Thursday, November 20, 2014

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS) Review

With Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the game really comes off as a celebration of all things Nintendo. Well, what about a celebration of all things Final Fantasy? I use that segue to reveal this all-new review for a Nintendo 3DS game that launched a couple of months ago. It's Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, and it does the Final Fantasy name and celebrating it very well.

The curtain rises once more for an excellent encore

Rhythm games are a take 'em or leave 'em type genre for me. Some I really can get into, while others leave me yearning for something else. The original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy released on the Nintendo 3DS a couple of years ago, and until that point in time, Samba de Amigo was my favorite rhythm game. Due to its fun gameplay and subjectively better music, Theatrhythm dethroned Samba quite handily. Now, a new entry in the Theatrhythm franchise arrives, offering more than double the amount of music available, an immense amount of new content, and pretty much serves as a love letter to anyone who finds Final Fantasy music and the series in general interesting at all. It's a rhythm game so good that it might just make the original obsolete. Does it do this?

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call contains the same gameplay as its predecessor. As notes scroll across the screen, the player has to tap the touch screen, swipe in the indicated direction, or hold the stylus down in time with the music, or for those less musically inclined, when the note crosses a special marker. Doing this as close to the beat as possible awards the most points. Doing an incorrect or poorly timed interaction with the touch screen can result in a "bad" rating, resulting in losing HP.

"What big teeth you have, King Behemoth!"
"All the bigger to get bashed in, my dears."
HP...? In MY rhythm game? Well, yes. The original Theatrhythm was a ridiculously remarkable concept, taking the rhythm genre and mixing it with an RPG. Like an RPG, you have a party you create out of four Final Fantasy all-stars, and through every music stage you complete with them, your party earns experience points. Leveling up characters not only improves their stats, but it also occasionally earns them new skills, magic, and abilities to equip. Unlike the original Theatrhythm, however, there's no arbitrary point penalty for equipping skills to your party, which is a massive and welcomed improvement, as any fan of the vanilla release can tell you.

No need to handicap yourself by
not equipping skills this time around.
Messing up too many times or missing too many notes will result in your party's HP decreasing all the way to zero. This, of course, means you get a game over. However, equipping helpful skills, like moves that heal HP after so many notes have been correctly hit, makes the various music stages more manageable.

There are three types of music stages within Curtain Call. The field stage has your party leader trekking from right to left through a landscape of some sort. Through successful taps, swipes and holds of the touch screen, your party leader moves faster through the side-scrolling environment. The better you do, the more items you obtain.

Many Final Fantasy destinations
make an appearance in Curtain Call.
Battle stages require the tapping of notes for your party of four to deal damage to enemies on screen. There are four lines of notes that appear on screen, one for each party member to unleash attacks with, though more than one note is never required to be played at the same time. As enemies are defeated through proficient touch screen rhythm skills, experience is earned and the chance for items increases. Every fourth enemy serves as a stronger boss who usually holds the rarest of items. Nonetheless, missing notes means that the enemy will attack you instead!

Why settle for an imitation of
Sephiroth when you can unlock the real thing?
Finally, the third type of stage in Theatrhythm is the event stage. These only occur when selecting songs from the main menu and only encompass the Final Fantasy games with cinematic cutscenes (i.e. Final Fantasy VII and on). As a scene from one of the games plays in the background, you perform your typical touching tactics in time with the on-screen prompts and music.

Event stages are my least liked
of the three stage varieties.
Outside of simply selecting one of three difficulties to play the over 200 Final Fantasy songs within Curtain Call, there is an all-new mode which replaces the decidedly grind-heavy Chaos Shrine from the original, Quest mode. Quest mode allows you to pick your path through a landscape, playing field and battle stages, to reach a final dungeon where a boss monster dwells. In between stages you can use items like potions to heal your party's HP, use teleport stones to skip especially challenging levels, and earn special goodies you otherwise wouldn't be able to obtain. Hundreds of quests await, though only a meager amount are unlocked at first.

With Quest mode, who knows
what challenges await?
Like the original Theatrhythm, generating Rhythmia is the main way of unlocking content within Curtain Call. As you complete songs, you earn Rhythmia points based on your performance. At certain milestones you earn content like new songs, crystals used for unlocking new characters, and other bonuses. These happen quite regularly, so you always have that carrot at the end of the stick to keep following, guiding you to continue playing. You always have something to work for, and it doesn't take long to be rewarded, which is nice.

Unlocking characters was something in the original Theatrhythm that did take long for a reward to happen. In that game, you had to basically grind by replaying the same Chaos Shrine movements (two songs apiece), beating the same bosses over and over again, and doing so with no real guarantee you'd unlock the right color crystal you needed, or if you'd even get a crystal at all.

I hope my chain of criticals isn't
boring the rest of you!
With Curtain Call, the all-new Quest mode has it where you can see the reward you will get for beating the various bosses that stand in your way in that particular quest, which is usually a handful of a certain color of crystal. Each colored crystal type unlocks one of a set of new characters to add to your roster. You even get to pick which character from that set you'd like, so can happily choose whether or not you want that wussy Vaan from Final Fantasy XII over the awesome golden-locked Edgar from Final Fantasy VI.

There are over 100 different quests of varying lengths to go through with different rewards. As you can only get a reward from a boss once, Quest mode encourages you to play different quests for different rewards. You even earn new quests by completing other quests and by simply facing players online.

Yep, this time SpotPass offers the ability of getting new quests to play rather than only offering such a solution through meeting other people locally through StreetPass. Online battles pit your selected party against another player's, dueling it out on a battle music stage chosen from one of you or your opponent's selection. It's a battle to see who earns the most points by the end of the song, or alternatively, which player is left standing, taking into account that fouling up a note makes your party lose HP. Even without a victory, you earn one Collectacard, a cool collectible within the game, as well as that player's quest that is attached to their profile card.

Cloud won't play nice just because you're a princess!
Finding people to play the original Theatrhythm was challenging, so having online play extends this already content-heavy and replay-able game even more! Not like you needed a reason to play Curtain Call more, what, with its many songs, three difficulties for each (though the gap of challenge between Expert and Ultimate could be lower), insane amount of characters to level up, just over 100 trophies to aim for, a multitude of collectible cards, and so forth!

If you're wondering just how much Final Fantasy love is in Curtain Call, consider this. Not only are the mainline Final Fantasy games, currently all 14 of them, represented with characters, enemies, backgrounds, and songs (about a dozen per game), but so are many of the spin-offs, such as the Crystal Chronicles series, Final Fantasy Tactics, Mystic Quest, Dissidia, Crisis Core, among many others. There is so much Final Fantasy goodness within Theatrhythm Curtain Call that it's hard to not sit back and go "whoa" at just how much there is.

After a long trek, who wouldn't want
to be greeted by a fat Chocobo?
Here comes the "tricky" part which is actually not that tricky at all! Should you even go back to the original Theatrhythm if you want Curtain Call? Furthermore, is there a point to buying the original over its sequel? Well, unless you sincerely prefer the idea of having the Chaos Shrine over the new Quest mode implemented for Curtain Call, there's really no reason to pick up the original vanilla Theatrhythm release over its superior sequel. You get all of the songs from the original game, including its downloadable content-- equaling over 200 songs alone-- you get a metric ton more characters to play as with less ridiculous grinding to get the particular character you want, and you don't have to deal with handicapping your characters by removing abilities from them for some arbitrarily dumb scoring reason.

Truth be told, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is a marvelous mecca for Final Fantasy fans, and an insanely awesome music game on top of that. If you have any love for great music or Final Fantasy, you owe it to your ears, inner rhythm, and reflexes to purchase Curtain Call.

[SPC Says: 9.25/10]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land (GBA, Wii U eShop) Retro Review

Last night I covered Super Mario Advance, giving the game a review. I figured since Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is releasing this Friday, I'd take a look at some of the games that the fighters are featured in and well-known for. Now, it's Kirby's turn with his entry into the Game Boy Advance library, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land. Here's the review!

An Adventure Reborn

Kirby's Adventure debuted on the NES in 1993. It was a late release for the system, as its successor, the Super Nintendo, already had over a year on the market to create a respectable lineup of software. That said, Kirby's Adventure really pushed the NES to its limits, allowing the developers to squeeze pretty much every last ounce of power within the unassuming NES, and it's one of the better games for Nintendo's first home console. Just over nine years later, Nintendo opted to remake Kirby's Adventure, this time putting the pink puffball back on the platform type he was born on, a handheld with the Game Boy Advance's Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land. Obvious graphical and sound upgrades aside, is Nightmare in Dream Land the definitive version of Kirby's Adventure?

Kirby unleashes the razzle-dazzle.
Kirby's mainline platforming adventures generally follow a set formula. You enter side-scrolling levels, inhaling enemies, taking their abilities, using said abilities to make it easier to complete said levels. Levels themselves are relatively short experiences, usually lasting 3-4 minutes at most to complete. That said, don't think that just because the levels are brief that Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land is a walk in the park.

To be fair, it WAS a spicy meatball.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Nightmare in Dream Land, and obviously the game it is a remake of, Kirby's Adventure, are some of the hardest Kirby games to complete 100%. The main issue here is that just like the early Game Boy Kirby games, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land has it where if you hold a power and you take any kind of damage, you lose that power. Sure, you can try to suck it back up with Kirby's vacuum-like mouth, but there are several problems with this tactic. For one, other enemies and their powers that you suck up in the process take precedence over a lost ability. Secondly, if you're underwater or near spikes, the moment your power-up leaves Kirby, you're out of luck.

It's a Kirby game, so Whispy Woods must be a boss!
(Seriously. You go to jail if you have a Kirby game
without Whispy Woods as a boss.)
Losing your power after one hit is ridiculous and irritating enough, but factor in this-- some levels require you to hold an ability all the way until a certain point in a level. For instance, a level in the sixth world requires you to have the Hammer ability to destroy a block leading to one of Nightmare in Dream Land's many switches, the lone "collectible" of sorts to beat the game with 100% completion. It's far too easy to run into a foe and lose your ability, and it especially stings when the level you lost it in isn't even the one that has the ability you actually need!

As for abilities, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land offers a standard set from a wide array of enemies. You have Sword, Fire, Burning, Ice, Beam, Ball, Stone, UFO, Crash, Mike, and many others. Using the correct ability at the right moment not only allows access to secret rooms and areas, usually housing the aforementioned switches, which open up new areas on the world map, but doing so also makes certain sections of the game easier. For example, using the Wheel ability on a straightaway allows Kirby to plow through enemies with abandon.

Smart use of abilities at the right time
may just save your skin. It'll at least save Kirby's!
Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land, just like the game it's a remake of, houses seven unique worlds, each starting out with a cute introductory opening skit involving Kirby somehow getting into trouble with an enemy or character. At the beginning of the game, worlds aren't overly long by any stretch of the imagination, usually holding only four levels and a boss stage. Later worlds house a handful more of stages to complete with more challenging obstacles, enemies, and hazards for Kirby to be cautious and careful with handling.

Nightmare in Dream Land is like many of the levels in the game, it's a short experience, taking approximately three or four hours to initially beat. As stated, some levels are home to secret areas holding switches. Unlike Kirby's Adventure, these secret rooms are more clearly defined, and on the level selection screen, each level with a switch that hasn't yet been found will show a different marking on its door than one that has. These slight but smart alterations make for a less tedious game.

Kirby abhors the backstroke.
Besides the obvious graphical and audio changes in this remake, new mini-games have been included, such as a quick-draw mini-game, requiring fast reflexes to draw your weapon out before your opponent does. There is also a Metaknight-exclusive mini-game where you are able to take full control of masked sword fighter. These additions are novel enough and add some more value to the overall package.

Kirby-san, keep calm and slice and dice.
Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land offers a wider color pallet than Kirby's Adventure (and obviously so), so the game delivers a larger variety of colorful locales and detailed backgrounds. Character sprites are well defined, and having lots of sprites on the screen at the same time does not induce slowdown, which is nice to see performance-wise. On the audio front, many old Kirby's Adventure themes get a whole new lease on life with the GBA's better sound chip, though some songs get rather tinny despite the better hardware.

For a remake of Kirby's Adventure, Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land brings a whole new lease on life for the game. It's an admirable remake, though I feel more could have been done to make the game even better. If you can manage the sometimes aggravating rule of losing your ability upon taking damage (especially in some of the later levels), then Nightmare in Dream Land is a 2D platformer you should not miss out on.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - First Snow of the Season Edition

Snow has fallen upon Central City for the first time this season! Let's bring out the old SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs segment to celebrate! (I was going to be posting this anyway, but don't let that spoil the celebration!) This week we have music from Killzone: Shadow Fall, Grandia, and Dark Souls! If you want to check out past VGMs featured on this weekly segment, check out the VGM Database!

v741. Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4) - Main Theme

Let's start off this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with a PlayStation 4 launch title. Over the weekend it was the PlayStation 4's first birthday, after all. Killzone: Shadow Fall might not have played as an outstanding first-person shooter in a seemingly endless sea of the genre, but it certainly looked and sounded tremendous. This main theme of the game may not be the most melodic, but it's certainly provides an ominous mood all the same.

v742. Grandia (PS1) - The Sandy Beach of Gumbo

A gentle and serene theme for a tranquil town, The Sandy Beach of Gumbo lulls players into a peaceful meditation with its soft piano and soothing strings. Grandia debuted on the PlayStation in 1997, and from there it spawned three sequels. As for the PS2 generation, Grandia as a series has unfortunately been missing in action.

v743. Blue Dragon (360) - Dragon Fight!

Nobuo Uematsu knows how to deliver excellent boss music, and Blue Dragon's Dragon Fight! is no exception. Well, actually, now that I think about it, that Infinity song with the Deep Purple lead vocalist singing is sort of bad... Regardless, as the name implies, this battle theme plays upon facing one of many dragons within this Xbox 360 exclusive.

v744. Dark Souls (PS3, 360) - Ornstein & Smough

A terrible twosome, a boss battle to end all Dark Souls boss battles-- well, except for every other climactic and tense encounter within the game. Ornstein & Smough's theme features an entire orchestra and a deep chorus that shakes the very foundation of the song. Motoi Sakuraba shows his mastery of magnificent boss music with this track.

v745. Sonic CD (SCD) - Collision Chaos Zone (Good Future)

I am of the camp that prefers the North American version of Sonic CD's soundtrack. It's far catchier, has better beats, more amusing melodies, and so on. Collision Chaos Zone is the second zone of several in Sonic CD. This particular rendition of the theme plays in the good future, the final act of the zone. Gotta dig that awesome guitar and the proceeding riffs it rocks out!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Super Mario Advance (GBA, Wii U eShop) Retro Review

It's rare that the weekend has so much activity on SuperPhillip Central. I mean, TWO new reviews in one weekend? I must be going crazy! Either that or just having a lot of fun writing, I guess! Here's the latest review for the month of November, it's our first retro review of the month, Super Mario Advance, a game available on the Game Boy Advance and Wii U eShop as of two weeks ago.

Vegetables kill. Super Mario Advance is living proof.

It's no big secret that the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, known as The Lost Levels in North America, was deemed too difficult for Western audiences. Thus, Nintendo took an entirely different IP known as Doki Doki Panic and altered the Arabian cast of heroes and replaced them with Mario characters and sold the game as Super Mario Bros. 2. With the launch of the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo opted to remake the NES original Super Mario Bros. 2 that North America received and put it as a launch title on its new handheld. That remake was Super Mario Advance, the first of a series of four classic Mario game remakes for the system. While the game is still as timeless as ever, there are some issues that stop it from reaching true greatness.

Super Mario Advance is a dolled up version of the NES classic Super Mario Bros. 2 (or how Japan knows it, Super Mario USA). Not only have the visuals been upgraded to take full advantage of the Game Boy Advance's improved hardware power, offering completely new backgrounds, colorful levels, and little to no frame-rate issues, so has the sound. Mario and his pals have small voice clips that regularly play when certain milestones are met, such as completing a level, collecting a 1-up, or powering up via a mushroom. Additionally, bosses have voice clips, too. While this is indeed a great liberty that Nintendo has taken with this remake, I find the added voices throw some more charm into the whole package. 

Anything Ninji can do, Mario can
do better, like jumping!
This remake also sees the addition of some added replay value to keep players coming back for more long after the twenty levels of the game have seen completion. For instance, now each level contains five red Ace coins to find and collect. These are generally out in the open, but in a place that requires extra platforming prowess to nab. After beating Wart and saving Subcon (i.e. beating the game), two Yoshi eggs appear in each level. However, these only show up in sub-space portions of levels, where players need to pull up a magic potion to create a door into sub-space. However, since sub-space areas are just one screen long, finding the exact locations of the Yoshi eggs can be mighty challenging, and in a frustrating and painstaking fashion. 

This Snifit guards one of the
highly coveted Ace coins.
As for how the game itself plays, Super Mario Advance adheres pretty firmly to the foundation the NES original Super Mario Bros. 2 built. You go through levels as one of four playable characters, with the ability to switch off between each of the four at the beginning of each life and each level.

Each of the four characters offers a different type of play style and has benefits and disadvantages over each other. Mario is the well-rounded character with no obvious advantages in any attribute while Luigi is the best and highest jumper. It's just that he's a bit slippery to control. Princess Peach is essentially recommended for beginning players, thanks to her glide ability, making otherwise daunting leaps more manageable. Finally, Toad is the shortest and fastest of the four. Some levels and hidden areas are designed to be easier with one character over the others, so there's some general encouragement to try to play as each character. 

Little princess, big trouble.
Seeing as Super Mario Bros. 2 originated as a totally different game with unique characters, so, too, is how enemies are defeated. Traditional Mario platformers require a simple hop on an enemy's head to defeat them. With Super Mario Bros. 2 and its GBA remake, Mario and friends are required to pull up vegetables from the ground and chuck them at foes to eliminate them. Additionally, standing on certain enemies such as Shy Guys, lifting them over your head, and chucking them also serves as offense in Super Mario Advance.

This goes into the boss encounters as well, such as the first miniature boss battle with Birdo, an enemy which generally blocks the exit of almost every level in the game. Through leaping on the eggs that Birdo shoots from its snout and lifting them over your head, you can throw them back at Birdo to damage her. Other bosses include the bomb-tossing Mouser, whose bombs can be thrown back so the bombastic rat gets caught in the explosion to take damage. The boss order in Super Mario Advance is changed from the NES original. The third world introduces a wholly new boss into the mix, a robotic Birdo, for example.

The explosions are so bright,
Mouser has to wear shades.
Apart from plucking veggies from the ground, there's a host of other helpful and surprising finds to pick up from underground-- shells, POW blocks which cause a huge quake when dropped, hearts that refill a character's health, bombs, and a standout one, a magical potion. When this is thrown, it reveals a door into sub-space, where if dropped in the correct spot, reveals a mushroom that can be used to temporarily add extra health to a character. Occasionally, some tubes (the Subcon equivalent of the Mushroom Kingdom's pipes) in sub-space serve as warp points to later worlds, effectively allowing you to skip entire worlds.

All of this sounds like a truly innovative take on the 2D platformer, and it is. Super Mario Bros. 2 continues to be unique among not only other Mario games in the series but also other games in the platforming genre. While most of this is fantastic, what pales in comparison is the lousy camera that unfortunately was not altered for this Game Boy Advance remake. 

Aw, shucks. Toad has some
sand in his shoes!
The question many of you might be asking yourself is, "this isn't a 3D platformer, so how do you mess up a camera in a 2D platformer?" The answer is that in traditional horizontal scrolling levels in Super Mario Advance, the camera does not pan in the direction you're facing when you turn around. No, you have to walk a little bit in that direction. In levels where there's flying enemies that come from the edge of the screen, the lack of extra space to see what's coming is quite deadly. Furthermore, in vertical areas of the game, there are scripted spots in each area where the camera moves up or down instead of constantly moving upward or downward to keep the player as the central focus. Many times I was hit because the screen was locked in position and wouldn't move until I jumped to a higher area. Unfortunately, that higher area contained an enemy that damaged me, sometimes costing me a life (and some dollars into a curse jar). 

Princess Peach brings the boom.
Outside of the original Super Mario Bros. 2 adventure, there's an additional game paired with it, Mario Bros., delivering the classic arcade game in handheld form. This is a nice distraction for short bursts, attempting to score higher and higher as enemies are routinely defeated, but it won't take long to yearn for a more in-depth experience.

Super Mario Advance does a lot to make an already accessible game in Super Mario Bros. 2 even more accessible. The difficulty is just right, the new visuals and digital audio voice clips are charming and whimsical, and the controls feel just as tight as they did back in 1988 with the NES original. Some unfixed camera issues aside, Super Mario Advance delivers a wickedly fun 2D Mario unlike any other adventure the portly plumber has ventured on before.

[SPC Says: 7.25/10]