Monday, January 27, 2020

Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield (NSW) Review

I was recently once again bitten by the Pokemon bug after over a decade of being tired of the mainline games. Now, I return to a brand-new Pokemon pair of games with Pokemon Sword and Shield. Here's the SuperPhillip Central review.

Your adventures in the Galar region await.

I should very much preface this review with the mention that with regards to the Pokemon series, I have long since fallen out from the franchise. Somewhere between Pokemon Diamond/Pearl and Pokemon Black/White I lost interest in the mainline games completely. It wasn't until Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee! of all games that I jumped back into "Poke Fever", which the only cure for was more Pokemon games.

So, in essence, Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are my first completely new installments in the franchise since Pokemon Black and White back on the Nintendo DS. Quite a lengthy hiatus. While for some players, the removal of features and Pokemon from previous games are some things that sting, I selfishly couldn't have cared less because I don't know most of the Pokemon or features lost nowadays anyway. Thus, I entered the Galar region with an open mind and ready for a fresh new Pokemon experience. And, for the most part, I wound up getting just that.

Route 1 is sort of a "blink and you miss it" kind of route. No worries, though--it's not
representative of the length of the other routes in Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield take place in the England-inspired Galar region, and have you starting your Pokemon journey being greeted by your mom and then your soon-to-be rival, Hop. A rival that if you're like me, you'll get incredibly sick of battling by the twelfth or so time the game forces you to do. Hop is the younger brother of the undefeated Galar League champion, Leon, and your quest is to collect the eight gym badges around the Galar region while contending with a healthy heaping of unique characters and personalities. Frankly, while a lot of the story is on the light side, but that said, the dialogue is a bit on the heavy side, having way too many interruptions to the otherwise enjoyable exploration and Pokemon searching, catching, and battling within the Galar region. That said, I personally didn't mind the overly done exposition, though the story is quite weak overall.

Select your starter, and begin your journey through the Galar region.
As for the aforementioned enjoyable Pokemon searching, catching, and battling, this is just as fun as ever in Pokemon Sword and Shield. There is a total of 400 Pokemon to catch within the Galar region, and just under 100 new Pokemon introduced in this pair of games. They're introduced steadily and rather quickly throughout the adventure, and discovering a new Pokemon you haven't yet encountered or even better yet, caught, is still a satisfying and exciting occurrence to have happen. Pokemon hide in tall grass, but taking a cue from Pokemon Let's Go, you can see most Pokemon in the grass and in dungeon areas before initiating a battle. This way you aren't always stuck with luck-of-the-draw random encounters, hoping to take on that Pokemon in your Pokedex that you've yet to catch. Though, there are Pokemon that only appear shrouded in tall grass and caught out of water via fishing that do require happenstance to encounter.

As a Pokemon game is wont to say, "It's super effective!"
If there's one thing I really like about Pokemon Sword and Shield it's how there's an abundance of quality of life features added to make for a more palatable experience. I've already talked about being able to see Pokemon on the field before deciding to battle them, but there's also things inside of battles themselves. One of these involves seeing if a given battle Pokemon's move will be effective against your opponent's. Another includes the use of sharing earned experience between all Pokemon in your party. While I'm sure some will miss being able to individually level up Pokemon to keep the game more challenging--and I would very much agree to having an option to turn the experience-sharing off--it makes for a leaner and more streamlined approach to training Pokemon. I personally have always found the slow method of having Pokemon games give experience only to Pokemon active in battle to be quite cumbersome, and perhaps that's a reason I dropped out of the games in the first place almost a decade ago.

That said, one can easily be over-leveled in Pokemon Sword and Shield, effortlessly steamrolling over Pokemon trainers met along the various routes and indoor areas in the game. It's a double-edged sword (or should I say a double-edged Honedge in this case?) in that by having an experience share, it's way too easy to have all of your Pokemon leveled too quickly. On the other hand, by having this experience share accessible, it allows less of a hassle to level up your Pokemon. It didn't have to be an either/or proposition here, and I think with a better balance by Game Freak, this wouldn't have been an issue at all.

Who's a good doggy? Why, yes, you are a good doggy, Boltund!
Regardless, Pokemon Sword and Shield brings more than new quality of life improvements to the series, it also brings new features as well. One such feature, and one highly advertised throughout the game's marketing, is the Wild Area. This is introduced early in your adventure, offering a wide expanse to travel, containing a multitude of Pokemon species to catch. Starting off in the Wild Area, you'll encounter Pokemon of such a high level that they're impossible to catch until you earn more gym badges, but being able to eventually catch an expansive variety of Pokemon all in one place is a fantastic inclusion to Pokemon Sword and Shield. The Wild Area is always changing weather-wise, with different parts essentially being different bio-mes, having vastly different weather. One step you could be in a bright, sunny expanse, while the next step it turns into a winter hailstorm where ice Pokemon reign supreme.

Welcome to the extraordinarily expansive Wild Area, introduced relatively early in Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Also new is that of Max Raid Battles, which also take place in the Wild Area. These have you team up with either three other Pokemon trainers via online or partner up with three AI trainers against a gigantic "Dynamax" Pokemon. These are terrifyingly large in size and unleash more devastating and powerful attacks than normal Pokemon. Among the four trainers, one of their Pokemon can fortunately also Dynamax, also growing to gargantuan Poke-proportions, using stronger versions of moves that they otherwise would be unable to use. The team of four trainers challenge and take on the "Dynamaxed" Pokemon, and if they're successful in taking it down within ten turns and without having four K.O.s between the four of them, they'll gain the opportunity to catch that Pokemon. Even if this catching attempt isn't successful, they're still rewarded with goodies like rare items like treasures and Technical Machines, used to teach their Pokemon new moves.

A gigantic Munchlax means a Pokemon with a gigantic case of the munchies.
Dynamaxing isn't exclusive to Max Raid Battles either, as they're a grand component of Gym Leader Battles this time around, where the final Pokemon each Gym Leader brings out is Dynamaxed to gigantic size as one last ditch effort to bring the match to their favor. One of your Pokemon can do the same at any time in the battle, and just like the Gym Leader's Pokemon, a Pokemon can only Dynamax for three turns before reverting back to normal, so there's some semblance of strategy to this otherwise superfluous spectacle.

Introducing your Galar League Pokemon Gym Leaders...
Collecting eight gym badges is as traditional as ever for the Pokemon series, but if it isn't broken, why fix it? That said, there is a change to how gyms work, as they all have Gym Challenges to take on and complete first in order to even gain the right to battle the Gym Leader. These have a wide range of tasks to accomplish, such as herding a group of Wooloo into a fenced area, hitting a series of buttons to switch on and off water from multicolored pipes, and riding in a Disney World teacup-like vehicle as you bounce around a Pachinko-like board. These are enjoyable excursions that don't just feel like filler or something extraneous to pad the game.

Gym Challenges will test all sorts of skills, but they won't all exactly
put the "challenge" in Gym Challenge.
Outside of going to gyms, taking on Gym Challenges, and moving on to battling their Gym Leaders, you'll be following along with a light story that doesn't really pick up until near the end of the game and then into the post-game afterwards. The culminating battles against the--for lack of a better term--"big bad(s)" don't really feel earned and don't feel natural to the overall game. The stakes just don't come across as very high, despite the scenario designers' best intentions.

Then, there's the return of camping with your Pokemon, but this is in a much more interactive form that what I witnessed in past games. You can play with your Pokemon, "talk" to them, and otherwise enjoy each other's company to build your friendship and trust with them. You can also create all sorts of curry-themed concoctions. While building up one's Currydex might be engaging for some, this entire feature just didn't strike any chord with me whatsoever, and I found myself using it sparingly at most.

Battling all day must be bad for a Pokemon. Why not spend some quality playtime
with them at a campsite occasionally so they can unwind?
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield may be two games, but they're hardly two different experiences. You tackle the same story, with the same routes and gyms, and these gyms have the same Gym Challenges as well. The only real difference between the two games are which Pokemon are available to be caught, and which of two trainers you take on in the game. Thus, there's really no compelling reason to pick up both games unless you're a serious Poke-maniac.

Both games have a pleasant visual style to them on the Nintendo Switch, but I wouldn't exactly call them highly impressive. They're quaint, colorful, and nice enough to look at, but graphical powerhouses or showcases that put other first-party games to shame, they are not. The Pokemon, of course, are the stars of the show, offering plenty of unique personality in their animations, movements, and designs, and the environments sport adequate detail and have their own personalities as well. The online features can cause the frame-rate to chug and stutter a small amount when connecting with other players, but overall, Pokemon Sword and Shield aren't poorly optimized games. With regards to sound, the same 8-bit growls and buzzes from the Game Boy era are mostly used for Pokemon voices, save for a select few species, and this is a bit disappointing to me. Then again, it's practically tradition now, so I guess there's something quaint to be had with them. The music, however, is really splendid, offering plenty of jams and bops to enjoy.

Galar has an impressive variety of unique locales within its boundaries.
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield may not have the most engaging story nor may be the most impressive running game on the Nintendo Switch, but they still meet the same prerequisite I require to enjoy a Pokemon a game--they're darn good fun. While absent features and Pokemon from past games will disappoint, as will the series not evolving as much as say, a Charmander to a Charmeleon to a Charizard, what is here in these two games was enough to satisfy me and make me eagerly await the upcoming Expansion Pass. I look forward to continuing my journey in the Galar region and quest to catch 'em all.

[SPC Says: B+]

Patapon 2 Remastered (PS4) Announce Trailer

Pata, pata, pata, pon! Take on enemies of all shapes and sizes in rhythmic battles in Patapon 2 Remastered, a return to the often overlooked game from the PlayStation Portable's library. Now, Patapon 2 sees new life put in to it when Patapon 2 Remastered releases on the PlayStation 4 on January 30.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

MediEvil (PS4) Review

To start the week of content on SuperPhillip Central early, a new review is here. It's for a remake of a game from PS1 era: MediEvil. No worries--the skeleton puns and other associated humor in this review is no charge.

Make no bones about it--this remake's beauty is only skin deep.

Legends tell of the tale of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a hero who bravely led the charge of an army against the evil sorcerer Zarok and his minions. What the legends leave out, however, is that said hero quickly exited the battle from a stray arrow to the eye. A select number of people are aware of this, though, and many happen to be part of the prestigious Hall of Heroes, who shun Sir Daniel. Now, Zarok is back and causing all sorts of trouble in the kingdom of Gallowmere, and a hero shall rise from the grave to take on Zarok and his forces once more. Hopefully, this time around, he won't be defeated by a stray arrow, and will instead more than prove himself to all those who doubt him.

MediEvil is the latest relic from the original PlayStation that receives a full fledged remake, and while the game sees a gorgeous graphical improvement, the gameplay sticks a little too close to the original for my liking.

Let's begin with the tremendous graphical upgrade in this PlayStation 4 revival of MediEvil. Areas are now brimming with color and amazing detail, giving each level and area a more unique personality and character. The lighting on display in MediEvil shows off these levels in... and forgive the play-on words here... such a new light that many seem indistinguishable from the originals, aside from their basic designs. Sir Dan and the rest of the cast look sensational and animate well, too. The orchestrated score, centered on a whimsical Gothic, Medieval fantasy sound, never failed to amuse my ears.

The moon shines bright for the start of Sir Dan's adventure.
So, yes, the most obvious thing here is that the graphics when compared to the original MediEvil have been vastly improved in this remake. But, what of the gameplay? Well, unfortunately, not many tweaks at all were made here, and it's somewhat mystifying as to why considering all of the faults that the original MediEvil had.

In Sir Dan's journey, he starts out relatively weak, armed only with a sword and shield (and a literal arm as well, which can be used as a weapon). Along his multiple level journey, he picks up several new weapons to take down Zarok's plentiful amount of pesky enemies, such as zombies, imps, shadow demons, and more. Weapons like clubs, serve more than just for offensive purposes--they can be used to break boulders and walls to reveal new paths, and can be set on fire to light torches to solve puzzles. Apart from melee weapons like swords, clubs, and hammers, Sir Dan acquires plenty of long-range weaponry in the form of throwing knives, bows, spears, and even magic.

Exquisite graphics? Yes. Highly capable combat? No.
Levels in MediEvil have Sir Dan moving through them, collecting rune stones to unlock doors and gates to new areas, and sometimes performing the necessary occasionally-awkward platforming challenge. That said, most of the time MediEvil is all about light combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving. The former isn't too spectacular. In fact, I'd call it rather clumsy and ungraceful overall. More times than not when it concerned melee combat, I'd find myself running around like a chicken with its head cut off, flailing Sir Dan's sword around while hoping I wouldn't take too much collision damage from enemies in the process. Sadly, that seemed to be the best strategy starting out with the game.

Even the simple act of pushing blocks can be more difficult than it needs to be in MediEvil.
Defeating enemies is a major part of unlocking even better weapons for Sir Dan to use, as when an enemy is slain, a percentage of a level's chalice fills up. When the percentage reaches a full 100%, Sir Dan can scour the level to pick up the chalice. The chalice is usually hidden in an out-of-the-way location, but observant players can see that slain enemies have their spirits fly away in the direction of where the chalice is, which helps in discovering each chalice's location. What is a bit obnoxious is when the chalice location is back near the beginning of the level, so that means a relatively tedious trip back to collect it, just to have to make another trip back to where you turned around at originally in order to make the original trip to the chalice.

Without a long-range weapon, this battle would be a pain in the glass.
Thankfully, Sir Dan isn't unarmed!
Upon clearing the level with said chalice filled and collected, he gains access to the Hall of Heroes where he can earn a reward from one of the heroes waiting inside. These are pretty much required to obtain to have a fighting chance in later levels, as enemies can otherwise take a pretty good licking before they stop ticking. Rewards include upgraded and improved weapons like longbows, bows with flaming arrows, bows with magical arrows, hammers that serve as stronger clubs without the ability to break after repeated use, axes that can also be thrown, and Life Potions that give Sir Dan extra health to work with. Life Potions can also be found hidden in some levels themselves.

Sir Dan will need all the help he can get because MediEvil is old school challenging in its difficulty. While nowhere near so-called "NES hard", MediEvil will put you through your paces quite easily, and part of that is because of its design which is deeply rooted in older gaming. For one, losing all of your health in a level results in a game over, which means you must restart a level from the beginning again. Some levels are quite involved and can be a particular pain in Sir Dan's bony butt. One mid-game level that takes place in a garden maze is rather long due to its puzzles placed in the form of riddles, and dying so close to the end of the level--one that can easily go on for a half-hour--can be a serious gut punch and motivation-killer to continue the game. A checkpoint here and there would have been a terrific addition to MediEvil. As is, the game skews too closely towards cheap and unfair.

Further, the camera isn't always generous in giving you the best angles to work with, and the platforming leaves some things to be desired as it's hardly a game with the tightest jumping controls available. Seeing as missed jumps into bottomless pits, pools of water, or lava, results in an instant loss of a full bar of health, you can quickly breeze through what seemed like a safe amount of health to work with and end up with a frustrating "game over."

A level surrounded by pools of water makes this particular player a wee bit uneasy!
MediEvil does add a new feature to the game, which is that of lost souls. When you open a particular chest in a late-game level, lost souls appear in each of the game's main levels, and each give you a riddle to be solved in another level. These generally task you with opening up your inventory at a specific spot in a level, and then summoning the soul you collected based on the given riddle's clue. Upon finding all of the lost souls and solving their riddles, you unlock a rather cool bonus that rewards you with MediEvil in its original PS1 form.

Overall, MediEvil is an enjoyable enough romp, but one that I wish the developers had given an equal amount of time to improving the game's design and gameplay rather than obviously merely focusing on upgrading the visuals--as impressive and delightful as they are. As is, MediEvil has the appearance of current-gen game, but underneath its HD flesh is a skeleton filled with occasionally cheap design, frustrating deaths, and lackluster combat and platforming.

[SPC Says: C-]

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Five Best Mascot Racers of the Past Decade

Start your engines, as SuperPhillip Central is set to explore five of the finest forays in mascot racers from the past decade! These games sped ahead from the rest of the competition and delivered some of the most high-octane racing entertainment imaginable and in video game form. After you've perused the picks here, give a shout out to which of these mascot-led racers are your favorites.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

The face of gaming, Mario, hops into the driver's seat once again for the eighth mainline installment of the ever-thriving Mario Kart franchise. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes all of the content from the Wii U version, including all of its DLC tracks, and adds to it new mechanics, modes, and playable characters to race as. With this deluxe package of the Wii U original, you get 48 tracks and over 30 characters total. In addition to that, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe saw the return of the traditional rules of Battle Mode with real arenas as opposed to the unappealing "full scale tracks turned makeshift battle courses" of the original Mario Kart 8.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a sensational kart racer to be enjoyed by players of all skill levels, and one that's perfect to be picked up and played. New mechanics like a third level of drift boost, as well as accessibility settings in the form of steer assist and auto-acceleration ensure that everyone can have a good time regardless of their mastery of Mario Kart.

Then, there are the actual tracks of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which are, in my opinion, the absolute best set of tracks in any kart racer, much more any Mario Kart, with their anti-gravity sections having players drive up cliff sides, speed down waterfalls, and steer through out of this world twists and turns. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may lack in single player content, it more than makes up for in stellar and solid multiplayer mayhem and fun that will keep most players coming back for more again and again.

Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW)

If you're looking for a multitude of content, especially of the ongoing kind, then does Beenox have a game for you with Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, a remake of Naughty Dog's original PlayStation kart racer starring the crazed bandicoot. The developer could have easily bumped up the visuals and called it a day, but the amount of TLC put into CTR is truly outstanding. Familiar courses were given total face lifts and makeover, sometimes indistinguishable from the originals.

With Nitro-Fueled, players are greeted with semi-monthly Grand Prix events, where in each a new track is added, as are new characters, karts, and cosmetics. Players compete for Nitro Points to earn these wares. This is on top of the immense assortment of content already in the game, such as the Diddy Kong Racing-inspired Adventure Mode, the various Cups that players can compete in, the 30+ tracks from both CTR and its sequel, Crash Nitro Kart, and a multitude of characters to play as.

Unlike Mario Kart, CTR takes on a much more skillful approach to its racing, but this is a double-edged sword in a way. The skill ceiling is so high that Nitro-Fueled isn't necessary the easiest game to learn and get into. It takes quite a bit of practice to learn the ins and outs of drifting, boosting, performing turbos, and an even deeper understanding of how to perform more expert-level skills like unleashing turbos for entire laps at a time. To say that Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a pick-up-and-play game is folly, but otherwise, it's a fantastic kart racer, filled to the brim with continuously updated content and things to do.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi)

Hot off the heels (or should I say "wheels"?) of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing comes a much more complete and content-rich racing game with the game's sequel, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The last word in the title refers to the ability to transform between vehicle types on the fly at specific sections of track: by car, by speedboat, and by aircraft. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed's transformations didn't just end with the aforementioned vehicles, either, as entire tracks would evolve and change between laps. One lap you could be racing via cars, and then the next, the track crumbles underneath your wheels, turning into a high-flying finale to the finish line.

The roster was a veritable who's who of SEGA's most memorable characters, featuring characters from Sonic the Hedgehog, Space Channel 5, Samba de Amigo, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, NiGHTS, and even deeper cuts like characters from Skies of Arcadia, Golden Axe, and Shinobi. The PC version of the game would receive several exclusive characters, such as those from series such as Football Manager and Total War. All in all, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed delivered fast-paced arcade-style racing that offered something for everybody.

ModNation Racers (PS3, PSP)

Just on the edge of being within the past decade, having released in 2010, United Front Games' ModNation Racers was the first console kart racer that allowed for an incredibly ambitious means to create one's own courses, characters, and karts. The amount of creation options was at the time unheard of for a game of its type on consoles, and the actual racing was terrific and solid as well. By performing drifts and other tricks, racers could generate energy in a gauge, allowing them to boost as long as there was energy remaining in the gauge.

Alongside the user-generated content that could be made for the game, ModNation Racers featured a full-fledged single-player story campaign. Each track in the game was made using the same easy-to-use and accessible tools that were available to players in the creation modes. Sadly, ModNation Racers' online functionality has since been shut down as of 2018. Still, the racing remains as enjoyable as ever, and I hope that Sony will return to this franchise sometime in the future, perhaps eventually on the PlayStation 5.

LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)

While ModNation Racers got into the starting gate first with user-generated content in a kart racer on Sony's third home console, it was the LittleBigPlanet series from Media Molecule that took the whole concept of "Play, Create, Share" and made it popular on the PS3 in the first place. It only seemed fitting that the then-popular LittleBigPlanet series would take on the kart racing genre and attempt to take the creation crown back. Boy, did it ever.

ModNation Racers had an extraordinarily accessible track creation system. LittleBigPlanet Karting was simple to plant down a track, but the amount of options and features that one could add to a track was astounding. We're talking essentially programming here, with the ability to alter the track and customize it to obsessive degrees. Everything from the AI to the intro camera sequence could be customized and crafted to a creator's liking. Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet Karting's online servers were shut down alongside ModNation Racers.

Regardless, racing was but part of the LittleBigPlanet Karting experience, as apart from breakneck racing with the AI in the abundant circuit races of the story mode, there were battle modes, mini-games, and other activities all pertaining to driving of which to partake. The clever incorporation of gadgets like the grappling hook to utilize mid-races to cross over chasms in a dazzling display also added to the charm of the game. While LittleBigPlanet Karting failed to be competitive with the top of the heap in the kart racing genre, it was still an amusing and enjoyable romp all the same.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PS4, XB1, PC) "Vegeta" Trailer

With Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot releasing today on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Bandai Namco Entertainment has provided what is essentially a launch trailer for the game. You can bet that after all of the trailers shared on SPC that the site will have a full review of DBZ: Kakarot shortly enough. In the meantime, check out this new trailer!