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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Gaming's Mount Rushmore" Edition

With today being President's Day here in the States, it seemed like the perfect occasion for a special themed edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. Just like how Mount Rushmore showcases four important presidents of United States history, this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs focuses on five video game characters that are more than worthy of being on the gaming equivalent of Mount Rushmore.

We begin with none other than Mario (but of course!) with Super Mario Sunshine. Then, we travel to the jungle with Donkey Kong's DK: King of Swing. Following the great gorilla is the Blue Bomber's ninth entry, Mega Man 9. Sonic the Hedgehog blazes onto the scene soon after with Sonic Riders, and Pac-Man invites us to wrap things up with a theme from the original Pac-Man World.

Click on the VGM volume name to hear the song represented, and as always, check out the VGM Database for every VGM ever showcased on this weekly SuperPhillip Central mainstay.

v1336. Super Mario Sunshine (GCN) - Vs. Boss


With word of the 3D Super Mario series returning to the Super Mario 64 sandbox style structure with Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch, why not take a look (and listen) back with a game of that style with Super Mario Sunshine? This theme played during many of the boss encounters in the game, such as Gelato Beach's battle with an increasingly angrier Wiggler.

v1337. DK: King of Swing (GBA) - Banana Bungalow


While not a game that many would think of when asked to name a great game starring Donkey Kong, the Game Boy Advance's DK: King of Swing may not be a typical platformer in the vein of Donkey Kong Country, but it's really good regardless. It has players using the GBA's shoulder buttons to serve as DK's hands, grabbing onto various pegs to navigate through the game's levels. The soundtrack is no masterful David Wise effort, but it's pretty catchy, as evident through this level theme.

v1338. Mega Man 9 (Multi) - Splash Woman


How could we not have a Mount Rushmore of gaming without Mega Man! Better yet, how could the Mega Man series go eight previous entries without a female robot master! Mega Man 9 finally introduced a robot master of the opposite sex with Splash Woman, and her stage music is one of my favorites from Mega Man 9, a game that I feel sort of overdid it with the spike traps. That's why it's not one of my most loved entries in the classic Mega Man series.

v1339. Sonic Riders (PS2, GCN, XBX) - Babylon Garden


Sonic the Hedgehog is known for his blazing speed, and sometimes he didn't even use his red and white sneakers to go fast. In the unique racer Sonic Riders, he used a board just like every other character-- perhaps to even the odds by imposing a handicap on himself? The soundtrack of the Sonic Riders games (all three of them-- though it's best to forget the Xbox 360 Kinect exclusive installment) are more electronic synth than anything else, quite atypical for the more rock-influenced soundtracks of the main 3D games.

v1340. Pac-Man World (PS1) - Buccaneer Beach


Pac-Man World for the original PlayStation was the 20th anniversary game for Namco's leading mascot, one of the most famous faces in video games, Pac-Man. The game saw Pac take a 3D platforming star role with a soundtrack composed entirely by Tommy Tallarico, a composer who has been in the business for quite some time, also starring on Reviews on the Run.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Red's Kingdom (iOS, Android, PC) Review

Before we close out this week's activity here at SuperPhillip Central, we have a review of a game that released last month on iOS and Android devices as well as PC. It's Red's Kingdom, a unique take on the sliding puzzle mechanic found in other games. Is it fun, or will it drive you nutty? Let's find out with the SuperPhillip Central review.

Backtracking again? Aw, nuts.


Sometimes developers need not come up with a wholly brand-new gameplay mechanic to create a novel experience. Sometimes it's just taking one mechanic and introducing it with some new dressing or with a completely different structure than the norm to create a fresh experience. That's what Cobra Mobile's Red's Kingdom does, and while it isn't totally successful with their approach, the overall game is worthy of checking out, especially for its low price.

The main gameplay mechanic of Red's Kingdom isn't that new of an idea. You control Red by swiping in one of four directions, and Red rolls continuously in that direction until he hits a solid object. As I said, the idea isn't really novel, but the structure of the game is. Instead of being a linear level-based affair, Red's Kingdom takes place in a wholly interconnected world. While this quite cool, it also becomes one of the main issues with the game, which I'll cover later.

Red's Kingdom has players moving from room to room, whether indoor or outdoor, by finding the correct path through them. This means to clear each room you'll have to do the correct combination of rolls to reach the exit. Sometimes there are multiple exits to take, which offers some exploration into the fold. Often, going off the beaten path can have you come across hidden goodies like a heart in a jar, where collecting three of these increases Red's health by one heart.

The beginning of Red's journey sees him rolling his way to this castle.
Starting off, you simply roll around rooms until you find the right means to reach its exit. As you go through the game, you'll find that the developers add multiple new hazards and obstacles into the game to keep things interesting and engaging. These range from buttons that open doors, levers that alternate between raising and lower red and blue blocks, puddles of sticky tar that stop Red right in his tracks no matter if there's a solid object nearby or not, and ramps that send Red flying over chasms.

There is a Metroid-style influence also found in Red's Kingdom. In the game, Red will come across certain items that allow him to access previously unreachable areas. For instance, early in the game Red will meet up with a fellow squirrel who will give him a medallion. With this medallion Red is able to deal damage to enemies that were once invincible to his rolls. Attacking enemies is as easy as rolling into them, but if you're only doing this, you also take damage. Thus, there is a cool technique the game teaches you, and that is to tap the screen right before Red rolls into a given enemy to deal a critical hit and take zero damage from rolling into the foe. Another item grants Red the power to roll into pink plants that spit him out to reach otherwise inaccessible locations.

Enemies can be rolled into, but if you don't tap the screen
before barreling into them, Red will take damage.
For some of the secret goodies to be found in Red's Kingdom, you'll have to travel back to previous areas to use your new acquired item or ability to get them. Here comes a host of the game's problems. For one, backtracking in Red's Kingdom isn't as simple as say, The Legend of Zelda, where you can just run through a room. Instead, Red's Kingdom requires you to essentially solve a puzzle by navigating through each room by rolling from solid object to solid object until you finally reach the exit. The requirement to resolve rooms gets very tedious very quickly.

Another problem with Red's Kingdom is that many of the areas of the game look similar to one another, especially dungeon areas. It can mighty difficult recalling which dungeon or even outdoor section of the game's overworld contains the destination you wish to go to. "Now, where was that section of the world where that one spitting plant leading to that hidden chest I'm missing?" Questions like that will occur often, and since the world of Red's Kingdom is such a maze full of annoying backtracking, this becomes a serious problem.

What there is of the story is lighthearted fare that doesn't interrupt the gameplay too terribly much.
All this would be fine if the save system was adequate. In its state, however, it's really not. Red's Kingdom automatically saves when you cross save icons in specific rooms. It also saves when you reach various transporters strewn throughout the world that allow you to travel to any other transporter you've already discovered. The problem with the former is that you find yourself in the wrong area of the game (again, easily done as a lot of areas are indistinguishable from one another), you can't just quit to a point from where you were transported because the game automatically saved when you rolled over a save icon-- usually one deep in an area. This means you have to backtrack all the way through an area just to reach the transporter to hopefully warp to the correct area.

Red's Kingdom sports an isometric view that generally works well. However, sometimes parts of the scenery can be obscured by other objects, making it hard to get a full grip on the room you're currently in. There were more than a couple of occasions where I aimlessly rolled around not knowing what to do until I finally saw a lever that could be barely be seen due to being obscured by another object.

An issue with the isometric view that I'm glad the developers got right is the ability to hold the touch screen to show dotted lines that represent all the paths Red can roll. This is crucial to use when there are multiple elevations to take in account as well as damaging hazards like enemies, pools of dangerous liquid, or spiked barrels. Having the dotted lines show what Red will be stopped by or will run into makes the isometric view much less of a bother than it could have been.

For rooms with different elevations, it's good to get a grip on where Red will roll.
Red's Kingdom delivers a delightful visual package with 3D rendered graphics and detailed environments, whether outdoor with its lush vegetation or inside with its well done lighting effects, offering radiant auras that illuminate corners of the otherwise dank dungeons. The handful of animated scenes in Red's Kingdom are also pleasant to look at and cute to boot. What isn't so pleasant is the soundtrack. The song you'll hear the most in the game that features the bagpipe really grates on the ears after a few play-throughs. Now, imagine hearing it repeatedly as you frequent the area it plays in.

Overall, Red's Kingdom has its fair share of problems from the tedium of backtracking, the need to resolve rooms during said backtracking, areas that look too similar to one another, the maze that is the interconnected world, and an imperfect save system. However, even with all of those faults, Red's Kingdom offers an adorable adventure that will test your brain and sometimes even your reflexes. While the overworld structure of Red's Kingdom doesn't really work for a sliding puzzle game of this type, it's far from a bad game. It's just not a particularly great one.

[SPC Says: C+]

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