Friday, October 9, 2015

Freedom Planet (Wii U eShop) Review

There's one more review to cap off the work week, but it's not the last review of the week in general. This is a game that has been trying to come to the Wii U eShop for a long while, but it's finally here. Bean gives us his take on Freedom Planet!

Let Freedom Ring

Indie platformers in recent years have done a fine job of paying homage to classics of yesteryear while carving out their own niche in the process. Shovel Knight was a fun Capcom-inspired title, Guacamelee! pushed the Metroid and Castlevania buttons, and Azure Striker Gunvolt hit the mark with its nods to Mega Man Zero and ZX. That said, there really hadn't been too many games that went and tried to recapture the magic of the Sega Genesis side of things. Leave it to GalaxyTrail to fit the bill with a title that I should've reviewed last year when it was on the PC but didn't. Well, at least we get a second chance with its debut on the Wii U.

Usually the term "dragon lady" is an insult.
To Lilac, it's a perfect description.
Freedom Planet takes place in the anthropomorphic world of Avalice. Three kingdoms on the planet had a few issues with each other to begin with, but when an alien spacecraft crash lands on the planet, takes out the leader of one of the nations and messes with the mind of said kingdom's son, things quickly turn south. Now the menacing mastermind from the stars named Brevon intends on pitting the world at war while he secretly makes off with the Kingdom Stone, a jewel with an immense amount of power that will strengthen his troops to continue on with his army's galactic conquest. Oh, and that jewel heist would kind of ruin Avalice forever as they wouldn't have a power source left. That doesn't sound good, so we're going to need a hero or two to step in and stop this scheme before it's too late. Good thing for the people of this planet that they have Lilac the purple water dragon and Carol the green wildcat on the case... eventually.

One of the only similarities between Lilac and Indiana Jones
is a need to be chased by rolling boulders.
The first thing players are going to think of when they see Freedom Planet in action is the Sonic the Hedgehog series, and for good reason. The game itself was originally conceived to be a Sonic fan title until it dropped the IP's baggage and went off in its own direction. Still, there are plenty of nods to the series left in the game as you'll see plenty of spring pads, loops, elemental shields, and of course, renegade robots to dispose of throughout your tour of Avalice. You have the choice of playing through the game in Adventure or Classic mode. If you go with the former, you'll get plenty of plot scenes between stages. Classic forgoes the story and just lets you play through the game's many stages in order. I'll get it out of the way now and say that the plot can be a little cheesy at times as well as suffering from severe mood swings at times, but all in all, I think I found it all right since the voice actors and actresses in the game all delivered in filling their "Saturday morning cartoon with a slight edge" roles quite well.

The gameplay has the aforementioned Sonic features, but you're not tasked to jump onto enemies. Instead, the game employs more of a melee combat system, and that melee combat differs between the two playable characters you start out with. You have three buttons that you can attack with. In Lilac's case, she'll use a quick melee hair whip with Y (that can also be used with Up or Down on the D-Pad), a spinning Cyclone attack that doubles as a double jump with B, and a Sonic Rush-style boost attack with the X button. That boost attack can also be used to bounce off of walls to get to out of reach places fast. On the other hand, Carol goes for a more ground and pound style with her attacks and is allowed to use her Wild Kick special attack more liberally than Lilac's boost. She can also find gas cans lying about the many stages to instantly summon a motorcycle to ride on. That's pretty cool, as is her ability to scale walls either by repeatedly wall jumping up them or just defying gravity by riding her bike up them. There's even a third character that joins the mix after you beat the game's second stage, but that one, Milla the dog that everyone and their mother thinks is a bunny because she resembles Cream the Rabbit, is only available for Classic mode at the present time.

Milla is a dog, and a second fact about her is that
she is only available for play in Classic mode.
It's a good thing you have a bunch of moves at your disposal because you're going to be needing the diversity because this title will throw a lot of foes at you at times. The clever thing about this is that they can't actually hurt you unless they're attacking themselves or have spiky bodies to work with. So many times in speed-based platformers, it feels like you have to guess what's coming next, too, but Freedom Planet also alleviates this by having some warning signs pop up when the big boys come out to play. You get a pretty decently-sized health bar that can be replenished by collecting petals, but you also have to keep in mind that if you rush in like a fool, you can easily get comboed by the many challenging bosses or well-placed enemies in your path. The hardest battles I found in the game came from the character vs. character battles that you'll be tasked to take down. Many of these enemies move faster than you do, so you need to play defensively to learn their attack pattern before countering appropriately instead of taking the lead. That's not to say there aren't many giant bots that give off Gunstar Heroes vibes either because they're in this, too, and it's once again, the wide range of battles that keep you on your toes all through this fun adventure.

Since this game has a Sega feel to it, should
we dare say these things are after burners?
Another thing worth mentioning is that the many areas on the planet of Avalice are just incredible to look at. The backgrounds themselves are beautiful enough, but the characters have so many expressions on their face whether they're attacking, walking, talking, anything. It's really a sight to behold, and when you couple that with the game's stellar soundtrack, you have an indie game that goes above and beyond the price of admission which is pretty darn affordable to begin with. I seriously think players will remember both the sights and songs present in Freedom Planet. While running through Avalice, there are plenty of things that players can find to enhance the experience. For instance, all of the non-final stages in the game have ten cards that unlock songs, art pieces, and voice clips along the way. There's also a training mode to get the hang of using a different character, an achievement system that encourages replaying the game as well as a Time Attack mode that does the same, and even a Mahjong minigame on top of that!

There is one complaint I have with Freedom Planet, and that's that some levels can be quite lengthy, especially those nearing the game's final few stages. It's not uncommon to spend 20-25 minutes in these latter areas if you're exploring around, and even if you're not, it can still take that long just because of the maze-like aspect some of these stages possess. The difficulty also ramps up accordingly, so those twenty-minute affairs can quickly turn into trying experiences if you aren't accustomed to platformers. At least you have the option of switching the game's difficulty on the fly if you're finding it difficult and even get plopped right back down where you fell if you do run out of lives, so there's that. Both of my playthroughs of Freedom Planet were on normal difficulty, and it gave even me a run for my money at times on some of the final levels, so don't feel ashamed if you have to tone it down a bit. It's nice to have the option in case you're struggling, and I've already seen many a player on Miiverse having those issues, but I find it to be a fair and frenetic challenge that will probably take most players three to five hours to clear for the first time. You just have to use your head is all.

Whoa! You enemies need to take some time and chill out!
In the end, Freedom Planet succeeds at being the Sega Genesis-stylized platformer that it sets out to be. You can feel the passion and quality of care put into making sure that this game recaptured that 90s magic while also carving out its own identity in the process. With the amazing amount of content and supposedly more to come, I have to recommend this one as it's up there with some of the finest indie platformers I've played in recent years. With the quality of those titles, that is some strong company to keep. Whether you go with the Wii U or PC version, the price of Freedom in this case is absolutely worth it. Yep.

[SPC Says: A-]

 Review copy provided by GalaxyTrail.

Extreme Exorcism (Wii U eShop) Review

We continue the month of October with a game that is perfect for this Halloween-containing month. It's a game about eliminating ghosts from a haunted house, Extreme Exorcism. Let's take a look at the game with this review.

How about some housekeeping of the supernatural kind?

Extreme Exorcism boasts a relatively simple but engaging concept. In this single screen action-platformer, you begin with an arena with a random spawning of weapons, and your goal is to eliminate the ghost wearing a crown. However, each round you do this, the ghost you need to defeat the next round will follow the same path you took in the last round, even using the same weapons. It's a devilishly clever concept that makes you not only need to be careful that you don't go crazy and fill the screen with bullets in one round, making the next round having the crowned ghost unleashing an onslaught of bullets, but remembering where you moved the last round can help you defeat the ghost the next round.

Thriller! Thriller night!
Arcade mode is the main mode of Extreme Exorcism. It has you and up to three friends locally going from room to room, defeating ghosts with the main goal of defeating the ghost wearing the crown. Each section of the haunted house Extreme Exorcism takes place in has five rooms of differently organized platforms and obstacles. Things may start off simple with only a modest selection of platforms to worry about while later levels introduce things like moving platforms, bouncy platforms, and spinning platforms.

To move onto the next area of Arcade mode, you need to earn enough points. What starts out with an easy point total of 50 soon increases as you reach each new room of the haunted house. You and any other player with you along for the ride have three hearts to work with. Get hit by an enemy and your character is respawned into the room... pending they have a heart left. If not, a player can still come back as long as the surviving player(s) can kill a specific amount of ghosts.

Obliterate any ghost that foolishly enters your circle
of doom with this one time use weapon.
Alongside earning the ability to move onto the next room of the haunted house by earning a specific number of points, you earn new weapons that spawn in Extreme Exorcism's rooms by reaching certain ghost kill counts. What starts off with a modest pistol will soon open up with new tools of destruction like a shotgun that shoots off a tower of five bullets at close range, a harpoon that can shoot through more than one enemy at a time, and a grenade launcher that brings the boom.

Bullets so big that even Super Mario's Banzai Bills would be jealous.
Arcade mode isn't the only mode available to you in Extreme Exorcism. In addition to Arcade, there are also Challenge and Deathmatch modes. Challenge mode is a one player affair where you're assigned tasks to accomplish, such as killing a number ghosts with only so many lives or bullets. Deathmatch is a mode for up to four players to take each other out in, where dead players will have their ghosts summoned, performing the same movements and actions they did when they were alive. A bummer for both Arcade and Deathmatch modes is that neither support online play. Perhaps wanting such would be asking too much of the small team at Golden Ruby Games, so in this viewpoint, it's something I can forgive.

Extreme Exorcism is an enjoyable romp through a haunted house, but it does get quite repetitive the more you play. However, Challenge mode changes things up enough if you get burned out with the traditional modes available. With Golden Ruby Games' effort on the Wii U eShop, Extreme Exorcism stands a ghost of a chance against the competition to stand out on the storefront.

[SPC Says: B-]

Review copy provided by Golden Ruby Games.

Project X Zone 2 (3DS) New York Comic Con 2015 Trailer

The original Project X Zone was a disappointing display with repetitive gameplay and extraordinarily lengthy battles. Project X Zone 2 wants to fix the issues with the first game while adding a bunch of new characters into the fold as well. Project X Zone 2 will hit North America in February of next year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Better Late Than Never Reviews; Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, 360) Review

What are Better Late Than Never reviews? These are games that are too recent to be retro but too old to be considered completely new. SuperPhillip Central does its best to deliver timely reviews, but sometimes there are just too many games out there and too little time.

This review is special because our good friend and part time staffer Bean has this review under control. Here's his judgment on Grand Theft Auto V.

Rockstar's Grand Triple Threat

Grand Theft Auto came into its own back on the PlayStation 2 with some well-regarded classics that included Vice City and San Andreas. However, when the series moved the 7th generation of systems in 2008 with Grand Theft Auto IV, something felt off. The many extras that had been included in the PS2 games were noticeably absent from the new Liberty City sandbox. To make matters worse, the game tried to play off with a more serious tone that did not work to its benefit with atrocious characterization and a stunning lack of mission variety. While Rockstar would try and amend their mistake with a couple of DLC-based games that added the features fans were missing, it was clear that they were going to have to go back to the drawing board with their next numbered title. I'm happy to say that this turned out to be a wise decision because GTA V finally brought the fun back with them.

Right off the bat, you can see that this game wants you to have some fun as it starts out with a prologue mission from nine years ago where a few criminals engaged in a bank heist gone wrong. After two of the three are presumably shot dead, the third escapes into the wild before the scene switches to a small-time gangbanger and carjacker named Franklin in Los Santos of San Andreas. It doesn't take him long for him to meet one of the men that was thought to be shot dead and the one that got away, and there is the hook to this game. You aren't just controlling a single protagonist in this game. You get to play as three. Franklin, the man that's back from the dead in Michael, and the one that was able to escape into the wild in Trevor. The three aren't always going to see eye to eye, but they will have to work together in quite a few missions if they're to see things through to the end.

Aw. One big, happy family...
When you do unlock other characters to play as, it's as simple as hitting down on the D-Pad and then a direction on the right stick to switch to another character on the fly. This can and will be done both in and out of missions in order to advance to the story. Each character has their own stats, cash, weapons and missions that they'll play through. They also each have a unique special ability that can be triggered by clicking in both thumbsticks. Franklin's an expert driver, so his move slows down time and lets you weave through traffic with less risk of crashing. Michael slows down time on foot as he's a firearms expert, giving you more of a chance to clear out any potential trouble. Trevor's ability is as psychotic as he is as he takes less damage while dishing out more while it's active. With the different abilities, Rockstar has amended one of the series' biggest problems to me since its 7th gen surfacing.

That is that the variety in missions is back. So many times in GTA IV, I felt like it was drive to one location, shoot x number of bad guys, drive home. Very rarely did things ever break out of that mold, and it didn't help that the layout of the land was a flat, dull, and quite honestly, lifeless husk of a city. GTA V, even from the outset, gives you plenty to do. Storyline missions, races, random people and events that have you doing all sorts of things like driving, shooting, or finding items. Even better, you're free to explore the entirety of San Andreas' map right from the outset. No more having to wait for a random mission to open up another chunk of the map. Go out there and have fun exploring the whole state. It's a pretty interesting place, too, as Los Santos gives you your city environment, head on north to wind up at the countryside, and keep on going to visit either the desert or the game's two mountain ranges. More often than not instead of hailing a taxi and trip skipping to the next mission like I did in GTA IV, I found myself driving or flying off to the next mission myself because the world was an interesting place to explore.

Riding a bike is just one way to boost your character's stamina.
One of the other things that helps this game out is the characterization. You are not some criminal who is trying to get out of a life of crime by looking for someone or doing something for the right price that completely goes against said character's statements. No, you are playing as three dudes who know they are not perfect and even when the inevitable "I want to get out of this" stuff comes up, it makes sense as characters also know they can be hypocritical at times. While I could do without the random n-word and f-bomb droppings that many times just feel like they're thrown in to be thrown in, the writing does get pretty interesting when things do get more serious later on in the game. In many ways, it feels like an action flick that has its serious moments but also knows when to be silly... It's just that it goes overboard on the latter at times.

Grand Theft Auto V is one of the PS3 and Xbox 360's
greatest and most impressive looking games by far.
The one thing that I'm glad is expanded upon from IV is the bank heist stuff. Even if you barely remember anything about the main game, most players that got far enough were rewarded to a bank robbery mission called Three Leaf Clover. In GTA V, there are a few of these kinds of missions and are known as heists. Instead of just having one way to do things though, players are given the choice of taking the subtle approach or the all up in your face one. Not only do you pick your plan at your meeting place, but you also pick your crew. Some of them are given to you right off the bat, others are found through random events in the game. Case in point, a certain dude that was in Three Leaf Clover shows up as a potential recruit in this game. Even better, you're also tasked to set the heist's plan up on your own. These tasks can range from stealing a vehicle in a stealthy manner to buying equipment for the heist. Whichever way you chose is the way things will play out. I always liked taking the subtle approaches to these missions as it felt like it was more interesting than just going in guns blazing, but the fact that they give you the choice is something that I appreciate.

Wearing his helmet, Franklin is always safety first.
The heists themselves are usually 15-20 minute multi-step affairs. The very first one had my crew hit up a jewelry story by using knockout gas to incapacitate the guards and workers there while by ground team hit the place and quickly took everything in there before the cops arrived. After that, we had a somewhat lengthy escape sequence that saw the team drive through the sewers to avoid the police. If at any point I was hit during this, some of the money from the heist would be lost, so it's not just a matter of getting out but doing so in an efficient manner. These missions were the most exciting part of a very good game to me.

Meanwhile, Trevor is always psychotic.
GTA V isn't without fault, however. In trying to go for 100%, there are a few tedious tasks in this game. Aside from a couple usual collecting quests that will have you going for a map, there are things like running in a triathlon. You have to complete three of these, and I don't have a problem with the first two, but the third lasts a good half hour. It brings back bad memories of titles like Vice City Stories where you had to do fifteen levels of many boring missions like the infamous ambulance helicopter. These stupid side quests required for 100% are far fewer in number, but the ones that exist try to pad out a game that really didn't need that kind of padding. Another issue is that the PS3 version I was playing on would sometimes be chugging along in terms of frame rate, or at times, not even loading the full map I was driving on. The latter happened rarely, but when it did, it made it tough to get away from the trouble I was in. I also had an instance where when coming back from the online mode of the game, which we'll cover in another review, where traffic would not load, making completing a mission impossible, and forcing me to have to back out of the game altogether to get things fixed.

That said, the occasional glitch or bouts of tedium don't take away from the fact that Grand Theft Auto V is a pretty fun game from start to finish. Never did I feel like I had 30-40 straight filler missions as the plot remained focused not including all of the other tasks I could take in to get away from just rushing through the game. In fact, during my 60-hour+ run, I found myself enjoying the majority of it, something that's been rare for this series outside of a DLC expansion for me in the last decade. Grand Theft Auto V is truly the first time I can say the series has been this grand since the PS2 days of yesteryear. Good going, Rockstar. You finally figured it out again.

[SPC Says: A-]

Monday, October 5, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - The Hunt for VGM October Edition

A new week at SuperPhillip Central must mean one thing-- it's time for SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, your weekly listen to five of SPC'S most loved VGMs. We're approaching 1,000 VGM volumes, and the ride won't even stop when we get there.

This week we have a wide selection of games to mosey through. We begin with a low seller with a lot of heart, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. Then we hit the slopes a little early with Snowboard Kids. We rumble in the jungle with Contra IV, take a stroll through the enchanted world of Castlevania: Portait of Ruin, and capture our subjects on film with Pokemon Snap. If you want to check out past VGM volumes, check out the VGM Database.

v976. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (3DS) - Agents of S.T.E.A.M.

Heavy metal and some symphonic sweetness? Aw, yeah! Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. may not have had its copies flying off store shelves-- far from it-- but it did feature quite the cast of characters, intense tactical combat, and unique flair. This theme of the game is heard in promotional materials for Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. and its credits.

v977. Snowboard Kids (N64) - Board Shop

Choose one of many funky fresh boards and get to shredding those slopes. Both Snowboard Kids on the Nintendo 64 are intuitive and enjoyable racers. The series returned many years later with SBK: Snowboard Kids on the Nintendo DS. However, it shied away from what made the series so loved by fans.

v978. Contra IV (DS) - Jungle 1

Just like the first Contra, Contra IV's first level is set in the jungle. This time it's Jake "Virt" Kaufman delivering on the musical goods for this game. Yes, Wayforward were the developers behind Contra IV, and they dished out an excellent throwback to the 1988 classic game.

v979. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS) - Invitation of a Crazed Moon

With Halloween fast approaching, let's take SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs to the world of Castlevania, and I'm not talking that faux-Castlevania MercurySteam stuff either that killed the franchise. No, this comes from one of the Metroid-styled Castlevania games, the second on the Nintendo DS.

v980. Pokemon Snap (N64) - Rainbow Cloud

The Rainbow Cloud level is the final of Pokemon Snap, the cult classic Pokemon spin-off for the Nintendo 64. The only Pokemon able to be captured (on film, of course) is Mew. This is all the while this calming and relaxing tune is heard.