Thursday, December 31, 2015

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards - Top Five Platformers

The platformer is my favorite genre in gaming, whether it is the classic 2D or more modern 3D variety. It only makes sense then that I devote an entire top five list to the best platformers of the past year. Thankfully, like last year, there were more than enough platformers to consider for this year's list. Read on, and see which five platformers released in 2015 satisfied my need to run and jump the best.

5) Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash (3DS)

I ended up liking Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash a lot more than I thought I would. Annoyances like the level roulette and some vehicle stages hampered some of my enjoyment, but the gameplay and level design otherwise were so top notch that the overall product was more than entertaining for me. Using Chibi-Robo's plug to whip enemies, pull himself to faraway platforms, and interact with the environment were nice touches and great innovations to this 2D platformer. The levels were as creative as the challenging boss battles, especially if you wanted to find everything in the game, which isn't an easy task. It all makes for a 2D platformer on the 3DS that was way more likable than I was expecting it to be.

4) Adventures of Pip (Multi)

Like Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash, this next game appeared on my Top Five Biggest Surprises list. Adventures of Pip by Tic Toc Games was an atypical platformer featuring a really cool gimmick where the main character Pip would transform into different resolution forms, like 8-bit and 16-bit. Each form had its own benefits and drawbacks, and while transforming wasn't manually done (you had to hit a specific object to change forms), this allowed the developers to design levels that had you turning into the right form for the right task at hand. With multiple paths in levels, hidden townspeople to save, and incredible design, Adventures of Pip is my fourth favorite platformer from 2015.

3) Freedom Planet (Wii U eShop)

Did anyone call for a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game turned amazing unique platformer? Well, I actually didn't, and I ended up amazed by the end result that was GalaxyTrail's Freedom Planet anyway. With sizable levels with plenty of loops, curves, ramps, obstacles, enemies, and secrets, Freedom Planet satiated my hunger for a fast-paced, action-based platformer that got rid of a lot of the gripes I had with 2D Sonic, such as the more recent inclusion of various bottomless pits. Freedom Planet lacked those for the most part, offering challenge through tough boss battles, other platforming peril, and dangerous obstacles. Freedom Planet wowed me immensely, and it makes me excited to see how the recently announced sequel will shape up.

2) Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)

I argue that this next game is almost as good if not better than its predecessor, Yoshi's Island. That might be blasphemy to some fans of the Yoshi series, but Yoshi's Woolly World is an astonishingly great game that rivals the fun, quality levels, and feel of the Super Nintendo classic. The levels are designed superbly, making those who seek out their secrets enjoy the game even more than they would already. The level of creativity developer Good Feel showed with this game is off the charts, and it's a sizable reason why Yoshi's Woolly World is one of the best platformers of 2015.

1) Super Mario Maker (Wii U)

While the game is more of a creator than a platforming game, Mario's platforming prowess in Super Mario Maker is still as fantastic as ever. The tightness and responsiveness of the controls is pretty much unmatched across all four game types available in the package. The added ability to create and play shared levels is an amazing bonus that has resulted in countless hours of playing and enjoying all the running, jumping, Goomba-smashing, Koopa Troopa-bashing goodness that is almost always found in the Super Mario series.

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards - Top Five Most Pleasing Visuals

Generally in my reviews, I don't harp on graphics too much. They're important to an extent to get players invigorated and impressed with a given game, but they aren't the be-all, end-all. That said, 2015 was a year of beautiful visuals for gaming. This list of five is all about the ones that were most pleasing to me, and a good number of these might surprise you.

5) Splatoon (Wii U)

Nintendo is known for having bright, vivid, and colorful games for the most part. The publisher's games seldom steer away from the inviting aesthetic, and that is true with one of its new IP, Splatoon. The game is a treat for the eyes, especially when paint is flying every which way. Character models both friendly and villain are detailed and animated well, and everything has such a clean look to it. Splatoon is definitely a great looking game for the Wii U.

4) Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

A game which has graphics that saw me dropping my jaw on multiple occasions, Xenoblade Chronicles X's beauty is attributed to the immense and expansive areas of the game, each teeming with life, detail, and wonder. Each area is full of gorgeous things to look at, and the draw distance is absolutely incredible. Standing on the top of a vista overlooking the background is awe-inspiring. It amazes me how the Wii U is capable of such good looking games.

3) Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (Wii U)

One of my favorite games with terrific visuals is Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. While the game was a step back from its predecessor, the Nintendo DS's Kirby Canvas Curse, what this Wii U sequel exceeds over Canvas Curse is its absolutely superb claymation visual style. Everything is devised up of brilliantly rendered clay-- the characters, the environments, the backgrounds, the platforms, etc. It makes for a game that has an unforgettable art style, and visuals that do a lot to please the eye.

2) Ori and the Blind Forest (XONE)

We haven't encountered the Xbox One much during the Best of 2015 Awards, but this entry changes that. Ori and the Blind Forest, a downloadable game for the Xbox One, looks and plays wonderfully. If there was ever a case for poetry in motion, Ori and the Blind Forest is it. The game is rendered so brilliantly and vividly that it looks like an animated movie (and I'm talking about those superior hand-drawn ones, and not those CG ones) come to life. Truly, a sublime looking game.

1) Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)

Like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Yoshi's Woolly World uses a specific aesthetic to create its worlds and characters. While Kirby used a clay aesthetic, Yoshi's Woolly World delivers a wholly woolly and yarn-y visual design. The colors are rich and saturated, the worlds are inviting, even the castles, and the characters made up of everyday objects like yarn, fabric, and things like coin purses, make for a game that has my favorite visual design of 2015.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards - Top Five Biggest Disappointments

So much of the world of video games, especially online, is so negative and full of complaints. I've changed my tune on how I want SuperPhillip Central to paint the industry, so I've been doing more positive articles than ones where I complain. However, I'll set that aside for just one night for my annual tradition of picking out a handful of disappointments of the year. These can be games, events, lineups, and other things of that nature. Everything here is just my opinion, so if you disagree with any pick, just realize that nothing I say is anything but subjective and my own personal thoughts. With that, let's see what disappointed me most in 2015.

5) Sony's 2015 PlayStation 4 Lineup

Bloodborne is seemingly a really tremendous game, and it released early in 2015. There is also the brilliant Until Dawn to enjoy. However, other than that, disappointments like The Order: 1886 and sales disappointments like Tearaway: Unfolded were what PlayStation 4 owners were left with this year. It doesn't really matter to those who own PS4s, as third parties definitely picked up the slack, but as someone who is still waiting to dive in to the platform and loves Sony's first party games, there was no real reason to pick up a PS4 this year, in my opinion. That said, Sony doesn't really need to release games, as the PS4 will sell no matter what it seems. However, next year is already exciting to me, with games like Uncharted 4 and Ratchet & Clank. While 2015 wasn't the PS4's year to me, personally, the future looks really bright for the platform.

4) Devil's Third (Wii U)

Tomonobu Itagaki moved on from Tecmo and Team Ninja and formed Valhalla Game Studios. The studio's first project was Devil's Third, a game that saw many development issues, originally being a THQ property for the publisher went under. Nintendo ended up with the game to add to the Wii U's lineup of action games, and the wait for the release of Devil's Third, decidedly, was totally not worth it. Devil's Third is a collection of poorly designed missions ruined further by a clunky control scheme. Previews raked the game over the coals, and the reviews obviously didn't turn out well. It's a total shame and a big disappointment that Devil's Third turned out to be a turd of a game.

3) The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)

As someone whose favorite video game franchise is The Legend of Zelda, it hurts to type up this entry for the Top Five Biggest Disappointments of 2015. While The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is by no means a bad game, it's a mighty frustrating one. There is trying to playing the game with randoms, and being stuck with idiotic teammates who quickly foil any plans for fun you might have wanted. The single player isn't as bad as I was led to believe, but it gets incredibly challenging, and not in an enjoyable way, to micromanage three separate Links. This is particularly difficult when anything involving balancing platforms that tip over with too much weight on them comes into play. The level design is quite good, so is the humor, music, and presentation. It's just the frustration from playing the game was sometimes just not worth it.

2) Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (Wii U)

This next disappointment feels like abhorrent example of Nintendo pushing amiibo before gameplay first. What you have with Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival is a recipe for boredom, with a slow moving board game that delivers as many thrills and excitement as a piece of cardboard. Sure, the amiibo themselves look cute and are detailed well, but the actual game they're attached to is merely a ploy to get money from Nintendo. Obviously even great games are ploys to get money from companies, but this game just took it to pathetic and pitiful extremes.

1) Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (Wii U)

The number one biggest disappointment hurt bad as someone who really enjoys Mario sports games. While the tennis gameplay is some of the Mario Tennis franchise's best ever, the egregious lack of content is utterly absurd. Online doesn't allow you to play against other people on your Wii U friends list, there is but one stadium total, there is only one real single player mode, and there is no real motivator to keep playing after everything has been unlocked (which just took me about five hours total to do). Again, the actual tennis is fantastic, but everything else shows that Nintendo rushed this game out just to have something for Wii U owners instead of Star Fox Zero, which was unfortunately delayed to 2016.

I-Ninja (PS2, GCN, XBX) Retro Review

My New Year's resolution as a gamer is to get through some of my backlog. It seems I've started quite a bit early over my holiday break. That's just fine and dandy as long as I'm having fun! I-Ninja was one of the top games from the PlayStation 2 era that I wanted to try out, and I finally got the chance. The end result is two parts cool gameplay and one part disappointment.

Who you callin' cute?

I love the sixth generation of gaming consoles. I think one of the main reasons aside from it being the generation when I was in high school is that there was a great range of low, medium, and high budgeted games available to play. There was an immense amount of risks being taken, and the variety of software was like nothing we had every seen. All three consoles, the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox (four if you'd like to count the Dreamcast, too) offered an amazing variety of games.

Since I was in high school, I didn't have the money to look into in a lot of games across the consoles and handhelds I had. However, as I've grown up and prices of sixth generation software has gone down, I've been able to invest money and time into games I had missed out on. One of these such games is a Namco-published game called I-Ninja. It always looked fascinating and fun to me, and while the gameplay really shines, some questionable design choices left me a bit flabbergasted and disappointed.

I-Ninja's story is as basic as basic can get. Upon attempting to rescue his sensei, our protagonist, simply referred to as Ninja, interacts with a special stone. It sets him off in a maddening rage, and he absentmindedly strikes down his sensei in the process. Quick to bounce back from a setback, Ninja's sensei informs him of a nefarious evil that is planning something horrid, and needs to be stopped. Ninja's sensei tags along Ninja's adventure, providing advice, level details, and comic relief. He and Ninja are pretty much the only two characters that get much screen time, as every other character is a one-off appearance that is over as quick as a sneeze. If you want character development, stick to your soaps.. or whatever you kids watch these days on your satellite radio or whatever.

"Yeah, I may look all cute and all, but I can
carve you up like a Christmas turkey!" 
Ninja controls exquisitely, and it's a total blast to play as him. He slices, he dices, he carves a mean steak-- okay, maybe that last one is stretching the truth a little. The point is that Ninja has two sword maneuvers to him, a standard slice and a rotating spin slash. Enemies can quickly bring up their guard, so it's important to not just mash on the attack button and expect to win. Instead, you should circle around their back, or wait for them to initiate the beginning of their attack animation to deal damage.

Besides being a killer ninja, our hero is quite nimble, too. He can perform a traditional double jump, he can twirl his sword in the air to cross small chasms and extend his distance from a jump, and he can throw shurikens and shoot darts out at enemies. Additionally, he's able to swing across gaps by hooking on to specific chain loops, wall jump, wall run, speed up walls, and so much more. Every move is available to Ninja at the beginning of the game aside from special moves like spells that improve attack and heal damage that are called upon by a tap of the direction pad in a given direction.

Okay. You're just showing off now!
Levels in I-Ninja are generally linear point A to point B deals. There is really no reason to scour these levels for secrets, as there are no other collectibles to be found besides the main one, Grades. These serve as each level's goal, having you perform a specific task to acquire them. While many are just "get to the finish", some are more interesting, like riding on top of an explosive barrel, avoiding flame jets, as you bring the barrel to a cage that it can destroy, netting you the Grade.

This level's mission is to reach the goal before this lit fuse
destroys the Grade at the end.
As you earn Grades, you become steps closer to upgrading your belt color, starting at basic colors like green, blue, and red and trying to get all the way to a black belt, though that is optional. When you belt is upgraded, so does your health, as well new doors in levels unlocking. Think of this like Super Mario 64's doors and their Power Star requirements. Instead of, say, 40 Power Stars to open a level door, instead you need a certain belt color or better to enter a level. This means that you can't just play normal levels once and never go back to them. You're forced to redo levels for different challenges.

This is annoying because many of the challenges that are available in levels after they are beaten simple feel like filler, something to artificially extend the longevity of I-Ninja. There are just so many times that I can play the same linear level with the only changed rule is that this time I have to kill so-and-so number of enemies, or this time I have to beat the level before the clock runs out. The latter is obnoxious, because some levels are six minutes long. If you fail at these, guess what-- you just wasted six minutes, especially if you did well the whole level and only messed up one costly jump.

Not only are many repeated trips to levels rather tedious, there are also levels that just grate on the nerves. I'm mostly referring to stealth levels, where you have to tiptoe and stay out of the sight of sentinel robots. One view on Ninja, and they teleport him back to an earlier part of the level. This also undoes any progress that you made after the most recent checkpoint. However, those levels still have a lot of fun to them. A level that doesn't, however, is one in the second hub of the game, where you have to man a turret, and we all know that turret sections are seldom not a slog. This one is a long four wave one, too, where one enemy ship that slips by your defenses means you have to restart it from the very beginning.

Ride the same explosive barrel, but this time...
DO IT QUICKLY! Egad! The creativity!
Aside from typical levels, there are special challenge levels which are unlocked by paying NPCs in each of I-Ninja's five hubs. These task players with quick platforming challenges like grinding on a series of rails or even going full Super Monkey Ball and having you control an orb down an obstacle-laden course. These earn you Grades for finishing them as well. Unfortunately, you needn't seek out many extra Grade opportunities outside of the ones required to beat the game, as the reward for 100%-ing I-Ninja is not worth it whatsoever, a battle arena against multiple enemies. That's it.

The bosses don't fare much better. Instead of playing to the game's strengths, its core gameplay, the slicing, dicing, and platforming of Ninja, the developers thought it'd be wise to throw in completely unrelated gameplay segments and tie them to the boss battles. The first boss is a clunky Punch-Out!! inspired affair, and the second has you piloting a submarine. None of these resemble anything out of what the majority of I-Ninja has you doing, and it's baffling to me that the developers had the awesomeness that is the gameplay, and instead of crafting clever boss battles using the game's traditional action-platforming mechanics, the developers shoehorned in alternate gameplay styles that simply fall flat. I get that games need variety, and that's a box you can check for I-Ninja, but when it's at a detriment to the game, there's a problem here.

One of the hub worlds of I-Ninja.
I-Ninja shows that the sixth generation of game consoles haven't aged as poorly as the one preceding it. Levels are full of interesting and impressive geometry, visual effects like explosions and debris are well done, and characters having a lot of personality to them in their animations and models. The music is a mix of rock, synth, techno, and other related genres. It sounds good, but I'm having trouble recalling anything from it. The voice work is enjoyable with Billy West doing his Stimpy voice as Ninja, which was a shock to the system, as his voice didn't really fit the cute looking Ninja at first. Meanwhile, the sensei delivers sage wisdom, usually mixing up metaphors to a humorous effect.

It's a damn shame that I-Ninja's brilliant gameplay and controls are overshadowed by the bizarre design decisions of the developers. They had a really great thing going with the excellent gameplay, but the need for so much filler, and quite frankly, moments where I felt my time was not being respected, bring the game down considerably. What would otherwise be a fantastic game to recommend wholeheartedly is dashed by inept boss battles that throw aside I-Ninja's stellar action platforming for gimmickry, a camera that doesn't always behave like it should, and repeating the same levels over and over again with slightly different objectives each time. ...Did I mention it's a damn shame yet?

[SPC Says: C-]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards - Top Five Biggest Surprises

The second of two lists being posted today as part of the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards is here! Some games come out of nowhere and floor you with their quality. You go in not expecting anything or expect something negative, and you're blown away by how good the game is. That is the modus operandi of these next five games, the biggest surprises in 2015.

5) Adventures of Pip (Multi)

We start this list of five games with Adventures of Pip, a downloadable delight for a myriad of home consoles as well as PC. The game is a standard 2D platformer, but the real fun comes from interacting with different objects that turn the titular character into different pixel forms, such as 8-bit and 16-bit. The latter is great for breaking big blocks, though it lacks the maneuverability and is quite heavy. Many rooms of the game's levels require switching between multiple forms at once to solve environmental and platforming puzzles. I didn't doubt that Adventures of Pip might be good. I did doubt that it'd be one of my favorite releases this year.

4) Freedom Planet (Wii U eShop)

Another digital game, Freedom Planet started out as a fan project before turning into a serious indie game, somewhat similar in gameplay to the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games in some regards. I knew I would probably enjoy the game because of its influences, but I never would have dared to hazard the guess that I would like the game as much as I did. Yes, the levels drag on a bit too long, and they should have been split up into more bite-sized chunks. Other than that, I have no real complaints about this terrific and charming 2D platformer.

3) Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash (3DS)

After hearing and reading complaint after complaint about Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash's level select system, I didn't think I would find myself so attracted to the game. I was wrong with my thought process, as not only can the level roulette be cheesed with coins or proper timing, but the actual gameplay is quite remarkable. Using Chibi-Robo's plug to whip enemies into shape, grab onto ledges, and pull himself across chasms was innovative for this storied genre of gaming, and while the vehicle stages left something to be desired overall, ultimately I found much joy playing Zip Lash. Don't think of it merely as a game to sell an amiibo. It's a rather good 2D platformer.

2) Until Dawn (PS4)

A choose-your-own-adventure-type game for fans of horror movies, filled with the typical tropes one would expect, along with some curve balls that many would not, Until Dawn was one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year. It proved to be an excellent title to add to the exclusives of the PlayStation 4, and became a popular game to stream for many players. Every choice, no matter how simple, leads to the conclusion and affects the eight characters placed together in the game.

1) Splatoon (Wii U)

Between being a new IP, being on a struggling system, and having countless folks saying that the game would bomb, Splatoon managed to be a success. Not just that, but it also managed to be way more fun than it had any right to be. While the launch offered a handful of maps, the post-release content-- all free, by the way-- has added a seemingly endless amount of gear and weapons options, as well as a total of 15 maps thus far. Splatoon is as addicting and original a third-person shooter can get, and it's a total blast to dive into the mechanics and the hidden depth. No doubt the success of Splatoon has surprised many, including Nintendo itself.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (PS2) Retro Review

Usually the timing of retro reviews makes sense. For instance, if there's a new Mario game coming out, I'd probably want to check out a past Mario game for a retro review. For tonight's retro review, there really is no reason for it, other than I wanted to try this game out. While I'm glad I did, and while I did enjoy some aspects of it, as you'll see with my review, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex's PlayStation 2 game is far from perfect.

Stand Down, Soldier.

Anime and I aren't on the best terms. For every anime I do like, there are about 100 I don't care for whatsoever. An anime that is on the fringe of like and dislike is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It's somewhat too over-my-head with all of its jargon, but it's darn cool to watch and has a tremendous soundtrack. Thus, I was excited to try out the PlayStation 2 game based off the show and review it.

If you are familiar with the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime, then the game's story is something that you can easily understand. It helps to know the characters, though it's not completely necessary. Just be prepared to be annoyed by the high-pitched Tachikoma robots, regardless. If you're not well versed on the anime, or you have a hard time following the techno-babble and police speak used in the show, then you're going to be completely confused by the game's story. Essentially, the premise of the game is that an investigation involving weapons that were supposed to be destroyed have found themselves on the black market. It's up to Section 9 with aid of the military to discover who is behind this crime.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a third-person shooter that has your character, either Major Motoko Kusanagi, the cool, calm, and collected cyborg leader of field operations for Section 9, or Batou, a less mobile and agile hunk with a good sense of humor, running, gunning, wall jumping, and hacking their way through one of twelve missions. Each mission generally has you moving from point of interest to point of interest, always marked with an indicator, but there's still exploration to be found in discovering how to get to said marker.

Dialogue like this is heard throughout levels,
giving a lot of character to the game's missions.
With Stand Alone Complex, you switch off between missions as the Major and Batou. The Major's missions feature more platforming than what Batou's missions offer. The Major has the ability to jump off walls, though this can only be done twice in a row for the only genuine reason than to keep players from being able to climb Slyvester Stallone Cliffhanger-style heights. The R1 button is used to grab and hold onto things like ledges, something incredibly useful for areas with huge, death-bringing chasms. Still, I sometimes forgot that the game doesn't auto-grab onto ledges. To be fair, this was after a lot of playing time with the Uncharted series, a game where holding onto ledges is automatic.

Look before you leap, Major.
Additionally, both characters can perform an evasion maneuver, with the Major's being more visually striking. However, this move also makes the camera spin around in a painful-to-predict fashion, usually putting you in harm's way as you try to recenter the camera on your intended target.

All the platforming and shifting around levels is performed as you mow down enemy scum, which isn't as easy as you might think. Stand Alone Complex lacks an auto-aim or even an aim assist feature, so if you aim isn't true, you can find yourself at the receiving end of a blitzkrieg of bullets, feverishly attempting to center a target in your aiming reticule. Thankfully, checkpoints are common, so you never really lose a lot of progress when you wind up badgered with bullets and incapacitated. The point here is that the controls aren't the greatest in Stand Alone Complex, and they will frustrate easily annoyed gamers.

No auto aim or auto assist makes aiming a tad difficult.
At the start of each mission you begin with a submachine-gun. However, you can also grab a second gun to have two on hand at any given point. Guns, grenades, and ammo are dropped by enemies that have been defeated, and through careful exploration of levels, you can come across health-boosting regeneration kits and rarer ammo for the more powerful weapons that come upon. Weapons range from deadly sniper rifles to machine guns, to rocket-propelled grenades and grenade launchers.

Melee combat is extremely useful for close-combat situations. When your foe is too close for comfort, the Major or Batou can utilize highly capable close-quarters combat to punch or kick them into submission. It's really satisfying to pulverize an enemy, sometimes sending them flying over a railing in the process, and it's all done in slow motion with a cunning camera angle for you to cherish the spectacle of it all.

The Major does this for kicks.
One innovation that the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime series brings to the gameplay of its PlayStation 2 game is the ability to hack ghosts, essentially conscious beings within the bodies of characters, or shells. Hence, the name Ghost in the Shell. (Was that an "a-ha" moment for you like it was for me?) Anyway, with this hacking ability you can take control over certain enemies, and use them to learn of enemy positions as well as mow them down without worrying about losing health in a skirmish as the Major or Batou. It's just a shame that the opportunity to hack ghosts is something that is pretty rare to execute, so this defining feature of this Ghost in the Shell game is underused.

While Stand Alone Complex is over pretty quick with its aforementioned twelve missions, there are multiple difficulties to play on, the option to try to beat each level without dying, an unlockable mode where you play through the levels while shooting at well-hidden Japanese fans, and multiple costume unlocks. There is also a multiplayer mode, though this does not feature bots, and two players alone is hardly any fun... or the mode for that matter with its insanely small maps (though the amount is quite copious).

Bring down that enemy chopper, Batou, with some serious hardware.
The character models of Stand Alone Complex are the star of the game's presentation. They have an incredible amount of detail for a PlayStation 2 game, and they still are rather impressive to gaze upon. Meanwhile, most levels are quite bare and lack color, something that gets very visually repetitive as the game goes on. However, if you like gray and brown, then do I have a game for you! Additionally, there is a sparse amount of interactivity with the environment. Expected things like glass being blown out and minor debris coming off from walls occur, but if you blast a wall with a rocket launcher, you're not going to find a dent in it.

Gray, gray, gray-- far as the eye can see.
Sound-wise, the music sadly does not compare at all to the exquisite compositions of Yoko Kanno's Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime. This is just a grating imitation with nothing memorable or worthy of mention whatsoever. Voice work is well done and beyond adequate. The actors certainly earned their paychecks with this game.

All in all, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is sure to please fans who want to dive into more of the anime series's world. Even with those with a desire to get a unique story and an expanded look at the Major, Batou, and the rest of Section 9 won't find a lot to keep coming back to. The controls are a bit meddlesome, the visuals are rather unappealing aside from the character models, and the multiplayer isn't compelling whatsoever. Still, you could do a lot worse than this PS2 take on an anime classic. It's just not the game that Ghost in the Shell truly deserves.

[SPC Says: C-]

SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards - Top Five Most Overlooked Games

SuperPhillip Central seemingly is constantly talking about overlooked games. In fact, the site holds a Most Overlooked Games segment, detailing titles from current gen to past gens, console and handheld. Regardless, even with my best effort, titles slip between the cracks and fail to deliver impressive sales. The five titles on this list are overlooked to varying degrees, whether by consumers or by gamers at large. Perhaps through reading this list you can be persuaded to try out one or all of these games you might have missed out on!

5) Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)

The main issue with the first game on this list not seeing as great of success as it could have was that Nintendo of America delayed the release compared to both Japan and PAL territories. While Yoshi's Woolly World released in those two areas of the world in the summer, North American gamers had to wait until this past fall. What further complicates things is that a lot of critics blew through the game, not bothering to go after collecting the well hidden goodies, which is a totally different and better experience than just beating the levels. It is these reasons that Yoshi's Woolly World makes it to the starting position on this Most Overlooked Games of 2015 countdown.

4) Fossil Fighters: Frontier (3DS)

Battling dinosaurs-- excuse me-- Vivosaurs, like Pokemon is a very exciting prospect. It didn't lead to sales, but it did have an awesome commercial (your mileage may vary), so at least there was some kind of victory to be found. Exploring multiple parks, unearthing fossils buried deep in the soil, bringing said fossils to life as powerful Vivosaurs, and watching them battle one another in fierce combat made for some enjoyable times for SuperPhillip Central. Unfortunately, all this did not make the sales of Fossil Fighters: Frontier anything to boast about. This is disappointing, as the game is quite entertaining and should have had a great impact especially with the kiddies.

3) Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash (3DS)

Nintendo developers said that this game was essentially Chibi-Robo's last chance to shine. Sales were less than impressive, to put it kindly, so we might not be seeing Nintendo's small helper robot again for a while. A true shame, as the game was more than a decent 2D platformer, offering a unique hook with Chibi-Robo's whip that could pull him to far away platforms, defeat enemies, and nab collectibles. Rightfully so, Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash was raked over the coals for its ludicrous level select system and some less than stellar vehicle levels, but if you can get past those two things (the former can be cheesed for maximum enjoyment), then you have a game that is incredibly capable and full of fun.

2) Transformers: Devastation (Multi)

Platinum Games' titles don't jump off store shelves and rake in gigantic boatloads of money, but the developer is so successful and keeps getting work because they're absolutely fantastic at creating fun games. This is no truer than Transformers: Devastation. A Transformers game made by the developers of Bayonetta and Vanquish, to name a couple? While the mainstream audience wouldn't know heads or tails of who Platinum Games is and their body of work, gamers should have jumped at the chance to play this game featuring the robots in disguise. It's a phenomenal action game that shouldn't have been overlooked, but unfortunately was.

1) Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (3DS)

An unfortunate side effect of having a demo that failed to engage players, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. failed to light up sales charts in any territory. The demo put a lot of potential players off due to its slow enemy turns. This was understandably a big griping point for critics. However, soon after its launch, Nintendo released a patch offering the ability to fast forward through enemy turns, making what was a tedious experience far less so. Still, the damage was already done and it was too little too late for this turn-based tactical title. Nintendo gets a lot of grief for not coming out with a lot of new IP, so it was disappointing that one of their new IPs not named Splatoon didn't do hot by any stretch of the imagination.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Downhill Domination (PS2) Retro Review

Four minutes away from December 29th, and Santa Phil still has more presents for you good boys and girls. What is it this time? Why, it's a retro review of Downhill Domination, an often overlooked PlayStation 2 racer, of course. We're keeping the retro review train choo-chooing into the new year!

Downhill domination or damnation?

In the 32 and 64 bit eras of gaming, extreme sports games were all the rage, and leading the way was one name: Tony Hawk. Thus, a plethora of skateboarding games made their way onto both the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Then the next generation came and coming with it were different extreme sports like inline skating with Aggressive Inline, BMX bike riding, and snowboarding with the SSX series. What Incog Inc. Entertainment's (War of the Monsters and Twisted Metal: Black) Downhill Domination shares similarities with is SSX, but instead of shredding down a snow covered mountain with a snowboard, players ride mountain bikes down dangerous mountains and hills. It's a game that both makes me yearn for a return to this glorious era of gaming and one that I can't help but get frustrated at.

The star of the game is the various mountains on stage here. The main mountain races are quite lengthy, lasting anywhere between four to six minutes on a good run. They're all also full of character, each feeling an adventure you're taking from beginning to end. One of my favorite downhill runs has you going through towers, riding down spiral staircases, before you pass through a graveyard, then a series of ancient ruins, all before the final stretch where you blaze through the city streets of a coastal town. And this is all in just one race. The true fun and sheer joy of playing Downhill Domination's races is that each course is teeming with alternate pathways. It's never just one particular path you have to go. You're encouraged to travel off the beaten path (but not out-of-bounds) and take risks to discover killer shortcuts and impressive jump opportunities. Finding the best racing line is something that takes a little patience to perform, but when you finally do discover it, it's a truly rewarding feeling.

Ah! The choices! Which path to take?
Besides alternate paths, courses in Downhill Domination are littered with forests, fauna, rocks, logs, trees, wildlife, secret passages, shortcuts, and more to keep riders on alert and aware of their surroundings at all times. It's absolutely vital to keep your cool and your concentration. Of course, with the length of many of these courses in mind, you're bound to have an accident or two-- or twenty-- in a given run. Whether it's not landing from a jump properly, falling off the track, going out-of-bounds, or crashing into something, you'll be falling off your bike a lot. Thankfully, getting restored and back on the track is a fast enough process that you don't feel cheated when you crash.

Take this oil pipe for a risky shortcut, or just decide to play
it safe and ride underneath it.
Combining the downhill racing action of the SSX series and the combat of the Road Rash line of games, Downhill Domination plays and handles well. If you happen to have the need for speed, then this game will definitely provide it to you. The physics are well done, simulating what I can only help but assume would be how bikes, tires, and riders behave to the numerous obstacle and terrain types Downhill Domination has. Steering isn't too rigid nor too loose, either, offering a pleasant balance. Usually when you crash into something and fall off your bike, it's your fault and you're paying the price for it.

The moose is loose!
As you're rapidly pedaling like you've never pedaled before as you blaze a trail down the mountain, you have other worries to be concerned with. That is in the form of up to nine other opponents to deal with. This is where combat comes in. With a press of the Square button, you attack to your left, while a press of the Circle button unleashes your right fist, lashing out any foolhardy rider driving too close to you. As you continue to deliver the smack down to the unrighteous, your combat skills improve, allowing you to perform more powerful maneuvers like kicks and all the way to bottles that can be thrown, homing in on opponents. You can really hamper the progress of other riders, even knocking them off of their rides, but at the same time, combat is generally not used much because unless you stay with the pack, you'll either be too far ahead of everyone or eating their dust too much to be able to utilize it. Plus, you'll often crash in a race, and this takes your current weapon level in the race and instantly lowers it.

Let's just say this racer isn't looking to bump fists.
Your downhill daredevil has several meters to be on the look out for, such as a green series of dots that show his or her energy. When it has some juice in it, you can double tap the X button to speed up. However, this eats up the gauge quite quickly. However, through pulling off tricks, reaching checkpoints, and collecting green-colored power-ups (one of many power-up types in the game), your gauge gets replenished.

Tricks aren't the most engaging aspect to Downhill Domination's gameplay, but they're satisfying to pull off all the same. That notwithstanding, most tracks aren't meant for you to unleash the trick beast and perform trick after trick. They're just not designed that way and intentionally so. The courses are designed well this way (and as you read earlier, many other ways, too) in the regard that you have to learn the courses to figure out when it's best to trick, and where it's best to trick from. You eventually find your preferred racing line.

Sure, they're showing off, but if you have it, use it!
Still, actually doing tricks is quite simple that even I could do it. When in the air, you can press and hold down a different combination of the shoulder buttons, perform spins and flips midair, to not only give your rider green energy in their gauge, but also to earn points. Points are tallied up at the end of runs , and these transfer over to cold hard cash (also earned from taking out opponents and from what place you finish at) to invest in the bike shop.

The bike shop sports a large variety of things to purchase and unlock. There is stuff that is a no-brainer to have a bike shop like being able to upgrade bikes-- whether it be different models, colors, new tires, etc., purchasing new items, or buying special new features for the game.

There is a sizable sum of playable riders to choose from, though all of them are pretty much derivative vanilla characters whose only real difference is what dialogue they repeatedly squawk mid-race. Each character is also not the greatest to look at, showing that Incog Inc. Entertainment took most of their time giving personality to the courses themselves and not so much the riders that blaze down them.

While the characters don't exactly excite, the amount of single player options for each rider is truly incredible. The main meat and potatoes of Downhill Domination's solo campaign is the Super Career. This puts you in a series of over two dozen events to try to earn enough points in one event to reach the next. Not only are there traditional races where you go down the main course of each of the game's nine mega mountains, but there are other event types, too. One is the mountain cross series of events that are much shorter affairs where you ride up and down moguls, hills, and bumps while tackling tricky and tight turns. The other is the technical downhill series of events where the paths down the mountain are much narrower and require extreme precision to get a leg up on your opponents. You can even pursue individual career types that feature all one type of races, such as free ride (regular races down a long mountain course) or technical downhill.

Time to hit the old dusty trail.
Downhill Domination looks the part of an extreme sports bike racer. Fortunately, for a game that is so superbly fast, you can usually see what's coming ahead of you. This is thanks in part to the phenomenal draw distance. Sure, the camera can be a bit slow at adjusting its angle when you make a steep turn, but overall, seeing upcoming hazards isn't too much of an issue. The mountains are insanely detailed, supporting a dense amount of objects, from rampaging wildlife that can cause you to bail like nobody's business to poor tourists who can get run down by passing racers. The sound of the game can be a bit grating, especially with the repetitive voice clips given by each racer. No, Cosmo. I don't care if you can go even higher next time. You're not four years-old, on a swing set, and I'm not your daddy. Meanwhile, the music is a collection of licensed alternative rock, rap, and hip-hop, the usually fare in an extreme sports game like this one.

In first-person view, you can really see what's coming ahead at you.
Coasting down a mountain with trees, rocks, and wildlife soaring past you; leaping from a high peak, over a crevasse, and into a cavern below; and letting out your frustrations from the day by beating down on your rival riders are all reasons enough to look into Downhill Domination. The game is a pure adrenaline rush and a wild ride. There are some nagging issues that bring down the experience overall, but ultimately Downhill Domination is satisfying to play. By putting the game disc into your PS2, you'll soon realize it's all downhill from here, but rest assured, that's a good thing.

[SPC Says: B+]

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - The Final Edition of 2015 Edition

Let's take a quick break from the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2015 Awards! It's my pleasure to welcome you to the final SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs segment of 2015! To cap off this year of great VGM goodness, I have a special edition to share. This week we'll be listening to music all from games on the Sega Genesis. You European and Oceania folks might know it as the Mega Drive. Regardless of what you refer to the system as, this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs has got the old school Sega 16-bit tunes to it.

We'll start off our Genesis journey together with some action-packed Gunstar Heroes. Then we'll have some platforming fun with Ristar, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure, and Aladdin. Finally, we wrap things up nice and neat with some Vectorman to get you seamlessly exiting from the groove and back to your day.

If you'd like to wrap up your year with some excellent tunes, check out past VGM volumes at the VGM Database! Now, let's not make these five new VGMs wait much longer!

v1041. Gunstar Heroes (GEN) - Stage 1

We start off the Genesis themed edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with Gunstar Heroes, a perfect action game where you run, gun, and blow away seemingly endless swaths of enemies both soldier and machine. When this song kicks in, you know you're in for a treat, and that's exactly what Gunstar Heroes was.

v1042. Ristar (GEN) - Dancing Leaves

A previous edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs in what seems like ages ago showed the first "act", if you will, of the first planet of Ristar, Planet Flora's music. Now, we delve into the theme of the second "act", Dancing Leaves. Planet Flora is your traditional tropical themed world, perfect for enticing players into its atypical gameplay where Ristar grabs everything from poles to enemies to get around levels.

v1043. Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure (GEN) - Sunset & Snow

Played in both the first world of Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure as well as the outdoor snow levels, this peppy and jaunty theme fits the platforming action of Buster Bunny. The game itself from Konami sports plenty of secrets, hidden levels, and lots of platforming fun for all ages. Definitely don't sleep on this title if you haven't played it, as I greatly prefer it to the Super Nintendo's Buster Busts Loose, also from Konami.

v1044. Aladdin (GEN) - Inside the Lamp

"You ain't never had a friend like me!" This is the chiptune version of the song that Genie delivers to Aladdin upon the "street rat" discovering Genie's lamp and setting him free. What would you wish for if you had three wishes? SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs would wish for more VGM goodness, but then again, this segment was always one of the more greedy ones on this site!

v1045. Vectorman (GEN) - Stage 1/Stage 6

Vectorman saw two games on the Sega Genesis. Both are action side-scrollers with plenty of platforming, robot destruction, and shooting. Inspired graphically by Donkey Kong Country (essentially being Sega's answer to that game in a visual essence), Vectorman isn't as fondly remembered as Rare's platforming trilogy, but it's still a blast to play from time to time.