Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (Yes, the fourth Sonic The Hedgehog game, at last. There have been no others. Ever.) comes at a strange and somewhat appropriate time in games history. In the past couple of years, there’s been a strong nineties resurgence with titles like Street Fighter 4, Megaman 9 and 10, New Super Mario Bros, and the upcoming Mortal Kombat game, all hearkening back to their early-90s ancestry. Sonic The Hedgehog continues this trend with Sonic 4, and not a moment too soon. It’s no secret that the Sonic franchise has been in the gutter for the past decade or so, with the amount of time and the number of games featuring Sonic that have been panned now outnumbering the hallowed classics. Sonic 4 stands as what could be the last chance for the franchise to earn back some respect among the video game populace, and have a breath of fresh air amongst all the waste the brand has been excreting, but is it enough? Does it live up to its golden (Or should I say royal blue) forefathers?
The story of Sonic games since the late 90s has been a bit of a laughing point for any self respecting human being over the age of 13. The games have slowly taken on more and more ridiculously self serious tones, culminating in 2006’s Sonic The Hedgehog, in which Sonic died. Not permanently, mind you, but the fact remains that Sonic fucking dies. Sonic 4, thankfully, does away with any trace of a plot past the mid 90s and graces us with a very simple narrative: Eggman (hereby referred to as Robotnik, because I am a giant retrofag.) is up to no good. Make him cut it out. The game itself doesn’t even really touch on the story, and sends you right in to the first zone when you pick ‘start’. Just the way I like it.
From the get-go, the fact that this is an attempt to hearken back to the days of 16 bit, 2-D sidescrollers is immediately apparent. You’re treated to an old school level title card, some midi-sounding music (None of which is very memorable, I have to add, as a side-note), and a landscape very reminiscent of Sonic 1’s Green Hill Zone. Including that motobug, right there. And those piranha things… And that spring… Wait a second, you might think, feeling utterly duped; This is Green Hill Zone.
Well, yes and no. See, that’s kind of Sonic 4: Episode 1’s shtick. The story that wasn’t touched on earlier? It’s basically “Robotnik is recycling his old creations, ’cause he’s out of ideas”, and it echoes in the zones. Every single one of them, save for the final zone, is extremely reminiscent of an earlier, 16 bit counterpart. Namely; Green Hill Zone and Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1, and Casino Night Zone and Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2. That’s not to say these levels are carbon copies. Though the level art evokes the feeling of “What you remember this level looking like”, there are new elements to the re-imagined 3D art, and new gimmicks in the zones themselves. That said, there are also some old gimmicks, so all and all these end up feeling more or less like remixed locations that you’ve already tread if you’ve played either of the first two games of the series.
The level design itself isn’t bad, especially in comparison to other recent entries in the series, offering the branching paths and speedy venues that made the original Sonics so fun to explore and tool around in, whether you like to see how blisteringly fast you can make it through each stage, or poke around at a more methodical pace to see what secret items and areas you can find. The most offensive lapse in good level design is a liberal smattering of chains of enemies to homing attack in order to reach the upper-most areas of a level. These are almost never necessary to actually traverse a stage, but it would be nice to be able to reach these higher paths without spending most of your time airborne, pressing Jump.
On that note, (rough segue!) the physics in Sonic 4 all-together feel a little ‘off’. Now, I’m not gonna go in to anal-retentive recitals of algorithms and slope angles like some of the more obsessive Sonic fans out there, but it doesn’t take a hardcore fan to notice things feel a little floaty. Sonic’s movement lacks any sort of momentum or weight, to the point where often times it is possible to stop on a dime by jumping, which seems to completely cancel out any existing movement if you’re not holding a direction down. While this can be a live saver on particularly perilous platforming parts (Quadruple alliteration. I’m quite proud.), it feels clunky everywhere else. When you’re in the air, or moving at high speeds, the game flows quite well, but the problem is that spending half your time with your feet off solid ground, chaining homing attacks just isn’t fun after a while.
Despite some rough areas that could use a loving touch and some polish to bring out what I feel could truly be a good game beneath its flaws, Sonic 4 still manages to exude some of the charm present in its predecessors, due in no small part to Sonic’s reduction to a small character that communicated entirely with motion and doesn’t spout forced one liners and “YEAH. WAHOO” every three and a half seconds. It’s also nice to see the good Doctor as a main antagonist again, instead of a catalyst for a bigger, likely supernatural baddy to come and take the spotlight, as has been the formula for the last ten or so years. The nostalgia comes at a cost, though, ending up making S4E1 feel more like Sonic 1&2: Homing Attack Edition than anything else at times.
Outside of the linear story progression, there is time attack mode that can be accessed at any time after the first stage that acts as a fun distraction for anyone wanting to test their twitch reflexes in speed runs of Sonic 4’s levels. It’s not exactly a game maker or breaker, but it’s a plus.
All in all, Sonic 4 isn’t the glorious return to form some people were hoping for, no. It’s not anything particularly revolutionary, either. The game is, in short, average. If you’re a long time Sonic fan, you’ll eat it up. If you’re not, you probably won’t find anything to convert you in this game. It won’t break your heart, but it won’t make you fall in love again, either. There is an ending teasing Episode 2 if you get all the Chaos Emeralds that leaves me personally excited for the next chapter, though, and hopefully with that next chapter will come some changes to make the game more accessible. Until then, it’s not a terrible product by any stretch… but it’s just not quite enough to restore any permanent faith in the series.
Over the last ten or so years, there have actually been several Mixed Martial Arts video games, mostly focused on the lucrative UFC promotion. In 2009, this sub-genre was revolutionized and truly brought to the mainstream in a way that parallels the sports recent rise in popularity with UFC 2009: Undisputed. Undisputed presented the sport with a brutal realism that was far removed from button combos and special moves that developers tried to shoehorn into its predecessors. It was impressive, but it lacked some key elements in the cage. UFC Undisputed 2010 fixed many of these issues, and it was hard to imagine how it could be vastly improved upon at that point.
A little known fact is that Dana White and the UFC went to EA long before THQ and Yukes to make a UFC game. EA dismissed MMA as ‘not a real sport’ and continued to make another Madden. However, the success of Undisputed caught EA’s eye, and deals with the lesser promotion Strikeforce were made immediately, to the complete spite of Dana White, who went so far as to declare any UFC fighters that appear in EA’s MMA game to be fired from the UFC (Of course, this seems to not count for Randy Couture, though this seems to have been allowed because Randy had not signed his likeness over to THQ for undisputed).
And so comes EA MMA, a competitor that I think is needed if MMA video games are going to continue to improve, as I believe competition is the key to improvement. I’ll be transparent here; I’m a UFC fan. I see Strikeforce as a generally lesser promotion with lesser talent and more WWE-style production values. I expected very little out of EA MMA, and that was foolish of me. UFC Needs to step its game up for 2011, because EA is bringing its usual dominance to the proverbial cage.
The Demo for EA MMA just recently came out on XBLA (Yes, you can go play it. Right now!), and I of course had to give it a spin. I want to first note that I like UFC’s soundtrack better. The opening movie for EA being set to Linkin Park’s new song ‘Wretches and Kings’ was a little eye roll worthy, but that’s a very petty complaint. Let’s move, instead, into the important factors: The game’s performance.
EA MMA takes a lot of cues from undisputed, presentation-wise, but veers off in some very significant ways on its own. The biggest difference is of course EA’s ‘Total Striking Control’, which takes more than a small bit of influence from EA’s other hit fighting franchise, Fight Night. It’s the same sort of set up, with the right analog stick controlling your furious fists. However, since this is in fact not boxing, the left trigger serves as a modifier to turn those punches in to kicks controlled via the same fashion. The face buttons serve as one press short cuts to clinch, sprawl, and go for the takedown, while pressing A works to advance your position on the ground, X goes for a submission (Which we’ll get to), and B counters a move or stands you up if you’re in the dominant position. This greatly decreases the complicated nature of the ground game, which is a frustration for many in Undisputed.
However, there is also a control scheme called ‘Classic’ that mirrors Undisputed in an obvious way, with the same sort of striking face buttons and stick-based clinch and grapple. There are a few button variations (A fake-modifier button, which is much more useful against a human opponent who can actually get psyched out), but overall it might be the best choice if you plan to play both EA and UFC.
Submissions are the only thing that, no matter what, are a whole different beast. Instead of the irritating Mario Party submissions like in Undisputed, EA separates its submissions and their mechanics into joint and choke submissions. Joint submissions (Armbar, Kimura, Americana, etc) are a button pressing game in which you try to maintain your stamina while slowly pushing your opponent’s joints (represented in a very cool way by an X Ray view of the bones) to their limit. This isn’t button mashing, though, it requires much more careful timing. Choke submissions require you to rotate the left stick until you find the ‘sweet spot’, which will change periodically and requires a sort of constant twiddling to nail. Your vision tunnels in the closer you get to the choke, narrowing the sweet spot down and simulating actually passing out. Defending submissions works in the same manner.
Fighting in EA MMA feels good. I’ve always found Undisputed to feel a bit mechanical, movement wise, with sounds that don’t quite drive home the impact of every good punch. EA feels organic, and gives you a gratifying smack for every well landed hit. Knockouts are a flurry of punches that never cease to satisfy, and when you clinch, it really feels like these guys are throwing eachother around on your TV. When it comes down to it, I would be happy to sit back and watch people duke it out on EA MMA, while I always found spectating Undisputed matches to be a little boring and methodical. Point: EA.
This isn’t to say EA is absolutely the superior game. UFC seems to present more variable options, and the fights are a bit more spontaneous. EA has a visible torso and head health bar when you begin to really wail on a guy that lets you know when the knockout is coming, and while that’s very helpful for knowing when to back off and play defensive, it also takes a bit of the excitement out of the flash knock out. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a flash KO yet, as every KO becomes your opponent falling to the ground and you engaging in a mad button mashing sequence to finish him off as he tried desperately to defend. That said, you can turn the HUD completely off, but it doesn’t make flash KOs exist in the game.
Take all of this with a pillar of salt, seeing as this is only a demo. The full version of EA MMA will include EA Game Face in the create-a-fighter, which may or may not have terrible results, live broadcasts of fights in a real worldwide ranking, and many more features that I couldn’t explore in the demo. It’s shaping up to be a great game, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dana White making some calls if it does well. Look for a full review when the game comes out later this month.
So every day I check this blog’s stats to see how many hits I didn’t get from wordpress searches of Quake 3 and Sonic. The answer, you might figure, is very little. Hell, if you’re reading this right now, you probably looked up Sonic Unleashed and linked one of my pictures from the Then and Now article. I also check places that people have been linked to here from. Today, I was caught by a surprise. One that may be short lived.
Apparently, someone took my then and now article, and the opinions therein, and ran with it for the Sonic the Hedgehog wikipedia article.
Cool, I guess, but I’m not exactly a super reputable source. However, they go also cite the Sonic Heroes review scores at metacritic, so I guess I have backup.
I should really write something interesting sometime.
Modern warfare is the World War 2 of the 2000s. The latest in the now seemingly endless line of “Let’s shoot dudes in the middle east” games is EA’s Medal of Honor; COD and BFBC2’s fucked up stepchild who shows signs of learning disabilities in its early aptitude tests, but may still graduate high school someday anyway. surprisingly, the biggest controversy in the game’s development hasn’t been that the beta was…well… bad, and was very coldly received, but that the fact that you play as the Taliban themselves is a thing.
Let’s be honest. We’ve been playing as the Taliban since Counter Strike. I’m sorry, I don’t care if you name your vaguely middle easten terror cell “Terrorists” or “The Powerpuff Jihad”. If it smells like a Tali, looks like a Tali, derps like a tali, and blows itself up like a Tali, it’s a Tali. Difference is EA had the balls out come out and say “Hey, it’s the Taliban. This is, you know, actual war.”.
Well, people didn’t like that. So now This.
In the past few months, we have received feedback from all over the world regarding the multiplayer portion of Medal of Honor. We’ve received notes from gamers, active military, and friends and family of servicemen and women currently deployed overseas. The majority of this feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. For this, the Medal of Honor team is deeply appreciative.
However, we have also received feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers who have expressed concern over the inclusion of the Taliban in the multiplayer portion of our game. This is a very important voice to the Medal of Honor team. This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to. It is a voice that we care deeply about. Because of this, and because the heartbeat of Medal of Honor has always resided in the reverence for American and Allied soldiers, we have decided to rename the opposing team in Medal of Honor multiplayer from Taliban to Opposing Force.
While this change should not directly affect gamers, as it does not fundamentally alter the gameplay, we are making this change for the men and women serving in the military and for the families of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice – this franchise will never willfully disrespect, intentionally or otherwise, your memory and service.
To all who serve – we appreciate you, we thank you, and we do not take you for granted. And to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines currently serving overseas, stay safe and come home soon.
Medal of Honor
Alright, so let’s be clear. I support out troops. Without doubt or hesitation. I support them and respect a lot of them. However, frankly, I think this is the most needless, undeserved change ever. Regardless of the name, gameplay has not changed. You are still playing as an unnamed (Opposing Force? Seriously?) arab terrorist organization killing American troops. I don’t see what the lack of a name changes. Changing it so as not to disrespect the men and women out there fighting, or the ones who have died?
Dude, again. A horse is a horse, even if you paint it to look like a Zebra. You’re still killing who you’re killing as the opposing force, I don’t see how this is any more ‘respectful’, and frankly, I didn’t see it as ‘disrespect’ in the first place. The problem with the Taliban thing wasn’t respect, it was the fact that men who have been and who are in active service are uncomfortable with the game due to PTSD effects and whatever else. This is ok, this I can respect. Don’t buy the game, don’t distribute it on Military property, whatever. But ultimately, nothing has changed.
Ugh, I don’t even know where I’m going with this anymore, but this all seems really dumb.
Hi, everyone. It’s me again. Today I want to talk about Halo some more (albeit, not exclusively). I might mention Halo a lot for a while, because Reach is cool and you would be cool if you played it. This isn’t necessarily about Reach, though, it’s about an issue that I feel has begun to infect and spread across the game industry at an alarming rate in the past few years.
- Let’s talk about sequels.
For those who either missed the hyperlink or are the TL;DR type (shame on you!), the story basically comes down to the following point:
“343 Industries is thinking a lot about how to take this franchise and turn it into something that people feel like they have an ongoing relationship with and they can entertain themselves more often,” he told IGN. “But it’s not, hey every November 6 or whatever we have to ship a game and build a production plan around that. We want to do things that make sense as a first party.”
This makes sense for everyone involved: Halo has always been a huge cash cow for Microsoft, so why not release more of what gamers want? The tightrope walk comes from the challenge of increasing the number of releases while keeping quality high. Distressingly, Spencer points to Activision as a good example of aggressive release schedules.
If you want it to be even more deliciously summarized, here’s the hoe-down: Annualized Halo.
So here’s the thing about a sequel. In my opinion, at least, a sequel is supposed to be a follow up to a product that succeeds the original product via some form of change or innovation, be it for good or ill. In realistic development terms, one year is not enough to go back and do the kind of heavy altering to a game needed to create a good sequel. Hell, it’s barely enough time to come up with a good concept. What the concept of annual sequels leads to is a slew of games using the same engine (Minor tweaks, granted, but it’s too little too soon.) with very little in the way of variation beyond some content (story, graphical assets, et al). A perfect example is Call of Duty and Guitar Hero (The latter of which seems to have adopted a bi-annual spin-off development cycle). Sure is innovative in here, right? I don’t like to pick on either of those franchises because I don’t like them, either. As a matter of fact, I loved the first three (1, 2, 4) Call of Duty games, and Guitar Hero was amazing and original when the first couple came out.
What makes sequels special? Why do I love CODs 2 and 4, but not 3, 5, or 6? The wait. The feeling of seeing something you love in a new form. The jump from COD to COD2 was great, and the jump to 4’s technology was another giant leap in the franchise. All that was old was new and exciting again, which brings us back to Halo and why I’d hate to see this happen to that franchise. Halo generally has had a three year dev cycle. The main games have all come out thrice apart from eachother: HALO: CE (2001), HALO 2 (2004), HALO 3 (2007), HALO: REACH (2010). These three year gaps have allowed for Bungie to go in and completely retool everything from the ground up. Even the weakest of the main Halos (Not naming names!) was still a good game by general standards. The weakest of the Halo franchise thus far (ODST, in my opinion), was just building off Halo 3’s engine, and while it did some new things, it ultimately was not exciting for this fact; a perfect example of how this sort of thing is gonna go.
It’s not isolated to Halo, either. Street Fighter 4, Doom 3, Sonic Adventure, Morrowind, Oblivion, and (Hypothetically!) TES V. These are sequels that felt special because they had come out long enough after their predecessors to feel like a truly new product, albeit Doom 3 and SF 4 are kind of extreme cases, almost a decade is a looong time to wait for a follow up.
If MSoft really wants to have an annual tent pole, here’s my suggestion. Biennialize your heavy hitters. Halo, Gears (or whatever major Microsoft exclusive game that comes along in the future), Halo, Gears, etc. Two years is at least a bit more time to develop something new. Now, I know what you might think: But Mr. Opinion Man, Activision splits COD up biennialy between two teams!
Yes, it does, but those two teams are ultimately still working on the same franchise, sharing the same core resources. Halo and Gears/Fable/ExclusiveOfChoice are separate franchises with separate dev houses and separate engines and resources. Two years is much more merciful than “Alright guys, let’s crank a Halo out in November every 365 days or so). Plus, I can only imagine the stress and hours laden on the developers with that kind of deadline.
Ah hell, I guess when it comes down to it, the vast majority of consumers will buy an annual Halo regardless because they don’t know shit. See that? There’s the cynicism I promise all of you every day.
- On to more pleasant matters: More REACH!
Look familiar? It should. It’s a reimagining (Obvious artistic license taken) of the classic Quake 3 Arena map “The Longest Yard”, which I’ve appropriately entitled “A Longer Yard”. Of course, Halo is not Quake 3, nor does it have even close to the same mechanics beyond “shoot a guy”, so some changes in the formula had to be made. You’ll notice the third tier of platforms has become just a raised area with ramps and the jump pad gap has become a horizontal bridge. I’ve also made the shotgun corner an enclosed space, because it needed some sprucing up and the raised aspect of the bunkers makes the map resemble its forefather a bit more. All teleporters are intact, as well as the middle jump pad and megahealth, which have been represented by a normal grav lift and Overarmor that respawns every two minutes. In place of the quad damage is an invisibility pickup. The sniper island is still there, it’s just not pictured, but the mancannon that launches to it is.
It’s a work in progress, even between those two pictures (The one with the railings and glass covers is newer), but I feel like it’s coming along well. When it’s finished, it should be up on my fileshare. I’ll make a post making note of it, the map name, and the author it will be under. In the meantime, I have another map up now called “Shore Line” under the author “DeathToMuffin”, so if you feel like giving that a shot, I’d appreciate feedback. It was my first forray into the Forge.
- Shit My Dad Says (I’m not censoring the goddamn fucking thing. Fuck.)
The premiere of the ‘twitcom’ aired last night, and it was pretty much William Shatner being William Shatner, including a wonderfully meta-humour moment where Henry (played by Jonathan Sadowski) does a typical Kirk-Shatner impression, at which point his titular father Ed (Played by Jimmy Kirk himself) laments that no one can do a good impression of him. Aside from that, the show was entertaining, but knowing it was based off a Twitter feed ruined it a bit for me. I kept imagining everything Shatner said as individual tweets that the writers of the show managed to string together via tangential relatedness. Also, the laugh track after anyone delivered a line didn’t help, as usual. Seriously, kill that shit.
I’ll keep an eye on this show. For now, I’m giving it a recommend at least insofar as the pilot goes. Give it a shot, you might like it.
So, this has gone on long enough, and I applaud you if you’re still reading. Go reward yourself for me with a pat on the back! Or, if you can’t reach your back, a Twinkie!