Saturday, July 7, 2018

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

Let's slip into something more comfortable for this Saturday evening, shall we? Wait! Come back! I only meant pajamas!

At any rate, I have a new review to share with the SuperPhillip Central community. It's Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, and it's based off the recently released Nintendo Switch version of the game. Let's till some soil, explore some valleys, and get to this review!

A relaxing, engaging game is just over Yonder

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and The Legend of Zelda get shipwrecked on an island... Joke setups aside, those are just some of the gameplay styles and inspirations taken by and put into Prideful Sloth's Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. The game launched last year on the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, but within the past month or so it received a Nintendo Switch port and retail release. Taking all of these gameplay styles and putting them into one game is no easy task, and that's from a large developer's standpoint. So, it's of even greater interest to see how the much smaller group of Prideful Sloth went about crafting a relaxing, entertaining gaming experience, combining all these styles into one package. For the most part, this formidable undertaking is a happy success.

Yonder starts with your character, which you can customize to an extent prior to the game's beginning, setting sail across the ocean for the island of Gemea. An intense storm causes the ship to become completely wrecked, sending you to another realm, home to the magical and mysterious Sprites. The Mother Sprite tasks you with recapturing the island from the poisonous clouds of Murk that cover substantial parts of the land. The setup is pretty much merely there to give you a reason to explore and engage with the island of Gemea, as the story doesn't actually expand all that greatly. In fact, it hardly expands at all until the tale's end, which is a brief conclusion if I've ever witnessed one.

Guess who spent a lot of time in Photo Mode? This guy!
Thankfully, while Yonder's story won't get you too invested and wrapped up in playing the game, its exploration, crafting, and farming systems will. There are a lot of gameplay systems here at work, and while none outshine their pretty blatant inspirations like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and even some parts The Legend of Zelda, they're both capable and competent enough to be enjoyable. Yes, some could say Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a jack of all trades and master of none type of situation, but at the same time, what's here is ultimately fun.

I greatly enjoyed my 15 or so hours scouring the relatively large island of Gemea, trying to bring up the completion percentage of each area of the island to a perfect 100% by completing all their tasks, NPC requests, building all possible constructions like farms and bridges, planting tree seedlings in specially marked patches of ground, and discovering Sprites to join my cause through solving simple puzzles or completing certain objectives.

You can befriend all sorts of fascinating animals and put them to work
on--er...give them a home at one of your farms.
At first, you're limited to the Grasslands in the center of Gemea for where you can venture, but as you acquire new Sprites, you gain the ability to use them to dispel patches of Murk that block your progress. Murk requires a different amount of Sprites for each poisonous cloud that you come across. Sometimes you won't have enough in your collection to dispatch the Murk cloud, so you'll have to journey elsewhere until you do. Eliminating the Murk not only opens up new areas to explore, but it also opens up shortcuts between areas. This is also why building bridges throughout the land is also imperative, especially if you want to reach secluded locations of Gemea.

Attaboy! Captain Planet would be proud of you for clearing up that Murk!
However, mostly for the duration of Yonder you'll be spending your time with its crafting system. All around Gemea there are doodads to pick up like stones, vines, flowers, and more. Chopped down trees bestow wood to craft goods, while fish pulled out of the many rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans of the island can be turned into unique dishes.

But Captain Planet would probably frown upon cutting down this tree.
Everything in Yonder is built around this crafting, trading, and goods system. Every task in the game requires you to have a specific number of materials necessary to either fulfill an islander's request or build a construction like a farm or bridge. It can get pretty disconcerting to need a certain material to finish off a quest, but fortunately, you can do any quest in any order you like.

Many traders roam and situate themselves around Gemea, offering a wide assortment of goods and materials depending on where you meet them. The trading system has you selecting which items you want, all of which have a value to them, and requiring you to put up items in your own collection that are of greater or equal value to theirs to make for a fair, acceptable trade. Many times this is the easiest way of acquiring the materials necessary for the plethora of quests in the game.

What Yonder amounts to at its core is a series of fetch quests--gathering, whether through collecting, trading, or crafting, the correct materials required to complete quests--and this might turn off a lot of potential players that would otherwise jump on a game like this. It says something when there's a hidden isle of trolls in the game near the southwest corner of the map, which blatantly pokes fun at Yonder's gameplay. One troll even calls the game a pretty series of fetch quests, which is sort of like the game cutting off its nose to spite its face. Bizarre to include such dialog to mock your own game, but the troll character isn't exactly wrong.

Despite this, I found myself drawn to the island of Gemea and the world of Yonder, slowly but steadily completing quests, building and tending to one of my six farms spread across the island (these also can serve as fast travel points), planting trees, finding well hidden treasure chests, crafting new items like farm equipment, clothing, materials and more, and just exploring the wondrous world that Yonder provided me.

Build your farm your way and rake in the materials!
Yonder is a gorgeous game, and this can be attributed to the fantastic and jaw-dropping dynamic lighting system put in place. I had a grand old time using the game's Photo Mode to take shots of the stunning scenery, changing seasons and weather, sunrises and sunsets, and anything else I could think of. The music is also stirring, offering splendid and soothing orchestral themes that makes exploring Gemea all the more delightful.

The visuals on display in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles are a sight to behold,
particularly impressive coming from such a small studio.
Not all is wonderful, though, with Yonder's presentation, at least on the Nintendo Switch. Frame-rate hitches were more common than I would have liked, bringing sudden jerkiness to the otherwise smooth game. This happened most often during transitioning between areas. I should say, though, that Yonder is rather impressive for having limited load screens. Exploring the island makes for one continuous, uninterrupted action that was quite magnificent to behold.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is decidedly not a game for everyone. The game could seriously be called "Fetch Quest: The Game" and no one would bat an eye or think it was false advertising. That notwithstanding, what you get with Yonder is a relaxing and laid-back game that allows you to play at your own pace, discovering new sights and locales at your leisure, and taking care of quests whenever you get around to it. If you think you might like a game with satisfying exploration, plenty of things to accomplish that are rather gratifying, and is a serious looker, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles will have you on cloud nine. I know I was.

[SPC Says: B]

Review code provided by Prideful Sloth.

Go Vacation (NSW) - Overview Trailer

Originally released on the Wii, Namco Bandai's Go Vacation returns with a Nintendo Switch remaster. Packed with 50 activities across four resorts, character and home customization, lots of exploration, and other goodies, Go Vacation seems to be a bit better than it was on the Wii, and I already enjoyed that version back in 2011. Go Vacation launches July 27 on the Nintendo Switch.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Eleven

Bad Levels in Gaming History is back to kick some less-than-stellar level butt! "Levels" is simply a catch-all term used. As you'll see with this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, "levels" can mean stages, courts, dungeons, areas, race tracks, and more. "Bad Levels in Gaming History" is just more elegant of a name than "Bad Levels, Stages, Courts, Dungeons, Areas, Race Tracks, etc. in Gaming History", wouldn't you say?

This volume features a handful of classic franchises with most being all-star characters that see modern takes on their respective series. Such franchises represented this time around include: Crash Bandicoot, Mario Tennis, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, and even a bit of a precursor in some ways to Grand Theft Auto, the Driver series.

If this volume of Bad Levels has you yearning for more, check out the ten past installments conveniently linked to below:

Road to Nowhere - Crash Bandicoot (PS1), Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

One of two of the most challenging levels in the already difficult original Crash Bandicoot (and the game itself is occasionally difficult for all the wrong reasons), Road to Nowhere is forward-scrolling trek across a seemingly endless amount of bridges. Simple enough, right? No. Not at all. The bridges are practically hanging by a thread with loose planks that quickly fall to the abyss below once Crash steps on them, meaning you have to move, move, move! Many of the jumps require pinpoint precision as they are only one plank surrounded by gaps. Add in some slippery sections of the bridges, and you have one recipe for frustration.

This wouldn't be so much of a problem if Crash Bandicoot's perspective wasn't so bad in this level. Not only do you have limited sight distance thanks to the thick fog permeating throughout Road to Nowhere, but the perspective of the camera makes it tricky to see where Crash is going to land. Mistiming jumps and just completely missing planks in general are common occurrences in Road to Nowhere, so much so that many players have found the easiest way to get passed the arduous jumps in the level are to completely avoid doing them. It's as "simple" (since again, you're a slave to the camera perspective and difficulty to see where Crash is going to land) as landing on one of the rope railings on either side of the bridges and crossing them that way. You don't miss out on any boxes, as they are all located on the islands sprinkled throughout the levels in between bridge crossings.

Still, just knowing that so many use this exploit just to get through an otherwise messy level to get through due to design problems with Crash Bandicoot as a game itself, Road to Nowhere got the first honors of being skewered on this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History.

Savage Sea - Mario Tennis Aces (NSW)

Since Mario Power Tennis on the Nintendo GameCube, the Mario Tennis series has been no stranger to various themed, fun, gimmick courts. When I say "gimmick", I mean that the courts have special hazards or obstacles on them to impede upon an otherwise normal (well, in normal in the Mario Tennis sense) match of tennis.

Mario Tennis Aces has these as well, and thankfully, for the most part, you can turn off hazards on courts if you desire. In a game with limited options, it's fortunate that at least the ability to turn off court hazards is available to players. Well, that is except one particular court in the game, which has by far the most obnoxious gimmick in Mario Tennis history, Savage Sea.

Don't be fooled by the bright sunshine and colorful and calm ocean waters that surround this ship-themed court. Here within all this beauty and wonder belies one truly tricky and annoying obstacle that makes for a difficult challenge whether playing on it in Adventure Mode or Free Play. The deck of the ship where the action takes place houses a particular annoyance right in the middle of the net, a mast, which bounces balls off of it in sometimes unpredictable ways. These are such ways that sometimes it's simply impossible to get to the ball without the foresight needed to do so. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the hazards in Mario Tennis Aces' courts, there is no way to remove the mast for a traditional Aces match. What it amounts to is a court that would otherwise be at a climactic and enjoyable setting turned into a complete and utter aggravation.

Iron Fortress - Sonic Forces (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

How does one screw up a 2D Sonic level after essentially getting them down pat in previous games? As Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park would say, "Sonic Team... finds a way." The 28th stage of 30 within Sonic Forces is Iron Fortress, a level situated inside Dr. Eggman's gigantic tower where the final events of the game take place.

Iron Fortress is home to annoying red missiles that launch from boxes, electrified portions of level, wheels that spin Classic Sonic around in all 360 degrees, and one of the most frustrating and shoehorned parts of Sonic Forces, an auto-scrolling section placed directly above a bottomless pit. First of all, there's really no rhyme or reason for there to be auto-scrolling in the first place. There is nothing chasing you--no Death Egg Robot, no wall of instant-death spikes--nothing. Instead, you just get pushed and possibly crushed by an invisible wall.

Couple this with all of the obstacles and level mechanics I previously mentioned and Sonic Forces' clunky jumping, where letting go of the analog stick means that Classic Sonic's midair momentum instantly stops, and Iron Fortress is an annoyance of a stage entirely. It's not impossible; it's just harder than it needs to be due to several bizarre design decisions and Classic Sonic's midair handling, which unfortunately affects the other two characters in Sonic Forces as well, Modern Sonic and the custom avatar.

Karnak Castle - Final Fantasy V (Multi)

We have a lot of classic franchises represented on this volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History, and that continues with Final Fantasy getting representation tonight. This particular bad level, or in this case, area comes from Final Fantasy V, a Super Famicom game that initially skipped the West. This was thankfully rectified with a PS1 release, and now Final Fantasy V is available on a whole wide range of platforms currently.

The area of Final Fantasy V that is especially troublesome is Karnak Castle. This castle has you facing a 10-minute countdown, which you are tasked with escaping before it is destroyed along with you. Quickly you find out that 10 minutes isn't that sizable of an amount of time, as time keeps on ticking through every thing you do in the game--movement in the castle, collecting treasure, dialog, battles, and yes, even a final fight in order to escape Karnak Castle against a powerful boss.

While all this already seems a bit troublesome to take on, Karnak Castle is further the aggravation due to having a dungeon previously and immediately before it. After completing the prior dungeon that leads to your party's transportation to the castle, there is no option to save your data. This means that if you don't make it out of the castle in time or you perish in battle, you have to start over from the previous dungeon. Not exactly the most time-considerate section of Final Fantasy V, but it's for sure one of the most irritating in the game, and possibly the series on the whole.

Tutorial Mission - Driver (PS1)

Crash Bandicoot, Mario, Sonic, Final Fantasy--these are definitely classic franchises that have proven to stand the test of time. While Driver is a classic franchise, it hasn't exactly lasted in gaming. The first game was pretty rough for beginning players, and one would think a tutorial mission would assist in getting players' feet wet. After all, a tutorial mission should teach you the basics, get you comfortable with the controls, and then let you move on easily.

This was definitely not the case with Driver's tutorial mission. Instead of teaching, Driver simply told you to do a checklist of driving maneuvers with little input into how to actually do them. To add insult to injury, for a game that proudly prided itself on having a big driving playground to explore in its metropolis, you were stuck in a dingy parking garage until you finally completed the series of tasks required of you. Many players never got to see the outside of the parking garage due to how difficult the driving checklist was to complete.

In a cruel taste of irony, after the tutorial mission was finished, the rest of the game--outside of the last mission or so--was a breeze to play through. It's easy enough when you've spent 12 hours (might be some slight exaggerating here) learning the basics and trying to escape that wretched parking garage by doing some inane, asinine checklist of parking maneuvers!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fatality: Games That Killed Their Franchises (Or At Least Put Them On A Long Hiatus)

Sometimes all it takes is one game to make a long-running or promising franchise become dead in the water, maligned to irrelevancy and just a memory in the annals of gaming history. It's a dog-eat-dog industry where it doesn't matter if the franchise has been around for ages or for milliseconds--just one or two failures and you're done. That's the case with these franchises, all of which I'm sad to see are currently nowhere to be found. Whether any of these will return for a kick-ass comeback or not is up in the air, but what is known is that for many, these franchises met truly unfortunate ends.

Tony Hawk Ride/Shred (PS3, 360, Wii), 
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 (PS4, XB1)

We start with a series that was crazy popular in the late nineties and early aughts--the same series that brought extreme sports fever into our hobby. That series was none other than Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. The series did a lot of experimentation: changing the rules of Classic mode, adding a story to the game, and even adding an interconnected world. However, the biggest and most radical experimenting to the Tony Hawk series was ultimately the one that killed it: Tony Hawk Ride. This game and its sequel, Tony Hawk Shred, both utilized a skateboard peripheral for its controller, as back in the day, pieces of plastic and convoluted controller peripherals were all the rage (e.g. Guitar Hero and the Wii). While an interesting idea in theory, the execution left a lot--I mean, A LOT--to be desired. Crashing in both critical and commercial feedback, Activision's skateboarding series was put on a hiatus until a couple of years ago when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 came out. If Ride and Shred put the Tony Hawk series in its coffin, Pro Skater 5 drove the nails into it.

Dead Space 3 (PS3, 360, PC)

The survival horror genre doesn't get too much representation for the most part. That's why it very much stinks that Dead Space as a franchise is no more. What killed such an impressive series? Well, Dead Space 3... but mostly because of its publisher EA's ambitions. Wanting to make the Dead Space series more mainstream (i.e. a way to make even more money than the first two games), EA had the idea to put in two-player co-op into the game, making for a much less scary experience. To add insult to injury, Dead Space 3 introduced unnecessary microtransactions as an extra "we don't value our consumer that much" proposition. Despite selling well, Dead Space 3 didn't meet EA's lofty sales expectations, making the series get eviscerated like a Necromorph. The future of the series is a horror story all on its own. At least we got two (three if you count the on-rail shooter Dead Space: Extraction) excellent entries in the Dead Space franchise before things turned dark.

Ninja Gaiden 3 (PS3, 360),
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge (PS3, 360, Wii U)

The exit of Team Ninja's Tomonobu Itagaki was definitely felt with Ninja Gaiden 3. The third game took a more streamlined approach to the series, making it friendlier for audiences. In doing so, it isolated many of the franchise's biggest fans. When you have to make a course correction to your own game with an updated version as a way to apologize and make it up to the fans (and still ends up being a weaker entry compared to Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2), you know you've done something majorly wrong. The original Ninja Gaiden 3 had many faults to it, both on a gameplay and a technical level. The action was just shallow, and those who yearned for the challenge exemplified in early entries were left out in the cold. Razor's Edge, originally released on the Wii U before being ported over to the PS3 and 360, attempted to right the wrongs of the vanilla version of Ninja Gaiden 3, but Team Ninja could only do so much when the foundation was on shaky ground to begin with.

Dino Crisis 3 (XBX)

An entry so bad that developers opted not to continue with the series, Dino Crisis 3 put the Dino Crisis franchise into what essentially amounts to extinction. The game was originally set to be on both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox, but only the latter (un)fortunately survived. Packed with one of the worst cameras in a survival horror game, especially considering how fast the player sometimes had to move, Dino Crisis 3 was put the wringer review-wise for this main reason. There was nothing like crossing an invisible boundary in a room, only for the camera to suddenly change angles, having the player totally become disoriented in the process. This also made aiming and targeting the dinosaur-like mutated beasts in the game all the more challenging. Sure, Capcom has given us some scraps pertaining to the Dino Crisis franchise since the failure of the third game in the series, like Regina's inclusion in the now-defunct mobile game Puzzle Fighter, but that isn't enough for most Dino Crisis fans out there--the dozen or so of those out there.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360)

Sometimes it's a smart idea to stick with the basics. Rare did not do that in 2008 when it developed and released Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts for the Xbox 360. The game was actually really good, allowing players to take on challenges their own way by creating their own custom LEGO-like vehicles. The problem was that Nuts & Bolts was such a dramatic departure from what Banjo-Kazooie fans loved about the franchise--the excellent, open 3D platforming--that this game unfortunately drew a lot of ire. This was especially so after Microsoft and Rare teased a more traditional experience with this trailer, which many now consider a bait and switch. Regardless of the high quality of the game, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts stopped the promising platforming series right in its bear tracks, as well as Rare doing anything other than working on Kinect-related projects for a sizable duration of time. Sure, Rare's back with Sea of Thieves, but Banjo isn't and that just sucks.

Klonoa (Wii)

As much as I hate to face it, sometimes quality means nothing if your game just isn't appealing to the market. Unfortunately, even with Namco Bandai's Klonoa releasing on a Nintendo platform with the Wii, where platformers were generally quite welcomed, this remake of the PS1's Door to Phantomile cratered hard sales-wise. Again, the quality was definitely there. You had one of Klonoa's best adventures remade for a new generation, but strange marketing, including the decision to possibly alter Klonoa's look to this ghastly creature, made for a less than stellar sales showing for the floppy-eared feline. There is good news, however. Since Klonoa's ten-year hiatus, rumors of a new game, possibly tying into the upcoming film adaptation, have sprung up. At least Klonoa will get a second chance in the spotlight after a decade off.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Yoku's Island Express (PS4, NSW, XB1, PC) Review

Can you hear me over the fireworks, U.S. peeps? For everyone else, SuperPhillip Central delivers a new review for today. It's a pinball game that fuses a Metroidvania adventure influence into it to create one stellar and satisfying experiment. It's Yoku's Island Express, and here's my review based off the PlayStation 4 build.

That deft dung beetle sure plays a mean pinball.

With an industry full of genres that have been repeated seemingly ad infinitum, we've seen the coolest of ideas come from indies. That's the case with Yoku's Island Express, a game that mashes and mixes two completely separate game concepts into one: pinball meets Metroidvania. Throw in a healthy heaping of puzzle-solving, light platforming elements, and exploration, and you have one fantastic game from developer Villa Gorilla and publisher Team17.

Yoku himself is a beetle who is connected by a string to his ball of dung, serving as the pinball in the game. He's not just the pinball, but he's an excellent postmaster, too--assigned with delivering mail all across the massive, interconnected world of the game. The island is completely open to explore right from the beginning, but in true Metroid-style fashion, some areas are inaccessible until Yoku uncovers the proper ability needed to get passed or through it. For instance, Yoku gains the ability to dive and swim water, as well as use a rope of sorts to latch onto flowers and swing from them. 

Exploration of the island takes Yoku to all sorts of areas within his adventure. Rather than traditional platforming where the player would jump at will with the press of a button, instead Yoku gets around and scales heights by having the player activate pinball paddles to send Yoku flying and moving through the island via bumpers, chutes, and more. Using the paddles to get around is fast and fluid, feeling natural and enjoyable. 

Occasionally, Yoku will be sent into full fledged pinball tables, where lanes and areas on the board that require precise, sometimes frustratingly narrow, timing of flipping the pinball paddles in order to reach them. Elements of typical pinball tables are here, such as lanes that possess lights that turn on when Yoku flies through them, switches that activate items on the tables, and more. These can reveal fruit that serve as the currency of Yoku's journey, used to turn on inactive pinball paddles within the island as well as purchase bonuses like fruit wallet upgrades and other optional items. 

Thankfully, messing up on these pinball tables isn't overly anger-inducing thanks to the consequences being limited, making for a far more relaxing pinball-playing experience.
These small pinball table moments operate in a similar way to real-life tables, where all of the tricks one can do to slow the ball down by raising one flipper up--even rolling Yoku over to the alternate flipper just like you would in a real pinball setting. The only real gripe I have with these pinball table sections is when you have to backtrack through them, a feature in the game that is mandatory until one of many shortcuts passed these tables open up. Even then, backtracking in general is a common occurrence in Yoku's adventure, and one that can result in a lot of headaches where you can't quite get Yoku to get hit through the correct lane, chute, or passage in order to progress. It requires much more accurate timing than say, just jumping through an area like in your standard Metroidvania platformer. When you're just trying to get from one point to another, and one of these small pinball tables interferes with your plans, Yoku's Island Express's flow can be seriously and negatively altered.

Some tables require you to collect all of these pictured purple crystals to unlock a door.
Backtracking is mitigated somewhat through the Beeline transportation system, a collection of launchers that send Yoku flying across the island with a quick speed. It can make getting across the map much less of a burden, but the problem here is that Beelines only open up a good portion of the way through the game. The time spent until then is comprised of the aforementioned backtracking through familiar areas, and even then, the Beeline launchers don't reach all corners of the island. 

Still, it's quite difficult to be fully frustrated with Yoku's Island Express even with these issues when the game is just so darn charming. From the breathtaking vistas that one can't help but marvel at, to the kooky characters speaking adorable gibberish, Yoku's Island Express is indeed delightful in its presentation. The feelgood music that accompanies each area and section of the island also spreads joy.

This section of the game requires Yoku to close two hatches in order for him
to be lifted upwards in this shaft by these orange crystals.
These particular kooky characters also house many of the game's multitude of side missions and quests to partake in. These can range from looking for locations to spread mushroom spores along the island to give a particularly picky mushroom its perfect resting spot, to delivering overdue packages to three of the islanders in exchange for a host of helpful goodies. There are baubles to collect from treasure chests that can alter the color of Yoku's ball, 100 Wickerlings to nab that are hidden throughout the island in order to seek out and get the game's best ending, optional upgrades to your abilities and wallet size, and items that reveal and display the locations of undiscovered treasure chests and Wickerlings on the in-game map (which, by the way, needs a serious option to zoom in even further than the default setting--especially when playing on a smaller screen like the Nintendo Switch's in handheld mode). 

When there's something slimy in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Slug busters!
Many of these hidden goodies require some adept pinball playing to discover, as well as some clever exploration and puzzle-solving. There are also some lesser Wickerlings and treasure chests to reach by sucking up explosive slugs that latch on and attach themselves to Yoku's dung ball. I call these "lesser" because they require the slugs to be positioned on the ball and then self-destructed in such a finicky way in order to have Yoku get launched upwards to reach otherwise impossible chambers in the game to collect certain Wickerlings and chests. The physics here and the strict timing and precision needed to access these specific areas can get quite maddening, especially when you have to transport a slug from a faraway location, only to mess up the timing and have to redo your attempt all over again.

That said, Yoku's Island Express is overall a highly endearing and pleasant pinball game mixed with Metroidvania sensibilities. The story will last about five hours for most players, but the amount of extra content and the way the island is so much fun to explore--backtracking notwithstanding--made me want to continue long after I reached the credits and even long after I acquired the Platinum on my PlayStation 4 build of the game. The pinball meets Metroidvania mishmash of concepts put on display in Yoku's Island Express is a successful experiment, and it's put Villa Gorilla on my list of developers that can't wait to see what they cook up next.

[SPC Says: A-]

Review code provided by Team17.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (NSW) - "Play Together Anytime, Anywhere" Trailer

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker brought many Wii U players joy when it released a few years ago on Nintendo's DOA system. Now, the game, like many from the Wii U era, gets a second chance in the spotlight with a Nintendo Switch port. Featuring new Super Mario Odyssey-themed stages and the ability to play cooperatively, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is sure to deliver a delightful experience for a whole new group of players.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Runbow (NSW, PS4) Review

Earlier today, I posted the Review Round-Up for June 2018. I say, let's not waste any time by posting the first review for July! It's for a game I was quite enthusiastic about on the Wii U, it's Runbow! Here's my review of the Nintendo Switch version, though the PS4 is also mentioned.

Taste the Runbow

Originally a Wii U exclusive, Runbow has thankfully branched out and hit several other platforms, most recently, the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. Why "thankfully"? More people than ever before get to experience the wacky, wild, colorful wonder that brings hectic multiplayer mayhem that Runbow consistently delivers to players. Now, that the audience for Runbow is no longer limited to a struggling console, many more gamers around the world can finally get a taste of the Runbow.

Runbow is a chaotic 2D platformer where the goal is to complete the objective of each level without dying. Most of the time it's as "simple" as reaching the trophy at the end of the level. Other times, Runbow asks of you to collect a certain number of coins or defeat a specific amount of enemies. I put "simple" in quotes because Runbow has a highly creative mechanic to it that makes rushing through its levels to complete one of its three objectives far more challenging than it otherwise would be.

As you run through levels, the level's background every handful of seconds swipes its way to a different color on a consistent basis. For example, platforms that are orange and solid on a blue background disappear by sight and by touch when an orange background slides into view. Different levels offer a varying range and speed of colors being swiped, making for some truly tricky platforming.

Guest character Shantae from her titular Wayforward-developed
series leads a cavalcade of characters through this blazing cavern.
Runbow is easy to control, giving you access to a basic assortment of moves: a jump which can turn into a double jump, a normal punch to attack enemies when a normal bounce on the head just won't do, a rocket punch that can propel you upward for extra height or to the left or right for extra distance, as well as butt stomp to smash through floors and to defeat certain types of enemies. Sometimes I would find myself entering a double jump too quickly, resulting in deaths that I didn't feel were my complete fault, but when the game allows you infinite tries, it's a minor frustration.

The main Adventure mode sees you going through nearly 150 levels of color-swapping, platforming goodness, and these take place on one of four different, interconnected grids. You start at the bottom left corner, and as you complete levels, the spaces adjacent open up, allowing you to play them. Some levels are more difficult than others, with green levels being the easiest and red being the hardest. The nonlinear way you can go about picking levels makes it so if a particular levels is finding you frowning at its challenging, you can select an alternate one to attempt. Of course, completionists will want to complete every grid space and level possible--all the while looking to beat the top target time in order to earn three medals on each level.

Neither spikes nor enemies will stop our crew from reaching our prized trophy!
Medals are but one way to unlock a seemingly endless amount of content that Runbow has to offer. From over 15 guest characters from various indie games like Shovel Knight, SteamWorld Dig, Hyper Light Drifter, Freedom Planet, Shantae, Mutant Mudds, Azure Striker Gunvolt, The Fall, and more, to concept artwork and new costumes, Runbow is packed with more goodies inside than a pot of gold. Completing in-game achievements such as beating Adventure Mode, playing 10 multiplayer games, perform 10 butt stomps in one game, among others, unlocks new content, so you're essentially always unlocking something to keep you playing--which is no problem as the gameplay should do that for you by itself.

Outside of the Adventure Mode that can be played with friends cooperatively (or competitively as it sometimes was in the levels I played) there are three multiplayer modes available for local or online matches. Up to nine players locally can engage in a match, and for Nintendo Switch owners, this is made much easier than the Wii U original, where you needed to link controllers together just to play. Just with one JoyCon by itself, you have two controllers already accessible to you. I can only imagine that the PlayStation 4 version is a little tougher to rustle up multiple controllers to play locally, but thankfully, as stated, online is very much an option where on both platforms up to nine players can compete.

Modes in multiplayer include Run, Arena, and King of the Hill. Run is as simple as it sounds, having players rush from the start of a level to its end. The first player to nab the trophy at the goal is the victor. Arena is a survival mode where opponents fight to be the last one standing in one of multiple battlefields with varying hazards and power-ups in play. Finally, King of the Hill tasks players with taking command of a stationary point for seven seconds. You don't have to stand in the hill for seven concurrent seconds, just seven total. It can get insanely competitive and wild seeing players duke it out for the hill, smashing one another out of the way as they vie, however futile it is, to capture the hill for themselves.

This arena is only big enough for Juan player--Me!
Finally, for solo players, there's the ultimate challenge in Runbow that has you entering a colossal monster known as the Bowhemoth. This is an endurance run of the game's hardest levels, and you play through them one after the other. A tally keeps track of your deaths, and for those seeking a true trial, they can attempt to get the in-game achievement and unlockable goody of beating the mode with 10 deaths or less, or in 20 minutes. Either way, you're in for a stiff challenge with no way to save your progress until the very end.

The digital versions of Runbow on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 do not include the DLC of the Deluxe Edition. Those are included in the physical release coming at the end of the month, but need to purchased separately for digital downloaders. I didn't get to try the DLC out on the Nintendo Switch build I was playing, as it will be available at launch on Tuesday before the date this review was published. If the content is just as good as the Wii U's Deluxe Edition, then I believe it's worth buying, as it's a fair amount of content added to the Runbow package for those who are enjoying the game and want to experience even more fun that it has to offer.

The latest ports of Runbow mean that the game gets an wider audience, and that excites me. Not only was Runbow an incredibly good game on the Wii U, where it originally exclusively launched to a much smaller audience, but it definitely needs to be played by more people to catch Runbow fever. Between the clever color-swiping mechanic, the charming presentation with satisfying salsa and mambo music played on top of it, brilliant and challenging level design, nearly perfect controls, and a multitude of content to unlock, Runbow will colorize and brighten up your library, regardless of which console you get ready to Runbow on.

[SPC Says: A-]

Review code provided by Headup Games.

Review Round-Up - June 2018

Sometimes, SuperPhillip Central's Featured Game of the Month is featured for negative reasons.
Unfortunately, that is the case with Mario Tennis Aces on the Nintendo Switch.
For the month of June, SuperPhillip Central logged in eight reviews, an above average amount. We started off with a duo of sports: one traditional with the boys (and girls) of summer with Super Mega Baseball 2 (B+) and one that was a futuristic cross between tennis and air hockey, Disc Jam (D+). Moving on from there, the colorful, paint-splatting platformer INK gave our month of reviews a little more colorful with its C+ score.

In anticipation for a certain game also reviewed this month, Mario Tennis Open got the Review Redux treatment, scoring a B. SPC's Game of the Month, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon wasn't too shy about how it was blatant homage to the classic Castlevania games, but that didn't stop it from slaying its way to an A- grade. Hey! Pikmin followed up that review and ventured out on a journey for a satisfying B.

Mega Man Legacy Collection on the Nintendo Switch was the definitive version of the game with its rewind function on top of all of the features included from past editions gave the collection of six NES games a B+ score.

Last up, a game that I wanted to specifically feature this month ended up being featured for all the wrong reasons. That game, upon which I held high hype for, was Mario Tennis Aces, and it greatly disappointed with its D+ grade.

Super Mega Baseball 2 (PS4, XB1, PC) - B+
Disc Jam (NSW) - D+
INK (NSW) - C+
Mario Tennis Open (3DS) Review Redux - B
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC, 3DS, Vita) - A-
Hey! Pikmin (3DS) - B
Mega Man Legacy Collection (NSW) - B+
Mario Tennis Aces (NSW) - D+

Enter a Gothic world of slaying demons and monsters alikewith Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon,
SuperPhillip Central's highest rated game of the month.