Thursday, February 6, 2014

I'm Hyped for Sonic Boom (And Why It's Okay for You to Be, Too)

Today, SEGA showed off Sonic Boom, not just the final of three Nintendo-exclusive video games, but a CG cartoon, and lots and lots of merchandising. We posted the trailer for the game earlier today. Aside from the use of Skrillex that really had no place in the trailer and the Sonic gang's new look, I'm cautiously optimistic about the new direction that SEGA is taking Sonic the Hedgehog and his world. 

At first glance of the new character designs, I was not wholly amused. Sonic himself has very lanky legs, as did his now steroid-induced friend Knuckles, who now looks like the type of echidna who if he wore a polo shirt would most likely have the collar turned up. The trailer didn't do anything to change my opinion, as Sonic and Knuckles usually had their legs bent to not show how ridiculous they both looked. That said, Tails and Amy look very nice to me, but they're also the most faithful to their past designs.

Regardless, character aesthetics aside, there are numerous reasons why Sonic Boom intrigues me heavily. First off, Sonic Boom is being developed not by Sonic Team, but by two Western studios. Both games have been in development for two years, longer than what we saw with Sonic Team's own Sonic: Lost World. We didn't know it at the time, but we actually saw a glimpse of the game in a GDC 2013 CryEngine 3 licensee demo's beginning). 

Now, hearing that Sonic the Hedgehog is in the hands of two Western studios might have some fans waving a red flag. One of the last Western Sonic games turned out to be a mediocre RPG with incredible music such as this. That was from BioWare of all companies, so if they couldn't create a compelling Sonic game, why would anyone expect any Western studio to do any better?

The information given to gamers and the press has revealed that new studio Big Red Button Entertainment, made up of many former Naughty Dog developers from the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter era, as well as those who worked on Ratchet & Clank, is creating the Wii U version. Meanwhile, its smaller counterpart, the Nintendo 3DS version, is being built by Sanzaru Games of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time fame. Both studios are made up of people with experience in platformers with a focus on exploration. As luck would have it, Sonic Boom is more about exploration than just pure speed.

Some would argue that this is a totally different direction than what Sonic the Hedgehog represents and is about. However, if you can recall, the original Genesis/Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog games featured plenty of slow, methodical platforming, such as in Sonic 1's Marble Zone or Sonic 2's Chemical Plant Zone. It was until Sonic CD that speed was a factor, primarily for time travel. The Sonic Adventure series took that approach into three-dimensions and created a game where it was difficult to control a speedy Sonic when there were 360 degrees of controller movement available, and the slightest shift in angle could make things quite complicated, in comparison to simply pressing left and right in a 2D space. Sonic Boom's trailer shows speed, but it also shows slow moments as well, which makes me have hope that there will be a better balance than we've seen in more recent Sonic games.

Regardless, levels are said to be open and connected, much like what was found in the original Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. This gives me Banjo-Kazooie vibes, and that is very much a good thing, as that's only one of my favorite 3D platformers of all time. 

Sonic Adventure's duo of Dreamcast games introduced the concept of playing as Sonic's multiple animal acquaintances. Sure, players were able to play as Tails and Knuckles in previous games, but their gameplay was just like Sonic's. They weren't in mechanized walkers, they weren't forcing players to glide around in a treasure hunt, and they weren't having players fish for frogs. 

Sonic Boom has it where the four main characters, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose share similar gameplay. Heck, they all tag along essentially with one another. Each has their own individual specialties to make them play slightly differently. For instance, Sonic is agile while Knuckles is the brawn of the group, powerful and able to use his knuckles to claw into ceilings to cross over wide areas. Having the game focused more on the foursome being equals rather than Sonic and his amazing friends, makes Sonic Boom a much more interesting proposition to me. Plus, I don't have to worry about the game being ruined by playing as an obese cat or big-breasted bat.

Another thing that gives me solace is that this isn't the direction the Sonic the Hedgehog series is going in entirely. Instead, Sonic Boom is being treated as a complementary series, one developed and given creative control by Western studios. While Sonic Boom will fork off into its own niche, Sonic Team proper will still focus on the Japanese development side, providing Sonic games still focused prominently on speed. That way there's a Sonic the Hedgehog for newcomers to the series as well as longtime fans and everyone in between. I think it'll strike a nice compromise between fans and will give the Sonic series a nice breath of fresh air. Thus, if for some reason Sonic Boom is not met with critical or commercial praise, at least Sonic still has his Sonic Team developed titles.

So it's not all bad with Sonic Boom. I admit that the redesigned characters for the most part do nothing to instill me with confidence, but watching the trailer and reading details about the game have my interest piqued. There's a wide amount of dislike for Sonic Boom by fans, but at the same there was a lot of positive vibes going on regarding Sonic: Lost World, and for many (myself somewhat) that game turned out to be a disappointment. Perhaps this game, not liked initially, will turn out to actually be great. It's sort of hard to doubt the talent behind games like Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, and Sly Cooper doing an admirable take on the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Then again, it was hard to doubt BioWare, and we all know how that turned out.

Sonic Boom (Wii U, 3DS) Debut Trailer

Today, SEGA announced Sonic Boom, the final of the three Nintendo exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog games, due out on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. Along with the new character designs, new developers are creating both versions of the game. For the Wii U version, BigRedButton Games, founded by former Naughty Dog employees, is the team working on it. For the 3DS version, Sanzaru Games of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time has its attention on developing it. With a higher focus on exploration and four playable characters, it is yet to be seen if one should be thrilled or dejected by this bold new direction of the 20+ year-old franchise.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bad Boss Battles in Gaming History - Part Two


  • Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Final Fantasy IX
  • Mega Man X7
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

Last November we began a new segment on SuperPhillip Central, Bad Boss Battles in Gaming History. Now, it's several months later and we have a new installment to share. The rationale for our choices of awful boss encounters can be because of one or many of the following issues: they're forgettable, they're boring, they're tedious, they're in the game for no reason, they're counter-intuitive, or they're just plain not fun. After you've read our latest picks, feel free to throw in some agreement/disagreement and ideas for bosses to consider for part three.

Liquid Ocelot - Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots may not strike a proper balance between showing cutscene after cutscene to the player while giving them enough gameplay time to justify all the exposition, but it's an entertaining game that is worthy of the franchise name. However, what isn't very worthy is the final boss fight versus Liquid Ocelot.

The purpose of the battle narrative-wise is to show a decade's worth of history of Metal Gear Solid battles during the fist-to-fist, foot-to-foot fight between Solid Snake and the persona of his brother in Ocelot's body. While it was indeed cool to progress through the four installments of the series through phases of the fight, each implementing a tune from each given installment, the mechanics used are so far gone from what was already established throughout the entire game. It's essentially grunt-fest between two drugged-up old rivals that goes on for far too long. Compare this to the ending fight in Metal Gear Solid 3, where the battle against the Boss implemented everything that the player learned throughout the course of the game. In Metal Gear Solid 4, all of this is basically thrown out of the window.

Human Reaper - Mass Effect 2 (PS3, 360, PC)

The entire journey of this squad-based shooter leads up to this final encounter, constantly escalating the stakes on your way there. However, rather than ending the conflict on a bang, Mass Effect 2 ends on a whimper. What it results in is a weak conclusion to what was prior to that a massively enjoyable sci-fi space adventure.

The final boss is the Human Reaper, an unfinished organism that just hangs by several supports. The aim of this fight is to take out each support, which glow a bright orange as if to say you are too dumb to figure it out on your own. As each support is destroyed, a new wave of throwaway grunts descend into the area, needing you to pick them off before they pick you off. Once they've been eliminated, another support can then be destroyed. After all of the supports are no more, the Reaper falls and a cutscene presents itself.

Not so fast, however, as there's more to this battle. The Reaper pulls itself up and initiates phase two. However, this is as simple as shooting-- once again-- at the boss' glowing spots to defeat it. While the boss battle isn't horrible due to its mechanics, it is pretty bad because it's so underwhelming after everything that was building up to the fight.

Necron - Final Fantasy IX (PS1)

Essentially stealing the thunder of what was the main antagonist for the majority duration of the game, Final Fantasy IX's ultimate boss Necron gets shoehorned into the game as the final foe for what can easily be perceived as no real discernible reason. This wouldn't be so bad if the boss served a purpose rather than to just seem like it was thrown in as a godlike being for the last challenge of the game.

Necron itself is an incredibly annoying final boss. Its most obnoxious and dangerous move is called Grand Cross, delivering a random status effect to all characters. This is in addition to moves like the most powerful forms of Fire, Blizzard, and Thunder, as well as moves like Blue Shockwave, which sends one character's HP down to 1, and Holy and Flare.

Our main issues with Necron is its out of left field appearance at the last very moment, it stealing Kuja's thunder, it serving no real place in the story, and just being a bastard to beat in general.

Flame Hyenard - Mega Man X7 (PS2)

If ever there was a reason to mute one's TV, the battle against the ear-destroying Flame Hyenard is that reason. Apparently, Flame Hyenard is in pain and would like Mega Man X, Zero, and newcomer Axl to "burn to the ground" and just "burn" in general, as he makes this point multiple times during battle... and that's a gross understatement. It wouldn't be so awful if the boss went down quickly. However, that's not the case, even with his weakness equipped to X, Zero, or Axl.

The battle arena when facing Flame Hyenard is a large square surrounded by lava. Slowly walking around the lava is a large mechanized vehicle that needs to be climbed upon to initiate the fight with the real Hyenard, otherwise you'll just be dealing with his clones on the square platform. Missiles rain down from the center of the vehicle, and if you allow Hyenard to use his tri-formation attack, an incredibly difficult amount of offense to avoid, much less counter, then you're in for an even more arduous encounter.

The combination of the poor controls and camera that Mega Man X7 is plagued with, and the incessant ear-piercing pain that the prolonged battle with Flame Hyenard will give you, make the battle an easy choice for this edition of Bad Boss Battles in Gaming History.

Silver the Hedgehog - Sonic the Hedgehog (PS3, 360)

Sonic the Hedgehog's 2006 adventure is one of the worst games we have ever had the displeasure of playing. Whether it's gltiches, absolutely horrid mach speed sections, poor controls, poorly designed levels, embarrassing story, etc., at least Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) has its soundtrack going for it.

This awfulness extends to the game's boss battles, with one of the more notorious encounters being the one with Silver the Hedgehog when playing as Sonic. Silver uses psychic powers to freeze his enemies in place. He does this frequently in the fight against Sonic, so much so that he can unfairly grab you twice in a row due to you not being able to control Sonic for a moment after Silver drops you. Seeing as when you're lifted by Silver's telekinesis, your rings go bye-bye, making it so Silver can pick you up over and over again. This means he can effectively kill you in a very cheap and fast fashion.

In fact, you can actually get caught in an endless loop where he continually picks you up, holds you, drops you, and then picks you up again. Repeat this ad infinitum. If you're interested in seeing just how bad things can get, video proof is right here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - We Don't Have Anything Special Planned for the Olympics Edition

The 2014 Winter Olympics is set to have its opening ceremony this Friday in Sochi, Russia. While the world casts its collective eye towards the games, SuperPhillip Central would rather cast its eye on video games as opposed to Olympic games. We start this week with SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, featuring music from some killer titles. This week's additions to our VGM Database include: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Tearaway, and Odin Sphere, to name a few.

v556. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3, 360, PC) - It Has to Be This Way (Full Version)

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance released on the PC last month, a year after its console brethren. Now, even more gamers can enjoy Platinum Games' shining creation. What makes the entire package complete is the soundtrack, made up of many high octane vocal songs, perfect for frantically slicing and slashing enemies of all shapes and sizes.

v557. Tearaway (Vita) - Gibbet Hill - Pilgrimage

If you own a PlayStation Vita and have not yet picked up Media Molecule's Tearaway, then what is wrong with you? To be less forceful, Tearaway is a whimsical tale supported by endearing characters, a lovely world, and a sublime soundtrack. Gibbet Hill - Pilgrimage is but one of such themes played during this Vita Game of 2013.

v558. Pikmin 2 (Wii, GCN) - Perplexing Pool

Whether you're interested in the Wii Nintendo Selects version of Pikmin 2 or the GameCube original, be ready to fork over some sizable change for each. Pikmin 2 introduced Louie into the series, offering duties that could be split up between Captain Olimar and Louie. Hajime Wakai composed the music for Pikmin 2, and Perplexing Pool is one of our favorite compositions from the game. It's so peaceful and tranquil.

v559. Viewtiful Joe (PS2, GCN) - Inferno Lord

The official soundtrack for Viewtiful Joe has bits of dialogue from the game beginning each track, leading into the actual song. This YouTube video axes such part to give us Fire Leo's boss theme. Fire Leo is the sixth level's boss-- as if tackling the previous bosses in one big boss gauntlet wasn't enough. The theme would be remixed in Viewtiful Joe 2 for Frost Tiger, Fire Leo's brother.

v560. Odin Sphere (PS2) - Rally

Odin Sphere has a lot of themes that could easily be placed in the Final Fantasy Tactics universe. That's for good reason, too, as the composer behind Odin Sphere was none other than Hitoshi Sakimoto, a brilliant mind in video game music creation. Odin Sphere was made by Vanillaware, who are known for crafting visually artistic and appealing games. Odin Sphere's soundtrack is audibly artistic and appealing as well!

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U) Commercial

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the next big Wii U game set for release. It comes out on February 21 here in North America, and we can't think of any better birthday present for Phil, whose birthday is less than a week later. Regardless, this is a pretty nice commercial that shows a fair amount of gameplay.