Saturday, June 5, 2021

SuperPhillip Central's 13th Anniversary Celebration: Games of the Year Throughout the Years

Welcome to the beginning of SuperPhillip Central's 13th anniversary celebration! This entire weekend dedicates itself to the celebration of SPC being online for 13 years now. Today of all days is the actual anniversary of SuperPhillip Central. 13 years ago, on June 5th, 2008, SuperPhillip Central debuted. It was a much smaller scale, much less professional (well, if you can even imagine that since SPC isn't the most professional gaming site around even to this day!) site, and now we've grown quite considerably over the past decade and some change.

This weekend features a couple of unique articles to help commemorate the 13th anniversary, and that begins this morning with a trip back in time. For the past 13 years and at the conclusion of every calendar year, SuperPhillip Central does another kind of celebration--this time of the best and brightest in gaming for that year. It's always the SuperPhillip Central Best of [insert year here] Awards! For this first special anniversary article, I've decided to take a look back at each of the previous 13 games awarded SPC's prestigious Game of the Year honors and see what my thoughts are about them in 2021. So, let's get started, shall we!

Game of the Year 2008: LittleBigPlanet (PS3)

What I said then: 

"With 40 cleverly concocted levels already in the game from Media Molecule to explore and collect costumes, stickers, and level pieces in, one of the deepest level creators ever seen on a console, and a multitude of users designing mind-boggingly awesome levels both based off games and totally unique, LittleBigPlanet is my personal Game of the Year. It was a close race with Brawl as both games scored the same, but not only is LBP a new franchise but it's one that I've already spent an exhaustive amount of time creating levels and playing online with friends."

What I say now:

It's quite bizarre to think that 13 years ago I was doing my very first SuperPhillip Central Best of... Awards show. Time certainly does fly. It's less bizarre, however, that my pick for the Game of the Year for 2008 was none other than the original LittleBigPlanet. For one, it checked the box of being in my favorite genre: the platformer, and for another thing, it incorporated some of the most incredible and infinitely ingenious and full of sensational tools to help players make crafty creations, whether unique objects for full-scale levels. While later games in the series, particularly LittleBigPlanet 2, have since outshined and out-crafted the original LBP, I still hold Media Molecule's original opus with high regard an even higher esteem.

Game of the Year 2009: New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)

What I said then:

"Another platformer earns game of the year. I must be sensing a pattern here. Regardless, with over seventy-five levels, nine worlds (one hidden), multiple cool power-ups like the awesome propeller cap that lets your hover and float in the air for a limited time, catchy music, and a bounty of hilarious multi-player experiences, there's no doubt in my mind that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the game of the year."

What I say now:

This is another case of a game that won Game of the Year honors at SuperPhillip Central that has since had better, more improved sequels. It's certainly true that New Super Mario Bros. Wii remains an excellent entry in the 2D Mario series, as it's astonishingly capable and magnificent on a level design basis, but for me, New Super Mario Bros. U on Wii U surpassed it in quality. Does that mean I would change my thoughts about the Wii entry today and perhaps change what I would have chosen as Game of the Year for 2009? Absolutely not. New Super Mario Bros. Wii, though as much as it's easy to ignore and forget, introduced so many--for lack of a better word--NEW things within 2D Mario like multiplayer and various power-ups, that it's hard to ignore how important it is to the series' evolution. Or, depending on who you are, lack thereof with regards to evolution.

Game of the Year 2010: Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

What I said then:

"With more diversity than any other game released this year, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the ultimate video game. It's what video games are foremost all about. Not story, not heavy-handed cinematics, or intense violence, but FUN! And Super Mario Galaxy 2 delivers fun in spades. Nintendo EAD once again shows while they are the kings of video game design with this incredibly enjoyable, colorful 3D platformer. There is no better game this year, and there was some tough competition."

What I say now:

Another Mario game getting top honors at SuperPhillip Central, Super Mario Galaxy 2 did indeed show Nintendo EAD as a top talent within the gaming sphere, especially with regard to platformers. In 2010, I increasingly showed more and more frustration as the video game industry--and often in less than mature ways--towards its focus on wanting to continue to play second fiddle to the movie industry by trying to have games be movies instead of actual games. Nowadays, it's painfully obvious to see that there's room for all kinds of experiences within the industry and our hobby. If only twentysomething year-old me understood that back then. Regardless, and excuse my diatribe there, Super Mario Galaxy 2 presented players with essentially an expansion. It was Super Mario Galaxy but MORE--more levels, more innovative and unique ideas, more challenge, and really, more fun. 

Game of the Year 2011: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

What I said then:

"The Wii may have went more with quality than quantity in 2011, but it possesses the exclusive that beats out the rest with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Following a touching and charming story of finding Link's lost friend Zelda, this entry to this beloved franchise showcases five years of Nintendo's efforts in motion control. What most of us thought the Wii would be at its launch has finally been realized with Skyward Sword. From the intuitive swordplay to the tightrope walking, the bomb rolling and throwing to the wall climbing, and the fluid swimming to the weapon aiming, Skyward Sword shows an unprecedented amount of love and polish in its controls and gameplay making it my choice for Game of the Year 2011."

What I say now:

Again, time certainly does fly. Ten years ago I was awarding The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with Game of the Year honors, and now this July we have Skyward Sword HD slashing and slicing its way onto the Switch. The culmination of the promise that was the Wii's motion controls, Skyward Sword offered unprecedented awesomeness in its myriad Wii Remote uses. Nearly every means to control the world within Skyward Sword used motion controls in profound and generally fantastic feeling ways. However, as an experience, this Zelda game really hit home the notion and realization that the series as a whole needed some serious shaking up as it was getting a bit long in the tooth. Who knows if the Zelda series ever got that much needed shaking up, after all! (Wink, wink!)

Game of the Year 2012: Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

What I said then:

"In a genre that is hard for me to stick with most games, Xenoblade Chronicles hooked me in for the long haul, throughout its 100+ hours of gameplay. With most RPGs, I find myself losing interest a good way through because the game can't keep my engaged. With Xenoblade Chronicles, that wasn't a problem. There was always one hard enemy I wanted to take down, one path through an expansive dungeon or area that I wanted to explore, or one quest that I wanted to complete. Everything about Xenoblade Chronicles is near perfection: the awesome soundtrack (which did win runner-up for Best Original Soundtrack this year, after all), the well done voice acting, the jaw-dropping locales that are rich and ripe for venturing through, and the appealing combat system that demands your attention and great teamwork. Xenoblade Chronicles is without any question my favorite game of 2012. It was a fond farewell to the under-appreciated Wii."

What I say now:

Another game that has already seen a Nintendo Switch HD remaster, the original Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii and by extension its New Nintendo 3DS port are now pretty much redundant when there's a much better, much more improved, much prettier version to be found on the Switch. Nevertheless, the original Xenoblade Chronicles was a breath of fresh air for me as a Wii owner in 2012. I hadn't experienced such an open world before, teeming with secrets, lovely locales, and dangerous creatures that could one shot my party if I strayed too closely to them. It's just amazing to me how this game required a fan campaign to get localized over here, and Nintendo of America begrudgingly accepted, though releasing the game in short supply. Now, Xenoblade is one of Nintendo's most important franchises, and the publisher even eventually purchased Monolith Soft due to the game's success. While I vastly prefer the Switch remaster, there's no question that the Wii game was something truly special back in 2012, and really, it still is.

Game of the Year 2013: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

What I said then:

"For the first time in SuperPhillip Central history our Game of the Year comes from a handheld device. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was a welcome change to the typical formula of the Zelda series. It offered an amount of freedom that made modern Zelda games before it look like they had the amount of freedom of wearing a straitjacket. Being able to rent and then buy items for Link's arsenal meant the world was open for Link to explore, and in Lorule the order of dungeons could be determined by the player. The excessive hand-holding of past games was gone, as was the severe linearity so many Zelda games prior had suffered from. The incredibly quick pacing also was like a breath of fresh Hyrulean air. Combine this with some brilliant dungeon design, familiar locales, an awesome new wall merge gameplay mechanic, and creative boss battles, and you have what we considered to be a genuinely easy choice for our Game of the Year for this sixth annual awards ceremony."

What I say now:

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a Zelda game I consistently come back to, as it's nearly everything that I loved about past 2D Zelda games, only presented in a much more palatable format. The ability to explore dungeons any order you wanted, and freely explore both Hyrule and Lorule, basically shows that A Link Between Worlds was both a bridge and a link between the classic Zelda experience and the more open-ended structure we've seen with Breath of the Wild. The wall-merging mechanic remains one of my favorite gameplay mechanics in a Zelda game, as it really forced players to think in multiple dimensions and was just cool to boot! With a colorful art style, a brilliantly realized world and series of dungeons, and a stellar soundtrack that I love listening to-to this day, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn't just Game of the Year for 2013 on SPC, it's one of my favorite games to this day to play.

Game of the Year 2014: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)

What I said then:

"After the relative disappointment that fans experienced with Super Smash Bros' showing on the Wii with Brawl, many felt that they were owed a better game from the ever-hardworking Masahiro Sakurai and his team. Well, while I wasn't one of these people, I definitely am of the opinion that Sakurai and friends achieved practical perfection with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, a game which not only plays well for both casual and competitive players (and everyone in between), but it is an absolute love letter to any fan of Nintendo history. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is jam-packed with content-- so much so that even after nearly a hundred hours of playing the game I have yet to see all that there is to see. Most importantly, though, this new console version of Smash Bros. is just an amazing pleasure to play. It feels responsive, it plays great, and it looks extraordinary, making it my favorite game of 2014."

What I say now:

It says more about the type of gaming year 2014 was that one of my least favorite Super Smash Bros. games was Game of the Year back then. Not to say that Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a terrible entry in the franchise. It's simply not as innovative or as strong as past or even future entries. If I had to select a new Game of the Year, if such a hypothetical scenario was presented to me, I'd probably swing towards Mario Kart 8 or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as my picks that had more of an impact on me. That said, I did enjoy a lot about the Wii U incarnation of Smash Bros., as it offered loads of lovely stages, an enhanced roster with some of my favorite additions in the series such as Mega Man, Little Mac, Rosalina, and more, and was the most recent entry featuring those sensationally awesome collectibles--trophies. Sure, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has since redefined what the Smash Bros. can and should be, but there's no doubting that I had a serious love for the Wii U entry back in 2014.

Game of the Year 2015: Super Mario Maker (Wii U)

What I said then:

"Probably the game I spent the most time with in 2015 was also the one that I enjoyed playing the most. It's Super Mario Maker, and I can't help but keep coming back to this delightful game. It's more than a game, though. It's a level creator to make Mario levels in. While that concept is by no means new, Nintendo somehow managed to make the arduous process of creating games and make it fun, accessible, and easy for anyone to do. Whether you're wanting to create articulated masterpieces of levels or just want to mess about with the level creator, fun is a few seconds away as soon as you pop in that Super Mario Maker disc into your Wii U. Even after several months of playing the game, I still see myself coming back to Super Mario Maker, playing others' levels, getting ideas for my own works, and creating some courses of my own. These reasons and more are why Super Mario Maker is SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Year 2015."

What I say now:

Although Super Mario Maker is quite basic in comparison to its Switch sequel, I cannot ignore how much of a revelation the original Mario Maker was back in 2015, nor the amount of hours I spent dilly-dallying around with the ultra-accessible creation tools. Anyone could make the levels of their dreams, and this particular anyone did. Sure, missing objects like slopes and even checkpoints at launch for the latter stifled some creativity for many, but the pure joy and the novelty of being able to almost effortlessly create a Mario level from scratch was truly something special to behold. Since its launch, the Wii U servers have since gone offline, so many of us original Mario Maker creators have moved on to the Switch sequel, which just so happens to have been runner-up for GotY for 2019. 

Game of the Year 2016: Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

What I said then:

"A franchise that was getting a little long in the tooth due to multiple near-yearly releases, Ratchet & Clank got the reboot button blasted down hard, just in time, and the end result is my favorite game from 2016. This hybrid of tight platforming and run and gun shooting with engaging and often exotic weaponry offered intense gameplay with a dash of slower paced sections as a nice palette cleanser from time to time. Although the number of planets was less than past games in the series, each one was stocked to the brim with personality, character, beauty, content, and secrets. The game also retained the series' trademark humor and off-the-wall characters. All of these things added up to me having a difficult time putting the game down, especially when playing through the game multiple time was so rewarding, especially upgrading weapons and adding to my bolt count. If anything, Ratchet & Clank proves that you can teach an old lombax new tricks, and it makes me eager to see where developer Insomniac Games takes the series next, because this first taste of Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank on the PS4 has left me seriously aching for more."

What I say now:

Ratchet & Clank is one of, if not my absolute favorite franchise in the PlayStation first-party powerhouse of properties. It combines intense weapon-based action with humorous writing and clever platforming and gadgetry to create a series with much more hits and than misses. It's a series that I buy PlayStation consoles for--as Future Tools of Destruction got me into buying a PS3, and then 2016's Ratchet & Clank got me into seeking out a PS4. The latter was most definitely worth the $400+ price of admission to the PlayStation 4 ecosystem, as not only did I get a whole slew of excellent games on my PS4 throughout the years, but also Ratchet & Clank's 2016 entry was a stupendously solid, wonderfully fun and well executed game. It is one that I still think highly of to this day, and routinely return to it to revisit and unwind with. It may have removed some of the content from the very first Ratchet & Clank, which this 2016 entry was a remake of, but really, for me, it cut out a lot of the unwanted fat and excess, while implementing lots of fresh gameplay additions to make for a better game--nay, my Game of the Year for 2016!

Game of the Year 2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (NSW, Wii U)

What I said then:

"The developers basically outlined the usual gameplay and elements of the Zelda franchise on a chalkboard, took that board, and erased everything on it, eschewing old conventions to make a wholly original game that still retained that feeling, spirit, and magic of the Zelda franchise. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild bestowed on to players the most freedom seen in any series game in the past. After the initial tutorial area was completed, you were allowed to go anywhere you wanted. See that mountain? You can climb it. See that river? You can swim it. If you were prepared, you could make Breath of the Wild as hard, balanced, or as easy as you wanted in your run. Take to the fiery mountains where the Goron tribe call their home to get more challenge at the start of the game, or take it easy and head to Zora Domain after your departure from Kakariko Village.

The world was your oyster, the sandbox was yours to explore, and the various lands, areas, people, and puzzles making up the land of Hyrule all felt unique from one another. There is something to be said about a game that has flaws that don't tarnish the overall experience for me. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is no perfect game, but what it is - is a gameplay experience, memorable journey, exciting adventure, and lovely game world that has now rivaled some of my favorite games ever made."

What I say now:

Like many of you out there, I was absolutely floored by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and wait with bated... well, breath for any word of the sequel. I put over 80 hours into Breath of the Wild, and even then, that's on the shallow end of the pool of playtime that many of you have gotten out of the game. I no doubt wish to return to the kingdom of Hyrule to explore the Great Plateau once more, enter into Hateno Village again, roam the seaside, and many mountainous areas. Even with my somewhat sizable 80 hours of playtime with Breath of the Wild, I just hit the tip of the iceberg as to discovering the world. There's so much to see, so much to do, and so much to uncover that simply writing this description of what I say about the game now makes me want to start a new playthrough! 

Game of the Year 2018: God of War (PS4)

What I said then:

"Much like Kratos mellowed and matured from his Greek adventures, God of War as a series grew up and matured itself, too. While I would consider past God of War games to be enjoyable, well crafted "junk food" gaming experiences, this God of War is different. It's something truly special, offering a touching, heartfelt, emotional journey with Kratos and his son Atreus to reach a suitable place to lay the ashes of someone special to them both. Along the way the two's relationship goes through the necessary ups and downs and concludes in a seriously satisfying way. The gameplay eschews the faraway camera from past games, bringing forth an over-the-shoulder perspective instead, allowing for a more intimate approach. This perspective allows players to get more involved and invested with the brutality of battles, as well as invest in the jaw-dropping landscapes and environments God of War presents to players."

What I say now:

You can just imagine how big the grin on my face was when I learned that the sequel to 2018's God of War will arrive on the PlayStation 4 as well as the PS5. This is totally selfish of me, as I don't particularly have a use for a PS5 right now, but at the same time I'm glad more people will be able to enjoy whatever Sony's Santa Monica Studios creates for its sequel to SPC's Game of the Year 2018. That said, while I very much found God of War to be an incredible gaming experience, and one that successfully reinvented and revitalized the series, I would have to say that I wouldn't make it GotY for 2018 if I was choosing that honor in 2021. No, I would choose Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to fit that role, as while God of War impressed me to no end with its creative mastery, world-building and storytelling, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is still a game I enjoy to this day. I've gotten way more bang for my buck out of Ultimate, and the game is just one of the best fighting games I've ever had the pleasure to play. The added DLC and duo of Fighter Passes has only increased my fun and admiration for the game as well. That notwithstanding, God of War remains a masterful title, and I quiver with anticipation to see what Santa Monica Studio cooks up for the sequel!

Game of the Year 2019: Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1)

What I said then:

"Perhaps a big surprise as SuperPhillip Central's pick for Game of the Year 2019, considering that I don't particularly care for the nonsensical story of the series, but Kingdom Hearts III did surprise me with its excellent quality. I loved exploring the more complicated and involved level designs of the Disney worlds--unrivaled in the series by their size, scope, and density, battling tremendous creatures with the multifaceted combat which allowed different approaches to how I wanted to tackle enemies, and I was astounded by just how gorgeous of a game Kingdom Hearts III truly is, even running on just the base PS4 hardware. Moments like sailing an open world sea in the Pirates of the Caribbean world or teaming up with Buzz and Woody to take on the Heartless in the Toy Story Toy Box world hold high in my gaming memories this past year."

What I say now:

Although I was pleasantly surprised by Kingdom Hearts III and do find it to be an incredible and impressive game, especially with the added DLC that Square Enix boosted the life of the game with, I can't help but say that I wouldn't give this numbered Kingdom Hearts sequel Game of the Year honors in 2021. Instead, I'd struggle not to give Super Mario Maker 2 that title instead. Maker 2 is a game that I love due to its accessible and ultimately exponentially enjoy creation tools as is a routinely return to, unlike Kingdom Hearts III that has since been in storage on my PS4 shelf ever since beating it and obtaining the Platinum trophy. Still, I can't argue that Kingdom Hearts III didn't deserve lots of admiration from yours truly back in 2019. I absolutely adored the game, loved its open levels, side quests and activities, its more accessible combat, and insanely stupendous soundtrack, which I recently purchased on iTunes. Kingdom Hearts III may not be my pick for Game of the Year 2019 nowadays, but it's a darn tootin' great sequel and action RPG in general.

Game of the Year 2020: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW)

What I said then:

"A game released at the right place and at the right time, for many, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the perfect pandemic game. It allowed players to be social with one another in a responsible, virtual way, as they ventured to one another's islands to enjoy each other's company. The game itself is also a true and radical upgrade from past installments, offering more freedom than ever before. The ability to customize and craft your island as you see fit to truly make it your own home away from home was unprecedented for the series, and was a long awaited one, for that matter. Starting with a desolate deserted island covered with weeds at the beginning of the game and seeing it blossom and flourish into a bustling island community is one of my defining moments of 2020."

What I say now:

Seeing as I awarded Animal Crossing: New Horizons with SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Year for 2020 only six months ago, it's not too big of a surprise to see that my thoughts about one of Nintendo's top-selling Switch games has become relatively unchanged. Now, I don't really visit my island of Central much at all anymore, but that is common for me to bounce off a game after spending over 300 hours with it throughout a year's span. It's much more uncommon for me to even play a game for over 300 hours, much less do it consistently over a year! However, I did just that with New Horizons, and although I don't play the game nearly as much as I did at launch and throughout 2020, it will always hold a special place in my gaming heart as the game that helped me through the pandemic, and also simply as the game that is my favorite entry in the Animal Crossing series yet.


Stay tuned for more of SuperPhillip Central's 13th anniversary celebration, as more of the festivities continue this weekend!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Kaze and the Wild Masks (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Kaze and the Wild Masks was released several months ago in a digital-only release. However, it just recently received a launch of a physical version, available at most retailers. This review covers not only this new retail version but also this wonderfully delightful Donkey Kong Country-inspired 2D platformer in adequate depth. Here is the SPC review of Kaze and the Wild Masks.

A magnificent masquerade and platforming party

Taking a quick glimpse of Pixelhive's Kaze and the Wild Masks might give you the impression that it's heavily influenced and inspired by Nintendo's own Donkey Kong Country series of games. Despite the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, your impression would be quite apt. However, just because Kaze and the Wild Masks owes a lot to Rare and now Retro Studios' platforming works, it doesn't mean the game is at all uninspired. What you get with Pixelhive's platformer is a beautiful, well executed game with smooth controls and delightfully designed levels.

While on an adventure of her own, Kaze and her sister stumble upon a sinister sorcerer named Typhoon. Typhoon uses his evil magical powers to transform Kaze's sibling into a spirit, and then vanishes without a trace. Kaze's adventure deals with her needing to re-encounter Typhoon, defeat him, and somehow break the curse that has stricken her sister. 

Bad news for Kaze and her sister, but good news for us, as players, as we get to enjoy some simply divine platforming. Kaze controls very much like Dixie Kong in Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3, complete with a spin maneuver, the ability to twirl her ears to glide as she descends to cross otherwise un-crossable chasms, a ground pound of sorts, and of course plenty of jumps and bops on enemy heads to go around. Most importantly with all of these abilities available to her is that Kaze feels great to control. Her movements are smooth and consistent, and controlling her just feels terrific to do.

Kaze's journey starts off leisurely enough, but quite quickly she'll face a number of perilous platforming challenges.

Kaze and the Wild Masks will feel right at home for anyone who has played any of the Donkey Kong Country games. Levels generally have a central gameplay mechanic to them that is iterated on from the start of a level to its conclusion, usually becoming more challenging as the level progresses. One level, "Lights On, Lights Off" incorporates an original DKC "Stop and Go Station"-style switch system that turns on lights to put crab-like monsters to sleep when the light is on, but of course the lights don't stay on for long. Thus, Kaze needs to hightail past the sleeping crab monsters while the lights are on in order to not take damage before the lights turn off and the enemies awaken. Other levels feature obstacles like a perpetually pursuing tide of toxic water that rises throughout the level that requires Kaze to make haste or fall in the instant-death liquid, or ziplines and gusts of wind that Kaze's ears can be put to work in to make her ride down them and ride up them, respectively.

There's no time to be hanging out with these spiked enemies looming above you, Kaze!

Each main level in Kaze and the Wild Masks includes a wide assortment of collectibles to uncover. There are four letters spelling out "KAZE" to find, two bonus stage portals, and various pink gems to collect. The bonus stages feature challenges like collecting every crystal and reaching the goal, all the while avoiding damage and beating the clock before it counts down and hits zero. One lovely quality of life improvement compared to the Donkey Kong Country series here is that if you fail a bonus stage, it's as simple as quickly retrying to immediately start back inside the stage, rather than being booted out with no recourse to return to it unless you restart the level or perish. 

Slipping and sliding around to nab that golden "K", one of four letters to collect in each level.

Meanwhile, collecting all of the bonus medals in a given world of Kaze and the Wild Masks unlocks an extra level. These are generally more gimmick-themed than what you'll find in the main game, whether incorporating invisible platforms, requiring precise timing to bounce off the heads of enemies over a massive bottomless pit that stretches across the entire level, or including a ride on a lift that rises as Kaze must dodge and endure a bullet hell-like obstacle course. 

The Donkey Kong Country influences don't end with the general base gameplay and collectibles either, as Kaze and the Wild Masks uses similar animal transformations as seen in the DKC series. The only difference instead of entering a barrel to transform into one of many forms, Kaze dons one of the many eponymous masks of the game. Each of the masks presents a new gameplay style to get accustomed to, and this breaking in period is quite easy due to helpful tutorials that organically occur in the levels. From the hawk mask that sprouts a pair of wings on Kaze for her to flap around levels, to the tiger mask that promotes Mega Man X-style air dashes and wall climbing, to the dragon mask that turns levels into a DKC-style mine cart ordeal (though with the ability to double jump and dive, which opens up the fun factor considerably), the masks in Kaze and the Wild Masks are all fun to use for the most part. 

Take flight, Kaze! The hawk is but one of the four masks featured in the game. 

Each of the four worlds in Kaze and the Wild Masks concludes with a boss battle, and much like the levels and secrets designed in the game, these boss fights feature incredibly clever ideas as well. The execution of these encounters is well done, and they never really outwear their welcomes, save for the final boss. That said, the final boss is a more an endurance run, and a culmination of every mask and ability Kaze encountered throughout her adventure.

This particular boss is the root of all problems in the first world.

Speaking of the adventure, Kaze and the Wild Masks isn't too lengthy of a game, unfortunately. I would say clearing it for one's first time might take anywhere between 4-7 hours depending on the player's skill level. Now, this game really ramps up the difficulty, and if you want to 100% complete the game, your time may take longer, especially if you wish to attempt to clear every level and boss battle without taking damage. Additional individual speed runs and online level leaderboards add to the longevity of Kaze's platforming journey, making for a game that very much doesn't linger but could have stood to last a teensy bit longer.

Kaze and the Wild Masks is a lovely looking game. The sprites are immensely detailed, as are the environments, which are visually striking and varied. On the Nintendo Switch version, the frame-rate was never an issue, at least not noticeably so for this particular player, so it really depends on your platform preference for what system to get the game on. Musically, the tunes are inspired--I enjoyed the main theme the most, but every other track is well done. It doesn't quite hold a candle (or perhaps in this case, a carrot) to David Wise and company's musical creations in the Donkey Kong Country series, but then again, very little does so that's not a really fair comparison to make. 

The final world definitely heats things up difficulty-wise--even more than the game already has!

Looking for an entertaining but relatively short 2D platformer that invokes wonderful DKC-style gameplay while adding a few interesting twists of its own? Then, Kaze and the Wild Masks is indeed worthy of your time. It's challenging, it's gorgeous to look at, and it's packed to the brim with exceedingly well done designs in both levels and boss battles. I waited quite a while for the retail release of the game to arrive, but fortunately and blessedly so, my wait was most definitely worth it.

[SPC Says: B+]

Thursday, June 3, 2021

New Pokémon Snap (NSW) Review

Pokémon, photography, and fun--that's what you get with this next game reviewed on SuperPhillip Central, and the first review for the month of June. It's New Pokémon Snap, so without further ado, let's snap to it and get our cameras at the ready for the SPC review!

Pokémon photo fun for almost everyone

The original Pokémon Snap launched on the Nintendo 64 within a year of the Pokémon series' Western debut. Poké-mania was officially in full swing. For two decades, fan desires of a sequel to Pokémon Snap fell on deaf ears. Even with systems like the Wii and then Wii U offering perfect avenues for possible new innovations for snapping Pokémon on film, a sequel never arrived. That is until now and with the Nintendo Switch. New Pokémon Snap is essentially Pokémon Snap's foundation only with a lot more added to it to not only give the game some much need longevity, but also give players enough value for its $60 price tag. What the game ends up being is a soothing, relaxing, and most importantly, enjoyable sequel well worth the 20+ year wait.

New Pokémon Snap puts you in the shoes--and behind the camera lens--of a beginning Pokémon photographer. This player avatar is yours to customize at the beginning--though the options are incredibly limited, but this avatar is an extension of you all the same. You arrive in the Lental Region and help a professor named Mirror with his research of mystical and magical Illumina Pokémon, going as far as to reveal the secrets of over two millennia that the region possesses. The story isn't anything mind-blowing, but it serves its purpose as to present some motivation if somehow the fun and thrill of capturing Pokémon (though on film this time around) in their natural habitats doesn't already serve that purpose.

Something tells me that you're going to be a natural with that camera!
And yes, New Pokémon Snap is all about taking photos of Pokémon through its dozens of levels. Your ride inside the ZERO-ONE is automatic, moving on its own as you spin the camera around to attempt to get the best shots of Pokémon possible. This time around, not only are there day and night versions to snap photos in, but there are also alternate versions of levels, earned by gaining expedition points from photos snapped. These alternate versions have distinct differences, some more obvious than others, such as simple as having different Pokémon or as varied as putting you on a different path through the level. The very first level of the game features the beaver Pokémon Bidoof busily building a dam in the original version of the level. By the final alteration of this level, the dam has been fully built, offering an alternate path along the dam to reach a completely new area of the level. 

Have you shutter button finger ready--there are Pokémon photo ops to be found!
New Pokémon Snap keeps things engaging whether you're on your first run through an area or your seventh. There's always something new to discover, whether it's an alternate path through a level--and some of these take some serious work to figure out--or a new way to interact with the plentiful Pokémon you'll encounter along your photographical journey.

Starting out in New Pokémon Snap, you're simply armed with your trusty camera device, a roll of film, and an infinite supply of Fluffruit to toss at Pokémon and to coax them into all sorts of shenanigans, whether it's leading them to where you want them go, or simply getting a rare photo op. As you progress in your adventure, you earn all sorts of helpful gadgets and tools, from Illumina Orbs that light up and trigger various reactions from Pokémon, to a melody that can make various Pokémon react in numerous, entertaining ways.

Though not mentioned in the review body, it should be noted that sometimes you'll be required to snap these mythical Illumina Pokemon in their natural habitats. These "levels" were less than thrilling for me.
Unlike the original Pokémon Snap, this Switch sequel features more to it than just getting one excellent photo of a specific Pokémon and then calling it a day for snapping that particular Pokémon. Instead, there are four unique star ratings for each Pokémon in New Pokémon Snap. Each series of star ratings--one, two, three, and four-star ratings--occur from coaxing your Pokémon subjects into specific poses. For instance, a one-star rating of a Pikachu is as simple as taking its photo while it's standing or walking normally around, while different star ratings come from rarer, more interesting poses, such as it eating a Fluffruit or performing its patented Thunder Shock attack. 

Depending on how well you capture your specific subject on film, you're awarded a certain number of points. This is where New Pokémon Snap more closely resembles the original's scoring system, with points awarded for the Pokémon subject's pose, size, how centered it is, if it's facing the camera, if it has other Pokémon in the picture, and so forth. If you want to earn a Platinum score (which is 4,000 points or more), you'll need to time your shots appropriately and with a lot of patience and precision. With four ratings per Pokémon, over 200 Pokémon species in the game, and Platinum ratings to earn for each (optionally, of course), there is plenty of photographic fun to be found in New Pokémon Snap.

Different poses of particular Pokemon mean different star ratings to be had.
Can you discover and photograph them all?
That's not even the extent of the longevity and replay value to be discovered within New Pokémon Snap, either. Within the game are requests from various NPCs that unlock after each initial expedition through a level. These requests generally involve luring Pokémon into specific situations and capturing them on film at the correct moment. A lot of these require plenty of experimentation in levels to do. Many times you'll need to trigger something earlier in an expedition to make something happen far later in the level. 

Now, now. You're just showing off, Machamp!
Then, there's knowing what to do from the somewhat limited hints each request gives you. Case in point, you're required to do a lot of toying about with your tools--Fluffruit, Illumina Orbs, Melody, scanning, and more--in order to figure out exactly what exactly a request requires in order for you to complete it. Then, there's the struggle of sometimes being oblivious as to what the game actually wants the subject of the photo to be. You'll occasionally need to have more than one Pokémon in the frame to satisfy the request. It can be really tedious to not satisfy requests when you think you have, and because you can only select one photo of a given Pokémon to submit to Professor Mirror per expedition, this can be quite annoying. If there is one key to not burning out on requests that I have to offer players, it's that you shouldn't actively go out of your way to complete requests until you gain a late-game upgrade for the ZERO-ONE. You'll know what it is immediately once you get it.

I call this photograph: "The predator and the prey".
Still, it's beyond rewarding to finally figure out what a given request requires you to do, because you'll get an opportunity to capture a Pokémon performing a truly unique reaction, whether it's a Gengar spooking a Toxicroak, a Pidgeot swooping up a Magikarp from a lake, or the arrival of a Pokémon you didn't even expect to appear during your expedition. While requests are of course optional, they do reward things like player icons, frames and stickers to decorate your photos with.

And now, we've reached the dance number portion of this review.
One of my favorite parts of New Pokémon Snap is the ability to view and share photos online. You can add filters, unique unlockable frames, stickers, and even caption your photos and post them online. While it's a shame that you can only have six personally selected photos from your own curation at one time on your online profile, you can remove and add new photos at any time you like. You won't lose Sweet Medals, which is the currency awarded for other players "liking" your photos, for doing so either, which is nice. 

Requests may generally be a pain in the neck to figure out, 
but once you do, they produce some fascinating and fun moments such as this.
New Pokémon Snap is without question the most technologically and graphically impressive Pokémon game to date. The Pokémon are adorably expressive, the environments are large, vibrant and colorful, and the game is just a solid treat for the eyes. That isn't to say that there aren't moments where technical issues reveal themselves, such as one blatant, frame-rate-tanking example featuring a whale-like Pokémon emerging from the ocean waves, but overall, New Pokémon Snap runs well and looks wonderful. The game also features some voicework as well, which sounds pleasant enough, and the music, while nothing that will top the original's soundtrack, offers suitably soothing sounds all the same.

As a much awaited sequel to the original Pokémon Snap, the less-than-imaginatively-titled New Pokémon Snap serves as a much welcomed, much improved, and worth waiting for game. It's basically "Pokémon Snap Plus A Heck of a Lot More: The Game". I guess "New Pokémon Snap" serves as a better title than my own offering, but you get the gist. With 10-15 hours of playtime to complete the initial campaign, and dozens of hours more to snap every Pokémon, fully explore every area, and earn every title (achievement-like challenges), New Pokémon Snap is very much worth its price tag. It won't enthuse every player out there, but if you're the type who loves Pokémon, the idea of seeing them in natural surroundings, and taking pictures of some Pocket Monsters, then I certainly recommend that you snap up New Pokémon Snap.

[SPC Says: B+]

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Tuesday 10s - Co-Op Multiplayer Games

After coming off one of the most satisfying co-op gaming experiences in recent years with It Takes Two (you can read more about the fun times that were had with the game with the SPC review), it only makes sense to follow that up with a special edition of The Tuesday 10s that focuses on ten of the better co-op games around. We'll be diving and delving into a lot of modern games, for sure, but there will be a couple classics tossed into this list as well. So, sit back, get comfortable, perhaps even get a buddy to read this article with you (as that would be rather fitting), and get ready for this latest installment of The Tuesday 10s!

It Takes Two (Multi)

What better way to start this edition of The Tuesday 10s than with the game that inspired it? It Takes Two is a 3D platformer with a whole heck of a lot of variety. So many of the ideas--and there are an immense number of them--could be crafted into their own game, but instead, the folks at Hazelight Studios took each idea, used them sparingly, and moved onto the next to keep the experience really fresh. The kicker here is that each idea and mechanic is lovingly and fully realized, so there's nothing that feels off, despite the myriad mechanics introduced throughout this 10-15 hour co-operative adventure full of puzzles, platforming, and other peril.

Monster Hunter Rise (NSW)

Really, any Monster Hunter with online could be included in this list of fantastic co-operative games, but seeing as Monster Hunter Rise is not only the most recent release in the franchise, but also the most accessible, it seemed like a smart pick. Battling behemoth beasts and colossal creatures with friends and other players online is seldom a bad time, and considering the wide amount of added mobility and ways to take down these titular monsters within Rise, it's pretty much always an exciting and excellent time! Team up with a pack of hunters to tackle the most ferocious monsters seen in a Monster Hunter game, work together to take them down, and to the victor goes the spoils of carved monster pieces to craft even better equipment. It's a gameplay loop that has worked for a decade now, and it's made even better and more fun with friends.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW)

If taking down hulking monstrosities isn't your cup of tea and you'd prefer a more laidback gameplay experience with your pals, then may I suggest Animal Crossing: New Horizons? It was pretty much THE game that helped many of us get through the jerk of a year that was 2020, and it continues to give players around the world pleasure and joy. Meet up with friends and explore your island homes-away-from-home together, interact with one another, chat with the locals, fish and catch bugs together, and perform all sorts of other enjoyable activities together. Animal Crossing: New Horizons brought with it hundreds of hours of entertainment all yearlong for this particular writer, and no doubt my total playtime is on the low end compared to the more... let's say... dedicated player base out there!

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (NSW)

Get ready for a whole mess of Mario with FOUR games featuring the mustachioed mascot of Nintendo! We begin with the most recent game to release starring the portly plumber: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury. The original 3D World released on the Wii U, and this Nintendo Switch port introduces faster gameplay to 3D World, online play (a lovely addition that works more than it fails), and a brand-new adventure with Bowser's Fury. Playing 3D World online or even locally with friends and family alike has been some of my most cherished gaming memories. Sure, we might hinder more than we help one another at times, but that's all part of the platforming fun. Super Mario 3D World remains one of the better 3D outings featuring Mario and company, and it's an excellent game that is made even better on the Nintendo Switch.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (NSW)

We move from 3D to 2D with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, a dual package of platforming adventures. There is the original New Super Mario Bros. U, which served as a launch title for the Wii U, and then there's the additional DLC adventure, New Super Luigi U, featuring bite-sized, much more difficult levels to play through. I talked about hindering more than helping other players with Super Mario 3D World, and yes, as you can imagine, that's the case as well with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. And yet again, that's simply part of the fun as well. Laughing at one another when Mario and Luigi are over a pit, and Mario accidentally leaps off Luigi's noggin, thus resulting in the lean green plumber plummeting to his death, will never not be funny. Yes, I am a sadist at times in my gaming exploits. Regardless, two of the better 2D platformers within the Mario series in one package, and a great co-operative game to boot? That's just super!

Luigi's Mansion 3 (NSW)

We return to the 3D realm of gaming with the third game in the Luigi's Mansion franchise, and dare I say the best entry yet: Luigi's Mansion 3. What makes this optional co-operative mode with Luigi's haunted adventure so terrific is that while one player can control Luigi, the second can control Gooigi. This second player not only can help Luigi through puzzles which require two players, but Gooigi's great for beginner or lesser skilled players, as Gooigi has unlimited lives and can walk through most dangers unscathed. In the standard solo adventure, the player controls both Luigi and Gooigi, which can sometimes feel like trying to rub one's stomach while patting one's head (don't brag to me if you can do that easily, by the way). At any rate, Luigi's Mansion 3 offers lots of co-operative fun for both beginners and veterans of gaming alike to enjoy themselves and help one another out.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

Let's take a trip back into the past by almost two decades with some Mario Kart: Double Dash. This Nintendo GameCube entry in the Mario Kart franchise is one of the most creative and innovative in both the series and the kart racing genre as well. Two players ride along the same kart: one player drives and the other fires off items. The two can--with the proper communication--switch positions mid-race to change racing duties. This is often necessary to succeed in a given race and cross that coveted finish line in first place. This is a co-operative kart racer that demands cooperation, communication, and patience with one another, or else you'll find yourselves careening off course, getting gob-smacked by the competition, and winding up in the back of the pack and low on the leaderboards. It was a terrific one-off installment of the Mario Kart series, but I know I can't be alone in wishing that this dual kart mechanic would return in a future installment, right?

Rayman Legends (Multi)

Moving on from Mario to a lesser beloved and appreciated platforming hero, we have Rayman's most recent platforming adventure: Rayman Legends. Play with up to three other players in some ingeniously crafted levels, some of which return from Rayman Origins with brand-new secrets and window dressing inside them. The stars of the level show happen to be the Murfy levels, where one player controls the flying little wonder as he manipulates level obstacles and platforms to help the other players through these hazard-filled gauntlets safely. Like any co-operative game worth its weight in Lums, teamwork, communication, and patience are required to survive. Outside of the Murfy levels is some of the most creative and enjoyable designs seen in a 2D platformer, from the lovely music levels to the entertaining bosses. Case in point: Rayman Legends is an excellent platformer whether you're playing with a full group, another partner, or simply by your lonesome.

Overcooked 2 (Multi)

Co-operative cooking action! No, this isn't a Hideo Kojima game, it's Overcooked 2! Players and prospective cooks alike team up together in kitchens of all shapes, sizes, and gimmicks to cook and serve multiple menus of delicious goodies. Simple enough in theory, but much, much more difficult in execution. When you have obstacles in your way, kitchens that shift and split up as you try to move around them, and of course having to delineate tasks between your co-operative partners, things get mighty tense mighty quickly. It's almost as intense as trying to run a restaurant's kitchen in real life! Almost, of course! With dozens upon dozens of levels to perfect for great scores, progressively more challenging menus to construct, and plenty of teamwork to be found, Overcooked 2 is one rowdy co-op cooking experience!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES, ARC)

The oldest game on this list, but by no means one of the only retro co-operative games available for players to enjoy (no, no, that's FAR from the case), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time stormed arcades before releasing on the Super Nintendo for players to enjoy at the comfort of their cozy couches and homes. Shredder was back and down to his typical dirty deeds, but this time around, he had a trump card in the form of sending the Turtles back in time. This particular TMNT beat-em-up featured the most variety of locales and level gimmicks than most other games of its genre. It's the type of game that is just fun to play, and not just for one time and then you put the cartridge away to forget about it for the rest of your days. No, the gameplay was so enjoyable, especially with a second player, that it made for a title that saw repeated plays at the SuperPhillip household and without question repeated plays in gaming households the world over.