Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Five Game Soundtracks of 2014 Thus Far

Game soundtracks have always fascinated me, so why not make a list of 2014's best thus far? Maybe that's the reason this list has been made, or perhaps this list was made to get a viewpoint on what potential game soundtracks could win at various game site end of the year award ceremonies. Perhaps this list was made just to fill a weekday spot. Who knows, really? Regardless, game soundtracks are a fun topic, as you can make note that the majority of songs on my portable MP3 device are music from video games. And classic rock. Lots of classic rock. And that one Katy Perry song. Gotta love Firework.

...Where was I? Oh, yes. Anyhow, these five games sport the best soundtracks of the year thus far, but the year has yet to see its biggest releases. Who knows how much or how little this list will change by year's end? After you read my picks, please share five of your own in the comments section (music examples optional).

5) Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, 360)

While a certain Final Fantasy development team staff member's fixation with the character of Lightning has been a disservice and a negative for the series as a whole (in my opinion at the very least), the one constant besides the excellent visuals of the Lightning Final Fantasy trilogy is the brilliant music that comes from it. Well, except Final Fantasy XIII-2's Crazy Chocobo. A person with any kind of musical taste wouldn't even enjoy that song while high. With a bevy of orchestral, electronic, and techno flavor, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII nabs the five spot on this brief countdown.

4) Kirby: Triple Deluxe (3DS)

We move to game soundtrack number four with the Kirby series, known for its bright and cheery presentation. Kirby: Triple Deluxe checks off all of the appropriate boxes for a Kirby game and amazing and catchy music is but one of those. However, Triple Deluxe expands outside the typical comfort zone of the series by featuring tracks that one would confuse for a Japanese RPG's final boss encounter. The drama that unfolds from each note is unprecedented for a Kirby game.

3) Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

I never thought Mario Kart 64 or Double Dash!! would have their crowns taken away for best soundtracks within the Mario Kart series. Then Mario Kart 8 came and easily grabbed the crown in an almost effortless fashion. A combination of jazz, rock, and traditional Super Mario series sounds, Mario Kart 8's soundtrack is a marvelous display of musical prodigy that makes the already hot and heated races all the more exciting!

2) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

Playing upon my nostalgia for the Super Nintendo Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Nintendo and Retro Studios contacted one of the biggest minds behind the trilogy soundtrack, David Wise, and asked him to provide the majority of tracks for this past February's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Not only were plenty of familiar DKC tracks remixed, but a mighty helping of phenomenal new compositions were made, some melodic while others more atmospheric. It all added up to a sensational soundtrack for a phenomenal platformer.

1) Bravely Default (3DS)

Revo created a rocking soundtrack that stands tall and proud over everything else that has been released over the first half of the year. Armed with fantastic character themes, soothing dungeon and field themes, and some absolutely awesome battle tracks, Bravely Default may have fallen apart around Chapter 5, but the quality of music never wavered from the very beginning up to the bitter end. The soundtrack isn't just one of the year's best, but it's one of the best on the Nintendo 3DS, in RPG's, and in gaming in general. Big words, but the music backs up my statements.

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (Wii, PS2) Retro Review

Here's a special early morning treat for you guys. Before SuperPhillip Central came to be, I wrote reviews exclusively for GameFAQs. This is one of my earliest reviews that was never published to this site. Now, it is here for your reading pleasure. The name of the game is Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, and here's my seven-year-old review.

The Blue Blur Rides Again

The original Sonic Riders came out late in the life of last generation. The title was mostly panned by critics but enjoyed by many for its slick visuals, fun racing, and complex courses. Fast-forward to two years later, and Sonic has once again traded in his running sneakers for an airboard with Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity. Now is the Sonic Riders sequel easy to pass up, or is this one title that will pull you in?

Strange meteorites fell to Sonic's planet christening in a ruckus of rampaging robots all over the world. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are found speeding in a hovercar towards one of the meteorite's crash sites when suddenly they're ambushed by some robots. Turns out Sonic has one of the stone rings that fell down, and this is what the robots are after. However, this isn't an ordinary ring-- it has the power to control gravity. Now Sonic and the gang are out to find out why these robots have all of a sudden gone berserk.

You can play Zero Gravity with one of three different control schemes. Unfortunately, two of them involve motion controls which really don't give you the preciseness that you need in this typCube controller, and there's really no contest on which to choose. This review will reference the GameCube controller.

There's plenty of new content of abilities to make Zero Gravity much more different compared to its predecessor. Those days of worrying about air are over. Now you have Gravity Points which are gained by performing tricks and depleted by initiating a gravity move. The power of gravity can be used by every character, and every character can harness that power in one of two ways. The gravity control is used by holding a button down which will slow everything (except other racers) down. You can then turn on a dime, let go of the button, and then boost in the direction you're facing. This is perfect for navigating those sharp corners on a track. There's also the gravity dive which is great for speeding ahead of the pack. In certain straightaways you can leap off falling debris to gain speed and gravity points to pull off impressive feats of aerial acrobatics. Confused? Fear not. Those new to the Sonic Riders series can feel right at home as there's a welcomed tutorial mode so any beginner and get into the game at their own pace.

In Sonic Riders, the character you chose defined the type of racer they were-- speed, flight, or power. However, this time gear dictates which characteristic you are, so choosing a character is basically more aesthetically pleasing than technically. Most gears have three abilities that need to be unlocked in a race by collecting rings. When the required amount has been collected, you can change your gear to add a bonus to it-- such as the ability to grind rails (speed), soar through aerial rings (flight), or storm through obstacles and walls (power). Each track has its own ability-specific shortcuts, so choosing the appropriate gear is recommended.

Like Sonic Riders, there's sixteen different tracks to speed through. However, again like Sonic Riders, eight of the tracks are altered versions of the original eight tracks. Though this gripe is much less apparent in Zero Gravity thankfully. There's two sets of tracks-- one for the Heroes team (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) and one for the Babylon Rogues (Jet, Wave, and Storm). These tracks range from convoluted caverns to a futuristic city in Megalo Station, from an Aquatic Capital to the insides of the mysterious company of Meteotech. Regardless of which you play in, each track has a myriad of shortcuts, hidden secrets, and areas to score bigger air and higher trick scores. Although you won't be mashing buttons like in Tony Hawk, all you'll need to do to reach higher platforms and score huge is press the A button at the right time as you trick off a ramp. Timing is everything, and it's the difference between nailing an "X" rank trick and screwing up for a "C" rank trick.

The majority of your playtime actually won't be in the story itself. Both story modes can be sailed through within a couple hours' time. It's a small bummer, but at the same token if you play a racing game for the story then you play chess for the hot king on queen action. Chess porn aside, various mission open up as you progress through the story. You'll be racing for high times, trying to bust off as many tricks for points as possible, chasing an out-of-control car, trying to keep up in a race with Team Sonic, grinding on as many rails as possible-- you get the idea. There's a wide array of missions to choose from-- seven for each track multiplied by the sixteen tracks, and you get the idea of how much playtime you'll be investing in. Plus, you're ranked much like Sonic Riders, but instead of gold, silver, and bronze, you're awarded Extreme, Super, and Normal. Hmm.... I bet there's a really cool prize for beating all the missions as well as beating them all on Extreme, yes? And even if you're done with all those missions, you can still try to get on Sega's online leaderboards or download a staff ghost to compare times against. Sadly, there's no online play which is really a disappointment. It would have game this game even more "legs".

While you're not tearing it up on the tracks, you'll most likely be marveling at the impressive visuals. Unfortunately, for the Playstation 2 version, it suffers from some bad framerate problems and the controller is a tad uncomfortable for this type of game. Regardless, the Wii version runs at a silky smooth framerate. There's occasional pop-up of background objects, but mostly it's nice to gawk at. Voice acting is done by the same 4-Kids crowd which is a blessing or a curse considering who you are. Musically, this soundtrack is more rock than the mostly techno of the original Riders. Nonetheless, it still gets you into the game all the same.

Many have complained that the Sonic Riders series is too slow. Well, as we've seen from the PS3/360 versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Team isn't competent enough to make a fast 3-D Sonic without it being a glitchy mess, so there has to be a compromise. Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is currently my favorite racer for the Wii, and it has a lot of meat to it as well as some stuff for the hardcore fans of Sega as well whether it be the cool final two Sega-themed tracks or the inclusion of unlockable racers like Amigo (from Samba de) and everyone's favorite egg-roller, Billy Hatcher.

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity may not set the world on fire, and it's done little justice in persuading to people that motion controls will work for every genre, but for what you get is an incredibly fun racer that's just over a little too soon. With some added polish and perhaps just a tad more speed, it could have pulled in some new fans instead of more critics.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bombing Bastards (Wii U eShop) Review

We've been holding off on posting the review to this next game in order to have the 500th review of SuperPhillip Central be designated to Shovel Knight. With that review finished, now we can focus on Bombing Bastards, a Bomberman clone for the Wii U eShop. Should it be bombs away for Wii U owners?

Oh, my God! They bombed Kenny!
You bastards!

Ever since Konami acquired Hudson, Bomberman has been missing in action for quite some time, and has therefore left a void in the gaming industry that only a competitive action game where you blow opponents away with bombs can fill. The folks at Sanuk Games have taken it upon themselves to try to fill that void with the blatantly Bomberman-inspired (not that this is a bad thing) Bombing Bastards for the Wii U eShop. Is the game a suitable substitute?

For solo players, Bombing Bastards has a single player campaign that spans five worlds that each come equipped with six levels apiece. These levels have you doing your best to take out all AI enemies as fast as possible. This is all the while not blowing yourself up or getting touched by a foe. The sixth level of every world pits you against a boss, and these levels are simply put, aggravating at best. Bosses have too much health, and all it takes is one hit for you to have to start from the beginning to the bout. Thankfully, as if Sanuk Games knew how devilish these boss encounters were, these levels aren't mandatory to beat.

Kill these bastards with fire.
The meat and potatoes of an action game like Bomberman or Bombing Bastards is its competitive multiplayer side. Unfortunately, Bombing Bastards doesn't quite get this right either. Matches are sluggish in speed, offering bombs that take their sweet time to actually explode, only furthering the ennui Bombing Bastards's multiplayer brings. This would be fine if you didn't have to blow away obstacles like blocks in order to reach opponents. By the time a path has been cleared to a rival, a sizable chunk of time has expired and so has a sizable amount of interest in the match.

Losing like that was SO not the bomb.
Sadly, there is no option for online play, which would have been absolutely perfect for a game like this. It's a difficult sell to get a group of friends to choose to play a slow match of Bombing Bastards when there are far more appealing and exciting games on the Wii U eShop to play already, and Bombing Bastards becomes an even bigger losing proposition when you factor in retail software.

On the topic of presentation, Bombing Bastards exudes a nice bit of charm, particularly from the solo campaign's doctor character who exclaims various bomb-related puns and statements when you destroy enemies. It's cheesy, yes, but it works well. The different arenas aren't much to look at, but they do have a bit of personality to them, each with their own stage gimmicks like teleportation pads and flame geysers. The music that is featured in Bombing Bastards is all public domain music given a modern twist. It would have been nice to have wholly original music just to give Sanuk Games's eShop title a little more personality of its own.

The visuals are serviceable enough,
but they won't amaze.
With Bombing Bastards, what you end up with is a Bomberman clone that doesn't really do much to fill the space that its inspiration has left. It doesn't offer an engaging multiplayer experience, especially with a total lack of online and a pace that is too slow to hold most players' interest. Its single player aspect is a bit fun at first, but it quickly grows tiring and tedious too. Bombing Bastards is by no means a horrible game, but there's much better avenues to take if you're looking for an engaging solo and local multiplayer experience. All in all, this bomb is a little bit of a dud.

[SPC Says: 4.75/10]

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Digital Download Delights Edition

Not to be confused with a fellow site we're friends with, this week's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs is all about digital games. Up until this time, SuperPhillip Central has mostly dealt with retail releases, so we're making up for it with a whole edition featuring downloadable games from indies and big publishers too. Such games this week we'll be focusing on are Shovel Knight, Guacamelee!, and Double Dragon Neon. If you want to keep up to date on what VGMs we've covered in the past, do so with our VGM Database!

v666. Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS, PC) - Strike the Earth! (Plains of Passage)

We recently (as in this past Friday) saw Shovel Knight serve as the 500th review for SuperPhillip Central, so why not continue the celebration by having Shovel Knight kick off this digital download edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs? Jake Kaufman provides the chiptune score for the game that sounds just like it belongs in the era it is emulating. A superb job well done, for sure!

v667. Guacamelee! (Multi) - Pueblucho

Phil didn't expect to love Guacamelee! as much as he did, but this Metroid meets luchador experience rocked his world. The presentation played a part in that, featuring crisp visuals and a sensational soundtrack to go along with it. If you're looking for a fun romp, check out the original Guacamelee! or try out the Super Turbo Championship Edition which features more content.

v668. Double Dragon Neon (PSN, XBLA) - End Credits (Dared to Dream)

While the Double Dragon series prior to this retro revamp was much more serious, Double Dragon Neon played the series as straight 80's cheese. This end credits theme, Dared to Dream, is all the proof you need of that, with antagonist Skullmaggedon (voiced by director Sean Valesco) singing his song of defeat as he falls to his doom.

v669. Pushmo (3DS eShop) - Lesson

Which game are you a bigger fan of, Pushmo or Crashmo? We found Crashmo hard to wrap our heads around, not being able to advance very far in the game. We also preferred the game concept of Pushmo over its spin-off series, too. Regardless, this retro-sounding Lesson theme gets a modern sound, and boy, does it sound glorious! Whether you're a puzzle fan with a 3DS or a Wii U, there's a Pushmo game available for you.

v670. Pictobits (DSiWare) - End Credits

Pictobits was one of those rare Nintendo-made DSiWare exclusives. This particular game featured multiple 8-bit Nintendo sprites and a sound that harked back to the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom era of gaming. If you have a Nintendo 3DS, definitely save some room on your system to purchase this prized puzzler!

Friday, July 18, 2014

500th Review! - Shovel Knight (Wii U eShop, 3DS eShop, PC) Review

It's been a long time coming, but SuperPhillip Central has made it to its 500th review! In just over six years, we've managed to compile an exhaustive list of in-depth reviews for our readers to enjoy. Here's to 500 more! First, however, let's check out the subject of review #500. It's Shovel Knight, a Kickstarter-backed action platformer that takes inspiration from a myriad of classic gaming sources. Here's our review.

The great kind of "shovelware"

Announced for Kickstarter early last year, it seems like we've been waiting eons for Shovel Knight to finally release. That could be because every time the release date approached, the game seemed to suffer a slight delay. Now, Shovel Knight is out and in the hands of the reviewers and consumers alike. Was the agonizing wait for the game worth it?

Prior to the events of the game, Shovel Knight and Shield Knight, fierce warriors who often fought together, explored the Tower of Fate. However, both succumbed to the evil energy within the tower. Once Shovel Knight came to, the tower is seen sealed and his beloved Shield Knight is trapped inside. A grieving Shovel Knight puts an end to his adventuring days and goes into seclusion, but in this time, the evil Enchantress rises, causing havoc and mayhem across the land. The Tower of Fate unseals in the process, leading Shovel Knight to unsheathe his shovel and return to the fight.

The opening level introduces you to the mechanics
of the game, as a good opening level should.
Shovel Knight's tale may be simple much like the stories of the gaming era it emulates, but it achieves a plot that will make players want to see the end. This end is a greatly touching and heartfelt one that will make you applaud the execution of it.

Shovel Knight is essentially a love letter to the 8-bit era of gaming. The game uses a strict NES-style color palette, levels are designed like similarly to the classic Mega Man games, and Shovel Knight can even use his shovel as a Pogo stick, a necessary tactic for some levels, like Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales. This is all topped with a presentation that would make the game fit perfectly on Nintendo's first home console, wonderful parallax scrolling, a catchy and inspired chiptune soundtrack by Jake Kaufman, and all of that without the sprite flickering that came with the territory of NES and Famicom titles.

Get flashbacks to Zelda II with
the game's duo of towns.
Shovel Knight himself is a treasure collecting fool, breaking blocks, defeating foes, and open treasure chests. The gold earned from doing these tasks can be used to purchase helpful new relics (magic attacks that do various things), new armor, new shovel upgrades, and increases to his health and magic. There's never a Game Over screen to be seen. Whenever Shovel Knight dies, a portion of the gold he has on hand is removed. It can be collected once more if the player reaches the point where death took place, but die before reaching it and it's gone for good. However, gold is rather easy to accumulate throughout the game, so it's never an immensely harsh penalty.

The level variety is amazing.
Going through the game's various levels, each selected from a Super Mario Bros. 3-like world map, plays out like a Mega Man level. Each level is home to one of eight boss characters and has its own hook, accompanying obstacles, and hazards playing off said hook. Treasure Knight's level is a mostly submerged affair with anchors that rise and fall, perfect for platforming off of them, whereas Polar Knight's level features slippery platforms that are easy to slide off of for the uninitiated.

The king will be dead.
Long live Shovel Knight!
Outside of these eight levels, there's smaller challenge levels that each use one of the purchased relics throughout to create some dastardly challenges. The side content is there for those who wish to indulge in it, and that's a nice inclusion.

Players will want to scour each level repeated times not just for gold, but also for Shovel Knight's only collectible, song scrolls of which there are about 45 to gather. These are placed in some of the trickiest to find and/or survive sections of the game, and finding all of them is a task that you can certainly pat yourself on the back for doing.

Furthermore, if you REALLY want to pat yourself on the back or get that oft-coveted gamer cred, you should try to complete all of the game's feats. These achievements are unlocked for performing actions throughout Shovel Knight that you wouldn't ordinarily try to do otherwise. From beating the game in an impressive hour-and-a-half to completely a no-death run, Shovel Knight has tasks that are certainly not for the timid. This just further expands on the longevity of the game, and it's very much welcomed.

What a big blade! Are you
compensating for something?
Perhaps the only real issues with Shovel Knight is its length (taking but a handful hours to initially beat) and how it's not particularly ambitious. It's basically Mega Man with melee attacks instead of long-range buster shots. Regardless, at the same token, it's clear that Shovel Knight and its developer Yacht Club Games were really never striving to push the genre forward and meant for it to be a homage to classic 8-bit games. It's with this that the studio most certainly succeeded.

Shovel Knight borrows a page out
of Scrooge McDuck's playbook.
Shovel Knight plays perfectly and it really harks back to a more gameplay-oriented era in gaming. While it is definitely inspired by classics like Castlevania, Mega Man, and more, Yacht Club Games were able to victoriously give Shovel Knight a voice all on its own, and this voice is loud, proud, and intricately designed. Shovel Knight was without question designed with lots of love, designed with lots of passion for old school gaming, and designed from a gameplay-first philosophy. It's a game that any fan of action platformers will definitely dig.

[SPC Says: 9.5/10]


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