Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Part 3

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master - The last Shinobi released for the Genesis is certainly nothing short of epic. A new & mysterious enemy has our favorite ninja facing off against enemy ninja clans(again), the military(again), bizarre experiments(that's new), and a bunch of other wild things over the course of seven stages.

This entry in the series adds a number of new moves. Now just by holding down the attack button Joe can block most enemy attacks. Also by tapping forward twice he can run which allows him to do a more damaging slash or to jump farther. To complete the additions to his arsenal he can do a diving attack that comes down at an angle, which can be very useful if applied properly.

The game plays out just like its prequel Revenge of Shinobi. Joe must move from left to right(though this is constantly subject to change throughout the game) killing foes, collecting power-ups, and facing off with a variety of mid-bosses and big-bosses. Joe has a fairly lengthy health-meter, an easily-replenished supply of shurikens, and even ninja magic. However a true Ninja must forget about all of those things and focus on killing everything at a close-range and without taking damage. Yes Shinobi III is a true successor to the series has carries over the concepts introduced in the original arcade Shinobi, it just allows more room for error to attract beginners as well as leaving the door open for veterans.

The level design is perhaps the most varied yet at the same time familiar in the series. Revenge fans will note the inclusion of Zeed's hideout(where you progress by finding the correct doors) while others will be more than familiar with the concept of elevators(even the beginning of level 6 where you jump from falling rock to falling rock could in essence be described as an elevator stage). It's clear that the intention is not to create some new set-piece and concept for every stage but to create situations where Shinobi must rely on his abilities at all times. Some might argue that it's repetitive but that's probably because they're too used to playing newer games that smash together fifteen different genres and play like an entirely new game every other level. The level design doesn't undergo any massive changes because the developers know what works and what's challenging. At the same time however they still manage to implement a lot of great new concepts like a level designed almost entirely around mastering Joe's ability in movement instead of combat(through various eletrical traps and pits).

There's simply not enough importance placed on knowing the limits of the character you play as in games I've noticed. Earlier games forced you to account for high you can jump, how fast you can move, how much you're able to dodge by simply crouching, and so on. To master these games you had to master your avatar. Shinobi III is a game that requires such knowledge as being too far from an enemy when attacking an enemy will cause Joe to throw a shuriken(thus wasting tons of points) jumping too high, at the wrong moment, or with the wrong arc will cause something bad to happen to Joe(even if it doesn't result in death). I'm not saying games should force players to figure out the wind velocity or do equations before they kill their next foe but I just don't think enough emphasis is put on mastering how videogame characters control and react to the world around them. There's no connection between the player and his avatar, thus the game isn't memorable and before you know it there's no identity. This is a trap that far too many games are falling into(and this isn't limited to new games either, it's been a problem since developers stopped putting serious effort into game design).

So with all of that out of the way I can assure you that Shinobi 3 is a classic action game and one of the best available on the Genesis. If you haven't played this before I would be legitimately shocked and ashamed.

Sonic The Hedgehog - Where do I even begin with this one? It's not enough that this game is one of if not the most important game in the Genesis's life but it's also become one of the most hated, and at times just plain bad, series of videogames of all time. But let's ball that up and throw it in a corner somewhere because at least when the Genesis was alive Sonic was a relatively great thing.

As the story goes the evil Dr. Robotnik(or Eggman if you prefer) is capturing animals for his robot army and polluting the land with his massive fortress(and with not at all subtle intentions about world takeover). Sonic aka the fastest animal alive takes on the challenge of bringing him down. This is accomplished over six zones with three acts each.

Sonic is a fast creature in a normal world. That is the very nature of being fast. If everything was fast how would we know the difference? Anyway Sonic's speed is both his strength and his weakness, since while his speed will get him through levels quickly it can also lead him to death and missing useful items if he isn't paying attention. One of the strongest ideas the original game plays upon is the fact that Sonic can perform the same tasks as any other platforming character(that is run & jump) and if you like you can play Sonic 1 as slowly as you like by jumping on every single platform, pushing every little block, and generally doing everything one step at time. However if you're Sonic what's stopping you from skipping quite a bit of that junk? You have the potential to skip over many of those platforms, evade several traps at once, and generally fly through large swaths of the game that would leave slower platform characters in the dust.

This is possibly the biggest aspect future Sonic games would eventually fail to play upon. Sure Sonic is so fast he can run around huge loops but the loops aren't what showcases his speed. If he's that fast what's stopping him from skipping the loops entirely? For however realised the levels are he runs through are designed what's to stop him from speeding through it treating complicated setpieces like they were barely worth a post-card? That's a story for another time though.

As with every other game in the series Sonic needs a ring to stay alive. While this is all well & good for survival it means nothing to gamers seeking a high score. It's essential to not only collect as many rings as possible but it also means completing the stage quickly and being able to collect every single ring off of the bonus round(which is a feat in itself since many rings are located very close to goalposts that end the round instantly). Thus even for a short game such as this one it would be difficult to perform a perfect run for quite a long time. 

Sure it's possible that you won't be interested in playing the game for that long. Maybe you prefer the later games for their additional features and abilities as well as longer game length. I on the other hand have always found the original Sonic to be the best game in the series. It is a phenomenal combination of arcade-style depth and a classic console platformer that is easy enough yet still entertaining for those days when I just don't feel like accomplishing anything.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - While the story hasn't changed much(Robotnik is being mean again) this entry marks the first appearance of Tails. He's the boy genius fox with his own plane and two tails. He's also an idiot and will bring you untold amounts of frustration in the bonus dump him. Yeah I'll go ahead and say that I thought Tales was a terrible design decision. While he's certainly innovative in how well he manages to follow your every move he is for the most part useless and at times might even get you hurt. 

Unfortunately a lot of what I have to say about Sonic 2 involves extensive use of the word "disappointment"(also disappoint, disappointing, and disappointed). Take Tails out of the game and the unnecessary spin-dash and you have more or less the same game only with a greater variety of locales and yet less variety between them(oh and the new enemies and bosses for whatever that's worth). Maybe I will give this an in-depth look another time but for now I'll just say I wasn't impressed then and I'm certainly not impressed now.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3 - The biggest addition to this series is the fact that Tails is actually useful now....if you have a friend willing to play as him. Yes for once all of that flying he does can be put to your advantage by having him carry Sonic to parts unknown for a short time. Otherwise this game adds a bunch of other things like the ability to save your progress, a new character by the name of Knuckles(guess what's special about him), and some other things. I won't go too much into this game as it was merely a fraction of what would eventually become Sonic 3 & Knuckles(which will be the focus of a future blog update I assure you).

Sonic & Knuckles - This time you can play as Knuckles as well as Sonic. Saving however is gone. Not much else to say about this one and while I do hate to tease updates I have little choice as I don't currently have access to the full game.

Sonic Spinball - Seeing as how Sonic already bounces through some stages of his games like a pinball it was only natural that Sega would put out a game that plays more like Pinball than a traditional Sonic game. While some aspects are carried over(like having some control over Sonic's movement) most of your time will be spent bouncing through the large stages hitting targets, finding chaos emeralds, and taking out the boss at the end. 

I can't say I'm a Pinball fan but if I was in a room with a machine there's a good chance I'd play it. If I was in a room with Sonic Spinball however I wouldn't dare because I think it's terrible. Yes I'm well aware fans of this game exist but there's at least one fan for every bad Sonic game. Try it anyway though cause there's no harm in trying.

Sonic 3D Blast - Seeing as how the bird from Flicky cameos in Sonic The Hedgehog it seems natural that eventually there'd be a game where Sonic rescues Flickies in the same fashion that Flicky would rescue her chicks. It'd also be natural that this game would have an isometric perspective similar to games like Landstalker and Light Crusader(or the Sonic Arcade game we'll never get to play). Wait does any of this actually sound natural? No it doesn't. In fact I'm still not sure what the developers were thinking with this one, nothing seems to work well or even come together in a reasonable fashion. If you can get into it be my guest but even though I've played through it I still can't make heads or Tails(haha) of what's going on.

Streets of Rage - This would eventually become one of the better beatemup series of games. Unfortunately this game doesn't show it at all. While it was a good game for its time it wasn't anywhere near the league of games like Final Fight. It's simply too basic and dull.

Streets of Rage 2 - Aside from characters from the last game making an appearance you wouldn't even know this game had a prequel. First off there's an astonishing upgrade in well..everything! Graphics, sound, gameplay, mechanics, level design, everything has been taken several steps ahead to make quite a game. Many gamers think that this is the best game in the series and it's easy to see why.

The mechanics in this game are astounding. While you don't have a crouch or some other method of dodging attacks there are many indirect ways of avoiding damage. For example performing a suplex on someone while another person is throwing a punch or a projectile is a perfectly reasonable means of dodging the attack(basically anything that looks like it shouldn't hit you, won't hit you).

Unfortunately the biggest fault with this game is that on the higher difficulties the game just becomes frustrating. This is simply because some characters have moves that are neigh-invincible to your attacks and they will perform them instinctively whenever you try certain moves. Donovan has an uppercut that will take you out of the air with almost 100% success, Fat guys have an insanely good body splash as well as fire-breath. The fourth boss can get out of any combo or grab with a move you can't do anything against, and so on. On the higher difficulties this is done at such an extensive rate that in some scenarios(like an encounter late in the game with whip-girls, ninjas, and a conveyor belt) you'll be almost helpless just trying to land a hit since all three sides play off of each other so well.

But that's just me. Everyone else is perfectly happy with this game and even I enjoy the heck out of it. I just tend to become more nitpicky about great games and I'm more likely to seek out good qualities in poor games. 

Streets of Rage 3 - I won't mince words here. Sega of America butchered this game. It's not enough that they removed a mid-boss entirely(his design is obviously questionable but still we're supposed to be above that sort of thing today). They also felt the need to change the cast's default colors to more "gender-neutral" colors, completely ruin the difficulty balance, actually change up some of the mechanics, and generally try their damndest to screw up what is (IMO) the best game in the series.

I hate to be that guy but if you really want the best experience possible you have to get yourself a copy of the Japanese version aka Bare Knuckle 3. Granted I can't imagine you'll be terribly interested in paying $30 or more for a single game(especially one that requires a game genie, or a JPN region/modded console) but that's just how it is. BK3 introduces so many great features like a roll for evading attacks, the ability to control jumps while in mid-air, running as well as several new dash attacks, and some other things I'm probably forgetting. Couple all of that with some great level design and large numbers of thugs to punch in the face and you have what should have been a classic until Sega of America pissed all over it(and no greater evidence than Axel's urine-colored shirt to match). Of course BK3 is perhaps a bit too easy unless you're trying to get through it without getting hit, and most of the bosses are absolutely pathetic.

Super Thunder Blade - I always wonder why Sega releases these games that depend on scaling to deliver the full experience yet at the same time they're on hardware that just isn't capable of it without some insane programming(the later Genesis releases are a testament to that). Just because you're a fan of Choppers doesn't mean you should play this choppy game with choppy scrolling and choppy movement. You'll be sick of this one long before you manage to score enough points to get that achievement or trophy you're interested in.

Vectorman - Late in the 16-bit generation the big thing was rendered graphics. The first major title that implemented them was Rare's Donkey Kong Country and due to its success it was only natural that we'd see something similar on the Genesis. Rather than a platformer we get an action game. Vectorman is at war with pollution and that means destroying robots, fighting huge bosses, and exploring large levels with quite a bit of variety to them. 

If you were a Genesis owner back then and played pretty much everything that came out there probably wasn't a whole lot in Vectorman that you haven't already seen. In fact you might have been too busy eyeing the Saturn to even bother this game(like me). It's a shame because I regret missing out on this title the first time around as it is really good. It's not incredibly unique sure but it's as solid as anything else.

Vectorman 2 - Hey look another one of those disappointing sequels! Boy I sure haven't seen one of those before! You know how it goes, take everything that was good about the first game and don't even bother to build upon it. Sure you get new stages, enemies, and bosses but there's nothing there that makes it as good as let alone better than the original. For fun go look up screenshots of the titlescreens for both Vectorman 1 & 2. Honestly Sega have you no shame? Well I guess it doesn't matter anymore since any Sega fan knows the answer to that but I digress.

So there you go, now that you've had a taste you're ready to dive into the world of the Genesis. Will it be better or worse than what we've already seen? That I'm not sure about because quite frankly it's been years since I've touched a Genesis game outside of this collection and a few offerings on the Virtual Console. Should be an interesting read though hopefully.

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