Saturday, February 9, 2019

Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1) Review

I've engrossed myself in so many games these past few days, all for the purpose of reviewing them soon. For instance, I finally finished up Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and I only played the original Spyro the Dragon back on the PS1. Wait. I actually go into that in my review, so why don't we just get on with it?!

There might be three games in this trilogy, but they won't--wait for it--"drag on".

Thinking back, I don't have that many fond memories of the original Spyro the Dragon. Sure, it was fun, but the most prominent thought that I have is how the game gave me a severe headache upon playing it for any lengthy duration. It's like those rough, jagged polygons cut directly into my head, causing me pain and agony. Okay, maybe that's a bit on the dramatic side. Regardless, I never did finish Spyro the Dragon when it released, and due to my rather unflattering experience with the game, I never touched the sequels. Now that Spyro Reignited Trilogy is out, I'm basically able to play 2-1/2 brand-new games (for me at least) with enhanced sight, sound, and visuals that definitely didn't give me a killer migraine. 

Spyro's back, and while it may be cliche to say, he really is better than ever.
Playing the games in order within the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, you really get a feel and understanding for how the series evolved over the course of three games. Starting off with--where else but Spyro the Dragon, the game lays down the groundwork for the future entries. "Oh, wow, Phil. Great analysis. No first game in a series has EVER laid down a foundation for sequels." Okay, sarcasm from the peanut gallery aside, Spyro the Dragon is obviously the simplest of the three games, but at the same time, it's a quite lean game. There is no real fat or filler to speak of. Pretty much every level has a required goal, and that's to reach the exit. Most levels have one true path to follow, but many also feature detours for rewards. 

Open those wings and take flight, young dragon!
Of course, like every other game in the series, it behooves you to do some exploring, as later areas in Spyro the Dragon are locked behind collectibles. These consist of rescuing the Dragon Elders who are encased in crystal, as well as gathering gems scattered about in levels, whether on the ground, in chests, in vases, and so forth. 

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage is probably my favorite game of the package. It has just the right length, just the right amount of meat to it, and creates multiple new play styles that mostly all work. In Ripto's Rage, Spyro's cast of characters expands rather greatly with a handful that appear and reappear in the hub worlds to help the precocious, purple dragon out, as well as one-off characters that guide you through the base levels. The goal of many of these levels is the same--get from the beginning to the end. It's just that they're dressed up with some narrative and quest-like design to give some context to each level, rather than just throwing the player in a given level and having them get to the end with little context to offer like the original Spyro does.

A successful game of hockey wins Spyro his reward.
Furthermore, Spyro 2 adds some side missions to complete within the levels of the game. These reward special relics that serve as the primary collectible of Ripto's Rage. These are on offer for things as simple as solving an engaging platforming task to participating in a mini-game, such as a game of ice hockey, thwarting turtles from having some soup by knocking them into the surrounding pools of water, among many others.

Spyro 2 also takes the Banjo-Kazooie route by adding new moves that Spyro can learn, such as swimming and climbing. Swimming is a mixed bag in execution, but there's really never a moment in the game where you need masterful precision to survive or proceed through a submerged underwater section. 

You don't know how hard it is for me to not bust out a
"flattened like a pancake" quip--that previous statement notwithstanding.
Finally, Ripto's Rage is the sole game in the trilogy that bookends each of its levels with comical cutscenes that sometimes hit the mark, but other times didn't really get a chuckle from me. They're all presented beautifully and impressively, even if the humor isn't on point 100% of the time. Your mileage will of course vary.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon is the final game in the trilogy, and it expands its levels and objectives inside them to much greater size. Whereas Spyro the Dragon took me about five hours to 100% and Ripto's Rage had me put in about 7-8 hours to complete, Spyro: Year of the Dragon was a 10 hour journey to fully complete. It was also spread out across more days than both of its predecessors just because unlike Spyro 1 and Spyro 2, levels take quite a bit more time to fully beat.

Part of that is the implementation of a wide variety of gameplay styles. Unlike Ripto's Rage, however, some of these don't stick the landing well at all. While it'd be disingenuous to say that Year of the Dragon is the jack of all trades and the master of none--because the standard gameplay as Spyro is as sharp as ever--a good number of the variety of gameplay types rubbed me the wrong way. There's the hoverboarding that takes place in both trick and race formats, where performing tricks and landing the tricks can be mighty particular. Throw in some odd physics and collision detection here and there in these sections, and you have something that can irritate.

Moreover, Year of the Dragon boosts the supporting cast with includes additional playable characters other than Spyro. From a bouncing kangaroo to a trigger-happy monkey, these provide a welcome reprieve from the traditional Spyro platforming and gameplay, but this also has some stinkers with the amount of gameplay types included. Thankfully, most of these work well, but the ones that don't, like the explosive-toting bird's Molten Crater mission, feature haphazard, almost glitchy camerawork that devolves into a less than satisfying experience.

Make yo' kangaroo wanna... JUMP! JUMP!
Spyro, his companions, and his world in his return-to-form Reignited Trilogy look absolutely sensational. Looking at comparison shots from the PS1 originals to these Reignited re-imaginings is something to behold, as the developer really nailed the atmosphere and environments of the original trilogy while breathing new life into them. The characters express themselves well, and the amount of detail and visual variety is magnificent. Perhaps my only actual issue with the visual piece of Reignited Trilogy is the gratuitous use of motion blur with no ability to turn it off. While it's not absolutely dizzying or nausea-inducing, it still is a notable detraction to the game's aesthetic. 

Each level, regardless of the Spyro game you play, looks positively stunning in its remade glory.
Meanwhile, the voice acting in the game has been fully reworked, but sadly, there is no option for subtitles. (Pretty crappy to not have this patched by now, Activision, for those that are hearing-impaired players.) The music, too, has been updated with the help of the original composer, but like the PS1 trilogy, the songs in Spyro Reignited Trilogy just come off as window dressing for the ears, as they didn't really stay in my head after I quit playing the games. I couldn't hum you any of the songs if you asked me to.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy to me is a much greater platforming success than Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is. Perhaps that's because I actually enjoy all of the games in the collection, and I find them well designed in the first place--unlike certain levels or entire games of Crash in general. Regardless, while there are annoying spots in the latter two games in the Spyro trilogy due to spreading out into different gameplay types, overall, Spyro Reignited Trilogy controls like a charm, plays like a dream, looks like a winner, and satisfies (mostly) from beginning to end.

[SPC Says: A-]

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

850th Review! God of War (PS4) Review

It's a special occasion here at SuperPhillip Central--well, a MORE special occasion. It's the site's 850th review! Join me as I take a late look at one of 2018's best games, God of War for the PlayStation 4. Here's SuperPhillip Central's full review.

God of Wow

I've made it no secret that despite enjoying the God of War series in the past that regardless of the "M" for "Mature" rating these games have, they're anything but mature. However, like Kratos's arc in the latest in the series and the first on the PlayStation 4, simply titled God of War, the franchise has gone a long way to grow up and mature. What we have now is a more mellowed out Kratos, less motivated by hate, no sacrificing innocents to get through puzzles, no awkward and borderline offensive sex scenes--now we have a God of War that is actually for adults and not edgy teenagers.

But that's giving God of War's PlayStation 4 debut feint praise. The game does so much more than just present a more mature, more heartwarming story than past entries in the series. Now, Kratos is in Norse world, and he has a son, Atreus. The two recently lost someone special to them, Kratos' wife and Atreus' mother, and they seek to spread her ashes on top of the highest mountain in the land. I felt compelled to see the journey through, and like Kratos and Atreus, my motivation was to see this journey through. The levels of emotion displayed throughout the story and the evolution of the father and son dynamic in God of War are some of the most heartfelt I've seen in gaming in quite a while.

The past God of War games were tasty "junk food", but not this God of War.
It's still tasty, but is a lot more thought-provoking and engaging than past entries.
God of War not only does away with the infantile story and characterization of past installments prior to this PS4 masterpiece, but it also does away with the camera angles that originated in very first game in the series. Now, the player is directly behind Kratos in an over-the-shoulder perspective, and perhaps the most impressive part of this is that God of War's world is both interconnected and open, as well as taking place in one continuous shot. There are no loading screens to speak of between visiting new areas, and every story beat occurs with the player in Kratos' shoes. The only cuts in the action take place when Kratos dies and the game needs to reload to previous checkpoint or when you warp from one area to another via fast travel--which unlocks relatively late in the adventure.

No doubt you can believe that the new camera perspective presents a much more cerebral experience when it concerns gameplay, especially combat. Kratos' main weapon in God of War is the all-powerful Leviathan Axe. It's not just used to carve up enemies both small and behemoth-sized, but it also is used to solve puzzles. The axe can be chucked away from Kratos, and with the press of a button, it can be called back to his hand, slicing through any enemy that stands in its way in the process. As players gain experience from defeated enemies and completed quests alike, Kratos and his axe can be upgraded to enable more combat abilities and advantages in battle.

Want to be put out of your misery, you nasty-looking foe? Then, just "axe"!
Of course, Kratos isn't by his lonesome this time around, as Atreus is always nearby. While the game could have been one large, engaging escort mission, instead Atreus holds his own in battle and in puzzle thanks to both his smart AI and his near invulnerability. You can call on Atreus to fire arrows of various elemental properties at enemies to stun them or whittle away at their health to help out Kratos in battle, all the while being cognizant of the cool off period Atreus has to fire more arrows. The two are a force to be reckoned with, for certain.

As if the God of War series hasn't proven this multiple times already,
size really doesn't matter when you're up against Kratos.
Battles are engaging experiences due to each enemy being worthy opponents--and this goes for your typical human-sized encounters as well. There are seldom a time when an opponent will just stand there and take your attacks without countering back. Smart use of Kratos' Leviathan Axe, abilities, moves, and Atreus' assistance make the difference between an easygoing encounter and one that results in a sloppy execution, if not death.

Kratos and Atreus might not always get along, but when push comes to shove, they're one formidable duo.
While the fights against grunts and other ordinary enemies are thoroughly enjoyable and stand out on their own merits, it's the boss battles that the God of War series is known for--with their immense scale and high stakes--and this God of War continues that tradition superbly. The only real gripe I have with the boss fights in the game is that there simply aren't enough of them, but every other part of God of War lends itself so well to the overall game that I can't really complain too much. After all, what bosses there are indeed make for a riveting and explosive experience.

Yikes. I'm glad Kratos isn't MY dentist!
When they're not in battle, Kratos and Atreus explore the Norse worlds. As stated before, the game is open and connected--though not an open world in general. Areas seamlessly transition between each other without any loading screens or cuts, and the amount of exploration and chances for discovery in God of War's world is absolutely tremendous. The central area in God of War is the Lake of Nine, and this stellar and splendidly designed hub of sorts branches out between all of the other regions in the game. As you progress, the Lake of Nine's water level drops more and more, revealing new areas to visit and venture.

Just playing through the story and going to the mandatory sections of the Norse world will take about 20 to 25 hours or so. However, if you engage in the high number of side quests, optional areas to explore, and nonessential boss battles, you'll find yourself adding another 10 to 15 hours to that playtime. There is a lot to experience and enjoy in God of War, and all of it is rewarding and worthwhile--whether you're finding out a solution to a puzzle, discovering a well hidden treasure chest, or uncovering a wholly new region in the game world by accident.

Possibly the greatest game of 2018? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
God of War is a jaw-dropping game graphically. The character models impress immensely in their own right, but combined with the drop-dead gorgeous landscapes, environments, and areas that ooze with personality, God of War is astounding, mind-blowing game to look at. Performance is relatively sound, though the atypical 30 frames-per-second--at least for an action game--might put some players off. Still, with only a handful of truly off-putting (but rare all the same) frame-rate drops throughout my time with God of War on my launch PS4 system, the game is a remarkable one on the technical side of things.

Those giant icicles here were formed by my frozen-over drool while viewing this graphically gorgeous game.
Like Kratos himself--away from the anger-motivated, woman-using, hate-filled caricature that was presented in past games in the series--God of War as a franchise has finally grown up and matured. This astonishing new direction for the franchise is more than welcomed, offering a deep and highly satisfying story, as well as delivering a wonderful amount of character development within its main cast, especially the father and son dynamic between Kratos and Atreus. Battles are more compelling and cerebral than ever, exploration is absolutely delightful, and God of War as a series has never been better. It's more than a great game in the series--2018's God of War is a masterful piece of design and storytelling that reaches magnificent heights as one of the best games of both the year and the generation.

[SPC Says: A]

Monday, February 4, 2019

Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! & Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee! (NSW) Review

It's the start of a new week at SuperPhillip Central, and with it comes a new review. Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee launched this past November, but in my hiatus, I didn't get to cover these games properly. I make amends to this mistake with this in-depth review. Enjoy!

GO-ing back to basics

Back in my middle school days, Pokemon reached American shores, and I was completely addicted. I religiously watched the anime on weekday mornings, I collected the toys and the playing cards, I drew my own series of comic books (Ash Ketchum still has nothing on Phil Gotem--Gotem actually WON a Pokemon League), and I, of course, played the games.

It was around the fourth generation of Pokemon games during the Nintendo DS handheld era, that I found myself falling out of love with the franchise. Sure, I picked up the odd spin-off here and there, but my thirst and appetite to play the mainline generation games was pretty much gone.

Every journey must start somewhere and this one starts in Pallet Town.
Fast forward to this past November, and Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee! have arrived on the Nintendo Switch as the first major traditional Pokemon games on the system. A remade and revised version of Pokemon Yellow from back on the Game Boy Color, the duo of games yearn to reintroduce Pokemon to lapsed fans, but more importantly pick up a whole new audience from the iOS Pokemon GO phenomenon. What both Pokemon: Let's Go games end up doing is creating a pair of unique Pokemon titles that have some ace features that I would love to see appear in this year's Gen 9 Pokemon title.

I got Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu!, so my starter Pokemon was none other than... What was his name again?
One of the major, immediate-to-see changes in Pokemon: Let's Go is that there are no longer any random encounters. No, you will not wander the many, MANY caves of Kanto, constantly being interrupted by battles with Zubats and Geodudes. Instead, Pokemon are shown on the screen, appearing out of quick cloud of smoke when they arrive on the scene, and running into them will trigger a "battle". I put "battle" in quotes for good reason, but I'll get to that soon enough.

With Pokemon: Let's Go's method of entering battles, not only can you choose to avoid or enter confrontations with Pokemon, but you also don't have to aimlessly venture through patches of tall grass, hoping for that one random encounter for a Pokemon you may or may not be able to catch. Pokemon in Pokemon: Let's Go appear on screen and vanish after a good while. You merely have to be in the vicinity for Pokemon to "spawn". There's still randomness and luck involved with what types of Pokemon spawn, but there's a genuine lack of players' time being wasted by entering battles, escaping battles when the RNG chooses the Pokemon to appear that you didn't want to battle, and doing the whole process ad nauseum. It saves so much time and is a much less tedious process. This is a type of quality of life improvement to the Pokemon formula that I wholeheartedly welcome for future mainline installments of the franchise, whether Let's Go-related or not.

You can choose which Pokemon in your party tags along with you just like
you can choose which Pokemon encounters you want to take part of and which ones you don't.
As for "battles" against Pokemon out in the wild, that's in quotes merely for the fact that you don't actually fight them. Instead, using a type of catching system from Pokemon GO--one that will decidedly not make every Pokemon player happy--Pokemon are caught by timing your throw of a Poke Ball, making sure it hits the Pokemon you wish to catch, and hoping for the best. Your odds on catching a specific Pokemon are denoted by the color of ring that contracts around the Pokemon. Green being the easiest to catch and red being the most difficult.

Thankfully, you're not left to whims of your luck to catch a Pokemon. Stronger Poke Balls can ensure a greater chance of catching success, as can berries fed to Pokemon, just like in Pokemon GO. Also like the mobile juggernaut, by throwing a Poke Ball within the contracting and expanding ring that surrounds the Pokemon you wish to catch, the better your chances to nab your desired 'Mon. Obviously, the smaller the ring is, the more likely it is you'll catch the Pokemon.

Using an Ultra Ball AND throwing it directly in the middle of the circle?
You better believe I better catch this Psyduck!
Unfortunately, not all is perfect with the execution of catching Pokemon, and I mean this in a technological sense. If you're playing the game in docked form, you use one Joy-Con and swing it gently downward to "toss" a Poke Ball. However, sometimes you'll have to throw a Poke Ball at a curve, and the game doesn't always read the Joy-Con's motion correctly--well, like--seldom, if ever. On many occasions I'd find myself moving the Joy-Con at what I perceived to be the correct angle and motion, but the ball would still be thrown completely straight. A waste of a Poke Ball and a waste of my time, too. Not to mention quite a bit frustrating to say the least. However, if you play in handheld mode, you have the option to use the analog stick or gyro sensor of the Switch Joy-Cons to aim, point, and press a button to throw a Poke Ball at your intended Pokemon target.

Catching a Pokemon gives experience to all of the Pokemon in your current party, and this number is based on a number of fun factors, like how well of a throw you performed (was it a nice throw, a great throw, or an excellent throw?), how many of that type of Pokemon you've caught in a row, and if it was your first throw in general. Catching more of the same type of Pokemon in succession increases the chances for discovering "shiny" Pokemon--different colored Pokemon than usually found in the wild. This is also more supporting evidence for why doing away with random encounters like Pokemon: Let's Go does is a positive thing. You can easily avoid Pokemon you don't wish to catch and have both better odds of finding and catching "shiny" Pokemon in Let's Go compared to entering random encounters in a mainline game and hoping your seemingly infinitesimal odds of having a "shiny" Pokemon appear work out for you.

Pikachu provides a charge of two types--a physical one AND an electrical one!
Like with Pokemon encounters and attempting to catch the precocious creatures, when you're playing with the Switch in its dock, you can enjoy Pokemon: Let's Go one-handed. You can opt to use either the left or right Joy-Con controller held in the palm of your hand, and this makes for an incredibly accessible and surprisingly enjoyable experience. Furthermore, if you purchase the Poke Ball Plus accessory, you can play the entire game using that.

What isn't so much accessible nor enjoyable is trying to pair and maintain contact with your Switch and phone in order to transfer Kanto region Pokemon from Pokemon Go to Pokemon: Let's Go. The myriad steps and technical errors that can easily pop up make for a constant headache, at least from my own experiences. Thankfully, one can also opt to trade Pokemon locally or online with friends, if the Pokemon GO option is deemed too taxing, as it was for me. Trading via a local wireless or online connection is relatively quick, painless, and can net you Pokemon that aren't available in your version of the game--as both Pikachu and Eevee versions house a handful of Pokemon that are only available to catch in those versions. It's nothing veteran players of the Pokemon series don't already know, but again, this game is also for new players of the mainline Pokemon games, too.

Eight gym leaders need to be beaten to acquire their badges, and then it's on to the Pokemon League!
Pokemon: Let's Go offers traditional trainer battles where the typical formula of battling Pokemon takes place. These are numerous throughout the game, easily totaling over 200 just through the base game--and that isn't even mentioning the all-new Master Trainers (each of which specializes in one Pokemon apiece, even using moves that that Pokemon isn't generally familiar with) that unlock once the story of the game has been beaten.

Defeating a Master Trainer will earn you a special Pokemon title.
For most players, however, Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! have battles that are an absolute breeze, especially if you tend to use your starter Pokemon--Pikachu in Let's Go, Pikachu! and Eevee in Let's Go, Eevee! (shockingly enough). Additionally, one can only face Magikarp in battle so many times before it gets repetitive. And don't get me started on those gimmick trainer battles where you have to face six Magikarp in a row, as a means to grate on my nerves, surely.

Erika brought a Grass Pokemon to a firefight. She will soon regret that mistake.
But for the problems that Pokemon: Let's Go does obviously have, somehow seeing the familiar Kanto landscape, towns, and areas re-envisioned in tremendous polygonal glory makes it all worthwhile of a game. Okay, and the lack of random Pokemon encounters, the included cuteness of being able to interact with either Pikachu or Eevee, the ability to ride or have Pokemon tag alongside you on the overworld, and the expanded upon story elements--they also help make the game very much worthwhile.

New cutscenes such as this liven up an already electrifying duo of games.
The visuals have a simple but extremely clean look to them. The color palette is full of warm, soft tones and colorful hues, and being able to explore areas that were once solely viewed in basic 2D sprite form on a small Game Boy or Game Boy Advance screen and see them now in 3D tugs on this 32-year-old's heartstrings. The orchestrated soundtrack, too, brought a smile to my face, and hearing familiar themes arranged with high quality sound and instruments is truly fantastic. Even if you don't have nostalgia for the original Pokemon games--which Game Freak intends with the arrival of so many new players from Pokemon GO--you can very much enjoy the Kanto region's sights and sounds.

Yes, you, too, can experience the Team Rocket Hideout puzzle tile rooms in 3D!
Pokemon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! present an easier, but enjoyable all the same, pair of Pokemon games that do enough to change the formula for the better to make for a worthy purchase for fans of the franchise. The requirement to catch Pokemon a la GO, may ruffle some Fearow feathers with more steadfast fans, but for everyone else, Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! offer tremendous value, a good amount of content, and plenty of Pokemon to catch, train, and master.

[SPC Says: A-]