Friday, December 20, 2019

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) "Coming 2020" Trailer

Nine films in one game. It's LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, coming to all modern gaming platforms in 2020. Warner Bros. and TT Games have this new trailer for The Skywalker Saga in all its Star Wars splendor. You'd think there was a new Star Wars movie out today or something, huh?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Daemon X Machina (NSW) Review

We move on from our trio of Mario-related reviews to entirely different territory--territory of the mech variety. From the creative talent behind the Armored Core franchise, it's the Nintendo Switch exclusive Daemon X Machina, and here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

Welcome to your battlefield

Announced at the beginning of Nintendo's E3 2018 showcase video, Daemon X Machina hopes to fill the hole left in gaming by the out-of-commission Armored Core series. After all, it's got many of the creative minds from that franchise behind Daemon X Machina. With the latter, you get a shot of high-octane mech action, enough customization to make any mech fan happy, and a convoluted story starring loads of oddball characters mixed with plenty of existentialism. Okay, maybe we could do without the last part there, but overall, Daemon X Machina hits many of the high notes that players of mech games generally like--some initial gameplay inaccessibility notwithstanding.

Daemon X Machina has you entering all kinds of fast, frenzied and frenetic aerial and ground battles in your fully customizable mech, an Arsenal. Arsenals have all sorts of abilities and customization options. They can fly, they can boost, and they can equip multiple weapons, one for each arm, one shoulder weapon, and one auxiliary weapon. The left and right arm weapons are assigned to the ZL and ZR buttons respectively, while your shoulder weapon is assigned to the L button. Boosting is performed by pressing R, but you have a limited amount of stamina. If you run out, your Arsenal immediately gets grounded, taking some time to cool off before allowing you to get back into the air and jet set around once more.

Like anything in life, controlling one's Arsenal takes some practice to get used to...
But will most players want to take the time to do so?
Of course, you won't be zipping and jetting around the battlefield in style or with much grace at the very beginning of your journey with your Arsenal, and the game does little to provide assistance to ease you into piloting your machine outside of a weak tutorial at the start of the game. You don't generally get much of the nuances of each system in the game, whether it's regarding gameplay or mechanics. I could see this being a potential barrier of entry for plenty of players.

If you're going to be a target, you might as well be a moving one, so get going!
That goes into customization as well. While there is a plethora of options available to you as the player, the game does really explain them all in as much depth as I would have liked. Regardless, you can mix and match parts from various Arsenal models to make your Arsenal mech--from the head, to the left arm, right arm, legs, and body. As you progress in the game, more body parts unlock, and options for researching new parts, whether they're armor or weaponry, becomes available as well. You can also assign attachments to your armor and weapons to make them stronger and provide different bonuses, such as higher defense from burning weapons or better accuracy.

You can customize the look of your pilot and Arsenal at the base.
The body parts you equip to your Arsenal aren't just for show either, as they also affect stats like overall defense, bullet defense, laser defense, weight, speed, and much more. For instance, if you prefer an Arsenal that favors high health and defense over quickness and evasiveness, then try equipping parts from the Goliath line of armor. It's a great system that allows the player to select a play style that suits them best. I just wish the nuances were explained a little bit better.

One of many Arsenal loadouts I created, meet SkyGunner.
That said, you can't just place every part you'd like on your Arsenal without worry. Arsenals have a limited amount of memory to them, and each part and weapon takes up an amount of that memory. Thankfully, you can buy and research memory chips that boost the amount of memory your Arsenal has. Even still, I never really ran into an issue where I was close to running out of memory by equipping too many parts.

Combat in Daemon X Machina takes some practice to grow accustomed to, and even then, it's quite challenging even for a seasoned vet of the genre. There's some feelings of rubbing your stomach while patting your head at first, with that feeling of trying to multitask: turning the camera, boosting, attacking enemies, all the while trying to evade shots being blasted in my direction. It's quite crazy at times when you have 360 degrees of movement where you have to watch what's in front of you, be aware of what's behind you, to your sides, and everywhere else. Speeding around at insane velocities while trying to keep enemies in your sights is no easy task, as you can probably imagine.

Daemon X Machina also features no lock-on functionality--well, at least in a traditional sense. You can't simply hone in on an enemy and lock the camera on them. Instead, you have to keep them in your sights long enough for a target to appear over them, allowing you to more accurately hit them with your attacks upon firing. This is crucial for things like homing missiles in your potential Arsenal's arsenal. While fights with larger targets that are easy to spot and hit, and battles with smaller AI robots that are destroyed with a few shots are simple enough, it's when you're going up against other Arsenals that all heck breaks loose.

Phew! I'm going to need some shades for this mission!
You're in a perpetual state of trying to keep your enemy in your sights so you can line up shots and hopefully hit them. This is all the while you're zipping around to dodge their attacks, and they're zipping around to dodge your attacks. Aerial combat is very difficult when you're doing battle with another Arsenal because they're zooming around in a 3D area where you have to account for all axes. It made it so ground combat was my preferred way of engaging with Arsenal opponents. It's a drastic day and night difference in just how easy it is to duel with a fellow Arsenal on a literally level playing field as opposed to the wide expanses of a 360 degree space.

Defeating rival Arsenals and pillaging their fallen remains yield rewards in the forms of weapons and Arsenal body parts for pilfering purposes. This, in turn, allows you to either send them directly to your base, where they'll be available to equip at a later time (permanently being in your collection) or equip them on the fly in battle.

If only this particular fort was really just a bunch of pillows stacked on top of each
other instead of a rampaging mechanical monstrosity. If only...
When you're not fighting enemy AI cannon fodder and other Arsenals, you're fighting gigantic Immortals, huge robotic creatures that can both deal and dish out take heavy damage. They can come in many forms, such as a humongous quadruped mech to a massive, mechanical, burrowing worm. These battles have you chipping away at an Immortal's armor, eventually breaking them off to reveal their weak points, and then unloading everything you've got into them to deplete their generous amounts of health. These particular battles, like some of the Arsenal encounters, can go on a little too long for my liking, but they add some freshness to an otherwise stale mission-based structure that Daemon X Machina uses.

Bob and weave through these killer laser beams. Nothin' to it but to do it!
There are over 45 missions in the story of Daemon X Machina, and the greatest number of these involve eliminating enemies, whether they be weak AI that go down quickly, other Arsenals, or the aforementioned Immortals. The latter are definitely the most entertaining of the types of elimination missions. Less entertaining are the handful of escort missions where you must guard and protect a certain mission critical structure. Part of the problem with these escort missions is that the teammate AI is practically useless. They're great in missions where you are facing an Arsenal or team of Arsenals. Not because they help deal a lot of damage to the enemy. No, it's more because they're terrific distractions, so why they're taking enemy fire, you can unleash a barrage of bullets and attacks on the Arsenals going after them. Regardless, in escort missions, they're essentially without worth.

A further issue is that failing a mission can be so obnoxious. Not only is there a lengthy loading time to restart a mission, but there are no checkpoints to speak of within the game. So many of these missions have multiple cutscenes that, while they can be skipped, get annoying when you have to jam on the + button to cycle through them just to get back to the action. Then, there are missions where you can easily breeze through the first part only to get utterly decimated in the second, completely leaving you demoralized and aggravated--in addition to forcing you to redo both parts once more. Again, this is where those aforementioned missing checkpoints would be godsends.

What is this, an interpretation of "The Star-Spangled Banner"
with rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air?
That notwithstanding, the mission structure and tiny amount of mission variety bring a small sense of monotony to the experience, especially as you enter deep into the game, so much so that I opted to just skip as many mission briefings as I could without it making the already confusing story of the game more so confusing.

Speaking of which, Daemon X Machina's story is one that tells the fate of humanity after a cataclysmic incident known as the Moonfall occurred. Here, a humongous portion of the moon fractured off from itself and slammed into the planet, wiping out countless human lives and resulting in the rise of hostile AI taking over various machinery once used to serve man, now rebelling against their creators. Several corporations have since started hiring mercenaries to complete missions for the greater good of the planet. You play as a rookie who finds themselves taking on missions, assisting the numerous consortium groups and their cult of personality members that take on these missions. The story itself is obvious window dressing for all the cool mech action players get to do, but it has its moments. Unfortunately, most of the time you're watching chat window communication sessions between the various mercs, which I got to a point where I didn't feel guilty for skimming through them, or outright skipping them altogether. The cutscenes that appear during missions, however, are entertaining enough.

There's a lot of gibberish and nonsense with Daemon X Machina's story,
so just sit back and enjoy the wild ride.
More than entertaining enough is the online play, offering co-operative and competitive multiplayer for up to four players. These feature missions that pit your squad up against teams of Arsenals from the story mode or mode-exclusive versions of Immortals that are extremely challenging to face. The latter reminded me of my Monster Hunter days where I'd team up with a group of randoms to take down a hulking beast like Lagiacrus in a half-hour long battle. Communication is key in these kinds of games, and the Nintendo Switch fails to achieve a sophisticated or worthwhile enough message system to work well with this type of game. While selecting from a series of canned messages from a list is fine and typing in custom messages via an in-game keyboard is good for when you're in a lobby, chilling out, it's not so effective or efficient when being barraged with enemy bullets on the battlefield.

When two swords strike simultaneously, mash on the A button to win the duel.
Daemon X Machina will most assuredly find its niche with a subset of mech game-loving Nintendo Switch owners. (There are dozens of us!) That said, the game isn't at all beginner-friendly, and will even put off some seasoned gamers as well with its complex controls and systems. For mech lovers, there's nothing like upgrading your Arsenal, prettying it all up, and then taking it out on the battlefield, whether online or off, and shooting and slicing the hell out of enemies on the battlefield. If you liked Armored Core or have any interest in mech games--while also having the patience to learn the ins and outs of its gameplay mechanics--then mecha no mistake--you should play Daemon X Machina.

[SPC Says: B-]

Trials of Mana (NSW, PS4) Character Spotlight Trailer

For those who have the Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch, you've finally been able to play an officially localized version of the third entry of the Mana series. Soon, you'll be able to play it with an all-new upgraded version with a fully 3D face lift. This trailer showcases two of the primary protagonists in Trials of Mana, a game that launches on both Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 on April 24th, 2020.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PS4, XB1, PC) Opening Cinematic

A familiar theme song accompanies the official opening cinematic for Bandai Namco Entertainment's Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a game that goes through numerous arcs and sagas of the Dragon Ball Z series--but in a way never seen before. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is less than a month away from its January 17th, 2020 release, so what better way to start the hype than watching the game's opening ahead of time?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey (3DS) Review

Kicking off this week is a new review for a game that launched early this year. It's Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey, and between this game and the previous review for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, my fingers are cramping up typing up all of these long titles! As we pour one out for the developer of this game, Alphadream, who has since fallen into bankruptcy, let's check out the SPC review of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey for the Nintendo 3DS.

The ins and outs of the Mario & Luigi series's greatest adventure

2018 was essentially the final year of major support for the Nintendo 3DS, and what's left in 2019 is pretty much slim pickings for 3DS owners as Nintendo and its various third party partners have moved on with a laser-like focus on the new hotness that is the Switch. The biggest games from Nintendo this year for 3DS owners are both retreads of familiar games. While SuperPhillip Central has already covered the first, let's take a look at the second with Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey.

When Bowser devours a mysterious Mushroom that causes him to inhale and digest everything within his reach, including the Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and various Toads, it's up to an unlikely alliance of Mario Brothers and Bowser to work together with Mario and Luigi venturing through the Koopa King's body to help Bowser out in the outside world. This is all the while the nefarious fan-favorite Fawful takes over the Mushroom Kingdom, including both Peach and Bowser's castles respectively.

This is a pretty plump problem for the plumbers to solve!
You can bet they're on top it, though!
Bowser's Inside Story switches off between playing as the duo of Mario and Luigi inside Bowser's body in 2D side-scrolling areas, and then playing as the Koopa King himself in a traditional overworld map. Many times throughout the adventure, you'll switch on the fly between the two to solve puzzles and change the environment inside Bowser's body. For instance, a platform inside a "dungeon" in Bowser's body is deemed too high to reach for Mario and Luigi, so Bowser can go ahead and fill his body with water on the overworld map for Mario and Luigi to reach the previously inaccessible platform. There are also mini-games that play out which gives Bowser the necessary strength or abilities he needs during certain scenarios in the game, but some of these appear too often for my liking and feel like padding for the most part.

What Bowser does on the outside can have effects on his insides, such as in this example.
There are sections of the game where Bowser transforms to humongous size and takes on massive bosses. These parts of the game have you turning the 3DS on its side, portrait-style, and using the touch screen to attack and guard against the enemy's advances. They show up just a handful of times, and tend to last a little overlong, but overall, they're enjoyable slices of gameplay to keep things engaging.

Fi-fie-fo-fum, a gigantic Bowser is here to get him some.
If you've played a Mario & Luigi RPG before, then you should feel right at home with Bowser's Inside Story. You use both plumbers to perform platforming stunts around areas, using the A button for Mario and the B button for Luigi (or having both jump at once with a press of the Y button), and switch between various abilities with the L and R buttons. For example, Luigi can hit Mario on the noggin with a hammer in order to flatten him to a small stature, allowing Mario to fit inside small passageways that the plumbers together couldn't otherwise access. There's also a twister ability that grants both plumbers the ability to spin across wide chasms that a normal jump wouldn't allow them to pass over.

Meanwhile, Bowser also has his own set of overworld abilities that he can use, whether that's setting trees and foliage that obstruct his way on fire with his flame breath, punching down heavy walls, leaping into the air and smashing downward with his shell, or curling up into a spiky ball to climb specially marked walls and cross over hazards.

Battles initiate when the player makes contact with an enemy, and if you wind up attacking a foe on a game map to initiate battle, you start the battle attacking the enemy directly. However, the enemy can also do the same to you.

The same context and timing-based combat system that dates all the way back to Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo is put to good use in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. It's all about pressing the button at the right time to deal the most damage when performing attacks. Pressing the jump button immediately before Mario or Luigi makes contact with a foe means additional damage occurs. Meanwhile, dodging attacks is performed by either jumping or using Mario and Luigi's hammers with proper timing. Bowser's combat is similar, just change "jumps and hammers" to "punches and curling up inside his shell" to dodge or block attacks instead.

Powerful special moves in the form of Bros. Attacks can dish up
some damage quite quickly if your timing is sharp!
Starting off, enemy attacks are rather easy to avoid with simplistic tells as to who and when they are going to attack, but as the game chugs along, you'll discover that enemies can be quite challenging to avoid their attacks, and that said attacks deal some heavy damage if not avoided! I found it rather clever how Alphadream has enemies give away who they're going to attack, such as performing a specific and subtle animation to determine if the enemy is going to aim at Mario or Luigi.

Some Bowser battles require him to vacuum up enemies, literally inhaling them to miniature size inside him for Mario and Luigi to do battle. While you're not simultaneously fighting two fronts at the same time--instead Mario and Luigi take care of the enemies brought inside Bowser's body first, and then the battle outside recommences--it's a cool and creative feature and element that brings some freshness to the Mario & Luigi format.

So, Mario & Luigi's combat system isn't a passive one. You're always actively engaged with battle, whether you want to be or not. I say the latter part because some enemy encounters tend to drag on and not seem to be worth the time or effort for the experience or coin reward given. Thus, if you're just randomly hitting buttons without paying attention, these battles will just last even longer than they would otherwise.

However, if you DO want a passive experience, then Nintendo and Alphadream have cooked up one for this remake of Bowser's Inside Story. Like its remade predecessor, Superstar Saga, also on the 3DS, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story's 3DS version features a side story featuring Bowser's minions. This time around it's Bowser Jr.'s Journey, centered around Bowser's offspring as he ventures throughout the Mushroom Kingdom searching for Bowser's missing minions. Here, battles play out with minimal input from the player, simply having them select a series of minions to protect Bowser Jr. Then, it's basically watch a parade of enemies battle one another and see if you're successful in fending them off. It's a rock-paper-scissors-like experience, and one that is much too "hands off" for my liking. I ended up dropping it about halfway through, despite enjoying the snappy new dialogue featured in the game.

Unlike what this screenshot says, there's nothing really "Excellent"
 about Bowser Jr.'s Journey, other than the dialogue.
Speaking of which, the humor is on point as ever with Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey as a whole. Mario and Luigi may have their names front and center on the title of the series, but yes, it is Bowser who steals the show. Seeing how Bowser tries to throw his weight around--both figuratively and literally--with various characters and the hilarious interactions he has with them seldom failed to give me a smile at the very least, and a hearty chuckle at the very most. Adding to that everyone's favorite Mario & Luigi series character Fawful as the leading villain (he has fury, don't you know), and you have a game that is impossible not to play without laughing. Try it, I dare you.

With regard to the presentation, those who played the remake of Superstar Saga should have an idea of what to expect. You have an updated art style with less expressive characters and animations, as well as a new take on the classic music from the game. Like Superstar Saga, there is no support for stereoscopic 3D, much like many 3DS games released in the system's twilight years. Of course, part of that is due to both screens being used in battles.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey doesn't completely replace the need for the Nintendo DS original Bowser's Inside Story, but also adds enough content and updates to the game that it makes for a nice supplement all the same. Bowser Jr.'s Journey is a disappointment in how "hands off" the experience is, but considering it's an extra mode to a game that would otherwise already be full-featured, it's hard to knock it too much. After all, when you have the excellence that is the 25-30 hour adventure of Bowser's Inside Story, not even Bowser could find too much to complain about... other than some filler and padding in the form of repeated mini-games, of course!

[SPC Says: B+]

Want even more Mario & Luigi? Then, check out these other SuperPhillip Central reviews!

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions