Friday, May 22, 2020

The "Worst" Things About SuperPhillip Central's Favorite Games V

They may be some of my favorite games released over the past few years, but that doesn't absolve them from having some of their own issues! Welcome to the fifth installment of an article series where I take a gander at the worst things about games that I really love. Some of these are big problems that hurt the overall experience while some could be categorized as nitpicks in general. Some might even be problems I have with games that supersede the more common problems other games have! Whatever the case may be, it's time to be a more discerning player, and pick out the problems I have with these five favorites of mine!

For previous installments of this article series, look no further than these four links:

Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three
Volume Four

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW)

We begin with a game that I absolutely adore and continue to adore--Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Since its launch on March 20th, I've yet to miss a day of playing, planning out my island, chatting with the locals, digging up fossils, shaking trees, building up my bank account, etc. With a little over two months of play now, I've amassed a list of negatives about the game, such as tools breaking, no ability to mass craft items, or the problems with sharing an island with more than one player.

That said, the thing that I consider the worst about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, at least in how it affects me as a player to the game, is the online. Between countless communication errors I faced, interference when attempting to travel to another island, to the ever-so-slow and tedious takeoff and landing procedures, hopping online can be a serious pain. This is compounded when having multiple people visit your island or you visit theirs. With up to seven other players able to visit one's island, the constant start and stop interruptions and waiting make it so I dread hopping online.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW)

There's no doubt in my mind that Masahiro Sakurai and company weren't joking when giving the latest Super Smash Bros. the "Ultimate" subtitle. It has almost everything a Smash fan could like for a fantastic installment--worthwhile single player content, meaty modes, all of the characters and most of the stages from past games, and plenty to see and do. While most would go after the low-hanging fruit of the game--the horrid online net code--and they would be more than within their right to do so, my pick for the worst thing about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is something far more trivial in the grand scheme of things.

While Spirits allow for more franchise representation with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it still pains me that there is an absence of trophies. Now, for most players, poor, sometimes broken net code would be much more important than the lack of trophies detailing characters and providing brief snippets of information about their pasts, but for me, online isn't something I'm really interested in. It's part of the reason I rated the game so highly two years ago, despite the lackluster online. Meanwhile, for me, trophies being gone was something that hurt my experience, even with understanding the reason for their removal and appreciating their replacement, Spirits.

Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW)

We reach the midway point of "The Worst Things About SuperPhillip Central's Favorite Games V" with Super Mario Maker 2, a game that I loved so much last year that it received runner-up for Game of the Year at the SPC Best of 2019 Awards. One of the reasons it didn't quite reach Game of the Year status was the shoddy online multiplayer, which has since been fixed. However, a far greater problem has yet to be resolved with Super Mario Maker 2.

This is the discovery of good levels. As anyone can tell you, it's nigh impossible to reliable find high quality levels within Super Mario Maker 2 itself. Instead, players have to resort to outside the game, such as Reddit and gaming forums, to discover levels that they can enjoy. There is a lot of poorly conceived, slopped-together levels created by players in the game, so searching for great ones is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, or in my case, a creative analogy in a sea of cliched ones.

What alleviated a lot of the burden in Super Mario Maker 2's predecessor, the Wii U original Mario Maker, was the Super Mario Maker Bookmark website. This allowed easy access to searching for levels, picking prospective levels you wanted to play, "bookmarking" them to play them later, and was just a godsend for discovering great levels. Once again, it is just amazingly bad in how Nintendo took yet another step backwards with regards to its online system for one of its games. The lack of a Bookmark website for Super Mario Maker 2 really hurt the online community, and it continues to do so to this day.

Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (PS4, XB1, NSW)

We move on from Mario to Crash Bandicoot, and between Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, it's a heated contest as to which is superior. There's no question in my mind that for solo players, CTR is far better with its amazing Adventure mode, abundance of tracks, Grand Prix events, and other single player content. However, when it comes to other categories, I'd rate Mario Kart 8 Deluxe higher.

One such category is accessibility, and this is what I consider the worst part of Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it's relatively easy for a new player to pick up and play the game with its easy-to-learn drift system and optional steer assist and auto-acceleration tools. It's far more approachable than CTR, which suffers from a gulf in skills between players just starting to veteran players.

CTR features a three button press drift system that grants you a greater boost for successful and successive taps of the boost button during a drift. This can result in massive gains of speed and even more massive leads for players that achieve so-called "Sacred Fire" and its even more powerful version, "Ultra Sacred Fire", where you essentially have a tremendous amount of boost energy in reserve to help you continually boost entire laps and races if performed correctly.

There's such a disparity between new players and even somewhat competent players like myself that trying to play with friends locally found them growing bored with CTR immediately. They wanted something more fun and easier to pick up and play, which I can attest that Nitro-Fueled is not that simple for pick up and play sessions. We eventually moved on to Mario Kart after a short while, and yes, as you can imagine, my friends enjoyed themselves more. Now, that doesn't mean that Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a lesser game. After all, I've professed its greatness on SuperPhillip Central multiple times already as it is. It just has a high learning curve, which it makes it difficult to bring new players into immediately.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Our final game today is another colorful title: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. Imagine if you will: playing through 95% of the game, enjoying yourself like mad, collecting all that there is to collect in each of the game's well designed levels, bashing baddies, exploring the wonderfully creative 3D overworld, and just making progress like crazy. And then all of a sudden the difficulty jumps to such an insane level that all that progress is stopped as if you crashed into a wall. All that momentum and fun gone. That level, my friends, is the titular Impossible Lair.

The Impossible Lair can be challenged at any time in the game. In fact, it's the first level you play, and you're meant to fail it. (Though it is, in fact, possible to clear that first time!) As you advance through the overworld of the game, discover levels, and beat said levels, you acquire Bees that you can take with you into the lair, serving as extra hits you can take. Now, this is a fiendishly difficult final challenge, and it greatly ups the difficulty level immensely compared to everything else in the game.

I can only imagine how frustrating it was for players of the latest Yooka-Laylee to find their runs through the game and subsequent enjoyment of the game stopped to a dead halt due to being unable to complete this ultimate test of platforming. Even with a full supply of Bees and the new addition of checkpoints, the Impossible Lair is tough! I don't blame players for being a bit salty for being unable to see the game through to completion, as it would make me annoyed. I know for a fact that despite multiple runs ending in abject failure, I finally persevered and felt immensely proud of myself for beating this ultimate challenge. Some players won't have the patience to continue to play this 15 minute+ level after failing again and again, and that's totally understandable. For those that do, however, they'll find a hefty sense of accomplishment for doing so--take it from me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Wonderful 101: Remastered (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Launch Trailer

Unite with the power of teamwork to take on foes of all shapes and sizes in The Wonderful 101: Remastered, now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC! Formerly a Wii U exclusive, it's no question that's it's great (dare I say, wonderful?) that a bigger audience for the game is now possible. Meanwhile, the retail version of The Wonderful 101: Remastered arrives in stores on June 30th.

Golf With Your Friends (NSW, PS4, XB1) Review

FOOOOOORE! It's time to "putt" my effort into another new review on SuperPhillip Central, and it's for a new release today--the immensely creative Golf With Your Friends. This isn't your daddy's typical game of miniature golf, for that you can be certain. Perhaps that isn't the best thing, as you can judge from my review. Golf With Your Friends launches today on Nintendo Switch (which is the platform this review is based on), PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

"Putt" your putting skills (and your patience) to the test.

Mini golf seems like such a simple form of golf to put to video game form, but we've seen plenty of times where something gets lost in the transition between reality and fantasy. Some mini golf games like Infinite Mini-Golf, for instance, make the leap from real-life mini golf to its video game interpretation well enough with a solid execution. Then, there are games like Golf With Your Friends. While Golf With Your Friends shows a delightful abundance of creativity within its game modes and course designs, the actual execution is something that the developers might have wished to take a mulligan on.

Golf With Your Friends allows you to fully customize your round of putt-putt to your liking, allowing you to save a template for future rounds on the miniature links. You can select your course, the round type, and also tinker and fiddle with options like the timer, stroke penalties, and so much more. There's a bevy of things to mess around with to attempt to make rounds enjoyable enough to keep you and your friends coming back for more. This continues with all of the unlockable content within the game, such as cute hats for your golf balls to wear and colorful trails that appear behind your putted balls.

Ah, the classic windmill miniature golf hole... A mini golf game gets puts into
gaming jail if it doesn't have one of these included in it.
But, then you begin playing rounds on courses and frustration and tedium set in. Courses themselves are colorful and intricately designed, but even on the first course, a so-called beginner forest course, the par requirements are absolutely ridiculous. These are holes where one honest mistake will send you not only bogeying or worse quite easily but also cursing the mini golf gods due to how many ample opportunities there are to go out of bounds. Holes feature unique gimmicks, but so many of these are more obnoxious in practice and execution than actually enjoyable.

This isn't even talking about times where I'd land outside of a hole's boundaries, yet the game would still consider my lie playable, making it impossible to continue the hole without a huge stroke penalty or completely needing to forfeit the hole. This happened more than once, and more than once is more than what is acceptable to me. One time I got caught inside a bundle of logs on the last hole of the forest course, ruining what was: A) an attempt for an under-par round, and B) a good time that I was previously having. Unfortunate.

With ample opportunities to fall out of bounds, courses can be quite frustrating at times!
Holes, too, especially when you get to courses like the Haunted theme, just become way too extravagant and long for their own good. These are holes that Par 5's should have been made Par 10's at the minimum, because again, one mistake and you might as well write off the hole completely. You might say, "Phil, there are no such things as Par 5 holes in miniature golf." My reply would be, "There are also no gigantic holes with ghosts parading around or getting your ball glitched in the geometry in miniature golf either." This is after all putt-putt in a fantastical setting, so the traditional rules can very much be flexible.

The creativity on display in the course design is incredible,
but to play on some of these courses isn't so wonderful.
Worse for Golf With Your Friends is that the physics are sloppy and inconsistent at times, something I've noticed that wasn't in the original PC release when the game initially launched in Early Access on Steam. I've had my ball bounce oddly and in inaccurate ways, and have it bank off walls and slopes in manners that made me go, "What the heck!" at what I was seeing.

Golf With Your Friends has online play for up to 12 players (but I was only able to try it out with two other players at once online, so I can only imagine how chaotic it is with more players) that occurs in real time. All players putt and play at the same time, and in Party Mode, they can use special power-ups that can help themselves or hinder other players, such as leaving behind a trail of honey to slow their competitor's ball's roll--literally! Hopefully there's an active online community for Golf With Your Friends, as I can imagine the insanity of rounds (both intentional and unintentional) to be more fun with a larger amount of players.

Meanwhile, with local play, that's a bit messier. When I played locally with a friend, my turn was over before my ball could even get to a standstill sometimes (usually when it would continuously get hit around by on-course hazards like pendulums or whatnot), so when it was finally my turn again to putt, I would pray to those aforementioned mini golf gods that my ball was at a playable place.

Aside from "traditional" mini golf and the item-filled Party Mode, Golf With Your Friends supports other golfing modes including the "fun concept, not so fun in execution" basketball-like Dunk mode, where after you putt the ball, you can hit a button to make it jump, allowing you access to new shortcuts and an attempt to swish your golf ball into the hoop. In the personally more entertaining Hockey mode, your ball is replaced with a disc-shaped puck, slipping and sliding around with the objective to make it past automated goalies and into a wide net. I had the most fun with Hockey, but that also might have had to do with the course my friend and I played our round on.

Speaking of courses in general, there are about a dozen different themed courses to play on, taking place in a multitude of locales, such as desert oases, gravity-defying space stations, and pirate ships. Again, the creativity in the hole and course designs is ever apparent, but also again, the holes are over-designed with too many annoying gimmicks and such a small window of success that it will make competitive players rue the day they ever placed their golf balls on these courses' greens.

"Feed me, Seymour! Feed me!"
Fortunately, setting up shots and putting is a breeze in Golf With Your Friends, so at least this part of the game is super satisfying. You aim the ball with the right analog stick while setting up the power of your shot by pushing forward and backward on the left stick. With the leftmost face button you can enter a free camera mode, where you are able to move the camera around to get a quick overview of the hole. I say "quick" because this free camera mode is timed. You only get a brisk 15 seconds total of free camera mode time to work with, and on some later courses, it can be a challenge to even find the darn flag with how complicated and convoluted holes become. Additionally, free camera mode isn't perfect because the camera can get caught on hole geometry, costing you precious seconds of time with the mode. Frustrating, indeed.

It looks like a calm course, but when you get multiple players putting at once
with power-ups on, a calm course becomes crazy and chaotic in a hurry!
And, really, that's what word Golf With Your Friends can be summed up with: "frustrating". Whether it's the overly lengthy and overly designed holes that test your patience with the "everything and the kitchen sink" approach they have, to the often unpredictable physics and bugs rampant within the game. The concept of Golf With Your Friends is an immensely creative one, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. With more players putting at once, I can see the uncontrolled chaos of the game being more tolerable--after all it is Golf With Your Friends (plural) and not Golf With Your Friend (singular), but no amount of customization, cheery skins, hats, and trails for one's golf balls, or whimsical course designs will suddenly make a game fun if the base foundation is one that is shoddy. Unfortunately, Golf With Your Friends' round of golf is one that is disappointingly over par.

[SPC Says: D+]

Team17 provided a code for the purpose of this review.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Lonely Mountains: Downhill (NSW) Review

Coming off Saturday night's review of a 2013 game that just launched on the Nintendo Switch with Megabyte Punch, we have a game that released as recently as last year on other platforms but is now available on the Switch. It's Lonely Mountains: Downhill. Let's go for a ride together with my review.

It's lonely at the top, so ride down to the bottom of the mountain!

In Lonely Mountains: Downhill, it's a solitary experience--just you and the mountain to keep you company, with all of its twists, turns, hazards, and cliffs to concern yourself with (or break your bones on). Starting off, you have but one mountain, one trail, and one bike available to you, and progression is a bit slow, especially with bikes. However, as you complete trails and challenges, more content opens up and you have a pick of each peak, so to speak.

There are four main mountains in the game, each possessing four trails, and each has its own feel and essential personality to them as well. The initial mountain is a breezy, leisurely summer forest while the second mountain is of an autumnal flair, offering a myriad of trees to avoid, shallow streams to wade your bike through on occasion, and cliff face jumps to make.

Admire the scenery all you like during a free run. Just be sure not to crash into it!
The flow of Lonely Mountains: Downhill has you doing what is basically a trial run down a trail with no time limit and the ability to freely explore at your leisure. You can crash as many times as you like, but each crash will send you back to your most recently passed checkpoint. After the trial run is complete, a beginner set of challenges becomes unlocked. When enough of those have been completed, expert challenges for the same trial unlock. For the most seasoned daredevils out there, each trail's trials ends with a difficult, sweat-inducing, pulse-pounding ride down the mountain without the help of checkpoints. One crash means you have to start over from the top of the trail.

The challenges in Lonely Mountains: Downhill will test your mettle as a rider, offering time challenges where you need to complete your run within a given duration of time as well as runs where you have to finish the run with as few crashes as possible. You can take on these challenges separately or if you're bold enough, knock them out simultaneously in one run. In fact, there are some challenges where you have to beat a set time with a minimum amount of crashes, so with these, only the hardest of the hardcore bike riders need apply.

The rugged terrain of the third mountain places riders in a desert canyon.
Completing challenges unlocks new trails, new mountains, new color schemes for your rider and bike, and bike parts that can be spent to purchase new bikes. Like I mentioned earlier, unlocking new bikes is a slow, gradual process, and each bike itself has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some are well-rounded like the bike you begin with, while others sacrifice speed for being able to take the impact of larger jumps without the worry of bailing as easily.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill is quite the challenging game, but that's not in part due to the controls, which come in two varieties. One has you move the analog stick left and right to turn in relation which direction your bike is facing, while the other, the one I stuck with, uses full 360 movement of the analog stick to control your bike. The controls are otherwise simple, using ZR to pedal, ZL to brake, and the A button to sprint, as long as there is enough energy in your rider's sprint meter.

Where Lonely Mountains: Downhill falls short is with regard to the camera. Generally, it behaves well, offering a full view of incoming terrain and obstacles ahead of you so you have plenty of time to react. Other times, however, level geometry in the form of objects or walls block the view of your rider, making it quite difficult to judge where you are in relation to hazards. Further, sometimes I found myself missing my planned route and particularly precarious jumps due to depth perception issues that occasionally pop up and plague otherwise stellar runs I was having.

The timer only records successful sections of runs, so if you crash, the timer will revert back to its previous time from the last checkpoint you reached. This is a godsend for beating certain time trials.
Still, Lonely Mountains: Downhill provided me with a lot of enjoyment, and I see it continuing. It's a blast to find new shortcuts to shave seconds off a segment of a run between checkpoints, such as cutting through a patch of grass otherwise surrounded by hazards in the form of trees and rocks. It's this risk versus reward concept that all great games have, and Lonely Mountains: Downhill has it in spades to keep you engaged and improving your runs on trails. I found myself testing the limits of each bike I unlocked, occasionally going nuts and seeing if I could survive a steep drop and make it unscathed, thus completing a makeshift shortcut in style. Other times, I cursed at my rider for falling off a cliff to their doom--through no fault of theirs but through player error, of course.

Some shortcuts are easier than others. This particular one is quite the arduous one to pull off!
Lonely Mountains: Downhill comes complete with dozens of in-game achievements, countless unlockables, and plenty of hidden areas on mountains to explore. You'll discover a lot to do in the game and on the mountains themselves. Sure, you'll have to deal with the occasional, unruly, inconvenient--dare I say--"rocky" hitching of the frame-rate, which turned some prospective runs into violent ends for my rider, but overall, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a smooth enough ride. So, take the plunge, hop on your bike, blaze a trail, and get riding with Lonely Mountains: Downhill.

[SPC Says: B+]

Thunderful Games provided a code for the purpose of this review.

Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (NSW) Overview Trailer

Nintendo gets into the nitty gritty of the games and features inside the upcoming June 5th release Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, the successor to the oft-forgotten (but oh-so-wonderfully-fun) Nintendo DS original. This trailer gives a basic overview of each of the 51 games included in the collection, as well as info on local and online play. Check it out, gang!