Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 (PS4, NSW, XB1, PC) Review

The week continues as does SuperPhillip Central's roll-out of reviews. This next game is a collection of four stellar action-platformers. It's Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1, and it's the PlayStation 4 build being reviewed here.

A collection with "X"-tra features but also "X"-tra problems

Unlike the classic Mega Man series, the Mega Man X series is much more inconsistent with its quality. There are just some games in the series that are simply stinkers while others are some of the best 2D action-platformers of all time--at least in this writer's opinion. Thankfully, despite the series being all over the place when it comes to quality, Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 gathers up four of the most fantastic games in the series and places them in one classic compendium. While that should be a recipe for immediate and doubtless success, Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 has one problem that may affect the enjoyment of these otherwise excellent games.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 features the first half of the Mega Man X series: the original Mega Man X trilogy, X1-X3, from the Super Nintendo and Mega Man X4, which is the PlayStation version. Each game has similar options to it, such as the ability to play full-screen or with a customizable, themed border, the ability to play with or without scanlines to create an old school CRT feel, and a special Rookie Hunter mode, which decreases the damage players take and in Mega Man X4's case, makes it so spikes and bottomless pits are not instant death. This mode is a nice addition, allowing players of all types and skill levels to enjoy the first four Mega Man X games, ones that are notoriously difficult for most players. 

The "buzz" on this stage from Mega Man X is that it's a premier example of a sensational opening level.
Mega Man X, of course, started it all back in 1993. Bringing with it a more mature approach to its story, greater action, faster gameplay, and a fully upgrade-able Mega Man by way of discovering Dr. Light's hidden capsules and items like Heart Tanks and Sub Tanks, Mega Man X was an entirely new generation of the Blue Bomber. He was much more mobile, able to scale walls, jump dash, and with Dr. Light's aforementioned capsules was able to find so many more ways of movement and maneuverability. The game introduced a new villain in the seemingly immortal, never-say-die/never-CAN-die Sigma, and brought forth a popular character in the series lore, the blonde-ponytail secondary protagonist Zero. The original Mega Man X is a game that other entries in the series have attempted to surpass in quality, but I maintain that the original is still the best. Some entries come close, but the very first Mega Man X remains my favorite with no filler, no superfluous gameplay--just all action and ingenious level design.

Recognize this guy? His random attack pattern landed him on
my Bad Boss Battles in Gaming History series of articles. (Okay, he's not SO bad, but still...)
Mega Man X2 followed, and it's my second favorite of the SNES games. It introduced even more replay value with an alternate ending for collecting all of Zero's parts from the X-Hunters, and further refined the gameplay of the original X game. Meanwhile, Mega Man X3 is what I consider the weakest game in the first Mega Man X Legacy Collection, offering an overwhelming overabundance of collectibles, too many variables to consider in how the last stages of the game play out, and a soundtrack that grates occasionally on the ears. However, it's important to note that Mega Man X3 with all of these minor issues that I have with the game is hardly a poor entry in the series. That's an especially apparent fact considering the latter collection of games.

While limited in how much you can play as him,
Mega Man X3 was the first time Zero was playable in any fashion.
Finally, Mega Man X4 rounds out the package, and it delivers 32-bit visuals for the first time in the series, anime cutscenes of dubious voice acting quality (but I personally love the pure cheese of it), the ability to play two different storylines as either X or for the first time in the series, a fully playable Zero (he was only available in limited quantities in X3). Although the levels are the exact same for both characters, their story beats, gameplay styles, and a boss or two differs. While X2 is my second favorite Super Nintendo game in the Mega Man X Legacy Collection, Mega Man X4 is my second favorite in the series in general.

So, having these four terrific games from the past is great and all, but there is one gnarly problem with them that mucks things up some. While the games look the same visually with no new graphical problems, the gameplay--on the other hand--is a different story. There is noticeable input lag in all four games, making it so many button and control inputs can be slightly delayed or don't register at all. By no means did it make these games absolutely broken, but it did make it for a harder go of things, especially in the more difficult platforming sections in each game. One such instance of this for me was the first Sigma Palace stage in Mega Man X1, where you ride moving platforms over a bottomless pit to reach the inside of the palace. I kept missing jumps I'd otherwise make because of the input lag. 

Outside of the four games that have the leading role in the Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1, there are also myriad other features included. For instance, there is an art gallery that spotlights everything from promotional art and character designs, to box art and special illustrations. There is also a music player that has all of the songs from Mega Man X through X4, and this can be listened to in playlist form. Included with the music player is a series of remixed and wholly original themes inspired by the series, which sound pretty awesome, especially as someone who loves the X series as much as I do. Listening to a new version of the Mega Man X stage select screen or the Mega Man X4 boss theme filled me such joy as a serious fan of the original Mega Man X games.

Also included in Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 is a brand-new boss rush mode called X Challenge. It pits you as X in an X Challenge mode exclusive armor against duos of Maverick bosses across the first six Mega Man X games. Each main stage is a series of three battles against a pair of bosses that you fight against simultaneously, usually themed in some way. For example, you'll take on underwater bosses like Mega Man X4's Jet Stingray while combating Mega Man X5's Tidal Whale, while another battle will have you take on a pair of Mega Man X2 bosses, Bubble Crab and Wheel Gator. Thankfully, X has more health to him than in the traditional games, and you get to choose from three special weapons from a limited selection to bring into each series of fights. Depending on what difficulty you play on, the bosses you face will be different and how much health X regains between battles changes as well.

Mega Man X's Ice Penguin AND Mega Man X4's Frost Walrus?
Let's give 'em both the cold shoulder, X!
X Challenge is a rather cool mode, all things considered. It's sort of surreal seeing Mavericks from completely different games team up together, but then again that's one of the major selling points of this mode. Attempting to evade attacks from one Maverick is generally challenging enough, but when you have two to deal with, things become mighty taxing mighty quickly. With online leaderboards to try to climb the ranks by how fast you beat each boss pair, there is some good replay value to be found in X Challenge, making it a nice inclusion to the collection.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 delivers some of the best 2D action-platformers in gaming history, and I don't say that flippantly. The games have truly withstood the test of time, and they're great for those who have loved them since they originally came out and for those who are playing them for the first time. While the mild input lag (it's more or less severe depending on the platform you're playing on is highly disappointing to witness, having such excellent games with Mega Man X1 through X4 and all of the included extras makes for a worthwhile collection. So, if you're searching for a retro compendium of games that continue to be awesome two decades after the fact, then Mega Man "X" marks the spot.

[SPC Says: B]

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Blade Strangers (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

The final days of August will bring a whole slew of new reviews to SuperPhillip Central. We start the week off with Blade Strangers, a 2D fighter releasing later today on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. The Switch build is the focus of this review.

Stranger Danger

Forgive me for talking about another franchise here, but there are many reasons why I like the Super Smash Bros. series. I love how simple it is to pick up and play without needing to learn and memorize myriad moves and their respective inputs, and I love how it puts characters from a slew of franchises together for one big celebration of gaming. While Blade Strangers on the Nintendo Switch (also available on the PlayStation 4 and PC) might not have as heralded or as recognizable a roster as what you'll find in Nintendo's all-star franchise (and that's decidedly an understatement), what the game does have is an appealing and accessible fighting system that is engaging to use and a game in general that is engrossing to play.

Right away, I'd like to dive right in how accessible Blade Strangers is as a 2D fighter. The game uses the right Joy-Con's four face buttons, each corresponding with a different type of attack: from your typical lights and heavies, to something more skill-centric. As opposed to more technical fighters out there that demand a lot of "finger-fu" from players, Blade Strangers is a lot easier to pull off special moves and create killer combos while still delivering a good share of depth to combat. Whereas a series like Street Fighter utilizes a lot of half-circle, quarter-circle, and full-circle analog inputs that gives my thumb blisters just thinking about performing them, Blade Strangers merely uses one of the four face buttons in conjunction with a direction to pull off its characters' wide range of moves. Not only does this serve as a great way to provide accessibility to all fighting game skill levels (while again, maintaining a sense of depth in fights), but it also makes it so Blade Strangers is one of the few 2D fighters on the Nintendo Switch that isn't burdened by the Joy-Con's lack of a proper D-Pad.

Like each characters' gauge, this fight is certainly heating up.

You have two gauges to you in Blade Strangers, and one is obviously health. The other is a gauge that heats up upon taking damage as well as pulling off successful attacks. When it fills up, you can perform an Ultra Attack by pressing the right shoulder button. This is a devastating maneuver that can deal heavy damage to your opponent. Though, like any other attack in Blade Strangers, this can be blocked for small chip damage. If you opt to power up your gauge even more, you can use a stronger Ultra Attack by double-tapping the shoulder button, unleashing a varied, more powerful offensive strike to your (hopefully) unwitting foe.

Not the most gentlemanly thing to do, flinging a friend to the ground, but Cave Story's Quote is in a battle here!

Nevertheless, your gauge also helps you if you're on the receiving end of the butt kicking. When a character's health gauge enters yellow, they're ready to heat up, meaning that they can enter what is essentially a "last resort: state where they're much stronger and aren't as phased by attacks for as long as their Ultra Attack gauge still has some juice in it. What can result from this is some truly exciting come-from-behind wins, snatching victory from the disturbingly close jaws of defeat.

Coming fully featured with modes, Blade Strangers has a fair amount of content to enjoy. The main mode of focus for solo players is that of the Story mode, which has the same general, overarching story being told with each character's campaign. The only real differences between which fighter you play as are what characters your fighter battles and what dialog is spoken. Regardless of who you choose to play as, the structure of seven fights is always the same as is outcome of the story for the first batch of characters available to you in Story mode. You unlock the other handful of fighters (the more indie guest stars like Shovel Knight and Azure Striker Gunvolt's Gunvolt) in Story mode by completing the mode as multiple characters.

Do you think Shovel Knight battles for fun? No! He does it for shovelry!
No worries, however, as when it concerns every other mode of Blade Strangers, every character is available to you to play as soon as you turn on the game. That goes for the bog-standard fighting game modes like Arcade, Versus, Survival, Tutorial, and the Mission mode that tasks you with completing combos for each character, as a means to up your way of roughing up your opponent more impressively.

Each mode offers something for everyone, and I found myself quite invested in playing through each. Sure, playing through Story, Arcade, and Survival with each of the game's 14 characters to acquire relatively mundane unlockables--such as alternate character colors, portraits, and profile titles--might seem tedious (more so in the fact that I wouldn't have known I was actually unlocking stuff for completing these modes if I hadn't ever been observant to my Profile page), but it presents some longevity nevertheless.

Successfully got hit by the attack--hook, line, and sinker.
What brings even further longevity and replay value for Blade Strangers in the long term is something every fighter worth its weight in knockouts better have in 2018, and that's decent online play. I was able to test out the Switch version in a private, password-entry-only online match in Casual mode, where one's league rank isn't affected. Of the four online matches I played with an acquaintance, all four ran relatively well with no noticeable input delay. Hopefully that stays the course when Blade Strangers officially releases this morning. I'll be sure to update this review if I find any glaring problems, then.

The battle of the blondes begins in Blade Strangers.
While Blade Strangers may be a crossover game, it certainly doesn't have the gravitas of a Super Smash Bros., but then again, what does? My point here is that Blade Strangers offers an extremely niche variety of characters from even more niche games. For fans of titles like Code of Princess, Cave Story, Azure Striker Gunvolt, The Binding of Isaac, and Shovel Knight (okay, maybe that one isn't TOO terribly niche), you will feel well at home. For everyone else, you might be left with a clueless expression on your face as to who the heck these characters are. That said, the characters in general have varied enough tactics and move sets that you need not recognize every or even one of the characters to enjoy yourself with Blade Strangers. It sure doesn't hurt to recognize some of them, of course.

Some might call it a "who's who" of guest characters. Some might just ask, "Who!?"
When one thinks of the biggest crossovers in gaming history, one might think of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series, and to a lesser extent, one might also conjure up the image of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. I mean, Mario and Sonic? Ryu and Cloud Strife? Kratos and Nathan Drake? Those are big names and worlds colliding. The characters of Cave Story and Code of Princess colliding? Well... perhaps not so much.

That notwithstanding, that doesn't make the crossover 2D fighter Blade Strangers any less of a satisfying and riveting game. With accessible (and more importantly Switch controls that work well for a 2D fighter), relatively pleasant visuals (a little over-pixelated with regards to the fighters), competent online play, a multitude of modes, and plenty of characters to learn and attempt to master, Blade Strangers delivers a fighting game that may not do much to distinguish itself from the big boys in the genre, but it doesn't screw up its attempt in trying.

[SPC Says: B] 

Review copy provided by Nicalis.