Monday, February 27, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "SuperPhillip's Birthday Bash" Edition

I don't like to toot my own horn (aw, hell-- TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!), but today I celebrate my 31st birthday, and with that, SuperPhillip Central arrives with five special themes to commemorate the occasion. Sure, I was going to use these five VGMs regardless, but why ruin the spectacle of the moment?

The recently released Gravity Rush 2 leads us off with a jazzy battle theme before handing it off to Final Fantasy XI. Then, we turn our attention to Okamiden. Following that is some funk (the good kind) from Dreamcast classic Jet Set Radio. Lastly, we roll on through with a catchy song from Katamari Forever.

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Click on the VGM volume name to hear the song on YouTube! Finally, check out the VGM Database for all past VGMs featured on this weekly recurring segment. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1341. Gravity Rush 2 (PS4) - Combat II

Released last month, Gravity Rush 2 was part of the amazing kickoff of game releases for 2017 that continues into March! It's astonishing that we even received a sequel to Gravity Rush in the first place, so Kat fans, savor this sequel as much as you can. I'll help by sharing this wonderful piece of music from the game, one of the themes that plays during Gravity Rush 2's battles.

v1342. Final Fantasy XI (Multi) - Distant Worlds (The Black Mages Version)

This rock version of Final Fantasy XI's Distant Worlds comes from The Black Mages' third album of arranged Final Fantasy tunes. The Black Mages was founded by then-series composer Nobuo Uematsu. This version of Distant World starts off mellow, but by the end, it turns into a hard rock masterpiece. It gets particularly awesome here at my favorite part of the piece.

v1343. Okamiden (DS) - Spirit Suppression

Though not as excellent or as revered as its original counterpart, it was both surprising and amazing that we got to see a sequel to Okami. This sequel was Okamiden on the Nintendo DS, a handheld that saw a robust lineup of games, perhaps the best handheld system lineup in history. Regardless, Spirit Suppression is one of the battle themes played during Okamiden, offering a tense track while you deal with spirits sinister and shocking.

v1344. Jet Set Radio (Multi) - That's Enough

The original Jet Set Radio released on Sega's last home console before turning third party, the Dreamcast, a magical machine full of creative and innovative games. Jet Set Radio was part arcade skating game, part platformer, and all awesome. This permeated into its soundtrack that had all original funky tracks, such as this one, That's Enough. It would receive a remix in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed in the Jet Set Radio series-inspired Graffiti City track.

v1345. Katamari Forever (PS3) - Rolling Star

We end this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with a catchy ditty from Katamari Forever, the PlayStation 3 exclusive entry in the Katamari Damacy series that celebrates the franchise's history. Sure, it got long in the tooth much like the Super Monkey Ball series, a fellow ball-rolling series, though of a different type, but like that franchise, Katamari Damacy retained its fantastic tradition of great, memorable music.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tank Troopers (3DS) Review

On the eve of a special day for this site's owner and operator, comes one of a series of four reviews to close out this shortest month of the year. It's for Tank Troopers, a Nintendo 3DS eShop release that launched two Thursdays ago in North America. How is it? Let's find out with this review!

Tanks for the memories, Vitei!

Developer Vitei is by no means a household name like other studios that have worked with Nintendo, but some may be familiar with its work on the Steel Diver series. Its most recent game is the Nintendo 3DS eShop exclusive Tank Troopers, a game brimming with personality, right from its whimsical and grin-inducing variety of a wartime ditty. Though lacking a crucial feature for a game like this, Tank Troopers ends up being a worthwhile game with plenty to offer for its modest price.

First off, let's get to what I alluded to in the introduction-- the really bad part of Tank Troopers, a baffling omission that might make many prospective buyers of the game completely dismiss it. That omission is that Tank Troopers totally lacks any kind of online multiplayer. It's absolutely crazy that a game that would work so well and have its life extended so greatly through online multiplayer does not have it whatsoever, especially when Vitei's past work, Steel Diver: Sub Wars included it. Instead, all that is present in Tank Troopers is local play for six players who all own a copy of the game and download play, which allows one owner of the game to play with up to five others who do not own a copy. The latter mode is quite limited, only offering one map and everyone being stuck with the same tank with no choice in the matter.

Local multiplayer offers three main modes across five maps, all of the maps seen in the single-player experience, which I'll talk about in just a little but. Taking out opponent tanks and dealing damage is the main draw of the multiplayer, and it supports three main modes: a mode pitting all tanks against one another, a team-based deathmatch mode, and a cool Bomb Battle mode, where teams try to push and roll a bomb into the opposing team's base.

Tankfully-- I mean... Thankfully, you can team up in one of the three available local multiplayer modes.
Despite lacking in online multiplayer, I still find Tank Troopers to be more than worthwhile a purchase. This is because of the single player component of the game, offering 30 missions that need to be completed in a linear order. While being forced to do each mission in a strict sequence can be annoying due to some missions that pop up having massive fluctuations in difficulty (especially ones where you have to transport a ball of some kind across the map or push/shoot it into goals), it's overall not too much of an issue.

The 30 missions seen in Tank Troopers have a great variety to them. There are simple missions where you need to destroy a certain number of tanks, ones where you need to reach the goal, ones where you take on a monster-sized tank with both great offense and astonishing defense, ones where you need to defend a base, and many others. These missions have two forms: one where you take orders, meaning you're stuck with a specific tank and set of helper characters; and one where you're able to select whichever tank and series of troopers you like. With both forms, there's the need to complete each mission twice, once in each mode. Weirdly, even if you've already unlocked all of the missions in one form, you still need to complete the missions in order in the other form.

This shipyard area is one of the five available maps in Tank Troopers.
Each mission is scored depending on a number of factors each depending on the current mission. These factors can be things like how fast you completed the mission, how many enemies in tank or turret form you dispatched, to things like how much health you have remaining at a mission's conclusion. The best rank is an S, and completionists will have trouble but a good deal of fun trying to get the highest rank in all of Tank Troopers' missions.

And here I thought *I* had a big tank!
As you complete missions and compete in multiplayer skirmishes, you earn money that be spent on a multitude of things, such as new tanks, new paint jobs for said tanks, as well as new troopers. Each tank has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, as well as stats like firepower, how long it takes for a given tank to reload its ammo, defense, health, and speed.

Additionally, each tank can support a handful of troopers in it, called upon by tapping their icon on the bottom screen. This engages them, giving your tank a special perk or ability for as long as that trooper's gauge has some juice in it. The gauge depletes automatically over time and much more so when your tank takes damage. Once a trooper's gauge has been depleted, it takes a little while for it to recharge, allowing you to call them back into action. The troopers' abilities range in both offensive and defensive bonuses. Some unleash larger, more devastating bullets at targets, some shoot out a ball of paint that partially covers the damaged player's screen, while others give tanks a quick boost of speed to travel across the battlefield faster, or slowly regenerates the health of a tank.

Trooper Big Gunnar's name is fitting due to the super-sized shells he shoots out when called upon.
Controlling the tanks in Tank Troopers is a thankfully terrific experience with a small learning curve. Turning and such is performed with the Circle Pad while the A button moves the tank forward and the B button reverses its treads. With a tap of the R button, a tank unleashes a shot, and once the small bullet icon on the lower portion of the upper screen refills, another shot can be taken. L enables artillery mode, which allows your tank to move forward and backward while giving you 360 degree control of the turret. However, I found this mode to be mostly unnecessary, but it is nice to have regardless depending on your skill level and play style. You can aim with the help of the Nintendo 3DS's gyroscope controls, or you can turn them off like I did in order to keep the distance-judging stereoscopic 3D effect in place. Finally, the X button brings up a scope function, great for trying to pick off foes from afar. All in all, the tanks in Tank Troopers generally control well.

While it's definitely obvious that the lack of online multiplayer undercuts some of the value of Tank Troopers, the content-rich single-player experience (though lacking a story that ties it all together), the ability to try to S-Rank each of the game's 30 missions, and the constant gathering of currency to buy new tanks, paint jobs, and troopers make for a digital game that for me made the game very much worth its $7.99 price tag. Jump into a tank and start unloading rounds into the enemy, soldier!

[SPC Says: B-]

Friday, February 24, 2017

Mario Sports Superstars (3DS) Serve an Ace! Trailer

For the past four weeks Nintendo has been showcasing each of the five sports featured in Mario Sports Superstars for the Nintendo 3DS. This week the final sport is under the spotlight, tennis. In both Chance Shot and Normal Tennis forms, the gameplay looks picked straight from Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, which isn't bad as that was really the only great part of that content-starved Wii U game. Mario Sports Superstars launches next month for Nintendo 3DS.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming - Part Three

A great opening or introduction can be the hook that grabs onto you and doesn't ever let go. It's the thing that can make for a strong start to a game that keeps its momentum up right from the very beginning. With the First Things First line of articles, it has been SuperPhillip Central's intention to showcase the strongest opening cutscenes from gaming history. This third edition features favorites from Final Fantasy VII, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Donkey Kong 64, and more.

For SuperPhillip Central's previous looks at great game openings, check out these links:

Best Openings in Gaming - Part One
Best Openings in Gaming - Part Two

(And just click on the game name to watch its opening on YouTube.)

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

Final Fantasy VII is one of the most important games of its kind. It introduced a plethora of players and PlayStation owners to the world of RPGs, particularly of the Japanese kind. It was also an impressive showcase of the possibilities of CD technology over cartridges, a reason why Squaresoft moved from Nintendo consoles to Sony's new PlayStation. The opening cutscene that serves as the opening to Final Fantasy VII floored gamers back when VII originally released. From showing off the denizens of Midgar to cuts to the train housing members of AVALANCHE showing their trip to the Mako Reactor, the opening of Final Fantasy VII is one of the most engaging beginnings to any Final Fantasy game both past and present.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN)

Imagine (or remember depending on how old you are) being a fan of Nintendo, putting the Super Smash Bros. Melee disc into your newly purchased Nintendo GameCube, and being greeted with this epic opening feature a host of characters and references from the big N's big history. You get Donkey Kong rushing through a jungle, an army of multicolored Yoshis stampeding through a grassy knoll, Ness speeding through Onett as he leaves two trails of fire behind him, Captain Falcon in the Blue Falcon slamming Samurai Goroh off the track, and so much more. All of this is punctuated by one of Nintendo's first orchestral scores, and you get a highly memorable and still awesome opening to this day.

Star Fox 64 [3D] (N64, 3DS)

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Nintendo 3DS remake of Star Fox 64, but the more memorable opening is definitely from the Nintendo 64 original. It showed Nintendo at its most cinematic, showing off its then relatively recent Nintendo 64 hardware with tremendous effect. There was unforgettable fully voiced dialogue, strategically done camerawork, and great production values in place for the opening that introduced many players to Team Star Fox, its main craft the Arwing, and a quick briefing from General Pepper on the story of this classic game. Whether you play it on the Nintendo 64 or can track down the unpredictably rarer Nintendo 3DS version, you're going to get a terrific arcade game to enjoy.

Donkey Kong 64 (N64)

With a rap theme that has gained great notoriety over the years, even from composer Dave Wise himself, you can't help but fall in love with this cheeky and charming opening for Donkey Kong 64. The rap introduces all five playable Kongs-- Donkey, Diddy, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky-- with their own verses detailing each ones' abilities. Meanwhile, you get Cranky Kong serving as DJ, scratching his paws along the spinning records and mixing table. He surely knows how to take it to the fridge. This lovingly weird, whimsical, and ridiculous rap is a highlight of Donkey Kong 64 and got players ready to roll with the DK crew.

Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)

Before Rare went all ape **** crazy with the collectibles of Donkey Kong 64, they made a nice balance of platforming, exploring, and adventuring with one of my favorite 3D platformers of all time, Banjo-Kazooie. When I let the game idle as a middle schooler and saw this intro, I knew then and there I was watching something that clued my brain into knowing I was about to play something both ridiculously charming and special. Banjo-Kazooie's opening begins with Banjo and Kazooie playing their titular instruments before cast members Tooty and Mumbo Jumbo begin interrupting with their own instrumental performances. Feeling upstaged, Banjo gets increasingly angrier, but eventually lets that anger subside and happily plays along with the group for a joyous performance.

No More Heroes (Wii, PS3, 360)

Originally released on the Wii, No More Heroes gained cult classic status with many owners of Nintendo's revolutionary system. The game would go on to have a fully HD version on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, though not as enjoyable to those who loved the Wii original. Regardless, No More Heroes' opening is as stylish and cool as the game itself. It details the premise of the game with great narration by hero Travis Touchdown. You get the ultra cool opening with the super catchy main theme of the game with its infectious ostinato. The Wii version of the opening has cool transitions between shots via the staff roll, as well as urging players to grab their Wii Remotes and let the bloodshed begin.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Worst Things About SuperPhillip Central's Favorite Games II

The easiest thing to do when reviewing bad games is ripping them to shreds, taking all of their faults and going through each, one by one, eviscerating them. However, it's much harder to look at games that you have a great love for, perhaps irrationally so due to them being an important part of one's childhood, and picking out the things that just don't work so well in them. That's what this series of articles from SuperPhillip Central is all about: figuring out what didn't work-- no matter how small-- in the games that I love so much.

If you'd like to see five of my favorites from the first installment of this article series, click this link.

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

We begin with a game that has the gaming world excited for its upcoming remake, though with Square Enix's history, we might be sitting here five years from now still waiting for it (okay, okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration). Of course, I'm talking about Final Fantasy VII, one of the most popular entries in the storied Final Fantasy series and many players' first foray into the franchise.

The game has a lot of variety to it, an excellent story, and one of the best casts of characters in the entire series. Everything from the memorable locales, then-impressive visuals in both gameplay and CG cinematic form, the stellar Nobuo Uematsu-composed soundtrack, and rewarding Materia system makes for a wonderful and lengthy RPG that seldom outwears its welcome.

Certainly, it was an arduous proposition to come up with something truly bad about Final Fantasy VII, but then I remembered something that stops me from regularly replaying the game. After the intense and excellent introduction of VII inside Midgar, many players found themselves bewildered by the fact that Midgar was just the tip of Final Fantasy VII's iceberg. They were thrust into a world map that meant that Midgar was but a small part of a much grander and ambitious game.

However, soon after arriving on the world map, the part of Final Fantasy VII that brings me pause upon starting up a new play-through so easily rears its head into the picture. I'm talking about the approximately 40-minute flashback sequence that occurs upon arriving in Kalm. There are good things about this moment in the game, such as showing off Sephiroth's amazing power in battle by killing a giant dragon with one attack while the soldiers joining him can hardly put a dent into its HP, as well as establishing character relationships and some back story (as well as making a later revelation in the game have a much larger impact).

However, upon repeated play-throughs, it's a section of the game I wish I could skip sometimes. Even then, that's big praise that a quick fraction of a gigantic game is the thing that bothers me the most about Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1, PSP, iOS, Android)

While Final Fantasy VII's Kalm flashback sequence can stop me from doing a run of the game, Final Fantasy Tactics has something that can stop beginning players from successfully continuing their first run of the game.

Final Fantasy Tactics' various missions generally take place isolated from one another. However, occasionally within the game, there are missions occur one after the other without the option to return to the world map. That isn't a problem so far. The problem here is that you're given the option to save in between these missions. What's wrong with that? You can find protagonist Ramza's party too underleveled or not strong enough to tackle a mission in these successive battles. With no option to return to the world map upon losing (you get a game over instead), you can find yourself stuck with no possible means to progress in the campaign.

The first set of battles that this can become a problem is Riovannes Castle, a setting housing three successive fights. The second, against a transformed Wiegraf, is quite possibly one of the toughest encounters in the game, much more a massive jump in difficulty early in the game. Without proper knowledge of this, beginning players can find themselves having to start a new save data from the very beginning of the game if they weren't aware to make a second save ahead of time. I know my early struggle with this problem caused me to drop Final Fantasy Tactics for months. Thankfully, I went back to it and found myself thinking Tactics is one of the greater games in the franchise, mainline, spin-off, or whatever.

Metroid Prime (GCN)

Retro Studios and Nintendo seemingly did the impossible-- not only take the then-previously all 2D Metroid franchise into 3D with fantastically epic results, but it was done with a team that was inexperienced at best. Really, Metroid Prime is one of my favorite games of all time, but it's not without an issue that many players might find frustrating.

This particular segment of Metroid Prime occurs late in the game. Samus Aran is tasked to venturing to the Impact Crater of Tallon IV after exploring all other areas within the game. There she finds a series of nine pillars that require you as the player to venture (see: backtrack) through the areas of Tallon IV to find the Chozo Artifact designated to each pillar. You get a clue for each artifact's location from each pillar.

Personally, I found this little end game scavenger hunt enjoyable, but just imagine other players' perspectives, thinking they were at the end of the game, ready to take on the final bosses, only to be stopped by this late game collect-a-thon. Many found themselves turning to places like GameFAQs and the like to rush through this section of the game to finally get the chance to take down Meta-Ridley for good (at least in the original Metroid Prime "for good") and then go on to face Metroid Prime itself.

The funny (perhaps I should have put that in quotes) part about this late game scavenger hunt is that it would be used in the Metroid Prime games succeeding this one. I found them fun, but then again, I found the Triforce Quest of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker somewhat tolerable, so I have my own issues!

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

Mario Kart 8 is the latest in the long-running and most successful arcade kart racing series on the market. With every iteration, Nintendo delivers fun and fast racing that is accessible to all skill levels while possessing enough depth to remain engaging for gaming veterans.

This is a rather humorous inclusion to this list of my favorite games with problems because the problem I am going to talk about is getting fixed with the Nintendo Switch's Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, coming out at the end of April. That problem is one many players of the Wii U original know all too well-- the omission of Bowser Jr. Okay, no, while that was an issue I had with the Wii U original, the real problem is the Battle Mode.

What made previous entries of Mario Kart so engaging with their Battle Modes were dedicated arenas to pursue, hunt down, and attack opponents on. In Mario Kart 8's Wii U incarnation, the Battle Mode consisted of tracks from the Grand Prix mode of the game with no real alterations that could be traveled on in both forwards and backwards fashion (i.e. no major glider sections that could only be traveled one-way). While the varied geography of the battlefields weren't inherently awful, the size of them meant opponents took much longer to find one another and confrontations weren't as thrilling as they would otherwise be in an arena setting.

Thankfully, a big part of the appeal of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch is the return of the classic arena-style Battle Mode. Sure, for many who owned the Wii U original, it might not be worth a second purchase. However, at the same token, most gamers and consumers didn't own a Wii U, so the package will be an entirely new game to them regardless.

[Poochy &] Yoshi's Woolly World (3DS, Wii U)

I recently reviewed the Nintendo 3DS port of the Wii U's tremendously creative and charming Yoshi's Woolly World. To me, both versions of the game are modern classics that rival even the original Yoshi's Island on the Super Nintendo. One of the major things I like over the SNES classic is that getting 100% in a level doesn't need to be performed by doing every task in one run (getting all five flowers, collecting all 20 red coins, or badges in Woolly World's case, or having full health by the end of a level), making for a much less stressful experience.

However. Yoshi's Woolly World isn't without its faults. Let me focus on the main one that can drive many completionists crazy. A good deal of collectibles within the game are found in hidden cloud bubbles. I'm talking literally hidden in that they're invisible to the eye until Yoshi brushes up against them. This means that in many levels and in order to find everything, you need to obsessively jump in any suspicious space to have the bubbles appear.

Inside the bubbles are usually things that are required to fully complete a level, such as a flower, a collection of colorful beads where one or two of them are badges you need to nab, or a yarn spool. While there are items you can spend beads on to reveal their locations, it feels disappointing that the collectibles almost require you to do that for so many levels. It's like the developers knew how much they overdid hiding secrets in the game and gave themselves a way out. Nonetheless, even with this problem, I find Yoshi's Woolly World on Wii U and its Nintendo 3DS port amazing platformers worthy of any fans of the genre's time and money.


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