Friday, September 26, 2014

Top Ten Franchise Revivals

I've written articles asking for sequels to long-forgotten or shelved game franchises many times before in the past. However, what I haven't done yet is take those game franchises that saw actual reboots and revivals to them and were not only excellent games in their own right, but they successfully brought back attention to old characters and series. Some of these revivals returned their series to their traditional genre, but some completely turned their series upside down, for the better. These are the top ten franchise revivals of all time, as chosen by yours truly.

10) Killer Instinct (XONE)

We start off my list with the Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, originally made popular in arcades and on the Super Nintendo back in the mid-nineties. Ken Lobb, an original development team member on the original games, supervised Double Helix Games, Iron Galaxy Studios, and Rare throughout the creation of this long-anticipated revival. The end result was an even more impressive graphical beast with as many regular combos, Super Combos, and Ultra Combos as fans expected out of the series. What it lacks in content, Killer Instinct has in excellent combo-centric fighting that both genre veterans and beginners alike can enjoy.

9) Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Taking the original 1989 Prince of Persia game and putting it into a 3D perspective, albeit retooled and rebooted, is not a task one should scoff at. However, the fine minds at Ubisoft Montreal was able to do so, and not just complete the task but do so magnificently. The Prince had an immense number of athletic moves he could unleash at the press of a button, such as running along walls, scaling platforms like Nathan Drake on steroids, and leaping over wide chasms, giving Nintendo's Mario a run (or jump) for his money. The success of Sands of Time allowed Ubisoft to stretch out the franchise to three mostly well received sequels. It wasn't until a second reboot on last generation systems that put the Prince out to pasture, at least for now.

8) New Super Mario Bros. (DS)

1992's Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on Game Boy was Mario's final foray into traditional 2D platforming until 2006, a good fourteen years later. We take for granted 2D Mario games now, especially as there have been three others since with the same sterile presentation. That said, Nintendo knows how to deliver excellent, imaginative, and immaculate level design, and the New Super Mario Bros. series always amazes in that regard. Mario's return to 2D in 2006 with the Nintendo DS and New Super Mario Bros. might not be Mario's most marvelous moment in his illustrious history (I'd call it the weakest of the four NSMB games), but it put Mario's 2D escapades back in the front seat and into the limelight for one welcomed return.

7) Mega Man 9 (PSN, XBLA, WiiWare)

Speaking of taking specific series for granted, remember when we complained that there was too much Mega Man? It seemed in the mid 2000's that we, at least I, was whining how Mega Man had oversaturated the market with his games, albeit in different Mega Man series. Nowadays, Nintendo remembers Mega Man and treats him better than his own publisher, Capcom, does. There has to be a middle ground, right? Mega Man 9 brought back the Classic series of games after a long slumber. It tossed aside the updated visuals of Mega Man 7 and 8 for tried and true 8-bit visuals, and definitely a Nintendo-hard difficulty. Mega Man 9 was the series going back to its roots, allowing old fans to enjoy old school Mega Man gameplay and newcomers to see what the Blue Bomber was all about.

6) Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) 

Rare, the talented Twycross studio, was purchased by Microsoft early in the sixth generation of home consoles. This turned many Nintendo fans into unhappy campers. This meant no more Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and so on for Nintendo home consoles. What also stunk was the revelation that Donkey Kong Country as an IP was no longer in Rare's capable hands. After many years of Donkey Kong appearing in side games and experimental projects through the GameCube and early Wii's lives, it seemed the dream for a new DKC was dead. That was until an E3 reveal of a brand-new Donkey Kong Country, made by Retro Studios of all people. With exquisitely designed levels that were ripe with imagination and a game that contained the same charm of the SNES trilogy, Donkey Kong Country was back and in a big way. The Wii release, Donkey Kong Country Returns, became a million seller and would spawn a terrific Wii U sequel. As a fan of the SNES trilogy, this was a miracle to me and a dream come true.

5) Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

Like the Ice Climbers in Super Smash Bros. Melee, there was a newcomer in the starting roster of Super Smash Bros. Brawl fighters that some folks weren't too privy on. Who was this winged angel-looking boy? Well, he was none other than Pit from the NES classic Kid Icarus. But who could foretell that this character would be found fascinating by the Smash series creator and director Masahiro Sakurai, and enough for him to director a retro revival starring Pit in the form of Kid Icarus: Uprising? Taking his trademark directorial skills-- lots of content, simple yet deep gameplay mechanics, and lots of charm-- and putting them into one hilarious self-referential on-rails shooter/action game hybrid, Masahiro Sakurai led his team into creating one of the Nintendo 3DS's best titles and one of Nintendo's greatest revivals of one of their older IP. Just remember to stop playing and take a break if your hands start cramping up!

4) Ninja Gaiden (XBX)

There's few directors that can take a series that was traditionally a 2D side-scrolling action game from the late '80s and early '90s and turn into a successful and incredible 3D character action romp. Tomonobu Itagaki is one of those directors, and with his leadership and his team, he made Ryu Hayabusa's miraculous and unexpected return to gaming in 2004 a sight to behold, a treasure to play, and a game that kicked the hind quarters of every player that opted to take on its brutal challenge. No doubt boys were turned into men after they beat the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden, and some men even turned into master ninjas. I simply turned into a young man who wanted nothing more than to continue slicing up foes with Ryu's sensational moves.

3) Mortal Kombat (PS3, 360, Vita)

After some middling entries in the long-running mature-rated fighting franchise, Mortal Kombat returned in 2011 with a full-blown reboot to the series. This ninth installment totally retconned the events of past games, took the franchise to a whole new level with its improved combat system, and was bloodier and gorier than ever before thanks to the addition of an abundance of gruesome fatalities and the new X-ray view, giving players a literal inside look at the damage caused by certain moves. 2011's Mortal Kombat was definitely a flawless victory for fans of the franchise and newcomers too.

2) Street Fighter IV (ARC, PS3, 360)

What I consider one of the most important fighting games to come out in the past decade, Street Fighter IV once again shook the foundations of the genre and made clear to everyone that it was still fighting game king. It is as deep or as shallow a fighting game experience as the person who plays it. It never compromises its gameplay fundamentals. to create a tremendous fighter for one and all. After a sea of upgrades to Street Fighter 3, it was a breath of fresh air and a damn relieving one at that to experience the next generation of the long-running fighting game franchise. It looked great, it played great, and it continues to impress to this day.

1) Metroid Prime (GCN)

Many Metroid fans felt things were amiss with their favorite bounty hunter not making an official appearance on the Nintendo 64 with her own planet-exploring adventure. This was despite the huge critical and commercial success of Super Metroid on the Super Nintendo. It wouldn't be until Nintendo's system after the N64 that Samus would get her glorious return into the spotlight. Metroid Prime had everything going against it. It had a team that didn't have a solid vision, it had multiple revisions and reworkings to it, it was being done in an first-person perspective, and this latter idea did not have much support from fans. Then the game released and all the reactions to the game were pretty much universally amazing. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and so did millions of others. Two sequels would follow, designed by the same Austin, Texas-based development team. What was once a mess of a project turned out to be one of the best games ever created in this blogger's opinion, and it brought Ms. Aran and the Metroid series back from hibernation... well, until Team Ninja got a hold of the franchise...


There's plenty more franchise revivals that have happened over the years that I didn't have room for in this list. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn is in the Air: Favorite Fall Areas and Levels

Today is the first, official, full-length day of fall. To many it's a wondrous month of crisper temperatures, jacket weather, colorful trees, falling leaves, hayrides, and more. To others, it's an "OMG the roads are slick because of all of these wet leaves, I can't stop, WE'RE GOING TO DIE!"

...ANYWAY.... I figured today would a perfect opportunity to talk about some of my favorite looking and fun to play fall/autumn levels in gaming history. There's not that many of them, truth be told. It certainly was a harder list to put together than my summer vacation one, that's for sure. After you've read my selections, please feel free to throw out some ones I may have missed!

Eversong Woods - World of Warcraft (PC)

We start off our look at my favorite fall areas and levels with an area from a game I actually have had little experience with. I've simply viewed a friend playing this, and this particular area jumped out at me immediately from the rest. If setting factors into which character race you opt to select in World of Warcraft, then if you're a fan of fall, the Eversong Woods would be an apt choice for you to start your game at. It is the starting point of the blood elf race, and the forest itself contains a heavy feeling of peacefulness to it. A continuous feel of fall rests within the forest, making every day a beautiful autumn one, whether it's the actual season in real life or not.

Maple Valley Raceway - Forza Motorsport series (XONE, 360, XBX)

Not all of the Forza Motorsport series's must-play tracks have real life counterparts to them. In Maple Valley Raceway, this certainly isn't the case. This fictional but well designed course set in New England surrounds itself with natural autumn beauty. It's quite challenging of a track, too, since there are so few places to pass opponents thanks to how narrow the majority of the track is. The latest incarnation of the track in Forza Motorsport 5 greets players with an all-new covered bridge, a spot that is perfect for shutterbugs to take the perfect shot of their sexy ride on this lovely fall track.

Autumn Heights - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

Generally in games we see a level or two given a fall feeling to it. Seldom do we ever get an entire world of levels. That is exactly what you get with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze's Autumn Heights, the second of six islands in the game. While not every level adheres to the autumn theme, the majority of levels do, such as the Netherlands feel of Windhill Mills, the first level of the island, or a level that has falling leaves serving as actual platforms in Horn Top Hop. The Wii U hardware serves Tropical Freeze well, showcasing an abundant amount of detail in the backgrounds and foregrounds of each island-- Autumn Heights is certainly no exception, and it's why it's my favorite of the islands in Retro Studios' amazing 2D platformer.

Switchboard Falls - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Super Mario 3D World did not follow the rules of worlds in past Mario games. There was no snow world, grass world, or desert world. Instead, each level had its own unique theme, opening up the levee of creativity of the designers. Switchboard Falls is one of the first challenging levels in 3D World, having players step on platforms to get them to move left or right on a set track. The level's visual design is pure autumn with orange trees, grass, and even bee-like enemies, perhaps buzzing around looking for some last tastes of honey before winter rolls their way. Super Mario 3D World's wide array of level mechanics, obstacles, and locales make it one of my favorites on not only the Wii U system but gaming in general.

Maple Treeway - Mario Kart Wii (Wii), Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

One of many Mario Kart fans' favorite tracks in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7, the latter where it returns as an updated retro track, Maple Treeway is a colorful autumnal course that twists, turns, and makes its home in the red, pink, and orange treetops. Successful races have kart drivers peeling around the large tree branches, blasting off out of a giant barrel through the crisp autumn air, and weaving through humongous Wigglers. It's a track that is as fun to race on as it is beautiful to look at. Maple Treeway is one of the Mario Kart series's best tracks and the fall setting is just one of those reasons as to why.

Golden Grove - Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

The Summerlands is one of the four main continents within Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. It is split up between north and south by the Golden Grove, a forested area that gets its name from the myriad of colorful autumn foliage that hangs from its trees that stay year-round. It's an essential stop if you are traveling on foot, and it connects the Rolling Hills on the north to the Shimmering Sands that are to the south. The Golden Grove is also known as the Forest of Plenty, nicknamed this from its immense amount of mushrooms, plants, trees, and wildlife.

Click Clock Wood - Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)

Click Clock Wood is the tenth world in Banjo-Kazooie, a game that I would rate higher than Super Mario 64, but you longtime readers already knew that, didn't you! Anyway, Click Clock Wood shines brightly with a clever idea surrounding it. There's actually four different versions of the entire level, and each represents one of the four seasons. Obviously, for the purposes of this article, we'll be exploring the fall version. Here the denizens of Click Clock Wood-- the beaver, the baby eagle, the lazy squirrel, and the bee colony-- would continue to follow their yearly schedules, preparing ardently for the season that laid ahead. The leaves that accumulated on the ground made way for easier access to higher platforms and once-impossible-to-reach areas. Click Clock Wood was an area with an execution that hit the mark wonderfully, and autumn was just a quarter of the level's brilliance.


Did I leave out one of your favorite fall levels? Hit me up with your most loved autumnal areas in the comments section, whether they be loved from nostalgia or something else!

Monday, September 22, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Fall Brawl Featuring War Games Edition

In a short two hour time span, it will be fall in Central City. Yes, the summer will be but a memory... that is, until next year when it arrives once again. Regardless, fall means crisp temperatures, falling leaves, and pumpkin spice espressos for all. Yuck. Have no fear, though. SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs are here to deliver more video game music goodness to your ears whether you're a fan of fall or not. This week we have music from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, F-Zero, and Banjo-Tooie. It's mostly classics here this edition, but de Blob was also thrown in, because why not?

v706. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES) - Flower Garden

Flower Garden is a theme that plays in the majority of outside levels, especially early in the game. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is a controversial game of sorts. No, anyone with good taste knows it's an excellent game, but the controversy comes from whether it's a Mario game or a Yoshi game. Which side of the fence do you stand on?

v707. F-Zero (SNES) - Fire Field

Fire Field is a tradition in most F-Zero games. Although its track design differs in each game, the relative theme is the same. You're racing with 29 other races on a track suspended over a sea of lava. When the heat is on, races become even more hot and heavy.

v708. de Blob (Wii) - Revolutionary

de Blob was a cute and clever take on the 3D platformer, having you control the titular character, rolling in paint and leaping on buildings and other objects to colorize them. This Cuban-inspired theme, Revolutionary, gets players in a serious mood to retake the city that has been grayed out by the sinister INKT group.

v709. Wave Race 64 (N64) - Twilight City

One of the final courses in Wave Race 64 is Twilight City, a night course that has players speeding through an illuminated city. Perhaps that is where the name "Twilight City" comes from... hint, hint. While we saw a semblance of Wave Race in Wii Sports Resort's water sports, it wasn't the real genuine article. Can you just imagine a new Wave Race in full HD on the Wii U?

v710. Banjo-Tooie (N64) - Witchyworld

Welcome to the wondrous Witchyworld, where there's a crooked carnival going on. This theme by the fantastic Grant Kirkhope gives off a spooky feel for this twisted world full of Gruntilda's loyal grunts and death-defying carnival rides.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS Trio of North American Commercials

Not one, not two, but three commercials will be running alongside Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS's launch here in North America. A big game deserves a big marketing push, and that's exactly what Nintendo is giving the game. Scope out these three ads below.

Madden NFL: SNES Evolution

Today, the Madden National Football League games are some of the most blisteringly fast, gorgeously rendered and generally most enjoyable sports titles around. One might be mistaken for thinking such a series had its foundations in the noughties, where the explosion in 3d processing power and good quality controllers resulted in an enormous glut of new sports titles, all taking advantage of the various innovations; you’d be wrong though! The Madden NFL series has its roots in the Super Nintendo gaming system, however.

In 1991, John Madden Football (the series dropped its endorser, Madden’s, first name in 1994) was released on the SNES and Sega Genesis; the second iteration of the sports title, but the first truly effective show of what the game could do. The first, MS DOS based, title was lag-ridden, unresponsive and had been beset with development issues from the outset. Madden had refused to put his name to a game that was not a true depiction of his game, which meant coding in the ability to play with eleven players on each team; many systems simply were unable to deliver this number of players.

Alongside this number of team members, Madden and the developers wanted the most realistic, true-to-life depiction of the game as possible. This meant including every rule, strategy, pass and play that Madden could inform the developers of, and as a result the finished product shared more with a betting simulator than a video game, a title that would be more at home at than Peach’s Castle. Unsurprisingly, however, this realism ultimately paid off.

The Super Nintendo Version garnered enormous praise, receiving a 95% score from Computer and Video Games Magazine, reviewers noting the excellent sound and realism endemic in the title. The developers, under the watch of EA Sports, knew they were on to something, and the follow up title, John Madden Football ’93, was a roaring success. With an all new 2 player mode; detailed, intricate animations; and game play that was smoother and faster than previous titles, Madden was solidified as a heavyweight when it came to console game franchises.

Remember when Pro Evolution Soccer used to only afford gamers the chance to play with fake players? David Bleckhem, Robaldo, Michel Owan? Madden was the same, once upon a time, until 1994, that is. With huge sales figures and a loyal fan base, the NFL was easily persuaded to allow their league’s team licenses to be used in the game, and with this a huge leap in realism occurred, entertaining players and pundits alike.

The Madden series continued on the SNES until 1997, when the final SNES title, Madden NLF 98, was released. The game had still yet to turn stale, however, with EGM rating the title a solid 9 out of 10. The Madden series truly honed its craft on the SNES, and continues to be a premier game to this day!