Friday, May 21, 2021

Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker (iOS) Review

We're in the latter half of May already, and we've yet to encounter our first review of the month. Well, that is until NOW. SuperPhillip Central continues its run through the wondrous world of Apple Arcade exclusives with this next game, a mix of Captain Toad, Super Mario Maker, and The Legend of Zelda. That's good company to keep! I'm talking about Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker, and here is the SPC review.

An Apple Arcade exclusive with a lot of heart(s of Adventure)

Take one part Captain Toad and mix with the design and creation sensibilities of a Super Mario Maker or a LittleBigPlanet game, and you have the general idea of what Aquiris Game Studio's Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker is all about. It's playing adventures, creating adventures, and sharing adventures to the world. In some regards, Wonderbox reminds me heavily of The Legend of Zelda series in its gameplay execution, and that is a rather flattering comparison in favor of  Aquiris Game Studio's title.

Fortunately, you're not simply thrust into the adventure-making side of Wonderbox immediately. There is a robust campaign of various stories and levels to play through. All of these are simple in the tales they tell, but they naturally introduce new concepts, mechanics, tools, and obstacles to play around with in levels. 

Look before you leap by spinning the camera around to survey each diorama-like room in Wonderbox.
The Captain Toad reference in my review opener deals with how levels in Wonderbox are lovely little dioramas. You can spin them around to notice hidden paths, get a better view of the area, and help guide your custom-made hero or heroine through enemy and hazard-filled levels. Unlike Captain Toad, however, Wonderbox levels are generally comprised of multiple screens. Many later levels are maze-like designs with multiple pathways, multiple routes to take, and plenty of opportunities to double-back or backtrack through these areas. 

The number of environments in Wonderbox's campaign is wide and varied.
The main goal of each level is to acquire a Heart of Adventure within them. In the practical sense, these are the "goal poles" of the level, as once they're retrieved, the level is successfully completed. However, they're not always sitting out in sight. Some levels you're tasked with a trade sequence of sorts, where you must find either coins or other tradeable goods to exchange for the Heart of Adventure. These levels become engaging little scavenger hunts for the player to collect the necessary materials to eventually claim their prized Heart of Adventure.

Ah, a hero's appetite for adventure can only be satiated by the Heart of Adventure!
Wonderbox features a fair amount of tools for your avatar (of which this character earns new clothing, skins, and more upon leveling up from completing adventures). Throughout Wonderbox's campaign, you'll acquire swords and axes to slay monsters and enemies, bows to fire arrows at faraway foes, shields to block incoming attacks, bombs to blast open cracked walls and boulders, a Zelda-style Hookshot to pull yourself across chasms, and a spinning thingamajig which whirls you up into the air to gain some much needed verticality in levels. You can only carry so many tools at once, so many times in levels you'll be required to switch between tools, essentially trading them away for new ones.

Aim well and launch yourself across gaps with this Hookshot-like tool.
For someone like myself who is quite unaccustomed to playing an action-adventure game such as Wonderbox with touch controls, I originally found myself seriously struggling to move, jump, attack, change items, and move the camera around when needed. Having to do two or more of these tasks at the same time was pretty much a "forget about it" proposition for me. Fortunately, like many Apple Arcade games on the service, Wonderbox supports controller via Bluetooth, so once I made the shift over I discovered a more enjoyable game. It was still difficult at times, but generous checkpointing made sure that I was never overly frustrated while playing and enjoying Wonderbox.

Can I go a review where there's a picture of a bat without mentioning the word "batty" as a pun?
Well, technically, no, not in this review either!
As its subtitle implies, Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker is more than just an diorama-style adventure game; you can also create your own adventures. Not just create simple adventures, which by all means is quite possible, but you can also craft some rather complicated creations of your own. Essentially, the adventures created by the developers for Wonderbox's campaign are tutorial and inspiration to help players and prospective creators make their own adventures. While there are thousands of adventures made by players already--and understandably quite a few of them are less than wonderful, to put it generously--it's pretty easy to find well done adventures.

You can basically create anything that you see in the campaign, and I wouldn't be surprised if the devs used their own adventure maker tools to create the campaign in some shape or form. There's a robust toolset available, and through playing the campaign you unlock loads to enjoy to make adventure masterpieces of your own. The process is relatively simple, though to craft something truly terrific and enjoyable, you'll need to put forth an adequate amount of effort. Essentially, your entertainment coming out of The Adventure Maker part of Wonderbox will stem from how much you put into it, as one would expect. 

Wonderbox doesn't have the most exciting art style, but there's no doubt this game is a beauty.
Thus, if you put a great deal of work into your own created adventure, you'll discover plenty of players and flattering compliments (though all of these will be generic ones from a list of choices instead of player-created ones) to make all of it worth it. And overall, it IS worth it. Wonderbox is simply put, an enjoyable creation tool to make fun and quite complex adventures. It helps that the base gameplay is rather enjoyable as well, pending you can either get a handle of the sometimes clunky touch controls or opt for a Bluetooth controller instead. With more adventures planned from the developers themselves and a seemingly endless amount of created adventures from the player base, Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker seems like a great game and creation tool to keep your Apple Arcade subscription running. 

[SPC Says: B]

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5) "Planets and Exploration" Trailer

As Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart's June 11th release date approaches faster than a wild Speed-tle, Zurkon Jr. is back with another installment of the Almost Launch Party. This time it focuses on the various planets featured within Rift Apart, always one of the most exciting parts of a new Ratchet & Clank game: which wild and fantastical places the two will explore together! Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is less than a month away, and I couldn't be more excited. (Well, maybe if I had a PS5 of my own, actually...)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Tuesday 10s - Under-appreciated Kart Racers

The kart racer: a sub-genre in the racing game genre that generally features video game mascots and colorful cartoon characters competing in speedy races against one another for the sole goal of crossing the finish line in first place. No doubt Super Mario Kart made this sub-genre popular and put it on the map, but for every well-done Mario-branded racer, there are countless others that fall through the cracks. For this purpose SPC brings back The Tuesday 10s to list ten underrated and under-appreciated kart racers from a wide swath of developers and franchises. After you've checked out these ten, relatively unordered picks on this list, I encourage you to let the community know which ones you agree and disagree with.

Mario Kart Tour (iOS, AND)

I know what you enter this article to say, "Phil! How can a game in the Mario Kart series be under-appreciated? It's only the most popular kart racing franchise in existence!" Well, my answer is pretty easy. Mario Kart Tour is often maligned, and it no doubt deserved that contempt when it launched with bare-bones features (including a total lack of competitive multiplayer), a disgustingly aggressive series of microtransactions, and a limited amount of ways to earn rubies, the premium currency of the game. Heck, I even roasted the game as if it were a nasty-tasting marshmallow when I played it for my review way back when. 

However, Mario Kart Tour has only since improved since launch. Adding more ways to earn rubies than ever before, offering free pulls for participating in tours, implementing rather enjoyable online play with friends and randoms, and throwing in several updates and upgrades have made Mario Kart Tour a worthwhile game. It still won't sway those who loathe gacha-style games, but for those who enjoy the base gameplay of the Mario Kart series and adore the charm of the series, these are still present in Mario Kart Tour.

LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)

We move on from Mario to a pair of PlayStation first party racing games, the first of which being LittleBigPlanet Karting. Following the "Play, Create, and Share" mantra that the mainline LittleBigPlanet games showcased, LittleBigPlanet Karting not only brought racing to the LittleBigPlanet series, but also brought an overwhelming amount of creation tools to craft involve tracks and creations in its editor. From designing the track layout to even setting off triggers for special effects and camera angles, LittleBigPlanet Karting's creator was incredibly intricate, allowing an unprecedented amount of creation tools for a home console kart racer. The racing itself was also solid, implementing several story elements and mechanics from the LittleBigPlanet series to craft one really cool kart racer.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip (Vita)

If creating a compelling enough track in LittleBigPlanet Karting was too difficult for the average creator--and quite frankly, it was for most players--then my recommendation would be to take a peek at the ModNation Racers franchise, another PlayStation-produced kart racer. You could not only create a complex track, but you could do it rather easily, especially with ModNation Racers: Road Trip, a PlayStation Vita launch title. Even with the servers offline, I still find myself returning to Road Trip to create courses and tracks, karts, and drivers for the sheer enjoyment of racing and using my own creations. The kart racing gameplay, much like LittleBigPlanet Karting, is top-notch, too, and perhaps even better due to the fact that the rubber-band AI is nowhere near as severe. Considering it's dirt cheap to pick up nowadays and features a fully featured and fleshed out campaign filled with fun races and events, there's really no excuse to miss out on ModNation Racers: Road Trip if you have a PlayStation Vita and a love for kart racers.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

The first Nickelodeon Kart Racers game was a pretty shoddy effort. The racing was okay, but everything else about the game seemed a bit off. The lack of online limited the longevity of the game, the assortment of characters and tracks didn't really dig deep into Nickelodeon's rich brand history, and the game just wasn't too enjoyable. Believe it or not, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix improves upon the original in pretty much every way possible. It added online, it beefed up both the amount of playable characters and Nickelodeon properties represented--including Ren & Stimpy, Double Dare, Rocko's Modern Life, Catdog, among many others--and the track design was much more inspired. The included mission mode, titular Grand Prix events, and aforementioned online made for a much improved kart racer. Sure, the rubber-band AI and item spam in later difficulties will make you wonder why the developer hates its target audience so freaking much, but overall, Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2 earned a wave of the checkered flag.

Mickey's Speedway USA (N64)

Let's move from Nickelodeon to Disney with a kart racer that came from the masters at Rare. However, Mickey's Speedway USA--specifically the Nintendo 64 version--released late in the console's life. Not only that, but it failed to reach the same levels of greatness as Diddy Kong Racing--which I would peg as one of my favorite kart racing games of all time. Despite these factors, Mickey's Speedway USA is still worth checking out if at all possible. The game features stellar kart racing mechanics, inspired tracks that take Mickey and pals across the United States from locales like the Grand Canyon and San Francisco, to name a couple, and includes an enjoyable story mode as well. The game also looks rather great on the Nintendo 64, even  tas a release that didn't utilize the Expansion Pak, when so many titles from Nintendo and Rare near the end of the N64's life seemed to do. At any rate, Mickey's Speedway USA is a fast and fun trip across the U.S. of A that will make any Mouseketeer beam from ear to ear with delight.

MySims Racing (Wii)

Let's look at two Wii kart racers from Electronic Arts. First, MySims Racing brought some uniqueness to the kart racing genre with full-blown character and kart creation. Using the MySims series'--and Sims series in general--penchant for creation and customization, MySims Racing brought full customization of one's character and kart to the game. It's something that even the Mario Kart series wouldn't see until Mario Kart 7 on the Nintendo 3DS in 2011! As you played through the campaign, you earned kart parts to further customize your kart to make it one impressive and stylish beast of a vehicle. The game's 15 tracks offered colorful tracks with multiple places to take advantage of the game's boost functionality to cut across ground conditions that would otherwise slow one's kart down, as well as plenty of opportunities to shave precious seconds off of one's laps. It's by no means the best kart racer on the Wii, but MySims Racing did bring a fun, family-friendly alternative to Mario Kart Wii on Nintendo's motion-control-centric hardware.

NASCAR Kart Racing (Wii)

The other kart racer released by EA during the Wii years is an unexpected one, and one that from reading the title might make you assume it was yet another game to add to the pile of seemingly endless shovelware that plagued Nintendo's revolutionary system. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, NASCAR Kart Racing is a strong kart racing game using a partner-based system. When in the vicinity of your racing partner, you produce boost energy. When one of the two of you uses their boost from behind the other, they slingshot ahead of them. It's possible to chain slingshots together for an impressive speed boost. Featuring 12 tracks, almost two-dozen racers, a competent campaign, and more product placement than a traditional NASCAR race, NASCAR Kart Racing is an entertaining cartoon-y arcade kart racer that more people should know about and play.

Crash Nitro Kart (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Let's now go back a generation of consoles from the Wii era to the PlayStation 2, GameCube and original Xbox era with Crash Nitro Kart. There's no question that many fans of Crash Bandicoot's debut racing game were perplexed on how to feel about this particular kart racer. After all, the series had long since been out of Naughty Dog's hands, but overall, Crash Nitro Kart shined brightly on its own, even in the shadow of the original Crash Team Racing. Crash Nitro Kart's greatest achievement was possessing tracks that in some ways rivaled those seen in CTR, and delivering some impressive mechanics in them, too, such as some featuring loop-de-loops. Thus, it was great to see that CNK had not been fully forgotten, implementing all of the characters and tracks into Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, CTR's remake that is without question the most feature-packed and content-rich kart racer in genre history. 

Pac-Man World Rally (PS2, GCN, XBX, PSP, PC)

Namco could not resist entering into the foray that was the kart racer, and it did so with its starring mascot, its pride and joy Pac-Man. There were some clever ideas in Pac-Man World Rally, such as collecting fruit that would open up alternate shortcuts and paths, as well as the ability to gobble up other racers by collecting Pac-Pellets in true Pac-Man fashion. It also helps that World Rally was ultimately a well executed racer as well, feeling tight and enjoyable to control. While it didn't necessarily push the genre forward in any meaningful way, it did bring those who played the game, including yours truly, some joy. And hey, any kart racer that allows you to play as the Prince from Katamari Damacy (including having his own themed track as well), can't be appreciated enough!

Konami Krazy Racers (GBA)

Before Mario Kart: Super Circuit stormed onto the Game Boy Advance, GBA owners at the system's launch had the choice of picking up a bit of an appetizer to the Mario Kart series' handheld debut. That kart racer using a Mode 7-like approach to its visuals was Konami Krazy Racers. For fans of Konami, this kart racer is of special interest due to how many Konami franchises were featured in the game. The likes of Goemon from the Mystical Ninja series, Dracula of Castlevania fame, Gray Fox of Metal Gear Solid notoriety, and Vic Viper from the Gradius series, were but a third of the 12 playable racers in the game. That says nothing about the various tracks that were themed after numerous Konami games as well. No doubt Konami Krazy Racers was all but a Mario Kart clone in name, but this handheld kart racer offered lots of entertainment leading up to Mario Kart: Super Circuit's launch and remains an excellent game.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Mario Golf: Super Rush (NSW) Overview Trailer

Not going lie, gang, Mario Golf: Super Rush is by far my most anticipated game of 2021. Seeing this recently published overview trailer from Nintendo for the game only confirmed this. With 16 starting characters (including new to the Mario Golf series all-stars like Pauline, King Bob-Omb and Chargin' Chuck), realistic and Mario-themed courses, speed golf, the RPG-style campaign mode, and much more, Mario Golf: Super Rush is shaping up to birdie its way into the hearts of arcade golf game fans such as myself. Mario Golf: Super Rush arrives on the Nintendo Switch on June 25th.