Tuesday, July 29, 2014

East Defeats West: Why Japanese Games Appeal to Me Most

For quite some time, I have been a fan of playing Eastern, primarily Japanese software. Sure, I could have simply titled this piece "I Like Japanese Games Best. Here's Why", but that lacked proper punch, so to speak. We writing types have to say creative... or something. Anyway, there's a plethora of reasons as to why Western gaming has all but lost me, but at the same time I think it's important to define what I mean by the terms "Western gaming/games" and "Japanese gaming/games."

With regard to Western gaming, I mean the so-called AAA publishers and developers, folks like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, Epic Games, and so forth. I don't throw in indies in there, as the name suggests, they're independent and all over the world. Japanese gaming is your companies like Nintendo, Square Enix, Capcom, Bandai Namco, Koei Tecmo, among many others.

For a fun gaming experience, I enjoy both console as well as handheld gaming. I'm not talking about mobile gaming, which I don't have much experience with, nor do I have much ire for either. I'm referring to dedicated handheld gaming like what is found on the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. For big Western publishers and developers, it seems their focus is either go big (AAA console gaming) or go mobile. They don't generally bother with handheld devices, and they haven't for a good while. The PSP was an abnormality of sorts, and even then, it promised a console-like experience on the go. It doesn't take too much thought to understand why AAA Western publishers jumped to that system.

Upcoming PS4 game The Order: 1886
This is in contrast with Japanese studios who still develop on three tiers essentially-- high, middle, and low. High being AAA games, and low being mobile games. What's the middle? Those are the projects from the pre-seventh generation era where middle-of-the-road-budgeted games were much more common on consoles. Now we see them mostly on portable devices. It's important to note that indies are an entirely different beast, and technically the title of this editorial could very well be "East Defeats Most of the West: Why Japanese Games and Indies Appeal to Me Most." Indies are pretty much picking up the slack that big Western third-parties used to take on, those middle-of-the-road budget games.

Furthermore, one of my biggest pet peeves with gaming from the major studios and developers in the West is how the term "video game" is almost like a bad pair of words. Many seem downright ashamed to be making games at all, so they call them something else, like "interactive experiences" or some other pretentious term.

Call of Duty: Ghosts (Multi)
A large issue is that many Western studios don't really come off as folks who want to make games in the first place. They seem to prefer to make movies. However, we already have a medium that focuses on film experiences. It's called Hollywood.

A point of contention I have here is that a lot of Western studios want to compete with Hollywood. They simply want to turn gaming into as big a monster as Hollywood. However, I think it's a mistake to do so. If you really want to make Hollywood-like experiences, then go make movies. Of course, you'll probably become laughed out of the business, as most video game stories make stuff like Showgirls look like The Prince of Tides in comparison.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Regardless, I'm of the opinion that stories very much have a place in gaming. However, it's important to tell those stories in a way that only our medium can do. It's so easy to just follow the formula Hollywood has created, throw an hour of cinematics into your game, break it up with "gameplay", and then call it a game. It takes much more skill to take the same story and implement it into the gaming experience in a way that Hollywood would never be able to imagine.

There's plenty to like with Japanese games over the West, but that isn't to say that the West is behind or doing poorly. The West is simply, by and large, heading in a direction with gaming that does not appeal to me. That's all. Is it a bad direction? That's without a doubt subjective. Once in a while I do enjoy playing an open-world game, a shooter, a racing game, or whatnot, but I tend to like the what Japanese developers and publishers are putting out much more often. Whether they possess more charm, more polish, less masculine white males as protagonists, and less Hollywood-wannabes, the games from Japan are what I tend to lean towards more in my modern gaming.

Monday, July 28, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - A Wonderful Day for Some Video Game Music Edition

Welcome to SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs! Our focus with this segment is to showcase the best and brightest themes within the universe of video games. Do you like video games? Do you like music? Then you'll most likely enjoy what we have to share in this weekly dose of VGM goodness. This week we have music from Disney Epic Mickey, Sonic Generations, and Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal!

v671. Disney Epic Mickey (Wii) - Dark Beauty Castle

One of the greater disappointments in recent gaming history, Disney Epic Mickey was a Wii project that owners of all other systems were envious over. However, that envy eroded once it was apparent that the final product was not going to look anything like its impossible concept art. Still, at least one can enjoy the soundtrack, offering a wide array of moods with its symphonic sounds.

v672. Sonic Generations (PS3, 360) - Rooftop Run Act 1 

Sonic Generations was Sonic Team and SEGA doing the Sonic the Hedgehog series right. It was a perfect formula to build off future games off of. Instead of doing that, however, we have a completely different and according to previews, mighty unsatisfying direction taking place for the franchise. Like all Act 1 levels in Sonic Generations, Classic Sonic's 2D escapades are to be enjoyed in these levels.

v673. Space Channel 5 (DC) - Spaceport: Introducing Ulala!!

Ken Woodman was the original composer to Mexican Flyer. The producer behind Space Channel 5 enjoyed it so much that he suggested that SEGA buy the rights to it. Thus, SEGA did, and the song and all of its remixed forms became synonymous with Ulala and the Space Channel 5 franchise.

v674. The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces (Wii) - Rally

The Sky Crawlers was a project that crossed two media: video games and anime. The anime aired in Japan in all of its animated glory, while the Wii game released in most parts of the world. It was nice to see Project Aces work on something other than Ace Combat even if just for one game. The most appealing part of The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces was the superb music that accompanied players on the various missions in the sky.

v675. Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal (GBC) - Goldenrod City

Let's go old school with this last VGM volume of this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. We turn our attention to Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal with this listen to Goldenrod City's theme. It's a cheery theme that satisfies the aural senses with its chiptune loveliness.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Super Toy Cars (Wii U eShop) Review

Do you like toy cars? Do you like things that are super? I hope you at least like the latter, as this site is sort of called SUPERPhillip Central. If you don't like things that are super, then this site will soon have its name changed to Phillip Central. Sounds like a James Bond character... Maybe not.

Anyway, our tenth review of the month is for a game that is available on the Wii U eShop. It's Super Toy Cars, and its engine is all revved up for this review!

At least your mom won't accidentally step all over these!

As a kid, I loved playing with my Micro Machines. Whether I'd be building cities with the various play sets that were put out or simply racing them around the family room table, they were great toys. Now, Eclipse Games is trying hard to hit my nostalgia for my childhood through creating a game totally based on racing with toy cars. While they're no Micro Machines (but what is, really?), Super Toy Cars is an admirable attempt at taking something a lot from my generation played with and creating a racer out of it. It just sadly wipes out while doing so.

Man, I could go for that Sprite knockoff and
cheeseburger in the distance right about now... *drools*
Career mode is where all of the single player action in Super Toy Cars takes place. You begin with one toy car, and through progressing through segments of six events each, unlock credits to purchase new vehicles and upgrades. The handling of each vehicle varies. Some control splendidly, while others? Not so much. By that same token, you can purchase upgrades to boost various stats like top speed, acceleration, handling, weight, and more. Thus, even the worst performing toy car on paper can become something you can get used to controlling.

As fun as it is to eat everyone's exhaust,
I'm in the front of the pack where I belong.
However, controlling your car on tracks isn't the best it could be. It has nothing to do with the controls of Super Toy Cars by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, the problem lies with the game's physics, which are funky at best and frustratingly wonky at worst. Even the smallest nudge by an opposing vehicle's bumper can send you drastically careening off course. Take a ramp a degree too poorly, and that makes the difference between a successful landing and a disaster of a jump. Many times I would take a jump perfectly, only then to my surprise I would land and lose all momentum completely, having the AI opposition pass me with glee. I felt like it was a crap shoot whether I'd successfully keep my speed up or have it let out like the air in a balloon.
Please don't let me land stupidly.
Please don't let me land stupidly.
And that's what Super Toy Cars's later races and challenges feel like-- a crap shoot. You're always at the mercy of the inconsistent physics of the game. A race could be going perfectly, and then you touch something on the track that completely ruins your run. Seeing as how quickly the game forces you to respawn at the faintest hint of stopping dead in your tracks or going at a "wrong" angle, this becomes quite problematic, and again, aggravating.

Unfortunately, all of the major actions aside from braking and accelerating are mapped to the face buttons. It's so easy to forget which button does what, that instead of boosting or launching off a weapon or item, you instead cause your toy car to manually respawn, costing precious seconds and in a race's term, several positions.

Regardless, Career mode does offer some variety outside of traditional races. There's elimination events, where last place is routinely removed until one racer is left standing/racing, time trials, checkpoint-to-checkpoint time challenges, and really obnoxious evade events, which are elimination events with... mines splattered all over the track. ...Yeah.

You always know where you need to
go thanks to these helpful track-side arrows.
For multiplayer sessions, Super Toy Cars allows up to four local players to choose an unlocked vehicle and take to one of the game's dozen tracks. That's right. There is no online play to speak of, and unfortunately for Super Toy Cars, most people are not going to get together to play races with this game when there's a better and more exciting alternative with Mario Kart 8.

He who is without friends plays alone.
There's also a track editor and creator to tool around with, but I was unable to do much with it. Each visit to the track creator always ended with me having to pull a cord from the back of my Wii U system, because the system would hard lock thanks to Super Toy Cars's track creator. It's a shame, because I would have loved to see how robust the creator was. It'd also give more variety in the track selection, racing on my own tracks with friends. That surely would have been an incentive to try out this game in multiplayer! No sarcasm intended either. It genuinely would.

The already preexisting tracks feature a handful of locales: a kitchen, a family room, a garage, a driveway, etc. Everyday objects line the turns and straightaways of each track, things like motor oil cans in the garage tracks and produce and aluminum cans in the kitchen tracks. The tracks are serviceable in their design, and they do their jobs well. There could be some more variety in the designs, as many obstacles repeat themselves throughout the tracks.

The cool in-game Photo Mode was used to
take all of these screenshots.
Super Toy Cars looks the part of a child-friendly racer. There's nothing here that really stands out as fantastic in the presentation, save for the blur effects in the photo mode, but it all adds up to something that works and works well. The music is all licensed from the same alternative band, and there's not really much to add about it. It's just there. What I do wish was "just there" was some kind of fanfare for crossing the finish line. As is, each race ends so anticlimactically. Furthermore, the text used in the game for menus and to describe each event type is so narrow that I had to move up to be able to read it.

I sure hope a dog doesn't "use"
this fire hydrant right now.
For those looking for a racer on the Wii U, there are far worse choices than Super Toy Cars. At the same token, there's far better choices, too. The wonky physics, unimpressive presentation, freezing issues, and lack of online make for a hard sell, and rightfully so. While I didn't really enjoy what I played of Super Toy Cars, I must give credit where credit is due-- the team at Eclipse Games have something really good as a foundation right here. Plus, it did give me the great desire to pull out my old Micro Machines toys and start going hog wild! The frustration with the physics of the game was almost worth that alone!

[SPC Says: 4.0/10]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Disney's Hercules Action Game (PS1, PSN) Retro Review

There's some kind of Hercules movie coming out in North America tomorrow starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Do we smell what the Rock is cooking? Yes. Some kind of Hercules movie. We just said that. Anyway, why don't we take this chance to review a game based off the best Hercules ever to exist in the history of anything? No... not Kevin Sorbo! We're talking about Disney's Hercules! Yes, it's time for a review of the retro variety with Disney's Hercules Action Game for the original PlayStation!

Zero to Hero in One-and-a-Half Hours

When I was growing up around the time of the movie's release, I was obsessed with Disney's Hercules. The animated motion picture regarded content that I was crazy about, Greek mythology, and it offered that content in a charming package with action and a lot of laughs. I bought the McDonald's Happy Meals, I bought the toys, and yes, I played the games. One of my first PlayStation games ever was Disney's Hercules. When I saw it appear on the PlayStation Store, I couldn't resist buying it to see if it would live up to the fond memories and nostalgia I had for it. Did it, or was that task too much of a herculean effort?

The companion game to the Disney's Hercules movie follows the movie's story in an authentic way, even sporting many scenes directly taken from the film to bookend each level. For those uninitiated, Disney's Hercules follows the story of Hercules, child of the thunder god Zeus, as he trains with Phil to become a hero. It goes on to involve a lost interest, Meg, and several encounters with the god of the underworld, Hades, who wishes to take over Zeus's territory.

Hermes serves as the checkpoints of
Disney's Hercules Action Game.
Disney's Hercules Action Game (which is a title that doesn't really flow, so I'll just be calling it "Disney's Hercules") is one part 2D platformer, one part 3D runner, one part boss battles, and one part shoot-em-up. There's a good variety of gameplay styles, as you can tell. However, it's a tad disappointing that the best part of the game, the 2D platforming is only featured in the first half of the game, and then it's gone from sight. To make matters worse, there's only three of these levels included!

"Excellente, kid!"
Well said, Phil.
The 2D levels feature Hercules, swiping his sword at enemies, leaping from platform to platform, searching and exploring levels for secret areas, and in some parts of levels, moving from different planes, such as transitioning from the foreground to the background. This turns the typical move-right-to-left gameplay of traditional platformers on its head and offers even more chances for exploration.

There are three levels in Disney's Hercules which have you in a perspective behind a running Hercules, going through an obstacle course of sorts. You can speed up and slow down to leap over chasms, time your movements correctly in order to avoid hazards, and you can choose way you wish to go on the two levels which feature split paths.

An obstacle course that would make
Double Dare envious!
These two initial types of levels are engaging and enjoyable to play. It's a shame stereoscopic 3D wasn't available at the time, as it would not only make the game look more impressive than when the game originally released, but it would greatly assist with jumps, particularly in the 3D running obstacle course segments of the game.

Boss levels are very quick affairs, sadly, that make this already short game feel even shorter. The physical contests against the Hydra and Medusa take place in circular arenas. That's all these levels are. I would have loved to seen a build-up to these encounters, whether they be the aforementioned 2D platforming levels or the 3D runner levels. As is, when you beat these brief battles, your expression and thoughts will pretty much be summed up with one question: "That's it?"

Don't worry. There's no need to
"get up on the Hydra's back"!
Finally, there's one level where you ride aboard Hercules's trusty steed Pegasus through Mount Olympus' skies as you avoid the strikes and attacks of the legendary and otherworldly Titans. This level is basically a shoot-em-up. Well, technically it's a slash-em-up, as Hercules sort of doesn't possess a gun to ward off threats with, thankfully.

Disney's Hercules is indeed a quick game to beat. The developers obviously knew this, as the save system is rather old-fashioned. In order to save your data after a level, you must obtain all four hidden vases each time. Furthermore, to get continues, you need to collect all of the letters which spell out HERCULES. It adds some replay value to find the locations of letters, but many levels have it where if you miss a letter, you can't backtrack unless you intentionally lose a life and get sent back to a checkpoint to try again. Also, it's important to note that you should really play the game on the Normal difficulty or harder, 'else you won't be able to reach the final two levels of the game.

Ew. I can smell your armpit from here...
The animations and characters of Disney's Hercules are exquisite. I'm still impressed by what Disney Interactive and Eurocom were able to muster with the original PlayStation's power. It by no means animates as smoothly as games today, but it's still quite a looker. Environments are nicely detailed with wonderful parallax scrolling for 2D levels and polygonal objects in 3D levels that don't harm the eyes. The actors from the animated film do all the voice work for this game, which is a magnificent touch and makes the whole package feel like the real deal. Finally, the music is suitably catchy, featuring plenty of tunes that will make your herculean toes tap!

Disney's Hercules may suffer from a short campaign and a disappointing amount of 2D levels, my favorite part of the game. However, the entire package is worthwhile to check out, and it's a game that begs for repeated play-throughs whether for speed runs or just casual play. The game is available for purchase on the PlayStation Store in the form of a PS1 classic, so PS3 and Vita owners can enjoy it either at home or on the go whenever they want. He put the glad in gladiator, and Hercules's game puts the fun in functional, which is exactly what this game based off the animated film is.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

Hyrule Warriors (Wii U) Features Trailer

Hyrule Warriors takes the Dynasty Warriors series and gives it a Legend of Zelda makeover. As you can probably guess, we're big fans of Zelda, so we are absolutely drooling in anticipation for Hyrule Warriors. This trailer shows off the current announced characters for the game, as well as new locales based off of Ocarina of Time, one of three Zelda games getting major representation in Hyrule Warriors. Is it near the end of September yet?


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