Retrospective: The Colours Still Feel So Right

soniccoloursretro

2010 was an interesting time to be a Sonic fan. At the start of the year, the franchise was at one of its lowest points, with jokes about the Sonic Cycle being thrown around every which way following the downward spiral of quality in the games – Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic ’06, Sonic and the Black Knight… even 2008’s Sonic Unleashed, the closest thing to a step in the right direction we’d seen, was critically panned and bogged down by poor design choices. Luckily, there seemed to be a shining ray of light on the horizon, one that the entire fanbase was clinging their hopes onto, something that promised to set the series back on track at last…

That game was Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. And we all know how that turned out.

Yes, rather unjustly in retrospect, it was the disappointing sequel to the classic Sonic trilogy that garnered the most attention in 2010. Instead, there was another, far better, far more memorable Sonic game released that year that deserved to receive the lion’s share of fan interest. Announced slap bang in the middle of the Sonic 4 hype, Sonic Colours – or Sonic Colors, for our American readers – was eternally in the shadow of its downloadable counterpart, with only a month separating the two games’ release dates in October and November respectively. It’s understandable, of course – the game’s rather obscure title and lack of concrete gameplay details upon its initial reveal made Colours a bit of a harder sell compared to the prospect of a follow-up to Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Even I’ll admit, I thought Sonic Colours would be a puzzle or spin-off title when I first saw its announcement… but fast forward a few months, and it ended up being one of my favourite Sonic games of all time.

NE Sonic Colours Wii 5

Whereas Sonic 4’s hype train went out of control before well and truly coming off the rails, the more quiet and subtle excitement surrounding Sonic Colours actually worked in its favour. When the astonishingly good reviews came rolling in – that all important first score of 86 from NGamer and an 8.5 from IGN, to name but a couple (let’s just forget that 4.5 from Destructoid though, eh?) – it caught us all by surprise and made us appreciate the game even more. It not only surpassed Sonic 4, it trampled all over it and gave us the first genuinely good Sonic experience in years. Say what you want about the game, but you cannot deny that Sonic Colours set alight the hearts of several fans and critics again after oh so long.

So what was it about the title that sparked off such acclaim? Well… a bit of everything, really. Presentation-wise, Colours definitely delivers on its title – this is a bright, quirky, visually appealing adventure that really pushes the graphical boundaries of the Wii to their limits. While we’ve since seen the likes of Planet Wisp and Starlight Carnival recreated in high definition in Sonic Generations and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, their original incarnations still hold up beautifully on Nintendo’s last-gen system. What really stands out about Colours though is its sheer imagination, fusing recurring Sonic tropes into entirely fresh new locations such as the tropical casino aesthetic of Tropical Resort and the watery Chun-Nan that is Aquarium Park. Despite being a modern 3D title, Colours captures the vibe and essence – and, dare I say it, magic – of the classic era better than ever before (arguably better even that Sonic 4 did), to the extent that famous badniks like Motobugs even make their long-awaited return with a few new twists of their own.

Sonic Colours Wii screen 1 1st Aug

Musically, the soundtrack is also up there with the finest in the series – and that’s an impressive feat considering how consistently brilliant Sonic music tends to be (Chronicles notwithstanding). Almost every tune is a joy to listen to, ranging from the adrenaline-pumping sounds of Terminal Velocity to the gentle and serene Planet Wisp tracks. It’s also the last time we had a vocal song as the main theme of a Sonic game – can you believe it’s been four years already? – and, while Cash Cash’s Reach For The Stars and Speak With Your Heart aren’t to everybody’s taste, they’re serviceable enough and undeniably catchy for those who want to sing along as the credits roll.

Most importantly, Colours nailed the gameplay. Taking the day stages from Sonic Unleashed as a basis, cutting out all of the nonsense like medal hunting and Werehogs, every stage was a high octane blast of speedy Sonic fun. The level design is top notch with some hugely enjoyable courses to overcome right from the off – there’s no messing around with opening cutscenes or tutorials, you press Start at the title screen and you’re straight into Tropical Resort Act 1. It’s a platformer at its most straightforward – clear one level, move onto the next, rinse and repeat until you face off against the world’s boss, then move onto the next area – and it’s all the better for it, with nothing to get in the way of the fun and preventing it from becoming sidetracked by anything unnecessary.

Sonic Colours Pink Wisp screen 1

It’s the Wisps that really steal the spotlight here though. Before 2010, if you heard the words “Sonic” and “gimmick” in the same sentence, you’d shudder in horror. Fishing, treasure hunting, guns, motion controls, stretchy armed brawling, talking swords… you name it, Sonic had probably tried it, often to disastrous effect. But the Wisps did something that none of these other gimmicks were capable of – adding to the basic Sonic gameplay rather than detracting from it or outright replacing it. Each of the different coloured Wisps grants Sonic a new kind of Colour Power to utilise as he traverses his way through a level, be it a quick-firing laser, the ability to hover, or a drill to dig through the earth (or cake, if you happen to be in Sweet Mountain). Each is a bite-sized burst of fun, never outstaying its welcome and often leading to some previously unexplored section of a stage. In a game where the gimmicks are almost entirely optional, you’ll be actively wanting to use them more than ever, going back to previous locales to seek out those hidden Red Rings you missed first time around because you hadn’t unlocked the right Wisp yet. They’re a joyous addition, and it’s a shame that they were used much less gratifyingly in their comeback appearances in Generations and Lost World.

This isn’t even scratching the surface of what Colours brought to the table – a brand new voice cast featuring Roger Craig Smith in his Sonic debut (if you conveniently ignore Sonic Free Riders, as most people do), a more simple and streamlined narrative focusing on just Sonic and Tails rather than the cavalcade of sub-par sidekicks seen previously, the infamous Eggman P.A. announcements, and the first time we’ve seen Super Sonic playable in regular levels in a 3D game. It was a total shift for the Sonic series, both tonally and reception-wise, and it was just the ticket to dig the hedgehog out of the hole he’d dug himself into over the preceding years.

All praise aside, it’s not the perfect Sonic game – there’s some awkward difficulty spikes, it’s only a few hours long, and the story is rather minimal with some love-it-or-hate-it scripting – but it’s by far the most original entry we’ve seen in the franchise in recent memory, Generations included. There’s a certain magic and a certain joy that I get from playing and looking back on Sonic Colours, and that’s something that’s distinct from any other entry in the franchise.

Sonic Colours Wii screenshots 21

In this uncertain age where Sonic is once again descending into mediocrity, it’s enlightening to remember that once upon a time, when even the most promising of projects led only to the bitterness of disappointment, a game like Sonic Colours came along out of nowhere and revitalised the series in a way no one expected. Who’s to say that lightning can’t strike twice…? And, if nothing else, it proves that Sonic can do Nintendo exclusivity right when it puts its mind to it. Sorry Lost World and Boom, but you’ve got nothing on this gem.

With Sonic Colours, SEGA reached for the stars – and boy, did they come close. Four years on and the colours still seem as right and as bright as they ever did. Long may they continue to shine.

What are your feelings and memories about Sonic Colours? We’d love to know your thoughts too, so sound off in the comments! Don’t fall apart, speak with your heart!

TSS Reviews: Sonic Boom Toys (Video & pics) UPDATED AND PRICES

FULL SET! Check for new information in bold.

The gang's all here.

UPDATE: I now got the full set of figures and have some new news on this toy set including pricing. Prices are actually pretty darn fair.

After heading to two different Toys R’ Us’s yesterday, I managed to snag some of the Sonic Boom action figures that have just been released from Tomy. Outside of my video review, I wanted to give a few more details.

Prices and figure sets. (Prices are from Toys R’ Us USA)

Single packs (Sticks, Sonic and Knuckles) $5.99  

Two packs (Sonic & Amy, Knuckles, & Tails, Orbot & Cubot) $7.99

Vehicle Sets (Eggman & Eggmobile, Knuckles & Hoverboard, Sonic & Spindash wheel)  $12.99

Sonic with Burnbot is $19.99

Check Toysrus.com for prices on other Sonic Boom toys and plushies.

There are two Sonic head molds. One with a frown (Sonic & Burnbot) and one with a devilish grin (Sonic & Amy)

IMG_0068[1]

While the vehicle sets are in a plastic bubble, Sonic and Burnbot are in an open box.

Burnbot has been the toughest toy I’ve ever taken out of a package. He had the wire twist-ties going inside of his body and all around. Sonic was hard to get out as well.

No bumpy elbows means slightly less articulation, but more detail on the toys and they stand up much easier. Shoulders still have huge bumps for articulation. Not noticeable on Knuckles or Tails.

I had a hard time getting Eggman’s foot to fit in the peg in the Eggmobile as it was too close to a ramp in it’s floor.

All figures can stand pretty easily. Even Burnbot if you keep one claw down.

Except Orbot and Cubot who are basically PVC figures with no moveable joints and can barely stand if at all. Cubot was the worst and he’s a freakin’ cube! I added two black lego pieces that are hard to see to keep his head up enough to make him stand.

There was only one Sticks on the rack and plenty f Knuckles and Sonic single figures leading me to believe she may be single-packed (one per case) like many female figures tend to be.

While Amy has her skin color all the way around the back of her head behind her hair/quills, for some reason, her and Sticks are ummm…..”going commando”. I guess they ran out of white paint doing the sports tape.

As mentioned in juvi’s video review (check comments section), Tails “tails” start off as one and only split into two near the end.

That reviewer had a problem with Sticks’ head being wobbly, but mine’s fine.

While the paint detail of Sonic with his spin dash vehicle in a bubble was nicely detailed, for some reason, finding a Burnbot Sonic with a good paint job was next to impossible. Many having the white of his eyes bleeding onto his muzzle.

Neither Eggman or Knuckles can turn their heads

There are 3 different toys that come with a plain Sonic action figure.

Overall, they stand up well and look nice on a shelf but lack articulation (which may be a good thing in this case) and the paint detail can be a bit off (or none in the case of poor Amy and Sticks undergarments).

TSS Reviews: Sonic Boom Toys (Video & pics) UPDATED AND PRICES

YouTube Preview Image

FULL SET! Check for new information in bold.

The gang's all here.

The gang’s all here.

UPDATE: I now got the full set of figures and have some new news on this toy set including pricing. Prices are actually pretty darn fair.

After heading to two different Toys R’ Us’s yesterday, I managed to snag some of the Sonic Boom action figures that have just been released from Tomy. Outside of my video review, I wanted to give a few more details.

Prices and figure sets. (Prices are from Toys R’ Us USA)

Single packs (Sticks, Sonic and Knuckles) $5.99  

Two packs (Sonic & Amy, Knuckles, & Tails, Orbot & Cubot) $7.99

Vehicle Sets (Eggman & Eggmobile, Knuckles & Hoverboard, Sonic & Spindash wheel)  $12.99

Sonic with Burnbot is $19.99

Check Toysrus.com for prices on other Sonic Boom toys and plushies.

There are two Sonic head molds. One with a frown (Sonic & Burnbot) and one with a devilish grin (Sonic & Amy)

IMG_0068[1]

Left Sonic – “I get bundled with Burnbot. You?” Right Sonic – “Pantiless Amy!”

 While the vehicle sets are in a plastic bubble, Sonic and Burnbot are in an open box.

Burnbot has been the toughest toy I’ve ever taken out of a package. He had the wire twist-ties going inside of his body and all around. Sonic was hard to get out as well.

No bumpy elbows means slightly less articulation, but more detail on the toys and they stand up much easier. Shoulders still have huge bumps for articulation. Not noticeable on Knuckles or Tails.

I had a hard time getting Eggman’s foot to fit in the peg in the Eggmobile as it was too close to a ramp in it’s floor.

All figures can stand pretty easily. Even Burnbot if you keep one claw down.

Except Orbot and Cubot who are basically PVC figures with no moveable joints and can barely stand if at all. Cubot was the worst and he’s a freakin’ cube! I added two black lego pieces that are hard to see to keep his head up enough to make him stand.

There was only one Sticks on the rack and plenty f Knuckles and Sonic single figures leading me to believe she may be single-packed (one per case) like many female figures tend to be.

While Amy has her skin color all the way around the back of her head behind her hair/quills, for some reason, her and Sticks are ummm…..”going commando”. I guess they ran out of white paint doing the sports tape.

As mentioned in juvi’s video review (check comments section), Tails “tails” start off as one and only split into two near the end.

That reviewer had a problem with Sticks’ head being wobbly, but mine’s fine.

While the paint detail of Sonic with his spin dash vehicle in a bubble was nicely detailed, for some reason, finding a Burnbot Sonic with a good paint job was next to impossible. Many having the white of his eyes bleeding onto his muzzle.

Neither Eggman or Knuckles can turn their heads

There are 3 different toys that come with a plain Sonic action figure.

Overall, they stand up well and look nice on a shelf but lack articulation (which may be a good thing in this case) and the paint detail can be a bit off (or none in the case of poor Amy and Sticks undergarments).

Review: The Great Chaos Caper

Insert some lyrics to one of Knuckles’ numerous rap themes here.

chaosleaves

He must go, his planet needs him. Literally.

It’s rather apt that the second comic arc review I’ve done after Countdown to Chaos is another arc with Chaos in the name, even if not technically in the same comic series (Sonic Universe this time, instead of Sonic the Hedgehog). Believe me; I think the appropriate name linking goes beyond just a word in the title. The Great Chaos Caper, I’d say, is a thematic opposite to Countdown to Chaos at its fundamental core. But I’ll get more into that way later on.

What we have here is the first foray of Knuckles and the Chaotix in the new universe. Knuckles is still as much of a stubborn island loner as ever, but he needs a bit more help if he’s going to try and fix his currently battered island. And it’s not just a gang of petty thieves he needs to face off against, with aliens and monsters also getting mixed into the fray, even if Knuckles himself isn’t the one who encounters them all. So, armed with his wits and a detective trio who want something different but happen to be going the same, how does he fare in this tale of mystery? And how does the story hold up in general? Read on to find out. Spoilers for Great Chaos Caper obviously, and some minor details about Total Eclipse and Champions, nothing very plot specific though.

Comedy and action is a pretty good summary of it.

Comedy and action is a pretty good summary of it.

When Two Tribes Go To War

While Countdown to Chaos showed us the beginning of the shattered world crisis, Great Chaos Caper follows on by showing us the first major character to be affected by it that isn’t a freedom fighter. Knuckles, physically alone while guarding the Master Emerald, is horrified at what’s happening; Angel Island has fallen apart quite literally. Chaos springs to the planet surface for his appearance in Waves of Change and Tikal (the comic wants it to be a mystery but it really isn’t) tells him to the surface for a mission he’ll find out when he discovers it. He gets help in to look after the M.E, the reader is introduced to the new cast of Knuckles comprised of Relic the Pika with Fixit, and he sets off. While a pretty short introductory sequence, it’s an effective one for quickly placing the reader into an entirely new scenario, bringing old game elements and new comic additions together for an intriguing start.

Knuckles’ mission brings him to Pumpkin Hill, and in the path of emerging Dark Gaia monsters. After the Chaotix show out of nowhere and help, the vast majority of the rest of the arc’s narrative can simply be described as “shenanigans”.  The crew navigate Pumpkin Hill while putting up with magic rubber bands and Charmy flying scared. Not long after he’s found again, they run into the Hooligans and begin fighting. When it becomes apparent that neither party has the Chaos Emerald, the Hooligans retreat to Aquatic Mine with the heroes in pursuit. They struggle to work their way around the mine, with Knuckles almost forcibly separating from the Chaotix out of frustration until a few seconds later they run into Chip, who has the Chaos Emerald everyone wants. Knuckles and Charmy bond with Chip for a bit while everyone is walking around, but then the Hooligans show up again to cause trouble, this time managing to take Chip as a by-product of stealing the Emerald. Knuckles and the Chaotix are left to fight a Dark Gaia Titan, which they manage to elude through some quick-thinking from Vector. They catch up to the Hooligans again, take back Chip and the Emerald, fight off the Titan and escape. After a return to Pumpkin Hill where the Chaotix give Knuckles the Emerald for safekeeping during the crisis, Knuckles returns to the Island only to be told by that she suspects an alien invasion, tying up Shadow Fall to this and the upcoming Total Eclipse.

relicshadows

The sub-plot does have some wonderfully eerie shots. Fitting for its purpose.

In terms of total plot, there isn’t that much. The main focus is more on the interaction and character banter. From Bean breaking the fourth wall in a rather obvious manner to Fang being his usual temperamental little self to half-issues dedicated to simply Knuckles going around with the Chaotix and reacting to their eccentric personalities, it seems a comic form of a road trip film for a good chunk of the story.  There is one strong thread of a plot though, and that would be through new girl Relic; disobeying Knuckles’ orders to watch the Master Emerald, she spies on some strange plants on the island, and goes through various zones trying to figure out where they might have come from. It’s this plot, which results in the earlier mentioned alien invasion revelation, that really acts as a bridge between the events of Shadow Fall and Total Eclipse and justifies it as a trilogy of arcs. Otherwise, there is no connection is just standalone fun. One thing I will say is that there’s a single page in between the Chaotix’s escapades where we get to see team Hooligan fall under tensions themselves regarding moral boundaries. There’s no fruit seen in this arc for it, but with the ending page teasing a new story for them to be in (which takes the form of the upcoming Champions arc), it will probably be revisited again in the future.

The big controversy I’ve noticed crop up from this arc is the arrival of Chip, or more specifically how it’s done. In Unleashed, Sonic crashed into him, felt bad because he thought he’d caused the amnesia, named him and then hung around with him not knowing about his Light Gaia status. Here, he’s found in a mine by Knuckles and the Chaotix, named by Charmy after Chip mentioned various dairy products, likes hanging around Knuckles (and Charmy, before he departed) and already knows he’s called Light Gaia thanks to Tikal telling him. Me, I’m on a fence about these changes. While they don’t personally drag the arc down for me, I do have to wonder if the Chip and Sonic stuff will seem as good as Unleashed when (or if) it happens because of all this occurring before, it certainly won’t seem as strong to start with. And I have to raise my eyebrows at how Chip already had enough knowledge of sweet things like chocolate chips and custard to be able to give Charmy the cue to name him, that just felt forced and could have been handled a bit better.

Theatre Role Call

Great Chaos Caper has a pretty big cast lined up for some hi-jinks. Some work well with this ensemble, others seems to lag behind a bit from all the madcap antics going on. I’ve done an individual breakdown to fully explain how they all work, in my view.

  • Knuckles is pretty much the main character in this arc…and the story, in my opinion, suffers for it a bit. Knuckles in the comic was always sombre and full of melodrama. This is worlds away from his game self, who has been comic relief for a long time. Going into the reboot, I was expecting a balance of the two. What I got was more of the sombre Knuckles, and aside from some moments drawn from his shyness around girls, he was a non-entity. In an arc where the character sells it, it’s weird that Knuckles is more just a board for other characters to bounce off than an entertaining character in his own right. What makes it more perplexing is that traits he has in the games that would naturally make for some nice comedy (most prominently his aversion towards ghosts) are given to characters who don’t have them in the games and quite frankly didn’t need them. Ian did great Knuckles characterisation in Worlds Collide, the only reason I can think of for not using that here is to make him fit better in the upcoming Total Eclipse arc. And that’s not really a benefit to him here, nor would I say necessary for the long run. Then again, in the first part of Total Eclipse he seems more in line with that compromise idea anyway, so perhaps he just doesn’t work as well when the rest of the cast is so zany.
  • In this particular arc, Charmy gets to be the character who bounces off Knuckles the most, making comments on him and joining in on befriending Chip by naming him. In the past, he had been brain damaged and very awkward to focus on (only starting to get focus again in Chaotix Quest). Because of this, I can understand why Ian, no longer shackled by his narrative regret, would want to really utilise Charmy for all the interaction he can get. And it’s not like it doesn’t work, so it’s nice to see Charmy flying high with the big guys. And he gets some great moments of humour to boot, especially with Bean.
  • From a story perspective, Chip is a bit confused right now. Amnesiac, but with knowledge of products like cookies and custard (the former is what inspires Charmy’s naming). Unaware of his purpose, but aware of who he is. It’s definitely a system shock for those with familiarity with Unleashed, but we likely don’t have all the pieces yet. From an interaction standpoint, he’s decent. Mostly from how he hangs with the above characters, but he gets a joke or two in with the other people he encounters.
  • Vector is on good form in this arc. There are no notable down to earth, serious moments for him, but he works well as a greedy but clever and big-hearted comic relief. Honestly, if he’d be nothing but comic relief throughout, I (and probably Jason too) would have been a bit miffed about it. Fortunately, he really gets to shine in the last issue of the arc and demonstrates why he’s the head honcho, something which I’d argue the old continuity sold him short on.
  • Espio’s good too, although arguably the member with the least to do in this arc. He spends most of the time bouncing off Vector for humour, he gets a snarky word/serious word in at Knuckles on occasion and he gets to beat up baddies in the usual ninja fashion (and do some hacking). When you have about eight leads for almost every issue, not all of them can get equal share.
  • Nack makes his first appearance since all the way back in Treasure Team Tango, and nothing has been lost in the transition. Aside from getting a very slight redesign to make him look more like his classic self (note how his nose colour changes from black in Universe 63 to blue in Universe 64!), he’s as dastardly as ever and draws out humour from his short fuse and comical reactions.
  • Hot off the heels of Pirate Plunder Panic and their small bit in Countdown to Chaos, Bark (and Bean) reunites with Nack to reform the Hooligans. Bark still is the silent type with a bit of a grumpy attitude on the side. He gets a little more depth here though as he shows that he does have some moral qualms with the work that they’re doing. Perhaps the future story will really start to push him out as an individual.
  • I’ve always been one of the minority who wasn’t so fond of Bean’s humour.
    upsidedown

    I’m not sure what’s more impressive; the fact that Bean can speak upside down, or the fact that Charmy can understand that it’s upside down.

    Despite this, I felt that Pirate Plunder Panic was genuinely one of the best shows for him in the comic and enjoyed the way he was handled there. While not quite up to the bar set by that arc, Great Chaos Caper is another pretty good showing for Bean as he gets to show off his attitude, as well as a surprisingly volatile temper. For some readers, he’ll probably be a scene stealer.

  • Relic is the new character on the block, and she’s nice for what we’ve seen of her. She’s an archaeologist who seems a bit overeager about her work, and her character contrasts with Knuckles effectively. Her subplot is set-up for Total Eclipse so we get to see her curious side as well. I fully expect her to get some great moments in throughout Total Eclipse.
  • Fixit is Relic’s Gizoid helper. He doesn’t really do much here, but his very presence sets up mystery about the exact nature of the Gizoids in the new continuity. A small but appreciated expansion on the lore.

This arc doesn’t have many characters in there that aren’t just bit parts; everyone gets at least a good portion of time at the forefront. Tikal shows up at the end after being the one to send Knuckles on the mission, and she’s shown to deeply respect Chip to the point of divulging his identity to him (although he doesn’t understand the implication of the title). Eggman just shows up for one page as the one who hired the Hooligans, and that’s set up for the aforementioned Champions arc, not really a display of character.

Sketching Out The Suspects

Sonic Universe tends to have just one set of art personnel per arc, and Great Chaos Caper is no different in terms of internal art and regular covers. Tracy Yardley helms the way on pencils, with Jim Amash on inks and Matt Herms on colours. As always, the cover is the first thing you see, so that will be covered first.

  • The regular cover for Sonic Universe #63 (which Yardley has sole credit for)is effective at showcasing just what the comic wants the readers to know about. You have Knuckles as the action guy, Espio as the cool ninja, Vector as the determined leader and Charmy as the less serious member who uses the Spongebob joke about bubbles being equivalent to smoking. Set in what looks to be Mushroom Hill Zone, the bold colours used and the poses chosen make for quite a simple but eye-catching piece of art. Ryan Jampole did the variant cover, and it’s as adorable as the chibi title would lead you to believe. It also shows that Bean isn’t that oblivious to imminent dangers.
  • For Sonic Universe #64, Yardley takes a very stylistic approach for its regular cover. Neon eyes are dotted over darkness, with very little lighting for Knuckles and Bean to boot (Bean’s face being lit by the fuse of his bomb. That’ll end quite messily). It’s a fresh approach that makes it welcome amongst the comic fold. The variant is a SEGA variant, with Knuckles standing amongst shattered Island fragments. The original artwork for the background at least adds spice to the pose
    Just look at that gorgeous sunset lighting.

    Just look at that gorgeous sunset lighting.

    chosen.

  • Sonic Universe #65 sees the whole team on the regular cover, and I have mixed feelings on this one. On its own, it’s a neat cover focusing on Knuckles, the Chaotix and the Hooligans scrapping over Chip in a fun and dynamic way. With the variant cover to Sonic Universe 63 being the way it is, it sort of feels very similar in idea and execution, and I find it easy to confuse the two. The variant is another SEGA variant, this time with Chaotix on a surreal background heavily based off the Knuckles Chaotix title screen. It feels less contextual than the last SEGA variant, although the composition and colours seem better.
  • Sonic Universe #66 goes back to action for the regular cover, with Knuckles beating on a Dark Gaia Titan in a flooding shaft. Definitely the most dynamic of all the covers, but I’d argue it’s not quite as eye catching as previous covers in the arc. I have no idea what the deal is with the variant though.  This effort from Brent McCarthy certainly looks the part, with a great use of contrast and effects to give the clash of the two heroes some punch. Trust me when I say that no such confrontation lies within the pages; Sonic doesn’t even show up in this arc.

With the entire arc being done by three people, the artistic tone throughout is very consistent from one issue to the next. In this case, that’s a very good thing. All three are very skilled in their particular areas, and the result is a vibrant looking arc that has some genuinely awesome moments throughout. From the rocky crevices of Pumpkin Hill to the caverns of the Aquatic Mines to more bit places like Launch Base Zone and Flying Battery Zone, each location is given life through its art. And every character is bursting with energy and a treat to look at (even with the occasion bout of off-model art for certain situations). Every issue certainly is a treat if you want some good artwork to look at while reading through the caper.

The Logic of Case Solving

Within the boundaries of the comic itself, there isn’t that much emotional core with this arc. And that’s not particularly a bad thing in this case; Great Chaos Caper from the start makes it very clear that this an arc that’s more focused on light-hearted fun than deep character moments and has various moments of referential humour (re-read #63 with Ghost Pumpkin’s Soup’s lyrics on hand). It’s cool to see arcs like this from time to time, especially when all the arcs in the new continuity so far have been more about the consequences of the shift and its effect on the population therein. Knuckles’ Island was affected, but that’s more a motivation for his story than the focus of the entire thing, and aside from a brief flash at the detective office the Chaotix don’t make mention of it. It’s just a normal caper for them. There was a brief moment of potential drama when Knuckles wanted to ditch the Chaotix, but that’s resolved in less than a page. And Relic’s story was emotional in that the emotion it conveyed was tense, which is pretty different. But on a more metaphorical sense, this arc is a pretty sharp counterpoint to Countdown to Chaos.

Drowning in feels? Not particularly. Drowning in water? Plenty of that.

Drowning in feels? Not particularly. Drowning in water? Plenty of that.

In Countdown to Chaos, the fact of old characters not being seen was more of a general footnote for reference. Here, it’s definitely more apparent. While the main comic has focused on Sonic and SatAM characters, and Shadow and Blaze’s history are pretty independent of comic exclusive stuff, Knuckles and the Chaotix had deep roots in comic exclusive lore. From around 1995, Knuckles had huge swathes of lore surrounding his family and society, including the Brotherhood of Guardians, Julie-Su and Finitevus. The Chaotix, meanwhile, were Knuckles’ equivalent of a freedom fighter group including Mighty (because of Knuckles Chaotix) and Julie-Su, and gained some more members through associations (Ray being Mighty’s friend, Saffron being the 16 year old Charmy’s fiancé). Even in the more modern run they stuck with the old 1995 set-up, and there were only showings of a more modern Chaotix literally the last full Universe arc before the crossover. With a combination of SEGA wanting the comic to be more in tune with the game versions of the characters and the lawsuit that went down, everything about these characters has been rearranged.

Knuckles is once again the last of his kind, but he still has much of the same attitude from before the crossover.  Relic and Fixit are support, effectively usurping Julie-Su’s role but without the romantic tension (in fact, the idea of romantic tension between them has been mocked by the comic itself multiple times now). It’s actually quite a bit of fresh air that allows Knuckles’ characters to spread his proverbial wings further. The Chaotix are now the three-man detective trio. While they still know Knuckles and the duo of Mighty and Ray from past adventures the comic has not shown us, you can tell right away that the dynamic has altered between them and that they’re not Knuckles’ groupies any more. Even when comparing the dynamic between Vector, Espio and Charmy to their older versions, there’s a marked difference from Charmy’s distant status (whether it be through princely duties or mental wiping) and the general friends hanging out on occasion vibe, instead leaning towards a closer family unit of sorts. I like the change since I’ve always preferred the post-Heroes take on them in the games, but this change will likely be more infuriating to those who liked the old set-up. Fortunately, with the two most awkward groups being dealt with in one arc, this is the last time the old continuity will linger on any characters.

In Conclusion

The Great Chaos Caper is meant to be a light-hearted, comical arc, and it pulls it off well. While there’s not so much stake involved with the events and there’s very little in the way of emotional moments, if you just want a fun romp with some great art all the way through then this will probably be right up your alley. You might notice that Knuckles is fairly reserved here, but it’s really a minor point when everything else is on great form.

Best Issue: It’s a hard toss-up between #63 and #66 because they’re both at showing their cast at their most fun and dynamic. At a push, I’d edge slightly towards #63 for Pumpkin Hill being a cool setting and the interaction being a bit tighter.

Worst Issue: Universe #64 isn’t a bad issue by any means, but in the scope of the whole arc it’s the one that starts to feel like it drags due to not much going on in it. After the fight with the Hooligans, not much of anything happens until Chip shows up…which is the final page of the issue.

As it turns out, Great Chaos Caper was part two of the Dark trilogy, with Shadow Fall being the first. Total Eclipse brings the two arcs together to bring a conclusion to both Shadow and Knuckles’ stories, and it seems to have the stakes a lot higher. Part 1 is already out, but you’ll have to keep an eye out for the rest in the coming months to see the fate of the Dark Arms and Angel Island!

alienbaby

Pictured: The main villain of a year’s worth of Sonic Universe

TSS Review: Sonic Pixel Bricks by Paladone

DSC06935

Paladone has recently released the two items I was the most excited for when they announced their range of Sonic the Hedgehog goodies: The Sonic and Tails Pixel Bricks sets! So no sooner than they were released we got our hands on them.

The premise is simple: Get bricks: Make Sonic and Tails! Due to the natural blocky-ness behind this kind of toy, it almost seemed a natural idea to make something pixellated out of them! And that’s what Paladone did. Two small figures built out of lego-styled bricks.

DSC06932

The boxes were a LOT smaller than I was expecting for the pair of these. These tiny boxes contain an instruction sheet and a lot of sonic-y coloured building bricks.

The bricks used in this set are of the ‘Nanoblock’ flavour, and are about a quarter of the size of the typical Lego brick. This means that even though each of these models are made up of nearly 400 pieces between them, the finished models stand not much higher than 4 inches tall.

DSC06930

I’ll admit this right away. I was more of a K’nex child when I was growing up, so to me, this build went on a little… longer than I was anticipating.

Just how long you ask..? Well, just check out this little video I created below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM2-WjAlTl8

Yep. That’s nearly an hour and 20 minutes to finish just ONE of these little suckers. Granted my time was likely impeded with me building over the top of my camera, but yeah: If you’re not adept at building Lego style constructions, I just pray that you’re patient enough to see the construction of one of these through from start to finish.

With small models of this complexity, a set of good and comprehensive instructions are essential, and I’m sad to say that this long build time wasn’t helped by the instructions. I found following them very confusing at times. The instructions follow the typical Lego formula of building one part shown from an isometric view, then adding further pieces on to it as you progress further through the build. The isometric views given were good, but unlike normal Lego instructions, each step greys out the pieces built in the previous step. Some people may go ‘so what?’ but it get’s very difficult to position certain pieces accurately when you only have the shape of what was built in the last step as a guide. Simply colouring in the diagram would have made this build a LOT easier, and would have taken out a bunch of the guesswork. I appreciate that the construction of these things are probably meant to be savored, but I feel that building one of these should be a fun activity, and not a test of patience and skill.

But yet, after all that though, the finished results I think are lovely little things. They’re awkwardly cute in a way, and pack in a curious amount of detail for something made up of nothing but bricks. Of the pair, I’d say that Sonic is the more impressive of the two, especially when you look at him from behind and take in the shape of his spines. It all looks grand!

DSC06911

Display wise, these make for great little conversation starters, and are certainly something more ‘out there’ than your typical Sonic action figure. One important word though… these are very much display pieces, so don’t move them around too much. Some of the parts (namely the arms) are held together with nothing more than a single stud, and handling them too much will ultimately end in disintegration. I can probably count at least 3 times when I’ve held Sonic wrong, and he literally came apart in my hands, meaning lots of rebuilds. If you don’t glue them together (which I honestly considered doing at times), just hope they don’t take a shelf dive. You’ll be searching for the pieces for weeks.

Thankfully, these models do come with a few spare pieces, so don’t despair too much if you find yourself losing one of the two (yes… that’s seriously how many there are in the finished model) minuscule yellow bricks that make the buckles on each of Sonic’s shoes.

Overall, I do love these little things. They really are quite unlike anything else, and possibly one of the most unique Sonic collectibles to come along in a while. But… I have to say that the experience building them was a lot more trying than I was expecting it to be. If you’re amazing with Lego, then I think you’ll have a blast putting these together. For the rest of us though… The challenging build and the constant falling apart may get on your nerves.

=========

Second Opinion by TSS Staffer Hogfather

I’ll get the bad points out of the way first.

1: The instructions for both Sonic & Tails can get very confusing, angles on where the pieces should connect are not user friendly and in some cases your eyeline is draw to begin construction on an area which will be impossible to connect since it requires another part to be constructed.

2: The photos provided for the finished model on Tails are not what the instructions state, on more than one occasion the instructions clearly differ in design to the photographic reference model, this makes one particular tricky section harder to complete than it should.

3: The pieces do not connect very well along the Z axis, unlike lego, when connected the pieces are free to move along their Z axis, this means sometimes parts of the model would move out of place and for pieces which are connected by a single point, they WILL fall off on the slightest touch, huge problems are found with Sonic’s arms and Tails’ whiskers.

4: The models ‘cheat’ with perspective, parts of it are not a fully solid object, you’ll be convinced that some additional pieces should go in certain places, but nope, it’s their way to save construction costs since you won’t see them, even though they would aid to stability.

5: Parts of the model are VERY fragile when finished.

Now for the good points.

It takes somewhere in the region of 1:30 – 2:00 to create just one of these figures, so if you were afraid that these would be simple things aimed at kids, think again, it takes time to construct these.

However, when you get started and you see the models take shape, there is a strong sense of enjoyment as you see these things come to life. Suddenly it goes from “Why does this body look like a blue sheep” to “Hey it’s Sonic!”

There is something very unique and charming about both the idea and the execution of the product, it really does look like a pixelated representation of Sonic & Tails. There really is nothing official which looks or behaves like these products do. Very unique and a very welcome addition to all the recent Sonic products of late.

Packaging is also very attractive and very well designed, small and portable, yet quite nice to look at despite the use of stock art, even if it is odd how the Tails box has Sonic stock art all over it.

Another huge bonus is that several of the pieces include additional parts, so if you lose one during construction, odds are there’s a spare.

Overall, this is a really well made unique piece of merch, certainly recommend it, however I would advise kids to get a parent to help build since it can become tricky at times to complete certain segments, step 1 on Tails for instance will get you very confused since part of it isn’t possible to attach until the end of step 2.

=========

You’ll Love:

  • Totally unique and quite unlike anything in your collection
  • Very well detailed given the nature of the set
  • Attractive price
  • Nicely presented

You’ll Hate:

  • The confusing instructions
  • Instructions sometimes differ to the reference photographs
  • The long build time if you’re not a Lego expert
  • VERY fragile when finished

TSS/SEGAbits Review: Sonic Pocket Adventure

sonicus-600x596

Years ago, I was working on a review of Sonic Pocket Adventure for Sonic Stadium, in an effort to increase TSS’s coverage of Sonic’s more obscure titles. Unfortunately, taking screenshots was a pain, so I left it incomplete. A year later I found myself needing to come up with content for my (relatively) new job over at SEGAbits, so I repurposed this review into an article for them. Now, as part of the #Sonic23on23 intersite celebration, I’m bringing this article back to you folks in the hopes of rousing some interest in this fun little game! You can find the original article here, as it was posted back in November of 2011.

If you want to buy this game and the Neo Geo Pocket you’ll need to play it on, you can find them both over at eStarland.

After SEGA retired the Game Gear in early 1997, they suddenly found themselves on the market for a new handheld to support. That same year SEGA threw its weight behind the Tiger’s Game.com, offering Tiger the licenses to several of its franchises, including Sonic. This deal would give rise to the worst shit SEGA ever slapped its name on. As the Game.com quickly dropped dead at the sight of the Gameboy, SEGA threw its support behind another, much better handheld: SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color. This support would only yield one SEGA game in the American market, in the form of Sonic’s last portable adventure before going third party: Sonic Pocket Adventure.

Sonic Pocket Adventure is a classic Sonic platformer. It utilizes the classic Sonic physics that we all know, love, and miss. If you’ve played any of the old Genesis titles you should know what to expect here: a physics based platformer that requires the player to use momentum and quick reflexes to get to the end of each stage.

The physics work well and feel right. You won’t ever find yourself standing on walls or walking up ceilings here. The controls are responsive, and the levels are largely well designed. This game was made before endless bottomless pits became the default method of making Sonic games hard, so the difficulty feels fair here. Like any side scrolling Sonic game, there are seven chaos emeralds to collect, and they are required to play the final boss and beat the game.

SPA holds the unique distinction of being the last “classic” Sonic title. In fact, the game’s content is actually an amalgamation of all three games from the original Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy. The locations of the first six zones were taken from Sonic 2, as are the half pipe special stages. The final zone was based around Scrap Brain from Sonic 1. The final two boss areas were taken from the Death Egg boss and Doomsday boss areas from Sonic & Knuckles. Finally, the music is all derived from Sonic 3.

That being said, don’t take that to mean this is a port. SPA is in fact more like the upcoming Sonic Generations: its taken locations from previous games and has built all new levels in them. All of the bosses are also completely original, aside from Mecha Sonic. The music has also been redone, since the Neo Geo Pocket couldn’t handle Genesis music anyway. Finally, the game also has a set of puzzles that you can only complete from collecting pieces in game. This mode likely won’t attract anyone other than the hardcore completest, but it does offer players something else to strive for once they’ve beaten the game, especially since these pieces are not easy to find.

SPA plays like the Sonic game people have been demanding for decades. It’s got the right physics and it’s got the right level design. This is a classic Sonic game in every way, except for perhaps the title screen since that features green eyed Sonic. Of course great game play isn’t everything, especially not in a Sonic title. The visuals and audio also need to hold up.
Before I talk about how this game’s visuals measure up, I’m going to talk about the Neo Geo Pocket’s hardware for a bit. It was originally marketed as a “16-bit” color handheld.

While it was certainly graphically superior to the 8 bit Game Boy Color, it couldn’t hold a candle to what we typically expect from a machine like the Genesis. This is the best looking Neo Geo Pocket game I’ve played thus far. The colors are bright and vibrant, the boss sprites are large and detailed, and Sonic himself is the best looking sprite I’ve played on the NGP. Most of the sprites have fairly limited colors and utilize a lot of white and black, but Sonic’s sprite is fully colored. The backgrounds look great, and the art style of the old games shine through pretty effectively here.

While SPA is one of the best looking games on the NGP, it also highlights some of the system’s limitations. For one, the levels here don’t look nearly as good as the original stages they were based on. There is less detail and everything looks blockier. There is also one vital problem that keeps SPA from being a triple A Sonic title: the frame rate. Frame rate issues are common in the NGP’s action games and unfortunately SPA was not an exception. The frame rate isn’t persistently poor, but rather pops up when there is a lot going on on-screen. The problem isn’t persistent enough to run the game, but it’s still far too noticeable to be ignored

The music selection is pretty solid, with tracks from Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and even a few from Sonic Jam. The first two have my favorite tracks out of all of the old school Sonic games, so SNK certainly picked good tracks to bring over. Of course, the NGP’s audio quality isn’t as good as the Genesis, so the tracks don’t back quite the same punch, but they are still a very good reason to keep the volume up.

Sonic Pocket Adventure is the last hurrah of the retro Sonic era, before the character jumped headfirst into the art style and world we know today. As a send-off to this era it works pretty well, even if that probably wasn’t the intention at the time. It is an adventure I would highly recommend to any Sonic fan, and considering Neo Geo Pockets are pretty reasonably priced and have a great selection of still exclusive games to choose from beyond Sonic, I would highly recommend picking one up. While it does have a poor frame rate and retreads environments we’ve seen before, it also revisits the 16 bit era of Sonic in fashion that only a game from this era could do. Pick it up.

I would like to end this review with a fun fact: did you know several people who worked on this game would later go on to found Dimps, the creators of every handheld Sonic adventure since this one? Dimps was formed by several former SNK employees shortly after the company’s acquisition by Aruze. Dimps has since gone one to become the go-to developer for Sonic’s side scrolling handheld adventures, one of their latest efforts being a little game called Sonic Rush Adventure. How does that game measure up to their first effort? Find out here!

You’ll Love:

  • Great, classic Sonic game play ripped straight from the Genesis classics
  • Lots of call backs to old locations, but still uses all new level design and bosses
  • Best looking game on the Neo Geo Pocket
  • Combination of old school game play with all new level design make this a game every Sonic fan should seek out

You’ll Hate:

  • Frame rate problems
  • Doesn’t use any truly new locations

Sonic Stadium, SEGAbits, & Sonic Retro team up to celebrate Sonic’s golden birthday – party all week!

Sonic23on23-600x400Twenty three years ago SEGA introduced Sonic the Hedgehog, a character that would go on to challenge Mario for the gaming throne and champion a decade’s worth of SEGA hardware. Now, twenty three years later, Sonic’s Golden Birthday approaches, as Sonic’s birthdate and age synch up for the one and only time! In order to celebrate this momentous occasion, Sonic Stadium is teaming up with Sonic Retro and SEGAbits to bring you a week of Sonic content! Visit all three sites for articles, streams and videos as we celebrate Sonic’s birthday from today through to the 29th!

SEGAbits and Sonic Retro will also be hosting a panel at Too Many Games in Oaks, PA on Saturday the 28th at noon as part of the celebration. The panel will feature a Dreamcast round table, a My Life with SEGA episode premiere, the history of Sonic the Hedgehog 2‘s Hidden Palace Zone, and a trivia contest with rare SEGA prizes including The House of the Dead 3 & 4 posters signed by series director Takashi Oda. There will also be several Sonic prizes on hand.

Readers can join in on the celebrations as well! All you have to do is follow The Sonic Stadium, SEGAbits and Sonic Retro on Twitter and share your Sonic the Hedgehog photos and memories with the hashtag #Sonic23on23. The best tweets will be retweeted and shared to over 11,000 SEGA and Sonic fans, and we all know that in today’s world nothing is more rewarding than a retweet.

Happy Birthday, Sonic! The party has just begun!

TSS@E3 – Hands-on: Sonic Jump Fever

sonicjumpfever1

I wasn’t really a big fan of the original Sonic Jump. It was fairly simplistic and lacked the kind of adrenaline pumping speed I’ve come to expect from Sonic’s 2D efforts. The game also became impossibly hard later on, being very unforgiving of mistakes in the hopes of getting players to spend real world money on power ups and other “cheats”. Since Sonic Jump, Sonic’s mobile efforts have improved immensely, from Christian Whitehead’s stellar retro Sonic ports to better modern Sonic efforts like Sonic Dash. How does the new Sonic Jump sequel, Sonic Jump Fever, stack up to the other, better mobile games Sonic has starred in over the last few years?

sonicjumpfever2

Sonic Jump Fever is definitely an improvement over the original game. Graphically the game looks a lot better, with much more colorful sprites and much more detailed backgrounds. Whereas the old Sonic Jump looks like a cheap fan game, the visuals here look far more like what you would expect from a proper, official Sonic title. These improved graphics are accompanied by much more hectic movement. Whereas Jump could often feel kind of empty, the stages we got to play in Fever where constantly filed with moving enemies, flickies and platforms.

Visuals are nothing without good game play though and in this regard Fever brings some huge improvement to Jump’s formula. Where Jump had a slower pace, focused a lot on vertical movement, and came to a complete stop with every death, Fever flows a lot quicker. The action is constantly moving and between the various orange boost rings and bouncing platforms it’s very easy to keep upward momentum going. Even dying no longer kills the momentum, since the game gives you extra lives in the form of cannons, which immediately launch you back into the air if you miss a platform. Once you run out of lives, the game immediately takes you to the end of the stage instead of giving you a game over screen. Finally, Fever also adds a boost meter, which is fueled by collecting rings and getting combos. Once the boost meter fills up, it automatically activates, blasting Sonic upwards into a massive barrage of rings. This boost meter is a very welcome addition to the Sonic Jump formula, making an already fast game all the more exciting.

sonicjumpfever3
The speed is complimented with a time limit, which can only be increased by reaching ribbon check points placed at set parts of every stage. Much like in old school arcade games, the timer helps to add some urgency to the proceedings, since trying to slow down to collect rings or rescue flickies can end your game in short order. Fever’s stages are also more populated, filled to the brim with enemies, power ups, moving platforms and caged flickies. This really lends the stages a sense of movement and life that the original Sonic Jump lacked. Even the end of the stages are better: instead of a bland sign post, every stage is topped with a platform full of flickies and a hot air balloon that you need to toss them into. Fever also adds new helper chao, which can be found and hatched in the “Chao Forest”. Once hatched, these Chao can assist you in levels, whether it be in collecting rings or defeating enemies.

sonicjumpfever4
All of these improvements culminate in a game that feels much more complete than its predecessor. Everything about it, from the graphics to the level design to the game play, has been improved markedly. That said, I’ve no idea how this game will hold up over the long term. I grew bored of Jump and Dash rather quickly because there wasn’t much to them, and I can’t yet say whether or not the same will happen to Fever. One thing is for sure though: it is a lot better than Jump. It could very well be the best made-for-mobile title Sonic has ever had. I had a lot of fun with it and anyone who’s a fan of the original Sonic Jump will certainly love this title.

TSS Review: Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed for the Playstation Vita

2014-06-08-182347

Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed is an awesome racing game. Even with the release of Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 it remains my favorite mascot racer thanks to its balanced, more skill-focused game play, well-designed transformation mechanic and spectacular track design. Sonic Stadium already has a pretty awesome, in-depth review which you can read here, so I’m not really going to go too in depth about the game itself. Instead, this review will be focusing on how well (or poorly) the Vita port realizes a game meant for considerably more powerful hardware.

In terms of speed and game play, All Stars Racing Transformed is a nearly flawless translation of its console counterparts. The creative, huge courses are all here with their epic set pieces and scripted moments unblemished. If anything has been compromised during porting, it certainly isn’t noticeable. The NiGHTS stage is stilled filled with enemies and rings, the Skies of Arcadia stage still finishes with an epic fleet battle and they are still sights to behold. All of All Stars Racing Transformed’s racing mechanics have always been faithfully brought over, with all the speed and drifting mechanics from the console versions intact. Still, this game isn’t a one-hundred percent accurate conversion, as there are some minor issues and noticeable downgrades from the HD versions.

2014-06-08-181624In terms of controls, things can get a little cramped thanks to the Vita’s small form factor. All Stars Racing Transformed is a game that relies heavily on drifting for building speed and getting around turns, so you may be reaching for those trigger buttons a little more than you’d like to. Still, after logging dozens of hours on this version of the game I found this to be only a minor issue. The game’s physics have always taken a serious hit, especially in the water stages. Waves are no longer as large and bouncy in this version and areas where huge waves once tossed racers are now nothing more than minor nuisances. The loss of wave physics make the races a little less chaotic and exciting than they used to be.

The most noticeable difference lies in the graphics. The textures have been downgraded significantly. They now look much flatter and contain less detail. Lighting and various other effects have either been severely reduced or removed entirely, making it a little more difficult to see in some of the darker stages and making the entire game look considerably less flashy overall. I am happy to say that as of this review the frame rate is no longer a problem: even in the busier stages the game runs smoothly and the hiccups that were prevalent in even the HD versions are nowhere to be seen here.

Though really, the downgraded visuals are not only expected, but they do very little to damper the fun. The game runs well on the Vita and nothing of value has been lost. What you trade in visuals you gain in portability, as this is pretty much the same exact game, shrunk down to a device you can take anywhere. If this is the price for a portable All Stars Racing Transformed, I am more than willing to pay it.

All Stars Racing Transformed for the Vita is far from the definitive version, but it is worth owning if portability is attractive to you. It has to cut some corners, but in the end it provides the best portableY mascot racer money can buy, cutting out some of the flash while leaving in all the meat. So whether you want to fight off the boredom during summer travel or if you just want to be able to play this awesome racer any time you want, this game comes with high recommendations. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t quite live up to its HD brothers.

You’ll Love:

  • Portable All-Stars Racing that plays just as well as on the consoles
  • Solid frame rate
  • Creative courses and a roster that will make many a SEGA fan squeal

You’ll Hate:

  • Graphics have received a significant downgrade
  • Constantly pressing the Vita’s trigger buttons will make your hands hurt
  • Isn’t receiving any DLC from the PC version, including Ryo Hazuki

Review: Egmont Activity Books

A whole bunch of books came out in May, but are any worth the ink they’re printed with?

sonic totally

In October, we reported on the announcement that Egmont would be partnering with SEGA to release a slew of new activity books for May 2014. Because of my insatiable need to own Sonic books, I put down my money for the ones that came out at this time and can now weigh in with my absolutely professional (citation needed) opinion. Are these books worth your time, or are they best left gathering dust on the shelf?

Now, let’s get one thing out of the way; these books are very much aimed at kids. As such, unless they’re blatantly lazy on a level that cannot be excused, I’m not going to hold it to the same strict standard I would of a book aimed at older fans (for example, Pix ‘N Love’s The History of Sonic the Hedgehog). That said, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be thorough with my analyses.

As a side note, if you’re a fan of E-123 Omega and like to collect merchandise of him…you can ignore these books. He doesn’t make an appearance at all. Even Chaos got a single sticker at least.

Sonic the Hedgehog Joke Book

sonic joke book

Price: £4.99

The Cover: The art itself is used nicely, although I can’t help but think that I’ve seen it a lot before. That would be because it was a very common style to use on the stationery that came out way back in 2012. That’s more of a nitpick than anything though, especially when the background is nicely stylised. What isn’t such a nitpick is the use of text on the cover. It’s all nice and well having a sample of the content but not when it looks so obnoxious on the front. That said, one of the other books shows a preliminary cover that looks even more obnoxious, so I guess I’d rather this than that.

The Inner Art: I’m sure it would look fine. Repetitive given how every single page has the same sort of layout, but fine. The problem is that Sonic art doesn’t look so nice in black and white. Because of this detail, it’s really rather dull, especially when certain characters sort of blend in to the backgrounds that they’re put on. To top it off, the paper quality is poor as well. Remember when you were a kid and you got colouring books with that really coarse stuff that felt shoddy to the touch? That’s what the pages of this book are made out of.

The Content: It’s a joke book. There’s jokes. There isn’t anything more to it than that. It wouldn’t even be so bad if they were Sonic-themed jokes. Instead, most of the jokes are the same generic jokes that you’ve seen in every joke book, with some being modified slightly to include Sonic elements.  What else can I say about it?

Overall: Just…no. If you want jokes, you can get any other joke book out there and you’d pretty much have the same thing.

 

Sonic the Hedgehog: Sticker Mania!

sonic sticker mania

Price: £6.99

The Cover: The cover shown in the October news article was very much a preliminary cover. Now the emphasis is on the abundance of stickers, with Sonic being swamped by dozens of square stickers (all in the book, so it’s not false advertising at least) and only Eggman, Tails and Knuckles standing out on top of them. It’s busy, but it’s actually pretty cool and it shows off the content at the same time. An addition since the announcement is a little thing in the corner indicating the heavy use of Sonic Lost World in the book.  I’ll go more into that later.

The Inner Art: Like many books recently, the art is all stock art. Despite this, at least it’s used appropriately and doesn’t go into overkill per page. The consistency of the layouts and styles accompanying the art and activities are particularly effective in making the book coherent where there would otherwise be a risk of making it a random jumbled mess. Not the hand-drawn meticulousness of yesteryear, but still sleek and stylish. It helps that the paper quality is up to standard this time as well.

The Profiles: Weirdly enough, there are four pages dedicated to small profiles of the characters. When I say small, they really are small, only covering four stats; name, species, key feature(s) and skill(s). There’s nothing really new here (unless you didn’t know that Jet had advanced piloting skills or that Big had a keen sense of smell*), but at least they’re accurate for the most part. The only obvious factual error is the fact that Blaze doesn’t harness Chaos energy (it’s Sol), and I’ve seen far more errors in books aimed at fans of the series.

The Content: Most of the book is taken up by random common activities given a bit of a Sonic twist. You have your mazes, your pseudo board game races, your word searches, that one square draw activity that makes no sense, trivia quizzes, character recognition and all that jazz. Because of the Lost World tie-in, ten of these pages are themed after that game specifically (although one Wisp game mention other characters coming to rescue them from a chemical factory. Isn’t that Sonic Colours?). Not exactly a good advertisement of how the game is for little kids, but it’s raising awareness at least.

The Stickers: As it says on the cover, there are indeed over 1000 stickers. At least with this book, the vast majority are related to the Sonic franchise (some are not for one or two activities). Okay, there are quite a few duplicates, but at least it means you can have your favourite characters on multiple items if you wish to use them (because really, who’s going to use the stickers in the book itself?). The downside is that most of the stickers are very small in size, about 2x2cm. But hey, there is that one aforementioned Chaos sticker!

Overall: If you like stickers, and you like Sonic, then decide for yourself if £6.99 is worth it for a bunch of them. For the young’uns, there’s plenty to do in the book, character info that’s actually dependable and it actually looks nice. Honestly a decent pick-up, although I’m not sure how the price tag compares to other books of a similar nature.

*This technically contradicts Sonic Chronicles since he was oblivious to smell there. Not that anyone really takes Chronicles as a measure of canon.

 

Totally Sonic

sonic totally

Price: £6.99

The Cover: Before we begin an actual analysis, let’s go over where this came from; in the initial announcement, there was mention of a book called the “Super Sonic Poster Book” which would also contain activities. We can reasonably assume that Totally Sonic is what that became, as this is the only book with any kind of posters in it. It’s definitely downplayed though.

With that out of the way, the cover is far more open compared to the others. For the most part, it’s a Sonic render on a blue background, with Tails, Knuckles and Amy packed away at the top. It’s nice, but I wonder why they made it this way compared to the other two.

The Inner Art: Go back and read the Inner Art analysis for Sticker Mania, it basically covers this book to a tee. The one thing I would say that differs is the fact that the spine on this book is stapled, and therefore weaker than both the Joke Book and Sticker Mania. It’s justified though; anything with posters inside tend to have stapled spines, although this one encourages the reader to cut the posters out. Huh.

The Profiles: Definitely bigger here than in Sticker Mania. In fact, I’d say that half the book is profiles. There are six “standard” stats; Species, Height, Age, Personality, Likes and Says (aka a quote). Some profiles omit a stat or two, Blaze switches Likes for Dislikes, and the Chaotix just don’t abide at all (preferring to go with Species, Job, Personality, Likes and Skill…and the skill isn’t the same kind of skill as in Sticker Mania. Alrighty). Despite the slight inconsistencies, they’re more in depth with the raw stats and other character trivia, and they’re once again robust in accuracy. Okay, it only says Blaze is friends with Cream and Sonic, and Sonic is said to be Rouge’s rival, but nothing on a fundamentally erroneous scope. One thing I would raise an eyebrow at is the fact that there’s no Babylon Rogues here, whereas they got profiles in Sticker Mania.

The Content: Surprise, this book also has a small range of stickers! It’s definitely a smaller range and less thorough than Sticker Mania, and there’s even an issue of a red ring render accidentally getting on Amy’s image. To be fair, this is just a bonus, not the main point of the book.

Totally Sonic also does the activities in a different way. Instead of having a whole mass of activities with mostly random ideas and themes running through them, they format in a very specific manner; there’s an activity linked to a set of characters profiles. For example, Knuckles has an activity focused on him, as do most individual characters, with the occasion activity attached to a whole group of character in the cases of the Chaotix (and they totally used this opportunity to slip in a codebreaking puzzle. At least they’re paying attention to the content they put in), Rouge with Metal Sonic (that’s a weird choice) and the Deadly Six. Because of this, there’s not as many activities, but they feel like they gel with the book more.

The Posters: Four doubled-sided pages slap bang in the middle means that there are eight posters in all, and they’re actually pretty nifty. The two Lost World posters aside (which are basically the promo shots used for the game’s marketing), they actually try and use the assets available to them in creative ways. And they definitely feel like poster quality in design because of it. I’m still not certain on the way they ask you to detach the posters. I guess a little kid might easily rip them if they tried to pull it out, but they’d still have to ask an adult to cut them out.

Overall: Another decent book for kids with some content that older fans might be able to get use of. The formatting choices made may make it slightly emptier on the stuff to do, but it simultaneously makes it more useful to go back to. Again, it’s a matter of whether you can justify the price tag for the content.

 

So, I’d say two of the books are worth at least a cursory glance, while one of them is to be avoided completely. What of Secret of Sonic the Hedgehog, the book most likely to be appreciated by older fans?

secrets sonic
I.e. The one where only this one picture exists of it on the internet.

 

Well, while that was slated to be released in May like the other books, but for whatever reason appears to have been pushed back to the end of August. There’s a little bit more new info we can glean as well; Waterstones’ listing has a price of £6.99, the same as Sticker Mania and Totally Sonic, and one pound more than originally stated. In addition, it has a page count down of 64, making it the longest of all the books (Sticker Mania only clocks in at 48 pages, and that’s pretty thick for an activity book). It’s still advertised in the back of the other books as being available, which might mean the change was pretty recent. In any case, I’m going to keep an eye on that one given my satisfaction with the majority of this batch.

Source: Waterstones

Image sources: Amazon.co.uk (Joke book, Sticker Mania, Totally Sonic), Easons (Secrets of Sonic)

Review: Countdown to Chaos

Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be a Mobius-Shattering Kaboom!

The reaction everyone had to this arc.
The reaction everyone had to this arc.

Let’s get things clear; the last year of the Archie Sonic comic has been like no other. Following some rather bitter endings in Endangered Species way back at #243-#246, we got “At All Costs”: Part 1. This led us on the hunt for Mecha Sally up in the Arctic region, and team Fighters, together with the Arctic Freedom Fighters and Silver, had her where they wanted her. Team Freedom, meanwhile, had a rather abominate-looking Tails Doll to deal with.

That’s where the normality ends, though. Right on the cliff-hangers of these shenanigans, the planet was warped by a reality-altering wave, which allowed for the headline-grabbing “When Worlds Collide” crossover between the Mega Man and Sonic franchises. After dealing with allies and enemies alike, the two blue heroes teamed for a final assault against nefarious doctors Eggman and Wily. Mega Man’s attempt to alter reality back to normal went smoothly, with his comic resuming just about where they left off before the crossover. Sonic on the other hand, suffered a bit of a hiccup thanks to Eggman, and here is where the review truly begins.

Be warned, as there are detailed spoilers for issues #252-256. The last is especially important as it isn’t even widely available yet.

The Story of New Beginnings

Sonic the Hedgehog #252 is where this story really begins. Technically speaking, the story in the issue is the second part to the one started all the way back in #247. I’d personally also call it Countdown to Chaos: The Prologue. While a bit disorientating at first, it does quickly reveal itself to make a nice bridge between the realities. You have the wrap-up of Naugus besieging the throne, the Tails Doll monster still wreaking havoc in not-new Mobotropolis and the Death Egg still being in Artika (new name for the Northern Tundra), which sets up the side story for Eggman neatly since he’s stuck way down in Efrika with a broken Egg Mobile.

Tails' game tendency of exposition on the plot in the most obvious manner is carried over.
Tails’ game tendency of exposition on the plot in the most obvious manner is carried over.

Speaking of set-up, much of the issue is dedicated to setting up points which will be referenced often in the true Countdown to Chaos (CtC) arc. Naugus gets a memory jolt from NICOLE, which not only sets up the fact that NICOLE has memory restoring energy in her, but also the fact she’s broken. Tails having a jolt sets up the point that the restoration of memory slowly fixes her, and gives the readers an idea of the plan of action to follow. The numerous game references strewn into the narrative makes clear that this is not exactly the same world we once knew, which is only further reinforced as Sonic’s memories of King Acorn (not Max any more) trusting Dr Robotnik are altered to be more attuned with the world he’s landed in. Mix this in with new characters and snappy game-influenced action when Sonic and Tails take on the Tails Doll, and this makes for a great link between old and new while beginning its own mysteries.

The four issues that form CtC itself have a defined but flexible narrative structure to them, and how much you’ll notice really depends on the issue. The basic framework is that each issue has some sort of breather period for exposition and contemplation for the characters, an introduction to each freedom fighter in turn, a couple of Eggman intermissions where he gets to strut his stuff, an action piece and a scene where the Freedom Fighter introduced earlier has their memory restored, although not necessarily in that order. This uniformity is quite an ironic echo to the growing chaos that approaches the world, but the purpose of this arc is to reintroduce readers into the changes that have occurred so the organisation seen is to be expected.

#253 and #254 are quieter arcs that are more focused on Sonic and Tails getting to grips with new locations (for example, the Sky Patrol that gets used for the base of operations was parked in the Mystic Ruins, and Knothole is now located in or nearby the scrapped Wood Zone from Sonic 2). Even though it is quieter, it does skip by a lot. In #253, Silver Sonic (one of the big threats of the comic circa Sally’s transformation) isn’t even dealt with by Sonic, it’s left to Big in quite a comical fashion. And the rediscovery of Knothole, Sonic’s home for much of his childhood prior to the Super Genesis Wave, is relegated to an off-screen event. It doesn’t knock the stories overall, but they might be little things you notice when you think about it afterwards. Otherwise, the narrative in these issues flows like a charm, with more than a few hints to what’s going to happen at the end of the arc.

#255 and #256 are the issues that ramp things up a bit more in the action department. #255 is action set pieces for our heroes interlaced with exposition, as the plot demands both high stakes wrapping up Bunnie’s mission and revealing some of her new backstory (since the last time we saw her, she’d had her robotics removed by magic way after the Bem had failed to because she got upgraded and the parts were incompatible and…it required quite a bit of prior knowledge). The way the comic goes about this feels rather clunky though. The transition between action and exposition isn’t smooth and the quiet parts especially drag on a bit too long. #256 handles it much better, with the action piece having good pacing despite its length, and any explaining to the characters and readers being succinct enough to get the job done while delivering on actual interaction.

And then the arc ends…with a cliffhanger, as the world is beginning to really fall apart. It really is the countdown as it turns out, since the damage has only just begun!

This Review Has No Maximum Character Limit

In CtC, a big part of what holds it together is the character writing. If we didn’t empathise or care for the Freedom Fighters and baddies caught in the ruckus, there would be pretty much no investment. Fortunately, Ian Flynn is on the ball in this department. There wasn’t a single character who overstayed their welcome, and everyone had their part to play in the show.

  • Sonic, of course, is our main focus here. Thus, he gets the most elaboration on his reaction to the new reality. Shaken up at first due to unfamiliarity, he quickly hits his stride as the adventure-loving, robot-busting hero everyone is familiar with. Aside from getting in on the action with his trademark speed, he has plenty of slow moments where he gets to contemplate what’s going on and have emotional reunions with all the friends he comes across. Between kicking Metal Sonic to pieces and meeting his “uncle” Chuck, Sonic reacts to each situation as you would expect him to, without ever losing his defining traits.
  • Tails is Sonic’s sidekick almost from the word go, and does everything he can to support Sonic. Due to being relatively fine before the Wave hit, he’s the least affected by the memory jolt, but he still reacts like a kid would to it. It’s here, and various moments like it, that really show how close their brotherly bond is. The whole bout against the Tails Doll and the scenes where he has to fly to rescue someone in #254 and #255 cement his usefulness as an active Freedom Fighter.
  • Eggman, Orbot and Cubot don’t get emotional moments in their little side plot. Their job is to give the reader a brief guided tour on what’s changed in the new world, as well as demonstrate the memory overwrite and the planet splitting apart gradually. Of course, given that this is Eggman and his robot lackeys we’re talking about, this tour is ever so entertaining. Eggman never misses a moment to ham it up, even when he has to improvise his plans and questions, and his Weapons Bed assault in #254 is a highlight for his sheer awesomeness. Orbot and Cubot provide the cutting cynicism and dense naiveté for Eggman to bounce off, and have their own little funny moments.
  • NICOLE, despite being the other character appears in every issue of the arc, doesn’t really get as much to work with as the others. She does her job as a plot device fine, and she gets her moment to sass off Naugus, but otherwise she’s stoic exposition regarding the memory jolts. If you were expecting her to get into the fray herself based on the cover of #255, you will not find it here.

    Every character is likeable here. Bloody miracle, I'd say.
    Every character is likeable here. Bloody miracle, I’d say.
  • Rotor gets repurposed as the genius bruiser here, helping Tails build the Sky Patrol and keeping systems running as well as pounding the innards out of Badniks. His flippant response to getting his memories back (probably especially to the fact his back was injured) demonstrates his dedication to his work as he refuses to let the shock get to him (although he is a bit agitated).
  • Antoine keeps up the character traits we’d seen after 20 years of development. He’s haughty with the accent, but is still a brave soldier willing to put his life on the line. Even though he’d seen himself brought into a coma with his memory jolt, his first concern is seeing Bunnie again, reinforcing his dedication to his marriage.
  • Bunnie, while being in an issue that was less than brilliant, doesn’t suffer for it from a character writing standpoint. Her exposition dumps might be a bit too long, but she’s thoughtful as well as a good complement to Sonic’s hasty attitude. The shock of the memory jolt sends her into an emotional breakdown that Antoine has to support her through (finding out that you had been turned flesh but were contemplating reversing it due to your husband being in a coma does that), but she demonstrates her sisterly traits an issue later when she does the same for Sally.
  • Amy has a slight leg up on the other characters, as she already had a full arc under her belt by the time #256 came out. As such, the issue of introducing her isn’t covered here. What is on show is her sisterly bond with Sally as they work together to beat down Metal Sonic. She still has her crush on show, but they still work together great and manage to bounce off each other. She doesn’t have such a strong reaction to her memory jolt, but she’s only confirmed to remember a game event and beating up Fang so far. She didn’t have that much to lose.
  • Sally has probably been the character a lot of prior fans have been waiting for, and she comes back kicking! Packed with new energy blade ring things, she cuts into the action more than she ever has. Aside from being shown as a stealth member from #252, she gets most of her time to shine with Amy as they use combos and banter to leave Metal Sonic vulnerable for when Sonic arrives. She does get a small reunion with Sonic, but it’s mostly emotion from him as he recalls last seeing her as a robot, and she doesn’t have the relationship with Sonic that she had prior to the wave (and I’d say that’s a good thing). We see her break down when recalling her stint as Mecha Sally, but we can’t really see her after that because the end of the world is a-knocking.
  • Naugus isn’t really used that much, but he sets the memory jolt plot in motion and demonstrates the effects such a jolt can have. It also gives a very loose closure to the King Naugus plot from before the wave.
  • Metal Sonic takes hits much better now, so he isn’t destroyed at the end of the issue fully for once! He stills, albeit not as much as before, and his attitude is very similar to Sonic’s. Not unexpected from the metal doppelganger.

The other characters aren’t really there enough to expand on, but all have some relevance to the advancement of the plot. Axel, Mordred and Tundra, for example, re-establish the Egg Army and how it’s shaping up, and side protagonists like Cream, Big, Chuck and Ben give support to the main characters and provide interaction outside of the core. Also Ben being new Muttski is the biggest surprise of the entire arc.

Beauty in Anarchy

Firstly, we have to judge the cover by the book. #252 stands alone on this front, as the regular cover is a single piece as opposed to the official CtC issues which are connected. The regular cover demonstrates Sonic pulling off his flashy stomp maneuver, with dynamic colouring and posing to match. Ben Bates puts in a fine effort with this one, and even though it doesn’t match the scope of the next ones it holds great on its own.  The same cannot be said of the variant, though. Although the Sonic render provided is at least in a more action-orientated pose, it’s still just pasted over Green Hill Zone quite lazily. This is a trend in a lot of SEGA variants, unfortunately.

#253-256 (the regular covers, anyway) do something very different. Just take a look at it for yourself;

If's that's not just awe-inspiring, I don't know what is.
If’s that’s not just awe-inspiring, I don’t know what is.

All the covers in the arc form one single piece of artwork when put together. This art by Ben Bates is meticulously pieced together so that each individual issue looks dynamic on its own, but looks really spectacular when all the covers are put together. Granted, this little cover trick isn’t new by any stretch; the Knuckles comic series did this with three issue arcs on a regular basis. In Ian’s run, “Darkest Storm” and “Bold New Moebius” did the same thing. But this is certainly the largest scope that’s been done across, and is probably the best example of it in the Sonic comic’s history. I would urge anyone to get the regular covers if they were to get the individual issues. But for the sake of fairness, here’s what I think of the variants as well;

  • #253’s variant is easily the best variant of all of them. Taking the otherwise under-utilised Silver Sonic and giving it a schematic drawing style that’s vivid and in stark contrast to every other cover, T.Rex really knocks it out of the park.
  • #254 is great for Eggman enthusiasts, but it follows the same style of #252 in which it’s a SEGA variant with a render pasted on top of a background. That said, the background this time has a few little details and shout-outs that make it somewhat interesting.
  • #255 has a layout and concept that would be cool to look at…except the character art is too off-putting for that. The characters have these weird lanky proportions for some reason, and it doesn’t look good. It wouldn’t be too far to presume that Tyler Capp, the one who did the cover, isn’t used to working with the Sonic style so much. This is a running theme with this issue.
  • #256 just boils down to a personal opinion for me. From a technical standpoint, it’s a great cover. It conveys the destruction that you’d expect in a variant called “The End of the World” variant and has some great colours to it. However, I think that Sonic himself doesn’t exactly gel too well with the rest of the art on the cover, and thus it has a bit of the SEGA variant stiffness underscoring it, albeit with a much better execution. This cover was done by Tracy Yardley, Phyllis Novin and Dustin Evans.

For the most part, the artwork throughout CtC is at the very least pleasing to the eyes. That said, the artwork in this arc is very inconsistent, which is slightly jarring when it’s supposed to be the big arc that redefines the world.

This is what you have to look forward to in #253 and #254.
This is what you have to look forward to in #253 and #254.
  • #252 has an art team consisting of Evan Stanley, Terry Austin and Matt Herms. The colours are nice, and the lines and inks are fine for the most part (although there are certain times when characters, especially Tails, look off). If there was one major negative I could note, it’s that the outdoor backgrounds were very simplistic, with most additional detail being larger building shapes. As a side note, the Tails Doll monster has had a significant redesign since it last showed up in #247. If you’ve read that issue, it’s not hard to guess why.
  • #253 and 254 have Austin and Herms back, but pencils are provided by Tracey Yardley and Lamar Wells. These issues are just fantastic for art, with pretty much everything being on note. The landscapes and details are lush, the characters look lively and on-model, and the action is given extra oomph throughout. Truly feasts for the eyes, it’s best to see them for yourself.
  • #255…unfortunately goes to the other end of the quality scale. Just like the variant cover for this issue, the art here is pretty terrible in comparison to what went before. Featuring the début of Jerry Gaylord and Kent Archer, I would say that it might have been better to let them practice in more side stories instead of slotting them into such a linchpin story arc. The colours are nice as always (Herms is still here), but the proportions of the characters vary all over the place, and the outline inking of them is also inconsistent. It goes so far as to affect the impact of pretty much every scene. I’ll bring this up again in the part where I talk about the emotions of the issues…
  • #256 has Yardley come back for the pencils, and switches up Herms for Steve Downs. While the line art looks good, and the backgrounds are nicely detailed, the colours look flatter in this issue than any CtC issue before it (aside from the odd panel where the colours go deeper for dramatic effect). That doesn’t make the art bad at all, it still looks good. It just makes the art look a little less polished.

Jack Morelli did the lettering for #252, while John Workman handled it for CtC. It’s easy to tell them apart, but both styles compliment the art and action around it. Nothing particularly stands out as being bad, at least.

Emotions Run As High As Stakes?

The meat for the arc lies in the emotional journey that our protagonists have to face in  order to restore their memories. In every issue, there’s at least one memory restoration, and each one is given the panel space needed to really convey the pain that the character is feeling from a psychological standpoint. These little money shots, while not big, are the payoff for the entire arc as characters relive memories from their past and have to reconcile it with the memories they had already. One could argue that these don’t last long enough in fact, given that there’s more action than reaction. The only issue where it felt a little cut short was #256, and that was because of that thing we keeping referring to known as the end of the world. What also has to be said is that #255’s moment is heavily affected by the art quality. What should be a heart breaking moment where Bunnie learns of her regained robotics and how Antoine was before the wave is more funny than anything else because of how skewed the proportions are and how stiff the expressions are. It completely broke the moment for me, but that might vary between different readers.

Sonic gained Antoine's leg length?
Seriously, what is wrong with their legs?!

Of course, that’s not where all the emotion lies. There’s some joy to be had when Sonic’s face lights up upon seeing a fellow Freedom Fighter for the first time since after the wave, especially with the knowledge of how they were immediately prior to the wave. Sonic rushing up to “uncle” Chuck because his closest family figure after Tails is safe (let’s not bring up Jules and Bernie) is a very sweet moment, and Sonic rushing up to Sally to give her a tearful hug is completely understandable; you’d do the same if your close friend was being controlled by an evil scientist and you had to knock them out to stop them killing anyone last time you two met. There’s also plenty of fun in arc, as Sonic and Tails get accustomed with everyone’s little quirks and differences. Their reaction to Sonic’s pet dog now being an anthropomorphic research assistant is one for the ages, and Antoine’s reaction to the reunion in the same issue is probably the best of all the Freedom Fighters.

There’s one emotion that stays quiet for most of the arc, and that’s the sense of utter futility in the face of imminent danger. This is introduced in #253, and is slowly built up throughout until the chaos finally hits. While Eggman doesn’t have any emotional moments aimed at himself, his plot is the best demonstration for this element as he watches the cracks spread around the globe as he travels and realises there is nothing he can do to prevent it, all while his old memories are slowly overwritten at the same time. The protagonists have to deal with it on occasion as well, although not as centrally; one of its earthquakes is an action piece in #254, another one affects the heroes’ escape from the Metropolis Zone base in #255 (although, again thanks to the art, it doesn’t have the impact it should). That way, NICOLE’s analysis of the situation being complete anarchy with the multiverse collapse and the planet splitting itself apart is expected but still a rather large revelation at the end of the arc, and the final panels where she and Eggman proclaim that there is no fix and the heroes are left to helplessly watch the cracks get more intense are really good to end on. Although since the games had the world splitting apart once before, there’s no doubt that there’s at least some way to fix it…

There is one final disclosure that has to be made regarding emotion, and this is aimed primarily at the older readers who came in with likely years of comic experience under their belt. Some of you may find yourself disappointed with what you read. As referenced in the off-panel of #252, there were quite a lot of plot points that were left hanging before the crossover occurred. And because of the new universe, a lot of these hanging points will never be covered within the pages of the comics. There are quite a few characters from before the crossover that won’t make the transition to the new reality. Emotionally, this could affect how invested you are with the new plights given that the old plights are gone. For those readers who are fans of said plots and might miss their personal favourites, I’d suggest to treat this as a new slate, where new favourites and mysteries can be found. If all goes to plan, there will be something that will quench your curiosity later in the year.

In Conclusion

Countdown to Chaos is a very solid arc overall. It presents its purpose with clarity and a sense of steadiness which propels it forward despite it essentially being a four (or five) issue introduction. Certainly not without its weaknesses, but with a neat narrative and some great visuals to carry the reader along, this first look into the new world is an interesting one that’s likely to keep you hooked for the ride.

Best issue: #254. This issue has the best blend of elements in my view, and makes a perfect snapshot of the tone that should be in future stories. Emotional moments that hit home whilst being short enough to fit into the narrative, some unexpected twists and good, fun action to boot. The fact that the art is great here isn’t to be snuffed at either.

Worst issue: #255. The art is by far the worst thing about it, but whether it’s enough to break the emotional core of the issue depends on the reader. Art isn’t the only thing that works against it, since the dialogue feels more jilted here as well. It’s best to get this for a complete arc narrative as opposed to what it offers as a standalone issue.

But even with Countdown to Chaos out of the way, it doesn’t mean that reintroducing the characters of old is done. Far from it; we’ve only just begun. And we all know who everyone wants to come back into the fray as soon as possible, right?

Who wouldn't love a face like this?
Who wouldn’t love a face like this?

Source: DeviantArt (for Countdown to Chaos full art)

TSS Review: Sonic Lost World (Wii U)

Without a doubt, Sonic the Hedgehog has been making something of a comeback in recent years. After falling to his lowest point in the mid-2000s, SEGA’s blue mascot has slowly but surely been climbing his way back onto the pedestal he proudly stood upon in his early days. Sonic Colours propelled him into relevance once more, while the time-travelling anniversary adventure of Sonic Generations cemented his newfound return to form. The question is – with a brand new gameplay style to show off, does the Nintendo-exclusive Sonic Lost World see the hedgehog grab the edge of success with a well-executed parkour move? Or does it buck the trend and see him stumble, falling back down towards the depths of mediocrity from whence he came? Continue reading TSS Review: Sonic Lost World (Wii U)

TSS Preview: Sonic Lost World

soniclostworld_guardians2

At this years Summer of Sonic, I managed to get some hands on time with Sonic Lost World. I have to be honest, I’ve been looking forward to trying this one out, if only because ‘it looks so different’ and… it’s the first next gen Sonic game, why wouldn’t I want to try it out?

Fellow TSS staffer Doctor MK also got some time with the game, you can find his impressions in this article too. Our views are based on the Wii U version of the game, running on the SDCC/SOS/Sonic Boom build.

How many times have you seen someone complain about a Sonic game or any long running franchise? How many times have you seen them start their complaint as if they’re standing on a block yelling in a bombastic voice “I’ve been playing games for *insert a year here* and I have managed to complete them all!” You know the kind, and you’ve all seen it before in some degree.

Following my experience with Sonic Lost World, I can see this being said by a great many people. If you don’t include spinoff titles, Sonic Lost World is unlike any Sonic game I have ever played, and the moment I’d finished with it I took a breath and said ‘this game is going to divide a lot of fans.’

I should probably say, I do not own a Wii U, I have never ever played on a Wii U until I touched Lost World, so my experience with using this system is completely fresh. If I were to buy a Wii U, Sonic Lost World is my launch title. But… According to a recent interview with Sega, they see this game as being something that can help save the Wii U, we’ll come back to this later, but it’s something worth keeping in mind, especially when we get onto the part about ‘how easy is this game to pick up and play?’

The day before SOS I was with someone who also hadn’t played on a Wii U before, but also, hadn’t played a Sonic game for a number of years, she’d played Sonic Adventure through to Heroes, but not played Generations or Colours. I have played every main 3D Sonic game, so we had quite the range of expertise, our only common factor was, neither of us owned a Wii U.

28020SONIC_LOST_WORLD_Wii_U_Screenshots_720p_1280x720_v1_4

So she has the first go and picks Windy Hill, after a few moments of play she calls me over and asks me a question I never thought I would hear from someone who plays a Sonic game “How do I go fast?” followed by another question I never thought I would hear…. “How do I attack the badniks?”

Before you all mock… If you have to ask that, something is very wrong. Is it with the player or the game? Offering to help her out I quickly discovered why she was having problems.

She wasn’t aware about the whole ‘hold down the trigger to run’ so I showed her that, and sure enough Sonic was running, but there was a new problem, how to attack enemies. Watching this girl play it was near random, she would sometimes do a homing attack, other times it was almost random. Sometimes Sonic would attack multiple targets, other times one. So about halfway through the level, she turned to me and said ‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough.’

I want you to remember this line. ‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough.’ Remember it well. So I took the controller… and instantly, I could see and feel the problems she was having.

Holding down a trigger to make Sonic run feels for lack of a better word, weird, as well as being overly complicated, here’s an example. I want to ‘run’ forward. I hold ‘up’ on the analogue stick (as usual), I start to walk, and I only walk. I want to go as fast as I would do in Generations, Unleashed and most other games without boosting. The only way I can do that is to hold up on the analogue stick, then hold down a trigger button and I can ‘run’ not at boost speed, but at normal running speed similar to Generations and Unleashed, it’s actually a lot slower than normal running speed in past games.

So say I then want to go at ‘boosting speed’ which happens to be the spin attack… I then have to keep those buttons held down and now press and hold another button to do the spin dash/boost.

I am now holding down 3 buttons down just to go at max speed in my desired direction.

Sonic Lost World July screenshots 10

in previous games, I only had to hold up on the analogue stick, and then press and hold the boost button if I wanted to use it… here I have to hold down 3 buttons for the boost, and 2 just to run.

This might not seem like much, but after so many years, this is one hell of a control change, and it’s not user friendly. It makes doing something as simple as running much more complicated than previous. We’ve all heard the joke ‘hold right to win?’ Well here we have to hold ‘up’ a ‘trigger button’ and sometimes a boost button just to get moving.

When you eventually do get moving, a new problem presents itself, that being, why is Sonic moving so slowly? With the run button held down, Sonic feels like he’s running against a force-field, it’s just not fast enough, please increase the speed cap.

Attacking enemies is also much harder than before, and it feels close to random as to how it works. I played both Windy Hill and Desert Ruins 2 (the honey comb level). In both these stages, the homing attack feels like it operates differently. It’s not a universal method of attacking and I still can’t figure it out.

Example, in Windy Hill, there are 3 enemies ahead of me; I jump towards them. Suddenly there’s a lock on target on all three, I push what I think is the homing attack, Sonic attacks only 1, so I try again, this time Sonic doesn’t attack any of them. I try again, he attacks 1, I try again, he attacks all three. It was the same with every cluster of enemies, it was close to random as to if Sonic would attack them all or none at all, there was nothing in the games hints as to what to do either.

Sonic Lost World July screenshots 27

Then you get to Desert Ruins 2. You’ve seen those videos of people doing huge homing attack chains on multiple targets? Yeah… that’s random.  I could perform the huge chains, but I couldn’t figure out how I was doing it, sometimes it just didn’t work at all. At one point I thought, ‘if I jump and hold up at the same time he’ll do the chain attacks?’  But this wouldn’t work every time. There was no clear instruction or method as to how you attack enemies in the mach speed levels or the 3D platforming levels. It felt completely random at times.

And when you do connect a full badnik chain successfully, you don’t feel like you’ve done anything, bringing us back to the age old problem of ‘Am I actually playing this game?’ It feels so automated that which it looks nice, as a player, you don’t get any satisfaction since you didn’t actually do anything, especially when the success rate of performing an attack seems to be completely random.

I’m still not sure as to what you have to do, it’s not a case of ‘double jumping’ and Sonic will auto lock on enemies any more. You do something else, but the game never explains what. At times it felt like in Metal Gear Rising where you have to master the perfect parry. Jump and hold the analogue stick in the direction of the enemies then push jump again at just the right time? Is that how you do it? I don’t know, because it seems to have a random effect each time and there’s nothing in the game that explains what you have to do.

I’m not surprised that the girl who started the game before me had enough, it was so  random and complicated just doing the most basic of actions, actions which have been so easy for years are now drastically different and the game in its present state offers so little to help you.

Like I said at the start, I am not a Wii U owner, this was one of the main reasons I would get one, and according to Sega, they hope this game will help turn around the outlook of the system, but how do you hope to do that if you have made your controls this difficult for new players to both the system and the franchise? It puts you off from continuing because it feels so random, with no ingame help for such a radical change in control I can’t help but wonder why I would continue playing?

You can’t just pick up and play this game; the learning curve is so high I suspect many people will give up on it since it feels far more complicated than it needs to be. Even the werehog combos were not as complicated as this game is. Just something as basic as ‘Why not hold a trigger to walk instead of run?’ would improve this game so much, over holding it to run at a speed expected when one plays a Sonic game.

The control issues don’t stop there either… there’s another very annoying problem in the form of the Wisps.

Sonic Lost World July screenshots 3

I for one don’t particularly mind the Wisps that much, what I do have a problem with is how you use them in Lost World. Who thought it would be a good idea to aim/activate/control the Laser Wisp using the gamepad? This is ridiculous, I have to take my eyes off the screen just to use a wisp, I have to activate it using the gamepad as opposed to a button on the controller itself, (and it’s not like there aren’t any it could be mapped too), I have to aim it using the gamepad screen, and this is not an easy thing to do at all. I saw people flying off in the wrong direction and it took me a while to aim it at the desired target. When I used the power I had no idea if I’d done it right or if Sonic just happened to blast off in a direction which happened to avoid any hazards which meant my time trying to pull off a laser wisp was completely pointless.

It’s not an easy thing to do either, aiming the wisp feels like trying to stack a house of cards on a bouncy castle full of kids going ape after eating all the ice-cream, it’s really difficult, you feel like you’re righting against the game at times just to aim it right and then launch it.

I am becoming really sick of developers trying to convince me of problems that touch pads, motion controllers, kinect’s, touch screens and all these other control schemes are solving, which don’t exist in the first place. Why is such a fundamental part of the game forced onto us by the use of the game pad? What problem exists with the control scheme which means I cannot push a button to trigger the wisp, then use the analogue stick to aim followed by the jump button to activate? The game locks you into using the Wisp once you touch the second screen anyway so why force this onto the player? It solves a problem that doesn’t exist!

The use of the game pad is so badly designed that when a Wisp is ‘activated’ the action of the television freezes in such a way that I thought the game had crashed and was just about to call one of the reps over before I noticed that action had changed to the second screen on the gamepad. But the ‘lock up’ on the main screen is such a mess first time players who had no idea whats going on might easilly mistake this for a system crash. There isn’t even a message informing the player that the action has now gone to the game pad. I could go through an entire thesaurus as to how bad the Wisp activation and useage in this game is.

I don’t know if there’s some kind of Nintendo conspiracy which means all games have to use the game pad in a way, but the way you use Wisps in this game is terrible. This should not be tied to the game pad at all. But hey at least the game tells you how to use them right…? Oh wait… IT DOESN’T! Yeah, the only way I knew how to use a Wisp power is because I happened to watch a random live stream a few weeks prior in which a Sega rep told the player how to use it. Nowhere in the game does it tell you how to use the powers or control them!

It was such a bad experience trying to use the Wisps afterwards I thought ‘it has to be me, theres no way it’s this bad, it’s got to be my inexperience with the Wii U?’ I asked several people, both Wii U and non Wii U owners, every one of them said the same thing ‘The Wisp activation/control scheme is awful.’

There have in the past been complaints about the ‘tutorials’ and Omachao, but if you are going to change a control scheme which has been in place for the past 10 years that has had barely any changes and then radically alter it, might be an idea to tell players what they’re supposed to do?

Continuing with the control problem, though this might actually be a camera issue, wasn’t quite sure. This game sees the return of ‘mach speed’ levels, before people panic, they control so much better than Sonic 06. But they have problems.

You’ve seen how you have to run into the honeycombs that are hollow? Well, think back to a game like Unleashed where you use ‘the quick step’ you know how when you used this, Sonic would jump/move to a left or right ‘path’ and both the camera and Sonic would ‘lock’ to that spot unless you moved the analogue stick or pressed the quick step button? Here you have more freedom… but it brings with it problems.

28022SONIC_LOST_WORLD_Wii_U_Screenshots_720p_1280x720_v1_6

Sonic is constantly moving forward in these stages, and when it came to aligning up with a tunnel, I held left on the analogue stick, found myself perfectly aligned and then let go of the stick… Sonic kept moving to the left, and I went crashing into the wall, even though everything from the last 10 years has told me Sonic wouldn’t do that. He would stick and lock to the fixed path I’d just sent him on.

Eventually I imagine you can master this camera ‘drift’ but when you start these stages, you WILL be frustrated. I just cannot understand why there’s this drift, especially when hitting the walls is a 1 hit kill.

There is another huge problem with the game that I admit might just be how I was playing, but when I realised what was going on, I realised that there was nothing in the game to suggest I could do this.  As a fan of Sonic, as someone who watches the live streams and the video demos and the trailers… I know, this game has multiple paths… I know that you can explore the stages. I know this, because I’ve looked it up.

However, if you play this game without any prior knowledge… the game offers nothing to suggest that is the case. The way Windy Hill is presented, your natural sense is to run forward and not change direction. You can change and go down an alternative path quite early on, but the design of the stage means unless you know it’s there, or unless you know the game has multiple paths, there is no reason at all to explore the stage. Due to the design of the stage, you will naturally stick to the default path. There’s no reason at all to explore. Maybe this will change in a later build, but right now had I not known the game has multiple paths or I could explore, I wouldn’t have done as I had no reason to.

The parkour system, the big seller for this game, it’s a nice idea on paper, but in reality, it’s it feels like… I don’t want to say easy mode, but it feels like it was designed not to make platforming more a focus as much as it was made so that everyone has a chance to beat a stage. Even then, the Parkour system has it’s problems. There are apparently people who have complained that Sonic goes too fast so he crashes into walls. The parkour system is designed to keep Sonic moving as well as help him run on walls. Which in theory is a really good idea, we’ve all seen the trailers of it in action and it looks great.

28018SONIC_LOST_WORLD_Wii_U_Screenshots_720p_1280x720_v1_11

The reality however is different, imagine you are playing as Sonic and you walk upto a wall, you stop, you hold down the parkour button… you can now walk up this wall without building up any momentum… see that tree, you can just walk up it from a dead stop, that wall, not a problem. Parkour in this game should be renamed ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’s magical anti-gravity shoe mode’ it doesn’t break the game, nor does it make it easier, but it really is just ‘walk on walls mode’ as opposed to being what parkour actually is, using ones momentum to perform amazing stunts and skills.

That said, the parkour system isn’t bad, it’s really satisfying when you do actually use it to perform a stunt or difficult move. It gives the game much more platoforming focus, so if we’ve really been crying out for a slow platforming game, then I guess this one is for you. But for me, it just feels strange how it seems that for years we’ve wanted better momentum in Sonic games, yet now we’ve got parkour which requires next to no build up in speed or movement to be able to defy gravity, hence why I’m going to call this “Magical anti-gravity shoe mode.”

When you run as Sonic and you have ‘Magical anti-gravity shoe mode’ activated, you’re gonna get frustrated, I started off Windy Hill running at a great pace, when suddenly I started running up a tree because I had ‘Magical anti-gravity shoe mode’ activated, I don’t wish to climb this tree, yet due to the nature of the controls, you’re not pushed to the side and continue on, you start to climb up objects if you want to or not unless you release/hold specific buttons during your sprints, again, adds to the controls being very complicated.

There are a number of other annoying things that really need looking at, one such example would be the bells, you know that bell you hit a few times to get a reward? Well, say you knock the bell and it flies forward, you then catch up with it, if the bell hasn’t ‘rested’ even if you hit it, it will not register as a hit. So you are forced to stop and wait for this bell to rest before you can strike it again. It’s not like this is a difficult task, yet it forces the player to stop and wait until it’s ready to be hit again.

Sonic Lost World July screenshots 21

You might have noticed, I’ve not exactly praised the game so far. Before you wonder, yes there is praise to be had, quite a lot. Remember at the start when I told you about the girl who said ‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough,‘ remember that? The problems I’ve talked about are all problems you will face early on in the game, high learning curve, dodgy control schemes, core abilities mapped to the game pad, no help to the player.

Now you might think ‘well I’ve played lots of Sonic games in the past I’ll be fine,’ this game is completely different to past Sonic games, you might be a master at Generations, Colours, Unleashed, but everything you know from that game will not help you here because the game plays so differently. Not just the fact its more platform focused, but basic controls are so different you are learning from scratch, and it’s far from easy.

‘Do you want to play? I think I’ve had enough?’ a quote from someone who Lost World should be appealing to, the first game on a ‘next gen console’ the first chance to win fans which Sega hopes will help save a floundering console. That is the first impression from someone semi new to the modern era of games. And I fully understand where they’re coming from.

This game is going to divide people. Some are going to hate it, others will like it. Some will stick with it because they want to beat it, but an equal number are going to give up due to how random, complicated and inaccessible the controls are to both veteran Sonic fans and new players. Nothing feels right, it feels wrong to hold down so many buttons just to make Sonic run at non boosting speeds.

Sonic Lost World July screenshots 26

So is this a bad game?

No… In fact there’s a lot here which makes this a very good game.

I have been concerned when this game was announced that the ‘tube’ stages would make me feel a tad dizzy from the motion sickness generated by how the camera and the terrain moves. However, playing this in person, it’s not a problem mainly because you’re the one controlling it and you know when the camera and the terrain is going to turn and change.

Another big piece of praise comes from the art direction. Now I’ve not been that big a fan of it. I don’t hate it, but I just don’t like it… but in motion, this game looks fantastic, the complaints about the art style don’t really have any merit when the game is in motion and you’re actually progressing through the stages.

But by far the biggest praise, sixty frames per second! In the PS3 version of Sonic Unleashed, there are parts of the game which do hit this mark, and it’s glorious, but it lasts for a few seconds at the most. But now, the full game, with only tiny drops, oh my… welcome to the future. It looks fantastic and all future Sonic games must hit this mark, it just looks too good not to aim for this mile stone.

Praise also needs to go into the appearance of the levels themselves, each stage looks radically different from the other but maintains a high level of beauty about them. If there’s one thing Sonic Team have been excellent at lately it’s making their stages stand out and look unique whilst maintaining a high level of quality.

The game still has a fair way to go, some of the problems might change for the better, but things like the forced use of the game pad, that’s here to stay. It’s annoying because, there really is an amazing Sonic game here, you can see it crying out for you to love it. But right now, the high learning curve, the frankly random and sometimes broken controls utterly destroy this and will end up causing many people to simply give up or avoid the game altogether.

Would I buy a Wii U just for this game as it stands right now? No, there are too many problems and issues with the controls to justify buying a console just for this game. Far too many problems with the controls, the Wisp system needs to be completely redesigned and Sonic is too slow.

28017SONIC_LOST_WORLD_Wii_U_Screenshots_720p_1280x720_v1_1

Second Opinion: But of course, thats just my opinion from what I played. Fellow TSS staffer Doctor MK was also able to try out the Wii U version of the game.

As a devoted Wii U owner as well as a huge fan of Sonic Colours, you’d think Sonic Lost World would be right up my street – and for the most part, you’d be right. I played Windy Hill Zone 1 and the first thing I noticed about the blue blur’s latest outing was just how good it looks. The colours are bright and vibrant, really capturing a classic Sonic feel that harkens back to the days of the Megadrive, yet still somehow managing to feel fresh and new. Not everyone will like the game’s more simplistic art style compared with the more detailed landscapes in Unleashed and Generations, but Lost World most definitely has a charm of its own and when you see it running in full motion, it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed.

The new control scheme for Sonic’s tweaked moveset also left me with a positive impression. If you’ve played the recent high velocity, boost-orientated games in the series then you’ll definitely need a moment to adjust to Sonic walking of all things, but holding down ZR to run and ZL to spin dash feels far more intuitive than it may initially sound. The twisty, tubular level design accommodates for Sonic’s new moves with plenty of opportunities for proper platforming (which the tight controls and double jump more than allow for), and pulling off a successful parkour trick is a very satisfying feat indeed. As far as gameplay is concerned I have faith that this is heading in the right direction, striking a balance between speed and precision that hasn’t truly been seen since the 16-bit era.

However, not all was well in the demo, by which I specifically refer to one very particular fly in the ointment. I may have loved Sonic Colours, but I am certainly not loving the way the Wisps work in Sonic Lost World so far. Put simply, trying to use the GamePad’s touch screen to activate the Cyan Laser Wisp was infuriatingly difficult. The aiming was imprecise and the quick flick used to activate the laser just would not register, however hard I tried. In the end I had to resort to the traditional stick and buttons combo – yes, you can actually use them, though you wouldn’t know it from the game’s instructions – but even then it was slower and more clunky than it was in Sonic Colours. It pains me to find fault with Lost World after it left me feeling so optimistic in every other aspect, but this is too big an issue to ignore. If the other Wisps control as poorly as this one does, the game could really suffer.

All in all though I had a blast with the one level I got to play, and I’m eager to get my hands on the finished product. If the few niggling issues that exist in the demo can be ironed out before release, then the future is looking bright for our plucky hedgehog hero. Roll on October!

Sonic Lost World is due for release this October for both the Wii U and 3DS.

TSS Review: This LA Convention Centre Escalator

We get a lot of requests here at TSS for reviews and news on various different items. Today we finally review something that fans have requested for a long time… This LA Convention Centre Escalator.

lostworldescalator1

The escalator makes travelling different floors a breeze, one just has to stand on the pannels and hold onto the handrail. The escalator will take you under it’s own power to the desired floor destination. Travel both up and down, no online pass required, multiplayer mode is supported with aproximately 20-30 people able to use the esculator at a time with a co-op mode for parents with small children.

lostworldescalator2

The escalator has a built in safety cut off switch and emergency power off button. This is designed to prevent injury in case of emergency, such as a badnik attack. The views from the escalator are catered to the videogaming individual, with directions to various exhibits and demonstration booths, as well as merchandise and refreshments stalls.

Transportation takes under 30 seconds. This is recommended escalator for those attending E3.

And it looks awesome.

You’ll Love

  • + You can go up.
  • + You can go down.
  • + It’s free to play!
  • + It looks amazing.

You’ll Hate

  •  – You’re not at E3 =(

Source: Gamekyo

Stick to TSS for more E3 news this week.

The Late Review: F4F Exclusive Tails Statue

f4ftailsWelcome to a new and hopefully not regular feature on TSS that I’m calling ‘The Late Review.’ What is The Late Review? Well, whilst I will always try to review something a few days after the said product comes out, something’s not possible, be it due to financial reasons, slow delivery or what is more likely, my own lazy bones just doesn’t want to do it, things can get delayed. In today’s case, it’s a bit more complicated. Anyway on with the review.

Continue reading The Late Review: F4F Exclusive Tails Statue

Sonic Comic Review: Sonic Universe #46-#49 “Chaotix Quest”

CQ01

Ian Flynn’s story arcs in Sonic Universe have always been very hit or miss. From fun epics like “The Tails Adventure” and “Team Treasure Tango” to mediocre or awful dreck (IMHO) like “The Silver Saga” and “30 Years Later”, the quality of the stories can vary greatly. Of course, part of this is subjective depending partially on whether it features a favorite character or not as that can affect your enjoyment of the book.

That said, “Chaotix Quest” has personally become my absolute favorite arc so far. Not just because it was a well told story featuring one of my favorite Sonic trios, but every element was done to perfection. It balances action, drama, humor and emotions in a way I haven’t seen a story do in a long time. Where any gripes I had were the just the slightest of nitpicks. Keep reading to find out why I loved this story so much.

Continue reading Sonic Comic Review: Sonic Universe #46-#49 “Chaotix Quest”

Soundtrack Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack

A large proportion of the Sonic fanbase were disappointed by Sonic the Hedgehog 4. In many aspects the game had mammoth boots to fill, in continuing the lineage responsible for creating the massive following Sonic commanded during the nineties. While it’s not the intention to review either game here, many parallels can be drawn in the expectations of the music as to what was expected from the games themselves.

Continue reading Soundtrack Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 & 2 Original Soundtrack

TSS Review: Sonic X Hello Kitty Plush

I am going to make your room explode with cuteness!

It’s that time of year again Blue Believers, when our wallets tremble as the stores start getting filled with all manner of new toys and products that have been teased to us all year long. So here at TSS, we’ve decided to try and review as many Sonic related products as we can to make your wallets life a bit easier, or harder if everything ends up being awesome! To start with, we’re going to look at a product which has been out for over a month, but had quite the reaction when it was announced. The Sonic X Hello Kitty plush!

Continue reading TSS Review: Sonic X Hello Kitty Plush

TSS Comic Review: Sonic the Hedgehog #239 “Heroes: Part One”

Once again, Team Fighters are hot on Eggman’s trail. Once again, they have to fight Mecha Sally in an effort to rescue her and once again, they fail but save the day for the town under attack. This is starting to get monotonous. However, that doesn’t mean this is a bad issue in any way. In fact, this may be one of the better issues out this year. Why? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Also, T-Pup kicks @#$!

Continue reading TSS Comic Review: Sonic the Hedgehog #239 “Heroes: Part One”

Sonic Comic Review: Sonic the Hedgehog #237 and #238 “Loyalty”

Okay, Stop me if you’ve heard this before…
So Sonic and his friends go to the Shazamazon to help two tribes fight off the Dark-Egg Legion. However, these tribes known as the Wolf Pack and the Felidae (Lead by Grand Chief Lupe and Queen Hathor) have an uneasy truce with one another and are always at the brink of…oh you HAVE heard this story before! Like, two years ago, right? Well, get ready to hear it again as Sonic comics 237 and 238 give you that always puzzling question…”Was this trip REALLY necessary?”

Continue reading Sonic Comic Review: Sonic the Hedgehog #237 and #238 “Loyalty”

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed: A New E3 Hands-On Report

"Well, this place looks friendly!"

It’s been six weeks since I first got my hands-on with All-Stars Racing and several things have changed since then. Joe Musashi and Shadow were introduced as new racers available, Adder’s Lair from Golden Axe has made its appearance, new items are available to attack your enemies with, and a Nascar Racer became a new playable character. How did all this affect my new experience with the game? Read on.

Continue reading Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed: A New E3 Hands-On Report

Comic Review: Sonic the Hedgehog #236 “Cry Freedom”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry for not having reviews for the last few issues. My work schedule keeps changing and makes it a bit hard to have enough free time for a large article. That, and I’m fairly lazy at times XP. I will have a full review of the Eggman arc from Sonic Universe in two weeks. Anyway, onto the review.

Things are finally starting to turn around for Sonic. After losing both Sally to robotization and having Antoine in a coma due to Metal Sonic exploding on him, Sonic finally has managed to get back on his feet and create a new team. In the meantime, two other new teams are forming for different reasons. With 3 teams of Freedom Fighters instead of one, things are really getting interesting. But is it enough to turn the tide against Eggman?

Continue reading Comic Review: Sonic the Hedgehog #236 “Cry Freedom”

TSS Review: Sonic the Hedgehog Nendoroid Figure

It’s been a whirlwind ride of sorts for the Sonic Nendoroid figure here in the UK. Made by the Good Smile Company, this limited edition piece of merch was originally only going to available in Japan – but thanks to the surprise announcement that SonicMerchandise.com would be stocking it, fans on the other side of the world had the chance to their hands on it too (well, if they were quick enough to get a pre-order in before they sold out, anyway). Now, at last, the Nendoroids have arrived… but have they been worth the hype?

Continue reading TSS Review: Sonic the Hedgehog Nendoroid Figure

Soundtrack Review – Sonic Generations: Blue Blur & Anniversary Releases

Soundtrack collectors have had their pockets rinsed dry over the last year with the release of a whole plethora of Sonic albums to sate the appetites of those looking for the sounds of the old and new.

Continue reading Soundtrack Review – Sonic Generations: Blue Blur & Anniversary Releases

Comic Review: Sonic Universe #33-36 “Babylon Rising”

Tracy Yardley gets to write his first story arc since Sonic X in a tale that starts out with the Babylon Rogues in a dangerous race against the Battlebird Armada to find the lost Babylon Garden, their ancestral home. But as the story takes a huge twist involving Sonic, does it become too epic for it’s own good? Kinda, yea. Keep reading.

Continue reading Comic Review: Sonic Universe #33-36 “Babylon Rising”

Sonic Comic Review #226-229: “Sonic: Genesis”

In Sonic #225, Eggman created a new Death Egg that he took into space to reset the entire world. He not only succeeded, but shot Princess Sally to death with a gun turret. What precedes was supposed to be a celebration of Sonic’s 20th Anniversary, but turned into a boring, dragged out story that adds nothing to the main comic. The characters are for the most part, vanilla in their behavior and everything seems by the numbers. By the time it is over, everything is back to the way it was at the end of 225 making this entire detour pointless. This is Sonic The Hedgehog: Genesis.

It begins after the big reset with Sonic (who’s now looking more like his classic self, but still has the green eyes) running through Green Hill and bashing some Motobugs. He comes across Snivley who’s been capturing Flicky’s to encase into Badniks for his uncle, Dr. Eggman. Snivley attacks Sonic using the old ball and chain bit from the first boss encounter. Sonic smacks it good and Snivley flys away in his damaged Egg mobile. Sonic then opens up one of the cages from Sonic 2 (only now in a Sonic 1 level) to reveal some Flicky’s along with Antione Depardeu (his last name from the cartoons), Boomer (AKA Rotor. Now going by his old name. Wait, “Boomer” was the name of the traitor in Silver’s book. Could it be?) and…hoo-boy. Sally.

Now you’re likely saying “What? What problem do you have with Sally?” Well, you see folks, the last two major arcs in the comic have had half the attention taken away by Sonic and Sally’s relationship. One was supposed to focus on the villainous wizard, Iron Queen taking control of Mobotropolis, but half the story was focused on Sally dating a cyborg monkey and Sonic not liking it. The current arc is supposed to focus on the…villainous wizard, Ixis Naugus taking control of Mobotropolis (I’m starting to see a pattern here), but half the focus has been on Sally and Sonic dating again. Now, she’s back in this “not-a-reboot” and her and Sonic flirt with each other and make lovey-dovey faces at each other through the whole story. It’s not that I hate Sally, it’s just that I hate what’s being done with her and Sonic as of late. Well, let me rephrase that, I DO hate this version of Sally in particular. Those who accuse her of being a “Mary-Sue” may have some fuel to the fire here. She’s little miss perfect. Everyone’s in love with her. SHE gets her memories back whereas Antione and Boomer don’t. On top of all this, she can now communicate with birds by singing to them like she’s Snow flippin’ White. But the worst aspect of this Sally is her need to have a man constantly come save her. When she’s not constantly surrounded by Antione and Boomer, she’s wanting Sonic’s help. Late in the story, Sonic leaves them behind and Sally is constantly wishing she’d have tried harder to keep him around. So much for the tough, independent gal from the SATAM cartoons. This Sally is apparently nothing without a man in her life.

Now, Antione and Boomer are written fine if not by the book. Antione is silly, does his bad french accent and gets himself into a lot of trouble. Boomer is actually better than he’s been in years. Not only does he have his mechanical smarts, but brawn to match his brain. I’d like to see this version of Rotor stay around. Tails is done very well. He’s not only tech-smart, but back to being the over-eager boy who wants to go with Sonic on his adventures and stick by his side.  Sadly, as much as I liked Antione and Boomer, they added nothing to the story outside of comic relief.

Now back to the story. Part of what makes it boring is that it just goes through the paces of the classic games (Sonic 1 and 2 in this arc) without much plot development. This is especially true of the first two issues. Issue 226 has Sonic and the Freedom Fighters going through the stages of Sonic 1. Avoiding traps along the way and fighting Eggman in a classic boss fight at the end. Issue 227 has Sonic and the Freedom Fighters going through the stages of Sonic 1. Avoiding traps along the way and fighting Eggman in a classic boss fight at the end. Do you see where this could have been done in one issue instead of two?! Watching these characters go through the old videogames stages is not that entertaining. It’s like one of those old, throwaway promotional comics that would show the hero going through the first stage of the video game. It’s okay for a short read that tells you about the game, but very dull when stretched out over two or more issues.

Issue 228 does pick up a bit. Sonic has the Freedom fighters meet Tails for the first time. Boomer is wowed by Tails technical know-how (Watch it Boomer.  He WILL replace you). They then…go through the stages from Sonic 2. Avoiding traps. Yadda, yadda yadda. At least we finally get to know why Eggman reset the planet in the first place. It’s not explained in this particular story, but way back in the past, an alien race known as the BEM took away Eggman’s ability to Roboticize and freed those who already were. Doing the big reset apparently removed that little curse and now Eggman can roboticize (or as it’s called here, “Robotize”) the entire planet at his whim. Snivley mentions that the Death Egg is now powered by the seven Chaos emeralds which they managed to get off-panel. “SIGH!” Back on Mobius, Sally and Sonic come to a breaking point. Sally wants to shut down Eggman’s operations at the source while Sonic wants to tackle him head on. When Sonic gets a flashback of Sally’s death, he decides to head after Eggman without the Freedom fighters to keep Sally safe….WHERE’S THE LOGIC IN THAT?! He’s keeping her safe by leaving her on her own with the others when he’s been saving their necks from traps this whole time?!

Anyway, in issue 229 (which you should pick up just for the great fan funny I wrote in the back of the book “shameless self-plug”), Sally and the FF’s go through the Oil Ocean Zone while Tails flies Sonic straight to Eggmans base in the Metropolis Zone. Sally manages to shut down the oil plant which manages to…shutdown the power at Eggman’s base in Metrolpolis zone? Okay, wouldn’t shutting down an oil plant just kill fuel supply and not kill power directly, or am I just thinking too hard on this? Anyway, Eggman escapes on a ship to the Death Egg and Sonic follows. Both Sally and Sonic (but not the others) get most of their memory back and Sonic has a big duel with Eggman in his giant Egg Robo from the final boss battle in Sonic 2. He very stupidly mentions to Sonic that the Death Egg is powered by the seven Chaos emeralds to which Sonic takes a cut power line and feeds the Chaos energy current directly into himself. Now that he’s super, he disposes of Eggman’s mech easily and uses Chaos Control to reset the reset. Sonic then writes “Hi Sal” on a window of the Death Egg to Sally and as she waves goodbye to him (Note: she’s on the ground, He’s in space. How can she even see him?!), a white light bathes them both. The end.

Where do I begin? Well, I’ve already shown some of the negatives, so let me first shine some light on the good things in this mini series within a series. First off is the artwork. The first two issues were drawn by legendary Sonic artist, Patrick “Spaz” Spazinate with layouts by Tracy Yardley. The final two issues were done by Yardley himself, though you could barely tell because the transition was done so well. Actually, I preferred Yardley’s art on the last two issues. Spaz’s work was great of course, but it felt like a mish-mash of two artists instead of one because, well. It was! That doesn’t change the fact that it’s the best artwork I’ve seen in the book in years. If nothing else, Genesis is pretty on the eyes. Excellent work from both artists.

Also, it should be noted that while I don’t care for the way Sally was treated in the story (Remember girls, you need a man in your life at all times!) and Sonic to some extent, I felt the rest were handled well. Tails especially. I loved seeing him and Sonic racing through Chemical Plant Zone together. Now, back to the bad.

This comic was just plain dull. The second issue told the exact same story that the first issue did. It doesn’t pick up at all until the third issue and even then, it feels like it’s just going through the paces so you can see some of the levels from the old games. It’s slow and that’s not something I’m used to from Ian Flynn. Even in his worst stories (the Silver arc in Sonic Universe comes to mind), the pace is fast and full of action. Here, it feels like it’s plodding along to meet the four-issue mark so they can sell it as a graphic novel. It could have easily been told in two issues instead of four. It treads the same material over and over. “Another earthquake! Eggman must be behind it!” “Look out for XX trap at the XX zone!” “Let’s fight Eggman again!” “Look! I am Antione and I am doing something silly and getting into trouble! Not unlike C-3PO!” “I’m Sally and I want sonic so bad! Why did I not try harder to convince him to stay with us?!”

Now, I know what you’re gonna say. “But Jason! It’s not really over yet! 230 has a prologue!” It doesn’t matter. Sonic: Genesis was billed as a four-part mini-series within a series and that’s how I’m reviewing it. If 230 has some Genesis effects pouring into the main continuity (like Rotor staying Boomer I hope.), then maybe there was some value to come out of this book. But frankly, the way I see it now it was a pointless endeavor to try to add a 20th Anniversary celebration to the comic and a major letdown for an arc that was hyped since the San Diego Comic Con of last year. I think this would have been better off as a separate mini-series just to see how Ian would handle the comic if he were to start it all over again. In the end, “Genesis does”….nothing to move the plot of the main story. What a waste.

Overall Score: 5/10

By the way, since the main arc is so incredibly long, I’ll just be reviewing it issue by issue. Sonic Universe will still be review once every four issues unless you’d like me to review it issue by issue. In which case, comment below to tell me.

Sonic Generations Gameplay Footage and Impressions From GAMEfest 2011

Video game retailer GAME held the first UK edition of their GAMEfest event last weekend and SEGA was in attendance with all 3 versions of Sonic Generations and both versions of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Community members TrueBlue471 and Hogfather attended and have shared footage and impressions of the games, which we have for you below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=642qlHKNWZ8[/youtube]

TrueBlue471 has sent in the above video, which contains footage of both Modern and Classic Sonic City Escape Acts in the console version of Sonic Generations and Classic Sonic’s Green Hill Zone Act in the Nintendo 3DS version.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK6QvzMmmlU&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]
Hogfather has sent us his impressions of all versions of Sonic Generations and Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, together with the above video of SEGA’s booth.

You can read all of Hogfather’s impressions below.

Sonic Generations (3DS)

We’ve all seen the early screenshots, we’ve all seen the early shaky cam footage of it in action and it didn’t impress at all. Unfortunately it still has a lot to prove.

Whilst visually the game has improved tremendously from the original build we saw, praise must go to Dimps for actually doing something that so many people have asked for a great many years… Re-create the classic stages exactly as before only with updated visuals.

Playing through Mushroom Hill zone you can’t help but at least admire Dimps for the effort that’s been put in to making the game look true to the original stages.

But… whilst the stages look nice, the build I played did have its fair share of problems, try doing a spin dash with the analogue stick thing on the 3DS, it can’t be done, you must use the d-pad to play. The build also had a few issues with actually rendering the level, at times during Mushroom Hill Act 1 the paths didn’t appear to load/render when you were moving through the level at speed.

With regards to the 3D effect. It’s dreadful, just turn it off. It looks terrible in every stage I played and offers utterly nothing to the game.

However, if you care about these kind of things, you will be happy to know that the game plays more like the classics and less like Sonic 4… … .. So if you don’t want to learn how to play a new game or want to moan about little things, this one’s for you!

Sonic Generations (PS3/Xbox 360)

I played on both the PS3/Xbox 360 version for both stages of Green hill and… City Escape.

The build I played of the Green Hill is a lot different to that of the demo we had on XBLA and the PSN. One tiny change which might make some people happy is that the issue of where sonic hit an enemy in relation to how high he bounces appears to have been fixed. Controls seem to be much more responsive, even when boosting as modern Sonic, you can make small precise movements when heading down a straight.

Whilst Green Hill Zone is a relatively easy stage to beat, mastering it is going to take some time. However due to the number of times you run into Omachoa who gives you… advice, one could claim that Green Hill is designed to be a tutorial kind of stage, it’s easy yes, there’s lots of advice given, but at no point do you think ‘this is a tutorial’ and to master the stage, it’s going to take a number of playthroughs.

City Escape.

For those who said ‘this looks easy’ or… you can just boost through it… I point at you and laugh, you are in for a shock! City Escape is a tricky stage which COMMANDS great platforming skill, you CANNOT boost through it as modern or classic sonic, there are open areas for modern sonic which means boosting is impossible, well it’s not impossible… you will boost, for 3 seconds, after which you crash into a wall.

As both classic and modern Sonic, relying on boosting or spin dashing through this stage will result in you completing the stage in a very long time, mastering this stage will not be an easy task, you have to time your jumps just right and be at a good enough speed to actually make them when they do.

The Gun Truck sequence… to quote Robin Williams from the movie Jumanji…

“A hunter from the darkest wild, makes you feel just like a child.”
“What is it?”
“The Gun Truck!”

Ok maybe a bit too dramatic, but there’s just something about this sequence that gets the blood pumping, maybe it’s that the Gun Truck destroys homes to get you, it follows you relentlessly throughout the stage, if you have a 3D TV it even comes out at the screen to get you the player. Maybe I quoted the wrong movie; Terminator has a more appropriate line. “It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with! It doesn’t feel pity! Or remorse! Or fear! And it absolutely will not stop EVER! Until you are dead!”

Whilst the Gun Truck sequence is a relief from a demand of platforming, don’t let the trailers or the this sequence fool you. City escape is a tricky stage, it DEMANDS precision platforming and it’s a VERY impressive stage at that.

I played both the Xbox 360/PS3 versions of Generations, whilst I didn’t have any problems with lag input on the PSN demo I played back in the summer, if there was any truth to this claim back in the summer, it certainly doesn’t exist now, both versions play equally and look equally stunning. Maybe if you care enough to test them in near laboratory conditions you might find a difference, otherwise it’s only going to be something that 3 people might argue about enough to convince themselves that everybody else secretly does care… yet we’re too busy playing a very well made game.

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Wii)

I only played the canoe game, and surprisingly… this was a lot of fun, the controls did indeed match up with a canoe motion, the game was responsive and I actually felt like I was playing it and making my characters move as they should. As with previous Mario & Sonic games the key was finding a rhythm and maintaining that only to go crazy near the end of the race.

As strange as it sounds for me to say, the game was actually enjoyable, but then again, maybe it’s because I was sat in a canoe whilst playing the game instead of sitting in my room with a flicker light?

Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (3DS)

The 3DS version is… a little disappointing, there were a series of minigames to play ranging from Judo to the ‘walking race.’ Judo was amazingly poor, it’s basically a QTE minigame, whilst I don’t mind QTE’s this one is let down by the design of the 3DS itself, holding the D-pad button and one of the normal buttons is not the easiest thing to do in the speed that the game demands, as crazy as that sounds. But it does look quite cool when the game borrows Marvel Vs Capcoms hyper combo screens as Mario or Luigi did a leg sweep… and another… and another… and another… I guess nobody told the devs that in Judo you can do more moves than leg Sweep?

Maybe they designed this section after watching the Karate Kid?

The walking race, just a case of sliding the stylus from left to right in a set speed for the entire minigame… … boring.

The 3D effect… as with Generations 3DS, terrible and pointless. Turn it off.

Big thanks to TrueBlue471 and Hogfather for the gameplay footage and previews!

Got a news tip? Send it in to thesonicstadium@googlemail.com, shadzter@sonicstadium.org or via Twitter at @Shadzter and we’ll credit you for the find.

Sonic Comic Review: Sonic Universe #29-32 Scourge: Lock-Down

A.K.A. How Scourge got his groove back.

Scourge is the kind of Sonic character I’d normally hate. He looks like a fan character re-color and he’s evil only because he’s a Sonic from another world where everyone’s morals are in reverse. The good guys are bad and the bad guys are good. The McDLT’s are always ruined because the hot side stays cool and the cool side stays hot. But I’ll be danged if Ian Flynn doesn’t know how to write the guy in a way that always makes for a fun story. He’s basically a parody of Sonic with all of Sonic’s cockiness and arrogance turned up to 11. It makes you end up liking him BECAUSE he’s a jerk rather than in spite of.

The story begins with Scourge at the lowest point of his life. After turning into Super Scourge and coming very close to defeating Sonic for good in “Hedgehog Havoc”, he was ultimately defeated and put into the No-Zone inter-dimensional prison where he is picked on and beaten every day thanks to an inhibitor collar that kills his speed powers and dampens his normal abilities. His only “friends” are Al and Cal (AKA Horizont-Al and Verti-Cal). An odd duo from much earlier Sonic tales. They are are sort of mystical Elmer-Fudd-looking beings who are gods in their own dimension. They take pity on Scourge and try to befriend him. They’ll find out later that no good deed goes unpunished.

Scourge has given up so badly that he doesn’t even bother to fight back at all. It’s a good start in the first issue as it makes you have sympathy for the devil. Luckily for him, his girlfriend Fiona comes in and gets herself along with the Destructix. She needs Scourge for a big job and has a plan to bust him and the Destructix back out of prison. At first Scourge refuses and yells at Fiona for possibly getting him killed since anyone building up a gang in prison is targeted for extermination by the evil King Max. But soon he realizes he needs them to escape and has to regain their trust over the next four issues as they plan their big breakout.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What’s the No-Zone?” Well, much like DC’s infinite earths, there are multiple Mobius worlds across many dimensions. The No-Zone contains a police force that tries to stop any criminals who would misuse cross-dimensional traveling. Yes, there are alternate versions of our favorite Sonic characters in this dimension, but they all begin with the letter Z. Zonic, Zector, Zouge and Warden Zobotnik.

This is where some of the real fun of the book lies. Because it takes place in an inter-dimensional prison, there are opportunities for some fun cameos. You’ll be scouring the artwork to see some of them including the Werehog (twice in the off-panel strips), a muscle-bound Amy, an Angry Bird, Void, Bebop and Rocksteady, even Mephilis shows up to deliver the funniest line in the story.

This story arc has everything.  Good humor from the many cameos and other jokes. Great character development for Scourge as he goes from punching bag to king of the hill. But mostly, we finally get to see the back stories of the Destructix and more on Fiona. Before this arc, the Destructix were just a group of villains with little known about them. Since Scourge has to regain their trust if he wants to get out, he gets to know each one and in turn we get to know a lot more about them. Fiona’s back story is a bit tragic as she recalls her tough past and has learned to rely on no one but herself. Yet, here she goes and risks long term imprisonment to rescue the man she loves who only seems to love himself.

While, the first three issues is mostly all about character exploration and development, the fourth issue is all-out action as the prison escape takes up almost the entire issue. Scourge gets to show the great leader he can be even when he’s going back into the prison to get petty revenge on the inmates who mistreated him. He also “rewards” Al and Cal which helps cause a great distraction. Does he escape? Does anyone get left behind? I’ll leave it to you to read and find out.

While I did enjoy this story arc immensely, I do have some minor nitpicks to discuss. First off is the inhibitor collars the inmates wear. While they do seem to cut off any powers, they also seem to barely dampen anyone’s natural abilities. Flying Frog can still shimmy his skinny body through prison bars and use his long tongue as a weapon. Sgt. Simian can still bench press a few hundred pounds and Lightning Lynx still seems to have his ninja abilities. In short, it almost makes these collars seem kind of pointless outside of tracking everyone.

Also (Spoilers folks!) I have a problem with the Deus Ex Machina that helps them in their escape attempt. It’s in a box with their normal belongings when they were first brought in. I won’t say what it is but I doubt a Zone guard would not recognize it and what it does. I would have liked a better explanation of how they sneaked it in.

That said, Scourge: Lockdown is the best Sonic story arc this year. It’s highly entertaining, full of humor and gives great insight to the characters. As usual Tracy Yardley does a great job with the artwork and gives us tons of cameos to scour the book to find. I recommend picking up these issues at your local comic store, or you could wait a year or two for the graphic novel version. Either way, if your a Scourge fan, it’s a must read.

Overall Score:

8.5

By the way folks, i’m going to try to make these Sonic comic reviews to be a regular thing from now on. I’ll be reviewing Genesis in about two weeks when the final part of that story arrives. I’m going to try to do it story arc by story arc, but with the main book having a long, branching story you can expect some single issue reviews as well.

E3 2011 Preview: Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games

On Wednesday June 8th, Nuckles87 and I had just wrapped up a Q&A for binary Domain that ran ten minutes late. Sadly this meant we were late for our preview of Mario and Sonic London 2012. But as we entered the small room, the atmosphere was very jubilant and happy. The main host even ribbed me on my Classic Sonic shirt a few times ($7.50 at your local Wal-Mart kids!). He hadn’t revealed much yet as he just began discussing the newest addition to the series, the London Party Mode.

The London Party Mode is a party/campaign mode separate from the Olympic/Dream modes in the game. Here, there are over 50 events available. Not just Olympic/Dream events, but all new mini games just for this mode! In fact, the majority of the 50 events are just for this mode alone. In the game, your character will be walking around the city of London shown from an overhead view. The main goal is to compete with your friends at winning stickers in events. You can talk to many Mario and Sonic characters who are not in the Olympic events such as Jet the Hawk and get mini-games to play from them. However, when Big Ben’s Bell Rings on the hour it’s time for an Olympic event.  Also, new to this mode are bosses. First person to touch a boss (like Dry Bowser) gets to take them on in a on-on-one mini-game solo.

There were quite a few of the four-player LPM events shown. One was called “Tag-O-Rama” a cops-and-robbers style game where two players are cops with a siren on their head and the other two are robbers. (Nack would be so perfect for this game.) You basically chase each other down in a game of tag. Whoever get both robbers, or whichever robber lasts without being tagged, is the winner.

The next game shown was “Collect Toad’s Coins” which is basically self-explanatory. Four players are running around a large maze of the London City Streets collecting coins Pac-Man style and jumping on your opponents to get more coins from them. As you can guess, the person with the most coins at the end is the winner.

Next up was “Break-Neck a-thon” Here, you brutally beat your opponent to the point where you could snap their neck. Killing them inst-OKAY! OKAY! Just kidding! It’s a hurdles style marathon race taking place on the city streets. You have to jump and dodge various obstacles as much as possible as you run towards the goal.

That was the end of our preview of the London Party Mode. Next up, we got to see some exclusive events that were not on the floor. The first was “Ribbon Twirling”. Very similar to the figure skating in the last game. The host played as Peach (Nuckles really wanted Shadow doing it) as she danced and twirled the ribbon to some classical music. Once again, timing and rhythm was key to a good score.

Finally, we got to see a new Dream event. “Dream Equestrian”. A 4-player co-op game in which the players must take a cart of Yoshi Eggs from one area to another. The trick is that they have to turn, jump and do other tricks at the same time. The crew on hand really loved this game despite the fact that they were horrible at it. “There’s a dozen Eggs in the basket when you start. Our best score in the last two days has been three.” They took off! A Koopa wizard was creating hazards for them as they raced along. It didn’t take long before mass Yoshi egg genocide commenced. Sadly, at the finish line there was just one egg left. Despite the fact that everyone had been playing this mode over and over the past two days, they seemed to really be enjoying themselves. With the game over, our Q&A was on it’s way.

The dream events were very popular in the last game, will we be seeing more of that?

Much more. There will be a bigger focus on dream events this time with a larger number of events.

Will the games in London Party mode be different from the ones in the Olympic events?

Yes. It’s almost a separate game entirely. The only similarities is in the occasional Olympics event when Big Ben strikes.

Any new entries to Mario and Sonic’s roster?

No. We wanted to mainly focus on adding new events to the game so the roster is the same as the previous game. You will see some newer NPC’s walking around London that you can talk to.

This seems  very much like a “Mario Party” style of game now. Since people love the dream events as well, any chance of a pure, non-Olympic M&S party game?

I’m sure people would love that, but there’s no plans at the moment.

Since Mario and Sonic relies heavily on multiplayer, any chance of an online mode this time?

We will have online rankings, but no multiplayer.

Will the music in events like Ribbon mode change, or remain the same?

It will definitely change depending on what difficulty you play on.

With the Wii U recently announced, what kind of games would you like to make with that style of controller?

We don’t have any plans with the Wii U currently, so we can’t really get into that.

Sadly, our time was over before we got any more questions in. Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics is looking to turn into more of a party game than an Olympics game this year. Also, the new mini-games and events look more fun than ever. The party in London begins this November.

E3 2011 Hands-On: Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games

It’s no secret that the Mario and Sonic series of games have been a bit hit on the Wii. With both games selling millions of copies and still not hitting the $19.99 mark, it has shown that the plumber in red and the blue blur have been a huge success together. So how the latest iteration stand up? Quite well actually. On the Wii, the graphics have been slightly improved. The models seem more detailed than last time and the lighting seems better too. There were several new events to try. While me and Nuckles87 did the dream events first, I thought I’d save the best for last.

The equestrian event was well done. I played as Yoshi (who gets to ride someone else for a change) while Nux played as Metal Sonic. You controlled the horse by shaking the wiimote up and down to gallop. Then turned it on the side to turn the horse with button 2 for jumping. This was a bit tricky actually as we’d forget to stop making the horse gallop during tight turns and we both ended up placing near the bottom.  It was a decent mini-game though that was well representative of the event.

Badmitton was the weakest of the bunch. It’s best used with a wiimote/nunchuck, but we were only provided with the wiimotes. Basically, we just swung our wiimotes as the shuttlecock (snicker) came to us. Swing up or down provided different spins on the birdie. Overall it was very dull.

Rowing was mainly a rhythm game. I played as Sonic and Blaze and used the Wiimote like a paddle swinging it down to a rhythm to get the boat rowing faster. Nuckles was way behind, but once he got his stride he beat me. Overall a decent game. Now onto the dream games.

The first was an incredibly fun “Dream Long Jump”. The level is taken from Yoshi’s Story (I thought it was Kirby’s Epic Yarn by the yarn motif in the background, but I’ve been corrected several times.). You start off shaking the Wiimote to gain speed, then press button 2 to jump off. You keep in the air, going forward by bouncing off of clouds and each other. I was Vector and Nuckles was, well Knuckles. I managed to bounce off him and make him fall off the clouds. But once defeated, your opponent can come back as a spiked ball that can knock you off. I was just lucky enough to avoid him and got first place.

The other dream event was “Dream Discus Throw” taken from Windy Valley in Sonic Adventure 1. In this event you actually ride your disc. Collecting rings and knocking into your opponents to swerve them off course. You can also charge and boost into flying Badniks to get rid of them. It was funny to see Dr. Eggman taking out his own robots. Every part of the level seemed intact down to getting sucked up in the tornado. The event ends by landing on a large target where the one closest to the bullseye gets extra rings.

Now onto the 3DS. This demo consisted of several events strung together. The first one being Gymnastics. using the tilt controls I had to keep Amy Rose on the balance board as she did some tricks. I was able to land the tricks fine, but had problems with the balancing. Wario was up next for rowing. This event required me to rest the 3DS on the table and spin the thumbstick as fast as possible. Frankly, it made the event too easy as I beat it by a wide mile.

Next up…Judo! This event was fairly easy but very fun to watch Mario throw Sonic and Tails around. The controls are simple enough. Press several buttons displayed together before your opponent does. Sometimes once, sometimes two or three times in a row. This will then make you character do a Judo move and throw your opponent down to win the match. This would be trickier and more fun in multiplayer than against an A.I. opponent who doesn’t really react in good time.

The last event was speed walking. Yup, I managed to beat Sonic as Mario in a walking race. The trick was to slide the stylus back and forth like a pendulum to the rhythm of some generic music playing in the background. The better your rhythm and pace, the faster you….walk. I can see Sonic thinking “Walking?! Are you @#$%’in’ serious?”

The 3DS version did not keep me as interested in the games as much as the Wii did. This may be due to the lack of dream events in the demo, but the standard events were just bland. The dream events on the Wii however, seemed better than in the winter game. If you have only one version of Mario and Sonic at the London blahdedeblah (stupid long titles) make sure to get the Wii version. It’s just seems to be more fun overall.

E3 2011 Preview: City Escape in Sonic Generations

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQuphp-hQGA[/youtube]

Nuckles87, the cooler than cool T-Bird and I have just finished a behind closed doors look at the City Escape level from Sonic Generations. Playing the game for everyone was producer Takashi Iizuka. There were a few surprises in store.

He first played through as classic Sonic who avoids the street almost entirely. Running and jumping around constructions areas and over rooftops. There’s a more classic version of “Escape from the City” playing with lyrics. (NOTE: Both versions have a brand new remix. Modern version has extra new lyrics.) Throughout the classic level, the GUN truck was chasing little classic Sonic both in and around backgrounds, giving the 2-D levels more of a 3-D look. This truck has a vendetta. He hates Sonic with a passion and want to run him down no matter what. Classic Sonic did ride on a board similar to the ice level from Sonic 3. Unfortunately, he quit the level before getting to the end.

The truck was very persistent, as he then was following Modern Sonic. His level plays very similar to the Dreamcast version as he rides the blade and follows a similar but different path than the original. Much like classic does in Green Hill Zone. The big difference is Unleashed-style gameplay coming into effect. Guess who makes a return to tell you what to do? That’s right. Just like in the original version, Omachao is back.  The badniks in both levels are the same mechs from the original SA2 and you homing attack though them in the same way. Along the way, you can see missing posters. I noticed one had a picture of Ray and Mighty, while the other had Bean and Bark. At the end, the GUN truck is chasing you down, similarly to SA2, only this bad boy has friggin’ sawblades sticking out all over! Iizuka died when he ran too slow on the side of a wall and the truck hit him. A good producer, just not so good a player.

 

Sonic Generations is looking better and better. I don’t think there can be a better 20th anniversary homage to this little blue blur. Now I wonder when we are getting video of Spagonia?

E3 2011: Sonic Generations Preview

Last year, Takashi Iizuka separated the Sonic fandom into classic fans and modern fans, claiming you couldn’t please both. A year later, one of Iizuka’s own creations looks like it will prove this statement false.

This is it. If Sonic Colors could qualify as a dessert, Sonic Generations is definitely looking to be the main course. The HD graphics are beautiful, better then Unleashed. The physics in the classic game play are nearly dead-on, with all the momentum of the classics intact. Modern Sonic’s levels are as fast as they were in Unleashed, without any pesky QTE sequences getting in the way. As awesome as Sonic Colors was, I can’t help but believe that any disillusioned Sonic fan who still believes Sonic is still down in the trash of the gaming industry will finally see this game as his redemption.

Graphically, Generations is a veritable tour de force of color and style. The art style of Green Hill shines through vividly here. The flowers and rocks and green checkerboard grass are all how you remember them, except this time rendered in stunning fully 3D HD polygons. It’s great to see the classic style of the old games rendered so well here. On top of these beautiful graphics, Sonic Generations is also the first game to be rendered in eye popping 3D across all platforms! That’s right, the 3DS version isn’t the only one getting the 3D treatment. Both the PS3 and the Xbox versions will be capable of displaying in 3D. The 3D effects aren’t terribly noticeable during classic Sonic’s game play, but during the speedy sections of modern Sonic’s level the 3D really pops. Things aren’t all rosey with the visuals though. Much like the Sonic Colors E3 demo last year, this demo does have a rocky frame rate. The game can become really choppy at times. Hopefully this issue will be resolved by the time the game arrives in stores this holiday.

Despite the funky frame rate, the game is still incredibly fun to play. Classic Sonic’s game play is likely to be the biggest crowd pleaser. I’m happy to say I tried all the tricks Brad told me about for Sonic 4 last year, and the results were good. Unlike Sonic 4, Sonic Generations’ Sonic does not stop dead in his tracks or in mid air when the player stops pushing forward on the controller. Sonic cannot stroll up inclines, nor can he stand on walls or in loops. Gravity will push you down hard if you don’t gather enough momentum.

That being said, classic Sonic still moves way faster than he did in the Genesis games, and the level design itself is a bit different. There are still a lot of bumpers that bounce you around in some places, but there is not one booster pad in site. There were many diverse paths to try as well. It’s not an exact replica of the classic Genesis games, but it still acts as a nice, effective homage.

Modern Sonic game play is as you’d expect: really fast, very boost centric, and incredibly hectic. Modern Sonic’s version of Green Hill is a fun level, and it’s certainly well designed. Those disappointed with Sonic Colors being a mostly 2D game will be happy to know that at the very least the Green Hill stage is more 3D then it is 2D.

All in all, Sonic Generations is shaping up to be even better then Colors, and something that should finally please retro fans and modern fans alike. This game does indeed outdo Sonic 4, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors in on fell swoop, if this stage is any indication. Hopefully, this game won’t hit any pot holes along the way, such as the sudden revelation that classic Sonic is murdered and replaced by a jealous Bubsy the Bobcat half way through. Fingers crossed, people!

Sonic Stadium Soundtrack Squad Review: Sonic 4: Episode 1 OST

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Epsiode 1 OST Review

by JezMM

With veteran Sonic composer Jun Senoue taking the musical helm for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, many interviews inquired into how the inspiration from Masato Nakamura’s works from the original games would be shaping Sonic 4’s soundtrack; fans of the classic era began looking forward to future, and the music that would inevitably accompany the title.

Generally speaking, almost every track uses a blend of old 16-bit style samples and synthesised instruments as appropriate, such as the jazzy horns of Casino Street or atmospheric pipes of Lost Labyrinth. This works well and is very appropriate, reflecting the way the game also uses a mix of old and new visually. In a rather different move for a 2D Sonic game, each act has its own melody, rather than traditionally remixing the zone’s theme. However each melody generally keeps in style which the rest of the zone with regards to instrumentation, with vague hints of melody shared between acts. Likewise, each act has its own unique and memorable gimmick, so unique and memorable melodies for each one is a great idea.

However, while there are a fair few ear worms (Splash Hill Act 3 and Lost Labyrinth Act 1 are sure to stick with you) I found a few songs quickly forgettable, or just simply too repetitive, especially considering almost every act is between 3-6 minutes long. Repetitive music certainly reminds one of the old days, but I felt there are still certain standards to adhere to considering this is a modern game being released in a modern market.

Of particular offense was the downright dreadful Final Boss theme. In light of the episodic nature of Sonic 4, a ridiculously epic boss theme would have been inappropriate (well, not that it was a problem for Sonic 3), but frankly Episode One ’s grand finale is just boring sound-wise. The boss is long and difficult, requiring many, many re-attempts – a 20 second loop just simply does not cut it for these circumstances. This might have been forgiven had there been a more dramatic “pinch” version for when Eggman goes nuts half way through (as with the other bosses), but not even that happens. A crying shame as a great, memorable piece of music would have been just what this boss needed to smooth the frustration threshold after frequent failure.

The soundtrack feels like Jun tried too hard to capture the original soundtracks – including what little was wrong with them. Additionally, while several of his melodies have that classic almost melancholic Sonic 1 aura to them, several don’t quite pull it off for me. For example, Lost Labyrinth Act 1 and Act 3 really pull it off in a way that slightly reminds me of Marble from the original game. Meanwhile, I can clearly hear the Special Stage theme trying to emulate the Sonic 1 version’s melodic style, but it fails to grasp quite the same magical something the original had. I also feel that the classic Sonic 1/Sonic 2 tappity-tap percussion severely limited the potential “oomph” factor any track could have possibly had. Using some more modern beats – at least in a few songs – wouldn’t have gone amiss.

In my opinion, Jun’s style was hampered by his attempts at mimicry. When I think of other tracks of his, in particular Azure Blue World from Sonic Adventure, I think it’s very possible for him to come up with an enthralling melody that wouldn’t sound out of place in a classic Sonic game, yet using modern instruments for that extra edge. I’m hoping the reliance on classic elements was purely in celebration of Sonic’s roots, just as the game’s graphics and level genres were, and that we’ll have a much more exciting soundtrack for the next episode. In summary, Sonic 4’s soundtrack does its job. It is a good soundtrack. But being appropriate is the bare minimum a soundtrack should do, and to me that is all Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s soundtrack is – good and appropriate – when it could have been so much more. [6]

Thumbs Up: Perfectly fitting to the content of the game and theme of each zone.
Thumbs Down: Plays it a bit too safe, making for a wholly unsurprising aural experience.
Favourite Track: Splash Hill Act 3

Extaticus
Though it originates from a wholly god-awful source, (the game from which the soundtrack comes is, quite frankly, an absolute travesty) Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s fantastic BGM is a monstrously marvellous electro masterwork, with fiery synth, rockin’ retro beats and a shining and prominent influence from the styles and moods of the tunes of the classic titles – it truly is a glorious flashback to the halcyon days of chippy-trippy MegaDrive music, and is an absolute godsend to anyone who’s been hankering after a taste of a fresh, modern, Sonic-style take on the genre since the series changed its musical fashions so dramatically when guitars took over the audio side of things in Sonic Adventure.

With blindingly awesome tracks such as Splash Hill Zone Act 3 (which truly is the alpha of the pack, sporting supremely catchy chord sequences and a massively memorable melody) and Mad Gear Zone Act 1, (a far jumpier, more dance-orientated affair, which contains more saw-wave licks and syncopations than you can shake a glow-stick at) the Sonic 4 OST is most definitely an album to be remembered and revered as one of the true greats that the Sonic series has managed to produce, and despite a couple of minor niggles, (the instruments aren‘t exactly what I‘d call “authentic“ in terms of their ability to re-create a realistic retro sound, and, right from the off, it’s crystal clear that the track entitled “Boss 1“ was booted from the final cut of the Sonic 3D Soundtrack for a very, very good reason) is the epitome of excellence in modern electronic video game music – it’s by no means perfect, but extremely good and wonderfully well-formed nonetheless. [8]

T-Bird
The stand-out quality of the Sonic 4 soundtrack is that they do a bang-up job of being reminiscent of the older classic tunes. The majority of the compositions are instantly synonymous with Sonic, and while not exactly replicating the Megadrive soundcard, there is a definite fresh, regenerated feel and pace. I’m particularly glad to see Senoue has borrowed from the later Megadrive titles to revive the evolution of each stage’s sound from one to the next.

While I disagree with any consensus that the classic kick-drum and snare is used too much (they were used in the original as frequently), they don’t seem to have been used with much originality ; for example, the Casino Street percussion is extremely similar to that of Casino Night from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having said this, I would love to see the Sonic 3 drum set utilised in future titles…but that’s personal preference! Mad Gear’s vibe lands itself perfectly at a transition point between classic titles and the post-Sonic Adventure style, a format I think sound be maintained for Episode 2. [8]

Thumbs Up: A vibrant new sound to compliment the new title.
Thumbs Down: You’d be forgiven to think you’d heard some tracks before.
Favourite Tracks: Lost Labyrinth Act 2 & Mad Gear Act 1.

BlitzChris
When he isn’t busy being chased by flocks of beautiful woman, Jun Senoue composes music for SEGA. His latest soundtrack for Sonic 4 doesn’t disappoint, immersing you into sonic’s new 2.5D environment. I’ll start off by being completely honest. I LOVE the title theme to Sonic 4. It’s short, catchy and whenever I hit an invincibility box I hum along to it.

One of the things I love most about the soundtrack is that the music for each of the four zones is very different, but the acts all have a similar buzz to them. The Casino Street stages all have a little Casino Night charm in them but are distinctively different from the more Metropolis sounding Mad Gear acts. The album isn’t without its faults however, with the drum set being a constant annoyance. As much as I liked the throwback to the genesis/megadrive sound font, it quickly begins to stick out like a sore thumb and can really get on your nerves. The E.G.G. Station track is also disappointingly short and can begin to irritate your ears as it loops 5-6 times every time you play the level.
Getting the limited low points out of the way, it’s difficult to pick out a favourite track in Sonic 4 because the rest all have their own charm. I absolutely love the flute in Boss Fight and it helps give it an almost “Banjo Kazooie” feel. I am also a huge fan of Splash Hill Act 1. It’s such a catchy tune, and I think it is well worthy of being the next “First Stage” tune alongside the other classics like Emerald Hill and Angel Island. On a side note, be sure to check out the range of Sonic 4 Remixes sprouting up all over the place. Overall, the music is really appropriate for the game, and I hope Jun can hold back his huge female fan base long enough to produce some Episode 2 magic. [8]

Thumbs Up: Each acts music is noticeably specific to that zone and complement each other really well.
Thumbs Down: Drums can drain the brain, Egg Station really isn’t long enough
Favourite Tracks: Title Music & Boss Fight

A formidable collection of catchy beats that capture concepts of the older titles and blend them with the new.  Although there are many examples of memorable tunes, some fans will grow tired of the recycled drums and the shorter looped tracks.

TSS Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Episode 1


Sonic 4, then. Hyped as the true return to 2D form for the blue blur, unleashed at last upon the fanbase after a year-long wait that was riddled with delays and controversy. Does it live up to its promise? Is it worth your hard-earned Sonic wonga? Read on and find out, in TSS’ Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 review.

Premise

There’s really nothing to say when it comes to the game’s premise – it follows the formula of the classic games to the letter, seeing Sonic race through levels to rescue his animal friends from Dr. Eggman’s capture. As it continues on from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, there’s something of a bare bones plot – the evil doc, still smarting after the chaos that ensued on the Death Egg, is trying once more to bury the planet with his league of robot badniks. Of course, with the recession and everything, he’s on the back foot, forced to recycle only the best of the baddies from past games. Obviously, Sonic’s having none of it.

With no cutscenes or any other guff to endure in-between levels, Sonic 4 does a great job of keeping the focus on what really matters – 2D platforming and fast-paced action. There’s a lot to be said about games that just let you get on with the game and just play – and Sonic the Hedgehog is such an accessible game that jumping in is a total cinch.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE SCENE: As it should be – the ending sequence.

Presentation

Sonic 4 is simply gorgeous. SEGA has brought the 2D games bang-up to present-day, and although the 16-bit sprites had a bit more charm to them, you’ll still be able to appreciate the detailed locales and intricate designs implemented here. With 3D models, special effects such as card-based paths looping in and out of the screen, and traditional items such as pinball bumpers and loop-de-loops covered in foliage, Sonic 4 does what the original Sonic the Hedgehog did in 1991 – create a graphical presentation that can truly wow kids.

All that being said, there’s something of an obvious pattern when it comes to the design of Sonic 4 – it’s not entirely original. In fact, it could be argued that it’s not original at all. Each of the four major zones (and the concept of the Special Stages) are re-imaginations of levels already seen in the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The multi-tiered and engaging level design helps break the argument that this is but a mere rehash, but it is fair to say that this initial episode does feel more like an homage rather than a true sequel. Maybe some fresh ideas for the next episode, SEGA?

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE BIT:
The all-too familiar looking Splash Hill going from daylight to sunset.

Sound

When you think of the music behind classic Mega Drive Sonic games, one of the most distinctive elements you would pick out would be Masato Nakamura’s deft use of percussion. Jun Senoue, a veteran who has been involved with the series’ soundtrack ever since Sonic 3, has tried to replicate that to mixed success. Oftentimes the background music sounds like there’s a 16-bit woodpecker knocking against your head. At other times, tunes are barely memorable – try humming a Sonic 4 song two hours after playing it.

There are some blinding gems that show Senoue’s skill, like the pumping theme to Mad Gear or the absolutely delightful Act 3 music to Splash Hill Zone. But we all know what the man’s capable of when given a Mega Drive – 1996’s Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island is testament to that. Ultimately, I can see exactly what Senoue was going for here – it’s just a shame that the overall result is a bit hit-and-miss.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE TRACKS:
Splash Hill Zone Act 3, Mad Gear Zone Act 1

Gameplay

This really is the heart of the debate – whether you rate Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 as a good or bad game depends entirely on what you perceive the game to be (ignoring SEGA’s constant marketing natter about ‘back to the classics, fo’ real homes’). Do you focus more on what the game should be, or what it really is? Here’s my take – Sonic 4 is a lot of fun. With some caveats.

When you start playing the game, a lot of the hangups in the physics department appear glaringly obvious – and if they don’t, then you’ll be blitzing through the first few stages thinking subconsciously that something isn’t right with this picture. As it turns out, Sonic Team (for whatever reason) did not decide to build on the Mega Drive codebase but instead created as close enough a replication as it could. For some, the bits it got wrong are a deal-breaker.

Jump to the side and let go of the analogue stick/D-pad, and rather than letting momentum take its course, Sonic stops moving and drops in a vertical line. Closer inspection shows that the same is true for other midair activities, such as being shot out of a cannon. Elsewhere, the game doesn’t seem to encourage the use of the spin attack because every time you use it, you slow to a crawl. Even on the Casino Street half-pipes – where in classic Sonic games, spin-attacking would actually make you go faster than running, the opposite is true in Sonic 4. For those used to the physics of the originals, it’s baffling.

But if you stick with the game, you’ll get used to those setbacks and enjoy the game for the short, enjoyable ride it otherwise provides. Running around curves and bouncing off of badniks really takes you back to those halcyon days sitting in front of a Mega Drive as a kid. The level design – multiple tiers and with several routes for time-attacking – is a triumph compared to those found in recent 2D Sonics.

And the sole addition to the blue blur’s attack roster, the homing attack, is far from a cheap get-out-of-jail-free card, but instead offers access to alternate paths and feels just as natural as a classic power-up should. Sonic 4 is a game that divides opinion like no other – just as I feel there is a lot of fun and gameplay worth to the game despite its setbacks, others may feel that the physics is enough to fail the game entirely. The strange thing is, both opinions are correct.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up (Your Mileage May Vary)
FAVOURITE PART: Running like a madman to escape the chaos in Mad Gear Act 3.

Longevity

You won’t really get a lot of bang for your buck here – you’re buying entirely into the nostalgia trip that you may (or may not) receive when Sonic 4: Episode 1 first loads up. To compare the number of zones to past Mega Drive games is silly – Sonic the Hedgehog came out in 1991 with six zones for around £40. When you consider you’re only losing two for a tenner that’s not so bad.

What can’t be argued is that you can easily beat Sonic 4: Episode 1 in the space of an hour or so (minus chaos emeralds – it will take you an extra couple of hours to grab them). When there are other premium games on downloadable services commanding at least four times that for about £2 less, you start to ask a question or two as to whether the longevity is value for money. It will be interesting to see how that might change if it has the ability to ‘lock on’ with future episodes, however.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE TIME-WASTER: Time-attacking – the homing attack has some nice uses in speed running.

FINAL WORDS

YOU’LL LOVE
+ The sublime level design.
+ All of the beautiful backdrops.
+ A fresh challenge, wrapped in a familiar setting.
+ That you can still have fun despite its drawbacks.
+ The homing attack. Yeah, I said it.

YOU’LL HATE
– The rather naff jump and spin physics.
– A rather forgettable soundtrack.
– That it’s over far too quickly for your money.
– It’s more of an homage than a fully-blown sequel.
– One or two gimmick-specific stages.

PAX 2010 Sonic Colors Hands-On

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfI34y7izBE[/youtube]

I think they’ve finally got it.

That about sums up my second chance to play the game. They’ve cut the gimmicks, cut the fat, fixed the camera, tightened the controls, and done just about everything else you could ask of a development team. Indeed, I don’t even recall seeing any of the random frame rate chugging like in the E3 demo. The jumping feels perfect. The homing attack has been fine tuned to the point where using it will never accidentally send you careening off into a chasm. Controling Sonic feels great and fast, with no collision detection bugs or odd glitches. The endless chasms appear to be gone, and while the levels have so far proven easy enough to get through, it still takes some skill to play them well, just like in the classics.

The wisp power ups are also a sight for sore eyes. Replacing the endless gimmicks and alternate play styles of past 3D games, the wisps are not only non-intrusive, but are a true joy to use. Whether it’s blasting through a level as a rocket, drilling through a cake to find power ups and otherwise inaccessible areas, or floating above spikes to reach otherwise unreachable areas above, these little aliens are probably the best thing to happen to Sonic since the elemental shields. I’ve yet to encounter a wisp that didn’t add something to the experience. Sure, the creators have pointed out that you don’t need to use them, but why wouldn’t you? For the first time ever in a Sonic game, I think this game would be a lesser experience without these gimmicks.

Of course, things aren’t perfect. At times the game can feel a little too automatic, to the point where it restricts how much control you have over Sonic in certain areas where you need to  drift or sidestep. These moments are rare, and out of the three levels I’ve played they where most prevalent in the newest level, Planet Wisp. Sonic is also just a little too fast now. I personally preferred the speed in the E3 demo, but after I got used to it the extra speed didn’t detract from the experience. That said, there are far worse things I could complain about in the other 3D Sonics, even in the Adventure series.

When last I previewed this game, I said that this was the best 3D Sonic game since the Adventure series. Well now, I rescind that statement. This game will outdo the Adventure series. Just going by these three levels, I don’t see how it can’t. The game has superior level design, superior programming, far fewer bugs and glitches – I encountered none in the PAX demo – and the gimmicks are far, far superior. I haven’t even had a chance to check out the co-operative mode, which looks like it’s going to be an experience in and of itself. I can’t believe that this game is from the same team that brought us such disasters as Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic and the Black Knight. I can’t believe, for the first time ever, I can whole heartedly recommend a 3D Sonic game, without warning about its flaws and things you need to “get over” to enjoy it. I can’t believe I can say with confidence, that those people who post the Sonic Cycle for every damn announcement, should cram it and buy it on day one.

Of course, while I’ve raised my expectations, Iizuka’s raised the stakes, claiming that the game will be equal to or better then the classic Genesis games. From my playtime, I am not yet ready to make that same claim. That’s the sort of thing even I refuse to say until I’ve played this game over at least a year’s time. We’ll see soon enough.

Don’t be reserved. Don’t be cautious. Sonic Colors is a great game. Come November, go buy it. Sonic is back.