Friday, November 13, 2020

Ori and the Will of the Wisps (NSW) Review

Earlier this year, SPC took a look at the Nintendo Switch version of Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition. Now, we're deeper into the nightmare that is 2020, but we have some brightness shining through in an excellent sequel to the original Ori with Ori and the Will of the Wisps. (Hey, we'll take whatever brightness we can get this year, right?) Here's the SPC review.

When there's a will, there's a wisp 

September 2019 saw a game announcement quite surprising to a lot of the gaming world: An Xbox Game Studios title that wasn't associated with the Minecraft brand was going to launch on the Nintendo Switch. This game title was none other than Ori and the Blind Forest from Moon Studios. Now, a year later, the game's sequel is available on Nintendo's hybrid platform, less than a year after the original Xbox One release. Ori and the Will of the Wisps offers multiple improvements over its predecessor, and is just as much of a worthwhile game to play--perhaps even more so!

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is just as heartfelt and emotional of a journey as its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest. The story sees Ori and his family assisting with raising Ku, a baby owl, in its formative years. We see them teaching Ku how to forage for food and things like that throughout the seasons, with Ku's most desired lesson to learn being flight. One day, Ku finally is able to fly, and Ori, riding on Ku's back, take an extended flight over a new land. When a thunderstorm strikes, the two are suddenly separated, and now it's up to Ori to reunite with Ku before anything bad happens. The story is touching, but it's the minute-to-minute moments that truly shine and tug at the heart.

Compared to Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition, the indomitable spirit Ori has plenty of new tools in his bag of tricks on his new adventure in parts unknown. One such trick is a blade of spirit energy that he can use as a sword to attack enemies much more directly than in his previous game. As the game progresses, Ori discovers several new abilities from various spirit trees sprinkled throughout the land that bestow him several powers old and new. 

Ori leaps into action for this spirit's second adventure!

One of the coolest means of traversal in Ori and the Blind Forest that carries over to Ori and the Will of the Wisps is that of the Bash attack. It allows Ori to sling into enemies directly, or to bounce off of their bodies to reach new areas. In addition to enemies, Ori can also bash directly off enemy projectiles, either sending them flying back into foes or using them to reach higher heights and new portions of the map as well. 

Ori has more offensive capabilities this time around in Will of the Wisps.
It's a good thing, too, because Ori will definitely need them to survive!

New to this Ori sequel is that of Shards. Shards serve similarly to the Charms of Hollow Knight, where they can be equipped in one of a handful of slots in Ori's possession, which can be upgraded by visiting and completing Combat Shrines. The latter are short endurance battles with multiple rounds where the goal is to defeat every enemy in sight at your leisure while surviving the onslaught. Regardless, back to Shards, they have numerous effects to them--some grant Ori the ability to collect Spirit Light from half a screen away instead of needing to be nearby to pick them up, while others boost his damage output while also lowering his defense. Unlike the aforementioned Charms of Hollow Knight, however, Shards in Ori and the Will of the Wisps can be upgraded with the game's main currency, bestowing even bigger bonuses when they're equipped.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps features ample opportunities for good old fashioned platforming fun.

Shards aren't the only thing new to Ori and the Will of the Wisps when compared to its predecessor. There are an abundance of side quests to take on in the game, with a major one being restoring a town to not just its former glory, but bigger and better than ever before. This is done by collecting special ore around the game's map, and returning it to an NPC in the town to start construction work. Alongside the town, there is one particularly enjoyable trading sequence a la The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (no, that game didn't hardly invent the trading quest, but it's my go-to game example) that unlocks an incredibly helpful item to assist players who wish to fully complete Will of the Wisps at 100%.

The final new addition to freshen the experience over Ori and the Blind Forest is that of Spirit Trials. These are time trial races against the AI that reward Spirit Light currency for completing them. They demand repetition and multiple attempts usually to master the routes required and complete them fast enough to beat the ghosts in time. After you clear a Spirit Trial, you can upload your own time to a leaderboard and compete against other players this way. The reward of Spirit Light for clearing a trial is very much a nice one, as otherwise the process to grind to upgrade Shards would be a more tedious one. 

So, I've spoken about what is new to Ori and the Will of the Wisps--and these additions to the familiar Metroidvania formula are mostly well executed and welcomed--but there are some parts of the game that followed the old adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it". However, in some cases like Will of the Wisps' chase sequences, a part of the original Ori that I took issue with, this adage doesn't quite hold up.

The chase sequences in Ori and the Blind Forest featured Ori being chased by some kind of environmental danger, whether it was a flood or rising lava. In Will of the Wisps, Ori gets chased by more than just the environment, including huge, hulking bosses. This isn't so bad. What is less than satisfying is that just like Blind Forest, the chase sequences demand split-second precision and timing, little-to-no room for player error, and sometimes it just feels like you need luck to get through them issue-free if you wish to be successful on your first run. These are just as trial-and-error as in the original game, and without checkpoints in many of these sequences, they become quite annoying, despite how epic and amazing they are to play most of the time.

"I spy with my eight eyes, something in my den that doesn't belong."

Ori and the Will of the Wisps had a difficult time running on the Nintendo Switch at launch. It was plagued with reported hard crashes, which put me off from playing the game until they were addressed. Fortunately, they have been addressed and addressed well. In my nearly 15 hours of playing the game, I never encountered a crash at all. (Of course, I'm knocking on wood that I didn't just jinx myself if I were ever to return to the game anytime soon.) That said, I did encounter a loading issue with Will of the Wisps on multiple occasions. It would happen when moving Ori at a speed that was apparently too fast for the game to handle. Ori would get caught on the edge of the screen, and I'd have to wait a few seconds for the game to load the next "screen" of sorts. Very off-putting. Furthermore, speaking of loading, the initial loading time for Ori and the Will of the Wisps is also off-putting, taking at least a minute to load the title screen. I was reminded of the early PlayStation 2 days here, and these were not happy, nostalgic memories for me, either.

The Luma Pools was visually my favorite section of Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

All that notwithstanding, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a gorgeous game with so much vibrant color, insanely detailed backdrops and foregrounds, amazing set pieces, and jaw-dropping destinations and locales that it's easy to forgive a lot of these aforementioned technical problems. Plus, if the Nintendo Switch version's crashes can be properly addressed, then no doubt the issues I encountered will eventually also be ironed out. Then, there's Gareth Coker's sensational symphonic score, somehow surpassing his work in the previous Ori. That's no small task, to be sure, and the music accentuated my joy playing this astounding game.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps suffers from some small technical issues on the Nintendo Switch version, and my issues with the series' chase sequences continues with this sequel. However, building off the strong foundation of the original Ori, Moon Studios has managed to craft an even bigger, better, and bolder sequel with Ori and the Will of the Wisps, telling a touching tale while making a marvelous Metroidvania in the process. 

[SPC Says: A-]

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sackboy: A Big Adventure (PS5) Launch Trailer

The PlayStation 5 launches today in multiple territories. With it comes a slew of intriguing and equally amazing-looking launch titles. One such game is Sackboy: A Big Adventure, the colorful Super Mario 3D World-like platformer. The game also launches on the PlayStation 4 today as well, though this trailer is strictly footage of the PS5 version. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Tuesday 10s - Launch Titles

With the Xbox Series of consoles releasing today and the PlayStation 5 launching on Thursday, it's a big week for gaming. To commemorate the occasion, SuperPhillip Central takes a look at arguably the best launch titles to ever release with gaming systems. From the NES and Wii, to the Dreamcast and Xbox, this list has some truly fantastic titles. After you've checked out the picks--listed purely in alphabetical order--let the community know which titles from past console launches are your favorites.

Halo: Combat Evolved (XBX)

The game that solidified Microsoft as a contender in the console race, Halo: Combat Evolved is the FPS that had it not been a part of the original Xbox launch lineup, the Xbox brand most likely wouldn't have anywhere near the success as it does. Further, it might not even be around to this day. The original Halo introduced the world to Master Chief and his battle against the Covenant. With a single player campaign that's worth the price of admission all to itself, and a robust multiplayer component that would be built upon for future sequels (including much needed online play), Halo: Combat Evolved delivered in every meaning of the word.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NSW)

After many delays and much hype, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild finally released alongside the Nintendo Switch (also launching on the Wii U the same day). The game eschewed the traditions of The Legend of Zelda format, bringing with it one of the most creative and well executed open worlds in gaming--one that developers today are greatly inspired by. The amount of freedom presented to players in Breath of the Wild was immense, allowing them to attempt to take on the final boss whenever they desired, but through completing the game's four main dungeons, the task would be much easier to accomplish. The freedom available in Breath of the Wild wasn't just limited to the open world, which would be impressive all to itself, but also in how a player could solve puzzles. Many had more than one solution to them, allowing for some amazing amounts of creativity. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild created a bold new direction for the franchise, and it worked, quite abundantly.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

We're not quite finished with Nintendo's iconic Legend of Zelda franchise yet. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess released initially as a Nintendo Wii launch title, with the Nintendo GameCube version being delayed to make the Wii version more appealing. The Wii version featured motion controls, having players swing the Wii Remote around to initiate sword strikes among other pronounced gestures. While this could be seen as a negative, it says a lot about Twilight Princess that the game remained enjoyable despite this motion-controlled caveat. Twilight Princess features some of the best dungeons in series history, offers an interesting story, and possesses one of Link's greatest companions in the impish Midna. All of this adds up to one unforgettable adventure that may be superior on other platforms like the GameCube and Wii U (especially the latter due to the quality of life changes made), but is still remarkable on Wii.

SoulCalibur (DC)

Based off of the arcade game Soul Edge, SoulCalibur isn't just the Sega Dreamcast's greatest launch title, but it's one of the greatest launch titles ever. It inspired an entire generation of fighting games with its many innovations and brilliant execution. SoulCalibur separated itself from the rest of the fighting game pack with its eight-direction movement, as well as focus on weaponry like sword and spears. The fighting itself in SoulCalibur was fast and fluid, offering an insanely satisfying game to play. The series has only grown since its origins in arcades and on the Dreamcast, currently on its sixth mainline installment as of this past generation. 

Star Wars: Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II (GCN)

Rogue leader, standing by. One of the most technically impressive games on this list by virtue of looking drop-dead gorgeous even to this day, Star Wars: Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II was one of the big launch titles for the Nintendo GameCube. Without a Mario game to headline the launch lineup--something that was unheard of at the time for a Nintendo system--it was left to a handful of other interesting games to pick up the slack, including Luigi's Mansion, Wave Race: Blue Storm, Super Monkey Ball, and yes, Star Wars: Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II. The game featured an abundance of missions picked directly from the original trilogy, as well as several missions that weren't in the films at all. From the raid on the cloud city of Bespin to the almost overwhelming battle of Endor with all of those TIE Fighters flying in your face that you must weave through, Star Wars: Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II brought GameCube owners one of the best Star Wars video game experiences to date.

Super Mario 64 (N64)

Get ready for a triple dose of Mario! It's no surprise that Mario would be a mainstay on a list like this of the greatest launch titles of all time, and one of his most revolutionary games is the incredible Super Mario 64. This 3D platformer showed the gaming world how it was done with enjoyable, expansive sandbox-style environments, open-ended design, and a multitude of tricks in Mario's platforming repertoire. Mario entered a brave new world with Super Mario 64, and he mostly nailed it. It truly says a lot about how well this launch title from 1996 for the Nintendo 64 manages to remain relevant after more than two decades, as evident by my recent play-through in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on the Switch. Super Mario 64 is one of the most important video games of all time in conveying how to properly bring a gaming superstar into the third dimension and do it well.

Super Mario Bros. (NES)

I mentioned that Super Mario 64 was one of the most revolutionary games of all time, but even with Mario's leap into 3D, it still takes a back seat to Mario's major 2D outing on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Bros. is the pinnacle of creativity and a superb game to this day. The controls remain rock solid and tight, the challenge is enjoyable and seldom unfair. Super Mario Bros. is consistently called one of the most important video games ever created, and judging by the game's impact in the industry and what followed, its legacy is rightfully earned. 

Super Mario World (SNES)

While Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 brought Mario into the 2D side-scrolling platformer and 3D respectively to fantastic results, Super Mario World was more of an evolution than a revolution for the portly plumber. Mario's first foray into the 16-bit era of gaming saw him exploring Dinosaur Land, partnering up with Yoshi, entering secret-filled, creatively designed levels on a non-linear world map, battling Bowser in one of the most impressive and exciting 2D battles in Mario series history, and donning power-ups like the brand-new Cape to soar through the air with glee. Super Mario Bros. was a revolutionary title, no doubt, but it's Super Mario World that took the foundations laid by the NES classic and made for a much better, much more impressive, greater evolution of a game in the series, making it one of my favorite launch titles of all time.

Tetris (GB)

Like Halo: Combat Evolved, it would probably be a different story for Nintendo's Game Boy portable system had the import from Russia, Alexey Pajitnov's Tetris, not been available at launch--or at all--for the little handheld that could. Now a mainstay in gaming and the top puzzle game of all time, launching on dozens upon dozens of video game systems in numerous forms, Tetris saw players moving falling Tetromino blocks of various shapes to the board below. The goal was simple, to make straight horizontal lines full of blocks to remove them from the board and rack up a high score in the process. Once the board fills up with Tetrominoes, the game ends. While several releases of Tetris have been made available, in particular the Game Boy version is one of the best selling games ever. It's not hard to see why when portables are generally the perfect and most comfortable place to play puzzle games, at least in this writer's opinion.

Wii Sports (Wii)

The game that was a worldwide phenomenon inside and outside of the typical gaming sphere, Wii Sports singlehandedly sent Wii consoles flying off store shelves, having gamers and non-gamers alike up and enjoying the five sports featured in the game. From golf, to the ultra-popular tennis and bowling, to baseball and boxing, Wii Sports defined the Wii's lifespan, for better or worse. The game's popularity meant that third parties went to chase after the same audience despite other more gamer-oriented launch titles also saw great success like the aforementioned Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Despite this, Wii Sports remains one of the greatest launch titles that paved the way for the early domination of the Wii in the console market. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Toughest Tasks in Gaming History - Volume Eight

These five new gaming tasks are quite the tough cookies! I'm talking as tough as trying to get a pre-order in for the PlayStation 5, or to be even more topical, as tough as it was to wait for the U.S. presidential election to be called! These five gaming tasks demand patience, persistence, and a high degree of skill to complete, so if you wish to take these on (or already have), then you are a brave, brave soul! This time around on this eighth edition of Toughest Tasks in Gaming History, we have another helping of variety--from platformers like Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time and Hollow Knight, to extreme sports games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2. So, strap in and get ready for a steep challenge!

Check out the previous seven volumes of Toughest Tasks in Gaming History with the following links:

Earning All Platinum Relics - Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time (PS4, XB1)

Crash Bandicoot and his games have been no stranger to Toughest Tasks in Gaming History. If you thought earning Gold Relics in the Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy's three games was no walk in the park (and to be honest, you really shouldn't be walking to clear time trials), then you ain't seen nothing yet with the latest game in the series, Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time.

Crash Bandicoot 4 takes an already somewhat difficult platforming series and turns up the dial to 11 to create one incredibly hard game, even just to beat normally. It's already tough to clear the absurdly lengthy levels in Crash Bandicoot 4 without dying already, but try doing it while racing against the clock with insanely (or is that "N. Sanely?) tough times to beat in order to earn Platinum Relics. Yes, you read that right. No longer is it okay to just earn a Gold Relic for an achievement like past Crash Bandicoot games--you have to earn a Platinum Relic on each and every hair-pulling, hard-as-nails level in It's About Time. Again, Crash Bandicoot 4 is already no cakewalk (again, you really shouldn't be walking to clear time trials), so having to clear levels in one life, without dying, and rush, rush, rush to the end will separate the casual Crash fans with the Crash fanatics (dare I say, masochists?). 

Getting All "Get Theres" - Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PS4, XB1, PC)

We move from one Activision-published game to another with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, yet another excellent return to form for a game series that was in hibernation for a while. Getting certain gaps in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 can be a challenge all to itself, but with the game's "Get There" challenges, the intensity of difficulty ramps up considerably.

"Get There" challenges require the player to perform consecutive gaps successively without bailing or running out their combo. While the Easy and Normal difficulty "Get There" challenges are simple enough, the Hard level "Get Theres" offer definitely daunting tasks. Many require minute-long combos to reach each and every gap necessary in a level to achieve them. Unlike the Easy and Normal "Get Theres", you can't just cheese your way through them with cheats like perfect manual or perfect grind abilities. These consecutive gap "Get There" challenges demand finely-honed precision, great execution, and above all else, immense patience to achieve. Just don't attempt to break your controller over your knee as if it were your skater's board due to the challenge and possible resulting rage.

Earning All Medals - Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition (NSW)

With a new Hyrule Warriors on the horizon this month with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity soon releasing on the Nintendo Switch, it seems like a great time to bring up a challenging task within the original Hyrule Warriors. (Well, at least the re-release with all of the DLC included as part of the Nintendo Switch port.)

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is absolutely packed to the brim with content, offering so much to do and so much to play that it can be overwhelming. And believe me, perhaps "overwhelming" is an understatement. That's why the goal of getting all of the medals, or achievements, within the game is such a taxing task and no easy accomplishment.

Many of the medals are simple enough to earn, such as clearing Legend Mode, running a certain distance across all maps, and defeating a specific amount of enemies, but then you get to Adventure Mode. This mode includes over eight unique maps, each with their own multitude of stages that not only need to be beaten, but also cleared with an "A" rank for certain medals. In order to achieve an "A" rank, one must usually clear a stage within a certain time limit, defeat a number foes, and not take much damage to boot. 

Further, there's the immensely time-consuming task of playing around with the "My Fairy" feature of Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, which has you feeding found faeries food in order for them to level up and learn new Fairy Skills. In order to get the medal for this part of the game, you have to learn every Fairy Skill, which requires an exorbitant amount of time and food. So, not only is earning every medal within Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition a tough task due to the difficulty of getting "A" ranks in Adventure Mode, but it's also an extraordinarily time-consuming one, too. I'm talking hundreds of hours "time-consuming".

Clearing Steel Soul Mode at 100% - Hollow Knight (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Our final two tough gaming tasks follow the same principle--they're just from different games but of the same genre. They're both 2D platformers of the Metroidvania persuasion, and they're also both beautiful lookers, too. 

The first is Hollow Knight, a game that this month is "free" for PlayStation Plus subscribers, interestingly and conveniently enough. Hollow Knight is already a challenging game with a wide open world that encourages exploration and doesn't rely on many roadblocks to keep players from uncovering its mysterious world. Beating the game is a tough task all to itself, in some regards, but doing so in Steel Soul Mode is even tougher! Pushing even further, clearing Steel Soul Mode with 100% completion is the toughest task one could ask for within Hollow Knight.

Steel Soul Mode is essentially Hollow Knight's permadeath mode. Our buggy hero only gets one life to live in the game, and once he perishes in battle or through an environment hazard, poof! The player's save file is over and they must start the game fresh all over again. Simply surviving the harsh underground labyrinths of Hollow Knight is a challenge all to itself, but surviving while achieving 100% completion--finding every collectible there is to find and battling every boss with one life--makes it so only the bold (or very, very foolish) need apply. You'll need to have boss and enemy patterns down pat, know the world and its secrets well, and hightail it and retreat when necessary. Good luck.

Becoming "Immortal" - Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition (XB1, NSW. PC)

Similar to Hollow Knight's Steel Soul Mode, Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition's "Immortal" achievement, requires players to go through and beat the game with one life. Again, if the little spirit Ori perishes for any reason, it's game over for good.

While Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is hardly the hardest Metroidvania out there, what makes this particular challenge so... well, challenging is that there are multiple spots and segments within the game where death can come quickly and immediately in some cases. I'm mostly referring to the chase sequences in the game, where Ori must hightail it through danger-ridden, paths of death, which demand split-second reaction times and precise execution or else an "Immortal" run will swiftly become cut short. I already had issue with the chase sequences in my normal run of the game, due to their trial and error gameplay, but attempting these knowing I only have one chance at them? Nooooooooo thanks!