Friday, July 19, 2019

Remakes & Remasterpieces: An Ongoing Look at the Best in the Biz

Much like the realm of movies, video games are no strangers to remakes and returns to the classics that are fondly remembered. While with Hollywood, many times the modern version of a classic isn't at all necessary, with video games, we see entries that may have sufficed decades ago that may not exactly live up to our nostalgia or rose-tinted glasses today.

That's where remakes and remasters come in. Some might call them cynical money-grabs, but I'd prefer to call them modernizing and--at least with these examples on this inaugural edition of this new article series--improving the gameplay and visuals for old fans and new generations to enjoy. Bonus points if they add new content in as well!

This first edition of Remakes & Remasterpieces mainly features some classic mascots given both an updated and upgraded look. I say "mainly" because there's also Wipeout, which while not mascot-driven whatsoever, is so cool of a franchise that it's on this inaugural installment regardless.

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

Crash Bandicoot once again proved to the gaming world that he's just as relevant as ever. Hitting #2 on NPD's best-selling games of June, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled brought with it intense technical racing where a the ratio between skill and luck is much more pronounced than something like Mario Kart. The folks at Beenox didn't just take the original CTR, a great kart racer all on its own, pretty it up, and then call it a day. Instead, they gave every track such a face lift and unique visual identity that if you didn't know the track design itself, you might not even recognize the remade versions from the original circuits.

Not one to rest on its laurels either, Beenox not only remade all of the tracks from Crash Team Racing, but also all 13 tracks from Crash Nitro Kart. That's not even including the free, completely new tracks, karts, characters, and content coming via the ongoing Grand Prix mode. While this games as a service offering does contain quite a bit of grinding, it keeps players engaged with the game. Beenox went beyond the call of duty to make one of the most content-rich, satisfying remakes out there, and the budget price of $40 with currently free DLC makes Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled a fantastic package.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Another PlayStation 1 classic, the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy comprised of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!, and Spyro: Year of the Dragon was given the remake treatment by Activision, and the overall completed product introduced a whole new generation to the precocious purple dragon protagonist. Each game was lovingly recreated with gorgeous detail. This was thanks to the collaboration between the developer of the remade trilogy, Toys for Bob, and the developer of the original trilogy, Insomniac Games.

Thus, three classic titles from the PS1 era had new life breathed into them, and the end result of the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy revealed what many longtime fans of Spyro already knew--these games were great back in '90s and have only become better thanks to the efforts of Toys for Bob. As an aside, Nintendo Switch and PC players will soon get that their chance to check out this terrific trilogy of games when Spyro: Reignited Trilogy launches on both platforms this September.

Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Speaking of Insomniac Games, let's move on to the series that was post-Spyro the Dragon for the developer. Coinciding with the release of the film of the same name, Ratchet & Clank's 2016 reboot/remake/re-whatever you want to call it didn't exactly stay totally true to the original source material, the 2002 PlayStation 2 game that started the unlikely pairing of a lombax with an intelligent, little robot companion. For instance, the plot mirrored the movie, and thus the originally rocky partnership between the two--particularly Ratchet's animosity towards Clank for most of the game--was completely absent. Some planets were completely axed from the 2016 remake as well.

However, to me, Ratchet & Clank's 2016 outing did more than satisfy. Obviously the visuals wowed and still do to this day, looking almost Pixar movie-like, but the quality of life improvements and some of the cut levels made for a more streamlined, enjoyable, and well paced game that didn't overstay its welcome by any stretch of the imagination. The highlights of the original Ratchet & Clank were still present, but they were joined by an exhaustive list of updates and upgrades making for a game that I couldn't help but love.

Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Running extraordinarily well with blistering fast speeds and a silky smooth frame-rate, Wipeout Omega Collection was a technical showcase of the PlayStation 4, and moreover, just an impeccably solid racer. The collection contained two games: Wipeout HD, complete with its Fury expansion, as well as Wipeout 2048, which was a PlayStation Vita launch title. Between the two games in the collection, 26 circuits were able to be raced on, and a selection of nearly 50 different vehicles were able to be used.

A recent update to Wipeout Omega Collection allows every race to be played via PlayStation VR, making an intense racer all the more thrilling and exciting. Now, you're IN the cockpit, jockeying for position and having your vehicle hover and bounce around the tracks as you speed towards the finish line. Even without the PSVR update, just with the game on a TV is an amazing experience, and one that will get your palms sweating and your pulse pounding as you aim for the checkered flag.

Mega Man: Powered Up (PSP)

Mega Man remains one of my favorite franchises, and the pure action-platforming goodness that walks a fine line between accessible and challenging is one of the reasons why. Mega Man: Powered Up was a game that arrived early on in the PSP's lifetime, and it was when Capcom bet hard on the system. Unfortunately, that didn't quite play out too well for most series other than Monster Hunter, but that was more than enough to reward Capcom regardless!

Mega Man: Powered Up was a remake of the original Mega Man with a cutesy chibi art style, a full fledged story mode with voice acting, two original Robot Masters making for a total of eight--and the ability to play as said eight Robot Masters--a brand-new challenge mode, and finally, the ability to create and share your own Mega Man levels using an abundance of tools from unlockable kits, tucked away in the game's levels. Powered Up was an awesomely ambitious remake, but sadly, it sold as well as spikes to the Blue Bomber--that is to say poorly--cutting short Capcom's plan of remaking more of the games in the series for the PSP.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (NSW) Launch Trailer

Releasing at midnight on the Nintendo Switch eShop is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and some new details about the game have come from Marvel Games' San Diego Comic Con panel. For one, Loki is a day-one character in the game, and on August 30th, Cyclops and Colossus arrive as free DLC characters. Finally, the Marvel Knights series of characters has been revealed, containing Blade, Moon Knight, Punisher, and Morbius. The latter will be part of the $19.99 expansion pass for the game.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Toughest Tasks in Gaming History - Volume Four

How good of a gamer do you consider yourself to be? For several years now, SuperPhillip Central has documented some of the toughest tasks to accomplish in gaming. Perhaps you'd be interested in taking up some of these gaming challenges to show your skills, test your meddle, or reveal more of your masochistic side! These particular gaming tasks can be hard due to time-commitment, needing luck, or just purely because of difficulty. Either way, the timid need not apply.

To take a look at a past installment of Toughest Tasks in Gaming History, look no further than these links:

Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three

Now, let's move on to the newest taxing tasks added to this ever-expanding list!

Beating Oxide's Ghosts in Time Trial - Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW)

We begin this look at tough gaming tasks with a recent release--Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. This is a remarkably challenging game all on its own. Heck, I could easily pick completing Hard Adventure Mode as one of the toughest gaming tasks alone, but I feel that excelling in the Time Trial mode by beating each and every one of Nitrous Oxide's times is the most difficult feat within CTR's wonderful remake.

It's a bit of a grind to unlock N. Tropy's time trial ghost, and then beating that just to unlock a chance to beat Oxide's own ghost. You have to go through this process in each and every track--all 31 of them. Regardless, Oxide's ghosts themselves use every trick in the book--power sliding and drift boosting at every opportunity, keeping a boost throughout entire laps, nailing shortcuts in each and every track with almost effortless ability, and generally making you feel like you have no business being on the same track as these ghosts. "Ghost" is a perfect term for these fast time trial pests, as they will haunt you as you try to overcome and outrace them, constantly coming within split seconds of doing so but failing. It will take a true CTR expert to accomplish this task, and a lot of practice as well. Good luck, racers.

Obtaining All of the Mii Maker Outfits - Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW)

We continue with another recent release with Super Mario Maker 2, which contains a pretty stiff challenge for completionists: Obtaining each and every one of the outfits that your maker Mii can wear. These range from full-body gear like the Propeller Suit to clothing like shirts, shorts, dresses, and more.

The more time-consuming costume pieces will require you to grind through levels, playing as many as you possibly can to reach the 10,000 level threshold for but one of the outfit unlocks. Then, there's playing through the currently lackluster online multiplayer, where you must get to a certain rank to earn outfits--one of which requires you to win 10 consecutive matches, while another requires you reach the highest rank in general. Finally, there's the luck of the draw of hoping one of your created levels gets popular and viral enough to get enough plays and get enough likes to put you on the leaderboard. Only the most popular creators will ever reach the very top where an exclusive outfit is available.

It seems obvious Super Mario Maker 2 isn't exactly meant to be 100% completed when it comes to outfits, as these tasks have shown, but that isn't stopping intrepid players and makers alike to try. Nevertheless, I would sincerely applaud anybody who is able to successfully unlock every possible Mii Maker outfit within the game.

Clearing Spelunker Mode - 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3)

We go from a Mario game to a Zelda game. Well, not an official Zelda game, but one clearly inspired by the classics in the franchise. 3D Dot Game Heroes lives up to FROM Software's penchant for truly tricky and challenging games. While the main adventure is no real cakewalk, the unlockable Spelunker difficulty cranks up the difficulty dial past "11".

In Spelunker Mode, you have 1 HP. Any damage you take will result in a "Game Over". With traps and enemies that can you take you out easily--especially in dungeons--and said dungeons having it so dying returns you to its very beginning, playing carefully and cautiously is paramount to success in this mode. While there is a means to cheese Spelunker Mode's difficulty by running into walls to allow yourself five seconds of invincibility frames, it's still quite the challenge that requires patience, perseverance, and plenty of luck to complete.

Earning the Big Boss Emblem - Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS4)

Obtaining the Big Boss Emblem is the single-most challenging objective to accomplish in any Metal Gear game. Heck, it's just a challenging objective in gaming in general! To acquire this emblem, you must do a checklist of arduous, hair-pulling tasks.

For one, you must beat the game on the hardest difficulty. Okay, that might be enough to separate the Solid Snakes from the Johnnys of the series any day, but there's more! You have to do so without dying even once, without sounding an alert from the guards, without killing a guard or any other character, and without recovering health via items. So, not only is this pacifist run with the proverbial deck stacked against you daunting enough, but this must all be accomplished in five hours or less. Is Solid Snake Tom Cruise all of a solid because this mission sounds impossible!

Beating the Game on the "Mein leben" Difficulty - Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Now, it's time for another task featuring a hard gaming difficulty! Take the already immensely challenging "I am death incarnate!" difficulty where death comes quickly--a couple shots and it's game over, and one mistake means a certain and swift death--and make it so if you die, you have to start from the beginning of the game all over again. Oh, and you can't save at all either. That's what Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus' "Mein leben" difficulty delivers to the most masochistic of its players.

In a mode where one good shot can take you out, this seems like a--forgive the play-on words--"colossal" challenge to overcome. Preparing for such a herculean task means playing through the already arduous "I am death incarnate!" difficulty, practicing runs at a near-obsessive pace, and then hoping for the best when you finally tackle your "Mein leben" run. Permanent death is bad enough, but the aforementioned lack of saving makes things even more taxing and seemingly impossible. It's a gaming challenge that will make you hate Nazis even more than you already do/should.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW) Review

After spending more than 115 hours with Super Mario Maker 2, creating levels and playing through the game, it is finally time for my review. Speaking of creating levels, I'd be remiss if I didn't link to the current stable of traditional 2D Mario levels I've created so far. Shameless plug, I know. Here's SuperPhillip Central's review of Super Mario Maker 2.

Maker no mistake--Super Mario Maker 2 is a dream game 
for Mario fans, but not without faults.

One of the games that made the Wii U worthwhile to me was Super Mario Maker, and one of the aspects about the game that made it worthwhile to me was how it smartly used the Wii U GamePad for creating levels. When Super Mario Maker 2 was announced for the Switch, I saw myself having some trepidation and uncertainty towards how well making levels with a controller would play out. Still, even with that in mind, I found those thoughts were easily outnumbered and overwhelmed by my thoughts of all the level possibilities I could create with all of the new tools and mechanics in tow. From slopes (yes, finally, slopes!) to new enemies, Super Mario Maker 2 is packed with new features, and besides one element of the game that drags the package down, this level maker makes some serious waves on the Switch.

Super Mario Maker 2 once again puts the player into the role of the creator of levels. Thankfully, this time around players aren't just thrown into the maker without appropriate instruction. Not only is there a series of tutorials that divulge information in how to use the creator and best practices for making levels in general (though sadly not interactive like they were in the Nintendo 3DS port of Super Mario Maker), but there is a full-fledged story mode in Super Mario Maker 2 as well.

The story mode consists of rebuilding Peach's castle after everyone's favorite dog that undoes things, Undodog, inadvertently erases the castle from existence. In the story mode, Mario is tasked with earning enough coins to construct various parts of the castle. Coins are earned primarily from completing missions handed out by various characters, and these missions aren't just for the sole goal of acquiring coins, but they also serve as a means to inspire potential creators of levels. It gives them a taste of what is possible with Super Mario Maker 2's tools.

Story mode sees Mario assisting in rebuilding Peach's castle.
As you build new structures and additions to Peach's castle with coins, new missions open up, and the total stretches past 100 easily. Many of these levels aren't fully featured or structured like a traditional Mario game, but they do house some crafty and clever scenarios. Each level has a proper purpose of teaching a mechanic and going wild with it--whether it's a level containing the use of Super Mario Maker 2's all-new twisters, riding a teeter-totter while avoiding the charges of the Angry Sun, or running through a gauntlet of On and Off switches, another new addition to Super Mario Maker 2's creation tools, once you're done with the story mode, you'll be more than ready to concoct some killer level creations.

Super Mario Maker 2's story levels are a lot of fun, but they're hardly worth buying the game for exclusively.
So, while it's recommended to play through the story mode before jumping into the level maker, we all know that's for squares! You can bet I didn't follow that recommendation, either, but just know that some level creator content is locked behind completing story mode. That said, nearly every tool, object, enemy, and item is available right from the start in Super Mario Maker 2's creator, which is a great thing to see and contrary to how the original Super Mario Maker slowly drip fed players tools to make levels.

As if a gift from the heavens, Super Mario Maker 2 introduces slopes for more natural course creations.
Making levels in Super Mario Maker 2's creator is a mixed bag. There is a pretty high learning curve to using an analog controller with its button inputs to select from the various menus in the creator.  I found myself battling with the controls trying to reach menus, forgetting what button did what, and so forth. I still find myself occasionally confused with the controls when playing in docked mode, and that's with over 100 hours of creator time logged into the game as is.

The interface has been updated for Super Mario Maker 2. I miss the easier,
more accessible approach of the original game, but this setup isn't bad either.
Fortunately, one can also make levels via handheld play, and while I thought being forced to use touchscreen controls (save for using the sticks to scroll around the levels) would be a mistake, it actually is the best way to create levels. It's fast to place parts and pieces and filling in giant empty spaces with tiles, and it's also just less of a headache to learn.

If you're a more hands-on type of creator, you can use the touchscreen in handheld mode to make levels.
The creator sports a bunch of new parts in this sequel, as well as new styles and themes. Well, actually just one new "style" without the plural form of the word. Alongside the returning Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U styles, Super Mario 3D World has been added to the fro, as marketed heavily by Nintendo leading up to Super Mario Maker 2's release. While it's a fine enough addition, there's so much gated behind it with exclusive enemies, objects, and hazards, as well as rather bare bones. For instance, it's quite hard to establish a unique visual identity to a 3D World level because you have but one choice to utilize for semisolid platforms, which can be used not just as platforms but by craftier creators as level backgrounds. In 3D World, you're much more limited.

However, what isn't so limiting when compared to the original Super Mario Maker is all of the different level themes you can have. There's the base ground, underground, underwater, airship, ghost house, and castle types from the past game, but now there's snow, forest (complete with water you can adjust the level of), sky, and desert. All of these have nighttime versions, which alter how each level plays. For instance, making a desert course a nighttime one will have the level experience strong winds while a snow level will make icy floors especially slippery. The underground theme is particularly cool at night, as it makes the screen flipped upside down--really messing with the player's mind in the process. Regardless, while as a creator, I'd prefer the option to have these themes at night be turned off if I wanted them that way (as well as eliminate the toy box sounding versions of the music for nighttime), these are fantastic additions to Super Mario Maker 2 and more than double the possible level types creators can come up with.

This is no forest of illusion. The forest level theme is actually one of the new
level types you can use in Super Mario Maker 2!
With over two million levels already uploaded and published to Nintendo's servers, it can be quite challenging to discover excellent creations... you might think. However, currently, the popular course section is filled to the brim with creative level concoctions from some truly fantastic creators. I'm floored by the--no pun intended--level of creativity brought forth by the current crop of Super Mario Maker 2 creators.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of junk to wade through. You bet there is, and this is made obvious by playing through the Endless Mode of Super Mario Maker 2 for any length of time. As the mode's name would suggest, you play through an endless amount of Mario Maker 2 levels until you run out of lives, or if you're like me, until you've had enough auto, music, Kaizo, troll, and/or bad levels. Still, whether one's level is quality or not, it can be ridiculously difficult to have one's creation that they poured their heart and soul into to get attention. Basically, it comes down to luck at this stage, alongside lots of self-promotion in this process. The latter is helped, however, by level codes only being nine characters long this time around for easier sharing.

One of the biggest wishes from fans regarding 2D Mario is the addition of online multiplayer in both cooperative and competitive versus modes. Nintendo is certainly reliable here. ...No, not with providing actually good netcode or online play in general--I mean that Nintendo is reliable in once again dropping the ball when it comes to online play completely. Now, however, you get the joy and pleasure of paying for your poor online experience this time around. Between the immense amount of lag that can occur when any one player in a four-player match has a modicum of connection issues to levels unfit for multiplayer play being put into the selection of courses in multiplayer, the mode is broken beyond belief. Add that to the fact that you can't even play with your own friends (though, this is of course being included in a future update--but should have been at launch to begin with), and you have a part of Super Mario Maker 2 that doesn't work as intended and brings down the overall quality of the game.

Like a certain chocolate-flavored ice cream, online play in multiplayer can be rocky.
While the more eclectic touches of the maker's mechanics from the original Wii U game are gone, such as a cat's paw knocking away deleted objects and enemies, Super Mario Maker 2 is an all-in-all improvement over its predecessor in almost every way. Online play is definitely a major disappointment, but the rich features of the editor, the inclusion of the story mode (though this isn't worth buying the game solely for), and amount of creativity able to be and already expressed by individual creators and the community make this sequel shine. Nintendo might not have built a perfect construction with Super Mario Maker 2, but it's hardly something I'd "boo" either.

[SPC Says: A-]

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Announcement Trailer

Super Monkey Ball is back in a HD form with a remaster of the Nintendo Wii launch title Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz. Suitably titled Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, I can think of a number of Super Monkey Ball games I'd rather see remastered, but beggars can't be choosers, I guess. Banana Blitz HD releases on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on October 29th with a Winter release for PC.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Furwind (NSW, PS4, PSV, PC) Review

We're in middle of the month, and it's time for the first review of July. Don't worry--things are about to pick up review-wise for the month! For the time being, let's take a look at Furwind, a 2D pixel art action-platformer from publisher JanduSoft.

This fur doesn't really fly.

In an age where 2D indie platformers are a dime a dozen (figuratively speaking, of course), it's growing increasingly more difficult for developers to differentiate their game from the rest of the pack. Enter Furwind, a pixel art-based 2D platformer that's solid enough on the surface, but control issues and level design quirks make for a game that stands out for the wrong reasons.

There are various types of levels within Furwind, but the primary type has you moving through a veritable maze of platforming challenges in order to seek out two halves of a medallion. These medallions are dropped by mini-bosses found in special rooms in levels. Once the medallion has been assembled, the exit portal of the level opens up, and it's just a matter of reaching it to complete the level.

The pixel art in Furwind is truly remarkable.
Furwind uses a checkpoint system where you pay in-game currency to utilize a checkpoint, and each time you use a checkpoint, the price to use it again goes up. Thus, strategic use of checkpoints is encouraged, but I found checkpoints to be too sparse anyway. The danger wasn't having enough money to use a checkpoint; the danger was not finding a checkpoint in time before dying, and then having to redo a significant amount of progress all over again.

Checkpoints aren't the only thing currency is good for. Within the world map is a shop where you can purchase health, stamina, and other types of upgrades using the currency you've collected in levels. These optional goodies can make the difficult action-platforming adventure that is Furwind all the more manageable.

"Whatcha' buyin'?" Oh, wait. Wrong vendor and wrong game.
I say "optional", but for less patient players, they're more mandatory than anything else. Furwind is a hard game, and part of that is in the mechanics themselves. For one, our fox hero has poor reach with his main mode of attacking, flinging his tail. The ungenerous range of the tail resulted in more than my fair share of aggravating and unfair damage from enemies because I had to get dangerously close just to hit them, or use insanely tight timing to land an attack. Further, but more well designed is the stamina gauge, where every attack our hero uses depletes some of the gauge. It steadily refills and recharges after a few seconds or so, but it discourages spamming the attack button to get through the game. That said, our hero can be caught with his tail down when he's unable to attack and a deluge of enemies march his way.

Other level types include specific platforming, battle, and puzzle challenges that unlock from discovering scrolls within the previously mentioned levels in the game. These challenges require plenty of skill to complete, and some are infuriating in their level of difficulty. More so due to the fact that some are lengthy enough that death results in having to do the challenge all the way back from the beginning. Meanwhile, the last type of level in Furwind has you rescuing villagers in cages by defeating all of the enemies within the immediate vicinity.

Looks like someone brought a tail to a shaman fight.
There are three chapters within Furwind, and they feature similar level types in each and a similar stable of foes as well. While forest and dungeon towers were favorites of mine, the levels where your vision is obscured in a cave of darkness and your only way of survival is to collect fireflies that light the way I detested. Between the small field of vision that resulted in cheap hits and the strict timing to collect fireflies before the darkness enveloped my character, it was a test of patience than anything else.

Each chapter concludes with a challenging boss battle.
Despite being an adequate action-platformer with pretty pixel art and good enough mechanics, frustrating checkpoint design, those blasted cave levels, and the difficulty of the game for some unfair reasons mar what would otherwise be a solid recommendation from me. As is, Furwind is a game that neither exudes enough excellence nor sets itself apart from the 2D indie platforming pack enough to completely forgive the many problems the game possesses.

[SPC Says: C+]

A review code was provided for this game.