conspiracy that runs all the way to involve the presidency and two alien races. The story unfolds throughout the single player campaign in cutscenes, and these are relatively acted out okay. No big expense was given to the voice actors, as most are from Rareware's own developers. Still, it's an engaging enough story with some clever dialogue sprinkled in to keep players hooked if the missions don't do so themselves.

However, this is probably impossible, as the missions in the single player campaign are absolutely superbly designed. Unlike the majority of first-person shooters out today, Perfect Dark uses an objective-based mission system instead of the typical corridor shooters available en masse on the market nowadays. Levels feature split paths, multiple ways of completing missions, and plenty of ways to succeed and fail at the many objectives in Joanna's missions. Sometimes the objectives can feel a bit obtuse, making the player a bit confused as to what he or she actually needs to do to succeed and complete them. However, most of the time one can simply pause the game and read the mission briefing details to get a better idea on what needs to be accomplished.

A secret agent always has to dress the part, right?
There are three main difficulties in Perfect Dark, and each of these brings a different number of objectives each per mission to complete. Sometimes the location of objectives changes as well pending the difficulty. On the easiest difficulty, Agent, it's usually as simple as doing one or two objectives while not really having to worry about the poor aim and weak damage Joanna takes from gunfire. While on Perfect Agent, there are a multitude of objectives, enemies do greater damage, have better aim, and there are no shields, an extension of Joanna's health bar, to acquire whatsoever. To this day beating Perfect Agent mode back in my younger high school days is one of my proudest gaming accomplishments, as the mode is quite taxing, but all the enjoyable. Sure, it can be distressing to fail at the tail-end of a mission, meaning you have to make up ten minutes or more of gameplay as there are no checkpoints to be found, but the effort and satisfaction when you finally beat a difficult mission are something special.

Though I'm starting to think Joanna's finding
dressing up for missions to be a bit stimulating.
Completing missions in Perfect Dark awards players with cheats that can be used a la GoldenEye 007. These are things like big head mode, using certain weapons that you otherwise wouldn't be able to use in a particular mission, and much more. Also like GoldenEye, the more worthwhile cheats are locked behind beating target times in levels on particular difficulties. These cheats require the most work to unlock, but the rewards are usually well worth it. For example, who doesn't want invincibility, unlimited ammo, or the ability to not need to reload weapons!

Play cooperatively with a friend...
The solo campaign can be played cooperatively or competitively with another player. It is a lot of fun splitting up objectives or teaming up to take down squadrons of enemies effectively and efficiently. Both players have less health to work with than in solo, but if one has a great partner, the cooperative campaign is a hell of a lot of fun. Conversely, two players can compete against one another with one serving as Joanna Dark, trying to complete the mission while the other player has an endless amount of enemies they can play as, trying to thwart the Joanna player from completing their objectives. This is a nice twist to a classic mode offering, and it only makes the entire package all the more enticing an feeling fully loaded.

...Or turn a friend into an enemy with the Counter Operative mode.
An agent's only as good as his or her guns, and Perfect Dark offers a robust set of amazing weaponry. Most single-hand weapons offer dual-wielding functionality, and every weapon in the game brings with it a secondary function. For instance, even something as simple as grenades have a unique hook as their secondary function allows them to bounce off ceilings and walls like a ball in a pinball table until an enemy (or if your luck is bad, yourself or a companion) winds up in their proximity.

There is also a myriad of guns that feel excellent to hold and unleash death with. There are assault rifles that second as grenade launchers, fly-by-wire remote controlled rockets, a gun that takes the form of a laptop which can be tossed onto a wall or ceiling to be used as an automatically firing sentry gun, combat knives that can either slash into or be chucked into a foe's flesh, a gun that can enter an enemy into psychosis, flushing drugs into them that makes them turn on their allies, and so many more awesome guns. The creativity in the weaponry is only rivaled by the Ratchet & Clank series, which is high praise, if not a weird contrast-- one mature shooter and one cartoony action-platformer.

From shotguns to high capacity machine guns,
Joanna Dark has a license to kill and thrill.
What makes Perfect Dark even better and giving players an immense amount of replay value is the multiplayer, known as the Combat Simulator. This multiplayer mode features an abundance of options for players locally and, for the Xbox Live Arcade verison, online to create the match types of their dreams. You can select which of the great amount of weapons they prefer to have in the match; which of the wide range of large, but not too large maps to play in, featuring plenty of hiding spots, points of contention, and places to explore and become familiar with; how many bots (yes, hallelujah! Bots are here as should be mandatory for any first-person shooter) are in the match, what their personalities are (you can make bots go after the player that last killed them, have a bot only use their fists, have a bot that doesn't mind blowing himself to get a kill, and so on), what difficulty they are set at, and so much more; set up teams; set player handicaps; set the music for the match (or just have what is essentially a mixtape for the match play); and so many other options that cannot fit into just one paragraph. The Combat Simulator's range of options is absolutely immense and might be a bit intimidating at first, and I'd argue that the multiplayer's myriad options have yet to be matched by most first-person shooters since.

Yes, even some GoldenEye relics have returned
for Perfect Dark's multiplayer madness.
Along with matches with other players in the Combat Simulator there are dozens of challenges for up to four players to take on. These put you into different scenarios that pit you against a team of bots with certain victory conditions. Some require a simple kill limit, while others put all players into slow motion, have one hit kills, or utilize one of the multiplayer's many modes, like Capture the Case (a version of Capture the Flag), Hold the Briefcase (the goal is to find and hold onto the briefcase to earn points over time), and Pop A Cap (essentially a mode where you must target and eliminate the person who is designated as the "cap"). Completing challenges unlocks new costumes, new weapons, and in the Nintendo 64 version, new arenas, of which there are over a dozen easily.

Perfect Dark is one of the Nintendo 64's best looking games, and it's because of the expansion pack that so much content is available. For those without the necessary peripheral inside their Nintendo 64, most of the game is locked away, so it's really important to acquire that accessory. Meanwhile, the Nintendo 64 version can suffer some tremendous slowdown at times, putting the game in single digit frame-rates at times. The Xbox Live Arcade version is in full HD, offering little in the way of slowdown. Its controls take some getting used to (it is particularly hard to move at maximum speed with the default controls), but overall it is the better version. Both versions utilize the same extraordinary soundtrack that switches between regular and action-packed versions of themes when the action gets intense.

Not exactly dressed for this sort of thing, is she?
It is for all of these reasons why I still love Perfect Dark and find it to be my favorite first-person shooter of all time. Some things have been done better by future FPS games, but at the same token, a lot of things still haven't been beaten that Perfect Dark mastered. If you're looking for a content-heavy first-person shooter with an engaging single player campaign full of different ways to go about fulfilling objectives and completing missions, a robust multiplayer mode that is bursting with options, and a presentation that is top-notch, Perfect Dark is the game that is most on the mark in those categories.

[SPC Says: A]

Mega Man 8 (PS1, SAT) Retro Review

Today's July the 4th, and around the United States of America plenty of people are celebrating the country's independence. There will certainly be fireworks tonight in more ways than one. What do I mean by this? Why, I have in the schedule the plan to post SuperPhillip Central's longtime coming 600th review tonight! What game will it be!? You'll find out in a few hours.

For now, let's get focused on Mega Man, a great run and gun platforming franchise. Actually, let's get focused on the eighth installment, to be exact, Mega Man 8, with my review. It makes sense, as today Mega Man maker Keiji Inafune unleashed a Mega Man Legends-like Kickstarter project for backing. See? These retro reviews usually have a good reason for being posted! ...Usually!

Classic Mega Man Modernized


Mega Man is one of my favorite franchises ever, and we've seen so many titles featuring Capcom's Blue Bomber in the past several decades. He may be on a bit of hiatus now, not starring in any big games of his own, but Mega still does have a strong following. After Nintendo continued with the cartridge route with its fifth generation console hardware, many third parties moved over to Sony's PlayStation with the promise that CD-ROMs brought. Capcom was one of these third parties, and it brought over Mega Man in the form of the eighth installment of the long-running series, Mega Man 8. See why this modernized Mega Man is worth a play.

Mega Man 8's plot begins with two forces of energy, one light and one dark, duking it out in the middle of outer space. The forces collide, causing both to tumble towards the closest planet to them, which just so happens to be Earth. Upon crashing at a secluded island, Mega Man is sent out to find the source of the crash, but unfortunately, Dr. Wily is there to pick up the dark energy. Meanwhile, the being of light is found in an impact crater, who is then taken back to Dr. Light's lab. Eventually working together, Mega Man and the force of light energy, named Duo, must overcome the nefarious Dr. Wily's plan to beef up his robot army with the power of the dark energy and take over the world.

Ah, Rush... A Mega Man's best friend!
Mega Man 8 uses the PlayStation and Sega Saturn hardware to great effect. There are a series of well animated cutscenes that occur throughout the game, though the voice work that plays during them and throughout gameplay ranges from passable to absolutely awful. (Dr. Elmer J. Light being the worst example.) That said, the story really comes to life with Mega Man 8. While most who play a Mega Man game don't play the games for superfluous story elements, you can skip all cutscenes if you really just want to get into the game.

That's the problem with crabs. They'll get you every time.
The structure of Mega Man 8 is most like its SNES predecessor, Mega Man 7. There is an opening stage to play through, and then you get a selection of four Robot Master levels to choose from. After the initial four boss levels are completed, a midway stage opens up, followed by the latter four Robot Master levels.

Mega Man 8 is a globe-trotting trek across the planet.
As with any classic Mega Man game, the best course of action in choosing which Robot Master stages to tackle comes from which special weapons you have in your possession. For instance, starting off, you just have your Mega Buster, Mega Man's standard weapon, so it's best to take on a Robot Master that can be defeated easily without any other special weapon. A defeated Robot Master means gaining their special weapon, making it a lot more manageable to beat the Robot Master that is weak against that weapon. Every Robot Master has its own weakness to a special weapon. The Flash Bomb does heavy damage to Frost Man, while the Astro Crush makes short work of Aqua Man.

"I'm Aqua Man, but you can call me 'screwed'."
Levels in Mega Man 8 also put to good work the beefed up hardware. For instance, Clown Man's stage features a robot with a mallet in the background that intermittently comes out of its door to ring the clock tower bell. Whatever block Mega Man is standing on when this happens results in some kind of interaction. An "O" means safety, while an "X" causes a punching glove to pop out like a cruel and painful jack-in-the-box. Then there is Frost Man's infamous stage which consists of snowboarding down a perilous pathway with great speed, listening and watching the signals for Mega Man to "jump" and "slide." I mustn't forget Tengu's Man stage, where Mega Man rides Rush through an intense on-rails side-scrolling shoot-em-up section!

Would anyone else like to join our aerial strike team?
Like Mega Man 7, Mega Man's eighth outing has several reasons to return to levels. Instead of a wide range of collectibles that require painstaking digging random spots in the ground as Rush, Mega Man 8 houses 40 special bolts to find and acquire. This is, of course, totally optional to do, but they're great for two reasons: 1) They beef up the replay value of the game, and 2) They can be used at Dr. Light's laboratory to pay for special chips. These chips range from an exit chip, allowing exit from a level without having to lose all your lives and returning to the stage select menu, to special upgrades to Mega Man's Mega Buster. Bolts often require taking the road less traveled, as well as returning to levels once a new special weapon has been acquired.

Unlike most of Mega Man's past games, Mega Man 8 is noticeably much easier to play and to beat. There is no shortage of 1-ups to come across, enemies don't do much damage to Mega Man compared to past games, and levels have ample amounts of checkpoints so redoing whole sections of levels isn't as much of a punishment this time around. Still, while it's not the challenge for the thumbs that pre-32-bit Mega Man games were, Mega Man 8 is still a blast to play.

Mega Man swimming proves once again that it's never
too late to teach an old robot some new tricks.
I've talked about the voice work and excellent cutscenes in Mega Man 8, but allow me to quickly discuss the visuals and sound as a whole. Mega Man 8 features lush, colorful, detailed environments, brimming and bursting with sights for the eyes to behold. Enemies and especially Robot Masters are animated and articulated abundantly well. Meanwhile, the music contains plenty of catchy tunes that while not as memorable as a Mega Man 2 Wily Stage 1 level, offer nice background noise while playing.

Areas are abundant and rich with color and detail.
Mega Man 8 isn't the most popular game in the series, but I really enjoy playing it. It makes me feel regret that Capcom didn't continue this more modern style of Mega Man for the two sequels, Mega Man 9 and 10, instead going for the 8-bit style of the series's past. Still, I have hope that we'll see Mega Man back in the spotlight soon enough, and perhaps with a colorful and modern Mega Man game to his name all over again.

[SPC Says: B+]

Pokken Tournament (ARC) Release Date Trailer

A release date in Japan for the upcoming arcade fighter Pokken Tournament has been revealed for July 16th. This fighter pits Pokemon of all types together for intense brawls. Perhaps we'll see a console release for this game after the arcade version has been out for a while.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Top 50 Game Soundtracks of All Time - #10-1

Here we are! After four previous weeks of ten of what I consider the best gaming soundtracks, we have arrived at the final night! This list will feature numbers 10-1 on the top 50 game soundtracks of all time. As usual, there are but two rules that I follow: 1) The music must not be mostly made up of licensed tracks, and 2) I must have played the games in some extended capacity.

Before we get to the top ten, here are links from the past four weeks to get everyone up to speed!

Check out entries #50-41 here.
Check out entries #40-31 here.
Check out entries #30-21 here.
Check out entries #20-11 here.

And now on to the final ten!

10) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)


We kick this final list of ten game soundtracks off the same way we did for the past two weeks-- with a Legend of Zelda game. A remarkable game, and one of my all-time faves, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past sports a soundtrack full of wholly memorable themes that resonate with players and remain some of the greatest classic songs in video game history. Koji Kondo deserves nothing but immense praise for his fantastic work on this game's soundtrack.


9) Wild Arms (PS1)


Michiko Naruke composed the music to this early PlayStation RPG. Wild Arms consists of rare orchestral soundtracks at special scenes during the game, while everything else is based off synth. What this combination brings is a high amount of memorable themes, emotional songs, and unforgettable tracks to anyone who plays this very unique Wild West RPG.


8) Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PC, PSP)


Falcom's sound team is one of gaming's best, offering amazing music that mixes hard rock, heavy metal, and classical music to create a sensational sound. Ys: The Oath in Felghana is what I consider the best of the bunch when it comes to Falcom's work. Everything is memorable, all is basically catchy, and no note is wasted when it comes to this blissful soundtrack.


7) Mega Man X (SNES)


Another Super Nintendo soundtrack that is full of tremendous music, Mega Man X is another instance of being one of my favorite games of all time, so it makes sense that it would show up somewhere near the top of my list. The killer themes heard throughout the action-oriented Mega Man X deliver thrills and chills as Mega Man X busts through Maverick stages, eliminating threats, and saving all human and reploid-kind.


6) Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)


A soundtrack made up of a menagerie of sensational Japanese game music composers, such as Motoi Sakuraba, Yasunori Mitsuda, and Yuzo Koshiro, for starters, Kid Icarus: Uprising blew me away with its beyond stellar soundtrack, action-oriented tracks, orchestrated glory, and catchy motifs. It's a soundtrack that heightens the game, making the entire package something truly very special.


5) Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)


David Wise is some kind of wizard as his Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest soundtrack shows. The ability to compose such great sounding music from the Super Nintendo's modest sound card is absolutely amazing and still astounds me to this day. Though all the technological prowess and mastery means nothing if the songs aren't catchy and memorable. Thankfully, with DKC2, this is no issue whatsoever as evident by the enormous collection of terrific music that comes from the game.


4) Star Ocean: The Second Story (PS1)


Motoi Sakuraba is a wonderful game music composer, and I absolutely adore his Star Ocean: The Second Story soundtrack. The synth samples provided in the soundtrack give off a nice warm feeling that is hard to explain unless you listen to several songs of the score. It fills me with such happiness listening to the various themes, even those that aren't meant to be so happy sounding.


3) Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)


Mario entered the seventh generation in style with an otherworldly 3D platformer that took the Super Mario series to new heights and introduced a masterful orchestral score to most of the game. While Super Mario Galaxy 2 has more quantity, Super Mario Galaxy has more quality with its smaller amount of themes. It's without a doubt my favorite Super Mario soundtrack to date.


2) Final Fantasy VI (SNES)


Nobuo Uematsu is one of my favorite video game music composers. He's so consistent that it's hard to find a bad soundtrack he has done-- if such a thing exists. It's more so hard to find a soundtrack that I could pick as his best. Well, I think I have done so with my selection of Final Fantasy VI (aka Final Fantasy III on the SNES). So many nostalgic moments come calling when the songs and themes of this soundtrack are played. Whether it's exploring a town, participating in the iconic opera scene, or facing a powerful boss, Final Fantasy VI has a tremendous amount of great themes in it.


1) Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1)


Yes, the Final Fantasy series holds the top two spots on my list due to their wonderful quality and quantity of excellent tracks. There isn't a song that is wasted on either soundtrack, and given how many there are total, that is one heck of an impressive feat. Final Fantasy Tactics holds some of my most precious gaming memories, and it's because of the soundtrack that backs these moments that makes it all the more special. The music sets the dramatic and action-packed tone for the game, and for all of these reasons it is why I have selected Final Fantasy Tactics as the best gaming soundtrack of all time.


===

Now that you've witnessed and gone through each of my greatest soundtrack selections, what do you think? What would you add to the list? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (PSN, XBLA) Review

While I couldn't reach the 600th review last month in time for the seven-year anniversary month of SuperPhillip Central, that allows me to not rush it this month. After this review, there is but one more to the 600th review.

However, I'm once again getting ahead of myself. For now, let's take a look at a game that was a SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive classic that received the remake treatment. It's Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for PSN and XBLA.

CAUTION: The quality of this remake is no illusion. 


Remakes of old games are nothing new to the industry. Whereas Capcom remade DuckTales on the NES, SEGA has taken it upon itself to remake a classic SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive game in Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. While Capcom's DuckTales Remastered was more of a strict 2D remake, some liberties were taken with Castle of Illusion-- ones that make for a new experience even for those who know the SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive original like the back of their hand.

Castle of Illusion plays like an interactive novel with a voice narrating the events of the game during and out of gameplay. Things begin with Mickey and Minnie Mouse having an enjoyable picnic in the forest together. Suddenly, the evil witch Mizrabel (the same evil witch and queen from Snow White, only utilizing an alternate name) drops in and mouse-naps Minnie, intending on using her magic to capture Minnie's beauty. As any hero worth their weight would do, Mickey pursues Mizrabel to the titular Castle of Illusion, cautious but ready to handle the many trials that await inside.

A stroll through the Enchanted Forest is just the way
to start a platforming adventure, no?
The goal of Castle of Illusion is to collect the seven rainbow gems in order to construct a rainbow bridge across the chasm between the castle and Mizrabel's tower. Most of the gems are under the watch of one of five rainbow masters, bosses which require the most of Mickey's cunning to defeat. From bosses like a jack-in-the-box that requires it to knock itself out with its own punching glove to a dragon made out of licorice and parade of Merpeople, a team of aquatic baddies who swim in a pattern that Mickey must avoid. These boss battles aren't too challenging, and they're pretty much the main part of Castle of Illusion that poses a significant difficulty outside of the later platforming levels of the game.

This licorice dragon has quite the sweet tooth-- literally!
The final boss serves as an interesting battle, but the problem with this is that if you fail it, you have to questionably sit through a thirty second cutscene which starts the encounter each time you lose a life. This is one of the only points in the game where you have to sit through a cutscene, and seeing how the final boss is the most arduous challenge in the game, this can be very frustrating upon repeated fight attempts.

As for the platforming levels, Castle of Illusion doesn't strictly adhere to its 2D roots. Many levels feature paths that wrap around other objects in the background, consist of incredible set pieces, and even possess fully 3D elements. The latter can be a little iffy, especially in more precision-based platforming challenges. You see, Mickey's jumps are a bit floaty, which can make it hard to gauge jumps in a 3D space. While this didn't cause me many problems, your mileage may vary on this issue.

Toyland is a world made up of five-year-old kids' dreams everywhere.
Still, falling into a pit or other chasm does not result in a loss of a life. Instead, it just takes off one of Mickey's health, seen as one of five stars. Mickey starts out with three stars to begin with, and he can earn up to two more through collecting them, allowing him and the player more mistakes as levels get more difficult.

You can hold the jump button when bouncing off an enemy
to get some extra height, great for reaching secret areas.
In Mickey's adventure he will navigate a river of milk aboard the tops of sugary cookie platforms, bounce through a land of toys, and maneuver through a clock tower full of rotating and moving parts which can easily ruin the day of an unaware mouse.

Castle of Illusion is a relatively short game for the price. You can honestly beat the game in one sitting, but then at the same time you won't have seen and unlocked everything the Illusion has to offer. There are 75 diamonds to collect in each non-boss level, there are statue pieces, playing cards, and chili peppers to nab as well, hidden in some very clever locations. Then there is just the fun of replaying levels in time attack mode. It all adds up to a game that may be over too soon, but one that also contains enough charm and entertainment for repeated play sessions.

The visuals of Castle of Illusion look exceptional, offering crisp graphics, colorful worlds, enchanting environments, and well articulated and animated characters. There are a few moments of slowdown here and there, but for the most part, it won't cause that many hits or deaths to Mickey. The music delivers a mysterious and magical feel to the game, also allowing the classic soundtrack to be heard if deemed preferable by the player.

Don't let this castle drive you batty, Mickey.
Castle of Illusion is a short ride, but it's one that was mighty enjoyable to me. Even after Mizrabel was thwarted, I still had diamonds to return to levels for and the desire to play through the game again. The jumping may be a bit floaty, particularly noticeable in 3D parts of levels, but overall, Castle of Illusion is a spirited take on an old Genesis and Mega Drive classic.

[SPC Says: B]

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