Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (Wii U eShop, 3DS eShop) Review

The embargo for this next game has just lifted as of the time of this posting. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars takes the series to new territory-- cross-platform play and cross buy functionality. Is this new frontier for the series a bold enough one to make buying either the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS version worth it? Let's find out with my review.

Reach for the Stars


At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) last year, Nintendo unveiled a Mario vs. Donkey Kong prototype that used a set of game creation tools known as the Nintendo Web Framework. The purpose of the framework is to allow developers to craft games using non-complex coding and programming languages. What this means for those of us who understand Layman's terms the best is that the Wii U has software tools that enables game creators to make games more easily. Nintendo's pet project to show off this framework is a new entry in their long-running Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars. Even though a lot of Tipping Stars is more of the same, do the added new features make the game worth buying?

The thrust of Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is to guide a series of miniature wind-up toys modeled after Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong, and Pauline to a door serving as the goal of each level. Some levels have just one door. These levels require all available figurines to enter it within a set amount of time after the first has entered, otherwise the door will lock shut, having you fail the level. Other levels have multiple doors modeled after each figurine which they have to go into. There is no real semblance of a story to go through, so the primary motivation for succeeding in Tipping Stars is to simply see more puzzles.

Properly placing red girders is "key."
Of course it's not as simple as getting your set of wind-up Marios or whoever from point A to point B. Along the way are obstacles, enemies, and hazards that impede your progress. Combine that with the fact that to get a much coveted gold trophy you need to collect all of the coins and finish the level within a serviceable amount of seconds for a helpful time bonus, and you have a game that can be mighty perplexing and involved. It can sometimes feel akin to rubbing your stomach and patting your head simultaneously.

World four introduces pipes into the fold.
With the game primarily played on the Wii U GamePad (the TV screen shows a view of the entire level), touching and manipulating the environment is what is needed to help your crew of miniature Mushroom Kingdom stars from their beginning positions to the goal. Moving red girders from one place to another, tapping blocks to remove them from one area of the level so they can be set at another, placing springs for the minis to be launched on, and organizing pipes to transport the minis to and from various locations are all means to assist your crew of wind-up toys in reaching the goal of each level.

Discovering the proper path for your minis
to follow can take some trial and error.
There are eight worlds in this latest Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and they each introduce their own set of obstacles and enemies to contend with. Each new obstacle is implemented into the game at well enough of a pace that you're constantly learning and mastering mechanics simultaneously. You seldom ever feel cheated because you didn't know what an obstacle did. Instead, the quick cutscene that starts each world shows the primary obstacle of that area in action, which is mighty helpful. You get a general idea of what is to come and what to expect.

At the same time, you can also know what obstacles are to come if you've played previous games in the series because many are taken directly from past Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, some of which are implemented in the same exact numbered world. For instance, world three, much like the Nintendo DS's Mini-Land Mayhem's world three, introduces conveyor belts that automatically move the cast of minis in one direction when stepped on. A button in levels can be pressed by your stylus to alter the direction that these conveyor belts flow. This is all the while world four, you guessed it-- just like Mini-Land Mayhem, introduces pipes into the fray. It's a bit disappointing that the majority of obstacles and new level mechanics are just relics from past games.

Nope. Not going to make an "it's a jungle
out there" reference. Not going to do it.
Getting gold trophies in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars's levels is what completionists like myself strive for, and it's enjoyable to find the optimal route to take in a given level to obtain all the coins and reach the goal in the fastest amount of time possible. Gold trophies not only give you three stars (more on those later), but they also unlock secret bonus levels that much harder than what is in the standard set of eight worlds. The more gold trophies you earn, the more bonus levels are unlocked.

You can use the analog stick on the GamePad
to scroll around larger levels.
By far the feature that will give you the most longevity out of this latest Mario vs. Donkey Kong is the ability to create your own levels. You're given a blank canvas save for the required assets of one figurine, a special Mario medallion, and the exit door. You can resize the level's horizontal and vertical boundaries either by placing objects outside of the level's boundaries or by moving a small box in the top right corner of your level.

You're given a huge toolkit of level objects to work with. Everything from the levels made by Nintendo themselves for Tipping Stars is fair game to work with. A number under each object shows how many of that object your can place. The finger icon on the top menu allows you to move around already placed objects while another icon gives you the ability to flip an object on your level. Erasing is as easy as tapping the eraser icon and then touching what you'd like to remove. If you make mistake, you can tap the undo or redo icons, which allow you to go back or forward a fair amount of steps to fix short term and slightly long term mistakes.

The level creator menu is quite intuitive.
When you're satisfied with your level, after naming it and selecting a preview photo for players to see on the level select menu, you need to play it. During your attempt, you're required to collect all of the coins in the level and safely make it to the goal. You're unable to share your level until you're able to complete it. Then, with a simple Miiverse post, your level gets posted to the Community section of the game. It can thus be played on both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions of Tipping Stars.

One of my own levels, Pipe Problem.
Be sure to check it out and more under "Phil32".
Players can "yeah" your level, write comments, and, as the subtitle of the game suggests, "tip" up to five stars to a given creator. These stars you earn can go to buying exclusive themed level pieces and backgrounds to make your levels all the more original in design and aesthetics, including an ultra-expensive New Super Mario Bros. 2-inspired gold set. Tipping stars to creators is encouraged as you unlock one of many Miiverse stamps by doing so. It's a smart way to get the community engaged in critiquing user levels, and even if you don't have a creative bone in your body, you can at least have a near limitless amount of new levels to play from creators around the world and from Nintendo themselves.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars offers cross-platform play and cross buy. That is to say that if you buy either the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS version, you get the other for free. While this sounds like a fantastic deal, consider this. Either version will set you back $19.99. When compared to a past download-only entry in the series like Minis March Again, which was only $9.99, the price of Tipping Stars is double Minis March Again. This means that you're essentially paying for two copies of a game akin to Minis March Again, which isn't that special of a deal. If only Tipping Stars was priced at $9.99 like Minis March Again would there actually be a big savings here.

With double the price of the last downloadable Mario vs. Donkey Kong games and few new features to make the price worth it, it's hard to fully recommend Tipping Stars at full price. There is indeed plenty of content and replay value to be had, but it's all coated under a layer of sameness. As a product all to itself, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars delivers clever puzzles, plenty of challenges for the reflexes and the brain, and loads of longevity for creative types to create their own levels. If the aspect of having new levels created by the community or by your own is something you can get behind, then Tipping Stars is a good pickup. It just depends on whether the price of entry appeals to you or not. For many, it decidedly may not.

[SPC Says: B-]

Second Opinion:

I pretty much agree with Phil's review of the game. It's a safe yet fun level-pack sequel that utilizes almost all of the same gimmicks that its DS predecessor, Mini-Land Mayhem, did. The one thing that was truly new in the brief time I had with the game was in each world's eighth level where one of your Minis would be possessed. The goal in these levels was to save your friend by smashing the controlling mechanism with a hammer and then making your way to the stage's end. It's just a shame that there wasn't more unique elements included in the package because I thought Mini-Land Mayhem did a good job at doing things differently enough when compared to March of the Minis and Minis March Again.

And then there's the cross-buy feature. It sounds great when you first think about it, that you can buy both versions of a game for the same price, but the issue here is that the price feels like it's twice as much as you should be paying. At $19.99, we're talking about a decent-sized investment into a title that you may only want one version of. If you are one of those people that only want to play it on the Gamepad or the 3DS' screen, then you're out of luck. It's a double or nothing purchase where you get a code for the system you didn't purchase the game for. Sure, you can have two versions of the same game if you want or even give the code to a friend or family member, but again, not having that option to purchase the game at a reduced price for a single platform just strikes me as odd.

Moreover, with Minis on the Move being $9.99 in the shop, Tipping Stars just feels like it isn't delivering the same bang for your buck. If you are one of the people that loved Mini-Land Mayhem and don't mind the asking price, then by all means, go for it. It's a fun re-entry into the 2D style of gameplay that the series has recently been known for, and Nintendo themselves will be adding 100 puzzles over the course of the next year to play. If you're one of the people on the fence about this title and have no interest in owning the game on two platforms, then you might want to think about whether a $20 expansion pack sequel is worth it. Because of this, it's real hard for me to justify the price of admission to Nintendo's first foray into the world of cross-buying and much rather would've preferred having the choice of purchasing one version along with the double or nothing strategy they're going with. As it stands, I have a feeling more people will go with neither than both.

[Bean says: D+]

Both Nintendo 3DS and Wii U review copies provided by Nintendo.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Classics I Can Return To - Part Five

Welcome to an all-new installment of Classics I, your friend Phil, Can Return To! We all have games that we find ourselves coming back for more even long after we've beaten them. This segment is dedicated to those titles that are recent and of yesteryear that I can easily find myself coming back to time and time again. It's primarily a modern Nintendo-filled edition of Classics I Can Return To this time around, so get yourself comfortable and let's get to my latest list of seven classics!

If you have interest in a past installment of this series of articles, check them out at the following links:


Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)


This highly anticipated fighter finally came out this past November, and it brought with it loads of content-- almost an obscene amount of things for players to do. It's four months later, and I'm still digging into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, beating challenges to unlock new content, fighting against my Amiibo, playing online, fighting offline with friends and family, and just enjoying the game on the whole. The copious amount of trophies, challenges, characters, stages, and modes means that players entering this game need to make a great time investment if they wish to view everything Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has to offer. I certainly I know have spent over 70 hours already on this beast of a game, and I expect to log in many more hours on top of that amount.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)


A lot of folks were disappointed that Nintendo didn't have a new 3D Mario with the scope of Super Mario Galaxy as Mario's first (and maybe only?) three-dimensional romp on the Wii U. While the initial unveiling did little to fully excite, subsequent trailers and impressions turned towards Super Mario 3D World's favor. The game itself is a sensational one, full of variety, platforming challenges, well designed levels, and the extreme amount of polish that one would expect from Nintendo EAD. Whether playing it by my lonesome or with up to three other players for some local multiplayer mayhem, Super Mario 3D World is a game that I've already beaten three times, and I have the itch to do so again.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)


Another game that disappointed Nintendo fans with its announcement since it was "just Donkey Kong", Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze takes the foundation that Retro Studios laid down with Donkey Kong Country Returns and creates a masterful 2D platforming game full of challenge. The fact that levels are tailored for both normal and speed-run play says a lot to the strength of Retro Studios' wondrous level design. I kept wanting to see what new mechanic or obstacle I would encounter next, keeping me engaged so much that I would hook the Wii U GamePad to its charger just so I'd have an excuse to continue playing. Tropical Freeze is a textbook example of great design and gameplay trumping anything else.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)


The gift that keeps on giving is Mario Kart 8. The first downloadable content pack gave racers eight new tracks on top of the 32 that were already on the disc. The second DLC pack is due out this May, and it adds new vehicles, characters, and tracks to further entice players. I didn't need new tracks as an excuse to keep playing Mario Kart 8. The pure adrenaline-driven gameplay, tight controls, intense races, series-best courses, and online play were all things that beckoned me to return to Mario Kart 8 on a monthly basis. Whether online or off, Mario Kart 8 is one of my favorites in the franchise.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds did a lot to make me love it. It tickled my nostalgia bones by having it set in a familiar A Link to the Past-era Hyrule, but it also brought a lot that was new, including a profound sense of freedom when compared to recent Zelda games, an ingenious wall-merging mechanic that opened up the level design to massive degrees, and dungeons that were delightful to play and replay. Like A Link to the Past, I find myself returning to the lands of Hyrule and Lorule, playing through the Lorule dungeons in different orders, collecting heart pieces, and exploring the world. It's a near-perfect Zelda game, and that is why I can't say no to coming back to it.

Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)


A golf game that is packed to the brim with stuff to do, a common concept that a lot of these classics I can return to possess, Mario Golf: World Tour features a wide selection of varied courses, characters, challenges, modes, and unlockables for players to dive into. The different tournaments that go on online, officially run by Nintendo, unlock new costume pieces for players just for participating in them. This means that I am encouraged to keep coming back to the game, seeing what new gear and equipment I can unlock. The addition of DLC that was reasonably priced means that six 18-hole classic courses from the Nintendo 64 Mario Golf are available to me if I somehow get bored of what's already available on the game card. (Hint: I haven't gotten bored of them yet!)

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi)


While it doesn't have the amount of polish that the Mario Kart series has, I do find myself entering the arcade racing action of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The creatively designed tracks alter their appearance each lap, meaning each race feels like its own adventure and offers a high amount of unpredictability. The game is mighty tough, too, on harder difficulties, requiring the player to have great skill to overcome the challenges presented to them. That's part of the reason I keep playing Sonic the Hedgehog's latest racer, to hone my racing skills to routinely become better against the harder AI. Throw in highly competent online, and you have a game that encourages replaying.

Mario Party 10 (Wii U) Bowser Party TV Commercial

Despite a lack of online play, which in 2015 is pretty much inexcusable, I'm still very interested in the local multiplayer madness which Mario Party 10 will bring players. This particular ad for the game focuses on the Bowser Party mode, where the player with the GamePad controls Bowser, unleashing heck and havoc onto the other four players. Mario Party 10 hits store shelves in North America on March 20.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Unreal Tournament (PS2) Retro Review

I have a special theme for a lot of the games to be reviewed this month. It's going to be a multiplayer-focused month of reviews here at SuperPhillip Central, and we start off with one of the greatest multiplayer arena shooters around. The caveat? This is the PlayStation 2 version. How well does it hold up almost 15 years later? Let's find out with my review of Unreal Tournament!

A Tale of the Quick and the Fragged


As a gamer growing up I stayed towards consoles. Thus, I grew up on games like GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark while those who played on PC had a renaissance of arena shooters with games like Quake and yes, Unreal Tournament. With a new edition of Unreal Tournament coming down the pipes soon, I felt like it was about time for me to see what the fuss was all about. Even with only playing the PlayStation 2 version, I can definitely see why UT has such a large fanbase.

Unreal Tournament has four unique modes of play, and each possesses its own set of maps to master. In fact, there are over fifty unique maps with Unreal Tournament-- a mind-blowing amount that is further made crazy by most being masterfully designed. The PlayStation 2 version contains some maps that are exclusive to that version, adding some incentive for UT fans to pick it up. Rather it would have been had these maps been up to the same level of quality as the base game. Sadly, they are not.

Deathmatch is your standard FPS mode, where you score points through earning frags, shooting or blasting other opponents dead. Deathmatch supports the most amount of maps to fight and frag on, and the maps for the most part are designed to maximize the amount of strategy, fun, and entertainment available for players.

Why, what a big gun you have!
Are you overcompensating for something?
Domination is akin to a King of the Hill-type game match. There are three icons serving as control points that can be held by either team's color. While an icon is under a team's color, it slowly scores points for that team. Holding all three points of interest on a given map means a faster amount of points that are accumulated for that team. It's often a mad scramble to move from one point of interest to another, as control points are traded between teams like baseball cards of undesirable players.

Capture the Flag is probably a mode that I could do without explaining, but for those uninitiated, it has two teams with two bases. The goal here is to take the other team's flag and triumphantly march it back to your own base on top of your own team's flag to score a point. When a player with a flag is fragged, the flag is dropped and must be touched by a player of the opposing team to have it return to their base.

A mainstay of the arena shooter,
the Capture the Flag mode!
Assault is one of the more popular modes within Unreal Tournament with fans, and as an UT newbie, I can definitely see why. It pits two teams against one another, an attacking team and a defending team. The goal is for the defending team to disallow the attacking team from successfully completing a certain set of objectives. In the Rook map, the attacking team must destroy the chains that hold the castle's large door leading to freedom closed. By destroying these chains, the front castle door will open, allowing the attacking team to escape. It's the defending team's duty to prevent this at all cost.

You're about to get bathed in
a shower of bullets.
Each team gets a chance to serve as the attacking and defending team. The team that attacks first tries to do so in as fast an amount of time as possible. This sets how long the next team has to successfully complete their objective. If that team beats the other team's time, then they win. If neither team is able to complete their objective, then the entire match is a draw.

While Assault is a fantastic mode to itself, some maps have unclear goals to them as to what the attacking team must actually do. This can cause an unfair advantage to the other team when you're just aimlessly wandering a map, unaware of what the objective is. That said, it does lend itself well with the general rule of arena shooters in that knowing the maps is key.

Known more for its multiplayer madness, Unreal Tournament supports play for single players, offering a series of matches against bots in all four match types. The bots can range in difficulty from very easy to inhuman, where they can mow you down instantly and use very smart strategies. By completing every match in a given mode, you earn a gold trophy. Earn all four trophies, and you unlock a mode where you fight four one-on-one matches against a boss character, a fictional champion of the Unreal Tournament circuit.

The explosion of body parts after a kill is
still pretty gratifying.
Unreal Tournament on the PlayStation 2 is a blast to play, though using the PS2 controller is not the best substitute for a keyboard and mouse. Turning can be very slow in comparison, and when being fired on from above, you can be dead before the time you're able to turn around. Confusingly enough, the default controls have strafing mapped to the left analog stick while movement is mapped to the right. Thankfully, this can be changed within the controlling settings option menu.

As for the gameplay of UT itself, the fast-paced fragging action fans have grown to love with the franchise is ever-present in this PS2 version. Combatants move at a steady speed, able to jump around, and access locations on maps otherwise inaccessible. Maps range from small to large, offering an abundance of popular battle locations, areas of high traffic, sniper points, camping spots (though camping is not recommended, as one should always be moving so they're a harder target to hit), and locations for weapons, armor, health, boosts, and ammo.

The Impact Hammer is one of two
weapons each player starts a match with.
When a match begins and when a player is revived after being killed, they start with a close-range weapon and a relatively weak gun. Through exploring the map and acquiring weapons that spawn in each arena, players can obtain a mighty powerful armada of weaponry. Such weapons include a massive rocket launcher, a gun that sprays explosive bursts at other players, a bio gun that launches toxic bubbles, and a mainstay for shooters, a sniper rifle. Each weapon comes equipped with a secondary firing function. For instance, the Shock Rifle not only shoots out fast-moving bolts of lightning, but a player can fire a slow electrical orb that can take out foes in a jiffy.

We're going to tear-a Tara a new one!
The PlayStation 2 version of Unreal Tournament is sadly the weakest on the market. Not only are there tremendous frame-rate issues when the action gets fierce, but the visuals are rather weak. Multiplayer is available for up to four players (Multitap peripheral required for this amount of humans), but this astonishingly only allows a paltry 11 maps for skirmishes. Seven of these are Deathmatch maps while the other four are Capture the Flag. Yes, you read right. Three-quarters of Unreal Tournament's maps are locked away from multiplayer, and two of the game's modes are not able to be played with other humans. Considering those two modes are some of the most interesting in the package, this is a great loss for the PlayStation 2 version that offer incarnations such as the PC and Dreamcast versions have.

Despite being the black sheep when compared to other versions of the game, Unreal Tournament on the PlayStation 2 is indeed a entertaining arena shooter that still manages to play and hold up well to this day. Even the dated graphics and performance of the PS2 version don't detract from Unreal Tournament being a total blast to play whether alone with highly competent bots or with friends locally. It's gameplay that stands the test of time and offers a game that delivers total adrenaline rushes and fast and frantic fun. The fact that this arena shooter is still so popular 15 years after the fact is quite simply unreal.

[SPC Says: B-]

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D (New 3DS) Heir to the Monado Trailer

If you're looking for a reason to replay Xenoblade Chronicles or even play it for the first time, Nintendo has you covered. Xenoblade Chronicles 3D takes everything fans know and love about the game and shrinks it down to Nintendo's New 3DS. Watch this story-centric trailer to get some more hype for this game.

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