Thursday, June 10, 2021

Piczle Cells (NSW) Rapid Review

Do you like puzzle games? Do you own a Nintendo Switch? Do you have an interest in puzzles games on the Nintendo Switch that launch today on the eShop? Then, you may just be interested in the next game in the Piczle series published by Rainy Frog: Piczle Cells. How does this cell-based puzzler stack up? Pretty darn well, especially for its $4.99 price tag. Let's check out the game together with the SPC review.

Adequate and Affordable Cellular Service

Puzzle games are plentiful on the Nintendo Switch, and now arrives the combo of developer Score Studios and publisher Rainy Frog's latest installment in their Piczle series of puzzlers: Piczle Cells, to add to the hybrid console's library. Simple enough to learn, though possessing a somewhat sizable learning curve to become comfortable with its gameplay and main mechanic, Piczle Cells winds up being a solid puzzle game overall.

The concept of Piczle Cells revolves around the titular cells that you slide across an 8x6 board. The end goal of each level is to finish it so only one cell remains. That's of course easier said than done, as different cells are different colors, and react uniquely when pushed together. Green cells are the smallest, then there's blue, yellow, and ultimately green. When single cells of the same color are pushed together, they absorb one another, creating a mass of two cells that can no longer be slid around. It's only until a third cell of the same color gets pushed into this mass that a new cell color is formed, allowing it to be pushed around yet again. Three green cells pushed together create a blue cell, three blue cells pushed together create a yellow cell, and three yellow cells create a green cell. 

Learning the basics with the initial batch of 20 puzzles in Piczle Cells gave me more trouble than any others.

When cells of different colors slide into one another, the cell that gets slid into basically serves as a wall, stopping the slid cell from moving anymore. Otherwise, a cell will slide from one side of the board and appear on the other until it returns to the spot where it was originally slid. In other words, if you slid a cell to the right without a cell to block it from moving anymore, the slid cell would slide past the right edge of the board and reappear on the left before coming to a spot on its original position. You can probably guess that using different colored cells to stop the movement of other cells you slide is required to solve many of the puzzles in Piczle Cells. In fact, pretty much every puzzle requires this, in addition to crossing over the edge of the board to appear on the other side. 

Each batch of 20 puzzles begins with a visual tutorial of the batch's central mechanic,
whether it be walls or exploding cells.

As you can imagine, the basic building blocks of Piczle Cells are quickly iterated on, adding new mechanics and tricks to keep things interesting. The game contains 100 puzzles, and each new batch of 20--these 20 can be played in any order, and you only need to complete just over half a batch to unlock the next--introduces a new gameplay concept to make for a fly in the proverbial ointment. Once you think you've mastered the game, the developers toss in something to shake things up considerably. This can be walls that serve as obstacles to block cells from being combined easily, special cells that change places with whatever cell is slid into them, and conveyor belts that move cells along a specific path. 

Understandably, new concepts and mechanics are introduced to keep each new puzzle batch interesting.
This batch introduces these big, red cells that explode upon impact with another cell.

Funnily enough, I struggled most with getting the basics of the game down. The beginning batch of 20 puzzles was the one that I spent the most time on, as there were no real gimmicks like walls to make puzzles easier. Once I learned how cells interacted (and pausing the game shows miniature "equations" that serve as a helpful reminder until you get it down pat), I was sliding and combining cells like a pro. No doubt later puzzles eventually perplexed at times, but nothing compared to the near 20 minutes of bewilderment that early puzzles presented to me.

Piczle Cells supports both analog and touch screen controls. The latter, however, has one issue with it that I noticed appear rather often for the short time I played with touch controls. While the controls themselves read fine, with me sliding my finger to send cells flying left, right, up, or down, there would be occasions where the game would see itself combining cells out of essentially thin air after a touch input on a cell on an adjacent square from yours truly. It would make puzzles unsolvable. That said, the ability to take back as many turns as you like or simply restart a puzzle by holding down the ZL button makes for these issues to be easily digestible instead of overly frustrating. 

Still, this particular bug occurred more times than I cared to see in my brief time using touch controls, so I eventually opted for analog input instead. The button controls feel natural and nice as well. You can use the analog stick or the D-Pad of the Switch to move the cursor while the four Switch controller face buttons serve as the four directions you can slide a cell. If you are left-handed, you can alternate the D-Pad's functions for the face buttons, using the latter to move the cursor and the D-Pad/analog stick to slide cells.

If you get bored with the standard purple board and background, "orange" you glad you can change the color yourself?

Piczle Cells has a pleasant enough look to it. The cells are cute and reminded me similarly of Dr. Mario's viruses, only cuter and less angry. The game allows you to change the background and color of the board to one of six different colors, so if purple grates on you at any time, you can just swap to say, pink, black, or blue, for example. What won't grate is the chill music, offering a nice, relaxed, laidback vibe. Less impressive in a technological sense is the opening video, but even then, there was a charming feel to it regardless.

As a puzzle game, Piczle Cells will put your brain through the wringer, giving you 100 brain busters of cell sliding, combining, and solving to enjoy. The core concept and gameplay mechanic is structurally sound, but once these 100 puzzles have been completed, there's not much else to keep you returning to the game. While puzzles have multiple solutions, there's really no incentive to find new ways to solve them, unless you really, REALLY are loving the game. The appearance of that aforementioned touch screen control-related bug made that control option less than functional, so go into the game thinking you'll be using analog exclusively (unless you have more patience for bugs than I) and you'll be fine. At any rate and even with these issues, Piczle Cells is hardly a puzzle game that I would call a tough cell--er, sell! In fact, I recommend it.

[SPC Says: C+]

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

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Tuesday 10s - E3 Moments

In less than a week and after a year's absence, E3 returns with E3 2021. This is traditionally the gaming megaevent where the biggest players in gaming converge to reveal the latest cornucopia of software and sometimes even hardware that will make waves in the following year and beyond. E3 2021 is quite different this year compared to previous events--being all digital for one, and also lacking one of its biggest players, PlayStation, which won't be attending this year in any capacity. Still, E3 is essentially "Gaming Christmas" for many, and with this installment of The Tuesday 10s, I wanted to mention some of SPC's most favorite, memorable moments that have happened in E3's illustrious past--both high highs and low lows. 

"Everyone is Here!"

We're going to start with the most recent memorable moment of E3 and go back in time from here with Nintendo's E3 2018 showcase. Now, if you weren't a fan of Super Smash Bros., then this showcase was quite a bit of torture for you, as it took up a significant portion of the presentation. However, for everyone else, Masahiro Sakurai revealed something truly spectacular for the latest game in the Super Smash Bros. series. Not only was almost every stage returning from past Smash Bros. games, but every single playable character ever featured within a Smash Bros. title would return for the game. It was a hype-worthy announcement for Smash fans that really put the "Ultimate" in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Reveal

After having leaked early, as is typical of many Ubisoft projects in all honesty, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was prematurely mocked and made fun of. The idea of the game seemed ridiculous to many, offering nothing that many Nintendo fans and gamers like wanted. However, when the game was officially revealed at Ubisoft's E3 2017 presentation, the game got an immediate 180 in opinion. Not only did game development guru Shigeru Miyamoto appear on stage with Ubisoft's CEO Yves Guillemot in an impressive display, but Mr. Miyamoto would talk about the game as well to further hype potential players. This worked considerably, and it made for an incredibly heartwarming moment when the game's creative director Davide Soliani couldn't contain himself and started to cry at the overwhelming positive response to the game he helped make and a gaming hero in Miyamoto speaking about the game as well. In such an oftentimes cynical and downright trashy at times industry, it was a breath of fresh air to see a lovely moment like this at E3.

The PlayStation Trinity 

Sony's E3 2015 was the stuff of legends--nay, the stuff of dreams. Three long awaited games were finally announced in one stellar showing of a conference. Final Fantasy VII Remake was one of these, offering an official announcement after a tech demo tease several years and E3s prior. Then, there was The Last Guardian, though smaller in stature by comparison, exited its perceived vaporware territory and saw an updated trailer and more. Finally, the next installment of Yu Suzuki's Shenmue series, Shenmue III, received an announcement and subsequent trailer as well. While the quality of this trio of games varied at the end of the day, it was without question an awesome sight to see during Sony's E3 2015 showing.

PlayStation's Used Games Tutorial

After Xbox pretty much crapped the bed with its reveal of the Xbox One at E3 2013, the waters were red with the sight of blood, and PlayStation was ready to pounce. The fear of used games no longer being an actual thing after Xbox's event sent chills down the spines of many gamers, so the question of whether Sony's PlayStation would follow suit with its PS4 hung in the air. However, that question was definitively answered with echoes that reverberate throughout the gaming world during PlayStation's E3 2013 event. One simple, short, and sweet video would reveal the answer that used games were here to stay on Sony's console, and that answer ended in an exclamation point that delighted gamers all around the world. 

Nintendo 3DS Reveal

We'll see another debut of a Nintendo handheld later in our journey through E3s past, but first let's take a look at what is currently the last dedicated handheld Nintendo has made: the Nintendo 3DS. The system debuted at E3 2010, offering the promise of glasses-free 3D--nowadays a throwaway gimmick of sorts, but then was a cool innovation (and to be fair, it did make many games on the system much more appealing and immersive), as well as new games in classic Nintendo series such as the return of Pit in a starring role with Kid Icarus: Uprising, the Nintendo 3DS seemed poised to make waves right out of the gate. Sure, soon after we'd get the price announcement of $250 and a lackluster launch lineup that would result in the 3DS stumbling early on, requiring a quick price drop and some ambassador games to early adopters. Still, it's all too easy to forget about that since the handheld now ended up with one of the best libraries of any portable. Your mileage will vary, of course, on that, though!

Konami's Bizarre but Awesome 2010 Conference

Awkwardness is just natural when you're doing a live show, but Konami took it to almost uncomfortable levels at times with its 2010 conference at E3. There was Tak Fujii's utterings of "one million troops", his unenthusiastic "wow", and "extreeeeeeeme"-ness. There were luchadores slapping one another, a stare that could kill involving two developers of Silent Hill: Downpour, and stage demos that were painful to watch at best. All in all, you have one of the most unforgettable and humorous (for all the wrong reasons) press conferences in E3 history. Needless to say, Konami took a different tact and approach with its future E3 showcases.

Sony's E3 2006 Misfire 

A "misfire" is a kind way of putting Sony's E3 2006, one that would spawn countless (read: endless) memes and jokes from its presentation. This was at a time when Sony and PlayStation were at its cockiest, resulting in some much needed hubris. Sony ultimately got just that with a showcase haunted by the cries of "RIIIIIIIIDGE RACER", "giant enemy crabs", and a price reveal for the PlayStation 3 that practically handed Nintendo and Microsoft the generation. While Konami's 2010 press conference was more comical and bizarre than anything, Sony's was almost painful to witness. You'd have hot takes soon after on how Sony killed their brand, but fortunately, the PS3 rebounded through some aggressive moves, and nowadays the PlayStation brand is as strong as it ever was--maybe even more so. 

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Reveal

Say what you will about The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess today--I personally adore the game, but others aren't too hot on it--but the announcement and reveal of the game was no doubt incredible. After The Wind Waker's more colorful and cartoony style, the promise of a more "mature" Zelda game sent many Nintendo fans into an absolute frenzy with a trailer for Twilight Princess that echoed with a stirring symphony and choir vocals. Then, by the end of the trailer, Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage, waving the Master Sword and Hylian Shield in his usual charming and cool way. This marked the end of a rather impressive showing for Nintendo, after having conceded marketshare to both Sony and the then-new player in the market, Microsoft. It showed that Nintendo was down but ultimately nowhere near out.

Nintendo DS Reveal

From the same E3 2004 press conference that introduced the world to both The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Reggie Fils-Amie, the world also saw the debut of one of gaming's most successful platforms of all time and the most successful handheld of all time: the Nintendo DS. Featuring two screens, a bottom touch screen, local and more excitingly Wi-Fi communication for free online play, the astonishment that was a new premiere Metroid game that was revealed along with the system, and much more, the Nintendo DS was like Reggie at the show--ready to kick ass, take names, and was all about playing games. And as the sales and impressive run of the system shows, the rest--as they say--is history.


We end our trip through memorable E3 moments with the very first E3 and the moment that made PlayStation an immediate important player in the gaming industry. It was E3 1995, and SEGA was riding high on not its announcement of its Saturn gaming console. Not just that, but the company had announced that the system was having a surprise launch immediately after its show. Priced at $399, SEGA was feeling great about itself. Well, that was until this new, young, fresh face in the gaming scene, Sony saw its first opportunity to witness blood in the water and the company surely struck hard. At the time, SCEA's president was Steve Race, and he promptly took to the stage during E3 to talk about this then-unknown quantity called the PlayStation. All he had to utter was one thing, "$299", and then he promptly left the stage no sooner than he had taken it. Applause then shook the room, followed by a death knell to any sign of the SEGA Saturn's success. A new player jettisoned into the gaming arena with a bold and ultimately successful play, which changed the gaming landscape forever. 


What E3 moments are your favorites and most memorable to you? And if you have a topic you'd like to see featured on a future installment of The Tuesday 10s, let the SPC community know in the comments section below as well!

Monday, June 7, 2021

King of Seas (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

After SuperPhillip Central's weekend celebration, commemorating 13 years of SPC, we now turn towards what will be our 1,000th review in just two more reviews! But, let's not make haste, as we have King of Seas on deck for the review treatment. This high seas action-adventure game is all about pirating, plundering, and possibly whatever else your heart desires! Does King of Seas sink or swim? Let's find out with the SPC review.

King of Zzzs

Yo-ho-ho! A pirate's life for me! Combine Sid Meier's Pirates with some of Rare's Sea of Thieves, and you have a small sampling of what 3DClouds and Team17's King of Seas has in store for its prospective pirates on its procedurally generated seas. Unfortunately, a strong start to this adventure is followed by a massive grind and giant annoyances that send this top-down perspective pirate game sinking to the bottom of the briny deep.

King of Seas starts off promising enough, offering a tale of revenge and redemption as your character's father, the king, is murdered, and your name is number one on the list of suspects. The royal armada sinks your ship after a tutorial mission, leaving the scene promptly after assuming you went down with the ship. Unfortunately for them but fortunately for you, you're taken under the tutelage of a band of pirates who decide to help you in your quest to clear your name and find the person or persons responsible for the murder of your father.

Your ship is yours to customize as you "sea" fit, so outfit away and set sail!

You start off your newfound pirate life with a ship that the pirate boss gives you, and you're able to outfit it with a wide arrange of equipment to boost its stats and abilities, such as hulls, decks, sails, crew, cannons, and more. You can either find new equipment from plundering sunken vessels, destroying ships for their goods, salvaging it from the bottom of the sea, or even simply purchasing it from one of many port towns around the world. As the game sports a procedurally generated world, no two adventures on the high seas are ever alike.

Ahoy, captain! A sunken vessel to loot for booty!

But, quickly you soon will discover that the pirate life in King of Seas is less of a thrill and much more of a grind. This isn't just relegated to the never-ending supply of simple side quests, such as sinking a certain ship, delivering goods to another port, or escorting ships to safety as they slowly sail behind you. No, this is true of the main campaign missions as well. An early one requires you to earn 20,000 Gold in order to purchase a new ship. Fine enough, but this essentially requires the aforementioned tedious and rote side quests, many of which have no rhyme or reason for their difficulty ratings. One mission requires you to deliver a package to another port, and that is somehow worth the same amount of experience as having to destroy a particular ship that can sink you in two hits.

The "no rhyme or reason" rule applies to more than just side quests. It's beyond my understanding how damage is equated in King of Seas' naval battles, too. Sometimes an enemy who is the same level as you will sink you in a few shots while other times it will take seven or eight. The fact that battles are relatively basic and amount to circling around one another, waiting for your ship's cannons to be pointed at the enemy in order to damage them, didn't instill any pleasure either. Additionally--and as I found out the hard way--other ships level up with you throughout your journey, so the only real reason to accumulate experience is for earning new perks and abilities.

Skirmishes on the seas can sometimes show some moments of excitement. Sometimes.

Furthermore, death in King of Seas--or at least getting your boat destroyed--results in you being transported all the way back to the pirate base. Generally, this is located far away from any other notable location in the game. Thus, having the "pleasure and privilege" of sailing halfway across the world map just for a chance to possibly succeed at a mission, only to fail, sink, and get sent all the way back to the pirate base is less than fulfilling and more than frustrating. I felt I was wasting my time with the game when I was sunk, as not only is combat boring and tedious, but failing and being transported back to the WAY-out-of-the-way base isn't too motivating. Quite the opposite, in fact. The lack of any fast travel options is further disappointing.

It also doesn't help that your ship initially sails at a glacial pace, even with full sails up. Contending with the wind is simply obnoxious, as I found it generally going in the opposite direction I needed to head. Now, controlling your ship, whether it be a Sloop, a Frigate, or what have you, is an enjoyable enough process. You use the front bumpers of the controller to raise and lower your sails. Up to three sails can be raised for maximum speed, and the left bumper lowers them, so you can turn and corner more easily. The back triggers access the cannons, with LT firing the left cannons and RT firing the right. Through slowing your ship to a stop by lowering all of your ship's sails, you can use medical packs on your ship to heal it--but only if it's at a dead stop without any enemies around. Otherwise, you'll be a sitting duck with foes around you, as you desperately try to heal, and your ship will end up being at a literal dead stop.

One of many port towns within the procedurally generated world of King of Seas.

King of Seas isn't smooth sailing in its presentation, either. The Nintendo Switch version, which was the build of the game I played for review, has some choppy frame-rate issues, not just in sea skirmishes with enemy ships, but also just normal sailing as well. Another issue I have with the game's presentation is that the font for ship names and other aspects of the game are just way too tiny. It's difficult to read them at least on the Switch's handheld screen, and even on a TV, they're just unacceptably small. Meanwhile, on a more positive note, I did enjoy the music while sailing the seas and doing battles with other boats. It has your typical, heroic, swashbuckling sound to the themes, and I appreciated the melodies and feel of each piece presented to my aural cavities. 

Between the groan-worthy grind that is the campaign and utterly uninspired side quests, and tons of time wasted within its slow sailing, lack of fast travel, and punishing deaths, King of Seas is a lot of floundered potential. The base of the game is inspired with regard to controlling your ship and presents some excellent ideas, but the game's economy, glacial sailing speed, and campaign woes all lead to a game that capsizes not too long after the adventure starts to unfold.

[SPC Says: C-]

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

Sunday, June 6, 2021

SuperPhillip Central's 13th Anniversary Celebration: A Banner Kind of Day - A History of SuperPhillip Central Through Banners

As of this past Saturday, SuperPhillip Central as a site is 13 years old. That's a lot of posts, reviews (which, as an aside, the 1,000th review will be published this month), articles, and history. The latter piece is especially important, and it just so also happens to be the focus of this particular article. I wanted to take a quick look back--and not to sniff SPC's own farts here--at the history of SPC through a visual component: our site's banners over the years. Starting back in 2008, SuperPhillip Central was an incredibly simple blog with but a lot of quantity not so much quality when it came to posts. It's my hope that the opposite is more true nowadays, and that I've established a better balance with my writing and posts.

Nevertheless, on June 5, 2008, SuperPhillip Central was born. We had a relatively basic banner, but it gave the blog a cozy, personal approach. Pardon all the poorly designed "snow" that I plastered all over and ruined this banner for, but this is the only version of the original banner that I have left. It featured the SuperPhillip sprite (an edit off Mega Man 7's Mega Man sprite, of course) against a cool-looking futuristic city. I don't recall who originally made the banner, but without their generous help, perhaps SuperPhillip Central wouldn't have reached the same level of success as we have today. (Oh, lord, that totally sounds like I'm blowing smoke up my own butt here, so I apologize for that!) That said, I thank the original creator of this banner: whoever and wherever you are!

A year later, SuperPhillip Central's banner started to resemble what you see nowadays, at least with its color scheming. There is the standard red and blue, but the logo of course is much different. I originally was going to use the logo (aside from the "Central" part) for a goofy test project I was making in one of the RPG Maker PC games. But, fortunately, I was able to recycle the logo for the banner of the blog! Here's what it looked like in December 2009, complete with the actual blog. What a trip this was, finding it! It even has SuperPhillip in a poorly-made-by-me Santa hat! (There's a trend here that if this was an early banner, and something looked terribly off about it, you can bet I had my hand in making it!)

SuperPhillip Central would eventually go into what I like to joke as its "goth phase", with a dark background with a cyber feel to it. This is where this next banner popped up, and it should be immensely familiar to those of you out there reading the blog today!

Not only did SuperPhillip Central have a new banner and new logo, but around 2015-2016, our blog featured an alternating banner. It was luck of the draw which one you'd get, and those three banners above are just a sampling of what was available to viewers. It wouldn't be until around 2017 that SuperPhillip Central would adjust to what you see nowadays on the blog's banner: a new themed banner, generally of the big games releasing and/or being reviewed that particular month. 

Like so! This one from November 2017, featured two platforming juggernauts: Mario and Sonic, though their games couldn't be more different on a quality basis. Yes, even as someone who liked Sonic Forces, this much was obvious! 

This would lead to specialty banners for SuperPhillip Central, such as this one for the site's 10-year anniversary three years ago:

And finally, let's not forget the special SuperPhillip Central Best of [insert year here] Awards series of banners, such as this one:

I was particularly proud of this one, as other than the original logo/banner, everything else was edited by me in Inkscape. That's a far cry from my crappy looking snow in our December 2008 banner! I mean, sure, it's still nothing special, but I made it my own two hands!

...ANYWAY... I hope this relatively quick journey through some of the history of SuperPhillip Central through its banners has been an enjoyable one, AND I hope it wasn't too self-congratulatory either. I tried to walk a fine line between talking about the history without patting the site's back too much. I probably failed, so I apologize. 

But, this is where you come in. Without your views, without your comments, without simply your engagement with this site, SuperPhillip Central would serve very little purpose. Sure, it's fun to write, but it's even more fun to engage with you, the reader and the audience that this site has fostered. You are truly special to me, whether you're a regular reader, a frequent commenter, or you just passed by once or twice and then said, "nope, this site isn't for me." Thank YOU for everything, and for making writing for SuperPhillip Central these past 13 years (and hopefully more as we move forward together) very much worth it!

- Phil

(As an aside, I think I used this somewhat dopey drawing as part of SPC's banner in 2012. It was so short-lived that I don't even have a copy of it anymore in my files! As you can imagine, the feedback from the less-than-excellent attempt at digital artwork was less-than-well...super!)