Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I Review

-------Guide to My Rating System------

5 out of 5 – Fantastic. Loved it. Get it. Now.
Example: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

4 out of 5 – Great, but its flaws do detract from the experience. Still a lot of fun, and generally worth a buy.
Example: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

3 out of 5 – Alright. There’s certainly fun to be had, but it’s very flawed. My “mixed bag” rating. Not worth the risk of buying it for full price, but if you find it for $20, it’s a decent purchase.
Example: Sonic Unleashed

2 out of 5 – Below average. May have its good points and even shine sometimes, but a bad experience overall. Bargain bin purchase at best, if you’re a fan of the franchise.
Example: Sonic and the Secret Rings

1 out of 5 – Garbage. Don’t buy it, don’t rent it, don’t borrow it, don’t play it, don’t look at it, don’t even think about it.
Example: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22


The point where Sonic’s descent into chaos began is highly contested among the fanbase and gaming journalists. Some say it began with Sonic Adventure, some Sonic Adventure 2, some Sonic Heroes and some place the point where things turned to crap even later. For me it began with Shadow the Hedgehog in 2005. The tedious mission structure was made even worse by the uncooperative camera, and the “darker” aspects of the game really seemed like a joke in a game about a 3-foot-tall hedgehog, in addition to the voice acting. It wasn’t a complete mess, but it certainly wasn’t very good. Thankfully, we also got Sonic Rush that year, a fantastic sidescroller on DS. It wasn’t over just yet.

The real crap started the next year in 2006. It was Sonic’s 15th anniversary and Sonic fans were waiting with baited breath for the game that would come out for the then-new Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles and change the Sonic formula forever. It was to be titled simply SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, and would be a complete gameplay reboot of the franchise. Unfortunately, when it came out, it was obvious that it was unfinished. The game was broken in almost every way imaginable. Scripted events would mess up, flinging you out of a loop and to your doom. Sonic would go through walls and controlled like a slippery lizard. The story was overemphasized and in addition to that was filled with plotholes and a relationship between a human character and our blue hedgehog buddy that can only be described as strange and gross. The game was supposed to change the Sonic formula, but it didn’t it all. It played like Sonic Adventure, except without the speed that made those games so much fun. Yes, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG was slow, and that was a big part of the reason why it was so bad. Oh, wait, it did have fast parts – except they were on rails and unfairly frustrating.

What happened after that, no one can describe. It’s as if SEGA lost all faith in the Sonic brand even as it continued making games. For the next three years, all Sonic games would range from mediocre to decent at best in quality. The only Sonic game released during that time that could be considered good was Sonic Rush Adventure, a sequel to Sonic Rush, for the Nintendo DS. We nearly had a great 3-D Sonic game in Sonic Unleashed, but it seemed as though SEGA was intent on ruining every Sonic game that came out somehow, and Sonic Unleashed came with the Werehog. His stages featured slow, clunky combat that clashed too heavily with the best parts of the game (the daytime stages where Sonic was his normal self) and really weren’t very much fun. What before had only one blemish was now an ugly, disgusting, acne-infected face that no one could look at without grimacing.

After all that crap, SEGA finally decided to take Sonic back to his roots. The first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, an episodic release on iPhone, WiiWare, Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, is out now for all to play and enjoy. So, does it succeed in revitalizing the Sonic brand, or does it fall flat on its face once again? The answer is here.


Sonic 4 is played from a 2-D perspective with 3-D styled graphics similar to the Rush games on DS. Everything looks just as it should in a Sonic game. All of the environments are brightly colored with some nice detail, as are the enemies, bosses and Sonic’s sprite. The water effects are really nice, too, with a cool-looking ripple effect. Overall, Sonic 4’s graphics are very pretty, even on Wii. The music similarly succeeds. It offers up the same kinds of upbeat, fun tunes that 2-D Sonic was known for, and it all sounds great. I’ll give particular mention to the music associated with the levels of Lost Labyrinth Zone and Mad Gear Zone, which you’re going to be rocking out to for a long time. (I can’t believe I just said “rocking out.”)

Sonic 4’s gameplay is fundamentally similar to the classic Genesis games to which it is billed a sequel, yet features some notable differences. First of all, Sonic gains the Homing Attack from the 3-D games. If you haven’t played any of the 3-D games, it basically allows Sonic to take out any enemy with the press of a button by locking on to them while in mid-air. Though never overused, it’s put to good use in Sonic 4, allowing you to reach otherwise unreachable areas by attacking a chain of Badniks. It’s a lot of fun to use, and works quite well in 2-D. Another notable difference between Sonic 4 and the classics is the fact that it uses Sonic Rush’s physics rather than the classic physics, which caused a lot of prerelease controversy. Now, admittedly, there are some problems with the physics, (Sonic can stand sideways on slopes sometimes if you get him in the right place and some other minor things; the worst glitches seem to have to be sought out) but it doesn’t ruin the game at all. In fact, I went through the entire game barely even thinking about them. Another side effect of the Rush physics that a lot of people seem to be complaining about is that Sonic appears to have no inertia, coming to a stop immediately upon releasing the d-pad or analog stick. Though it technically doesn’t make any sense, I honestly don’t see how this breaks the game. Sonic still runs fast, and once you get used to the physics, the game is a lot of fun.

Like the classics, to get the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 4 you have to complete an Act with 50 rings and then jump into the giant ring at the end of the Act to reach the Special Stage, which you must then complete. Sonic 4’s special stages are based off of those of the original Sonic the Hedgehog for SEGA Genesis, but feature all new mechanics and controls. This time around, you must use either the motion control or the D-Pad (on Wii anyway, and probably PS3 as well) to tilt the stage to navigate Sonic through it, a mechanic that works quite well. You’re timed and must collect time bubbles to keep from running out of it, and you also have to collect rings to open doors as you make your way to the Chaos Emerald. These special stages are highly challenging and pretty fun as well. Also like in the classics, collecting all 7 Chaos Emeralds allows Sonic to transform into Super Sonic. Super Sonic runs twice as fast as normal Sonic, jumps higher, is invincible, can breathe underwater and overall is just a ton of fun to play as. All of its differences aside, Sonic 4 accurately captures just how fun it is to run through loop-de-loops, grab rings, bash Badniks and platform, all at high speeds. Sonic 4 has a heckuva lotta speed and is a heckuva lotta fun, even with the different physics, and the Homing Attack is a lot of fun to use.

I really like the level design of Sonic 4. Now, I know there were a lot of prerelease complaints about it being “too automated” and having a perceived overabundance of springboards and boosters, but I honestly never cared. There is automation, but it’s really no more automated than the original Sonic Rush, perhaps even less automated than that. And this is just my opinion, but for me, the so-called “automated” parts really add an extra hectic, fast, feeling to parts of the game. Even with the “automated” parts, the game’s levels have good platforming sections and are a lot of fun to play.

Another reason why I love the levels of Sonic 4 is that almost every level seems to bring in some new, fun gimmick, and the game never gets old. Of course, when I say “gimmick,” I don’t mean anything like the Werehog in Sonic Unleashed or the sword in Sonic and the Black Knight. These are just various little elements that the levels are based around, and they’re all very cool. To give you some examples, Casino Street Act 2 has cards that Sonic can spin to get “hands” of rings and lives. If Sonic gets three of the same type of card, he gets those rings and extra lives. The very next Act in the same Zone features cannons that Sonic can shoot himself out of to travel long distances. Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 1 features large boulders that Sonic can run on top of for travel if he can keep his balance. Easily my favorite gimmick comes from Lost Labyrinth Act 2. The level is very dark, and Sonic carries a torch throughout the whole level. This torch allows him to light larger torches and packs of dynamite to open up new areas. These kinds of gimmicks keep the levels fresh throughout the entire game.

Sonic 4’s level design isn’t perfect. There is another design trait it inherited from Sonic Rush, and it’s pretty nasty: the unexpected death pits. It just seems like bottomless pits are put in places where you can’t tell there are bottomless pits, and falling in them due to a misplaced homing attack or jump is just plain frustrating. It also isn't particularly difficult. Seriously, Sonic 4 is really easy, and you’ll find yourself racking up lots of lives throughout the game. Fortunately, the game isn’t completely without challenge. Getting to the end of an Act with 50 rings to reach the special stage is just as hard as ever, and actually beating the special stage is a whole other story. Some of the later bosses can also be quite challenging, especially the final boss.

Being only the first episode of a much bigger game, Sonic 4: Episode I is pretty short, but as fun as it is, it’s likely that you’re going to find yourself replaying the game several times. In addition to that, there is a time attack mode, complete with leaderboards to compare your times to other players.


Sonic 4: Episode I is easily the best Sonic game in years. It’s really fast and a crapload of fun. It’s not without its flaws, but SEGA is finally on the right track with the franchise in my opinion. I highly suggest that you download this game, and if you’re unsure of it, you can always try out the demo. If Sonic Colors is as good as it looks, then I’ll finally be able to say something I’ve wanted to say for at least three years: Sonic is BACK!

So What’s Good?

- Pretty graphics
- Great music
- Great sense of speed
- Homing attack works well in 2-D
- Fun level design
- Almost every level brings in a new, fun gimmick
- Great replay value

…But What’s Bad?

- Physics feature some minor glitches, nothing game breaking
- Bottomless pits can catch you off guard and you can’t always tell where they are
- Pretty easy

Score: 4/5

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halo Reach Review

-------Guide to My Rating System------

5 out of 5 – Fantastic. Loved it. Get it. Now.

Example: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

4 out of 5 – Great, but its flaws do detract from the experience. Still a lot of fun, and generally worth a buy.

Example: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

3 out of 5 – Alright. There’s certainly fun to be had, but it’s very flawed. My “mixed bag” rating. Not worth the risk of buying it for full price, but if you find it for $20, it’s a decent purchase.

Example: Sonic Unleashed

2 out of 5 – Below average. May have its good points and even shine sometimes, but a bad experience overall. Bargain bin purchase at best, if you’re a fan of the franchise.

Example: Mega Man X7

1 out of 5 – Garbage. Don’t buy it, don’t rent it, don’t borrow it, don’t play it, don’t look at it, don’t even think about it.

Example: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22


I had intended to make my next review after Sonic Unleashed Metroid: Other M, but due to my inherent laziness my preorder of Halo Reach came in the mail before I wrote it. With Halo Reach being the newer game, I believe that I should review it first.

Anyway, I can save you the trouble of reading the review right now: Go buy Halo Reach. By now, you should have gone to the nearest GameStop and picked it up. Wait, what, you want a more in-depth explanation of why Bungie’s final Halo title is so great? *Sigh* Fine, fine.

So, let’s start with the graphics. The graphics of Halo Reach can only be described as amazing. All of the environments, characters, vehicles, enemies and weapons are beautifully detailed. In fact, I’d say that it may just be one of the best-looking games for the Xbox 360 right now. The music is also fantastic and filled with the intense drum beats and somber tunes we’ve grown to expect, but this is a Halo game, so the quality of the music pretty much goes without saying.

The gameplay of Halo Reach is also fantastic. The game plays like other Halos, but there are changes and additions that greatly affect the gameplay. For one thing, players can kill enemies by performing assassinations if they can sneak up behind them and press the melee button. These assassinations look spectacular and add an element of stealth to the gameplay that IS optional, but you’ll probably find yourself attempting to perform assassinations a lot because of their usefulness and because of how stylish it is. But mostly because of the style.

Another thing that really changes the gameplay is the addition of armor abilities for Spartans and Elites. These armor abilities replace the items from Halo 3 and are quite a bit more useful. These include a roadie-run ability that is a much appreciated addition; Armor Lock, which makes you invincible for a short period of time; the Drop Shield, which returns from Halo 3 and now actually restores your health when you’re in it; Evade, which allows you to dash with a long-ranged dodge roll-type move; and my personal favorite, the jetpack, which allows you to fly in the air. It’s for a limited time of course, but it’s still epic. Absolutely epic.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a new Halo game without a butt-ton of new weapons. Some of my personal favorites include the DMR, which looks similar to the Battle Rifle from Halos 2 and 3 and retains it zooms but is actually a powerful gun that only fires one bullet at a time, and the Plasma Repeater, which can be thought of as the Covenant’s answer to the assault rifle except more powerful. It’s also notable that the original Halo’s pistol also makes a return in this game complete with a zoom function, much to the joy of fans.

The campaign of Halo Reach is an absolute joy to play and quite possibly the most enjoyable in the series thus far. You control Noble 6, a SPARTAN who has just joined the Noble Team to replace a fallen member. Along with the rest of Noble Team, he attempts to protect the planet Reach from falling to the Covenant. Although you’re not gunning down Grunts with the Chief this time around, the storyline is just as engaging as ever and in fact, very sad. If you end up having to dry your eyes at the end, don’t worry; I’m sure you’re not the only one. I’d also like to mention that Halo Reach is the first time in a Halo game that I’ve enjoyed playing splitscreen co-op with a friend just as much as I have playing by myself.

The single player campaign doesn’t last very long and thankfully, it doesn’t need to. Actually, Halo Reach’s real longevity comes from its multiplayer. Honestly, I’ve never been addicted to a game’s multiplayer the way I have been to Reach’s. Taking a hint from games like Modern Warfare and Bad Company 2, Halo Reach introduces loadouts to the multiplayer, which determine what weapons and armor abilities you start out with. In addition to that, each game type (such as Rumble Pit or Team Slayer) features several game modes, and there are quite a few new multiplayer game types and modes. One of them is Infection, in which a group of humans have to fend off a group off zombies with Energy Swords. If a zombie kills a human, it becomes infected and is added to the zombies’ team. One new game type is Invasion, in which one team is made of Spartans and the other is made up of Elites and occasionally each team must perform different objectives. Another new game type is Team SWAT, in which players have no shields, but only health, and are equipped with a DMR and a pistol with infinite ammo. It’s based around getting one-hit kills with headshots, and though it can get frustrating, nothing is more satisfying than successfully pulling off a headshot. Firefight also gives you the much-needed feature of online play, and even comes with its own game modes. Those are far from the game’s only game types and modes, and when you factor in the variety present in the multiplayer and just how friggen addictive it is, you’ll be playing Halo Reach’s multiplayer for a long time.


With all that said, it’s obvious that Bungie’s Halo games have gone out with a bang. Let’s hope that 343 Industries’ games can live up to Bungie’s but for now, Halo Reach gets a 5 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sonic Unleashed Review

From now on, before every review, I will put my review scale, just to make sure everyone knows what each score means.

5 out of 5 - Fantastic. Loved it. Get it. Now.
Example: Super Mario Galaxy 2

4 out of 5 - Great, but may have a few notable issues. In general, it's well worth buying. Equivalent to 8-9 on a 10-point scale.
Example: Battlefield: Bad Company 2

3 out of 5 - Ehh. There's fun to be had, but a 3 game is usually bogged down by several issues that thoroughly detract from the experience. Unless it's downloadable, especially short games (less than 10 hours) with little replayability get this score by default. Not worth full price, but a good purchase for $20 or less. Equivalent to 6-7 on a 10-point scale.
Example: Mega Man X6

2 out of 5 - Below average. The bad outweighs the good. It may have some redeeming qualities, but they're overshadowed by the negative points. You might want to rent it and play it before you buy it, but if you don't do that, think before buying it for much more than $10. Equivalent to 4-5 on a 10-point scale.
Example: Sonic and the Secret Rings

1 out of 5 - Garbage. Don't buy it, don't rent it, don't play it, don't look at it. If you see someone about to buy it at GameStop, swat it out of his/her hand and wag your finger at him as if he/she were a 4-year-old who had gotten into trouble.
Example: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22


As much as I love the Adventure series, I can understand the reasons for which they are criticized. Everyone loves the blue blur's speedy gameplay in both games, but the games are controversial for the other characters' alternate gameplay styles. Both games featured play styles drastically different from the series' trademark speedy platforming, such as using a mech to shoot down enemy robots and hunting for various trinkets and treasures in a large, non-linear level. I enjoyed them, - well, most of them anyway (thinks of Big and Amy) - but a lot of people strongly disliked them for differentiating too much from the core gameplay of the series as well as, for many people, just not being that much fun. Thus, they should have been removed from later games.

It seemed that SEGA understood this when they made Sonic Heroes, a decent game that focuses solely on speed, and where the only thing resembling an alternate gameplay style was Team Chaotix's linear mission-based gameplay. Unfortunately, SEGA appears to enjoy making the same mistake more than once, and Sonic 06 came with Silver, who was slow and his only method of attack was picking up boxes or other assorted junk strewn about the stage, throwing them, and hoping that at least one hit an enemy. It may have been a unique concept, but his stages were slow-paced and really just boring. Shadow came back, too, and his gameplay was mostly similar to Sonic's, except he used vehicles, which controlled VERY poorly, and besides that, shouldn't he and Sonic at least be able to run faster than any vehicle? Those are far from the game's only flaws, but this is not a review for Sonic 06.

After Sonic 06, SEGA needed to make a different game to rekindle others' faith in the speedy blue hedgehog. People were hoping for a solo adventure starring only Sonic. When Sonic Unleashed came out in 2008, that's certainly what they got...but with a few unwanted strings attached. This is what I think of Sonic Unleashed. My review is based on the version for the PS3.


Sonic Unleashed's graphics are very good. The game's FMV's are simply gorgeous, about as impressive as a Pixar movie. I especially like the realistic effects done with the Werehog's hair in the FMV's. The in-game cutscenes look okay, but the framerate is somewhat lacking. Graphics during gameplay look very good as well. The look of the daytime levels is bright and colorful and very pleasing to the eye. Nighttime graphics aren't quite as impressive, although Sonic's Werehog form does have very noticeable fur, as does Chip, Sonic's sidekick in this game. The NPC's in the hub worlds have a cartoony look rather than the more realistic look that Sonic 06 and Sonic Adventure 2 went for, which is definitely a good decision for the game. My biggest complaint about the in-game graphics is the framerate, which is quite a significant problem. The framerate is at its worst in the hub worlds. The framerate is NEVER consistent there and is ALWAYS slowing down. I also dislike the draw distance. It doesn't cause any problems, but it seems like it should be better on a game for a next-gen console.


Sonic is once again trying to stop Eggman from doing whatever the heck it is that he's trying to do. Eggman catches Sonic off-guard and traps him in a capsule, reminiscent of Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic had already used the power of the Chaos Emeralds to go Super Sonic, so Eggman uses his invention to rip the Chaos Emerald energy out of Sonic, after which he uses their energy to shoot a cannon into Earth. This not only breaks the Earth into several pieces, but it also releases Dark Gaia, yet another evil demon in the series that had apparently been sealed inside the earth's core. It also completely drains the Chaos Emeralds of their energy and causes Sonic to turn into a Werehog. Yes, a Werehog. (Shakes head) Having no more use for Sonic, Eggman throws him out the airlock with the now-powerless Chaos Emeralds. Since in the Sonic universe, there's both gravity AND air in space, and the Earth has no atmosphere for Sonic to burn up in on the way down, Sonic plummets down to the Earth's surface. His fall is broken momentarily by an energy field from an unknown force, (you'll find out later what it's implied to be) only to start plummeting again a second later. Upon landing, he finds Chip, a weird pixie-type creature who has completely lost his memory. Believing that he had hit Chip when he fell and that caused him to have amnesia, Sonic decides to help Chip regain his memory. Fortunately for everyone except Eggman, Dark Gaia had been awoken prematurely, so he dispersed himself across the whole planet. Sonic and friends figure out that they can restore the Earth by refilling the Chaos Emeralds' energy in Gaia Temples, which they obviously need to do in order to keep Dark Gaia from destroying the world.

The plot may seem like the standard "evil demon" plot that has been used in 3-D Sonic games before, most infamously in Sonic 06, but fortunately Sonic Unleashed doesn't take itself too seriously. In fact, there is actually a lot of humor in the game, usually involving Eggman's stupid robot sidekick or comic relief from Chip. This is definitely a refreshing change of pace since Sonic 06's plot, which was not only filled with plot holes, but was really just too stupidly dark for a game about a cartoony blue hedgehog that runs at the speed of sound. Sonic games can have you saving the worlds from demons left and right for all I care, as long as it's done like this.


Like several other Sonic games before it, Sonic Unleashed features two drastically different play styles: series-famous speedy platforming with Sonic in the daytime and beat-em-up stages with the Werehog at night. The game constantly has you alternate between the two play styles to progress through the game. Like with my Sonic Adventure 2 review, I'll review the two play styles separately.

--Daytime Stages: Sonic the Hedgehog--

The daytime stages are easily the best in the game. They use the same gameplay that has made many other Sonic games so great: speed-based platforming. Sonic gets a few new abilities in Sonic Unleashed. Most notably, Sonic gets a boost ability, similar to the one in Sonic Rush, except the boost gauge is filled by collecting rings rather than doing tricks. You're going to find yourself boosting a LOT. It significantly increases Sonic's speed and allows him to plow through enemies, which is a lot of fun. One of the others is the Quick Step, which allows you to strafe to the left or right quickly to avoid obstacles. Sonic can also find new shoes in the hub worlds, which give him new abilities. The light dash has been around since Sonic Adventure, but the others are all new. These include the stomp move, which allows Sonic to...well, stomp, in order to press buttons and stuff, the wall jump, which allows Sonic to jump off walls a la Super Mario 64 and the air dash, which allows Sonic to boost in mid-air.

Sonic's stages provide a sense of speed that can only be described as mind-blowing, but you'll have to keep boosting by holding the square button to fully experience it. The first time you play through many of the daytime levels, they will be very difficult, because you don't know what to expect. To get the best ranking (rank "S") on every stage, you'll have to play them a lot and memorize the level to at least some extent, which isn't a problem, because you're almost definitely going to find yourself playing these stages over and over and over again to "S" rank them. The game's stages are more linear than in previous 3-D Sonic games and feature less platforming, but there are still plenty of shortcuts and some alternate routes that you're going to need FAST reflexes to get to. As said before, the sense of speed is amazing. Forget Sonic 06 and its empty promises; THESE are true next-gen speeds.

I only have two complaints about the daytime stages. The biggest one is the framerate, as mentioned before. It regularly hiccups, but it's most problematic in the Empire City and Adabat day stages. These stages are still a lot of fun to play, but the framerate is definitely an issue. My other complaint is that the controls are great for speeding across more straightforward terrain, but not so good for the few platforming areas featured in the game. It's not really that much of a problem; you'll just have to be kind of careful.

In short, the daytime stages are extremely fast and fun, with enough loops and corkscrews to make your head spin. In fact, I'd say that this may actually be the fastest Sonic has ever been in any Sonic game ever. You're almost definitely going to find yourself playing them over and over and over again to improve your score and rank.

So, yes, the daytime stages are great, but how does the rest of the game fare? Let's find out.

--Nighttime Stages: Sonic the Werehog--

At night, Sonic turns into a Werehog, basically a were-WOLF, except for the fact that the character in question is a hedgehog. While in the Werehog form, Sonic sacrifices his trademark speed for brute strength and...stretchy arms? *is confused* Being a strange cross between Mr. Fantastic and The Thing, the Werehog's gameplay involves a combination of Prince of Persia-style platforming and beat-em-up gameplay. The Werehog has a variety of combos and moves at his disposal, and more can be unlocked by upgrading his combat skill with the experience points you get from defeating enemies. His strength, life and guard ability can also be upgraded, as can his Unleash gauge. When you press R1, you can use the energy stored in the Unleash gauge to make the Werehog faster and more powerful for a limited time.

So, what would be the best way to describe the Werehog's gameplay? It's not quite as bad as people say. Some of the combos are pretty neat, and I like the upgrade system. That said, though, they're still not very good. You can initiate quick time events to kill an enemy more quickly after you've drained its health. This would be okay, except it barely gives you enough time to think. Fighting the large enemies with clubs can be extremely frustrating. You can be hitting it when it suddenly up and decides to jump, knocking you away. When it lands, it creates a shockwave. You cannot - and when I say you cannot, I mean, you absolutely CANNOT - get up before the shockwave hits you, knocking you away again. I also just LOVE (<-- Sarcasm) how when you're behind this particular enemy, if he slaps in front of himself, you still get hurt. The framerate is also pretty bad for these stages, and the Werehog's voice is VERY annoying -- especially his stupid howl. Ugh. Okay, I guess it sounds like I'm nitpicking. Really, the biggest flaw is that the Werehog stages just aren't all that much fun. This is made a million times worse by the fact that they can last up to half an hour long. Compare this to the 3-5 minutes required to complete the day stages. And to complete the game, you're required to play just as many Werehog stages as you are daytime stages. Obviously, unless you do any side quests or play the optional daytime stages, you're going to spend more time with the Werehog the first time you play through the game. This is especially bad because not only is the Werehog not that much fun, but it doesn't even come close to the core gameplay of the series. Even the treasure hunting levels in the Adventure games are closer to the core gameplay than the Werehog stages. I'd much rather play those -- actually, I really enjoyed those stages! Of course I'd rather play treasure hunting stages!

In conclusion, the Werehog isn't necessarily bad. It's more along the lines of mediocre, which still isn't saying much. It's especially saddening that his stages can take up to half an hour to complete, whereas the daytime stages only take 3-5 minutes to complete. You're required to complete just as many Werehog stages as daytime stages. This is made even worse by the fact that the Werehog's gameplay doesn't even come close to Sonic's core gameplay by any stretch of the imagination. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy most of the Adventure games' alternate play styles, but they actually somewhat fit in with the rest of the game. At the very least, they weren't as far from the core gameplay as this! The Werehog was an awful idea, and whoever came up with it really hated Sonic.

--Hub Worlds--

Like Sonic Adventure and Sonic 06, Sonic Unleashed has hub worlds. Each hub world is based on a real world location. Apotos and Spagonia are based on parts of Europe, Chun-nan and Adabat are based on parts of Asia, Holoska is based on the Arctic, Mazuri is based on Africa, Empire City is based on New York and Shamar is based on the Middle East. Each hub world consists of a town, where you can talk to people and do side quests, and an Entrance Stage, where you can access the daytime and nighttime stages for said towns.

A lot of people complain about the hub worlds, saying that you have to wander around talking to people only to find that they can't help you. This is absolutely not true. If there is a time that you have to do this, it's only at the very beginning of the game and the first time you visit Chun-nan. Beyond that, the only person you ever have to talk to for the most is Professor Pickle. Yes, his name is "Pickle." His strange name aside, he'll always tell you where to go next.

Talking to other people can also give you insight on where to go next, but it's usually not necessary. Sometimes if you talk to people, you'll have an opportunity to complete a mission or side quest. These side quests and missions add longevity and replay value to the game. You can also buy souvenirs from shops to give to Professor Pickle in exchange for rewards, and food, which you can either feed to Sonic to gain Experience Points, or feed to Chip. Feeding them to Chip will strengthen your bond if the food is good, and hurt it if the food is bad. Your bond with Chip doesn't have that much of an effect on the game, but he will occasionally give you things when you feed him good food.

As said before, you can access the game's daytime and nighttime stages from the hub worlds' Entrance Stages. This is what one of my biggest complaints about the game comes from: collecting medals to unlock new stages. You'll always have to have a certain number of sun medals to unlock day stages, and moon medals to unlock night stages. You'll probably find yourself unable to continue with the game because you don't have enough medals, meaning that you have to go back to levels you've already played and look for medals. In my opinion, this is just a cheap way to add fake longevity to the game. Aside from that, the framerate in the hub worlds is VERY bad, as I said before.

In short, the hub worlds are pretty nice, but medal collecting is annoying and the framerate is a real problem.

------Replay Value/Playtime-----

Sonic Unleashed isn't a very long game, and considering how many more Werehog levels there would be if were to be any longer, perhaps it's for the best. Thankfully, the game has a LOT of replay value. This mainly comes from the daytime levels, which you will almost definitely find yourself playing over and over again either to improve your score, or just for fun. Every entrance stage has at least one optional daytime level, usually shorter than the required one and revolving around a specific mechanic. As said before, people in the hub worlds will also sometimes give you side quests and missions to do. You can also buy souvenirs from shops in town to give to Professor Pickle for rewards. Scattered about stages and towns will also be art books, containing concept art; records, which have the game's music on them; and tapes, which you can collect to watch the game's cutscenes again.


So, can Sonic Unleashed be thought of as a success and the game that made the Sonic series respectable again? It depends on how you look at it. On one hand, it provided gameplay that featured a sense of speed possibly unparalleled by even the other games in the series. The daytime gameplay has also provided the framework for the next potential series savior, Sonic Colors, which doesn't appear to have any annoying mechanics, and proves that, yes, SEGA and Sonic Team still know how to make Sonic fun. On the other hand, they put it Sonic's wonderful gameplay on the same disc as a mediocre beat-em-up that not only had little to do with Sonic, but just isn't all that much fun in the first place. Since Sonic Colors looks like it's going to have all the good points of Sonic Unleashed without throwing in a not-so-good alternate gameplay style that takes up a good chunk of the game, I'd say that unless you find Unleashed for a good price ($20 or less), it would be a good idea to skip it and wait for Colors. This is T-Man, signing off.

So what's good?

+ Daytime stages provide an amazing sense of speed
+ Tons of replay value
+ Graphics are great
+ Story is lighthearted and comical, in contrast to previous 3-D Sonics
+ Werehog has tons of combos at his disposal
+ Upgrade system for the Werehog is a nice addition

...But what's bad?

- Werehog stages are too long compared to the day stages and take up too much of the game
- Werehog's gameplay has very little to do with Sonic and really isn't that much fun
- Medal collecting is annoying
- Framerate is an issue

Score: 3 out of 5

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sonic Adventure 2 Review

This is my review of Sonic Adventure 2. I was kind of sleep deprived while I was writing it, so excuse me if at any point I showed a complete disregard for proper grammar or sentence structure. I don't expect my grammar to be that bad (not sure about sentence structure), but, still...

Before you start reading the review, you should read my rating system.

5 out of 5 - Fantastic. Loved it. Get it. Now. Good example: Super Mario Galaxy 2

4 out of 5 - Great. A lot of fun, but a few significant flaws may keep it from the godly power of a 5 game. Still, in general, it's a good purchase. Good example: Battlefield: Bad Company 2

3 out of 5 - Ehh. A decent game, but its flaws keep it from greatness. Perhaps it's too short to warrant a purchase for full price (does not apply to downloadable games) or perhaps there are multiple significant negative points to the gameplay, but there will be fun to be had. A good purchase if you find it in the $10-$25 range. Good example: Mega Man X6
2 out of 5 - Mediocre. Several problems keep it from being a good game. It has its good points, but in general they're overshadowed by the flaws of the rest of the game. Might be worth renting (especially since GameFly let's you keep games for as long as you want), but I wouldn't recommend buying it for much more than $10. Good example: Sonic and the Black Knight

1 out of 5 - Garbage. Don't buy it, don't rent it, don't borrow it, don't play it -- I feel sorry for you if you even have to look at it. If you received it as a gift, burn it, break it in half, or smash it with a hammer. If possible, stay far away. Good example: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22


As I have said many times before, the original Sonic Adventure (a demo of the first stage, to be more precise) for the SEGA Dreamcast was the first game I ever played, at age 3. I absolutely loved it, and for the next few years of my life, Sonic would become an obsession. That said, when I first figured out that Sonic Adventure 2 was coming out I probably (figuratively, of course) crapped my pants. Before I knew it, Sonic's 10th Anniversary was here, and I was at the mall ready to buy Sonic Adventure 2.

Of course, when I was 5, I absolutely loved it. I had to adjust to the changes from the original game, but once I did, I had a lot of fun. Not only considering my good memories of SA2, but also the fact that I still have fun with it today, I would be telling a humungous lie if I said I didn't love Sonic Adventure 2. But alas, as I continue to discover, many people hate SA2. This is what I think about the game.


Before we get right down to business, let's talk visuals. By 2001, the Dreamcast wasn't the biggest graphical powerhouse out there, but there's no denying that Sonic Adventure 2 is a dang fine looking game for when it was released. There are problems, of course. Although it's not quite as odd-looking as the original Sonic Adventure, there are brief moments when a character's facial animation will look strange in cutscenes. There is almost no lip-matching, but besides that occasionally Sonic's or Shadow's eye will go inside his head, which is strange-looking and almost kind of disturbing. Also, their mouths will sometimes move to the side of their faces when not talking. Besides that, Tails's mouth just looks odd when he talks. In addition to that, the backgrounds to all of the levels are 2-D images, but aside from that, the graphics look great.


The music in this game is very good, too. In particular, the game's main theme, Live and Learn is very memorable, and is really just awesome. The only music in the game I absolutely hated was the songs that played in Knuckles's stages. Okay, I'm going to be honest, I don't care for rap music...but this is the cheesiest rapping I've heard in my life. And seriously, why is rap the genre most often associated with Knuckles? I mean, really, why?


Sonic Adventure 2's storyline definitely has a darker tone than any Sonic game before it, and puts a lot of attention on new character Shadow, who vows revenge on the human race for killing his best friend, Maria. Although there's a lot more to it than that, I don't feel like I should have to explain it. I will say, though, that it is the one dark plot in the series that is actually good. Even with that said, the voice acting is pretty bad sometimes. Don't get me wrong, most of them sound okay, and even the bad ones are far better than the 4Kids voice actors. Still, Tails not only sounds like a little kid as in the first game, but his acting is kind of wooden. The same goes for Shadow.

Getting down to where it really matters now, let's talk gameplay. In Sonic Adventure 2, there are six playable characters just like in the original, although Sonic Adventure 2 does things differently. Instead of there being six different character storylines, there are two storylines, each spanning three characters and constantly alternating between them. These storylines are Hero and Dark, and as you can probably tell by the name, the Hero storyline has you playing as the good guys, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, and the Dark storyline has you playing as the bad guys, including two new characters, Shadow and Rouge. Eggman also makes his first playable appearance in a non-spinoff game.

Like Sonic Adventure, the game makes use of multiple play styles. Don't worry, you won't be running from a killer robot at an incredibly slow pace or...*ughhhh* In fact, in SA2's story mode, Amy is a supporting character like she should have been in the first place and Big only makes for a few funny cameos now and then. Actually, Sonic Adventure 2 only has three play styles, each belonging to one character from each storyline. These play styles are series-famous speedy platforming with Sonic and Shadow, E-102 Gamma-style mech shooting with Eggman and Tails and treasure hunting with Knuckles and Rouge. There are 30 stages in the game and these three pairs of characters each get 10 stages. This means that you'll spend 1/3 of the game doing what Sonic and Shadow do best, 1/3 shooting enemy robots down, and 1/3 hunting for pieces of the Master Emerald. This is probably the most controversial aspect of the game, and for reasons I can understand.

When people play a Sonic game, they expect to run at the speed of sound for the entire game. Needless to say, a lot of people didn't really appreciate the alternate play styles of Sonic Adventure, not only because they were out of place in a Sonic game, but also because many thought that they weren't very good to begin with. I personally didn't mind the alternate play styles (save Big, gosh I hate him), most likely because where SA1 was the first game I ever played, I had obviously had no experience with the franchise, and besides that, I was very young. Thus, multiple playable characters probably became kind of what I expected from Sonic.

So, are the alternate play styles any better in Sonic Adventure 2? I personally don't mind them at all, but if you hated them in the first game, you'll hate them in here -- in fact, you'll probably hate them even more. In addition to what I'll point out as I review the mech shooting and treasure hunting gameplay, as I said before, this game doesn't have a separate storyline for each character. This means that you can't just play all of Sonic's and Shadow's stages at once and then move on to the next character. The two storylines constantly alternate between characters, which will definitely be an annoyance if you don't like the other play styles.

--Sonic and Shadow: Speeding--

The basic gameplay of Sonic in the original Sonic Adventure is mostly the same, but at the same time it feels better. This is partly because the light dash move has actually been made convenient to use. You don't have to charge it up any more. Instead, just tap the B Button once while you're near a trail of rings and watch Sonic and Shadow fly. It may seem like a minor point, but it is a very welcome change. The stages are smaller and have fewer diverging pathways than the original Sonic Adventure, giving Sonic Adventure 2 more of a focus on speed than exploration. Regardless, Sonic and Shadow's stages are just as much fun as ever. There are only two real problems: the camera and the controls. The camera will occasionally get stuck on walls, and when Sonic and Shadow start going very fast, pushing the control stick to the left or right will make them fly that way. These are minor issues, however, and don't detract much from the experience.

--Knuckles and Rouge: Treasure Hunting--

Knuckles's emerald-hunting gameplay is pretty much the same as the original, with some notable differences. The most noticeable is that the stages are much larger now. Though I personally appreciate this, I know that this makes it more frustrating for a lot of people. Another change is that instead of Tikal's pink light balls leading you to the emerald pieces, you get hints from hint monitors. You can have three hints for a single emerald piece, with the hints getting less cryptic each time. The hints you get can be viewed again when you pause the game. The fewer hints you use, the more points you get when you find the emerald. The main problem that I have with the treasure hunting levels is the camera. The camera is mainly a problem when it won't move and you need to look at an emerald piece to make sure you're going in the right direction to get it. Aside from that, I can see why a lot of people hate the treasure hunting levels, but I really enjoy them, personally.

--Tails and Eggman: Mech Shooting--

As Tails and Eggman you control a mechanical walker with lock-on missiles and a vulcan cannon and shoot down enemies and obstacles as you make your way to the end of the level. They're similar to E-102 Gamma in Sonic Adventure 1, but without a time limit and the stages are longer. The main thing I really like about the mech levels is that you can lock-on to several enemies at once and annihilate an entire group in one sweep. That wouldn't be very special by itself, but when you do that, you get a crapload of bonus points. I'm not one to obsess over scores, but there is honestly just something very satisfying about seeing a word like "Cool!" or "Radical!" go across the screen before you get a bunch of points after obliterating a group of enemy robots. The mechs do control more stiffly than the other characters, and the concept really is odd. Still, I thoroughly enjoy the levels if only for the fact that I can kill a bunch of enemies at once AND get a bunch of points for it.
----------Playtime/Replay Value/Multiplayer------

Let's be honest: Sonic Adventure 2 is very short. It can be easily beaten in two days without much effort. Thankfully, after you complete the game, there's still a ton left to do. There are a total of 180 emblems to collect, and you get most of them by doing extra missions in the stages, such as collecting rings, finding a lost chao, completing a stage in a certain amount of time or completing a stage at a higher difficulty. The ultimate reward for getting all 180 emblems is a 3-D remake of Green Hill Zone, the first level in the original Sonic the Hedgehog game.

In addition to that, the Chao Garden returns from the original Sonic Adventure. If you don't know what a Chao is, it's an odd (but cute) virtual pet. You can give it animals to and "Chaos Drives" change its appearance and stats, and in accordance with the game's storylines, a Chao's appearance will also change depending on whether you raise it with a hero character or a dark character. The Chao can be put into "kindergarten" to learn new tricks, and can be entered into races to unlock rewards. I find the Chao Garden highly addicting, but if you don't like it, it's completely optional.

The game does feature multiplayer modes, although in the Dreamcast version, it's kind of weak. The most interesting multiplayer mode is probably the kart racing mode, based on two semi-decent kart stages in the story mode. In it, you pick a character and race against your friend or the AI and...that's it, really. There's not much to it. There are only three courses that all look the same, and none of the characters even have any special abilities. In fact, about the only extra ability you have is a small boost every time you get 20 rings.

The main multiplayer mode has you pick one of the three play styles and play against your friend in one of three stages. Racing mode is pretty self explanatory: you just race your friend. In shooting mode, you both play as one of the mech characters and try to deplete each others health. In hunting mode, whoever finds more emerald pieces wins. Probably the best thing about the multiplayer is that you can unlock other characters for it, but other than that, it's nothing special, really.


And here we are at the end of the review. As a summary for those of you who are too lazy to read the whole thing, the graphics are good for the most part and the music is great too aside from the themes of Knuckles's levels. As for the story, it's the one time a dark plot has been pulled off well in the Sonic series, despite some of the voice acting being a bit wooden. Sonic and Shadow are just as fast and fun as the gameplay of the Sonic series has ever been, I enjoy treasure hunting even though I can see why a lot of people hate it, and the mech levels are a lot of fun if only because it's satisfying to get a bunch of bonus points for locking on to an entire group of enemies and then annihilating them all in one sweep. I give Sonic Adventure 2 a 4 out of 5. It's not a perfect game by any means, and I can really understand why many people hate it, but it will always be one of my favorite Sonic games.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

There's no denying that the Wii has experienced a dry period in terms of good games since 2008. Sure, we've seen some interesting first-party releases like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Wario Land: Shake It!!, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart Wii, Wii Sports Resort, and, of course, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but most third-party companies are apparently willing to crank out anything that will sell just because of the motion sensing capabilities of the Wii Remote, regardless of whether or not it's terrible...and regardless of whether or not it will ruin the Wii's reputation.

Thankfully, though, there is a reason not to trade in your Wii. In fact, it came out just a few weeks ago. Yes, I'm talking about Super Mario Galaxy 2, the sequel to the critical and commercial success from three years ago, Super Mario Galaxy. That's not the only reason, either. With both Metroid: Other M and the thus-far untitled next entry into the Zelda series promised to be released later in the year, 2010 is definitely going to be a good year for the Wii.


Before we get into where it really matters, let's talk visuals. Now, the Wii is definitely not the most powerful console on the market. In fact, it's not even that much more powerful than the GameCube. Still, that doesn't mean it can't turn out a pretty dang fine looking game when it wants to. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of those games. While not deviating much from the style of Super Mario Galaxy, it definitely is an improvement, and the original looked fantastic by Wii standards at the time. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is definitely one of the best-looking Wii games out there, if not THE best.

Now that I've said that, let's get into aspects of the game that really matter, starting with level design. Simply put, they went crazy with the level design. The basic set-up from the original is still there, most notably the planetary bodies' gravitational pulls allowing Mario to walk on the bottoms and sides of planets, and Mario still uses Launch Stars to travel from planet to planet with just a flick of the Wii Remote, but even still this game features some of the most cool and creative level designs that the series has seen yet—and that's saying a lot. One galaxy has Mario performing his spin attack from the original to make blue and red platforms flip over, and he can only walk on one color at a time. Another galaxy allows you to press a button to turn a planet made of boiling lava into an ice-skating rink. Still another has you using a drill to reach new areas by digging through the ground. Some galaxies allow Mario to do some classic-style 2-D platforming for nostalgia's sake, although these galaxies will still always throw in something new, too. Nintendo even loved us enough to recreate levels from Super Mario 64 and Sunshine for two galaxies! Of course, these are only a few of the many, many, many things that you will see in the infinitely varied levels. Seriously, almost every galaxy throws something new at you. That alone makes the game worth a purchase.

Another much-appreciated addition to the game is the ability to ride Yoshi. Remember how he was on the box art of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but wasn't used in-game enough to justify it? Nintendo didn't trick us this time! Yoshi appears plenty, and he's very useful and fun to play with. As always he can use that elastic tongue of his to gobble up enemies and crap out a star bit or two, but he can also use his tongue as a grappling hook to swing you across gaps and even spit indigestible objects at enemies and breakable objects! This is definitely the best 3-D Yoshi experience in the series thus far.

Another area where this game really excels is the power-ups. Most of the original game's line-up returns. Mario can still turn into a bee, a ghost, a spring, and throw fireballs from his hands just like old times, but they couldn't make a new game without throwing in some new power-ups, could they? They did just that, and the new power-ups are great. Probably the most interesting of these is the drill, which allows Mario to dig through dirt to reach new areas. My favorite, though, is probably the Rock Mushroom. If you get it, you can turn into a rolling boulder and plow into enemies as if they're bowling pins, which is a lot of fun. The other new power-up is the Cloud Flower, allowing Mario to create clouds to stand on as platforms. It's the least interesting of the new powers, but it's definitely put to good use. Yoshi also gets his own power-ups, called fruits, with temporary effects. These power-ups will allow him to sprint, float, or even glow to light up the way ahead.

As for the difficulty, it was promised that the game will be much harder than the original. I can safely say that this is not really the case. I didn't have much trouble with it for the most part. It definitely has its frustrating missions, but so did the original.


And thus, we come to the end of this review. I would give Super Mario Galaxy 2 a 5 out of 5. Its infinitely varied and creative level design built upon already awesome gameplay makes it a fantastic game, and one of the best Mario games yet. Heck, it may even be my favorite Mario game ever. If I had a complaint, it would probably be some very minor control problems that were also in the original, but should a little nitpick keep this game from a 5? Of course not!