Friday, April 17, 2020

Saints Row IV: Re-Elected (NSW) Review

We're deep in the month of April, and there was no sign of the month's first review. Until NOW, that is! Saints Row IV: Re-Elected launched on the Nintendo Switch at the end of March, and now I have my full review right here on SuperPhillip Central.

The infamous Saints crack down on an otherworldly threat

In 2013, Saints Row IV took the Grand Theft Auto-inspired series and changed things up considerably, taking the wackiness dial, turning it up past 11, and essentially ripping that dial off in the process. Now, Saints Row: The Third already was off the wall as it was, but Saints Row IV somehow went even further down the rabbit hole. I mean, what else you can say about a game that starts with the Saints leader as the President of the United States, an alien invasion, and being abducted by said aliens and placed into a horrific simulation of the city of Steelport?

Make no mistake--this is certainly the Saints Row series at its most insane. (Until perhaps Saints Row V!)
In this simulation of Steelport (yes, the same map from Saints Row: The Third is used in this sequel, though with some obvious and not-so-obvious alterations), you are not bound by the laws of the real world. After all, it's virtual, so as you gain new powers and abilities through story progression, you're able to kick alien ass and anyone else who gets in your way with style and just all-around flat-out awesomeness. I'm talking about powers like the ability to sprint with insane speed, fly in the sky, as well as unleash bursts of ice to freeze foes and fire to conjure up some explosive results. Then, there's my personal favorite of the bunch: telekinesis, offering the ability to pick up enemies and objects and launch them into the air with reckless abandon.

The various superpowers the Boss acquires make traveling around Steelport quite entertaining.
At the beginning of Saints Row IV, you'll be utilizing vehicular modes of transportation to get around and weak weapons with limited ammo. However, as you progress the story and clear side mission, you'll unlock those previously mentioned super-powered mobility options, and a sizable amount of money that can be spent on new guns and upgrades for those guns--great for gearing them up increased firepower, ammo size, and reload speed, for example. Cars become irrelevant rather quickly and a bit of a nuisance when you're forced to drive them in certain missions since running around at super speeds and leaping high up into the air to descend across the skies of Steelport is a much more enjoyable way to get around the simulation. This is especially so when you get the ability to spend money on upgrades for your character and their powers.

When you're able to soar across great expanses, somehow a car doesn't have the same level of fun to it.
Like previous Saints Row games, you get the ability to spend money to unlock upgrades. These come in the form of increased stamina, higher health, faster health recovery, invulnerability to fire and explosions, and on, and when it comes to superpowers, greater range of abilities and faster cooldown times so you can unleash your attack-oriented superpowers with greater speed or with mobility-oriented superpowers, jump higher and run faster. Thus, you can naturally see why riding around in a car isn't as exciting as perhaps picking up that car with telekinesis and plowing it directly into one of alien leader Zinyak's extraterrestrial goons.

The perpetually dark tones of the Steelport simulation grow tiring after a couple dozen hours of playing.
Similar to upgrading your fully customizable character, Saints Row IV's menu also offers the means to select missions. Most of the story-related missions revolve around reassembling the Saints crew from simulations based on their own personal nightmares. While Pierce's has you fending off killer Saints-branded soda can mascots, including a Godzilla-sized one, newcomer Asha's nightmarish simulation plays out like a mission of Metal Gear Solid, complete with hiding in cardboard boxes to slip past dim-witted soldiers. When you're not completing missions centered on the story, you're tasked with completing side missions, but unfortunately, most of these simply task you with completing side activities like Mayhem-style demolition fests, timed checkpoint races using your super sprint and other mobility-concentrated superpowers, and assassination-based missions.

It's a parade of mass-murdering Genki mascots. Just your typical evening inside the simulation.
To be fair, though, from the many (and I do mean MANY) side activities available to you from the ones mentioned and others like finding and destroying Zinyak's statues of his narcissistic self, hacking stores in a "Pipe Dream" video game-like fashion, and retrieving vehicles and getting them back to a chop shop in one piece, they do give fun rewards. From killer mechs (excuse me--"power suits") that you can add to your arsenal to guns that bounce bullets from one target to the next as well as guns that spawn black holes, sucking up anything and everything in their paths (including you), the unlockables on display in Saints Row IV are just as wacky as the premise and concept of the game itself.

Yes, there's still some Grand Theft Auto-like aspects to the simulation of Steelport, but overall, Saints Row IV plays more like Sony's Infamous series or Microsoft's Crackdown series than a typical GTA clone, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much of a fan you are of either style. What I can say is that Saints Row IV is definitely a drastic departure compared to the more classic, grounded era seen in Saints Row and Saints Row 2. Though, that's not to see it's a total departure story-wise, as Saints Row IV makes myriad references and allusions to past games, including story missions that take some classic missions from past games and puts a unique twist on them.

In the immortal words of Steve Urkel... "Did I do that?"
I can't say that Saints Row IV isn't dated as a game, but I don't mean in the most obvious of departments--its gameplay. Yes, of course, shooting still feels sloppy--which isn't helped by the Switch controller's smaller analog sticks (though gyro support does assist a little)--and lots of other elements of the game's design come off as relics of a bygone era in 2020. For me, though, it's all the movies references and a fair portion of the humor that I couldn't help but give a cold shoulder. At its worst, the crude humor and blatant immaturity were greeted with nothing but an eye roll from me instead of what the writers wanted from me, a laugh or even a smile. However, that's not to say there aren't elements of Saints Row IV's humor that kept me straight faced. When the game lets loose and gets at its most self-deprecating, it's legitimately a funny game. There's just all that other nonsense you have to sit through to get to it.

This alien should have thought twice before going to the Boss for his spine realignment.
You might be wondering why throughout this review of Saints Row IV: Re-Elected that I've just now called the game out by its full name instead of just "Saints Row IV". Well, there's a very good reason for that. The "Re-Elected" part of Saints Row IV is meant to feature DLC. However, thanks to a bug/glitch/error/whatever, the Switch version currently cannot access all of the DLC owners of Nintendo's hybrid system and this game were promised. Oopsy-daisy! Thus, really, all the Nintendo Switch has is the vanilla version of Saints Row IV with modest improvements and the occasional software crash. Not optimal.

Still, there's no denying that while some aspects of Saints Row IV are indeed dated, it remains a blast to speed through Steelport's streets, running up walls, leaping over tall buildings in a single bound like Superman, soaring through the sky, and unleashing your superpowers all over Zinyak's intergalactic army. It's some of the most fun I've had moving around an open-world setting. Though the currently MIA DLC is a drag and a downer, the devs are currently looking into a fix. Saints Row IV: Re-Elected was a pleasing power fantasy, but it won't be earning a second term on my Nintendo Switch any time soon.

[SPC Says: C+]

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Tuesday 10s: Best 3D Platformers of the Past Ten Years

After a nice, much needed week off, SuperPhillip Central is back with a brand-new article and a brand-new series of articles. Introducing: The Tuesday 10s--themed lists of some of the very best in gaming. Rather than obsess with the order of things like I would do with a top ten list, when it comes to The Tuesday 10s, these lists will be entirely unordered.

Let's kick off this inaugural edition of The Tuesday 10s with a category near and dear to my heart, the 3D platformer. It's a genre that used to be all the rage back when I was a middle school version of myself, but as you can tell by the past tense used, it's not so hot anymore. So, expect to see lots of Mario representation on this first installment of The Tuesday 10s!

I hope for this new article series to show up most Tuesdays on the site. After all, it wouldn't make much sense for The Tuesday 10s to appear on a Wednesday... Now, with all that out of the way, here are my selections for the best 3D platformers of the past ten years!

Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

Speaking of which, we begin this installment with Super Mario Odyssey, the latest 3D platformer featuring Mario. Taking the idea of the large, expansive playgrounds of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine and absolutely running (and jumping) with the concept, Super Mario Odyssey featured kingdoms that stretched far and wide, offering plenty of platforming, scores of secrets, and multiple opportunities for hunting down stray Power Moons. An abundant supply was hidden throughout each kingdom, and I enjoyed searching for them all. If you wanted to be a completionist, you could do that, but if you just wanted to complete the game with the minimum amount of Power Moons, you could also opt to do that, too. I feel the abundance (or overabundance, if you will) of Power Moons was like a joyous Easter egg hunt, and those with lesser skill could go after the ones that were less challenging to collect, meaning most could beat the game by choosing their own difficulty as it were.

Then, there's Cappy, who offered the ability for Mario to capture the powers and move sets of various objects, items, and enemies, bringing a whole new element to 3D Mario. While many of these were one-offs, the captured items that were used for traversal purposes shined the most. From the sun-soaked sands of Tostarena to the Japanese-style feudal castle of Bowser's Kingdom, every kingdom brought with it new ideas, personality, and charm. I won't call Super Mario Odyssey my favorite of Mario's 3D adventures, but it is darn close.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Now, THIS. THIS is what I would call my favorite 3D Mario game, if I had to choose. Well, it's definitely my favorite from Mario's repertoire of the past ten years, and it just comes under the wire, too, by about a month. It's of course Super Mario Galaxy 2, a game that greatly expanded on the ideas and concept of the original Galaxy, one of my favorite games of all time, period.

What makes Super Mario Galaxy 2 great is that it's pure, unadulterated platforming goodness. While not open like Super Mario Odyssey, the levels and galaxies are straight up obstacle courses with all the gravitational goodness of its predecessor put to some insanely ingenious uses. I had thought Super Mario Galaxy put the level designers' to the limit, and that they had revealed all of their tricks with that game. I was definitely wrong, as Super Mario Galaxy 2 is even more creative at times. I wanted more Super Mario Galaxy greatness, and that's exactly what I got with its brilliant, super sequel.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

Run, jump, and move through a wild assortment of traditional Mario obstacle courses, but this time in 3D. Yes, Super Mario 3D Land was set up essentially as your typical "point A to point B" Mario platformer but instead of being limited to 2D, another dimension was added, creating one incredible experience. 3D Land absolutely offered an amazing stereoscopic 3D experience on the Nintendo 3DS hardware, making it so enemies and objects seemingly popped out of the screen right at you, and made judging jumps easier of an activity than ever before. Super Mario 3D Land may have been built for bite-size play sessions with its mere minutes of gameplay per level, but it was a game that I wasn't able to put down for long periods of time. It's a game, like many on this first Tuesday 10, that I will continue coming back to if not to just marvel at its masterful level design and it being just plain fun to play.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Take the concept of Super Mario 3D Land and make it more suitable for a home console, particularly as Mario's first HD 3D adventure. How do you do that? Ask Nintendo, because that's exactly what they did, and made a much bigger and better game out of it (and you just saw how much I enjoyed 3D Land)! Super Mario 3D World greatly expanded on the level design of its 3DS predecessor, delivering much more complex, sophisticated, and challenging levels. The addition of multiplayer meant up to four players at once could locally scramble around the levels, either helping or hindering one another, depending on how mischievous they were feeling at the time. The Cat Suit stays near the top of my list as one of the best Super Mario power-ups to date, as it was just a blast to claw enemies, climb up walls, and just scurry about. Super Mario 3D World remains one of the few holdovers from the Wii U that has yet to be ported to the Nintendo Switch, but as rumors have hinted, hopefully we won't have to wait too long to see the game arrive on Nintendo's hybrid.

Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Tying in with the movie from the same year, Ratchet & Clank had a lot less bite to it when compared to the original game--both Ratchet and Clank had a much less strained relationship in the beginning and the character development wasn't as immense from start to finish. That said, nearly everything else about the Ratchet & Clank remake on the PlayStation 4 delivered in spades. The game, for one, looks like a million bolts. It's a game where I had to do a double take--no, triple take--just to confirm that what I was seeing was footage and screenshots from a game and not the movie itself. Various additions like upgrade-able weapons, which the original game lacked, meant that you wanted to use every weapon and gun in the game just to level them up to make them even more useful and powerful than they were. Ratchet & Clank is a shorter game than the 2002 original, but a lot of the unnecessary fat was cut and filler removed. It makes repeated play-throughs, something necessary to do for the Platinum trophy (a fun thing to go for) more enjoyable.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3, Vita)

Let's continue with PlayStation platformers with a series that is sadly now in limbo. It's Sly Cooper, and his fourth game, Thieves in Time, was a globe-trotting, time-traveling adventure that granted our clever raccoon various disguises which bestowed him different abilities. Sanzaru Games definitely delivered a delightful romp with Thieves in Time, keeping in spirit of Sucker Punch's signature original trilogy, while adding their own spin to things to keep this fourth entry exciting. It's just an absolute shame that this game ended on a cliffhanger, which at this point in time remains completely unresolved. Will you ever return home, Sly--whether home to your own time, or to a modern PlayStation platform?

Tearaway (Vita) / Tearaway: Unfolded (PS4)

Whether it's Tearaway on the PlayStation Vita or its revised Tearaway: Unfolded version on the PlayStation 4, Media Molecule breathed fresh, creative life into the 3D platforming genre on PlayStation with its papercraft world. Using both the Vita hardware itself and to a lesser extent, the PlayStation 4's DualShock controller, in remarkably novel and ingenious ways, Tearaway could have easily felt like a gimmick-filled 3D platformer. Instead, its "gimmicks" were complementary to the gameplay, from touching the rear pad of the Vita to raise platforms from the ground, to drawing decorations to be plastered around the game world. Tearaway is a delightful game that took risks and mostly succeeded with each. But, what else could you expect from the masterful minds behind creations like LittleBigPlanet and Dreams?

Sonic Generations (PS3, 360, PC)

While not having nearly as many the amount of entries on this Tuesday 10 than his old rival Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog does get some representation on this list, and it's what I and many fans of the Blue Blur consider his best 3D adventure. Sure, half of it is played in a 2D perspective, but let's not split hairs here. What plays out in 3D are some of the best modern stages in Sonic history. Yes, I can hear "well, that's a low bar" from the peanut gallery, but these levels are actually well done and thoughtfully designed. They feature a combination of modern-day Sonic "boost formula" Sonic, where Sonic is cruising through stages at insane speeds, but they also feature careful, precision-based platforming sections as well. It helps, too, that Sonic Generations is in itself a love letter to Sonic fans old and new with its zone selection, picking out levels from each major Sonic game from the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis to Sonic Colors on the Nintendo Wii.

A Hat in Time (Multi)

Gears for Breakfast's 3D platforming tour de force, A Hat in Time, was modeled after Nintendo 64-era "collectathons" of the 3D platforming persuasion, and for the most part, it was a fun romp. Using different hats and caps as Hat Kid to unleash various powers and abilities was enjoyable, as was exploring the absolutely large and dense levels of the game. I particularly enjoyed A Hat in Time's cheeky sense of humor, which it wore on its cap like a badge of honor. Though the game played a little too close to N64-era platformers when its troublesome camera was concerned, overall, A Hat in Time brought with its plenty of personality with its robust roster of charming characters, well designed levels, and comfortable controls to make for a winner in my book--one that I can't help but take off my own hat and bow to with respect.

Yooka-Laylee (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Speaking of N64-era 3D platformers of the "collectathon" variety, we have Yooka-Laylee. The story of Yooka-Laylee is the story of former designers and staffers from Rare's golden era who joined forces to form Playtonic Games. And of course, their first project just had to be a game *ahem* heavily inspired by one of the games many of the staff worked on at their time at Rare, none other than the much-cherished Banjo-Kazooie. (I'm included in that group that absolutely cherishes that game very much.)

At its core, Yooka-Laylee has a lot of interesting ideas to it, but not all of these are executed to their greatest ability. For instance, the mine cart sections and arcade game portions of Yooka-Laylee are rather dreadful, but stuff like the expansive worlds, unique challenges for each, and fun move sets for the combo of Yooka and Laylee deliver well. While the follow-up of Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a much better game than Playtonic's first go at designing a game for their chameleon and bat duo, the original Yooka-Laylee still offers enough entertainment for me to give it a hearty recommendation.


I hope you enjoyed this very first installment of the Tuesday 10s! What topics would you like to see me cover for future weeks? Let me know in the comments!