Tag Archives: xbox 360

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?

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Here comes a special boyCastlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is likely the most ill-advised videogame in gaming.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was not made for sequels

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (no additional verbage) was a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 game meant to revitalize the Castlevania franchise. Koji Igarashi held the reins of the Castlevania universe for years, and, in that time, he produced exactly one (1) decent console Castlevania. Granted, it was one of the best games of all time, but every time Iga hit the consoles again, we wound up with something… less than stellar. The PS2 outings were rote and boring, and the Wii saw a Castlevania fighting game that was maybe the most bonkers bit of plotting in an already supremely bonkers franchise (Super Mega Death traveled through time so Maria could be jealous of Sypha’s rack). None of these games presented any sort of justification for Castlevania to exist on the “next gen” consoles, and, since portables have long been considered the ghetto of gaming, Konami was understandably concerned about its Castlevania franchise. If one of your top franchises was simply languishing in the portable market, how could you ever marry said franchise to successful slot machines?

Lords of Shadow was basically a gritty reboot for an almost accidentally gritty series. You’ve got a Belmont hero, but now he’s working for a very real and very present Christian church. You’ve got your old standbys like the werewolf, succubus, and Grim Reaper, but now they all have tragic backstories with (fantasy) logical origins (if you ascend to Heaven as an immaculate being, obviously your body stays behind and becomes a vampire slut). The environs are more Lord of the Rings (popular at the time), combat is more God of War (also popular at the time), and everything is a lot more bloody (always popular). Lords of Shadow does a lot to simultaneously distinguish itself as a fresh, new look at Castlevania and be, incidentally, an experience that is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the HD action game flock (of 2010 or so).

ScaryBut LoS did one remarkable thing: spoilers, but you were Dracula the whole time! Gasp! You were playing through the secret origins of this brand new Dracula, and now you’re the Lord of Darkness himself! And the final boss is Satan. Yes, that Satan! Dracula is kind of a good guy! Or something!

And the only problem is that that’s a neat trick, but you can only do it once.

The whole “you were the bad guy all along” thing is a great twist, but it doesn’t really lend itself to a franchise. It can work in many pieces of media, but for a videogame, you inhabit the protagonist, so the fresh new nasty boy either has to be the final boss of the next adventure (because killing off the previous protagonist in any lesser manner would be an insult to the first game), or said “villain” has to be supremely misunderstood. In fact, it seems like the Lords of Shadow staff realized this immediately, and tacked on a postlude that featured New Dracula awakening in modern times. Cool! He’ll be “misunderstood”, but Dracula in modern times is a fresh new direction for the Castlevania franchise! Maybe a sequel could work!

The sequel absolutely doesn’t work

Let's reflect on thisOkay, maybe the real sequel does actually work, but Castlevania: Chain of Memories absolutely does not.

So, first, in order for this whole game to work, we have to retcon in Gabrielle Belmont, star of Lords of Shadow, and his brand spanking new son who never got mentioned before this very moment. Okay, Gabrielle was a prophesized warrior that was incidentally being controlled by Patrick Stewart, so, sure, maybe the family bought into not telling Gabrielle “for his own good”, and, since the player exists behind Gabe’s eyes, we just weren’t privy to that information. Fine. But this also means the story has to start a maximum of twenty years (good hero’ing age) after Gabrielle became Dracula, and… is that going to work? Gabby kind of accidentally became Dracula, so is he going to settle into the whole “malevolent dictator” thing that quickly? And Lords of Shadow started in 1000 AD or so, so how does humanity even get to the modern era teased during the LoS finale if Dracula has been awake and active for the last millennium? So many questions!

But, okay, let’s move past that. Let’s just say that Dracula is simultaneously very quick to come into his powers, but very slow to actually do anything with his powers. And, hey, that’s basically the original canon, right? Oh, wait, no, there’s always a Belmont slapping down that Dracula before he can do anything. But we’ve got Belmonts here, though, right? Like, that’s the whole point of the “Gabrielle’s son” conceit, right? Sure, we’ve got (new, LoS) Trevor Belmont here, husband of Sypha, and he’s going to… Wait. Wasn’t the whole point of LoS that a Belmont became corrupted to become Dracula, so we’re not so different, you and I, and all that riot? So if we now have a whole crop of Belmonts… what was the point of this new franchise again? Castlevania, but with slightly larger trolls? I thought this was supposed to be new? This franchise really isn’t built for soldering on pieces of an already convoluted franchise. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a real live person wearing a cartoon princess dress, and that’s not a good look.

Same Trick, Two Games

ALUCARDIn Lords of Shadow, Gabrielle Belmont is eventually revealed to be Dracula.

In Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Trevor Belmont is eventually revealed to be Alucard.

There. Just saved you all twenty hours of “mystery”.

“Linear” is not a dirty word

Presumably in order to build tension for that all-important Alucard reveal, Mirror of Fate is played in a sort of reverse chronology. First you play as Simon Belmont, who is being helped by a mysterious white-haired ally. Then you play as said ally, Alucard, who is fighting Dracula, but he doesn’t quite remember why. And then, finally, you play as Trevor from twenty years earlier, who is eventually defeated by Dracula in order to be revived as Alucard. It’s all very clever and cute and mysterious assuming you didn’t guess that exact twist from the first trailer. And even if you managed to go into the game fresh, you’d have to have the intelligence of a fleaman to miss all the anvilicious clues being dropped every ten seconds. And, oh yeah, if you played the first game, you’d be expecting that exact twist, and why the hell would you be interested in such a tiresome sequel if you didn’t play the first game?

It's not really a spriteAnd, frankly, it is heartbreaking that the plot seems to be stuck with this en media res nonsense, as there are a good number of characters and events along the way that really benefit from linear understanding. There is very little benefit to a new player being confused by Simon’s “mysterious ally”, but there is emotional heft to be gleamed from Simon being assisted by his cursed ancestor. The Daemon (ugh) Lord was mutilated by Trevor, and then revived by arcane science to return and menace Alucard… but when you first encounter the mechanized monster during Alucard’s story, he’s just another unrecognizable, barely threatening boss. And it sure would be nice if we weren’t saddled with yet another immortal protagonist that is suffering from amnesia just as long as the plot demands!

A linear Mirror of Fate wouldn’t have solved all of the story’s problems, but it would have made a number of the generational plot beats wildly more effective. But, no, I guess it wouldn’t be a Lords of Shadow game if the gameplay didn’t end in a shocking (not shocking) revelation.

It’s a metroidvania without the exploration

Enough about this silly plot! How’s the gameplay?

Not great, Goggle Bob.

ZZZZAAAPLords of Shadow was an attempt to turn Castlevania into a new God of War-like franchise. And it was mostly successful! But for the portable version, the decision was made to return to the metroidvania-like format of the last decade’s worth of portable Castlevania titles. This was a clever move, and an obvious way to bring lapsed Castlevania fans back into the fold. Don’t worry, old fans, this franchise is still for you! Look, here’s a platinum-haired dhampir exploring a big ol’ castle just for you.

Except… everyone involved kind of forgot how a metroidvania game works.

First of all, this adventure was doomed from the start, as the three different characters in three different stories (and 2.5 different time periods) kind of preclude the traditional “one big castle/planet” of most metroidvanias. But it could still work! Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin both had “level” like areas, so it’s not completely alien to the genre. Oh! And the “generations” thing could lead to a lot of different, fun puzzles! Break a gateway in the past to allow for entry in the future! Drain the moat as Trevor so Simon doesn’t have to take a dip! It could be a thing of beauty!

But, no, it was not to be. Mirror of Fate put an emphasis on two things: plot and battles. We’ve already covered the plot ad nauseam, but be aware that no “time travel” shenanigans are allowed when we’re telling a very serious story about seriously inept Belmonts (you just have to kill one vampire! One!). And that leaves us with the combat, which is…. kind of sad.

Moving right alongThere’s a reason that the greatest heroes of 2-D just jump. There’s a reason previous Belmonts were limited to a whip and a few subweapons. There’s a reason that even the mightiest of blue bombers are limited to a life of pew pewing. 2-D combat can only be so interesting. When you have a limited field of movement, you have a limited set of abilities, and whip/dodge/jump only gets you so far. In many Castlevania games, this is masked by a great wealth of monsters from across time and space. In this Castlevania game… not so much. Lords of Shadow seems to put a premium on combat with recurring enemies in tight corridors, but, give or take a few interesting boss battles, it feels fairly flat. And when you hang a game on something that feels perfunctory, the entire game feels kind of boring.

And, when you get down to it, that’s the problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Everything about it winds up being tedious and predictable. And hanging a flagship franchise on a game that is that boring is… ill-advised.

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

  • System: Nintendo 3DS initially, and then an HD version was released to follow Lords of Shadow 2. This is basically the same trajectory as a certain Kingdom Hearts game, which is never a good sign.
  • Number of Players: Technically four playable characters if you include the opening tutorial, but only one player at a time.
  • Favorite Monster: The Executioner is a wonderful bit of Mirror of Fate storytelling.

    Grrrr

    He’s not just a scary giant, he’s a scary giant with brain problems. Be sad for the hulking creature chopping your protagonist in twain.

  • Absolutely Favorite Part: So this game has fall damage. That’s terrible for a metroidvania. But! The fall damage scales to the height you’ve fallen, so a falling just a little over a body’s height will cause little tiny damage. This pairs wonderfully with any given character’s blood-curdling scream o’ death, which triggers no matter how the protagonist dies. This all adds up to an unstoppable shriek of agony every time your health is low and you miss the last step on a staircase… and I can get behind that.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Trevor is now the first son of Dracula and the new Alucard. Simon is a deadly barbarian that is the first Belmont to defeat Dracula (with a little help). Sypha… is an obedient and immediately dead housewife. Woo.
  • Did you know? It seriously bothers me that Trevor starts with a double jump, but Alucard, who is Trevor, has to earn the skill. It kinda bothers me how much this simple bit of gameplay bothers me.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Not ever. Bah! You make-a me so mad!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken 3 for the Playstation! Let’s see who can become the King of the Iron Fist after most of the cast retires! Please look forward to it!

Youch

FGC #323 Sneak King & Big Bumpin’

DO NOT LOOK AT THISA lot of people ask me why I bother with collecting videogames. It used to just be concerned adults/parents/mentors that claimed I had some kind of hording brain issue, but I learned to ignore those squares pretty damn quickly. Then, as time has gone by, I have learned that this question has come from the most unlikely of sources: other gamers. “Why, Goggle Bob, do you buy all these physical releases of games when digital is so much easier? You don’t even have to leave the couch! You’ve filled an entire room with these mountains and mountains of cheap plastic. Why are you doing this to yourself? We’re worried about…” etc. I’ve heard it all before, and, for anyone willing to wait for an answer, I have one response: Burger King’s Sneak King.

Okay, that might not be my only response, but it’s definitely one of ‘em!

I am hopelessly addicted to buying videogames. I know this. I have this pathological need to own any given piece of videogame history entirely because… what? I think discs are somehow going to outlive my Playstation account? In fact, I want to say the first game that ever really got me out of my “no digital” shell was Mega Man 9, but I was downright excited for the recent physical release of Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 because it meant I could finally possess a physical version of the exact same game. Never mind that I still have my “original” Mega Man 9 download transferred to my WiiU, and never mind that I bought the game again on sale on Playstation 3 because I had nothing better to do with five bucks; no, ignore all of that, because I have a disc in a case that, let’s face it, is more likely to be destroyed than an entire videogame console. But it still somehow grants me this all important illusion of permanence. So I still debate on the merits of purchasing a digital version of the latest fighting game (you know the “whole game” isn’t on the disc! They release new DLC every other week!) Dance it!and lament the lack of physical media for any digital game I love (hi, Sonic Mania). I need my totems of power, and if I don’t have a physical version, what’s the point? Playing a game for fun? Please.

But, while that is obviously a prominent psychological disease the likes of which medical science has not yet fully explained, I am aware of that problem, and I can overcome it. I have loosened my grip over the years, and I am capable of buying digital releases. Given the choice, I would prefer a physical release, but I can deal with purchasing, say, every Naruto game ever for fifteen bucks during a Playstation flash sale. I’m okay with that, because I know it isn’t a game (or franchise, whatever) that is “important” to me, so I can buy in bulk, stuff it all in the fridge, and… watch it rot.

And that’s my latest problem.

Like every other videogame hoarder (particularly those with Steam accounts), I now own about 200 downloaded titles that I have barely acknowledged (left alone actually played and beaten). This drives me absolutely insane, as sorting through these games is… not pleasant. I try to put them in appropriate folders! I try to organize my collection… but then there’s another flash sale, and I haven’t even played these games yet, so is this latest purchase a beat ‘em up or a “generic” action game? Dear God, maybe it’s an action-adventure with JRPG elements. I don’t even know what to do with that! Bah, just put it in the Dark Souls pile. And this all sounds innocuous, but when I finally feel like playing X-Men Arcade again, I have to search through not only multiple “what is that” games, but also numerous systems in an BUMP!attempt to even remember where I downloaded that game in the first place. And don’t even get me started on those downloaded “collections”, as I don’t want to be reminded that I own every 20th Century Capcom release seventeen times over.

But the real losers here are the games. I can safely say that there is not a single game in my digital collection that I bought “just because”. In all honesty, from the Narutos to the experimental shoot ‘em ups to the occasional “is like Dark Souls, but” title, every game I have ever purchased, I have purchased because something about the game appealed to me, and that’s worth a Lincoln. “Sure, I don’t have time to play this game right now, but I’ll get to it when I have a chance,” I foolishly told myself. And then it went into the pile, lost forever under a mountain of Vita titles that I’m going to transfer to the system real soon, I swear, just give me another day to clean off that memory card. I’ll get to it!

But physical games! Physical games I’ll never lose! Because they take up so much space! And my failures and impulse buys are all right there on a shelf (many, many shelves, in fact). They all stare back at me, not lost to some cavernous hard drive, but teetering on the edge, ready to collapse and inevitably crush my fragile skull beneath a deluge of SNES cartridges. I can see (right now!) every physical videogame I’ve ever purchased, including those that came with a BK Value Meal.

Sneak King is a game wherein you, as the Burger Nightmare King, sneak around teeny tiny arenas, and attempt to deliver random BK menu items without being seen. It gets old after approximately twelve seconds. Big Bumpin’ is a party game that pumped all of its resources into making really interesting and ornate bumper car arenas, but forgot to design anything approaching fun gameplay. There’s a kind of air hockey mode available that ain’t bad, but everything else is sub-Monkey Ball. Well, the air hockey is sub-Monkey Ball, too, but you don’t notice its badness quite as much as the one where the best way to play is to hide in the corner forever. Come to think of it, that technique works in a bunch of Sneak King levels, too. Maybe these games don’t actually want you to play them?

BUMP!But play them I shall! Because I have the memory of a goldfish, and actually seeing a game makes me about 1000% more likely to play the game than stowing it in the digital fridge. And, like eating some rotten Whopper from the fridge of your choice, I will barf at the sheer rancidness of this selection. It’s crap! I should know it’s crap! These are videogames that literally came with a side of fries! But I’ll play them again, because I bought a pair of plastic disc coffins, and, by God, I’m gonna play some Burger King nonsense this week!

So, in conclusion, I collect videogames because I’m a masochist. Glad we settled that.

FGC #323 Sneak King & Big Bumpin’

  • System: Technically these are supposed to be Xbox 360 games, but they’re secretly Xbox titles that are abusing the 360’s backward compatibility. Everything is a lie.
  • Number of players: Sneak King is a solo affair, Big Bumpin’ allows for up to four quickly bored players.
  • Let’s talk about fast food: When I was growing up, the only fast food in town was Burger King. Since I was a child and had the palette of a heathen, any trip to Burger King was precious. Then, when I was in high school, a McDonald’s moved in, with a Wendy’s shortly thereafter. So the Burger King went out of business, because who can compete with the cardboard-flavored hockey pucks available at Wendy’s? NummyAnd that was that. Now I have to drive like fifteen minutes if I want to eat a Whopper, which, thank goodness, rarely ever happens.
  • Favorite Sneak King Level: Why does Sneak King start in a lumber yard? Why is that the first thing someone thought would be a reasonable location for a crazy plastic king to deliver breakfast items? Is there some kind of lumberjack breakfast thing being implied here? Also: how did this game get made?
  • Favorite Big Bumpin’ Stage: I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. Let’s say the blue one.
  • Did you know? There’s also a third Burger King game from this era: Burger King Pocket Bike Racer. It was not in stock when I picked up its cousins. I have never regretted that fact.
  • Would I play again: I guess? Nobody ever asks if Final Fantasy really ever happened, but that might come up with these titles. I must prove their existence to the masses!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tiny Toon Adventures Buster’s Hidden Treasure for the Sega Genesis! I would expect the next article to be tiny, toony, and just a little loony. Please look forward to it!

What?
Don’t even ask.

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

SANIC!The Sonic the Hedgehog games should get more praise, because they’re everything you ever wanted.

(Though, to be clear, I’m not saying Sonic the Hedgehog games are good.)

I’m an old school gamer. I’ve been playing videogames literally longer than I can remember, but I do remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. in the same way most people remember receiving a beloved pet. Sitting in my neighbor’s basement, SMB was a revelation the likes of which would take decades to truly understand. And in the intervening years, I have yet to see a “bad” Mario game (note: I do not own a CD-i). Nintendo has carefully curated the franchise for ages, and we, the unwashed public, are only entitled to a new Mario game when Miyamoto sees fit to release one. And, what’s more, there is usually a reason for a new Mario release. Super Mario World was released to commemorate Mario finally getting a dinosaur mount, and Super Mario Sunshine would be a very different animal without the Gamecube’s analog shoulder buttons. Other franchises are similar, from Zelda to Final Fantasy, and, while they all obviously exist to fill their producers’ coffers, one does get the distinct impression that each of these releases is carefully crafted and calculated to be as much a “designer’s vision” as possible. Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy 15 were obviously built by a small army of programmers, designers, and composers, but the direction of these games seem singular and focused. In the same way that one could point to a Spielberg or Cameron film, one can recognize a Nintendo or Square-Enix AAA title.

WeeeeeBut there is a flipside to these carefully crafted games. When a game is one director’s vision, there isn’t much room for anything else. And, what’s more, there isn’t room for anything else that the audience might enjoy. To be more precise, was I the only ten year-old that was disappointed that Super Mario Bros. 3 didn’t ever reference The Super Mario Super Show or The Wizard? Would it have been too much for The Adventure of Link to give us a passing reference to Captain N: The Game Master? Or, speaking of which, could we get another Kid Icarus game? I know it doesn’t fit your image of the franchise, Nintendo, but could you throw a bone over to the kids who have been devouring your Nintendo Cereal System like candy? Also, Nintendo candy? The fans demand it!

But the future refused to change. These “franchise caretakers” have gotten better in recent years, but when even your Disney crossover games have become as serious as a Russian history lecture, you know that maybe these singular visions have gotten in the way of your toys. Remember when rom hacking first became a thing? And everybody and their mother replaced the Mario sprite with everything from “Wheelchair Mario” to Kenny McCormick? That’s what the fans want to see! It obviously wouldn’t be “right”, but sometimes you just want to see Cloud Strife fight Mario while Bayonetta poses in the background. And only one game in history has ever done that! There should be at least five of those by now!

And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic… he gets it. Sonic has been trying to please his fans for years.

The fans demand it!It started with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sonic the Hedgehog (the game) does not naturally lend itself to two players, as the whole speed factor means someone has to slow down to stay on the screen, and “two player alternating” is going to be boring as playing Phantasy Star as you wait for your turn. Tails was introduced as a stopgap 2-player mode. Sure, he can’t really “do” anything, but you can now play through Sonic’s zones with an active buddy participating in the fun, and maybe the wee fox can take a few hits on his bro’s behalf. And if that’s not your thing, here’s a 2-player competitive race mode. It’s not “the whole game”, but it’s more entertaining than Excitebike. See, fans, we listened, and even though that two-player suggestion doesn’t really work for the format, here’s a way to make it work! Yay!

And that kind of thinking continued in even subtler ways. Want your next videogame to start the minute the last one ended? Sonic & Knuckles 3 is here. Want to see Sonic’s answer to Mario 64? Sonic Adventure time, baby! Sonic getting too kiddy, and needs to be more “modern” and “edgy”? We’ve got just the Shadow! And he comes with a sexy bat, because we know what you want, wink wink, nudge nudge. Not digging the 3-D? Check out our Gameboy advance releases! Or that PSP thing! In the meanwhile, we’ve got a Sonic game where you can play as all of Sonic’s supporting cast and Sonic at the same time! Next gen Sonic with a serious plot for a serious fandom? Watch your favorite hedgehog die metaphorically and physically! Oh, and if anybody wanted a Ristar revival, we’ve got something for that, too. Long live Sanic!

Now, you may have noticed a few contradictions in the previous paragraph. Most obviously, it’s impossible to have a sexy bat and tell a serious story. That’s just science. And, let’s be real here, a lot of these concepts might work on paper (Sonic, Tails, and Nipples work together to fight Metal Sonic!), but fail horribly in the execution (Sonic Heroes destroyed all fun within a twenty yard radius). But the thing of it is that Sonic, and his handlers, tried. They listened to fans, heard that someone actually wanted to see the Chaotix Crew again, and did their best to make that happen. It didn’t always work (and you could argue that the franchise languished because it never worked), but it was clear someone was trying.

I hate you, 2006Sonic Generations seems to be the apex of this thinking. At this point in the franchise’s history, there were an equal number of people that wanted Sonic to “just go back to basics” as there were people that would sing along to the Sonic Adventure theme and demand that Sonic never revert to his “basic” origins. So let’s just make a game that is, uh, both games. Here’s classic Sonic over in this corner, and we’ve got modern Sonic ready and raring to go, too. And they can play through adaptations of each other’s levels, so you can finally live in a world wherein OG Sonic can experience the joys of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. What’s not to like!?

Against all reason, Sonic Generations, the game that did its best to placate both sides by essentially welding two games together, became one of the most beloved in the franchise. Yes, the bosses sucked, and some of the minigames overstayed their welcome after about three seconds, but you could largely ignore those flaws (just youtube the ending if you didn’t feel like dealing with that rancid final boss), and play some damn fine Sonic the Hedgehog level design. And the chaos emeralds are back and able to activate Super Sonic during regular levels, too! They got my letters!

And, ultimately, Sonic Generations is a great game not only because it’s fun to play, it’s a great game because it perfectly encapsulates the design philosophy of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s not about making the perfect game or using current technology to get the hedgehog to commit to some new gimmick; it’s about making a game that the fans want. It’s about looking back at decades of Sonic history, and getting hyper with all the avenues available. Sonic is about experimentation, taking risks, and knowing that, even if the latest ideas fail, there’ll be another Sonic game next year, and maybe this time we’ll forgo the scarf. This kind of “willing to fail” experimentation is something Sega does that Nintendon’t.

Sonic might be shamed. Sonic may have made mistakes. But Sonic gets over those failures fast. He’s gotta.

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

  • System: Playstation 3 for my collection, but also available for Xbox 360 and PC. There’s also a 3DS version, but it’s different enough to be considered an entirely separate game.
  • Number of players: There’s some sort of multiplayer mode in here, I believe. Never tried it myself, though.
  • GrrrrrFavorite Boss: There’s something satisfying about beating Perfect Chaos as “regular” Sonic. You’ve come a long way, hedgehog.
  • Favorite Level: Maybe it’s because of the prevalence of skateboards, but the classic version of City Escape seems to be my favorite here. The GUN truck is used to great effect, and the remix of a certain theme song is pretty great, too.
  • I have to ask: Okay, which one of you actually likes Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone? I’ve always hated that level, as it combines the twin joys of drowning and moving platforms. But, somehow, it keeps popping up again in later games. Why? Why must I deal with this creepy purple liquid again? Why hast thou forsaken me!?
  • Also: Speed Highway being the rep for Sonic Adventure is… weird. And they chose the one non-theme park level from Sonic Colors, the game that was all theme park.
  • Speaking of Sonic and Fans: As BEAT mentioned on the stream, Sega really seems to tolerate Sonic fan projects, which leads further credence to the idea that the inmates are running the asylum in the house of hedgehog. This seems to have culminated with Sonic Mania, basically a game created by graduated fans that is, incidentally, the best Sonic game I have ever played. But, then again, it’s basically just Sonic & Knuckles 4, which does seem like cheating…
  • Did you know? Sonic Generations was built from the remains of Sonic Unleashed, so there are a lot of Unleashed assets lying around the backend of the game. This just makes me think that I could have tolerated one (1) werehog stage. I mean, if they dropped the quicktime event nonsense, of course.
  • Would I play again: I doubt I’ll ever “play through” the game again, but I’m certainly going to test drive a few of my favorite stages again. There’s some part of my brain that is just never going to get tired of Green Hill Zone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Injustice 2! Time for Superman to punch everybody! Please look forward to it!

Vroom?