Saturday, June 6, 2009

Genesis look: Socket

The most unfortunate aspect of the Sonic the Hedgehog series(aside from recent games like Sonic 2k6 and Sonic Heroes) is that it spawned a number of clones during the 16-bit era. Blue characters running through rolling hills at impossible speeds became almost commonplace. Vic Tokai put out one of their own by the name of Socket.

This little blue guy is a duck. He runs off electricity and he has a plug for a tail and is out to save time. How he does this involves lots of running, jumping, and kicking. Somewhat like Dr Robotnik is the evil Time Dominator. He shows up at the end of nearly every zone(of which there are seven) with some wacky contraption to make things hard on the hero. 

Socket requires electricity to survive so after he fills up at the beginning of each stage a rather long meter starts to drain at the bottom of the screen. This is drained whenever you perform any action such as running, jumping, kicking, and etc. Getting slapped by an enemy takes off a good chunk of this meter while snagging little electric bolts will replenish it. Socket's most important ability(aside from his jump since this is a platformer) is his kick. He can either kick upwards, straight ahead, or perform a little hop-kick which is good for building momentum and clearing tiny gaps. 

The levels in this game are interesting in how they're organized. Every first round of a level is a "speed" stage where there are lots of loops, speed-boosters, and little things like springs and tons of invincibility power-ups to make everything go by very quickly. The second round is more athletic and requires jumping around, dodging traps, finding goodies, and kicking some bad guys in the face. Finally there are the labyrinths. These are similar to the athletic rounds except they take on more maze-like attributes. These are good for getting lost in and there's a few surprises not found in either of the previous rounds.

Also unique about these labyrinth stages is that while there is a door that leads to the boss there's usually another door that leads to a sort of trap-room. One has Socket racing up a giant sinking pillar while jets of fire slow him down and a nice big pool of lava is waiting for him if he isn't quick enough. Another might have him riding moving platforms. They're interesting and can be useful for replenishing energy but otherwise they're just plain death-traps.

The most welcome aspect of the level design in this game is that there are no instant-death pits. Sure there's plenty of spike and lava pits to fall in but nothing that'll wipe you out. This game is generally pretty easy although it is annoying that if you die you restart at whatever checkpoint you last hit at only half meter. While it's nothing truly awful it is a bit of a head-scratcher.

The speed levels are also playable via a Time Trial mode. This trades the enemies and draining meter for a clock that tracks your best time. Upon completing a trial you just might qualify for the best time list. It's a neat feature and certainly welcome since these speed-based stages are fairly well designed though perhaps a little too easy without the enemies to possibly run into.

Another aspect that could have used a bit more work involves kicking. For the bosses you're likely to run into them as your kicking(or worse, fly into them when you do an upward kick). While it takes several hits to take you out every bit lost means less points at the end of the round. There should have been a way to just tap the kick button while holding up to do some kind of standing upward kick. It's not much but it might save a headache or two.

While there's little truly excellent about Socket it is one of the better platformers available on the Genesis. Despite its similarities to another fast moving blue creature it does a good job of establishing its own identity through a unique(if slightly flawed) method of attack and a slick method of level progression. I see a few copies of this game floating around ebay for somewhere between $3 and $8. It's worth at least that.

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