Saturday, April 29, 2017

Introducing A New Monthly Tradition to SuperPhillip Central!

SuperPhillip Central has been around for nearly a decade now. (Well, a year and some change shy as of now.) The site has established a lot of traditions, from monthly Review Round-Ups to the Best of Awards at the end of each year. Now SuperPhillip Central has a new tradition to begin for May-- monthly banners!

May kicks off this tradition with a banner you've probably already seen lately. It stars Aloy from Guerrilla Games' Horizon: Zero Dawn and Nintendo's Mario as seen in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I hope you'll enjoy the monthly change of banners and will continue to support SuperPhillip Central via your readership!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Top Ten Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Tracks

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe releases today on Nintendo Switch. Packed with all of the tracks from Mario Kart 8 on Wii U in both base and DLC form, there are 48 tracks total. Which are the best of the best? Well, that's purely subjective, but the mind behind SuperPhillip Central has come up with a list of the top ten Mario Kart 8 Deluxe tracks. These are the most fun to race on, most enjoyable, best themed, most interesting aesthetically or locale-wise, and just plain all-around awesome.

After seeing my picks, which Mario Kart 8 Deluxe tracks do you find the best and most pleasant to race on?

10) Mario Kart Stadium

We begin with the opening track of Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart Stadium, an aptly named track if I do say so myself. Set under a nighttime spectacle of fireworks and cheers, Mario Kart Stadium happens to be an enjoyable and exciting race, something that many first tracks of the Mario Kart series may not register as being. With long curves to enjoy drifting and boosting opportunities, moments where smartly conceived Mushroom boosts can cut seconds off a given racer's time or add to their lead, most Mario Kart 8 players' first taste of the anti-gravity sections the game proudly advertises, and a gliding section at its finale, Mario Kart Stadium is perfect for a beginner while still being entertaining for veterans.

9) Thwomp Ruins

Mario Kart Stadium signals the start of the Mushroom Cup in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Thwomp Ruins is the cup's finale. It takes place in an ancient ruins where on the second lap, the central courtyard opens up its ramp, allowing racers to use its ramp to glide past obstacles like the central body of water and several Thwomps. Yes, as the name suggests, Thwomps make a home here for themselves in these bright and sunny ruins filled with copious vegetation. The ancient carvings on walls and in the tunnels are pleasant and add to the environment. Thwomps aren't the only hazards in these ruins. In the first tunnel, stone gears roll on down in the center of the track, plowing over any racer foolish enough to get in their way. Two gliding opportunities and one final shortcut that offers a great risk vs. reward proposition (a narrow ramp surrounded by a bottomless pit that bypasses the last turn of the ruins) also make for a really fulfilling race to win.

8) N64 Yoshi Valley

A relic from Mario Kart 64, Yoshi Valley is the final track of the Leaf Cup in Mario Kart 8. Like its original version, this Mario Kart 8 iteration of Yoshi Valley features a network of myriad routes through its sprawling canyon, some faster to take than others, but they all lead to the same end point. This end point leads to a series of winding turns all culminating in a circular platform where a giant green and white Yoshi egg slowly rolls along, ready to run over any unsuspecting racer. The faster routes through the network of pathways tend to feature the most dangerous terrain, such as a lack of railways to keep players from speeding off into the valley below. It makes for an exciting race that offers a lot more choice than any other race in Mario Kart series history.

7) Shy Guy Falls

The final race of the Flower Cup, Shy Guy Falls is home to a diamond mine built directly into the face of the mountain. The race takes part high above the ground, where falling can happen when you least expect it (such as an opponent using a Lightning Bolt while you're making a leap over a pit). The eponymous falls have you racing not just up a waterfall, trying to make a perfect racing line that allows you to cross every boost raining down from the falls, but also down a waterfall soon after as well. This latter waterfall leads to the track's sole gliding section, where racers can opt to glide down onto the main track or take a brief shortcut through a hanging cavern. Another shortcut is mere yards away, having racers use a Mushroom to boost between two small stone pillars to bypass one of the track's final turns.

6) Wild Woods

Wild Woods was a part of the second downloadable content pack of races in the original Mario Kart 8. It takes place high up in the canopy of a heavily forested area where a Shy Guy metropolis of hanging houses make their home. Like Shy Guy Falls, racers do a lot of vertical maneuvers, going 100% vertically up the face of walls and the like. Notable pieces of this delightful track include a gliding section over an open chasm where Shy Guys travel across ziplines, a race through the rapids that lead down to a lake filled with boost-plastered lily pads, and two opportunities to take alternate paths. Wild Woods is a ridiculously fun race with a great sense of environmental ambiance to it.

5) Mute City

If Nintendo won't make a new F-Zero entry, at least this taste of the series with two F-Zero-inspired tracks in Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will somewhat do... for now. The first of these tracks (Big Blue being the other) takes place in F-Zero's most famous metropolis, Mute City. As you can imagine with the insane designs of the 3D F-Zero racetracks, Mute City is full of crazy curves that are almost entirely in anti-gravity areas. Racers will go upside-down, right-side-up, to the side, underneath, and every which way in this track, while jetting around on the multitude of boost pads that are sprinkled along the track. The finale sees a shortcut opportunity for those with a Mushroom, or they can just take the final jump and meander through the snake-like route leading to the finish line. Mute City's Mario Kart 8 version is a blast to play and is modeled just like a track from F-Zero.

4) Cloudtop Cruise

As the name suggests, Cloudtop Cruise takes players on an adventure through the clouds, from the cloudy pathways at the start of the race to one of Bowser's many airships. The airship that racers spend a brief time on leads to a cannon that launches them into the heart of a lightning storm, where racers can opt to zoom along multiple boosts. This requires timing and precision, as many of the boosts in this darkened and stormy portion of track get hit by intermittent bouts of lightning. Once this anti-gravity section has been overcome by racers, they get launched to the home stretch, where they can opt to take the long but safe way to the finish, or try a courageous shortcut by jumping across the leaves of a beanstalk. Cloudtop Cruise is a wild and rowdy sky high adventure that makes for an exciting and electric start to Mario Kart 8's Special Cup.

3) Bowser's Castle

Let's continue with Mario Kart 8's Special Cup. Traditionally, the Bowser's Castle tracks in the Mario Kart series feature a wide array of dastardly, menacing obstacles and hazards to avoid, whether Thwomps, blazing fire bars as seen in the original Super Mario Bros., and other dangers. The Mario Kart 8 version of Bowser's Castle features an impressive gauntlet of hazards, from giant three-arm fire bars, swinging spiked balls, rolling boulders, lasers at the entrance, and even a monstrous statue of Bowser that slams its fist from one part of the track to the other. The anti-gravity portions of Bowser's Castle are awesome, and the amount of trick opportunities make for a really thrilling and heated (both figuratively and literally) race.

2) Mount Wario

Mount Wario is an aberration compared to every other track on this top ten list. Instead of featuring three leaps, Mount Wario features three segments, all leading to one thrilling adventure down the slopes and face of the titular snowy mountain. Right away, racers drive off the starting gate, the innards of a chopper to land smack dab on the summit of Mount Wario. Then, it's all downhill from there. Literally. An icy section showcasing nice drifting opportunities lead into a cavern filled with rushing water and gliding opportunities. That then leads to the Wario Dam, where racers speed along the side of as water and intermittent boosts rain down. A snowy forested section of trees and logs follow, and then a skiing-inspired third segment faces racers with slalom-style gates, mounds, and tricking opportunities. A riotous race and journey down the snowy mountain, Mount Wario is a fantastic finale to Mario Kart 8's Star Cup and a fantastic race in general.

1) Toad Harbor

This is purely a personal number one choice, as I absolutely love city-based tracks. One of my favorites is Mario Kart DS' Delfino Square, and now Toad Harbor takes the top spot of my favorite Mario Kart 8 Deluxe tracks. This bright and sunny summer metropolis starts out with a marina housing sailboats and an immediate boost ramp that sends racers flying over one of the sailboats docked in the harbor. What follows is a trip through an open-air marketplace that racers can zoom through on street level or above via awnings. This leads to two paths to take, the right one being a slight shortcut. Then comes a section where San Francisco-inspired streetcars travel onto the track. Racers can completely ignore these by traveling along the leftmost wall, though is slower than taking the inside turn. Next, a downhill section of track occurs, where racers can trick off ramps or take to the edges to speed along boost pads. This leads to a final couple of turns before the finish line. Toad Harbor might not have a gliding section or many opportunities to show off Mario Kart 8's anti-gravity central mechanic, but it does offer circuit-based racing that is phenomenal and in a visually pleasing city-based environment.

Marvel vs.Capcom: Infinite (PS4, XB1, PC) Gameplay Trailers 1 & 2

Two gameplay trailers for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite were posted by Marvel Entertainment these past couple of days. The first shows action between the team of Mega Man X and Ryu facing off against the pairing of Captain Marvel and Iron Man. The second shows off characters like Ultron, Chun-Li, Hulk, Strider Hiryu, Thor, Chris Redfield and Hawkeye in two different battles! With more accessible controls along with its deep fighting mechanics, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite rightfully excites!

ARMS (NS) Introducing Helix Trailer

Introducing Helix (or DNA Man as he's known in Japan)! His gelatin body can stretch up and down to avoid incoming strikes, and move every which way possible. His home is the lab stage, as seen in this video just released by Nintendo a little while ago on its YouTube channel. ARMS releases on June 16, 2017!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PS2, GCN, XBX) Retro Review

It's been a couple of months since SuperPhillip Central's last retro review, but now we have a new one on the site. It's for the first outing of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series in video game form. Usually there's a rhyme and reason for a retro review. Perhaps a new entry in a particular game series is coming out, or maybe it's the anniversary. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Well, there really is no reason other than to just play it in co-op with a fellow reviewer. Here's the SPC retro review of 2003's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Heroes in a halfhearted effort

I grew up like many kids in the late '80s and early '90s, I was hooked to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everything about the heroes in a half shell had me foaming at the mouth, whether the movies, the hokey cartoon show, the action figures, costumes for Halloween, the video games, and so forth. In 2003, the Turtles returned with a brand-new cartoon series. In the U.S., it aired on the Saturday Morning Fox Box, a collection of cartoons that was formerly known as Fox Kids before it became the all-4Kids TV branded morning of shows.

Like in the late '80s, the powers that be behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went on a merchandising spree. Though the (at the time) new series for the turtles didn't reach the highs and fandom of the late '80s one, it still received plenty of stuff, and yes, that included video games. A multitude of Turtles-branded games released based off of the 2003 cartoon, and the first was a multiplatform game for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Xbox known simply as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you're looking for the magic of the older arcade games, you won't find it here. In fact, you won't find much of value here.

It all goes down to plethora of problems. The first is the nearly brain-dead combat on offer here. You have a light attack, strong attack, and the ability to throw shurikens of various types. There's no real discernible difference between light attacks and strong attacks, so the only real recourse of action here is to spam the light attack button, performing combos in this manner.

Just in case you needed a visual aid, this attack "bash"-ed this Foot Soldier in the face.
Every offense needs a good defense, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't offer much in the way of avoiding enemy attacks. You see, there's no block button whatsoever. This means you can get caught in a multi-hit combo, particularly by bosses who provide the stiffest of challenges over the otherwise easy enemy AI, and find a great deal of your health depleted in the process. Instead, what you're faced with is the need to use the left shoulder button to dash away from enemies before they can wallop you, which is by far more limited a defensive option than a block would otherwise be.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' 2003 offering is split up between six chapters which are divided up between multiple areas. What level design is here is the most basic of the basic with linear corridors and occasional open spaces, all requiring you to move from one horde of enemies to another (the kind that usually appear out of nowhere). There is no real exploration to be found as usually interesting locations in levels are blocked by invisible walls. When you do find a place of interest, it can house the game's sole collectible, a scroll that unlocks some form of concept art in the gallery section of the game.

Instead of the side-scrolling nature found in the more loved arcade games by Konami, 2003's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has 3D arenas and areas that provide different camera positions at various heights and angles that follow along with your turtle. Sometimes it can be to your detriment, however, as the camera can occasionally not keep up with the action or face you with a precarious angle or point of view.

In between some chapters, your turtle of choice enters Splinter's dojo, where they must complete a task to earn a reward. This can be an increase to their offensive or defensive abilities or it can be something as simple as learning how to jump and attack. Yes, you have to learn how to jump and attack in a beat-em-up. The otherwise baffling and impossible-to-know means to jump and then attack is locked behind completing one of Splinter's trials.

Playing solo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is quite the slog as you're fighting the same number of enemies in solo than you would in co-op, many that can overwhelm you in groups. However, things become a bit more enjoyable with a second player. Unfortunately and confusingly so, there is no option to play with four buddies. Only two turtles and players can play at a time. Nevertheless, two players make for a funner experience, though still full of button-mashing and little else.

Co-op makes a horrid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game much more digestible and dare I say, fun!
The fact that you have to beat the game as all four turtles to face the true final boss and see the true ending (meaning that player one has to control one turtle through the game four times) makes for longevity to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but the gameplay is so vapid and repetitive that this makes for more of a chore than a challenge.

The presentation for 2003's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't too shabby. The cel-shaded style which was popular for the time looks great. Animations are moderately executed, but not all looks great as areas themselves are a bit drab in appearance. Clips from the show look great, though they make for a disjointed story that has little cohesion whatsoever. It's more of an episodic structure, and even then, it won't make much sense contextually to those who haven't seen the show. When not showing clips from the series, the characters just stand around in their 3D model glory with limited animation. Finally when it regards the audio, the voice actors do a nice job, but the music is mostly uninspired butt rock, something that is just background noise.

Shell Cell: The preferred way of keeping in touch with your fellow turtles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' 2003 offering is a repetitive beat-em-up with little reason to play through it more than once, despite its intention to have you play through it four times just to see the real ending. Yes, it's accessible, but the combat is so basic that there's no real joy from overcoming wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wa-- oops, better stop myself there-- of enemies. The only real challenge comes from the harder-than-ordinary boss battles, and this is mostly due to the lack of any sort of block button. Alone the game is tedious, with a friend there is more fun to be had, but not much more. The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game based off of the 2003 cartoon series is hardly worth a look unless you're a giant turtles fan. Even then, I feel shafted of my five hours with the game.

[SPC Says: D]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dan the Man (iOS, Android) Review

After today's earlier Kami 2 review, SuperPhillip Central continues to seek out interesting mobile releases with Halfbrick Studios' latest, Dan the Man. Is this game by the dev team behind Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride worthy of standing next to those great games?

Dan, Dan. Dan the Man. If he can't do it, no one can!

From the makers of Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, Halfbrick Studios, comes the team's latest title, a game based on a web series, Dan the Man. Without much context to the game, the story portrayed here is a bit confusing. Who the heck is this army of characters, what's up with the two dudes-- one bald and one with a hat, and just what in the world is going on? It says something then, that even without a cohesive story to its name that Dan the Man ends up being an enjoyable platformer/beat-em-up.

One thing I was worried about with a platformer with beat-em-up combat was the touch controls. Sometimes a game of this type can be let down by its touch-based inputs. Thankfully, this is not the case with Dan the Man. All it needs is its left and right movement inputs on the left side of the screen and its attacking, jumping, and special weapon buttons on the right side. However, if you want a more traditional experience, you can use an MFI controller for analog inputs, which was my preferred way of playing. Regardless, it's great that the standard touch controls work well, and that you have the option of playing with analog inputs if you so desire.

There are 16 levels in total in Dan the Man, and they are split up among four worlds, if you will. They are quite lengthy too, usually taking at least five minutes even when rushing through them, and up to ten minutes if you're playing more leisurely or exploring levels for secret areas. I would have enjoyed more bite-sized levels for convenience's sake, but there are ample checkpoints throughout. Still, many levels can feel long in the tooth, especially with all the "fight rooms" that impede your progress until you clear out the area of enemies. At the end of each level, your point total is accumulated based on how many enemies you defeated, secret areas found, damage you took, and how many objects you broke-- true to the style of the arcade games Dan the Man is inspired by.

The story mode won't take any more than a few hours to beat. The difficulty slowly increases as you play through the levels and worlds, introducing a steady amount of new, harder, more resilient enemy types, new obstacles and hazards to concern yourself with, and more challenging platforming bits to overcome. The game being but a few hours length-wise for a first play-through makes for an adventure that doesn't overstay its welcome. In fact, you might want even more after you've vanquished the impressive and enjoyable final boss.

That's where the two alternate modes of play come in for Dan the Man. One is an arena-style brawler that pits your character in a variety of battlegrounds, needing to take out all enemies in a set amount of time to get as high as score as possible. The other mode presents daily challenges to the player, where completing them nets some rather snazzy prizes in the form of coin bonuses.

Coins are a precious commodity in Dan the Man. They have a variety of uses to them, from upgrading each of the playable characters' fighting abilities in between levels to buying helpful inventory items from in-game shops that appear frequently throughout levels. These items include things like revitalizing potions that save your bacon when your health runs out or temporary weapons like shurikens, shotguns, and even explosive RPGs.

Outside of typical platforming in Dan the Man (which some can be a bit difficult as it can be hard to distinguish what you can and can't jump on occasionally), the combat reminds me a little of the Double Dragon series. There are kicks, punches (both from the ground and in midair) to unleash on foes, as well as holds and throws, performed by holding a direction while standing close to an enemy. It's a lot fun, frenetic action that is simple enough to be learned and perform with the controls, but mindless button mashing won't do you any favors. It's all about picking your shots and thinking ahead to avoid damage.

However, not all is perfect with Dan the Man, and there are two big issues I have gameplay-wise. For one, the knockback that Dan receives upon taking damage is insane. It has Dan rocketed backward, and this is only compounded by the second issue: there are no invincibility frames for Dan. That is to say that when you take damage, you can sort of be like a pinball, bouncing off hazardous objects and projectiles to quickly find yourself killed. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it's maddening. Enemies also get knocked back from punches, so both the player and enemies are on even ground there, but at the same time, enemies don't have to go the entire level.

Still, death isn't a major blow to the player. Through watching a video or playing 200 in-game coins, you can revive yourself from the last checkpoint you came across. Most checkpoint signposts where progress is saved let you pass by freely, but sometimes a 30-second ad plays. These can be removed entirely by paying the premium price of $2.99. This also results in statues bestowing you with rewards when you pass by them instead of needing to break them and watch their videos to get the same reward. Other in-app purchases consist of new playable characters and bundles of coins. None of these IAPs are required to enjoy Dan the Man.

With Dan the Man, Halfbrick Studios has successfully created another winner. With a fair ad and pricing model, satisfying gameplay in both its brawling and its platforming, beautiful art, and respectable level design, Dan the Man delights in many ways. Yes, some of the gameplay issues do detract from the experience, and levels can be a bit too lengthy, but overall, Dan the Man is a short but sweet adventure from beginning to end.

[SPC Says: B]

Kami 2 (iOS) Review

Two years ago I took a look at Kami, which released on the Nintendo 3DS as well as mobile platforms. Now it's 2017 and its sequel, Kami 2, has unfolded onto the App Store. With easily digestible puzzles and new features, Kami 2 is a definite improvement to the foundation built by the original game.

Into the Fold

With puzzle games, developers can fall into the trap of not providing much in a sequel to distinguish itself from the original game. Kami 2 falls into such a trap gameplay-wise, but in the realm of content, the game brings enough newness to its sequel to make it a worthwhile download, especially at its free price.

As stated, Kami 2's gameplay remains unchanged from its predecessor. You get a screen-long series of differently colored shapes, and you essentially have to use your finger as a fill tool to paint the entire screen in one color in as few moves as possible. Tapping one segment of the screen will transform it in one color. Instead of paint filling the areas, the origami-inspired aesthetic results in the filled areas folding up like paper. Both the process visually and hearing the paper rustle as it folds are ultra satisfying to the senses.

If you succeed in completely a given puzzle at par (or the required amount of moves), you earn a Perfect Badge. Earning enough of these unlocks new batches of levels that are increasingly more challenging to solve.

Kami 2 feels a bit like an expansion pack of sorts. It's the same base game but with over 100 levels to solve, which have to be solved in a set order (in this case, by batches of six levels). The extra included content makes the game shine even brighter. From the aforementioned 100 levels in Journey mode, daily puzzles that appear for completion, and the ability to create as well as share your own Kami-style puzzles with the world (you unlock more color varieties by playing through Journey mode), the extra content available in Kami 2 makes for an appealing package.

So, what's the catch? Well, Kami 2 doesn't have one with regards to its pricing strategy. Being free, you might expect ads being shoved in your face, some sort of energy meter that restricts how many levels you can play for a specific period of time, and things of that sort, but Kami 2 has none of that. Yes, the daily puzzles and the create mode require an online connection, which isn't too baffling, but Journey mode can have its entirety be played offline. The only charge of money comes from when you want to buy a new batch of colors for the create mode or need a hint for a particular puzzle

That said, you might need hints, as Kami 2 can become mighty difficult. While beginning puzzles require just a few moves at most to complete, later levels force you to perform 10 or more moves. This brings up a problem with the game, and that is that on puzzles with an enormous amount of necessary moves, you will no doubt make a mistake or several. There is no option to undo a move or series of moves. Instead, you're forced to restart the puzzle from scratch. This is not only tedious and time-consuming, but it can make solving puzzles much harder to do, as it's troublesome to remember the order of the moves you made when you SO close to solving a given level.

Journey mode can sort of feel like you're going through the motions by the halfway point, and it can feel a bit repetitive. A sense of joy I found in Kami 2 came in the levels crafted by members of the Kami 2 community. New levels pop up routinely, offering an active community filled with creative creators. You can apply different filters to weed out the types of puzzles you don't want to play, and you can like specific puzzles to help curate what puzzles stand out to other players. Creating your own puzzles is an easy process. It just requires you to solve the puzzle you made yourself, complete with setting a par amount of moves based on how many moves it took for you to complete your puzzle.

Kami 2 is a consumer-friendly game that doesn't get in the way of players' fun and engagement with the title. Its 100+ puzzles in Journey mode provide a great deal of content if you can stomach to play them all, but some quality of life improvements could have been made to make for a less bothersome experience when attempting to solve particular puzzles. The daily puzzles and create modes offer even more longevity with its constant influx of creative levels by the community. You can't beat a free price tag, so the problems in which Kami 2 couldn't really spoil my fun as much as they could have.

[SPC Says: B-]

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4) Spring 2017 Trailer

Half story, half gameplay, this newly piece together trailer for the upcoming summer PlayStation 4 exclusive, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age will no doubt bring a whirlwind of nostalgia to players of the PS2 original while hopefully making a new generation of fans of the game. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age launches on July 11th, 2017.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yooka-Laylee (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favorite 3D platformers as evident by this top ten from last week. It seems likely then that I would fall head over heels in love with its spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee, made by many members of the same team. Is that exact what happens? Not quite. See why with my review. Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 build.

Move over, bear and bird, it's the lizard and bat's time to shine!

Yooka-Laylee was backed on Kickstarter, and it's one of the crowdfunding website's greatest success stories. The desire for a modern game crafted like Banjo-Kazooie was indeed palpable, and that desire led to Playtonic Games forming, a collection of former Rare talent whose past games included Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. Now that fan wishes have come true, did Yooka-Laylee turn out well, or is it another spiritual successor failure of the likes of another Kickstarter success story, Mighty No. 9?

The male lizard and female bat pair of friends, Yooka and Laylee, spend a quiet day at their home in Shipwreck Creek. Suddenly, their nearby neighbor, Capital B at Hivory Towers, begins sucking up books and pages left and right, including one of Laylee's prized tomes. The pair wind up at the menacing corporation, ready to take down the business acumen of Capital B, his vice president Mr. Quack, and get Laylee's book back.

If you're looking for a bright and colorful 3D platformer, you've got one with Yooka-Laylee!
Yooka-Laylee presents its story with as much cheekiness as you'd expect from former Rareware and Banjo-Kazooie staff. The familiarity is nice with Yooka's politeness, Laylee's snarky attitude, and a host of characters each with their own specific quirks and personalities. The humor is on point, self-referential, and something that I think all but the most jaded of people can enjoy. Perhaps the lack of traditional voice acting may present itself as a bother, instead going for the Banjo-Kazooie approach of repetitive grunts and other noises rather than real speech. For me, as a lover of Banjo-Kazooie, this speech wasn't an annoyance.

Yooka sure is one to understate things while Laylee uses much more direct tactics.
Right away, Yooka-Laylee delivers bright, vivid, colorful, and cheery visuals, offering delightful 3D worlds. Each world gives off its own ambiance, and the music that accompanies them are wonderfully done. The soundtrack feels directly riffed from one of Rare's Nintendo 64 3D platformers, perfectly done by the team of Grant Kirkhope, David Wise, and Steve Burke. Unfortunately, the beauty of the game is sometimes marred by frame-rate stutters that can be rather severe, occasionally appearing to freeze for a split-second before chugging along as usual. Here's hoping that Playtonic will address this in a future patch.

Shipwreck Creek is the starting area of Yooka-Laylee, and like every other
place in the game, it looks quite nice.
Moving on to the actual game part of things, the primary goal of Yooka-Laylee is collecting, and there's a good amount of it-- hence the "collect-a-thon" moniker that games of these types get. Thankfully, the different amount of collectibles in Yooka-Laylee is closer to Banjo-Tooie rather than the ridiculous level that was seen in a game like Donkey Kong 64. Pagies are to Yooka-Layle what Jiggies were to Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie. These are acquired from performing specific challenges, whether platforming-related or not within the grand tome worlds. These can be as simple as completing an obstacle course with the required amounts of precision jumping and platforming to something more involved, such as finding four pigs, as is necessary in the first world of the game, Tribalstack Tropics.

Many trials for Pagies come in the form of getting through rings like these in a set amount of time.
Then, there are Quills to find, and these are used to purchase moves from Trowzer, a snake of a salesman (that's not an insult either-- he's literally snake), who is located in every world. In each, he has a collection of moves that need to be purchased to acquire some of the game's Pagies. Many of the Pagies in the game cannot be collected the first time in a world, so you must go to a later one to buy the required move from Trowzer to revisit the world and get the Pagies you couldn't get before. There are also free moves that Trowzer bestows onto the lizard and bat pair of protagonists, though these are only handed out in the hub world of the game. Collecting all 200 Quills in a world gives you a Pagie, and thankfully tracking leftover Quills in a level isn't as obnoxious as in Banjo-Kazooie. A certain character in the game rewards tonics which can be used (only one at a time) to give off different effects. One of them is an indicator of nearby rare goods, such as Quills (but only after all the other collectibles in a level have been gathered). While you still have to go looking, it makes the process of finding every Quill in a world less of a hassle than in past collect-a-thons of Yooka-Laylee's mold.

Fixing the pipes in a squalid sewer system. What won't our heroes do for Pagies?
Trowzer's moves are ultra helpful not just because they allow you to get to previously inaccessible places and areas in past worlds, but also because they give Yooka and Laylee more options in how they tackle exploration and platforming. There are some problems, though. For one, the Reptile Roll, a move used to move up slippery surfaces and ramps that Yooka would otherwise slide down on, is a bit unwieldy to control. It doesn't have near as much precision as I would have liked. This makes certain sections of the game more of a headache than they should be. In addition to that, when Yooka and Laylee learn the ability to fly, it makes some platforming challenges easy to cheese. Who needs to climb up this structure filled with danger when you can just fly to the top and get the Pagie on top?

Thankfully, Yooka is a cold-blooded animal. Laylee? Well, her nose is red for a reason.
Outside of Pagies and Quills, there are Play Coins, Mollycools, Ghost Writers, Power Extenders, and Butterfly Hearts. There is one Play Coin in each tome world, and by giving these to an adorable T-Rex in the game named Rextro, you can play one of his arcade games. There's one arcade game per world, and these can be a bit time-consuming as well as tough. Well, actually, the last two arcade games err more on the side of time-consuming and tough than the first three. Regardless, you need to play the arcade games at least twice: once to just beat it for a Pagie and the second time to beat Rextro's high score for his second Pagie. The games range from a top-down racer to a game reminiscent of Flappy Bird, though much less unforgiving. That said, you can really feel the need to bash your head against a wall on some of these mini-games, being borderline un-fun rather than enjoyable.

Mollycools are required to be found, and like Play Coins, there is one in each world. Giving these to a character named Dr. Puzz transforms Yooka and Laylee into a different form, just like how Mumbo Jumbo did the same to Banjo and Kazooie in their game. Generally, each transformation has one or two real uses in a world in order to get the transformation-required Pagies. From a horde of hungry piranha to a helicopter, Dr. Puzz's D.N. Ray can help our heroic pair out on their mission.

Yooka and Laylee don't have to worry about getting to the chopper. They ARE the chopper!
Finally, there are Ghost Writers, Power Extenders, and Butterfly Hearts. The Ghost Writers serve as the Jinjo-like collectibles from Banjo-Kazooie. They're stray beings who when all five are collected in a given world, a Pagie is earned. Meanwhile, Power Extenders and Butterfly Hearts increase Yooka and Laylee's maximum meter for special moves and health respectively. Some challenges that pose too much of a difficulty can be returned to with more special move energy or health in reserve in order to be completed with more ease.

Speaking of challenges that pose too much of a difficulty, Yooka-Laylee has a good deal of these. Every world features a mine cart section reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country, though without the same amount of polish. This lack of polish goes into the boss battles as well. Each one besides the boss of the third world has some kind of issue with it. For the first world boss, it's the game's negligence in mentioning that you can stay still in a Reptile Roll, a necessity in order to leap over the logs that roll down the boss' ramp. The second world boss, while easy, goes on for far too long. Then, there's the fourth world boss that takes place entirely on a mine cart track. Finally, the fifth world boss has Yooka and Laylee in a pirate ship transformation from Dr. Puzz, which is challenging enough to control by its lonesome, but while avoid boss attacks? Get out of here. These slightly-to-immensely unpolished segments of game really make wanting to go for 100% completion a challenge, and while I did so as a sucker for collect-a-thon platformers of this type, the lack of polish in particular parts of Yooka-Laylee might turn a lot of players off.

Then, there are three quiz segments of Yooka-Laylee that are sprinkled throughout the game and hosted by Dr. Quack. These multiple-choice quizzes test players' observation skills, usually asking questions like where certain photos of the game were taken, what character is on screen, the correct name of a move Yooka and Laylee learn, and things of that sort. However, some are just ridiculous, like asking how long a player's particular save file has been played, how many Quills they have in their collection, and things that the player might not ordinarily consider. Thankfully, the player gets three strikes before they're out and have to restart the quiz, and only a minimum of five or six questions need to be answered (you get to move two spaces out of the ten if you correctly answer a particular question quickly).

There are five main worlds in Yooka-Laylee, and these start off as relatively small and easily digestible locales filled with a nice mix of exploration and platforming. Through collecting Pagies of which there are 25 in each world, you can expand these worlds to much larger and expansive levels. Certain sections of level that were either gated off or not there present themselves, such as the second world's Glitterglaze Glacier's central castle, which opens up for exploration when the world expands. Some worlds are more manageable to make a mental map of (wow, that alliteration!), while others are more difficult due to being split up by various rooms. For instance, it can be momentarily burdensome to remember which entrance in Capital Cashino leads to which area of the world.

I wouldn't make any bets at this casino, dear friends.
The five worlds are all connected by the hub that is the inside and outside of Hivory Towers. As stated, here Trowzer gives players free new moves that would otherwise cost money in the grand tome worlds, and there are 20 different Pagies to collect throughout the walls, halls, and exteriors of the hub world. It's nowhere near as large as Gruntilda's Lair from Banjo-Kazooie, but it can be a bit confusing to remember where all the pathways and passages lead.

Indeed, Playtonic Games kept both the good and bad parts of 3D platformers from the 64-bit era by providing a camera that can sometimes be a bit of a pest. Sometimes it's more of your enemy in particularly daunting platforming situations than actual baddies on the screen, getting stuck on walls, and for some reason, facing the doorways of places Yooka and Laylee enter from instead of the opposite way, the direction where players will be walking.

Overall, Yooka-Laylee was obviously made on a budget compared to its blatant inspiration, Banjo-Kazooie. Therefore the game is not as polished. At the same time, it's not a disaster by any means like the other really-hyped Kickstarter game that was Mighty No. 9. Instead, Yooka-Laylee succeeds a lot more than it fails. If you're only going to beat the game (which requires 100 Pagies), you can skip a lot of the more annoying, less polished, less smartly designed challenges that are present in the game. Even if you do wish to go for 100%, it's nothing that will get your blood boiling too much. Just understand that some portions of the game are not as adequately thought out as others. Other than that, Yooka-Laylee gives players exactly what they wanted and what the developers set out to do: basically directly imitate nearly everything from Banjo-Kazooie for one new game, and it does so with above average results.

[SPC Says: B-]

Sonic Forces (NS, PS4, XB1, PC) Classic Sonic - Green Hill Zone Gameplay

Sega has unleashed Classic Sonic gameplay from its upcoming Sonic Forces game, releasing this holiday season. While some footage was shown during a Nintendo Direct from a couple of weeks ago, this is a full act being on display here. Looks mighty nice visually, and here's hoping it plays mighty nice visually as well!

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (PS4, XB1, PC) Story Trailer 1

Capcom has released a brand-new trailer for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and it features a release date, September 19, and several new characters including Sigma and Ultron, who combine forces to become the villain of the game. Coming with the game are six DLC characters that come with the game upon pre-order.

Monday, April 24, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Blockbusters from Gaming Past and Present" Edition

Welcome to a brand-new week of content here at SuperPhillip Central! Starting things off as we usually tend to do each week is SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. We have some big milestone games from past and present in which to listen to music selections from, so let's get underway!

We begin with a theme from Bloodborne: The Old Hunters. Next on the playlist is a track from Halo 3. Moving on from there, Warhawk delivers a delightful, heroic main theme. Finally, we wrap things up with themes from Mass Effect 2 and Yakuza 3.

Click on the VGM volume name to hear the piece of video game music highlighted, and check out the VGM Database for past video game themes hand selected by yours truly. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1381. Bloodborne: The Old Hunters (PS4) - Ludwig, The Accursed & Holy Blade

Let's start with something tense and foreboding. It's Ludwig's theme, as heard in Bloodborne's downloadable content, The Old Hunters. We don't normally delve into DLC on SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, but The Old Hunters brought lots of new tracks with it. This one in particular comes in two parts, each featuring choir, each menacing.

v1382. Halo 3 (360) - Halo. Greatest Journey

From Bloodborne: The Old Hunters we move on to the final mainline Halo installment that original developer Bungie had a hand in, Halo 3. No doubt Bungie didn't want to be stuck as the Halo studio for Microsoft, so they moved on to work on its own IP, Destiny. Halo 3's final chapter has an exciting Warthog run through the collapsing titular structure. It's an adrenaline-pumping section of game and a perfect send-off for Bungie's work on Halo.

v1383. Warhawk (PS3) - The Warhawk

For those who owned a PlayStation 3 and looked on with jealousy as the Xbox 360 got both Halo and Gears of War for multiplayer mayhem, there was Warhawk. It was an early PlayStation 3 that offered expansive multiplayer battles in a wide variety of maps and modes. The main theme of the game, The Warhawk, is a majestic, loud, and proud theme with sufficient pomp and circumstance. It's worthy of the third-person multiplayer shoot-fest that was the remake to a PS1 original.

v1384. Mass Effect 2 (PS3, 360, PC) - Suicide Mission

With Mass Effect: Andromeda recently released, let's take a look back at Mass Effect 2, a game that is generally series fans' favorite of the original Mass Effect trilogy. Suicide Mission begins slow and subtly before building upon itself with backing brass and driving drums. It's about as climactic as you'd expect for a theme entitled "Suicide Mission", wouldn't you say?

v1385. Yakuza 3 (PS3) - Encounter the Dragon

Yakuza 3 stormed onto the PlayStation 3 in 2009 in Japan. Its Western release would come a year later. It was the first Yakuza game to implement trophies for all those achievement hunters out there. Encounter the Dragon is an intense combat theme, perfect for punching and kicking goons into oblivion.