Friday, February 1, 2019

Review Round-Up - November 2018 - January 2019

SuperPhillip Central smashed in style with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,
a game in the running for the site's Game of the Year 2018.
This Review Round-Up spreads out across three months--well, actually just two, because the site was a bender in December. That said, six reviews were posted between the month of November 2018 and this past month, having three reviews each. Let's get a refresher on the games and how they reviewed!

Starting out the day after Halloween was Luigi's Mansion, the Nintendo 3DS version--that is--which received a C grade. We then grew to gigantic proportions with the excellent Knack 2, a game that greatly improved on its predecessor, earning a B+ grade. Crayola Scoot--for lack of a better term--"scooted" onto SuperPhillip Central and pulled off some kid-friendly gameplay to get a C+.

Then, the site had its aforementioned bender...

Coming back strong in the new year, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate gave the site a much needed shot in the arm, and it was a terrific title to come back on, earning an A. Following that was a different type of Bros. offering, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, running and jumping its way to a B+. Finally, this Review Round-Up ends on a weak note with the less than stellar Nickelodeon Kart Racers, which you can definitely sit this race out, as the game scored a mediocre D grade.

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

Luigi's Mansion (3DS) - C
Knack 2 (PS4) - B+
Crayola Scoot (PS4, NSW, XB1, PC) - C+
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW) - A
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (NSW) - B+
Nickelodeon Kart Racers (NSW, PS4, XB1) - D

A different kind of Bros. also has a spotlight for this Review Round-Up,
but it's of the New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe variety.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Nickelodeon Kart Racers (NSW, PS4, XB1) Review

Oh, we're going into double time now! That's right, this is the first of two reviews planned for this final day of January. Before we get to the more exciting second review, let's check out Nickelodeon Kart Racers for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Slime and punishment

I'm always up for a competent kart racer, even if it's a licensed one, which doesn't always have a storied or high quality history. A kart racer featuring Nickelodeon characters, spanning several eras of shows, sounds like a great idea. That said, Nickelodeon Kart Racers, how ever fun it may be at times, unfortunately, checks off the bare minimum number of boxes to be a worthwhile racer.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers doesn't do much to move the genre forward, and that's probably something you'd expect from a licensed game. You have your multi-lap races that take place on an assortment of Nickelodeon-themed courses with a cast of characters, but these are limited to just four different franchises--SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rugrats, and Hey Arnold. No doubt with the pantheon of cartoon characters within the Nickelodeon roster both past and present, this middling selection of playable characters within Nickelodeon Kart Racers will disappoint many--including yours truly.

You're not going to see the best representation of Nickelodeon all-stars in this kart racer's roster...
The track selection is rather nice, and the tracks themselves are designed well enough to be enjoyable. While the game boasts nearly two dozen tracks, many of these are merely remixed tracks of races already in the game. Some have you playing them in the opposite direction merely at a different time of day, while others are just flooded with Nickelodeon's trademark green slime.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers borrows a lot of from the Mario Kart series, and why wouldn't you when it's the most popular series in the genre? Everything from the item selection in Nickelodeon Kart Racers mirrors an item in Mario Kart. The game does give each of its dozen or so character roster an exclusive item that is generally earned from being in the back of the pack. Since Nickelodeon Kart Racers takes after Mario Kart so much, why not take after Mario Kart Wii while the game is at it. That's exactly what Nickelodeon Kart Racers does, as in later difficulties, you will definitely be on the receiving end of a lot of obnoxious item attacks.

The original idea that Nickelodeon Kart Racers features in its gameplay is the aforementioned green slime. Riding over a patch of slime will gradually increase a boost meter. The more that it's filled, the greater the boost you get when you use it. Outside of that, Nickelodeon Kart Racers is a bog standard kart racing game with your basic items, drift mechanics, and steering. There is some kart customization to be found from collecting coins littered across the game's tracks, and this goes a long way to presenting some semblance of replay value. Purchasing new kart parts and paint jobs is somewhat enjoyable, but you really have to like the actual racing gameplay to keep going with it.

Hey Arnold!! You're in first, football head!
By far the worst offenders of Nickelodeon Kart Racers are the total lack of an online component and even worse, the game's performance. Usually when someone says a game of this console generation looks like a PlayStation 2 game, they're speaking in gross hyperbole. Well, allow me to borrow the sentiment--just without the hyperbole part. Really, when looking at Nickelodeon Kart Racers in still shots (as this review has plenty to feast your eyes on) as well as in motion, the idea that the game could be an higher resolution PlayStation 2 game would not be much of an exaggeration. It doesn't look good at all, and dare I say the game looks rather ugly.

"Looking good?" No, you're really not, Helga.
Sound-wise, characters do not speak whatsoever. There is no dialog to speak of, in general, apart from text bubbles when characters either give or receive damage. The music is relatively inoffensive, offering some catchy songs here and there--but nothing that references any of the Nickelodeon shows or properties within the game.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers delivers an arcade kart racer in the style of Mario Kart, but without any of the charm, engaging gameplay, or originality. It's not a lazily made game, it just does the bare minimum required to be a slightly capable kart racing game. Between the lackluster performance and presentation, cut-corners in design and budget, and lack of online play, this is one race that you don't have to necessarily participate in, unless you're a big fan of SpongeBob, Rugrats, TMNT, or Hey Arnold. As it stands, Nickelodeon Kart Racers is a bargain bin buy at best.

[SPC Says: D]

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (NSW) Review

Let's strike while the iron is hot! Actually, the iron is frozen solid due to this arctic weather we're currently experiencing in the Midwest, but that's neither here nor there. The point here, is that we're striving to keep the momentum going together, and this next review will do just that. It's New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, the latest Wii U-to-Switch port from Nintendo. Let's-a go check it out!

New Year, Familiar U

In 2012, New Super Mario Bros. U was one of the premiere launch titles for the Wii U--arguments on that being damning testimony as to why the Wii U failed to light up the charts notwithstanding. The core game was a lot of fun with enjoyable multiplayer, fantastic level design, and new HD visuals. The game sees itself making the leap over from the Wii U to the Switch, like many of Nintendo's game have done already. However, since its launch, there have been some truly excellent 2D platformers, some from Nintendo itself, that are by far better games and make this entire New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe package feel a tad antiquated in 2019, even more so than it might have to players back in 2012.

It's like returning to a familiar old friend with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.
Let's go over what you get with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. You have the core New Super Mario Bros. U game and the added New Super Luigi U expansion that released in 2013, as part of Nintendo's Year of Luigi promotion. New Super Mario Bros. U is a more relaxed game that doesn't really get too terribly challenging until the latter of the eight story-related worlds within. Meanwhile, New Super Luigi U features shorter, more challenging levels where you have only 100 seconds to complete them, and Luigi's physics are more in line with Super Mario Bros. 2's USA version, where he has a higher jump and features more slippery controls.

Thank goodness Mario is using his burner account on this level.
Included with the New Super Mario Bros. U side of this Deluxe package is a series of challenges that you can play through. These range from speed runs on original courses and ones already featured within the base game, to survival challenges, to trying to successfully jump on enemies to get 1-Ups without ever hitting the ground. For those who played the Wii U game, you might recall there being a Boost Mode, played with the Wii U GamePad. Rather than retool these for the Switch release, all of these GamePad-related challenges from the original 2012 game have simply been removed.

Between New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U, you're easily getting over 100 levels total, and these are all smartly designed obstacle courses, which is definitely shown through the added Hint videos available for budding speed-runners and those who wish to be inspired by some truly expert playing. Each level holds three Star Coins in them, and many times they'll be placed in precarious, risk-vs-reward locations, or require some sleuthing to discover them (i.e. finding a secret pipe or hidden alcove in a level). Players will want to get all of the Star Coins in the game to fully enjoy New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U to see everything these games have to offer level-wise.

Mario better be careful with his platforming, or he may see the point... of this Urchin, that is!
A fresh addition to both New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U is the ability to play as Toadette. She's listed as an easy character to play as--with Nabbit being the easiest (so easy that if you're playing in solo mode, you won't get a legitimate mark on the world map for "beating" the level). This is because she doesn't slip on ice, gets extra seconds added to her timer in New Super Luigi U, and is about to transform into Peachette via special Crown power-up, exclusive to her character. The Crown power-up gives the newly formed Peachette the ability to float in the air for a limited period of time, as well as perform a recovery with a shake of the controller or press of a button--great for saving herself from platforming errors.

Don't worry--SuperPhillip Central will not post any Bowsette fan art. (In this review.)
While we're on the subject of platforming errors, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe features a questionable design decision with regards to its controls. In the original NSMBU and NSLU, Mario or whoever the player controlled could flick the controller or press the trigger to perform a twirl. This could give the player some extra air time to pull off some proficient platforming--or just save their own skin. In New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, while both shaking the controller and/or hitting the Joy-Con's trigger with allow players to perform a midair twirl, the game also assigns the twirl to the jump button. This can result in some unwanted damage from enemies, or worse yet, undesired deaths. During my time with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe in both Mario U and Luigi U forms, this did not occur often at all, but it is a potential problem for players to keep in mind.

Perhaps now is not a good time for the player to learn about that jump button problem...
To speak more highly of this Switch compilation of New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U, it's absolutely fantastic and convenient to already have two controllers available to you via being able to split the Joy-Con between two players. Just another Joy-Con set, and you can have the maximum amount of players on screen at once--four of you, bouncing off each other's heads to reach high up places, tackling enemies and platforming challenges together with great rhythm and--aw, who are we kidding--if you're like me, you're just going to get your teammates killed over and over again by chucking shells into them. Still, multiplayer is a fine amount of fun, and when you're all working together--and even when you're messing one another up--it's a good time. Of course, some levels are better in co-operative play than others--yep, I'm looking at you, New Super Luigi U's Fire Bar Sprint.

Like many Switch multiplayer games, just the Joy-Con pair that comes out of the Switch
box is all you need to enjoy some two-player co-operative play.
New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U have never looked better, thanks to the touch up in resolution in the Deluxe version. Not only does New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe look great in docked form, as expected, but it look and runs awesomely in handheld form, as well. That said, even in 2012, these games weren't the bastion of high definition graphics, but still, they look delightful enough all the same. If only we could all say similar things about the music. While I don't mind the "bah, bahs" heard throughout the game's soundtrack, nor its less than impressive instrumentation, no doubt others will. Regardless, the compositions are solid and hark back to the regular old Super Mario Bros. in the catchy-ness department.

Was this screenshot taken in NSMBU's ice world or the United States
during this week's Polar Vortex? (How's THAT for topical humor!)
With every Wii U to Switch port that comes about, the question is always, "Should I buy this game if I already own it on the Wii U?" Well, with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, I can definitely say that unless you just have to get rid of your Wii U or find no pleasure in playing on that relatively clunky system, then you can easily pass on this port of these two games. They're still fun to play and marvels of terrific level design, but they're also rather dated compared to many of the 2D platformers that have popped up since 2012 that have far outdone the House of Mario's Wii U launch offering.

Mario will do anything to keep his plumber's license, won't he.
However, if you've never owned a Wii U before or somehow missed out on one or either of these two games, then answering if you should buy New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is as easy as accidentally running into the first Goomba in the game. That is to say--easier than you'd think. And the answer is a certain "yes". Looking at these two platformers relative to those that came out after paints a lesser picture of these two New Super Mario Bros. adventures, but by themselves, New Super Mario Bros.U and New Super Luigi U never lost their individual quality.

[SPC Says: B+] 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW) Review

It's been a full two months since I last wrote a post on SuperPhillip Central. However, now SuperPhillip Central is back in business, and there's no better game to bring us back than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. What better evening to do a review of the game than with the release of the first DLC character Piranha Plant and the big Ver. 2.0.0 patch? None--that's what! So, sit back, relax, and get comfortable, as this review is a hefty one--fitting for a grand return, wouldn't you say!

Has a title ever been more appropriate?

My elementary and middle school lunches were filled with heated discussions about which video game character would kick which other video game character's butt in battle. Who knew that two decades later that dreams of Mario versus Sonic, Mega Man versus Pac-Man, and Solid Snake versus Ryu would come true and have the ability to be played out? That's exactly what Super Smash Bros. Ultimate delivers, offering over 70 characters and over 100 stages to play with and play on. It's the ultimate video game crossover, and with it, Ultimate brings every character and almost every stage back from every past Super Smash Bros. game. Throw in a meaty new single-player campaign, nearly 1300 Spirit characters to collect, enhanced online play, and the most accessible fighting game controls imaginable, and you have a serious and smashing (pardon the lazy play-on words) package.

Smashing throughout the ages, Mario and Link once again take each other on.
The basic gameplay rules of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate remains the same from past installments. Standard battles require you to deal damage to your opponent. The more damage they receive, the easier it is to launch them off screen. Either by hitting them so hard that they blast off the edge of the screen or fall into the pit below makes it so they get K.O.'d. In Time matches, you earn a point for every opponent you K.O. you get, while you lose a point for every time you get K.O.'d. The player with the most points at the end of the time limit is the victor, unless there is a tie, then the players in first place duke it out in Sudden Death. Here, it usually just takes one hit to be K.O.'d out of the arena. Other rules include a life-based Stock mode, as well as a more traditional fighting game-styled Stamina mode.

If you can press a button and a hold a direction on an analog stick, you're good to go with Smash Bros. Okay, well, that might be a slight simplification of how accessible this game is...
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate continues the Smash Bros. series' penchant for excellent accessibility for all ages and player skill levels. This is in part because of the ease of the controls. There's no need to memorize and master complex button combinations to pull off the most entertaining and worthwhile of attacks. Instead, basic attacks are mapped to the A button while special attacks are mapped to the B button. Hitting these buttons in conjunction with directions on the left analog stick results in different moves being performed. Up + B always serves as a character's recovery ability, making it so after performing a jump or two with the X button (or alternatively the Up direction on the analog stick) you can unleash your recovery if you're finding yourself falling off a stage with no other recourse available to you. That said, it's not a foolproof means to save yourself from a K.O., as each character possesses a different recovery move, and some of these are as useful as a teaspoon for a boat paddle.

Performing a powerful roundhouse kick? Sure, Ken can!
Ultimate has faster movement than many past Super Smash Bros. games, putting it more closely to Melee than anything else--at least from my experience. While no doubt Melee purists or those who prefer that game will remain with the GameCube classic, I feel Ultimate--as if the name doesn't already suggest it--is indeed the ultimate way to play Smash Bros. New changes to the gameplay make things like edge-guarding less of a successful strategy, and shields no longer being completely impervious to attacks when put up make for a better, more tactical game.

That said, the faster action doesn't always translate to a perfect experience. I don't know if it's the lighting used in this game or all of the special effects that can obscure the screen, but sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to see where your character is on the screen when action intensifies. I can't tell you how many times I've been K.O.'d in silly ways because I couldn't save myself in time due to not being able to find where my character was on occasions. This is a prominent problem when there are more than four characters on screen at once--with Ultimate allowing up to eight players on ALL stages, instead of just a select handful like in its Wii U predecessor.

When Smash Bros. series and Ultimate game director Masahiro Sakurai promoted the idea that "everyone is here", he was not kidding. Every past character from the original Super Smash Bros. all the way to Smash for Wii U and 3DS is included. In addition, some longtime desired newcomers have arrived as well in the form of Metroid's Ridley, Donkey Kong Country's King K. Rool, and even Ryu's sparring partner, Ken. You can also fight as Pokemon Sun and Moon's Incineroar, Animal Crossing: New Leaf's Isabelle, and perhaps most exciting third-party newcomer-wise, the Castlevania duo of Simon and Richter Belmont.

DK protects his little buddy from King K. Rool,
an old rival who has returned to get revenge--Smash-style!
While every character is indeed here from past Smash Bros. games, not every stage is. About a dozen or so stages from the N64 days to the Wii U and 3DS era are not included, such as the N64's Sector Z stage, Melee's Poke Floats and Icicle Mountain, and Brawl's Rumble Falls, for instance. That said, when you still have more than 100 stages that have been graciously remastered and updated for Ultimate's impressive standards, one can't really complain too much.

Alas, Orbital Gate Assault, I will gladly take the new stages like Super Mario Odyssey's New Donk City, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Great Plateau Tower, Splatoon's Moray Towers, and Castlevania's Dracula's Castle in your stead, grinning and bearing it. Stages can be played in normal form--with or without hazards--in Battlefield form or Omega form. A new addition to Ultimate stage-wise is the ability to use Stage Morph mid-match. This allows you to pick two separate stages and during the match, the game will cycle between them magically.

Light up what you can, Palutena, but not even your
heavenly light may be enough for Dracula's Castle.
Replacing trophies from past Super Smash Bros. games--which was a bummer to me at first--is that of Spirits. While trophies were nice in past games to view (see: ogle) the 3D models of unique characters, items and objects; as well as read up a quick description of each as you slowly, gradually collected them--they no doubt took a lot of work to write up and then localize. Compare this to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's immense lineup of over 1300 Spirits (and that includes the added Spirits included as free DLC), where attempting to turn 1300 characters into models, as well as write up descriptions in multiple languages is one lofty task! Instead, the Spirits are not only much more numerous, but they're also just as fun to go after and collect. A wide selection of Spirits are featured in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate--many of which being deep cuts that might not ever get featured in a Smash Bros. game, much less any other game in Nintendo's history, otherwise.

That said, Spirits have a far more important use in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate than mere collectibles. Spirits come in two forms: Primary and Support, and are used to equip to your party in order to enhance their strength and abilities. Spirits have a rock-paper-scissors-like quality to them with strengths and weaknesses to other Spirit types, and many imbue your party with advantageous skills in battle. Such examples include greater jump height, elemental resistance of varying types, starting the battle off with a specific item equipped, among many others. You can't just equip as many advantages in battle as you like, either. Each Primary Spirit has a set amount of slots available to it--up to three. Equipping the more powerful Support Spirits takes up more slots. Primary Spirits can also be leveled up, making them stronger by battling with them, having them work out at the in-game gym, or feeding them Spirit food--all of these ways make Primary Spirits stronger and more useful.

There is a whole section of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dedicated to Spirits, and this section is where the main single player campaign of Ultimate takes place--the World of Light. Starting off with Kirby, you traverse a nonlinear overworld map, going from space to space, dueling with various Spirits as you amass an army of Spirits and fighters to face off against bosses along the way.

Link wants a quick win in this Spirit Battle, so he decides to "cut" to the chase.
Spirit battles have you taking on members of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster where they have a specific Spirit attached to them. Winning the fight, earns you that Spirit for your collection. Each battle has its own theme based on the Spirit. For instance, when facing against the Poltergust 3000 Spirit from the Luigi's Mansion series, you'll battle Luigi who likes to use throws. His throw move just so happens to utilize his Poltergust 3000. Some of these themes are less obvious and will take some vivid video game knowledge to decipher. Though making the Mr. Dream from Punch-Out!!'s Spirit fighter being Donkey Kong is a bit... wrong, if you know anything about harmful African-American stereotypes.
Different Spirit Battles contain different, themed rules, stages, and characters.
World of Light took me about 18 hours to complete my first time through. It's really fun accumulating an army of Spirits and fighters, opening treasure chests along the way, solving simple environmental puzzles on the overworld maps, and taking on challenging and usually cleverly themed Spirit battles. I can see how this mode might be a bit tedious or repetitive if you're merely wanting to rush through it, but if you go through at your own pace, you'll find an enjoyable mode. Quite honestly, I think World of Light is my favorite of the single-player campaigns featured in a Smash game. Yes, even beating Melee's Adventure and Brawl's extensive Subspace Emissary.

Alongside World of Light in the Spirits menu is the Spirit Board, where Spirits up for grabs are routinely shuffled in and out of the spaces on the board. To earn a Spirit, you must win a Spirit Battle, which is essentially the same types of battles as seen in World of Light, only many of the ones on the Spirit Board are exclusive to the board itself. You only get one chance ordinarily to beat a space on the Spirit Board before that Spirit moves on--win or lose--before you have to wait for it to come back. Of course, you can use Spirit Board items to make for an easier go of it or reface a Spirit whose battle you just lost.

Apart from the Spirit menu--which is quite exhaustive, if you hadn't already guessed--Super Smash Bros. Ultimate retains its Classic mode, though this is uniquely tailored to each of the 70+ characters within the game. Though the number of matches each fighter faces is the same, the opponents they face varies and has a theme to it. For example, the newly added Piranha Plant faces off against every newcomer within the game. Once again, Ultimate houses the most impressive and enhanced Classic mode ever featured in the Smash Bros. series, really nailing home the point that this Smash is the ultimate Smash.

Assist Trophies are but one type of item in Smash, but they also allow
 for more characters to be represented, such as the pyromaniac Bomberman here.
But here lies one of the areas where Super Smash Bros. Ultimate falters, and it's pretty much no surprise to anyone who has followed Nintendo's online offerings for any extended period of time. Online battles are by no means as awful or horrid as Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In fact, when the online works--and for me, it was most of the time--it is a splendid and enjoyable experience. When it doesn't, it results in unintended disconnects--which the game penalizes you for after several of them, regardless of whether or not it was your fault--as well as severe lag.

Almost every stage within the Super Smash Bros. pantheon
was recreated, all of which done with some great TLC.
It's also the lack of options that's rather disappointing as well. Sure, you can set up rooms with your rules in either a private or public matter, play quick matches with or without a local multiplayer friend online (as well as finding quick matches with your preferred rules in place), but why can't you enter online battle arenas, where you play against the same opponents and are able to spectate as well? The lack of anything other than the most basic of communication options (pre-written text options before battles) is expected but insanely inexcusable.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's subtitle isn't just for marketing and hype. This Smash truly is the ultimate experience--it has over 70 characters including several newcomers in the base game and five more promised as paid DLC, it has over 100 stages, it has over 800 songs, it has 124 challenges to complete by achieving certain in-game goals, it has a great collection of items to turn any fight into a party, it has multiple modes for solo players to smash their way through, it plays splendidly in both docked and handheld forms, it allows you to play as your Mii (or happily smack it around), and it has never been more fun to play. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may stumble (or should I use the word "trip"?) a bit when it comes to its online offerings, but overall, a title has never been more appropriate for a game with the content and joy you'll get out of it. This Super Smash Bros. is indeed ultimate.

[SPC Says: A]