Friday, June 27, 2014

My Thoughts On "Fixing" Sonic the Hedgehog

Originally this was a response I had made to this YouTube video, but I decided I'd like to share these thoughts with my blog readers and Twitter followers as well.

I'll try to keep my opinion as concise as possible, but there's a lot to talk about with what's going on with modern Sonic games. Honestly I could probably do a series of posts on this subject, but I'll keep things simple for now.

In my opinion I feel like people misinterpret the various iterations of modern Sonic games as desperate attempts to reinvent the series rather than experimentation by the developers.

It's a shame that games like Sonic 06, the story book series (secret rings and black knight) and Sonic Unleashed had so many hiccups (or miss-fires) but one thing you have to give the developers are that they do build upon the things that were done right while taking each series in a new direction. No Sonic series is like the other, and while this was a bad thing for a while I feel like it keeps things fresh. If only they could shake the stigma that each new iteration is a reboot.

I would argue that Sonic Unleashed (not the Wii version) was probably the last of the "bad" Modern Sonic games, though it really isn't all that bad when you exclude portions of the Werehog segments. If you look at Sonic Colors and Generations, the "Sonic Adventure" play style has been refined to quite an enjoyable experience. Now we have Sonic Lost World which plays completely different from any other modern Sonic offering, allowing you to directly control how Sonic handles using the run button which addresses the complaints that Sonic was impossible to control at high speeds and also reintroduces the focus on platforming. (And before anyone says Lost World is a rip-off of the Mario Galaxy series...well that's as shallow a statement as saying Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter are the same thing.)

Speaking of Mario, if we want to make comparisons, I feel like Mario is need of some redirection too. I always have a good time playing Mario games, but they never surprise me anymore. As such, I usually just give them a single play through because they just aren't that excited to me anymore. There's just no WOW factor... I feel like since Mario 64, Mario has largely handled the same other than the multitude of powerups that mostly just feel tacked on to me. The difference is (and I know I'll burn for this) is that Mario usually gets a free pass in reviews for hiccups or mediocrity where Sonic usually burns for them. I'm getting waaaaay off topic though.

I'm not going to sit and tell you that modern Sonic games are perfect the way they are though. I prefer the genesis titles that were more heavily based on platforming and maintaining momentum. Obviously I would prefer the new titles to take this same direction, though implementing the momentum aspect is something I'm honestly not sure how to tackle apart from moving back to a strictly 2D plane.

My hope for Sonic is that the series continues to evolve solely based on the data that works (Generations and Lost World). Oh and no more rail grinding segments, though they've been fixed, I just don't understand their insistence on them.

Are SOAP shoes still a thing?
 
I really like what they're doing with the new Sonic Boom series from what little we've seen of the gameplay and the show looks like it's going to be entertaining for the right age group. While it's received mostly praise, there are still a lot of naysayers out there (redesign complaints aside) claiming this alternate universe as another desperate attempt to reinvent itself, when in fact is just the opposite. The producers have stated time after time that this is an effort to experiment and take the Sonic games in new directions. It's that willingness to experiment and keep an open mind with gameplay that has kept my interest in Sonic over the years.

Sorry this ended up so long, I just started typing and here we are. If you've read this far thank you for the time. I'm interested in hearing your opinions as well!

Cheers!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Favorite Summer Time Video Game Tunes

Summer time is here and it's a hot one! It's the best time of year to run and jump and swim and play, or row and go on trips. My personal favorite way to beat the summer heat is to swim. But what do you do when you don't have access to your favorite way to stay cool?  If you're reading this blog, chances are your last resort is usually hiding out in the ac or underground lair to enjoy some video games.

But just because you're protecting your delicate nerdy skin from the deadly UV rays of the Sun doesn't mean you have to miss out on some summer fun. There are tons of games out there with summer time stages and themes.

Here are some of my favorite video game music examples, in no particular order, that capture that summer time spirit for me.

X-Men: Children of the Atom - Iceman's theme/Ice On the Beach
No one knows how to stay cool more than Iceman of the X-men. In this case he chose to do so by creating a giant glacier at the beach.



Sonic CD - Palmtree Panic Zone theme
Whether you prefer the US/EU or Japanese soundtrack, both Palmtree Panic cuts fit the tropical resort like landscape of Palmtree Panic perfectly.



Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project - Scene 1 theme
This upbeat tune sets the stage as the turtles are attacked by the Foot Clan while on vacationing in Miami.



Super Mario Sunshine - Delfino Plaza theme
...and pretty much the entire soundtrack in general strike that Summer time cord.



Streets of Rage 2 - Wave 131
Axel and the gang take the battle to the beach!



Sonic Adventure - Emerald Coast theme
This high energy theme is perfect for racing down the fictional Emerald Coast outside of Station Square.



Mega Man 8 - Aqua Man's theme
This smooth yet upbeat tune is perfect for an underwater adventure.

 

Knuckles Chaotix - Door Into Summer
Not only does this theme have Summer in the name, but actually makes for a great Summer theme too. Really the entire game, with its amusement park island setting, makes for the perfect Summer time adventure.


I actually found this list to be a bit of a struggle to create once I started digging through my library for appropriate themes. Fact is, there are a plethora of Summer themed video games and stages, many of which I may have failed to rediscover that definitely belong on this list.

What are some of your favorites?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Happy 23rd Birthday Sonic!

Today marks the 23rd Birthday of one of my favorite video game characters of all time, Sonic the Hedgehog.

Thanks for 23 years of fun!

Back to reading Console Wars for me. I highly recommend it so far!

Check out my top ten Sonic the Hedgehog memories here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sonic Blast Man 2 Review - Rolling with the punches

Sonic Blast Man returns in a fast paced beat em up sequel to his first SNES adventure, and this time he's not alone!

Sonic Blast Man 2 follows the same side scrolling beat em up formula as the first game while striving to address the issues that kept it from becoming a memorable classic. Does it succeed?

First and probably most important of all, they added 2 player co-op and more heroes to choose from. In my opinion, nothing hurts a titled in the beat em up genre more than limiting it to a solo adventure. So this time Sonic Blast Man is joined by Sonia (yeah, that's it, no flashy heroic name for her) and Guile look a like, Captain Choyear.

Sonic Blast Man 2, starring Jon Hamm

With these character additions we now have the typical beat em up arch types covered. Sonia is the fastest of the trio for those who are okay with sacrificing higher damage for quicker attacks and mobility while Captain Choyear is your slower, heavier hitting, bruiser/grappling type. Sonic Blast Man is the most balanced, offering just the right amount of power and speed to handle any situation the game throws at you.

Speaking of mobility, the sluggish dancing in and out of enemy range that plagued the first game is nowhere to be found here. Not only did they improve the basic walking speed but they also added a dash/run by tapping forward, forward, as well as a handy roll to help close the distance between yourself and projectile enemies (think of it as rolling in King of Fighters but much faster and a greater distance).

Everyone gets their own series of dash attacks

In addition to the improved mobility, Sonic Blast Man also retains his tool box of combos, special moves, and throws. Each character has a standard combo executed by tapping X when in enemy range, with a different combo by tapping X while holding forward that yields different effects. For example, Sonic Blast Man's neutral combo deals more damage to a single enemy, while his forward combo will launch the enemy upward and also shoot a projectile to damage other enemies at a distance. The Y button is a single hit heavy attack that's most useful for knocking enemies away while under pressure. Each button unleashes a different type of throw as well while grabbing an enemy. Of course each character is different so you'll have to try them all to decide your favorite.

Pressing the shoulder buttons will cause your character to glow in a special state. From there the X or Y buttons will yield a special move that spends the special points next to your life bar. The lighter attack uses one point and sends an attack that requires careful aiming, while the heavy attack is guaranteed to clear the screen of enemies at the cost of 2 points.


Sonic Blast Man's Y grab deals a devastating single blow that grounds the enemy

The graphics have, in my opinion, improved greatly over the original title by utilizing a brighter color selection and opting for slightly smaller character sprites, which at the same time eases off the SNES' processing power allowing for more enemies on the screen at a time. The sound effects are some of the nicest smacks and thuds you'll find in a 16 bit game once again making each punch oh so satisfying. The music is upbeat and catchy as hell. Don't be surprised if some of it gets stuck in your head after you're done playing.

The game is relatively short at only 5 stages and gone are the arcade punching bonus stages from the first game, even though they were a little physically painful to play. This time around there is a much better narrative to explain why you're walking around punching aliens, though it is a fairly generic super heroes save the earth from an invading alien army storyline. Then again, that's all we really need to give Sonic Blast Man reason enough to start dropping 100 megaton punches like he does best.

Pros:

-Improves over all negative issues of the first game.
-Brightly colored graphics and character designs.
-Great sound effects and catchy music.
-Combo and special options add more depth to the fighting than just dealing the same combo over and over.
-Highly recommended title for beat em up fans.

Cons:

-Game is relatively short.
-Disappointing lack of bonus stages after the first game featured stages from the arcade game.
-Doesn't have much of an ending.


As always, thank you for reading. "See you later!!"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sonic Blast Man (SNES) Review - Remembering a forgotten superhero of the 90's

Where were you when Sonic Blast Man arrived from a distant world to defend Earth from the likes of street thugs, asteroids and giant crabs?  Chances are the majority of my readers just gave a collective "What?"

You know, Sonic Blast Man! That rad arcade game where you put the boxing glove on to punch the sensor and defend the Earth? I doubt that rings a bell either. In fact, I don't recall even being aware that there was an arcade game until I encountered one of these rare machines on a class trip to Atlanta, long after I had played the Sonic Blast Man SNES game and its sequel, which is what I want to talk about today.

Sonic Blast Man is the story of a super hero from a distant planet that has come to save the planet Earth by 100 megaton punching runaway trains, thugs and asteroids, not unlike the Super Man origin story (less punchie). That's at least what we can gather from pretty much the only narrative the game offers.

The cover art reads "The Arcade Hit" which isn't exactly true or false. The main game is actually a side scrolling beat em up in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage where you follow a given path clearing enemies as you go. Just as it is presented in the opening cutscene, you'll quickly learn that punching is Sonic Blast Man's specialty, which is oh so satisfying to dish out on street thugs, robots, aliens or whatever else the game throws at you.

Mass Effect fans, where else can you punch out some weird Turian/Krogan hybrids?

Sonic Blast Man has enough combo variations and special grabs in his arsenal to keep the punches rolling, however his slow walking speed makes getting within range a chore. Especially in later stages where the enemies duck in and out of the screen and flee as you advance, forcing all too many repetitive slow dances as you inch your way through combat. If only they thought to include a run or dash. Sometimes I felt like I needed to use one of the limited D. Punches, the screen clearing 100 megaton punch, to advance because chasing the enemies down was becoming too monotonous.

This guy is about to very much regret getting up this morning.

The stages from the arcade game appear as bonus stages after each level, called "Hit Stages." Like the arcade, you are presented with a single screen showing you an advancing threat that can naturally only be dealt with by smashing it with megaton punches. Such as an 18 wheeler about to run down a runaway baby carriage.

Since the Super Nintendo to my knowledge never came out with a punching glove and sensor apparatus the stages consist of you swirling the d-pad to fill a power meter as high as you can before a certain time limit runs out and then hitting b when the floating punch icon is over the target area. It's fun at first but quickly becomes physically tiring as you swirl your thumb with all your might to fill the power meter. The higher the difficulty the harder it is to fill the meter, but I found that even after switching back to easy for the bonus games my thumb was extremely fatigued. By the end of the game I was holding the controller upside down in my other hand to save my left thumb from breaking off.

Use 100 megaton punches on the Giant Enemy Crab's weak point for massive damage!

The sprites in this game are large, colorful, and impressively detailed. The size actually reminds me a lot of SNK titles like Art of Fighting. Until later in the game, most of the stages are the typical locales you've seen in the beat em up genre's past such as a street, sewer and factory. The music is generally pretty catchy and the sound effects give satisfying support to each devastating punch you deal out.

Despite Sonic Blast Man's arsenal of attacks, the mobility issues make this title come off as a very basic style of beat em up. It's not a bad game, but an unremarkable one, especially if you've honed your skills on games like Streets of Rage.

Pros:

-Sonic Blast Man has probably the most awesome super hero costume ever!
-Huge arcade style sprite work is nice to look at.
-Catchy tunes.
-Stages from the Arcade game included as a bonus (when you're not exhausted from playing them).
-Combat is satisfying (when you can catch up to the enemies).

Cons:

-Movement is sluggish to the point where catching up with enemies is difficult.
-Bonus stages hurt my hands to play for too long.
-No 2-player mode.
-The game overall doesn't really bring anything memorable to the table, aside from Sonic Blast Man's costume!


Next time on Sonic Blast Man....can the problems had with the original game be ironed out for the megaton smashing sequel, Sonic Blast Man 2? Visit again later to find out.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Retro Gaming Finds - April 6th

Evening everyone!

One of my favorite hobbies is searching flea markets (or dirt malls depending on where you hail from) and thrift markets for retro gaming items in the hopes of giving them a better home and much needed playing. I've decided to start making record of these adventures, good and bad, as well as information on better deals in my area for other collectors.

This weekend I set out to find a replacement Sega Genesis to fill the gap left by the passing of the original from my childhood. I set out with my brother (@Yoshieggpic on Twitter) to the Tri-Cities Flea Markets outside of Johnson City TN. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures from the trip itself, only the stuff I actually came home with.

The first booth we stopped at had a model 1 Genesis with Altered beast in the box with all original accessories, inserts and game. The condition was pretty spectacular but the asking price of $120 was a little steep for me and I was looking for one to play instead of display in a collection anyway.

The next booth had a model 2 Genesis in box with inserts and all accessories. It was supposed to include Vector Man and the box was pretty beat up so he was only asking for $25 for it. I got it out of the box to inspect and everything was in fantastic condition. No scuffs or anything on the console itself and the controller and cords felt like they had never been touched. Needless to say I was pretty excited, but unfortunately when I opened the cartridge slot it appeared that something had smashed one of the connectors down. He seemed just as let down as I was as I think he had accepted it as a trade earlier.


 The broken connector


This controller is in amazing condition
 

The next booth had a Genesis model 2 on display with no cords or accessories. It appeared to be in pretty good shape and the connectors looked great in this one. The seller said that it worked but he didn't have any of the cords for it, but since it was a risk on my part he was only asking $5 for it, along with a free controller, so I decided to give it a shot.

I went back to the other booth and asked if he would be willing to part with the box and cords of the other console and lucky enough he was for $10 and even included the broken console to see if I could do anything with it.

Score! Mission accomplished and I was only in $15 dollars. I prefer the original model Genesis, but I think the model 2 still looks cool too. I didn't see any games I needed anywhere so we cut the trip short after that.

Back at home, as expected, the console with the broken connector powers on but will not play anything. I may be able to bend it back with the right tool but I'm keeping it to the side for now. The other console works like a charm and I've been happily enjoying my Genesis collection since I got home.

The working console, still in pretty good shape

All the spoils from this trip

It was a great trip and I can't wait to visit again. Maybe I'll see what kinds of Master System stuff I can find next time.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beyond Oasis Review

I remember fondly (sort of) the days of the 16-bit console wars and the arguments that would ensue over whether the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis was the better console and which had the better games. Often these "discussions" came down to software comparisons, some obligatory such as Super Mario World vs. Sonic The Hedgehog, and some not so, like Chrono Trigger vs. Phantasy Star IV. Whenever The Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past was mentioned though, there was one game that was almost always used as a counter.

Enter Beyond Oasis, otherwise known as The Story of Thor in other territories, and often regarded as a Zelda clone. It's a shame to me that this title lives in Zelda's shadow to many players of the 16-bit era. Yes, both titles sport a top down perspective, active combat, puzzle solving, and dungeon exploration. However, in my opinion, Beyond Oasis has enough differences for it to stand alone as its own unique title. 

That being said, I'll try my best not to make comparisons between the two. Both have great things going for them and in the end award very different experiences for the player. Instead, I would encourage you to read what I have to say and then give them both a try to decide for yourself if you so wish.

The story begins with the main character, prince Ali, doing a bit of treasure hunting, which you soon discover is one of his favorite hobbies. In a particular chest, he discovers a mysterious golden armlet and decides to try it on. Naturally the armlet becomes stuck and a mysterious spirit appears to warn you of a great evil descending upon the land. Suddenly a violent earthquake erupts and you narrowly escape the island cave before it's swallowed up by the ocean. After returning to town, a sudden monster attack sets the prophecy in motion. You soon find out from the King that it is your destiny to return the golden armlet to its full power and rid the world of this unknown evil. And so the adventure begins...







As stated above, combat is always live, meaning enemies will attack as soon as they notice you. Fortunately for you, Ali has a generous variety of attacks and special moves to deal with any mob you cross paths with.

The dagger, which is the default weapon, is also the most versatile. It cannot be broken or set down and has the longest list of special moves available. Tapping B makes you stab, but press it rapidly enough will make Ali kick rapidly. Holding B for a brief moment and releasing causes a powerful horizontal swipe that knocks enemies down. If you get surrounded, a quick 360 motion on the d-pad plus B gives you a quick spin slash that blows enemies back and grounds them. If you pressing B while running produces an even stronger swipe that launches enemies in a disorienting spin. The most powerful move, and my personal favorite, is the back flip, which is executed by pressing forward, back, forward and B. It hits multiple times and chunks some major damage.

On top of that, you can find extra weapons such as broadswords, crossbows and bombs, some of which have special extra effects. The downside to the alternate weapons is that they break and must be discarded after so many attacks. That is unless you're clever enough to find the rarest versions for your arsenal.

Joining Ali in battle are four elemental spirits you meet one by one by completing the game's dungeons. You can summon them into battle by shooting a ball of light from the golden armlet at their represented element. For example, hitting a flaming torch on a cave wall will summon the fire spirit, Efreet. Once the spirit is present, the A button allows you to issue commands. Pressing, tapping, or holding A will make the spirit unleash one of their special moves. Watch your magic meter!

Not only are they capable sidekicks in battle, but they also help you traverse the world around you and navigate dungeons. Unlike collecting equipment like in Zelda, the spirits act as your extra tools. Such as using Dytto, the water spirit, to extinguish a wall of flames, or Efreet to light torches. It's this spirit mechanic that gives the game a unique depth that's rare to the genre.

I was very impressed with the level of detail that went into summoning the spirits themselves. Most of the time there are obvious elemental sources to allow you to summon, but you can get creative as well. For example, you can toss a bomb and if you shoot a ball of light timed so it touches the flames of the explosion, you can summon Efreet. Every source of water makes it possible to summon Dytto, right down to the tiny droplets of water falling from the ceiling of a cave if timed correctly. The shadow spirit, Shade, can be summoned from the reflective surface of the great knight's armor. It really encourages you to explore the environment in detail. The only spirit that didn't seem to get this treatment is Bow, the plant/earth elemental. While plant life is in abundance in Oasis, you can only summon him from certain ones. I guess it would be too easy to summon him otherwise.

Overall the game is more focused on action than puzzle solving. While the dungeons are littered with puzzles, there's nothing that will leave you head scratching like in Zelda. Some of the more difficult segments of the game are actually platforming related, particularly later in the game when you're tasked with navigating small moving platforms. There's even a boss that takes place over a giant pit with a handful of flying platforms as your only means of staying alive. Thankfully falling down a pit doesn't kill you instantly but rather only takes a bit of damage. Regardless, the frustration is still there. The best method for surviving such trials is to be patient, time your jumps carefully and watch Ali's shadow as you fall.

Oasis is an open world and there's plenty to explore though it does become a bit linear once you sail to the northern region of the island. Thankfully once you meet Shade and gain access to the warp network (essentially fast travel) things open back up again, giving you the opportunity to visit past locals with your new spirits in tow.

Visually, Beyond Oasis is one of the nicest looking games on the Genesis. The backgrounds are colorful and full of detail and every sprite in the game is beautifully animated. The music was composed by famous Japanese composure Yuzo Koshiro and captures the feeling of grand adventure perfectly. The sound effects feel as though they were ripped right out of Streets of Rage, though they are slightly different. Ali actually sounds just like Axel.

If you're hungry for an action adventure, I highly recommend you give Beyond Oasis a try. Even if you decide Beyond Oasis is mere Zelda clone, I can safely guarantee the adventurer in you will have a blast seeing it through to the end.



Pros:

-Combat is fun and addictive.
-Beautiful graphics and animation.
-Sound track is grand and memorable.
-The spirit/summon system is unique and fun to utilize during gameplay.

Cons:

-Has some annoying platforming segments that can be difficult to traverse in this type of prospective.
-The journey becomes linear for a noticeable portion of the story.

Note:  The version I reviewed was my original Sega Genesis cartridge, but you can also find Beyond Oasis available on the Nintendo Wii e-shop and on the Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection disk for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.  I have all of these versions and find them all to be pretty much perfect ports of the original.