Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Six

Today is Thanksgiving for the United States. It's the day where we gorge ourselves on a massive-sized meal and partake in watching football. For this holiday, I'd like to talk turkeys. No, not the actual birds-- I'm talking about levels that are so bad that I consider them to be turkeys. Har-har!

These levels are frustrating, annoying, poorly conceived, have a certain segment in them that lead to nothing but tears, or are otherwise just plain bad. This sixth volume has games both recent and retro, such as Super Mario Sunshine, Sonic: Lost World, and Double Dragon II. If you are ready, let's dive in to some bad levels on this fine Turkey Day! Gobble-gobble!

Corona Mountain - Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)

Let's get this out of the way-- Super Mario Sunshine is my least favorite 3D Mario title. That said, it's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination; it just features more annoyances (i.e. blue coins, annoying levels, a poor camera at times, etc.) than other 3D Mario games have let loose on me as the player.

Outside of picks like the Pachinko bonus level, the bonus level where you have to guide a leaf on a poison river to collect eight red coins (and getting to said level), that one Yoshi mission in Ricco Harbor, among others, one of the worst challenges in Super Mario Sunshine is the final level, a trek through the sultry and dangerous hot Corona Mountain, the volcano that sits right in the middle of Isle Defino.


From the very start, Corona Mountain is a genuine pain in Mario's tuchus. The first part of the level requires Mario to smartly use the hover function of the FLUDD to move from platform to platform. However, these platforms have intermittent spikes that protrude from each platform and flames, both of which will kill Mario in one hit if he even so much as touches them. This is an annoyance all to itself.


Nonetheless, the most taxing part of Corona Mountain is its second portion, navigating a boat along the channel of lava. This is performed by using the FLUDD to spray water to push the boat along. Spraying to the right will move the boat towards the left, for instance. Crashing into ANYTHING, and there's a lot of potential hazards to crash into, will result in the boat sinking, along with Mario. The boat handles so poorly, which nine times out of ten will be the reason for Mario's death in the level.


After the boat ride comes a section where Mario needs to propel himself into the air with the FLUDD's rocket nozzle, carefully rocketing himself onto the surfaces of clouds both stationary and moving. What is your reward for getting through this fairly ho-hum and frustrating final level? Why, an anti-climactic boss fight against Bowser, one of the worst in Super Mario history.

Frozen Factory Zone 3 - Sonic: Lost World (Wii U)


The first of two level picks from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, we deal with a level from Sonic: Lost World first. Sonic Team has a bad habit of working so much on the first level of its games to make a great first impression on players that it doesn't let later levels have enough time in the oven to be made wonderfully. This is the case with the third level in the Frozen Factory Zone, a casino level.


The level itself is essentially one long hall with multiple springs, split paths, and enemies to contend with. This by itself is just fine. There is nothing wrong at all with these segments of the level.

No, the major issue comes from the handful of segments where Sonic is transported into a pinball table. These sections are absolute hell. The ball physics are terrible, resulting in many cheap deaths, as falling off the table counts as a loss of life.


Unfortunately, one of the pinball tables is home to one of the game's many red rings, a collectible used to unlock extra content in Sonic: Lost World. It's at the very top of one of the three pinball tables. Not only is that problematic and infuriating to try to attempt to collect, but for every five or so times you lose a life, a little portal is created within the pinball table. Touching it makes you skip past the problem spot. The issue here is that the portal is so difficult to avoid that most players will hit it, thus unintentionally skipping the pinball table with the red ring. Talk about adding insult to injury! This means you need to kill Sonic just to get to a point before the portal, but heaven help you if you hit a checkpoint after that pinball table first!

Sky Canyon Zone - Sonic Advance 2 (GBA)


We move from one Sonic the Hedgehog game to another, though this time it's a 2D affair with Sonic Advance 2. Unlike its predecessor, Sonic Advance 2 started the whole "boost to win" level design of the handheld Sonic the Hedgehog games. While this essentially automatic gameplay where boost pads, springs, and grind rails directed players without much need for player control was not a problem in the more open zones of Sonic Advance 2, when the Blue Blur arrives at the Sky Canyon Zone, an issue rears its unfriendly head.


You see, Sky Canyon Zone, like its name implies, takes places in the sky. Therefore, there are plenty of points in the level where bottomless pits position themselves to gobble up the uninitiated. Needless to say, Sonic Advance 2's constant high speeds and bottomless pit placements do not mix well. You're constantly being forced to speed through the level thanks to boost pads and the like, and because of this you do not have a firm grasp on what lies ahead, making running into a row of spikes or worse yet, a bottomless pit, very easy to do.


Then there's the Dr. Eggman encounter at the end of the zone. If you're unaware of how most of Sonic Advance 2's boss fights go, you're always on the run in these battles, chasing after Eggman's latest machine. However, momentum plays a big part in each battle, making it so jumping or otherwise not running slows you down. With Sky Canyon's boss, made up of three unique parts moving in a circular pattern, not only do you have to dodge the boss' advances, but you are required to attack each part of the robot and destroy it. The latter is difficult, as you don't have a lot of real estate on the Game Boy Advance's screen to see which part of the boss is currently facing you're on top of it. Did I mention the boss has a one-hit kill move as well?

Mansion of Terror - Double Dragon II (NES)

Double Dragon II is one of those classic "NES hard" games that begs of its players to constantly get game overs while simultaneously improving and having its players get a little bit further in the game with each try. Soon, you become so skillful at the game that you know how to take down every grunt and boss that stands in your way.

However, even with the most skill, there is one sticking point in Double Dragon II that follows a no-no I have in game design. The Mansion of Terror turns a 95% beat-em-up into a 95% platformer near the end. This wouldn't be so bad if the mechanics of Double Dragon II lent themselves well to jumping with great precision. Double Dragon II's jumping mechanics absolutely, positively do not.


No, what you get is a game that was all about beating up foes for the most part and has it transform into a problematic platformer with plenty of cheap deaths that will result from falling into pits. Get used to having a full set of lives in your collection only to see them fall one by one as you miss jumps, get hit in midair, resulting in you falling to your death, and other incredibly cheap pit-related deaths.


Double Dragon II's Mansion of Terror is a level that requires the player to use a mechanic that the game was not based off of, adding up to an immense amount of frustration. It wouldn't be so bad if the penalty for messing up jumps wasn't so severe. However, seeing your tally of lives go from a high amount to zero because the game decided to throw in ill-conceived platforming for a gameplay system that doesn't handle it well is a game design sin from my position.

Infinity - Breath of Fire II (SNES, GBA)

RPG fans have it much easier nowadays than they did back in 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Breath of Fire II is a product of the 16-bit era, and it definitely possesses that old school, kick-you-in-the-butt type sensibilities. Its final dungeon, Infinity, puts players through the game's ultimate test.

Infinity is little more than an absurd endurance run through a labyrinth of many floors, many dead ends, and an abundant amount of random encounters. It really says something poorly about the random encounter rate when less than five steps results in a new battle and monsters to contend with.


It wouldn't be so obnoxious if the battles themselves didn't take so long, but even at the recommended level for your party, fights with enemies can take a(n) (un)fair while to complete. That isn't even considering many of the harder enemies are HP tanks and some can even cast a death spell that automatically kills one party member. This means that if you have a party member that has been fused with magical power to become stronger in battle and allowing said battles to be won more easily, this fusion is removed upon death.


Infinity is split up within two parts. The first part is actually the most difficult of the two, as it has zero save points. Don't be surprised to spend upwards of 45 minutes in a hellish dungeon with no opportunity to save your progress. This means one battle can undo 45 minutes of hard work.


Thankfully, there is a town that splits up the two halves of Infinity, and it contains a place to rest and a save point. However, upon entering the town, you're greeted with a very long conversation with one of the town's denizens, making that upwards of 45 minutes without saving stretch out even further. The impatient and weak-hearted need not apply to the absurd insanity that is playing through the incredibly exhausting Infinity dungeon in Breath of Fire II.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gone But Not Forgotten 2: Game Cancellations That Also Still Sting

Oh, what could have been... That's a statement that dances around in my mind, taunting me at every waking hour. GAH! ...Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but no doubt you've followed a game from its initial announcement with feverish anticipation only to have it unceremoniously cancelled down the road. It's like a sucker punch to the gut when that happens, and that is what Gone But Not Forgotten deals with, cancelled games that I still feel the sting from. This is the second article in the series, so if you missed the first, check out this link. With that out of the way, let's get depressed and disappointed together! Yay!

Sonic X-treme (SAT)


Sonic X-treme was set up to be the first original Sonic the Hedgehog game for the ill-fated Sega Saturn. However, development hell plagued the game, as did the illnesses of two of main designers. Sonic X-treme went through plenty of alterations and versions before it was ultimately cancelled for good, one of which being the tube-like level designs where Sonic could run on walls, shifting the gravity in the process. The game was intended to use a unique fish-eye lens camera to make the game even more of an eye-catcher. Perhaps the remnants of Sonic X-treme can be seen in last year's Sonic: Lost World released for the Wii U.

Heavenly Sword 2 (PS3)


The original Heavenly Sword was a great success sales-wise, performing well enough to cross the million sale threshold. However, the development duties of its sequel were handed over to a new team, outside of the original developer, Ninja Theory. Meanwhile, Ninja Theory started work on a reboot to the Devil May Cry series. SCE Cambridge was the new team in charge of Heavenly Sword 2, but they were soon restructured and absorbed by Guerilla Games. As it stands now, Heavenly Sword 2 is but a wish from fans of the series, and while the creators say that hope isn't totally lost for a sequel, the likelihood of a new entry is quite low. Not very reassuring, huh?

Maximo 3 (PS2)


Maximo 3's cancellation is a case of poor sales of a predecessor meaning the halting of development for a sequel. After the critically acclaimed Ghost to Glory in 2001 and Army of Zin two years later, both titles released on the PlayStation 2, it's a darn shame that the latter didn't sell anywhere near enough to justify a third entry to cap of the trilogy. Perhaps the games' old school challenging gameplay turned off plenty of potential players, thus dooming a chance for a third game in the series. Well, at least we'll always have Ghosts to Glory and Army of Zin, right?

Bomberman (3DS)


Bomberman was one of the first games shown for the Nintendo 3DS. However, the developer Hudson Soft was purchased by Konami, who proceeded to cancel the game. As a huge fan of Bomberman 64 and its sequel, The Second Attack, the news of this inspired game hit me pretty hard. Not only was the game looking just like a great successor to those two Nintendo 64 classics, but since the game's cancellation, Bomberman as a series has been all but silent in recent years. It was only recently a smartphone game for Japan was announced, offering the old style Bomberman gameplay. It's not a replacement for what the Nintendo 3DS game could have been, but at least Konami isn't totally keeping Bomberman on hiatus.

Chocobo Racing (3DS)


Like the Bomberman project, Chocobo Racing was another tentative title shown during Nintendo's 2010 E3 press conference. Little is known about the game outside of a few screens here and there, but coming off the Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing inspired PlayStation One original, I can't help but feel saddened by the game's cancellation. It's not like competitive mascot arcade racers are in as steady supply as say, first-person shooters, so Chocobo Racing's 3DS entry would have been a welcomed addition to the gaming landscape.

Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble 2 (GCN, GBA)


Finally we look at a death-by-Nintendo-of-Japan Kirby game for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo GameCube,  a sequel to Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble. The original Game Boy Color title used accelerometers in the game's cartridge to allow players to tilt the game system to move Kirby around labyrinths full of enemies, collectibles, and obstacles. As a huge fan of the original, the existence of a new Tilt 'n' Tumble excited me greatly upon seeing it in an issue of Nintendo Power. Now, all that is left of the game are old screenshots and some footage, a painful pair of reminders of what could have been.

Little Deviants (Vita) Review

Time for an early morning review to start your day off right. (Well, it's early morning if you're in the GMT -6 time zone like I am!) This next game was a launch title for the PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, it's a rather weak mini-game collection. The charm is there, but something got in the way of making this game truly good. It's Little Deviants time on SuperPhillip Central!

These are not the deviants you are looking for.


Can you believe that the PlayStation Vita is already over two years old? With every system launch, there are titles that stand out and titles that are better left forgotten. While a fair share of the games that released were top-tier titles, the mini-game collection known as Little Deviants serves as an example of the latter type of title. Serving as a combination of a tech showcase of the Vita's various functionality and a mini-game collection, Little Deviants was a game that launch buyers of the Vita should have avoided.

During a flight through space, the deviants' ship suffers a crash landing on a foreign planet home to some very ferocious creatures. Through completing mini-games, the deviants collect various broken fragments of their ship in order to get the overall goal of escaping the planet in one piece. 

There are two modes in Little Deviants, a "Story" mode that has you playing through the 30+ mini-games, trying to earn the bronze trophy needed to unlock a new game, and a "Games" mode which allows you to play any of the mini-games you have already beaten in Story mode without having to cycle through as many menus as you would otherwise.

This is the map in Story mode where you
select which mini-game you'd like to play.
The PlayStation Vita hardware comes packed with a plethora of functions on it, and Little Deviants aims to use all of them, whether that's a beneficial thing to the whole product or not. You see, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. That's the case with Little Deviants. Many times I cursed the awkward controls, whether they be touch, motion, or sound-based, wishing I was using traditional analog or button inputs.

While the different control ideas used in Little Deviants are ingenious, the way they are executed leaves a lot to be desired. For example, take a game where you have to roll your little deviant friend through a landscape, collecting keys, avoiding obstacles, and making it to each level's goal. Sounds easy enough, but when you factor in that you move the deviant around by fiddling with the imprecise and impractical rear touch screen to create hills to "push" your character, things get very frustrating very quickly. This is especially so when you need precise movements with a control setup that is anything but precise.

Many times you'll want your deviant to
move one way, yet he'll move the other!
Other games feature augmented reality, having the player shoot down enemy UFOs trying to snatch deviants in midair. You circle around in your position and aim the Vita to shoot down foes. My issue here is that for a portable system that is supposed to be for on-the-go usage, why do so many mini-games in Little Deviants make it so you'd look like a fool playing them in public? This isn't like "I'm too insecure to play a portable gaming system in public", it's more like "I already suffer from mental illness-- I don't want to make myself look crazier in public than I already am."

Don't mind me. I'm just spinning around
in the middle of my block like a madman.
Now not all of the games are hindered poorly by shoehorned use of the Vita. There's a mini-game where windows open on a series of apartments, and your job is to tap either the front or rear touch screens depending on where they face. Of course, you have to be careful of hitting friendly characters, as you will get a time penalty for every friendly you smack.

No vacancy for you evildoers!
Regardless, outside of the controls themselves, what makes many of mini-games so annoying is each one's duration. The majority of games in Little Deviants take upwards of five minutes to pass them, and that's not including trying to go for the rare gold trophy, earned by scoring a massive amount of points on a given mini-game. If you're a completionist, you'll most likely continuously need to play each mini-game just to slowly boost your score each time. This is a major time commitment and makes many of the mini-games feel less mini and more crazy.

Like Pac-Man, but with tilt controls
thrown in for bad measure.
Furthermore, when one thinks of a mini-game collection, they most likely think of something for the whole family or a group of friends to sit down and play. Little Deviants deviates from this norm by only containing single player for all of its games. All you get with this title are friend leaderboards and a means to takes jabs at others for besting their scores. Disappointing is an understatement, to say the least.

I bet this is a better product than the WWE these days.
Little Deviants is what you get when a developer gets a little too ambitious and takes every feature of a new piece of hardware and makes a collection of tech demo mini-games out of them. Such an end result of this is what you see with Little Deviants. With myriad times where traditional controls would work better than what is provided, no multiplayer at all, and most mini-games taking way too long to play through for the player to receive a respectable score, Little Deviants is a difficult mini-game compilation to recommend. For a better introduction to the features of the PlayStation Vita, and a free one at that, the already included Welcome Park application is where owners of Sony's portable need to turn to. 

[SPC Says: 4.0/10]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Best Boss Battles in Gaming History - Part Thirteen

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR THE FOLLOWING GAMES:

  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • Puppeteer
  • Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow

There's a certain art that comes from making an exquisite boss battle. It's all too easy to come up with a great idea for an encounter, only to have it executed poorly. The tussles with foes on Best Boss Battles in Gaming History are the exact opposite of that. These are wonderfully designed, memorable, absolutely awesome, and amazing battles that resonate with players, no doubt leaving an impression on them long after the boss in question has been beaten. This is the thirteenth installment of Best Boss Battles in Gaming History, and as long as game creators keep designing great boss battles, this segment will continue to live on!

If you missed a previous installment of Best Boss Battles in Gaming History, look no further than these twelve links!

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six 
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve

Head past the break to see the five bosses I have listed for this edition of Best Boss Battles in Gaming History!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4, XONE) Gameplay Trailer

My most anticipated new-gen game is without question Batman: Arkham Knight, so you can imagine my delight upon seeing this new trailer for the game, featuring a lot of fantastic footage and action. Batman: Arkham Knight will hit the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 2, 2015!

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