Friday, January 30, 2015

Ape Escape: On the Loose (PSP) Retro Review

Earlier this week I covered a game that started one of my favorite PlayStation franchises of all time. Today I cover the first game of a PlayStation franchise that I can't wait to play more games in the series. It's Ape Escape, and here is a decade's old port of that game that launched with the PSP, Ape Escape: On the Loose.

Catch Them If You Can

Ape Escape initially released on the original PlayStation in 1999. The game was the first on the system to require the dual analog controller that debuted approximately halfway in the PS1's life. Imagine if you will, taking that game, putting it on a system with just one analog input, and releasing as an enhanced port as a launch title. It's a recipe for disaster, right? However, Ape Escape: On the Loose, even being hurt a little by the lack of dual analogs, is an engaging game that is worth the time to play. Here's why.

On the Loose begins with a white-haired monkey named Specter putting on a special helmet that greatly increases his intelligence while also twisting his mind. He uses his added smarts to create helmets for over 200 monkeys and attacks a local laboratory which houses a time machine. Childhood friends Spike and Jake arrive on the scene and along with the monkeys are transported back in time to various periods. Knowing this monkey madness could negatively alter the course of history, the Professor asks Spike to capture as many monkeys as possible, stop Specter, and rescue Jake from Specter's mind control.

Come here, you blasted rabbit!
....Wait. I'm thinking of something else.
There are seven worlds within Ape Escape: On the Loose-- most of which with three levels apiece-- and they put Spike within a wide variety of time periods and locales. From the age of the dinosaurs to the Medieval period, there are a large range of environments and levels for Spike to traverse and capture monkeys in.

The Time Station is the hub of Ape Escape.
Thankfully, Spike isn't left all to his lonesome to nab the mischievous monkeys littered throughout time. The Professor sends numerous helpful gadgets to Spike throughout the game, one usually per world. Through completing a simple training level for the player to get accustomed to a given gadget, Spike earns that necessary tool to assist him on his quest to capture the antagonizing apes.

There are eight gadgets in all for Spike to acquire throughout his journey through time. Each has its own use and are implemented in such a way that they aren't utilized just once and then never seen again. There is a slingshot-type gadget that not only can take down airborne enemies, but it can also hit faraway buttons to turn on machinery, such as elevators and doors. The Super Hoop allows Spike to move faster on land, great for crossing bridges that fall apart once our hero steps foot on them so he doesn't fall with the bridge. Then there's the Sky Flyer, which without question is the most useful gadget in the game. It offers the ability for Spike to reach higher platforms that would otherwise be impossible, perfect for exploration of levels.

Spike takes his new Sky Flyer out for a spin.
Levels themselves start out with but a handful of monkeys to collect. By the end of the game, there are levels that house up to 30 individual monkeys. Each level only requires Spike to capture a set amount of monkeys before he can move on to the next level, but in order to reach the true ending of Ape Escape: On the Loose, all 204 missing monkeys must be collected. This means that returning to levels is a must, especially because Spike won't have every gadget in his possession until the Specter has been beaten the first go-around. Returning to past haunts (i.e. already beaten levels) with newer gadgets opens up areas that Spike could not have reached before and monkeys that were once out of his capturing ability.

Return to older levels with newer gadgets
to explore places you couldn't before.
Speaking of which, capturing each ape within On the Loose is like its own puzzle. The player has to find a way to reach each ape, coax him or her out, and use the correct gadget to accomplish the task of nabbing the monkey in question. Capturing monkeys in general can be done in a wide variety of ways. Players can have Spike sneak up on unbeknownst monkeys, slowly pushing the PSP's analog nub forward and holding still when an ape gets paranoid, similar to a game of "red light, green light". Spike can also crawl with the R button held down to creep upon apes asleep or with their backs turned to him. Finally, there is my favorite method of disposal, running to a monkey, bashing them on the head with a stun club, and capturing them with Spike's net while they are temporarily dazed.

The alarm on the helmet of each monkey
displays their current level of alert.
The analog nub on the PSP is a detriment to On the Loose. It does not offer anywhere near the precision of the PS1's analog stick. Many times I would swing my Time Net at a predisposed monkey only to have my net miss its target by about 45 degrees. While this isn't so annoying in the story mode, doing time trials where you have to beat a specific time to pass them, makes missing monkeys so narrowly and stupidly very irritating.

For those who have played the PS1 original Ape Escape, the obvious removal in the controls is that of the second analog stick. Instead, gadgets are mapped to the face buttons-- with the exception of X, which is used to jump. Simply pressing Select brings up the Gadget Menu, which makes for quick switching between the gadgets mapped to the face buttons and those not selected.

Fog? You can tell this was originally
a PS1 game, can't you!
The lack of a second analog stick on the PSP means that camera control is relegated to the d-pad for direct control and the L button for a quick behind-the-back view at any time. The one caveat with this arrangement is that the L button is also used for the first-person view, used when aiming and for just looking around at the environment. One required me to tap the button while the other forced me to hold the button down. In the middle of play, I oftentimes performed one action when I wanted to do the other.

Caveats aside, completing Ape Escape: On the Loose with a full 100% completion percentage is no easy task. Finding and capturing every ape is a challenge all to itself, but then there are time trials to pass in each level and Specter Coins to collect which unlock one of four mini-games, a snowboarding game, a boxing game, a racing game, and a ping-pong game. These can be played locally or online, and the latter is still available to use, though good luck finding anyone randomly online.

There's no time to monkey around, Spike!
There's a time limit to beat!
On the Loose was one of the more basic looking launch titles of the PlayStation Portable, but the game's graphics still look pleasant enough. The frame-rate has some issues occasionally; and the camera reveals things through a level's geometry and walls, but it's still a competent game technologically. The music is unchanged, but I struggle to remember a theme after a total of twenty hours of play time. The voice work is typical Saturday morning cartoon fare, but the actual dialogue is mediocre at best and the stuff that made me cringe at worst.

Ape Escape: On the Loose may not surpass the quality of the original PlayStation Ape Escape, but the developers used what they had button-wise to create this highly capable and fun enhanced port. It's a return to a game that was entertaining when it released, and it is still entertaining now. Now, if you'll excuse me, all this playing of the PSP port has me wanting to dive into some more monkey madness with later games in the Ape Escape series!

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Adoration with Amiibo: The Thrill of the Hunt and the Possible Future

Upon reading the news that Nintendo has shipped over 5.7 million Amiibo since late November last year, I remembered how I was entranced by the mystique that is the Amiibo line of figurines.

As a lifelong Nintendo fan and huge lover of figurines, the concept of small statuettes of various Nintendo characters was a dream. The dream was realized with Amiibo. However, I kept calm and said to myself that I'd just try out one and that would be it. However, after acquiring my first Amiibo, a Pikachu from Pokemon that was won during a video game trivia contest at the university I attend, the thirst, as it is said, was real.

I had one Amiibo, and it really was like eating just one chip from a bag of potato chips. I couldn't just have one and went on to collect more. Even then, I showed some restraint and came to the conclusion that I would just buy the Amiibo for characters that I didn't already have a figure of some kind for. That meant one for Samus, Peach, Zelda, Pit, and so forth. Needless to say, this plan came to fruition and then some until one day...

That is my current collection of Amiibo (Bowser not included). They're nice to look at, take up a miniature amount of space, and they're of great quality overall. That said, the issue with wanting collect as many Amiibo as possible reared its ugly and realistic head into the picture.

At least in North America, certain Amiibo are completely discontinued, and it's now pretty much a situation that if you don't pre-order, you don't have a chance of getting a specific figure. It is absolutely mind-boggling how bad Nintendo of America has once again dropped the ball once again. Fans are unable to acquire the Amiibo they desire because scalpers get to them beforehand, buying up a whole store and then selling them on sites like eBay for three or four times the MSRP.

I currently lack the three rarest Amiibo: Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. While the first is set to receive more figures produced in the near future (as stated by the most recent Nintendo Direct), others are so rare to find at a sensible price that you'd have better luck winning the lottery twice in the span of a week. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration.

The holy trinity of rare Amiibo.
That said, it's common practice for pretty much any popular toy line to experience difficulty and require extra work to get the figures one wants most, and I certainly know with my recent dealings with the World of Nintendo toy line by Jakks Pacific. Scalpers also jumped on that bandwagon and sell mini Micro Land figurines and regular sized figures for double the original price.

While I am not as hooked on Amiibo as others (e.g. I don't hit F5 on pre-order pages to see when a new shipment is ready to buy), I do take precautions to obtain the figures I want. For instance, for the Amiibo that I figure are going to be the most popular I pre-order them. It's recommended by many to pre-order from multiple places in case one's order is cancelled. While that hasn't happened to me yet (knocks on wood), it seems to be a good practice that works since there have been issues at certain stores like Toys 'R' Us.

Amiibo's full potential hasn't really been realized by Nintendo yet. The company instead uses the figures as a means to unlock content in games rather than a greater use like what we see with Activision's Skylanders series of figures. Scanned Amiibo give new Mii costumes in Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors's Amiibo use gives rupees, materials, and weapons for scanning the figures, and the upcoming Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. puts Marth, Ike, and Robin into the game as playable characters when their Amiibo have been scanned.

Currently my favorite unlockables via Amiibo.
Can you imagine a Skylanders-like game from Nintendo that incorporates Amiibo usage, summoning various Nintendo all-stars into the same game universe to fight alongside one another? That's a million dollar idea just waiting to happen, but then again, I did patent "emergency sea water" for those shipwrecked on deserted tropical islands.

With a new lineup of Amiibo coming in March with the release of Mario Party 10 on Wii U, Nintendo continues its plan to roll in some monster-sized dough. As long as the figures become easier to get a hold of, rather than being forced to import for the rarer characters, I can see the future of Amiibo being increasingly brighter. After all, I do have another shelf of room for a whole new horde of Amiibo!

SuperPhillip Central Is Changing Its Review Scoring System!

For the past six-and-a-half years, SuperPhillip Central has used a 0-10 scale review scoring system. Starting with the first review of February, the site will be switching to a letter grade scale from A-F with pluses and minuses included. This scale will make it much easier to know what each grade means without having to consult the current review score guide.

I hope this new change will be better for SuperPhillip Central and for you, the reader.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ratchet & Clank HD (Vita) Review

I think since we're approaching the end of the month it's time to reveal that I'm going to be moving on to a new scoring system on SuperPhillip Central. The change will be highlighted in a future post. Reviews will be written the same (the jury's out if that's a good thing or a bad thing), but the scoring system will be altered, hopefully for the better. In the meantime, let's enjoy the old system while we can with this review from a game in one of my favorite franchises, Ratchet & Clank!

This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

No, I don't mean just between the pair of Ratchet and Clank, who start off as very different characters at the beginning of the game compared to how they turn up at the end, as good friends. At the start of their partnership, Ratchet couldn't care less about saving the universe while Clank is highly naive and trusts pretty much anyone. I mean Ratchet & Clank for many players might be their first foray into the franchise, what, with this being the first game of the HD collection on the PlayStation Vita.

No doubt many will find the original so much fun that they'll become players and then fans of the sequels. It only gets better from there, but like every good friendship, it has to start somewhere. That somewhere is the original Ratchet & Clank, now available in handheld form as part of the download-only Ratchet & Clank Collection for the PlayStation Vita. While it's still a blast to play, future installments quickly make certain parts of the game feel obsolete and ancient in comparison.

Two against one? Is there no
chivalry in this galaxy!?
Ratchet and Clank traipse around over 15 different planets and areas throughout their inaugural adventure together. Starting out armed with only a wrench for close-range attacks and a blaster for long-range shots (albeit with limited ammo), the two deal damage to Chairman Drek's plan to take pieces of various planets to build his own world.

One of many eye-catching locations in
the first Ratchet & Clank.
From defeating enemies and breaking boxes, you earn bolts that can be used to purchase ammunition and new weapons at various Gadgetron vendors. Whether it's a powerful missile launcher with the Devastator, a glove that throws out bombs (fittingly called the Bomb Glove). a flamethrower called the Pyrocitor, or any other of the over a dozen weapons fit for combat, Ratchet can accumulate a nice stockpile of weapons. Just don't wonder how he holds them all. It's not worth asking the question.

So much for a nice day at the beach.
In addition to weapons, Ratchet acquires gadgets to help him get past various obstacles in the way. He can use the Swingshot on specific targets to hook onto them and swing across gaps and chasms, the Trespasser to open locked doors after playing a short mini-game, the Hydro Displacer to empty and fill pools of water for progression, and many more.

These Trespasser puzzles have you trying to
make these beams shine on every target.
Each world that Ratchet and Clank enters has multiple paths, each leading to one of several objectives the two need to complete. These are as simple as meeting up with an NPC, acquiring a certain gadget, obtaining an Infobot that details the next location the pair should travel to, and things along those lines.

This enemy is about to get lumberjack-ed!
After beating the game initially, Ratchet & Clank still offers a ton of content. For one, there are 40 Gold Bolts hidden throughout the game in some incredibly clever places. After the game is completed, you have the option to play through the game again with all of your weapons you have obtained and double the bolts you can earn. This makes buying the rest of the available weapons much easier (though the one million bolt trophy is still ridiculous). Lastly, skill points can be earned. These are challenges that are completed by performing a certain in-game task, such as destroying a certain amount of flying vehicles in a level, taking out a boss with only Ratchet's wrench, or completing a grinding section without taking damage. These skill points unlock behind-the-scenes content-- for example, a sketchbook.

Nothing like a frosty reception to sour a lombax's mood.
For those returning to or playing Ratchet & Clank for the first time after playing later games in the series is that you quickly miss a lot of the features of those games that you probably took for granted. For one, strafing is not an option, meaning that you have to do a lot of gymnastics as Ratchet to attack enemies while avoiding their own assaults on our heroic lombax. It makes it hard to target specific enemies and get a desired camera angle in the process. Furthermore, the quick select menu in future games pauses the gameplay so you can select a different weapon or gadget without having to worry about being fired upon in the process. This is not the case with Ratchet & Clank.

I found myself trying to strafe despite knowing
I couldn't since this was the original R&C.
By far the feature I missed most from more modern Ratchet & Clank games that is sorely MIA in the original is a notification once you've arrived at a checkpoint. This issue is exacerbated by checkpoints in levels being so few and far in-between. Don't be surprised when you have to redo entire portions of levels because you died just short of a checkpoint you didn't even know was there. The only positive here is that the Trespasser puzzles you did on your first pass through the level section will be solved if you have already completed them, making your return to spot you last died a faster one.

Clank assists to provide extra height and hovering
capabilities. A bot has to hold his own, y'know!
The HD incarnation of Ratchet & Clank plays relatively well on the PlayStation Vita. It looks phenomenal with limited jaggies, large draw distance with little in the way objects and geometry magically appearing from out of nowhere, and beautifully realized worlds. The only main issue with how Ratchet & Clank controls on the Vita is during the game's hoverboard races. One of the trophies involves performing a four trick combo in the air, requiring the L2 and R2 buttons. As these are missing from the Vita hardware, you have to use the rear touch pad at such a spot to get the inputs to properly register. It makes an otherwise easy trophy a nightmare to get without a good deal of practice and troubleshooting.

Who do I complain to about this
orbital station's amphibian problem?
Overall, Ratchet & Clank HD is a great 3D platformer with tons of content, but it falters in many ways that future sequels have only made increasingly more obvious. By no means is the game an old fossil that is not worthy of being played. It just lacks the included features of the sequels that many fans and players of the series have probably taken for granted. Still, if you want to see how this fantastic PlayStation platforming series started, there is no better beginning than the original Ratchet & Clank.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]

Most Overlooked Nintendo 3DS Games - Part Five

It's been over a year since my last entry of the Most Overlooked Nintendo 3DS Games (which scares me to death at how fast time seems to go). However, this popular segment's back with five new games, and for the first time, a digital game appears, the first of no doubt many! All of the games featured on this edition are sequels or spin-offs of a preexisting property, which shows that even established series can have their black sheep sales-wise. After perusing this edition of the Most Overlooked Nintendo 3DS Games, please post what games you think deserve more time in the proverbial sun.

If you missed a past part of my Most Overlooked Nintendo 3DS Games, no worries. Just click on one of the following links!

Nintendo 3DS - Part One
Nintendo 3DS - Part Two 
Nintendo 3DS - Part Three
Nintendo 3DS - Part Four

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call 

While the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy did well enough in sales in the West to have a sequel localized, Curtain Call, the sequel in question, did not live up to its predecessor's amount of copies sold. This is highly disheartening and disappointing, as Curtain Call is a much more content-packed and upgraded game compared to the original, which wasn't relaxed on content to begin with. Containing over 200 songs, continued DLC support, a myriad of Final Fantasy all-stars to add to a player's party, multiple modes including online battles and an engaging Quest Mode, and altered mechanics to make for a superior experience, it's unfortunate that Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call did not perform as well as it should have. Well, at least in the West! Japan happily had a much different result.

Batman: Arkham Origins - Blackgate

From Armature Studios, a collection of mostly former Retro Studios employees (the folks who made Metroid Prime, only one of my top ten games of all time), Batman: Arkham Origins - Blackgate released on both dedicated handheld systems of this generation, the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita. We'll obviously be looking at the former version, but both SKUs failed to light the sales charts on fire, despite being smartly executed games. In Blackgate, Armature successfully created a 2-1/2D Metroid-style world to explore and implemented the combat system of the console Arkham games. Sadly, as stated, both the 3DS and the Vita versions of Blackgate did not do well sales-wise, making WB Games launch digital versions of the game on numerous HD storefronts. It didn't do too well there either, which stinks as Blackgate is a worthy addition to the Batman: Arkham saga.

Fluidity: Spin Cycle

In the past I have dedicated these Most Overlooked segments to retail games exclusively. However, I would be an old fossil if I continued to do so, as digital is widely considered the future of gaming. That, and a game being digital does not discredit it whatsoever. Anyhow, Fluidity: Spin Cycle is the first of many digital-only games that will be featured on my Most Overlooked lists in the future. It had players guiding a collection of water through a series of levels, tilting and rotating the Nintendo 3DS system to influence the direction of the hydro-heavy player character. To be honest, Spin Cycle would have been better served for another platform of Nintendo's, as rotating the Nintendo 3DS in one's hands was rather uncomfortable. In addition to that, the 3D effect was automatically shut off for the entirety of the game because of this. Perhaps those are reasons why many didn't make the jump to Fluidity: Spin Cycle, despite it being a clever, creative, and engaging game.

Samurai Warriors: Chronicles

A launch title in many territories, Samurai Warriors: Chronicles was released in a period where the fatigue of Musou-styled games was very much real. This was despite the new additions implemented to this Nintendo 3DS version of the game, such as the top screen displaying the in-game action while the bottom screen cleverly showed the level map, HUD information, and mission updates. A big addition was on-the-fly switching between multiple characters in any given battle. The Nintendo 3DS launch was indeed weak, at least here in North America, but Samurai Warriors: Chronicles offered an immense amount of content that most Nintendo 3DS owners sadly passed on for various reasons.


In the Nintendo 3DS edition of Shinobi, players controlled the highly capable Jiro Musashi as he hacked, slashed, jumped, climbed, and chucked throwing stars through a myriad of challenging levels. No doubt the steep challenge that Shinobi possessed turned off a lot of potential players, and to be fair, Shinobi was indeed a difficult game to beat much more get 100% in. However, for those players who took the challenge (and there weren't that many, or obviously this game wouldn't be on a Most Overlooked list), Shinobi delivered high thrills, action-packed gameplay, and twitch-based combat. Just don't think that the story will make a lick of coherent sense, and you'll be okay!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Breezeblox (Wii U eShop) Review

I have an early morning review for everyone today. Breezeblox is a game that released on the Nintendo Wii U eShop last Thursday-- at least in North America. It's another fine example of being able to make and release a compelling game with a small team of dedicated people, or sometimes just one person! Here are my detailed thoughts on the game with this review.

There're blocks, but this game is hardly a breeze!

Breezeblox has you moving a team of squares made up of four smaller squares through 150 unique levels of escalating difficulty. The levels feature a goal that on the surface seems relatively easy: simply getting a square object from the green starting spot to the red goal without falling off the level. However, don't think of the game's title as anything close to the actual truth-- this process is anything but a breeze.

For one, if any portion of the square object touches an edge, you automatically fail the level. Further complicating things (and in a good way, as one has to make a puzzle game interesting, after all!) is that the object itself when it is spread out flat takes up four squares. When the object stands upright it only takes up two squares. Each time the square itself is moved it alternates between these two states. This means you must maneuver the square object in just a way through the levels that you keep the square within the boundaries of the level all the while making progress. Oh, and for a final challenge, the square must land on the goal in a specific way. For instance, if the goal is two squares wide, the player object must land on it with the same exact pattern of squares shown.

It starts out simple enough...
Breezeblox consists of three chapters that house fifty levels each. Each chapter has the same amount of progression as the others and nothing visually to distinguish them, curiously enough. In each chapter, you start with the basics of the game, and as you progress, new mechanics are added. Such mechanics included are things like pieces of floor that break when touched by the square object, buttons that make new sections of floor appear, buttons that transport the player object to a different location, and buttons that rearrange pieces of the level in real time. While it is odd to have three chapters so similar in difficulty and especially progression, it's nice to be able to move from one chapter to another, so that if you get stuck on a level in one chapter, you can try your hand at a level in another chapter.

...But then you're dealing with breakable floors...
Even though there are but a handful of unique mechanics thrown in to add to the variety of challenges in Breezeblox, the developer's use of just a small collection of tricks to make 150 levels is very much worthy of applause. It's not just that 150 levels were made, but that the 150 levels created continue to puzzle and amaze from beginning to end.

...Then after that, some different buttons...
Despite the amount of puzzles, however, there is little reason to replay Breezeblox's levels. Sure, the solutions to these levels, especially the much longer ones (which by the way are a pain if you fail them late in the level, as you have to restart from the very beginning), are easy to forget, but there is little motivation to replay them. Something like a running tally of moves taken that was saved for each level or time trials would greatly add to the longevity of Breezeblox. It certainly would make the ten dollar price tag a no-brainer to recommend.

...And after that, you start teleporting places...
Breezeblox possesses simple menus that do their job and do it well enough. Levels themselves feature differently colored backgrounds showcasing an amalgamation of large pixels that alternate from light to dark. The game is presented at an angle, which while aesthetically pleasing, can make movement of the square object a little tricky to handle at first. There were plenty of times I fell off the edge of a level early on because the level was at an diagonal angle and the movement for the square was left, right, up, or down.

...And then you start getting stuck on levels,
thinking about all of your failings as a player.
For sound, Breezeblox contains just a couple of tracks, one for the menu and one for levels. The menu theme is a piano theme that would serve well for a music student's winter recital, while the level theme will make a lover of the sexy combination of guitar and pizzicato strings squeal with delight. I show sarcasm, but the music isn't out of place and it's hardly anything bad. If anything, the music loops more quickly than I'd like.

As a value proposition, the lack of any real replay value may scare off some potential buyers, but considering Breezeblox holds some truly tricky levels of puzzling perplexity that can take some time to solve, it's a game I recommend. It's perfect for playing on the GamePad while you have music, TV, or whatever else going on in the background, whether you play one level or several.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

Review copy provided by Pugsley LLC.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (3DS) Review

After an issue with my laptop, I am back with more SuperPhillip Central goodness for you guys and gals out there in the land of the Internets! I return with this all-new review for Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. I reviewed the Wii U game last month, but this Nintendo 3DS game is a different beast completely. I hope this review is a fun one to read-- hopefully like all the others before it!

The crystal may have been shattered, 
but my expectations were not.

Sonic Boom released for the Wii U last November, and it was an obvious product of being rushed out to release to coincide with the debut of the TV show of the same name. While that game had the problem of being too ambitious for what little time the team at Big Red Button was given, Sanzaru Games' Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is a much smaller-scale project, being on a handheld and all. While Shattered Crystal is as far from a problematic game as Rise of Lyric was, the game suffers from various issues that prevent it from being a must-have game.

Blue streak speeds by... Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal sports a simple plot that one would expect from post-Sonic Unleashed Sonic games. A robotic snake-like creature named Lyric has abducted Amy Rose and seeks to use her mind to reveal the location of the fragments of an all-powerful crystal. Sonic and Tails are off for adventure through multiple levels to rescue Amy and stop Lyric's plans. It's nothing special of a plot, but it serves as an excuse for 2D platforming action. At least the dialogue itself can be seen as humorous at times. It's just unfortunate than you cannot speed it up, or better yet, simply skip it altogether. This makes repeated plays, if for some reason you wish to play through the game again, a serious pain.

Sonic don't mean a thing if he ain't got that swing.
There are three types of levels in Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. The main type of level is the one that appears most in the game. It has you moving through an obstacle-laden, labyrinthine level, defeating enemies, gathering coins, and exploring the level for hidden trinkets such as pieces of the titular shattered crystal and blueprints to be used at Tails's personal workshop. Completing blueprints can reward the player with benefits like less rings lost when damaged, the locations of hidden items shown on the bottom screen's touch interface map, and much more. Levels span two relatively distinct locations, and you use a device called an Enerbeam to propel Sonic and friends from each.

Sonic can air dash through these blue blocks
(pending he goes in the direction the arrow points).
These levels definitely encourage as much exploration as possible. However, some characters can only reach certain areas with their special abilities. For example, Sonic can perform an air dash to plow through large blue blocks, whereas Tails is the only one who can ride jet streams to higher and/or further away locations. Meanwhile, Knuckles is able to dig underground at specific spots, and newcomer Sticks has the ability to chuck a controllable boomerang to hit out-of-the-way switches and buttons. You can handily switch between characters on the fly with the d-pad. It is required to return to some levels when the missing characters to Sonic's team, Knuckles and Sticks, have been acquired in order to fully explore earlier levels.

Use the remote controlled boomerang to hit
 buttons that the team otherwise could not.
Even one of the game's menu messages suggests returning to levels once all four characters have been reunited in order to reach previously inaccessible locations. However, since all four characters team up so early in the game, the need to return to all but two or three levels is totally unnecessary. It would be like a Metroid game giving you every ability and move you need to reach every location within the first half hour. It's a misstep. Perhaps if the characters joined Sonic and Tails's team in a more staggered fashion this wouldn't be as much of an issue.

Oops, Knuckles! Looks like you made
that enemy a little angry!
Another type of level in Shattered Crystal presents a behind-the-back view of Sonic as he speeds through a tunnel created by a gigantic robotic worm. These levels are an honest to goodness rush, and in any other Sonic game they would be a great inclusion as bonus stages to collect Chaos Emeralds. These worm tunnels have you moving from lane to lane, avoiding electric-filled currents, traveling on zip lines, and collecting rings.

This isn't any worm you put at the end of a fishing hook.
Finally, there are race stages that bring the boost-to-win "fun" of more recent Sonic games to Shattered Crystal. These pit you against one of Sonic's rivals in a short race through a multi-path course. These are the more annoying levels in the game, as to beat your rival you'll need to pretty much memorize the placement of valuable second-shaving shortcuts.

Really, Shattered Crystal is a structurally sound game. The mechanics and controls feel pleasant, and there is really nothing to scoff at gameplay-wise. The problem here is that the game is way too short. I'll do the math for you. Of the exploration-heavy levels, there are eight total. The worm levels have six in them, and there are three races total. Throw in the final boss confrontation, and you have 18 individual levels that can be fully completed with everything collected in 6-8 hours. Sure, there are time trials in levels, the goal of holding onto 100 rings by the conclusion of a level, and challenges to earn Sonic badges, but that is factored into the aforementioned 6-8 hours of play time. For a game begging you to buy it for a $40 MSRP asking price, it's begging that can easily fall on deaf ears.

Careful, Tails. You don't want to be tripping on acid!
If you have two fully functioning eyeballs, you can at least take in the visuals of Shattered Crystal. While they aren't overly amazing in looks, the game is serviceable enough to not be offensive. Characters outside of story sequences are modeled well, levels are diverse in architecture and detailed in backgrounds, and the effect seen with the 3D slider up on the Nintendo 3DS is pleasing. On the music side, if you're a fan of highly forgettable tunes outside of the main theme, then boy, do I have a game soundtrack for you!

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is a fun game for the extremely brief time it offers players. It's because of this short time it takes to 100% the game that it is impossible to recommend for full price. Shattered Crystal is very much a title you can wait to get until it hits the bargain bin, even with the obvious care the folks at Sanzaru put into the game, the well responding controls, and interesting level design.

[SPC Says: 6.0/10]

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Symphonic Sweetness Edition

We kick off this new batch of a hundred VGMs with a special all dealing with the orchestra. From somber songs to action-packed battle themes, this week's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs should delight those who love grand ensembles of instruments. Maybe if you close your eyes you'll be able to picture yourself seated in front of a massive orchestra as it plays! This week's selection of games has songs from Grandia, Shenmue, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadows, to name just a few! Sit back, relax, and let the music take you to new heights!

v801. Grandia (PS1) - Theme of Grandia

We kick off this ode to the orchestra with the main theme of the Grandia series. This one in particular comes from the original game that only released on the original PlayStation. Noriyuki Iwadare is the composer behind this wondrous theme for the series.

v802. Shenmue (DC) - Main Theme (Orchestrated)

What's worse than a cliffhanger to a cancelled TV series? How about a cliffhanger to a series that probably won't see a new installment any time soon? It's been over a decade since the cliffhanger kept players wanting more at the end of Shenmue II. Not even listening to this outstanding orchestral version of Shenmue's main theme can soothe the sadness players awaiting a conclusion to the Shenmue saga feel.

v803. Xenosaga Episode II (PS2) - The Image Theme of Xenosaga II

Xenosaga Episode II's compositions were split up by whether they were cutscenes or played during gameplay. Yuki Kajira composed the former, and also so happened to compose this image theme for the game as well. Meanwhile, Shinji Hosoe wrote the in-game pieces. While that bit of trivia is unimportant to this particular song, I have to give credit where credit is due!

v804. Panzer Dragoon Saga (SAT) - Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu

A heavenly, celestial theme for the ending credits of Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn, Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancitu is a delight for the ears, delivering peaceful tranquility and satisfying harmonies. The last appearance of the Panzer Dragoon series was in track form in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

v805. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3, 360) - Mechanical Monstrosity

Castlevania went full blown with its Western approach with a drastic Hollywood-style departure for the series. While the soundtrack for Lords of Shadow holds no candles to the much more melodic and memorable themes made in-house at Konami, there are several themes that are quite bombastic, such as this one, Mechanical Monstrosity.