Wednesday, August 16, 2017

GJG Game Review: Sonic Mania


Happy 28th Birthday to me for pre-ordering Sonic Mania!

For starters I have been pretty hard on Sega and Sonic Team for the whole year of 2017 so far. Some of the criticisms that I myself have presented to the Sonic franchise have been at least somewhat valid (I hope) and I feel that it's been time for gamers to start being more honest with Sega and Sonic Team about how they feel about the Sonic franchise as a whole, both 2D and 3D. 

With that said, I have been keeping a close eye on Sonic Mania for many months in 2017, and the news I have been getting has come across as nothing but positive. Everything that led up to Mania's release has been a refreshing, reassuring spin on the Sonic content we've been getting in recent years. The marketing campaign that went in to Mania has been very impressive, and the closer we got to the release date of August 15th the more convinced I became that I ABSOLUTELY needed to pre-order this game. August 15th, the day before my 28th Birthday, August 16th. What are the odds?

Controls - 20 out of 20 points

Pretty much flawless, by all accounts. If you're familiar with the original Sonic Genesis games of yesteryear, you should have no problem at all getting used to the controls of Mania. This game is built off the platform of Sonic 1 through Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Mania instantly reminds you of how cool it was to just plug in and play the Genesis games. You could go through an entire sitting of a couple hours and play a Sonic Genesis game with joy. You can Spin Dash, and now you can Drop Dash, which is the only mini-bummer of this game. The times of when you need to use the new Drop Dash ability as Sonic are a mystery, though the ability itself is really cool.

You can play as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles right off the bat and they play just as you remembered them playing in the Genesis games. This sense of familiarity is such a strong plus. 

Graphics - 20 out of 20 points

Wow. Beautiful. Wonderful. Amazing. Without going too much into this, if you have already played Sonic Mania, then you should already know how stylistic and breath-taking the graphics of  Sonic Mania are. It's a hybrid of the Genesis style of graphics and a 32-bit look, somewhat reminding gamers of the Sega 32X days. I'm sure you remember Knuckles Chaotix, right? The art that went into this game deserves some sort of end of year award. Seriously.

Music - 20 out of 20 points

You will immediately feel right at home as a Sonic fan when playing through Mania because the music soundtracks immediately get you to realize just how creative and catchy Sonic soundtracks usually are. These soundtracks are fitting for the environments they attach themselves to, and for the old reliable zones that we all know and loves, the soundtracks for these zones are remixed in such a way that could possibly blow your mind. Give credit to the music producer of the Mania team for this because he knocked this category out of the park!

Replayability Factor - 20 out of 20 points

There is no doubt about what I'm going to say here. This game is absolutely, positively worth replaying again and again. Here's one good reason why Mania gets an A+ in Replayability Value; the order of the mini-bosses and bosses you fight in Mania is NOT always the same. This means that you could be facing different foes such as the various Hard Boiled Heavies, or Dr. Eggman himself in drastically different orders depending on who you play as, and possibly depending on how fast (or slow) you complete a stage.  

What also helps the Replayability in Mania are the Bonus and Special Stages that are scattered throughout the game. You quickly familiarize yourself with the challenge of having to collect many Blue Spheres in a maze, but then you will also have to retrain yourself to complete a daring mission of catching a fleeing aircraft in a race track. This latter stage should remind gamers of Special Stages that we've seen in games like Sonic CD and Sonic Heroes. This Special Stage concept is excellent, the execution of it is great, and most importantly, these additions keep you motivated to play.

11 Bonus Points for Creativity

As an aspiring game dev myself, I definitely appreciate it when I see creative freedom being put on display in a game. I advocate for creativity, I encourage it and I humbly challenge other aspiring game devs to put their creativity out there in game projects. What Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, Headcannon and PagodaWest Games did for Sonic Mania is a textbook example of being able to use enough creativity in a video game and showcasing what they know about the Sonic Universe.

Seriously, I could also say that the levels of creativity used in this game are "off the charts", "blasted past the outfield fence for a home run", and "top of the mountain quality". Sonic Mania is THAT good, whether you play this game as a Sonic fan or not. 

Overall Score: 91 out of 100 points (11 Bonus Points)

I have never felt more happy about playing a new Sonic game that I have for Sonic Mania, and late last week on the 11th I made the decision (at the last minute, really) to pre-order this game. It turns out that Sonic Mania was by far one of the best gaming purchase decisions I have ever made. Sonic Mania blew me the crap away, to put it somewhat bluntly. Sure, it's just a 2D side-scrolling platforming game at the end of the day, but it's not just that. It's a call to remember what Sonic used to be, and that he used to be one of the best video game characters in history. Sonic and his friends can reach that status again if Sega allows Sonic Mania to be used as a building block for future 2D Sonic installments. 

While the jury is still out on the future of Modern 3D Sonic games, which is another story altogether, Classic 2D Sonic is officially back like a boss. Sonic Mania is already going to be one of the best video games in history when this is said and done. A fitting Happy Birthday gift to myself!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Comprehensive Game Design Analysis Part 1


I avidly study game development when I have the time to do so. I often search through YouTube and various other places on the internet (Shout out to Gamasutra!) to find other opinions on game design, what gamers like and what they don't like about certain games. As you can tell from the embedded video above, I'm going to be commenting again on a game that I own for the PS4, and it's obviously nowhere near my favorite video game to play. I already made a review on Mighty No. 9 a couple months back and gave it a mediocre overall score, and that was mainly because I have never been a huge Mega Man fan and I never backed the Kickstarter campaign for this game.

What this video goes into is how ridiculous the game design was for Mighty No. 9, and for the most part I definitely agree with the author of this video. I find it inexcusable as to how certain parts of game design were implemented in Mighty No. 9, and after watching this video you'll come to realize just how much better this game should have been, but Comcept basically refused to make it better.

Enemy Placement
The placement of enemies in Mighty No. 9 was jarring in many areas. You didn't feel like you were necessarily rewarded after you reached a seemingly special part of a level where you could collect extra health items and power-ups. If anything, you felt somewhat punished for doing so. What made this case was how "in your face" the placed enemies were. The moment you felt you had some room to work with, that space would be taken away by an ill-placed enemy, making your gaming experience unnecessarily more difficult.

Color Discernment
If you hate having to discern the difference between an object that's in the background of a level and an object you actually have to take down in the foreground, then you might want to stay away from Mighty No. 9. Especially during boss fights do you have to deal with colors that blend in with each other, which means that you sometimes will be guessing which object to attack, and which object to ignore. Pick the wrong object and you will pay for it. Not good.

No Set Pattern of Level Choices
I find this to be an interesting argument, and one I agree with. For those of you who play Mega Man games you would know that there's a pattern in choosing levels, preferably from the easiest to the hardest. If you guess the pattern of level choices right then the gaming experience overall will feel more rewarding. If you tackle the harder levels first and then go to the easier levels, then it may not feel as rewarding. Mighty No. 9 suffers from not giving you any initial hints as to what set pattern to rely on. Should you take on Mighty No. 2 first? Or should it be Mighty No. 5? You don't know, and that's the problem. You won't get any help in improving the quality of a level until after you beat a boss and pick the level that matches that defeated boss's help sequence.

Learning Moves
Another frustrating part of Mighty No. 9 is the learning curve, especially considering the types of moves that Beck can perform. In the options menu of the game you can try to learn how to perform certain moves that you feel will help Beck progress through a level. However, many of these moves seem to be counterproductive in how they are executed and how they complement a level. There's this one move called the "Drop Shot" where you jump backwards and shoot down at a 45 degree angle. On many occasions this move is simply worthless and doesn't help you.

Mighty No. 9 simply suffered from this feeling that two game dev teams worked on the game instead of just one. There was no cohesive vision as to what Mighty No. 9 wanted to be as a game, and when conflicting features of the game tried to merge with each other, it became a mess. Having said this I still have no problem owning this game because I don't have a big emotional attachment to Mega Man style games, but I feel that this information is worth sharing with my blog readers.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Time to Reconsider DLC?


Just like their competitors Microsoft and Sony, it has become apparent that Nintendo is following in their footsteps by presenting DLC packages and deals to gamers. It's no secret that nowadays in order to truly get the full experience of a game you will need to buy some sort of DLC exclusive. Sometimes it's absolutely needed to buy a DLC deal in order to 100% complete a game. Nintendo in recent years has picked up on this financial strategy and have put their own spin on it by way of using their Amiibo collectible toys.

The linked video above will tell more of the story, but the gist of it is basically Nintendo has been catching on to what Microsoft and Sony have been doing for many years, since at least the start of the 2010's. Make no mistake that this strategy of implementing DLC attached to main games has been working like Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket, but this leads me to ask the following questions.

Is it time to reconsider DLC? Is it time to start re-evaluating the worth of Downloadable Content? What have we learned from this business model of throwing DLC into a game package? It's 2017 and we're getting closer to the end of the 2010's, so I would think that normally the Video Game Industry would step back and start thinking over what they have introduced in the past decade.

What has DLC ultimately replaced in this past decade? Cheat codes. Think about it. Very rarely do we ever hear about new games having any sort of cheat code system. You see, cheat codes were once a unique part of a gameplay experience back in the day. In the 1990's when computer technology wasn't as advanced as it is today, gamers had to rely on trial and error in order to obtain secret cheat codes in their favorite games, and once these codes were submitted in the cheat section of an option menu, the gamer would get a brand new experience because he or she would get to play the game in a different way. Plus, the kicker here is that the gamer was rewarded with a FREE new feature!

Not to say that every single DLC offer costs you an arm and a leg, because that's not entirely true, but the fact that every DLC offer is bound to cost you, the gamer, something out of your wallet means that you have to try harder to save money in order to get the thing about your favorite game that you really want. Doesn't it sometimes rub you the wrong way how you buy a game first and you assume that you have everything in that game, but then realize the game dev company is going to release DLC packages to make that game "more complete"?

Cue the picture of a rabbit chasing a carrot dangling on a stick.


Okay, that's close enough.

The Video Game Industry is a business, and sometimes gamers lose sight of that. It's a fun business to be a part of, but it's still a business nonetheless. These game dev companies are looking to expand their business, and if they think that DLC is the way to go for them, then guess what? They're gonna offer DLC deals.

I guess where I'm going with this is my concern over how much is too much when offering DLC. Costing an arm and a leg to buy DLC simply isn't ideal for many gamers. They just bought the original game for an already steep enough price, especially if they bought that game just a day or two after official release. To ask gamers to spend more money on DLC just so they can have a "more complete experience" with the original game sounds crazy and foreign to me. That's just how I feel as I've grown up as a gamer in the late 1990's and early 2000's.

Ultimately my stance on DLC is this. DLC probably has a place in today's Video Game Industry, but it should never be abused by game dev companies just for the sake of economic convenience. There's a fine line to draw here.