Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (NS) Review

Welcome to the last review and post for September 2017 here at SuperPhillip Central. It's for a game that launched late in August for the Nintendo Switch, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle!

Mario + Rabbids + XCOM = A Winning Formula

What happens when a leaker only interested in furthering their career and Internet notoriety blabs about a game before it's ready? It brings out the worst of online gaming culture, as evident by the leaking of information surrounding Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Shown with Ubisoft's plan for releasing info on the game, something meant for only employees associated with the company, one rogue leaker only saw the opportunity to reveal it all to better their themselves while bringing nothing but added stress and sadness to the development team, who saw their creative vision and project of love skewered to death.

Immediately, as predictable as Internet-dwelling gamers are, hate-spewing nerds across the community showed their asses as well as nothing but loathing for the game's concept without even seeing a glimpse of actual gameplay. When Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle actually debuted in trailer form at E3 2017 and the game released the following August, these quick conclusion-jumpers were once again forced to eat crow. Why? Because yes, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is an amazing game albeit with an admittedly strange concept behind it, but the end result is one of the best games released yet on the Nintendo Switch.

Mamma mia! Who are these strange creatures?!
When the worlds of the Rabbids and the Mushroom Kingdom combine, all sorts of havoc reigns down. Our story begins with a certain Rabbid being combined with a special kind of glasses, able to morph a myriad of objects and creatures in to corrupted beasts. Once crazed but still friendly Rabbids are still crazed but now antagonistic, sporting dangerous weaponry for Mario and pals to contend with. However, Mario immediately meets up with two unlikely allies, a Rabbid dressed in Princess Peach's attire (who loves taking selfies) and a Rabbid dressed like Mario's brother, Luigi. Like all playable characters within Kingdom Battle, each has their own special uses in battle. Mixing things up isn't your traditional arsenal of Mario fare. Instead, Mario and company use arm cannons, somewhat more fitting to something Samus Aran of the Metroid series would wear rather than Nintendo's mascot.

This Rabbid might have been late for a Van Halen concert, but he's just in time to receive some pain.
Battles occur between two sides: Mario's party of three (where Mario is always the leader and cannot be substituted out) and the enemy's squadron. Mario's group gets to perform of all their actions first, such as moving, attacking, and perform each member's special abilities. Each unit can perform one act of movement, one act of attacking, and one utilization of their special ability before their turn is over. Of course, nothing says that you have to use all three moves during a Mushroom Kingdom denizen or Rabbid's turn.

Kingdom Battle is pure tactical action where decisions on the battlefield, maybe even the smallest of choices, can determine a quick victory or a prolonged loss -- or anything in between, of course. Each party member can deal a grand amount of damage in one turn. For instance, Mario can move to a close enemy, slide into them for some minor damage, and then quickly move back behind cover. Then, he can use that cover to safely launch a blast attack from his gun over a long distance (different characters have different ranges depending on their weapon type). Finally, maybe Mario opts to use one of his two special abilities, my favorite of which allows him to attack a given enemy that crosses in to his line of fire during the enemy group's opportunity for movement and action. However, some moves and abilities require a cooldown period of a set number of turns before they can be activated again.

Foolish, Rabbid! Now you're right in Mario's sights thanks to his special ability!
Characters can also interact with one another as well. This is mainly used for party members to gain extra movement distance on maps via launching off the top of other teammates' heads in a move called the Team Jump. Some versions of the Team Jump will cause damage to surrounding enemies upon impact, while others will heal surrounding party members a la Peach's special jump.

After all of Mario's teammates have made their tactical decisions on the battlefield, it's the enemy team's turn to fight back. This is where being behind appropriate cover is supremely beneficial, as this not only affects your line of sight but the enemy's as well. Taking cover behind blocks two characters high will make oncoming attacks from the front of enemies have no effect on your character's health. Instead, it just weakens the cover. Waist-high walls give a 50% chance of your enemy dishing out damage to you or just roughing up some of your cover. Then, there are walls that can't be damaged at all, which is preferable to take cover behind. That said, enemies can obviously use cover to their own advantage as well as using height differences on the numerous battlefields in Kingdom Battle. It means flanking foes or moving to their sides where a 0% chance of hitting them turns into a 50% or better yet 100% is better encouraged, as long as you don't put a character into harm's way for a painful beatdown of bullets and attacks.

The percentage under Mario's health (or any unit for that matter) shows
the chance of this enemy shot hitting our plump protagonist. Thank spaghetti and meatballs for cover!
Starting off in Kingdom Battle, the types of enemies Mario and company face are relatively simple. They'll perform one type of shot which is a simple one-hit bullet with no specialty to them. Eventually, as you progress through the four worlds of the game, you'll come across enemies that can transport across the map, perform significant damage with melee attacks, be completely invulnerable from attacks to the front, throw grenades over cover, use status effects, and more.

These particular foes like to roughhouse and dish significant pain onto nearby
foes with their devastating melee attacks.
Thankfully, as you progress through Kingdom Battle yourself, Mario's team will be prepared, as every battle rewards coins that can be used to purchase new weapons and guns. New ones are added by discovering them from treasure chests in the overworld maps, or by finishing worlds. New guns have upgraded attack power and many add status effects of their own to unleash upon foes. Such effects include blocking a unit from using their weapon, honey that stops a unit from moving for one turn, burn that causes erratic movement which can send a unit right out into the open for enemies to pick off or easily reach, and freeze, which stops a unit from using special abilities. All effects last one turn, and these are just some examples, but when dealt onto a unit, they can really change the tide of battle with one shot.

Mario seldom misses his mark when an enemy is helplessly dangling in the air like this.
Aside from new weapons, you also gain skill points that can be spent on each of Mario's party members' skill trees. Initially, you unlock a special ability from the tree, but then that branches off to increasing running distance, Team Jump distance, health, how long it takes for abilities to cool down, how much damage specific moves take, and much more. This is something that grants players the appreciated ability to set up each unit in Mario's team the way they like to match their play style.

When Mario and gang aren't in battle, they explore adventure fields known as overworlds, where you can move the non-playable but only speaking member of Mario's group, Beep-O, to guide the other current lineup of battlers through. These sections sometimes provide unique puzzle-solving opportunities which I enjoyed a lot as they broke up the game from just being a mere compilation and onslaught of battles. Additionally, seeking out treasure chests within the worlds provided more longevity and often gave significant rewards in the forms of new weapons, skill points, soundtrack entries, artwork, and more.

Tropics and temples await for adventure in this first world of Kingdom Battle, Ancient Gardens!
These worlds start off linear, but as you complete other worlds, you earn new Beep-O abilities that grant you access to new portions of each world. For instance, the first world's finish presents Beep-O with block-pushing capabilities; required to move through future worlds, but also pretty nice to have to revisit a past world as well. Those previously completed worlds also happen to contain ten special challenges, which range from very easy to super hard. These might be completed in a set number of turns in order to successfully beat them. They're all non-mandatory, but for those looking for more skill points and a better completion percentage on their profile, they're great to pursue and attempt to beat.

As for the required battles in the game, there are usually 8-10 chapters per world. These chapters consist of 1-3 battles each, where you can opt to enter Easy Mode if a certain battle is giving you more of a challenge than others. Easy Mode provides you with a full replenishment of your party's health and weakens enemy attacks. Each battle has an optional prerequisite amount of turns to beat while having all members of your party survive in order to earn a Perfect rating on them. This rating rewards you with more coins after battle. As for the battle types, there are four: defeat all enemies, defeat a set number of enemies, reach a destination on the map, and escort a character (which thankfully, you control) to a set position, similar to the previous battle goal.

Each midway chapter features a more challenging midboss to take on, while the final chapter of a world always concludes with a battle featuring a powerful boss. These encounters take more ingenuity to tackle, as it's not always "deal as much damage as possible" right at the beginning of the battle. For instance, the boss at the end of the first world requires a party member to step on a switch in front of the Rabbid beast to deprive of it of its health-replenishing bananas. Then, you are given free reign to eliminate its HP until the second phase starts. Each boss is creative and engaging to fight, with my particular favorite (and a favorite for seemingly many) being the world three boss.

Luigi uses a suspiciously Poltergust-like gun to ravage this Piranha Rabbid with a blazing bullet.
Each of the four worlds in Kingdom Battle is absolutely bonkers in aesthetic. One world has gigantic item blocks resting under a humongous tower of colorful building blocks, while another is a combination of a dusty desert and a frozen-over mountain, stocked with overgrown underwear and huge mine cart sections of track. It can be a bit of pain to retread past worlds, as there is a lot of ground to cover in each, especially in world three, where the world is much more nonlinear and confusing to explore because of it. Regardless, the exploration ends up staying remotely satisfying throughout the game, and there's always a wonder of what wacky piece of environment you're going to stumble upon in your adventure next.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle features a Grant Kirkhope-scored soundtrack. This is overall nice, but it sounds more fitting of a Rare-developed release like Banjo-Kazooie rather than a game featuring Mario. Furthermore, while Kingdom Battle looks exceptional with its bright, vivid colors, well animated characters, and astonishing environments, showcasing an immense amount of objects and movement, the game isn't particularly proficient with performance. Many times during battles, zoomed in attacks would result in brief freezes or sputtering in the frame-rate, resulting in an unappetizing effect. Worse case scenario, Mario + Rabbids is prone to crashing. I've had the game do so twice to me, and thankfully it didn't happen during a prolonged boss battle or worse, a three-round engagement with the enemy. Combine that with sometimes being unable to skip cutscenes (making repeating certain boss battles a pain), and not all is well with Kingdom Battle. Hopefully, some patches are in development to iron out these issues.

The draw distance, depth of field, complexity in the environments -- all of these amaze.
Those who were worried or worse so, antagonistic towards the idea of a game combining Nintendo's Mario with Ubisoft's less popular (and to some, annoying) Rabbids characters need not be so, as Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle turned out to be just as big of a hit with myself and other players as it was when it was officially unveiled this past E3. Some performance problems bring the overall package down, but with smart tactical combat, a delightful sense of charm and chuckle-worthy humor, and an appealing slice of exploration in the game's four worlds, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a terrific overall game. Perhaps the best combination of two things since pizza and pineapple! ...Well, maybe not. I can't vouch for pineapple pizza myself.

[SPC Says: A-]

Friday, September 29, 2017

Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) Review

There is but one other day left in September. We begin the final two days of the month with a review for a recent release, Metroid: Samus Returns for the Nintendo 3DS.

Samus returns, and so has a high quality Metroid game

For consecutive years, Metroid as a franchise had a questionable future with some fans asking even if the series had any kind of future at all. After the fan backlash concerning what should have been a slam dunk of a game, the Nintendo + Team Ninja-crafted Metroid: Other M for Wii, the Metroid series went in the dark for a while. Like salt to an open wound, further pain was inflicted on the Metroid fan base with the announcement and subsequent release of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, a game that had little to do with the Metroid series other than in name and in backstory to the Galactic Federation. Add on to this that the game was announced after many years without a traditional Metroid, nor without one teased for the future, and Metroid fans got a bit into a universal tiff.

Now, the time when anger and frustration for Metroid fans was common seems like a old, distant, unpleasant memory. Last June, E3 2017 saw the debut announcements of not one, but two new Metroid games, and seemingly out of nowhere: Metroid Prime 4 and Metroid: Samus Returns. The latter game is what Nintendo is calling a reimagination of the original Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus. In multiple regards, Metroid: Samus Returns strikes a balance with sticking with the old while bringing enough freshness to the original Metroid II to make for an engaging adventure.

Famed intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran is back on duty, and her mission this time around takes her to the planet SR388. With reports of rogue Metroids, a threat to the entire galaxy, moving about inside the depths of the planet, Samus infiltrates the planet's labyrinthine, cavernous system to eradicate the Metroid menace, all 30 of them, and return home with another mission under her proverbial belt. Of course, just saying that is easy, but the actual feat is going to be one serious test for Nintendo's most famous bounty hunter.

If you didn't notice by now, Samus has returned.
Speaking of which, you can indeed teach an old bounty hunter new tricks, as evident with Samus Returns' all-new counter system. When an enemy charges up, ready to pounce, with a correct press of the X button with proper timing, Samus will stave them off. In the enemy's daze from their failed attack, Samus can unleash a flurry of shots into them, defeating them rather easily. You can't just spam the X button either, as each counter attempt leaves Samus open for a moment or two. This is where the timing of your button presses is key. Some enemies wind up a little longer before attacking after they give the signal they're about to attempt to ram into Samus. Others do it more instantly.

The counter mechanic adds a new degree to the Metroid's series combat, but that's not the only change. By holding the R button while standing still, Samus can aim at degree and directions she needs to in order to defeat foes with better efficiency or to make the job less of a hassle. After all, those days of jumping and shooting to hope for the best in order to hit an enemy clinging to a wall or floating in the air weren't optimal. (Not to say the past 2D Metroids are any lesser of games because of Samus' ability to aim in multiple directions in Samus Returns, however.)

Free-style aiming adds something that I didn't even know I wanted in a Metroid game before now.
The final new addition to Samus' abilities this time around are four unique Aeion abilities that our hero discovers within her adventures on SR388. Samus obtains them along the course of the game, with each providing a special and helpful bonus. For instance, there is a Scan Pulse that is the first Aeion ability, which scans the surrounding area for bomb-able and breakable blocks, housing means to escape rooms or find upgrades. Then, there's the Lightning Armor, which when activated, surrounds Samus with green energy, warding off direct damage to her until the Aeion gauge empties. These Aeion abilities all have their pertinent uses, making for a beneficial and rewarding inclusion to this fresh take on Metroid II.

What I love about Metroid games is starting off with a limited arsenal of weapons and abilities. At this point, you have to take on enemies slowly and methodically, learning the ins and outs of the game's combat and controls. However, as Samus acquires upgraded weapons and abilities, what enemies were once hazards can easily be destroyed as you effortlessly march through past areas of the game. With enemies you had to counter before within Samus Returns to overtake them more easily, now you can unleash a barrage of blasts that pierce through their armor and empty their health quicker.

It goes far beyond eliminating enemies at a faster pace, too. As is traditional for the series, the acquisition of new weapons and abilities grant Samus the power to better explore areas. Doors that were once locked shut, housing hidden missile, super missile, power bomb, energy tank, etc. upgrades inside, can now be used entered with the help of a new ability or weapon.

Buzz off, bug. Samus has no time for you. It's Metroid season.
However, that does enter into one of the problems with Metroid: Samus Returns' design. In pretty much every other Metroid game, the map Samus explores is full of interconnected areas that possesses multiple pathways for Samus to reach other sectors to a greater ability. Following the Metroid II design, Samus Returns a similar nonlinear course for Samus to travel. The individual areas of planet SR388 are all connected in a strict order and you go through one after the other, eliminating all Metroids in each before being able to explore the next area. It makes for an uncharacteristically disjointed feeling in the world. While fast travel transportation chambers allow swift movement around areas and sections of areas, it makes the overall adventure less enjoyable for those like me who enjoy a more complicated world.

This goes back to finding item upgrades because there will be a seemingly endless number of times where you'll see an upgrade marked on the map or in plain sight and not have the proper ability to nab it. You might readily have the knowledge required to get it, even knowing what ability you need, but the point still remains that you cannot acquire it yet. Go ahead -- laugh at me, you no good, dirty upgrade! This issue is made greater by the fact that you can't even collect all of the upgrades in the game before acquiring one final, severely late-game "ability" within Samus Returns. Hence, the game makes it so it actively discourages backtracking until you get to that notable end-game point. Otherwise you're merely wasting your time, searching through areas to merely meet roadblock after roadblock of "Don't have this ability needed to acquire this upgrade? Don't mind planet SR388, it's just mocking you."

An otherwise difficult situation to grapple with is overcome by Samus.
I talked before about how Samus' mission is to eradicate the Metroid menace from SR388. As Metroids are eliminated in each area of the planet, Samus gains access to other areas and portions of the planet. The amount of destroyed Metroids required to move on to the next area/section varies. Metroid II offered a basic lineup of Metroid types, all pretty much easily defeated. However, the repetition and tedium in facing the same enemy types over and over grew tiring. Unfortunately, this is one aspect from the original Metroid II that Samus Returns retains.

A well timed button press results in a well executed counterattack.
There are but a handful of Metroid types to take care of and eliminate, but with 30 total, you'll face them all and probably more times than you'll like. Sure, with upgraded weapons and abilities, taking on these horrific creatures becomes easier as you play through the game, but for Metroid species that take a while to beat no matter what, seeing Samus be required to take on her fifth one becomes taxing on the player. And don't even get me started on the Metroid battles where they are programmed to escape and Samus must chase them from nearby room to room. Those just seem like padding to me, which is odd because the entirety of Samus Returns is a lengthy and otherwise adventure, clocking in at over 10 hours for most players on their first time through.

Fortunately, there are more evolved boss encounters within Metroid: Samus Returns, and these are fantastic battles, some with completely new baddies to face, such as one that stalks Samus for most of the game, even involving her in one of the rare set pieces of the game, an epic and hectic chase sequence. These new encounter inclusions are satisfying, and the ones that were previously in the original Metroid II have been updated for maximum enjoyment.

Control-wise, Samus Returns was a little painful and troublesome for me to play, which isn't anything routine or normal when I'm playing on my New Nintendo 3DS XL. With Samus Returns, things like holding the left shoulder button to stay attached to walls in Morph Ball form was quite difficult for me, and ended many times with Samus becoming unattached to a high up ceiling or wall because the L button was to challenging to hold in for a significant period of time. Other than that and the need to change between missile types via the touch screen, Samus otherwise felt as great as ever to play as.

Visually, Samus Returns is one stunning game, at least from the perspective of being a Nintendo 3DS game in 2017. The models are superb, the environments are sublime, and when the 3D slider is turned on, the depth of areas becomes absolutely stunning in how far back in the distance they extend. From a musical point of view, Samus Returns features plenty of remixed Metroid tunes while offering some new and engaging melodic tunes, but most of the unique musical content is all ambient and atmospheric.

When in SR388, do what the fire-spewing faces do.
From the subtitle, one might think that it's just Samus Aran who has returned, but in fact, it's much greater of a moment than that, it's the return of the Metroid franchise as a whole. After years of doubt and uncertainty surrounding the series and its fans, Metroid isn't just back in name, with Metroid: Samus Returns, it's back in a desirable quality worthy of the franchise's name.

[SPC Says: B+]

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Beach Buggy Racing (NS) Review

Released a couple of weeks ago on the Nintendo Switch eShop, Beach Buggy Racing is a game in one of my favorite genres, the arcade kart racer. Here's my take on the game.

Handles as well as an overturn beach buggy

Some games make a great transition between mobile devices and consoles. Others, however, do not. Generally some improvements need to come into place, as what may be serviceable to play on mobile devices won't exactly cut it when it comes to consoles. This is the case with Vector Unit's Beach Buggy Racing. The games feels like a carbon copy of a mobile game ported over to the Nintendo Switch with little in the way of improvement.

Beginning with the positive, Beach Buggy Racing's Career Mode is an engaging one where you complete chapters of racing events before completing enough to take on that chapter's boss. Beating the boss unlocks that character as a playable one to race about with. Racing events in each chapter include things like winning races, elimination-style events, point-based weapon challenges, and time trials. Each event can net you up to three stars depending on how well you performed, adding some longevity and replay value to this mode. You can use the currency provided from completing events to buy new rides and upgrade them to boost their overall performance in races.

The racers are on their marks and ready to ride.
Outside of the single-player Career Mode, there is the ability to go against a friend via split-screen, race in a Grand Prix championship where the racer with the most points at the end of the series of races wins, a quick play option allowing you to race on whatever track you want, whenever you want, and Daily Challenges where each day you play against a varied racer and attempt to beat him or her for a reward.

As for the racetracks, while they aren't anything to be wowed about over design-wise, each one is distinct enough that there is a nice feeling of variety going on. This continues with each tracks' shortcuts, offering alternate paths to either whittle away from a precious millisecond from your total time or to create some very short distance between you and the other racers. However, these shortcuts seemingly are more trouble than they're worth, giving you such a mild reward for a massive risk most of the time, which ended up with me mostly ignoring them.

Most of the time, shortcuts such as this one prove to be more trouble than they're worth.
Comparing a kart racer made for mobile like Beach Buggy Racing to something built for a console like Mario Kart isn't particularly fair, but between a mobile-first racer and a console-first racer, the discrepancy between controlling and handling your kart is quite pronounced. Being based off a mobile game, Beach Buggy Racing has extremely loose and floaty controls to it, something that does not feel satisfying by any stretch of the imagination to control on a standard console controller. It seems as if the port team just took the mobile original's handling and made no adjustments to make the experience work well with the Switch's analog controls. Thus, what you get is a racing game that plays insufficiently and disappointingly because the handling is overall junky.

Screens don't really do Beach Buggy Racing justice, as the game looks much more pleasant in motion.
Furthermore, Beach Buggy Racing just isn't a deep racing game. Even casual arcade racers like Mario Kart contain advanced techniques in some form to get ahead of the competition and add some complexity to the gameplay foundation. For Mario Kart, it's the use of drifting and gaining boosts the longer you drift around a turn or corner. Sadly, Beach Buggy Racing has nothing of the sort. It's merely race after race of driving, staying on track, and hoping not to get screwed over by a wanton weapon on a given lap.

Here, too, becomes another issue with Beach Buggy Racing. The items in the game are for the most part full of offensive items. This means that you get very little to protect you while up in your first place. Since you can't use offensive weapons to shoot backward to block oncoming items, you're stuck with just a shield item that doesn't even come up consistently in the item roulette while in first position. When you do have a shield, it lasts for a limited time, making it difficult to time when to bring it up when an item is forthcoming. It also doesn't help that you basically just have to guess when the item is about to hit you as there's no visual signal whatsoever. That's not even discussing how CPU players can use their special abilities multiple times in races while you can only use yours once, or how the AI magically can come back to the race much faster than you can when they are hit by a weapon. It all just leads to one absolutely aggravating experience.

Get ready to see a deluge of item usage in each of Beach Buggy Racing's races.
And that is what Beach Buggy Racing is in its Nintendo Switch form, an aggravating experience. When one considers its unsatisfying controls and handling, "buggy" experience (ironically so given the title of the game) concerning how many times the BBR crashed on me during the review process, and bland presentation, what is acceptable on mobile platforms is not on the same degree as to what is acceptable on a full fledged console like the Nintendo Switch. Better sit this particular race out.

[SPC Says: D]

Review code provided by Vector Unit.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions (3DS) Launch Trailer

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions releases in just over a week for all territories (though Japan gets it a day earlier). With that, Nintendo produced a special launch trailer for the game's upcoming release, and it goes in-depth on the gameplay and new Bowser's Minions mode. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions launches October 5 in Japan and October 6 in North America and Europe.

Monday, September 25, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "Game On, Game Boy" Edition

After last week's themed Mario Kart edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, I wanted to do one more special edition before returning to this weekly, recurring SPC segment of articles' standard format.

This week, it's all about the Game Boy and its successor, the Game Boy Color, which threw a new dimension of visual prowess into games with its addition of color.

Since this is a themed week, every game featured must be on the Game Boy or Game Boy Color. That's exactly what I accomplished with the tailoring of this edition, starting off with The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Donkey Kong Land, and Pokemon Red / Blue. Then, we dive into less well known, less produced games in the form of Dragon Warrior Monsters and Trip World. (Don't feel bad if you're a North American who has never heard of the latter. There's a good reason for that.)

Click on the VGM name to hear a given song in YouTube form, and as always, the VGM Database houses every last, past VGM volume showcased on this weekly fixture of SuperPhillip Central's posts. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1476. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB) - Face Shrine (Level 6)

One of my favorite games in The Legend of Zelda series is Link's Awakening, the first Zelda game to appear on a Nintendo handheld. It blew my mind, along with many other players at the time, that the size of a world compared to the original Zelda and A Link to the Past could fit inside a smaller cartridge and be played on the tiny Game Boy of all things. Every notable feature from past Zelda games was tucked away within Link's Awakening, like the dense overworld, intricate dungeons, and repertoire of items. Link's Awakening is truly a fantastic entry from the past and will continue to be one for future players, too.

v1477. Donkey Kong Land (GB) - Ancient Beaver Bop

Rareware was never a slouch on any hardware the company worked with and designed games around. This is no truer than with the amazing work the studio put into Donkey Kong Land, a take on Donkey Kong Country in visuals but a completely different game otherwise. The visuals are crazy in how Rare managed to create prerendered models on the Game Boy hardware (how ever hard to see compared to the background and oncoming enemies notwithstanding) and the music from Dave Wise is just as sensational now as it was back then.

v1478. Pokemon Red / Blue (GB) - Cerulean City

My middle school self was so enamored with Pokemon back when the games first debuted in North America. From playing the games, watching the anime, collecting the trading card game cards, buying up as many figures I could find, and even drawing my own comic, Pokemon fully enveloped a young SuperPhillip in its charm. Nowadays, Pokemon Red and Blue are way too slow in gameplay and archaic in design compared to future entries, but the games will always be nostalgic for me. It helps when you have simple but catchy tunes like this one, for the second Gym Badge city in Kanto that you encounter, Cerulean City.

v1479. Dragon Warrior Monsters (GBC) - Beautiful Starlit Night

Fresh off the success of Pokemon, which just so happened to be the game featured before this one, a whole ton of monster-raising games followed, whether having already been in development or not before Pokemon. One of these was Dragon Warrior Monsters, a charming and engaging monster-finding, capturing, and battling game for the Game Boy Color. Several sequels would arrive on both the Game Boy Color and later on the Nintendo DS.

v1480. Trip World (GB) - World 1

1992's Trip World from Natsume is our final game featured in this all Game Boy edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. Trip World is an interesting case as the game never officially released in North America. Instead, the game only released in Japan and Europe, even on the Nintendo 3DS' Virtual Console it remained exclusive to those territories. Regardless, if you're looking for peppy music, Trip World has you covered as evident by this happy-go-lucky first world theme.

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

Little by little The Legend of Zelda series has moved along with progressing the formula, but none so pronounced as what the gaming world saw with this year's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. With a brand new open world setting and structure, as well as its moving from series norms, Breath of the Wild dawned a new era in The Legend of Zelda franchise.

However, Breath of the Wild wasn't the first Zelda game to try something new to shake up the formula after Twilight Princess (where the series started to sort of go through the motions). The Zelda game I'm referring to is the subject of this Monday morning's Review Redux, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

A link between tradition and progress

After playing the delightful Nintendo Switch launch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (also on Wii U as a swan song for the system), I wanted to play some older games in the Zelda series. I didn't really have an idea on which entry I desired to replay, but then I thought about things from a deeper viewpoint rather than "which game will bring me the most fun".

The idea came to me, entering into my mind as if the thought came through my ear canal, that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a bold new direction for the Zelda franchise as it completely eschewed series conventions and traditions for the most part. However, this change to rework the conventions of The Legend of Zelda didn't begin with Breath of the Wild. It began with the Nintendo 3DS game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I believe that A Link Between Worlds serves as a real link between the foundations and traditions of older Zelda and the all-new take with Breath of the Wild.

Part of that is what occurs about a third of the way through A Link Between Worlds. After you've gathered the three MacGuffins to remove the evil force field surrounding Hyrule Castle and take care of the guards inside, you wind up within the realm of Lorule, an ominous kingdom coated under a dark and dreary sky and filled with powerful, horrifying monsters and creatures. This is where there is some freedom to be found in A Link Between Worlds, as a new batch of dungeons is unlocked. In most of the Zelda games prior to Worlds, you had to complete each dungeon in a linear fashion. Sure, there were times where a choice could be made, but those were few and far in between. With The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, you can opt to complete each dungeon in Lorule in any order.

A theme with this review is how A Link Between Worlds bridged the gap between
traditional Zelda games and the new kind seen with Breath of the Wild. So... here is a literal bridge!
Generally in past Zeldas, a given dungeon would provide you with its own unique item waiting within the monster-filled, puzzle-heavy rooms and corridors of its boundaries. With A Link Between Worlds, this is different, and this formula alteration assists in letting you reach and complete any dungeon in whatever order you wish. Instead of gaining Link's tools like the Boomerang, Bow and Arrow, Hookshot, et al within the dungeons themselves, you can rent them from a jolly character named Ravio who takes the phrase "make yourself at home" literally by turning Link's house in Hyrule into his own shop. All of the items to be used in Link's dual kingdom adventure are housed here, and can be rented for a price. The catch is that if Link falls in battle, Ravio's faithful bird companion will retrieve the rented items and return them to its master. Though that isn't really a threat in the standard difficulty as Link can take lots of hits and can gain tons of extra hearts. When Hero Mode is available (which sadly requires you to beat the initial game to play) with its damage multipliers to Link, the rental system is more pronounced and more of a game-changer.

Lorule is already rather inhospitable, unfriendly, and dangerous as is, but in Hero Mode? Even more so!
Eventually you'll be able to buy items for good rather than just rent them. This is where collecting Rupees in both Hyrule and Lorule become prominent within A Link Between Worlds' design. Items from Ravio cost anywhere between 600 to 1200 Rupees to keep. Thankfully, the game encourages exploration to find chests within the two overworld maps as well as within the dungeons. There are even puzzle rooms sprinkled about Hyrule and Lorule in hidden and/or hard-to-reach locations within both kingdoms' maps. These generally require a specific item or combination of items to solve the puzzle or challenge and acquire your Rupee reward at the end. Exploration is also encouraged by all of the Heart Pieces in the game to find or earn as well as cute creatures called Maiamais that when ten are collected, the creatures' mother gives you an upgrade to an item you currently own. With 100 to find spread across Hyrule and Lorule, it seems like an insurmountable challenge, but thankfully, the bottom screen shows how many Maiamai are remaining in each section of both kingdoms.

Whether it's the Ice Rod in Turtle Rock...
Dungeons in A Link Between Worlds require one particular item from Ravio's shop. While this is how Link can complete most dungeons within Lorule in any order (save for the Desert Palace which cannot be done first as it requires the Sand Rod, only available after beating the Thieves' Hideout), using only one item per dungeon means that you seldom truly get stuck in these labyrinths. Hit an obstacle that you don't quite know how to pass or overcome? The dungeon's required item will work by using it in some way. This is the same with bosses. They're defeated by using the weapon required for the dungeon as well. You just have to come up with how to utilize it for victory.

...Or the Hookshot in the Swamp Palace, each Link Between Worlds dungeon
needs one specific item to complete it.
Dungeons have the Zelda tradition of housing keys, Boss Keys to reach the dungeon boss' domain, treasure chests and more to acquire while the Compass reveals all treasures, locked doors, and boss locations on the bottom screen map, a lovely and convenient use of the Nintendo 3DS' second screen. While I said you don't get Link's traditional arsenal of weapons from special treasure chests in dungeons like in previous Zelda games, there is one special chest in each dungeon. These optional chests are well worth the rewards in finding them, ranging from added defense with new tunics, ore to give to a blacksmith who will create a more powerful sword for you, and more.

Feel free to come up with your own rock-related joke here! Tonight's an off night for me with puns!
The main mechanic in A Link Between Worlds is magnificent and one of my favorite twists to the gameplay of any Zelda game. It's a mural mechanic, where Link can use a ring handed to him by Ravio to literally merge into walls, resembling a Link mural, walking along the wall to reach otherwise impossible to access locations. It really opens up the world and dungeon designs of the game to make you think in a spatial kind of way that you may not have thought about before. There are obvious methods of crossing short chasms with Wall Link, but when you need to circle around as Link in an extended length of a room, switch between both forms on the fly like in the Tower of Hera with its moving platforms, or figure out which level of height will allow you to cross a gap and reach a certain platform, things get a bit trickier.

The many uses of merging with walls and the like are immensely cunning,
but what else is there to expect from the Zelda team anyway?
You can't just perpetually stay in mural form either. That would be too easy. Instead, many of the dungeons and areas in Link Between Worlds consist of sections where you have to manage your energy meter well. This meter is a new feature in the Zelda franchise. It empties while in mural form, and if it depletes fully while you're inside a wall, you're tossed out. With that Tower of Hera example where you have to navigate around a jutting piece of wall as Mural Link that blocks regular Link from continuing to ride a moving platform, you need to manage your energy meter carefully so it doesn't run out while hanging over a pit. Not only is the meter spent from being Mural Link in general, but it also serves as ammo for all of Link's items. So instead of having to pick up arrows and bombs from defeated enemies, you just wait a little bit for Link's meter to replenish to continue bringing destruction and carnage to enemies.

Wall merging as Link isn't just used to solve puzzles or to get from location to location. It's the whole basis upon which Link travels between Hyrule and Lorule. There are myriad magical cracks or rifts within the walls of Hyrule and Lorule, and as being Lorule is heavily segmented, it's crucial to find rifts within Hyrule to reach the various sections splitting up the kingdom. Better yet, if you find these, they are put on your map on the bottom screen via icon so you never have to 100% remember where they are.

Rifts like these allow Link to travel from one world to the other.
Apart from traveling between worlds, backtracking is also prominently done with Link Between Worlds, but it's done in a way that doesn't feel tedious or repetitive. This is greatly helped by the inclusion of bird signposts that not only serve as save points but fast travel locations. Even still, Hyrule and Lorule are so well made, especially Hyrule, a kingdom filled with so much in such a little space, one might worry that areas wouldn't blend in with one another naturally. After all, when you have deserts, towns, mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, marshlands, and more in such a small area of space compared to the open world spaces of larger budget games, it's a little bit of a concern to a tyro of Zelda. Fortunately, that is not the case at all. You feel like you're playing in a wholly complete world that exudes personality, flows effortlessly from segment to segment of Hyrule, and the feeling for that reason is because Hyrule is a complete kingdom and has no design oddities within it.

Places with multiple sprawling platforms like this Ice Ruins section look fantastic in 3D.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds remains one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS with one of the best implementations of 3D around next to Super Mario 3D Land. The way Link bounces towards your face when being jolted up a floor in the Tower of Hera is one notable moment where the 3D slider needs to be turned up all the way. While sharing many familiar themes to A Link to the Past from the Super Nintendo -- the game Link Between Worlds is essentially a love letter for fans of the game and pretty much a sequel to -- the music in this 3DS classic is phenomenal with its new renditions of old faves and completely new compositions such as Yuga's theme.

Nonetheless, some issues are present with A Link Between Worlds, but they didn't really harm my viewpoint of the game even with my fourth play-through of the game. I'm talking about things like dungeons requiring only one item each, making them less challenging -- and speaking of difficulty, the overall difficulty of the game is low. Despite these issues, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds served as a nice preview of how Nintendo EPD would change Zelda series even further and to a much more extreme degree with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Those looking for a bridge or better yet, a link between traditional Zelda and the whole new world of Zelda, seek out A Link Between Worlds.

[SPC Says: A]

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Top Five Rare-Developed Games Since Being Purchased by Microsoft

It was exactly fifteen years ago today when the studio of Rare, known for its close partnership with Nintendo, officially was bought by Microsoft, thus making Rare a 100% Microsoft-owned studio to help a budding new Xbox brand build, grow, and gain momentum right out of the starting gate.

Throughout Rare's continued and close relationship with Nintendo, the Stamper brothers, the founders and then-primary owners of Rare, sold more and more of their stake in the company to Nintendo. By 2002, the Stampers wanted to sell Rare and turned to Nintendo first to fully hand over their stakes and ownership of their company. Nintendo did not agree to purchase the Stampers' stake, so the bidding war for ownership eventually came down to Activision and Microsoft with the latter becoming the purchaser of Rare for $375 million.

Now, an argument regarding whether or not Microsoft got its money's worth from Rare happens to this day, but that's really not the focus of this special article. Instead, SuperPhillip Central turns to Rare's output post-Nintendo and in the Microsoft era. Which five games from the new Rare shine as brightly as a Jiggy from Banjo-Kazooie or are as sensational as a strike in Kinect Sports' bowling? Let's find some answers (well, SuperPhillip Central's answers at least!). Note: As Rare Replay is a compilation title, it is not eligible for this list.

5) Perfect Dark Zero (360)

We begin with one of Rare's two launch titles for the Xbox 360. Perfect Dark Zero might not have lived up to its predecessor as many would have liked. After all, Rare went from cool and sophisticated British secret agent in the original PD's version of Joanna to American brat Joanna with Perfect Dark Zero. Regardless, the solo campaign remained similar to the N64 game in that missions contained plenty of objectives to complete before being able to finish the mission, albeit many levels were much more linear in design. The multiplayer remains to this day a fantastic experience with massive maps, an amazing amount of players (whether real or bot), enjoyable modes, and kill streaks that will have the announcer screaming "Killharmonic Orchestra!" It's by no means the Perfect Dark sequel that fans and gamers wanted, but all to its own self, Perfect Dark Zero didn't really miss the mark all that badly.

4) Kameo: Elements of Power (360)

If there is one game from this list that I really want to see a sequel for, it's the other Xbox 360 launch game from Rare, Kameo: Elements of Power. This action-filled adventure packed a memorable punch when it debuted alongside the Xbox 360. Looking at the impressive depth of field, textures, and other amazing visuals was one of my first HD generation moments, and it's one that sticks with me to this day. There was so much going on visually, but more importantly, the gameplay and design involving a fairy named Kameo, who can transform into various creatures (with the amount rising throughout the journey), was exceptional whether if it was the astonishing set pieces, the incredible boss battles, the clever puzzles inside the intricate dungeons, or the excellently crafted controls. Kameo: Elements of Power was Rare's original character in Rare's Zelda-like epic.

3) Conker: Live & Reloaded (XBX)

Continuing on from Rare's first offerings on the Xbox 360, we turn to one of Rare's first offerings while being under Microsoft and the Xbox brand entirely. Conker: Live & Reloaded began development at the drop of a hat -- just as soon as Microsoft purchased Rare. The single player campaign is a remake of the Nintendo 64 game, Conker's Bad Fur Day, although a more censored version curiously enough. While the single player pretty much remained untouched, the multiplayer received a serious upgrade thanks to Xbox Live functionality, allowing up to 16 players to blast one another in to bloody blobs of fur across a range of well made maps. There's a good argument over whether the Nintendo 64 game's original multiplayer or the Xbox game's multiplayer is superior, but forget that! Conker was back and was in beautiful, excruciatingly good detail. So good that the game is visually impressive to this day.

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

Ah, another franchise of Rare's that debuted on the Nintendo 64! Just to clear up any possible confusion, if you recall just over a week ago, I mentioned that Banjo-Kazooie's most recent entry, Nuts & Bolts, was one of the most disappointing video game sequels of all time in SuperPhillip Central's third edition of the recurring segment of articles. That was merely due to the game not being a traditional Banjo game which at the time of release, the 3D collect-a-thon platformer was a rarity. However, as I further explained in the article, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts otherwise is a fur-frickin'-tastic game. The primary game had Banjo and Kazooie creating contraptions out of various customizable parts to assist them in completing goals in the game's five major worlds to earn Jiggies. While many of the goals within the missions were a bit samey and repetitive, the different tactics you could go about accomplishing them was really terrific. Not just a great game, but Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is certainly an underrated one in the Xbox 360 library.

1) Viva Pinata (360)

Of all of the new franchises Rare created under ownership from Microsoft, Viva Pinata is the one with the highest quality under the Xbox branding. Viva Pinata is not just the best new franchise from Rare during the company's Microsoft era, but I argue that it's the best Rare game period post-Nintendo. The main goal of Viva Pinata was to raise and grow a garden to lure new pinata animals in to. For example, a firefly pinata would be attracted to a torch placed in the player's garden. Through satisfying the second condition, the firefly pinata would then make its home in the garden. However, the happiness of each pinata was necessary, and one would have to be careful upon which pinata are in the same garden at the same time, lest fights break out and cold, cold death was the end result for one pinata. With so much to do, so much to accomplish, so many pinata to befriend, and just that Rare calling card of having an incredible presentation, Viva Pinata is SuperPhillip Central's pick as Rare's best game as a first party of Microsoft.