Thursday, June 27, 2019

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW) Review

What a treat the start of summer has been so far! Last night SuperPhillip Central reviewed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and it was a greatly adored game. Now, we have Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled to sink out teeth in to, and the review is all revved up and ready to burn some rubber. Check it out.

Kart racing with Bandicoot Power

The original Crash Team Racing owed a good deal to mascot racers of the past for it to come in to fruition. There's of course the Mario Kart series for building a successful foundation, as well as Diddy Kong Racing for which CTR's Adventure Mode was clearly inspired by. That notwithstanding, the original Crash Team Racing added enough to the formula with its unique and high skill ceiling that the game rightfully earned its place among the best in the genre.

Now, Activision and Beenox have brought CTR back with a remarkable remake with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, taking all of the content from Crash Team Racing and throwing in all of the characters and tracks from Crash Nitro Kart as well to create what should be one of the best mascot racers around. While it certainly lives up to the original, there are some niggling issues that put the brakes on Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled being the best kart racer in town.

Bandicoot power is back, Crashamaniacs!
CTR is a highly technical racer, and one that requires some patience and perseverance to get a hold of. The main reason for this is the high bar of entry that comes from the drifting and boosting system. Rather than modern Mario Kart's boosting system where the longer you drift, the longer your boost when you exit your drift, Crash Team Racing uses a gauge as you drift. When the gauge gets full enough, you hit the opposite shoulder button to let loose a boost--this is all the while using proper timing to get as much boost energy as possible without failing. You can unleash up to three boosts in one drift, and at the start, it can be quite overwhelming to watch your boost gauge (or alternately the smoke from your exhaust) to determine when to hit the button to boost properly. However, with practice, one can use muscle memory to chain boosts together quite easily.

That said, it's because of this barrier of entry because of drifting and boosting that Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled isn't exactly the most beginner-friendly racer out there--nor is it the most accessible. It's not quite the game to bring out for parties or game nights with lesser experienced friends, as with my experiences with my own friends new to the game, frustration and boredom set in way before there was time for fun and excitement.

Another reason for this is that of the items in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Once a player gains a significant lead, there's really no way to catch them. Items are a crap shoot, favoring more attacking opponents in the middle of the pack rather than first place. A sensationally skilled player will have no problem breaking out from the pack of racers and leaving them in the dust while everyone else beats each other senseless with items. There are no Mario Kart racing miracles here.

When first place can earn an Aku-Aku invincibility mask, you can guess that the item balance is a bit off.
Still, if you can manage to hop over the preliminary hurdle, you'll find a highly enjoyable racer here. One main part of this is the brilliant track design, spanning over 30 tracks between the original Crash Team Racing and its non-Naughty Dog-made sequel Crash Nitro Kart. The latter are just as quality of races as the former, though CNK has many more hazards on tracks to worry about--plus they're generally significantly longer races overall. All are littered with cool shortcuts that require skill to achieve. It's not as simple as using a boost to speed across a patch of grass--it's more pressing the button to have your kart hop so you catch enough air to land on an otherwise inaccessible part of track to shave precious seconds off your time and/or cut your opponents off at the pass. From tropical jungles and sandy coves, to polar mountain passes and neon cities, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled really doesn't have a stinker in the whole slew of tracks the game contains. It's really a matter of quality AND quantity in the game without the need to settle for one or the other.

Don't worry--Coco Bandicoot and Pura both looked before they leaped.
The main single player draw of the original CTR was its Adventure mode, and this closely followed what Diddy Kong Racing created on the Nintendo 64. You explore simple hub worlds (though in CTR they are merely a means to get from one race to another rather than adventurous worlds to discover goodies in) and participate in races. There are four tracks per world, and upon finishing all four in a given world, a race against that world's boss opens up. These boss races aren't nearly as enjoyable as Diddy Kong Racing's as you're against characters that love using rubber-band AI and littering the track with items. No matter how big your lead is on these boss characters, they quickly gain on you in later difficulties and proceed to pass you, once again spamming items behind them.

This is a good time to speak about the difficulty of the Adventure mode in general. Easy mode is way too much of a breeze to beat, while Normal mode is a little too challenging, particularly with the aforementioned boss races. Meanwhile, Hard is just ridiculous. The balance of these modes seem off overall, but if you want a challenge, you'll certainly get on with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled's Adventure mode.

Apart from standard races are optional CTR Challenges where you must collect the letters C, T, and R which are scattered about tracks--usually in hard-to-reach or time-costing locations--AND win the race. There is also something called the Relic Race which is like a time trial, save for the fact that you're tasked with breaking time crates that range from 1-3 seconds, each pausing the timer for that many seconds as you compete against the clock to get under a certain time. These modes are a great deal of fun, and they can all be played outside of the Adventure mode as well. This is great if you'd like to compete in these challenges in the Crash Nitro Kart tracks, which are not featured whatsoever in Adventure mode. It's purely CTR there--though in Nitro-Fueled you can choose which character you'd like to race as instead of being purely limited to Crash as your Adventure mode racer.

Old, familiar tracks have new life breathed into them.
All of the characters from both Crash Team Racing and Crash Nitro Kart are available to race as in Nitro-Fueled, though many require you to unlock them. This includes the brand-new playable boss characters that originally needed to be unlocked through cheat codes back in the day. Characters and karts can be customized with different skins and recolors, most earned by purchasing them with Wumpa Coins in the Pit Stop, a shop that regularly updates and switches out its selection of karts, characters, and stickers daily. Unfortunately, this also means that if you want a particular outfit for a character or a specific kart body you see online, you have to continually check the Pit Stop shop with each update in hopes that the item you're looking for appears there to purchase.

Dress for success--and to cross the finish line in first!
Speaking of online, this is where Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled falters a little. While some races run relatively well, many times I've raced where I'd be hit by something that came from seemingly nowhere or other racers would seemingly disappear and reappear on the track, making it where hitting opponents and avoiding their attacks seemed impossible.

Additionally, the Matchmaking option is a bit of a misnomer. It's merely the option you go to if you want to play against randoms online. It does not match you based on skill whatsoever, which can create situations where first place finishes the race far ahead of everyone else and the race ends before most--if any other--players can actually finish themselves. The track selection online is also limited by only having three track choices each time for players to vote on. I saw many repeats show up and a considerably limited pool of tracks available throughout my online experiences with the game.

Lastly, players across the Internet, including myself, still have no clue how Wumpa Coins are even awarded after online races. Sometimes I would get only 40 coins for coming in first, while others I'd get over 500 for coming in sixth. There's a confusing lack of a rhyme or reason for how Wumpa Coins are handed out, and some transparency from Beenox would be most appreciated.

Eyes on the road, Dingodile! That's one of the first things they teach you in driver's school, for cryin' out loud!
While online isn't up to par as of yet (though it's hardly an atrocious experience--dare I say it's a darn good bit of fun!), there's no question that there's an extraordinary amount of personality and polish put into the presentation of Nitro-Fueled. Even the most drab of tracks from Crash Team Racing have gotten a face lift, and some look absolutely unrecognizable from their old selves. The tracks are filled with new touches and sights to behold. I had fun just exploring racetracks, braking completely at different spots to witness every little intriguing point of interest I saw. The music is just as good, and while it certainly doesn't have as much memorable themes as the competition, it's more than serviceable enough.

This game has more personality than *I* do! Hey! I resent that remark even though I said it!
With Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, a new generation can witness just why so many fans from the original PlayStation days revere Crash Team Racing so much. Meanwhile, longtime fans of the original game can return a revitalized remake of a remarkable racer with excellent added content, so-so online play, and more polish and personality than you can shake a Wumpa Fruit at. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled has its issues of course, but overall, it's one of the best buys a kart racing fan can ask for.

[SPC Says: A-]

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

After a fully funded Kickstarter and years of development and developmental updates, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is finally out as of last week. Nintendo Switch owners had to wait until this week to get their hands on the game. That said, this review only focuses on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC builds of the game. Here's the SuperPhillip Central review of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Offer tribute to this marvelous Metroidvania

Kickstarters with famous video game names and personalities attached to them have decidedly not had the greatest level of successes. The most obvious example of this would be Keiji Inafune of Mega Man fame and Mighty No. 9, which turned out to be one nightmare of a game. Then, there was Yooka-Laylee, which fared better critically, but also did not come near the glory of the game it was modeled after: Banjo-Kazooie.

Now, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night comes from Koji Igarashi, the mind behind Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and other games cut from that cloth. These Castlevania games are so beloved that a moniker was named after Igarashi, the "Igavania" games. Obviously modeled after Igarashi's previous works and meant to serve as an ode to the genre, does Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night prove that the third time is indeed the charm with Kickstarter games?

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night makes no attempt to hide its Castlevania: Symphony of the Night gameplay influences, as that's what fans really wanted out of the project to begin with, but at the same time, there's enough freshness here to make for a game that has plenty of surprises in store for players.

If you've played any type of Metroidvania, then you know what to expect. You have an expansive interconnected world to explore that is separated by individual areas, and the keys to progression are new abilities earned from defeated bosses and through other means. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a bit unique in that it's more open than past Igavanias, allowing players a bit more freedom in which areas they choose to explore and when. Yes, many paths are gated off and deemed inaccessible until you acquire the right ability to pass them, but when my brother and I played our own save files, we saw ourselves venturing to alternate areas and completing some of them in a different order. That said, this less rigid structure also leads to some situations where you can be completely in the dark about where to go next and how to proceed. It's a common thing in Metroidvania games, but it's especially noticeable in this particular game.

These foes may think they have an advantage on Miriam, but the odds are actually stacked against THEM.
Like Symphony of the Night, our heroine Miriam can slay enemies and, with enough luck, earn their abilities through shards. Each shard comes in one of five types and can be equipped in a menu. Some allow Miriam offensive skills like the ability to launch a flurry of arrows at enemies, while others are passive, granting Miriam more luck, giving a higher probability of rarer item drops. Furthermore, shard abilities can be enhanced within the game, as well as have them magnified by collecting more of the same shard--up to nine.

There is a great variety of shards to earn, and some shards have rare drop rates, meaning you'll have to enter and exit rooms to respawn a foe with the desired shard you want until they finally give you it. This is also how item drops work with the game's sizable collection of items, materials, weapons, armor, headgear, accessories, and more. Some foes can be quite stingy in dropping the rarer items, some of which have a very low percentage chance of parting with them, but with enough persistence (and some luck-enhancing abilities), they'll eventually drop the shard or item you're looking for.

While you won't have to grind too much for this Morte Bone's shard,
 other foes will prove to be far less willing to let Miriam have their abilities.
A friendly character in the game will allow you to synthesize said items to form new crafted goods of all varieties--enhance and upgrade equipment and all that good stuff. Once you create a given item, it is able to be purchased freely in a nearby shop. Though tracking down the necessary materials for an item you're wanting can be a trite overwhelming, as there are a ton of enemies that drop different materials at varying drop rates. It can be challenging to remember which enemy drops what, but there is some help with the in-game catalog of items and bestiary of foes.

That said, what isn't so helpful is the actual map of Bloodstained, which should be an adventurer's most helpful tool for navigating around the game world. It currently lacks any sort of map legend, so without the assistance and knowledge of the Internet I had no clue what the various symbols on the map meant. Each individual area on the map is hard to distinguish at a glance, making it so areas on the map blend in together. A simple recoloring, making it so each unique area is a specific color, would make a world of difference in reading the map in an optimal way.

While deciphering the in-game map isn't the best, the sheer wealth of ways Miriam can dish out damage to demons, devils, the undead, and any other horrors that stand in her way certainly is. She's more than happy to oblige in her enemies' collective death wish. To do this, she has an arsenal of weapons she can utilize--boots, swords, daggers, spears, whips, staffs, greatswords, axes, firearms, and much more--as well as her aforementioned shard abilities, the latter use magic points (or MP) that slowly replenish when not in use. Bookcases found around the massive platforming playground of Ritual of the Night bestow new weapon techniques that can unleash powerful attacks on foes with specific controller inputs, many similar to a fighting game. All of these options bring a multitude of methods and manners for Miriam to mercilessly massacre foes. Although some of these can be gamed to make Ritual of the Night a less-than-challenging adventure overall.

Miriam has a slew of weapons she can acquire. One might call this one a killer of vampires. Maybe.
With all of the shards and equipment you have to switch through in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, it means you're constantly entering and exiting menus to switch up your current loadout. While there are shortcuts to save your favorite shard and equipment builds to, any time you earn better equipment, you have to also replace each build mapped to each shortcut for the changes to stick. This isn't the most time-consuming process at first, but it slowly and steadily adds up over the course of the game, especially as you earn better and better equipment.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a tremendous Metroidvania game, and it's a promise fulfilled as a quality game in the same vein as the director's Castlevania works. However, I can't call it a particularly outstanding game without mentioning the problematic technical issues that the game is riddled with--some being more obnoxious than others. For one, there is some noticeable severe instances of the frame-rate hitching when attacking enemies on occasions. It doesn't happen especially often, but it's there more than I like. Worse than the hitching is the immense slowdown in specific areas of the game, most evident in a late-game boss fight. Finally, and this is the most frustrating of all--the game has crashed on me on the PlayStation 4 version twice, losing valuable progress in the process.

'Tis but a flesh wound?
Furthermore, the presentation of Ritual of the Night doesn't hit all of the high notes with this particular symphony. While the art design is delightful with wonderfully done and designed architecture, areas can come across as utterly garish. One specific area near the bottom of the map has bloom overload, and it's simply an eyesore. Fortunately, the sound side of Bloodstained fares much better with the splendid and masterful musical works of longtime Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane as well some rather good voice acting to spice up the presentation and special story beats.

My, what big teeth... and tongue... and everything else you twin dragons have!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is possibly my favorite of Koji Igarashi's Metroidvania games, and it would be my absolute favorite for sure if it wasn't marred by its current technical issues and lack of polish. The gameplay and level design are top tier, the boss fights are exciting and entertaining, and the level of challenge in the game is certainly there. I've never been so engrossed with a game in this style in a long time, and even with its many technical faults, I'm still in love with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It's a Kickstarter-funded game with a notable personality behind it done right, and it's about damn time.

[SPC Says: B+]

New Super Lucky's Tale (NSW) Before & After Trailer

After Super Lucky's Tale's debut on the Xbox One, the game is now coming to the Nintendo Switch, as announced this past E3. Given a "New" moniker added onto the title for its Switch arrival, you might be like me and wondering what's actually "new" in New Super Lucky's Tale. Check out this trailer for some before and after gameplay to find out part of the answer for yourself. New Super Lucky's Tale is due out later this year but no firm release date has been pinned down as of yet.

The Alliance Alive HD Remastered (PS4, NSW, PC) 3DS vs. HD Comparison Trailer

As announced three months ago, the Nintendo 3DS game The Alliance Alive is getting an HD remaster on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC with the suitably named The Alliance Alive HD Remastered. NIS America has provided this new trailer showing off just how big an improvement this high-definition remaster is compared to the Nintendo 3DS original. The Alliance Alive HD Remastered launches on PS4 and Switch on October 8th with a PC release date announcement to follow.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Most Overlooked Current Gen Games - Part Eight

There's no shortage of great video games out there, but not all go on to sell millions or get a huge following. That's why SuperPhillip Central's "Most Overlooked" series of articles came to fruition. SuperPhillip Central once again puts the spotlight on some games that either fell through the figurative cracks or just didn't get as much attention as they may have deserved from the gaming populace. This edition's list features super speedy mascot racers, precision platforming with bikes, and one underrated series of b-ball playgrounds.

Before you leap in to this edition's five choices, check out past installments of Most Overlooked Current Gen Games with the following links:

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

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

We start with the most recently released game on this list, and although Team Sonic Racing reached number one in its first week in the UK market, the competition wasn't all that taxing. In May 2019's NPD results for the U.S., Team Sonic Racing failed to make much of a dent on the sales charts, debuting at 19th place with all systems included. It's disappointing, as the game is considerably a great deal of fun with excellent and enjoyable track design, sensational speeds, and an engaging campaign mode that can be played alone or with help from a friend. The lack of SEGA's other all-star characters like previous SEGA + Sumo Digital racers and releasing a month before the more ambitious and hyped Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled certainly didn't do Team Sonic Racing any favors.

Trials Rising (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

The latest in the long-running Trials series, Trials Rising, came and went in its launch month last February without too much fanfare. Between the levels, which are the best in the Trials series, and the wonderful "one more time" gameplay, Trials Rising delivered an immense amount of thrills and--if you're as amateur a player as I am--spills. The added rider customization options brought forth a lot of creativity within the Trials Rising community, but things like loot boxes, inventory glitches, and slow progression put off many players and potential players-to-be. Still, even with the issues--and this isn't of course a means to excuse them--Trials Rising ended up being a raucously good time that encouraged patience and precision in perfecting levels, besting times, and hitting the top of the leaderboards.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

We go from one game with microtransactions and loot boxes to another with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. No doubt the figurative taste of the overall unsatisfactory NBA Playgrounds put many players off of the 2K-funded sequel. However, if you don't mind the randomness of unlocking the particular NBA all-star you want to play as, as the game uses a system where you earn players randomly from purchased card packs (which can be bought with in-game currency or yes, real-world money), then you'll find a lot to enjoy about NBA 2K Playgrounds 2's most important part of its B-ball experience, the actual gameplay itself. Dunking the ball on your opponent and making a clutch half-court buzzer-beater will never stop being entertaining (unless you're the opponent, of course), and I happily spent dozens of hours engaged with NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 after overestimating how aggressive the microtransactions would be coming from 2K. (Note: They weren't a force to be reckoned with whatsoever.)

Super Bomberman R: Shiny Edition (PS4, XB1, PC)

Success on the Nintendo Switch does not mean success on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Steam. At least that's the story of Super Bomberman R's debut on the latter three platforms. Not only did the players on these platforms get an exclusive character each, but they got the broken-in version of Super Bomberman R. Essentially, Switch owners were beta testers as the game added patches and updates to make for a better game. Said better game was what PS4, Xbox, and Steam players received right from the get-go with all of the AI difficulties balanced, camera issues worked out, and content like new characters and arenas added. Unfortunately, it's good luck finding anyone online to play Super Bomberman R with if you're searching for a random lobby to join, as the game's online scene is a ghost town.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (NSW)

With the official E3 2019 announcement of No More Heroes 3, it's an opportune time to mention the side game that predates it and even hinted at NMH3 as well, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes for the Nintendo Switch. Always destined to be a cult favorite at best and left to obscurity at worst due to its gameplay style and wacky, eccentric charm, Travis Strikes Again managed to be an entertaining ride from beginning to end. The isometric perspective and hack and slash gameplay wasn't always on point, but the style and sheer insanity of the story and intriguing characters more than made up for it. I always wanted to see what strange twist would pop up next. With the game announced to be arriving on more platforms, I hope more players will get to deep dive into Travis Strike Again: No More Heroes in anticipation for the third mainline installment in the No More Heroes series.