Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 19 - Sonic Generations

Another day, another game...

Sonic Generations
Released on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (and 3DS, although it's apparently an entirely different game)
Played on: Xbox 360
Release Date: 2011

In general, there are two types of reaction whenever a new Sonic game is announced. There are the people who say, "It's all been downhill since Sonic 2, why would you bother? Modern Sonic games are rubbish", and there are those who say, "It could be good - it certainly won't be any worse than Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)".


I do not own and have never played Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 (aka the game where Sonic has a human love interest. Yes, that's right...) so I do not know if it is as bad as everyone says it is. However, the fact that Sega delisted the game from Microsoft's Xbox Live Games on Demand service in order to "increase the value of the brand" I think says a lot... (If you feel I'm being unfair on the game, or just have a copy of it that you no longer want, please feel free to loan/donate the game to me, as it is the only main Sonic game I've never played, and I am morbidly interested in how bad/entertaining it may be...)


Sonic Generations does a lot of things right, and on the whole I would probably rank it as the best current generation Sonic game. Mostly, it has to be said because of the 2D Sonic levels.

Yes, that's right - there's 2D Sonic levels in this game! Sadly there are 3D levels too, but they are actually rather entertaining in their own right. But while the game is good, and I happily played it for this blog even though I only got it for my birthday last year and played it to death (alternating with Arkham City of course. Sonic and Batman, now there's a crimefighting team - the Black and the Blue!) the whole game does reek of missed opportunities - and I noticed that more this time.

The theory behind the game is that the two Sonics (The Modern, green-eyed, skinny version who cannot help but talk with a 90's attitude and the Classic, chubby, silent and yet so much more timeless version) are running through past levels in order to... defeat an evil being.. who turns out to be Robotnik (or Eggman, depending on which version of Sonic you are)... and then it turns out it isn't his fault.... and then it is.... oh who cares. You don't play Sonic games for the plot, any more than you read Twilight for it's mastery of the English language. You play Sonic games to run fast and jump on things. And this game gives you that.

But not enough of it.

There are 9 zones in this game (and six boss battles) - and you get one 2D act and one 3D act of each. Which sounds like a lot, but just left me wanting more. Also, where they've picked levels from old Sonic games, I think it's very telling that the best zone is still Green Hill Zone, and by the time you get to the "Modern-era" stages (Crisis City from Sonic 06, Rooftop Rush from Sonic Unleashed, Planet Wisp from Sonic Colours) they just seem dull and sort of miserable (or overly complicated in the sense of Planet Wisp) in comparison with the earlier ones.

So you have a game that starts off well, but alternates between dull and confusing in the last third - and the less said about the Boss Battles the better. I am very aware that the wonder of 2D sonic boss battles is long gone, but these strange 3D monstrosities with lots of QTE events (or "Press X to not Die" sequences as they are referred to in our house) are just dull. And frustrating.

I could keep writing about this for ages, because it's a game that's really split my opinion. I have a lot of fun when I play it, and was excited about coming back to it for the playthrough - but as I played through I was reminded of all the minor niggles that bugged me last time. So, in order to prevent this blog entry from being 20,000 words long, I'm just going to a couple of lists of good and bad bits.

Good Bits: Nice long levels, fast and furious fun, some proper 2D platforming action, the music, revisiting Green Hill Zone, some of the 3D Sonic setpieces are still spectacular (particularly the Truck from City Escape (Sonic Adventure 2))

Bad Bits: Only one act of each Sonic-type for nine zones, rubbish Boss Battles, some slightly dodgy 3D camera (although it's much better than all the other 3D sonic games), no Casino Night Zone, the bloody "helpful" Chao who decides to give you helpful information throughout the game, important information like "If you hit something, then you will lose all of the rings you are carrying." OI, SEGA! THIS IS A SONIC GAME MADE FOR THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY. THE VAST MAJORITY OF US HAVE PLAYED A SONIC GAME BEFORE STOP EXPLAINING DETAILS THAT HAVEN'T CHANGED IN THE LAST 20 YEARS OF GAMEPLAY!

I could go on, but I know what you're wondering - you're thinking "What about the score then Brawny? If it's fun but frustrating, then surely we'd be looking at a 5 or 6 out of ten?" Well no. It's gonna be better than that. Because (as you all know) I love Sonic games. And I don't care if it's a biased review, it's my review.

Rating: 8/10
Time played: 1 hour 10 mins
Would I play it again?: Of course I will!

Next time we step back in time one console generation, and change genre once again. It's Soulcalibur 2 on the Gamecube...

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 18 - Zelda: Four Swords (Anniversary Edition)

Two blogs in three days? Get me and my productivity!

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (Anniversary Edition)
Released on: GBA (Anniversary Edition released on 3DS)
Played on: 3DS
Released in: 2003 (Anniversary Edition released 2011)

Aah Zelda. You and I have a chequered relationship.

(Before I go any further, I'm referring to Zelda the game series, not Zelda the princess. I have never had a chequered relationship (or indeed, a relationship of any kind) with any video-game princess. Clear?)

Regardless of my previous feelings though, I felt strangely positive about trying out Zelda: Four Swords - as it shares a lot of DNA with A Link to the Past (partially, one suspects, due to the fact it was released on a cartridge with the GBA port of Link to the Past, as seen in the boxart above), and that was one of the few Zelda games I spent a lot of time with as a youngster.

(Incidentally, how old am I, using the word youngster? Quick, order me a zimmer frame!)

Sadly, though, I was disappointed. For the second game in a row in this blog, I am playing a game of a genre I don't normally enjoy. The last one (Speedball 2, for those of you with a short memory) was sports games, and this is RPGs.

I may have mentioned this before, but I don't like games that give me too much choice. I'm a fan of linearity in games - I like it to be obvious what I'm doing and where I'm going, and Zelda traditionally doesn't do that. Don't get me wrong, Zelda games can be a lot of fun (and I have at least two more to play at some point in this playthrough, so hopefully some of them will entertain me more), and Four Swords has it's moments. But it seems really badly designed as a handheld game. I know it comes from an era where handheld games were something you played for an hour, rather than 5 minutes, but even so, the fact that the game has no save option until the end of an area means that, if you are like me, then when you get stuck at a certain point in the level, you are loath to turn it off and try again later, because you know that you'll have to play all the way through that level again to get to the point where you were stuck.

And yes, I am aware that the previous paragraph makes me sound like I have the attention span of a gnat, but in my own defence... is that a squirrel?

*Rushes away from the computer and spends five minutes being distracted by things that are outside, until Neety points out that I was mid-way through a blog, and that I should finish it.*

Anywhere, where was I? Oh yes - Zelda: Four Swords.

I think that it is a well-made game. The graphics are cute and very well drawn, and as is traditional, the Zelda music is absolutely superb. And I know that as a Nintendo Fanboy (I am, I don't deny it), I should absolutely love Zelda games. But it's just not the game type for me.

Yes I will always play Zelda games - but I seriously doubt I shall ever complete one. And part of this circles back to my earlier paragraph. The fact that the games are non-linear and open-world (to a certain extent), and they often don't give us easy signposts as to what needs to be done next - in fact, Four Swords is one of the more linear Zelda games that I have played - and therefore, if you haven't played it for a couple of weeks, then (if you're like me) you load up the saved game, wander around the game world for 20 minutes and then realise that you have absolutely no memory of what the hell it was you were trying to do.

I know this blog post has wandered into a discussion about my lack of interest in RPGs, rather than a comprehensive discussion of my playthrough of Four Swords, so I'll bring it back full circle. Four Swords was originally designed as a multiplayer experience, so the single-player experience will always be a little bit of a letdown, but even so, while the feel, graphics and entertainment values are high, I ran into puzzles I couldn't solve, or situations I couldn't get out of, and I just became overwhelmed with frustration.

Rating: 6/10
Time Played: 45 mins
Would I play it again?: I may do. It's not high on my list though.

So it's good, but not great. And I'm sure I'll get flamed for this, but I can't wait to get back to a platformer - which coincidentally, is what I'm playing next time - it's Sonic Generations on the Xbox 360!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 17 - Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe

I have resolved my RF issues! Well, by resolved, I mean I've had to move a VHS player into the lounge to run the RF through, but anyway, I can play the consoles again! So here it is, the long promised...

Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
Released on: Acorn Archimedes (yes, that's right), Atari ST, Amiga, CD32, PC, C64 (Yes, really!), NES, Sega Megadrive, Sega Master System, Game Boy and Game Boy Advance.
Played on: Sega Megadrive
Released in: 1990

So, I can now fire up the Megadrive again - and as a result, I can review Speedball 2, a game that a lot of retro gamers rave about, and believe is one of the greatest sports games from the 8/16 bit eras.

My problem with it? It's still a sports game. And there's not many of those I like to play. But I approached it with an open mind - mostly, it has to be said, because I'm always a fan of sci-fi and futuristic settings, and I hoped that it would turn out to be a fun and entertaining time.

Sadly, it was about as entertaining as watching Ann Widdicombe perform a striptease to a Jedward song (and I apologise for the image, but you'll appreciate now how I feel about Speedball 2). The game drops you right in with nothing in the way of an introduction (a common situation in 16-bit games) which is fine, but instead of dropping you into a game, it lets you choose whether you want to play 1 player or 2, and play a single match, or a league, or a cup game.... and then you get into a horrendously confusing stats screen where you can enhance your team. Except I didn't really understand what I was doing, because none of the abbreviations seemed to make any sense.

Once you've finally made it out of the statistical hellhole, (by clicking on the ESC button no less.... Surely common sense would mean that the ESC button cancels what you've done? Or is that just me), then you end up playing your game. And this is where the game really lost me.

I don't know if this applies to any of you who read this blog, as you might all LOVE sports games, but I felt that this game suffered from the basic issues that tend to plague sports games, particularly of that era.

Now before we continue, let me explain what my problem is with sports games. It's not (surprisingly) that I don't enjoy sport in real life. (I don't enjoy sport in real life, but I don't enjoy fighting, or jumping on the heads of wierd shaped beings, or dropping strange shaped blocks down a well in real life either - however I do enjoy games that involve these other activities - just not sport.) It's that whenever you have a sport that is a team game, you end up having to control the whole team. And the computer just doesn't seem to understand that it would be a good idea that you can choose which player you control at any one time. I know more modern sports games have (mostly) fixed this issue - and that's why I can play the occasional game of FIFA [insert year here] without flinging the controller across the room in disgust - but sadly, Speedball 2 is from the era where you control whichever player you were controlling until the computer decides another player is closer to the ball, and swaps your control. This is OK if they are both on screen, but often, as the screen follows the ball, the player you are controlling can be left behind, and then there's none of your players on screen, and you don't know who you're controlling - and then, when your player finally appears on the screen, it turns out that you've been making them run in the wrong direction for several minutes....

I had other issues with the game too - although a lot of these may well be blamed on the fact that I'm not very good at it - but I found that the shots were hard to line up, the tackles hard to exact and it was not very clear what things award you points in order to win.

I've got not much else to say about Speedball 2 - I didn't make the full hour of play, and to be honest, I'm quite happy that I didn't. Although, it has put the worrying thought into my mind that all the other sports games in my collection are also going to be this unplayable for me... ("But Brawny, I hear you cry, why would you buy the sports games if you don't enjoy them?" - Answer: They usually came with the console....)

For now, however, I am done with sports, as the next game is Zelda: Four Swords on the Game Boy Advance (played on the 3DS). 

Rating: 1/10
Time Played: About 10-15 mins.
Will I play it again?: Nope.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 16 - Wrecking Crew

Wrecking Crew
Released on: NES
Played on: 3DS Virtual Console
Released in: 1985

Yes, it's another NES Nintendo Ambassador game played on my 3DS and, in a first for this blog, it's a game that has dramatically changed my opinion after playing for a full hour. When I got Wrecking Crew (back when the Ambassador games were first released), I played it quickly and then wrote it off as being a novelty game that one gets bored of quickly. How wrong was I?

In my defence, the problem I encountered when I first tried it, was that as it stars Mario and has lots of platforms in it, I assumed that it would be a platformer and then felt cheated when it didn't turn out to be one. I mean, you can't even jump for crying out loud! And then, on my re-play for this blog, I realised - it's not a platformer, it's a puzzle game! And it's ridiculously addictive as well...

Basically, you have to guide Mario around the screen, avoiding enemies (which you can't kill, although you can occasionally slow them down), and destroying all of the walls, ladders, pillars etc. - the level ending once you've successfully wrecked them all. But often there are only one or two ways of clearing the level successfully, so it has to be done in a certain order. 

And I loved it! The hour zoomed past as I worked my way through the first 12 or 13 levels, and once I'd settled into it, I loved the strategic thinking required. The 8-bit graphics suit it perfectly (mind you, I've always been a fan of 8 and 16-bit graphics) and the sound is basic, yet functional. 

Is it a perfect game? No it's not. But it's a very good example of how gameplay is more important than graphics and how Nintendo can make the most wonderful games, that can be overlooked because they don't look amazing. I urge you, if you have the facility to play this game, whether you have an original NES (in which case I'm jealous, because it's one of the few Nintendo consoles I don't own), or an emulator, or maybe you were a Nintendo Ambassador like me, then play it. And enjoy. 

There's even a level designer! (Although I haven't tried that yet.)

Rating: 8/10 (and yes, I am aware that quite a few games have been 8/10 so far...)
Time played: Just over an hour
Would I play it again?: Yes - it's perfect for short-burst play.

Next time: Depending on whether the issues I referred to on my previous blog have been resolved, it'll either be Speedball 2 on the Megadrive, or Zelda: Four Swords on the 3DS.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 15 - Goldeneye

Let me just start with a quick apology. I'm sorry that it's been two months since I last updated, and I am aware that this loss of momentum may well have cost me readers... but life sometimes gets in the way of these things! Hopefully, things will be a bit more regular from now onwards...

Yes, once again, I'm showing a picture of the logo, rather than me with the game. Mostly because my camera/phone are too far away for me to reach out and get them right now...
Goldeneye 007
Released on: N64 (And later remade for Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3, but we won't be discussing that right now)
Played on: N64
Release date: 1997

I'm not a big fan of FPS's - being of the opinion that Doom 2 is the pinnacle of the genre, and that everything went downhill from there. However, I do own a couple of the genre-defining games from later years, most notably Goldeneye and Halo 3.

As readers of this blog will no doubt be aware, (because I assume that you are as knowledgeable about games as me), Goldeneye is one of the most famous and most revered retro games of all time. It is also a game I remember being really awful at. So I was strangely ambivalent about re-playing it, as it meant I may well have to admit to you, my wonderful blog readers, that I am actually rubbish at this game.

Well, it's time for the truth. I am absolutely awful at Goldeneye 007. In my one hour playtime, I died 6 or 7 times, and I only completed one level (and very nearly completed the second). But do you know what? I had a lot of fun playing it.

Yes, it suffers from some slightly erratically sensitive controls. Yes, the 3D is as sophisticated as you would expect from a 1997 game, where each enemy gets at least 5 WHOLE polygons each!! (This is sarcasm, in case you hadn't noticed). But all, in all, it's still ridiculous fun.

As I've said previously on this blog, I find it very hard to find things to say about games that I have thoroughly enjoyed, because - well - what can you say?

It has it's flaws, as any game does - I've already mentioned the controls and the graphics, and the repetitive environments and marginally irritating "puzzles" (if you can call pushing a button and then running to the door it opens before it closes a puzzle) ought to combine to create an unsatisfying game. But it doesn't. Even the lack of a map, which is nowadays a staple of the FPS genre, doesn't irritate as much as you might think,(although, I seem to remember that on later levels, which I didn't get to on this playthrough, this oversight does become much more irritating.)

Whatever that magical ingredient is that goes into a playable game , Goldeneye has it in spades. And, although I didn't test it on this playthrough - the multiplayer is as good now as you remember. (Or at least, it was as good about a month or so ago, which was the last time I played it.)

Will I return to Goldeneye again?

You bet I will.

Rating: 8/10
Time played: 1 hour (and a bit)
Will I return to it? Definitely.

Next time on Brawny's Great Playthrough - according to my list it will be Speedball 2 on the Megadrive! However, I'm currently having a few technical issues with the RF port on the TV, so until I get that fixed the early consoles (Megadrive, SNES etc.) might have to be delayed. So if that's the case, then the next game will be Wrecking Crew on the 3DS. Why not come back in a few days and see what it turned out to be?