Friday, February 5, 2021

Glyph (NSW) Review

Fresh off the figurative heels of yesterday's Blue Fire review, we have another interesting indie for the Nintendo Switch. This time it's Bolverk Games' Glyph, another 3D platformer with some corruption going on in its story! Let's rock and roll with the SPC review!

The Sand Is Lava: The Game

The Nintendo Switch is in no shortage of excellent and promising indie games, and that trend merrily continues thanks to Bolverk Games and their work on Glyph. If you're familiar with the children's game "The Floor is Lava", where players leap from safe tile to safe tile, all the while trying to avoid the floor, you have a general idea of what the basic concept of Glyph is. Of course, Glyph is considerably more involved, utilizing our scarab beetle ball's abilities to roll, jump, and glide his way around levels while trying to avoid touching the deadly desert dune sands, with only stone slabs, fallen columns, and other objects to save him from a destroyed fate.

Glyph's tale is a simple one, but when you're essentially a platformer, you don't really need an engrossing story to hook players, as that's where the gameplay comes in. Regardless, the ancient temple has been corrupted and buried in sand. With the help of your own platforming skills and a friendly beetle companion who follows along with you, you go on a journey to revitalize the temple and restore it to its former glory, ultimately finding the source of the corruption that caused the temple to sink in the first place. What follows is a series of over 80 unique levels featuring some truly tricky platforming challenges. 

However, before you can engage in restoring the temple and indulging in the meat and potatoes of Glyph's adventure, you have a helpful handful of tutorial levels to take on. These of course give you the ins and outs of Glyph's movement and move set. Our hero can obviously roll Marble Madness-style, but he can also jump, and in some instances, double jump, though this is a very temporary ability that goes away when used once. Only by rolling over green pads does Glyph regain the ability. Glyph can also continuously leap up the sides of safe platforms, as well as extend his wings to perform a glide, great for covering long distances, among other beneficial uses. 

Able to leap medium-length walls with a single set of multiple bounces, it's Super Scarab!

Finally, there's a pound-like smash maneuver that serves as a way to not only bounce higher to gain more altitude, but also to serve as an instant stop to Glyph's forward momentum. For instance, if you're about to fly past a particular platform and want to land on it effectively, just use this smash to slam into the ground, killing all momentum. Of course, use this over sand or other hazards and you're as good as a goner. Fortunately, an assist in the form of a white ring almost always hovers below our hero at ground level, helping to judge distance and depth.

Most levels are quite open and large with few safe places to land, but LOTS of deadly places to die!

Starting off in Glyph, there is a stiff learning curve. I found myself not really easing into things too quickly. Glyph is rather slippery in movement and despite having a heavy-looking appearance, he's as light and floaty in the air as a wiffleball. There is also a lot of forward momentum, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as you can really master it to present some incredible runs through levels. Plus, the aforementioned smash ability helps in halting this momentum in a flash. Levels quickly ramp up in difficulty, requiring all of Glyph's abilities to become almost second nature for players. At the start of my experience with Glyph, I cautiously rolled and jumped around as slowly as possible, but by the end, I was making death-defying leaps from narrow platform to narrow pillar, bouncing off floors to gain extra height, gliding about, and zooming across the expansive levels with gusto. That isn't to say I didn't die a heck of a bunch. I certainly did, but I became much more comfortable with the controls and physics of the game.

However, part of the challenge that comes from Glyph does not always have to do solely with the oodles of platforming perils placed in your path. Instead, it's a combination of moving about levels while simultaneously messing about with the camera to put it in the perfect position for you to execute your platforming. Even with mastery of the platforming piece of Glyph, you need to juggle all that with getting the camera at the right angle, oftentimes requiring an almost "pat your head, rub your stomach" level of confusion. I'm not pleased to say that this is where Glyph greatly falters, but at the same time, I don't really know how this could have been improved considering how open and exploratory the levels are by design. They encourage you to traverse all over and move the camera around to discover new nooks and crannies.

A winged tortoise with a hazy green trail following behind it? Totally unlockable!

And yes, the 80+ levels on display in Glyph are mighty large and expansive. Well, at least the exploration-based levels. The other type of level in Glyph is the time trial, which unlike the exploration-based levels, these are linear as can be. However, I must say that the time requirements are a bit too tight for my liking. Some are manageable to get gold, while others are so arduous to even complete in time much less get gold in--even one-star difficulty level stages. So, here there is bit of an unevenness in Glyph's difficulty. While the exploration levels have a more... mm.... "relaxed"--for a lack of a better word--pace, the time trials are just plain devious. While they do unlock gems for beating specific target times, they fortunately aren't required to unlock every level in the game. If you're doing a modest amount of discovery in the exploration levels, you'll most likely have enough coins and gems to unlock everything up to the final boss. (Yep, there's an actual final boss, which ends up being rather enjoyable, though requiring lots of trial and error to beat.) 

For its exploration-based levels, Glyph takes a page from 3D collect-a-thon platformers with plenty of trinkets to collect. There are pink gems that unlock new areas of levels in the ancient temple hub, there are coins that unlock new levels within said areas, there are golden scarabs that only appear when all coins in a level have been collected (and those unlock specific levels as well), and there are keys to collect, too. Collecting all of the keys in a level is the only "must" to do in a level, and once you've done so, you must find and make your way safely to the goal. 

Don't hurt me for saying this, but these particular trinkets are "key" to clearing each level.

Glyph does not utilize checkpoints, so this may frustrate a fair number of players. Only some collectables are saved in a level upon dying, such as coins and gems. However, if you're going for a golden scarab, the secret avatar item that is hidden in each level, or the keys, you need to collect them and reach the goal intact in one run. 'Else you'll find yourself having to not only collect all of the keys again, but also either (or both) the golden scarab and the avatar item. Thankfully, you need not go after both optional collectibles (the scarab or avatar item) in a single given run. Still, since some of the exploration levels are so large in scope, it can be rather demoralizing and obnoxious to die and have to start from the beginning of the level all over again. It's more of a problem with convenience. Many levels have you trekking up or down the same starting linear path to reach the more open sections of levels that it becomes rather rote and tedious to do. A small blemish on otherwise enjoyable levels. 

The physics on display in Glyph are notably precise, sort of important for a ball-rolling platformer!

Speaking of levels, but changing the subject to a technical level, Glyph runs incredibly well on the Nintendo Switch, matching its 60 FPS promise in both docked AND undocked forms. The game is incredibly fluid in motion. Sure, you could argue that it's only because of the relatively simple geometry and non-complicated objects on display here, but it's a feat that is still worth applauding. There's a minimalistic approach to the visuals as well the sound design, too. The soundtrack is ambient and environmental, only kicking in with a pulsating rhythm and beat when all of the keys in a level have been collected and the goal unlocks. It is a small but highly effective touch. 

Glyph kept me entertained for a good while, from the easy difficulty levels that gave me an eventual comfort in the controls and physics to the five-star (or in Glyph's case--five-skull) levels, which are truly challenging affairs, requiring a masterful grasp of the game's mechanics and physics to overcome and complete. I can see myself playing even more long after this review is published, as there are many more levels left unplayed and unfinished, avatars to unlock (such as a skull with wings, a fly, a bird, and even a rainbow turtle) and particle effect trails to unlock as well. (Though the latter might be a bit too challenging as unlock new trails requires individual golds on time trials.) Still, the point here is that there is no shortage of content to be had in Glyph.

I have no time to deal with you, pesky enemy. I'm late for a Metallica concert.
(A caption that might have worked better without a pandemic going on.)

At the end of the day, I had a "ball" with Glyph, both literally and figuratively. The initial, decidedly steep learning curve will alienate quite a few players at the get-go, but for those who stick with the game, they'll eventually be whirling about levels like a pro--or at least a much more capable and confident player--and have fun doing it. While the difficulty all around is not the smoothest, having some levels that are a breeze followed immediately by those that will make you want to yell out in utter frustration, Glyph is all around a successful outing from Bolverk Games.

[SPC Says: B]

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

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Blue Fire (PC, NSW) Review

Our first review for the month of February is for a game that was featured in a Nintendo Indie World presentation last year. It also just so happens to launch today on both the Nintendo Switch and Steam. It's Blue Fire, a game with lots of ideas crammed into one 3D action-platforming package. Does each idea play nicely with the others? Let's find out with the SPC review.

A blazing success rather than a weak ember of an effort

From Graffiti Games and Robi Studios enters Blue Fire, an amalgamation of different ideas inspired by various well-known games. You have the same penalty for death, a challenging difficulty, and a brooding yet whimsical world similar to Hollow Knight, you have the dungeon-like design of the 3D Legend of Zelda games, and finally, you have the platforming and bonus-like levels like you'd see in a 3D Mario. Under less skilled, less capable hands, this assortment of styles and ideas could easily have become an uncontrollable, messy Frankenstein-like monster, but instead, Blue Fire ends up being a stellar 3D action-platformer with considerably excellent execution.

Blue Fire takes place in a sprawling floating castle world called Penumbra. Formerly protected by the gods, the castle has since been corrupted by shadows, turning the once peaceful place to a nightmarish hellscape where only the brave dare wander. As the pint-sized protagonist (but definitely not one to underestimate), you travel through the mysterious dungeon-like world, exploring every nook and cranny, uncovering treasure, parkour-ing your way past dangers, hacking and slashing your way through enemies, and helping survivors out with their problems.

Our silent hero can find and equip numerous attack-increasing swords, as well as discover
 fashionable new tunics to wear. After all, all the cool Penumbrans are wearing them!
Familiar ideas abound in Blue Fire, but they're all combined in a way that winds up as fresh and ultimately innovative. In a sense, Blue Fire is a 3D Hollow Knight that uses Zelda's dungeon-like design in how the developers crafted its world, while using Mario's methods of platforming traversal--albeit nowhere near as polished or fully faceted feature-wise--to make its adventure. 

Starting with the clear Hollow Knight influences, there's of course the dark and dismal world of Penumbra itself. Colorful vistas you are not going to see in Blue Fire's world. In their stead are areas like the gray, stone, dilapidated corridors of the Fire Keep, the grungy green sewers of the Arcane Tunnels, and the icy, cold, blue chill of the wintry Abandoned Path. Now, this isn't to say that the game isn't a looker, as that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, between the uniquely shaded characters and the absolutely massive areas teeming with wonderful details, Blue Fire is a graphically impressive game. It ran nearly flawlessly during my time with the Steam version. I say "nearly flawlessly" as I did suffer from three game crashes, each happening when attempting to move between areas, whether through warping/fast travel or simply passing through an entrance. Fortunately, no major progress was lost. 

The Hollow Knight influences don't stop with just Blue Fire's looks. There are gameplay ideas borrowed as well, such as losing all of your ore--the currency of the game--upon death and needing to return to the place of your demise to regain it all back. Die before you reach your "ghost" and that precious ore is gone for good. Thankfully, the ore comes relatively easily in Blue Fire, and that's positively a good thing, as you'll be needing it for all sorts of things. I'm referring to things like creating new save and warp points via unlocking Fire Shrines, paying various NPCs for goods like new swords, new tunics and special items, and even making progress in the game at times. Then, there's the Blue Fire itself, which basically amount to potions that can be stored in our hero's supply. When his health approaches dangerous levels, you can risk healing yourself by becoming temporarily vulnerable (and by having your feet firmly planted on the ground). It's easy enough when there are plenty of quiet moments during exploration to hide and heal, but in battles, not so much. Through a special shop and from completing specific side quests, you can earn the ability to hold more Blue Fire at once, up to ten.

Finally, much like the Charms of Hollow Knight, there are the Spirits in Blue Fire that can be found or purchased throughout Penumbra. These give our hero various bonuses and abilities, like increased height to his jump, faster movement speed, higher amounts of ore received, and even some bonuses too cool to spoil. There was less of a worry about having to choose between Spirits because you earn them so slowly, and because you can purchase multiple new slots. I ended up with eight slots or so by the end of the game, giving me more than I actually needed.

Our hero starts off relatively weak and lacking in traversal options at the beginning of the game. As you explore Penumbra and enter into the game's clearly Zelda-inspired temples, you discover new abilities, such as a super helpful dash that can be performed on the ground or in midair, the always popular double jump, and even the ability to sprint along walls and perform leap from wall to wall. As these abilities unlock, I found myself returning to past areas, exploring new spots and uncovering not just new treasures that I originally couldn't reach, but also uncovering new methods of parkouring around Penumbra itself. What was once slow-going to get through an area, now I could bypass significant sections thanks to my new wall-riding, wall jumping, dashing and double jumping abilities. Chaining platforming maneuvers together while moving about Penumbra is engaging and just plain fun to do. 

One of many Voids seen in Blue Fire. Beware: tough platforming challenges await!
Your platforming abilities will get put to the ultimate test in Blue Fire's Voids, of which there are 16 total, hidden around Penumbra. Upon completion, each one gives our hero an added heart to his health count. Voids are essentially obstacle-laden courses focused on a given theme that require patience, persistence, and maybe a little self-loathing to finally beat. Some are as simple as leaping from platform to platform over the abyss, while later Voids get downright devilish in their designs. One needed me to carefully run along walls, requiring jumps from wall to wall or else my little guy would run into a patch of spikes. As the wall continued, the patches of spikes increased and the safe spots to leap off the walls narrowed. By the end of my masochistic journey of completing every Void (this is not my attempt at a stealth brag, by the way), I weaved my way through spinning blades, ran along walls through saw-filled corridors with nary a solid piece of footing to catch my breath, and sweated buckets as I finally overcame the most dastardly of challenges. These Voids are where the most difficult content in Blue Fire rests, at least platforming-wise. 

Our hero's parkour skills are leaps and bounds above the rest.
At the same time, occasionally I felt that some of the actions that the developers asked too much of me in these Voids. From lengthy platforming levels that generally have just one really tough spot at the end, where if you die at it (and you probably will until you learn how to take it just right), you have to restart the entire Void just to get back to that part (and then probably die again). These Voids can be multiple minute-long affairs, so that adds up. Additionally, one particular five-star difficulty Void required both precise platforming and simultaneous mastery of the camera to finagle it to the right angle on the fly. 'Else I'd meet a spike-filled fate, which happened more often than not due to needing to turn the camera 180 degrees in midair with little time to spare.

When your evasion skills aren't up to snuff, just go ahead and shield yourself instead.
(Just be sure to watch that Mana gauge of yours!)
Combat-wise, Blue Fire is also enjoyable. Our hero has a small but worthwhile repertoire of moves to take from their bag of tricks. When enemies lunge at you, you can use a protective shield barrier with the right time to properly parry with perfect precision. This temporarily (and very temporarily, might I add) stuns them, giving you a chance to smack some sense into them with your swords. Enemies can be targeted, Zelda-style, enabling you to keep them centered as your main focus, and even allowing you to dash into them. The latter is great for the many midair enemies in the game, where you can perform a three slash combo before darting back to the ground below. Here, the platforming in Blue Fire isn't just a means to get around, but it's a means to both evade and defeat foes. It makes for an interesting intersection of mechanics and some truly stylish combat at that.

Whoa! Talk about "cutting" it close!
Meanwhile, the bosses in Blue Fire don't really give a great first impression. The starting two bosses, both in the game's temples (more on those in the next paragraph), do less than excite with basic attacks and rather boring patterns. But, as the game goes on and you face more challenging foes, things get more complex, more interesting, and require all your knowhow of the game's mechanics to survive. The final boss, which of course I won't spoil, was a nail-biter, pulse-pounder and sweat-inducer, requiring mastery of both my platforming and combat abilities to overcome.

I mentioned Zelda-like dungeons earlier, but really, Penumbra as a whole is designed like a series of interconnected dungeons with the occasional temples (the "dungeon dungeons", if you will), where there's less of a focus on brain teasers and logic puzzles and more of a focus on pure platforming puzzles. It's about HOW you use your platforming abilities to reach specific areas and treasures and WHAT skills you use to get there. I was a bit disappointed that by after the second and final temple that there were no more to complete. I enjoy the whole "exploring rooms, gathering keys to open doors, battling bosses" formula of the Zelda series, so it was a touch unfortunate that by the second half of the game, this formula was all but thrown out. I wouldn't say I felt cheated or caught a swerve, but it was disappointing nonetheless. 

That said, what follows instead in Blue Fire is mostly still great and enjoyable to play, which is the most important thing. Well, that is save for a late-game Twilight Princess "Tears of Light"-esque fetch quest that merely pads the length of the adventure, which left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Returning to past areas to comb through them for collectables wasn't much fun in Wind Waker, it wasn't that much fun in Metroid Prime, and being forced to stop the journey to do this in Blue Fire wasn't too entertaining here either. 

The survivors in Penumbra sure are a spirited bunch.
Blue Fire lasted me about 11 hours to reach 95% completion. I imagine everything else I need to do regards purchasing all the remaining Spirits and items in the shops. When you beat the game initially, a new, more punishing difficulty unlocks. Starting off, though, with Blue Fire, you get two difficulties to choose from, the much more welcoming newcomer mode or the recommended "recommended" difficulty. Either way, you're bound to have a mode that caters to your skill level and be immensely challenged regardless.

I've compared Blue Fire to a lot of games in this review, and it's not meant to be a disservice to the game whatsoever. In fact, the developers managed to take bits, pieces and ideas from several games and craft their own wonderful creation out of them. Blue Fire essentially takes some of the best elements of each of its inspirations to create a cohesive and ultimately delightful-to-play whole. There are certainly some rough spots that are apparent--occasional bugs, occasional glitches here and there--but overall, Blue Fire remains a terrifically challenging and mighty exciting adventure from beginning to end. This flame certainly burns bright.

[SPC Says: B+]

A Steam code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (PS4) Launch Trailer

The latest in the long-running Ys series is finally here in the West, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. This time around, our crimson-haired hero and adventurer Adol Christin has been cursed and is stuck inside the city of Balduq until said curse is lifted. Bad for him, good for us, as we get to experience a new adventure, one where Adol and his party have a multitude of new moves in both combat and traversal to both battle baddies and get around in style. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox launches on the PlayStation 4 today with the Nintendo Switch and PC ports launching sometime this summer.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Review Round-Up - January 2021

The Ghost left his mark on SuperPhillip Central with Ghost of Tsushima being January's featured game of the month.

The first full month of 2021 is in the books, and with that comes the monthly tradition of the Review Round-Up! Let's take a trip back at the month that was with this look at the reviews published on SPC during January 2021, complete with links and excerpts of each review! It says something strong about this latest cluster of reviews when the lowest rated game gets a B grade.

The month started in a big way with a look back at the single player campaign of Guerilla Games' Ghost of Tsushima, which told a heartfelt tale and took players through an emotional journey. It earned the highest grade of the month with an A-. Following our strong start, we took a musical turn with the rhythm game goodness of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, giving a great performance and making this reviewer for an encore someday. The game received a B+ grade.

Another game soaring to the heights of a B+ grade was Ristar, our lone retro review of the month. It was wonderful returning to this Genesis platformer. From the stars to the links, SPC then took on the excellent golf simulation of PGA Tour 2K21, particularly the Nintendo Switch version. The game scored under par, earning a B for its efforts. Finally, we took the latest Spider-Man game for a swing with Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales--this time the PS4 version--which got a B+ grade to end the month on a good note.

To round out this Review Round-Up, here is the list of reviews, links to each, and excerpts for your reading and viewing pleasure. As always you can check out all past reviews ever published on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive

The games planned for review this February will have a bit of a 3D platforming focus. You'll see what I mean later this month!

Ghost of Tsushima (PS4) - A-

Ghost of Tsushima is one part sensationally crafted story that paints a bleak picture of life in war-torn Japan, one part incredible combat that is both visceral and mechanically sound, and one part well presented to make for one wonderful open-world adventure. There is some sense of being formulaic with its structure and how discoveries are stumbled upon. Overall, though, Ghost of Tsushima ends up being one of the PlayStation's strongest open-world action games, and one that stands tall among PlayStation's impressive lineup of first-party titles. Another jewel in Sony's first-party crown, for sure.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory (NSW, PS4, XB1) - B+

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory takes 18+ years of series history, most notably the sensational soundtracks, and puts them in one concise musical collection that can be enjoyed by any rhythm game fan or music lover. Those only interested in buying this game for the story should probably just catch the ending on YouTube or something, as the new story content isn't worth the $60 price of admission. Memory Dives and the occasional clutter that inhibits seeing and reacting to note prompts on time also detract from the game, but overall my experience with Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory was a positive one. I definitely ended my time with the game on a good note.

Ristar (GEN) - B+

What doesn't deliver a star-ache, or a headache for us humans, is Ristar as an overall game. Sonic Team may have left poor Ristar in the blue blur's dust, but there's no denying that the game successfully differentiates itself from the developer's other, more popular Genesis works. The fact that Ristar still plays as well today as it did over 25 years ago is a testament to Sonic Team for making one of the better, more innovative and creative platformers of the 16-bit era. It may be a short game, but it's also certainly a sweet one. With a wonderfully clever grab mechanic that pours over into all facets of the game from offense to traversal, Ristar remains a very worthy play that any platformer fan out there.

PGA Tour 2K21 (NSW) - B

[PGA Tour 2K21 is] honestly a superb golf simulation, offering controls that can be tailored to suit both beginners and veterans of the genre (and of course everyone in between). Swinging the club feels fantastic, and the system incorporated into the game featured is fun and especially refreshing coming off decades of three clicks gauges and swing meters. For a terrific round of golf, don't pull out a Callaway club: pull out PGA Tour 2K21 on Nintendo Switch from your bag instead.

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS4) - B+

[Marvel's Spider-Man; Miles Morales] offers a greater amount of combat options, improved mobility, and a story that I was eager to press on and find out what was going to happen next. Technical bugs and glitches do bring the overall experience down, at least on the PlayStation 4, but overall, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales swings with the best of them and is a worthy follow-up to the original Spider-Man.

Two of Sony's first-party delights bookended the month of January here at SPC,
with Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales ending the month just right.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS4) Review

SPC closes out the first month of 2021 with one final review. It's for a launch game for the PlayStation 5, but we're actually going to take a look at the lesser-reviewed PlayStation 4 version. It's Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and without further ado, let's swing into action with the SPC review.

Miles ahead of other superhero video game sequels

The PlayStation 5 launched with not one, not two, not three, but four first-party games. An impressive lineup and accomplishment if there ever was one for a console's launch. However, two of these first-party games were also released on the PlayStation 4, same day and date: Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales. While most of the attention regarding both of these games was heavily focused on the PlayStation 5 versions, I wanted to devote some time to looking at the previous generation versions. You might have already seen my Sackboy: A Big Adventure review, but now it's time for Insomniac Games' cross-gen superhero action game to get its turn under the microscope. 

The entirety of Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes place over the Christmas holiday.

Coming off the original Marvel's Spider-Man's ending, Miles Morales has his newfound powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider similar to the one that gave Peter Parker his powers. Over the past months, Miles has been in training under the tutelage of the O.G. Spider-Man. With Peter Parker leaving the country to go on a trip with Mary Jane that means that while the Spider's away, Miles will... well, not so much PLAY as he takes up the crimefighting burden in Parker's stead. What follows is a personal struggle between living up to Spider-Man's legacy while carving his own path. This is all in the middle of a corporate conspiracy that delves deeply and blurs the line between Miles' private and superhero parts of his life along the way. 

When a standard, trademark Spidey quip won't do, Miles lets his feet do the talking.

Miles plays similarly to the original Spider-Man--after all--he was trained by Peter--but there are various key differences. While Miles' mobility options are mostly unchanged from the Peter's from the first game--what, with the web swinging, web rushing, climbing walls, running up walls, hanging from ceilings, etc.--this new Spidey has some new tricks of his own. These are Venom powers: electrically charged moves that deliver heavy damage to surrounding enemies. As you progress through the story, more become unlocked. From a Venom Punch that sends an electrified fist directly into the faces of foes, to a Venom Jump that sends surrounding foes in Miles' immediate radius up into the air, these moves stun and bring a whole world of hurt onto the new webhead's repertoire of baddies. Each Venom power uses up a section of a special orange gauge that refills as Miles attacks enemies and successfully evades attacks. 

With the Venom punch and other Venom powers, Miles can really send shocks to his enemies' systems!

And that's not all the new tricks that Miles has in his arsenal. Around the midpoint of the game he earns the ability to temporarily camouflage, offering a way to stealthily sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and take them out, or utterly bewilder and confuse foes as he disappears right in front of their faces--a perfect move for getting the heck out of dodge in a flash. There's a cooldown period in between camouflage uses, so it's not something you can just cheese on and off at any time to make encounters easy.

While a lot of times stealth will work--taking down enemies silently from walls, ceilings, perches, and directly from behind--sometimes Miles will just have to get his hands (and feet with regard to kicks) dirty. There are a great number of options available to players in combat situations. Everything from web powers to Venom powers, to gadgets like Miles' web shooters, remote mines, or gravity wells that act like a vacuum to baddies, are all available and fair to use. It's a ballet of carnage, and with enough practice, you can battle even the biggest of baddies with elegance and grace as you evade enemies and cycle between fists, kicks, webbing, Venom powers, and gadgets. This is all as your combo multiplier soars to impressive heights. 

Have a nice trip, see you next fall.

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a shorter game than Insomniac's original take on Spidey, clocking in at just under ten hours to beat. However, that is partly due to a lot of the fat from the original game being cut out. There are no stealth missions with powerless playable characters to concern yourself with, which was a major sticking point for this reviewer--among many others players out there. That said, there is an ample amount of side activities to participate in to beef up the playtime of the game. For one, there is checking a helpful "Friendly Neighborhood" app with a quick swipe of the Dualshock's touchpad. This brings up a list of what are essentially side quests to take on from citizens around Manhattan. These range between finding lost pets to more involved scenarios, such as cracking down a crime ring that is stealing from the local F.E.A.S.T. shelter from the first game. 

Miles' friend, Ganke's helpfully designed app allows you to select from a myriad of missions.
These can even be replayed at your leisure for extra experience and activity tokens.

Then, there are fun side activities like holographic training missions set up by Peter Parker before his trip out of town, involving everything from combat to stealth. There are also enemy bases to enter, dispatch all enemies inside either stealthily or not, and complete a specific task in each. Whether you're simply completing side missions, stopping the abundance of crimes that pop up in the city, or gathering collectables like weapons caches and time capsules, you earn experience to learn new abilities via skill tree, and goods that can be used to buy and upgrade various suits, visors, and gadgets. 

Even after the credits roll, there is plenty of post-game content to have a reason to continue shooting webs and swinging around Manhattan. Unlike the original Marvel's Spider-Man, which received a New Game+ option after release in a post-launch patch, you can enjoy a new game with all of your stats, suits, experience, and more already included with the game. Plus, if you so wish, you can take on the Ultimate difficulty, where enemies are ruthless, damage is high, and your Spidey skills have to be of the utmost quality to survive. Even still, we're talking about 16-20 hours of playtime to complete everything both in-game and trophy-wise for Miles Morales. Not bad at all, considering the shorter playtime encourages more play-throughs. I know at least I'll happily return to Harlem and Manhattan as Miles. 

That said, as a shorter sequel to Marvel's Spider-Man, there are some glaring issues I have with the game. A major one is how lesser polished of an experience the entire package feels as a whole. There were multiple occurrences of enemies phasing through walls--out of reach of Miles' attacks, resulting in having to reload a previous checkpoint--instances of falling and clipping through geometry, and various visual glitches. The frame-rate of the PlayStation 4 version isn't the most impressive when things get busy with obvious slow-down at times. I say "obvious" because even someone like myself who usually isn't bothered by or notices such issues had problems with the frame-rate in this game, especially during some cut-scenes. That said, I was impressed with the PS4 version's loading times. While nowhere as instantaneous as the PlayStation 5's, fast traveling around Manhattan (once that option unlocked) was relatively quick, taking about ten seconds to do depending on the distance being traveled. 

While not as impressive of a looker on the PlayStation 4 when compared to the new hotness of the PS5,
 Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales still impresses on Sony's older hardware.

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales was given a bit of a disservice pre-launch for coming off as but a short expansion to Insomniac Games' original web-slinging adventure. However, Miles' game is so much more. It offers a greater amount of combat options, improved mobility, and a story that I was eager to press on and find out what was going to happen next. Technical bugs and glitches do bring the overall experience down, at least on the PlayStation 4, but overall, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales swings with the best of them and is a worthy follow-up to the original Spider-Man.

[SPC Says: B+]