tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Well, that was a surprise

My opinion of Sonic Unleashed has improved somewhat from my last post, which was made after being made to slog through two consecutive Werehog levels which nearly put me to sleep. I’m at the final stage of the game, so I don’t think my opinion is going to change significantly – I might as well pen down some thoughts.

The regular speed levels are basically a combination of Sonic and the Secret Rings with fixed controls and a rather stripped down version of Sonic Rush. To be honest, I’m pretty satisified with how they turned out, barring a few minor issues that are holdovers from Secret Rings (the game doesn’t like it when you try to backtrack, and manual camera control is basically nonexistent). Even early levels like Apotos have a few alternate routes you can check out (and the key to accessing them is timing-based puzzles, much like in Sonic Adventure 2).

Here are a few things I wanted to note about the speed areas:

  • The boost move (done by pressing X on the classic controller) works significantly differently from the similarly-named move from the Sonic Rush series. Here, each button press results in a fixed-length boost, during which you can’t change your direction or stop, meaning it needs to be used judiciously. No more holding X throughout the entire level like in Sonic Rush.
  • Unlike just about every other Sonic game made to date (except Secret Rings, getting 100 rings doesn’t net you an extra life. The way lives work in this game is actually kind of similar to Sonic 2006, in that you can’t farm extra lives by replaying levels over and over again. You have 3 tries, and every time you lose one you get dropped at an autosave checkpoint while the timer continues to run (basically meaning that dying during a level run hurts your chance of getting an S-rank). You can get more extra lives from item boxes you find in platforming puzzles located in the hub areas.
  • Speaking of hub areas, the Wii version doesn’t have hub levels you can run around in, instead opting for an Ace Attorney-ish point and click interface for exploring the various towns you’ll visit. I like this, if only because it lessens the amount of time you need to spend there. The retarded town missions you had to do in Sonic 2006 are still fresh in my memory.
  • There are indeed side-scrolling areas to be found in the speed levels, but they play nothing like any of the sidescrolling levels in the older Sonic games or even in the Sonic Rush games. Just about all loops are scripted, meaning momentum plays basically no role in these sections. I’m not sure what the point of including these sidescrolling sections was if they weren’t going to at least try to apply some elements of 2D design to them.

That said, let’s move on to the Werehog levels.

The actual platforming in these levels is fairly nondescript and unremarkable – I don’t have much to complain about, but I can’t really say I enjoyed these sections either. On the other hand, the combat is just terrible. There really isn’t much strategy involved at all beyond ‘jump to hit enemies in the air’ and ‘make sure to use the roll-dodge if you’re fighting those big guys with the clubs’. Sonic’s main combo move basically consists of pressing X and Y alternately, and his level 2 combo (which you’ll earn by the second or third level that you play) covers a ridiculous amount of area on the ground, making it a very good crowd control move. You can press A at certain points in the combo to get more interesting finishing moves, like an aerial launcher (which is kind of pointless without any sort of aerial followups besides jumping and mashing more buttons) or a ground pound move that’s also great at crowd control.

On top of that, the camera is zoomed out way too far, making it difficult to figure out if my attacks are going to hit anything or not. More often than not I jump to try and tag one of the game’s annoying flying enemies only to whiff entirely. On top of that, I have a sneaking suspicion that the actual attack hitboxes and the effects on the player model don’t actually line up a lot of the time.

Add these facts to the additional fact that there are three times as many Werehog levels as regular Sonic levels (each town has a set of three Werehog levels and a single speed level, along with a bunch of side missions, some of which the game requires you to clear before you can go on to the next area) and we have a rather frustrating package overall. On the one hand the actual speed levels are the most fun I’ve had with a Sonic game in quite a while, but on the other hand the Werehog is mostly bland and uninteresting.

Unfortunately for my wallet, though, I think the game is good enough for me to take a risk on buying the PS3 version when it hits in December. Fingers crossed.

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Review: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

As some of you may know, Bioware has been developing a DS RPG set in the Sonic universe for Sega. The game, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood was much anticipated by the fanbase, seeing how it was developed by a studio known for its expertise in developing RPGs on PCs. Well, the game is out in North America as of yesterday, so how is it?

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PC Game Review: Team Fortress 2

One thing the first-person shooter genre has been tending towards in the last few years is an emphasis on gritty, realistic (or at least semi-realistic) gunplay. This is not a universally-loved proposition. Take a look at two screenshots from two different shooters, and chances are that if you aren’t already an avid fan of the genre, you will not be able to tell them apart. The status quo is rather displeasing – but who better to shake it up than Valve Software, who have already revitalized the genre twice with the 1998 hit Half-Life and its 2004 sequel? Their effort to this end is Team Fortress 2, and what a terrific game it is.

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A slice of heaven

I'm not sure when my tastes changed, but I seem to have become a great fan of the slice of life genre of anime.

The term is usually used to refer to a series with no real continuity or ongoing plot, where each episode is a series of vignettes from the characters' everyday lives, usually with some elements of humour sprinkled in. Many people I know can't stand this genre, and sometimes put this question to me: “How can you stand to watch a 24-episode show where nothing happens?” And truth be told, I don't have a good answer. The root of this fandom probably lies in the great Azumanga Daioh, which I watched way back in my first year at college. Since then, I've made it a point to check out new slice-of-life series as they've shown up on TV, and have thus managed to enjoy series like Sketchbook, Lucky Star, Honey and Clover…and most recently, Aria, of which the final episode aired this week.

Aria is an interesting thing. While most series tend to get worse as new seasons are announced (y halo thar You're Under Arrest), it has gotten better over its 65-episode run, and this final season in particular has proven to be absolutely wonderful. Its only real fault is somewhat inconsistent animation quality. And yet, it features no conflict, no action, no violence, nothing that would attract your average anime fan to watch it.

Perhaps it's just that I find myself able to appreciate the subtleties of the world of Aqua that Aria manages to express, both through its great atmosphere as well as its characters. It's a quiet, laid-back world, yet in spite of this its nuances are always enjoyable when they're revealed. The show is definitely character- rather than story-driven, and I can appreciate this too, since the characters are all very distinct and have their own loveable personality quirks (with a lot of hidden depth).

Anyhow, I guess my point is that if you're one of those people who doesn't mind watching a show without giant robots, epic battles or intense human drama, I heartily recommend Aria. There's a lot of it (65 episodes spread over three series) but if you're anything like me, you'll enjoy every moment of it.

…still can't believe it's over ;_;

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Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I think I love you.

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