Friday, January 21, 2022

Blackwind (Multi) Review

The rest of this month on SuperPhillip Central is most likely going to be a series of new reviews on the site. To kick things off is Blackwind, a hack-and-slash mech game with platforming elements. Will this particular mech game "suit" you? Find out with the SPC review.

Neither an ill wind, nor a soothing breeze

Blackwind begins with a space vessel becoming under attack from unknown forces. Aboard are Jimmy Hawkins and his father, the creator of a special bio mech suit that comes complete with its own AI, the first of its kind. To protect his son and in his own sacrifice, Hawkins Sr. puts Jimmy into the suit and deploys it down to the planet below. Without his father's voice authorization, Jimmy is stuck in the suit, so it's up to him to hopefully find his father at the vessel's crash site. Of course, no objective goes smoothly, as Jimmy will have to contend with hostile alien forces, as well as unravel a conspiracy in the process. 

The team behind Blackwind describe the game as a hack-and-slash sci-fi action game with platforming elements, so let's break down each aspect one by one. In terms of action, Blackwind has a lot of it. Jimmy's suit can bash and battle baddies with the best of them, offering both melee (light and heavy attacks) as well as ranged fire. When an enemy has taken enough damage, they will start to flash red. This indicates a termination opportunity, which serves as an opportunity to execute an enemy at once. This is enjoyable for the first five dozen times, but by the end of the game, I found myself just beating enemies normally without the desire to terminate them through some animation, no matter how brief it was. That and if I never have to hear "Never mess with a Hawkins!" or some other overly, obnoxiously repeated expression again, it'll be too soon.

Get up close and personal with your adversaries!

Also obnoxious occasionally, is the combat, which is pretty basic. It can also become pretty infuriating too at times, unfortunately. This is compounded adversely by a camera that you cannot control whatsoever. You're at the whims of its either overhead placement, angled position, or some other perspective that does not lend well to keep enemies in view. There are also little to no invincibility frames to speak of, which coupled with the suit's inability to stand up quickly upon falling down from taking damage means that you can easily get stuck in a damage loop. The only escape is your own death, which is sometimes an immense frustration due to inconsistent checkpoint placement.

Or stay back and unload a steady supply of missiles into them.

Enemies drop blue orbs when defeated, and you can also get them from destroyed objects in the environment, of which there are plenty. Orbs can be spent at various stations in numerous skill trees to increase attack power of melee and ranged weaponry, boost how much health and special energy is dropped from defeated foes, and also means to improve and upgrade abilities learned throughout the course of Blackwind's campaign. In a given run through the game, it is next to impossible to upgrade everything available, so I really had to pick and choose what improvements to Jimmy's mech I wanted to add. 

Speaking of abilities learned and earned throughout Blackwind, Jimmy's mech does gain a lot of interesting moves to utilize in and out of battle. For starters, there's basically a ground pound that emits of fiery shockwave that can incinerate enemies and inflict them with a burn over time once it's properly upgraded. Then, there's the ability to detach the suit's drone from its body, allowing it to freely move around, and even enter air ducts and ventilation shafts, offering some interesting navigational/exploration-based puzzles. This detachment of the drone also opens up puzzles where players will need to split tasks between both the drone and Jimmy's suit to make progress.

A force field: Every mech's must-have for added defense!

When Jimmy isn't engaged in battles with all types of enemies--both alien and even human--Blackwind will task him with performing some platforming feats, puzzles, and challenges. This is an aspect of Blackwind where the game severely falters. Movement already in the game is stiff, and the platforming suffers because of it. The aforementioned poor camera resulted in me not being able to properly identify where I needed to jump--if I could even jump there to begin with--and sometimes it even got stuck on level geometry, forcing me to have to reload my data. 

Further, there were so many times where I'd jump on a "platform" only to not be able to jump again when I should have easily been able to do so. Blackwind is incredibly strict about when and where you can jump, use as platforms, and move in its world, and it's all insultingly limiting. There's usually just one way to solve puzzles, do platforming sections, and if you don't do them the way the game expects you to, you're going to get easily frustrated. This is especially so when you do everything right, yet the game's physics, controls, collision detection, or camera let you down.

Level design also suffers in Blackwind, offering a fair amount of exploration for things like new skins for Jimmy's mech and health and energy upgrades, but so much of it relies on places infested with invisible walls and janky platforming sections. When you're not in the out of doors, where invisible walls welcome you with anything but "open" arms, you're in dimly lit, labyrinthine, indoor areas that are sprawling mazes. These have you trudging through rooms, collecting keycards, hitting switches that for some reason open doors halfway across the compound (doesn't seem too efficient in an "if this was a real place" context), and battling enemies. It's nothing too amazing, to put it politely.

Like (unfortunately) many other things in the game, the camera does not always do Blackwind many favors.

Despite not playing the best or even looking the greatest, Blackwind runs at a steady frame-rate at the very least. Although many of the areas are drab, don't inspire much wonderment from them, and constantly reuse assets, everything in the game runs well and is stable. Blackwind's audio is a mixed bag, offering competent enough voice work (your mileage may vary), and music that simply stands as serviceable. 

By the time I was through with Blackwind, I found myself seeing a lot of untapped potential, and whether that is because of time-constraints or budget issues, it's just a shame that for every good idea in Blackwind, something just holds the game back and sometimes in an utterly frustrating way. Between the janky platforming, subpar combat, horrid camera, and myriad small issues with the game, it all adds up to Blackwind being one sci-fi hack-and-slash platformer you can safely skip without much regret.

[SPC Says: C-]

A code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Tuesday 10s - Most Anticipated Games of 2022

It's time for The Tuesday 10s to make their triumphant arrival in a brand-new year. What better way to do that than to celebrate and anticipate some of the most interesting, intriguing, and exciting games due out in 2022? That's exactly what we're doing here at SPC with this alphabetical list of the site's most anticipated games of 2022. From sequels to long-running and historic franchises to all-new IP, this list has a little something for everyone, and doesn't even quite list ALL of the good-looking games currently set release this year. 

God of War: Ragnarok (PS5, PS4)

After the excellence that was God of War in 2018 (and SuperPhillip Central's Game of the Year for the same year), there's no question that there is immense excitement stirring from both PlayStation and God of War fans for the upcoming God of War: Ragnarok. Featuring the return of Kratos and a teenaged Atreus, Ragnarok occurs in the Scandinavian region of the world, features Norse folklore and mythology, and is set three years after the events of the 2018 game. Along the way, Kratos and Atreus will have to endure the wrath of both Thor and Feya, as well as face the harsh elements, creatures, and challenges that await them in the world. Set to release on both the PlayStation 5 and the PlayStation 4, God of War: Ragnarok is due out sometime in 2022.

Gran Turismo 7 (PS5, PS4)

Releasing March 4, 2022, the latest in the long-running and much celebrated (for good reason, too) racing and driving simulation series is, like God of War: Ragnarok, due to release on both PS5 and PS4 at launch, a first for the series. That said, the PS5 version sees many exclusive features thanks to the system's massively more powerful hardware, offering real-time ray tracing effects, 60 FPS, and incredibly short loading times in comparison to the PS4 version. Both versions will see the return of GT Simulation, which features a lengthy solo campaign, many returning circuits, tracks, cars, and modes from past games, such as the Driving School, Used Cars dealership, and GT Sport mode, the latter from none other than Gran Turismo Sport. Essentially a compilation of the best and greatest features and modes from past Gran Turismo games with several all-new bells, whistles, and contents, Gran Turismo 7 looks to have a lot of greatness under its hood.

Horizon Forbidden West (PS5, PS4)

Bigger and better are usually words used to describe sequels, and it's really apt for an open-world sequel like Horizon Forbidden West. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, namely the Western United States, and chiefly California, Nevada, and Utah, Forbidden West sees the return of Aloy as she does battle with both man and machine. The map of Forbidden West will be significantly larger than that of 2017's Horizon Zero Dawn, and sports both underground and underwater exploration, the latter being entirely new to the series. Climbing, melee combat, exploration and more have been shown to be much upgraded as well, making for a sequel that is shaping up to be a majorly and massively marked improvement as a sequel. That's saying a lot considering the original Horizon Zero Dawn was number three on SPC's Games of 2017 list. The wait for Horizon Forbidden West won't be long, as the game launches on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 5 on February 18, 2022.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land (NSW)

After 30 years of waiting, Kirby finally makes the leap into a fully three-dimensional adventure with Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Divided up into 3D levels much like Super Mario 3D World in structure, the objective of each level in Kirby's newest adventure will be to rescue the Waddle Dees trapped in cages at the end of each stage. This is all the while using Kirby's abilities, like his all-new Ranger and Drill copy abilities, to progress through levels, solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and nab hidden collectables as well. Kirby and the Forgotten Land seems set to mark the 30th anniversary of the pink puffball in a major, profound, and downright exciting manner, and I'm definitely here for it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Sequel (NSW)

We don't know too much about the upcoming sequel to 2017's fantastic The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Heck, we still don't even have a subtitle for the game as of yet. Still, what we do know from the two trailers shown and the subsequent interviews surrounding the game has made this sequel incredibly intriguing. For one, Link now takes to the skies of Hyrule in somewhat of a nod to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Will we explore both the skies above and the lands below as well? With the director of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild returning for this sequel, and the idea that unused concepts from that game's development will be utilized in some way in this sequel, this follow-up to Link's first open-world odyssey looks to be well worth the wait. Here's to the hope that it indeed launches this year like Nintendo has stated.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope (NSW)

After the rousing and remarkable success of Ubisoft Milan's first Mario and Rabbids crossover in 2017, it's no doubt that I'm chomping at the bit to find out more and eventually play the upcoming sequel, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. The titular sparks refer to the fusion of Super Mario Galaxy's Lumas and the Rabbids themselves. This time around, nine confirmed playable characters are available, including newcomer Rabbid Rosalina. Gone is the grid-based system used in battles from Sparks of Hope's predecessor, instead using real-time aspects to its combat. Also, the world itself is less linear than Kingdom Battle, offering even more exploration than ever before. All of this makes Sparks of Hope something to be--well, hopeful about when it releases sometime later this year.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (NSW)

Our next game is a bold new direction for a longtime popular series, and it's also a game that is releasing the soonest from the games on this list. It's Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and it looks like it shakes up the traditional Pokémon formula quite considerably. Starting with a choice of three starter Pokémon selected from three different Pokémon games--a first for the series--your trainer enters into the land of Hisui, a region from a bygone era that will become Sinnoh in the distant future. With multiple areas with unique Pokémon to catch and environments to explore, new ways to do battle and capture Pokémon, and a lengthy adventure ahead of players, this new take on the Pokémon series from Game Freak is shaping up to be most promising. Pokémon Legends: Arceus launches on the Nintendo Switch on January 28, 2022.

Saints Row (Multi)

Set in Santo Ileso, based on the southwestern United States, this reboot of the Saints Row series simply titled Saints Row, will see you play as a character known as "The Boss", seeking to develop their own gang from defectors from Santo Ileso's three major gangs. The Boss themselves will be fully customizable, much like past Saints Row games, and the game will also feature drop-in/drop-out co-op for two players to roam around Santo Ileso completing missions and simply painting the town red. Since its debut back on the Xbox 360, Saints Row has been one of my favorite open-world action series, and it has at many times rivaled and occasionally surpassed its clear inspiration, Grand Theft Auto, for me. Saints Row's reboot was originally going to release next month in February, but now it has an August 23, 2022 release date. It's my wish, along many other Saints Row fans out there, that this date sticks.

Sonic Frontiers (Multi)

It's no secret that SEGA's pride and joy and main mascot Sonic the Hedgehog has seen many ups and downs over the years, and I'm not just referring to the undulations of the many zones the Blue Blur speeds through. It's almost disgustingly cliché to mention that. Regardless, SEGA and Sonic Team hope to bring Sonic to a new, successful frontier with Sonic Frontiers, an open-world Sonic game with a story written by famed Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn. The debut trailer premiered at The Game Awards last month, and to say that despite all of Sonic's less than favorable games in the series' history, I'm still very much looking forward to seeing if Sonic Team can stick the landing this time. The delay from 2021 into 2022 was done to give Frontiers some added polish, so here's hoping at the very least!

Triangle Strategy (NSW)

Last but certainly not least is Triangle Strategy, a tactical turn-based RPG similar to that of Final Fantasy Tactics. Using Square Enix's tried and true (and ultimately still gorgeous) HD-2D graphics as seen in the previously released Octopath Traveler, Triangle Strategy takes the beauty of Square Enix's graphics engine and turns up the dial to 11 when it regards beauty. Of course, all of the tactical decision-making one would expect out of a game like this is present and accounted for, and not just in battle either, where players can interact with the environment to change the terrain. How you engage with the story affects three unique characteristics or values, and this in turn affects how characters will engage with you, the player. Will you value morality, liberty, or utility? The choice is yours and yours alone when Triangle Strategy launches as a current Nintendo Switch exclusive on March 4, 2022.