Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cel Damage HD (PS4, XB1, PS3, Vita) Review

Earlier this week I reviewed a car combat game of a different type with Obliteracers. I didn't care for it too much. However, this game, a flashback from the early 2000s, is one that I actually liked. Funny that! Here is my review of Cel Damage HD for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 , PlayStation Vita (these have cross buy), and Xbox One.

One glaring omission might make this game a tough Cel... er-- sell.

Out of all the games from the sixth generation of consoles, and there were a lot of them, mostly thanks to the PlayStation 2, you expect a lot of the more fondly thought of games to get HD remasters. We've gotten games like God of War, the Ratchet & Clank series, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Kingdom Hearts, two Legend of Zelda games, and so many more. You probably don't think of what is seemingly a random third-party game with no real critical or financial success. However, that didn't stop developer Finish Line Games from bringing back Cel Damage to high definition form with Cel Damage HD. If you pondered the question "Who asked for this?", then you probably aren't alone in that line of thinking.

For those of you who haven't heard of Cel Damage before-- and it's quite all right if you haven't. I have slight memories of seeing screenshots of the game back in Game Informer and Nintendo Power-- Cel Damage is a cel-shaded (shock and awe) vehicular combat game. Like a cartoon Twisted Metal, if you will. The game has a more whimsical tone to it, however, than the gritty and darker Sony series, of course. That said, the humor skews more teenager-friendly and crude than anything for kids. With characters like Dominique Trix (har-har), a obscenity-spewing (always censored, though) Fowlmouth, and various stereotypes that are more distasteful and lazy than humorous and creative, Cel Damage skews more for older gamers.

While the characters are one-note, and really, that's okay since this is a car combat game and not aiming to be the next great video game epic, Cel Damage's gameplay happens to be rather enjoyable, featuring three unique modes each unlocked from the start. The most enjoyable of the three is the combat-focused Smack Attack, where opponents speed around the map, picking up weapons to smash and slash other opponents. Every attack is worth a handful of points here and there, but the real point collection comes, of course, from taking out other opponents.

Use this sledgehammer to smashing effect to get major points.
Meanwhile, Flag Rally pits players against one another, attempting to gather flags which casually saunter around maps. As you pick up flags-- as many as you think are safe to hold before your opponents feel the need to seriously start coming after you, attacking you to make you lose your carefully collected haul-- your goal is to then to drive to the drop off point on the map. The more flags you collect and turn in at once, the better point bonus you get.

Red arrows over opponents means that they currently hold at least one flag. Get 'em before they score!
Finally, Gate Relay rounds up the mode package of Cel Damage HD. This is a multi-lap Mario Kart-style race around levels through each checkpoint. This was my least favorite of the trio of modes in the game, as the levels aren't really built or suited for this type of play. There's a huge lack of viable shortcuts to be had, making races very one-note in feel.

Mario Kart this is not, but then again, what really is?
The sixteen maps plus one bonus map of Cel Damage HD, four in each locale (a Wild West area, a jungle area, a haunted area, and a space-themed area), are rather hit and miss. Thankfully, there are more hits than misses here. Some are pretty sprawling places, like the initial Wild West-themed map, which comes packed with a miniature Western town, a locomotive that churns right down the middle of the map, and surrounding canyon areas. Others are much smaller in scope, but offer enough quirks or a central themed gimmick that make them worthwhile. Some, however, aren't too interesting.

Of course, these maps would be nothing if they weren't fun to drive in. Fortunately, Cel Damage HD possesses tight responsive driving controls. Being able to turn quickly is a must for a game focused on combat, and here, Cel Damage HD does well. In addition to things like the ability to slide, you can side-slam into opponents to careen them off course. You can also flick the right analog stick to perform a front roll. In Gate Relay, this is a great trick, as not only does a roll (which can't be failed) give you a sudden jump of speed forward, but it also stores energy in your car's boost gauge. The only real drawback to controlling the vehicles in Cel Damage HD is that occasionally the physics can do unexpected things. These don't usually result in much of a problem, but they aren't perfect all the same.

Being a vehicular combat game, and a cartoon-y one at that, the expectation of solid, zany weaponry is justly there. Cel Damage HD delivers here as well with weapons both melee and ranged, including axes, baseball bats, chainsaws, machine guns, missile launchers, vacuums that suck up and spit out opponents, freeze rays, saw blades, javelins, and many more. Each character has their own special weapon as well that they can pick up, while when you've used up any of the weapons you collected, your character can do small chip damage to foes with throwable objects. The scope and variety of weaponry available in Cel Damage HD is very nice, offering a satisfying amount of impact when you connect a shot or hit.

Everything sounds good so far with Cel Damage HD, and it really is. However, the game's biggest downfall here is a notable one if you're lacking friends to play with locally. There is no online play whatsoever, a ridiculous omission in this day and age for a game like this not from Nintendo (and even Nintendo's been better about this in modern era). A lot of longevity could have come from online skirmishes with both faraway friends who can't always be around to play side by side with you, as well as total randoms. That said, the AI is quite capable and a lot of fun to play against, offering three difficulties, and the local multiplier is also enjoyable.

Four friends can face off in splitscreen multiplayer, the only type of mulitplayer featured in Cel Damage HD.
What longevity comes from Cel Damage HD will vary from player to player. Trophy and achievement hunters will find a dozen or so very easy trophies to collect and be done with most of what Cel Damage HD has to offer (you'll be unlocking the four secret characters in the process). Others who want more from the game can play multiple times as each character, unlocking both of their cutscenes (though these try to be funny and generally fail, but at least not embarrassingly so). The gameplay is indeed enough to pick up the game for a round or two when you get free time or for extended sessions. Either way, you're going to have fun.

For an HD remastering, the bare minimum went into updating Cel Damage from its Xbox roots. Everything is indeed in high definition, but that's really all that's changed outside of all modes being available right from launching the game. Still, I adore the cel-shaded art style, but then again I am a sucker for the visual style in general. The cartoon-y nature of the game is expressed well not just in the graphical style but small things like cars literally bending a bit out of proportion when they turn or boost. Cel Damage HD's sound is a mix of voice clips that can be easily ignored, competent sound effects, and some catchy music here and there.

The lack of online multiplayer for a game that is pretty much dependent for most players' enjoyment of a game of this type may soil the package of Cel Damage HD. For me, I ended up liking the gameplay against the AI and with a nearby friend to play with enough to really make for a swell time. Questionable humor (as in "who thought this was actually funny?") and sometimes off-kilter physics also hamper the package. Nonetheless, when you see Cel Damage HD on sale (and it happens fairly regularly), then definitely check this game out if its problems don't overly concern you.

[SPC Says: C+]

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2) Retro Review

If you know me and have been following me for a while now, then you no doubt know that Ratchet & Clank just happens to be my favorite PlayStation franchise. So, when I get a chance in my summer vacation to play a game from the series, I jump on it. That's exactly what I did here with this retro review of Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (no offense), the third entry in the illustrious franchise.

A game that both robots and squishies alike can enjoy.

I finally got to play the reboot of the Ratchet & Clank series earlier this month, and it made yearn to play some more of the series. I had already played the PlayStation 2 original games up to Deadlocked, as well as pretty much all of the PS3 entries apart from Full Frontal Assault. Though I own the latter, the negative fan feedback put me off of playing it. Regardless, I started a new file in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal a year ago on the PlayStation 3 as part of the Ratchet & Clank Collection. However, other more recent games got in the way of my playthrough. Long story short, playing the Ratchet & Clank reboot got me back to my old Up Your Arsenal save file to enjoy this third ever entry.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal follows Ratchet and Clank enjoying what appears to be a game of galactic chess, though instead of kings, queens, rooks, and knights, they have Snargian Snagglebeasts and other in-universe monsters instead. Hearing word that a group of monsters known as the Tyhrranoids, is attacking Ratchet's home planet of Veldin, he and Clank travel across the galaxy to reach Veldin and support the troops, the Galactic Rangers, trying to fend off the Tyhrranoids. This action starts off a grand galactic adventure, seeing Ratchet and Clank travel to various locales, aiming to stop a villain connected to a certain character's past's grand plan on turning the universe's "squishies", as he calls all organic lifeforms, into robots. The story is engaging, the story sequences don't interrupt the flow of gameplay too often (these can also be skipped at will with a simple press of the Start button), and the humor of the game continues the series's fine line of funniness.

Compared to its predecessor, Going Commando, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal plays very similarly. The game is a 3D platformer with third-person shooting elements, though the latter is more prevalent and focused on than in Going Commando. Regardless, there's still a good amount of careful precision jumping on various platforms to be found here.

Ratchet and Clank have a grand adventure ahead of them in Up Your Arsenal.
The new additions to the gameplay of Up Your Arsenal include Galactic Ranger missions that are all focused on combat scenarios. You team up with a gang of AI robots to complete a certain objective. Most simply have you eliminating all enemies on the battleground, whether as Ratchet himself or him inside a combat spaceship, while other missions have you protecting a batch of Galactic Rangers as they fix a turret. The latter is far from an annoying protection mission, as it's quite simple, so no worries! Regardless, these more action-oriented scenes make for some nice pacing and freshness to the game. There are also five video game cartridges that tell the adventures of Captain Qwark through a charming 2D side-scrolling platformer that is a lot of fun to play as well.

Geronimo! Ratchet and the Galactic Rangers get a drop on the enemy forces in some missions.
Continuing with the action focus, there is also a battle arena, a coliseum, if you will, for Ratchet and Clank to face challenges in, known as Annihilation Nation. Here, special themed arena contests are held, with the rewards being vast amounts of bolts. Some contests need you to clear multiple round of enemies while dodging environmental hazards like spinning blades and fiery pits. Others give you a boss to tackle, force you to fight without taking damage, or have you using just one weapon to survive. These are enjoyable challenges to do, and yes, they further add to the value of Up Your Arsenal.

During the game, Ratchet and Clank will also sometimes split up, as they did in both the original R&C and Going Commando. Clank will have segments where he teams up with a monkey to get through hazard-laden areas. With Clank's banana gun, Clank can fire bananas as a means to get the monkey to certain spots, such as on a button to extend a bridge or in a spotlight that triggers a turret gun that would otherwise kill Clank instantly, but instead, the monkey distracts the turret so Clank can pass by. (No monkey was harmed in the playing of this game.) There are also times where Clank can control up to four miniature helper robots, tasking them with following, staying put, attacking foes, or entering little houses that when all the robots have gone inside, the way for Clank to proceed opens up.

Ratchet also has some fun by himself. In one portion of the game, he dons a Tyhrranoid outfit to sneak into the main villain's aquatic base, interacting with real Tyhrranoids through burping, odd movements, and belching. This is done with a Parappa the Rapper-style rhythm mini-game that doesn't outwear its welcome as it's used sparing, and adds to Up Your Arsenal's variety.

The Tyhrranoid outfit, or guise, is one of many gadgets that Ratchet and Clank come across in their planetary adventure. Another like the Hypershot, serves as a a gadget that can be used to cross chasms by linking to a hook-like contraption, and allowing Ratchet to sling across. Then there is the Hacker, which allows the opening of locked doors through playing a simple mini-game where you shoot around a circular field, blasting red lasers while tractor-beaming up green lasers to pass. Finally, things like the Gravity Boots that grant Ratchet the ability to walk up certain pieces of the environment, and the Refractor that reflects lasers to solve environmental puzzles, round out the gadget package in Up Your Arsenal.

Tyhrranosis is the home world of the Tyhrranoids. Ratchet, Clank, the Q-Force,
and the Galactic Rangers bring the fight straight to the enemy.
As Ratchet moves through levels, he can use either his standard melee weapon, a large wrench, or he can utilize a wide repertoire of high-powered weaponry, most of which is earned by buying them from vending stations placed throughout levels in the game with the Bolts (the currency of the Ratchet & Clank series) found from broken boxes and defeated enemies.

The first main planet Ratchet and Clank get to explore is the jungle planet of Florana.
Like Going Commando, through consistent use of a given weapon (and that weapon's shots must hit an enemy), guns and weapons gain experience, leveling up to grow stronger. Weapons can be leveled up initially up to four times, resulting in a version five of a given weapon. The Ratchet & Clank series is known for its wide array of clever and fun-to-use weapons, and Up Your Arsenal certainly is no different. Blasters, missile launchers, plasma whips, sniper rifles, laser shields, acid-spewing guns that infect enemies and confuse them into attacking their own side, and so much more are available for Ratchet to use throughout the game. As weapons level up, something like the portable death machines known as the Agents of Doom, that fight beside Ratchet in battle, in their fifth level, turn from four marching robots that fire weak lasers into hovering death bots, launching missiles at foes.

Once some guns get leveled up enough, they can become positively shocking!
When the initial game is beaten and the final boss has been made to eat Ratchet's dust, a new Challenge mode is available for players. Here, weapons that have been fully leveled up in the original campaign can have stronger version purchased from a Gadgetron vendor. These can then be leveled up a couple of more levels, becoming totally powerful in combat. In addition to that, a new bolt multiplier is available, increasing as Ratchet defeats enemies without taking damage, up to a 20 time bolt multiplier.

Big or small, Ratchet and Clank take out them all!
Bonus content in the form of well hidden Titanium Bolts, which can be used to buy character skins such as a tuxedo-wearing Ratchet, a ninja-guised lombax, or even a frosty snowman, is here. Additionally, the series's usual skill points return. There are 30 in all, and these are essentially special tasks to do in levels that you wouldn't normally think of doing, such as shooting down innocent flying Pteradactyl on one planet, or defeating a boss with only Ratchet's wrench. These unlock fun cheats like a big head mode or mirroring the levels of the game completely.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal doesn't shake up the established formula of the series too much, but instead it further refines it. Ratchet controls as tightly as ever, new weapons add new strategies to battle, the platforming is more finely honed, and additionally gameplay like Galactic Ranger missions, Qwark side-scrolling levels, and Clank solo sections add some variety. Some might not care for the more action-focused gameplay when compared to the previous two Ratchet & Clank games, but all in all, Up Your Arsenal delivers good variety, a great villain, and the same gameplay that makes so many of us return to the Ratchet & Clank series time and time again.

[SPC Says: A-] 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Worst Things About SuperPhillip Central's Favorite Games

The games that are my favorites are ones that have minimal or next to no faults in them. I'd be fooling myself if I said a game that I liked best was perfect. That's the purpose of this article: to try to delve into my favorite games, figuring out that one thing that isn't so perfect about them. Many of these may come off as nitpicks, and that's the nature of trying to come up with gripes, no matter how small, towards the games I adore most.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 3DS)

Let's start with my favorite video game ever created, the masterful Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's really cliche, I guess, as a choice for favorite game ever made, but it's not like the game isn't one of the most revolutionary, well paced, or creatively designed out there. Thus, there's a reason many consider it the best of all time.

Regardless, especially in the Nintendo 64 version, a problem that plagued many games on the system, especially those with high caliber graphics, is the frame-rate. It can go to the low teens in an instant, particularly in more action-intense sequences as well as more open areas like Hyrule Field. 

Another issue with the Nintendo 64 version is no stranger to fans of the game, and even harsh critics. I'm talking about an element of the Water Temple. The dungeon itself isn't annoying. The need to constantly pause and unpause the game to equip the Iron Boots from the Gear menu, however, is. I'm embellishing here, but one may spend more time in the menus than in the actual Water Temple itself because of how much you have to equip and remove the Iron Boots!

With the Nintendo 3DS version, which is the definitive version, in my mind, both the frame-rate (though there are modest drops in the 3DS version) and the Iron Boots were fixed. For the Iron Boots, they became an equipment item, much like the Boomerang or Hookshot. You could simply tap the touch screen to equip them and remove them instantaneously. 

The 3DS version did bring a new problem into Ocarina of Time, and that's when you have the 3D slider on of the Nintendo 3DS. Dark areas presented a ghosting effect with colors and images bleeding over into the darkness for a sullied look. A very small gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

Resident Evil 4 (Multi)

With a new version of Resident Evil 4 coming to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this season (making it the 101st official version across all platforms), it seems timely I talk about my favorite third-person shooter. And there's the rub. As a game to its lonesome, Resident Evil 4 is one of the most perfectly paced games ever devised. Its action is superior to most games, its design is superb, and it's absolutely dripping with macabre atmosphere. 

As part of the Resident Evil series, however, this game saw a shift in tone of the series. Future games acted more as third-person shooters with some horror elements instead of the pure survival horror gameplay longtime fans of the series had come to expect. It's only now that Resident Evil 7, announced at this past E3, seems to be taking the franchise back to its roots. 

I'm one of those whose first experience with the Resident Evil franchise was the fourth installment, hyping it up as the last big GameCube exclusive (we all know how that turned out). Thus, I didn't have as much at stake with the future of the franchise. Still, knowing where Resident Evil went after 4 and it disappointing so many fans is something that can be considered a flaw for Resident Evil 4. Seeing as that's the worst I can say about the game, that's mighty impressive.

Perfect Dark (N64, XBLA)

From a third-person shooter to a first-person shooter, I've always enjoyed objective-based FPS games like GoldenEye, TimeSplitters, and yes, Perfect Dark over games that focused more on running and gunning through either expansive levels or corridor-to-corridor design. Perfect Dark is a marvel of design with its many ways to clear a majority of missions, whether going in order or accomplishing each objective in the order you desire. 

A problem that haunts both versions really isn't too bad. That is that many of the missions in the game can take upwards of 15-30 minutes on Perfect Agent difficulty, the hardest difficulty in the game, sporting the most objectives, harder AI, greater damage, and no shields to add to Ms. Joanna Dark's defenses. One mistake can cost you those 15-30 minutes of progress thanks to the lack of checkpoints. 

Now, back when the game originally came out in 2000, one of my proudest gaming achievements (before Xbox and Microsoft made them an actual thing that people could earn for GamerScore) was beating all of the missions on Perfect Agent mode. It took a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of "dammit, I almost had it-s" to do that. So, yeah, I did "git gud", but at the same time, it's a viable complaint if I had to pick one.

However, the Nintendo 64 version also suffers from tremendous frame-rate drops, running sluggishly in the teens with great consistency. And don't even get me started on dropping a certain bomb that drops the frame-rate in single digits.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) 

We continue with this look at some of my favorite games of all time with Super Mario Galaxy 2. Generally, the motion control actions worked flawlessly. Now, even some longtime gamers couldn't adjust to the Wii's motion controls. I'm not referring to waggle as motion controls. Most of Super Mario Galaxy 2's functions were tilting the Wii Remote. 

That's exactly what one needs to do in the gliding sections of Super Mario Galaxy 2. This quest for a Power Star happens in two galaxies. The first isn't too bad at all. Not only does making it to the end of the course give you your much desired Power Star, but flying through five difficultly placed rings gives you a Comet Medal.

It's the second level late in the game that always gets my proverbial goat. Or, I guess bird would be the right word to use here. It's not so much making it to the end that's the problem. It's making it through all five rings, which are in some absurdly hard and fiendish locations. Twisting and tilting the Wii Remote to reach each can make you look like a contortionist. It's by far my least favorite part of Super Mario Galaxy 2, and even then, it's very much manageable.

Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)

Finishing off this first look at some of my favorite games of all time and their flaws (if you didn't guess, I plan to do more), Banjo-Kazooie takes center stage, my favorite 3D collect-a-thon style platformer. In the original game on the Nintendo 64, there were 100 musical notes scattered and hidden around each of the game's main worlds. If you died before collecting all 100, your top amount would be saved by the game. Dying wasn't usually too much of a scare for seasoned players, but one particular world of the game made death all too easy, Rusty Bucket Bay. I'm particular in talking about the engine room, where fans spin dangerously and platforms twist and turn constantly.

It's far too easy for a run at 100 musical notes to end in this section, making you have to start collecting them all over again on your next life. Thankfully, the Xbox Live Arcade HD port removed having to collect all 100 musical notes in one run. Instead, it saved every musical note you collected even after death. Thus, you just needed to go after missing notes if you for some reason bit the big one. So, then you have the Xbox 360 HD port fixing my one issue with the original Banjo-Kazooie. Well, maybe that final fight with Gruntilda is still a bit of a difficulty jump...

Yooka-Laylee (Multi) Gamescom 2016 Trailer

Tour the fantastical worlds of Yooka-Layle, a 3D platformer from the talents behind games like Donkey Kong Country and my personal favorite, Banjo-Kazooie! This all-new Gamescom trailer showcases some new areas, a new transformation for Yooka and Layle, and a lot more. Yooka-Layle is set to release early next year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Metroid Prime: Federation Force (3DS) Co-Op Trailer

While not the 30th anniversary game for the Metroid franchise that fans have wanted (far from it, judging by the harsh blowback of the game since its announcement two E3s ago), Metroid Prime: Federation Force, to me, looks pretty interesting. Played either solo, locally with friends, or online, the game seeks to bring a different perspective to the Metroid franchise. Metroid Prime: Federation Force launches for the Nintendo 3DS this Friday.

Obliteracers (PS4) Review

Continuing the review output for the month of August is Obliteracers, a fresh take on a familiar formula. How does she handle? Let's find out with this SuperPhillip Central review.

Opponents obliterating each other as well as my overall fun.

In a genre so full of me-toos and derivative games, it's nice to see Varkian Empire's Obliteracers try something new with their action racing. That said, Obliteracers is sort of a misnomer for the name of the game. The central mechanic of Obliteracers is all about destroying the other cars while driving along one of a handful of twisty tracks such as a sky high mining metropolis, a minefield in a desert, and a tropical coast. There are no laps, there are no finish lines, and there really isn't a reason to be in first place except for one mode.

The weapons offered by Obliteracers run your standard gamut of explosive goodness-- machine guns, rockets, mines, shockwaves, a trail of slippery oil to let loose behind your vehicle, and even a series of flames that burn from the sides of your ride. All of these are used to blow up, annihilate, and destroy the other opponents who dare share the same track as you.

This weapon launches three pink missiles at opponents unfortunate enough to be in your path.
What also makes Obliteracers stand out other than being all about destruction rather than pure racing is that the game has a fixed camera that is centered on the leader of the pack of cars. Thus, every player is shown on the screen at the same time, and if you don't keep up and go off screen, you car gets obliterated. While this is generally fine with just four vehicles on screen at the same time, it is especially and painfully clear in events with eight or more vehicles that this doesn't work so well. Like, at all.

You see, there is very little real estate on the screen for eight or more racers, In these more crowded races, the area upon which you're considered too far behind, thus being knocked out is larger. In addition to that, most of the time if you're leading the pack, the camera angle forces you to make blind turns or worse, blind jumps, usually leading to you falling off the track.

Things can get quite crowded with eight opponents at once.
The main campaign of Obliteracers features several dozen events focusing around four types. Survival has you trying to outlive the other vehicles on the track. Doing so gives you a point. Earn a set amount of points before your opponents to win. Knockout and Endurance are similar. Knockout earns you points for defeating opponents, though if your car is destroyed, you have to wait until the next round to come back. Meanwhile, Endurance forgoes rounds, having you instantly return to the action if you are destroyed. Finally, Leader mode gives points for any kill to the player in first place. Doing well in these campaign events earns you bombs. The more you collect, the more events you unlock.

In the initial few races I felt in control of my own destiny. To put it in less dramatic terms, when I won, I felt like I earned it. When I lost, it was because I screwed up. Later events with eight or more racers are basically crap shoots. In a game of Survival, it never seemed prudent to take the lead, as you'd just have a bunch of weapon-toting opponents on your tail, ready to fire at you. Being in the back was safer, but it still wasn't a safe bet. It seemed like I would win a round randomly when things finally fell correctly into place out of pure happenstance.

And things just become too chaotic with 12 opponents on screen at once.
Then there's this event-- a 12 racer Endurance event that totally made me just flabbergasted at how it passed testing and QA. As stated earlier, an event with eight or more opponents makes for a crowded screen. 12 opponents that can constantly re-spawn into the race? Even worse. If you get destroyed, your car is but one of 12 that zooms into the picture, making it very difficult to even see when you drive back into view. And not only does the camera not actually follow the leader but instead the middle of the pack (leading you to have to negotiate a turn at a weird angle due to this, oftentimes resulting in you falling off the track or going off course), but as cars bump into and jostle one another, getting off course is commonplace. This race usually had up to 10 cars fall off at one turn. Additionally, you can forget about picking up weapons or being able to feel like you have any control in this race. It's pure rage-inducing, and it's amazing that the developers felt that the game could work with so many racers on screen at one time. It can't.

So, as a solo game, Obliteracers isn't too compelling. In fact, it can be darn frustrating, and maddeningly so. However, with friends, Obliteracers is a rip-roaring good time. Being able to share the same screen and enjoy some local multiplayer fun is indeed entertaining. Online is also available, but it's pretty hard to find and join a game. Thus, Obliteracers is almost forced to be a local multiplayer-only game due to the lack of players online.

Thus, Obliteracers is a tough sell overall. The main campaign struggles to hold one's attention for long with its pithy amount of event types, almost entirely luck-based and borderline broken events in later offerings, and short longevity. The online servers also don't have too many players either. However, if you have friends locally to play with, then Obliteracers can give you a few game nights of wacky entertainment. Just don't take the gameplay as anything but severely flawed fun.

[SPC Says: D+]

Review copy provided by Deck 13 Games.

Monday, August 15, 2016

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Olympic Gold Edition

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs is here to cap off your Monday evening right with a collection five fantastic video game tunes. With us being right in the middle of the Olympics, it only makes sense to have at least one VGM volume dedicated to the event. First, however, we kick things off with a battle theme from Fire Emblem Fates. THEN, we dive into the Olympics with Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Super Monkey Ball 2 delivers a chill tune, followed by Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth offering a dungeon theme. Finally, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX concludes this Olympic Gold edition of the Favorite VGMs.

v1206. Fire Emblem Fates (3DS) - Alight (Storm)

Kicking off this week's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs in high gear is a battlefield theme from Fire Emblem Fates, another great entry in the Fire Emblem series. This earlier-in-the-year release came in three versions. I'm still knee deep in Birthright, but there was also Conquest and Revelation. Regardless of which version you pick, you're bound for an enjoyable game with an absolutely astounding soundtrack.

v1207. Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U, 3DS) - Football (Chorus Mix)

Coming from the latest in Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog's Olympic rivalry, this version of the football theme has the crowd providing vocals during a tense game of the footie. Even if things don't go your way on the field, you can take pride that you did your best with no regrets. Take THAT, Hope Solo!

v1208. Super Monkey Ball 2 (GCN) - Monkey Target 2

Let's go from some action-packed themes to something much more chill and relaxing. It's the mini-game theme of Monkey Target, making its second appearance in a Super Monkey Ball game. The warm electric guitar synth ostinato that covers the entire track forms a stellar harmony with the main melody. It's a perfect song to unwind after cursing out the incredibly stressful main campaign.

v1209. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4, Vita) - Final Phase

Another release from this year (Fire Emblem Fates and Mario & Sonic being the others), Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth offers over 100 hours of gameplay to those who clamor for it. The RPG action is mighty tempting to do just that. Then, you have the wonderful soundtrack to go along with it, such as this theme for the final dungeon in the game.

v1210. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX (PS3) - Roxas

The somber and melancholy theme of Roxas from Kingdom Hearts II and its up-port on the PlayStation 3 is what rounds out this week's video game music picks. Yoko Shimomura pulls at the heartstrings with her flute and piano composition. A truly marvelous theme.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4) Review

After a nice handful of days to myself, I have a brand-new review to share with you, SPC faithful. It's for a series that I really enjoyed the second and third games of, yet haven't played the first and fourth. It's Star Ocean, and this evening I'm taking a look at the latest in the series, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness.

Nothing to fear but the Eternal Sphere itself.

My first dive into Square Enix and tri-Ace's Star Ocean series was with the original PlayStation's Star Ocean: The Second Story. It was a near perfect mix of science fiction storytelling, fast paced action-RPG goodness, beautiful 2D art and environments, a large series of worlds to explore, and a sensational soundtrack. Its followup, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time on the PS2 was also heralded for its quality. However, Star Ocean started to drown in itself with the release of The Last Hope on last gen systems, and now it's trying to come up for air with its newest installment, Integrity and Faithlessness. While it does get its head above the waves, the series looks like it's still treading water.

Right away when you compare Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness with other JRPGs being released around the same time or in the coming months, you get the immediate sense that this is as budget as a retail JRPG release on a current-gen HD console can be. Firstly, the story of this Star Ocean's impact left me indifferent at best and bored at worst. This was mostly due in part because the game for the most part lacks cutscenes. Instead, happenings in the story occur in real-time scenes, with you having the ability to slowly saunter around as the other characters pantomime to one another. It comes across as incredibly amateur and disappointing, due to how much the Star Ocean series in the past has loved using CG and specially done cutscenes. It's also annoying because you can't just tap on the confirm button to make the dialogue go faster or even skip most scenes. No, you have to listen to pretty much everything each character says, making repeated play-throughs not likely at least for me.

Worse than the Ethereal Queen, scenes that you can't skip at all!
The actual story boldly goes... well, not very far. The story is played out relatively straight, having the big bad wanting to use the powers of a mysterious and gifted-in-magic girl to rule the galaxy. This results in Fidel, the hero's party in a game of we-have-her, we-lost-her, we-have-her, oops-by-golly-we-lost-her-again for most of the game. The major moments of Star Ocean 5 don't really have much kick to them dramatically due to the aforementioned lack of cutscenes and just aren't really interesting in general.

The world of Star Ocean 5 isn't a grand one either. This RPG is a 20-25 affair which has a limited amount of locales to visit, many of which you'll be backtracking to and passing through often just to get to your next destination. The ability to fast travel doesn't unlock until about three-fourths of the way through the game, only exacerbating this issue.

From strolls through the Coast of Minos...
Overworld, cave, and dungeon areas are rather simplistic, too. Dungeons are just mere mazes with extraneous rooms and zero puzzles or refreshing features whatsoever. These areas all connect to one another along with the handful of towns in the game. Like any RPG worth its weight in Mythril, in Star Ocean 5, towns have shops where you can buy can weapons, armor, equipment, item creation tools, and items. You can also pass by the locales that will have a dialogue box pop up as you near them, making their dialogue completely superfluous to the journey at hand. A main staple of the Star Ocean series, that of Private Actions, returns in Integrity and Faithlessness. When Fidel crosses over a specially marked circle, his party splits up and goes their separate ways in a given town. With assistance of the super helpful mini-map the game employs, Fidel can track down party members that have a special event that occurs when Fidel is nearby. Sometimes Fidel is asked a question that depending on his answer either raises or lowers his affinity to that party member. Depending on who has the highest affinity with Fidel at the end of the game depends on which post-credits ending scene you'll get. leisurely walks through Central Resulia.
Three of the towns in Star Ocean 5 have a quest board on display in the center of town. As you make progress in the game and complete quests, new quests are added to each board. These objectives range from tracking down a certain NPC, defeating a specific foe or series of foes, or tracking down a special item to satisfy the demands of that quest-giver. For the most part, early quests had me going to nearby locations to pick up the item or defeat the enemy that was needed for that quest. Later in the game, thanks to the ability to fast travel, the need to travel more was necessary to complete the later quests in the game.

Completed quests earn Fidel's party experience points, currency, an occasional item, and skill points. The latter is spent on upgrading abilities and roles for Fidel and his friends. Abilities are helpful bonuses that can assist in everything from a higher skill level in alchemy, cooking, and compounding, to name a few; better chances for an enemy of a certain type to drop an item upon being defeated; and a better ability to get good stuff from harvest, fishing, or mining spots in the overworld.

First rule of battle: always face your opponent!
Roles, on the other hand, are essentially instructions that you can give to the AI in battle to get a better grip on battle. Each party member can be equipped with four roles. These range from always catching spells or using skills, being able to take down plant-based enemies quicker, staying in close range of an enemy, and a lot more.

Battles in general are flashy, real-time affairs where a rock-paper-scissors-like triad system is used. Weak attacks break up strong attacks, strong attacks break up guards, and guards can counter weak attacks. Successfully using the correct attack or guard at the right time slightly raises something called the Reserve Gauge. Fill it up enough and you can use a powerful Rush Attack. However, when Star Ocean 5 eventually has Fidel's party at a full seven member limit, trying to see what a foe is about to do with all of the graphical special effects and magic on the battlefield does not come easy. I just ended up using special attacks for the most part, completing ignoring the rock-paper-scissors system altogether. I still ended up filling up the Reserve Gauge regardless, especially when later in the game I could just synthesize and augment weapons that allowed me to fill the Reserve Gauge at an extraordinarily faster pace.

Man-Eating Tree meets Tree-Killing Man.
These battles still end up being enjoyable. Sure, early on you can get away with just button mashing your way to victory, but as the challenge increases, so does the amount of overseeing you have to do for your party. Just controlling Fidel alone won't help. Switching between characters on the fly is done easily, as is switching between targets. In battle you can pause the action to seek through your inventory for a lifesaving item, pick a spell to use, reorganize roles, or change up what main battle skills everyone in the party uses. While the battles can become to flashy for their own good, I always felt that I was in control of how battles turned out in the end.

Miki serves as one of two main spell casters in Fidel's party.
Star Ocean 5's visuals return to the idea of this being a budget JRPG. Obviously, this is the PlayStation 3 version jazzed up to look nicely on the PlayStation 4. After playing several games built for the PS4, it's hard to look past characters clipping through their clothing and other characters, poor textures on things like the large rocks on the beaches, the massive amounts of pop-in of blades of grass in Resulia Plains, and so forth. While the visual appearance of Star Ocean 5 isn't the most impressive, Motoi Sakuraba's soundtrack to the game most certainly is. It isn't his best work, but it's no doubt a better effort than his recent Tales soundtracks.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is really a game that is late to the party. It's 2016, so its old school styling and tropes, ones that were fine for the era of game it's serving as, don't really fit this more modern era of gaming. Sure, there aren't any random encounters, instead offering battles that occur by engaging or being engaged by the enemy while fighting in the same maps you explore. But instead, there is a lot to not like, such as the cheap-feeling lack of cutscenes, the lack of autosave, the inability to skip most story sequences, getting a game over and then having to sit through the same scene before the boss that annihilated your party (especially one where you have to defend a brain-dead AI teammate), and some sudden difficulty spikes. At the same time, as a fan of games of this ilk, though knowing and dealing with all these negative aspects of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, I ended up enjoying the game overall. It's not at all worth its full MSRP asking price, but if you wait for it to drop a little, I think it's worth delving in to.

[SPC Says: C+]