Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Title Screens That Say A Thousand Words: Gaming's Best - Part Three

Title screens are like the covers of books. They can give you an idea of what to expect about a game before you play it. The best ones really get you excited to dive into your new game, or even a game you've played and beaten dozens of times. That's what this series of articles highlights-- the best of the best in title screens in gaming history. This time around, there are even links to YouTube videos showcasing the title screens in action. (Just click on the game names.) Part one and two of this series can be found here and here. With that, let's get to the eight newest games with title screens that are abundantly awesome.

Persona 5 (PS4, PS3)

Red silhouettes of the main characters wearing white masks, clothes and jackets waving in the breeze of subway trains speeding in and out from view? That makes for one stylish title screen, and if the Persona series of games is anything, it's that they're stylish. Few games can make characters standing on a subway platform seem so awesome, but Persona 5 does this wonderfully. Different segments of the title screen, like the new game or load game prompts, bring with it different angles and central focuses, making for a deliciously cool title screen to start us off.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii U, Wii, GCN)

Taking cues from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time's title screen, Twilight Princess in its original Wii and GameCube versions as well as the Wii U HD iteration updated the idea of Link riding on his trusty steed Epona through Hyrule Field. This creates some amazing visual imagery while a haunting vocal theme plays. This enchantment concludes with the camera taking focus off of Link for a brief moment before once again refocusing, now the green clad hero is in his wolf form, making a chilling and powerful howl. It's magical like many moments within The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess story proper.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, 360, PC)

Bad ass. That's all one can say about this title screen for Batman: Arkham Asylum, developer Rocksteady's first foray with the Dark Knight that made the studio abundantly famous for making a truly terrific superhero game. The title screen sees Batman standing tall with muscles rippling and cape flowing as he looks over a nighttime sky, complete with ominous clouds and a bright, massive moon glaring right back at him. This title screen like many for games are like the cover of a book, in that it lets you know that you're going to be in for one hell of a ride. And those who thought that had their opinions reaffirmed quite quickly.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Let's continue from something dark and brooding to something bright and cheery-- the world of the Sprixie Kingdom in Super Mario 3D World! The game's title screen runs through a series of skits of sorts that see Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Blue Toad running around and getting into mischief in a similar environment set in different times of day. One has all four characters scampering about after transforming into their cat selves while another sees poor Luigi being chases by a swarm of miniature Goombas. It's a delightful set of skits that are enjoyable to view more than just once.

Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)

We're not through with you yet, Mario! With summer quickly approaching, what better way to celebrate than with a game that drips with the thematic feel of summer locales and vacation that Super Mario Sunshine possesses in great amounts! The title screen is small but sweet, like a kiwi or mango. It slowly reveals each word of the title before having Charles Martinet's long running Mario voice shouting with glee, "Super Mario Sunshine! Woo-hoo!" The cheerful voice, bright blue sky and white clouds in the background, and glistening sun all make this title screen memorable despite its short length.

Halo: Combat Evolved (XBX)

Many of the greatest title screens are simple, and in many ways, Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that has such a title screen. It involves the camera circling and roaming around the titular, colossal Halo structure while Martin O'Donnell's theme plays, featuring some jaw-dropping vocals. Also like many of the greatest title screens, Halo's gives players an idea of the type of game they're going to be playing, one that will send their pulses pounding with its action and being in awe by the awesome presentation.

Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT)

We conclude part three of the best title screens in gaming with a double dose of Mega Man! First off is one of my favorite entries in the franchise, Mega Man X4, the first Mega Man X game to release on the PlayStation and the only one to release on the Sega Saturn. While many of the title screens and animations that began this article were rather lengthy, Mega Man X4's is simple, but awesome all the same. An energetic theme followed by an amazing guitar chord leads us to a blinding flash, zoomed out X entering the picture, and the reveal of the game's logo and title screen background. Also, who doesn't love a robotic voice going. "Mega Man. X-4"?

Mega Man Battle Network (GBA)

We move from the X series of Mega Man games to the Battle Network ones. The original Mega Man Battle Network released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001. It sported an action-RPG grid-based battle system using chips for main attacks as well as an engaging story. This pick for a great title screen might be a nostalgic one, but I think it really wowed players back in 2001 on the GBA hardware. With a sweet theme, a scrolling background, and cool logo, Mega Man Battle Network is a delight of a title screen to look at and listen to.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Last Stitch Goodnight (PS4, Steam) Review

Today is SuperPhillip Central's Local Game Dev Day! The first of two St. Louis-made games was reviewed this morning (check it out here). Now, we have the second. It's Well Bred Rhino's Last Stitch Goodnight, and here is the review.

Someone put Metroid and melee combat into a wound and sewed it all up into one pleasing package.

Indie developers of all shapes and sizes seem to love taking water from the Metroidvania well. Many high profile indie releases over the past few years routinely use Metroid and Castlevania as inspirations for their games, and they create experiences that play like typical Metroidvanias. Well Bred Rhino's Last Stitch Goodnight may not be an endeavor by a huge indie developer, but it makes for that in its oodles of humor, charm, and smart level design. It's just other quirks that needed some sewing up.

Your character is injected with a mysterious substance by Dr. Dooley, whose presence is dooley-ibous at best (I was going for "dubious" if you didn't catch the joke), and knocked out cold. With the threat of your character's body being experimented on for unknown research, one of Dr. Dooley's assistants intentionally drops a screwdriver to help you help yourself out of your cell.

The screwdriver is the first of many tools that you come across throughout Last Stitch Goodnight. As you progress through the myriad rooms, chambers, areas, and pathways throughout the game's sprawling mansion, you pick up new tools, serving not only as "keys" to new areas, but also to serve as weapons in battle. Things like candles can shed some light to dark areas, but they can also burn a baddie pretty badly (ha, ha alliteration rules).

That being said, sometimes things in the dark are best to actually not have to LOOK at their scary selves.
That said, we arrive at one of my issues with Last Stitch Goodnight. The combat, while refreshing that we have a Metroidvania based on melee and one-on-one battles, is quite stiff. Despite the abundance of enemy types with numerous attack variations to them, the basic strategy is generally to just run up close and whack them into submission while losing some minor slivers of health. As health pickups are usually easy to find from fallen foes and broken objects in the environments, and as many attack patterns by enemies are more than they're worth to dodge, it just makes the combat less about strategy and more about... well... a lack of strategy. Perhaps that's not totally true, as different tools used as weapons have different cases where they're best used. A downward swinging weapon is great for flying enemies, while one that deals more damage but only jabs forward might be better for an enemy that is grounded and on an even footing.

A saw right through the-- whoa.
That said, where typical encounters suffer, but not in a way that makes the game lacking an ability to enjoy it (far from it), Last Stitch Goodnight's boss battles really shine. These are more puzzles that have specific steps to solve to beat an enemy, or in one case, befriend an otherwise dangerous boss. These boss battles, of which there are eight by the just following the story, and at least one that is sweet in how adorable it is (using the developer's children's own character drawings), make you really think outside the box, use your tools in a way that make rational sense, and overcome them with great satisfaction.

*Singing with the Transformers theme* Ro-bah-ots: Robots in disguise!
Quests are a big focus of Last Stitch Goodnight. They are given in both story and side variants, and you can pick which one you wish to focus on from the pause menu. This means you're given a location to go to, as well as helpful prompts to determine which exits of rooms you need to enter to reach your destination. It's not entirely "go here, do this" either. Many times you'll have to use the correct tool at the right spot (all spots turn into a green circle when you walk near them) to progress, continue, or finish a given quest. Quest rewards range from new tools and items to things that flesh out the back story more, or simply just stuff to add to your completion percentage (which unfortunately forces you to beat the game to see the overall percentage each time, making "am I at 100% yet? *beats game and sees I'm not* Dammit!" a common occurrence.

Thankfully, most quests, important points of interest like vending machines, save points, and fast travel warp points, and even health upgrades are clearly marked on the maps you can purchase. These are done at said vending machines and show most of the blueprints for a given section of the mansion. Not all is revealed, so you will have to do some searching for rooms not revealed through the purchase of a blueprint.

Last Stitch Goodnight uses a mix of 2D characters and side-scrolling and 3D environments with many moments in transitioning between rooms that you'll pass between planes. It reminds me of Paper Mario in some regards, obviously without the ability to roam all around the 3D environments and instead being limited to a 2D plane. I'm talking aesthetics, folks-- so Last Stitch Goodnight reminds me of Paper Mario's aesthetics, so the comparison still works, alright?! In all seriousness, besides some chugging with the frame-rate, the visuals are very pleasant. Audio-wise, the music is suitable for the various environments, and I even found myself humming along with some of the tunes, or at least bobbing my head around. Some of these themes are more atmospheric than others, but a lot of them have a defined melody that can stick with some players. They certainly did with me. Outside of that, talking characters sport mumbles instead of actual speech, but it's charming and not grating like say, Banjo-Kazooie might be nowadays to players.

Don't make a "this enemy drives me batty" joke! Don't make a "this enemy drives me batty" joke!
One last point I'd like to make note of with Last Stitch Goodnight is how sharp the humor and dialogue are. The game might be set in a mansion with unknown horrors and evil science, but it doesn't take itself seriously all the time, and when it does, it can be quite poignant with its dialogue and moments.

Last Stitch Goodnight does suffer from stiff combat, limited strategy in typical encounters, and some bugs that are still being ironed out, but it's an appealing Metroidvania with engaging level design, smart boss battles, and sharp, witty humor. Well Bred Rhino's small size as an indie developer doesn't mean it had to create an unambitious game, because Last Stitch Goodnight is far from that. Instead, Last Stitch Goodnight is a cut above quite a few releases from bigger devs with bigger budgets that left me laughing in stitches a lot of the time.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by Well Bred Rhino.

SmuggleCraft (PS4, Steam) Review

Today is a special day here at SuperPhillip Central. This site is based in St. Louis, Missouri. Occasionally I like to take the time and use SuperPhillip Central to get the word out about local game devs in my city. This is such an occasion with two reviews for some PlayStation 4 and Steam games recently released from two local game devs. 

A problem that some of you might ponder is that knowing the devs or just being in the same city as them, if that will affect my judgment on their games? Will I be more lenient in order to be kind to my local STL game dev or be more critical to appear "unbiased"? Well, I'm going to review these games just like any others from any system from any place in the world, just like I have for the past 8.75 years here at SuperPhillip Central. 

Our first review is for a procedurally generated (I'll define this in the review body if you aren't familiar with the term) hovercraft racer that was funded through the magic of Kickstarter. It met its funding goal and it releases today. It's SmuggleCraft by Happy Badger Studio.

Smugglin' Contraband and Racing at High Speeds: Just Like I Do in Real Life

So few racing games explore using hovercraft. For heaven's sake, Nintendo has all but forgotten the existence of F-Zero as a franchise, but at least PlayStation is bringing back Wipeout, albeit in a collection next month. Thus, we turn to indies for our hovercraft fix. If you're looking for a tight racer with excellent controls, St. Louis-based developer, Happy Badger Studio's game SmuggleCraft is one that nails that important gameplay aspect down pat. It also features a relatively appealing quest-based story mode as well. It's just that other aspects of SmuggleCraft don't go over as well as these.

SmuggleCraft's solo experience consists of a quest system where randomly available quests appear, and you can choose to take them or not. Each quest giver has a token task for you to do, whether it's in the category of getting from the start to the finish, racing one to many vehicles, or towing a vehicle from point to another. The latter is thankfully more fun and less of nuisance than breaking down on the New Jersey Turnpike and needing Avis to come pick you up.

What SmuggleCraft fails to do, however, is explain a lot of concepts to the player. The main one relating to the story is that if you crash and burn, the game takes a roguelike approach, booting you back to the main menu and making you start fresh in the story. Thankfully, things like tutorial missions and the hovercraft pieces you've bought and collected stick with you, but all story progress, money, and parts to build new hovercraft pieces are wiped clean like a slate... the type of slate that mocks you and makes you wonder, "What was the point of all this progress? Why have you forsaken me, Happy Badger Studio?!"

In Dirahl, no one can hear you scream. Well, except for the Wolverangs, of course.
But seriously, folks, the "smuggle" in SmuggleCraft comes from carrying questionable to highly illegal goods for the quest givers. At the end of certain quests, you can betray the quest giver to reap better rewards. However, this puts you in their bad graces. For instance, if you betray someone by stealing medicine for yourself, not only will you get a better reward, but you'll get marked the brand of "thief", and we're not talking the fun "Link, your name is now 'Thief'' for taking a shovel from the shop in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening" type of thief either. We're talking "cops are going to be on your butt now, mister. Bad boys, bad boys. Whatchu gonna do? Whatchu gonna do when they come for you?" type of thief. Cops will come after you aggressively when you're labeled a bad guy. 

On that same token, doing multiple heroic or stand-up smuggler types of things like pilfering from the bad guys will get you to draw their ire, having them chase after you and blast you as you try to survive your regular smuggling and racing runs. You can choose a good path, a bad path, or just take a neutral progression through SmuggleCraft, helping the poor with their needs and wishes in many of their quests, and then betray some of the unluckier ones by surrendering them to the police. Whatever floats your boat-- er-- hovers your craft, man.

Quests and races with harder difficulties mean more challenging track parts get placed along your path.
The solo mode's quest variety could be better, but where that variety is lacking, there is much more to be discovered in the different tracks you smuggle and race upon. That's because they're randomly assembled by numerous track pieces in one of a seemingly endless amount of orders. No two races are ever the same. Sure, within a few races observant players will pick up on familiar track pieces, but the way that Happy Badger created an overall successful algorithm to transition cleanly between one piece to another is really something commendable. Well... for the most part. Sometimes one track piece would lead to another with an odd transition. Then other times it meant that one track piece didn't connect properly to another, creating confusion on where to go, or worse, difficulty in reaching the next piece completely.

One thing Happy Badger Studio nailed about SmuggleCraft is the feel of driving any given hovercraft. The controls are responsive, fluid, tight, and feel great. Drifting and boosting around turns and corners, propelling one's hovercraft through a cavernous canyon via speed boosts, and jetting across the smooth waves of the ocean all are enjoyable to do. Perhaps my only problem with SmuggleCraft's controls come from manual boosting. How it's intended to work is that when you let off the gas for a couple of seconds and once again step on it, your hovercraft makes a quick boost forward. This works great when you want to drift and then come out of said drift with a boost, but if you get off track (sometimes literally) and discombobulated with your navigation on the procedurally generated tracks, you might need to turn around or course correct. This can be difficult when you're letting go of and then reengaging the gas, forcing small corrections to turn into massive boosts because the craft forces you to do so. Many times I fell off the track completely because I was making small course corrections only to boost off the track entirely.

Drift and boost to perform a drift boost! It's like how to do a drift boost is right in the name!
This would be frustrating in the solo mode because as I said, SmuggleCraft uses a roguelike system to it. However, fortunately, the developers allowed players to pause a quest at any time (even in midair). This allowance gives players the chance to back out of a quest before crashing (and subsequently burning), thus removing the heavy end of their solo mode progress. This grants players the ability to fully enjoy Happy Badger Studio's fun writing and generally engaged story without worry of constantly having to restart it from the very beginning over and over again.

As you complete quests, you gain money and parts to build new hovercraft pieces. These come in various forms with the "best" pieces taking the most funds to craft. Hence, the "craft" portion of the SmuggleCraft name. Wait. Maybe that's more to do with the "hovercraft", but I doubt the developer knows more about where they came up with the name of the game than I, a mere blogger with little knowledge whatsoever. Back to being more serious, the craft pieces come in cockpits, bodies, and the like, offering myriad possibilities to create a custom craft that suits your play style as well as your own personal style in hovercrafts. Move over Capri pants, rear spoilers are so in this upcoming summer.

Outside of solo mode for players, there is multiplayer in both local and online varieties. Both are pretty bare bones in options-- there isn't even an option to switch between vertical and horizontal split-screen, for instance, in local multiplayer. That said, what is here is serviceable enough. Local multiplayer is good for up to four players. Random hovercraft are assigned, and if players don't care for their current selection, they can randomize a new craft. It's mostly for aesthetic purposes anyway. Time of day can be chosen, how long a given race will be (as short as 1.5 minutes to as long as 5 minutes in estimated length), how difficult the race will be (more challenging track pieces are selected, easier to crash, etc.), if pursuers will get involved in the race, and how many victories a given player needs to win the overall round are all available things to select. Online mode has lobbies, but as of this review they were pretty empty. It's both my and the developer's hope that today's release of SmuggleCraft sees action in the lobbies. It probably also has to do with times of day the online is played, setting up times and lobbies with friends, and the like. Regardless, with limited options available and variety, it might be hard to find staying power with SmuggleCraft's multiplayer in the long run.

You can share my couch, and you can share part of my TV screen, but you cannot share my win.
Presentation-wise, SmuggleCraft sports a slick and smooth, simplistic polygonal style to it. Things are made of clear cut polygons, and the game looks gorgeous especially when it rains. Drops patter across the screen, they make the walls, mountains, canyons, and caverns of races glimmer and shine, showcasing their slick qualities, and it's just relaxing to race in. Perhaps it's the art style is a bit too plain and lacking points of interest in races to fully engage players to the degree that Happy Badger Studio would like, but at least it's helped by a seriously chill electronic soundtrack that pulses and pumps as you drive around Dirahl.

Overall, SmuggleCraft is a mixed bag. Its solo mode may give off some appearance of repetition, but it generally is enjoyable as long as you realize how the game's roguelike system works (something the devs fail to explain in-game). Meanwhile, multiplayer doesn't seem to have quite the amount of staying power as I would have hoped with a lack of options and little to really gain from racing for the long haul. Still, with extremely awesome feel of each hovercraft, a capable procedurally generated track system, well-written dialogue, and a lovely if not simple art style, SmuggleCraft may not be masterful, but it's sure as hell nowhere near awful. It's somewhere in existence hovering in between.

[SPC Says: C]

Review copy provided by Happy Badger Studio.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 (NS, PS4, XB1, PC) Announcement Trailer

After the teaser trailer came out two weeks ago, now the actual full announcement trailer for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 has been unleashed this morning! Take a look at the adventure that spans the space-time continuum with an assortment of new and returning characters!

Monday, May 22, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Mario Madness 2017" Edition

Fresh off the excitement of SuperPhillip Central's 750th review which featured Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs continues the wave of celebration with an all-Mario edition to kick off this next batch of one-hundred VGM volumes.

We begin this Mario-fied edition of the VGMs with Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario 3D Land, a duo of Mario games in a similar style. Then, we go retro in a big way with Super Mario Bros. 3 before returning to the present with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Finally, we go back to the past with Super Mario Land, and a catchy theme at that.

Just click on the VGM volume name to hear the song described. Click on the VGM Database link right here to hear all 1400 past VGM volumes. If you didn't know by now, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs have been going on for a good while now! Now, let's get on to the music!

v1401. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) - Switch Scramble Circus

We begin with a celebratory uptempo theme from one of Super Mario 3D World's earliest stages, a song that appears in every circus-based level in the game. Whether Mario and friends are vaulting from trapeze to trapeze, scrambling across switches, or on the big stage, this high energy theme plays, a great way to kick off the first of our 1400th series of VGM volumes!

v1402. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) - Castle Theme

But, before there was Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, there was Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS. It merged the 2D style of point-to-point platforming and flagpole goals with 3D environments and spaces. An awesome game, and the castle levels were some of the greatest found in the game, all ending with a confrontation with either Bowser or Dry Bowser (and all based on platforming which I really loved). This tense tune lets you know you're in for a challenge indeed!

v1403. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) - Waterfront (Akihabara Electric Circus Version)

A special soundtrack was released alongside the launch of Super Mario Bros. 3 featuring performances, medleys, and remixes from the the game, all done by the Akihabara Electric Circus. This particular track is a combination of multiple themes, such as the Dark Land theme, but mostly the theme of Water Land, hence its title of Waterfront. It's definitely got a '90s feel to it, but it still manages to be satisfying to the ears.

v1404. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS) - Where's Toad?

Where's Toad? Well, Toads are everywhere in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and that was one of the problems a good deal of players and critics had with the game. I didn't dislike the game as much as some players did, but one spot that everyone was agreement with was how good the soundtrack was. Then again, how could it have been bad when Yoko Shimomura was behind it! This theme plays during one of many sections in Paper Jam where Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario must hunt for missing Toads.

v1405. Super Mario Land (GB) - Muda Kingdom

Super Mario Land stands as one of the weakest Mario platformers to me, even being a little weaker than the very vanilla New Super Mario Bros. That said, I happen to like both games regardless. "Hip" Tanaka provided a much better soundtrack to Super Mario Land than Nintendo's new batch of composers did with New Super Mario Bros., and the proof is in themes like this, the Muda Kingdom's theme. Catchy, infectious, and delightful, Tanaka-san's work is exquisite.