Friday, December 12, 2014

BLTN Reviews: Killzone: Mercenary (Vita) Review

BLTN? What could that possibly stand for? Bacon, lettuce, tomato, Nutella? Hmm. That might not be a bad combination for a future sandwich.

Ahem! Anyway, BLTN stands for Better Late Than Never, my series of reviews on games from the past few years that I just played which I am now reviewing. The next game in this feature of reviews is Killzone: Mercenary. As someone who isn't a huge fan of the Killzone franchise, did I manage to find some enjoyment out of this PlayStation Vita installment?

Time to earn some mad merc money

There seemed to be two camps in the PlayStation fan base with regard to FPS games. One camp enjoyed Insomniac's Resistance series, while others were enamored with the world and mechanics of Guerrilla Games' Killzone series. The difference between the two franchises is that one received a lot more hype and a bigger marketing push than the other. That franchise in question just so happened to be the one that stuck around, Killzone.

I've played most of the titles in the series, but they just didn't do much for me overall. The standard mechanics were there-- shooting, sprinting, headshot-obtaining, etc., but something just didn't keep me playing for very long. Killzone: Mercenary, on the other hand, is a rare gem in the franchise. It's a game that I not only picked up and found myself greatly enjoying, but it's one that I played long after the credits rolled. It's the next in a line of Vita first-person shooters that tries to do the genre justice on Sony's handheld, and it definitely does that and then some.

Yes... Come to your death, Helghast scum!
Killzone: Mercenary has you playing as Arran Danner, a mercenary for hire (fancy that) who is hired by the ISA to help fight against the Helghan threat. For fans of the franchise, Killzone: Mercenary is essentially a best-of collection of familiar locations and events in the Killzone trilogy. Being a gun-for-hire, Danner eventually plays both sides of the conflict based off of in-game happenings of the overall plot, and whichever side has the moral high ground, coincidentally enough. Regardless, Mercenary's story is the weakest piece of the equation, and it served for me merely as a means to an end to get to all the running and gunning the game possesses in its nine missions.

I think I'll take a covert approach this time around.
All to itself, the aforementioned running and gunning would be of typical Killzone series quality, which wouldn't be so bad. However, Mercenary offers a clever means to keep players playing. Throughout each mission and multiplayer match you participate in, you're receiving money bonuses for a myriad of actions. Everything from a kill, to a headshot, to a melee kill, to an explosive kill, to getting through a section of a level without alerting the enemy, and so forth, rewards you with money. This money is used at Mercenary's arms dealer, which can be accessed in the main menu, and at various locations throughout each of the game's missions.

This black market will soon be colored
in red with the blood of your enemies.
Money is then used to purchase new primary and secondary weapons, types of grenades, armor, and VAN-Guards, which are high-tech equipment that can range from a cloaking device, a robotic buddy that electrifies nearby enemies with a wave of electricity, a jammer that cuts off enemy communication, a missile launcher that locks on to enemies, and more. These goodies can be used to create customized loadouts for single player missions and multiplayer.

Although there's but nine missions to complete in Killzone: Mercenary, most of them take upwards of a half-hour on one's first time through. There's also money to be earned from completing missions on various difficulties, with Veteran being the hardest-- although compared to past Killzone games, the Veteran difficulty in Mercenary is by far the easiest.

It's a modern FPS game, so obviously we need
to bloody up the screen to show you're injured.
In addition to simply completing the nine missions for story and progression purposes, Killzone: Mercenary has three special contract missions for each of the nine levels. These take the form of Precision, Covert, and Demolition contracts. Not only do they add replay value and longevity to Mercenary, but they change the way you play each level. Each contract mission has different objectives that go on top of the story-related ones. These are things like getting through a section of a level undetected, killing a certain number of enemies with a specific weapon, getting a number of melee kills, beating a mission under a specified time limit, destroying a number of a certain object, rescuing hostages, and so forth. It makes it so you need to do more than just run and gun. You grow to learn the levels and the best paths through them and which strategies work best.

This particular objective in a Demolition contract
is to destroy this armored dropship.
Outside of the exhaustive solo campaign, Killzone: Mercenary offers a massive multiplayer component, delivering intense shootouts between players online. There's three main modes to multiplayer, such as your standard every-player-for-themselves deathmatch and team deathmatch, and nine multiplayer maps. You can customize several loadouts, so you can equip the right series of weapons and the like for the right situation. You can even change loadouts after each death for if the one you're currently using isn't working for you at that particular moment.

Do you enemies mind? I heavily
value my personal space.
As of the time of this review, over a year since the game originally launched in North America, Mercenary still has short waiting times to participate in online firefights. It's easy to find matches with players. There's even downloadable content to add bots for offline play only. I enjoyed the game's multiplayer so much that I decided to purchase said DLC, though it would have been preferred to have been a part of the original game.

Being another attempt at putting a first-person shooter on a handheld, Killzone: Mercenary is without question the king. Sure, the competition, especially on Vita, where its opponents were a weak Call of Duty and a weaker Resistance spin-off, wasn't too challenging, but Mercenary impresses as a shooter in general. Some might find the forced touch screen implementation for melee kills (swiping in a certain direction), sniper rifle zooming, and a hacking mini-game, which is a regular occurrence in the game's missions, to be pure gimmickry, but it doesn't overly deter from Mercenary's overall quality.

This should clear up that ear infection of yours.
Killzone: Mercenary is an absolutely breathtaking game to view. The various vistas and locales in the game seldom manage to disappoint, and the special effects such as lighting and explosions do nothing but amaze. Unfortunately, Mercenary doesn't run perfectly, sometimes dipping heavily in frame-rate when the action gets too intense. Furthermore, starting each mission results in a significant loading period as the mission briefing plays out. You can't skip this until at least 30-60 seconds into the briefing. This makes it that repeated play-throughs of missions becomes quite tedious. "I just want to shoot things, darn it! Shut up already, generic war guy!"

Beat these snipers at their own game!
For those fans of first-person shooters, you haven't had a lot of great genre experiences on a portable device. Well, friends, now you have Killzone: Mercenary, the cream of the bang-bang, shoot-shoot crop. As someone with a passing interest in the genre due to the seemingly millions of shooters hyped to hell and released each year, I found myself absolutely loving Mercenary, and even wanting to attempt the time-consuming process of obtaining the Platinum trophy. The game isn't perfect with its long loading times at the beginning of solo missions and multiplayer matches and weak story, but overall, Killzone: Mercenary mission to bring great fun and great FPS gameplay to the PlayStation Vita was a success.

[SPC Says: 9.25/10]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Ten Nintendo DS Games

Last month marked the tenth anniversary of the Nintendo DS system's launch. It feels only right to celebrate with a top ten list making note of my favorite games for Nintendo's dual-screened sales juggernaut. As you can see with this list of quality games, plus ones that couldn't make it on this list, the sales of the Nintendo DS were certainly well deserved thanks to the incredible library. After I've listed mine favorites, why not chime in with your own, or feel free to agree/disagree with my picks!

10) The World Ends With You

A nice experiment from Square Enix that paid off immensely, The World Ends With You takes a modern day approach in Shibuya, Tokyo. You played as Neku Sakuraba, journeying through the city streets and initiating touch-based combats, using swipes, taps, and more to defeat creatures of all shapes and sizes. Collectible pins enabled different abilities and benefits to make battles more manageable, especially for those who have problems adjusting to the high learning curve of the battle system. The World Ends With You was just a novel RPG to play when I originally did in 2008, and I'm happy that Square Enix took a risk with a new IP.

9) Pokemon: HeartGold/SoulSilver

The first of two remakes on Nintendo DS enters the fray with Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, remakes of the Game Boy Color classics, Gold and Silver. As someone who never played the originals, this batch of remakes was an eye-opening experience. It was almost overwhelming in how much there was to do, Pokemon to catch, battles to wage, gym leaders to beat, badges to earn, areas to explore, and collectibles to attain. Now, both Pokemon games are the highlight of the series for me, and I can only imagine how much I'd love these remakes and appreciate them had I played the originals.

8) Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

The third entry in the Professor Layton franchise, as well as the most recent in the series' timeline, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future was the near-perfect Professor Layton experience. It had the most heartfelt, touching story in the series, it had a plethora of incredible, brain-wrecking puzzles to solve, a lovable cast, clever plot twists and mysteries, and enjoyable mini-games on top of everything. While later Layton games fixed issues of the Nintendo DS entries, I still love the Unwound Future installment for being the height of the series, and looking around the Internet, I don't seem to be alone on this assessment.

7) Super Mario 64 DS

Like with the Nintendo 64, the Nintendo DS saw Super Mario 64 at its launch. This time it was in the form of a remake, Super Mario 64 DS, offering four playable characters, updated visuals, and 30 extra power stars to collect to make for a total of 150. As a lover of the original, I did miss having pure analog controls, though the thumb pad to move around the touch screen was a somewhat serviceable substitution. Although the controls weren't as smooth as the N64 original, the bonus content in the form of the aforementioned 30 extra power stars, extra areas specially created for the game, and the myriad of engaging touch-based mini-games made for a Nintendo DS launch title that I was able to enjoy into the subsequent months of no new games to play until Kirby the following summer.

6) Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

The Castlevania series is one of gaming's most storied franchises. While the series recently hasn't been as exciting due to moving development to a Western studio, we always have the classic and Metroid-styled Castlevania games to look back on and play. Dawn of Sorrow was the first of three Castlevania games on the Nintendo DS, and it was my first ever introduction to the Castlevania series. Everything from the level design of journeying inside and outside a sprawling castle, to the presentation and whip and sword-slashing action was high quality. Sure, there's some thrown-together touch inputs here and there, but it doesn't stop Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow from remaining one of my favorite DS games and one of my favorite Castlevania games.

5) Kirby Canvas Curse

This next game on my list was the first Nintendo DS game that really cemented the idea that touch controls weren't just some gimmick best left for mini-games. Kirby Canvas Curse was not just the first great example of touch screen gaming, having players draw lines to guide Kirby and friends around the game's many levels, but it was also the first wholly original Nintendo DS game that I truly loved. With an unexpected but very welcomed sequel appearing on Wii U in February of next year, I'm glad Nintendo is returning to this highly innovative and enjoyable concept.

4) The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

While I am not in the camp that detested The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, the first Nintendo DS Zelda game, I don't find it a top-tier game in the series. I actually find it to be a weak game in some regards, particularly the repeated trips to the Temple of the Ocean King. That said, the second Nintendo DS Zelda entry was The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Going along the lines of Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks was purely touch-based, using swipes for sword slashes and guiding Link around with movements of the stylus. It was a clever control scheme that I found myself enamored with, though nothing beats traditional controls for more complex and challenging Zelda games. Anyhow, Spirit Tracks fixed many issues that plagued Phantom Hourglass, such as tedious backtracking, poor music, an overly boring overworld, among many others. It's not the quintessential Zelda, but Spirit Tracks delivers on most aspects regardless.

3) Animal Crossing: Wild World

The biggest draw to Animal Crossing: Wild Word, online play, might not be a part of the package any longer due to the Nintendo's DS online services being offline for good, but the offline portion of Wild World is great still. Of course, my best memories are inviting friends from across the country and the world to visit my town, see the sights, humble me with their kind words, and have us play games like hide and seek or hit-each-other-with-nets. What Wild World was was a total upgrade to the GameCube original Animal Crossing, translating gloriously to a handheld device. You indeed had the whole world in your hands with Animal Crossing: Wild World.

2) New Super Mario Bros.

There was once a time when gamers craved for a brand-new Mario and it didn't seem so commonplace. That time was around 2005, and Nintendo delivered unto fans the first 2D Mario side-scroller in approximately a decade. With a wide array of horizontal and vertical scrolling levels, creative boss encounters that weren't as simplistic as the various Koopaling battles of later NSMB games, and gold star coins to find in each stage, New Super Mario Bros. was a fresh experience. While newer NSMB games are still top-tier platformers, the original remains an important game in Nintendo's history and the Nintendo DS' library. Just don't expect great music without "BAH, BAHS."

1) Mario Kart DS

To me, this number one pick of mine for top Nintendo DS game, Mario Kart DS, was the pinnacle of Mario Kart in terms of content. You had 32 tracks to sink your teeth into, half new, half returning from past Mario Kart games. There was a favorite feature of mine, Mission Mode, which beefed up the single-player content of the game significantly, even having you face familiar foes and bosses outside of doing in-game tasks like collecting a certain amount of coins or driving through series of flags. Let's not forget that Mario Kart DS was one of the first Nintendo games with online, albeit simplistic even for that era's standards. Oh, and did I mention that the racing, an important factor of a racing game, was immensely well done? Just in case I hadn't, there it is! What it all boils down to is a fantastic kart racer for anyone who loves wacky, whimsical fun.

What Nintendo DS games are your favorites? Feel free to list as many games as you'd like-- no need to just cut it down to ten like I did!

Monday, December 8, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Off to the Races Edition

Welcome, SuperPhillip Central readers-- both regular and new, to SuperPhillip Central's weekly look/listen to some of my favorite video game music tracks. This is a special themed week that is based on arcade-style racing games. There is no need to slow down on these turns! Such games featured this week include Super Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, and Sonic R! If you'd like to travel back in time and visit past VGM selections, race on over to my VGM Database!

v756. Super Mario Kart (SNES) - Rainbow Road

The original Rainbow Road delivers high speed thrills and chills, as there are no rails to keep you from falling into the abyss below, adding a lot of unneeded seconds to your overall time. Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart is such a popular track that it has since appeared in three Mario Kart games: Super Circuit, Mario Kart 7, and Mario Kart 8's DLC. Its luxurious theme plays during all iterations of the track, but I prefer this classic version.

v757. Crash Team Racing (PS1) - Crash Cove

Crash Team Racing has many fantastic attributes to it. Its track design is splendid, its shortcuts are cleverly crafted, its item balance is fair, its challenge is adequate, and its adventure mode is terrific. One thing that isn't so amazing is the soundtrack. While there are a few standouts such as Crash Cove, the first major track of the game, a lot has the ears leaving much to be desired.

v758. Diddy Kong Racing (N64) - Boulder Canyon

Diddy Kong Racing is still my favorite kart racer ever created. Rare really got onto something good by introducing adventure elements into the kart racing genre. In fact, Crash Team Racing would be quite different had DKR not laid the foundation beforehand. Boulder Canyon has two parts to its theme. One plays when you're riding the rapids in your hovercraft, while the other plays when you're inside the interior of a castle and accompanying caverns. Dave Wise, I bow to you! *bows*

v759. Sonic R (SAT) - Back in Time

A cheesy soundtrack for sure, Sonic R's music has that feeling of charm (and awesome vocals, too) that makes it work somehow, even if the actual racing wasn't the top of its class. You still have to give Sega credit for making an adventure out of racing, with multiple shortcuts, extra areas, and much more. Back in Time is a uptempo Euro-pop tune, a definitive artifact of when it was originally released.

v760. F-Zero X (N64) - Dream Chaser

Nothing like speeding down a zero G track at highly dangerous speeds to get the blood pumping. It's even better when you have Taro Bando's rocking F-Zero X soundtrack to accompany you! Just don't go too far over the limit, or you might find yourself careening off course... and off the course, too! F-Zero X has one of the best soundtracks for the Nintendo 64, and just hearing this theme again makes the thirst for a new F-Zero oh-so real.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze (PS3, 360, 3DS) Review

There's a special announcement for SuperPhillip Central coming this week regarding the yearly award show, the SuperPhillip Central Best of... Awards, so please look forward to that. Nonetheless, time for the first of many reviews for this last month of 2014. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been with me since birth, and I have been entertained by the four brothers and their wise sensei to this day. Here's my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze. The PlayStation 3 version was the one I played for this review. 

Boo to the yakasha!

Ever since I could talk, I've been a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The now insanely cheesy '80s cartoon and subsequent movies from when the turtles with 'tude were at the height of their popularity were highlights of my childhood. Now, a whole new generation is growing up with the Turtles with an awesome Nickelodeon cartoon, which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze is based off of. Is the game a win for Turtles fans, or will those who play it l-ooze?

Danger of the Ooze would fit just fine as an episode of the cartoon. A container of mutagen has been found within New York City, and the Turtles are required to obtain it before it falls into the wrong hands (i.e. Shredder's). Starting off in Danger of the Ooze, you control Michaelangelo, the goofball of the four turtles. After a fairly brief training lesson with Splinter, the sensei and father figure, you're let loose in New York City's sewers, able to move around as you please. 

A chance to kick Shredder's butt?
You didn't even have to ask!
Danger of the Ooze is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meets Metroid. It's a 2D side-scroller where earning new abilities from special statues and conversations with characters from the cartoon like Casey Jones, April O'Neil, and Slash allows our heroes in a half-shell to reach and access new areas on the map. Wayforward emulated the style of Metroid games to a tee, even having different shuriken types act as the game's Metroid missile equivalent to open different colored doors.

They're named Foot Soldiers as a suggestion to what
part of Mikey's body he should hit them with.
At the beginning of Danger of the Ooze, the turtles are capable enough, but they are missing a number of moves and abilities that make traversing the expansive series of areas like New York City, the sewers, and Dimension X much easier and quicker. For instance, there are abilities like the always helpful yet scientifically impossible double jump, a speedy dash maneuver, or the simplistic skill to climb certain walls. 

Shoo fly, don't bother me! ...Even if you
were a human at another time.
Much like any Metroid-styled game of worth, there are a bevy of optional upgrades to acquire, not only to beef up each turtle's health and shuriken supply, but also to achieve 100% completion in the game. Many times you'll need to backtrack to previously ventured to locations on the map to utilize recently acquired abilities that open the way to once inaccessible areas. 

All four turtles can be switched out on the fly, as long as the current turtle isn't in mid-jump. Each has their own bar of health, so when one turtle is dangerously low on health, he can be exchanged for another. This showcases one of the most likely unintended design flaws with Danger of the Ooze. You see, each time you switch out one turtle for another, the turtle that enters into battle gets two or three seconds of invincibility. There's no cool down time to switch between turtles, meaning you can keep switching between turtles for complete invincibility. This exploit makes boss battles incredibly easy, and makes it so all attacks can be avoided by simply switching turtles at the right moment. 

You can easily cheese your way
through most boss fights.
If for some reason a turtle does lose all of his health-- which is hard to do considering how generous the game is with health-restoring pizza dropped by enemies-- he gets captured, placed in one of the many jail rooms around the game map. It's such an annoyance and inconvenience to track down a captured turtle that you might as well quit the game if a turtle's health hits zero. The map is large, tedious to travel back and forth through, backtracking in it to reach a turtle is a pain, and you'll save time just reloading your last save. 

Danger of the Ooze is a very short game, which makes the $29.99 MSRP less of a shock to the system than it would have been at full price. There is even a trophy/achievement for beating the game under one hour, showing that if you know what you're doing, where you need to go, and don't mind plowing through enemies, this game can be over before you blink. If your aim is to obtain every item and get a full completion percentage, especially the first time through the game, you'll most likely find Danger of the Ooze as a 4-6 hour experience.

I would have been just as happy
with a postcard from Dimension X.
Wayforward has done excellent work in the past with giving each of its products an impressive presentation package. Unfortunately, Danger of the Ooze is one of their weaker efforts. The visuals, backgrounds, and character models don't do much to excite, with many areas looking quite muddy and hard to fully see. Character mouths do not sync up with the dialogue whatsoever, and the actual music is ho-hum at best. The only really clever part of the presentation is when a collectible is acquired. A short jingle from the series plays; during it the controller rumbles rhythmically to the theme. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze isn't a poor game by any means, but if you're looking for something that shows off the heights of Metroid-style games, this ain't it. There are far better examples to be found, and many more well designed with less tedious backtracking and other gameplay mishaps. There is indeed some turtle power to be found with Wayforward's latest, but it's more of a whimper than a bang.

[SPC Says: 6.0/10]

Tearaway: Unfolded (PS4) PlayStation Experience Trailer

One of my favorite PlayStation Vita games is Tearaway. It's an amazingly innovative and creative experience that didn't get much in the way of commercial success. With its jump to the PlayStation 4, with all-new content and reworked gameplay, here's hoping Tearaway gets the attention from consumers that it deserves.