Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tengami (Wii U eShop) Review

Where do you stand on the "Is gaming art?" debate? I used to not think much of it, but it's honestly been indie developers that have changed my tune. Nyamyam's Tengami for the Wii U eShop is one of those titles that assists with my positive interpretation of gaming as art. See why with my review.

An emotional tale put into the fold

Art takes the form of many things. If throwing paint seemingly randomly at a wall can be considered art, then why not games as interactive experiences, too? That is exactly what developer Nyamyam strives for with their Wii U eShop release, Tengami. Not only is it a work of art, but it's also unlike anything else the Wii U eShop has seen before.

Tengami tasks those engaged with its unique experience of traversing a Japanese landscape-- through forests, waterfalls, and across oceans, looking for three unique petals to restore a weeping cherry blossom tree to its original glory.

How this is done is through guiding your character along the various pop-up book vistas of Tengami through taps on the Wii U GamePad's touch screen. Upon reaching certain elements in the game world, you slide your stylus across the screen to turn pages. Sometimes it's to completely change scenes, while others it is as subtle as changing the season of the current area you are in or entering the inside of a structure.

Without a doubt the biggest issue with Tengami is that it's a game that asks of the player to shut off their twitch reflexes and open up and turn on their minds. Puzzles are the main challenge that Tengami offers, and additionally the game offers a story with subtle meaning to it. In this intensely artistic and well crafted game you will find no uptempo gameplay to stimulate your adrenaline. You'll simply receive imaginative design in every crevice, corner, and page of Tengami's world.

Tengami's tale can be told in one sitting. The puzzles themselves are not too challenging by any stretch of the imagination. For instance, they involve flipping sections of pages in the world to arrange a set of stairs for your character to reach a high-standing cliff, or ringing bells in a particular order.

While Tengami can be completed in less than 90 minutes, it's indeed an engaging and minimalist story, opting not to hit the player over the head with the overt meanings the game's imagery and subtle storytelling delivers. It's something, like any good story, that needs to be experienced more than once, which in my view, makes it worth the asking price ($9.99 USD).

However, not to completely fall in love with Tengami, there is one other problem with the game and that is the screen of the Wii U GamePad itself. Your attention will always be on the GamePad screen, as you'll constantly be interacting with it. Thus, there's no reason to even have the television screen on, which is the one with the highest resolution and picture quality. Sadly, you're limiting yourself with a lower quality screen by using the GamePad, which, by the way, is the only means to play Tengami on the system. You're limited to touch controls. This translates to if you want to see a high quality version of the game, the Wii U port won't be the one you want to look towards. Even still, at least you can get great audio with headphones on and an insanely gorgeous David Wise (ex-Rare composer) soundtrack for your ears to cherish.

Further still, Tengami usually runs smooth like the water in a pristine Japanese garden's pond. However, during a late-game sailing section across an ocean, there are multiple slowdown occurrences that do happen. Nothing that ruins the experience, but it's jarring nonetheless.

Tengami isn't as much a game as it is an interactive artistic experience. It's the kind of work that furthers gaming as an artistic medium, and despite its extreme brevity, Tengami is definitely worth checking out. It's the type of game that you can play as a means to unwind before bed, have a lazy Saturday afternoon, or just sit down and in one enjoyable sitting. Tengami is an experience definitely worth having not just once, but again and again.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

Friday, November 14, 2014

All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries - Part One

If you've been around SuperPhillip Central for a little while (it's okay if you haven't, so no harm done), then you know that I like talking about underrated and overlooked games. I've done various series on the subject. However, most of the time, the games mentioned in these articles are from wholly new or overlooked franchises themselves.

There are also a multitude of series that I can think of that have one, two, or a handful of games in it that aren't viewed as highly as the others, whether just or not.

These ideas are where the concept of All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries comes from, and you, my lucky, lucky, little reader, are just in time to see the very first part of this series of articles! This edition will feature series like Grand Theft Auto, The Legend of Zelda, and Mega Man!

Grand Theft Auto - Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (DS, PSP)

With an updated and enhanced version of Grand Theft Auto V making its way to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this Tuesday, it only makes sense to lead off with one of the more overlooked entries in the series, Chinatown Wars.

This game originally released on the Nintendo DS to little fanfare commercially, despite the applause from critics. No doubt the Nintendo DS being viewed as a family platform had much to do with that, but also GTA: Chinatown Wars was a drastic departure from what many of the more modern Grand Theft Auto games were. You see, Chinatown Wars was old-school GTA in a top-down perspective, most likely due to the DS' limited hardware power. A PlayStation Portable version was made for the system, but it, too, suffered the fate of low sales. Unfortunately, the top-down original style of the GTA games is just too old-school for most modern gamers nowadays.

The Legend of Zelda - The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GCN)

The Legend of Zelda series has an abundance of quality titles under its historic belt, and many fans constantly are up in arms over which title is most overlooked. It's high time I throw my opinion into the debate circle!

Four Swords Adventures was, until A Link Between Worlds on the Nintendo 3DS, the closest thing to a revitalization of A Link to the Past we had at the time. That's just alluding to the presentation. That said, that's not what makes the game so appealing to me. While Four Swords Adventures did encompass Nintendo's failed GBA connectivity for up to four players to team up and tackle challenges within the game's eight worlds of three levels each, I found myself loving the solo campaign just as much. It felt like a bite-sized Zelda adventure, and it's one that I keep coming back to. While there is no interconnected world to speak of like most other Zelda games, Four Sword Adventures is a game which has puzzles that are brilliant, areas that are challenging, and has a cool old-school feel, perfect for someone who is a glutton for nostalgia like myself.

Donkey Kong - DK: King of Swing (GBA), DK: Jungle Climber (DS)

Before Donkey Kong Country Returns returned Donkey Kong into a more traditional platforming role, Nintendo put its great ape through a vast array of experiments. From rhythm games to action-platformers where the beats of a bongo drum determined the movements of DK, there was a lot of variety to be had.

Nintendo didn't just deliver one atypical DK experience on a handheld but two. The first was DK: King of Swing, a game where the L and R buttons served as Donkey Kong's left and right hands. You alternated between the two to climb peg-filled walls to progress through levels. Donkey Kong Country enemies like Kritters, Zingers, and Neckys returned to the spotlight for a DKC-like adventure with totally different rules. The second game was a direct sequel for the Nintendo DS, DK: Jungle Climber. Both games are without a doubt worth a look and need to be played just to appreciate how well they were designed. They might not have been the true Donkey Kong Country games fans wanted at that time, but they're well worth playing regardless.

Kirby - Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble (GBC)

Speaking of characters who have been through a lot of experimentation, Kirby is no stranger to differing and varying gameplay styles. One game he's stuck in a pinball table, another you're controlling ten different Kirby characters like a super cute army of doom!

Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble wasn't just a totally different gameplay experience; it was a totally different way to play in general. Through gyroscope technology within the Game Boy Color cartridge, you tilted, twisted, and turned the Game Boy system to move Kirby around a world of sky-high mazes filled with holes, traps, and obstacles. A Game Boy Advance sequel was once in the works a decade ago, but that, sadly, never came into fruition. You'll read more about that in a special article I have planned for next week!

Mega Man - Mega Man 7 (SNES)

All of the non-NES-style Classic Mega Man games could possibly be considered underrated, but I'm just going to stick with one of the games for now, and that is Mega Man 7 on the Super Nintendo. Using a larger sprite for the Blue Bomber meant that there was less real estate on screen for enemies and obstacles. However, I argue that Mega Man 7 is a splendid effort for everyone's favorite Robot Master butt-kicking machine. It had plenty of side content, level design with hidden areas to discover and enjoy, and a soundtrack that is considerably catchy. Mega Man 7 also happens to contain what I consider the most difficult final Dr. Wily encounter in series history.

Ratchet & Clank - Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus (PS3)

While several recent Ratchet & Clank games have severely missed the mark and are rated poorly (rightfully so), the newest in the franchise, Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, is a like bite-size treat for fans of the lovable lombax and witty robot pair. The frame-rate isn't always the greatest, the game may be a bit brief, and it doesn't compare to Going Commando or Up Your Arsenal, but Into the Nexus is indeed a right step for the franchise. It contained plenty of humorous moments, awesome new gadgets, gorgeous locations and locales to explore, and a Challenge Mode that kept me coming back multiple times. While I do await a new, full-length adventure for Ratchet and his biggest bud Clank, Into the Nexus was a terrific appetizer to chew on while I, and many other fans, wait.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Swapper (Wii U eShop) Review

SuperPhillip Central is home to a lot of reviews. Since I founded the site back in 2008, I (and sometimes others) have accumulated over 530 unique reviews. I add to the list tonight with this review of the Wii U version of The Swapper, a game that released last week. Here's the review.

A Stack of the Clones

Sometimes I lay awake night after night, pondering my very existence and answers to questions that have alluded man for so many millenniums-- What is man? What is a mind? Will the early nineties sitcom Empty Nest ever get a DVD release? If the philosophical side of your brain has been dormant for any extended length of time, then perhaps Finnish independent developer Facepalm Games' The Swapper should be required playing. Heck, even if you aren't a heavy thinker and just love games with physics-based puzzles, then The Swapper should be required playing, too!

The Swapper's premise is simple and unassuming enough. You play as a spaceman who has crash-landed on a dilapidated space station full of nothing but ambient noise, stunning environments, and plenty of puzzles to solve as you try to find a way to make your escape.

Progression in The Swapper is limited to collecting a certain amount of orbs in the game's numerous rooms. Collecting enough orbs allows you to venture into a new part of the space station you find yourself on. The rooms vary in difficulty, but they are all self-contained. There are no orbs that require multiple room progression to reach.

The eponymous element of the game, the gun known as "the swapper", is used by your spaceman avatar to create up to four clones in the general area. They mimic your avatar's movements perfectly. Moving left will have all of the clones move left, jump and all of the clones will jump, and so forth. Certain gameplay catches are thrown into the mix to keep things challenging. For instance, you can swap between clones, but you can only swap to a clone that is within your line of sight. There are also spotlights that either disallow the ability to create clones or halt your line of sight, making it impossible to switch between certain clones.

There are even some traversal matters to contend with, such as using the slow motion of the swapper gun to continually make a series of clones that goes higher and higher in order to reach otherwise impossible areas to explore. The complete opposite is how you survive places in the game where you are required to get to the bottom of a long shaft, for instance.

Rooms are generally cleared by having all of your clones successfully stand on top of various switches to turn on and off lights, open and close doors, and allow movement or the ability to switch to a clone so it can nab the desired orb in the room.

The Swapper is a game that delivers all of the tools needed to solve the game's myriad puzzles right from the get-go. On one hand, this is reassuring because you're never asking yourself the dreaded question brought up in Metroid-style games: "Do I have the required upgrade to solve this particular puzzle or not?" And it certainly doesn't take you five or ten minutes of fruitlessly trying before coming to the conclusion that no, you don't have everything you need.

On the other hand, there's the concern that puzzles that are consistently based on physics and require the use of clones could get rather old rather fast, especially if there's no new upgrade to make things feel fresh. Thankfully, this is definitely not the case with The Swapper. The developers have successfully taken the sponge of different puzzles and squeezed it as much as possible to create a game with a wide assortment of puzzles that smartly use your ability to create clones.

However, in doing this, The Swapper isn't particularly long by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it's quite short, taking me about 5-6 hours to complete. There's the bonus of playing through the game again for an alternate ending, but predictably so, the second time through The Swapper is easier due to the familiarity you will have with the puzzles and their subsequent solutions. Factor in the high cost of entry ($19.99 USD), and it's hard to fully recommend this game wholeheartedly, even with the optional discoveries of memory terminals that add to the game's lore.

That isn't to say The Swapper isn't of any value. It certainly is, and it's quite unlike anything else on the Wii U eShop. From its art style modeled mostly from clay, the tremendous feeling of isolation aboard a cold and lonely space station, and the story which would give some philosophers a run for their money with the questions the game asks of players, The Swapper delivers not just in quality content but in presentation too. Nonetheless, The Swapper's price is a factor to consider, especially if you only see yourself playing through the game once and then casting it aside.

Wii U owners have had to wait a little longer than other platform holders for The Swapper, and I would maintain that this version is worth looking into, as it runs nearly as well as the extremely impressive PC version. The GamePad can serve as the game map, a place for text logs to be cycled through and read, and also have the entire game played on it via off-TV play. The game controls wonderfully, whether you're using straight button and analog inputs, or if you're being adventurous and using the stylus on the touch screen to position and place clones into the game world.

At twenty bucks, The Swapper is selling itself as a premium downloadable experience. Whether that is the actual reality is up to your perspective. For me, The Swapper can be found on other platforms for a cheaper price, and the exclusive features of the Wii U version do not make it more worthy of purchase than any other version. That said, The Swapper is a highly thought-provoking, cleverly designed physics puzzler that regardless which platform you play it on, just know that you SHOULD really play it.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume Twelve


One of my favorite aspects in gaming is level design. Levels have always fascinated me, and as young as I can remember being, I loved drawing up little maps for games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Mega Man X, for example.

My personal history aside, we last looked as some of my favorite levels in gaming history back in July. I think it's high time for another peek at what some of the greatest levels ever devised are with this twelfth volume. This volume contains levels and areas from Final Fantasy VII, Saints Row IV, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, to name just three. 

If you missed a previous edition of Best Levels in Gaming History, have no fear. I have collected the links of all previous eleven entries in my long running series for your convenience!

The Bombing Mission - Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

So many RPGs prior to Final Fantasy VII started the same-- in bed or in an otherwise subdued fashion. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy VII kicked things off as if bidding adieu to the old style of RPGs the series was associated with in the past, and saying "I am Final Fantasy VII. This is a new generation of Final Fantasies. Hear me roar." And boy, did Final Fantasy VII's opening bombing mission at a Mako reactor in Midgar roar like a lion on steroids.

You play as a part of an anti-Shinra (a corporation with a firm hold on the government throughout the world) militant group AVALANCHE. As the ever-sociable (not) Cloud Strife, your team of militants rush out of a steam locomotive and towards the Mako reactor, one of many in Midgar that AVALANCHE considers Shinra to be using to suck the life out of the planet.

The Shinra rebels leap from the locomotive, knocking out the guards at the station platform. Barret, leader of AVALANCHE, runs forward after giving the newcomer Cloud instructions to follow him. After a battle with two blue-clad soldiers, Cloud and the anti-Shinra militants run into the Mako reactor for the goal of planting the bomb.

Final Fantasy VII's first boss battle occurs, having Cloud and Barret temporarily team up to take on the Guard Scorpion robot. Despite an incorrect translation when and when not to attack the robot, it is an easy battle, as expected from a first encounter with a boss. From there, the bomb is successfully planted and a ten minute countdown is given for players to am-scray or else get blown up with the Mako reactor. 

After exiting the reactor, a tremendous explosion occurs from it, jostling the entire massive city of Midgar with it. AVALANCHE's mission this time around is a success, and so is the developers' attempt at creating one of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping, and fun openings to any Final Fantasy game, much more to most RPGs. 

Zero Saints Thirty - Saints Row IV (PS3, 360, PC)

We go from one opening mission to another with Saints Row IV's ridiculous first mission. Well, really, most of Saints Row IV's missions classify as ridiculous, but I digress. A nuclear threat has gripped the United States thanks to former STAG commander Cyrus Temple. It's up to a joint effort by the Saints and MI6 to save the day, the country, and look pimpin' while doing it.

Saints Row IV starts out with the Saints in a chopper en route to the missile silo that Temple is holed up in. Upon arrival they meet up with an MI6 agent named Asha Odeckar and proceed to do some reconnaissance on a nearby hilltop. However, the Boss of the Saints' patience isn't the greatest, so he (for purposes of consistency and my own sanity, I'll refer to the Boss as a "he") runs, guns blazing and knives ready to strike into combat, absolutely ripping all of the terrorists outside of the missile silo's entrance a new one. The rest of the group follows into the missile silo and proceeds to give the player control of the Boss, running, shooting, and carving up terrorists with his knife. 

Upon reaching Cyrus, the two duke it out with their fists, a fight revolving around quick time event button presses for the player to successfully pull off in order to win. When Cyrus reaches for a machine gun in a box, the Boss leaps to a nearby gun and blasts him over the railing, into a vat of hazardous material. Before Cyrus is fully bathed in the liquid of certain death, he triggers the nuke to launch. Target? Washington D.C.

Throwing caution to the wind once more, the Boss decides to apparently sacrifice himself to stop the nuke, leaping towards it and hanging off the side. For the award for perfect use of a licensed song in a video game, as the nuke enters the nighttime sky, Aerosmith's "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" begins playing as the Saints give their final goodbyes to the Boss as the Boss rips into the circuitry of the missile. Heck, even Asha has a goodbye message for the Boss, although it's what you'd expect from someone who just met the Boss less than ten minutes ago.

Regardless, the Boss victoriously destroys the warhead, leaps from the missile, giving a thumbs up as it explodes behind him, and falls into his seat in the oval office, returning to work as president of the United States. With a quick kicking up his feet onto his desk, another mission to earn America's eternal love and gratitude is in the books.

Saints Row IV's Zero Saints Thirty mission sets the stage for the entire game. This is a game that is here to give player insane moments and crazy good fun. It successfully carves a niche for itself in a genre of open-world sandbox games and distinguishes itself from the Grand Theft Auto franchise in the process.

Mute City - Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)

Super Smash Bros. fever is hitting SuperPhillip Central! I've got it! Do you?! I've been really enjoying Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. I take it as an appetizer to the main entree, the Wii U version, releasing in less than two weeks! It only seems appropriate to bring up one of my favorite new stages within the 3DS game.

Mute City features 2D platforms and original sprite vehicles cast on top of the Mute City race from the original SNES F-Zero game. Typically the layout has two 2D platforms on either side of the Blue Falcon that races along the course. Along the way, different vehicles like Pico's Wild Goose, for example, enters the battlefield from one of the sides of the screen as a makeshift platform. Just don't stay too long on these secondary vehicles, as they'll quickly retreat out of the battlefield.

There are plenty of new stages in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS that I really admire and love battling on, but Mute City somehow manages to blend retro visuals with the enjoyable Mute City track environment to make for my favorite.

Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)

Taking place aboard a train in the Wild West in the year 1885-- wait, are the TMNT and Back to the Future series in the same universe? That would have been some kind of crossover! ...Anyway, sorry about that. Taking place aboard a train in the Wild West in the year 1885, Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee takes the pace of Turtles in Time and ramps it up. It sure beats sailing one mile per hour on a pirate ship, does it not?

This level has a lot to it beyond the moving background, however. There are large barrels that can be used to a turtle's advantage, hitting them into a row of enemy Foot Soldiers. There are Foot Soldiers that pull up to the train via horse and dismount onto the train itself-- showing some mighty fine athleticism, mind you. There is also the ending enjoyment of challenging the killer croc with a nasty fashion sense, Leatherhead, in a one-on-one, one-on-two, or if you're in the arcade, one-on-three, one-on-four battle. (Seriously, was it necessary for me to type that all out?) 

Anyhow, Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee is like an old West train ride-- bumpy, entertaining, a thrill from beginning to end, and it always concludes with you battling a bipedal talking crocodile!

Nintendo - Super Monkey Ball 2 (GCN)

I conclude this edition of Best Levels in Gaming History with an ode to one of Nintendo's home consoles of yesteryear, the GameCube. As an owner and lover of the system, I have a wide assortment of software for my purple little lunch box. Two of my favorite titles on the system are both Super Monkey Ball games. (We don't talk about Super Monkey Ball Adventure on this site.) 

I always found the second game the more entertaining of the two, due to the ability of grinding for a multitude of extra lives and continues. That's how I was able to play the final level in the ultra-hard series of Master levels in Super Monkey Ball 2, simply entitled "Nintendo."

The level has you rolling on a slowly spinning Nintendo GameCube. You have to be incredibly careful with your finger-work, as if you fall into one of the cavities on the underside of the system, you would have no momentum to get out. Thus, when the GameCube turned over, you would fall into the abyss below. 

Unlike many of the later stages in Super Monkey Ball 2, the Nintendo level was fair and didn't require running at full tilt and hoping for the best like how more stages than many would have liked were designed. It was all about going over the edges of the ever-turning GameCube at a sufficient enough pace that you didn't go too fast and slide down the side, or too slow and not have enough momentum to get to the other side. 

At the end of the level, the top hatch of the GameCube system opened, revealing the level's goal inside. I can't tell you how badly I cursed when the system's lid unsuspectingly opened with me on top of it. Into the bottomless abyss I went, along with my hopes and dreams...


How did you enjoy this edition of Best Levels in Gaming History? Which levels would you add to the list? Perhaps they will a part of a future installment!

Monday, November 10, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Shorter Days, Wondrous Nights Edition

This past weekend in Central City was the time where all citizens turned their clocks back one hour. That means sunset arrives much earlier than it did previously. Regardless, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs' sleeping pattern is unaffected, and the good tunes that I share with you go on unabated! This week you and I can listen to songs from Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Okami, and Drakengard 3! If this week's selection of VGMs isn't enough for you, check out my VGM Database for over 700 more individual themes from an abundant array of video games!

v736. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP) - The Price of Freedom

Played at a pivotal moment in the Final Fantasy VII prequel Crisis Core on the PlayStation Portable, this emotional rock guitar-driven theme really makes the moment it occurs in all the more special. Of course, if you've played Final Fantasy VII, the moment really isn't a spoiler at all. No more than Aerith dies... *gasp*

v737. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City (DS) - Their Own Brand of Justice

We move on to the PSP's rival of the previous handheld generation with the Nintendo DS and the final boss theme from one of its games, Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City. Yuzo Koshiro is one of the best in the video game music composition biz, and examples like Their Own Brand of Justice proves just why!

v738. Okami (PS2, Wii) - Ryoshima Plains

Okami is a great Zelda in wolf's clothing. The team at Clover Studios really knew their stuff with each and every game they put out, and for many fans of the now-dissolved studio, Okami is one of their most revered works. A Wii port was put out on the system years after the PlayStation 2 original, adding some Wii Remote brush mechanics into the mix for some novel uses.

v739. Drakengard 3 (PS3) - The Final Song (Boss Theme)

If you don't quite understand why this boss theme of Drakengard 3 is so good, perhaps this little nugget of information will help you. The composer of Drakengard 3 is also the one who composed the music for the fantastic Nier soundtrack. Has your mind been blown? ...What do you mean you already knew that!? You clever, clever reader!

v740. 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3) - Aqua Temple

Our final VGM of this week's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs comes from 3D Dot Game Heroes. While Okami was modeled after 3D Zeldas, 3D Dot Game Heroes was built on the 2D Zelda foundation, mostly the classic NES original. It goes into the soundtrack, too, with its retro feel and boops and beeps! Like the original Zelda, 3D Dot Game Heroes was also a game that could take you to the proverbial woodshed and give you a mighty good spanking!

LittleBigPlanet 3 (PS4, PS3) Official TV Commercial

One of my favorite PlayStation franchises is the creative, charming, and endearing LittleBigPlanet series. The next installment is a cross-gen release, coming out for both the PS4 and the PS3. This commercial focuses on the new generation version.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U) TV Commercial

For most of the world, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is just less than two weeks away. Nintendo of America is wasting no time with this new commercial for the game. Are you interested in the new Smash, or are there other titles that tickle your fancy more?