Sunday, October 21, 2018

Super Mario Party (NSW) Review

Next up on October's schedule of reviews is Super Mario Party. Ruin friendships on a brand-new system with the Mario Party series's debut on the Nintendo Switch. Here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

Party like it's 1999 all over again

...And that's sort of the premise behind Super Mario Party, the eleventh mainline installment in the nearly 20-year-old Mario Party series. Ditching the "everyone rides in the same vehicle" car mechanic from Mario Party 9 and seen again in Mario Party 10 that saw a tepid response from series fans, Super Mario Party brings back individual movement across nonlinear boards. The goal? Collecting more Power Stars than your opponents by the end of the final turn.

The Mario Party mode is the most traditional of modes within the series's debut on the Switch. You take turns rolling dice blocks (and this time around each character has their own specific dice block--in addition to the standard 1-6 roll available to choose from), and then explore the four boards of the game. While these boards are indeed smaller than in past Mario Party games, this means that there aren't many--or even any--turns where nothing really happens. In Super Mario Party, a host of things can occur--from players landing on event spaces that affect the board and/or players in a variety of ways, collecting Stars, buying items from Flutter, stealing coins or Stars via Lakitu, participating in special "Rumble" mini-games, or falling prey to one of Kamek's Bad Luck Spaces, something is always happening regardless of the turn number. The point here is that there are no "worthless" turns where everyone is just moving around the board with little interactivity going on.

The boards are smaller than what veterans may be accustomed to,
but they're absolutely dense with activities and happenings.

After each player has moved during their turn, a mini-game occurs--a staple of the Mario Party series. While developer ND Cube has failed at delivering the type of Mushroom Kingdom bash that could rival the prior developer of the series, the now-defunct Hudson, one aspect that stays strong and even outdoes the older Mario Party titles is the fantastic amount of mini-games available. Super Mario Party utilizes a single Joy-Con for all players, making it so those with just one set of Joy-Con controllers that came packaged with the Switch can enjoy the game with another player at the very least.

The mini-games in Super Mario Party use the Joy-Con controller in a myriad of ways. From moving the Joy-Con to fly safely through swarms of killer Fuzzy obstructions, to using the analog stick to dodge oncoming Chargin' Chucks in Gridiron Gauntlet, to holding the Joy-Con vertically to flip a cube of meat on a frying pan--feeling the rumble to determine when a given side is sufficiently seared, the mini-games are well done and all control great.

Somehow I'm thinking that our players aren't suited up safely enough for this mini-game...
But, Super Mario Party is more than just the standard Mario Party mode. Returning from Mario Party: Star Rush is what the game calls Partner Party, where two teams of two travel around the same four boards of the Mario Party mode, except these are built like grids. The goal of earning as many Stars as possible is the same, but this time around you have to land on the space where the Star-seller Toadette is in order to purchase a Star. As the turn amount left decreases, the amount of Stars you can buy at once from Toadette increases up to three Stars. This can make for some seriously hilarious come-from-behind victories.

Here's pie in your eye!
What also makes for some good comeback wins is the two bonus stars handed out at the completion of a game. These reward players with Stars for performing certain tasks within a given game, such as getting first place in mini-games the most, landing on the most red spaces, partnering up with the most allies, and so forth. A point of contention here is that the category of Stars rewarded is completely random, so you can't just shoot for a specific Star like the Mini-Game Star, as it might not be one of the two bonus Stars handed out. This can make for some aggravating losses where the player who was the most skilled and had the most Stars before the end isn't the winner due to two random Stars being given to second place, giving them the edge over the player who was winning the whole game. Others like myself will note that this is what Mario Party is all about as a series, so it's not too irritating. Perhaps only when trying to earn the game's five Gems, which unlocks the ending of Super Mario Party.

Partner Party most closely resembles Mario Party: Star Rush's board design.
Yes, the main objective of Super Mario Party is to earn five Gems from completing five specific modes within the game. This includes the already mentioned Mario Party and Partner Party modes, but it also includes Challenge Road, River Survival, and the Sound Stage modes. With Mario Party and Partner Party, you need to finish at least in third place on each of the modes' four boards. Again, these are just the same four boards across both modes, just reconfigured based on whether you're playing the more traditional Mario Party mode or the more free-roaming grid-based Partner Party mode.

Challenge Road serves as the main single-player mode within Super Mario Party. It opens up for play once you've unlocked all mini-games. Based on that prerequisite, you can probably guess what you do in Challenge Road, then. You compete against the AI in six different worlds, challenging them in all 80 mini-games, one-by-one. Many of the mini-games don't just require you to win them, but to reach a specific point amount or time within the games. If you fail a mini-game three times in a row, you get the option to bypass it. Otherwise, failure does not result in any penalty besides having to try the mini-game again. What I like about this mode is that you can get a refresher on the controls and instructions on the game prior to playing it.

Mini-games occur in free-for-all, 2 vs. 2, or like this mini-game, 1 vs. 3!
This is, in fact, something I really found useful in the main "Party" modes of Super Mario Party. You can practice as much as you want in the instructions screen of each mini-game. No more wasting time entering a loading screen just to practice a mini-game, when you can do so straight from the instructions menu. When every player is ready, they just hit one of the shoulder buttons to prepare for the game.

Meanwhile, River Survival is less about competing against other players and more about cooperating with them. Your goal is to paddle down a raging river with multiple paths, dodging obstacles while picking up timers and completing mini-games to add precious seconds to (hopefully) reach the goal. The different paths along the way offer different rafting challenges, and it's really to your benefit to try to paddle down them all. Teamwork is a major factor in this mode, as if all players are paddling madly at once, the raft all four players inhabit won't maneuver well--hitting any and every obstacle that wades in their way.

The unlikeliest of allies can work together for one common goal: reaching the end of this branching river!

Teamwork's also paramount to success in the various mini-games, initiated by ramming in to red balloons along the river's path. These are all co-operative mini-games, offering the team of river-riders more seconds depending on how fast they complete a mini-game or in other cases how many points they earn. One mini-game requires all players to communicate with one another to lift a fishing net at the same time, thus capturing as many Cheep-Cheep fish as possible. Another is a maze of blocks that requires players to collect gems and place them in the center of it. Some paths are closed off, making it so another player needs to stand on a switch to open it up for them.

Lastly, Sound Stage is an all-rhythm based collection of mini-games, where every mini-game has you swinging the Joy-Con in time with the music. There are visual indicators regardless, for those who lack rhythm (like some writer for SuperPhillip Central who will remain nameless). Sound Stage has three difficulties total, and while the mini-games are a blast to play, their presence is missed in the main Mario Party mode. As is, there are a lot of repeated mini-games in the Mario Party mode, and I can't help but think they'd be better served as additional free-for-all mini-games within other modes.

Speaking of repeated mini-games, there's the online component of Super Mario Party--which before your ask, no, there is no option to play full rounds of Mario Party or Partner Party online with friends. Instead, what's here is an Online Mario-thon which is a selection of 10 mini-games that are cycled through for players to engage in. Frankly, while I didn't mind this too much, an option for a traditional Mario Party experience online would have been greatly preferred and much appreciated. As is, I just spent $20 on a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, and the very first new Nintendo game with online has the bare minimum incorporated in to it. Not the most reassuring thing there.

Off the Chain gives the "1" in this "1 vs. 3" mini-game the fun of steamrolling their opponents.
Super Mario Party is a much welcome return to form for the franchise after some shaky attempts to mix things up. While I did actually enjoy what Island Tour and Star Rush had to offer gameplay-wise it's nice in a sense that I feel that I'm back "home" with regards to the Mario Party series. The new additions like the extra modes, the character-specific dice blocks that add a whole new level of strategy to the game (do I risk attempting to roll a 10 when at the same time rolling a 0 is a distinct possibility?), and the mini-games are truly a terrific showcase for the Switch's Joy-Con controller.

What isn't so great is the limited online options--especially after the arrival of having to pay just to play them--and the limited number of boards (and how small they are) compared to past games in the series might put some series veterans off.

Regardless, Super Mario Party is a bash that deserves to be celebrated. Mario Party is back, and Super Mario Party itself is one of the grandest shindigs Mario and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom gang has ever held.

[SPC Says: B] 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mega Man 11 (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Our next review for the month of October is for a game in one of my favorite franchises in video games. It's Mega Man 11, and you can see why I enjoyed the Blue Bomber's latest with my full review.

Gears of War: 20XX

In the '90s and early 2000s, there were two things that were absolute: death and Mega Man games. You couldn't go a month or two without a new release in one of the Blue Bomber's many sub-series, whether in the Classic line, X line, Zero line, Battle Network line, etc. Then, poof! The series was gone from gaming for--at least in this reviewer's opinion--way too long of a time. But, perhaps this extended vacation was worthwhile after all, because with the latest in Classic series, Mega Man 11, the developers at Capcom have reinvigorated the series with a fresh new gameplay hook.

Dr. Wily is an old scientist, but he's back with some new tricks.
Yes, one of the things that got to me about Mega Man games was that they were getting a bit stale gameplay-wise. There were small incremental upgrades introduced to the series in a piecemeal basis, such as Mega Man 3's slide and Mega Man 4's Charge Shot, for instance. Meanwhile, Mega Man 11 finally adds something that fundamentally changes the gameplay with a feature that completely altered the way I took on stages and bosses: the Double Gear system.

Apart from being tied to the story of Mega Man 11, the Double Gear system allows players to use the left and right shoulder buttons to power up Mega Man's attack or slow time down respectively. When used, Mega Man can make short work of foes, and with his Power Gear, he can even super charge his special weapons taken from defeated Robot Masters. Meanwhile, the Speed Gear is perfect for a twofold reason: 1) It can give the player more time to react to oncoming obstacles, hazards and attacks, such as Torch Man stage's encroaching instant-death wall of flames that pursues Mega Man; and 2) It can grant Mega Man the ability to shoot off more shots from his Mega Buster while time is slowed down, enabling him to take out enemies and bosses in a faster fashion.

When the Power Gear is activated, special weapons like this
one of Block Man's fall down on enemies like a ton of bricks.
However, you can just spam either of the two gears making up the Double Gear system. As you use a gear, a meter builds energy. If it fills completely, Mega Man overheats--being more vulnerable to damage and shooting with less attack power. This weakened state lasts for several seconds, but in an all-out battle against one of Mega Man 11's multiple bosses, it can put you at a serious disadvantage at the exact wrong time.

Speaking of boss battles, Mega Man 11's bosses all utilize the Double Gear system in one way or another. For the Robot Masters, each of the eight bosses utilize either the Power Gear or the Speed Gear mid-fight to unleash a seriously devastating move or series of attacks--usually when their health has gone done at least halfway. For instance, while Bounce Man's... well, bounces across the screen occur at a much speedier pace with his Speed Gear activated, Block Man turns into a giant golem with his own set of attacks when he turns on his Power Gear.

Mega Man hopes to permanently pull the plug on Fuse Man.
The eight Robot Masters in Mega Man 11 themselves are some of my favorites in series history. Not just with their designs, but their attack patterns and personalities as well. The latter are represented well by both the charming voicework in the game and their aforementioned designs. As an example, Tundra Man is designed with a championship figure skater in mind, and all of his attacks implement that kind of ideology. It skates, spins, and speeds across the icy battlefield in Mega Man's encounter with the enemy, and the colorful dialog only helps accentuate the various bosses' personalities even more.

Not just the Robot Masters, but the special weapons that Mega Man obtains from defeating each and every one of them. All eight have their uses while outside of boss fights. Generally, in games like Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 9, there was really just one really great weapon to use throughout levels. In Mega Man 11, the different functions of each weapon helps in a multitude of situations, so you're never really relying on just one or two special weapons at once. Moreover, it's a godsend to be able to switch between weapons with movement from the right analog stick, and even more so by having the Rush Coil and Rush Jet assigned to two of the face buttons instead of having to select them from the pause menu.

It wouldn't be a Mega Man game without Sniper Joe dropping by for a visit.
As for the designs of levels, Mega Man 11 is relatively straightforward, offering extremely linear areas and rooms. There are no secret areas to be found, which is a bit of bummer, as I did enjoy hunting down collectibles in Mega Man 5, Mega Man 7, and of course, Mega Man 8. That said, this approach to the level design means it's less about superfluous content and more about no-nonsense, straight-up, get-to-the-boss action. Whether you're bouncing around the balloon walls, ceilings and floors of Bounce Man's stage (just remember to hold down the jump button to consistently bounce up high), or dodging spikes in the underwater currents of Acid Man's stage, each level in Mega Man 11 has its own feeling to it, and all of them I enjoyed.

These hazards are simply wanting to give a "hand" to Mega Man.
While Mega Man 11 does lack any sort of collectibles in levels, the game does offer a great deal of replay value regardless. There are four difficulties total in Mega Man 11, and not only does this present players of all skill levels an adequate challenge, but a fair amount of in-game achievements revolve around completing these difficulties with different objectives. It could be something as simple as beating the hardest difficulty mode (the one where levels do not house health or energy-recharging items, nor do the enemies drop them), completing the game without purchasing any ability-boosting chips from Dr. Light's Lab, or beating the game in an hour or less.

Fuse Man's stage is full of these electrodes looking to bring a shock to the Blue Bomber's system.
Additionally, Mega Man 11 has a category of modes called Extra Modes. Here, you can check out completed achievements, gaze at the character gallery, or take on challenges of varying types in each of the eight Robot Master stages. These range from simple time trials to more complex challenges where you try to complete the level with as few jumps as possible, with as few enemies destroyed as possible, or as few red balloons popped as possible. These do get somewhat repetitive playing the same stages over and over again with unique challenges, but it's an option there for those who want to compete against the world on the game's leaderboards.

Of course, all of this would not be worth a bolt if Mega Man handled like he was rusted and ready for the scrapyard. Thankfully, Mega Man 11 feels great when it comes to controlling the Blue Bomber, no matter the level and no matter the surface. Perhaps the only real issue I have is how much time it takes for Mega Man to recover upon taking damage. There's a slightly longer delay for Mega Man to return from his stunned form than in other games in the series. This occasionally resulted in me taking some rather frustrating deaths from getting hit and then falling into a bottomless pit. Still, that was mostly in the early goings of my more than 10 hours of play time with Mega Man 11. (And no, it didn't take 10+ hours just to beat the game once. I played through the game more than five times on various difficulties.)

The only one having any amusement in this park is Blast Man!
Mega Man 11 looks exceptional visually, in my eyes. The backgrounds are mixed between highly detailed at times to drab and almost unnoticeable other times. The models of characters and enemies look sharp and detailed, though Mega Man's running animation does little to not make him look like a dork, as it looks just a bit off. Furthermore, and something that every Mega Man game until 11 has gotten right--the Blue Bomber in Mega Man 11 drops to the ground if you jump into a boss door instead of coolly floating in air as he passes through it. What in Rockman World is up with that!?

Mega Man deftly dodges this duo of pickaxes.
In more important gripes with Mega Man 11's presentation, while the sound effects and voicework are rather nice, the music isn't so much. It's nothing to do with the composition or the melodies--it's more to do with how the music sounds thanks to the dubious instrumental used. I vastly preferred hearing the DLC's jazzy version of the soundtrack--even though it only spanned the eight Robot Master stages. Unfortunately, the DLC with this music was only available by pre-ordering Mega Man 11 and only from select retailers. I can only hope that Capcom eventually allows those who purchased the game late to have access to this music, as it made all the difference to me. And, darn are those tracks catchy!

Mega Man 11 shows the Titanium Titan in one of his greatest adventures yet. The platforming is overall tight as ever, as is the level design that returns to a no-nonsense, no-filler philosophy, which makes for a leaner and meaner gameplay experience. The means with which you can customize your experience with the various difficulties and helpful items in the game's shop allows Mega Man 11 to be enjoy by all ages and skill levels. While I didn't care much for the base music (and even then it's not horrid by any stretch of the imagination), the rest of the presentation--from the story that explores Dr. Light and Dr. Wily's university days, to the slick graphics and voicework--more than delivers. The Blue Bomber is back, and hopefully this time it's for good. And if not that, then for everlasting peace!

[SPC Says: B+]

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC, 360) Review

The first review of October is perfect for the month of Halloween. It has curses, it has monsters, it has mayhem, and much more! It's Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and it's the Nintendo Switch version which is the basis for this review.

Will Max's latest adventure draw you in?

If you've ever had a brother or sister when you were young, you might have sometimes wished that they'd just go away--disappear off the face of the earth. That's what our protagonist Max of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood asked of his younger brother Felix. After reciting an online poem (let that be a lesson to you kiddies on the dangers of the Internet), Max inadvertently calls upon a portal upon which a giant monster hand appears. It grabs Felix and pulls him inside into a harsh, dangerous world. Max makes no hesitation in jumping into the portal after Felix--whether as a show of actual caring for Felix or because he doesn't want to get screamed at by his parents, is anyone's guess.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is the followup to 2010's Max & the Magic Marker, which originally debuted on Nintendo's WiiWare service. In that game, Max used the eponymous marker and the player freely drew lines (as long as they had enough ink available to them) to create platforms and other helpful objects for Max to traverse.

As Max progresses in his journey to rescue his brother Felix, his magic marker gains new capabilities.
In Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, Max still has the aid of his magic marker, but this time around players can't just freely draw whenever and wherever they want. Instead, there are special drawing points upon where objects can be drawn from them. These take the form of different colors, thus creating different objects. Orange anchor points can spawn pillars to lift objects and Max himself to new heights. Green anchor points create vines and tree limbs that serve as a means to cross pits and chasms either by swinging across vines or walking across the tree limbs. Meanwhile, blue anchor points summon a flow of water that can push and fling Max across far distances. There are other colors used as well, and these are unlocked slowly and paced well enough that I never felt the game lingered on any one idea for too long. Likewise, I never felt that the game introduced too many gameplay concepts too quickly either.

Rise pillars directly from the earth when drawing points are orange.
Levels do introduce new ways to interact with draw points on a consistent basis. The aforementioned pillar that I drew to rise Max to a higher destination was also used to transport an enemy from a low location to a high one as well. I even pushed a rectangular box halfway on to a draw point, so when I drew a pillar, the box flipped so it changed from being length-ways to height-ways. I could then push the box onto the draw point, jump on top of the box, and with the newly created pillar, Max was able to reach the top of the cliff in order to proceed in the level. There's a lot of that kind of lateral thinking to be found within Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, and it can occasionally be a bit obtuse.

And use them to assist in some truly tricky puzzling challenges!
In the latter half of the game, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood also likes to employ puzzles that combine various types of draw points in to one challenge. A simple example early in the game required me to draw a pillar and a vine from two separate draw points in order to cross a deadly pit of thorns. I drew the pillar and instead of just drawing a vine that dangled by itself, I connected the vine to the pillar, using said pillar as anchor point. This allowed Max to shimmy from the pillar to the middle of the vine. Next, I destroyed the pillar so the vine would start swinging, allowing Max to safely leap to the next platform unharmed.

Now would NOT be a good time to be a butterfingers, Max.
As smart as some of the puzzles in Max: The Curse of Brotherhood are, what seems a bit off is that with the Switch version--complete with its own touch screen in handheld mode--does not utilize this for drawing objects. Instead, I had to use the analog stick while holding ZR and A buttons to draw objects, which wasn't always the most precise. Trying to draw something while a massive monster is chasing my character Max wasn't optimal. Sure, many times the game entered slow motion to allow me time to draw something quickly, but that option wasn't always available to me. That results in some... well, very unpleasant deaths, all things considered. Between Max screaming for his life as his body erupts into flames when he falls in lava and being swallowed whole by the previously mentioned monster, death is rather gauche when it concerns a kid character.

Regardless, these deaths don't really adversely affect the game by means of Max's adventure containing myriad checkpoints. Seldom would I have to complete an entire section of level over again because of an issue with a drawing of mine, botched physics (which does happen more often than I would have liked), failed platforming, or any other forced error. As levels can be upwards of fifteen minutes, this is most definitely a good thing.

Definitely look before you leap in this game, folks.
Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has the length of a typical fifteen dollar game. Though, you might ask me, "What the heck does that even mean, Phil?" Well, Max's story is a rather short one, containing seven chapters of around six hours to complete. Nevertheless, there are some optional tasks you can perform, such as destroying all "Evil Eye" plants hidden and placed around levels, as well as collecting a piece of a broken amulet, one found in each level. For those that want even more longevity--and don't mind putting up with the game's "sometimes wonky, sometimes not" physics--then you can try beating a given level without dying to earn a badge for that particular level. For those that enjoy the game enough, that's a pretty solid challenge. I, however, did not find much reason to do so, at least with the Switch version.

You'll need to use a series of draw points to survive this hot and spicy trial by fire.
A relatively solid game, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood easily beats its WiiWare predecessor in creating a more compelling and enjoyable adventure. The production values are definitely higher, the game has been more streamlined and tightly designed for less annoyances in gameplay, and the puzzles are more smartly made. That said, the lack of polish, occasionally troublesome physics, and absence of touch-based drawing for the Switch version make for an adventure that isn't one everybody will be "drawn" to. 

[SPC Says: C+]

Monday, October 1, 2018

Luigi’s Mansion (3DS) Face Your Fears Trailer

Like a ghost that just won't stay dead, the Nintendo 3DS line is still alive and kicking, receiving new games. Luigi's Mansion is an updated port of the 2001 GameCube launch title, and on October 12th, 3DS players will be able to enjoy the game and share the scares wherever and whenever they want with this portable version. Check out the North American TV commercial for Luigi's Mansion for Nintendo 3DS below.

Review Round-Up - September 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man from Insomniac Games is one of the PlayStation 4's
 premier exclusives and is one heck of a web-slingin' ride.
SuperPhillip Central posted another four reviews for this time around, and they were all unleashed on the very last weekend of the month. We began with two arcade racers but of two decidedly different types. The Crew 2 delighted with its amazing open world that was a blast to drive, splash, and soar through, earning it a B grade. Meanwhile, a top-down cartoon-ish arcade racer in Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers just didn't have enough content to justify a purchase, getting a C-. Next up, Super Bomberman R blasted its way onto the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam, and it was hardly a dud, getting a B grade. Finally, SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Month, Marvel's Spider-Man turned out to be one of my favorite superhero games of all time, and definitely my favorite Spider-Man game yet.

Check out every review ever posted on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive!

The Crew 2 (PS4, XB1, PC) - B
Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers (NSW) - C-
Super Bomberman R (PS4, XB1, PC) - B
Marvel's Spider-Man (PS4) - A-

No matter what vehicle you got behind the controls of, The Crew 2's version
of the continental United States was all yours to explore.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Marvel's Spider-Man (PS4) Review

Here's one final review to round out the month of September, and it's a bit of a doozy. Marvel's Spider-Man is a PlayStation 4 exclusive that absolutely dominated the conversation in the gaming world in both acclaim and sales when it released earlier this month. Now, that the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled, how does Insomniac Games' take on Spider-Man fare? The [albeit non-definitive] answer awaits in my review.

The Amazing or the Spectacular Spider-Man? Why not both?

To say there hasn't been a really good Spider-Man game yet would be a bit of a falsehood. For their time, games like Neversoft's PS1 Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and also my personal favorite, Ultimate Spider-Man, were good games that were well regarded. Heck, many Spider-Man games remain well regarded. That notwithstanding, to say there hasn't been a really good Spider-Man game in a while would have some truth to it. This is where Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive developer Insomniac steps in with the full backing of Sony. The end result is a masterpiece of a superhero game, though flawed in several ways, that is more than worthy of the Spider-Man name.

Insomniac has done an astonishing job at creating its own Spider-Man universe with Marvel's Spider-Man. The story is paced rather well, and it delivers one of the finest interpretations of Peter Parker and Spider-Man I've seen. The story beats kept me interested and engaged, and the story in general managed to pull me in and made me care about all of the characters involved. I pumped my fists in the air when I overcame a challenge as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, I gasped when one of the many twists of the story took place, and I even got a little emotional with the ending.

The voice acting is superb, and Yuri Lowenthal nailed his dual role of Spider-Man and alter ego Peter Parker. The raw emotion that comes from his voice in certain scenes in the game--heck, now just him, but the entire cast--is just truly mesmerizing. It all lends well to Insomniac's created universe, as does the humorous quips by Spider-Man and character interactions that I couldn't help but smile and sometimes even laugh out loud at. I'm particularly thinking of the right-wing Alex Jones-like J. Jonah Jameson personality who still has an ax to grind against Spider-Man, but it results in some excerpts from his radio show that are some of the funniest bits of dialog within the game.

Manhattan is your virtual playground, so play and swing away!
Insomniac's universe in Marvel's Spider-Man, too, shines brightly due to another character within the game. I'm not talking about a someone, but instead a something. I'm talking about the open world setting of Manhattan, and it's Spider-Man's and your playground to explore, and it's absolutely a blast to do so with all of our friendly neighborhood superhero's moves and abilities. From traditional web-slinging (well, as traditional as something called "web-slinging" can be) and running up the sides of buildings, to zipping across rooftops and above city streets with webs, Spider-Man knows how to get around the hustling and bustling island of Manhattan.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, runs on whatever a spider can.
You will, also, as the controls are quite intuitive and easy to learn. To web-swing, it's as simple as holding down the R2 button as you move by a building or other object that a web can attach to (and can support the webhead's weight). When Spidey's swing is at its maximum height, you can jump to reach higher places, whereas if you jump while mid-swing, you'll gain a lot of distance and speed at the same time. A combination of both can have you jetting around Manhattan in no time.

Nevertheless, you will want to stop and smell the roses occasionally. I don't mean literally smelling roses here, but instead, taking part in all of the activities and side missions that slowly open up as you make progress in the game. Though, it is true that many of these seem a bit too rote and stuck in the past when it concerns open world games--such as turning on police surveillance towers as a means to reveal all of the side stuff you can do in a given Manhattan district. Others come across as busywork, like stopping crimes within town, which boils down to beating the snot out of a gang up to no good.

While all of the side activities aren't that riveting, some do shine. While it's nothing we haven't seen a hundred times in past open world games, there are collectibles sprinkled around the city. These reveal their locations to the player from the aforementioned surveillance towers so they aren't maddening to find. What makes them so special is that they delve into Spider-Man and Peter Parker's backstory, as they're items that Spidey discovers in the many backpacks placed around town. There are also landmarks throughout Manhattan that you can take pictures of as well. These backpacks and landmarks do a terrific job of further expanding upon and building the world within the game.

However, my favorite side activities would have to be the research stations left behind by Harry Osborn. These are interesting because they're the most varied. With taking out enemy bases and completing challenges from a certain villain in the game, you pretty much know what to expect gameplay-wise. With the research stations you're doing a variety of tasks, and no two are ever the same. These are Marvel's Spider-Man's side activities at their most intriguing. One has you swinging through smog clouds to collect data samples while another has you following a pipe to discover the source of a leak. They also expand upon the world and are more than the same old, same old that makes up most of Spider-Man's optional activities.

NPCs hand out side missions like candy, but these aren't as sweet of experiences as they could be.
Well, I say "optional", but by completing crimes, research stations, taking out enemy bases, collecting backpacks, and so on, you earn tokens that are required to spend on new gadgets, upgrades for said gadgets, and new Spider suits. It's really to your benefit to try to collect as many tokens as possible by doing as much side content as possible. After all, most tokens types are only available in specific varieties of side missions, and outfitting Spidey with one of over 30 different Spider suits, each with their own special ability, is too cool and enticing of a deal to pass on.

That's all just one piece of Marvel's Spider-Man. There's a whole other piece to it, and that comes in the form of combat. Combat in Spider-Man is most similar to Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham line of games. It's combo-based, but Spidey has many more options available to him due to his mobility, agility, and webbing prowess. You can start beating down a group of goons, traveling between each enemy by web, and effortlessly dispatch a group of foes quickly. Of course, like games are wont to do, the challenge ramps up when different enemy types are introduced. Some hold shields that you must punch and then slide between the carrier's legs to perform an attack to their exposed back. Others don't have much pugilistic pride, opting to use firearms of the pistol, machine gun, and rocket launcher variety. It becomes a bit of a juggling act, but thankfully, the webhead has his good ol' Spider Sense that emits white lines around his head as an indicator that it's time for the player to dodge an attack.

"I'd tell your boss The Kingpin that no amount of money is worth getting your butt kicked by Spider-Man."
The amount of possibilities in combat is really amazing, and this is helped in part due to new gadget unlocks that open up as the game progresses. There's the standard web shooter that needs to be shot multiple times to ensnare an enemy, but at the same time, its supply regenerates rather quickly. Then, there's the trip wire webbing that when an enemy crosses its path, the wire grabs onto them and webs them up against whatever the wire was attached to. Spidey is indeed one crafty inventor, having everything else from drones to electrical webbing that can turn on power in dark areas as well as shock enemies temporarily. Using a mix of Spider-Man's pure physicality, webbing, and gadgets makes for some truly emergent gameplay. 

Here's webbing in your eye!
Spider-Man himself gains focus energy as he successfully attacks enemies and builds up a combo. The higher of a combo he gains, the faster his focus gauge increases. When it fills, Spider-Man can perform a devastating finisher that immediately takes out any enemy it connects with. Tougher enemies than your standard foes, such as brutes, require two filled gauges to use a finisher on. Apart from using focus energy to unleash creative and visually fascinating finishers on foes, you can also use focus energy to recover Spidey's health mid-battle. This can be a literal lifesaver in particularly challenging encounters where Spider-Man's fighting off ten or more enemies at once who all want to get his number. ...And I don't mean to take him out on a date--merely because they want to take him OUT.

Unlike this baddie on the right, most enemies won't just stand there while you beat up on their buddies.
That notwithstanding, brawn and brute force won't always be what the situation calls for. Sometimes Spider-Man will have to use some stealth to take out an area or roomful of enemies without being detected. Thankfully, Spidey is perfectly suited for such scenarios. When playing as Spidey, you can take out foes silently through a multitude of means, such as take-downs from the air or from the ground. Of course, you don't want to let yourself get spotted by a foe whose pal you just wrapped up in webbing and is now hanging upside down from a ledge.

Spider-Man--in one of many of the available, special unlockable
suits--surveys the area before picking off each foe one by one.
Clicking in the right stick brings up another Batman: Arkham series-inspired game mechanic, Detective Mode. Here, you can see through Spidey's eyes and determine if taking out a foe is either safe or dangerous. If it's the latter, you're going to get caught if you try taking the foe in question out. This Detective-style mode also has many uses outside of stealth sections, offering views on points of interest and enemy weaknesses.

Didn't see that one coming, did you? That said, Spidey definitely saw you going.
Marvel's Spider-Man is a gorgeous game in all aspects. The way the windows of buildings shimmer when the sun shines directly on them, the way tree branches sway to and fro in the wind, and the immense draw distance available to players, particularly while Spider-Man is perched on the highest building in Manhattan are all spectacular sights. The amazing detail each character possesses is also something I can't help but gush about. Sure, some faces approach "uncanny valley" levels, but overall they look expressive, animate well, and are just impressive beyond words... save for the ones I just wrote.

Despite some side missions and optional activities being less than inspired, as well as stealth sections that mess with the pacing of the game a little bit, Marvel's Spider-Man is without question the best Spider-Man game I've had the pleasure and joy to play. Without delving too much into exaggeration, it might also be the best superhero game I've ever encountered. Never before have I felt more enamored with a superhero video game and felt more like Spider-Man thanks to his myriad tools, abilities, and ways to interact with the world--no matter if I was dispatching a gang of the Kingpin's men or just web-swinging through Times Square. Insomniac's vision of the Spider-Man as a series, the world, characters, and mythos shines brightly and is a testament to the original thought that the property was in good hands when it was given to the developer to create a Spider-Man game. It's a game that both casual and veteran fans will enjoy--as well as anyone else who just loves an amazing and spectacular video game.

[SPC Says: A-]

Super Mario Party (NSW) Shadows Trailer

Coming to the Switch this Friday, October 5th is Super Mario Party, the latest in the long-running party game series. It's a bit of a refresh for the series, hence the name change, and Super Mario Party is set to go back to the basics in more ways than one. SuperPhillip Central will have a review for everyone this upcoming month, so get ready to party hearty, everybody!

Super Bomberman R (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Time to set the fuse for a brand-new review on SuperPhillip Central. We go from one party game to another with Super Bomberman R's appearance on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. Here's the SuperPhillip Central review.

We're blasting off again!

Super Bomberman R originally released on the Nintendo Switch as one the console's few retail launch titles. Decidedly, it was released in a rather clunky and undesirable state--missing many modes, lacking multiplayer options, and just devoid of a good deal of overall content in general. However, through a lengthy series of free updates and patches, Super Bomberman R has gone from a game that wasn't up to the Bomberman name to one that most definitely is. Now, the game sees a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC port with all of the patches and content updates up to the release of the game already included on the disc, in addition to some platform-exclusive characters. Will a new series of console owners have as much of a blast with Super Bomberman R as their Switch companions?

Super Bomberman R has a short and not really that sweet story mode to it that is fully voiced with static comic-style cutscenes. The voice work straddles the line between being cute and being totally obnoxious, depending on the character. Regardless, the campaign can be played with two players, though you'll need strong teamwork and communication skills, as you can accidentally catch one another in your bomb explosions. The story itself spans seven worlds including a brand-new one that was added later to the Switch version, Planet Bomber, and has its own side story after the events of the original campaign.

Never bomb alone in the seven worlds of the campaign mode. Play it all locally with a friend.
There are ten levels per each world, save for the sixth that served as the final boss before the addition of Planet Bomber DLC. The first eight levels present you with an objective such as defeating all enemies, stepping on a specific number of switches to unlock the goal, and leading a handful of NPCs safely to the end of the level. The ninth and tenth levels pit you against one of the Dastardly Bombers in what starts off as a one-on-one battle and then turns into a full scale fight against the Dastardly Bombers' transformed versions.

These Dastardly Bombers are more smartly programmed than they are smartly dressed.
The solo battles against the Dastardly Bombers are a bit tougher than I would have liked. They're programmed to escape pretty much any situation save for times where I got completely lucky or just walked through them, dropping a bomb on both sides of a given Bomber, trapping them. The big boss battles fare better, and these are quite enjoyable, though you will find yourself dying a bunch trying to learn their attacks and discover their weak points.

A defeated Dastardly Bomber will make one last ditch effort
to destroy you by transforming right before your eyes.
At the end of each world, your point total is calculated based on how many lives you have left based on the difficulty you chose, and how many item pickups you gathered. You are then awarded up to three stars for completion and proficiency. The more stars you earn, the more money you get which can be used to purchase a whole host of content in the Shop menu. These goodies range from new characters, new "hats", and new stages. Many of these are modeled after Konami characters from series as popular as Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Contra to lesser known series like Rumble Roses and Goemon (though I'm quite sad to admit that Goemon is under the "lesser known series" moniker here).

Aside from the story mode that will take players anywhere between 3-5 hours to complete given the difficulty chosen and their levels of skill and success, the main event to any Bomberman game is most definitely the multiplayer. "I'll take 'The Most Obvious Things Phil Has Ever Said In A Game Review' for $200, Alex."

Multiplayer doesn't disappoint either. The traditional, standard rules apply with four player battles either against local friends and AI or online friends and randoms. Battles can be customized to your liking, dialing up the difficulty of computer-controlled opponents, selecting how many wins a given player needs to be the overall victor, whether sudden death occurs--where when there's one minute remaining, spikes fall from the ceiling and make the battlefield smaller and smaller until one player is left, whether revenge carts and/or skulls are on, and so forth.

There's no time to be fickle with blowing everything and everyone up, so bombs away!
Rather than sticking to story mode to gain money to buy stuff from the Shop, you can also play multiplayer matches to earn money. However, this is where Super Bomberman R falters a bit. It's a serious grind to save up money to buy characters and more interestingly for multiplayer battles, new arenas. When each arena costs about 4,000 to purchase and unlock and you only get 150 or so for each multiplayer match, you're going to be playing a ton of matches just to afford more arena types for a fresher multiplayer experience. Characters are cheaper, thankfully, but they're still costly at around 1,000 apiece. Just imagine if this were like the Switch version at launch and multiplayer battles gave you nothing money-wise. A shiver just went down my spine!

Online multiplayer in Super Bomberman R is a rather sad sight. Not because it doesn't work well--it does--but you'd have to take my word for it, as the online for the game is quite dead. You thought the Switch version took a long time to find a match? You ain't seen nothing until you try on the PlayStation 4. It's a true shame because there's little as entertaining in a game as blowing randoms up (oh, heck--I usually blew myself up) in explosive deathmatches.

Super Bomberman R's arrival on new systems brings all of the content and patch updates from the Switch version with it. (You can thank us Switch owners for beta testing for you guys!) Each new system gets its own share of an exclusive character. PS4 owners get the Ratchet & Clank Bomber, Xbox One owners get the Master Chief Bomber, and Steam players get the P-Body Bomber. Throw in all of the previously mentioned new modes, features, and Konami-themed characters, and you have a robust roster of bombing goodness in Super Bomberman R.

Exclusive to each platform, these new Bombers are ready and raring to go.
While finding a match online is a serious dud, when Super Bomberman R is played locally, the fuse is lit for an absolute blast of a party. Story mode might be more of chore than I would have liked, sticking to the older games' story mode design, but overall, Super Bomberman R drops the bomb with its arrival on new systems, giving PS4, Xbox One, and Steam players an explosive good time.

[SPC Says: B]

Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers (NSW) Review

We move from an arcade racer with realistic graphics to an arcade racer with decidedly less than realistic graphics. In the wee hours of the night SuperPhillip Central covers the Switch's Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers. Here's my review.

A name that's fun to say, a game that's fun to play

Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers is a top-down racer hearkening back to the days of Super Off-Road and R.C. Pro Am, to name a couple. You race around circuit tracks, using the analog stick to steer in the direction you wish to drive. It's as simple as holding down to drive downward, left to drive to the left, diagonally to drive diagonally, etc. This is all the while competing against up to seven other opponents, avoiding hazards like walls and oil slicks, and going over boost pads to get a quick shot of speed. Apart from skimming over boost pads, you can also collect boost energy from item capsules to gain a burst of speed upon hitting the X button.

Well, it's not called Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers because everything is made up of spheres!

There are three locales in Chiki-Chiki--City, Jungle, and Beach--and each possesses five events total to tackle. As you get gold in one event, the next opens up within the same locale. This is until you clear all four races and earn the opportunity to participate in a Grand Prix event, where you race all four previous tracks one after the other. As you can probably expect from such an event, the player with the most points at the end of all four races is the champion.

While you're playing through Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers and getting gold trophies on each track and Grand Prix, you unlock new vehicles. There are over 20 total to have in your arsenal of automobiles. Each has different stats for handling, turbo, max speed, acceleration, and so forth. Vehicles run the gamut from sports cars and sedans to trucks and tractors.

With their opponents right behind them on this part of this beach course,
the race leader is feeling some "pier" pressure.
Aside from the 12 tracks and 3 Grand Prix events in Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers, you're limited in what else you can do as a solo player. You'll quickly unlock all of the aforementioned vehicles in less than an hour, as the AI doesn't put up much of a close race for the most part. The little else there is comes in the form of mini-games that task you with getting as high of a score or as quick of a time as possible.

Now, these mini-games are pretty creative, offering things like driving over concrete--trying to paint over every single patch of ground possible quickly--or something as simple as attempting to get as many goals in a vehicular soccer game as possible against an empty net. There is also the option to play online against friends and randoms, but considering how dead the online was when it was free, I shudder to think about trying to find anyone to play Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers with now that the online is gated behind a Nintendo Switch Online subscription.

No inklings, just raw horsepower! Cover as many tiles in your paint color
 as possible before time expires in this mini-game.
Local multiplayer doesn't fare much better either, and it's for the silliest of reasons. The competitive mini-games don't suffer here, and they're actually a lot of fun with another player. It's when you get to the traditional racing that the experience goes awry. Players in local multiplayer share the same screen, and since tracks don't just fit all on one screen, there's obviously some form of split-screen multiplayer, right? Wrong.

Instead, Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers has it where all players must stay on the same screen together. If someone straggles behind, they're put a short distance behind the player in first place. Maybe this is obvious, but that can result in some really lame and unearned comeback victories. It got to the point where my local multiplayer pal just stopped racing seriously until the final stretch, and then he'd get transported close to me after being too far back and pass me for the victory. Neither of us enjoyed ourselves with this, and it's baffling to both of us why the multiplayer was designed this way.

Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers is a fun game--don't get me wrong. However, it's substantially small amount of content and little replay value make for a game that's difficult to recommend. The halfhearted way multiplayer was implemented cuts the legs out from under this otherwise enjoyable arcade racer. While Chiki-Chiki Boxy Racers could have crossed the finish line in first place, it instead gets caught with a flat tire on the homestretch.

[SPC Says: C-]

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Crew 2 (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

There has been a great deal of radio silence from SuperPhillip Central this past month. No longer, however, as we're ending the month with a plethora of reviews! The first is The Crew 2, released this past June on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The PS4 version is the game this review is based off of.

Time for another wild run

Imagine, if you will, a racing game that takes you across the glorious continental United States, allowing you the freedom to roam its incredibly varied geography at your leisure. That's what you get with Ubisoft's The Crew 2, and not only are you able to speed through the lower 48 states in a car, but you can also do so by air and sea--something new to this sequel.

It's all part of The Crew 2's focus on getting followers from pulling off insane stunts as well as winning the various races and events spread across the country. Of course, you need not simply drive from coast to another, taking about an hour in real time to do so. Instead, you can select from a list of events from the in-game menu, or opt to zoom out of the map that displays everything in real time. You'll start zoomed in on your current location, zoom out to the block, the city, the region, and then the entire country to select one of the many event icons on the map.

Exploring the Harlem neighborhood in The Crew 2's version of New York.
Events come in numerous types across several different disciplines, each under the watch of one of four HQs spread across the country. Whether it's street racing, pro racing, freestyle, or off-road, each HQ has a wide selection of events ready for you to take on. The street racing discipline has events where you speed through city streets, alleys, and even rooftops; events where you drift your car as long as possible to maximize your combo and score as many points as you can; drag races and long-distance hypercar races. Meanwhile, pro racing has power boat, plane, and touring car races to take on. The list of events is very much varied, which is great to see. If I found myself struggling with one type of event, I'd select the others within the same discipline to make progress within the story.

Ruben?! That's not the name of someone who deserves to be in first--that's the name of a sandwich!
The more followers you gain, which essentially serve as experience points, the more your icon gauge levels up, allowing you to participate in even more events. Winning events not only provides you with more followers, but it also provides you with new loot in the form of randomly assigned performance parts.

The performance parts unlocked by clearing events and finding Live boxes sprinkled around the game world are used to upgrade each of your vehicles, which you can eventually own all 200+ of them, if you get that addicted to the game. There are about six different categories to boost the performance of your vehicle, but it's really not that involved. Basically, all you have to do is equip the highest numbered part in each of the six part categories, and you're golden. This can be extremely tedious, as you might have guessed, as you're always getting new parts and just constantly entering and exiting the menu is just repetitive as driving through the state of Kansas length-wise.

Part of the Freestyle discipline, get down and dirty with Motocross.
Also as you make your way through the ranks and gaining more followers, you get to participate in Live Xtrem races, which are the most enjoyable events that The Crew 2 has to offer. You start the game immediately within the first race of the Live Xtrem season, and these races in general have you transforming between vehicles on the fly at specific points within the races. You can go from a hypercar, jump off a ramp, and transform into a speedboat as you splash onto a river, continuing the race in one seamless maneuver.

"Snow" time like the present to make the push to first place! ...I'll see myself out.
These transformations aren't just limited to races, either. You can additionally seamlessly transform between your favorite vehicles while engaging in free roam. It's a rather awesome sight to fly a plane over my hometown of St. Louis, soar under the Gateway Arch, and then transform into a high-speeding car, perfectly touching down with the pavement below all in a single picture-perfect, skillful movement. If you haven't guessed already, there's a lot of smoothness to The Crew 2's transformations.

Take to the skies and view Los Angeles in a brand-new way.
What isn't always so smooth (nice segue, Phil) is trying to race at high speeds in events while trying to keep an eye on the in-game map in order to know where upcoming turns are. It is endlessly frustrating to lose a race at the last turn because you ended up missing it and careening past it because you couldn't focus on the map and race at the same time. Yes, you can hold the shoulder buttons to be placed back on the intended racing path, but when it's the final stretch of the race where you're now fifth place, it's sort of aggravating to have to redo a 10+ minute race when you made a last minute navigational error.

Another problem with The Crew 2 comes from its requirement to always have an online connection. You must play The Crew 2 online at all times, which is odd considering most of what I did within the game wouldn't even need such functionality, as I always competed against the AI. There are other players that inhabit the world, and you can join eponymous crews, race together in events, and the like, but overall, the interaction and options between crews and players in general is a bit lacking.

Now that you can explore the waters of the States in The Crew 2, who knows what you will discover?
Without its online requirement The Crew 2 would be one of my favorite arcade racers of all time. It's pure joy and bliss to drive, splash, and soar through the continental United States. My personal favorite thing to do in the game is take long road trips and explore the world freely. However, when the servers for the game eventually expire, what you're going to be left with in The Crew 2 is a game that is no longer available to be played. You're also left with a game currently that requires an online subscription to Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus on top of purchasing The Crew 2 just to play the darn game.

The reflections on these rainy roads make for a remarkable sight.
For the most part, The Crew 2 does not disappoint when it concerns visuals.
It says something, though, that despite this ridiculous online requirement, I did find myself lost within the game world of The Crew 2, eventually earning the Platinum with my PS4 copy. The amount of events in the game is amazing, though I wish there were more long distance and Live Extrem-like events where you switched between vehicle types mid-race, as those were my favorites in the game. Additionally, those were the most innovative and exciting. What's here in The Crew 2 is still a thrill of a ride, but it's not without its speed bumps--its many, many speed bumps.

[SPC Says: B]


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