Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania (Multi) "Meet the Gang" Trailer

This morning a new trailer rolled onto the scene for Sega's Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania! This time around we get a look at the playable monkeys that will have a ball--both figuratively and literally--within this super celebration of the series! Say, is that a certain, familiar, blue hedgehog being teased at the end of the trailer? Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania launches on all major platforms on October 5th.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Tuesday 10s - Donkey Kong Games

Happy Tuesday, everyone. While this day doesn't always feature the arrival of The Tuesday 10s, you're all in for a treat this week, as that's exactly what SPC has in store for you! For this installment of The Tuesday 10s, it's on like Donkey Kong--and quite literally, at that! A few weeks ago was the 40th anniversary of Nintendo's main monkey, Nintendo's awesome ape, Nintendo's super simian: Donkey Kong. This Tuesday 10s focuses on the best of the banana bunch in the Donkey Kong series, from main games to spin-offs! It's a banana slamma' of games, so let's get to it.

Donkey Kong County (SNES)

After two decades of girders, ladders, throwing barrels, and playing the role of the villain, Donkey Kong eventually turned hero, and he wasn't alone on his adventure. In Donkey Kong Country, Nintendo's grade-A gorilla was joined by Diddy Kong. Whereas Donkey Kong was slower but stronger--able to defeat heavier foes with ease--Diddy Kong was nimbler, more agile, and light on his feet. This was also the game that made Rareware especially cozy with Nintendo, and started their fruitful partnership that continued until the GameCube era. Regardless, DKC was a technical marvel of a game, a gorgeous graphical showcase for the SNES, and a fantastic platformer in its own right.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

If someone put a coconut gun to my head (and if it shot me, it was gonna hurt), however, and forced me to choose my favorite of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, my vote would no doubt have to go to the second game. Not to be confused (or is it Kong-fused?) as Diddy Kong's Quest, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (note the pun and the apostrophe placement) brought so many excellent additions to the formula--my favorite of which being the awesome and rockin' Dixie Kong. Her ability to twirl her hair to cross over wide gaps was always a favorite gameplay feature of mine. In addition to Dixie, new and enjoyable animal buddies joined the fray, such as Rattly the Rattlesnake and Squitter the Spider. Then, there were the more entertaining and challenging bonus rooms, that were timed challenges this time around, as well as hidden DK Coins that were truly tricky to obtain, much less even find! Couple all this with brilliant ambient levels and my favorite 16-bit era soundtrack, and you have one super Super Nintendo platformer.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES)

By no means does Diddy's Kong Quest being my favorite of the DKC trilogy make Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble a far lesser game. In fact, it, too, brought plenty of awesome ideas and concepts forward to the series, such as Kiddy Kong (who was essentially a Donkey Kong-type character gameplay-wise) and a fascinating, fully explorable, non-linear world map. There were also fun NPCs to interact with, loads of secrets and replay value to be found, some of the best bosses in the DKC series bar-none, and multiple wonderfully themed levels. While the soundtrack may have not reached the same highs as past games in the series, DKC 3's music still resonated quite well with me. Overall, Donkey Kong Country 3 may have been old news when it arrived on store shelves, due to launching after the then-new hotness, the Nintendo 64, released, but it still packed quite a platforming punch for plenty of players back then and still to this day.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii, 3DS)

A massive surprise was announced during Nintendo's E3 conference in 2010. That was surprise was Donkey Kong Country's long-awaited return with none other than, well, Donkey Kong Country Returns. While Rare, of course, was now under the umbrella of Xbox's first party studios, it was up to another studio to take up the task of developing a follow-up to Rare's much revered work. Turns out that Retro Studios was more than ready and worthy of taking up that task, creating one brilliant 2.5D platformer. 

That aforementioned extra half of a dimension brought new twists to levels. DK and Diddy could be blasted from the the foreground to the background and then back again. Angles of levels could change in transitions, and it all made for nothing too game-changing, but visually, it was mind-blowing and much welcomed. While the Wii version did suffer from forced motion controls to roll and interact with certain objects, the 3DS version--developed by Monster Games--would remedy this, though without the inclusion of co-op. However, it did add eight new, exclusive levels into the fold. Whichever version a player picked up, they would find themselves with a well done and well executed follow-up worthy of the Donkey Kong Country name.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (NSW, Wii U)

This might be blasphemy to some fans out there, but while Donkey Kong Country Returns was a follow-up worthy of the Donkey Kong Country name, Retro Studios' sequel, subtitled Tropical Freeze, somehow surpassed the original trilogy of games. Now, that's only slightly, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze certainly hit a home run with Retro's sophomore effort with the DKC series. Levels were masterfully crafted--perfect for both casual run-throughs as well as speed-running--something incredibly difficult to nail as a designer. The visuals brought so many incredible effects, views, and vistas to enjoy, and the return of composer David Wise delivered some of the most fantastic tunes ever belted out in the DKC series. Thus, it was quite a shame to see the original Wii U version so overlooked, but fortunately, the Nintendo Switch port (with added Funky Kong mode), meant that Tropical Freeze got a second and much deserved chance in the sun.

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (GCN, Wii)

Between Rare's dabbling with games featuring Donkey Kong and the return of Donkey Kong Country with Retro Studios, Nintendo did a lot of experimenting with its great gorilla. Various gameplay styles and attempts were released, and one of the grandest, most impressive of these was Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat on the GameCube. This 2.5D platformer was played entirely with a special bongo controller. Each bongo on the controller moved DK in a different direction--either left or right. Hitting both caused DK to jump, while clapping or--to those who had housemates like myself and didn't want to be overly loud--tapping the rim of the controller caused DK to grab nearby bananas. 

Jungle Beat was less about simply clearing levels, but more about setting high banana scores through obtaining combos and never touching the ground essentially. Levels were built for this, making multiple attempts and replays incredibly rewarding and fun. A port in the New Play Control! line of Wii software would launch, substituting the pounding of one's hands on the bongo controller with basically "drumming" air with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk respectively. It made for less painful experience (both for the player and both for one's housemates' ears), but I won't deny that there's something more entertaining about banging on those bongos like the GameCube original had.

DK: King of Swing (GBA)

Speaking of experiments, Nintendo took another unique approach with Donkey Kong by putting him into a Clu Clu Land-inspired game where the goal is to climb pegs to advance through levels. This colorful and quasi Donkey Kong Country game was none other than DK: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance. In King of Swing, the L and R buttons served as the buttons to control DK's hands. He could grab not only pegs to move around levels, but also grab projectiles like rocks that could be thrown at enemies to defeat them. Holding L and R together powered DK and releasing them launched him forward in a charge-like attack, great for defeating non-spiked foes and getting serious height and distance. 

I call this a quasi Donkey Kong Country game because it does feature several elements from Rare's games. There are bonus barrels to find containing timed challenges, there are the Kremings and King K. Rool to contend with (or is that "kontend with" in Kremling spelling?), and several other features from the original trilogy. A sequel would release on the Nintendo DS, called DK: Jungle Climber, which is just as wonderful and worthwhile a game. It added Diddy Kong as a playable character to team up with DK, and used both screens for much more verticality in levels. Either game is worth checking out, for sure.

Donkey Kong (GB)

We couldn't get through this list without one proper representation of the tried and true original style gameplay from the Donkey Kong series. Of course, the ape was the antagonist for these games, and it was no different in the excellent Donkey Kong from 1994 on the Game Boy. Starting off, the adventure is innocent enough, remarkably reminiscent of the arcade game. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you'd think this was just a scaled down greyscale port of said arcade game with its first four levels. However, soon enough you realize that Donkey Kong on Game Boy is so much more after the handful of levels, such as puzzle-platforming elements, items to collect, enemies to rout, and keys to nab to unlock the exits to levels. Donkey Kong '94, as it's lovingly also known as, was an expanded and extraordinary take on the original Donkey Kong formula. We wouldn't see it again until...

Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA)

That's right. Essentially a sequel to Donkey Kong on the Game Boy, Mario vs. Donkey Kong took the formula for a brighter, more colorful adventure. The goals of levels were pretty much unchanged: reach the key for the level, and then carry it safely to the locked door to exit the stage. Or, as it was in the case of boss levels, the goal was to avoid Donkey Kong's numerous tricks and traps as you reach the top to hopefully rescue the damsel in distress. Unfortunately, Mario vs. Donkey Kong would be the last traditional Donkey Kong game made, as the series would move in a more puzzle-oriented, toy aspect, without the manual movement seen in DK '94 and Mario vs. Donkey Kong. The series remains stuck in that formula, which to fans of traditional arcade-style Donkey Kong games, is something worth lamenting over. 

Diddy Kong Racing (N64, DS)

We end with a game that doesn't even feature Donkey Kong at all, but is considered part of the Donkey Kong franchise: Diddy Kong Racing. Obviously starring Donkey Kong's buddy Diddy, this kart racer basically invented the Adventure Mode that a rival racer like Crash Team Racing would implement. Offering amazingly designed tracks--most of which could be played in kart, hovercraft, or in an airplane--fun challenges like silver coin collection while aiming for first place, boss races, inventive multiplayer arena modes, unlockable characters, time trials, and more, Diddy Kong Racing remains one of my favorite kart racers ever made. A Nintendo DS port would later launch, even developed by Rare post-Microsoft acquisition, but it was more a mess than main monkey material due to shoehorned touch and mic controls to begin each race and other lackluster additions. Still, the Nintendo 64 original remains a strong favorite.

NEO: The World Ends with You (NSW, PS4) Launch Trailer

Releasing today on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 with a PC release on Epic Games Store later this summer, NEO: The World Ends With You's newest and latest trailer is live and ready for its launch. It's a game a decade in the making, and it's finally here. Check out the launch trailer below, and then let the SPC community know if you plan on picking up NEO.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Fallen Knight (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

We turn our attention to a game that originally released on iOS devices. Now, Fallen Knight from FairPlay Studios marches triumphantly on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. At the game's mobile launch, it had but one difficulty and a lack of modes. The console and Steam release of Fallen Knight sees the complete game available day one. So, how is it? Let's find out with the SuperPhillip Central review.

A Not-So-Good Knight

FairPlay Studios' Fallen Knight reminded me heavily of Zero's gameplay as found in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero games. That's why I so wanted to love Fallen Knight, but unfortunately, several kinks in Fallen Knight's armor: lackluster level design, mediocre controls, and one frustrating game mechanic make for a Mega Man-style romp that does not really deserve full knighthood.

Fallen Knight sees you playing as Lancelot, tasked with taking down a terrorist group who has attacked the city, wishing to let the world know some kind of secret that Lancelot and the rest of the futuristic Knights of the Round must protect with their lives. After all, 'tis their duty! What follows is six levels of hack-and-slash 2D side-scrolling action.

Otherwise a standard and typical Mega Man clone, Fallen Knight throws in an intriguing gameplay mechanic in order to separate itself from the pack. Players can choose to simply slash their way through enemies, or they can opt to disarm foes by parrying them just before they attack Lancelot. However, the window to perform a parry is so insanely narrow--maybe just a few frames--that this mechanic did nothing but frustrate me. It's worth parrying enemies and defeating them that way, as you earn Honor Points that can be spent in the in-game shop, but again, parrying has a high learning curve to get down part. There are some parts that you can equip to Lancelot to increase the window of opportunity available to parry, but it's still quite arduous to nail. 

Slice, slash, and otherwise sever your enemies with Lancelot's sword.

This is most prevalent during the boss battles, which you can opt to either fight them in a traditional way (i.e. chipping down their health until they're eliminated), or attempting to disarm them. Starting off, it's best to just defeat bosses, as trying to disarm them is a whole other dilemma. Bosses can only be disarmed by parrying each and every one of their strikes during one of their special attacks. Said special attacks are otherwise unblockable, albeit avoidable with careful dodging. Some attacks require up to four perfect parries to determine a successful series. It's not just good enough to parry a special attack once, though, as you have to do it three times to successfully disarm a boss, earning an Honor Point bonus for doing so. Since bosses only perform special attacks that can be parried sparingly, this means if you wish to disarm a boss and mistime a parry, you have a bit of a wait for another opportunity for the boss to use its special attack. It's a pain in the proverbial butt.

If you're just battling bosses to beat them, Fallen Knight's bosses can be fun.
If you're trying to disarm them, they can be a genuine pain in the neck.

Though it is pretty paramount to acquire Honor Points through disarming enemies and bosses because that's the currency of Fallen Knight. Between stages you can purchase a bevy of upgrades and parts to Lancelot with said Honor Points. Some of these parts are only available for purchase after completing certain objectives, such as disarming specific bosses. Important purchases include health and Power Core upgrades--the latter of which are used to equip more parts to Lancelot at once. Meanwhile, different parts give Lancelot the ability to double jump, dash in midair, recover health faster, shoot a beam from his sword, provide a longer window for parrying, and much more. Different parts cost require different Power Cores with the more powerful parts taking up the most Power Cores. It's a balanced system overall, but the necessity to grind for Honor Points--which again, aren't the easiest to obtain thanks to how strict the timing of parries is--makes for genuine headache.

Parts in the Armory are at the ready for Lancelot to equip them once purchased.
Just make sure you have enough Power Cores available to wear them!

Furthermore, the actual levels of Fallen Knight aren't too interesting to play. The first level doesn't just serve as an introduction to the game's mechanics, but also serves as an introduction to the game's love for blind jumps and limited enemy variety. There is basically just a handful of enemy types to speak of, which does make learning parry patterns simple enough, but doesn't really make for much enjoyable variety. There are also HP Up items "hidden" in each level--one per level--and I put the word "hidden" in quotes because they're practically impossible not to discover. The levels are incredibly linear and devoid of opportunities for exploration.

More so than the clumsy and clunky parry system and the poor level design is the lackluster control of Lancelot himself. Swordplay works well enough, and it does feel good to slice and dice your way through enemies, but movement is hardly sublime. Running or jumping up walls seems cool at first, but too many times I'd find myself grabbing onto walls when I didn't want to. Often I'd find myself getting hit because of these cases. Furthermore, the hit detection in Fallen Knight seems a bit off, as well. On many occasions I'd take damage despite not exactly being near an enemy's strike or attack. 

Fallen Knight's story won't take players too terribly long, but that's assuming they get their feet wet with the Casual difficulty. If that's the case, the story won't take more than hour to reach the end. However, there is also the standard difficulty, various ranks to achieve from playing well, disarming bosses, a mode where you can play as another knight: Galahad, and a boss rush mode, too. There is no shortage of content to be found in Fallen Knight, but whether it's worth playing through is another story. 

Regarding the presentation of Fallen Knight, it's a mixed bag. The visuals harken back to some less than favorable Mighty No. 9 comparisons, but at the same time, this is a budgeted indie effort. I can't be harsh there. However, I can be harsher when it comes to the framerate, which can occasionally turn into slideshow levels. For a game that requires precision parrying, dodging, attacking, and platforming, that's a big issue. Framerate issues aren't heavily prevalent throughout Fallen Knight, but when they do rear their head into the action, things get ugly quite quickly. 

Eventually, you will learn the strict timing of parries, and almost be able to do them consistently.

Additionally, the text in Fallen Knight has various grammar issues (for instance, confusion between "its" and the contraction "it's") and words left out from sentences completely, which makes for a less than polished presentation. Nonetheless, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one strong point with Fallen Knight's presentation, and that's the soundtrack. It is full of bangers and catchy tunes. The sound team did a great job here.

At the end of the day, and after Lancelot's sword had been put back into its sheathe, I came away from Fallen Knight disappointed. Well, actually I was frustrated and disappointed. The timing of parrying needs just a little bit more adjusting to be reasonable. As is, it's just too darn narrow. I don't want to effortlessly parry and defeat foes, but I also want some consistency here. Lackluster level design, clumsy controls, and occasionally troublesome framerate problems, round out my issues with Fallen Knight. This Mega Man-like has plenty of potential, for sure, but it hasn't yet been met. Thus (and unfortunately), I must decree that I hereby dub thee, Fallen Knight, a disappointing game. 

[SPC Says: C-]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Cotton Reboot! (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central heads into the final stretch of July with some new reviews. First up is a game that launched on Tuesday for the Nintendo Switch: Cotton Reboot! Let's check out this 2-in-1 shoot-em-up package together with the SPC review.

A bewitching shoot-em-up package

In reviewing Cotton Reboot! I had to do a little research on the series as I'm not just a complete neophyte regarding the Cotton series but also pretty basic when it comes to shoot-em-ups in general, so join me on this quick history lesson, if you please! The original Cotton, a shoot-em-up starring a young witch flying on a broom, released in Japanese arcades in 1991. The game would later be ported from arcades to the X68000 computer, as well as other platforms such as the PlayStation, to name one. With it being 2021 and all, the series celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and in celebration of that milestone, Beep and Success have put together a 2-in-1 package featuring both the aforementioned X68000 version of the game and an all-new arranged remake version. This 1-2 punch makes for a package that is well put together and well worth looking into for fans of the shoot-em-up genre.

No matter which version of the game you opt to play first--and you should very much play both as they're equally worthwhile--the story sees a young witch with an insatiable sweet tooth (particularly of the candy variety) named Cotton who with some coaxing from a pint-sized, scantily-clad fairy named Silk, decides to go on an adventure to collect seven pieces of Willow candy. In doing so, Cotton is led to believe that when all pieces of the candy are collected from the monsters that guard them, the candy will transform into one massive Willow for her to gobble on to her heart's desire. Each level has anime art scenes bookending them, and these are humorous and well done. 

The Arrange version of Cotton Reboot! is absolutely stellar in appearance and to play.
The X6800 might not have all its bells and whistles, but it's also enjoyable.

Whether playing the X68000 version or the Arrange version, you're in for seven levels of horizontal--and occasionally vertical--side-scrolling action. Enemies ranging from bats and flying eyeballs, to frogs and chimeras, routinely swoop in, ready to pelt the player with projectiles. Like a typical shoot-em-up, take one hit and you lose a life. Lose all three lives and you need to use a continue. Fortunately, no quarters are obviously needed this time around! You can select your starting stock of lives in the options menu, but this will however prevent you from posting your high score to the online worldwide rankings, one for each version of the game. 

The original X68000 version runs and plays flawlessly, offering the entire game in its retro glory. It's a less frantic and frenetic experience than the Arrange version, also delivering a simpler version of the game to play and enjoy. 

The Arrange mode, by comparison, feels like a completely different beast, and one that is also enjoyable. Cotton moves quicker, her shots fire out in a larger range, and enemies bite the literal bullets and face the reaper faster. With more enemies on screen and more powerful bosses than in the X68000 version, this is a welcomed change indeed. 

Hasn't this mid-boss ever heard the saying: Tree's a crowd?

Cotton is part shoot-em-up and part RPG in some aspects. Collecting gems of different colors provides different bonuses. Yellow and orange gems provide experience points for Cotton, increasing the power of her standard shot in the process. Then, there are red, blue, green, and purple gems (the latter two gem types are only in Arrange) that provide magic to use in the form of blazing fire and lightning strikes, for instance. While the X68000 version's gems would quickly fall to the ground or off the edge of the screen, requiring deft maneuvering or juggling to pick them up before meeting that fate, Arrange's gems kindly stay in place, hovering on screen, ready to be collected by Cotton.

Scoring, too, has been changed, offering the Frenzy gauge. This gauge on the lower-left corner of the screen is a multiplier that increases with how long Cotton lives and how much it is used. It's filled by defeating enemies and collecting gems, and once full, it can be used to fire shots that turn defeated enemies into massive amounts of points that span large quantities of the screen. This only lasts an incredibly temporary amount of time before the gauge empties and must be filled again. Thus, it's important to use Frenzies when enemies infest the screen for the best scoring opportunities. When used correctly, it feels great to see points literally litter the screen as it racks up your score to impressive values.

That said, that does lead to one of the only problems with Cotton Reboot! and its Arrange mode. There are a lot of effects that happen on screen at once, and while the game generally does a good job at distinguishing between them, a lot of times when tons of effects and graphics are happening on screen, things like bullets can be obscured and hidden from view. This was most apparent in the sixth stage of the game, a volcano-based stage where a combination of tight surroundings, copious amounts of enemies, using magic, and lots of enemy bullets and other hazards resulted in plenty of unexpected errors and unintended deaths. The clutter on screen can be very real and very detrimental to Cotton's health and wellbeing. 

Litter the screen with Cotton's bullets; just don't accidentally run into an enemy's!

There isn't a credits system where after losing all of your lives, you game over unless you let the countdown run out. Thus, it's quite easy to beat Cotton Reboot's two versions within an hour and call it a day--even if you have died an immense amount of times. That said, to play an arcade game like that isn't really worthwhile. Instead, these types of games demand replays through not only enjoying the experiences again, but improving until you get to a point where you can shoot to or near the top of the leaderboards and even go for that fabled one-credit clear. While most players probably won't do the latter, aiming and shooting to best your own scores is always a fun self-imposed challenge to do. 

While in-game achievements would have been enjoyable to present other player types with a certain carrot-on-stick approach, there is some more meat to Cotton Reboot's figurative bones. Two other playable characters aside from Cotton can be played as, each with varied play styles, and there are two time attack modes that put you in a side-scrolling arena for each two or five minutes against a horde of enemies. Both of these time attack modes have their own leaderboards to try to reach the top of, too. Thus, there's no shortage of stuff to do and keep yourself occupied with if you're a fan of arcade-style shoot-em-ups.

Activate your Frenzy to seriously rack up the points!

The type of player who wishes to play through one or both versions of Cotton--whether it be the X68000 or the Arrange version--die a bunch, plow through lives, and then consider the game "done" when the credits roll, probably won't find much value from Cotton Reboot. However, those who appreciate arcade games, especially in the shoot-em-up style of yesteryear, will find loads to enjoy about the game. While the X68000 original offers a calmer, more focused and simpler approach compared to the more complex and eye-popping approach of the Arrange version, I personally loved both versions, feeling there are pros and cons with each. Either way, you're in for a wild and exciting ride with both versions and all of the modes featured within Cotton Reboot.

[SPC Says: B]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.