Monday, November 19, 2018

Review Round-Up - October 2018

Sure, there were plenty of Halloween parties going on at the end of October,
 but at SuperPhillip Central there was no party like a Mario Party!
We're rather deep into the month to do one of these Review Round-Ups, but we're going to get it done anyway! October 2018 saw three new reviews posted on SuperPhillip Central, and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood led the way, drawing on the original Max and the Magic Marker for a higher budgeted and more improved experience. It earned a C+ score. Then, our Game of the Month saw the return of the Blue Bomber with Mega Man 11, powering up with a B+ score. Finally, we partied until the end of October with Super Mario Party, deservedly celebrating its B score.

Check out every review ever posted on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive!

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC, 360) - C+
Mega Man 11 (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - B+
Super Mario Party (NSW) - B

Mega Man 11 got... a good score... and Game of the Month accolades!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Knack 2 (PS4) Review

Though the game's over a year old now, I returned to Knack 2 after a long hiatus. I must say--I did not expect to like Knack 2 as much as I did. Dare I say, I loved it? Let's see what's so enjoyable about Knack 2 with my review.

Knack - Take 2

Oh, Knack. You whiffed your debut with a less than spectacular launch title for the PlayStation 4. Though you sold well (again, since you were a launch title and all), enough people got burned by you that they didn't bother checking out your much improved sequel. It's a darn shame, too, because Knack 2 improves on the original Knack in every way. And, just to make it clear since being better than the first Knack might not be a huge bar to clear for most PS4 owners out there, I can safely and unequivocally say that Knack 2 on its own is a terrific game worthy of playing.

Knack 2 begins in media res with a city being overrun and invaded by a nasty onslaught of robots. Who or what is behind it is uncertain, but just as things begin to look seriously bad for our hero, we get a flashback to show off the events leading up to the city's invasion. Knack 2 features the story of Lucas and his companion, the size-shifting hero of the first game, Knack. Surrounded by several supporting characters--many from the original game--the two tangle with a whole host of villains, high goblin mythology, robots, and much more. Knack 2's story interested me enough that I looked forward to see how each chapter would play out, but the humor didn't do much for me. I imagine it would be more welcomed by a younger audience than I, but I'd be lying if I said if I didn't chuckle or smile here and there.

Knack, Lucas, and friends will explore ancient ruins, snowy mountains, chaotic
city streets, and dense jungles alike throughout the enjoyable journey that is Knack 2.
Knack himself has the special ability to accumulate relic shards sprinkled throughout the game in order to grow to a larger size. Many levels in Knack 2 will require our protagonist to get to a certain weight or a specific height by nabbing enough of these shards in order to progress. The game features multiple puzzles where Knack must switch between his larger form and his small form voluntarily. Whether it's to fit inside a hole that only small Knack can fit through, walk along an incredibly narrow beam or ledge, or make his way through an otherwise claustrophobic crevasse, Knack needs his smaller self as well as his larger, much more brawny form to survive the perilous adventure.

For some reason, I don't think a 16-foot Knack would fit inside this passage here.
Additionally, some particularly clever platforming moments in Knack 2 require Knack to switch between sizes on the fly, and you'll be doing that a lot throughout the game's 10 hour time span. Such an example early in the game had me using Knack to leap on a moving platform and quickly needing to shrink down to small size to avoid getting Knack smashed to death by a spinning row of spikes as the platform passes below them. Not below enough for big Knack to pass by unscathed, but perfect for small Knack to get by.

Platforming is well integrated into levels, making for some truly fun and occasionally tricky challenges.
In Knack's journey he'll come across different materials to attach to his body at specific points during the game. For instance, coming in contact with ice shards will make our hero Ice Knack, able to freeze enemies with breath, as well as freeze gears and switches solid to hold open doors and platforms. Metal Knack can weigh down switches in addition to linking electric floor panels together to turn on machinery in levels. Finally, Stealth Knack can leisurely stroll through otherwise deadly lasers to reach otherwise impossible to visit areas.

"Ice is nice," says Ice Knack. "Oh, God..." groans Phil.
While these forms of Knack never show up in conjunction with one another, they do split up the standard platforming gameplay and combat (which I'll focus on soon), and make for some of the smartest puzzles within the game. A handful of times I sat confused at what to do with a particular puzzle, but once the solution presented itself to me (by my own intuition or the optional "hint" system included), I smiled at how clever the puzzle and level design I just saw was.

Would you say it's "time" to traverse up this clock tower?
"Oh, God..." groans all of you.
Meanwhile, Knack 2's combat serves its game well, allowing an "easy to pick up" fighting system that revolves around punches, kicks, guards, dodges, and parries in unison with one another against everything from solo encounters to group engagements--usually the latter. As you move forward during the game, you'll come across steadily more challenging enemies with different means to dispatch them, such as holding down the punch button to smash through an enemy's block, or chucking a boomerang to temporarily shut off electrified enemies for safe beat-downs.

For the most part, although what you'll be taking on in Knack 2 amounts to mainly two types of enemies: robots and goblins--there are such a multitude of varieties and fighting styles and tactics for each that combating these foes seldom gets tiring or repetitive. It also helps that just mashing buttons didn't do me much good even on the easiest difficulty. I had to learn when to attack, when to dodge, when to parry, and when all else failed, when to hightail it and retreat for a few moments while my damaged Knack eventually replenished his size.

And a third type of enemy revealed early enough in the game: living relics just like Knack.
You see, as Knack takes damage, the relic shards attached to him break apart. When Knack is at his smallest size, one hit from an enemy will result in death. When it came to the harder difficulty settings, I had to pick my shots, time my guards and evasions well, and sometimes just get a little lucky to survive. Ample amounts of checkpoints throughout Knack 2 made it, however, that I never had to redo sizable sections of the game at all.

Knack is about to teach this attacking foe that turnabout is fair play.
Knack earns experience for defeating foes as well from discovering treasure chests strewn about the Knack 2's levels that can be used on a skill tree of sorts. Each point on the skill tree filled unlocks new moves as well as a new combat bonuses, such as faster cooldown times per moves, higher attack or defense, and wider fields of attack for attacks. There are four sections of the skill tree total, and these unlock as previous trees are completed. It's really worthwhile to explore each level for treasure chests and to defeat enemies, as upgrading Knack with these aforementioned truly helpful moves and stat bonuses make Knack 2 much more manageable to beat. Plus, the treasures are hidden so cleverly and the level design is so well done that it's simply a joy to explore.

A well timed parry will launch this foe's laser right back at it.
When Knack 2 isn't have you take on some platforming, puzzle-solving, and fighting gameplay, the game mixes things up nicely with some alternate ways of play. One section has you aiming a turret at enemies (rest easy, forlorn Dead Space players--it's not as hard as that game), controlling a tank through an outdoor fortress, and even entering the cockpit of a gigantic robot. Furthermore, quick time events lend themselves nicely to game levels when they appear and readily telegraph themselves to not sneak up on unassuming players.

Knack 2 doesn't have to end after the initial campaign is beaten once. Almost every level in the game has well hidden treasures to find, and these special chests unlock beneficial gadgets for use in game. These range from a gadget that teleports Knack to safety if he falls into a pit, to new skins for Knack to wear (which also have bonus abilities).

Moreover, each level has three stars to earn for completing specific objectives. These can range from beating a level within a specific time limit, opening all treasure chests in a given level, defeating a set number of enemies as small Knack, and so forth. Levels can be selected from the world map at any time--even if you've not beaten the game yet.

Co-op is also a feature in Knack 2. Two players can team up together, and I do mean it quite literally. One player can charge up while the other player punches their back to let loose a barrage of spiky shards at enemies in front. Two Knacks are indeed better than one, and co-op is a perfect mode for those less experienced with Knack 2 or gaming in general to partner with a more skilled player. The latter player can take the lead while the second player is free to help. If they get too far behind, they will automatically warp close to the player who's up front.

These teeny, tiny goblins defeating Knack will definitely be a "tall" order.
Knack 2 is--without any semblance of irony--a very good game. It routinely introduces new enemy types, platforming challenges, and story scenarios to make for an engaging game from beginning to end. While the story and characters won't win over everyone--and definitely not folks in my bitter age bracket--Knack 2's tale kept me interested and continuing to play. And even if it didn't--certainly the well done level design, platforming, puzzles, and combat did the trick regardless. After a rough debut, Knack is back and he stars in one excellent action-platforming adventure.

[SPC Says: B+]

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Luigi's Mansion (3DS) Review

I might have missed out on posting this on Halloween, but that's quite alright! Luigi's Mansion was a fun game to revisit when I did several years ago with the GameCube original version. How does it hold up on the Nintendo 3DS? Well, come see for yourself with the SuperPhillip Central review.

Bustin' doesn't make me feel too good

In 2001, my mom and I waited outside Toys 'R Us on a dreary, rainy morning to stand in line for the Nintendo GameCube. Upon being let inside after about three hours of waiting, we were let in, and I grabbed slips for three games--back when you took slips up to customer service to exchange for the actual games... and, y'know, when Toys 'R Us was still a thing in business. Nevertheless, we picked up three games: one of these was Luigi's Mansion. Now, it's 17 years later (dang, that makes me feel really old!), and now the gigantic mansion that I explored back in 2001 is available for tiptoeing through in the palm of my hand with this Nintendo 3DS remake of the game.

The premise of Luigi's Mansion has our green clad hero winning a mansion from a contest that suspiciously enough he never entered. His brother Mario went ahead to check the place out, but has yet to return. Thus, with the help of Professor E. Gadd, Luigi equips a trusty and dusty Poltergust ghost-busting device to enter into the mansion--reluctantly, of course--and find out what happened to his brother. It's the same story and setup as it ever was way back in 2001.

Luigi's Mansion has you patrolling the halls and rooms of the mysterious mansion, solving puzzles and battling ghosts to receive keys that open up new rooms throughout the mansion. Every once in a while you'll take on a major boss battle which unlocks access to an entirely new wing of the mansion, such as the second floor or attic, for instance. While navigating through the innards and outdoors of the mansion, an optional but rewarding objective to keep in mind is to find as much money as possible. The amount you earn from defeating portrait ghosts, discovering treasure, and sucking up coins from various objects sprinkled throughout the environments go a long way to determining what type of ending to the game you get.

In fact, that brings me to one of the new features of the 3DS remake of Luigi's Mansion--achievements. These add some longevity and replay value to an otherwise relatively short adventure. (I'm talking about a four hour playtime for one's first go through the mansion.) These achievements reveal themselves in tiers, starting with the Beginner difficulty. Complete all of the relatively simple achievements in this category, and the next batch opens up to try. Though if you've already finished off some of the achievements in future categories, then those are automatically checked off ahead of time. Achievements give players different ways to go about playing Luigi's Mansion in ways they might not have thought of before. For instance, it could be a less than three-hour speed run through the game or not having Luigi's HP fall below 50 at any time throughout his ghastly adventure.

There are other new touches and additions to Luigi's Mansion on the Nintendo 3DS compared to the GameCube original. For one, there is now a Gallery where you can take on any defeated portrait ghost you've already battled in the main game. These are essentially time trials to attempt to get as great a time as possible while also gunning for fast captures of ghosts--for this gives you a better frame around each portrait ghost you capture.

For those unaware, portrait ghosts are special ghosts within Luigi's Mansion that take different tricks to capture, much less make vulnerable in order to suck them up. An early portrait ghost requires you to blow the nearby curtain open, so the broken window it reveals sends a gust of wind at the ghost, causing her to become vulnerable when she gets up to close the curtain once more.

The Gallery mode can be played with a second player who simply needs a Nintendo 3DS to join up with you. The process takes a little while for Download Play to connect both players, but it makes taking down ghosts and bosses all the easier. Though, it doesn't necessarily make it more fun, as the connection between systems lends itself to a lot of lag. Still, it's a nice option to have. If both players have a copy of the game, both can play the main campaign cooperatively with one another. I did not get to try out co-op in this form, as the cost of buying two copies of the same game didn't really entice too terribly much.

No doubt you're wondering how Luigi's Mansion on the 3DS plays on the system compared to the GameCube. After all, the 3DS system lacks the analog triggers and second stick of the GameCube controller. Despite having a multitude of control options available, I never found one that really impressed me. In fact, most of the time it was quite the opposite.

While fighting ghosts, I found myself also fighting with the controls. Sure, with the New Nintendo 3DS XL I was playing with, I could move with the Circle Pad while aiming with the analog nub, but it's just that--a nub. It's no substitute for a second stick. Seeing the nub wasn't getting me anywhere fast (except incredibly frustrated), I turned to the D-Pad for aiming. Of course, having both the Circle Pad for movement and the D-Pad for aiming on the same side of the 3DS meant I couldn't use and do both at the same time. Well, unless I wanted to go old school Monster Hunter and do "the claw", but I'm SO over doing that.

The B button is used to sidestep when Luigi is facing the target he wants to keep an eye on. Unfortunately, most of the time I found that Luigi when using his vacuum would use the suction power on everything but my intended target. This is in part of the perspective of the camera, which is a serious pain when trying to judge depth and where enemies are in relation to Luigi. Even the 3D effect of the Nintendo 3DS does not help here. Instead, it merely causes all of the colors to bleed over on to dark parts of the screen for a "ghosting" effect, and not even the kind that Luigi can suck up with his Poltergust.

While the controls and camera positioning leave a lot to be desired, the presentation of Luigi's Mansion is a combination of improvement and being a downgrade. In some parts of the visuals, things are better off, such as the more detailed models and textures within the environments. On the other hand, several of the cooler visual effects of the GameCube original are less pronounced in the 3DS version, and most evident are the dust particle and lighting effects.

Luigi's Mansion on the 3DS is by no means a game I regret purchasing, but at the same time, I would have rather seen it as an appetizer for Switch owners to play as we get ready for Luigi's Mansion 3. Not because I'm starving for games on the Switch, but just because Nintendo's hybrid has more options with regards to controls. I'm certain I wouldn't have had anywhere near as much of a headache with Luigi's Mansion on the Switch compared to the 3DS. Regardless, I should be talking about what is and not what should have been. Luigi's Mansion's remake downgrades more than it improves, but the base game is still a solid one. By virtue on being on the Nintendo 3DS, though, Luigi's Mansion's remake never stood a ghost of a chance of being truly fantastic.

[SPC Says: C]

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1) Launch Trailer

Spyro the Dragon returns to the world of gaming, and it's not in grotesque Skylanders form either! Don't be fooled by the title of this trailer--Spyro: Reignited Trilogy, a collection of all-new HD remakes of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage, and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, actually launches in three weeks. However, that isn't stopping the marketing gears at Activision from shifting. Check out the high definition transformation yourself with this trailer.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Super Mario Party (NSW) Review

Next up on October's schedule of reviews is Super Mario Party. Ruin friendships on a brand-new system with the Mario Party series's debut on the Nintendo Switch. Here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

Party like it's 1999 all over again

...And that's sort of the premise behind Super Mario Party, the eleventh mainline installment in the nearly 20-year-old Mario Party series. Ditching the "everyone rides in the same vehicle" car mechanic from Mario Party 9 and seen again in Mario Party 10 that saw a tepid response from series fans, Super Mario Party brings back individual movement across nonlinear boards. The goal? Collecting more Power Stars than your opponents by the end of the final turn.

The Mario Party mode is the most traditional of modes within the series's debut on the Switch. You take turns rolling dice blocks (and this time around each character has their own specific dice block--in addition to the standard 1-6 roll available to choose from), and then explore the four boards of the game. While these boards are indeed smaller than in past Mario Party games, this means that there aren't many--or even any--turns where nothing really happens. In Super Mario Party, a host of things can occur--from players landing on event spaces that affect the board and/or players in a variety of ways, collecting Stars, buying items from Flutter, stealing coins or Stars via Lakitu, participating in special "Rumble" mini-games, or falling prey to one of Kamek's Bad Luck Spaces, something is always happening regardless of the turn number. The point here is that there are no "worthless" turns where everyone is just moving around the board with little interactivity going on.

The boards are smaller than what veterans may be accustomed to,
but they're absolutely dense with activities and happenings.

After each player has moved during their turn, a mini-game occurs--a staple of the Mario Party series. While developer ND Cube has failed at delivering the type of Mushroom Kingdom bash that could rival the prior developer of the series, the now-defunct Hudson, one aspect that stays strong and even outdoes the older Mario Party titles is the fantastic amount of mini-games available. Super Mario Party utilizes a single Joy-Con for all players, making it so those with just one set of Joy-Con controllers that came packaged with the Switch can enjoy the game with another player at the very least.

The mini-games in Super Mario Party use the Joy-Con controller in a myriad of ways. From moving the Joy-Con to fly safely through swarms of killer Fuzzy obstructions, to using the analog stick to dodge oncoming Chargin' Chucks in Gridiron Gauntlet, to holding the Joy-Con vertically to flip a cube of meat on a frying pan--feeling the rumble to determine when a given side is sufficiently seared, the mini-games are well done and all control great.

Somehow I'm thinking that our players aren't suited up safely enough for this mini-game...
But, Super Mario Party is more than just the standard Mario Party mode. Returning from Mario Party: Star Rush is what the game calls Partner Party, where two teams of two travel around the same four boards of the Mario Party mode, except these are built like grids. The goal of earning as many Stars as possible is the same, but this time around you have to land on the space where the Star-seller Toadette is in order to purchase a Star. As the turn amount left decreases, the amount of Stars you can buy at once from Toadette increases up to three Stars. This can make for some seriously hilarious come-from-behind victories.

Here's pie in your eye!
What also makes for some good comeback wins is the two bonus stars handed out at the completion of a game. These reward players with Stars for performing certain tasks within a given game, such as getting first place in mini-games the most, landing on the most red spaces, partnering up with the most allies, and so forth. A point of contention here is that the category of Stars rewarded is completely random, so you can't just shoot for a specific Star like the Mini-Game Star, as it might not be one of the two bonus Stars handed out. This can make for some aggravating losses where the player who was the most skilled and had the most Stars before the end isn't the winner due to two random Stars being given to second place, giving them the edge over the player who was winning the whole game. Others like myself will note that this is what Mario Party is all about as a series, so it's not too irritating. Perhaps only when trying to earn the game's five Gems, which unlocks the ending of Super Mario Party.

Partner Party most closely resembles Mario Party: Star Rush's board design.
Yes, the main objective of Super Mario Party is to earn five Gems from completing five specific modes within the game. This includes the already mentioned Mario Party and Partner Party modes, but it also includes Challenge Road, River Survival, and the Sound Stage modes. With Mario Party and Partner Party, you need to finish at least in third place on each of the modes' four boards. Again, these are just the same four boards across both modes, just reconfigured based on whether you're playing the more traditional Mario Party mode or the more free-roaming grid-based Partner Party mode.

Challenge Road serves as the main single-player mode within Super Mario Party. It opens up for play once you've unlocked all mini-games. Based on that prerequisite, you can probably guess what you do in Challenge Road, then. You compete against the AI in six different worlds, challenging them in all 80 mini-games, one-by-one. Many of the mini-games don't just require you to win them, but to reach a specific point amount or time within the games. If you fail a mini-game three times in a row, you get the option to bypass it. Otherwise, failure does not result in any penalty besides having to try the mini-game again. What I like about this mode is that you can get a refresher on the controls and instructions on the game prior to playing it.

Mini-games occur in free-for-all, 2 vs. 2, or like this mini-game, 1 vs. 3!
This is, in fact, something I really found useful in the main "Party" modes of Super Mario Party. You can practice as much as you want in the instructions screen of each mini-game. No more wasting time entering a loading screen just to practice a mini-game, when you can do so straight from the instructions menu. When every player is ready, they just hit one of the shoulder buttons to prepare for the game.

Meanwhile, River Survival is less about competing against other players and more about cooperating with them. Your goal is to paddle down a raging river with multiple paths, dodging obstacles while picking up timers and completing mini-games to add precious seconds to (hopefully) reach the goal. The different paths along the way offer different rafting challenges, and it's really to your benefit to try to paddle down them all. Teamwork is a major factor in this mode, as if all players are paddling madly at once, the raft all four players inhabit won't maneuver well--hitting any and every obstacle that wades in their way.

The unlikeliest of allies can work together for one common goal: reaching the end of this branching river!

Teamwork's also paramount to success in the various mini-games, initiated by ramming in to red balloons along the river's path. These are all co-operative mini-games, offering the team of river-riders more seconds depending on how fast they complete a mini-game or in other cases how many points they earn. One mini-game requires all players to communicate with one another to lift a fishing net at the same time, thus capturing as many Cheep-Cheep fish as possible. Another is a maze of blocks that requires players to collect gems and place them in the center of it. Some paths are closed off, making it so another player needs to stand on a switch to open it up for them.

Lastly, Sound Stage is an all-rhythm based collection of mini-games, where every mini-game has you swinging the Joy-Con in time with the music. There are visual indicators regardless, for those who lack rhythm (like some writer for SuperPhillip Central who will remain nameless). Sound Stage has three difficulties total, and while the mini-games are a blast to play, their presence is missed in the main Mario Party mode. As is, there are a lot of repeated mini-games in the Mario Party mode, and I can't help but think they'd be better served as additional free-for-all mini-games within other modes.

Speaking of repeated mini-games, there's the online component of Super Mario Party--which before your ask, no, there is no option to play full rounds of Mario Party or Partner Party online with friends. Instead, what's here is an Online Mario-thon which is a selection of 10 mini-games that are cycled through for players to engage in. Frankly, while I didn't mind this too much, an option for a traditional Mario Party experience online would have been greatly preferred and much appreciated. As is, I just spent $20 on a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, and the very first new Nintendo game with online has the bare minimum incorporated in to it. Not the most reassuring thing there.

Off the Chain gives the "1" in this "1 vs. 3" mini-game the fun of steamrolling their opponents.
Super Mario Party is a much welcome return to form for the franchise after some shaky attempts to mix things up. While I did actually enjoy what Island Tour and Star Rush had to offer gameplay-wise it's nice in a sense that I feel that I'm back "home" with regards to the Mario Party series. The new additions like the extra modes, the character-specific dice blocks that add a whole new level of strategy to the game (do I risk attempting to roll a 10 when at the same time rolling a 0 is a distinct possibility?), and the mini-games are truly a terrific showcase for the Switch's Joy-Con controller.

What isn't so great is the limited online options--especially after the arrival of having to pay just to play them--and the limited number of boards (and how small they are) compared to past games in the series might put some series veterans off.

Regardless, Super Mario Party is a bash that deserves to be celebrated. Mario Party is back, and Super Mario Party itself is one of the grandest shindigs Mario and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom gang has ever held.

[SPC Says: B] 


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