Friday, February 22, 2019

The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels - Part Five

It's never a good feeling to be hyped for the next installment of one of your favorite franchises, and then POW! You're blindsided with an extremely disappointing game that hardly lives up to your anticipation and hype. That's the focus of The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels, and now we're at the fifth installment. This are six more of those games that were either rushed out, released in a broken or incomplete state, or were simply less than stellar experiences overall.

After you browse through and read up on the latest unfortunate games added to this growing series of articles, which game sequels that haven't already been mentioned in a previous article do you think should be added in a future installment?

For past installments, look no further than right here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4)

Despite enjoying a fair amount of my time with Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, it's hard not to be disappointed when comparing it to the PSP's installments. Absent is the RPG-like story mode with equipment, world map, and other pleasant features--instead what you got was an afterthought of a story, an online mode that seldom runs well, and three-on-three battles that are sensory overload, giving players a high, HIGH learning curve and more HUD elements than seemingly space to see the action.

While Dissidia Final Fantasy NT did well with making fun characters and relatively inoffensive arenas to do battle in, the actual battles are so hectic and crazy that it makes it difficult to not become overly frustrated. This three-on-three experiment didn't really work out as intended, leaving many Dissidia fans out in the cold, yearning for the glory days of the series.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4)

Also from Square Enix, the wait was rather lengthy for Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, the fifth installment in the long-running space opera RPG series. Sadly, the seven-year wait was decidedly not worth it. Star Ocean 5 faced a much lower budget compared to previous games in the series, and it definitely showed. Cutscenes were minimal, instead giving you full control of your character through the agonizingly long, unskippable dialog sequences.

What wasn't long, however, was the actual adventure itself. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness could be beaten in a couple dozen hours at most, and that's all the while dealing with your clumsy AI teammates and poor pacing throughout the game--such as the necessary backtracking from place to place. The rocky presentation values also cheapened the feel of the game, from some scenes and areas looking gorgeous to others looking poor and amateur at best.

While the Star Ocean series lives on in the mobile gaming sector, the franchise's chances to receive another console installment don't seem likely at this point in time. Perhaps that's the most disappointing part about Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness.

Mario Tennis Aces (NSW)

Of all the games on Part Five of The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels, none stung more than Mario Tennis Aces. It felt like getting a direct serve to the face. While the core gameplay and mechanics were rock solid, everything else about Aces--at least at launch--left much to be desired. The disappointment here came from a total lack of modes, options, and overall longevity. Characters were insanely unbalanced, especially Bowser Jr. and Waluigi; the Story Mode was light on content, as was much of Mario Tennis Aces in general. The game since launch has grown with new features and welcomed additions, and while Aces is a much better and really enjoyable game now, it was most disappointing that players and owners of the game had to wait several months for the game to get a state it should have been in at launch.

Sonic Forces (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Sonic Forces is another game that I enjoyed overall, despite the game receiving a savage beatdown by both critics and players alike, but it's not difficult to diagnose Forces as a huge disappointment. Sonic Forces took four years or so of development time, and with that time, many Sonic fans, including myself, thought that this extra dev time would result in a much better game, more similar to Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations than Sonic Lost World.

Unfortunately, those thoughts (or maybe they were just foolish hopes?) were quickly shot down after Sonic Forces was eventually revealed and subsequent launched, using many reused assets from past games and a quick 3-5 campaign. The story was as nonsense as ever, and the desire of the devs to return to a "darker" take on it made for a myriad of eyes rolling at once. While the avatar and customization features were nice, overall, Sonic Forces just didn't do enough to impress after four years of development, giving the franchise another black eye after it had done so well with the fantastic Sonic Mania.

Spider-Man 3 (PS3, 360, PC)

We've been through Square Enix and two platforming all-stars so far, and now it's Activision's turn to get some criticism with some disappointing games. Spider-Man 3 was much hyped by yours truly and many others, as it was coming off the excellent Spider-Man 2. That game at the time was one of the best superhero video games ever concocted--much less the best Spider-Man game to many. Going from that to Spider-Man 3 left a bad taste in many gamers' mouths.

The main issue with Spider-Man 3 was the copious amount of glitches present in the game, sometimes vexing, sometimes unintentionally funny, and sometimes both. The lack of polish on Spider-Man 3 to have it out for release in time for the film was immense, and it soured a lot of the goodwill Activision possessed from fans of previous webhead games. As we'll see with the next and final game on this edition of The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels, Spider-Man 3 wouldn't be the last time Activision would hastily push out a game for release to the detriment of the product and the series.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 (PS4, XB1, PS3, 360)

Ah, yes... Last but certainly least, we have Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5. If Tony Hawk's Ride and Shred killed the series dead, then Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 was the one that nailed the coffin shut. However, unlike the other games on this list, THPS 5 isn't really a surprise that its quality was poor. In fact, it was pretty obvious, as the game was quickly assembled together over the course of a few months in order for Activision to unload a game before its license with Tony Hawk expired.

The fact that this shoddy, broken, bug and glitch-ridden mess of a game is the last in the series--completely crapping over the rich history of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, all for the sake of money--is the most disappointing aspect of all with THPS 5. To put it in skateboarding terms, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 didn't just bomb at retail and in reviews, it bailed so hard that it almost retroactively ruined the series' name. Thankfully, it's just "almost".

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Most Overlooked Current Gen Games - Part Seven

It's been a bit of a homecoming of sorts here at SuperPhillip Central. We had a new edition of a longtime SuperPhillip Central favorite series of articles with Best Boss Battles in Gaming History's 20th outing, and now we have one of the longest running article series with "Most Overlooked" getting another entry. These upcoming Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo 3DS games flew under the radar for most system owners, but here's hoping that I can spark some interest in these otherwise enjoyable games.

Take a glimpse at all six past parts with the following links, and then get ready for Part Seven to follow!

Current Gen - Part One
Current Gen - Part Two
Current Gen - Part Three
Current Gen - Part Four
Current Gen - Part Five
Current Gen - Part Six

The Crew 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

We begin this installment with a duo of Ubisoft games. The first of which is The Crew 2. The original game had an open-world United States where you could drive anywhere you wanted. Of course, this version of the States wasn't 1:1 compared to the real thing, but it was an exciting playground all the same. The Crew 2 expanded upon the driving of the original game while offering brand new flight and boat options. A multitude of event types were available for proficient players to pass and master, and the story took itself far less seriously than the rather irksome tone of the original. One possible bump in the road for The Crew 2--much like the original Crew--was its need for players to always be online in order to play the game. This brings up the concern of how useless will your copy of the game be when the servers finally go offline whenever they do? Still, driving cross-country with your own crew of friends and randoms online was a rush of a ride that I hope more players try out.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC)

Ubisoft was rather late to the party on the whole toys-to-life game genre. In fact, the genre is pretty much dead aside from Nintendo's amiibo line, and that's more for collection purposes anyhow. Even the Nintendo Switch exclusive addition of Star Fox to Starlink: Battle for Atlas couldn't do much to stop the game and its bundle from approaching bargain pin pricing mere months after launch. Better pricing means it's all the more easier to dive into the galaxy of Starlink, visit and explore mysterious planets, soar through the stars, and tackle engaging missions--all the while progressing through the  overarching story. The toys that come with Starlink aren't even required to enjoy the game, much less even play it. They're merely optional and are there more for the young'ins out there. The Nintendo Switch version of Starlink receives even more Star Fox-related content this April, so for Switch owners, there's no better time to enter the cockpit and brave the stars than now. For every other platform, the low price for the games in both physical and digital make for a worthwhile purchase today as well.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

The strategy RPG series Valkyria Chronicles returned to the battlefield this past fall, but it certainly didn't receive a hero's welcome. In fact, it didn't receive much of a welcome at all. Though critics and fans who played this tactical game enjoyed it and it reviewed well, Valkyria Chronicles 4 got lost in the shuffle and the hustle and bustle of the packed holiday gaming season. Unfortunate, for sure, as the new and refined gameplay systems in Valkyria Chronicles 4 make it one of the best entries in the franchise. The new "Brave" system, for instance, added a fresh spin on the series, and the return to a more serious tone in nature made for a game in VC4 that had some intensity and high stakes to it. Whether we'll see a Valkyria Chronicles 5 is up in the air, but if we don't, at least the series will have ended (or at least put on hiatus) on a remarkably high note.

The World Ends With You: Final Remix (NSW)

From a tactical RPG to an action RPG, we gaze upon an overlooked high-definition remaster of a cult favorite Nintendo DS game with The World Ends With You: Final Remix. No doubt the gaming world is insanely focused on Kingdom Hearts III, but director Tetsuya Nomura also had a hand in creating this DS-born series. Containing an additional, long-teased story chapter, new gameplay elements, touch screen or Joy-Con-based controls, and other updates to the game, The World Ends With You: Final Remix was a Switch exclusive that didn't gain much traction with the audience. No doubt the October release date didn't do this remaster any favors, nor did the bad press regarding the control scheme gameplay changes in comparison to the Nintendo DS original. Still, if you've never played The World Ends With You and are looking for a new Switch game to play (if the releases will let up, that is), then Final Remix is a great entry point.

Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido (NSW, 3DS)

A June 2018 release that was simply overlooked completely by the Nintendo Switch and 3DS audiences--including Nintendo itself by the understandable lack of promotion--Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido is a fast-paced puzzle game where rows of different color sushi dishes roll across the various conveyor belts. As you link similarly colored sushi dishes together, you create combos. The higher the combo you obtain, the more plates you get in your arsenal to throw your opponent's way, causing damage. Beware, however, as if you get greedy and hold your combo chain for too long, it'll break and you'll get nothing for your efforts. A myriad amount of rules and variables are introduced in Sushi Striker's rather lengthy campaign, offering things like Sushi Spirits to add to your arsenal, items, and much more. The anime cutscenes and lovingly done voicework make for a puzzle package that is heavy on charm and humor. It doesn't matter which version of Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido one chooses, as it's guaranteed to find a cozy place in one's palette--if you can overcome the incredibly crazy concept that is matching and then flinging sushi plates at opponents.

Trine 2: Complete Story (NSW) Review

We go from one puzzle platformer to another, though now we enter a game with combat and in two-dimensions as opposed to three. It's Trine 2: Complete Story on the Nintendo Switch, and SuperPhillip Central has this full review for you.

A game that sometimes was "Trine" my patience, but is an overall gem.

My first encounter with the Trine series was on the Wii U with--funnily enough--Trine 2: Director's Cut. Now, many years later I return to Trine 2 with Trine 2: Complete Story, which is essentially the same game as the Wii U version but without the aid of the Wii U GamePad's multiple uses such as the touch screen.

What you get with Trine 2: Complete Story is 20 levels spread out across two unique stories--the original Trine 2 game that encompasses 13 levels, and The Goblin Menace--formerly DLC to the base game--that contains 7 unique levels, one of which is hidden and requires you to find secret maps in treasure chests to unlock it.

The gang's all here... again!
Trine 2 stars a trio of protagonists that can be switched and cycled through with the shoulder buttons. You have Amadeus the Wizard, who can conjure boxes and later planks out of thin air. These boxes can hold down pressure plates, be used as platforms to reach higher up destinations, and a multitude of various other uses.

Amadeus the Wizard can not only summon boxes by drawing a box shape with the right analog stick,
but he can also use his powers to manipulate and move other objects within the environment. 
Then, there's Pontius the Knight, who is the muscle and brawn of the group of heroes. He is best suited for combat, equipped with a sword and shield--the latter of which can reflect enemy projectiles and block attacks. Also equipped with a hammer that can be thrown at will, this hammer can break open otherwise impenetrable walls and chambers.

What is Pontius' favorite Peter Gabriel song? "Sledgehammer", of course.
Finally, Zoya the Thief is probably my favorite of the three to play as--but don't get me wrong, each of the trio has their own uses and completing the game with just one hero is pretty much impossible. Zoya can attach a grappling hook to wooden surfaces and swing across chasms and gaps. The attached line can allow Zoya to lower and raise herself as the situation calls. For her offensive capabilities, she has equipped a bow and arrow, able to pick off and snipe enemies from far away.

Zoya leaps into action as the most mobile and agile of our three heroes.
As stated, each of the three heroes depends on one another. While many puzzles have more than way of solving them--that is, with a little ingenuity, patience, and otherwise occasional stubbornness--sometimes a specific character is necessary to make progress. Thankfully, Trine 2's checkpoint system has it where not does your progress in the level save upon reaching them so you can quit and come back to the game later to pick up right where you left off (levels are quite long, so this is a godsend), but your characters and their health are fully restored when you reach a checkpoint. Well, unless you play the Hardcore Mode, where once a character is dead, they're dead for good until you beat the level. This is not for the weak, for sure--which is why I didn't play it!

In the majority of levels in Trine 2, there are experience orbs that are carefully placed and hidden throughout the levels. Many of these are housed in some devious locations that require either some clever sleuthing to discover them and/or tricky platforming to reach them. When enough experience orbs are collected (the exact number is fifty), players earn a skill point. These points can then be used in the skill tree menu to earn new abilities for our three heroes.

These abilities range from allowing Amadeus to have the power to have more conjured boxes and planks on screen at the same time, to giving Pontius a charge attack, and to granting Zoya explosive arrows that serve a similar use to Pontius' hammer throw, albeit a much quicker form of attack. So, not only is there impetus to seek out and collect experience orbs, but it's usually just plain fun to do so. You really get to appreciate the level and puzzle design on display in Trine 2.

Pontius holds up his shield, ready to guard against this goblin's arrow.
Trine 2 does suffer some slight and small issues. One of these pertains to this Switch port. I noticed some artifacts appearing on the very bottom 1% of the screen at some portions of levels. This came rarely, so it wasn't really annoying--just noticeable. What is pretty much a standard problem with the Trine series in general is that platforming can be a bit on the finicky side. When trying to land on very narrow platforms, I tended to overcompensate because I couldn't tell if my character was actually staying put, often resulting in unwanted falls and even deaths.

Platforming can be a little tricky in the Trine series, and that continues with Trine 2: Complete Story.
With the bad out of the way, Trine 2: Complete Story looks absolutely sensational visually. The game features so many breathtaking vistas and environments that it's just a joy to sit back and gaze upon the backgrounds and levels. There might be a bit more bloom in the game than I would have liked, sometimes making it difficult to see certain objects in the environment, but overall, Trine 2 remains a gorgeous game after all of this time. The voicework is charming, well acted and performed, and the music evokes the fantasy world feel Trine 2 portrays.

Unlike Zoya, you don't even have to be on 'shrooms to enjoy the visuals on offer in this game.
Trine 2: Complete Story is just as great as it was when the original game initially released. Whether playing alone, locally or online with friends (good luck finding any randoms to play with online, though), Trine 2: Complete Story is a worthwhile adventure featuring smart and crafty puzzles, superb level design, a stellar physics system, and a glorious presentation.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by the developer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Elli (NSW) Review

Elli is a Nintendo Switch exclusive that is a pleasant mix of platforming and puzzle-solving. However, that "pleasant" combination is over far too soon. See SuperPhillip Central's full thoughts on Elli with this review.

Elli Enchanted

When Elli's sister steals the five crystals that keep the world from falling apart, Elli must go after her, recover the crystals, and do this before the end of her birthday. Along the way, Elli encounters all types of Mandragora creatures that inhabit the world, providing assistance when they can. The most helpful Mandragora sit by gongs, ringing them when Elli passes by them, serving as checkpoints.

Elli's adventure has our titular heroine pursuing her crystal-stealing sister.
Elli is a puzzle platformer set in a 3D world with an isometric camera view. There is no combat to speak of at all within the game, but Elli herself can take damage and even die from fireballs, electric panels, missed jumps into bottomless pits, and so forth. Being a puzzle platformer, Elli has you carefully leaping across chasms, timing your jumps for successful landings across moving, mechanized platforms, and evading hazards with deft precision. This is all the while solving environmental puzzles of a rather nice variety.

With platforms that crumble when stepped on and fire jets, this platforming sequence is all about timing.
The puzzles start out simple enough, but by the end of the game, you'll be taking pause and scratching your head at some of the devious challenges put ahead of you. Whether you're flipping a switch to open a door (whether permanently or needing to rush to get through the passage before it closes), putting a block on a button to hold it down in place, collecting keys, gathering gears to fix a machine, or solving color-coded door puzzles, Elli introduces each concept well before further expanding on them with more challenging versions of the base puzzles. Many times you'll be faced with multiple puzzle types in one overarching puzzle.

Another chamber of platforms and puzzles for Elli to solve.
At five points in Elli's journey, she'll enter a rift area that takes the platforming and puts it into two-dimensions. In these rifts, Elli gets empowered with the ability to double jump as well as perform a "blink" maneuver--that is, a midair rush in which she instantly transports a few feet ahead of her. The goal of these rifts to retrieve one of the crystals stolen and clumsily dropped by Elli's sister. These segments do a nice job of breaking up the game and freshening things up.

Elli has a strict linear approach to its structure, even blocking you off from backtracking to previous rooms. While it would be nice to return to past areas, there's no real design reason to in the game. The only collectibles are currency and Hat Coins, and while the latter is the most limited to discover in the game, there are more than enough to purchase everything in the game's shop without needing to find and collect each and every Hat Coin.

Thank goodness Elli did her carb-loading before this strenuous adventure!
Still, there's little longevity to be found in Elli's five-or-so hour adventure. Sure, I wish to replay the game in the future due to enjoying my time platforming and puzzle-solving, but there really isn't much else to offer. Perhaps something as simple as a death count with online leaderboards that tally up how many times Elli perished in my run through the game would give me more motivation to return to developer Bandana Kid's offering. Heck, even achievements would fit the bill. Just something to make playing through Elli more than once more worthwhile other than "just because".

Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer, especially since
you can't return to this area after you leave it.
To compare Elli to a 3D platformer such as the likes of Mario would be a fallacy. We'd be comparing budgets of an indie studio to the biggest game maker in the industry. Thus, I'm more forgiving toward the lesser polish and graphical glitches that Elli possesses. The frame-rate does stutter here and there, and there are platforms and areas that look like you should be able to jump on them, but instead, Elli simply falls through them. That's slightly more of an issue that I can't really pardon as easily. Meanwhile, the music is suitable for each area of the game, and it never gets obnoxious or grating.

Elli is an adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I just wish there was more to it, especially considering its $20 price tag. Some form of extra or piece of longevity like achievements, unlockables, or leaderboards would make for a more replay-able game, but as it is, Elli is a game with clever ideas and puzzle design, but not enough meat to it to satisfy those who decide to bite on its current price.

[SPC Says: C+]

Review copy provided by the publisher.