Wednesday, January 21, 2015

uWordsmith (Wii U eShop) Review

I'm in a "reviewing games" kind of mindset, so here's a second review for your Wednesday afternoon. It's for another Wii U eShop game that released last Thursday in North America, uWordsmith from CHUDCHUD Industries. Does this console take on a mobile game work?

A picture is worth one word. 
Seriously. That's how this game works.

Wordsmith is a game that has been on mobile devices, and it is now making the leap onto consoles. Well, at least ONE console, with uWordsmith for the Wii U. Although the price is very attractive, you get what you pay for with a relatively small number of overall puzzles available to you. Is uWordsmith still worth it, or is the letter this word puzzle game gets is an "F"?

The dual screened relationship between the Wii U GamePad and the TV screen is a clever one, even if it doesn't feel natural 100% of the time. How it works is that a picture is shown on the TV screen while the Wii U GamePad screen shows a series of scrambled letters that must be re-positioned to spell out what the picture is trying to represent. 

The two screen implementation is smart in uWordsmith.
I say "trying" because sometimes the pictures are a bit too nebulous for their own good. For instance, the word associated with a picture of a skateboarder jumping would be nigh impossible for me to have figured out had I not played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games growing up, knowing what the word "ollie" was. There is nothing worse than not being able to complete a series of pictures and words because you can't figure out what the picture shown is supposed to represent. (Though you can cheat and see all of the words in the game by viewing the credits via the image URL sources.)

I have to admit that putting a picture on the TV screen and using the GamePad to shuffle around the letters to form a word is pretty creative, but it can sometimes be an annoyance. Hard difficulties give you precious few seconds to work with, thus making the transition between looking at the TV screen and then the GamePad screen one that can sometimes mess you over as it wastes a valuable second of time. 

That's definitely a monkey, but
there aren't enough letters!
The major single player mode in uWordsmith is Challenge Mode. This is a series of 16 different categories ranging from food to sport, vehicles to buildings. Each category has approximately 15 words associated with it and three different difficulties. The goal is to complete all of the word and picture puzzles before time runs out. 

Each difficulty in Challenge Mode presents a different... ahem... challenge to them. Easy gives you plenty of time to come up with an answer, while Medium gives you less time and has one letter already placed in the puzzle answer. Finally, Hard allows you even less time (almost ridiculously so), and it puts two letters in the puzzle. Most of the time these letters already placed in the puzzle are not in the actual solution. 

Completing all of the puzzles in a given category on a given difficulty rewards you with a star. Stars unlock new categories in Challenge Mode, and they also unlock a completely new mode for solo and multiplayer play. 

Just like doing well in third grade, if you
do well in Challenge mode, you earn a gold star!
Speaking of the latter, local multiplayer is available in both the Arcade and Mosaic modes. The first has you go through as many pictures and words as possible until you get a game over (i.e. time runs out). You are scored-- just like in every other mode-- by how quickly you solve each word. The more seconds left on the countdown timer when a word is solved, the more points you are awarded with. Once one player plays through Arcade Mode, the next gets a turn until all players have gone. The player with highest point total is the overall winner. 

Mosaic is a mode that needs to be unlocked via stars earned from Challenge mode. This presents players with a pixelated image that slowly becomes clearer over time. Like Arcade, every picture/word combination in uWordsmith is used in Mosaic, and it can be quite fun trying to guess what a word is when the picture is a bunch of incomprehensible pixels. 

Mosaic is my favorite of the three modes.
After playing uWordsmith for about an hour's time, you quickly realize the game's most fundamental flaw-- a lack of content. Challenge Mode's categories always have the same 15-18 words associated with them. Multiply that by 16 and you get how many puzzles are available in the game. It gets to a point where the challenge isn't figuring out what the picture shown on the TV screen is, but rather feverishly trying to unscramble the letters given to you on the Wii U GamePad screen. This eventually makes Challenge Mode a game about memorization and quick reflexes rather than intelligence. Sure, it makes Hard mode a lot easier, but the small amount of overall words is rather unfortunate for this type of game. It would be like if a Sudoku game only had five puzzles to it and the goal afterwards was to complete each as fast as possible. It misses the intended point of the game.

Despite the lack of a sizable amount of words and puzzles to it, uWordsmith is an entertaining romp, and it's made better with friends and family. Though the game will quickly turn from figuring out what words the game is trying to convey from a given picture to a time trial of sorts, uWordsmith is definitely worth the asking price of $1.99. That price makes the comparatively small number of puzzles sting much less. 

[SPC Says: 6.0/10]

Review copy provided by CHUDCHUD Industries.

Family Tennis SP (Wii U eShop) Review

Arc System Works has been localizing a lot of Shin'en Multimedia's games in Japan. It only makes sense that Shin'en returns the favor by bringing an Arc System Works-developed game to the west. The first title to come to our side of the world is Family Tennis SP for the Wii U eShop. 

How many similar trips to the tennis court can one family take?

The very first Family Tennis game was released on Nintendo's WiiWare service, and it offered eight characters to play as in addition to local multiplayer play. The Nintendo 3DS would receive its own version of the game later on with Family Tennis 3D. While that game axed multiplayer play, it had everything else that made the original Family Tennis appealing and accessible. Now, another entry in the Family Tennis series has arrived, and this time the family are taking it to the tennis court on the Nintendo Wii U eShop. As a higher res version of the WiiWare game, Family Tennis SP is a hard sell for those who have already played a past version of the series.

Family Tennis SP shows that tennis is all in the family. There are eight characters to choose from, all from the same family, each with their own stats and special skill shot. The latter is available to use after a gauge fills during routine play in a given round of tennis. Depending on the character, these can result in a hardcore smash of a volley deep down the figurative throat of the opposing side, or use special tricks to make it hard to hit the ball back, such as creating two copycat tennis balls on top of the real one to try to trick the other side. 

You can choose from one of many
camera views mid-game.
The main single player mode in Family Tennis SP is Tournament mode, which offers three difficulties to select from. However, the Pro difficulty, the hardest of the three difficulties available, is the only way to unlock character celebration art in the gallery menu. The AI is very smart, or maybe they can just read your mind, as the AI generally can get to whatever ball you strike at them. Though playing up at the front of the net and hitting the ball from there can usually score an easy point, pending the AI doesn't hit the ball too fast or over your character's head. 

Outside of the single player-focused mode, there is the Free Play mode, which surprisingly enough allows for exhibition-style matches for up to two players in local multiplayer only singles or up to four players in doubles action. You can utilize the Wii U GamePad, the Pro Controller, the Wii Remote by itself, or the Wii Remote and Nunchuk pairing to play. Curiously enough, when playing alone in Free Play, there is no way to select the difficulty of your AI opponent or opponents. This means if your first ever match in the game is in Free Play, you might get the wrong impression of the standard difficulty of the game.

When singles play is just too lonely,
get some friends for some doubles action!
You also cannot choose the difficulty of your opponents in the three mini-games that come with Family Tennis SP. If you've played the original WiiWare Family Tennis or the Nintendo 3DS incarnation, then you should be familiar with the mini-games present. One has you against another opponent, both trying to aim the ball onto different colored point panels on both sides of the court. As the ball bounced onto these point panels, the amount of points the winning side of the rally gets increases. Then there's a simple rally mode where both players hit the ball back and forth with the point value increasing each time it is done. The winning side of the rally earns the amount of points accumulated for that rally. Lastly, there's a survivor mini-game that puts you up against an infinite amount of opponents one after the other until you lose. These mini-games were short-lived in Family Tennis 3D due to the lack of multiplayer, but thanks to SP, these three mini-games are great diversions that can last for a good while.

My favorite of the three mini-games available.
The core of Family Tennis SP's gameplay is based off of accessibility. Family Tennis SP is easy to pick up and play with simple controls. With the Wii U GamePad and Pro Controller, each of the controllers' face buttons serve as a different type of shot: topspin, slice, lob, and drop shot. With the Wii Remote, the 1 and 2 buttons do the topspin and slice while holding up or down while hitting a button does the lob and drop shots. 

When a ball is hit towards a player, if they're too far away from the ball when they hit it, they'll lunge for it and fall to the ground. This opens up a chance for the opposing side to run under the target marker on the court where the ball is going to fall and perform a nasty smash shot that is pretty much impossible to return, as characters take a while to pick themselves up from a fall.

Cuz serves 'cuz it's his time to do so.
Although simple to learn, playing Family Tennis SP with a degree of mastery is quite challenging. You need to read your opponent, have a competent amount of reaction time to move to where the ball is being hit, and always be thinking ahead to try to catch your opponent off guard. This is doubly important for skilled human and AI opponents.

Family Tennis SP is an updated version of the WiiWare original, offering HD visuals instead of the standard definition that the original possessed. The game's visuals are attractive enough, but they don't do much to get a lot out of the Wii U. Thankfully, there is no slowdown to speak of, as the relatively weak graphics wouldn't require a lot of the Wii U's hardware to begin with. Voice work outside of the chair umpire is untranslated, and even the umpire's lingo is a bit off-kilt. For instance, every point that decides the set is called a "Match Point" when it should just be a "Game Point". Only the game-winning point should be called "Match Point".

There are four courts with various
speeds and heights the ball bounces.
However, the biggest problem with Family Tennis SP is that it is so darned similar to both Family Tennis on WiiWare and Family Tennis 3D on Nintendo 3DS. That's because they are essentially the same game. In the case of the 3DS version, there are two courts in that game that are not present in SP. Otherwise, Family Tennis SP is just an HD version of the WiiWare game. If you already own the WiiWare game, there isn't much reason to upgrade to the HD remastering in the form of Family Tennis SP. For those new to the series, there is no better entry point than SP, and no better introduction to a cutesy yet competent tennis game with Family Tennis SP.

[SPC Says: 6.75/10]

Review copy provided by Shin'en Multimedia.

Monday, January 19, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - 800 Reasons to Celebrate Edition

Yesterday it was a review milestone with SuperPhillip Central's 550th review. Today it's another milestone-- this time it's the 800th VGM volume! This week I have music to share from Yoshi's New Island, Super Off Road, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney! If there are no objections, time to get this VGM party started!

v796. Yoshi's New Island (3DS) - Main Theme

While not in the same league as the SNES original Yoshi's Island, the Nintendo 3DS game Yoshi's New Island brought with it competent platforming filled with secret areas. The true challenge of the game was in finding all of the collectibles and then taking on the massively difficult bonus levels. Yoshi's New Island took a Yoshi's Story approach with the soundtrack, creating multiple level themes based off the same theme.

v797. Scribblenauts (DS) - Medieval 2

Scribblenauts was a great idea that was poorly executed. That said, subsequent sequels really put the promise of the series to good use. What the original Scribblenauts lacked in quality gameplay, it more than made up for with a superb soundtrack, something that is quite common for all entries in this 5th Cell-developed franchise.

v798. Super Off Road (SNES) - Set Up

Top-down racers that had players controlling vehicles were a hot commodity in the NES and SNES eras of gaming. Super Off Road was one of the better titles featuring that sort of gameplay, and Set Up is energizing theme to get you ready for an exciting race.

v799. Mr. Driller (Multi) - Speed of Light

Go Shiira is one of Namco Bandai's greatest composers, if not the greatest. His work on such series like Ace Combat, Gods Eater, and Mr. Driller are second to none. Okay, that may be pushing it a little, but Go Shiira's work is darned good.

v800. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) - Pursuit ~ Cornered

HOLD IT! Did you know that this the Phoenix Wright series's debut on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. It's true. Or maybe I'm lying. You should use the sleuthing and attorney skills Phoenix Wright gives you in order to find out the answer... or just know that yes, this is the first time Mr. Wright and company have appeared on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs.

Matt Sainsbury of Digitally Downloaded has a fascinating new book available for pre-order!

Friend of the site, Matt Sainsbury of Digitally Downloaded has spent over a year working on a behemoth of a book concerning video games as an art form. With over 20 developers interviewed and included, from indies to AAA developers, Matt has gone above and beyond to make his book an amazing one. Within the pages you can tell how passionate my friend Matt is about gaming as art, and you can bet with all of the research he did for this book that it's going to be a thumping good read.

Now, you can pre-order the book from the publisher of the book's site, as well as on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The MSRP is $39.99, but the latter two sites will give you an approximate $5 discount. It certainly is worth the price as you're getting loads of information and exciting and interesting interviews from those in the know in the gaming industry.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

550th Review! Fantasy Life (3DS) Review

Here it is, ladies and gents, SuperPhillip Central's 550th review! I don't dare wish to know how many words from review #1 to #550 have been typed, as that would probably make me want to reassess my life. Speaking of lives and a perfect segue, Level 5's Fantasy Life appeared on my favorite games of 2014 list, and for good reason, too! See why with this, SPC's 550th review!

(If you want to see any of the reviews leading up to this one, check out my Review Archive!)

Get a Life! ...Or twelve!

Though the system's library at launch started out anemic and ridiculously slow, we've reached a point with the Nintendo 3DS that it seems every month the system is getting a must-play game. Developer Level 5 has been a big supporter of Nintendo handhelds since the original Nintendo DS. Now with the Nintendo 3DS, their support continues with a charmingly delightful action-RPG with a massive amount of content, Fantasy Life.

Fantasy Life puts you into the game, creating your own personal avatar from a wide range of customization options. After tinkering with your looks, you're thrust into the world, the capitol city of Castele, to be more specific, where you meet a strange and curious little butterfly which serves as the talkative part of your eventual partnership. After all, your avatar is like the heroes of RPGs of long ago, totally silent and mute.

The land of Reviera is dealing with falling meteors known as Doomstones that are plaguing the lands where they crash, causing creatures to become more feral and violent than normal. It's with the assistance of the king and numerous NPCs that the mystery behind these Doomstones is explained.

Even though there's a lot of it, thankfully the dialogue
 in Fantasy Life errs on the side of being funny.
Fantasy Life's main story mode takes around 10-15 hours to complete, and it's unfortunately mostly just dialogue and overly long chat sessions. Of course, there's moving to and fro from place to place, but most of the time you'll be mashing on the A button to advance the dialogue, albeit it's rather charming and humorous. There's just too much of it. If you decide to just plow through all seven chapters of Fantasy Life's story one after the other, you very much will get burnt out on the game halfway through, much more the actual end.

Thankfully, you can progress the story at your leisure, any time you want. Fantasy Life's abundance of content happens outside of the story anyway. It's through selecting one of twelve Lives (i.e. job types) and progressing from being low skilled to a complete master that the real fun of Fantasy Life happens.

Reviera is teeming with places to go,
people to meet, and monsters to slay!
Even though you can select a Life, you're not stuck with that Life for the entirety of the game. Much like advancing through the game's story, you can choose a different Life at your will. You just need to head to a Guild, located in every major town in Fantasy Life, to switch Lives. Skills learned from a previous Life can be used in a new Life.

As stated, there are twelve Lives to choose from in Fantasy Life. These range from the offensive juggernauts and short-range fighters of the Paladin and Mercenary Lives to Miners that mine ore to be used by the Blacksmith Life to create new weapons, armor, gear, and furniture. Then there are the long-range Hunter (bow-user) and Wizard Lives, Woodcutter, and more.

And I did it with my own two hands!
Also as stated, each beginning of a Life starts you with a limited skill set. To advance to the next skill level, you have to acquire stars from completing certain in-game tasks, as specified by your Life's Master, the person you train under. For instance, starting out, the Paladin Life needs to take out five common sheep enemies on the East Grassy Plains, while a task for a later level of Life mastery requires a Paladin to take out one of the game's much stronger and less common boss-like creatures, such as a formidable dragon. Another task could be defeating such a creature and taking the bounty, a cage imprisoning the defeated beast, to the local Bounty office for a cash reward.

Time to make this dinosaur extinct!
(Better yet, time to put this dino on ice!)
Outside of a number of objectives to complete at different skill levels of Lives, NPCs in Castele and the lands surrounding it sometimes offer a myriad of quests for players to complete. These don't award players with stars, but they do offer prizes like common as well as rare items, and cash rewards. These quests can range from defeating a certain number of a specific enemy to delivering a desired amount of items or materials to an NPC. These quests add even more replay value to the immense amount already available in Fantasy Life.

Quests like this build on Fantasy Life's
massive amount of replay value.
Combat in Fantasy Life plays out like in typical action-RPG fashion. Offensive-oriented Lives do great in battle, as expected, allowing the ability to unleash deadly combos that deal plenty of more damage than simply attacking with a weak strike over and over again. There's a degree of welcomed timing to have battles be about skill. Harder boss-like creatures encourage a hit-and-run type strategy, as well as a hurt-and-heal type strategy. The latter basically has your avatar attacking without regard for taking damage, only retreating to occasionally heal him or herself.

More difficult field monsters get a
special battle theme as you fight them.
Depending on the Life chosen, your plan for battle can change dramatically. While a Hunter can attack from far away, this Life's attack stat isn't the greatest. Meanwhile, a Paladin has the luxury of drawing out a shield to defend themselves while with a Mercenary has a stronger attack in exchange for no way to defend themselves.

Should my armor be melting right now?
Overall, combat is fun and doesn't feel overly passive. The ability to enlist a maximum of two NPCs makes it so you need not battle alone, or, better yet, as cruel as this sounds, you have two people to use as decoys, which is particularly great for stronger creature encounters.

The world of Fantasy Life is quite expansive, offering a wide amount of areas to explore. Many of these areas aren't even necessary to explore in the story mode, thus offering some of the game's hardest challenges. There are wide open plains, mysterious caverns, vast deserts, closed-in forests, archipelagos, sandy beaches, and isles in the sky to venture through and traverse.

Let's take this Big Pete wannabe out!
Customization is heavily supported in Fantasy Life, whether it's custom-fitting your character with different weapons and armor, each changing the on-screen look of your avatar, or buying or building furniture to put inside one of your homes in Animal Crossing-like fashion. It all adds up to a wealth of options to make your character and your home your way, allowing a great amount of creativity and personal style.

Fantasy Life supports a gorgeous cartoon-like art style with plenty of charm and character. Areas are bright and possess an admirable amount of detail to them, character and creature models are impressive to gaze upon, and the frame-rate usually behaves itself, outside of heavy traffic combat areas. The man best known for his work with the Final Fantasy series, Nobuo Uematsu, delivers a fresh soundtrack with plenty of cute melodies and themes that punctuate the gameplay of Fantasy Life splendidly. It all equals a presentation package that is utterly delightful, especially when looking at it with the 3D slider turned all the way up.

This isn't any ordinary day at the beach.
For those looking for an action-RPG with plenty of content to it, Fantasy Life is a great selection for a Nintendo 3DS owner. The story sequences do little to excite, but at least the dialogue is funny enough that it's not worth skipping completely. The real fun comes from expanding each of the game's twelve Lives, eventually becoming a master and beyond for each of them. If this challenge seems worthwhile enough (and I argue it very much is), then Fantasy Life is definitely a terrific game to let you live the double life you've always wanted to have.

[SPC Says: 9.25/10]