Friday, August 27, 2021

No More Heroes 3 (NSW) Launch Trailer

Who better to take on an alien invasion than Travis Touchdown? No More Heroes 3 is finally here after years of waiting with bated breath for Suda 51's latest eccentric (and in a good way) title. The game launched today, and now Nintendo Switch owners can wield their beam katana and start mercilessly hacking and slashing their way through the alien menace as none other than Travis Touchdown. Make your way to the top of the rankings once more with No More Heroes 3.

Metroid Dread (NSW) Trailer 2

Caution: If you're wanting to go into Metroid Dread, the fifth and final part of this chapter of Samus Aran's story spoiler-free, then you might not want to watch this rather intense second trailer for the game. For everyone else, take a glimpse at some new story elements, new abilities, and the return of a familiar foe (no, not THAT one) in this action-packed trailer. Metroid Dread launches on Nintendo Switch on October 8th.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Ayo the Clown (NSW, PC) Review

Two reviews in one night? Is SPC daffy? Well, I'd like to think of the site as more of a Bugs Bunny-type character, but that's irrelevant as we have a second review to share! This one is a 2.5D platformer that also released this month. It's Ayo the Clown.

There's no clowning around with this statement: This is one fun platformer.

Clowns--they're generally associated with childhood nightmares and other horrors, whether that be justified or not. However, indie developer Cloud M1 is looking to right the wrong of clowns past with an adorable game starring a cute, precocious clown named Ayo. Fittingly enough, this 2.5D platformer is called Ayo the Clown, and it just so happens to also be a relatively well done game that succeeds in being an enjoyable romp.

Ayo the Clown's journey begins when he wakes up during a thunderstorm to discover that his dog Bo has disappeared. Ayo rushes out from his home to go on an eight-world adventure in search of Bo, aka clown's best friend. The story is a simple one but has plenty of charm to it thanks to being told through lovingly narrated storybook-style cutscenes. 

Lovingly drawn and narrated, these storybook-style scenes are great inclusions to the game.

If I had to compare any style of platformer to Ayo the Clown, the most obvious pick would have to be the Yoshi series. Like Yoshi, Ayo has similar abilities, a simple enough difficulty that gets more challenging if you try to 100% each level (although Ayo's boss fights might make stretch that a bit--more on those later), and a cutesy, colorful, cartoon-y visual style and presentation. 

However, unlike Yoshi, starting off in Ayo the Clown, our hero forgot something in his rush to find his dog: He's totally lacking in abilities! Yes, in the beginning of the game Ayo can only move left and right; he can't even jump. Instead, in the first level of the game, he interacts with bounce pads that catapult the clown upwards in lieu of a jump. 

Thankfully, Ayo soon learns a jump ability the very next level, and then a lot of other moves quite consistently. He's able to blow up a balloon after each jump that gives him a little extra height and distance. He learns the ability to ground pound Yoshi-style. There are also a slide, a pushing ability, and even a wall jump that becomes unlocked through normal play. The latter, though, is a bit unwieldly to say the least. It requires the player to wait a second for Ayo to start sliding down the wall before they can initiate that signature move. On too many occasions I found myself doing it too early or too late, resulting in Ayo either falling back down or worse, falling to this doom in precarious situations where wall jumps need to be performed over pits.

Need some extra height and distance, Ayo? Then bring out that balloon of yours!

The platforming in Ayo the Clown feels adequate enough, though there were times where I felt I either died or took damage unfairly. First and foremost, the hitboxes of enemies in order to defeat them by jumping on their heads is way too strict. You either have to jump on them dead in the center or you'll find Ayo taking damage instead. This actually made the very first level of the game one of the most challenging for me for my entire play-through just because you have to take out enemies by jumping on them. Later levels lowered the need for this due to being able to jump manually, practice with knowing how strict the hitboxes were, and the ability to occasionally use clown-inspired weapons like a water balloon, a balloon sword, and a toy hammer. 

These weapons are power-ups in the same way that the Fire Flower is a power-up for Mario. One hit and the power-up--or in this case, weapon--is gone. Since some levels of the game require these weapons in order to access hidden areas containing collectables, it was important I hung on to the weapons as much as I could. Thankfully, there seemed to be plenty of power-ups placed throughout levels, so I was never in short supply. If I took damage, I knew I could either wait a little bit for the next power-up in the level or simply go back a short way to pick up a power-up I purposefully neglected to nab in case I did take damage.

(To the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm) Ayo the Clown had a dog: L-O-S-T, LOST!

Like any platformer worth its weight, Ayo the Clown features collectables to grab in each level to add some longevity to the game. There are six to collect in each level: three teddy bears and three lollipops. Some are hidden more cleverly than others, and the ones that are hidden well will require intrepid exploring to discover. There are also gems to grab, which serve as the in-game currency of Ayo the Clown, though these simply allow you to purchase one of three items as the game progresses: an upgraded balloon, an extra heart, and a key to an extra world in the game, featuring two truly tricky levels.

There are also ten toys to collect, which don't really serve a purpose other than being for completionists. That said, these are acquired by completing little side quests in levels that are offered by characters within the game's town. 

The levels themselves in Ayo the Clown run the gamut of easy and breezy to rough and tough. They all can be rather lengthy affairs if you plan to 100% a given level. It was common for some levels to last upwards of 15-20 minutes, though these were the ones that featured bosses. Levels feature abundant gimmicks and obstacles, such as conveyor belts, rotating circular platforms, vines to climb, pinball tables, and even altered gravity that puts Ayo on the ceiling.

Jaws, this shark ain't, but it'll still put a pretty painful bite into Ayo!

Additionally, there are many segments in the game's levels where Ayo briefly takes charge of a vehicle, whether that be a tank or helicopter. These sections break up the platforming well, and are a nice change of pace from jumping and clowning around through typical sections of levels.

I mentioned bosses earlier, and in a strange design decision, the developer decided to not make bosses their own stages. Instead, they come at the tail end of traditional platforming levels. Seeing as, again, levels are lengthy enough, the addition of bosses at the end of some of them makes already long levels even longer experiences. If you were to fail a boss and lose all of your lives, that means you have to begin at the level from the very beginning. That's 15 minutes or more wasted--easily. 

Bosses are the final challenge of each world's already lengthy last levels.
It's quite an endurance run, for sure!

The bosses of Ayo the Clown are the most challenging aspect within the game. All bosses have multiple phases, meaning new attacks to learn and avoid, or worse yet, meaning new attacks to learn and get hit by. The latter is more common due to many of the attacks not being telegraphed well ahead of time. Battles can feel cheap by feeling like they're trial and error, and many times your feeling would be correct. Still, the bosses are enjoyable, and you get a real sense of accomplishment for defeating them.

If I had to call the graphics of Ayo the Clown anything, it would be something between colorful and sterile. The 3D models don't really have too much going for them, but the environments are cheery and lively enough. Simple things like the way checkpoints will slam a pie into poor Ayo's face upon passing them didn't go unnoticed by yours truly. However, where Ayo the Clown truly impresses is with the aforementioned storybook cutscenes as well as the soundtrack, delivering several bops that I couldn't help humming along to as I played. Overall, the presentation is pretty nice and appealing.

There's plenty to look at in both the background and foreground in many of Ayo the Clown's levels.
Sometimes hazards will pop in to and from either!

Ayo the Clown won't take veterans of the platforming genre too terribly long. Maybe 5-7 hours to 100%. However, at the same time, the cutesy charm and clown hero might not appeal to many older players. That leaves kids, which Ayo the Clown might be too difficult for due to those dastardly bosses stuck at the end of already lengthy levels. 

Still, Ayo the Clown has clever level design, creative ideas permeating throughout the adventure, and some well-conceived (but not always well-executed) ideas. If you are a platforming fan looking for an adorable and delightful new run and jump for your Nintendo Switch or PC, have an open mind, and want a game that can be as challenging as it is cute, then get ready to clown around with Ayo--Ayo the Clown, that is! 

[SPC Says: B-]

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

The Falconeer: Warrior Edition (NSW) Review

There's a bit of a backlog of reviews to be done before the month of August ends, so let's get right to it. Starting off is The Falconeer's Nintendo Switch port. It runs wonderfully, plays well enough, so why didn't it keep my attention for too terribly long? Let's discover the answer with the SPC review.

Soaring but sometimes boring

Have you ever played one of those games where you thought the game was perfectly acceptable for most people, but for some weird reason it didn't appeal to you? That's my situation with The Falconeer, or at least that's how it is with having reviewed the Nintendo Switch port of the game, The Falconeer: Warrior Edition/ Yes, the game finds itself flying onto the Nintendo Switch, and while it is mechanically sound, I failed to find too much entertainment from the title. Dare I say, there were plenty of times where I found myself utterly bored with it, quitting from the frustration developed by the tedium I experienced with the game.

The Falconeer is an open-world game featuring flight-based combat for the majority of its missions. The story sees you taking on the mantle of siding with various factions within the game. Depending on what faction you are a part of, different missions and adversaries are available to you. It's a clever mechanic, and it works well. 

Having trouble keeping a foe in view? Use the lock-on camera to always keep 'em in your sights.
What The Falconeer does right and exceptionally well is its flight-based combat. Considering that's what the majority of story and side quests is made up of, that's certainly a relief. Battles are fast, frenetic, and demand strategic planning in order to overcome the odds. If you start a battle at sea level, you'll find yourself at a disadvantage, as trying to raise up your falcon into the air will result in it getting its stamina depleted quite quickly. Thus, you'll be a sitting duck--er, falcon in this case, as you wait for your stamina to recover as enemies slowly but steadily pick you off. 

Alternately, if you opt to start a battle high in the sky, you get more options available to you. You can shoot at enemies from above, swoop down quickly to take care of foes directly, and then fly back into the sky without consuming as much stamina. 

This is how flight works in general in The Falconeer as well. Trying to rise into the air depletes stamina, while diving regenerates it. You can also boost through the air by holding down the L button as long as you have enough stamina. This specific maneuver is paramount for surviving the aforementioned battles, as not only does it allow you to move fast through the air, but it also allows you to perform barrel rolls in midair, deflecting and deftly dodging enemy attacks.

Customize your warbird to your liking with a multitude of available options.
The Falconeer sports multiple chapters that can be played through in any order. Your level and stats carry over from each chapter, and each chapter provides you with one main story arc and quest line to follow. Meanwhile, myriad side quests can be taken at various outposts and towns sprinkled along the Ursee, the pirate-like fantasy world of the game. Taking on side quests is recommended not just for the good gains you get money-wise, but also the points you earn experience-wise. Leveling your Falconeer and falcon up is important as to not enter combat scenarios that you can't win. 

There's no question that The Falconeer: Warrior Edition is a stellar port on the Switch. That much is certain. Running at a super steady 60 frames per second with never a drop to be found, whether docked or in handheld form, the game is terrific technically. What's even better is that outside of the opening, between missions, quests, fast traveling, and transitions between screens, there's hardly any loading to be speak of, which is insanely impressive. I especially liked how I could skip the traveling between the quest-giver and the actual objective sight and back again via an awesome "fast flight" option.

Well, that's something you don't see every day--lots of water!
(Were you expecting me to call attention to the giant turtle?)
It says something about The Falconeer: Warrior Edition that despite having the game for a month now, I struggled to find the motivation to play it (of course, a new job didn't really help with that either). While certainly not every aspect of the game is boring or tedious - far from it - there are aspects like the gameplay loop, the repetitive mission design, and the rather unappealing story (at least to me) that made me bored with the game. I can definitely admit that The Falconeer is a well-crafted game otherwise; it's just one that did not soar to amazing heights for me, personally.

[SPC Says: C]

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