Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ping 1.5+ (Wii U eShop) Review

Not satisfied with just one new review this evening, I have another to share with you guys. It's a Wii U eShop game. (I'm noticing a pattern lately.) It comes from an independent developer. (I'm REALLY noticing a pattern lately.) It's Ping 1.5+, and here's my review on this colorful, retro wonder.

Off the wall bouncing ball fun

Retro gaming and indies go together like ping and pong. Whether it is to prey on the nostalgia of older gamers as a selling point or to pay homage to gaming's grand history, retro gaming is indeed a gameplay or visual style employed by many independent developers. Nami Tentou Mushi is one of these developers, and their arcade-style retro romp Ping 1.5+ not only delivers on simple arcade fun, but it's accessible to pretty much anyone who can learn how to bounce a ball against a wall. 

For its unwieldy title, Ping 1.5+ is pretty much a simple game to learn. In most levels of the game's 10+ worlds, you start with a white ball. The objective is to aim this ball and have it bounce off walls and other objects in order for it to reach the level's goal, an orange sphere. Sounds easy enough, no?

Vibrant, flashy, colorful cubes make up
the most of Ping 1.5+'s visuals.
Well, then, factor in this: You have to get the ball to the goal in a set number of bounces. Each level has a specific number of maximum bounces you can utilize, but there's also gold, silver, and bronze stars awarded to players who bounce the ball to the goal in as few bounces as possible. Some even require just one bounce. 

Additionally, some levels also contain the ability to slow down the ball in mid-motion and give it a push in another direction, altering the projected path of the ball. This is certainly necessary for later levels where there are spinning and otherwise mobile objects to contend with.

Two Triforces? Ganon must be
drooling right about now.
Outside of the general eight levels in a given world, there is a ninth one that serves as a boss level of sorts. These have you using a set number of bounces to destroy a giant yellow spherical spaceship, or have you avoid bombs as you try to obliterate 100 asteroids. These boss levels change the formula up well enough to keep Ping 1.5+ from feeling stagnant in its design. 

Ping 1.5+ is indeed a tough game, true to its retro feel and look. Levels down the line definitely will have you trying and then trying once again. However, your patience and persistence are rewarded. Later levels present obvious nods to other retro games, whether it be levels that resemble the castle that appears at the end of most levels in Super Mario Bros. or a jungle reminiscent of the Activision classic Pitfall. These are really cool levels that, while still challenging, make Ping 1.5+ feel more like an ode to retro gaming than it already does.

Sorry, but your princess is
bouncing along in another castle.
However, some parts of Ping 1.5+ are too retro, frustrating so, too. For instance, the automatic retry option when a level is failed is not the standard option available. If you want to manually restart a level, there's no option in the pause menu. No, you have to actually back out of the level and choose the one you wish to redo. This method isn't needed for the shorter levels where five bounces is a failure, but for boss levels, a convenient retry option would have been wonderful. It's somewhat baffling that it's not here in the game.

The presentation of Ping 1.5+ no doubt owes a lot to retro gaming and plenty of retro-style games like it. At the same token, the developers make this clear anyhow. What you see is what you get-- colorful cubes, simple, flashy visual effects, and an old school pixel shape to the fonts of the game. On the sound side, what you get is a catchy, infectious series of beeps and bloops that if you close your eyes, you might for a second think you're playing an NES game or old arcade cabinet game. While the visuals won't impress you cooler, hipper gamers out there, it's definitely serviceable and works well for what Ping 1.5+ is trying to emulate.

Ping 1.5+ is an affordable arcade-style puzzle game for the Wii U eShop that can really test your gamer skills. It's indeed the old cliche of being simple to learn and hard to master. With enough variety outside of the bouncing-a-ball-to-the-goal levels, Ping 1.5+ is an excellent nod to retro gaming sensibilities, and a game that might even be an engaging time to younger gamers out there as much as it is to us older folk.

[SPC Says: 7.25/10]

Teslagrad (Wii U eShop) Review

Teslagrad is SuperPhillip Central's next indie game review. Released in the middle of September, I'm a little late to the party, but I'd rather be late than never show up, as Teslagrad is a fantastic 2D puzzle-platformer. My review will show you this.

Are you ready to be pulled in?

There is something about the so-called Metroidvania style of game that a lot of indies absolutely love. Is there anything wrong with that? No, I don't think so. It's just amazing to me how many developers wish to take on the formula, and it's enjoyable to see how different studios interpret it with their varying designs. Teslagrad for the Wii U eShop (a game eventually releasing on all modern PlayStation platforms in the near future) is one of those games that also uses the Metroidvania style and to great effect, for that matter. While it has its shortcomings, Teslagrad is a Wii U eShop title worthy of a glance--nay, a look!

What is lovely about Teslagrad's narrative is that it's totally free of dialogue and scenes that take control out of your hands. Your home is ambushed by a group of goons, and you, a young boy, escape through a backdoor, running across rooftop to rooftop as you make an escape with bated breath from pursuing thugs. It's a wonderfully done opening, and that is just the beginning of Teslagrad's tale.

You wind up inside a gigantic tower, and it's here that Teslagrad lets you loose with as much information about how to proceed as the game gives you about its own story, through minimalism and allusions. All you see are little pictures on walls and in the tower's backgrounds that depict how to interact with each new obstacle you come across.

Magnetism is the main gameplay element within Teslagrad. You influence and later control electrical currents to proceed through the game's devilish and delightful environmental puzzles. Teslagrad is all about discovering for yourself how to tackle each challenge thrown at you, and this almost complete lack of helping advice from the game assists in making each discovery and solution incredibly rewarding.

If you ever had a science class about
magnets and polarity, you're good to go!
The Metroidvania (or if you find that term obnoxious, replace it with Metroid-style) gameplay of Teslagrad doesn't come in the form of new weapons. Instead, it manifests itself in the different ways you can interact with electrical currents and the magnetized platforms and objects within the game. One ability allows you to punch magnetized blocks, changing their polarity with each punch. Another allows you to teleport across a short distance, perfect for crossing over large chasms, moving past electrical currents, and more.

Puzzles and platforming:
a match made in heaven.
Platforming is just an important a part of Teslagrad as the puzzle aspects. However, later portions of the game features some truly challenging and almost aggravating areas, and this is due to some of the wonky physics used in the game.

This difficulty and aggravation goes to game's handful of boss encounters. These are generally impressively thought-out, but seeing as taking one hit is death, it's all too easy to have to start these multiple part battles all the way from the beginning. In large rooms within Teslagrad, dying means starting over from where you first entered the room. While unlimited lives are at your disposal, it can be quite irritating having to redo significant segments of a room or boss battle over again. This moves from fun and challenging to tedious and frustrating quite quickly.

Bosses, like everything else in Teslagrad,
can take you out with one simple hit.
Regardless, it's important to note that Teslagrad isn't a hugely aggravating experience. Most of the time it's great fun to explore the insides and outsides of the Tesla Tower, piecing together the story with context clues and such, appreciating the marvelous hand-drawn art style employed, the intriguing Old English setting full of shadows and darkness, and coming up with solutions to tricky yet tremendous puzzles put in your path.

You'll be Teslaglad to be playing Teslagrad.
...I'll see myself out now.
Teslagrad is about a 5-7 hour gameplay experience. Hidden inside the tower are various cards that require backtracking to acquire, much like the Metroid-style influence would suggest would need to be done. However, the map leaves a little to be desired. In its current state, you can look down on the GamePad screen to look at it or press the select button in off-TV play to select it. There's no way to pan the screen while looking at the map, meaning you can't see rooms outside of the perimeter of the screen. This is quite the overlooked feature.

As it stands, Teslagrad is a very attractive downloadable title for the Wii U eShop. Lovers of 2D platformers, puzzles, and interesting settings and stories will find a lot to love and enjoy with the game. For its price point, Teslagrad offers a wonderful amount of content, and it is the type of game that begs to played more than once. Ultimately, most Wii U owners will find Teslagrad as a game that will pull them in and won't let go until the end.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Art of Balance (Wii U eShop) Review

If you're looking for a game to rock your block off and you're a Nintendo enthusiast, you've no doubt come across or at least have heard of Shin'en Multimedia's Art of Balance series. If not, are you ever lucky because I have just the review for you! It's Art of Balance of the Wii U eShop.

Easy does it, now... Easy does it..!

Shin'en Multimedia is a German independent developer that is no stranger to Nintendo platforms, having worked on several Game Boy Color, Advance, Nintendo DS, Wii, and Wii U titles. With Nano Assault Neo X having just released on the PlayStation 4 and with FAST Racing Neo releasing soon on Wii U, Shin'en is as busy as ever. Despite this, that hasn't stopped the studio from releasing a peaceful, almost zen-like experience on the Wii U eShop with Art of Balance, which had games in the series on WiiWare and the 3DS eShop in the past. If you've yet to see what Art of Balance as a series offers players, now is as good a time as any to open your eyes!

The gang at Shin'en is known for their expertise with getting the most out of the systems the studio works with. This holds true with the Wii U and Art of Balance, whether it's in the amazing backgrounds, brilliant water and accompanying water effects, and the physics system in place. It's pretty much nice design all over.

That review tagline wasn't any joke.
Easy does it, now, indeed!
The nice design oozes into the game's menus, which are sleek, stylish, and user-friendly. You can select options with the touch screen of the Wii U GamePad or opt to use the analog stick and buttons, if that is what floats your boat.

The design pours over to the world and level selection menus, showing off the levels available to play in each of Art of Balance's eight worlds. Levels are selected among a series of blocks. As one block or level is completed, the ones surrounding it open up. This means that if one level's balancing act has got you frizzled, you can sidestep it and take an alternate path to the final level.

This level select system is in the other Art of
Balance games, but stick with what works, y'know?
Each level has a ring amount that is added to your total as you complete it, from 1-3. The harder the level, the more rings it has attached to it, with the three ring levels generally saved as the final challenge of each world. Rings unlock new worlds to challenge your brain, concentration, and coordination, so if you're at a roadblock level-wise, you usually have enough rings to skip ahead if need be. Nonetheless, you'll have hundreds of balancing challenges to tackle in the arcade mode alone.

Worlds are constantly throwing in new challenges for you to take on. The general aim of Art of Balance is to use up all of the blocks given to you and somehow balance the tower made of the blocks for at least three whole seconds, else they'll fall into the tub of water surrounding it. A key point here is that you need not keep the tower of blocks standing for three seconds; you just need to keep it from touching the water for three seconds once all of the blocks have been placed. It definitely feels like a long three seconds when your tower is about to capsize into that pool of water! It's an awesome feeling when you successfully complete a level, seeing your tower just barely stay afloat in the process. My point is that each level gives you a great deal of satisfaction once a proper solution has been discovered (and many levels have multiple means to solve them, which is also fantastic).

No! No! Stay put for just one more second!
At first, the challenge of balancing wooden blocks is child's play, much like it generally is in real life (I won't judge if you're an adult who still plays with blocks). However, as you progress into later worlds, you get different block shapes and types to contend with, as well as different rules. Some blocks disappear when something touches them, while others are made of glass and break when enough weight has been distributed on top of them. Some levels require you to make your tower of blocks reach a certain height, while others deal with placing blocks on a balance beam to keep the biggest portion of weight centralized.

Balancing blocks on a balancing beam.
Could we possibly meta this up any more?
Art of Balance on Wii U allows for at least two players on every mode, including the one just detailed. It's a terrific deal of fun chastising one another, mocking one another, and just having fun trying to perfectly balance a series of blocks.

The other modes include a Jenga-like tower-building game where each player takes turns putting one block onto a foundation. The tower continues to build as players take turns placing blocks, and the player who makes the tower fall with his or her contribution doesn't earn any points while the other players do.

Kersploosh, player one!
Additionally, there's an endurance mode, where you are given few opportunities to mess up, trying to complete as many levels as possible, as well as a competitive mode where players race to complete a given level with the blocks given to them. The latter mode is available locally and online, but in the case of the latter, good luck finding anyone to play with you unless you use Miiverse or some non-random search feature.

Art of Balance for the Wii U eShop is without question the definitive version of the game out there, so one could say that the third time was indeed the charm here. Though that certainly isn't to say that the previous two times were lousy! If you're looking for more features and content, you got 'em with the Wii U iteration of Art of Balance. If you're looking for a game in the series to reinvent the wheel or bring big changes to the already established formula, look elsewhere.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS) North American Box Art

I don't usually post box arts on SuperPhillip Central unless I really like what I see. This is one of those occasions. Amazon has revealed what is the current box art for the Spring 2015 release, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Splatoon (Wii U) Single Player Trailer

We knew Splatoon, a Wii U game which made its debut at this past year's E3, would support hectic online team multiplayer. What we didn't know was if the game would have an interesting single-player component to it. This trailer answers that question and further excites, showing that Splatoon really is like nothing else out there. We're in line to get it in the second half of 2015.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) DLC Pack 1 Trailer

A release date for the first DLC pack of Mario Kart 8 has been set. Eight new tracks, multiple new vehicles, and three new characters will release on November 13 (i.e. a week from tomorrow). Gaze in wonderment at this exceptional trailer showcasing the amazing design of the new and retro tracks being featured.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U) Mini-Universes Galore Trailer

Today, a Nintendo Direct was streamed live on various sites. One of the trailers shown was of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, showing off the majority of puzzling stages within the game, albeit in very small and brief chunks. While North America and Japan gets the game this year, our European and Oceania pals will have to wait until next year, though you guys get all the good limited editions for Nintendo games, so NO COMPLAINING!!! (I was being cute there, and not at all seriously angry.)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D (3DS) Announcement Trailer

After years of waiting and outcry from fans, Nintendo is finally delivering a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, one of the most requested games for a remake. Maybe one day, you, too, Final Fantasy VII fans will get what you desire.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones (Wii U eShop) Review

The first Tuesday night of November sees a brand-new review on SuperPhillip Central. It's for a sequel of a game that originally did not appear on a Nintendo platform, yet the sequel is a Wii U exclusive. It's Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones.

A game to enjoy all by your clonesome

If you remember how it was with the Nintendo 3DS eShop, that service started out eerily similar to the Wii U eShop. Both launched with very few games, and it would take a long stretch of time before content would come on a frequent basis. Not just content, but GOOD content. It seems we've hit that stage where the Wii U eShop has finally hit its stride, and what was once a multi-platform series is now seeing its sequel debut as an exclusive for the digital storefront. Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones has sneaked its way onto the Wii U eShop. Should you alert your wallet?

In Stealth Inc. 2 you play as a cute, little, chubby clone whose biggest features are a potbelly and pair of goggles, who recently escaped from a routine shutdown procedure, much to the chagrin of an employee obsessed with being top dog of his company. This mastermind wishes for your failure at every turn, mocking you and taunting you at every step of the way. This isn't done with voice work, but instead with text ingeniously displayed on the game levels' walls in a way that blends in well to the environments and doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, either. Unfortunately, the cutscenes that show off the biggest events of the story don't impress as much, being pretty ho-hum still-frame pictures with incredibly limited animation. Regardless, the tale is endearing even without a big budget given to something as unimportant to a game like this than cutscenes.

The main attraction to Stealth Inc. 2 is the game's various test chambers. These have you taking a multitude of skills, whether they be reflexes, timing, platforming precision, and brain-busting, and solving puzzles to reach the exit of each chamber.

Your tubby robotic clone has a limited move set available to it. It can jump, crotch and crawl, and hang from ledges. It can also interact with computer terminals, buttons, and switches. However, as you'll find out through playing the first set of levels, the game tosses in enough variety and challenges and continues at a steady pace to keep things fresh and engaging. It also keeps things rather difficult.

As the title of the game suggests ever-so-subtly (sarcastically said), Stealth Inc. 2's gameplay deals a lot with stealth. It's all about avoiding detection from enemies who will quickly destroy you upon sight. No worries if you're destroyed, as you're nine times out of ten placed back near where you died, though that one time where you have to redo a whole section can be really, really annoying.

There's some insanely clever puzzle platforming action to be found in Stealth Inc. 2. One test chamber required me to have a vent blow some steam into a camera's sight, obstructing its vision so my tubby little dude could sneak past undetected. Light is also a major factor, requiring your robotic avatar to stay in the shadows to avoid being seen and using the environment to cast shadows that can hide your robot's presence. Stealth Inc. 2 is all about learning from mistakes to come to the correct solution, and finding the right solution on your own is so darn gratifying!

Each test chamber is timed, and players' times are posted on individual online leaderboards on a per-level basis. It takes some great response time, memory, and skills to perfectly run through the later test chambers, especially if you're going for an "S" ranking. An "S" ranking requires an insanely fast time, no deaths, and no detection from enemies or cameras. Since later test chambers are so long and involved, it's easy to just say "forget it" and just run through the game, perhaps only being concerned with time.

The most brilliant part of Stealth Inc. 2's design is an old adage of game development that the developers here have gotten down well-- showing the player through doing instead of simply through telling. Stealth Inc. 2 has you trying out solutions through experimentation, rather than through an out-of-place tutorial dictated by the developers.

Additionally, Stealth Inc. 2 does a tremendous job at slowly yet steadily building upon your tool set of skills each level. It provides a small amount of knowledge for the player, but just enough that the player can experiment a fair amount to reach a solution to a given puzzle and test chamber.

Part of this is done through how each set of test chambers besides the first puts a different gadget of your clone to use. The second set of chambers puts to use the Inflate-a-Mate, a gadget that can weigh down buttons, give you some extra elevation, a means to block lasers, and more. Then there's the Jack Boy, a gadget that allows you to hack nearby enemies, fully controlling them with the right analog stick as you move around with the left. Each chamber layers the uses of each gadget well enough that you're constantly learning and creating different ways of using each gadget.

Stealth Inc. 2 employs a Metroid-style overworld, unlike the multi-platform original, which simply had a menu containing every test chamber. For those unaware, what I mean by "a Metroid-style overworld" is one where you earn new gadgets for use outside of the test chambers, making it so you are able to use them to reach previously inaccessible locations. Most of these locations are for progressing in the game and venturing to new sections of the complex for new test chambers, but others house collectible costumes that can be used to customize your clone. Confusingly, there doesn't seem to be anyway to revert your clone back to its generic self once a costume piece has been equipped. Regardless, that's a minor quip with this otherwise excellent game.

Although, one big quip concerning the overworld doesn't occur often, but it can be obnoxious nonetheless. Sometimes a missed jump or a botched choice of direction can result in having to redo an entire section of the overworld map. This is an unnecessary punishment for such an easy mistake, making retreading ground unintentionally an annoying happenstance.

Stealth Inc. 2 comes with a really cool level creator that pretty much allows players to use the exact same toolkit that the developers of the game used to design their own trials to share with other players online. In essence, there can be an unlimited amount of levels for players to enjoy. That is, of course, as expected with any new tool, you take the time to learn the ins and outs of the level creator. (Unlike the actual game, a tutorial here would have been most welcome!) Regardless, you start off with an empty grid, setting the size of your personalized test chamber, and then select from a bevy of tools, structures, and obstacles to create a (hopefully) engaging and fair challenge for other players to (also hopefully) enjoy.

Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones is a spectacular puzzle platformer and a great "get" for the Wii U eShop. It's not just a terrific game all to its own, but it's one of the online store's most competent and satisfying titles to date. Yes, it's not for all, as those with little patience will find constantly retrying levels to be tiresome, but everyone else will find a game packed with puzzles, precision platforming, twitch gameplay, and a robust level creator. Stealth Inc. 2 is a brilliant puzzle platforming package, and it's one that most Wii U owners shouldn't do without.

[SPC Says: 9.0/10]

Monday, November 3, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - No Bad VGM November Edition

For some, November is a time to grow a big beard to support a noble cause. Hopefully this is just the men who are doing this, but I'm not here to judge. Regardless, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs is all about no bad VGMs this month. Then again, it's my wish that you can consider every month one where there are no bad VGMs. Good VGMs being subjective and everything. This week we have music from Mario Golf: World Tour, Rayman Origins, and Super Street Fighter IV, to deliver some good tunes to your good ears.

v731. Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS) - Forest Course

We kick this edition off with two recent Mario sports titles. The first of which is one of my personal favorite Mario sports titles ever created, Mario Golf: World Tour for the Nintendo 3DS. Not only did it have an abundance of holes to play on, but it had online tournaments, Mii customization, and so much more. As usual with Camelot-developed games, Motoi Sakuraba was at the composition helm for this game.

v732. Mario Tennis Open (3DS) - Wario Dunes

A study in contrast, while Mario Golf: World Tour was packed to the brim with content, Mario Tennis Open was decidedly a bit bare-bones in comparison. Heck, it was bare-bones in comparison to other games in its own genre and even series. That said, I still enjoyed my time with it, and I find the soundtrack to be a sizable part of that, once again composed by Motoi Sakuraba.

v733. Rayman Origins (Multi) - Gourmand Land ~ Breaking the Ice

Rayman Origins wasn't just a game with a terrific visual style and sensational soundtrack-- it was an immaculate 2D platformer that only made the wait for its sequel, Rayman Legends, that much harder. Christopher Heral was the composer behind both games, but I enjoyed his work more on Origins than what was available in Legends. Don't get me wrong, however-- that soundtrack was really good, too.

v734. Voodoo Vince (XBX) - Jean Lafitte's Ship

We go to a game that is getting recognition on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs for the first time, and it's about time, too! This theme comes from the severely underrated 3D platformer for the Xbox, Voodoo Vince. This was back in the day when the Xbox brand wasn't so focused on the 18-35 male gamer who tends to hover towards shooters, sports games, and racers. It's sad because I had high hopes for the Xbox brand back then. Quick! To the next VGM before I depress myself!

v735. Super Street Fighter IV (PS3, 360) - Drive-In at Night Stage (U.S.A.)

Our last VGM of this edition comes from Super Street Fighter IV. Fighting games where memorizing button combos is key are the bane to my gaming existence. I'm horrible at them, yet I keep coming back for more, as I get some enjoyment out of them. The Street Fighter series is no exception, and this chill electronica theme for the drive-in stage is of great contrast to the hot and heated action that takes place on it.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Wii U) TV Commercial

Here's a cute and clever commercial for the upcoming Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U. I'm cautiously optimistic about this game, as early videos weren't so hot. This new stuff is much more intriguing and polished. We'll see how well the game turns out when it releases in a couple of weeks.