Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review Round-Up - April / May 2019

SuperPhillip Central certainly enjoyed Kingdom Hearts III and will continue to do so until
kingdom come! It's SPC's featured game this Review Round-Up!
Because it'd look pretty pitiful to just have two games reviewed in one month (both receiving a C+ for that matter), the Review Round-Up this time around combines the months of April and May into one nice and neat Round-Up!

We began with the aforementioned duo of C+ graded games, Shadow Blade: Reload and the surprising return of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. After that, we jumped a whole grade letter with a B+ from Aggelos, a terrific action-adventure platformer with old school style and difficulty. Then, we took two whole grade steps back with Dissidia Final Fantasy NT earning a disappointing D+. Katamari Damacy Reroll got us back in a positive groove with a B grade, followed by two B+ scores for the innovative and creative Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit and the insanely enjoyable Team Sonic Racing. Finally, Kingdom Hearts III represents our Featured Game of the Month(s) with a tremendous A grade!

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

Shadow Blade: Reload (NSW) - C+
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (NSW) - C+
Aggelos (NSW, PC) - B+
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) - D+
Katamari Damacy Reroll (NSW, PC) - B
Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 03: Vehicle Kit (NSW) - B+
Team Sonic Racing (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) - B+
Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1) - A

Speed freaks, start your engines because Team Sonic Racing is one terrific racing title from Sumo Digital.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1) Review

Welcome to SuperPhillip Central's concluding review for the month of May. It's Kingdom Hearts III, and while SPC's a little late to the party, taking the sweet time to finish this game 100% was most definitely worth it. See why with this review!

Kingdom Come

It's been a long time coming, but Kingdom Hearts III finally released earlier this year. Capping off one of the longest recurring sagas in gaming today, does Kingdom Hearts III end the story with a bang or a whimper?

Kingdom Hearts III directly follows the events of Dream Drop Distance, and has Master Yen Sid tasking Sora to relearn the power of waking to assist several of his friends whose hearts are lost to the darkness. Oh, and to also do that little thing about defeating the big bad of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Master Xehanort, who wishes to rule Kingdom Hearts for his own ill wishes. By venturing across several worlds with his pals Donald and Goofy, Sora might just be able to achieve this goal, save his friends, and defeat Master Xehanort and all of his Organization XIII cronies.

The story of the Kingdom Hearts series is known to be a convoluted one, and a bit of a mess at that. Kingdom Hearts III tries to remedy this with featured sections within its Gummiphone menu that are dedicated to mentioning key events through past games as well as characters as a means to get both new and returning players up to speed on the story. While it won't make anyone actually understand the complicated and sometimes utterly nonsensical "we're making this up as we go along" plot and story threads of the series, it is an appreciated addition.

Sora, Donald and Goofy return, and like any Kingdom Hearts adventure,
new Disney friends join up along the way.
Kingdom Hearts III brings with it a slew of options available to players through combat. You get a plethora of battle and movement skills that can be equipped to Sora for the price of a handful of his total allotment of ability points (AP) which increase as he gains experience levels. These range from allowing Sora to counter attacks with well timed guards, perform double jumps, and even glide across areas in the game. Many of these are story-related gets, so your fighting capabilities and strategies grow with Sora.

Take that, you damned, dirty Heartless!
Apart from using Sora's Keyblade in battle to unleash a flurry of attacks on foes, as well as utilize magic spells, which can be mapped to a shortcut menu for easy access, Kingdom Hearts III introduces unique abilities and helpful moves that can be unleashed in combat in collaboration with your own party members. A bar above the action commands menu slowly grows, and upon reaching its maximum, Sora gains the ability to change his currently equipped Keyblade into new forms. Finishing each world and completing other requirements within the game unlocks new Keyblades for Sora to equip, up to three you can cycle between with the left and right D-Pad directions. When in a new form, these Keyblades can take out enemies with effortless ease--or at least deal tons of damage that would make otherwise lengthy encounters less demanding, turning Sora's Keyblade into a series of arrow-shooting guns or becoming a powerful set of twisting yo-yo gears.

"Snow" time like the present to give these frozen foes
a n-"ice" sl-"ice" with Sora's Keyblade! (Sorry, not sorry.)
Other new additions to jazz up the tried and true and ever-exciting combat of the Kingdom Hearts series in this third numbered installment is that of attractions and team up attacks. Attractions allow Sora, Donald, and Goofy to ride in amusement park contraptions like revolving carousels and tea cups and a giant swing pirate ship to attack enemies in fully interactive sequences. The windup sequences for these can thankfully be skipped--or removed altogether in one of the option menus within the game--and the attractions themselves can be cancelled out of at any time in case you grow weary of seeing the entire sequence unfold.

Meanwhile team up attacks allow Sora to--as one would assume by the name--team up with one of his party members to let loose a devastating attack on nearby foes. Such attacks include launching a series of fireworks with Donald, or boarding a rocket with Toy Story's Woody and Buzz to soar around the screen, ramming into foes. This is in addition to things like Shotlocks and Dream Drop Distance's Flowmotion combat, though the latter isn't necessary to utilize much at all to succeed in battle.

Hercules spins Sora around like a record for this particular team up attack.
While the additions to combat are delightful and freshen up the formula well, they can also make battles a bit too easy, or at the very least easier than past games. As stated, these attacks deal plenty of damage to foes, which with their absence would make encounters be much more lengthier if they weren't utilized at all. This means you're almost forced to use these or else have the combat bring the pacing of the game to a slow crawl with every encounter. Still, a completely positive addition is the inclusion of the new Proud mode, making it so even with using attractions, team up attacks, links, Keyblade transformations, and so forth, battles still require a great deal of competent play and superb reflexes.

Past Kingdom Hearts games were released on less powerful hardware, and really, the games couldn't fully realize their various Disney and original worlds to a special degree. Instead, worlds were claustrophobic and comprised of small, decidedly basic and empty rooms linked together by endless loading screens. While loading screens are a part of Kingdom Hearts III, with this latest chapter in the series, worlds are extravagant, large, and dense. The simplicity of past games in their design is a thing of the past in Kingdom Hearts III, as the worlds of Hercules, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc. feature sophisticated designs, plenty of verticality, well hidden secrets, plenty to see, do, and explore without running into the traditionally bare and basic designs of past games in the series. Exploration wields great rewards through treasure chests and a new addition to the series, Lucky Emblems, which are in the shape of King Mickey's head and unlock rare materials and offer goodies through taking pictures of them.

Worlds in Kingdom Hearts III are vast, expansive, and dense with points of interest.
That's not even talking about how varied each world is in Kingdom Hearts III. In one world you're tackling the threat of the Titans in Olympus while another you're venturing through the snowy countryside of Frozen's Arendelle with complete faithful rendition of "Let It Go" featured along the way. Toy Story's world has you visiting Andy's House at the start before going to the multi-floored Al's Toy Barn where you can enter into and pilot a giant toy mech to take on enemies, whereas the Pirates of the Caribbean's titular sea allows you to sail around it and explore islands in your own ship, doing full scale battles at sea with other ships. No matter what world you're in, you're doing something unique in Kingdom Hearts III, and it keeps this 50+ hour game feeling fresh and fun throughout its entire duration.

Traveling to and from worlds is performed with the return of the Gummi Ship. Rather than limit players to an on-rails shooter experience, Kingdom Hearts III's Gummi Ship opens things up considerably with fully open areas to venture through, coming across various destinations while participating in battles either with waves of enemies or special bosses--unlike the open area exploration, battles return to on-rails action. This is all the while being able to discover treasure and customize your Gummi Ship to your liking with either custom designs or premade pieces. The controls can be a little bit confusing and the actual camera when moving around in the Gummi Ship can be a touch disorienting as well. Thankfully, once you've arrived at a world from reaching it with the Gummi Ship, you can simply fast travel there instead of taking the ship through the expansive space zones to once again reach them. I should also mention that fast travel between save points in a given world is also available and much appreciated, too.

Hey! I'm not the enemy, Sora! Don't come running after me!
Kingdom Hearts III doesn't have as much post-game content to it in the form of super bosses, unfortunately--there's actually just one super boss after beating the game--but that doesn't mean there isn't a great deal of content throughout the game to complete if your heart (pun intended) so desires. From collectible classic mini-games that have you playing old school LCD games to full fledged mini-games like a fun snow sledding game in Arendelle, a rhythm-based dancing game in Tangled's Kingdom of Corona world, or participating in one of the many Flan-tastic games that hand out some killer rewards for completing them, to fulfilling Mog the Moogle's photo missions, and completing the various sections of Sora's Gummiphone, there is A LOT to do in Kingdom Hearts III. While the Platinum trophy isn't too taxing to earn overall difficulty-wise, it will take a great deal of time and effort to acquire. Regardless, it surely is an enjoyable one to obtain all the same.

Thankfully, Sora has no fear of heights in him.
It's no secret that Kingdom Hearts III is an deliciously gorgeous game with terrific colors, vibrant visuals, and sensational sights and sounds. Even though I didn't really understand everything that each character referenced from past Kingdom Hearts games, I didn't really care, as everything was so beautiful to look at. The cutscenes are stylistically done and given extreme effort to look as quality as anything I've seen in a game in a long time, and I especially love how scenes appear to seamlessly transition into actual gameplay. I haven't this blown away with a game's presentation in a while, and I'm just lucky the gameplay is as up to snuff as it is.

I, too, like you, Sora and company, am amazed by Kingdom Hearts III.
I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention the insanely incredible soundtrack, with the majority of its music created by main series composer Yoko Shimomura. Between the all-new themes included to hearing familiar themes from previous installments but this time in full, orchestrated glory, the Kingdom Hearts III soundtrack is without question my favorite of the year thus far. The work put into the soundtrack by the talented roster of composers including Yoko Shimomura is an absolute delight, and I will no doubt be purchasing the soundtrack whenever it finally becomes available.

I didn't quite grow up with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. I played a game here and there, but the series as a whole didn't have a demonstrable impact on my gaming life growing up. However, seeing how much I was enthralled by the epic adventure through enjoyable Disney worlds that were actually a blast to explore and get lost in--with seldom a loading screen in sight--tremendous and exciting combat, and a difficulty that I was able to enjoy without being overly frustrated, I can only imagine how overjoyed and moved longtime fans of Kingdom Hearts are with the release of Kingdom Hearts III. It's a magnificent game, even without my lack of experience with the franchise (or understanding of the overall story), making it one of my favorites of the year and in a while. Some elements bring the experience down ultimately, such as the Gummi Ship and endless stream of cutscenes (albeit skip-able), but Kingdom Hearts III succeeds in being a brilliant ending to Sora's first saga.

[SPC Says: A]

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Team Sonic Racing (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

A new review is ready and here for SuperPhillip Central's readers to enjoy. It's for a game that released this past Tuesday on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam--Team Sonic Racing. Let's step into the driver seat and check it out with this review.

Everybody's Team Sonic Racing (well, except SEGA's all-stars, of course!)

Getting the initial disappointment out of the way that SEGA's various all-stars are not included or represented in this game, Team Sonic Racing is a rather entertaining arcade racer that features the Blue Blur and his friends (and enemies) as they compete against one another to cross the finish line first. However, as the name of the game suggests, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to Team Sonic Racing, as a primary mechanic within the game is racing as three character teams. 

Characters on the same team can perform all sorts of strategic racing maneuvers and abilities to edge out the other teams on the track, whether it's having the lead player on the team provide a trail for the lagging players to follow and receive a slingshot boost from to propel them further ahead, or passing by slowed down or completely stopped teammates to provide them a healthy pick-me-up boost. 

Before you ask, yes, solo races where every animal or Eggman
is for themselves is available in Team Sonic Racing.
Then, there's the clever item mechanic. Being a team-based game, you can pass items to your teammates by hitting one of the face buttons instead of using the item yourself. The player who essentially "calls dibs" on it receives a randomized but stronger item to use to help them get back into the race--or fend off comers-behind, as it were. I found myself having the items passed to me in first place, and many times it'd be a x3 weapon of some type that I could use two of them and then pass the final one off to another teammate who would receive a new item from it. 

Team Rose is ready and raring to go!
As slingshot boosts, slipboosts, the sharing of items, and also rival takedowns occur, a gauge that is always situated at the back of your character's vehicle slowly builds up energy. At its climax, you can use an Ultimate Boost, which greatly propels you forward, plowing through opponents at an insane speed. This can be hard to control, but it's an easy way to pick up a few places (or several) in a race. Ultimate Boosts last a decent amount of time and can be earned multiple times in a race, making it so it's invaluable to utilize competent teamwork. There is no "I" in team, after all--if you'll pardon the old adage and cliche.

The character who leads their team will leave a yellow trail for
their teammates to ride along on and get a boost from.
Of course, none of this competent teamwork works if you don't have competent teammates. This isn't so much a factor when playing with other players you can communicate with them (mostly in a local sense, as my online experiences in the PlayStation 4 version saw completely silent rooms), but when you're playing with two AI teammates, they can be a bit daft, to put it nicely. They aren't the best drivers on the track, and will often find themselves in the middle or back of the pack, requiring you to babysit them a little bit. Normal difficulty doesn't really have you encounter this issue much, but when you reach the harder difficulties in the game, you'll notice it and it's quite frustrating. Nothing like you getting first place while your teammates lag behind in the pack, costing your whole team a race or Grand Prix in the process. Yes, there is a mode for races where everyone is out for themselves, it fails to excite as much as team racing aspect of the game.

"Quit being so pushy, Sonic! I'm on your team!"
This leads to another issue with Team Sonic Racing. While I can appreciate the length of the tracks within the game, repeated playthroughs--especially if you have to replay a Grand Prix because your AI teammates weren't up to task in one of the four races--make them feel like chores to play. They're simply too long, with many taking upwards of five minutes total to complete. That notwithstanding, all 21 of the tracks are cleverly designed and all a blast to play on. That said, only about a dozen are actually brand-new. Others are lifted from past Sumo Digital Sonic and SEGA themed racers, albeit with a fresh coat of paint and have never looked or have been better than before.

The main solo mode within Team Sonic Racing is the Team Adventure mode. If you've played a past Sumo Digital Sonic racing game, then you'll feel right at home here. The mode puts you through a basic story with a budgeted look to it--for instance, there are no cinematics, just character portraits against a static background talking--where you compete in various challenges to earn stars. Progress is gated behind these stars, so you'll want to try your best in each challenge. These range from standard team races to elimination races, ring challenges with the goal of collecting as many rings as possible before time runs out, traffic attack challenges where you avoid static and moving robots on the track as you drive through gates, and daredevil challenges where you drive through rings on either side of a goal post and try not to brush up against the post itself. 

With the track design in Team Sonic Racing, the sky is literally the limit!
Team Adventure is the meatiest part of Team Sonic Racing, consisting of seven chapters and multiple challenge types, making for an enjoyable mode while it lasts. Like previous Sumo Digital Sonic racers, you can play with a friend in Team Adventure. This makes some challenges much easier, as your scores are added together as you play, making challenges that would otherwise be a pain to complete alone all the simpler to beat and earn all stars on.

Team Sonic Racing features three classes of characters: Speed (Sonic, Amy, Blaze, Shadow, and Metal Sonic), Technique (Tails, Chao, Silver, Rouge, and Eggman), and Power (Knuckles, Big, Vector, Omega, and Zavok). Speed characters have the highest top speed, Technqiue characters can drive off-road without being slowed down, and Power characters can plow through obstacles without spinning out. Each class comes complete with their own disadvantages as well, from Speed characters' low acceleration and defense to Power characters having a combination of poor top speed and lackluster handling. 

Speed characters like Sonic and Blaze have the highest top speed available in the game.
These can be remedied a little bit by the car customization options in the game with parts earned from a Gacha-like machine that uses in-game currency to use. While the customization options aren't too extravagant, you can alter the color (though you can only choose from a selection of paint job palettes instead of using whatever colors you want), place vinyls (also limited in what you can do), and change the sound of your vehicle's horn.

Familiar tracks bring new sights to behold in Team Sonic Racing.
Both local and online multiplayer are available in Team Sonic Racing, but at least with the PlayStation 4 version I was never able to find a full room in my time online. Part of me thinks this is because it's split up between ranked and casual and teams and solo, but another part just thinks the game just doesn't have the userbase on the PS4. Hopefully Team Sonic Racing is merely a slow burner, but things aren't too encouraging on the online player front at this time. The actual racing online fares better with near flawless performance, which I appreciated greatly. Once you actually get to race with opponents, Team Sonic Racing is a great deal of fun online.

If you mind the chatter, then you can turn it off in the Options menu.
While things like occasionally inadequate AI teammates and a lackluster online player base do throw a wrench in the overall enjoyment of Team Sonic Racing, it's crystal clear that Sumo Digital has once again nailed the feel of the vehicles and the overall joy of racing in the game. Controlling each vehicle is a pleasure, and drifting around corners is a thrill, as is performing risk vs. reward tricks in midair, where failing to land a trick successfully results in your character spinning out. 

If you take Team Sonic Racing for what it is, a Sonic the Hedgehog-themed racer that isn't so much a history of the franchise in racing game form and more of modern racer with Sonic characters, then you'll find a good deal to love with Team Sonic Racing. Sumo Digital's always stellar gameplay when it comes to the arcade racing feel is here, and the track design is pretty impressive despite lacking the transformation mechanics of their previous SEGA racer. Team Sonic Racing may not be "way past cool", but it's cool all the same.

[SPC Says: B+]