Friday, December 18, 2015

First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming - Part One

Earlier in the week we took a look at some great credits sequences in games. To wrap up the work week here at SuperPhillip Central, there is a completely new series of articles that makes the rounds. The best games have a terrific opening to hook players into playing them. This new series of articles delves into the absolute best openings ever seen in gaming history. These can be completely cutscenes or they can be interactive. For part one of this list, we'll be dealing with the former. Click on the game name to watch the opening mentioned.

Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)

One of the most intense openings on this first part of this list, Final Fantasy VIII's opening is an epic menagerie of pulse-pounding scenes and imagery. From the beginning with the words protagonists and love interests Squall and Rinoa say to one another later in the game to the sensational battle of blades between Squall and Seifer which leads to both men receiving permanent scars on their faces, the opening of Final Fantasy VIII ups the pageantry and drama immensely. This is all while the excellent Nobuo Uematsu composed vocal theme Liberi Fatali plays. It all adds up to an unforgettable opening in an otherwise flawed, but still enjoyable, Final Fantasy game.

Chrono Cross (PS1)

"What was the start of this? When did the cogs of fate begin to turn? Perhaps it is impossible to grasp that answer now, From deep within the flow of time..." And with those words do the slow and steady start of Chrono Cross' opening begins. After the poetic words wrap up, the instruments and rhythm kick in, as do the gorgeous visuals. Through a series of brief glimpses at events that happen throughout the game, the icing on this enticing cake is Yasunori Mitsuda's brilliant composition, Time's Scar, also known as Scars of Time in some parts of the net. Chrono Cross isn't a perfect game, but if the quality of the title was as good as the opening throughout, it certainly would have been.

Wild ARMs (PS1)

Wrapping up our look at original PlayStation game openings, we have Mediavision's Wild ARMs opening to enjoy. This opening is unlike the prior two as it is devised up of sleek and stylish anime visuals instead of computer-generated graphics. The animation is top-notch, and the theme song heard invokes memories of the Old West, fitting for Wild ARMs' Western world mixed with sci-fi. The opening shows interactions between all three main characters of the game, Rudy, our silent protagonist; Jack, our treasure hunter; and Cecilia, our magic user. The combination of glorious anime visuals, awesome imagery, and sublime music makes for a memorable opening.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GCN)

We move away from serious openings to something more comical with this upcoming pair of Mario sports title openings for the GameCube. The first of which is Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, colorful and great playing arcade golf game featuring the lovable Mushroom Kingdom cast. This opening shows Wario and Waluigi up to know good in very hilarious ways. Whether they're putting opponents to sleep in how long they take to sink a putt to being chased by Bowser due to hitting him with a stray drive, this dastardly duo definitely gets their just desserts in this incredibly humorous opening. Certainly makes the effort (or lack thereof) that went into Camelot's latest sports title, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash look all the more disappointing.

Mario Power Tennis (GCN)

Wario and Waluigi just don't know when to quit, do they? After earning their comeuppance in Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour's opening, the two are at it again in the opening of Mario Power Tennis. Angry over their initial loss to the team of Mario and Luigi, Wario and Waluigi add some graffiti to the Mario Bros' tournament picture, resulting in getting some undesired attention by some police robots. The robots humorously chase Wario and Waluigi all around the Peach Dome before the two escape by entering a door. This door leads them to Bowser's secret training room where the King of the Koopas put the pair through the wringer. Through the torturous training, Wario and Waluigi feel strong enough to take on Mario and Luigi. However, instead of a traditional tennis match, the pair launch Bob-Ombs from a tennis ball shooter at the Mario Bros. All heck breaks loose with explosions everywhere, including one that destroys Bowser's flying blimp and Wario and Waluigi in the process. The comedy is rich in Mario Power Tennis, and the game itself is one of the better ones of the series.

Mega Man 2 (NES)

Sometimes all you need is some simplicity to have a memorable and awesome opening. That's at least the case with Mega Man 2's opening. It tells the tale of how Dr. Wily was defeated in the first game, and how he plans his revenge through creating eight of his own Robot Masters. What follows is the screen rising upward along the side of a tall building. At the very top stands Mega Man against the night sky, hair blowing in the wind. The riveting title music plays, energizing players to go on a new adventure with the Blue Bomber.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) Multiplayer Trailer

The first three months are absolutely packed for the Nintendo 3DS in the West. One of the many games being released in that time period is Final Fantasy Explorers, what looks to be a tremendously action-packed romp that allows up to four players to battle behemoth-sized monsters together online. This trailer delves directly into that subject, the multiplayer of the game.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (Wii U) Review

I love Mario sports games, and after Camelot's excellent Mario Golf: World Tour on the Nintendo 3DS, I was quite hyped to see their first HD Mario sports title. Unfortunately, the game, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, lacks a lot of what I want out of the series... or any tennis game for $50 for that matter.

Serves up a tennis game that is extremely light on content

The Wii U's 2015 holiday season has been rocky at best. The early delay of the new Legend of Zelda game for Wii U into next year really took the sails out of the system, but the extra punch to the system's gut was the delay of Star Fox Zero. That game was supposed to release this past November. Instead, Nintendo was caught in precarious position, not having a big title for their typically huge November. What came to replace Star Fox Zero in the usually big November holiday shopping date was Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. While the gameplay is still as excellent as ever, it is quite apparent that the game was rushed to market to fill in the gap that Zelda and Star Fox Zero left behind.

After all of Mario and Bowser's meetings, this duel on
the tennis court isn't the most epic to be found.
As the tagline of this review would lead you to believe, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is definitely hurting for modes. The typical, traditional, and quite frankly, expected modes from past Mario Tennis games are nowhere to be found. There aren't mini-games like Ring Shot, and there is not even a Tournament Mode, a mainstay for the series. Instead, what players get is one mode for solo players in the form Knockout Challenge. This mode pits you and an optional AI-controlled partner (the latter requires an amiibo) against a host of computer opponents. As you beat each opponent, the difficulty slowly but steadily ramps up. By using an amiibo, you can save data to it, improving your AI-controlled partner's stats after every five matches played. Beating 15 opponents in a row unlocks a more powerful version of the character you're currently playing as. Meanwhile, beating 30 opponents unlocks the credits, essentially the means to "beat" the game.

Doubles action with Mega Mushrooms is one crazy party.
Other modes include a party mode that features singles or doubles play, having the Toads on the sideline throw Mega Mushrooms onto the court. Touching one of these transforms your character into a mega-sized version, able to move around the court more easily and produce immensely powerful shots. There is also a Mega Ball Rally mode, which has you and an AI opponent trying to keep a giant ball in play for as many volleys as possible. Getting 100 volleys in a single game unlocks a secret character. Once this is done, there really is no reason to return to this mode unless you're a huge fan of rallies.

When a Super Mushroom won't do for Mario,
he nabs a Mega Mushroom to grow in size and stature.
Speaking of secret characters, there are four to unlock within Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, and the means to do this are relatively simple, usually just playing a certain amount of matches in a given mode. This makes for a final roster count of 16 Mushroom Kingdom characters to play as. Ultra Smash houses 25 unique rewards to unlock as well as a way to add some kind of longevity to the game. These rewards are unlocked by either completing certain in-game tasks like playing a specific amount of matches, beating a set amount of opponents in the Knockout Challenge mode, or getting an amiibo AI opponent's stats to their fullest. Alternately, you can just spend coins earned through regular play to quickly unlock rewards. This is the better option as playing and winning 15 matches as every character in the game in Knockout Challenge would be incredibly tedious to do. Thus, paying the requisite 3,000 coins to unlock the more powerful Star character versions of each character is the smart thing to do. I ended up unlocking all of the 25 rewards in less than six hours time. If you factor in the price of the game, that's about ten dollars for every hour of play time.

And with this well placed shot, Yoshi went up one set to Waluigi's zero.
It's not just the modes that are light in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. There is honestly only one stadium within the game. The only thing that changes is the court type. This is astonishing to me and really pushes the idea that the game was rushed to the market. Part of the fun of past Mario Tennis games is having a deluge of different areas and courts to play on, whether it's a court in the clouds, a court within Donkey Kong's jungle, or a court in sunny Ricco Harbor like Mario Power Tennis. Having the same stadium for every match gets rather tiring on the eyes.

That said, the nine different court types available in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (most needing to be unlocked through playing a certain number of matches) do lend themselves to some variety in the tennis action. The carpet court has the fastest ball speeds, while the sand court doesn't lend well to the ball bouncing. Meanwhile, the ice court will have you slipping and sliding around, while the mushroom court contains material that makes the ball bounce its highest. While the variety of court types is nice, it doesn't make the lack of any additional eye candy in different stadiums hurt any less.

When they aren't being second bananas to Mario and Peach,
Luigi and Daisy spend time dueling on the tennis court.
Furthermore, while there is online play for up to two local friends to hop online and compete against players, there is no option to play against other friends on your Wii U's friends list. It's a baffling exclusion not being able to even form lobbies or communities like other Nintendo online offerings, and it just increases the idea that the bare minimum was given to this installment of Mario Tennis.

It is an amazing shame that Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is so lacking in modes, courts, and content because the tennis action is some of the best the series has ever seen. The gameplay is tremendously fun, offering two types of standard tennis play, one with Mario Tennis Open's chance shots, and one that is a more traditional tennis experience like the original Nintendo 64 Mario Tennis.

It's a girls' day out on the tennis court today.
Chance shots from Mario Tennis Open behave like a Simon Says-like tennis offering, having differently colored markers on the court showing where the ball is going to land on your side of the court. Depending on the color, you are supposed to use a different kind of shot. For instance, a blue circle indicates the need to press the B button, while a yellow circle shows that you should hit the A button and then the B button to unleash a killer lob shot. It's not as simple as hitting the type of shot the game recommends. You can utilize strategy to confuse your opponent, hitting a different type of shot than what the colored circle dictates. This is a perfect strategy to catch your opponent off guard and potentially score some points.

Get to the glowing spot to unleash a massive Ultra Smash!
When a massive glowing purple circle appears on the court, usually after your opponent has to lunge for the ball in order to hit it, it's your opportunity to make a mad dash for that circle, jump up and perform the game's eponymous Ultra Smash move. This is a high powered offensive smash that blows past your opponent with an immense amount of speed. It's hard to counter such a smash shot, but it is indeed possible. The Ultra Smash feels extraordinarily good to blast down the throat of your opponent-- figuratively speaking, of course. The game is rated "E" for "Everyone", after all.

Mario gets ready to ram this ball down his opponent's
 throat with this Ultra Smash... again, figuratively speaking.
Thankfully, if chance shots aren't your bag (and it wasn't for many, as that was a big complaint regarding Mario Tennis Open), traditional tennis is available. This offers multiple types of shots, engaging and exciting rallies, more strategy, and a more typical type of tennis. Sure, it may not have all the frills of other modes, but it distills the Mario Tennis gameplay to a fine, well-tuned experience.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash boasts an absolutely astonishing visual style to it. The game looks bright, colorful, detailed, and gorgeous to the eyes. Characters are animated well, showing off plenty of character in their taunts, how they hit the ball, victory poses, and other animations. Courts also look great, offering effects like footprints in the sand court, beautiful reflections on the ice court, and plenty of other novel visual tricks. The menus are pretty basic, particularly the main menu. The lack of any kind of opening for the game also disappoints. Meanwhile, the music is typical Motoi Sakuraba at his most cruise control, but there are catchy themes to be heard.

Bowser and Rosalina slip and slide away on the ice court.
While the actual tennis of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is excellent, the rest of the package falls short due to its incredible lack of content. Unless you have the desire to play against random opponents online in the most basic, vanilla online structure imaginable, or have local multiplayer experiences in mind, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is not worth the current MSRP of fifty bucks. While not an absolute disaster of a game, the obviousness of how rushed the game was to be released should turn most players off. Currently as it stands, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash delivers a weak serve and an even weaker amount of content.

[SPC Says: D+]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Let the Good Names Roll: Great Credits Sequences in Gaming - Part Three

The staff roll, otherwise known as the credits of video games. This is where not only do we see all the names of the folks who worked on the game you just beat, but perhaps something special to go along with it, whether it's an overview of your adventure, the cast of enemies in the game, or something else. This article delves into some of the very best and most memorable staff rolls/credits sequences in video game history. From old school classics to modern marvels, part three of this expanding list continues to bring the excellent staff rolls. Click on the game title to see the credits sequence described, and to click these links to see part one and part two.

Super Mario World (SNES)

This classic credits sequence from Super Mario World kicks things off. It has Mario leading the rescued Princess Toadstool, riding on Yoshi, across a series of backgrounds from the game. Trailing behind them is a series of seven Yoshi eggs that Mario and the gang leads to Yoshi's Island, where they hatch. A "thank you" message appears on the screen, followed by a rousing rendition of the credits theme as the game's cast of enemies and bosses appears in sliding boxes with names identifying them. This all concludes with Mario and Luigi standing tall and proud with Princess Toadstool situated between them. The words "The End" rest over their heads, signaling the end of Super Mario World's sensational conclusion.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

After Ganondorf and his beastly form of Ganon have been vanquished, players are greeted with a heartfelt credits sequence that starts out innocuously enough with panning shots of various Hyrule locales like Death Mountain and Kakariko Village. Following these tranquil scenes is a celebration unlike any other at Lon Lon Ranch with a veritable who's who of Hyrule citizens, from Gorons to Zoras, Malon, Talon and Ingo, and many more. Soon, up in the sky, the six sages soar, then taking a brief moment to reflect at Death Mountain. Back at the Temple of Time, the heroic Link, in his younger form, stands tall with Navi saying its goodbyes to him. Link turns away from the Master Sword, leaving it to rest in its pedestal as triumphant bells rings, congratulating both the player and Link on a job well done.

Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

Like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country allows its cast to shine with every enemy, boss, and Kong taking their curtain call, walking, hovering, hopping, marching, or flying across the screen. Of course, you can't expect the credits to go on without a hitch. The Kongs have to get into their usual shenanigans, and with Rare's trademark sense of humor, you can bet some goofiness is thrown in. That's exactly what players get. Donkey Kong and Diddy proceed to pull some practical jokes on one another after the rest of the cast has been reintroduced, with Diddy Kong stepping on Donkey Kong's foot, Donkey Kong pounding Diddy to the floor, and Diddy biting DK's finger, for starters. Following this is some boasting by Cranky Kong, bragging that he beat the game with only one life and in less than an hour. Sure, Cranky. We TOTALLY believe you.

Super Monkey Ball (GCN)

We've seen interactive game credits in past installments of Great Credits Sequences in Gaming. We now look at another one with Super Monkey Ball's credits sequence, keeping true to its arcade roots. For those that are uninitiated, the Super Monkey Ball series has players guiding a monkey in a ball around obstacle laden courses with the objective to reach the goal without falling off. Super Monkey Ball's credits keeps the fun of guiding a monkey in a ball, but this time it's down a ramp full of bananas, as well as names of the development team that has each of its letters falling onto the course. Each letter you hit takes off about ten bananas. The fun is in seeing how many bananas you can acquire before the credits are over. It all sounds easier than it actually is, as those letters are quite the vexation! It ends up being a memorable staff roll due to its enjoyable interactivity.

Rayman Origins (Multi)

Time for some more interactivity! Ubisoft game credits are known for being extremely long affairs, usually crediting everyone from every worldwide Ubisoft studio and even the janitors seemingly. Not to say everyone doesn't deserve credit, but it can be maddening sitting down, waiting for the credits to finish, particularly when you can't skip them. Rayman Origins takes this otherwise mundane experience and throws in the ability to move around as Rayman, bashing and smashing each letter in every word and name of the credits sequence. It's especially entertaining to try to make a game of it, seeing how many Lums, essentially the coins of Rayman Origins, you can collect before the final name is listed. Alongside your name-destroying, you have Christopher Heral's tremendous Rayman Origins score, making this experience far from tedious.

Saints Row IV (Multi)

From interactive credits to just plain off the wall awesomeness, Saints Row IV definitely didn't take itself seriously whatsoever, and it was immensely refreshing. This line of thinking bleeds into its credits sequence, starting off with the Saints (and an unexpected guest) having a dance line to "This is How We Do It". After that is where the actual credits begin to flow, with cartoon-styled art on the right side of the screen showing the Saints in all their insane hijinks through history. The icing on this deliciously delightful cake is the end of the credits, where the entire Saints crew sing along to Biz Markie's "You Got What I Need". The chorus left me in tears when I originally heard it, and it remains just a fantastic ending to the game, even if the actual Saints Row IV left some to be desired. You can bet that the credits certainly didn't!

Monday, December 14, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Monday Night Raw Edition

What do RPGs and Mario have in common? Well, if you thought Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Paper Mario, or Mario and Luigi, you made an educated guess, but it's an incorrect one. Instead, this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs leads off with three special RPGs and ends with two Mario games.

Chrono Cross takes us to emotional heights right from the get-go, followed by an intense 16-bit boss theme from Final Fantasy VI. We then listen to a satisfying vocal theme from Wild ARMs 3. Wrapping up things, we get some time on the links with Mario Golf, and then drive home in style with Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Also, be sure to check out the VGM Database for all 1025 previous VGM volumes. It's been reorganized slightly into 100 volume chunks.

v1026. Chrono Cross (PS1) - Star-Stealing Girl

We begin this edition of the old VGMs with a heartfelt tune from Yasunori Mitsuda's Chrono Cross soundtrack. From the touching piano accompaniment, to the heart-tugging strings, to the clear as crystal vocals that garnish this song, Star-Stealing Girl is a true delight from beginning to end. Even if you haven't touched Chrono Cross, you need no emotional attachment to the game to appreciate this theme, a true sign of a great VGM.

v1027. Final Fantasy VI (SNES) - The Decisive Battle

My absolute favorite normal boss theme within the Final Fantasy series, The Decisive Battle is a catchy and tense theme that plays during Terra's party's encounters with bosses big and small. Nobuo Uematsu was at the top of his game when he composed the music for Final Fantasy VI, and it is without question my favorite Final Fantasy soundtrack. That's high acclaim, as the Final Fantasy series has no shortage of sublime soundtracks.

v1028. Wild ARMs 3 (PS2) - Wings (English Version)

Wings is the ending theme of Wild ARMs 3, the first of four Wild ARMs games that would hit the PlayStation 2. The others consist of Wild ARMs 4, 5, and the remake of the very first Wild ARMs, Wild ARMs Alter Code f. If you're looking for a science fiction game set in the Wild West, then this RPG series might just fascinate you.

v1029. Mario Golf (N64) - Toad Tournament

For the longest time my favorite arcade golf games were Hot Shots Golf Fore! and the Nintendo 64 Mario Golf. Then Camelot wowed me with their Nintendo 3DS Mario Golf entry, World Tour. Not only did the game have an abundance of original courses, but the well-worth-it downloadable content had all six of Mario Golf's courses remade! Still, though, I do enjoy the N64 Mario Golf's soundtrack better than 3DS. Perhaps the only thing I prefer now!

v1030. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN) - Credits

Let's end this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with a staff credits theme from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, a truly underrated Mario Kart entry. The credits theme starts off with the motif from Mario Kart 64's credits theme, one of my favorite staff roll themes of all time. With Double Dash's theme, I really dig the mellow piano and the finale where the game's main theme is heard.