Thursday, August 6, 2015

Top Five Metroid Games

29 years ago, the original Metroid released on the Famicom in Japan. It seems like there is no better opportunity to celebrate the series than with an in-depth top five list discussing the best the Metroid series has to offer. Despite having a modest selection of entries compared to other franchises of the same time span and age, it was very difficult coming up with the five Metroid games that best represent the glorious bounty hunter Samus Aran's galactic exploits. After you've checked out my order of titles, hit me up with your faves in the comments below.

5) Metroid Fusion (GBA)

A much more linear Metroid compared to most games in the series, Metroid Fusion saw Samus Aran heading to a space station to eliminate the threat of the X Parasites. This was all the while occasionally encountering the mysterious and highly deadly SA-X, taking the form of Samus. Through intense chase sequences, players have to quickly retreat from the persistent SA-X pest or else suffer fast defeat. The gameplay of Metroid Fusion was quite similar to past 2D games, particularly Super Metroid. New abilities came in the form of Core-X from defeated bosses and from various download stations across the space station. A higher emphasis on story was presented as well to the more linear affair that the game presented players. It all ended with a much deserved beat-down of the SA-X, retreating the destructing space station before it exploded, wiping out all of the X Parasites on board from existence.

4) Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GCN)

After the grand success of Metroid Prime, developer Retro Studios decided to take the series into a different direction. Now, by no means, was the gameplay greatly affected by this. Instead, Retro went with a heavier emphasis on story with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, taking place in two different dimensions, Light Aether and Dark Aether, as Samus Aran not only deals with the menacing Ing, but also her own doppelganger in the form of Dark Samus. Many critics argued that Metroid Prime 2 suffered with its higher difficulty, but for me personally, it was just right. Many times Metroid games were easy affairs unless you were speedrunning them, so the increased difficulty suited me just fine. What didn't work so well that would work with the later released Metroid Prime Hunters was the multiplayer component which felt shoehorned in. That said, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is an incredible entry in the series that should not be passed on.

3) Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)

An enhanced remake of the original Metroid, which was a game that definitely needed some enhancing due to its obtuse level design and lack of helpful map, Metroid: Zero Mission launched on the Game Boy Advance with gameplay very reminiscent of the superb Super Metroid. Not only that, but the visuals were beefed up supremely compared to the original Metroid, and an entire bonus section of the game where Samus Aran is without her Power Suit, forcing her to stealthily move through a Space Pirate ship with a mere stun pistol. While Metroid: Zero Mission is a bit short even with this new content, the game, like many others in the series, demands multiple play-throughs to experience everything the game has to offer. Doing something like getting 100% game completion within a set amount of time is an objective proficient players can shoot for.

2) Super Metroid (SNES)

One of the greatest 2D titles of all time, Super Metroid delivered fantastic level design, near perfect pacing, and killer ambiance with its myriad marvelous environments. The brand-new auto-mapping feature meant even beginners could have a fighting chance at exploring planet Zebes without hitting too many roadblocks. Super Metroid was the first Metroid game to have fully realized environments, meaning that unlike the original Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus on the original Game Boy, you could easily tell the difference between rooms, making getting lost much less of a problem. Perhaps my only reason for not sticking Super Metroid as number one on this list of top five Metroid titles is the first visit to Maridia, where movement is sluggish underwater thanks to the lack of the Gravity Suit, which isn't earned until later in the game. Other than that, Super Metroid has withstood the test of time and deserves not just one play-through but several.

1) Metroid Prime (GCN)

Originally a mess of a project before some divine intervention in the form of gaming god Shigeru Miyamoto stepped in to lend the folks at Retro Studios some direction, Metroid Prime went from what was looking like a failed experiment to bring the Metroid franchise into a first-person perspective to becoming not just what I perceive to the best that Metroid as a series has to offer, but one of the best games of all time. With a story that allows players to dive as deeply into it as they want to by scanning the environment for added narrative to impeccably designed areas that felt like you were in a living, breathing world, Metroid Prime took everything that players loved about the 2D games and made it work wonderfully in 3D.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Classics I Can Return To - Part Six

Last March we delved into seven more classics that I routinely return to. If you read the headline of this article, then you can probably guess that I'm about to do so again-- this time with seven new titles that I just cannot get enough of. From modern classics to games over a decade old, Part Six of Classics I Can Return To begins now!

If you missed a previous part of this long-running series and want to check past games listed, look no further than these links:

Splatoon (Wii U)

When it launched back at the end of May, Splatoon has a decent enough amount of content. However, over the past few months, the game has seen a steady stream of new content in the form of multiplayer maps, modes, weapons, and soon to be the ability to have private online matches with friends, a feature that I cannot wait to be able to try out. Along the way, Splatoon has surprised me with just how addicting the gameplay really is, and even when one is not winning, you're still making progress towards unlocking and purchasing new gear and weapons. Splatoon wasn't perfect went it launched by any stretch of the imagination, but now that it has seen so many continuous upgrades, it's darn close.

Rayman Legends (Multi)

While I don't hold it in as high of a regard as its predecessor, Rayman Legends is a fantastic 2D platformer that I enjoy whether at home on my Wii U for some local cooperative play or on the go with my PlayStation Vita version. Playing with my older brother is a blast on the Wii U version with him moving about the Murfy levels and me using the GamePad to arrange platforms and level quirks to save his bacon. The standard platforming levels where we're playing as Rayman and Globox (or whoever we decide on) are just as strong as ever. It's a game that I didn't know if I'd still be playing many years after its release, much more buying two versions of the same game!

Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

Even though Mario Kart 8 still gets a lot of playtime in the Stortzum household and with friends at their dorm rooms, Mario Kart 7 has started to suck me back in. It's amazing how much slower the game feels compared to the Wii U game, especially after speeding through the 200 cc expansion of Mario Kart 8. Regardless, I still love playing Mario Kart 7 with friends and family, and one of the most important reasons is because the amount of excellent, memorable, and fun tracks, both new and retro, is almost unmatched in any other Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8 might have the more interesting track design due to the anti-gravity portions of track, but Mario Kart 7 has more tracks that I absolutely love.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (Multi)

I've covered Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing's successor, All-Stars Racing Transformed, on a previous installment of Classics I Can Return To. This time we're talking about Sumo Digital's first racing game starring Sonic and the whole SEGA crew. Having a much better cast of characters to race as, at least in this writer's opinion, a wide variety of well crafted race tracks, an awesome mission mode, and less bugs compared to Racing Transformed. Despite their being more content in Transformed, I've by far spent more time playing and enjoying the original Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. Whether it's on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or heck, even my iPhone (albeit the latter is a much different game), this kart racer remains one of my favorites to this day.

Batman: Arkham City (Multi)

There was a lot of poking fun at Nintendo, specifically Reggie Fils-Amie, the main face of Nintendo of America, regarding his "not the same game, not the same content" PR spiel regarding Batman: Arkham City arriving on the Wii U very late compared to the other versions. While for many there was no reason to return to Arkham City after they had already played in on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or PC, I felt compelled to do so because I loved the game so much. I beat it on the PS3, and then I went ahead and jumped in to the Wii U version near launch. It remains my favorite Batman game to this day, and being able to make up an excuse to play it all over again was fantastic. Now, I think I'll go back to the PlayStation 3 version and tie up some loose ends by getting some more trophies...

Unreal Tournament (PC)

I got into Unreal Tournament really late. It'd be like me coming to my 2004 high school graduation in 2014. It was a long time before I finally got the pleasure to play UT, suffice to say. Starting out with the weak PlayStation 2 port (yes, I know, I know), I managed to enjoy my time against the game's incredibly smart computer opponents, learning the game's seemingly endless amount of maps, getting a grasp of the different weapons, and fragging all that I saw fit to frag. Moving to the PC version, I quickly adapted to the mouse and keyboard controls. Sure, I still totally suck when compared to other players, but I enjoy myself regardless.

TimeSplitters 2 (PS2, GCN, XBX)

The final game on this edition of Classics I Can Return To came from the minds behind GoldenEye 007, Free Radical Design, a core group of Rareware developers who left prior to Perfect Dark's completion. They took some of the aspects of those games and created this awesome futuristic first-person shooter. The amount of multiplayer content rivaled Perfect Dark, offering multiple bots, well designed arenas with plenty of hiding spots, camping spots, and points of contention, modes, and options. The single player offered so much replay value with the harder difficulties giving players more to do and longer levels to survive. Through my tour of the TimeSplitters series, TimeSplitters 2 is the one I recall fond memories of most.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Top Ten Best Fourth Entries

It's August the 4th, so today SuperPhillip Central is getting into the numbered spirit and counting down the best of the best when it comes to fourth entries in gaming franchises. Most game series are lucky to even get a sequel nowadays, so reaching the fourth entry of a franchise is quite special. What's even more special are these ten fourth entries that are the ones that did their respective series the proudest. After you've taken a look at SPC's choices, feel free to contribute your own favorite fourth entries that may have been left off this list.

10) Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

A remake of the original Castlevania, Super Castlevania IV took the series into new territory with 16-bit graphics, stunning Mode 7 visuals, eight way attacking with hero Simon Belmont's whip, as well as the ability to block projectiles and swing from certain rings with the weapon. Through the 11 level game, the classic Castlevania formula was molded to a perfect design. If you're looking for the best of the classic Castlevania formula (i.e. the non-Metroid style games), then Super Castlevania IV is an easy pick to choose.

9) Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT)

It was tough deciding between this game and Mega Man 4, but I ultimately went with Mega Man X4 due to it being a grander evolution of the franchise. This is mostly due to it being the first Mega Man X game on 32-bit hardware, the original PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. Offering eight more cleverly designed Maverick levels, two unique stories and the first opportunity to play as X's friend Zero for 100% of the game, Mega Man X4 gave players an exciting and adrenaline-pumping ride through its multiple levels, begging them to play through the game multiple times to see and collect all the game had to offer.

8) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (ARC, SNES)

One of the greatest cooperative arcade games I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, Turtles in Time, the fourth game in Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line of games, brought with it stellar gameplay, multiple levels to bash Foot Soldiers in, powerful bosses that required learning their attack patterns, and the ability to launch foes into the screen (at least in the Super Nintendo home version). The Super Nintendo port was special because it played so faithfully to the arcade game, and you didn't need to leech off your mom or dad's supply of quarters to continue playing.

7) Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)

The final part of Solid Snake and the Patriots' story, Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots took the Metal Gear Solid into a new futuristic direction with new mechanics like an over-the-shoulder view for firing weapons, OctoCamo for more competent stealth capabilities, and a Psyche Meter, which if it depleted too much, would affect Solid Snake negatively in combat. While the story itself wasn't perfect, offering some cringe-inducing moments, overall the story of Solid Snake and the Patriots was concluded in a respectable and creative manner. It only makes the wait for Metal Gear Solid V that much harder.

6) Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS (Wii U, 3DS)

Masahiro Sakurai actually considers Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and for 3DS to be separate entries, the fourth and fifth. However, since there's no telling which he considers the fourth and the fifth (is the 3DS version the fourth? The fifth?), I'm including both on this list. I consider this edition of Super Smash Bros. to be the best yet. The game's fighting mechanics don't stray too far on either side of the competitive spectrum that it alienates either the hardcore fighting community or casual players. What it does offer outside of balanced gameplay is a slew of modes, great online play, an abundance of characters and stages, and enough Nintendo love to make the staunchest of Nintendo fans smile.

5) Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Back in 1991, both Final Fantasy II and III had been passed up for localization. Thus, when Final Fantasy IV came to the West, it was numbered as Final Fantasy II, as it was the second Final Fantasy game released here. That minor history lesson aside, Final Fantasy IV brought with it an epic story with more dimensional characters than had been previously seen, an "Active Time Battle" system used in fights to keep players from idling to long when making tactical battle decisions, and a masterful soundtrack by the incomparable Nobuo Uematsu. While I wouldn't consider Final Fantasy IV the best Final Fantasy on the SNES, it is still a magnificent and magical title worth playing. Definitely one of my favorites in the franchise.

4) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Multi)

Taking the Call of Duty franchise away from World War II and into modern times, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the game in the series to put the Call of Duty name near the top of the AAA heap. Although it didn't particularly innovate on the first-person shooter genre, it did refine its gameplay to awesome heights, offering tight controls, a compelling single player campaign, and a multiplayer that kept players coming back for more years after its initial release.

3) Street Fighter IV (Multi)

Similar to the transition between Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III, it seemed like we were doomed to spin-offs and expansions of Street Fighter III, never quite reaching an all-new entry in the series. Then the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation came along and lo and behold, Capcom gave us Street Fighter IV. Using fully 3D models as opposed to the 2D sprites of past games, new Ultra Moves, and a new system known as Focus Attacks, the current latest in the Street Fighter series (until the PS4 and PC's Street Fighter V, of course) rocked the arcade and fighting game scene for good reason. It was an excellent fighter.

2) Resident Evil 4 (Multi)

Sometimes viewed in a negative light for turning the formerly horror Resident Evil series into a more action-packed AAA blockbuster series, we'll just be noting Resident Evil 4 for being a fantastically designed game. The pacing is near pitch perfect, offering a pace that is absolutely unmatched. I believe Resident Evil 4 is a grand mix and near perfect balance of survival horror and action. There is a reason that so many shooters following Resident Evil 4's wake have taken so much inspiration from the game and still do. It's one of gaming's greatest in more ways than one.

1) Super Mario World (SNES)

The number one pick for the best fourth entry in gaming history is Super Mario World, actually known partly as Super Mario Bros. 4 in its native homeland of Japan. The game introduced the series to 16-bits, a whole new world to explore in Dinosaur Land, brought along with it a world map with dozens of secret exits in levels to find, and brought to gaming everyone's favorite Koopa-gobbling dinosaur, Yoshi. Super Mario World is one of the best video games in the history of the medium, and whether one prefers it to Super Mario Bros. 3 or not is a moot point, as this fourth Super Mario Bros. game delivers time and time again, perfect for repeat playing.

Monday, August 3, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Eternal Wings and the Facing Worlds Edition

A new work week at SuperPhillip Central nearly always means it's time for SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, a segment where I deliver unto you five new video game themes that I consider to be excellent ones. This week is a mishmash of music from games like Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' first arcade outing, some more RPG action with Xenosaga III, and to cap things off, some stuff from Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- and Unreal Tournament! Before we get down to the gnitty gritty, check out the VGM Database where all past VGM volumes are located!

v931. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GCN) - Start on a Voyage

It seems like Motoi Sakuraba is a soul that just can't let SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs go. He seems to always be here, or at least every other week! His work on Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is fantastic, as is most of his composition profile. Start on a Voyage brings memories of roughing it on the rough waves to travel from location to location.

v932. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (ARC) - Boss Battle

Let's get some arcade action into SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with this VGM volume! It's the boss battle theme from an absolute classic of the arcade scene, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Although it's hard to track down an arcade cabinet of this game nowadays, you can jump in to the Xbox Live Arcade and download it for both local and online play.

v933. Xenosaga III (PS2) - Godsibb

The final boss theme of Xenosaga III, the final chapter of the Xenosaga... er... saga, gives off a haunting feeling due to its wonderfully magical female vocals. What starts as a mysterious theme turns into a rocking one with percussion, guitar, and strong strings.

v934. Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- (ARC, PS4, PS3) - Fizz

We rock out to this theme from Guilty Gear Xrd's expansion, -SIGN-. This is the character select theme for the game, and it almost makes you not want to choose a character to play as. Or it at least makes you want to linger on the menu longer than you otherwise would, thanks to this awesome theme.

v935. Unreal Tournament (PC) - Foregone Destruction (Facing Worlds)

This track is a familiar one to most Unreal Tournament players. It plays during the Facing Worlds map, which is devised up of two towers with a branching duo of paths in the middle. It's all over an outer space setting that players can fall into if they're not careful. Facing Worlds is indeed one of Unreal Tournament's most popular maps.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Badland: Game of the Year Edition (Wii U eShop) Review

We move from a Wii U and Nintendo 3DS eShop nostalgia-driven RPG to a highly celebrated mobile game that received several awards and nominations. The game is now available for the Wii U eShop. It's Badland: Game of the Year Edition. Here's SPC's verdict.

Badland ho!

Badland originally released on iOS and Android two years ago and was hugely celebrated. It won awards and nominations like crazy, giving the Wii U version's "Game of the Year Edition" moniker actual meaning unlike other games that just throw the term "Game of the Year" around like it was nothing. Now this much admired mobile title has reached the Wii U eShop. What was beloved on mobile is something special on Wii U.

Badland has you controlled a birdlike creature known as a Clone, flapping his wings with the A or ZR button as you move through a hundred or so automatically scrolling levels. These levels have you avoid getting crushed by falling rocks and other debris, evade killer buzz saws, zoom through narrow crevasses, and utilize various power-ups which alter the way Clone plays. There are boosts that speed up or slow down the scrolling of the screen (having the left side of the screen catch up with Clone is instant failure), there are power-ups that increase or decrease the size of Clone, among many others.

I'm starting to understand why this flapping creature is called "Clone."
The nearly 100 stages in Badland are separated between two days, and each day is made up of four periods: dawn, day, dusk, and night. There are also a duo of bonus level groups that can be unlocked and played through as well. Additionally, there are cooperative multiplayer levels to unlock. I would have preferred these to be already available to me at the beginning of the game, but what can you do.

Just reaching the end of a day and seeing the credits can be a goal for beginning players while more serious players can focus on trying to complete all of the achievements within the game. These are things like rescuing a set number of clones, beating levels without dying, and much more. It definitely adds to Badland's longevity, so if you're finding yourself yearning for more long after the credits have rolled, you have several other goals to shoot for to keep playing.

The 100 stages require lots of precision if you wish to survive them.
If a particular part of a level is deemed too tough for you, after repeated deaths you can opt to skip to the next checkpoint. You can always return to a past checkpoint if the current situation is seen as a dead end progress-wise. While this is a nice feature, later levels present checkpoints that are much more spread out. Even worse, some levels don't have checkpoints at all. Again, these are later levels, but it can be mighty infuriating to go through an entire level with a clean run only to mess up at the final challenge, forcing you to being the level from the very beginning.

Badland is a beautiful game. The foregrounds and obstacles are all in a dark black, which makes the backgrounds pop out wonderfully. The sound of the game is atmospheric, allowing you to hear the grinding of the buzz saws, the cries of animals, and the noises of big boulders bashing into the ground.

Lasers? *gulp*
The amount of content available to players for its relatively low price makes Badland a recommended purchase for Wii U owners. Although there is great frustration to be had in later levels due to the lack of or scarcity of checkpoints, the overall game is worth playing. While it doesn't shine as brightly on a home console as it does on mobile devices, Badland: Game of the Year Edition is a game that patient Wii U owners should go ahead and check out.

[SPC Says: B-]

Review copy provided by Frogmind Games.