Friday, June 5, 2020

SuperPhillip Central Turns 12! ~ My 12 Favorite Video Game Franchises

It's a special night here at SuperPhillip Central. No doubt if you've gazed up at the top banner of the site, you've seen a special date posted: June 5th. Well, that day is today and that day also just so happens to be SuperPhillip Central's anniversary! Today, my blog celebrates 12 years online. It's thanks to readers like you who continue to read my articles and reviews, comment on them, and pass my writing along to others through various means and methods. Without you, this site is for nothing, so thank you, everyone, for keeping both my motivation and mojo going.

As my anniversary post for tonight and to help celebrate 12 years, I have something special to share. Tonight, I share my favorite video game franchises, and since it is the 12th year, I might as well make it my 12 favorite video game franchises. So sit back, and if you're old enough, take a sip of the bubbly, and celebrate with me!

Animal Crossing

Favorite Entries:
Animal Crossing (GCN)
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW)

We begin this list of 12 game franchises that I adore most with the quaint, cozy, and ultimately immensely charming Animal Crossing series. Many times the series is one that I can just lose hours to--whether it's chatting with the animal locals, going on the hunt for elusive bugs or fish, donating rare finds to the museum, building up an arsenal of Bells to spend on a variety of goods, furnishing my house to the best of my ability, and just enjoying the zen-like calmness of the series. From the series's humble Western beginnings with the GameCube game, Animal Crossing has always been a special series for me. It gives me a fine sense of nostalgia, and each entry has brought me hundreds of hours of gameplay. Thus, even by the time I've exhausted myself with a particular entry, I've gotten more than my money's worth.

Especially now with the pandemic going on, we're seeing just how special Animal Crossing is as a series. Players from all over the world can visit one another in ways that in a world of social distancing they otherwise could not. In this sense, and with the most recent game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the game is even more important now than ever before. It's more than a game. It's a tool to unite people together, have fun, and oh-so-temporarily take their worries and troubles away.


Favorite Entries:
Banjo-Kazooie (N64, XBLA)
Banjo-Tooie (N64, XBLA)
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360)

Banjo and Kazooie recently saw what many of us thought was impossible--their return on a Nintendo console--notably as a playable duo in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I'm not one to scream or yell, but I was shaking with excitement when that E3 announcement and subsequent trailer revealed themselves. I'm a huge fan of Banjo-Kazooie, and despite the series only having five total games (and let's face it, most of them aren't too notable), it says something that the bear and bird can resonate with fans like myself to this day. The original Banjo-Kazooie remains one of my favorite 3D platformers ever made. It's abundantly clever, successfully built upon the preexisting foundation created by Super Mario 64, and surpassed it, in my humble opinion. Its sequel, Banjo-Tooie, brought a "bigger is better" approach, but didn't have the same highs as the original--while having some much lower lows as well.

Meanwhile, Nuts & Bolts on the Xbox 360 completely disappointed lots of Banjo fans, as the teaser trailer promised a traditional collect-a-thon platformer, while the end product was a vehicle-based game. While it was a wonderfully creative and terrific title by its own merit, it felt like a sick bait and switch by Microsoft and Rare, pulling the wool over many a fan's eyes. Finally, the duo of Game Boy Advance games, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge and Banjo Pilot brought the bear and bird to the small screen with one isometric traditional collect-a-thon adventure and one aerial racing game in the Mode 7 style. It's been more than a decade since we've last seen Banjo and Kazooie star in their own game, but I'm hopeful (and darn excited) to see the series return... someday! (...Please, Microsoft!)

Everybody's Golf (Hot Shots Golf)

Favorite Entries:
Hot Shots Golf Fore! (PS2)
Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 (PSP)
Everybody's Golf (PS4)

When one thinks of favorite franchises, one might not consider a golf franchise like Everybody's Golf (formerly known in North America as Hot Shots Golf). Nevertheless, Everybody's Golf is a consistently great series of golf games that brings just the right mix of cartoon appeal with realistic physics to make one memorable round of golf, no matter which game I played. From its PS1 roots with deformed characters with giant heads to the PS2 era and its robust lineup of awesome courses and guest characters, to the current formula of an open world golf game, Everybody's Golf successfully sinks its putts and is a series that stays under par for this player.

Final Fantasy

Favorite Entries:
Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (GCN)
Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

Of all the video game franchises that are my favorites and are on this list, Final Fantasy is the one where I've played the least amount of mainline games in its series. That fact notwithstanding, what keeps me engaged with the series anyway is the amazing amount of spin-offs that Final Fantasy possesses. Whether it's the terrific tactical goodness of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, the rhythm game-based celebration of the series's marvelous music with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, the real-time RPG multiplayer mayhem that is mostly the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series, or the Mystery Dungeon-esque Chocobo games, there's a lot to love with Final Fantasy as a series for me. Ever since I played Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo, I've been enamored with the games. My love rekindled with the fantastic remake of Final Fantasy VII, and now I look forward to playing some of the mainline games I missed out on like Final Fantasy X and XII.

The Legend of Zelda

Favorite Entries:
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 3DS)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NSW, Wii U)

If I had to pick my favorite of the video games franchises I love most, The Legend of Zelda and Mario, which is coming up later on this alphabetical list, would both be up there. The series is fantastic at reinventing itself, much like Final Fantasy continually does. Perhaps that's why both series remain so successful and relevant to this day. The most recent entry in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, famously went against the traditional conventions of the franchise, offering an enormous open world, epic scale, and a level of freedom never before seen in the Zelda series. In a sense, the series went full circle, back to its NES original roots, where you were thrown into a world with no real sense of direction and all the freedom you could want.

A release in The Legend of Zelda series is generally a huge gaming event, and for good reason. Some games like the NES original, Ocarina of Time, and even Breath of the Wild, are revolutionary experiences. Others are games sure to offer a unique experience, a stirring, riveting, heartfelt adventure, and one that will stay with players for a long time. Each game blends old with new to a masterful degree. It's one of the most consistently well designed gaming series ever made. The continued sense of wonder I feel with each game, the excitement and sense of accomplishment I get when I solve a dastardly puzzle, and the swells I feel throughout my body during particularly emotional moments during each game stay with me after each and every release.

Mario Kart

Favorite Entries:
Mario Kart DS (DS)
Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

Because it'd be a bit unfair to take all of the Mario franchise's games and put them under one heading, I'm separating the Mario Kart series as its own thing. While not all of the games in the series have crossed the finish line as winners (I'm looking at you, Mario Kart Wii, with your obnoxious item spam and unbalanced bikes), the majority of Mario Kart games have taken top spots on my personal podium of favorite racing games. The level of accessibility present means everyone gets a chance to enjoy themselves, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was the crown jewel of this, offering tools for steering assistance and auto-acceleration, for instance. Each Mario Kart generally adds something worthwhile to the winning formula, such as Mario Kart DS's online and retro cups, Mario Kart Wii's tricks, Mario Kart 7's underwater and aerial sections of races, and Mario Kart 8's anti-gravity sections. There's a reason Mario Kart is a multiplayer favorite for many, and that rings true for this blogger's household as well.

Mega Man 

Favorite Entries:
Mega Man 3 (NES)
Mega Man X (SNES)
Mega Man X4 (PS1, SAT)
Mega Man Battle Network 2 (GBA)

After splitting up Mario Kart from the general Super Mario series, it might seem like a double standard to keep this next series all together like I am doing here with Mega Man. My response to that? Just let me do this just once because it's my blog's anniversary, okay?

Mega Man features my favorite character designs of almost any other gaming franchise. While the classic series is iconic with their designs, my favorites have to be Mega Man X's and Zero's. Heck, I love the Battle Network renditions of the classic series's Robot Masters as well!

When it concerns the games themselves, nothing gives me more pleasure than booting up a Mega Man game and seeing a new array of eight Robot Masters or in X's case, Mavericks, to take on, venture through their levels, and discover each boss's weakness.

Mega Man was a lengthy hiatus that just about gutted me, but now it seems like we're in a new golden age for the Blue Bomber. With multiple new collections and the release of a new entry in the classic series with Mega Man 11, things are looking up for the first time in a long time for Capcom's mascot. Here's knocking on Wood Man that the positive upswing of Mega Man content continues!


Favorite Entries:
Super Metroid (SNES)
Metroid Prime (GCN)
Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

I was late to the party with the Metroid franchise. My first foray with the series was Metroid Prime, which remains one of my favorite games ever made. I also picked up Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance, as it was one of the best one-two punches in gaming history with both games releasing the same day. I then went back to the Super Nintendo courtesy of the Wii Virtual Console to play Super Metroid to see what I missed out on there. Turns out... it was a lot! Super Metroid is one of the most expertly crafted games of that style in 2D, and I felt somewhat ashamed as a Nintendo fan to have missed it for so long. My love for Metroid has only continued to grow since then, with me even tolerating (and dare I say, liking) the often trashed Metroid: Other M and Federation Force.

As a fan riding the wave of the Metroid series's momentum after the release of the excellent Metroid 2 remake on the Nintendo 3DS, it was a bit of a kick to the stomach to see Metroid Prime 4 get delayed, much more with a notice that development was restarting from scratch. Here's hoping the end result that is the fourth entry in the Prime franchise is worth the wait. For the franchise's future, I hope Metroid Prime 4's development is given all the time it needs to be truly terrific.

Ratchet & Clank

Favorite Entries:
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2)
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2)
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time (PS3)
Ratchet & Clank (2016) (PS4)

Here's to another pair of heroes that unlike Banjo and Kazooie, have seen more than their fair share of adventures--and even still, I want to see many more! Ratchet & Clank is a 3D platforming franchise that sees our lombax and robot duo traveling around the galaxy from planet to planet on intergalactic adventures with an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to its weaponry. Weapons come in all shapes and sizes with tremendous creativity, such as launching a tough-talking robot sentry of destruction named Mr. Zurkon or shooting out bouncing balls of ballistic destruction. The series' trademark humor, ability to level up weapons through continued use, and nonstop combination of action and platforming makes it one of my favorite platforming series ever made, and without question my favorite from the PlayStation brand.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Favorite Entries:
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (GEN)
Sonic Generations (PS3, 360)
Sonic Colors (Wii)
Sonic Mania (Multi)

It says something about Sonic the Hedgehog that with all of the duds that the series has accumulated for itself--and that is quite the number of duds--I, and many other fans, still enjoy the Blue Blur. It's a bit of a love and hate relationship, where the highs (Sonic 1-3, Sonic Generations, Sonic Colors, Sonic Mania) are elating and wonderful, but the lows are tremendously disappointing, depressing, and deflating (Sonic '06, Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric). Still, even when the series is at its worst, there's usually some reason to hope for the best for the next entry, or finding hope with some positive qualities elsewhere in the franchise, such as successful spin-offs like the Sonic line of racing games or various handheld titles.

Even then, to be a Sonic fan is to suffer, and I've certainly done my share. While suffering is a quality of a Sonic fan, more importantly, so is having hope. And sometimes that hope is rewarded with an excellent game like Sonic Generations or Sonic Mania. So, yes, I will continue to support the speedy blue hedgehog for that reason, and wish the series the best as a new generation is upon us. Even if nothing good comes out of the future game-wise, at least I know we'll have some great soundtracks from Sonic Team to rock out to, right?

Super Mario

Favorite Entries:
Super Mario World (SNES)
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

This one is no surprise, and not just because I mentioned Mario in my Legend of Zelda entry of this list either. It's freaking Mario--the plumber synonymous with gaming! It's a freaking platforming series--my favorite genre in gaming. You could bet I was going to put Mario on this list!

While I actually don't particularly care for (but I do appreciate) the original Super Mario Bros. or its Lost Levels equivalent (Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan), the series from there is everything to me as a gamer. From the pitch perfect 2D platforming majesty of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, to the magnificence of Mario in 3D with Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, and Super Mario Odyssey (and that's not even mentioning the great Super Mario 3D Land and 3D World), the Super Mario series seldom fails to entertain or delight. It's platforming nirvana, delivering abundant creativity, amazing challenges, and fantastical worlds to run, jump, and play around in.

Super Smash Bros.

Favorite Entries:
Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (NSW)

I recall playground arguments with my game-loving friends about who would win in a fight: Mario or Link. Never did I think that such a game would allow us to settle such a schoolyard dispute like Super Smash Bros. does. The game is an open invitation to fans of gaming, as it originally pitted Nintendo's most famous characters against one another. Now, pretty much anyone is fair play as a playable character, whether it be SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter's Ryu, or even Final Fantasy's Cloud! The immense work that director Masahiro Sakurai and his team put into each and every Super Smash Bros. game is utterly incredible and borderline unbelievable to see. Between the copious amount of characters, stages, modes, music, unlockables, and more, the Super Smash Bros. series delights and delivers with each and every entry, and the latest game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the series in its final, immaculate form--one that won't be seen again for a long, long time.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Super Mega Baseball 3 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

Fresh off the heels of last month's Review Round-Up, SuperPhillip Central has the first review of June for you. It's for the third installment of a fantastic baseball series that strikes a nice balance between sim and arcade sports game. It's Super Mega Baseball 3 from Metalhead. Here's my review, which is based off of the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

When you can't take yourself out to the ballgame, stay in and let the ballgame come to you.

Major League Baseball has been postponed from its April season debut to at least July, and there's plenty of disappointed baseballs fans out there feeling the pain of the current missed season. Thankfully, video games come in when real life sports are unable to be played. PlayStation's MLB The Show continually does well for itself on an annual basis, but that's far from the lone quality baseball game series on the diamond. Metalhead's Super Mega Baseball series sees its third installment walk up to the batter's box. Does it strike out or score a grand slam?

Super Mega Baseball 3 returns with a lot of familiarity with its accessible sim-like approach, but an approach that doesn't get nearly as involved or as complicated as Sony's MLB The Show series. This is a great thing for a rookie to the sport like myself who just knows the basics of baseball and little else. That said, there's still more than enough depth here to keep the most hardened of baseball fanatics enjoying the game.

Metalhead's third offering for the series brings with it the return of the Mojo system, where as individual teammates do well, their abilities and performance in the game will increase. Meanwhile, players who continually strike out or otherwise play poorly will find themselves tensing up more on the field, dropping easily-made catches, among other relatively unforced errors. The game also has a fitness system, which starts at Fit and goes down from there. Generally, pushing a particular player more than required will result in them becoming more susceptible to an injury, such as performing frivolous dives for errant baseballs.

Super Mega Baseball 3 brings with it a brilliant balance of accessible fun
and simulation-like qualities to make for one terrific game of baseball.
Alongside the Mojo system making its grand return, so does the Ego system, where you can set an Ego number from 1 to 99 to determine how difficult your Super Mega Baseball 3 experience will be. Like past games, you can either set a number for the entirety of the experience or set an Ego number for individual categories, such as making pitching and batting easier or more challenging on you, the player. To get back into the swing of things, I found myself starting at the easiest of Ego numbers, 1, which saw me effortlessly wiping out my AI opponents with endgame scores that looked more like an football game than a baseball one. I finally found the right balance for me where the AI gave me a run for my money (and some genuine soul-crushing losses here and there).

Pitching, batting, and fielding are relatively unchanged from Super Mega Baseball 2. With pitching, you target a spot and when a type of pitch is made, you try to aim the cursor as close that targeted spot as possible within a strict amount of time so your pitch isn't off the mark, or worse off, an easy pitch for the batter to knock a multi-run ding-dong from. A key difference here in Super Mega Baseball 3 is the addition of being able to step off the pitcher's mound to pick off potential base stealers. When batting, you can either perform a normal swing or a contact swing that requires you to hold down the leftmost face button with proper timing and a required increased level of precision to successfully hit the ball.

No matter where you are on or off the diamond, Super Mega Baseball 3 delivers.
Base-running has been improved since Super Mega Baseball 2, offering both simple controls to send every runner forward and backward by holding down one set of shoulder buttons, as well as individual base running. Both old school "retro-style" base-running controls, where a shoulder button and a D-Pad direction corresponding to the base you want a runner to rush to, and traditional controls are available. Like base-running, stealing is as easy as pressing the D-Pad to the corresponding base you want to attempt to steal. It took a few innings to get the controls situated in my head, but once I was returned to a state of being accustomed to them, I was playing baseball like I belonged in the majors.

The most anticipated and advertised feature to Super Mega Baseball 3 is the addition of a Franchise mode. In this mode, you take a team through at minimum a 16-game season. Unlike Season mode, Franchise mode is meant to be played multiple seasons, and as seasons end, players grow older (thus losing their youthful playing abilities and are more susceptible to injuries), some retire, while others become free agents. It's during the off-season where big moves can be made--signing new players to fill in gaps left by players that retire or otherwise vamoose from your ball club, and formulating a winning lineup to hopefully go for the championship next season.

Even during the regular season there are ample opportunities to develop your players--for a price, of course--giving them new traits and temporary stat increases and decreases. While one developmental opportunity may strengthen one's batting capabilities, it might also weaken their ability to make proper contact with the ball. Traits are a new component to the Super Mega Baseball series, offering conditional abilities at given times during ballgames. For example, an RBI Dud negative trait will more likely result in that player leaving their teammate stranded on base, while the Tough Out positive trait will allow a batter with two strikes to stay in the batter's box longer, doing a war of attrition with foul balls.

The crowd is ready for this batter to give them something to celebrate.
Each mode, including Franchise, comes in two varieties: Standard and Custom. With the latter, you can freely simulate games, edit stats of your entire team, decide on how many innings each game is, how many games are played, and so forth, whereas with Standard rules, you're locked into playing the entirety of the season with little wiggle room for customization. Apart from Franchise, there is the Season mode, Exhibition for casual games, Pennant Chase for online players to compete against one another, and the round robin-style Elimination mode.

Speaking of which, the customization options go deep in Super Mega Baseball 3, allowing you to create your own team, logo, roster of players, uniforms, and much more. Every facet of your custom team can be tinkered with to your delight.

If I had to consider a controversial point to Super Mega Baseball 3, that would easily be its asking price. Past games in the series had a price point of around $20 or so, while Super Mega Baseball 3 has a $45 price tag to it. Quite the hefty upheaval of price. Whether it's worth the newfound asking price really has to do with how much you consider the major new addition of the Franchise mode to be. You'll definitely get a lot of play time out of Franchise mode, especially if you're one to enjoy tracking stats, changing up your lineup, increasing your players' abilities, and attempting to build your own multi-season-winning dynasty. Thus, for me, Super Mega Baseball 3 is something I can easily see worth its jump in price compared to previous SMB installments, and I'm a passing fan of stuff like that.

...And that's the game with a sensational walk-off home run!
The Super Mega Baseball series is known for both its entertaining and accessible gameplay, and now Super Mega Baseball 3 further hammers this point home like a long, powerful drive over the center field wall. It makes even finagling with team budgets, lineups, and free agency--stuff that I found difficult to wrap my head around in more sim-like games--to be incredibly approachable and dare I say, fun. While the high cost of entry robs the game from being a complete grand slam, as it might be a barrier of entry for some prospective players, the welcoming gameplay and robust lineup of modes gives Super Mega Baseball 3 the walk-off home run all the same.

[SPC Says: B+]

Metalhead provided a code for the purpose of this review.

Review Round-Up - May 2020

Some might say the remake of Trials of Mana leaned too closely to the original for their liking,
but I loved nearly every minute I played of this wonderful remake!
SuperPhillip Central finished off the last full month of spring in style with four reviews this past month. It's once again time for the Review Round-Up! Beginning with the incredible remake of Trials of Mana (earning a B+), which also is SPC's Game of the Month for May 2020, it was a month of games from various genres, all mostly enjoyable.

From Trials, we went full indie with games such as Team Reptile's superb "Smash Bros-style gameplay meets Custom Robo-style customization" with Megabyte Punch, which scored a B-. We then went from destroying robots to destroying our bikes (though unintentionally) with the fantastic, zen-like Lonely Mountains: Downhill, getting a B+ for its tremendous effort. Finally, despite my love of mini-golf (which perhaps is why it was all the more disappointing for me), Golf With Your Friends failed to deliver a competent putt-putt experience, coming out well over par in the end with a D+ grade.

As usual at the end of these Review Round-Ups since the end of last year, I have excerpts from all four reviews posted last month as well as a reminder to check out the SPC Review Archive for every review ever published on SuperPhillip Central.

Trials of Mana (NSW, PS4, PC) - B+
...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.
Megabyte Punch (NSW) - B-
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.
Lonely Mountains: Downill (NSW) - B+
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.
Golf With Your Friends (NSW, PS4, XB1) - D+
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.
A trio of indie games also joined Trials of Mana to round out the rest of the reviews
posted in May on SuperPhillip Central.