Friday, July 23, 2021

Fallen Knight (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) Review

We turn our attention to a game that originally released on iOS devices. Now, Fallen Knight from FairPlay Studios marches triumphantly on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. At the game's mobile launch, it had but one difficulty and a lack of modes. The console and Steam release of Fallen Knight sees the complete game available day one. So, how is it? Let's find out with the SuperPhillip Central review.

A Not-So-Good Knight

FairPlay Studios' Fallen Knight reminded me heavily of Zero's gameplay as found in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero games. That's why I so wanted to love Fallen Knight, but unfortunately, several kinks in Fallen Knight's armor: lackluster level design, mediocre controls, and one frustrating game mechanic make for a Mega Man-style romp that does not really deserve full knighthood.

Fallen Knight sees you playing as Lancelot, tasked with taking down a terrorist group who has attacked the city, wishing to let the world know some kind of secret that Lancelot and the rest of the futuristic Knights of the Round must protect with their lives. After all, 'tis their duty! What follows is six levels of hack-and-slash 2D side-scrolling action.

Otherwise a standard and typical Mega Man clone, Fallen Knight throws in an intriguing gameplay mechanic in order to separate itself from the pack. Players can choose to simply slash their way through enemies, or they can opt to disarm foes by parrying them just before they attack Lancelot. However, the window to perform a parry is so insanely narrow--maybe just a few frames--that this mechanic did nothing but frustrate me. It's worth parrying enemies and defeating them that way, as you earn Honor Points that can be spent in the in-game shop, but again, parrying has a high learning curve to get down part. There are some parts that you can equip to Lancelot to increase the window of opportunity available to parry, but it's still quite arduous to nail. 

Slice, slash, and otherwise sever your enemies with Lancelot's sword.

This is most prevalent during the boss battles, which you can opt to either fight them in a traditional way (i.e. chipping down their health until they're eliminated), or attempting to disarm them. Starting off, it's best to just defeat bosses, as trying to disarm them is a whole other dilemma. Bosses can only be disarmed by parrying each and every one of their strikes during one of their special attacks. Said special attacks are otherwise unblockable, albeit avoidable with careful dodging. Some attacks require up to four perfect parries to determine a successful series. It's not just good enough to parry a special attack once, though, as you have to do it three times to successfully disarm a boss, earning an Honor Point bonus for doing so. Since bosses only perform special attacks that can be parried sparingly, this means if you wish to disarm a boss and mistime a parry, you have a bit of a wait for another opportunity for the boss to use its special attack. It's a pain in the proverbial butt.

If you're just battling bosses to beat them, Fallen Knight's bosses can be fun.
If you're trying to disarm them, they can be a genuine pain in the neck.

Though it is pretty paramount to acquire Honor Points through disarming enemies and bosses because that's the currency of Fallen Knight. Between stages you can purchase a bevy of upgrades and parts to Lancelot with said Honor Points. Some of these parts are only available for purchase after completing certain objectives, such as disarming specific bosses. Important purchases include health and Power Core upgrades--the latter of which are used to equip more parts to Lancelot at once. Meanwhile, different parts give Lancelot the ability to double jump, dash in midair, recover health faster, shoot a beam from his sword, provide a longer window for parrying, and much more. Different parts cost require different Power Cores with the more powerful parts taking up the most Power Cores. It's a balanced system overall, but the necessity to grind for Honor Points--which again, aren't the easiest to obtain thanks to how strict the timing of parries is--makes for genuine headache.

Parts in the Armory are at the ready for Lancelot to equip them once purchased.
Just make sure you have enough Power Cores available to wear them!

Furthermore, the actual levels of Fallen Knight aren't too interesting to play. The first level doesn't just serve as an introduction to the game's mechanics, but also serves as an introduction to the game's love for blind jumps and limited enemy variety. There is basically just a handful of enemy types to speak of, which does make learning parry patterns simple enough, but doesn't really make for much enjoyable variety. There are also HP Up items "hidden" in each level--one per level--and I put the word "hidden" in quotes because they're practically impossible not to discover. The levels are incredibly linear and devoid of opportunities for exploration.

More so than the clumsy and clunky parry system and the poor level design is the lackluster control of Lancelot himself. Swordplay works well enough, and it does feel good to slice and dice your way through enemies, but movement is hardly sublime. Running or jumping up walls seems cool at first, but too many times I'd find myself grabbing onto walls when I didn't want to. Often I'd find myself getting hit because of these cases. Furthermore, the hit detection in Fallen Knight seems a bit off, as well. On many occasions I'd take damage despite not exactly being near an enemy's strike or attack. 

Fallen Knight's story won't take players too terribly long, but that's assuming they get their feet wet with the Casual difficulty. If that's the case, the story won't take more than hour to reach the end. However, there is also the standard difficulty, various ranks to achieve from playing well, disarming bosses, a mode where you can play as another knight: Galahad, and a boss rush mode, too. There is no shortage of content to be found in Fallen Knight, but whether it's worth playing through is another story. 

Regarding the presentation of Fallen Knight, it's a mixed bag. The visuals harken back to some less than favorable Mighty No. 9 comparisons, but at the same time, this is a budgeted indie effort. I can't be harsh there. However, I can be harsher when it comes to the framerate, which can occasionally turn into slideshow levels. For a game that requires precision parrying, dodging, attacking, and platforming, that's a big issue. Framerate issues aren't heavily prevalent throughout Fallen Knight, but when they do rear their head into the action, things get ugly quite quickly. 

Eventually, you will learn the strict timing of parries, and almost be able to do them consistently.

Additionally, the text in Fallen Knight has various grammar issues (for instance, confusion between "its" and the contraction "it's") and words left out from sentences completely, which makes for a less than polished presentation. Nonetheless, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one strong point with Fallen Knight's presentation, and that's the soundtrack. It is full of bangers and catchy tunes. The sound team did a great job here.

At the end of the day, and after Lancelot's sword had been put back into its sheathe, I came away from Fallen Knight disappointed. Well, actually I was frustrated and disappointed. The timing of parrying needs just a little bit more adjusting to be reasonable. As is, it's just too darn narrow. I don't want to effortlessly parry and defeat foes, but I also want some consistency here. Lackluster level design, clumsy controls, and occasionally troublesome framerate problems, round out my issues with Fallen Knight. This Mega Man-like has plenty of potential, for sure, but it hasn't yet been met. Thus (and unfortunately), I must decree that I hereby dub thee, Fallen Knight, a disappointing game. 

[SPC Says: C-]

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Cotton Reboot! (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central heads into the final stretch of July with some new reviews. First up is a game that launched on Tuesday for the Nintendo Switch: Cotton Reboot! Let's check out this 2-in-1 shoot-em-up package together with the SPC review.

A bewitching shoot-em-up package

In reviewing Cotton Reboot! I had to do a little research on the series as I'm not just a complete neophyte regarding the Cotton series but also pretty basic when it comes to shoot-em-ups in general, so join me on this quick history lesson, if you please! The original Cotton, a shoot-em-up starring a young witch flying on a broom, released in Japanese arcades in 1991. The game would later be ported from arcades to the X68000 computer, as well as other platforms such as the PlayStation, to name one. With it being 2021 and all, the series celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and in celebration of that milestone, Beep and Success have put together a 2-in-1 package featuring both the aforementioned X68000 version of the game and an all-new arranged remake version. This 1-2 punch makes for a package that is well put together and well worth looking into for fans of the shoot-em-up genre.

No matter which version of the game you opt to play first--and you should very much play both as they're equally worthwhile--the story sees a young witch with an insatiable sweet tooth (particularly of the candy variety) named Cotton who with some coaxing from a pint-sized, scantily-clad fairy named Silk, decides to go on an adventure to collect seven pieces of Willow candy. In doing so, Cotton is led to believe that when all pieces of the candy are collected from the monsters that guard them, the candy will transform into one massive Willow for her to gobble on to her heart's desire. Each level has anime art scenes bookending them, and these are humorous and well done. 

The Arrange version of Cotton Reboot! is absolutely stellar in appearance and to play.
The X6800 might not have all its bells and whistles, but it's also enjoyable.

Whether playing the X68000 version or the Arrange version, you're in for seven levels of horizontal--and occasionally vertical--side-scrolling action. Enemies ranging from bats and flying eyeballs, to frogs and chimeras, routinely swoop in, ready to pelt the player with projectiles. Like a typical shoot-em-up, take one hit and you lose a life. Lose all three lives and you need to use a continue. Fortunately, no quarters are obviously needed this time around! You can select your starting stock of lives in the options menu, but this will however prevent you from posting your high score to the online worldwide rankings, one for each version of the game. 

The original X68000 version runs and plays flawlessly, offering the entire game in its retro glory. It's a less frantic and frenetic experience than the Arrange version, also delivering a simpler version of the game to play and enjoy. 

The Arrange mode, by comparison, feels like a completely different beast, and one that is also enjoyable. Cotton moves quicker, her shots fire out in a larger range, and enemies bite the literal bullets and face the reaper faster. With more enemies on screen and more powerful bosses than in the X68000 version, this is a welcomed change indeed. 

Hasn't this mid-boss ever heard the saying: Tree's a crowd?

Cotton is part shoot-em-up and part RPG in some aspects. Collecting gems of different colors provides different bonuses. Yellow and orange gems provide experience points for Cotton, increasing the power of her standard shot in the process. Then, there are red, blue, green, and purple gems (the latter two gem types are only in Arrange) that provide magic to use in the form of blazing fire and lightning strikes, for instance. While the X68000 version's gems would quickly fall to the ground or off the edge of the screen, requiring deft maneuvering or juggling to pick them up before meeting that fate, Arrange's gems kindly stay in place, hovering on screen, ready to be collected by Cotton.

Scoring, too, has been changed, offering the Frenzy gauge. This gauge on the lower-left corner of the screen is a multiplier that increases with how long Cotton lives and how much it is used. It's filled by defeating enemies and collecting gems, and once full, it can be used to fire shots that turn defeated enemies into massive amounts of points that span large quantities of the screen. This only lasts an incredibly temporary amount of time before the gauge empties and must be filled again. Thus, it's important to use Frenzies when enemies infest the screen for the best scoring opportunities. When used correctly, it feels great to see points literally litter the screen as it racks up your score to impressive values.

That said, that does lead to one of the only problems with Cotton Reboot! and its Arrange mode. There are a lot of effects that happen on screen at once, and while the game generally does a good job at distinguishing between them, a lot of times when tons of effects and graphics are happening on screen, things like bullets can be obscured and hidden from view. This was most apparent in the sixth stage of the game, a volcano-based stage where a combination of tight surroundings, copious amounts of enemies, using magic, and lots of enemy bullets and other hazards resulted in plenty of unexpected errors and unintended deaths. The clutter on screen can be very real and very detrimental to Cotton's health and wellbeing. 

Litter the screen with Cotton's bullets; just don't accidentally run into an enemy's!

There isn't a credits system where after losing all of your lives, you game over unless you let the countdown run out. Thus, it's quite easy to beat Cotton Reboot's two versions within an hour and call it a day--even if you have died an immense amount of times. That said, to play an arcade game like that isn't really worthwhile. Instead, these types of games demand replays through not only enjoying the experiences again, but improving until you get to a point where you can shoot to or near the top of the leaderboards and even go for that fabled one-credit clear. While most players probably won't do the latter, aiming and shooting to best your own scores is always a fun self-imposed challenge to do. 

While in-game achievements would have been enjoyable to present other player types with a certain carrot-on-stick approach, there is some more meat to Cotton Reboot's figurative bones. Two other playable characters aside from Cotton can be played as, each with varied play styles, and there are two time attack modes that put you in a side-scrolling arena for each two or five minutes against a horde of enemies. Both of these time attack modes have their own leaderboards to try to reach the top of, too. Thus, there's no shortage of stuff to do and keep yourself occupied with if you're a fan of arcade-style shoot-em-ups.

Activate your Frenzy to seriously rack up the points!

The type of player who wishes to play through one or both versions of Cotton--whether it be the X68000 or the Arrange version--die a bunch, plow through lives, and then consider the game "done" when the credits roll, probably won't find much value from Cotton Reboot. However, those who appreciate arcade games, especially in the shoot-em-up style of yesteryear, will find loads to enjoy about the game. While the X68000 original offers a calmer, more focused and simpler approach compared to the more complex and eye-popping approach of the Arrange version, I personally loved both versions, feeling there are pros and cons with each. Either way, you're in for a wild and exciting ride with both versions and all of the modes featured within Cotton Reboot.

[SPC Says: B]

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