Friday, November 9, 2012

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS) Review

We have reached the end to another week on SuperPhillip Central. To make the upcoming weekend even more fantastic, I have a new review to share. Enter yet another mystery with Professor Layton leading the charge. It's Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask for the Nintendo 3DS.

Miracle Worker

When a series reaches its fifth game in less than the span of five years, there becomes talk of franchise fatigue. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is indeed the fifth installment of the franchise, and the first exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS. Despite having four prequels preceding it, The Miracle Mask manages to successfully keep the series fresh and relevant despite being the fifth game in just over four years.

The story of Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask takes the good professor, his assistant Emmy, and his apprentice Luke to a thriving desert city known as Monte d'Or, after Layton receives a letter from an old schoolmate. The letter states the city is being tormented by the Masked Gentleman, a mysterious figure giving the town "dark miracles", such as turning townspeople into solid stone statues. It is up to Layton and his two companions to investigate, find a logical explanation for the happenings in Monte d'Or, and uncover the identity of the Masked Gentleman. The plot delves not only into events of the present, but the circumstances in Monte d'Or deal with Professor Layton's past as well. Each chapter alternates between the present and Layton's past as a teenager, showing how he became so enthralled with archaeology and especially puzzles. While some mysteries of the game are easy to ascertain before they are properly revealed, many will have you guessing until the very end. It is a touching story with plenty of questions for the player to ask.

Get a peek into the past of Professor Layton.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, like all other games before it, is one part adventure game and one part puzzle game. The adventure aspects have you moving around from city section to city section investigating the surroundings, talking to civilians and other townsfolk, and progressing the story that way. Investigating each screen is much less taxing this time around. Miracle Mask has you using a magnifying glass to hover around the screen. When you are on top of an area of interest with the magnifying glass, it will turn orange. This is more efficient and faster than how previous games worked, requiring the player to tap everywhere on the screen like an obsessive-compulsive person. This means finding puzzles, hint coins (used to help solve puzzles), and hidden objects takes far less time and energy to do. That is a most welcomed change.

The bottom screen shows sections of Monte d'Or.
Also a most welcomed change is a chapter within the game that has a teenage Layton and his friend Randall exploring ancient ruins in a Legend of Zelda-like fashion. Most of the time you'll be moving through the ruins, solving boulder-rolling puzzles and avoiding robotic mummies. Yes, robotic mummies. This chapter is a blast to play and is something I'd like to see expanded upon further in a future Layton game.

Outside of that chapter and moving through Monte d'Or, conversing with civilians are puzzles. These are integrated into the story at nearly every juncture. Returning players to Layton's universe know that people there will generally not assist them without first solving a puzzle, or that puzzles pop up everywhere. For instance, a casino frequenter laments in the game about losing his hard-earned cash. Rather than just give Layton and his friends his sob story, he additionally throws in a puzzle his position reminds him of.

3D models replace the hand-drawn
characters of previous games.
There are 135 puzzles within the Miracle Mask. Not all need to be solved, but at a few points in the story, you will need to have completed a certain number of puzzles to proceed in the plot. Each puzzle awards you with picarats for solving them correctly. If you enter or guess the wrong solution, the amount of picarats that can be won decreases. Picarats are used at the end of the game to unlock features in the Bonuses menu such as art, voices, and profiles of the plethora of characters the professor, his apprentice, and his assistant will meet in their investigation.

There are a variety of puzzle types: deduction puzzles, pattern-recognition puzzles, logic puzzles, math puzzles, perspective puzzles, etc. One of my favorite puzzles had me sliding penguins across an iceberg with the goal of getting the emperor penguin to the center. Others have you flipping slices of pizza over to get all of them to face up (the catch is that for each slice you flip, the adjacent ones also flip), trying to get all cats to turn brown by having them jump over one another as if you were playing a remodeled game of Chinese solitaire, and puzzles where you have to evenly divide a board into four pieces with the caveat of none of them being mirror images of each other. The fun of some of these puzzles is that the answers can be as simple or as difficult as you make them. I particularly love some of the solutions. Some are trick questions while others just require some outside-of-the-box thinking.

My hat is off to you if you solve this puzzle.
For these tougher puzzles, hint coins found in the environments of Monte d'Or can help in providing clues for players. You can get up to four hints. Each hint reveals more assistance towards the puzzle you're trying to solve, with the final hint, the Super Hint, basically giving the answer away.

There are only two problems I have with the puzzles of Miracle Mask: 1) Some puzzles force you to switch between the instructions and the puzzle's image. What I mean by this is that if you have a puzzle that requires you to look at the puzzle's accompanying picture and the instructions to solve it, you're constantly and annoyingly switching between both with no option to have them on the dual screens of the 3DS simultaneously. 2) There are still many sliding block puzzles, the bane of many Professor Layton players' existence.

Some puzzles are simpler than they seem.
In addition to the puzzles to give players a lot of enjoyment, there are three mini-games, each with ten levels to play. The robot mini-game has you moving a wind-up toy robot through a maze of blocks, conveyor belts, and enemies. Your robot moves three spaces at a time. The objective is to land on the red goal space to clear each level. The shop mini-game has you organizing items on a shelf for customers to purchase everything in one go. This is done by putting like-minded items next to one another (e.g. a red apple next to a red banana, next to a yellow banana, next to a yellow lemon, and so forth). Finally, Luke befriends a rabbit, and that mini-game is all about teaching Luke's new pet new tricks. It's sort of like Nintendogs. The tricks learned are used to tell a story. Using the rabbit's actions at the right time help make a story that makes sense, allowing you to clear it. Completing each mini-game's ten levels unlocks three puzzles in the Layton's Challenges section of the Bonuses menu.

Wind him up and watch him go.
Outside of the content already on the 3DS game card (which will already last players upwards of 15-20 hours) are downloadable puzzles. Nintendo and Level-5 promise one puzzle each day for a year. Don't worry if you can't download a puzzle every day or fear about missing a puzzle. When you hit the download puzzle button, every puzzle you haven't yet received is downloaded. In theory, you could wait until a year from now and then download every puzzle sent out all at once. These puzzles aren't as complicated or complex as the story ones, but they are still entertaining to play and wrap one's head around. They come in twenty types.

Professor Layton's latest upgraded its already stunning presentation from the DS for its 3DS debut. The hand-drawn characters are now three-dimensional models, but don't worry, they look excellent and they are animated splendidly. The environments are wonderfully designed, and all of the art in the game is fabulous. Like any Layton, there are fully animated cutscenes that, with the addition of stereoscopic 3D, jump out and look sensational. Additionally, like any Layton, there is an abundance of incredibly done voice acting to accompany a lot of scenes. Nintendo and Level-5 truly spared little expense in crafting the masterful presentation of Miracle Mask.

Giddy up, Layton, Luke, and Emmy!
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a fantastic first entry in the Layton franchise on the Nintendo 3DS. It is a game that will surprise you, astound you, and enchant you. It will make you feel dumb with one puzzle while it will make you feel like a genius at another. While the title for best Layton game is still held by Unwound Future, The Miracle Mask is definitely in the upper tier of Layton titles with its breadth of content and charm. Still, after five games, the formula is still being tinkered and tailored to avoid fatiguing fans. Like any good puzzle, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is certainly one game worth experiencing.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi) Wii U Trailer

Showcasing the Wii U version specifically, this trailer for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed shows off the capabilities of the Wii U GamePad such as the tilt steering, ability to play solely on the new controller, and much more. Race with Sonic and friends on November 18th.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Top Five Forgotten Capcom Franchises

The fighting game world collectively jumped for joy (but they were too self-conscious and proud to do it in front of their buds) when a new Darkstalkers was announced for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network for next year (let me clarify that this is a new collection). That got me to thinking that this news is fine and all, but what about those other franchises that don't get enough time under the sun? At least you'll find here at SuperPhillip Central that they will get time in the spotlight tonight. These are series that have not had a serious entry in quite a while. Will your lost loves be mentioned? Only one way to find out, and that's to read on!

5) Power Stone

Ah, yes. Capcom is already feverishly excited about pushing new fighting games onto the market, so why not one that isn't just 2D, x-axis based? How about one that takes place in three-dimensional arenas? That's where Power Stone comes in. Pulverize your opponent with fists of fury, special attacks, and even the ability to grab objects like chairs and tables (what is this, an old-school ECW match?) to beat them senseless. The Power Stone in... well, Power Stone comes from the option of grabbing three gems that will turn your fighter into a force to be reckoned with for a limited amount of time. Power Stone and Power Stone 2 were Dreamcast classics, and both would be ported to the PSP in the form of Power Stone Collection. Where's the third game to make this rough and rowdy arena fighting game series a trilogy, Capcom?

4) Viewtiful Joe

What do you get when you take a cinema-holic and suck him inside the world of movies? Well, you basically get a movie-lover in the world of movies. But when he is tasked with rescuing his girlfriend Sylvia and receives the fabled V Watch, you get Viewtiful Joe! The hero is armed with super-fast moves in his arsenal: red hot kicks, red hot one-hundreds, and the ability to slow down time, speed it up, and zoom in to dish out serious damage to foes. These maneuvers not only assisted Joe in battle, but they helped solve puzzles, too. While only two mainline games in the series were made (both for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube), they left a lasting impression on this player. If somehow Capcom can find it in their cold hearts (and while they're at it, find some cool creativity) to make a brand-new Viewtiful Joe, I will just gush like a gummy bear when its been bit down on.

3) Onimusha

A franchise which is essentially an action-adventure take on Japanese history with a mix of the supernatural, Onimusha combines swift skill-based swordplay with occasional puzzle elements. The original game in the series had directional pad for movement, but subsequent sequels introduced not only analog movement, but fiercer foes, higher stakes, and more intense action. Onimusha is a series that has had an extended hiatus on consoles. As if the company were pulling down its pants and shaking its butt at its fans, Capcom hinted at a new entry in the series -- at long last! Turns out it was just a browser game. Right to the gut, Capcom! Onimusha would scratch the itch of a hard-as-nails action game that Ninja Gaiden 3 just couldn't relieve. A hole is in the marketplace, and the Onimusha series is one franchise that could fill it indubitably.

2) Breath of Fire

I hold huge nostalgia for old school Super Nintendo and 16-bit RPGs, but few grant me the most nostalgia than Breath of Fire. It was one of the first RPGs I ever played. It was a collaboration between Capcom and the artist formerly known as Squaresoft. The story was relatively simple, but there were so many memorable moments to be had. The world was vast and varied, dungeons were fun to explore, the characters were endearing, the battle system was easy to learn, and the music was absolutely lovely. Four more entries in the franchise would be released, from the Super Nintendo to the PlayStation 2. The last release, Dragon Quarter, was an atypical RPG that tried something new for the genre and was successful in most regards. I wish this franchise would return. I think the portable devices (3DS, Vita, iOS) would be perfect for a return to the world of dragons, demons, and heroes named Ryu.

1) Mega Man

Rockman X Over is coming, but let's be real here -- virtually no one is anticipating or even wanting it. It's the Blue Bomber's 25th anniversary for Wily's sake! How can Capcom treat the reploid that shot them to the top like this? I would accept anything that had the ounce of thought put into it. Heck, I'd even take a sequel to Mega Man Star Force! Yes, I'm that desperate. The fall of Mega Man started with the cancellation of Mega Man Universe, a downloadable title that was plagued with development problems. Then came the out-of-nowhere nixing of Mega Man Legends 3, a title that had been desired by fans for over a decade. Poor Mega Man Volnutt is still stuck on that moon! Fans like me can only hold out hope for so long before the reality sets in. Capcom's current state just doesn't want Mega Man. They'll take Resident of Duty 6, but not the being that jettisoned them as a household name to gamers. So sad. ...I think I need some time alone, you guys.


...But before I go to my man cave to start crying, what forgotten Capcom franchises would you like to see brought back from hiatus? I can only find solace in thinking that maybe I'll get lucky like with my Localizations, Please articles and game choices and now these titles will come into fruition! ...Sigh.

Johnny Hotshot (3DSWare) Review

I recently landed a new writing gig over at NintendoWorldReport. We'll see how long this one lasts as I haven't really worked under anyone before. Regardless, you might have noticed that I had the whole review posted here. That's because I thought I got the review code from someone else. Turns out I got it from NWR, so I obviously cannot have the full review here. It is live on NWR's site now for you to enjoy.

Not the fastest or even the hottest gun in the west.

UFO Interactive has been a big supporter of Nintendo's digital download services. Most of the titles they have released, however, were marred by errors in execution. Johnny Hotshot is the sequel to an earlier 2012 release Johnny Kung Fu. Sucked into an arcade machine (I can't tell you how many times that's happened to me) during his lunch break, Johnny winds up as sheriff of an old west town pledged with the duty of capturing five wanted outlaws, including his nemesis, Mr. Wang.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

If We Want the Industry to Grow Up, We Need to Grow Up First

I always find it hard to talk about wanting the gaming industry to grow up because I'm not exactly a beacon of maturity myself. However, I have long since been over console wars, fanboy wars, and certain-man-part-waving contests on message boards and comment sections (for the most part, that is). It's a fact, however, that so many gamers have not gotten over this mindset. This is a young industry, and because of that, it is a very immature one. This piece is somewhat of a stream of consciousness. It's an oddity of opinion pieces here, but it's one that allows me to rant about how I think that before the industry can be taken seriously, the press, the gamers the press caters to, and industry insiders need to start acting with more maturity.

Allow me first to allude to Halo 4 and some outlying review scores for the game. I do not wish to talk about how NeoGAF got its collective feathers ruffled by a site's 7.0 review score and talk about how NeoGAF, the self-proclaimed "preeminent community for video game news and discussion", is no better than the sites they constantly make fun of. I've done the latter enough before to the point where regular readers of this site are bored by that by now. (And I am as well, no matter how easy it is to draw comparisons to other message boards.)

No, let's talk review scores in general. First of all, a 7 out of 10 is a good score. Perhaps it doesn't meet some people's thoughts of what a Halo 4 score should be. Perhaps many who complained about it should have waited to play the game. I'm sure that reviewer is very sorry for not allowing Halo 4 to be on top of the review aggregate sites' ranking lists of the best reviewed titles of all time. I know how important that is to some people. Even after the reviewer explained his position, people still (I'm not just talking NeoGAF, mind you) argued, bitched, and moaned. It is as if they couldn't understand that someone saw Halo 4 differently than them. We are in a young industry full of people who cannot stand it when someone has a different opinion than them. Don't believe me? Go on any gaming message board where it is especially bad. Yes, even the preeminent community NeoGAF.

Which might make you wonder why I even have review scores. I simply followed Game Informer's scale as I grew up on that and became comfortable with it. Nonetheless and thankfully so, those who read my reviews and regularly comment are smart and don't generally care about the score. I've seldom ever gotten sass or meltdowns in the comments section for writing a negative review or giving a low score to a hyped game (though I have for writing a controversial opinion one, two, or twenty times in the past). Perhaps that's because no one cares what some random college student with "Super" in front of his name has to say about their most anticipated games. I don't deny that that's a distinct possibility. Regardless, my readers care more about what is said rather than what is scored. I don't know how I developed that kind of community with the kind of crap I write. It's a mystery that will baffle even the most seasoned Professor Layton player.

Let's shift gears to the press that actually covers the industry? We should all know about the Wainwright, Doritos, Mountain Dew, Geoff Keighly nonsense by now. If you don't (don't worry, it's only another black eye on games journalism), just use a search engine and you'll find your answers.

In my opinion, gamers get the press they deserve. I watched over the weekend a segment on called "Bonus Round." It was essentially a roundtable with three guests and the host. It was an end-of-the-year type deal. Yes, an end-of-the-year type deal in early November. Screw the most important part of the gaming year, the holiday season, let's rush this sucker out because we have no shame. They hilariously talked about Nintendo -- y'know, the company that is kicking off the next gen with a new console in less than two weeks and were actually grading them before the system even came out. The sheer amount of willful ignorance displayed by the supposed experts Gametrailers assembled was astounding. One statement by a panelist wanted Nintendo to license their IPs out to developers working with mobile platforms. That certainly wouldn't cheapen the brands at all and cost Nintendo long-term at all! Way to go, panelist! In all honesty, if you wanted a better panel, you could have selected any three random GameFAQs members. No wonder Nintendo doesn't care about bending over backwards for the Western press anymore-- the press cannot even bother to look up simple things that it's their job to know.

It's the stupidity of the press that perfectly matches the stupidity of most gamers. Okay. I will admit this: I do not like a majority of gamers (I will now simply be referring to "most gamers" as "gamers"). I find them obnoxious, indecisive, immature entitled, selfish, and insatiable. The current press that we have that gives 9s and 10s to really hyped games, accepts swag so shamelessly, and appeals to the lowest common denominator is worthy of gamers. These are the types of gamers that go on sites like N4G, GameFAQs, NeoGAF, YouTube comment sections, and Twitter just to troll other fans and faceless companies. These are the types that hate Sony yet "like them" on Facebook just so they can troll every news story the company posts. Then there are the ones that so feverishly defend every little thing their favorite developer or console manufacturer does. How about those that happily applaud when a game or system bombs? Who cares if that game that bombed cost hundreds their jobs when we can laugh at some faceless company because we don't like their business practices?

Or how about the freaking hyperbole and overreactions that spread in myriad threads and topics? It's seemingly everywhere. Or news stories that aren't just news but are overly editorialized? I don't care if you think Nintendo Land sucks and looks stupid. Just tell me when the game is coming out, how much it costs, what it consists of, and be on your merry way. I also don't need news stories about fanboyism on GameFAQs or NeoGAF. That's not news. That's "no shit, Sherlock" territory, and a good reason why this industry is so laughable (whether you take that reason being those aforementioned news stories or fanboyism in the industry from gamers and the people that make the games that we play).

I bet some find it ironic that an opinion piece saying that everyone in the industry needs to grow up before the actual industry can grow up is basically a rant any 13-year-old could make. I don't blame you for finding the irony in that. I see it, too. Regardless, I don't want you to think that I believe every gamer or every press member is holding the industry back and keeping us into the realm of immaturity. Look at sites like Nintendo World Report or Digitally Downloaded. I don't mention both of these because I have ties to them. 1) I wouldn't have ties to them if I didn't like what they were doing, and 2) They are great examples of the positives of the press. (The gaming press CAN be good, people!) They are great examples because they are alternative gaming sites with little influence from gamers or publishers. They write what they want to write, they review and give games scores they want to review. They seldom, if ever, create controversy just for cheap hits like so many sites do. You will never see a review for Assassin's Creed III surrounded by three Assassin's Creed III ads, making you wonder if the ad money from Ubisoft somehow factored into that site giving the game a favorable review. How dirty are some sectors of the press?

As I stated in the opening paragraph, we're a young industry. Is it because we're so young that we're so immature, or is there another deeper reason? Could it be that most of us really just grown men and women playing with expensive toys who take our hobby too seriously? Maybe we don't take it seriously enough. Is it as simple as that? The sooner we start evolving mentally and do away with console war mentalities and earn a press that we can be proud of, the sooner the video game industry will start getting mainstream recognition as something great instead of just the martyr and butt of Western culture.

Agree? Disagree? Want to know what the heck you just read? Let me know in the comments section. Regardless, I thank you for reading the rantings from this exasperated gamer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Central City Census - November 2012

Today is a most important day. It's not just for America, but for America's youth. Yes, I think we all know what I'm talking about. It is the launch of Halo 4. Oh, and there's some kind of election going on as well. 

Speaking of polls, you might have noticed the Central City Census from October was missing. Unfortunately, Blogger's polls are completely FUBAR at the present moment. The personnel haven't even acknowledged that polls are a problem, so that can never be a good sign. Instead, I have moved onto Polldaddy for the Central City Census. Regardless, the results from last month were continually wiped clean, and I simply got rid of Blogger's poll gadget. Thus, there are no results to share from last month's "Will you buy a Wii U" question. Rather than dwell on the past, let us look to the present and guess about the future with November's census.

The Wii U will be entering stores very soon, and it will hit store shelves at least in North America on November 18th. I've asked if you were going to buy the system, but this month's question asks you how many units you think will be sold. To help put things in perspective, I put where the current gen consoles have sold this generation. This Central City Census, if all goes accordingly and Polldaddy doesn't screw up like Blogger, will end on November 30th's conclusion.

Monday, November 5, 2012

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Till the End of Time Edition

Last week we dipped our toes into the Star Ocean for The Second Story/Second Evolution. This week. We once again head into the Star Ocean, but this time around we are paying tribute to the music of Till the End of Time, the third game in the series. Motoi Sakuraba once again brings his "A" game and composes a marvel of a soundtrack. Listen to these five samples and you should agree.

v231. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - Into a Storm Not Memorized

A forlorn song for a kingdom covered in snow, Into a Storm Not Memorized is a theme with militant and winter feeling to it. From the snare of the drums to the sleigh bells, this kingdom's theme isn't especially inviting, nor are the soldiers that inhabit the city.

v232. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - Influence of Truth Appearance

One of the many boss themes in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Influence of Truth Appearance has no hesitation in kicking things into high gear. The bold brass leads the charge accompanied by high flutes and woodwinds.

v233. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - Expiration

What Japanese RPG would be complete without an electric guitar-driven dungeon track? To clarify even further, what Japanese RPG with a Motoi Sakuraba soundtrack would be complete without an electric guitar-driven dungeon track? That is exactly what players get with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time's Expiration. The theme plays during a lot of the dungeon and field areas of the game.

v234. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - The Divine Spirit of Language

We go from one rocking tune to another with The Divine Spirit of Language, another battle theme with Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Motoi Sakuraba loves songs with lots of guitar shredding, and if you love songs like that, too, then you should feel right at home. 

v235. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2) - Brilliant Future

After the fast paced themes we've experience for the last three volumes, let's head to a quiet and beautiful place with a quiet and beautiful theme. It's Brilliant Future, a theme played entirely on a keyboard, whether it be an electric keyboard or a piano. It is an immensely touching track that clutches onto your heartstrings and doesn't let go until long after the track has ended.


While we haven't reached the end of time, we have reached the end of another edition of SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs. Next week we will be spotlighting yet another game soundtrack. Until then, check out my VGM Database for every track ever listed.

Nintendo Land (Wii U) North American Advertisement

The Wii U advertising parade rolls on with this commercial for Nintendo Land, one of my most anticipated titles for the system. The ad does a good job of showing the different tasks players have within the game. But that music... Is this what is considered good nowadays? No, son. Give me Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Rod Stewart, or Yes any day. Also, has anyone in the States seen any of these Wii U ads yet? I have not, but I don't frequent the telly as much as I used to.