Friday, October 26, 2012

Top Five James Bond Games

The 23rd installment in the longest-running movie franchise has breached theaters in the U.K., and many are calling it a grand film. In celebration of that and the 50th anniversary of James Bond, comes what I call the five best James Bond video games on the market. Trust me -- this will be a better ode to Bond than 007 Legends, though that shouldn't be too arduous of a mission anyway. So lock and load your Walther PPK, take your drink shaken and not stirred, and get ready for these five terrific Bond games.

5) 007: Agent Under Fire (PS2, GCN, XBX)


The first of two James Bond games on this list that were not based off of movies or books, 007: Agent Under Fire was a last generation title featuring a Bond not modeled after a film likeness. The game featured run and gun action, plenty of gadgets from Q to tinker around with (or to actually complete missions with), as well as driving and on-rails segments. To say that Agent Under Fire was lacking in gameplay variety would be a lie even a spy like James Bond couldn't say with a straight face. Alongside the solo missions, there was a staple of most Bond games -- full multiplayer. And like any good multiplayer game, Agent Under Fire had the option for bots. Why games made in 2012 cannot have a feature a PlayStation 2-era title had is beyond me, but I'm sure one of my readers out there will set me straight!

4) GoldenEye 007 (Wii)


When you try to create a re-imagining of a classic game, it becomes incredibly difficult to get your game out of the classic's shadow. While Eurocom's 2010 GoldenEye 007 on Wii did not surpass Rare's 1997 classic, it did run close with it, offering an alternate take on the film's story with current Bond Daniel Craig in the driver's seat. Eurocom's retelling of the GoldenEye story was altered with new plot points to make sense in the more modern world. Also, alongside the updated story were updated levels and environments that could be destroyed. The Wii remote added some of the greatest first-person shooter controls on a console with pinpoint precision and accuracy. It was just a breeze aiming and shooting enemies. And when the enjoyable solo campaign was not the player's cup of tea, they could hop online with up to seven other players across ten well-made maps for a license to frag. Why the game is not higher on this list is because this version of GoldenEye felt more like Call of Duty than entirely a Bond game.

3) James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (PS2, GCN, XBX)


Like Agent Under Fire, Everything or Nothing featured a wholly original plot attached to it, but unlike every other game on this list, Everything or Nothing was played in a third-person view. The game would be Pierce Brosnan's last performance as James Bond (I'll always love you in that role, Pierce), shortly after Die Another Day. Joining him was an all-star cast: Dame Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Heidi Klum, and Richard Kiel who reprised his role as Jaws. The game had a mix of stealth, cover-based gunplay, gadgetry, and even some well done driving sections in Bond's Aston Martin. I was amazed most by how well EA managed to spare no expense on the production values while creating a game that looked and felt like James Bond through and through. Adding in some two player cooperative gameplay, and Everything or Nothing made for itself an incredibly rewarding Bond experience.

2) 007: The World Is Not Enough (N64)


The second game developed by Eurocom on this list of the top five James Bond titles, 2000's 007: The World Is Not Enough was based on the 1999 movie of the same name (well, nix the 007 part). After Tomorrow Never Dies' negative critical response, Eurocom opted to send Bond back to his first-person lineage as a certain well-known and loved 1997 Nintendo 64 game made popular. The final product was EA's attempt at creating a GoldenEye-like game with mission objectives that needed to be completed in order to finish a given level. TWINE was a fantastic first-person shooter with over a dozen solo levels spanning familiar locales of The World Is Not Enough, and three difficulty settings which added in harder enemies and more objectives to complete. Thrown in for good measure was a multiplayer mode which could fortunately be played with bots as well as human opponents, which offered an immense amount of fun as players hunted one another across the well-designed maps, one even taking place high in the sky on a plane. TWINE was a terrific Nintendo 64 shooter that hit home the point that James Bond was a force to be reckoned with not only in his films but in his video games as well.

1) GoldenEye 007 (N64)


After you have rolled your eyes and said "how unoriginal of a choice for number one", get cozy and read why I have picked the 1997 classic as the number one Bond game. GoldenEye 007's history is quite interesting. It started in development going towards an on-rails shooter. The development team then shifted gears toward making something more akin to a first-person shooter. The fruits of Rare's labor turned into one of the most successful Nintendo 64 games and one of the most important console games in industry history, despite being released two years after the movie it was modeled after. It made first-person shooters on home consoles a viable idea, and Halo, Call of Duty, and all FPS games that followed it have GoldenEye 007 to thank. Like the game it inspired, TWINE, GoldenEye 007 had various solo missions that could be played on one of several difficulties. The harder the difficulty, the less ammo was around, the more bullets enemies could withstand, and the more objectives needed to be completed. And that multiplayer mode that became the popular go-to attraction at many a slumber party? It was added in late in development as if it weren't important at all. It seems every James Bond game has to live up to the standard GoldenEye 007 created. That's for good reason, too. As Carly Simon so famously sang, "Nobody does it better."

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We have reached the end of our mission. Time for us to part ways until next week. In the meantime, feel free to list what James Bond games you have enjoyed the most over the years.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

SPC Soapbox - 10/25/12 Wii U Demo Impressions, Change, and Graphics Over Gameplay!?

The last time I stood on the SPC Soapbox was back in August. It was also the first time as well. If you recall, the long-running SPC Mailbag turned into the SPC Soapbox. Regardless, today I have three more topics I'd like to briefly discuss that ordinarily would not be long enough to make for an appealing article by their lonesome. Today's topics include my first play session with the Wii U, why gamers need to make up their minds about change, and a disturbing debate I heard in my game theory class.

Wii U demo impressions

After an appointment this past Tuesday I drove home a different way just so I could stop by my local Best Buy. I was interested to see if Style Savvy: Trendsetters was in stock, but I had an ulterior motive in my trip. I wanted to see if the Wii U demo station at the store was up. Although it was facing the back of the gaming department, an employee there told me that the station was a popular attraction. Note that Nintendo hasn't really advertised their new console to the general public as of yet. Thankfully, because I was there on an afternoon on a school day, the demo station was wide open for me to try out the system without any sort of wait.

I grabbed the Wii U GamePad and immediately I was surprised at what I held. The GamePad was incredibly lightweight. I had read impressions that the controller was such, but I did not think it would have such little heft to it. The controller fit my hands perfectly, and it was comfortable to use for the duration I spent with the unit. I slid my finger across the various game boxes on the screen and came across Rayman Legends. Conveniently enough the game was the only one with a demo on the Wii U demo station. Odd as the game does not come out until next year, but I wasn't complaining.

I entered the timed demo and selected a castle stage, one that was shown on the E3 2012 stage. I started off as the new character Barbara, and if you have played Rayman Origins, you will feel right at home with the controls. Everything is as tight and as smooth control-wise as that game. However, Legends is all the more gorgeous, much more so than its predecessor. It was just awe-inspiring and something I had to sit back and marvel at for a few moments. No hyperbole here, folks. It's just a darned beautiful game.

I eventually reached an area where Rayman was, and I was forced to switch to Murphy, a character controlled with the Wii U GamePad. While the CPU controlled Rayman, I helped out by slicing ropes with my finger, rubbing enemies to make them ticklish and vulnerable to Rayman's attacks, sliding platforms around, and spinning objects with the GamePad.


Speaking of spinning objects, there was only one problem spot I had and that regarded a bonus area. You have to tilt the GamePad to spin a circular maze around while your AI-controlled Rayman has to get through it. I kept reaching the middle of the maze, but Rayman would just dangle from the chain, not really going anywhere. He kept falling off the chain, leading to his demise, before I could situate the maze correctly. That could have been an error on my part, not knowing what to do, but it was frustrating enough that I just said "forget it" and moved on with the demo.

I finished the first level of the demo, but I did not have the time to try out the second level. It was the running level set to heavy metal music shown in this E3 2012 presentation. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Wii U and Rayman Legends, and I think the game sold me on the system. I'm sort of glad that the game was delayed, solely for the reason that it doesn't have to compete directly with New Super Mario Bros. U this holiday season. I just hope Ubisoft gives the game the same amount of love around release as it is giving the game now.

The hypocrisy of change

Gamers are creatures that just confuse me on a daily basis. I've made fun of them enough and gave my piece on how they can really disgust me (Bayonetta 2, "I'm not a gamer" ads, message board communities like NeoGAF, entitlement issues, etc.), so there's no use going into that.

However, there is this concept of change and innovation that some gamers get hypocritical about. Some gamers say they want change in franchises so they don't get stagnant. Nintendo fans are notorious for this. Don't change much and it's a rehash; change a lot and it sucks now. So it seems like gamers want change, but at the same time they want to play the same games they grew up enjoying. How does a developer satisfy such an insatiable group? Perhaps I'm building strawmen here, so if I seem like I'm blatantly doing so, I apologize. It's just... freaking gamers, man.

The baffling mindset of some Western gamers and studios

If you haven't been a frequenter of SuperPhillip Central, then you don't realize that my site only gets half of my time. The other is devoted to college as I am a university student. One of my classes this semester involves game theory and design. One evening our class had a debate on something DmC Devil May Cry director Hideaki Itsuno said in an interview about how Western developers focus on visuals first and then gameplay. Somehow it got turned into a debate on whether or not graphics are more important than gameplay.

Something inside me was enraged after hearing some of the opinions, and not just opinions -- popular opinions within the class. It had little to do with people agreeing with the opinion that graphics should be the most important part to a game.

Which is a reason why I found someone bringing up Battlefield 3 to be so funny. This is besides the ignorance that is popular with a certain group of gamer that somehow Nintendo is the one that makes the same games over and over again yet many carbon copy FPS games are given a free pass for being basically the same games with a new coat of paint and IP attached to it. (Just how Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Super Mario 3D Land are the same is beyond me when one deals with gravity-based platforming, one is 2D, and the other is a mix of 3D and 2D gameplay. Perhaps we're thinking too shallow and only talking about story?) Regardless, when it concerns Battlefield 3, the argument made was that graphics were more important because all of the aircraft and tanks resemble what they look like in real life, and thank goodness for that! Thank goodness each airplane and aircraft is 100% faithful to the real things, and thank goodness each marine moves just like real-life marines do. Who cares if the gameplay feels to me like the same old derivative first-person shooter stuff we've seen hundreds of times already? Just as long as the visuals create an experience, the gameplay can be an afterthought! That is what I took from the debate. I don't know if this person really believed what he was saying (i.e. graphics are more important than gameplay, mechanics, a game concept. etc.) because he was forced to argue a particular viewpoint, or if that is what he truly believes.


But that wasn't what even angered me. I couldn't care less what some random person has to say. What angered me was the realization that this type of thinking that graphics should be front and center and everything else should come after is shared not only by many Western gamers (and wrongly so), but it is the mindset of so many Western developers. No wonder some of the West's games generally bore me because they are more enthused with creating a pretty package that runs in 1080p and 60 FPS instead of making something fun. How I yawned playing Killzone, Halo, Gears of Bros -- I mean Gears of War -- and other Western games. Don't get me wrong -- the West also does awesome stuff like Batman: Arkham City, LittleBigPlanet, Rayman Origins, Uncharted, and Mirror's Edge, for starters, but sometimes it can be perceived as too few and far in between.


Furthermore, when did some "gamers" make it that having an experience in a game is exclusive to being immersed in it by visuals? Am I messed up because I get immersed in a game by compelling gameplay? That was a rhetorical question if you're playing at home. That isn't to say that only gameplay or graphics can immerse a player or give them an experience. No, both do whether a person realizes it or not.


It's this increasing mindset by the West that video games should be built to be visual powerhouses or artistic delights first and vessels to show off compelling gameplay and design AFTER is what is so maddening to me.

Rayman Legends (Wii U) Toad Story Trailer

Watch five players (one being Murphy via the Wii U GamePad) work together to get through this forested area with wind tunnels, trees, and vines. Rayman Legends is looking like a sensational game. It is just a shame it was delayed worldwide until early next year. Perhaps it's for the best so that New Super Mario Bros. U does not overshadow it.


Nintendo 3DS Sizzle Reel - October 25th, 2012

Nintendo showcased a myriad of titles during their Nintendo Direct presentation, and what better way to do so in a flash than a sizzle reel? Such games featured include Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the first footage of the 3DS version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, among others. The 3DS library is shaping up. Here's hoping the prices become more affordable.


Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS) Debut English Trailer

The Animal Crossing series takes a huge step forward with New Leaf, offering customization like never seen before. You are the mayor, the make the decisions, and you get to make your village your way. This first English trailer shows off just a sample of what can be done in this newest iteration of the popular life simulation series.


Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) English Trailer

Fire Emblem: Awakening has been in Japan for months now, and finally the game has an English trailer for consumer consumption. The turn-based strategy-RPG series hits the 3DS for the first time, and it is shaping up to be something special. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SuperPhillip Interviews: Dan O'Leary (n-Space)

As you may recall, last July I had a nice interview with the folks at n-Space regarding their then-latest release, Heroes of Ruin. It is several months later and I'm at it again, though now speaking with Dan O'Leary, the co-founder of the company. In this fourth SuperPhillip Central interview, Dan and I cover topics such as the 3DS version of Skylanders Giants and what makes it worth getting if you already own or are interested in a home console version, tidbits on RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, if Heroes of Ruin met n-Space's expectations with regards to sales, talk of the Nintendo 3DS's attach rate (whether it is perceived as good or bad), the Wii U, and the current state of Nintendo's online marketplaces. It's a packed interview, so lay back, relax, and get ready for an interesting read.

SuperPhillip (SP): First off, how did n-Space get involved in developing the Nintendo 3DS version of Skylanders Giants?

Dan O'Leary (D): Given our long, successful history with Activision and our deep 3DS experience, I’d like to think that n-Space was a natural choice for this title. I cannot speculate why Vicarious Visions were unable to continue their work on the first release, but we were very happy to get the opportunity to build on this great universe.

SP: For those who have not been following the game, how will the Nintendo 3DS version of Skylanders Giants be different from the console versions? Why should someone who is getting one of the console versions of Skylanders Giants be interested in getting the Nintendo 3DS version?

D: The 3DS version of Skylanders Giants is an entirely separate but complementary experience to the console versions, with a unique storyline. And just like the last 3DS version, the focus of the game is on fun and challenging platforming mixed with a good dose of action. We took that formula and ran with it for Skylanders Giants 3DS, creating bigger levels with a stronger emphasis on exploration. It’s also a thrill to take your Skylanders out of the home and on the road with you.

SP: Will the Nintendo 3DS version of the game have any exclusive features or characters?

D: The most noticeable feature exclusive to the 3DS version is the ability to jump, which goes back to the previous point about this being an action-platformer at heart. Also every character has the ability to dash, something only certain characters can do on the console.

SP: The console versions of Skylanders Giants will allow players to use the monsters and figurines from the original game, Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure. Will the 3DS version of Giants allow players to use their monsters and figures from the 3DS original?

D: Yes, all the Skylanders from Spyro’s Adventure are supported, along with all the newly released characters and those yet to come. 99 in all!

SP: Will there be head-to-head play on the Nintendo 3DS version of the game?

D: Giants is a single player only experience.

SP: How do the unique features of the Nintendo 3DS like the stereoscopic 3D of the system, StreetPass, or even SpotPass come into play in Skylanders Giants, if at all?

D: Given the short development schedule, our team elected to focus on the core gameplay experience this time around instead of supporting all the Nintendo 3DS’ cool features. Stereoscopic 3D is supported, of course, and we took great care in designing the worlds to take advantage of it.

SP: Speaking of another one of your projects coming out soon, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, what makes this entry in the popular PC series worth getting on the Nintendo 3DS to those unaware of the details of the game? What features make the game worthy of adding it to a Nintendo 3DS owner's library?

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D
D: RollerCoaster Tycoon is a classic PC game, designed accordingly. It is all about tiny details and micromanagement of a park that you can build entirely as you see fit. For RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D, many things had to be adapted and reimagined for the handheld constraints and audience. Rather than focus on a pure sandbox experience, we agreed to lean more towards a scenario based progression, which Atari believed would better suit the younger audience that they were targeting. We feel the result captures the essence of the RCT experience for an “on the go” audience and a worthy addition to any Nintendo 3DS owner’s library.

SP: Why was RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D delayed multiple times when the development appeared to be complete? If I recall correctly, Nintendo Power had a full review several months ago.

D: n-Space has no control over the distribution, manufacturing or sales aspects of our Publisher funded titles. It’s not for me to guess what caused any delays in the release of RCT3D.

SP: What can you say about n-Space's relationship with Activision? You have developed many games and ports for them over the years.

D: We enjoy working with Activision. They have a great product development team in Santa Monica that is exceptionally hard working and passionate about their products. Activision has game development in its culture. They are not a marketing company that happens to make games, or the reincarnation of a brand trying to recreate past glory. Hell, I grew up playing Activision games on my Atari 2600. They’ve seen and done it all, and we’re proud to have been associated with several of their “crown jewel” properties, including Call of Duty and now Skylanders.

SP: Can you say anything about the sales of Heroes of Ruin (released over the summer)? Are you satisfied with how the game sold? Is there room for a possible sequel down the road somewhere?

D: No, we’re not satisfied with the sales. The 3DS attach rate is… challenging at best and it seems that, for all its promise, Heroes of Ruin did not appeal to enough of the installed base. I am super pleased with what we made and would love to return to the genre one day, but I fear that Heroes did not have enough commercial impact to justify a sequel.

SP: Shifting gears, the current buzz in the industry is all about next gen, and the Wii U kicks that off next month. I'd be amiss if I didn't ask you about the platform a little. What can you say (if anything) about the indie scene on the upcoming Wii U? Does it excite you as a developer?

D: Of course the hardware is exciting but the console market faces so many challenges right now. I’m concerned that Wii U tries to appeal to both the mainstream and the hardcore markets simultaneously. On one hand, Nintendo is trying to build on the massive success of the Wii, which uncovered a latent mainstream audience due to brilliantly simple, self-evident and un-intimidating motion controls. On the other, they are introducing the most complex controller in history. It has massive potential and I would NEVER bet against Nintendo, but I do think it will be a challenging launch.

SP: Does your studio currently have access to a Wii U development kit as of yet? If not, are you in the process of attempting to get one?

D: We’ve had Wii U kits for a long time.

SP: Additionally, are you seeing an improved marketplace atmosphere with the Nintendo eShop (i.e. enough promotion, and a more improved certification process for games and demos) compared to their past efforts such as the Wii Shop Channel and DSiWare marketplace?

D: Nintendo is making great progress in these areas, but they have to keep it up. This is an area of startlingly fast paced change and it will take massive effort and real leadership for them to catch up with the likes of the iOS app store, Droid Marketplace, Steam or XBLA. But I don’t think Nintendo is in the habit of measuring its own success relative to the performance of other companies. They have always struck me as a company that seeks, above all, to blaze their own trail in a way only Nintendo can.

SP: Lastly, is there anything you would wish to make clear or tell the readers of SuperPhillip Central and the gaming public as a whole? (Believe it or not, some of them read this site!) Feel free to be as shameless as you like.

D: If you’re a fan of n-Space and the games we’ve made over the 18 or so years, thanks for your support! We’re a small company that has managed to adapt and survive in the ever-changing landscape of game development but our focus has never changed – make great games and have fun doing it. We’ve had some great successes recently, working on huge brands like Skylanders Giants, and we hope to continue that trend for years to come on solid IP and original titles. Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and website for future announcements and run out and buy your copy of Skylanders Giants 3DS today!

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My huge thanks to Dan O'Leary and n-Space for the opportunity for this interview. I hope it was entertaining as well as informative to read. You can look forward to reviews of the 3DS version of Skylanders Giants and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3D in the future. Until then, we'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, October 22, 2012

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Fun and Frolicking in Felghana Edition

On this week's edition of SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs we are returning to the country of Felghana. Ys: The Oath in Felghana was a PlayStation Portable remake of the third Ys game, originally released on the Super Nintendo. The remake is infinitely superior to its source material, and that includes gameplay, mechanics, and of course, music, the subject of these features.

v221. Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP) - A Searing Struggle


Adol is dropped into a fiery abyss dungeon where he is left to die by the antagonists of the game. However, Adol is much too strong to just lay down and die. He isn't alone in his fight against monsters both big and small. No, he has this hard rock theme to accompany him. Supported by synth and guitar, A Searing Struggle is a perfect song for the lava and fire-minded monsters of the dungeon.

v222. Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP) - Snare of Darkness


Completely unlike most other dungeon themes in Oath in Felghana, Snare of Darkness has zero electric guitar in it at all. Instead we have a symphonic in synth sound to enjoy. The song is incredibly tense as Adol explores a darkened multi-floor dungeon. Who knows what awaits around the bend?

v223. Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP) - Steeling the Will to Fight


A song used in the frosty and frozen Elderm Mountains, Steeling the Will to Fight starts off with a powerful guitar riff before entering a march-like rhythm. In this icy dungeon, Adol will have to slip and slide around, jump across wide chasms, and face off against savage monsters that want him dead. As the Elderm Mountains portion of Oath in Felghana is quite long, be ready to hear this song run through plenty of times.

v224. Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP) - Beat of Destruction


The final dungeon of Ys: The Oath in Felghana possesses this pulse-pounding track. Adol is going into the heart of Genos Island where the ancient evil lies and threatens Felghana and its people. Mixed with brass and strings synth and electric guitar, Beat of Destruction makes a lasting impression in the player's mind as they explore the deep darkness of the dungeon.

v225. Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP) - The Strongest Foe


The final theme we'll be listening to today is the final boss theme of the game, The Strongest Foe. A series of electric guitar phrases introduce this theme to players before the main theme kicks in. My favorite part of the final boss theme first occurs at 1:29 to 1:57. You get a bold amount of brass in uptempo form followed by electric guitars echoing what the brass just played. The entire theme gets you into the mindset to take down the foreboding boss that stands in your way of the ending credits.

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That just about wraps up this edition of my favorite VGMs. As always the VGM Database is here for you to carouse and enjoy its offerings until next week.

The Surprising Health Benefits of Gaming - A Special Article

I don't usually do this as I like to dedicate this site mostly to my writing, but I am feeling game this go around. Recently a freelance writer named Lily McCann emailed me, wanting to share an article she wrote regarding the health benefits of gaming as well as myths. The article goes into a little detail about eyesight myths, "exergaming", and much more. To check out the article, look no further than this link.

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