Sunday, February 1, 2015

Review Round-Up - January 2015

Embark on a grand adventure with Fantasy Life,
SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Month for January 2015.
The first month of 2015 saw ten unique reviews to go with it. I started the year off with my review of Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD, getting a 6.0. Then I moved onto two Wii U eShop games. The first was the surprisingly good Spy Chameleon (8.25) followed by the fun but sometimes frustrating Chariot (7.5). Moving on from there, SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Month, Fantasy Life, led this month of reviews with a 9.25 score. Next, I checked out two more Wii U eShop titles, Family Tennis SP (6.75) and uWordsmith (6.0). Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal earned a respectable 6.0, Breezebox solved its way to a 7.0, and Ratchet & Clank HD scored an 8.25. Finally, I capped off the month with a retro review of a PSP game, Ape Escape: On the Loose, which monkeyed around to an 8.0.

Remember that next month SuperPhillip Central's grading scale for reviews changes to a letter-based system. I hope you look forward to the new change!

Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD (Vita) - 6.0
Spy Chameleon (Wii U eShop) - 8.25
Chariot (Wii U eShop) - 7.5
Fantasy Life (3DS) - 9.25
Family Tennis SP (Wii U eShop) - 6.75
uWordsmith (Wii U eShop) - 6.0
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (3DS) - 6.0
Breezeblox (Wii U eShop) - 7.0
Ratchet & Clank HD (Vita) - 8.25
Ape Escape: On the Loose (PSP) - 8.0

Take on creatures big and small in Fantasy Life.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ape Escape: On the Loose (PSP) Retro Review

Earlier this week I covered a game that started one of my favorite PlayStation franchises of all time. Today I cover the first game of a PlayStation franchise that I can't wait to play more games in the series. It's Ape Escape, and here is a decade's old port of that game that launched with the PSP, Ape Escape: On the Loose.

Catch Them If You Can

Ape Escape initially released on the original PlayStation in 1999. The game was the first on the system to require the dual analog controller that debuted approximately halfway in the PS1's life. Imagine if you will, taking that game, putting it on a system with just one analog input, and releasing as an enhanced port as a launch title. It's a recipe for disaster, right? However, Ape Escape: On the Loose, even being hurt a little by the lack of dual analogs, is an engaging game that is worth the time to play. Here's why.

On the Loose begins with a white-haired monkey named Specter putting on a special helmet that greatly increases his intelligence while also twisting his mind. He uses his added smarts to create helmets for over 200 monkeys and attacks a local laboratory which houses a time machine. Childhood friends Spike and Jake arrive on the scene and along with the monkeys are transported back in time to various periods. Knowing this monkey madness could negatively alter the course of history, the Professor asks Spike to capture as many monkeys as possible, stop Specter, and rescue Jake from Specter's mind control.

Come here, you blasted rabbit!
....Wait. I'm thinking of something else.
There are seven worlds within Ape Escape: On the Loose-- most of which with three levels apiece-- and they put Spike within a wide variety of time periods and locales. From the age of the dinosaurs to the Medieval period, there are a large range of environments and levels for Spike to traverse and capture monkeys in.

The Time Station is the hub of Ape Escape.
Thankfully, Spike isn't left all to his lonesome to nab the mischievous monkeys littered throughout time. The Professor sends numerous helpful gadgets to Spike throughout the game, one usually per world. Through completing a simple training level for the player to get accustomed to a given gadget, Spike earns that necessary tool to assist him on his quest to capture the antagonizing apes.

There are eight gadgets in all for Spike to acquire throughout his journey through time. Each has its own use and are implemented in such a way that they aren't utilized just once and then never seen again. There is a slingshot-type gadget that not only can take down airborne enemies, but it can also hit faraway buttons to turn on machinery, such as elevators and doors. The Super Hoop allows Spike to move faster on land, great for crossing bridges that fall apart once our hero steps foot on them so he doesn't fall with the bridge. Then there's the Sky Flyer, which without question is the most useful gadget in the game. It offers the ability for Spike to reach higher platforms that would otherwise be impossible, perfect for exploration of levels.

Spike takes his new Sky Flyer out for a spin.
Levels themselves start out with but a handful of monkeys to collect. By the end of the game, there are levels that house up to 30 individual monkeys. Each level only requires Spike to capture a set amount of monkeys before he can move on to the next level, but in order to reach the true ending of Ape Escape: On the Loose, all 204 missing monkeys must be collected. This means that returning to levels is a must, especially because Spike won't have every gadget in his possession until the Specter has been beaten the first go-around. Returning to past haunts (i.e. already beaten levels) with newer gadgets opens up areas that Spike could not have reached before and monkeys that were once out of his capturing ability.

Return to older levels with newer gadgets
to explore places you couldn't before.
Speaking of which, capturing each ape within On the Loose is like its own puzzle. The player has to find a way to reach each ape, coax him or her out, and use the correct gadget to accomplish the task of nabbing the monkey in question. Capturing monkeys in general can be done in a wide variety of ways. Players can have Spike sneak up on unbeknownst monkeys, slowly pushing the PSP's analog nub forward and holding still when an ape gets paranoid, similar to a game of "red light, green light". Spike can also crawl with the R button held down to creep upon apes asleep or with their backs turned to him. Finally, there is my favorite method of disposal, running to a monkey, bashing them on the head with a stun club, and capturing them with Spike's net while they are temporarily dazed.

The alarm on the helmet of each monkey
displays their current level of alert.
The analog nub on the PSP is a detriment to On the Loose. It does not offer anywhere near the precision of the PS1's analog stick. Many times I would swing my Time Net at a predisposed monkey only to have my net miss its target by about 45 degrees. While this isn't so annoying in the story mode, doing time trials where you have to beat a specific time to pass them, makes missing monkeys so narrowly and stupidly very irritating.

For those who have played the PS1 original Ape Escape, the obvious removal in the controls is that of the second analog stick. Instead, gadgets are mapped to the face buttons-- with the exception of X, which is used to jump. Simply pressing Select brings up the Gadget Menu, which makes for quick switching between the gadgets mapped to the face buttons and those not selected.

Fog? You can tell this was originally
a PS1 game, can't you!
The lack of a second analog stick on the PSP means that camera control is relegated to the d-pad for direct control and the L button for a quick behind-the-back view at any time. The one caveat with this arrangement is that the L button is also used for the first-person view, used when aiming and for just looking around at the environment. One required me to tap the button while the other forced me to hold the button down. In the middle of play, I oftentimes performed one action when I wanted to do the other.

Caveats aside, completing Ape Escape: On the Loose with a full 100% completion percentage is no easy task. Finding and capturing every ape is a challenge all to itself, but then there are time trials to pass in each level and Specter Coins to collect which unlock one of four mini-games, a snowboarding game, a boxing game, a racing game, and a ping-pong game. These can be played locally or online, and the latter is still available to use, though good luck finding anyone randomly online.

There's no time to monkey around, Spike!
There's a time limit to beat!
On the Loose was one of the more basic looking launch titles of the PlayStation Portable, but the game's graphics still look pleasant enough. The frame-rate has some issues occasionally; and the camera reveals things through a level's geometry and walls, but it's still a competent game technologically. The music is unchanged, but I struggle to remember a theme after a total of twenty hours of play time. The voice work is typical Saturday morning cartoon fare, but the actual dialogue is mediocre at best and the stuff that made me cringe at worst.

Ape Escape: On the Loose may not surpass the quality of the original PlayStation Ape Escape, but the developers used what they had button-wise to create this highly capable and fun enhanced port. It's a return to a game that was entertaining when it released, and it is still entertaining now. Now, if you'll excuse me, all this playing of the PSP port has me wanting to dive into some more monkey madness with later games in the Ape Escape series!

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Adoration with Amiibo: The Thrill of the Hunt and the Possible Future

Upon reading the news that Nintendo has shipped over 5.7 million Amiibo since late November last year, I remembered how I was entranced by the mystique that is the Amiibo line of figurines.

As a lifelong Nintendo fan and huge lover of figurines, the concept of small statuettes of various Nintendo characters was a dream. The dream was realized with Amiibo. However, I kept calm and said to myself that I'd just try out one and that would be it. However, after acquiring my first Amiibo, a Pikachu from Pokemon that was won during a video game trivia contest at the university I attend, the thirst, as it is said, was real.

I had one Amiibo, and it really was like eating just one chip from a bag of potato chips. I couldn't just have one and went on to collect more. Even then, I showed some restraint and came to the conclusion that I would just buy the Amiibo for characters that I didn't already have a figure of some kind for. That meant one for Samus, Peach, Zelda, Pit, and so forth. Needless to say, this plan came to fruition and then some until one day...

That is my current collection of Amiibo (Bowser not included). They're nice to look at, take up a miniature amount of space, and they're of great quality overall. That said, the issue with wanting collect as many Amiibo as possible reared its ugly and realistic head into the picture.

At least in North America, certain Amiibo are completely discontinued, and it's now pretty much a situation that if you don't pre-order, you don't have a chance of getting a specific figure. It is absolutely mind-boggling how bad Nintendo of America has once again dropped the ball once again. Fans are unable to acquire the Amiibo they desire because scalpers get to them beforehand, buying up a whole store and then selling them on sites like eBay for three or four times the MSRP.

I currently lack the three rarest Amiibo: Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. While the first is set to receive more figures produced in the near future (as stated by the most recent Nintendo Direct), others are so rare to find at a sensible price that you'd have better luck winning the lottery twice in the span of a week. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.

The holy trinity of rare Amiibo.
That said, it's common practice for pretty much any popular toy line to experience difficulty and require extra work to get the figures one wants most, and I certainly know with my recent dealings with the World of Nintendo toy line by Jakks Pacific. Scalpers also jumped on that bandwagon and sell mini Micro Land figurines and regular sized figures for double the original price.

While I am not as hooked on Amiibo as others (e.g. I don't hit F5 on pre-order pages to see when a new shipment is ready to buy), I do take precautions to obtain the figures I want. For instance, for the Amiibo that I figure are going to be the most popular I pre-order them. It's recommended by many to pre-order from multiple places in case one's order is cancelled. While that hasn't happened to me yet (knocks on wood), it seems to be a good practice that works since there have been issues at certain stores like Toys 'R' Us.

Amiibo's full potential hasn't really been realized by Nintendo yet. The company instead uses the figures as a means to unlock content in games rather than a greater use like what we see with Activision's Skylanders series of figures. Scanned Amiibo give new Mii costumes in Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors's Amiibo use gives rupees, materials, and weapons for scanning the figures, and the upcoming Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. puts Marth, Ike, and Robin into the game as playable characters when their Amiibo have been scanned.

Currently my favorite unlockables via Amiibo.
Can you imagine a Skylanders-like game from Nintendo that incorporates Amiibo usage, summoning various Nintendo all-stars into the same game universe to fight alongside one another? That's a million dollar idea just waiting to happen, but then again, I did patent "emergency sea water" for those shipwrecked on deserted tropical islands.

With a new lineup of Amiibo coming in March with the release of Mario Party 10 on Wii U, Nintendo continues its plan to roll in some monster-sized dough. As long as the figures become easier to get a hold of, rather than being forced to import for the rarer characters, I can see the future of Amiibo being increasingly brighter. After all, I do have another shelf of room for a whole new horde of Amiibo!

SuperPhillip Central Is Changing Its Review Scoring System!

For the past six-and-a-half years, SuperPhillip Central has used a 0-10 scale review scoring system. Starting with the first review of February, the site will be switching to a letter grade scale from A-F with pluses and minuses included. This scale will make it much easier to know what each grade means without having to consult the current review score guide.

I hope this new change will be better for SuperPhillip Central and for you, the reader.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ratchet & Clank HD (Vita) Review

I think since we're approaching the end of the month it's time to reveal that I'm going to be moving on to a new scoring system on SuperPhillip Central. The change will be highlighted in a future post. Reviews will be written the same (the jury's out if that's a good thing or a bad thing), but the scoring system will be altered, hopefully for the better. In the meantime, let's enjoy the old system while we can with this review from a game in one of my favorite franchises, Ratchet & Clank!

This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

No, I don't mean just between the pair of Ratchet and Clank, who start off as very different characters at the beginning of the game compared to how they turn up at the end, as good friends. At the start of their partnership, Ratchet couldn't care less about saving the universe while Clank is highly naive and trusts pretty much anyone. I mean Ratchet & Clank for many players might be their first foray into the franchise, what, with this being the first game of the HD collection on the PlayStation Vita.

No doubt many will find the original so much fun that they'll become players and then fans of the sequels. It only gets better from there, but like every good friendship, it has to start somewhere. That somewhere is the original Ratchet & Clank, now available in handheld form as part of the download-only Ratchet & Clank Collection for the PlayStation Vita. While it's still a blast to play, future installments quickly make certain parts of the game feel obsolete and ancient in comparison.

Two against one? Is there no
chivalry in this galaxy!?
Ratchet and Clank traipse around over 15 different planets and areas throughout their inaugural adventure together. Starting out armed with only a wrench for close-range attacks and a blaster for long-range shots (albeit with limited ammo), the two deal damage to Chairman Drek's plan to take pieces of various planets to build his own world.

One of many eye-catching locations in
the first Ratchet & Clank.
From defeating enemies and breaking boxes, you earn bolts that can be used to purchase ammunition and new weapons at various Gadgetron vendors. Whether it's a powerful missile launcher with the Devastator, a glove that throws out bombs (fittingly called the Bomb Glove). a flamethrower called the Pyrocitor, or any other of the over a dozen weapons fit for combat, Ratchet can accumulate a nice stockpile of weapons. Just don't wonder how he holds them all. It's not worth asking the question.

So much for a nice day at the beach.
In addition to weapons, Ratchet acquires gadgets to help him get past various obstacles in the way. He can use the Swingshot on specific targets to hook onto them and swing across gaps and chasms, the Trespasser to open locked doors after playing a short mini-game, the Hydro Displacer to empty and fill pools of water for progression, and many more.

These Trespasser puzzles have you trying to
make these beams shine on every target.
Each world that Ratchet and Clank enters has multiple paths, each leading to one of several objectives the two need to complete. These are as simple as meeting up with an NPC, acquiring a certain gadget, obtaining an Infobot that details the next location the pair should travel to, and things along those lines.

This enemy is about to get lumberjack-ed!
After beating the game initially, Ratchet & Clank still offers a ton of content. For one, there are 40 Gold Bolts hidden throughout the game in some incredibly clever places. After the game is completed, you have the option to play through the game again with all of your weapons you have obtained and double the bolts you can earn. This makes buying the rest of the available weapons much easier (though the one million bolt trophy is still ridiculous). Lastly, skill points can be earned. These are challenges that are completed by performing a certain in-game task, such as destroying a certain amount of flying vehicles in a level, taking out a boss with only Ratchet's wrench, or completing a grinding section without taking damage. These skill points unlock behind-the-scenes content-- for example, a sketchbook.

Nothing like a frosty reception to sour a lombax's mood.
For those returning to or playing Ratchet & Clank for the first time after playing later games in the series is that you quickly miss a lot of the features of those games that you probably took for granted. For one, strafing is not an option, meaning that you have to do a lot of gymnastics as Ratchet to attack enemies while avoiding their own assaults on our heroic lombax. It makes it hard to target specific enemies and get a desired camera angle in the process. Furthermore, the quick select menu in future games pauses the gameplay so you can select a different weapon or gadget without having to worry about being fired upon in the process. This is not the case with Ratchet & Clank.

I found myself trying to strafe despite knowing
I couldn't since this was the original R&C.
By far the feature I missed most from more modern Ratchet & Clank games that is sorely MIA in the original is a notification once you've arrived at a checkpoint. This issue is exacerbated by checkpoints in levels being so few and far in-between. Don't be surprised when you have to redo entire portions of levels because you died just short of a checkpoint you didn't even know was there. The only positive here is that the Trespasser puzzles you did on your first pass through the level section will be solved if you have already completed them, making your return to spot you last died a faster one.

Clank assists to provide extra height and hovering
capabilities. A bot has to hold his own, y'know!
The HD incarnation of Ratchet & Clank plays relatively well on the PlayStation Vita. It looks phenomenal with limited jaggies, large draw distance with little in the way objects and geometry magically appearing from out of nowhere, and beautifully realized worlds. The only main issue with how Ratchet & Clank controls on the Vita is during the game's hoverboard races. One of the trophies involves performing a four trick combo in the air, requiring the L2 and R2 buttons. As these are missing from the Vita hardware, you have to use the rear touch pad at such a spot to get the inputs to properly register. It makes an otherwise easy trophy a nightmare to get without a good deal of practice and troubleshooting.

Who do I complain to about this
orbital station's amphibian problem?
Overall, Ratchet & Clank HD is a great 3D platformer with tons of content, but it falters in many ways that future sequels have only made increasingly more obvious. By no means is the game an old fossil that is not worthy of being played. It just lacks the included features of the sequels that many fans and players of the series have probably taken for granted. Still, if you want to see how this fantastic PlayStation platforming series started, there is no better beginning than the original Ratchet & Clank.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]


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