Friday, May 30, 2014

Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion (3DS) Review

For our final review for our month of Nintendo 3DS game reviews, we have another Disney-related game, albeit an older one. Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, like the series of games itself, had a lot of potential, but it ultimately fails to deliver in a prominent way. Here's our verdict.

True greatness for this game is but an illusion.

The original Epic Mickey was a ridiculously hyped title that wound up being a severe disappointment. Its multiplatform sequel, did so poorly that the studio behind both games sadly closed. What a chipper way to start a Disney-related review, huh! Regardless, the team behind such Nintendo DS games like Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure and Monster Tale have worked their magic with a new game, Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for the Nintendo 3DS. This ode to the SEGA Genesis classic, Castle of Illusion, showcases the developer's tendencies once more. That is, that underneath a promising game with some great elements is a myriad of questionable design decisions that adversely affect one's enjoyment of playing the game.

Power of Illusion begins with Oswald the Rabbit contacting a relaxing Mickey Mouse through a television. He reports that a mysterious castle has appeared in Wasteland, and has seen Minnie Mouse trapped inside, along with countless other characters. Oswald urges Mickey to once again come save the day with the help of Yen Sid's magical paintbrush, of which he "borrows."

The gameplay of Power of Illusion is a bit on the slow side, and this is mostly due to two factors: Mickey Mouse's speed in general, and the constant focus on painting and removing objects into a given stage. First off, Mickey walks in a plodding pace, which takes a little getting used to, especially with typical 2D platformers having a bit of speed to them, or even a run button.

If you're looking for a game to speedrun like Mario, Mega Man, Metroid, or Sonic, you should turn your attention elsewhere to something other than this game. Power of Illusion is much more focused on the player meticulously exploring levels, coming across secrets such as various Disney characters, items, and tickets, the currency of the game.

While the painter/thinner mechanic for Power of Illusion is an interesting one, it doesn't really add that much to the gameplay. Instead, one could say that it takes away a little enjoyment from the game. The mechanic itself has object silhouettes on the bottom screen that can be tinkered with, either bringing them into existence on the top screen via painting or removing them from sight by using paint thinner. For painting, you simply trace the object as carefully as possible, while with thinner, you rub all over the object until it has disappeared.

Painting can serve a purpose like bringing forth a platform that leads Mickey to a higher area of the level in which he wouldn't otherwise be able to reach. One boss in the game requires you to paint thorny bushes into the arena so the boss foolishly collides with it instead of hitting Mickey. Conversely, the thinner can be brushed onto objects like cannons, removing them and their dangerous cannonballs which they fire so Mickey can safely pass by them.

The first half of the game really relies on you switching back and forth between actual platforming and painting/thinning objects into and out of the playing field. This constant interruption of gameplay destroys a good chunk of any sense of enjoyable pacing Power of Illusion attempts to create. However, latter levels actually use both mechanics less, so they're more entertaining to play through.

Disney Epic Mickey's handheld debut with Power of Illusion features approximately a dozen levels that are sorted across three different worlds. Each level is based off a Disney property like Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, for starters. These levels go by quite quickly, making the game a disappointingly short experience. Some longevity is brought into the mix with the Fortress, a hub where Mickey goes from room to room, satisfying the requests of Disney characters that he stumbled upon in the various levels. These requests range from giving a character an item from another character, painting something into existence for someone, or finding a lost item that is hidden in one of the game's levels. The latter makes it so you will be revisiting levels multiple times.

This immense sense of backtracking will most likely annoy a lot of players, but overall I didn't find it too tedious, as the level designs are rather well done and fun to play through. However, Mickey won't go empty-handed for doing these tasks. The rewards given to Mickey Mouse for his good deeds include things like increased health, a boost to his paint and/or thinner supply, and added strength to his physical attacks.

Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a gorgeous 2D game, with hand-drawn sprites that are amazingly detailed, parallax scrolling backgrounds, and stereoscopic 3D that makes the visual experience a feast for the eyes. The music is suitably whimsical and wondrous, offering apt themes for the various levels they are attached to. Sparse voice work, which is limited to hoots and hollers at the beginning of a character's dialogue, adds to the polished presentation of Power of Illusion.

What the presentation of this third Epic Mickey game makes is sort of a mirage of a remarkable game. Instead, it's purely an illusion-- it's a competent platformer with a few poor design decisions and problems which unfortunately affect the quality of the overall game. Is Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion a poor game? Absolutely not. Is it a spectacular game? Well, the same answer works for this question as well.

[SPC Says: 6.5/10]

Thursday, May 29, 2014

ATV Wild Ride 3D (3DSWare) Review

We turn our attention to a 3DS eShop game. ATV Wild Ride was launched near the end of the Nintendo DS system's lifespan. Now, developer Renegade Kid is giving the game a second chance in the spotlight with ATV Wild Ride 3D. How well does it play? Let's find out with our review.

Fun With a Few Bumps in the Road

Originally a Nintendo DS game that was released late in the system's life, ATV Wild Ride has received a bit of an upgrade with a release on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. From the creator of Mutant Mudds, ATV Wild Ride 3D speeds onto the 3DS with tight racing controls, entertaining online, and a low entry fee. Should you hop aboard and ride?

ATV Wild Ride 3D's solo content consists of four unique modes: World Tour, Quick Race, Freestyle, and Time Trial. World Tour has six individual tournaments to complete, each made up of a quartet of events. These aren't just simple races, though there are two of these in each tournament. The other two events of each tournament are composed of elimination races and trick challenge events. The former eliminates the racer in last place at the conclusion of each lap, while the latter forgoes the idea of racing completely, having you and your competitors performing tricks in order to gain the most points by the time the clock runs out. Performing duplicate tricks lowers how much they are worth. These modes add some much welcomed variety into ATV Wild Ride 3D's gameplay, and are the means to unlock new riders and new vehicles.

Maneuvering your ATV feels incredibly nice, and this is enhanced by the very simple to learn controls. You accelerate with A, brake with B, tap the X button to boost, and then perform tricks with the shoulder buttons. While holding either or both of the shoulder buttons, you use the Circle Pad or directional buttons to pull off various tricks. L button tricks are easier to pull off than the R buttons tricks, which, in turn, are not as risky to attempt as doing tricks with both shoulder buttons pressed down. For each successful trick you land, you gain boost energy. The riskier the trick you land, the more boost energy you gain.

However, all is not well with ATV Wild Ride 3D's racing. Tricks themselves are probably the most challenging feat to successfully accomplish in Wild Ride. In order to get the maximum amount of height off of a jump, you need to hold the Circle Pad back and move it forward at the summit of the hill. When you're in midair, you move the Circle Pad in a direction, as stated, to pull off a trick. However, unless you have the precision in your thumb of a robot, on many occasions you will deviate off course, making running into a wall instead of the open track more common of an occurrence than it should be.

There are but a handful of tracks in ATV Wild Ride 3D, based on six locations around the globe, but each track has multiple versions (reversed versions, extended versions, and so forth). They offer a mild sense of personality, truth be told.

Nonetheless, the track design is definitely hit and miss. Generally there are ample amounts of places to perform awesome, death-defying tricks off of. At the same time, some hills that are intended to provide you with a spot to trick off of simply lead you careening into the abyss-- and this is even with approaching them extremely cautiously and slowly. This isn't just true for human players, either. No, the AI also has a strong habit of doing the same thing, they sometimes get stuck on walls, and they seldom showcase actual intelligence when racing. The track design consists more of memorization than it being based off of reaction time. When you've got a giant hill in front of you with no way to see what's on the other side (perhaps it's safe, perhaps it's a bottomless pit), there's a serious design problem here.

What's also a serious design problem is the amount of clipping in the game. Objects like boulders and signs that you would think you'd smack into allow you to speed right through them. There's also very little consistency here. Some objects stop you, many others do not. It just comes off as sloppy.

For those wanting some competition from something other than programmed AI, there's online play to enjoy with racers across the globe. There's some beefs to be had here, however, such as races in progress not appearing in the lobby, and the host of races needing to back out to the lobby in order to allow new players into a game. Regardless of these inconveniences, actual races for me tended to be lag-free and the problem some racers have with kicking players out mid-race wasn't an issue.

Being a late generation Nintendo DS game originally, ATV Wild Ride 3D supports the types of graphics one would expect-- muddy visuals, simplistic polygonal characters and environments, and so on. The music that plays during races is some kind of alternative rock that gets quite annoying when the three or four songs there are repeat themselves ad infinitum. I simply turned the sound off and listened to some Tom Petty instead.

ATV Wild Ride 3D seems like a smart and inexpensive purchase for those yearning for a nice, compact handheld racer. Nevertheless, some technical and design issues make it so the game doesn't get a wholehearted recommendation from me. Like an off-road track after a downpour, there's a lot that is sloppy here. At the same time, there's a lot that is done well, too. Overall, ATV Wild Ride 3D is a ride worth taking.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Disney Magical World (3DS) Review

We've but a few more days in our Nintendo 3DS month of reviews, but have no fear! We're going to be kicking things up into overdrive these last days! Let's begin with our review of Disney Magical World for the Nintendo 3D-- wait. We already said this was our Nintendo 3DS month of reviews, so it's a bit redundant to say what system this game is for! Bah! Onto the review, dear friends!

A Whole New World

Disney is without a question a force to be reckoned with. Gobbling up Marvel Comics and then Lucasfilm, Disney seemingly has its hand in everything nowadays. From its theme parks, to its animated and live action films, to its chain of international stores, Disney is a brand that knows no bounds. That stretches into the world of video games as well. Many of us older gamers will fondly remember a time in the late '80s and early '90s where Disney and Capcom was a dream team that was, for lack of a better word, magical.

These days the quality of Disney games has waxed and waned. While there have been some successes, notably the Kingdom Hearts and Disney Infinity games, the majority of titles were less than satisfactory. After releasing to great critical and consumer success in Japan, Namco Bandai has given the localization reins of the latest Disney title, Disney Magical World, to Nintendo. The end result may just be something that you get when you wish upon a star.

Either that's my invitation, or I accidentally
sent Mickey a love letter...
Disney Magical World begins with you creating your character to explore the game world with. You can opt to use a Mii, or you can create your own custom character with the simplistic creation system. You're limited to a finite number of faces, hairstyles, and skin and eye colors. Note that your character can be altered in physical appearance after this initial process.

You're then whisked away into the city of Castleton, a magical place full of Disney all-stars. No, no, I'm not talking about crap like Hannah Montana and Cory from Cory in the House. I'm talking characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, among many others. Though the ones listed are the only characters who have voice actors attached to them, for what little spoken dialogue there is in the game.

Welcome to Castleton!
Leave your luggage with the flight attendant, please.
The main path of progression in Disney Magical World is measured by collectibles called Stickers. These are earned through completing in-game tasks, such as creating a certain number of furniture, clothing and cafe dishes, catching a set amount of fish types, clearing so-and-so episodes, and so forth. At the beginning of the game you don't have much freedom at all, but once the prologue is completed, which essentially serves as a tutorial about many of Disney Magical World's gameplay nuances, the game opens up considerably.

Aw, shucks. You're makin' me blush, guys...
Castleton serves as the main hub of Disney Magical World. You're constantly returning to this bustling community, taking requests to get a specific item for NPCs, going to your customized cafe where you can create the menu, the interior design, and even the outfits that the manager and helper (which can be made to be one of your Miis) wear! The cafe is one of your primary and paramount sources of income.

Welcome to Cafe Le Phil.
It looks like I'm wearing a grey-haired man's head.
Castleton is home to an abundance of characters that wish to assist you and make your stay in town enjoyable. Daisy Duck is the tailor of town, creating clothing, outfits, and accessories for your character. Meanwhile, Chip and Dale next door will build furniture for you, either to set up in your cafe or your own private room. Crafting clothes and furniture requires materials, and these are found all over Disney Magical World-- within the town itself, ready to be picked up, in stores, in dungeons, received from successful trades, etc. If you'd rather just cut out the middleman, Scrooge McDuck's store, operated by Huey, Dewey, and Louie, sells pieces of clothing and furniture for you to purchase. The stock changes twice a day, so there's always something new to spend your hard-earned money on.

A Stripytail Leaf? Ain't nobody
got time for that!
Apart from what's available in Castleton, as more Stickers are earned, new places and worlds open to visit, based off numerous Disney animated classics like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, and Aladdin, for starters. These worlds contain episodes that are unlocked as your Sticker count improves.

Welcome to the world of Cinderella. 
Aside from Winnie the Pooh's 100 Acre Wood's episodes, which focus on building or finding things for the various familiar denizens, the majority of episodes change up the gameplay considerably. Most notable are the myriad of dungeon crawling episodes that task you with entering linear areas, taking out enemies with your magical wand, opening treasure chests, picking up loot, and satisfying the episode conditions to progress in the game. While it's only required to complete a given episode once, it's beneficial to do so multiple times just to get materials for building furniture, making clothing, and creating dishes at your cafe. There's hundreds of different materials to obtain, and each item that can be created has a different set of materials required for it to be made.

The dungeons themselves feature simplistic action-RPG gameplay. Consider this somewhat like a "My First Dungeon Crawler" experience, which may turn off more experienced players. However, it is shockingly fun to run around the various dungeons, picking up the occasional rare material, showering enemies with magic to defeat them, beating down bosses, and doing so in style. There's a normal magic attack and a special magic attack that deals more damage and can only be used when there's some star power available. In addition to offense, a helpful evasion maneuver, performed with a tap of the R button, allows your character to gracefully get out of trouble. This is especially nice in harder dungeons where enemies are more aggressive and greater in numbers.

Abra! Kadabra! Alakazam!
You don't gain experience or levels to build your character's strength. Instead, you visit Yen Sid in Castleton to exchange materials for more powerful magical wands. For more health, you head to Daisy Duck's tailoring shop to create special themed outfits, also in exchange for materials. Stronger gear is available to you as you progress through Disney Magical World and uncover new recipes for new designs.

Still, there's a definite sense of repetitiveness in Disney Magical World. Repeating dungeons, planting crops and waiting for them to grow, grinding for and gaining materials, restocking the cafe full of dishes, saving up money for that one piece of furniture you've had your heart set on for the longest time (and the one that is required to complete a task)-- these are all things that players will go through over and over again. While it didn't bother me so much, it most certainly will to a lot of less forgiving players.

Going for a nice Sunday stroll
in the 100 Acre Wood.... on a Tuesday.
However, something that did bother me was the amount of load times present in Disney Magical World. All to their lonesome, each load time isn't very significant. Nonetheless, this is a game where you're constantly entering and exiting buildings and areas where each change of scene presents the player with a loading time. Quite frankly, it adds up and becomes rather annoying.

On the presentation side, Disney Magical World is a mixed bag of sorts. The visuals don't astound, there's readily apparent pop-in of faraway characters, the frame-rate can be unstable at times, and the 3D effect seems like h.a.n.d., the developer, had the game nearly completed when it realized, "Oh, we need to implement 3D into this 3DS game somehow." That is to say that the 3D effect is totally unimpressive. The music is suitably cheerful for this title, though the short loops will eventually get to many listeners.

It's only been five minutes,
and we're already out of honey!!
Disney Magical World is not a perfect simulation game by any stretch of the imagination, but it triumphantly stays true to the world of Disney, presenting an entertaining and engaging game to pretty much all ages (though there is a lot of reading involved, namely for material name recognition, so be warned, parents!). It's inviting, it's appropriate for a wide audience, it's packed with dozens of hours of seemingly never-ending content, and it is filled to the brim with that distinct Disney personality and charm. In the long run, my small beefs with the game does not stop Disney Magical World from being an appealing pickup for any Disney or life simulation fan.

[SPC Says: 8.5/10]

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Greatness Can Wait: Why I'm Not in the Market for a PS4... Yet.

Sony is doing quite well for itself with the PlayStation 4. The system is still in high demand, sales are well, and the company is already saying that the system is profitable at this early stage in the game. That said, the PlayStation 4 just doesn't do anything special for me right now that makes me want to plop down the cash (or in actuality, charge to my credit card) right away. I'm sure there's plenty of others like me, but let me explain my own personal reasons as to why the PlayStation 4 isn't appealing to me at this time.

My main issue with the PlayStation 4 is the total and utter lack of compelling exclusives. Let's face it-- Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack weren't that special as launch titles, and the only real game that is exclusive to the PlayStation 4, worth buying, and is of high quality is currently InFamous: Second Son. I don't think I need to say this, but I'll do so anyway-- One game does not a $400+ purchase make.

Screenshot of InFamous: Second Son
Currently, I see PS4 owners talking about multiplatform games that they are playing. I don't know about you, but I would not buy a relatively expensive, brand-new video game system for the purpose of playing games already available on consoles I already own. This is even with the added graphical and performance boosts. Ooh, I can play such and such in 60 fps instead of 30?! Where do I sign up?! My opinion is that many PS4 owners are buying multiplatform games not because they prefer the boost in performance, but because they have nothing else to play. It's a means to rationalize purchasing a $400 console with little in the way of exclusives to enjoy.

I hear and read the argument that people are buying the PlayStation 4 with the promise of games coming and the potential of the system. When are these games coming? Many titles that had been thought to be releasing this year (to be fair, no solid release date or time frame was ever given) are actually launching in 2015.

Screenshot of DriveClub
However, there's always the potential of the PlayStation 4 having a fantastic library. I can't and don't want to argue against that. I doubt it will be better than what the system's predecessors had, mostly in part due to Japanese publishers and developers working increasingly more with handhelds and mobile gaming devices, but yes, there is potential nonetheless.

Quality exclusives that make spending $400 plus how much for games is potentially what PS4 owners could get, but if I got things based on potential, I'd get a sexy girlfriend who had a great sense of humor, but on the downside had a disturbing fascination with burning down high schools. The potential there would be reforming her to be a sweet girl instead of a freaking maniac, so instead of burning down high schools, maybe I could get her to a lower level, say, like, burning down middle schools or something.

Dark humor aside, it's my honest belief that the PlayStation 4 has sadly proven that a system does not need quality exclusive games to sell well. If that were the case, the Wii U wouldn't be in the position it is now, nor would the PSP have lagged so far behind in sales to the Nintendo DS. It's a depressing thought that manifests itself inside me, and it only grows when I encounter the revelation that it's actually hype and aggressive marketing that sell gaming consoles nowadays, as the PS4 clearly shows. Games be damned, unless playing seventh generation games with prettier graphics appeals to you.

In the U.S. alone, I've been badgered with commercials and ads on television, gaming sites, magazines, and more. Whether it's a really corny commercial featuring a bunch of "gamers" singing "Perfect Day", or sponsored events and shows by Sony and the PlayStation 4.

So while it may be easily apparent that I show some bitterness towards the PlayStation 4 at this stage in the game, please do not think that I am not pleased with the system's success or that I don't ever want to get one. Personally, I'm ready to hop on board the PS4 bandwagon as soon as a new Ratchet & Clank, LittleBigPlanet, or Hot Shots Golf is announced. Well, pending there's money for it, of course.

Let me close this piece with a thought: Greatness awaits for the PlayStation 4, it's just that we really don't have a timetable for when it will be finally showing up.

Monday, May 26, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Memorial Day 2014 Edition

We at SuperPhillip Central would like to honor all of the servicemen and women who fight for our freedom, put others before themselves, and make our country proud. With that lovely sentiment out of the way, we have five new video game themes to add to our ever-expanding list of VGMs. This week we have our usual mix of marvelous VGM goodness. Such games featured this week include Mario Kart 8, Valkyria Chronicles, and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.

v631. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) - Dolphin Shoals

Mario Kart 8 releases in multiple territories this week, so why not kick off this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with some music from the game? Dolphin Shoals is a land and sea track that appears in the Star Cup of the game. It features one mean saxophone that makes this piece god tier. The music of Mario Kart 8 in general is absolutely amazing, and we can only hope Nintendo releases a soundtrack for the game in the near future... preferably on this side of the Pacific, too.

v632. Valkyria Chronicles (PS3) - Desperate Fight

Hitoshi Sakimoto has a remarkable resume of excellent compositions and soundtracks under his belt. Valkyria Chronicles is but one of these, in addition to Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, among other titles. Desperate Fight is a very dramatic track, perfect for dealing in tactical tank warfare, which Valkyria Chronicles provides in spades.

v633. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS) - The Law of Pajamaja

Yoko Shimomura certainly knows how to dazzle us with her compositions, and The Law of Pajamaja from Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is no exception. The areas in Dream Team are quite expansive, so it's great to have music that accompanies adventuring through the various lands that doesn't get grating, and even better, sound fantastic. Then again, what else could one expect from the great Yoko Shimomura?

v634. Custom Robo (GCN) - Are You Ready

We didn't particularly care for Custom Robo on the GameCube. Not even its music was that interesting, but one track that does sound nice is the theme that plays while setting up your robo figurine. It's a supremely casual theme that allows one to lie back and relax with its lovely guitar and soft sounds.

v635. Wario World (GCN) - Greenhorn Ruins

Wario World is a treasure on the Nintendo GameCube, albeit a short adventure. While we would love to go on about how we'd really enjoy seeing a new 3D Wario platformer, now is not the time. Instead, let's talk about this theme for the second level of Wario World. It's a peppy and snazzy jazz number that is perfect to play as Wario punches, kicks, and pummels foes into submission. A remixed version of this theme would later appear in the Wii title Wario Land: Shake It! for the Glitzville level of the game.