Thursday, September 3, 2020

Super Mario 3D All-Stars (NSW) Announcement Trailer

The other rumored game that was announced in an official capacity during this morning's Super Mario 35th Anniversary Direct was a collection of three of Mario's most memorable 3D adventures. Super Mario 3D All-Stars launches on September 18th and will be a limited production release. The games included are Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. Sadly, Galaxy's sequel won't be included. Still, three epic platforming adventures for sixty bucks isn't too shabby of a deal.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (NSW) Announcement Trailer

Nintendo certainly delivered (at these in this blogger's opinion) with this morning's Super Mario 35th Anniversary Direct, and it featured a myriad of new game announcements, but I want to focus on two that really resonated with me. The first is Super Mario 3D World, which was rumored to be coming to the Switch from the Wii U, but now it's true. The full title with presumed bonus content, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury will release on February 12th, 2021. It's one of my favorite 3D Mario adventures, so I'm quite looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels - Part Seven

There's little that hurts a gamer more than hearing that a sequel to one of their favorite games is coming out, it releases, and it turns out to be a dud. It's happened to the best of us. It's like having the rug pulled out from under you when a sequel you've been hyping based off of love for its predecessor does less than satisfy when it finally launches. Sometimes it's due to the formula being changed too much and not for the better. Other times it's because the game is missing what made the original so good.

Whatever the reasons may be, SPC is back with a look at six more disappointing video game sequels that failed to deliver or failed to satisfy for one reason or another.

If you're a glutton for punishment and want to think some more about what might have been, take a look at SuperPhillip Central's past installments for even MORE disappointing video game sequels with these convenient links:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

Dynasty Warriors 9 (PS4, XB1, PC)

We begin this edition of disappointing video game sequels with a series that already wasn't viewed in the brightest of lights by most in the gaming industry. Really, the Musou-style of game is a repetitive one, having players hack and slash through enormous waves of enemies. While repetitive and hardly generating and amassing critical acclaim, the genre and games are quite addicting and there's something intrinsically satisfying to be found within them. It's the very definition of comfort food gaming for some.

I have to give Koei Tecmo credit for wanting to change up its somewhat stagnant Dynasty Warriors series. It's quite commendable to have an established formula that works well for its fanbase and risk alienating said fanbase by doing something new. Unfortunately, Dynasty Warriors 9 was a case of poor execution. Instead of smaller battlefields, Dynasty Warriors 9's encounters took place in wide open, empty fields that mimicked and were clearly inspired by open world games. Furthermore, as a means to maybe welcome new players into the franchise with the new installment, Dynasty Warriors 9 featured much more basic combat, and the combat in past games wasn't exactly the deepest to begin with. In aiming to please newcomers, Koei Tecmo essentially made a Dynasty Warriors game for no one, as veterans didn't have much to enjoy with this latest installment of the long-running series.

Dead Space 3 (PS3, X360, PC)

Some games are disappointing not just because they aren't of a quality to one's liking, but more because of the after effects that come of a game's release. Electronic Arts and Visceral Games' Dead Space 3 is an example of this. Focusing less on the survival horrors aspects of the first two games and laser-aiming more on the action side of things, Dead Space 3 changed things up no doubt to make the game more entertaining for online co-op, a new mode added to this installment of the game.

While the game was still entertaining (very much so, might I add), Dead Space 3 offered a rather bloated adventure that went on for far too long, and was a disappointment because it failed to stick to its survival horror roots. But, more importantly, Dead Space 3 served as the end for not just the Dead Space series but the end for the developer of the series itself: Visceral Games. Soon after, the team would get dissolved among two EA studios. Another studio slain by the game publisher.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC)

This disappointing game hurts deeply, as I had the original Curse of the Moon as one of my top ten games of 2018. The game managed to mix its old school difficulty on modern gaming systems wonderfully. So, then, what makes its sequel, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, so disappointing?

The answer is that Inti Creates went way too far with the difficulty this time around. The game has three runs you do, each changing a different element of the story and the characters you have to work with. The first run of the game is simple enough, offering a leisurely enough experience, though the challenge does spike upward at the end. But, by the second run, bosses deal massive amount of damage, especially their final gambit attacks which usually are hard to predict and dodge, and the game just is a much more frustrating experience. You have one less character to play as, and many times in the game you'll discover that checkpoints are few and far in between, unlike the original Curse of the Moon. It all adds up to a game that's the definition of "NES Hard", but in this case it's 2020, and my patience is much thinner than when I was a kid.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

With the relatively recent release of Paper Mario: The Origami King, and my rather glowing review of the game fresh in my mind, it seems like a good opportunity to look back on a less than stellar installment in the Paper Mario series, Paper Mario: Sticker Star. What Sticker Star marked was a drastic departure from the traditional Mario RPG formula: No partners, no experience points earned in battle, and a pale imitation of what made the previous Paper Mario games so great.

Now, that wouldn't be an issue if the game was great on its own merits like The Origami King was, but in Paper Mario: Sticker Star's case, it wasn't. Between battles basically being meaningless if not downright bothersome was that you used one-time use stickers to do battle and only earned coins and other stickers for your effort. Furthermore, the game's boss battles required certain items called "Things" that needed to be used at very specific times or the battle would be unwinnable. Once you used a "Thing", it was gone and would need to be collected again, making for a great annoyance.
What Paper Mario: Sticker Star represented was the growing pains of the Paper Mario series into something more enjoyable today, as seen with The Origami King. Still, for fans of the old style of Paper Mario games, Sticker Star was the beginning of the end, and for them, that's the biggest disappointment of them all.

Sonic Free Riders (X360)

Moving on from a bad Mario game to one of many bad games featuring his former rival Sonic, we turn to an atypical racing game for an atypical gaming platform. The Sonic Riders series began on the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, and it featured Sonic and friends (and foes) racing on air-powered hoverboards on winding tracks in fantastical locations, all the while performing stunts and tricks. The series has since seen two other games: Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity and the game that probably killed the sub-series of Sonic games, Sonic Free Riders.

Sonic Free Riders was an Xbox 360 Kinect launch exclusive, using the peripheral to read players' movements. However, the consistency that it did so varied from player to player, working adequately for some and terribly to the point of being game-breaking for others. Despite a generous amount of content and modes in the game, this meant nothing if players couldn't access and enjoy all of it due to the poor controls. The fact that Sonic Free Riders has essentially retired the otherwise entertaining Sonic Riders sub-series only makes the game even more disappointing in retrospect.

Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly (PS2, GCN)

Our final look at disappointing video games this edition gives us Spyro the Dragon, who recently received an excellent remake of his first three adventures with Spyro Reignited Trilogy. While that game was a breath of fresh air for the series, things weren't always looking up for Activision's purple dragon.

I submit to the court Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. The game's crimes? How about atrocious levels that grate and annoy, myriad bugs and glitches, and a short adventure that is both a pro and a con--a pro because it's mercifully short, but a con because it was a full price release back when it released?  Like Crash Bandicoot, Spryo the Dragon was an example of a PlayStation fan-favorite that changed hands and developers and came out worse in the end with a parade of poorly made sequels in the PS2 era. Fortunately, though, also like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro has since seen renewed success and spotlight with both the aforementioned Reignited Trilogy and his cameo appearance as a racer in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Welcome back to the land of the living, Spyro!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Review Round-Up - August 2020

The Won-Stoppable 101 reunited on SuperPhillip Central for one seriously insane superhero adventure.
New month? Check. Time for another Review Round-Up? Double check! It's the beginning of September, but before we say goodbye to August totally, let's take a look at the games reviewed last month as part of the Review Round-Up!

Four games were reviewed and each received a unique grade. We started things off with an oldie but an... average-y (?) with Bomberman Jetters on GameCube and PlayStation 2. The gameplay was slow, the camera needed some work, and the maze-like levels frustrated more than they engaged, thus the game received a C.

Following that Retro Review were two Nintendo Switch eShop games, one was a clever take on the Metroidvania genre taking place in the deep with Shinsekai: Into the Depths (earning a B) and the other was a Mario sports-style RPG in Golf Story (earning a B+, the best grade of the month).

Finally, it only seemed fitting that a site named SuperPhillip Central would review a game featuring a band of one-hundred superheroes with The Wonderful 101 Remastered from Platinum Games. The game made some needed changes from the Wii U original, and now more gamers can play the game with its release on the Switch, PS4, and PC. The grade for this occasionally frustrating remaster was a satisfying B-.

Closing out this edition of the Review Round-Up, take a look at these excerpts from all four reviews published this past August. Lastly, a reminder that the SPC Review Archive is your destination for every review ever posted on this site. See you next month, Review Round-Up!

Bomberman Jetters (GCN, PS2) - C
Bomberman Jetters doesn't make the case for itself a much-needed sequel to Bomberman Generation or make the case that the GameCube needed a second Bomberman game to begin with. By no means is it terrible, but a lackluster story mode really hurts the overall package despite Jetters having a rather entertaining multiplayer component. If you are still in possession of your Nintendo GameCube, have it still hooked up, in working order, and REALLY need a Bomberman game for it, take a look at Bomberman Generation instead.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths (NSW) - B
As a game originating on iOS devices via the Apple Arcade initiative, it didn't take much housekeeping for Capcom's game to arrive on the Nintendo Switch in a positive manner, but Shinsekai: Into the Depths is a successful port of a sublime and creative take on the Metroidvania genre. Aquaphobics may feel some unease playing this particular title, but for everyone else, Shinsekai: Into the Depths delivers an engaging, if not short-lived underwater adventure worthy of diving in and enjoying.
Golf Story (NSW) - B+
Even without its Story Mode attached, I believe there would be enough here with Golf Story to make for a good game of top-down golf. Thankfully, however, there's no need to be concerned with that, as not only do you get a good game of golf with Golf Story, but you also get an overall well done Mario-style golf RPG as well (though not without its issues, of course)! With its strong mix of rewarding exploration, creative scenarios, and solid golf mechanics, Golf Story, for the most part, comes off of the golf course and into the clubhouse a champion.
The Wonderful 101 Remastered (NSW, PS4, PC) - B-
The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a second chance for Platinum Games' oft overlooked "mass hero" action game to gain an audience. Whether it deserves one is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, even with all of the obnoxious and borderline rage quit-inducing moments that the game supplied me with, a replay on my Nintendo Switch version saw me happy to revisit The Wonderful 100 and save the universe from GEATHJERK once more. It's certainly nowhere near the most accessible and beginner-friendly game out there, but give the game a chance (and a FAQ a look) and you might discover a game that surpasses your expectations. Just don't be surprised if your frustration becomes as big as many of the spectacles, scenarios and showdowns The Wonderful 101 Remastered has to offer!
Meanwhile, newcomer Sidebar Games sank its putt to deliver a highly satisfying
golf RPG reminiscent of the Game Boy Mario Golf titles.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Wonderful 101 Remastered (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

Concluding the month with a new review, The Wonderful Ones arrive once more on SuperPhillip Central as part of The Wonderful 101 Remastered, available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. Check out SPC's review of the original Wii U version right here, and then get ready to see how this remaster holds up by comparison.

Diplomacy has failed, but fortunately, this remaster has not.

The original Wonderful 101 came and went on the Wii U with small fanfare and even smaller commercial success. Now, a console generation later, and thanks to Nintendo relinquishing the publishing rights and the original developer Platinum Games taking on the self-publishing duties themselves thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, The Wonderful 101 arrives on new platforms. These platforms include Nintendo's current Switch, but also the PlayStation 4 and PC this time around. With new features and the same old gameplay that the 100 people who played and enjoyed the original Wii U version loved, The Wonderful 101 returns with a vengeance.

When times are at their toughest and Earth is on the brink from some kind of crisis, 100 fabled warriors will unite to take it on together. They are the Wonderful 100, and the story begins with an alien army named GEATHJERK starting to lay siege to Blossom City, home to Mr. Wedgewood--nay, Wonder Red, protector of justice and leader of the Wonderful 100! Amidst the chaos of the alien invasion, Mr. Wedgewood transforms into Wonder Red, and thus the stage is set for Earth's mighty stand against GEATHJERK.

The Won-stoppable Wonderful 100 are here to save the day.
The Wonderful 101 takes players on a high octane thrill ride from beginning to end, with some turbulence along the way when it comes to certain sections. The stakes keep growing and get bigger and bigger with each of the operations, or missions, in the game. Considering that the end of the first or second operation would make for a fantastic final foray and fight for any other game, the fact that Platinum Games kept outdoing itself with these amazing to play and astounding to behold scenarios is something else. But, I'm getting ahead of myself in my excitement, as I am wont to do. While The Wonderful 101 is successful at raising the stakes, raising the action, and making for an impressive sight each and every time, the game doesn't always hit the mark from moment to moment gameplay.

The majority of The Wonderful 101's gameplay takes place with an isometric view of the action with a camera that follows along automatically, separate from the player's control. The only control that you can assume over the camera is zooming in and out, performed by holding down the shoulder buttons. Sometimes it's difficult to see threats this way, which can result and has resulted in cheap hits from faraway enemies in the larger battle areas of the game.

In the game you're controlling the leader with the rest of The Wonderful 100 following closely behind. Using the right analog stick allows you to utilize a mechanic called the Wonder Liner, used not just to interact with the environment, but also to draw symbols that transform your team into one of many forms. Wonder Red's Unite Hand can not only grab handles and other objects in order to interact with them, but inside battle, he can punch foes into oblivion. Meanwhile, Wonder Blue's Unite Sword brings out his trusty Valientum Blade, which can slice and dice foes of all shapes and sizes, as well as serve as a key to unlock specific doors and crates. Each of the main cast members of The Wonderful 100 are able to perform their own Unite Form, allowing players to solve puzzles and take out enemies, many of whom have different weaknesses to different forms. Not all Wonderful Ones arrive on time to the alien invasion (SO unprofessional, by the way), so new Unite Forms unlock as you progress through the game. Thus, you're not overwhelmed with an immense number of Unite Forms to remember all at once that are thrown at you.

The Wonderful Ones unite up to form many weapons, such as this Unite Punch under Wonder Red's leadership.
Though, this leads to my first issue that is specific to this remaster of the game. Drawing shapes with the right analog stick isn't anywhere near as precise as the Wii U version's ability to use that system's touch screen to draw them. There are certain points that occur quite often in missions where you need to draw a shape quickly to become a specific Unite Form in time or risk taking damage and having to retry the short sequence. For things like Unite Hand, which is just drawing a circle, or Unite Sword, which is just a straight line, it's easy enough, but when you get to more complicated shapes like the club-like Unite Hammer and Unite Bomb, it can be mighty frustrating. This is especially so if you're aiming to get the best rank in missions.

Speaking of which, playing like a typical Platinum Games title, players are thrust between missions in levels that are graded based on their performance. In The Wonderful 101, it's based on three criteria: time--how quickly you complete the mission, combo--how high your combo meter gets in a given mission, and damage--how much or (preferably) how little damage you take in a mission. The highest rank is a Pure Platinum, and no doubt you can imagine that going for all Pure Platinums in a level is an imposing challenge. Try doing that on all levels on all five difficulties, and you'll definitely see a lot of longevity and replay value, but you'll also see the cracks in The Wonderful 101's superhero armor.

Each operation ends with a super-climactic boss battle,
and somehow the showdowns and stakes only get crazier and crazier.
Generally, The Wonderful 101 plays well as an action game. Battles are intense, require quick thinking and reflexes, and you can't just button mash your way to victory--at least without feeling a lot of pain. However, when the game tries to do too much and overextend itself outside of the tried and true signature style gameplay it creates, things get messy. Genre shifts are no stranger to Hideki Kamiya-directed games, but in The Wonderful 101, they're just obnoxious. Between on-rails shoot-em-ups, isometric shooters, Punch Out!!-inspired boss battles, among other sequences that don't adhere to what the game is good at doing, it's a shock to the system, and an unwelcome one at that. I get the need to add some variety to the game, but these moments are so out of place and some just outwear any welcome they might have had, that I can't help but hate most of them. A certain underwater shooting section really tested my patience, and if I was one to go for Pure Platinums, it would have made me call an end to that idea right away.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it is more the spice of frustration in The Wonderful 101 Remastered.
When you're in between missions in The Wonderful 101, you're doing a lot of puzzle solving as well as exploration. For the latter, there's plenty to discover, such as extra Wonderful Ones to lasso up with a Wonder Liner to have them join your team, hidden collectibles like figurines, and Wonderful 100 and GEATHJERK files respectively. The puzzles in The Wonderful 101 also add some variety to the game, and these are more welcome than the countless shoot-em-ups and whatnot that would drive prospective Pure Platinum run-goers mad.

The Wii U version of The Wonderful 101 had sections in the game which demanded the use of both the TV screen and the controller screen of the Wii U GamePad. It was one of the more novel uses of the Wii U GamePad, a device that even Nintendo had trouble finding a worthwhile reason for it to exist. Regardless, in The Wonderful 101 Remastered, since there's obviously no way to play on two separate tangible screens at the same time, the developers opted to put both screens on the TV at once. Pressing the Minus button the Nintendo Switch version brings up the second screen (or the old Wii U GamePad version of the screen) at any time in the game, and it places it on the bottom right quadrant of the screen. There, puzzles and sections of the game which required both to be used can be done without too much issue. For instance, there is a poison-filled maze in one mission where you must use the second screen to get a grounds-view of the maze while the TV screen shows it in a less-than-helpful isometric overhead view.

I'm pretty sure bringing out a giant sword is against rugby rules,
but it's 2020 so who the **** knows what's legal anymore.
This time around through The Wonderful 101 with this remastered version, I more carefully inched through levels, looking for hidden goodies throughout levels, and I found myself coming to two conclusions: 1) A lot of the secrets in the game are hidden really well, and 2) This makes the already lengthy levels even longer and more agonizing to play through, especially with no ability to save when you're already in a level. No, once you start a level, you better commit yourself fully to it, no matter how long it takes--and sometimes, it can take quite a while!

The Wonderful 101 Remastered hardly seems like an upgrade from the original Wii U version, at least on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. Then again, I guess calling the game "The Wonderful 101 Ported" wouldn't have the same level of gravitas to it, despite being more accurate. Still, the game looks and run as well as it did on the Wii U, popping with color, impressive effects, maintaining a mostly steady frame-rate despite all of the characters and action on screen at once, and other dazzling displays that take place throughout the 15-hour campaign.

Battles have all the spectacle you've come to expect from the action game masters at Platinum Games.
More than anything else, The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a second chance for Platinum Games' oft overlooked "mass hero" action game to gain an audience. Whether it deserves one is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, even with all of the obnoxious and borderline rage quit-inducing moments that the game supplied me with, a replay on my Nintendo Switch version saw me happy to revisit The Wonderful 100 and save the universe from GEATHJERK once more. It's certainly nowhere near the most accessible and beginner-friendly game out there, but give the game a chance (and a FAQ a look) and you might discover a game that surpasses your expectations. Just don't be surprised if your frustration becomes as big as many of the spectacles, scenarios and showdowns The Wonderful 101 Remastered has to offer!

[SPC Says: B-]