Monday, February 24, 2020

All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries - Part Fourteen

If you've been around SuperPhillip Central for a little while (it's still okay if you haven't, so no harm done), then you know that I like talking about underrated and overlooked games. I've done various series on the subject. However, most of the time, the games mentioned in these articles are from wholly new or overlooked franchises themselves.

There are also a multitude of series that I can think of that have one, two, or a handful of games in it that aren't viewed as highly as the others, whether just or not.

These ideas are where the concept of All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries comes from, and since our 13th edition, I've come up with six more underrated entries to big-time franchises, some bigger than others. If you'd like to see past parts of this long-running series, check them out here:

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

Let's strike while the iron's hot popularity-wise as the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is fresh on moviegoers' minds. Team Sonic Racing comes from the same sub-series of racing games as Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but it's not seen in the same caliber as those titles. Part of that reason is the total absence of SEGA's all-stars, instead having Team Sonic Racing adhere exclusively to--as the title of the game would suggest--characters within the Sonic the Hedgehog series. That said, the arcade racing gameplay remains in top form despite the lack of characters like AiAi, Samba, Ulala, Nights, et. al, and the added team mechanic works well for the game. Unfortunately, many snubbed Team Sonic Racing due to being seen as a step backwards for the Sonic racing franchise, but rest assured, the game is as high of a quality as you'd expect from the racing game masters at Sumo Digital.

Yoshi - Yoshi's Crafted World (NSW)

We're going to change from the fast, high octane realm of Team Sonic Racing to the more slow, plodding, and methodical pace of Yoshi's Crafted World. Most still believe that the original Yoshi's Island is the pinnacle of the Yoshi platforming series, but if you ask me, Yoshi's Woolly World surpassed it. As for its followup from Woolly World's developer Good Feel, Yoshi's Crafted World may have part of its charm removed from the lackluster soundtrack included (a massive step down from Yoshi's Woolly World, moreover Yoshi's Island), but everywhere else, charm pours out like water from a sugary sweet fountain. The multi-tiered level design, offering oodles of activity in the foregrounds and backgrounds, as well as constantly delivering new platforming gimmicks and challenges within each stage, made for some marvelously happy memories for me through playing Crafted World. Just how well Good Feel--for lack of a better word--"crafted" its levels from real life household objects much like a child would make for an elementary school diorama just oozed with creativity. Yoshi's Crafted World may not have been the best the Yoshi series has seen, but it's hardly a weak effort.

Animal Crossing - Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)

Moving on from one mellow franchise to another, we have Animal Crossing, which recently saw a full blowout for its newest entry which launches on March 20th. Part of the customization features seen in New Horizons can be traced back to the options available in a spin-off entry in the franchise: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer for the Nintendo 3DS. Now, perhaps this is damning the game with faint praise, but first and foremost, Happy Home Designer is by far a better game than the sickly and quite frankly, insulting Wii U spin-off, Amiibo Festival. To give better praise to Happy Home Designer, the amount of customization  was massive with placing furniture and channeling your inner Property Brother to make a magnificent floor plan for each and every animal that asks for your interior design services. While one could easily do the minimal amount of effort to satisfy a given animal's request, it was more enjoyable to put in the work and the effort to create a gorgeous happy home both on the inside and the outside for every animal that came your academy's way.

Professor Layton - Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy - Deluxe Edition (NSW)

Professor Layton may be missing, but his daughter Katrielle is more than capable of following in his footsteps to solve (decidedly more menial) mysteries! The game with such a long title that I will just shorten it to "Layton's Mystery Journey" features a dozen or so short, self-contained cases to solve instead of one major overarching one. This is better for short, bite-sized portable playing sessions, but it can also put off those hoping for something more complicated and convoluted that was previously the Professor Layton series's penchant. Still, you do get a multitude of brain teasers and puzzles to solve from a plethora of personality-rich characters to enjoy. The original Layton's Mystery Journey released on the Nintendo 3DS, and this Nintendo Switch version altered some of the puzzles around, even replacing several that required some of the 3DS's hardware capabilities. Despite removing several fan-favorite features and characters from the franchise, Layton's latest in the series is one not to miss.

Frogger - Frogger: Helmet Chaos (PSP)

Frogger is well known as a franchise that has players controlling the titular frog, hopping across hazard-filled rivers and streets, hoping not to fall in or get flatten, as the locale may permit. Frogger: Helmet Chaos on the PlayStation Portable took the franchise into familiar territory while also adding a whole new adventure element to the series. It was a mix of new and old while not straying too far away from the series's arcade roots like the home console iterations of the time for the Frogger franchise found themselves doing. Instead, Frogger: Helmet Chaos featured a top-down view with exploration elements, adventuring parts, and a unique level-based system that affected which level you'd stumble on to next depending on route choices made in the adventure. The latter offered an abundant amount of replay value for the game, and made it more than worthy of a second or even third play, depending on how much one enjoyed the chaos of Frogger's helmet-related adventure.

Soul Calibur - Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny (PSP)

Speaking of the PSP, let's turn to a well known fighting game franchise that didn't really have any favors done to it for being placed on Sony's handheld system. Being stuck on the PlayStation Portable meant that Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny languished in sales, but those that did get the privilege to play it found a meaty game worthy of the Soul Calibur name. It was essentially a well made version of the arcade and home console games put to a portable format, and it worked insanely great. You had a full fledged fighter that you could place in your pocket. The addition of Kratos as Broken Destiny's exclusive guest character was just the cherry on top of this sweet sundae of weapons-based combat goodness that was Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny.

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