Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Worst Things About SuperPhillip Central's Favorite Games III

From its first appearance two summers ago to its most recent earlier this year, this article series of SuperPhillip Central has been detailing the most prominent issues I have with some of my favorite video games of all time. Many of these games I struggle to personally find a glaring fault with, so occasionally a small gripe will have to suffice. Oh, woe is me! Once again, I'm back with a look at another five of my favorite games that aren't quite perfect but still beloved by yours truly. This edition we delve into franchises like The Legend of Zelda, LittleBigPlanet, and Mega Man.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

I never thought I'd see a 2D Zelda (well, top-down Zelda, but I shouldn't get obnoxiously technical here) that would rival one of my favorite Zelda games of all time, A Link to the Past. Then again, it is rather logical that the game heavily inspired and taking heavy cues from Link to the Past would become one of my favorite games ever. The game I'm talking about is of course the Nintendo 3DS' The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Even the name is a reference to the 1992 classic.

I replayed A Link Between Worlds for a Review Redux on SuperPhillip Central last month, and I came to form a revelation that the 3DS exclusive was a bridge between the Zelda games that stuck with series conventions and the Switch and Wii U's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that vastly strayed away from series conventions. A Link Between Worlds started this with its item rental system allowing for players to fully explore both kingdoms of Hyrule and Lorule, venturing to any area or dungeon they wanted as long as they had the necessary item on them through the rental (later purchase) system. This glimpse of freedom in this modern Zelda game would greatly expand with Breath of the Wild, opening wide the eyelids of series fans from that small glimpse of freedom to something absolutely, positively much wider.

Nonetheless, while I absolutely did enjoy the new take in A Link Between Worlds to shake up the conventions and formula of the Zelda series, it wasn't without an issue that resulted from said shakeup. Dungeons in A Link Between Worlds, most prominently in Lorule, could be played in almost any order (except the Desert Palace, which could never be played first). This was due to being able to go wherever you wanted as long as you had the correct item on you, rented or purchased from Ravio, the rental shop owner.

Because dungeon order was pretty much up to you, that meant that the developers and designers of the game needed to accommodate this with said rental system. You could get the associated item tied to the dungeon you wanted to go to, but it also meant that that dungeon's challenges were limited. Generally, in a dungeon, if you got stuck on a puzzle, the answer was usually just to use Link's wall merge ability or the item meant for that dungeon. Same goes with defeating most enemies and the boss, of course. Combine this with the regular quest being a tad easy (but not the unlockable Hero Mode), and you have a fair fault with the game. I still can't help but love it, though!

LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)

It's truly a shame that Sony Computer Entertainment allowed the LittleBigPlanet franchise to lose its steam relatively quickly. Debuting on the PlayStation 3, the series saw three mainline releases, two portable entries, a kart racing spin-off, and a mobile game before fizzling out. LittleBigPlanet 3 released across two platforms, the PS3 and PS4, and was so borked at launch tech-wise, that it pretty much put the franchise out to pasture.

That notwithstanding, the LittleBigPlanet series has given me some of my most cherished young adult life gaming memories, and my favorite of the series happens to be LittleBigPlanet 2. The game brought with it a new story, grander and more sophisticated levels, more customization options, and an even more improved and updated creation system. This is actually what I consider the weak link in the LittleBigPlanet 2 chain, but hardly because it was a disaster or lacking options.

In fact, it's the total opposite. With all of the new features, modes, options, and gadgets available to aspiring level makers, video game creators, and everyone else alike, LittleBigPlanet 2's creator was a bit too overwhelming in terms of being crammed with all of its features. Of course this meant that the options were many and the possibilities were nearly endless, but it also meant that even the simplest of levels were more complicated to create, especially when the original editor in the very first LittleBigPlanet was so beginner friendly. Sitting through dozens upon dozens of video tutorials, no matter how charming, was hardly a prospect many potential creators wanted to entertain. LittleBigPlanet 3 only further complicated the creation tools with an exponential amount of more options, but at least the devs added interactive tutorials (one of my favorite additions from that game) for players to stay engaged with.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

The Wii U was an absolute failure for Nintendo, but it did provide not only a way for the company to rework the idea for the very successful Nintendo Switch but also some great games. One such great game was Retro Studios' Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. While Nintendo fans especially flipped that another Donkey Kong Country game was Retro's latest game and not something amazing, Tropical Freeze turned out to be not just "another Donkey Kong Country game" but one of the best in the series and one of the best 2D platformers ever made. With immensely satisfying but tricky platforming that I definitely don't recommend for the easily angered, superb level and environmental design, and some of the best platforming action sequences in the genre, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was a magnificent display from both Nintendo and Retro Studios.

Speaking of the Wii U's failure, though (just so you didn't think I brought it up for no good reason), the system had many reasons why it failed, and one of those was not even Nintendo itself knowing what to do with the Wii U GamePad. This was evident with Tropical Freeze, where the only thing that showed up on the screen during gameplay was.... get ready... pitch blackness. There wasn't even a screen to show HUD elements like KONG letters, puzzle pieces collected, or a measurement of how far the player was in a level or how close they were to checkpoints. I'm talking about something similar to what the Nintendo DS's New Super Mario Bros. had on its bottom screen. The fact that Retro Studios had nothing meant that the defining item of the Wii U had no value in one of Nintendo's own big releases at that time, making it no better than a smaller, more comfortable controller that didn't add a hefty price to the overall system.

Star Fox 64 3D (3DS)

The original Star Fox 64 is pretty much perfect for me when it comes to what it was when it released back in 1997. Of course, I could be petty and pick on the game's technical problems, but I can't keep adding Nintendo 64 games on this article series due to that. Instead, I'd like to focus on Star Fox 64's remake, released early on in the Nintendo 3DS's life. It's not too confusing to see why Nintendo went with Star Fox 64 3D for the title, as the game was rebuilt for the system using the 3DS's then-heavily marketed auto-stereoscopic 3D effect to impress players as they wage war with Andross and his forces.

The solo mode is just as addicting and fun as ever, making you want to perform run after run to get high scores, badges, and go different routes in the Lylat System. While Team Star Fox's galactic adventure is mostly the same, something completely altered is the multiplayer mode. The dogfighting concept is very much the same, but it's been updated with new improvements and vastly different maps. It also uses the Nintendo 3DS's inner-facing camera to show players' faces in-game, overhead their individual Arwings. This meant you could see the reaction of fellow players as you pursued them, pelted them with fire, and had them blown into smithereens.

The joy of Star Fox 64's original multiplayer was pretty much here in the Nintendo 3DS update. However, one crucial element was complicated: playing with other people. Back in 1997, playing some Star Fox 64 on your Nintendo 64 with some buds was easy: you just sat around the TV -- maybe on a couch -- and shared the screen together. Star Fox 64 3D makes this a hard proposition to play with friends by virtue of being on a handheld. Every player obviously needs their own Nintendo 3DS, but every player also needs their own copy of the game as well. Somehow getting a group of four friends with their own 3DSes and copies of the game was a bit of an issue with most players.

The complete absence of online play possibilities meant that few players of the game fully got to enjoy Star Fox 64 3D's multiplayer experience to the highest level. To put things in perspective, this was at a time where a few months before Star Fox 64 3D's release, a launch game for the system already had full online play, a 3DS port of Super Street Fighter IV. Seeing a game from Nintendo with multiplayer functionality this early on released on the Nintendo 3DS without online seemed like such a blown and missed opportunity, and it was remarkably disappointing for players like myself as well who couldn't enjoy the multiplayer otherwise.

Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT)

Alongside the original Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo, Mega Man X4 on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn (I played the former version) remains my favorite of the X sub-series of Mega Man games. It was a bigger, badder, bolder Mega Man X game, featuring an obvious jump in graphics and sound, fully voiced anime cutscenes, lots of replayability, and terrific, true blue Mega Man X action. Some critics at the time felt some derision with the game due to X4 not doing much to alter the formula, but if it ain't broken, don't fix it, right? After all, we've seen how Capcom tried to innovate with the series with X6 and X7 later on, and those turned out to be massive misfires. (Though that's not to argue that the series should not ever have experimented, of course.)

It just seemed weird to me that the game was chastised by some for being more of the same when Mega Man X4 finally introduced Zero as a fully 100%-of-the-time playable character. He had the same levels, but the story was different from X's, he had a boss battle separate from X, and he learned new saber techniques as opposed to copying a boss's ability like X would. The shift in hardware also was a huge change on a superficial level, but it further wowed players who had made the jump from the Super Nintendo trilogy.

So if the main point of contention that most critics of the time of Mega Man X4's release was a lack of innovation, what is my bother with the game? Well, it's a really small one, but one which made many of those same critics gripe as well. I'm no doubt talking about the voice acting. However, unlike those critics, I can only complain that the voice acting -- such as the most infamous line of the game, "What am I fighting FOOOOOOOR?!!" -- is so bad that it's good. I'm sure many of you out there who've played the game would agree as well. It's not awful like most of the voice work from Capcom's previous PS1 and Saturn release, Mega Man 8, but it is pretty gnarly... in a hilarious, ironic way.

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