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FGC #358 Feel the Magic XY/XX

FEEL ITYou don’t have to be Senran Kagura to be misogynistic.

We’ve all heard the facts. From practically its inception as a medium, videogames have had a problem with women as objects. You could replace Princess Peach with a particularly valuable fruit bowl, and absolutely nothing about nearly every Super Mario game would change (“You-a better gimme back that fruit bowl, Bowsie!” “Roar!”). Zelda named her series, but it wasn’t until Wind Waker that she was able to even remotely display some personality traits (and even then, her agency dropped the minute she donned a dress). And this isn’t just some artifact of a bygone age: even today “winning the girl” is a problem in a great deal of videogames, even if it’s often disguised as a secondary part of your victory (“Wow, I found the ancient treasure of Los Jaggoff, and, incidentally, the woman that previously thought I was a rival loves me now, too! Score!”). And don’t get me started on games where you can “equip” women like items (looking at you, Xenoblade).

At first glance, Feel the Magic: XY/XX might seem… okay. Yes, it’s immediately and obviously problematic that the entire point of the game is to get the (male) main character laid. Yes, there’s an entire mini game that is all about undressing your girlfriend on the beach by a bonfire, and it’s followed by a game of “heart tapping” that could only be more of an overt metaphor for sex if Prince was involved. Yes, that’s all true, but the game is very tongue-in-cheek about the entire affair. The unnamed hero is not attempting to woo this woman on his own, he’s assisted by a group of silly men in bunny ears. The WarioWare-esque minigames are not all stripping and hand holding, as the majority of them are whimsical takes on reality. Why wait at a bus stop when you can impress a Take it by the hornspretty girl by strapping yourself into a giant hamster ball and bowling over pedestrians? At its core, this is little more than a touch-based minigame collection with the flimsiest of excuse plots, and it seems disingenuous to compare it to the “sexy touch simulators” or “sexy cooking games” of the modern era. Feel the Magic ain’t Custer’s Last Stand, and comparing the two seems like frantic moralizing.

But… the point of the game is still to “win” the girl. The anonymous girl that is incidentally svelte and busty. And, oh yeah, while she doesn’t have a face, you can dress up “the girl” in any outfit/fetish you’d like. That’s right, you can define your prize.

There have been an absurd number of sexual harassment stories recently, but let’s focus on Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is the producer for a number of amazing films, such as Teaching Mrs. Tingle and David the Gnome: The Movie, but he’s also a serial sexual predator. These two items are not unrelated. I’m no Hollywood insider, but I have seen a few movies. One such movie is the aptly named The Producers, a comedy that tells the story of a mere accountant graduating to becoming a (Broadway) producer. In the modern musical reproduction, protagonist Leo Bloom’s chorus girls distinctly sing, “He wants to be a producer with a great big casting couch”. In the original film, it is merely implied with Leo immediately casting and falling for his leading lady. And that original film? It was released in 1967. “Become a producer, sleep with any woman you want” has been a hoary(/whorey) cliché for fifty years. And that’s just the most immediate example I can recall, it’s all but certain that this kind of rational has been prevalent as long as media has existed.

Cheers!But let’s specifically look back at Harvey Weinstein. I mean, actually look at him. I don’t mean to denigrate a man based on his appearance, but let’s be clear here: he’s a tubby, hairy guy. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Some of my best friends are furry fat guys. That’s okay! But a beer belly doesn’t exactly get the ladies. It absolutely can be attractive to some people, but it’s not the default standard for beauty in the Western world. Weinstein should have no problem finding a girlfriend/wife/whatever, but he might be ice skating uphill if he’s trying to score a supermodel. Or a famous actress. There’s very little obvious appeal to ol’ Harvey, so he had to seek other means to be able to sleep with every woman he could ever want. And everybody knows a producer can do that! Hooray!

Does… does any of this sound completely insane?

Society has dictated that men and women should be monogamous. Sure, that’s fine, but it doesn’t always work out that way. And that’s fine, too, when you get right down to it. People change as they grow, and I can certainly say the woman that was the love of my life in college is in no way the same person I would want to be with today (editor’s note: Goggle Bob is incapable of getting over anyone or anything, and it is amusing when he attempts to claim otherwise). Point is that people can be expected to have multiple sexual partners throughout their lives, and your desires are just as valid if you’ve ever wanted to be with one person or one hundred.

But “every woman you’ve ever seen” is crazy. We can agree on that, right? It’s okay to have a crush, it’s okay to be attracted to people, but it is not okay to force yourself on any person you want. It is not okay to “whip it out” just because your monkey brain determined that those curves in front of you are rather comely. And it is absolutely not sane to think this kind of thing could be okay. The very concept that any woman alive could be yours if you just follow the right steps or “play the right minigames” is absurd because it discounts one very important thing: it disregards the feelings of the woman. She’s just not into you, guys, move on. The idea of everyone on the planet being attracted to one person because they have a proper checklist of traits is bonkers. Money? Fame? Power? It doesn’t matter, because we live in a world where we can’t unanimously agree that ice cream is good. Some people don’t like it! What hope do you have!?

SmexyBut movies don’t work like that. Videogames don’t work like that. Whether it’s played completely straight (“Oh, save me, hero!”) or is more subtle (“Thanks for saving my life, hero. But this doesn’t mean I like you [blush].” ), the message is always clear: save the world, get the girl. It’s always a girl to be won, because of course the hero is male, and it’s always a world to be saved that impresses her. No, it doesn’t have to be a real world that needs saving, you’re welcome to enjoy a great many stories where “the world” is merely a report that needs to be handed in on time or a check the needs to get to the orphanage by this morning, but there’s always some heroic act to be completed. There’s always some perfect way to make sure the ice queen melts, and then it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump into bed. Or implied bed. Let’s face it, the inferred ending to like 90% of “wholesome” Disney movies is wild and crazy nonstop magic sex. Ariel has had legs for like three days, and she’s gonna be pregnant inside of six.

And media, particularly children’s media, is where we learn. Beast was a heel, but he’s going to get his Beauty. Mario has awesome jumping ability, and that’s all it takes to win the Princess. Bruce Willis is going to save his marriage by kicking some terrorists off a building. It all comes back to the same stupid moral: if you do something important, or are something important, you will have that woman, even if she initially despised you. Oh, wait, sorry, I went back to not assigning genders there. She will be yours if you’re important and male. Is it any wonder that men in power have been abusing their power for sexual gain? It’s been the number one lesson that has been reinforced over and over again since they were children. And it’s still happening! Wonder Woman was an amazing bit of feminist movie making, but it also included Steve Trevor implicitly “conquering” that crazy warrior woman that was always taught men are horrible because he was just that great. She’s still thinking about him a century later! You can be that great, too, men! Go for the gold! Go for the wonder!

Seriously?So, yes, Feel the Magic XX/XY might not be the latest breasts-based Marvelous release, but it may be just as insidious. Under the guise of humor and playfulness, it is yet another story of boy does stuff, and said stuff wins the girl. “The girl” is a thing to be won, and she may as well be nothing more than a silhouette wearing a dress. She’s the prize, the goal, and nothing more. And Feel the Magic is just another in a long series of games, movies, and books that instantly reinforces this seemingly accepted truth.

Maybe men should be taught to feel the magic of actually treating women like people instead.

FGC #358 Feel the Magic XY/XX

  • System: Nintendo DS. Given the prevalence of touch gaming, I’m kind of surprised this one didn’t resurface in time for the smart phone revolution.
  • Number of players: You’re going to have to touch by yourself.
  • Favorite Minigame: The nightmare bull rush is pretty fun and frantic. Overall, I’d say a number of these minigames are over before they begin, and the whole presentation lacks the WarioWare “rapid fire” nature that makes those miniest of games so much fun. Not that Feel the Magic is bad, just not nearly as fun as the king of minigames.
  • Please Touch: It’s kind of amazing that this early Nintendo DS title had to do so much to “encourage” the audience to pick up and use that stylus. We now live in a magical world where every damn thing is touchable, but a mere thirteen years ago? Completely new technology.
  • Yay!  Kitty!Say something nice: Vaguely misogynistic or no, I do have to say I love the art style for this game. Everyone being little more than a walking silhouette allows for some interesting visuals, and properly sidesteps the usual “launch game” problem of no one having any idea how to make characters more attractive than jagged rocks.
  • Did you know? This game was developed by Sonic Team! Other non-Sonic Sonic Team games include Burning Rangers, Phantasy Star Online, ChuChu Rocket, and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. I want to say that there is not a single game in that list that comes close to this level of lunacy.
  • Would I play again: Not at all likely. Feel the Magic is fun, but it still pales next to WarioWare. And I know which game I’d rather touch.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin for Sega Genesis! I know what this blog needs to be popular! More pictures of Spider-Man! Please look forward to it!

BARF
This is probably a metaphor for something

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 #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

FGC #348 Anarchy Reigns

Here comes the gang!So here’s why I only played an hour of Anarchy Reigns before dropping it forever.

Anarchy Reigns is a Sega/Platinum game from about four years back. As a Platinum game, it is required to be stylish, and incorporate a combat system that is maybe too complicated for its own good. As a Sega game, it is required to be a disappointing sequel. Anarchy Reigns might sound like a singular entry (I don’t see any 2’s in there), but it is technically the sequel to Mad World, a fairly amazing (but often forgotten) Wii title. And, yes, the official word is that Anarchy Reigns is merely a “spiritual sequel”, but like half the cast shows up here, and, ya know, the friggin’ main character is the same, so don’t play me like that, Sega. This is Mad World 2, and you only dodged that branding because people prefer their games to be in color.

But speaking of branding, Anarchy Reigns makes an excellent first impression… from an instruction manual perspective. Look, I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a complete sucker for… let’s call it “game data”. I spent my formative years pouring over Nintendo Power issues (would you like to know the difference between the playable characters in Castlevania 3? I could have fed you this information before I even saw the cartridge), and I spend my downtime nowadays reading the entire contents of random wikis. I know more minutia about the cast of SoulCalibur than should be allowed. And, come to think of it, the period when I was least interested in videogames, roughly the end of the N64 era/start of the Playstation 2 era, was also the time when I was reading about games the least (primarily because of a poor college kid’s budget concerns, and the internet hadn’t become the internet yet). So that “love of reading about videogames” will eternally be tied to titles that feature fresh, interesting characters. I might still be behind the times on Overwatch, but, even from a distance, I can see the appeal of learning about the finer points of Eskimo girl, angel girl, yellow spandex girl, and that one fat guy. Anarchy Reigns initially looks like it could fill that same niche with intricate backstories for chainsaw boy, Weeee!bull boy, fashionable boy, and that one purple woman. Want to tell me Mathilda is the unholy lovechild of a geometry teacher and The Grimace? That’s awesome! Let me get my credit card so I can buy seventeen art books about that one character! Start a game by offering the tiniest glimmer of “story” for this zany cast of characters, and you’ve got my attention from jump street.

And then the good times keep rolling on! Start the single player campaign, and Anarchy Reigns introduces you to its world with a crowded bar at the end of the world. In rapid succession, you’re shown a wasteland of a planet, its burly inhabitants, and, most importantly, a robot bartender with an adorable bowtie. And then we get treasurable characterization for our main heavies. Jack is a burly mess of a maniac, but he also defends the lovable robo bartender, so we know he’s got a heart of gold. Nikolai Bulygin is a crooked cop and obviously destined to be on the side of the devils when push comes to shove, and Leo is his subordinate that is unavoidably going to have a change of heart because everyone he works with is a complete asshole. And Sasha Ivanoff is a woman! Okay… all the instant characterization can’t be great, but the majority of it is pretty damn good. If this were a Persona game, this kind of plot dump would take 70,000 dialogue boxes and a quick detour through three cutscenes. Here, in all of five minutes, you basically know everything you need to know. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s pretty inviting for a new(ish) property. You’ve got your heroes, your villains, and the basics of who they are all in less time than it takes for Chris to get me that pizza I asked for like three hours ago. I’m still hungry, Chris!

Then the game properly starts.

Aaaaaand I couldn’t turn it off fast enough.

VrooooomAfter establishing cool characters with an interesting conflict in an exciting world, our first opponents are… random mutants. Okay, every game needs fodder, what’s our first mission? Kill fifty mutants? Oh, that’s super. And then… wait, didn’t I kill the mutants well enough? Now I have to do it again to gain more… uh… blood experience (?) to unlock the next mission? Fine, guess the game wants me to be prepared for the next challenge, which is inevitably going to be epic. Maybe I’ll fight one of those cool guys from the opening cinematic? Oh, no, guess not, as the next mission is fighting some reheated bull dude who has nothing to do with anything. Can’t be bothered to remember that dude’s name, but if it was “Bull Shit”, I wouldn’t be surprised. Okay, that’s done, let’s say we’re done with the opening tutorial bits and… Oh, Christ, it’s an escort mission. With generic mutants again! And somehow that didn’t wind up providing enough EXP to unlock the next mission! Time to do the thing I didn’t like in the first place again so I can unlock something that is maybe not as terrible.

And that would be about the point that the disc gets ejected.

I wouldn’t be half as mad if I didn’t know Platinum could do better. Great characters, great premise, great world… and then it’s wasted on generic bad guys that mean nothing. Look, I get it, not every battle can be exciting and significant, and you’ve got to have something for the player to do between amazing set pieces and… Wait a minute… This was produced by the same people behind Bayonetta. Wasn’t that a game that couldn’t go seven seconds without summoning a hair-based Godzilla to devour a flying church that was filled with blood angels attempting to devour all of time or whateverthehell was going on in that plot? Say what you will about Bayonetta (Lord knows I have) but it was never boring. It took its interesting characters, and had ‘em fighting multi-headed dragons before we even got to the title screen. There’s a reason that, despite all of its flaws, people actually played Bayonetta 1 & 2. And part of that reason is that every damned thing in that adventure had something to say. Here comes the hook!Repetitive “score attacks” were relegated to the background, and game progression was not based on experience accumulation, but whether or not you could ride a friggen’ missile after leaping off a motorcycle. That’s the diametric opposite of an escort mission! And it’s the reason no one is begging to see Jack in Super Smash Bros.

It’s entirely possible I’m being hard on Anarchy Reigns. I might be utterly wrong, and this is somehow a worthwhile game if “you just stick to it”. But when you toss all your potential out with the mutants in the opening moments, you leave a terrible impression, and, frankly, there are other games I could be playing right now. Mad World is right there! I could play that again! Why waste time on tedious games when there are so many options available? … No, seriously, not being rhetorical for once. What is it about Anarchy Reigns that makes it any better than any other game out there? I don’t know, and I’m not going to play another stupid escort mission to find out.

Sorry, Anarchy Reigns, I have better games to play. Maybe, next time you’ll actually make Mad World 3 motivating.

FGC #348 Anarchy Reigns

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I guess this means that this was one of those games that had online multiplayer that was free on one system, while subscription based on the other. Never quite understood how 360 wound up being the more popular system with that policy.
  • Number of players: Infinity multiplayer. Do we consider that “four”?
  • Let’s talk about multiplayer: Again, it seems like this title was intended as Overwatch before we had Overwatch. A colorful cast of original characters do not steal all battle it out in various arenas for online supremacy that means absolutely nothing. I don’t think loot boxes are involved, though. Regardless, I have never met a single human being that played this game online, so I never got to experience it for myself. Maybe it’s amazing! Or maybe it’s boring, because, come on, all of these characters play pretty much exactly the same. Nobody has an ice gun, either!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a scourge: Mathilda has a spikey belt that hardens into a nail bat. That’s cool! She also presents herself for a rectal exam every time she uses her special move.

    What?

    That’s not so cool.

  • Did you know? Bayonetta did eventually slum it in this universe as DLC. I feel bad for her. She is much too stylish for this broken world.
  • Would I play again: If one of you convinces me this game is good, actually, I might give it a shot. But you’d have to be pretty damn convincing!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetris Axis for the Nintendo 3DS! That’s much better than Tetris Access, the rarely seen database management software that is wall-to-wall squares. Please look forward to it!

What?