Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 70 - Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

So today, it's time to review a game on a format I haven't reviewed before - and no, that doesn't mean I bought a new console (not yet, anyway)...

I couldn't take a photo of me with the box, because it's a digital-only
game. I also couldn't take a photo of me playing it, because I played
it on my phone, which is what I normally use to take photos...

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Released on: iOS, Android, Xbox Live, PSN, WiiWare and many many other digital distribution systems...
Played on: Android Phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 3 if you are interested)
Release date: 2010

When this game was first announced, I was ridiculously excited. Yes, Sonic 3 may have been a slight disappointment in comparison with one of the best videogames of all time - Sonic 2 - but all of the early 2D Sonic games were entertaining at worst, so I was hopeful about Sonic 4.

Then I read that they were distributing it exclusively via digital platforms and episodically, and I was (frankly) a little disappointed. I know this makes me sound like an old fart - but nothing beats having a physical copy of a game. I can understand and appreciate the digital distribution model, but to not give people the option of a physical copy is annoying, as if it existed, I would probably have bought it by now on a proper console.

But four years after the release of Episode 1, and two years after Episode 2 came out - there's still no sign of it. So when I saw Episode 1 appear as part of a Humble Bundle Mobile package, I decided it was time to give it a try.

(NOTE - If you've never encountered Humble Bundle, then go and check them out right now! They do great bundles of Phone Games, PC Games, eBooks, Comics etc.. all for a donated amount that goes to charity. I have bought three or four bundles in the last couple of months and intend to keep doing!)

This bundle of games was the first set of mobile games I have ever paid for, as I've always been a bit wary of mobile gaming. And, do you know what? It was a bit of a disappointment...

I should clarify. I know I'm going to end up tarring Sonic 4 and mobile gaming with the same brush, so I'll say here and now that I don't think Sonic 4 is a bad game by any means. Is it on a par with Sonic 2? Not a chance. It's not even on a par with Sonic 3, but it's way better than a lot of other games in the world.

But, sadly, mobile gaming really lets it down. The problem with porting games to touchscreen phones is the controls. Games that are developed for a touchscreen initially tend to have no problem - look at the world-destroying Angry Birds for proof of that. However, when you try and apply console style controls to touchscreen phones then it tends to go wrong, and that was sadly the case here.

Trying to control a game via virtual touchscreen buttons is a nightmare - mostly because of the complete lack of feedback. When you press a physical button or move a physical d-pad, you can feel what you are doing, whereas on a virtual screen I find myself constantly looking down at the controls to check that I'm doing it right, which affects my way of playing the game. And that's no fun.

On a much lighter note, the game itself (as I said before) is not bad at all. The level design is mostly good, the graphics are pretty (although I personally don't like the style of art as much, but hey, that might just be me), and the gameplay is typical sonic gameplay - which for me is a good thing.

But it's not perfect. There are a couple of little things that bug me - why give me the option which order to tackle the levels in? It's not like Mega Man, where if you tackle certain levels first you get power ups that are an advantage for another level - it's Sonic - you run to the right until you succeed - and why give people the choice of doing Act 2 BEFORE Act 1? That's like going to a dinner party and saying that you can eat your desert before you eat the main course if you'd prefer - both courses will still taste nice, but there will be a slight feeling of unease...

I know it's a strange thing to moan about, but for me it means that the feeling of achievement is gone, because you can play any level at any time...

The Physics are strange - Sonic feels slightly floaty when jumping, and it feels more like luck than skill when landing (although how much of that can be attributed to the control scheme I'm not sure.) There are fun Sonic 1-inspired bonus rounds with the spinning maze that we all remember - only because I'm playing it on a phone, you control it by tilting and rotating the phone - which is a method of control I'm REALLY not a fan of - especially when it comes down to precise control.

But my biggest problem with the game design itself (excluding the platform I am playing it on) is the second act of the Casino Street Zone - where instead of having a fun level to navigate through while bouncing around on flippers and bumpers etc, your objective suddenly changes as you have to earn 100,000 points by bouncing Sonic into the fruit machine over and over. And that's just dull - sorry Sega, but it's the truth.

In conclusion, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on a proper console (which I may at some point purchase - especially if they EVER do a physical copy) might be a 7/10 game, with the Casino Street Zone Act 2 letting it down as well as the slightly strange physics. However, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on a phone? Well....

Rating: 5/10
Time Played: 1 Hour and 5 Minutes
Would I play it again? On my phone, probably not. If I ever buy it for Xbox or PS3 or if I ever get an Ouya and buy it for that, then I'd give it another try...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 69 - Magic Carpet

Magic Carpet
Released on: PC, Playstation, Sega Saturn
Played on: Sega Saturn
Release Date: 1994

I remember when Magic Carpet came out. At the time I was 13 and a PC gamer - not owning any of the then-new generation of consoles. So my first memory of this game was that when it came out it was the must-have game of the time, and many articles in PC Gamer and other 90's PC magazines advised me of this.

I only have a vague recollection of the game itself (which I am sure was a PC copy "borrowed" from a friend) and that memory is that it was graphically impressive, but I strangely don't remember any of the actual gameplay - so it's one of those games where the memory of the hype and reputation is vastly greater to the memory of the actual game.

And that was a worry for me when I started it up on the Saturn. To give a popular example, how many of you remember Knight Rider? (And yes, I mean the original 1980's show, not the 2008 remake that I should have hated but actually have a soft spot for).

Back to the original point - Raise your hand if you think that Knight Rider was one of the greatest shows of your childhood?

*Counts hands*

Now, raise your hand if you think it is massively over-rated?

*The hands that were raised drop, and a smaller selection of different hands are raised*

And how many of you have watched any episode of the show in the last fifteen years?

*99% of the same hands stay up, one other hand raises, and Raptorneet (a small yet colourful utahraptor) does backflips in the corner of the room.*

This is my point. It's a show that is great in your memory, but really doesn't hold up to repeated modern viewing. Every episode is the same, the acting is awful, the effects are cheesy, and it's just not something that most people would spend any time watching...

And that is true of my experience with Magic Carpet. The reputation of it has clouded the actual gameplay - and that is the elephant in the room.

*Raptorneet looks up at the mention of an Elephant and starts hunting around for one*

The METAPHORICAL elephant in the room....

*Raptorneet stops hunting and looks sad*

... is that Magic Carpet is an awful game. And I have no idea why I don't remember that. I mean, the hype thing becomes more obvious when you realise that the games designer was Peter Molyneux, a man famed for hyping up his games as being the most amazing thing ever to appear on this earth, but I don't know why I've failed to remember the awful, awful gameplay.

And I'm sure that this game has fans, and I'm sure I'm insulting many of them, but the combination of the early 90's 3D graphics (which looked impressive then, and look dated now), the fact that it's a third person shooter with awkward controls (primarily due to the d-pad style Saturn controller) and that it has strategy elements (which are never my forte) render it essentially unplayable. It's completely unintuitive as well - I had to pause after playing for five minutes and examine the manual carefully, at which point I still didn't understand what I was doing. I accidentally built and lost a castle, because I couldn't find it on the map and it was then destroyed by monsters/enemies unknown. I couldn't aim spells in any way accurately, and I found my enthusiasm waning fast - and I'm enthusiastic over almost every video game I've ever played!

But I know what question you're all asking... "Why is there a small and colourful utahraptor invading this review?"

*Raptorneet looks up hopefully*

Well, the reason that she is here is that I wanted to inject some comedy into this post, but it's so tough with a game I dislike so much. And I am genuinely sorry if I have annoyed or offended any Magic Carpet fans, but I have never found a game I would want to play less than this game.

Well.. except for these two.

Hopefully the next game I play will be better...

Rating: 1/10
Time played: 16 minutes (including the time it was paused while I read the manual)
Would I play it again? I would never want to put myself through that again!