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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Melody Time - Overlooked Gems of the Mega Man Franchise

This time, it's time to look at some Mega Man tunes that I feel are overlooked. I'm going to go with a one song per franchise limit (Franchises being Classic, X, Zero, ZX, and Battle Network because I don't give a crap about the other 2). Once again, these aren't like my favorite songs from the series or anything, they're just songs I feel don't get enough love. Alright, let's begin!

Mega Man & Bass - Magic Man

I love this song. It's really unusual for a Mega Man game but it's so dang catchy and happy and bouncy and trouncy and goofy and lovely and...
I also love that it keeps building on the same basic melody. Because it's awesome.

Mega Man X8 - Ride Armor

The game may be a bit mediocre, but this song is pretty kick ass. It also helps that the stage itself is at least pretty to look at...which is more than I can say for most of the stages in this game.

Mega Man Zero 4 - Straight Ahead

Totally cheating by using the remastered version but whatever...
Anyways, this song gives you the perfect driving beat to make you feel like the current situation is dire...which it was in the game. The song is pretty good in the game but I like this version for having the main guitar in tune as opposed to starting out of tune and readjusting on each note.

Mega Man ZX Advent - Overloaded (Highway)

The song that inspired me to do Mega Man's overlooked stuff now. For some bizarre reason, this song entered my head 2 days ago and hasn't left since. It's weird because I didn't care for it until it suddenly popped in my head without warning. Now I love it.

Mega Man Battle Network 2 - You Can't Go Back (Final Area)

Honestly, I could have almost put anything from Battle Network here because the entire series is pretty much overlooked (myself included) but this song is really really good for a final area. I loved it from the moment I heard it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Demopalooza Part 1

I was bored last weekend so I decided to download a whole boatload of demos for my XBox360 that I never use. Most of these games I had no intention of ever actually buying, so my rating for each one will simply be either Very favorable, favorable, indifferent, unfavorable, or very unfavorable. I'm going to try to go in order of when I downloaded them but I've played so many I might forget the order.

Fable III
My roommate during my Freshman year of college actually bought and beat Fable II. There were quite a few kinks in the adventure but for the most part, it looked like fun (I never actually played it). I figured I might as well give Fable III a try. Much like in Fable II, you play as a hero in the making who, after facing tragedy, must set out on a quest for justice. In Fable II, the tragedy involving yourself as a child seeing your sister killed by a vicious ruler. In Fable III, you are a prince. The tragedy actually unfolds depending on our choices. You have to choose who will die: your girlfriend or a bunch of innocent strangers. I picked the girlfriend. Now, at any other time in the adventure this would be a big decision but this game decides to throw it at you 10 minutes into the game. Therefore, you have no attachment to any of the characters making your decision...well, not that important. Also, her "death" is handled in a terribly emotionless way. She just says "you made the right choice", they take her away and you swear you'll "never forgive you for this!"...and that's it. You don't see her die, you don't have a scene saying "oh, she's dead." Hell, you don't even really regret it. It just kind of ends.

Which brings me to another point. In Fable II, your character is mute. In Fable III, he's got full voice acting. I kind of thought this was a poor choice. Fable is supposed to be about you crafting your own hero through your actions. He has the voice you imagine for him. Here, he (or she) already has a voice and a personality.

Anyhoo, going on to gameplay, after a good 25 minutes, you finally learn how to cast a fire spell before going through a spacious underground cave filled with bats. Lots and lots of bats. Every 10 feet, you have a flock of bats attack you (although I don't think they actually do damage). Each time, you just mash the B button to shoot fire at them. If this sounds repetitive, that's only because it is. Seriously, the game even "punishes" you for trying to break it up. Every time I though "let's just charge up my fire spell", a bat would hit me and break the charge.

After all of this, you get to interact with villagers. This complex system involves either giving them money, shaking their hand, or grabbing their hand and taking them with you. The last one they will do even if they don't know you which just makes it incredibly weird. There's also a guide system to guide you to your next objective. In Fable II, it sucked. It would sometimes disappear without warning or suddenly tell you to do a 180 and go back. hasn't improved. Neither has my dog companion who is supposed to bark when he's found treasure. 90% of the time, he started barking, I'd follow him and we'd find...nothing. Good job, boy.

Finally, we get to fight some actual monsters with guns and swords in an underground cave that looks identical to the underground cave earlier. The sword is almost immediately rendered useless. After the first few foes, you get the gun and the game proceeds to fill each room with so many skeletons that trying to head into the group with a sword only results in them knocking you around. Therefore, each fight basically amounted to me running away, turning periodically to fire my gun/cast fire spells. It all felt very repetitive.

However, I could see potential in the game. If Fable II was anything to go by, once you get more spells and find more towns and meet more people, the adventure would get really fun. I could get a sense of that here but the limitations of the beginning of the adventure hindered that.

Overall, it was a lengthy demo that wasn't really enough fun to make me want the game, but the bad points weren't quite bad enough to make me hate it.

Length of Demo: About 1 hour
Overall opinion: indifferent

Dead Rising
Here's the Dead Rising demo in a nutshell. You start the game. It loads. You see a cutscene that has no relevancy because it's not from the beginning of the game and you have no idea what's going on. You are given a mission. You spawn in an atrium in the mall with quite a few zombies. You go one of several directions. A cutscene plays. The end.

I guess the point of the demo is to show you...Um...the weapons? The zombies? I don't know. All I know is it only lets you attack a bunch of generic zombies with 3 weapons. The fun lasted about 1 minute and then it was pure boredom. For some reason, this took up 1GB of space on my hard drive. The Fable III demo took up 2GB. 2 times the size, 12 times the gameplay. That means this piece of shit took me about 2 hours to download.

Length of Demo: About 5 minutes
Overall opinion: Very unfavorable

Coming up next time: Mass Effect 2 and Tomb Raider Legacy

Friday, October 14, 2011

Melody Time - Overlooked Gems of the Sonic Franchise

From now on, if I have something music-related to talk about, I'm going to call it Melody Time...because I use this blog enough for you to have to search for titles to posts.

So, today while playing Sonic Advance 2 (short review - way worse than I remember it and the worst bosses in the series: the 1st game is better), I was thinking of songs that I really like but people don't really seem to talk about much. Seeing as how I've been on a bit of a Sonic kick recently, I decided to list 5 of these songs here for you. I'll probably end up doings these for other series as well. These are not my top 5 or in any order, they are just 5 songs I like that people seem to overlook.

Sonic Advance 2 - Ice Paradise Act 1

Might as well start with the song that inspired this article. While I know people like the song a lot, it just seems to more or less only come up if people mention the Advance series, and from my experience, people don't really mention the Advance series often. What I love about this piece is how it bucks the more low-key tone of most ice stage songs in video games and goes for something fun and lively. For an example of what I mean, look up Ice Mountain Zone Act 1's song from Sonic Advance for the usual ice tone and then back to here.

Sonic Advance - Secret Base Zone Act 2

Speaking of Sonic Advance, here's a lovely tune from the first in the series! If the song for the 1st act gives the perfect vibe for a sneaky entry into a secret base, the 2nd act goes for the Hell that breaks loose after the intruder alert sounds. It's an easy song on the ears for a game with a lot of really forgettable tracks, and I love the frequent pauses just before the end of a phrase (see 0:22 for an example of what I'm talking about).

Sonic 3D Blast - Boss 2

Sonic 3D Blast is a pretty...ok game. I don't hate it like a lot of people do, but it sure isn't the first place I'd go for Sonic fun. This song, however, is outstanding. I dare say out of the regular boss themes, it may just be my 2nd favorite Genesis one (or maybe overall) right after Sonic 2's classic Robotnik March. I think most people forget it exists due to the game it's buried in but this is a song that deserves to be talked about! The only problem is that it's regular boss music. The final boss music is such a let-down in comparison.

Sonic Adventure 2 - Mission Street

Mission Street is most likely my favorite Tails level in Sonic Adventure 2, and it's almost exclusively for the music. Even if it's horrendously inappropriate for having seen half of the moon blown up and the military having a bounty on your head, it's so calming and happy. I just love the opening moments of the stage: the loading screen flies away, Tails drops into view on a quiet neighborhood street, and the drums kick up like "here we go."

Sonic Unleashed - Eggmanland Day

This one is probably less overlooked than the rest, but I'm still surprised it doesn't come up as often with people talking about Sonic music. Then again, that's probably because the people who played the 360/PS3 version of the stage are suffering from PTSD. However, to be quite honest, I actually really enjoyed this stage. It's like Eggman is throwing everything he's got at you all at once and you'd better be ready for it every single second. My first time through took me 57 minutes of game time, which seems about average from what I've seen. I've gotten it down to about 27 minutes but it's still one nasty son of a gun even when you know its traps. Still, even if it's a bit overkill, it was great to see a series with stages that seem to get shorter and shorter suddenly throw an absolute marathon at you. Anyways, the song perfectly balances the Hellish nature of the stage's obstacles with a lovely melancholic piano.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In Retrospective - Sonic Advance

Sonic Advance is the closest Sega ever came to a true Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Now, I'll be honest: I do like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 for what it is. However, it just changed too many things while basically completely ripping off previous zones to really deserve the title. Sonic Advance feels far closer to classic Sonic: Sonic doesn't run quite at the speed of sound, there's 2 acts per zone, each zone actually has "Zone" in the title, Eggman being at the end of the last act as opposed to in a separate stage, no map screens, no switching characters mid-adventure, etc, etc. It seems like Sega knew what people wanted and delivered...for the first few zones anyways. Unfortunately, the latter zones, while still decent, really flesh out the differences between this Sonic and the one of yesteryear.

Controls - For the first three zones, the game feels more classic than modern. The stage design feels closest to Sonic 2 with fast paced sections mixed with a few slow bits and fairly quick Acts. Sonic feels slightly more sluggish than usual - he takes quite a bit of time to accelerate to top speed, although it's nowhere near as bad as Sonic 4. He also DOES have a few new moves. He can grind like in Sonic Adventure 2, but the ability isn't really used often. He can use his somersault, also like in Sonic Adventure 2 although it never seems to come in handy since you're generally moving fast enough to just press down and roll through hazards instead. Finally, he has an air dash performed by pressing the d-pad twice in mid air. I didn't find out about this until the 3rd Zone in this run through. Clearly, it's been 10 years since this game came out and if I didn't find out about it until now, chances are it's worthless. That leaves the same moves Sonic had in Sonic 3.

Knuckles and Tails return and pretty much handle exactly as they always have albeit with a melee attack assigned to the B button. Amy can't spin dash and can't jump directly on foes. She sucks. Once you beat the game with her once, you'll never feel the need to play as her again.

Gameplay - Now, for the actual game. Neo Green Hill Zone is the usual...well, zone with green hills...that typically starts Sonic games. It feels most like Emerald Hill Zone to me, which is not a bad thing. It's a perfect zone to say "Sonic's back in 2D" after a very long hiatus. Hidden Base Zone feels like an easier Metropolis Zone. However, there are enough gameplay differences and graphical differences to make it feel original, such as the removal of crushers and the inclusion of poles you spin on. Again, it feels very much like it walked out of Sonic 2. Casino Paradise Zone is like a hybrid of Casino Night and Carnival Night. Even some of the enemies are the same. I'd like to note that there are no slot machines here. In fact, there's almost no actual Casino elements in the Zone - just lots of those moving blocks and conveyors found in Casino Night. Again, it feels very much like Sonic 2 without feeling like a clone. It's a good balance between originality and nostalgia.

Then we get to Ice Mountain Zone. Act 1 is fine. It basically feels like if Ice Cap Zone were guessed it...Sonic 2. Act 2, however, REALLY shows you how sluggish the controls are. This act features extended underwater sections. Water hinders Sonic's mobility making him slower. This is common in Sonic games. What's different here is how much slower he is. Handling Sonic underwater is downright frustrating. When moving platforms become involved, you find yourself jumping way in advance of when you think you should. I'd honestly say Sonic becomes nearly three times slower underwater. Combine this with enemies that pop out of walls with almost no warning and you've got a recipe for cheap hits. Until this point in the game, I hadn't died. I lost 3 lives on this act because it seemed like every time I thought I was compensating for Sonic's slowness, he'd grow even slower than I remembered. It REALLY doesn't help when the boss fight is underwater. You pretty much have to jump as soon as the icicles he rains from the ceiling fall. Even though they look way too high, by the time Sonic gets his chili-dog loving ass in gear, they'll almost be too low.

Up next is Angel Island Zone. This has nothing to do with Sonic 3's Angel Island Zone as it's more like Sky Sanctuary. In fact, it's not even made clear why we're in Angel Island but then again, it's not clear why we're in any zone in Sonics 1-2. This zone seems to be built on one thing: cheap hits. There's so many spikes that randomly pop out of the floor, moving platforms that crush you against a ceiling that's not visible until it's too late, and springs that shoot you to a tiny platform you won't notice until you go sailing past. I got a game over in Act 2 (seeing as how I only had 1 life after the Ice Mountain Zone Act 2 disaster) which brings up another point: this game is overly forgiving WHILE it's screwing you over. It's as if the game designers went "Huh, you know. People might get pissed if we send them back to the beginning of the zone because we made a platform come from nowhere and crush them." "Do you think we should remove the platform?" "Nah, just make them go back to the beginning of the act when they get a game over!" Seriously, getting a game over is like a slap on the wrist. "Oh no, I lost 2 minutes of hard work!" You never feel like you're actually punished for failure but then again, that failure sometimes isn't even your own fault. Basically, the solution is to reduce the number of pure bullshit deaths. I know Sonic games have always had their cheap moments with spikes popping up from nowhere but this game goes overboard.

Next up is Egg Rocket Zone Act 1. This level kicked my ass as a kid but I found it to be quite easy this time around. The biggest problem is that it's a maze. I'm fine with mazes, but there are times in this stage where you don't know you're going backwards until you suddenly realize you've been here two minutes ago. The act is unique and it gets points for that: There's 3 "stages" of the rocket with a 5 minute time limit for section. However, it's long. I'm fine with long acts - Sonic 3 is full of them. However, having an act that's almost 3 times longer than any other level in the game is kind of odd.

Next is Cosmic Angel Zone Act 2. Why they didn't just drop the Act numbers and call them separate zones like Sky Chase and Wing Fortress is anybody's guess but oh well. For being a last level, it's not really that hard or nearly as cheap as the previous levels. It's pretty fun. The boss can be annoying and it REALLY kicked by butt as a kid but I've since realized how to actually fight him.

Finally, there's X Zone. It starts with fighting the first bosses of Sonic 1 and Sonic 2. I like those bosses and I always kind of saw it as a joke that Eggman would use his most half-assed inventions against you at the very end. My only complaint was that Sonic 3 was left out. As for the real boss, I thought he was hard until I realized a very simple strategy: Duck against the opposite wall. If he fires a bomb, quickly jump over it and go back to ducking. If he uses his arm, wait to jump until he fires (no shit). If he uses his laser, it'll miss you as long as you duck. Just wait until he moves across and hit him. Rinse and repeat. Game beaten!

Well, not quite. There are special springs in Act 1 of each zone that take you to the special stage where you can get Chaos Emeralds. These special stages are hands down the worst in any Sonic game. The depth perception is mind-numbingly awful. I can't even beat the first one. Thank God they fixed this shit for the other two games.

Music - The music is ok. Some tunes are catchy although nowhere near as catchy as any of the Genesis tunes. The sound quality, however, is horrendous. I know the GBA doesn't sound too well, but this game really seems to flesh that out. It does get bonus points for continuing the Act 2 remixing Act 1 trend that would move on throughout the rest of the Advance games.

Overall, the game starts off really strong but gets more annoying as it goes along. It's not a bad game by any means - it's quite good. It just doesn't live up to the expectations set by previous titles in the series. Now, I suppose that's obvious, but when it was released, keep in mind it was the first new 2D Sonic game since Sonic and Knuckles. Still, it at least upheld more Genesis-era conventions than its successors. In fact, it quite literally is the transition between the Genesis games and the more modern 2D games - the early zones being the Genesis years and the later zones being the more luck/memory/pit based stuff seen in Advance 2, 3, Rush, and Rush Adventure. For better or worse, it changed 2D Sonic as we knew him.