Friday, March 5, 2021

Pumpkin Jack (PS4) Review

We may be nearing spring and are already in early March, but that doesn't mean we here at SPC can't have an excuse to celebrate with a game better suited for Halloween all the same! Originally released just before Halloween last year on other platforms, Pumpkin Jack recently released on the PlayStation 4 as of the tail-end of February. Let's check it out and see if this particular pumpkin is worth plucking from the patch with the SPC review!

This trick is definitely a treat.

What does one do when they're bored? Maybe do some reading, go out and take a walk, or better yet, perhaps play a video game or two. That's at least what ordinary, everyday people do, but the Devil in Pumpkin Jack? No, no. When he's bored of peace and tranquility on planet Earth, he conjures up some demons and devilry to unleash upon the human race.

When humanity calls upon a sorcerer to contend with the Devil's demons, the Devil in turn calls upon his trusty champion, a conniving villain named Stingy Jack who begrudgingly offers his services to the master of the underworld. This is where our story begins with Jack pursuing the sorcerer, all the while meeting up with a facetious, smart aleck owl, and a talking crow, both assisting Jack on his journey to defeat the sorcerer/wizard/humanity's champion. 

Pumpkin Jack has all the makings of a 3D action-platformer in the vein of games like MedEvil and Maximo, complete with a macabre Gothic aesthetic and setting, and plenty of humor that definitely doesn't mind taking shots at itself, its genre, or its story. The game feels like something classic Rare would make in the Nintendo 64 and early Xbox days, though that isn't to say that Pumpkin Jack isn't modern by any stretch of the imagination.

Doing the Devil's bidding isn't all it's cracked up to be, but hey--it's a living!

No, Jack handles well both on ground and in the air. Being able to control Jack in midair as he falls in order to course-correct landings is a blessing. There's nothing rigid about Jack's movement. He comes complete with a jump, double jump, a roll to evade enemy attacks, the ability to dispatch his crow companion to do damage to faraway foes, and a normal attack of Jack's own that differs depending on the weapon equipped. From a dinky, unimpressive shovel to more engaging weaponry like a high-powered shotgun, a talking mystical sword, and a death-delivering scythe, Jack acquires new weapons regularly along his journey, pretty much one after every level. 

Is Jack doing his best Bill Murray impersonation, because he's definitely do a great job busting these ghosts!

Levels are relatively linear (though with plenty of opportunities to explore off the beaten path), lengthy affairs if you're scouring them for secrets in the form of the twenty Crow Skulls and the single Gramophone hidden each of the game's six levels. The former collectable is used to purchase new skins for Jack, as well as being terrific to add some replay value to this otherwise short-lived game. While levels can last upwards of 30-45 minutes for one's first run, the small selection of available levels means you can complete Pumpkin Jack in a few sittings at most. It's definitely a case of quality over quantity, whether you're exploring spooky swamps, grisly graveyards, or the blazing battlegrounds of Skele-Town.  

And what's here in Pumpkin Jack is of a high quality. The platforming is well executed, the level design is quite clever with some intelligent, though simple puzzles to solve, and boss battles truly shine as far as the combat goes. Otherwise, the combat is more spam-heavy than I would prefer and lacking in impact. Jack has no invincibility frames available to him, so you can find enemies tearing away at his health and ending his current life quite quickly before you even realize it. Still, a difficult game Pumpkin Jack really is not, save for a select few moments, including a jump in difficulty that is the final boss. Though the boss is still quite enjoyable. 

It's not always the best idea to go guns blazing during boss battles, as Jack is about to learn!

Breaking up the running, jumping, and slaying enemies in the somewhat linear-structured levels of Pumpkin Jack are mini-games of sorts. There are moments where you ride mine carts down obstacle-laden paths, including plenty of broken parts of track where the only option is to jump or meet your doom, as well as boards in place that need to be destroyed by sending Jack's crow to destroy them before the cart slams into them. There are also moments where Jack's head gets separated from its body. These puzzle-oriented moments feature concepts like carefully hitting a bomb around a series of planks to reach a pillar of TNT, a Memory-style mini-game where Jack needs to hit gravestones to match names with one another to destroy every grave to continue, as well a Simon Says-like music mini-game where Jack has to hit mushrooms in the proper sequence to play a melody to progress. These are enjoyable enough and successfully break up the platforming and combat in a fun way.

Unlike how these mine cart sections literally go, Pumpkin Jack as a game never goes off the rails.

The feeling of Halloween permeates throughout Pumpkin Jack, and this is of course helped by its gorgeous art design on display and choice of colors. The only real chore visually is the reuse of certain assets in the game, whether they be repeated crates, barrels, snowmen, and narrow wooden towers, something that Jack will have to scale more than a dozen times in this short game. The voice work is charming, as is the music, offering a Danny Elfman-like sound to its compositions. It undoubtedly fits, as one would expect!

Also undoubtedly is the notion that Pumpkin Jack is a quality game. It's just over far too soon, which makes its initial $29.99 MSRP a bit tough to swallow considering you're essentially paying five bucks for each hour of game time. Still, with superb platforming, clever ideas in its levels, and a pleasing presentation--from aesthetics to story, one can celebrate Halloween all year round courtesy of Pumpkin Jack.

[SPC Says: B-]

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Taxi Chaos (PS4, XB1, NSW) Review

After covering the games reviewed last month as part of the Review Round-Up for February, we enter March with our tires squealing with a new review right out of the gate. Taxi Chaos doesn't hide its Crazy Taxi influence and inspiration, but is this clone worth its pretty pricy ticket to ride? Let's find out with the SPC review.

The unashamed offspring of Crazy Taxi

Straight and to the point, Taxi Chaos is an unabashed clone of SEGA's Crazy Taxi. It's hardly going to win any awards for innovation, yes, and it certainly doesn't hide its clear inspiration. The devs here have no shame in their game. That said, Taxi Chaos does possess some redeemable features, so it's not a game that "fares" totally terrible.

Taking Crazy Taxi's tried and true gameplay of putting you behind a taxi with the goal of picking up passengers and dropping them off at their desired destinations, all the while racing against the clock, is the name of Taxi Chaos' game. You start at a random location in New Yellow City, clearly modeled after the Big Apple, and are presented with plenty of potential passengers to pick up. Depending on the color of the circle surrounding them and the color of the clock over their heads determines how much long of a trip to the destination and amount of time you get to drop them off. However, nowhere in Taxi Chaos does the game explain this to you, so if you have no prior knowledge of the Crazy Taxi formula, then you're going to have to spend several runs learning things.

Hop in. Just don't put your feet up on the seats, okay?

Thankfully, unless you play the Pro Mode, there is an arrow that guides you to your passenger's destination, and as long as you drop them off in the green zone in time, you'll get awarded your fare. Unfortunately, this aforementioned arrow fails to signal when you need to turn until practically the last possible second, which is basically tantamount to your GPS yelling, "TURN HERE!" as you're already in the middle of the intersection.

Being in New Yellow City instead of Crazy Taxi's iconic San Francisco location, there is a much more rigid, flat design to the city. You won't find many interesting curved roads or undulation with the topography. Instead, you'll find plenty of opportunities to gain height by using your taxi's nifty jump feature, giving it the ability to leap atop specific buildings and make some rather cool shortcuts this way. What New Yellow City lacks in natural verticality, you'll get plenty from leaping across rooftops.

Please wait until the taxi comes to a complete stop before stepping out.
...Just kidding. Get out quick--I have other fares to earn!

Apart from the traditional Crazy Taxi experience, Taxi Chaos attempts to bring something new to the table with quests, but these are not implemented nor executed well. Quests begin by finding specific NPCs who look just like every other potential passenger you can pick up in New Yellow City. So, without prior knowledge of where they are, you need plenty of luck to even find them, despite NYC not being the largest area to drive in around. From there, you chauffeur them to their desired location, and then they task you with finding three collectables hidden around the city. Since these can be pretty much anywhere--including on rooftops--and are so small, it can be similar to trying to find a needle in a haystack. Or a person who isn't a tourist in Times Square, to make for a more suitable analogy. 

Be careful not to hit a police car; you'll take a costly penalty to your overall score!

After finding the collectables, you need to locate the quest-giver again, but they most likely won't be at the same location your picked them up or dropped them off at. This results in you wasting more of your life driving around aimlessly in search of that particular NPC. Once this is somehow accomplished without the help of a walkthrough or guide, you get the joy of finding three more collectables placed in even more difficult-to-find locations. Not exactly the most well thought out way to make quests in a game like this, for certain.

I will say one thing--having quests definitely gives Taxi Chaos some longevity, but it's such a hassle to locate characters and collectables in a city of that size, that the entire execution is a flawed, if not totally failed one. And it's unfortunate that this is the main area of longevity for Taxi Chaos because it's hardly entertaining to drive around in an unfocused fashion. Sure, free mode where you can drive without the annoyance of a timer helps, but it's hardly any more enjoyable. Other than completing quests, there is the goal of unlocking each of the seven or eight taxis available in the game by performing certain goals, such as completing 20 arcade mode runs, successfully dropping off a specific amount of passengers, driving 200 miles total, among other tasks. 

Taxi Chaos is basically store-brand imitation Crazy Taxi. It has had all of the charm, personality, and originality drained from it. If it were a cereal, Taxi Chaos would be the Fruit Rings to Crazy Taxi's Fruit Loops. The game attempts to throw in its own brand of innovation with quests, but the execution makes it not worth the effort whatsoever and a total chore to seek them out. Between the repetitive dialogue, annoying characters, grating, generic rock music, and basic city, there isn't much to love with Taxi Chaos. Fortunately, the driving mechanics themselves are up to snuff, and it is fun enough to drive around, leap to rooftops, and find shortcuts. Is the $35 price of admission--or in Taxi Chaos' case--"fare" worth it to hop in for a ride? Certainly and unfortunately not, as that price tag absolutely kills any chance of me recommending this game. Stick with Crazy Taxi and its two numbered sequels if you are desperate for a wild ride taxi-style.

[SPC Says: C-]

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

Monday, March 1, 2021

Review Round-Up - February 2021

Two adventures for the price of one, one familiar and one entirely new, equal SuperPhillip Central's
Game of the Month for February 2021: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury!

It's the end of another month, so that can mean only one thing on SuperPhillip Central--well, technically, it could mean many things, but let's not argue semantics here! The point being... it's time for the Review Round-Up for February 2021!

It was a wild month of some fantastic platforming action of all types--and we even got a Zelda-like roguelite thrown in there for good measure, too. Things started strong for our review coverage with Blue Fire for the Nintendo Switch and Steam. The game was the sum of all of its inspired parts, earning a B+ for its efforts! Following that was another 3D platformer, though more of a pure platformer rather than the action mix seen in Blue Fire. Glyph was a ball of fun--literally--and it rolled up a satisfying B grade.

We then took a brief detour from all our platforming month with some Zelda roguelite action with Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos, which surprised me with how impressed I was with the game. It's an absolute joy to play both solo and with friends, and that's why I gave it a B+ grade. Following up that game was a masochistic 2D platformer from 2019 that finally launched on the Nintendo Switch this past month, Cathedral. I adored the game and its steep challenge, giving the game a B+ as well. 

Finally, it was a return of a battle of former mascot rivals with Mario and Crash Bandicoot. Mario fared much better with his adventures in the Sprixie Kingdom and Lake Lapcat--aka Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury--jumping to an A grade and SPC's Game of the Month honors. Meanwhile, Crash Bandicoot settled for a B- grade due to Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time possessing lots of frustrating moments sprinkled in with its fun and enjoyable time-traveling journey. 

As we like to do at the end of every Review Round-Up for the past year now, here are some excerpts from and links to every game review published this past month on SPC. Lastly, check out the SPC Review Archive for EVERY game review ever published on our 12-year+ website!

Blue Fire (NSW, PC) - B+

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.

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.
Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos succeeds in making a unique roguelite that blends the tried and true gameplay of games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and mixes it in a way that makes this particular roguelite actually enjoyable. That's not to say that I don't care for roguelites in general, but after seeing an onslaught of the genre and their roguelike cousins in general from indies and larger devs alike, it's great to see one in Rogue Heroes that doesn't just adhere to the genre's template so stringently. There's plenty of time to breathe when exploring the overworld of Tasos, the dungeons are filled with brain-bending puzzles and engrossing battles, and the penalty for death won't overly diminish your joy or demotivate you too easily. Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos is a great marriage between A Link to the Past gameplay and roguelite design, tremendously fun and polished, making it a recommended title whether you enjoy it alone or with others in co-op play.
Cathedral maintains its high level of difficulty shortly from the beginning of the game to the very end. It's not Ghost 'n Goblins-level hard, but it's difficult all the same. That said, if you can withstand the challenge, you'll be rewarded with a stellar Metroidvania that may not reinvent the wheel or contribute a lot of new ideas, but is an incredibly polished, well executed game. With plenty of content in the form of story and side quests, marvelous level design, and wonderful sprite and background work, Cathedral is thankfully a blessing of a game rather than a curse.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is definitely a must-own if you've never experienced the original 3D World on the Wii U, which happens to be a whole heck of a lot of Nintendo Switch owners. It becomes tougher to recommend if you're only interested in the Bowser's Fury portion of the package. If that's the case, it really depends on how fiercely and furiously you want to play a new 3D Mario adventure, especially since it's basically a $60 price of admission to Lake Lapcat. For me, as a lover of Super Mario 3D World and all of its new features (particularly the ability to play online and the increased playing speed), Bowser's Fury was just gravy on top of an already super satisfying game.
Despite an intense difficulty and level of challenge, constant trial and error gameplay with the game's lengthy levels, obnoxious crate placements, and questionable completion requirements, I ultimately enjoyed my time with Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time. But, to be honest, the reason it took me so long to even review this game was that I definitely needed some breaks from it. Crash's latest--with its difficulty, with its myriad "gotcha" moments, and such--just wore on me way too much. Levels are just way lengthier than they should be, and no matter how great they look, how well designed some aspects of them are, and how interesting the obstacles present themselves, it just got exhausting to play through them for any prolonged stretch of time. While Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time was, for me, an enjoyable game with some great design here and there, its overall difficulty makes me question who this game is actually for other than diehard Crash fans and those with a severe masochistic side. Still, it's hard to ignore the quality on display here. 
It was about time Crash returned with a new game,
much like it was about time SPC covered Crash Bandicoot 4 in review form!