Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review Round-Up - September 2014

A duo of Mega Man-style games lead
SPC's month of reviews for September.
September of 2014 was a month of but a handful of reviews. We started off with a look at Super Mario Kart, racing across the finish line earning a 9.0. What followed was Mega Man X3, releasing on the Nintendo Virtual Console for the first time since the service's debut over eight years ago. I then reviewed the only retail title of the month, Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, which received the lowest score of the month, a 6.5. Lastly, we went further into our direction of Mega Man and Mega Man-styled games with Mega Man X4 and Azure Striker Gunvolt.

During the next month, business will most certainly pick up with reviews of Hyrule Warriors, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, and so much more. You can really tell that we're getting into the busiest part of the gaming year, yes?

Super Mario Kart (SNES, Wii U VC) - 9.0
Mega Man X3 (SNES, Wii U VC) - 9.0
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure (Wii U, 3DS) - 6.5
Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT, PSN) - 9.5
Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS eShop) - 8.75

Mega Man X4 is SuperPhillip Central's
Game of the Month for September 2014.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS eShop) Review

We, as in all of this site's readers and myself, seldom get other people's opinions on games. I think it's an unspoken rule that if anyone posts an opinion that goes against mine, they are taken out. No, I'm kidding there!

In all seriousness, Bean, who has written content for SuperPhillip Central in the past, is back with a brand-new review to cap off this action-packed month of reviews. His contribution is Azure Striker Gunvolt, a game crafted by Inti Creates of Mega Man Zero and Mega Man 9/10 fame. Is Gunvolt a shocking success or a mighty number disappointment?

Gunvolt's Electrifying Entry

Mega Man games used to be a given no matter what traditional gaming platform you owned. Console owners received Mega Man 9 and 10, Nintendo handheld owners were given no less than four series, and even the PSP managed to sneak in Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X. Yes, you could always count on Capcom to take the series out for another spin... until Keiji Inafune and Capcom parted ways a few years ago, that was. With Mega Man now in hibernation, it's up to the company that used to make the Zero and ZX games in Inti Creates to create a spiritual successor to keep the run and gun gameplay going. With Azure Striker Gunvolt, I can safely say that they have done that and arguably more.

The art is amazing in Azure Striker Gunvolt.
Expected from Inti Creates, but still amazing.
Azure Striker Gunvolt definitely feels like it's another branch of the Mega Man family, most notably the aforementioned Zero and ZX series. Our hero is none other than a teen resistance fighter that goes by the name of, wait for it, Gunvolt. What is he fighting? Well, there is this group in his world named Sumeragi that are trying to both suppress and enslave psychic Adepts to control the world under the guise of peace. In fact, Gunvolt's first mission in the game is to find and eliminate an artificial life form that has the power to control other Adepts with music. As it turns out, said artificial life form named Lumen is the manifestation of another character named Joule. Seeing as how Gunvolt is not into the whole taking down an innocent character, he spares and saves both, effectively leaves his QUILL resistance group and making him the number one target of the Sumeragi.

Meanwhile, the dialogue doesn't mind
having a little fun at times.
If you're going to help Gunvolt hold his own and protect his newfound friend, you'll have to know how to do it. Sure, Gunvolt uses a blaster that isn't unlike the ones found in Mega Man Zero and ZX, but don't think shooting your enemies is the answer to everything because it's not. Instead, Gunvolt himself is an electrical Adept, and he puts his power into every bullet he shoots. When you are able to tag an enemy with a shot, a glowing-colored target will surround said foe. Said colors are blue (one tag), yellow (two), or a full-powered red (three). It's once they're tagged that you want to press the R button to fry those enemies with an electrically-charged current that also turns on a shield around our hero, and believe me, this deals damage way faster than your bullets ever could. Just make sure you keep an eye on how much juice you have left. If you are running low, you can double tap down on the D-Pad to restore your electrical power or EP quickly, but if you run out, you'll be forced to wait for a few seconds while enemies are trying to pick you off. Yikes.

In the beginning, you can only tag up to three enemies with a level one or blue charge, but you will gain guns over the course of your adventure just by completing stages that have different capabilities. Personally, my favorite gun was the one you unlock just two levels in called the Naga as it allows up to five tags. There aren't many opportunities to get that many enemies at once, but you'll be able to tag enemies with more than one shot apiece and get quite a few double or even triple takedowns to help your score out. I really didn't care for many of the other ones as more tags just seems to equal more power, but I bet there are some skilled players that could make good use of the other weapons Gunvolt can wield.

On top of just that, Gunvolt also has a skill set on the bottom screen that you can activate with the touch pad. These moves take special points or SP, and you only have three in the stage. For the most part, the only time you're really going to want to use things like an overly-powered sword stab or an instant heal are against bosses, but this power will recharge as you go along through levels. Basically, you have plenty of ways to put the hurt on your foes, and it's a good thing since some of the bosses in this game can be quite tough if you don't catch on to how their moves work and fast.

While boss battles start out simple...
The Sumeragai Adept fights are interesting in that they have a three-segment health bar. In the first phase of the fight, you'll see them perform basic attacks or weaker versions of what's to come. When they hit the second phase, this is when you'll start witnessing some of the more powerful strikes they have. Get them down to the final phase, and I guess they'll hit the bottom of their own 3DS touch screen to activate their super-powerful attack. In some cases, you'll want to go on the offensive right away and take down the boss or his hands before they try grow too big and crush you like a grape. In others, you'll be forced to stay on the defensive as lasers that are summoned through warp holes try to pick you off or you have to endure a bullet hell type scenario. What I like about these fights are just how many attacks these bosses have and how they build up to a finish. The better you play, the more likely you'll be able to bring a quick end to the fight, but you can always heal up if you have the SP to do so. It's your call!

...They quickly become quite hectic!
I think what makes the game more interesting is that Gunvolt's powers aren't just used for offense and defense. You can also activate the Flashfield with the R button to give you a pseudo-hover jump. In many stages, this can help you safely land on some jumps that would otherwise cause issues. In one particular stage, Gunvolt's shield is used as a magnet to cross up and over large spike beds looming below. That said, spikes aren't even lethal in the Azure Striker's world... barring you don't equip a very specific item that you can get from the shop. Yes, this game even has a Synth Shop that will allow you to equip items to give you abilities like a double jump, a mid-air dash, or a more powerful Flashfield ability. The way to get items to use for the shop is to go through and complete stages before partaking in a post-level card game. You can find medals in stages to give you extra tries as well as earning them by getting a higher grade in levels. Certain materials are specific to certain levels, so there is a bit of a grinding aspect that can come into play if you don't get what you want. It's one of the main gripes I have with this game, actually.

As for grading, the game wants you to basically do a speedy no-hit run while doing as many double and triple takedowns as you can throughout the course of a level. Sounds hard? Well, it is, but the good news is that you don't have to earn a super-high score to get all of the good stuff like you used to in Mega Man Zero. Throughout levels, you'll earn Kudos points which increase in the same fashion as your main score. Doing things like a full-powered tag will get you extra Kudos as well as triple tag takedowns or finishing off an enemy while in mid-air. If you get that Kudos score to 1000 in a level, you'll even have a song pop up from Lumen, and these are some of the better tracks in a game that admittedly has more songs that are just there than are stellar. The gameplay benefit from this is that you can have a chance to be resurrected should you fall in battle, but make sure you don't get hit or use a checkpoint while building your Kudos score up because you will see it drop right back down to zero then. You can increase said chances to be resurrected if you're not feeling confident by talking to Joule between stages at your base, and you'll be doing that anyway when you find seven magical Jewels that you'll want to give to her to help you eventually unlock the true ending. Yes, there's both a normal and true ending to this one. For a Mega Man-like game, there sure is a lot of content here!

Gunvolt asks the age old question,
"Which way is up?"
It wound up taking me over seven hours to get through Azure Striker Gunvolt, and I haven't even touched the bonus stages I unlocked after getting the true ending. So while the music might not be the greatest thing ever, the shop can lead to grinding, and the enemy types aren't all that varied, I had way more fun with this title than I thought I would. The gameplay is fast-paced and suits both newer players that just want to win and expert players that are seeking a true challenge. The dialogue is more hit than miss, and the gameplay definitely follows suit with some great levels that involve some neat little uses of Gunvolt's abilities.

It has been over seven years now since Nintendo handheld owners have received a game like this from Inti Creates. Obviously, Azure Striker Gunvolt isn't a part of the Mega Man franchise, but it certainly plays like it's one while also having its own unique touches to offer. I can't recommend this one enough to those that are seeking a 2D platformer that can either be a mostly fun romp or a highly challenging speed runner's paradise. I personally think is one of Inti's best games to date, and that's a pretty high compliment for a group that's made Mega Man 10, Zero 3, and ZX Advent. Yes, Azure Striker Gunvolt is a great new twist on a classic formula, but considering the developers, I guess it's not that shocking at all.

[Bean Says: 8.75/10]

Monday, September 29, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Mishmash Edition

A mishmash is defined as "a confused mess, hodgepodge, jumble." While "a confused mess" could describe yours truly, it doesn't really fit in with this week's SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs theme. Instead, "hodgepodge" and "jumble" do. I mean, what else can you say about an edition that starts with the grim world of Gears of War and ends on the sunshine and rainbows of Mario Superstar Baseball? Technically, one could call every edition of this site's VGM faves as a mishmash, but it works no better than it does this week. ...At least that's the story I'm sticking with.

If you're interested in seeing what other songs and games I've featured in past editions of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, check out my VGM Database. It has all 700+ songs available for you to listen to, pending the videos haven't been taken down.

v711. Gears of War (360, PC) - Main Theme

It's very common to see soundtracks from Eastern games on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. I follow the notion that most Western games try too hard to appeal to a Hollywood mindset. They're scored like movies, with more atmospheric and less melodic material than their Eastern counterparts. Gears of War is just like that, as is VGM Volume 712. That said, that doesn't mean such material can't be presented on this list!

v712. Batman: Arkham Origins (Multi) - Arkham Origins Main Titles

I really enjoyed my time with Batman: Arkham Origins. A part of that was the soundtrack. Well, a very small part, but a part nonetheless. The upcoming June 2015 release of Arkham Knight is one of the few games that make we want to make the full transition to the PS4 or Xbox One. Nonetheless, it really is a slow and underwhelming new generation, is it not? Maybe I'm alone on that thought...

v713. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2) - Boldan - Silver City

My favorite Ratchet & Clank game, Going Commando, is also one of my favorite games of all time. It does everything well, and even it's music, although forgettable a lot of the time, has some charm to it. David Bergeaud did an absurdly admirable job with his compositions and musical direction with this second entry in the Ratchet & Clank franchise.

v714. Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil (PS2) - Joliant (Great Amusement Park Joliant)

Welcome to Joliant! As you can imagine with the part of the song title in the parentheses, Joliant is a fabulous and expansive amusement park full of frights and delights for players. Klonoa's second platforming title was his first and only PlayStation 2 adventure. It really hurts that the Wii remake of the first game did not sell well.... AT ALL. If I allowed myself to post emoticons on articles, this would be where a sad emoticon would be placed. ...Aw, what the hell. :(

v715. Mario Superstar Baseball (GCN) - Toy Field

It's postseason time in Major League Baseball. For those not in the States, this is nothing special, but to Americans like me who bleed red, white, blue and do lots of super-patriotic crap that is annoying to most other countries, it's the national pastime's most intense time of year! Why not spread the love of baseball with Mario Superstar Baseball, a game that opens up baseball to a wider audience, lest we forget how popular the sport is in the developer's home country?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Top Ten Franchise Revivals

I've written articles asking for sequels to long-forgotten or shelved game franchises many times before in the past. However, what I haven't done yet is take those game franchises that saw actual reboots and revivals to them and were not only excellent games in their own right, but they successfully brought back attention to old characters and series. Some of these revivals returned their series to their traditional genre, but some completely turned their series upside down, for the better. These are the top ten franchise revivals of all time, as chosen by yours truly.

10) Killer Instinct (XONE)

We start off my list with the Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, originally made popular in arcades and on the Super Nintendo back in the mid-nineties. Ken Lobb, an original development team member on the original games, supervised Double Helix Games, Iron Galaxy Studios, and Rare throughout the creation of this long-anticipated revival. The end result was an even more impressive graphical beast with as many regular combos, Super Combos, and Ultra Combos as fans expected out of the series. What it lacks in content, Killer Instinct has in excellent combo-centric fighting that both genre veterans and beginners alike can enjoy.

9) Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Taking the original 1989 Prince of Persia game and putting it into a 3D perspective, albeit retooled and rebooted, is not a task one should scoff at. However, the fine minds at Ubisoft Montreal was able to do so, and not just complete the task but do so magnificently. The Prince had an immense number of athletic moves he could unleash at the press of a button, such as running along walls, scaling platforms like Nathan Drake on steroids, and leaping over wide chasms, giving Nintendo's Mario a run (or jump) for his money. The success of Sands of Time allowed Ubisoft to stretch out the franchise to three mostly well received sequels. It wasn't until a second reboot on last generation systems that put the Prince out to pasture, at least for now.

8) New Super Mario Bros. (DS)

1992's Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on Game Boy was Mario's final foray into traditional 2D platforming until 2006, a good fourteen years later. We take for granted 2D Mario games now, especially as there have been three others since with the same sterile presentation. That said, Nintendo knows how to deliver excellent, imaginative, and immaculate level design, and the New Super Mario Bros. series always amazes in that regard. Mario's return to 2D in 2006 with the Nintendo DS and New Super Mario Bros. might not be Mario's most marvelous moment in his illustrious history (I'd call it the weakest of the four NSMB games), but it put Mario's 2D escapades back in the front seat and into the limelight for one welcomed return.

7) Mega Man 9 (PSN, XBLA, WiiWare)

Speaking of taking specific series for granted, remember when we complained that there was too much Mega Man? It seemed in the mid 2000's that we, at least I, was whining how Mega Man had oversaturated the market with his games, albeit in different Mega Man series. Nowadays, Nintendo remembers Mega Man and treats him better than his own publisher, Capcom, does. There has to be a middle ground, right? Mega Man 9 brought back the Classic series of games after a long slumber. It tossed aside the updated visuals of Mega Man 7 and 8 for tried and true 8-bit visuals, and definitely a Nintendo-hard difficulty. Mega Man 9 was the series going back to its roots, allowing old fans to enjoy old school Mega Man gameplay and newcomers to see what the Blue Bomber was all about.

6) Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) 

Rare, the talented Twycross studio, was purchased by Microsoft early in the sixth generation of home consoles. This turned many Nintendo fans into unhappy campers. This meant no more Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and so on for Nintendo home consoles. What also stunk was the revelation that Donkey Kong Country as an IP was no longer in Rare's capable hands. After many years of Donkey Kong appearing in side games and experimental projects through the GameCube and early Wii's lives, it seemed the dream for a new DKC was dead. That was until an E3 reveal of a brand-new Donkey Kong Country, made by Retro Studios of all people. With exquisitely designed levels that were ripe with imagination and a game that contained the same charm of the SNES trilogy, Donkey Kong Country was back and in a big way. The Wii release, Donkey Kong Country Returns, became a million seller and would spawn a terrific Wii U sequel. As a fan of the SNES trilogy, this was a miracle to me and a dream come true.

5) Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

Like the Ice Climbers in Super Smash Bros. Melee, there was a newcomer in the starting roster of Super Smash Bros. Brawl fighters that some folks weren't too privy on. Who was this winged angel-looking boy? Well, he was none other than Pit from the NES classic Kid Icarus. But who could foretell that this character would be found fascinating by the Smash series creator and director Masahiro Sakurai, and enough for him to director a retro revival starring Pit in the form of Kid Icarus: Uprising? Taking his trademark directorial skills-- lots of content, simple yet deep gameplay mechanics, and lots of charm-- and putting them into one hilarious self-referential on-rails shooter/action game hybrid, Masahiro Sakurai led his team into creating one of the Nintendo 3DS's best titles and one of Nintendo's greatest revivals of one of their older IP. Just remember to stop playing and take a break if your hands start cramping up!

4) Ninja Gaiden (XBX)

There's few directors that can take a series that was traditionally a 2D side-scrolling action game from the late '80s and early '90s and turn into a successful and incredible 3D character action romp. Tomonobu Itagaki is one of those directors, and with his leadership and his team, he made Ryu Hayabusa's miraculous and unexpected return to gaming in 2004 a sight to behold, a treasure to play, and a game that kicked the hind quarters of every player that opted to take on its brutal challenge. No doubt boys were turned into men after they beat the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden, and some men even turned into master ninjas. I simply turned into a young man who wanted nothing more than to continue slicing up foes with Ryu's sensational moves.

3) Mortal Kombat (PS3, 360, Vita)

After some middling entries in the long-running mature-rated fighting franchise, Mortal Kombat returned in 2011 with a full-blown reboot to the series. This ninth installment totally retconned the events of past games, took the franchise to a whole new level with its improved combat system, and was bloodier and gorier than ever before thanks to the addition of an abundance of gruesome fatalities and the new X-ray view, giving players a literal inside look at the damage caused by certain moves. 2011's Mortal Kombat was definitely a flawless victory for fans of the franchise and newcomers too.

2) Street Fighter IV (ARC, PS3, 360)

What I consider one of the most important fighting games to come out in the past decade, Street Fighter IV once again shook the foundations of the genre and made clear to everyone that it was still fighting game king. It is as deep or as shallow a fighting game experience as the person who plays it. It never compromises its gameplay fundamentals. to create a tremendous fighter for one and all. After a sea of upgrades to Street Fighter 3, it was a breath of fresh air and a damn relieving one at that to experience the next generation of the long-running fighting game franchise. It looked great, it played great, and it continues to impress to this day.

1) Metroid Prime (GCN)

Many Metroid fans felt things were amiss with their favorite bounty hunter not making an official appearance on the Nintendo 64 with her own planet-exploring adventure. This was despite the huge critical and commercial success of Super Metroid on the Super Nintendo. It wouldn't be until Nintendo's system after the N64 that Samus would get her glorious return into the spotlight. Metroid Prime had everything going against it. It had a team that didn't have a solid vision, it had multiple revisions and reworkings to it, it was being done in an first-person perspective, and this latter idea did not have much support from fans. Then the game released and all the reactions to the game were pretty much universally amazing. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and so did millions of others. Two sequels would follow, designed by the same Austin, Texas-based development team. What was once a mess of a project turned out to be one of the best games ever created in this blogger's opinion, and it brought Ms. Aran and the Metroid series back from hibernation... well, until Team Ninja got a hold of the franchise...


There's plenty more franchise revivals that have happened over the years that I didn't have room for in this list. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn is in the Air: Favorite Fall Areas and Levels

Today is the first, official, full-length day of fall. To many it's a wondrous month of crisper temperatures, jacket weather, colorful trees, falling leaves, hayrides, and more. To others, it's an "OMG the roads are slick because of all of these wet leaves, I can't stop, WE'RE GOING DIE!"

...ANYWAY.... I figured today would a perfect opportunity to talk about some of my favorite looking and fun to play fall/autumn levels in gaming history. There's not that many of them, truth be told. It certainly was a harder list to put together than my summer vacation one, that's for sure. After you've read my selections, please feel free to throw out some ones I may have missed!

Eversong Woods - World of Warcraft (PC)

We start off our look at my favorite fall areas and levels with an area from a game I actually have had little experience with. I've simply viewed a friend playing this, and this particular area jumped out at me immediately from the rest. If setting factors into which character race you opt to select in World of Warcraft, then if you're a fan of fall, the Eversong Woods would be an apt choice for you to start your game at. It is the starting point of the blood elf race, and the forest itself contains a heavy feeling of peacefulness to it. A continuous feel of fall rests within the forest, making every day a beautiful autumn one, whether it's the actual season in real life or not.

Maple Valley Raceway - Forza Motorsport series (XONE, 360, XBX)

Not all of the Forza Motorsport series's must-play tracks have real life counterparts to them. In Maple Valley Raceway, this certainly isn't the case. This fictional but well designed course set in New England surrounds itself with natural autumn beauty. It's quite challenging of a track, too, since there are so few places to pass opponents thanks to how narrow the majority of the track is. The latest incarnation of the track in Forza Motorsport 5 greets players with an all-new covered bridge, a spot that is perfect for shutterbugs to take the perfect shot of their sexy ride on this lovely fall track.

Autumn Heights - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

Generally in games we see a level or two given a fall feeling to it. Seldom do we ever get an entire world of levels. That is exactly what you get with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze's Autumn Heights, the second of six islands in the game. While not every level adheres to the autumn theme, the majority of levels do, such as the Netherlands feel of Windhill Mills, the first level of the island, or a level that has falling leaves serving as actual platforms in Horn Top Hop. The Wii U hardware serves Tropical Freeze well, showcasing an abundant amount of detail in the backgrounds and foregrounds of each island-- Autumn Heights is certainly no exception, and it's why it's my favorite of the islands in Retro Studios' amazing 2D platformer.

Switchboard Falls - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Super Mario 3D World did not follow the rules of worlds in past Mario games. There was no snow world, grass world, or desert world. Instead, each level had its own unique theme, opening up the levee of creativity of the designers. Switchboard Falls is one of the first challenging levels in 3D World, having players step on platforms to get them to move left or right on a set track. The level's visual design is pure autumn with orange trees, grass, and even bee-like enemies, perhaps buzzing around looking for some last tastes of honey before winter rolls their way. Super Mario 3D World's wide array of level mechanics, obstacles, and locales make it one of my favorites on not only the Wii U system but gaming in general.

Maple Treeway - Mario Kart Wii (Wii), Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

One of many Mario Kart fans' favorite tracks in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7, the latter where it returns as an updated retro track, Maple Treeway is a colorful autumnal course that twists, turns, and makes its home in the red, pink, and orange treetops. Successful races have kart drivers peeling around the large tree branches, blasting off out of a giant barrel through the crisp autumn air, and weaving through humongous Wigglers. It's a track that is as fun to race on as it is beautiful to look at. Maple Treeway is one of the Mario Kart series's best tracks and the fall setting is just one of those reasons as to why.

Golden Grove - Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

The Summerlands is one of the four main continents within Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It is split up between north and south by the Golden Grove, a forested area that gets its name from the myriad of colorful autumn foliage that hangs from its trees that stay year-round. It's an essential stop if you are traveling on foot, and it connects the Rolling Hills on the north to the Shimmering Sands that are to the south. The Golden Grove is also known as the Forest of Plenty, nicknamed this from its immense amount of mushrooms, plants, trees, and wildlife.

Click Clock Wood - Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)

Click Clock Wood is the tenth world in Banjo-Kazooie, a game that I would rate higher than Super Mario 64, but you longtime readers already knew that, didn't you! Anyway, Click Clock Wood shines brightly with a clever idea surrounding it. There's actually four different versions of the entire level, and each represents one of the four seasons. Obviously, for the purposes of this article, we'll be exploring the fall version. Here the denizens of Click Clock Wood-- the beaver, the baby eagle, the lazy squirrel, and the bee colony-- would continue to follow their yearly schedules, preparing ardently for the season that laid ahead. The leaves that accumulated on the ground made way for easier access to higher platforms and once-impossible-to-reach areas. Click Clock Wood was an area with an execution that hit the mark wonderfully, and autumn was just a quarter of the level's brilliance.


Did I leave out one of your favorite fall levels? Hit me up with your most loved autumnal areas in the comments section, whether they be loved from nostalgia or something else!


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