Sonic Mania: Sega’s second wind?

Firstly let me start by saying SEGA isnt as bad a company as we make them out to be, sure they have made dumb decisions in the past but I bet there isnt a single person who can look back at their life and say that every choice they made was perfect. Which is not to say that when it comes to Sonic SEGA hasn’t repeatedly missed the mark because they have and its been evident to almost everyone.

Though there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, It seems as though someone shoved everything that made the classics, ‘the classics’ and added an expansion to mordernize the entire package. Sonic Mania is a return to form that was much needed in the time where the blue blurr’s future looked shaky at best.

Firstly, It brings back that adorable and poppy sprite work that made the original games so timeless, because 3D graphics will continue to evolve and become more realistic but good, detailed sprite work can always be appreciated. In addition, this time around the animations are amazingly well done, Sonic’s head tilting up, being on the edge of a ledge or simply idling for long enough all have animations with astounding amounts of detail. even boss and enemy animations have been given extra care.

Though animations are not the only thing that improved, The levels are the other thing that seemed to be vastly superior to the original, you know how some of the sonic games struggled between letting you enjoy the speed and hitting you with tight platforming? so much so that it felt like the game punished you for going fast? That is exactly the problem that the devs remedied this time, by incorporating level design that isn’t always going to let you roll max speed but will not punish you for speeding, this is achieved by having clearer indicators of when there is a slower section approaching and the level being designed to either halting you or slowing you down so that you can approach the platforming section with more than half a second to process all the visual information.

All in all, Sonic Mania begins what is a much needed back to basics strategy by the Sonic team and that is because for much of its brand’s lifetime Sonic has tried to capitalize on trends and experiment with its formula. Think of it this way, did Mario ever try to incorporate gun totting leather jacket wearing plumbers and electricians? Did Donkey Kong ever have a silverback gorrila who came from the future? The point is that SEGA was too afraid to let sonic be what it was, a solid platformer with cartoonist aesthetics. They feared that their branding was too kiddy and it would repel other gamers, the effort to evolve with your consumer is positive and appreciated but understanding your own products and the desire of the consumer needs to be the priority. Though despite all of their straight up fuck ups, it seems that they are trying to reel it all back in.

Sonic has a long road ahead if they want to regain their foothold and reputation that it once enjoyed within the industry but “Sonic Mania” is definitely a step in the right direction.

Here’s to hoping that the blue blurr will be back with more.

The World Ends With Square Enix

Back in 2008 when square was still willing to take risks and hedge its bets on new IPs, a game called The World Ends With You was released and at least when it came out it languished in relative obscurity. For those who are unaware of this little gem, it was brought to the Nintendo ds first and later ported to IOS and Android.

The world ends with you is an exquisite game and, If you have the time and resources you should definitely go and play it. The game centers around a teen who has supposedly died recently called Neku Sakuraba and to have another chance at life he must team up with someone and take part in the reapers game, and its also set in the most stylish district of japan ‘Shibuya’ or at least thats what the game told me. The story is not necessarily extremely gruesome or meant for very mature audiences  but there is a fair amount that can be considered disturbing although most importantly its engaging and keeps you wanting to find out more almost to the point of sometimes being frustrating. The story and more specifically the main character is most relatable to a teenager who is new to being a teenager.

What i mean is that Neku embodies the emotions of a child outgrowing his childishness pretty well. I assume for everyone there comes a time when they face the reality of the world and see all the bad and ugly thats hidden from them so long as they are a child, some handle this well and can learn to live with this pretty quickly while others take longer preferring to wallow in solitude like Neku(what would essentially be a mild goth syndrome) tries to in the beginning of the game. The game is a journey for this young boy to come to terms with the world and himself. Along the way we certainly see other insecurities kids his age have from image problems to duties towards their family and much more. By the end of the game you come to love these idiots and are cheering for all of them. But its highest point has to be its title card that changes after you beat the game, its not that hard to guess what it says but getting there after beating the game is an amazing feeling.

Another point for The world ends with you or TWEWY as some call it is its. Unique battle system, the story requires for two individuals to be in a pact/group at all times so each battle always has two characters fighting. On the DS this translates to one on the upper screen and one on the lower screen, you use the D-pad to control the character on the upper screen and using the stylus on the touch screen lets you handle the one on the lower screen. It sounds clunky and difficult to manage but after about an hour into the game it feels pretty natural. And come on, in the past decade or so there have been fewer than a handful of games who have taken a bold approach when it comes to controls and battle mechanics, this is a game that implemented something unique and innovative that was pretty good in execution.

Although I think I have tooted its horn enough, I would be remiss if I did not mention its sound track. The sound track is absolutely the strongest point of this game. Each battle has a random track and they are all extremely fitting for the theme of the game, whats more is that there are several remixed versions in the game file including ones in different languages (English and Japanese) so you never get tired of the battle music getting too repetitive. I find myself going back to the game and playing a few battles just to listen to the music.

And if being able to grab a physical DS is not possible than at least try the game out on android or IOS, its around $17.99 but its definitely worth it. It retains most of the charm of the original except for the unique control system which is a shame but don’t let that stop you from experiencing a masterpiece.

Although it is arguably the best the Nintendo DS has to offer, Square never decided to release a sequel, we were teased something at the end of the Android and IOS version with this graphic

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And many took this as an indication of the return of the series as the character portrayed is all but confirmed to be the daughter of the two main characters from the world ends with you. But its over 5 years since we last saw that image revealed and we have heard nothing since. The last we saw of Neku and his friends was in Kingdom hearts Dream Drop Distance as guest characters, here’s to hoping that their world hasn’t ended

Final Fantasy XV just couldn’t hold it together after the break up.

I was extremely excited for this game, I had followed the news for it for about 5 years and I even had a poster of Noctis holding the engine blade in my bed room for about 2 years leading up to its release. I paid around a $100 to get the day one digital premium edition which came with the season pass………..and frankly after I finished the main game, I thought that I wasted about $70.

Now let me start off by being positive. The game was pretty decent, especially the early parts were stellar, where you are being introduced to the characters and the combat system. If you saw the prequel movie King’s glaive then you even had a somewhat clearer picture of what was going on, though it is not a necessity to do so. The first half of the game has you enraptured by the massive scale of the world and the quirky semi-realistic interactions of the main cast and a somewhat mysterious story-line. Some of the most iconic monsters from past final fantasy games also returned and overall the game did a good job of sticking to its title card of ‘A Final Fantasy For Fans and First Timers‘.

While its first half is some game of the year material, sadly the second half just falls apart. Rumor has it that Tetsuya Nomura (the artist,designer and director who has worked on almost all FF games, Kingdom Hearts games and more recently Xenoblade chronicles 2) was taken off the development team of FF XV. I feel like this is what contributed mostly the the latter half of the game falling flat. By the time you get there the combat is starting to feel stale. You can press square at the right time and completely negate attacks but if timing is too big an issue for you then just holding square makes you invulnerable to most attacks too. Healing is instantaneous and you can easily disengage if you are still somehow struggling. Don’t get me wrong though, it was always a dream of mine to be able to throw an axe above an enemy’s head, teleport to it and then bring it crashing down on them but after doing that for about 5 hours it felt like I was playing whack-a-mole instead. I did feel like a badass but the combat was button mashy and not challenging, harder enemies just had more health and you only died if you forgot to heal or if the billions particles somehow fried your PS4/Xbox.

The story in the second half just becomes a convoluted mess and while it can be argued that i was just too stupid to understand it in one playthrough, it is undeniable that it suffered from pacing issues at least. The cuts in the story were abrupt and jarring as well as the fact the it felt short for a AAA, main series Final Fantasy game(Though I guess the devs wanted players to focus on the open world). I thought that it came up severely short in developing some of its characters, The main cast were brilliant(all except for Noctis, he isn’t bad but the others just had more substance), they have personality and set opinions along with believable conflicts.

I think I’ll be delving into my main gripes with the story and there are major spoilers only in the next paragraph so enter at your own risk-

While this is true some others just received the shortest end of the stick possible, For example- There is a point in the story where Noctis’ fiancee, Lady Lunafreya dies while at the same time Ignis, your friend/butler/driver/cook loses his eyes. Now in this reveal I am sure everyone was supposed to sympathize with a brooding Noctis who had just lost the love of his life but  because the game had done little or nothing to make me attached to Lunafreya but had given Ignis a lot of development, I was unconcerned about the death of one of the most important cast members but was pretty mad that the story had just made one of the characters who I love blind without telling me how or why(Hoping dlc changes this). Even some of the main casts for some cold treatment in certain segemnts, In the part where it is revealed that your friend (Prompto) is from the opposing faction ‘the Empire’, the rest of the cast simply pushes it aside in under 10 seconds and everything seems to be fine(Hoping dlc will fix this again).

Spoilers end

But speaking of DLC, you remember those cuts that I called abrupt and jarring. I have little doubt that they were done to create content for DLC, but compromising a smooth narrative for additional content isn’t worth applauding in my opinion. Although I criticize the method the execution is a different story, the dlc for Final Fantasy XV(At least Episode Gladios), has been one of its strongest points in the game. The narrative is self-contained and well explained. The battle system is revamped, there is more of a challenge in fighting enemies and of course it gives a more in dept look into the characters. So with the season pass included maybe I only wasted $45.

Let us hope that with Nomura on the job for FF VII remake, we will all get our money’s worth.Final-Fantasy-VII-Remake-on-PS4-238234.jpg

E3 2017 Page 1: Monster Hunter is making its glorious return to the home console systems but there is cause for concern….

For its past 3 iterations the Monster Hunter series has remained on the 3ds, much to the dismay of some of its original fans who enjoyed it as a AAA experience when it was first released on the PS2. Although, now the same fans have a cause to rejoice as it seems that Capcom has finally taken their head out of wherever it was lodged and have decided to print money by releasing Monster Hunter World for the home consoles and eventually the PC.

But let me take a step back and explain the appeal of MH and why its shift to the mainstream hardware is significant. MH at its core is a game that cuts to the chase and just throws massive boss fights at you one after another, the main focus isn’t on world building or level design but instead the game works towards providing the player with a variety of monsters to fight that are unique(in….ugh most cases) and interesting yet challenging to overcome. The meat of the gameplay is about learning the pattern of the monsters and how they interact with the environment. As far as the past iterations are concerned the MH series had games which had simplistic shells with layers of complexity hidden that more astute gamers would explore but were not necessary to enjoy the game.

With its gradual releases over the years the MH series has added new features including new monsters/ bosses,but most notably the addition of new weapons(Charged Blade, Insect glaive) in MH4 and then the addition of hunter styles which changed the attack patterns and added some super moves in MH Generations and MH XX. The changes kept adding to the gameplay  of the franchise keeping it fresh enough for the fans to return to the games but it was never a revolutionary step that made the franchise deviate from its comfort zone that it had already established. And by that I mean that the games always felt like monster hunter games, sometimes a little too much. It is a tough feat for a game to retain its core principles across several realizations but after a point the format seems to get repetitive and all the games have suffered from this. Therefore the introduction of the myriad of new features as seen in the trailer for Monster Hunter World might just be the breath of fresh air this series needs.

Continue reading

Underrated Spiritual Successor: The Azure Striker

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Back in the mid 2014 when the Mighty No.9 kickstarter was still being fed a gargantuan amount of money in the hopes that a new masterpiece will rise from the ashes of a neglected Megaman team, there was another game that surfaced on the 3Ds which in retrospect was a far more respectable successor to the legacy of the blue bomber : The Azure Striker

Much like the game it is heavily inspired by the meat of Azure Striker Gunvolt is mostly about shooting and jumping, although the game adds its own small twist to the concept. Bullets that the Azure Striker, named : Gunvolt shoots do not damage the enemy a lot but instead they tag the enemy and by holding down the designated button(R in the case of the 3Ds) Gunvolt activates an electric field that shoots out electricity which is the main source of damage you have. Its a fresh take on a rather tried and tested concept. It feels far closer to a Megaman-esque game than what Mighty No.9 turned out to be.

 

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Regardless the game feels fluid, it has a certain rhythm to it and it manages to pace itself admirably well. The levels, while limited are varied and are designed in a way that complements Gunvolt’s abilities. Although IMO the best part about them is that they feel better than the some of the Sonic games when it comes to speeding through them. Unlike the level design of Mighty No.9 which felt clunky and often punished you for trying to speed through, while some may argue for a Megaman-like experience but you have to admit that when the Sonic twitter feels comfortable mocking your video-game then something has gone horribly wrong.

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Sonic the Hedgehog made fun of you….. SONIC 2006 THE HEDGEHOG made fun of you, SONIC boom the rise of lyric THE HEDGEHOG made fun of you.

But I digress, the game gives you a real sense of speed as the level design has elements that allow you to rush through them if you are somewhat familiar with the layout. It even rewards you for doing it with sideobjectives that require you to clear certain levels under a specific time. The game did end up being successful enough to gain a sequel, which is a good thing since I doubt that’s ever gonna happen to Mighty No.9 (Okay I promise, that’s the last time I’ll rag on Mighty No.9 especially since I think Inafune did talk about a sequel).

The Azure striker series does have a story too that’s pretty close to the main conflict in the X-Men series of the whole ‘Super Powered beings trying to co-exist with humans’ except its a lot more anime although unlike the story of previous Megaman games the Azure striker series is somewhat more mature and has certain adult overtones . Lets be real though who plays Megaman games for their story huh?

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I do…….I totally do.

But regardless of its hit or miss story and its innovative yet at times gimmicky mechanics the Azure Striker: Gunvolt series is a solid successor to the (supposedly) late Megaman series and stands to be the model of innovation that should inspire other genres too.

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What Dark Souls Taught Me

DARK SOULS™ III: The Fire Fades™ Edition_20170530231207I am sure that many of us who love video games have at some point had our beloved hobby ridiculed my one or more individuals on multiple occasions. Indeed, akin to many who share my love for these digital products, I have heard them called ‘a waste of time’ or the more violent terms like ‘Destructive’ but the one I took most offense to was being told to get a hobby that is ‘More constructive’.

I recognize that there are several games out there that are just objective wastes of time, Cases in point being Candy Crush or Flappy Bird. They are not the most refined or deep experiences but an extremely invested (if not over inquisitive) individual can find meaning in them too.

The Souls series of games by Fromsoft is what really helps me clarify my claim. After spending hours on my PS4 trying to 100% Dark Souls 3, I realized that my appreciation for this series extends from what it was able to convey with the means of its design. The games push you into an unforgiving and ruthless world, where you are constantly afraid of your surroundings. They throw challenge after challenge your way and the only way you have of overcoming them is by failing over and over but persisting tirelessly, continuing to throw yourself at a wall that seems too large to scale but is extremely satisfying to climb because of the same enormity. The game is difficult but not in a “This is so damn hard, I don’t wanna play it anymore” but more in a “This is so damn hard but I wanna prove that I can do it” . The exhilaration of finishing a boss fight that had you stumped or getting past Blight town is something that other games find hard to recreate. The story alludes to this facet, the only way you or anyone in the world can truly die is by losing their purpose, aptly named ‘Going Hollow’ . With its game-play, sound design and aesthetics the series does a phenomenal job of being enjoyable gaming experiences but they also feel like very solid allegories for our own lives.

Certain independent studies show that video games do lend themselves to being ways by which an individual can boost their self confidence. Although, in my mind building all your self esteem on the back of video games in a slippery slope (Unless of course you play them professionally) but the act of deriving enjoyment from surmounting difficult challenges or uncovering new stories is not unhealthy, In fact it can be quite the opposite. The Souls series embodies that to an extent.

Art in any form is shaped not just by the creator but also by the viewer’s or in this case the player’s experience and perception. The journey through Lordran, Dragleic, Lothric and even Yarnham has taught me much but the one thing that I have learned is persistence.DARK SOULS™ III: The Fire Fades™ Edition_20170521012743