Friday, February 15, 2019

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume Twenty

Best Levels in Gaming History, like SuperPhillip Central, took a bit of a hiatus, but now it's back for a historic volume number twenty! This time around this long-running segment of SuperPhillip Central returns with some blockbuster games like God of War, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and more.

Take a look at all 19 past entries of Best Levels in Gaming History with these helpful links:

Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three
Volume Four
Volume Five
Volume Six
Volume Seven
Volume Eight
Volume Nine
Volume Ten
Volume Eleven
Volume Twelve
Volume Thirteen
Volume Fourteen
Volume Fifteen
Volume Sixteen
Volume Seventeen
Volume Eighteen
Volume Nineteen

Lake of Nine - God of War (PS4)


SuperPhillip Central's Game of 2018, God of War features some truly impressive level design (well, technically, area design), but nothing most fascinated and impressed me than the area positioned right smack dab in the middle of the game's map, the Lake of Nine.

Other than the tremendous scope of the Lake of Nine--which to itself is a monumental and mind-blowing feat--the aspect of this aquatic area that I love the most is how it evolves over the course of Kratos and Atreus's adventure. This is seen as the water level drops more and more throughout the game, revealing not only new locations to explore on the lake, but also new entrances to previously accessed areas.


The Lake of Nine itself is littered with appealing points of interest, places to scour for treasure, areas to uncover and complete side quests, and so much more. Just how astonishingly expansive the Lake of Nine grows from its already amazing size and scope when Kratos and Atreus first arrive at the location to the end of the game makes for superb execution of smart, well planned out level design. That makes the Lake of Nine a tremendous location in one of the best games of this generation of gaming platforms.

Hyrule Castle - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NSW, Wii U)


Going from SuperPhillip Central's Game of 2018 to SuperPhillip Central's Game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has too much greatness in it to mention just one section of the game, but if I had to choose my personal favorite, it would have to be infiltrating Hyrule Castle in order to defeat Calamity Ganon.


Hyrule Castle can famously be visited at any point in Link's adventure--even after getting off the tutorial area of Breath of the Wild, the Great Plateau. Of course, reaching the throne room where Calamity Ganon resides is considerably no easy task, much more even surviving the several boss battles foolhardy players would encounter if they went directly to Hyrule Castle. Nonetheless, it is very much possible (though incredibly difficult) to beat the game as soon as Link exits the Great Plateau.


And that's what makes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so great--the freedom of the game. Much like the overall structure of Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Castle is completely open to explore, and you can reach the throne room a myriad of ways--whether it's meandering around the perimeter, around the outside and indoors of the castle, to simply calling upon Revali's Gale a couple of times to reach the castle's top and do battle with Calamity Ganon immediately. The tense music only further drives home how absolutely dire the situation at the castle is and how much is at stake.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Hyrule Castle is a complex and sensational final destination for players, and the many ways one can go about taking it on is in the sensational spirit of freedom within the overall game.

New Donk City Festival - Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)


After all of the hubbub from Bowser's unwelcome arrival and subsequent assault on Super Mario Odyssey's New Donk City, Mayor Pauline asks of Mario to round up the members of her band for a special performance. This performance is a cherry on top of one of the best levels within Super Mario Odyssey, and creates a magical Super Mario experience all in one. It's the New Donk City Festival.


Here, fireworks explode in the bright, festive nighttime background of New Donk City as Mario takes a nostalgic trip back in time to his Donkey Kong-defeating days, as the citizens he saved in the city cheer him on. This is all the while the super-catchy "Jump Up, Super Star!" plays, the main theme of Super Mario Odyssey.


In a delightful display, Mario enters a warp pipe and finds him from his three-dimensional self into his old 2D form. The goal of this level is to make it through each 2D room--some of which wrap around the sides of New Donk City's skyscrapers--and reach Pauline at the very top to be rewarded with a Grand Moon for all of Mario's efforts. It's a perfect presentation and display of just how special Super Mario Odyssey can be. Even after multiple play-throughs of this specific section of Super Mario Odyssey, I find myself smiling from ear to ear while platforming through the New Donk City Festival.

Tomb Wader - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)


We go to a game series that was once a bitter rival to Mario, and that's Crash Bandicoot. It's just absolutely wild that the original PlayStation trilogy's remakes were brought to the Switch for Nintendo fans to play. I absolutely could not imagine that growing up during the "Listen up, plumber boy" days of Nintendo vs. PlayStation.

Regardless, coming from Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped within the Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is the Tomb Wader level, a clever pun on Lara Croft's series. Speaking of things that are clever, Tomb Wader as a level itself presents Crash with a temple trial with rising and lowering water at specific intervals at specific parts of the level, requiring Crash to stay safely above the water or else drown. There are also doors to be opened by performing a spin maneuver into wooden wheels, enemies with shields that must be defeated with a slide or else they're otherwise impenetrable, and even possesses a Death Path for those who survive until the halfway point of the level.

Tomb Wader is an exceptionally fun and creative level within Crash Bandicoot 3 that brings a clever mechanic that doesn't overstay its welcome. While a punishing level for those who wish to rush through it, Tomb Wader makes for a wild and wet ride from beginning to end.

Fly Me to the Moon - LEGO City Undercover (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC, Wii U)


The final mission of LEGO City Undercover, the game I easily place on my list of best LEGO games, Fly Me to the Moon is an interstellar missions that takes place in outer space--more specifically, the moon and a space base.


What can you say about a level that has you platforming and solving puzzles in low gravity, doing battle in Aliens-style mech suits against Rex Fury, facing off against said boss on top of a gigantic piece of falling space debris that slowly rips asunder as it approaches the earth, and ending in an epic free-fall towards Earth with haunting choir music playing? Is this a LEGO game or Mass Effect here!? Anyhoo--I know what you can say about a level that has all of this awesomeness in it--it's absolutely astounding.


Fly Me to the Moon is a memorable mission that hyped me from beginning to end, and it was a exciting exclamation point to a solid open world game in LEGO City Undercover. If you're looking for a great, original LEGO game, LEGO City Undercover is such a game--and is at the top of its heap.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (NSW) Announcement Trailer

My favorite Game Boy classic makes a reappearance over 25 years later with The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Switch, a modern remake with what seems to be quite the divisive art style. It's like "Celda" arguments all over again! To me, I love the look after initially being put off by it, but I'm interested in knowing SPC readers' opinions. What do you think about the announcement and the look of the game?

 

Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition (NSW) Trailer

I'm not about to type out that rather long and unwieldy title, but Dragon Quest XI's Switch port is looking mighty fine. For the downgrade in appearance and perhaps performance, the Switch version gains the ability to play the entire campaign in 16-bit, just like the 3DS version that was Japan-exclusive. In addition to that, you get fully orchestrated field and battle music, English and Japanese audio, and new story elements for the Switch version. Dragon Quest XI S arrives triumphantly on the Switch this fall.

 

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Multi) Gameplay Trailer

I mentioned before in the Top Ten Games of 2018 list that if nothing good came from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, at least we'd have Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. Thankfully, Ritual of the Night has shut the door on any doubt I might have had regarding this Kickstarter funded game. It looks absolutely sensational with its slick 2.5-D art style and amazing encounters. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night releases on multiple platforms this summer.

 

Astral Chain (NSW) Announcement Trailer

From Platinum Games comes a brand new exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, Astral Chain. The eponymous chain certainly is a gameplay focus and central mechanic in this game, and it releases August 30th. What do you think about this debut trailer?

Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW) Announcement Trailer

In case you missed it, Nintendo hosted another one of its Nintendo Directs this past hour, and it was quite a treat. The game that kicked it all off was Super Mario Maker 2, a full blown sequel to the Wii U original that I absolutely adored. With more options (like the much requested slopes), more venues, more enemy types, and more games like Super Mario 3D World's appearance to model your 2D levels after, Super Mario Maker 2 is the definition of an upgraded sequel.

Reverie: Sweet As Edition (NSW) Review

The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite franchises, so I leap at the chance to play games similar to and inspired by the series. Reverie is one of those, and SuperPhillip Central is here to kick-start your morning with a review of the Nintendo Switch's Reverie: Sweet As Edition.

Ahem. It reads Sweet AS. Again, Sweet AS.


At a simple glance, Reverie is a game that has the appearance of a title with an Earthbound-like art style and Legend of Zelda-influenced gameplay. Of course, as the old adage goes, don't judge a book by its cover. The adage would be wrong in this case, as Reverie: Sweet As Edition is pretty much a Legend of Zelda game with an Earthbound art style. However, that's not all that is to Reverie, and even it were, what's here is a stellar action-adventure--if not on the short side.

Reverie plays pretty much exactly like a traditional 2D Zelda. You explore an overworld, head to dungeons, defeat enemies, collect keys, open doors, find treasures, and defeat the dungeons' bosses to continue your quest. There are six dungeons within the game, and this includes the tutorial that takes place in the basement of the main character Tai's grandparents.

I certainly hope the people at PETA aren't seeing this screen.
Going for a modern approach, Reverie gives Tai an assortment of weapons that both are themed in the current era and themed around New Zealand, which the game's locale Tomori Island is based on. (As an aside, the game's story deals with local New Zealand legend as well.) Tai doesn't get a typical sword; instead, he comes across a trusty cricket bat to slash and strike enemies. Rather than utilize a boomerang like Link, Tai stumbles on a yo-yo, able to not only stun foes but also hit faraway switches to open nearby doors.

Sure, there's no time for beach-bummin' with Toromi Island
in danger, but Tai IS on vacation technically.
Discovering the locations of dungeons seldom is a challenging feat, as the map always displays where your next destination is at--which takes away some of the fun of exploring the world. Additionally, dungeons themselves aren't wholly inspired treks. They do feature some entertaining puzzles, but really, it wasn't until the final dungeon that my brain felt actually challenged enough. And as longtime readers of SuperPhillip Central know, my brain's not exactly the strongest cricket bat around the pitch. (For instance, I had to look up what the heck cricket is played on to make that statement work.)

Reverie isn't a long game either, as it merely took me just over three hours to beat. Thankfully, there is a fair amount of side content to complete, such as post-story content like collectible feathers based on New Zealand aviary species (these unlock a new item for Tai to equip when all have been gathered), an extra dungeon--though this is merely a series of battle rooms--and a slew of in-game achievements to accomplish.

I spy with my little eye... a secret cave!
There's also a new difficulty that unlocks once the game has been beaten once--Nightmare mode. Coming from the normal difficulty where enemies weakly delivered damage to Tai and handed out health-restoring hearts like oxygen to the Nightmare difficulty was quite the change of pace--and a welcomed one at that.

Going down in about three hits, these certainly aren't ghosts with the most.
Reverie: Sweet As Edition isn't a substantial deviation from the standard Legend of Zelda formula, but it does offer a unique location and lore, atypical item variety, and most importantly, simply appealing gameplay. While the story may run on the short side, the brevity of it makes for a game begging to be played through more than once, and Reverie is one game that is worth doing so. (That Nightmare difficulty mode certainly helps things on that front.) All of this makes for a charming game that if you've already played through other Zelda-like games on the Switch like Ittle Dew 2+ and Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King or just want to play a similar title, then Reverie: Sweet As Edition is worth taking a virtual trip to Tomori Island for.

[SPC Says: B-]

Review code provided by the developer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Instant Tennis (NSW) Review

A little know fact about me--I was once known as the Andy Roddick of the high school tennis team. Okay, I was more known as the John McEnroe of the high school tennis team. Okay, you got me again--I never played high school tennis. I did, however, play lots of Wii Sports in college, and that got me ready to review this next game on the SuperPhillip Central docket, Instant Tennis!

No water required


Nintendo's Wii Sports ushered in an avalanche of similar software that went on to give the Wii an incredibly diverse demographic, from seasoned video game players to those who never had picked up a controller in their entire lives. The cultural impact of Wii Sports and much more the Wii was one that was immensely pronounced at the time. Now, we just see hints and whispers here and there of the types of games aimed at an audience that has long left Nintendo systems and gaming in general.

Like Wii Sports, developer Break First's Instant Tennis is a simplistic take on the sport, offering no manual movement of players on the court whatsoever. Instead, you're limited to when you hit the ball and where you hit it to, and this all depends on the control scheme you opt for.

Keep your eye on the ball...
Instant Tennis has three different control schemes to utilize, depending on the player's skill level or if you're like me (and hope to God you're not), the mood you're in. Full motion controls are as simple as flicks of the Joy-Con when the ball got close to my character. A hard, fast flick sends the tennis ball to the back of the court while a soft, slow flick results in a drop shot. Depending on when you flick the Joy-Con, the ball gets hit to a certain side of the opponent's court. As you get ready to strike the ball, a yellow line appears on the opponent's half of the court, and it moves from right to left. If you hit the ball too early or too late, the ball will go out of bounds, giving your opponent the point.

Then, there's the Mixed mode, which has both motion and analog controls. You use the analog stick to aim on the court (to the left and right, but nothing more in the way of fine-tuning than that) and then proceed to flick the Joy-Con to strike the ball. Finally, full analog control play sees you holding the shot button down. The longer you hold it in, the harder you strike the ball. Meanwhile, you aim with the analog stick. This control scheme might seem unfair to use against someone using another type, but the developers have balanced it so that when you set up your shot, the yellow line that serves as your aiming point will always move itself to the middle of the court. That means you have to carefully move the analog stick just far enough to the left or right without hitting it out of bounds to trip up your opponent. It makes for a control scheme that would otherwise make Instant Tennis too simple for even the most inept of players.

What Instant Tennis misses in depth, it more than makes up for in accessibility for all ages.
That said, this doesn't stop Instant Tennis from being all too simple a game. Against AI opponents, it's far too easy to cheese wins against them, serving the tennis ball with a hard shot on one side of the court and then hitting a weak drop shot on the opponent afterward once the ball gets rallied back to you. This is mostly due to an unbalanced stamina system within the game, which stamina goes down as your opponent is run ragged across the court. This is performed by hitting shots to the front, back, and sides of the court--making your opponent chase after lots of shots. With AI matches, it's as breezy as having their stamina deplete to nothing and easily taking advantage of that. In player vs. player scenarios, it's merely a matter of who lucks out with their endurance.

Instant Tennis provides a fair amount of content with a leveling system that gives your profile experience points for completed matches and tournaments won. As you gain more levels, new content unlocks in the form of new characters and courts (nearly 20 characters total in the roster--albeit heavily generic with no personality whatsoever--and nine courts). Whether the somewhat basic and repetitive gameplay of Instant Tennis will make you want to go the distance to level up and unlock everything is up to you. Unfortunately, the gameplay did not do much to entice me to continue playing for too terribly long.

The two circles on display here show where a regular shot (the back circle)
and a drop shot (the front circle) will bounce.
Though, true to its name, Instant Tennis does offer quick and accessible bite-sized tennis matches that anyone can enjoy. For those who are less skilled with gaming or are just starting with the pastime, then this Switch tennis game is a terrific one to try out. For everyone else, Mario Tennis Aces--though more expensive by a significant amount--is a more pleasurable time on the court. Then again, that's like having me compete with Rafael Nadal in a tennis match. Not really a fair competition... for Nadal, of course.

[SPC Says: C-]

Review code provided by the developer.

Monday, February 11, 2019

SuperPhillip Central's Top Ten Games of 2018

Great things come to those who wait, and that's SuperPhillip Central's mantra for its Top Ten Games of 2018. Now these don't necessarily have to be the absolute "best", but they are the ones most enjoyed by yours truly over the past year.

Due to the deluge of fantastic gaming titles over the course of 2018, I absolutely could not devote my life to playing all of them, but I'm overall quite satisfied with this year's list. Now, let's quit the jibber-jabber introduction and get to the jibber-jabber in SuperPhillip Central's Top Ten Games of 2018!

10) Dragon Ball FighterZ (Multi)


What the, what the, what!? A traditional fighting game is on a list of SuperPhillip Central's favorite games of 2018?! Up is down, east is west, and Goku is Ginyu and Ginyu is Goku. Seriously though, the accessibility of Dragon Ball FighterZ is where the game truly shines. Of course, those anime poetry in motion visuals certainly shine, too, but in a gameplay perspective, FighterZ allows players to pick up and enjoy the game without having to remember myriad button combos just to pull off cool moves. No, anyone can unleash savage blows, illuminating and devastating attacks, and eke out beautiful combo attacks. Despite the simplicity of pulling off moves, there's a skill and mastery level in FighterZ that keeps the game from being so accessible that anyone can win. Button mashers need not apply... or you can be like me, apply, and then get your face blasted into the next dimension. That notwithstanding, my experience with Dragon Ball FighterZ on both the PlayStation 4 and later the Nintendo Switch provided me with lots of fast, frenzied and frenetic battles both online and off.

9) Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Multi)


Developed by the amazing Inti Creates, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a 2D classic Castlevania-style game built in an 8-bit style. Having four unique characters that can be cycled between at any time, linear level design that harks back to its main inspiration in Castlevania III, superb and tight controls, a perfect degree of challenge, and tremendous boss battles, Curse of the Moon came out of nowhere and managed to wow me immensely. Really, if--and knock on a wooden stake this doesn't actually happen--Ritual of the Night turns out to be a less than sublime game, at least the marvelous Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon came out of the whole saga, as it's truly a terrific title.

8) Yoku's Island Express (Multi)


Platforming meets pinball is as simple an elevator pitch as you need for Yoku's Island Express, but leaving it at that for a Games of 2018 list would be underselling it quite a bit, wouldn't you say. Yoku's Island Express is a remarkable mashup between a Metroid-styled world to explore--filled with copious amounts of secrets and activities--solid pinball action, enjoyable platforming using the rolling mechanics of your dung beetle character, and a gorgeous art style to boot. Achieving the Platinum trophy in Yoku's Island Express was a delight, and I was so enamored with the world and the gameplay that I finished the game over several sessions over the course of but a few days. I couldn't help myself and keep myself from playing Yoku's Island Express, a true indie gem from last year.

7) Mega Man 11 (Multi)


Mega Man 11's sales apparently pleased Capcom, selling about 800,000 units worldwide. This, too, pleases me, as Mega Man 11 is a fantastic outing for the Blue Bomber. Rather than just bring Mega Man back with a fresh coat of paint and calling it a day, the developers of Mega Man 11 went further, making an all-new gameplay mechanic that not only enhanced the game but moved the series forward. This is the Double Gear system, providing players with the power to slow down time to properly avoid attacks, or giving them the ability to boost all of their attacks. Overusing gears means Mega Man overheats, making him vulnerable for a considerable amount of time. This brought a risk vs. reward component to gameplay, freshening the series' tried and true gameplay up, and presenting a stunning and quite challenging 2D platformer in the process.

6) Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition (NSW)


If the amount of time I put into a game in 2018 was the leading factor in giving a game the Game of the Year honors, Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition would certainly be the Game of 2018. However, that's not how this list works, in spite of my 120 hours of playtime with this ultimate version of Hyrule Warriors. This Switch version contains all of the DLC of the Wii U and 3DS releases, now allowing for the latter to be shown in glorious HD and not on the rather unsavory and low-resolution 3DS screen. This meant all of the characters, maps, weapons, modes, and more were a part of Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, and it also meant that I spent a plethora of hours taking out enemy captains, mobs, and more, racking up quite the body count in those aforementioned 120 hours of quality time with The Legend of Zelda crew in Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition.

5) Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee! (NSW)


Up until Pokemon Black and White I was a devout Pokemon player. My fanaticism for the franchise constantly weened off more and more as new releases approached after the original 1999 Red and Blue games, but I still enjoyed playing them. I finally grew tired of the traditional formula and opted out of future generations. With Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!, just when I thought I was out, Nintendo and Game Freak pulled me back in with a charming, nostalgia-filled adventure through familiar territory with the Kanto region. This time, however, it was in 3D, offered new quality of life improvements like the ability to see Pokemon on the field or in "dungeons"--a feature I greatly desire for all future Pokemon games--and a new Pokemon GO-inspired catching system. The new improvements and changes to the formula are ones that I enjoyed greatly, and the duo of Let's Go games reinvigorated my interest in the mainline games, while offering a more accessible entry point for new fans alike. Job well done, Nintendo and Game Freak.

4) Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1)


Spyro the Dragon was the only entry in the original PlayStation trilogy by Insomniac Games that I played, and even then, I didn't reach its conclusion. With Toys to Bob's remakes of all three games with Spyro Reignited Trilogy, I finally got to remedy that as well as get to play the other two games in the purple dragon's trifecta of titles. To say I am impressed by these games would be an understatement of a high degree. All three games are exquisitely designed with solid and tight controls, smart level design, clever secrets, and successfully show off the evolution of the series if one plays through them in order. While the third game introduces some gameplay elements and side content that doesn't handle as well as other pieces of the collection, Spyro Reignited Trilogy made me realize just how bad I missed out by not fully playing these excellent games as a kid. Then again, perhaps I'm even more floored by them as they are fresh games to me now.

3) Marvel's Spider-Man (PS4)


Speaking of Insomniac Games, while they have no hand in the Spyro series anymore--and haven't for a looong time--the studio has moved on to bigger and arguably better things. After all of these years, my favorite Spider-Man game in Ultimate Spider-Man was finally eclipsed by Insomniac's efforts with Marvel's Spider-Man. Not just my favorite Spider-Man game now, but it's most likely my favorite superhero game ever made, too. The story is a riveting one to follow along with, containing some really powerful, hard-hitting, emotional material, the swinging and battling mechanics are simple to learn and you feel like a powerhouse superhero taking down waves of enemies while deftly dodging their attacks, and the amount of side activities--while not all winners--adds even more value and content to this meaty Marvel game. Sure, some sections of the game don't have as much entertainment value to them than others, but all in all, Marvel's Spider-Man is one of my favorite games of the past year and I'd love to take another "swing" at the game really soon with New Game+.

2) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW)


Once again, if my time with and invested in a game was the major consideration for a Game of the Year award honors at SuperPhillip Central, then Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition would be battling it out for the top spot with this immense beast of a game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Everyone is here--every character, mostly every stage, and a single player mode that I maintain to be the best the series has to offer yet. Everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is more--more characters, more stages, more content, more modes, more options, more--well, you get the general idea here. Plus, the actual fighting and smashing is a ton of fun and feels fast, fluid, and just fantastic all around. I've put so many hours into the game, whether online or off (mostly off due to all of the unlockables and things to earn from the in-game Challenge board and offline modes), and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. Masahiro Sakurai and his team poured everything they had into this celebration of Nintendo and gaming alike, and it definitely shows.

And SuperPhillip Central's Game of 2018 is...


...


...



1) God of War (PS4)


Much like Kratos mellowed and matured from his Greek adventures, God of War as a series grew up and matured itself, too. While I would consider past God of War games to be enjoyable, well crafted "junk food" gaming experiences, this God of War is different. It's something truly special, offering a touching, heartfelt, emotional journey with Kratos and his son Atreus to reach a suitable place to lay the ashes of someone special to them both. Along the way the two's relationship goes through the necessary ups and downs and concludes in a seriously satisfying way. The gameplay eschews the faraway camera from past games, bringing forth an over-the-shoulder perspective instead, allowing for a more intimate approach. This perspective allows players to get more involved and invested with the brutality of battles, as well as invest in the jaw-dropping landscapes and environments God of War presents to players.


Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild last year (which was SPC's Game of 2017), God of War has successfully taken its old, weary formula and reinvented it and the series as a whole. For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel I was going through the motions with the franchise. Instead, I was emotionally invested, I was yearning to explore every inch of the Norse world in the game, and I was wanting to play long after getting the Platinum trophy. It's all of this that makes God of War's 2018 release the Game of the Year on SuperPhillip Central, and quite honestly, one of the best games I've played in a long time.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1) Review

I've engrossed myself in so many games these past few days, all for the purpose of reviewing them soon. For instance, I finally finished up Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and I only played the original Spyro the Dragon back on the PS1. Wait. I actually go into that in my review, so why don't we just get on with it?!

There might be three games in this trilogy, but they won't--wait for it--"drag on".


Thinking back, I don't have that many fond memories of the original Spyro the Dragon. Sure, it was fun, but the most prominent thought that I have is how the game gave me a severe headache upon playing it for any lengthy duration. It's like those rough, jagged polygons cut directly into my head, causing me pain and agony. Okay, maybe that's a bit on the dramatic side. Regardless, I never did finish Spyro the Dragon when it released, and due to my rather unflattering experience with the game, I never touched the sequels. Now that Spyro Reignited Trilogy is out, I'm basically able to play 2-1/2 brand-new games (for me at least) with enhanced sight, sound, and visuals that definitely didn't give me a killer migraine. 

Spyro's back, and while it may be cliche to say, he really is better than ever.
Playing the games in order within the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, you really get a feel and understanding for how the series evolved over the course of three games. Starting off with--where else but Spyro the Dragon, the game lays down the groundwork for the future entries. "Oh, wow, Phil. Great analysis. No first game in a series has EVER laid down a foundation for sequels." Okay, sarcasm from the peanut gallery aside, Spyro the Dragon is obviously the simplest of the three games, but at the same time, it's a quite lean game. There is no real fat or filler to speak of. Pretty much every level has a required goal, and that's to reach the exit. Most levels have one true path to follow, but many also feature detours for rewards. 

Open those wings and take flight, young dragon!
Of course, like every other game in the series, it behooves you to do some exploring, as later areas in Spyro the Dragon are locked behind collectibles. These consist of rescuing the Dragon Elders who are encased in crystal, as well as gathering gems scattered about in levels, whether on the ground, in chests, in vases, and so forth. 

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage is probably my favorite game of the package. It has just the right length, just the right amount of meat to it, and creates multiple new play styles that mostly all work. In Ripto's Rage, Spyro's cast of characters expands rather greatly with a handful that appear and reappear in the hub worlds to help the precocious, purple dragon out, as well as one-off characters that guide you through the base levels. The goal of many of these levels is the same--get from the beginning to the end. It's just that they're dressed up with some narrative and quest-like design to give some context to each level, rather than just throwing the player in a given level and having them get to the end with little context to offer like the original Spyro does.

A successful game of hockey wins Spyro his reward.
Furthermore, Spyro 2 adds some side missions to complete within the levels of the game. These reward special relics that serve as the primary collectible of Ripto's Rage. These are on offer for things as simple as solving an engaging platforming task to participating in a mini-game, such as a game of ice hockey, thwarting turtles from having some soup by knocking them into the surrounding pools of water, among many others.

Spyro 2 also takes the Banjo-Kazooie route by adding new moves that Spyro can learn, such as swimming and climbing. Swimming is a mixed bag in execution, but there's really never a moment in the game where you need masterful precision to survive or proceed through a submerged underwater section. 

You don't know how hard it is for me to not bust out a
"flattened like a pancake" quip--that previous statement notwithstanding.
Finally, Ripto's Rage is the sole game in the trilogy that bookends each of its levels with comical cutscenes that sometimes hit the mark, but other times didn't really get a chuckle from me. They're all presented beautifully and impressively, even if the humor isn't on point 100% of the time. Your mileage will of course vary.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon is the final game in the trilogy, and it expands its levels and objectives inside them to much greater size. Whereas Spyro the Dragon took me about five hours to 100% and Ripto's Rage had me put in about 7-8 hours to complete, Spyro: Year of the Dragon was a 10 hour journey to fully complete. It was also spread out across more days than both of its predecessors just because unlike Spyro 1 and Spyro 2, levels take quite a bit more time to fully beat.

Part of that is the implementation of a wide variety of gameplay styles. Unlike Ripto's Rage, however, some of these don't stick the landing well at all. While it'd be disingenuous to say that Year of the Dragon is the jack of all trades and the master of none--because the standard gameplay as Spyro is as sharp as ever--a good number of the variety of gameplay types rubbed me the wrong way. There's the hoverboarding that takes place in both trick and race formats, where performing tricks and landing the tricks can be mighty particular. Throw in some odd physics and collision detection here and there in these sections, and you have something that can irritate.

Moreover, Year of the Dragon boosts the supporting cast with includes additional playable characters other than Spyro. From a bouncing kangaroo to a trigger-happy monkey, these provide a welcome reprieve from the traditional Spyro platforming and gameplay, but this also has some stinkers with the amount of gameplay types included. Thankfully, most of these work well, but the ones that don't, like the explosive-toting bird's Molten Crater mission, feature haphazard, almost glitchy camerawork that devolves into a less than satisfying experience.

Make yo' kangaroo wanna... JUMP! JUMP!
Spyro, his companions, and his world in his return-to-form Reignited Trilogy look absolutely sensational. Looking at comparison shots from the PS1 originals to these Reignited re-imaginings is something to behold, as the developer really nailed the atmosphere and environments of the original trilogy while breathing new life into them. The characters express themselves well, and the amount of detail and visual variety is magnificent. Perhaps my only actual issue with the visual piece of Reignited Trilogy is the gratuitous use of motion blur with no ability to turn it off. While it's not absolutely dizzying or nausea-inducing, it still is a notable detraction to the game's aesthetic. 

Each level, regardless of the Spyro game you play, looks positively stunning in its remade glory.
Meanwhile, the voice acting in the game has been fully reworked, but sadly, there is no option for subtitles. (Pretty crappy to not have this patched by now, Activision, for those that are hearing-impaired players.) The music, too, has been updated with the help of the original composer, but like the PS1 trilogy, the songs in Spyro Reignited Trilogy just come off as window dressing for the ears, as they didn't really stay in my head after I quit playing the games. I couldn't hum you any of the songs if you asked me to.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy to me is a much greater platforming success than Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is. Perhaps that's because I actually enjoy all of the games in the collection, and I find them well designed in the first place--unlike certain levels or entire games of Crash in general. Regardless, while there are annoying spots in the latter two games in the Spyro trilogy due to spreading out into different gameplay types, overall, Spyro Reignited Trilogy controls like a charm, plays like a dream, looks like a winner, and satisfies (mostly) from beginning to end.

[SPC Says: A-]

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