Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cat Quest II (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

After the conclusion of this next review, SuperPhillip Central will be at its historic 900th review. Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let's turn our attention towards Cat Quest II from developer The Gentlebros. Here's the SPC review!

Using at least four cat puns was in my review "claws."

It's an age-old question that has spurred serious debate between pet lovers everywhere: cats or dogs? In developer The Gentlebros' Cat Quest II, the question hasn't just spurred serious debate, but it's actually started a war--in the lore of the game, of course (that might be important to note)--between the canine army and their rival feline forces. As a pair of pitch paw-fect protagonists, one cat and one dog, you set out to put an end to the war, whether alone--switching between the two characters on the fly--or via co-op with another player.

Cat Quest II plays out within a huge, sprawling, marked world map--much like you'd see on a globe--with various dungeons and ruins sprinkled about. A good portion of the map is readily available to traverse and explore, but of course, like any RPG of this type, the deeper you go into the map, the more challenging and higher levels enemies you'll encounter. Through defeating enemies and completing various quests--both story-related and optional--your characters level up, get stronger, and are better suited and capable to take on tougher tasks and trials.

Go west, young pets! Adventure awaits!
Many of the quests in Cat Quest II take you inside caves and single-area dungeons that are teeming with tricky traps, enemies, and other dangers. Many of them are themed with the types of hazards or enemies involved, but at the same time, the environments don't run a particularly large gamut. In fact, it's quite the opposite. In caves in the cat side of the kingdom, dungeons are rock floors surrounded by water, and in caves in the dog side of the kingdom, dungeons are stone floors surrounded by sand.

Painful spikes, hostile enemies, and traps aplenty? Looks like a dungeon to me!
While I did say dungeons are full of danger and teeming with trouble, they're also teeming with treasure and other beneficial goodies, too. There's plenty of loot to be discovered in these dungeons, as well as rewards from completing quests, and these mostly come in the form of equipment.

The equipment your unlikely animal duo stumbles upon is for both form and fashion, as they can be leveled up by either paying a special blacksmith to upgrade them, or through discovering duplicates as quest or treasure chest rewards. In addition to that, some equipment have secondary bonuses, like increased experience when equipped, boosted health, higher resistance to certain elemental magic, and more. As an aside, your characters can actively be seen wearing the weapons and armor you equip, which is a nice touch.

Quests are easy to follow along with, as there's generally always a guiding arrow pointing in the direction you need to head towards on the map. The quests in general essentially have you fetch an item, or take out a group of enemies, or enter a dungeon to do a combination of the two. Certain side quests have silly stakes, which is purr-fect for the tone of the game, such as one where you do battle with the villain Meow-Face at the behest of a certain caped canine crusader named The Doge Knight. Other quests either play it a "little" more seriously or just feel like busywork. Regardless, quests are perfect for bite-size play, as seldom do they last longer than five minutes, so even the "busywork quests" do not waste too much time.

The main story of Cat Quest II takes about 5-10 hours to complete, depending on your pace and skill level, but fully finding everything in the game, completing all side quests, and collecting all that there is to collect will take 10-15 hours at a minimum. Thus, there's a fair amount of content to Cat Quest II.

Cat Quest II offers hack and slash action-RPG combat to tantalize prospective players, and overall, battling enemies works well. It's simple and accessible, but it can grow a bit repetitive, much like the quest structure of the game. Still, depending on your equipped weapon of choice, you can unleash quick slices and slashes with a sword that do little damage but attack the enemy more often, or opt to use a heavier weapon to strike slower but ultimately harder. Or, you can choose to have one of your pet partners be a tank, attacking enemies head-on, while the other serves as a healer or otherwise magic (Mana) user.

Combat is simple but enjoyable, and when playing solo, your AI partner is pretty helpful.
Of course, defense, too, plays an important part in Cat Quest II's combat, and avoiding enemy attacks is a combination of easy to see coming and hard to cheese, making for a nice balance. When an enemy is about to attack with a physical blow, a light red circle will surround them. A dark red ring will then expand from the center, and when it encapsulates the light red circle completely, the attack occurs. Avoiding magic is a little trickier due to no window to tell when a spell will come crashing down, but the spot where the spell will strike appears a small amount of time beforehand, giving you a brief window to hightail it out of harm's way.

Cat Quest II is a game that certainly doesn't outstay its welcome, as I feel any further padding would just add to the occasional tedium and repetition I felt while playing the game at times. For this reason, for me, the game was best to play in bursts rather than an extended period of time (other than my first gaming session with it). Filled with charming personality, clever humor, a colorful world, satisfyingly simple and accessible combat, and enough cat and dog puns to last you till you wait for the inevitable third installment, Cat Quest II is far from purr-fect but by no means a cat-astrophe either. (I'm so sorry for the puns. Please don't go.)

[SPC Says: C+]

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Ten Best Video Game Soundtracks of the Past Decade

The past ten years of gaming showed us impressive new tech, fantastic new games, and as far as this writer's concerned, some of the best music ever put to games. While most sites look back and debate about the best games of the past decade, SuperPhillip Central takes a different approach. We're going to look at (or is it listen to?) the best video game soundtracks of the past ten years (subjectively speaking, of course). There is but one main rule: the soundtrack cannot be a licensed one. It must be comprised of original or remixed/rearranged tunes made for a video game. At any rate, this list is quite literally music to my ears (and it hopefully will be to yours as well!). Let's begin with this alphabetically ordered list!

Bravely Default (3DS)

Japanese musician and composer Revo, alongside his group Sound Horizon, performed plenty of the music within 2012's Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS. The entirety of the Bravely Default soundtrack can be described as progressive rock with a fantasy approach. It's essentially a classical suite of marvelous melodies, sophisticated rhythms, and catchy themes, whether they're during traditional fields and dungeons, the fast-paced, rockin' battle songs, or the well done character themes for each of the four protagonists within Bravely Default. The latter is incorporated beautifully into the game's wondrous final boss theme, Serpent Eating the Ground.

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4)

We turn our attention (and our ears) to Gravity Rush 2, a supremely overlooked PlayStation 4 exclusive with a fantastic soundtrack attached to it. Kohei Tanaka composed the music for the game, and much like his other works, including a certain anime called One Piece, Gravity Rush 2's soundtrack is a fine mix of boisterous big band brass, symphonic sweetness, and a touch of melancholy thrown in for added effect. From the sultry and hyperactive sax heard in Night Gale, to the oriental delights one can appreciate in Yin & Yang, whether it's the batch of brand-new compositions heard in the game or remixed and rearranged familiar tunes from the first game, Gravity Rush 2's soundtrack is a stellar one. 

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)

Imagine if you will, taking some of the very best and prominent video game composers in the land of the rising sun and bringing them together to create one of the finest soundtracks of not just the past ten years, but also in Nintendo's history. Big words from me, but when you have the talents of proficient composers like Yasunori Mitsuda, Yuzo Koshiro, Motoi Sakuraba, just to name a few, then you can see (and hear) what I mean.

The soundtrack of Kid Icarus: Uprising brings together this all-star parade of composers, something that's become a bit of a trademark with game director Masahiro Sakurai, and sees it syncing up with the action of the game brilliantly, most notably in the heavily cinematic, but still fully playable flying sections of the game. You can bet that Kid Icarus: Uprising won't be the last venture led by director Masahiro Sakurai on this list.

Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1)

While we still await an official soundtrack release (perhaps Square Enix waits for the DLC to come out first before bundling everything together for prospective purchasers of an official soundtrack), Kingdom Hearts III was a glorious return of familiar themes from the entire series redone in a way that they never sounded better, and wholly new themes that became instant classics. Yoko Shimomura, longtime series composer and just longtime video game music composer in general, channeled her greatest strengths in creating memorable melodies and emotional, heart-tugging themes to create the series's best soundtrack. It's truly one of the greats of the past decade, and this comes from someone without much emotional investment in Kingdom Hearts as a series.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

Nintendo certainly knows how to crank out quality games (for the most part), and most who play said games know how enormously creative, catchy, and well composed many of these soundtracks are. The sound team behind Mario Kart 8 and for the sake of it being a catch-all to make it easier for discussion, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, crafted an insanely energetic soundtrack to drift, boost, and chuck items at other players to during the frantic races. Shiho Fuiji, Atsuko Asahi, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Yasuaki Iwata brought plenty of original content to the table musically, but the remixed music from other Mario Kart games from the racetracks from past titles never sounded better. Overall, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is another essential soundtrack for any music lover of the past decade.

Octopath Traveler (NSW, PC)

The music for our next game was composed by a relative newcomer to making music for video games, Yasunori Nishiki--but you certainly wouldn't be able to tell from listening to the actual soundtrack to Octopath Traveler! It's a masterful, often majestic, always spectacular, never dull soundtrack that comes from this novel and original RPG on the Nintendo Switch and PC. From the constant uses of leitmotif that permeate throughout the soundtrack, especially the eight character themes, various locales visited in each of their individual journeys, and all wrapping up nicely and neatly with the touching, tear-inducing ending theme, Octopath Traveler's soundtrack is simply sensational.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

It's time for some more Mario! One of the two games on this list, both on the Wii, that both almost don't qualify for this list by virtue of releasing in 2010, Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a soundtrack that is like the game it serves as the successor of--it serves as a nice expansion of ideas from the original Super Mario Galaxy. With Mahito Yokota as the lead composer, and the rest of the composition talent doing a bang up job, the the majority of Super Mario Galaxy 2's symphonic, orchestrated soundtrack is most definitely superb and fitting for the out of this world adventure and gigantic stakes Mario faced on his 2010 galactic adventure.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW)

Now, I must admit myself that this pick for one of the ten best video game soundtracks of the past decade is cheating quite a bit. Okay, maybe MORE than quite a bit, at that. However, when you have what is basically a "best of" or "greatest hits" soundtrack of gaming that will most likely never be seen or heard again, it's hard to omit. Hence, why Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a collection of who's who of video game composers in both the east and the west, the likes of which came together for one purpose, to celebrate gaming's illustrious history, sports an impressive, ever-expanding lineup of game tracks. Picking just six musical examples to represent the soundtrack was a challenge enough, but what isn't so much of a challenge is to say just how important and wonderful hearing classic, retro gaming themes--especially all of the more obscure ones--remixed and rearranged really is to my--and so many others'--ears.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii, 3DS)

From the brilliant musical minds of Yoko Shimomura and the team of ACE+ comes the Xenoblade Chronicles soundtrack, a game which just got in with its 2010 launch (Japan), then its European launch in 2011... and then finally its 2012 launch in North America. Phew! What a staggered release, no thanks to Nintendo of America, of course. It's a good thing that the game finally came out on this side of the Pacific (and this side of the Atlantic in the case of our PAL pals), as North Americans would have not only missed out on an excellent game but wouldn't have gotten to allow our ears to experience this stellar and sensational soundtrack.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4, NSW, PC, Vita)

For Ys fans, it's no real surprise to see the soundtracks of the game held to such a high standard. The series continues to put out some of the best music within the industry. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana somehow managed to rise above its already stellar predecessors and contemporaries with an engaging, emotionally-charged, sensationally put together soundtrack that touches on so many emotions. Between the melancholy and moving opening theme of the game, the intense and catchy battle themes inspired by progressive rock, and the field and dungeons pieces heard throughout, there's never a dull moment with the Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana soundtrack, and it's certainly up to the massive pedigree brought forth by the Falcom Sound Team.


Now that you've read and heard SuperPhillip Central's picks, which game soundtracks of the past ten years are your favorites that you consider to be the best of the best? Let the SPC community know in the comments section below!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Luigi's Mansion 3 (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central kicks off this month of reviews with a big one! Luigi's Mansion 3 is one of Nintendo's most important games for its Switch's holiday season, and SuperPhillip Central has an enormously in-depth review for you to check out of Luigi's latest solo adventure!

You'll enjoy your stay at this haunted hotel.

It's been almost 20 years since the original Luigi's Mansion haunted the launch of the Nintendo GameCube. What a difference nearly 20 years make, as back in 2001, the game was a bit of a letdown to those who staunchly awaited a "real" Mario game to launch with the GameCube--after all, until then, it had been a tradition for every major Nintendo platform to launch with a major Mario game. Now, Luigi's Mansion is fondly appreciated, and it's the way it should be. It was a great game, albeit short and a bit too tech demo-ish for some folks' liking. 

Despite the better appreciation for Luigi's Mansion, since 2001, there's been but one other new installment in the franchise. That was Next Level Games' Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for the Nintendo 3DS. The game featured a mission-based structure with disconnected mansions and levels, better suited for portable play. Those longing for the original's formula were left a bit in the cold. 

Now, it's 2019, and finally, the third installment in the Luigi's Mansion series is here, and not only is it this reviewer's opinion that it's the best Luigi's Mansion game yet, and not only is it Next Level Games' best effort, but it's also one of the best games of 2019. It's Luigi's Mansion 3, and your stay at this hotel is requested by yours truly.

Luigi's Mansion 3 begins with the Mushroom Kingdom crew--Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and a trio of Toads--arriving at a sunny, picturesque hotel after receiving an invitation. However, by the time the sun sets and night falls, things take a terrifying turn. The invitation was a ruse by the hotel's manager, Hellen Gravely, who has let loose every ghost that Luigi caught in his previous ghost-busting adventures. Not only that, but a particularly vengeful villain from Luigi's past has turned Mario, Peach, and the Toad trio into portraits. Before the same fate can happen to Luigi, the unlikely hero (and adorably constant coward) escapes. Discovering a new Poltergust within a basement garage car, Luigi must rescue his friends, solve the trials of the multiple floor hotel, and capture the ghosts that stand (float?) in his way. 

Just what Luigi needs, a relaxing vacation. (It's also what Luigi won't get at The Last Resort hotel!)
With Luigi's trusty Poltergust vacuum, he is more than a match for the specters and spooks that haunt The Last Resort hotel. He even picks up some new tricks and gadgets along the way, courtesy of a familiar friend who specializes in ghostly apparitions. After all, his Poltergust is the main means Luigi does battle with ghosts that he encounters, and that's done by vacuuming them up. Of course, ghosts won't just allow themselves to be sucked up; they need to become vulnerable first. This is where the Strobe-light comes in, allowing Luigi to flash an enemy with the light, and then start sucking them up while they're blinded. Different ghosts require different strategies. Some necessitate new ideas and a little ingenuity, as they might wear sunglasses or have other things blocking their eyes from the effects of Luigi's light. 

Ta-da! The Poltergust G-00 is fully operational! Welcome back, old (and newly improved) friend!
Regardless, when a ghost is caught in Luigi's Poltergust, you pull the control stick away from the direction the ghost is feverishly trying to escape from. Many ghosts are quite quick and wily, moving in a manic pace and series of directions to make trying to catch them challenging. However, once they're in the process of being sucked up, a ghost's health whittles down and simultaneously fills a circular gauge. When the gauge is full, with multiple presses of the A button, Luigi can perform a series of slams, smashing the ghost (or ghosts, as it were) into the ground, and also as a side strategy, into other ghosts as a means for crowd control. Once a ghost's health is zero, Luigi's Poltergust happily vacuums it into nothingness. 

That's what you get for losing one of Luigi's suitcases!
There's a certain saying that you can't teach an old plumber new tricks (or something like that), and Luigi's Mansion 3 takes that notion, sucks it up in its own version of a Poltergust, and spits it out. Luigi gains new abilities throughout the duration of the game, which offer new ways to progress through The Last Resort hotel, as well as to defeat enemies. For instance, the Suction Shot shoots out a plunger that attaches to certain objects, such as doors and enemy shields, and allows Luigi's Poltergust to grab onto and pull the plunger, thus yanking them open or yanking them away. By pushing in both shoulder buttons at once, Luigi performs a small jump in the air by shooting out air downward from his Poltergust. Not only is this great for evading ground-based attacks, but it's also great for pushing away enemies that might be getting too close for Luigi's comfort. (Well, let's be fair, even 100 miles is still probably way too close for a ghost to get for Luigi's comfort!)

Ghosts who hide behind shields such as these can have them yanked away with the Suction Shot.
In addition to these abilities, there's another trick that doubles the proficiency of Luigi's Poltergust powers, and that's a new partner in ghost-busting that joins Luigi's adventure: Gooigi. This character debuted in last year's Nintendo 3DS remaster of the original Luigi's Mansion, but now Gooigi takes a much more prominent role. By pushing in the right analog stick twice, Gooigi appears. Gooigi can get to places that Luigi can't, such as through steel bars, iron bathroom drains, across spikes, and much more. Plenty of puzzles require the use of both Gooigi and Luigi to solve, whether it's through their combined strength to lift and remove a heavy object out of the way, having Gooigi continually blow air on a fan to allow Luigi to safely cross an otherwise hazardous rotating bridge, or via other means. There are some truly ingenious puzzles using both Luigi and Gooigi, including one late game boss that puts the two to work in an insanely clever way, which I obviously won't spoil here.

Another adage proven true in this game is that two Luigis are better than one!
You're never controlling both characters at once, unless you're playing in the optional local co-op mode for two players. Otherwise, you're merely switching between the two characters by pressing in the right analog stick. Gooigi has his own health to him--though much lower than Luigi's--and can't enter water or move too far away from Luigi without automatically disintegrating. That said, Gooigi can simply be summoned again if such a moment happens. 

Gooigi can go where Luigi can't. (I'm betting Luigi isn't too jealous most of the time, though.)
There are 17 unique floors in Luigi's Mansion 3's Last Resort hotel, and while Luigi's adventure begins with relatively ordinary settings (ordinary save for all the haunts and frights inside, of course), our "brave" hero soon finds himself discovering floors with ridiculous themes. One floor takes place at a medieval castle while another is a botanist's dream with all of its various varieties of plants blooming throughout, including the floor's gigantic tree in the central room that Luigi regularly scales. Another features four unique movie sets with television monitors serving as transportation points between each set. Then, there's a later floor in the game which serves as an ancient pyramid, complete with mummified ghosts and more booby traps than Luigi could shake an asp at. The amount of creativity in the floor and level design is immense, and the incredible amount of secrets hidden and sprinkled about inside these floors is sensational.

Pretty much everything you can think of in Luigi's Mansion 3's environments reacts in some way to the Poltergust. Objects can be sucked up, pulled on, rocked back and forth, placed inside the front of the Poltergust and then shot out, and so on and so forth. Players are greatly encouraged to interact with the environment, whether it's to collect the abundance of coins, bills, gold bars, and other forms of money in the game, or to gather one of six hidden gems found on each floor. The latter features even more of that ingenious creativity I was gushing about before. 

The way these sheets fold, stretch, and bend over these chairs so authentically
during movement is giving this lover of gaming physics some beautiful eye candy!
The gems in Luigi's Mansion 3 are usually always available to collect on your first arrival on a given floor. This isn't really a Metroid-style game, where you return to a past location with a new ability to collect something you may have missed the first time around. Instead, many times I found myself returning to past floors to collect something I missed because I discovered something new idea-wise from a later floor, not having realized the first go around that it was possible. Thus, rather than gaining new abilities, you gain new knowledge from later areas in the game to collect not only gems, but new ways to interact with the environment to discover new secrets and other goodies. 

Castle McFrights is but one of the themed floors Luigi will have to summon up the courage to get through.
The Last Resort hotel is designed in a way that each floor is generally its own separate, confined space. The only means to venture between most floors is via elevator, so in order to reach new, undiscovered floors, Luigi must find the missing elevator buttons to each floor. These are usually held by special boss ghosts, each with their own unique battle, some more developed than others (it's not until you get to floor four's boss that battles start to come into their own). Now, along the same lines, some floors in the game are more developed than others. Some are just a handful of rooms, but the majority have a complex variety of rooms and areas to explore, puzzles to solve, and challenges to overcome. Either way, the overall 13-18 hour adventure doesn't really outwear its welcome.

Boss ghosts are a lot of trial and error, but you'll feel like
the smartest player alive for figuring their strategies out!
Well, almost. Despite Luigi's Mansion 3 otherwise being a well paced adventure, there was but one occurrence in the game that resulted in some unexpected forced backtracking to previous floors. It seemed understandable for the developers to give some reason to return to past floors for those players who might not care to collect everything or go after the game's achievements, and I was okay with having to backtrack the first time. However, late in the game, the same scenario happens yet AGAIN, and instead of introducing something new, it's just the same backtracking (though in an alternate set of floors) with no variation in what you need to do to progress. It just came off as unnecessary padding in a game that didn't need it to begin with. 

Other than that, within the main story of Luigi's Mansion 3, I can see the B2 floor giving some players problems, as both part of the floor and the subsequent boss battle uses a unique control scheme. However, as a hint without spoiling anything, face the direction you want to move and press R instead of holding down the L button to move backward. (You'll understand what I mean if and when you arrive at this part of the game.)

Don't worry--there's a dedicated button to call out for Mario!
You can now fully enjoy the game without that worry!
Aside from Luigi's Mansion 3's insanely enjoyable single-player adventure (or co-op adventure with one player controlling Gooigi), there are two multiplayer modes to enjoy as part of the game. I definitely emphasize "enjoy" as for the most part, the ScareScraper and ScreamPark modes are a good deal of fun, more the former than the latter. 

The ScareScraper allows you--and even a co-op buddy to play together--to enter online or off, the titular building and clear floors (mazes of rooms and hallways) with specific goals in mind before the timer runs out. These goals include clearing the floor of all enemies, collecting a certain amount of money, rescuing four Toads and escorting them to a central chamber, among others. The ScareScraper comes in two varieties--a five-floor version and a ten-floor one--and up to four online players can join together, whether with online friends or randoms. 

Scare up some multiplayer fun, either online or off, with the ScareScraper!
Teamwork is a necessity in the ScareScraper, as teammates can fall into booby traps, some doors require multiple players to open, and coordination is key. The "Over here", "Help", and "Thank you" commands that your controlled Luigi can utter with a press of the D-Pad assist, as does the map on the top-right corner of the screen to see where your fellow teammates are, where you've been, and where you should go. 

Meanwhile, the ScreamPark gives some multiplayer fun to be had with 2-8 players in various mini-games, from collecting the most money to capturing the most ghosts within a time limit. I can see this mode being a fantastic time for party nights, but unfortunately, my time and enjoyment were limited due to not having enough people to fully appreciate this mode. 

Before I begin to wrap up, I would be remiss if I didn't mention this: for me, Luigi's Mansion 3 is seriously a contender for the best looking Nintendo Switch game. The fact that characters and environments have smooth edges instead of the rough and jagged lines that other Nintendo games have, is certainly a welcome culprit for as to why. Even still, the amount of interactivity with the environments, how things shatter, how objects break, how drapes wave in the wind, how panes of glass shine, how fire burns with a hypnotizing brightness, how light reflects on water or how moonlight shines off of the marble tile of the hotel floor--sorry, I started rambling, AND started drooling in the process! Regardless, it all looks fabulous, and I would be even more remiss if I didn't give a "WOW" to the character animations in this game--whether it's Luigi's amazing reactions and expressions or all of the colorful cast of specters within the game. Luigi's Mansion 3 is just amazing to look at.

Even the environment itself is feverishly drooling at how impressive this game looks!
Thankfully, as noted endlessly within this review, Luigi's Mansion 3 is also just amazing to play. Each floor I played, each boss I encountered, and each secret I discovered brought me so much joy. Luigi's Mansion 3 is just a pleasure to play, and the hotel setting is a wonderful compromise between the connected mansion of the 2001 original and the more disjointed mission-based structure of its Nintendo 3DS sequel, Dark Moon. I foresee plenty of my future gaming time being devoted to tackling those last achievements in the game, despite my needing to cover other, more pressing titles coming out. Alas, I think you're most definitely worth it, Luigi's Mansion 3. Like a friendly ghost, I won't mind you "haunting" me for a little while longer since you're one of the best games of the year.

[SPC Says: A]