A New Year Full of Words

So, it's 2009. The older you get, it seems, the faster time flies. Does that mean I'm having fun? I suppose if I have to ask that question, I already know the answer... honestly, though, I don't even know what I'm talking about right now.

The weirdest part? Next year is 2010. It kills me to say that. 2010. 2010 is one of those dates that was always referenced as the far flung future where everybody is supposed to have flying cars and robot butlers and jet packs. Freaks me right out to consider that. And then, not far from that, we have 2012. Depending on who you ask, 2012 is a big deal because that's when the Mayan Calendar ends and may or may not be the end of the world. We've had "this date might be the end of the world" events before and nothing has happened, but it'll at least be interesting to experience it. And then not far after 2012 will be 2015, another big far flung future year - specifically the one referenced in Back to the Future II.

Christmas was alright, I guess. A lot of refurbished or used stuff, but because of that, I got more and better stuff than I usually get. The biggest one is that I got a new camera. For a change, this one is actually pretty decent - a Kodak EasyShare M753. It's still not what you would call a great camera, like a Canon or a Nikon or anything, but it is leaps and bounds over my old camera (7.1 megapixels with tons of settings vs. 5 with almost no settings) and came with a 4GB Memory Card. Finally, no more of that stupid "the camera only holds 9 pictures or one minute of video". 3500 pictures and 80 minutes of video, this time - WITH sound!

Then, we have a cheap MP3 player. This one had 8GB of onboard memory and played a massive list of media formats (audio, video, pictures, etc.) but within two days it was busted and non-functional. Currently seeking a replacement or a refund on that one, though, it was so cheap, a refund might not even be worth it. (Cue "You get what you pay for")

I also scored The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on DVD, which was sort of weird, but not entirely unappreciated. I mean, I liked the original Narnia movie, I guess. I liked it enough to where I don't think I'll exchange the DVD. I guess I'm just sort of ambivalent because I've taken to renting movies on Netflix before buying them, and I haven't seen this yet to know if I like it enough to own it. Only one way to find out, though!

And then, some ultra-cheap used games. Final Fantasy 1 & 2: Dawn of Souls on the Gameboy Advance, for example. I've been slowly playing FF1 so far and... I really miss this style of Final Fantasy so much. New Final Fantasy games are so... flashy and glamorous in a bad way; lots of overdressed Japanese Supermodels with funny names running around Coruscant from Star Wars: Episode 1. That's all I see Final Fantasy for since FFVIII; and none of that interests me anymore at all. It feels so manufactured and overcooked and just... not for me. Final Fantasy 1 not only retains the classic Final Fantasy vibe, but it's refreshingly open-ended for a Final Fantasy game. After the initial quest to defeat Garland and rescue the Princess, the game basically tells you "Yeah, uh, restore the four crystals, I guess? You'll figure it out." and you're turned loose to go pretty much wherever you please. There's a genuine sense of adventure and discovery that Final Fantasy games haven't had in a very, very long time.

Next up is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, a game I've been meaning to pick up for ages. I haven't played more than an hour of it so far, but it's already got me hooked in ways Twilight Princess failed to. Twilight Princess, to me, felt like a very technically competent game that was just lacking in any sense of... excitement, I guess. Like the developers went "FINE, if you guys don't like Wind Waker, here's your mature Zelda game" - with all the effort of a parent who is giving in to the temper tantrum of a spoiled child. Twilight Princess just didn't really feel terribly inspired to me, and while there was quite a bit of content in it, a lot of it felt like padding. The game took forever to get any kind of momentum going and there was way too much downtime between dungeons. We'll see how Wind Waker goes - I've heard stories about the terrible Triforce quest near the end of the game.

Rounding out the used games bonanza is the first Sly Cooper game, which I have not had a chance to play just yet. In addition, my cousin lended me the first Gears of War and Mass Effect in addition to providing me with some other goodies, like Two Worlds and a video of a Tenacious D concert - which I'll actually be watching once I finish writing this blog (upon further inspection: the specific name is TENACIOUS D: THE COMPLETE MASTERWORKS 2, written in all caps because you can't do anything but write something like that in all caps).

I've only had a chance to play Gears so far (up to Chapter 4), and it's been a good time, I guess. A lot harder than I was expecting, but in a good way - a game hasn't really challenged me like Gears of War in what feels like forever. But there's something... off feeling about the game. I can't really put my finger on it. It's like the game doesn't interest me, but for some reason, I find myself having a hard time putting the controller down, if that makes any sense. Maybe it's the story - or the lack-there-of. You really get the sense that there's something here, in Gears of War, but Epic Games does not have the tools to rationalize what is going on. Or maybe they're trying to tell a story like Valve tells a story - letting the environment speak for itself. I don't know. There's just enough story here and just enough interesting characters that the almost... too videogame-y stuff about it doesn't mesh well. Like there's supposed to be a weight and a gravitas to everything, but then you have a mine cart level. I've heard things about the final boss for this game, too, like how a lot of people won only through luck, or something, so that's something I'm dreading.

I... think that's about it? I guess? Yeah. Onwards, to 2009! Chances are, it, too, will be over I realize it!

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Two Worlds

So, thanks to Ashuku, I scored a free copy of Two Worlds on the PC.

Two Worlds being a terrible Oblivion ripoff. But, believe it or not, I had fun with the Two Worlds Xbox 360 demo - mainly just because it was really easy to goof around. Walk in and try to kill an entire town. Battle against grizzly bears and ghosts.

The full version is no different. Man, hell of a quest that was. I didn't even bother with any of the story stuff, I just said "I wonder what's over here".

Imagine a Bear vs. Zombie vs. Bandit free-for-all.

Eventually I found myself on a beach with some Wyverns that could basically kill me in one hit. However, in the distance, I noticed a tower, so I decided to make my way there, avoiding Undead Bears. Finding some necromancers, I managed to defeat them without breaking a sweat and discovered what seemed to be a dungeon I was supposed to visit at a certain point in the story (but was not ready to be at yet).

I took off again, dodging more undead bears until I encountered giant mantis demons. It was about this time I thought maybe I should turn around and go back. Unfortunately, by now, I was hopelessly lost. I stumbled upon an Orc Warcamp and stole one of their demon horses and just kept ridin'. I rode past the Sand Dragons, the Giant Spiders, the Flesh Golems, and dozens of Orc Warcamps, each with several giant trolls standing guard. All of these being enemies that could kill me in a single hit.

I had no fucking idea where I was.

Eventually I ended up in an evil forest, surrounded by mages with high level fire magic.

Unfortunately, the fact that Two Worlds is a shitty, bug-ridden Oblivion Ripoff finally caught up with it and it became impossible to continue. Still, though. Even if the game is terrible, that was a pretty entertaining way to spend a few hours. Two Worlds could've almost been a good game...

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Sonic Unleashed Review

And, at a little over 2000 words, my review for our site is done. It's a little bit heftier than I'd like, but I wasn't consciously trying to be verbose or anything. I checked other review lengths, and while most of them were in the 1000-1500 words range, there were a couple at 2000, so I think I'm in the clear.

A sample of the review:

Or was this simply my bias towards the Sonic franchise speaking? When faced with the prospect of a game that might be better than one of the worst games of 2006, would I over-exaggerate the quality of the game simply because it was not total garbage? As the game’s release date drew near, my expectations for the game were all over the map. Depending on what day of the week you would ask me, Sonic Unleashed was either going to be really awesome or just another in a long line of embarrassments.

I can now say that Sonic Unleashed on the Xbox 360 is probably the best 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game we’ve had since the era of the Sega Dreamcast.

The game is split in to three distinct portions: Daytime gameplay as regular Sonic, Nighttime gameplay as the Werehog, and visiting various towns located in continents across the world. Daytime levels are predictably fast, with Sonic the Hedgehog reaching speeds of nearly 300 miles-per-hour. These levels are an absolute blast to play, with plenty of detours and shortcuts to encourage replaying in order to find that “perfect route” leading to the ever-elusive S Rank. To help you achieve this, the game’s controls have been redesigned with Sonic’s extreme speed in mind: At faster speeds, Sonic’s controls gradually smooth out, avoiding the twitchy analog stick sensitivity of Sonic 2006 or Sonic Adventure 2. Should you need to dodge oncoming obstacles a little bit faster, Sonic has been equipped with a brand-new “Quick Step” ability that allows you to easily strafe around hazards. Rather than try to group the rest of Sonic’s moves around the two face buttons, Sonic Unleashed marks the first 3D Sonic game to use all four face buttons. Functions are grouped naturally - for example, “downward” actions like sliding, stomping and crouching are bound to the B button, while “boost” actions such as the homing attack and Sonic Boost are on the X button. For fans of the previous games, adjusting to the new button structure can take some time, but eventually it all clicks. In the original Sonic Rush (and the Sonic Advance games), a great deal of frustration arose out of going too fast to avoid an obstacle or a pitfall, resulting in numerous cheap deaths. Sonic Unleashed makes an effort to correct this by flat out telling you what buttons you need to push at certain points in the level. It’s a little bit cheese-ball, and there were times where I found these button prompts lingered on screen a little bit too long and managed to cover up the action. Though they do get less frequent as the game progresses, they never quite vanish entirely and the game has no option to turn them off.


What did I have to say about the Werehog? Read on to find out.

 
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I have beaten Sonic Unleashed. Thoughts?

I just beat the 360 version of Sonic Unleashed.

That was... pretty alright. Without spoiling the review I'm writing for our site, the game can be summed up in one phrase:

"It's a good game, but..."

It's not perfect, but this is probably most progressive foot the franchise has put forward since the original Sonic Adventure, and is one of the most fun 3D Sonic games since Sonic Adventure 2. And, for those not in the know, the Wii version of Sonic Unleashed is pretty different from the 360 version. I watched quite a bit of the Wii version on Youtube and the 360/PS3 version definitely feels like the complete experience.

Keep an eye on my blog over the next few days as I try and put my feelings in to words - I have a hunch it's going to be a long review.

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Thanks, Fedex

They just tried to deliver my Xbox 360's coffin. They knocked once and then left. I didn't even have time to get to the door; by the time I was there, dude was already two blocks down the street. Keep in mind that I was only two rooms away, and the minute I heard the knock, I bolted to the door as quickly as I could.

What the hell. It's not like I was slow about it. It probably took me ten seconds to get to the door and he was already gone. How the hell did he drive so fast?

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The Ring that Broke the Hedgehog's Back

Warning: I am about to seriously nerd out here.

You may remember back in March I blogged about the leaked Sonic Unleashed screenshots.

A lot has happened since then. The Werehog was revealed to almost universal "blech!" and a slow but steady stream of videos has come out of the game, each one usually focusing on a new level in the game - so far we've gotten official videos of Mazuri (Africa), Apotos (Greece), Spagonia (Europe), Chun-nan (China), and Shamar (Egypt). Between showing China and Egypt, however, there was an extended period of radio silence on the title. There was no new media - no videos, no screenshots, nothing - for about three months.

When the game resurfaced, it featured a number of new elements. The game's interface had been changed (most notably a completely redesigned Werehog interface) and now enemies dropped little yellow gems that filled an Experience Points meter. The weirdest change, however, was now, when Sonic picked up rings, rather than vanishing in a sparkle of golden light, they sucked towards and vanished in to the game's interface, sort of like bananas do in Donkey Kong Country.

When Gamersyde posted a video they got of Holoska (Alaska), I of course wanted to see what was up with that level. What I happened to notice in the video, however, is having a serious impact on how much I'm anticipating the game. The video displays a pretty dramatic change to how one of the core Sonic gameplay tenants functions: Rings.

Rings are one of those things that made Sonic the Hedgehog unique. In nearly every Sonic game (minus a couple of Game Gear spinoffs and Secret Rings for the Wii), you collect rings - not just because you get an extra life for every 100 rings you collect, but because rings keep you alive. If you take damage, you will drop all of your rings; they fall out of Sonic in a circular pattern. If you take damage without any rings, you die. However, since you drop your rings, usually you can run through and collect some of the rings you've lost and that's generally a pretty good safety net - as long as you have 1 ring, you are safe from most forms of damage.

Sonic Unleashed changes this in favor of the system from Sonic & The Secret Rings. When you take damage, Sonic only loses 25 rings from his overall total and is not given a chance to pick them back up again - they just vanish in to thin air. What this essentially means is that rings become nothing more than a glorified lifebar.

And this made me realize something: There's nothing left of the old Genesis games anymore in Sonic Unleashed. Everything - every little last gameplay mechanic - has been completely changed or removed. Sonic's original momentum-based physics system is gone. Each level having its own unique set of enemies is gone. I don't expect to see Tails follow Sonic around ever again. Metal Sonic has been more or less replaced by Shadow the Hedgehog. And now rings, perhaps the last unique element of the original Sonic games, has been removed.

Now it's all QTEs and boost pads and dashing-so-fast-you-can’t-even-keep-up-but-that’s-okay-Sonic-is-invincible. When rings operated like they always did (and early videos did showcase this), it was fine. I was content in saying the game was "Sonic Rush - but in 3D!" But now, what they’ve done to how rings function has immediately made this not feel like a Sonic game anymore. That’s the lynch-pin for me. Remove that and the whole thing comes crashing down. Sure, you've got speed and loops, but isn't Sonic defined by more than that? Any game can be fast - and there are plenty of games that are. F-Zero, Rollcage, Trackmania. These are fast games with loops, but they aren't Sonic games, right? Sonic is defined by little stuff like how rings function, and SonicTeam has removed all of that.

This isn't a Sonic game anymore, at least not to me.
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