Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble (NSW) Review

We're not slowing any signs of slowing down here at SuperPhillip Central. A new review is here for a relatively new game, too. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble rolled exclusively onto the Nintendo Switch last Tuesday. Here is the SPC review!

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'. Keep those monkeys rollin'!

It's been--what--ten years since a wholly original Super Monkey Ball game graced our presence. Can you believe that? After the rather excellent Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania in 2021, which compiled stages from Super Monkey Ball 1, 2, and Deluxe into one package, Monkey Ball fans like myself have been feverishly hoping, anticipating, waiting, and praying with paws together for SEGA to roll out a new game. Now, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble is here, and it features hundreds of brand-new stages, an all-new multiplayer mode, and a fresh mechanic to, well, freshen the rolling action up. Does all of this set up Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble for a freshly ripe experience, or is it rotten from the inside out?

Super Monkey Ball's main claim to gameplay fame as a series is its stage-tilting action to move your monkey in a ball through hundreds of progressively more difficult stages. The goal is to reach the end of each stage without falling off (or as the announcer loves to harp, "Fall OUT"), and it's honestly a literal goal too, as your ball needs to cut through the tape of the orange, circular goal to clear the stage successfully. You'll get lots of moments where you "kiss" the goal, only to bang off the edge of it and fall out, or worse yet, run out of time in a stage because you were too careful and cautious about falling off! Oh, it happens far too often... at least for me!

AiAi and the Super Monkey Ball gang are back, and this time... it's still not personal!

There are ten initial worlds in Banana Rumble (with more to unlock after the fact), taking players through an abundance of challenges and locales, from the cute and cozy Banana Farm that eases players through their pacing to get their footing--or rather, rolling into the game to later worlds that really dial up the difficulty considerably to almost fiendish levels, Banana Rumble's Adventure Mode is about a 4-6 hour affair. That's if you're just rolling through stages trying to clear each stage. This mode can also be played locally with up to four players via split-screen, offering the ability for all players to roll around stages at the same time. If just one player clears the stage, all players do. You can also have collisions with other balls off or, if you like some added chaos and carnage, you can have them on, too. Mwahaha!

Colorful worlds abound and await in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble!

Banana Rumble also arrives with its own story in its Adventure Mode, introducing various new characters to go along the familiar and trusted Monkey Ball crew of AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, GonGon, and others. It features cute, animated, voiced (in monkey gibberish, I do believe) cutscenes following the story of AiAi and friends meeting a mysterious monkey named Palette, who searches for her missing Papa. AiAi and pals agree to help by finding the Legendary Banana treasure which Palette says will help in searching for her father. Thus, the motivation to roll through 100 stages commences! Well, that outside of the good times and fun the Super Monkey Ball games generally provide!

This time around, this latest installment of Super Monkey Ball takes a new mechanic out for a spin--and quite literally, too. It essentially borrows a chapter out of Sonic the Hedgehog's playbook--a fellow SEGA all-star--with the spin dash. Unlike past Super Monkey Ball games implemented multiple new game mechanics that served as a banana-split to the fanbase in popularity--whether that's motion control, touch controls, the ability to jump, or heaven forbid, Banana Blitz's boss battles--Banana Rumble's spin dash works wonderfully and feels like a natural evolution of the series' gameplay. Dare I say, it's going to be a bit difficult to return to past or future games in the franchise without this mechanic. I love it so much. Mere gimmick, this ain't.

Depending on how long you hold the B button as well as which direction you hold the left stick,
these factors determine how fast and how far of a speed burst courtesy of the spin dash your monkey will get.

Performed by holding down the B button and then letting go of it whilst pointing the analog stick forward, the spin dash propels your monkey of choice in their ball forward with a sudden burst of speed. This helps in charging up ramps without worrying about losing momentum, great for lipping off ramps and short edges of stages, and most interestingly, allows for some phenomenal speed run opportunities for most stages. 

Sure, a lot of the time the speed run opportunities boil down to tremendous trial and error and even some luck with spin dashing into a corner or ledge to "jump" and skip a large portion of stage or even hop all the way to the goal, but it's positively thrilling and rewarding when you accomplish such a feat. It's absolutely awesome to rush your way through a stage without doing it the "intended way".

Shortcut and skip opportunities alike are present for proficient spin dashing players.

I put "intended way" in quotes because each stage presents players with three missions apiece to optionally complete. The missions are always the same requirements, just varying in the amount one needs to reach to accomplish them. For instance, as it pertains to speed running and clearing a stage the unintended way, there is a mission to complete a stage within a usually strict time limit. Generally, most stages require a skip via a well-placed spin dash or series of spin dashes to meet and beat these times. The other two missions in each stage feature finding, collecting, and reaching the goal with a Golden Banana, and grabbing a certain amount of bananas within a stage. 

Those are the stage missions, at the very least. There are also various in-game missions outside of stages that can be completed, too. These missions award points that are the currency to be used in the in-game shop. Here, you can purchase different clothing, balls, gear, animations, and more with the points you earn from completed missions. Needless to say, there is a LOT of content even in the single-player mode to be found in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble.

Camera got you flustered? Press the right shoulder button to get it centered back behind
your monkey in a snap! It's a lovely quality of life addition!

But, what of the multiplayer component within Banana Rumble? While this iteration of Super Monkey Ball lacks the familiar and celebrated party games of past entries (sorry, friends, Monkey Target is nowhere to be found here), what does take their place is that of battles pitting you against 15 other players. Battling with randoms mostly consists of one or two other real players and a bunch of other bots, but I'm happy at least that bots are an option to make the matches less empty. At any rate, the online matches switch between different modes at random, throwing you back to an empty waiting room of sorts where you can roll around for fun and while you wait for the next match to fill up. Once it does, you're thrown into a match.

Matches are relatively short affairs depending on the mode chosen. Really, you can find yourself waiting in the lobby longer than you actually play a match. That said, matches feature races from point-to-point along a perilous sky high road with multiple twists, turns, and obstacles to them; there are matches where you attempt to destroy robots for points; matches consisting of grabbing the most bananas; matches that are like a Hot Potato, keep-away game with bombs, where the players who remain holding a bomb by the end of one of five rounds don't earn points while the players who successfully passed off their bombs to other players or avoided getting a bomb altogether earn points; and finally, a match type where two teams of eight players apiece claim goals for points with the harder to reach goals awarding more points than those that easier to roll through.

These match types can all be played offline with bots solely (and locally as well), but there is an incentive to play online at least once per day. You get a lucky ticket each day for participating in an online match, which rewards you with a rare clothing item or gear for your Monkey Ball. There are seasons with exclusive unlockable gear that can be earned through merely playing online, as well. There's hardly a grind to speak of, too, and no further real world money must be paid to complete the season pass, as it were.

Doctor, Doctor, give me the news. I got a bad case of dizziness from all this rambunctious rolling!

I mentioned Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania (the 2021 game) back near the beginning of this review. While that game was entertaining as all get out, it did have one issue that many veterans of the Super Monkey Ball franchise held a grievance with. That was that the physics weren't 1:1 to the classic Monkey Ball games from the GameCube originals. It is my pleasure to alleviate any concerns that the physics in Banana Rumble resemble Banana Mania's relatively "off" feel of rolling your monkey about. Instead, Banana Rumble feels like the closest we've gotten to the originals without actually BEING the originals. A pleasant surprise, but a welcomed one.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble delivers an exhilarating package all in all. It features the most consistency of any Monkey Ball game since 1 & 2 back in the early 2000s. A long time to wait, for sure, for consistency. Everything from the stage design, to the challenge level, to the amount of content to sink one's teeth into like a delicious banana, to the all-new spin dash make for a terrific entry in the series. The latter of which is such a great inclusion for both gameplay and speed-running (or is it speed-rolling?) purposes. I can't imagine moving forward with the Super Monkey Ball series and not seeing the spin dash return. That's how game-changing and elevating it is. While the unsteady framerate of Banana Rumble is less than stellar (in and out of multiplayer, even), and said multiplayer modes are a bit lesser than their old school counterparts (but still fun--don't get me wrong), Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble for all intents and purposes is Super Monkey Ball 3 in everything but name only. I can think of no greater compliment!

[SPC Says: B+]

Monday, July 1, 2024

Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (GBA, NSO) Retro Review

We're continuing our Mario retro review theme from a few weeks ago with a look at one of Mario's greatest 2D adventures turned portable on the Game Boy Advance. It also received a release on Nintendo Switch Online's Expansion Pass. I'm talking about Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3. 

The Mushroom Kingdom cast takes stage once more for a riveting encore performance.

In what must be one of the more absurd naming conventions in gaming history, the Super Mario Advance series saw its fourth entry--this time featuring the third Super Mario Bros. game in all of its remade Super Mario All-Stars glory--with Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3. Of course, Super Mario Bros. 2 was Super Mario Advance, while Super Mario World (aka Super Mario Bros. 4 in Japan) was Super Mario Advance 2, and the completely different series, Yoshi's Island, was Super Mario Advance 3, because Nintendo makes no sense sometimes. Just like calling the Wii successor the Wii U, or calling a revised Nintendo 3DS the NEW Nintendo 3DS XL.

Anyway, mini rant over. Super Mario Advance 4 isn't just the original Super Mario Bros. 3 with the Super Nintendo-style visuals from Super Mario All-Stars. Even still, it'd be a pretty sweet package, if not a bit bare content-wise. In addition to the main game, there is of course Mario Bros., a mainstay of the Super Mario Advance line, but more interestingly, Nintendo added power-ups and even MORE interestingly, never-before-seen levels that could be added to the game via the e-Reader peripheral for the Game Boy Advance original version. The Nintendo Switch Online version comes with them already available in a separate menu. More on those levels later.

Every great platforming adventure has to start somewhere.
Super Mario Bros. 3 begins here in Grass Land's first level.

As for the base Super Mario Bros. 3 game, it's just as fantastic as it's always been. It presents players with over 80 levels of platforming nirvana. The game begins with the easy and breezy Grass Land that helps players find and establish their footing as well as their running and jumping groove. It features simple-enough courses with minimal bottomless pits, not-so-tricky enemy positions, and coins and power-ups aplenty.

World 2, Desert Land, immediately turns up the heat in more ways than one.

From there, the game gets increasingly more complex with worlds with multiple more levels to them on their individual maps. Some of these can be avoided, but in order to get that much-desired "World Complete", you do have to beat every level on a given world's map. Mario and/or Luigi will see themselves braving dangerous deserts (with one infamous level home to a particularly angry Sun), diving into the ocean depths, facing enemies and obstacles of giant proportions, taking a trip to the skies above, chilling out in an ice world, finding their way through a pipe maze, all before reaching the kingdom of Bowser himself in hopes of rescuing Princess Peach. 

Giant Land will have you wondering what Bowser feeds his troops here! Aren't you all big!

Levels include basic left-to-right courses, but also some vertical ones, as well as auto-scrolling courses too, particularly the auto-scrolling airships that round out almost every world save for the last. The levels in general are usually short affairs, able to be run through within a minute or so each, if you're keeping a good pace. This is a positive aspect, as there are no checkpoints in levels, meaning that if you make a costly mistake in a level, you start from the beginning of it. The brevity of levels means that you won't have to make up too much progress with each attempt, and with some of these levels, especially later levels, you'll be making a LOT of attempts.

These auto-scrolling levels, especially in the final world, can make anyone can-"tank"-erous!

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a challenging game. It's by no means "NES Hard", a term coined by fans and players of the era, but it's also not a cakewalk either. With the Super Mario Advance 4 version, niceties like save anywhere, being able to stockpile more power-ups and items in your inventory to use on the map (collected from Toad Houses, Hammer Bros (or some variant of Bro) battles, and other methods from each world's map), and the ability to revisit worlds make for a less frustrating, less agonizing experience.

Mario's "nope-ing" out of being here faster than you can say that enemy's name!

Speaking of challenging levels, perhaps the most intriguing part of the Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mario Bros. package (the latter of which has been in every Super Mario Advance game prior, so it's really well-trodden territory at this point) is that of e-Reader bonus content. Think of it as DLC via scannable cards courtesy of an old Game Boy Advance peripheral--you guessed it, the e-Reader. Thankfully, the recently released Nintendo Switch Online version of the game arrived with the major part of the e-Reader's functionality--new levels made specifically for Super Mario Advance 4--already included. 

It's difficult to speak the importance of all-new 2D Mario levels for when this game originally released. The last full 2D Mario game released prior to the Super Mario Advance series and this fourth installment was Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins waaaay back in 1992. Note: I'm talking about a game with a fully playable Mario, so my apologies to Yoshi's Island, even though one can make a very well presented argument of the contrary. That said, until Super Mario Advance 4, all entries in the Advance series featured no new levels at all, so this was a pretty big deal in many ways. We wouldn't get a new 2D Mario until New Super Mario Bros., which was event unto itself, but I digress there!

The over 30 unique levels featured as essentially bonus DLC to Super Mario Advance 4 are quite extensive and elaborate levels. They're also some of the most difficult in Mario series history. Much like Super Mario Bros. 3's base levels, these e-Reader ones feature no checkpoints, which can make them more frustrating to tackle. This is especially so if you're searching high and low for Advance Coins in each level, or in some levels, the super-hidden, hard-to-reach e-Reader Coins. 

Either way, levels basically take everything from past Super Mario Advance games. Some levels feature plucking up vegetables from the ground or digging into sand a la Super Mario Bros. 2 (aka the original Super Mario Advance), while others feature power-ups like Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World's Cape Feather, enemies like Bumptys of Super Mario World 2: Super Mario Advance 3 fame, and even some challenges grabbed straight from Super Mario Bros. 3, only made harder--like a battle with TWO Boom-Booms as opposed to the usual one. 

Hey! You're in the wrong game! ..Aren't you? I guess the rulebook is thrown out of the window in these e-Reader levels!

Super Mario Advance 4 has a similar presentation to that of the Super Mario All-Stars version back on the Super Nintendo. Essentially the visuals were taken almost 1:1 directly from that compilation, much like Super Mario Advance's version of Super Mario Bros. 2. There are some added effects as well as some missing ones, too. The major difference is that of sound. If you're not a stranger to the GBA hardware, particularly that sound chip, then you are familiar with how tinny the monaural sound and music can be. The music is lesser quality than the Super Nintendo version of Super Mario Bros. 3, but serviceable yet as always, suitably catchy as well. Like past Super Mario Advance games, Nintendo laid it thick on the voice clips, so be ready to hear "Just what I needed" from Mario a few hundred times throughout your adventures together.

One of the lovely but perilous world maps Mario/Luigi will find themselves venturing along.

Overall, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 unquestionably had the most love and care put into it by virtue of the endearingly made bonus levels originally an e-Reader exclusive. Now, with an NSO Expansion subscription, one need not track down packs of cards hoping to get something good out of them. As stated earlier, instead they're all within the game as is. With tight controls that one would expect from the Super Mario series, over 100 levels to enjoy (and curse towards, at times, admittedly), and one of Mario's finest adventures in handheld form, Super Mario Bros. 3 shines like the portly plumber racing through a level with a Starman--colorful and brightly, making Super Mario Advance 4 a fantastic package for any SMB3 or platforming fan in general.

[SPC Says: A]

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Tuesday 10s - My Most Anticipated Games for the Rest of 2024

The Tuesday 10s return this week on SuperPhillip Central. For those uninitiated, The Tuesday 10s--when they happen, at least--occur on Tuesdays and are basically unordered top ten lists. They can be about games themselves, or even game concepts like levels and characters, for instance.

Today, and with this morning's Nintendo Direct behind us, I feel we have a good idea on what to expect for the rest of 2024. That's not considering any surprises or future announcements in the second half of the year, of course. That said, these ten games are the ones that I'm most excited to play for the remaining months of 2024!

After you've peeked at my picks (and hopefully read the rationale behind each of them, too), please feel free to comment below on which games you're most hyped for to round out the year!

Astro Bot (PS5)

What salvaged an otherwise ho-hum (for me, at least) State of Play late last month was the conclusion of the presentation, featuring a trailer starring a lovely little robot that could named Astro Bot. The game of the same name is a major outing for the character, originally seen in different forms in The Playroom VR demo, then the PlayStation VR exclusive Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, which this new PS5 adventure seems to riff off of a teeny bit here and there. 

The PS5 pack-in game Astro's Playroom heralded in a glorious showcase of the DualSense controller, and in general was just a fantastic game to introduce players to their new PlayStation 5 systems. No doubt from the announcement trailer that developer Team Asobi has thrown myriad ideas at the wall, and in my eye, all of them seem to be sticking wonderfully. Here's hoping this ode to PlayStation's history and moreover massively captivating and charming-looking 3D platforming sticks the landing as well when it arrives on PS5 on September 6th.

Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero (PS5, XBX, PC)

I can't think of a better tribute in game form to the late, great Akira Toriyama than seeing his Dragon Ball creations and characters comes to life in one of the ultimate 3D fighting game packages. That seems to be what we're going to get with Dragon Ball: Sparking! Zero, pitting a multitude of characters from Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, and Dragon Ball Super against one another as a roster that calls back to Budokai Tenkaichi 3's. If you're unaware, that game featured a massive amount of characters to play as, and Sparking! Zero seems to bring with it even more high octane action, eye-melting visuals (in the GOOD way), and multiple story campaigns starring different characters, with Goku's containing the most battles, as expected. Couple this with the ability to create and share your own custom story missions, cutscenes, and battles, and you have one seriously super Dragon Ball game for fans!

Dragon Quest III: HD-2D Remake (NSW, PS5, XBX, PC)

Speaking of Akira Toriyama's works, let's rock a different kind of dragon with the illustrious Dragon Quest series, which Toriyama's art lives on through. During this morning's Nintendo Direct, Nintendo not only revealed more footage from this gorgeous HD-2D remake of Dragon Quest III and--finally--a release date (November 14th, 2024), but also the announcement of the other games in the Erdrick trilogy being remade as well with Dragon Quest I and II in store for next year. It's been almost three years since Dragon Quest III's HD-2D remake was originally announced, and seeing it with a firm release date almost feels like a fever dream, like managing to slay four Metal Slimes in the same battle without any of them fleeing. Like such a battle, the experience of playing--or for some, RE-playing Dragon Quest III will be an absolutely rewarding one. I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time (NSW)

There is no shortage of fascinating RPGs arriving on consoles and PC this year. While this next game had no presence during today's Nintendo Direct, Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time still is planned to release on October 10th. I absolutely adored the original Fantasy Life on the Nintendo 3DS. Its job-based gameplay where players worked to increase their skills, opted to tackle monsters and other foes in the game's fields and dungeons via action-RPG goodness, and found a nice life for themselves, made for an incredibly addicting game. With new town elements and online play in this new sequel, I'm quite eager to get my hands on Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time, and have this be the game which steals all of my time when it launches as a current Nintendo Switch exclusive.

Indiana Jones and the Great Circle (XBX, PC)

With a less-than-stellar aura surrounding the Xbox brand in recent months--the most important being the closing of some incredible studios and letting go of some tremendous talent--and a seemingly aimless direction for the brand in general, it was important for Microsoft's Xbox to pull off at the very least a competent showing two weeks ago. I'd say, fortunately, the showcase was a success. The reveals were exciting and top-notch, but the game that will most likely release by year's end that most excited me from Xbox's show features one of my favorite fictional characters in film: Indiana Jones. 

Using Harrison Ford's likeness and Troy Baker's serviceable impression of Indy, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle is a first-person action/adventure game that sees our artifact-finding, temple-exploring, globe-trotting adventurer doing all those things complete with the look and feel of actually playing a film in the series. The humor is so on-point, and one of the best features--at least presentation-wise--that I've seen so far. While there's no firm release date and just a vague 2024, here's hoping Machine Games can deliver a game worthy of the Indiana Jones name--unlike perhaps for some, the last two films in the franchise...

The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom (NSW)

One of the empty spaces in the Nintendo Switch catalog, at least for me, was that of a wholly new top-down 2D Zelda adventure. Little did I know that with today's Nintendo Direct that not only would we get a wholly new top-down game in the franchise, but it'd literally be a ZELDA adventure! For the first time (no, I don't count the Phillips CD-I games, sorry), Zelda is the primary protagonist in a game for the series her name is attached to. 

The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom could have easily been Zelda with bow instead of a sword, and that might have made folks appeased. However, Nintendo, in traditional Nintendo fashion, went above and beyond. Zelda gains a rod that she can use to capture objects like tables, beds, boulders, and even foes to ensnare to do her bidding in what is shaping up to be a truly clever and creative adventure. From the trailer shown, we saw that Zelda can conjure blocks of water to reach higher, other inaccessible areas; she can build stepping stones with beds; and even launch boulders at baddies to truly rock on. We won't have to wait long for Zelda's first foray into adventure when The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom releases on Nintendo Switch on September 26th, 2024.

Mario & Luigi: Brothership (NSW)

Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door have seen recent releases. Now, the trifecta of Mario RPGs is complete on the Nintendo Switch with the announcement of a brand-new Mario & Luigi game! Mario & Luigi: Brothership is an isle-hopping (or is it "isle-launching"?) adventure starring the Brothers Mario with a whole cavalcade of new characters to meet, enemies to defeat, and places to visit and explore. Bros. Attacks return, as does the ability to use Mario and Luigi's unique teamwork abilities to solve puzzles in the overworld areas of the game. It's such a sight for sore eyes to see the return of Mario & Luigi, and such a delightful looking entry as well, both visually and gameplay-wise. We won't have to wait too terribly long for Mario and Green Mario to once again team up together as Mario & Luigi: Brothership sails onto the Switch on November 7th, 2024.

Sonic X Shadow Generations (NSW, PS5, XBX, PC)

While Mario will have lots of fun this year (with more to come on this list), Sonic isn't resting on his laurels. And I must admit, I did NOT expect this much effort to be put into a remaster of Sonic Generations, a game that was already a phenomenal one to begin with. This being the year of Shadow and all, SEGA and Sonic Team have opted to insert Shadow into game into his own adventure, essentially splitting the game into two parts, collectively titled Sonic X Shadow Generations. 

The incredibly well done Sonic Generations half is included, of course--this time adding the Sonic Mania's Drop Dash into the spin of things--while Shadow Generations not only gives the fourth-damn-Chaos-Emerald-seeking hedgehog a suite of remixed stages from his now-storied history in the Sonic franchise and several boss encounters (these first two things currently have an indeterminable amount, but they're immensely polished all the same), but also a Sonic Frontiers-style hub world that connects all of the content together. I'm eager to explore both pieces of this hedgehog game package when Sonic X Shadow Generations boosts onto all current platforms on October 22nd, 2024.

Super Mario Party Jamboree (NSW)

It's been a little bit since Mario last held any kind of new party with his pals (and enemies alike) on the Nintendo Switch. Well, the wait for a new party is over! Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom crew's latest soiree, Super Mario Party Jamboree, is billed as Nintendo as their biggest one yet. With a respectable seven boards (five all-new and two returning from Mario Party 1 and 2 respectively), over 100 mini-games, over 20 playable characters, multiple planned modes, and the ability to play online against up to 20 opponents in Battle Royale-style Mario Party madness, Super Mario Party Jamboree is shaping up to a bash you won't want to miss. RSVP if you'd like to be prepared to par-tay when Super Mario Party Jamboree launches on Nintendo Switch on October 17th, 2024.

Visions of Mana (PS5, XBX, PC)

Harkening back to the age of old-school RPGs while giving off a gorgeous and modern visual presentation package, Visions of Mana is, of course, the latest entry in the long-running Mana franchise. Chosen by the Faerie to revitalize the Mana Tree, a great expedition and grand journey awaits our colorful cast of heroes. The idea of facing off against foes both small and large (especially those Eidolons) sounds incredibly enticing and exciting to me. I absolutely loved the Trials of Mana remake four years ago, so to say that I'm eager to engage with more of the Mana series would be an understatement. Bring it on, Square Enix. I'm ready for some comfort food gaming when Visions of Mana starts its adventure on August 29th, 2024.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

[SuperPhillip Plays] Mario Power Tennis (GCN) - Full Playlist Now Available

It seems fitting to follow up Thursday's retro review of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour with something also related to a Mario sports title from the GameCube era. If you're already subscribed to my YouTube channel of SuperPhillip Plays or have previously viewed this post on SuperPhillip Central, then you no doubt already recall that my quest to be the best in all sixteen tournaments in Mario Power Tennis began several months ago with episode one of my video series. 

Now, the series is complete, and all 16 episodes are available to watch, binge, and enjoy at your leisure! I hope you'll consider partaking in this series of exciting tennis action featuring intense rallies, fun across several tournament styles, and more!

Catch the full playlist below in this easily digestible, perfectly bingeable package. Have a great weekend ahead, everyone!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GCN) Retro Review

How about a retro review for this unplanned throwback kind of Thursday? That's exactly what we're in for together with this retro review of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour from the GameCube generation.

"Fore" score and several birdies ago, Mario and friends 
stepped out on to the tee for a GameCube golf outing.

I can't get enough cartoony arcade-y golf games. Whether it's Hot Shots Golf/Everybody's Golf, PANGYA, or, of course, Mario Golf, nothing gets my love of video game golf going than colorful characters playing on fantastical courses. That's why I couldn't resist going back to the GameCube's Mario Golf title, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. I've pretty much squeezed out all of the goodness of the Switch's Super Rush, the 3DS's exquisite World Tour, and the Nintendo 64 original as well, so it only made sense to move on to the GameCube one, a bit of a game I left to my teenaged years and haven't played in modern times. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour is pretty much more of the same from its Nintendo 64 predecessor, adding some new features and unfortunately some bumps in the green as well.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour features a colorful cast of over a dozen Mushroom Kingdom all-stars, each with their own stats, such as maximum drive (how far they can hit the ball) and arc/trajectory of their shots. There are of course your mainstays of the series: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Yoshi, Bowser, Wario, and Waluigi--of course--but there are also some less traditional picks, such as Koopa Troopa, Birdo, and the first time inclusion to the Mario Golf series of characters such as Diddy Kong and Bowser Jr., the latter of which had just debuted a year or two prior in Super Mario Sunshine. 

Yoshi is but one of the returning playable Mushroom Kingdom characters from the N64 Mario Golf.

Apart from Bowser Jr. who is a secret character, there are three other unlockable golfers as well. These are unlocked through completing specific modes and challenges within Toadstool Tour: whether it's beating all of the side games, achieving a certain amount of Best Badges--obtained by getting a Birdie or better on a given hole--and so forth. In addition to the characters yet to unlock, the base roster can also be upgraded to Star Character level by challenging them to a Character Match, a round of versus golf where the lowest score of each hole wins that hole. The player with the most holes won by the end of the round is the overall victor. Star Characters hit further, hit harder, and are best suited for more seasoned players.

Wario is one mean but decidedly not-so-lean power hitter!

Toadstool Tour contains a wide amount of modes to play through aside from the Character Match. Tournament is the main means of unlocking new courses. You compete against a field of computer opponents to get the best score by the end of the round. The required score to come in first place seldom, if ever, changes, so it's less about "beating the field" and more "beating a certain score". There's also Ring Shot, which pits players against multiple holes across all six courses. The goal here is to hit your shots through all of the rings, and then successfully sink your ball into the hole with par or better. Easier said than done in later stages, as on many occasions you'll be tasked with hitting your shot far out of the safety of fairways and usually into bunkers, rough, and other hazards you'd usually wish to avoid. 

Additionally, Practice Games help hone your golf skills, such as chipping, putting, and approaching. They each come in novice, intermediate, and expert modes. Then, there's the Near-Pin Challenge, taking place on the lone Par 3 short course in the game, Congo Canopy. Here, you're tasked with driving the ball as close to the pin as possible without missing the green. Birdie Challenge is an even more challenging version of this, tasking players with getting consecutive birdies on every hole within this treetop course.

Where Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour really shines mode-wise is in its multiplayer repertoire. For one, up to four players can play together, whether on separate controllers or sharing controllers or a controller. The multiplayer suite of modes includes traditional Stroke, Match, and Skins play that are all no stranger to any golf game worth their downswing, but also two-on-two Doubles play, playing with a randomized and limited amount of clubs in Club Slots mode, the coin-collecting Coin Shoot mode, and myriad more.

Up to four alternating players can take to the links together in one of many multiplayer modes.

Toadstool Tour's tournaments, modes, and matches are played across seven unique 18-hole courses, one of which--the aforementioned Congo Canopy set in DK's Jungle--is the sole Par 3 short course. The initial two courses are pretty much standard fare and could be mistaken for real courses in a traditional golf game for the most part. It's not until you get to the desert ruins and canyons of Shifting Sands, the third course in the game, where things become more exotic and interesting. 

While courses like Cheep Cheep Falls are generally grounded golfing experiences...

It's a big shift from the starting two courses, Lakitu Valley and Cheep Cheep Falls, where fairways are large, greens are gentle, hazards are rare, and the courses are more grounded, to the final two courses of the game: Peach's Castle Grounds and Bowser Badlands, where things go deep off in the realm of the fantastical with full Mario and Mushroom Kingdom theming. I'm talking warp pipes that whisk your ball away closer to (or sometimes even further away from) the hole, Mario enemies like Bob-Ombs, Chain Chomps, and Thwomps, and rivers full of lava in the case of the latter course of Bowser's. These final two courses will put even the most professional Toadstool Tourer through their paces. They are TOUGH.

...You'll soon find that there's fungus among us (and plenty of other surprises) in later courses!

Of course, all the characters, modes, and courses within a golf game would be all for nothing if the actual golfing gameplay wasn't up to... well, par. Fortunately and probably without much in the way of needing to worry about it, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour scores under par here. (For those not too acquainted with golf terminology, that's a good thing.)

From typical golf game aspects like being able to survey and get an overview of the topography and play environment of each hole by moving the camera around--an effortless task--to having a full repertoire of helpful information like wind speed and direction, elevation to the hole, incline, etc., Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour does not leave much out to assist you with taking your best shots possible on the links. 

The traditional three-click gauge from the OG Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 is here and present, offering a bit of spin on this classic. Starting the gauge is still performed by pressing the A button, but on the second button press--the one to set the power of your shot--you can either opt to press A again or B this time around. If the former is selected, this turns the rest of the current shot into automatic mode, where the accuracy of the shot is determined by the game randomly. If B is pressed, manual mode is selected, allowing players to time the accuracy of their shot, as well as add any topspin or backspin to their shot through combinations of A and then B or vice versa, upon setting the accuracy. Spin in general is a new addition to the Mario Golf series introduced within Toadstool Tour.

Luigi may be beached currently, but he's ready to escape the sand with a well-hit chip shot.

Returning from the past two Mario Golf games is that of being able to determine where you hit the ball, allowing you to arc your shots more carefully, best used when attempting to avoid obstacles like trees. Another aspect from past Mario Golf games: power shots, return as well, allowing harder drives, chips, and more to happen as long as your character has enough of them left to use. With each power shot used that is not given perfect sweet spot timing (i.e. the power bar on the left side and the right side both are not perfectly synced and aligned together), the power shot counter goes down one. 

For all that Toadstool Tour does right in improving upon Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64, it does do some things that are a bit bewildering to the point of me shaking me head. For one, putting is much more challenging than it needs to be, by virtue of the power gauge moving so fast when starting it. This makes short putts harder to manage and sink than one might imagine. Further, the camera angles at times tend to linger on your character awkwardly longer than they otherwise should upon them hitting their shots. In the case of putting, it'd be nice to know where I went wrong with the angle of my putt, but that's too bad because the game opted to focus on my golfer instead for more than necessary. While these issues are more gripes and minor issues than anything else, they do add up overtime and make for a somewhat frustrating experience occasionally.

While medium to long putts aren't too taxing to time the power of, those short, less-than-3-ft. shots can be NASTY!

Now that we've talked in detail about where Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour falters a little bit, let's chat about where the game goes above and beyond--its charm and personality. Everything from character animations, hole out celebrations, and taunts (remember taunts?) to the colorful and vibrant menus chockful of character, there's just so much personality and lovely vibes pulsating throughout this golfing package. I don't think I'm telling tales out of the clubhouse here when I say that Toadstool Tour really makes modern Mario sports games seem sterile by comparison. Meanwhile, Motoi Sakuraba delivers one of his best Mario sports soundtracks with cheerful, chipper music that really gets you in the mood to do some happy-go-lucky golfing with Mario and friends. The voice quips from the Mushroom Kingdom crew delight, and even has some more fully voiced stuff in the hilarious animated intro and surprisingly in the letters that your Character Match opponents send as a means of challenging you to a round.

Bunkers and beaches abound around the Blooper Bay course.

All in all, if Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour was a course like the seven within its game, it wouldn't be without its unsightly divots and scuffmarks on its otherwise smooth fairways and greens. Camera issues and putting woes can make for an aggravating experience at times, but everything else lives up to the good Mario Golf name. The level of character in the game is unmatched in most Mario sports games past and present, the course design is challenging and enjoyable, and overall, the golf gameplay experience is engaging and worthwhile. Even long after unlocking all characters, courses, and modes, I continue to return to the links with Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom crew, as Toadstool Tour definitely endures the test of time, sinking most of its putts to head home with a gold trophy.

[SPC Says: B+]