Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pandora's Tower (Wii) Review

This next review will be done a tad differently than what I've previously done in the past. Something in the North American version of Pandora's Tower has prevented me from finishing the game. Thus, I cannot really give a score. You'll see what I mean with this review.

The Oraclos Chain Isn't the Only Thing 
That Binds With Pandora's Tower. 

When I say "rainfall", what does that mean to you? To Nintendo fans it meant a campaign to launch three Nintendo-published games that wouldn't hit North American shores unless their voices were heard-- thus, Operation Rainfall. Nintendo of America released the first game, Xenoblade Chronicles, though it was relegated to being sold on their online shop and through GameStop. The second was released through XSEED Games, Hironobu Sakaguchi's The Last Story. Now, like pulling teeth, the third and final game of the trio has been released, and again by XSEED Games. It's Pandora's Tower. Compared to the other two, how does this game rank?

Singing at a harvest festival, suddenly the maiden Elena is stricken with a curse. Aeron takes her in and the two head out of the kingdom with the army right on their trail, alongside a peddler named Mavda, who knows more about Elena's curse than she initially lets on. The trio leave for a safe, desolate location where they cannot be found easily, The Scar. It is there where the instructions on how to purge the curse are revealed. Armed with the Oraclos Chain, a strong will and a fierce devotion, Aeron needs to head into the Thirteen Towers, defeat each master inside, take their flesh and feed it to Elena before her curse turns her into a monster forever. Through feeding Elena the required amount of master fleshes, her curse will be removed.

Aeron and Elena, sitting in a tree... etc.
Aeron is the type of character that isn't very outspoken. To say he's a lot like the Legend of Zelda's Link wouldn't be a stretch. By that, you could say that Aeron is meant to be an extension of the player, and this task is done well. The developers have successfully made Elena's character type one that you actively want to help and relieve her of her curse. For instance, I felt nice giving her gifts to boost Aeron and Elena's affinity (which affects which ending you obtain), and I got a feeling of unease and pity seeing her transformation into a monster get progressively worse as the gauge depletes. If the gauge empties, the curse overtakes Elena and the game is over.

Master flesh-- because the South Beach
diet just didn't work for Elena.
This is why time management is an important part of Pandora's Tower. You're always needing to look at the gauge and determine what you do and don't have time to do. Monsters when downed will flash red, and if you use your Oraclos Chain to tear off from the corpse, you can usually get a hunk of flesh. It is these pieces of flesh that will sustain Elena's human appearance while she waits to eat the master flesh. This means you will have to routinely exit and return to the tower you're currently on, which can be tedious at times. Thankfully, there are shortcuts in the form of extendable ladders and removing bars from doors that open a more direct path to progress much faster than Aeron would be able to otherwise.

Break all the chains to reach the master's lair.
When you return to the Observatory, the hub of Pandora's Tower, you can do a myriad of tasks-- giving gifts to Elena, having her translate texts Aeron comes across in the many towers, resting to change the time of day as well as to regain lost health, buy, sell, create and upgrade goods with Mavda's help, store leftover items in the trunk, and feed Elena flesh.

With the Oraclos Chain, Aeron can reach places that he otherwise would not be able to. Latching onto rocks to pull himself to higher areas, throwing rocks at enemies, grabbing out-of-the-way levers to pull them and move lifts, and swinging across a chasm to another platform are all useful tasks the Oraclos Chain brings to exploring the many towers of the game.

Outside of exploration, the Oraclos Chain is an invaluable tool for combat. It can wrap up foes in its chain, allowing you to charge the attack up before ripping the chain from the enemy, causing great damage. Or, if your prefer, you can bind a foe in the chain while you let loose on them with your subweapon. You can even tie two enemies together. Attacking one will damage the other. Combat is a tad deep in Pandora's Tower, and that's thanks to a lack of lock-on. You need to attack and evade with good timing, or else you'll quickly be returning to your last checkpoint over and over again.

Aeron does his best Scorpion impression.
Besides enemies that won't hesitate to cut you down to size, there is another foe to be found in Pandora's Tower and it is one that isn't unfamiliar to players of 3D games. It's the camera. Pandora's Tower uses a fixed viewpoint for many of its rooms. This can make judging depth perception a serious problem. There are also times where the foe you are fighting is off screen while Aeron is still on screen, making knowing when to dodge an attack next to impossible.

Combat is really fun in Pandora's Tower.
Pandora's Tower can be played by using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk control combination or with the Classic Controller. Both methods work well. It's much quicker and easier to point at what you want to chuck your chain at with the Wii Remote rather than using the right analog stick of the Classic Controller. It's also fun to pull the Wii Remote to tear armor off enemies and inflict damage that way. However, the Classic Controller does offer the freedom of not needing to occasionally fight with the motion controls. It just comes down to preference, as I made it far in the game with the former control method.

There are at least twelve playable towers in the game. The first five must be played in a linear order while the second five can be played in any order you desire. Each has its own theme, set of enemies, and challenges. A tower like Torrent Peak has a gushing waterfalls with rising rocks inside them that can be latched onto, taking Aeron to higher floors. Meanwhile, Blazing Citadel packs heat of the literal kind, with platforms that sink into the lava pits and cauldrons that will cook anyone's goose.

Each tower has its own theme.
Each tower has a set number of chains that must be destroyed in order to unlock the way to the tower's master. Getting to each room is a challenge onto itself. Fortunately, a helpful map shows where you have previously been to assist you when things get a little confusing.

A master awaits you at the top of each tower. A lot of these bosses require both brains and brawn to complete if you wish to retrieve some master flesh for Elena. (You do, don't you? Have a heart.) One master will constantly turn its exposed spot away from you. However, you can tie the boss to one of its stalactites to prevent it from turning around, allowing Aeron to attack its weak spot for massive damage. (Yes, people like me still use that reference.) A lot of the bosses are fun to fight and the battles are tests of endurance. Some, though, are just obnoxious and frustrating-- a bad combination for any game.

Talk about a green giant!
Pandora's Tower might not be the prettiest game on the Wii, as textures are quite gnarly in appearance, even far away, but it does push the Nintendo's last generation system well enough. Towers have a great sense of scale and dramatic ambiance, and the enemies that infest the dungeons animate rather well. The voice acting is also considerably good, offering nothing that could be considered hammy by any stretch of the imagination. Lastly, the music of Pandora's Tower is splendid, showcasing a stimulating and tense mood inside dungeons and feathery and delightful at the observatory where Elena spends her days.

All of this sounds very good. After all, Japanese and PAL players have been enjoying Pandora's Tower for a year now. Unfortunately, North American gamers have been forced to wait, and that wait did not pay off. Nintendo didn't decide to publish Pandora's Tower in North America. Instead, XSEED Games took on that role. Somehow, however, in bringing the game to our side of the world, they accidentally implemented something that could be close to being called a game-breaking bug. Not just a game-breaking bug, but one that happens late in the game.

When trying to return to the eleventh and twelfth towers, the game will freeze. I tried doing a number of things to get around this bug, but as luck would have it, each time I encountered the freeze, which made me have to pull the plug on my Wii to even get the system to respond again. How this glitch was put in the North American version and nowhere else bewilders and frustrates me to no end. I was really liking Pandora's Tower up to that point, too-- wonky camera and all.

It's a shame that the North American version of Pandora's Tower has such a broken (but not impossible to pass) glitch in it. It made what was a really enjoyable action-adventure game turn into what I feel was a waste of time. Considering this is such a niche title and XSEED Games is the publisher, a fix for this issue is most likely nothing but a pipe dream. While the gameplay is unlike anything else on any platform, the frustration of running into the glitch ruins the game for me. Yes, the Oraclos Chain isn't the only thing that binds, the complete screw up by XSEED does as well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS) Review

To end the work week we have a brand-new review for you. It was one of our most anticipated games for the Nintendo 3DS way back when it was announced. We finally got to get our hands on the game, and here is my review.

Meet Your Newest Addiction

2008 was a bit of a messy year for Nintendo fans. The big "core" title unveiled for the Wii at that year's E3 was Animal Crossing: City Folk, a title that, while absolutely fun, was more of the same when compared to its predecessor, the Nintendo DS' Wild World. Many called the game a lazy sequel, so it makes sense that the developers of the Animal Crossing series took that criticism to heart when making the latest installment of the series, primed for the Nintendo 3DS, Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The biggest structural change the series has even seen is being able to become mayor of your town and turn it from sleepy little town to hoppin' and boppin' place to be-- with your personal signature on it. What it all adds up to is the greatest Animal Crossing yet, and a great Nintendo 3DS killer app for the summer.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf starts out innocently enough. Your character rides a train and is approached by a cat named Rover. How you answer his questions will actually determine what your character looks like in-game. If you're the first person to play the game, you'll be asked the name of the town you're going to, and even get to skim through and look various maps of your prospective town before selecting the one you'd like to call home.

As you exit from the train, you are greeted by a group of extremely excited animal locals, led by Isabelle. It turns out Tortimer, the tortoise mayor of past games, has finally stepped out of the shoes of being mayor and for some reason everyone expects you to slide your feet into them. You really have no choice but to expect, lest you wish to disappoint your perky crowd (which you can't do anyway, even if you want to). Thus, after planting a tree in your village's town square as part of a ceremony, your road to having power over the people begins.

Now you own these people...
However, before everything is official and you can begin your mayoral duties, you need to boost your approval rating to 100%. This is performed by speaking with the animal citizens of your town-- doing chores for them, planting flowers and trees around town, picking up garbage, and sending letters via the post office to your fellow villagers.

Once your approval process is over with, you can start running your town. As mayor, you can set ordinances, such as one to make shops stay open later than usual, or set an ordinance to make your town's flowers stay in bloom longer. For someone who plays late at night, the former allows me to enjoy the game better unlike past titles whose strict schedules you needed to follow. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the game revolves around you and not the other way around.

Then there's the abundant amount of public works projects you can initiate, one per day. These are things like lampposts, benches, fountains, wells, landmarks and other interesting items for your town that can be placed generally wherever you want them. Much like placing where you wished to live, you can see ahead of time what the end project will look like and either accept or reject that location. Through generous donations by you, the animals in town, the other players in town, and guests in your town, you can meet the cash requirement to see your project come into full fruition, ending with a quick ceremony to celebrate your village's latest success.

Congratulations are definitely in order.
Of course, even mayors have to answer to somebody, and surprise, surprise, that somebody is Tom Nook. He really isn't meant to be someone of power, but he is the raccoon who gives you the title to your home, whose location you decide for yourself and can see how it will look before you accept its spot. He is the guy who even mayors need to pay money to. As you pay off debts, you can choose to select to expand your home-- increasing the size of rooms or adding totally new additions to your home, such as a basement, a second floor, or other first floor rooms. At Nook's real estate service, you can also purchase aesthetic changes to your home, turning a boring old mailbox into one that can really represent your personality, or completely remodeling your home to look like something that resembles a Japanese castle!

Your home is your castle-- literally!
The customization options don't end there. Outside of the immense number of wallpapers and carpets, there are a plethora of furniture choices to choose from for the inside of your domain, some sharing a common theme to make one cohesive look in a given room. The amount of furniture pieces is enormous-- easily hundreds that will take years to collect them all. I'm talking about beds, chairs, sofas, tables, TVs, bureaus, closets, wardrobes, lamps-- the list goes on and on. Certain furniture can even be given a personal touch at the local Re-Tail shop, where the male alpaca there can customize the look of a given piece of furniture to your liking. Re-Tail also serves as a great place to sell unwanted items to, often buying items for more than anywhere else.

Make a room a temple straight out
of the Legend of Zelda franchise!
Then there's Main Street, which offers a wide array of locations, but many aren't open until certain conditions are met. There's the post office, where written letters can be sent off; there's a clothing and accessory story because in my case, every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man; there's a shop to buy furniture, wallpaper, carpet, and tools to use for fishing, catching bugs and digging up fossils. The latter of which can be donated to the museum, also on Main Street.

While the mayor has a lot to do, that first player is the only one who can have any mayoral duties, which is disappointing. The other three prospective players serve as normal everyday citizens. However, even then, there's plenty of tasks that can be done, such as filling up one's fish and insect encyclopedia by catching all the varieties, digging up fossils, collecting furniture, paying off their own house debts to Tom Nook, speaking with and helping out the animal locals, heading to the island where it's summertime all the time, and opening the gate to their town for travelers to visit via Wi-Fi, or going out and venturing into a friend's village. Both of which are pleasantly lacking of lag, depending on how strong all players' connections are.

With Wi-Fi play you can have a girls' slumber party!
Animal Crossing: New Leaf has the rules of the past games. The time of your Nintendo 3DS system's internal clock is the time that your town is currently at. Stores open and close at specific times, animals wake up and go to sleep at certain hours, bugs and fish are present at certain times of day and times of year, and events happen on certain days of the calendar. Special holidays have more to do than in past games, such as on April Fools' Day, where the goal is to earn prizes by finding the visiting animal that is disguised as a local. These holidays are much more fun and puts players in a more active role than previous games.

Animal Crossing was always a series that played itself even if you weren't there, and that is once again true of New Leaf. If you don't keep up with your town, pull weeds and water flowers, your town will look relatively messy in a week's time. (Not to mention cockroaches will infest your home! Yuck!) Sometimes the game can feel like a chore-- like you're being forced to play it or else you will suffer a penalty or miss out on something special. This is one of the main issues of the Animal Crossing series in general. It can feel a lot like work at times, but the end result is usually very rewarding, not to mention very relaxing.

Different times of year mean 
different looks for your town.
On the topic of presentation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf features improved visuals when compared to City Folk. Characters look better than ever and do much more by means of interaction. For example, animal pals will wave goodbye to you as you leave their homes, they'll go fishing, and they'll shake nearby trees. Your character is taller than past games, allowing you for the first time to change your pants, shoes, and socks. You can even have short or long sleeve clothing. Yes, ladies, you can have dresses if you'd like. As always, but something I continue to love with the series, each 24 hour segment of each day has a different theme that plays during it. The town theme that you create chimes on every hour, as well as it's heard when you speak with every character in the game. The overall soundtrack is mighty fine, and it's an absolute pleasure to sit down and relax to.

A look at one of my finished projects.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf delivers a much needed shakeup to the Animal Crossing series. Being the mayor puts you in a more proactive role, creating an entirely new dynamic, and a much welcomed one, as it makes for a really fresh experience. While it is unfortunate that only one player on one copy of the game can be mayor, there's still tons to do for ordinary denizens as well. Animal Crossing has consistently made doing what would otherwise be mundane and tedious tasks in real life like picking weeds and watering flowers into things that are strangely addicting. In the three weeks I've had Animal Crossing: New Leaf for, I have played nearly 100 hours already, and I'm nowhere near a point where I feel burnt out. There's always a new fish to catch, a chance to see who has visited my town, a chance for me to visit other towns, and new furniture to fill up my house with, or at least add to my catalog. Consider Animal Crossing: New Leaf your home away from home. I certainly have, and I couldn't be happier.

[SPC Says: 9.5/10]

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS) Gameplay Trailer

Off the heels of the Nintendo investor meeting comes a new trailer showing significant amounts of gameplay for Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. The game is due out this August for Nintendo 3DS. We'd be lying if we said this title didn't peak our interest!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Journey (PSN) Review

Journey was named SuperPhillip Central's Best PlayStation 3 Game at last year's Best of 2012 Awards. Now, we have a more in-depth gander as to our rationale in choosing a downloadable title as the best the PS3 had to offer last year. Like the trek our robed protagonist takes in the game, we hope your trek through our review of Journey is an engaging one, as well.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

If you're like me, you might have experienced AAA game after AAA game, each with a campaign full of spectacular set pieces and blockbuster visuals. While these are remarkable and fun, sometimes a person can grow really weary of them-- weary much like the character you control in Thatgamecompany's Journey, an artistic adventure that sends you wandering a desert by your lonesome or with a fellow traveler. With no real instructions and a constant mountain overlooking your progress-- seemingly eons away, Journey delivers an experience that offers plenty of "me time" as you scamper and slide around the desert sands.

Right at the beginning of the game, your cloaked character sees a gigantic mountain standing far away in the distance. As the player, your only instructions are a quick run-through of the controls, and I do mean quick. Then, you are let loose in Journey's sun-soaked sands, with little direction given to you. An occasional camera will zoom in on where you are recommended to go, but overall it is up to you to figure out where to go. In Journey's world there is plenty of wandering to do, but outside of trekking from spot to spot, there are puzzles to solve, collectibles to find, and vistas to marvel at.

You cannot die in Journey. There are no lives to be found. You can have stumbling points along the way, such as a puzzle that stumps you for a few moments or a fierce wind that blows you back unless you are behind an object, but death is not a destination in Journey.

Your robed avatar comes across a scarf on his or her pilgrimage. Through finding and acquiring these white glowing spheres, your scarf's length extends, allowing you more flight time.

You don't have to go your journey alone. Along the way you will most likely encounter other players, though their names will not be revealed, and you cannot communicate with them through traditional means such as voice chat. You need not assist one another if you do not wish to-- you can journey alone and ignore all those who come across your path. However, there's a bit of a connection emotionally that you honestly get with other players. Though you cannot speak directly either with text or voice, you grow an attachment to each other as you both go on your lengthy journey to the mountaintop together. This companionship from someone literally anonymous makes for a very intriguing and engaging dynamic.

Communication in Journey is limited to eliciting a dull chime from your robed figure. Not only is this used as a signaling device for your traveling companion, but it serves as a means to turn brittle monochrome strands of cloth into wavy red banners, allowing you to continue making progress towards your mountaintop destination-- a destination that will take at maximum a few hours to reach.

Journey is a stunning creation that begs for players to stop and take a long lasting glimpse at the many sensational environments within the game's world. From sunsets that glisten and reflect off the blustering sands to indoor ruins that resonate with a cool color pattern, Journey is indeed a sight to behold. The dynamic soundtrack of the game essentially plays as you play-- chiming in when certain locations are reached, or when specific actions occur.

So many times mainstream reviewers say things like "this experience stayed with me for weeks after playing" or some other overly emotional statement, and I generally perceive that to be absolute bullshit. With Journey, while it's nowhere close to something I would call some existential emotional experience, it does deliver a game with a sense of companionship that I had never felt before prior to Journey-- a form of companionship towards an anonymous person whose name you don't even know until the journey has ended. Beyond that awesome feeling, Journey is, simply put, a well made title that leans more towards artistic interactive entertainment rather than just being another downloadable game on the PlayStation Store. It's the type of title that I'd love to see more of in this industry, and why the indie scene excites me so much. If titles from indies get even half as good as Journey, we'll have a lot to love in the future.

[SPC Says: 9.0/10]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SuperPhillip Central's Top 100 Games of All Time (70-61)

On June 5, SuperPhillip Central turned five years old. We're celebrating big the only way we know how, with a list of our favorite 100 games of all time. SuperPhillip Central's staff has come together to come up with this list. These don't necessarily have to be the best or most influential, but they are indeed our favorites. Coming up with an order for these games has been an immense challenge. We're sure you won't agree with our order-- heck, we don't even agree with our order. That said, we hope you'll at least agree with our picks, and if you don't, at least you can read our rationale for our choices. Regardless, for ten weeks, we will be counting down our favorite games of all time. Please join us for this great undertaking. Let's get to the countdown!

70) Viewtiful Joe (PS2, GCN)

Our favorite project that came from the sorely missed Clover Studios was Viewtiful Joe, a game starring a gigantic movie buff transported into Movie Land to rescue his girlfriend. It seems oftentimes with games a striking as Viewtiful Joe that it is either a choice between style or substance. Well, Viewtiful Joe manages to strike a fine balance between style and substance, with its deep and rewarding combat system, also used to solve puzzles. Viewtiful Joe was a game that didn't take itself seriously, was challenging, and possessed a gorgeous cel-shaded art style that looks just as tremendous today as it did when it launched back in 2003. This side-scrolling beat-em-up is truly viewtiful.

69) Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

The latest entry in the Fire Emblem franchise is also the one that makes it on our list of favorite games. Fire Emblem: Awakening gave players a starring role in the wartime events of the game. Alongside Chrom and a wide array of compelling characters, you participated in tactical battles to determine the fate of the world. Awakening was a great step towards inviting newcomers to the series with its casual mode. This mode, unlike most other Fire Emblem games, allowed party members to return to your party after being defeated in battle. No worries, however, as the normal rules where death was permanent were still there. Fire Emblem: Awakening sported excellent cutscenes, a brilliant soundtrack, and many hours upon hours of strategic gameplay for all to enjoy.

68) Breath of Fire (SNES, GBA)

One of the earliest RPGs we can remember enjoying was Breath of Fire. Now, it has since been surpassed by many of its contemporaries, but we still hold a special place in our hearts for the game. After his hometown was set ablaze and his sister was taken from the village, Ryu went on a journey to rid the land of the sinister Dark Dragon Clan, which has caused nothing but death and destruction in its wake. Ryu's journey in Breath of Fire would have him come cross seven unique characters, some human, some animal, some half of each. Breath of Fire was a collaboration between Capcom (who owns the IP) and Squaresoft, and it remains an excellent RPG to play. After all, who wouldn't want to transform into a powerful fire-breathing dragon?

67) GoldenEye 007 (N64)

A game that was years in the making, originally going to be modeled after games like Virtua Cop, GoldenEye 007 is seen as one of the most important games in first-person shooter history. The reason for this is that it single-handedly made it clear that the genre could work on home consoles, outside of its normal grounds, on the PC. While many shooters have outdone GoldenEye 007 since (one of which will be on this list in several weeks), there is still no denying how fantastic Rare's Nintendo 64 James Bond project is. The game had players assume the role of James Bond, completing missions through satisfying objectives (the harder the difficulty meant a greater amount of objectives to complete), and blowing away any enemy that got in the way. By far the most endearing part of GoldenEye 007 was the intricate multiplayer mode, where four players could shoot and snipe one another in a handful of well designed arenas. When it comes to James Bond games, nobody does it better than GoldenEye 007.

66) Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii U)

The thrill of the hunt hit the Wii U, and did so in a big way. Essentially an expansion pack to the Wii game, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate took monster hunting to its best heights yet. Being able to hop online and team up with up to three other players (with voice chat included) to take down some massive beast was something that was absolutely exciting. Monster Hunter was always a series you could lose 300 hours to, and MH3U was no different, as you could grind monsters to get that much desired rare drop to make that much desired rare suit of armor or weapon. If you're the type of gamer who button mashes his or her own way through games, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will not be kind to you. That said, if you're willing to learn the ropes, MH3U is a seemingly infinitely rewarding game and the definitive Monster Hunter experience.

65) Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)

Castlevania's debut on the Nintendo DS was a cause for celebration, as Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow delivered with its action-adventure gameplay, RPG-style leveling up and loot, and an immense amount of souls to capture. These said souls were collected by defeating enemies. Sure, you had to grind certain ones to finally get that hard-to-obtain soul, but at least you'd be leveling up in the process. Dawn of Sorrow made it so it's hard for us to play a Castlevania or Metroid game on any other system due to the fact that the map was always in sight on the bottom screen while the gameplay action took place on top. And how about those bosses? Such behemoth-sized creatures, each with their own difficult patterns to learn and master. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow may not the perfect Castlevania experience, but it's one of our favorite nonetheless.

64) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, XBX, PC)

Welcome to the jungle-- the concrete jungle, that is. The Grand Theft Auto series has had plenty of groundbreaking games, but our personal favorite would have to be Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The sheer size of the state of San Andreas was absolutely massive, containing three large cities, multiple towns, and a wide range of topography, from deserts to mountains, to rolling hills. We loved the customization options of C.J., making him feel like an extension of ourselves rather than a player we were merely controlling. We loved the wackiness of missions and the humor, both of which were toned down in Grand Theft Auto IV (one reason we don't like that game as much). The mission variety was stellar, the characters were entertaining (and had one that we couldn't wait to get revenge on, Officer Tenpenny), and the story kept us engaged from C.J.'s not-so-humble beginnings on Grove Street to the very end. We are chomping at the bit to return to Los Santos with Grand Theft Auto V when it releases this September.

63) Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver (DS)

Remakes of the Game Boy Color classics, Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver, Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver allowed budding Pokemaniacs to revisit the land of Johto, battling and catching Pokemon, duking it out with fierce gym leaders and other Pokemon trainers, and exploring the many cities, towns, caverns, routes and destinations with their Pokemon pals. The desire to catch 'em all was still prevalent, and with more Pokemon than ever before (at the time) to collect and trade, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver remain one of our favorite duos of Pokemon titles, if only for the nostalgia of returning to Johto. We cannot wait for the new generation of Pokemon to hit this October with Pokemon X and Pokemon Y.

62) Animal Crossing (GCN)

The first Animal Crossing game actually released in Japan on the Nintendo 64, known as Animal Forest. What we know as Animal Crossing on GameCube in the West was a ported version of Animal Forest, a game that released in 2001. We're not complaining, however, as Animal Crossing is one of our favorite GameCube titles. It was the only game in the series to offer a grid-based town structure, it had a massive amount of dialogue compared to its successors, and it featured NES games to collect and even play. We will probably always hold the original Animal Crossing on a pedestal because of our nostalgia for the game-- fondly thinking of that summer the game released where we lost hundreds of hours playing it. Animal Crossing can become quite the addiction, so be warned if you ever feel like trying out the series. It may seem innocent enough, but you can (and probably will) get hooked.

61) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)

Metal Gear Solid 2 was a fun but flawed game, and we did enjoy our time with it. However, its sequel would blow it away to just a mere memory in our minds. Once that James Bond-esque opening credits and accompanying theme started playing, we knew we were in for another one of Hideo Kojima's wild rides. We find the third installment of the series, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, to be the best of the bunch. The story was one that didn't fly too far south for our liking. (We're looking at you, Metal Gear Solid 4). In fact, we positively loved almost every minute of it, especially that heart string-tugging ending. Snake Eater's world was much more expansive than past games, and that meant Snake's stealth repertoire was the largest it had ever been, especially when you consider all of the camouflage options available to him. Last year, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released on the Nintendo 3DS, and while that version is without a doubt the inferior one compared to all others, we played it anyway just to have an excuse to play through Naked Snake's story once more.


Part four of our list of top 100 games of all time is in the books. Next Wednesday we'll be listing games 60-51 of our sensational five year anniversary celebration countdown!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Metal Slug Anthology (Wii, PS2, PSP) Retro Review

SuperPhillip Central celebrated its five year anniversary this month. In 2006, the Metal Slug series saw its ten year anniversary. With that anniversary came the release of Metal Slug Anthology for PS2, PSP, and Wii.

Metal Slug's Solid

In 1996, the original Metal Slug stormed onto Neo-Geo arcade machines, offering large waves of enemies to blast through as you run and gun through multiple stages. The fun of the series comes from being a fast-paced 2D side-scrolling shoot-em-up with easy controls that were simple enough to learn but gameplay that was tough to master. Ten years and after multiple games in the series, Metal Slug Anthology has found its way onto the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Nintendo Wii (marking the first time since the Super Nintendo that SNK Playmore has published a game on a Nintendo home console).

Metal Slug Anthology contains seven titles from the series: Metal Slug, Metal Slug 2, Metal Slug X-- a remake of Metal Slug 2 with new enemy placement and challenges, Metal Slug 3, Metal Slug 4, Metal Slug 5, and Metal Slug 6. The games are a simple run and gun-style affair playable with two characters. You begin with a handgun, but new weapons can be found along the way, though these have a limited amount of ammunition. Such weapons available include the laser gun, the shotgun and my personal favorite, the flamethrower. Torch 'em, baby!

Mow through wave after wave of enemies.
Playing through the Metal Slug games in order is recommended, if only to see how the series evolved over time, adding new features, removing others for a more cohesive and fun gameplay experience.

The original Metal Slug introduced the basics and laid the foundation for its many sequels. The game is basic, having players run through linear levels, shooting anything and everything that moves. Hell, you can even shoot the environment on occasion, usually revealing hidden rewards like new weapons and point bonuses. Unlike most run and gun games, such as Contra, running into an enemy does not equal death. In fact, you can actually get up close and melee an enemy to death with a well placed slice of the knife. Levels culminate with a boss, a much larger and more pattern-centric entity.

Each level concludes with a big bad boss.
Metal Slug 2 brought with it new weapons in the form of the laser gun, as well as character transformations. One can become a mummy or even obese, slowing down their movements considerably. Metal Slug X is a remixed version of the sequel, offering remastered music, changes to the times of day of stages, and new enemy counts and enemy placements.

When traveling on foot is too taxing,
hop in a vehicle and bring on the pain!
By far my favorite game of the Metal Slug Anthology collection is Metal Slug 3. Sure, the last level goes on and on to ridiculous lengths, but the branching paths of levels make for a game that has significantly more replay value than any other game on the package. All paths lead to the same end boss for that level, but the difficulty and items gathered differ from path to path.

Your eyes do not deceive you: he is riding 
a laser-shooting elephant. Awesome.
After the drastic addition of branching paths, Metal Slug 4 went back towards a road of safety. The only real upgrades were double heavy machine guns as an available weapon and the ability to transform into a monkey. As with Metal Slug 4, Metal Slug 5 played it safe, offering a side dash and nothing really more to the gameplay. Metal Slug 6 rounds out the collection.

The Metal Slug games are really challenging titles, but with the Metal Slug Anthology collection, there is an option to make one's amount of continues unlimited. You still have to stay alive until the end of a level if you want to rescue any POWs for a substantial amount of points, but this way even the worst 2D run and gun player can reach the endings of each of the seven Metal Slug games. That's not the end of the options, either. There's also multiple difficulties (which differ the amount of lives you get to work with) and the ability for rapid fire.

You're free, Mr. POW! Run and spread joy!
Collections are generally supposed to bring more to the table than just a set of unaltered games. Metal Slug Anthology offers an art gallery, which players can spend medals they earn through playing the games to unlock concept art from each game. They can also unlock songs to listen to in the music player. PSP owners can take the music and save it to a memory stick to be played outside of the collection. They also get exclusive wallpapers as well. Of course, seven games is worth the price of admission alone, but it's nice to see extra content available for those who wish to get the most out of the compendium of run and gun games.

There is no weight limit on this ship of destruction!
There are three versions of Metal Slug Anthology: one for PlayStation 2, one for PSP, and one for Nintendo Wii. The latter version has some questionable design decisions, such as requiring the player to shake the Wii Remote to toss grenades, having to hold the Wii Remote upright on menus but vertically during the actual games, and there is no Classic Controller support to be found. Meanwhile, the PSP version comes with the aforementioned extras, but it requires two PSPs for multiplayer. The PlayStation 2 version seems to be the best of the bunch, but the PAL version has a delay that is quite noticeable when buttons are pressed.

Take the fight underwater.
Just wait 30 minutes after eating.
Regardless of which version of the game interests you, you really cannot go wrong with Metal Slug Anthology. The collection is a nice compendium of some of the best run and gun side-scrolling shoot-em-ups on the market. Some Metal Slug games are better than others, but they are all worth playing. The addition of a beginner-friendly option for unlimited lives means all can enjoy the games and not just seasoned veterans. If Metal Slug Anthology was an army, it would be my recommendation to enlist in it.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]