Thursday, October 1, 2020

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit (NSW) Overview Trailer

October 16th is the launch of Nintendo's latest game in the Mario Kart series, and ahead of its release in approximately two weeks is an overview trailer that Nintendo has provided. It shows off all of the cool gameplay mechanics, construction tools, and modes featured in this augmented reality game. While it's both out of my price range and room size, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit looks to be an entertaining take on the long-running series.

Review Round-Up - September 2020

With a brand-new epilogue and fresh improvements to the old game, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition definitely deserves its title as the "Definitive Edition" and SPC's Game of the Month.

SuperPhillip Central was quite busy this past September, bringing to the month (and to you, the reader) seven new reviews total. It's time for the Review Round-Up!

We began things with a return to the miasma-covered world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles with the new and slightly improved Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition, securing a B- grade. Following the slow pace of dungeon crawling, we then kicked things into high gear with Hotshot Racing from Sumo Digital, drifting its way to a B.

One of the better games of this already amazing month of titles was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, nailing the landing of a remarkable remake and earning an A- for its trouble. What came after was one of the two beat-em-ups reviewed this past month with Horberg Productions' Super Punch Patrol, which punched and pummeled its way to a B- grade. 

Despite Tony Hawk's game delivering a robust return to skateboarding form well, it couldn't outshine our Game of the Month, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, a revamped and revised take on a classic Wii RPG. The return to the Bionis and Mechonis alike was a terrific adventure, getting an excellent A grade. 

The month continued with a second look at the both adorable and enjoyable 3D platformer New Super Lucky's Tale, but this time on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The game got a B grade, an improvement over the Nintendo Switch original. Finally, we rounded out the month (and roundhouse-kicked the month, as it were) with the impressive retro revival of the Streets of Rage series with Streets of Rage 4, obtaining both high praise and a B grade for kicking so much butt so well. 

Before we completely close the Review Round-Up for September 2020, here are some excerpts from all seven reviews with convenient links to said reviews. Last but certainly not least, check out the SPC Review Archive for every review ever published on SuperPhillip Central. 

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition (NSW, PS4) - B-

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition is a better version of the 2004 GameCube original, though that didn't take TOO terribly much to accomplish. Multiplayer, while immensely imperfect (and perhaps that's putting it a bit nicely), is much easier to organize and find a party of four players to enjoy the game with. Even in solo play, there's a fine level of fun to be found. For action RPG veterans, the combat on display in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles will most likely be a bit too basic and boring, and for those new to the game, the structure might be too confusing to understand without some outside help. Still, for fans of the GameCube's only Final Fantasy game, there's a lot to like about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition. Just don't expect it to totally live up to your decade-old nostalgia.

Hotshot Racing (NSW) - B

Delivering thrills, chills, and arcade racing entertainment of yore (complete with some unwanted old school sensibilities like rubber-banding), Hotshot Racing succeeds at bringing a stellar arcade racing experience to the Nintendo Switch (and I assume other platforms, too, when it releases on those). The driving and drifting mechanics are structurally sound and more importantly, they feel wonderful when playing. Hotshot Racing crosses the finish line with a gorgeous low-poly art style and enough under the hood gameplay-wise to back it all up.

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

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.

Super Punch Patrol (NSW) - B-

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. 

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW) - A

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.

New Super Lucky's Tale (PS4, XB1, PC) - B

New Super Lucky's Tale isn't the type of platformer that starts out with a breezy level of challenge and then gets ultra grueling by its end. Instead, the difficulty curve with regards to pure platforming is more of a modest one than something you'd need mountain climbing equipment to scale. That said, what is present for the brief adventure is both adorable and enjoyable, offering mostly clever ideas and well executed concepts from start to finish. 

Streets of Rage 4 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) - B

Streets of Rage 4 delivers on its promise of being an enhanced and updated beat-em-up that is drenched with nostalgia but also offers enough newness to be worth the price of admission. The game stands with the best in its series and the best in its genre. The new "risk versus reward" spin of special attacks and the combo system in general encourage experimentation with the game's combat mechanics while also providing great rewards for players who master them. All in all, if you enjoy a well executed beat-em-up, you'll very much enjoy taking it to these streets.

Tony Hawk's return to gaming was a stellar return to form with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Streets of Rage 4 (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

For the final review of the month, we turn to a retro revival. It's of a classic SEGA trilogy that earlier in the year saw its fourth numbered installment after more than two decades. It's Streets of Rage 4, and this is SuperPhillip Central's review.

Where the streets are paved with rage

There has been a fantastic amount of retro revivals as of late in the gaming industry, whether they're of old IP like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom or spiritual successors of familiar IPs such as Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ala Castlevania. Now, DotEmu and Lizardcube, teaming up alongside SEGA, bring back the classic arcade beat-em-up action of the Streets of Rage series with Streets of Rage 4. While dripping with a lovely coat of nostalgia, Streets of Rage 4 offers some things new to make the franchise's return all the more worthwhile and enjoyable.

Streets of Rage 4's story is delightfully cheesy, taking place a full ten years after the conclusion of the third game. It has the twins of former series main villain Mr. X, appropriately named Mr. Y and Ms. Y, with a plan to brainwash the denizens of Wood Oak City through the sound of music. That's the hypnotic sound of music--not to be confused with the musical. It's up to the slightly older but nevertheless no worse for wear team of Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, and newcomers Cherry Hunter (Adam of Streets of Rage 1's daughter), and cybernetic body of destruction Floyd Iraia to make things right and bring the newly formed crime syndicate down.

The original Streets of Rage trio is ready to take back these streets.

All of the gameplay tropes of the beat-em-up genre and the Streets of Rage series in general are present and accounted for in Streets of Rage 4. You have your punches and kicks attached to the same button, throws, as well as breakable weapons to use that are found scattered around levels and dropped by foes. There is food to restore health, points to obtain, high scores to aim for, and of course, hordes and hordes of baddies to beat down. 

What Streets of Rage 4 adds to the mix is a play off of the special attack that each of the base characters can perform. The special attack costs a modest amount of health to use, but it's also quite powerful--great for cleaning the area of foes. Floyd's special attack is an insanely powerful beam that stretches across the room, which can eliminate enemies (or at least deal tons of damage to them) with ease. Streets of Rage 4 throws in the ability to regain the health lost from using special attacks by quickly attacking foes to generate the health back. If you take damage, the consequence is that health and more is lost. This new special attack mechanic is a fun one to engage with, offering a nice risk versus reward angle to the gameplay.

That's a bit much, don't you think?

Adding more risk and reward is that of how combos work in the game. The more damage you deal to enemies without getting hit, the more your combo number increases, thus earning you more points when the combo ends naturally. If a combo gets broken up, you don't earn any bonus points, but if you do succeed and let the combo run out by itself, those bonus points are yours. The higher the combo, the easier it is to rack up some impressive point totals. Doing this is mandatory if you wish to get those ever-elusive and difficult "S" ranks. 

There are 12 stages in Streets of Rage 4, and playing through the game initially offers about 90-120 minutes of baddie-beating entertainment. While single player is enjoyable enough, Streets of Rage 4 shines brightly as a co-operative affair with friends either locally or online. For the latter, you can play with one other player, but locally, you can have up to four players dishing out pain to the Y Syndicate all over the streets and parts therein of Wood Oak City. 

Up to four players can bash baddies locally, or two can play together online.

Apart from the Story mode in Streets of Rage 4, there is a number of other modes and unlockables to make an otherwise short game last you long. (And let's face it--beat-em-ups aren't exactly known for their breadth of content!) First, there's Arcade mode, that allows you to run through the game with a set of lives that accumulate and carry over between stages. Then, there's a Boss Rush mode that expectedly has you face off against every boss encounter in the game. Finally, there's a Battle mode that pits you and another player against each other in a versus match on one of several stages. The latter here isn't too interesting, but it does allow for some fun here and there. Additionally, both the Story and Arcade modes feature five unique difficulties, making for a beat-em-up experience that everyone can enjoy and be challenged by.

While we're on the subject of things everyone can enjoy, the unlockables in Streets of Rage 4 are rather cool, offering the original sprite-based versions of the leads from Streets of Rage 1-3 that unlock through a point milestone system that adds your score from a given stage to the ever-increasing tally. At various milestones you unlock new content. Characters aren't the only thing you can unlock either, as there's a really cool CRT filter that makes the game look just like the SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive versions of the original trilogy.

This concert is about to be cancelled.

As for how Streets of Rage 4 looks, it dazzles with delightful, intricately detailed environments brimming with personality and vivid color. The characters animate magnificently with a nice comic book shading technique, and the frame-rate is as solid as the gameplay mechanics themselves. The flashy cutscenes, mostly still-frame in design, are a beauty to behold as well. If there's one part of the presentation of the game that disappointed me, it's that for a series that holds so many bops on the Genesis / Mega Drive, I failed to take anything from the music for Streets of Rage 4. It's hardly bad, but it's nothing that left an amazing impression on me, even with all of the talent on board. No doubt I am in the minority here, so as always with something as subjective with music, your mileage may, and probably will, vary.

Streets of Rage 4 delivers on its promise of being an enhanced and updated beat-em-up that is drenched with nostalgia but also offers enough newness to be worth the price of admission. The game stands with the best in its series and the best in its genre. The new "risk versus reward" spin of special attacks and the combo system in general encourage experimentation with the game's combat mechanics while also providing great rewards for players who master them. All in all, if you enjoy a well executed beat-em-up, you'll very much enjoy taking it to these streets.

[SPC Says: B]

Monday, September 28, 2020

New Super Lucky's Tale (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

After our 950th review two Fridays ago, let's get the motor running as we gun for review 1,000! We start the run to 1,000 with a game I previously covered on another platform, the Nintendo Switch version of New Super Lucky's Tale. Now, I review the game as it has launched on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Here's is the SPC review of New Super Lucky's Tale.

A tale so nice, I played it twice.

If you're having a case of deja vu, don't be alarmed. While SuperPhillip Central previously covered New Super Lucky's Tale, that was the Nintendo Switch version that released late last year. Now, Lucky's journey to return home to his family arrives on more platforms, though this time around without a retail version in sight, at least here in North America. While intrinsically the same game as what was found on the Switch, New Super Lucky's Tale now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC has some differences that make it my preferred version of developer Playful's game.

New Super Lucky's Tale's adventure takes our precocious young hero Lucky through multiple hubs that connect all levels together, as one would expect from a game of this nature. The levels are entered through portals scattered throughout these hubs, and inside them are veritable treasure chests of platforming goodness. 

Lucky engages in some barnyard shenanigans in this second world level.

There are three main types of levels in the game, and they all range from great fun to just good fun. The levels where you can fully explore the surrounding areas in 3D platforming environments are the ones that are the former. The auto-runner levels are at the other end, requiring precise leaps and activation of switches to reach the bonus areas containing more currency and hidden collectibles. Finally, the 2D side-scrolling platforming levels serve as the part of the game in between the two aforementioned level types in terms of the entertainment factor to be found.

Regardless of the level type, there are four pages of Lucky's obtained tome to collect in each. One is earned by simply reaching the end of the level. Another is earned by collecting all five L-U-C-K-Y letters. Then, there's one for accumulating 300 coins in one run of a level, and lastly, there's a hidden page usually discovered by completing a puzzle or stumbling across a secret area or "hard"-to-access part of a level.

Be on the lookout for golden letters like this "K" in levels if you want to earn a prized page.

I put "hard" in quotes because New Super Lucky's Tale is a bit of a breezy game--for the most part. When you're performing pure platforming challenges, the game isn't too taxing. You'll be racking up Lucky's lives count faster than you can lose them. This is because hearts are plentiful, and even things like falling off a level doesn't result in an instant life lost. Instead, you just lose a heart from Lucky's health. 

That said, there are some stronger challenges posed in the game, particularly after the final boss has been given a catnap. There are pure tests of platforming skill to take on, but there are more arduous and quite frankly, annoying marble-rolling sections that, while optional, need to be beaten to fully complete the game. These have you controlling a board, tilting it in all directions as Lucky rolls around in a ball as you attempt to collect every coin in the level without losing all his hearts. These are the lowest point of an otherwise enjoyable game--and even then, they aren't too trying for one's patience.

Apart from marble mini-game levels, there are also puzzle mini-challenges that appear in many of New Super Lucky's Tale's hubs. These put your brain muscles through their paces, as they require you to move sliding statues around so they eventually all land in their proper places. The catch is that statues hit by Lucky's tale don't stop moving until they hit the end of the track or another statue. Later statue-sliding puzzles offer a tremendous mental test, and I was quite literally stumped at some until a lot of trial and error. 

As I said already in this review, New Super Lucky's Tale isn't a strong challenge, really. Perhaps if you want to get all of the trophies and/or achievements, depending on your platform preference, as there are some "take no damage" challenges. Thankfully, for the small challenge that is present in the game, it's not due to the camera or the game's controls--something that other 3D platformers can't attest to so strongly. 

No matter the perspective, New Super Lucky's Tale is a good time.

No, Lucky controls wonderfully, whether you're using his signature burrow move to dive underground to travel underneath soft surfaces (emphasis on "soft", as Lucky can't dive through concrete--it's bad for the cranium, after all) to either move through levels faster, collect buried coins, or pass through obstacles that are otherwise impenetrable above ground. This burrow move also can be used to home in one enemies to leap on top of them, defeating them. That's not the only offense Lucky has, either, as he can also whip his foes into submission (or at least a temporary daze). Finally, offering more aerial versatility is Lucky's double jump, which can also end with a twirl of his tail to get some extra distance or a safer landing. 

This enemy meets Super Lucky's "tail"!

If there's one other thing beyond the limited difficulty of the game that makes New Super Lucky's Tale a little bit tougher to recommend for its full price is that the game is awfully short. Beating the game, and then earning all of the trophies took just under ten hours for me to do. I'll no doubt return to the Lucky's colorful world every now and then (heck, I did for this review since I already covered the Nintendo Switch version last year), but bear in mind that this isn't a lengthy adventure by any stretch of the term.

Meanwhile, when it regards New Super Lucky's Tale's presentation, Lucky's world is suitably colorful and charming, whether that's the vibrant environments or the personable characters. The latter uses gibberish speak (and sometimes singing) which was pleasing to me. The dialogue that is spoken is rare, mostly done as bookends to the adventure. Lucky himself exudes personality, and just like with my Switch review, I still adore the way he looks at and makes faces at the camera when he stands still for a short while. With regards to performance, the PlayStation 4 version features vastly reduced load times when compared to the Switch version, which is terrific considering how plentiful load screens are in the game, but there are still issues with unstable frame-rate in parts of the game. Musically, Playful's composers have done a great job bringing forth mostly catchy and engaging music to the ears. Most of it I wouldn't listen to outside of the game, but in-game it works. 

While this foe gets its stinger hit back at it thanks to Lucky's furry appendage.

New Super Lucky's Tale isn't the type of platformer that starts out with a breezy level of challenge and then gets ultra grueling by its end. Instead, the difficulty curve with regards to pure platforming is more of a modest one than something you'd need mountain climbing equipment to scale. That said, what is present for the brief adventure is both adorable and enjoyable, offering mostly clever ideas and well executed concepts from start to finish. Here's hoping we see more of Lucky in the future--preferably a completely brand-new adventure next time instead of the same game in a slightly varied form.

[SPC Says: B]

A PS4 code was provided to SPC by the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.