Tag Archives: doubles week

FGC #356 Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed & Mario Kart 8

ARE YOU READY TO RACE?!Theme parks are amazing. Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, Universal Studios allows you to live the movies, and even Six Flags lets you soar like Superman. In a world where technology is traditionally aimed at more mundane pursuits (“The greatest invention since sliced bread!” “But bread is boring!”) theme parks seem to be the last bastion of wonder in the adult world. Nobody is ever going to mistake The Matterhorn for actually skiing down the Alps, but it is a creative and entertaining way to get your adrenaline pumping. Theme Parks are fun, plain and simple.

Unfortunately, theme parks are also pretty stupid.

Look, the rides are fun, whimsical, and mostly just sitting in a chair while stuff happens. You can ride the Delorean from Back to the Future! You can glimpse the world of tomorrow! You can feel real thrills as you hurtle through the air like a magical and fairly speedy god! Or you don’t feel any thrills, because it’s all fake, prerecorded, pre-animated nonsense. The delightful children of It’s a Small World were designed and built by people that were recently buried by their great grandchildren. … Okay, I know It’s a Small World is not an exhilarating ride, but it is required, so I figure it merits a mention. It’s Mega Man 1. The point is that, no matter how theme parks try to simulate excitement, they’re all just pre-made tracks that are about as “real” and “adventurous” as Mario’s initial trip through World 1-1. No turning around, no investigating something unusual, just a ceaseless march forward, and you will have fun.

KA KAW!You readers are a smart bunch, so you’ve likely already noticed the obvious simile that many videogames, and particularly racing games, are much like theme park attractions. And you probably noticed the title of this article, so, yes, we’re inevitably going to compare the tracks of Sega and Nintendo’s top kart racers to theme parks. That much is obvious. But there has to be a twist, otherwise I’m just randomly tossing words at my computer and hoping for the best (oh God, I hope they don’t find out that that’s what this blog has been all along!), and the twist here is a simple one: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a better Mario Kart game than Mario Kart 8 because Mario Kart 8 is a better game.

Wait…

Let’s see if we can’t make that a little easier to understand.

Super Mario Kart started the mascot kart racing genre, but it also… kinda sucked. It was a great game, but it was more proof of concept than anything, and the existence of such tracks as Donut Plains 42 and Bowser Castle 3,214 did rather give the impression that unique course design wasn’t high on the priority list. But that was okay! Because all anyone wanted to play was Battle Mode, and all the AI ever wanted to do was use a starman to ruin your day. The tracks weren’t really the focus so much as they were just map delivery systems (come to think of it, not unlike the original Super Mario Bros. and its limited tileset). Super Mario Kart was, for all intents and purposes, a (time) trial run.

You are now hearing this theme in your headMario Kart 64, though, that’s where Mario Kart as Mario Kart really started. You’d be hard pressed to find even the most ardent of Mario Kart fans that could properly immediately recall the ups and downs of Ghost Valley 3 (pop quiz: did I just make up that track?), but who could forget MK64’s Banshee Boardwalk? Or Toad’s Turnpike? And while Mario Kart 64 relied on more than its share of tracks that were excuses for interesting gimmicks (race the train!), Mario Kart: Double Dash really firmed up the whole “rollercoaster” concept for the Mario Kart franchise. If there was once ever any doubt, it was blasted into space the very moment racers launched themselves up a mountain as a natural part of DK Mountain. That entire track could have easily made sense as a downhill slalom, but, no, you had to “fly”, because that’s a hundred times more interesting than continuous kart-skiing.

But Mario Kart Wii was a change from all that. Mario Kart Wii kept the gimmicks going with aplomb, but the tracks were no longer the main focus. No, the heart of Mario Kart Wii was the appeal and bane of that system: motion controls. Mario Kart Wii was built for its “steering wheel” wiimote functionality, and it seemed to lose a lot of fun as a result. There were certainly amusing tracks in MKW, but the controls, AI, and weapon distribution seemed to exist for the sole purpose of creating a more technical, methodological experience. Mario Kart 8, despite by and large dropping the more procedural concepts from MKW, does appear to be a direct sequel in many respects. Dolphin Shoals is always going to be a great track, but that giant eel can’t touch Dino Dino Jungle for sheer “I am racing in Jurassic Park” spectacle, and we can blame MKW for that.

Meanwhile, there’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (wait, why did they drop the “Sega” from the title? Was it because of Ralph?) did its best to improve on the original formula by adding planes (cool!) and hovercrafts (works for bards). But that’s a superficial reading of the new stunt du jour. What’s really important about the “transformed” franchise is that nearly every track morphs and transforms over the course of a race. Bridges collapse, lava floods caverns, and maybe Eggman blows up the moon at some point. … I think… I think he’s become addicted to the rush. Regardless, the tracks of S&ASRT change from lap to lap, so you’re never quite sure what you’re going to encounter.

And it is amazing!

Burning sensationIt’s a theme park! It’s a roller coaster! It’s inevitable that the third lap will feature a dozen explosions, and it’s exhilarating! And, assuming you’re not grinding one particular track against a time trial or two, this rolling delight will keep up for an entire grand prix. Tracks are just short enough that they don’t overstay their welcome, and they’re long enough so it feels like there’s even spacing between rounds. I know Rogue’s Landing is going to decay into a flying course by the third lap, but it still winds up gripping every time. It’s a preset track with fixed obstacles and “events”, but it perfectly captures that feeling of wonder and excitement through every race.

Except… I quit Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed a long time ago, and have won every single trophy in Mario Kart 8. Twice.

And it all comes back to theme parks again. For a long time, people jubilantly exclaimed that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed had successfully eaten Mario’s lunch, and the new king of the kart circuit was now Sonic being showered with trophies by a cheep cheep in the skies. And I understand that feeling, as I was one of them, still feeling the rush of steering Gilius Thunderhead through Graffiti City. But those accolades seem to have faded over time, because it’s too much like an amusement park ride. You ever notice how nobody really stays at Six Flags? How the people that live near one, people who could potentially go every day… don’t? It’s because adrenaline fades, and, eventually, even a rollercoaster can become boring.

VroooomSo what’s left after that? All the technical mumbo jumbo. All the nonsense about powersliding and steering and scooting along a speed booster like you own the place. What’s left is where Mario Kart 8 excels. Even if you can randomly produce a glider, it’s not as interesting as NiGHTS transforming into a jet, but it’s still fun to soar over a pack of stacked goombas. It’s still entertaining, and “thrilling” or not, there is still a lot of meat on those Mario Kart bones. It might be the old reliable of the kart racing pantheon, but it’s one of the best Nintendo franchises out there for a reason.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. Mario Kart 8 is the gift shop where you know you can order the entire inventory online from the comfort of your home. And they’re both pretty great.

FGC #356 Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed

  • System: Sega Genesis. Wait, no! It’s Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii U. There are also Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, and friggen iPhone ports, but I can’t speak to their collective authenticity. Let’s assume they’re all great?
  • Number of players: Four sounds right.
  • Other Advantages: S&ASRT has maybe the most robust single player experience in kart racing games with its Career Mode, which is basically the quest mode from Soulcalibur. There are all sorts of interesting challenges available as you fight your way toward finally unlocking a playable VMU. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems a little too stretched out and tiring, so maybe the extra content isn’t the best thing in the world.
  • Say something mean: The powerup/weapons/whatever you want to call them in this game kind of suck. They’re mostly more boring rehashes of what you’d see in other kart games, and, really, Sega? You couldn’t do better with all of your franchises contributing characters and concepts? Mecha Bees are cool, but the generic twister could be replaced with, say, any damn thing.
  • WeeeeeFavorite Track: Graveyard Gig, a House of the Dead house party, is everything you could ever want from this premise. After far too much media exposure, we’re back to zombies only being cool when they’re members of The Rolling Stones.
  • Favorite Racer: Vyse, because I enjoy being reminded that we will never see Skies of Arcadia ever again. It hurts so good!
  • Head Canon Corner: Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest thing alive, is racing in a car as a handicap. He wants a nice, fair match.
  • Did you know? Toejam & Earl were planned for original Sega All-Stars Racing, but there was some manner of snafu in actually contacting T&E’s creator. He claimed that he was interested, but the game was too far along by the time he found out. But, you know what? I don’t see the Funkotronians rocking around in the sequel, so I think everyone involved is crazy.
  • Would I play again: Without a doubt. Sometimes you just want to roll around the Death Egg. But, you know, with wheels.

FGC #356 Mario Kart 8

  • System: Nintendo WiiU and Nintendo Switch. The Switch version was used for this review, because I can’t get enough of those squid kids.
  • Number of players: This time I know it’s four.
  • I am a consumer whore: Yes, I purchased this game in its entirety, bonus tracks and all, for the WiiU. Then I bought it again for the Switch. I figured that, since I’m going to have the Switch for a while, and it’s portable, I may as well have an entire Mario Kart game available at all times. I have not regretted this decision.
  • Favorite Track: Cloudtop Cruise is a fun track, features an airship, and reuses music from Super Mario Galaxy. Technically, one could claim this entire course was designed exclusively for me. Or, ya know, any other Mario fan.
  • Favorite Racer: Princess Daisy deserves her own game. Read my newsletter to learn more! (There is no newsletter.)
  • Don't look right at itA shape of things to come: Now that Mario Odyssey features a food world and a decidedly Japanese castle, Sweet Sweet Canyon and Dragon Driftway seem almost prophetic. Or maybe the people behind Mario Odyssey actually played other Mario games. It could go either way.
  • Did you know? This is one of the few games that requires Amiibo functionality only once, as Amiibos unlock new costumes, and are then never need be scanned again. This is in stark contrast to many other Amiibo-based games, like Breath of the Wild or Smash Bros 4, that require frequent visits from your favorite statues. Granted, the Amiibo functionality was kind of grandfathered in anyway, so I wouldn’t see too much into it.
  • Would I play again: Until the Switch is retired, it’s kind of inevitable. And after that? Only the kart under Mario’s butt knows for sure.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Um Jammer Lammy for the Playstation! Rock out with your wool out! Please look forward to it!

Winner!
Eat it, Beat. … No, not you.

FGC #355 Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo & Pocket Fighter

For a time, Street Fighter 2 dominated the arcades. Approximately seven seconds after Guile delivered his first sonic boom, the fighting genre took off like a hadouken, and every producer in the videogame industry cranked out an excuse for super muscular dudes to punch other super muscular dudes. But all good things must come to an end, and, in Japan, Street Fighter 3 wound up losing a number of quarters to… Puyo Puyo Tsu. Huh. Did anybody see that coming? Graduated Tetris beats Street Fighter? What’s next? Some manner of arcade dancing simulator?

The Capcom of the day, still firmly in the market of making videogames, was not going to take this sitting down. No, Capcom decided it would be best to produce a Fighting Puzzle game starring its most popular arcade heavies, and then steal innovate on the puzzle trend just as spectacularly as they had once innovated on the beat ‘em up craze. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo was born, and, for the first time ever, Ryu could beat down Hsien-Ko with magical gems.

And then everybody got bored with puzzle games, so Capcom went back to making fighting games. Or fighting game, as the case may be, as we soon received Pocket Fighter aka Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix. On one hand, Pocket Fighter was a clear case of marrying sprites and assets from a puzzle game to the tried and true (and profitable) gameplay of Street Fighter. That’s pretty cheap! On the other hand, Pocket Fighter became a gorgeous and creative excuse for possibly the first grand Capcom fighting crossover. Sure, the roster was pretty much just the usual Street Fighters and Darkstalkers, but the Pocket Fighters had a tendency to don the costumes and moves of some of their more famous Capcom brethren. It sounds lame now, but years before Marvel vs. Capcom would make it all a glorious reality, Felicia morphing into Mega Man and Jill Valentine as a natural part of a combo was fabulous.

But we’re not here to talk about fanservice, we’re here to compare and contrast two different though thoroughly similar games. And what’s the best way to do that? Take a look at their rosters!

Team Street Fighter (both games)

Priestess?Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li are locks. They are never not going to appear in a Street Fighter or Street Fighter-adjacent game (“What about Vanilla Street Fighter 3?” “Shut-up.”). Ryu is the headliner, Ken is his sycophantic remora of a friend, and Chun-Li is the legally mandated girl. And speaking of girls, we’ve got Sakura, who was really popular at the time, because… I’m sorry, have you met Japan? That country has some… interests. Also hailing from a street full of fighters is Dan, who was included because he slept with the producer (uh, to be clear, it wasn’t a sexual thing, he’s just really good at cuddling). Oh, and we’ve got Akuma, too, because he needed to get some additional training in before his Tekken debut. Across both Puzzle and Pocket fighting, you’ve got to have your basic Street Fighters.

And, sidenote, Chun-Li is the only one of that bunch that doesn’t forward, down, down forward punch.

Team Darkstalkers (both games)

MEOWBack before Capcom had a pile of fighting game franchises (and well before Capcom forgot how to make videogames entirely), Darkstalkers was considered the “mate” to Street Fighter. They were both enjoyable fighting games with random dudes hurling fireballs, but Street Fighter was a very serious game about serious psychic Hitlers and their hockey mask wearing matador ninja, while Darkstalkers was a goofy game where a mummy might turn you into a frog. And it had amazing sprite work with “morphing” fighters that stretch and distort and absolutely preclude their inclusion in any future, polygon-based titles. But they work well for chibi sprite work! So please enjoy the presence of Morrigan, Hsien-Ko, and Felicia! That’s one Darkstalker for every Darkstalker game produced! And at least one of those characters isn’t just weaponized fanservice (though she is mostly weapons)! Yay!

Donovan (appears only in Puzzle Fighter)

Get out of here, nerdDonovan is such a damn weirdo.

Okay, so here’s Donovan’s deal: he’s basically the Angel (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) of the Darkstalkers world. He’s a tortured half-demon that has made it his goal to hunt the wild and wacky Darkstalkers cast (or at least Vampire Savior). And there’s a twist! He’s got a little girl sidekick that is silent, creepy, and likely destined to destroy the world. There’s your hook, ladies and germs! Who doesn’t want to watch the tortured adventures of sullen wolf and cub? All aboard the glowering train! Choo choo!

Except… that isn’t what anybody wants from Darkstalkers. Darkstalkers is a game where you can ram a yeti into a merman at high speeds. This is not a place you want to see brooding, it’s a place you want to see giant bee people, or maybe Little Red Riding Hood with an uzi. Tortured soul with a sword is maybe not the best fit, even if the sword can talk.

So, I guess, with Puzzle Fighter trying to be a “smart” take on fighting games (that’s what a puzzle game is, doncha know), Capcom included its most morose character. However, Donovan did not return for Pocket Fighter, because, geez, what a downer.

Devilotte (appears only in Puzzle Fighter)

Princess Devilotte de Death Satan IX, daughter of Satan, originally appeared in Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness, a 2-D fighting game about giant robots. This title never made it to the west in any capacity, though, because we know what we did. More’s the pity, because we never got to experience Devilotte, a character that was apparently designed as an homage to Dragon Quest’s Princess “Going to Be Punching You Now” Alena. Do… do you need to know anything more about this character? She’s basically a mix between Alena, Team Rocket, that one pirate from Mark of the Wolves, and Alice Liddell. And she communicates primarily through explosions! She’s the perfect character! No wonder she cameos in every other Capcom game.

BWA HA HA HA

… But she kinda didn’t have a moveset outside of her mech, so no Pocket Fighter Devilotte for you.

Zangief (appears only in Pocket Fighter)

Zangief’s invitation to Puzzle Fighter must have been lost in the mail. It’s not like he wasn’t requested for the puzzle game because he still hasn’t been able to figure out pants or something. He could compete in a puzzle game anytime he wants! Gems are not more complicated than bears!

Ibuki (appears only in Pocket Fighter)

A breath of fresh airAh, the requisite “shape of things to come” character. Ibuki was introduced in Street Fighter 3, and one would suppose her inclusion in Pocket Fighter was an attempt to further bolster the popularity of the future/death of the Street Fighter franchise. At the time, she was likely just the Street Fighter 3 character most likely to fit in the Pocket Capcom Universe, and one could bet that the more interesting parts of the SF3 roster would go on to appear in later titles. I mean, ninja school girl is cool an’ all, but how can that compete with stretchy electric albino man? Or the hulking marquee character? Or the unforgettable Captain Banana Hammock? Look, Ibuki just snuck in on a technicality, and that’s all there is to it.

And then she returned in Street Fighter x Tekken.

And was one of the few SF3 characters to sneak into Street Fighter 4.

And then she returned for Street Fighter 5!

God, I just want to fight Q again, but, noooooo, we have to deal with Sakura: The Next Generation over and over again. Bah! Go be stealthy somewhere else, you damn ninja!

Tessa (appears only in Pocket Fighter… like, ever)

Another nerdRed Earth aka Totally Bitchin’ War-Zard: The Battle for the Side of Metal Steve’s Van (insert guitar solo here) was a fighting game contemporary of Street Fighter 3. It was also never ported to a single home console, because Capcom makes awful decisions. This is a game where a lion-man wearing a loincloth can fight a dinosaur. And, no, I don’t mean like some Soulcalibur Lizard Man, I mean a freaking t-rex. And there’s a snail man that is a lot more interesting than the description “snail man” could ever allow. And there was Tessa, too, a witch woman who is “researching magic” by walloping a chimera with a magic staff. As you do.

Tessa snuck into Pocket Fighter likely for the same reason as Ibuki (let’s promote some new games!), but, unlike her Street Fighter buddy, no one recognized her from her origin game. No one. The audience of 1998 was mostly convinced she was an original character made just for this title. And that’s fine! She just kind of fails as a promotion for Red Earth when no one has a damn clue that game even exists. So… good hustle, Tessa?

Then again, did anyone realize Pocket Fighter existed? Super Puzzle Fighter 2 HD and a complete lack of a matching Pocket Fighter HD seems to point to a resounding “no” on that one. Guess Donovan beats Tessa in the grand history of fighting/puzzle games.

Laaaaaame.

FGC #355 Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo

  • System: Playstation and Saturn (really!) initially, and a HD rerelease on Playstation 3/Xbox 360. Also, there was a Dreamcast version in Japan, because Capcom loved that lil’ loser.
  • Number of players: Two, which is simultaneously very common for puzzle games, and very unusual. “Head to Head Puzzle Title”.
  • FINISHPort-o-Call: Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD is supposedly the superior version, but it cuts out a lot of the little endearing details of the original. Everybody only gets one win quote, for one thing, and the sprite work looks downright fuzzy against otherwise HD gameplay. All that said, I did mostly play the HD version for this review, as it was inevitably going to capture better, even if it did drop the essential musical tempo changes.
  • Favorite Character (SPF2T Exclusive): Devilotte is number one with a bullet (giant robot). On a slightly related note, where did that “anime laugh” thing originate? You know, with the holding your hand below your chin and laughing like Marie Antoinette? Just curious.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I stole this game from my buddy Sean. He hasn’t noticed yet. Wait, no, he’s noticed, but every time it comes up, I distract him by talking about the president. The system works!
  • Did you know? The console (though not HD) versions of the game include Mei-Ling and Anita as hidden characters… but they were already palling around with Hsien-Ko and Donovan, so they’re more or less just easter eggs. On the other hand, who didn’t enjoy seeing Orange Hulk and Red Venom in Marvel vs. Capcom?
  • Would I play again: Odds are good, as this is one of the few puzzle games that actually has some recognition among the locals. And it’s loaded on the Playstation 3 anyway…

FGC #355 Pocket Fighter

  • System: Playstation is my Pocket Fighter platform of choice, but Saturn, Arcade, and even Wonder Swan are also available. The Wonder Swan version doesn’t look that bad!… for a black and white title, anyway. Also, Pocket Fighter inexplicably popped up on the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology on Playstation 2, too.
  • Number of Players: It’s two. It’s always two.
  • What’s in a name: Wikipedia claims this game is known as Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix in North America, and is Pocket Fighter only in Japan. However, scroll up, see that American title screen, and tell me it says all that gem nonsense. I can still hear the silly “Pocket Fighter!” title announcement echoing in my head.
  • Get out of here, nerdSpeaking of Voice Acting: In Japan, apparently the narrated scenes for the opening and closing had full voice acting, and it just didn’t get translated for the trip across the sea. While this usually bothers me, I am almost certain I don’t need to hear Playstation-era voice acting for my favorite chibi street fighters.
  • Favorite Character (Pocket Fighter exclusive): Tessa seems to play the most like Blanka, and he was always my Street Fighter 2 main, so here we are. And now I can pretend I’m playing as Shining Chariot of Little Witch Academia, so that’s a plus, too.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: In two decades of Capcom fighting games, this is the only Capcom title where the women outnumber the men. Go ahead and figure out the reason for that.
  • Did you know? Dan’s official backstory is that, when he’s in a serious mood, he’s trying to avenge his father’s murder at the hands of Sagat (well, more like manslaughter, but still!). So, naturally, Dan’s default special attack in Pocket Fighter is attacking with the green, rotting corpse of his father like it’s (he’s?) a hammer. This makes Dan more well-adjusted than Batman.
  • Would I play again: I kinda love this game. Of all the Playstation fighting games (including the entire Alpha series and early Vs. titles) I think I’m most likely to play this one first. Strange but true! Then again, I’m also pretty strange…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen another Sonic game, and we’re going to race it up against a Mario game. You gotta go fast, after all. Please look forward to it!

Get out of here, nerd dad

FGC #354 Sonic Mania & Sonic Forces

SONIC!In the year of our Lord 2017, two Sonic the Hedgehog games were released within months of each other. And both of those games were really good.

That has never happened before.

This is an unprecedented event. This is the kind of thing that shakes your belief system. This is akin to discovering that your soul mate is and has always been a 90 year old retired construction worker named Danielle. How does something like this happen? What does it say about you? Does this mean that other “impossible” goals in this reality were actually achievable? Was there some secret way to breed ponies and kittens together to create the mythical/adorable pitten? All things are possible in this post-Sonic the Hedgehog Can Be Good Twice world, and we should all live in constant fear of the next shock to our collective system. Next, Aero the Acro-Bat is going to come soaring in to rave reviews, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it!

But before that happens, we are going to look at the differences between Sonic Mania, an amazing 2-D Sonic title, and Sonic Forces, an amazing 3-D/2-D Sonic title. Maybe we’ll discover the secret to Sonic success? Or does only madness await us? Let’s find out!

Stage Length is Important (or not)

Weeeee!Sonic Mania is, for all intents and purposes, Sonic 4 & Knuckles. Or Sonic & Knuckles 2? Look, what’s important is that it is very much a sequel to the Sega Genesis titles, and it employs a number of tricks and tips from that era. Included in that bag of tricks is the ol’ “giant stages full of secrets” standard that became popular with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its many hidden giant rings. Sonic has never been about exploring, but Sonic 3 did add the joy of pushing on all “solid” walls at all times. Could there be a secret in this direction? Or maybe over here? Let’s explore every nook and cranny until time runs out. Or… wait… that’s terrible! We don’t want to run out of time! These stages should be smaller! … But we don’t want to lose any content! This is confusing!

Meanwhile, Sonic Forces is all about shorter stages. The average Sonic Forces stage can be completed within all of two minutes. This is something of an accomplishment, as 3-D platforming games have a tendency to take hours just to burn through the “introduction” portion of a level. Traversing 3-D space takes a long time! But, despite the existence of these short stages, there are a myriad of routes available, so, like in Sonic Mania, there are secrets to discover up and down Sonic’s world. You’re unlikely to ever see ten minutes on Sonic Force’s timer, but levels can still be played for hours in an attempt to find new and fascinating routes.

Basically, we’re looking at two completely different approaches to level design and how to discover secrets. One takes the “old school” concepts of 2-D design, but expands them to possibly unwieldy levels, while the other shrinks 3-D sensibilities to bite-sized nuggets that are over before they begin. And they’re both great! Bah! That doesn’t make a lick of sense!

Bosses should be one thing (or the other)

He has somewhere to beYou finished a stage, and now it’s time for a boss. Sonic Mania throws everything at poor Sonic, up to and including a kitchen sink that will eventually be transformed back into a penguin. Some stages end with a simple “jump here” boss. Some levels lead to a high-speed chase. Sometimes the boss is a puzzle that requires careful observation, timing, and bouncing. Sometimes you have to fight Shinobi. And, if you’re particularly unlucky, you might be faced with that one damn boss from Hydrocity wasn’t any fun the first time, so why the hell did some nitwit decide it was time for that jerkass to return!? Er-hem. The bosses of Sonic Mania are an eclectic bunch, and a lot of stress is derived from whether or not you’re going to face Heavy Rider & Jimmy or goddamn Metal Sonic. But, stupid Metal Sonic aside, nearly all of these boss battles can be completed inside of thirty seconds, so there’s not much to complain about.

Sonic Forces, naturally, features bosses that take much longer. By and large, the bosses of Sonic Forces are generally more cinematic affairs, and do their best to utilize the story telling potential of 3-D adventures with epic clashes between Sonic (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and his most dangerous foes (and that one dork from Lost World). Thus, these battles generally contain multiple phases, wildly changing patterns, and the occasional finale that features any number of hedgehogs powering up to supersonic speeds. In general, this leads to more interesting battles, though at the cost of having to hear about Sonic believing in you over and over again should you hit a particularly rough spot. Sonic, dude, I know we can beat this boss, just shut up about it and get your damn homing attack working properly. I’m just as tired of this Virtual Boy dimension as you are.

So, once again, both games take completely separate paths to reach the same generally enjoyable but somehow flawed destination. Huh.

Show Don’t Tell (or Shout Everything)

I like the look of these guysSonic Mania contains the typical Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis plot: Dr. Eggman is up to no good, and it’s time to stop him. Not a single bit of dialogue is spoken, and the new antagonists, The Hard Boiled Heavies, are not given names during actual gameplay. But, in the same way you learned everything you ever needed to know about Knuckles from his ability to jump on switches (he’s kind of a dick), the Heavies are clearly defined by their actions. In the end, Sonic saves the day (of course) and puts down a minor robot uprising while sending Robotnik packing. Oh, and there might have been time travel involved, too? Doesn’t matter, a rollercoaster doesn’t need a story to be fun.

Sonic Forces has the most bonkers plot to ever grace Sonic’s elongated snout. Sonic the Hedgehog is dead! Forever! And Eggman has conquered the entire planet inside of a couple of months! Our last hope is Original the Character and a resistance of whacky animal pals! And Tails had such a sadgasm over his dead buddy that he summoned another Sonic the Hedgehog from another dimension! And it turns out (regular) Sonic is alive again! And all of this happens before the fourth stage (of thirty)! I’m not even going to get into how Eggman gave a magical rock that controls reality to an anonymous moron that is cataclysmically annoyed by Shadow the Hedgehog. And then somebody summons the freaking sun like gravity ain’t no thang!

Sonic Forces’ plot never shuts up, and that makes it glorious. There is not a single sane person on this planet that ever needed to see Knuckles the Echidna and Vector the Crocodile discus the horrors of war, but here it is. Sonic instantly makes best friends with the player’s haphazardly created deviantart avatar while Tails wanders around with his mentor’s inter-dimensional ghost from another timeline. I’m pretty sure Amy Rose makes a joke about having an all Sonic threeway somewhere in there. The story moves at breakneck speed, it’s completely demented, and it’s magnificent. If you’re going to have a plot where a group of rebel furries un-conquer a planet inside of four days, this is the way to do it.

So completely silent, gameplay-based storytelling versus senseless talky talk that spirals around exclusively for lunatics. Either one works

Knuckles Is

In one adventure, Knuckles is the noble leader of a resistance movement that is humanity’s last hope. … Or what passes for “humanity” in this world.

Who are those guys in the back?

In another world, Knuckles maybe has the pattern recognition of a goldfish.

He's knuckles!

…. Echidnas can be anything?

Tight Controls are Essential/Unnecessary

Weeee?Sonic Mania controls like a dream. It feels like the Sega Genesis titles never ended, and, after years of terrible approximations, “real” Sonic has returned. Sonic’s momentum is untouchable, and, whether you’re navigating between moving platforms or over an ocean of flaming oil, you’re completely in control. Sonic can spin dash up to mach speed at a moment’s notice, but he can also handle shifting blocks like a pro. Give or take a few accidentally deadly “squishing” spots, Sonic Mania provides perfect Sonic movement.

Sonic Forces, unfortunately, carries forward many of 3-D Sonic’s movement problems. During the 2-D areas in particular, it is nearly impossible to get Sonic to 100% follow your inputs, and not instantly break into some uncontrollable, inevitably deadly forward momentum. This Sonic is designed backwards from his constant need to barrel forward, and that leads to a number of terrible, unwanted deaths at the hands of bottomless pits or stationary spikes. Sonic the Hedgehog should never be defeated by an inanimate object!

But, then again, it doesn’t matter.

3-D Sonic is also built for his homing dash, and Orginal the Character has an inexplicable grappling hook. Both abilities allow Sonic/Original to instantly dash forward and onto a specific point, and the stage design is generally built for that essential ability. And, more often than not, it works wonderfully. Sure, you can steer a freight train into a parking space a lot easier than this Hedgehog, but why bother? Sonic is the King of Speed, so keeping your goin’ fast. There might be an accidental death or two, but you don’t have any lives to lose, so don’t worry about it. You want to put brakes on your bumper cars? Don’t be silly.

Just because you’ve got the same hedgehog in two different games doesn’t mean he has to control exactly the same.

Fanservice Can Go Both Ways

Sonic Mania is a love letter to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Not only are stages remastered and remixed, but there are an amazing number of “little touches” that recall Sonic’s decades-long history. There are traps originating from Game Gear titles. There are bosses that crept out of ill-advised arcade fighting games. There are loving homages to the Sonic fan community and its myriad of modders. You could spend a day reading the Wikipedia pages dedicated to each individual zone. Did you know that Sonic’s shake at the start of Chemical Plant Zone was a reference to Sonic Spinball? Of course you didn’t know that! Nobody played Sonic Spinball!

Sonic Forces primarily speeds off in the other direction. Rather than dwell on Sonic’s past, Sonic has made a brand new friend: you! You are Original the Character, an anthropomorphic animal of your own creation, and Sonic totally wants to be your best friend! But don’t worry, it’s not just because he loves your sparkling (and completely silent) personality, it’s also because you’ve got the skillz. In an effort to create the most beloved original character in history, the kindly creators of Sonic Forces combined your chance notebook sketches with the one and only Spider-Man! Grapple around the city like an avenging arachnid! Get ready to employ all sorts of amazing acrobatic techniques to save and stand by your favorite hedgehog. You love Sonic, and now Sonic loves you! You’re the best Sonic Fan ever!

Chemical Plant Zone is a Scourge

I HATE THIS LEVELBoth Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces contain remixed versions of Chemical Plant Zone. Sonic Mania adds bouncy chemicals, while Sonic Forces adds the occasional sprinkling of lasers. This proves that, even with a basic theme, you can have riotously different interpretations of the same level. Unfortunately, as good as these zones may be, they still come from the same base of the cruddy Chemical Plant Zone.

So, there, that’s it. All good Sonic games contain a Chemical Plant Zone.

Ugh. This universe is the worst.

FGC #354 Sonic Mania

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: There’s Sonic & Tails mode for multiple players, and some manner of race mode that I am never touching.
  • Favorite Zone: Oil Ocean becoming combustible thanks to the fire shield is the exact kind of “remix” the world needed.
  • Something special: The special stages are very reminiscent of Sonic & Knuckles as well, as they seem difficult initially, but are second nature in no time at all. This is a tremendous step up from the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 special stages, which are impossible.
  • Thanks, JimmyJust play the gig, man: Everything about this soundtrack is amazing, but the way each stage is remixed for various areas and events is amazing. Flying Battery might not be my favorite zone, but its second act gets the best tunes.
  • Did you know? Sonic Mania was one of the top selling Switch titles, outselling even Minecraft. Like, it didn’t outsell Minecraft on every system, but go ahead and tell your know-it-all nephew that Sonic is more popular than Minecraft.
  • Would I play again: In a heartbeat. Sonic Mania 2 is all I want from this sick and twisted world.

FGC #354 Sonic Forces

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: You can be all sorts of crazy characters, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Zone: Null Space is a stage that takes place in “null space” for all of ten seconds before becoming another random city level. You would think this would bother me, but, come on, takes a special kind of game to trump up some alternate dimension and then utilize it for less time than it takes to blow a fart.
  • Head Canon Corner: In Sonic Generations, “old” Sonic is stated to be Sonic’s younger self. In Sonic Forces, “old” Sonic is recognized, but Tails claims he is from another dimension, not the past. My theory? This is not a retcon, and when Old Sonic the Hedgehog saw his 3-D future during Generations, he decided he wanted nothing of it, and caused a split timeline/dimension when he decided to never leave the joys of 2-D exclusives. And that’s where Sonic Mania originates.
  • EggyThe disease is inside me: Okay, full disclosure? I may have been mentally working out my Original the Character’s backstory while I was bored during zones. She’s purple, so I figure she’s the adopted sister of Fang the Sniper, and one day she decided…
  • Did you know? It sounds crazy, but the last time Shadow the Hedgehog was a playable character in a “main” Sonic game, it was 2006. Yes, that 2006. That game really killed the poor hedgehog’s street cred.
  • Would I play again: Not as quickly as Sonic Mania, but I am going to return to 100% this title at one point. It’s just too fun! And how often does that happen?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, and we’re going to pair it with Pocket Fighter aka Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix! It’s time for a whole pile of chibi street fighters! Please look forward to it!

THIS IS NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE