Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 (Wii U, PS3, 360, 3DS) Review

Not all Halloween-related stuff has to be horror-filled and morbid. That's the case with the next game I'm covering. Although it is packed to the brim with ghosts, there's nothing scary about this game. Perhaps the shocking quality of it?

Anyhow, there's only been a handful of reviews for this game, but I've added my own verdict to the small pile. It's Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2. Note: The Wii U version was the one covered, hence my own screenshots.

Worlds better than past Pac-Man game attempts

Pac-Man fans seem to cherish the Pac-Man World series that mostly appeared in the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox generation of home consoles. Perhaps it's nostalgia of playing those games when these folks were younger, as someone new to the games like myself played them for the first time recently and didn't find them satisfying at all. They had cameras that worked as well as Ms. Pac-Man's recent solo career, a complete lack of polish, and frustrating game mechanics.

When I originally looked at the first Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, I thought it would merely be an adequate licensed game at most, but I found myself enjoying the game and believed it to have some genuinely smart ideas, although not executed to a high caliber. Less than a year later, here comes the sequel, and one would think that for a game with such short time to brew would be a catastrophe. Not only is it not that, but Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 is actually an incredibly competent 3D platformer with clever level design, smartly hidden secrets, and in all a largely better game than its predecessor.

Using the same cast of characters as the licensed cartoon of the same name (well, only without the number two in the title), Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2's tale is humorous and charming enough. The evil Betrayus from the Netherworld once again wishes to obtain the fabled repository, the canister that has every evil ghost sealed inside it, including Betrayus' physical form. He devises a plan to have an unassuming Pac-Man lead him to his treasured prize. Thus, what follows is five worlds of about ten levels each of 3D platforming action.

The start of the game is innocent enough.
Upon the first two levels of Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, I had a very been-there, done-that feeling. I ran through city streets, up on the rooftops of buildings, and leaped from vanishing platform to vanishing platform. However, quickly I found myself being genuinely surprised by the quality of the majority of levels after. Not only did each have its own new mechanic or type of obstacle to contend with, but the levels were actually memorable to a degree.

Okay, things are getting a little interesting now.
One level had me using Granite Pac, a Pac-Man transformation that turns our hero into a stone ball, and rolling around inside a gigantic makeshift pinball arena. I can't forget about other transformations that led to some creative platforming. There's a transformation that turns Pac into a bouncing ball, allowing him to wall jump with ease. There's Chameleon Pac, allowing him to latch onto poles to swing from-- no matter how unsanitary that may be. There's also fire and ice transformations, the former allowing Pac to glide large distances, while the other grants Pac with the ability to freeze enemies and fountains of water and lava.

Which way is up? Metal Pac can stick
to these solid metal surfaces. 
Others were less original, borrowing heavily from Super Mario 3D Land and games of its ilk. For one, there were platforms that flipped each time I jumped as Pac-Man, while another had platforms that would vanish and then appear at intermittent timed intervals.

If you're going to borrow level ideas from
somebody, why not borrow from the best?
The problem with the original Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures was that the game relied on haphazard level design. There were too many platforms floating in midair for no reason whatsoever. With this sequel, the levels are more natural in design. They lend well to the environments and scenery and don't feel out of place for the most part.

It's time to get wheel. Er, real.
And, boy, are the environments impressive! Ghostly Adventures 2 boasts a wide array and variety of level types and locales. From an underwater paradise in the form of Paclantis to going back into the prehistoric past and even into the depths of space, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 sports plenty of environments to keep the game fresh from beginning to end.

In space, no one can hear you gobble up ghosts.
Another thing to keep the game fresh are new level types in general. Some levels with have Pac-Man or one of his two closest friends piloting a vehicle of some type. These levels are on-rails experience, with the ones taking place in the air feeling like something akin to Star Fox. These levels are nice to have, they only happen occasionally, but when they do, they add some diversity to the game.

Furthermore, fighting an invisible enemy in the form of a camera is no issue this time around. The Ghostly Adventures 2 does not have manual camera control, meaning you need not worry about fiddling around with the right analog stick to get the desired angle. This would be a problem if the game's fixed camera didn't properly follow the action or give you bad angles to work with. Thankfully, this isn't the case. What this does is allow for a more streamlined platforming experience.

The original Ghostly Adventures did not have much reason for players to return to levels other than having them replay a level without any changes just to earn an arcade token. It was filler in every sense of the word. In Ghostly Adventures 2, each level has a high score to attain. It's not just about gobbling every ghost in sight, but doing so with a bit of strategy.

Pac-Man has something the game refers to as a Boo! attack. When enough ghosts have been consumed, this Boo! attack is ready to be utilized. When used, it turns every ghost in the nearby vicinity into a frightened, crazed creature, roaming around in a hurry with the fear of being eaten. It's in this form that ghosts are worth the most points, and creating a chain of gobbling ghosts can rack up points mighty easily. Using the Boo! attack at just the right times in levels can make the difference between coming close to a gold medal and being stuck with a silver or worse.

It's a full-on Pac attack!
However, gobbling ghosts isn't the only means of attaining a high score. In each level are three special items, usually fruit, that are the collectibles within Ghostly Adventure 2. Some are out in the open, some are hidden, while others are in secret portals that take you to a 2D platforming trial. Finding some of these collectibles made me have to play through some levels up to three times just to find all three of these collectibles in a level. Doing so isn't just for my O.C.D. completionist's sake, but having all three fruit or whatnot at the conclusion of a level doubles your final score, making getting those high scores all the more possible.

I'm a bit of a platforming expert. It's my favorite genre of game, and I'm well versed in it. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 scratches an itch for that 3D platformer I've been wanting. Memories of Super Mario 3D World weren't cutting it anymore. Regardless, with that said, the game is a bit on the easy side. The developers waste no time raining down extra lives on you, handing them out like candy on Halloween night. (See how I made this review topical all of a sudden?) By the first world's end, I was near 60 lives, and for the majority of the game I hovered around the maximum amount achievable.

In the prehistoric levels, the Pac-Man cometh.
The easiness of the game doesn't end there, either. There is a copious amount of food that restores health, and there are plenty of silver orbs that add temporary extra hearts. One would think Betrayus would dismantle all of the vending machines within his hideout, but Pac-Man foes were never the smartest ghosts of the haunted bunch.

Considering that falling off a level only costs you a heart instead of a life, and that losing a life sends you back to one of the myriad checkpoints in a level, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is decidedly a less challenging game than most would like. For me, there were enough platforming challenges and enemy hordes to take down that I was satisfying, heck, I even loved the experience.

There's no bones about it--
Pac-Man's second Wii U outing is quite good.
Pac-Man's latest presents some nice visuals from beginning to end. They're by no means something jaw-dropping, but there were times when I sat back and admired the view. The loading times, at least on the Wii U version, are just long enough to read the gameplay hints shown during the loading screens. Not that bad at all. The audio also impresses at a multitude of spots, featuring some catchy themes, some orchestrated, some not. The voice work in the game is quite endearing, albeit very cheesy. Nonetheless, it's perfect for the target market.

Paczilla! Someone phone Tokyo! Is Tokyo okay?!
Going into Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2, I did not expect much coming from a sequel with less than a year's development time. However, the game managed to impress me multiple times with its tight platforming, above average combat, clever level design and secrets, and presentation. If you were one of the folks who have fond memories of the Pac-Man World games (which in my mind is only from nostalgia, as the games aren't very good), then you owe it to try out Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2. Like me, you need not even be a fan of the subject material, the cutesy TV show. All you need is a thirst for a genuinely good, but not great, 3D platformer.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ballpoint Universe: Infinite (Wii U eShop) Review

Earlier this week I covered Paper Monsters: Recut, which sported a unique paper and cardboard world. Now, I turn my attention to a game with a paper and ink world. How crafty of me! Anyhow, here's my review of Ballpoint Universe: Infinite, available on the Wii U eShop.

Ink-credible art style, so-so everything else

Most likely if you were in school and if you had a boring lecture you were "supposed" to be taking notes on, you might have been mindlessly doodling away. Apparently the folks behind Ballpoint Universe: Infinite had a similar kind of grade school experience, taking the scribblings and doodles that could have been drawn in a sixth grader's Trapper Keeper and turned them into a game world with landscapes, characters, enemies-- everything you imagine.

Ballpoint Universe: Infinite is a game of two parts. The first occurs as you venture around the various scenery and landscapes of the game world in a 2D side-scrolling fashion. Along the way are various friendly doodles who will task your character with missions, all shoot-em-up based, the second part of Ballpoint Universe. More on that in a bit.

Right away, the visuals do nothing but impress. The trip through the world is absolutely gorgeous, full of intricate details, ornate designs, and fantastical areas. Traveling is rather cool in the way that your character can change layers (e.g.. moving from a background plane into one in the foreground). It's just a shame that what could have been a surefire truly enjoyable part of the game is compromised by poor platforming controls.

Excuse me while I marvel at this art style.
Slippery is the word I would use. Loose is another. Add these together and it's not so bad when all you must do is run along the hillsides and change between layers. However, that's not all you have to do in Ballpoint Universe: Infinite's overworld. No, despite not having a tight and responsive platforming experience, the developers still desired to throw in platforming challenges in the game. Any such section featuring either small or moving platforms was a genuine black mark on my fun. Now, the penalty for falling into an abyss is simply being placed at the last save point you passed. Not so bad, but it's without a doubt frustrating and bewildering why this was seen as okay by the development team.

Today's math lesson, courtesy of SuperPhillip Central:
Precision platforming + slippery controls = GAH!
Back to the other portion of Ballpoint Universe: Infinite, the shoot-em-up levels, this game has those in spades with the aim of not only reaching the end of the stage, but also losing a few lives as possible. Each side-scrolling shooter stage has three medals it awards players based off on how many lives they have accumulated at the end. If you survive with all five lives to your name, then you receive all three prizes, the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

The actual shoot-em-up gameplay in Infinite is enjoyable enough, having ships and enemies of all shapes, sizes, and varieties wanting nothing more than to see you eliminated and turned into a crumbled up piece of paper in a waste can.

Your ship can be customized by spending ink collected in space battles and won as rewards. Your spaceship has four segments to it, an upper arm, a lower arm, a special ability, and a body for defensive capabilities. There's a wide range of weapons and parts to purchase, so if you're in a completionist mood, then you'll definitely have fun grinding ink for parts to collect the entire arsenal.

Unfortunately, I found that despite starting out with a machine gun, it felt more like a peashooter blasting against a steel safe than something formidable against foes. In fact, most of the starting, affordable weapons were pretty poor in power compared to my starting melee weapon. Yes, you read that right, a melee weapon in a shoot-em-up. For what would take ten seconds to shoot down a regular enemy, I could just fly near the enemy ship and slash it with my melee weapon, destroying it in an instant (though, melee weapons activate automatically without a player's input). It's not until you earn enough ink to purchase more intimidating firepower that you can play Ballpoint Universe: Infinite's shooter levels like a traditional game in the genre.

Melee is noticeably more efficient than
your ship's little peashooter.
At the same time, there's really no reason to. I was able to get through the game with a leveled up machine gun and melee weapon, the latter doing the most work. All that was needed to purchase was a body that had enough HP to weather the storm of oncoming attacks to make attaining gold medals a piece of cake.

My main takeaway with Ballpoint Universe: Infinite's shoot-em-up sections is that since guns were so obviously weak in comparison to melee attacks, I just resorted to using swords, spears, and blades for dealing with enemies of all shapes and sizes. I'm guessing this is not what the developers wanted, but unfortunately, that's what they got.

The enemy design is really something special.
Ballpoint Universe: Infinite can be completed in a few short hours, but there is some replay value to be had. The all-new Infinite level takes you on a journey through wave after wave of enemies in what is essentially an endurance stage. It's engaging to see how far you can get as you blast those Logician paper monsters to shreds. In addition to that, there's also getting golds on every shoot-em-up level, acquiring every Golden Sketch, and other odds and ends. Of course, some of these hidden goodies are tucked away in some precarious locations, which again, those platforming physics and controls won't help in getting easily.

For the things Ballpoint Universe: Infinite does right, it does them really well. For what the game fails to do, it fails them pretty hard. From the frustrating platforming to the most likely unintended, strong focus on melee combat in a shoot-em-up, Ballpoint Universe: Infinite has its fair share of problems. However, if you can look past them (and perhaps onto the immaculate art style and design), you'll get a quirky game that is quite unlike anything else out there.

[SPC Says: 6.5/10]

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return (Wii) Retro Review

SuperPhillip Central prepares for Halloween with a horror-themed light gun shooter of the past. It's a retro review of two games that are retro themselves. How deep does this rabbit hole go!? Here's my review of The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return for the Nintendo Wii.

Terror-ific light gun games from the past 
rise from their grave for a Wii revival.

Here's a short history lesson for you. The original House of the Dead released in North American arcades in 1996. Two years later, its sequel crept onto the scene and a little while later received a port on SEGA's haven for arcade ports, the Dreamcast. Following that up in 2002 was the third entry in the House of the Dead franchise. Due to arcades waning in popularity, this title was also ported, but this time on the Xbox of all places.

Fast-forward to the middle of the generation prior to this one. SEGA put both The House of the Dead 2 and The House of the Dead 3 onto one disc for the Nintendo Wii, a system that had time and time again proven itself to be a great place for light gun shooters thanks to the system's unique Wii Remote controller and pointer functionality. While the collection of two games on one disc for a low price is one hell of a deal, there's some ancient archaic design decisions that were better left for dead (i.e. the arcades of old).

Okay! I'm here just in time for our
reenactment of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"!
The basic premise of both House of the Dead games have you on a predetermined path, requiring you to blast away zombies, killer owls, frightening frogs, swamp creatures, and much more in order to not only progress through levels but also to survive. Thankfully, with a home version of both games, you need not sink tons of quarters into some arcade cabinet to continue when you die... and you will die... A LOT.

Aim well or be feasted upon!
Generally a head-shot is good enough to subdue the weaker zombies, but some take a flurry of shots to bring down. It's here where The House of the Dead 2 is deemed more difficult than the third installment. In The House of the Dead 3, not only are you equipped with a shotgun, offering a wider blast radius, but you also have more ammunition in a round of fire than what is available in The House of the Dead 2. While 3 has around 8 bullets in a round, 2 has a meager 5, meaning that you'll most likely constantly end up having to reload mid-encounter. In that sense, there's a larger amount of strategy involved. When and where do you reload for maximum safety and efficiency is such a question that needs to be thought about.

Your shots will bounce right off
these axes, so keep your aim sharp!
Survivors of the zombie/bioweapon onslaught will appear frequently throughout missions. Saving them is a matter of quick reflexes and good aiming. Sometimes a saved survivor will grant you an extra piece of health to work with, while other times the saving a survivor can open up a completely different path through a level. This is where some replay value-- outside of continually going for high scores-- comes in. Upon dying or completing the story of either game, you're shown the route that your special agent took through the game, revealing all of the multiple pathways available. Seeing every path is something that will take a little while to do.

How did this survivor even get
in this predicament?
No matter which path you choose or just so happen to follow, a boss encounter waits at the end of the line for each mission. These demand excellent aiming, fast pick-ups on the boss' various tells, and paying attention to where its weak point(s) is/are. There's a small amount of memorization of boss patterns to deal with, and for the most part, these battles are engaging, fun, and fair.

Boss encounters such as this
add some variety to the formula.
The House of the Dead 2 in this Wii exclusive package comes with two all-new modes, a boss rush and Original Mode. The latter is for players (like myself) who find Arcade Mode too challenging, even with all of the extra lives the game throws at you for continually receiving game overs. Original Mode has you coming across items in each level. These items can then be used to make the game an easier time, such as having more ammo capacity in a round, more credits to work with, and so forth. Meanwhile, The House of the Dead 3 has every little delightful doodad the original Xbox version came with.

Both games offer cooperative play with you and a friend or whoever blasting away loads of undead enemies, or in House of the Dead 3's case, blowing holes through obese enemy bellies with satisfying shotgun blasts. The downside of this is that both players share the same amount of credits, meaning that it's almost a detriment to play with another player, especially one who is, shall we say, less than skilled.

Blowing holes through the bellies
of these fat zombies seldom gets old.
Besides these mode alterations, both House of the Dead games are faithful to their originals, whether that be a good thing or not is up to you. The only thing more offensive than the stilted, horribly acted dialogue (which in all honesty, sort of falls into the "so bad, it's good" category) is the incredibly blocky and ugly visuals of both games. Sure, The House of the Dead 3 doesn't look nearly as bad as its predecessor, but what is seen is the stuff nightmares are made of.

His local Home Depot had a
buy-one, get-one sale on chainsaws.
Having the two most popular House of the Dead games on one disc is a wonderful blessing. Whether it's worth tracking down a brand-new sealed copy is again, up to you. That said, though the difficulty is unquestionably high and the duo of games' arcade roots definitely show some large signs of aging, The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return makes blowing zombies up into little bits and pieces fun, and hell, that's really all you need, isn't it?

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) - Excitebike Arena Trailer

I don't normally get excited about DLC, but that's different when it comes to companies who do it right. For instance, with Mario Kart 8, Nintendo didn't hold back content for DLC purposes. Instead, it was made after the full game was finished, and it certainly isn't just already on the disc requiring a code to unlock it.

That said, Excitebike Arena will be a part of the first of two DLC packages for Mario Kart 8. Not only is the design reminiscent of Baby Park, but the track layout is randomized each time.

Monday, October 27, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - (Somewhat) Spooktacular Edition

With Halloween coming up on Friday, it seems as good a time as any to devote this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs to mostly haunting and spooky video games and their respective tracks. Oh, and there's a Hyrule Warriors song thrown in for no logical reason whatsoever. If you're not bothered by it, I'm not bothered by it!

v726. Hyrule Warriors (Wii U) - Solidus Cave

I started off the month with a review of Hyrule Warriors, and I'm kicking off this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with a track from the same game. Solidus Cave is played during a fiery cavern where the second mission of Legend Mode, the story mode of Hyrule Warriors, takes place. It is accentuated by a rocking rhythm and led by strong brass.

v727. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS) - Level Clear Theme

This song sounds like something Nintendo's top composers would come up with it, does it not? Well, in actuality, the composers of Next Level Games here in the U.S. are the ones to give props to for an excellent job on the Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon soundtrack. The game itself blew away my expectations, and I find it superior to the cult classic GameCube original.

v728. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1, SAT) - Wandering Ghosts

It's not Halloween with Castlevania. Well, technically it is Halloween without Castlevania, as Konami is pretty silent on the franchise since Lords of Shadow 2 didn't do as well as expected critically or commercially. Still, Castlevania, we will always have the good times before a Western developer got a hold of you. Heck, most of us can even forgive you for Castlevania Judgment (well, except me, who enjoyed that game somehow).

v729. Resident Evil 4 (Multi) - Save Theme

Resident Evil 4 is a tricky game for fans of the series. In one regard, it's my favorite of the franchise. On another, it is what led the series to its current low position in quality, focusing mostly on action instead of its roots, survival-horror. The save theme of Resident Evil 4 gives players a brief respite from the tense action, allowing them a moment to pause and catch their breath. Of course, that's before going back into the living hell that Leon S. Kennedy must survive through.

v730. Silent Hill 2 (PS2) - Theme of Laura

It's almost impossible to think that we've been through 729 individual VGM volumes and have yet to cross paths with Silent Hill, both the town and the game series of the same name. Nonetheless, that was the truth, and I'm kicking myself for not including Silent Hill 2's Theme of Laura sooner. It simply slipped my mind. Anyhow, here's a rocking guitar-driven theme from the game as my apology to you, the reader and listener.


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