Thursday, August 20, 2015

Greatness Comes in Threes: Best Trilogies in Gaming - Part Two

The trilogy-- in movies it's a common occurrence with hugely successful blockbusters whether it's Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, or Back to the Future. Trilogies are also pretty common in gaming as well, but at the same token, an actual good trilogy is a completely different matter. This new article series details some of the very best trilogies that our hobby and industry have been able to create in its much shorter lifespan. This second edition (the first was seen last week) deals with more recent trilogies both official and unofficial.

The Uncharted Trilogy

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)

Naughty Dog changed drastically from its cartoon mascot Crash Bandicoot games on the original PlayStation (that trilogy was covered last week). Now, the studio is more focused on making games interactive experiences that rival big Hollywood blockbusters. Whether that's a good direction or not for video games to emulate Hollywood and not try to be its own medium is an argument for another day. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune introduced Nathan Drake, not really an everyman, as he has some freakish physical strength, as shown by his ability to seamlessly climb cliff sides, leap over large chasms, and perform other acrobatics that would make an Olympian jealous. The greatest in the current trilogy, Among Thieves, dialed up the action sevenfold, brought with it a more well balanced and enjoyable campaign, and delivered some incredible multiplayer. Uncharted 3 released years later, though while it's a better game than the original, it failed to live up to Uncharted 2 in the gameplay and campaign department. Still, the Uncharted trilogy is one of the PlayStation brand's strongest, and for good reason-- it's an adventure like no other.

The God of War Trilogy

God of War (PS2)
God of War II (PS2)
God of War III (PS3)

Join Kratos on his journey of redemption and revenge with the God of War trilogy. While his character becomes much less sympathetic as the series goes on, it's always mad fun to beat the living hell out of centaurs, cyclopses, harpies, and other foes from Greek mythology. The original saw the story of Kratos being tricked by the current God of War Ares into slaying his loved ones, and going to get revenge on the god. God of War II saw Zeus stripping Kratos of the powers he inherited from Ares at the end of the original game and savagely killing Kratos, sending him to Hades. Both God of War II and III see Kratos on a perilous adventure through rooms of enemies, platforming challenges, big bosses, and tricky puzzles in order to get revenge on Zeus and the gods that stand in his way. God of War as a series delivers epic battles and set pieces, a brilliant combat system that is accessible enough for beginners but deep enough for more experienced players to unleash massive combos on foes, and superb level design that makes the entire game a joy to explore.

The Grand Theft Auto PS2 Trilogy

Grand Theft Auto III (PS2, XBX)
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2, XBX)
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, XBX)

The original pair of Grand Theft Auto games are worth mentioning for starting the series, but they featured an overhead perspective. It wasn't until the franchise's first full foray into 3D with its first PlayStation 2 entry, Grand Theft Auto III, that the series started gaining huge amounts of popularity. It was a revolutionary game and set the standard for many crime-based open world games set in a city. Vice City took the franchise to the 1980s, offering a time warp that felt genuine, as well as a more relate-able protagonist, voiced by the great Ray Liotta. Jetting around the neon metropolis of Vice City with classic '80s music blaring from your vehicle's stereo speakers was always an awesome experience. San Andreas then came, delivering a fantastic gang story, character customization, and a then-unprecedented world to explore with three unique large cities, a robust countryside and desert to explore, and just an amazing, living, breathing place to journey and tool around in. San Andreas remains my favorite GTA game, though going through GTA V currently might take its place.

The Final Fantasy PS1 Trilogy

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)
Final Fantasy IX (PS1)

An unofficial trilogy, but every generation starting with the one where the Final Fantasy series debuted up until the PS2 generation, there were three mainline Final Fantasy games released. What I consider the greatest generation of Final Fantasy games (although the SNES games very seriously rival it, but that's a subject for another edition) is the PlayStation trio, Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX. Final Fantasy VII is one of the most popular Final Fantasy games in existence, being the one that a lot of players started with first, or it was the one that had the most impact for players as it was the first 3D Final Fantasy. Sure, the LEGO-like characters outside of cutscenes didn't really look good even for the time, but the gameplay, story, and battle systems are top tier to this day. Final Fantasy VIII is the black sheep of the PS1 Final Fantasy trilogy, using a junction and draw system that many didn't care for. However, it did bring us one of the best mini-games in gaming history, the massively addicting collectible card game Triple Triad. Lastly, Final Fantasy IX went back to a more medieval world with characters that resembled a fairy tale instead of the realistic approach VII and VIII went with. While battles take a while to load, which is a shame, the game is overall the unsung star of the PlayStation Final Fantasy trio of games.

The Metroid Prime Trilogy

Metroid Prime (GCN)
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GCN)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)

Retro Studios was hurting in a big way trying to bring Metroid into 3D. A trip to the studio by Shigeru Miyamoto did wonders for the project. When the final game released, Metroid Prime, gamers like myself, the same ones who doubted the ability of this young studio and whether Metroid could would in first-person, were blown away by how amazing the game was. Putting a game series with a deep history and ties to 2D and implementing it into a 3D one is already a difficult task. Retro Studios successfully did so with Metroid and not only that, but made one of the best games of all time, if I may be so bold. The sequel, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, added a light and dark world mechanic, doubling the amount of exploration involved and creating some clever design tricks between worlds. The game also introduced multiplayer that would be the basis for the Nintendo DS Metroid title Metroid Prime Hunters. When the series jumped to the Nintendo Wii, Corruption introduced absolutely stellar pointer controls with the Wii Remote which still is my preferred way to play first-person games for maximum fun factor. The whole trilogy was later released on one disc as, coincidentally enough, the Metroid Prime Trilogy, offering the same Wii Remote functionality for all three games. If you don't want to pony up the high amount of money for a complete version of the original disc and box on Wii, you can download the trilogy on the Wii U.

The Sly Cooper Trilogy

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PS2)
Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS2)
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (PS2)

We started this edition of Best Trilogies in Gaming with a what could be described as a thief (but a handsome and dignified one), so let's conclude this edition with another, although an anthropomorphic one in the form of a raccoon, Sly Cooper. The Sly Cooper trilogy on the PlayStation 2 from Infamous developer Sucker Punch, showed brilliant stealth gameplay, fast paced and prized platforming, and a universe of lovable characters. The first Sly Cooper is my personal favorite, as the latter two introduced an open world hub that made the games more Grand Theft Auto in mission design that the linear platforming levels of the original. That isn't to say the second and third games are bad by any stretch of the imagination, though. My personal order of favorite Sly Cooper games on the PS2 starts with the original, then goes in the order of release. Sly 3 brought with it more mini-games than I would have liked that replaced a lot of the platforming goodness the other two games had. Still, the trilogy is a wonderful one for any 3D platforming fan. Speaking of which, definitely check out Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on the PlayStation 3 and Vita. It's not made by Sucker Punch, but it's a highly competent platforming adventure.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Top Five Most Underrated Nintendo Franchises

For a company that's been in gaming for several decades now, Nintendo has amassed an insanely robust repertoire of franchises that have mostly withstood the test of time. However, for every Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Pokemon, there are franchises that are overlooked and don't receive the same kind of pomp and circumstance. These five Nintendo franchises I have selected qualify as those. While such a category of game franchises is certainly subjective, I've tried to pick the ones from Nintendo that don't get their due diligence. Once you've read my choices and reasoning for each, I'd love to hear from you your thoughts on series that you'd love to see Nintendo and fans give more attention to.

5) 1080° Snowboarding 

1080° Snowboarding (Nintendo 64)
On the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, the genre of extreme sports in gaming was made massively popular by the Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise. While that series continues on (albeit in seemingly somewhat disappointing form with Robomodo's THPS 5), 1080° Snowboarding basically fell victim of an avalanche of obscurity. The developer, NST, a Western Nintendo studio, has since been relegated to smaller downloadable titles and less core-demographic games. This is a major shame, as the duo of 1080° games, Snowboarding on the N64 and Avalanche on the GameCube, had an extreme sports taste with a Nintendo touch to them.

1080° Avalanche (GameCube)
Shredding snow as you guided your snowboarder down a luxurious and insane amount of courses against opponents, tricking your way to the top of the leaderboards, or running away from avalanches as seen in the GameCube entry delivered thrills, chills, and for bad players like me, various spills.

4) Chibi-Robo

Nintendo doesn't seem to have settled on a particular gameplay style for their Chibi-Robo franchise. While this series is actually still quite alive and relevant in the regard that Nintendo is still making games for the little household robot, Chibi-Robo is far from a household name or well regarded series by most owners of Nintendo systems. Again, another shame, as Chibi-Robo delivers abundant charm and a huge array of wackiness to players.

Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash (Nintendo 3DS)
The first game, available for the GameCube, followed the titular robot's adventures in a bizarre Japanese family's home (what else can you say when the daughter of the family dresses and ribbits like a frog?), during tasks to earn energy. Two Nintendo DS games were released, one arriving in the West, but in North America it was a Walmart exclusive, and the other stayed in Japan. A Nintendo 3DS Photo Finder downloadable game released a year or so ago, and now a full retail title is hitting the system with an accompanying amiibo figure with Chibo-Robo: Zip Lash. Will this 2D platformer finally give some deserved attention to Mr. Robo?

3) Style Savvy

I hope none of you reading this article did a spit-take reading this entry. While the three games are indeed popular in Japan, known as Girls Mode over there, Style Savvy is actually an incredibly in-depth and fulfilling game for those of us who love customization. Two games have released out West, the DS original and Style Savvy: Trendsetters on the Nintendo 3DS. The latter offered the ability to run your own clothing shop, ordering clothes from various brands, picking out the perfect combination of clothing to create satisfying outfits for your clientele, and making contacts to further your career in fashion.

Style Savvy: Trendsetters (Nintendo 3DS)
Themed fashion contests brought ways to not only spread your fashion sense to the world, but also test your abilities in coming up with a compelling and competent outfit for your model to be showcased in. As a male without a vested interest in the fashion scene, I didn't think Style Savvy would interest me whatsoever, but I was impressively addicted to the plethora of customization options, gameplay mechanics, and content both Style Savvy games released out West offer. Feel free to call it casual gamer drivel, but you'd be the one that's mistaken with that kind of statement.

2) Advance Wars

My first run-in with this extremely capable and joyful (well, as much joy as a game about war can bring) Advance Wars series was the first on the Game Boy Advance that launched a few months after the system launched in North America in 2001. Now, the series didn't start there, as many fans probably know-- it has roots all the way to the Famicom, as the series is known as Famicom Wars in Japan.

Advance Wars (Game Boy Advance)
Regardless, assuming the role of one of a colorful batch of commanding officers, each with their own special in-battle ability known as a CO Power, you use funds to build various enemy units, from base-capturing infantry to powerful tanks, all with strengths and weaknesses, to try to defeat all opposing units, capture the enemy base, or complete a miscellaneous objective. Advance Wars did well enough to see a sequel on the GBA, Black Hole Rising, and two released on the Nintendo DS, Dual Strike and the darker Days of Ruin / Dark Conflict. The latter's poor sales have put the long-running series on an indefinite hiatus with only Virtual Console releases to hold fans over. Despite fan support, the series actually doesn't have anything as close to a steady and strong fan base as something like Fire Emblem, making Advance Wars a series that is definitely overlooked, if not by Nintendo itself.

1) Wario Land

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (Game Boy)
With so many underrated and overlooked Nintendo franchises to choose from-- heck, there are plenty that could make a list of more than five like Wave Race, Ice Climber, Custom Robo, and Steel Diver, for instance-- I select Wario Land as the one most deserving of praise and a new entry. Wario Land started as but a sequel to Super Mario Land 2, where Wario as a character debuted as the game's main antagonist. Not content with just taking over Mario's castle in that game, in Super Mario Land 3, Wario went ahead, shot for the stars, and took over Mario's role as the protagonist! Future games would implement a lack of death via conventional means, but still offering challenge in its puzzle design, level design, and timed exits from levels.

Wario Land: Shake It! / The Shake Dimension (Nintendo Wii)
My personal favorite of the bunch is the Wii's Wario Land: Shake It! (known as Wario Land: The Shake Dimension for my PAL pals). This game introduced traditional health to the series (as opposed to Wario getting hit and reverting to small Wario like Super Mario Bros' health system), brought awesome hand-drawn art, engagingly fun and superbly designed levels, great music, and a challenge that hadn't been seen in the series for a long while. Sadly, the game was mostly overlooked, despite being on the platformer fan's system of choice. Now, with the WarioWare series, that style of Wario is the one popularized and loved by many and not the Wario Land franchise.

Monday, August 17, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - A Class Act Edition

School is back in session for a lot of kids, teens, young adults, and graduates this week, so why not greet its arrival with some fine video game music goodness! That's exactly what SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs is here for this week, and this edition is going to offer you up a course on fantastic video game music. We start with homeroom with Yoshi's Woolly World. The next class features Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee. We then head to VGM 101 with LEGO City Undercover. Following that is a trip to lunch period with Mega Man X5. Finally, we ride the school bus home while listening to music from Super Mario 3D Land to remind us of our lost summer.

As always, be sure to study the VGM Database for all past VGMs posted on this weekly segment. No worries, the exam is take-home. Hit the books-- it's VGM time!

v941. Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U) - Shy But Deadly

Let's begin with a catchy and jaunty theme for the Shy But Deadly level in Yoshi's Woolly World, a game that our PAL and Japanese friends have been playing for over a month now. Unlucky North Americans like myself have to wait until October to play what many are calling a fantastic follow-up to the original Yoshi's Island. Mighty praise, and those types of player responses only make the wait until October all the harder!

v942. Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee (PSP) - Autumn Pagoda G.C.

Autumn, fall. Tomato, to-mah-to. The season won't officially begin in North America until next month, but we can have a nice taste of things to come with one of the first courses of Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee for the PlayStation Portable, the Autumn Pagoda G.C. and its mellow theme.

v943. LEGO City Undercover (Wii U) - Time Trial/Free Run

3, 2, 1, GO! This theme plays during the optional Free Run events in LEGO City Undercover. These events have Chase McCain running, climbing, wall jumping, pole vaulting, and tightrope walking through city obstacle courses to beat the target time. When you're playing these events there's no time to sit back and enjoy the music, but lucky for you SuperPhillip Central has the full version!

v944. Mega Man X5 (PS1) - Cyber Maze Core (Sigma's Stage)

"Electronica orchestra!" Wait. Am I the Perfect Dark Zero multiplayer announcer all of a sudden? ...Anyway... Mega Man X5's final levels take place in a cyberspace-like area, full of flashy scenery. The final challenge, of course, is taking down the maniacal Sigma once more. It must be a Tuesday for Mega Man X and Zero, I guess.

v945. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) - Beach Theme (Land)

Summer doesn't officially end until midway through September, but already it is over for many students going back to school. Super Mario 3D Land's Beach Theme is a catchy reminder that summer is never out of season when you can leap into the magnificent worlds of video games, especially one as excellent as Super Mario 3D Land!

Splatoon (Wii U) Stay Fresh Trailer

Stay funky fresh with not only this new trailer for Splatoon, but also the myriad of new content that has been amassed over these past few months-- new gear, new stages, new matchmaking, new weapons, and much more! Check out the additions with this trailer published on Nintendo of America's YouTube channel!

Little Battlers eXperience (3DS) Overview Trailer

Releasing in time for the start of the school year for many, Little Battlers eXperience is a Level-5 production that has you controlling a palm-sized robot in virtual arenas. There are literally thousands of custom robot combinations to go through to make the perfect robo companion for your play style. If you're not familiar with Little Battlers eXperience, this game is based off the anime series of the same name (LBX). Feel free to familiarize yourself with the game with this overview trailer from Nintendo of the UK.