Friday, May 6, 2011

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume One

We conclude the week here at SuperPhillip Central with a new segment to the site. It's entitled "Best Levels in Gaming History", and as you may guess it celebrates my favorite levels in video games past, present, and future. Tonight we have five levels from five games that I personally enjoy whether they give me great nostalgia, are fun to play, or are simply aesthetically pleasing. A special thanks to GameTrailers.com for the idea for this new series.

Gusty Garden Galaxy: The Dirty Tricks of Major Burrows - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)


Mario leads us off with our journey through excellent level design. This colorful and whimsical galaxy is home to Goombas and moles alike. We start off with a waggle of the Wii remote to ride on a dandelion, flying us to the next planetoid. On the underside of the second planetoid is a hidden warp pipe. That takes Mario into a secret area where grabbing the giant coin reveals a rainbow star power-up. Use this to take out all of the spiky plants to collect globs of star bits. The second set of dandelion puffs will send you to the dot of a question mark-shaped planet. To proceed all Mario needs to do is take out the moles by pounding the ground near the mole to have him surface. Using the warp star, you're taken to a set of apple planets where ground pounding the stump on them will reveal caterpillars to get across. The final stomp will uncover the warp star to the penultimate planetoid which houses a super mushroom. One last warp star shines the way to the battle with Major Burrows. A fairy tale-like galaxy, Gusty Garden's Major Burrow mission is one to cherish when playing the excellence that is Super Mario Galaxy.

Storm Eagle's Stage - Mega Man X/Mega Man Maverick Hunter X (SNES, PSP)


Storm Eagle's level took place on an airport, starting with a vertical climb over a bottomless pit. Scrolling platforms took Mega Man X to new heights while he avoided Mavericks that wanted nothing more than to grab him and drop him into the pit below. From the very top of these platforms, X could leap off from the left and reach a heart tank that hangs over the starting point of the level. A sub-tank (one of four in the game that refills X's health) could be found by hopping on a handful of platforms, shooting out the glass from inside a control tower, and taking out a Maverick gunner from behind. After this players set out to carefully jump across rising and lowering platforms, some of which were occupied by an enemy flamethrower. One false jump would mean death for X as there was no safety net for Mega Man to fall down to. There was but a bottomless pit. More enemies that grabbed and pulled X would follow, but not before a hidden alcove where one of Dr. Light's secret capsules containing the headbutt ability would be housed. A dash off the wall would make reaching this special item a breeze. Once the headbutt attack was learned, X could proceed through the level, eventually reaching platforms that would fall a second after X stood on them. This led him to the final portion of the level, the enemy ship and Storm Eagle himself. An entertaining and exhilarating level, Storm Eagle's stage is one of the X series' best.

Area 6 - Star Fox 64 (N64)




There were two paths to the planet Venom. The first was through taking the easy route through Bolse while the other had you staring down the massive armada of Andross' ships in Area 6, one of the most difficult levels in the game. You begin by taking down some stray enemy ships before immediately entering a minefield. These mines can be eliminated through competent use of smart bombs. After a bunch of spinning ships and fighters, you come across some larger-scale ships that shoot out homing missiles at Fox and his crew. Once a couple of these ships are shot down or evaded, Fox and team are marked by five separate enemy missiles. If these aren't removed from airspace, the whole Star Fox team will take substantial damage which is not good for the upcoming battles. After this task is completed, a bunch of homing torpedoes will have a lock on Peppy. Carefully shooting these away while avoiding hitting Peppy will allow the heralded hare to give thanks for your slick shooting. Fast-moving enemies then pop in with the goal of wiping out Fox with their swift movements and fast-firing. Butterfly-like enemies will follow, shooting out circular laser beams at Fox McCloud's ship. These will continue to spawn until after Fox crosses the checkpoint. More enemies and large ships with the intent of stalling Team Star Fox impede on their progress, but it's all for naught. They can be shot down for huge points. "They're through the second line!" followed by "Dang it! Deploy it now!" are then heard all culminating with an intense boss battle against a giant disc with tentacles. Area 6 is a high-octane ride perfect for this list. It features plenty of epic space shootouts, enemies to take out, and multiple points to rack up kills.

Chicago: Stealth - Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA)


Welcome to the future of Chicago. The aim of the game here is to enter the G5 building. Much like GoldenEye, the beauty of the design of missions is that depending on the difficulty you choose, you'll have more objectives assigned to you. Agents merely have three objectives to take care of whereas Perfect Agents need to complete all five objectives. From the beginning Joanna Dark will have nothing but her fists to assist her. This changes when an unbeknownst guard has his back turned to Ms. Dark. Joanna has a myriad of missions to take care of in Perfect Agent from attaching a tracer to a limousine while avoiding the blasts of a patrolling robot to setting up an escape route by tossing a remote mine on a wall of a fire escape. The contained area of the level of Chicago is full of goodies to discover. The optional nightclub may have guards inside it, but it's the only place you'll find one of the hidden pieces of cheese left smoldering inside a restroom toilet. With the awesome ambiance and variety of objectives to pull off, Chicago is my kind of town.

Bowser's Castle - Mario Kart 64 (N64)


Also used as a retro-revived track in Mario Kart Wii, Bowser's Castle was rated the number Mario Kart track on a top ten posted many moons ago on this very blog. What's not to love about this themed track? It begins with a straightaway across a rail-less bridge where light characters can easily be knocked off. What follows is one ninety-degree curve leading into a hall full of Thowmps randomly smashing into the ground. A left turn and a semi-swift right turn reveals even more Thwomps, this time with the intent of zeroing in on your position and stomping you flat. Timing is everything to get through the end of this hall as three Thwomps stomp at different times and durations. A right turn gives way to a hallway filled with item boxes followed by another right into, you guessed it, more Thwomps. This time they are sliding horizontally across the floor in an attempt to impede your progress. Another sharp ninety-degree turn leads to a narrow bridge where getting bumped off into the lava costs precious time. Going right from here leads the player down a stairway into the courtyard where a U-turn shows off some greenery in Bowser's otherwise barren castle. After passing through the courtyard, you go across the final of three bridges, up a spiral tower, making two jumps over lava, and winding up back to the beginning of the track in glorious and heated style. No race is constructed as brilliantly as Bowser's Castle, and they always seem to be my favorite courses in a Mario Kart game.

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That's not the last you'll hear from Best Levels in Gaming History. I've more volumes in store for you. For now I hope your appetite for this new segment has been whetted. What are some of your favorite levels in games? Give me a heads up in the comments section.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Localizations, Please! Cinco de Mayo Edition

The original Localizations, Please! article was a resounding success, and it was wonderful to have a few games on that list later get announced for the West. Here's hoping my luck with this continues with the Cinco de Mayo edition of this ongoing series. We have games from the Tales, Kirby, and Professor Layton franchises to name a few. Only time will tell if these get localized.

Tales of Xillia (PS3)


A new Tales game, the thirteenth in the mothership franchise, from Namco-Bandai features two main characters. The one you choose to play as determines which characters' point of view you'll experience. With an all-new rapid-fire battle system and cutscenes made in-house by Team Symphonia rather than the usual Production I.G. who is best known for their work on anime like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Localizations for Tales games have been sketchy, so here's hoping this thirteenth installment reaches our side of the Pacific.

Atsumete! Kirby (DS)


Not much is known about this game other than the player will be controlling multiple Kirby characters with the stylus through colorful worlds and lands alike. The short blurb on Wikipedia compares the gameplay of this fourth DS Kirby game to Lemmings. Just give me something akin to Kirby Canvas Curse, and I'll be happy to fork my cash over once more, Nintendo. Here's hoping the DS isn't truly dead in Nintendo of America's collective eyes.

Valkyria Chronicles III: Unrecorded Chronicles (PSP)



The third game in the Valkyria Chronicles franchise (the second on the PlayStation Portable), Unrecorded Chronicles takes place during the Imperial invasion of 1935. The game is a side story, so players can pick this title up if SEGA ever decides to send it across the Pacific and jump right in without knowledge of previous games. You can be rest assured that this title will be full of the tactical RPG action you've grown to love of the series. Perhaps E3 is when we'll get a release date for the West...

Final Fantasy Type-0 (PSP)


For those not in the know of the development cycle of Final Fantasy Type-0, this game was originally called Final Fantasy Agito XIII. The director of the game promises a battle system similar to Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. The game will pack all the Final Fantasy mythos that you can handle from summons to spells-- so much so that this will be one of the only PSP games that is necessary to be put on two UMDs. A North American release is all but certain seeing as Square-Enix is one of the few third parties in the West gaining bank on their PSP software.

Professor Layton and the Specter's Flute (DS)


After publishing the first trilogy of Layton games for developer Level 5, Nintendo no longer has the series to distribute to North America. Instead it's up to Level 5 or another company to take the publishing reins and localize the game for North American audiences. The game is the start of the second trilogy of Layton games, and with the fifth installment already released in Japan on the Nintendo 3DS, the rest of the world has some catching up to do with the professor.

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Those are but five games that may never escape the land of the rising sun. What games that are trapped in the purgatory that is Japan that you want to see come out to the West? Give me a heads up in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jeanne D'Arc (PSP) Review

For the first review of the marvelous month of May, we're going back to the year 2007. The PSP was in its early goings, and the platform had a lovely future in-store for it. The game is Jeanne D'Arc, and the review is right now so get ready!

Viva la France!


It seems that the handhelds this generation are the ones rich with RPGs of all kinds. There's the traditional JRPG, the tactical RPG, and the strategy RPG. For every big-time RPG that gets released like Dragon Quest IX, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Mario & Luigi, there are multiple smaller-scale RPGs that come from out of nowhere to surprise and delight gamers who are looking. One such of these titles is 2007's Jeanne D'Arc, a Level 5 production published by Sony Japan. This RPG was sadly overlooked when it was originally released, but that isn't stopping me from checking it out in 2011.

It's France in the 15th Century. France and England duke it out against one another in the Hundred Years' War. A farmgirl named Jeanne has her hometown burnt to the ground by a small army of England's demons. Obtaining a powerful armlet on her wrist and given orders from an oracle from the heavens, Jeanne heralds out to fight for her country and take down England, saving her homeland of France. The story plays out through text bubbles using the in-game engine. Special scenes are shown via animated anime clips. These are pretty rare in total, but feature the voice actors doing their best to present French accents.

Some cutscenes play out in an anime presentation...

Jeanne D'Arc is a strategy RPG. There's about three dozen main story battles to partake in, each featuring set rules and win conditions. Some have you defeating a certain enemy while others might have you escaping a map at a certain point without letting any of your soldiers pass away. Each battle has a set number of turns you have to clear the battle in or else it's game over. Several encounters have it where if Jeanne falls in combat, it's game over. With no way to resurrect fallen characters, it's important to plan ahead and plan smart.

...While most scenes play out using the in-game engine.

About a dozen or so characters will join up with Jeanne's cause during the duration of the game. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. There's the typical brute force soldier, the slow but strong lion who loves to speak in the third person, the archer, the map-combing thief, the lancer, the weak offense healer, and many more. Lancers can attack two squares ahead meaning that they can avoid getting countered by attacking a space too far from an enemy's grasp. Each character can be equipped with weapons, armor, accessories, and skills and spells. As you progress far enough in the game, you can bind skills and spells to create newer, more powerful abilities. What skill once boosted a character's HP by 20 now does so by 50. As characters gain levels, the amount of skill slots is increased by one every five or so levels earned. This means you can equip your troops with powerful abilities to make battles all the more easy.

Battles in Jeanne D'Arc take place in a turn-based fashion. Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, however, each side gets to move their units before the other gets a chance to move theirs. There's no individual units from both sides taking turns in combat. First, Jeanne's units move out, and then it's the enemy's phase. Close encounters make for strategic thinking as attacking from the front means that the enemy has a better chance of evading your attack. Bashing a foe from behind gives greater odds that your attack will connect. If you are right next to your opponent after putting on some offense, they will counter, giving off an attack of their own. Again, unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, counters give experience points. Experience points are used to gain levels to strengthen your party members. Even party members not in a given battle will earn experience points-- just not as much as those doing the dirty work.

Even dragons are no match for La Hire.

After a myriad of turns, Jeanne can access her armlet to turn into a spiritual being, capable of attacking multiple times in one turn as long as she continues to defeat enemies while doing so. Her attack and defense capabilities are exacerbated sevenfold meaning that Jeanne is one mother not to mess with. This power goes away after a couple of turns, and it can only be used once per battle. Thus, it's important not to waste it as it can be a true tide-changer.

The tides will definitely need to be turned in battles in which enemy reinforcements arrive. In most battles you will be outnumbered, outmanned, and outmaneuvered meaning you'll have to keep your wits about you if you wish to survive or at least not be totally assimilated. There are some points in Jeanne D'Arc where you will have to participate in Free Battles (more on those later) to grind levels to be at a high enough strength to gain victory in these encounters. This can be viewed as a bad thing, but when the gameplay is as fun and enjoyable as it is in this game, grinding really is not so annoying. It also does not need to be performed as often as say in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics.

Battles get hot and hectic in the world of Jeanne D'Arc.

There's an abundance of maps in Jeanne D'Arc which causes the player to adapt new strategies if they want to survive. Players must take into account the height of foes. A baddie standing two feet above you cannot be hit with a simple sword strike. Instead magic or a piercing arrow must be used. Free battles are simply battles that have nothing to do with the story. These can be selected from the world map and are recommended for those needing to level their troops up. Meanwhile, shops can be explored to purchase new goods, armor, weapons, and skills. You can save from the world map or before battles. The game even encourages you to save on multiple files in case you get stuck during one of the encounters with no plan but to start the game over from the beginning.

Use the analog nub to adjust the camera view.

Visually, the cel-shaded characters and colorful worlds of Jeanne D'Arc are impressive to say the least. The game is rich and detailed and a delight to look at. Battles seldom show any sign of slowdown, and the framerate stands at a steady clip. Sound-wise, the music is sensational and will get you into each battle you encounter in the game. The voice acting is passable at worst and great at best. Who doesn't love a forced French accent for every main character in the game? I don't know if that last statement was sarcasm or not.

Overall, Jeanne D'Arc is an exemplary SRPG that doesn't so much redefine the genre as it does takes what is great about SRPGs and reminds the player why they play them in the first place. The 36 chapter campaign will last at least 25 hours, the post game content lasts an additional amount, testing out new teams in battle will have players going at it for hours more, and binding new skills and spells will last a long time. When all is said and done, there is a lot of meat to this game. If you're searching for a Final Fantasy Tactics-like game without the convoluted story or mass grinding, then Jeanne D'Arc is an excellent substitution for you.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.5/10]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) New Trailer

A new trailer has surfaced for the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. It shows off some of the later scenes of the game, so take note of that in case you do not want to be spoiled. This reimagining of the classic is due out June 19th in North America.



Review Round-Up - April

X starts a classic gaming empire in Mega Man X.

It's the end of April, so it's time to look back at the month that was review-wise. Once again at SuperPhillip Central we had four unique reviews, one of which was of the retro variety in Mega Man X (9.5). The second best game of the month was God of War: Ghost of Sparta (8.75), the spinoff title featuring Kratos' past. Okamiden (7.5) didn't impress that much while Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (7.0) was pretty disappointing in retrospect. Overall, April was a productive month for SPC.

Okamiden (DS) - 7.5
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (PSP) - 7.0
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP) - 8.75
Mega Man X (SNES, VC) - 9.5

Inferior to the original Okami, Okamiden was still a fun romp.

Monday, May 2, 2011

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Speak With Your Heart Edition

It's a Monday, so it's time to bring out those lovely favorite VGMs of mine. We're going on an audio tour of video games both past and future. Today we have music from Sonic Colors, Monster Hunter Tri, and Paper Mario, to name just a few. Enough blathering from me-- let's get started!

v711. Sonic Colors - Speak With Your Heart

Oh, thank heaven for 711! Sonic Colors was an amazing game-- Sonic or not. With Sonic Generations officially announced, why not return to old green eyes? Speak With Your Heart is performed by Cash Cash, and it is one of the ending themes during the staff roll. Auto-tune aside, it's a pretty catchy song. I particularly enjoy the ending bit. "Don't fall apart. Speak with your heart, etc." Is Sonic finally out of the dreaded Sonic Cycle? Perhaps Sonic Colors was just the start the blue blur needed to get started. We'll find out later this year when Sonic Generations hits a PS3 or 360 near you.



v712. Phantasy Star Online - Phantasy Star Online OPENING THEME ~The Whole New World~

We go from one SONIC TEAM game to another. Phantasy Star Online originally premiered on the ill-fated SEGA Dreamcast. It would later see a simultaneous release on Gamecube and Xbox, essentially two games in one-- Phantasy Star Online Episodes I and II. This is the opening theme, the Whole New World, which has two versions, one for each of the episodes. Phantasy Star Online was the first console MMORPG, and to this day it's still one of my favorites.



v713. Perfect Dark Zero - Combat Arena

Perfect Dark Zero introduced an Americanized Joanna Dark as well as a retconned story. Those bothers aside the game itself was quite fun. I had a blast playing the single-player which was extremely challenging on later difficulties. The multiplayer was also enjoyable with expansive maps, bots, and lots of opponents to shoot down. The soundtrack was excellent also as evident by this theme, Combat Arena. It borrows the Perfect Dark theme in it for a rocking sound.



v714. Monster Hunter Tri - Sand and Hot Wind - Barboros


Monster Hunter Tri was the Wii-exclusive entry in the wildly successful franchise. It's the best-selling home version in Capcom's series. The game itself is essentially a prolonged boss rush mode where you earn new drops to upgrade your weapons and armor. It's a great game to play online with friends, taking down a giant Barboros, for instance. Speaking of Barboros, this is his theme as you battle him in the dusty dunes of the desert landscape.



v715. Paper Mario - Toad Town Theme

The town of Toads in Paper Mario was the hub world, connecting most of the lands in the wonderful and innovative RPG known as Paper Mario. Who could forget taking down King Goomba or the Koopa Bros.? The flat 2D world of Paper Mario was charming, fun, and quite cute. Separate from the Mario & Luigi line of games, Paper Mario had our hero plumber join up with a goomba, koopa troopa, and many more in his adventure to once again rescue Princess Peach from the grip of the evil Bowser.



There go the favorite VGMs once more. Until next week when the VGMs will return, tomorrow we'll have the Review Round-Up for last month up. More is planned for the week, so stay tuned, faithful followers!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Central City Census - May

It's the start of a new month, so it's time for a brand-new Central City Census! Break out the tallies because we're taking a look back at April's Census before we engage May's. Let's view the results from last month's poll.

What do you mostly play video games on?

A game console
22 (81%)
A gaming PC
1 (3%)
A dedicated handheld
1 (3%)
An Apple device
3 (11%)
Other
0 (0%)

Votes so far: 27

The votes have been cast on the "What do you mostly play video games on" poll, and the results are in. Overwhelmingly, the top answer was on a game console with 81% of the vote choosing that option. Meanwhile, three people (or 11% of the vote) chose an Apple device while I chose a dedicated handheld. Some mysterious man or woman chose a gaming PC. Not that shocking of a poll for April, but what can you do? Onto May's Central City Census!

E3 2011 is June 7-9. It's the time of year where all of the bigwigs in the video game industry show off their products. Which of the big three do you think will have the best press conference? Let your vote be heard before the poll closes May 31st!

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