Friday, January 12, 2018

First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming - Part Five

It only seems apropos that the first non-weekly article series to be posted on SuperPhillip Central in 2018 is First Things First, as this series of articles celebrates the best video game openings from our hobby's past and present. We're on a bit of a hand-drawn kick with Part Five's game and opening selections. From modern takes on old classics like Sonic Mania, to a handful of PS1 classics, this edition of First Things First: Best Openings in Gaming has some very good stuff on offer!

Take a look at past parts of this ongoing article series and then tell me in the comments which games you think SuperPhillip Central is missing so far.

Best Openings in Gaming - Part One
Best Openings in Gaming - Part Two
Best Openings in Gaming - Part Three
Best Openings in Gaming - Part Four

Sonic Mania (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Sonic Mania's opening video captures the brilliance that was the Sonic CD opening with a familiar intro, showing off some fantastic animation with crystal clear HD visuals. Starting with a ride up an elevator, our three heroes get pumped and primed to let loose, wild, and free in a white space of impressive geometry, bouncing springs, beautiful vistas, and twisting paths -- and all doing it with that signature Genesis-era attitude that old school Sonic fans adore. To see such an opening was also seeing the preview of the awesomeness that Sonic Mania's actual gameplay content had in store. Maybe we'll be seeing some nominations and potential awards for Sonic Mania during this month's SuperPhillip Central Best of 2017 Awards...!

Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 (PS2)

Back in the day, we didn't have any fancy schmancy Dragon Ball Super that continued the adventures of Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Piccolo, et. al. No, sirs and madams, we had Dragon Ball GT to endure, and Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 was the game that shoved a lot of the characters and designs from that series down our throats. However, we did get an amazing array of Dragon Ball series-related games around that time, sort of the golden years, if you will. Packed with characters and a love letter to Dragon Ball Z fans, Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 emanated quality for both casual fighting game fans and lovers of Saiyans, Namekians, and Earthlings alike. The whole fun, fighting game begins with this introductory cutscene, capturing the essence and spirit of the source material remarkably. Note: The Japanese version is the one represented, but the North American version is great as well. It just features an instrumental rendition of the opening theme.

Wild Arms: Alter Code F (PS2)

First Things First originally saw the Wild Arms series in its very first edition with the debut of the series on the original PlayStation. Now, we turn to the remake of that game -- at least its opening. While not as powerful as the original Wild Arms' opening cutscene, Alter Code F still provides some honest emotion, particularly revolving around that red balloon wafting in the wind and the final scene viewed in the movie at a massive pile of brick and kindling that once was the castle and kingdom of Adlehyde. The new party members in this edition of Wild Arms also are provided time to shine as well. Like I said, it doesn't beat out the original Wild Arms (and that's somewhat due to my own nostalgia towards the game and its opening), but the introduction movie to Alter Code F does the job well all the same.

Chrono Trigger (PS1)

Speaking of the work of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, let's move on to our next game. With the launch of the PlayStation and the ability to use CDs instead of limited capacity cartridges, developers were able to put a lot more data into their games. Not only was the ability to produce richer sound available to devs, but so was the ability to add video. One of my favorite aspects of the PS1 was the introduction of anime cutscenes and how prevalent they were in Japanese games. This was seen even in ports brought over from past platforms, specifically the Super Nintendo. Chrono Trigger was one of these games, and to see so many familiar sights from a game many played in their youth in cutscene form as older and wiser gamers, it was a memorable experience. Akira Toriyama's work from Chrono Trigger was masterfully animated and colored to such rich detail. Then, you have composer Yasunori Mitsuda's theme for the game playing over the footage. It's a familiar yet totally new look at the world of Chrono Trigger, all done in but one, single opening movie.

Mega Man X5 (PS1)

Mega Man X5 was essentially the culmination of the X sub-series of Mega Man games. It was to be the conclusion of the story until Capcom saw its sales as a positive result and pushed for more games featuring X and Zero. The opening of Mega Man X5 is a lot more meaningful with the idea that no more Mega Man X games were going to be made, but it still leaves a nostalgic impact nonetheless. By showing quick glimpses of battles fought in past Mega Man X games, such as X versus Sigma and the villain's trusty attack dog in X1, X battling Serges, Agile, and Violen in Mega Man X2, and Zero dueling with Colonel from X4 -- these moments reminded players of the hard fought battles, victories, as well as losses taken in the war against Sigma and his Mavericks. Everything was on the line story-wise with Mega Man X5, and this cool opening movie helped to hammer that point home.

Jet Force Gemini (N64)

While the PlayStation had its higher capacity compact discs for the addition of better sound and the better implementation of video, the Nintendo 64 didn't have as much capabilities sticking with cartridges. That said, loading times were limited on N64 games. Let's do away with this tech talk, as that bores me! Onto the last game opening of Part Five of First Things First with a non-anime/non-hand-drawn introductory movie! Rare made a ton of amazing games on the Nintendo 64, but some aren't as widely talked about, such as Blast Corps for one, and this game, Jet Force Gemini. This sci-fi epic sees Mizar's insectoid army ambush the peace-loving Tribals as well as Team Jet Force Gemini's ship. The trio of heroes: Juno, Vela, and Lupus escape to their individual escape pods, being flung across the galaxy at opposite corners. You damn, dirty ants! Juno, Vela, and Lupus are about to take the fight right to Mizar's home turf as payback!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sonic Forces (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

Time for the first review of 2018, and it's for a game from 2017. You'll probably be seeing lots of 2017 game reviews on SuperPhillip Central as I catch up on what I missed in what was a jam-packed, A-MAZING year for video game releases. Perhaps "A-MAZING" isn't the best word to describe the first 2017 game being reviewed this year on SuperPhillip Central, but it's surprisingly not that bad, despite all the criticism towards the game. It's Sonic Forces, and it's SuperPhillip Central's first review of 2018!

Sonic Forces is no Sonic Farce.

I always take offense to people who say that "3D Sonic was never good" due to the fact that at the time, Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 were admired games. They didn't stand the test of time, but they were early attempts at 3D platforming for Sonic Team. Even with those games notwithstanding, I argue that Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, two more recent 3D Sonics made by the same developer, are very much quality games worthy of playing, despite anyone's aversion to the Blue Blur. On that note, after the less than delightful Sonic: Lost World and many missteps along the way, I don't really have the highest of faith in Sonic Team making a high quality 3D Sonic.

Right away with the first trailer of Sonic Forces, the latest in the series, I had some serious doubts. It looked oh-so linear, it looked like it was going back to the tryhard edge that I thought was left behind after Shadow the Hedgehog stained the series once again, and the game just didn't look like it was the culmination of four years' development time. While some of the my fears weren't unfounded, Sonic Forces manages to be a good take on the 3D Sonic formula by changing things up a little.

Sonic the Hedgehog's enemy, the evil Dr. Eggman, seems to try to take over the world every other week. While most of his plans are nothing to write home about and are defeated rather easily, there are the occasional doozies such as his scheme in Sonic Forces. Having the Phantom Ruby in his possession, Eggman creates a mysterious and powerful being known as Infinite. During Sonic's first confrontation with the foreboding opponent, Sonic gets captured by Eggman and put on the Death Egg. And while Sonic is away, the Eggman will play. Conquering the majority of Sonic and friends' world in Sonic's absence, Dr. Eggman seems poised to finally get his wish at beating that blasted hedgehog and his friends. That is until Sonic's friends build a coalition of -- for lack of a better term -- "freedom fighters" known as The Resistance to fight back.

Recent Sonic games since Sonic Colors aimed for a more carefree approach to their stories, but here with Sonic Forces, Sonic Team returns to a somewhat edgier take with the series. I was baffled when it was revealed that Sonic was "tortured on the Death Egg for six months." Hopefully all the torture was just Eggman forcing Sonic to play his 2006 game, but the context is something else entirely in an "Oh, my goodness, they're trying to play this absurd nonsense straight." By then, I just enjoyed the ride from there, ignoring Knuckles' "that's why it's called war" declaration said in a stupendously serious tone with no hint of comedy whatsoever. Perhaps kids will enjoy this type of storytelling and take it as cool, but as for older players, it's just hilarious to see the direction the Sonic series has returned to storytelling-wise.

And just like that, Sonic the Hedgehog is off to save the world once again, but this time not alone!
For the first time in Sonic series history, players can create and customize their own Avatar to play as. Starting off, you begin by selecting an animal species such as a bird, wolf, dog, hedgehog, etc. Which ever species you pick has several customization options like being able to choose from a set of ears, eyes, fur or feather color, voice, victory pose, and more. You can customize and edit your Avatar at any time, though you can't change certain aspects of your created hero such as its species. No worries, however, as once Sonic Forces has been beaten, you can create multiple Avatars instead of just being confined to the one.

The real enjoyable aspect of customizing your hero comes from completing in-game tasks and beating levels. Completing these unlock a handful of new attire options for each objective satisfied. You can gussy up your Avatar in a full outfit, from headgear, to pants, gloves, body suits, jackets, shirts, footwear, and so on and so forth. There are over 500 unique pieces of fashion to outfit your character with, and this will no doubt make certain players very happy, whether through their love of character creation or merely collecting as much stuff as possible.

Sonic and his new buddy show Dr. Eggman the true power of teamwork.
And Sonic Forces has a bunch to collect despite the game being on the short side, about 4-5 hours to complete. The 30 stages go by fast, taking 2-5 minutes each, but these short bursts of action are preferable to the cluttered, overly long messes that players had to endure in the less satisfying 3D Sonic games like Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic Unleashed's nighttime segments, or Shadow the Hedgehog. The smaller focus on shorter stages allows there to be enjoyed and replayed for better times on the online leaderboards and for aiming for those sometimes challenging "S" ranks.

It's a good thing that Sonic Forces' stages are so short. Replays aren't as daunting of a task as they were in other 3D Sonic games. This returns to my previously brought up thought about a lot to collect. Though optional to do, Sonic Forces' 4-6 hour campaign can be extended greatly through the collection of the game's Red Rings, five of which are found in each traditional stage in the game. Collecting all five in a stage then unlocks Number Rings to collect in that same stage. One final series of collectibles, Silver Moon Rings, unlock afterwards. Both Number and Silver Moon Rings need to be collected in a certain order, with the latter needing to be gathered in a limited amount of time. Not only is collecting all the Ring types for achievements and trophies, but they unlock additional, quick but challenging obstacle course levels and new outfit pieces.

The 30 stages in Sonic Forces are split up between four gameplay types: playing as Modern Sonic, playing as Classic Sonic, playing as your Avatar, and teaming your Avatar up with Modern Sonic for tag team levels. These joint operations have the fewest appearances in Sonic Forces with just three implementations. Meanwhile, Modern Sonic features a mix of 2D and 3D, but unlike past 3D Sonic games, the 3D areas are much more restricted in where you can move and go. Heck, the first level of the game, set in a sandy version of Green Hill, basically constricts you on a path when you're viewing Sonic from behind the back. The camera cannot be turned, and trying to move backward in this form is a recipe for death.

It can be a little jarring switching from a 3D section to a 2D one some of the time control-wise.
Meanwhile, Classic Sonic, who this time comes from the much loved Sonic Mania (released earlier last year than Forces) to pretty much do nothing other than have the developers say he's in the game, has levels that are all played out in 2D. Even his drop dash is included from Sonic Mania making for some new speed-running tactics for Classic Sonic in a 3D-based Sonic game. Despite the physics for both Sonics being less commendable to the devs than an official game created by fans -- this is due to things like poor midair momentum, off physics, and sometimes gnarly collision detection and bugs -- the stages in both hedgehogs' adventure play out overall well. Many have multiple paths to them, especially the 2D-only levels, which brought fleeting memories of the classic Genesis Sonic games of old and yes, Sonic Mania, as well.

Casino Forest has Classic Sonic striking it rich among the trees and local fauna.
Finally, playing as the Avatar is full of cheesy goodness, and most of the cheese comes from Knuckles and the rest of the Resistance's copious supply of praise for your character, almost spreading it on too thick to annoying amounts. "No, Knuckles, I don't know how you'd make it without my Avatar either." Yes, Sonic Forces is a game where players can live their furry power fantasy while Sonic the Hedgehog calls you "buddy." Finally, acceptance for being weird!

The Avatar levels are a mix of 2D and 3D like Modern Sonic, but your character has more in its arsenal, such as elemental-themed weapons called Wispons (named after the Wisps which debuted in the Nintendo Wii's brilliant Sonic Colors). These Wispons have various effects in the form of buffs and bonus abilities like gaining more points by collecting chains of rings, but the real benefit comes from the types of attacks each Wispon does. One can let out a burst of flames to seer foes to destruction while also causing an explosive boost that causes your Avatar to soar in the air (at least when you find a Red Wisp item capsule). Another example is a Wispon that unleashes an electric weapon to shock enemies into submission. The alternate ability granted by collecting a Yellow Wisp allows your Avatar to perform a light dash a la Sonic Adventure 2 where the character speeds along a path of rings, no matter if it's along the ground or floating in the air. Using different Wispons and their Wisp abilities grants access to parts of stages that would otherwise be inaccessible to Avatars with Wispons of a different type.

It's lucky for the Avatar that these Dr. Eggman-designed robots aren't fireproof. 
The other notable feature of the Avatar levels is a grappling device that hooks onto specific circular, midair objects. It safely pulls your hero across wide gaps, dangerous chasms, and allows reach to otherwise impossible-to-reach areas. While it's cool to look at, the need to use a lock-on function to attach yourself to the grappling point (Modern Sonic homing attack-style) means sometimes you'll be in range of the device and occasionally press the grapple button to no effect, falling down into a pit because the game decided you were no longer in range. These moments are maddening, but thanks to a 3D Sonic game finally ditching a lives counter and the aforementioned short length of stages, it doesn't take long to get back to where you were. Ample checkpoints also make this less frustrating as well.

Sonic Forces performs satisfactory on all platforms it is on. The only real loser here is the Nintendo Switch port that suffers from less detailed environments and some occasional slowdown. Meanwhile, the version I played, the PlayStation 4 build, offered much more in the way of detail, but it still didn't seem like a 3D Sonic game for 2017. When Sonic Unleashed, a game from 2008, looks more impressive than a 2017 Sonic game, I either have to blame the art direction or stay perplexed. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between your character in relation to what's going on, or even seeing an enemy ahead. This isn't even while boosting through levels, but instead when doing slow, methodical platforming.

The Avatar has just as many stages as Modern Sonic to play through, 8 in total.
Tomoya Ohtani and company went a different direction with the soundtrack of Sonic Forces, opting for a dubstep, electronic sound. There are still the occasional orchestral tracks, but most tracks are the former. At first, I didn't like hearing what was passing through my ears, especially when watching gameplay footage, but after playing Sonic Forces in length, the music actually works. Whether it's Modern Sonic's more rock-centric stage themes, Classic Sonic's synth-filled takes on Genesis music, or the Avatar's vocal and electronic stage songs, the soundtrack does indeed work. Pertaining to sound, Sonic Forces features solid work by the voice cast, offering nice and safe performances both during cutscenes and in stages, but for stages, you can always cut off radio chatter if that gets to you at any time.

It turns out Sonic Forces isn't a stinker after all. In fact, on many occasions it can be a lot of fun. Well, that is if you can ignore the uncommon bugs, the not-quite-there physics, the hilariously awkward and awful story, and then some. The lack of lives as well as having shorter stages and mostly enjoyable level design made for 3D Sonic game that I did, all in all, like. Kids will really dig this game, while older Sonic fans might also enjoy it, too. It's probably safe to say, though, that those who haven't been won over by a 3D Sonic game yet won't be won over by this one. Not even if you "forced" them to.

[SPC Says: C+]

Monday, January 8, 2018

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - "New Year, New VGMs" Edition

A new year brings a lot of resolutions and potential for a great new beginning. For SuperPhillip Central, my resolution is to be back on a regular schedule. Let's see how many days until I break that...

In all seriousness, happy new year to all of SPC's readers, regular and not, as we jump into 2018. We've already experienced the Review Round-Up, so let's dive into SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs.

This edition begins with two games to chill and relax to: Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and Stardew Valley. We move from a calming duo of themes to a much more rocking pair with songs from the recently released Sonic Forces and a bonus stage theme from Bomberman on PSP. Finally, Hot Shots Golf 3 tees off and delivers a marvelous piece of music to sit back and nod one's head to in a steady rhythm.

Check out the VGM Database for all past video game themes featured on this weekly segment of SuperPhillip Central. Now, let's get onto the music!

v1536. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (iOS, Android) - Main Theme

Let's begin this edition with some relaxing music, perfect for exploring the cozy and relaxing campsite upon which Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp takes place. Pocket Camp is Nintendo's most recent foray into the realm of mobile gaming, and while it got a fair amount of attention, players aren't really spending too much money on the game. Hence, Nintendo's stock price falling due to investor worries. That doesn't matter, though, as the only currency one should care about in the world of Animal Crossing is that of Bells!

v1537. Stardew Valley (Multi) - Spring (Wild Horseradish Jam)

Don't worry, gang, winter is over in just under three months, and then glorious springtime will be here. In the meantime, let's listen to a song celebrating that blossomy season from Stardew Valley, an indie hit that scratches that itch for a tried and true Harvest Moon-like adventure game on home consoles. Stardew Valley most recently released on the Nintendo Switch, and a multiplayer update is in the works for an impending future release.

v1538. Sonic Forces (Multi) - Fist Bump

Moving on from campsites and farms, we head to the world of Sonic Forces, under heavy control by Dr. Eggman. Hoobastank, a name that takes me back a decade or two, performed the main theme of the game, Fist Bump. I am completely unashamed to admit that I, with no semblance of irony, enjoy this song. Plus, it's not that overheard within the game itself all that much, making it really powerful when it kicks in.

v1539. Bomberman (PSP) - Bonus Stage

A short theme that plays on a continuous loop, this peppy Bonus Stage theme gets you in the mood to bomb as much as possible. After all, you're immune to the explosions in Bomberman's PSP bonus stages, so light up some bombs and go on an explosive spree! Bomberman on PSP's solo mode played out like older Bomberman games, taking out all enemies in each level and occasionally facing a stronger boss. The multiplayer was as delightful as any other Bomberman game (save for Act Zero, of course). Teaming all that up with the infectious soundtrack, as evidenced by this rockin' bonus stage theme, and you have a -- excuse me for using this word again -- explosive package!

v1540. Hot Shots Golf 3 (PS2) - United Forest G.C. (Spring)

Back in the day, students, the Everybody's Golf franchise was known as Hot Shots Golf here in North America. However, in Europe and Oceania it was always known as Everybody's Golf. Now, in North America, with the latest entry on PlayStation 4, Hot Shots Golf is now known as Everybody's Golf as well. Confused? It's okay! We're only here to listen to video game music, after all! Enough with the baffling history lesson, and onto this catchy theme played during the spring season of the United Forest golf course from Hot Shots Golf 3!

Review Round-Up - December 2017

Ittle Dew 2+ takes the Zelda formula and creatively builds off of it,
making developer Ludosity's work SPC's Game of the Month.
Happy New Year to all SuperPhillip Central readers, whether you're a habitual reader, an occasional reader, or completely brand-new! Before we completely say goodbye to 2017, there are two things I'd like to mention. For one, the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2017 Awards begin late this year, kicking off Monday, January 22, 2018. It will last the whole work week with Friday night showcasing my absolute favorite games of 2017.

The other thing to mention is the Review Round-Up! While 2017 saw AAA publishers bringing the goods, here at SuperPhillip Central we turn to indies to round out the year. Five indie games, to be exact. The first two were a duo of racing games, one on water and the other an overhead racer. Both Riptide GP: Renegade and Mantis Burn Racing sped across the finish line to earn a B grade each. Following that was RIVE: Ultimate Edition, reaching the Nintendo Switch eShop with a B- to show for it. Finally, two games following the Legend of Zelda blueprint rounded out this month, the A Link to the Past-like Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (B-) and the featured game of the month for December 2017, Ittle Dew 2+ (B+).

A lot of reviews are coming for this month, including holdovers from 2017! I hope you'll find a lot of content you're excited about this month as I try to bring my best foot forward for 2018!

Riptide GP: Renegade (NSW) - B
Mantis Burn Racing (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - B
RIVE: Ultimate Edition (NSW) - B-
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (NSW, PC) - B-
Ittle Dew 2+ (NSW) - B+

From the makers of Hydro Thunder: Hurricane, Vector Unit's Riptide GP: Renegade
made some serious waves this past month here on SuperPhillip Central.