Wednesday, March 11, 2015

KAMI (3DS eShop) Review

While I focused on the bad earlier with Bad Levels in Gaming History, let's focus on the good with this next game. It's definitely a Zen-like experience that decidedly isn't for everyone. However, if you like a relaxing puzzler with some origami roots, then KAMI might just be an affordable downloadable title for you on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.

Zen is in.


At its birth, KAMI was a mobile game designed by State of Play. Now, their title has been ported over to the Nintendo 3DS with the help of CIRCLE Entertainment and Flyhigh Works. Offering the same amount of simplicity, and intentionally so to give its players a feeling of achieving Zen, KAMI isn't a game for everyone. However, for those that step into the fold, they will find a relaxing paper-based puzzle game to enjoy.

KAMI's focus is on puzzles that are identically displayed on the top and bottom screens, made up of different colors and patterns of origami paper. The goal is to use the three or four colors of paper provided to you on the bottom of the screen to fill in the puzzle so that at the conclusion of your work you have a screen full of just one color. This is performed by tapping the bottom screen for the piece of colored paper you desire and then tapping a space on the puzzle itself to fill it with color.

However, it isn't as simple as all that. Not only must you decide which color will completely take over the screen at the end of the puzzle, but you have only a finite number of moves to solve each papercraft conundrum. It behooves you to plan carefully. While the puzzles won't have you slamming your fists in frustration, they will have your fingers slowly stroking your chin as you ponder the solutions to each puzzle. Even if you make a mistake, you can tap the undo button to resolve it in an instant.

Despite what might be perceived as a modest collection of puzzles, KAMI will last players a good while, especially if they try to beat each puzzle while fulfilling the gold requirement (i.e. beating a puzzle in the least amount of moves). You unlock new sets of nine puzzles after clearing each one that proceeds it. There are 45 puzzles in the Classic Puzzles category to complete, and when those are taken care of, KAMI throws at you challenges meant solely for experts at the game. As you finish off puzzles of one type, different patterned pieces of paper and colored pieces of paper are introduced to keep the experience fresh and challenging. 

KAMI itself is a very relaxing puzzle game, and that stretches out into its presentation. The menus are simple in presentation. There is but one track in the entire game that plays throughout the menus and as you progress through the puzzles. It might seem like the developers forgot to make KAMI exciting to all players, but instead, the developers achieved a truly Zen experience. That's definitely something to applaud, even if it isn't wholly appreciated by everyone. 

While it's no game for adrenaline junkies, KAMI is a fantastic game to relax to that never gets annoying to play. Sure, you'll come to spots where you'll be murmuring to yourself in confusion as to how to turn every piece of patterned paper into the same color, but you'll never be cursing the origami gods. It's a short experience, but for the price, KAMI is an artful papercraft puzzler to get your Zen on to. 

[SPC Says: C+]

Review copy provided by CIRCLE Entertainment.

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Seven

WARNING: Mild spoilers for the following games:
  • Unreal Tournament (Multi)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)
  • Mega Man X6 (PS1)
  • Whomp 'Em (NES)

Besides technical problems like screen tearing, poor performance, clunky controls, and a host of other issues, another problem that games can suffer from is bad level design. It usually isn't even the level design of an entire game, perhaps just a level itself. As you'll see with this edition of Bad Levels in Gaming History, even some of the better games out there can suffer from one or two annoying, tedious, or just not-fun levels. 

Ocean Floor - Unreal Tournament (Multi)


With the alpha of Unreal Tournament's newest incarnation available for PC players to fool around with, it seems like a smart chance to talk about the first UT game. Assault in Unreal Tournament is a fantastic mode which has one team serving as the attacking team and one team serving as the defensive team. The attacking team has to complete a series of objectives, usually to encroach on the defensive team's turf or destroy something important. Meanwhile, the defensive team obviously enough has to prevent the attacking team from accomplishing their goal(s). Both teams get a chance to serve on both sides, and the team that completes the attacking part of the mission the fastest is the one that is determined as the winner.

Nearly all of the maps of Assault in Unreal Tournament are well designed for this type of setup. All but one, in my opinion, and that's the Ocean Floor map. Even if you're just playing against the AI, you can easily get wrecked regardless of what side you're on.


The attacking team starts in a base overlooking the underwater complex which houses a series of four terminals that must be destroyed. You have to leap into the ocean, swim through the depths, and reach one of two entrances into the complex where auto-turrets and most assuredly your enemy awaits. Die, and you have to spawn all the way back at your base, being forced to slowly swim back towards and into the underwater compound.


On defense, the offense from the other team can be instant. Facing the AI, you can quickly find yourself with all of the terminals destroyed before you get a chance to blink. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but that's what it feels like. Ocean Floor is one of the only maps in Unreal Tournament that feels heavily lopsided in favor of the attacking team over the defensive team. It's what makes it a disliked map of mine that otherwise has a cool setting and architecture.

Water Temple - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)


Now, now. Weapons down, ladies and gentlemen. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is without a doubt my favorite video game of all time. It is just a ticket to masterful game design... well, except one place in the game, and that's a dungeon that even the director of the game has apologized for.

Yes, I'm referring to the Water Temple, a dungeon within Ocarina of Time that suffers from two annoyances that pop up multiple times throughout Link's journey through its depths.


The first is the need to raise and lower the water level of the dungeon on various occasions to make the floating platforms rest where they need to. A bigger pain in the rump was the need to constantly switch between having the Iron Boots equipped and having them unequipped to Link. This process was further made aggravating by having to enter the pause menu to equip and unequip respectively. When you're being forced to equip the Iron Boots so much to sink down into the watery depths, the time wasted adds up.


Both of the Water Temple's main problems were rectified in what I consider the definitive version of Ocarina of Time, the Nintendo 3DS remake. Not only are the paths to the places where the water can be raised and lowered displayed with color-coded lines leading to them, but now the Iron Boots are like any other item that can be put on and taken off with a tap or touch of a button. Now, that's progress! It makes what was an otherwise overlooked part of Ocarina of Time's Water Temple design no longer an issue.

Carnival Night Zone Act 2 - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)


While Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is one of my favorite entries in the Blue Blur's long line of video games, there is one particular sour spot that gets my girdle bunched up. THIS:


It's an ugly note in an otherwise near perfect gem of a Genesis game. Carnival Night Zone as a whole has a multitude of red and white barrels throughout it. However, the only one that is absolutely necessary to pass is near the end of Act 2. Nowhere in either act does the game display how to pass them. What occurs, then, is that players will try an assortment of tactics to pass by this dreaded stopping point for many a-player. The most popular is to jump up and down on the red and white barrel. Seeing a tactile response in the barrel beginning to bounce up and down, it only makes sense to continue this strategy.

However, one who continues this practice will cruelly never get that their incessant jumping on the barrel is for naught. It's simply not the right way to get passed this obnoxious obstacle. Instead, what you're supposed to do, as part of one of the most counter-intuitive gameplay mechanics I've witnessed, is hold up on the d-pad and then hold down, alternating between the two.

Few ever solved this unassuming puzzle on their own. Instead, they called a Sega hotline for game tips. I'm quite certain the developers of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 intentionally made the solution to the red barrel of doom so obscure and obtuse just to get extra money from suckers like me who called their $1.00 a minute hotline! Okay, maybe not, but it was indeed a place in the game that was needlessly vague in helping the player learn how to pass the obstacle on their own. A simple design decision like throwing a sign in the background would have made this preventable problem go away. Then again, as they say, hindsight is 20/20...

Gate's Laboratory - Mega Man X6 (PS1)


Instant death. That's what the final stages of Mega Man X6 award its players with after eight long stages that were just as awkwardly crafted and sometimes designed in such a way that are just offensive flat out.

Gate's Laboratory is a series of three stages that fill players with nothing in the way of fair difficulty, instead going for total cheapness. It's as if the developers and designers of Mega Man X6 had to be coaxed into creating the game kicking and screaming, and their ultimate revenge for this dishonor was making Mega Man X6 hellishly difficult in a myriad of unfair ways.


Spikes lining the walls, requiring pixel perfect jumps to avoid them? Got 'em. Enemies just placed at random locations and in great numbers? Got 'em. Blind jumps that only a psychic would know about? Got 'em. Finally, multiple challenging bosses that don't give you any sense of accomplishment in beating them? Yep, you guessed it. Got 'em.


It says something about Gate's Laboratory 2 when it's actually quite possible to be unable to progress in the level if you're the wrong character in the wrong armor. There is a jump that many call a leap of faith that is impossible to make if you're playing as X and you're not equipped with the correct armor. That alone speaks the loudest about Mega Man X6's problematic level design, and Gate's Laboratory stages are a crash course in bad design.

Final Level - Whomp 'Em (NES)


NES games are known for being something called "Nintendo Hard", and up until the final level in the Mega Man-inspired Whomp 'Em, the difficulty of the game is rather fair. When you reach the final level that our Native American hero has to deal with, you'll be asking for a dreamcatcher to catch this nightmare of a level so you won't have to ever contend with it ever again.

Let's start where we should-- the beginning. You're in the sky with several clouds serving as the platforms of the first part of the level. Some of these are storm clouds and will unleash on our hero a shock to his system. That's not all, however, as there are columns that must be maneuvered around, too. Oh, and don't forget the enemies that can come out of nowhere and pass through these otherwise solid objects.

After a vertical section of scaling small and short cloud platforms, the second floor of this final level is made up of columns of ice, more clouds, and more enemies that can quickly come out of nowhere to damage you. To add to the player's misery, falling down at this section of the level means you have to start from the first floor, going through that hot mess all over again.


By the time you reach the third floor of Whomp 'Em's final level, the game throws in an entirely new gimmick with no time for preparation given to the player. You have to immediately learn how to propel yourself with the protagonist's primary weapon, a staff, through an area with no gravity. This is all the while defeating or completely avoiding enemies. Very hard to do when you haven't mastered a totally brand-new game mechanic that is thrust onto you.


Then, there's the final boss, which is weak only to one weapon which takes off a bar of health each and every time you use it. If you don't decide to use the boss's weakness against him, prepare for an incredibly difficult battle, as the boss will use near impossible attacks to dodge.

No matter how you slice it, Whomp 'Em's final level is a blight and a horrid note to end on for an otherwise competent and capable Mega Man clone. It is marred by poor design, unfair challenges, and a mechanic that comes out of nowhere for the player to be forced to somehow master.

Monday, March 9, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Darkness and Brightness Edition

Welcome to a new work week at SuperPhillip Central. As I generally like to do on Mondays, here's another dose of VGM goodness! With this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs we start out dark with the Nintendo 64's Perfect Dark, and then quickly change to a brighter disposition with Mario Tennis Open, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Mario Party 9, and finally, Rune Factory: Frontier.

v826. Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA) - Crash Site Confrontation


Perfect Dark remains one of my favorite first-person shooters around. It was the game that introduced me to the genre, and it is just a well-rounded game with great gunplay, level design, objective design, and multiplayer options. The soundtrack is sensational itself, too. This theme plays during the eponymous mission after Air Force One has crashed with protagonist Joanna Dark needing to find and rescue the President of the United States in a snowy Alaskan wilderness.

v827. Mario Tennis Open (3DS) - World Open First Match


There's two opinions to Mario Tennis Open, much like sides of the net. One dislikes the Simon Says style gameplay while other doesn't really mind it. While I'd prefer a traditional tennis gameplay, Mario Tennis Open delivered a good time for me, which I know isn't a popular thing to say. However, I think we can all agree that Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack for the game is quite good, such as this theme for the World Open's first match.

v828. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS) - 1 PM


Imagine yourself in a randomly generated village in the country, surrounded by talking animals. It's afternoon and the wind is gently blowing under a sunny, partly cloudy sky. This is a possible scenario in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, one of the best time-killers in the Nintendo 3DS library. Each real world hour presents the player with a different theme. Obviously enough, this 1 PM theme plays during the 1 PM hour.

v829. Mario Party 9 (Wii) - Bob-omb Factory


With Mario Party 10 hitting the Wii U in a couple of weeks, I figured it'd be a nice opportunity to bring up its predecessor on Wii, the aptly titled Mario Party 9. Mario Party 10 borrows a lot from its predecessor, including the all-in-one vehicle board progression. I'm sure much like Mario Party 9 that this first Wii U entry in the series will sport a catchy soundtrack full of great tunes like Bob-omb Factory, the second of six boards in Mario Party 9.

v830. Rune Factory: Frontier (Wii) - Autumn


Huh? Someone has gotten autumn in my almost-spring. Nevertheless, Rune Factory: Frontier's Autumn theme is so good that I'll let it pass. Each season in Frontier plays out as one would expect. Winter has snow-covered grounds, summer is full of hot weather, and so forth. If only the game didn't have the horrid Runey system, I might have ended up really enjoying Rune Factory: Frontier. Well, at least I really enjoy the relaxed soundtrack!

Three South African Developers To Look Out For

The video gaming industry is undergoing an irrefutable transformation. Like with many other entertainment mediums, technological advancements and the subsequent changes to consumer expectations have completely altered the industry landscape. Today, the industry's powerhouse countries of Japan and the USA are seeing their stranglehold weaken. Console gaming's position as the paramount format is becoming equally shaky. However, South Africa are one of the many benefactors of this digital revolution.

In to Africa

South Africa's emergence as a player in the worldwide gaming market began with its forward-thinking adoption of the online casino format. This popular update of a classic leisure activity was only just beginning to gain traction in the west. But South Africa seized the opportunity and promptly became one of the top providers in the world. Today, the country's online establishments have some of the most sort-after casino bonuses and also offer the chance to play on your mobile. There so many varieties that websites like Zebra Online Casino had to be created just to keep track of everything that was on offer.



It was this success, alongside rising sales of videogames in general within the country, which reignited the flame of South Africa's development industry. Now, start-ups are popping up all around South Africa. Previously defunct companies are coming back to life. To celebrate this rebirth, here are three South African developers to look out for in the future.

I-Imagine Interactive

Currently the premier entry in South Africa's gaming portfolio, I-Imagine Interaction is the only one of the country's developers to become a licensed independent developer for all major console platforms. Founded in 1999 by Dan Wagner, I-Imagine has released titles on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and the Wii. The Johannesburg-based developer had a minor-hit with Celebrity Genius but truly made a name for itself with the creation of the popular driving/business-simulation game Chase Hollywood Stunt Driver.



Thoopid

The quirkily-named Thoopid has only been around since 2013 but has already made its mark on the industry. Founded by David Moffatt, Mark Tomlinson, Simon Spreckley, Larry Katz and Rw Liebenberg, Thoopid is known for its innovative design and tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Located in Cape Town, the studio focuses exclusively on the mobile gaming market. It recently released physics-based puzzle game Snailboy. A slow burning hit, Snailboy was lauded not only for its clever mechanics but its intricate, unique and stylised design.


   by  dorena-wm 

Celestial Games

One of the oldest South African developers, Celestial Games was founded in 1994. It became known for its hit title Toxic Bunny, featuring a caffeine-addicted, gun-toting rabbit. Despite Toxic Bunny selling 150,000 copies internationally, Celestial Games struggled in the then west-dominated video game industry. It shut down in 2001. However, with the gaming industry restarting in South Africa, the company was revived by founders Nick McKenzie and Travis Bulford in 2012. Soon after, Celestial Games released a critically acclaimed HD version of Toxic Bunny, which was released on Windows and Mac OS PC.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SuperPhillip Central and Merchbro.com Have Teamed Up to Give Away Three Special Shirts

This is a wonderful first for SuperPhillip Central: a contest! Thankfully, it's very easy to enter. The prize? It's this "Link for President" unisex T-Shirt, available in sizes XS to XL.


All you have to do to enter is visit this link, fill out the entry form, and use the code superphillipcentral to officially enter. Winners will be notified in the coming weeks and Merchbro will ship out the shirts. My thanks to www.merchbro.com for this opportunity to run SuperPhillip Central's first-ever contest!

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