Friday, October 27, 2017

Top Ten Mario Power-Ups from the 3D Games

It's an exciting day for gaming today with three huge releases all coming out at once. Along with a new Assassin's Creed and Wolfenstein, a huge gaming event in the form of a new 3D Mario releases today! In celebration of Super Mario Odyssey's launch, SuperPhillip Central looks back at past 3D Mario games to pick out the best power-ups featured inside. Speaking of Odyssey, SuperPhillip Central will have its own in-depth review in the coming week or so. Until then, check out SPC's top ten 3D Mario power-up picks and let me know which ones you agree with!

10) Boo Mushroom 

It's a great power-up to begin with as Halloween's approaching! Debuting in Super Mario Galaxy and then making a quick appearance in the sequel, the Boo Mushroom turns Mario into Boo Mario, having our hero take on the appearance of his ghastly foe from Super Mario Bros. 3 and on. With it, Mario can hover over the ground, pass through fences, and read signs posted in the Boo language. The first mission in Super Mario Galaxy featuring Boo Mario requires the red plumber to nab a Boo Mushroom to sneak into a prison where Luigi has been captured. While Boo Mario has very few elaborate uses in the context of the Galaxy games, you can't deny that Mario is just adorable in Boo form as he wears his hallmark red cap, sports his bushy mustache, and has his tongue wagging as he explores.

9) Bee Mushroom

Another Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 power-up, the Bee Mushroom first appears in the Honeyhive Galaxy, one of the few nonlinear areas in the first Galaxy game. As you might expect, this mushroom turns Mario into Bee Mario, granting him the power to fly around in the air for a limited amount of time, cling onto honeycombs, and gives him a light weight for crossing over clouds and flowers. Taking a dip into any body of water will instantly end Mario's time in bee form, and seeing as there are plenty of galaxies in both games featuring water, it takes some careful flying to remain as Bee Mario. One of my favorite Power Stars in Super Mario Galaxy is the Honeyclimb Galaxy, a miniature galaxy that is essentially an obstacle course. It requires Bee Mario to climb across honeycombs while avoiding various hazards.

8) Propeller Box

Going from the Galaxy games (but don't worry, we're not done with those just yet on this list) to the Super Mario 3D Land and World games, the Propeller Box is an orange box with two long white eyes sporting a yellow propeller on its top. When worn, the player's jumps are heightened greatly allowing them to reach platforms otherwise inaccessible or to assist in creating some second-saving shortcuts. As the player falls downward, they do so slowly while wearing the box over their head. There's a particular level in the first world of Super Mario 3D Land that takes place over multiple waterfalls where the goal is to descend downward on multiple platforms with the Propeller Box in mind. It's not only a terrific way of introducing the power-up to the player, but it's also an insanely impressive use of the Nintendo 3DS's built-in 3D effect as well.

7) Ice Flower

The Ice Flower has been seen in numerous 2D Mario games, notably the New Super Mario Bros. series. In Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, it serves a different function. For one, the Ice Flower (like the Fire Flower) is a timed use power-up, only giving the player a limited amount of time before its powers go away (the faster the jingle plays, the sooner one's time is growing close to being over with the power-up). However, while that can feel limiting, what the Ice Flower in both Galaxy games makes up for is granting Mario the power to freeze both water and lava, allowing our portly plumber to skate across the newly formed ice like Scott Hamilton in his prime. One of the coolest ah-ha moments featuring Ice Mario was when a Power Star could be seen high in the air over two waterfalls. When the solution presented itself in players' minds, Ice Mario could perform wall jumps up both waterfall faces, freezing the spots where Mario leaped off of. Very cool. Literally!

6) Metal Cap

Our first of two Super Mario 64 power-ups, the Metal Cap is found in green exclamation point boxes found in various courses of the game. Of course, Mario has to discover the location of the green switch to make these boxes solid so he could open them instead of as they were, transparent. The Metal Cap turns Mario into Metal Mario, sporting heavy movements, able to sink and march underwater, become unaffected by bursts of wind or water, and finally, brave the harsh toxic terrain of the Hazy Maze Cave. Plus, when you have this rockin' remix of the Starman theme playing as you smash your way through enemies while exploring, how can you not like Metal Mario and the cap that transformed him into a metallic tank?

5) Boomerang Flower

Mario has been able to out-hammer Hammer Bros. and out-fire Fire Bros. with the Hammer Suit and Fire Flower respectively, but he hadn't yet discover a power-up that let him face Boomerang Bros. on equal footing. That changed with the introduction of the Boomerang Flower in Super Mario 3D Land. True to its name the Boomerang Flower allows Mario to unleash boomerangs at enemies of all types, having them come shooting forth before swooping back into Mario's glove. This feature is also important as various collectibles like coins, power-ups, and Star Medals can be nabbed with Mario's boomerangs. In a sense, the boomerangs used by Mario could be seen as a precursor to Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey in how Cappy can be thrown forward and comes back to Mario while being able to collect items out of his reach. Okay, it's a stretch, but that's why I love the Boomerang Suit. Who needs to stretch when you can just throw out a boomerang?

4) Cloud Flower

Here comes my favorite power-up from Super Mario Galaxy 2, the Cloud Flower. With this power-up, Mario turns into Cloud Mario, able to be light on his feet as he spins to create platforms crafted from clouds underneath him. Up to three of these cloud platforms can appear at once before Mario has to pick up another Cloud Flower. The power-up allows players to show off their platforming creativity, performing dazzling maneuvers, shortcuts, ways to bypass areas of level, and much more with how they smartly summon their clouds. Clouds can also be affected by wind, resulting in them blowing along with the breeze to create moving platforms to increase Mario's movement distance. With the Cloud Flower equipped, Mario is also able to leap higher and fall more slowly to the ground, making for a mobile and enjoyable form of Mario which is used in some of my most loved challenges within Super Mario Galaxy 2.

3) Super Leaf

Super Mario Bros. 3 saw the debut of a lot of power-ups and suits that have since been cast to the wayside. Heck, even the ones premiering in Super Mario Bros. 3 didn't get much chance to shine within the game itself. The Tanooki Suit was one of those, a rare find in World 4 and 5 of Super Mario Bros. 3, but Nintendo more than made up for its absence in that game and ever since with Super Mario 3D Land. The entire game was built with the Tanooki Suit in mind, hence all of the enemies with Tanooki tails and even that same tail in 3D Land's logo. While changing into the Tanooki Suit made many platforming parts of Super Mario 3D Land less challenging -- since you could flap you tail to mitigate danger from falling into a pit or completely bypass portions of level -- it didn't stop 3D Land from being a ton of fun. Once the second half of the game rolled in, the ability to transform into a stone statue revealed itself, a tip of the hat to Super Mario Bros. 3's original version of the Tanooki Suit.

2) Super Bell

Moving on from Super Mario 3D Land on Nintendo 3DS to Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U, the primary power-up featured this game was the Super Bell, turning any one of its collectors into a cat. The cat versions of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, and the unlockable character could prowl around on all fours, pounce, crawl up walls, and perform some seriously cool platforming moves. In a professional's hands, the Cat Suit could result in some astounding level shortcuts and insane displays of speedrunning. Climbing up a wall and going into a dive meant the opportunities were potentially limitless. Outside of speedrun fare, the Super Bell is just the cat's meow in general, making for a modern Mario game power-up that felt truly worthwhile, genuinely creative, and fun to play as after some lackluster attempts in the past. (Seriously... Turning into a rock or worse yet, a spring?)

1) Wing Cap

Super Mario 64 meant the arrival of a lot of things, but most importantly it was successfully taking gaming into a brave new world with infinite possibilities. The general reaction by anyone who played Super Mario 64 at the time of its release was being overwhelmed by a feeling of utter awe. Never before had there been such freedom in a Mario game before, and one part of Super Mario 64 that hammered that point home considerably was the Wing Cap found within red boxes within the game. That first time you take to the air and soar through the skies for red coins, and then the next when you take flight over the entirety of Bob-Omb Battlefield, it's just unbelievable. Games now have copious amounts of freedom now as open-world games are common, but back in the day, Super Mario 64 was mind-blowing, and Mario wearing the Wing Cap to explore the bright blue yonder in a full open 3D space will never leave my mind as one of my most cherished gaming memories.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

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

Leading up to tomorrow's release date of Super Mario Odyssey, I have a brand-new review of a recent Nintendo 3DS release and Mario game, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions. Let's take a look and see if this remake improves upon the 2003 original in a noteworthy way.

Jump Up, Superstars

It seemed like a crazy proposition: taking the Mario series and turning it into an RPG. However, that was exactly what happened and it turned out to be a masterful combination with Nintendo and Squaresoft's Super Mario RPG back in 1995. Mario in an RPG was rare back then, but nowadays we've sort of grown accustomed to that, what with the Big N's mascot starring in about ten RPGs now and across two different RPG series. It was still not an everyday occurrence when the original Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga released on the Game Boy Advance, but now? After several sequels of varying quality, we almost take for granted that Mario RPGs weren't always a common sight.

That said, recent Mario & Luigi games have kept the turn-based, time-action combat the series is known for, but it has also added a layer of fluff with each sequel, whether touch or gyro controls, giant battles that players had to hold their systems to the side, or Papercraft battles as recently seen in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.

Thus, it's such a delight and breath of fresh air to see the Mario & Luigi series go back to its roots, though not with a full-fledged sequel but a remake of the very first game with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions, the latter part of the subtitle being a new additional mode to the entire package.

A new villain enters the scene, the dastardly Cackletta!
Our story remains the same as it was in the Game Boy Advance's original, starting out with the ambassador of the Beanbean Kingdom visiting Princess Peach's castle with a gift. However, it turns out the ambassador was a phony, disguising herself as the villainous Cackletta, and the gift in question steals Princess Peach's voice, replacing her dulcet tones with explosive dialog. As Mario and Luigi arrive on the scene, Cackletta is gone and Bowser has taken her place, wishing to kidnap Peach, as he's wont to do. However, with a disastrous and dangerous speech pattern, the Princess is no position to get kidnapped, so Mario, Luigi, and Bowser decide to form an unlikely alliance and head to the neighboring Beanbean Kingdom. Unfortunately, along their aerial trip in Bowser's sky cruiser, Cackletta's hilarious, broken English-reciting henchman Fawful interrupts the flight, catapulting Mario, Luigi, and Bowser to the Beanbean Kingdom below where they are separated. Now, it's up to Mario and Luigi to explore the new kingdom, setting things right where Cackletta made things wrong while stopping her master plan in the process.

A statement fitting and popular enough to be printed on a T-shirt.
The story in Superstar Saga remains unchanged compared to the original, and it brings forth the old adage that if it isn't broke, don't fix it. The dialog and humor is every bit as charming and amazing as before featuring the same long lineup of fresh new characters each with their own personalities and quirks. Despite me not having too much of a problem seeing Nintendo and Alphadream go in a more Mario-oriented direction with the characters of last year's Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, I must admit that it was nice to go back to a game in the series like Superstar Saga where every NPC wasn't a generic Toad character or Mario enemy.

There's no question that the dialog -- although as I said it's charming and amazing -- can, however, become a bit verbose and voluminous. Scenes, too, can go on for a little too long, especially if you're playing through the game over again. Thankfully, this potential issue is addressed with a fast forward button that fastens the pace of dialog and scenes in general, allowing you to speed through extended scenes that you may have no interest in watching the whole way at a normal speed.

While Superstar Saga's story is pretty much unchanged, the included brand-new Bowser's Minions mode is unlocked relatively early within Superstar Saga, offering one of the only places in the main game where a new scene is thrown in. While Mario and Luigi go about on their own adventure, Bowser's Minions tells the tale of a group of soldiers loyal to Bowser, fighting their way through the Beanbean Kingdom to find their king while interacting with various characters and villains from Superstar Saga's story. Bowser's Minions adds in some content to show the behind-the-scenes happenings that do an admirable job of filling in the holes in Superstar Saga while giving a better prominence to the Koopalings who just "appeared" for little reason at the end of the GBA original.

Continuing with the idea of "it isn't broke, don't fix it" is the gameplay of Superstar Saga which remains relatively the same from back in the day. It's purely area-exploration, turn-based RPG action without the baggage of alternate gameplay types like the ones mentioned before that popped up in more recent Mario & Luigi games.

Use the Spin Jump to spin over the otherwise impossible to cross chasm.
Exploration has Mario and Luigi moving together, but the interesting thing that set the series apart from other RPGs and their exploration is how it incorporates having two party members in the Mario series world. Both plumbers are assigned to one button each (Mario to A, Luigi to B) to perform actions, the most basic being jumping. As Mario and Luigi gain more abilities, such as high jumps to reach ledges normal jumps wouldn't be able to make, spin jumps to spin across large gaps, hammers to hit objects like buttons, and so forth, players can switch between these using the L and R buttons of the Nintendo 3DS, or better yet, use the touch screen to select one right away without having to scroll through the selection. (The only gripe with using the touch screen for ability selection is that the extremely help map of the current location is obscured, then.) Being able to perform Mario-like moves while exploring opens up a healthy heaping of possibilities that go into the game's puzzle design and means to avoid obstacles. It also serves to make exploration feel and play like a Mario game rather than just feeling like an RPG with Mario characters.

Apart from exploring the overworld, pressing one button for Mario and one button for Luigi also permeates into the battle system. Each brother uses the same button adorned to them in the overworld, but in combat, this is a turn-based affair. When it's Mario's turn, players use the A button to select an action (as more abilities are learned, more actions are available to use). In addition to turn-based combat, Superstar Saga uses a timing system to attacks and defenses. When Mario uses the jump attack, for instance, a press of the A button right when hitting the target not only increases the damage but also grants a second jump. Messing up the timing results in a weak jump and no second opportunity for a second jump.

Mario gives us a joyous dance while he awaits the player's choice of action.
Timing is also used smartly when enemies attack. It's entirely possible to dodge enemies by say, jumping over an attack and having no damage take place. In some instances, Mario and/or Luigi can even deal a counterattack to an attacking enemy depending on its attack. The genius of Mario & Luigi's combat system can be seen to full effect with the way you're always engaged in battles due to them not being so passive in design. In a typical RPG, it's a simple and mindless as pressing buttons for options, but here in Superstar Saga, there's more to it. There's pressing buttons in time with attacks to either deal damage or avoid it. It's the difference between making battles repetitive and making them engaging, a line that Superstar Saga and the Mario & Luigi series in general balance on skillfully.

With proper timing, Luigi here can jump on this encroaching Bullet Bill.
Speaking of skill, the strongest attacks within Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga require the most skill to unleash. These are Bros. Attacks. Only available when both heroes are healthy, these dual attacks require just the right button presses and timing to let loose for the maximum amount of damage to enemies. These are a bit overpowered, however, and since battle points (the currency given to use Bros. Attacks) are so plentiful as are the items that restore a given plumber's points, it can be very tempting to use these constantly in encounters. While they are somewhat challenging to pull off, you can practice them to perfection at any time, even within battles themselves until you come to grips with the timing and button order necessary to use them competently.

As Superstar Saga progresses, the enemies Mario and Luigi encounter become tougher, using more complicated attacks that really involve some difficult tells to make out which plumber is that foe's intended target. Bosses, too, utilize greater attacks with harder tells that hit multiple times if not avoided. Though incredibly uncommon, some battles can just be too challenging. Thankfully, Superstar Saga on Nintendo 3DS uses a more player-friendly approach to how game overs work. Rather than a lost battle resulting in all your progress since your last save point going "poof" into thin air, you are given the option to restart the current battle. Furthermore, you can select "Easy Mode" if the current challenge is too much, offering less damage from foes, more damage from Mario and Luigi, and prompts to tell you which plumber an enemy is aiming for in its attack, something you don't need to look for tells for unlike in the normal mode.

Likewise, the included Bowser's Minions mode is all battles, unlike Superstar Saga. Also, this mode can be entered and exited out of at any time within Mario and Luigi's adventure across the Beanbean Kingdom. Nevertheless, battles don't involve the same kind of engagement as those in the main story. You choose a collection of eight recruited enemies, and watch them battle through waves of enemies. The level of engagement isn't as large, but it does involve occasionally using commands as your squad's captain to increase the power of your troops, cancel special enemy attacks, and do Mario & Luigi-style timing-based attacks. The captain commands require CP (command points), and these replenish by two after each wave. Battles are won when all waves are defeated, either by eliminating the opposing side or by just defeating the opposing side's captain.

Despite being greatly hands-off when compared to Superstar Saga, Bowser's Minions does have strategy to it. It all starts with setting up your squad for battle. There are three minion and enemy types: melee, ranged, and flight, and each serves in a rock-paper-scissors-like "power triangle", as the game calls it. Each battle allows you to see which types are on the enemy's side pre-battle. If there's a bunch of flight-based enemies, then you'll want your team's composition of minions to feature what flight-based foes are weak against, ranged types. The better you choose your minions, the easier battles become.

Bowser's Minions here has gone all Fire Emblem on me!
Each battle's conclusion gives all minions involved in the battle experience, leveling them up in stats. As you progress in Bowser's Minions, the total enemy level averages increases, so you'll want to also keep your minions leveled up as well to stand a chance. Battle conclusions also offer the chance of enemy minions joining your cause. Each minion has specific abilities, and some even possess advantages over other minion types. For example, Shy Guys are especially strong against Lakitus.

It may look like utter chaos, but your involvement in battle still helps.
Bowser's Minions is an overall okay mode, but I didn't feel at all enthused or pressured to finish the mode. It definitely felt like a side mode that could easily have been not included altogether, and I wouldn't have missed it. That notwithstanding, those who want even more out of their Superstar Saga experience will most likely find a lot to like here, whether it's recruiting new minions or following along with the happenings in the story that occurred outside of Mario and Luigi's focus.

Going from Superstar Saga on the Game Boy Advance in 2003 to Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions in 2017, the biggest difference one will find is with the presentation. The 2D art of the original Superstar Saga is bright, colorful, and much more animated in regard to its characters' animations and expressions. Meanwhile, this remake offers more appealing environments, though many of these can be a bit darker than I would have liked, notably even some outdoor areas. These made discovering some of the buried beans underground a real pain to find. Therefore, I feel there are advantages and disadvantages to both visual styles, but sound-wise, there's no contest. Not having to listen to the original's music and voice work on and built for the tinny, weak speakers of the Game Boy Advance hardware is very much an improvement, as are the remixed compositions in general.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions is what I believe to be a terrific rendition of the Superstar Saga experience. That said, I think both the original and this remake are worth owning and playing in any case. Bowser's Minions doesn't elevate the Nintendo 3DS remake to outstanding heights, but considering how outstanding the original Superstar Saga was in the first place, the mode merely adds value to an already invaluable package.

[SPC Says: A-]

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (iOS, AND) Digest Trailer

As announced, a new mobile venture from Nintendo featuring the Animal Crossing franchise has been in the works for a while now. Last night, Nintendo pulled the curtain up on the game, revealing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for iOS and Android capable devices. A 15-minute Nintendo Direct solely showing off features of Pocket Camp was showcased last night, and now a game trailer is available after the fact. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for iOS and Android devices releases next month.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "A Different Day for a Special Milestone" Edition

No worries, all. I wasn't late with posting SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs this week. This edition being posted on a Tuesday serves a purpose as this is a very special edition of the Favorite VGMs indeed. We've finally arrived at the historic 1500th VGM volume of this long-running SPC staple as of this edition's conclusion! That means that this weekly series has now delivered 1,500 different video game songs to this site's readers from hundreds of different games across dozens of platforms!

Let's strike while the iron's hot and go in to what games are featured this week in this very special edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. Two Nintendo 3DS kick things off in the form of Metroid: Samus Returns and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions (coincidentally, the latter being a game that will be reviewed later this week). Moving on from two Nintendo 3DS games we turn to two Nintendo GameCube games, F-Zero GX and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. Finally, the main star of this week's edition, the 1500th VGM is here, and it is a theme from Banjo-Kazooie, one of the best 3D platformers ever created, at least to a certain SuperPhillip Central writer here (wink, wink).

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs will resume its regular schedule of being posted on Mondays next week. Until then, check out this week's selection of tunes (just click on each volume's link to be redirected to the YouTube video featuring it), and as always, click on the VGM Database for all previous 1495 VGM volumes. Now, let's get on to the music!

v1496. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) - Surface of SR388

Let's start off this special edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with the awesome return of Samus Aran and the Metroid franchise. After an absence of games since the Wii's Metroid: Other M, Metroid as a franchise exited from its 2D hibernation and graced fans with a remarkable Nintendo 3DS adventure. Metroid: Samus Returns serves as a reworking of Metroid II, originally on the Game Boy, and made for a better game, at least in this writer's opinion. One of my favorite themes from the Game Boy classic returned on the Nintendo 3DS in superior-sounding glory, the surface theme for planet SR388!

v1497. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions (3DS) - Hoohoo Village

We go from a re-imagining to a complete remake with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions, also for the Nintendo 3DS. (Slightly off-topic but too good not to include: expect a full review from SuperPhillip Central later this week!) Using the graphics engine of the previous Mario & Luigi games on the Nintendo 3DS, Superstar Saga was rebuilt and included some new improvements and even a bonus mode as well for posterity. The music was also updated courtesy of original composer Yoko Shimomura. This theme's named specially in the sound test of the game, but let's just stick with the name of the area the song plays to keep it simple!

v1498. F-Zero GX (GCN) - Cover of Mute City

F-Zero's Mute City theme has been heard in countless forms in and out of F-Zero games, but the one played in F-Zero GX is one of my favorites. This particular version is an unlockable within F-Zero GX that you can substitute for the techno/electronic theme that ordinarily plays on the Mute City tracks within the game. Along with this musical version of Mute City being one of my favorites, F-Zero GX happens to be my personal favorite F-Zero entry in the entire franchise. Here's hoping a Nintendo console will get the taste of another high-octane F-Zero game that will fulfill thirsty fans' need for speed.

v1499. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (GCN) - Battle for Storm Hill

Another GameCube game on this week's edition is Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. I'm probably not telling you anything you didn't already know, but the team behind this nontraditional 2D platformer (after all, you control it by banging on a bongo drum, for Cranky Kong's sake!) would make their next game for Wii. It's something you might have heard of or read about called Super Mario Galaxy. In fact, this Friday they have a new game called Super Mario Odyssey that might make some waves. Who knows, though -- I'm not that smart when it comes to game predictions.

v1500. Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA) - Gruntilda's Lair

Here we are with a special game for a special VGM volume number! It's Banjo-Kazooie, one of my favorite 3D platformers and games of all time, and its song, Gruntilda's Lair, is the one represented as VGM volume #1500! Based off the villain's theme, this jaunty and spirited song plays while exploring the hub world of Banjo-Kazooie. Much larger than Peach's Castle in size, Gruntilda's Lair shows that bigger isn't always better, as more rooms to platform through means time it takes to get through it. Still, with this playful theme at your side, that's not too much of an annoyance.

The Worst Things About SuperPhillip Central's Favorite Games III

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

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

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

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

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

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

LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)

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

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

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

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

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

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

Star Fox 64 3D (3DS)

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

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

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

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

Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT)

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

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Earth Atlantis (NS) Review

It's starting to become a tradition here at SuperPhillip Central for the final full week of the month to be loaded with reviews. While I aim to change that for November, let's start off this week of new reviews with Earth Atlantis, an underwater, exploratory shoot-em-up developed by Pixel Perfex.

Scouring the sepia seas

On a planet Earth where over 95% is now covered in water (something that is really topical, now that I think of it), humanity is at the brink, and ocean creatures have now combined with machinery to become terrorizing beasts. As a pilot of a special submarine, your objective is to explore the deep, eliminating targets in the form of dangerous sea life. This is developer Pixel Perfex's Earth Atlantis for the Nintendo Switch, a recent eShop release that tries out something different with the shoot-em-up genre and doesn't sink for it.

Earth Atlantis is spread across a single map in Quest Mode, tasking players with piloting their submarine (only one is available upon starting the game with a handful others to unlock) through the mechanical monstrosity-heavy ocean to arrive at points on a mini-map. These points are where the game's numerous -- and I do mean "numerous" -- boss battles occur. These are room-wide fights against enormous underwater creatures like killer kraken, massive octopuses, deadly squid, and other deep sea terrors that excite and delight. (Every encountered and defeated boss can be looked at any time within a special bestiary on the main menu.)

The creatures of the deep have certainly undergone some changes since Earth flooded.
Actually, these deep sea terrors generally excite and delight. Other times they can be absolutely brutal. You see, bosses have a nasty habit of jumping in difficulty to severe levels. One boss you might defeat with ease with its attacks merely depleting your sub's health slowly with each shot, while other fights have bosses that can easily destroy your sub with one hit. I generally don't like one-hit kills in any type of game, but it's especially a problem when these boss fights happen so early in the game, followed by a slew of much easier encounters. The difficulty scaling here is amiss with some bosses being easy while the next leaping in challenge soon after.

Defeating bosses generally reveals once blocked off passageways that are then made open, offering shortcuts to previous portions of the ocean or completely new areas in general to explore. These shortcuts are great to have, as there's a substantial amount of time in Earth Atlantis that features backtracking. Bosses appear in both new and previously traveled parts of the ocean, meaning you'll be moving back and forth between the rather sizable ocean again and again. You won't get most of the shortcuts open to you until pretty far along into the game either.

This slight annoyance is compounded by the mini-map, that merely shows locations of your sub, power-ups, and bosses. Everything else is blank, meaning there is no geography on the mini-map to assist or guide you in the ocean. Because the ocean is so labyrinthine and confusing to explore, offering many dead ends within the early half of exploring (bringing back up the lack of shortcuts starting off), for a player like myself, it was difficult sometimes to reach certain bosses without reaching a dead end or two. The backtracking combined with the challenge to navigate, combined with the quickly re-spawning enemies meant that traveling long distances wasn't the greatest experience imaginable -- though not at all ruining my enjoyment of the game.

These little torpedoes hone in on nearby targets. 
While Earth Atlantis may use the same ocean to travel across seemingly ad infinitum which brought me a feeling of occasional tedium, actually controlling the submarine through the ocean's cavernous system of passageways and channels was a delight. There's an instant response from the sub to each button press and analog stick movement made. The A/ZR button shoots, the B/ZL button turns the submarine the opposite direction it's currently facing (which makes your sub vulnerable for a quick second as it's an extended turn animation), and whether playing with both Joycons or just a single one, you're guaranteed to be satisfied with the controls.

Earth Atlantis isn't a bullet hell shooter by any stretch of the imagination, but it will surely have you bobbing and weaving your sub through heavy fire and bullets being fired and bounced from all directions, particularly in boss confrontations. Thankfully, you have heavy fire on your side as well because as you plunder the deep, defeated enemies generously drop weapon and discovered barrels hold upgrades like missiles, homing torpedoes, electric rays, and more. Like most shmups, you lose these after so many hits, and definitely so when your sub loses all of its health. Death isn't too substantial as you are placed right back into the ocean at the last starting point you uncovered on the map.

You can immediately tell by this review's complementary screenshots that Earth Atlantis is quite unlike a typical shmup, even if you hadn't read anything about the game or the words in the review at all. The game's sepia tone visuals help distinguish it even further from other similar games in the genre, as well as leaving an impressive artistic direction as well. Plundering the ocean in my sub, seeing seaweed flow from side to side, taking a peek at the top of the Statue of Liberty as it sits submerged in the ocean, and scoping at all the detail in the environments really implanted some seriously nice impressions of Earth Atlantis for me. Perhaps the only downside of the visual style is that every thing in the ocean world looks so similar, making it like an old black-and-white Game Boy game where it was a bit challenging to tell one area of the game to another (or worse, what was an enemy bullet and what was one of mine). Wrapping up my talk on Earth Atlantis' presentation, the one song played while exploring the ocean gets tiring to listen to, but the orchestrated boss battle themes definitely pick up the ocean theme's slack.

Don't get me wrong, though -- Earth Atlantis' visual style is much more a good thing than a bad thing.
Earth Atlantis manages to keep its head up above water, though at the same time not exactly serving up a spectacular deep sea adventure. Rampant backtracking, a mediocre mini-map, and insane difficulty jumps hurt the overall experience while superb controls, engaging combat, and a stunning visual style make for an enticing ocean odyssey. Just expect both tedium and frustration at times.

[SPC Says: C+]

Review code provided by Headup Games.

Super Mario Odyssey (NS) Duo of Commercials

This week is really special gaming-wise because it's not every week, month, or even year that a brand-new 3D Mario comes out. It's a rare occurrence, much like having a new 3D Zelda release. The Nintendo Switch managed to pull off both this year!

Check out these two quick 30-second trailers (or commercials here in the States at the very least) for Friday's huge event, Super Mario Odyssey!