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FGC #405 Duck Dynasty

WeeeeeA couple of weeks ago, Random ROB rolled up with Duck Dynasty for the Xbox 360. DD had been a game I purchased some time ago, as it was being sold as a special edition that came with a “free” duck call, bandana, and “bonus” trivia game. And the whole package was ten bucks. However, I had never played the game, and was at a loss as to how to approach the duckest of dynasties. Finally, it occurred to me that, like a fine wine, I should share that uncorking with friends, and, thus it was time to savor the screams of the innocent.

Please enjoy this stream of BEAT, Fanboy Master, Morning Song, muteki, and myself… surviving Duck Dynasty for the Xbox 360.

Notes! With Time Annotations!

0:00 – As all things must, we begin with a dramatic reading of Ozymandias.

4:35 – Our guests for the evening discover, for the first time, what we will be playing for the next two hours. I have never heard so much groaning.

10:00 – Morning Song correctly identifies the fact that Oldest Duck Dynasty has apparently been glued to a cup. Random Blue Cup quickly becomes our favorite character.

16:00 – BEAT shall be credited for coining “Duck Duck Revolution”, as every duck call appears to be a quick time event. So far, it is simply our job to summon ducks, and watch helplessly as they are gunned down en masse.

21:00 – muteki joins the stream as I battle some surprisingly agile bottles. Aiming in Duck Dynasty is as easy as pressing a button, so we basically have a superhero on our hands.

22:30 – BEAT offers a reading of The Ballad of Malone Duck, a story from my childhood. Because Twitter is a capricious beast, here is a transcribed version of the story:

So my dad used to have a neighbor named Malone. Malone was a widow by the time he was living next to my dad, and Malone was also batshit crazy. He once got drunk and lit his lawn ablaze, claiming that it was the best way to maintain the grass. So it goes without saying that Malone was also just an angry, angry man. He was pretty much every stereotype of “stay off my lawn” you’ve ever imagined. So one day, when my dad encountered a duck that was similarly angry, he named the duck, “Malone Duck”.

WeeeeeWe live in an area where ducks are seasonal, and also very territorial. The spot across from my grandmother’s home used to be marshland, and a flock of ducks returned every year. Among those ducks, every year, was Malone Duck. Malone Duck would be a dick to everybody. The rest of the ducks would just be chilling, and Malone Duck would swagger up, and start yelling at everybody. Humans? Cars? Dogs? Malone Duck was not having any of this. So, my dad, clearly a very sane individual, would occasionally yell back at Malone Duck, and, naturally, call him by name. The neighbors must have gotten a kick out of it, because it wasn’t too long before literally everyone in the area was talking about/to Malone Duck.

This was around when my dad was in his 30s, and, also, generally, around when I was born. Part of the reason my dad was yelling at Malone Duck was because he had a kid randomly sleeping at his grandma’s, and, come on, duck, that baby wants to get some sleep.

A few years later, I was maybe 4? 5? How old do you have to be to be playing in front of your grandma’s house fairly unattended? Somewhere in there. I’m a pretty young kid, and naturally, fascinated by these ducks across the street. So my grandmother, who was a very nice old lady who generally ignored everyone around her, decided to accompany me across the street to feed the ducks. This could have been something from a Rockwell painting. … Could have been… But, also given the vibe of this story, this could be the explanation of why I have only nine fingers. No, it wasn’t that bad, because some neighbors noticed the old lady and small child across the street, and dashed out shouting, “No! Don’t go over there! Malone is out!” My grandmother had completely missed my father’s long running feud with a duck, and assumed the crazy neighbor from years ago was out there, maybe burning the lawn again, and her panic response kicked in, so she decided to “calmly” escort her grandson back home. Unfortunately, this enraged Malone Duck, who decided it was time to clean house. If you can picture a grandmother who hadn’t run in thirty years and her very confused So much camograndson attempting to outpace a deranged duck, you have the right of the situation. But, thank God, Malone Duck did not understand doors, and he waddled back to his home.

Later, my parents came to pick me up from gramma’s, and my grandmother relayed the basics of our afternoon adventure. My father’s response was simple: “Oh. You met Malone? That duck is a jerk.”

So that’s why I don’t trust waterfowl.

33:15 – We all take a moment to acknowledge the terrible, terrible models on display in this game.

42:00 – The virtues of Morning Song’s dad’s abacus are discussed while I am forced to repel squirrels. Also, Fanboy Master makes mention of the official explanation for Final Fantasy 8’s SeeD acronym. It’s exactly as crazy as he describes.

ELEGANT MAN

49:30 – And here’s about where I’m forced to commit beaver genocide. I have no idea what the Duck Dynasties have against beavers, but shooting a swarm of good boys leads to the most tension this game could ever produce. Also, Morning Song speaks bird, which is pretty cool.

55:40 – I can walk on water. That seems pretty handy!

1:00:00 – Who doesn’t like fishing minigames? Aside from everyone ever? Commentator extraordinaire, Metal Man Master, mentions that apparently our player avatar is a real person in the Duck Dynasty canon. Who knew?

1:10:00 – Other terrible games are discussed, and I start shoving the Ducky Dynasties around with a car. I am downright amazed the programmers didn’t account for the player attempting to flatten these guys, as it is literally all I could think about an hour into this adventure.

Weeeee1:17:00 – And it took this long to get back to duck hunting, ostensibly the point of Duck Dynasty. Or maybe it isn’t? I’m not going to do any research on this. However, FBM does mention Duck Amuck for Nintendo DS by Wayforward, and I want to investigate that further.

1:27:00 – The return of the King (Cup)!

1:38:00 – If we hadn’t been completely ignoring the “story” of Duck Dynasty story mode, we might know more, but, lost on Duck Dynasty Property, the goals of our poor, beardless hero are discussed. Maybe he’s an Eagle Scout? Who hates beavers?

1:47:00 – This video would be longer, but we’re all pretty much dead already. Guess we’ll never know if more squirrels need to be assassinated.

1:49:00 – As we near the finale (which is just me turning it off), we discuss Cromartie High School, one of the best, funniest animes available. The joke I was trying desperately to remember was, “Milk is the main ingredient in yogurt, true or false?”

And that’s a Duck Dynasty, folks! Thanks again to everything that participated, and to viewers like you! Or something!

FGC #405 Duck Dynasty

  • System: Xbox 360 for the stream, but it was also apparently available for Xbox One, PC, Playstation 3, and Playstation 4. There’s also a 3DS version, and I really want to see more of that.
  • Number of players: The box says it is two players, but I saw no real evidence of that. Story mode certainly isn’t two players! And I’m not subjecting another friend to such a thing!
  • More gameplay: Since I’m looking at the box anyway, apparently we squandered another avenue of adventure. “Sneak around the warehouse to trick Willie” is a bullet point that was apparently meant to sell this game, so sorry I missed that.
  • Hate youUncensored: It was mentioned on the stream that the rivers could not run red with the blood of fallen beavers because that would warrant a more intense ESRB rating, but the game is apparently rated T for Teen. This sounds like a duck conspiracy.
  • Favorite Duck Dynasty: It’s the cup. Duck Cup o’ Skittles.
  • Did you know? Apparently the whole “we hate beavers” thing is a running gag on the actual Duck Dynasty show. In one hilarious episode, one Ducky Dynasty leaves a dead beaver in the sink of another Duck Dynasty. I can’t imagine why I never watched this show!
  • Would I play again: Honestly, this game wasn’t as terrible as I had expected. It was still pretty bad, and I don’t want to play it ever again. But at least it was an interesting and playable kind of terrible. One star out of five, but that isn’t zero!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Beyond the Beyond for the Playstation.

Fuck.

FGC #382 Dragon Ball FighterZ

Rock the dragonIt is the rare licensed game that grants you greater insight into the source material.

And the greatest insight offered by Dragon Ball FighterZ? The exact mechanisms of why Krillin sucks.

First, let’s talk about the dragon in the room: Dragon Ball FighterZ is a good game. Not only that, but it’s a good Dragon Ball fighting game. And this might be a first! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have played a lot of Dragon Ball (mostly Z) games. I am a DBZ nerd, and have been since approximately sixth grade. It’s like wrestling! Except everybody can fly and shoot lasers out of various appendages and orifices! I am all about that! So I’ve dutifully purchased practically every DBZ game that has come down Dragon Way, going all the way back to Dragon Ball GT Final Bout (a game that featured nearly the whole breadth of Dragon Ball history, but was released in America when Goku had barely reached Frieza. Who is this little chirping pink guy? And why is Vegeta a baby?). But one constant through the DBZ game pantheon is that, unfortunately, they’re not very good. Some of the RPG/adventure style DBZ games are pretty great, but the fighting games… not so much.

Slam 'emAnd Dragon Ball FighterZ seems to clearly elucidate why: DBZ games shouldn’t follow DBZ. Okay, yes, you need to have Goku and Cell and all kinds of crazy “he’s moving too fast for saiyan eyes” flurry punches, but you absolutely have to drop the many “this happens every episode so it should be in the game” quirks of the series. Flight? It sounds cool, but grant your fighters the ability to “stand” on different planes, and everything gets too… chase-y. Just let DBZ fighters feel like regular fighting game characters, and maybe add in a homing punch or two. And beam fights? It seems like every DBZ fighting game has had some desperate need to make big, dramatic moments out of two dudes grunting and shoving lasers while the player is expected to hammer buttons or rotate a joystick. And that has never been fun. Ever! DBFZ makes it clear that you could get an amazing DBZ fighting game out of a traditional fighter, and you can still include DBZ tropes. Just showing a little restraint for the sake of genre helps.

But this isn’t to say DBFZ is just Guilty Gear reskinned as Dragon Ball. While Goku and Vegeta seem to have a weird (appropriate) Ryu/Ken thing going on, the cast is unmistakably themselves, with Tien focusing on measured counters, and Yamcha whipping out ridiculous auto-combo moves. Frieza can summon planet-wrecking balls of energy, and Kid Buu is a whirling dervish of destruction. And even newcomers to the series firmly establish themselves with their movesets: Hit is cool and collected, and Goku Black’s ki scythes tell you this dude is bad news. Going back to Street Fighter 2, the most important thing a fighting game can do is ground its fighters with their moves and abilities (you know, the stuff you see every nanosecond when you’re actually playing the game), and DBFZ does that in an obvious and amazing manner. No two characters are exactly alike, and this is in stark contrast to previous DBZ fighting games containing seventy characters that all “punch a lot and shoot beams”. And that is why nobody likes you, Turles.

Sorry!So it’s only natural that all these fighters wind up in a pretty sprawling story mode. Arcade modes are the lifeblood of fighting games, but DBZ has always been two parts muscles dudes to its 98 parts soap opera. Of course we have to have a new villain and an excuse for why only two people can fight each other at one time (as opposed to how, in the series proper, only two people can fight at a time because… uhh… senzu beans?). The excuse du jour is that the previously unseen Android 21 has activated some random machine that Dr. Gero left behind, and now “a human soul” must bond with DBZ heroes and villains alike to grant the fighters access to their innate super destructive muscle powers. Nobody was expecting “the hero is the player” meta shenanigans from a DBZ game, but, hey, it works in this context. And it grants us an excuse for Goku to be “level 1” even though he has successfully fought his way through multiple realities at this point (and thus should be capable of punching Captain Ginyu straight through to the Sailor Moon universe).

But it’s this leveling system that is the most DBZ thing to have ever graced a videogame. Like many JRPGs, only “active” characters receive experience. And, also like most JRPGs, your party grows as time goes on. You start with you initial lil’ dudes, but it’s inevitable that you’ll wind up with new, more interesting party members as the game progresses. It’s only natural that Vegeta isn’t available in the first “dungeon”, because, come on, you’ve gotta earn a rude boy like that. And since the new characters are objectively better than the old characters, well, here’s a screenshot of my party from shortly before the final battle…

What?

Zoom in! Enhance!

Oh no

Yes, the rest of the party is Level 30-40, and Krillin is Level 3. Tien and Yamcha aren’t much better. Assuming I were to take any of these dudes out to challenge the final boss, a creature that is firmly level 50, my bald little hero would die. He would die immediately.

And that’s canon!

Way to go, dorkSure, we all say we want to see the return of the Dragon Ball OG characters. Yes, we all claim we want to see the humans take the spotlight again, and shake these damn saiyans off their high perch. But you know what? Krillin is cool, but Toriyama already told his story. You could even claim some of the latter DBZ characters have completed arcs, too (Gohan comes to mind here). But the story keeps going, and the main character keeps finding new worlds and universes. Bald Guy and Bald Guy with Three Eyes are neat, but there’s a God of Destruction on the table now, and he’s a kitty cat, so what’s his deal? Silent assassin from another universe? Sounds good, too. Goku, but genocidally evil? That’s a cool story! And… I already know Krillin’s story. He’s a guy that likes porn and is always going to be second banana to Goku. I don’t need him in my party right now. Even his wife tosses a better destructo disc.

Krillin, I love you, and you’re great… but you suck. And there’s a big, green science experiment that wants to be part of my party now. Please understand.

Dragon Ball FighterZ helps me to comprehend how it feels to be Goku. DBFZ helps me to recognize that, even if you care about some bald little buddy, sometimes you have to ditch him for the entire story, because, come on, who doesn’t want to team up with Nappa? He doesn’t have any hair and he’s taller. There’s really no choice at all here…

FGC #382 Dragon Ball FighterZ

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Also, Gameboy Advance if your PC’s power is subpar.
  • Number of players: Two players controlling six total fighters. But only one at a time! It’s pretty much Marvel vs. Capcom rules… and that’s just fine.
  • What’s in a name: The title is pronounced “Dragon Ball Fighters”. This is because the good people at Bandai Namco have no idea how letters work.
  • GET IT?!Story Similarities: For some reason, every time the party retreats to Bulma’s ship and chats about the next move, I am reminded of another franchise.
  • Other Story Issues: Look, I understand that it wouldn’t make “story sense” for there to be clones of the androids, or characters from other universes, or anyone that is already a corpse possessed by a god, or whatever, but the billions of fights against Clone Yamcha in story battles seem to necessitate using the entire roster for that mode. There aren’t even Clone Young Gohan or Clone Majin (Fat) Buus running around! A little variety is important when you’re fighting three a match.
  • Favorite Fighter (this game): I’m going to say Hit, but only because he kind of represents Champa, the Garfield of the Dragon Ball universe. Champa for DLC!
  • A Quick Word about Krillin: Krillin isn’t all bad. He is a great friend, an attentive father, and an excellent husband to a previously murderous cyborg. However, he is also the one guy in DBZ with the highest death count. To be clear, that is not a kill count, what that means is that Krillin has been killed the most times in the Dragon Ball franchise. He was once killed by a tambourine! Strongest human in the universe or not, Krillin knows his place in the world, and it’s in the Home For Infinite Suckers.
  • Did you know? Speaking of Hit, he is an assassin from another universe. In other words, he is a hitman. Hit the hitman. Someone should be in jail for DBZ naming schemes.
  • Would I play again: I’m still playing it! Story mode might be over forever, but maybe I’ll throw Krillin a bone for some online matches. Least I could do for the little guy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for Nintendo Gamecube! Now that’s an eggcelent choice! Please look forward to it!

Winner!

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

New age of heroes?It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.

An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster

We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.

This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?

Look at 'em allBut an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.

And speaking of variety…

An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck

Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.

WeeeeeThis may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.

And speaking of being tricked into having fun…

An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum

Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?

OwieAn arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.

And speaking of stories…

An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car

Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.

Dem buns

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.

In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?

Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.

But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…

An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation

Sticks and stonesIn the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.

Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.

And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.

And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

  • System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
  • Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
  • Eat itVersion Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
  • Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
  • Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
  • Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
  • Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
  • Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.

What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!

OH MY CAR

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