Friday, April 27, 2018

Hot Shots Tennis (PS4, PS2) Retro Review

After what was formerly Hot Shots Golf in Everybody's Golf being reviewed yesterday, now we turn our focus to an old PlayStation 2 game turned PlayStation 4 retro release, Hot Shots Tennis!

The Hot Shots crew goes serving, swinging, and smashing for one entertaining tennis title.

For the longest time, the Hot Shots crew was limited in their taste in sports, only wanting to stick to the tees, greens, and fairways of golf. Then, in 2007, the crew branched out, if only by a little bit, jumping into a brave new world--the sport of tennis. With a colorful disposition, a cast of cute anime-styled characters, and most importantly, deep, sophisticated gameplay, Hot Shots Tennis aims to serve up an ace, and while it fails to do that, it does end up putting up a very good match.

Hot Shots Tennis comes equipped with a fair amount of single player content beyond random matches against the computer. Sure, there is that within the main solo mode where you are pitted against AI opponents in progressively more difficult ranks, but there is also some training to be had. The four training modes available help you get the basics of Hot Shots Tennis, offering up modes where you practice volleys, returns, smashes, and more. One of the goals to set for yourself is to get an "A" rank on every training challenge. Quite the challenge, indeed, as you have to survive all rounds AND earn enough points in the process.

Return shots onto each panel to score points and continue forth in training.
Outside of the training modes, there is the aforementioned solo campaign of sorts. You start off with a limited pool of characters to play with--two, in fact. As you progress in this mode, completing and winning matches, you earn new characters to play as in addition to other unlockables such as new costumes, new courts, and new umpires to call each match. 

Why play alone when you can play with a partner? That's exactly what Doubles play is for!
You start at a beginner rank, and by becoming victorious in a given number of matches, you unlock the next rank and whole new set of rivals and challenges to take on. Matches occur in both singles and doubles action, and the number of sets and games needed to win increases simultaneously with new ranks you enter. 

The dozen or so characters within Hot Shots Tennis each have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own difficulty rating. Beginner characters are the easiest to use while being at a disadvantage in that they cannot strike the tennis ball that hard. However, while Expert characters are great at striking and reaching the ball, they require excellent timing when hitting the ball in order to not mess up their shot.

Two beginners face off, with one of these two having a perfect smash shot opportunity.
This is where Hot Shots Tennis is a bit deceiving. Through its quirky characters and colorful environments lies a tennis game that isn't as simple to pick up and play as, say, Mario Tennis. No, Hot Shots Tennis demands more of the player, and in this regard, it's not optimal for casual play without some necessary practice.

What I mean by this is that Hot Shots Tennis isn't as simple as running up to the ball, pressing a button, and hitting it. Instead, there are some aspects to consider. Timing is everything in Hot Shots Tennis and so is the placement of your character. Hit the ball too early or too slowly, and the ball won't have as much power when you volley it back than if you timed your shot perfectly. What's more, being too far away from the ball upon hitting it can have dire consequences. You can unintentionally launch the ball sky high, providing your opponent an opportunity to smash the ball down your side of the court's throat, winning the point. 

A well timed button press makes for a stronger serve.
Right before you make contact with the ball, you use the left analog stick to aim on the opponent's half of the court in one of nine sectors: back left, back center, back right, left, center, right, front left, front center, and front right. With perfect timing, aiming your shots at the different sectors can really trip up your opponent. However, with poor timing, you run the risk of hitting the ball off the mark and out of bounds, having you surrender a point to your opponent simultaneously.

So, while Hot Shots Tennis isn't as accessible or beginner-friendly as a certain mustachioed plumber's tennis game, Hot Shots is a bit more rewarding in requiring its players to use both smart strategy and careful timing to really earn a win. Though that isn't to say that Mario Tennis is some sensationally simple tennis series that anyone can win at. Hot Shots Tennis delivers in satisfying courtside action that comes with a bevy of modes in both a solo setting and a multiplayer one. A lack of online hurts this game's longevity, but overall, Hot Shots Tennis serves up quite the engaging "racket" on the tennis court.

[SPC Says: B]

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Everybody's Golf (PS4) Review

Two more reviews are coming in April before we bid this month adieu. The first is an August release from last year, Everybody's Golf. Does a new name (for North America) and new features make for a better golf game for this long-running PlayStation franchise? You know what I always like to say, "Let's find out!"

A golf game where everybody's welcome

The Everybody's Golf series is one of the PlayStation brand's longest-running franchises, dating back all the way to the original PlayStation. The series is one of the few that has released on every PlayStation platform under the sun. In North America the series was given a name change for its localization. It was previously Hot Shots Golf, but now the franchise retains its worldwide name and comes to the PlayStation 4 with a brand-new game. Simply titled "Everybody's Golf", developer Clap Hanz creates a much more approachable and accessible game of golf than ever before.

Your destination in Everybody's Golf is Golf Island, and this is the hub where you can perform a myriad of tasks, the first of which is creating your custom avatar. It's absolutely amazing how many features can be altered to create a golfer that is as close a likeness to you as possible, or if you like, something incredibly off-the-wall with freaky proportions that will give other golfers nightmares on the links. Even with the limited (compared to what you can buy, earn, and unlock later in the game) selection of customization parts, you can tailor and outfit your golfer to your liking with an abundance of options.

My golf game's future is so bright I gotta wear shades!
You begin at the lowest rank on Golf Island, and it's your objective to go as high as possible, Rank 1. Through completing tournaments--9 or 18 hole rounds where you try to get the best score against the rest of the competing field--you earn experience points. More is earned upon making first place. When enough experience points have accumulated, you are challenged by an AI opponent for a one-on-one match. Different competitors offer varying rules. Some might have you win holes by points, while others might impose one stroke penalties on you for hitting into the rough, or a bunker. There are three opponents per rank, and beating the third opponent in Match Play awards you with an increased rank.

Look, Ma! I'm about to drive this ball with my eyes closed!
The first couple ranks can be a bit of a grind to move forward as you're limited to just one golf course at the beginning. There are only so many times you can play either the front or back 9 of the beginner course Eagle City before you start growing tired of its sunny, city surroundings. Thankfully, there is an option to speed things up by turning on Serious Mode. This mode makes the competitors in tournaments get better scores, making for a greater challenge while having the benefit of increasing how much experience and money you earn per round. It doesn't quite solve the problem of having to replay the same course over and over again until a later rank, but it does hasten the time it takes to get to your next rank. 

My opponent Laura is about to get schooled in golf by
my custom avatar (of which you can create eight different ones).
Still, there are some perpetual carrots on sticks to get you to keep playing rounds. You earn coins after rounds are complete that can be used to purchase new customization options like clothing, hair styles, and accessories. Additionally, after each round, you also are awarded with bonus goodies such as gear in the form of clothing and specialized limited-use golf balls of varying abilities as well.

Everybody's Golf uses a tried and true three-button-press system--one to start the swing gauge, one to set the power, and one to set the accuracy. You can hold the D-Pad in one of four directions upon setting the accuracy to unleash topspin, backspin, and sidespin. Later in the game you learn how to perform the incredibly helpful super forms of these aforementioned shot types. Also while determining accuracy, you want to have the meter inside the pink area upon pressing the button the third time to set the accuracy. Otherwise you run the risk of having the ball stray off course significantly, ruining your chance at par in the process.

Too fast of a button press. This ball will go a bit off course.
Button pressed right within the zone. This ball should stay right on track.
As you use clubs, you slowly but surely level them up, increasing their aptitude and ability. Each club in your bag has four different stats that increase in level upon using them properly: power, control, sidespin, and backdoor. Increasing a club's power level strengthens the maximum distance a ball can be hit. A control increase means your shot won't be as susceptible to sway and off course shots. Sidespin gives you more control and ability out of your spins, and backdoor grants a higher probability of golf balls, whether chipped or putted, of going into the hole if they hit the cup's rim. Having each club level up individually means that you'll want to vary which clubs you use and not stick to just one or two. However, it also means that there's a bit of a grind here as well, especially for clubs you don't always use. While your 1-Wood might be spectacular at driving large distances, it doesn't mean anything if your Putter or Wedges are at low levels and can't help out your short game for beans.

Everybody's Golf provides tips in the form of info messages to help you out on the links.
 Fortunately, if you don't want them, you can turn them off.
One of my biggest beefs with past Everybody's Golf games is how brutal they could get when it concerned difficulty. Some of the games featured some truly tricky holes and greens that offered little leeway to mess up, making for a blood pressure-raising experience instead of a relaxing, engaging, and fun one. Everybody's Golf on PlayStation 4 is not just easier in difficulty, but it's also much more inviting, allowing players of all skill levels to fully enjoy the game. There aren't many insanely narrow, extremely undulating greens to make next-to-impossible putts on, or hazard-filled monstrosities packed with small patches of fairway and large patches of bodies of water or other penalty-inducing hazards to be immensely intimidated by. 

That isn't to say that the latest Everybody's Golf is a breeze to play through. While the Match Play competitors you'll face make a multitude of mistakes like errant shots and failed putts, later challengers provide quite the, well, challenge! It's not uncommon for miracle shots to be performed such as 150 yard chip-ins, though it's more dependent on if unrealistic rules like Mega Cups or Tornado Cups are used, where the latter sucks in nearby balls within a close proximity to the hole. The latter two courses (Everybody's Golf sadly only has five total courses included on the disc with three as rather pricey DLC) are a bit more unforgiving, making one really miss the relatively easygoing feeling of the first three courses.

One of many picturesque views of the second course introduced in Everybody's Golf, Alpina Forest.
A new mechanic to Everybody's Golf in this edition of the game is the ability to freely traverse courses as you explore, ride golf carts, and--once the ability is unlocked--fish around them. The online open course exploration allows players to meet up, converse, message, play rounds (or play any hole they like... repeatedly until they finally get that much desired condor they've been wanting--but enough about me), and more. There are even monthly tournaments where players around the globe compete to get the best score possible on that tournament's selected course and rules in order to earn exclusive prizes. 

Better hope your short game is up to snuff if you want that birdie, Phil!
Meanwhile, there are Turf Wars, though this mode isn't the most populated one in Everybody's Golf. Regardless, this mode provides players with a timer and the need to rush as they complete holes and traverse holes to get the lowest score between themselves. This can get absolutely insane when golf carts are smashing into one another and players speed through strokes to finish the round first while also hoping to score under par. It's just a shame that this mode isn't as popular as it should be, given how exciting it can be.

The artist formerly known as Hot Shots Golf (at least in North America), Everybody's Golf is a content-rich golf game that unlike past installments in the series features gameplay that is welcoming to both newbies to the franchise and veterans alike. The single player offers a bit of a grind, and the limited number of available courses that comes packaged with the game disappoints a little, but that notwithstanding, Everybody's Golf is golfing for the masses. Well, the masses that don't mind anime-inspired characters and some creative liberties with the sport.

[SPC Says: B]

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dragon Quest Builders (NSW, PS4, Vita) Review

We had a Clustertruck and then a ClusterPuck, and now we have a Dragon Ball FighterZ and a Dragon Quest Builders! The latter is the focus of this next review, a game available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita.

If you build it, they will come.

Dragon Quest is a series that has dabbled in more genres than just its traditional RPG background. Dragon Quest Monsters took the series in a Pokemon-like direction, whereas something more recent like Dragon Quest Heroes brought the series forward into a Musou experience. Now, Dragon Quest as a series gets yet another spin-off, this time tinkering around in a world similar to Minecraft. While the ability to create what you desire with blocks is very much similar to Notch's creation, Dragon Quest's take on Minecraft, Dragon Quest Builders, brings with it a story, RPG elements, and a structure to help players who need motivation to push on. Does Dragon Quest Builders create an architectural triumph, or does it create a condemned building instead?

Dragon Quest Builders begins with your builder--able to be slightly customized by gender, hair, and color options--waking up from a deep slumber inside a crypt. A voice calls out to the builder, telling him or her (for convenience's sake we'll just refer to the builder as a "he" from now on) of how the Dragonlord has corrupted the kingdom of Alefgard, blanketing it in darkness. Telling the builder how to escape from the crypt, this omnipresent voice summons a banner for the builder, asking him to plant it in the middle of what was the former grounds of a town. Through Dragon Quest Builders's four chapters, this is pretty much always how each begins. You take a banner and plant it in a new town. You also lose all of your items, materials, equipment, and health boosts after each chapter, but the game is designed in a way where that limitation not only doesn't harm the overall game but it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

As soon as the feat of planting the banner in what is left of the first town of Dragon Quest Builders is accomplished, a nearby visitor sees the light shining from the banner and arrives at the encampment. As you play along through a given chapter, more and more visitors will show up, and they will make their home at your base. All of these characters have requests that need completing in order to progress in the adventure. Some task you with building rooms for them, some want you to collect a specific item for them, while others might want you to take down a certain enemy in the surrounding lands. You earn rewards for completing quests, and many of these are quite helpful, whether as health-restoring items, health-increasing items, or materials to assist in building various creations.

From small beginnings comes the little town that could.
Building things in Dragon Quest Builders requires materials. Some are as simple as striking the earth around you to acquire blocks to make buildings and rooms in your town. Others are more involved, requiring a combination of materials to create one item, whether a completely new material, a piece of furniture, or what have you. Creations are made on special pieces of equipment like workstations, forges, cookfires, among others. Without one of these, you can't create anything from materials. You start off with the most basic of equipment to build creations with, and as you progress in chapters, you learn new recipes to build new inventions. 

These three doodads here are used to create specific material and furniture types.
You most likely won't always have the proper amount of materials for a given creation. This is where the grind rears its head in with Dragon Quest Builders. Sometimes you'll have to search, seek out, and find locations of a particular material and acquire as many as you can hold. Other times you won't even know where to find a particular material, so this means constantly moving from area to area searching high and low for your desired material, wherever it may be hiding. Early on, you can only hold so many materials and items at once. If you run out of space, you can't pick anything new up, and you'll have to "clean out your fridge"--cycle in and out items and materials from your on-hand inventory. Thankfully, in most chapters, you do get to build early on a chest that enables you to magically and automatically send excess items and materials inside it if your inventory is full. This is especially nice and convenient because you don't even have to go back to town to grab goods out of the chest. Instead, you can just select what you want from a menu while you travel.

The act of building itself isn't too complicated. When you get ready to place something down, such as blocks or a piece of furniture, a yellow cube will appear in front of your builder, showing where it will be placed upon hitting the build button. You can also press the shoulder buttons to set things a block higher or lower than where your builder is currently positioned. Another button keeps you looking forward, making it easy to place multiple things one after another in a row or column. While this is all well and good, when it comes down to tearing something down, it gets rather tedious--especially if you placed a room in a less-than-optimal location. This means if you don't like where you placed this giant room with loads of furniture in it, you'll have to take your sword, ax, or hammer and destroy it all and rebuilding it. At least that's how it works in the Story mode.

Placing blocks and objects in Dragon Quest Builders is mostly a pain-free experience.
Like the act of building, the act of fighting in Dragon Quest Builders is also uncomplicated, but in this case, it's to the game's detriment. All battles involve is running up to an enemy, striking them, and moving away in order to evade their own offensive. The problem with this is that most of the time I wouldn't take HP damage from an actual attack; I'd take damage from accidentally getting too close to the enemy and touching them, causing my builder to get hit. The hit boxes and collision detection in Dragon Quest Builders leave something to be desired. It makes for clunky, unsatisfying, occasionally frustrating combat. 

My, aren't YOU the looker!
And, combat is a focus apart from building things in Dragon Quest Builders. You need to fight enemies to gain exclusive materials that only they hold, you need to defend your town against enemies when they show up, and you need to take down foes to simply progress in the game. Thus, the faults of Dragon Quest Builders's simplistic and imprecise combat shine prevalent throughout the duration of the game since it's so frequent.

Taking more damage from running into enemies than them actually attacking
you isn't that uncommon an occurrence, unfortunately.
Outside of following along with the story and doing mandatory quests for the various visitors that arrive at your base in each chapter, there are also side quests and specific challenges to take on in an optional amount. Side quests are given from NPCs found in the wild, and the rewards are generally worth seeking them out and completing their tasks. As for challenges, there are five in each of the four chapters in Dragon Quest Builders. These have you doing the most with each chapter's areas--fully exploring them for secrets, venturing into optional areas of the game, and even one for each chapter where you must do a speed run to satisfying conditions. These chapter challenges award content within the much welcomed free-build mode of Dragon Quest Builders, named Terra Incognita, where there are limited rules, but the possibilities are limitless.

I'm going to grow me a radish as big as ye' head!
Dragon Quest Builders has a satisfying presentation with its world devised up voxels, lending to an old school, nostalgic, retro appearance. Characters are detailed well enough, though animations weren't too appealing to me. They were rather too basic. The third-person perspective used in the game works wonders when needing to survey the land outside, but when you enter into caverns or insanely cramped spaces, the camera does get a bit on the troublesome side. What isn't troublesome, however, is the multitude of musical remixes from past Dragon Quest games that will make any fan of the franchise smile. 

If you like the idea of Minecraft in theory, but need a little more direction in your games, then Dragon Quest Builders is more than a suitable alternative. In some regards, it's a bit more like ActRaiser than Minecraft. Regardless of which of these two games it's most similar to (and those two games are terrific company to be in), Dragon Quest Builders carves out its own niche, creating a highly enjoyable take on the franchise and another stellar spin-off for the series.

[SPC Says: B]

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

We've arrived at the first retail release review of April. It's for a recent fighting game inspired by Dragon Ball Super, it's Dragon Ball FighterZ from publisher Namco Bandai and developer Arc System Works. The following review is based off of the PlayStation 4 build.

HFIL hath no fury like a fighter scorned

How do you make a good, licensed fighter? Well, it's a much easier answer than you might think. You take one part good, licensed property--let's say... Dragon Ball Super--and throw in one part one of the most accomplished fighting game makers of all time. For this one, let's say... Arc System Works. What you get from this recipe is what some might consider one of the very best anime fighting games ever conceived: Dragon Ball FighterZ. Its combination of accessibility and depth make for one fighter that serious packs a punch.

One of the things that puts me off of so many fighting games out there is having to memorize an excessive, exhaustive list of button combos just to pull off moves, or having to use such complicated inputs that require a severe degree of finger-fu. This isn't so much the case with Dragon Ball FighterZ. Right from the get-go I was able to pull off powerful, flashy moves with the same, shared button inputs across all characters. The only hardcore memorization needed is in pulling off multi-hit combos that can juggle opponents in the air for a good while until the combo is complete. Considering Dragon Ball FighterZ is the type of fighting game where you can have up to three characters, it's nice that there isn't a lot of learning involved for each character. After all, it'd be ridiculous having to go through the process of learning not just one character in extreme depth, but also two others just to have a capable trio of fighters to work with.
Goku versus Frieza: a feud for the ages!
Because of the lack of overwrought move memorization skills and complex inputs (such as rotating the control stick 360 degrees), Dragon Ball FighterZ is a highly accessible fighting game and a good entry point for novices of the genre. The game uses four buttons for attacking: a light attack, a medium attack, a heavy attack, and a special move. Using these in combination produce some really cool and impressive-looking moves that will allow you to live out your fantasies of taking on Frieza as Goku while actually looking somewhat competent doing it. Of course, while the barrier of entry for Dragon Ball FighterZ is low, the skill ceiling is quite high. Yes, you can spam moves easily and probably win against a beginner, but if you try to pull off that kind of play against a seasoned player, you'll quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a virtual beat-down. 

Even with all that fat cushioning his stomach, that kick from Goku has got to hurt!
The ability to effortlessly slam your elbow into your opponent's face, follow them with a dash as they fall backwards, smack them up into the air, teleport behind them and then deliver a mighty Kamehameha blast to their surprised face is just tremendously satisfying to both pull off and to just plain see. The further ability to be able to perform all of this rather easily (while also being able to counter it just as easily) is why I love Dragon Ball FighterZ's level of accessibility.

Majin Buu losing to Goku this time around? That's a bit of a stretch.
Being a three-on-three fighter, there are a lot of strategies to think about mid-battle. Between thinking of when to call another fighter in to assist or to just take that character's place so they can rest, to considering whether to use most of your Ki energy gauge to unleash a massive attack that deals a lot of damage but has a higher probability of missing or hitting your opponent with weaker attacks that consume less Ki energy, battles can unfold myriad ways depending on your split-second decisions. This is the mark of a complex and deep fighter, and that's to be expected when Arc System Works is involved. 

Krillin powers up his signature move, the Destructo Disc.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is packed to the proverbial gills with modes. Those thirsting for a substantial single-player experience will be happy with both offerings from FighterZ. For one, there is a Story mode, which features an all-new character in Android 21 to take part in. While this mode eventually gets quite long in the tooth thanks to how it is organized (going around a map fighting the same clones over and over again for experience points, bonus abilities and Zenny isn't all it's cracked up to be), the unique, sometimes hidden interactions between Dragon Ball series characters is positively golden. Many put characters together that never interacted much in the actual series, or even at all. This makes for some really hysterical, sometimes awkward encounters that never fail to entertain. With the option to play with Japanese or English voices, you can tailor your trip through Dragon Ball FighterZ's Story mode to your liking.

Sometimes it feels like Cell comes back more times than Jason Voorhies.
Alongside the ten-hour or so Story mode is Arcade mode. While this mode is traditional in that you fight a series of opponents until the final bout, what makes Dragon Ball FighterZ's Arcade mode unique is that it is tailored to your skill level. If you handily defeat an opponent, your next battle will be more difficult. There are different routes to the goal in each Arcade difficulty setting, and depending on how well or how poorly you do, you move up or down different routes. The lower routes are the easiest while the higher routes are, of course, the hardest. Thus, replaying Arcade mode with varied teams of characters is much less repetitive than it otherwise would be.

Dragon Ball FighterZ asks upon startup each session whether you wish to play offline or online. Going online means you can go to one of hundreds of servers around the world, playing in a virtual hub world as a chibi avatar character. You can move to the various modes in the game this way, chat with the numerous players who inhabit the hub lobby, and participate in online matches. The online is hit or miss currently as of the writing of this review, with many more hits than misses. In my dozen hours fighting other players online, only a handful of battles were complete slideshow messes, and that was mostly due to my own mistake of playing against FighterZ players with low latency on their connection settings. 

Some characters call in special guest stars to assist them in battle such as Goku Black is doing here.
Outside of battling online or off, you can use Zenny earned throughout your FighterZ play history and spend it on random draws of prizes. These are all nothing that affect fights either aesthetically or worse off, gameplay-wise. Instead, you use Zenny to buy new avatars, stickers and titles to be placed on your online profile. Even by earning less than a million Zenny over my duration of time with Dragon Ball FighterZ, I was able to purchase most of what was on offer in the game, and I could have easily gone further if there was any real, tangible reason for doing so.

Like father...
Each fight in Dragon Ball FighterZ is essentially an interactive episode where you are at the controls. It's damn near impossible to tell the difference between the game and the actual series of shows when the more dynamic camera angles present themselves. This is all thanks to the painstakingly crafted character models, the gorgeous backgrounds, the highly articulated animations and the fast and fluid frame-rate that is smoother than the bottom of Baby Trunks. The voicework, whether the aforementioned original Japanese or English dub, is equally terrific (though I imagine every series fan will have their own preference), and the music is suitably rock-oriented and fitting for the intense action displayed during the high octane battles within FighterZ.

...Like son.
Dragon Ball FighterZ succeeds at being three things: an accessible game, a great Dragon Ball series game and just a superb fighting game in general. While the somewhat simplistic controls lend themselves to the ability to spam moves against less enlightened players, the level of depth within the mechanics breathe forth a fighter that can shine with the best of them. Dragon Ball FighterZ doesn't quite reach Super Saiyan God level, but it does impress all the same.

[SPC Says: B+]

Monday, April 23, 2018

ClusterPuck 99 (NSW, XB1, PC) Review

From one cluster of things to another, we move from Clustertruck to ClusterPuck 99, a hybrid of soccer and hockey that recently made its way to the Nintendo Switch, which is the version this review is based off of. Let's go for a goal with my review.

The Puck Stops Here

Imagine, if you will, a game that mashes the sports of soccer and hockey together to form one wholly new sport. That's exactly what ClusterPuck 99 sets out to do, and it's what the game accomplishes. Whether or not the game of soccer + hockey (Sockey? Hoccer?) has staying power despite its abundance of arenas and modes depends mostly on whether or not you have regular local friends and family members to play with, as a giant strike against ClusterPuck 99 immediately is that it totally lacks online play. I understand wanting to focus on local play for some heated parties and conversations in real time, but lacking the online play option completely is disappointing to me. No doubt it will be for others as well. It would have just been nice to have an option, because as it stands, not everyone will be able to fully enjoy the game without people to play with.

ClusterPuck 99's arenas can be rather simple...
The absence of online further hurts because ClusterPuck 99 is actually a lot of fun when you play it. The rules are simple: control a disc to shoot or push a puck (one that always spawns at the center of a given arena each round) into the opposition's goal. These simple rules are made more complicated depending on the type of arena you choose, which ClusterPuck 99 has absolutely no shortage of. They range from the bland and boring to the dense and diverse. In fact, some matches can be plain chaotic with all of the obstacles like springs, bumpers and speed boosters, as well as places to fall off of, that are sprinkled throughout many of the arenas.

...or they can be much more complex creations.
Matches can be fully customized, offering time or point limits, the option for bots and also the choice of how many players (up to eight) are in the match. It's absolutely crazy when there are eight discs, four for each team, gunning for the same puck, jockeying for position, throttling one another, and all trying to avoid getting temporarily taken out of the match by falling out of the arena or smashing into a spike trap.

Goals provide players with a slow-motion, skip-able replay that can be great to view an excellent, unbelievable shot (or better yet, rub it in the face of your opponents!). At the end of each match, players are assigned titles depending on how well (or how poorly) they played.

ClusterPuck 99 isn't just built for multiplayer mayhem--there is also some single player content to try out. A solo mode offers practice opportunities for things like disc movement, as well as aiming and shooting the puck. Unfortunately, there are just about ten challenges to partake in, but there is the possibility of earning a gold medal on each challenge. Doing so on many of the challenges unlocks new skins for the discs you control in matches. Still, I would have loved to see the challenge mode expanded upon, offering more tasks for players to complete and more bonuses for players to unlock. As is, this mode is quickly beaten and forgotten.

Don't get too overzealous during play, as you might accidentally
smack into one of these myriad spike traps!
If the wide assortment of arenas still is too low for you and your friends, you can always decide to use ClusterPuck 99's arena creator to craft your own. Every tool that the developers used to create the arenas already included within the game are able to used at your leisure to craft some truly tricky arenas if you so are inclined. That said, the ugly duckling of the game rears its head in once again here as well because there is no online functionality present at all to share arena creations. This is simultaneously a massive omission and a darn shame.

Sure, you can't make your arenas look like a southwestern house like this one,
but you can do anything else the developers did to create their arenas!
Whether or not ClusterPuck 99 is worthwhile to you is based mostly on whether or not you have other people nearby to play it with. The most damning piece of the game is its complete lack of any online functionality whatsoever. For a multiplayer system like the Nintendo Switch, where you can easily bring the system with you, it's not as big of a deal. However, for a something like the Xbox One, it's a glaring omission here, especially for a system so closely tied to online play. Still, the foundation of ClusterPuck 99 is a solid one, so if you have the friends and/or family to play with, and they live in or near the same town, then what the puck are you waiting for? ClusterPuck 99 is as good as a competitive multiplayer game as any other.

[SPC Says: C]

Review code provided by Coatsink.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Clustertruck (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

The back half of April is all reviews, a continuation of SuperPhillip Central's recent posting behavior. We turn to trucks for our first review of the month, a game called Clustertruck, to be precise. This review is based off of the Nintendo Switch port, but the game is also available on Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Hitching a wild ride.

Clustertruck is a game where the rules are basically like that game kids played when they were young, where the floor was lava and touching it meant you lost. Take that concept and expand it by instead of jumping from the couch to the recliner, you're leaping from the back of semi truck to semi truck. Oh, and unlike a couch and recliner, the semi trucks are in full motion.

The goal of each of the game's levels is to get from the starting point to the goal by catching rides on the top of trucks while carefully avoiding obstacles like the ground, fences and other obstructions. Touching one of these means you fail the level and must start over from the beginning again. Thankfully, restarting levels is as simple as a press of a button, instantly putting you back into the game for another attempt.

Speedy creatures, the 18-wheelers dart across the savanna, giving chase to its prey. 
Clustertruck is a first-person jumper, so it's not always easy to tell where you're standing thanks to the perspective used. This can lead to some unexpected fails in your runs, and it's something to get used to as failure is everything but rare in Clustertruck. While failed runs didn't usually pop up from the first-person perspective sometimes causing me to misjudge the angle or timing of jumps, what did was something that is based off Clustertruck's algorithm regarding its namesake cluster of trucks. Sometimes, you'll be faced with a situation in a level where there simply isn't a way to complete the level due to how the trucks behave. They can crash into each other and create a kink in traffic, making it so it's impossible to reach the goal as there are no trucks to leap onto. This randomness can be annoying when you're nearing the goal of a level only to run out of trucks to hop on to sail your way to the finish line. A scenario like this doesn't happen often, but it does occur more than I would have liked during my time with the game.

No wonder my mail's always late if this is how the delivery trucks drive!
There are a total of nine themed worlds, each with their own unique obstacles and locales, devised up of ten levels apiece. In addition to that, a handful of bonus levels are included which have other themes to them as well. One world will have you leaping across the backs of 18-wheelers through the frozen tundra while another will place you within a rotating laser field of death and destruction.

As levels are completed, you earn points based on your performance. You get bonus points for actions like jumping over trucks completely, extended aerial movement and so forth. These points can then be used to purchase upgrades, which only one can be equipped at a time. For the most part, I found that one of the earliest upgrades I could unlock, the double jump, eventually allowed me enough precision to complete most of the levels in Clustertruck without needing anything else. That isn't to say the option to freeze a truck mid-movement or utilizing a grappling hook aren't helpful occasionally, however. The occasions where those are necessary to use don't happen all that often, is all.

Clustertruck is a simple-looking game using flat shaded polygons for the most part, but the art style lends well to not being a distraction to the gameplay. You can pretty much always see where you need to be heading, and seldom does an obstacle pop up out of nowhere because you couldn't see it. The game also runs rather steady in the frame-rate department, which is a good thing, as it'd be quite disastrous to have lag when you're trying to aim and land tricky jumps upon moving targets. Overall, Clustertruck provides players with a decent package when it concerns presentation.

This futuristic locale is one of the later worlds in Clustertruck.
If idea of the phrase "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" doesn't bother you (because you will fail levels a lot and have to try levels over and over, again and again), then Clustertruck might just be a rewarding game for you to try out. When you finally reach the goal on a level you've been struggling the past fifteen minutes on, it's an awesome feeling, and a perfect run through a given level gives off such a great dose of adrenaline through the veins. While the frustration factor of Clustertruck can be high at times (don't play this game around the young'ins, as you might end up cursing like a sailor when you narrowly fail a level after the twentieth attempt), the game ends up being one of a nice quality. Just don't try this stuff at home, kids.

[SPC Says: B-]

Review code provided by Tinybuild.