Thursday, September 22, 2016

First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming - Part Two

It's the first day of autumn here in Central City. Soon, the temperatures will drop, as will the leaves from the trees. Speaking of firsts, how about a return at looking at some of the best scenes that are the first thing you see when you either boot up a game or start a new save data? That's exactly the point of First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming. Toward the end of last year saw the very first installment, and now, nearly a year later, we're revisiting this segment. New openings from games like Sonic CD, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and even some Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD are included in this second edition!

Sonic CD (SCD)

I must admit that I am a huge fan of the US soundtrack for the Sega CD's Sonic CD, and part of that is the way '90s theme song for that version, Sonic Boom. Spinning in a world of motion, this anime-inspired opening sees a well animated Sonic the Hedgehog speed through the land, spinning around and vaulting off of rocks in an impressively acrobatic display. It all concludes with Sonic knowing that Robotnik is up to no good (but this ain't his neighborhood) when he sees the colossal Death Egg high in the sky. Hooked to a rock by a massive chain, Sonic dashes across it to start his CD-based adventure. The stare-down with the Death Egg is such an epic moment, and Sonic Boom punctuates the action far better than You Can Do Anything, at least in this writer's opinion.

Mega Man 8 (PS1, SAT)

One of my favorite series character design-wise is the Mega Man series. Whether it's Classic, X, Zero, Battle Network, Legends, or anything else, the series has consistently great designs for its characters. Seeing numerous old haunts of Mega Man throughout the opening CG for Mega Man 8 is an absolutely delight for a Mega Man fan such as myself. The first Mega Man game on the PlayStation used the disc technology well, showing off a sophisticated anime opening with tons of action, familiar foes like Robot Masters such as Guts Man, Snake Man, and Shade Man, as well as giant bosses like Yellow Devil and Mecha Dragon. It's an awesome way for Mega Man to enter the 32-bit era on the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX - Final Mix (PS3)

Kingdom Hearts is a series that combines the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy. While the focus on the latter over the series has decreased, the feel of Final Fantasy still surrounds Kingdom Hearts. This opening cinematic for Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, the Final Mix portion of that remastering, briefly goes through as small sample of the events of Kingdom Hearts, leading up to Kingdom Hearts II. Utadu Hikaru's Sanctuary plays, perfectly syncing up with the action and various scenes. It's a really well put together opening that should have Kingdom Hearts fans in high spirits.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

The all-star brawl might not have been to every Smash fans' liking, but it's hard to deny that Super Smash Bros. Brawl's opening is not mighty impressive. When you have one of the greatest lineup of characters in video games in various settings backed by an orchestral and choral piece by one of the greatest composers of video game music, Nobuo Uematsu, the sheer epic nature of this opening can hardly be contained. Okay, okay. I might be overdoing it there and being a bit too overzealous. Regardless, it's an exciting opening that gets you ready for a brawl like nothing else at all. (Oh, and don't worry, Melee fans. We'll be seeing Super Smash Bros. Melee on a future installment of Best Openings in Gaming!)

Mario Superstar Baseball (GCN)

Let's wrap up this second part of Best Openings in Gaming with a theme. Major League Baseball is closing in on the playoffs, and what a perfect opportunity to end this segment for now on a baseball note! In this opening for the Namco-developed Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario and friends get challenged by Bowser to an epic baseball showdown. Four teams, each led by a character (Mario, Wario, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong), face off to see who will face the King of the Koopas on the diamond. Through multiple humorous bits like Wario doing his best to get a bunted ball called foul by blowing on it for all he's worth and Donkey Kong getting up-close and personal with a Chain Chomp, Mario Superstar Baseball's opening is chock full of amusement. Batter up!

Mario Super Sluggers (Wii)

A double dose of Mario baseball game openings! Much healthier than a double dose of the tobaccy! Better for your teeth and gums, too! This opening for the Wii sequel to Mario Superstar Baseball introduced Mario and friends to an isle of baseball goodness. Like the GameCube game's opening, Mario Super Sluggers sports humor, and this time some explosive action-- literally! It all culminates with a heroic moment by Luigi of all characters, being charged into by the powerful Donkey Kong, yet still holding on to the baseball! That'll teach anyone to call you a second banana, Luigi! Colorful, cute, and exciting, Mario Super Sluggers has an incredibly entertaining opening, a nice way to round out this edition of Best Openings in Gaming - Part Two!


What video game openings do you remember fondly? Let the SuperPhillip Central community know in the comments section! I always try to reply to every comment!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

700th Review! Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) Review Redux

This is it, guys and gals! The whole Summer of 700 promotion on SuperPhillip Central has been leading up to this, and thankfully it's here before summer's end-- barely! It's SuperPhillip Central's 700th review!

But what is this? It's a game that was already reviewed on SuperPhillip Central in the past, Super Mario 3D Land! Well, this milestone of a moment on SPC is perfect for this new type of review I have on the site. It's a Review Redux. No, it's not a redo of a review exactly, but it's more my returning to a game and posting my overall thoughts about it in the present. What changed? What stayed the same opinion-wise? That's the beauty of the Review Redux. (Also, between you and me, it also gives me an excuse to replay games without feeling like I'm wasting time not reviewing new ones!)

Check out this, the 700th review on SuperPhillip Central with my return to Super Mario 3D Land with pictures by yours truly! For SuperPhillip Central's original Super Mario 3D Land review, look no further than this link.

Two different tastes, 2D and 3D Mario, put together for one delicious gaming concoction.

In the early years of the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo was really trying to sell the idea of autostereoscopic 3D to the masses. Some games did this better than others. Some used it for an "ooh" and "aah" effect that was while cool, didn't really affect gameplay at all. However, there was one game in the 3DS lineup early on that really showed that the ability to perceive depth with the stereoscopic 3D of the Nintendo 3DS system could very much improve the gameplay experience. Super Mario 3D Land not only sold the concept of 3D well by implementing a great sense of depth to judge distances to jumps and platforms, but it also provided some visual trickery as well to impress.

A new handheld made Nintendo want to have players engage in a new experience with Mario. I'm not just referring to the usage of stereoscopic 3D to improve the gaming experience. No, I'm also talking about the structure, the very foundation of Super Mario 3D Land. Its levels are obstacle courses like the 2D games with very little room for the intense exploration found in the 3D Mario games, particularly Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. In essence, Super Mario 3D Land is a mix between the 2D, fairly linear obstacle courses of the classic Super Mario Bros. line of games and the 3D movement more modern Mario games have possessed.

Beginning levels have plenty of wide open space for Mario and players to get used to the controls.
This new way of Mario was developed for the type of player who struggles with movement in 3D, the type of player that just couldn't get his or her head wrapped around controlling Mario in a 3D space like in Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and both Galaxy games. Instead of analog movement, Mario in Super Mario 3D Land has nine directions he can move. And instead of pushing an analog stick forward to increase speed and momentum, like the 2D games, a run button is necessary to hold down to provide Mario's quick movement.

Mario does not have the same wide repertoire of moves as he did in past 3D Mario games. However, for a game like Super Mario 3D Land, all of these acrobatic stunts the plump plumber could perform aren't exactly necessary. He can still wall jump, he can still perform a long jump (perfect for launching himself across long chasms as well as reaching the top of the flagpole at the end of a given level), he can do his well known backflip, and he can do a side flip if you move the Control Pad in one direction and then quickly in the opposite while jumping. The controls might be more accessible to those learning how to play 3D Mario games with better fluidity, but by no means are they dumbed down to the point that veterans players will feel insulted.

Mario and Bowser go back quite a ways. Like I said in my original review, you gotta admire Bowser's spunk.
Super Mario 3D Land features eight initial worlds played in a linear order. Unlike the 2D Mario games, however, there is no theme to a world. One level might be set in a grassland area while the next will have Mario leap his way through a winter wonderland. There's no rhyme or reason for the level locales, and while this great for not having to be stuck in a typical ice world with all ice levels, I do rather prefer the more unified worlds in theme. However, that's just a minor gripe I have with the game.

I guess Mario isn't invited to this pool party. Goombas were always selfish creatures.
Like I said about the levels previous, they are obstacle courses. At the beginning of the game, you have wide open platforms and areas that don't offer much in the way of the danger of falling off them. As you progress in the game, not only does the challenge increase as platforms become narrower, but the tricks the level designers throw into the levels to trip you up increase as well. Levels don't take much time to complete at all, making for play-anywhere-for-as-long-or-as-short-as-you-like handheld convenience.

Levels aren't necessarily left to right affairs either. Many times you'll be moving away from the front of the screen into the background, really selling that 3D depth I was talking about earlier. One level is set in a forest, having Mario leap on horizontal ropes to bounce up the side of a tree (of course while avoiding enemies like fireball-spewing Piranha Plants and invincible Fuzzies). Another has Mario jumping on rotating box platforms in a sky setting, requiring careful timing and precision so he doesn't get carried off into the abyss below. Then there are artifacts from Super Mario Galaxy, such as the platforms that flip whenever Mario jumps, or beat block platforms that appear and disappear with the beat played in the level. Additionally, enjoyable levels and mainstays of the 2D Mario series such as auto-scrolling levels, airships, ghost houses, and lava-filled fortresses will require Mario's attention.

These donut lifts will give Mario a lift, but only for a limited time before they drop towards the abyss.
After the initial eight worlds of Super Mario 3D Land are completed, and the game is technically "beaten", as Mario engages in a confrontation with Bowser that is one of the best in the Mario series, a second set of eight worlds unlocks, Beating the first world's fortress unlocks the higher-jumping Luigi for play. The second set of worlds feature what are mostly essentially remixed levels of the first eight worlds. They feature harder challenges, new enemies, differently organized platforms, and other variances like having to rush through a level with a Cosmic Mario stalking you, where he copies Mario's movements, meaning you always have to be on the move.

Like the levels in the first eight worlds, the second eight worlds contain a collectible known as Star Medals. There are three of these placed in each level of the game, and many are hidden in some precarious locations. This is where an exploration aspect of Super Mario 3D Land comes in. Many levels have secret areas hidden off the beaten path, just outside of the player's view if they were just running through the level normally. Collecting these becomes mandatory for the second half of Super Mario 3D Land, as many of the later levels are locked behind these medals. If you don't have enough, you can't unlock these levels. This can be an annoyance if you haven't been collecting Star Medals throughout the game, because then you have to return to past levels to collect them. Not the most fun if your mind was set on continuing to make progress towards beating the game. That said, the Star Medals are fun to seek out and allows players to enjoy the level design even further, so why wouldn't you go after the Star Medals to begin with?

Mario games and airships: these go together like a plumber and a Fire Flower.
I was talking about artifacts from Super Mario Galaxy earlier. Well, there is also one from Super Mario Bros. 3, and that is the Tanooki Leaf, which turns Mario or Luigi into a Tanooki or Fox version of themselves. This allows you to slowly float down in the air after a jump, making Super Mario 3D Land's levels much more manageable. In a way, it's a means for beginning players to use this item to get through levels that they might not have been able to otherwise. At the same time, for veteran players, this is also a relatively easy way to cheese your way through most of the game, as you can skip otherwise challenging platforming sections with ease. While talking about power-ups, a new one was introduced in Super Mario 3D Land, the Boomerang Flower, allowing Mario and Luigi to don a suit like the Boomerang Bros, and use it to chuck boomerangs that return to sender routinely-- usually after smacking an enemy into submission. You can carry an item in storage as well, calling for it by tapping the center of the 3DS's touch screen.

Speaking of the Tanooki Suit, it's back, but it may make the game a little TOO easy for some players.
Super Mario 3D Land will take most players not even five hours to beat the first eight worlds. Getting the second set of worlds complete adds a few more hours. However, you can't really call Super Mario 3D World completed until you get all five stars on your profile in the main menu. This is performed by beating Bowser once, beating all sixteen worlds then challenging and beating Bowser again, collecting all Star Medals, reaching the top of every level's flagpole as either Mario or Luigi, and beating the super-difficult final level as Mario and Luigi, unlocked by earning the first four stars and beating all levels as both Mario and Luigi. So, as you can see, there is a good deal of content to be had in Super Mario 3D Land. This can give you upwards of 15-20 hours, though my latest run-through was around 12 hours for five stars, but that was only due to familiarity.

There's a lot of beauty in Super Mario 3D Land. Sure, there's little time to take it all in when you're racing against the timer to beat each level, but just letting Mario's leg stretch out as you survey each environment shows an immaculate amount of detail for such an early Nintendo 3DS release. A particular pyramid level is an example where you wouldn't ordinarily even notice the insane detail of the pyramid bricks, chiseled with a complex pattern. Speaking of bricks, the rain-drenched bricks on the final tower you reach before facing Bowser in the final showdown are absolutely astonishing with their shimmering texture. I doubt I have to even go into how amazing the 3D effect of Super Mario 3D Land truly is. The game was built for it, allowing you to use two types of 3D, one that pops out the characters and environments while the other makes it so it's like looking into a box. In addition to the visuals, the music delights with a cheery and memorable main theme and other catchy tunes abound.

That's right, Mario. Just stretch out those legs while we admire the scenery!
Replaying Super Mario 3D Land has made me realize that this method of Mario, mixing 2D progression with 3D movement is a master class of Mario design. While I'm not saying I don't want another "sandbox", open-ended design to levels in my Mario games, like 64 and Sunshine had, I am saying that this style of Mario game is by no means inferior. It's particularly catching and special, offering no nonsense gameplay and design that is perfect for the handheld format, and perfect for players of all skill ranges. I appreciate Nintendo attempting to make its 3D Mario games more appealing and accessible to those who are uncomfortable with the games otherwise. Super Mario 3D Land is an engaging 3D platformer from beginning to end.

[SPC Says: A]

Monday, September 19, 2016

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - I Know What You Missed Last Week Edition

...And longtime readers and frequenters of SuperPhillip Central will know as well! Last week, I didn't have an edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs! A busy week of Tokyo Game Show goodness and other obligations was the cause of that. However, the VGMs are back this week, and SuperPhillip Central has five more fantastic video game themes for your ears to enjoy. Just click on the VGM volume name to be taken to the YouTube video containing the mentioned song.

This week, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam leads the charge with a non-spoiler final battle theme of epic proportions. Speaking of charges, Skylanders SuperChargers then drives onto the scene with its main theme. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg hatches a jaunty theme, followed by Pokemon Snap. Lastly, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance rounds out this delayed edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs.

If you'd like to listen to past songs and featured games included in this weekly segment, look no further than the VGM Database. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1226. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS) - Final Battle

Don't worry-- this is a spoiler-free volume of the final battle in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. This latest installment of the Mario & Luigi RPG series released at the beginning of this year in North America, so let's not spoil the final boss. The character you fight if you've followed the game at all might not be too surprising, but the form he or she takes is. Yoko Shimomura delivers a fantastic and memorable theme to this sensationally challenging final fight, making for a climactic end to Paper Jam.

v1227. Skylanders SuperChargers (Multi) - Main Theme (Main Menu)

The fifth installment of the Skylanders series kept the series's penchant for moving things forward and adding new tricks to the franchise with Skylanders SuperChargers. The central gameplay element this time was the addition of vehicles, used in all levels, but not necessarily all facets of a given level. I ended up really enjoying the game, as seen in the SuperPhillip Central review, and it makes the October release of Skylanders Imaginators an exciting one, at least for me (and a few million Crash Bandicoot fans, most likely as well).

v1228. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg (GCN) - Let's Go Easy

While not a perfect 3D platformer, Sonic Team's Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg was a notable third-party exclusive in the Nintendo GameCube's lineup. I think that the system gets more favorably thought of compared to other Nintendo platforms than it should, say, compared to the Wii, but what can you do? Billy Hatcher's soundtrack was composed by Tomoya Ohtani (who would go on to be lead composer to the main 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games) as well as Mariko Nanba, who was with Sega until 2010. Her last contribution to the company was Sonic Colors.

v1229. Pokemon Snap (N64) - Valley

Take a river rapids ride down an old Western valley, taking pictures of various Pokemon in this sixth and penultimate level in Pokemon Snap. One of the games that I thought for sure would get a Wii U adaptation was Pokemon Snap. It seemed so obvious-- a bit TOO obvious, yet it never manifested! That reminds me-- what a good idea for an article, a look at franchises that had potential on the Wii U but never showed up... Regardless, this tune is perfect for a slow swim through a canyon. Just watch out that your camera doesn't get wet!

v1230. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (3DS) - Prankster's Party

Last week at the Tokyo Game Show, a new trailer for the PlayStation 4 exclusive Kingdom Hearts 2.8 was shown. That title with have an HD remaster of the Nintendo 3DS's Dream Drop Distance, the final game leading up to the events of Kingdom Hearts III. With the amount of games leading up to Kingdom Hearts III finally ending, maybe we'll see KH3 sometime soon-- like 2019! ...The sad thing is that I don't even know if I'm kidding.