Friday, March 30, 2018

Kirby: Star Allies (NSW) Review

The last review of March is for a newly released Kirby game. It's Kirby: Star Allies, and it gets the SuperPhillip Central review treatment... right now!

Kirby gets by with a little help from his friends.

Kirby is usually a series that appears later in the lifespan of a Nintendo platform, so you can imagine the surprise many gamers see themselves with as Kirby floats onto the Nintendo Switch just shy of the system's first year. Kirby: Star Allies doesn't stray too much from the formula that the series has established and has run on for a while, but like a sweet, delectable cake for Kirby, for me, Star Allies is nice comfort food -- though not without some small gripes here and there.

This time around, this Kirby game's main selling point is its friend heart ability, where Kirby can chuck hearts at certain enemies to have them join his cause. Up to four players can be on screen at once, including Kirby himself, and when the computer isn't controlling the other three helper characters, multiple human players can drop in and drop out at any time. With AI helpers, the game is relatively an easy experience, more so than it normally would be (as this Kirby installment is one of the less challenging ones), as the AI can solve puzzles by themselves for the most part as well as take down bosses without much of a sweat. It just takes some patience for them to whittle down a given boss's health bar.

Just like WAR sang, "why can't we be friends?"
Well, why can't we in Kirby: Star Allies!
There is an abundance of helpers that Kirby can persuade to join his side of the fight, more than 25 in total. These are your standard Kirby enemies that would otherwise bestow Kirby with their abilities when gobbled up by the pink puffball through traditional methods. There is Sword, Cutter, Hammer, Ice, Fire, Bomb, Beam, Stone and even some new additions in the form of Artist (which attacks with a colorful paintbrush), Spider (which ensnares foes in webs and allows the ability to kick webbed opponents into other enemies), and Staff (which turns Kirby all Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on enemies). Most of the time you'll be switching between helpers like used Kleenex, as keeping the same batch of friends with the same abilities is frowned upon if you want to get all of the secrets within the game's many stages.

The new Spider ability scores Kirby a GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!
Furthermore, taking a familiar page out of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, the ability to combine powers has returned, though slightly altered for Star Allies. When a player holds up on the control stick or D-Pad, they hold up an outline of a heart. If another player uses their copy ability power on that heart, their power will combine with that character's, if possible. For instance, a Sword ability user can have a Fire ability user lend their power to them, turning their ordinary Sword into a Sizzle Sword ability, able to not only slice and dice, but also set enemies and objects ablaze in the process. This combination of powers is necessary to solve some of the optional challenges within Kirby: Star Allies, such as being able to enter into the secret areas of the game off the beaten path.

The newly produced Sizzle Sword can not only cut this rope,
but also start the fuse on this massive bomb.
However, many times, Star Allies will provide players with the necessary combination of ally powers needed to progress or solve a particular puzzle or challenge via a signpost. It takes away most of the experimentation from players and instead makes puzzle rooms less of a puzzle and more of a "go through the motions" type experience, which while understandable for younger gamers, which Kirby as a franchise is skewed towards, it doesn't make it less disappointing all the same. There are only so many ways you can utilize the combination of Water and Stone abilities to solve a simple puzzle, and Kirby: Star Allies takes away the fun of solving such trials for yourself.

Have two friends hold up their Chumbrellas to protect the third's lit fuse from dying out.
Outside of specific ally abilities like traditional Cutter, Sword, Bomb and the like, Kirby: Star Allies allow Kirby and his friends to team up in other ways through special transformation forms. Kirby and company can turn into a giant Friend Circle, rolling through enemies and obstructions with ease, or they can enter a Friend Train, choo-chooing their way along floors, walls, and ceilings as they defy gravity. Then, there is a less-exciting transformation, the Friend Bridge, which is used in small amounts for puzzles where you are tasked with safely sending an enemy with a key from one side of the bridge to the other. Unlike past recent mainline Kirby games, these transformations aren't the main focus of the game, and they don't interrupt the flow and pacing of Star Allies as much as things like Hypernova in Kirby: Triple Deluxe did, to name one example. They're most welcome and break up the traditional 2.5D platforming quite nicely in Star Allies.

Kirby: Star Allies is devised up of four main worlds containing a wide variety of stages. Each stage contains a rainbow puzzle piece, which is usually placed in the "most challenging" (challenging is a relative term when we're talking about Star Allies) location within the level. These pieces fill up an assortment of jigsaw puzzles that reveal images from Kirby's illustrious history as a gaming icon. There are also regular puzzle pieces to collect in levels as well, but these don't fill in specific pieces of these jigsaw puzzles. Additionally, some levels go the Kirby's Adventure route and house special switches that when pressed, unlock extra stages to play through, prolonging the entertaining story mode of Star Allies. In total, there are close to the same amount of stages in Kirby: Star Allies as other games in the series like the Wii's Return to Dream Land and the Nintendo 3DS's Triple Deluxe.

The boss battles are highlights of Star Allies, and they have the pleasure of not just being isolated to the end of each world either. Instead, they can occur midway through a world, or even the first stage of a world. It keeps players on their toes, and it simultaneously allows a much wider amount of battles to take place against foes both fresh and familiar (as well as new takes on old foes). While most bosses have simple patterns to pick up on and antics that won't overly challenge veteran players, the boss fights in Kirby: Star Allies are engrossing and enjoyable all the same.

Apparently, King Dedede skipped leg day.
Outside of the story mode, which won't last terribly too long -- clocking in for me around five hours or so -- a host of other modes is available, including two quick throwaway mini-games, and some much more substantial and meaty modes which unlock after the initial story mode is finished. One mode allows you to play as any four helper characters, doing away with Kirby as the star, and having you go through a remixed collection of the story mode's stages. If you like, you can play this mode as each of the different helper characters (though this isn't necessary in earning 100% completion on a save file), including special Dream Friends like Bandanna Waddle Dee, King Dedede, Metaknight, and even some free downloadable characters from past Kirby games like Kirby Dream Land 2's Rick, Kine and Coo, or Kirby Super Star's Marx.

Another mode that unlocks is a special boss rush mode. Depending on which difficulty you choose, there are more rounds to take on, less food items to restore your health between rounds, and much more dangerous and deadly foes. While Kirby: Star Allies is overall an extremely breezy game to beat, this substitute mode for the Arena mode of past Kirby games is quite the challenge. To beat the ultimate difficulty level of Kirby: Star Allies's boss rush mode is something to definitely be proud of.

Kirby: Star Allies is one of the only console Kirby games that runs at 30 FPS instead of the typical 60. However, this doesn't really detract heavily from the gameplay experience, and I got used to it rather quickly. What is more jarring is the plethora of loading screens that occur between room transitions in Star Allies, something never-before-seen in a Kirby game before, to my recollection. While these loading screens are fast and present players with helpful tips and advice, they do add up over time.

Goodness gracious, great ball of Waddle Dee!
Star Allies is a positively pretty game to look at. The backgrounds and environments are an absolute pleasure to gaze upon, and I sometimes found myself just stopping to admire the scenery on many occasions during my playthroughs of the game. Character models look exquisite and are wonderfully animated to create a world in Kirby: Star Allies that is detailed and lovely on the visual front. On the sound side, Star Allies features both new arrangements of classic themes from past Kirby games as well as wholly new compositions. Whether it's the trademark melody of the Green Greens theme or the more electronic sounds of the Jambaston fortress, the music is marvelous in Star Allies.

Kirby and company take a nice leisurely dive underwater.
Kirby: Star Allies doesn't do much to push the formula of the franchise forward, but it does successfully craft a game that is well worth playing for both solo gamers and those with the ability to play with multiple people. The low difficulty of the game, even compared to past Kirby entries, will be a turnoff for some players (even the locations of secrets aren't anywhere near as diabolical as past Kirby games). However, there is enough in this pink puffball package to engorge oneself on and enjoy. It's not a truly fantastic Kirby game, but Kirby: Star Allies does its job of providing a highly competent and capable Kirby game for Nintendo Switch owners.

[SPC Says: B]

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mario Party: The Top 100 (3DS) Review

Man, doesn't it feel like April! It's just felt like a really long month for March. It's almost like these reviews for March are late or something! Regardless, while I nervously sweat in this corner, check out this review of Mario Party: The Top 100 for the Nintendo 3DS.

A party where everyone goes home at 9:30

Mario Party has been around since 1999, where it initially debuted on the Nintendo 64. Since then, repeated sequels released that saw the party getting even crazier with new rules and strategies to consider. For instance, Mario Party 2 added items and duel games while Mario Party 9 added a car mechanic that put all four players in one vehicle, riding together across a linear board. The latter two numbered Mario Party games innovated on the franchise, though to many, it was for the worse. Still, that hasn't stopped developer of the series ND Cube from continuing to try its hand at mixing up the franchise.

Despite all of the changes to the formula that ND Cube and Nintendo have made to Mario Party as a series, one thing that hasn't been altered and one thing that remains a common element is that of the mini-games. Enter Mario Party: The Top 100 for the Nintendo 3DS. Now, taking ten mini-games from each mainline numbered Mario Party and putting them into one game sounds like the formula for easy success, right? Unfortunately, Mario Party: The Top 100 contains some issues that greatly detract from the overall experience, making for a party that ends too soon.

Right away if you like, you can leap right into the mini-games, selecting one of dozens that are initially already available. In order to have the full array of mini-games at your access, you'll need to partake in the single player campaign mode. This mode consists of moving across a New Super Mario Bros.-style map where instead of each spot on the map being a level to play, it's instead a mini-game. The mini-games start off with ones that are simple to grasp and win, and against AI opponents that pose little-to-no challenge whatsoever.

Minigame Island is Mario Party: The Top 100's short-lived single player mode.
As you progress through the four "worlds" of the single player mode, the AI gets more taxing, throwing at you "Hard" and "Very Hard" difficulty opponents as well as pitting you in 1 vs. 3 mini-games where you have to fend for yourself. It's never anything too daunting, as all you have to do is get better than last place in a mini-game to move on. If you fail a mini-game, however, you lose a life. Lose all of your lives, and it's game over. It's not as much of a pressure-filled situation as you might think at first because you're able to earn coins from completed mini-games and from specific coin roulette boxes that appear regularly on the map. While the goal is to just pass a mini-game without being in dead last, completionists will want to aim for first in every mini-game, as you're rewarded Mini-Stars for victories. Earn all of the Mini-Stars in the single player mode, and you earn an unlockable. Sadly, it's nothing as cool as a new character (there are no secret characters in Top 100), but it's an unlockable nevertheless.

One of the mainstays of Mario Party games outside of the obvious and already mentioned mini-games is that of the boards. It's always a blast to roll a die, plot a path through a board, and hope luck is on your side. With Mario Party: The Top 100, one of the important halves of the Mario Party experience is almost completely missing. What is here instead is in another mode of The Top 100, one for four players. It's a Mario Party: Star Rush-style board where all players roll a different die and move across the board simultaneously while moving around a grid-based board. This board commonly gets balloons of varying types floating down onto it, such as mini-game balloons and Power Star balloons. The goal of the mode is to earn coins by winning mini-games, landing on specific spaces, among other means, and purchasing stars from the popped Power Star balloons. The player at the end of the set number of turns is the winner. While at the beginning of the board, 1-3 Power Stars in a balloon are common, by the end of the game, there can be a Power Star balloon worth five stars to run into, though it does cost 50 coins to nab, as a Power Star costs 10 coins each.

After being the bane of many players' existence in 2D Mario games,
doesn't it feel great to hammer these Pokeys to smithereens?
At the start of this mode, each player picks a package that possesses five mini-games. These are all themed in some way, whether they're sports mini-games, action mini-games, or mini-games from a particular Mario Party entry, to just name a few. Each time a mini-game balloon is popped, a mini-game selection screen comes up. Players select between their package of mini-games for the one they'd like to play, and a hand spins around a wheel with players hoping the hand lands in their portion of the wheel. Not only will they get their chosen mini-game selected, then, but they will also earn double the amount of coins based on their position in the mini-game. Being the one who popped the mini-game balloon nets the player more real estate space on the mini-game wheel in order to increase the chances their mini-game gets selected.

Either Yoshi's gotten larger or Waluigi, Luigi and Peach have gotten smaller.
This particular mode that is built for single players to compete against three AI opponents or for multiple human players (or a combination of both human and AI) is wonderfully fun and worth playing. It's a really cool take on the Mario Party formula. The big problem with this mode, though, is that there is only the one board. Again, Mario Party is all about the boards, and seeing a Mario Party game have so little to offer when it comes to that is severely disappointing. There are only so many times you can play the same small board over and over again before you get tired of it and the mode in general. It happens as quickly as you might think, too.

That's the main problem with Mario Party: The Top 100 that seeps through the game's other modes. There is just too little content in the modes, so much so that you'll only want to play through them once and then realize you've seen everything they have to offer. With The Top 100, there is no real mode with enough longevity and variety to complement all of the excellent mini-games (stupid, luck-based ones notwithstanding) the game contains.

Ah yes. If it isn't my old nemesis, Bowser's Big Blast.
Those darn eyes counting down to my destruction will forever haunt my dreams.
It's a shame, too, because the mini-game selection in Mario Party: The Top 100 is really dynamite. There's a lot to like with fan faves like Bumper Balls, Shy Guy Says, Face Lift, Hexagon Heat, Slot Car Derby, Speed Hockey, Chip Shot Challenge, Eatsa Pizza, Ice Rink Risk, Three Throw, Trace Race, Dinger Derby, Later Skater, Snow Whirled, Track & Yield, Aim of the Game, Speeding Bullets, Tackle Takedown, Jewel Drop, and Soar to Score. The embarrassment of enjoyable mini-game riches only makes it hurt even more that they're not tied into a better package of modes. Instead, all you have is a sequence of repeated mini-games that shortly becomes monotonous to play for an extended length of time. These little gameplay bursts aren't enough to hold a game on their own, and this is where Mario Party: The Top 100 seriously disappoints.

Poor Luigi gets the shock of his life in Track & Yield.
While Mario Party: The Top 100 is not an awful game, it is an awful entry in the Mario Party series. It misses the point of what makes the series so entertaining. It isn't just the mini-games that fans love about Mario Party; it's the combination of the mini-games, the boards, and the strategy of play that fans continue to crave from the series. Even with Download Play where only one person needs the game to allow other 3DS owners to play on their own systems as a cool inclusion, as is, Mario Party: The Top 100's collection of mini-games, while mostly pleasing, come in a package that is just too shallow to wholeheartedly recommend.

[SPC Says: D+]

Monday, March 26, 2018

Toki Tori 2+ (NSW) Review

How many reviews can SuperPhillip Central pack into the final week of March? Let's find out! Our first review of the week is a recent release on the Nintendo eShop for the Nintendo Switch, Two Tribes's Toki Tori 2+. Should you chirp happily about the game or derp sadly for Two Tribes?

Bird is the word.

Toki Tori 2+ feels like a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer with levels that command you to go in one specific direction with very little in the way of choice in how you want to do things. In your first hours with Toki Tori 2+, you might figure that the game has one path in mind of where you're supposed to go. I mean, how am I supposed to get past THIS obstacle!? I don't have the right ability However, as you progress through the game, you quickly realize that these thoughts of limitation are, in fact, in no way, shape or form truthful. The roadblocks you encounter in Toki Tori 2+ are merely those of illusion.

You see, something that Toki Tori 2+ veterans know going into the game that beginners do not is that you can pretty much go anywhere you want in Toki Tori 2+ right from the get-go. There's no obstruction or obstacle you can't get past or figure out away through or around. Unlike a Metroidvania game, you don't get access to new abilities to reach new areas of Toki Tori 2+. Instead, you already have access to all of the abilities within the game; it's just that you don't know how to use them immediately as a beginner. 

Starting off, our heroic, chirpy friend can only whistle, stomp, and move. That's pretty much all you get throughout the entire duration of the game ability-wise. It's up to you to figure out how to use these in isolation or in combination with other creatures, obstacles, and pieces of environment in order to progress in Toki Tori's adventure. 

Toki Tori 2+ is one amazing puzzle-platforming adventure.
Toki Tori 2+ is an ingenious display of having a tutorial that shows and doesn't tell players straight out on how to proceed. Hints in the environment and context clues provide what's necessary to learn how to interact with the game world and move forward. One of the earliest examples of this is being impeded by a big, stone block, which is the home of a hermit crab. Seeing as Toki Tori can't jump in the game, some other solution is needed. That's when the two aforementioned actions come in: whistling and stomping. Standing next to the hermit crab and whistling doesn't seem to do anything, so the logical next step would be to stomp. In doing so, the crab and its block move to the right, no longer impeding your way ahead. One can even experiment with the hermit crab and its stone block further by whistling while standing on the other side. The hermit crab will move towards Toki Tori. This shows the player that when they whistle and move, the hermit crab will move towards them, and when they stomp and move, the hermit crab will move away from them.

Stomping while on this side of this hermit crab will cause it to move away from Toki Tori,
building a staircase for him to climb across and proceed through this level.
This type of experimenting is key to learning how to progress in Toki Tori 2+ because, again, the game doesn't blatantly let loose what you need to do in text or spoken form. It's all on you to teach yourself on how to get through levels while solving the game's puzzles. Toki Tori 2+ lets you learn how to use your abilities in simple scenarios before eventually pitting you against puzzles that really have some involved steps to complete. Once you learn how certain abilities interact with the game world, you can go back to previous areas and reach all-new spots that you couldn't figure out to enter before. That said, if you're already familiar with how Toki Tori's basic move set interacts with the game world, you can essentially reach these areas and go anywhere you want. There is no one correct way to play Toki Tori 2+. There is no one correct path through the game. It's an interconnected game world where your knowledge on how Toki Tori's behavior influences the world around him means you can start at as easy a series of levels or as challenging as you want. 

One of my favorite-looking locales in Toki Tori 2+. Just so soothing and calming to gaze upon. 
The levels of Toki Tori 2+ span a great number of locales. Though levels have no names, you can easily tell them apart by their distinct backgrounds and environments. Such locales include a sunny beach, a hot and intense volcano, a forest filled with running windmills, a central town for the local chirping residents, cascading waterfalls that spray enough mist in the air to show off gorgeous rainbows, heavily wooded areas, and even the underside of the island itself. The island map, which is pretty sizable, tells you where you currently are, and this pops up as you move between levels. You can also call it at any time in the game by hitting the "-" button. 

This is but one half of the island map of Toki Tori 2+.
Eventually, you learn various songs played by Toki Tori as he whistles. You merely press the whistle button for a short note or hold the button for a long note. You can do a 4-6 note melody to perform a handful of songs. Some call upon a bird holding a camera to take photos of nearby creatures and obstacles. Others can call upon an eagle to pick up up and transport you to any warp point you've already found throughout he island. 

Then, there's a song that helps out if you manage to botch a puzzle, which is anything but rare in Toki Tori 2+. Levels contain an ample amount of checkpoints, usually placed before and after a puzzle. Playing one of the songs as Toki Tori transports him to the last checkpoint he reached, setting everything back as it was to the time he touched the checkpoint. This can easily rectify a costly mistake in a puzzle that would otherwise force you to completely reset the level and start from its beginning. That said, this isn't perfect. Some puzzles have two checkpoints involved, and if you find yourself butchering a puzzle and creating a no-win situation (a common occurrence in Toki Tori 2+) and then hit another checkpoint, your progress will be saved. This means that if you play the song to return to a checkpoint, the puzzle will still be unwinnable and you'll have to reset the level. 

Are you yawning because you haven't moved in quite a while,
or are you crying because we're going to have to reset the level?
It would be better if the game had a "reset the puzzle" option instead of resetting the entire level, as it's quite easy to innocently mess up a puzzle and not want to have to redo minutes of hard work all over again because you accidentally hit a checkpoint. A Switch-exclusive song does mitigate this issue somewhat, allowing you to put down your own temporary checkpoint, but it doesn't really fix the problem here.

It's like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds!
Another song is a blessing for the endgame, a song that reveals if you're missing any collectibles, aka golden feathers, in a given level. In levels, this shows up as a ring, pointing in the general direction where the golden feathers hover. On the island map, the song reveals which levels still contain golden feathers, so you don't have to revisit every level in the game and individually play the song from one location to another. Golden feathers have a special bonus at the end of the game for diligent and persistent players, and the reward is well worth it.

Toki Tori is just trying to help this lava go with the flow.
Speaking of the endgame, Toki Tori 2+ will definitely give you your money's worth. It's a game that took me close to 15 hours to reach what is essentially the end of the game. A whole slew of in-game achievements encourage even more playing, and one even welcomes the idea of completely sequence breaking the game. That's just how open the game world and rules of Toki Tori 2+ are. Just be prepared to have access to a guide, preferably a YouTube walkthrough, just in case you find yourself getting frustrated at not being able to wrap your head around a particular puzzle (or especially the timing necessary to solve a particular puzzle). 

Toki Tori 2+ is a brilliant puzzle-platformer that is so much smarter than it initially appears to be. The game world is only as limited for you to explore as your experimentation with it and the knowledge of how to use the game's mechanics. Being able to slowly and safely learn the tricks you need to utilize with only a two-ability system becomes a mighty revelation when you figure out you've always had the option to plot your own course across the island. It makes subsequent runs through the game and potentially speed-run opportunities all the more special. The lack of a "reset puzzle" feature and some truly antagonizing puzzles can cause some mild annoyance with this game, but overall, Toki Tori 2+ shows that going to the birds isn't always a bad thing!

[SPC Says: A-]

Review copy provided by Two Tribes.