Sonic Mania

I don’t like Sonic. That’s kind of obvious at this point. Five months into my tenure as Indie Gamer Chick, in December 2011, I wrote a review of Sonic CD. Now, it was quite stupid of me to review a non-indie that I was fairly certain I wouldn’t like (though I swear I went into it with an open mind, just like I do with every game I review) that would certainly get me hate mail for the rest of my existence. This is one of those things you have to learn growing up. I was 22-years-old when I wrote that, and I wouldn’t do something like that today. It’s a “look at me” review and a bush league move, even if I stand by my opinion that it’s not a very good game. The funny thing is, at the time of its resurrection on XBLA, everyone knew FOR SURE that Sonic CD was the legendary “really good one” of the series. They never actually played it back in the day, because their parents didn’t fork over $300 for a Sega CD. And let’s be real here: if their parents could have afforded that, they’d been a Super Nintendo house anyway. You know it’s true.

Okay, maybe I didn’t completely grow up.

For me, the only part I ever found to be genuinely revolutionary about the series was the rings. That you stay alive as long as you can keep grabbing just one. That’s a great idea. I wish the real world was like that, although I’m sure I’d manage to somehow fuck it up anyway.

Then Sonic CD came out on Xbox Live for the astonishing price of 400 Microsoft Points (that’s $5 for you kids that didn’t have to suffer through Microsoft Points). What a steal, right? Finally a chance to get your hands on the holy grail of Sonic. I mean, it was also already released on GameCube/PlayStation 2 in a compilation called Sonic Gems Collection, but that would have required owning Sonic R and Sonic Fighters (AKA Virtua Fighter with Sonic) and even the most slobbering Sonic fans aren’t willing to go that far so nobody bought it. $5 for Sonic CD though? Sold. And then consensus from the Sonic super-fans was “it was alright. Seemed like it probably should have been better given the hype and vaunted status. Actually, it wasn’t really that good. In fact, it’s toothless and kind of sucks.” I’m guessing no game has ever failed to live up to its own towering reputation quite like Sonic CD did. It does have some fans, but for the most part people had the same reaction they did to any Sonic game for the last two decades: incredible hype, a dopamine-fueled ecstatic honeymoon period, and then the realization that what they just experienced really wasn’t what they were hoping it would be.

Well, that didn’t happen with Sonic Mania. It released a year ago, and those who liked it in 2017 aren’t struggling to convince themselves in 2018 that it actually had merit and didn’t suck as much as their brain is trying desperately to tell them it did. That’s probably a good sign that they might have actually made a decent game for once. In fact, I’ve heard people accuse me of deliberating ignoring it because I was afraid to admit there was finally a good Sonic game. Two things: (1) I’m guessing they don’t realize what they’re saying when they say that. It’s kind of hilarious when you think about it. (2) They actually made a good point that I should have reviewed it, if I fancy myself as an indie enthusiast.

Mutliplayer is done in Squish-O-Vision™ and isn’t really all that entertaining. I hated it, and can’t imagine anyone enjoying it unless all players are equally familiar with most of the levels available. Someone who played through the game will have a significant and unavoidable advantage over someone who hasn’t. What’s fun about that? It’s like beating someone with Osteoporosis at Twister. The odds were kinda stacked in your favor.

So, in case you didn’t know, after Generations face-planted, Sega sort of threw up their hands and had a guy named Christian Whitehead, an up-jumped fangame creator who they hired previously to do porting work, round-up a posse to make the ultimate fan-service Sonic game in time for the little blue shit’s 25th anniversary. Which was a smart move. If a franchise is struggling and recent installments of it feel like cynical hatchet jobs that totally miss the mark because the people in charge have zero passion or attachment to the IP, the logical thing to do is find people who will bring that passion and desire to do right by fans to the table. Christian Whitehead (I love that name, it makes me think of a pimple on its knees in prayer) and his crew were like “we have a lot of ideas, and can make you a whole new Sonic game!”

And then Takashi Iizuka (who I picture being the type of guy that has to be jabbed in the ribs with a pen during meetings by his assistant because he keeps nodding off) was like “uh.. that sounds like a lot of work. Can’t you guys just do half that? And, like, cut and paste the rest from old games? Maybe tweak them a bit. Not too much though. Just enough that we can legally get away with calling them remixes? That cool? Cool, I’m going back to my nap now.”

Okay he probably didn’t say that, but really, this guy claims with a straight face that Sonic fans are “hard to please.” Dear reader, have you played a recent Sonic game? Yes? And have you ever had a digital mob show up with pitchforks and torches to explain to you that the physics you just complained about are supposed to be bad? Yea, he claims those people are hard to please. I know, right?

Besides stuff like beating the game or getting all the Chaos Emeralds, most achievements in Sonic Mania are based around mundane tasks, such as burning one of those twisty spiked bridges. This is either more laziness or a scathing commentary on achievement hunting culture.

For Sonic Mania, there’s twelve zones (plus another that you unlock by getting all the Chaos Emeralds, which I didn’t, but I hear it’s brand new). Two of them are completely original and one of them is a deleted zone from Sonic 2. For returning zones, one act is a very Iizukaized remix of an old Sonic stage while the other act let the actual development team (that required Iizuka’s supervision so that THEY didn’t “take the series off the rails.” He’s the guy that made Sonic Lost World and they’re worried about someone else taking the series off-the-rails?) show off what someone who actually gives a shit about the subject matter can do.

Right from the first act of Sonic Mania, you should have a relatively good feel for what to expect. The first level is a nearly beat-for-beat remake of Green Hill 1 from the original Sonic. Because by God, Sega is fucking proud of that stage and will keep throwing it back into everyone’s face until the end of time. If you’re not a really big Sonic fan, or especially if you didn’t grow up with the series, you might not be able to tell what exactly about the first stage was remixed. I couldn’t, and I have played Sonic 1 a few times. The boss at the end is different (and better, but we’ll get to that), but otherwise it has the same loops and same springs that send you up in the air into the same cluster of rings. Yawn.

And then in the second stage, the new team took over. I must have said “hey, wait” four or five times playing it. It wasn’t that new, but it certainly felt like a fresh approach to Green Hill and made me optimistic about Sonic for the first time in this decade. That optimism was paid off in the second area of the Chemical Plant Zone, which introduced ideas like injecting Flubber into water to make it bouncy, all while keeping the focus squarely on high-speed platforming. These stages tend to be clever and sometimes even original, but pay proper homage to Sonic at his most idealized: fast-paced, white-knuckle platforming action.

The game literally ends with you going to the Church of Sonic or something like that. Which makes sense. If your fans are going to behave like a cult, you might as well go all the way with it and then file for tax-exempt status.

Unfortunately, the decision was made to bring all the warts of the original series along for the ride. The primary way to keep players from doing too good is by placing enemies in a way that nobody could reasonably be expected to dodge on their first place-through. This sort of “gotcha” level design displays a lack of talent and vision. It’s creating a challenge not through ingenious use of traps or precision-jumps but by putting up a brick wall for players to crash into, then implying this somehow adds replay value by forcing players to memorize where the enemies are. Great games notable for difficulty don’t need to do this. Dead Cells didn’t, and I don’t think anyone can accuse that of holding hands. For how Sonic creates difficulty, they might as well put gateways throughout levels that automatically take all the rings you’ve accumulated up to that point. I mean, why not? That’s essentially what it does anyway.

And here “gotcha” really can be insanely unreasonable, like enemies that burrow up from the ground with no animation warning, or rocks that fall from the ceiling with no warning. That is NOT challenging. That’s just stopping the action and making a player start-over. That doesn’t mean the player sucks. It means the game sucks. If I walk up behind someone and shoot them with a signal-flare, I can’t then tell they suck at not catching fire. Or so my probation officer says. And Sonic diehards defend this shit. It’s baffling to me. They use terms like “it doesn’t hold your hands” or “it’s what Sonic is supposed to be about.” I want them to put their money where their mouth is and pay someone $19.99 to periodically jump them from behind and steal their wallet.

Because when Sonic doesn’t do this stuff, it can be quite breathtaking. But it constantly wants to unfairly fuck players over, to the point that you have to wonder if the developers want to make a good game or if they just want to troll players. You’ll notice that the Super-Speed Shoes or Invincibility power-ups are usually located in places designed for players to get as little quality use of them as possible, placing rocks or spikes or gotcha-enemies in the path directly in front of them. It’d be like offering someone to let you take their Porsche out for a test drive, and letting them go through all the motions of getting in the driver’s seat, turning on the ignition, offering you a high-five, and then right as you’re pulling out of the driveway they slash the tires to their own car. Why go through all that effort of making people think they’re about to go through a level at blazing speed just to be a dick? And how can anyone defend this type of design? I don’t get it.

That’s what I don’t understand about Sonic’s level design in most of the 2D games, especially this one. Sonic is at his best when he gets to run really fast and do all sorts of unexpected momentum-based progress. Corkscrews, loops, being shot out of a revolver, etc. That shit is crazy fun. But then they want to rope players back and remind them that life is shit by putting up wall after wall, and the stop-and-go gameplay starts to wear thin. Sonic doesn’t do exploration or basic-platforming all that well. The mechanics aren’t suited for it. He’s wired for adrenaline, and that’s what people are here for. If fans are saying they like it when the game just shits in their face, ask yourself if that fan is someone you value over the people who are giggling with delight while running at warp speed through your levels. And while I’m tempted to say that NASCAR would be a lot more entertaining if they made the tracks spring-up brick walls on the drivers at random, Sonic isn’t NASCAR. People come for the speed, not the crashes.

This is not a bonus game included with the package (though you can apparently unlock it if you do well enough in the special stages). This is a boss fight. And that’d be neat, but it’s like playing Mean Bean Machine against the computer with the difficulty set to “very easy.” And actually, inconsistent boss difficulty is a major issue with Sonic Mania. Hell, during the Robo-Sonic battle’s first phase, my NPC Tails kept killing the enemy that I needed to knock-back at the boss, making the fight roughly a million times more frustrating than it should have been. But then, during the final phase of the same boss, the NPC Tails got stuck in his ball-bouncy motion up against the wall while doing all the damage against the boss. So, while I was completely shitting the bed and doing terrible in the fight, Tails was accidentally beating it for me. It was so weird to watch.

Being married to Sonic when he was relevant (IE twenty-years-ago) was probably more of a curse than a blessing here. There’s a lives system, which gets annoying as all fuck. If you run out of lives on the second section of a zone, you have to go back to the first section. Again, this doesn’t really increase replay value or difficulty. It just creates busy work. Quality developers figured this out a while back. Lives were created so that players couldn’t park themselves on an arcade machine all day (but also so they didn’t spend a quarter only to game-over in five seconds). If developers great and small want penalize dying, how about instead incentivizing surviving? Remove the lives from Sonic Mania and instead reward players who ace stages with achievements or access to bonus stages. If you’re going to force replaying stages, those stages better be amazing. And for Sonic Mania, about half of them are. The other half? Well..

Even those who’ve turned their love of Sonic into a fetish tend to hate the underwater stages, and why wouldn’t they? They turn a fast, twitchy-reflex platformer into a slog. It feels less like water and more like you’re moving through invisible jelly, controls lose their responsiveness, and deaths become even cheaper and more agonizing. Insisting these type of stages be included in a game that’s supposed to be Sonic at it’s best is fucking absurd, but yet again, the diehards say that it wouldn’t be Sonic without them. Are you fucking kidding me? That’d be like telling someone who barely squeaked into college with a 2.0 GPA “you better not make the honor roll there, or I’m cutting you out of my will. I expect consistency, even when you fucking suck.”

Mostly, I was just left with a lot of questions. Like “why do they still have large sections of the game that can be cleared by not pressing anything?” Or “why can’t I change which character I’m using between levels? You know, that thing that Super Mario 2 did in 1988, three years before Sonic even came out?” Or “did anyone play-test this fucking thing?” One time I died a crushing death when the platform wasn’t anywhere near me, or sometimes I would just straight-up not blink when taking damage. Or “why are the Chaos Emerald bonus stages based around a shitty Mario Kart clone (Sonic R for the Sega Saturn, which really did suck) with horrible control and uglier graphics? I thought this was supposed to be a 2D platformer?” Speaking of the bonus stages, what were they thinking using the awful “special” stages from Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles where you navigate a sphere trying to collect blue balls? Maybe it’s a metaphor for Sonic fans being blue-balled by one disappointing Sonic release after another. Why not let the development team do something truly inspired with them? I know Iizuka wants to earn that lifetime achievement award from AT&T for unwavering devotion towards phoning it in, but why force that upon people who actually do give a shit? Oh, because he’s horrible and should have been fired a long time ago. I forgot.

Sonic Mania is brought to you by the good people at BALCO!

Oh, and there’s DLC, which costs $5, further “remixes” the stages and gives you two more characters. One of them does a butt-stomp (you know, that thing Mario does in every game without having to pay extra to do it) and one can glide using the same mechanics Mario does when he has a cape in Mario World (which again, doesn’t cost extra money to do). The Encore mode does have a nifty idea of letting you accumulate all five characters and switching between them, but really, that should have been an option from the start. Also it turns the horrible 3D special stage from Sonic 3 into one of the worst video-pinball games in recent memory. This is supposed to be a bonus, mind you. It makes me think Sega is one of those households that gives trick-or-treaters Tootsie Rolls. I beat the normal mode with Sonic & Tails and really felt happy and satisfied (and to all those that say my hatred of Sonic is based around sucking at it, hey, I beat the final boss on my first try. Did you?) and really had no desire to go back and get all the Chaos Emeralds. Maybe if the method of getting them had been fun, I’d been all for it. It wasn’t, so I wasn’t.

Having said all that (and trust, I could go on), I’m nothing short of floored by the fact that I enjoyed Sonic Mania more than I disliked it. The good parts are really good. I especially loved most of the boss fights, which is shocking because I never liked any in previous Sonic games. Here, they can be pretty fricken awesome. There’s one where you take on a giant capsule-toy-dispenser that unleashes mini-versions of original Sonic bosses that made me smile so hard it caused the corners of my mouth to hurt. And, once again, the worst ones are stuff lifted from the original games. Like the first boss of Titanic Monarch Zone, which has nearly invisible spikes that are so hard to see that I honestly thought Sonic had suffered massive heart failure. I was livid. Why copy anything at all, especially when the new stuff is so damn entertaining? It’s astonishing that at no point during the production of Sonic Mania, someone in charge didn’t say “these boys sure seem to know what they’re doing. Maybe we should step back and let them make their full Sonic dream game like they originally wanted.” Because Sonic Mania ain’t that, and that’s a fucking shame because it should have been.

For all the snark I’ve said in this review, I do want to say completely sincerely that I’m so happy for long-suffering Sonic fans. Sonic Mania is fun game, and you don’t even need to quality that statement. It’s just true. Period.

Ultimately, it just feels like the new team prioritized fun above all else. Playing Sonic Mania is like being part of a sports team that snaps a losing streak. You feel relief that something good finally happened, but then you remember that winning was what you were supposed to be doing this whole time. There’s no reason Sonic should have taken this long to put out a game that even a hater like me must concede is good. And to think, all it took was having the guy who has no passion for character or the franchise hand over the reins to a team of programmers who do. Funny how that works. It should be no surprise that Sonic Mania is as good as it is. It’s a product of love. And it’ll keep getting better, unless Sega keeps caving into fan demands that all the bad shit be kept intact, or else. That’d be like the Warriors fans insisting we shitcan everyone who can shoot 3s, because it was better back in the old days of Nellie-Ball, when we never won anything. If your fans demand you not reach your fullest potential, you need to go out and find new fans. And just keep appeasing the ones who will never grow up by re-releasing the same old shit that’s slightly tweaked so it can be sold as “new”, and just hope Nintendo doesn’t sue you for stealing their shtick.

Sonic Mania was developed by a lot of very talented people. Kudos, gang.
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam

$19.99 + $4.99 (DLC) suggests for the sequel that the development team consider a viewing of the barely watchable 1980 “comedy” 9 to 5 and take notes on how to deal with Iizuka’s “supervision” in the making of this review.

And I looked as the lamb opened seventh seal, and there was silence in Heaven for half an hour, and Indie Gamer Chick awarded her seal of approval to a Sonic The Hedgehog game.
Revelations 8:1

Sonic Mania, despite being half-made by indies, is not a true indie and not ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. It’d be in the top 100 or so, probably.

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Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I

My intent here had originally been to review both parts of Sonic 4.  However, after slogging through Episode I and encountering the single most boring final boss in the history of video games, I don’t think I have the strength in me to even try it.  It doesn’t help that most people are telling me that some of the stuff I will be complaining about below got fixed, yet the game is still worse.  How is that even possible?  It’s like unclogging a toilet by blowing up the building and calling it a job well done.

Long time readers probably expected me to hate Sonic 4 before I even started it.  Whether it was my hate-article against Sega, my review of Sonic CD, or the fact that my Twitter picture was typically me figuring out different ways to torture and kill a stuffed Sonic The Hedgehog doll, I think the message is clear: fuck Sonic.  By the way, I would have kept up with the Sonic killings, but wood-chippers are shockingly expensive and there’s a bullshit 7-day waiting period on flame-throwers.  To me, the franchise represents everything wrong with gaming: generic character with committee-designed personality that’s best viewed through nostalgia goggles.  Sonic is the gaming equivalent of Poochie.  Every attempt at modernizing Sonic has failed, with fans rightfully bitching that they suck and they just want an old-fashioned 2D Sonic game.  The only problem is, those old-fashioned 2D Sonic games weren’t really all that good to begin with.  As a child, they were neat for you because they pushed new technology and did stuff games hadn’t done to that point.  Today?  They don’t hold up, and neither do attempts at recreating the magic.  Stuff like Sonic Colors and Sonic 4 continue to get lambasted.  And whenever something with Sonic that is borderline not shitty comes along, like Sonic Generations, fanboys treat it like Jesus just emerged from his tomb.  You guys are easier to please than my dog, and all I have to do to make her happy is throw her a teeny piece of pizza crust.

I honestly don’t even think the graphics look that good.

I had only played the demo of Sonic 4 Episode 1 (which ought to have been subtitled The Phantom Appeal) when it came out back in 2010 and I honestly thought it was just a remake of one of the earlier Genesis games.  Can you blame me?  Same stupid opening level, same enemies, same rings, same abilities, same loops, and same power-ups.  I imagine anyone with just a passing interest in Sonic would think this was just a graphical upgrade of an existing title.  The full game’s other worlds include a casino, an underwater temple, and an industrial zone.  I mean come on, Sega!  This is like trying to rob your own home.

Everything bad about Sonic games is also here.  Same cheap ass enemy placement, same “gotcha!” level design, and every single thing people never liked in Sonic games to begin with.  I have never once met a person who said they enjoyed the water stages in Sonic The Hedgehog.  I’m sure there might be one or two stragglers out there who insist they’re brilliant, just like I’m sure that there’s one or two people out there who genuinely enjoy squirting wasabi up their nostrils, but it doesn’t mean anyone else would want to do it.  The water levels here are particularly painful because of how bad the controls are.  Sonic runs like he’s wearing concrete shoes, so building up speed becomes an issue.  Once you actually get some momentum going, good luck stopping when you need to.  I tried holding back on one of those accelerators just to see how long it would take me to stop and go back to it.  I had to press the left directional button nearly 100 times to get there.  Granted, nobody is going to play the game like that, but when you design a game around something that is moving fast and then punish people playing it the way it is intended, you’re a colossal asshole.

Of course, things are totally the opposite in the water stages.  They give you a game where you’re supposed to run fast, then submerge the character in maple syrup.  It becomes so slow and clunky that I honestly wonder if they keep putting these fucking stages in these games hoping that fans will start taking their own lives in protest.  I’m telling you, I think I’m on to something here.  There are parts in the industrial stages where you have to outrun a giant, um, not sure what it is besides a hunk of metal, and if you die you go back to a check point.  From there, you have about two seconds to run up a series of slopes or risk dying.  The problem is, you’re not given the ability to build up the required speed to get up them.  I had to spin-dash up one, hope to stop, do it again, hope to stop again, and then do it one more time.  Once you get past that, you basically just have to hold forward and wait for the game to start playing itself for you like every Sonic game seems to do.  Once again, I took a running count.  Not sure how accurate it is because I think I might have accidentally counted a couple of sections twice after dying, but regardless, I counted 77 times where I could advance forward in a level without pushing anything.  That’s over the course of only twelve stages.   Whether it’s bouncing off springs, rolling through tubes, or running past accelerators, Sonic games sure have a hard-on for not letting you play them.  As I pointed out in my last review, Sonic was originally designed by Sega to be Mario for idiots, but game design like this strikes me as Sega having outright contempt for its own fan base.  Are you getting the message Sega is sending you, Sonic fans?  THEY HATE YOU!  What do you think they were trying to tell you with all those 3D Sonics?  They weren’t fucking Valentines!

Come on! They didn’t even change the first boss from the first Sonic game! Short of knocking you out with chloroform and shitting in your mouth, what else can they do to show you they don’t like you anymore?

I pressed forward and eventually got to the last boss.  Well actually, before you fight it, the game ends with a boss rush.  I guess Robotnik felt that all those previous attempts at murdering Sonic with various contraptions that often failed within twenty seconds were worth a second look.  Once you dispatch them, you’re placed against one final, giant robot.  At first, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.  It was slow.  It was easy to attack.  So I started to bonk it.  And then I kept bonking it.  It would fly up in the air, crash down, and I would keep bonking it.  After EIGHTEEN coma-inducing bonks, the boss finally entered its second phase.  It takes eighteen hits to get there!  Mind you, this thing doesn’t put up anything resembling a real fight.  It just sort of lumbers around, waiting for you to smack it.  In the second phase, you can’t attack its body directly, so you have to wait for it to fire one of its arms at you.  Once you avoid it, it floats downwards, and you have to bonk it back to the robot to stun-lock it.  Of course, the game is kind of fickle about when something constitutes “hitting it” versus “getting hit by it.”  The arms have spikes on the bottom, so I would wait until I could attack it at a downward angle, hitting the top of the arm and thus avoiding becoming a Sonic Skewer.  This worked, oh, about half the time.  The other half the time, I would do a lock-on attack directly to the top of the glove and still die.  Grrrrrrrrrr.

Once you die, you get to go back to the 18 bonks before reaching the second phase and hoping like hell your lock-on attack doesn’t crap out on you, forcing another restart.  Well, on one such attempt, luck was on my side, because I had kept all three rings I got at the checkpoint, I had gotten to phase two, and I was able to successfully attack the boss another dozen or so times.  I’m not sure how many shots are actually required to kill it.  Possibly it’s some hypothetical number, like a quajillion, but I won’t know because the game had one final dick move supreme to pull off on me.  You have exactly ten minutes to beat every stage, including in boss battles.  I had eaten up about four minutes getting to the last encounter, and another three minutes getting to phase two of the final boss.  Well, as it turns out, the last boss has random attack patterns, only one of which opens itself up to attack.  After getting a bunch of hits on it, with about two minutes and change left until time expired, the game flipped me the bird and never again did that one attack I needed it to do.  You have got to be fucking kidding me.  Time expired, life lost, back to the start of the fight, cuss words screamed, controller thrown, power off, and Sonic 4 and go fuck itself.

“Dear Sega, less water stages in Sonic games please.” “Did you say more water stages?” “No, less. Preferably none. Nobody likes them.” “More water stages it is!”

And that is when it hit me: the guys Sega stuck this project with hated making it as much as I hated playing it.  They just didn’t care.  That’s the only explanation I can think of for sticking such a tediously boring boss at the end yet another redundant Sonic game.  Maybe this was their attempt at killing the franchise once and for all.  Maybe this was their attempt at trying to avoid drawing the Sonic assignments any further.  Maybe they were outright trying to get fired.  Whatever the explanation is, Sonic 4 Episode 1 is one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever played.  But the games sell, so they’ll keep making them.  I bought this one and I just bought Episode II, so I’m part of the problem.  Excuse me, I need to go flog myself now.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Part I was developed by Sega

I honestly don’t remember how much I paid for this.  I think it was like $1 at Christmas on PlayStation Network or something like that.   Quite frankly, I can’t justify spending any amount on this game.  

Nostalgia Gone Mild

I’m not going to try to force my anti-retro-gaming stance onto anyone.  I’ve had long, drawn out arguments with people I consider my friends on this issue.  I simply think playing old games I’ve already beaten is a waste of my time.  Others are content to beat Chrono Trigger for the third time this year, turning their nose up at our modern, newfangled stuff like Mass Effect 3.  “Psssh, new stuff.  That’s so gay.”

We’ll never see eye-to-eye on this issue, but I think I found something we can all agree on: re-releasing mediocre games that weren’t all that great to begin with is not an event.  Apparently, it is to Sony.  They’re in the middle of their “Spring Fever” promotion on PlayStation Network.  It began this week with Journey and will apparently end in two weeks with Closure, an award-winning indie game.  Yep, this promotion is only three fucking games.  And what is the middle game?  Rayman 3.

Wow.

Really, Rayman 3 is apparently so special now that it’s release is part of an exclusive promotion that lasts a whopping three weeks.  Rayman 3 is.  Ray fucking Man fucking 3.  It’s not even going to be exclusive to their system!  It’s being ported to XBLA as well.

Party like it's 2003! Let's all drink Red Bull and bitch about gas prices!

I know there are a ton of Rayman fans out there, but really, this is a mascot more committee designed and soulless than Sonic the Hedgehog.  Sure, he’s got a better track record in recent times than the overrated Erinaceinae, but it’s not like it’s an iconic character or anything.  I would wager a guess that it’s barely more recognizable among causal gamers and non-gamers than a second-string Pokemon.  My boyfriend Brian is a semi-regular gamer, in the sense that he plays major releases like Gears of War and Mass Effect, and he couldn’t have picked Rayman out of a lineup before he was introduced to the series with Rayman Origins courtesy of me.

But why is Rayman 3 special?  Look, I like the series.  Rayman 2 was one of my favorite Dreamcast games as a kid.  But the game has been ported and re-released so many times to so many platforms that I get nauseated hearing about it.  And now, Rayman 3, a game nearly ten years old, getting a modern port is apparently a special event.  Rayman 3 was kind of the jump-the-shark moment in the series for me.  Well, Raving Rabbids on the Wii not withstanding.  It was just a rehash.  Like Ubisoft lucked into making something that was a borderline masterpiece in Rayman 2, decided not to fuck with the formula, and shot anyone who had an original idea.  Oh, and it was one of the first games that kicked off the idea of sequels having less content than the original.  In this case, the cool projectile attacks of #2 were replaced by, well, nothing.

I was 13 when Rayman 3 came out, so I get it.  It’s been a long time and there’s a whole world full of fresh-faced kids who will experience Rayman 3 for the first time.  It’s the same reason fanboys should lay off Nintendo for porting Ocarina of Time and Star Fox to the 3DS.  You’re not the target audience and neither am I.  Having said that, I can kind of see why the Nintendo ports would be an event.  Zelda especially.  It’s considered one of the greatest games of all time.  But Rayman 3?  Or how about Marvel vs. Capcom 2?  Microsoft did that as part of the Summer of Arcade promotion a few years back.  These aren’t even B-Lister games.

This shit along with the Smash Brothers series proves at least one thing: nerds will pay for anything that brings their wettest fan-fiction dreams to life.

As much as I loathed the Simpsons Arcade Game, at least all parties involved had the decency to just quietly put it out on the market with as little warning as possible.  The same goes for the Chronicles of Riddick rehash, Assault on Dark Athena.  It’s a prime example of how retro re-releases should work: the developers don’t talk about it and consumers do not buy it.  What a re-release shouldn’t be is a featured game in an event designed to draw attention to a platform.  Way to go Sony, you fucked up yet another event.  You did it last summer when you included Street Fighter III, a game nobody asked for a port of, as part of your horrible Play event.  And you’ve done it again here with Rayman 3, another game nobody asked for.  I look forward to the next Sony event to find out what game nobody gives a shit about will be the next game elevated to super-special status and promoted.  And by promoted, I mean Sony mentions it on their Facebook page.  Really, they don’t pimp these things too hard, do they?  Come on guys, you’re fucking Sony.  At least pay someone somewhere to talk about your shit, even if it’s just a town crier.

Sadly, Closure will not be reviewed by me.  I checked out the trailer with Brian.  Lots of strobey lightning effects.  Me is a sad kitten 😦

Sonic CD

It’s been about a month since I blatantly trolled Sega fanboys and classic gaming enthusiasts by announcing my dislike for most things Sega.  While I admit that this was as about as transparent as attention whoring gets, I want it to be clear that I stand by and truly believe all that bullshit I said.  Every last line of it.  Classic games are not as good as you remember and Sega games suck balls in general.

But what really pissed people off was going after Sonic The Hedgehog.  By the way people reacted to me asserting that it was never a good series to begin with, you would have thought I had Mother Teresa’s corpse exhumed just so I could defecate on it.  I just can’t comprehend why this series is so treasured.  It kind of sucks.  I can’t even believe this would qualify as being good “back in the day.”  Put this up against stuff like Super Mario Bros. 3 or even the Alex Kidd games from Sega and it seems like such a step backwards.

Which is actually what they had in mind when they designed it.  It was supposed to be Mario For Dummies, where the directional pad and only one button were needed and you wouldn’t be able to die if you had at least one ring.  It kind of shows that Sega held its own customers in contempt.  So basically, Sonic only exists because Sega wanted a Mario like character but thought its own users were too stupid to play a Mario game, and that just makes the crusader-like attitude of its fanboys all the more hilarious.

So the fanboys didn’t like my hate piece too much.  Most of the comments were completely asinine statements like “name one game from that era that was better than Sonic The Hedgehog.”  I could have been a total wise ass and said “anything!” but once you’ve got the monkeys throwing out “best game ever” statements, you’ve pretty much already won the battle.  Like I said in my VolChaos review, I find the entire situation to be sad.  Here are guys who are now in their thirties and they’re declaring the best game they have ever played and will ever play is one that Santa Claus gave them when they were ten years old.  I’m only 22, and I sure as hell hope I haven’t already played the best game I will ever play.  That would be tragic.

Pictured: something not worth the hype.

Granted, my only experience with the Genesis era Sonic games comes from when I got Sonic Mega Collection as a Christmas gift.  I might have even been the same age as those fanboys when I first played those titles.  Of course, by this point it’s 2002 and I’ve already played much better games, including some really spectacular 2D Mario games that Nintendo had ported to the Game Boy Advance.  Hell, I played Sonic Advance, an original 2D Sonic game on the Game Boy Advance that I had a better time with than anything on Mega Collection.

“Oh, but there’s another Sonic 16-bit era game.  One that destroys all those that came before it” cried the fanboys.  Indeed.  It’s called Sonic CD, and it’s the best of all the Sonics.  It’s so good that Sega seemed to go out of its way to not include it anywhere.  I mean, listen to how a guy I respect, Xbox Live Indie Game guru and Armless Octopus founder Dave Voyles described it.

Sonic CD is another fine example. It took a lot of the elements which made Sonic 1 so good, and vastly grew them. The future / past scenario for example, still hasn’t been done in other games to my knowledge. Sure, the 3D parts sucked and controlled like garbage, but the rest of the game provided a lot of innovation for the industry.

Well, what do you know, Sonic CD came out on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network this last week.  Since it was only $5, I figured what the hoo haw and gave it a whirl.  It makes me wonder what exactly Dave was even talking about.  What exactly was innovative about it?  It had an anime cut scene at the start?  Nah, that can’t be it.  What about the time travel gimmick?  Nah, games were already doing that too.

I got it!  It’s insanely easy.  Yes, I get it now.  Sonic CD was innovative because it introduced us to the era of the half-assed sequel.  Before Sonic CD came around, developers actually gave a shit when developing follow-ups to games.  And then this arrived, with its totally phoned in level design, boss fights that would embarrass the viewing audience of Yo Gabba Gabba, and levels where over half the game play is done automatically.  Developers took notice and said “wow, look at how amazingly shallow and empty this sequel is.  We didn’t know you could do that!”

If Sonic games were created for people too stupid to play Mario, Sonic CD must have been created for the recently lobotomized.  Everything in it feels stripped down.  There’s fewer enemies, shorter levels, easier bosses, and almost no way to game over.  It took me all of one hour to finish it.  At which point, it gave me TWO achievements instead of one.  How sweet of it.  I guess the innovation is supposed to be how there are multiple versions of each level, because you can hit a sign post that says “past” or “future” and if you build up enough speed, you time travel to an altered version of the same stage.  I don’t know if this has any other effect on gameplay, and the game doesn’t tell you.  It was beneficial to me because I nearly had to quit in the middle of one stage due to the strobey effects.  I swear, as I was putting down the control, I bumped into one of those time travel sign posts, hit a bumper, and suddenly I was in the past, sans flashy lights.

Here’s the thing about that though: the fucking game did all that by itself.  I had already put the controller down.  That’s one of my biggest gripes with the Sonic games, that they do all the hard work for you.  The first Sonic game I ever played was in fact Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast.  Everyone who played it remembers the iconic scene in the first level of that game where you’re on a dock running from a killer whale.  When I was ten years old, that was, up to that point, the single coolest moment I had seen in a video game.  And it was cool, until you realized that the game had all kinds of moments where it takes the controller away from you and does all the fancy stuff automatically.

But isn’t that how Sonic games always have been?  In Sonic CD, you spend most of the levels doing nothing while the game has all the fun for you.  Half the time in the game is spent watching Sonic automatically coast off bumpers and through tubes at warp speed.  Granted, that’s enough to give the Sonic fanboys their jollies, but I thought this was supposed to be the Crème de la Crème of series.  Instead, it’s probably the worst.  Unless you count the Game Gear titles, which were pretty bad.

Here’s my theory: most people who had this fascination with Sonic CD never actually played it.  Probably because you needed a Sega CD to play it and their parents weren’t willing to spring the extra $300 for the attachment.  So Sonic CD became the unobtainable entry in the series.  The one that was so good it had to be put on the most expensive system on the market at the time.  It got some good press coverage, but the Sega CD was pretty much dead on arrival and by time you could afford it, the next wave of consoles were coming and all the copies of Sonic CD had already been long snatched up as soon as they hit the clearance rack.  It’s status as the lost Sonic game made it the stuff of legends.

Well, legends do tend to disappoint.  Sonic CD is bad even by the low standards of the series.  It’s everything that every other 2D Sonic has been: horrible play control, no actual platforming skills required, cheap deaths, and lots of watching the game do all the work for you.  Only this time, it’s insanely easy, to the point that it’s a little insulting.  Thankfully, it would seem even the Sonic fanboys are somewhat on my side with this one.  Within 24 hours of Sonic CD hitting the PS3 and Xbox 360 marketplaces, I saw plenty of Sonic aficionados sulkily tweet “not as good as I remember it” or “that was disappointing.”  Others are pissing and moaning because some stupid song got cut out of the game.  Which is funny to me because I always thought gaming was supposed to be about the gameplay, not the title song during the opening cut scene that most people were likely anxious to skip anyway.

It goes to show you that the older you get, the less kind reality is to your childhood memories.  Guys, Sonic CD didn’t get bad.  It was always bad.  They all were.  You’ve just played better games since it came out.  Every time I go back and play something I liked as a kid, the memories just don’t hold up.  It happened to me with Sonic Adventure, Tony Hawk, and Crash Bandicoot.  That’s why it’s best to live in the now.  Don’t go back looking for moldy oldies.  The best game you will ever play hopefully hasn’t come out yet, but you won’t know that unless you look to the future for it, and not the past.

Oh, and as a spoiler, it’s not Knuckles Chaotix either.  I realize now that Sonic CD finally has a wide release, everyone is going to say “okay, it sucked, but I totally remember Knuckles Chaotix on the 32X being the most awesome Sonic game ever!”  Wrong!  If Sega had any faith in that game they would have re-released it by now.  They haven’t for the same reason they dragged their feet with Sonic CD: it sucks, and they know it.  Deep down, you know it too.  I haven’t even played it and I know it.  Helen Keller knows it.  She might be blind and deaf, but when shit gets piled this thick for so long you can smell it coming a mile away.

Sonic CD was developed by Sega

400 Microsoft Points said “honestly, if Sega had released Bubsy the Bobcat and Sonic had been the generic lifeless mascot of some nameless game company, would you even have known the difference?” in the making of this review.

My friends at GameMarx are giving away over FIFTY Xbox Live Indie Games as part of a huge contest.  Click here for the Youtube announcement video, and then click here to enter.

Altered Beast

No, really.

I mean, I have my own gaming blog now, so why not just cover whatever the fuck is on my mind?  And what’s on my mind now?  How bad of taste you fuckwits in the 80s had.  Altered Beast is considered to be a classic, but I never played it until about ten minutes ago.  I downloaded it a while back when it was free for all Playstation Plus subscribers.  I never actually intended to play it, because, well, 80s, ewww.  But free is free.  Well actually, not free.  Considering all the games and discounts my Playstation Plus subscription has netted me, I figure I paid about 13¢ for it.  An outrageous price for this unbelievably awful piece of shit.

Ho ho ho, rise from your grave little boy and tell Santa if you’ve been a good boy this year!

Altered Beast is five levels of pure pain.  The nameless (I think) hero is apparently some dead dude who must rise from the dead to save the daughter of Santa Claus, who is dressed in an Abominable Snowman costume for some reason.  To do this, he must transform into various human-animal thingies and fight this evil bald-headed dude that looks like Gargamel crossed with Skeletor, who (spoiler alert) turns into Rocksteady from Ninja Turtles in the final fight, while you fight him as a werewolf.  And when you win, Yeti Santa’s daughter turns out to be a bird.  I swear, this is less a game and more an infomercial for the annual Furries on Parade DVD.

You know, for a guy who takes steroids and animal hormones to get big and strong, the protagonist is, well, kind of a sissy.  He’s throws punches like he’s afraid he’s going to break a nail, ducks down and kicks up like he’s swatting at gnats, and moves around as if he’s frolicking about in a way designed to make his parents disown him.   Heroes should not ever frolic.  They can prance.  They can skip.  They can even cross-dress and strut.  But they absolutely, positively, can not frolic.

While playing this game, I had to remind myself that Altered Beast comes from 1988.  It was a simpler time, and the reason it was simple is because fun was still a new concept and Sega had not perfected it yet.  Some might say they didn’t get their shit together until Sonic the Hedgehog.  Ha, as if.   This might be a generational thing, but I think the original Sonic the Hedgehog games, well, suck.  They control poorly, have unfair level design, boss fights so easy that they would embarrass the Fisher-Price crowd, and are just in general soulless, corporate-designed “me too!” games designed to woo the Super Mario fans over to their console.  I mean come on, he’s a blue hedgehog who wears sneakers and has “attitude”.  If someone described that same character today you guys would all talk about what a transparent attempt at trying to be cool it was and shit all over it.  Yes, you would.

It sure beats the original name: Mario the Mario – Not Mario Edition, by Not Nintendo

And yes, I’ve heard everyone say “Sonic was not committee designed, you hateful ignorant bitch!  It was totally organic!  Listen to what the developer had to say about it!”  Seriously, do you believe in the Easter Bunny too?  Do you expect a company with a lifetime of turning out products that are complete and utter shit to admit that their mascot was designed by a team of focus testers watching a group of children play Super Mario Bros. through a two-way mirror?

Hey, I loved the Dreamcast.  I was ten years old when it came out and I thought it was the be all, end all of gaming.  Now I’m all grown up and I realize that gaming is always getting better.  I enjoyed the Dreamcast but it’s not sacred or anything.  It’s just an old video game system now.  Every type of game it features has been done better several times over since then.  Hell, even it’s best games were relics before they came out, like Skies of Arcadia.  Decent game, but a total throwback to old school RPGs that I likely only enjoyed because it was the very first RPG I ever played.  Most of the stuff on the Dreamcast only seemed cool to me at the time because I was relatively new to life and thus relatively new to gaming.  Which is why stuff like Sonic the Hedgehog and Altered Beast was cool and fun to you.

But I’m not a kid anymore.  I can see the Dreamcast for what it is: just another video game machine, no better or worse than any of its predecessors or successors.  Well actually, kind of worse now that I think about it.  Have you actually played Sonic Adventure lately?  Crazy Taxi?  Phantasy Star Online?  Shenmue?  They’re all pretty weak by today’s standards, and those were the A-Listers of the Dreamcast lineup.  So maybe the consumers who tanked the Dreamcast by not buying it were actually ahead of the curve.  After all, Sega games these days kind of suck.  Everyone is going gaga over Sonic Generations, but it’s crap too, just like every Sonic game ever has been.  Sonic Generations is bad by any standard except the standard of Sonic the Hedgehog.  Still, the love-fest for it baffles me.  It’s like parents who reward a perpetual F student with an iPhone because he fluked a C- in Biology.

Classic games are not sacred.  Altered Beast is one of the most horrible games of all time.  Saying “well, it was good back in the day” means exactly diddly squat to me because we’re not back in the day anymore.  It’s right now, today.  Altered Beast and the original Sonic the Hedgehog are crap now.  When I was ten, I thought Sonic Adventure was awesome, Crazy Taxi was totally radical, and House of the Dead was the single greatest achievement mankind had ever made.  Today, I realize that they’re all shit.  Please stop.  Do you know what happens when relics of the 80s are artificially kept relevant in modern times?  That’s right, they gross a billion dollars in box office receipts.

Thanks a lot, 80s!

I’m celebrating 50,000 unique page views by giving away 1600 Microsoft Points to one lucky follower of mine on Facebook.  All you have to do is follow me for a chance to win!  Click the link, hit “Like” and you’re in!  The drawing will be held December 1, 2011.  I don’t spam with my Facebook.  I just post article updates and the occasional “thank you” when my site hits a milestone.  So what are you waiting for?  Enter already!

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