Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Sonic Colors (Wii)

Sonic Colors

Developed by Sonic Team
Published by Sega
for the Wii
Released November 16th, 2010

Reaching for the Stars:

When it comes to the Sonic franchise, speed means everything.  The reason why the Genesis games were so revered was because it gave gamers a sense of speed never felt before.  When converting from its 2D origin into 3D, this vital element was lost among all the new gameplay gimmicks implemented, cheesy character additions, and try-hard story-telling.  Now, in Sonic's odyssey through space, he has finally regained what was lost to him almost a decade ago.  Sonic Colors revives the long dead franchise and sends it in a glorious new direction that devoted fans will appreciate and admire.

If you take the best parts of Sonic Unleashed, fine-tune them, and add a bunch of colorful alien abilities then you'll end up with Sonic Colors.  When you begin the first level, you'll instantly gain a sense of haste, something that Sonic Team has attempted to find for over a decade. The capability to boost by collecting Wisp bubbles adds even more agility to the already supersonic experience.  Not only did they find that perfect level of heart-pounding speed, they created a game that flows incredibly well and has enough variety in its Wisp abilities to never allow room for a dull moment.

In every level, Sonic has the option to use different Wisp abilities that alter the gameplay dramatically.  Amidst the thrilling rush of each level,  Sonic will be able to shoot faster than light with the White Wisp's Laser, burrow underground with the Orange Wisp's Drill, and shoot up to the stars with the Red Wisp's Rocket, among many others.  With each new Wisp unlocked, the game offers more and more ways to blaze passed a level.  Although, the game is painfully short (you'll beat it in under 5 hours), Sonic Colors offers a stunning amount of replay value.  You'll spend hours going through each world again and again trying to figure out the right Wisp combination in order to obtain the five hidden red rings or to achieve S rank.

There were a few controlling quirks that had me thinking they could have done a better job with the control scheme.  There are forced sections in certain levels that has Sonic running straight forward making the player move him left or right to avoid enemies or objects.  They designated the analog stick for this maneuver but because you'll already be holding the stick up to run, it makes dashing right and left a little tricky as Sonic will either refuse to move or will move twice in one direction.  Another forced section has you braking while turning in order to drift.  This actually feels great it's just a shame that you aren't able to do this any time you'd like.  Drifting would have really come in handy during some sections that don't designate it.  The option to use the Gamecube controller along with the Classic controller gives some leeway to players who aren't comfortable with the default Wiimote controls.

Even boss levels in Colors give the player a sense of speed as Sonic is must chase after warping Space Ships and take them out with homing attacks or Wisp abilities.  The bosses, although entertaining, are interesting at first but they begin to feel rehashed and overused.  There are three different boss styles that are slightly altered to be played in all six major worlds.  It would have felt more complete if each world had a boss unique to every planet.  I won't gripe too much about it as the final boss more than makes up for this flaw and instantly made the list for one of my favorite boss battles of all time.

Sonic Colors gives longtime fans of the Blue Blur a charming story full of humor and spot-on voice acting.  With beautiful, vibrant and (needless to say) colorful environments that perfectly blends with the high levels of breakneck camera blur mixed with another amazing soundtrack, this installment gives everybody a reason to love Sonic once again.  Sonic Colors plays like a Sonic game should; fast-paced, intuitive, and exhilarating.

Graphics:  2/2

Sound:  2/2

Playability:  5/5

Lasting Appeal:  2/3

Fun:  4/5

RANK:  B+ 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Sonic Colors (DS)

Full Review:
Sonic Colors

Developed by Sonic Team & Dimps
Published by Sega
for the Nintendo DS
Released November 16th, 2010

Sonic's Truest Colors:

Like his life long mustachioed rival before him, Sonic takes it to the stars and gives Sonic fans something new and unique with Sonic Colors. Everyone's favorite (or most tolerated) hedgehog has had some trouble reliving the glory days of the past by either attempting to rekindle the elements of his 16-bit era (Sonic 4, Sonic Advance) or by taking him out of his element all together and putting him in a type of game that's simply weird or unnecessary (Sonic Riders, Sonic and the Black Knight). Fortunately for gamers everywhere, Sonic Colors breaks the streak of awful Sonic games by combining high speed platforming with innovative game design to create Sonics greatest adventure since the good ol' Genesis days.

Let's get the story out of the way first since I know that absolutely no one plays a Sonic game for its ever so intuitive story telling. Dr. Robotnik, being the generous psycho-genius he is, decides to create an intergalactic amusement park to make up for all of his past sins. Sonic and Tails, suspicious of their arch nemesis, check into the matter only to find out that, sure enough, old Ivo is stealing energy from a group of aliens called Whisps in order to create a mind control device. Sonic, along with the help of the Whisps, must now stop Dr. Robotnik and put an end to his treacherous amusement park for good.

The Whisps give Sonic plenty of new power maneuvers to utilize on his journey, which sounds a bit off putting to old school Sonic fans but actually offer an absolutely fun experience. Of course, it wouldn't be a Sonic game without the mindless speeding and dashing through miles of exotic levels and spin homing badniks to pieces and trust me, there's plenty of it. The main game plays like a charm with only minor physics errors such as air dashing when you mean to jump and vice versa.

After every world or so you gain the powers of new Whisps such as boosting, rocket blasting, fire booming, drilling, etc. By gathering energy from enemies or trapped Whisps, Sonic can boost with Y or transform into any of the other colored powers with X. The game greatly utilizes these powers by making the player perform certain energy maneuvers in order to complete a level (although some levels give the player the option of using the moves or just speeding to the finish.) Whether you're fire booming your enemies to oblivion, boosting at top speed through the level, or drilling the boss badnik to death, it's a fun experience that adds a lot to Sonic's worn out gameplay.

Of course, we can't forget about the classic special Chaos Emerald stages. In these special stages, Sonic runs through a half-pipe (very reminiscent of Sonic 2) as you try collecting as many colored orbs as possible before Sonic makes it to the finish. Colors utilizes the stylus in these stages which is a blast aside from the occasional stylus-to-screen lag. The biggest problem I have with the Chaos Emerald stages is that they are way too easy. In most other Sonic games, it would be unlikely to complete your first run of the game with all seven chaos emeralds, but Colors is an unfortunate exception as it is rather unlikely that you won't be snatching the emeralds before the end.

The main game itself is incredibly easy and can actually be completed in literally, one sitting. I would mark it down for this grueling flaw except that Colors offers so much replay value you'll be spending hours and hours trying to get S ranks on every level, finding secrets in each level with the new powers you obtain, collecting all of the star emblems, and finding all of the hidden unlockables. Not to mention just trying to complete a few of the games many side missions will have you shaking your DS violently for hours. I suppose it's a better idea to have these time attacks, enemy & Whisp hunts, and ring collecting missions not mandatory. They're challenging; which is nice but I just wonder to myself why the actually game is humiliatingly easy while the missions create sudden difficulty spikes.

The one thing I hate about every Sonic game is the hedgehog's voice. It's just too damn annoying. I thought I had all I could take with his whiny, high pitched voice in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. When I booted the game up and prepared myself for the opening dialogue, I prepared for the worst. I was shocked to find out that I wasn't annoyed at all with his voice. Sega actually found a guy (Roger Craig Smith) who could provide a voice to Sonic I can actually listen to. In fact, all of the voice actors do a pretty good job and that's a definite plus in my book.

The music itself is corny. I'm not too fond of the opening track or much of the music but there were a few tunes that seemed melodiously out of place which had me tapping my foot. The sound effects are the best part, though. The booming blasts, the crackling fires, and the awesome "Burn!" or "Rocket!" screams Sonic makes before transforming are, dare I say, cool.

The graphics are gorgeous, vibrant, and colorful. The backgrounds are beautiful as are their animations. Everything seems to jump off the screen. The replacement of sprites with 3D character models are a pleasant surprise. It works very well. The biggest problem with the visuals is the use of the duel screen gameplay. Both screens are used to play; with Sonic switching between both during certain areas of each level. Sometimes, my eyes follow Sonic like magic and swiftly switch between screens (which feels awesome) but other times my eyes stay on one screen while Sonic speeds far into the other. It's a small annoyance that can cost you all of your collected rings.

Sonic Colors offers gamers a Sonic experience like no other. The new gameplay offers so much that it will make you wish the actual game was more than five hours long. Colors not only gives Sonic fans the okay to wear their Sonic shirts and backpacks with pride again, but it also reminds gamers everywhere how great Sonic was and potentially can be.

Graphics: 2/2

Sound: 1/2

Controls: 5/5

Lasting Appeal: 2/3

Fun: 5/5


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Full Review:
Sonic the Hedgehog

"Can't Go Fast"

Developed by Sonic Team
Published by Sega
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Released on November 14, 2006

If there is one franchise that had such an incredibly dramatic fall from grace, it would be Sonic the Hedgehog.  From his glorious days spinning around on the Genesis to his iconic Adventures on the Dreamcast, Sonic had never been stopped dead in his tracks until this atrocity was brought into existence.  This game, to put it simply, is bad.  Nearly everything about it is either broken, not fun, or doesn't work.  To properly dissect the problem that is Sonic 2006, we're going to have to analyze the major mechanics that plague the Blue Blur's first run in the seventh generation.

Sonic 2006 plays like a broken down version of Sonic Adventure.  The Adventure games were in no way perfect but they were far from broken.  The first time playing through Sonic Adventure was fun despite losing its luster over time.  The first time playing Sonic 2006 was not fun and will, without a doubt, become worse with time.  The game constantly switches off between seven members of the cast along with the annoying and horribly portrayed newcomer, Silver the Hedgehog.  With seven different characters comes seven different ways of playing the game, unfortunately none of them work as well as anybody would hope.

Now don't quote me on this but I'm going to make a bold assumption that Sonic levels are meant to be fast.  I suppose the Sonic Team didn't get the hint  after fifteen years that slow and steady doesn't win the race in a Sonic game.  With this game, you lack any sense of control.   When speeding through an area or dashing on a wall, one slight flick of the control stick and you'll run right of the ledge.  Despite having the natural urge to run at super sonic speeds, the only way to ensure you'll stay alive is to take your time.  There are rushing sections where Sonic runs straight forward and it's up to the player to move him around and jump when necessary much like the special stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  However, unlike Sonic 2, the controls are frustrating.  Sonic's movements are so sensitive, one tap of the analog changes Sonic's angle much more than anticipated and Sonic runs faster than you can fix a mistake.  If Sonic runs into a wall he loses his rings but will still flail forward at the same speed only to get hit again and lose a life.  This creates a major difficulty spike where all of your lives can be lost if you do not use the utmost precision.

The Knuckles and Rouge levels are slow which means better platforming, unfortunately they don't offer much  else to the gameplay.  Tails levels are both slow and control awkwardly.  You're able to fly around but it's next to impossible to control Tails while he's in the air as he'll move so sporadically that platforming becomes an imprecise mess.  To top it off he can only stay in the air for a couple of seconds before becoming tired and falling, usually to his doom. Amy offers a very unnecessary stealth feature by going invisible, undetectable  by enemies.  It's too bad that defeating the enemies will take you much longer with Amy's Piko hammer than it would with any other character.  Blaze plays just like Sonic except with the homing attack replaced with a much less accurate spinning attack that will certainly send you careening off a level.

Shadow's levels are the most interesting in that it brings the most variety to the table, the only problem with it is that it's all too redundant.  Shadow plays just as Sonic does except that Shadow can kill enemies, that require multiple attacks to defeat, in one swift combo.  Interspersed between running phases you will be forced to ride in vehicles that accomplishes two things for the game ; to slow down the flow of the game and to waste time.  Shadow's infamous motorcycle returns and gives him the ability to move at the exact same pace except now he has the ability to shoot bullets which will rid the enemies in the same amount of time as his homing attacks do.  The buggy is only required once, every other time it is useless and a much better idea to just continue the level on foot.  The glider and hovercraft could have been scrapped from the game altogether.  The scenes that they are required are short, slow, and require no skill.

Silver is the most tolerable of all the characters.  He is slow so you can focus on platforming much more, especially with his ability to hover making accidental falls less frequent.  Silver can use his psychokinesis to make objects in the environment move, such as a log hanging from a tree can be used as a pendulum to either propel Silver forward or to break massive objects in his way.  He can also take a hold of crates and rockets and send them flying at enemies.  Taking control of these objects is easy, it's throwing them that's the problem.  You'll often find yourself flinging the item off a cliff or throwing it at an entirely different enemy due to the absence of a lock-on system.  Later on in the game you will learn how to stun enemies allowing you to kill them in a single hit.  Of course, in a game full of halting flaws, Silver's gameplay is no different.  Silver has these sort of cup & ball mini phases which stops the flow of a level so you can spend twenty minutes trying to "psyho-slap" a giant ball across an area without having the ball fall down a wrong hole.  You also have a limited number of hits to get the ball in the hole, although I'm not entirely sure if it's based on hits, time, or both because the timer on the balls seem to just count down whenever they feel like it.  I couldn't fathom how they could take the best levels in the game and put such a time waster that absolutely ruins the pace of the level.  Even when the pace is slow to begin with, they somehow found a way to slow the game down to a comatose state.

Every other Sonic game has a good understanding on how to keep up a good pace; slow when required, fast every other time.  Each of these drastically different styles of gameplay were always separate, allowing you to prepare for a change of pace.  Sonic 2006 has a nasty habit of stopping the game right in the middle of all the action and forces the game to slow things down.  You'll be rolling around at the speed of sound as Sonic, going through bumpers and getting zippers, and without a moments notice you become Tails and everything that seemed decent with the world suddenly falls apart.  That's honestly how I would describe it.

The level design is far from clever.  Every level is straight forward with only a few, if any, different routes to take to reach the goal.  Some require no thought at all; just a few platform jumps, some killing of enemies and presto, you're at the goal.  Although, there are three different stories you can play through, it only means that you will be playing through each level three times with only a few minor differences.  I would have accepted maybe the same levels with different routes or areas, but no they are the exact same thing in each story.  It just seems lazy on the developer's part.

The camera, unsurprisingly, is sporadic, uncontrollable, and will cause you death any chance it gets.  The first thing I noticed about the camera is that it wasn't inverted.  I prefer my camera controls inverted so I scrolled through each of the menus but there was no such option.  NO OPTION FOR CONTROLS!  Not even to invert the camera.  That is just simply inconsiderate.  I was legitimately offended by the developer's gross lack of consideration.  So, I'm forced to trudge through the entire game getting use to the camera controls, losing countless rings in blind effort.  The camera also has a mind of its own.  It will focus solely on bosses leaving you entirely out of the picture.  You'll be moving, trying to avoid attacks just to fall off the edge because you had no idea where you were.  The camera will also follow a quick moving boss.  The camera will change so quickly that your character will instantly change directions and fall off the stage.  But that's not all, the camera will also get stuck behind walls, zoom in and out rapidly, and sometimes even go black.  Yeah, the game will go blind and you will die.

Speaking of bosses, they're not good either.  Besides the horrible camera, Bosses tend to either drag on too long or be excessively difficult.  Bosses should never have infinites but Silver does.  If you're in the wrong place, he will grab you, throw you, then before you can get back up and get some rings, grab you again, throw you again, and kill you.  The bosses cause difficulty spikes not based on your skill but broken game mechanics.

Reminiscent of Sonic Adventure, the city of Soleanna acts as a hub world between every level.  In Soleanna, there are extra missions to be completed and items to be bought.  The citizens of Soleanna stand around doing nothing all day except to give Sonic and his friends useless info or mundane tasks to complete.  All of the mini-games consist of jumping through loops or beating a certain number of enemies.  There really is nothing else to do in the city besides waste time.  One mini-game had me talk to man who said that one soldier knows how to access a certain area and he told me to beware that two other soldiers who will tell lies.  After going on and on, the mission started but I accidently pressed the conversation button on the same guy and the mission ended.  Apparently he was the liar and knew the whereabouts of the secret area.  I got an S Rank.  It's this moronic level of dispassion that caused them to add redundant side attractions to an already deteriorating game.  Had the items needed to complete the game were hidden within the stages, the hub worlds could have been scrapped entirely.  Instead we are forced to wade through uneventful and dull side missions.

If it wasn't enough to have broken game mechanics, the game itself is buggy and contains many game killing glitches.  I've experienced enemies that will sink through the floors making it impossible to kill them.  This would be excusable except it ONLY seems to happen when defeating every enemy in the room is vital to level progression.  I end up having to start from the last check point thus losing a life.  Beware also that the game will kill you if it feels like it.  When battling a boss, I hit its weak point and flew back to safe ground in the usual Sonic fashion.  However, instead of landing in the field, I landed on top of a search tower.  Instead of allowing me to fall back down to the field, the game decided to fade to black and start me back over with one life missing and a boss that was back at full health.  It's important to stay cautious when playing this game and always expect a game breaking glitch to occur at any moment.

Not only is the gameplay a total loss but the graphics are not up to par.  Even though this game was one of the first of its generation it doesn't cover up the fact that this game looks like a bad Sonic Adventure texture mod.  The textures are bland, the models are choppy, animations are over exaggerated, and the levels appear unfinished.  The most unforgiving of all aspects is that there is pop-up.  Yes, pop-up in a game made for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  I also found the art style unappealing.  Sonic Team tried to go for a realistic look with the townspeople and the city which is in direct conflict to the cartoony and vibrant look of Sonic and his friends.  Even Dr. Eggman lost his animated look to a more realistic (and horrifying) take.  I know that graphics aren't everything but after trekking through a level, it would have been nice to see some decent looking visuals as some sort of pitiful reward.

The only positive thing that's possible to say about this atrocity is that the soundtrack is phenomenal.  I can confidently say that music was the only aspect that kept my interest afloat.  In my opinion, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 has a perfect soundtrack.    Each stage had two or three versions of a song that had me constantly wondering how such musical talent could have been wasted on such an awful game.  Composers, Senoue and Ohtani, definitely deserve to have their work portrayed in a game much more befitting of their talents.

With long loading times, a very short story mode, flawed mechanics, atrocious voice acting, and awful visuals, Sonic the Hedgehog proved to be the point of absolute zero for the Sonic franchise and a shining example of how not to make a video game.  At this point, it's up to Sega to take this blemish, learn from their mistakes, and work their hardest to make Sonic the Hedgehog a credible name in gaming once again.


Fun:  2/5
Playability:  2/5
Lasting Appeal:  1/3
Graphics:  0/2
Sound:  2/2

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: Catherine


Mental Blockage

Developed by Atlus Persona Team
Published by Atlus
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Released July 26, 2011

Finding a solid puzzle game interspersed with an intriguing tale of lost love is about as likely as finding an FPS with a decent story.  But alas, here we have Catherine, a game that blends puzzle-solving with a story about redemption of the heart.  Oh, and there are also giant zombie metal babies with chainsaws that spit machine-gun fire.

The main story of Catherine is separated by the night and day activities of Vincent Brooks, a 32-year-old man who just can't seem to commit to his long time girlfriend, Katherine.  After news hits about a bunch of males in the city who are mysteriously dying in their sleep, he meets a young blonde seductress named Catherine and begins having terrible nightmares involving sheep and a constant struggle for freedom.  During the days and evenings, you control Vincent as he socializes with his friends at the Stray Sheep, a bar frequented by the locals.  The bar scene is where you'll be able to take in a lot of the story by talking to the bar attendees and helping them out with their problems.  You will also be able to play an arcade game, listen to music, learn about alcoholic trivia, and get drunk.  It's an ironic and much needed moment of solace and relief after experiencing the horrific terrors of the night.

At the core of Catherine is a well-tuned puzzle game.  At night, Vincent suffers from nightmares that consist of him escaping sets of hellish traps without falling to his doom.  The goal of each stage is to reach the top of a mountain of blocks by pulling, pushing, or removing certain blocks in order to make a pathway to get yourself closer to the end.  You don't have all the time in the world, however, you must analyze your situation quickly before the series of blocks below you fall away with you on them. There are many different types of blocks and traps that can hinder your progress such as ice blocks, that will make Vincent slide to his death, and Spike traps, which will obliterate Vincent if he stands on them for too long.  The ability to reverse the moves that you made makes it easier to get yourself out of impossible situations that you may have accidentally created.  Each puzzle is unique and makes you think critically and hastily about the path you take to reach the goal.

As addicting as the puzzle-solving is, it is indeed challenging, mostly for the right reasons.  At the end of each nightmare awaits a boss puzzle where a frightening gargantuan abomination from Vincent's psyche will do everything in its power to hinder your climb (and brown your underwear).  These include but are not limited to, removing vital blocks, severely altering the puzzle, or just outright killing you.  I did find that when these bosses move around the stage, the camera will zoom in, out, or completely block your view.  Unfortunately, moving Vincent around can also be a bit of a nightmare.  The controls are very touchy.  I found myself trying to move to one block but then ending up going passed it and dying on a spike trap.  Hanging from blocks also proved difficult.  If you hang and move from behind the puzzle the controls are supposed to be reversed but I found that there is just no order to the controls.  Going left will make me go right, but as soon I turn a corner of a block, the same motion does the exact opposite.  I've wasted vital time in cycles of moving back and forth on a block trying to figure just how to control Vincent before I end up reversing a move or falling to my death.

The fun of Catherine is nowhere near done after your first run-through.  For being a story-driven puzzler, it has a surprising amount of replay value.  There are multiple endings that could be achieved by the moral choices you made during the story and whether you favor freedom, commitment, or indifference either way.  Babel mode allows you to replay each of the puzzles solo or cooperatively.  The Colosseum is a competitive mode that pits two local players against each other in a series of puzzles.  If you hate being rushed in the puzzles in the game, you can play Repunzel, a side-game found in Stray Sheep that lets you figure out a series of puzzles without the fear of running out of time.  Although online play would have been a great addition, there is still a hell of a lot to do with the Catherine.

The music of Catherine consists of jazzy little numbers that are played during your time in Stray Sheep.  While lounging you can use the jukebox to listen to different songs you've unlocked throughout the game which will also consist of songs from other Atlus games such as Persona.  During the nightmares, each area is accompanied with modern renditions of classic songs from Beethoven among others which sound great and add a sense of urgency to each stage.  

With each cutscene, you become more and more acquainted with each character.  I was absolutely blown away by how well the voice acting was in this game especially with Vincent and his voice actor Troy Baker.  The professional level of voice acting adds to the story and strengthens the connection between the player and Vincent and allowed me to connect with his many conundrums.

The graphics are absolutely gorgeous.  The character models are portrayed in perfect cel-shaded animation that resemble the animated cutscenes that occur here and there.  Although as beautiful as the anime scenes are, the entire game could have gone without it and still look just as beautiful.  The nightmare chambers look dangerously morbid and bathed in darkness while the Stray Sheep looks calm and relaxing.  It's a balanced portrayal of night and day as seen through Vincent's eyes.

I know I've underplayed the horror aspect of the game but I'll go ahead and say now that it truly is a terrifying experience with the combination of grim areas, horrifying bosses, and the overall sense of haste.  Catherine is an odd game in that it attempted to be a dating sim, a survival/horror, and a puzzle game.  The weird thing is that it succeeded.  But it really all comes down to whether or not you like puzzle games.  If you can take bombardments of mind-bending puzzle-solving after puzzle-solving with the occasional control issue then this game is for you.  Everything else included is just icing on the cake.


Fun:  4/5
Lasting Appeal:  3/3
Controls:  3/5
Graphics:  2/2
Sound:  2/2