Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Title Screens That Say A Thousand Words: Gaming's Best - Part Three

Title screens are like the covers of books. They can give you an idea of what to expect about a game before you play it. The best ones really get you excited to dive into your new game, or even a game you've played and beaten dozens of times. That's what this series of articles highlights-- the best of the best in title screens in gaming history. This time around, there are even links to YouTube videos showcasing the title screens in action. (Just click on the game names.) Part one and two of this series can be found here and here. With that, let's get to the eight newest games with title screens that are abundantly awesome.

Persona 5 (PS4, PS3)

Red silhouettes of the main characters wearing white masks, clothes and jackets waving in the breeze of subway trains speeding in and out from view? That makes for one stylish title screen, and if the Persona series of games is anything, it's that they're stylish. Few games can make characters standing on a subway platform seem so awesome, but Persona 5 does this wonderfully. Different segments of the title screen, like the new game or load game prompts, bring with it different angles and central focuses, making for a deliciously cool title screen to start us off.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii U, Wii, GCN)

Taking cues from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time's title screen, Twilight Princess in its original Wii and GameCube versions as well as the Wii U HD iteration updated the idea of Link riding on his trusty steed Epona through Hyrule Field. This creates some amazing visual imagery while a haunting vocal theme plays. This enchantment concludes with the camera taking focus off of Link for a brief moment before once again refocusing, now the green clad hero is in his wolf form, making a chilling and powerful howl. It's magical like many moments within The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess story proper.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, 360, PC)

Bad ass. That's all one can say about this title screen for Batman: Arkham Asylum, developer Rocksteady's first foray with the Dark Knight that made the studio abundantly famous for making a truly terrific superhero game. The title screen sees Batman standing tall with muscles rippling and cape flowing as he looks over a nighttime sky, complete with ominous clouds and a bright, massive moon glaring right back at him. This title screen like many for games are like the cover of a book, in that it lets you know that you're going to be in for one hell of a ride. And those who thought that had their opinions reaffirmed quite quickly.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Let's continue from something dark and brooding to something bright and cheery-- the world of the Sprixie Kingdom in Super Mario 3D World! The game's title screen runs through a series of skits of sorts that see Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Blue Toad running around and getting into mischief in a similar environment set in different times of day. One has all four characters scampering about after transforming into their cat selves while another sees poor Luigi being chases by a swarm of miniature Goombas. It's a delightful set of skits that are enjoyable to view more than just once.

Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)

We're not through with you yet, Mario! With summer quickly approaching, what better way to celebrate than with a game that drips with the thematic feel of summer locales and vacation that Super Mario Sunshine possesses in great amounts! The title screen is small but sweet, like a kiwi or mango. It slowly reveals each word of the title before having Charles Martinet's long running Mario voice shouting with glee, "Super Mario Sunshine! Woo-hoo!" The cheerful voice, bright blue sky and white clouds in the background, and glistening sun all make this title screen memorable despite its short length.

Halo: Combat Evolved (XBX)

Many of the greatest title screens are simple, and in many ways, Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that has such a title screen. It involves the camera circling and roaming around the titular, colossal Halo structure while Martin O'Donnell's theme plays, featuring some jaw-dropping vocals. Also like many of the greatest title screens, Halo's gives players an idea of the type of game they're going to be playing, one that will send their pulses pounding with its action and being in awe by the awesome presentation.

Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT)

We conclude part three of the best title screens in gaming with a double dose of Mega Man! First off is one of my favorite entries in the franchise, Mega Man X4, the first Mega Man X game to release on the PlayStation and the only one to release on the Sega Saturn. While many of the title screens and animations that began this article were rather lengthy, Mega Man X4's is simple, but awesome all the same. An energetic theme followed by an amazing guitar chord leads us to a blinding flash, zoomed out X entering the picture, and the reveal of the game's logo and title screen background. Also, who doesn't love a robotic voice going. "Mega Man. X-4"?

Mega Man Battle Network (GBA)

We move from the X series of Mega Man games to the Battle Network ones. The original Mega Man Battle Network released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001. It sported an action-RPG grid-based battle system using chips for main attacks as well as an engaging story. This pick for a great title screen might be a nostalgic one, but I think it really wowed players back in 2001 on the GBA hardware. With a sweet theme, a scrolling background, and cool logo, Mega Man Battle Network is a delight of a title screen to look at and listen to.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Last Stitch Goodnight (PS4, Steam) Review

Today is SuperPhillip Central's Local Game Dev Day! The first of two St. Louis-made games was reviewed this morning (check it out here). Now, we have the second. It's Well Bred Rhino's Last Stitch Goodnight, and here is the review.

Someone put Metroid and melee combat into a wound and sewed it all up into one pleasing package.

Indie developers of all shapes and sizes seem to love taking water from the Metroidvania well. Many high profile indie releases over the past few years routinely use Metroid and Castlevania as inspirations for their games, and they create experiences that play like typical Metroidvanias. Well Bred Rhino's Last Stitch Goodnight may not be an endeavor by a huge indie developer, but it makes for that in its oodles of humor, charm, and smart level design. It's just other quirks that needed some sewing up.

Your character is injected with a mysterious substance by Dr. Dooley, whose presence is dooley-ibous at best (I was going for "dubious" if you didn't catch the joke), and knocked out cold. With the threat of your character's body being experimented on for unknown research, one of Dr. Dooley's assistants intentionally drops a screwdriver to help you help yourself out of your cell.

The screwdriver is the first of many tools that you come across throughout Last Stitch Goodnight. As you progress through the myriad rooms, chambers, areas, and pathways throughout the game's sprawling mansion, you pick up new tools, serving not only as "keys" to new areas, but also to serve as weapons in battle. Things like candles can shed some light to dark areas, but they can also burn a baddie pretty badly (ha, ha alliteration rules).

That being said, sometimes things in the dark are best to actually not have to LOOK at their scary selves.
That said, we arrive at one of my issues with Last Stitch Goodnight. The combat, while refreshing that we have a Metroidvania based on melee and one-on-one battles, is quite stiff. Despite the abundance of enemy types with numerous attack variations to them, the basic strategy is generally to just run up close and whack them into submission while losing some minor slivers of health. As health pickups are usually easy to find from fallen foes and broken objects in the environments, and as many attack patterns by enemies are more than they're worth to dodge, it just makes the combat less about strategy and more about... well... a lack of strategy. Perhaps that's not totally true, as different tools used as weapons have different cases where they're best used. A downward swinging weapon is great for flying enemies, while one that deals more damage but only jabs forward might be better for an enemy that is grounded and on an even footing.

A saw right through the-- whoa.
That said, where typical encounters suffer, but not in a way that makes the game lacking an ability to enjoy it (far from it), Last Stitch Goodnight's boss battles really shine. These are more puzzles that have specific steps to solve to beat an enemy, or in one case, befriend an otherwise dangerous boss. These boss battles, of which there are eight by the just following the story, and at least one that is sweet in how adorable it is (using the developer's children's own character drawings), make you really think outside the box, use your tools in a way that make rational sense, and overcome them with great satisfaction.

*Singing with the Transformers theme* Ro-bah-ots: Robots in disguise!
Quests are a big focus of Last Stitch Goodnight. They are given in both story and side variants, and you can pick which one you wish to focus on from the pause menu. This means you're given a location to go to, as well as helpful prompts to determine which exits of rooms you need to enter to reach your destination. It's not entirely "go here, do this" either. Many times you'll have to use the correct tool at the right spot (all spots turn into a green circle when you walk near them) to progress, continue, or finish a given quest. Quest rewards range from new tools and items to things that flesh out the back story more, or simply just stuff to add to your completion percentage (which unfortunately forces you to beat the game to see the overall percentage each time, making "am I at 100% yet? *beats game and sees I'm not* Dammit!" a common occurrence.

Thankfully, most quests, important points of interest like vending machines, save points, and fast travel warp points, and even health upgrades are clearly marked on the maps you can purchase. These are done at said vending machines and show most of the blueprints for a given section of the mansion. Not all is revealed, so you will have to do some searching for rooms not revealed through the purchase of a blueprint.

Last Stitch Goodnight uses a mix of 2D characters and side-scrolling and 3D environments with many moments in transitioning between rooms that you'll pass between planes. It reminds me of Paper Mario in some regards, obviously without the ability to roam all around the 3D environments and instead being limited to a 2D plane. I'm talking aesthetics, folks-- so Last Stitch Goodnight reminds me of Paper Mario's aesthetics, so the comparison still works, alright?! In all seriousness, besides some chugging with the frame-rate, the visuals are very pleasant. Audio-wise, the music is suitable for the various environments, and I even found myself humming along with some of the tunes, or at least bobbing my head around. Some of these themes are more atmospheric than others, but a lot of them have a defined melody that can stick with some players. They certainly did with me. Outside of that, talking characters sport mumbles instead of actual speech, but it's charming and not grating like say, Banjo-Kazooie might be nowadays to players.

Don't make a "this enemy drives me batty" joke! Don't make a "this enemy drives me batty" joke!
One last point I'd like to make note of with Last Stitch Goodnight is how sharp the humor and dialogue are. The game might be set in a mansion with unknown horrors and evil science, but it doesn't take itself seriously all the time, and when it does, it can be quite poignant with its dialogue and moments.

Last Stitch Goodnight does suffer from stiff combat, limited strategy in typical encounters, and some bugs that are still being ironed out, but it's an appealing Metroidvania with engaging level design, smart boss battles, and sharp, witty humor. Well Bred Rhino's small size as an indie developer doesn't mean it had to create an unambitious game, because Last Stitch Goodnight is far from that. Instead, Last Stitch Goodnight is a cut above quite a few releases from bigger devs with bigger budgets that left me laughing in stitches a lot of the time.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by Well Bred Rhino.

SmuggleCraft (PS4, Steam) Review

Today is a special day here at SuperPhillip Central. This site is based in St. Louis, Missouri. Occasionally I like to take the time and use SuperPhillip Central to get the word out about local game devs in my city. This is such an occasion with two reviews for some PlayStation 4 and Steam games recently released from two local game devs. 

A problem that some of you might ponder is that knowing the devs or just being in the same city as them, if that will affect my judgment on their games? Will I be more lenient in order to be kind to my local STL game dev or be more critical to appear "unbiased"? Well, I'm going to review these games just like any others from any system from any place in the world, just like I have for the past 8.75 years here at SuperPhillip Central. 

Our first review is for a procedurally generated (I'll define this in the review body if you aren't familiar with the term) hovercraft racer that was funded through the magic of Kickstarter. It met its funding goal and it releases today. It's SmuggleCraft by Happy Badger Studio.

Smugglin' Contraband and Racing at High Speeds: Just Like I Do in Real Life

So few racing games explore using hovercraft. For heaven's sake, Nintendo has all but forgotten the existence of F-Zero as a franchise, but at least PlayStation is bringing back Wipeout, albeit in a collection next month. Thus, we turn to indies for our hovercraft fix. If you're looking for a tight racer with excellent controls, St. Louis-based developer, Happy Badger Studio's game SmuggleCraft is one that nails that important gameplay aspect down pat. It also features a relatively appealing quest-based story mode as well. It's just that other aspects of SmuggleCraft don't go over as well as these.

SmuggleCraft's solo experience consists of a quest system where randomly available quests appear, and you can choose to take them or not. Each quest giver has a token task for you to do, whether it's in the category of getting from the start to the finish, racing one to many vehicles, or towing a vehicle from point to another. The latter is thankfully more fun and less of nuisance than breaking down on the New Jersey Turnpike and needing Avis to come pick you up.

What SmuggleCraft fails to do, however, is explain a lot of concepts to the player. The main one relating to the story is that if you crash and burn, the game takes a roguelike approach, booting you back to the main menu and making you start fresh in the story. Thankfully, things like tutorial missions and the hovercraft pieces you've bought and collected stick with you, but all story progress, money, and parts to build new hovercraft pieces are wiped clean like a slate... the type of slate that mocks you and makes you wonder, "What was the point of all this progress? Why have you forsaken me, Happy Badger Studio?!"

In Dirahl, no one can hear you scream. Well, except for the Wolverangs, of course.
But seriously, folks, the "smuggle" in SmuggleCraft comes from carrying questionable to highly illegal goods for the quest givers. At the end of certain quests, you can betray the quest giver to reap better rewards. However, this puts you in their bad graces. For instance, if you betray someone by stealing medicine for yourself, not only will you get a better reward, but you'll get marked the brand of "thief", and we're not talking the fun "Link, your name is now 'Thief'' for taking a shovel from the shop in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening" type of thief either. We're talking "cops are going to be on your butt now, mister. Bad boys, bad boys. Whatchu gonna do? Whatchu gonna do when they come for you?" type of thief. Cops will come after you aggressively when you're labeled a bad guy. 

On that same token, doing multiple heroic or stand-up smuggler types of things like pilfering from the bad guys will get you to draw their ire, having them chase after you and blast you as you try to survive your regular smuggling and racing runs. You can choose a good path, a bad path, or just take a neutral progression through SmuggleCraft, helping the poor with their needs and wishes in many of their quests, and then betray some of the unluckier ones by surrendering them to the police. Whatever floats your boat-- er-- hovers your craft, man.

Quests and races with harder difficulties mean more challenging track parts get placed along your path.
The solo mode's quest variety could be better, but where that variety is lacking, there is much more to be discovered in the different tracks you smuggle and race upon. That's because they're randomly assembled by numerous track pieces in one of a seemingly endless amount of orders. No two races are ever the same. Sure, within a few races observant players will pick up on familiar track pieces, but the way that Happy Badger created an overall successful algorithm to transition cleanly between one piece to another is really something commendable. Well... for the most part. Sometimes one track piece would lead to another with an odd transition. Then other times it meant that one track piece didn't connect properly to another, creating confusion on where to go, or worse, difficulty in reaching the next piece completely.

One thing Happy Badger Studio nailed about SmuggleCraft is the feel of driving any given hovercraft. The controls are responsive, fluid, tight, and feel great. Drifting and boosting around turns and corners, propelling one's hovercraft through a cavernous canyon via speed boosts, and jetting across the smooth waves of the ocean all are enjoyable to do. Perhaps my only problem with SmuggleCraft's controls come from manual boosting. How it's intended to work is that when you let off the gas for a couple of seconds and once again step on it, your hovercraft makes a quick boost forward. This works great when you want to drift and then come out of said drift with a boost, but if you get off track (sometimes literally) and discombobulated with your navigation on the procedurally generated tracks, you might need to turn around or course correct. This can be difficult when you're letting go of and then reengaging the gas, forcing small corrections to turn into massive boosts because the craft forces you to do so. Many times I fell off the track completely because I was making small course corrections only to boost off the track entirely.

Drift and boost to perform a drift boost! It's like how to do a drift boost is right in the name!
This would be frustrating in the solo mode because as I said, SmuggleCraft uses a roguelike system to it. However, fortunately, the developers allowed players to pause a quest at any time (even in midair). This allowance gives players the chance to back out of a quest before crashing (and subsequently burning), thus removing the heavy end of their solo mode progress. This grants players the ability to fully enjoy Happy Badger Studio's fun writing and generally engaged story without worry of constantly having to restart it from the very beginning over and over again.

As you complete quests, you gain money and parts to build new hovercraft pieces. These come in various forms with the "best" pieces taking the most funds to craft. Hence, the "craft" portion of the SmuggleCraft name. Wait. Maybe that's more to do with the "hovercraft", but I doubt the developer knows more about where they came up with the name of the game than I, a mere blogger with little knowledge whatsoever. Back to being more serious, the craft pieces come in cockpits, bodies, and the like, offering myriad possibilities to create a custom craft that suits your play style as well as your own personal style in hovercrafts. Move over Capri pants, rear spoilers are so in this upcoming summer.

Outside of solo mode for players, there is multiplayer in both local and online varieties. Both are pretty bare bones in options-- there isn't even an option to switch between vertical and horizontal split-screen, for instance, in local multiplayer. That said, what is here is serviceable enough. Local multiplayer is good for up to four players. Random hovercraft are assigned, and if players don't care for their current selection, they can randomize a new craft. It's mostly for aesthetic purposes anyway. Time of day can be chosen, how long a given race will be (as short as 1.5 minutes to as long as 5 minutes in estimated length), how difficult the race will be (more challenging track pieces are selected, easier to crash, etc.), if pursuers will get involved in the race, and how many victories a given player needs to win the overall round are all available things to select. Online mode has lobbies, but as of this review they were pretty empty. It's both my and the developer's hope that today's release of SmuggleCraft sees action in the lobbies. It probably also has to do with times of day the online is played, setting up times and lobbies with friends, and the like. Regardless, with limited options available and variety, it might be hard to find staying power with SmuggleCraft's multiplayer in the long run.

You can share my couch, and you can share part of my TV screen, but you cannot share my win.
Presentation-wise, SmuggleCraft sports a slick and smooth, simplistic polygonal style to it. Things are made of clear cut polygons, and the game looks gorgeous especially when it rains. Drops patter across the screen, they make the walls, mountains, canyons, and caverns of races glimmer and shine, showcasing their slick qualities, and it's just relaxing to race in. Perhaps it's the art style is a bit too plain and lacking points of interest in races to fully engage players to the degree that Happy Badger Studio would like, but at least it's helped by a seriously chill electronic soundtrack that pulses and pumps as you drive around Dirahl.

Overall, SmuggleCraft is a mixed bag. Its solo mode may give off some appearance of repetition, but it generally is enjoyable as long as you realize how the game's roguelike system works (something the devs fail to explain in-game). Meanwhile, multiplayer doesn't seem to have quite the amount of staying power as I would have hoped with a lack of options and little to really gain from racing for the long haul. Still, with extremely awesome feel of each hovercraft, a capable procedurally generated track system, well-written dialogue, and a lovely if not simple art style, SmuggleCraft may not be masterful, but it's sure as hell nowhere near awful. It's somewhere in existence hovering in between.

[SPC Says: C]

Review copy provided by Happy Badger Studio.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 (NS, PS4, XB1, PC) Announcement Trailer

After the teaser trailer came out two weeks ago, now the actual full announcement trailer for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 has been unleashed this morning! Take a look at the adventure that spans the space-time continuum with an assortment of new and returning characters!

Monday, May 22, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Mario Madness 2017" Edition

Fresh off the excitement of SuperPhillip Central's 750th review which featured Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs continues the wave of celebration with an all-Mario edition to kick off this next batch of one-hundred VGM volumes.

We begin this Mario-fied edition of the VGMs with Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario 3D Land, a duo of Mario games in a similar style. Then, we go retro in a big way with Super Mario Bros. 3 before returning to the present with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Finally, we go back to the past with Super Mario Land, and a catchy theme at that.

Just click on the VGM volume name to hear the song described. Click on the VGM Database link right here to hear all 1400 past VGM volumes. If you didn't know by now, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs have been going on for a good while now! Now, let's get on to the music!

v1401. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) - Switch Scramble Circus

We begin with a celebratory uptempo theme from one of Super Mario 3D World's earliest stages, a song that appears in every circus-based level in the game. Whether Mario and friends are vaulting from trapeze to trapeze, scrambling across switches, or on the big stage, this high energy theme plays, a great way to kick off the first of our 1400th series of VGM volumes!

v1402. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) - Castle Theme

But, before there was Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, there was Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS. It merged the 2D style of point-to-point platforming and flagpole goals with 3D environments and spaces. An awesome game, and the castle levels were some of the greatest found in the game, all ending with a confrontation with either Bowser or Dry Bowser (and all based on platforming which I really loved). This tense tune lets you know you're in for a challenge indeed!

v1403. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) - Waterfront (Akihabara Electric Circus Version)

A special soundtrack was released alongside the launch of Super Mario Bros. 3 featuring performances, medleys, and remixes from the the game, all done by the Akihabara Electric Circus. This particular track is a combination of multiple themes, such as the Dark Land theme, but mostly the theme of Water Land, hence its title of Waterfront. It's definitely got a '90s feel to it, but it still manages to be satisfying to the ears.

v1404. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS) - Where's Toad?

Where's Toad? Well, Toads are everywhere in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and that was one of the problems a good deal of players and critics had with the game. I didn't dislike the game as much as some players did, but one spot that everyone was agreement with was how good the soundtrack was. Then again, how could it have been bad when Yoko Shimomura was behind it! This theme plays during one of many sections in Paper Jam where Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario must hunt for missing Toads.

v1405. Super Mario Land (GB) - Muda Kingdom

Super Mario Land stands as one of the weakest Mario platformers to me, even being a little weaker than the very vanilla New Super Mario Bros. That said, I happen to like both games regardless. "Hip" Tanaka provided a much better soundtrack to Super Mario Land than Nintendo's new batch of composers did with New Super Mario Bros., and the proof is in themes like this, the Muda Kingdom's theme. Catchy, infectious, and delightful, Tanaka-san's work is exquisite.

Friday, May 19, 2017

750th Review! Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NS) Review

Days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months, and so forth have been leading up this moment. It's SuperPhillip Central's 750th review! It's amazing the progress this site has made in nearly nine years! From really embarrassing articles, editorials, opinion pieces, and poorly conceived reviews at the beginning in 2008 to just slightly embarrassing articles, editorials, opinion pieces, and somewhat poorly conceived reviews now, we celebrate review #750 with this in-depth look behind the wheel of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the best-selling game last month, despite only being out for a few days! The question this review tries to answer isn't whether the game is good. Clearly, it is. But is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth getting if you already played the heck out of the Wii U original. Let's find out with my review, the 750th on SuperPhillip Central!

The most impressive Mario Kart since Mario Kart 8... also the most complete!

Even on the struggling and failed Wii U, Nintendo was able to sell a great amount of software when compared to its userbase. Games like Splatoon and yes, Mario Kart 8 stood as top sellers despite having a limited amount of overall users. Now, in something I hope Nintendo will continue doing, it is bringing one of the Wii U's top titles to its new and decidedly successful (at least starting off) Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. While the game offers some new additions to it, it might be a questionable purchase for those who already played hundreds of hours of the original Wii U release. This review intends to answer the question of whether these Mario Kart 8 owners should take over the wheel from the Wii U version to the Nintendo Switch updated and upgraded one.

"Hey, I can see my Comet Observatory from up here!"
Let's start with what's new in Mario Kart 8. The biggest addition is the revamped and reworked Battle Mode. In the vanilla Wii U original, Battle Mode sadly consisted solely of retrofitted Mario Kart 8 tracks in their entirety instead of standalone, custom-made battle arenas that the series had known for since its inception. This has been rectified with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, offering eight arenas with five different modes for offline or online play, and in team or singles play. The arenas come in both all-new and retro varieties, just like the Grand Prix tracks. There's Battle Stadium, Sweet Sweet Kingdom, Dragon Palace, Lunar Colony, and Splatoon's Urchin Underpass, while the retro tracks feature the lineup of SNES Battle Course 1, GCN Luigi's Mansion, and my personal favorite of the whole bunch, 3DS Wuhu Loop. All of the arenas are enjoyable to play on, and there is no loser in this group. My only preference for the future would be to see some additional DLC arenas, but that's just being greedy on my part. What's here is already more than enough.

The five different modes feature Balloon Battle, the O.G. Mario Kart battle mode, having players shoot items into one another for points. When all of a player's balloons have been popped from taking hits, their score is cut in half. Then there's Bob-Omb Blast, a bomb-only mode where depending on how long the throw button is held down, Bob-Ombs are chucked farther at foes. The goal is similar to Balloon Battle, save for the only items here being Bob-Ombs. Coin Runners has the simple task of collecting as many coins as possible within the time limit. Every hit you take makes you lose several coins. Meanwhile, Shine Thief, the ever popular mode from the GameCube's Mario Kart: Double Dash!! returns. It's a game of holding onto the Shine Sprite for a set amount of time. All the while the rest of the pack guns for you to steal the Shine. The player who satisfies the Shine Sprite count wins.

If you wish to keep your chunk of change, Luigi, it'd be best to race away from that Bob-Omb!
Finally, a brand-new mode is introduced in Mario Kart in general, the fantastic Renegade Roundup. Two opposing sides, which are essentially cops and robbers, take each other on. One side with Piranha Plants and sirens overhead try to roundup the other team, the renegades. Those rounded up get put in a cage, but free players can brave the Piranha Plant-wielding enforcers, speeding over the midair jail cell's button to free everyone trapped inside. The round ends when either all renegades have been captured or the time limit runs out. This is a massively entertaining mode and a real innovative one, too. The panic that gets induced onto renegades running away from a closing-in Piranha Plant-toting player makes for a tremendously fun time and makes for a mode that fits in more than well enough to the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Battle Mode lineup.

Bowser Jr. and other new characters to the roster also bring new kart parts.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features new additions outside of the most notable improvement, its Battle Mode. First, all characters, cups and cup speeds are automatically unlocked from the beginning. This includes all of the DLC tracks and characters from Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, plus new additions to the roster like Bowser Jr., King Boo, Dry Bones, and both genders of the Inklings from Splatoon. You might wonder what drive there is to play through the cups and try for first place, much more the idea of gunning for a perfect three stars on every cup on every difficulty. Well, kart parts in kart body, tires, and glider fashions, still have to be unlocked through collecting various amounts of coins. These are still unlocked in a random fashion, so what kart piece one player unlocks at 3,000 coins will most likely be different from what another player unlocks at the same amount. Thankfully, multiplayer races still add to the main player account's overall total. Additionally, Battle Mode coins collected mostly add to this total, too.

It might not be his usual place to haunt, but returning fave King Boo is glad to be back to racing regardless.
The most enviable kart pieces to unlock, not because of their statistics, but the challenge of unlocking them, the gold kart pieces, still take a good while to unlock as well. For instance, the gold kart body is unlocked by earning at least one star on all 150 cc cups, while the gold tires are earned through beating every Nintendo staff ghost on all 48 tracks in Time Trial mode. Also, beating every cup in first place in 200 cc unlocks a brand-new variant of Metal Mario, Gold Mario from New Super Mario Bros. 2, to the roster. So, in all, there is a great deal of stuff to unlock despite a lot of the base content being already available from the beginning.

The brothers of the "wah" compete on Mario Kart Wii's Wario's Gold Mine.
Racing-wise, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings some freshness here as well. In something that will allow even more players from lower skill levels to enjoy the game, there are various control options available for them. For one, smart steering is an option, making it so while players have control over their vehicle, smart steering makes it so the vehicle will automatically slow down or readjust to avoid falling or going off the main track. Tilt steering is also available, and if one wants, they could even turn auto acceleration on, for those players who have trouble holding a button down or pushing in the right analog stick. One could theoretically set the controller down and let the game play itself, but you won't be winning most races this way. Unfortunately, when you play with multiple players, each time you turn off the game, you have to turn off the second, third, and/or fourth players' auto settings as they will on from the start instead of off. This is a minor annoyance, but at the start of playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, my older brother noticed something amiss with his controls. Turned out that the auto steering and acceleration were automatically on, meaning he had to pause the game to turn them off. There wasn't even a warning or notification that these were even on to begin with when starting the game.

Having trouble beating Wario? Try turning on smart steering and auto acceleration.
However, not all of the racing changes are just for new players needing assistance. When performing a drift, not only can you build a mini turbo up to two times, now you can generate a third mini turbo with pink sparks. There aren't a multitude of turns offering such an ability, but when you're able to pull it off, it creates a bigger resulting boost that is ultra satisfying.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also features two returning items not seen in a while in the Mario Kart franchise: the Boo item and the Battle Mode-only Feather from Super Mario Kart, the very first game in the series dating back all the way to the Super Nintendo. The Boo randomly steals an item from an opponent ahead of you while also temporarily turning you transparent and impervious to items. Meanwhile, the Feather allows you to jump and spin over obstacles and even opponents. In modes like Balloon Battle, this steals a balloon from them and adds it to your collection.

So much for Yoshi catching his flight...
It's not just returning items in general that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings back, it's double item boxes and the ability to hold two items at once like in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, though the ability to switch between which item you wish to use first has been omitted. Thankfully, with eleven racers already gunning for and competing with you, the addition of even more items to conceivably contend with doesn't impact races as adversely as I thought it would. There's still a notable dynamic shift with more items in the rotation in races and battles, but more items also means more chances to get more defense (and then again, more coins, but you never hold two coin items at once, thankfully). Sure, that means that red shells are a greater annoyance when you're in first, but overall, the dynamic shift isn't overwhelmingly apparent. That's a good thing, and I'm sure a relief for many.

More items means more chaos on the track. Take THAT, Bowser Jr.!
Now, how about the multiplayer? Locally, the left and right Joycons that come with everyone's Nintendo Switch are good enough for two players to start racing and battling immediately. My only issue with those is that holding down the left shoulder button, something that doesn't protrude as much as I'd like, is difficult to do. I can't tell you how many times I tried to hold a shell or banana peel behind me, only to let go of the button and lose my defense... and then getting hit by a red shell, of course. Two players locally can even hop online to take on other players the world around.

The anti-gravity portions of tracks are just as awesome now as they were in 2014.
This is where some shortcomings pop their ugly head in. The online options here are quite limited, and if Nintendo wants people to shell out money for its online services this fall, then either what's here is incomplete or Nintendo is crazy. Then again, it could be both. With randoms, you're stuck picking between three randomly selected races to compete on, and you can't even select the speed of the races. That's randomly chosen as well. However, one improvement over the Wii U Mario Kart 8 is that you can choose a different character and kart configuration without leaving an online lobby. This is something I couldn't believe wasn't implemented before, but still, it's a wonderful addition and makes for awesome convenience. Then there are connection errors that pop up occasionally. It just makes for a hard sell if Nintendo wants to monetize online for the Switch in the future without any changes.

No need to change your set of wheels by leaving online lobbies. Viva la change!
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks and runs fantastically on the Nintendo Switch, whether it's docked or in handheld form, my preferred way of playing the game just for its convenience and how cool it is. (Then again, I was born and raised on the Game Boy, so thinking back on that to being able to play games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on a handheld-like device such as the Switch now is astonishing to me.) The 59 FPS issue that the Wii U original suffered is no longer present in the Switch version, and the colors and models are crisper to the eye. Like many of Nintendo's HD games, there's little aliasing to talk about, but the game still looks massively impressive in both photos and full-on motion. Meanwhile, the music is still one of my favorite game soundtracks ever devised, and the new theme additions for the Battle Mode stages are terrific and fit well in both aesthetic and quality to the original Wii U soundtrack. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is all in all a delight to look at and listen to.

I'd love to stop and take in this gorgeous game, but I've a race to win!
So, here comes the $59.99 MSRP question: Is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth it if you've already played the Wii U original? My answer is an astounding "yes." The upgraded Battle Mode that can be played with AI, friends, and family offline, or online with friends and total strangers is fantastic, offering five modes, eight arenas, and wild chaos abound. The new additions like cast inclusions, the third mini-turbo boost, the pink one, two returning items and Double Dash's double items, and other new features make an awesome arcade racer and installment of the Mario Kart series even more awesome. It might be lacking in online options, even the Wii U's voice chat in friend lobbies, but overall, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be a go-to for many Nintendo Switch outings and occasions for a long time.

[SPC Says: A]

Similar reading:
Top Ten Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Tracks
Rank Up! - Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Battle Arenas

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blaster Master Zero (NS, 3DS) Review

Tomorrow marks SuperPhillip Central's 750th review, but before we get to that, let's take a look at a recent offering from Inti Creates, developer of the Mega Man Zero and Azure Striker Gunvolt series of games. It's Blaster Master Zero for both the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS. Let's dive in with this in-depth review!

A Blast from the Past!

Blaster Master was a 1988 Sunsoft-published NES game that featured gameplay that really showed why that era of gaming was considered the golden age for many gamers. Now, it returns with the help of Mega Man Zero/Azure Striker Gunvolt developer Inti Creates, with Blaster Master Zero. Sporting a new scenario, gameplay updates, and additional content, this blast ( master) from the past is certainly worth feeling the aftershocks of.

Sophia III prepares to begin her mission.
Blaster Master Zero has two major gameplay types featured prominently throughout its 5-8 hours run time. The first takes place in a 2D space, offering Metroid-like exploration with either the Sophia III tank itself or Jason in his suit. You're much more limited in mobility as Jason by himself, but he can also get through places that the tank cannot. These are things like places with narrow ceilings. Likewise, most places Jason cannot get to at all, much less survive. Any fall of decent height will kill him, and even relatively small falls will injure his health.

Whether in Sophia III herself...
The second type of gameplay type takes place in top-down Zelda-like maps. Of course, here there's little to no puzzle solving to be found. The focus here is on pure combat and a little exploration, too. Many areas in the 2D sections of Blaster Master Zero feature caves that only Jason can enter. These bring him to said top-down maps. Usually at the end of these multi-room spaces of varying lengths and labyrinthine qualities there lies a boss of some type. These can be as simple as enemy horde rooms where you shoot as many foes as possible as you try to survive or actual encounters with big bosses with their own attack patterns to learn and avoid, all the while blasting their weak points in a war of attrition.

...or taking matters into his own hands on foot, Blaster Master Zero's gameplay is satisfying either way.
The rewards for vanquishing such foes are new abilities both mandatory and optional. These can be things like new weapons for either Sophia III or Jason himself, abilities like diving and boosting for the tank, and other upgrades. This allows for the Metroid part of Blaster Master Zero to intervene. New parts and abilities offer new exploration possibilities. Normally the game shows where you need to go next, so you're never at a loss for what your next objective is, which is nice for a modern take on a Metroid-type game.

Ah, one of the most helpful upgrades, the ability to hover and rise!
How would we beat you, Central Gear, without it?!
That said, there is a lot of backtracking to be found in Blaster Master Zero, and it becomes a bit annoying and tedious. Metroid-style games are no stranger to this, but some do it better than others. All of the areas in Blaster Master Zero are interconnected-- that's true of many Metroid-likes. The difference between the fun exploration of those and Blaster Master Zero is that each area in the game is connected one after the other in a linear pattern. No one area connects to two different areas, for instance. This means if you're at the end of the game at Area 8, and you need to travel to Area 1, you have a good deal of distance to cross with little in the way of shortcuts.

Merely beating the game is an easy task, but when you want to backtrack to pick up missing upgrades (such as helpful health ones), find and battle bosses that you haven't beaten yet, or anything else, it becomes a bit of a slog, and a tedious one at that.

Still, Blaster Master Zero sports engaging combat and bosses whether in the Sophia III tank or just moving around levels and areas as Jason. There are some truly stunning and behemoth-sized bosses to tackle which make up the most impressive spectacles of the game, while exploration, other than the aforementioned backtracking (required or not), is generally a lot of fun to do. The abilities you earn as both Sophia III and Jason are enjoyable, allowing for new ways to tackle old areas.

This mostly submerged area features the most time Jason spends in the 2D part of the game.
Blaster Master Zero nails its 8-bit era aesthetic. It takes liberties with the technical limitations of the era, of course, but no one said Inti Creates had to limit themselves to the late '80s and early '90s realm of NES power. The visuals are crisp and suitably colorful and at times dynamic, and the audio delivers old school chiptune goodness. It's just a satisfying package presentation-wise all around.

Blaster Master Zero has everything: intense boss battles, Metroid-like upgrades and exploration, and even a little story to keep you engaged if the gameplay doesn't (hint: it will!).
Inti Creates continues to be one of those developers that delights me with its output. First, it was the action-packed awesomeness of its Mega Man Zero games. Then, it was Azure Striker Gunvolt. Now, its take on Sunsoft's Blaster Master with Blaster Master Zero had me loving a lot of what I played. Blaster Master Zero takes a lot of the good and some of the bad of the Metroidvania game, and overall it reaffirms to me Inti Creates position as a terrific indie developer. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the code. Blaster Master Zero gets a recommendation.

[SPC Says: B+]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Snipperclips - Cut it out, together! (NS) Review

We're rapidly approaching SuperPhillip Central's 750th review of all time. It's a big milestone which requires a big game. That doesn't mean that these games leading up to it, #748 and #749 aren't of importance, though! Regardless, we're at #748. and here it is, the wonderful game to bring out at parties, Snipperclips - Cut it out, together! (Just leave me a comment if you don't understand the review tagline, and I'll explain it! No worries-- it's somewhat obtuse for non-Full House fans.)

A fantastic social gaming experience for the Switch; Not a game you play with Dave Coulier

Right out of the gate the Nintendo Switch is pumped and primed, ready and able, capable and competent, and whatever other pair of words you can think of to describe how strong the system is as a multiplayer device to get people playing together. No launch title best encapsulates this than a digital download, Snipperclips - Cut it out, together, a game that can, in fact, be played by one's lonesome, but it's exponentially better with a pair of players, much more a full four-player group.

The prime mechanic of Snipperclips is the ability to maneuver two or more characters, either simultaneously in multiplayer or one at a time in solo mode, rotating and using each others' bodies to cut into one another. The ability to reform is always available, making any unintended snip or clip easily remedied and quite quickly.

Most of the content in Snipperclips focuses on cooperative multiplayer, which is what makes the game truly shine. Actually, scratch that. It's the many ways that you can solve the game's multiple levels, having every play session spawn a different means of progression to the end result, which makes the game truly shine. It also makes Snipperclips immensely replayable, particularly in a group setting.

Do they let the Warriors get away with players standing on each others' heads for dunks like these two are doing?
Different puzzles and levels require different necessary methods to complete them. There are some where you have to cut one another to form shapes that fit a tracing. You need to be as close to perfect as possible in filling in the mold to be victorious in these levels. Others have you getting on your inner Lebron James and sinking a basketball into a net for a two-pointer. Sure, you won't really be dunking the ball, but you're clearing the level and that's all that matters. Pop balloons, gather fish, lead a butterfly to the goal-- there are a vast amount of objectives to the levels to overcome.

Cut your buddy up to be a prick to these balloons. No, I mean a LITERAL prick, a stabby thing. Not an insult.
I talked before about how multiple levels have various ways you can clear them. For instance, there's a level where you need to carry a pencil across the length of the level, and then somehow drop it into a sharpener to clear the stage. I did this in two ways with different players. For one, the other player and I just moved the pencil across each others' Snipperclips characters' bodies, juggling the pencil into the sharpener. Then, the next time with the next player, she had me rotate my Snipperclippers' body and made an incision, a pocket, where I could hold the pencil and walk the level's distance to T sharpener itself. Those two ways are hardly the only two solutions to solve that particular level.

And it's not just the various ways you can complete the levels either. It's the various social interactions you're having with other players. One run or attempt of a level will be different than any other. It's these ever-changing moments, whether busting into laughter and then tears after a failed attempt, chastising your partner for messing up at the last possible moment, or slapping a very hard high five after a puzzle is completed, that make Snipperclips such an uproarious good time.

This level requires scooping up the green and pink fishies and dropping them into the body of water to the left.
Outside of the levels in Snipperclips, the game also offers multiplayer mini-games in the form of basketball and hockey. Basketball is played like a 2D platformer of sorts with basketball hoops on opposing sides while hockey is played like Pong. Both bring some quick and satisfying party shenanigans, but they don't have much staying power overall. Unless your party is drunk, but doesn't every mini-game have staying power when your party is drunk?

The replayability of Snipperclips is definitely there, but really, it's only for multiple players. As a solo experience, Snipperclips is short lived. You won't really want to again pursue through the game's three worlds of a dozen or so levels each unless it's to try to solve them in alternate ways. It doesn't help that a significant amount of content is locked behind having 2-4 players, and even some puzzles requiring 3-4 players. Even small things like leaderboards, target times to beat, and so forth, would greatly up the replay value for solo players, and it would also benefit groups in the process. The point I'm trying to make here is that if you're searching for a Nintendo Switch launch title to enjoy by your lonesome, Snipperclips isn't it.

Be ready to be unable to complete instructions while being able to spout
absurdities in fun gaming sessions with friends, family, or just total strangers!
Overall, Snipperclips is a success at what it sets out to do, and its true entertaining factor comes from the experiences you have interacting with other players. Even those who seldom pick up a game controller of any type can easily get into the game, which says a lot about Snipperclips as a party game for family outings. Nintendo picked up a serious winner when they nabbed Snipperclips for the Switch, and while it offers little longevity for solo players, it's an embarrassment of riches for groups, friends, and families.

[SPC Says: B]

Splatoon 2 (NS) Single Player Trailer

After much ado about Splatoon 2's multiplayer, and rightfully so, Nintendo has released a trailer focusing on the single player portion of the game. It looks to be just as creatively designed as the original, and perhaps even more so. Splatoon 2 will certainly make waves when it releases July 21.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rank Up! - Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Battle Arenas

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe launched on Nintendo Switch at the end of April. It's been the go-to multiplayer game for many Switch owners since then. One of the newest additions to the game is an expanded and completely retooled Battle Mode, offering actual arenas instead of retrofitted tracks. Ahead of SuperPhillip Central's Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review this Friday (also the site's 750th review), I'm ranking the eight battle tracks from least favorite to personal favorite. For those uninitiated, here are the battle arenas being ranked:

Battle Stadium
Sweet Sweet Kingdom
Dragon Palace
Lunar Colony
3DS Wuhu Town
GCN Luigi's Mansion
SNES Battle Course 4
Urchin Underpass

Now let's rank these battle arenas!

8) Urchin Underpass

I love all the battle maps and arenas found in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's enhanced Battle Mode, so even though Urchin Underpass from Splatoon is rated as the lowest on this list, it's still a fantastic arena-- I just like enjoy it the least. Part of this is how I found it the least accessible arena to beginners, with all of its ramps, points to slow players down, and intricate turns and corners to slip new and inexperienced players up. It can also be a slightly confusing map itself, but once you learn its intricacies, Urchin Underpass is a colorful and entertaining battle arena worthy of both the Splatoon and Mario Kart names.

7) Lunar Colony

The low gravity goodness of Lunar Colony makes for some terriffic battles in the central crater and areas surrounding in this fun but simple arena. Without the low gravity and extra jumping awesomeness found in Lunar Colony, this would be a very simple map without much to boast about. Still, the main gameplay gimmick here makes Lunar Colony more than worthwhile, and circling around the outer loop to avoid attacks is a good deal of fun, making this a fun and enjoyable arena to battle on, no matter the mode.

6) SNES Battle Course 1

Speaking of simple arenas, sometimes the simplest of maps are the most fun. Well, not in this case, but SNES Battle Course 1, a battle arena from the very first Mario Kart from the Super Nintendo, is more than a blast to battle on. It has the most basic design with its symmetrical design and mostly flat surface, but it's absolutely fantastic in all modes. My personal favorite is Renegade Round-Up, where the jail cell is always in the very middle of the map. Braving a breakout by driving through a cop-infested central area to save your fellow renegades is always a good time. Add in some gliding opportunities at two sides of the arena, and you have a return to SNES Battle Course 1 that is a great one.

5) Sweet Sweet Kingdom

Despite being on the small side, Sweet Sweet Kingdom is a battle arena that wants to take your attention away from battle through its sugar-coated castles, doughnut hole gateways, and other delectable delights. Try not to get diabetes from merely racing in this arena! It has plenty of small loops around its front, back, and even one of its sides, but the real action takes place in its central area. It's definitely hard to find space to run away from foes, but simultaneously it makes it so opponents have a hard time in running away from you.

4) Battle Stadium

Part figure-eight, part central piece of arena that serves as a doughnut, perfect for dropping down on the figure-eight piece of arena, Battle Stadium is true to its name. It's all about the battling and less about pulling off impressive tricks and driving maneuvers. This is the Battle Mode, after all. Save your long mini-turbos for getting three stars on 200cc Grand Prix races, dear friends! One end of Battle Stadium features a gigantic statue of Mario while the other on the opposite end has none other than Mario's main rival, the big, bad Bowser. The aforementioned in-your-face focus on battling (I mean, heck, it's in the arena's name!) makes Battle Stadium one of my favorite places to unwind, unload, and do everything but accept defeat.

3) GCN Luigi's Mansion

Three different tiers are the highlight of GCN Luigi's Mansion, a relic from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! from the GameCube. The main floor is an open rectangular area with some columns, perfect for some epic shell showdowns or other item encounter. Meanwhile, three ways lead to the lower level, where a narrow stretch of map is connected to the main floor. Finally, the rain-drenched top floor offers a sunroof where battlers can unleash shells and other items from the top to the open main floor without worrying about comeuppance from those on the main floor. GCN Luigi's Mansion is a haunted and hectic house where battles are always a massive good time.

2) Dragon Palace

Based off of the Dragon Driftway track in the Egg Cup of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Grand Prix, Dragon Palace is essentially two major areas connected together. The first is an outdoor courtyard where the main attraction is two facing dragon statues: one gold, one silver. Connecting that to the second major area, the eponymous palace, are two ramps and a line of paper doors that can be crashed through. This palace area is an expansive circular room where opponents can unleash heck upon each other as they risk taking hits from rushing through and picking up items from the boxes that litter the center. The Asian flair is most definitely present which makes for a nice aesthetic, while the basic structure of Dragon Place makes for a battle arena that never fails to bring me joy when battling in it.

1) 3DS Wuhu Town

Coincidentally enough, 3DS Wuhu Town was my favorite battle arena within Mario Kart 7, though that version took place at night instead of daytime proper. Wuhu Island's top residential and commercial district features a healthy host of side streets to speed through, special paths to take, corners to drift around, and a central plaza containing a fountain as well as being overlooked by the Wuhu Town gate. From the basketball court on its furthest south to the hill on its furthest north, I don't think any other battle arena has as much environmental variety than 3DS Wuhu Town. Add in the fact that I'm an absolutely sucker for city-based and town-based arenas and tracks (such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's own Toad Harbor or Mario Kart DS's Delfino Square), and you have a battle map in 3DS Wuhu Town that is must as my number one pick for favorite Mario Kart 8 Deluxe battle arena.


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