Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (PSN, XBLA) Review

While I couldn't reach the 600th review last month in time for the seven-year anniversary month of SuperPhillip Central, that allows me to not rush it this month. After this review, there is but one more to the 600th review.

However, I'm once again getting ahead of myself. For now, let's take a look at a game that was a SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive classic that received the remake treatment. It's Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for PSN and XBLA.

CAUTION: The quality of this remake is no illusion. 

Remakes of old games are nothing new to the industry. Whereas Capcom remade DuckTales on the NES, SEGA has taken it upon itself to remake a classic SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive game in Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. While Capcom's DuckTales Remastered was more of a strict 2D remake, some liberties were taken with Castle of Illusion-- ones that make for a new experience even for those who know the SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive original like the back of their hand.

Castle of Illusion plays like an interactive novel with a voice narrating the events of the game during and out of gameplay. Things begin with Mickey and Minnie Mouse having an enjoyable picnic in the forest together. Suddenly, the evil witch Mizrabel (the same evil witch and queen from Snow White, only utilizing an alternate name) drops in and mouse-naps Minnie, intending on using her magic to capture Minnie's beauty. As any hero worth their weight would do, Mickey pursues Mizrabel to the titular Castle of Illusion, cautious but ready to handle the many trials that await inside.

A stroll through the Enchanted Forest is just the way
to start a platforming adventure, no?
The goal of Castle of Illusion is to collect the seven rainbow gems in order to construct a rainbow bridge across the chasm between the castle and Mizrabel's tower. Most of the gems are under the watch of one of five rainbow masters, bosses which require the most of Mickey's cunning to defeat. From bosses like a jack-in-the-box that requires it to knock itself out with its own punching glove to a dragon made out of licorice and parade of Merpeople, a team of aquatic baddies who swim in a pattern that Mickey must avoid. These boss battles aren't too challenging, and they're pretty much the main part of Castle of Illusion that poses a significant difficulty outside of the later platforming levels of the game.

This licorice dragon has quite the sweet tooth-- literally!
The final boss serves as an interesting battle, but the problem with this is that if you fail it, you have to questionably sit through a thirty second cutscene which starts the encounter each time you lose a life. This is one of the only points in the game where you have to sit through a cutscene, and seeing how the final boss is the most arduous challenge in the game, this can be very frustrating upon repeated fight attempts.

As for the platforming levels, Castle of Illusion doesn't strictly adhere to its 2D roots. Many levels feature paths that wrap around other objects in the background, consist of incredible set pieces, and even possess fully 3D elements. The latter can be a little iffy, especially in more precision-based platforming challenges. You see, Mickey's jumps are a bit floaty, which can make it hard to gauge jumps in a 3D space. While this didn't cause me many problems, your mileage may vary on this issue.

Toyland is a world made up of five-year-old kids' dreams everywhere.
Still, falling into a pit or other chasm does not result in a loss of a life. Instead, it just takes off one of Mickey's health, seen as one of five stars. Mickey starts out with three stars to begin with, and he can earn up to two more through collecting them, allowing him and the player more mistakes as levels get more difficult.

You can hold the jump button when bouncing off an enemy
to get some extra height, great for reaching secret areas.
In Mickey's adventure he will navigate a river of milk aboard the tops of sugary cookie platforms, bounce through a land of toys, and maneuver through a clock tower full of rotating and moving parts which can easily ruin the day of an unaware mouse.

Castle of Illusion is a relatively short game for the price. You can honestly beat the game in one sitting, but then at the same time you won't have seen and unlocked everything the Illusion has to offer. There are 75 diamonds to collect in each non-boss level, there are statue pieces, playing cards, and chili peppers to nab as well, hidden in some very clever locations. Then there is just the fun of replaying levels in time attack mode. It all adds up to a game that may be over too soon, but one that also contains enough charm and entertainment for repeated play sessions.

The visuals of Castle of Illusion look exceptional, offering crisp graphics, colorful worlds, enchanting environments, and well articulated and animated characters. There are a few moments of slowdown here and there, but for the most part, it won't cause that many hits or deaths to Mickey. The music delivers a mysterious and magical feel to the game, also allowing the classic soundtrack to be heard if deemed preferable by the player.

Don't let this castle drive you batty, Mickey.
Castle of Illusion is a short ride, but it's one that was mighty enjoyable to me. Even after Mizrabel was thwarted, I still had diamonds to return to levels for and the desire to play through the game again. The jumping may be a bit floaty, particularly noticeable in 3D parts of levels, but overall, Castle of Illusion is a spirited take on an old Genesis and Mega Drive classic.

[SPC Says: B]

Rodea the Sky Soldier (Wii U, 3DS) Official Gameplay Trailer

A new gameplay trailer for Rodea the Sky Soldier has released on YouTube. It also shows the game has seen a slight delay of about a month, now releasing in October for both North America and Europe. I'm iffy about the graphics, but how can I say no to a project by Yuji Naka? We'll see how the game turns out as its release approaches and the game finally launches.

Review Round-Up - June 2015

SuperPhillip Central made a mess with Splatoon
last month. Don't worry-- it was encouraged!
This June, SuperPhillip Central celebrated its seven-year anniversary. The festivities conclude this Friday with the final ten of the top 50 game soundtracks of all time. That said, the month was busy for reviews as well!

I started the month with a review of the Wii U's innovative third-person shooter Splatoon, which painted and slopped its way to a B. Next up was a game that came out of nowhere to amaze me, Adventures of Pip, earning an A-. I then went retro with a review of Mega Man 7 (B) and a review of a game that is new but had a retro art style, Life of Pixel (C). Following those games were LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, reviewed on the day that Batman: Arkham Knight released, and Bean's review of Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. Both games earned a B-. Finally, I took the site to the frozen tundras of Alaska with the artistic wonder of Never Alone for the Wii U eShop. Can you really assign a letter grade to art? Well, I assigned the actual game portion with a C.

Next month ought to be very interesting with SuperPhillip Central's 600th review. It's for a game that is a classic and one that I absolutely love, even after playing it recently. It seems to still hold up rather well.

Splatoon (Wii U) - B
Adventures of Pip (Wii U eShop) - A-
Mega Man 7 (SNES, Wii U VC) - B
Life of Pixel (Wii U VC) - C
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (3DS, Vita) - B-
Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition (3DS) - B-
Never Alone (Wii U eShop) - C

Splatoon is still regularly updated with brand-new
modes and weapons to keep the game feeling fresh.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Never Alone (Wii U eShop) Review

Let's fend off the summer heat by travelling to the Alaskan tundra! This next game released to great critical acclaim late last year when it released on other platforms. Last week it finally hit the Wii U eShop. Why, it's Never Alone, and here's my review.

A cultured experience as deep as the tundra snow

Judging games as experiences and as art makes this hobby of reviewing games very difficult sometimes. How do you put a letter value on a title like Never Alone? It vows to be more than just a game, instead offering an experience to the player. As a game, it's over all too quickly, but as an experience, it offers a rare glimpse into the world of a Native Alaskan people, rich with storytelling, history, and unique customs.

Never Alone has you under the control of two characters-- a young girl from a small arctic village who marches through the frozen tundra, inside wintry forests, and even the innards of a whale is the first. The second is a playful and watchful white fox who joins the girl's journey to discover the root of a relentless blizzard that threatens the lives of the girl's village.

Forget diamonds. This friendly white fox is a girl's best friend.
In Never Alone, you can either play the game with one or two people. With two people playing, one as the girl and one as the fox, the game is much easier to handle. With just your lonesome playing, you use the Y button to switch between characters. Unfortunately, the AI isn't wholly intelligent. When the AI is on the ball and follows you to a "T", things work well. However, in those somewhat rare moments where the AI falls into a chasm or into a bed of spikes due to faulty logic, then Never Alone gets mighty frustrating.

That said, even with the multitude of deaths that you will most likely receive while playing Never Alone, the game never feels too cheap or too challenging. Death isn't a big punishment, as the number of checkpoints available to you is immense. You'll seldom die and have to do a large portion of an area over again, and that's fantastic because dying because of the AI and having to start far earlier in the game would make Never Alone a definite "no" on the purchase list.

In exchange for a drum, this gentleman gives you the Bola.
As said, switching between the young girl and the white fox is performed with the Y button on the Wii U GamePad. Both characters have their own contributions to the journey. For instance, the young girl can push and pull boxes while the fox has the ability to scale walls and can summon guardian spirits to serve as platforms for the young girl. The girl gains the power to chuck a special projectile weapon called a Bola, able to destroy and interact with certain objects. By themselves, the pair can't do much, but together, the two have a wide range of abilities to solve Never Alone's simple puzzles and platforming challenges. As with any game with good design, the puzzles and platforming challenges present themselves at a slow but steady pace and build on top of one another with increasingly more difficult trials for the player.

Death seldom gives you much in the form of punishment;
maybe a loss of five or ten seconds?
In Never Alone, the young girl and the white fox will travel across blistering cold and windy plains, needing to brace themselves as the wind blows hard directly in their faces. However, the fierce gusts of wind can also be used to great effect to propel them across otherwise impossible to pass chasms. There is a sea of icebergs that must be carefully crossed, as they bob up and down on the water's surface (some into the underside of larger icebergs, potentially crushing our protagonists). Then there are chase sections where hungry polar bears and evil men pursue and hope on catching both the young girl and the fox.

This polar bear sure isn't as friendly as the ones
from the Coca-Cola ads!
The entire adventure can be finished in just one sitting. There are additional content bonuses that do make Never Alone more enticing, though. Not only is Never Alone a game, but it is also an educational and informative experience, delving into the culture and life of Alaskan native Iñupiaq people. Through coming across owls in the wild, whether through normal play or through a bit of searching, you unlock cultural insight videos, detailing a wide assortments of topics dealing with the Iñupiaq people. From myths and legends to history and customs, Never Alone offers a sizable portion of interesting reads and videos regarding the Iñupiaq people.

Still, Never Alone is but a two-to-three hour game with not much replay value to it, and it is priced at $14.99. As an experience, it is highly rewarding and worth going through at least once. As a game, Never Alone presents clever puzzle and platforming design that teaches multiple concepts and builds upon them. However, it's over so quickly that there are far better ways to spend $15 on the Wii U eShop, great experience or no.

[SPC Says: C]

Review copy provided by Upper One Games.

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Summer Smorgasbord Edition

Summer is here in North America, and with it comes blistering hot afternoons and muggy evenings and nights. As if you needed another thing to heat up your afternoon, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs are here to do just that! Maybe you'll completely forget about the heat as you listen to these five wonderful VGM volumes.

We start things off with Metal Slug 2, debuting the Neo Geo system on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. We then head towards Pi'illo Island with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Next, we get jazzed up with a special stage theme from Sonic 3D Blast on the Sega Saturn. Finally, we get hot and heavy with Ys Origin and Half Minute Hero. As the title of this edition says, it IS a smorgasbord of VGM goodness this week!

v906. Metal Slug 2 (NGEO) - Livin' on the Deck

Now HERE'S something special. For over 900 VGM volumes we've yet to see the Neo Geo get proper respect on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. That all changes with Livin' on the Deck, a jazzy song from Metal Slug's second outing. My first run-in with the Metal Slug series was with the Metal Slug Anthology, allowing play-throughs of seven Metal Slug games with some nice bonus content to boot. Nice to have you aboard the Favorite VGMs, Metal Slug!

v907. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS) - Break at Pi'illo Castle

Yoko Shimomura provides the soundtrack to Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, the longest game in this popular RPG series time-to-completion-wise. Nintendo announced at this year's E3 Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, a crossover between the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario RPG series. It's looking to be as creative and as humorous as the other games in the series.

v908. Sonic 3D Blast (SAT, PC) - Special Stage

While the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive version of Sonic 3D Blast's soundtrack has some nice themes, it cannot compare at all to the greatness that is the Sega Saturn soundtrack. Composed by Richard Jacques, the soundtrack is absolutely divine, with creative and catchy melodies and an abundance of sensational rhythms.

v909. Ys Origin (PC) - Beyond the Beginning

The Ys series has some of my favorite music in gaming, and I just got into this long-running series a little less than five years ago! It amazes me what I was missing out on with epic music mixing hard rock with classical music, and tremendous action-RPG gameplay that seldom gets dull. I look forward to the next chapter of the Ys saga, which we'll hopefully see at this year's Tokyo Game Show!

v910. Half Minute Hero (PSP) - Main Theme

Half Minute Hero may not be a household name, but it definitely had its soundtrack composed by some great and well known Japanese video game music composers, such as Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, Yuzo Koshiro, Motoi Sakuraba, Koji Hayama, and Norihiko Hibino, to name a handful. A sequel for Half Minute Hero released in 2011 on Steam for PC.


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