Saturday, April 30, 2016

Star Fox Zero (Wii U) Review

Time for the final review of April before we say goodbye to the month that was. Star Fox Zero is the subject of tonight's review, and it has gotten quite the differing of opinions. Let's see where I stand with the game with this special, in-depth review!

I was feeling it had been a while since someone told me to do a barrel roll...

One of my favorite lesser celebrated Nintendo franchises in the company's exhaustive lineup of IP is Star Fox. While it took me, like many, to fall in love with the series with Star Fox 64, I have since grown a fond appreciation of Fox McCloud and his furry friends. Whether performing barrel rolls to deflect enemy shots or tailing Star Wolf in an intense dogfight, Star Fox has given me many memorable moments of exhilarating gameplay.

Now, after many entries that have been passed off to outside developers, Star Fox is home with Nintendo, though not without the help of Platinum Games. It's no secret that the reception of the newest entry on Wii U, Star Fox Zero, is mixed at best with the greatest point of contention being the controls. Now, after spending over a dozen hours in Arwings, Walkers, Landmasters, and Gyrowings, how does Fox McCloud and crew soar the Lylat System's dimensions in my point of view?

Star Fox Zero is essentially a reboot of the Star Fox franchise. It's a retelling of Star Fox 64's story with some different story beats here and there, such as the use of teleporters and portals as a main theme with the game. Some of the lines of dialogue are the exact same or slightly edited versions from what was said in Star Fox 64. The ending of the game is basically a rehash of the Nintendo 64 classic as well with some mild variations. Still, overall, the story and especially the content of Star Fox Zero is new enough to not feel like you're having a strong case of déjà vu.

Oh, Slippy. Even 19 years later you're still getting yourself in to trouble.
The dialogue itself isn't nearly as corny as Star Fox 64 with much more impressive performances. That doesn't mean it isn't as memorable, though that's probably the case, as we've all had nearly 20 years of play-throughs of Star Fox 64 to memorize every line uttered. The only big issue I have with Star Fox Zero's dialogue is how much it can be repeated even in the span of one level. Some variety would have sufficed for me.

The main draws of Star Fox Zero after beating the 3-4 hour initial campaign have you returning to past levels to find alternate paths to new missions, gunning for high scores on each mission, and acquiring all of the game's 70 medals. What was then a 3 or 4 hour experience can easily triple and quadruple your overall time with the game. Thus, if you're just in to beat the game and then shelve it, Star Fox Zero is hard to recommend at its full price, but then I would imagine that most people who buy games pretty much want to get their money's worth. Thus, it makes sense to me that most players of Star Fox Zero would want to try to see everything the game has to offer.

Interested? You didn't even have to ask!
When you first start Star Fox Zero and play through the campaign, you are just going through a linear series of planets and areas for the most part, save for an opportunity to either go to planet Fortuna or the desert plant of Titania based on whether you can shoot down a certain enemy within a certain amount of time. Star Fox Zero doesn't have the same structure as Star Fox 64. You don't go through seven planets or areas with chances for multiple branching paths depending on what you do. Instead, each completed mission sends you back to the Lylat System map, allowing you to either play the next stage or return to a previously beaten level to go for a high score, find an alternate path, or collect medals, five of which are in each main stage with side levels having but one or two.

The alternate paths usually come in the form of portals that are found through different means. For instance, Corneria, the first planet and level of Star Fox Zero, has you running through it normally the first go around. Once your Arwing is given the ability to transform at will into the bipedal Walker form, you can hit a ground switch during the on-rails section of Corneria, opening a locked gate that leads to a portal, which, in turn, leads to an alternate level. This portal takes you to, and the alternate levels itself is an encounter with a sea-bearing mothership known as Aquarosa, which is a steeper challenge than just going the ordinary path in Corneria. Each alternate path that you can find usually requires you to replay a level, using a method that wasn't available to you the first go around, such as locking onto an attacking Star Wolf member ship to be transported to a level where all you do is duel them one-on-one, or in one case, one-on-two.

Aquarosa is one example of a boss that uses the two screen setup to brilliant effect.
There are 70 medals total to collect in Star Fox Zero, and this is the main way of extending the longevity of the game by the developers. You're rewarded new unlockables for reaching certain medal milestones, such as new training mode challenges or the ability to play as amiibo-unlockables without the use of amiibos.

For the standard stages with five medals, medals can be hidden in precarious locations, they can appear by performing a certain task like collecting three specially marked gold rings, they can be earned by completing a level with a "Mission Accomplished" message as opposed to a "Mission Complete" message, or you can claim one by beating a level's high score. A "Mission Accomplished" message is earned by completing a mission by performing a hard task that you wouldn't otherwise need to do to complete said mission. For example, Sector Gamma generally requires you to shoot down all three missiles in the level while keeping the Great Fox healthy. To get the "Mission Accomplished" message, you need to make sure no enemy drones attach themselves to the Great Fox. Not an easy task when you have to worry about impending missiles encroaching into unwanted territory.

I know you're blowing up and all, but inside voices, please!
The levels themselves usually have multiple phases to them, each containing their own high score tallies. The totals of each phase are added up, a bonus is included based on each Star Fox member wingman's health, and that final tally is what you score for that level. Corneria starts off as a traditional on-rails affair, but as you reach the second phase, the level turns into an all-range mode, a 360 degree arena-style mission. Here, you are tasked with destroying any 10 enemies to make the enemy run away. Once that has been completed, mechanical enemy spiders start exiting from containers on the ground, lurching closer and closer to a tower where an important NPC stands. Destroying all of the spiders in time will open up the final phase, a boss battle with the enemy mothership.

There is a great variety of mission types and scenarios in Star Fox Zero. They'll have you piloting the Arwing in both on-rails and all-range mode sequences, as well as transforming into the Walker variant form of the Arwing, moving through narrow chambers and passageways, while occasionally being able to hover. Then there's the Landmaster from Star Fox 64, which this time can transform into a flying variant for a limited amount of time (i.e. as long as the boost bar has juice in it). Also, this time, the Landmaster is used in all-range mode in two instances. Finally, the Gyrowing, which is a much slower vehicle, used for more methodical levels, can move up and down with ease, and can even extend a helper robot out from its bottom that can hack specific terminals.

The generally fast pace of Star Fox Zero slows down with these more methodical Gyrowing segments.
Now, let's get to the most pressing matter of Star Fox Zero, a sort of important thing to consider in a game, the controls. There are a lot of vehicles to learn how to control in recent Star Fox games, and Star Fox Zero complicates things by throwing in support for two screens, the TV screen and that of the Wii U GamePad. This can really put off some players who find it hard to concentrate on two screens at once. However, for the most part, focusing on both screens at once isn't necessary except for dog-fights, and in these sections of the game, I find it hard to want to go back to Star Fox 64 after using this new dual screen setup.

However, I'm doing what I usually do, getting ahead myself. Let me focus on these different vehicles one at a time. For the most part, with my experience with motion controls and gyro aiming with various Wii U, Wii, 3DS, and even some PlayStation Vita games, I took to the control scheme of Star Fox Zero like a fox to an Arwing. The on-rails sections in Star Fox Zero take care of an issue I've had with prior Star Fox games. In those games, the targeting recticle is dependent on where your Arwing's nose is pointing. Thus, if you have to dodge an enemy or enemy attack by moving to the right side of the screen while a batch of enemies were on the left, you pretty much forfeited those points because you couldn't aim at them. You were on the wrong side of the screen to take them out. This problem is remedied in Star Fox Zero, allowing you to be on one side of the screen while using the GamePad to aim the recticle at the other side of the screen. You're not stuck aiming at where you're looking, which is a tremendous upgrade in my opinion.

Some gameplay sections lock you onto a target, and you must use both screens to properly maneuver yourself.
When all-range mode comes into play, it's absolutely fantastic to be able to be flying one way, and be able to turn the GamePad to look to the left or right. So, when you're flying one way and say, a member of Star Wolf passes by you, you can be aiming and shooting in a completely different direction than where you're looking. This is paramount for flying beside an enemy to dodge their attacks while using the GamePad to look to the side to shoot their weak point. I understand that this kind of control setup isn't for everyone, and it's difficult to learn, especially if you've been using dual analog all your life, but it really works and works well once you get accustomed to the controls. Some will find it easier than others (such as myself), and some might not ever get them down. It's here I wish Nintendo would have provided a demo for those on the fence to test out the controls without investing several dozens of dollars to get that chance.

The Walker gave me some problems initially, but that was until I realized I could hold the ZL button to lock onto a direction and strafe with the left analog stick. This made dodging attacks while unleashing my own form of offense incredibly easy. It's also excellent to use the GamePad screen to aim better (thanks to the zoomed in view and bigger targeting recticle) to take out foes more quickly.

The Walker was probably the vehicle form that took me the longest to learn, but oh, boy, once I learned how!
The other vehicles pretty much follow the same control scheme and strategies for mastering them. I will say that the ability to recenter and recalibrate the target recticle is a godsend. When I felt my aiming was off, or I was holding the GamePad like a contortionist just to center the recticle, I could press the Y button in a comfortable position to restore the recticle to much more manageable location. However, this needed to be done a lot in levels, so please keep that in mind if you're experiencing trouble.

There's snow way out for this enemy bioweapon. Time to put it on ice. (Are my jokes leaving you out in the cold?)
Star Fox Zero doesn't pretend that you will take to the controls easily, so the first thing you get when you boot up the game for the very first time is a tutorial of how to fly your Arwing. Things like barrel rolls (Peppy's favorite, especially in one super special secret mission), somersaults, and U-turns are taught. However, it's rather confusing why the game instructs you to use both analog sticks to do the last two when X and B do the same thing and are much simpler to use. You also get a taste of all-range mode at the end as well. The training mode also houses control explanations and trials for the Walker, Landmaster, and Gyrowing as well, so it's a good idea to tackle those before you try your hand at the main campaign.

Star Fox Zero isn't the most visually stunning game on the Wii U. This is mostly to do with the fact that the game has two screens running at 60 FPS at the same time, the TV screen and the GamePad screen. That said, there is a highly clean look to Star Fox Zero's visuals, offering pleasant environments, detailed models of ships both friendly and enemy, and usually a lot of enemy aircraft on screen at once. The frame-rate rarely dips, but it does on occasion.

Missile destroyed. Now there are just two more to take down.
Meanwhile, the dialogue is well acted, while the music presents to players numerous remixes of classic Star Fox themes, including an incredible Latin choir popping up in Star Wolf's theme, and a wide variety of all-new tunes as well. It's a combination of symphonic and synthesized music, but pretty much all of it is a pleasure to listen to.

If the idea of motion controls or using two screens to play a Star Fox game doesn't sound appealing to you, you probably have already written off Star Fox Zero, whether justly or not. For everyone else, you will find a control scheme and setup that will take some getting accustomed to, but when you finally master it, you'll most likely enjoy yourself. For me, I struggled greatly with the final boss at first, but now I can beat him without breaking a sweat. I have found it somewhat difficult to return to Star Fox 64 and other entries because I keep wanting to aim independent of where my ship is looking. Not to say it's impossible; it's just different, though one might argue inferior.

Though you might complete the campaign in but a few hours, the replay value from getting high scores, finding all alternate paths in the game, and acquiring all medals makes for a tripled or quadrupled play time. Those who just desire an experience from the beginning to the roll of the credits will not find Star Fox Zero worth purchasing. Heck, just one run might not give you enough time to fully digest the controls depending your skill level with alternative control styles. Regardless, after many years of sequels that didn't quite live up to Star Fox 64, I feel Star Fox Zero really does live up to that game's legacy. It's not better, but it's not far from it, either.

[SPC Says: B+]

Friday, April 29, 2016

SPC Soapbox - 4/29/16 Star Fox Zero's Controls: Good or Bad?, Jim Sterling & Disliking the Vita Release Trend

It's been more than a year since I last stood on the SPC Soapbox, but now myself and the box are back for a discussion of three more topics that grind my gears. This edition's Soapbox subjects include a talk about Star Fox Zero's polarizing controls, how gaming personalities like Jim Sterling do harm as well as good to the industry, and how the PlayStation Vita's recent onslaught of digital-only releases is mighty disappointing for those wanting to save on memory cards. With that introduction out of the way let's get to the subjects at hand!

- Star Fox Zero's Controls: Good or Bad?

Ahead of my Star Fox Zero review, releasing later today, I wanted to talk about a major point of contention with the game, the controls.

It's important to consider that motion controls aren't the only atypical control scheme that have seen ire from hardcore gamers in the past. Sure, anything new whatsoever seems to draw anger from this sect of the gaming community, but it's important to consider that any new control scheme takes some learning to understand.

Remember analog controls and 3D games? If you easily picked up Super Mario 64 after having been born and raised on 2D games, then you're one of the lucky few. Analog movement took a lot of time for most users to pick up and master. It's the same case with dual analog for FPS games. Take a look at this review from Gamespot in 2000 for Alien Resurrection on the original PlayStation.

It seems crazy now that a game could have been trashed for having dual analog controls, a mainstay now in gaming that most gamers don't ever want to give up. Whether that stifles the furthering of game controls for the worse is up in the air.

Regardless, like any new control scheme, Star Fox Zero's is one that you can pick up and enjoy easily like I did, or you will find it horrible. Sure, many reviewers didn't even bother to enter into the game without bias, and automatically judged the controls, never giving them a chance. 

Now, that isn't to say that the controls for Star Fox Zero deserve to be loved by everyone or that they'll ever have the relevance and popularity of dual analog. They're polarizing, especially if you dislike any kind of controller movement, which is just fine, but maybe you shouldn't be reviewing a game like Star Fox Zero, then. For me, the dual screen system, allowing for me to shoot down enemies on one side of the screen while I'm on the complete opposite side (something that would have been impossible in Star Fox 64) thanks to being able to move the targeting recticle separate from the Arwing, works and it works well. Hardly anything close to the hyperbole, snark, and bile some reviewers used to further their own agendas. Though it's important to note that I don't believe every negative Star Fox Zero review had an agenda or biased reviewer. It's just easy to tell which ones didn't bother to actually enter their reviews with some degree of open-mindedness.

- Jim $@#$ing Sterling, son

I very much admire Jim Sterling. His crusades to further the industry are quite commendable, despite some feeling he's just hopping on a particular bandwagon to get fanfare from gamers. However, I am not in love with him like so many of his fans. For one, I can't really take someone seriously who essentially behaves like a cartoon character.

His Jimquisitions have him dressing up in ridiculous attire: black suit, red tie, cherry red glasses, black hat, black gloves, makes it incredibly hard to take him seriously. I think this detracts from his points, as well as his need to lay on the hyperbole. 

In this age of YouTube stars, it seems the only people that are listened to aren't the calm, collected, and intelligent types. Instead, it's the loud, overbearing, and controversial figures that get the attention. It's counterintuitive to the industry being taken seriously when one of the most popular voices on the Internet dresses up and talks like someone who would be a wrestling manager for Andre the Giant back in the day. 

But I just have to stop being bitter and realize that the gaming industry is still in its infancy, a greatly immature one at that. We don't have a Roger Ebert-like figure (speaking of his professionalism and high level critiques on films) yet to listen to. Instead, we get the figures our industry deserves, and that is pretty disheartening as someone who doesn't worship the ground many of these gaming personalities walk on.

- The PlayStation Vita's Game Releases Go Digital

The PlayStation Vita has suffered in the retail space. It's rare nowadays to get any kind of physical release for the Vita game, much less see a section at Best Buy or wherever dedicated to the system. Thus, many games these days just see digital releases from publishers instead of wasting money with physical releases that would just linger on store shelves and not get back the manufacturing costs (or hardly break even). 

While it's sincerely understandable why game publishers are sticking with digital only releases for their Western launches when Japan received physical versions, it's disappointing all the same. Vita memory card prices remain exorbitantly and insultingly high, preying upon the dedicated user base, the ones that buy the most digital content. 

A 16 GB memory card costs $40 USD approximately, and with all of my game saves and downloadable titles, mine is pretty much full. In order to download full retail releases in digital form, 16 GB is nowhere near enough. Thus, one has to jump to a higher memory card, and thus, a ridiculously high price. 

Instead of looking forward to what little PlayStation Vita games appeal to me (not a big fan of highly anime-influenced titles), I find myself ignoring the software releases, realizing that even if I was interested in some new games like the recent Digimon and upcoming Gods Eater Burst 2, I have no room for them on my memory card. I'm certainly not upgrading to essentially say to Sony, "yeah, your memory card prices aren't affordable whatsoever, but sure, I'll gladly toss more money at you undeservedly." 

It's a shame, too, because while I'm not playing the "delete space from my Vita memory card to free up room yet again" game, I'm really enjoying the actual games from indies and the like on my Vita. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Top Ten Franchise Reboots

With Doom on its way later this year and with players having experienced the beta, it seems like a perfect opportunity to delve into other franchises that saw impressive reboots. Sometimes the only direction a long lost franchise can go is just wiping the chalkboard clean and starting fresh. That's what these ten gaming franchises did, and they were quite successful in doing so. While the jury is out on Doom currently, I know for a fact that these ten reboots are some of the best within the industry. After you've checked out my picks, why not list some of your own favorite franchise reboots in the comments section?

Note: This list isn't to be confused with my Top Ten Franchise Revivals, which were about games from series that hadn't seen an entry in a long time, though some games on that list are on this one.

10) Prince of Persia (PS3, 360, PC)

Though not doing that fantastically sales-wise, Prince of Persia's 2008 reboot added a lot of personality, charm, and colorful cel-shaded visuals that did everything to impress. The game followed the Prince, using all manners of acrobatic platforming goodness to move through the various environments. Exploring the open world setting, granting players the ability to go anywhere in the game world, along with Elika, a helper AI character that will save him from when he falls, the Prince has the corruption of the land to heal. Prince of Persia (2008) showed a different side to the series while retaining many of the elements that made past games in the franchise so endearing and entertaining.

9) Star Fox Zero (Wii U)

While the controls are incredibly polarizing, Star Fox Zero happens to control really well in my opinion. There's nothing like flying on-rails, having an enemy escape the TV screen, and then using the GamePad to look to the side of the Arwing and shoot them down, something that would otherwise be impossible without this two screen setup. The many missions of Star Fox Zero are some of the franchise's best, particularly a mission where you take on a fleet of ships, have to slip between a battleship's shield when it fires its laser, and take down said battleship from the inside. Star Fox Zero is hardly a dumpster-tier title, and you'll see why later this week when I review it.

8) Tomb Raider (PS4, XONE, PS3, 360, PC)

I'm at a crossroads in my opinion of Tomb Raider. While I think the game is good overall, I don't think the darker, macabre direction the series took was needed. Then you have the story, writing, and characters that were horribly done and pretty much an embarrassment. Tomb Raider's 2013 reboot played more like a much more violent Uncharted than keeping in line with past games in the series. Still, the action is intense, the world is fun to explore, the combat is enjoyable, and finding secrets within the world is a wonderful experience. The things that hold Lara Croft's reboot back make the game only reach the eighth spot on this countdown.

7) Shadow Warrior (PS4, XONE, PC)

A reboot of the 1997 first-person shooter of the same name, Shadow Warrior released in 2013 to critical and fan acclaim. Possessing the same main character of Lo Wang within a present-day setting, Shadow Warrior put players against massive amounts of demons of all shapes and sizes in this fast and frenetic shooter. Levels had multiple secrets within them, including alternate routes, so multiple play-throughs encouraged exploration while filling the ground and walls with the blood of demons. In essence, Shadow Warrior is a retro-style shooter that gets what made the original and games of its ilk at the time so special.

6) Shinobi (PS2)

With a sword that eats souls, protagonist Hotsuma played through eight levels consisting of two parts and a boss encounter to get vengeance on a sinister sorcerer. This sword required Hotsuma to defeat as many enemies as quickly as possible or else the sword would start feeding on him. Shinobi, initially conceived for the Dreamcast before Sega went third-party, for PlayStation 2 saw the return of the franchise in all of its glory, this time with enough hyper-violence to quench anyone's blood lust. While now 3D, Shinobi managed to feel like its older 2D counterparts, making for a hack-and-slash action game that shined brightly like the edge of a shuriken.

5) Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

This next title could be perceived as a sequel, as it mentions multiple characters from past Kid Icarus games, but I see it as a reboot, as Kid Icarus: Uprising is so far removed from its predecessors. Offering two types of gameplay: on-rails levels similar to that of the Star Fox series, though much more crazy, and ground combat and exploration, Uprising was a massive adventure full of high octane action, hilarious and self-aware dialogue, and amazing presentation in its visuals, story elements, and orchestral music. Uprising was like most of Masahiro Sakurai's creations, as it had lots of longevity and replay value, whether it was gaining new weapons and abilities, completing all of the in-game challenges for rewards, or battling it out online. Kid Icarus: Uprising is a personal favorite reboot of mine, making it one of the best Nintendo 3DS games in my opinion.

4) Killer Instinct (XONE, PC)

When Microsoft purchased Rare after Nintendo declined to buy up the owners' remaining shares of the company, many were quite excited to see how Microsoft would put Rare's many awesome franchises to use. To say that Microsoft has failed to capitalize as much as they could on Rare would be an understatement. However, with the 2013 launch title for the Xbox One, Killer Instinct, one of Rare's most beloved franchises is back and better than ever. Released in season format, Killer Instinct retained a lot from the Super Nintendo and arcade predecessors, but added enough to make for a fresh fighting game experience. The battle system is tremendous, still offering the fantastic combo-based action the series was known for. With its release on Windows 10, Killer Instinct now has an even bigger, deserved audience to sink their teeth into this fabulous fighter.

3) Mortal Kombat (PS3, 360, PC, Vita)

Taking the idea of a reboot to the max and retconning the entire Mortal Kombat mythos, this ninth installment of the killer fighting game franchise delivered all the hyper-violence that one had grown to expect from the Mortal Kombat name. The addition of X-Ray Moves showed just how deadly and brutal many attacks from MK characters like Raiden, Liu Kang, and Johnny Cage really were, displaying broken bones and copious amount of blood. The Challenge Tower mode added longevity to this Mortal Kombat reboot, offering 300 individual challenges each granting the player one reward for completing them. This edition of Mortal Kombat is one of the most packed and great feeling fighters within the franchise, and the reboot returned the MK name to its former glory after several lackluster prequels.

2) Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

The original Ratchet & Clank on the PlayStation 2 played wonderfully and introduced the world to the lovable pairing of a lombax and his robotic helper friend. Now, Ratchet and Clank's first adventure has been given the re-imagining treatment, holding several new words along with familiar territory, brilliantly creative weapons that this time can be leveled up, and additions like strafing that make the gameplay feel as great as ever. This reboot is one of the most beautiful games ever to be devised, offering a solid 30 frames-per-second, gorgeous Pixar-like visuals, and enough action and exploration to make players yearn for the series to keep on keepin' on.

1) Ninja Gaiden (XBX)

Taking five years of development time to perfect the game and its various mechanics, the NES classic Ninja Gaiden was given the reboot treatment by Tomonobu Itagaki and Team Ninja. What players got was one of the best character action games in the genre, filled with high octane sword-based combat, graphic violence, and a steep challenge. Ninja Gaiden's Xbox reboot was definitely not for the feint of heart. Its length, its depth, its amazing sense of swiftness and speed all added up to a brilliant action adventure game that demanded a lot from its players. That's why it's no wonder why Ninja Gaiden is still held to such a high regard and is viewed as a modern classic.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Top Five Forgotten Fighters

The fighting genre in gaming saw a recent resurgence in the past decade with Street Fighter IV. While Capcom has since moved onto the fifth installment of the series, other fighting games haven't had that same level of success. They may have sold well in the past or not at all, but the point here is that they are pretty much forgotten save for a select number of dedicated fans. This top five list's goal is to bring five such forgotten fighters back into the limelight. After your eyes have pulverized this fighting game top five list, tell me which fighting games of old you think need to be remembered.

5) Power Stone (DC)

A 3D brawler, Power Stone isn't that forgotten with its niche fan base, but to everyone else, the game isn't anywhere near as really well known. The ample amount of arenas plastered with interactive elements, the party game feel to the combat, and the stellar for the time graphics really made Power Stone shine. The combat included special attacks, ranged attacks, and the aforementioned ability to pick up objects and elements from the environments to bash your opponents with. Collecting the titular "Power Stones" would allow your character to transform into a super powered version, allowing the beat-downs on your opponents to commence in flashy fashion. A tremendous 3D fighter that went on to see a sequel and a PSP collection, Power Stone is more than worthy to be remembered.

4) Saturday Night Slam Masters (ARC, SNES, GEN)

An arcade fighting game that had massive wrestling influences throughout its design and gameplay, Saturday Night Slam Masters offerde a ringside seat into an innovative fighter. Using a three button configuration for grabbing opponents, attacking, and jumping, Slam Masters boasted an impressive cast of powerful grapplers and brawlers. Each character possessed a mainstay of wrestling: a finisher, and matches end after an opponent's health meter has been depleted and he or she has been pinned or coerced into submission. Playing through Saturday Night Slam Masters, beating the whole roster to win the championship belt and being forced to defend it against said roster was an excellent excuse to kick, punch, grab, and throw down your opponents.

3) Bushido Blade (series)

This Squaresoft fighting game on the original PlayStation didn't have the typical punches and kicks that the fighting game genre is mostly known for. Instead, as the name of the game suggests, Bushido Blade had warriors use swords to slash to slice up their opponents. In a grotesque but highly satisfying display, one could cut off an opponent's limbs, resulting in them no longer being able to use them. Perhaps the developers were watching that infamous scene with the limbless knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail when they got the inspiration for this gameplay element. Regardless, on top of the engaging gameplay, the early 3D polygonal models of characters and ambient arenas made Bushido Blade an entertaining, if not long forgotten fighter.

2) Bloody Roar (series)

Created by the non-defunct Hudson Soft, whose properties are now all owned by Konami, the Bloody Roar series allowed players to transform into bipedal half-human, half-animal creatures and duke it out with fellow half-and-half opponents. With a finely tuned combat system allowing for punches, kicks, transformations, grabs, throws, blocks, and evades, Bloody Roar delivered four entertaining titles through its run beginning in arcades. Its first console entry was a port of said arcade version for the original PlayStation. As of now, Bloody Roar is no longer a well known entity in gaming, and with Konami's current, less gaming-focused direction, it seems the title that was once as savage as a lion is pretty much as quiet as a lamb. (C'mon, you knew I just HAD to make an animal analogy here!)

1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters saw multiple versions, such as on the NES and Genesis, but the most graphically impressive and advanced version of the game landed on the Super Nintendo. It featured an all-star cast of characters, even including many from both the original comic book run and the one that was current at the time, the Archie Comics run. Containing a four-button control scheme for kicks and punches, both weak and strong, special attacks, and engaging combat scenarios, Tournament Fighters on SNES was unappreciated even when it originally released, as games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat ate its proverbial lunch. Still, if you can get access to a cartridge or play the game through "other means" (SuperPhillip Central does not in any way endorse this, however), then you'll find a highly competent 2D fighter starring the heroes in a half-shell.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Top Ten Underrated 2D Platformers of the Past 20 Years

The 2D platformer is one of my favorite genres, and there are so many that are well known and loved. But what about those ones that have slipped through the cracks, or just haven't got their fair share of spotlight and fanfare from the gaming public? That's exactly the point of this top ten list, to talk about those 2D (sometimes 2.5D) platformers that while fun to play, didn't exactly get the best sales or the most attention. Even big stars like Mega Man and Donkey Kong make an appearance on this underrated 2D platformer top ten. After you've scoped out my picks, feel free to offer your own in the comment section.

10) Mega Man ZX Advent (DS) - 2007

The original Mega Man ZX started a new Mega Man sub-series, and it attempted to go the so-called Metroidvania route. While the overall game was enjoyable, the execution left something to be desired. With Mega Man ZX Advent, the end result is much better, offering an easier-to-understand map, more Mega Man forms to transform into, bigger boss battles, and two protagonists. You still have the classic, action-packed, high throttle gameplay of the Mega Man X and Zero sub-series while offering a new twist on the then-much worn formula the Mega Man series had already established. Overall, what you get with Mega Man ZX Advent is tremendous action platformer deserving of more attention.

9) Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS) - 2015

Often maligned for not sticking with the genre the series was known for, Chibi-Robo tried its hand in the platforming genre, and before it was even released it wasn't popular. Of course this was because Nintendo said that if Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash sold poorly, that'd probably be the last fans would see of the helpful miniature robot. Still, the actual game is a terrific 2D platformer, sporting the use of Chibi-Robo using his plug to whip enemies, grab onto faraway ledges to pull itself across chasms, and ricochet off walls. While the level roulette system is questionable in its delivery, it can easily be cheesed (which is the exact reason it's questionable in its delivery). Regardless, if you're looking for a platformer that really has creativity in it from its levels to its boss battles, then Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is definitely worth looking at.

8) Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? (PSP) - 2009

The wonderfully titled Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? takes the dood-speaking Disgaea series penguin and puts him inside a brutal 2D platformer for the PSP. The game makes no attempts to hide its difficulty, giving the player 1000 lives to tool around with. Each mission has an in-game clock that, as the time of day moves between day and night, the challenges, such as bosses and enemies, and designs of levels change. If you can stomach the challenge, then you'll find yourself enjoying and being put to the test to a highly creative platformer that saw a sequel two years later in Japan and PAL territories and three years later in North America.

7) Puppeteer (PS3) - 2013

Doomed to fall through the cracks in the PlayStation 3 library due to releasing around the time of the PS4's big, long-awaited launch and being a 2D (technically 2.5D, close enough) platformer on a system that didn't cater to that genre much, Puppeteer is a masterful platforming adventure. Once a boy turned to a headless puppet, Kutaro runs and jumps around levels, collecting different heads that possess different powers. Between the brilliant presentation (though some might feel the constant interruptions to gameplay by the story elements are too frequent) and exquisite charm and ideas brought forth by the game, Puppeteer may not have got much sales success, but it's loved by a select few who actually played it.

6) LocoRoco (PSP) - 2006

LocoRoco is a PSP franchise that plays unlike any other platformer out there. In the game, you're not directly controlling the group or accumulative blob of LocoRoco. Instead, you're tilting the playing field, guiding the LocoRoco through hazard-filled levels. The goal is to amass as many LocoRoco as possible, surviving each of the challenging levels, and finding hidden collectibles in secret alcoves and tough-to-find areas. The intuitive controls and innovative gameplay are accentuated by a lovely art style and gloriously zany music. Two sequels would be released for the series, one a direct sequel, and one a more action-packed affair. Regardless of where you start with the franchise, you'll find something wonderful.

5) Mischief Makers (N64) - 1997

One of the few 2D games on the Nintendo 64, Mischief Makers released to many calling the game a short romp, hard to learn, short, and too easy. Now, gamers and even critics look back on the game with a more positive light. Mischief Makers uses pre-rendered sprites similar to the ones found in the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo. The game has a trifecta of awesomeness: pure-blooded platforming, intense action sequences, and clever puzzles to solve. Our hero Marina runs, jumps, boosts through the air via her jet pack, and grabs and shakes enemies into submission. Mischief Makers is much desired to see a re-release for a reason, and that would give so many more gamers the chance to find out what they've been missing with Treasure's... well, treasure!

4) Drill Dozer (GBA) - 2006

Made by the same folks known for their work on Pokemon and to a much lesser extent Tempo the Badass Elephant, Drill Dozer has you piloting the eponymous machine as Jill, a treasure hunter seeking a prized family jewel that was stolen by a pack of mean-spirited bandits. Using the Drill Dozer, you can power through blocks, use various machinery to progress through levels such as lifts that rise Jill up once she hooks her Drill Dozer up to them, and defeat savage foes both small and large. Each level starts off with you only being able to drill through weaker objects. When you find new upgrades, you can drill longer and through harder objects, up to level three. This is an atypical platforming adventure, but Drill Dozer shines in all of its creative ideas. Certainly releasing near the end of the Game Boy Advance's life didn't help, but if you can track down a copy (it has a built in rumble feature directly in the cartridge), then you'll find a game that is absolutely brilliant.

3) Klonoa (Wii) - 2009

Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro? Can you tie them in a knot? Can you tie them a bow? For most of us, the answer is no, but for Namco's Klonoa, that answer is very much yes. This cheerful rabbit's first adventure originally released on the PS1 as Klonoa: Door to Phantomile in 1998. This version, simply titled Klonoa in the West, is a remake on the Wii with glorious new visuals and added challenges. The gameplay has Klonoa grabbing enemies and using them to propel himself higher, essentially using them as a double jump opportunity. Klonoa is full of charm, creatively designed levels that wrap around themselves, and fun. It's quite a shame that even on a platform that was very kind to the platforming genre that Klonoa didn't sell hardly at all, effectively killing any hopes of future entries. Sad, but at least Klonoa ended on a very good note quality-wise.

2) Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (GCN) - 2005

The most non-traditional 2D platformer on this list, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat used the GameCube's bongo drum peripheral to control Donkey Kong. Through pounding the left and right bongos, sometimes together, sometimes not, players moved the sensational simian through colorful levels, defeating enemies, gathering bananas, and scoring killer combos, sometimes one giant combo from the start of one level to its finish. The battles against other apes in Punch-Out-styled Kong-frontations (hee-hee) played out marvelously with the bongos, really letting you pound on your foes while pounding on the drums. A highly innovative and most of all incredibly fun platformer, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is a greatly underrated title for the GameCube. It received a New Play Control version on Wii, eliminating the bongos and adding the shaking of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to replicate the controls. Which ever version you go for, you'll get an amazing game.

1) Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U) - 2015

Currently at an astonishingly low (for its actual level of quality) 78 on Metacritic, Yoshi's Woolly World was criticized for being more of the same and yet another Wii U 2D platformer. However, calling it just that is an amazing disservice to the game. Woolly World is finally the Yoshi's Island game fans have been clamoring for, with the highest amount of quality and polish to it, sometimes even outdoing the critically acclaimed SNES original in multiple aspects. From the endearing yarn and fabric visuals to the fantastic level design, to the massive amount of optional collectibles that just further enhance how good said level design is, it's a crime that Yoshi's Woolly World was given so much ho-hum feedback from critics. For me, Yoshi's Woolly World isn't just worthy to be in the same level as the SNES's Yoshi's Island, it is a better game overall.