Tuesday, July 14, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Two Tuesdays in a Row!? Edition

Welcome to another special Tuesday edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. I wasn't in a musical mood yesterday, due to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's unexpected passing on Saturday. However, I think it's okay to return to normalcy on the site, and there's no better way of doing so than with SPC's weekly listen to five of my favorite video game music tracks.

This week's selection consists of two PlayStation Portable RPGs to start things off, Star Ocean: First Departure and Ys Seven. What follows is a nostalgic trip with DuckTales Remastered, a clash of swords, axes, and magic with Fire Emblem: Awakening, and finally, we rock on with some God Hand.

If you're for some reason bored this Tuesday afternoon, feel free to check out past VGM volumes with SPC's Favorite VGM Database.

v916. Star Ocean: First Departure (PSP) - One Challenge

We begin this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with one of the two world map themes of Star Ocean: First Departure. You'd think after Star Ocean: The Second Story was played by me, with me deeming it one of my favorite RPGs that I'd jump at the chance to play its predecessor, a game that finally released in the West on the PSP. I ought to do that, now that I think of it...

v917. Ys Seven (PSP) - To Reveal the Way to Go

Another PlayStation Portable delight, Ys Seven was the first and only original Ys game on the system. The others were remakes of past Ys games, but worth playing all the same. If there's two things the Ys games always have, it's awesome action-RPG goodness and excellent soundtracks. The latter is evident with this chosen theme, To Reveal the Way to Go.

v918. DuckTales Remastered (Multi) - The Amazon

Jake "Virt" Kaufman arranged the classic NES soundtrack of DuckTales for the remake, DuckTales Remastered. The choice of instruments and arrangements are phenomenal, much like the actual game they're heard in. I wasn't that big of a fan of the original DuckTales, finding some of it a little too ancient gameplay-wise, but Remastered definitely created an experience that I truly enjoyed.

v919. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) - Conquest (Ablaze)

The battle version of the Conquest theme, this song contains the Fire Emblem theme within it for a song that's slightly nostalgic but also mostly brand-new to create a sophisticated sound. Fire Emblem: Awakening was supposedly the series's last shot. If its sales hadn't been so successful, we might not have seen another Fire Emblem game... possibly ever!

v920. God Hand (PS2) - Devil May Sly

Let's rock out with the final VGM of this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. It comes from the cult classic God Hand on the PlayStation 2, a Clover Studio production. God Hand wasn't that beloved by critics when it released (looking at you, IGN), but the game has received a lot of love from fans, and for good reason-- it's a wacky, awesome brawler worthy of a look.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (PSN, XBLA, Wii U eShop) Review

One of the games of the Epic Indie eShop Sale on the Wii U eShop, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams will take up over 4,000 MB on your Wii U hard drive. However, it's also available on PSN (both PS4 and PS3) and Xbox Live Arcade (both Xbox One and Xbox 360). Is it worth even downloading to begin with?

Dream a little beautiful but busy dream with me.

A bit of a history lesson for you guys and gals here. The original Giana Sisters, which released in 1987, had clear inspiration from Super Mario Bros., even taking the game's first level and basically making a carbon copy of it. The Amiga game saw a sequel on the Nintendo DS, which also skewed close to Nintendo's smash hit. Now, with a whole new console game with Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, the similarities to Super Mario Bros. are pretty much gone. What you're left with is a challenging, sometimes unfairly so, 2D platformer with some genuinely clever ideas.

Punk Giana's world is full of whimsy and wonder.
The main gameplay gimmick of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the "twisting" mechanic. This alters the world and levels between a cute, whimsical, colorful version and a much more apocalyptic-looking setting. It's quite phenomenal how all of the assets alter with such quickness and no slowdown in sight. Between the versions, different obstacles become hazardous and not so much hazardous. For instance, thorns in the barren version shrivel up in the whimsical version of a level.

Cute Giana's world is dark and foreboding.
Giana has two forms that are played as in each version of a level. Each possesses a special ability. One can speed into foes, through obstacles, and bounce from wall to wall with her fireball attack. The other can gain extra height and distance with a spinning jump, slowly descending to the ground as she twirls around and around. Using one of these moves, performed with a press of one of two face buttons, automatically twists the world. You can also twist the world with a touch of the shoulder buttons.

She's like modern Sonic the Hedgehog with this homing-like attack!
The gameplay centers around mastering the ability to switch between both forms with great skill. Some platforms appear in one world while they are removed in another. Sometimes you'll have to ride a lift and twist the world with solid timing in order to survive a gauntlet of spikes that do and do not appear in each of Giana's forms' worlds.

These platforms spin one way in the light world
while spinning the other in the dark world.
Scoring in Twisted Dreams' 25+ levels is determined by how many gems you collect-- another part of the game where twisting is necessary, as some gems only appear in one form's world-- and how many times you died before reaching the level's end. And you will die a lot. Most of the time it's due to your own fault and lack of a solid performance. However, sometimes the game just isn't fair, and this mostly the art design to blame.

Though having astonishing visuals, they can be just as
big of an enemy as the actual baddies on screen!
You see, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a gorgeous game, but it seems that it was beauty that killed the beast. That is to say that levels usually have hazards that are just way too hard to see due to how busy the art design actually is, especially prevalent when it comes to spikes. Not knowing if a hazard is actually hazard until it's too late is an all but common occurrence within Twisted Dreams, making a game that is already difficult frustratingly so. The fact that so many visual cues are misleading doesn't help either. Usually in the bright and bouncy Giana form's world, crystals are seen as hazards. However, the game all too often makes it so sometimes they appear in the background or foreground as environmental ambiance.

Having crystals sometimes be used as scenery when they often equate
 to death otherwise is certainly questionable as a design choice.
It becomes too challenging to tell when a crystal is and is not a hazard. Death comes way too often due to the complexity of the art design of Twisted Dreams, and it only adds to the irritation of playing the game. Sure, there's plenty of checkpoints and infinite number of lives for players to work with, but even the most stubborn player is eventually going to get their feathers ruffled after a while.

It's no day at the beach with all the hazards around.
Still, even with its lengthy levels and many anger-inducing deaths that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams unleashes on anyone who dares try to beat its many challenges, the game is an enjoyable one. Levels consist of clever design and a variety of obstacles from beginning to end. Secret areas are located in some ingenious spots that will force you to comb every inch of a level in order to find them. The controls of both Giana's forms are sublimely tight and responsive-- something great for when the trickier platforming challenges pop their heads into the scene. While it's not a fantastic platformer, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams offers a beautiful art style-- though its business will result in plenty of unfair deaths, creative gameplay mechanic, and an originality for the Giana Sisters series that hadn't been seen yet until now.

[SPC Says: C+]

R.I.P. Satoru Iwata (1959-2015)

It is with shock and sadness that I write this next article. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away Saturday due to a bile duct tumor. Mr. Iwata's health was the main factor in him not being at E3 2014, and it had seemed that he became healthier. However, the tumor obviously returned, an aggressive one in a place that is extremely dangerous to have one.

Despite it being easy to not agree with Mr. Iwata's decisions with Nintendo, especially in his later years, it's hard for anyone to deny that the man loved what he did. He was the type of president who put games first, and made it a commitment to make his employees as happy as possible. Even in the tough times, Mr. Iwata took honorable steps, such as taking a severe cut to his salary-- half-- as a gesture of goodwill, and refusing to fire employees as a means to keep morale up within the company.

His public life showed his love for games. His appearances in Nintendo Directs and Iwata Asks segments showed his commitment to reach out to the fans and herald the successes of his employees. Mr. Iwata marched to the beat of a different drummer, bringing a special joy and humor to the gaming industry.

Under Satoru Iwata's leadership as president of Nintendo, he spearheaded two of Nintendo's greatest success stories, the Wii and the DS. While the former was not capitalized on with its successor, the focus of games first and foremost never wavered. Nintendo continued to persevere under Mr. Iwata's guidance, and his legacy with endure with the upcoming entry into mobile, Nintendo's next dedicated hardware, the NX, and Nintendo's health initiative.

Throughout his tenure as Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata remained one of my favorite gaming personalities. His knew his stuff, and while he didn't always make the correct decision, I think he did the best he could with what he had. I will always think fondly of his appearances on stage, his Nintendo Direct hosting duties, his extraordinary interviews with fellow developers in Iwata Asks, and his programming prowess in games like Balloon Fight, Pokemon Gold and Silver, and many more. Satoru Iwata may not be with us in physical form, but he will always be around in spirit, within the games he helped program, within the consoles and games he oversaw, and within the future decisions that Nintendo as a company makes. Rest well, Mr. Iwata. You've earned it.