Friday, March 13, 2020

Wunderling (NSW, PC) Review

Let's cap off the week with some much needed levity with a look at an enjoyable auto-runner with a twist. It's Wunderling from Retroid Interactive, and here is the SPC review.

Small Wunder

Last Friday, I took a look at a game starring a minion that was a satire of the RPG genre with my review of Underhero. This week, I'm taking on a look at Retroid Interactive's Wunderling, which puts its own spin on 2D platformers, particularly a specific one featuring a popular portly plumber. With lovely pixel art, cool tunes, and an addicting "one more try" approach to its design, Wunderling is a delightful auto-runner with a unique take on the genre.

Wunderling starts you out as playing as the Mario-like hero (though one that's quite a bit more of a braggart) Carrot Man, and playing through a Super Mario Bros. 1-1-styled platforming level, stomping on Goomba-like enemies along the way. Upon smashing the final enemy and landing on the flagpole, our supposed hero sashays away with another victory under his hat, or in this case, leafy top. From there, a witchy sorceress arrives to revive one of her fallen underlings and tasks it with pursuing Carrot Man, hoping to siphon his supply of lives in the process.

However, that's easier said than done because like any Goomba-like underling in a 2D platformer, our vegetable minion marches forward and cannot stop or turn around until it collides with a wall. Wunderling's true gameplay then reveals itself as an auto-runner with you controlling the underling's jumps and other abilities that unlock throughout the progression of the game.

Discovering how to get around each stage successfully gives Wunderling
a puzzle/platforming-type feel.
New abilities include the power to temporarily dash to launch yourself across wide chasms, the power to fly, and a wall jump ability. These abilities unlock at a steady pace, one per world, and they give you just enough time to become acquainted with all of their tricks and mechanic nuances before a new one gets introduced. Thus, there's plenty of time to experiment, and not just for the player but also for the level designers to craft some inventive courses for you to get the most out of each ability. Worlds are fifteen levels in length, so they don't linger or overstay their welcome.

It takes a few seconds for your boost ability to recharge, so use it wisely.
Your controllable minion moves on his own and only changes direction when bumping into a solid structure, but it also can't just linger and loiter around in one place for a lengthy amount of time. You have a health bar, indicated by a small heart symbol that slowly depletes and reveals itself when the underling hasn't collected a flower bud in a while. Only through collecting an abundance of flower buds does the underling's health return to normal. If it depletes completely, the underling dies and the level is failed. Many levels have it where you don't want to immediately collect every accessible flower bud, as you'll often have to do some backtracking. Therefore, leaving behind some flower buds to pick up and collect on the way back can be the difference between having enough health to finish the level and a shortened life expectancy.

These yellow buds serve not only as collectibles but also as a means to keep your minion alive.
Flower buds, which turn into flowers when collected, are but one of the main collectibles in Wunderling. Each level houses a secret treasure chest that when collected and brought to the goal successfully unlocks a new costume piece for your minion. The amount of costume pieces and combinations are immense, and they're enjoyable to collect for numerous reasons. For one, they're generally hidden well and require you to take on different approaches to levels than you normally would. A basic run through a level is simple enough, but when you aim to collect everything possible in a level, including the treasure and--in some level's cases--song-unlocking cassette tapes, runs become more complicated and require smart strategies to successfully complete.

There is a lot of trial and error in Wunderling, and this is most apparent when searching high and low for treasure chests and other secrets, such as warp portals leading to one of three extra levels in each world. Many are hidden behind fake walls, which for this type of game leads to a copious amount of deaths as you practically have to guess most times which walls are real and which walls are hiding something behind them. Generally this isn't a huge problem as levels are usually short enough that deaths don't make you repeat too much work, and the ones that are lengthy have checkpoints in them.

Take flight with the wing power-up, and carefully soar to success.
Levels in Wunderling have a great amount of unique gimmicks and mechanics to them, obviously helped by the abilities our minion receives, but also because of the mechanisms in place. There are locked gates requiring specially colored keys to unlock, doors that open and shut when buttons are pressed, boost pads that speed up our unlikely underling hero, lava and ice floors that prevent the ability to jump, Donkey Kong Country barrel cannon-style launchers that blast the minion across levels, and hazards like spikes to avoid. Much like each new ability added to the underling's arsenal of moves, each gimmick and gameplay mechanism is introduced slowly and steadily as to not overstay its welcome nor bore the player by seeing it repeatedly without much alteration.

Use these colored keys to unlock their associated blocks, or else meet a spike-filled fate!
Wunderling is a stellar auto-runner with beautiful pixel art and a catchy soundtrack. The only stumbling point I see with potential purchasers is its $15 asking price, something I perceive as higher than the usual asking price for a game of its genre. That said, if you enjoy games with humor, levels that push you to master them and fully explore their secrets, and are intrigued by its novel approach to the auto runner genre of platformer, then Wunderling certainly earns a recommendation from me. March on, minion. March on.

[SPC Says: B]

A code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Bad Boss Battles in Gaming History - Part Ten

  • Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield (NSW)
  • Luigi's Mansion 3 (NSW)
  • Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)
  • Sonic Mania (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)
  • Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC, Wii)

SPC just can't seem to get away from the number ten this week. Earlier the site celebrated Mario Day on March 10th, which saw a top ten list of the ten best Mario games of the past ten years, and now the tenth installment of Bad Boss Battles in Gaming History arrives in style on the site.

A good boss battle sticks with you for all the right reasons, and soon after beating it, you want to go back and do it all over again. The bosses on this list, however, are the absolute opposite of that, for the most part. These are annoying, broken, unfair, poorly designed, or just plain old disappointing. Whatever the case may be, the following boss battles lean more towards bad than fun, and as we'll see, even the greatest of games can have lulls in excitement and entertainment when it comes to their bosses while some shouldn't have included them to begin with.

Before we begin, though, check out all nine previous parts of this ongoing series of articles, and then check after the break for the latest boss entries:

DOOM Eternal (PS4, XB1, PC) Official Launch Trailer

Edited to correct how far the game's release is away.

One week and some change ahead of its release date, DOOM Eternal has a special trailer made for its launch on March 20th. Rip, tear, and raze hell in this super-powered, ultra-violent sequel that seems to take everything players loved about the original (high octane action, agile gunplay, the feeling of being an unstoppable force, and intricate level design sprinkled with clever secrets) and turns the dial up to 11.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Top Ten Mario Games of the Past Ten Years

The number ten--it has a lot of significance on SuperPhillip Central today. Not only is it March 10th, or Mario Day (Mar 10) as it's recognized by Nintendo, but on this special day we have an equally special top ten list. Today, I take a look at the past ten years of Mario games--spin-offs included (but they need to feature Mario in a starring role)--and pick out the best ten of the bunch. Mario is synonymous with gaming, so if not a special top ten list for the Big N's big mascot, then for who? After you've checked out my choices, let me know which Mario games you've loved from the past ten years.

10) Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

We begin with a Mario Kart game that many might consider leaving in the dust due to the fact that it's on a now-defunct system and most of its courses are available in Mario Kart Tour. Mario Kart 7 brought with it a host of welcomed additions including underwater and aerial racing, vast kart customization, and some truly creative tracks that took advantage of both. The retro track selections are some of my favorites in the Mario Kart series, and I spent dozens of hours racing with friends and total strangers online in fast and frantic races. It's a portable Mario Kart but without the repulsive, money-leeching, whale-exploiting tactics of Mario Kart Tour.

9) Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (NSW)

This next game was such a surprise and such a fantastic success story. After being leaked and criticized and made fun of to death before any footage was shown, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle proved its critics wrong and taught a valuable, if not cliche, lesson: never judge a book by its cover--or in this case: never judge a game by its premise. To be fair, combining the beloved cast of Mushroom Kingdom characters with the lesser loved, borderline annoying Minion-like Rabbids seemed like a recipe for disaster on paper, but the folks at Ubisoft Milan obviously put everything into the final product, an X-Com-like strategy game with so much love placed into it. The source material was respected, and the actual game itself was one of the best releases on Switch that year. Just a glorious and wonderful feel-good industry story all around and a great game at that, too.

8) Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)

The Mario Golf series hasn't seen a full-fledged RPG story in a long while, and many were disappointed by the lack of one in this sequel as well, especially since previous portable entries had them. However, everything else in Mario Golf: World Tour was exquisite, making it one of my favorite arcade golf games ever made. Between the terrific golf mechanics, bevy of modes, tremendous courses that were had both realistic and fantastical designs (seriously, playing golf underwater or pint-sized in a "Honey, I Shrunk the Mushroom Kingdom"-like way were clever and amazing experiences), and great online content like ongoing tournaments and well handled DLC (featuring six returning courses from the original Nintendo 64 Mario Golf), and many Mario maniacs were in golf heaven.

7) Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

Continuing with the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land made a terrific argument for the 3DS hardware's stereoscopic 3D capabilities. While the game could very much be played without it turned on, judging jumps and depth while being wowed by effects like spiked pillars jutting out at the screen and Bullet Bills flying towards your face were made amazing. Super Mario 3D Land brought with it a level structure similar to the Super Mario Bros. games with a start and ending flagpole. The only difference was that the game's levels were in 3D. Another entry on this list would take the foundation that 3D Land laid and run with it with tremendous results, as you'll see in just a few more entries.

6) New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (NSW)

The original New Super Mario Bros. U released on the Wii U as a launch title in 2012. It was deemed more of the same due to its similar art style that many considered sterile, safe, and just otherwise unexciting. However, the level design remains my favorite out of any other 2D Mario game with an influx of creative ideas and clever gimmicks thrown in. The return of a Super Mario World-style map was also exciting, as it made for an interconnected-feeling world as opposed to the disjointed maps of past games. The Wii U would later receive additional DLC in the form of a more challenging Luigi-based set of bite-sized levels with New Super Luigi U. The package of the base NSMBU and DLC would release together on Wii U and also early last year on the Nintendo Switch, offering a whole new audience of players and my preferred way of playing this duo of excellent 2D Mario games.

5) Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW)

While there are a number of things that the original Super Mario Maker did better than its sequel, Super Mario Maker 2 otherwise blows the original Wii U release away. With more customization and creation options for excellent levels to be crafted, a full fledged story mode that essentially served as a tutorial and inspiration for budding creators to make their own masterpieces (or at least do their best to try), and full multiplayer in both co-operative and competitive modes, Super Mario Maker 2 floored me last year. It's by far my most played Nintendo Switch game, and the amount of excellent levels that has come out from the community amazes me and only encourages me to make better levels. While the updates have been slow releasing, they have truly made this stellar Mario level making tool even better.

4) Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS laid the foundation. Super Mario 3D World continued from where Land left off, offering more on top of that. Levels were more extravagantly designed and masterfully made, secrets like stamps and Green Stars were smartly placed for completionists and more skilled players, multiplayer was a huge focus but hardly necessary to enjoy the game, and the abundance of creative ideas were plentiful to the point that I don't know how Nintendo kept it all from overflowing out the Wii U disc the game was printed on. Super Mario 3D World remains one of the last worthwhile Wii U exclusives that are stuck on the failed system, so to say that are plenty of players who'd like to see the game make the jump to the Switch would be an understatement.

3) Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

While we're on the subject of games that made the jump to the Switch--or perhaps in this case, drifted onto the Switch--Mario Kart 8 delighted Wii U owners when it launched on Nintendo's first HD console. It had 32 fantastic tracks, implementing the brand-new anti-gravity mechanic where racers would find themselves driving upside-down, down the faces of waterfalls, and much more. It also had impeccably designed DLC with 16 more tracks split up between two packs for a total of 48 tracks. What the vanilla version of Mario Kart 8 didn't have, however, was a competent battle mode. Instead, it used reworked versions of the base game's tracks as opposed to arenas like in past games. Not only did Mario Kart 8's arrival on the Nintendo Switch bring with it a revitalized Battle Mode, but it also brought with it all 48 tracks in one nice and neat package as well as new characters, too. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the most complete games in the series content-wise, and it's also just insanely enjoyable as a kart racer. Fast, accessible, and amazing.

2) Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

The latest 3D Mario to release and one of the best, we have Super Mario Odyssey. There was a whole wild world to explore in Super Mario Odyssey, and Mario did it in style--well, multiple styles, as Mario could dress up in various costumes, many celebrating the portly plumber's past and several decades in gaming. The major mechanic in Odyssey was the addition of Cappy, a cap that could be chucked at enemies, thus having Mario inhabit them, utilizing their full move set to solve puzzles and engage with the environment in various ways. The abundance of Power Moons might seem like overkill, but it allowed players of all skill levels to complete the game by going after moons that fit their particular preferred degree of difficulty. It also allowed completionists like me to go hog-wild collecting everything under the sun--er, moon. Super Mario Odyssey had as much creativity packed inside of it as it did Power Moons to collect, and I hope Nintendo saved some ideas for a sequel!

1) Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Speaking of which, that's exactly what Nintendo did with the original Super Mario Galaxy, a 2007 release. The developers had so many left over ideas that they made a direct sequel to it with May 2010's Super Mario Galaxy 2. (Phew! This number one game on the list just barely qualified, didn't it!) While I prefer the original Galaxy just for being the first of its kind and being so memorable due to that fact, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is certainly no slouch. It was a bigger adventure with greater worlds to explore, new power-ups to engage the player with, and a tremendous amount of enemies and bosses to tackle. I love the level design and copious amounts of creativity on display therein, offering so much gravity-based fun. Every galaxy I entered my first time through the game, I said to myself, "Okay, the developers are BOUND to have run out of ideas and will start repeating themselves soon, right?" Wrong! Super Mario Galaxy 2 consistently and continuously kept putting forth new concepts, new ideas, new galaxy gimmicks, and new masterful moments that makes it my favorite Mario game from the past ten years. It's just that darn good of a game, even almost a decade later, and shows that despite all the excellent quality entries in the Mario franchise, none have yet surpassed Galaxy 2 for me.