Thursday, April 21, 2011

God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP) Review

Time for the second promised PSP review of the week. It's a game I got for $19.99 at Best Buy-- a great deal for a great game. It's a side-story in the God of War franchise, Ghost of Sparta. Let's see how it holds up in portable form.

A Ghost of A Chance

Since its debut in 2005, the God of War franchise has been hacking and slashing its way into the hearts of gamers. Although Kratos himself is quite unlikeable, his antihero persona and his pure badassery has resonated with gamers. In 2008 Ready at Dawn Studios crafted the first portable entry in the series, Chains of Olympus. Now two years later, they're telling yet another tale of Kratos' storied past with God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Is yet another God of War needed, or is this series merely a ghost of its past self?

When Kratos was a child, his brother, Deimos, was abducted by Ares under the Gods' instructions. Now that Kratos is an adult and now the God of War himself, he gets surly visions of the past and the future. To soothe these savage thoughts, Kratos must head to Atlantis, Sparta, and even into Death's Domain to search for his long-lost brother, destroy the God of Death, Thanatos, and make it out of there with his life. The story in Ghost of Sparta is told through flashback sequences and cutscenes featuring the haunting female narrator that fans of the series have known to love. There's much less story to get in the way this go around, and what there is doesn't intrude on the experience.

If all else fails, run!

The God of War series is known for its visceral violence, hack and slash action, perplexing puzzles, and non-deep stories. Ghost of Sparta is no exception. While the puzzles in this game are rather simplistic and the game itself only lasts 4-5 hours, there's plenty more to do once the game is beaten. The first time the game is completed, you unlock God Mode, the highest difficulty imaginable for the game. Then there's the a battle mode where you encounter battles with set winning conditions. In addition to these modes, there's a place where you can earn treasures from the red orbs earned during Kratos' campaign.

Kratos has his enemy on the ropes.

There's three types of orbs in Ghost of Sparta: red, blue, and green. Red orbs are sacrificed to power up Kratos' weapons and magic spells. As they level up, Kratos learns new moves that can dish out more damage on his foes. As mentioned already collecting red orbs in mass can also be used in the Treasures menu to unlock hidden abilities. Blue orbs power up the God of War's magic meter whereas green heals his health bar.

If you've played a God of War game before, you probably know what to expect from this handheld entry. The square button unleashes weak attacks while the triangle button strikes down with heavy attacks. Enemies that are weakened enough can be grabbed with the circle button. In Kratos' journey he'll face off against a menagerie of monsters and foes such as minotaurs, cyclops, harpies, and other unworldly beasts. Some enemies have protective armor on them that can only be destroyed by holding the R button while attacking. This sets Kratos' weapons on fire to dish out massive damage. However, while the R button is held down, the fire gauge goes down. If it empties all the way, you'll have to wait for it to restore.

Jam on the circle button to make this Medusa pay.

Many times during the game whether during a set piece or during battle, you'll be prompted to press a button to enter a mini-game of sorts. God of War was the franchise that made quick-time events popular, and there's no sign of them going away in this game. Whether you're jamming on the circle button to open doors, pressing the correct button at the correct time to save yourself from impending doom, or hitting the right button(s) to kill off a gigantic beast, you'll be using the QTE a lot in Ghost of Sparta.

As Kratos progresses through his adventure, he'll come across new skills and abilities. One bestows upon him a conch shell that can freeze enemies in the area around him for quick kills. Another gives Kratos a spear and shield. With the spear Kratos can attack enemies from afar while the shield is perfect for blocking attacks as well as walls of fire that would otherwise cook Kratos' goose. Along with new abilities, there's treasure chests hidden throughout Atlantis, Sparta, and Death's Domain. These house items such as Gorgon Eyes, Phoenix Feathers, and Minotaur Horns. When five of these are collected, a sacrifice is made, and the God of War's health, magic, or fire gauge is increased by a bit.

A God of War game wouldn't be complete without big and bad bosses to beat down, and Ghost of Sparta does not disappoint in this arena. Conflicts between bosses pull out all the stops. In one battle you'll be avoiding a creature that was once Kratos' mother while another will have you free-falling from the sky in a mad attempt to catch up and kill a gigantic harpy that is retreating. Rest assured QTEs are aplenty in these encounters.

This mama Harpy won't know what hit her!

Ghost of Sparta is a gorgeous, jaw-dropping game. It's no surprise either as we're at the end of the PlayStation Portable's life, so Ready at Dawn pulled out all of the stops on the graphics for this game. Rain, wind, and fire effects are impressive, character models and levels are richly-detailed, and backgrounds are full of life. The audio features a pumping orchestral score, perfect for slaying baddies to while TC Carson once again gives off a wonderful performance as the God of War. Overall, there's no complaints when it comes to the presentation that Ready at Dawn gave this game.

While Ghost of Sparta is a short game, there's enough content to justify multiple playthroughs. Higher difficulties earn Kratos new costumes, collected treasures give Kratos new powers such as unlimited magic and ten times the red orbs, and the bonus content gives new meaning to the word "incredible". While not as influential as the original God of War, Ghost of Sparta does its job and does it well, even if the God of War formula is in serious need of spicing up.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wii 2 Wishes

The cat's out of the bag, and rumors are flying regarding Nintendo's sixth home console. There's rumors that it will feature dual analog, a touch screen on the controller, and it's in the hands of many developers as I type including Ubisoft, Rockstar, and EA. I think it is the perfect opportunity to discuss what I'm wanting out of Nintendo's new box.

  • Keep the motion controls - The pointer is vastly superior to dual analog as games like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Goldeneye 007, Red Steel 2, Killzone 3, and MAG have proven. Just outperform the Move's specs and tech, and you're sure to have something for those who prefer pointing to dual analog.
  • Make the system more powerful than the PlayStation 3 - If the system is less powerful, Nintendo runs the risk of having their competitors outdo them and gain all of the third party support. This would also help future-proof the system and keep it relevant rather than D.O.A. like the original Wii was. HD is key, and it's a given that Nintendo is going down this path. I don't mind either way if 3D is implemented, however, most homes cannot afford a 3D TV, so it might be best if Nintendo waits on 3D for their console unless its somehow glasses-free.
  • Garner true third party support - We'll see what excuse third parties come up with not to develop for Nintendo's new hardware this time. For the Wii it was because the system was too weak, and for the Gamecube it was because they somehow didn't want to compete with Nintendo's stellar lineup of games. Regardless, rumors (and I cannot enforce how much these are just rumors) indicate that the biggest third parties already have developer kits. With powerful hardware, dual analog on their controller, and motion controls, Nintendo has a leg up this go around. Too many times the Wii missed out on third party games due to its weaknesses. Now Nintendo has the opportunity to garner a significant share of third party mind-share, and it'd be a shame if they missed out this time.
  • Follow the 3DS's example of one friend code for all online games - This is simple enough, and it allows for a better online infrastructure that is less demanding on the consumer. Less codes to worry about, and less frustration all around. A system where you can see who is playing what, send friend invites, and join them all for free (I'm looking at you, Xbox Live) would be beneficial in getting third parties to create more online experiences for Nintendo's new platform.
  • Keep the price affordable - I think with the 3DS the price was set too high. Now that platform isn't doomed or anything, it just lacks compelling software to get people to purchase one. Nonetheless, the successor to the Wii must be affordable and make it seem like consumers are getting a bang for their buck. It shouldn't be too difficult to achieve this goal as the PlayStation 3 is using years' old tech which has gone down significantly in price. Unless the new controller costs an arm and a leg, Nintendo should be able to keep the price down.
  • Allow transfers of Wii downloadables - This is key for most consumers, the ability to transfer their Virtual Console and WiiWare games from their Wii to the Wii's successor. Whether this is performed by accessing your account from Club Nintendo or something else, this needs to be done. We wouldn't want angry consumers getting mad that they cannot play their pricey virtual collection on their new hardware.
  • Appeal to everyone just like you did with the Wii - Whiny manchildren (aka a lot of hardcore gamers) believe Nintendo abandoned them despite coming out with a generous helping of core content for the Wii. There was the first 2D Mario game in thirteen years, a new Donkey Kong Country, two 3D Marios, a Sin and Punishment game even though the first bombed horribly, a new Punch-Out!, and much more. That's never good enough because Nintendo also focused on new gamers with games that everyone could enjoy like Wii Sports, Wii Party, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, among others. For the manchildren if Nintendo isn't giving 100% of its attention to them, they're upset. Just read any message board and laugh at the losers who take this hobby too seriously.
So there's just a sampling of some of my desires for the Wii's successor. What are some of yours? Do you share in my line of thinking? Let me know in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (PSP) Review

As promised from yesterday's VGMs, here's the first of two PlayStation Portable video game reviews. It's Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep from Square-Enix. They're really working this franchise for all its worth, aren't they? Regardless, here we go with the second review of the month.

Someone Wake Me Up

Kingdom Hearts was an odd duckling when it originally premiered as a series on the PlayStation 2. It combined the magical and whimsical world of Disney and the angst-filled heroes and heroines of one of gaming's most storied franchises, Final Fantasy. The mix was off-putting at first, but once you got used to it, it meshed well. However, since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, there's been spinoff after spinoff with no hint of a third installment in sight. There's been a card game, two DS games, and now there's the first to hit Sony's PlayStation Portable, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Is this adventure worth waking up for?

Three friends who all yearn to be great Keyblade Masters, Terra, Ventus (Ven for short), and Aqua are thrown into the middle of a plan to separate and destroy them. Voiced by Spock, Leonard Nimoy, Master Xehanort plans to reignite the fabled Keyblade Wars and wreak heck upon the worlds of Disney. Only by reuniting together can these trio of friends overcome Xehanort and his sinister plans. Ever since Kingdom Hearts II, the franchise has had a convoluted story, and this entry to the series is no different. Be prepared to scratch your head at multiple times attempting to figure out which plot elements are actually important and what's actually rubbish. Be well aware though that the knot that ties all this together is that of friendship. D'aww...

Against Yen Sid's wishes, King Mickey is out and about.

After a brief tutorial world, you're given the choice between playing as either of the three friends. Each character has their own storyline, worlds they visit like Cinderella's kingdom, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hercules, among others), and each takes anywhere between ten to fifteen hours to complete. Then there's the final story once Terra, Ventus, and Aqua reunite to stand up to Master Xehanort and his evil apprentice. Don't forget all of the post-game content, too. Rest assured, there's plenty of content to be had in Birth by Sleep, but will you want to play that long?

The gameplay of Birth by Sleep isn't very far-fetched from previous installments. You travel from world-to-world, room-to-room accessing treasure chests, battling monsters and bosses alike, and meeting new Disney and Final Fantasy heroes and villains. New to the series is the EX Link. As you meet and greet and form bonds with new characters, you can use the EX Link to access a sampling of that character's abilities in battle. For example, with Aqua's powers you can use magic like Fira, Blizzaga, and Thundara. It's an interesting system that opens up possibilities and strategies severalfold. It's just a shame, however, that most of the battles come down to simple button-mashing.

Press the triangle button to unleash skills.

That's not to say all encounters are mash X. Far from it, actually. As you progress through the game, your characters earn new spells and abilities like the glide, high jump, and counterattack skills to maximize combat and travel efficiency. The problems with battles is that: 1) the lock-on is ineffective and it's impossible to track the correct foe most of the time, 2) trying to adjust the twitchy camera to the correct position is an effort in frustration, and 3) attempting to do 1 and 2 while cycling through your move-set with the d-pad is just impossible. Throw in bosses that are superior in battle and dole out huge difficulty spikes, and you have a game you can rage to. A boss should not be able to one hit kill my hero even if it's the final boss of Ventus's campaign. And, Square-Enix, three supremely difficult boss encounters in a row without the opportunity to save is just balls. That's all there is to it.

Some boss battles get ridiculously tough.

Of course, treasure-hunting and battles are but a majority of the equation. There's a handful of fun mini-games to play in Disney Town like fruitball, a rhythm-action game involving ice cream, and multiple races and arena battles to conquer. There's even a Mario Party-esque board game to play on several different boards. Winning earns rare items and prizes, but heck if I know how to actually play it. I sort of skimmed the rules, so that part's my fault.

Rock out with Experiment 626 (aka Lilo).

Fans of Disney will love all of the fanservice Square-Enix has bestowed on this game. From the worlds of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to the characters like Queen Minnie, King Mickey, Donald Duck, Goofy, Huey, Dewey, and Lewie, Chip and Dale, Pete, and many more, Disney-lovers will swoon with delight. Even Final Fantasy fans have characters, items, spells, and references to the series that they will find interesting.

Guest appearances abound in Birth by Sleep.

Visually, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is a graphical powerhouse on Sony's portable-that-could. The characters are highly-detailed and are animated wonderfully. The backgrounds and worlds are all astonishing, and the draw distance is quite good, if not great. Yoko Shimomura astounds once again with exquisite compositions. Some are retreads from past Kingdom Hearts games, but most of the musical material is brand-new. The voice acting, too, is very good though you cannot help but root for the annoying brat, Ventus, to get his butt handed to him. All-in-all Square-Enix spared no expense with the presentation on Birth by Sleep.

It's a conundrum to try and recommend Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. It's certainly an above-average game, but I cannot help but feel disappointed. The button-mashing combat on scrub enemies does not teach good combat skills, and once you reach that steep difficulty curve, you're bound to become frustrated. The lock-on is heavily flawed, the camera is crazy, and the game is just all over the place in difficulty. Wake me up when Kingdom Hearts III is announced.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.0/10]

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sonic Generations (PS3, 360) Trailer and Screens

SEGA unveiled a teaser trailer a couple of weeks ago, and now they've blown the lid of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game, Sonic Generations. Watch the new trailer and scope out these first screens.


Look forward to Sonic Generations sometime this year.

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - It's Mahvel Baybee Edition

Welcome to a new week here at SuperPhillip Central. This week I have two new PSP reviews to dish out, so look forward to those. They'll be coming Tuesday and Thursday respectively. As for now we have a mound of VGMs to listen to starting with Bomberman Hero.

v701. Bomberman Hero - Redial

Here's a game we haven't covered on the VGMs as of yet. It's the Nintendo 64's Bomberman Hero, the odd duck among the trio of Bomberman titles for the system. Redial is a catchy theme that plays in the early stages of the game. Since Konami's acquisition of Hudson, the company that develops the Bomberman games, the 3DS version of Bomberman that was set as an action-adventure game was supposedly canceled according to Famitsu magazine. Sad days indeed for the white bomber.

Random Waltz, a track from Final Fantasy Tactics, is one of the themes that plays during a random battle. The beginning ten or so seconds harks back to the main theme of the game. The soundtrack to Final Fantasy Tactics remains one of my favorites of all time. It has everything from memorable melodies to bittersweet tunes. Whether you know it simply as Final Fantasy Tactics or the PSP's War of the Lions, there's some great tactical RPG action to be had with this game.

v703. Marvel VS. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds - Staff Roll

Marvel VS. Capcom 3, looking back, is very much a bare bones brawler. It lacks simple matchmaking, a replay feature, a spectator mode, and so much more. It's any wonder why I reviewed it as an 8.5. Must have been the hype that got to me. Regardless, if you're looking for a new fighter, and you've relinquished all you can from Super Street Fighter IV, then plop down the cash/credit for Marvel VS. Capcom 3. This theme, Staff Roll, plays after you have saved the Earth from the evil Galactus. It has two parts-- one a smooth techno/trance ditty with nice female vocals, and the other an orchestrated theme.

v704. Final Fantasy VI - Kids Run Through the City Corner (piano version)

Coming from the Final Fantasy VI Piano Collections album is the town theme from Final Fantasy VI-- piano style! Listen to this stirring and soothing arrangement of South Figaro and other towns in the game. Nobuo Uematsu was recently rated the top male composer on SuperPhillip Central. I'm sure he's bragging to all of his friends about that. ...Maybe not.

v705. Xenogears - Small of Two Pieces (Orchestra Version)

This track is the ending theme of Xenogears albeit orchestrated. We've already listened to the original hundreds of VGMs ago. This track comes from the -Myth- Xenogears Orchestral Album where Yasunori Mitsuda and his team worked together to create a dozen or so tracks in a symphonic fashion. The end result is this album. Some pieces are piano only, but that's not the case for this beautiful rendition of Small of Two Pieces.

That just about wraps it up for this week's VGMs. The VGMs are retiring for the week, but no worries. They'll be back next Monday for more musical goodness.