TSS Review: LEGO Dimensions Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack

LEGO and Sonic the Hedgehog. Now there’s two things we never thought we’d see officially put together in the same product. Sure, maybe it’s not as earth-shattering a crossover as the Mario & Sonic series (I mean, who’d have ever seen that one coming, and at the Olympic Games no less?!), but it’s just as mind-bogglingly unthinkable. But, then again, almost anything is possible in the crazy world of TT Games’ LEGO Dimensions. You know what’s even crazier though? This bonkers mash-up of blue blurs and bricks is arguably the best thing to come out of Sonic’s 25th anniversary celebrations this year.

Continue reading TSS Review: LEGO Dimensions Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack

TSS Review: Eggman’s Dozen

Emphasis on the dozen, add more yolks.

If the history of fiction has proven anything, it’s that villains are far more likely to be more fun to watch than the heroes. So a natural way to get a great arc on paper is to shove all your villains in one place and see how it unfolds. Eggman’s Dozen does exactly that, but will it prove the perfect dish or be a case of putting all the eggs in the wrong basket? Read on and find out!

Continue reading TSS Review: Eggman’s Dozen

TSS Reviews: Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U version)

Mario and Sonic was always the topic at the Copa.

With the Olympics just weeks around the corner, Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for the Wii U is finally out on the shelves. Promising more characters, better graphics, 14 Olympic events and an array of content, will this game have you partying like you’re in Maracanã, or will you be left thinking of it as Barren da Tijuca?

Continue reading TSS Reviews: Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U version)

TSS Review: Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (3DS)

The biannual bash of gaming’s top titans is here again and it’s a far more enjoyable fare than a certain recent movie featuring two other huge fictional rivals. Mario and Sonic return to the Olympics with their biggest roster ever and a surprisingly meaty single-player experience. However, with this being the fifth outing for this mascot sports series, is it too much of the “same-old, same-old”, or is there enough meat in the portable outing to be worth a purchase? Continue reading TSS Review: Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (3DS)

TSS REVIEW: First4Figures Tornado Exclusive Edition Diorama

Now… the last time I wrote about a First4Figures statue in detail was back in 2013, and it wasn’t exactly a happy experience, my statue along with several others had a number of problems, mysterious black marks, badly manufactured joints to name but a few. This, combined with problems with a number of previous statues finally broke the camels back. So I cancelled all my outstanding orders for statues with them, since then I have not bought another F4F product, that rule was in place for me until I saw evidence that they were taking their quality control seriously.

And oh boy, how they have gone above my expectations. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: First4Figures Tornado Exclusive Edition Diorama

Initial Impressions: Sonic Runners (iOS/Android)

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EDIT 24/6: Due to the ever evolving nature of mobile games, and the fact Runners has altered quite a bit since our initial review here, we’ve decided to re-evaluate this piece as an “Initial Impressions”. While it may have stood true for the game’s soft launch release, we no longer feel it accurately reflects the current version of Sonic Runners.

Freemium. A word almost associated with fear to many nowadays. You hear the horror stories everywhere – a kid downloads a little free app, next thing you know their parent’s bank accounts are emptied and they have 500 coins of in-game currency to spend. It’s becoming so bad that Apple themselves need to offer consumers the ability to block these purchases from happening, and even market against them. It’s an undeniably profitable market, one which Sonic has dabbled in before.

If you recall, Sonic has three original titles for mobile devices. Sonic Jump and Sonic Jump Fever, where Sonic must use platforms to climb to the top of levels riddled with badniks and other obstacles, and Sonic Dash, and endless runner where you dodge obstacles and collect as many rings as you can. The latter game is pretty infamous for its microtransactions at this point. Red Rings are the premium currency which gets you second tries, new characters and other goodies which doesn’t come cheap, and you can one or two a day through normal gameplay. It gets addicting swiftly, but can often become frustrating, and nowadays is littered with ads which consistently interrupt whenever you’re on a menu.

This is why, upon Sonic Runners’ initial announcement, I had very low interest in whatever the title had to offer. Despite it being developed by Sonic Team themselves, I wasn’t interested in being hounded continually by adverts, told there’s a new sale on for premium currency or losing my progress in a level because of almost impossible to avoid obstacles. If anything, I assumed it could be an easy time killer for whenever the next major Sonic Team game comes around.

But yet, I find myself thinking that this is the best Sonic game that’s been released since 2011’s Sonic Generations. And I’m not sure how to feel about that.

Sonic Runners is essentially a classic Sonic game on rails. Your character runs continually on a 2D plane with your only control option being to tap the screen which performs a jump. Rings and different coloured score gems help to guide when your character should jump and when to use their unique abilities, and levels are littered with power-ups to help your runs, such as Invincibility, Shield and Combo Bonus. Drill, Laser and Asteroid Wisps also return providing quick and easy ways to cover distance or collect items. Laser is especially fantastic, letting you move quickly and tap to suck in all nearby score gems and rings.

Multiple taps activate a character’s special ability – Sonic (Speed) can triple jump which helps in a pinch, Tails (Fly) can gain a great height by either holding down the jump or pressing multiple times, and Knuckles (Power) can dash forward with a punch destroying rocks and powerful enemies, then jump once more following it. Each character class has a designated zone designed to put these abilities to best use, with levels which compliment the abilities. Windy Hill for Speed, Silent Forest/Sky Road for Fly and Lava Mountain for Power. Because of this, there’s no reason to use any other characters in these stages which quickly leads to a lack in variety, which I’ll come to.

There’s a great sense of speed and flow while you play Runners, no matter which character class you’re using. Since rings and score gems help guide your movements it’s all about timing your jumps right and trusting that you’ll make it, which can be very satisfying when it comes to complex areas. At the end of each “section” you’ll have a mini face off against Dr. Eggman where you can bag a ton of rings for a short amount of time, and once he flies off the game speeds up further. This also accompanies increasingly difficult hazards to avoid and jumps to make, creating a difficulty progression that feels fair. Once you reach max speed you’ll stop gaining rings, making the tension of perfectly executing all your jumps even greater. Though there are times when I feel there’s the occasional cheap death or obstacle, it largely feels fair and down to the player’s skill.

There’s an issue when it comes to this however. Since each level section contains its own obstacles and challenges, they quickly become familiar at lower levels, but higher level ones still remain a mystery because of the time it takes to get to them, the actual pace of the area and the increased difficulty. So if you’re to lose on max speed run and get sent back, you’ll have to go through all the previous areas with the same designs and obstacles you’ve already beaten before to take another crack at getting your high score, which quickly becomes repetitive. But this all comes down to the design of the game itself. Rather than having a general feeling of progression, Runners is designed to be played in short bursts to see how far you can get and beat your high score. It’s undeniably fun, just don’t expect to be bored for a few hours and be able to play the game without ever becoming exhausted with it. It certainly lacks variety for long play sessions.

One of the most pleasant surprises with Runners is how much it lacks the lifeblood of its other freemium companions. I’m yet to encounter a single advertisement outside of their own in game promotions (note however, this is a soft launch, so this could just be an early day thing) and I’ve barely been hounded to purchase premium currency, if at all. On top of this, premium currency (Red Rings) isn’t that difficult to come across either, since you’re able to bag a decent amount just by playing through the story alone. This currency goes toward saving yourself in runs or taking a shot at the premium roulette, which can grant you companions to help give you boosts. While these are helpful they’re not necessary, so it’s up to you to decide how conservative you want to be with your Red Rings. Even normal rings themselves are used as currency to level up your characters to make power ups and Wisps last longer, and they come in generous amounts.

The thing that will drive you the most to play Sonic Runners will be beating your high score, and trying to be head of your division leaderboard. There’s a story within the game, but it’s better left unspoken of. Story could even be a word too generous – the plot essentially revolves around Sonic, Tails and Knuckles solving the problems of animals and defeating Eggman at the end of each episode. There are plenty of these episodes, sure, but they do very little to engage you and cutscenes quickly become tedious (don’t worry, you can skip them). It’s nothing special and won’t encourage you to keep playing, and it isn’t helped by the pretty poor writing to boot. You’ll stick around for that burst of fun you’ll get from the gameplay itself.

And that’s what makes Sonic Runners so good. It’s all about the gameplay, and it’s great. Every time I go to pick it up, I know that it’s going to be a blast. You could almost say it’s a modern, bitesized interpretation of those side-scrolling Sonic games we know and love. It’s fast, frantic, addictive and just downright fun. The production values feel high and the visuals look lovely, with Lost World’s simple, cartoony art style adapting to mobile very well, and Ohtani provides some great catchy tunes to boot. Despite its lack of variety and monotonous story it’s probably the most overall enjoyable Sonic game since Generations and paints a positive picture as to whatever Sonic Team is working on next.

You’ll Love:

  • The fun and addictive gameplay, reminiscent of days gone by.
  • The high production values, reflected in the graphics, gameplay and music.
  • Despite being freemium, is surprisingly generous and not littered with ads… for now.

You’ll Hate:

  • The lack of variety.
  • Occasional cheap obstacles.
  • The “story”.

Sonic Runners is out now in Japan and Canada for Free, and is available on iOS and Android. There is currently no announced release date for the US or Europe.

This game was played on an iPhone 5C. Performance will vary depending on your device.

Second Opinion from Hogfather

Let’s start with the terrible things shall we?

  • The fact I can’t play this offline is ridiculous.
  • The Amy Rose unlock is completely ridiculous.
  • The music is pretty bad, no really it is, compare it to the original games and you’ll realise how poor it is.

What are you left with? An utterly fantastic little game that everybody should be playing. Sonic Runners is the best Sonic game in years, boy how sad is that? Since Generations, the best Sonic game is a free to play, on rails mobile game which has barely a plot to it… is this a sign of how bad the last 2 years have been? Or that this game is genuinely good?

The answer is probably somewhere in between, Runners is a high production cost free to play mobile game, but it is a free to play mobile game so if you’re expecting high console production costs, think again, turn your expectations down to mobile game.

Now that isn’t to say it’s bad, it’s not, but your expectations might be a tad high. For example, the game has tons of episodes, but these episodes are so basic, odds are you’ll be touching the ‘skip’ button after the first 8, why not; they’re all pretty much the same. “Oh no, Eggman has kidnapped/built a factory near my house, let’s go do something!” You then play a stage; if you score high enough odds are you’ll be taken to the boss fight, which is a very simple affair and that’s it, episode done.

It’s simple, not bad, but simple.

The strength of the title comes from the layout of each stage, it does branching paths really well, and the balance between challenge and reward is very well thought out and executed almost perfectly.

There will however be things people don’t like, Sonic can’t go into a spin dash on demand, but he does it automatically if you build up huge speed, normally resulting in a score or ring bonus. Most of the wisp powers feel like a punishment than a help.

Some people may have some issues adjusting to the new rules, Sonic can triple jump now and you can jump anywhere on a Catterkiller, going against nearly 25 years of gameplay. However, that said, Runners is fun, in fact it’s very fun, I almost wanted it to be terrible in case someone in charge says “This is how we do it from now on.” because whilst it’s a fun little game, I still want my console Sonic.

I could go into the technical reasons as to why Runners works so well, but all you really need to know, is that Sonic Runners is the best Sonic game in years which is genially fun despite the simple nature, don’t be put off by the words “Free to play” or “mobile” or that terrible tutorial, It’s actually an enjoyable experience.

Please don’t ruin it by suddenly adding adverts or some other restriction. Just please get rid of that online requirement and the let us unlock Amy Rose in a sensible manner and you might have a serious contender for mobile GOTY.

It’s fun and enjoyable, give it a try.

Update: Sonic Lost World: Review Roundup

zor

Added some more scores.

So Sonic Lost World is out, and it’s…. well.. you’ll see.

I’m not a fan of review embargos these days, mainly because given the price of a game, you really need an idea as to what to expect. So for people living in the EU, odds are this won’t be of much use. But here it is anyway, the following is a roundup of all the Sonic Lost World reviews so far.

Scores are out of 10 unless otherwise stated.

Wii U Version.

Gametsyde: Favourable

Famitsu: 9/9/9/9

Nintendo World Report: 9

Gamesbeat: 85/100

Games Radar: 4/5

Guardian: 4/5

GameReactor Spain/Norway/Portugal: 8

Digital Spy: 4/5

GameTrailers: 7.6

Destructoid: 7.5

Jeuxvideo: 15/20 (seriously? Out of 20?)

CVG: 7

Gameblog.fr: 3.5/5

Nintendo Life: 7

TheSixthAxis: 7

GameReactor Sweeden/Germany*: 6

Wiitalia: 6

Polygon: 6

IGN: 5.8

Digital Chumps: 5.6

Videogamer: 5

Gamekult: 5

Gameinformer: 5

Gamespot: 5

AnaitGames: 5

Joystiq: 2.5/5

The Escapist: 2.5/5

Edge: 4

EuroGamer: 4

Kotaku: Should you play it: NO

And now for the 3DS version

Kotaku: Should you play it: YES

Famitsu: 8/9/8/9

Wiitalia: 6

GameReactor Spain: 5

NintendoLife: 5

Polygon: 4

AnaitGames: 4

And thats your lot so far…

Well, I suppose it could have been worse? It seems that for many people, the game is quite an average experience. If you want the details you can click the links, but from reading the reviews and looking around. The game appears to be quite painfully average, boss battles are a let down, controls are bad, there needed to be a tutorial stage, the learning curve is far too high, at times it re-cycles levels and ideas from the game, some boss fights are copy and pastes from other games and well… I think you get the idea.

It’s not bad, but it’s no better than average, if you go along with the above scores.

Anyway, stay tuned to TSS for our own review which should be getting put up at some point next week.

Sonic Generations Review Roundup

Sonic’s big 20th Anniversary title Sonic Generations is now available to purchase in the US and the press are all unleashing their final verdicts on the game. Most critics seem to have enjoyed the game, with many scoring the game an 8 or an higher variant of the number. Below, we have a list of many of the reviews out there listed from highest to lowest.

[table id=2/]

Australian gaming website PALGN has also released its review of Sonic Generations today and has given the game its highest score yet – 9.5/10.

What are your thoughts on the critical praise so far? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

Thanks to SSMB member Blue Blood for the list!

[UPDATE: IGN 8/10] First Batch of Sonic 4 Reviews


UPDATE: IGN has posted up their review of the Xbox 360 version, in written and video form (see above). They give the game an 8/10. /UPDATE END

The first batch of reviews are in for the iPhone and PS3 versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 and they’re all pretty positive. We’ll focus on two of the reviews here and provide links to others at the bottom of this article.

AppTilt’s Dan Lee gave the iPhone version a 9/10, claiming SEGA has done well in bringing Sonic back to his roots, while still keeping him fresh.

Every level is bright, colourful, detailed and screams ‘Sonic’ at the top of its lungs. SEGA has done a fantastic job of bringing Sonic back to his roots, but also making him feel fresh and modern.

Lee says the game meets the classic Sonic level design of multiple routes, which encourage the various play styles of those who like to speed through a zone and those who like to be more adventurous and explore.

The good news is that the level design is classic Sonic. Each act has multiple routes depending on your play style – so those who enjoy the speed can simply put the hammer down and blast through, whilst the more adventurous can slow things down and eek out every ring there is on offer; just be wary of the ten minute level time limit!

The only complaint Lee had was with the controls. Lee didn’t find the touch or tilt controls to be as accurate as buttons and an analogue stick.

So now for the bad news – the iPod controls aren’t as slick as they could be, and occasionally ruin parts of a level. There are two ways to play the game – ‘Touch controls’ or ‘Tilt controls’. Touch gives you a faux analogue stick in the left hand corner, which controls movement, whilst a circle in the right corner simulates a jump button. This button is far too small and in the full flow of a level it’s very easy to miss – which usually results in death. Both the move and the jump buttons sometimes fail to register as well, which is beyond frustrating.

Tilt controls enables you to move left and right by tilting the iPod in that direction. Jumping is taken care of my tapping any part of the screen. I quite enjoyed the Tilt control as it removed the small jump button – however it lacked the precision of the analogue stick. Neither of these controls schemes are awful; they could have just done with a bit more tweaking. In terms of longevity Sonic 4 is as deep as you want it to be.

Lee finished up by highly recommending the game:

So there we have it – overall Sonics return is a rousing success. The occasional unresponsive controls are not enough to put a dampener on some top notch level design and good old fashioned fun. Highly recommended.

Full review here

GamesRadar’s Justin Towell reviewed the PS3 version of the game and also gave it a 9/10, stating that like most fans, he noticed the physics differences in early footage and had doubts the game would live up to its name, but after playing the full game he says that it surprisingly does live up to the title Sonic 4.

The physics are different, the art design is different… perhaps it was just too different to be worthy of the name ‘Sonic 4’. How could anything possibly live up to that name? To my utmost surprise, it does.

Towell also wasn’t overly bothered by another factor often complained about in the game, the homing attack.

You get the lock-on attack from Sonic Adventure, which threatens to change the game too much, but is actually used sparingly and works well almost all of the time. There are a couple of occasions where you want to use the air dash to power over a spiked enemy’s head, but the game thinks you want to attack it, resulting in a cascade of lost rings.

Towell explains there are new speed tactics not found in the previous Mega Drive classics that he enjoyed playing with and improve Sonic’s speed without having to wait for the next steep hill to come along.

Going back to Sonic 1 after spending hours with its new sibling feels very strange. Sonic 4 handles very differently. It’s more… bold. Clinical, even. Every movement seems more deliberate, and while the finer nuances of low-speed control have arguably been lost, it’s at high speed that it reveals its true depths.
I mentioned that lock on attack can be used as a simple air boost. When running at speed, this has a noticeable acceleration effect, allowing you to reach speeds on open stretches that old Sonic simply wouldn’t be able to do without a hill to help him. Jumps on hills still react as you’d expect, and landing a jump on a decline results in a welcome burst of speed, just like those loop-jumps of Sonic 2.

Towell then goes into the games replayability through various modes like Time Attack and brings good news that Super Sonic’s times will be ranked separately to Sonic’s.

So how much game is there for Sonic experts? I was able to beat the entire game, collected all the emeralds and beat the secret zone in one evening. After that, there are separate score and time attack modes to try for every stage, complete with online leaderboards. These are split into all/friends categories, and scores attained with Super Sonic are categorised separately from regular Sonic.
Add in the countless hidden routes through levels and it’s clear there’s a truck-load of replayability. Finding the fastest routes and mastering them is going to take weeks, maybe months. Maybe years.

Towell finishes up the review with the following positive thoughts and verdict:

A friend on Facebook asked me to sum up the game in one word. It’s a tough thing to do. I wouldn’t say ‘magnificent’ – it’s still a little too unambitious for that. I certainly wouldn’t say ‘disappointing’, because Sonic Team and DIMPS have done the impossible and managed to make this most critical of Sonic fans love a new Sonic game.
So I’m going to plump for ‘deserving’. And I mean that in two ways. It’s deserving of your time and your money despite its length. But more importantly, it’s deserving of the name ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 4’. That was always going to be this game’s biggest challenge, but it’s succeeded with aplomb.

9/10
You’ll love
+ The purest Sonic game for ten years
+ Works on so many gameplay levels, like its predecessors
+ So much game to master, despite its diminutive size
+ You’ll hate
– Can be ‘completed’ in one evening
– Physics are different, not necessarily worse
– Visuals could have been even better

Full review here

GamesRadar also shared the completed map screen:

Other iPhone version reviews:
GameShard 9/10
AppAdvice 4/5
iLounge (B)
Pocket Gamer 7/10
TiPb 5/5
SEGABits (B)
AppSpy 4/5

What do you think of the game’s positive critical reception so far? Share your thoughts in the comments.

SAGE Spotlight: Sonic Robo Blast 2

Review by Kain of SFGHQ, Submitted to TSS

As a preface to this review, I will say that I am being particularly harsh in my criticisms of this game, because I feel no need to patronize this team or treat the game as “just a fangame,” mostly because of its enormous size, publicity, and history.  I’m also sore because I get motion sickness from playing jerky 3D games and am being doing it for spite from all the physical pain it put me through.  On to the review…Sonic Robo Blast 2 is a project that has been in development for over a decade and it shows.  In the eyes of many fangamers, including this one, it’s in a class of its own.  The volume of content and detail in this game is incredible.  It is and it feels like a full game.  However, it’s far from feeling like a complete game, as there are a large number of truly unfortunate glaring flaws with this game which keep me from really enjoying it.

srb2-3
For starters, the controls suffer from hyper-fluidity (something common in FPSes, but exacerbated by the fact that this is a high-speed platformer).  Every time you press a button you feel like the fly in the windshield, effecting the momentum of the car you hit in imperceptibly low ways.  There is no discreteness to the controls: no skidding, no sense of friction, or traction.  The entire game’s a giant ice stage in space.  Even jumping and rolling feels more like a nudge than a switch as you’re just shifting from one gliding motion to another.Though especially uncharacteristic when on the ground, this is particularly damaging when you’re in the air where it literally takes 5 seconds to alter direction when going at mid-speeds.  In a platformer, this is unacceptable as it makes everything frustrating, even the otherwise wonderfully well-done belt gimmick in Arid Canyon Zone.The view is limited vertically and tied to movement horizontally, probably done for the sake of keeping the sprite-count low.  This method can get a little frustrating when things are coming from above or you need a wide-angle view of what you’re jumping into.  But this isn’t really so bad; at least you have substantial control of the camera contrary to some of the official 3D Sonic games.

1121795257-sonic_robo_2Though you can really tell the difference between the graphics made eons ago and the ones done recently (the ones done recently being much prettier), this game is graphically impressive.  The antiquated Doom rendering engine will test your sensitivity to aliasing and lack of bump-mapping and other modern rending techniques, especially in the spacious level design that SRB2 has on display.  But if you can get past that, there’s a lot to enjoy in the later levels.  The character sprites are immaculate and the use of pixel art techniques in the level textures of Arid Canyon Zone and Egg Rock Zone make them absolutely gorgeous.

Presentationally, the game has a unique and congruent style.  This is such a rare thing in fangames and is so well-done in this game (though some of the old areas could use some going back to and retouching).

As with the graphics, level design quality is somewhat varied from section to section (attributed to the gigantic time this game has been in development, no doubt), but on the whole are conceptually wonderful.  The look, the feel, and the scale of the levels show a real creative eye for design.  There is a wonderful amount of variety in the later levels and a nice flow to the layout.  However, somewhere in the transition from conception to player, all the fun and design of the level get rounded off by unreasonable (and probably unintentional) difficulty.

shot8ys7This game is simply frustrating and shows a lack of sympathy for the new player.  Common with way too many amateur or independent game projects, SRB2 suffers from a lack of leniency, adopting a “the best is just enough” difficulty balancing policy.  The levels are in many ways designed to be played through as Sonic, but playing through as Sonic is at all times frustrating and at many times next to impossible due to a combination of the aforementioned loose controls and the aforementioned lack of leniency.  Far too often the only way to make a jump is to reach the platform right at the top of your jump.  In my opinion, this is a cardinal sin, even for platforms which are right next to you and most definitely should not be practiced regularly with variable-distance long-jumps.

There was one “what the hell was the designer thinking?” moment in particular: in Deep Sea Zone Act 1, the game sets out to recreate the old “logs slowly flowing down a waterfall” scenario, but the “logs” come out randomly and are spaced 3/4 Sonic’s max jump distance apart with no downward leniency (if you lose any vertical footing, you have no chance of making it).  The degree in which the planets must align in order for you to make that jump as Sonic is indeed cosmic.  I say it again: What the hell was the designer thinking!?  The game tries to sell you off of playing as Sonic unless you know the game like the back of your hand, but I get the feeling that this is a bit of a cop-out reaction to the fact that no-one could complete their game as Sonic.

srb20029kz2Playing as Tails or Knuckles, you blast past all the entire level, segments at a time, without ever experiencing them.  Until you get to the Egg Rock zone, where you’ll hit a brick wall anyway, made all the more insulting by the fact that they start you off with 1 life when if you try to play it after losing all your lives.  It forces you to play the whole game over again, scavenging for extra men.  Please, a little sympathy.  I like being challenged, but I don’t like being toyed with.

Another area where the level design suffers is in a lack of direction.  I know the developers are reluctant to patronize the player by planting arrow signs everywhere, but there is a lack of distinguishing landmarks indicating the direction you should or should not be going, often resulting in you going in circles.  The game gets better about that later in the game, though that’s more of a product of the increasingly distinct graphical design and less of a conscious effort to make sure the player knows where he should be going.

To use an extremely over-used cliche, SRB2 is the proverbial diamond-in-the-rough, complete with rough.  As I have no experience modding (much less Doom modding), so I won’t speculate as to what’s an engine limitation and what’s an unfortunate design choice or programming flaw, but I think it’s safe to say two things about using the Doom engine: (1) SRB2 will never be a modern game using the Doom engine and (2) it is possible to polish a very good game out of what is there already without having to recreate it in a non-Doom environment (maybe not as good as it could be, but very good nonetheless).  In many ways, this game reminds me of my experience with Sonic Heroes, whose catastrophic implementation flaws get in the way of its legitimately impressive content.   And like Sonic Heroes, I’m sure if I spent days and days playing SRB2 I’d come to love it even through its flaws, but that doesn’t change the fact that these flaws simply shouldn’t be.

Kain is a veteran fangamer and senior member of SFGHQ.

SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection: The TSS Review

sonic2-screen

It’s always hard to judge games like SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection in a review, because the only thing you can really gauge is the offering itself and whether the presentation offers value for money. With the Wii’s Virtual Console providing a lot of classic entertainment at varying prices each, and the Xbox Live Arcade doing the same for certain cult favourites, it seems fitting that SEGA would jump in and provide an outlet for gamers to experience all of their past titles as well. Of course, a Mega Drive Collection is nothing new; the publisher has been supporting the console on Nintendo’s hardware for the longest time, and as recent as 2006 we all saw a Mega Drive Collection released for the PlayStation 2 and PSP.

There’s also the idea that, well, the Mega Drive certainly wasn’t the only console that SEGA developed, so why all the hardcore love for it, when a Saturn or Dreamcast compilation would have proved a bit more refreshing? The answer is quite simple; given the PlayStation 3’s dubious backwards compatability, the fact that the Xbox never saw the original 2006 release, and that out of all of SEGA’s past efforts the Mega Drive is the one that everyone fondly remembers most, it only makes sense that gamers are given the chance to see once more just why the company was known as an industry powerhouse in the 1990s. Now, sing it with me… “Seeeeeee-gaaaaaaaaaaa”…

Presentation

The collection is being handled by emulation friends Backbone Entertainment, who are no strangers to console emulation with their track record including numerous Xbox Live Arcade titles and the original Sega Mega Drive Collection on PS2. This release has the same classy interface that we have come to expect from the team, with games being presented in a menu that represents a Mega Drive console. With around 40 games to play, there’s an option to filter the list so that it’s easier to get to the games you like better. A personal scoring system allows you to rate games out of five, of which the highest scorers will emerge at the top of the list when the collection boots up. It’s little touches like that which help make a collection like this helpful, rather than a hindrance.

gaxe-screen

Game presentation is as you would expect from a PC emulator – as essentially, this is what Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection really is. While it might sound reasonable at first for Backbone to have given a little more than this, when playing each of the ‘ROMs’ on a big screen it’s really hard to complain. There’s an option to add a 2xSAI style filter on the graphics, but it really fudges things up for you with blurry, smudgy sprites so it’s best you turn it off. Seeing Phantasy Star IV or Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in upscaled digital glory really does give you a blast to the past. On top of this, the games used are in 60Hz without borders – which is a godsend for games like Streets of Rage 3, which really suffered in its original PAL cartridge release for being way too slow and border-heavy.

In terms of extras, we get a gallery of box art and cartridge scans for every game, although sadly we only get US NTSC artwork in our PAL release. Would have been nice to have seen European boxes, along with US and Japanese to complete the set. There are bonus interviews, but they’re lifted straight from the 2006 PS2 release and don’t provide any extra insight to those who have seen them before (although it’s always nice to see the Ristar creator wax lyrical, we could listen to him all day). With some additional information and ‘Did You Know’s for each title on the collection, there’s not an awful lot Backbone could have added to have made this perfect. It’s an expertly packaged compilation.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up

Game Offering

While there are many curious omissions – there’s no lock-on capability with Sonic and Knuckles, and games that have been released before on Virtual Console including Gunstar Heroes and ToeJam and Earl are no-shows – Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection still impresses with its game lineup. No amount of games would have made every Sega fan truly happy, but in this Backbone have compiled a list that spans the history of the console perfectly, from the original pack-in Altered Beast to the entire Sonic the Hedgehog series and even cult hits like Dynamite Headdy and Ristar. Even the fabulously bad Alien Storm makes an appearance, worthy of playing simply to see the robot’s head explode.

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The games that will most likely have you hugging your HDTV as it drowns you in 16-bit gameplay goodness include: Comix Zone, a platform-beat-em-up set in a comic book; Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, a despicably addictive puzzle game where you match coloured beans to beat your opponent; Dynamite Headdy, a truly insane platformer from Treasure; the Golden Axe series, which needs no introduction; the entire Phantasy Star collection of RPGs, with the unforgettable fourth instalment providing the ultimate blend of speed-based battle and compelling manga premise; Ristar, quite possibly one of the greatest platforming games Sega has created, starring a shooting star that uses elasticated arms to swing and grapple himself around the game world; Shining Force II, a fantastic tactical RPG that is as engaging as it is cerebral; Shinobi III, with fast-paced shuriken-chucking action featuring Joe Musashi; the complete Sonic the Hedgehog series, which today still provide some of the best gaming experiences you can find; the Streets of Rage trilogy, which has you fighting countless armies of street thugs as ex-cop Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding; and Vectorman, a groovy 2.3D shooting platformer that features a hip-hopping green robot… thing.

Although one could be disappointed about the lack of their favourite Mega Drive game in this collection, what there is really is a big deal for the older gamer, and there’s more than enough essential 90s material for younger players to find out just what all the fuss was about in Phantasy Star IV, or take on Zeon for the very first time in Shining Force II. It really is hard to complain about the offering here when it all translates to about 50p per game, and for that you’re getting real essential gameplay. There are even arcade game that can be unlocked, including Alien Syndrome, Shinobi and Fantasy Zone. It’s a real treat for the thumbs.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up

Longevity

Make no mistake about it, you will be playing these games long after you first put the disc in your PS3 or Xbox 360. The games are old enough to be considered casual material, wherein you and a mate can get a few rounds of Streets of Rage 2 in before you head to the pub for a drink. Each game allows you to have three savestates, so you can pick up on the action right where you left off. In most other cases, RPGs such as Shining Force and Phantasy Star provide absolute hours of fun entertainment, and for someone like me who’s never played the Phantasy Star series, going through IV is proving to be an enriching experience.

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The only gripe I could possibly bring up is the potential short-sightedness of the collection – we hear of Backbone being pressured to finish this collection on time, and as a result the lock-on connectivity of Sonic & Knuckles and the inclusion of other games suffered. It would have been a good plan to have allowed for either future patching or set up a small Sega Store, where additional games could be purchased one by one to add to the collection over time. With something like the Wii Virtual Console already offering this capability out of the box, it would have made Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection truly future-proof.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up

FINAL WORDS

YOU’LL LOVE
+ Many of these classic games.
+ Finding that the games are as fun as they were back in the 90s.
+ Discovering Mega Drive titles that you may have missed as a kid, like Shining Force.
+ The slick presentation of the collection.

YOU’LL HATE
– The graphics filter. Don’t use it.
– The lack of new bonus material in the interviews.
– The omission of a few choice Mega Drive titles.
– The potential the game could have had to add more games over time.

Sonic and the Black Knight: The TSS Review

One of the first things you can do in Sonic and the Black Knight is view a slide show gallery of artwork, created by blue blur fans around the world. Almost all of them recount classic moments in the franchise’s history within Sonic CD, Sonic and Knuckles and Sonic Adventure 2 among others. It’s a bittersweet irony really, given that the new-age Sonic Team – a studio that’s opening their hearts and willing to do good like an eager puppy – are willing to embrace fan input where it’s positive, yet block out complaints about rushed developments, poor gameplay mechanics and passionless level design and counter with more of the same.

Sonic and the Black Knight is another case of missed opportunity for the Japanese team. While Sonic and the Secret Rings was by no means perfect, it provided a solid base of gameplay that was instantly accessible and focused on nothing but Sonic’s abilities (or lack thereof at the start of the game, as we sadly reminded ourselves). Rather than ‘do a Sonic 2’ and simply improve on the things that ticked players off, we have a sword-swinging mechanic that ultimately proves more troublesome than its worth. Between this, Beijing and the Werehog, it almost seems like Sonic doesn’t want to be a platforming game anymore.

Premise

Of course, t’is but a scratch spinoff, right? So surely some alternative action has to transpire, otherwise we’d just get a stale franchise. Or at least that’s what ‘they’ reckon, ignoring the train wrecks that Banjo-Kazooie and Crash Bandicoot have become – while elements such as storyline and play concepts are subject to deviation from the norm, it’s truly the implementation of such ideas that determine whether the ‘spinoff’ argument really works. Also as asinine an explanation is that this game is for ‘younger players’, as if Sonic wasn’t already for kids or something.

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Be it for toddlers, adults or ducks, as far as Sonic the Hedgehog in a medieval land goes, it works quite well. Following on from Sonic and the Secret Rings’ “Storybook Series”, Black Knight sees the blue blur summoned into the land of King Arthur to stop the now-twisted monarchy from terrorising its people. At least that’s what Sonic assumes, given that the sorceress Merlina never actually explains anything until the hedgehog starts busting heads open. For all he knew, Merlina could have been guilty of not paying for that copy of Heat magazine from the corner shop.

The story is just as wacky as its predecessor, but it becomes extremely dull after finding the trusty sword, Caliburn. After beating down the Knights of the Round Table (Shadow, Knuckles and Blaze) and then kicking evil King Arthur about a bit, you are treated to an infinitely more compelling plot once the first credits reel finishes. It’s just strange that Sonic Team chose to split the game into two parts – it’s hardly Che is it?

It’s a pretty good premise and not too far fetched from the kind of campy action you’d expect Sega’s mascot to participate in these days. Plus, it’s always good to see English heritage getting some hang time. Where the hell is Eggman though!?

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE SCENE: Sonic rallying the spirits of the Knights of the Round Table during the second chapter.

Presentation

sbk-review3The game looks lovely though. Anyone that would criticise Sonic and the Black Knight for being too ‘grey’ clearly needs to understand the setting. We’re not going to be expecting chequered hills and purple skies in rainy old England, just as we’re unlikely to see anything but the colour yellow in Secret Rings. The graphics are top Wii fare, showing once again that Sega can really make use of Nintendo’s hardware.

Cutscenes are wonderfully done, yet again taking a leaf out of SatSR’s book but making it more like an animatic instead of a comic book. There are some good trade-offs between Sonic and Caliburn, and the characters really shine throughout the dialogue. Seeing Sonic take down Knuckles and state in a zen-like fashion “Isn’t there more to life than serving a King?” is just a great use of the hedgehog’s approach to life and situations, and the final cutscenes leading up to the last boss battle throws up some pretty cool morals too.

You’ll really enjoy the story as it picks up during the second half, it’s just a shame it’s over so quickly. The locales get far more interesting too as Camelot turns into a more flourescent, twisted version of itself. Lava caverns, dusty towns and fields rich with tall green grass all help maintain the ‘Sonic’ signature even in this foreign land.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE BIT:
The storybook style cutscenes.

Sound

For the first time in what seems like forever, the sound department in a Sonic game is truly a mixed bag. It’s difficult whether you’ll love it or hate it. With Sonic and the Secret Rings, it was easy to love Runblebee and it’s terrible (c)rap-bopping. It gave the game character. There’s nothing of the sort in Black Knight, despite top names like Jun Senoue, Richard Jacques and Tommy Tallarico filling the bill – even classic Sonic game luminary Howard Drossin. The result is what happens when you have too many musical cooks.

Crush 40’s title track, Knight of the Wind, isn’t a very compelling song to get you pumped for the game, and is borderline boring. The amount of different versions of the song will irritate you too. The continuing threat of Senoue and Gioeli’s band slowly losing their touch is thankfully halted when you hear ‘Live Life’, truly a great song and easily their best since ‘What I’m Made Of’. Sadly – or wonderfully, given it has a greater impact – the song is relegated to the second credits reel.

There are some tracks that have that awesome recognisable guitar ‘twang’ from Sonic Adventure 2. Other stage songs are pretty ‘Shadow the Hedgehog’ in quality with their overly heavy riffs from yesteryear that have aged quite badly. ‘Through The Fire’ is really nothing on ‘The Palace That Was Found’, and the moment I realised Sonic attracted Evanescence wannabes is the moment I switched off.

Now, we have always had a strict ‘who cares about the voice acting’ policy on TSS, because frankly there has never been a noticeable difference in the way Ryan Drummond and Jason Griffith do business. Unfortunately we have to bring this up today as on this occasion the voice acting is really poor. The 4Kids actors all seemed to be having an off day on this project, as Jason’s Shadow sounds more life a gruff 60 year old man, and Sonic’s cheesy lines grate much more than usual. The delivery on some cutscenes is almost House of the Dead-worthy – Merlina’s role was the only convincing one. Overall, your enjoyment of the sound production is dependant on whether you’ll enjoy the game itself or not.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down (just)
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Molten Mine, Live Life, Deep Woods.

Gameplay

Enjoying Sonic and the Black Knight is a real big ask. Played with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo, movement is made with the Control Stick, the A Button jumps and waggling performs an attack. Whichever way you swing the Remote results in the exact same attack pattern though, essentially replacing a button press with arm cramp. You don’t know what move you’re actually going to do, which throws pre-meditated assaults out of the window. Sometimes swinging the Remote will send Sonic spinning forward, other times it will just pull him to a dead stop, whirling Calibur around like a crazed baboon.

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This doesn’t help matters when attacking enemies is tiresome and cheap. One or two bad guys is fine – a swing of the wrist will fix them. It’s the legions of five or six at a time that will make you curse to the moon, particularly if you’re trying to attain a practically impossible five-star rating (based on ‘Chivalry’, attacks and total score). You can’t avoid them if you’re trying to get a good score (and you can’t move past the giant enemies anyway), so your only option is to waggle.

It’s here that you get assaulted by enemy attacks you never see coming – enemy attacks that really shouldn’t have hit you in the first place, because you’re swinging Caliburn as if its stuck to your hand at this point. You can shield with the Z Button, but that won’t deflect every onslaught, and when most grunts jump in the air – indicating an attack any second – pressing the button hardly gets your guard up in time, making the feature pointless. There’s no indicator of what could break your shield either, it all just seems like the game’s making it up as it goes along. This goes for bosses too – perhaps even more so, and beating Percival, Galahad and Lancelot is a case of pure luck as they constantly win confusing waggle QTEs and do a million combos before you even understand what’s going on.

Attacking in itself is also extremely inaccurate – besides not being able to actually hit enemies when you swing (resulting in frustrated flails that nearly tear your arm off), the game seems to be on a constant two-second lag. Playing through the tutorial stages shows it off the most – swing at a target as you near it and it takes seconds to actually launch an attack, making you miss and have it spin mockingly at your ineptitude. You either swear and carry on, or clumsily plod backwards and swing again. And miss as you spin forward rather than do a standing attack.

Because you’re not constantly moving forward, you assume you have full control of Sonic. Not the case. The control is still as clunky as Secret Rings (which was actually acceptable given the fact that it actually was on-rails), but Black Knight succeeds in providing a false sense of freedom, and moving left and right is even more annoying as a result. What is most aggravating is backtracking – it might be easier to do this time around, but what would have actually worked would have been full 360-degree control. It really breaks the flow when you have to trot backwards and forwards like a nervous cow.

sbk-review2Most of the levels and missions have been cut down in length severely though, and that’s a good thing as it was a pain to go through so much in SatSR’s stages. Black Knight makes for a game played in bite-sized chunks, and that’s how best this game is played. When you complete missions, you’re given a star rating and a number of ‘Followers’ based on how flawless your flailing was. Identification points allow you to discover items, which you can use to forge new weapons for additional characters via the Blacksmith (Tails). Unfortunately, playing as either Shadow, Knuckles or Blaze is no more fun than as Sonic – in fact, it’s about ten times worse (although Knuckles can glide, which is pretty cool).

For all its woes though, there are some nice things about playing through a stage in Sonic and the Black Knight. Some wonderful set-pieces take you across grassy plains, massive wooden people-carts and dragon dens. You can use Caliburn to slide down or climb walls with ease, and there’s a good deal of freedom in that maneouvre. Different styles of fighting allow you to attack with more speed or power. You also get a Soul Surge attack, which is mapped to the B trigger – activate it, and a target appears, allowing Sonic to home in on multiple enemies and slash them down, one by one. This concept is about the best way to tackle enemies in the game – a shame that it’s limited to a gauge that you have to fill up.

There are additional missions, but they’re all dull skirmishes that either sees you giving money to NPCs (forcing you to stop and take part in QTEs), completing stages by only swinging your sword ten times (which, given the horrible inaccuracies of the controls is pretty much an impossible task) and avoiding NPCs which pop up five feet in front of you. I know the Wii isn’t as powerful as its rival consoles but the ridiculous draw distance for characters that were difficult enough to avoid in the first place is like a kick in the nuts.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE PART: Dashing through the green plains of Great Megalith.

Longevity

It takes a total of two hours to fully complete the Adventure Mode. Both chapters. As mentioned before, the levels are much shorter which is great, but someone forgot to mention to Sonic Team that if you’re effectively halving the time taken to complete levels from Sonic and the Secret Rings, you should probably have double the missions to make up for that.

To be fair, there are a lot of additional missions via the online rankings mode, including time trials that won’t appear on the Adventure map. Play through these, and your score is uploaded to the leaderboards for all to see. Strangely, there’s no way of checking the rankings until you clear the mission, which is a bit of an oddity. Treasures and other items you identify can be viewed on a special screen, showing you what you’ve revealed already, and completing some of the stupidly-hard missions will unlock bonus content in the Gallery. Seeing voiceover actors introduce themselves is nice and all, but in general it hardly seems worth it.

What IS worth it though, is the unlocking of ‘Legacy Stages’, which are Black Knight levels that feature elements from past Sonic games. The result is a mixture of Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic and the Secret Rings, and this mode is about the only thing worth playing for – why the whole game couldn’t have been done like this beggars belief, but there you go. It’s a shining gem in the centre of a dull rock though, and even the most hardcore will be hard pushed to reach this far.

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You’ll never want to touch the multiplayer mode either, as it’s one of the most tedious and awkward things I’ve ever played. Instead of a board game-cum-minigame party ala Secret Rings, in Black Knight you’re treated to four-on-four deathmatches and other such modes in generic square playing fields. Every character seems to have had their legs broken, and the win mechanic is pretty much ‘whoever waggles first’.

Overall, you’ll be hard pushed to come back to Black Knight once you’ve nobbled the story. And even while you’re playing it you’ll feel no sense of actually playing a Sonic game. The experience is tiring and frustrating one moment, empty and soulless the next. This is the first time I’ve played a Sonic game and not felt any kind of depth or satisfaction. Even Sonic 06 felt like a full package, as bad as that game was. Sonic and the Black Knight seems like a demo disk, devoid of any real gameplay gratification at all. Older Sonic fans are likely to feel the same way, while ‘younger kids’ – this game’s target audience – are more prone to break their controllers by throwing them at a wall.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE TIME-WASTER: Watching the awesome fan artwork slideshows in the Gallery mode.

FINAL WORDS

YOU’LL LOVE
+ The graphics and the setpieces within the levels.
+ Using Soul Surge to beat down a metric tonne of enemies.
+ Some of the cutscenes – even if the voice acting is remarkably poor.
+ The bite-sized stages.
+ The Legacy Stages – you will actually curse Sega for cockteasing you with this.

YOU’LL HATE
– Flailing your arm and getting severe cramp.
– Inaccurate and unresponsive attacking/defending.
– How short the Adventure Mode is.
– Deciding whether it’s actually worth 100%-ing the game.
– The tacked-on Party Mode.

GameTrailers Takes On Black Knight

Once again, the embedding here at TSS is being an ass, so click here to go directly to GameTrailers.

Like we’ve stated many times, we don’t like to talk about reviews.  However, I have the utmost respect for GameTrailers and their reviews.  I, personally, find them interesting, in-depth and having visual aid for any complaints that they air during the review is always nice.  It’s hard to argue with GTs gripes with Sonic & the Black Knight, so here it is at TSS for your viewing pleasure.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my L.A. spring break adventure.

Roarey’s RacComic #5: What Review?

Another comic from SSMB Admin, Roarey Raccoon.  He didn’t even send me this one, as I just swiped it from a thread full of whining and/or bitching, complaining, pissing, moaning, groaning, ranting jabronies.

Now, Roareyes not saying that you should ignore the review for the bad score (remember, folks, everybody has opinions), but rather, “who gives a damn?”

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Mobile (Dash/Crash)

Everywhere you look, classic Sonic games are on things that go beep.  With the success of Sonic 1 Mobile, with its sales exceeding 8 million units, SEGA thought it would be a swell idea to port Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to mobile phones as well.  Since Sonic 2 is so damn big, it was released in two parts, Dash and Crash.  My mobile provider recently put up Crash, so I gave it a spin in order to make my intended Dash/Crash, 2-in-1 review.  The verdict?  It’s Sonic 2 and good.  Big surprise.  I’ll keep it brief, kids.

The notable thing about this port is that it is not a laughing stock, like Sonic 1 GBA. The game plays and runs just like we all remember.  The entire Sonic 2 experience is here in all of its glory with no corners cut.  The music is even better than Sonic 1 GBA.

Why do I keep referencing that turd version of Sonic 1, you ask?  Well, the GBA hardware is superior to that of most mobile phones and the fact (that’s right, I’m transcending opinion here) that both mobile ports of Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 are better than the GBA’s port is absolutely embarrassing to whatever hapless development team pulled a GBA cartridge out of its ass.  I could go on and on about how playing classic Sonic on your phone is more enjoyable than a device that is made for gaming, but you get the point.  Now, you could be inclined to disagree, as low end phones tend to lag when things get rather chaotic on screen, but I didn’t experience it.  My phone is awesome (double awesome for being free).  Thanks, LG.

The drawbacks with this mobile port lie solely within the hardware department.  Depending on your mobile phone, controls range from serviceable to awkward.  Sonic 2 was made for a home console, so your thumbstick/keypad mileage may vary.  During hectic moments, it could be a problem to perform certain movements, but from my experience, controls are only a minor inconvenience.  Controls are left up to what device you have,  so I recommend checking the game’s manual for your model of mobile device to see if any awkwardness has the potential of ruining your experience.  The biggest problem with the port is the amount of room on screen.  During speedy moments, it’s near impossible to gauge what is in front of you.  I’ve memorized this game up and down from frequent play sessions and when I’m running into things, there is a problem.  I assume lag can be a problem on low-end phones, but I don’t own one.  Again, my phone is mad tight.

Flaws aside, these two games pack a huge punch when it comes to content.  When I just had Dash, the game already had more content than almost all mobile games out there.  Coupled with Crash, the game’s a mobile powerhouse.  You cannot get a better deal on playtime with Sonic 2 Dash & Crash on the market.

The decision lies upon your shoulders.  Do you really want another port of Sonic 2?  If you want a portable version of it and do not own a homebrew-enabled PSP or DS, then get Dash/Crash.  If you already have your portable, Sonic 2 fix, then these games are not for you.

Sonic the Hamilton

I like almost all music.  “Almost, you say, Slinger?”  Yeah, I cannot stand country whatsoever.  When you go to karaoke night at the bars every Wednesday night, the hicks in Nebraska love to sing their Garth Brooks.  I’m rather open about rap and hip-hop, as the beats and grooves can prove to be rather cathartic at the end of the day.  That, and it can really pump me up before I step onto the field.  I have been talking a lot about Charles Hamilton lately, because I like his sound and he has been making news with the release of his new mixtape, “Sonic the Hamilton.”  I have had a while to check out his new tracks and I urge you to give this Hedgehog-lovin’ rapper a shot.

As a mixtape, I expect a lot of songs to use sampling.  A majority of this mixtape does that and it is rather successful.  A well-executed sample can add new dimension to a song and allow people to relive the source material.  Many of Hamilton’s samples are, of course, Sonic tunes and when I heard the familiar Genesis tracks, I could not help but not my head with the beat. Continue reading Sonic the Hamilton

Sonic Unleashed

I found it hard to write this review. Not because I didn’t know what to say, but because I wasn’t sure how I was going to say it. Hashimoto-san and company have worked very hard on the latest Sonic adventure. It’s clear to see when you take a peek at the screenshots, or learn about the Hedgehog Engine, or hear about how they spent countless months designing Sonic stages that cover hundreds of virtual miles. Sonic Team haven’t scrimped here, they had something to prove after Sonic 06 that they can create a well-produced, non-glitchy game. And they have. Based on the effort put in, I’d give them as many Thumbs Up as humanely possible.

As well produced as Sonic Unleashed is, however, it can’t escape the fact that it’s concept, ideas and design are flawed. I’ll get this out of the way quickly – Sonic Unleashed is not an awesome game. Neither is it a crap game. It’s a greatly made game, built on poor ideas, lingering annoyingly between good and bad in the ‘average’ department. Now, when you consider the pile of munk that Sonic 06 was, this is nothing but a good thing. But it’s still disheartening for a Sonic fan to see their favourite franchise – that was once the greatest platformer ever – settle for ‘average’.

This is why it was hard to write this review – because it’s difficult to point out this game’s flaws without sounding like I really hate the game. That’s not the case at all, there’s a lot to love about Sonic Unleashed. But to see a franchise fall so far and then settle for second best after all this effort is depressing stuff. So treat the following as a positive critique rather than an almighty pasting. Sort of like DeviantArt, without the teenage bitching. Or something.

Continue reading Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is further proof, beyond Sonic Spinball and Sonic Riders, that the classic hedgehog formula can be applied to just about any old genre SEGA sees fit (not always successfully, mind). The idea for this game apparently came about during a discussion with Bioware’s managing directors and SEGA America’s President Simon Jeffery. Obviously the concept and challenge of putting Sonic the Hedgehog in untested waters was just too good an opportunity to pass up, but also came with a worrying premise for gamers. Because we’d all been there with Shadow the Hedgehog.

With the standard Sonic games not doing so hot, was a spinoff – which happen to be extremely hit and miss in the history of the franchise – really the best way to go about repairing the damaged reputation the blue blur has? Would the franchise be in good hands with Bioware, an excellent developer known for their more mature RPG projects? Read on and find out, in TSS’ definitive review.

Continue reading Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

SAGE 08: Sonic Frenzy Adventure

Sonic Frenzy Adventure is one of those games that started a long long time ago and was never quite finished. Unlike most projects which ended up being canned though, SFA has stuck with it and is here to prove that ambitious fangames can be seen through from beginning to end. The question is though, is it still relevant in today’s fangaming scene, with Sonic Nexus and Retro Sonic ushering us into a new, exciting era of the hobby?

What it does, it does pretty well and in an entertaining fashion. You’re not going to walk away from the latest Frenzy Adventure demo thinking it’s a poor excuse for a fangame. Clearly a lot of detail and attention has gone into this game so far, with a stonking 16 Zones promised plus a Chao raising minigame. The presentation for each Zone is impressive, and BlueFrenzy has thrown some good gimmicks and ideas into each one. Continue reading SAGE 08: Sonic Frenzy Adventure

SAGE ’08: Sonic – Time Twisted

Time Twisted and I have a history together. The game debuted during the same SAGE as my project and we have made an appearance at the show for three years running now. It is always a good sight to see that a project is still alive. Secondly, we both chose the path of emulating Sonic CD, which is a plus, in my book. It remains a highlight of the show for anybody looking for a demo with more content than most (three zones here, broskis). Nonetheless, personally, I am gradually more and more disappointed with each subsequent release.

When it came down to gameplay, the physics are similar to Sonic Panic, in that they are manageable and are not intrusive to the action. A much needed improvement that I noticed this year was the beefed-up spin-dash. It only takes one touch of the space bar to power up Sonic to full speed and that is a godsend, in my opinion. The core gameplay experience does not twist the fun, but there are a few questionable gameplay choices that will. For example, ring loss is, apparently, absent. Sure, it happens, but I cannot collect any rings. None.

Time Twisted, as stated earlier, takes after Sonic CD and its time travel element. In previous years, I did not think there was a reason for the time travel, as Overbound, the creator, might not have thought of a purpose for it at the time. That said, now that development is three years in, there should be a reason why I should even bother going back to the past. I had to destroy something in the past levels of Sonic CD, so there was a reward for keeping my speed up in the present. Here, I am simply unmotivated to brave the journey through time. Time Twisted treats this feature like a novelty and it feels phoned in for the sake of having time travel while other fangames do not. Continue reading SAGE ’08: Sonic – Time Twisted

[SAGE ’08 Review] Review Round-Up #1

There are always short demos on the show floor, so I’m combining them into one post here. Today, I’ll be reviewing a few of the lesser known titles at the show, in order to give them some exposure. The bigger games you already know about and will be getting larger reviews, like Fated Hour, later this year. I’m holding those off, as they always update with bug fixes and stuff throughout the expo.

The following, arbitrary scoring system will be used for these review round-ups:

  • Sucks: Avoid at all costs
  • Kinda Sucks: You might like it, but probably not
  • Meh: Doesn’t suck, but isn’t cool either
  • Interesting: Worth your time
  • Way Past Cool: Must see!

SONIC PANIC – Meh

Spike has had this game running for nearly 3 years now and this year, we get new content and a brand new name. Formerly named, “Sonic the Hedgehog 4,” Sonic Panic follows Sonic as he chases Robotnik across various galaxies and planets. The demo features the Planet Mech level of Rail Road, which is a Genesis revamp of Sunset Park from Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble on the Game Gear. I am a complete sucker for Game Gear levels, so I went into the demo with modest expectations.

First off, you will notice that the music is awful. The instrumentation is simply horrific and you will be cursing FL Studio for having such poor guitar samples. Once you get past that, your attention will be directed towards the “close, but not quite” physics of the game, which are decent enough. Jumping could use some improving and the spindash is extremely weak, but otherwise, the whole gameplay experience is serviceable and is hardly game-breaking in the slightest.

As a Genesis-styled game, the level design features branching paths and “awesome secret walkthough wall shit.” While it is nice to have many places to go, there is simply not much to do. The whole level is devoid of any activity, mostly due to the lack of badniks, as I only encountered a couple. There are a few industrial-themed gimmicks in there to tide you over in spots, however.

Augmenting the demo’s emptiness has to be the graphics. Essentially everything is black and any variety the foreground tries to offer is thrown out the window. There is the occasional yellow, construction stripe, but that is about it. The background is nice, with the sunset and all, but the black silhouettes of the towers in the background have no contrast to the foreground, thus adding to the black attack. Continue reading [SAGE ’08 Review] Review Round-Up #1

SAGE ’08: Sonic – The Fated Hour

Kuzko.  He found his groove.The man on the left is Kuzko. He found his groove in Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove. In this forgettable animated movie, starring David Spade and John Goodman, Kuzko (Spade) is turned into a llama by some crazy, usurper bitch and Pacha (Goodman) has to save him. They run around and do a whole bunch of wacky shit, avoiding the crazy, usurper bitch as much as possible. They get to Kuzko’s palace to reverse the process, an epic battle ensues, and Kuzko returns to being emperor and the big, stupid, comic relief character teaches some kids how to talk to woodland creatures. What does Kuzko learn? While a llama, he changes his arrogant, selfish ways and embraces the world and the people that inhabit it. His 180-degree turn is truly heartwarming, albeit formulaic and uninteresting.

What does Kuzko have to do with a Sonic fangame? Well, BlazeHedgehog’s Sonic: The Fated Hour has been in development for ten years. Ten. Read up on it, because I’m not lying here. Finally, after years of gameplay changes and data wipes, Fated Hour has finally found its “groove” in the alpha version of Sonic Worlds. Kuzko’s change of heart happens after he is transformed back into a human and Fated Hour is at this point still in the “llama” stage. The project has made a huge change for the better, hopefully leading to greater things, but there is still a long way to go to fully develop its character, like Kuzko.

Fated Hour offers up your standard fare of Genesis-styled gameplay, while expanding upon it to keep it more unique amongst the sea of booths at SAGE this year. These new inclusions are first made apparent by Amy Rose, who offers to explain the controls to the game. Rather than only have the jump button, there are four in use during the game. However, only two are in use during this showcase: jump and jump cancel. Jump cancel will break the ball Sonic normally goes into during a jump and allows him to grind a rail or wall-kick. The multiple button setup sounds good on paper, but trying to wall-jump between two walls with two buttons is cumbersome and mapping Sonic’s wall-stick to the jump button or making it automatic would work better. When the game offers high scores for best times, the time-attackist might have difficulty trying to blow by a section of wall jumping. This button tandem is like an old man, because it threw off my groove. Continue reading SAGE ’08: Sonic – The Fated Hour

Famitsu Scores Sonic

The latest Famitsu magazine has hit store shelves in Japan, and the four editors have rated Sonic the Hedgehog on XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3 rather healthily.

Sonic’s latest adventure was rated on both next generation platforms and received overall scores of 30/40 and 29/40 respectively. A bit of a surprising score considering the general panning the game has had from other outlets, stranger still rating the 360 version higher than the PS3 offering.

Famitsu is regarded as the ultimate gaming tome in the land of the rising sun, and is even highly respected in Western circles. Their reviews are hyper-critical most times, and feature four writers or editors assessing the game and each giving a score out of 10. As such, games scoring 30 or higher out of a possible 40 is seen as a promising assessment. Continue reading Famitsu Scores Sonic

First Sonic Gems Collection Review Published

Electronic Gaming Monthly have published in their current September issue, the very first review of Sonic Gems Collection. The EGM staff as expected have not taken much of a liking to the game, understandable though if you keep in mind this compilation was created sheerly with the hardcore fans in mind.

Scoring an average of just above 6/10 EGM describe the compilation as ‘A diamond, two opals and lots of cubic zirconia. (Check the media link for a scan of the review) How well will the game be received by the fans and the rest of the gaming press after a review like this? Stay with SONIC NEWS to find out first.

Sonic Gems Collection will be released on Tuesday the 16th of August in North America for GameCube, and on PS2 and GameCube in Europe before the end of the year.

TSS REVIEW: Sonic Jam

Sega Saturn owners the world over were looking for a reason why they parted with their Mega Drives and Sonic games, and got a Saturn instead. Well, Sega listened to them, and gave them…. a compilation CD. But not just any CD. This gave the post-Mega Drive owners a chance to play their fave Sonic games again. That’s probably why Sonic Jam meant so much to Saturn owners during the big black box’s life. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic Jam

TSS Review: Sonic Adventure 2

In SA2 you can choose to play as either the Dark Side to take over the world, or the Heroes trying to save it, in different perspectives of the same story. You can play as Eggman (YES!) to help the fat one and newcomers Rouge the Bat and Shadow the Hedgehog (who you can also play as) to destroy the world (yet again, Eggman never gives up). Continue reading TSS Review: Sonic Adventure 2

Fan Game Review: Sonic Wars

Sonic Wars, released by Diablo on Sonic’s Birthday (that explains the familiar icons appearing at the title screen), is your average Sonic platforming adventure. But, although this seems good for a game that’s rushed (hey, it wasn’t me that said it, Diablo admitted it ^_^), there are a few flaws that stop this game from getting as good as it should have been. Continue reading Fan Game Review: Sonic Wars

TSS REVIEW: Sonic Pocket Adventure

This is one of the first Sonic titles officially developed for a non-Sega platform – namely the Neo Geo Pocket Color. This release was to accompany Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast, but sadly the NGPC could never compare to the likes of Nintendo’s Game Boy Color no matter how much it tried, and therefore SPA didn’t get nearly enough attention. Shame that, because it is quite a good game to play. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic Pocket Adventure

TSS REVIEW: Sonic Shuffle

Sonic Shuffle, originally titled Sonic Square, was created by members of the same team that helped Nintendo develop Mario Party (hence the similarity in the two games). The game sees Sonic, Amy, Tails and Knuckles warped to a mystical land called Maginaryworld, where people’s dreams come true… if you excuse the horrible cliche. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic Shuffle

Fan Game Review: Sonanoid

Sonanoid is based on the simple concept of Arkanoid. Wow. Use a ‘bat’ and ‘ball’ to hit blocks etc in the air. How… Fun… Zzzzzzzzz… I’m being a jerk obviously – actually Sonanoid is quite addictive, and H Hog has produced a rather fun game with a lovely Sonic twist. Gone are the usual blocks from other brick-busting games, and in come original Sonic items. Continue reading Fan Game Review: Sonanoid

TSS REVIEW: Sonic Adventure

Well, Sonic Adventure sees Sonic and Tails once again journeying to defeat Eggman, only the plot is much more epic this time. Sonic is seen chilling out in Station Square when a commotion in the street invites him to face off against a strange enemy made of water. When the creature is defeated, Sonic runs into Tails, who discovered a Chaos Emerald on his travels. The duo go to the Mystic Ruins. On the way they meet Eggman, who introduces the two to ‘Chaos’, the water monster Sonic fought earlier. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic Adventure

TSS REVIEW: Sonic R

Sonic R is exactly what it says on the tin – a racing game. Only… the ‘Racing’ is abbreviated with an ‘R’ and it’s not in a tin. It sees you take a whole cast of Sonic Team characters out on a racing revolution! A competition is being held on Sonic’s home grounds, and the blue blur just can’t help but notice it. Sonic can’t turn something like this down. Tails joins him in signing up for the competition, however it they soon find out that it was all just a ploy set out by Dr Robotnik to trap the blue hedgehog. The swine. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic R

TSS REVIEW: Sonic Blast / G Sonic

This is the final Sonic game for the Game Gear, and boy did Sonic go out with a bang with this title! Everything has been enhanced and redesigned in order to make it a game similar in fashion to Sonic & Knuckles. The plot of the game is as you would expect from your average Sonic game – the exact details escape me. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic Blast / G Sonic

TSS REVIEW: Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island

Here’s the final Sonic game released on the Mega Drive, before the blue blur moved on to the Sega Saturn. On a similar note, but on a different whistle, this game marks Sonic’s debut on Sega’s 32-bit powerhouse. A totally new ploy has been devised by Eggman, involving Flickies. These strange birds live in another dimension and can warp anywhere via large rings. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island

TSS REVIEW: Sonic Labyrinth

Another try at making Sonic more than just a platform game, this time for the Game Gear, and we must say that it is pretty addictive. And slow. The basic plot is that Sonic’s speed shoes have been stolen and replaced with super slow sneakers… essentially, some confusing tripe trying to convince us that Sonic needed to be put in a puzzle game. Continue reading TSS REVIEW: Sonic Labyrinth