Saturday, September 5, 2009

Super Mario Strikers (GCN) Retro Review

Saturday is quickly turning into Retro Review day. Soccer season is in full swing, so that's a good opportunity to bring up Mario's first soccer outing, Super Mario Strikers for the Gamecube.

Witness Mario's Fleet Feet


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Mario has gone maniacal on us! He just can't turn down a game, can he? Man, with all the athletics Mario performs we can only hope that he has a lifetime supply of Ben-Gay stashed away somewhere. Nonetheless, not satisfied with being a plumber, a hero, a go-kart driver, a golfer, a basketball player, a referee, a painter, a tennis player, a baseball player, and a partier, Mario and friends have decided to take up a new pastime-- soccer (or as everyone else lucid calls it, football). This Next Level Games-developed title, Super Mario Strikers, brings the Mario crew to a whole new sport with an "extreme" attitude.

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Mario is a jack of all trades.

The fun begins by choosing one of eight starting team captains. Each captain has a different playing style to them, so players can choose the captain that best fits their own personal interests-- yes, even those with interests of staring at the exposed torsos of Peach and Daisy. Take a cold shower, fellas. After choosing a captain, the next feat (pun intended) is to choose one of four sidekicks (Toads, koopas, hammer brothers, and birdos)-- once again each with their own distinct flairs. Each match is five on five. There's one captain, one Kritter (from DKC fame) goalie, and three sidekicks. Passing the ball is as easy as hitting the A button. Shooting is accomplished by tapping the B button. The longer the B button is pressed, the bigger the charge. The bigger the charge equals the bigger the chance of the ball going past the goalie. There's a slew of tricks that can be performed such as lob shots and perfect passes. Captains, when on the opposition's side of the field, can charge up their shot to the point of bringing up a meter a la Mario Golf. By hitting the meter in one of two green sections one can pull off a super shot which may or may not score. By hitting both green sections, your team captain will pull off an unstoppable super shot that will send the goalie and ball rocketing into the goal. Super shots are good for two points as opposed to just one. The only drawback with super shots is that they take a long time to get going, so anyone can come by and either hit or steal the ball away from the powering up player.

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More players mean more action.

Mario knows sports. Mario knows soccer. Mario doesn't know traditional soccer. Among the fast-paced plays on the soccer field, players can earn items from stealing the ball from a foe to having the ball stolen from them. These can be used at any time. Bob-ombs can come flying from out of nowhere when one least expects it, or they can be frozen to a standstill by a blue shell. There's a large number of items, but to add to that craziness Bowser can sometimes land on the field, spitting fire like a garden hose sprays water. Sometimes a Chain-Chomp can plummet to the field and dance around without caution to the wind. Apparently, Mario does not know what a red card is either.

The main meat and potatoes of Super Mario Strikers rests in the Cup Battle mode. This mode pits your team captain against other captains in a league. The Mushroom Cup is three matches, and the player with the most wins at the end of the league wins the trophy. The following cups simply have more teams, more matches, and more of a difficulty. Cup Battle is the mode which will unlock more arenas to play in. However, there's only seven arenas and the only differences between them are aesthetic.

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Bowser isn't playable, but he does cause a
lot of problems on the field when he arrives...

To round out the package are Milestones. These are bronze, silver, and gold trophies that awarded for a number of reasons such as scoring goals, hitting other players, and performing super strikes. Getting a gold means receiving a new cheat that can be used in grudge match play. Grudge match play is what will keep most gamers playing for more. However, without a friend to play against there's really nothing in Super Mario Strikers to keep a single player satisfied for very long.

While not the greatest sports title in Mario's impressive arsenal, Super Mario Strikers shouldn't get flagged with a red card either. It's a capable soccer game, but it's over far too quickly. While lacking a substantial production value it does weigh in where it matters most-- fun. For those with friends to play alongside them, pick this title up. It should be rather cheap now. For those without friends, sucks to be them-- er... rather... wait until Mario Strikers: Charged for the Wii.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.25/10] - Super Mario Strikers is a capable soccer outing, but there's far better Mario spin-offs to be had other than this one.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shadow Complex (360) Guest Review

Continuing this week of new reviews, my older brother has written a review for the recently-released Xbox Live Arcade game, Shadow Complex, a game that takes heavy inspiration from Super Metroid. How does it hold up? Let's find out.

Shadowing Samus


If there’s one trend that I’ve loved during this generation, it’s that 2D gaming has come back into the fold after being written off the past two generations. More and more companies seem to be open to the idea of creating a fun old-school title while giving it a new school look. The exploration/platformer isn’t one of these genres, at least when it comes to the consoles. No, Metroid and Castlevania have gone the 3D route with only the former having positive results. Chair Entertainment of all development studios has decided that it’s time for this genre to make a comeback by releasing Shadow Complex onto Xbox Live Arcade. Chair isn’t a complete stranger to the 2D realm as their previous work, Undertow, also tested those waters. . .to mixed results. That game wound up costing 360 owners nothing. This one’s $15, one of the highest priced new titles out there. Does it stack up to the classics of yesteryear and forge its own place in the exploration genre?


Upon first glance, you can see that Chair has no problem whatsoever borrowing heavily from the Super Metroid playbook. You start off by controlling a soldier in a nearly fully-powered suit. You’ve got access to missiles, grenades, a thrust pack, and a boss fight in the middle of a city street against a helicopter. You’ll notice that not only will you have to deal with enemies to your left and right, but there will also be targets in the background that you can’t access. I hope you enjoy this tutorial in disguise as you’ll soon be playing as a guy that has access to absolutely none of that stuff. . .at least for awhile.

Jason Fleming, our makeshift hero and his girlfriend stumble upon a secret industrial complex in the mountains. It isn’t long after that his girl is taken captive and he’s left to uncover whatever wrongdoings are taking place within here. Even though this game is based on a novel entitled "Empire", the game itself doesn’t really go into too much detail about it. I find that to be a blessing in disguise as there aren’t too many gameplay breaks once you get past the opening sequence. That means that the game and its map are open for you to explore without constantly being interrupted.


There’s a lot to explore for in here, too. Much like Metroid, you can go from point A to point B without too much trouble, but you’re not going to be seeing all the game has to offer if you play it like that. Jason comes equipped with a flashlight that allows him to reveal hidden areas that he can access, pending he has acquired the right upgrades at the time. These range from yellow doors and grates that can simply be shot at to red ones that require missiles to be opened. You can bet that there are plenty of items hidden within these nooks and crannies, and I found that many were hidden quite well.

Another thing that this game does well is that the areas themselves are varied up enough so that you’re not just traveling through similar looking gray hallways all throughout the game. No, along with the factory type areas are caves, underwater sections, and the cliffs that your journey begins at. It’s a fairly large map, too, one that took me a good seven hours to complete my first time through. The exploration aspect is clearly in full force here, and it’s the highlight of the game.

Shadow Complex isn’t perfect, however. The aiming, mainly when you have to shoot at enemies in the background can truly be annoying at times. Sometimes, it will take Jason forever and a day to take care of them. On other occasions, you’ll find that it’s easy to shoot those distant targets when you’d rather be taking out the ones standing right next to you chipping away at your health.


Also, many of the enemies and bosses scream generic. In fact, the regular boss battles are truly some of the most boring encounters I can think of. Since Shadow Complex doesn’t have a myriad of attacking upgrades, it finds you more or less shooting at targets with grenades or missiles for the most part. There’s usually one safe spot that your character can find rather quickly and just blow them all away. The worst of these is a boss that’s literally a spinning wheel. It will take most gamers a whopping ten seconds to find that it never changes up its pattern whatsoever, allowing you to quickly find a particular spot to stand and shoot from. Luckily, this isn’t a game breaking flaw, but it definitely keeps it from reaching the levels of previous Metroid and Castlevania titles.


What you have here is a game that does its best to emulate the successful formula that Metroid established, and for the most part, it succeeds. It looks well, it plays well, and that makes it a nicely made title in a year where there haven’t been too many for the 360. By going for 100% with the achievements in this game, you’re going to get about 20 hours out of it. If you just care about an 100% run, it will only be a 5-10 hour run total. Either way, that’s a decent amount of gameplay for a decent price. Shadow Complex may not be the greatest game of the year, but it’s certainly a good one, and one that I would recommend you try.

[Overall: 8.25/10]

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ratchet & Clank (PS2) Retro Review

The newest Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time is hitting the PS3 late October. In anticipation for the game, I'm playing through all of the Ratchet & Clank games and reviewing them starting with the very first which is simply known as Ratchet & Clank.

A Qwarktastic Adventure


The Ratchet & Clank franchise has been around since 2002. Since then we've already seen seven games in the series across various platforms with varying degrees of success. It all started with a little old game called Ratchet & Clank for the Playstation 2 developed by ex-Spyro the Dragon developers, Insomniac Games. Platforming duos have been around since the dawn of time (okay, maybe not that long ago) with Mario and Luigi, Banjo and Kazooie, and Jak and Daxter, so what makes Ratchet & Clank's duo worth a look? Is it the tight platforming? Is it the arsenal of high-powered weaponry? Is it the trademark humor of the series? It's not just one of these things-- it's all of them.

And here's the stars of our game.

Meet Ratchet. He's a lombax from the planet Veldin. One day he's minding his own business when suddenly an unidentified flying object crashes nearby his position. Ratchet goes to investigate and discovers a small in stature robot who he later names Clank. Together they decide to find the whereabouts of famed superhero, Captain Qwark. Saving the universe from a power-hungry despot slowing destroying the galaxy? Well, that's just gravy. The partnership of Ratchet and Clank in this game is rather rocky with the two not really getting along. It's interesting to see the two act cold towards one another in certain scenes. The story itself never takes itself too seriously. In fact, it's all a comedic adventure, and it seldom fails to bring a smile or a small chuckle. It's nothing hilarious, but the story does a good job of being entertaining and lighthearted.

"Qwark says only fat chicks get in."

Ratchet & Clank is an action-platformer. There's plenty of action with the arsenal of weapons Ratchet is in possession of, and there's plenty of platforming goodness from wall-jumping to carefully leaping from small platform to small platform, et cetera. The only mandatory thing you'll be collecting are Infobots. These little bots display a short, oftentimes humorous cut-scene showing where Ratchet & Clank should head next. Each planet in the game has multiple pathways and multiple objectives to complete. There's usually two or more different paths to take, each leading to a different objective. There's over a dozen different planets and areas to explore each with a varied theme such as a rainy city or an orbiting space base. The only problem here is that checkpoints in levels are too few and far in-between. It can be highly frustrating having to redo five minutes of work only to fall into a pit and have to do the process all over again. Thankfully, this was fixed in later sequels.

Ratchet isn't alone in his quest. Not only does he have Clank who can give him extra height to his jumps or allow him to hover across an otherwise non-negotiable gap, Ratchet is also armed with myriad of high-powered weapons and gadgets. Unlike future games in the series, your weapons do not level up as you use them again and again. This makes playing favorites all the more easier, but it also cuts down on the replay value. There's a wide variety of weapons, too, from the pistol-like Blaster to the electric whip known as the Tesla Claw to the remote control guided missile, the Visibomb. Weapons are either gained through completing objectives or they'll purchased via bolts at one of many Gadgetron vendors on every planet.

These little robots will do the grunt work for you.

Included apart from weapons are gadgets which are used to proceed through levels and solve quick puzzles. The Swingshot makes it debut in the original Ratchet & Clank allowing Ratchet to swing across certain gaps as if he were Spider-man. The Trespasser can unlock doors that are shut as long as you can solve the mini-puzzle revolving around rotating laser beams. The Hydrodisplacer sucks up and fills up pools of water for Ratchet to pass through. Meanwhile, a series staple, the magnetic boots allow Ratchet to walk on magnetic flooring to reach previously inaccessible areas. Most gadgets are used multiple times throughout the game, so you're usually never just using one gadget once or twice and forgetting about it.

Most of the time you'll be controlling Ratchet with Clank on his back similar to Kazooie in Banjo's backpack. There are some times where you'll be controlling Clank by his lonesome. He isn't as strong or versatile as Ratchet, so he takes control of miniature robotic minions which follow him around and help out. They'll enter gates to open doors, attack enemies at Clank's command, and stick with Clank until the bitter end. Moments like these break-up the gameplay and throw in some variety into the mix. That's not all the styles of gameplay either. Ratchet will participate in hoverboard races, shoot down bogeys in a space ship, and watch Clank grow to colossal size, bashing down baddies with ease. There's a few clunkers here and there, but mostly the variety is welcomed with open arms.

Ratchet controls very fluidly. The left stick moves Ratchet while the right moves the camera around him. Weapons and gadgets can be assigned to the quick select menu, so with a push of the triangle button, you can quickly cycle through available weapons and gadgets with ease. You can gather or purchase ammo at a weapons vendor, but the latter is rather archaic because you can't just say "refill all" like in later games. This means you have to manually set how much ammo you want, and it's just a tedious process to do.

Ratchet's main weapon is his wrench.

Ratchet & Clank will last most players ten hours their first run through. This is probably the most difficult game in the series just because you only get four hits until you're knocked out and have to start at the nearest checkpoint. Sure, you can purchase health upgrades to increase your life, but that isn't until the latter half of the game. After you complete the arduous task of beating the game, you can try out Challenge Mode where you start the game over with all of your current weapons. The enemies are tougher, but you earn more bolts, the currency of the series, from defeating them and from breaking boxes strewn about the levels. Gold bolts that are hidden extremely well throughout all of the game's levels can be used in Challenge Mode to purchase stronger versions of already-owned weapons. In addition to that, there's thirty skill points to unlock. These unlock by performing certain in-game tasks such as destroying a statue. For the life of me though I could not find where to see unlocked skill points.

Ratchet & Clank isn't the best the franchise has to offer, but it's still a rather good game. I would call it the weakest of the series meaning the best is yet to come. The lack of a decent number of checkpoints combined with the higher-than-usual difficulty level makes for a sometimes vexing experience. Regardless, those looking for the start of one of Sony's best series should definitely track this game down and enjoy the heck out of it. Otherwise, I'll rip you a new one.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Best of the Best - Wii

To celebrate and anticipate the upcoming 500th entry on SuperPhillip Central, I've decided to do something special. It's called Best of the Best, and it's a three part series showcasing the best every platform this generation has to offer thus far. This week we're starting off with the Wii. Included with each game is my original review. Just click on the game title if there's a review available.

Super Mario Galaxy

Not just one of the Wii's best games, but one of the best games this generation. It's the magnificent Super Mario Galaxy, a game that's fun to go after stars or just fool around with the gravity mechanic. Mario once again moves like a dream in a game that's challenging but not overly, frustratingly so. Who knew that we'd get a sequel to this game the same generation? That has to be some kind of miracle.


Super Smash Bros. Brawl

The all-star brawl is on with Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While not a perfect game with the okay Subspace Emissary and the clumsy characters tripping occasionally, this game is packed with content more so than any other Wii game with more characters, more stages, more music, and objectively more fun than past Smash games. The amount of content available will have players brawling for days before even coming close to seeing all the game has to offer. Sakurai and crew did a phenomenal job with this game.


The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess


Also available on Nintendo's doomed console, the Gamecube, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is the closest thing to Ocarina of Time since, well, Ocarina of Time. With a myriad of puzzling dungeons, a cast of charming characters, and plenty of hours to sink in as you explore Hyrule, Twilight Princess is yet another jewel in the Legend of Zelda franchise's crown. The Wii version brought with it pointer functionality that paved the way for games to follow. Whether you prefer it on Gamecube or Wii, Twilight Princess is a great game that no Wii owner should be without.


Metroid Prime Trilogy

I was going to mention Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, but I can just kill three birds with charge shot by bringing up Metroid Prime Trilogy instead. Featuring all three of the Metroid Prime games, the two Gamecube, and one Wii title, Metroid Prime Trilogy is the best collection you can find on Wii-- arguably this generation. The level design of all three games is superb, and the new Wii controls make Prime 1 and 2 control like completely different games-- and that's for the better by the way.


Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii feels like the most complete Mario Kart yet. It has thirty-two tracks, sixteen old and sixteen new, a bounty of characters, karts, and options, and a terrific online system-- something Brawl would be jealous of. The only kink in Mario Kart Wii's armor is that the game can feel very cheap in later difficulties with items being tossed around like confetti. Other than, Mario Kart Wii is a fantastic addition to the franchise and to one's Wii collection.


Excitebots: Trick Racing

From one racer to another with Excitebots: Trick Racing. Excitebots is a sequel to the Wii launch title Excite Truck. In this case you're racing robotic creatures like crabs and ladybugs instead of four-wheelers. The game is mad fun with friends and terrific alone as well. It's not just about coming first as much as it is about doing it in style, earning stars by performing tricks such as tree runs and super sandwiches. Have I lost you yet? Just pick up the game to see what I mean.


Animal Crossing: City Folk

Feeling more like Animal Crossing 2.5 than a full-fledged new entry in the series, Animal Crossing: City Folk is still a fun experience. The big new additions to the game include the city where players can meet Crazy Redd, get their hair done differently, and bid at auctions, and downloadable content that is still supported to this day. Taking care of your town and conversing with your citizens is still a big part of what makes Animal Crossing so great, and the included Wii Speak online play is a wonderful experience, too.


Wario Land Shake It!

Shake what your mama gave you with Wario Land: Shake It! With 39 levels, some optional, to explore, Wario has a lot of excavating for treasure to do. You could play the game one of two ways: 1) run through the levels without going for treasure, or 2) collecting treasure and completing the challenge goals like don't get hit in a level. Players who followed choice #2 found a much more rewarding game than those who just breezed through it. Couple that with one of the best soundtracks last year, and Wario Land Shake It! is a platformer that shouldn't be missed.


Wii Sports Resort

Nintendo's premier game utilizing MotionPlus, Wii Sports Resort features twelve unique sports from table tennis to golf, basketball to bowling. Each sport has alternate versions like 10-pin bowling and 100-pin bowling. Some sports work extraordinarily well while others do not such as cycling. Regardless, it's difficult not to find a sport you'll love in this package. Not to mention that this game is a local multiplayer bonanza of laughter and fun.


Super Paper Mario

Flip it good! Super Paper Mario had an interesting gameplay mechanic to it. Mario could at any time flip the dimension, that is, he could walk on a traditional 2D plane or flip it to a 3D one. This trick was used countless times throughout the course of the game. A huge mountain stands in Mario's way in 2D? Flip it, and he can go behind it in 3D. Super Paper Mario is a wonderful, if not verbose, adventure that Wii owners should skimp out on.


Little King's Story

Take command of your subjects as you attempt to expand your kingdom far from its original boundaries. Little King's Story is one of the best Wii games of the year, and it commands more attention than it's been receiving. While there's no Wii remote functionality which makes things sometimes unwieldy, the game has a feel that a lot of heart and soul was put into the game, something that many games lack.


Boom Blox

The first game resulting from the partnership between EA and director Steven Spielberg, Boom Blox is a physics-based puzzler that's a blast to play-- literally! There's a variety of different puzzles to solve-- over 100-- and they range from knocking down a stack of blocks in as few throws as possible to carefully pulling out blocks from a large tower without having it fall over, Jenga-style. You can also create your own stages and send them to friends. Speaking of friends, like Wii Sports Resort, it's a wonderful game to play with friends.


Bully: Scholarship Edition

Also available on the Xbox 360, Bully: Scholarship Edition on Wii is GTA without all the juvenile "69-styled" humor. You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a boy who has bounced from boarding school to boarding school and is not at Bullsworth Academy. It's his goal to rule the school. Wii functionality from dissecting frogs to shooting foes with his slingshot is included, and these touches are done very well. There's so much to do that the game will take at least 24 real-time hours to complete. School is back in session.



Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

Quite possibly the best, most entertaining golf simulator ever, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 for Wii brings with it 27 courses, seven of which are brand-new, friend code-free online, an exhaustive create-a-golfer, and tactile response with the Wii MotionPlus peripheral. Even without the attachment, the game plays beautifully. This is yet another game with a smorgasbord of content from tournaments to challenges.


We Love Golf!

We go from a realistic golf game to a cartoon golf game with the exceptional We Love Golf! While you don't swing the Wii remote like you would with Tiger Woods, the game plays just fine regardless. There's eight varied courses in all from canyons to flower gardens, ten characters, each with a special Capcom-themed costume to unlock, and fun match play-styled online play to boot. This golf bag is definitely packed. Not more than Tiger, but those wanting a less realistic experience can't go wrong with We Love Golf!


Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon

Not as difficult as most rogue-likes, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeons is another game brimming with charm. The gameplay is fast and fluid, the presentation is top-notch, and the hours you'll spend completing the game will be long and lasting. There's also online card-battling as seen in another Final Fantasy Fables game, Chocobo Tales for the DS.



Klonoa

The Wii version of Door to Phantomile, Klonoa received a huge graphical overhaul, and it looks very impressive. The game is a 2 1/2D platformer. The catch is that Klonoa can grab certain enemies and use them to leap to higher platforms. This mechanic is main draw to the series other than superb platforming action. Klonoa will only take three hours to beat, but it's a very satisfying three hours... and three hours you'll want to revisit again and again.


de Blob

de Blob sold rather well for THQ which is a great surprise. The aim of de Blob is to color as much of Radian City as possible by completing challenges as de Blob trudges on to save the day. de Blob is a very entertaining 3D platformer that's easy on the eyes and fun throughout its duration.


Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition

Resident Evil 4 is one of the best games of last generation, and definitely one of the best Gamecube games available. It comes to Wii with brand new controls as all of the extras of the Playstation 2 version making Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition the definitive version of this epic and classic game.


The House of the Dead: Overkill

Rail-shooters seem to be the popular genre for third parties on Wii. If they're as high of quality as the House of the Dead: Overkill, then maybe that isn't so bad. Featuring a grindhouse-style presentation, crude humor and foul language, six levels to blast zombies back to being inanimate, and multiple unlockables to attain, House of the Dead: Overkill is my personal favorite light-gun shooter period.


MadWorld


From very violent to ultra-violent, MadWorld is all about scoring points. How do you score points? Killing enemies in as gruesome and creative as possible. Featuring a distinctive black-and-white art style, MadWorld plays a lot like another overlooked game, God Hand for the PS2. It seems Platinum Games is doomed to make games that cater to a niche market. If that means they can keep on rolling, then so be it!


As you can see, the Wii has a lot of great games that don't fall under the typical genres. Honorable mentions include No More Heroes, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

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