Saturday, February 7, 2015

Kick & Fennick (Vita) Review

We close out this week at SuperPhillip Central with the fourth review of the month. It's for a game that is free for PlayStation Plus subscribers this month, Kick & Fennick. It also just so happens to be a Vita exclusive. Here's my review.

The whole "Kick" and caboodle   

The following is no advertisement-- just some deserved praise for Sony's PlayStation Plus initiative. It has been a fantastic deal for gamers. Not only is there the ability to back up game saves to the cloud, but each month a flurry of releases are given to subscribers. The majority of these titles are ones that are of high quality, and such a game on the PS+ docket this month is an unconventional platformer called Kick & Finnick. It's such an interesting and quality release that I recommend it even if you have to pay for it for those who aren't PlayStation Plus subscribers. Read on to find out why.

Kick & Fennick starts out with a boy, presumably named Kick, as there is no dialogue to speak of in the game, waking up from inside a pod of sorts. He moves through a derelict facility and ends up meeting a robot also presumably named Fennick. The two hit it off almost immediately, and Kick offers to find his new robotic buddy a new light bulb for the end of its tail. What follows is over forty unique levels spread out among five chapters.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship...
The game is an atypical platformer in that there is no jump button in Kick & Fennick. Instead, within the first level of the game, Kick acquires a special long-barreled gun that he uses to launch himself to higher and further away locations with the weapon's recoil. He can use the recoil to launch himself twice before he has to hit solid ground where the gun will recharge itself instantly. Aiming the gun is done by holding the right analog stick or using the touch screen. The former is the better and more comfortable method, I found.

Jumping isn't useless-- it's just impossible
without the aid of Kick's special gun.
When the gun is aimed, time will temporarily slow down. This is fantastic and extremely necessary for when you're flying in midair and need to make a shift in direction. Many platforming and midair challenges require you to shoot the gun and launch Kick one way and then slow time down, aim the weapon a different angle, and launch our hero a different way. This mechanic lends itself to some very difficult trials for Kick and his gun. Launching himself up in the air and then using the recoil to shoot himself to the right, between two hazardous electrical currents, unscathed is but one of the many challenges Kick and players will have to confront. It only gets more crazy, more fun, and more difficult later on when momentum and the trajectories of Kick's shots are given greater importance.

Between the electrical currents, enemies, and
pits, no one said Kick's journey would be an easy one.
Each time Kick falls into a bottomless pit, gets squashed between two hard surfaces, or finds himself electrified, his pal Fennick is there to bail him out, transporting him to solid ground. However, each time Fennick rescues Kick, a portion of an energy gauge goes down. If it empties completely, you have to start over from the beginning of a given level all over again. Fortunately, Kick can collect Powernodes (the game has no use for a space between "power" and "node") to refill Fennick's energy gauge, allowing you a safety net for future failed jumps and botched aims of Kick's gun.

Getting hit by an enemy (such as one of these)
 also causes the energy gauge to decrease.
Each level in the game has fifty Powernodes which are spread out, sprinkled, and hidden all over for the player to collect. This is purely optional, but in doing so, not only are you extended the longevity of the game, but many Powernodes require skillful play to reach them. It makes the game even more challenging than it already is to find and secure every Powernode in each level and survive.

These Powernodes might be small,
but they definitely are handy, too.
In addition to the fifty Powernodes, each level possesses a Special Gear that is usually placed in a very well hidden area. Regularly seeking out and collecting these unlocks new color schemes for Kick's outfit. Again, like the Powernodes, finding and acquiring these adds replay value, forces you to fully explore levels, and also puts you into more challenging predicaments that you otherwise might miss out on by not searching for them.

These sentry drones must be proud
ganging up on a little boy.
That isn't to say that Kick & Fennick is a game that is a breeze to beat even if you don't go off the beaten path. While the game generally gives a steady difficulty curve, there are some levels that feature obstacles and platforming challenges that come out of nowhere and hit the player hard. This can create some frustration, but these jumps in difficulty are few and far in between, thankfully.

Kick & Fennick's presentation is quite solid. Kick is an endearing character and a lot of that comes from his appealing 3D model. Environments are highly detailed, though some more variety would have been appreciated. A lot of levels take place in and on dilapidated buildings and cityscapes with just the time of day being different. The loading times aren't too bad, but they add up when you miss out on a Powernode and wish to retry the level. Since there is no "restart level" function in the pause menu, you have to back out to the main menu, costing 20-30 seconds of your time each occurrence. In addition to that issue, I have also had Kick & Fennick freeze when loading a level, and also the game simply crashed once while playing.

Later levels throw in bounce pads
and teleportation portals.
Overall, Kick & Fennick is an innovative 2D platformer with a great hook, brilliant level design, and loads of secrets. It's a nice game to just play one or two levels, or just sit down and play an entire chapter. The gun and recoil mechanic is fantastic, offering a fresh take on a tried and true genre. Some levels may become overly frustrating-- especially on the hard difficulty--  and there are some problematic jumps in difficulty here and there, but all in all, Kick & Fennick is an affordable and well-worth-it jump and run.... or is it launch and run? While I figure this question out, you go ahead and download this gem of a PlayStation Vita exclusive.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by Jaywalkers Interactive.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Top Ten Handheld Games of 2014

It's not often we see two top ten lists in one week on SuperPhillip Central, but that is exactly what I have done this week. If you missed the on regarding the top ten third party Wii U games, check out this link.

Today's top ten has to do with the greatest handheld games I played that were released last year. While the Nintendo 3DS had a stellar year software-wise, let us not forget the fun experiences the PlayStation Vita offered. By no means is this list an exhaustive one, so please give me your recommended games that I should add to my backlog after you've scoped the games and explanations on my list!

10) Ragnarok Odyssey ACE (Vita)

Although also available on the PlayStation 3, I preferred the handheld Vita release due to its portability and Sleep Mode ability. Since there was no Monster Hunter on the Vita, many developers aimed to fill the hole left by Capcom's series by putting in similar style games of their own. Ragnarok Odyssey ACE, an upgraded version of the original Ragnarok Odyssey which was also released on the Vita, was such a game, drawing on Norse mythology for its enemy design. I spent far too many late nights completing quests for materials, money, and just for the fun of slicing and slashing monsters and creatures of all shapes and sizes. While it didn't quite fill the gap that Monster Hunter left, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE was a great time-waster all the same..

9) Freedom Wars (Vita)

While the western branches of Sony Computer Entertainment are fine with letting the PlayStation Vita dangle from a proverbial string, I'm very happy that SCEJ is still producing some software for the system. Freedom Wars from last year was one of these games. Players served as criminals (whether fair or not) with the goal of fighting huge monsters to lower their characters' sentences. The game was modeled somewhat after Monster Hunter in the big monster-bashing way, but there was so much more to Freedom Wars. Whether online or off, Freedom Wars was a phenomenal retail title for the PlayStation Vita, and one that had so much content that system owners can't help but continue playing to this day.

8) Yoshi's New Island (3DS)

Many found this next game on the list quite disappointing, and while the challenge level was low (save for the super-hard unlockable levels), the music utilized the same melody for nearly every stage save for this audio abortion, and the quality of the game did not enter the same league as the original Yoshi's Island on SNES (but then again, what does?), Yoshi's New Island was a solid platforming romp with some good ideas, solid level design, and interesting new mechanics. The benefit of not forcing players to 100% the levels in one go was a nice touch, making for far less frustration. I'm looking at you, Yoshi's Island DS!

7) Tomodachi Life (3DS)

Starting off with controversy in the west due to the disappointing lack of same-sex marriage in the game, Tomodachi Life went on to make mad bank for Nintendo. The game put players in the role of a voyeur overlooking the everyday activities of an apartment complex full of the player's own collection of Miis. Miis could interact with one another, have you play mini-games with them, and even get married to one another, eventually having children. While Tomodachi Life didn't have anywhere near as much of a long-lasting appeal as Animal Crossing: New Leaf, it definitely offered plenty of playtime for those into a wacky and weird gaming experience.

6) Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (3DS)

The last of the prequel trilogy of the Professor Layton series saw the titular character of superior deductive skills and intellect, his ever-faithful apprentice Luke and his highly capable assistant Emmy on a journey around the world, solving the mystery of the ancient Azran people. Along the way, heartstrings were pulled with the very excellent story and dialogue, brain-bending puzzles were solved, and mini-games were played to further add to the longevity of this solid adventure. One couldn't help but have a tear in their eye as the final credits rolled. So long, Professor Layton. May we see you again real soon.

5) Kirby: Triple Deluxe (3DS)

Kirby received a Return to Dream Land-style adventure in portable form. However, unlike that Wii game, it was just Kirby to himself to save the day! The intricately designed level featured a massive amount of obstacles and enemies to watch out for, clever implementation of moving objects from the background into the foreground to capitalize well on the 3D effect of the Nintendo 3DS, and a load of secrets to keep players playing far after the final boss was felled. The collectible aspect of acquiring key chains displaying characters, sprites, and essentially the history of the Kirby franchise made doing so insanely addicting.

4) Super Smash Bros. for 3DS (3DS)

With such technological mastery that a huge game like Super Smash Bros. could be squeezed onto a Nintendo 3DS game card and run on the actual system (albeit with some casualties like no Ice Climbers and no ability for Miiverse while playing the game), Masahiro Sakurai and his highly capable team displayed amazing talent, as would be expected of the director and names under his developing guidance. The 3DS exclusive Smash Run remains my favorite mode of the two versions released. In addition to that, the amount of stages was fantastic and varied, and the novelty of playing Smash Bros. on a handheld device still hasn't become old yet, four months after the game's initial release in North America.

3) Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS)

I am calling it here and now. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is my favorite rhythm/music game of all time. This is with Elite Beat Agents, Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, and more that I've experienced in the past. Regardless, even compared to the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, this Curtain Call expansion featured a myriad more of music, over 200 songs from dozens of Final Fantasy numbered games and spin-offs. Leveling up a wide array of Final Fantasy characters, setting up parties, establishing ability lists, and more were all handled beautifully to make this rhythm game crossed with an RPG play and feel wonderfully. The constant unlocking of content through simply playing songs meant that I always felt like playing more just to see what I'd unlock next. Curtain Call is hopefully not curtains for the Theatrhythm series in the West after its unfortunately low sales on this side of the Pacific.

2) Fantasy Life (3DS)

Posted as the 550th review on SuperPhillip Central, Fantasy Life was a magical little game that sported a vast amount of charm, humorous dialogue, a multitude of quests, and a story mode that was best played in bursts rather than all at once. While the story of Fantasy Life clocked in at just over ten hours, the real game came from choosing one of twelve Lives, leveling up your skills via completing Life-centric objectives, and using those new skills to become even better at your current life. From paladins to woodcutters, miners to blacksmiths, Fantasy Life had a ton of content that one could easily go into the hundreds of hours just to master every Life and see everything this wondrous game had to offer.

1) Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)

While Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is my favorite rhythm/music game, Mario Golf: World Tour knocked both the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Golf and the PS2's Hot Shots Golf Fore! from their respective seats as kings of the arcade golf game. World Tour offered SO much for the player, and that was even without the DLC, which by the way was VERY much worth getting. (Four new characters and six 18-hole courses? Yes, please!) The amount of regular and Mushroom Kingdom-theme courses was amazing, the mechanics were tight, both Castle Club-- the single player mode where you play as your Mii-- and the Challenges-- where you completed different conditions to win-- were great additions, and the level of unlockables meant you'd be playing this game for quite a while! While the N64 Mario Golf and Hot Shots Golf Fore! are masterful golf games, they scored an albatross while World Tour sunk a hole-in-one. (I had to use a golf analogy!)


Which handheld games that released last year are your personal favorites? Feel free to offer suggestions for games I should try out that I may not have already in the comments section!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Undead Storm Nightmare (3DS eShop) Review

Some call the popularization of zombies in the media a fad. What do you think about shows, films, and games that spotlight the undead? Well, hopefully you don't mind them, as the next game I have for review is full of them! It's Undead Nightmare Storm, and it is available for the Nintendo 3DS eShop right now.

Undead to Rights

Zombies are a recurring thing in media. From movies to television shows, the undead certain have never been more alive in popular culture. This also pours into video games, what, with Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, Dead Island, and an amalgamation of other titles. Outside of big AAA-developed games, smaller games are in the zombie business as well, such as a new Nintendo 3DS eShop game, Undead Storm Nightmare. Like an overhead Left 4 Dead in how it plays, is Undead Storm Nightmare a dream to play, or something horrid you'll want to quickly wake up from?

Undead Storm Nightmare has you playing through multiple missions, each with their own set of stages (generally two or three regular levels and then a special boss level). While the arrangements of obstacles and design of the stages differ, you're hanging out within the same three area types: a decrepit city, a cave with patches of darkness, and a switch-heavy army base. This made me wish for other areas just to bring some visual variety to Nightmare.

This protagonist is hardly a damsel in distress.
The game does not go very far in establishing any semblance of a plot. The goal is simple: get through the stages infested with zombies, blasting through them while edging closer and closer to the stage's goal. Along the way you earn survival coins from destroyed boxes and clearing a mission that allow you to purchase new weapons and new missions.

Yes, there is a level of grinding within Undead Nightmare Storm, as unlocking new missions isn't a process performed by completing the previous mission. Instead, you have to earn enough Survival Coins to outright buy the next mission. This is also how you purchase new weapons, anything from melee weapons to long-range weapons, flamethrowers to chainsaws, mines to grenades. It is also how you upgrade their rate of fire, firepower, reload speed, and capacity. It's an amount of grinding that may put off some players and bring a feeling of ennui at the same time. While stages are mindless fun, playing them over and over just to unlock a new weapon or mission can get tiring.

Make the undead feel a bigger burn
by upgrading the Flamethrower. 
The Nightmare part of Undead Storm Nightmare's title refers to a specific enemy that is unlike any other in the game, a female apparition holding up a lantern. If you get in her line of sight, she will call upon the aid of immensely more powerful zombies to quickly take you out. While it's possible to defeat her hellish minions, it is no easy task, especially with your starting equipment. Death comes quick and so does the accompanying Mission Failed screen. Otherwise, there is a great amount of repetition within the gameplay outside of these Nightmare parts. Running and gunning the same batch of four different enemy types through the same three area variants gets tedious through repeated play, which is unfortunate, as the game has other nice qualities to it.

Get caught by the Nightwalker and
enter your worst nightmare.
Undead Storm Nightmare plays like a twin-stick shooter. However, since the Nintendo 3DS lacks a second Circle Pad and the Circle Pad Pro peripheral is not compatible with the game, you use the Circle Pad to move and the L and R shoulder buttons to turn. L turns your character to the left, while R turns her to the right. Pressing both shoulder buttons at once spins your character 180 degrees. It is a control scheme that takes but a couple stages to learn, and then it becomes second nature quite quickly. Meanwhile, the touch screen is used to switch between weapons, while he face buttons serve as means to shoot and attack, reload, use health packs dropped by enemies and found in crates, and to help out your partner, a multiplayer-only ability.

This line for Amiibo ended tragically.
Multiplayer is indeed in Undead Storm Nightmare, allowing up to four players locally to shoot and carve up even more enemies than you'd see in solo play. All players need to have their own 3DS equipped with a copy of the game in order to play together. If this setup is manageable, you'll find yourself and your friends having a blast blowing away hordes upon hordes of the undead.

In the presentation department, Undead Storm Nightmare won't win any awards on appearance, much less get many comments on how it is a good game to look at. The entire game seems to be coated with unclear visuals and more muddy textures than a motocross track. That said, the frame-rate is solid throughout the game, which is fantastic considering how many zombies can fill the screen at any one time. Nightmare does not have 3D effect to speak of, unfortunately, but perhaps that was to keep the frame-rate from becoming a nightmare itself.

One of three bosses concludes each set of stages.
Audio-wise, Undead Storm Nightmare presents to players English voice work aside from the playable character when she completes a mission. The music is serviceable enough, offering relatively short loops but never coming across as overly repetitive or grating.

Undead Storm Nightmare's gameplay, however, is overly repetitive, and the reason for this is the forced grinding involved to get Survival Coins to purchase new missions to progress in the game, weapons, and materials to upgrade said weapons. If you're looking for a highly affordable and mindless overhead action shooter to pass time and don't mind some redundancy in gameplay, then Undead Storm Nightmare may be a suitable download for you.

[SPC Says: C-]

Review copy provided by G-STYLE.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Top Ten Third Party Wii U Games

If you know anything about Nintendo, you know its third party relations regarding its home consoles are... well, I don't want to say "total garbage", so I won't be that cruel. I also won't say "complete bullocks", "absolutely embarrassing", "insanely incompetent", or "beyond selfish" either, so don't think you'll see those phrases on this site. I think the nicest word to use would be "anemic."

Regardless, there are indeed plenty of third party games that are available on the Wii U that are worth playing. Of course, while most of them are available on other platforms, these Wii U versions are special for a number of reasons, as you'll see with this top ten list for tonight. These games are the ones that I deem the best of the Wii U third party bunch. Let's get started, shall we?

10) ZombiU

I kick off this top ten list with a title that I stated had the best use of the Wii U GamePad yet. I still find this true. Just don't come into Ubisoft's Wii U launch title ZombiU with the idea that it's a traditional shooter. Like many foolish professional review sites who will remain nameless but have a spot for games, you will find yourself disappointed by your own untrue expectations. ZombiU is a survival horror with an emphasis on both surviving and horror. You utilize the GamePad as your Bug-Out Bag, where all of your ammo and helpful items are stored. However, using this bag does not pause the game. This means that a zombie can attack you at any point. All it takes is one bite. For a truly scary game that is great to play in the dark (if you like to squeal like a girl when you're scared like I do), there is no better choice on Wii U than ZombiU, one of the freshest ideas in the genre in a long time.

9) Armillo

Something that tends to be overlooked when referring to third parties on the Wii U is the Nintendo eShop. There an abundance of clever yet nowhere near as triumphed games are released on a steady basis, though the storefront does not get as much action as the PlayStation's, truth be told. Fuzzy Wuzzy Games launched Armillo on the Nintendo eShop last summer, and it really does hearken back to the era of Nintendo 64 3D platformers. However, don't think it is a relic of the past and doesn't add its own spin to the genre. You control the titular character through spherical planets with hazardous aplenty to reunite Armillo with someone special to him. The level design alone shows the creativity that sparked in the developers, offering some clever platforming challenges and interesting mechanics to keep Armillo feeling fresh from beginning to end.

8) Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2

Speaking of overlooked games, you might laugh at Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 being on this list. You might say, "Wow. The Wii U really is struggling with third parties if you had to put a game based on a cartoon on it." Nevertheless, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 is a really well made 3D platformer that has a lot of ingenious ideas in its level design and design in general. The game is a huge step up from what the original Ghostly Adventures offered, and while it doesn't innovate in any special way, this sequel is highly competent, a blast to play, and has really tight platforming action. For overlooked games, definitely check out Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2.

7) Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Released at launch for the Wii U, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed saw Sonic and his Sega cohorts speed onto destructible tracks that dynamically altered themselves throughout each race. The ability to shift between car, boat, and plane at specific points in each race opened up the possibilities of the track design immensely. Nonetheless, the track design being spectacular is just one great bullet point for this arcade racing game featuring familiar Sega mascots. The actual racing feels supremely tight, offering a terrific amount of speed and control. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on Wii U has special features such as off TV play and exclusive mini-games. It is a fantastic racer that gives Mario Kart a run... er, race-- for its money!

6) Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones

Currently a timed exclusive for the Wii U eShop, Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones brings with it 2D puzzle platforming goodness and a level of challenge that makes each completed test chamber a serious accomplishment. With lots of content in the way you can beat the target times on each test chamber, collect special costume pieces for your robot, and build your own levels, sharing them with the Wii U Stealth Inc. 2 community if you deem your level appropriate, this is a downloadable game that will last players a long while.

5) Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition

To get this out of the way, while it's not exactly the same content, it is very much the same game. Sorry, Reggie Fils-Amie! Anyway, I very much enjoyed the original Arkham City on the PlayStation 3, and this updated Wii U version, utilizing the Wii U GamePad in some very clever ways (i.e. gadget management, encrypting The Riddler's locked doors, and more), was a perfect excuse to return to the desolate and crime-ridden city streets. Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition is very much a phenomenal port (albeit late) of the seventh generation original, and if you have never played any version of the game or want another excuse to do so like I did, Armored Edition is a fabulous game to sit down and be the bat with.

4) Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut

Another game that makes stellar use of the Wii U GamePad, Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut uses the GamePad as a radar, a means to loot enemies, accessing the player's inventory, a special window view for sniping, and a lot more. This action/stealth thriller was a splendid addition to the Wii U library, and it definitely needs more love from Wii U owners. Whether you're a casual player or someone more seasoned at shooters and stealth games, there is something for you in Human Revolution.

3) Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition

"Metroidvania" is a term that describes games that are similar in design and formula to the Metroid and later 2D Castlevania games. Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition is such a title, but it uses the many luchadore moves at our hero's disposal to not only fight off enemies in the game's combat rooms, but also to break through special doors, access new areas, and explore throughout the game world. Guacamelee is a game that doesn't take itself overly seriously, and it brings players a wide variety of nods to games both retro and modern. The added fun of co-op only sweetens the deal, offering the ability for two players to suplex and piledrive opponents simultaneously. Simply put, Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition is a must play for any fan of and anyone looking for an atypical type of Metroid.

2) Rayman Legends

If you followed Rayman Legends' rocky release, you know that the game was delayed to make ports for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. What was an exclusive for Wii U owners was held back for these reasons, understandably making many Nintendo fans irked, myself included. Regardless, the game finally released to critical acclaim but low sales unfortunately. Even with the other versions of Rayman Legends, the Wii U edition is what I consider the definitive version. The levels where you perform swipes, taps, holds, and touches to manipulate and maneuver platforms for a human or AI partner felt the greatest and most satisfying on the Wii U version. The other levels were platforming nirvana, too, especially those well done musical levels. While New Super Mario Bros. U is the king of 2D platformers level design wise, creativity-wise Rayman Legends has got the portly plumber's game handily beat.

1) Shovel Knight

Combining the gameplay of such NES classics as Mega Man, DuckTales, and more, Shovel Knight is a modern retro classic. Its design emanates high quality and even higher standards. Levels are intricately designed, offer plenty of well placed obstacles, and the entire game itself feels like such a cohesive and enjoyable package. The team at Yacht Club Games really know their stuff, and it is fully evident in every inch and pixel within this amazing 2D run-and-dig action platformer. I am absolutely thrilled that Sony platform owners will get the chance to try out this excellent game. The more players that get to experience Shovel Knight, the better!


There are other third party games worth mentioning that didn't make it on this list: Trine 2: Director's Cut, Mighty Switch Force, Toki Tori 2+, Ittle Dew, DuckTales Remastered, Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and my controversial pick, Sonic: Lost World. The Wii U may indeed be any abyss for third party content, but it isn't a wholly horrible place for publishers other than Nintendo.