Saturday, November 28, 2020

SaGa Frontier Remastered (PS4, NSW, PC, iOS, AND) Announcement Trailer

A blast from the past returns in a glorious way with the announcement of SaGa Frontier Remastered. Originally released in the West in 1998 for the PlayStation, SaGa Frontier arrives in remastered form for multiple platforms, including PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Steam, and mobile devices. Alongside the familiar, this remastered edition of SaGa Frontier features new scenes and scenarios as well as an eighth playable protagonist to join the original seven party members. SaGa Frontier Remastered is planned to launch Summer 2021.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Remakes & Remasterpieces 3: An Ongoing Look at the Best in the Biz

These remakes and remasters are certainly NOT turkeys by any stretch of the word. As many of us in the United States [hopefully safely] enjoy our Thanksgiving weekend, SPC returns with its ongoing look at the best video game remakes and remasters. These games greatly improved on their originals, or breathed new life into old classics with a fresh approach that ultimately worked out wonderfully in the end. These latest five remakes and remasters truly shine brightly and most definitely do their originals justice.

To read which games were featured in SPC's previous installments of Remakes & Remasterpieces, look no further than Volume One and Volume Two.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

The original Final Fantasy VII was a three-disc game that spanned a myriad of locations and had such an involved plot that it would have been impossible for Square Enix to dedicate one of their patented humongous, bloated budgets to remaking the entire game--at least in any timely fashion. Instead, the developers decided to retell the story of Final Fantasy VII in multiple parts, starting with Midgar. While this did bring a fair amount of bloat and padding into the game, everything else is so remarkably remade that it's hard not to appreciate this game for everything that it did and everything new it brought to an old classic. It was truly a brave and bold choice to move towards a more action-oriented approach to combat, going for a Kingdom Hearts-like feel instead of the traditional active-time battle system of the original FF7, but it overall worked for this remake. Battles are equally challenging in difficulty and dazzling in spectacle.

And, really, that's what Final Fantasy VII Remake represents--a risk that ultimately played out well. The developers could have easily remade the Midgar portion of Final Fantasy VII and stuck closely to what made the original work so well. Instead, they opted to reimagine many parts of the original, from combat all the way to the story. Whether the latter works is a matter of opinion, but the thrill of reliving key moments of Final Fantasy VII's Midgar chapter alongside the extended scenarios which fleshed out the cast of characters even better than the original did up to that point in the original was fantastic to experience. Doing it all with jaw-dropping graphics, a soundtrack that excels in every way, and combat that is so expertly and enjoyably crafted makes Final Fantasy VII Remake a terrific remake and reimaging of a classic game.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (NSW)

Monolith Soft's Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was a massive, almost overwhelming RPG that frankly the Wii hardware didn't do justice. Don't get me wrong--the game was excellent and the Wii didn't make the game and less fun. It just didn't look the greatest. With the Nintendo Switch, Monolith Soft sought to bring their classic RPG to a new generation of fans as well as bring a fresh coat of paint to its masterpiece for old fans as well. That's exactly what it did with Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, which has a subtitle that is totally not just for show. This version of Xenoblade is definitely definitive.

The ghoulish-looking character models from the Wii have all been "glowed up" as it were, offering more emotion and detail than ever before. The worlds and environments, which were already equally gorgeous as they were expansive, have never looked better on the Nintendo Switch. The Switch version offers more color, more vibrancy, and more personality. The addition of the epilogue to the base game, Future Connected, brings an entirely new story with a brand-new area to explore as well. It's a bite-sized adventure that brings even more Xenoblade goodness to players. There are few 100+ hour games that I'd merrily play through again, but Xenoblade Chronicles is one of those. The Definitive Edition only made that case for me even clearer, making an excellent game on the Wii even more so on the Switch.

Trials of Mana (NSW, PS4, PC)

While Final Fantasy VII Remake took a major risk in changing a lot of things that fans loved about the original game and was ultimately successful for it, another Square Enix remake (also releasing that month), played it much more safely. However, it was successful in its own way as well. Trials of Mana didn't really change up much of the foundation of the original Super Famicom game, other than brilliantly revitalizing a 2D world into a fully 3D one. Everything else was essentially similar to the Super Famicom original, and really, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Trials of Mana's remake made for a superb adventure that harkened back to classic RPGs of yesteryear, despite it having the skin of a modern game. The new visuals look absolutely fantastic, even on the Switch version, which is the version the accompanying screenshots were taken from. The world was great fun to explore, the different ways the story played out depending on which three of the six main characters you chose made for some pleasant replay value, and the combat system, although basic compared to its contemporaries, offered both challenge and fun. It all adds up to a remake that tickled all the nostalgia strings of this particular player while remaining a fresh RPG experience.

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

This year saw a lot of remarkable remakes, and Activision isn't any stranger from remaking its catalog as of late. We saw Activision having success with both Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Next up was the revitalization of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and unlike its previous attempt at remaking the Birdman's game, this remake from Activision releasing early this past September was a tremendous success.

Not just remaking the first game's levels, but also the wildly popular second game's as well. Both game's levels were a part of the same career mode, allowing players to choose from a pro skater or their own custom creation that could be outfitted with various unlockable clothing items and gear. New challenges meant that even longtime THPS fanatics were tested to their utmost abilities. Most importantly, however, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 absolutely NAILED the feel of the old games, offering tight, precise, and awesome feeling controls that seemed like 1999 never left us and that games like Tony Hawk's Ride, Shred, and Pro Skater 5 were just fever dreams. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 was made with the proper amount of TLC--so much so that it is a stellar tribute to the classic THPS games and totally deserves to skate with the best that the series has to offer.

Bully: Scholarship Edition (360, Wii, PC)

Last but not least, we have a game that originally launched on the PlayStation 2 and later found itself a generation later appearing on both the Xbox 360/PC and the Nintendo Wii. It's Bully: Scholarship Edition, a Rockstar Games title that saw players take on the role of Jimmy at Bullworth Academy, causing various shenanigans as he butted heads with both school administration and other students. While the HD version was more of a remastered version that played just as well as the PS2 original but looked a bit sharper and cleaner, the Wii version, too, was worthwhile--though for different reasons. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk's motion controls, especially when used in the various class mini-games, were absolutely cleverly done and fine examples of motion controls done right. Definitely not the "waggle" nonsense that made so many despise certain Wii efforts at the time. What it amounts to is two different versions of Bully: Scholarship Edition that are worthwhile and worthy of sticking after class for.


Do you have a remake or remaster that has yet to be on an edition of Remakes & Remasterpieces that you would like to see on a future volume? Let the SPC community know in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Sackboy: A Big Adventure (PS4) Review

SPC leaps towards the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with a new review. Plenty of sites have covered the PlayStation 5 build of Sackboy: A Big Adventure well, but how about the PlayStation 4 version that launched on the same day? Have no fear, dear SPC reader--the next review on the site is just that. It's Sackboy: A Big Adventure for the PS4, and here is our review!

Super Sackboy 3D World

Ever since the series' debut on the PlayStation 3, LittleBigPlanet and its indomitable hero Sackboy have been prominent parts of the PlayStation brand. For the most part, each entry lived off of its "Play, Create, Share" mantra, allowing players to create their own levels with an extremely capable and customizable set of level creation tools. However, with the PlayStation 5 launch, this part of the LittleBigPlanet series has been removed in favor of a more focused platforming experience with Sackboy: A Big Adventure. Playing more like Super Mario 3D World than past LittleBigPlanet games, Sackboy's latest is also one of his best.

The citizens of Craftworld are enjoying themselves and happily gadding about when all of a sudden a monstrous creature known as Vex enters into the fold. Sucking up the townspeople with a massive vacuum, Vex enslaves the Sackpeople into working on his creation, the Topsy Turver, a device set to rip apart Craftworld from the seams. Escaping during the chaos, Sackboy finds himself needing to work up the courage to put a halt to Vex's plans, rescue his friends, and save both Craftworld and the Imagisphere before it's too late. What's present as story for Sackboy: A Big Adventure serves its role as an excuse to jump and run through the game's five main worlds, and the cutscenes featured throughout the game don't interrupt this fun too terribly much. It helps that each scene is entertaining and charming as all get out, too.

Quite the vexing villain, hmm? (I totally took the laziest pun opportunity there.)
That's a big part of Sackboy: A Big Adventure in general--it's entertaining and charming to an insanely high and enjoyable degree. Right away, I was amazed by how levels were crafted out of everyday objects similar to what I saw in Yoshi's Crafted World on the Nintendo Switch. Whether cardboard characters that pop out of the scenery to cheer you on as you run through levels or seeing toolboxes and sponges serving as platforms, the creativity on display with how levels are constructed is truly creative and clever.

From felt grass for the ground to wooden planks as platforms, Craftworld has never
been as crafty as it is in Sackboy: A Big Adventure.

That holds true with the level design as well. Sackboy: A Big Adventure constantly brings new obstacles, level themes and gimmicks into the mix. One level you'll be scrambling about, collecting keys strewn around the level to unlock a door while another you'll be riding along the river rapids, occasionally leaping off the boat to tackle some optional platforming challenges. The variety is high in Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and I never knew what I'd encounter next. I'd merrily play for hours on end because I was addicted to the thrill of seeing what level and trials awaited me next.

By far my favorite levels and the highlights which showcase the genius of the designers are the music levels that expertly layer popular music tracks like "Uptown Funk", "Jungle Boogie", and "Toxic", for starters, and syncs them well to the action on screen. It's similar in concept to Rayman Legends's music stages, though those were runner-style levels, as opposed to the more open ended exploratory levels seen in Sackboy: A Big Adventure. Needless to say, these levels seldom failed to bring a big ol' silly smile to my face.

The music levels, like this one, are a great highlight to an already fantastic game full of highs.
Levels themselves hold many challenges inside them outside of just getting from the start to the finish. There are of course plenty of collectibles to search for, such as Prize Bubbles that reward various interchangeable costume pieces for your Sackboy to wear. There are also Dreamer Orbs to track down, and these are used to unlock the way to the final level of each world. It's not too taxing of a challenge to possess enough Dreamer Orbs to make progress--you just need to do a minimum amount of exploring. When these levels are so fun to navigate and discover goodies in, it's difficult to not want to do so! 

Search high and low for those ever-elusive but fun-to-find Prize Bubbles.
There are also rewards for earning a requisite amount of points in a level. This is where your platforming prowess can truly shine. Scattered all around levels are Score Bubbles, and furthermore, there are special Score Bubbles that can temporarily double the amount of points you get as well as bubbles that appear for set amount of time before disappearing again. Collecting all of them before they vanish awards a point bonus. Early levels are breezy enough to make it so getting gold scores are child's play, but later levels where death comes easy (resulting in a sizable chunk of your point score being taken away) makes for a great challenge.

Speaking of challenge, Sackboy: A Big Adventure isn't going to test your platforming skills immediately from the word "go". Its beginning is a breezy and light affair that might give you the wrong impression about the full game. As you progress through the game, levels get harder, demand more precision platforming, more skill, and more patience to overcome. The aforementioned side challenges like achieving certain score thresholds, as well as acing levels by clearing them without dying once also adds rewards for more skillful play for more serious platforming fans to challenge themselves with. Furthermore, there are special Knitted Knight Trials that pit you against the clock in an obstacle course based on one specific gimmick, such as spikes, fire, or even lasers. Getting gold on all of these as well as tackling the ultimate trials this game has to offer is certainly no cakewalk!

Thankfully, Sackboy has never felt better to control than he does in this game. The floatiness that dominated the discussion about the platforming physics of the LittleBigPlanet series is nowhere to be found in Sackboy: A Big Adventure. Instead, there's tight, precise, and fluid platforming present and fully on display. Sackboy has plenty of moves in his fuzzy bag of tricks, such as a roll, which can be combined into a jump--almost Donkey Kong Country-style in execution. He can also get extra distance from his jumps with a Yoshi-like flutter. Not content to just bounce off enemies' heads this time around--though that method to dispatch many foes is here--Sackboy can also punch baddies, bringing the fight straight to them. Though, it can be difficult to properly gauge hit detection here. 

If you're looking for a floaty platformer, LittleBigPlanet is THAT way.
You'll get an exceptionally tight run and jump instead with Sackboy's latest.
Sackboy also gains several power-ups in various levels, such as a boomerang-like item that can carve a path through thorns, collect faraway goodies, and activate certain switches. There's also a grappling gun of sorts as well as power boots that bestow temporary hover capabilities, and the power to shoot foes with laser beams. The way these power-ups are introduced is in a safe setting, much like how Sackboy: A Big Adventure introduces all of its major gameplay mechanics and level gimmicks to players. Players generally have the freedom to safely fail their first time encountering a mechanic or gimmick, and then as the level progresses, that mechanic gets built upon to create increasingly more difficult scenarios. Very Super Mario 3D World esque in design and execution.

Whip out your Whirltool and send it spinning into faraway foes and objects alike.
If there's any true negative I can attribute to my slight disappointment with Sackboy: A Big Adventure, it's that online co-op is currently not available as of launch and as of this review. Instead, it's planned for the end of the year. This is a problem because while I was able to enjoy the game with a family member, there are many other players out there--particularly in a pandemic where they can't just ask someone to come over and play the game with in a local co-op setting--won't be able to experience the absolutely incredibly designed teamwork levels. As the name suggests, these levels demand total teamwork and cooperation to get through successfully. I can only imagine the [good kind of] chaos that will happen when four players attempt these levels as well as just playing the standard story levels in general.

Currently, the only co-op available in Sackboy: A Big Adventure is sadly the local variety.
(Though it is again important to note that an online update is coming by year's end.)
I was concerned that, like many cross-gen games in the past, Sackboy's outing would be a poor showing compared to its PlayStation 5 big brother. Fortunately, I'm happy to say that Sackboy: A Big Adventure on the PlayStation 4 runs remarkably well. It's a solid 60 frames per second, and while it lacks in the same level of environmental detail as the PS5 version, Sackboy on the PlayStation 4 still looks the part of a genuinely pretty 3D platformer. The music is an eclectic mix of licensed and original music, all fitting well within the crafted world of Sackboy's. What else can you say when you hear an instrumental waltz version of Madonna's "Material Girl" other than, "Wow! This is awesome!"?

What can he say? Sackboy likes to dress for the occasion.
While it's easy to see the Super Mario 3D World in the DNA of Sackboy: A Big Adventure, the game does without a doubt manage to weave its own path and craft its own identity. The abundance of well executed ideas in the level design, the sheer creativity on display, and the massively improved feel and control of Sackboy make Sackboy: A Big Adventure a seriously thrilling platformer to play. Throw in a sack-full of charm, and you have one of my favorite 3D platformers in a long time and one of the better games I've played this year. It's just a shame that online co-op was not ready for launch. 

[SPC Says: A]

Monday, November 23, 2020

NEO: The World Ends with You (NSW, PS4) Official Announcement Trailer

It's been a long wait and a long time coming, but after 14 years of waiting and wondering if a sequel to the Nintendo DS cult classic The World Ends With You would ever come into fruition, the game is finally going to happen. NEO: The World Ends With You was officially announced this morning by Square Enix, and it's planned to release in Summer 2021 for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. Check out this premiere trailer for this much desired sequel turned reality.