Sunday, August 12, 2018

An Update from Yours Truly on SuperPhillip Central

Hello, everyone! Long time no see (other than last night's Review Round-Up)! If you've been wondering where I've been hiding for these past few weeks, I actually haven't been hiding at all! In fact, I'm happy to announce that I have a new freelance writing gig at TouchArcade for its Switch news coverage! You can check out my SwitchArcade Roundup articles that I've written so far here.

At any rate, I want to talk about the future of SuperPhillip Central. It's been hard trying to find time to write for TouchArcade, play the games required of me, and do this site all at once. However, I'm still in the process of getting accustomed to my new schedule and hectic life now. Despite this, I want to continue to provide articles, features, reviews and all other kinds of content on SuperPhillip Central to keep this site booming with its current momentum.

Thus, I wish to offer this promise that I will continue to write for both SuperPhillip Central and TouchArcade as long as possible and as long as it makes sense for me to continue doing so. I don't really make any income from SPC, as the ads on the site don't do anything but clog up the page with Best Buy promotions and sales (at least for me anyway) instead of offering a small source of income.

This is why I have revived my Patreon for the purpose of being able to better support myself. You can find details about my situation at my Patreon page here.

Thanks, everyone, and stayed tuned for some special reviews all month long! Now, back to business!

- Phil

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review Round-Up - July 2018

Have an appetite for a fast-paced, thrilling party platformer? Then, taste the Runbow!
July was a month that turned out to be dedicated to games from indie developers, and you gotta love it when there isn't a stinker in the bunch for an entire month of reviews! This special month began with Runbow, which brought colorful razzle and dazzle to the Switch and PlayStation 4, getting an A-. Alongside that A- was Yoku's Island Express which got the same letter grade of its own, having these two games be SuperPhillip Central's Games of the Month!

Following our GotMs was Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (B), which delighted with its expansive, mystifying world full of materials to collect and characters to help out. 20XX (B+) brought Mega Man X-like action in roguelite form to all major platforms as well as SuperPhillip Central. Finally, two iOS games received Switch ports, both featuring flight: Picomy's charming Heroki (B) and N-Fusion Interactive's mission-based Air Mail (C+).

For even more reviews, check out every past game critique from SuperPhillip Central in the SPC Review Archive, sporting over 830 reviews.

Have a ball with Yoku's Island Express, joining Runbow as SPC's dual featured games of the month!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Air Mail (NSW) Review

Kicking off your new week with a new review, Air Mail previously launched on iOS devices all the way back in 2012. Now, Air Mail makes a landing on the Nintendo Switch. Let's take to the skies and see how this enhanced mobile game fares on Nintendo's console/handheld hybrid with the SuperPhillip Central review!

Score some frequent flyer miles

Air Mail originally released on iOS in 2012. In gaming years, the game is considered ancient. Now, like many mobile games, Air Mail has now touched down and landed on the Nintendo Switch. With vastly improved visuals and analog controls available, do these changes make the pricing discrepancy of the mobile and Switch versions less of a shock to the system (and the wallet)?

There are three main modes within Air Mail, the first being the campaign, told through cleverly done, semi-animated scenes. The characters you come across in Scoop's adventure are fully voiced, giving you a briefing before each of the game's 25 missions. The actual variety of the missions leaves a good deal to be desired, offering very similar "go here, fetch this, bring it back to a specific location, and then land" objectives. It isn't the latter half of the game where Air Mail presents more challenging missions, such as having Scoop fly his plane through a war-zone, evading enemy bullets that can take him down, or collecting a specific number of diamonds or fruit before landing.

Don't mind Scoop here--he's just enjoying the sights of Domeeka.
What would otherwise be breezy missions to complete are made more challenging (though, slightly so) with Air Mail's point system. Depending on how well you perform during a given mission, you earn points that add up to a score out of 100, with obtaining 95-100 points presenting you with a five-star ranking on the mission. In order to do well, you have to fly with precision--hitting the absolute center of rings, or picking up cargo from the ground perfectly--as well as complete a mission quickly enough and without taking too much damage. In addition to just scoring well on missions, the campaign mode also has 25 Golden Monkeys, one in each mission, to find as a fun, optional task. Doing so will unlock one of Air Mail's seven or so paint jobs for Scoop's plane.

Look out below!
The mode to unlock the majority of Scoop's plane's paint jobs, however, is Explore Mode, a much more easygoing, exploration-based flying affair. Locations unlocked via the story mode allow you to fly around them, spotting points of interest and collecting one of 20 scrolls in each locale. In doing the latter (specifically collecting all 20 in a location), you unlock a brand-new paint job for Scoop's plane. Most scrolls are simple enough to find, but others require some fine sleuthing to uncover.

You may have 16 out of 20 scrolls, Scoop, but those last ones are always the hardest!
Finally, the last mode is a Time Attack mode, which pits you against the clock to perform one of two basic tasks. This is all the while being on the lookout for clocks that extend your time, allowing you to aim for an even higher score. Some Time Attacks have you flying through as many rings as possible before time runs out, while others have you nabbing cargo from ground or sea level and delivering it to its proper location, again, while the timer is ticking. This mode is rather fun to play in order to improve upon your highest scores, but if you're not the type of old school player who enjoys doing such a feat, like in the arcade days, Time Attack might leave you twisting in the proverbial wind.

Hopefully, this means that Scoop's future is bright,
because he'll definitely need to wear shades to battle this sunrise!
Air Mail is not a combat-based flight game. Scoop's plane has no weapons to speak of, except his own plane, used to collide into support cables holding up the nefarious Verakai forces' airships and precious cargo for some story mode missions. Flight is easy to control, but it's also incredibly simple. There aren't any barrel rolls or loop-the-loops to come from Scoop's plane. Instead, you have the analog stick to pilot the plane (which the controls can be inverted, if you prefer), ZR to accelerate and to take off into the wild, blue yonder, and ZL to brake and to get ready to land.

The titular air mail of... well, Air Mail!
I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the graphical improvements of Air Mail's Switch version compared to the mobile original. Not only has the graphical fidelity improved, but so have building and environmental textures. The dynamic lighting is a sight to behold, delivering some beautiful vistas and scenes on display. Sometimes I would get lost in the plentiful sights that I'd forget about forgo doing the current mission in the campaign. It's a bit astonishing to think that Air Mail was a mobile game from 2012 considering how great it looks on the Switch today in 2018.

Even unfriendly skies don't scare Scoop.
That said, Air Mail doesn't really rate highly when it comes to delivering a challenging experience, and in addition to that, the mission variety could stand some more mixing up. While not a crash-landing, Air Mail on the Nintendo Switch has first-class pricing for economy class gameplay, making it a little tough to recommend for those with access to an iOS-compatible device Otherwise, maybe you'll want to take flight with Air Mail's Switch version.

[SPC Says: C+]

Review copy provided by N-Fusion Interactive.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Heroki (NSW) Review

Releasing this Friday on the Nintendo Switch, the formerly mobile-only Heroki gets the review treatment this morning. Scope out why I wholeheartedly recommend the game with my review.

Fun takes flight... this time on the Nintendo Switch.

Over two years ago, I covered Heroki on my iPhone. The game was an absolute joy to play, and it reminded me of the classic types of gaming experiences that were offered by SEGA in the publisher's golden years. Now, Heroki is being self-published by the developer Picomy, and being brought to the Nintendo Switch. With analog and physical buttons being standard for this version of the game, Heroki manages to deliver and delightful time once again on an entirely new platform.

Heroki is a side-scroller where instead of running and jumping, our hero hovers and flies around the labyrinthine levels in pursuit of Emerals and other collectables, all the while reaching each level's goal. Levels consist of some mild and modest backtracking, usually comprised of hitting buttons to open gates and doors in other parts of levels.

Checkpoint markers aren't overly common in levels, but since you're usually returning to past areas in levels, it's not as much of an issue. This is because when you activate one checkpoint and then activate another, the most recent checkpoint is the one turned on while the first one returns to its original state. This means you can return to the first checkpoint to reactivate it and it will serve as your place to continue if Heroki's perishes mid-flight. In theory, you can merely switch between activating a level's two or three checkpoints to constantly record your progress in a level.

Take aim, Heroki, and then bash that enemy with that box!
Our hero doesn't have the strongest disposition to him, so Heroki has other means to take out enemies that stand, fly, hover, etc. in his way. Heroki can carry boxes and boulders, transport them through levels, and by holding the throw button, he can aim where he wants to chuck his cargo, in a fashion similar to Yoshi's egg-throwing in Yoshi's Island. Many times it's to smack a box or boulder into an enemy to defeat the dangerous creature blocking Heroki's way, but other times it's a TNT box to throw at a destructible wall or to carry crates from one section of a level to another to weigh down a switch. Heroki also has the ability to quickly descend, sometimes used to avoid pursuing enemies or hazards, while used more frequently to bash through clouds platforms which can block his progress.

Oh, it's no joke. This frog is about to croak.
In each level, there are five Emerals to collect, and these are the most important collectable in the game to gather, as at the end of each world, of which there are three with eight levels each, it's required of you to have a specific amount of Emerals in order to progress onward. It wasn't a roadblock for me, as I personally enjoyed going through Heroki's levels and thoroughly exploring every corner and area possible, but if you're merely rushing from the start of a level to its goal, not only will the adventure be a breeze but you also will have to return to levels to get more Emerals to proceed to the next world. Understandably, this can get quite irritating when you just want to get to the next world, destroying the pacing of Heroki in the process.

"My, what big teeth you have!"
"The better to guard this Emeral with!"
Other than Emerals, levels in Heroki have two others types of collectables. One of these are six gold letters that spell out HEROKI, as well as a hidden treasure chest that contains anything from more currency to special presents that show up in Heroki's home back in the hub town. Everything is hidden well with plenty of secret alcoves and areas in levels that require you to keep an eye on your surroundings for suspicious-looking walls, floors, and ceilings.

In order to 100% a level, you need to get every Emeral, spell out HEROKI, and find and open the treasure chest in one run. It can be vexing occasionally, as sometimes you're gated from returning to past parts of levels, meaning you're potentially locked out of a perfect run. Regardless, 100%-ing a level is merely an optional task to create more replay value in Heroki's relatively short campaign.

Heroki is about to make sure this particular puffer fish puffs up for the last time.
Outside of Heroki's 24 levels, the game has a hub town where you can do a variety of tasks and small quests for its denizens. Since there aren't any achievements in the Switch version, doing most of the quests in the town doesn't really serve a purpose other than earning lives and more currency, which is a bummer and confusing why in-game achievements didn't travel over from the iOS original. Currency collected in levels can also be used to purchase a wide assortment of items, such as lives, power-ups, and even new colorful trails that follow Heroki upon flight.

The ability to use an actual analog stick and physical buttons on the Nintendo Switch version of Heroki instead of touch controls like the mobile version makes it so there's a greater sense of precision in Heroki's movements. Touch is still possible for menus, but for everything else, there's more accuracy in using analog controls. Well, that's save for using a power Heroki learns after the first world, where holding down the X button allows the player to draw a line of any type on the screen to activate a gust of wind. There aren't too many calls for precision with this power, but when there are, the speed at which the cursor moves in addition to how imprecise the analog movements are make for a more difficult control setup than what was originally found in the mobile version. Trying to push a ball through a curved passage by guiding it through with gusts of wind can be an effort in utter frustration.

Heroki is a gorgeous game to look at, and part of that can be attributed to the jaw-dropping lighting on display in the game. Flying through a vine-filled vista while in the distance, the sunlight peaks out through a flower in the background is just an amazing sight to behold. Heroki is a beautiful game, and it manages to stay a relatively steady frame-rate the entire time as well, which is a great bonus. The music is suitably catchy and gels well with the flying, floating, and box-toting gameplay Heroki possesses.

Alley-oop! This cactus enemy is about to have a blast--literally!
While the analog controls bring both a blessing and a curse in some regards to Heroki, it was an absolute pleasure to return to Picomy's game with the Nintendo Switch version. The lack of in-game achievements cuts away some of the game's longevity, and locking progress behind collecting Emerals can be a bit of an annoyance if you aren't already hunting for them. That notwithstanding, for its relatively inexpensive price and the amount of entertainment I got from the game, Heroki takes flight and soars high with one immensely enjoyable game.

[SPC Says: B]

Review code provided by Picomy.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Most Overlooked Current Gen Games - Part Six

One of the oldest article series on SuperPhillip Central returns today. It's "Most Overlooked Video Games" with an appearance of some PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and 3DS games that didn't get as much attention as was expected or just were completely ignored altogether. Once your eyes have scrolled through my picks and explanations, which games would you add to this list?

For a look at past parts of Most Overlooked Current Gen Games, check out these five links:

Current Gen - Part One
Current Gen - Part Two
Current Gen - Part Three
Current Gen - Part Four
Current Gen - Part Five

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4)

Taken from the arcades and placed on the PlayStation 4, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT might not have the robust amount of modes or roster of characters that the PSP installments possessed. The latter, however, is improving, such as the recently announced Rinoa from FFVIII. Nevertheless, what is available currently in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is a satisfying 3 on 3 fighter that pits favorites from the Final Fantasy franchise against one another across familiar battlefields with sensationally arranged musical remixes blaring as adrenaline-pumping accompaniment. Unfortunately, despite hitting the top spot its week of release in Japan, Dissidia's PS4 debut failed to live up to Square Enix's expectations. The publisher now hopes that future updates (like the aforementioned addition of new characters) will revive sales of the game. Hopefully so, as there is a lot of potential to be found within NT.

Attack on Titan 2 (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC)

As someone who hasn't watched the Attack on Titan anime nor read the manga, the video game Attack on Titan 2 served as a primer for the source material. I feel like I got a huge understanding of the show's plot and characters by simply playing the game, and now my urge to watch the anime is even stronger than it was beforehand. Attack on Titan 2 sees players controlling a custom hero inserted into the AoT story. They then join up with familiar characters and see the story through that their character's eyes. Battles are engaging, having players swing and propel themselves through the air, targeting Titan extremities, and then going in for the kill. There is a bit of repetition involved in the gameplay, but the loop is satisfying enough to keep players engaged.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC)

Funded through Kickstarter and based on a comic book property, Battle Chasers: Nightwar may be styled after a Japanese RPG, but the developer is based right in the United States--comprised of former Vigil Games (Darksiders) staff. Battle Chasers is a traditional turn-based RPG, but a twist is with its procedurally generated dungeons, as well as the ability to turn up the difficulty of the dungeons to increase the amount of experience points earned. While there is a steep difficulty jump in the game that requires some mild-to-heavy grinding, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a terrific turn-based RPG that one can easily enjoy. The fact that it's sold at a budget price on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC (sorry, Switch owners, but the game is still "new" to your platform) makes the decision of taking a chance on Nightwar all the easier. Well, at least it SHOULD make it all the easier.

Monster Hunter Stories (3DS)

The last two games on this edition of Most Overlooked Current Games are victims of the system they were on being in its twilight years. Yes, I'm talking about the Nintendo 3DS. It definitely didn't help that when these games came out, the Nintendo Switch was the new hotness. Despite being overlooked by many in the West when the game finally came out, long after its original Japanese release, Monster Hunter Stories tells the tale of a monster tamer who goes on an adventure to tame monsters, battle with them in turn-based affairs, and explore a vivid and colorful world. From sneaking into monster dens to steal hatch-able eggs to battling vicious monsters with a rock-paper-scissors-like approach, Monster Hunter Stories' epic 35+ hour story--packed to the brim with quests to take on and monsters to tame--was a great send-off of Capcom's massively popular series on the Nintendo 3DS. It's just a shame so few Westeners gave it a look.

Hey! Pikmin (3DS)

Perhaps if instead of "Hey! Pikmin", the game was called "HEY! PIKMIN!!!!!!!!!!", more people would have taken notice to it. Instead, this overlooked Nintendo 3DS game that cleverly and capably takes the familiar Pikmin gameplay the series is known for and turns it into a 2D side-scroller had microscopic sales--as big in stature as a tiny Pikmin. There's still time for you to check it out, however, even if it won't put a dent into the game's sales. With intuitive touch controls for aiming and throwing Pikmin, smart level design, tense encounters, entertaining exploration, a fair challenge for those who want to 100% the game, and over a dozen hours of content, Hey! Pikmin delivered a lot to me for its $40.00 USD price tag. Go ahead--pluck this game up from a store shelf. You won't regret it.

20XX (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

I love Mega Man, so when it came time to review 20XX, I was excited to do so. This review is based off the Nintendo Switch build, but the game is also available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam.

Looking for a game where Mega Man X meets roguelike? Then 20XX marks the spot. 

20XX is a game that combines the gameplay styling of Capcom's action-intensive Mega Man X series and combines it with roguelike sensibilities. Your goal in a given run is to move through procedurally generated levels, blasting baddies, collecting augments--which are upgrades to your character's armor, health, attack strength, speed, and so forth--beating the bosses at the end of each of the ten stages in the game, and trying to do so all in one life.

The structure of 20XX has you randomly entering a stage at the start, and upon reaching its end, you face a boss. After (hopefully) defeating that first boss, you might earn a speed bonus treasure chest for quickly completing the level, as well as your choice of one of three items (either that boss's special weapon a la the Mega Man series, 10 Nuts, or a randomly chosen augment), and a selection between three teleporters leading to one of three levels with a different boss at the end of each one.

Anything you can do Nina can do better, such as shooting three shots like this! Thanks, arm augment!
Choosing which level and boss to tackle has some strategy. As you progress through a run in 20XX, levels and bosses become more difficult. For example, if you face the Twin Astrals boss early, which is a pair of two fire and ice ball-spewing bosses, you don't have to defeat them both in close duration to one another. Likewise, if you face them as one of the last eight bosses you need to beat before moving on to the two final stages, then you have to destroy both almost at the same time, otherwise one will revive itself in battle.

My, what big... everything you have!
As stated, levels are procedurally generated, taking pieces of levels and enemy placements and arranges them via an algorithm in different orders, so each time you play a level it's a unique experience. Sure, early on I caught on to the pieces of levels that were being used, at least in the initial eight levels, but the arrangements still kept me on my toes. I only wish there were more environments used in the first eight levels instead of just four--those being a jungle bio-dome, an icy base, a sky temple, and a fiery factory. While the time of day changes when you return to a level archetype, I would have loved to see more level and environmental variety regardless.

Don't mind Nina--she's just hanging out.
20XX has multiple characters to play as, but you begin with either Nina or Ace. Nina is your Mega Man X clone, utilizing a powerful, long-range blaster, while Ace adheres more towards Zero's style of gameplay, using a sword for up-close and personal melee attacking. All of the tricks X and Zero have in the Mega Man X series are used by Nina and Ace, with some additions. Nina and Ace can scale up walls, perform charge shots, and with special augments, they can even gain X series Dr. Light capsule-esque abilities like a double jump, hovering capabilities, faster charging, knockback protection, gaining the possibility of gaining health or energy when enemies are destroyed, and much more.

The controls on display in 20XX are incredibly tight and sophisticated. They feel smooth, and if you put Mega Man X assets into the game to replace 20XX's you'd think you were playing a game featuring the Blue Bomber turned roguelike. They're that good. Plus, you get to enjoy them with a stellar frame-rate that never stutters or slows down, even when there are a megaton of enemies and bullets moving and flying around on screen. The developers of 20XX nailed both of these aspects splendidly, making for one fast and fluid action-platformer.

Whether playing as Nina, Ace, or an unlockable character, the controls feel fantastic.
Death, like in any typical roguelike, means your current run is over (unless it's Easy Mode, where you get three deaths to work with). The only thing you get to keep from your run are Soul Chips, one of two types of currency in 20XX. The other type is Nuts. Both are collected while playing through stages, but whereas Nuts can only be used during runs to purchase augments for your current run, Soul Chips are used outside of runs in the hub. These Soul Chips are purchased towards permanent augments, new augments to be dropped and discovered in runs, and augments for your next run only. While Nuts are more readily handed out than Soul Chips, the latter are found at the end of stages and dropped by flashing, more powerful enemies. This makes it so even if you're repeatedly failing runs--which is commonplace for a roguelike such as this--you're never really wasting your time, as you can always be buying new augments for your character in order to slowly but steadily have more health, attack power, etc. the next run. 20XX encourages repeated play-throughs, and the satisfying gameplay loop available will keep most players engaged and coming back for more.

If you're feeling particularly daring, there is a Hard Mode available to play, which lowers the amount of augments you can bring into runs, as well as offers the ability to turn on more challenging modifiers to your runs. These range from double damage taken from enemies; causing spikes, lava, bottomless pits, and other similar hazards to result in instant death; enemies dropping no health items; having the game run at 150% speed; and much more. Hard Mode is already difficult, but adding a modifier or two--or several--into the mix makes for even more longevity in this already packed game.

Defiant Mode is 20XX's hardest challenge, and with modifiers on,
the mode's toughness is even tougher!
Furthermore, the option to play cooperatively either online or locally with a friend is available. Players share the same screen, so things can zoom out quite obnoxiously. Thankfully, you can always teleport to one another for a price. In addition to that, if one player dies, the other can revive them at particular points in levels, sacrificing half their health each time in the process. My experience locally was that co-op worked extremely well. Fortunately, my experience online with co-op was just as wonderful and worthwhile. So, if you don't want to go it alone, you don't have to, which is a great option to have.

Quit slowing me down! Co-op mode is a blast either online or off.
20XX significantly borrows a lot from Capcom's Mega Man X series, but at the same time, the developers made 20XX their own by incorporating unique roguelike elements into the package. The only real stumbling points of the game are its relatively lackluster Flash game-like visuals (which didn't bother me personally) and how some of the procedural generation of levels can result in some unfair platforming challenges. Nonetheless, if you're craving for a highly savory and satisfying appetizer to this month's Mega Man X Legacy Collection, or just want a great game in general, then the future is now.

[SPC Says: B+]

Review code provided by Batterystaple Games and Fire Horse Games.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

Let's slip into something more comfortable for this Saturday evening, shall we? Wait! Come back! I only meant pajamas!

At any rate, I have a new review to share with the SuperPhillip Central community. It's Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, and it's based off the recently released Nintendo Switch version of the game. Let's till some soil, explore some valleys, and get to this review!

A relaxing, engaging game is just over Yonder

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and The Legend of Zelda get shipwrecked on an island... Joke setups aside, those are just some of the gameplay styles and inspirations taken by and put into Prideful Sloth's Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. The game launched last year on the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, but within the past month or so it received a Nintendo Switch port and retail release. Taking all of these gameplay styles and putting them into one game is no easy task, and that's from a large developer's standpoint. So, it's of even greater interest to see how the much smaller group of Prideful Sloth went about crafting a relaxing, entertaining gaming experience, combining all these styles into one package. For the most part, this formidable undertaking is a happy success.

Yonder starts with your character, which you can customize to an extent prior to the game's beginning, setting sail across the ocean for the island of Gemea. An intense storm causes the ship to become completely wrecked, sending you to another realm, home to the magical and mysterious Sprites. The Mother Sprite tasks you with recapturing the island from the poisonous clouds of Murk that cover substantial parts of the land. The setup is pretty much merely there to give you a reason to explore and engage with the island of Gemea, as the story doesn't actually expand all that greatly. In fact, it hardly expands at all until the tale's end, which is a brief conclusion if I've ever witnessed one.

Guess who spent a lot of time in Photo Mode? This guy!
Thankfully, while Yonder's story won't get you too invested and wrapped up in playing the game, its exploration, crafting, and farming systems will. There are a lot of gameplay systems here at work, and while none outshine their pretty blatant inspirations like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and even some parts The Legend of Zelda, they're both capable and competent enough to be enjoyable. Yes, some could say Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a jack of all trades and master of none type of situation, but at the same time, what's here is ultimately fun.

I greatly enjoyed my 15 or so hours scouring the relatively large island of Gemea, trying to bring up the completion percentage of each area of the island to a perfect 100% by completing all their tasks, NPC requests, building all possible constructions like farms and bridges, planting tree seedlings in specially marked patches of ground, and discovering Sprites to join my cause through solving simple puzzles or completing certain objectives.

You can befriend all sorts of fascinating animals and put them to work
on--er...give them a home at one of your farms.
At first, you're limited to the Grasslands in the center of Gemea for where you can venture, but as you acquire new Sprites, you gain the ability to use them to dispel patches of Murk that block your progress. Murk requires a different amount of Sprites for each poisonous cloud that you come across. Sometimes you won't have enough in your collection to dispatch the Murk cloud, so you'll have to journey elsewhere until you do. Eliminating the Murk not only opens up new areas to explore, but it also opens up shortcuts between areas. This is also why building bridges throughout the land is also imperative, especially if you want to reach secluded locations of Gemea.

Attaboy! Captain Planet would be proud of you for clearing up that Murk!
However, mostly for the duration of Yonder you'll be spending your time with its crafting system. All around Gemea there are doodads to pick up like stones, vines, flowers, and more. Chopped down trees bestow wood to craft goods, while fish pulled out of the many rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans of the island can be turned into unique dishes.

But Captain Planet would probably frown upon cutting down this tree.
Everything in Yonder is built around this crafting, trading, and goods system. Every task in the game requires you to have a specific number of materials necessary to either fulfill an islander's request or build a construction like a farm or bridge. It can get pretty disconcerting to need a certain material to finish off a quest, but fortunately, you can do any quest in any order you like.

Many traders roam and situate themselves around Gemea, offering a wide assortment of goods and materials depending on where you meet them. The trading system has you selecting which items you want, all of which have a value to them, and requiring you to put up items in your own collection that are of greater or equal value to theirs to make for a fair, acceptable trade. Many times this is the easiest way of acquiring the materials necessary for the plethora of quests in the game.

What Yonder amounts to at its core is a series of fetch quests--gathering, whether through collecting, trading, or crafting, the correct materials required to complete quests--and this might turn off a lot of potential players that would otherwise jump on a game like this. It says something when there's a hidden isle of trolls in the game near the southwest corner of the map, which blatantly pokes fun at Yonder's gameplay. One troll even calls the game a pretty series of fetch quests, which is sort of like the game cutting off its nose to spite its face. Bizarre to include such dialog to mock your own game, but the troll character isn't exactly wrong.

Despite this, I found myself drawn to the island of Gemea and the world of Yonder, slowly but steadily completing quests, building and tending to one of my six farms spread across the island (these also can serve as fast travel points), planting trees, finding well hidden treasure chests, crafting new items like farm equipment, clothing, materials and more, and just exploring the wondrous world that Yonder provided me.

Build your farm your way and rake in the materials!
Yonder is a gorgeous game, and this can be attributed to the fantastic and jaw-dropping dynamic lighting system put in place. I had a grand old time using the game's Photo Mode to take shots of the stunning scenery, changing seasons and weather, sunrises and sunsets, and anything else I could think of. The music is also stirring, offering splendid and soothing orchestral themes that makes exploring Gemea all the more delightful.

The visuals on display in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles are a sight to behold,
particularly impressive coming from such a small studio.
Not all is wonderful, though, with Yonder's presentation, at least on the Nintendo Switch. Frame-rate hitches were more common than I would have liked, bringing sudden jerkiness to the otherwise smooth game. This happened most often during transitioning between areas. I should say, though, that Yonder is rather impressive for having limited load screens. Exploring the island makes for one continuous, uninterrupted action that was quite magnificent to behold.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is decidedly not a game for everyone. The game could seriously be called "Fetch Quest: The Game" and no one would bat an eye or think it was false advertising. That notwithstanding, what you get with Yonder is a relaxing and laid-back game that allows you to play at your own pace, discovering new sights and locales at your leisure, and taking care of quests whenever you get around to it. If you think you might like a game with satisfying exploration, plenty of things to accomplish that are rather gratifying, and is a serious looker, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles will have you on cloud nine. I know I was.

[SPC Says: B]

Review code provided by Prideful Sloth.

Go Vacation (NSW) - Overview Trailer

Originally released on the Wii, Namco Bandai's Go Vacation returns with a Nintendo Switch remaster. Packed with 50 activities across four resorts, character and home customization, lots of exploration, and other goodies, Go Vacation seems to be a bit better than it was on the Wii, and I already enjoyed that version back in 2011. Go Vacation launches July 27 on the Nintendo Switch.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Eleven

Bad Levels in Gaming History is back to kick some less-than-stellar level butt! "Levels" is simply a catch-all term used. As you'll see with this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, "levels" can mean stages, courts, dungeons, areas, race tracks, and more. "Bad Levels in Gaming History" is just more elegant of a name than "Bad Levels, Stages, Courts, Dungeons, Areas, Race Tracks, etc. in Gaming History", wouldn't you say?

This volume features a handful of classic franchises with most being all-star characters that see modern takes on their respective series. Such franchises represented this time around include: Crash Bandicoot, Mario Tennis, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, and even a bit of a precursor in some ways to Grand Theft Auto, the Driver series.

If this volume of Bad Levels has you yearning for more, check out the ten past installments conveniently linked to below:

Road to Nowhere - Crash Bandicoot (PS1), Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

One of two of the most challenging levels in the already difficult original Crash Bandicoot (and the game itself is occasionally difficult for all the wrong reasons), Road to Nowhere is forward-scrolling trek across a seemingly endless amount of bridges. Simple enough, right? No. Not at all. The bridges are practically hanging by a thread with loose planks that quickly fall to the abyss below once Crash steps on them, meaning you have to move, move, move! Many of the jumps require pinpoint precision as they are only one plank surrounded by gaps. Add in some slippery sections of the bridges, and you have one recipe for frustration.

This wouldn't be so much of a problem if Crash Bandicoot's perspective wasn't so bad in this level. Not only do you have limited sight distance thanks to the thick fog permeating throughout Road to Nowhere, but the perspective of the camera makes it tricky to see where Crash is going to land. Mistiming jumps and just completely missing planks in general are common occurrences in Road to Nowhere, so much so that many players have found the easiest way to get passed the arduous jumps in the level are to completely avoid doing them. It's as "simple" (since again, you're a slave to the camera perspective and difficulty to see where Crash is going to land) as landing on one of the rope railings on either side of the bridges and crossing them that way. You don't miss out on any boxes, as they are all located on the islands sprinkled throughout the levels in between bridge crossings.

Still, just knowing that so many use this exploit just to get through an otherwise messy level to get through due to design problems with Crash Bandicoot as a game itself, Road to Nowhere got the first honors of being skewered on this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History.

Savage Sea - Mario Tennis Aces (NSW)

Since Mario Power Tennis on the Nintendo GameCube, the Mario Tennis series has been no stranger to various themed, fun, gimmick courts. When I say "gimmick", I mean that the courts have special hazards or obstacles on them to impede upon an otherwise normal (well, in normal in the Mario Tennis sense) match of tennis.

Mario Tennis Aces has these as well, and thankfully, for the most part, you can turn off hazards on courts if you desire. In a game with limited options, it's fortunate that at least the ability to turn off court hazards is available to players. Well, that is except one particular court in the game, which has by far the most obnoxious gimmick in Mario Tennis history, Savage Sea.

Don't be fooled by the bright sunshine and colorful and calm ocean waters that surround this ship-themed court. Here within all this beauty and wonder belies one truly tricky and annoying obstacle that makes for a difficult challenge whether playing on it in Adventure Mode or Free Play. The deck of the ship where the action takes place houses a particular annoyance right in the middle of the net, a mast, which bounces balls off of it in sometimes unpredictable ways. These are such ways that sometimes it's simply impossible to get to the ball without the foresight needed to do so. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the hazards in Mario Tennis Aces' courts, there is no way to remove the mast for a traditional Aces match. What it amounts to is a court that would otherwise be at a climactic and enjoyable setting turned into a complete and utter aggravation.

Iron Fortress - Sonic Forces (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

How does one screw up a 2D Sonic level after essentially getting them down pat in previous games? As Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park would say, "Sonic Team... finds a way." The 28th stage of 30 within Sonic Forces is Iron Fortress, a level situated inside Dr. Eggman's gigantic tower where the final events of the game take place.

Iron Fortress is home to annoying red missiles that launch from boxes, electrified portions of level, wheels that spin Classic Sonic around in all 360 degrees, and one of the most frustrating and shoehorned parts of Sonic Forces, an auto-scrolling section placed directly above a bottomless pit. First of all, there's really no rhyme or reason for there to be auto-scrolling in the first place. There is nothing chasing you--no Death Egg Robot, no wall of instant-death spikes--nothing. Instead, you just get pushed and possibly crushed by an invisible wall.

Couple this with all of the obstacles and level mechanics I previously mentioned and Sonic Forces' clunky jumping, where letting go of the analog stick means that Classic Sonic's midair momentum instantly stops, and Iron Fortress is an annoyance of a stage entirely. It's not impossible; it's just harder than it needs to be due to several bizarre design decisions and Classic Sonic's midair handling, which unfortunately affects the other two characters in Sonic Forces as well, Modern Sonic and the custom avatar.

Karnak Castle - Final Fantasy V (Multi)

We have a lot of classic franchises represented on this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, and that continues with Final Fantasy getting representation tonight. This particular bad level, or in this case, area comes from Final Fantasy V, a Super Famicom game that initially skipped the West. This was thankfully rectified with a PS1 release, and now Final Fantasy V is available on a whole wide range of platforms currently.

The area of Final Fantasy V that is especially troublesome is Karnak Castle. This castle has you facing a 10-minute countdown, which you are tasked with escaping before it is destroyed along with you. Quickly you find out that 10 minutes isn't that sizable of an amount of time, as time keeps on ticking through every thing you do in the game--movement in the castle, collecting treasure, dialog, battles, and yes, even a final fight in order to escape Karnak Castle against a powerful boss.

While all this already seems a bit troublesome to take on, Karnak Castle is further the aggravation due to having a dungeon previously and immediately before it. After completing the prior dungeon that leads to your party's transportation to the castle, there is no option to save your data. This means that if you don't make it out of the castle in time or you perish in battle, you have to start over from the previous dungeon. Not exactly the most time-considerate section of Final Fantasy V, but it's for sure one of the most irritating in the game, and possibly the series on the whole.

Tutorial Mission - Driver (PS1)

Crash Bandicoot, Mario, Sonic, Final Fantasy--these are definitely classic franchises that have proven to stand the test of time. While Driver is a classic franchise, it hasn't exactly lasted in gaming. The first game was pretty rough for beginning players, and one would think a tutorial mission would assist in getting players' feet wet. After all, a tutorial mission should teach you the basics, get you comfortable with the controls, and then let you move on easily.

This was definitely not the case with Driver's tutorial mission. Instead of teaching, Driver simply told you to do a checklist of driving maneuvers with little input into how to actually do them. To add insult to injury, for a game that proudly prided itself on having a big driving playground to explore in its metropolis, you were stuck in a dingy parking garage until you finally completed the series of tasks required of you. Many players never got to see the outside of the parking garage due to how difficult the driving checklist was to complete.

In a cruel taste of irony, after the tutorial mission was finished, the rest of the game--outside of the last mission or so--was a breeze to play through. It's easy enough when you've spent 12 hours (might be some slight exaggerating here) learning the basics and trying to escape that wretched parking garage by doing some inane, asinine checklist of parking maneuvers!


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