Friday, February 15, 2013

James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (PS2, GCN, XBX) Retro Review

We end the work week with a brand-new retro review. The 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall, infiltrated the retail space this past week, and now you can bring the action and fun of the film to your home. To commemorate the occasion, SuperPhillip Central is taking a look at one of the better James Bond video games out there, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing.

After "Eons" of Waiting, A Truly 
Great Original Bond Game.

I was born in 1986, so my first introduction to the James Bond character was Pierce Brosnan's interpretation in GoldenEye. It's no coincidence that I share a great amount of admiration for both that movie and that iteration of Bond, even with all of that version's puns and double entendres. Heck, I even enjoyed (but to a much lesser extent) Die Another Day. Regardless, when Electronic Arts set out to make a James Bond game, they contacted a collection of Hollywood talent, such as Mr. Brosnan, Willem Dafoe, Shannon Elizabeth, and Heidi Klum, to create their vision. The end result is James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, and it is one of the few original Bond games worth making note of.

The plot of Everything or Nothing centers around Max Zorin apprentice Nikolai Diavolo's desire for world domination through the use of stolen nano-bot technology. Yeah, it's a little hard to imagine and take seriously, especially with some of the hammy and dull performances, but it's still an enjoyable plot, However, if you're expecting anything more than a tad above average, then you will be more than disappointed.

Everything or Nothing is comprised of 27 unique missions, split up between various gameplay styles, such as stealth, run-and-gun shooting, gadgetry, and driving. There is a fantastic variety that keeps players going from one style to the next. The pacing is near pefect.

Most missions play out in a third-person shooter fashion. Bond can take it slow and methodical, or go in guns blazing. Of course, on later difficulties, being meticulous in a mission like James Bond really would act is usually better than going in guns blazing a la Rambo. Different difficulties task Bond with more or less objectives to complete. Levels generally have plenty of places for cover, as well as plenty of spots for small cases of exploration and discovery.

Use the environment to your advantage.
00 agents are known well for their smooth entrances and accurate shots. Bond is no different, but if a player wants to make 007 look like James Bond 007 and not Agent 99 from Get Smart, then they will need to have a grasp of the controls. Thankfully, Everything or Nothing features rather tight controls for precision aiming and up close and personal fisticuffs. Auto-aim allows players to lock onto targets, but it won't do all the work. It will just aim in the general direction of a foe. Bond needs to manually aim to pick off targets that hide behind cover, and occasionally peek out to fire at him.

Even when taking a trip to the ruins,
007 dresses for success.
When guns simply won't do (i.e. an enemy is too close for comfort), hand-to-hand combat is the appropriate solution. 007 can punch, throw, and even counter foes. After all, even a proper servant for Her Majesty's government needs to get his hands dirty once in a while.

Sometimes you have to let your
foot do the talking.
Stealth is key for a 00 agent as well, and Bond has the moves to make for silent but deadly assaults. He can hug walls and slowly pick off foes around corners. He is able to crouch behind cover in the form of crates, couches, chairs, and so on. Superb stealth is rewarded by making missions that would otherwise be quite challenging less so.

Another big type of gameplay in Everything or Nothing has 007 and the player entering the driver's seat in James's Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, which is the same car he drove in Die Another Day, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and for motorcycle enthusiasts, the Triumph Daytona 600. Seeing as the driving engine for Everything or Nothing was an evolved form of the one from the Need for Speed series, it is probably not necessary to say the physics and controls are incredibly well done. One really feels in control of each vehicle.

There are two types of vehicle missions. One has Bond moving through a quasi-linear path, avoiding or destroying enemy vehicles, jumping off ramps, and evading hazards. The other is less stressful (but the stress is fun in the aforementioned mission type). It puts Bond in a miniature open world where he needs to move from destination to destination to satisfy the conditions of his objectives and his overall mission.

Vehicle missions break things up quite a bit.
Regardless, Bond doesn't have to rely on his own expertise for each mission. Q, played by John Cleese, always has the electronic goods to give 007, a mass array of clever gadgetry to aid Bond throughout his mission. From grenades under the guise of innocent-looking coins to special glasses that allow James to see enemies in the dark, to a small spiderbot that is remote controlled and can crawl through narrow spaces and be detonated, 007 has plenty of help via Q's gadgets. Just like with weapons, when the player is cycling through gadgets, James enters Bond Sense mode where everything slows down for him to select an appropriate choice from out of his inventory.

Each level has its own set of optional Bond moments that can be completed. These are cool little things the player can perform during a given level-- actions that Bond would probably perform himself in his various films. These moments can be as simple as going through parts of a level undetected or finding a secret area; or they can be more exciting activities such as blowing up a fireworks factory with a controlled RC car explosion, killing an enemy during free-fall, destroying a gate with the aid of a tank, and so forth. Completing Bond moments helps to aid the player's overall score for the current level they are in.

Rappel down the building in style.
After a mission is beaten, the player's score is tabulated. The points awarded have to do with how many Bond moments were performed, number of foes defeated, weapon accuracy, weapon efficiency, and how fast you completed the mission. Depending on what difficulty is selected, there will be a score multiplier. Earning the target amount of points earns a gold medal that unlocks new content, like multiplayer characters and production stills.

Furthermore, once a gold medal has been acquired, one can take Bond into the mission all over again and try to beat it under the target time, earning them a platinum medal, then. Platinum medals go towards unlocking cheats such as having all weapons available to Bond at once, double the amount of ammo, and double damage.

Time for a dramatic escape.
As alluded to by the unlockable multiplayer characters, there are modes for more than one person to play the game. One is a cooperative set of missions, totally apart from the main game, as well as an arena mode for up to four players. Unfortunately, the latter mode needs to be unlocked.

Everything or Nothing boasts big blockbuster production values on the cast alone, and EA did a sensational job of capturing that Bond feeling with this game. The main cast is hit or miss in the performance department with some feeling like they just did the game to collect a paycheck, but that Bond feeling is still present. During the occasional cutscene, things look particularly grainy, giving the EON a cheap look at time. Regardless, on most moments, Everything or Nothing is impressive. When speaking of the gameplay, the framerate is generally smooth.

Typically, EON still looks good.
James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing may not be the best Bond game ever, but it was a significant step forward for the franchise as a game series. It's a shame that EA lost the rights to make 007 games to Activision, as it would have been nice to see more original stories. (I'm meaning more like Everything or Nothing and less like GoldenEye: Rogue Agent.) If you are a Bond fan, then Everything or Nothing is an obvious must-have. It feels like Bond, it plays like Bond, and like the golden gun, it's quite the prize.

[SPC Says: 8.5/10]

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Top Ten Greatest Gaming Couples

It's Valentine's Day, and love is most certainly in the air. SuperPhillip Central is celebrating by doing something special with our list of the ten greatest gaming couples. We're using the word "couple" a bit loosely here, but this list has a wide assortment of franchises and types of couples represented. Will your favorites make this list?

10) Viewtiful Joe and Sylvia (Viewitful Joe series)

Starting off, Joe is an average guy with an insatiable love of movies, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, Sylvia. In fact, Joe oftentimes neglects his girl for a good movie. When both of them get sucked into Movieland, Joe gains the power to turn into superhero Viewtiful Joe in order to save his girlfriend from the creatures who captured her. By the conclusion of the game, a new evil arises, and the recently rescued Sylvia decides she's going with her heroic boyfriend to kick some tail. It creates one of the best superhero couples in history, Viewtiful Joe and Sexy Sylvia!

9) Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong (Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest)

Some might question whether these two are related considering they both share the same surname. This would make them being boyfriend and girlfriend quite disturbing, no? Regardless, the relationship between the two in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest is one built on equality. While they share separate strengths, such as Diddy Kong's speed and cartwheel abilities whereas Dixie Kong possesses the ability to twirl her hair around to cross chasms, both parts of this couple are important in kicking Kaptain K. Rool out of their homeland and for saving Donkey Kong.

8) Cecil Harvey and Rosa Joanna Farrell (Final Fantasy IV)

One of the earliest romances in a Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy's Cecil Harvey and Rosa Joanna Farrell find themselves in the midst of a colossal adventure that sends them from their home planet to the moon. Despite having trepidation in allowing her to come with him on his dangerous journey, Rosa still stays by Cecil's side, whether he was a dark knight or after he became a paladin. After defeating Zeromus on the moon, the two held a royal wedding and became the king and queen of the once troubled kingdom of Baron. All's well that ends well.

7) Squall Leonheart and Rinoa Heartily (Final Fantasy VIII)

Sometimes love turns you into a better person. It certainly did for Squall Leonheart, who at the beginning of Final Fantasy VIII is a loathsome and easy-to-dislike character. When Squall and Rinoa first meet, it is at a graduation ceremony, and the two share a romantic moment on the dance floor as Squall tries his best to keep from displaying to Rinoa that he has two left feet. Despite being Seifer's (Squall's rival) girl, Rinoa moves on to take quite a liking to Squall. Before the credits of the game, Squall is seen struggling to keep to his feet as he wanders a vast wasteland. The only thing that keeps him going is the memories he has of Rinoa. The two finally reconvene and embrace after the credits.

6) Master Chief and Cortana (Halo series)

Despite Master Chief being a combination of man and machine, and Cortana being a great bit of holographic AI, these two are still an interesting couple. Whether they are bantering with one another or simply flirting in the midst of an epic battle with the Covenant, Master Chief and Cortana give the players a welcomed love story on the side of all the combat within the Halo series. Halo 4's campaign dealt with how Master Chief deals with his own humanity while Cortana deals with her own mortality. Their journey together is all the more endearing because of it.

5) Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher (Uncharted series)

Nathan and Elena initially meet when Elena agrees to film Nathan's search for underwater treasure. Little did they both know that this original meeting would take them into adventures across the world. What I like about Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher's relationship is that the two come across as more equal than they might at first seem. Drake has the capabilities of being a great shot with a gun, an outstanding climber, and an all-around terrific treasure hunter. However, Elena can pretty much hold her own with Drake, in both the arduous climbing sequences and witty retorts. The chemistry is definitely there, and it makes for one of the more realistic relationships in gaming, thanks to the wonderful scripts of the Uncharted series.

4) Ico and Yorda (ICO)

Despite not knowing each other as players started the game, this duo trusted one another in a swift fashion to help one another. That's what the foundation of a good relationship is all about, the idea of trust. All game we see Ico being the one that watches over Yorda, but as the two finally escape the castle that they were both prisoners in, the situation is flipped as an obviously exhausted Ico is carried out in the arms of Yorda, the girl he was protecting and taking care of all this time. There's many reasons why ICO is such a revered game, and the relationship between the two main characters is one of them.

3) Tidus and Yuna (Final Fantasy X)

If this list has shown you anything, it is that the Final Fantasy franchise is full of intriguing relationships between characters. Perhaps Tidus and Yuna's is the greatest of them all. If this were a Hollywood romance, we'd have to combine each person's name into one identity like Tomkat or Brangelina. Perhaps Tuna would work. Regardless, Tidus starts off as a professional blitzball player, and Yuna begins the game as a summoner, forced into a marriage with Seymour for his political gain. As the marriage is interrupted and the adventure continues, Yuna resumes her quest to defeat the evil Sin that is ravaging the party's homeworld. In a cruel twist of fate, it appears that accomplishing this task means the demise of Tidus, who may not be of Yuna's world. The final moment where the two embrace before Tidus vanishes into thin air is one of the more tragic and heart-tugging moments in a Final Fantasy game.

2) Link and Zelda (The Legend of Zelda series)

By far the most touching version of Link and Zelda's relationship comes in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The pair live on an island in the sky known as Skyloft. Zelda is no princess in this game-- she's much more realistic a character. She is like the girl next door to Link, and the two share a tender moment together when they ride their loftwings together. When Zelda is taken by a twister and propelled to the world below the clouds, Link starts off on an adventure to rescue her. Little does he know that this time Zelda isn't simply waiting in some dungeon or trapped in a crystal this time around; she's a girl on the go. The two's relationship is one of the better ones in a Zelda game, and it is a lovely change of pace for the franchise. It's not just Skyward Sword, but the franchise's history of the different relationships between Link and Zelda are so storied that it'd be foolish to put the couple any lower on this list.

1) Mario and Peach (Mario series)

After all of the times that Mario has allowed Princess Peach to be kidnapped, you think this pair would need a significant amount of couples counseling. Mario shows that he greatly cares about the princess each time he rescues Peach from the king of the Koopas, Bowser. He generally does it just to get another kiss from his favorite little damsel in distress, or in Super Mario 64's case, a nice, delicious cake. You definitely have to admire the pure dedication that Mario has to Princess Peach, and you have to admire Bowser's persistence in capturing the princess. These reasons are why Mario and Peach make it to number one-- that and the fact that the two's relationship is so well known in gaming.

LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins (3DS) Debut Trailer

A complement to the upcoming Wii U title, LEGO City Undercover, this 3DS spin-off tells the tale of how hero Chase McCain became a crime fighter in the first place. Check out the debut trailer to get a taste of what you can expect in the 3DS installment.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS) Trailer

By far SuperPhillip Central's most anticipated Nintendo 3DS game is Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Serving as the mayor, having a slew of customization options, and enhanced social tools make for a title that is just too difficult to pass up. See why with this new trailer.

HarmoKnight (3DSWare) Trailer

From Game Freak, the makers of Pokemon, comes a title that has been in Japan for a while now, but it's finally coming to the West. The game is a runner-type game where you do all your actions in time with the music. To say the 3DS eShop is going to be full of great software seems like an apt statement to make.

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DSWare) Debut Trailer

A new Mario puzzle game is in the works for the Nintendo eShop, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move. Notice how it is no longer Mario vs. Donkey Kong this time around. The game features fully 3D levels where players guide Mini Mario to the goal.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reasons Why You Should and Shouldn't Worry About the Vita's Future

A complement to yesterday's piece regarding the Wii U's future, today SuperPhillip Central is shifting focus to another struggling/doomed/dying/etc. platform, the PlayStation Vita. Like with the Wii U, there are decent arguments on both sides of the spectrum regarding why the Vita's future is up in the air. This is no doom and gloom piece. It is an attempt to be as fair as possible (note the word "attempt"), taking in account both viewpoints. Let's get the negativity out of the way first.

- High prices for the system and memory card are still a stumbling point.

Let's face reality here-- the Vita's $250 price tag is a major hurdle for many consumers. The Assassin's Creed III: Liberation Amazon bundle from late last year was an excellent deal, and to me, it showed that plenty of people are willing to get the Vita as long as the price and value are reasonable.

The main problem right now is that the user base is so low that third-parties are hesitant to release games on the Vita. This is a mirror image of the issue Nintendo is currently having with their Wii U console. Perhaps it is a Catch-22 situation where no one is buying the Vita because the games aren't there, but third-parties aren't interested in putting games on the Vita because the sales aren't there. Will the price remain so high that consumers don't buy the Vita, resulting in third-parties continuing to find little reason to support the system? That's the rub.

- Software sales are generally low.

Nothing can damn a platform, whether it is a home console or a portable, more than having low software sales. When third-parties see low attach rates or low software sales in general for a platform, they show massive trepidation in supporting it. We're seeing that right now with both the Vita and Nintendo's Wii U.

The problem is compounded by the fact that in Japan, some software is selling, but it is only really selling to the preexisting user base. There is no true expansion of the Vita market. With no expansion, what hope does the Vita currently have in generating support? Sure, smaller, more niche developers will continue to support the system, but what about the larger publishers?

- Sony has had to lower their Vita forecast three times now.

I doubt three times within the span of a year is a record, but it is quite worrying. By March 31st of this year, Sony now plans to ship worldwide 7 million PSPs and PlayStation Vita systems combined (source here). The sales forecast was once at 16 million combined, and then it was slashed down to 12 million combined in August.

This goes back to third-parties. If the handheld is doing so poorly that Sony has to revise their sales forecast three times, what possible reason should publishers have for giving the Vita their support? It is my belief that unlike Nintendo, Sony most likely would not be able to support a handheld all by themselves, especially when they have a next generation console forthcoming. It makes for a situation that looks dismal, and right now there is no indication that it will get any better.

- There is a great amount and variety of software, yet the platform still struggles.

The last generation of handhelds was, in SuperPhillip Central's opinion, the best that the industry has ever seen. We have two great selling handhelds in the Nintendo DS and the PSP, and they both delivered an awesome library of games. You'll be reading more about that later this week.

A problem here is that there is honestly plenty of interesting software for the system (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, WipEout 2048, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Gravity Rush, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, etc.), yet hardware sales are still rather tepid, to put it nicely.

This isn't like the Wii U where there really isn't much in the way of content to get consumers excited for the system. The Vita has a competent amount of intriguing titles out right now. What can Sony do if a lot of their big hitters have failed to light up hardware sales for the Vita? I talk more about this later on in this piece.


Now, let's get some good energy going on with why you shouldn't worry about the Vita's future.

+ Sony has admitted they have a problem.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Sony did just that this last month with Kaz Hirai stating that Vita sales are lower than what the company expected. Last week, Sony's Chief Financial Officer Masaru Kato noted that there's a lot that can be done concerning marketing the system.

Certainly it is challenging to get people excited about your product if it has a small presence, and Sony possibly promoting the Vita better will surely get consumers to acknowledge the platform in a greater way.

It's refreshing to see Sony admit their mistakes, but most importantly, will the company actually do something about their current problems? I believe they will, and hiring a new advertising firm for their North American marketing seems to be a start, but will Sony reach out more to third-parties and push for more software? Would third-parties listen? Will we see a desperate Sony pull "a Nintendo" and drastically slash the price of their struggling system? Would they be able to afford such a move? There is no one correct answer here, and that is important to note.

+ Sony's studios are very much invested in supporting the system.

Nintendo has it where they have their strongest and most heralded studios not just working on their mainline home consoles, but they also work on plenty of handheld titles. It makes it appear that Nintendo cares just as much about its handheld legacy as they do their console legacy, and that's probably very true.

It is terrific to see that Sony's premiere studios like Guerrilla Games and Media Molecule are taking the platform seriously. It is a drastic departure from the PSP where mostly only Sony's less prominent studios worked on the company's first-party software. With upcoming software like September's Killzone: Mercenary and the charming and crafty adventure title Tearaway planned for release-- alongside whatever the future holds-- the first-party output for the system is looking quite promising. I just hope that continues.

+ Bundles, price drops, and new colors haven't been fully utilized yet.

Bundles are always a great way to add value to your platform of choice. We've seen various Vita bundles in North America: one for Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified, one for Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, and one for Madden 13. These have been quite successful for Sony's Vita. If Sony continues to exhibit value to consumers, then their bundles will continue to sell well.

It's important to note that the Vita is a pricey proposition to a lot of people. Sony has yet to pull the price drop card out of their deck. However, like I said regarding Nintendo, you have to be smart about when you drop the price of your hardware. Do it at the wrong time, and you will have an extremely short-term solution. I believe that you need to have a price drop at the same time you begin seeing interesting titles releasing on the system. Look at how the Nintendo 3DS dropped in price just around the time a steady stream of hit games starting rolling out. If Sony can pull the same scenario with the Vita, then I'm sure they'll have a long stretch of good luck and rewards.

The final and more minor thing that helps boosts sales is different colors. Of course, if the system does not have the software that appeals to consumers, then you can have a veritable rainbow of color choices, and it will not matter. The point of all this, regardless, is that there are still many strategies and so-called "get out of jail free cards" that Sony can still use to turn the Vita's fortunes around.

+ The PlayStation 4 and Vita's possible developmental similarities

It is heavily rumored among gamers and the press that February 20th's PlayStation event will be the coming out party and reveal of the PlayStation 4. What I thought of that might help the Vita's development situation is if the PlayStation 4 has a familiar development atmosphere to Sony's handheld. Perhaps third-parties would find it easy to down-port PS4 titles to the Vita, due to the similarities between the two platforms, giving the handheld more support that way.


Like with SuperPhillip Central's Wii U article, I am not saying that the Vita is going to fail, nor am I saying it will succeed. I am simply noting reasons why some may or may not be worried about the system's future. Join the discussion by posting your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Reasons Why You Should and Shouldn't Worry About the Wii U's Future

Put away the daggers, put away the pitchforks, put away the swords, and put away any other pointy object you might possess. You probably see this piece as simply another "doom and gloom" Wii U article. However, we here at SuperPhillip Central have a love for the system. However, it's quite disingenuous to deny that the system's current path makes its upcoming future seem bright and rosy. On the flip side, it's quite silly to say that the Wii U is a failure so quickly. Perhaps the only failure is how quickly people board the negativity bandwagon without thinking rationally.

This piece notes some of the reasons that the Wii U's recent woes should and should not alarm you. Perhaps alarm is too much hyperbole. I should say that the system's woes should at the very least concern you, especially if you're banking on Nintendo to do well this console generation. I am not saying that the Wii U is going to fail, nor am I saying it will succeed. I am simply noting reasons why some may or may not be worried about the system's future.

Let's appease all of the Negative Nancys first:

- January's abysmal U.K. Wii U retail performance

The United Kingdom is but a small portion of Nintendo's market, but the idea that only 34,000 units of software (that includes Nintendo Land Wii U bundles) were sold and the system only clutched a pithy 1.6% of the U.K. market last month is absolutely sobering.

One can take this with some optimism or total pessimism. January is generally an empty month for most platforms, especially a new one such as the Wii U, so it's no wonder the system sold so low. A pessimist could see the numbers and say that Nintendo has lost the U.K., and no one wants the Wii U. The situation is going to look less and less hopeful as the months of no new Wii U releases roll on. Whatever side you are on, it is difficult to say that the sales and market presence of the Wii U are looking good right now. This only gives publishers more reason not to allocate any resources to Wii U projects. Then again, perhaps they were already planning that before the system even came out.

- Lack of retail presence between December and March

How is a system supposed to carry launch momentum when there are an overwhelming lack of retail games released for a quarter of the year? The delay of Rayman Legends was a huge blow for any possible chance of the Wii U moving out of mediocre sales and starting to gain some traction. You can read my thoughts on that mess here.

It's almost a self-fulling prophecy. Publishers say the Wii U's sales are weak, but that's because there are no games being released for it by them or Nintendo. Maybe had Ubisoft released Rayman Legends when it was due out and third-parties had games lined up for the system to fill in the empty Q1 2013 time period, the Wii U would have had more momentum. Wii U owners would take note of games during an empty release period because they have had nothing new to play for months.

It's not entirely third-parties' fault either. Nintendo has had nothing in this quarter, and that has harmed the system's momentum considerably. If people supposedly buy Nintendo hardware for Nintendo software, no wonder so few purchased systems last month. February is only going to get worse sales-wise.

- Western third-party support is anemic 

I never figured Nintendo would ever get proper third-party support from Western developers. The majority of the West seems focused more on high end graphics than innovation, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just an attitude that Nintendo does not share. How many times have we heard weak excuses for not developing for the Wii U because the developer couldn't think of a proper use of the Wii U GamePad? If you ever expected decent Western third-party support in retail channels for the Wii U, then you were setting yourself up for severe disappointment.

If the news from the D.I.C.E. summit that more developers were talking about cancelling Wii U games than making them holds any water (it's not difficult to believe, sadly), then the system's hope for any kind of relevancy in terms of Western support is already irrevocably damaged. Somehow, someway, the Wii U third-party situation is already worse than what was found on the Wii. That is absolutely pitiful.

What about EA? When even they won't even announce the new Madden, a series that is basically a given on every home console, on the Wii U, then something is most definitely wrong here. What happened to that "unprecedented partnership"? Did Nintendo really shun EA's Origin online system (and for good reason) that EA is now absolutely bitter about it?

Then again, Nintendo, perhaps, could be the only console manufacturer that could hold up its own hardware with its own software. Their IPs are just that popular. As things are going now in the West, they might just have to.


Enough negativity. Let's look at reasons you shouldn't bother worrying about the Wii U's current struggles.

+ Nintendo's blockbusters have yet to come out

This is an important one, and one that most likely outshines plenty of the negatives. The truth of the matter is that the most significant titles for the Wii U have yet to be released. We received news of a flurry of them via last month's Nintendo Direct. There was the new 3D action Mario game, a new Mario Kart, two Zelda announcements, Yarn Yoshi, and more. If Nintendo can release these titles in a steady stream, sales are sure to bounce back. That's what any system needs-- a steady stream of software to keep interest in a system up and sales continuing. I don't believe just one game will sell a given system. It might do that for hardcore fans of a given franchise or genre, but it doesn't work with the majority of people.

New Super Mario Bros. U did not have a 50 million+ user base to get sales from like the Wii game did. That title launched with a user base of zero, so it's no wonder the title is not lighting sales charts the world over on fire. There could also be fatigue from the NSMB line of games. After all, New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS had only come out a few months earlier. It's easy to say that New Super Mario Bros. U was not the system-seller Nintendo was thinking it would be. However, with Nintendo's promised lineup of games, it seems easy to say that the Wii U's fortunes will turn around.

+ Price drop, bundles, and new colors are always options.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata stood firmly against the idea of a price drop for the Wii U so soon. After all, the platform is selling for a loss as is. However, if push comes to shove, lowering the price for the Wii U is always an option on the table. It worked quite well for the Nintendo 3DS, but it's important to note that this was not the only reason for the one struggling handheld's success. The 3DS's price drop was strategically done at a time where some of the bigger titles for the system were set to be released. I'm referring to titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, and Mario Kart 7. If Nintendo can wait to drop the price of the Wii U when the heavy hitters like the new 3D Mario, Mario Kart, and Wind Waker remake release, then at least for a good while the system can do well.

On the subject of bundles and new colors, these two concepts sometimes work and sometimes don't. The recently announced ZombiU bundle that comes with a retail copy of the game, a digital copy of Nintendo Land, and a Pro Controller will actually save buyers money compared to if they bought all of the individual items separately. Bundles like this, especially if they have Mario in them or some killer game, could possibly do Nintendo and their currently struggling system a bit well, too.

+ Indie developers are still supporting the system, and finding success.

If big publishers are hesitant (and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy) to release games on the Wii U, then independent developers are ready and willing. While the pickings are limited right now, there is plenty to look forward to on the Nintendo eShop. Two Tribes has Toki Tori 2 in the pipeline, Gajin Games has Bit.Trip Runner 2 racing onto the shop, Renegade Kid is currently busy tinkering with Mutant Mudds Deluxe, and there are many other titles coming or at least hinted at coming.

Considering that Nintendo is allowing these studios much greater leeway than they did on WiiWare, such as allowing free patches and the ability to perform their own sales and price points, the Wii U eShop is an attractive choice for indie developers. I, for one, cannot wait to see what other indie titles will be coming to the system throughout the platform's life. If it's anything like the 3DS eShop, we're going to be very spoiled.

+ This system has had little to no marketing.

You might read this reason and wonder how little to no marketing can possibly be a good thing. That's simple. A reason why the Wii U isn't selling to potential, causing Nintendo to slash the forecast of how many Wii Us they plan to sell, is that a lot of people either don't know about or simply don't understand what the Wii U is. You can give me some anecdotal evidence on how your best friend's imaginary grandparents know all about the system and don't want it, but it stands to reason that Nintendo is suffering the same issues that they had with the 3DS.

With the 3DS, there was much confusion regarding whether or not the handheld was the successor the the Nintendo DS, or if it was simply a revision. I think many people think the Wii U is just a peripheral to the original Wii. It doesn't help that: 1) The North American ads did nothing to mention the Wii U was not just the controller, and 2) The name is so darned similar to the Wii.

Then there's the amount of advertising for the system. Right now, at least in the United States, there are no ads at all for the system. Even in the holiday season, comparing the number of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ads to the Wii U's was no contest. The Wii U was blown away in television time. In fact, the ad campaign was no marketing blitz like most new platforms have. I believe that when new releases come out Nintendo should, if money allows, market the games on a broad array of channels. Focus not just on the TV Land, Nickolodeon and TLC crowds, but also the sports channels, Adult Swim, and programs that expand the scope of who Nintendo is going after with the Wii U.


What are your thoughts on this piece? Again, I am not saying that the Wii U is going to fail, nor am I saying it will succeed. I am simply noting reasons why some may or may not be worried about the system's future. Note your opinions in the comments section.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Mutant Mudds (3DSWare)

We are presenting a new type of review on SuperPhillip Central. They're called Better Late Than Never reviews. We've had these types of reviews for games in the past, but there was never a proper name given to them. Now, there is! Our first BLTN review is Renegade Kid's Mutant Mudds for the Nintendo 3DS. The game is also available on iOS platforms and will be coming to the Wii U in the form of Mutant Mudds Deluxe. Let's get dirty!

It's Sometimes Fun to Roll Around in the Mudd

The Nintendo 3DS eShop has really come into its own over the past year and a half. It has brought many unique experiences that cannot be found anywhere else (along with some that can be). It is a perfect complement to the retail games that the 3DS was at one time lacking. Renegade Kid was a big supporter of the Nintendo DS, releasing a pair of graphical intensive titles for the platform: Dementium: The Ward and Moon. Now the team has a much simpler in both art design and gameplay with Mutant Mudds. If you're looking for an old school 2D platformer, then Renegade Kid's offering is worth checking out.

On paper, Mutant Mudds is a basic game. You play as Max, opting to take it upon himself to defeat an alien Mudd menace with only a water pack and water gun. The water pack allows Max to hover in the air for a limited period of time, making devious jumps all the more manageable, and allowing him to cross over large chasms with ease. Meanwhile, the water gun is Max's only means of offense. Generally, enemies take multiple shots to be defeated. Those Mudd monsters mean business, after all!

The unlikely hero Max fights on
behalf of all those who wear glasses.
But there's more to Mutant Mudds than simply that. The game takes full advantage of the Nintendo 3DS' stereoscopic 3D to really push the title's pixels out at the player. Each level has three tiers to platform on: the normal plane, a foreground plane where Max and enemies are right up into the player's face, and a background plane where Max and enemies are are relatively tiny. Depending on whether the 3DS system's 3D slider is pushed all the way up or not, the effect is really impressive and looks great.

On some occasions, players will be
up close and personal with the action.
It's something that not only affects the visual appeal of the game, but it affects the gameplay as well. Max will be constantly shifting between planes via pads. Certain obstacles like gust-blowing clouds will knock Max up a plane from wherever he's standing; hammers fall from the background to the foreground, damaging Max if he's caught in their path; and spinning spiked orbs cycle from background to foreground are ready to hurt Max if he lingers near them for too long.

This spinning spiked ball circles from the
foreground into the background.
Then there are the 2000 Golden Diamonds to collect throughout the 20 normal levels of the game (there are more free downloadable levels that are available to play after the initial game is completed). Each level has 100 diamonds that are located all over each level, some very tricky to attain. Collecting enough of these unlocks one of three helpful gadgets in Max's grannie's attic. One furthers the range of Max's water gun. Another grants more hovering time to Max's water pack. The final upgrade grants Max the ability to shoot himself high into the air. The catch here is that only one upgrade can be used at a time.

Alongside collecting all of the Golden Diamonds in a level, the final Water Sprite is gained through finishing off bonus levels. You see, each level has a hidden door that leads to a challenging bonus level where the only objective is to make it to the goal within the time limit. Many levels have a larger retro feel to them such as being in all red and black a la the Virtual Boy, but unlike the Virtual Boy, these levels are a great success. They're challenging, and they're fun.

Mutant Mudds' old school sensibilities shine through more than its visuals and gameplay. It is a challenging game, and one that many less hardcore platforming fans might simply find frustrating. There are no checkpoints per level, and dying right at the end of a level can be irritating, almost to the point where you can give up on the game. Max only has three hearts to work with per level, and there is no way to regain a lost heart. To put it in Layman's terms, Mutant Mudds may only appeal to the most hardcore of gamers due to its difficulty. If you're like me and grew up during the "Nintendo hard" days, then you are probably a glutton for punishment and will play a level dozens of times, inching closer and closer to the goal each time. Those "I can do it" and "just one more try" feelings are just fantastic and remind me of myself as a kid playing through Super Mario Bros. 3 or Mega Man 2, back when the only cartoon version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was pretty poorly hand-drawn instead of CG like we have it today.

Spikes like the ones seen at the bottom right
of the screen mean instant death.
While Mutant Mudds is very old school, I do wish there was a new school feature-- online leaderboards. It would have been terrific comparing players' best level times around the world, competing for the highest spot or to simply beat their friends' top times. Perhaps such a feature will be added in the Wii U version.

Mutant Mudds is a short ride, but it is one that players will want to come back to time and time again. It's a classic in that sense, and without a doubt the game is one of Renegade Kid's best. The team really outdid themselves and showed that simplicity is still something special to be had in a game. In an industry full of complex (perhaps overly so) titles, it's nice to see something simple work so well and be so much fun. If you're up for a challenge, download Mutant Mudds from the eShop. Despite the title, you won't feel dirty playing this enjoyable game.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Music to My Ears Edition

The start of a new week always means another edition of SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs. This week we begin with the sounds of Wii Music, get emotional with Eternal Sonata, and go old school with TMNT: Tournament Fighters. Well rounded is a rather apt description of this week's edition, no?

v311. Wii Music (Wii) - Main Theme

It was embarrassing back a few years ago when Nintendo fans were whining about how their favorite company "abandoned" them or whatever with Wii Music. In fact, embarrassing might be too subtle a word. It was downright pathetic. And it was all over this harmless game that in retrospect did little impact to the industry. At least it gave us a very catchy main theme.

v312. Eternal Sonata (PS3, 360) - Pyroxene of the Heart

Another thing that had little impact was the Xbox 360 in Japan, despite having multiple (at the time) exclusive JRPGs for the system. Eternal Sonata was (again, at the time) one of these titles. Motoi Sakuraba (Tales of, Star Ocean) composed the soundtrack for the game. Pyroxene of the Heart is a mystical and marvelously melodic piece brimming with emotion.

v313. Tatsunoko VS. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars (Wii) - Across the Border (2010)

The probability of Tatsunoko VS. Capcom hitting anywhere outside of Japan was rather low, yet somehow the game reached Western shores. Across the Border is the English opening theme of the game. Anna Gholston provides main vocals with James C. Wikson doing the accompanying rapping.

v314. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES) - Jamboree

Let's go old school with VGM volume #314. This track, Jamboree, comes from the Super Nintendo version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. Essentially Raphael's stage, the cafeteria is home to the music of Jamboree.

v315. Wave Race: Blue Storm (GCN) - Dolphin Park (Exhibition)

While North America is in the middle of winter (and the Northeast is suffering the wrath of Mother Nature via blizzard), we can look forward to summer. It is far away, but songs like Wave Race: Blue Storm's Dolphin Park (Exhibition) takes us to the sunny shores and rippling waters of the ocean. This song has all the parts of an extreme summer: two rock guitars and percussion. Rock on!


If that isn't enough in the way of video game music for you, why not check out my VGMs Database for every song ever spotlighted? Don't worry. I'll wait for you.