Friday, January 6, 2017

Top Five Sonic the Hedgehog Casino Levels

Sonic the Hedgehog celebrated his 25th anniversary this year. While his next major releases (Sonic Mania and the currently code named "Sonic 2017") won't happen until next year, there is still plenty to celebrate. Thinking back on Sonic's history, one of the prominent level types the Blue Blur frequented was that of casinos like seen on Casino Euro, where responsible gamblers can go (21 and up) to have all the fun of the casino without the smoke and excess.

Nonetheless, whether he's curled up into a ball to act as the ball in a gigantic pinball table or slot machine, or just jumping about in casino-themed obstacle courses, Sonic the Hedgehog has seen his fair share of casino-inspired levels. These five are my personal favorites.

5) Casino Paradise Zone - Sonic Advance (GBA)

Starting things off is a zone from the very first Sonic Advance, which by the way shows that Sonic really didn't stop being good unless you only focused on his console exploits. Nevertheless, Casino Paradise from Sonic's first Nintendo and Game Boy Advance outing sees Sonic bouncing along multi-colored balloons to gain altitude, moving along colorful conveyor belts, springing off a host of flashy obstacles like platforms and vertically aligned pinball flippers, and much more. The background is home to a lovely sight: a celebration of flashy fireworks and magnificent castles. Perhaps Casino Paradise is the type of place that Disney would create if they made a casino-themed zone for Sonic instead of being one of Eggman's creations!

4) Casino Street Zone - Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (PS3, 360, Wii, Mobile)

Neon trees, lit buildings in the landscape, gorgeous fireworks, and a number of elements related to another level on this list, Casino Street Zone serves as the second major zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I. While sharing many similarities to a certain Sonic the Hedgehog 2 zone, Casino Street Zone has its own obstacles and points of interest. The main thing being poker cards that serve not only as platforms that can flip, but also work as means to run along a deck of cards, each card being laid down in front of Sonic as rushes along. Other sights include cannons and pinball tables -- the later potentially allowing Sonic and players to strike it rich in rings. Though possessing a lot alike with Sonic the Hedgehog 2's casino zone, Sonic 4's Casino Street has enough to make it both unique and interesting a zone.

3) Casinopolis - Sonic Adventure (DC, GCN, PC)

The first of two 3D Sonic casino levels on this list, Casinopolis serves as the second level for Sonic's side of Sonic Adventure's six-character story. Sonic's goal in this level is to reach a specific platform in the casino's ring vault. This is performed by earning enough rings to create a pile that allows Sonic enough height to reach the goal platform, completing the level. Sonic needs 400 rings to reach the platform, and he can collect these in a myriad of ways, such as bouncing around one of two pinball tables (one themed after Sonic and one themed after the Sega Saturn's NiGHTs Intro Dreams), or by failing at the pinball tables multiple times, falling into a platforming obstacle course known as Dilapidated Way section of level. Here, Sonic can collect rings while trying to avoid taking damage from enemies or hazards. Casinopolis gives one part risk vs. reward in the pinball tables and one part action-platforming, making it a memorable casino level in Sonic the Hedgehog's history.

2) Casino Park - Sonic Heroes (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Casinopolis isn't the only casino-styled level from a 3D Sonic that makes this list. As Tails utters during Team Sonic's run through the level, Casino Park is a city that's like a giant casino. This point is immediately hammered home to the player with all of the neon lights, slot machines serving as buildings, platforms devised of red rotating dice (where getting snake eyes is the least of your worries as so much as falling into a bottomless pit from an errant jump), a generous helping of pinball tables, and spinning roulette wheels that serve as transportation through the level. Casino Park is a highlight of Sonic Heroes level-wise, and it would see three incarnations as tracks in Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing.

1) Casino Night Zone - Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (GEN)

What else could be at the top of the list but the quintessential casino level in a Sonic game? Serving as the fourth zone in the stellar Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Casino Night Zone is filled to the brim with flashing lights, as well as massive pinball tables and slot machines that both use Sonic in curled up ball form as the ball. This Las Vegas-inspired level sports a nighttime metropolis background and plenty of opportunities to strike it rich in rings or lose them all in one spin of the slots. Casino Night would later appear in both the HD versions of Sonic Generations, though in pinball table-only form, and in the Nintendo 3DS version as two full levels. That's not counting all of the future casino-styled levels that Casino Night influenced later on!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels - Part One

We all have them-- games we very much enjoyed but then their sequels came up short in some way. The six games featured on this inaugural edition of The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels fit the bill precisely. Now, they might not be bad games by any stretch of the imagination (though, some definitely are), but they did have to disappoint in some aspect of the game. Maybe they weren't as fun or creative as their predecessors, were rushed out to market, or some other reason. After scoping out and reading through SuperPhillip Central's picks, feel free to bring up those sequels that you wish turned out better than they actually did.

Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3, 360, PC)

One of the times that critical acclaim and its Metacritic score just bewilder the hell out of me, Grand Theft Auto IV was a massive disappointment compared to the PS2 and Xbox's San Andreas. For one, IV lacked so many features that were present in San Andreas, some due to GTA IV's greater focus on realism over actual fun. The handling of cars felt extremely wonky in IV, the mission variety was limited at best and boring at worst, the almost complete lack of customization was highly disappointing, the map was all city and too segmented to be enjoyable, and the abundance of annoying phone calls by people who wanted to hang out were tedious to respond to. Perhaps if just taken as an open world game and not comparing it to past GTA games, Grand Theft Auto IV wouldn't have chafed my opinion on it so much, but as it is, GTA IV was a tremendous disappointment which would be thankfully remedied with Grand Theft Auto V's variety, customization, and more.

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, 360, PC)

The structure of Final Fantasy XIII confuses me as a player and someone interested in game design. Generally, a game starts out with open expanses and then when budget constraints eventually come in, the game becomes much more linear in design to make up for lack of funds near the end of development. With Final Fantasy XIII, the opposite happened design-wise. The first half of the game is devised up of extremely linear dungeons and areas that occasionally fork (and that's being generous) for a side path to get some treasure. The second half, however, is very much wide open once Lightning and companions reach Gran Pulse. Instead of leading with the game's best foot forward, Final Fantasy XIII forced players to agonize through boring, linear dungeons before getting to the real meat of the game. For many, the multiple chapters of doing this made for quite a sense of tedium. Yes, XIII is as beautiful as any other Final Fantasy game has an enjoyable battle system, but those alone do not make a great RPG. The entire package does, which Final Fantasy XIII did not reach its full potential.

Devil May Cry 2 (PS2) 

As we've seen already, a game can be a disappointment to some and still perform fantastically commercially. That was indeed the case with Capcom's Devil May Cry 2, but for many fans of the original and the series in general, Devil May Cry 2 is seen as the weakest game of the Japanese-developed entries in the franchise. Between weapons that seemed to have zero major differences between them and bosses that required little to no strategy, the overall difficulty of Devil May Cry 2 was made much easier, which ruffled the feathers of many a player. Levels went for more of an open approach, sacrificing graphical fidelity in the process, which also made the level designs not as compelling to play through,  Then, there is Dante's total change of personality, which made many miss his cocky demeanor from the first game. With all these problems, Devil May Cry 2 wasn't as an enjoyable sequel for many Devil May Cry fans with some even calling the game a total failure. Thankfully, Devil May Cry 3 very much righted the ship for the franchise-- well, before it went off course again with Ninja Theory's entry.

Perfect Dark Zero (360)

This game, a launch title for the Xbox 360, is one example that shows that a game can still be enjoyable despite it not living up to its predecessor. Indeed, Perfect Dark Zero is an example of a disappointing sequel when compared to the original Perfect Dark, a Nintendo 64 classic that would get its definitive version on Xbox Live Arcade. The original PD is one of my favorite FPS shooters ever made, so to go from that to Perfect Dark Zero was quite the gut check. While the multiplayer and gunplay were rather good, things like the campaign, the story, and especially the horrendous voice acting (Americanizing Joanna Dark and performing some revisionist history on the series were not good moves in my opinion) made for a game that didn't come close to reaching the same highs as the Nintendo 64 classic. While I wouldn't call Perfect Dark Zero a bad game per se, it was, in fact, a poor sequel and huge disappointment coming off of the greatness that was the original Perfect Dark.

Mega Man X6 (PS1)

The first of the Mega Man X series that was truly terrible, Mega Man X6 seemed rushed out of the gate, releasing close to a year from X5, if not less. I remember seeing Mega Man X6 on a store's shelf wondering to myself, "When the heck was THIS announced?!" Regardless, Mega Man X5 was supposed to be the conclusion of the X series, and maybe it should have been considering how poor X6 and then the attempt to bring the series to 3D with X7 were. (Though, X8 was of a considerably greater quality, thankfully.) Between the poor level design (such as facing a mini-boss in Blaze Heatnix's stage no less than 5-6 times in one go), awfully implemented Nightmare System which randomized certain elements of levels to lame effect, and the worthlessness of most of X's weapons, and you have a game that started the X series' slide into mediocrity, one that, again, would not be rectified until Mega Man X8.

Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii)

The Wii's Animal Crossing: City Folk gives us an example in a sequel that is pretty good as a game by its lonesome, but as a sequel it's not much improved at all. City Folk released a couple of years after the Nintendo DS's Animal Crossing: Wild World, and in essence, City Folk is just Wild World on a console with better graphics and a city thrown in. That's pretty much it. Well, don't forget the privilege of paying full price for Wild World 2.0. Not only a disappointment for veterans of the series for how little was improved from past games, but it was a disappointment in 2008 being Nintendo of America's table scraps for more dedicated gamers that holiday season when the focus was on Wii Music. That said, if you've never played an Animal Crossing game before, then City Folk wouldn't be disappointing at all. It's just putting it in a specific context where it does end up being less than amazing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Underrated Games With Even More Underrated Soundtracks - Part Four

It's a tradition here at SuperPhillip Central that every Monday five songs from various video games are shared in what we like to call SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. There is also a recurring series of articles called Most Overlooked Games that is pretty self-explanatory. Combining these two ideas comes Underrated Games With Even More Underrated Soundtracks! We ring in the new year with the fourth installment of the ongoing series, talking about the games that might not have had the sales and/or critical success that they may or may not have deserved.

To check out previous parts, follow these links:

Underrated Games With Even More Underrated Soundtracks - Part One
Underrated Games With Even More Underrated Soundtracks - Part Two
Underrated Games With Even More Underrated Soundtracks - Part Three

Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)

On the day Yoshi's Woolly World's composer, Tomoya Tomita announced his parting from developer Good Feel to freelance, we have the game as first honors on this list of underrated games with even more underrated soundtracks. It might seem blasphemous to Yoshi's Island lovers, but Nintendo finally managed to not only create a Yoshi game that was as good as the SNES classic but managed to outdo it, making for a better game. From the adorable yarn and craft aesthetic and spectacular level design to not needing to collect everything in a level in one go to get 100%, Yoshi's Woolly World stands tall. Thankfully, even though it got overlooked on the Wii U due to the system's horrible sales, the game is getting a second chance next month with a 3DS port. Despite the visual downgrade, the catchy and infectious soundtrack will very much stay intact, allowing you to hum along with the terrific tunes of Yoshi's latest adventure on the go!

Star Fox Zero (Wii U)

Some might not call this next game underrated at all. However, many who gave Star Fox Zero a chance and mastered the unorthodox controls found a marvelous cockpit experience controlling Fox McCloud's Arwing, Landmaster, or Gyrowing. The game's Wii roots definitely revealed themselves in the visual fidelity of Star Fox Zero, especially texture-wise, but overall, the game is one that was harshly judged by some who couldn't get a grasp of the controls. Once learned, the game was a blast. The wonderful orchestral soundtrack really gets you in the mood and the groove to shoot down Andross' forces both aerial and ground. While the music isn't as memorable as heard in Star Fox 64 or even Assault, Star Fox Zero's soundtrack accentuates the action of combing the sands of Titania or maneuvering through the buildings of Corneria quite well.

World of Final Fantasy (PS4, Vita)

A commemoration of 30 years of Final Fantasy, World of Final Fantasy puts players in control of both Lann and Reynn, twins who have the power to control Mirages, creatures that can be used in combat as well as collected like Pokemon. The soundtrack was meticulously crafted by Masashi Hamauzu, who received plenty of direction from the development team to create a soundtrack that fit the world and was true to the various characters. Among many original compositions are remixes of classic Final Fantasy themes, from the original to Final Fantasy XIII. World of Final Fantasy didn't exactly get the most attention due to being overshadowed by the much bigger elephant in the room, Final Fantasy XV. Regardless, World of Final Fantasy is a game and a soundtrack that shouldn't be ignored.

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4, Vita)

Perhaps you didn't even realize that Digimon was still around! The once-rival to Pokemon found its own way and its own path, building its own brand instead of copying Pokemon so blatantly. With last year's Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, what PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita owners received was a deep dungeon-crawler with a competent story and exceptional turn-based RPG gameplay. Let's not forget the part that's of import to this series of articles-- the soundtrack! Composed by Masafumi Takada of Killer7, No More Heroes, and Danganronpa fame, the music is full of fantastic themes to enter the hacking world that Digimon Story's latest release presents to players.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)

The most recent retail release of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles spin-off series, The Crystal Bearers was quite unlike the rest of the games before it. Instead of being pure dungeon crawlers, The Crystal Bearers went with a grander adventure feel, though most of it played out in either Wii Remote-oriented combat where the goal was to pick up enemies and throw them into others, or mini-game-like tasks. Regardless of one's opinion on how well Crystal Bearers pulled off its gameplay, one thing that can't be argued as well is the quality of the soundtrack. It features a myriad of styles and all of the music is absolutely fantastic. From blues and jazz to rock and heavy metal, the soundtrack styling of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is hard to top.

Graffiti Kingdom (PS2)

The sequel to another underrated gem, Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color, Graffiti Kingdom was a PlayStation 2 release that saw little fanfare with its release, sneaking out to store shelves, doomed to a life of being overlooked. Not by SuperPhillip Central, though! Graffiti Kingdom allowed players to collect and create their own 3D creatures in a platforming world. The music was composed by none other than video game music great Yasunori Mitsuda, known for his work on Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, and a lot more. The soundtrack is one of utter whimsy and cheer, perfect for the lighthearted tale and adventure that Graffiti Kingdom delivers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

11 in 2017: SuperPhillip Central's Most Wanted Games

It's a new year of gaming-- new franchises, old favorites with new hooks to them, and much more. As is customary at the start of each year here at SuperPhillip Central, a list is here, showcasing the site's most wanted games that seem likely to release this year. Here's hoping a lot of these actually do release this year, as quite a few return from 2016's list!

After checking out SuperPhillip Central's list of most anticipated games for 2017, let the community know any glaring omissions (whether because of the thought that a certain game won't make it out this year, or for another reason) and what games you're personally most excited for!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NS, Wii U)

Let's just say that the Nintendo Switch will (most likely) have a lot of games that a lot of gamers will be anticipating, but for now, we're just sure that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will *definitely *be one of those. Taking the series into uncharted territory, an open world sandbox with Hyrule, the E3 showing last year made many showgoers have massively positive impressions, making it one of the top games shown last E3. With how much Link can interact with the world, how much of a shakeup the game is to the conventions of the Zelda franchise, and how many rumored dungeons and secret areas Hyrule contains, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a game that I can't help but feverishly anticipate.

Persona 5 (PS4)

A game that has been delayed quite a few times across quite a few years, Persona 5 will finally be coming out this spring to the West (knock on wood). After many delays and several years since the release of the last entry in the series, Persona 5 brings a series of high school students together, using psyches called Personas to do battle with a host of supernatural beings. Interspersed with battles are social interactions with the various characters to change how they relate and react to one another. Think Persona 4 but even bigger and hopefully better! With the success both commercially and critically in Japan, it seems this multiple year wait is finally going to be worth it!

Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)

Made by the studio behind Killzone, Horizon: Zero Dawn looks like a breath of fresh air compared to the mostly gritty and dark world that Guerrilla Games spent a lot of their focus making games in with Killzone. Instead, Horizon: Zero Dawn opens things up considerably with a bright and expansive world where heroine Aloy uses a combination of melee and ranged weaponry to take down the mechanical monstrosities and other robotic creatures that ravage the land. Their fallen remains can be looted to give Aloy new goods, materials, and resources. The different ways to go about taking down enemies (either through brute force with clever stealth), the massive map that can be explored without loading screens popping up, and the quest-based progression make for a new franchise for the PlayStation brand that seems highly worthwhile.

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4)

It was an absolute thrill to see PlayStation's Japan branch not give up on Kat or Gravity Rush as a series. The second entry in the series, this time exclusive to the PlayStation 4 for a hopefully bigger audience, brings three different gravity styles to Kat's arsenal. All three give her movements and gravity abilities unique weights to them, one allowing Kat to move with greater agility and height, while another weighs her down more, accentuating her attack power. Additionally, Gravity Rush 2 is also about being bigger and better. There is an AI-controlled partner in Raven, the game has over double the amount of missions available, the play time for the game is around 30 hours long on average, and the world is two times its original size. Regardless of whether Gravity Rush 2 performs well commercially, it at least adds some more value to the PlayStation 4 library.

Nier: Automata (PS4, PC)

The original Nier released last generation for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It didn't review the greatest overall, but those who found a fondness for the game gave it cult classic status. Square Enix has teamed up with Platinum Games to create Nier: Automata, the sequel that features what the developers have called a game that is quite high on action. Despite this, the developers also wanted to clarify that many of the role-playing pieces of the original Nier would remain intact, so don't worry, fans of the original Nier. In fact, it looks like you're going to be getting the sequel you've been wanting and then some! For everyone else, there's a more action-focused game to look forward to from Square Enix that should interest quite a lot of gamers when it released in Japan next month and then North America and PAL territories soon after.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PS4, XB1, PC)

Despite Capcom's focus on the Resident Evil series turning towards action more than horror, especially with the egregious example of the highly panned team-based multiplayer shooter Umbrella Corps from last year, with Resident Evil 7, the developers are returning to the roots of the series. Well, somewhat, as RE7 takes the long-running franchise to new territory: a first-person shooting perspective. Despite this, all of the goodness from older Resident Evil games will be included, such as puzzles, exploration, herbs, managing your resources, and much more. PlayStation 4 owners will find Resident Evil 7 of particular interest due to the ability to play the full game with PlayStation VR. Regardless of the platform, Resident Evil 7 is shaping up to be a lovely (well, as lovely as contending with monsters can be) return to form for the series, even with the new perspective change included.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (PS4, XB1, PC)

Resident Evil 7 isn't the only promising game coming this year from Capcom. (Well, hopefully!) Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite brings the friendly rivalry between Marvel Comics and Capcom properties to a head once more. Using a two-on-two character system, rather than have assist characters, teammates will now be able to be switched between at any moment during battle-- even during combos and chains. Current roster inclusions feature the awesome Mega Man X (a first-timer), Ryu from Street Fighter, Morrigan from Darkstalkers, and on the Marvel side, Captain America, Iron Man, and newcomer Captain Marvel. Hopefully unlike Street Fighter V, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite allows both fighting game veterans and casual players to enjoy the game equally.

Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

When I grew up, I always preferred Mario and Sonic over Crash Bandicoot. However, it's foolish to think that Crash was not an important fixture of not just a prominent portion of gamers, but 3D platformers in general, using unique corridor-like levels as well as more traditional side-scrolling levels. Naughty Dog's classic trio of Crash Bandicoot games gets the makeover treatment to gorgeous effect thanks to Vicarious Visions of Skylanders fame as well as Crash's Game Boy Advance exploits. Rebuilding the geometry of levels from scratch, Vicarious Visions is definitely putting in the work to make the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy hopefully as great as it can be. I didn't get to experience much of Crash as a kid, so I'm ready and raring to go decades later to remedy that gross mistake.

Yooka-Laylee (Multi)

Banjo-Kazooie is my favorite 3D platformer of all time. Its combination of world, charm, levels, abilities, and platforming made for a game that I continue to enjoy and play all of these decades later. Now, the team behind that game and many of Rare's classics on Nintendo systems are behind Yooka-Laylee, forming their own studio called Playtonic Games. Looking at the colorful worlds, characters, and familiar yet modernized gameplay of Yooka-Laylee, and it seems like the developers and all the talent behind the game haven't missed a beat. The game has an April release date after all this time, and it's also going to have a physical launch as well. Truth be told, as a huge Banjo-Kazooie fan, Yooka-Laylee is without question one of my most anticipated games of the year.

Sonic Mania (PS4, XB1, PC)

Two Sonic the Hedgehog games are planned for 2017, but we have more than just a teaser for Sonic Mania. The game brings back the style of the original and often-acclaimed Sonic the Hedgehog games found on the Sega Genesis, bringing both old but remixed levels into the fold as well as completely new ones, such as a level where Sonic is launched out of gigantic pop guns in a western-themed zone. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are playable characters, each with their own unique abilities. A new move for Sonic called the Drop Dash grants him the convenience of curling up into a ball and performing his trademark Spin Attack after he lands a jump. Sonic Mania is the game that Sonic fans have wanted for ages, and unlike undesirable efforts from Sega like Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Mania actually looks like it will deliver.

Ever Oasis (3DS)

Directed and produced by the father of the Mana series, Ever Oasis is a real-time action RPG where players enter dungeons and caves for treasure, all the while combating enemies and solving puzzles. This is all to create a thriving oasis community. Grezzo is behind the development of Ever Oasis, a developer who previously did the 3DS remakes of both Nintendo 64 Legend of Zelda games, Ocarina of Time 3D and Majora's Mask 3D. The game was debuted at Nintendo's Nintendo Treehouse live event at E3 last year. We know that the game is planned to be released this year for the Nintendo 3DS, bringing yet another interesting title to the system in its twilight years with the Switch making its debut sometime this year as well.