Friday, July 18, 2014

500th Review! - Shovel Knight (Wii U eShop, 3DS eShop, PC) Review

It's been a long time coming, but SuperPhillip Central has made it to its 500th review! In just over six years, we've managed to compile an exhaustive list of in-depth reviews for our readers to enjoy. Here's to 500 more! First, however, let's check out the subject of review #500. It's Shovel Knight, a Kickstarter-backed action platformer that takes inspiration from a myriad of classic gaming sources. Here's our review.

The great kind of "shovelware"

Announced for Kickstarter early last year, it seems like we've been waiting eons for Shovel Knight to finally release. That could be because every time the release date approached, the game seemed to suffer a slight delay. Now, Shovel Knight is out and in the hands of the reviewers and consumers alike. Was the agonizing wait for the game worth it?

Prior to the events of the game, Shovel Knight and Shield Knight, fierce warriors who often fought together, explored the Tower of Fate. However, both succumbed to the evil energy within the tower. Once Shovel Knight came to, the tower is seen sealed and his beloved Shield Knight is trapped inside. A grieving Shovel Knight puts an end to his adventuring days and goes into seclusion, but in this time, the evil Enchantress rises, causing havoc and mayhem across the land. The Tower of Fate unseals in the process, leading Shovel Knight to unsheathe his shovel and return to the fight.

The opening level introduces you to the mechanics
of the game, as a good opening level should.
Shovel Knight's tale may be simple much like the stories of the gaming era it emulates, but it achieves a plot that will make players want to see the end. This end is a greatly touching and heartfelt one that will make you applaud the execution of it.

Shovel Knight is essentially a love letter to the 8-bit era of gaming. The game uses a strict NES-style color palette, levels are designed like similarly to the classic Mega Man games, and Shovel Knight can even use his shovel as a Pogo stick, a necessary tactic for some levels, like Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales. This is all topped with a presentation that would make the game fit perfectly on Nintendo's first home console, wonderful parallax scrolling, a catchy and inspired chiptune soundtrack by Jake Kaufman, and all of that without the sprite flickering that came with the territory of NES and Famicom titles.

Get flashbacks to Zelda II with
the game's duo of towns.
Shovel Knight himself is a treasure collecting fool, breaking blocks, defeating foes, and open treasure chests. The gold earned from doing these tasks can be used to purchase helpful new relics (magic attacks that do various things), new armor, new shovel upgrades, and increases to his health and magic. There's never a Game Over screen to be seen. Whenever Shovel Knight dies, a portion of the gold he has on hand is removed. It can be collected once more if the player reaches the point where death took place, but die before reaching it and it's gone for good. However, gold is rather easy to accumulate throughout the game, so it's never an immensely harsh penalty.

The level variety is amazing.
Going through the game's various levels, each selected from a Super Mario Bros. 3-like world map, plays out like a Mega Man level. Each level is home to one of eight boss characters and has its own hook, accompanying obstacles, and hazards playing off said hook. Treasure Knight's level is a mostly submerged affair with anchors that rise and fall, perfect for platforming off of them, whereas Polar Knight's level features slippery platforms that are easy to slide off of for the uninitiated.

The king will be dead.
Long live Shovel Knight!
Outside of these eight levels, there's smaller challenge levels that each use one of the purchased relics throughout to create some dastardly challenges. The side content is there for those who wish to indulge in it, and that's a nice inclusion.

Players will want to scour each level repeated times not just for gold, but also for Shovel Knight's only collectible, song scrolls of which there are about 45 to gather. These are placed in some of the trickiest to find and/or survive sections of the game, and finding all of them is a task that you can certainly pat yourself on the back for doing.

Furthermore, if you REALLY want to pat yourself on the back or get that oft-coveted gamer cred, you should try to complete all of the game's feats. These achievements are unlocked for performing actions throughout Shovel Knight that you wouldn't ordinarily try to do otherwise. From beating the game in an impressive hour-and-a-half to completely a no-death run, Shovel Knight has tasks that are certainly not for the timid. This just further expands on the longevity of the game, and it's very much welcomed.

What a big blade! Are you
compensating for something?
Perhaps the only real issues with Shovel Knight is its length (taking but a handful hours to initially beat) and how it's not particularly ambitious. It's basically Mega Man with melee attacks instead of long-range buster shots. Regardless, at the same token, it's clear that Shovel Knight and its developer Yacht Club Games were really never striving to push the genre forward and meant for it to be a homage to classic 8-bit games. It's with this that the studio most certainly succeeded.

Shovel Knight borrows a page out
of Scrooge McDuck's playbook.
Shovel Knight plays perfectly and it really harks back to a more gameplay-oriented era in gaming. While it is definitely inspired by classics like Castlevania, Mega Man, and more, Yacht Club Games were able to victoriously give Shovel Knight a voice all on its own, and this voice is loud, proud, and intricately designed. Shovel Knight was without question designed with lots of love, designed with lots of passion for old school gaming, and designed from a gameplay-first philosophy. It's a game that any fan of action platformers will definitely dig.

[SPC Says: 9.5/10]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rank Up! - Mario Golf

The British Open begins today, so in celebration of this, SuperPhillip Central has a list of our favorite Mario Golf games. Time for our usual Rank Up! segment, where we organize a series of games from our least favorite to our most loved, all for your reading and viewing pleasure. There's six games we'll be weeding through, so get ready to take to the links and enjoy this golf-centric edition of Rank Up! Here's which six we'll be covering today:

NES Open Tournament Golf (NES)
Mario Golf (N64)
Mario Golf (GBC)
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GCN)
Mario Golf: Advance Tour (GBA)
Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)

6) NES Open Tournament Golf (NES)

Back in the day, NES Open Tournament Golf was an innovator in the genre. It used many of the gameplay elements that modern golf games use today, such as the multiple click gauge system to set up shots. You had to factor in things like wind velocity, terrain, and club choice to make the best possible shot you could. While not amazing nowadays, NES Open Tournament Golf is a highly functional if not bare bones take on what can be a really loved and really despised game at the same time. It all depends on how the golf gods treat you on the links. 

5) Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GCN)

Featuring seven courses, the latter half of which implemented more zany Mario and Mushroom Kingdom themes and obstacles, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour was a fantastic take on the sport with Mario and company. A course set around Peach's castle? Check. Chain Chomps as hazards? Check. Warp pipes to offer a shortcut to the hole? You got it. The basic fundamentals of Toadstool Tour worked well, and the options included meant players would be golfing for dozens upon dozens of hours. Some little annoyances get in the way, such as questionable camera decisions, where characters like Yoshi would have their snouts blocking the hole during the already tricky short putts, and a weak single player offering meant solo golfers wouldn't enjoy the game as much as with friends. That said, Toadstool Tour was a tour de force for arcade golf and would lay the foundation for future sequels.

4) Mario Golf (GBC)

If you're looking for an even more packed and content-rich golf game, look no further than the Game Boy Color's version of Mario Golf. It put players in the shoes of one of four custom characters, learning the ins and outs of the glorious game of golf. Players participated in tournaments and match play contests in order to earn experience points to level up their characters, granting longer drives and more intricate swinging types. Mario Golf on the Game Boy Color offered four unique 18-hole courses, and an abundance of unlockables such as new modes and mini-games to test out one's skills. What it lacks in presentation compared to the other games on this list, Mario Golf on Game Boy Color more than makes up for in a divine amount of gameplay hooks, challenge, and fun.

3) Mario Golf: Advance Tour (GBA)

Take all that we loved about Mario Golf on the Game Boy Color and make it look much better, and you have Mario Golf: Advance Tour for the Game Boy Advance. There were tons of questing (yes, quests in a golf game) to take part in, matches to complete, tournaments to reach the top in, and experience to earn from all of them, used to level up your character in the process. This was the all the while teaching players all about the basics of golf, such as taking in the terrain, lie, and wind speed into consideration, as well as adding impact to shots, like topspin and backspin. Throw in a charming aesthetic that was heavily reminiscent of Golden Sun (it was by the same developer using the same graphical engine, after all), and you have a top-tier handheld golfing experience.

2) Mario Golf (N64)

If you're looking for a golf game with plenty of content, the original Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 shines brightly. It introduced concepts that would be used in most future iterations of the series, including standbys like Tournament mode, a robust multiplayer mode, and Ring Shot. Astonishingly enough, the Nintendo 64's Mario Golf was the only installment of the series to feature mini-golf of any type. Anyhow, Mario Golf came with six individual courses that didn't go absolutely crazy with the Mario motif, though certain courses did go outside typical design. We're looking at you, golf green in the center of a deep canyon and that course elevated upwards into the sky (i.e. Boo Valley). Through Match Play, Ring Shot, and collecting birdie badges, new characters were unlocked, and you could use the Transfer Pak to bring your Game Boy Color custom golfer to the N64 version. It all adds up to a golf game that we still treasure and hold great nostalgia to. It helps that Mario Golf on the N64 has the gameplay and features to back it all up.

1) Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)

After a long hiatus of ten years, the Mario Golf franchise made its glorious return! The RPG mode of past Mario Golf games might have been absent in this 3DS iteration, but Castle Club was a nice alternative, offering ways to have your Mii become an all-star through online regional and worldwide tournaments, practicing the fundamentals of your golf game through specialized modes, and unlocking new costumes from costume challenges and completing various in-game tasks like getting three hole-in-ones. Mario Golf: World Tour came packed with three traditional 18-hole courses (and one 18-hole course that challenged players with its all par 3 holes), but what far and away made the package wonderfully worthwhile was the addition of six Mushroom Kingdom-inspired courses, such as teeing off in Peach Gardens or even golfing underwater in Cheep Cheep Lagoon. The inclusion of online play and DLC meant the experience lasted a long time, and weekly tournaments were an excellent reason to keep coming back for more. It's for these reasons why our favorite Mario Golf happens to be the Nintendo 3DS's World Tour.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Most Overlooked Wii U Games - Part One

Now, I know what you're thinking-- "Most overlooked Wii U games? Isn't that all of them?!" Well, hardy-har-har to you! Unlike previous editions where we delve into games that sold poorly or didn't get much fanfare by critics, we're focusing on Wii U games that weren't just ignored by the mainstream (which is common with a failing console), but those that didn't even generate much buzz within the closed-in circle of Wii U owners. Which five games fit that bill just nicely? No time like the present to jump in and see.

Game & Wario

A collection of mini-games that shows promise and some potential in what the Wii U GamePad can be used for, Game & Wario is an eccentric batch of games that flew under the radar, pegged as "just another mini-game collection" by Wii U owners. While the title didn't wow as much with its GamePad usage as Nintendo Land or Wii Party U, nor does it offer as robust a number of multiplayer options, Game & Wario managed to entertain through most of its 12+ mini-games. Some of our favorite good times from the collection come from the Island multiplayer mini-game, where you launch Fronks from the GamePad onto floating targets worth varying amounts of points. Then there's Sketch, which is Pictionary gone berserk. Game & Wario has only since gotten some attention due to its inclusion as a Platinum/Gold member reward in the North American Club Nintendo program.

Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games

Mario and Sonic's trip to Sochi was far less problematic than what real life Olympic athletes needed to endure. With an abundant array of event types, new and returning events, and incredibly cool Dream Events like playing a game of golf with gigantic curling stones or playing hockey in Delfino Plaza, Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games went all out for its bid for a gold medal. By far the coolest part of Mario & Sonic's fourth Olympic outing is all of the unlockable gear, music, and costumes for your Mii that were tied to achievements. There was an entire board of things to unlock for performing specific tasks within the game. Unfortunately, consumers and Wii U owners just didn't care. Consumers who purchased the Wii Olympic games did not make the trip over to the Wii U, while owners of the console didn't care for the series to begin with. It all adds up to Mario & Sonic's latest getting a cold reception, and we're talking a Siberian cold reception, not one of those mild weather Sochi cold receptions.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures

With Pac-Man's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, it only makes sense to bring up the Pac's latest game, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, based off the computer-generated graphics cartoon of the same name. Perhaps alarms are flashing and ringing inside of your head as you've come to the conclusion that we're talking about a licensed game here. No worries, kemosabe. The game is actually quite good, albeit a bit short. It certainly won't floor anyone, but at the same token, there's far worse games out there and definitely far, far worse games based off of a license. In Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, you play as Pac-Man, gobbling up ghosts, leaping across platforms, and using various costumes and transformations when the situation calls for it. I know I lit up the game's Miiverse community with screenshots and wry commentary and got more than my money's worth. Given how you can snag a copy for around twenty bucks as of this writing, it only makes sense to Pac-Man's latest a whirl.

Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure

The first Wii U Scribblenauts, Scribblenauts Unlimited, had the luxury of launching with the Wii U system, where getting the attention of prospective buyers was an easier task. About a year into the system's life, Scribblenauts Unmasked soared onto the Wii U scene with little hubbub within the community. Was it an issue of the wrong release at the wrong time? Was the audience for the game simply not there? Was the gaming community at large just tired of the franchise? It's a question that's as much of an enigma as one of the Riddler's own puzzles. For those who did hop aboard with Maxwell and an army of DC heroes and villains, they received a charming game which tested the limits of players' imaginations.

Resident Evil: Revelations

The Resident Evil series has seen better days. After Resident Evil 6, the series is a hulking, vile, stinking blob, which could easily be confused for one of the franchise's macabre creatures. However, there was something recently of great quality for the series, Resident Evil: Revelations. The original game premiered on the Nintendo 3DS, and as it has been a tradition lately, the handheld game received an HD upgrade six months or so later. The Wii U version did not receive much hype outside of small circles within the Wii U fan base, and heck, the other versions of Revelations hardly received much in the way of hype within their particular console fan bases either. It's disappointing, as Revelations is a direction that we liked seeing the franchise go in. It didn't capture the exact feeling of fear and dread that came from walking through the original Resident Evil's mansion or the sequel's Raccoon City, but it did play more similarly to those games than the much more action-oriented 5 and 6. We greatly liked that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U (Wii U) Review

This next review is of a game that is fundamentally fantastic gameplay and presentation-wise. If that's the case, then why do I hesitate in recommending Need for Speed: Most Wanted U? Find out with this review.

Do U Have the Need, The Need for Speed?

Need for Speed: Most Wanted released in 2012 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Well, technically the second iteration of Need for Speed: Most Wanted released in 2012, while the original game of the same name but with different content released in 2005. You still following me? Well, no worries. Just know that the Wii U port of the 2012 game released in March of 2013. It was sadly damned from launch thanks to the Wii U port being full retail price while the other versions were already budget price by the time. Throw in the publisher's disinterest in further creating games for the Wii U, and you have a recipe for disaster. That said, the end result of Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is a port from a third-party that smartly uses the Wii U and its features in an intelligent and entertaining way that makes it worth looking into.

Don't mind me. I'm just
soaking in the sun.
Welcome to Fairhaven City. Your objective is very simple: race and win against ten of the most wanted racers in town. That's the limit of the motivation the game provides you with in order to accomplish your task. While some may find that off-putting, I found that Need for Speed: Most Wanted U's simple premise made it so I didn't feel obligated to focus on winning races or anything that like that. It gave me freedom to explore Fairhaven on my terms and whenever I wanted.

Do you mind? I'm trying to change lanes
at a dangerous 109 mph!
Driving through Fairhaven is a lovely experience. You have your downtown and park areas in the center of the map, your industrial areas to the west, and your mountainous region to the north and northeast. There's a wide array of terrain to drive upon, and it makes exploring Fairhaven a fun and variety-filled place to burn rubber in.

If you want, you can just roam freely about Fairhaven without much issue. Of course, speeding an exorbitant amount higher than the posted limit will get the cops on your tail. Then it's a rush to get out of their zone, hide in a less traveled space, and hope to goodness that the po-po (as the kids call it) don't see you, lest you wish to start the pursuit all over again, which isn't that bad considering how fun running from chasing cops is in Most Wanted U.

All a police barricade says to me
is "Time to test the body on this baby."
The Wii U version's Easy Drive function allows you to use the GamePad in a myriad amount of ways. You can turn traffic on and off with the tap of a button, mess with every citizen's mind by changing between day and night on a whim, change cars (though you can still discover jackspots at your leisure-- i.e. places where you can switch between the car parked there and the one you're currently driving instantly), designate the GamePad screen with a helpful map, or make pursuing cops spin out with one push of your finger.

The place on the left is great
for auto repairs (and losing the cops).
With the Easy Drive function, you can also select events immediately rather than drive to its starting destination. Different events earn new parts for your given vehicle, pending on which place you come away with, such as off-road tires, a stronger chassis to ward off crashes, and nitro to boost like a bad mother--watch your mouth.

Change Fairhaven from day to night
with a press of the GamePad's screen.
There's a small selection of different event types to choose from, but what is there tends to be entertaining. Whether you're getting involved with circuit or sprint races, trying to achieve a high maximum average speed along your path to the finish, or trying to lose the boys in blue that want nothing more than to take you in, you earn Speed Points simply for completing them.

Have car, will travel. Have race, will win.
In fact, Speed Points can be earned for doing a lot of things within Fairhaven. Having a lengthy and successful hot pursuit with the Fairhaven P.D. earns points, as does flying though special billboards plastered throughout the town. If you ever wanted to crash through a billboard with EA's pompous and obnoxious little logo on it, as if saying, "Suck my bumper, EA" right to it, then you'll have that chance, finally! There's also speed cameras that record your top speed as you zoom by them, security gates to destroy, and the aforementioned jackspots to uncover.

Take THAT for making Dead Space 3
less horror and more generic!
The really cool part about all of this-- the races, the events, the collectibles-- is that everything is put on a multitude of leaderboards between you and your friends. It's an asynchronous type of multiplayer where you can see your friends' top times and scores on each event and collectible doodad (such as how far you car traveled in the air from a ramp, through a billboard, and onto the ground) and try to outdo their times and stats. It's a miniature competition of sorts, which nets you Speed Points for besting a given friend's time or statistic.

Destroyed billboards will be replaced by
pictures of the Most Wanted in Mii form.
What good are Speed Points for, though? Other than being yet another way to compete with friends without them being online at the same time (but don't worry-- there is online multiplayer to be had), as you earn more and more Speed Points, you get the opportunity to race against one of the Most Wanted. These one-on-one races usually have the police on your tail, trying to ram you off-course and showing little regard to themselves or anyone else for that matter. Once a race has been won (you can challenge any Most Wanted opponent or do over any event you want), your final goal is to shut that racer's car down. A nice takedown is in order in the form of smashing your car into theirs until it can no longer function.

One word of warning with races in particular is that when you're going at such fast speeds, it can be mighty difficult to see what is coming up ahead until it's too late. Be prepared to crash and moan each time your car slams into even the tiniest obstacle until you learn the city and each race's path well. It's especially so since the crash animation seems to mock you with how long it takes to finish.

Get ready to see the word "crashed"
appear a lot more than you might be used to.
Another issue that is far more severe with the Wii U port of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is how the game can occasionally (i.e. more than I would like) freeze the Wii U system into a hard lock, with the only course of action is to unplug the system from the back. Sadly, these very serious freezing issues will never be patched, it seems, due to EA pulling all support from Nintendo's system. It's a shame, as this game would be much easier to recommend were it not for these hard locks.

As mentioned earlier, Need for Speed: Most Wanted U allows for friends and total strangers to ride online and compete or cooperate with one another for some multiplayer mayhem. To be more specific, up to six players can participate in a Speed List, a customized schedule that shows what events players and their rides will be thrust into. Speed Lists can make multiplayer rounds go as long as an hour, so be sure to have the required time to fully enjoy these. Such Speed List events can be king of the hill-type matches, simple races, and so much more. The built-in microphone of the GamePad additionally allows for fun smack talk and cooperative chatter to occur while speeding through Fairhaven.

My eyes... They can't handle all the beauty...
Fairhaven is a spectacular looking city, and the Wii U does it supreme justice. The city's details such as signage, building architecture, and more all are heavily detailed, offering a personality to Fairhaven that few racing games can match. By far, though, the winner here is the gorgeous lighting and the many effects coming from it. Seeing the sunset shine and sparkle off a wet city street is just jaw-dropping in how beautiful it looks. Car models also benefit from looking tried and true to their real-life counterparts. All in all, Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is a fantastic game for the eyes to view.

A game so pretty that you'll want to
make as many Kodak moments as you can.
Outside of the immensely disappointing freezing and hard lock issues tied to the game (which are a big detriment to the overall package for me), Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is what I would consider a definitive version of the original 2012 game. It comes with a lot more features, many of which are entirely optional and don't harm the overall experience if not used. Fairhaven itself is a joy to explore and simply cruise around in, too. What makes the game brilliant, however, is both the simultaneous and asynchronous multiplayer modes that benefit both friendly and unfriendly rivalries online. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is a fun and fast racing game on a system with next to none to call its own.

[SPC Says: 7.5/10]

Monday, July 14, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Wonders of the World Map Edition

Happy Monday morning to you all! On this week's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs we make an ode to the world map. Oh, world map, you connect us to each and every place, town, dungeon, and area within a game. Sometimes you allow us to explore you, while other times we just move from point A to point B. Regardless of which, we do appreciate you ever so much.

Featured games this week include The Last Remnant, Ni no Kuni, and Breath of Fire IV.

v661. The Last Remnant (360) - The Known World

We start off with one of several RPG's that were made exclusively for the Xbox 360 early in its life. The push towards JRPG's was of course meant to bring Microsoft's new console into the homes of as many Japanese gamers and families as possible. While in the short-term it did its job slightly, overall the experiment led to the Xbox name continuing to not have much of a presence in the land of the rising sun.

v662. Tales of Phantasia (SFC, PS1, GBA, PSP) - Raising a Curtain

Tales of Phantasia originally released on the Super Famicom in the nineties. The game would see a release on the PlayStation and later the PlayStation Portable. In between those two PlayStation releases, Tales of Phantasia would see its first and only release in the West thanks to the help of Nintendo on the Game Boy Advance. Finally us lowly Westerners got to see what the hubbub was all about with Tales of Phantasia.

v663. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3, DS) - Field

When you have the studio behind such great anime films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke behind your video game production, you know you're playing with a stacked party, to put it in JRPG terms. Ni no Kuni originally released on the DS, but it wouldn't hit our side of the world until its PlayStation 3 remake a couple of years later. The wait was most definitely worth it if not just for the spectacle that Ni no Kuni possesses and presents to players. The Joe Hisaishi soundtrack only accentuates the awesomeness of the game's stellar presentation.

v664. Breath of Fire IV (PS1) - World Map

A quaint little number from Breath of Fire IV, this world map theme soothes with its harp and synth woodwinds. It's the perfect song to relax to as you roam the countryside, forests, mountains, beaches, and coasts of the game. Breath of Fire is a series that resonates well with the SPC staff, and we were a little disappointed in finding out that the sixth installment would not be hitting a dedicated gaming platform. That said, there's always the hope that a mobile game could turn out well.

v665. Wild ARMS 5 (PS2) - The Dry Wind Blows Over You

The last mainline release of the Wild ARMS series thus far, Wild ARMS 5 hit the PlayStation 2 like a dust storm, offering new characters and a new story but with the same awesome RPG action. Using tools in dungeons to progress is a common gameplay element in Wild ARMS as a series, as is marvelous music is a common presentation element to itself. Here's hoping we one day see a new installment in the series sooner rather than later!