Thoughts on Pokémon (Gen I)

To those of you who fell for my April Fools joke… you got pranked! Ha! To those of you who didn’t fall for it, it seems as though you have a discerning eye that managed to be able to see through to the truth of the matter by looking at a calendar and making an educated guess. It is possible you managed to see my masterfully hidden message as well, but I find that very unlikely. However, it is true that I am feeling pressed for time this month in part thanks to Monster Hunter Rise and also in part thanks to Edmund McMillen or as I like to call him: evil incarnate. Not only does this man add on yet another DLC to The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth which he knows I have to get, but he adds two hundred more achievements for me to get so now I have to fully complete this game for the fourth time. Or is it the fifth time? I don’t know anymore. Anyway, that is where my gaming life is at right now. So I decided to fall back on Pokémon and even do a whole month of it this time. I figure I can just go through each generation one at a time and give my general thoughts on each generation since mechanically the games have barely differed from each other since the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green first came out in 1996 (Pokémon Blue if you aren’t Japanese). So with all that being said let’s get into it.

Now I just have to say that I forgot how absolutely broken the first generation was to play. It isn’t broken so much in the unplayable sense though. It is more like one of those games where you try to see just how much you can break it. Usually that lasts until after one too many encounters with MissingNo. It really makes you appreciate how far we’ve come. Like can we take a second to thank the developers for adding an experience bar in later games, because man is that something you really need in an RPG based solely around leveling up. And let’s not forget the psychic types essentially breaking the game because back then they did not have a difference between special attack or special defense and so all specials were so broken that psychics basically won you the game. I’m assuming the broken special stat is why people picked Charmander as their starter. I will admit that I rarely pick Charmander because he starts out at a disadvantage and then becomes essentially busted by the end of the game. He’s fun to use if you want to break the game which is really the best way to enjoy the first games and yet I have never really felt the need to have a Charizard to do it. Maybe it’s because I am too lazy to catch a water Pokémon that I need to teach the move Surf to so I can make progress. Sometimes I choose Bulbasaur too since he makes catching Pokémon at least a bit easier, not that it makes much of a difference. After all, you can just wait until later to clone a bunch of master balls instead.

Being honest here, I don’t have a lot of attachment to the first generation. I started with Generation II since the first generation came out the year I was born. I do appreciate how it started the series, but the game still has some issues that won’t be resolved until later games and so there isn’t much reason to go back to it. That is unless you actually want to try and catch them all since this was back when it was actually realistic enough for you to do that. And if I’m being really honest with myself, despite the fact that the game balance is terrible I still have more fun playing it than I do some of the newer generations. You know why? It’s because this game has teeth. It can be unforgiving and cheap with its RNG and some Pokémon are way stronger than others, but that adds to the challenge of it. Many recent game have had to rely on specific gimmicks to feel more challenging so its nice to go back and have an adventure that makes you feel like you’re going to be the very best etc. etc. you know how the song goes. So I take back what I said earlier. It is fine to go back to Generation I to have a bit of a challenge. Sure, there are most balanced games to play, but where’s your sense of adventure. And hey if you are really looking for some other fun challenges you should play some of the spinoffs like Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium. Catching them all with a camera is a fun challenge and the battle tournaments are quite lively and entertaining. It is weird how it took years for one of these games to get any sort of sequel treatment though. Just saying. That about sums up my thoughts on Gen I. Again I don’t have a ton of experience with this generation, so I can only talk about so much. However, that will most certain change next time. Tune in to see if I pick the fire starter next time or settle for the water starter out of laziness once again.

Announcement #2

Announcement time everybody! Seems like it has been a while since I have done this huh? Pretty sure the last time I did one of these was at the beginning of the year in January. Really feels like time flew since I started doing these posts on a regular basis for this blog. It pain me to kill the momentum I’ve had so far, but I have decided to go on hiatus for now. Look, I understand this may not convincing considering the day I decided to announce this. For you to even suggest this as a prank is foolish in itself, pun absolutely intended there. Observe closely and you’ll see that this post doesn’t have the statement you’re expecting. Obviously, even if this was a joke post, I would want to be a bit clever in acknowledging it. Look and you’ll see there are no tricks at play here and that I will be on break for a while. See you soon, I mean later! I definitely won’t see you tomorrow. Nope. Not a chance.

Thoughts on the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight

Now before I end this month dedicated to one of the most satisfying game series of the last generation, know that I have very little experience with it. Shocking I know, why would I avoid a series that has been so great over previous years and not rush towards the conclusion? Well that is because the newly released game brought with it certain fears, and not because of the main villain. Scarecrow unfortunately was relegated to one of those villains who does a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. So what were the thoughts in my head that traveled down my spine causing it to tremble uncomfortably in my anxiousness? Well, of course it was the big new mechanic that was going to be introduced during the game: the Batmobile. As I mentioned in my previous posts, I felt that Batman: Arkham Asylum was pretty contained in terms of what in wanted to do and while Batman: Arkham City was a lot more spread out and felt less cohesive, it somehow felt like it was trying to get closer to what would be the definitive Batman experience. I believed that was what their intentions were again when adding in the Batmobile to this game, but I still couldn’t help but be worried about it. Also I didn’t have a lot of money at the time and so my empty wallet sat me down and told me to sit this one out. After it did come out and I heard different opinions, I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of the game. However, coming back to this game now, I have learned that my fears weren’t entirely groundless.

When I say that I don’t mean that the game is bad. This game is still a solid addition to the Arkham series of games and still manages to deliver in both the stealth aspects as well as the fighting aspects. Although I feel as though that could be because after a while the fighting style eventually becomes second nature. However, the game isn’t just about those two aspects anymore. I thought Batman: Arkham City was being ambitious with how much was added to the game and then Batman: Arkham Knight wanders up throwing in entirely new game mechanics into the fray. Talk about innovation. You have to give some respect for bringing in entirely new game mechanics in this late in the game. However, the question is whether the new mechanics enhance the game. For that, I will say I do think the control of the Batmobile is good and it is entertaining to blaze through the streets of Gotham in it. If the majority of what the Batmobile was used for was chasing down criminal scum through the bleak streets of Gotham then I would be calling shotgun on that ride. However, they decided not to fully take advantage of the capabilities of having a fast car and decided to make the Batmobile more like a one man army vehicle. The Batmobile may be the most versatile piece of equipment at Batman’s disposal, and yet that also make it one of the game’s biggest pace breakers. Let me explain.

For those who need a refresher, the Batmobile is not just a means of cruising around quickly in Gotham City to apprehend criminals. It also functions as a tank as I mentioned before so you can deal with the army that has invaded Gotham City thanks to the help of the titular Arkham Knight. In fact, since the Batmobile is your only line of defense for fighting enemies in vehicles then you spend a good portion of the game in the Batmobile just for combat sections. The combat involved with using the Batmobile is nearly the same type that was seen a lot in Batman: Arkham Asylum where sometimes the game had nothing better to do than throw waves of enemies at you. I will credit to the sequel game for spacing out the amount of time it feels like you are doing nothing but fighting wave after wave of disposable grunts. Although that game is still guilty of it to an extent. In this game, instead of random bad guys we have changed things up with random tanks. I appreciate trying to mix things up but the combat in the Batmobile isn’t as enjoyable as the combat while fighting as Batman. The big reason for that is the flow isn’t there. With the ability to counter and jump around dealing out damage, there was a lot more control with your input whereas the Batmobile essentially is just lock on dodge and shoot. There just isn’t enough in the combat in my opinion to keep the combat in the Batmobile engaging for the whole game. However, that isn’t the real pace breaker here. No, the thing that grinds the game to a halt is the puzzle sections involving Batman’s favorite ride.

I say puzzle sections, but what I mean is that there are times when you cannot progress without the Batmobile so you have to find ways to maneuver your tank over rooftops so that you can proceed on in the story. Now not only are these sections incredibly slow paced, but they also feel so bizarrely out of place. I can understand that the Batmobile needed its own action moments to make it feel like more than just an extra toy, but did they really need to have it get its own platforming sections as well? It just feels kind of weird honestly to lug a tank around to do platforming and it is even more ridiculous to think about how people would react to seeing such a thing. The puzzle honestly feel more like a way to pad out the use of the Batmobile, something we already have plenty of in this game. It just kind of feels like they had the idea for the Batmobile, but they weren’t sure how best to use it in the game. However, unlike in Batman: Arkham City, the extra stuff they included that felt kind of forced wasn’t something that you needed to deal with in the main game. I am not saying that the Batmobile is a deal breaker, all I am saying is that I wish it had more polish and focus is all. You see the reason I started off this month talking about the stealth in these games is because I wanted to highlight that what Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City nail is the fear enemies feel for Batman while in stealth and in combat. the problem with the Batmobile is that while it is cool, it does nothing to add to that fear factor that the series is so well known for and is relegated to blowing up tanks. I guess if I were to sum my thoughts up I would say it is a fun extra that starts to get old when the tank kill count increases. Anyway those are my final thoughts on this series and we are now concluding the Month of Arkham. Yes, calling it the Month of Arkham has always been a thing and not something I came up with just now when the month is ending. That would be ridiculous. Also it is me or did the posts get longer as the month continued? Nah. I’m probably just imagining things. Anyway, see you next time!

Arkham Origins and the Prequel Cliché

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to writing this particular blog post. Typically when talking about certain types of games on this blog I would try to hold back my criticisms so I could have an open discussion about my thoughts on particular games in particular genres. I also try not to make it seem like I am heavily favoring one side. I am not always successful, but I at least try to sound impartial. This month made it especially hard though because both games I’ve covered so far have been very good. I tried to downplay this when I talked about them, but there is no denying they were good games. Obviously they have some flaws, but they were solidly make games and at such I could only really add nitpicks when I talked about them. Most of my insistence on trying to do this is related to next week’s topic which can probably be generally understood with basic pattern recognition skills at this point. However, I get a break before that and get to talk about this game and how it is so cliché. So without further ado, let’s just dive right on in.

Let’s first start with the story. You know I can’t resist a good story and so by law I have to try and spend at least some time looking at it. Usually that is because story contributes to the flow of the game and contributes to its pacing. However since this game is a sandbox, pacing doesn’t really mean anything and story is more than content to cry in a corner for a few hours while you search for collectibles. Essentially the story involves eight assassins after Batman’s life after a hit put out by the Black Mask and as the story goes on you find out that a mysterious someone is pulling the strings behind the scenes. Nothing really wrong with it in terms of story except for one minor detail. As you should know, this game is called Batman: Arkham Origins, which by the way is the one of the cliché names for a prequel game ever. So since it is so obviously a prequel game, you know that none of this matters since obviously Batman appears in later games anyway. There are never any stakes involved when you use a existing character in an earlier game. However, since it is a sandbox that barely matters anyway. What does rile me up a bit though is the “plot twist” in this game. You know how in Batman: Arkham City, Joker dies at the end (spoilers) and you are like wow they aren’t going to rely on Joker for the plot of the next game. Well guess who the mysterious person is working behind the scenes is in this prequel game. That’s right, it was Robin all along! Not really of course but that twist would have been amazing and I would pay for the game just for that. No the bad guy is actually the Joker (spoilers) and so once again the story falls into predictability. It this doesn’t reek of cliché then I don’t what else could qualify. So for a change of scent let’s see if the gameplay is just as stagnant as the story.

Now I could go home early going with the short answer of yes and calling it a day, but that would be a bit misleading. The combat and stealth as fun as they were in Batman: Arkham City. The problem is they are the same as they were in Batman: Arkham City. There has been no significant change in the gameplay structure that hasn’t already been done in previous games, which is a weird thing to say for a prequel game. Of course, being a prequel game it isn’t allowed to do anything crazy anyway since it come before two different games. However, Batman: Arkham Origins still has abilities or alternate versions of gadgets from Batman: Arkham City. One example that really sticks out to me is the glue grenade which acts exactly the same as the freeze grenade from Batman: Arkham City. You can’t make me believe that for both games he left such a useful piece of technology just collecting dust in the Batcave. This is the most paranoid man on the planet so there is no way he is only bringing some of his arsenal. Oh and before I move on from talking about how the people that made this game essentially copy and paste pretty much everything from Batman: Arkham City and made it bigger, I should note they added a fast travel system with the Batwing. However, when a game built around gliding off rooftops gives me the option to do it less, it makes me wonder if they are doing it because the map is too big for the game or it isn’t interesting enough to explore. I don’t want to call anyone out so I will begrudgingly say that is was probably both.

Before we end I do want to say that not all prequel games are cliché. Prequel games can be used to tell more about a world that you didn’t know before and can give you insights into characters that you didn’t know about before. It becomes a cliché prequel when the game play is the same as before and the story is inconsequential. The game just plays it safe so the people who made it can made some money off an existing franchise. I do acknowledge that this was not made by the same people who made the Arkham series, but if you want it to not have a connection to the main series, then just make a spin-off game instead. It definitely leaves a lot less room for plot holes in the story and gameplay. Maybe one day I will cover a prequel that actually enhances a series rather than just wallowing in its success. for now though, this falls under the prequel cliché because the developers just wanted to use the name of an already existing franchise to make a quick buck. If you somehow are still not convinced about this game not having an original idea in its coding I will say one last thing before signing off. The game takes place during Christmas Eve. See you next time for the end of Arkham month.

Now Hear Me Out: Batman Arkham City

Now I think it goes without saying that Batman: Arkham City was an improvement on the solid Batman: Arkham Asylum in just about every way. The combat was updated so that is a lot easier to keep a good flow going when taking down enemies and it still remains every bit as satisfying as before. The game is even bigger with a map filled with areas to explore and sidequests to do. The all important stealth element is still entertaining and allows for some interesting new ways to “apprehend” thugs. They even managed to spend some time in varying the boss fights and making them entertaining enough to want to fight. The game is essentially bigger in every sense of the word. However, I want to ask whether bigger means better? We can all agree that many of the tweaks from the previous game did increase the quality of this one. My question is did the big changes lead to us losing something else? Let just take a moment to look at the two games for a moment.

Now the biggest difference between the two games is in how they are structured. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a much more linear game having you go from one objective to the next, although not always in the most straightforward manner. Batman: Arkham City is an open sandbox where you can freely explore different areas by grappling and gliding through the city. Each one has it’s advantages and disadvantages. On one hand Batman: Arkham Asylum has more structure to it but less freedom to explore. Due to this the game tends to be more narrative focused with you encountering more and more set pieces as you further the plot. Batman: Arkham City on the other hand allows for more exploration before proceeding with the main plot and because of the number of sidequests that can open up, you may very well forget about the main plot entirely. Heck, even if you are playing through the main story you can forget about the main plot entirely because while Joker was the clear villain in the previous game, Hugo Strange barely has any presence at all throughout most of the main campaign. The only reason I didn’t forget about the main objective is because he the game kept reminding me with his announcements. Honestly, we might as well consider Joker the main villain considering how much his story affects the main plot. So the story is Batman: Arkham City is a bit all over the place compared to its predecessor.

Now the story suffering isn’t a huge deal since we play games for gameplay. It just feels like the game had just a little too much going on. That is especially if you have the DLC where you play as Catwoman. Don’t get me wrong when I say I don’t have any problem playing as her for fun. I’m just saying that not only do her sections break up the story even more, but for some reason she has to collect Ridder trophies as well. I understand from a game perspective it’s to collect experience, but give me one good reason why the Riddler finds the need to challenge Catwoman. Did they have some secret rivalry in the comics I didn’t know about or something? Or maybe Riddler wanted to make sure that Catwoman can’t take Batman’s attention away from him so he gave her some challenges to complete to distract her. I have no idea what the reason would be story wise, but I can bet it would sound absurd. Catwoman probably should not have had her storyline mixed into the main campaign. Heck, if they wanted to make her into a Batman clone, then just give her a spin-off game. Maybe one with a heavier focus on stealth since that is probably the best part of the series. Instead they put her into an already pretty full sandbox without using her full potential. Again, this isn’t really a big issue and yet I want you to remember that small issues can still lead to bigger problems down the road.

Now Batman: Arkham City was made to be bigger and better than Batman: Arkham Asylum and I would say that it pulls it off. However, there is evidence that the game had a lot of ideas and didn’t quite have the space or time for them. The problem with building a sandbox is that next time you might want to build a bigger one to fit in all your ideas. Batman: Arkham City managed to balance things out really nicely, but the sequel and prequel games definitely had some balancing issues. I am not saying it is the game’s fault, but even if they had kept a number of quests to keep you occupied in the later games, traveling would get boring due to the scope. The sandbox for this game was relatively contained and allowed you a grapnel boost early on to speed up travel time. That is great at keeping the pace flowing and yet the pace could still be thrown off due to hunting for sidequests. Imagine an even bigger sandbox with even more things to do and it would be overwhelming. Granted that is only if you choose to go for this stuff since sidequests should be and are by nature optional. However, cutting out sidequests from a sandbox is like cutting out half a movie’s runtime. It’s such a waste since you are only depriving yourself of content. It would also make the game a lot more boring since you are just going from one objective to the next. That works when the game has a heavier emphasis on plot, but not so much when the main plot disappears for half an hour while you collect Riddler trophies. To close off, Batman: Arkham City was able to pull of a cohesive sandbox and have an entertaining game that was a worthy successor to Batman: Arkham Asylum, but there were already signs that the narrative of the games was starting to suffer and they weren’t sure what to do to keep a good story and gameplay balance. Just as a warning about sandboxes in general know that the bigger you make it, the more sand you need to pile into it. Thanks for hearing me out everyone. Oh and Riddler needs to learn that bigger isn’t better so that I don’t drive myself crazy with Ridder trophies ever again.

Thoughts on Stealth in Batman: Arkham Asylum

I have always considered myself a Batman fan. I have never really been sure if it because he is clever, disturbed or maybe I just liked his design. The thing that sticks out to me the most out of his character is probably his tenacity. His will to never give in to the sadistic streets of Gotham is something I wish I had even a fraction of in me. Sure it gets him beat up a lot sometimes but at least he still manages to look pretty good crawling off the floor. That came out weird. Okay moving on, the point is I enjoy the escapades of the Dark Knight. However, what was perhaps Batman’s biggest flaw, besides serious mental/emotional trauma, is that he didn’t have a decent videogame. Of course he wasn’t alone in this problem. The amount of decent superhero games we had when I was growing up could be counted on one hand. Batman was no exception to this rule, that is until 2009 when Batman: Arkham Asylum stepped on to the scene showing us that you can make good games with comic book characters. You just need to make sure the game is fun and to have Batman in it. I’m just kidding. I mean you can substitute Spider-Man for Batman and still have a good game. But what makes a good Batman game? Let’s talk about it.

First off the game looks really nice. I am usually not someone who obsesses over graphics, but man does this game look good. However, graphics themselves are not an indicator for whether or not a game is good. A good game can be enhanced by good graphics, but there are many games that have the highest quality graphics and yet the games themselves are mediocre at best. It’s nice that Batman: Arkham Asylum has good graphics, but that doesn’t really mean a lot in terms of performance. It definitely helps though. So what about combat then? Combat is definitely a key factor in many videogames and this game manages to pull it off pretty well. The combat encounters however, weren’t quite polished by this point. Batman: Arkham City would go on to address these issues, but I am getting ahead of myself here. The point is while the combat is fun, I can’t quite call it the highlight of the gameplay since while the combat itself is varied enough, the fights either consist of fighting a bunch of dudes or dodging some bigger dudes. By dudes of course I mean the inmates, not some random civilians lunging at you. Although I have to admit that might have mixed things up a bit.

I am not saying that Batman beating up a bunch of random thugs isn’t something a good Batman game would have in it. I am saying that combat is not the most exciting part of the game. Fun for sure, but being skilled in combat is not all there is to Batman. In my opinion, one of the things that sets Batman apart from most heroes is that he delivers fear to the hearts of his enemies no matter who they might be. You don’t really get that impression of fear when they are so willing to run into your fists. I won’t deny that it is helpful though. What really bring out that level of excitement is the stealth sections. You cannot tell me that it is not satisfying to pick off each individual baddie one by one while getting the tension levels to an all time high. There are many ways to be creative with ambushes although my personal favorite is waiting for someone to come underneath my perch so I can yank them up into the darkness. Combat is great and all, but I feel like at least in Batman: Arkham Asylum the stealth sections are meant to be the real challenges. It most certainly isn’t the boss fights. No, what we want from Batman is to watch the crooks confidence crumble as he silently picks them off and leaves them no form of retreat until they fall into the darkness… once Batman knocks them out of course.

Not only is the stealth satisfying to playthrough, but it also has a unique feel to it. In many stealth games the measure of how stealthy you can be is whether you can go through and finished your objective undetected. Getting detected makes the job more difficult and forces you to improvise or in some cases grants you an instant game over. The latter scenario is normally used when a stealth game is trash since no games aside from maybe platforming should have instant death as part of the game. Good stealth games make it so that you can hide away again and come back once your ready or give you an alternate way to finish your objective. What is funny about how Batman: Arkham Asylum works is that you can intentionally use things people discovering something is wrong to your advantage by force them to panic and change their movement patterns. You can even use other people as traps thanks to the handy explosion gel. It really does have a horror feel when you think about it since the enemies know that Batman is coming for them, but they are living in fear waiting for him to finally make the jump. And the more nervous they get, the more exciting the game becomes for us. The sad thing is that these guys are only getting in Batman’s way. Imagine how sad it is that these guys nearly die pissing themselves from fear and getting taken out from who knows where just they got between Batman and a door. And when I say sad I mean funny, because man that is hilarious. If you can think of something from Batman: Arkham Asylum that is remotely as entertaining as that image then let me know, but I think I have made my point about why stealth feels so satisfying. Although I will admit that taking down skeletons does look pretty weird. Yet strangely, it isn’t any less funny. I’m not sure what that says about me, but on that note I should probably end it here. See you next time.

Thoughts on Dialogue in Sonic Games

If I am being honest, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to wrap up the month at first. I knew that I would be spending more time looking at Modern Sonic in my posts because I feel like the classic games would need their own month if I really wanted to give an analysis on them . It is much easier to generalize newer Sonic games because they usually follow a set formula with any deviations from that formula usually leading to the game wallowing in mediocrity at best. I feel like during this month I wanted to highlight the rut Sonic has found himself in recently and point out a couple things in the hopes that improvements can be made for future games. However, after a certain point I only feel like I am criticizing the games and that is not what I want. I believe it is fine to make fun of a game so long as you have a general understanding of it, but no game should be nitpicked down to its very core. So I decided to find something about 3D Sonic to be generally positive about for this post. The difficulty with that was I wasn’t sure what would be a good talking point that wouldn’t be treading old ground. That is until I was watching a Sonic Generations playthrough and I realized in my obliviousness that I forgot Sonic’s 2D counterpart does not talk. That’s when I realized that talking was going be my talking point. I know that was cheesy, but thatis an example of the level of dialogue I expect from a Sonic game.

I know that sounded like a criticism, but it really isn’t meant to be taken that way. Cheesy is the best kind of dialogue for a Sonic game. Not too cheesy to the point where is becomes cringeworthy, but a light coating of cheese is just right to make a dialogue feel like it fits in with the characters in the Sonic universe. These characters are cartoons and so they should be allowed to act like it. Usually wherever dialogue doesn’t work in these games it is for one of two reasons. The first is when they drown the dialogue so heavily with cheesy quips and jokes that the whole thing just falls apart. For an example, think about an overloaded nacho chip. The second is when the dialogue is taken too seriously for the game world it’s in and so the dialogue feels stale and boring. For an example, think of a sad, lonely nacho chip with no cheese or dipping sauce of any kind. I should probably stop typing posts when I’m hungry huh? Oh well. The point is that they should have fun with not only the writing, but the delivery as well. Character is just as important for dialogue as the lines that are spoken. If the lines don’t match the character or the delivery is sub-par then the whole thing falls flat. As the best example of this in the Sonic universe let’s look for a bit at the man who is the exact opposite of flat: Dr. Eggman.

There is a reason why Mike Pollock has not ever been changed as the voice actor for Dr. Eggman. Well I’m sure there is more that one reason, but the big reason for me is that every time he delivers a line, he delivers in perfectly suited to the role of the character. He sounds great in his delivery every time and he usually gets the best lines to reflect that. More importantly, his delivery always sounds believable so his monologues and dialogues with characters are definitely the best cutscenes any Sonic game has to offer. He is hilarious and I hope he continues to be the main villain in Sonic games in the future as well. In fact some of his best dialogue can be seen even in some of the games which aren’t as good such as Sonic Lost World or Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. Although he isn’t the only one with good dialogue in those games. He is just the one who sticks out the most with his over the top performances in each game. You got to hand it to Mike Pollock for being able to make his name synonymous with an eccentric videogame evil genius scientist.

Now I just want to end really quickly by looking a bit more at Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, one of the Sonic games I avoided talking about all month. Now this game definitely has its fair share of problems in many different aspects. It’s worst aspect is probably how it doesn’t feel like it is meant to be a Sonic game. However, I will say that the dialogue is probably some of the best the series has to offer. That is under the condition that it is a cutscene. This is something that happens in many games and this one is unfortunately no exception to the rule. So I am going to say this as a general note to all game companies who might be reading this. It does not matter how good you think your in-game dialogue is during gameplay. As soon as that line comes up more than twice, it has gotten old. Adding more dialogue during gameplay will not solve the problem. For dialogue during gameplay, stop trying to make quips and just keep it simple. As great as some of the character interactions are in Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, the dialogue for every random action in the game is not only annoying but extremely unnecessary. Dialogue is meant to add to the game, so don’t add it for the sake of filling space. That is why we add music to games. Although being honest, Sonic usually does fine on that front too. I could have talked about that instead, but that would have made things easier for me and I love to give myself unnecessary challenges so here we are.

So now that Sonic month has ended, I would like to revisit a series that is not a platformer for once and try something different for next time. We’ll see what happens, but no matter what I’ll have fun with it. See you all next month.

Those Cliché Emeralds

For those who have played a Sonic game to completion before, you should know exactly which emeralds I am talking about here. For those who haven’t, you probably still know what I am talking about if you have followed any topics regarding the blue blur. It you still don’t know, then you really need to get out from under that rock you’ve been living under. In all seriousness though, the Chaos Emeralds are one of the most important aspect of Sonic games to this day. Why? Because they are what allows Sonic to become Super Saiyan Sonic starting from the second game onwards. Since then they have remained an important plot point of many games in the franchise. However I feel as though there is a reoccurring problem that needs to be addressed now and for the future. The problem is that the Chaos Emeralds have essentially streamlined the way final boss encounters have been done since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. To go into more of what I mean by that, let’s look at the games from the 90’s for a bit.

Now in the original Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) the Chaos Emeralds were available in bonus stages for you to collect but there were only six to collect. Not only that, but collecting them only served as a purpose to getting a different ending screen. Sonic 2 added a host of new things to the franchise, the most important of which being Miles “Tails” Prower of course. Okay I guess there is one other thing that was introduced that is pretty cool and that is the seventh Chaos Emerald. You may be wondering how can another Chaos Emerald be so important? Well to answer those rock-dwellers from before, collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds allows you to become Super Sonic. Hooray! Now you can go through levels even faster, of course after collecting the prerequisite 50 rings. However collecting Super Sonic doesn’t really influence the ending that much since, like the original, it only influences which end screen you get. It wasn’t until Sonic 3 and Knuckles where getting the Chaos Emeralds mattered because there was an exclusive Super Sonic only boss fight where you collect rings on your way to attack the boss. The problem is that after this whenever Super Sonic has been used after this, it has only been used as a final boss encounter in this style.

They usually indicate that Super Sonic will be in the final boss encounter in one of two ways. They either have the Chaos Emeralds be an important plot device for the game or they have you play the game from multiple angles to unlock a final ending. Sometimes they even do both. There are two problems with having the Chaos Emeralds in the games. The first is the exclusivity of Super sonic to final boss encounters. None of the main games with final boss fights involving Super Sonic allow Sonic to go Super in the main stages and exclusively save it for the final boss, usually due to having them relegated to plot macguffins. I don’t know if they just wanted to make the final battle more epic or what, but the fact of the matter is that the Chaos Emeralds seem to either belong the realm of story or gameplay, but never both. It seems odd that they would intentionally limit themselves like that. Especially considering the second problem the Chaos Emeralds have on the game.

Now the second problem is actually related to the first problem. In fact it is the exact opposite. While some games use them in story but omit them from gameplay, some games include them in gameplay and yet do not acknowledge them in the story. Because of this the boss fights feel a bit anticlimactic since they are made to be fought against a non-powered up Sonic. Let’s look at Sonic Colors, Sonic Lost World and Sonic Forces who all have Super sonic playable in regular levels. They have the exact same type of final boss encounter. It isn’t even a hard final boss encounter either. It feels like without Super Sonic they really don’t know how to properly end with a satisfying boss. In fact there seems to be no balance between gameplay and story when using the Chaos Emeralds. They only managed to have it balanced for one game and then as soon as they moved into a 3D space they had no idea how to balance the power of the Chaos Emeralds. The cliché we are left with is that Chaos Emeralds in modern Sonic games cause a divide between story and gameplay. I am not saying that the games that use these emeralds are bad games. I am just pointing something out since I have nothing better to do than poke fun at videogames. Although I do hope that one day they manage to figure out exactly how they want to use the Chaos Emeralds so that the endgame feels as satisfying to complete as the journey it took to get there.

Now Hear Me Out: Sonic Adventure 3

I am no stranger to the fact that this game has been requested by Sonic fans since… forever. However I have never considered myself a big fan of the blue blur. That is not because I have any problem with the anthropomorphic hedgehog. It’s just that his games usually don’t click with me at first. I believe I have played only eight Sonic games and of those eight I think I have completed half of them. So do not hear me out as a Sonic fan. I wish I could say I was, but I am not going to pretend to be one for the sake of making a point. That being said, despite the fact that I am not a Sonic fan, I still think there should be a Sonic Adventure 3. At the very least, they should at least have a game that is something like it. Frankly speaking there are certain trends that have become standard in more recent Sonic games that have really overstayed their welcome. so since I am not confident in the developers managing to do something new and exciting with Sonic ever since Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, then I think a return to an old formula would be a good alternative.

Let’s go into further detail for a bit into some of those trends I mentioned. In my previous post I talked about how the level design in more recent Sonic games feel like it isn’t as complex as it could be. I feel part of the reason is that many games in the era of Modern Sonic have a lot of 2D areas for some reason. This may have something to do with the boost feature of the recent games being easier to control in 2D space. It really feels as though they don’t know what to do with Sonic in a 3D environment. That leads me to the other reason why Sonic game tend to have less complexity in their 3D areas, gimmicky game design. Why do Sonic games always seem to have these weird gimmicks that seem to be designed in a way so that the levels are pretty boring by default. First there was the werehog, then the wisps, then two Sonics, then wisps again and are you noticing by now that none of these helped to further 3D gameplay? Is Sega really that afraid of a 3D Sonic? I understand they probably wanted to try something new with Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, but they somehow made that game even more gimmicky than the previous ones. In fact, due to all of these different gimmicks, most of the boost-to-win Sonic games haven’t really aged well. I would say that Sonic Generations is the sole exception and part of the reason is solely because of 2D Sonic.

Now you are probably thinking that the both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 both had gimmicks that were just as bad, if not worse than some of the newer games. I would agree with that statement. Sure the werehog in Sonic Unleashed was a total breaker, but the same could be said for all of Big the Cat’s storyline in Sonic Adventure. We definitely don’t need pace breakers like that in a Sonic game where speed and traversing through areas should be the main focus. The thing is that as gimmicks go, having multiple characters is probably one of the easiest one to go with for padding the runtime. Of course that is only if the different playstyles aren’t so drastically different that one or more of them feel like they belong in a different game. Consistency would be nice Sega, provided you are reading this which I highly doubt. I would say it would be best to have three or four playstyles at most and maybe they could be spread across different characters in a Sonic Adventure 2 kind of way. Maybe we could give Eggman a playable role again, but instead of a mech we have him fly is his hovercraft to traverse through levels. I’m sure that thing has a name, but you probably know what I’m talking about if you have a general idea about the character. I also just think it would be interesting to give Knuckles a better version of the parkour system from Sonic Lost World since he can climb up walls and it could add some extra flare if done properly. Just some ideas to float out there, but that is better than nothing right?

Alright, I have talked about how gameplay could potentially be improved in the 3D field going back to this formula. The reason I picked it was not just because it had the most consistent pace in a 3D space. I was also thinking about how the story of more recent Sonic games could be further improved because they are also rather basic now. I am typically a guy who cares a lot about story so I have felt that what I have seen in recent games in the series is a lack of depth in the story elements. Even if you can say that the recent games were good, I don’t believe you can say that the storylines had a lot of thought put into them. Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 at least tried to have a more complex plot and make it work across multiple storylines. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) just tried too hard with their story and forgot about the fact that the game needs to be playable. I’m not saying the story has to be serious or anything, I just want a fun story to play through with some fun gameplay styles is that too much to ask? I just feel like there could be a little more effort on both fronts is all. If falling back on an old formula is what it takes to give Sonic the full 3D treatment in an interesting game, then why not go for it? Once again, thanks for hearing me out. And you know what, this time I made it the whole post without mentioning Mario. Wait a minute. Dang it.

Thoughts on Sonic Level Design

Alright it’s official, I am sick of talking about Mario games. Thankfully we have a new month ahead of us for another themed topic. The question was simply what should be cover next? Well, since I had Mario on the brain a lot the previous month, it is no surprise that the first thing that came to mind was his oldest rival Sonic. The main problem is that I am not a Sonic fan. That isn’t to say that I don’t like his game, but I haven’t played the majority of them. If I’m being honest, I don’t think there is a single videogame series where I have played every game to be fair, hence why I refer to myself as that casual gamer guy. However, I am willing to challenge myself and at the very least even though I haven’t played them, I have seen playthroughs for every Sonic videogame ever made. Figured it was a good way to kill some free time and now it’s coming in handy. Besides even if I could, I wouldn’t dream of touching Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Before we even start talking about 3D Sonic, we should look at 2D Sonic and what made it different from other platformers such as… Mario. I have a feeling I am somehow going to keep referring back to Mario this month, but hey I brought this on myself so let’s just keep it rolling.

The most important aspect of Sonic’s character is undoubtedly his speed and the best levels allow you to go fast. What would be the point of tracking your time if that wasn’t the intention behind this style of platforming? But that isn’t all there is to a good Sonic level. It is best if you can go as fast as possible but there is no point in doing that if you are just going in a straight line. There’s no challenge in that. So obviously the levels have with each having different paths for you to reach the goal. Some paths are more challenging, some are more rewarding, and some are just more fun to whizz through. Having the ability to go through different routes each time you play a level leads to encouraging multiple playthroughs. Especially if there are hidden goodies in each route. The best part about playing Sonic from what I can tell isn’t just getting to the end, but finding the best way to do it in the least amount of time. Otherwise you wouldn’t try so many different routes to see if you can use them to go even faster. Obviously not every 2D Sonic level follows this formula, but in fairness those levels tend to be the least popular from what I’ve heard. So I’ll wrap this up by saying that a good 2D Sonic level allows you multiple pathways which allow you to keep a certain pace.

Now I understand that is a pretty big generalization there, but I don’t think it is that far off the mark. Although, understanding 2D Sonic games on their own doesn’t tell us anything. What really starts to tell us something is when we transition from 2D to 3D gameplay. Sonic has had a lot of trouble with this transition. It makes sense considering the game is one with a heavy emphasis on using physics and momentum in order to achieve speed. If you mess up the physics and Sonic doesn’t handle right, then you won’t be able to achieve your desired velocity no matter how hard you try. So the best way to incorporate Sonic into 3D would be to have levels designed where using Sonic abilities would allow you to go through more pathways in a more open level design. That’s the ideal at least. However, it seems that more recent Sonic games have trouble figuring out what they want to do with 3D Sonic. Sometimes they incorporate 2D sections into the game because it seems that is easier to design. Sometimes they have you keep boosting in a straight line and doing homing attack chains. They have alternate pathways sure, but half the time it is not for getting a faster time. Instead you just find a random collectible at the end of it. I’m not saying there is anything not with collectibles, but why do I get the feeling that sometimes levels are designed more around the collectibles than Sonic?

I am not saying that the recent games are bad. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations were definitely good games. Sonic Colors tended to rely on the wisps to liven up the exploration of the stages and I feel that more than half of the stages were 2D sections of level. That’s fine and all but what about the whole 3D gameplay thing? Sonic Generations was definitely better, but the game itself was never really challenging enough that you needed to play through a stage too many times. Besides you were more likely to explore alternate pathways to find red rings than trying to get a better time, since acquiring an S rank does not require much effort. Sonic Lost World was an okay game and that was partly because the levels were kind of bland. In fact, one of my biggest problems with the game is that it had an interesting parkour system, but the developers barely made use of it and instead decided to turn the game into another Super Mario Galaxy for some reason. I mentioned Mario again didn’t I? Well, whatever. The point is that the systems they put in place feel like wasted potential since parkour never feels like it is required. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a game and that is all I need to say about it. As for Sonic Forces, I honestly don’t remember much of the game, but I doubt it didn’t have any of the fallbacks I listed previously. I could be wrong, but I doubt it considering the mediocre reviews I’ve heard. I’m not trying to hate on recent Sonic games though. I just want to say from the look of things recently, I feel that Sonic games have fallen into a bit of a rut. I am not saying we can’t have good 3D Sonic games with the current way of making games. I just think the current system is not the best translation we have for Sonic in 3D. As for what could be done better, I think I’ll save that for next time. See you next week.