Friday, September 18, 2020

[950th Review!] Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW) Review

It's here! It's SuperPhillip Central's 950th review, and boy, is it a big one! I don't just mean big as in a big-name game, or big as in a big review, either. It's more like, "this game took a long time to beat because it was so big" type of big! Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition launched this past May, and I finally completed both the base game and the all-new epilogue, Future Connected. Here is my review on the game.

A Vision of Beauty

There's always these games that you play, you love, but you never get the chance to finish. For nearly ten years, Xenoblade Chronicles was my Moby Dick, a great gaming whale that I just couldn't overcome. I played a decent way through the Wii original, and then with the hope of the game coming to a handheld with the New Nintendo 3DS version, I failed to even touch the game. Now, Xenoblade Chronicles arrives on the Nintendo Switch with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Complete with a new epilogue (as if I needed more game to play), new quality of life features, and the same stuff I adored about the original game, could I finally play through Xenoblade Chronicles completely? The answer is yes. Not only that, but I absolutely LOVED it.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is set in a fantasy world where a long time ago, two titans clashed blades in battle, the Bionis and the Mechonis. Eventually they critically injured one another in combat and grew dormant. Afterwards, life began flourishing on their colossal bodies, and becoming home to various races of people and creatures. It is on Bionis that intrepid engineer Shulk, his best friend Reyn, and longtime acquaintance Fiora live peacefully at Colony 9, a village surrounded by beauty and peace. However, one day that peace turns into violence when the mechanical and robotic Mechon invade and attack the colony. During a skirmish with the Mechon, Shulk harnesses the power of a sword called the Monado to engage with the enemy and helps repel them. Now, with revenge fresh on their minds for the Mechon's attack on their home, Shulk and Reyn set out from Colony 9 to explore the Bionis, seek justice against the Mechon, and further understand the mysterious power of the Monado.

Shulk answers the question, "Did Phil really enjoy Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition?"

It's hard not to grow enamored with the world and characters of Xenoblade Chronicles. Shulk is a hard worker who is always willing to lend a hand and help out when the going gets tough. His ability to wield the Monado comes up as one of the main focal points of the story, especially when he witnesses a vision yet cannot help with the outcome regardless of the fact. There is a particular moment early on in the story that serves as a catalyst for the adventure. Meanwhile, his best bud Reyn is a cheeky chap, headstrong, bold, and a bit of a numbskull sometimes, but you can bet he's always looking out for Shulk. The rest of the party members that join Shulk's cause are similarly likable. Better yet, they each serve a purpose in and out of battle, too, so there's no superfluous party members to speak of in Xenoblade Chronicles.

You can say that again, Reyn.

The world of Xenoblade Chronicles is extraordinarily vast and expansive, and most of the time in the game is spent exploring the huge, open-world-esque areas of the Bionis and later Mechonis. Your curiosity is generally rewarded, too, either by finding new discoveries like landmarks that can be warped to at any time and other points of interest, or encountering impressive vistas. And believe me, there are a lot of great views to take in. One of the first major areas of the game, Gaur Plain, offers beautiful, natural land bridges, while the Satorl Marsh is unassumingly dreary during the day, but by nightfall it glows with tremendous brilliance. 

Gaur Plain is an early delight to explore and find new discoveries in.

Of course, it pays to be careful while exploring as if you get too close to a particular strong enemy, they won't be as shy in coming after you. It's quite normal to be wandering about with your party at level 10 while some parts of areas feature monsters well in the 80s. Thankfully, dying doesn't have a tremendous penalty, other than taking up some of your time. You're placed at the last warp point you reached, and you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and pick up from there.

Battles play out in real time in Xenoblade Chronicles. They begin either by you locking onto a foe and engaging in combat or an enemy becoming aware of you and attacking. Normal attacks happen automatically as your characters are in close proximity to enemies. You can select specific Battle Arts that work best when positioned correctly in relation to a targeted enemy. For instance, Shulk's Back Slash attack understandably works best when a foe is facing away from you with their back towards Shulk. Each move possesses a "cool down" period before they can be used again. When you auto-attack an enemy enough times, you can eventually use your character's Talent Arts, which are specific moves tied to that character. Shulk utilizes his Monado for all of his, performing feats like allowing the other party members to damage Mechon-based foes, or defending characters against enemy Battle Arts. 

Position yourself well in battle to deal more damage to foes.

As you successfully use Arts in battle, a blue Party Gauge at the top left corner slowly builds up, up to three segments. If a character falls in battle, you can pick them up using one of these three gauge segments. If all three segments are empty and all characters die, it's game over. The Party Gauge isn't just for defense, however; it's also used to perform a Chain Attack, allowing you to use multiple party members' moves one after the other to inflict heavy damage at once to an enemy. This depletes the Party Gauge completely, though. In harder battles, it becomes a strategy and choice between keeping the Party Gauge full in case you need to revive a party member or going for a full offensive on a boss, for instance.

Speaking of boss battles and just tough battles in general, when a party member is about to hit with a devastating attack, many times Shulk will have a vision during the battle. This allows him to alert a party member, which in turn grants them the ability to prepare a defense or way to counter it, or gives Shulk the opportunity to put the brakes on the enemy's impending assault with Shulk's own Monado Art. Like reviving allies and performing Chain Attacks, warning other characters costs a segment of the Party Gauge. The only big issue with this mechanic, however novel and cool it is, is that it can happen way too often in certain battles. Sometimes visions can happen multiple times within a short time span, really breaking the flow of battle, especially because you have to watch the enemies' foreseen attack play out in real time. Still, though, it's a small gripe to an awesome and otherwise well executed concept.

Early on, the Monado is the only effective weapon against the Mechon.

When you're not engaged with epic battles or exploring the expansive lands of Xenoblade Chronicles, you're probably going to have your hand in quests. There are a tremendous number of side quests in the game, which might make a completionist go insane, but for everyone else, they're a terrific way of gaining experience points, money, and equipment. Side quests generally fall into one of three categories: eliminating a certain monster or monsters, collecting specific materials, or conversing back and forth with various NPCs. Thankfully, Monolithsoft has made tracking quests much less of headache than compared to the Wii original and even the New Nintendo 3DS port of the game thanks to being able to track quests, see exclamation points on the map to see where you need to go, among other helpful information that was lacking in past iterations of the game. It's also all easily accessible with a simple press of the down direction on the D-Pad to instantly pop open the Quest Log. 

Exclamation points on the mini-map indicate where quest items and enemies are located.

The Quest Log isn't the only place that things have been streamlined for a better, higher quality, more efficient experience. The menus in general are simple to use, conveying information that is readily available and accessible at any time. It was an utter pain in the original Wii game to view how equipment changes would affect your character. No longer so in the Definitive Edition. Not only can you see the detailed effects of newly equipped weapons, armor and crafted gems in an easier way, but you do so without as much menu-surfing. It's especially cool that you can set a base armor set for your character, so no matter what you equip to them, they'll stay visually in the same outfit. Though I preferred to change things up for aesthetic purposes, myself.

The quality of life improvements don't stop there, either, as the Affinity Chart provides an abundance of info that the past Xenoblade Chronicles incarnations failed to share. For example, the location of characters is properly displayed, so there's no running to a FAQ or making your own out-of-game Excel spreadsheet to keep track of things. Plus, each glimpse of an NPC provides a look at what materials, gems, weapons, and armor they are up for trading. All of these changes make for a much more enhanced experience, so much so that I can't imagine going back to the old versions of the game--even for novelty reasons. If only they were there in the previous versions, but I guess the old saying is true--the third time IS the charm!

Other changes to this new and improved edition of Xenoblade Chronicles include "super quick" fast travel, allowing you to warp to locations across an area quickly, or change areas entirely in a speedy manner. It makes clearing side quests a less laborious and most importantly timely effort than in the Wii original. There's also difficulty options, such as Casual mode, where enemies deal less damage and you have a sporting chance against enemies that are twenty levels ahead of you. There's also Expert mode, which allows you to lower your party's individual experience levels to make the game more challenging, yes, but also to give your characters more experience from defeated enemies. Either way, with Casual and Expert, now the need to grind and boost your party's levels to reasonable heights for end-game quests and areas is also a less laborious and more time-saving one.

There's far less clutter on screen in battle, and it's easier to read everything, too.

Finally, there's a 10-15 hour epilogue to the main adventure of Xenoblade Chronicles in this Definitive Version with Future Connected. It sees a new area of the Bionis to explore, as well as a snappily paced story that features Shulk, Melia, and two Nopon companions, Nene and Keno. It's a satisfying cap to the adventure, offering a start at level 60 for the party, as well as an engaging story with new characters and the wonderful exploration and discoveries of the new Bionis Shoulder. The latter is especially enjoyable thanks to all of the unique areas spread about the relatively small region. There's plenty to see and do across the shoulder, and it's particularly great to have Quiet Moment interactions between party members be fully voiced this time around unlike the main game. To be fair, the main game featured a heck of a ton of a lot more of these events, so that would have been an obvious logistical nightmare to voice them all on top of the utterly immense script. 

The gameplay is similar to Xenoblade Chronicles' main game, save for some aspects, such as Shulk not having his visionary Monado abilities, for instance. Additionally, the main side quest this time around is the search for various Nopon Ponspectors, who after you perform a mission for them, they join your team and form a nice line of miniature attackers in battle and as you explore. Instead of a Chain Attack when the Party Gauge is full, you can unleash a Ponspector Union Strike, granting one of three different abilities. These are regen, de-buffing the enemy, or an all-out heavy attack on the enemy. These attacks are a great reward for acquiring every Ponspector on your team, not just for the destination of having a powerful team on your side, but because the journey is fun, too.

I'm quite impressed by how good Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition looks on the Nintendo Switch compared to the Wii original. The characters and enemies have the most sensational enhancements, looking absolutely fantastic in both detail and animation. Meanwhile, environments are even more jaw-dropping than they were on the Wii, and they were also amazing to look at then. From the added shaders in play to the new lighting and improved textures, this game looks gorgeous. The voicework is excellent, too, and quite possibly one of my favorite dubs period. Meanwhile, the music has been rearranged to fantastic effect, harnessing even more emotion than before. 

Don't mind me. Just admiring the vegetation here while running around in Eryth Sea.

The "Definitive" part of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition isn't just there to make for a fancier game title. It's there because it's absolutely true. This is the best version you can play of Xenoblade Chronicles, one of the absolute greatest JRPGs on not just a Nintendo console, but any platform. The epic 70+ hour journey will delight, surprise and mystify you with its excellence, the exploration and sense of discovery will constantly reward you, the battle system will engage you from beginning to end, and the new QoL features will make you wonder how you ever enjoyed the Wii original. Even the epilogue in Future Connected delivers on more terrific goodness if the base game isn't enough for you. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition makes a great game from the Wii an even better game now on the Nintendo Switch.

[SPC Says: A]

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Super Punch Patrol (NSW) Review

After some fabulous fun with looking at and hyping up some upcoming games for both PlayStation 5 yesterday and Nintendo Switch today, let's take a look at a new game for review on SuperPhillip Central. It's Horberg Productions' Super Punch Patrol. Time to take to the streets and deliver some justice to some bad guys!

A super "sketchy" beat-em-up

The pandemic has been rough on all of us, but out of the chaos can come some good. For instance, Bertil Horberg of Horberg Productions (Gunman Clive, Mechstermination Force) used some of his unplanned quarantine time to develop a brand new game for the Nintendo Switch. Super Punch Patrol is an ode to beat-em-ups like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, adding with it a similar and striking sketchbook art style a la his first big hit, Gunman Clive and its sequel. The game is a one-two punch of a lot of style and a little substance to make for an overall fun brawler.

Super Punch Patrol plays like your standard beat-em-up. You move from left to right in side-scrolling stages with multiple stops to the scrolling where enemy thugs must be taken down before you can continue progressing. Levels have multiple rooms and areas to them, such as one level that starts at a warehouse-filled pier before ending on a high action skateboarding romp where you have to juggle attacking enemies while dodging mines on the road. Speaking of enemies, baddies are varied with numerous types, each introduced as the game rolls on. There's the knife-wielding Hogan, no doubt named after the Crocodile Dundee star Paul "Now THAT'S a knife" Hogan, as well as the obese roller Leif, who is so heavy that attempts to throw him will result in your character taking damage. Super Punch Patrol keeps the enemy variety coming from the start of its half-hour runtime to its very conclusion.

If you're familiar at all with the beat-em-up, you'll feel right at home with Super Punch Patrol.

You can choose from three playable characters in Super Punch Patrol, from the well-balanced, to the slow, strong and heavy archetype, to the agile and acrobatic character. Each comes with four unlockable costumes that are earned from finishing runs (game over or through beating the game) and seeing your point tally fill up a bar. When the bar at the end of a session fills up, a costume for one of the three characters becomes available to you, whether a karate outfit for the agile woman character or a chicken suit for the big guy, for instance. 

Regardless of which character you use, your inputs and range of moves are similar. There's one button to pummel foes, and a second to pull off a special crowd control move, but this one takes off health to perform. You also have access to throws, jumps, jump attacks, and quicksteps. Weapons found in crates or dropped from foes can be picked up and used until they break, great for evening the odds--and you'll definitely need to with how often you're likely to see the Game Over screen.

The skaters face off against the bikers on this bridge section of level.

Speaking of game overs, you'll likely experience a lot of these, as tried and true to its inspirations, Super Punch Patrol is a difficult game. There are four modes to choose from challenge-wise, each offering a different level of difficulty with how many lives you begin with and how many points you need to earn a life. The challenge isn't totally of a fair kind either, as enemies will often gang up on you, and they can attack from off screen as well, particularly Hogan and Leif, who can chuck a knife and roll into you from beyond the edges of the screen, respectively. 

Further, it doesn't really seem like the game is balanced for how many players you have. Whether in single player or with a second player, the number of enemies that you face is the same. Finally, another annoyance with playing single player is that if you lose all of your lives--and of course still have a credit to use--you must start from the beginning of the level. This is unlike multiplayer where players can jump back in if their life count goes to zero. It made me notice how many lives I had at the start of a level, and if I only had one or two, I purposefully died just to restart the level early on, or worse yet, it stopped me from wanting to play a level over again completely when I lost my last life at the boss.

"Mind saving me, Anders? I don't like hanging out in this case."

Super Punch Patrol features what has grown to be a Horberg Productions staple: an animated sketchbook art style, and it looks as amazing as it did in the Gunman Clive games, if not better. Characters are highly detailed and animate well. The game runs at a nice frame-rate, too, as smooth as a morning shave with a fresh razor. Regarding sound, the music is suitably rock and percussion, and characters exclaim numerous synth yells and groans that sound sharp and surprisingly never grating. 

As a pure beat-em-up, Super Punch Patrol does not pull any punches. It doesn't necessarily add anything to the genre, but for a genre so beloved as the beat-em-up, what is necessary to even add? Plus, it doesn't even matter when the gameplay and presentation have both been implemented so well. Beyond the one bug we encountered like a one-time scripting bug in two-player where the screen would not scroll after all of the enemies were eliminated, forcing my brother and I to wait out the clock to our dooms, Super Punch Patrol is terrific in its execution. And for five bucks, you'll get at least an hour per dollar here. 

[SPC Says: B-]

A code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps (NSW) Announcement Trailer

The Microsoft-published and Moon Studios-developed followup to the brilliant and beautiful Ori and the Blind Forest is coming to the Nintendo Switch today with Ori and the Will of the Wisps! The game is available on the Nintendo eShop digitally with a $29.99 price tag.

Monster Hunter Rise (NSW) Announcement Trailer

What a wonderful duo of announcements to wake up to! Monster Hunter Rise is the newest title in the Monster Hunter series, and it's on the hunt on the Nintendo Switch on March 26th, 2021. Battle monsters old and new, using new features like the wirebug tool for added verticality, as well as a new canine companion.

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin (NSW) Announcement Trailer

A sequel to the Nintendo 3DS RPG original, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin has been announced for the Nintendo Switch. The game seems to continue the Monster Hunter sub-series' penchant for dramatic storytelling, anime visuals, and Pokemon-style monster battles. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin launches on the Nintendo Switch in Summer 2021.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Demon's Souls (PS5) Gameplay Trailer

Return to Boletaria and get ready to die, die, and die again in Demon's Souls for the PlayStation 5. With every death in the game is a learning experience, and slowly but surely you make progress in this dastardly title. Take a look at some impressively fluid gameplay footage with the trailer below.


Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5, PS4) Gameplay Demo

Coming out web-swinging in certainly strong fashion during today's PlayStation showing, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales received a fairly lengthy gameplay demo. Also, a quick announcement relegated to small print at the end and a PS Blog post that the game will also be arriving on the PlayStation 4. Still, this PS5 footage looks quite lovely. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales launches this holiday season.

Final Fantasy XVI (PS5, PC) Awakening Trailer

It's official--the next entry in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XVI will be a PlayStation console exclusive. Set in a medieval fantasy world, Final Fantasy XVI looks to be definitely taking on a darker, more brooding tone. What do you think about the first footage of Final Fantasy XVI?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Tuesday 10s: Mario Games

Welcome to a very special edition of The Tuesday 10s! This past weekend saw the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., and this Friday, Nintendo kicks off the full celebration of its 35th anniversary festivities with the launch of Super Mario 3D All-Stars on the Nintendo Switch.

What better time to run and jump into action, pop out of a warp pipe, and do some celebrating ourselves, together on SuperPhillip Central, with a special Tuesday 10! This particular list of ten games features my absolute favorite Mario games of all time, spin-offs included! With over one-hundred games with Mario as the prominent player in them, this was definitely quite a challenge--moreso than Super Mario Galaxy 2's Grandmaster Galaxy Daredevil Run or just beating Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels without save states!

After you've read my ten picks, I encourage you to share your favorite Mario memories and games below in the comments!

Super Mario Odyssey (NSW)

Let's begin The Tuesday 10s Mario Edition with the newest 3D Mario game, one that released on the Nintendo Switch during its launch year. It's Super Mario Odyssey, and the main mechanic featured in this Mario installment was Cappy, a talking hat with multiple in-game uses. For one, Cappy could be tossed into enemies to "capture" them, giving Mario not only their appearance but also their arsenal of moves. Speaking of an arsenal of moves, Mario himself had a move set that was both bigger and better than ever before--and a good portion of this comes from Cappy. Mario can launch his cap forward and serve as a launching point when on the ground, or when in the air, use it as a method of gaining more distance via second jump. The many collectible Power Moons in Super Mario Odyssey brought plenty of opportunities to use both capturing and using Mario's enhanced move set. For a completionist like me, more 'Moons meant more fun, and more replay value in the long run. Super Mario Odyssey was an adventure like no other on the Switch and one of Mario's best 3D outings.

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

This next 3D entry will be part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, launching on the Switch this Friday, and you can bet that I'm quite excited to play through it all over again. This time in high definition and higher resolution! Super Mario Galaxy opened up the universe as Mario's platforming playground, bringing planets and planetoids with their own physics and gravity. It was seamless jumping from one planetoid to another. Certainly not a Sonic Adventure 2 Mad Space level implementation! (To be fair, Adventure 2 had Galaxy beat by over five years in the concept.) Super Mario Galaxy impressed with its jaw-dropping visuals, elegant platforming, insanely creative levels, and bombastic orchestral score, all offering one truly sensational, totally unforgettable adventure.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 continued the gameplay premise of its predecessor, and it's the rare instance of Nintendo directly following up with a numbered sequel for a 3D mainline Mario entry. The game somehow brought even more creativity and cleverness to the entire gaming package: in gameplay, in level design, in ideas, in execution, in its music--you name it. Perhaps the only part of the game that didn't get improved or iterated on was the story. Still, what Super Mario Galaxy 2 consists of is ideas that were left on the cutting room floor of the original game, as well as ideas held over for this sequel. Some could consider Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be an expansion kit of levels to the original Galaxy, but I think that does this excellent sequel a disservice. Either way, what you get with Super Mario Galaxy 2 is Nintendo and the Mario series at their most creative, most amazing, and most impressive.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Coming to the Nintendo Switch (finally) in early 2021, Super Mario 3D World originally released on the Wii U. Like the Galaxy games and Super Mario 3D Land before it, it eschewed the sandbox-style structure of 3D Mario games like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine and opted for a more traditional "run to the goal" experience of games like the Super Mario Bros. series. 3D World introduced multiplayer into the fold, bringing with it utter chaos and hilarity, but also great teamwork and co-operative play, depending on who you played with. Up to four players could enjoy the immaculately designed levels of the game. 3D World also added the Cat Bell, turning Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, and the fifth playable character (don't want to spoil it for those who might be experiencing the game for the first time on the Switch next year) into cat versions of themselves, able to scamper, claw, and climb up walls. Super Mario 3D World looks to only improve upon itself with this upcoming Switch version, featuring faster running, a dive maneuver, and an extra mode called Bowser's Fury. I'm excited to once again revisit this gem of a 3D Mario game.

Super Mario 64 (N64)

The first 3D Mario game, Super Mario 64 was obviously a revolutionary title. I don't think I'm telling any tales out of school here with that shocking revelation! It popularized an immense number of things in gaming that a lot of us take for granted now. The fact of the matter is that Super Mario 64 still holds up to this day. Whether you're soaring through the skies of Bob-Omb Battlefield with the Wing Cap, or slipping and sliding down the icy and snowy banks and hills of Cool, Cool Mountain, there's definitely a good time to be had. With its impending re-release as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection this Friday, I look forward to again saying "bye-bye" to Bowser as Mario grabs him by tail and chucks him into a mine, and racing against Koopa the Quick in both of his footraces. It's going to be a good time, indeed!

Super Mario World (SNES)

Let's shift from 3D Mario to the more simple and accessible 2D Mario games with my favorite of the 2D bunch: Super Mario World. I loved the new additions to this Super Nintendo launch title over its NES predecessors. From the world map with myriad secrets exits and levels you could revisit and return to playing, to the new Cape power-up and of course, my main bud Yoshi, Super Mario World greatly expanded on what was found in previous Mario games up until then. It's a game you can speed through in about fifteen minutes if you take the quickest path through the world map, or you can opt to experience every level and secret in the game--my personal favorite way to play. Either way, players like myself found themselves happily losing dozens of hours wandering through the worlds of Dinosaur Land, and many also like myself still do to this day. The definition of a classic, for sure.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (NSW)

This might be sacrilege for most Super Mario Bros. fans, but yes, I'm putting New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe on this list and NOT Super Mario Bros. 3. Rather than delve into defending my choice, let me just say why I love NSMBU and its Deluxe version. The level design is some of the greatest in 2D Mario series history with clever secrets abound, smart level gimmicks, and fun to find collectibles with the three Star Coins and occasional secret exits. I love the overworld map, reminiscent of the aforementioned Super Mario World, as it houses plenty of paths and ways to make progress. I also enjoy playing multiplayer with friends and family. The former is more chaotic than with the latter! The included New Super Luigi U offers challenging bite-size levels that offer fiendish takes on the formula. While the art style is no doubt bland after three previous New Super Mario Bros. games with the similar visual design, I feel that in this case gameplay conquers all. So, while Super Mario Bros. 3 is a terrific title, one very much deserving of a spot on a list like this (and it would be #11 if this was The Tuesday 11s), I prefer New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe over it as my second 2D Mario platformer pick.

Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW)

Ending our look at 2D Mario games is an entire toolkit for making Mario levels. Super Mario Maker 2 has had me basically chained to it for a better part of a year now, whether that's making my own levels or playing the community's. Either way, over 220 hours of my life has been dedicated to the game. Far more than Super Mario Maker 2's Wii U predecessor--that's for certain. With all five game styles, including the added Super Mario 3D World, and the immense number of tools available to makers, there is an impressive amount of freedom in creating and designing your own levels. The final major addition to the game, World Maker, allows players to craft their own Mario games, which is literally dream come true for a Mario fan like me. Super Mario Maker 2 is one of my favorite Mario games of all time for many reasons, but the main one is that is allowed me to channel my creativity into making levels--and helping me do so with its easy to use tools.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (NSW)

Of all of the Mario Kart games Nintendo has made and released, the latest installment of the series is without question my favorite. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features the most tracks, the most characters, and the most fun (though the last one is subjective) in series history. With incredibly engaging multiplayer, the return of the tried and true Battle Mode (and not the poorly repurposed tracks of the Wii U original version), new mechanics such as double items and pink boosts, and helpful accessibility options like auto acceleration and steer assist, this Mario Kart is close to the most fully featured yet. While Mission Mode originally from Mario Kart DS is still absent, I'll take 48 tracks over a mode I'd play through once and then move on from. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe dazzles with its easy to play and pick up gameplay, gorgeous graphics and catchy musical jams, and content that will keep players coming back time and again. I know it certainly has for me!

Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)

Rather than delve into the world of Mario RPGs, which I can normally take or leave, I'm a much bigger fan of many of Mario's sports outings, namely golf. The Nintendo 64's Mario Golf is an entry that like Super Mario 64, still holds up to this day, and still gives me an insane amount of warm nostalgia. I remember playing that game during the summer of my middle school days, doing my best to unlock Metal Mario. I never imagined that Nintendo 64 golf game wrapped up with so much nostalgia would ever get its crown taken away. Especially not by a future game in the Mario Golf series, but it finally happened and unexpectedly on the Nintendo 3DS of all places.

Mario Golf: World Tour features a robust lineup of characters, courses, and content, both online and off, and it gave me hundreds of hours of fun. Whether I was customizing my Mii with unlockable gear, playing a round on one of the realistic courses or the more fantastical Mario-themed courses, or participating in an online tournament for prizes, my experience with World Tour was an amazing one. The mechanics and course design are masterful, the course concepts are clever, and the amount of characters to play as and unlock are terrific as well. I normally shy away from paid DLC, but I immediately leaped on the Season Pass for World Tour, which brought me full circle with my love of the Mario Golf series. The pass gave me all six courses from the Nintendo 64 game, fully redone, as well as four new playable characters. As you can probably tell, Mario Golf: World Tour satisfied me to a "tee".

Monday, September 14, 2020

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

Ahead of the game's launch this Friday, Nintendo posted the overview trailer for Super Mario 3D All-Stars on its YouTube channel. The trailer takes a quick look at all three games in the package, as well as a glimpse of the music player feature. Between Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, which game will you be playing first in this remastered collection?

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

Let's turn from four-wheeling race cars to another type of four-wheeler, the skateboard. It's the long awaited, much anticipated return of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater with a full fledged remake of the first two games in one tantalizing package. It's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, and here is SuperPhillip Central's review.

Trickin' out with Tony

Throughout the '00s, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series saw release after release, busting trick after trick and simultaneously busting up to the top of the sales charts year after year. The series popularized the extreme sports genre of video game, but eventually it faded in both glory and popularity. The death knell was a one-two combo of a poorly made THPS 1 remake and a quick-and-dirty, phoned-in--and quite terrible--Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, meant to squeeze some extra last money out of the franchise before the publisher, Activision, lost the rights to it.

It seemed like the Birdman's games would go the way of another bird, the dodo, but now Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is back with a fantastically done remake of the first two games in one cleverly made package. With Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series doesn't just return to gaming relevance--it returns to form.

What worried me and pretty much every other fan of the old Tony Hawk games was that THPS 1 + 2 would end up like the promising but overall poor remake of the first game. The skateboarding feel wouldn't be right, the controls and handling would be off, and so forth. Fortunately, I am happy to say that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 feels just like the Tony Hawk games most of us grew up on. This is to say everything feels right, and this isn't a shoddy effort in the slightest.

Right away, the look and feel of the classics is strong in THPS 1 + 2.
Skateboarding is terrific, offering a solid degree of control, and ease of pulling off simple tricks with a combination of the D-Pad / analog stick and face buttons. There are flip tricks and grab tricks to pull off depending on the button pressed and the direction on the D-Pad/analog stick held. That's just the basics, of course. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 throws in some moves pulled from later games in the series for use in both games' levels, including Pro Skater 2's manual, 3's revert, and even 4's wallride and wallplant. This offers the ability to chain together tricks much more easily than before in both games.

Getting through the daily grind...
It's simple enough to pull these tricks off by themselves, but learning how to link tricks together into one combo and actually succeeding in landing is where the challenge truly lies. It's a juggling act between tying together combinations of flip tricks, grab tricks, flatland/manual tricks, vert tricks, and grinds while simultaneously trying to land a killer combo. The more tricks you successfully pull off in a combo, the more you combo multiplier goes up, and upon successfully landing, the more points you earn. So, there's definitely a risk versus reward mechanic that comes in. Do you risk bailing by continuing a manual into your next trick, or do you end the combo there and get guaranteed points? By doing the former, you can either lose your combo and all those precious points altogether, but at the same time landing the combo successfully will result in more points than you'd otherwise receive.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has always been a series about finding the best lines to earn the most points, and the career mode assists in doing this. What may seem like busywork in collecting S-K-A-T-E letters and bashing open boxes in the opening Warehouse level is actually supposed to teach you the levels better so you can learn and hopefully ultimately master insane skating lines in them. Career mode serves as not only a way to provide players with a series of objectives to clear in each level--such as earning set scores, performing certain tricks at specific gaps, collecting certain items, etc.--but also as a means to learn the levels themselves, so when you do hop online for some multiplayer, you aren't left totally in the dust.

Jump in and out of multiplayer as easily as you can pull off this gap.
(Which is to say, quite easily, as this gap isn't too terribly tough to nail.)
Before I do jump into multiplayer more, let's talk more about the career mode. It's taken directly from the classic-style THPS games of yore, giving you two minutes to complete different as many level goals as you can with each attempt. Thankfully, you need not to do all of the goals in one run, but I can attest THPS pros being able to do so for many of the early, and quite possibly, some of the later levels as well. As you complete various goals, you unlock new levels. THPS 1 and THPS 2's levels are split up between their own lists, and you can start with either game's first level and progress through them from there. Collectible stat points to beef up the stats of your currently controlled skater are sprinkled throughout levels, making for an easier time. These stat points work across both game's levels, so if you collect a stat point in a THPS 1 level, it works in THPS 2's levels as well. Really, there is no stringent separation of the two games in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 other than unlocking levels in order across each game.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 requires you to just clear level goals once as any skater instead of the headache that was playing through every level and completing every goal to fully complete the game like the classics had you do. This might turn off some players, as in the career mode, there's nothing else to regularly do in a level once you complete them other than scour them for each skater's stat points. This gets tedious quickly as entering and exiting levels takes a little while loading time-wise, and collecting stat points isn't exactly the most difficult thing to do in the game. You'll instead be switching between levels and suffering loading screen upon loading screen between your level selection.

What is rather difficult, however, in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a brand new addition to the series with this remake: challenges. There are over 700 total, ranging from easy and "not so tough" to "you'll want to break your controller over your knees as if it were your skateboard" hard. These come in various categories across skaters, levels, tricks, combos, modes, and more. Such examples include earning a medal in all skate competitions, performing 20,000 point combos with various trick specifications, and beating high scores in one combo. Each challenge completed earns you money and experience points. The former allows you to purchase in-game goods like apparel, boards, logos, etc. in the shop. The latter is more for achievement/trophy hunters, but your player level also gives you more items to buy in the shop as well.

This school may be out at the moment, but it's a perfect time for some skating to be in session.
Outside of the career mode, there's plenty more to shred through in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2. For instance, a free skate mode offers plenty of opportunities to practice or partake in gap-hunting. There is also a speed run mode where you do your best to complete all of a level's goals as fast as you possibly can. Finally, there's of course multiplayer, which comes in both local, comfy couch split-screen play and online multiplayer forms.

Online works rather well, offering lobbies that don't take much time at all to fill with players, and games start quite quickly and seamlessly. Modes alternate in and out between rounds, levels can also occasionally get switched between rounds as well. Rounds don't take too long to complete, so even if you're doing horribly, you won't have to suffer for long. Perhaps my only gripe with online multiplayer is that HORSE is one of the only modes unavailable. That's local split-screen only. Other modes, such as attempting to get the highest combo score in a set amount of time, or the ultra-fun Graffiti, where you try to "paint" as much of a level's geometry to control the most by the end of the time limit, are present and as fun as ever.

Whoever said "look before you leap" sure said a mouthful.
Aside from competing against yourself for best scores and competing against others in multiplayer, Create-A-Park is back in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, and mechanically it's better than ever before. While the tutorial is rather poor, practically pushing players into the deep end of the pool with no life preserver or water wings, there's a lot that you can do when creating a park. It becomes second nature and easy as the game snaps pieces together in a way that makes building the skate park of your dreams almost effortless. Furthermore, smart pieces--where you can tinker, pull, and stretch objects like vert ramps, rails, walls, and more--add even more creative possibilities to created parks. I just wish there was a way to implement your own gaps and goals like in past Tony Hawk games, but what's here is pleasant. Searching and finding created parks isn't, however, with level pictures that seldom load, making it a crap shoot on if the park you're about to enter is worth the hassle of the load times or not.

It wouldn't be worth talking about a remake without talking about how improved Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is compared to its originals. The game is on another level graphically, offering unprecedented detail in both characters and levels. The latter delivers astonishing new takes on classic parks, such as THPS 2's Hangar, which is essentially now a shrine for Neversoft, the developers of the classic Pro Skater games, and the THPS 1's Mall, which now heavy vegetation growing through its abandoned, dilapidated halls and passages. Not all of the levels, however, are great glam-ups, as THPS 2's Venice Beach with its especially bright and almost garish sunset makes it particularly difficult to see certain collectibles.

Venice Beach is one of my lesser loved levels in THPS 1 + 2 due to the lighting
(though this screenshot is on the shady side), but it's still an overall winner.
It especially wouldn't be worth talking about a Tony Hawk game without mentioning its soundtrack, and here, too, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 brings it with nearly all of the music from both THPS 1 and 2. This soundtrack will definitely trigger nostalgia for most players who have fond memories of skating and thrashing it up in 1999 and the early 2000s. There are also some new songs thrown into the mix, and they fit the style and tone of THPS wonderfully. Plus, if you dislike a particular song, you can skip it with a click of the right stick, or better yet, just remove it from track rotation entirely in the options.

Like Activision's past reworks like the Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a marvelous remake that, like Tony Hawk with his infamous 900, nails the landing. Unlike the Birdman himself, however, it's not a perfect landing, as lengthy load times between levels and some odd physics in relation to some level geometry can and do occasionally annoy. Nevertheless, if you want a game that retains the feel of the classic THPS games that you know and love, or you want to experience what the hubbub regarding the Pro Skater series is all about and don't know where to start, then Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an outstanding remake and the game for you.

[SPC Says: A-]