Friday, May 1, 2015

Review Round-Up - April 2015

Seems fitting that after the day Yooka-Layle was officially
revealed, that the game it is the spiritual successor of is
SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Month for April 2015!
For April, SuperPhillip Central celebrated the 3D platformer with a month mostly of reviews featuring the genre. That said, I started off the month with anticipation for the new Star Wars Battlefront game from DICE and EA by reviewing the original Star Wars Battlefront. It earned a B. Then, I kicked off the month of 3D platformers with a C judgment for Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars, a severely overlooked Wii game. Dabbling outside of the featured genre of the month again, I reviewed EastAsiaSoft's Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype, which soared its way to a B+. 

Next up, I tackled one of the most revolutionary games ever, Super Mario 64, giving it a well deserved A. Although that game wrote the book on 3D platforming, Banjo-Kazooie, the next game I reviewed, made the genre even better, giving the game SuperPhillip Central's highest score available, an A+. 

After those two great games, I found myself hesitantly giving one of my favorite games a C- with Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando HD's Vita version. Finally, Word Search by POWGI searched and found a B score, and Donkey Kong 64 wrapped up this month of 3D platforming with another B. A great month of reviews for sure, and I have in store another themed month. In fact, it's the second annual month of 3DS reviews!

To be fair to Mario and Bowser, barbecue season IS coming soon!
Meanwhile, Super Mario 64 hasn't lost much "wow" factor since 1996!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Donkey Kong 64 (N64, Wii U VC) Retro Review

How about that awesome reveal of Playtonic's spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Layle? Can't wait to write that blank check for them when the Kickstarter opens tomorrow. Before that, however, I have the final review of SuperPhillip Central's month of 3D platformers, Donkey Kong 64! Queue up the DK Rap as you read how my return trip to DK Island was!

The Kongs are still here to perform for you. 
Even if you don't know the words, I suggest you join them anyway.

The collect-a-thon. It used to be such a staple in gaming, and I associate it with a much lovelier time in gaming. With today's reveal of Yooka-Layle from former Rare employees (the same ones who worked on one of my favorite collect-a-thons, Banjo-Kazooie), it seems like a great time to talk about one of the more severe cases of the genre of 3D platformer, Donkey Kong 64. Whether it's overwhelming with the amount of doodads to nab or not, DK64 is indeed one of Rare's more polarizing titles that the studio developed under Nintendo's wing.

All is fine on the DK Island front until one sunny day turned cloudy, King K. Rool's fortress sails over nearby the island. King K. Rool has his sights set on obliterating the Kongs and the island once for and for all with the ship's powerful ray. Only one thing missing-- enough power to use it. While the ray charges, King K. Rool Kong-naps several of the Kongs, all the while allowing Donkey Kong to go after them. After all, the ray is surely to be charged by the time DK is done saving his friends, right? However, King K. Rool once again underestimates the resolve of the Kong clan who, after DK has saved them, need to team up to stop the K. Rool's Kremling horde before the ray can go off and destroy their home and habitat.

After working on similar collect-a-thon 3D platformers in the Banjo-Kazooie games, Rare decided to up the ante significantly with Donkey Kong 64. This is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because we, as the players, get double the play time of the Banjo-Kazooie games with DK64. At the same time, it's a curse because of how Rare went about adding hours to the game's tally.

Perhaps retreat is the order of the day.
If you have read anything about Donkey Kong 64 in the past, you most likely know already that the game is very heavy on the collectibles in the game. Not just those, but the collectibles necessary to even beat the game. There is, in fact, a lot to collect in DK64. From the 200 Golden Bananas that serve as the game's equivalent of Banjo-Kazooie's Jiggies, to 100 individual bananas for each Kong to collect in each world of the game, if you have any liking of collecting stuff, you'll be sure to get more than your fill.

Diddy Kong shows that chimps can climb with the best of them.
Some find this incredibly tedious because many times you're returning to already visited areas of the game's worlds multiple times. Again, each Kong has their own batch of 100 bananas in their own color to collect, and many times you'll find that you'll have to reenter areas you've combed through as another Kong to find more bananas. One temple area in Angry Aztec, the second world of DK64, has a room that you have to return to three times at a minimum just to get all of the bananas in the room as three different Kongs. I say at a minimum because if you're like me and haven't played DK64 for a while, you'll probably have no idea which of the Kong's bananas need to collected in that room. Thus, you're likely to have the wrong Kong for the wrong colored bananas.

Return to this area of the level on multiple occasions
as different Kongs to nab all of the bananas.
Bananas are important to collect in each world, as they are the means of opening up the door to the boss. Banana totals do not carry over between worlds, so if a door in, say, Frantic Factory, the third world of DK64, requires 200 bananas (which it does, by the way), you need to collect all 200 bananas in that world. Of course, the total 200 amount is spread across more than one Kong. Once all of the bananas have been used to open the door blocking the Kongs' way to the boss, a battle against one of King K. Rool's fiercest foes will begin, pending you enter the door, which you can only do so as long as you are the correct Kong. Winning the battle earns the Kongs a special key.

Time for Tiny Kong to crack Mad Jack!
As for the Kongs themselves, you start Donkey Kong 64 with just DK himself. From the first world, Jungle Japes, Diddy is housed inside a cell, waiting for DK to rescue him. Meanwhile, Angry Aztec has two Kongs to save, Tiny and Lanky. Finally, Frantic Factory houses Chunky Kong.

Each Kong can be switched between via multiple, ordinarily, helpfully placed barrels in worlds. You'll be doing this quite a lot throughout the game. Not only because each Kong has 100 of their own colored bananas to collect (though not all need to be gathered to beat the game), but because each Kong has their own set of abilities, weapons, and musical instruments exclusive to themselves.

Lanky Kong felt the need to hand it to this enemy.
Moves are taught by potions obtained from Cranky Kong in his laboratory, around each world in DK64. However, they're available for a price, a set amount of coins. Unfortunately, like bananas, coins are colored, meaning that only one Kong can pick up their own colored coin. For instance, DK can only pick up yellow bananas and yellow coins. This can be annoying, but so can having to return to Cranky's shop five times with each Kong in a world, just to learn a move exclusive to each Kong. It sounds minor, but with all of the switching between Kongs you'll already be doing, this just adds to the tedium.

In each of the game's worlds, there are a maximum 25 Golden Bananas to acquire, five per Kong. Even if one Kong completes all of the steps to make a Golden Banana appear, only that Kong can pick up that Golden Banana. Otherwise the Banana is just transparent and impossible to pick up for another Kong. Usually this isn't anything to worry about since most Golden Bananas are housed in locations only one Kong can reach anyway, but there are some occasions where you can futilely try to cheat the system.

The different objectives that the Kongs participate in to acquire Golden Bananas are highly varied. One would hope so, after all, with 200 different ones to collect! Between riding a mine cart in hopes of collecting 50 coins before its conclusion, racing against an NPC on a slide, playing Simon Says on a xylophone, hitting a switch and racing to the Golden Banana before the gate closes, and so many more objectives, Donkey Kong 64 will definitely keep you busy with different tasks to complete.

Can we play something in A Minor instead?
That said, some Golden Bananas are locked behind mini-games. What I mean by this is that sometimes you'll have done a serious platforming or puzzling challenge, and instead of acquiring the Golden Banana, you are welcomed with a barrel that takes you to a mini-game to play. Most of these are enjoyable enough, but as any Donkey Kong 64 fan or player will tell you, Beaver Bother can go suck a Crystal Coconut.

One of the five Golden Bananas that each Kong can collect in a given world requires a Kong to find a certain buff Kremling to defeat, who will drop a blueprint. Taking this over to Snide, who is also one of the characters who has a location in each world of DK64 (Funky Kong and Candy Kong are the two others), will have the weasel give you a Golden Banana in exchange for the blueprint. The blueprints also give you more time to work with in the final world of the game, a mad race against time to reach King K. Rool's chamber before the Kremlings' destructive ray goes off.

Outside of Golden Bananas, regular bananas, coins, and blueprints, there are plenty of other items to collect, though most of these are things that need to be restocked through collecting, such as ammunition for each Kong's gun, watermelons (used to restore health), film (used to take pictures of Banana Fairies), oranges (used to throw as grenades), and Crystal Coconuts (fuel for each Kong's special ability like DK's invincibility).

While it wasn't a "pow" right into the kisser,
this Kong kick from DK to this Kritter still smarts!
However, there are two mandatory collectibles that are a genuine pain the monkey butt to obtain, one more than the other. They are the Rareware Coin and the Nintendo Coin. Both are needed to open the final door in the last world of the game. One is collected by getting over 5000 points in Rareware's first arcade game, Jetpac, while the other is much more difficult. You have to play through Nintendo's original Donkey Kong arcade game with one life and beat it not once (that just gives you a Golden Banana), but twice! For some that are better skilled with old school titles, this shouldn't be too taxing, but for the rest of us, it made what was an enjoyable game even with all of the collecting, turn into a maddening grind.

Donkey Kong 64 is remarkable in its visuals. Do note that this was one of the premier titles of the Nintendo 64's Expansion Pak. The game itself runs relatively well. There are moments where the game and music chug. One such moment is outside the lighthouse area when the lighthouse is lit in Gloomy Galleon. This is while King K. Rool's ship floats around the lighthouse. To be fair, there IS a lot going on at that particular moment. Most other times, the performance of Donkey Kong 64 behaves itself.

Aw, Donkey Kong's got sand in his fur!
The game exudes charm from the death animations of enemies, such as Klump's way he salutes as he falls with a stiff posture to the ground, to the environments, such as pictures of Kaptain K. Rool from Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest within the innards of Gloomy Galleon's sunken pirate ship.

Your mileage of liking Donkey Kong 64 comes from whether you mind collecting a myriad of objects or not, and whether or not you mind backtracking multiple times through worlds. Sure, the game's Bananaporters-- teleporters that allow for rudimentary fast travel-- are helpful with this, but there's still plenty of traveling between the hallways, alleyways, and pathways that split up each world's larger areas. Again, all this traveling adds up. Some call a lot of the collecting and backtracking through levels filler, and I can totally see the rationale of that argument. However, as someone who grew up loving 3D platformers of this type (e.g. Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy), Donkey Kong 64 scratches a familiar itch, one that I mostly kept saying, "ooh, yeah... Just a little lower" to.

[SPC Says: B]

Word Search by POWGI (Wii U eShop, 3DS eShop) Review

Word searches were always fun for me growing up. I'd buy big books with a plethora of them inside. While I don't delve into word searches much nowadays to kill time, I jumped at the chance to review Lightwood Games' Word Search by POWGI for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS eShops. Here are my quick thoughts on the title, as you can only go so far in-depth with a collection of word searches!

Seeking a capable word search package? You've found it.

It's difficult to make word search games sound any more special than they are. With Word Search by POWGI, you can pretty much guess what you'll be receiving just by the name-- word searches. How do you make that sound any more exciting than that? Well, you really can't, so if you're not a fan of word searches, there's nothing for you here. However, if you enjoy searching for themed words horizontally, vertically, diagonally, and in reverse in a sea of letters, then you will most likely very much like Word Search by POWGI.

That said, there's plenty of word search puzzles to be found within this collection by Lightwood Games. There's over 300 unique puzzles sprinkled within 27 unique categories (e.g. terms regarding sports, baking, fruits, vegetables, world destinations, and so forth) containing an abundance of words to seek out in each. When all of the words have been found in a given puzzle, you've successfully completed it. It doesn't get any simpler than that. Well, unless all you had to find was one of the 20+ words in a given puzzle, but that's just splitting hairs.

There's plenty of categories to choose from with
twelve puzzles each inside of them.
Word Search by POWGI provides an easy to use interface that works well, albeit nothing that will really wow players. You see, there's not much in the way of interesting visuals or different themed appearances to be found in this collection of word searches. It's a shame, but for the lack of visual variety, there are plenty of puzzles to play, as stated. All that is required of the player to find words is to press the stylus on the first letter of the word, and then draw a line to the final letter of the word, thus successfully seeking a word. Again, it's simple to use and it works well. Perhaps the only niggling presentation problem within Word Search by POWGI is that there is but one song that plays regardless of which menu or spot you are at in the game. Definitely queue up some of your own music ahead of time before playing this game.

Play with up to four other friends or family members.
The differences between the Wii U and 3DS versions of Word Search by POWGI are small, but they are worthy of mention. For one, confusingly enough, the more pick-up-and-play version of the game, the 3DS version, lacks a Quick Play option, which the Wii U game possesses. One would think it would at least be the opposite, with the 3DS version having a more pick-up-and-play approach option to it. Additionally, while the 3DS version is meant for solo players to enjoy, the Wii U game has a multiplayer feature. Up to four others in the room can use Wii Remotes to join in on the seeking and searching fun, helping out the GamePad player on any puzzle within the game.

For a game that is purely devised up of word searches, Word Search by POWGI does its job and does it well. There are no special bells and whistles to be found in the package, but the package itself has plenty to gorge on for word search/seek and find enthusiasts. Lightwood Games offers a lovely word search game that might not impress with its presentation, but it does impress with the amount of puzzles the game possesses.

[SPC Says: B] 

Review copy provided by Lightwood Games.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Was I Supposed to Know THAT!? ~ Obtuse Things in Games - Volume One

Time for an all-new series of articles for SuperPhillip Central! Here, I'll be talking about those moments in games, whether they be puzzles or parts, where the solution to progressing isn't very clear. In fact, it might just be incredibly obtuse, resulting in you rushing towards a walkthrough or guide. Hopefully you'll find this series as enjoyable as SuperPhillip Central's others (and hopefully you actually like THOSE!).

The Red Barrel of Doom - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)

This first "How Was I Supposed to Know THAT!?" moment in games has been mentioned before, and for good reason! It is such an error and example of obtuseness in game design that the creator even apologized for it. It's the otherwise fantastic Sonic the Hedgehog 3's infamous red barrel of doom! Dun-dun-dun!

The barrel in question is located in Carnival Night Zone Act 2. There are myriad barrels throughout the first and second acts, but none of them are required like this one is. Therefore, the player never has to interact with them, nor do they have to solve how to get past them.

The premise here is that a barrel that bobs up and down when weight from Sonic and Tails land on top of it must somehow move down enough a shaft for Sonic to sneak through a gap to continue the level. Considering that mindlessly jumping up and down on the barrel shows some kind of progress doesn't help things. In fact, it's totally misleading.

What you actually have to do is alternate between the up and down directions on the d-pad in time with the bobs of the barrel. This makes it so the barrel adequately moves enough for Sonic and Tails to move past this otherwise impossible to pass obstacle. Many fruitless efforts were had trying to cheese my older brother's and my way past the obstacle. The zones after Carnival Night seemed like impossible dreams that would never come true. The only thing that ever did come true before learning the truth about the red barrel of doom was the time always running out on us while playing this formerly cursed level.

Canary Mary's Second Stand - Banjo-Tooie (N64, XBLA)

Canary Mary is a human-like character dressed up as a canary, gifted with the power of flight. She requires Banjo and Kazooie to race her twice within Banjo-Tooie in order to get two separate Jiggies from her. (Jiggies being the equivalent of Super Mario 64's Power Stars, for the uninitiated.)

The first race in Glitter Gulch Mine is by no means that difficult. All that is required in this race is to mash a button repeatedly to speed across a rickety rail system through the tunnels of the mine. Beating Canary Mary to the finish line results in her surrendering her Jiggy to the bear and bird pair.

However, it's the second race, a flying spectacle in Cloud Cuckooland, that took most players, including yours truly, through the wringer. It seems to follow the same format as the first race-- rapidly mash on a button to coast to the finish, thus beating Mary. Nonetheless, this line of thinking is folly.

What isn't said about this second and final race is that Canary Mary has rubber band AI. This means that the faster you mash the button to speed up, the faster Canary Mary will fly, eventually making it so it's not possible to beat her without having a heart attack after mashing on the button like a madman. No, the goal here is to not actually rapidly press any button, just do so gingerly. This will make the race all the more feasible to complete.

That Final Freaking Percentage Point - Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

Many of you who read a lot of articles and reviews on SuperPhillip Central probably are deep into gaming. You most likely want to get the most out of your gaming purchases, and that means doing as much in a game you enjoy that you possibly can. For Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (which for the longest time I mistakenly [and stupidly?] read the subtitle as Diddy Kong's Quest), the mighty goal here was to collect all of the bonus coins, DK Coins, beat the Lost World, and get the ultimate percentage amount possible for the game, in this case, 102%.

However, many players, including myself, fought with plenty of effort to find every hidden bonus barrel, complete every bonus challenge, find every secret DK Coin, and battle and defeat Kaptain K. Rool not once but twice and only end up with 101% to show for it. Where is the other percentage point?

It turned out that players needed to visit all four of the Kong buildings in the game at least once. This meant going to pay Cranky, Wrinkly, Funky, and Swanky a visit to get that final point. It's something that for the most part, most players wouldn't think about or even have a reason to visit half of those locations. It took me a long time to figure that stipulation for 102% out myself, and that was only because I caved and bought the Nintendo Power players guide!

Kneel Before Zod-- Er.... This Innocuous Wall! - Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES)

What a horrible night to have to put up with incredibly cryptic crap. Now, to be fair, I only used the word "crap" for alliteration purposes, but then again, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest isn't the best game in the series. In fact, I'd call it one of the worst. Featuring cheap deaths aplenty, an annoying day and night cycle that interrupts the player with ten seconds of slow, scrolling text every time the sun rises or sets, and some astonishingly obtuse progression, Simon's Quest has more than its fair share of issues.

I could really pick a lot of instances within Simon's Quest to focus on and complain about, but the part of the game I'd like to pick apart, albeit briefly as I was never one to like getting angry, is an instance where your character reaches a curious dead end in an outdoor area. There is no hint that there is anything to this wall, even though you're supposed to go through it. Also, merely walking up to the wall and physically walking through it is impossible.

No, what needs to be done is something totally non-intuitive. First, you need to have the red crystal highlighted. Next, you have to crouch down and thus kneel in front of the wall. You are required to do this for more than five seconds before a small tornado appears and whisks you away to the next area.

Imagine this game not having any hints about this, and you as a young player or however old you might have been when Simon's Quest originally released trying to explore every area of the game to make some form of progress. By the time you've exhausted every potential possibility, you wind up with no progress made whatsoever. Simon's Quest was essentially impossible to beat without the help of magazines like Nintendo Power and tip hotlines. It's an example of a game that is unfortunately filled with ambiguous and enigmatic design, having Simon's Quest make Lords of Shadow 2 look like the greatest Castlevania game in comparison.

The Trials and Tribulations of Reaching The Cave of Trials - Star Ocean: The Second Story (PS1)

The Cave of Trials in Star Ocean: The Second Story (also available on the PSP with the subtitle of "Second Evolution") is a secret, end-game dungeon that houses some of the most powerful weapons and abilities in the game for Claude and Rena's party. Unfortunately, it also houses some of the most challenging creatures, monsters, enemies, and bosses in the game, also making it so the real final boss of the game is significantly more difficult to beat by a fine measure.

With such goodies lying about in treasure chests inside, just waiting to be opened, a player enjoying the second Star Ocean would most likely want to enter and explore the dungeon. The process upon doing so is something that I don't know how anyone would do without a guide.

It revolves around reaching the final save point within the last dungeon of the game (the one just outside the final boss' chambers) and leaving the tower to head back to a specific town within a game. It's not just that, but it's a specific and unassuming NPC in a crowd of countless others in the back of a coliseum that must be spoken to. Talking with him with transport the party back into the past where the first planet of The Second Story, where most of the game took place. It's here where the party's power of flight, not previously available to the player, allows Claude and Rena to reach a desert island where the dungeon is located.

How the player would know they needed to return to a game's town and a specific NPC after reaching the last save point in Star Ocean: The Second Story is something that weighs on my mind like a sumo wrestler would. Many RPGs, specifically JRPGs, feature some off-the-wall and unimaginable ways to get end-game and post-game content, and Star Ocean's second game has one of the greatest.

Monday, April 27, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - You Have Gotta Be Kyd-in' Me Edition

Much like two Final Fantasy games were the bookends of the gaming music goodness that was last week's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, this week's edition is bookended by music from Jesper Kyd. First, we start off with a track of his from Assassin's Creed. We then end this edition with a track from The Adventures of Batman & Robin, going really deep into his career as a game composer! In between this Kyd-based carnage is music from one of my favorite soundtracks, Star Ocean: The Second Story. Finally, we have music from Radiant Historia and Digimon World! D-D-Digimon! D-D-Don't go anywhere-- there's video game music to be listened to, friends!

v861. Assassin's Creed (PS3, 360, PC) - Chase Theme

We start out with the Chase Theme from Assassin's Creed, which if you read my introduction of this edition of the VGMs like a good boy or girl, you'll know is composed by Jesper Kyd. You'll also know if you read my introduction of the VGMs like a good boy or girl that this is the first of a duo of Jesper Kyd-composed tracks. The second is the final of five VGM today!

v862. Star Ocean: The Second Story (PS1) - Moderate

Star Ocean: The Second Story is one of my favorite video game soundtracks ever devised. Motoi Sakuraba really did wonders with the music for the game, and I love the soundtrack for many of its warm sounding synths and lovely melodies, much like the ones heard in Moderate, a theme for Mars Village. This is the hometown of Celine, a magician girl who can unleash mighty magic upon foes while they're distracted by her *ahem* clothing choices.

v863. Radiant Historia (DS) - The Edge of Green

We continue with an RPG theme, but this time we're going for something a little more modern, music from Yoko Shimomura's Radiant Historia soundtrack. The Edge of Green is one of the battle themes within the game, offering magnificent music to mash monsters and other enemies to. Yoko Shimomura is gaining much publicity as she is the main contributor to the upcoming Final Fantasy XV soundtrack.

v864. Digimon World (PS1) - File City (Day)

Did someone call for some Digimon? No? Well, I hope you don't mind having some anyway! This song, File City (Day), comes from the very first Digimon World game for the original PlayStation. The game series would go on to see entries on other platforms, such as the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, and even the Nintendo DS for a dual release.

v865. The Adventures of Batman & Robin (GEN) - Big Machines

Jesper Kyd wasn't always making magnificent scores for AAA games. His beginnings began with smaller titles, as one would expect. While The Adventures of Batman & Robin is available on both the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, we're focusing on the Genesis soundtrack, as Mr. Kyd was able to create one of the best sounding and most impressive Genesis soundtracks from a technological standpoint. Is it any wonder why his game composition career took him to such great heights as he's at nowadays?

Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4, XONE, PC) – “All Who Follow You” Official Trailer

From the YouTube video description itself:

"Coming June 23, 2015, Batman: Arkham Knight is the epic conclusion to the Rocksteady Batman: Arkham Trilogy.

For the first time ever, watch Batman: Arkham Knight’s exciting new “Dual Play” mechanic in action as you switch seamlessly between The Dark Knight and his allies including Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman in free-flow combat.

With his back against the wall, Batman turns to his closest allies to help him save Gotham City from the clutches of Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight’s army. A familiar face also returns to give The Dark Knight a message he cannot ignore…"