Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mekazoo (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

We conclude the week with a brand-new review. It's for a game that I was quite looking forward to. To say I'm disappointed after my wait would be underselling things. Here's my (hopefully fair) take on The Good Mood Creators' Mekazoo, reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Consistently Inconsistent 

There are some games that come out that I absolutely want to love. They have a lot of effort put into them, they scream "charm", and they have the look of something terrific. Mekazoo was one of those games that I did indeed want to love, but for every good thing that came from it, something horrid got in the way of my enjoyment. Mekazoo was developed by a team calling themselves "The Good Mood Creators." Ironically, on many occasions with my time with Mekazoo, all the developers and the game actually created for me was a bad mood. A real bad mood.

Mekazoo is a 2.5D platformer that has five hub worlds connecting all of the levels together. You start off as playing as a small armadillo, able to charge up and roll along floors, walls, and ramps to reach new areas. By the end of the game, you have five different animal companions on your side: the aforementioned armadillo, a frog, a wallaby, a bear, and a pelican. Each animal buddy has its own special ability to them. For example, the frog can use its tongue to lash out and defeat enemies, as well as grab onto special poles, enabling the frog to swing from them. Meanwhile, the wallaby (though a bit unwieldy) can bounce, jumping between walls.

In Mekazoo, you begin with but a tiny armadillo, but even then, the game is quite interesting.
There are approximately four main levels in each of the hub worlds, taking place in colorful forests, frozen tundras, cactus-filled deserts, futuristic cities, and sci-fi settings. Each level has a checklist of five tasks that you can complete to earn gears. Gears are the means to open new levels, so replaying levels is not only recommended, but it's also required. The first objective in a level is merely to clear it. You have an unlimited amount of lives to you, but checkpoints aren't as plentiful as I would like. It becomes monotonous and highly irritating to have to replay significant sections of levels due to the lack of checkpoints available. Other objectives include eliminating all of one type of enemy in a level, beating a level under a specific amount of time, clearing a level without dying, and finding a secret switcher.

The direction you point the analog stick is the direction the frog's tongue will strike.
The latter challenge presents a gameplay mechanic that I'd like to talk about. Despite being able to unlock five animals in Mekazoo, you can only have up to two animals to switch between at one time. The game makes it so you're given the right combination of animals to take on the next series of a given level's challenges. Many times with the "secret switcher" tasks, the switcher gives you an atypical duo of animal companions that make you rethink how you get through the level. One extra level is quite easy with the bear companion, allowing you to climb walls and such to reach the goal all the while a pool of muck rises under your feet. However, by using the secret switcher, you have to utilize the armadillo and wallaby, meaning that this otherwise accessible challenge becomes much more difficult. This requires learning how to charge the armadillo to roll up vertical walls and have the wallaby wall jump with extreme precision to avoid the black goop hot on your trail.

Levels also possess gems to collect: four placed in usually hidden or hard-to-reach locations and four earned from collecting a specific amount of smaller gems. Finding and acquiring the gems are a lot of fun, and they make you explore the levels much more than you might otherwise do. These gems aren't just for collecting purposes either; they're used to purchase special costumes and themes for the various animal buddies of yours.

Pounce from a high spot as the wallaby to destroy this floor.
For the first few worlds, Mekazoo is a joy to play (for the most part). Then, myriad issues come to a head, almost like they were buried deep in the game as to not ruin impressions, word-of-mouth, and sales. In the fourth and fifth world, the frame-rate is absolutely atrocious-- As in, "no excuse that it is this bad" atrocious. It's compounded by the fact that trying to accomplish the challenging and precision-based platforming required to beat later levels is really difficult with said horrid frame-rate.

Between the lackluster frame-rate and whatever the hell this bear is doing,
the latter half of Mekazoo is underwhelming at best.

Then, there are a multitude of glitches and bugs, many of which I've recorded and interspersed in this review. From not being able to grab onto poles that are clearly in reach to falling under a level, thus being stuck to restart the entire level, the glitches present in Mekazoo make for a frustrating experience on top of an already hard game. Don't get me started on the times when the camera is positioned horribly so you find yourself dying because the angle was off or if the camera even follows the action at all-- getting stuck on geometry for whatever reason.

That's okay. I didn't want to finish the level anyway.

Other than these issues, on many occurrences within later levels, I just didn't find myself being in full control of the animals. The controls feel loose to a detriment, and the physics aren't exactly perfect either. Many times there would be problems with character movement, clipping problems, and tough slow-down to deal with as you try to make precise maneuvers.

Nevertheless, Mekazoo's overall presentation outside the highly disappointing frame-rate and bugs is rather fetching. The environments are bursting with color, vibrancy, personality, and brimming with character. The lighting is tremendous, offering an even greater sight to behold in the game's levels. The sound is also quite nice, delivering a heaping helping of terrific tunes, many of which I found myself either humming along with or bopping my head to.

It's rare nowadays that I try to force myself to like a game, but Mekazoo was one of those. Despite all of its problems-- all of its immensely disappointing problems, I still find little specks of goodness within Mekazoo. The level design is well done, the charm is definitely present, and the longevity is clearly there if you have the patience to deal with everything else. As of now, though, I cannot in good conscience recommend Mekazoo until its multitude of technical problems get fixed. Mekazoo starts out as a highly enjoyable platforming romp that eventually just comes crashing down on itself. In this regard, it feels unfinished, and sadly, not worth buying at this moment.

[SPC Says: D+]

Review copy provided by The Good Mood Creators.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dragon Quest Heroes II (PS4) Announcement Trailer

The Musou-styled Dragon Quest Heroes II has officially been announced for Western localization! Three cheers for Square Enix and PlayStation! Dragon Quest Heroes II is due out April 25, 2017, exclusively for the PlayStation 4.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Super Mario Run (iOS) Meet Super Mario Run Trailer

Super Mario Run was featured prominently last night on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, alongside footage of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild running on Switch hardware. The former is the subject here. Mario will officially be making his iPhone debut in a week's time, December 15 for $9.99.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS) Review Redux

The first review of the last month of the year is a Review Redux, a new type of review I introduced at review #700 on the site. It seems with this new review type that I just can't get away from Mario! That trend continues with this next review, New Super Mario Bros. 2. Let's (once again) check it out!

A game to boost your coin-centration

It was the summer of 2012, and Nintendo was gearing up to release its newest home console, the Wii U, later in the fall. However, rather than just release one game in the New Super Mario Bros. line, Nintendo opted to create two, one for the Wii U and one for the Nintendo 3DS, the latter of which being New Super Mario Bros. 2, the one that released in the summer. Why Nintendo felt the need to release two similar platformers in the span of four months, regardless of being on two different systems, is anyone's guess, but it did make New Super Mario Bros. 2 less exciting of a game. After replaying the game recently, while it doesn't hold a candle to the Wii U launch title, New Super Mario Bros. U, that released after, it's still a competent platformer all the same.

Nintendo needed something to distinguish New Super Mario Bros. 2 from its bigger brother releasing the following fall as a Wii U launch title. What Nintendo decided upon was a mechanic behind collecting as many coins as possible. Coins are literally handed to the player in all manners in New Super Mario Bros. 2: laying about in levels, found in special blocks that Mario can wear on his head that generate coins while he moves, gold rings that turn enemies into golden versions of themselves which leave trails of coins behind them, and even a Gold Flower power-up, which launches gold fireballs, turning all blocks hit by it into coins and giving Mario a coin bonus for each defeated enemy. 

As always with an introductory Mario level, 1-1 eases players into the platforming action.
As you can probably guess with this overload of coin collecting, 1-ups in New Super Mario Bros. 2 are pretty fruitless to collect. After all, you're easily going to collect 100 coins for a 1-up that way in a given level, if not multiple times. It makes it so you'll never see the Game Over screen unless you either try, or do terribly in the first levels of the game. 

A running coin tally across all three included save files tracks your total amount of coins collected, and at certain thresholds, you earn messages highlighting coin achievements. If you go the distance, you also earn two special prizes for reaching specific coin amounts at one million and by collecting the maximum amount of coins. Unfortunately, these prizes are hardly worth it, and they seem more like booby prizes than anything else.

Raccoon Mario makes a mad dash through this elevated level.
A secondary mode in New Super Mario Bros. 2 to help assist in collecting coins, if you still feel the need to do so, is called Coin Rush. This mode has you play three random courses, trying to collect as many coins as possible. You have a Gold Flower that can be summoned from the touch screen to be used in one level, and if you hit the top of the flagpole at the end of a level, whatever coin total you have currently is doubled. There are downloadable level packs available for free and to purchase that feature all-new levels, one of which features some of the hardest challenges in a non-Kaizo-Mario Mario game.

As for the standard adventure, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a lot of fun. It's Mario, and it's still really good. The level design is a notable piece of the game, as New Super Mario Bros. 2 was developed by a younger team of fresh talent to Nintendo. There are lots of genuinely clever ideas in these levels, too. One ghost house has you escaping from a giant Boo known as a Boohemoth, while another has you using the Mini Mushroom power-up to skim along the edge of a body of water, leaping over instant-death spikes as you perform multiple platforming stunts to stay alive.

When a Star Coin has already been collected in a level, it's transparent such as this one.
Many levels house smartly placed secrets that require intuitive investigation of peculiar-looking areas, where usually you can find one of a level's three Star Coins, the main collectible of the game, or a secret exit, leading to alternate paths through New Super Mario Bros. 2's worlds. Some of these secret exits even lead to special cannon levels, which are auto-running endeavors where timing your jumps as well as bouncing off enemies either lightly or with force can be the difference between success and falling into a bottomless pit. 

Whoa. If you were a second slower, Mario, you'd be the one getting blasted!
The special cannon levels take you to two worlds that are otherwise inaccessible to players. Unlike Worlds 1-6, these Mushroom and Flower worlds do not have a unified theme to them, and they are more difficult affairs. After beating the game initially, a third secret world is unlocked, the Star world, which can only be accessed through collecting many of the game's aforementioned Star Coins from the previous worlds. 

Just in time for the holiday season, World Four is all winter, all the time.
While most secrets in the game can be found with the right amount of investigation and deduction, the developers of New Super Mario Bros. 2 sometimes overly use the "hidden block" trope used in other Super Mario Bros. games. This is where jumping and hitting an invisible block will reveal a beanstalk to a new area. Most of the time these have a tell, but sometimes they do not, and that's when trying to find some of the game's secrets can be rather... well, unfair at best and really frustrating at worst.

Mario moves and controls as well as he has ever in a 2D Mario in New Super Mario Bros. 2. His controls are tight, making you never feel like you're out of control. Walking and then running into a standard sprint feels great, and using that to develop into a series of jumps, all culminating with the ultra-sweet triple jump is awesome as ever. Mario keeps his ability to wall jump as well, something born out of the very first New Super Mario Bros. game. Alongside these acrobatic moves, Mario can utilize a ground pound to break up blocks below him and quickly dive-bomb with ease.

An artifact from Super Mario World, the ability to cling to fences like this one.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 features a standard repertoire of power-ups, such as the Fire Flower, for one, but it also brings back the Super Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3 to turn our portly plumber protagonist into Raccoon Mario. This form allows Mario to fly temporarily when he gains enough speed on the ground to take off, as well as enables him to twirl his tail to take out enemies. Mini and Mega Mushrooms also return, though the latter is only used in a couple of levels and has never really been too exciting. After all, just running forward, crashing through everything-- pipes, enemies, and blocks-- isn't what Mario is really about, as with the Mega Mario form there is no real platforming to be found.

Raccoon Mario leaps into the sky in this vertical-scrolling level.
Visually, New Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't a particularly fascinating game. The character and models are serviceable enough, but they keep that sterile, clean feeling that even fans of the New Super Mario Bros. line find boring. The backgrounds are equal in this regard, too. Even the 3D effect that the Nintendo 3DS produces isn't that enthralling or striking. That said, the game runs incredibly smoothly, which makes for a pleasant experience. On the sound side of New Super Mario Bros. 2's equation, Mario's use of vocal clips is cute, but the music mostly recycles everything from past New Super Mario Bros. titles, which just comes off as a lazy effort all-around.

The visuals are not bad, but not great either; they're overall serviceable.
While not exactly the gold standard for Super Mario platformers, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is ultimately a competent and highly enjoyable title. Though the central gimmick of coin-collecting wears thin and isn't used to its full potential, it is great fun trying to increase your coin total though taking advantage of each level to its fullest. The level design is impressive, housing myriad secrets, and Mario feels as good as ever to control. Seeing as New Super Mario Bros. 2 is now part of the Nintendo Selects line, now's a good time as any to go on a coin-collecting expedition with Mario.

[SPC Says: B]

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries - Part Nine

If you've been around SuperPhillip Central for a little while (it's still okay if you haven't, so no harm done), then you know that I like talking about underrated and overlooked games. I've done various series on the subject. However, most of the time, the games mentioned in these articles are from wholly new or overlooked franchises themselves.

There are also a multitude of series that I can think of that have one, two, or a handful of games in it that aren't viewed as highly as the others, whether just or not.

These ideas are where the concept of All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries comes from, and since part eight, I've come up with six more underrated entries to big-time franchises, some bigger than others. If you'd like to see past parts of this now long-running series, check them out here:

Mario Kart - Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

After the original Super Mario Kart essentially created a new genre with the mascot kart racer, after Mario Kart 64 took the franchise into uncharted territory with 3D, and after Mario Kart's debut on a handheld with Super Circuit, the Mario Kart series needed something special with its GameCube outing to make it stand out from the pack. Nintendo met that challenge with Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, a racer that innovated with the addition of two racers per kart, able to switch on the fly when strategy called for it. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! isn't as acclaimed by fans or critics as much as other Mario Kart games out there, but rest assured, it's a wonderful entry in the series, bringing forth 16 stellar new races, such as DK Mountain, Daisy Cruiser, and the always crazy and entertaining Baby Park. 

Donkey Kong - Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (GCN)

Before Nintendo EAD went on to create one of the highest-rated games of all time with Super Mario Galaxy, the team crafted an innovative platforming adventure starring Donkey Kong known as Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. The innovation came from the use of a bongo controller that came packaged with the game, where hitting the left bongo would move DK left, the right bongo would move DK right, and clapping (or you can alternately hit the rim of the controller) would attack enemies. Using all these inputs in tandem would allow players to exhaust a myriad of high-numbered combos, increasing DK's banana count and score in each pair of levels, followed by a traditional boss battle or a Punch-Out-styled Kong encounter. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat would get a Wii enhancement, ditching the bongo controller for the shaking of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

Banjo-Kazooie - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360)

Some fans of Banjo and his always cheeky partner Kazooie see Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts as the death of the franchise. Others see it as an extension of the formula with the same level of humor, charm, and wit the series is known for, just put in a vehicle-styled setting. Nuts & Bolts departed greatly from the standard foundation that Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie before it had laid down, offering missions in open world landscapes based off of using custom-constructed vehicles to achieve various goals. The fun wasn't just completing these goals for a Jiggy reward, but also seeing just how many ways you could go about accomplishing the same task. While Nuts & Bolts is decidedly not the direction most Banjo-Kazooie fans would have liked the series to go in, or even have the bear and bird attached to the game, for what it is, Nuts & Bolts is a terrific title.

The Legend of Zelda - The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)

The Nintendo DS saw Nintendo selling almost as many of its dual-screened system as the PlayStation 2 did in its lifetime. Quite the achievement. It also saw the arrival of a focus on touch-based controls and the utilization of both of the system's screens. While not every DS game used either or both marketed features of the system, The Legend of Zelda franchise was one that did. Instead of using traditional analog controls like every other Zelda before it, Phantom Hourglass used all touch. From moving Link around to attacking foes, the touch screen was the central focus here. It made some tools like the Boomerang really intuitive, and while the rest of the controls took some learning, once the curve was met, they were wildly entertaining and worthwhile. I choose Phantom Hourglass over Spirit Tracks, the game's successor, due to one particular dungeon that requires multiple revisits, being a source of tedium for many a player. While that's a frustrating part of the game, overall, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a superb entry in the long-running franchise.

Kirby - Kirby: Mass Attack (DS)

Another Nintendo DS that focuses on touch, Kirby: Mass Attack is the fourth and final game in the series that arrived on the system. The first, Canvas Curse, had players moving Kirby through side-scrolling levels with the power of touch and through drawing lines to guide the pink puffball around. Mass Attack features a totally different method of using touch-- using it to guide a team of up to ten Kirbys through levels by tapping the screen, creating a star that the Kirby squadron can follow and even grab onto. There's also the ability to flick Kirbys into enemies and obstacles to clear stages. Being a late release on the Nintendo DS and the fourth Kirby game on the system, Kirby: Mass Attack didn't receive as much fanfare as the other three Kirby releases on the DS before it. It's a "mass"-ive shame, as the game is a intuitive, innovative, and entertaining delight that plays unlike any other platformer on the system.

Breath of Fire - Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (PS2)

Previous Breath of Fire games featured many elements borrowed from other RPGs of the day, specifically Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the two titans of RPGs back then. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 2's Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter eschewed many of the traditions of the series with a story told in an underground industrial world, where the goal was to reach the surface through defeating enemies, collecting keys, and doing one's best to stay alive. Repeated play-throughs of the game were recommended due to the story not being fully available through just one run through Dragon Quarter. The drastic departure of Dragon Quarter compared to past Breath of Fire games put off a lot of players, specifically those with a deep connection to the games, but those willing to give Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter a chance will discover a game highly worthy of playing and investing some time into.

Monday, December 5, 2016

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Adventurer's Spirit" Edition

Hello, Monday, and hello to you, SPC reader! It's that time of the week once again where SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs come out to play. This week, we're dealing with games that put you, the player, on a vast, exciting adventure!

We'll start things off with a tune from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and then move on down to a song from The Legend of Dragoon. Next up, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean provides us with a soothing harp-centered tune, while Tales of Vesperia delivers a tune from its own soundtrack. Lastly, an overlooked PS1 RPG, Threads of Fate, wraps this adventurer's edition of the Favorite VGMs up.

Just click on the VGM volume name to hear the song, and click on this link to be taken to the VGM Database. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1281. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS) - In the Fields

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass introduced touch controls as the main means of controlling Link in the game. It wasn't the most stellar entry in the franchise, mostly due to forced return visits to the Temple of the Ocean King. However, its sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks very much was an improvement over its predecessor, implementing more complicated dungeons, less tedium, and a much better soundtrack.

v1282. The Legend of Dragoon (PS1) - Dart's Theme

A JRPG from Sony that was seen as its answer to Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII, The Legend of Dragoon is a series that fans greatly demand from Sony a sequel or follow-up to. Surprisingly, the only attention current-day Sony has given The Legend of Dragoon is a digital re-release in PS1 Classics form.

v1283. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GCN) - Between the Winds

From a tense character theme, we head in a softer direction, full of heavenly-sounding harp with Between the Winds from the Nintendo GameCube exclusive, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean. This soundtrack was composed by Motoi Sakuraba, best known for his work on the Star Ocean series and various Tales of games.

v1284. Tales of Vesperia (360) - Brilliant Life, Rising Light

Speak of the devil! Yes, Motoi Sakuraba composed much of the music for this game, Tales of Vesperia as well. This Tales game is quite unique, as it launched exclusively on the Xbox 360 in the West, and it remained an exclusive over on this side of the world. A PS3 port occurred, but only Japan was blessed with it.

v1285. Threads of Fate (PS1) - Passing Through the Forest

To cap off this adventurer's edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, we have a cult classic RPG from the original PlayStation, Threads of Fate. We get a mix of electronic and rustic instruments with Passing Through the Forest, a stellar and chill theme from the game.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

WipEout: Omega Collection (PS4) PSX Announce Trailer

Releasing Summer 2017, a collection of WipEout games: HD, Fury, and the PlayStation Vita's 2048 will release in the a package known as WipEout: Omega Collection! Rip-roaring speeds and intense combat are the name of the games in this blistering fast futuristic collection of racers! Check out the PSX announce trailer right here.

Central City Census - December 2016

It's a new month, so it's time for a new Central City Census! However, before we delve into this month's poll, let's check out the results for last month, which asked you guys and gals about Nintendo's new Switch console and your level of interest.

The majority of passersby have some level of interest in the Nintendo Switch with 19 either very interested or just plain old interested. Meanwhile, three respondents don't have an opinion while only one user is not interested. Makes sense, as I generally posted more Nintendo-related content this past month than normal, which most likely skewed the results here. What does the Central City Census for December look like?

Well, it looks like this-- Final Fantasy XV released at the tail end of last month. This month's Central City Census asks if you've purchased it or not.