Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3) E3 Trailer

A cartoon come to life, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch earns praise for its looks, but will its gameplay match the beauty of the graphics? The West will have to wait a while to find this answer out-- January 2013, to be near exact. For now, you can be entertained by this E3 trailer from Namco Bandai's Facebook page. Does this title intrigue you?

Join SuperPhillip Central's E3 2012 Coverage!


E3 is coming once again. All three big press conferences, all the surprise announcements, all the teasing, and all the booth babes (for those who can't get within a mile of a woman in real life-- I kid) will all be at the show in Los Angeles, California. While I will remain in Central City, I will be making entries of exciting announcements and trailers that personally appeal to me. Unlike previous years, however, I will also be posting regular updates as well such as a brand-new top five, Part Three of Classics I Can Return To, and a new retro review. This week (the 5th to be exact) will also mark the four year anniversary of SuperPhillip Central. It is sure going to be an exciting week for both gamers and SuperPhillip Central!

SuperPhillip Central Reaches Its Highest Month of Page Views Yet

Records and milestones keep on popping up here at SuperPhillip Central. With popular articles such as those in The Buzz sidebar, May 2012 ranked as the highest month ever for page views on SPC. The grand total? 48,392! We almost reached the fabled 50,000 threshold! Better luck this month, I guess. I better write some intriguing articles then! Thank you, everyone-- regular readers and occasional readers-- for your continued support. It makes running this blog worthwhile.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of E3 2012

Christmas for gamers, E3 2012, is but a handful of days away. In an industry ecosystem where military shooters are all the rage, my tastes have evolved, grown up, and matured. Be that as snobby-sounding as that may. I feel that these shooters are the real games that are the immature ones (ironic that they are given an ESRB rating of "M for Mature") and not the ones that have color and are meant for everyone (though not to paint all of those with a broad brush). That said, I have ten items that I am most interested in that have been announced already. Of course, E3 is known for the surprises that first and third parties love to unveil either at the show, prior to the show, or shortly after the show. Which of these ten are you also anticipating?

10) The Last of Us (PS3)


I try to block all memories of the award show abortion that was Geoff Keighly's and Spike TV's Video Game Awards. They were absolutely dreadful and a great reminder of why this industry, its figures, and its gamers are constantly the butts of jokes. That said, one fun revelation from the "award show" was The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic third-person action game developed by the fine folks behind the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog knows how to craft exemplary experiences, and from the small batches of footage and screens I've seen, The Last of Us already looks incredibly promising.

9) Luigi's Mansion 2 (3DS)


Possibly a tentative title, Luigi's Mansion 2 was revealed a couple years or so ago. It is being developed by Next Level Games, who by their lonesome haven't created many compelling games, but with Nintendo they have done well for themselves. No doubt with the big N watching over their collective shoulder, Luigi's Mansion 2 will be a must-have 3DS game. The title is sort of a misnomer as there isn't just one mansion of Luigi to explore. Instead, there are several of varying tropes. Will Luigi's Mansion 2 utilize gyro controls or even the Circle Pad Pro? I guess we will find out at E3!

8) Rayman Legends (Wii U and other platforms)


Leaked out while those anticipating the Wii U were temporarily satiated by some real Wii U news, Rayman Legends passes on the beautiful 2D sprites of Rayman Origins for full 3D models. The trailer that seeped out was one meant for in-house employees and gave a general idea of the possibilities of the Wii U and its controller. One could put figurines on the controller's screen and have that character turn up inside the game, or a player could move platforms by placing their finger on the controller screen and sliding it up or down. No doubt there will be more information, possibly at Nintendo's E3 presser on Tuesday.

7) PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3)


Not exactly the most elegant name for a game, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is without any hesitation modeled after Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. franchise. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so no need to be annoyed by Sony's desire to consistently borrow ideas from the competition. Characters already announced include Kratos, Sly Cooper, Sweet Tooth, and Parappa the Rapper. The stages consist of mash-ups between two or more Sony-themed properties. The Jak and Daxter stage has a cameo by the Hot Shots Golf crew, for instance. While I don't think Battle Royale will sell PS3s or set the world on fire as much as Smash Bros. has, it will be a great title for fighting fans and Sony fans alike.

6) Resident Evil 6 (PS3, 360)


The crew at Capcom have stated in interviews that they plan on returning the Resident Evil series back towards its horror roots. The game is apparently set in the neon-lit streets of a Chinese city where heroes like Leon S. Kennedy and Chris Redfield are back. The zombies that infest the many corridors and areas of the game aren't the typical slowly lunging, empty-headed foes of the past. These baddies can use strategy and are fast on their feet. It is currently up in the air whether or not Resident Evil 6 will be reminiscent of pre-RE4 titles, but regardless of that, one's pulse is bound to be pounding as they play.

5) New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS)


Most gripes from critics of the New Super Mario Bros. series come from the boring art style. While I wouldn't mind a game that looked and animated as well as Wario Land: Shake It! or Yoshi's Island, aren't fun and level design more important? Those latter two qualities is where the New Super Mario Bros. series truly shines. Only four screens have been shown thus far, but they do reveal the return of Raccoon Mario as well as a new gold-coated Mario power-up. Satoru Iwata recently stated at an investors' meeting that New Super Mario Bros. 2 would be available in both retail and digital formats. What is this-- Nintendo actually being in the current millennium? Astronomical!

4) LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)


Take everything you love about the world of LittleBigPlanet and place it within the racing genre and you get LittleBigPlanet Karting. Sure, there are your typical grand prix races against a competitive field of adversaries, but there are also boss fights and kart battles to partake in. You can even create your own tracks and objects which definitely resonates the "Play, Create, and Share" mantra the franchise is well known for. I can't wait to take my SuperPhillip Sackboy onto the race track and speed along cardboard roads, swing across gaps, and discover secret shortcuts in intense and thrilling races.

3) Animal Crossing (3DS) [tentative title]


The Animal Crossing characters that you play as have grown a bit taller, now being able to wear pants and more detailed clothing. That isn't really the biggest draw of the game, however. A new and relatively substantial change to the 3DS version of Animal Crossing is the ability to act and serve as your village's mayor. Old Tortimer must have gone into retirement. The choices you make as mayor will no doubt affect the prosperity of your town. How far can your decision-making go? Well, that is currently undetermined, but here's hoping that the curtain on this game rises to reveal some much needed info come this Tuesday.

2) Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PS3, 360, 3DS, PSV)


I said in a previous post that Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is my favorite kart racer of this generation, beating out Mario Kart Wii and ModNation Racers, so it makes sense that I am highly anticipating the game's sequel. Transformed shares the idea of Mario Kart 7 of shape-shifting vehicles for when the necessity comes up. Soaring through the air, drifting through corners, and jetting across blue waves are all means of transportation in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. We've already seen locales from Panzer Dragoon and Super Monkey Ball and have gawked at characters like Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Eggman, Shadow, and Aiai, and the lineup of tracks and characters is only going to get bigger the closer we get to release.

1) The Wii U Lineup


Seems like an obvious choice for number one. The Wii U is Nintendo's newest console, and it is already getting the patented "doomed" arguments. I personally love it when so-called "gamers" are afraid of a toy like it really affects their livelihoods. Regardless, non-disclosure agreements have put a lid on most leaks except for that poor deluded Traveler's Tales employee who posted that new and improved Wii U controller to his Twitter account. He was fired, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was taken to court over it. Nintendo has a lot to prove this E3. I really couldn't care less if they cater to the whiny, selfish core as long as the company reveals some exciting content, which I'm sure they will. Their future in the console business sort of depends on it.

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There is my list of ten most anticipated titles for E3 2012. Which ten are you most interested in? And if you can't come up with a full ten, come up with as many as you can.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3, 360) E3 Trailer

Leave it to something associated to Hideo Kojima to have a stupid subtitle. Thankfully, Platinum Games is behind the game, so it is sure to have more action than waiting for exposition to play out. Watch this extended trailer showing off Raiden's hack and slash capabilities. Not for the squeamish indeed!

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PS3, 360, 3DS, PSV) E3 Trailer

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is my favorite arcade kart racer of this gen, easily surpassing Mario Kart Wii in fairness and fun. Sonic & All-Stars Racing has Sonic and friends returning to the circuit, but this time they can glide in the air and drive over water. Unveiled today alongside the E3 trailer is that the hero of the Shinobi series will make his much anticipated debut to the series.

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (3DS) E3 Trailer

Like a kid opening a Christmas present before the actual holiday morning, Square Enix has released a trailer for the newest installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, Dream Drop Distance, prior to E3. I've pretty much surrendered on understanding the plot of these games, so I can only judge the fast paced gameplay by its lonesome.

Review Round-Up - May

While not Mario and friends' best tennis effort,
Mario Tennis Open gave me plenty of arcade tennis action.
May 2012 is over and done with, and at SuperPhillip Central we reviewed eight different games both retail and digital. We started the month with three games that all scored 8.5, without a doubt my most popular score I give to games. They were Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Mario Power Tennis (to hype up the 3DS installment), and Wario Land 4. We continued the Game Boy Advance fun with Metroid Fusion which hunted down a spectacular 9.25. The lowest score of the month was earned by the Wii's Just Dance 3. Not even that game could boogey on over to a good score. Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom cohorts served up an 8.0 while Kirby's Block Ball bounced its way to a respectable 7.75. Finally, my brother sat in the review chair and gave Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II a positive 7.0. We are now entering the dry months of summer, so the amount of reviews may go down.

All scores are out of 10.
5 = Average
* = Guest Review


Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP) - 8.5
Mario Power Tennis (GCN) - 8.5
Wario Land 4 (GBA) - 8.5
Metroid Fusion (GBA) - 9.25
Just Dance 3 (Wii) - 3.5
Mario Tennis Open (3DS) - 8.0
Kirby's Block Ball (GB) - 7.75
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (PSN, XBLA) - 7.0*

Better than Episode I, but things could still be improved.

Central City Census - June

Ah, I smell a new Central City Census comin' on! But as it is customary of the Census segment, we must take a look back at the results of May's poll which regarded third party support on Nintendo's new and upcoming console, the Wii U.


There's a lot of optimism (is it unfounded, though?) towards third parties and the Wii U. Most of you either chose that the system will receive a bit better or much better support from publishers like Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Capcom, Sega, Namco, and more. The next most popular choice didn't know what a third party was. That's okay. Just head over to Wikipedia and you will find your answer. Eight of you feel that the Wii and Wii U will share similar support from third parties while another eight of you think the support will be worse to varying degrees. Thanks to all 61 people who voted on May's intriguing poll.

Sony is in a bit of trouble right now. They have laid off a fair amount of workers, their current handheld, the Vita, is floundering (but we have hope for E3!), and mindshare isn't quite there. Who cares, though, as with this month's poll we're celebrating five PlayStation platforms and wondering which one you prefer!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Report Card - Nintendo DS

My Report Card segment took an extended holiday, but it has returned. This time we are examining the Nintendo DS line of handhelds. One of the best-selling systems of all time, did the DS deserve all of its sales? Let's find out by looking at the hardware, software, features, and online-- but not in that order.


Hardware

There have been four major models of the DS: the original bulky DS, the DS Lite, the DSi, and the DSi XL. The original DS wasn't very pleasing to the eyes, and the power button was in a precarious location. With the DS Lite (which will now be initialed as DSL), turning on or off the system was moved to the right side. You just moved the slider to turn it on or off (with you needing to push the slider for a longer time to turn it off). The start and select buttons moved from over the face buttons to underneath them and near the lower right side of the touch screen. Instead of being rectangular in shape, they were circular in shape. One of the things I really love about the DSL and its future successors was that the system had a matte finish on the inside. This meant that fingerprints wouldn't show up and make your handheld's insides look absolutely messy. This is something I am flabbergasted that the Nintendo 3DS does not have. Regardless, all isn't well with the DSL. Many models of the system had issues with the hinges where they could crack, leaving the portable unplayable. I haven't encountered this manufacturing fault myself, but it is important to make note of.


Meanwhile, the DSi once again moved the power button, but this time to the lower left side of the bottom screen. A low resolution camera was added for friends and family to take pictures, but as stated, the quality of the photos left much to be desired. With the advent of the DSi XL, the whole build of the system was increased in size to show off a bigger screen and for use for people with bigger hands. The hinge problem that plagued the DSL seemed to have gone away. If not for the hinge chaos, the hardware would be graded higher than a...


Grade: B

Features

Depending on which build of the DS you get, you have different features at your disposal. I personally enjoy the features provided by the original DS and DSL the most. All models give you Pictochat, a fun drawing/messaging app that is for local players with two or more DS systems, as well as the ability to perform Download Play, allowing two or more players with their own systems to dabble in multiplayer with one another. Some games require all players to have a game card while others like Mario Party DS only need one game card and up to four DS systems.


The main draw for me of the vanilla DS and DSL is the backwards compatibility with Game Boy Advance games. There is a slot on the bottom of the DS and DSL to play every GBA game under the sun. That boosts the library available to DS and DSL owners sevenfold.

Meanwhile, for DSi (XL) owners, you have an entire shop filled with downloadable games of varying prices at your every aching whim. You have games like Pictobits, Aura Aura Climber, Bomberman Blitz, Cave Story, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, Rayman, Shantae: Risky's Revenge, UNO, Metal Torrent, Mighty Flip Champs! and many more to choose from. DSi (XL) owners also get to play around with the built-in camera to take photos of friends, family, nature, and other oddities. If only the DSi and DSi XL offered the option of being able to play GBA games, it would be the ultimate handheld.


Grade: B

Online

The DS was Nintendo's first try with online... and it most definitely shows. Each game required players to acquire a much dreaded twelve digit friend code to share with other players if they wanted to enter a match with them. You can't add a friend unless they have added you in return, and there is no easy way to tell if they've added you except for hopping online and hoping. With Nintendo's poor online this meant that patches were impossible to implement (patches wouldn't show up until Nintendo's next mainline handheld, the 3DS), so hackers who glitched games and cheated were free to run amok. Combine these problems with occasionally atrocious netcode, and you have a losing formula in the online space. You can tell that Nintendo went in kicking and screaming towards online. Thankfully, Nintendo has greatly improved in the online arena, and the Wii U should show what they have learned. That said, the DS' online gets a...

Grade: F

First-party Exclusives

Nintendo brought a fair majority of their biggest IPs to their ultra-popular portable. For traditional 2D platforming you had games like the return to form of Mario in New Super Mario Bros., the sequel to the SNES classic Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island in Yoshi's Island DS, for the first time in the West, The Legendary Starfy, multiple Kirby games like the innovative Kirby Canvas Curse, Kirby: Squeak Squad, Kirby Super Star Ultra, and Kirby Mass Attack, and for the first time ever in a starring role, Princess Peach in Super Princess Peach. Other series got their due time such as Metroid Prime Hunters, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, WarioWare: D.I.Y. and Touched, Pokemon Black/White, Mario Kart DS (the best in the series), Tetris DS, Star Fox Command, Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Days of Ruin, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, a new Fire Emblem and Golden Sun, and many more. Nintendo even brought forth some new franchises to stimulate the casual market like a publishing deal with Level 5 for Professor Layton, Brain Age, Picross 3D and Picross DS, Planet Puzzle League, Elite Beat Agents, Clubhouse Games, 100 Classic Books, and Nintendogs. Nintendo created new gaming experiences with old and new IPs that really utilized the features of the DS with terrific success.


Grade: A

Third-party Exclusives

Third-parties spent a lot of their time slowly warming up to the Nintendo DS. The support was at a snail's pace at the beginning of the system's life, but as the handheld took off in Japan and then shortly thereafter in other parts of the world, third-parties jumped onto the bandwagon and began producing, publishing, and developing some stellar hits. We had three Castlevanias of the classic so-called "Metroidvania" design, two Sonic games in Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure, multiple Dragon Quest remakes and a huge exclusive in Dragon Quest IX (which sent message boards in a terrible tizzy), a load of Final Fantasy games such as remakes of III and IV, Contra 4, Phantasy Star 0, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, a port of Chrono Trigger, Okamiden-- the sequel to the brilliant Okami, several Mega Man games, and two original Kingdom Hearts entries. There were even new IPs such as Radiant Historia, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Jump Superstars, Soul Bubbles, The World Ends With You, Meteos (from the mind of Masahiro Sakurai of Smash Bros. fame) Nanostray and its sequel, and Drawn to Life. Japan supported the platform more than the West, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better lineup of third-party offerings on any other handheld.


Grade: A

Overall

My Nintendo DS Lite still holds a special place in my closet, and unlike when people say they've placed a system in their closet, I still play my DS Lite. How else can I play Game Boy Advance classics without hooking up the ol' GameCube and Game Boy Player? That notwithstanding, even without the GBA backwards compatibility, there is an abundance of tremendous titles awaiting any DS owner, and now with the 3DS that can play most DS games, the library gets another chance to shine. It is not only one of the best handheld libraries in gaming history (it might even be considered the best), but it is one of the best libraries handheld or console in gaming history. Design flaws aside, the system is one of my favorites which I will always have numerous cherished memories of.

Overall Grade: A-
(not an average)

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What would your grades of the Nintendo DS family of systems be? Did you enjoy this edition of Report Card? I hope you did as I enjoyed writing it. Share your thoughts and memories of the DS in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (PSN, XBLA) Guest Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II came to digital platforms such as PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Today we have a guest review from my older brother for the title for your enjoyment. Is the $15.00 too steep or just right for this downloadable game?

The Real Acceptable Power of Teamwork


Sonic has been enjoying his 20th birthday in rather fine fashion. Sega’s mascot has been on the comeback trail as both the console version of Sonic Generations and the CD remake were both excellent titles worth giving a spin. Dimps has been a part of this celebration as well, having released their own version of Generations on the 3DS. While that game didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it was a fine effort that I recommended. Now that they’ve taken care of that, Dimps is going back to the consoles once again to expand upon an idea that they started nearly a year and a half ago. That idea was Sonic 4, a game that tried to capitalize on the “good ol’ days” of the Blue Blur to rather mixed results. Even with its flaws, Episode I did wind up selling quite a bit, and that has allowed Sonic 4 to see a second episode made with a higher budget. Does Dimps put its money where its meal ticket is, or does this second episode get lost in the Sonic shuffle?

A familiar sight for Sonic fans-- the Tornado!
It’s been a few months since Sonic slammed the door shut on Eggman’s latest plot to take over the world by crashing into and tearing down the E.G.G. Station. Even with this setback, Eggman is back and thanks to Little Planet’s return from Sonic CD fame, he’s brought along a familiar foe to face off against Sonic once more. Yes, Metal Sonic is back, and he’s ready to see Sonic fall once and for all. With this tag team of terror conspiring against the Blue Blur, it’s only fair that Sonic gets a helping hand of his own in the form of his old pal, Tails. The race to save Little Planet and the world from Eggman and Metal Sonic is on!

The first thing to note is that the physics engine has been built up from the ground for this game, and I find that to be a step in the right direction. No longer will you see Sonic drop like a rock or come to a complete stop if you weren’t holding forward as would be the case in Episode I. The momentum is closer to the Genesis days, but that’s not to say there still aren’t some flaws. The levels have and make use of plenty of boost pads to get you top speed fast, and Sonic still doesn’t gain speed when he starts rolling down hills. It seems that the cap for his speed whether running or rolling is about at the same. In fact, if you want to get to top speed as fast as possible, just simply homing attack the ground twice. It does confuse me that Dimps did have it right back in the Sonic Advance days on the physics, but at least it’s nowhere near the deal breaker it was in Episode I.

There are five zones within this game.
As stated, Tails is also back, and you can either have a friend join you, either locally or online, or let the AI take control of him. Either way, Tails more than just a cosmetic addition as the game makes great use of him through the Tag Action system. As you progress through the first zone of the game, you will come across signs that indicate how to utilize these powers. The first one you’ll learn is the flight command, known in this game as the Copter Combo. Simply jump in the air as Sonic and press the square button to call your buddy right to you to give you a lift. This can be used to reach higher ledges, but your flying friend will tire out after the seventh time you press the jump button while flying up. It’s different from the Genesis days, but once you realize that this move can give you more horizontal flight time in some levels if you don’t just mash the flight button, you’ll learn to appreciate this.

Sometimes all you need in life 
is a helping hand.
You also learn a similar move in the water, except that in this case, Tails will never tire out as he’s carrying Sonic along through the depths. This can be very useful as it gives you a lot more speed than just merely letting Sonic run around in the water. Speaking of speed, the third and final Tag Action, the Rolling Combo, is a ground-based move that gives you the greatest sense of it in the entire game. Sonic and Tails will join forces to combine into a wheel that will tear through breakable walls or a giant enemy in one go that would take Sonic three shots with his homing attack to bust down. It’s a very effective move when you know the layouts to levels as you can jump off of inclines or fly off of curved ramps to cover more ground or reach areas that you might not have been able to fly up to without the proper momentum. There’s that word again. Nice to see you using it, Dimps.

Break out the butter because
Sonic and Tails are on a roll.
It’s also nice to see a bit more originality thrown into this title. Yes, the game’s zones will remind you of levels from the old days as Sylvania Castle screams Aquatic Ruin and Sky Fortress is just Sky Chase and Wing Fortress combined, but it’s what they do within the levels themselves that makes me enjoy this title more than I thought I would have. The level gimmicks generally don’t come across as tacked on like the torchlight “puzzles” in Episode I. For instance, I enjoyed the sandstorm act that wanted you to learn to use the wind to your advantage by the time you reached the end where the game wanted you to fly over a bottomless pit in similar fashion. Another act in the desert level has a few rooms where sand will fill up inside a factory. These areas get more challenging as you go along, but again, they build up to that moment. The lone exception is the final act in White Park in which the game goes from challenging to cheap. At the very end of it, you will come up across an enemy that can block your way to the end. You get one shot at clearing this part, and if you screw up, you’re going to be hearing that drowning music because you will be stuck with no way out. That’s just asinine.

The bosses are a little more hit or miss. In the game’s first four zones, you’ll either face off against Eggman or Metal Sonic at the end of it. Now, the Metal Sonic fights are very fast and frenetic. You’ll have times where you can only dodge before getting another opportunity to hit the metal minion, but that’s all right because these moments only last for a few seconds. The Eggman fights, however, are some of the worst I can remember in a 2D Sonic title. It feels like you are constantly playing the waiting game. From lengthy intro animations to similar lengthy mid-fight ones, you spend more time just standing around than just attacking. They’re just not fun. Thankfully, they get things right for the final battle, but man, those two boss fights I mentioned are ones I really don’t want to be playing again any time soon.

One of the non-Eggman boss fights.
What I did enjoy playing along the way were the special stages. These use the Sonic 2 half-pipe formula that we’re all so accustomed to by now, but they also throw in a new twist instead of just being the same old style we’re used to. In these areas, Sonic and Tails can once again team up by collecting a tether to collect large groups of rings all at once as well as obstacles like these electrical cubes that won’t make you lose rings but will shock and slow you down considerably. There are also parts in these stages where you can launch yourself up on a spring to reach another pipe with more rings to snag as well as challenge parts where if you can collect all of the rings in one go, you’ll earn a ring bonus. It’s pretty neat, although I found these parts to be much more manageable when I had a partner to play with instead of just the AI. Those last two special stages are also some of the trickier ones I’ve played in some time. Glad there’s a retry option because there was a lot of error in those trials, that was for sure.

Sonic 4: Episode II emulates Sonic 2 in many ways.
Honestly, Sonic 4: Episode II just feels like a better made product than its predecessor from the moment you first boot it up. The look, the music, the actual quality of the game in motion... almost everything was better than I thought it was going to be. Yes, there are a few moments where the game and sound drags itself down, but it isn’t long after that where it picks back up again. I’m certainly not going to call this greatest Sonic game ever or even say whether or not this should be called Sonic 4 in the first place. Instead, what I’m going to tell you is that I came into this game with plenty of reservations yet stayed around long enough to both complete Episode II and have fun in doing it.

Overall: 7.0/10

Note: One thing the review does not cover is that this game has a lock-on feature for those that bought Episode I. If you have the two games on the same machine, you will unlock Episode Metal. This lets you play through four tougher acts from Episode I as Metal Sonic. It’s a nice bonus, but it really doesn’t fit into this review. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kirby's Block Ball (GB) Retro Review

Kirby's Block Ball released not too long ago on the North American 3DS eShop. Of course, it had been everywhere else for one's digital consumption for quite a while. That said, here is my brisk review of Kirby's Block Ball for the original Game Boy.

Kirby's "Breakout" Role


Kirby is one of Nintendo's most flexible characters. He extends his services far beyond the field of the typical platformer and into such genres as racing (Kirby Air Ride), golf (Kirby's Dream Course), and yes, even arcade-like experiences (Kirby's Pinball Land). He even forgoes the traditional platformer archetype with games like Kirby Canvas Curse and Kirby Mass Attack. In 1996, the pink puffball returned to his adventures outside the platforming realm with Kirby's Block Ball, a Breakout/Arkanoid-inspired take on the franchise.

The stage selection screen of Kirby's Block Ball
The concept of Kirby's Block Ball is quite simple in theory: you must use your paddle (or in some levels paddles) to send Kirby sailing into destructible blocks with the hopes of clearing them all in order to advance to the next level. There are a total of eleven stages consisting of five levels each in total in Block Ball. The levels get progressively more difficult with every time Kirby gets hit by a spike-- caused by missing the pink puffball with a paddle-- a life is lost. Lose all your lives and you must start back at level one of the stage you were on. Thankfully, when a life is lost you can easily pick up your progress from where you left off.

Arkanoid-- Kirby style.
Kirby's Block Ball can be immensely challenging as you need quick reflexes. One of my problems with the game stems from when you have more than one paddle to deal with. Most levels later on have you controlling four paddles at once. Not only is it confusing to control them all (using the up and down portions of the d-pad to move the paddles on the left and right section of screen and using the left and right portions of the d-pad to move the paddles on the up and down section of screen), but the speed at which Kirby bounces around-- especially if you press A as Kirby hits the paddle to send him flying at the blocks with more power-- makes for some small doses of frustration when you simply can't keep up with the action.

Some blocks need more hits than others.
Like a standard Kirby game, Kirby's Block Ball has powers for Kirby to absorb and copy. Most enemies when defeated just drop food of varying point values for Kirby to gobble up, but some transform him into one of four forms: Spark, Stone, Needle, and Fireball. Each power allows Kirby to destroy blocks and enemies more easily. If Kirby gets hit by a spike, he loses his current ability.

Every fourth and fifth levels in each stage is a pre-boss and boss fight respectively. The pre-boss battle has you collect star blocks which will serve as a temporary safety net and cover the spikes in the following boss battle. The boss battles have Kirby beating on one of many familiar adversaries of Kirby's past. Some bosses just move around the arena, waiting for Kirby to smack them a dozen times or so until they are defeated, while others can grab Kirby and send him flying into danger's way. While the boss fights aren't generally particularly challenging, they do offer a nice change of pace and some well earned variety.

Battle bosses big and small.
In some levels there are hidden warp stars that can take Kirby to the bonus area, resting in the middle of the stage selection map. There are four to choose from including Up Down which has you attempting to hit four different blocks which change the picture shown each time they are struck. The goal is to have all four blocks show the same picture to earn 1-ups. Another bonus game is Star Catcher where you control four paddles to collect stars while avoiding the bombs being thrown from the center. If one of your paddles gets bombed, your bonus game session is over. Then there's Air Hockey which pits you against a UFO creature in a best-of-three series of the titular sport. Finally, you have Up Cloud where three clouds-- each with a different 1-up amount on them-- rest and hitting them with the ball sends them upwards toward the goal. The first cloud to reach the goal gives Kirby a helpful prize. The bonus games are enjoyable and are paramount if one is having trouble in later levels of Block Ball.

One of the four bonus games-- Up Cloud.
Kirby's Block Ball is a decent enough looking game. You can easily tell enemies apart from blocks, and Kirby animates rather well. As with most Game Boy games in the viewpoint of today, there isn't really much to write home about visually. The game runs at a steady clip which is a must for a game where one needs their wits about them to move the paddle(s) to bounce Kirby around safely. The music is standard fare for a Kirby game-- some catchy tunes and saccharine sweet melodies. Kirby's Block Ball does its performance duties to a satisfactory level.

Kirby's Block Ball is a heavily inspired take on Arkanoid (or Breakout if you're much older) with a kooky Kirby coating to make things seem more original than they are. Gunning for the high score of each stage will last players a while (and it's the only way to unlock Stage 11) and the game is perfect in short bursts. Managing four paddles at once in later levels might be too tasking for some players such as myself, but if you stick with it, you'll find yet another wonderful gameplay experiment featuring everyone's favorite pink blob Kirby.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.75/10]

Snapshot (PSN) Debut Trailer

The official Sony blog posted a video for a new PSN game coming to both the PS3 and Vita, Snapshot. The game follows a robot with a hi-tech camera which allows it to-- you know what? Just take a look at this debut trailer for the game. It will show off what the game is about much more easily than I could explain.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Memorial Day 2012 Edition

It is Memorial Day here in Central City, and we have the grills up and even hotter than the temperatures outside. What is even hotter today is SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs! On this Memorial Day I have to share five more tracks from famous video games, the likes of which will blow your mind. What games are in the furnace today? How about SimCity 3000, Kingdom Hearts, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater?

v116. SimCity 3000 (PC) - SIM Broadway


Will Wright is a talented, innovative developer, and his team's SimCity franchise is my favorite PC franchise alongside RollerCoaster Tycoon. The fun of starting off with a plot of empty land, zoning it for commercial, residential, or industrial purposes, and building the infrastructure with roads, power lines, and railroads make for a highly satisfying experience. While one plays the third installment of the SimCity series, they can hear this peppy, jazzy piece, SIM Broadway.

v117. Kingdom Hearts (PS2) - Traverse Town


Sora, Donald, and Goofy team up to strike down some Heartless in the first game to cross over Disney and Final Fantasy characters. Who knew that this collaboration would be a match made in heaven? It certainly raised quite a few eyebrows when the crossover was announced. I've never played the original Kingdom Hearts, but I did play and complete the sequel with 100% finished. Traverse Town is a hub world of Kingdom Hearts, and it has a very relaxing, mellow feel to it.

v118. Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA) - Pelagic II Exploration


Perfect Dark is without a doubt my favorite first-person shooter period. I loved the nonlinear levels to discover hidden secrets in, completing objectives (you had more to do on higher difficulties), and taking Datadyne and Skedar scum out with such high-powered weaponry like the Farsight, the Superdragon, and Cyclone guns. The Pelagic II Exploration mission happens in the second half of Perfect Dark within a series of hangars housing a submarine that Ms. Dark and alien Elvis wish to become stowaways on.

v119. Rune Factory Frontier (Wii) - Spring


Rune Factory Frontier was an okay game with one fatal flaw (other than needing a guide to know what to do)-- Runeys. If you didn't babysit these spirits, your garden wouldn't grow all too well, and if they died, it was difficult to get the Runeys back. That said, Frontier possesses an excellent, laid-back soundtrack, perfect for gardening to. We are currently (at least in North America) in the season of Spring, so why not use this opportunity to listen to Rune Factory Frontier's song of the season?

v120. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2) - Main Theme


For me, the odd entries of the Metal Gear Solid series seem to be the better ones while the even entries are less than spectacular. In fact, I cannot stand the fourth installment, what with its inane story, overly extended cutscenes, and shake-my-head-hard dialogue. That notwithstanding, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (and later its expanded Subsistence featuring a new camera system) might just be the best of the bunch. It took Solid Snake's father into the Russian jungle where camouflage and scavenging for food were essential to his survival. The music of the game-- and more so the series-- was written by famed Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams and Konami in-house composer Norihiko Hibino. The main theme is one of the standout songs of the series and this game.

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What a way to kick off Memorial Day, huh? Next week we will have even more VGM majesty to listen to, so stay tuned for that! Until then, this week we have two new reviews, a new installment of Report Card, and a new E3 2012-related top ten! The fun has just begun!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Buzz - May 27th, 2012

One fun thing for me to do on a daily basis is see which posts receive the most activity. You can also view the top ten posts in the sidebar entitled The Buzz. The Buzz is a several month old sneak peak at what your fellow SPC readers are into. So what ten stories are most popular on this Sunday before Memorial Day?

The Buzz - May 27th results
Rank Up! - God of War continues its domination of The Buzz with the Top Five Spider-Man Games following close behind. My collective list of Pushmo (3DSWare) QR codes is mighty popular, too. (It is also the second most viewed story in SPC history.) Then we get my Batman: Arkham City review which I was pretty proud of. Generally the bottom five tend to shift around the most while the top five on The Buzz stay in relatively the same spots. The most recent post to be listed in The Buzz is my Mario Tennis Open review from this past Friday.

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