Friday, October 16, 2020

Best Levels in Gaming History - Volume 21

With Halloween fast approaching, SuperPhillip Central scares up five more excellently crafted video game levels. Not strictly limited to the traditional definition of the word "level", Best Levels in Gaming History delves into the best areas, tracks, and segments of some of the best and occasionally the lesser talked about games in our hobby and industry. This time we're looking at a lot of remakes this go around, but truth be told, many of these levels have never looked (or played) better. On this edition, we have games like Resident Evil 2, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, and Paper Mario: The Origami King, to name just a few.

If you want to set aside some time to check out past installments of Best Levels in Gaming History, look no further than these links:

Volume One
Volume Two
Volume Three
Volume Four
Volume Five
Volume Six
Volume Seven
Volume Eight
Volume Nine
Volume Ten
Volume Eleven
Volume Twelve
Volume Thirteen
Volume Fourteen
Volume Fifteen
Volume Sixteen
Volume Seventeen
Volume Eighteen
Volume Nineteen
Volume Twenty

The R.P.D. - Resident Evil 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

What better way to start off a Best Levels in Gaming History article in October than with one of the most masterful sections in any Resident Evil game? It's the starting area of the 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2, the Raccoon City Police Department, or R.P.D. for short. The area is a three-floor building that is otherwise simple enough in its layout, but locked doors requiring playing card suit-themed keys and puzzles needing solving make for a labyrinthine hellscape for players. It's one that's literally crawling with all manner of grotesque creatures, notably the undead kind. 

But, there's one specific monstrosity that makes the creepy corridors and rooms of the R.P.D. especially spooky. Mr. X is a bioweapon, a Tyrant whose strong footsteps signal his eventual approach. Essentially indestructible and particularly dangerous, Mr. X stalks his prey with ruthless efficiency. When those footsteps are heard, the hairs on one's neck are sure to stand up, because Mr. X's arrival means certain trouble at best and certain doom at worst. Attempting to make progress in the R.P.D., whether it be reaching a certain room, or solving a specific puzzle, can be a nightmare with Mr. X breathing down your neck. It makes an intense area of the game even more so, and makes the R.P.D. in the Resident Evil 2 remake an especially strong start for the game. 

The R.P.D. nails its atmosphere with incredibly claustrophobic environments, dark and dreary halls that can only be illuminated by either the "dead" of night or the player's flashlight. Rounding a corner or opening a door to another room is always a frightful experience due to the risk of a zombie or other undead creature being on the other side. In harder difficulties, the fear is very real with said undead being able to tear into your flesh and kill you with ease. The R.P.D. is a puzzle-filled, undead-infested hell of a first impression for Resident Evil 2 players that is a pleasure to explore and even better if you survive it!

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

Of the levels and skate parks in the recently released remake of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and Pro Skater 2, one of my favorites of the bunch would have to be the School level of the first game. Wide open and ready for skating class to be back in session, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1's School is pumped and primed with opportunities to make insane combos and ample amounts of areas to skate around in and score big. 

There's the starting section where one can skate down the awning, the rooftop of the gymnasium, the bridges that cross the canals, and the two large and empty pools perfect for long grinds or high-stakes vert tricks, School allows for so many possibilities to pull off insane tricks and scores alike. 

The various goals in School are rather enjoyable to shoot for as well, from wallriding school bells and grinding tables, to trekking down the awning to nab the Secret Tape or comb the level for the almighty S-K-A-T-E letters. The School level as part of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 makes for a well done introduction to more wide open levels in the game, far more than the opening Warehouse level, which is an already awesome level by itself.

Shogun Studios - Paper Mario: The Origami King (NSW)

We now "flip" over to Paper Mario: The Origami King, the latest game in the series. Shogun Studios is a Japanese-style amusement park home to numerous intriguing points of interest. When Mario initially stumbles upon the theme park, he finds it overrun with King Olly's origami goons. Through acquiring the Master Key, he's able to enter the theatre where the boss Rubber Band has forced an audience of Toads to watch his various performances. 

Shogun Studios overflows with passageways, buildings, and secrets to uncover. The attractions inside offer a great amount of longevity even after Rubber Band has been bounced out of the theme park. There's an engaging shuriken-throwing mini-game available, where Mario uses his Hammer to strike shuriken launchers to chuck them into various numbered point targets. There is also a ninja house where the goal is to find as many--if not all of the--hidden ninja located all over the grounds of the attraction. 

The boss segment of Shogun Studios itself is just as entertaining as exploring the amusement park. Before battling Rubber Band, Mario must play in various performance scenarios on each of the three preceding floors of the Big Sho' Theatre. One involves a spaghetti Western where Mario must engage in a shootout-style duel against a trio of paper mache enemies. Another involves dodging dancing paper mache Shy Guys. The final floor features the battle against Rubber Band itself, the culprit behind all of the Shogun Studios shenanigans. Between the fun attractions of the amusement park and the culminating final showdown with Rubber Band, Shogun Studios is one of Paper Mario: The Origami King's strongest sections in a game full of amazing areas.

Cloud Temples - Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Let's continue with the oriental motif with a level from Spyro Reignited Trilogy, specifically from Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage. It's Cloud Temples, set atop mountains to make for one super majestic and ultra impressive level. Here, a clash between wizards and warlocks takes place, and it's up to Spyro to lend the wizards that call these temples their home some much needed help. 

Apart from the breathtaking views, elaborate architecture, and dazzling heights that Cloud Temples contains, there are a trio of enjoyable objectives to complete in order to acquire orbs. The most general of goals is to make it from the start of the level, outside the temple gates, to the inside where the finish is, defeating warlocks and charging rams along the way. Then, there's an objective where Spyro must defeat enough enemies to activate the Superfreeze power, enabling him to freeze foes to serve as platforms to reach Cloud Temples' bells in order to ring them. Finally, Spyro needs to closely follow the lovable but decidedly dimwitted Agent Zero to his secret hideout without being noticed. 

From the gorgeous views and fun platforming that the level possesses, to the engaging tasks that are asked of Spyro to complete, Cloud Temples is one of the highlights of the excellent Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage as seen--and as are part of--the even more excellent Spyro Reignted Trilogy.

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

We just can't seem to get away from remakes apart from Paper Mario: The Origami King on this edition of Best Levels of Gaming History, can we? That's okay, though, when these levels are so stellar, does it really matter? Cortex Castle is one of the trickiest, most technical courses in Crash Team Racing and its remake Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. That's due to the fact that the track features myriad sharp corners that serve as the castle's turns. 

From racing on the upper ramparts of Cortex's castle to blasting through the super-tricky turns inside Cortex's courtyard, this track isn't for the feint of heart. The shortcut in the tower section of the track requires precise timing to make a timely leap from an incline, over a chasm, and onto the wooden ramp bypassing an otherwise windy and lengthy path up the tower. 

The final stretch sees a massive, "N. Sane" jump off of a boost ramp from a tower above, all the way to the last section of track, two turns that are home to two bothersome spiders that can spin a costly web to steal some seconds from your lap time. Cortex Castle, like Mario Kart 64's Bowser Castle, is one of my favorite tracks from this era of kart racer--part by virtue of being a castle gauntlet course, and part because it's immensely challenging to master. The visual and graphical renovations only make Cortex Castle an even more impressive sight to behold and track to race on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Super Mario 3D All-Stars (NSW) Review

We move from a game that was scary and good to games in a collection that are scary good with Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Not only is the collection reviewed, but I also briefly talk about my experiences with each game that is a part of the collection as well. Here is the hefty SPC review of Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

Jump Up, Superstars. 

Mario is synonymous with video games. Heck, he IS Mr. Video Game, as far as the industry is concerned. Hence, that is why it's a little disappointing that Nintendo hasn't provided a package worthy of his name. While the three 3D Mario games in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection are without question iconic and excellent games all to themselves--and the retouched remasters seen here are executed well enough--it's a shame that so little effort has been placed into this collection, a celebration of Mario's 35th anniversary. 

Still, Super Mario 3D All-Stars does feature three iconic and historic games, and I happily played through all of them to completion. It only makes sense to go through each one-by-one before ultimately reviewing the entire collection as a whole. For starters, let's go back in time to 1996.

~Super Mario 64~

We begin with the 3D Mario that started it at all and created a revolution in gaming. There's no question that in 1996 Super Mario 64 delivered and dominated imaginations and inspired countless of developers and designers for decades--and still does. The Nintendo 64 controller was custom built specifically for the game, so using a different controller in either the Switch Joy-Cons or the Pro Controller makes for an understandably different experience.

If one were to judge Super Mario 64 on historic value alone, it would be one of the greatest games of all time, up there with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario World. But, as a game in 2020--and on the Nintendo Switch--it's one not without its own problems.

For one, Mario doesn't quite turn on a dime like he does in future Mario outings. He makes wide turns, which makes trying to change directions on narrow or small platforms an absolute nightmare. This is particularly true in courses with huge falls or worse yet, courses with bottomless pits. You can find yourself turning Mario off of a platform and to his doom quite easily.

Further, the camera, though a pioneer at the time of release, is obviously quite antiquated in 2020. It's prone to getting caught on geometry, moving on its own mid-jump or mid-run by Mario, and absolutely hates working well when in indoor areas. It results in multiple occurrences where you're actively fighting the camera, among all of the other enemies like Goombas and Piranha Plants that Mario already has to deal with. 

That said, while the negatives do make Super Mario 64 a less enjoyable experience, and a quite challenging game--and sometimes for all the wrong reasons--the game still holds up remarkably well. It's a cinch to see why many designers and developers took and still take lessons from the design philosophy of Super Mario 64. 

Super Mario 64 sees Mario arriving to Princess Peach Toadstool's castle after receiving an invitation. Prepared for celebration, Mario leaps out of the opening pipe to a hauntingly quiet outside courtyard with nary a welcome in sight. This opening courtyard serves as a nice playground for players to get accustomed to some of the tricks in Mario's wide repertoire of moves. Signposts along the hilly, tree-covered courtyard reveal all manners of moves and how to perform them. Upon arriving at the moat near the castle's entrance, Mario meets Lakitu, who the designers cleverly assign a cameraman role to, contextualizing things brilliantly. Plus, it also assigns some blame when those unwanted and distractingly bad camera angles rear their ugly head in. 

Upon entering the castle, Bowser's voice bellows and taunts Mario, revealing that he has trapped the castle's denizens including Princess Peach within the walls and paintings inside. It's up to Mario to enter into each world within the walls and paintings to collect enough Power Stars to open up new sections of the castle, battle Bowser, and save the day once more.

The 15 worlds of Super Mario 64 feature an abundance of locales and themes to them, all open and expansive, bringing forth the sandbox-style of 3D Mario and 3D platformers in general that continues to this day, specifically with the latest in the series, Super Mario Odyssey. The worlds take place in all sorts of settings, such as a mountain and surrounding valley dominated by Bob-Ombs and their king, an underwater world home to secret caverns and a sunken pirate ship, and even a rainbow ride in the sky, complete with death-defying jumps that Mario must make to survive. 

Each world possesses six base Power Stars to collect, and many of these can be nabbed out of sequence. For instance, it's entirely possible to acquire the Power Star for breaking the Chain Chomp free in Bob-Omb's Battlefield when it's actually the sixth star on the mission list, even when you're doing the first mission of the world, which is to run up the mountain and face King Bob-Omb for his Power Star. The opening mission list doesn't just list what Power Star you should go after: the name of each Power Star mission is also a clue as to how to get it. For example, Hazy Maze Cave's "A-maze-ing Emergency Exit" hints at which section in the expansive, labyrinthine world you can find the Star, notably the hazy cave itself. Though, sometimes specific Power Star clues offer little guidance, such as Whomp's Fortress' "Break Away the Wall", which obviously hints to break a wall, but it doesn't say how to do so, or even which wall to specifically smash through to get your prize.

Alongside the 15 themed worlds, there are myriad hidden Power Stars within the castle to find. Some are in special levels of their own, such as three levels that unlock unique cap power-ups for Mario to utilize. These are the Wing Cap, Metal Cap, and Vanish Cap, all giving Mario special, temporary abilities like the power of flight, the power of invincibility, and the power of invisibility. However, I must add that the Wing Cap is especially unwieldy to control on the Switch, as any modicum of movement can result in Mario moving out of control. 

Super Mario 64 sees a fantastic visual improvement in this collection. While the game does not stretch to full screen, instead leaving black bars to the sides, the game does reportedly upscale to 720p. This is a huge boost compared to the original game. Super Mario 64 has never officially looked better than it does now, with its crisp, colorful, and clean graphics. 

Obviously dated by virtue of being a nearly 25-year-old game, Super Mario 64 still manages to impress with its marvelously designed worlds, creative missions and objectives, overall solid platforming and tools provided to Mario to do said platforming, and clever secrets. The game's camera makes for a bothersome time occasionally, particularly in later levels, but overall, Super Mario 64 stands the test of time. 

[SPC Says: A-]

~Super Mario Sunshine~

We move from one of Mario's most loved and revolutionary outings to one of Mario's most muddied and maligned outings. Super Mario Sunshine might have needed more time outside to get a serviceable tan (my way of trying to be clever and say the game needed more time in the oven, development-wise), but there's no denying on my end that the game is charming and features one of Mario's most sophisticated and enjoyable move sets in his history.

That notion has to do with FLUDD, the water nozzle accessory that Mario gets equipped with in order to clean up Isle Delfino after being wrongfully accused and charged of defacing the island with graffiti. Not quite the vacation that Mario was expecting, that's for sure. That said, what is Mario's punishment is the player's joy with cleaning up Isle Delfino and navigating its wide open spaces being an absolute pleasure to do... on most occasions.

FLUDD isn't just used to spray enemies, graffiti, and goop away. (Though this is performed with the R and ZR buttons respectively for a weak spray and a stronger spray in the Switch version of Sunshine, as opposed to the GameCube version's pressure-sensitive spraying with one shoulder button.) Mario can use FLUDD in conjunction with and to complement his platforming, using it to hover and reach higher places, even skipping sections of levels. This makes it so there's a high level of freedom in how players take on and approach the various missions and episodes within the game's seven main worlds. 

Unlike Super Mario 64, episodes to earn Shine Sprites in Super Mario Sunshine must be played in order, as episodes essentially change the scenarios and levels themselves up considerably from episode to episode. Also unlike Super Mario 64, where you could collect any Power Stars to reach the requisite amount needed to beat the game, in Super Mario Sunshine you have to at least complete the first seven episodes of each world to reach the final area of the game. This makes for a much more difficult experience and one that's a bit more linear structure-wise.

Some of the mandatory episodes and missions that Mario faces aren't exactly the easiest to overcome, either. For instance, rolling watermelons in Gelato Beach up a narrow pier or entering the deadly and dangerous underside of Pianta Village still haunt my dreams. However, for every overly difficult (and usually for the wrong reason) episode in Super Mario Sunshine, there's multiple that offer a great deal of fun. Many of these are episodes dubbed "secrets" where Mario enters a bonus stage where the true culprit of Isle Delfino's graffiti takes FLUDD from him, forcing Mario to engage in a platforming level by his own skills with no safety net in FLUDD to use. 

Super Mario Sunshine does have a sharp decline in worlds compared to Super Mario 64, and while there are but seven worlds to explore in the game, each possesses eight episodes to play through, each earning Mario a Shine Sprite for completing them--the Power Star equivalent in Sunshine. Still, even with eight episodes or missions to complete for each world, that still leaves dozens of the 120 Shine Sprites left unaccounted for. 

Some Shine Sprites are earned in each world from collecting 100 coins, a much more challenging proposition than in Super Mario 64, as some episodes don't even feature enough coins at all to reach 100 for the Shine Sprite, making for a frustrating and time-consuming fool's errand. But, by far the most troublesome aspect of going for 120 Shine Sprites is that of Blue Coins. There are 30 in each main world. Many of these only appear in specific episodes, and there is no way to track which are in which. The only thing the game does track is how many overall you've collected in a world. Additionally, several Blue Coins are in such ridiculously obtuse locations that it makes trying to track them all down without the assistance of a guide rather foolhardy and frustrating to do. 

Super Mario Sunshine suffered from an initial shortened/rushed development cycle. It certainly shows. Some levels such as the Pachinko board, that darned lily pad ride over a poison river, and that Chuckster bonus stage are but some of the poorly designed, poorly executed sections in the game. Thankfully, most of these are optional unless you wish to collect all 120 Shine Sprites. Couple these problematic sections with several bugs and glitches that are uncharacteristic of the Mario series, and a sometimes poor camera, and you have a Mario game that can greatly annoy. 

Yet, even with all of these issues, I still found myself adoring the game. Isle Delfino, more than any other 3D Mario location, feels like a living, breathing place. It's charming, it's enjoyable to run, jump, and play through, and its sense of place--particularly being able to stand in Ricco Harbor and see Pinna Park and Gelato Beach in the far distance as if you were in an interconnected place--is phenomenal. The hub world, Delfino Plaza, also remains one of my favorites to explore and run around in. The overall tropical setting of Super Mario Sunshine is so warm, so welcoming, even if the game itself can often frustrate. All in all, Super Mario Sunshine does have many problems, but somehow I was still able to find a lot of fun within the sun-drenched shores of Isle Delfino.

[SPC Says: B+]

~Super Mario Galaxy~

Going in to Super Mario 3D All-Stars, I knew which game of the three I considered my favorite. It was this one: Super Mario Galaxy. Now, after playing through all three games with 100% completion achieved, I am pleased to stand by that opinion. However, that's not to say that Super Mario Galaxy completely sticks its landing, at least in this collection.

Super Mario Galaxy sees Mario enter into an adventure in outer space to take on Bowser, who has sealed himself, Princess Peach, and her castle into the center of the universe. With the help of Rosalina, her Luma helpers, her Comet Observatory, and the Power Stars, Mario aims to dig deeper into the universe, ultimately to reach Bowser, save Peach, and stop whatever plan the King of the Koopas is brewing this time around. 

Right away, when you start playing Super Mario Galaxy, you'll see that this isn't your traditional 3D Mario. You're not running in typical Mario environments, but instead completely fantastical ones on multiple axes. You're running around myriad individual planets, both big and small, with their own gravities, and instead of the sandbox worlds of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy employs more linear levels. It's more akin to Super Mario Bros. where you go from the start of the level to the goal, rather than being dropped into an open world playground where the world is your oyster to explore. Though, that isn't to say there isn't some of the latter in Galaxy, such as in the Honeyhive Galaxy, for instance.

Super Mario Galaxy is a masterclass of level design. The amazing abundance of amount of creativity in ideas and concepts presented is truly outstanding. This is the type of game that even more than a decade later, the ideas on display still astound me, and I pretty much kept a goofy smile of wonder and happiness on my face the entire time through. The more streamlined approach in level design brings with it a more finely tuned experience, and one that I think works remarkably well. Whether it's hitching a ride on a dandelion puff through Gusty Garden Galaxy as the incredible orchestral soundtrack backs the action or exploring the hot and cold expanses of Freezeflame Galaxy, there wasn't any time I wasn't having fun with Super Mario Galaxy.

One of my biggest concerns with this particular 3D entry coming in to the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection was how the motion control segments would work. This concern wasn't totally well-founded, but there are some drawbacks. First, onto the good: in order to perform Mario's signature spin move in Super Mario Galaxy, you just need to hit the Y button as opposed to shaking the controller. The spin move is used as not only a means to gain height and control over Mario mid-air, but also allows the player to more easily attack foes without the need for the same level in precision as jumping on them would require. 

When it comes to the actual segments that require motion controls, however, these are contextual in the very sense of the word. For things that utilized the Wii Remote's pointer functionality like collecting Star Bits, interacting with Pull Stars, and pushing Mario in a bubble, these things work well enough--though it was quite normal to have to hit the R button to reset the cursor to its default position, as the game and controller would routinely lose its tracking. But when it concerns more complicated sections like manta ray surfing or marble rolling, these sections definitely irritated. In handheld mode, however, all of the motion control isn't welcomed at all. That's because you're expected to touch the screen to perform all pointer-related actions, which isn't practical when you're often having to move Mario at the same time, and somehow moving the entire Switch in your hands to control a manta ray or marble just doesn't feel that natural... Call me crazy, though.

Still, Super Mario Galaxy mostly remained a pleasure to play from beginning to end. The occasional frustrating bout with the motion control segments did displease me at times, but the overall experience was a net positive. From the stunningly updated and enhanced graphics that make the game look better than ever before, to the stellar soundtrack and smartly crafted levels, Super Mario Galaxy oozes with charm, overflows with quality, and just makes for one of my favorite Mario games ever made. 

[SPC Says: A]

~The Collection~

Bare-bones is what I would call this collection at best. When we're so used to seeing collections of old titles, such as Sega Genesis Classics or even collections from individual series like this year's Mega Man Zero / ZX Collection with their bonus content, border customizations, and in Genesis's case, a rewind feature, it makes the total package of Super Mario 3D All-Stars sting.

But, perhaps instead of complaining about what's not in this collection, let's go over what IS in this collection. Starting up the game, you get greeted by quick intro, followed by the splash screen. You then receive the main menu, which has three games on individual pages that you cycle through the D-Pad or analog stick. Each decidedly classy page features the game name, release date, and short description on the left side, and a video showcase on the right side. 

You can also opt to listen to each game's full soundtrack, even turning off the Nintendo Switch's screen in the process to save battery life while you do so. Though, while it's nice to have all three soundtracks available in the game to listen to on one's Switch, it'd be better to have the soundtracks available in places that aren't as stuck in the past as Nintendo apparently is, such as iTunes or Spotify, for instance.

The most egregious part of Super Mario 3D All-Stars isn't the bare-bones presentation, but the complete lack of control options. As an example, Super Mario Sunshine might be borderline unplayable for some players because there is no way to invert the aiming controls of FLUDD. It's Nintendo's way or the highway, and Nintendo apparently knows better than you do on how you prefer to play their games. 

All of this notwithstanding, it says a lot about how excellent the games included in this otherwise ho-hum package are in that I still recommend Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The games are just as good as, or in some cases, better than they've always been. The lack of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is certainly a bummer and very much missed, but ultimately, Super Mario 3D All-Stars' trio of games is some of the best games in this industry. That alone puts it as an easy recommendation for me, not because of Nintendo's decidedly lazy approach to packaging these games--but despite it.

[SPC Says: A-]

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (NSW) "Untold Chronicles From 100 Years Past - Part 2" Trailer

Coming off of last week's trailer for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is part two of the "Untold Chronicles From 100 Years Past". This time around, Master Kohga of the Yiga Clan is the main draw, but who is the mysterious robed figure at the end of the trailer? I love a good mystery! Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity storms onto the Nintendo Switch on November 20th.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Resident Evil 3 (PS4, XB1, PC) Review

SPC checked out Decap Attack for a retro review last week as part of our Halloween-themed game coverage this month, but now let's look as something more modern with a review of the remake of Resident Evil 3. 

A scary good time with Miss Valentine

One of my favorite games of 2019 was the remarkably done remake of Resident Evil 2. No doubt with a sequel releasing just over a year later, you can imagine that many fans had doubts as to how good this next remake could be. Despite this remake of Resident Evil 3's cut content compared to the original Nemesis and shorter campaign when compared to Resident Evil 2, this remake managed to grab hold of me and not let go--five runs through the game and on. 

Occurring during the same timespan of the events of Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3's remake sees Spencer Mansion survivor and S.T.A.R.S. member Jill Valentine doing her best to escape the zombie-filled, monster-infested streets of Raccoon City. Of course, like any Resident Evil protagonist, Miss Valentine's mission is plagued with problems and in true horror fashion, practically everything goes wrong. It also doesn't help that she's being relentlessly stalked by a massive monster named Nemesis, who is tasked with eliminating every single member of S.T.A.R.S. that could reveal the truth about the Umbrella Corporation. 

Along the way, Jill meets up with an Umbrella task force operative named Carlos Oliveira, whose partnership with one another starts out decidedly rocky. However, through overcoming the odds, facing horrors beyond their wildest dreams, and doing so in a somewhat realistic fashion, the two grow closer through their mutual adversity. 

The RE Engine really looks sensational in Resident Evil 3.

Resident Evil 3's remake is structured differently from last year's remake of Resident Evil 2. For one, there is but one campaign to play through as opposed to the four (Leon's two and Claire's two) of RE2. While this severely limits the longevity of Resident Evil 3, it makes for a more streamlined and focused game. Though there is only one campaign to play through, there are two playable characters that the game switches between as specific points of the campaign. Jill Valentine, of course, is the first, but a second in the form of Carlos gets his time in the spotlight as well on occasion. Carlos is more likeable this time around, has more personality to him, and his assault rifle is great for gunning down groups of enemies in a jiffy.

Carlos helps this Hunter out with its bullet deficiency.

Unlike the big, interconnected areas of Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3 is more segmented and split up. There's less of a focus on solving puzzles and picking up hints in the game (though both are in the game), and more of a focus on action this time around. That's not to say there aren't moments of exploration, or that the game doesn't deliver a lot of frights; It definitely does have both. The first area, the streets of Raccoon City, offers an immense amount of paths and points of interest to explore, and it along with the hospital were my two favorite areas of the game. That's due to the fact that they're the most open and complicated of the areas within Resident Evil 3, and the streets particularly are a wonderful way to open the game.

The streets of Raccoon City is a strong start for Resident Evil 3's campaign.

Yes, Resident Evil 3 starts out strong, and really, it doesn't let go from beginning to end. That's more on the campaign being on the short side, with the first run for me taking about five-to-six hours. A lot of that time was spent getting accustomed to the mechanics, watching cutscenes, and learning the general layout of the areas of the game. Future runs brought that time down considerably, where one can rush through the game in less than two hours. While some might think of the shorter length of the game as a detriment, I found it most refreshing. It enabled me to make multiple runs through the game on each and every difficulty setting, sometimes doing speed runs, sometimes doing tailored runs like never opening an item box, and not getting as burned out as I did with Resident Evil 2's repeated, more involved, and more time-consuming play-throughs. 

Even though the subtitle "Nemesis" has been dropped from this remake, the actual big, hulking, menacing monster is still very much a massive part of Resident Evil 3, and he's as much of a terror as ever. Throughout Jill's journey to escape Raccoon City, Nemesis will cross paths in his patented forceful and frightful way, doing his best to take out Jill before she can escape. A persistent presence throughout Resident Evil 3, Nemesis pops up at specific points throughout the game, each time more menacing than before. This is in opposition to Mr. X of Resident Evil 2, who could appear anywhere and at any time within the confines of the excellent RPD section of the game. Still, Nemesis is threatening as all get out, despite being more scripted in this remake, due to the fact that he can outrun you, damage you heavily, and just spook the hell out of you with his frightful presence.

Oh... This... This isn't going to end well for Jill.

Fortunately, Miss Valentine is hardly a damsel in distress. After all, she's dealt with bioweapons and zombies before. Jill has a repertoire of weapons she can obtain, as well as upgrade via items found throughout Raccoon City. Weapons like the handgun, shotgun, grenade launcher, knife, or grenades by the themselves can be assigned to one of four shortcuts, immediately accessible via the D-Pad. The guns pack a serious visible punch to them, and the gunplay itself feels better than ever before. With all of the enemies, whether they be zombie or bioweapons, that Jill will encounter, she'll need all she can to even the odds against and survive. That's if she's taking the fight directly to the enemy, or using environmental goodies like exploding red barrels or electric boxes that can shock foes so Jill can cut loose or escape with her life intact. 

What also assists in allowing our heroes to stay alive more capably is a new mechanic in Resident Evil 3 allows Jill and later Carlos to initiate an evasive maneuver with the right shoulder button. With precise timing, they can avoid a lunging enemy, slow time, and deliver damage to a foe. This move is practically mandatory for later difficulties, where enemies are much more aggressive, attack with much more strength, and ammo is much harder to come by. 

Nemesis appears at scripted times in Resident Evil 3, whether in chase sequences like these or boss battles.

Not just ammo, either, as Jill and Carlos's inventory are limited with regard to how much they can carry, a classic Resident Evil mechanic brought to this remake as well. You need to be smart and strategic in what you pick up, as well as what you leave behind. You can mix herbs together to make for more powerful healing properties, in addition to combining gunpowder and explosive varieties to make helpful ammo.

You'll need lots of ammo, or at least clever ammo management, to survive the unlockable Nightmare and Inferno difficulties. The latter difficulty eliminates the ability to auto-save completely, as well as removing several typewriters from rooms, making for longer sessions without being able to save your game. Certain key items and all enemy placements are altered in these difficulties, too, meaning that it's essentially a whole new campaign to learn all over again. Specific enemies that in other difficulties wouldn't appear until late in the game make earlier appearances in Nightmare and Inferno, so it's quite the taxing challenge.

Despite Resident Evil 3's short length, there's plenty of content to be found, as long as you don't mind replaying the campaign again and again. I certainly didn't mind, as as soon as I finished my first six hour run of the game, I immediately leaped back into Raccoon City to play the game again. Only this time I had more knowledge and skill to survive more competently. Regardless, there's of course the new difficulties to try to overcome, but there's also specialty runs like speed runs, "S" rank runs, and minimalist runs to take on. There is also a series of challenges and tasks to accomplish, which reward points that can be used to purchase new items from a shop in the main menu. These items range from infinite ammo weapons like the lovely rocket launcher and assault rifle to coins that when held offer higher attack, defense, and health recovery. The added bonus with these is that they can be used in any run to make the higher difficulties much more manageable. 

Resident Evil 3 brings a welcome return to Raccoon City, delivering a more action-oriented romp than the previous Resident Evil remake from last year, yet remaining a tense (and intense) game all the same. Though there isn't as much longevity in the base campaign, that made for me a campaign that could be enjoyed multiple times in various ways without a sign of burnout on my end, quite unlike my experience with the otherwise excellent Resident Evil 2. All in all, revisiting the horrors of both Raccoon City and Resident Evil 3 made for a gloriously gruesome and great gaming experience.

[SPC Says: A-]