Thursday, September 2, 2021

Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain (NSW) Announcement Trailer

Returning from the DS and Wii era of Nintendo's illustrious history is the Big Brain Academy franchise. The latest in the series, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain, has officially been announced this morning with a release date of December 3rd, 2021. Look forward to solo challenges, a 4-player Party Mode, and online play, as shown in this tantalizing announcement trailer.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ (NSW) Rapid Review

Let's not waste any time starting the rollout of reviews for this month. SuperPhillip Central dives right in with a review of DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+. It's a mouthful of a game name, for sure, but one seriously fun shoot-em-up. Here is the rapid review of the game.

Bursting from the seams with side-scrolling shooting action

Shoot-em-ups (or shmups, if you'd prefer) are no stranger to the Nintendo Switch. In fact, there have been plenty of popular genres from yesteryear that are receiving a second (or third) lease on life on the Switch. Taito's DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ is another of these side-scrolling shooters, offering intense space combat, requiring deft dodging, precision-based movement, and apt shooting to survive waves upon waves of enemy forces.

DariusBurst's main campaign features a total of 24 stages (12 in the regular mode and 12 in the original mode) of side-scrolling shooting action for perspective pilots to encounter. However, only three of these are played in a given playthrough. You start out by choosing one of three stages, and after completion of that stage, you get to decide between a choice of two stages to play next. The stage selection is basically a branch where the lower you go on the tree of stages, the harder and more difficult the stage will be for your ship to endure. 

You get a selection of a multitude of ships to choose from as well in DariusBurst, each possessing their own primary and secondary weapons. Regardless of which vessel you pilot, you're in for a thumping good and wild space ride. The controls are solid, delivering pitch perfect movement, firing bullets and missiles with the B and Y buttons, firing your special attack from your companion ship with the L button, while the R button pivots your ship in the opposite direction for foes that try to take you on from behind. Meanwhile, ZL or ZR zooms the camera in and out to a close degree. Too close for that matter.

The latter isn't very helpful in most situations, as it often left me getting hit by stray bullets that I couldn't see coming at me. It was also worthless when encountering the game's many bosses, which despite their behemoth sizes meant that I couldn't get a glimpse of what I was firing at or alternatively what was firing at ME. The field of view is rather awkward, as it's authentic to the original arcade version to a fault, presenting a narrow horizontal view of the action with a ton of wasted negative space. This makes seeing things like bullets, particularly in undocked mode incredibly challenging to see for a game that already demands high, skillful play.

Fortunately, there is an unlimited lives mode available to you if you don't particularly care about setting high scores or worrying about getting to the top of the leaderboards. Other modes include an Event mode that presents a series of premade loadouts and challenges that you can complete to squeeze out plenty of extra playtime with the game. There are a plethora of missions to take on, though some of these aren't able to be completed without multiple players (some requiring up to four).

On the Nintendo Switch, DariusBurst runs ravishingly on the Switch. It's a great looking game, though I did encounter times where elements of what I perceived to be the background were actually enemies or hazards I could crash my ship into. I'm not proud to admit, but I did lose more ships than I would have liked that way. This is on top of the already mentioned limited screen space afforded by the game, which makes playing in handheld mode quite difficult in an already difficult game. Musically, I really enjoyed the themes, whether they were themes with soothing female vocals or more bombastic pieces, either with a symphonic sound or a rock angle to them.

DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+ is another shoot-em-up to add to the pile of stellar games within the genre on the Nintendo Switch. There is a ton of content to be found for those who enjoy partaking in the genre, and plenty of challenge to be discovered as well. The limited field of view and screen real estate utilized for the Switch version is a bummer, but ultimately, DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX+'s mission to be an entertaining Switch home port of an older arcade game is a success.

[SPC Says: B-]

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

Review Round-Up - July / August 2021

After a lengthy 16-year wait, Psychonauts 2 finally saw the light of day, and the wait was most definitely worth it judging by the amazing quality of the game, which is SPC's Featured Game of the Month.

Combining two months into one, it's the Review Round-Up for the hot and heated summer months of July and August! A total of seven reviews were published on SuperPhillip Central during this time, so let's take a trip down memory lane to see which games got the SPC review treatment and their respective grades.

We started out in early July with a journey to the links with the Mushroom Kingdom cast in Mario Golf: Super Rush. A lack of meaty content was made up for by enjoyable golfing gameplay, giving the game a B grade. We rounded out the month of July with two more games: a cute and charming shmup Cotton Reboot!, which soared and shot its way to a B, and the less than satisfying Mega Man-like Fallen Knight, which got a C-.

Following July was of course August and the arrival of SuperPhillip Central's Death Door review. The game delighted in a multitude of ways, earning a stellar A- grade. We then took a trip to the skies with The Falconeer: Warrior Edition (C) and then clowned around with the adorable 2.5D platformer Ayo the Clown (B-).

Finally, Psychonauts 2 ended this rare two-month coverage period of reviews for the Review Round-Up. This 3D platformer was a mix of marvelous platforming design with an often humorous and sometimes tender tale. The game received an A- grade.

Last but not least, check out an excerpt from each game review shared on SPC these past two months, and be sure to take a look at every review ever published on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive. See you next month, Review Round-Up!

Mario Golf: Super Rush (NSW) - B

Mario Golf: Super Rush seems like a bittersweet time on the links. The golfing gameplay is as stellar and solid as it's ever been, but everything surrounding the game doesn't quite seem par for the course, especially when compared to other entries in the Mario Golf series and even other contemporary golf games. There is a lack of Ring Shot, unlockables other than star and superstar club versions of characters (though, this is fun to use different characters to earn points to upgrade them), online tournaments and leaderboards, and even basic stuff like taunting, post-hole celebrations, and replays. Mario Golf: Super Rush could have been so much more, and perhaps like Mario Tennis Aces, in a year we will see the game we should have gotten at launch. As is, unless you're devoted to improving upon your scores and replaying courses and hopping online like I am, you should give this particular golf game a pass for the time being.

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.
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. 
What Acid Nerve crafted with Death's Door is nothing short of phenomenal. This Zelda-like game with an isometric perspective and bleaker, harsher world is one that I wholeheartedly recommend. Exploration is enjoyable, combat is challenging and rewarding, and the presentation is a sight (and sound) to behold. Prepare yourself for a fantastic adventure, as that's exactly what you'll receive with Death's Door.
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.
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! 
Few games lately have made me want to put forth the effort to complete them 100%, but Psychonauts 2 was certainly one of those games. Outside of battles, occasional obnoxious invisible walls, and platforming pitfalls due to some depth perception issues, Psychonauts 2 offers a plentifully polished game. It's hilarious one moment, tender and poignant the next. It's the type of game that gave me a bittersweet feeling upon completing it. On one hand, I got to experience a (doubly) finely crafted game. On the other, I just hope it won't take another 16 years to see a sequel! 
Not to be overlooked, Death's Door from publisher Devolver Digital and developer Acid Nerve
ended up being another top title in this past round of reviews!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Psychonauts 2 (XBS, XB1, PS4, PC) Review

Let's wrap up the month here with one final review. It's for the long-awaited sequel to one of developer Double Fine's most beloved games, Psychonauts. Considering how many of Double Fine's games are beloved, that's quite the title to achieve! It's Psychonauts 2, and SPC has its review live on the site for you tonight!

One fine--ahem, double fine--platformer

It's been a 16 year journey, but finally, FINALLY fans of the original Psychonauts have the next full-length chapter in Razputin's psychic saga. For those like myself who never got to partake in the original game, Psychonauts 2 is just as inviting to new players as it is to veterans of Double Fine and Tim Schafer's 3D platformer magnum opus. Of course, those who have played the first Psychonauts will discover a deeper appreciation for the characters and world than those who have not.

Either way, with Psychonauts 2 and with Xbox bankrolling part of the development of the game, Double Fine's latest title is not only one of the developer's better games in its multi-decade history, but it's also one of the finest games released this year.

Psychonauts 2 picks up where the original Psychonauts and the VR-only follow-up Rhombus of Ruin left off story-wise. Fortunately, if you haven't played either of these games, the opening cutscene is essentially a colorful and comical summary of the events from those two titles. It serves as a wonderful primer that eases newcomers into the Psychonauts world. 

The Psychonauts enter the mind of Dr. Loboto in order to discover the true identity of the person or persons who tasked Loboto with kidnapping Truman Zanotto, the Grand Head of the Psychonauts. Probing around and investigating inside Loboto's mind reveals a shadowy figure, whom one of the Psychonauts agents notes is the terrifying Maligula. A group called the Deluginists wants to revive her. Not just that, but in Loboto's mind, Raz discovers that there is a double agent within the Psychonauts. It's up to the Psychonauts to prevent Maligula's revival as well as find out who the double agent is before it's too late.

As one might expect from a Double Fine-developed game, Psychonauts 2's story is full of whimsical, eccentric characters that are a delight to interact with. The dialogue is full of punchy humor and witty writing, routinely making this particular player and review writer laugh more than he expected to. Conversely, Psychonauts 2 also goes into some deep and occasionally dark territory, too. There are some tender, poignant moments that were pleasant surprises to experience as well.

It's a big world out there, Raz. Feel free to take it all in and explore!
Psychonauts 2 starts out relatively linearly with set levels done in a specific order and one main hub. However, after a couple of levels or so in the rearview mirror, the game opens up considerably. There is an unexpected amount of freedom available to players, offering a duo of new, expansive hubs, the ability to tackle the main quest in any order, and plenty of content to sink one's teeth into. It's never overwhelming, however.

The "eyes" have it in this truly trippy (but wonderful) world.
In Psychonauts 2, Raz enters into the minds of various characters in order to sort out their thoughts as a means to help them get back on track. Well, that's except for one early case within the game, of course. The worlds in Psychonauts 2 were always exciting to see. I never knew what to expect when Raz would pull out that door into a character's mind and then leap inside, and the surprise was always a welcomed and riveting one. Whether entering a hospital turned casino for high rollers, delving into a world based off a hellish, nightmare version of a cooking competition, or traveling through a literal tour of the five senses complete with trippy, far-out visuals, Psychonauts 2 delighted with every new world that myself and Raz were introduced to. Every new world was a new opportunity for Double Fine's level designers to wow and amaze, and they seldom, if ever, missed the mark.

Out of the way, ladies and germs, Raz is coming through!
Each world sports its own series of collectables to acquire, all optional. There are Half-A-Minds to find (understandably when two halves are collected to form a full mind, Raz's health increases by one brain), Memory Vaults that regale players with lore regarding the character whose mind Raz is in, Nuggets of Wisdom that level up Raz's psychic rank, Emotional Baggage that requires Raz to find the corresponding tag for each piece of literal baggage, and Figments, which are the most plentiful collectable to find in worlds. Some Figments are just maddening to find when there are 200+ scattered throughout a world that is split up between various parts. I would have liked--nay, loved--to have seen a "Figment Finder" of sorts that beeps when Raz is near one, for example.

Though with the Psychonauts he starts as a modest intern, Raz is quite the capable psychic. In the beginning of the game, he's equipped with a small amount of abilities, such as Telekinesis, allowing him to interact with or pick up and throw objects. As his adventure progresses, he obtains a whole slew of psychic abilities that are great in a pinch in and out of battle. There is the PSI Blast, which shoots fireballs out at enemies and can hit faraway objects in order to activate them. There is the Levitation ability, allowing Raz extra height and distance in midair after jumps, or allowing him to ride on a ball of mental energy. Later abilities are even cooler, particularly one late-game psychic maneuver that is as equally fun as it is comical to use. I won't spoil it, however.

While Censors love to literally stamp out threats, some foes love to bully poor Raz from afar.
As Raz finds collectables in worlds, his psychic rank increases. With each level increase he earns skill points that can be spent to upgrade his psychic abilities. For instance, with Pyrokinesis' initial version, it erupts in a small sphere. As Raz upgrades this power, not only does the range grow but so does the effectiveness, burning enemies for much longer, damaging them over time. In order to fully upgrade every psychic power in Raz's repertoire, players will have to essentially collect everything in the game's worlds. Seeing as how enjoyable the platforming is and how clever the level designs are in Psychonauts 2's worlds, offering an abundance of clever, fresh ideas and obstacles to interact with, that's not exactly a bad thing. 

Mental Connection allows Raz to move from one stray thought to another
to reach new heights and otherwise inaccessible destinations.
These psychic moves work in battle just as well as they do outside. Raz can use his Telekinesis to pluck weapons like hammers or bombs right out of an enemy's grasp and chuck it back at them, while his Mental Connection ability can grab foes and either bring Raz closer to them or them closer to Raz. Raz can roll to evade enemy attacks, and then let loose a flurry of kicks and punches to slowly whittle them down in health. 

If battles get too boring or frustrating (and they just might),
there's no shame in turning on an accessibility feature or two.
Though, it is safe to say that while the platforming in Psychonauts 2 is of a stellar enough quality, combat is where the game is at its weakest. There is a lack of visual feedback for enemies taking damage. They simply stand there and take hits with your only visual cue being their teeny-tiny, depleting health bars. Further, the combat controls feel a bit slow and laggy, inelegant, and at times downright frustrating. Fortunately, if battles prove to be too much of a nuisance, you can turn on an accessibility feature to make fights more fun, enabling enemies to take more damage and output less onto Raz. Otherwise, whenever a battle scenario started, I would occasionally let out an audible sigh. By far my least favorite part of this otherwise excellent game. 

While regular battles are nothing to make a positive note of, it's the boss battles, that like the platforming worlds, are insanely clever and well done. This is one part of Psychonauts 2 that would not have been possible or included without Microsoft's backing. Whether you're dealing with the oversized neon Luctopus who has death in the cards for poor Raz, or battling a trio of judges hellbent on making Raz fail their cooking show with one last ditch boss battle, these fights are fun, massive, and marvelous. 

There's nothing lucky about Raz being in the Luctopus' sights,
but it sure does make for an entertaining boss battle.
Psychonauts 2 looks absolutely wonderful on the Xbox Series S version of the game. The game's performance is stellar running on the S, and technical issues were at a minimum. Load times were insanely impressive, seldom taking more than five seconds to switch between worlds or hubs. The latter offers fast travel between underground tunnels to get around Psychonauts 2's hubs quickly. The voice work feels suitably Saturday morning cartoon-like, and it's masterfully done. Masterfully done as well is the soundtrack, which brings whimsical orchestral sounds that were reminiscent of Rare's composers' works, rock-based anthems, and simple but truly effective bops. 

Psychonauts 2 is quite the looker running on Xbox.
Few games lately have made me want to put forth the effort to complete them 100%, but Psychonauts 2 was certainly one of those games. Outside of battles, occasional obnoxious invisible walls, and platforming pitfalls due to some depth perception issues, Psychonauts 2 offers a plentifully polished game. It's hilarious one moment, tender and poignant the next. It's the type of game that gave me a bittersweet feeling upon completing it. On one hand, I got to experience a (doubly) finely crafted game. On the other, I just hope it won't take another 16 years to see a sequel! 

[SPC Says: A-]