Friday, October 30, 2020

Pikmin 3 Deluxe (NSW) Launch Trailer

Nintendo's oft overlooked and under-appreciated Pikmin series returns to the spotlight, and with the success of the Switch, I believe this series will finally get the appreciation it deserves by a wider audience. ("I'll take Safe Bets for $60, Alex.") Pikmin 3 Deluxe features a host of new content, most notably new missions, the ability to play the entire campaign in co-op, and difficulty options. Want to see what else is new in Pikmin 3 Deluxe? Then, check out this launch trailer for the game from Nintendo, and if you like what you see, then you'll be happy to know that Pikmin 3 Deluxe is out now on Nintendo Switch.

Crown Trick (NSW, PC) Review

As we approach the end of the month and inch ever closer to Halloween, SuperPhillip Central picks up the pace with its October reviews. So, how about a game that is set in a world of nightmares? Nothing screams "Halloween" more than that! Let's check out the Team17-published, NEXT Studios-developed Crown Trick for Nintendo Switch and PC.

This trick is definitely a treat.

The rogue-like and its more forgiving rogue-lite cousin are two genres that are quite popular with indie game developers. The genre encourages you to master its mechanics, learn from your mistakes, and even bash your head against the proverbial wall until you finally overcome a particularly devious floor or boss. Crown Trick from developer NEXT Studios is one such rogue-lite that brings with it a tremendous initial challenge that gets easier (but not by that much) as you make progress, earning new abilities and permanent upgrades during and between runs. The game ends up being a difficult but engaging title worthy of a play.

A beautifully animated sequence opens up our story, featuring our heroine Elle.

Crown Trick is a turn-based rogue-lite that has you navigating procedurally generated labyrinths in search of each floor's boss, as well as attempting to uncover helpful temporary gear to make your run a more successful one. Each time you make an action--whether moving a space in the dungeon, using an item, or unleashing an attack--your opponents also do the same. In this sense, the game is not unlike a Mystery Dungeon game, though in Crown Trick's case, when you enter a room with enemies, you're locked inside until all foes are defeated. This results in having your back against the wall, needing to rout all enemies with nowhere to really hide. Yes, you must take the fight to your foes if you wish to move on.

Combat works well and is quite engaging in Crown Trick. As stated, when you move or make an action, enemies get their turn to do the same. The odds are definitely not on your side when you're surrounded by foes, but there are some advantages you have that the enemy doesn't. You have plenty of tools to utilize in the dungeon and in battle: from relics that bestow abilities for that particular run and items that grant temporary boosts or deal damage to a wide range of enemies, to permanent stat upgrades, gold, and shards to spend when you return to the main hub. 

Swords, axes, wands, and even guns are but some of the multitude of weaponry in Crown Trick.

You're also helped by having two of the game's cleverest mechanics on your side: Break and Brink. Each enemy has a shield icon over their heads, which when they're attacked, the number next to the shield decreases. When it hits zero, the enemy enters a temporary broken state for several turns, allowing you to attack them for more damage while they sit dazed out of their mind, completely vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, Brink is closely related to Break. Whereas Break is used for offense, Brink is used to get the heck out of danger when necessary. Not only can you transport away to a nearby grid space, but you still get an extra turn to either move or attack. This is terrific for when an enemy is charging up a powerful attack (denoted by a red square with a number on it--the number indicating how many turns until the enemy's attack is unleashed), and you can't simply move to an adjacent square to get away. That said, you only get a limited number of Brinks to use. In order to gain more, you need to initiate Breaks on enemies. Each Break results in an earned Brink. This results in the player needing to both play safe while also occasionally being aggressive in battle. It's a fine line, and starting off in the game, it was one that I certainly failed to walk. However, with practice, there were boss encounters that I had in the past utterly failed at that eventually I could clear without taking damage due to mastering the involved gameplay systems.

And, that's really what the rogue-like and rogue-like genres are all about. You're supposed to fail, and fail again, but each time you pick new information, new wisdom, and in the case of rogue-lites, new abilities and bonuses to help you better survive in your next run. Crown Trick does this excellently. 

No doubt you'll encounter Crown Trick's sub-bosses during your journey through the dungeon, known as Familiars. These are stronger enemies that your typical already-formidable foes, and when you defeat them, they lend you their power. You can equip up to two Familiars at a time, each possessing two magic abilities that cost MP to use. From The Trickster's electric-based magic that can unleash a ball of electricity that bounces between foes like a game of ping pong, to the Mandragora's ability to use its thorns to keep an enemy locked in place, Familiars are another tool to succeeding in the otherwise insurmountable odds of surviving life in the dungeon.

Starting off each dungeon run in the multi-tiered floor of Crown Trick's dungeon, you get a choice between two random weapons. Weapons come in all shapes and sizes, offering different attack strength, magic strength, area of attack, as well as various buffs and bonuses depending on the rarity of the weapon. Too many times, however (or at least more times than I would have liked), I would be greeted with two weapons of poor utility, resulting in a run that was doomed before it even fully started. 

The dungeon of Crown Trick is home to all sorts of deadly creatures and monsters alike, but it's also the place where various points of interest take residence as well. There's random shops, random treasures containing helpful loot like weapons, relics and gold, random rooms with "choose your own adventure"-style choices that can positively or negatively affect your run, and even random rooms featuring gacha-machines, where gold spent earns you a random weapon with the better weapons relying on pure, unadulterated luck to win. 

When death does come, and it most definitely will, as is customary for the rogue-like and rogue-lite genres, your character awaken from their nightmare and back in their room. It's here that you can return to the dungeon for another run, but there's also various NPCs that you can discover in said dungeons that offer their services in the hub. From a banker that keeps part of your gold intact when you perish, to an alchemist who provides potion services to give you an extra safety net in dungeons, great for replenishing health when death approaches, these NPCs are paramount to your overall wellbeing in Crown Trick's dungeon of nightmares. By collecting shards during your dungeon runs, you spend them at each NPC's shop to get permanent boost and bonuses. 

Treasure chests like this one bestow all sorts of wonderful goodies.

Crown Trick features multiple "acts" or "chapters" of sorts, so if you survive all four floors of the initial dungeon run and battle and beat all of the bosses that stand in your way, you'll move onto the next act. Each act introduces new challenges into the mix, such as "curses" that change the way you have to play. While this encourages experimenting with what weapons, relics, and items you opt to use, it also falls into the trap of my weapon dilemma. That's to say that one unlucky roll of the RNG dice can result in a negative effect to your run that essentially also dooms it to failure (or at least a forecast of you being very unlikely to survive that run), which can also seem unfair. I get it--rogue-likes/lites are like that, but it still dampens the fun a bit and feels like wasted time.

On the presentation side of the game, Crown Trick features gorgeous animated characters and detailed environments, adding up to a sublime package... visually. Technically, at least on the Nintendo Switch version, I encountered numerous stutters and stops in undocked mode, most notably when many characters were on screen at once or when plenty of special effects like explosions or fires were happening. Furthermore, there were many times where trying to pick up items with the Y button (for things like scrolls, for instance) resulted in nothing happening. Highly frustrating and quite wonky to finally pick those darned things up. 

Not only can things get pretty busy on screen, but slowdown can also occur at times in Crown Trick.

When it's all said and done, Crown Trick is a mostly well made and well executed rogue-lite that allows for plenty of opportunities for planning and strategy with its turn-based movement and combat. Our heroine Elle's ability to Break enemies' defenses and Blink around rooms to evade attacks and better position herself in battle are smart, worthwhile mechanics. Add in pleasant and stylish visuals (though not without performance problems on the Switch version), and you have a rogue-like that's easy to recommend but absolutely hard in both how difficult the game is, and how hard it can be to put it down.

[SPC Says: B-]

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bravely Default II (NSW) "Introducing the Asterisk Holders" Trailer

After an absence of information for the game, Bravely Default II has reappeared in the spotlight with a new trailer and new improvements taken from the demo version from this past summer. This trailer features some story elements as well as new gameplay footage. A release date has also been revealed with Bravely Default II launching on Nintendo Switch on February 26th, 2021.

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (NSW) "Unleashing the Divine Beasts" Trailer

A new trailer for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was revealed during today's Nintendo Direct Partner Showcase, the final showcase for 2020. This trailer reveals the ability to play as the Divine Beasts in special segments of the game. In addition to this, a demo is now available, which will allow one's save data from the demo to be transferred to the full version when Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity launches on November 20th.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Hollow Knight (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Let's continue with our themed month of game reviews with some "Holloween" fun. It's for an older game, but one that's worth reviewing all the same. It's Team Cherry's remarkable Hollow Knight.

A truly "buggy"--and amazing--Metroidvania

I originally started Hollow Knight last October with my intention of playing through the game's mysterious and sometimes downright disturbing world in time for Halloween. That obviously didn't happen in 2019, but this year, as evident by this review, it finally has come to fruition. The last time I tried to play through Hollow Knight, I remember getting my butt handed to me so many times while getting so incredibly lost that I dropped the game after about an hour-and-a-half of play time. 

However, this time around the game clicked for me. Yes, the game still handed my butt to me on many occasions, but I persisted. With every death was a new lesson and a new motivation to get better--to better learn a boss's attacks, to better dodge and evade when necessary, and to better learn to attack when an opening finally presented itself instead of haphazardly thrusting my weapon around like it was a maraca. 

Hollow Knight throws you into the underground world of Hollownest, home to mysteries and dangers alike. The gigantic, interconnected expanses of Hollownest features an abundance of locations with an even greater abundance of secrets within them. Big, bad bugs of all types seek nothing but to stop our hero from his quest, and starting off, you have nothing but your nail and little else. As you explore the expanses of Hollownest, you'll come across a wealth of helpful items, abilities, and goodies that will not only expand your progression capabilities in Hollownest, but also increase your chances of survival. 

The latter is especially important because Hollow Knight is one seriously challenging game. Many deaths were had simply exploring the dark and dank corridors and paths within Hollownest, much more battling the bosses that can certainly take you out in short order. When death does occur and the life gets taken from your character's body (which it most definitely will), your current supply of currency and a portion of your Focus meter disappear with it. If you manage to reach the area of Hollownest where you perished, you'll find a dark specter that you must defeat to get your dropped goods back. Die before that process happens, and your goods are gone for... well, good!

Each boss presents players with devious patterns to learn, but never is the game ever really unfair.

Fortunately, while you do start out in Hollownest with but a nail and a sense for adventure, there's plenty of helpful goods to find throughout the underground world. There are Masks that serve as means to increase your health, as well as vessels that increase your Focus gauge. Speaking of Focus, this ability is paramount for your survival. With enough energy inside the Focus gauge, increased by attacking foes, you can hold down a button to restore health. When venturing through Hollownest normally, this is easy enough to do without too much of a problem. Simply retreat to a safe space, and heal thyself. However, in boss battles, using Focus to heal our hero is hardly a simple task. You can't exactly retreat that far, and bosses are always in the midst of offense. Thus, it pays to learn a boss's attack pattern, and also learn when it's best to heal our hero without being overly vulnerable.

Really, Focus is an incredibly useful and clever mechanic in Hollow Knight that serves as a terrific "risk vs. reward" proposition. Do you risk staying vulnerable for a couple of seconds to get the reward of some invaluable health back, knowing that staying still could result in taking even more damage? Or, do you do your best to soldier on in battle while contending with the risk of death from not having enough health to survive a blow from a boss or foe? 

Surrounded, but definitely not surrendering!

While Focus is indeed an outstanding assistant to Hollow Knight, so, too, are all the abilities our hero can acquire. There's a move that can charge up his nail, a move that allows our hero to dash either on the ground or in the air, as well as a double jump that assist in reaching higher, otherwise inaccessible places. These abilities serve not just as tools for progression, but help for adding more complexity to encounters with enemies. In a pinch, you can evade a baddie's attack by double jumping out of the way and dashing to safety over their unsuspecting head. 

One ability, seen here, allows our hero to unleash a charging dash
to boost across extended chasms like this crystal one.

In addition to the abilities, there are Charms that can purchased with the currency used in Hollow Knight known as Geo. Charms can also be found throughout Hollownest in hidden, out of the way locations, as well as from defeating optional bosses. Of course, the fun with the "optional" part of these bosses is that during your first run of Hollow Knight, you probably will stumble upon countless bosses, not knowing if they were optional or not until after the fact! Regardless, Charms give a host of beneficial effects to our hero, from granting him Focus energy from taking damage to placing an icon on the map screen to pinpoint exactly where our hero is situated. You can only equip so many Charms at once, so it's important to be smart and equip the right Charms for the right situation. 

Hollow Knight's map is one that doesn't reveal itself until you fulfill certain conditions. In this case, you need to find the location of a cartographer within each area you explore in Hollownest, track him down by the crumpled pieces of map he absentmindedly leaves behind as a trail of figurative breadcrumbs, and purchase a map from him. This will reveal the lay of the land which has already been explored. Upon reaching new sections of areas, your map will fill in when you sit down and rest on benches, serving a second purpose as the save points of the game. Unlike other Metroidvanias, Hollow Knight's map doesn't divulge all of its secrets right away. You need to head topside to the main town of the game to purchase different markers that reveal locations of shops, benches, and other notable points of interest within Hollownest. If you want a real challenge, you can play without these markers (including the one that tracks our hero's location) entirely, using only your [hopefully] keen navigational skills. 

If you're looking for a lengthy adventure in your Metroidvania, Hollow Knight definitely fits the bill here. My initial playthrough easily lasted over 20 hours for my first play-through, and that was without getting the game completed 100% (to be fair, I came close at 96%). The amount of secrets in the form of optional content like Grubworms to find and rescue, Charms to collect, Masks and Vessels to increase our hero's health and Focus meters, and bosses to take down is amazing. It can also be a bit overwhelming with how expansive the map of Hollow Knight is to track down every little thing in Hollownest and its surrounding areas. Fortunately, there are fast travel locations via a tram and Stag Stations to get around Hollownest in a quicker fashion, though I found these were spaced out a bit too much. This resulted in copious and occasionally tedious amounts of backtracking just to get to where I wanted to go. 

A moment of repose for our hero... that is, unless this enemy turns around, of course!

Perhaps that's my main issue with Hollow Knight. The size of the world is a double-edged sword--well, in this case I guess it would make more sense to call it a double-edged "nail". While it's incredibly fun to venture into the unknown and explore a massive world, it also results in a lot of backtracking and spinning one's wheels to reach locations. I cursed myself every time I needed to return to a location where there was no tram or Stag Station access nearby.

Still, the good far outweighs the bad with Hollow Knight's impressively large world and map. The most astounding part is how open the game is. You're not locked into a linear progression. Instead, Hollow Knight's world allows you to forge your own path, uncovering secrets and exploring areas at your own pace. Yes, there are roadblocks that require certain abilities and moves to pass that do hinder progress, but for the most part, Hollownest allows an unprecedented amount of freedom in a Metroidvania game to explore at your leisure. Of course, there's an optimal path for speed-running and to simply beat the game in an efficient manner, but it's nice to know that I could venture to new places and usually my curiosity would be rewarded instead of "Sorry, you don't have this move right now. You best travel all the way back to where you came from and on the path that we, the game designers, intended you to take." Such a breath of fresh air for this genre!

Don't mind me--just trying to mind my own bzzz-ness!

Hollow Knight is the definition of a modern classic, and it takes its inspirations from games like Metroid--with its world structure--and Dark Souls--with its penalty for dying--and expands upon them in brilliantly clever ways. The ability to not be bound to a set path and instead be able to explore the vast world freely, offers a fresh, welcomed take to the genre, and the added Focus ability is one of the smartest additions to a Metroidvania that would otherwise be impossible to complete. At the same time, it's no "win" button either with how it makes you vulnerable upon using it. Hollow Knight is a fantastic Metroidvania, and if there's one true gripe I have, it's that I waited all this time to finally play it.

[SPC Says: A-]