Saturday, May 16, 2020

Megabyte Punch (NSW) Review

Let's conclude this week of exciting SuperPhillip Central content with a second review for this month. It's a game that takes two things I love: Super Smash Bros. and customizable robots, and mashes them together for one explosive and awesome end result. It's Team Reptile's Megabyte Punch, and it's now available on the Nintendo Switch! Let's check it out with my review!

Custom Smash-bo

I had my eye on Team Reptile's Megabyte Punch ever since it released on PC more than a half-decade ago. The game takes two familiar enough concepts and mixes them into one interesting and overall engaging game. With gameplay akin to Nintendo's stellar Super Smash Bros. series as well as loosely borrowing the idea of equipping unique robot parts a la Custom Robo, Megabyte Punch is an 2.5D action platformer that has as much bark as it does "byte".

There are three main modes to Megabyte Punch: Adventure, Tournament, and Battle. The latter plays out similarly to battles from the Super Smash Bros. series, where the goal is to rack up damage on your opponents, and do this enough so they become more easily knocked off the screen, thus eliminating them. Meanwhile, Tournament gives you ten AI opponents to take on with brief pauses in between, and completing this mode unlocks new, exclusive parts unavailable in any other portion of the game.

Construct your custom robot creation and engage in battle!
The savory meat and potatoes of Megabyte Punch, at least for me, was Adventure. Here, you follow along with a mostly filler plot that failed to be too terribly engaging, but I was compelled to continue despite this. That's because Megabyte Punch's main gameplay hook is at its brightest in Adventure.

That hook is the ability to equip parts that are sometimes dropped from defeated enemies and bosses. You can equip six parts at a time, one for each section of your custom robo...t killing machine. Different parts bestow different abilities. Some make your attacks stronger by one point, some make you move with greater agility, while others provide you with various new attacks when they're equipped. Such attacks can be mapped in tried and true Smash Bros. fashion to an analog stick direction in combination with the special attack input. Thus, up to three attacks can be equipped at once to your robot (up + Y, down + Y, and side + Y).

Adventure's hub is this robotic village where all of the levels are interconnected.
This windmill structure serves as a shop, offering parts that can be purchased with bits found in levels.
As you can imagine, it's not just a question of form in Megabyte Punch with customizing your robot, but also function. Finding the right combination to suit a player's particular play style is something that I foresee a lot of the creative and customization-loving types digging deep into and enjoying. I most certainly did. Sometimes you'll want to change things up and swap in and out parts to fit the combat or exploration scenario at hand, and this is quite easy thanks to the ability to save multiple builds.

Playing through Adventure takes you through six worlds of three stages each, followed by a boss. The boss battles are generally one-on-one showdowns which start out simple enough. While the AI is quite crafty, you usually have more lives than the boss at the beginning. However, as you face later bosses, the live advantage is eliminated, and you must fight on steadier footing. Bosses can be real pieces of work and were the most frustrating part of Megabyte Punch's campaign. The way that my attacks seemingly failed to connect at times while the bosses' attacks seemingly never strayed away from hitting me was quite aggravating overall. It doesn't help that if you lose all of your lives, you're put back at your home base, forced to make the long, annoying, shameful trek back to the boss's lair all over again instead of being able to just hit a "retry" prompt.

One of the many bosses your robo will battle in Megabyte Punch's Adventure mode.
The stages in Megabyte Punch's Adventure mode offer a solid sense of reward for exploration, whether it's going off the beaten path to find a treasure chest in gold (a special part) or silver (currency) varieties, or discovering rare one-time color pods that allow you to alter the skin of your robot. These are hidden in the most creative and dastardly of locations within the game. There are abundance of paths in levels to take a lot of the time, and checkpoints are commonplace. These occur after what I like to call "battle rooms"--zones where you're locked inside a space and must defeat all spawning enemies before you can escape--are completed.

That said, also following the Smash Bros. route, Megabyte Punch's platforming feels rather floaty and loose. Not exactly the best combination to be found when you're at times having to make precision-focused jumps through tight, dangerous expanses. It's sort of why Smash Bros. stopped focusing on platforming-heavy gameplay and kept its focus more on the sensational, chaotic combat fans love about the franchise. Regardless, despite the light weight of the platforming, I still found myself eager to explore every which corner of Megabyte Punch's Adventure's expansive stages, even with the frustrations I faced.

Unlike Battle mode, defeat enemies (and be defeated) in Adventure mode by smashing them
into walls, ceilings and floors after they've taken enough damage.
Megabyte Punch offers multiplayer in most modes, and it's particularly helpful in Adventure. The difficulty does not take in account additional players, so there's no difficulty scaling to be found. So, as you can imagine, the more players you have--up to four via split-screen (sadly, no online is available to speak of at the time of this review)--the easier of a time you'll have. Players don't share lives, and can explore levels independently from one another, making it so more ground can be covered in a shorter amount of time. Really, it's going to be difficult for me to go back to playing Adventure solo-style after kicking butt--or "bot" in this case--in local co-op.

Up to four players can locally team up to take on Adventure mode.
Unfortunately, no online functionality is available in this Switch port.
The visual approach to Megabyte Punch is an incredibly simplistic one stylistically, comprised of basic polygons. It's a clean look, though nothing stunning. Even with such a simplistic style, there are some frame-rate hiccups that do occur. Not often enough to be a tremendous bother, but noticeable and frequent enough to occasionally get miffed towards. The soundtrack syncs with the action and moment-to-moment gameplay well, offering a retro and electronic sound.

Megabyte Punch isn't a particularly lengthy game, but that all depends on one's skill level and--with certain boss battles--luck. However, a plethora of parts and color combinations to collect, as well local multiplayer with bots or other players means that there is enough bot-bashing goodness to enjoy for at least a fair amount of hours. The lack of online hurts the chances of the game having a lasting impact in my Switch's library, but at the same token, I'm quite pleased to have finally played Megabyte Punch. It only took six years, after all!

[SPC Says: B-]

Team Reptile provided a code for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Paper Mario: The Origami King (NSW) Announcement Trailer

Talk about a well-crafted surprise! The new installment in the Paper Mario RPG series is coming, and sooner than I would have expected, too. Paper Mario: The Origami King introduces a new villain, updated battle system, and the same lovely sense of humor that have made past Paper Mario adventures so enjoyable. Paper Mario: The Origami King unfolds on the Nintendo Switch on July 17th.

PGA Tour 2K21 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Release Date Trailer

After a teaser trailer last week, PGA Tour 2K21 has officially been announced, and it's coming to all major current-gen platforms. Create a custom character and go golfing with good friends and total strangers alike with PGA Tour 2K21's online tournaments. Design your own dream golfing destinations with the ability to create your own golf courses. PGA Tour 2K21 launches on August 21st.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Trials of Mana (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

We've arrived at a special moment in SuperPhillip Central history with this review. It's not a special numbered review by any stretch of the imagination, but it IS a special post. This is officially the 4,000th ever post on SuperPhillip Central! Darn it--where are my noisemaker at party hat at when I need them?!

Seriously though, thank you for continuing to read and hopefully enjoy my takes on various video games and gaming as whole!

We now move on to the second JRPG remake from last month. The first was Final Fantasy VII Remake. The second is this--Trials of Mana! Here's my review.

The mother lode of quality when it comes to Mana games

This past year has seen a resurgence of the Mana series in gaming. Last year, for the first time ever, the third game in the Mana series, one that was stranded in Japan, was finally released in the West as part of the Nintendo Switch game Collection of Mana. Now, less than a year later, Mana fans get a another dose of Mana goodness with the third game in the series getting a full 3D remake. Trials of Mana is a game deeply rooted in the 16-bit era, and while this makes it definitely feel dated despite its new presentation-related bells and whistles, it's an example of a faithful remake that seriously delights.

Starting off, the game gives you an important choice: selecting between three characters from a group of six at the beginning of the game--one for the main party leader and two companions. Which characters you select affects how the story plays out. For instance, playing as the knight Duran will have him yearning to change classes so he can be strong enough to take on and defeat the Crimson Wizard, whereas with Hawkeye as the choice of the protagonist, his tale begins with the murder of his dear friend and what follows is a journey to bring the true culprit to justice. Which characters you don't have join your party as companions will show up in a given protagonist's adventure at varying points, with the ones you didn't select making cameos here and there. When companions do opt to join your party, you'll get the option to delve into their pasts, playing through their back stories which serve as a brief introduction to their own stories and struggles. Thankfully, this isn't necessary to do, as you can easily just get a quick synopsis instead for skipping this.

I chose Duran as the main protagonist of my first play-through.
While the prologue, epilogue, a various small story beats within the 20-25 hour initial adventure are laid out differently depending on your character choices, what remains the same is the overarching tale of the Mana Tree slowly but surely losing its power and the need to reclaim the Sword of Mana is ever present to combat some awfully shady villains who wish to use its power for no good. Thus, in order to do this, your party of chosen heroes must trek about the world to find eight Mana Stones.

You can probably guess that with six characters to choose from that there's a lot of replay value to be found in Trials of Mana, and you'd be absolutely right by that guess. While it's not mandatory to play through the game six times, once as each protagonist, it's a good idea to play through at least twice, once with a different trio both times. Not just to see how things change between main characters, but also because the New Game Plus option makes this incredibly enjoyable to do. The option grants triple the experience points, so beginning characters can quickly and efficiently gain experience, and other holdovers from your first save file come along on a second time through the game.

The world of Trials of Mana has been recreated in glorious detail.
What makes Trials of Mana so enjoyable is that the pacing is really nice. You're seldom sitting through extended cutscenes, waiting for the characters to finish rambling. There's obviously scenes to be viewed, but these play out in real time, offering the ability to skip dialogue at will if the voice acting gets to move too slowly for your liking. (As an aside, the voice acting borders on mediocre more than it impresses, to put it nicely.) Generally, however, Trials of Mana gets you going with gameplay moment after gameplay moment, whether that's exploring fields, dungeons, or towns, or battling enemies in real-time combat.

A helpful right-side-of-the-screen prompt keeps you up to speed on what is your next objective.
Combat in Trials of Mana is done action-RPG style, delivering quick battles where free movement is available within a circular battlefield (and where running against the border of the battlefield begins a gauge enabling the option to retreat). Here on the battlefield, properly positioning your playable character is paramount. For instance, attacking from the rear increases the likelihood of achieving critical hits. Also, enemies attack with all sorts of dangerous and deadly abilities, and special moves give warnings in the form of dangerous red zones that show where the attack, ability, or spell is about to be unleashed. It's a good idea to roll out of harm's way, and then when the moment arrives, dig in with some attacks of your own.

Red zones such as this one indicate an enemy's area of attack for their abilities and spells.
For the most part, the companion AI does a fair job, and you can customize their behavior in battle--whether they focus on defense, or attacking the same foe or a different one that your character is currently targeting. You can also switch between characters on the fly mid-battle as well. However, when battles become more difficult early on in the game, particularly boss battles, this is where the AI finds itself being a bit of a burden. They'll constantly take damage, fail to avoid attacks, and essentially just be a drain on your item resources, one where you're constantly pressing Up on the D-Pad to select a curative item from the Item Ring menu. More often than not, though, I found myself just leaving my companions to lay there fallen like hunks of meat and just take on bosses myself. After all, everyone gets the same amount of experience points whether or not they participated 100% in battle.

What are you looking at, Crabmeat?!
Fortunately, as your companions level up with you, they learn healing spells and other helpful abilities, they can better hold their own without as much babysitting. This is great as later battles definitely require multiple characters to quickly weaken bosses down when they're in the process of summoning an otherwise devastating move unless you're able to essentially stagger them by breaking a special gauge.

I've talked about enemy attacks, but obviously you get some offense and defense of your own. These come in the form of basic attacks, charged attacks that can deal more damage and smash through enemy defenses more easily, magic, and Class Strikes. The latter are extravagant attacks that take energy from the gauge at the bottom of the screen to use. Stronger Class Strikes take more energy to use, but result in some super flashy, area-clearing attacks. As you deal damage to and take damage from enemies, the gauge slowly increases, especially if you collect CS particles that fall from attacked foes.

Class Strikes such as this can unleash devastating attacks on single targets or groups of enemies.
Combat can be a bit tricky to come to terms with initially in Trials of Mana. For one, the camera doesn't follow your character completely. Instead, you need to keep it under your control, unless you click the stick in to lock your attention onto a foe (something that the game's many tutorials fail to teach you in-game, confusingly enough).

Duran's blade is about to clip this Harpy's wings!
As characters gain experience and level up, they earn Training Points, which can be spent on one of six attributes to increase their abilities and their stats. When enough points are spent in a given attribute category, new abilities, skills, bonuses, and more can be equipped to your character. These bonuses include the power to raise their attack when their HP falls below a certain percentage, increasing how much money is earned from enemies in battle, among many other rewards.

Trials of Mana also has a Class Change system, which allows characters at specific stages in the game to alter their class, growing exponentially stronger with regards to stats and able to learn new spells and abilities. Characters can change classes up to four times, and with each change, their appearance and abilities become altered. You get a choice between going with a light class or a dark class, each offering unique capabilities that is a choice best made to suit your own play style.

Trials of Mana will take anywhere between 20-25 hours to reach the conclusion of one's first play-through. The pacing is so enjoyable due to how brisk it is that I cleared the game within less than a week's time, often playing some days more than 5 hours at a time. The game itself is rather linear at the start, but as you progress to the second half, it opens up exponentially, allowing you to choose your destination at your leisure. Side quests are next to nil in Trials of Mana, but at the same time, the game isn't lesser for that. In fact, alternate quests would just slow down the excellent pacing. There are treasure chests to find in the world and a fun worldwide game of hide-and-seek to play with a cactus for some truly cool rewards, but other than that, you're just playing through the story.

In the process of remaking Trials of Mana, Square Enix has delivered a gorgeous looking game. Familiar sights are fully re-imagined in glorious 3D, offering new senses of place and atmosphere. The day and night system, albeit basic in execution, offers some impressive sights and some in-game use as well. There are some problems with pop-in, frame-rate hiccups, and noticeable issues where textures load into scenes a bit too slowly. Fortunately, these don't affect gameplay too heavily. As earlier stated, the voice acting doesn't do much to impress, but on the other side of the sound spectrum, the rearranged musical tracks certainly do. If for some reason you don't take a liking to these revised versions, you can change to the Super Famicom original music (and back) at any time.

Day through night, the time for adventure in Trials of Mana is just right.
Unlike a certain JRPG remake that also released last month, Trials of Mana doesn't delve too far away from what made the original game memorable and beloved. While Final Fantasy VII Remake offered a bold new change to its original work and brought with it much more complexity, Trials of Mana offers a soothing and refreshing bit of familiarity. There's a fine sense of simplicity here, whether it's in the combat, the brisk pacing of the game, or the story--which might make it a bit too faithful to the original for some players. While Trials of Mana is not a remake that reinvents the wheel, for me, it successfully does what it sets out to do in recreating what was once a lost game from the Super Famicom era into a more modern and enjoyable game, warts and all. Just play on the Hard difficulty if you want something resembling a steadier challenge.

[SPC Says: B+]

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Tuesday 10s: Final Fantasy Soundtracks

It's Tuesday, and that means it's time to bring back The Tuesday 10s for a second go-around! With Final Fantasy VII Remake launching last month to rave reviews, including my own, it seems like an opportune moment for this edition of The Tuesday 10s to dabble into the music of the Final Fantasy series. I'm going to name my ten favorite Final Fantasy soundtracks and list some of my favorite themes from each. From mainline entries to solid spin-offs, this list has quality games and even higher quality soundtracks!

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

Speaking of the game that inspired this Tuesday 10s edition, we kick off this musical adventure with Final Fantasy VII Remake. And speaking of things that are inspired, Final Fantasy VII Remake's soundtrack combines a mix of inspired new takes on familiar Final Fantasy VII themes and creates wholly new themes to go alongside them as well. Hearing tracks from my youth fully realized in new and brilliant ways was such a gas, and made my playthrough of part one of this remake all the more enjoyable.

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

What better way to continue our glimpse and listen to my favorite Final Fantasy soundtracks than by following a remake up with the original article? Final Fantasy VII's soundtrack is implanted in the memories of a multitude of players, young and old. It to this day remains an important piece of a masterful whole that made fans of the original love the game so much, and a reason why new fans find a lot to love about Final Fantasy VII nowadays. The final boss theme, One-Winged Angel is one of the most famous and ubiquitous in all of gaming, and for good reason, too. I wouldn't call the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack Nobuo Uematsu's best work (but then again, that's highly subjective anyway)--I'm saving that for later, but it's certainly a well done one!

Final Fantasy IX (PS1)

Nobuo Uematsu closes out the PlayStation 1 era of Final Fantasy games with style and grace with his Final Fantasy IX score. You don't know how difficult it was for me to limit myself to just five song selections from IX. Well, to be truthful, that's how it is for every game soundtrack on this list, but it was especially so for Final Fantasy IX. Something about this particular game score sets me off and in a good way--and that's without even having played through the entire thing. Yes, yes, I know, mark of shame and all that. The fairy tale sound of the soundtrack mixed with some terrific melodies and leitmotifs, a stable for the series, are ever present in this phenomenal end to the PS1 run of Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, 360)

Like Final Fantasy X and XI before it, Final Fantasy XII featured a group of composers lending their works to Final Fantasy XIII's sensational soundtrack, all spearheaded by Masashi Hamauzu as the main composer. Between the intense battle themes Saber's Edge and Blinded by Light (for boss and normal encounters respectively) and Chocobos of Pulse, my absolute favorite rendition of the Chocobo theme, Final Fantasy XIII delighted musically even if, for me, the game itself did not.

Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

This soundtrack, to me, is Nobuo Uematsu's finest work, but I'm open for debate on this. (You'll easily beat me down in such a debate since my musical knowledge isn't the savviest anyway!) Regardless, Final Fantasy VI remains my favorite Final Fantasy soundtrack of the mainline games, offering a diverse and impressive lineup of character themes that play gloriously in one final suite at the end of the game, a tremendous series of battle themes (such as the ever-impressive, haunting, ever-building Dancing Mad), and other great tunes. I feel like I'm doing Dancing Mad's impressiveness an injustice by just slipping it in that last sentence so casually, because it's amazing how it was programmed to switch between movements as you entered new phases of the four stage final boss encounter. Goodness, me. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it!

Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Continuing our journey into 16-bit Final Fantasy soundtracks, we delve deeper into the past with 1991's Final Fantasy IV. This pick is mostly out of my own nostalgia, with it being my very first Final Fantasy game played way back when. The other reason for this pick is that it's just a genuinely excellent soundtrack! Nobuo Uematsu fine tuned his creative spirit and used his first foray with the franchise on the Super Nintendo sound chip with masterful ability, offering tunes that I find myself humming innocuously at random moments to this day. The boss themes, whether the normal (which I absolutely adore), the theme used when battling the Four Fiends, or the final boss theme itself, are etched into my gaming and melodic memories. Ah.... Don't mind me. Just waxing poetic!

Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1)

If I had to choose my absolute favorite soundtrack from the Final Fantasy series, a seemingly impossible task considering all the great music that has come from the games, my choice would have to be 1997's Final Fantasy Tactics. Composed by Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto, a pair also known for their excellent work on the Tactics Ogre series, the drama, the action, and the intensity unfolds in each and every note of the soundtrack. The hauntingly beautiful melodies and satisfying harmonies make for a soundtrack that I couldn't help but make my first game soundtrack purchase when I was a younger listener to the Final Fantasy series' music.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA)

Taking on a much lighter sound to fit the much lighter mood of the game compared to the PlayStation original, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance showed that the less than stellar Game Boy Advance sound chip and speakers could deliver some truly tremendous and high quality music. One of the best GBA game soundtracks is a credit to the composition team led by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who did the majority of the music for the game. While the GBA versions of these tracks are delightful, the arranged versions as part of the official released soundtrack are even more magical!

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (GCN)

Here's another soundtrack from a Final Fantasy spin-off that I'm absolutely in love with. It's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, a game set to be remastered and released later this year, if arrangements still hold true. Part of my adoration with the GameCube's lone Final Fantasy game was how well the music complemented the journey. The music uses worldly, rustic, earthen instruments, delivering a sound that is quite unlike many other games in the Final Fantasy series. It helps that the melodies and accompaniments are just masterful--just a job well done from Kumi Tanioka!

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)

We move from one Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game, the original, to a much more different game in the same sub-series with our finale. It's the Wii's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, and it delivered a departure from the tried and true heroes of modern Final Fantasy games. Layle was a really cool and charismatic dude! Even the gameplay was off-kilter, even by Crystal Chronicles' standards, offering the ability to pick up and chuck enemies into one another to deal damage, as well as possessing a plethora of engaging mini-game-like activities. The soundtrack, which I should really get into now considering the point of this Tuesday 10 installment, was composed mostly by Hidenori Iwasaki and Ryo Yamazaki, and like the game itself, the music stretched the definitions of Final Fantasy music.

That concludes this edition of the Tuesday 10s! It's with my hope that you won't have to wait nearly a month again for the next installment! In the meantime, which Final Fantasy soundtracks are your absolute favorites? Let me know in the comments below!

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW) "Meet the Characters" Trailer

Now for a game that's releasing soon, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch. Last week saw an overview trailer of the game, and now this week it's a character-themed trailer being posted. Check out the party of memorable characters that will join Shulk's cause with this trailer, and play Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition when it launches on May 29th!

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PS4, XB1, PC) Announce Trailer

The legendary skateboarding series returns, but hopefully this time around this remake will be more worthy of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater name than the previous few attempts! Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 features both classic extreme sports skateboarding games, updated to 4K, with all the additional graphical bells and whistles fans of the franchise and new players alike will enjoy. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 4th.