Friday, July 20, 2012

Top Ten Greatest Gaming Spinoffs

Earlier in the week I posted a list of five of my favorite Final Fantasy spinoffs. Now that the dust has settled, and you have let that list bounce around in your head for awhile, you can check out my list today of my thoughts on the best gaming has to offer in the spinoff category. From Mario to Wario, a wide range of characters and properties will be represented for your consideration.

10) Portal 

A loose spinoff of the Half-Life series, Portal is a first-person puzzle game where players use the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device to transport themselves through the various test chambers of the game. How this is done is by using the Portal Gun to open portals (only two can be shot out at a time) that are linked and utilizing gravity to solve some brain-busting and highly hazardous puzzles. Portal isn't higher on the list because - as I said - it is a loose spinoff of Half-Life. There are subtle mentions to the games written on walls throughout Portal, and even the antagonist GLaDOS speaks of references towards the series, however vague they may be.

9) Pokemon Snap 

Bar-none, this is my favorite spinoff of the many games set in the Pokemon universe. You play through six levels set across a beach, a mine, a volcano, a river, a cave, and a mountain valley taking photos of the various Pokemon that make their habitat in these areas. Your photos are given point values based on how well framed the Pokemon is (i.e. if the Pokemon is facing you, if it fits inside the frame, etc.), how many Pokemon of the same type are present in one shot, and if the Pokemon is/are doing a special pose in the photo. Back in the day, you could take your Pokemon Snap cartridge to your local Blockbuster Video (remember when they were relevant?), and print off a series of stickers of a small selection of your photos - for a price, of course. I think the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS would be a perfect platform to bring back this terrific Pokemon spinoff.

8) Wario Land 

Wario first premiered in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, an atypical Mario game where players could visit any world in any order they so desired. Wario had taken up residence in Mario's castle while he was away. Well, having been defeated and kick out of Mario's castle, Wario decided that if he couldn't keep the castle, he'd just steal Mario's game series right out from under him. And so he did with Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. The game had all-new enemies, gameplay, and an element regarding finding loads of valuable treasure for the money-lusting piggy plumber. Later games in the series would experiment with a no-death mechanic, offering the ability to turn Wario into different forms. One of my favorite Wario Land titles is Shake It!/The Shake Dimension on the Wii. Not only was the presentation of the utmost quality, it was an enjoyable 2D platformer on a home console.

7) Crash Team Racing

Following the success of Rare's Diddy Kong Racing, Naughty Dog developed their Mario Kart-killer in Crash Team Racing. The game was much more Diddy Kong Racing-like than Mario Kart as it featured its own story mode. I didn't mind playing as characters that I had no emotional attachment to or didn't find much personality in because the track design had enough charm and personality to exude throughout the entire game. I enjoyed how power sliding worked - you couldn't perform a slid for too long, or else you'd wipe out. You had to do just enough to get a boost, but not overdo it. I feel that Crash Team Racing, unlike Crash Bash, a game that was meant to cash in on Mario Party's success, was a well deserved spinoff for Crash Bandicoot, at that time, Sony's main mascot.

6) Kingdom Hearts

I was not on the internet when word came that Disney all-stars and Final Fantasy characters would be appearing in one game together. As someone who liked Disney, owned a PlayStation 2, and enjoyed the classic Final Fantasy games on the NES and SNES, I was open to the idea. It didn't blow my mind, however. I just wondered how a crossover between the two would actually work. Well, any fears or doubts I had on the combination were removed when Kingdom Hearts came out. Actually, the fear and doubts I had were replaced by, "what the hell is up with this story?" That aside, seeing Cloud Strife alongside Goofy and Donald and battling familiar Disney villains in memorable locales like Tarzan's jungle, Alice in Wonderland's garden, and Hercules' Olympus Coliseum made for an excellent game. Future titles would continue having the story take players down the rabbit hole, but for the most part, the quality of the series remained the same. Now if only Kingdom Hearts III would finally be announced...

5) Donkey Kong Country

Then known as Rareware, the developers based in the U.K. reinvented the Donkey Kong character with Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. Players were treated with visuals that looked like they were on an entirely different console. In fact, when the game was shown to some Nintendo execs during development, they were certain that the game was running on something else! Regardless of the graphical prowess the original SNES trilogy is known for, the level design takes center stage for me. Each level in the trilogy showcases a new element such as entering a dark cavern with only a bird holding a flashlight to help you see, or running up the insides of trees to escape a wild hacksaw. And the secrets. You almost get a sixth sense playing the game, and you just somehow know which holes house hidden bonus game barrels. The latest in the DKC line was Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, and that game managed to far surpass my expectations.

4) Final Fantasy Tactics

Listed as the number one Final Fantasy spinoff, Final Fantasy Tactics is a turn-based tactical affair which puts players into the war-torn world of Ivalice (Ivalice would return on the PS1 in the classic Vagrant Story). Many elements from the Final Fantasy universe carried over into Tactics such as items, summons, and job classes. Time could easily slip away as you level up characters and master new abilities. And the frantic panic of trying to revive a fallen party member before the counter reaches zero and they are gone for good is something that haunts players of the original to this day. Of course, most of us simply hit the reset button when that happens. Oh, and that soundtrack is, in my view, one of the best in gaming's illustrious history. The only negative regarding the presentation of the original FFT is that the translation of the game was and is not up to snuff. However, the PSP port, The War of the Lions, fixed this and added some nifty bonus content as well. The Nintendo Final Fantasy Tactics games (Advance and Grimiore of the Rift) introduced their own spins on the classic tactics formula, and they are noteworthy games in the series, too.

3) Mega Man X

I consider Mega Man X a spinoff of the Classic Mega Man franchise, much like Battle Network, Mega Man Zero, Legends, and ZX are spinoffs of the Classic Mega Man series, too. Mega Man X just happens to not only be my favorite of the Mega Man spinoffs, but for me it beats the classic series. I love the enhancements made to this version of Mega Man, being able to climb walls, charge special weapons and unleash them on foes, being able to return to levels to collect hidden items that were previously impossible to grab, and animal-style Robot Masters. Even though there are two obvious stinkers in the eight Mega Man X series, X6 and X7, I prefer the quality of the X titles that I DO enjoy over the quality of my favorite Classic Mega Man games. Plus, I would nine times out of ten prefer the assistance of a cool-headed Zero over a dopey-looking dog in Rush any day. Though Rush is indeed cute and helpful in his own way.

2) Mario Kart

What can you say about a spinoff whose most recent home console entry is one of the best-selling games of the current generation? And this was almost before it was even bundled with Wiis! You can honestly say a whole lot. While the more recent Mario Kart games have forgone skill for luck (have to keep all players interested, I guess), the Mario Kart series continues its dominance as the most successful purely Mario-related spinoff. One of the best parts about the series is that is a hallamrk of consistent quality in arcade racing. The actual racing part is seldom loose and regularly a tight experience. Each game tries to introduce a new concept to players. Mario Kart 64 was 3D, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was two players per kart, Mario Kart DS was retro cups and online, Mario Kart Wii was bikes and motion controls, and Mario Kart 7 was air and water travel as well as a more refined online experience. The Mario Kart franchise has been a part of some of my most cherished racing memories, and that along with its impact (and many imitators) make it number two on this list.

1) Super Smash Bros.

This choice is the ultimate spinoff as it takes a wide assortment of Nintendo universes and combines them into a series of nontraditional fighting games. The original Smash Bros. was a hit out of seemingly nowhere. It wasn't impossible to see it would be a success in hindsight, but not even Nintendo of America's own publication, Nintendo Power, put the game as one of their cover stories, opting to choose a game I don't even remember instead. Then came the GameCube's Melee which some consider the best in the series. It showcased trophies, an adventure mode, new characters like the Ice Climbers, Mewtwo, Roy, Marth, Young Link, and more, and finely honed the gameplay of the original Smash Bros. Finally, a Brawl broke out on Wii, one that I consider to be my favorite. It had loads of fan service in its level design, roster choices, unlockables, music selection, and a myriad of other trinkets. And all of the gameplay follows one simple rule: hit your opponent out of the arena once their damage percentage is at a high enough number. This rule makes the fighting game community a tad - who am I kidding? - a LOT flustered over people calling Super Smash Bros. a fighter. Regardless of this trivial argument, I deem the series to be the best spinoff in gaming history.


Can't get enough exclusive articles? Then travel to the SPC Feature Catalog for loads more!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Art of Balance TOUCH! (3DSWare) Review

A new banner is here, but I don't care for the construction kit-esque logo. As always, if you think you can do better, I'm open for new designs. With that out of the way, we venture outside the realm of Retro Review Month and look towards Shin'en's Art of Balance TOUCH! for the Nintendo 3DS's eShop. (You can read my interview with Manfred Linzner of Shine'n here.) As for the review, you need not go far or to another link. You can scope it out right here, right now.

An Enjoyable Balancing Act

Shin'en is a company known for its technical prowess when it comes to the games it develops for the platforms it commits to. We have seen this in the past with the Game Boy Advance's Iridion and its sequel, the Nintendo DS's two Nanostray games, and the WiiWare service's Jett Rocket, FAST Racing League, and Art of Balance, the latter of which's 3DSWare sequel is the subject of this review. If the popular party game Jenga has shown us anything, it is that trying to balance a tower of blocks and the end result of them all toppling over can certainly hold some entertainment value. Art of Balance TOUCH! is a game where this principle holds true.

The main aim of Art of Balance TOUCH! with regards to gameplay is to build a steady tower using the blocks provided. When you start each level, you have a starting pedestal (usually shaped differently for every level) on which to place the blocks you are given. When there's more than three blocks to work with, you have to use some strategy as you can only pick from the starting three blocks available to you, and not the ones awaiting you in the queue. The blocks themselves have all sorts of dissimilar shapes like L blocks, rectangular blocks, round blocks, barbell-shaped blocks, and more. 

Three seconds can seem like an eternity.
Art of Balance TOUCH! doesn't just rely on the same old, same old vanilla block types. No, there are several unique types that are slowly introduced to the player throughout the game. For instance, glass blocks can only hold the weight of two blocks. Put any more on them and they shatter. World C showcases timed blocks. Once they are set, they disintegrate after a short period of time. Even owners of the original Art of Balance of WiiWare will experience new gameplay elements and concepts showing up to their delighted surprise. One example appears in a later world where there are gravity blocks that when used literally flip the level on its head. There are two starting pedestals in these levels, and achieving the proper balance for your tower of blocks is an even greater challenge posed by this constantly clever game.

Those timer blocks really have a short fuse.
Once you have placed the final block onto your personal assortment, you hold your breath and hope for the best so your tower doesn't tumble over into the pool of water below as the timer counts to three. If no blocks hit or go below the water level, you have successfully completed the stage. At some points, Art of Balance TOUCH! is an almost zen-like experience while at others it is an effort of anger as you once again fail to satisfy the conditions of the level.

The terrific part about how Art of Balance TOUCH! is structured is that each world has its own map, a series of blocks connected in a nonlinear fashion. There's multiple paths to choose from, so if you are finding one level impossible to solve - constantly seeing your hard work fall to the wayside and go crashing down into a pool of your own failure, you can opt to go around it and try to solve an easier path of puzzles. Special orange blocks are unique levels where the approach you must take differs greatly from the normal pace of the game. For these, you might have to clear a level within a strict time limit, balance a series of blocks on a balancing beam, or have a block tower that reaches a certain height. These orange block levels give you more rings than a normal level as they are harder to complete. The rings you earn from them are used to unlock new worlds - each of which is set in a distinctive environment, from World A's pink flowers to World B's bamboo background.

Having trouble with one particular level?
Go around it and try another path.
After World B has been cleared, the Endurance mode opens up. This essential score attack mode takes levels you have cleared within the main game and assigns them to you in a random order. You get three retries to finish off as many puzzles as you can. After this you are ranked on a leaderboard to see how your overall score (determined by time and how many levels you completed) compares.
Regardless of the bevy of block-placing fun that Art of Balance TOUCH! bestows on the player, there are two glaring omissions that I would have liked to see the game possess. The first of which is some kind of local play for two friends with their own 3DS systems to play either competitively or cooperatively: trying to solve a level before the other can, or working together to deduce the solution to a given level. The other omission is some form of a level creator. Imagine the replay value of designing your own creative concoctions and sending them to friends Pushmo-style.

All we need now for this pool of water
is a rubber ducky to make things even more fun.
That's not to say the content you're getting with the game is too sparse. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have over 200 levels of honing your balancing act with as well as awards from satisfying certain in-game conditions like reaching a specific point total in Endurance mode or beating a given number of total levels. This is one meaty game, and it is so perfect for pick-up-and-play sessions. You might want to sit down with the game with the intention of playing for five minutes yet wind up unknowingly playing for over an hour.

Art of Balance TOUCH! can be played with touch controls (my preferred method) or with the Circle Pad (this is much slower as you must drag the cursor to each block you wish to place down). The shoulder buttons of the 3DS are used to rotate each shape to the left or to the right, though the degrees you can actually rotate each shape are predetermined to make the process simpler on the mind and less agonizing to place each block. I did have some trouble with the camera zooming in and out at times. When I was trying to have a steady hand to place a block delicately, the camera zoomed out and messed up my subtle approach, causing the tower to be imbalanced and - you guessed it - fall over. This only seems to happen when your tower is exceptionally high. It's a small problem, but one that can annoy just slightly.

Gravity can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy.
The presentation of Art of Balance's 3DS debut is overall quite good. The music is soothing and not distracting whatsoever. Sound effects come off as apt to every situation such as when your tower of blocks topples into the water. After playing the game for so long, the "plop" sound of blocks falling into the water taunts me at night as I lay awake in bed. Seriously though, speaking of the water, this is the one of the worst visual portions of the game. It looks more like shimmering tin foil than a liquid with any amount of depth. And speaking of depth, the 3D effect works decently, however, when the timer shows up to count for three seconds after you've assembled all of the blocks, it appears 2D while the wooden base of the pool it is set against is 3D. This looks unsightly and off. Regardless of my two aforementioned visual beefs with the game, Art of Balance TOUCH! continues Shin'en's impeccable record with technical artistry and quality in its games.

While Art of Balance TOUCH! obviously isn't a game that will get 3DS owners to run to get their handhelds online and to the eShop to download the game, it is one that will pick their brains, is extremely capable, is mostly relaxing, and is definitely worthy of some of their hard-earned dough. For those who already own the WiiWare original, this 3DS version adds virtually double the amount of levels, has phenomenal physics, and has much more precise controls thanks to the use of the stylus (though camera problems do arise as do some visual errors). For those who haven't experienced the WiiWare game and enjoy a lovely puzzler, Art of Balance TOUCH! is delightful and worth checking out.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fantasy Life (3DS) New Screens

Fantasy Life is a Level-5 Animal Crossing-like game with music by Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame. The game, developed by Brownie Brown, will have SpotPass, StreetPass, and local play functionality when it releases some time within the 2012 release window. Compare these new screens with the old ones. I think it's a step backwards.



What do you think about the change in art style? Do you prefer the new look over the old, or vice versa?

Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (PSN) First Screens

Full Frontal Assault is a downloadable title only, and it is the newest chapter of the Ratchet & Clank series. This game features five levels spread across three planets, tower defense elements, and cooperatively play akin to All 4 One. Hopefully the entire package will be better than that game, however. Full Frontal Assault shows us its stuff this Fall.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Five Final Fantasy Spinoffs

Let us continue our celebration of all things Final Fantasy with a pit stop from the mainline titles. Spinoffs are common in television, and they are a tool to extend the brand or universe they are comprised of. Video games are really no different, and the Final Fantasy series is no different either. The short list that follows are favorite spinoffs of the Final Fantasy franchise.

5) Final Fantasy Fables

In the west, games like Chocobo's Dungeon and Chocobo and the Magical Picture Book were re-branded under the Final Fantasy Fables label. Both of these - as you can most certainly guess by their titles - star the indomitable Chocobo character, a smaller, cuter form than seen in the mainline games. In fact, everything is cuter in the world of Final Fantasy Fables. Chocobo Tales on DS was an adventure that had exploration, mini-games, and card battles to advance the story whereas Chocobo's Dungeon on Wii (and in Japan also on the DS) was a roguelike that was well suited for beginners. Both games features elements of the Final Fantasy universe, from characters to familiar music. I can't help but hold hope for a sequel to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon as it is without a doubt one of my favorite under-appreciated Wii games.

4) Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

The most recent Final Fantasy spinoff to enter the gaming landscape, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy takes the franchise to a new place - the rhythm game. Through tapping, touching, sliding, and dragging the stylus on the bottom screen when the upper screen's Triggers cross the mark, you score points and hopefully chain together tons of Critical hits. The music selection begins with a sizable seventy or so tracks from every mainline Final Fantasy game, but always coming downloadable songs for $0.99 per song makes the library of unforgettable music even larger. Leveling up your party of Final Fantasy all-stars like Cloud (FFVII), Terra (FFVI), Cecil (FFIV), and Lightning (FFXIII), battling formidable foes like Kefka (FFVI), Rubicante (FFIV), Gilgamesh (FFV), and Safer Sephiroth (FFVII), and successfully earning Rhythmia are all activities one can partake in with Theatrhythm. For my full review, check out this link.

3) Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

While I doubt Nintendo holds exclusivity rights for the Crystal Chronicles spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise, all games under the Crystal Chronicles moniker have been solely on Nintendo platforms. Starting with the GameCube original, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which was an action RPG that allowed four friends to play together, even being able to opt to use the ill-advised Game Boy Advance connectivity option for greater rewards and assistance. The pair of DS games known as Ring of Fates and Echoes of Time - the latter would be ported to the Wii with cross-play capabilities - were loot RPGs. Echoes of Time would even allow players to hop online and participate in quests. The Nintendo Wii would see its fair share of Crystal Chronicles love, too, in the form of the WiiWare service's My Life as a King and the drastic departure from prior Chronicles games, The Crystal Bearers. What makes the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles spinoff series number three on this list is that even with all these releases, the quality of the spinoff series is still impeccable.

2) Kingdom Hearts

What happens when you team up an unlikely pairing, the Disney universe and the Final Fantasy universe? You get something spectacular, at least for a majority of the titles. The series is an action RPG set mostly within the worlds of Disney. There's Aladdin's Agrabah, Beauty and the Beast's Beast's Castle, Hercules' Olympic Coliseum, and many more locales and brands to explore. The main character of the series is a young boy named Sora, and he is usually assisted by Donald Duck and Goofy. The developers spared no expense, even getting the official Disney voice actors to lend their voice talents to the game. But as for the story, well there's really nothing more convoluted and confusing this side of Metal Gear Solid fan-fiction. Seriously, it's a mess that makes you scratch your head, look at the script, scratch your head again, and notice the scars on your scalp from scratching your head so much in disbelief and confusion. Aside from that, even the more frowned upon installments of Kingdom Hearts, 358/2 Days (even the title is a puzzle!) and Re:Coded, are fun in short bursts.

1) Final Fantasy Tactics

One of the original Final Fantasy spinoffs, Final Fantasy Tactics made its mark on the gaming world shortly after the release of the incomparable (except to the superior Final Fantasy VI) Final Fantasy VII. The game was quite unlike anything the series had seen before. It was a turn-based strategy game with an assortment of elements from the mainline Final Fantasy games including familiar summons like Ifrit, Shiva, and Carbuncle, items like Potions, Elixirs, and Phoenix Downs, a job system that hadn't been seen since Final Fantasy V, and even a secret character in the form of VII's Cloud Strife. Two more Final Fantasy Tactics games would be released, but they would be far after the original PS1 classic and much different in tone, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA) and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (DS). An enhanced PSP port of Final Fantasy Tactics would be made and released subtitled The War of the Lions. The amount of hours one could sink into each game, completely quests, leveling up characters, learning new spells, and mastering job classes could easily go into the hundreds of hours. This is what makes Final Fantasy Tactics my favorite Final Fantasy spinoff.


There are other Final Fantasy spinoffs not listed here that include Chocobo Racing, Dissidia, Adventure, Legend, and Dimensions. However, they obviously did not make my top five picks. Do you agree with the order I have chosen, or do you have some arguments you'd like to make? Feel free to debate with me in the comments section below.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Order Up!! (PS3) Review

Let's step outside of Retro Review Month for a moment with this review of Order Up!!, a cooking and restaurant-running game. You can also find this title on the Wii, 3DS, and elsewhere, but the build I am reviewing is that of the PlayStation 3 version. (Note: Order Up!! is available in retail or in digital form via the PlayStation Store.)

Now You're Cooking With Gas

Order Up! originally debuted on the Nintendo Wii. It seemed to be the perfect platform for the cooking and restaurant-running sim with all the gestures you could do to make delicious dishes. Fast-forward to four years later (and double the amount of exclamation points) and Order Up!! has arrived on Sony's PlayStation 3 with Move capabilities. Will this virtual version of managing a restaurant be one that should stay open for business?

There's a scarce plot to Order Up!! and it revolves around you, the player, choosing between one of two chefs: one bald, portly male and one exceptionally perky female. The choice chef parachutes out of the plane that circles above the island of Port Abello (get it?) and lands straight into the dumpster of a fast food chain called Burger Face. It is there your chef decides the joint is a foolproof place to hone their craft and earn some much needed dough.

Welcome to your new culinary world.
Your job at Burger Face is the tutorial of the game. It teaches you the ins and outs of making food and serving customers. There's a series of cars that pull into the drive thru, each requesting a single order. For instance, the first order asks for a burger topped with lettuce and tomato along with a side of fries. To give a customer the most satisfaction (and to earn the biggest tip possible), you need to perfect the order. This means manufacturing each piece of the order perfectly. For the tomato, you need to slice it by moving the left stick downward as the fluctuating circle on the tomato reaches its narrowest and doing this for all sections of the garnish. For the lettuce, it's as simple as flicking the left stick to the right multiple times to rake off each leaf.

The burger patty and fries take a bit more dedication. Setting the meat on the grill means you must watch it closely. A meter shows how done the meat is. Grill it too much and it will burn up and possibly be a fire hazard; grill it too little and the meat will be raw. Getting the little tick mark to end up in the green "perfect" area of the meter is encouraged. Of course, you have to cook both sides unlike the fries. The fries are less of a hassle, simply requiring you to dip them into the fryer, and waiting for the mark to be inside the green "Perfect" range of the meter.

The mouth waters just thinking about this dish.
After completing your training at Burger Face, your chef ends up seeing their paycheck, gets disgusted, and opts to buy their own diner. This is where the game opens up considerably. Through the course of Order Up!! you will eventually own five restaurants. Each restaurant must reach five star status before you can move onto the next restaurant or in-game challenge. Stars are gained through finishing multiple tasks such as earning a cumulative total of coins, buying a certain amount of chef specials, cleaning up your restaurant, and impressing the finicky food critic. The latter of which requires you to add the required spices - and only those spices - to appease the taste buds of the snobby critic. This is always the last of the five stars you need to net for each restaurant.

Coins are the currency of Order Up!! and they can be earned through a myriad of manners. The easiest and most consistent way of gaining money is through satisfying your various customers. Later on in the game you will have a full table of four to please. It's a juggling act trying to make four meals at once, watching so something doesn't burn on the grill while sauteing some meat in a skillet as well as completing each meal close together so they don't have the opportunity to get cold. Thankfully, you can hire the help of one of many assistant chefs (for some coins as hired help isn't free). Though you can only have two at a time and they don't usually create food with a perfect rating, they are great to have to split tasks up between them to ease the burden on you.

Three's a crowd, so what's four people then?
They say hunger is the best spice, but you wouldn't know that with Order Up!! On many occasions a customer will ask for a certain kick to their dish. Through buying different types of spices at the Farmers Market, you can satisfy their sensitive palates. When a customer asks for something sweet, throw in some brown sugar to liven the dish up. When a customer wants something aromatic, throw in some onion powder to satiate his or her nose, and so forth. You get a coin bonus when you assuage the request of a customer desiring a specific variety of spice. Some dishes even require that they have some type of spice tossed in, so it's always a good idea to keep your spices in good supply.

The majority of your playing time will be spent cooking. There's a plethora of different controller and stick movements you need to perform to create capable and competent dishes. From using the Sixaxis functionality to tilt the controller in a way to coat the frying pan's full surface with an egg yolk to using the left stick to stir the contents of a pot, there's different methods of cooking in Order Up!! With the Move controller, I imagine that there is a greater sense of satisfaction as you are able to perform lifelike gestures instead of being bound to dual analog. It would also make sifting through the game's menus much simpler.

Careful! That pot is quite hot!
Regardless, since the majority of playing Order Up!! is through cooking, the game meets the problem of feeling like you're just doing repetitive busywork, and it does feel quite repetitive several hours into the game. You can only grill the same burgers, dice the same onions, and butter the same bread until you eventually grow weary. Nonetheless, there are five in-kitchen mini-games and several out-of-kitchen mini-games to mix things up. These, however, aren't enough to avoid the sense of ennui players will at the end of the day feel.

Order Up!! is an incredibly charming game. The characters are oddly proportioned to the point of being cute, the dialogue is well voiced and humorous, and the world is crisp, clean, and full of life. The infrequent but present amount of slowdown can occur while cooking, though, and this usually happens when you are performing too many tasks at once. Fortunately, any messed up part of the meal can be redone with the only penalty being lost time. The music cycles between the same two or three tracks throughout the cooking experience, so by the time you have completed the gain 100,000 coins trophy, you might feel the music is monotonous and/or grating.

Order Up!! is a worthwhile addition to the PlayStation 3 library, and certainly a nice change of pace from the sports games and shooters that dominate the market. Nonetheless, Order Up!! skews more towards families and the younger set than the stereotypical "hardcore" gamer. The repetitive nature of cooking is the most jarring negative of the game, and since it takes up the bulk of the gameplay, it is only fair that you should be warned. Perhaps a game best played in small doses, Order Up!! serves up a competent dish of funny characters, intriguing controls, and a mostly enjoyable cooking and restaurant-running experience.

[SuperPhillip Says: 6.75/10]

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - TKO Edition

This installment of SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs must have watched too much Rocky. It's perfected the rope-a-dope and has built up its upper body to a point of unbridled magnificence. This week on the VGMs we have music from Punch-Out!!, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, and Final Fantasy IX, the last of which does not have two exclamation points after it for those keeping score at home.

v151. Punch-Out!! (Wii) - Minor Circuit

Minor Circuit is the original Punch-Out!! theme from the NES in remixed form with better sounding instruments. How about that guitar and brass? Playing as Little Mac you box your way from beating up a jobber like Glass Joe to duking it out with the likes of Disco Kid and King Hippo. It's all about that gold belt and prize money, and the Wii iteration of the game delivers punch after punch of boxing goodness.

v152. LocoRoco (PSP) - Green's Theme (Bucho mio)

Cameron Strother lends his vocal talents to LocoRoco Green's theme. It's a punk rock flavored ditty that is sensationally catchy. Each LocoRoco type has its own personality. However, they all play the same in this overlooked PSP game. The sequel would add LocoRoco Pink into the mix with her own theme song as well. If you have a hankering for a platformer that strays off the beaten path, LocoRoco and its sequel are more than capable titles.

v153. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN) - Rainbow Road

The greatest Rainbow Road theme comes from the GameCube iteration of Mario Kart. It is a full brass synth love affair with motifs from the Nintendo 64 version. The actual race for the Double Dash!! Rainbow Road has plenty of twists, turns, hills, rail-free sections, and places to fall off, costing an unfortunate duo of racers valuable time. As you're speeding along Rainbow Road - at least in the single-player version - you can view a colorful city resting below. A truly gorgeous Rainbow Road.

v154. Mega Man 4 (NES) - Ring Man Stage (Complete Works)

Part of the series of eight Robot Masters of Mega Man 4, Ring Man may look silly on the outside, but don't underestimate him for a second. He can put an unassuming Mega Man in quite the nasty predicament if he wishes to. Mega Man 4 introduced the world to the flip-top helper Eddie who would give Mega Man a random helpful power-up like health or weapon energy at specific points in each level. The plot surrounded a newcomer named Dr. Cossack, but as you probably could have guessed, Dr. Wily was once again behind the whole charade.

v155. Final Fantasy IX (PS1) - Freija's Theme

A very medieval theme for a game set in a world where kingdoms are prominent all across the land. Even though this song is the character theme of party member Freya, it plays throughout the Gizamulke's Grotto dungeon. Final Fantasy IX was like a breath of fresh air after the more modern worlds of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. It was a welcomed return to form for the series, and it sports my second favorite mainline Final Fantasy soundtrack.


The conclusion of yet another edition of my favorite VGMs has been reached. I hope you enjoyed the music this week, and I hope you will tune in for next week's lineup as well. It will be a special all Donkey Kong edition of the VGMs, so please look forward to that.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3, PSV) Two Character Reveal Trailers

Coming to a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita near you is PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. The team of Jak and Daxter return into the limelight to kick some tail as does inFamous' Cole MacGrath. You can view how entirely different each new character and character team goes about raging war with these two new trailers.