Friday, October 11, 2019

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4, NSW, XB1, PC) Review

Near the beginning of the month SuperPhillip Central reviewed a 3D platformer. Now, we turn to a series that started as a 3D platformer and has now jumped perspectives to 2D (or 2.5D) with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Here are my in-depth thoughts on the game with the SuperPhillip Central review!

Giving other platformers this year the bzzz-ness.

Playtonic Games is made up in part of former Rare staffers from the developer's golden years with Nintendo, before the buyout from Microsoft. It's nothing that the company has been coy of hinting at--what, with its logo, its first game being a take on Banjo-Kazooie and now its second game being a take on Donkey Kong Country. While the original Yooka-Laylee did not impress all who played it (and that's putting it lightly), the old saying is true: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." 

And, that's what the precocious folks at Playtonic Games have done with its second foray with Yooka and Laylee, a chameleon and bat duo, with its clearly Donkey Kong Country-inspired Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It's complete with familiar gameplay, being able to roll and jump off the edges of platforms to impressive effect, and it even has alliterated level names to hit a particular nostalgia spot for me. While Playtonic's take on Banjo-Kazooie didn't overly delight, the DKC-drenched Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is an amazing platforming escapade that also adds enough newness to the formula to not feel like a blatant copy.

Capital B is back to his mis-bee-havin'.
Right from the get-go in Yooka and Laylee's adventure, they arrive at Capital B's Impossible Lair, an extended gauntlet of challenging platforming peril that is certainly not for the timid. While it's indeed very possible to run through the lair on your first play-through, you're meant to fail the challenge and get transported to the overworld, where the queen bee of the kingdom asks Yooka and Laylee to venture the world for various books containing levels, which in turn contain Guard Bees to rescue. For each of the 48 Guard Bees Yooka and Laylee rescue, they receive a bonus hit to shield them from damage within the Impossible Lair. 

I really love the Impossible Lair mechanic on display here in this game and think it's just genius design. It's similar somewhat--if you'll forgive the forced reference--to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you could venture into the last area of the game and challenge all of the bosses there, but it'd be an insanely challenging task. Insanely challenging, but possible, mind you. It's the same principle with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. You can enter and try to complete the 15+ minute Impossible Lair as many times as you'd like--even from the start of the game--but it's best to wait until you've assembled a sizable collection of Guard Bees. 

The lair itself is the ultimate test within Yooka and Laylee's latest adventure, and it's a mighty formidable place. Even with a full collection of 48 Guard Bees, I struggled to even reach halfway in the lair my first time through. However, the challenge is one where with practice, learning the level, and discovering how to overcome each obstacle and hazard thrown at you, that you'll find you'll slowly but surely make progress in the lair. You might not make it further to the end than your last run, but you'll eventually make it to the very end, beat the final boss, and successfully complete the game. This level of challenge isn't for everyone, especially having to redo quite a lengthy level. Thus, I can see this aspect of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair--assembling all 48 Guard Bees yet still being unable to overcome the game's final task--one that might put off and disappoint a good portion of players.

Don't stop and admire the scenery too much, as there are Guard Bees to rescue!
The titular Impossible Lair in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is but one of the ways that Playtonic's spiritual successor differentiates itself from its clear Donkey Kong Country inspiration, but another way is shown after you are booted out to the overworld after your (more than likely) failure at beating the Impossible Lair your first attempt at the very beginning of the game. This is the overworld, and imagine the map of Super Mario 3D World, where it's a 3D space that you can move around in to various levels, but instead of just being a level hub, it's also where you are tasked with solving puzzles and discovering levels. 

The overworld is an open and expansive place absolutely teeming with secrets and discoveries. Finding levels requires the solving of relatively simple puzzles. Some of these require pushing objects into place, hitting switches in the correct order, among other tasks. While the puzzles are relatively simple, they're still fun to complete. I never felt I was simply going through the motions, as how solving these puzzles altered and manipulated the state of the overworld was always a surprise to me. Some merely open up the path to a new level, while others lead to more astounding discoveries. More on that later.

The overworld is one of many fresh and fun additions brought forth
by Playtonic to its take on Donkey Kong Country.
Levels in Yooka-Laylee's latest adventure are sprinkled about in books along the world map, and there are 20 total to find. Each level also comes with an alternate state. For instance, an early level in the game has you opening up a floodgate to reroute the flow of water over a level's book. Thus, what was once a completely dry level is now one that Yooka and Laylee will need to swim through as it's totally flooded. Changing the state of a level back to how it usually was is a generally easy and pain-free process. The actual process of altering a level's state to begin with is usually the much more involved (but plenty of fun) process.

This factory becomes flooded when Yooka and Laylee alter the state of this stage.
While the puzzles to access each of the game's levels and their alternate states are overall ones that won't have you banging your head against a wall to figure out--thus halting your progress--ones that have you venturing the overworld for the game's 60+ Tonics are more puzzling and perplexing. Some of these are hanging out in visible view, just requiring you to figure out how to reach them, but others require the aid of helpful signs that give you clues on where you perform a buddy slam (aka ground pound) on the world map to reveal them out of hiding. 

Tonics are completely optional finds, but they can be a huge help within the game's levels. Depending on which ones you equip during a run (you can initially equip up to three at a time), you can make a level much easier and much harder. There's a catch, though, and here's another clever trick this game employs. Tonics that make levels easier, such as giving Yooka and Laylee faster mobility, faster run time, faster rolls, faster speed in water, and so forth--these make the Quill multiplier lower. Quills are the primary currency of the game, allowing you to purchase and use Tonics that you find out in the overworld. Therefore, if you use a multitude of Tonics that make the game easier, your Quill count at the end of the level with greatly diminish. Likewise, equipping Tonics that make the game more difficult, like swapping what buttons do, giving enemies double the amount of hits to defeat, or making it so there is only one checkpoint in the level, makes it so your Quill multiplier will grow to great lengths, allowing a great collection of Quills at the end of a level. It's a clever system that makes it so more proficient players can have a more challenging game if they want, and beginning players can still enjoy the adventure--just not with all of the Quill benefits. 

Levels themselves are just fantastically crafted. You can tell that Donkey Kong Country and most notably the latest in that series, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, were great inspirations for the developers of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. While you won't get the same amazing amount of action/platforming set pieces as you would in the Nintendo and Retro Studios collaboration, you will still get a tight and splendidly designed platforming romp with the game's levels. Some are straight hop and bop affairs, while others remind me more of Yoshi's Island with all of the keys and locked doors within them. One in particular is a quest of sorts where you must rescue an imprisoned Guard Bee by searching a village area for six gems to open the Guard Bee's lock. 

Hazards in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair come in all shapes and sizes (and altitudes). 
I adore the constant risk and reward moments that are on display in this game. Whether it's chasing after a string of Quills before they disappear, all the while avoiding hazards as you race to collect them all; or bouncing off a special series of red Quills that appear one after the other as you bounce on them, and when the last one is defeated, it explodes into a bounty of Quills, my thirst to collect Quills was seldom satiated. Other moments in levels that require this risk vs. reward mindset occurs when exploring levels for the game's T.W.I.T. Coins, used to open up literal Paywalls that block Yooka and Laylee's progress in the overworld. These T.W.I.T. Coins are hidden well in each level, with each level containing five to collect. But, just like with Quills, T.W.I.T. Coins only stay collected if you reach a checkpoint and then finish the level. A final challenge in four particular levels of Yooka and Laylee's latest is that of secret exits. These lead to otherwise inaccessible Guard Bees on the overworld map. Like most of the collectibles in the game, these are smartly hidden. Well, except for one, which is just diabolical--maybe too much so--in its placement. 

Gathering a bounty of Quills while avoiding these rolling snowballs--my kind of risk!
Of course, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair could have the greatest level design and set pieces in video game history, mimicking Donkey Kong Country otherwise to a "T", but otherwise fall flat on its face if it didn't ape the quality of its inspiration's controls. Thankfully, Yooka and Laylee control well, minus the same feel of weight in the controls--which makes sense considering Yooka and Laylee's aren't exactly multiple ton gorillas. DKC vets will find a lot to like and find familiarity with Yooka and Laylee's move set. Yooka has a roll to barrel through enemies--even the same option of rolling off the edge of a platform to jump over chasms, the ability to bounce off the heads of foes to reach higher platforms and areas, and unique to Yooka and Laylee, the ability to twirl in midair to slow their descent. 

When Yooka takes damage, Laylee flies erratically around (seriously--come back here, you annoying bat bastard!), requiring Yooka to nab her before she flees. Not only does Yooka have less abilities when without Laylee, but taking a second hit will result in death. Thankfully, you can perish as much as you want in the game's 40 levels, as there is no live system in place. Finding a Bat Bell (serving as this game's version of a DK Barrel) will bring Laylee back to Yooka's... ahem... back. Laylee automatically returns to Yooka after a death, so sometimes I just found it easier to die after reaching a checkpoint if I didn't already have Laylee with Yooka, so I'd just get her back after dying. 

Hang tight, Yooka--just don't get too comfortable up there.
No matter the platform you get Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair on, you're going to get a wonderfully running version of the game. The only main difference would be load times between levels, but outside of the initial loading of my save file each time I started the game, I didn't suffer anything noticeably lengthy--unless we're suddenly considering 10-15 second load times for levels to be a blemish. If so, then I'm about to bust out a grouchy "back in my day" speech on the horrors of gaming during the original PlayStation era. Regardless, the colors of the game pop and shine beautifully, and the game is just filled to the brim with gorgeous environments and effects. Sound-wise, the collection of four composers to Yooka-Laylee and Impossible Lair, including vets like David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, make a superb musical offering with catchy songs and that I will definitely be searching an online store for a soundtrack to purchase. 

I'd say a checkpoint is a sight for sore eyes, but whose eyes could be sore looking at this beauty of a game?
Despite my enjoyment of their original romp, Yooka and Laylee's return trip to gaming with a shift in perspective with Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a terrific title that delivers delightful humor and charm, a whimsical platforming world full of engaging challenges and tight controls, and one of the most accomplished games I've played so far this year. The excessive challenge of the eponymous Impossible Lair may put off some players from fully engaging with this game, but for everyone else, do not sleep on this game. Between the sophisticated 2D platforming levels and enjoyable 3D overworld to explore, Yooka-Laylee and Impossible Lair serves up a generous helping of jump and run goodness like nobody's "bzzz-ness."

[SPC Says: A]

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Spyro Reignited Trilogy (NSW) Review

I listed Spyro Reignited Trilogy as my fourth favorite game of 2018. That was the PlayStation 4 version of the game, so when one of my favorite games of 2018 was released on the Nintendo Switch--a platform where I can comfortably enjoy some gaming without being stuck to my TV--you bet I was looking for any excuse to replay it! That's exactly what I did over the past month with Spyro Reignited Trilogy on the Nintendo Switch. Here's the full SPC review.

Check out my review of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One original release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy by clicking on this link.

Of purple dragon's majesty...

Last year, developer Toys for Bob showed how remarkable remakes are done with its work on updating the original PlayStation Spyro the Dragon trilogy of games in one fantastic package on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A year has since passed, and now the complete package, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, has arrived on the Nintendo Switch with the bonus of being able to take the experience anywhere you want with its portable play. Adding some refinements and some drawbacks as well, does Spyro Reignited Trilogy hold up as well on the less powerful Switch?

Sparx isn't just Spyro's companion on his adventures--he's also Spyro's health indicator.
Having played through Spyro's three games for the first time to completion last year on the PlayStation 4, my run through of the games on the Switch didn't take as long--but at the same time, it was just as enjoyable for me. There's easily over 25 hours' worth of content to delve into with Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and after the original, you can see how much each of the sequels builds off its predecessor.

While the original Spyro the Dragon employs a simple start-to-finish progression with its levels, and these are connected by hubs, each level begs to be explored. This is due to the fact that your transport between worlds requires a set amount of a particular collectible to proceed. Sometimes it's a number of gems, Dragon Elders to rescue, or Dragon eggs to nab back from pilfering (and quite cowardly) egg thieves upon which Spyro must give chase to return the eggs.

Come back here, you pesky egg thief!
Generally, levels in the original Spyro the Dragon are relatively brief affairs, but that's only if you're running from point A to point B without going off the beaten path. As stated, exploration from finding gems, Dragon Elders, and other collectibles is paramount to Spyro's progress. Plus, if you're a sucker for collectibles like myself, you probably won't be able to ward off the temptation of aiming for 100% completion in each level.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage introduces new characters, a more involved story, and more cinematics (including cutscenes that appear at the beginning and end of each level). Spyro also expands his arsenal of moves by paying off a particularly greedy ursine fellow with the gems he discovers throughout his platforming escapades. These moves include the ability to swim underwater, climb ladders, and perform a ground pound of sorts. In addition to these learned moves, Spyro has an incredibly helpful ability to cap off his winged descents across pits and other chasms by having the player press the X button to perform a quick ascent into the sky. No more "just" not having enough height to reach faraway platforms.

Of the three games in the trilogy, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage slightly edges out the original as my favorite.
Additionally, Ripto's Rage brings with it side quests that have Spyro completing special challenges for special collectibles. Some are rewarded by surviving certain platforming perils while others involve mini-games such as controlling a train cart through a hazardous course, beating an NPC in a game of ice hockey, or defeating a group of enemies causing trouble in a level.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage introduces unique side quests that add even more variety to the series.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon rounds out the trilogy, and it adds even more gameplay variety to the series. This is both a positive and a negative. While being able to play as characters other than Spyro--such as a club-wielding yeti and a missile-toting bird--mostly brings about entertaining variety, some of the other types of variety on display in Spyro 3, such as mini-games like the woefully awkward and clumsy hoverboarding, don't give off as great of an impression.

Speaking of variety, being able to play as several new animal
companions turns the "variety dial" up to 11!
Staying with the theme of "not giving off as great of an impression," we have the boss battles. In Spyro the Dragon, the levels leading up to each boss battle are more challenging and lengthier than the actual bosses, which can usually be flamed or rammed into a quick defeat. In Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, bosses are their own encounters without levels preceding them, but these range from total jokes to hair-pulling in their difficulties. The total lack of checkpoints in these encounters made these particular encounters more frustrating and annoying than they needed to be. It's a shame that with all of the updates and upgrades in both presentation and quality of life aspects of Spyro Reignited Trilogy that the addition of the occasional checkpoint in the more arduous boss battles was not included.

Not all boss fights are created equal. While all are pretty forgettable
in this trilogy, some are just frustrating as all get out!
As mentioned and as expected of remakes of this type, all three games in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy have been touched up dramatically, and although they don't have the same wow factor graphically as the PS4 and Xbox One versions (or especially the newly released PC version, for that matter), the fact that the games hold up rather well visually on the Switch--especially when considering you can play them on a single device that you can hold in your hands--makes for its own kind of wow factor. Something impressive as well is how that the only frame-rate hitches that I noticed were ones that happened during loading screens. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during actual gameplay. An important point to mention: this didn't matter whether I was playing with the Switch placed in the dock or if I was playing the game in handheld form.

While the visuals may not be astonishing compared to the other versions, Spyro Reignited Trilogy running as flawlessly as it does on the Switch certainly is astonishing all on its own!
Spyro Reignited Trilogy may be a year late in coming to the Nintendo Switch, but it's on the system in style with surprisingly remarkable results. Though Spyro's adventures are dated in some regards when it comes to their designs, overall, each adventure is worthy of a play through (or several) and holds up exceptionally well. If you haven't played these sensationally remade versions of Spyro's original three platforming adventures already, own a Switch, and favor either the platform itself or portability, then enjoy Spyro Reignited Trilogy on Nintendo's hybrid system--because this port is a well done one.

[SPC Says: A-]

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Review Round-Up - September 2019

SuperPhillip Central ended summer with a dream vacation to Koholint Island in the remake
of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Nintendo Switch.
A new month begins with a new Review Round-Up. Only three reviews were posted for the month, but for the most part, it was quality over quantity. We got neither of the two with the first game reviewed for September, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas, which got an unsatisfying "D" grade. Following that were two games that share Game of the Month honors, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, both for the Nintendo Switch, and both earning an A-.

Check out every review ever posted on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive!

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - D
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (NSW) - A-
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (NSW) - A-

Which house did you choose in Fire Emblem: Three Houses? 

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central closes out the month of September with an onslaught of new reviews, beginning this evening with The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, a 1993 classic fully remade on the Nintendo Switch. New audiences and old fans of the Game Boy original have something special to enjoy. Let's take a deep dive into this remake with the SPC review!

A legend reawakens from its slumber

The year 1993 saw many things: such as Bill Clinton officially starting his first term as the president of the United States, Jurassic Park and Free Willy making big bang as blockbusters in movie theaters, and obviously the most important (at least in the context of this review), Nintendo releasing the first  handheld game in The Legend of Zelda series. Despite countless games in the series since, many longtime fans of the Zelda franchise continue to find that game released on the extraordinarily popular Game Boy, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, as one of the best entries in the series to date.

That's why so many of us found an immense amount of excitement and rekindled passion, whether from nostalgia of a simpler time in gaming or just from having a chance to re-experience a fantastic entry in the franchise, when Nintendo formally announced a Nintendo Switch remake of Link's Awakening, 26 years after the original. With new features, a gorgeous new graphical style, a redone soundtrack, and several improvements, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening shines brightly with its return, but it's not quite as remarkable of a remake as this reviewer dreamed.

Mabe Village serves as the starting point of Link's journey.
The setting of Link's Awakening takes place on the fantastical Koholint Island, where our hero Link has found himself marooned on after a freak storm caused him to drift away in the sea. Despite teeming with monsters and beasts of various levels of danger, the island is a rather warm, homey, and cozy place to explore. It is as much of a character itself as the unique people and animals that Link comes across in his adventure. There are several villages that are full of lively townspeople, places to go, shops to spend rupees on, mini-games like fishing and a claw game to play, caves and hidden areas sprinkled throughout the environments, housing rewards for those bold and curious enough to uncover them.

Sword in hand, Link sets off to find a way to leave Koholint Island.
Koholint Island game design-wise is a sprawling overworld comprised of various regions, from the fog-covered Mysterious Woods to the sparkling waters of Martha's Bay. While you're limited somewhat in where you can go at the beginning of Link's Awakening, the overworld slowly opens up more and more as new items and equipment are earned, either from gaining them in small quests or acquiring them from the game's dungeons. Items like Pegasus Boots that bestow the ability to run, Roc's Feather that grants the ability to leap into the air, and bracelets that give Link the power to lift specific objects over his head and toss them allow you to access more of the island. Perhaps to also uncover hidden seashells and Heart Pieces, the latter of which is a mainstay of the series which gives our silent protagonist an extra heart of health when four pieces have been collected.

Items, such as the Hookshot, not only assist Link through the dungeons they're found in,
but also as a means to access new parts of Koholint Island.
For those who are used to The Legend of Zelda, the progression and flow of the game follows the familiar formula. You explore the overworld and make your way to various dungeons where puzzles need to be solved, keys need to be collected to open locked doors, treasure chests beg to have their contents looted, and the boss that awaits at the end of each dungeon needs to be beaten. Each of Link's Awakening's eight dungeons need to be beaten in a specific order, and once one dungeon has been completed, a clue reveals the general location of the next.

Each of the puzzles in Link's Awakening's dungeons are generally contained
to one room--except in special (and particularly cool) cases.
That's not to say Link's Awakening holds your hand. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The game is a product of its time, 1993, and a product of the system it was on, the Game Boy--and later Game Boy Color for its DX incarnation. You don't have the same degree of guidance and hand-holding that--up until The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild--later Zelda games featured. While many of its then-contemporaries were marred by obtuse design, Link's Awakening doesn't really suffer from this at all. However, there is the need to fully explore the game world of Koholint Island, talk to characters to figure out where to go next, and rely on your own head to figure out puzzle solutions and what you need to do next to progress in the game. For those needing extra hints, various huts on the island house a phone with a helpful NPC ready to bestow advice on the next step to take in Link's adventure.

Some segments of Link's Awakening play out in a 2D space, such as this boss battle.
This Nintendo Switch remake of Link's Awakening adds a few new features to attempt to make for a better experience. The original Game Boy only had two buttons to assign items to in Link's inventory. This, players had to continually and constantly swap in and out items to the A and B buttons at a tedious rate. With the Switch's bounty of buttons by comparison, the need to enter and exit the inventory screen to swap items to the A and B buttons is a far less common occurrence than the Game Boy original. This is helped by many items being automatically assigned to Link's active equipment, such as his sword, shield, and items that he acquired along his adventure like the Pegasus Boots and Power Bracelet.

It's absolutely amazing to see the world that was limited to the Game Boy's
screen fully remade and realized with stunning detail.
Also new to this remake is the addition of Dampe's Cabin. This has taken the place of the Photo Hut of the original games. Inside Dampe's place of residency is the ability to create Chamber Dungeons, a Super Mario Maker-like (and lite) feature to create your own dungeon arrangements using rooms from dungeons you've already completed from the main game. Dampe assigns creation challenges that require you to connect rooms together to form a dungeon so that all the pieces fit together properly so your dungeon can be completed. You aren't actually placing anything inside the rooms yourself, as rooms already dictate what doors are locked, what enemies are inside, and if they contain treasures in the form of keys. All you're doing is making sure you're making a complete dungeon with properly connecting parts while following the constraints of construction.

These challenges of Dampe's are essentially their own types of puzzles, but they are also the only way of earning certain collectibles within the game. Considering it can be a drawn out process to complete all the challenges needed to unlock everything in this part of the game, I sort of dread replaying this part of the game--even though it's completely optional. Just not completely optional if you want every secret seashell, Heart Container, and Empty Bottle in the game--which as a Zelda purist, you're darn right I'll be wanting to get everything!

Finally, the most apparent change in this remake of Link's Awakening is that of the visuals. Nintendo and developer Grezzo opted for a toy-like diorama appearance, and it's a gorgeous graphical style. Instead of the overworld being split up between smaller sections that would scroll to the next when Link reached their edges, the entire overworld has a more connected feel to it. However, this doesn't make for a perfect experience, as the game is constantly loading in areas as Link is moving about, resulting in some occasional and noticeable frame-rate drops. The overworld also has a blur effect that blurs the top and bottom of the screen somewhat, but while some have found issue with this, I appreciated the effect greatly, as someone who enjoys toy photography and this blur effect associated with it. It feels right at home with the visual direction this remake employs.

Unfortunately, this remake does not employ the use of the D-Pad, which baffles me. Instead, you're required to use the control stick, which makes for a bit of a learning curve, particularly to those of us who have been playing top-down Zelda games for a while now. It creates issues in that certain parts of the game are much harder than they need to be, such as moving diagonally, or controlling a particular gadget in one of the game's final dungeons.

Thankfully, our green clad hero has no fear of heights!
Despite not considering this a perfect remake, I believe the positive and beneficial changes made in this Nintendo Switch remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening when compared to the Game Boy and Game Boy Color originals far outweigh the negatives. This is still one of the better 2D Zelda games in the series--and it's been made even better on the Nintendo Switch. Now, a whole new generation of gamers can discover why older generations fell in love with Link's Awakening, a true classic, almost three decades ago.

[SPC Says: A-]

Monday, September 16, 2019

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (NSW) Dream Events Reveal Trailer

One of my favorite parts of the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series is that of Dream Events, where Sega takes traditionally inspired Olympic events and turn them upside down on their heads into unreal, fantastical events. While Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 only seems to possess three of these as opposed to past games which contained more, these trio of Dream Events appear to be fully fleshed out and greatly worthwhile! Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 hopes to go for the gold on November 5 in North American and November 8 in Europe.


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (NSW) Review

Before we conclude this week here at SuperPhillip Central, let's talk about one of the better games of the summer so far--and it's been a pretty good summer, especially for the Switch! Fire Emblem: Three Houses is one such game, and it gets reviewed on your Saturday night here at SuperPhillip Central.

Class is now in oh-so-satisfying session.

For a lot of Western Nintendo fans, Fire Emblem wasn't on their radars until Roy and Marth's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Though several releases of the Fire Emblem franchise launched after that fact, it wasn't until Fire Emblem: Awakening that the series truly climbed into the upper echelon of Nintendo franchises. In fact, Awakening historically saved the franchise from a nasty fate of being shelved indefinitely if it hadn't reached Nintendo's sales goals and far surpassed them.

Regardless, while Fire Emblem has mostly stuck to handhelds since its Western arrival, now the series returns to a home console after over a decade and this time for its first appearance in HD. It's Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and unlike what the setting might suggest, this game is no schoolyard scuffle. It's one of the bleakest stories in the series to date, and moreover, one of the best overall games in the franchise yet.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has you in the role of silent protagonist Byleth, giving you the choice of a male or female version, similar to more recent Fire Emblem games, Awakening and Fates. Your avatar plays the role of a new professor for Gurreg Mach monastery, home to the Church of Seiros and its knights. There, you choose one of the three houses: the Black Eagles led by Edelgard, the Blue Lions led by Dimitri, or the Golden Deer led by Claude. Each house has its own set of students each with their own defining personalities and character traits.

No matter which house leader is your favorite, you're wrong if you didn't choose Dimitri.
Though you don't get a lot of information to assist you in choosing which house you wish to join, other than basically a short introduction of each house leader, the repercussions of the story are greatly affected by your choice. While the first half or so of Three Houses plays out similarly regardless of the house you choose, the second half is where the story greatly differs, and the mission types and story scenarios change greatly. It truly is worthwhile to play through all of the routes in the game in order to get a full idea of all characters' motivations. War certainly isn't as black or white as it can seem, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses' tale hammers that point home quite well, even if it requires several 40+ hour play-throughs to get the complete gist.

Three Houses is structured significantly differently from past Fire Emblem games. There's a lot more downtime in the game instead of rushing from battle to battle with short breathers here and there like past games. A lot of your time will be as professor of your house, and that involves all of the teaching duties one would expect in such a role. The game plays out in a monthly structure with each month containing one major battle while each week has you choosing from one of four actions to do for that week: Explore, Battle, Seminar, or Rest.

If you opt to Explore, you'll venture around the Gurreg Mach monastery--the hub of Three Houses--a fully three-dimensional campus where you can chat with students of the eponymous three houses, participate in various activities like gardening, entering suitable students into mock battle tournaments for prizes, cooking as well as sharing a meal with some of your students, among other options. A helpful fast travel option makes getting to each section of the monastery extremely easy as the loading times are negligible between traveling. You only have a limited number of activity points to use on days you opt to explore the monastery, and these are of course used up when performing a given activity. You gain more points to participate in more activities by leveling up your professor rating.

Bond with your students over a freshly prepared meal. This obviously wasn't like the school I went to...
At the start of each week, you begin teaching your students. Depending on a student's motivation, you can level up multiple skills at once. As these skills, such as lance, axe, Faith (magic), heavy armor, etc, are leveled up, new skills are learned. Teaching can be done manually (assigning skill points to your own satisfaction) or automatically (where the skill points are handed out in an automated fashion without your call). It can be a slow process to manually teach students, and even slower of a process to motivate your students to allow them to be taught--which is prompted by spending time with them via activities and giving them gifts sprinkled about Gurreg Mach and dropped in battles.

Develop a lesson plan and tutor your students to magnificence.
As stated, major story-related battles happen once per month, but you can also opt to perform special Paralogue battles which are side-missions that flesh out your characters more, as well as simple auxiliary missions for experience and level gains. Battling in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is much improved with some much desired and welcomed new features to make for the most engaging tactical battles in the series yet. Although the primary foundation and structure of Fire Emblem is still here--what, with its grid-based battlefields where different unit types can move a set amount of spaces, its combat forecast that tells you when you are in range of an opponent, and the likelihood of a successful attack in addition to how much damage you or your opponent will do.

This grid-based system is no stranger to Fire Emblem fans.
For one, the rock-paper-scissors-like weapon triangle system has less prominence in battle. Weapon durability makes its return. The system stills works where using weapons will lower its durability, and overusing it without repairing it between battles will result in it breaking on you, significantly weakening it. Using special attacks in the form of Combat Arts will cause the durability to go down faster. For example, a normal attack costs 1 point while using a Combat Art such as Helmbreaker costs 5 points of durability to use.

While the Iron Gauntlet isn't the strongest of gauntlet-type weapons,
it has a higher durability than those gauntlets that have a higher attack.
Essentially, having the best weapons available to you (i.e. the most expensive ones) will result in an easier go of battles, but the catch here is that unlike past Fire Emblem games, you don't have a constant influx of money to purchase new weapons at a steady rate and this time around, materials to forge and repair weapons as often as you might need. Fortunately, your units are more freely able to mix and match weapon types as their roles and classes change. This freedom to explore and be more creative with your units' abilities and roles in battles in a great inclusion in Three Houses.

Finally, another worthwhile inclusion to battles in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is that of gambits. These allow you to equip mercenary groups and battalions to a given character to use in battle. When used, these will allow you to attack your opponent with the gambit without having to worry of a counterattack, and in many cases, will result in the foe being unable to move on their next turn. Gambits have limited uses per character, but they're terrific in their effects. Some gambits call upon a brigade of characters to charge directly into the enemy--stampede-style--while others have a defensive purpose such as a giant circle of mages that summon a healing circle for surrounding characters. These gambits are paramount to tackling fierce 2x2 grid space-sized monsters and beasts that regularly show up in later maps of the game.

The cavalry has arrived with Edelgard's equipped Gambit. 
While a lot has changed in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, some aspects do, in fact, carry over. A lot of this comes from Awakening. Casual mode is available for beginning strategists and those of us (yep, myself included) who want a less intense Fire Emblem experience where downed units return after battle instead of being gone for good like in Classic mode. Various difficulty options are available, but you can only go down difficulties and never up. For me, I enjoyed playing on Casual/Hard mode, and I feel that is the best way of playing the game. Of course, future play-throughs are Casual/Normal, just so I can enjoy the story at a faster pace.

Also, like Awakening, Fire Emblem: Three Houses has romance and support options, granting boosts in how your units interact with one another. The amount of support conversations can be quite overwhelming if you unlock a grand number at one time. I got to the point late in the game that I just skipped the conversations (I know, how dare I!) so I could rake in the rewards of having a class of students that got along well and did better in combat together.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has certainly upped the presentation as the very first high definition mainline entry in the series. That said, the visuals apart from the character models and occasional cutscenes (which both do look ace, to be fair) do little to amaze. That said, the budget must have gone into the voice acting and music, because both are phenomenal. Every bit of dialogue within Three Houses is fully voiced--all major conversations, all support conversations, all minor characters, and so forth). My only issue with the music, particularly as it pertains to the battle music, is that a lot of it is repeated way too much throughout the game.

Though I didn't care for the slower structure and pace of the game or having to tread through a ton of familiar ground story-wise just to get to wholly new content in my second (and eventually third and fourth) play-throughs either, Fire Emblem: Three Houses managed to rekindle my long, lost interest in this tactical RPG series anyway. Just the fact that I wish to continue playing to see all the sides of Three Houses' involved story says a lot about how much I enjoyed the game. (For those that don't know, I have a habit of quitting a game as soon as I review it, but this certainly won't be the case with Three Houses.) Fire Emblem: Three Houses schools other games of its genre and is a master class of engaging and enthralling tactical grid-based battles. The amount of freedom to customize your units based on your particular play style and overall whims as well as the aforementioned various houses to play as make for a game with so much content and for me, so little time to take it all in.

[SPC Says: A-]

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Most Improved Video Game Sequels - Part One

A new SuperPhillip Central segment approaches! We've looked at the best levels in gaming, we've looked at the best bosses in gaming, and now SuperPhillip Central looks at the most improved video game sequels. These sequels greatly surpassed their predecessors, added features that are now mainstays for their respective franchises, or even made the originals look like student projects by comparison.

Once you've checked out the inaugural class of six entries to Most Improved Video Game Sequels, what games do you think should be on future installments?

Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN)

The original Super Smash Bros. was such a creative premise and dream scenario for Nintendo fans--pitting their favorite characters against one another to determine who would win in a fight. The Nintendo 64 game laid a successful foundation for the Super Smash Bros. franchise, but it wasn't until the GameCube's Super Smash Bros. Melee that the series really kicked into high gear. Adding more characters (such as Bowser, Peach, Zelda, Ice Climbers, Marth, Roy, Mewtwo, and more), more stages, more items, and just an abundance of content and improved combat, Super Smash Bros. Melee for some is still uncontested as the best game in the series. The additions of Adventure Mode, All-Star Mode, character and series-specific trophies, and other goodies took an already fantastic foundation from the N64 original and made a truly special game that wouldn't be dethroned for  almost two decades.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

Regardless of whether or not you consider the tough-as-nails Lost Levels or the Doki Doki Panic retooled Super Mario Bros. 2 to the be sequel to the nowadays rather basic Super Mario Bros., there's no denying that Super Mario Bros. 3 took the Mario to extremely high new heights. Taking Mario and Luigi on a lengthy adventure though eight themed worlds complete with world maps, bestowing them with new suits such as the Tanooki and Hammer Suits, giving them the power of flight with the Super Leaf power-up, having an onslaught of new enemy types, inspired and creative levels, and the first appearance of the Koopalings, Super Mario Bros. 3 did arguably more for the Super Mario series than any other 2D platformer bar the original. 

Super Metroid (SNES)

The third installment of the Metroid series and the last Metroid game to be released until the one-two punch of Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion (on the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance respectively), Super Metroid brought so much to the franchise and games of this platformer style in general. For Metroid as a series, Super Metroid brought a godsend to players who found themselves lost and stumbling through the similar corridors and chambers of the original Metroid and its Game Boy sequel. That godsend was a helpful map. Super Metroid also introduced many items and power-ups that are now common for the series, such as the Charge Beam, Grappling Beam, Gravity Suit, Power Bombs, and Super Missiles, to name a handful. There's a reason that Super Metroid is held as the standard that all current Metroidvania games strive to be and are measured against. It's just that darn good.

Street Fighter II (ARC)

Perhaps the most substantial marked improvement from an original game to its sequel, the original Street Fighter was less than a stellar fighting game--to put it charitably. The stiff and unresponsive controls, the frustrating AI opponents, and the general quality were not up to snuff. Street Fighter II, on the other hand, introduced and established so many new features to the fighting game franchise formula that it's no wonder that so many fell in love with Capcom's fantastic fighter. From the addition of new playable characters, varying and distinguishable characteristics for each, combo-based gameplay, and controller commands that were easily more accessible to players. Street Fighter II managed to not only improve on its predecessor, but it managed to influence (and continues to influence) essentially all future fighting games worth their muster in quarters.

Mega Man 2 (NES)

"If at first you don't succeed" started the story of both Capcom's retro gambles. We've seen it already with Street Fighter, and now Mega Man is the second instance of this. The original Mega Man, for the most part, did not reach sales success. It was a pure risk to give the Blue Bomber a second chance, but the development team of Mega Man 2 did just that. The game was a tale of having both quality and quantity, with its addition of eight new Robot Masters instead of the original Mega Man's six. Though the inclusion of now series standbys like a save system (via password in this case) and health and weapon energy-restoring items like E-Tanks and W-Tanks, Mega Man 2 was still quite the challenging game even with these improvements to the formula. Despite dozens upon dozens of Mega Man games release since, to this day, fans of the Blue Bomber find Mega Man 2 to be the pinnacle of the long-running series.

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2)

The original Ratchet & Clank brought an unlikely lombax and robot pair together in one intergalactic adventure. The sequel, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, upped the ante and the arsenal quite a bit, including introducing several mainstays to the series that would appear in most of the games in the franchise. For one, the ability to strafe more easily was extremely helpful, and the addition of being able to level up weapons through dealing damage with them made it so Ratchet's collection of firepower could become one devastating repertoire of destruction. Added gameplay types like racing and gladiator battles rounded out this excellent package, making Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando one of the best entries in the series and one of the PlayStation 2's best games in general.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PS4, XB1, PC) Buu Arc Teaser Trailer

Two important pieces of information have come out of this new Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, just in time for Tokyo Game Show 2019. The first is that the game's story will not be stopping at the Cell Saga. Instead, it's going the distance to Majin Buu! The other, and just as exciting, is that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot will launch January 17, 2020.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4) Tokyo Game Show 2019 Trailer

Old familiar faces and places meet new scenarios and situations in Final Fantasy VII Remake, which received its latest trailer at the Tokyo Game Show 2019. Rather than prattle on about it, I think I can let the trailer speak for itself. Are you hyped for Final Fantasy VII's upcoming glorious return to gaming prominence?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Top Ten Dreamcast Games

Twenty years ago on one of the best release dates for anything ever--9/9/99--the Sega Dreamcast launched. While Sega exited the hardware market shortly after, in just two brief years, the Dreamcast managed to amass a library that consoles that have been on the market much longer can only dream about. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast, SuperPhillip Central takes a look at some of the best games to ever grace the system and--since many of these have been ported elsewhere--other systems as well (though that just shows how strong the legacy of the Dreamcast really is!).

After you've checked out, SPC's picks, which Sega Dreamcast games are your favorites?

10) Power Stone 

Capcom showed a competent amount of support for Sega and its Dreamcast, and one of its most beloved titles on Sega's final home console was Power Stone. This arena brawler was less of a traditional fighter and more of a game where you beat your opponents senseless with character attacks, objects strewn about the 3D arena environments, and items that occasionally dropped in to the playing field. Collecting the fabled "Power Stones" in battle meant your character charged up immensely, ready and able to deliver some devastating damage to your opponent's or opponents' life bars. A sequel would release, bringing more of the same to the series and Sega's system, but I have a soft spot for the original Power Stone.

9) Hydro Thunder

A launch title for the Dreamcast--and later ported to the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64 down the road, though the Dreamcast original remained the best way to play it on a home console back then--Hydro Thunder was a high-speed, high-octane aquatic racer where you piloted futuristic speedboats across rocky waters in a bevy of exhilarating locations. Carving a path through the waters with your speedboat felt so fantastic, and the speeds at which you did so was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Hydro Thunder packed a lot of entertainment within its courses, its boosting-based gameplay, and phenomenal tracks.

8) Crazy Taxi

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, YEAH!" Any fan of Crazy Taxi has those initial lyrics and notes engrained deep in their virtual taxi-driving brains. Having roots in arcades, Sega created and ported a lot of its arcade hits to its home consoles, and that tradition continued with the Dreamcast. Such a defining example of a proven arcade hit and putting it on the system was Crazy Taxi, a game where you drove your yellow, checkered limousine and chauffeured passengers to their desired destinations around a closed-in city setting. Performing--ahem--crazy stunts and tricks while getting your passengers to their destinations in quick fashion awarded more in tips during your timed sessions racing around town.

7) Jet Grind Radio

Paint the town up with graffiti as you skate, jump, and grind your way through colorful, cel-shaded, open environments in Jet Grind Radio (future releases would establish the brand of the game and series as Jet Set Radio, in line with the international releases). As a fierce fighter to anyone who would degrade the cel-shaded art style, due to his heavy love for it, Jet Grind Radio brought with it the goal of tagging specific spots on maps before the game's timer ran out. Of course, the MAN (aka the authorities) would just have to make this mission of your inline-skating, graffiti-tagging gang member more challenging. The controls, favoring simple button presses as opposed to something slightly more complex like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, allowed for a level of accessibility for beginners while also granting a great deal of depth for masters of the game to unleash some killer moves and nail insane shortcuts in the game.

6) Sonic Adventure 2

It was a bit of a struggle to pick between Sonic Adventure or Sonic Adventure 2 to be the representative of Sonic the Hedgehog's Dreamcast debuts, but in the end, I had to go with the game that trimmed a lot of the fat that the original Sonic Adventure possess--that being the hub worlds and plodding extraneous gameplay types like Amy Rose, Gamma, and of course, Big the Cat. While there are some lesser parts to Sonic Adventure 2, the more streamlined approach, excellent Sonic and Shadow levels, okay to good Tails and Dr. Eggman vehicle levels, and passable Knuckles and Rouge emerald fetch quests made for one of Sonic's most memorable adventures to this day.

5) Shenmue

After almost two decades of waiting, the next chapter and the third installment in Ryo Hazuki's adventure, Shenmue III, will finally be available later this year to fans who have been with Ryo since the very beginning. And that beginning was on none other than the Dreamcast and from the mind of Yu Suzuki. Combining small open world areas, fighting segments, quick-time events, and an insanely obsessive amount of detail in the actual game world, Shenmue is a fantastic quest that showed just how ambitious Sega was during its final generation as a console manufacturer.

4) Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Capcom took players for a ride not just with the Power Stone series, but also with Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which the Dreamcast version is deemed one of, if not the best of the versions of the game. This second ultimate crossover between the superheroes and supervillains of Marvel Comics and the video game star power of Capcom brought accessible 2D fighting game action to the Dreamcast with its simple to pick up and play combat, flashy visuals, gorgeous colors, and supersized cast of characters. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 remains a fantastic fighting game that fans of one or both companies come back to on a regular basis, even if it's not the most balanced fighter out there.

3) Phantasy Star Online

During its time as a console manufacturer, Sega brought so many important innovations into the gaming sphere, and one of the most notable of these was bringing about and helping to popularize online play on home consoles, a sector of gaming that the PC had a hard monopoly on. With the release of Phantasy Star Online, Dreamcast owners had the ability to step foot on the planet of Ragol, explore its wondrous world, and do battle with its dangerous creatures with a party of up to four players online. It's something we of course take for granted nowadays, but even still, the Phantasy Star Online series remains popular, with part of the big news from Xbox's E3 2019 showing being that Phantasy Star Online 2 was coming to Xbox One. We can thank the original Phantasy Star Online for its mark on gaming, and just for remaining a solid and addicting game today.

2) Skies of Arcadia 

Dreamcast owners had no shortage of excellent RPGs to play on their system, and my pick for the absolute greatest of the bunch comes from Sega's now defunct Overworks team. It's none other than Skies of Arcadia. So many RPGs coming out of Japan have similar medieval settings or futuristic locations, but none are as original as Skies of Arcadia's literal skies... of Arcadia! From taking your starting small fry airship and exploring floating islands, featuring cities and dungeons to explore, to eventually earning a massive vessel to face off against other ships in aerial battles, Skies of Arcadia made a mark on this JRPG fan when it originally released. While the GameCube re-release brought with it many sizable and notable improvements, the original Skies of Arcadia still remains an impressive feather in the Dreamcast's cap.

1) Soul Calibur

We take the Soul Calibur franchise for granted nowadays (after all, the sixth numbered installment seems to have come and gone already without too much fanfare), but it can't be understated just how awesome and amazing an arena fighter Soul Calibur was. No doubt Soul Calibur fans know of the series's arcade roots with Soul Edge, but the arrival of Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast brought with it an immense following from fighting game fans and just lovers of weapon-based battles. Whether beating your opponent to the pulp with the blade your character wielded or knocking your foe out of bounds for a ring out, the soul burned strong for this excellent and exquisite Dreamcast launch title.