Saturday, December 5, 2009

SuperPhillip: The Game - 2-1 The Forest Video

Last week, I showed off some screens of my newest level, 2-1 The Forest. Now the level has been recorded by a friend of mine, and it's ready to be unveiled! Watch the circular anchors of fiery doom, the helpful tweet-tweets that will launch you to higher places, and the slithering snakes that make it their mission to foul you up in your journey to take on the second of the Fearsome Five!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (PS3) Review

TGIF. Remember that block of shows? Now Family Matters gets on my nerves. Where was I? Oh, yes. It's Friday, so let's end this week in style with a brand-new review. It's Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time for the PlayStation 3. Apparently, I haven't been capitalizing the "S" in PlayStation. I apologize, and I hope we can still be friends.

Old Lombax, New Tricks

The Ratchet & Clank series has to reach its decade anniversary, and already the franchise has had six main installments with roughly the same formula. The one that did change things up, Ratchet: Deadlocked, didn't receive as much in the way of commercial success. With the second edition of the franchise on Sony's hi-tech Playstation 3, is this old lombax ready to be put down or has he finally learned some new tricks?

A Crack in Time follows directly to the conclusion of Tools of Destruction and The Quest for Booty. Clank has been transported to the evil Dr. Nefarious' lair by the mystical entities known as the Zoni, and it's up to Ratchet and bumbling superhero, Captain Copernicus Qwark, to go on a mission to save Clank as well as the galaxy from Nefarious' sinister plans-- whatever they might be. Meanwhile, Clank escapes from Dr. Nefarious' control, and this is where the action begins. You take Clank through a series of halls and platforms as Nefarious' henchmen pursue, blowing everything up in their chase of the wily little robot, Clank.

The majority of the game splits off between players taking control of Ratchet and playing as Clank by his lonesome. Clank gets about four levels to himself throughout the duration of the game, and for the better half of the game, the two stay separated. Clank gains new abilities this time around. No longer can he just float and hover in the air for a short time. The resourceful machine can now use the power of time. He can toss time bombs that slow down fast-moving platforms, giving Clank enough seconds to move across them. He'll also earn a temporal staff that will allow Clank to reflect enemy attacks back at baddies as well as fix broken down machines. To save the temporal state of the universe, you will participate in mini-games where the goal is to travel around a planet with your laser, shooting away anomalies until they return to normal. This is all the while watching out for time rifts which will turn those fixed anomalies back into something dangerous.

No Ratchet? No problem.

Then there's the special time puzzles sprinkled throughout Clank's levels. These are rather clever as they have Clank recording himself performing an action such as stepping on a button to open a door. Meanwhile, you can record and playback the recorded Clank opening the door for the player. It's very ingenious how later puzzles work, and yes, they can be very maddening later on. It'll take a sharp wit to conquer these puzzles as they are some of the most difficult the series has ever known. Regardless, they're also rewarding when completed-- no matter if they slow down the pace of the game to a crawl.

Ratchet on the other hand is without Clank until late in the game. This means you start out with just a double jump and no hover abilities this time around. Not only is the near and dear to our hearts swingshot back and ready for more swinging and action, but there's several new gadgets available to Ratchet. The hoverboots allow Ratchet to race along platforms much faster than normal walking. He can rocket off ramps with ease as well as hover-- an ability he would otherwise need Clank for. The other new gadget is the omnisoaker. This tool sucks up liquids which can be used to water plants that will turn into catapults for Ratchet to leap off from, to take oil and put it on rusty switches to make them usable once again, and to grab nectar from certain plants as a treat for Ratchet-eating infestations of bugs. What's cool about the gadgets in A Crack in Time is that they're designated to the d-pad instead of inside the traditional weapon wheel. It makes things so much more intuitive and stream-lined.

No Clank? Run away, run away!

Apart from cool and wacky gadgets, kick-ass weaponry has always been a major focus of the Ratchet & Clank series, and this go around, A Crack in Time does not disappoint. Just like in past games, by defeating enemies with a given weapon, that weapon gains experience. Gain enough experience for a weapon, and it grows stronger, giving the player more ammo to work with or firepower to blow baddies back where they came from. There's typical pistols, shotguns, and bombs, but the more entertaining weapons are those completely unrealistic. For instance, the Sonic Eruptor uses sonic belching to blow enemies to smithereens. Epic belch, dude! Meanwhile, Mr. Zurkon is the perfect tag-team partner. He's a robot who will shoot over your shoulder as you fire with your own destructive weapons. This is all the while spouting off lines like "Mr. Zurcon lives on fear". Finally, one of my favorite weapons is the Rift Inducer which is a vortex with green thorny tentacles hanging out of it which will pull unaware enemies into it, instantly destroying them.

Papa's got a brand-new bag!

Each time you purchase a new weapon, you get to see an entertaining cartoon version of Ratchet showing off the latest piece of technology to his arsenal in a brief tutorial. This tutorial show what the weapon does and its various uses. You can also find mod kits around the universe to unlock specific upgrades to your weaponry from bombs that unleash toxic fury to pistol shots that can be charged to become more powerful. Meanwhile, switching between weapons is as easy as cycling through the lifeline of Ratchet, the weapon wheel. This pauses the game while you quickly select your next pick of dastardly destruction.

This could get really bad really quick.

The universe of Ratchet is much different this time around. No longer do you just select a planet and get a cut-scene showing his ship transporting to it. Now there's a whole galaxy to explore with moons, other ships in need of help, and planets to discover. While most of the story levels in A Crack in Time are more action-focused, the majority of moons-- optional locations to survey and explore-- are pure platforming. Moons usually house a prize for conquering them from ship-upgrading Zoni to weapon mods to gold bolts-- the rarest of the rare in the Ratchet series. The moons borrow from Super Mario Galaxy in that they're totally 3-D. You can run along all 360 degrees of each cratered rock. While some have the goal of just defeating every enemy aboard the moon, others put Ratchet into platforming peril with plenty of obstacles and hazards to watch out for and jump over.

Spaceship travel is rather easy. One stick is to move around while the other is for the camera and quick evasive maneuvers. You travel on a flat plane, so the only axes to worry about are on the x and z. There's six areas of space to explore, and once a planet or sector of space is already visited or available, you can directly transport to it. Moons, however, must be approached regardless of whether they've been visited or not. Your ship has various weaponry on it from homing missiles to your standard lasers. As you collect Zoni, hidden throughout the galaxy on moons and on planets, you'll gain the ability to upgrade your ship with new weaponry and bonuses such as higher health and stronger thrusters.

For story missions, Ratchet heads through much more linear levels this time around. There's usually just one right way to follow on each planet. This isn't a bad thing as there are very much a ton of hidden items and goods tucked away in the most fiendish of locations. There's plenty of opportunities for action and platforming throughout A Crack in Time. For every level where you're in an epic struggle against Nefarious' forces, the next you'll be leaping from ledge to ledge and platform to platform. Those who have complained about a higher focus on action will find this installment much more enjoyable to play.

Half shooting, half jumping,
it's A Crack in Time.

A Crack in Time lasts about ten hours the first playthrough with a challenge mode, a more difficult version of the game with a bolt-multiplier (bolts are the currency of the series), unlocking afterward. There's also three difficulties to choose from-- a first for the franchise. Now any level of player can enjoy this game. There's also all the moons to discover, Zoni, weapon mods, and new skin-unlocking gold bolts to collect, and skill points to earn. Case in point, A Crack in Time will definitely make you lose time playing it-- about 25-30 hours to do everything there is to do.

A Crack in Time's presentation is what you'd expect from a Ratchet & Clank game. The hilarious Dr. Nefarious is always good for a laugh, and the story seldom takes itself too seriously. There's plenty of surprises in the plot to keep players interested and entertained. Small things like the R.Y.N.O. V playing Flight of the Valkyrie and the way characters are animated are just superb and make the game feel highly polished. The game itself is absolutely gorgeous. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is quite good with plenty of memorable tracks. The ability to change radio stations as you fly around space is an awesome touch. No matter if it's rock, funk, or classical, the soundtrack by David Bergeaud has you covered.

There's some tremendous visuals going on here.

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time does a great job of mixing things up and improving on the formula. I was certainly worried that this installment of Ratchet would just feel more of the same after playing through the original trilogy just a little while ago. Thankfully, I can say that this edition of the series does enough to keep things fresh. I'm eager to see where Ratchet and Clank are going to go next. Apparently the old adage is wrong, you can teach an old lombax new tricks!

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.25/10]

New Mario Plushies Coming From Japan

If it's one thing I love with video game merchandise, it's strategy guides, art books, collectible figurines, and plushies. The latter is what this collection of Super Mario goodies is. There's Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Yoshi, Wario, Waluigi, Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Bowser, Bowser Jr., Boo, Goomba, and Koopa Troopa to select from. According to Google Translate, these plush dolls will be releasing in Japan sometime in February. Here's hoping the rest of the world gets a chance to purchase these pleasing plushies!

Poke Park Wii: Pikachu’s Great Adventure (Wii) Screens

Here's a new Wii game to look forward to. It looks like it's part action-adventure and part mini-game ensemble. One screen looks like a game where the goal is to time Scizor's swipes to destroy the cannon fire being shot at him. Another employs surfing Pikachu from Pokemon Yellow and Snap. Other shots show Pikachu facing off against a formidable Charizard, chatting with fabled Pokemon, Mew, and standing before one of the legendary Pokemon, Rayquaza. There's no word on a North American release yet, but it'd be pretty foolish of Nintendo of America to keep this surefire hit away from this side of the Pacific.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Happy 15th Anniversary, Playstation.

It was fifteen years ago on this day that the original Playstation hit the gaming world and forever changed it. I remember my brother and I both wanting the system to play Mega Man 8 on it. We later found out the blasted system was a CD player, too! That floored us. The Playstation brand has seen some of the best games of all time on it, one of the best consoles ever in the Playstation 2, one of the biggest mishaps in the Playstation 3, and the myriad of marvelous memories that the PS logo, consoles, and games have given us. I thought I'd celebrate this occasion by rattling off some of my favorite original Playstation games.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

What is a man? A miserable, little pile of secrets! And this dialogue exchanged would be engraved in many a-players' minds and memories. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the first of many things in the franchise. It was the first Metroid-style game progression where gaining new abilities allowed our hero, Alucard, access to new areas of Dracula's caastle. It was the first to use an RPG-style leveling up system with stats as well as weapons to be equipped. Finally, and most obvious, it was the first Castlevania and the best of the Playstation era.

Crash Team Racing

Taking some inspiration from games such as Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing was a terrific racers that some would call better than both games. While I'm not in that camp, CTR was pretty darned good. Naughty Dog did an excellent job creating a kart racer that felt familiar but was different enough to feel original. The track design was superb, the adventure mode was great having players take on each track before facing a boss after every world, and the power-ups were great fun to use. Crash Team Racing still holds up well to this day, so definitely pick it up if you haven't!

Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics was the first and best tactical RPG I had ever played. Both still hold true twelve years later. FFT followed the story of Ramza Beolouve, a young man thrust into the middle of a conflict between two families, the War of the Lions. This is presumably where the PSP port gets its subtitle from. Regardless, the game brought with it all the mythos of the Final Fantasy franchise with familiar monsters such as bombs and chocobos, familiar spells, and various terminology of the series. The greatest part of this game besides the excellent turn-based tactical combat is the soundtrack. It remains one of my absolute favorites.

Final Fantasy VIII

It'd odd. One of the most debated installment of the Final Fantasy franchise, and VIII just happens to be my favorite of the Playstation generation of mainline games. You played as the brooding hero, Squall Leonheart, who was more pouty and forlorn than your typical franchise protagonist. The game featured a junction battle system where you drew magic and spells from enemies and a sensational soundtrack including such titles as Liberti Fatali, Dance With the Balamb Fish, and Eyes on Me. It also included one of my favorite mini-games period-- the ever-addicting card game, Triple Triad. For a Final Fantasy experience unlike any other, check out Final Fantasy VIII.

Mega Man Legends

Mega Man in 3-D? My mind was ablaze with ideas and questions. Would it be like classic Mega Man only in 3-D? Would it be a continuation of the classic Mega Man series? Instead what we received was very much a competent action-adventure game feature a helmet-less blue bomber, a world filled with endless water, and the evil but lovable Bonne family as the general antagonists. I remember this game being difficult for me as a younger male, but finally beating the final boss was such a big moment for me. Forget seventh grade graduation or whatever grade I was in at the time!

Mega Man X4

The X series jumps ship from the Super Nintendo to the Playstation One and SEGA Saturn. While the Saturn version had more bonus content, the PS1 game was no slouch. This time around, you could choose as either X or Zero to play as. Each of these two had their own separate storylines, so playing through both was a must even though Zero's story was more difficult to play through. As always, eight new mavericks returned to the fray with levels taking X and Zero inside a volcano, in the Arctic Circle, and inside a densely populated Amazon jungle. Mega Man X4 remains one of my favorite games in the Mega Man series.

Metal Gear Solid

Before Hideo Kojima went absolutely nuts and isolated a lot of fans with Metal Gear Solid 4, the original Metal Gear Solid brought with it a Hollywood blockbuster approach for better or worse. At the time it was very cool, but seeing so many developers go for that approach now is disheartening. Thankfully though, this blockbuster in the form of a video game was fun, too, with its stealth-based gameplay. Sneaking around Shadow Moses Island, first seeing the opening credits, taking on Psycho Mantis... so many good memories to this great game. Perhaps some of us can forgive Kojima after all. Never mind just thought of Metal Gear Solid 4 again.

Spyro the Dragon

Platformers weren't as big on the Playstation as the Nintendo 64, but there were plenty of them. As a kid, I remember getting a headache from the graphics of such Playstation 3-D platformers, but still plugging away at them because they were so much fun. Spyro the Dragon is one of my favorites. It was created by Insomniac, the same group of fine fellows who would go onto make the excellent Ratchet & Clank franchise. After Insomniac was tired of flying, soaring, collecting gems, saving other dragons, and beating down bosses with their character, they sold the purple dragon off to Universal who have since destroyed the brand sadly enough. This was the same fate another Sony platformer had in Crash Bandicoot.

Star Ocean: The Second Story

One of my favorite Playstation RPGs was Star Ocean: The Second Story. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, this game also received a PSP port to it in Second Story. The game followed either Claude C. Kenny or Rena Lanford as the two search for a way to send Claude back to his own planet. Meanwhile, a sinister group of ten are looking to destroy the universe starting with Rena's home planet. The action played out in real-time battles with plenty of special attacks and magic to go around for everyone. The music is a high point of this game, composed by Motoi Sakuraba. It's coincidental that both games ported to the PSP have soundtracks that I am completely enamored with!

Wild Arms

I remember begging my mom for this game. Not because of the excellent story, the fantastic music, the fun combat, the early 3-D modeling, or the intriguing puzzles, but because you could name your own spells! Wow! That was such a foreign and provocative concept to me. Regardless, I ended up getting the game and definitely enjoying all my time poured into it. Sure, the battles are severely dated with the 3-D, but everything else is just as I remember it. It's a wonderful start to a franchise that would alter in quality with each installment.

To celebrate fifteen years, what are/were your favorite PS1 games? Let me know in the comments section!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Boy and His Blob (Wii) Review

Here's our first review of December. It's a game that came out in October, but we're just getting to it now. It's A Boy and His Blob, a game that didn't sell too terribly well. I imagine a lack of advertising to people outside of message board gamers really hurt this title. Could have, should have...

There Will Be Blob.

The year was 1989 and upstart video game publisher Majesco came out with A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was a charming little game full of fun and frustration... mostly frustration. It's twenty years later and the team behind Shantae, Wayforward Games, has taken it upon themselves to create a revision of this classic game of the same name. It's A Boy and His Blob for Wii. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same! Is this blob deserving of another jellybean, or should it have been sent to early retirement?

The boy drops in on this level.

The adventure starts when our eponymous boy sees and hears an unidentified flying blob crashing down in a nearby stretch of forest. He scampers over to meet up with the blob, and the two quickly grow to become fast friends. Apparently, this white blob's home planet of Blobonia is under attack by an evil emperor. Instead of some gigantic warrior to help him, the blob relies on the first person he sees-- this little boy. From then on the two use the power of teamwork to hopefully set things right.

There are four worlds in A Boy and His Blob. Each of which have ten levels each for a total of forty levels. As those infomercials would say, "but wait. There's more!" Each level has three treasure chests that are placed in precarious or otherwise hidden locations. Collect all three and you unlock a challenge level. These take concepts from the regular levels and make even more fiendish puzzles and challenges. There's forty of these in all for an tremendous total of eighty levels to master and complete. Each of the four worlds has a different theme from a forest to the world of Blobonia. You choose levels at each world's hub. Here you can revisit beaten levels, check out challenge levels, or destroy your data. This final one is a necessity for anyone with more than one person wanting to play the game since there's only one save file allowed per Wii. Not a very smart idea for such an ingeniously designed game!

Treasure chests like these are the
only collectibles in this game.

In the game you control the boy. The blob follows you around. It's when the boy tosses out a jellybean that the magic happens. Each bean has a set transformation that the blob turns into once the bean has been eaten. There's an anvil, a rocket, a cannon, a ladder, a hole, a kickball, a parachute, and many more. The beans are mapped to the Z button on the nunchuk attachment, and they're displayed in a circular display. Not every bean is available for every level. The developers made sure not to make levels broken, so only a select assortment are allowed in a given level. Speaking of rules, only one bean is allowed to be out at once. Meanwhile, when the blob goes astray (which it will... often), you can use the C button to call the little bugger back to you. Three times in succession, and the blob will float right to your location.

Toss a bean to transform the blob
into one of over a dozen forms.

The transformations have a lot of purposes to them. Not only does the hole ability allow the boy to fall through a thin platform but it works on most enemies, too. Then you can use the ladder transformation to climb back up if possible. An enemy below walking over a field of deadly spikes can have an anvil dropped on him. The boy can use that as a platform to reach across the dangerous thorny chasm. Transport transformations, too, are always of great importance. There's times when a jump down is way too far for the boy to survive, so feed the blob a parachute jellybean and you'll be able to float down gracefully. Another transformation puts the boy in a giant hamster ball, rolling through loops, hills, and off ramps. Finally, the rocket propels the boy across dark dangers that otherwise would be impossible to cross. Sure, early on in the game, there's signposts that show when to use a specific transformation, but by the second world this greatly dies down almost completely.

I'm a rock-it man!

A Boy and His Blob is more of a puzzle-platformer than a purely platforming experience. You need to think before you leap because oftentimes a wrong move will cost the boy his life. As cruel and disturbing a concept as that is. It's one hit, one kill in this blob-eat-bean world. That's why you should avoid confrontation whenever possible. Thankfully, there's a wide assortment of mid-level checkpoints after nearly every puzzle or platforming section which eases the frustration down a few notches. If a foe is in the way, there's probably a way around him with one of the blob's powers. Speaking of foes, each world ends with a climactic boss battle. These will put your reflexes and your brain to the test. Only certain transformations in a certain order will take down these ghastly foes.

A Boy and His Blob showcases true 2-D mastery in the visuals department. The backgrounds are lush and full of color, the animations are nice and smooth, and the game runs at a steady pace. The soundtrack is soothing one time while tense and powerful at other times. It's surprisingly good. Sort of like finding a diamond in a haystack instead of a needle. You expected a needle but received a diamond instead. Nonetheless, hearing the repeated callings of "Blob", "Hey", and "Come here" can get quite grating to the average player.

Challenge levels will definitely test your mettle.

A Boy and His Blob will no doubt be one of the overlooked and underrated treasures of the Wii library, buried under a sea of Imagine games and mini-game collections. Don't let that discourage you though as the game itself as is-is worthy of high praise. It may not be perfect, and the game may have its share of frustrating moments and brevity, but for forty dollars, A Boy and His Blob is truly worth buying along with a package of colorful jellybeans for a blob near you.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]