My Favorite Game Characters

In most cases, what's most memorable to me in video games are their characters. A character I feel attached to compels me to play more of the game, and their faces and their choices are what remains in my head long after I finished the game. They are great talking points as well, which is why I've recently come to start talking about some of my favorite game characters on my YouTube channel.

So here's my first part to talking about my favorite video game characters.

There are so many characters I want to talk about so stay tuned for more parts to this series. :)

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Ninja Fishing vs Ridiculous Fishing: A Tale of Redemption

These two iPhone/iPad games have a great deal of history with each other, and now that Ridiculous Fishing: A Tale of Redemption has been released (at a low fixed price of $2.99), I had a chance to try out both and though they are based on the exact same gameplay concept, the difference between the two is the difference between a source of profits for a game publisher and a genuine labor of love and art.

To read more into the interesting history between these two games, check out this link: http://www.polygon.com/2012/10/5/3461458/cloning-case-files-vlambeer

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My thoughts on Sonic Dash, played on my iPhone 4

An endless runner type of game (basically a Subway Surfer clone) featuring Sonic, it makes so much sense! So it's still unbelievable to me that it took this long for Sega to release this, and that they didn't do much more to make this title really stand out. I'm still glad I bought it and played it. It's a gorgeous game, even with the dumbed-down iPhone 4 graphics. It's just that ultimately it still does feel like a missed opportunity.

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What I've Been Playing - Week of 11/19-11/25/2012

I finally got in the mail Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time from Gamefly. I don't know why I had been so desperately waiting for this game. It's not like I don't have enough games to play as is. Just recently I downloaded Quantum Conundrum, adding to a sizable backlog of PSN games I've yet to finish. Now that I'm out working for most of the day six days a week, I rarely have the time to just relax behind the TV screen and game. When I do find that hour or two to play some games, I'm left figuring out what to play. The worst moments are when I know I have all these awesome games in my harddrive but instead I want to play a game I don't have yet, like Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time.

I haven't played much of A Crack in Time at this point. I was dying to play it when I was waiting for it to arrive in the mail, but now that it's in my Playstation 3's disc bay, I'm no longer feeling the powerful, addictive impulse. That's not to say I don't think the game is good. I've definitely enjoyed my time with it. The Pixar-esque cutscenes are still joyful to watch, and the colorful

universe of Ratchet & Clank - even though it isn't as graphically impressive as I had thought it's be - is still just so much to explore and blow stuff up in. I'm not quite digging the space combat and exploration aspects of it but it still is a neat new thing to have for the franchise. My only real gripe so far is that I just want Ratchet and Clank to be re-united back already.

Today instead of diving deeper into Ratchet & Clank, I instead mindlessly killed cops on the PSN downloadable title Payday: The Heist. I'm not sure if I would have ever gotten it if not for my Playstation Plus membership. By now I've been able to play so many downloadable games thanks to PS Plus. Many of the unfinished downloadable games currently in my hard drive have been granted by PS Plus, which include: Pixeljunk Shooter 2, Euphoria, Bloodrayne: Betrayal, Sideways NY, Borderlands, and LittleBigPlanet 2. LBP 2 in particular was a title I was planning to buy on my own when I had the money to buy it so I was happy when Sony released it as a part of their PS Plus Instant Game Collection during last year's E3. Overall, I still find myself amazed at the value of PS Plus. I just feel bad that I don't have enough time to catch up on all the PS Plus releases. I still haven't been able to start most of the classic Playstation one games made available to PS Plus members, which for me are Final Fantasy V and Silent Hill.

Payday: The Heist is a great stress reliever. I don't know why but it's relaxing to roam around urban landscapes in first person and shoot down waves and waves of cops. I personally can't play the for too long though. After an hour or so of playing the relentless waves of cops get a bit too tedious to put down, and the concept of shooting at cops as professional robbers gets to irk me, even though I know it's just a video game. I can only suppress my virtual moral compass for about an hour before I start to fear that I'm getting too desensitized to violence.

It's not the violence that gets me. I've played gorier games and enjoyed them fine, for long periods of time as well. I've gone on heinous rampages on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and on Saints Row: The Third and that didn't bother me all that much. Even if Indid get irked, it was never to the point that I wanted to stop playing the game for the day. Payday: The Heist hoever often irked me that much. I don't deny it's a fun concept to tackle these insane heists as a a gun-toting robber. I especially like how there are so many different heists to partake in, from the typical bank heist to a scenario in which you have to cut out an entire panic room stacked with cash and attach that to a helicopter. But to me, after a while, I get to killing just sooo many uniformed law enforcers and I start getting into way too much of a holier-than-thou attitude to play it. I like that there's a Left4Dead-esque game (albeit not as well designed) on PSN, but unlike Left4Dead, Payday is a game I can only play in short bursts.

Before I received Ratchet & Clank in the mail, I was also playing Bloodrayne: Betrayal and Pixeljunk Shooter 2. They're both pretty cool games but also they can getblretty frustrating to play. The art styles if both games keep me hooked but after a stressful work week, they're not the games I automatically gravitate to. I have to get myself in the mood to play those games, Pixeljunk Shooter 2 especially. The game has a really cool concept - exploring as a spaceship inside the body of this giant beast. I also really liked the first Pixeljunk Shooter. The sequel though has too many tedious elements, at least the first three levels. I didn't like any of the new liquid substances introduced in the game and I especially disliked the new hunger suit, which turns me into a slow-moving Pac-Man that looks like an ugly fish of some sort.

That's mostly what I've been playing on my fat 60GB PS3. These past two weeks, I've actually been trying to upgrade the internal harddrive of my now 6+ years old PS3. Through eBay I obtained the right 250GB hdd for about $30. The only problem was that I didn't have small enough screwdrivr to do the job. I solved that issue yesterday by going to a local dollar store and getting a screwdriver. I was able to get the original 60GB harddrive out of the system but now I ran into the problem of the four screws on the PS3 harddrive caddy being too deformed. It's turning out to be such a hassle for me to be able to comfortably download things onto my PS3 without having to fret about memory space. I ordered via eBay a PS3 harddrive caddy with four screws. Hopefully this is the last thing I have to obtain to upgrade my PS3's harddrive.

So that's been my gaming life recently. Leading a rather workaholic life, it's no longer easy to find the time to just game for hours, but at least I'm making a good effort towards eriting about it.

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Thoughts on - Splinter Cell: Double Agent (PS3)

My first experience with Splinter Cell: Double Agent was on the PS2. That was the only gaming system I had owned when the game had come out. At the time I was really excited to play it, especially after having been so impressed with the latest Splinter Cell title before it - Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Even though I'm more of a Metal Gear fanboy, Splinter Cell is a series I've respected a great deal. At least that was the case before I played Double Agent. Double Agent ended up being a Splinter Cell game that left me disappointed and wanting.

For the longest time I thought it was because I played the last-gen version. Maybe the developers Ubisoft Montreal gave all their focus and energy to the proper HD 360/PC/PS3 versions. Maybe that's why Double Agent was designed so poorly on the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube. Well, I've now played the PS3 version and I'm confident to claim that Splinter Cell: Double Agent - all versions - is not that great of a game, and in a number of instances, just badly designed.

I've also probably played the worst of the HD versions. It's something I expected, since Double Agent came out during PS3's infancy, a time when developers were either struggling to or not bothering to optimize the PS3 version of a game. It was before The Orange Box (PS3) debacle and even before F.E.A.R was ported to the PS3, boasting its ridiculously long loading times. So I expected Double Agent on the PS3 would have its problems, but even as I readied myself with those grim expectations, I still ended up shocked.

I don't know how Double Agent plays on the 360 or on the PC, but on the PS3, it's nearly unplayable. I was patient enough to weather through it and beat the game, but there were so many times during my playthrough of the game in which I wanted to just return it to Gamefly simply because of its abymally low frame rate. It's like the whole game is forever on a lag, not big enough to totally ruin the gameplay, but still always noticeable. Sam Fischer crouch walks and runs as if he's in slow motion but even more problematic is this feeling that I'm tugging on the string attached to the camera to make it pan around Sam. In the entire game, it never felt like I was in direct control. I kept playing to see if the performance of the game would get any better, or if it would be okay in sections that were smaller or had less things going on, but unfortunately, on the PS3 this is an issue I had to tolerate at all times during my playthrough.

That's enough rant about the game's poor performance on the PS3. Assuming the game ran perfectly at 30+ frames per second, I'm left with a Splinter Cell game that's as bare bones it can be, while introducing two new concepts that only make the main gameplay annoying.

This iteration of Splinter Cell is named Double Agent because Sam Fischer has to become one. After completing the very first mission on a terrorist base set in a snowy, icy location, there's a quick cutscene showing a car running over a woman in a dark alleyway and then cutting to Sam crouched in a cargo plane, visibly upset. Sam's daughter has been murdered. Now with nothing to lose, Sam decides to take the riskiest mission he's ever taken - joining a domestic terrorist faction to take it down from the inside.

This double agent premise means half of the missions in the game take place inside the terrorist base. I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea, and I'm not really that against backtracking in games, but the way it's executed in this Double Agent makes for a rather boring game. It's dull because unless he sneaks into a restricted area of the base, Sam can only walk around slowly. Getting to anywhere in the base thus feels like a chore and the base is made bigger and more complex than it actually is. Compounding this restriction is the fact that every mission in the terrorist base is timed. Granted, the game gives plenty of time to complete all objectives (usually 25 minutes), but it's awkward to timed for the missions in which Sam moves at a snail's pace.

Sam's inability to crouch or run or do the things Sam can normally do also makes it awkward to try to sneak into the base's restricted areas. One time I got stuck, as Sam was sandwiched between another NPC and the wall. The NPC Erica kept going, "You can't be here, Sam. Get out of here." I struggled with my controller, yelling, "Hey, I'm trying to get Sam out of your way, but He suddenly forgot how to crouch or put his back on the wall. Looks like he's stuck here unless you move out of the way!"

Each mission in the terrorist base presents its own mini-game task. In one mission Sam is tasked with putting the detonating triggers into explosives. The gameplay of doing this is controlling this syringe-looking thing to make it fit into a hole of the same shape. I hold down the R2 button to make the syringe thing head downwards toward the hole and move the analog stick left and right to make sure it stays in the center and fits perfectly into the hole. I'm tasked to do this successfully ten times, which - because of the way the thing jerks about erratically - isn't easy but not really fulfilling to complete either. Another notable mini-game is when the terrorist leader asks Sam to hack into his personal computer. That means arranging a set of numbers on a cube that has four tiles on each of its six surfaces. It's tricky because the same number can't be placed adjacent to each other. It's easy to get stumped on but like all the other mini-games, the difficulty curve is too artificial for the completion to feel rewarding. These mini-game tasks feel too out of place and way too tedious to be considered good diversions.

If there's a nice thing to be said about these aspects of the missions in the terrorist base, at least it's realistic. Like it would be in real life, the task of putting triggers in bombs is stressful and tedious. It makes sense that hacking into a computer doesn't mean a fun and involving mini-game. And Sam wouldn't crouch and run around in front of the terrorists he's comrades with. Realism aside though, it just makes for a really dull game.

The other concept introuced by Sam being a double agent is the concept of the loyalty meter. It's different than what's featured in the PS2 version. In the PS2 version, there is one meter. Sam usually has two optional objectives, one that would please the terrorists but would upset Sam's Third Echelon agency, and one that would do the opposite which would make Sam more loyal to his U.S superiors but make the terrorist group John Brown's Army become more suspicious of Sam. I liked it this way. This system made it so that completing an objective felt like a tough moral choice. There was always this underlying question- should I focus on proving loyalty to this terrorist group and perform this questionable act, or perform this task which would help Third Echelon bring down JBA but at the same time risk Sam blowing his cover?

In the PS3 Double Agent, there are two loyalty meters, one that increases after completing objectives for Third Echelon and the other that grows after completing objectives for the terrorists. In this system, as long as Sam completes all objectives, there's no need to worry about losing the loyalty of either group. Thus, except for once near the end of the game, I wasn't faced with any morally gray choice. It's just an illusory mechanic to motivate players to conplete all objectives in a mission. This loyalty meter is the feature that's supposed to distinguish this Splinter Cell from its previous iterations but that doesn't happen since the way this new feature works doesn't do much of anything.

In terms of mechanics, Double Agent takes some steps backward from its prequels. It's almost like playing the very first Splinter Cell, and in some ways, worse. The extremely helpful sound meter featured in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is absent, which I can accept, but the series' staple light meter is simplified into three color signs to watch out for, and it's hard to call this a Splinter Cell game. There's no customization of what gear Sam takes before starting a mission and instead you earn more advanced equipment by completing missions without triggering alarms.

Then there's the level design. I guess it'd be wrong to criticize the game for being extremely linear since the first Splinter Cell and its sequel Pandora Tomorrow weren't much better in that regard, and I'm not at all opposed to linearity in games, but the paths to take in Double Agent too often feel arbitrarily designed. The mission in Shanghai is a big culprit of this. In the beginning of that mission, Sam has to rappel down a skyscraper. As he moves about, sidestepping across the tall building's windows, a helicopter hovers behind, using its searchlight to spot any unusual activity on the building. Sam has to climb up or down as he moves to the left to avoid the searchlight. If Sam ends up on the searhlight, it's gameover. It's not a horrible sequence, and is in a way kind of cool, but it's a good example of how limited the gameplay often is in Double Agent. Another worse example is the mission in the Middle Eastern country in which Sam has to bug this huge room terrorist leaders are going to meet in. The room is protected by lasers and Sam has to pass by them undetected as he climbs and moves along the ceiling pipes. It's like a scene taken out of Mission Impossible but not as crazy or as dramatic. It's not much of a challenge to get past the lasers; you just have to patiently wait for some lasers to go offline and move forward along the pipes. Because of gameplay segments like these, almost no part of Double Agent encourages replaying.

At least the PS3 version is filled with wide open areas, instead of being mostly composed of narrow corridors and small empty rooms like the PS2 version, but still that Splinter Cell trademark feeling of open-endedness - the feel that I can stealthily approach the mission from multiple angles - is totally absent here.

What felt most awkward to me was that a lot of the missions in Double Agent are undertaken in broad daylight. This wouldn't be the first time for the series. After all, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow featured a mission in the jungle on a sunny afternoon. The jungle mission was a bit frustrating and felt out of place, but there was still that light meter and plenty of dark shadows to hide under. In Double Agent, largely because of the simplication of detection mechanics, it's hard to find shadows to hide in. Actually, shadows can't be relied upon. The stealth gameplay in Double Agent is more about sticking to covers, staying far from enemies, and following the stealthy paths - usually pipes or vents - that the levels have in place. The enemy AI is just as simple as in the previous Splinter Cell titles, and sometimes to me it felt more rudimentary, and so the overall stealth gameplay is an awkward type of trial-and-error gameplay.

The final part of the game (not the epilogue section but the final part of the last mission in the terrorist base) completely abandons the series' stealth roots. In the PS2 version, it's a boss fight. It's not spectacular but it's actually not that bad. In the PS3 version though, there are like six or so guys to take out. The moment Sam takes out one guy, all the enemies know exactly where you are at and will start to swarm you. Because of the horrible frame rate issue and the fact that Splinter Cell's over-the-shoulder shooting mechanics aren't designed to be fluid like regular third-person-shooters, it took me more than ten retries to complete the very final part of the game. I'm not opposed to Splinter Cell having action sequences and boss battles, but if they exist, they need to be engaging while at the same time staying true to the feel of the game. As it stands, it was a lazy design, being totally out of place in a Splinter Cell game.

Storytelling is usually the weakest aspect of any Splinter Cell game and Double Agent's story of course is one of its weakest parts. Cutscenes are extremely brief and the narrative tying the separate missions is just barely there. Like all other Splinter Cell games, the story is serviceable. There's the bare minimum to establish Sam working undercover to bring down a domestice terrorist group who believe that their actions will liberate them from the oppressive governments of the world. I'm not too bothered by Splinter Cell games having weak stories, but the storytelling of Double Agent PS3 version is too problematic for me.

The story is serviceable until the very end. It's the ending moments of the game that really bother me. I understand Ubisoft's ultimate aim is for Sam Fischer to end up as a fugitive who is being hunted by the U.S government. That's the premise of its later title Splinter Cell: Conviction. In the PS2 version, there's a brief cutscene showing a nuclear explosion and the U.S government believes Sam to be one of the people responsible for it. It's not that convincing that would happen but alright, I could sort of buy it. In the PS3 version though, there's not even a brief cutscene like that. Sam becomes a wanted man, for what reason the game doesn't explain at all. There's a part in which Sam can either kill another U.S operative or not, but no matter what he does, CIA designates him as a suspect. That's what the story dictates, logic and cohesion be damned.

I booted up the PS3 version of Double Agent having not so fond memories of its PS2 counterpart but now, after having gotten to the ending credits of both versions, I have a newfound appreciation for the PS2 version. The "next-gen" Double Agent has prettier and wider environments, but those are its only advantages. Everything else about the game reveals worse design choices, making it the worst Splinter Cell game I have ever played.

If this was the first Splinter Cell game I played, I probably wouldn't be as disappointed. But no one should expect that. This is the fourth entry in the series. It should not have mechanics more basic than the very first game in the franchise. I have no idea what Ubisoft was aiming for with this iteration. The only thing they accomplished was releasing just another Splinter Cell game with gameplay awkwardly similair to other previous games in the series, but without any improvements and storytelling that for the first time in the series' history is worse than being serviceable. It's not a horrible game, but thinking of the other Splinter Cell games in the series, it just feels like a pointless game.

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Thoughts on - Sonic Generations (PS3)

Sonic Generations is the best Sonic game to come out in a decade, maybe even in two decades. That statement may not mean all that much since Sonic’s brand has been known to be disappointing after Sonic Adventure 2.

I admit, that judgment wouldn’t be fair to many Sonic fans who enjoyed his outings in the Sonic Rush games, Sonic Heroes, the Wii Sonic & ____ games, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors. I’m not the best person to judge Sonic as a franchise since I haven’t played any Sonic game beyond Sonic 3D Blast, other than Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), a tiny bit of Sonic Heroes and a PSN demo of Sonic 4: Episode Two. Of all the Sonic games to come out in recent years, I drool a bit when I look at gameplay of Sonic Colors. But since I haven’t played that, I’ll only stick to what I know and what I’ve played.

I actually really enjoyed Sonic 3D Blast though it doesn’t have a Sonic feel to it at all. It’s a charming game but most people will go ahead and say it’s not even a real Sonic game. Sonic Heroes was kind of alright but I found it to be riddled with way too many cheap deaths and so couldn’t stomach it after about an hour of it. That’s a shame cause I found the mechanics of using three characters at once pretty cool. What little I played of Sonic 4: Episode Two did not impress me at all. The physics felt really awkward. And Sonic 2006? In my mind, it’s not only the worst Sonic game I’ve ever played, but it’s pretty much the worst game I’ve ever played. That most likely means I haven’t played enough horrible games, but I’m fairly certain, even if I have, I still wouldn’t be able to say anything good about that failure of a game, I mean, other than the game’s soundtrack.

So that brings me to Sonic Generations. It’s the best Sonic game I’ve played in a long, long time. In fact, I think I like it more than the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. I know that’s probably blasphemous but I played through the very first Sonic game again - since it’s available to play in Sonic Generations - and I have to say it hasn’t aged as well as I thought it did. I always disliked the rotating pinball thing or whatever the special stage is in the first game, and I had forgotten just how many slow dragging moments there are in the original Sonic. Marble Zone in particular has those sequences where you have to push a marble block onto a river of lava and slowly ride it across. Pretty tedious if you ask me.

Anywho, enough of me talking about other Sonic games and being blasphemous; I’ll talk about Sonic Generations, which turns out to be a well-crafted homage to the previous 9 main Sonic games released in the past twenty-five years. Twenty of those years were rather cruel to Sonic and his friends, but despite that, as I played through this game, I really came to appreciate all the interesting ideas Sonic Team had thought up of in the past.

I got reacquainted with Sonic 2006, and I didn’t vomit. On the contrary, I was bobbing my head to the tune featured in that game’s level Crisis City Zone. It was a horrible, horrible game, but it did have a great soundtrack, no denying that. Crisis City was running and jumping across highways and skyscrapers torn apart by a volcanic storm with lava monsters scattered about. It’s a pretty neat concept if you think about it. In the classic version of the level, the storm constantly pushes Sonic backwards, making platforming a bit more challenging.

It’s rather genius the way Sonic Generations pays homage to both the 2D beginnings and the 3D outings of Sonic by presenting two different Sonics - the classic Sonic and the modern Sonic. The game’s story explains this split and from there you play the game in two different ways. The “classic” levels achieve what Sonic 4 and Sonic Rush attempted to do, and actually succeeds, with visuals that are so lush and colorful, and with the speed and physics that was only ever captured by original Genesis titles, particularly Sonic the Hedgehog 2. All the “modern” levels have sequences in which the camera rotates and you’re moving Sonic like in a 2D sidescroller but for the most part, the camera stays behind or above Sonic so that you can control him in three dimensions. The modern Sonic levels are a mish mash of wild ideas, feeling like a racing game at some parts, and other times like a 3D platformer, a 2D sidescroller, or a mini-game mode.

In this way, the homages are fairly accurate. As you’d expect, the homage to Sonic 2006 - Crisis City level - is the worst in this game, especially the modern version. The level is actually fun and playable this time, but the same problems that plagued the 2006 title exists here, even if barely. The controls are loose and unpredictably unresponsive on a few segments, the camera angles are abrupt and jerky, and hit detection is off. There’s like a .01 milisecond delay to you hitting the jump button and while that delay can be felt in other levels as well, in Crisis City it’s too painfully noticeable. It’s my least favorite level for the classic Sonic as well. The wind blowing you in the opposite direction is a neat idea on paper, but in execution, it’s annoying, especially when there are so many ways to fall off a ledge to a bottomless pit.

That’s the worst of it though and even that worst part for the most part - and I can’t believe I’m saying this - is quite fun. This game does more than tickle your nostalgia; it’s expertly designed.

One of the things I liked most about Sonic games is that their levels are multi-tiered. The highest routes are usually the best ones, but make some platforming mistakes here and there and you’ll keep moving forward, just on a lower plane, with different challenges to overcome. That philosophy applies to all the levels featured in this game, and the hidden collectible red coins are placed on the top-tier courses. So while there are only nine main levels in this game, they’re still pretty fun to play over again and see what courses you end up in.

All the popular ideas are in this game. You do the loop-de-loop in Green Hill Zone; run over water and jump over rotating blocks; bounce over clouds; get bumped by a killer whale and ride a car on rails; skateboard down what feels like a comical version of San Francisco; and even turn yourself into a pink spike to scale up walls. Maybe modern Sonic games played horribly but I don’t think you can claim that they weren’t creative.

Especially creative are the extra challenge levels. Each Stage features five challenge levels for each Sonic. These include the basic things like getting to the end of a modified segment of a stage before time runs out to pretty unique challenges like finding spots for Knuckles to dig for gold. I enjoyed almost all of these challenge stages. Each stage features a plethora of cool ideas and these levels flesh them out even further, often featuring other characters in the Sonic universe. There are quite a number of awful challenge levels though. My least favorite one and the one I found to be most frustrating involves that crocodile character throwing music notes at you and you have to use your homing attack to bounce it back at him. The camera and controls are far too unwieldy to complete that level the way you want to.

There’s a staple challenge in each stage. Expect every stage to have a “doppleganger challenge” in which you have to finish the stage faster than the other computer-controlled Sonic. So if you selected classic Sonic, you’re going to be playing the classic version of the stage and trying your best to beat the stage before modern Sonic does. I really didn’t see the need for this inclusion since it’s an exact repeat of the main stage. Also, on some of the stages, these challenges feel unfair. The other Sonic can be far too perfect in his actions.

What makes Sonic Generations especially awesome is its graphics and its music. I feel there’s always been this upbeat charming quality about the visuals of all Sonic games, even when it takes place in a more realistic setting like an urban city. Even back to the Genesis/NES days, I’ve much preferred the colorful sophisticated environments of Sonic to the simple and cartoon style look of Mario levels. In Sonic Generations it’s all in 3D and it’s glorious. The awesome visuals make me wish there were more stages in Sonic Generations, preferably the zones featuring snow or set inside an ominous flying fortress. I can just imagine playing Sonic Generations version of Ice Cap Zone or Flying Battery Zone (and with that music!) and that makes me smile, real wide.

It’s just too bad these nine stages and the forty-five short challenge levels are it. I realize the developers chose to pick just one Sonic zone out of each of the nine Sonic games but still I’m left longing for more. If not more stages then at least a lot more boss stages. There are just four main boss stages and two final bosses to beat, and only one of them is fun as that’s the only one played in the classic 2D way. Other boss battles are more of racing set pieces and feel really awkward, especially the very last boss. I really hated the last boss fight. Sonic games had boss fights in which he’s flying as Super Sonic fighting before, and those were awesome. The one in Sonic Generations just sucks. The horrible and looped voice acting only makes it worse.

One thing I can kind of overlook but still is rather lackluster is how you can buy new skills for Sonic and equip them. The most important skill in my opinion is the one that makes Sonic move faster. There are some cool skills, but the huge downside is that it costs points to equip a skill and Sonic only has 100 points. It’s only 100 points because most of the skills cost 40-70 skill points to equip. That means you can really only equip one skill at a time. Adding to that bad design, these skills can only be equipped by running all the way back to the first section of the hub world and using a really clunky menu interface to buy, customize, and equip skills. This part of the game can easily be overlooked since skills don’t add too much to the game but nonetheless, it’s something Sonic Generations could have gotten right, but didn’t.

With all its shortcomings and the I-wish-it-did-this-insteads, Sonic Generations is the best designed Sonic game in two decades. It looks beautiful, it sounds so charming, and it plays so well. The game is a bit too fast and too sloppy at times, sometimes forgetting that what makes Sonic great is awesome platforming ideas and not just his speed, but if you’ve been nothing but disappointed by Sonic in the past and yet still wish he was cool, here’s a chance to salute the blue blur in all his glory. May Sonic remember this homage and start being great again.

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My Thoughts on - Batman: Arkham City (played on PS3)

Batman: Arkham City (PS3)

As far as sequels go, Batman: Arkham City is a big one. Compare it to the prequel Batman: Arkham Aslyum, and you’ll quickly find that everything about Arkham City is bigger and grander in scale. Before you were investigating an asylum; now you got what seems to be a city to explore. As the back of the box states, that’s five times the size of Arkham Asylum. That’s not all though, because along with the increase in size of the game’s playground, everything else became more too: more collectibles, more gadgets, more enemy types, more combo moves, more challenges, and more characters.

Batman: Arkham City features lots of characters. With DLC there are more playable characters, including Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing, and they all have different costumes they can put on. Then there are the villains. Save for a few, it’s like all the villains of the Batman universe are here. The game starts by introducing The Penguin, letting you beat the crap out of him, but soon, the prison city becomes open to explore, and you’ll find that it’s overrun with criminals and their masterminds. Expect to come across famous villains like Mr. Freeze and Two-Face, but also obscure characters that only die-hard Batman fans would really be familiar with, which include the likes of Calendarman, Mad Hatter, Hush, and Deadshot.

Basically, Arkham City is the ultimate Batman game. You can’t expect a bigger better sequel than this.

Well, in theory I suppose you couldn’t, but oh the other hand, there are many times during my playthrough of the game where I felt frustrated and wished I was playing the prequel Batman: Arkham Asylum instead. To me, the thing that makes Arkham City so tedious at times is the same thing that makes it so much grander than its prequel: its open-world nature. I mean, yes, it’s awesome to leap off a tall building, flap open Batman’s cape and glide, but at the same time, that’s what you have to do any time you need to go somewhere. A good number of side missions are about gliding around Arkham City. The perfect example is the side mission Cold Call Killer, in which you have to track down Victor Zsasz’s location by getting to a ringing payphone booth within the time limit. Also, because the middle “restricted area” of Arkham City is guarded by these tall fortress walls which you can’t land on or grapple onto, you’ll find yourself having to go around this area many times. There’s no denying that gliding around Arkham City - especially after you attain the grapple boost ability - can be great fun, but it can also get tiresome having to glide so much.

There also were a number of times I felt frustrated trying to figure out how to enter a building. The game uses different markers to tell you where to go next and how to get there. Early on in the game I have to find Mr. Freeze, and since he’s going to be located in the coldest place of the city, I use this thermal device that displays increasing numbers in blue if I’m going the right direction and decreasing numbers in red if I’m heading the wrong way. Most times, there’s a small indicator displaying how many meters I’m from my destination, which my movements will increase or decrease. Complemented with a map screen I can access anytime by pressing the select button, this system works well. I don’t really have an issue with how the game shows me where to go. Even so, there were so many times when I needed to enter a building, I would spend a good amount of time frustrated, puzzled as to where the entrance was.

It might be because much of the traveling is done gliding high up in the skies and running on rooftops while the entrances are usually at ground level. The few times in which I had no trouble starting a mission were when the entrances were in higher places, such as when I had to enter Joker’s hideout by diving into the building’s smokestacks. Thinking back of all the entrances, they were designed like puzzles. I suppose you can argue it’s a clever way to make you use your newfound gadgets and abilities, but a lot of times, it just felt unnecessary. For example, there are two times you have to enter the police station. Both times the way you enter the building is different. The first time, you have to find a small metal gate and fire an electric charge so that it opens a gate just large enough for you to slide under. The next time you have to enter the station, you have to go towards the side of the building that faces the coastal waters and grapple your way to the building’s second floor back entrance. It’s bad enough most of these entrances are obscured by other taller buildings surrounding them but for them to hidden in such a manner is not great design. Figuring out how to get from here to there is fun when I’m already on a mission inside a building, but frustrating when trying to start one.

For few side missions, the hardest part is figuring out where the entrances are. This is especially the case for the mission “Heart of Ice,” in which I have to find Mr. Freeze’s wife. The map shows her to be held hostage in this factory building. The entrance door is locked though and there are no ways in from the roofs or from the vents. The only way inside involves the use of freeze grenade to create an icy raft to ride on and of explosive gel to blow a hall in the wall. Once inside the building, you just have to beat a couple of goons and that’s it. That’s pretty much the side mission. Riddler side missions work pretty much the same way. Batman has get to the locations where Ridder’s holding hostages. Good luck trying to find the entrance, but after you do, consider the mission accomplished. It just feels really weird that beginning a mission is more work than actually doing the mission.

Thankfully, the main story missions themselves are designed rather expertly. Once you enter the building and start the mission, it’s like playing Arkham Asylum, but with more gadgets to utilize. The pacing is similar, having you go through a couple of small rooms or corridors by having you figure out which gadgets to use and then there’s a large room filled with enemies with many opportunities for sneaky takedowns. Just as before, expect vents to crawl in (and you still have to repeatedly tap the X button to prop open the vent doors), weak walls to use explosive gels on, and gargoyle statues to grapple onto. I’m still loving this pacing, though I’m left a bit ambivalent about how much more tech savvy the enemies have gotten.

On one hand, it’s a fun challenge trying to stay undetected from enemies armed with shotguns, heartbeat sensors, and thermal goggles. Theirs guns can be countered once with a smoke grenade, making you practically invisible for a short time, and their goggles become rather moot once you gain a suit upgrade, but damn those sensors, they are a pain. See, about an hour or two into the game, most of the enemies start wearing these sensors that go haywire when a comrade gets knocked out. This means that once I do a silent takedown on someone, I have to quickly flee the scene and stay undetected because groups of them are now going to come and investigate the body I just knocked unconscious. This really breaks the flow of things. I love stealth games and I’m extremely patient with them, but having to wait until the group of enemies start separating, even I can lose my patience and just start going crazy. With a lot of upgrades and gadgets to help me out, going crazy usually worked fairly well, but there are just as many times when I ended up with a game over screen, and a 3D model of a Batman villain insulting me.

Perhaps the game would have been way too easy if enemies remained unaware if one of them got knocked out quietly way off in the distance. I can’t say for certain if I would have preferred that. What I can say is that because of the way Arkham City is, a lot of those stealth arenas can be a bit grating.

I might be wrong on this but I think the goons of Arkham City are better armed than the ones in Arkham Aslyum. It’s been a long while since I last played AA, but I remember that even in the later parts of the game, there still were a number of areas in which I could just drop into a group of enemies armed only with melee weapons and just start beating them up. Granted, there’s still a lot of hand-to-hand combat involved in Arkham City because you’ll always encounter them in the hub world outside the buildings, but I felt that in the later parts of the game, the main story levels are mostly guarded by goons with guns. That’s probably why the moment that really stands out to me during the final acts of the game’s story is when I have to fight a group of enemies, most of whom are armed with pipes, electrically charged batons, gas canisters, and riot shields. Well, two had assault rifles but they didn’t really use them once the fight started. It’s that scene where Batman has to get to the top of the Wonder Tower and he finds a couple of hostages tied up and crouching in front of a huge TV screen. Doctor Strange is talking on the TV screen while I as Batman try my best to beat up this aggressive group of goons.

Speaking of hand-to-hand combat, it’s pretty much the same system first featured in Arkham Asylum. Batman finds himself surrounded by a mob, and one or two will try to attack and that’s when you can press the counter button and watch Batman block and dodge and flip around like a martial artist on acid. Second time around and controlling Batman do these crazy awesome moves still feels powerful and badass. On the first playthrough of the game, every time an enemy’s about to do an attack there appears these colored squiggly line above his head. The squiggly lines will be blue most of the time but it’s important to watch out for other colors because Arkham City features many different kinds of enemies.

Each type of enemies must be taken out differently. The guy with a riot shield for example cannot be countered and Batman can only hurt him by doing an aerial combo (O, X, then X button). Enemies with electrically charged batons have been featured in Arkham Aslyum before and same as last time, they can only be attacked from behind. There’s this huge ugly sucker with a hammer you need to stun using the remote charger device. Another huge guy with a sickle arm needs to be attacked by a cape stun combo. There’s a good amount of variety, making combat feel pretty fresh and unique, at least initially. Towards the end of the game, all enemy types will be grouped together, and those kinds of fights were awful awful chores. It gets difficult, but not the fun kind of difficult.

Just as there are more enemy types, Arkham City also has a lot more boss fights. The side missions feature main viallains, but even the main story levels themselves have a good amount of boss battles. They’re still rather mediocre and repetitive, requiring you to roll around a lot, tap a shortcut button to use a gadget, and then do a beatdown, and do the same thing two more times. Still, I think the boss fights in Arkham City are a big improvement over the ones in Arkham Asylum. The fight against Mr. Freeze stands out. It’s so creative. You’re confined in this area filled with a lot of takedown opportunities, and you’re going to need almost all of those opportunities because Freeze doesn’t fall for the same thing twice. For example, if you drop on him from the skies, you’ll get him good but then when Freeze regains his sense, he freezes your cape so you can no longer fly. Attacking him from the back is a good tactic but once you do so, his backpack starts spewing out icicles so now it’s impossible to attack his back. That’s just two examples. I think it’s one of the best boss fights this generation. The only other games of this generation featuring as creative boss fights would be... Hmm... MGS4? God of War III? Demon’s/Dark Souls... Can’t think of anything else now.

The thing that detracts from Freeze boss fight though is that in terms of the game’s plot, it made no sense at all.

Now come the spoilers, which will be underlined so you can skip them if you wish.

I understand Mr. Freeze is a Batman villain but up to that point in the game, Batman has pretty much done everything Freeze has asked him to do. It was because of Batman that Freeze got his suit and gun back from The Penguin. Batman nearly died obtaining the blood of Ras Al’Ghol so that Freeze can use it to develop a cure for the Titan Syndrome. Freeze knows Joker was the one who kidnapped Freeze’s wife. The most reasonable thing for Freeze to do would be to ask Batman to rescue his wife and then demand that’s the only way he would give Batman the cure. Instead, Freeze gets all upset, and tries to fight Batman. As a gamer, I absolutely loved having to fight against Freeze like that, but thinking about it, it was made possible at the sacrifice of good storytelling.

This part of the game’s story stands out so much to me because I feel the narrative of Arkham City up to and beyond that point was pretty cohesive. It was a kind of disorienting how so many villains just popped in only to become trivial so quickly afterwards but even so, each appearance and defeat of a villain drove Batman that much harder to find that cure, and to really put an end to the Joker. Ra’s Al’Ghol showing up to kill Dr. Strange atop the Wonder Tower and revealing that he was behind the whole charade all along too was just absurdly disorienting but it didn’t break me out of the game’s universe like Mr. Freeze having the sudden urge to fight Batman. If not for that moment, I think I much preferred the story of Arkahm City over Arkham Asylum’s, especially because of the ending. It’s shocking not only to Joker but also to me and probably most other viewers out there that at the end of the day, Batman still would have actually given that cure to Joker and let him live. Joker didn’t believe that though. He thought this time Batman would actually let Joker die. That was the Joker’s final error in judgment, making the ending of the game so powerful. When the credits hit, I kind of didn’t know what to feel, to feel victorious that Joker was now gone, or kind of guilty that it ended that way. And boy, how about that shocking twist at the end? That totally came out of nowhere and hit me right in the balls. I winced and when I came to my senses, I was like, “Oh wow, so that’s what happened.”

Overall, except for a few moments that just feel so out of left field, like why Freeze fights Batman, Arkham City’s story is compelling. And dark. Boy is it dark. Whereas Arkahm Asylum begins with a triumph of Joker being captured, Arkham City begins with the defeat of Bruce Wayne himself beaten, and imprisoned, his Batman identity no longer a secret to one of the main villains. From there on, the story only gets more and more twisted and Batman more and more beaten. By end, I wondered how Batman could still glide around as there are so many holes in his suit and on his cape. I enjoyed the story of Arkham Asylum but with Arkahm City, because of the whole vibe and direction of the narrative, I was so strongly driven by this urge to see more what happens with Batman. It’s a game I couldn’t not finish.

That’s not to say that the story of Arkham City is amazing, but I just found it very driven. It may not win any awards in storytelling and I’m sure it doesn’t deserve any, but it makes you care, and on top of the great gameplay and great graphics, that means a lot.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about Arkham City. It’s a game I rented from Gamefly so I unfortunately did not get to play Catwoman sections. I’m sure it’s great fun, but I’m just left curious how it plays and how the Catwoman’s story ties into Batman’s, if it does at all. I’m trying my best right now to find a job and stay afloat as an unemployed bum, but someday, I’ll have an income and I’ll buy the game to find for myself how Catwoman plays. Robin and Nightwing I don’t really care too much about cause I feel like they would play very similarly to Batman.

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