Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mickey's Speedway USA (N64) Retro Review

Ladies and gentlemen... start your engines. Last week we took a look at The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. This week we're looking at Mickey's Speedway USA for the Nintendo 64. Just how well does it shape up?

The rat goes racing

All screenshots by SuperPhillip.

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Fresh off the heels of one of the greatest kart racing games of all time in Diddy Kong Racing (at least in this reviewer's opinion), Rareware partnered with Disney to concoct a new kart racer featuring Disney's esteemed mascot. The final product? Mickey's Speedway USA for the Nintendo 64. To anyone ever wondering who would win in a kart race-- Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck: 1) Get the hell outside more often, and 2) Now one can find out. When a group of weasels dog-naps Mickey's best bud, Pluto, Mickey and his friends follow the trail of clues to the whereabouts of the missing pooch. But why stop there? Let's race each other in the process! Screw working together to save our friend, Donald, Goofy, Minnie, Daisy and Pete! We're going to race each other for no reason at all instead of racing those damned weasels! Nonetheless, so the race is on.

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Race around the speedy straightaways of Indianapolis...

Mickey's Speedway USA has all the modes you'd come to expect from a kart racer. Starting off there's three cups with four races apiece to speed through. These three cups each have three difficulties-- amateur, intermediate, and professional. Obviously amateur is the easiest and professional is the most arduous. By completing certain requirements players can unlock two more cups, a mirror mode, and additional characters aside from the likes of the six characters already available. Additionally there's your mandatory time trial mode, a battle mode which is a direct rip-off of Mario Kart (it uses balloons as health even), and a practice mode to try out all of the simple maneuvers offered in Speedway USA.

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...Or take it to the hills of San Francisco.

The twenty-one tracks of Speedway are all themed and named after American locales. Mickey and friends will jet past the canyon walls of New Mexico, sightsee at the Grand Canyon, get in touch with their artistic sides in San Francisco, and promote gambling in Las Vegas among many other tracks. Never at any point did I sit back and go... "Wow... that track was awesome." The tracks just seem like standard fare for a kart racing game-- pretty unremarkable. The track design only showcases a few "out-there" shortcuts to impress your friends, too.

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Then again, New Mexico is prime for racing.

Racing isn't enough for Mickey and his friends either. They need to beat the crap out of each other with items (and then apologize for it vocally mid-race afterwards). There's a nice variety of items to unleash upon your friends including a decent-sized baseball which bowls over anyone in its way as it bounces off walls like a shell from Mario Kart. Take that, you damn duo of ducks! Then there's green oil slicks to shoot behind you, a remote-control airplane which homes in on the racer in front of you, a shield which makes the wearer race faster while invincible, and there's also a rocket boost that speeds you ahead for a brief period of time like a mushroom in Mario Kart. Hm... I'm certainly saying Mario Kart a lot in this review.

And that's basically the problem with this title. Not only is it fairly quick to complete, but almost everything this game does Mario Kart does better. Unless you have deep-rooted childhood memories of Mickey and his friends or are interested in a fairly enjoyable multiplayer experience, Mickey's Speedway USA is worth a rental. However, this game is probably so cheap now that you could get away with buying it. I certainly don't mind having the game in my collection, so it's nothing to be ashamed of-- that's for sure. While not revolutionary by any means, Mickey's Speedway USA IS enjoyable and more so if you have friends to play alongside. Just don't expect Mario Kart-caliber gameplay.

[SuperPhillip Says: 6.5/10] - Not a horrible kart racer, but there are so many that are better. [Insert obligatory Mario Kart comparison here.]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mario Party DS (DS) Review

Here's the second of two reviews in anticipation for Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics. It's Mario Party DS for the Nintendo DS.

A Pint-Sized Party For You and Your Friends

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Mario and company return yet again, and that irresistible urge to party is stronger than ever before! Join Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Wario, Waluigi, Daisy, and Toad across five differently-themed boards. Mario Party Advance on the GBA tried to recreate the festivities from the consoles and pretty much failed while doing so. Is the DS installment yet another handheld failure, or does Mario Party finally have its groove back?

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Bowser uses his latest invention-- the Minimizer--
to shrink Mario and co. down to size.

This time the party begins when five mysterious Sky Crystals fall to the earth. Soon after, Mario and friends each receive a party invitation from none other than the King of the Koopas, Bowser, who wishes to apologize for all the grief he and his koopa clan have caused the crew. Yeah... that doesn't sound suspicious at all. Perhaps against their better judgment, Mario, Luigi, and the rest of the bunch head to Bowser's Castle. Sure, there's a few balloons around, but rest assured, our heroes fall into Bowser's trap. He shrinks them down to miniscule proportions and tosses them to the other side of the Mushroom Kingdom! Now it's up to the group of shrunken-down heroes to collect the five Sky Crystals as well as stop Bowser's latest nefarious scheme. How do they perform such a feat? Why, by partying, of course! I guess Wario is bringing the bong....

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First thing's first-- where's the party at?

The aim of a traditional game of Mario Party is to collect as many stars as possible before the board game's turns have run out. Of course, to get stars you need to collect coins-- the currency of Mario Party. Not only can they be used to purchase power stars, but they can also be used to buy items from Monty Mole's shop-- located on every board. These items range from double or triple dice blocks (allowing a player the ability to hit two or three dice blocks instead of the standard one ranging from one space to ten), star pipes which send a player directly to the star location, snag bags which steals an item from an unsuspecting player), and many others. This time, there's also hexes which can be placed down on a space causing trouble to whoever lands on that spot. These range from losing coins to losing stars, to simply swapping spaces with a random player.

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This fiendish Piranha Plant has taken over Wiggler's Garden.

At the end of each turn, a minigame is played. There's four types of minigames available depending on what color spaces every player landed on-- 4-player, 1-vs.-3, 2-vs.-2, and Battle. 4-player is your standard free-for-all minigame, 1-vs.-3 pits one player against three where the odds are stacked, 2-vs.-2 has two teams facing off against one another, and Battle is another free-for-all, but this time the players' coins are at stake. Since Mario and company are the size of a DS Lite now, all of the games (as well as the boards) use that notion in each game's design. These minigames range from cooperating with a teammate to drive a miniature race car to the finish to dodging an onslaught of soccer balls kicked by a goalie goomba in Soccer Survival to trekking across a globe to shoot at other battlers in Globe Gunners. Some games will have you furiously drawing circles on the touch screen to blowing hard into the DS' microphone. Thankfully, the chance minigames where winning is determined by luck rather than skill are limited in Mario Party DS.

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In Soccer Survival, it's all about dodging rather than going for the goal.

That's not to say the board games are the same way. Mario Party DS is designed that anyone can win-- regardless of skill. Unfortunately for veteran gamers, this means that you can win every minigame you play, and you can still lose overall in star count. There's a lot of chance involved in these parties-- more so than there was when the series first premiered. There's duel spaces where a player can you play you for anything from 10 coins to 3 stars, there's event spaces that can change a star's location from where you were to where your opponent is, there's Bowser spaces where you can lose those two stars you were coveting in an instant. Anything can happen in Mario Party DS which may infuriate some players.

The greatest feature that I'm glad was implemented into the DS version of Mario Party is single-cart multiplayer-- that is-- only one player needs a copy of the game in order to play with other friends wirelessly. There's no online play, but given how long these games can go on, it's understandable. As long as you have a friend or sibling with a DS, then you can play a full round of Mario Party DS with them-- you can set the turns, set which types of minigames will be played, play with up to two CPU opponents, and even set handicaps. You can also play individual minigames by themselves or partake in the several puzzle minigames like a Tetris Attack clone. The transitions load swiftly-- about a second's time. The only large loading is the initial load of the game board.

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Drop those "breath mints" into that plant's mouth.

However, if you don't have a buddy, brother, sister, or parent to play with, there's always story mode. Story mode pits you against three computer players in a quest to collect the most power stars within ten turns. You'll start in Wiggler's Garden and play all the way through to Bowser's own board. At the climax of each game (pending you win) you'll come across the boss of the board. If you lose, you'll just have to restart the current board. In one boss battle, you'll be flying dangerously close to the mouth of a Piranha Plant, trying to drop bombs into its huge gaping maw. In another you'll be controlling your character in a Star Fox inspired minigame, dodging books and trying to take down Kamek. The boss minigames are mostly enjoyable, and it's a great change of pace from the randomness of the boards.

Additionally, there's prizes-- like boss trophies from beating a boss a certain amount of times-- to be won from performing specific in-game achievements. Think something along the line of Smash Bros. Melee's trophies but pertaining only to Mario Party DS. These single-player offerings add more longevity to the game, but multiplayer with other people is really where this game is at.

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Mash those buttons to save yourself!

From the beautiful boards to the detailed minigame environments and crisp 3-D sprites, Mario Party DS is quite the looker. It's certainly one of the most impressive DS titles visually. Trademark sound quips of Mario and the gang are present as well. The music is bright and cheery, and it's pretty much everything you'd expect a Mario Party game to sound like.

Mario Party DS is a mixed bag. It's certainly one of the best Mario Party titles to come out in a long time, but if you don't have another friend close by to play with, you'll be missing out on most of the fun multiplayer really offers. Story mode is decent, but there's way too much randomness to fully enjoy. If this game of chance were toned down just a tad, it could be recommended to pretty much anyone.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sonic Rush Adventure (DS) Review

Mario and Sonic at the Winter Games is coming out this October, so why not dig up two old reviews in anticipation? The first will be posted today while the second will be posted tomorrow. For now, here's a return to Sonic Rush Adventure for the Nintendo DS.

Blue seas, blue skies, and the blue blur

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Sonic the Hedgehog once again speeds onto the DS hot off the heels of the incredibly fun Sonic Rush with its sequel, Sonic Rush Adventure. While the 3-D Sonic games haven't been everyone's (or should I say anyone's?) cup of tea, the 2-D Sonic titles have ranged from average to fantastic. Does Sonic Rush Adventure continue to blaze a trail of good games for 2-D Sonic fans, or should this title stay at the bottom of the sea?

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Sonic in stellar form.

While flying over the ocean waters in Tails' plane, Sonic and Tails suddenly get engulfed by a savage ocean twister. Found washed up on a beach by an Australian raccoon named Marine, Sonic and Tails meet up with Blaze the Cat from the previous Sonic Rush game. It's from this meeting that the two realize that they're in Blaze's dimension. Not only need they find a way to return to their dimension, but they also take on the task of stopping a tyrannical pirate named Captain Whiskers from taking over the seas of Blaze's dimension. What follows is a tutorial level giving players the ins and outs of Sonic Rush Adventure's platforming gameplay.

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Chart a course to uncharted isles and more.

One thing you might notice immediately in Adventure is that the game is split up much differently from previous 2-D Sonics. Zones are on different islands spread around the world map. Sonic must chart a course to reach each island, but his starting jet ski can only reach so far. By upgrading to larger vehicles, the crew can reach out of the way zones, secret islands, and even races with a metallic shark named Johnny for chaos emeralds. After charting a course you're taken into a minigame depending on what craft you're using. There's four crafts in all, and each has a different gimmick to them. The jet ski is the most enjoyable of the bunch. You drag the stylus to move the jet ski left and right on a set track, gathering rings, avoiding enemies, and launching off ramps. When you launch off a ramp you'll be prompted to move the stylus a certain direction in order to initiate a cool trick. The sailboat, however, isn't as much fun. All you do is take out enemies by tapping the touch screen, destroying the projectiles they launch at you, and collecting rings simply by touching them. You'll also pilot two other crafts which control different ways as well. None of these are as enjoyable as the jet ski, but they all serve their own purpose. You'll eventually need to use them all to reach every nook and cranny the ocean hides.

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Face off against Johnny to earn Chaos Emeralds.

Charting courses to other island breaks up the normal pace of the Sonic platformers. Instead of just transitioning from one zone to the next, each zone is split up needing to plot a course to the next zone, enduring the usually tedious storyboard cutscenes, and taking part in one of the aforementioned minigames. This may turn off some players used to the more common "one-zone-to-the-next" gameplay of previous titles, but it works pretty well when you get used to the formula.

There are seven or so zones in Sonic Rush Adventure in all. These range from your typical tropical island to a coral cavern to a haunted pirate ship. Each zone has its own brand of gimmicks like mushrooms that propel you to higher places to mine cart rides taking you through a level at a rocket pace. Most zones you can simply press right, jump occasionally, and voila-- you're at the goal. This is more hyperbole than anything, but for the most part that's what you'll be doing. Sonic Rush Adventure is all about speed and less about the intricate platforming of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Genesis. Thankfully there are far less bottomless pits in this game than in Sonic Rush, so by missing one platform doesn't necessarily mean you're going to lose a life. This is a welcomed fix, and it's appreciated that the developers actually listened to their fans for once. You'll still most likely run into an enemy as you speed through the levels as some of them are put in very peculiar locations. And jetting through the levels with only a split second to dodge only hinders this.

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A nod to a personal favorite of mine, the Ice Cap Zone.

There are two acts to each zone followed by a boss encounter. These take place in 2 1/2 D environment. The bosses and backgrounds are in full 3-D, but Sonic is limited to a 2-D plane whether that'd be a circular platform around the boss or simply a line. The bosses aren't too incredibly challenging, but they can give younger players a run for their money. Each boss has their own weak points, patterns, and gimmick to them. One boss will have you knocking the balls on its arms up and smack dab into its head. Another will have you waiting for it to poke its head out for you to hit its weak point for massive damage. Sorry, folks, no giant enemy crabs here.

Not only are their the main zones to play through, but there's also hidden islands spread out across the sea. These are much shorter levels than typical zone acts, but they add even more platforming goodness for players to partake in. Most of these are more difficult than normal acts, so be forewarned. These will most likely put your Sonic Rush Adventure skills to the test. Additionally there's one-hundred missions to complete. These range from getting a set number of rings within the time limit to reaching the goal. These are mostly optional, but to get the true ending of the game players will need to play through some of these in order to gather all the sol emeralds. Likewise gathering chaos emeralds is done by racing Johnny who hides in several areas of the world map waiting for a jet ski race. Prepare to do some of these races over and over again until you learn the tricks of beating Johnny at his own game. It just takes a little patience, practice, and know-how with your watercraft.

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One of the many end-of-zone boss battles to complete.

However, Sonic has a lot of moves at his disposal outside of his watercraft. He can grind rails as if he were emulating Tony Hawk, and he can perform a super boost as long as his tension gauge has some juice in it. This is great for gaining speed up steep slopes so Sonic need not have to begin a spin dash (a signature Sonic move dating all the way back to the second Sonic the Hedgehog game) all the way back at the bottom just to reach the top of the slope. Performing mid-air tricks awards players with more juice in Sonic's tension gauge. After a few zones you'll be able to choose to play as either Sonic or Blaze in levels. Blaze acts nearly the same as Sonic, so it's merely for aesthetic purposes or personal preference to who you choose to play as.

Sonic Rush Adventure is a fast game. I'm not saying it's short-- it simply plays fast. Thankfully the framerate keeps up rather well without hiccups. The varied zones are detailed, colorful, and a pleasure to look at, and the models of Sonic and company are very impressive. The 3-D aspects of gameplay like the boss battles and boat portions of the game shine rather well as well. While Hideki Naganuma (Jet Grind Radio, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Sonic Rush) did not return to compose the music for Sonic Rush Adventure, the music very much tries to emulate his style. Most of the tracks are quite good actually, and I really dig the boss music to be quite honest. However, the rest falls flat and is nowhere near the quality of Naganuma's past works.

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The zones are varied and quite colorful.

Sonic Rush Adventure may seem disjointed by not being able to play through the zones all in a row like previous games, but the new additions like watercraft segments do just well. I'd prefer a more arcade-ish feel like past games, but needing to chart a course to where you want to go doesn't make the game horrible. While Marine may be one of the most annoying characters I've ever witnessed in a Sonic game, thankfully you can skip story segments. Also, it would have been nice to have an auto-save function. I can't imagine the number of stories of gamers who quit Sonic Rush Adventure only to find out that the game never saved their progress.

A remarkable new addition to the Sonic franchise is online play. Yes, you and a buddy can battle one another in the various maps of the game, or you can try to speed through a zone as fast a possible to see how you rank among the world via online leaderboards.

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Baddies abound in some precarious locations
occasionally in Rush Adventure.

Sonic Rush Adventure may not triumph over its predecessors or even Sonic Rush, but it's an incredibly competent Sonic game from Sonic Team, no less. There's a lot of gameplay styles to sift through, but the main trademark speed of Sonic remains true. Whether you're charting a course to new island, participating in one of four watercraft exercises, or speeding through a zone for a best time, Sonic Rush Adventure has enough content and fun to warrant a purchase. It may not be the best 2-D Sonic, but it's certainly an engaging one.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

STFU: Shutting the Fanboys Up

Someone wrote an article saying that Nintendo of America should STFU. Let's not argue that using STFU is juvenile for a so-called game journalist or argue that there is no such thing as a game journalist, but let's instead refute that point. His argument was basically that Nintendo should have quit after E3 2008 and stop making games after Wii Music or something incredibly stupid like that.

But that isn't the point of this. Instead, I don't think it's Nintendo of America who should shut up. I think it's the bitter, entitled gamer who feels like Nintendo abandoned them and feel the need to cry at every move Nintendo makes. The problem with this is that if you whine at every small bit of news when the big news comes that actually SHOULD get frowned at, no one cares because all you do is whine regardless. You're like the little boy who cried wolf except wolf is a company that's supposedly turned their back on you when they once let you suck from their teat. C'mon. It's a company. Grow up. Thank God they abandoned all games like Super Mario Galaxy and Sin and Punishment sequels and are just making fitness software solely now! Oh, wait.

It just gets pathetic how this group of whining gamer has such a sense of entitlement. "I deserve Disaster, Fatal Frame, and Trace Memory and every other poorly-received game that hasn't reached North America. Damn you, Nintendo of America! Damn you, Reggie, you ape! I put a pox on you with my overweight arms and Harry Potter wand! That'll show you!" Meanwhile, these same people ignore the good games that actually are released in North America like Boom Blox Bash Party, Excitebots, Klonoa, Final Fantasy Fables, Battalion Wars II, and so forth. Seems to me there's some hypocrisy. Who would have guessed it? Not from gamers!

"We ignored this gem, but God, PLEASE
let these bad imports reach our shores!"

Then there's a sect of whiners that will cry foul at Nintendo no matter what. Recently, Nintendo "trumpeted" the releases of various third party games for the year. When Nintendo doesn't do this it's "Nintendo doesn't care about third parties". When Nintendo does do this it's "Nintendo doesn't put this much effort towards selling their core games!" Bitch, bitch, bitch. That's all these people ever are. Perhaps it's not NoA that should STFU, but it's these "Nintendo can do no right", "I'm tired of not being the center of attention in Nintendo's universe" whiny babies that should instead.

ModNation Racers (PS3) - Sand in your Wheels Trailer

I was afraid there wouldn't be much detail to the tracks that players are able to create, but my fears have been put to bed with this incredible trailer. ModNation Racers hits the PS3 sometime next year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero (DS) Review

There hasn't been too many reviews for our next DS review. It's been out since January of this year and with little fanfare. At least SuperPhillip Central can cover it. It's Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero for the Nintendo DS.

Zeroing in On Adventure

The original Elebits released rather close to the launch date of the Wii. It was an overlooked but entertaining game in its own right. The formula was a lot like Katamari Damacy in the concept that you sucked up Elebits to have your capture gun capacity to "grow bigger" in order to access new areas of the game's levels. With Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero, this gameplay hook is essentially tossed to the wayside for a more Legend of Zelda-like approach. Does the Elebits universe lend well to this type of game?

The Adventures of Kai and Zero starts where the original Elebits left off. In the original Elebits for Wii, our heroine Kai's town lost power. In her world, technology is powered by creatures known as Elebits. Just think of them as if electricity were cute creatures to love and squeeze. Kai captured a wide assortment of Elebits using a special Elebit-grabbing gun, and she restored power to her town after taking down the Elebit causing all the trouble, Zero. It turns out Zero was just lonely, so Kai befriended Zero, and now the two are inseparable buddies. This DS sequel has Kai and Zero inadvertently traveling on an intergalactic bus, righting wrongs in various worlds as the two try to make their way back home.

Elebits roll call!

In Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero, the gameplay is heavily focused around super-powered Elebits known as Omega Elebits. The goal is to find these special creatures in order to access previously unreachable areas. There's over forty Omega Elebits to track down, and the majority of them are needed to progress through the game. Fire Omegas can light torches and burn various twigs blocking paths, Land Omegas can dig holes revealing hidden grotto and other locations, Ice Omegas can freeze patches of water for a limited time for Kai to cross, and so on. The aim of most areas is to find as many Omega Elebits as possible, solving puzzles with the ones you already have acquired in order to solve the task required of Kai and Zero.

Forget everything you know about the original Elebits. The Adventures of Kai and Zero is almost nothing like the previous adventure. Sure, you can capture Elebits to give watts to your capture gun which can then open doors and pull switches given your gun has enough watts to do so, but the gameplay focuses more on an adventure aspect than the Wii Elebits. In fact, it's closer to a Zelda game than anything else. Omega Elebits are your items like bows, boomerangs, and bombs are Link's arsenal. The game has seven areas to explore that are split up by a world map. By the end of the game you can return to any world you've previously visited on the fly. Each world has a boss encounter which rewards Kai with a health boost much like Zelda's heart containers.

Searching high and low for Elebits.

Speaking of boss encounters, this game is packed with brain busters both in battle and in exploration. Boss battles usually take place on both screens forcing the player to know their Omega Elebits and to utilize them well. Again like Zelda, usually a certain item/Omega Elebit at a certain moment of time will damage a boss. Many later encounters force the player to use an arsenal of different Omegas in order to win the day. There aren't really battles outside of bosses. There's dangerous Elebits that will attack Kai if provoked, but they can be sucked up with her capture gun. The main hazard when exploring come from environmental hazards such as lava and falling rocks, and from dangerous-to-touch black Elebits. Outside of battle, many puzzles loom which will definitely test one's mettle. These aren't simply "hit switch, open door" challenges either. The latter challenges come not from bosses but from the brain-busting puzzles the game throws at you.

Fling those enemies back at
this boss to damage it.

Unfortunately, what adventure there is of Kai and Zero is relatively short. The journey can be completed in less than ten hours. There's bonus and optional Omega Elebits that can be gathered by finding them in secret locations or by completing certain in-game tasks including Dewy from Dewy's Adventure. There's also numerous upgrades found in the wild that will boost the amount of watts Kai's capture gun can hold in addition to three Pink Elebits that are hidden in each world. When all three are gathered, they unlock a health-increasing guard boost to collect. Thankfully, all collectibles are listed on the world map screen, so it's easy to see what you've missed.

Elebits is controlled with the d-pad and stylus in tandem. The top screen shows the area map while the bottom screen shows all of the action. You tap Elebits to freeze them, and tap on your Omega Elebit to suck them all up before they escape. You can interact with trees to shake them, poke rocks to uncover hiding Elebits, and move around objects with ease. The shoulder buttons call forth your equipped Omega Elebit's power, and tapping or pressing on the screen will allow you to use it. You can only have access to five Omega Elebits in the quick select tab located at the bottom right corner. This means you'll be constantly switching out Omegas which becomes a swift hassle later on in the game when you need to use six different Omegas at a time but are limited to selecting five from the quick change menu.

Launching from lily pad to lily pad.

Elebits runs rather well with little in the way of slowdown-- though things can get a bit hectic with a lot of Elebits on the screen at the same time. The 2D sprites look gorgeous as do the backgrounds and worlds. Everything looks endearing, and that's all one can ask for from a game of this type. There's a little voice acting, but that only occurs from Kai during specific still-frame cut-scenes. It's just as bad as the original Elebits, so get ready for some nostalgia. The soundtrack is adequate, but there's not a lot that jumps out this time around.

All-in-all, Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero is a worthwhile journey to take with the pair. The adventure is pretty short, however, running only at ten hours. Those looking for Zelda-experience on the DS and didn't find a lot to love with Phantom Hourglass may find a lot to love with Elebits of all games. It's the same formula just with a different coat of paint. Those expecting the Wii original shrunk down to the DS will surely be disappointed.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.75/10]

LittleBigPlanet: Water They Thinking?

Well, MediaMolecule is thinking water, of course! The long-desired edition to LittleBigPlanet is finally on its way. Levels full of sunken depths, jetski races, and so much more. Check out the trailer to see some of the possibilities.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mega Man 9 (Wii, PS3, 360) Guest Review

Today and yesterday we're seeing two guest reviews by my brother. Tomorrow I'll have a new review for a DS game I'm in the process of completing. For now, let's take a look at a retro favorite with
Mega Man 9.

What’s Old is New Again

Mega Man has seen a lot of action over the last 20 years, but in recent times, certain series have faded into the background for others. The classic and X series are the two prime examples as we have seen sequels in the form of Zero, ZX, or branched off into new directions such as with the Battle Network and Star Force games. I can’t say that too many of those titles interested me, so when Capcom revealed that they were bringing back the original blue bomber for one more spin, I was pretty thrilled. Now while I can’t say I grew up with the original series, I had taken a liking to it thanks to the Anniversary Collection released a few years earlier. Mega Man 9 borrows quite a bit of concepts from its past in Capcom’s attempt to bring 8-bit gaming back into the forefront, at least this one time. It’s a game that sets out to win you over with its nostalgic feel, and it succeeds in doing so.

The motley crew of robot masters.

First off, I should say that I misled you with that 8-bit comment. While this game definitely looks and sounds like one of Mega Man’s six NES titles, the game throws in some effects and gimmicks that just could not be done on that old-school engine. Still, Mega Man 9 definitely recreates the feeling that you’re playing one of those bite your nails 2D platformers that Capcom was famous for back in the day. Unlike the more recent entries in the series, you’re given a choice of eight robot masters to go up against from the very start of the game. It’s your choice as to which order you want to tackle them in, and not surprisingly, certain stages are going to be much trickier than others when you first visit them.

I find the overall difficulty to be on par with the game it’s trying to emulate, and that would be Mega Man 2. Case in point, while Mega has access to Rush Coil and Rush Jet, he can’t use the charged up Mega Buster in this one or even slide. I think some would consider the former being left out to be a good thing as it made fighting bosses almost too easy, especially in parts five and six. Personal preference makes me wish the slide were still included as Mega Man 3 was one of my favorites, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. In fact, not having the slide actually makes getting past some of these bosses a bit tough. Magma, Tornado, and Plug Man can really give you a run for your money if you can’t quickly learn their patterns and exploit them.

This device will automatically make you
move in the direction you're facing.

The actual stages themselves have the usual assortment of gimmicks. Some of which you’ll encounter all throughout the level in increasing difficulty. Tornado Man’s level have these screws that cause Mega Man to spin on. If you press the jump button on them while you’re on the underside of them, you’ll fall to the next one. Later on in the level, rain and wind come into play pushing you back as you desperately try to land on the next platform. That’s old-school Mega Man at its finest if you ask me. My only issue with this are that some gimmicks don’t seem to get enough action. Literally, there’s a set of blocks at the end of Concrete Man’s stage that rise or fall the moment you stand on them. This is the only time you’ll see this gimmick in the entire game. It’s almost as if Capcom tried to put in every idea they could think of into this one, even if it meant barely utilizing it. Still, most wind up getting featured at least two or three times whether it be within the same level or throughout the game, so it’s all right.

Tricky platforming abounds in Mega Man 9.

Another thing that helps out with the level design are the special weapons that you obtain from the bosses. Many of them have their uses, and some have more than one. Tornado Blow not only causes all enemies onscreen to fly off the stage, but it also helps you reach new heights when you jump. Concrete Shot forms a solid stone block wherever it lands, helping you get across some tough gaps. It also can freeze some instant kill beams of lava. Laser Trident could arguably be considered the new Metal Blade with how effective it is in dealing with most of the common enemies scattered about. Mega Man 9's special weapons are really some of the best in the series when it comes to tackling these levels.

It’s not all great though. Some stages would rather get you with what I’d consider to be "cheap difficulty". You see, Mega Man 9 has a love for spikes, more so than any other console game in the series. In fact, it’s arguable that it borrowed from the Game Boy games as well considering how many times you’ll find yourself in a room transition that will send you into the sharp stuff and back to the start in no time. I know that 2D platformers required level memorization back in the day, but when the majority of your deaths are coming from surprise enemy attacks that you have absolutely no time to prepare for or those sudden room transitions where you mistakenly fell the wrong way when you entered, it comes across as annoying. Even Mega Man 8 had "Jump, jump! Slide, slide!" to give you a small chance to prepare. Oh well, I feel like I’m griping about something that was standard back in the day.

Things can get tricky in a hurry.

What was also standard back then was the very high quality soundtracks that the classic series had produced over the years. Once again, Capcom has done an excellent job in creating some memorable tunes here. I found myself humming to many of them such as Tornado Man’s, Splash Woman’s, and Wily 1. . .many of them just fit the situation of the level you’re in. They’re not all winners, but I think you’ll agree that the majority of the songs you experience during Mega Man’s fight for everlasting peace are awesome.

With that said, Capcom set out and delivered a title that looks, sounds, and plays like the old 8-bit titles in the series. Just as well, the game is only $10 whether you get it for the Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360. If you weren’t a fan of those games back in the day, then this one won’t interest you. For those that were, know that Capcom has given you exactly what you wanted. Mega Man 9 is my favorite Mega Man title in the last ten years, and it’s because it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. Instead, it chooses to take you back to the year 20xx and lets you bust up Wily and his plans for world domination one more time. It’s been a long time, but the Blue Bomber is finally back in action!

[Overall: 8.75/10]

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Back to Cool Edition

This week we're kicking things off with a new game to the list of VGMs, Rune Factory Frontier. We also have a rare performance from the Japan Philharmonic playing a track from Mother 2. All this and a hedgehog with a gun makes this an interesting edition of the VGMs!

v376. Rune Factory Frontier - Trampoli Square

This tranquil song is from Rune Factory Frontier for Wii, the very first and hopefully not last console-iteration of the Harvest Moon spin-off. I personally thought most of the game was a long grind with illogical progression, but I know a lot of you loved it. This song starts off with a piano playing a Frere Jacques like phrase followed shortly by the clarinet playing the mellow melody.

v377. Mario Party - Everyone's A Superstar!

Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, this is the credits theme of Mario Party-- a well-earned song after weeks of sore thumbs and blistered fingers. It's bouncy and march-like at some parts, slow at others with a touch of the Super Mario melody. Now sit down and cool those thumbs off!

v378. Mother 2 - Theme of Eagle Land (Concert Version)

In Japan, there were a series of five game concerts from 1991-1996. The concert this piece originates from is the one from 1992 where songs from SimCity, Final Fantasy V, and Dragon Quest V were performed by an orchestra as well. Theme of Eagle Land comes from the Mother/Earthbound franchise. I can't imagine what some of the fanbase would give for a localized sequel.

v379. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest - Lockjaw's Saga

The first time this song is played is during Lockjaw's Locker, the opening underwater level of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. It was and still is a tremendous cinematic score for a video game. What Rare's composers got out of the SNES is just amazing.

v380. Shadow the Hedgehog - Cosmic Fall

I didn't find Shadow the Hedgehog very poor. I played through the game without problems and enjoyed it. Shadow the Hedgehog had an interesting level structure. You played six levels until the end of the game where you got one of twelve endings. What levels you played depending on what choices/objectives you performed in the previous level. This song is Cosmic Wall, one of the final levels and a wonderful climax to the game.

Next week we're going to be playing songs all from one series. Until then, have a great week!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (PSP) Guest Review

A Portable Party

At E3, Konami made the not-so-shocking announcement that they were continuing the Metal Gear Solid franchise. While console gamers will get MGS: Rising in the future, I found myself more intrigued with the PSP title, Peace Walker. It’s not the first stealth-action title to sneak its way onto Sony’s handheld, either. A couple of years ago, Konami released Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops onto the PSP. This one may have fallen off the radar at the time, but if you’re looking for a decent action title to pick up and play, this one may very will be the title that you’re looking for.

Don’t be confused. Even though this is the third Metal Gear title on the Playstation Portable, it was the first to ditch the card-based system and go back to what made the series popular in the first place. You play as Snake, a man not to be confused with Solid Snake. Already confused? Don’t worry about it. Just know that this is a sequel to MGS3, a game that’s setting took place in 1964. This particular title happens to be set six years after that, and it starts off with Snake being wrongfully imprisoned for supposedly stealing half of a very large fortune that could fund an army for years to come. His captors? An uprising army that seeks to gain that fortune. Uh-oh.

It’s not long before Snake gets help from a veteran of the Metal Gear series and plans his escape. This is where you take over and begin to notice some changes. First off, there is a radar system in this game, but it works with sound. In other words, if you’re running around like a fool and there’s a guard nearby, he’s bound to hear the steps and take a look at what’s causing all that racket. By pressing down the triangle button, you can eliminate that sound and either go on a stealth attack or just make your way past the guards. It’s not long before you reach your objective only to find out something else that’s new about this game, and that’s the map system.

After every mission is completed, you’re taken to an intermission screen where you can see the places you’ve visited or should go to next. It’s empty at first, but you’ll be filling that place up to over twenty different areas in due time. It’s pretty standard stuff at first, almost making you wonder why there’s a need for this screen in the first place. That question gets answered very early on, and you’re going to like the answer.

Once you’ve completed the first few storyline missions, you’ll find the game’s main gimmick kick in. The soldiers that are stationed in this secret South American facility can be captured and recruited on to your side. All you have to do is find a way to drag them back to your transport jeep without alerting everyone to your presence. This is what makes Portable Ops so much fun. For a change, it’s not just Snake against the world. Anyone that you try to go after whether it be guards, Foxhound members, or even doctors, you can add just about anyone to your team. . .and I do mean anyone. Once you’ve done that, you can take up to a team of four with Snake included on your next mission. Just when you think you have to drag everyone back to the jeep, you find out that you can let an ally in a box serve as an instant transport system. That works for me!

All of these soldiers have their own sets of stats from how well they work with weapons, in close-quarters combat, to off the field activities such as research and development, spying (which lets you see where items are on the map), or serving as a medic. Placing your on-site armada into their right roles is a key to your success. For instance, if you know there are going to be Foxhound members there then you can bring along one of your own that will blend in perfectly. As long as you don’t do anything stupid such as pointing a gun at them, you can waltz through certain missions without any trouble whatsoever. I love having multiple ways to play through the game, and this is one MGS title that truly focuses on the gameplay over the story.

It’s not to say that the story is weak, either. During the course of your game, you’ll go through the usual twists and turns (even the slightly ridiculous ones) that a Metal Gear Solid title brings to the table. The cutscene count is definitely down from its console brethren and the lengths of these sequences are also appropriate. The in-game dialogue sequences, which aren’t voice acted by the way, also do their best to not overwhelm you. There’s a nice balance here between game and story, and I think you’ll enjoy that fact.

It’s not a perfect game, mind you, as I found myself having occasional issues with randomly dropping out of first-person view and having trouble entering a vent unless I crawled in just the perfect line, but for the most part, this game succeeds in its console to handheld transition. If you want a game that can give you a decent challenge and a good amount of playtime, then you should check out MGS: Portable Ops. It’s just the kind of stealth-action experience I was hoping for.

[Overall: 9.0/10]