Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii) Review

Sonic and the Black Knight released for the Wii this week, so why not use this opportunity to take a look back at the first title in the Sonic Storybook Series, Sonic and the Secret Rings. The reception for Secret Rings between fans and reviewers was very mixed. This may be one of my earliest reviews (you might be able to notice), but what side of the fence did I stand on?

A red sneaker in the right direction.

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Sonic's had a rough series of years. Sonic Heroes, which I loved, was panned by most critics as mediocre. Shadow the Hedgehog brought guns and vehicles into the fray. Once again, most critics were not brimming with positive energy towards that installment. Finally the game that was supposed to redefine the series, Sonic the Hedgehog for the 360 and then PS3, bombed in both reviews and sales, deservedly so. Now we're in 2007, and although Sonic hasn't been completely poor (see Sonic Rush), it's been mostly a bumpy road for Sega's blue mascot.

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The environments are mostly beautiful.

Sonic and the Secret Rings attempts to move the series in a different direction thanks to the Wii's innovative remote control controller (redundant, isn't it?). Rather than simply port Sonic Next-Gen with toned-down graphics, Sega/Sonic Team decided to create a fresh new blue hedgehog entry for Nintendo's new Wii console. Personally I'm thankful for that decision. Save the masses from the dreadful mess that was Next-Gen Sonic. This game is close to what a 3-D Sonic should be like.

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Time to fly? Go sky-high!

Sonic Wii starts off with a napping blue hedgehog nestled in a lounge chair with a book resting on the table beside him. From this book, the genie Shahra, calls forth her desired master to save the world of the Arabian Nights. Sonic becomes unwillingly pulled into the book. It is here where Shahra tells Sonic the sad fate that looms over the book and its worlds by the evil Erazor Djinn (get it, Eraser... razor...? The developers slay me.) Erazor Djinn is a daunting, menacing looking man with purple skin and a cool switchblade-ish weapon. That is to say he's menacing when he isn't talking. Otherwise he's a total dweeb. Sonic isn't the only familiar face in the world of Arabian Nights. Characters such as Eggman, Tails, and Knuckles also make appearances in unlikely ways as characters in the book.

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Don't look back!

All this sets up Sonic to jet off into seven themed worlds and a very boring tutorial level, Lost Prologue. It's great that the developers want to teach you how to play the game, but the beginning level is, simply put, boring. However once you get out of the opening tutorial level and enter your first world, you're golden. You hold the Wii remote sideways as if you were playing Excite Truck. Tilting the remote left moves Sonic left. Tilting the remote right-- you guessed it-- moves Sonic right. The 2 button controls your jumps. Holding it down begins your charge in order to jump. Releasing the button leaps Sonic into the air where you can initiate a homing attack by jerking the Wii remote forward. The 1 button applies the brakes when Sonic is going way past fast for your liking. Finally tilting the Wii remote backward allows for Sonic to move backwards. Note, the camera and Sonic are still facing forward. This presents itself as a problem when you speed past a group of enemies or platforms and wish to head backward. While walking backwards, obstacles like spikes and other enemies may collide into Sonic. This causes a problem with backtracking in levels. The problem is simple: it's usually a pain in the hedgehog's ass-- literally.

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No net? No problem!

Backing up issues aside, controlling Sonic starts off a little clunky but never totally unmanageable. Once you level up (which is done by defeating enemies, beating missions, and so on), acquiring new moves and abilities, Sonic controls much smoother and seamless. Executing aerial maneuvers, grinding, sliding, homing attack proximity, starting boosts, sidestepping from side to side-- all can be upgraded through abilities. You have a set limit of skill points which you can equip to one ring (not to be confused with the life-supply rings of most Sonic games). As you gain levels, your skill points increase, allowing you to equip more abilities to Sonic for easier use. The RPG element allows players to mix and match skills to fit their playing style. Need to go fast? Equip speed skills. Need to kill some baddies? Equip offensive skills. The possibilities are numerous.

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Maybe if you jump high enough, you'll reach the Sun.

World progression is made by completing multiple missions in each world such as beat the level, defeat twenty enemies, don't die, etc. Some of these missions are enjoyable while others such as racing a blue ball of stop-taunting-me-as-you-pass-me-you-miserable-cretin are frustratingly difficult most of the time. Adding to the replay value are medals that can be earned by beating missions fast. There's also fire souls which unlock multiplayer content and a book containing unlockable concept art, music, and videos.

The multiplayer mode is nothing to write home about. The games are horribly designed with bad controls mostly. And in true party game fashion, winning is based more on luck than skill. The only plus I saw to this mode was the odd inclusions of Shadow and Silver the Hedgehog (who has sex with hedgehogs to create all of these things?!) and Blaze the Cat (Sonic Rush).

Overall, Sonic and the Secret Rings shows that there's still fun to be had with 3D Sonic entries. The fun use of the controller, action-packed levels, and sheer speed are all present and accounted for. Those yearning for a challenge will certainly find one. Others may want to pass for something less frustrating.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.0/10]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Amazon's Deal of the Day: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360)

For today only, Amazon's Deal of the Day is none other than Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and you can get it for half-off and with free shipping! There's no better time to pick up a new copy of this entertaining game.

The Review From Last Week Is Now Up!

"ROAR! Why wasn't this up SOONER?!"

Here we are! I'm sorry that this review is a week late, but I had trouble thinking up the structure I wanted to use. The review for Resistance 2 can be found below.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review Round-Up - February

House of the Dead: Overkill took a shotgun
blast to SuperPhillip's mind in February.

I've decided that instead of previewing new reviews each month, I'd just recap what reviews I've done the past month. This makes it much easier on me as I usually write down more games than I can possibly review. Most likely starting this month I'm going to be posting a lot of older reviews that have not been seen on SPC. The reason for this is that I want to move my review database from where it is now to SPC itself in a blog entry of sorts. Maybe I'll just edit the first "test" post from way back when I started this blog.

All scores are out of 10.
5 = Average
Italicized = old review

MySims (Wii) - 7.0
MySims Kingdom (Wii) - 8.0
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (PS3) - 8.5
The House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii) - 8.75

Resistance 2 (PS3) - 9.5

One more review will be placed here. I just need to figure out how I want to write it. Hope you enjoyed last month's reviews!

===>Also, check out March's first review!!<===

Monday, March 2, 2009

Central City Census - March

These updates should have already been posted. I had them all saved as drafts, but neglected to put them up. My apologies. Better late than never, no? Let's get down to it then!

A lot less votes this months. Perhaps it had to do with this being a question only regulars would know? Regardless, my reviews seem to be the most popular followed by top tens, and then finally editorials is in third place. News and my VGMs had two votes apiece along with Other. I had used the Other as a means of giving the people who didn't know a chance to vote. I should have put "I don't know" instead of "Other".

Let's move on to March's Central City Census. I wonder what the Census wants to know of us this time...!

It's already the third month of 2009, so let's talk gaming, shall we? I'm wanting to know how everyone's year gaming-wise is going on so far. Are there a lot of titles that have interested you already? Perhaps you're just catching up on a towering backlog! How many games have you received/purchased since the start of the year?

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - "Mario... Why don't you just spin OFF" Edition

We got halfway through some melodic loveliness with Mario with his mainline platformers, so now we're going to venture into his various spin-offs starting off with the Mario Party series! Are any childhood memories popping up listening to any of these tunes?

V261. Mario Party - Eternal Star

We go from focusing on mainline Mario games to the portly plumber's various spin-offs. Mario gets a bad rep by some for essentially being "whored out", but what is the problem when the majority of these games are damn good? What would the point of putting generic characters in Mario and friends' place? Regardless, our first game we'll be listening to is that of the original Mario Party. It's the ultimate board in the game, Eternal Star!

V262. Mario Party 2 - Into the Pipe

A short and sweet song from Mario Party 2, In the Pipe is a very fast and festive song for when the party is being set up. This version of the series is probably my favorite just because Tug O' War is nowhere to be seen. That jerkwad minigame!

V263. Mario Party 3 - Let's Get A Move On

This is the last of the trio of Mario Party titles for the Nintendo 64, Mario Party 3. I consider the game to be the black sheep of Mario's Nintendo 64 parties. "Let's Get A Move On" is a minigame theme played during one of the snow races.

V264. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour - Lakitu Valley

This song comes from the very first course in Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, Lakitu Valley. The soundtrack, like all Mario Golf and Tennis titles, is composed by Motoi Sakuraba known for his work on the Star Ocean and Tales of series.

V265. Mario Superstar Baseball - Toy Field

Batter up! Baseball season may still be a month away, but why not bring a taste of the ballpark to my favorite VGMs? This song is from the chaotic Toy Field park from Mario Superstar Baseball for the Nintendo Gamecube. An alternate version of the tune and mode is used in the Wii sequel, Super Mario Sluggers.

Next week we will finish of Mario (no, not kill him) with a last look at his RPG and racing spin-offs. Then we're going to move onto a brand new series!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

NASCAR Kart Racing (Wii) Review

I thought this would be a good day to review NASCAR Kart Racing seeing that it's Sunday and all. While I don't particularly care for the actual "sport", I do like a good kart racers. Reading up that this wasn't as bad as it was made out to be from back when it was originally announced, I decided to rent it and try it out. Let's see if this baby needs a tune-up...

Gentlemen (And Ladies)... Start Your Engines!

Third parties have a historically flawed strategy when it comes to the Wii. Instead of filling in holes of Nintendo's own lineup by putting out big time shooters and such, these companies unload the Wii with a flood of "me too" software, hoping to cash in on the popularity of Nintendo's titles. We've seen it happen originally with the highly successful Wii Sports and Wii Play which brought out the infestation of mini-game themed party titles. With the continued craze for Wii Fit, we've seen current and upcoming software like EA Active (which in all fairness seems like a legitimate effort) and several poor efforts trying to take it to the bank. Now with the fantastic sales of Mario Kart Wii, we have EA once again jumping on the bandwagon with NASCAR Kart Racing. No need to honk your horn in anger, however, as this game may just get your motor running.

I'm at Talladega. Now where's Ricky Bobby?

NASCAR Kart Racing is very much inspired by Mario Kart Wii. Everything from the number of racers in a given race (twelve) to the cluster of chaotic items to clobber your competitors with. Essentially every NASCAR Kart Racing item has a Mario Kart Wii counterpart. For example, the nitro boost item is a golden mushroom, the yellow caution flag much like Mario Kart's lightning bolt causes every racer to be slowed down, and the wacky "Your Ad Here" power-up when used puts your ad bouncing all around every other players' screen much like the Blooper squid ink in the Wii and DS incarnations of Mario Kart. Get used to seeing ads because just like the real life "sport", NASCAR Kart Racing is chalk full of them from logos on cars, billboards, and menu screens. It really doesn't detract from the game at all, and a big portion of my fun came from beating the crap out of the guy driving the GameStop car. Power to the pulverizer, you pilfering punks!

Now while there are many striking similarities to Nintendo's wildly successful kart-racer, NASCAR Kart Racing does set itself apart from Mario's romps on the blacktop. Like the NASCAR in reality, each racer has a buddy, a person on their team looking out for them. When two buddies are close to each other, the boost bar in the lower corner of the screen begins to fill. It can be filled up to three zones, giving the player the ability to hold three boosts at the same time. While behind one buddy, the other buddy can let loose a boost to slingshot past, giving him a greater boost than normal. The two can continue slinging off one enough for as long as they can keep it up to gain some serious ground on the competition. Boosts can also be earned by jamming on a button as the countdown to start the race begins or through power-slides. However, in time trial-like situations, I've had my CPU-controlled buddy do some precarious actions. Twice I've been knocked off a track. Well, actually, not necessary knocked... more like pushed for three seconds off the track by my teammate. Other times the buddy will stay just a bit too far behind me meaning we're not close enough to have my boost power go up, and this is a problem with your teammates who otherwise always catch up to you no matter what. Well, can't win them all. Speaking of which, your opponents aren't anything like Mario Kart Wii where they bombard you with items or speed up to impossible velocities just to catch up with you.

While only the second of twelve tracks,
this race was one of my favorites.

EA left the choice up to the player in the control department. NASCAR Kart Racing allows the choice between the Wii remote by its lonesome (Wii Wheel or not), Classic Controller, Gamecube Controller, or the Wii remote and nunchuk combo that I used. Driving with the Wii Wheel is a very fun experience, and there's not much need for severe precision in the game. It works well and it's a blast to use. The Classic and Gamecube controllers will probably be what others use as the Wii remote and nunchuk use the "-" button to brake which is quite awkward to reach. Regardless, I can count the times I had to use the brake button on one hand. Basically, any control method works well, and it just comes to the preference of the player.

NASCAR Kart Racing is comprised of twelve total tracks. While this number may seem small to other games, EA has cleverly designed each track to have the ability to played in reverse adding a completely different feel to each track. No worries if you're not a fan of traditional NASCAR as only the first track is the time-honored "left turn... left turn... holy crap! Another left turn!" oval loop the sport is famous for. Others are filled with twists, turns, bumpy hills, wide roads, narrow roads, shortcuts, and obstacles to navigate through. There's really a great deal of creativity in the track design that separates Kart Racing from uninspired to pretty nice.

Well, feel free to leave me behind then.
Oh, wait. You already did.

Unfortunately, a lot of the tracks and racers are unavailable at the start of the game. This is where the Championship mode comes in. The Championship mode is the main single player draw here where players will unlock new tracks and racers to burn rubber on and with. You go through the ranks with every division having you have off against two rivals. Beat the division's first three challenges-- normal races with up to twelve opponents, and precision and distance challenges (more on those later)-- and you'll take your rivals on in one final race to determine the champion of that division. Win and you'll not only win a reward, but you'll also move onto the next division. Lose and you'll face ultimate humiliation knowing that you have failed in your goals, dreams, and the world's faith of you... or just hit "try again" and have another go at it.

Other modes feature a time trial-esque mode-- I say "esque" because the game doesn't record your total time for the race. It just keeps track of your best lap time-- a precision driving challenge which has the player driving through as many rings as possible in one lap, and a distance challenge where the player tries to drive as far as they can in a set amount of time. These modes don't really have any rewards to them, and because you have to beat all of one track's challenges to get anything (that's basically eight gos on one track), it comes off as tedious after a while. Nonetheless, multiplayer is great entertainment for up to four friends. There is no online play to speak of, so those without gamers around them may have to retire from this race before everyone else.

"Curse you, Best Buy, for giving away
my pre-ordered copy of Made of Honor!!"

NASCAR Kart Racing boasts competent visuals and presentation. The game just uses the likenesses of the various cast of NASCAR champions from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Jeff Gordon who in-game looks like a Dan Akroyd from his Saturday Night Live days. Kart Racing looks like a mid-era Gamecube game at best, but there's an admirable amount of moving trains, boats, ships, and other objects in the background and alongside the track with nary a hint of graphical slow-down. In Championship mode's pre and post-race conversations, the relatively humorous dialogue is accompanied by Sim-like speak full of blubbering and other gibberish. This personality is a nice touch-- it just isn't let that personality shine through the entirety of the game making the NASCAR Kart Racing feel rather ho-hum in this regard.

NASCAR Kart Racing may be an imitation of Nintendo's entertaining Mario Kart Wii, but don't write it off as a cheap cash-in or a title that reeks of rush. The game is quite fun to play, and it shows a lot of promise for predictable subsequent installments. For those tired of searching for an alternative to Mario Kart Wii have one game to invest into-- except this one is lightly painted with a coat of motor oil, licensing, trucker hats, and a long, bushy mullet. For forty dollars, NASCAR Kart Racing is definitely a much better use of money than driving around in your car 200 laps burning up oil every Sunday.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.25/10]