Friday, January 30, 2009

Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip (Wii) Review

There's nothing more fitting than reviewing a snowboarding game in the middle of the cold winter months. Most people dread this time of year, but these goofy kids live off of it! Hang ten, dudes (that's surfing, isn't it?), because we have a review of Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip for the Nintendo Wii!

It's all downhill from here, but that's a good thing.

NOTE: Due to my lack of interest for Wii Fit and the inability to obtain a balance board, this review is based off the Wii remote control method only.

Third party developers have not been too kind to the Wii. Regardless of its dominant nature as the first place console this gen, many developers still are hesitant to create competent software for the system. When a game is made that is multiplatform, it's either held back by being a Playstation 2 port, or even worse, a PSP port, or it's just a downgraded HD game with poor motion controls attached. Now here's a diamond in the rough. Rather than take the HD build of a game and down-port it to the Wii, Ubisoft opted to create a version specific for the console, an endeavor that many of us wish more third parties would do. The end result is Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip, a more than capable game for those who are just getting into gaming and for those whose primary hobby is gaming.

Holding A will make your boarder go faster in exchange for worse handling.

Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip features a group of friends getting a text message from the legendary snowboarder Shaun White. This message invites the amateur boarders to meet him on a snowboarding expedition across the world. This simple premise begins all the wintry wackiness that occurs during the game's five "worlds". Each world has four different events to select from, and each of these feature completely different mountains to shred down. The variety of objectives aren't as diverse as what you would see in the Tony Hawk series, but they get the job done. Every course has a primary objective and a pro objective to complete. The primary objectives allow the player to progress through the game, opening up new runs and characters to play as, while pro objectives unlock new concept art and other bonuses. While one run might have the player racing down the mountain, trying to beat a certain time, another will have the player attempting to beat a high score. This is a perfect set-up for new and more advance gamers. The regular objectives are easy enough to obtain for those without much gaming experience whereas the pro objectives are tailored for those with more than several months of gaming under their faux-leather belts. I was told mine was the real thing and not "pleather", so get off my back.

Keep your distance from a rail unless
you intentionally want to trick off it.

There's only two boarders to choose from by the start of the game, but by the end, there's a fair selection of fictitious snowboarders to unlock. Shaun White is a playable character, but he's only available after the credits roll. It's not all for naught though as a series of difficult expert challenges are unlocked once the game is beaten initially, and there's a need for someone as skilled as Mr. White to complete most of them. Including Shaun White, each character has their own set of stats and skills. A player chooses the boarder they want to shred as, and then they pick the cameraman (or woman). This may seem like a frivolity at first, but once the player's respect meter is maxed, through performing enough tricks without bailing, the camera person's special skill can be activated for a limited time. While one boarder's skill can boost the player's maximum speed, another skill can increase the player's air time. It's baffling though that you have a cameraman, but there's no option in the game to actually record and watch your best runs...

Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip can be controlled with one of two control schemes: the Wii remote by itself or the main attraction, the Wii remote plus the balance board. The two control options can be switched at any time, so there's no need for regret. Popular opinion seems to agree that the balance board is the more optimum control method, but I was stuck using the Wii remote by its lonesome. Surprisingly, the remote isn't that bad at all, although there are several rough patches down the Wii remote control method's mountain.

There's a varied amount of environments to keep things fresh.

To move your boarder side to side, you twist the Wii remote the direction you wish your boarder to move. Flicking up the remote causes your player to leap into the air. To get the most air off of a kicker, a ramp used to give a snowboarder enough height to safely perform a trick, the game suggests you jump at the very edge of the kicker for the maximum amount of height. While in the air, there's a wide assortment of tricks to be pulled off. For instance, flicking to the left or right with no buttons held, flicking left or right with A, B, or A and B together unleash several different grabs, flips, and other gnarly moves. Rails are also prime for the tricking, but these can be more annoying as just nearing a rail will make your boarder automatically attach to it as if the boarder and the rail were two opposites attracting like a magnet. This is severely vexing when you're doing a mid air trick, and the game decides to aim for you for a rail instead of the ground-- causing you to crash a bloody and beaten mess, screaming in god-fearing agony. Perhaps I'm exaggerating a little, but my point still stands. Another obnoxious trait is having a run where your "friends" carve down the mountain with you. At first I was like, "Oh, this is cool", until every run I had with them felt like they were purposefully getting in my way. It'd be fine if them running into you didn't take so much time, but it absolutely ruins perfectly good runs. Trying to leap off a kicker to nail a 1,600 point trick only to have some moron bump into you at the last moment, completely screwing you over. Thanks, dudes. Thanks a lot.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? Am I right?
Yeah, I'm right! Didn't you read the review?

The way to score big during a run (besides avoiding your douche bag mates) is to keep your combo meter running by keeping the meter's timer from running out This is done by performing tricks without landing them sloppily or bailing altogether. Each time a trick is completed, the combo meter becomes full again and the number that each trick is worth multiplies. A trick can be worth up to three times its original value when the combo meter's bonus is at its highest.

Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is one of the better-looking Wii titles. Rather than going for realism, the art team decided to go with a more stylistic approach which most of the best-looking Wii games go after. The look is colorful and cartoony, and it runs silky smooth. The voice acting is rather good, too, in addition to the wonderful soundtrack of licensed tunes. There's stuff in here for the classic rock lovers such as Heart, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Sweet, and Blue Oyster Cult, while there's also stuff that's more contemporary for you youngsters from artists like Run D.M.C., Audioslave, and Goldfinger. Each level has a set of songs that play, and if you don't like one song, just hit the 1 button to play the next.

None of these shots are bull. This game looks very good.

Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip is an extraordinary effort from Ubisoft. I very much enjoyed the game, and I didn't even play it with what many people consider the best control method, the balance board. There's enough fun for new gamers as well as enough challenge for veterans. A few snags in the slopes bar this game from being beyond good such as dumb AI, a few control issues, and a lack of online options, but overall Road Trip is definitely a game that won't cover you in an avalanche of mediocrity.

Overall: 7.5/10

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii) - New Trailer

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time for the Wii and DS has been released in Japan, thus the promised new trailer for The Crystal Bearers has been ripped and posted on Youtube for our viewing pleasure. I really like what I'm seeing here. Love seeing my main man Cactuar getting another game on Wii.

Mario & Luigi 3 (DS) New Japanese Trailer

I need not say two words more than "Fat Luigi" to sell myself this game. If you haven't played the second title in the Mario & Luigi series, Partners in Time, be sure to check it out. If you need an extra bump in motivation, check out my review from months past.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sonic Unleashed (PS3, 360) Review

Here we are with a new review. This time I'll be passing my judgment to Sonic Unleashed. This review is only for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. Sonic's adventures have gone up and down, so is Unleashed a game that's unbelievable or a game that's best left untouched? For a second opinion, check out my brother's review.

Hungry Like the Wolf

There's still a bad taste in mouth leftover from years past. No, it's not that call-girl with the deep voice and chronic wheezing-- it's Sonic the Hedgehog from 2006. I really enjoyed Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and less so Sonic Adventure and Shadow the Hedgehog, but all it took was one horrible, stinky piece of hedgehog crap to turn me off the 3D exploits of Sonic completely. Fast forward two years, and now Sonic Team feels the need to add to their 3D Sonic formula by adding a God of War-inspired Werehog into the fold. After all, who needs to refine what Sonic Team has already when they can add more fun to the franchise? The sum of these parts is Sonic Unleashed. Will Unleashed tap into your primal instincts, having you smash this game in half?


Sonic Unleashed begins with a dominant Super Sonic rampaging through Dr. Eggman's fleet of robots and starships. However, Eggman gets the better of his enduring nemesis, tricking him into entering a special machine. The Chaos Emeralds unleash a sinister force within the Earth's core, the omnipotent, Dark Gaia, who splits the planet apart into numerous pieces. With a luminous flash of light and the combination of the Chaos Emeralds and the machine's power, Sonic the Hedgehog is transformed slowly into the hulking menace, werewolf-like creature-- the werehog. ...Wait. ...Seriously? After this, Sonic gets blasted down to Earth where he meets a small, purple-coated creature named Chip. Together the two opt to piece the broken planet parts back together through the power of love, trust, honor, and friendship. I made the love, etc part up, but you get what I mean. The story is told through sensational-looking cutscenes acted rather competently by the cast of performers. Unlike Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Unleashed takes itself nowhere nearly as seriously. It's still told in a genuinely "the world is doomed" way, but the angst, overly emotional characters, and bestiality are nowhere to be found in Unleashed. Hmm... Too bad Princess Elise is not around for this game. If she liked Sonic the Hedgehog, she'd LOVE Sonic the Werehog, am I right? Supporting the idea that Unleashed takes itself less gravely serious is that the humans in the world are much more animated and cartoon-like than the realistic designs of past games. It's a very welcome change. The addition of a comedic foil for Dr. Eggman, a wise-talking robot, is a perfect extension to Eggman's comedic personality.

Sonic Unleashed usually runs at a steady framerate, but the Playstation 3 suffers greatly in some levels-- notably Adabat-- as the framerate isn't fixed as it is in the 360 version. There's really nothing that comes across as ugly. It's a dazzling game to look at. Sure, you might be going at the speed of sound occasionally, but it doesn't detract from saying that Sonic Unleashed is a magnificent-looking game. The soundtrack isn't the best thing to come out of Sonic Team, but it's still one of the top video game soundtracks of 2008, offering a stunning variety of great tracks. The game's theme song, Endless Possibilities, is an upbeat Sum-41-like tune which is appropriately cheerful. Plus it doesn't get played every 3 minutes like His World did in Sonic 2006, so that's good, too, right?

There isn't much to do right now,
so why not just take in the gorgeous scenery?

Moving away from sights and sounds, Sonic Unleashed is a tale of two gameplay styles intertwined into one semi-cohesive adventure. By day the levels hark back to the original, traditional Sonic games from the Genesis days. The perspective switches between 2D and 3D throughout a given level. In 2D, the game plays like a more jazzed-up version of Sonic Rush or Rivals. In 3D, the camera is directly behind Sonic's back, akin to the Wii's Sonic and the Secret Rings. With the left and right front-side shoulder buttons, Sonic can do a quick sidestep from right to left or vice versa. It's perfect for dodging an incoming enemy or obstacle with ease.

Several annoyances from past Sonic games have actually been rectified. For instance, no longer will running to a normal enemy cause Sonic damage. Instead, an enemy must attack for Sonic to lose rings. When you're running 70 mph with no clear view of what's ahead, it's nice not to be penalized in such a way. Additionally, the homing attack-- a move that sends Sonic spinning mid-air into the closest nearby enemy-- is no longer mapped to the same button used to jump. It's now used with a different press, so no more accidental "I wanted to jump, you bastard game" incidents this time around. The X or Square button (depending on your system of choice) not only initiates a homing attack in the air, but it's also useful on the ground. Sonic can gain a severe boost in speed if his boost meter is properly charged. This is easily done through ring collection.

Loop-de-loops, ramps, QTE, rin-- wait.
QTE? Who got QTE in my Sonic Unleashed?!!

The day Sonic levels are mostly well-designed which is odd to say when we're talking about a Sonic Team game. ...Did I really just say that about a SONIC TEAM game? Goodness. I'm obviously daffy. Regardless, each level has a myriad of branching paths-- the hardest of which are reached through quick reflexes, keen observation, and some skill. Levels beseech the player to run through them multiple times as there are various collectibles such as music tracks, level-unlocking Sun and Moon medals, and various other knick-knacks. However, there are some snags even in the daytime levels. For one, running across water can be more troublesome than necessary, and certain levels sections such as Holoska's bobsledding control terribly causing more frustration than fun.

Each Unleashed continent pays tribute to a real world location.
This stage, Chun-nan, is modeled after Detroit.

Speaking of more frustration than fun, we've yet to discuss the yin to daytime Sonic's yang, the Werehog. Not satisfied with having their fans happy, Sonic Team decided to add another new gameplay element to this otherwise acceptable offering. I can see how the discussion went:

"This game is good to go! The mechanics are down pat!"
"I don't know... What if this game blows donkey balls even though we put effort into it?"
"...Hmmm... *gasps* I got it! We'll throw in some asinine new mechanic into the mix!"
"Uh... what good will that do?"
"If the game ends up sucking, we can just blame it all on the new mechanic instead of our ineptitude at making good games!"

Not taken verbatim, but I think you get the general idea. Regardless, for better or worse, an overwhelming portion of Sonic Unleashed takes place in the nighttime where the player controls the werehog (not a name worth capitalizing) . The werehog stages aren't the epitome of poor game design at all, so don't get me wrong there. The problem is that while Sonic's stages are 7-10 minutes tops, the werehog stages last anywhere from 10-30 minutes-- that's with racing through some of the blasted things, too!

As alluded to before, the werehog stages play like an E-rated God of War. It's so pathetically similar. The stretchy arms Sonic has to attack enemies and to help swing himself across gaps similar to Kratos' blades of chaos, the turnstile levers needing to be spun to make doors and bridges rise, and even the giant concrete doors and blocks with the handles to lift or push conspicuously placed near the base. Each stage drudges on with Sonic taking down a flurry of foes with his various punches, kicks, and combos. Once a horde of baddies is defeated, the next area opens up. This is all the while swinging and climbing across bottomless chasms, a staple of Sonic Team games. Unfortunately, Sonic is nowhere near as graceful in the air as he is on land. Sonic can only grab onto certain objects and areas, and a button needs to pressed to motivate Sonic's goofy ass to grab an edge to safety. I found it much easier to just repeated tap the necessary grab button as Sonic wouldn't always do it when I asked him to. Additionally, leaping off poles, icicles, and any other object that Sonic can climb around 360 degrees, you have to have Sonic stop completely before he can leap off of it. Totally unintuitive as a simple analog stick direction plus the jump button would have made more sense, but I'm not in Sonic Team's reality where they still have a lot of delusional fans. It's as if Sonic Team can't even rip off GREAT games and make a great product...

Meet Sonic the Werehog.
Yep. That's all I gotta say about that.

Another problem comes when you're asked to walk across narrow platforms such as a construction beam or something of the sort. Now the werehog doesn't move the best. For some odd reason, he can only turn around in a wide freaking circle making these parts a big annoyance. Furthermore, some cinematographic genius decided it would be an awesome camera view to have the player saunter across this narrow beam with little room for error while the camera is freaking zoomed out obnoxiously. Or better yet, the camera switches angles Resident Evil-style while you're traversing a thin corner where there's no way for Sonic to catch himself as he falls. Beautiful.

When you're not speeding or thrashing through action stages, Sonic Unleashed features multiple hubs. Each country in the game's world has a hub that will open up for exploration as Sonic and Chip progress through the game. Thankfully, these hubs are not nearly as dreadful as 2006's. These are actually full of life, useful, and usually interesting to speed through. Each hub connects to a small overworld where each action stage is entered. Additionally, there's bonus acts that are much shorter but much more challenging than the required story levels. These are optional, but they all need to be surmounted to reach 100%. For those who dreaded getting S's to unlock achievements in Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, you need not obtain all S's to get 100% of the game's achievements and trophies.

Before this part, the camera was zoomed out ridiculously far.

Unfortunately, the game comes crashing to a disgusting halt at the game's final action stage, a combination of day and night gameplay. Not only does it goes on for an hour (trust me, your first time WILL take an hour), but it's as if Sonic Team opted to put all of the worst elements of Sonic Unleashed into one level to showcase their ineptitude at game design. Horrible camera angles, hard-to-judge jumps with no shadows to help out, a god-awful bobsled section, and multiple unfair challenges and deaths. What speaks volumes is a trick that I caught onto. Sonic Team loves placing easy to access 1-ups before sections that are unfairly difficult or "challenging" as some would say. Nothing says "We know this next part sucks terribly, so here's a 1-up as incentive to trudge through it to the next sucky part!"

Sonic Unleashed is a toughie to review. I so wanted to love it, and for the times I played up through the final stage, I really did love it. Then I played through the increasingly more frustrating portions of the game. It wasn't a testament to my skill, but it was a testament to Sonic Team's poor design decisions. I was dying because I literally didn't feel I was in control of my character at various parts of the game. However, none of this damns Sonic Unleashed as a below average game. The daytime levels gave me great memories and nostalgia of early Sonic games. This is what many have been urging Sonic Team for, and they delivered. It's a shame that Sonic Team is obsessed with adding superfluous garbage to their games. If they can't even get the core gameplay perfect, why do they think they need to add something else that will be mediocre? Alas, the story of Sonic Team. Those who were expecting the return to greatness of Sonic the Hedgehog need to have their heads surgically removed from their asses. This is Sonic Team we're talking about.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Overall: 6.5/10

Monday, January 26, 2009

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Super Sonic Edition

Last week we took a look at Sonic the Hedgehog's 2D adventures, so now it's time to enter three-dimensions with Sonic's 3D exploits. From the original Sonic Adventure to Sonic Unleashed, there's plenty of rocking music to unleash your inner werehog on. Let's get this hedgehog hootenanny started!


Entering into 3D for better or worse, we have Sonic Adventure originally a launch title for the Sega Dreamcast. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this game as much as the sequel. I didn't like slowing the pace of the game down to run around the hubs. Plus I didn't enjoy playing as Big, Amy, Tails, or Knuckles. Though in the sequel I'd like Tails' and Knuckles' gameplay more. Here's a happy track from Station Square. Without hubs though, this wonderful track wouldn't have seen the light of day!

From most likely my favorite 3D Sonic alongside Sonic Heroes, here's a bouncy, happy-go-lucky tune perfect for Miles "Tails" Prower. It's Rumbling HWY... for Mission Street.

Sonic Heroes right behind Sonic Adventure 2 has my favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game. I really enjoyed how each level's theme matched the environment of the level instead of just being plain old rock or whatever (though that's not bad either). I also liked how Sonic Heroes followed the Act 1/Act 2/Boss progression found in earlier Sonic games. Here's the upbeat theme of Seaside Hill, the first zone of Sonic Heroes.

This song comes from Sonic and the Secret Rings, a Wii title that greatly excelled the piece of hedgehog poop that was the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game. The game did so well that a sequel to the Sonic Storybook Series, Sonic and the Black Knight is planned for a Q1 release.

This is the main theme of the newest Sonic game, Sonic Unleashed. It's called Endless Possibilities, an upbeat rock tune. Thankfully the theme isn't played every five seconds (hyperbole) like in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), so it's pretty refreshing to hear in-game. As for the quality of the game itself, that's up to you.

Direct Linkage:

Welcome to Station Square!
Rumbling HWY
STAGE 01: Seaside Hill
The Palace That Was Found
Endless Possibilities

Next week begins a brand new video game series to sample tracks from. Starting from his modest 8-bit roots, this blue bomber is now one of the most recognized mascots in gaming! It's Mega Man-- starting next week!