Thursday, October 23, 2014

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS) Review

What better way to unwind from today's Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Nintendo Direct than a review of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS? Sometimes these things just work out so beautifully! Here's my take on the latest in the Smash Bros. series!

Super Smash Bros. slams onto the super small screen.

Super Smash Bros. is a series that is a once a generation deal. However, this generation is something special. While the games are technically complements of one another, we're due to see two Super Smash Bros. games this year-- one, for the first time on a handheld, the 3DS version, and the second that is launching next month on the Wii U. It's an embarrassment of riches for Super Smash Bros. fans and Nintendo fans in general. However, one might argue that it's worth it to wait a month for the Wii U version and ignore its little brother. I argue that this sentiment is folly, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is still worth checking out-- not only if you can't wait for the Wii U version, but also because the 3DS version has more than enough exclusive content to be a perfect match for Nintendo 3DS owners.

The rules of Super Smash Bros. haven't changed much at all through the fifteen years it has been around. Up to four fighters do battle with one another on a given stage. As they take damage, their percentage goes up. The higher the percentage, the easier it is to knock them out of the field of play. In Timed Play, when a player cannot recover, either getting jettisoned off screen or into a pit below, they lose a life, and the person who scored the KO earns a point. Otherwise, it's a battle to see who can survive the longest.

Even when uppercutting opponents,
Mario's making mad bank.
The fun of Super Smash Bros. isn't just the competitive side, but it's how simple the series is to learn. There are no confusing, convoluted button combos for special moves like more serious fighting games. Instead, each move is performed with a flick of the Circle Pad and a press of one of two buttons. One button is for physical attacks like punches and kicks, while the other is used for special attacks. Generally, holding up and the special attack button is a given fighter's recovery move to try to make it back onto the field of play in one last ditch effort.

Sometimes when his mouth is tired from too much
garlic-chomping, Wario lets his feet do the talking.
Some new gameplay tweaks make Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS a better feeling and playing game than its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. For one, the gameplay itself is noticeably faster and more fluid. Edge guarding-- holding onto a ledge so another player attempting to make a recovery couldn't grab it-- was a popular tactic in past Smash games, but Smash Bros. 3DS makes it so the player who nears the ledge automatically grabs it and replaces the player who was trying to hog it.

While Bowser hangs out, Luigi
gets a double slap from Jigglypuff.
Giving a party flavor to the battles are items. A healthy helping of items return from past games, but it's the new ones that steal the spotlight. For instance, the Bullet Bill turns the player that uses it into the eponymous Super Mario enemy, shooting them across the stage and taking out anyone in its flight path. Then there's the Gust Bellows and Beetle items, both from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. One can easily push opponents off platforms, and making edges of stages quite the hazardous place to be hanging out! Meanwhile, the Beetle grabs a foe and takes them into the air. The more damage the foe has, the harder it is for them to break free.

The Jetpack is one of many fun
new items in this installment of Smash.
A feature missing from the Nintendo 3DS version of Smash Bros. that all past games contained is the ability to choose how common items appear. In this version, items appear a little too frequently, even for a casual player like myself. Unfortunately, the only option left to the player is to turn them completely off. It's a little too black and white, all or nothing for me, where I wish there was some compromise in the middle to work with.

Furthermore, the real estate of the Nintendo 3DS screen, particularly the original, smaller model, does not provide enough space for the action of Smash Bros. 3DS. This is exemplified by three or four player matches when the screen zooms out, making it nigh impossible to see what in the heck is happening on screen.

Follow the leader!
Worse still, the design of the 3DS and its Circle Pad, don't serve a game like Super Smash Bros. well. It's easily understood that the system was not built for Smash. For my smaller hands, extended play sessions weren't painful in the slightest, but for some of my friends with larger hands, cramping was all too common for them.

Masahiro Sakurai and his team went for parity with both Super Smash Bros. games, and parity is at its most obvious in the character roster. For both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U versions, the roster of fighters will remain the same with no differences. The majority of fighters from past games returns, and the new additions like Little Mac, Rosalina, Lucina, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager are most welcome and shake up the roster quite nicely. Unfortunately, due to the technical limits of the Nintendo 3DS, one big omission to the Smash roster of both games is the veteran duo of the Ice Climbers. That notwithstanding, the roster of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (and the upcoming Wii U) is without question the most diverse and largest ever seen in franchise history. Characters are fine-tuned for balance, and while some less-than-admirable tactics work on some characters, what is there is mostly well done.

Three newcomers and an unlikely,
returning series veteran walk into a bar...
Characters like big third-party newcomer Mega Man rely on distance attacks, whereas up-close and personal brawlers like Little Mac lets his boxing gloves do the talking, able to KO opponents with standard attacks! However, what Little Mac excels in fighting on the ground, he has a major disadvantage in the air, looking more like an iron safe with wings and poor recovery. Then there's the brilliance of Rosalina, who uses her baby star Luma to serve as an extension of herself in battle, able to attack foes from a fair distance away. My point here is that each fighter presents something new to the player and has enough personality in both aesthetics and in how they play that makes each worthwhile. Of course, this is save for some clone characters, which do not bother me as much as others, as they didn't take the spot of some other character.

My love and nostalgia for
Mega Man knows no bounds.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS even goes a mile further with characters. This time around you can customize characters, equipping them with stat bonuses, and custom tailoring their special ability move sets with one of three alterations for each move. The only issue here-- and it's an annoying one-- is that stat bonuses and moves are unlocked at a snail's pace. We're not talking a straight road either for our snail to travel. We're talking a detour-filled road full of repeated single player sessions in the various solo modes, hoping you get lucky and unlock the stat bonuses and moves you need. It further is tedious thanks to the fact that you can earn bonuses that you already have acquired. ...Yeah.

Link is seriously (and literally) kicking Ness's butt.
Nonetheless, I was mentioning parity earlier. Parity is mostly relegated to the character roster. The Nintendo 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. makes itself worthy of a purchase even for those intending on buying its big brother releasing next month. One such reason is that the stage selection is almost entirely different from what is available in the upcoming Wii U iteration. Only a select few stages in the 3DS version will appear in the Wii U version, such as Battlefield, Final Destination, Dr. Wily's Castle, and Xenoblade Chronicles's Gaur Plain.

Fox is going to need the number
of a good chiropractor after this battle.
There is a combination of brand-new and returning stages from Melee and Brawl in Smash Bros. 3DS. From riding a steaming locomotive in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks' Spirit Train to following the auto-scrolling screen through the colorful platforming landscape of Super Mario 3D Land's 3D Land stage, the stages presented in Smash Bros. 3DS are wide and varied. The total amount is less than Brawl, but at the same time there are fewer duds to be found.

One of my favorite new stages,
this is the Spirit Train.
Another exclusive that the Nintendo 3DS version has is a multiplayer mode called Smash Run. If you're familiar with Kirby Air Ride, which just so happens to be a past project of the director Masahiro Sakurai, and its City Trial mode, you'll have somewhat of a vague understanding of Smash Run.

Smash Run gives you and three other opponents five minutes to roam around a large, expansive, multi-tier area where you encounter enemies from various franchises, such as Mario's Goombas, Donkey Kong Country's Kremlings, Kirby's Waddle Dees, Kid Icarus's Reapers, Mega Man's Metaurs, and many more. Each defeated enemy drops stat bonuses in one of six categories. As you play through a round of Smash Run, your fighter becomes noticeably faster, stronger, able to leap higher, and unleash more powerful moves.

Smash Run held my attention for a good
while, but it's not for everyone!
When the five minutes conclude, all four opponents enter a single match type with all of their earned stat bonuses. The match type can be as simple as a traditional smash battle, a race to the finish line, a competition to see who can defeat the most enemies, and so forth.

Other modes in the Nintendo 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. include returning modes like Classic mode and All-Star mode. Classic mode pits you against a handful of rounds against various AI opponents. Each round allows you to choose one of a few paths of varying difficulty. The harder the path, the greater the rewards. Classic mode uses a difficulty system identical to what was found in Masahiro Sakurai's first Nintendo 3DS release, Kid Icarus: Uprising. The more coins you bet, the higher the intensity or challenge. The greater the intensity, the better the spoils. However, failing not only has you lose some of your rewards, but it also makes you play on a lower difficulty.

In this stage, occasionally the Yellow
Devil makes a sudden appearance.
All-Star mode is up to seven rounds of battling the entire Super Smash Bros. roster. This time, however, characters you face are divided up between what years they debuted. For instance, the first fighters you face are Mario, Pac-Man (making his Smash debut), Mr. Game and Watch, Donkey Kong, and Little Mac. Meanwhile, the last round has you up against more recent characters like Shulk of Xenoblade Chronicles fame, Greninja of Pokemon X and Y fame, and Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening.

It's "swing around fun town" for Link,
courtesy of Mario!
In addition to all of these aforementioned modes, things from past games like the Home Run Contest, Multi-Man Smash, and more return. Then there's even more new stuff in the forms of Target Blast, Trophy Rush, and StreetPass battles.

No doubt a major question in the minds of many players and aspiring purchases of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is "how does the online play out?" The answer is thankfully much better than Brawl played, but then again that's not too taxing of a task. One-on-one matches, even against out of country players, worked well, but things can get dicey with more than one other opponent. You see, all players need a good connection, because even if one player has a crappy connection, all players suffer.

Yuck! I don't want to know where
that duck's beak's been!
On the local side of things, local play usually worked flawlessly, but at the same time I also had little mechanical or technological interference to contend with. However, I've read reports of local play being disastrous for some other players, so your mileage may vary.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is a successful transplant of the series formula onto smaller and more portable hardware. There's indeed several hitches that get in the way from being an optimal experience, but overall, Super Smash Bros.'s debut on a handheld was handled and pulled off remarkably. Whether at home, at work, at school, or anywhere else, anytime is a smashing good time!

[SPC Says: 9.0/10]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Five

Good/bad level design, like many things in life, can be a very subjective thing. However, I am pretty sure that my picks for this fifth volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History can be considered by most to be pretty bad, whether it's in its design, its repetitiveness, and so forth. Games on this volume include The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Sonic Adventure 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Donkey Kong 64, and Darksiders.

If you've missed a previous volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, check them out with these links!

The Temple of the Ocean King - The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

Dungeons are generally a fantastic part of The Legend of Zelda line of games. I'd even go so far to say that they're my favorite part of each game. Big thing to say, right? Phil sarcastically asked. Anyway, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass had some interesting dungeons in it, but it also bestowed onto players one of the most aggravating and tedious dungeons in series history, The Temple of the Ocean King.

The main issue with the Temple of the Ocean King is just how it is set up. It is essentially a timed stealth dungeon, requiring you to avoid Phantoms that will chase after you if they notice your presence. The titular Phantom Hourglass pours sand from its top to its bottom. If the sand empties from the top and fully fills the bottom, it's game over. The aforementioned Phantoms take away thirty seconds of time if they catch you.

What makes matters worse is that you are returning to the Temple of the Ocean King basically after every dungeon. This means you will have to AT LEAST go through the dungeon six times or more, and that's not including failed runs. Each visit allows you to venture further down the dungeon's thirteen total floors. Don't like repeating puzzles for no reason but to pad the gameplay experience? That's unfortunately too bad. That's exactly what you have to do in this dungeon.

The sad fact is that the Temple of the Ocean King isn't a poorly designed dungeon per se. It just requires the player to retread the same ground, solving the same slow puzzles over and over again, and it forces you to do so more times than should be allowed. Just half of the visits to the Temple of the Ocean King would have worked better than what the final product in the game was.

Crazy Gadget - Sonic Adventure 2 (DC)

Let's face what I perceive to be facts, shall we? Early 3D Sonics were hard enough to contend with due to their poor cameras, sloppy controls, and frustrating bugs and glitches. Factoring gravity shift mechanics into things makes for one mess of a level. That level is Sonic's penultimate stage in the Hero Story of Sonic Adventure 2, Crazy Gadget.

Crazy Gadget is devised of various gravity switches that change the flow of gravity, pulleys that rappel Sonic up large shafts, and of course, everyone's favorite enemy in the game, Artificial Chaos. These blue blob boobs can attack Sonic from afar with their huge extending reach via a pair of thin blue tentacles.

The problem with these obnoxious beings is that the lock-on mechanic to homing attack these enemies doesn't always work. Sometimes you homing attack them and their tentacles somehow wrap around and take you out. Then there's those Chaos that explode into dozens upon dozens of little Chaos orbs, which the player can only take out by slamming on the homing attack button, praying that the game actually locks onto each foe instead of sending Sonic straight, prone to injury and a resulting loss of all of his rings. Bye-bye, A rank!

Crazy Gadget exemplifies the early 3D Sonic series's grandest control and camera problems, making for a mighty frustrating level that was hard to love when I had more patience as a young high school student, and is now impossible to love now that I have less patience for wonky design.

Killer Croc's Lair - Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, 360, PC)

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a roller coaster ride from the very beginning of the game up to close to the end. Then the ride screeches to a halt when Batman enters Killer Croc's lair, a section of the game where slow and steady wins the race for survival, but loses in the contest for fun. The lair itself is a long, pitiful, repetitive sewer maze (even the combination of words to describe the place evokes feelings of tedium) where Batman must tiptoe his way across floating wooden planks.

Meanwhile, Killer Croc leaps out of the water so many times in attempt to scare you that it quickly becomes "the Croc That Cried Wolf." It stops being alarming or intense after about the fifth jump-scare out of around thirty or so. Each time Croc leaps out of the water, a simple throw of an automatically-targeted Batarang knocks old ugly back into the murky drink. Killer Croc's lair is a blight on what is otherwise a near-perfect action game.

Crystal Caves - Donkey Kong 64 (N64)

Donkey Kong 64 is arguably an immensely and overly bloated collect-a-thon that took the amount of objects and trinkets to gather that Banjo-Tooie had and ratcheted that number exponentially. That's a big part of why the game is so understandably overwhelming to many players. Another part of that is definitely the level design. While most of the levels are indeed large, they're at least designed well. Crystal Caves, one of the last areas of Donkey Kong 64, does not follow such a trend.

The problem with Crystal Caves is that so many areas look so similar to one another, and this is thanks to the abundance of brown and blue walls that fill the cavernous complex. It makes trying to navigate yourself around the level a chore. That's not to mention gigantic stalactites falling from the ceiling intermittently, though this is only upon the Kongs' first visit to the level. Not only all of this, but Crystal Caves easily has some of the most arduous and, dare I say, unfair challenges for Golden Bananas within the entire game. This all adds up to one very annoying and irritating level that despite its awesomely chill tune is anything but enjoyable.

The Black Throne - Darksiders (PS3, 360, PC)

It stands to reason that one of the most difficult dungeons in an action-adventure game like Darksiders would be near the end of the game. That is remarkably and definitely true for Darksiders' Black Throne dungeon.

The dungeon's aim is to use the area's special item to redirect a trio of beams of light in the dungeon's central chamber. This can have you gnashing your teeth, pulling your hair out, and smashing your controller against your knee (perhaps that's just me) as you try to wrap your head around the convoluted portal puzzles being presented to you. Don't feel bad if you need to consult a guide or walkthrough just to make it through these puzzles.

Even then, a guide will only help with the puzzling aspects of the Black Throne. There's still plenty of ridiculously powerful foes to contend with, a lack of health pick-ups to nab, and an unrelenting amount of checkpoints. There's a point in a level where its challenge goes from fair and difficult to cheap and agonizing. The Black Throne goes beyond the point of being the former and dives directly into the latter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Fall Break Edition

Welcome to a new week here at SuperPhillip Central! As usual, we kick off the week with a listen to five video game musical pieces. This week we have music from Final Fantasy XIII-2, Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, and Mario Kart 7. If after this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs you still haven't had enough music, check out the VGM Database for over 700 great VGM picks of the past!

v721. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3, 360) - Paradigm Shift

One of many battle themes heard in Final Fantasy XIII-2, Paradigm Shift gets the blood pumping as you do battle with a variety of enemies. While the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy leaves a lot to be desired story and gameplay-wise, one constant of the trilogy is the excellent music, as evidenced by this theme and many others like it.

v722. Devil May Cry 3 (PS2) - Devils Never Cry

What was your opinion on Ninja Theory's take on the Devil May Cry series with DmC? It single-handily put the series on hiatus. That's a shame, too, because there's so many fond memories gamers have that are attached to the franchise. One of the most cherished titles from the series is Devil May Cry 3, which this staff roll theme plays during.

v723. Donkey Kong Country 3 (GBA) - Northern Kremisphere

Unlike the previous Donkey Kong Country Game Boy Advance ports, Donkey Kong Country 3 had a totally original soundtrack to it for some odd reason. I don't find it better or worse than what the SNES original offered-- it was just different. Regardless, Dave Wise did a terrific job using the meager GBA sound capabilities to produce a lovely soundtrack.

v724. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) - Rock Rock Mountain

One of the major shames is that Mario Kart 7 never received a CD release, whether it be in retail or a reward on Club Nintendo. The reason why this is a major shame is that the music is so expertly made. Rock Rock Mountain is a guitar synth heavy theme perfect for revving engines through caverns, through forests, and up a steep mountain climb.

v725. Mega Man ZX (DS) - Green Grass Gradation (Arranged)

This track is of one of the area themes in Mega Man ZX, a Mega Man game that had a Metroid structure to it. This version of Green Grass Gradation is an arranged one from the ZX Tunes arranged album.