Friday, September 18, 2015

Super Mario Maker (Wii U) Review

Super Mario Maker released a week ago, and I've sunk my teeth into it, messing around with the various tools, playing and making levels, and trying out all of the online functionalities of the game. I think that finally qualifies me enough to review the game. Here's my review of Super Mario Maker for the Wii U.

By the way, if you'd like to play any of the levels I've created, check out part one of SuperPhillip Central's list of Super Mario Maker levels.

Let me "level" with you-- this creator is great.

Allow me to tell you a little bit about my background and myself. When I'm not talking or writing about video games, I really enjoy making video games. It's what I plan on doing for a career once I graduate college come this spring, and all factors of game design really appeal to me. By far the most interesting part of game design to me is the creation and designing of levels. If a game has a level editor or designer, you can probably bet that I'll be interacting with it in some regard. That's probably why I enjoy the LittleBigPlanet series on PlayStation so very much.

Mario level editors are nothing new. They've been on the Internet for over a decade now, and they offer tools to allow creators to design their own crafty concoctions. However, there hasn't been an official Nintendo-developed Mario level creator available... until now. Offering an intuitive interface, a massive amount of customization options, and the ability to share levels to great effect, Super Mario Maker on Wii U is now the ultimate toolkit when making Mario levels.

Super Mario Maker starts you off with a modest selection of tools, really only good for designing the most basic of courses with the simplest of backgrounds. However, as you create, you get deliveries of new tools via a delivery truck every five minutes of steady creation, as of the first patch for the game. Otherwise you have to wait a day to receive your new stock of goodies, but this can be cheesed a bit through altering the internal clock of your Wii U through the System Settings menu. 

What the creator starts you off with standard blocks, Goombas, Koopa Troopas, two game tile sets to choose from (the original Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U), and a lack of environments, you soon receive two more game tile sets to utilize, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World; the option to change environments from plains to things like ghost houses, airships, and castles; new enemies to use in your levels like Boos, Dry Bones, Bullet Bills, and Lakitus; and obstacles like donut lifts, fire bars, note blocks, and moving platforms.

Switch between game visuals with a tap of the button on the top left.
A huge problem I had with one of my favorite PlayStation 3 franchises, LittleBigPlanet, was that while you could make much more complicated levels and creations than Super Mario Maker does now, it was much more difficult and time-consuming to do so. If you wanted to created highly complex levels or creations, you might even need to know some programming. Super Mario Maker's editor is on the opposite side of the complication spectrum, offering a tool set and interface that is highly intuitive. It's as simple a tapping the top bar to choose between sets of items, tapping on the item you want to add to your level, and then tapping a space on the level creation grid where you want to place it. Adding Mushrooms and coins to item blocks is as simple as creating an item block and then dragging your desired item or coin into it. 

Go directly from creating to playing and back again in an instant!
That's not all the intuitive interface gives you either. You can grab certain enemies and objects and shake them with the stylus to change their form. Regular Piranha Plants turn into their fireball-spewing variety with a shake of the stylus, while red mushroom platforms quickly alter their color to yellow. You'll smile with delight at the surprise of what tools from Super Mario Maker's tool set can be altered by shaking them. 

The space you have to create levels is pretty large. This is doubled when you receive the ability to enter pipes, creating a second room of equal length to tinker around with. You can move the goal of a level to the far end of the level editor's room, or you can keep it closer for a shorter romp of a level. Each game's tile set offers a different goal, such as Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. U's flagpole and castle, Super Mario Bros. 3's alternating item box goal, and Super Mario World's rising and lowering ticker tape finish. 

It can be just as fun to just tool around with the creator.
Who cares if your level isn't great as long as you're having fun making it!
Once you have (hopefully) played your level enough to test it out, working out whether it's fun to play or not and challenging enough, you can start the process of uploading it. However, before the level is queued up on Nintendo's servers, you have to complete the level yourself. This means no impossible to beat levels, which would have been a bane in the online community. You start out with the ability to upload ten levels total, but as you gain enough stars from people who like your level, your maximum amount of levels able to be uploaded increases.

The Course World menu is where you can search
and find created levels from all around the world.
It is very easy to design an excellent level, and if you have a plan in mind or some great improvisational skills, you can quickly create a great level in about a half-hour to an hour. Still, with how easy it is to make levels, you can probably guess that there are a lot of levels by creators that are sub-par, heck, even just not really good at all. This is noticeable when playing Super Mario Maker's 100 Mario Challenge where you play a random selection of online courses submitted by players with a collection of 100 Marios to use. Many levels feature incomplete ideas, poor design, squandered potential, troll moments (e.g. invisible blocks over where you begin a jump over a pit, making you fall into said pit), and other unsavory aspects to good level design.  

Leave a comment on a creator's level, and it may
show up in this news feed... or even in the level itself!
Searching for levels in Super Mario Maker could be a lot easier. Currently, there is a list of featured levels and up-and-coming levels to look through. A questionable oversight is the complete lack of being able to search for levels by name or being able to search by creator. Instead, you have to input sixteen digit codes to get the exact level you want. If you like a creator's level, you can follow them to see every current and future level they make. These are issues that Nintendo will probably make note of and improve upon through future updates. At least that's what I assume based off on its history of its past online titles.

You can take a look at your uploaded courses, starred courses,
played courses, and creator info in this menu.
Super Mario Maker allows for the use of amiibo to unlock special character costumes for use in the Super Mario Bros. tile set. All of these can be unlocked through playing and beating the 100 Mario Challenge dozens of times, but using an amiibo while in the creator unlocks it on the spot. Additionally, there are costumes not attached to amiibo such as a Goomba costume, an Item Block costume, and even a Wii Balance Board costume.

Still distraught over his Wii U game being delayed to next year, Link finds
solace in winding up in the Super Mario Bros. series's 30th anniversary game.
Alongside the ability to freely create your own Mario levels, there is a sample of around sixty courses made by Nintendo developers. These can be played and unlocked in the 10 Mario Challenge, offering brief glimpses of level concepts and ideas that you can use in your own levels. You can even edit these levels yourself, adding in your own design elements, flavor, and personal touches. 

Super Mario Maker is the complete package, and I can't think of a better way to commemorate the Super Mario Bros. series's 30th anniversary. Offering a robust level creator utilizing a pain-free and intuitive interface, Super Mario Maker is the real deal. It is without a doubt one of the easiest level creators on the market, and it allowing players to create their dream Mario courses is just the icing on this delicious 30th anniversary cake. Some oversights in the ability to find good levels easily holds the game back some, but Super Mario Maker not only makes levels, but it makes the grade, too.

[SPC Says: A]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Title Screens That Say A Thousand Words: Gaming's Best - Part One

The title screen-- it's been with us for countless decades now. Whenever there is a game, there is a screen that shows what the name of it is. For the first time on SuperPhillip Central, we'll be taking a look at some of the best title screens in gaming history. Since there are so many good ones to choose from, this is but part one of what I plan to be a long-running series. Whether they're animated, offer some interaction, or are just plain cool looking, these title screens are what SuperPhillip Central considers to be the absolute best of a big bunch.

Super Mario 64 (N64)

We start off with a title screen that is an attraction screen as well. Super Mario 64 revolutionized the industry with its masterful use of 3D gameplay that was never as well executed until the game came out. It also has plenty of Easter eggs in it to keep players coming back for more. I remember spending ages tooling around outside of Princess Peach's castle, but I also recall messing about a bunch on the title screen, amazed I could pull Mario's nose, ears, hat, mustache, and more in crazy ways and amalgamations. 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Listening to the soft and tranquil piano title theme play as coming and going hoof beats pass the player by, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a wonderful ride through a peaceful Hyrule Field. Adult Link rides his friend Epona through the countryside, stopping at streams, riding across hills and scenes of green, and greeting the dawn with virtuoso horse riding skills.

The Last of Us (PS4, PS3)

A direct contrast to the ugliness that the game presents players, The Last of Us's title screen is a serene one with gorgeous sunbeams shining through a garden-side window. You'd think that this title screen was for a completely different game, and not one where bashing bricks through enemy skulls, being bitten and consumed by infected human beings, and seeing the true horrors that humankind can bring unto the world.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2)

A colorful title screen with Metal Gear Solid's main artist, Yoji Shinkawa, delivers the supreme style that Hideo Kojima's series is known for. The title screen is sleek, stylish, and yes, even a bit sexy, if a title screen could be such a thing. It gets you primed for the excellent tale and spy thriller that awaits you. The title screen offers two versions: one with Solid Snake, as pictured, and one in blue with Raiden.

Metroid Prime (GCN)

An awesome looking title screen from the gang at Retro Studios and Nintendo, Metroid Prime's title screen gives a look inside cells with a microbiological setting. All style AND substance, pressing start presents players with a deeper look at even more cells and science, really wowing viewers in the process.

Xenoblade Chronicles [3D] (Wii, New 3DS)

Whether you're playing the original Wii or the New Nintendo 3DS version, Xenoblade Chronicles's title screen is similar to The Last of Us's in that presents a very tranquil environment. However, Xenoblade's world isn't as hopeless or as macabre at Naughty Dog's entry. Regardless, this scene shows Shulk's foreseeing Monado blade resting inside a grassy field with the wind blowing ever so gently. It's a calming title screen made even more so by the excellent theme that plays during it.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)

Yoshi's Island's title screen shows off a flyover of the eponymous island, revealing all of the lovely locations that the Yoshis and Baby Mario will traverse. From plains to towers, castles to caves, Yoshi's Island offers many locales to travel through while giving the player a fantastic Koji Kondo composed soundtrack in the process.

Pokemon Red and Blue (GB)

The final title screens of this first edition of the best title screens in gaming goes nostalgic with the very first duo of Pokemon games, Pokemon Red and Blue. You get the Pokemon Championship theme to roll around in your ears, as well as a look at trainer Red and a parade of Pokemon appearing one by one across the screen. It's the perfect way to get into the mood to go about catching 'em all!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (DS) Retro Review

I generally like to do at least five reviews a month for SuperPhillip Central. Considering we're already more than halfway through the month, and this is the first review of September, I have my work cut out for me! No worries, though, friends! Maybe it'll be a quality and not quantity type of month. To kick things off, here's a review of a niche Nintendo DS game, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. Is it a fun game or a dog-gone shame?

Finish off the dog days of summer with this canine and cat adventure.

The Nintendo DS saw a lot of innovative and interesting games during its lifespan. Heck, some games, albeit very minor, still release for this most popular and bestselling handheld of all time. Japan absolutely adored the Nintendo DS, and it showed with all of the releases by developers and publishers of the region at the time. Namco Bandai was one of many Japanese publishers that put forth a ton of effort to make a killing on the system. One of the later examples of a niche game that came out for the Nintendo DS, most notably using some Nintendo DSi functionality such as the camera, was Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. What was more crazy-- a dog controlling a mech suit, or dogs and cats living together in peace? While I figure out this question, you can see if Solatorobo is a worthy Nintendo DS title to look into.

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is set in a world high above the clouds upon a myriad of floating islands. It's somewhat similar to the Dreamcast's Skies of Arcadia's setting, though instead of human sky pirates, Solatorobo has bipedal, speaking cats and dogs as its population. Red Savarin is an amnesiac canine who has since has made a career out of being a hunter, accepting quests from townspeople from all over the set of islands and doing his best to complete them. Accompanied by Chocolat via electronic communication on missions, she serves as Red's adoptive sister and helps out with giving him information during missions.

The settings look marvelous in Solatorobo.
The story deals with an armada of cats whose leader is obsessed with power and conquering the world. Typical megalomaniac stuff, sure, but the story remains intriguing from beginning to end. The story throws some curve balls, with the biggest being that the game is probably twice as long as you'd expect. The dialogue itself is quite well written, bringing some humorous moments throughout its 15-20 hour story.

Throughout Solatorobo, Red finds himself reaching a wide variety of island locations. It's here that the story progresses. Every type of mission in the game, whether story or optional, requires Red to accept it at a quest center. Each major island, also serving as a bustling burg, has one of these. Many times you'll have to complete several side quests to earn enough quest points to be able to accept the next story mission .This aspect of the game might be a bit disappointing and frustrating to those players who just want to get through and enjoy the story. Unfortunately, side quests must be taken to advance the story. These are tasks that have some complication to them like rescuing workers from a mine to simpler objectives such as carrying crates from one location to another.

I can't wait to bomb some Dodongos!
Wait. That isn't one of the quests? Aw, man...
Outside of the typical quests, there are some missions and tasks in Solatorobo that use a 3D perspective in them. These quests and activities include races through windy tubes in the sky and miniature island-to-island travel. The former once allowed players worldwide to take on one another via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. This is obviously no longer available to players since the Wi-Fi Connection went offline a while ago, but this game still has more than enough content to justify checking it out regardless.

Jet through the sky in these adrenaline-inducing races.
Solatorobo plays quite differently than most action-RPGs similar to it. For one, combat is performed while Red is inside his mech, the Dahak, equipped with two long robotic arms. These arms are able to grab and throw objects and enemies. You can chuck one enemy into another to dish out damage to more than one foe at once, but you can also repeatedly chuck, grab in midair, and throw the same enemy more than once to initiate a cool looking and cool feeling combo.

Grab, toss, chuck, throw, and lift your way to victory!
As the rules of an action-RPG would dictate, and it very much works this way in Solatorobo, as Red defeats enemies, he earns experiences points that when enough have been accumulated, he gains levels, making him stronger in combat as well as upping his maximum health. Red's mech armor can also be upgraded through purchasing parts at various shops with Solatorobo's in-game currency known as "rings", Parts, made up of Tetris-like shapes, can be fit into slots to give Red's mech different abilities like increased health, attack, defense, and decreased time it takes to lift up an enemy in battle. You can gain more slots for Red to utilize by finding "P. Crystals" that are hidden in treasure chests and found in sparkling locations on the ground throughout the areas of Solatorobo.

Spend more P. Crystals to create more space to insert more parts.
Solatorobo gives you new abilities to unleash on foes as the game progresses. By the end of the game, Red can swing enemies around in a dizzying display, launch projectiles, grab and throw projectiles, and even turn into a powerful being. I won't describe exactly what being this is, as to not spoil things for you guys.

This game has plenty to like about it, but there are also some issues. The biggest of which being that while battles feel fun at first, combat can become a bit repetitive, especially with weaker enemies. Boss battles are usually quite entertaining, thankfully. However, all battles, boss or not, are very easy. In general, Solatorobo is a very easy game to complete. The challenge level is not very high. Thus, you might not receive a lot of satisfaction from completing a chapter or beating an important boss fight.

Boss fights are the best part of Solatorobo's combat.
On many occasions throughout Solatorobo, Red will need to hop out of his mech and leave it behind in order to enter areas that only he can fit through. This allows him to do things that him in his mech couldn't do together, such as scaling ladders, swimming, pulling switches or activating buttons, and shocking foes into immobilization with his patented stun gun. Thus, Red isn't truly defensive while out of his mech, but he can't defeat foes all the same.

Solatorobo is a good looking Nintendo DS game all things considered. Obviously as someone who has been playing a lot of Nintendo 3DS games with much more improved graphics, going back to a 3D title on the Nintendo DS, which didn't do 3D the best or with a lot of justice, can be a bit jarring. However, if there is a list of games that look admirable in visual quality on the Nintendo DS, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is indeed one of them. Sound-wise, the music isn't of the best quality, but the compositions are serviceable enough. I say "serviceable" because I struggle to recall any of the themes from the game, but they are hardly what I'd consider bad.

Red will teach you to "bug" him! (Man, I feel ill from that bad pun...
Thankfully, I can rest after this review is over.)
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is yet another example on the Nintendo DS of a game that defies conventions and offers a rewarding and interesting experience because of it. It's by no means perfect-- forcing the player to go through side quests to continue the story is a bit of pitiful way of adding longevity to the game, combat can become repetitive, and the difficulty could pose a greater challenge to players than it currently does. However, Red the Hunter is a highly competent yet niche Nintendo DS exclusive worthy of a place in most libraries.

[SPC Says: B-]

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4) Announcement Trailer

Another gem from SCEJ's Tokyo Game Show showing is Gravity Rush 2, a sequel to a game that was critically acclaimed on the PlayStation Vita. Now the series gets a second chance in the spotlight with a remaster of the original game and a sequel, both on the PlayStation 4.

New Minna no Golf (PS4) Announcement Trailer

One of my favorite PlayStation franchises is Hot Shots Golf, known in Japan as Minna no Golf and in PAL territories as Everybody's Golf. This new Minna no Golf trailer from Tokyo Game Show has me absolutely excited beyond belief. Yet another reason to pick up a PlayStation 4 in the near future!

Monday, September 14, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Super Mario Maker Levels - Part One

For those uninitiated, Super Mario Maker just released on the Wii U this past Friday, at least in North America. SuperPhillip Central will have a review later this week. The game allows users to create, design, play, and share each others' levels with a worldwide audience in an official capacity. The interface is way well done, making it easy to tinker around with and create a level in a fast amount of time. Now, of course, whether that level is actually good or not is totally subjective.

With this planned reoccurring segment, I will be sharing the levels SuperPhillip Central has created and spent time on trying to make as great as they can possible be.

For this first edition, there are eight levels to share. I'll include the name, some screenshots, a description, and of course, the code to find and play the level online. After you've seen SPC's creations, please share your own in the comments section!

Level 1-1: Beginner's Basics - 297E-0000-0016-C715

This level is a breeze to beat, with just a handful of problem spots for beginner players. I didn't want it to be a total non-challenge, after all. Run through the plains, collecting coins, watching out for enemies, and complete the final section of level, a narrow area with pipes to worry about.

1-2: Cavernous Complex - 4C4F-0000-0017-47CD

Taking place entirely underground, this cavern has a secret spot where a star is, allowing you to run wild through one of two paths. Watch out for a cross section full of Piranha Plants, gaps in the floor leading to nothing but lost lives for Mario, and keep your cool in this cavern. Can you find the hidden 1-up?

1-3: Mushroom Heights - 7B22-0000-0018-B2F3 

Take a run (and jump) above the land with this beginner precision platforming course requiring a cool, calm, and collected state of mind. From floating platforms to flying Red Koopa Troopas, the name might sound like a subdivision, but the course is anything but a stroll.

1-4: Bowser's Castle 1 - AEFE-0000-001B-D589

Bowser has holed himself up in his first castle for Mario to try to conquer. Make perilous, death-defying jumps over scalding hot lava, avoid fire bars and Podoboos, and try to find and collect all three secret 1-ups. If you manage to make it to the finish, your reward is an audience with the King of the Koopas, Bowser!

2-1: Piranha Plant Parkway - 1A39-0000-0021-2788

This level is anything but a walk in the park... way. The path is full of Piranha Plants, both fireball-spewing and not. If you survive the initial two-thirds of the level, you're doomed to tempt fate and enter the final Piranha Plant pipe gauntlet near the end. You can do it. Keep calm and carry on!

2-2: Donut Lift Caves - 4F43-0000-002B-06B1

Journey into the underground with a cave that introduces donut lifts. Mind your footsteps, as staying too long on a lift will cause it to plummet below, taking anything on it below in the process. Things start out simple enough, but by Donut Lift Caves's conclusion, you're going to have to deal with donut lifts and Red Paratroopas over a massive bottomless pit.

2-3: Lakitu's Towering 'Shrooms - 52B4-0000-0035-26D8

Mingle with mushrooms in the form of platforms in this level. Just be on the lookout for Lakitu and his two twin brothers, who call this area of the Mushroom Kingdom their home!

Special World - 1: P-Switch Panic! - C3D2-0000-0036-F996

Run and jump along the clouds. Actually, move it, move it, MOVE IT! It's a constant race against time as you run from P-Switch to P-Switch, creating platforms out of coins within seconds. A tip for this level is to watch out so you don't accidentally pick up P-Switch when you run near it.

As you probably noticed, it's like SPC's making its own version of a Mario game with Super Mario Maker. Level creation is something that has always fascinated, so it makes sense that there'd be an addiction somewhere with creating and building levels, right?

But we're not done here yet! We want to play YOUR levels! Share your creations in the comments section below, and we'll give them the once-over! Heck, if we REALLY like them, we'll give them a twice-over! Seriously!