Thursday, April 24, 2014

It's A Double Dose Of Blue Blurs

I haven't talked much about video games lately. For awhile last winter, I was replaying games I beat earlier in the year. Then I was running through the copy of Arkham City a friend loaned me, then I shifted to playing games on my older systems. Wave Race and GTA: Vice City, mostly. There was about a month where I had no functional TV, and even after that, there was the steady stream of books from my dad. But I have managed to play three games recently. The first-person shooter and the RPG I'll get to whenever I finish them, probably in another month or two. As for the other game, that would be Sonic Generations.

The gist of the story is some monster is moving through time, disrupting it by throwing parts of it loose, rendering them sort of lifeless. So two Sonics team up. One is the current version, the other is the Sonic of the earliest games, who is much shorter, chubbier, and doesn't talk. Frankly, given the voices of the characters that do talk, Classic Sonic might be my favorite for precisely that reason. You can tell by the dialogue it's written for a much younger audience than me, so maybe I should cut the voice actors some slack.

There are three large sections to the game. Each section has three worlds and a boss stage. The three worlds are typically from a specific era of Sonic games. The first section's worlds are from the Genesis era, the second from the Dreamcast/Gamecube time, and the third from the 360/PS3 generation. Each world has two Acts, one to be played with Classic Sonic, the other with Newer Sonic. Classic Sonic's Acts are the sort of side-scrolling stuff you might know from the games on the Sega Genesis. Newer Sonic's Acts tend to be a little more complicated, because he has a wider skill set, with the Boost meter, the Homing Attack, the Light Dash you can (theoretically) do along a line of Rings. The camera tends to hang behind him, though it'll flip around to the side or even in front if it wants you to see what's in pursuit.  In terms of game play, it isn't any different from how Sonic played in Sonic Adventure 2: Battle on the Gamecube. A little more polished, more emphasis on doing tricks while in mid-air (you can fill the Boost meter that way).

You beat both Acts, and Challenges appear, five at each level for each character. You have to beat at least one for each level to release a key you need to open the door to get at the boss. Beat the boss, then next section opens up, you do it all again. And again, and after the third boss, the section opened is just the place where you fight the final boss. The levels are all from previous games, with the games getting newer as you go along. I did feel as though there was a considerable spike in difficulty between the second and third sections. I was breezing through most levels on my first or second try, needing maybe 4 minutes to finish a level, to dying 5, 6 times, on levels requiring 8 or 9 minutes for a successful run. Everything got a lot more complicated, and I wouldn't say the additions improved the game. I am probably never going to play that Planet Wisp level again. Screw the stupid transformation stuff.

So there's a lot of hoops to jump through, but at least the game doesn't make you beat all the Challenges to get the keys. It does, however, require you to get all the Chaos Emeralds so you can fight the final boss. Being forced to get all the Chaos Emeralds was the thing most likely to make me dislike Sonic games on my Game Gear back in the day. At least in this case, you get the Emeralds for beating the bosses, as well as the mini-bosses stationed somewhere in each of the three sections.

The reason I never liked searching for the Emeralds is it seems at odds with the gameplay. To find them, you need to slow down and search for hidden passages, or hard to reach places. But Sonic games are predicated on speed (except Sonic Labyrinth, which was terrible precisely because they thought for some reason people wanted to play a Sonic game where you couldn't run fast). Doing the Spin Dash, whipping through a loop, rolling down a hill through a horde of enemies to go up a ramp and off through the air at a dizzying speed, that's what it's about. I can't do that if I'm constantly slowing down to make sure I didn't miss a jump for a different path.

Sonic Generations has the different paths, but this time it's the Red Ring Stars you can collect that encourage you to try the different paths. That's mostly for unlocking art or music, but if you can collect all 5 for a character in a given level, it unlocks a Skill they can be equipped with. Some of the Skills are protective shields, or letting you retain some of your Rings after a restart, or allowing you to land on your feet if you take damage. For the most part, the Skills aren't essential. I've beaten the game, but I hadn't collected 5 Red Rings on any level at that point. I had all the other Skills that could be purchased or earned through Challenges, but most of the time, I'd forget to equip any of them. So it's possible to get by without them.

I've said this about other games (Shinobi on the PS2 was probably the first), but Sonic Generations is one of those game where, when things are going well, and I can see what the creators envisioned, it's incredibly fun. When it's not, it's frustrating. I love using the Boost function for Newer Sonic. It's the purest expression of that sense of velocity Sonic games provide. But just as surely as I open up the throttle and take off, I realize I just blew past a place where I needed to make a jump if I wanted to try a different path. There's that conflict between the game urging the player to go fast, and the game also wanting the player to seek out alternative routes and find secrets. It's hard to know when I can just charge ahead full tilt, when you I have to charge ahead to have the speed to make the jump to the next step in that trail,  when falling just means having to take a longer route, and when falling means death.

The game gives out grades based on time, rings collected and such. I do a lot better on Classic Sonic's levels, probably because he doesn't have the Boost, so I can't start running out of control. I have to actually build up speed as I go along, which gives me a better chance to be aware of hazards or other routes. I still frequently hit those hazards and miss those other routes, but I'm at least aware of them. Conversely, Newer Sonic's Homing Attack seemed to throw off my timing for Classic Sonic's attacks. The way the Homing Attack works, you make him jump, and if there's an enemy, you can do a spinning attack on him. There's a nice green targeting reticule telling you an enemy can be attacked an everything. When I was playing as Classic Sonic, I kept screwing up my jumping attacks, where I need to land on top of the enemy. I'd land right next to them, too close to avoid taking damage from contact, but not in the right place to destroy them.

I do want to compliment at least some of the level music. It's a mixed bag, some of it annoying, some of it hitting that sweet spot for me of the kind of Sonic level music that just seems to fit somehow. One thing they did was even though both Acts are playing roughly the same tune, they change it up a little so each Act gets its own version of the song.

If you're a Sonic fan, I think this is a pretty good game for you. If you like old-school Sonic games, there's some of that, if you like the newer style of play, there's some of that. The boss battles are kind of garbage, though. But if you earn enough points, you can play the original Sonic the Hedgehog game if you'd like. If you're not a Sonic fan, then no, Sonic Generations is not going to be the game that changes your mind.

No comments: