5 Of The Best Sonic the Hedgehog Levels – Make Sonic Great Again!

Sonic Mania is kicking in!

Remember when Sonic the Hedgehog was actually pretty great?  Pepperidge Farm remembers.  I should point out that I’m from the UK and have no idea what Pepperidge Farm even is.  Anyway!  Sonic used to be great in the Mega Drive era.  Then 3D happened and pretty much everything went to pot for the blue blur.  Hurtling along at high speeds worked well in 2D as fine control was less essential when dealing with a flat plane, but the switch to 3D made precise control more important and much more difficult to do at high speed.  Things like a homing attack helped, but quick movement and sudden camera cuts made controlling a high speed hedgehog quite challenging.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The Sonic Twitter account is still a bit mental.

That’s not to say there weren’t any good stages in the 3D games, it’s just that most of them were a hard to control mess.  With Sonic Mania here now (and my not having enough time to play it yet), I thought I’d look back at some of the Sonic games I’ve played and pick out a level from each of them that I found memorable and enjoyable.  These are in chronological order and are from games in the series I’ve played.  I’ve made sure to include a couple of 3D levels as they weren’t all appalling, honest!  Oh, and Sonic Generations isn’t allowed as they’re mostly redone versions of ones from previous games.  On with the show!

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog Logo
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Labyrinth Zone

Ahahaha.  Just kidding.  No.  No way in hell.

Green Hill Zone

Yes it’s the obvious choice, but this is as memorable to me as World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros.  The bright colours, the catchy music, and the pace to the level.  Everything combines to make this a fun level and a great introduction to the character and the core of the game.  We have loops, simple enemies, and a silly boss to take down at the end, as well as access to the Special Stages if we can hold onto 50 rings by the end of the acts.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The iconic first stage of a franchise

This is one of those Sonic levels that recognises that the speed is one of the best aspects of the game, and it avoids dropping hard to predict obstacles and limits the slower paced platforming sections.  There were other great levels in the game, but this is the one that will stick with most players.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Logo
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (1992)

Chemical Plant Zone

I could throw a dart blindfolded at a Sonic 2 level dart board and hit a fantastic stage without any trouble.  The vast majority of the levels in Sonic 2 were brilliant, but the one that stuck with me (other than Emerald Hill Zone, but I can’t just pick all the opening stages) most was Chemical Plant zone.  A far cry from the first world, this toxic facility is filled with purple water that can slow down the careless player significantly.  There are multiple paths to taken with plenty of opportunities for high speed sprints along with those iconic loops.  Plus those tunnels that send you hurtling around the levels!

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Second game, second stage. To be fair though, almost every stage in this game was excellent.

This is one of the stages I would play repeatedly to get better and better times.  I can’t remember exactly but I think I managed to finish act 1 in under 45 seconds once I’d figured out the best route.  To my mind, that’s when Sonic is at its best: a level that’s enjoyable enough to make you want to strive for your personal best.  Normally I avoid water levels like the plague, but avoiding the water is part of the fun in this one.  It’s nice to see this one make an appearance in Sonic Mania.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

Sky Sanctuary

Sonic 3 & Knuckles was great.  Slotting the Sonic 3 cartridge into the back of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge turned it into one super long game with additional features.  I can’t think of any other game that did this, but I could be wrong.  In a similar vein to Sonic 2, there are a lot of good levels here, but I’ve gone for Sky Sanctuary.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Whilst speed can be an option here, it’s pretty easy to fall to your death if you get careless. Good reactions, memorisation, or taking your time are the order of the day.

This is a bit of a slower level than others being as it’s a late game zone.  Unlike most late game Sonic levels though, this one is bright and colourful. The music is excellent and the multiple paths that levels in later 2D Sonic games tend to be known for are even more prevalent here as the level takes place over multiple tiers accessed through teleporters.  The boss is good fun and the end of level dash up a collapsing pillar looks great.  A rare good stage that goes against Sonic’s strengths.

Sonic Adventure 2

Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)

City Escape

Yep, I’m skipping Sonic Adventure.  Looking back, most of those levels were pretty poor, although Emerald Coast had it’s moments.  Like the whale bit.  Anyway, I really liked most of the Sonic stages in this game.  Some of them were really hard to control, and most of the bosses were awkward to fight, but there were some fun ones to play.  City Escape is the obvious one for so many reasons.

Sonic Adventure 2
Rolling around at the speed of sound…

It plays to the usual idea of first levels in a Sonic game: fast paced, bright colours, and a catchy soundtrack (if you’ve played it, I know you’re singing it to yourself right now).  From a fun “skateboarding” section at the start, to grinding rails down staircases, culminating in being chased down by a truck.  It used pacing well, with slower sections to take down enemies followed quickly by another burst of speed.  I loved that in Sonic Adventure 2 you could come back to the level with newly acquired items to find new routes.

Sonic 06

Ahahaha!  Are you kidding?!

Sonic Unleashed

Sonic Unleashed
Sonic Unleashed (2008)

Rooftop Run

I like Sonic Unleashed.  Sure there “Werehog” stages were weird and constantly having to talk to other characters got in the way of the gameplay, but the Sonic levels were actually pretty good fun.  You didn’t have to worry about stretchy arms for one thing.

Sonic Unleashed
Whilst the 2D sections were better for the most part, the 3D parts weren’t bad compared to some of the other efforts in the franchise.

Rooftop Run was an insanely fast paced stage that rapidly switched between 2D and 3D sections.  Tons of loops and grinds, plenty of enemies to burst through using your dash, a great soundtrack (seriously, it’s one of the best ones) and fantastic visuals.  It’s a shame that more of the game didn’t make use of this style.

There are tons of Sonic levels I’m a fan of.  Star Light Zone, Sky Chase (controversial!), Icecap, Metal Harbour.  Researching for this I found loads of Sonic games I hadn’t played before (mostly handheld ones) which I plan to rectify where possible!  What are your favourite Sonic stages?  Is there one I’ve missed?  Let me know!

 

Slime Rancher – What am I actually meant to do?

Ever dreamed of owning a farm and collecting slime? No, me neither.

I think I might be missing the point of Slime Rancher.  I find myself dropped onto a planet with a vacuum and a fenced off area.  I’m told to vacuum up slimes and put them into the pen, feed them, and collect their poop for money.  Yes.  Poop money.  To what end I don’t know.  I can explore the world and collect more slimes to put in more pens to collect more poop.  Perhaps there are exciting things to find in the world, but after a couple of hours of hoovering up crap (figuratively and literally) I have no interest in finding out.

Slime Rancher
Get used to seeing this path. you’ll be using it an awful lot.
Starting at your ranch, you venture out to find slimes and other items to hoover up and take back to turn into money.  Money can be used to build or improve pens, build other structures, upgrade your equipment, and unlock new areas of the world.  Various logs can be found detail the adventures of the rancher who came before you, but those I found were fairly uninteresting.

Slime Rancher
The slimes are (mostly) pretty cut and there are a good variety of different ones. Their behaviours are mostly quite similar though.
Some slimes are aggressive unless you feed them the food they like (which can be found lying around or grown at the ranch), but most are benign and can be walked around with no problem.  During my explorations I came across some treasure boxes that I couldn’t open, and doors that required “slime keys”.  What are slime keys and how are they acquired?  No idea, it was never explained.  I eventually found out after going back and forth to a giant slime over and over again, but that was more luck and persistence than any signposting.  I don’t have a problem with discovery in gameplay, but I believe some direction is necessary in most games.  In many games I don’t mind looking up information online to find out more about optimum builds and finding secret items (the Souls games are a great example of this) but I simply didn’t care enough to want to find out more.  I didn’t know why I should care about what I was doing, so I didn’t bother.

Slime Rancher
Eventually I figured out how to get a slime key and was presented with a slightly different environment which was terribly exciting.
Mechanically the game works well enough, with your vacuum sucking up items of value (although sucking up the item you want can be a pain as it pulls in anything in front of it) and spitting them out where you want them.  The problem here is that your vacuum can only hold 4 different items (at first, I don’t know if this changes later on) meaning you’re constantly backtracking to the ranch to offload your stuff.  The game descended into me running forward a bit, collecting things then heading back, then going a little further and returning.  Continue ad nauseum.  The jetpack upgrade makes traversal through some areas quick if you don’t want to faff about but it doesn’t remove the issue.  There’s a day and night cycle too, with nights being more dangerous meaning hanging around the ranch (or sleeping until morning) becomes necessary.

Slime Rancher
There’s a day-night cycle. Certain slimes are more likely to come out at night.
I can’t fault the graphics or sound a great deal at least.  Visually it looks lovely.  All the slimes I found were adorable, with all of them being distinct.  The world looked lovely with plenty of variety in environments (shame I couldn’t find a reason to want to explore them).  The sounds are nice too and very in keeping with the game as a whole.

Slime Rancher
What’s behind this slime door? A better question is can I be bothered to faff about getting a key to find out?
I get the feeling that this just isn’t the sort of game for me.  If it weren’t for the fact that this was a free Games with Gold game on Xbox then I probably wouldn’t have touched it.  If you’re someone who is very much into the “make your own fun” sort of games then this could provide a bit of entertainment, but it didn’t for me.

Slime Rancher
I looks like it’s begging to be explored, but all I found was more of the same in a different environment.
Slime Rancher was developed and published by Monomi Park.  I played the game on Xbox One and wouldn’t recommend it.  Time is as valuable as money for me these days, and this sucked up a couple of hours that I won’t be getting back.  If you’re in the market for a cute farming style game then this might provide some fun, but I was bored after a couple of hours.

A New Lapel Pin – I think I may have a problem.

I like gaming pin badges…a lot.

I have a rather…large collection of gaming themed pin badges.  Every week at work I wear a different one, and more often than not the kids there will question me on it.  Seeing as kids these days almost all play video games they tend to be quite interested in what game they’re from.  Some are obvious ones they know (Overwatch and Sonic) whilst others are ones they may not recognise or have heard of but want to find out about (Rainbow 6 and Bioshock).  It’s quite nice that they take an interest and may find an older game that they end up trying out.

Pin badges
How many games can you name?

Anyway, I often find myself scouring etsy and other craft sites for people who make these sort of things to expand my collection.  Very few game developers/publishers make them.  Pinny Arcade have a few good ones, and it was nice to see that Elite Dangerous had a few official ones, but these are rare and more often than not I need to rely on people online having already made them.  I was very pleasantly surprised when someone from Tzar Jewellery asked if I would like a custom made pin for material cost.  Obviously I snapped their hand off (figuratively) and set about thinking what I would like.

Ashbringer World of Warcraft
I’m pretty sure a few of you know what this is.

I wanted something different to the many pins I already had, but one that represented something significant in terms of my gaming life so far.  After some thought I settled on the Ashbringer weapon from World of Warcraft, a game I spent a significant amount of time playing during my university years.  If you aren’t aware, back in the vanilla days of WoW Ashbringer was a legendary sword often hinted at existing but could never actually be acquired by legitimate means.  I understand that players can get hold of it these days, but that’s beside the point!

Warcraft
I was kept up to date with pictures of how the production was coming along.

Once I had decided on the design I consulted with the maker over how it should look, the size of the pin, and any detailing.  He seemed very happy to set it up exactly how I would like it and asked for a number of different high-res pictures to ensure everything was to the correct scale.  Where I was unsure (such as what to do with detailing on the hilt) he was ready with suggestions.  We went with silver for the bulk of the sword, the gems are both eSl1 (which I think is good!) diamonds (one coloured to appear black), and the circle is made from mother of pearl.

Warcraft jewellery
It was interesting to see how it came together over time.

During production I was kept up to date with pictures of how it was coming along at various stages.  It was really interesting to see what looked like a small chunk of metal turn into something really quite impressive over the course of its construction.  I won’t pretend to know anything about metalwork, but I’m sure making something that looks this good takes quite a bit of talent.  Once it was all put together, the pin was hallmarked and given to me when the maker and I had a chance to meet in person.

Warcraft
Here it is, completed and on my work jacket. Apologies for my low quality camera skills!

It looks excellent and I’m really very happy with how it looks.  The pupils at work have asked about it, and whilst none of them know exactly what it is, they’ve all heard of the game that it comes from.  It’s certainly one of my favourites in my collection and I’d like to thank Tzar Jewellery for making this for me.  It really is an excellent piece of work.

Warcraft jewellery
The finished product

Resident Evil 7 – It’s Res Jim, but not as we know it!

Zombies and stuff.

No spoilers here!  Read with confidence!

But it’s not Resident Evil!  It’s in first person!  It’s not about zombies!  Where’s Umbrella?  etc.  I know, I’m a couple of months late to the party, but I’m glad I finally turned up because this is the most Resident Evil Resident Evil since Resident Evil.  Yes, that was a real sentence that I wrote.  This is the latest game in the venerated series, and whilst its perspective may be different when compared to most of the games in the series, this is without a doubt a Resident Evil game.  The atmosphere, environment and puzzles call back to the classic and tries to shake off the bad taste left by the more recent entries (I’m looking at you 6!)  You’re running around a mansion and it’s grounds, fighting monsters whilst conserving ammo and searching for keys to bizarre locks.  That’s pretty Resident Evil if you ask me.

Resident Evil 7
The initial walk to the home is similar in style to the opening of a lot of first person horror games. Very pretty to look at but with an edge of foreboding.

You are Ethan, a man who’s wife, Mia, disappeared 3 years ago.  Ethan receives a video message from Mia hinting at her whereabouts and he sets off to find her in a mysterious old manor house on a plantation in the middle of nowhere.  If you’ve played the demos released during the (well put together) marketing campaign, you’ll recognise some of the early locations you travel through before you gain access to the house proper.  Before long you find yourself stalked by the seemingly psychotic members of the family that live there and the “molded” – black slime monsters that grow from the walls and ceiling and seek to pull your limbs off.

Resident Evil 7
At times like these it’s always good to see a friendly face.

You means of defence are severely limited at first, with a knife and handgun being pretty much all you have for a while, along with some healing items that have some interesting properties.  Other weapons can be collected along the way, expanding your defensive options and giving the occasional nod to previous games in the series (particularly the first entry).  Most of the combat is against the molded and tends to be rather slow paced and methodical as you try to keep them a safe distance whilst you chip away, minimising you use of ammunition (or maybe running away from them altogether).  In this regard, the game is very much like the first Resident Evil, with resource conservation and avoiding conflict being essential early on.  The family also stalk the corridors, ready to pursue and attack you if spotted.  They can be fended off for a time, but only if you’re willing to spend your resources to do so; better to avoid them or make a heart-pounding escape through the corridors in most cases.

Resident Evil 7
The now iconic dinner scene that has been all over the promotional material. I would expect VR to be especially effective here.

Boss encounters are great exclamation marks to the growing tension in each area with each one becoming more grotesque.  Compared to being swarmed by regular enemies though, they tend not to be all that challenging.  The only exception was the first proper boss (the second one you confront), and that’s more due to the control scheme not being all that suited to the combat style you end up forced into.  Most bosses requite plenty of ammo and a good few healing items (at least they did for me) and good inventory organisation helps in ensuring you have what you need at any point in time.  Whilst not entirely challenging, they are entertaining and varied with the exception of the final battle which was big in scale but small on interaction.  It was a little disappointing when compared to some of the other encounters.

Resident Evil 7
The shotgun is a bit of a pain to get early in the game, but it a god send if you do.

The only other thing I found really irritating was something that also annoyed me about The Evil Within: traps.  Whilst only in the game occasionally and not as obnoxious, I find tripwire based traps and exploding item boxes an annoyance rather than an increase in challenge.  They make sense being there in the context of the character who places them, but that doesn’t make them any more fun to trip over.  I understand that this is meant to be a slow game (the controls make that obvious fairly early on), but the exploding item boxes are especially aggravating.

Resident Evil 7
I spent about 80% of the game with blood smears on the screen as I never wanted to use my healing items.

I have not sampled the VR mode of this (hey, I’m not made of money) so I can’t really comment on its implementation.  It’s fairly clear when playing where the VR is meant to have its greatest impact though.  There are a number of times involving characters and items being right in front of your character and I imagine it would be quite effective when wearing a headset.  Playing on a TV is fine though, and those moments don’t stand out unless you’re looking for them.  The visuals on the whole are excellent throughout and I noticed very little that wasn’t extremely well polished.

Resident Evil 7
More VR fodder.

Most importantly though, Resident Evil 7 is fun to play.  It’s not terrifying by any stretch, but the atmosphere works very well and creates an unsettling feeling throughout.  It doesn’t rely on jump-scares but gives a feeling of unease through vulnerability and a lack of preparedness for what may come walking around the next corner.  I loved that sense of threat , and found the level of challenge spot on when playing on normal.  I’m not going near any higher difficulty though.

Resident Evil 7
There’s DEFINITELY nothing bad behind that door.

Resident Evil 7 was developed and published by Capcom (using an excellent in house engine I should add).  I played the games on Xbox One and would recommend it to anyone who likes the classic games in the series or someone looking for a solid, well made horror game.  Now here’s hoping Capcom can capitalise and rescue the series long term!

5 Movie-Based Games That Weren’t Terrible

There was a time in gaming’s long and sordid history when most major films had to have a video game tie-in.  And most of them were terrible.  So terrible that they almost destroyed gaming (thanks E.T.).  We’ve had some that should have worked but were badly made (Fight Club was a wasted opportunity), others that shouldn’t have even been considered (Wayne’s World exists for some reason), and others still that confuse me (Street Fighter: The Movie which is a game of a film of a game).  But sometimes game developers, movie makers, and people with cash manage to get their shit together and make something genuinely good.  Here are five such examples.

Street Fighter
This is either the worst movie of all time or the greatest parody of all time.
As ever, I must have played these games.  Whilst they don’t have to be directly based on a single specific movie, their source material must be clear and there should be a direct link to the movie(s).  Whilst researching this I found far more than I expected, so narrowing it down became tricky, but narrowed I have!  Read on!

Aladdin

Aladdin

Probably my favourite “classic” Disney film, Aladdin is a retelling of the story of a young boy who finds himself in possession of magic lamp containing a genie who grants him 3 wishes.  Aladdin obviously uses it to impress a girl because that’s pretty much always the case in old fashioned stories.  Anyway, magic, murder, marriage and everyone lives happily ever after.  The ones who survive anyway.

Aladdin
Jumping on camels makes them spit. Just like in real life!
As was the case for most games of this era, Aladdin was a platform game retelling some of the key scenes from the movie.  The art and music captured the style of the film perfectly and the tight controls  gave use a mechanically solid game.  The platforming was fun, with simple sword attacks and ranged moves forming the combat (cutting the guards trousers to make them fall down was a nice touch).  Other stages involved magic carpet flights and boss battles to keep the game fresh.  It worked surprisingly well (I played the superior Mega Drive version by the way!) and it’s a pity that most other Disney video games couldn’t match the quality here.

Wolverine

Wolverine

So the film wasn’t great.  At all.  Every character was used badly, Deadpool couldn’t speak(!) and the whole “Origins” movie idea fell at the first hurdle (although I feel it paved the way for First Class).  Still, the Wolverine movie series managed to survive somehow, and the tie-in video game was actually tremendous.

Wolverine
Visually, the game was so much more violent than the films.
Playing as a solid hack n’ slash game, Wolverine follows the plot of the film closely enough but makes it as violent as a game featuring a man with claws in his hands should be.  Logan carves through enemies with his claws, dishing out brutal finishers (the helicopter moment from early in the game proved rather memorable for me) with a surprisingly solid set of combos that can be upgraded.  Solid controls and fun boss battles keep the game from getting stale (plus the fun Easter eggs that parody other games are enjoyable to find).  The visuals are excellent, with chunks of Wolverine being blown away, exposing his skeleton before gradually healing.  It’s a well put together package that was far more enjoyable than its source material.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim

I love this film.  I know it’s not great, but I enjoy watching it so much with it’s fun visuals that do a good job of bringing the books to the screen.  Michael Cera looks the part and I still like seeing the man who would be Captain America exploding in a skateboard accident.  It’s what I would call a guilty pleasure if I felt any guilt for liking it.

Scott Pilgrim
A 4-player co-op brawler. What’s not to like?
Feeling very much like River City Ransom, you and up to 3 allies select a character from the story and proceed to fight anyone and everyone that gets in your way.  You’ll collect money to spend in shops along the way to strengthen your character (which you’ll need to, it’s pretty tough) before confronting the boss.  I found the controls a little loose at times but playing anything that reminds me so Streets of Rage and its ilk is alright by me.  Visually it’s great too, using the style of the books combined with a retro graphical style.  I’m hoping this one eventually comes to backwards compatibility, but with all the licenses involved I suspect that’s wishful thinking.

TIE Fighter

TIE Fighter

Right, this hasn’t aged brilliantly (especially as far as visuals are concerned) but it’s story and experience are a wonderful extension of the Star Wars universe.  This doesn’t tie into a specific movie, and tells its own set of stories but it’s a great tale of galactic battle, subterfuge and FLYING ALONGSIDE DARTH VADER.  Sorry, I got overexcited there.

TIE Fighter
It doesn’t look pretty by today’s standards, and it probably doesn’t play all that well either nowadays, but damn was it a great game in its day.
Game’s like this are less common these days.  It’s a narrative driven (with multiple branches in fact) space combat simulation.  You need to manage your TIE fighter’s (or bomber, interceptor amongst other craft) resources to be as effective as possible whilst you crush the Rebel alliance.  The controls were excellent (assuming you used a joystick) and the missions varied.  The graphics do not hold up well, though the sense of scale you get as you fly beside a star destroyer is impressive.  It’s a shame we’re unlikely to see many (if any) Star Wars games in the future, as a modernised version of this could work very well.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

What can I say about this movie?  You all know it, you probably love it, and you’ve probably seen it more times that you’ve had hot dinners.  It’s amazing that there have been so many shoddy games to come from the franchise considering how easily it should translate.  From the fairly shonky Commodore 64/NES/etc. game, to the horrifially overpriced 2016 spin-off, there have been very few good games in the series.

Ghostbusters
For a nearly 10-year-old game it still looks pretty damn good.
Thankfully, the 20099 release fixed that, with an original story (purported to be Ghostbusters 3 in essence) in which you play a new character alongside the original cast.  The story was fairly standard, with ghosts having taken over the city meaning someone’s gonna call the Ghostbusters.  You would control your character, exploring environments (some surprisingly creepy) with your PK meter to find and catch ghosts.  Combat came down to weakening ghosts with your proton blaster (or alternative weapon) before slamming them into a trap.  It all worked really rather well with solid controls and good visuals to go with the fun gameplay.  I loved that crossing the streams with your teammates caused you to get knocked back.  There was even a really rather good mutliplayer mode that died way before its time because it wasn’t Call of Duty.

As ever, there are a few honourable mentions.  I didn’t put Goldeneye above as I feel it has not aged very well at all.  Whilst the single player is still great, with a ton of content, the multiplayer feels pretty shoddy with a horrible framrate.  I suppose I didn’t know any better at the time.  Blade Runner is a great and, for its time, very inventive adventure game with multiple endings.  Alien: Isolation is an excellent survival horror game in which you feel under constant threat; it’s just a shame that it goes on a bit too long and becomes a slog towards the end.  Spiderman 2 deserves a mention for its fantastic swinging mechanics that developes are still trying to live up to to this day.  Finally, a game I rarely see mentioned: Starship Troopers which was a rather fun RTS game that received a lot less attention than it deserved.

Have I missed any?  Are there any movie-based games that you think deserve their time in the sun?  Let me know, I’d love to give them a look!

Get Even – Because odd numbers just won’t do.

If Inception were a horror movie, it would probably be like this.

Did you know that one of my all time favourite games is Deadly Premonition?  An utterly insane story of murder and supernatural obsession wrapped up in a buggy, ugly, sloppily made game.  But in spite of all that I loved it.  The story was brilliant, the characters were simultaneously tragic and hilarious, and the world had so much to find.  It was as though Swery65 watched Twin Peaks, then played GTA and decided to glue them together without understanding how GTA‘s gameplay worked.  But still it was a wonderful experience and one that I remember to this day.  It’s also, to my mind, evidence that sometimes a well crafted story, told in an interesting way by well written characters can overcome a game’s mechanical shortcomings.  And here we have Get Even.

Get Even
I looks pretty enough to start with, but it doesn’t stay that way.

Get Even feels as though someone watched Inception, then played Call of Duty and decided to glue them together without understanding how Call of Duty‘s gameplay worked.  And whilst I don’t think it’s something that will stay with me as long as Deadly Premonition has, it’s another game in which its story manages to overcome those mechanical failings.  It plays part FPS, part Walking Simulator with influences in Condemned and tells the story of Cole Black (good choice of name their, guys) as he awakens in a seemingly abandoned mental asylum.

Get Even Pandora Device
This is what ends up being attached to your face. It looks like something Jigsaw would play around with.

I’m going to keep it light on story elements, but the game opens with Cole attempting to rescue a kidnapped girl with a bomb strapped to her.  We are introduced to Cole’s use of his phone for a map, UV light and evidence scanner (hence the Condemned comparison) as well as use of a gun and stealth takedowns.  Cole finds the girl, and then wakes up in the aforementioned asylum, with the Pandora device strapped to his head that allows him to access and re-experience memories through photographs.  He is guided by a man calling himself Red via video screens to proceed through the asylum gathering evidence of the events surrounding the kidnapping to get to the bottom of just what happened.

Get Even
Just one of the inmates you come across. Seems friendly enough, did I make a good decision earlier on that lead to this?

There are other characters in the asylum, all with their own Pandora device.  Some are hostile, some less so, and how you interact with them will lead to different events later in the game.  Do you release this inmate or leave him in his cell?  Maybe he’ll return to attack you later or perhaps he will kill other inmates.  You will be reminded often that your actions (not always choices) have consequences, and your behaviour both in and out of your memories will impact events later in the game.

Get Even
A nice little Twin Peaks reference there.

The asylum has a wonderfully creepy and threatening atmosphere with the occasional puzzle to solve, but the bulk of the game takes place in Cole’s memories and this is where the gameplay lets itself down somewhat.  You are encouraged to be stealthy, using silent takedowns and your map (which shows enemy visions cones) to avoid conflict.  I found the stealth somewhat cumbersome and tended to get spotted by enemies way outside of the map’s range.  The combat is passable, with standard pistols, assault rifles and shotguns making up the bulk of your tools.  You also have the Cornergun, which uses Cole’s phone’s thermal imagine to aim around corners to take out enemies.  I found the framerate dropped quite a bit when using this which was rather irritating, but it was a neat inclusion that aided stealth.  If you do get spotted, everyone in the area will instantly know where you are and make a beeline for you resulting in death more often than not.  What was pretty neat was that the game explains why these enemies exist in the story’s context.  Whilst I won’t say more, it’s elements like this that allowed me to overlook the weak combat and concentrate more on the story.  Around two-thirds of the way through the game, the plot shifts considerably and gives you new abilities to play with.  But again, I’ll say no more.

Get Even
Scanning certain items gives you little flashbacks like this to advance the story, as well as progress your current memory.

It’s very hard for me to explain why I enjoyed this game so much in spite of the slightly off combat without spoiling the story.  But it genuinely is well worth playing.  A wonderful atmosphere with fantastic music and a story full of twists and turns in which you can’t be sure who or what to believe.  It plays with your perception in ways I rarely see (Layers of Fear came to my mind on more than one occasion) and uses the unreliability of memory in an interesting fashion to progress the plot and alter the game world (think Call of Juarez: Gunslinger).  This is one of those games that I feel too many people will overlook due to its generic name and outdated visuals, but if you’re interested in stories in gaming and can look past some slightly off combat then you’ll be in for a great experience.  I realise that I’ve not given you much to go on, but I implore you to check it out and give it a chance.

Get Even
What’s my fault?!

Get Even was developed by The Farm 51 and published by Bandai Namco.  I played the game on Xbox One and encourage you to check it out for its story.  I’ll give Bandai Namco a lot of credit for taking a risk on this one, it very much paid off in my mind.  Let me know what you think if you give it a go!

A Difficult Conversation

Is that title clickbait-y enough?

A little while back I talked about how using a guide for a game isn’t such a bad thing.  You don’t always have the time to “git gud”, so why not use the resources that are freely available online to help you?  I’ve also recently mentioned that gaming is the only form of entertainment that actively prevents you from accessing more unless you prove you are deserving of it.  There are exceptions of course, with walking simulators allowing pretty much everyone to access the full story regardless of ability level.  Then we have the likes of Star Fox Zero

Star Fox Zero
It’s fine if you don’t like the game because it plays badly. Hell, it’s fine to just plain not like it. But to dislike it because it’s accessible to casual players?!

Now, I haven’t played Star Fox Zero.  Hell, I didn’t even have a Wii U to play it on.  But I am very aware that a lot of people didn’t like it due to it having a poor control scheme.  I’m also aware that a lot of people didn’t like it because it included an invulnerable mode, that made it near impossible for you to fail.  It seems that a lot of gamers weren’t happy that some people would be able to experience the game’s story without the struggle that comes along with it.  This isn’t the only game to do this, in fact a number of recent Mario games have had a similar option in which repeated failure allows you to play through a level whilst invulnerable.  I have seen comments that dislike this feature too.

Mega Man 10 logo
Would an easy mode in Mega Man 10 reduce the feeling of success from those who finish the game as it is?

But why?  Why does it matter if people who find the game challenging have a way of engaging with content later on?  There seems to be this idea that games’ endings, regardless of their supposed target audience, should only be accessed by gamers who have earned it.  To them, I ask this question:  Did you earn the right to see the end of that movie you watched?  Could you skip past the scenes that you didn’t like?  How about that book you read or listened to?  How is gaming such a specialist form of media that you can’t enjoy the story unless you earn it?

DmC: Devil May Cry (2013)
The reboot of Devil May Cry was easier than previous installments, allowing more people to experience it.  It still had super hard difficulty modes to unlock for the hardcore player.

Games tell some genuinely fascinating stories and I don’t see why those stories shouldn’t be enjoyed by everyone.  Anyone can enjoy Firewatch, why can’t everyone enjoy Mass Effect?  I’m not for a second saying that difficulty should be removed from all games, by all means keep Dark Souls difficult, but why couldn’t their be a “casual” mode that removes some of the challenge so a less skilled player can enjoy the world?  Most players would go for the challenge, but some would appreciate a way to explore the world without being brutally struck down at every turn.

Firewatch tower
Walking simulators like Firewatch are something of an exception.  However, the more serious player could take the time to explore more diligently than those who are only here for the story.

A great example of this is in Furi.  This is designed to be a very challenging boss rush game (with a cracking soundtrack I might add) in which you will be defeated over and over.  But if you want to experience the story, then you can select the “Promenade” difficulty, in which the bosses practically lie down for you.  Trophies/achievements won’t unlock in this mode, but you can still discover the plot at a leisurely pace.  If a game that is designed with difficulty in mind can do this, then why can’t others?

Ornstein and Smough
Oh look!  It’s these guys again!  Could you argue there was technically an “easy” mode thanks to the ability to summon?  Does the fact I summoned mean those that didn’t summon enjoyed the game any less?

“Hardcore” gamers!  You can finish your games on the hardest difficulty you like, and well done to you for doing so!  Seriously, beating some of these games on their hardest setting is a huge challenge and overcoming that is one hell of an achievement.  But don’t lock others out of this hobby due to some elitist nonsense.  Embrace the weak players!  Discuss the plot with them!  Tell them about how crazy the game can get!  Maybe they’ll grow to be interested in the challenge side of the hobby.  The great thing about this is that it would actually increase the diversity in games that are released.  Many mock the number of similar games that are released these days, but is that perhaps because some of these games are so accessible?  Would their be more Souls like games if there was a way for more people to enjoy them, thus opening up to a greater number of potential customers?

Down with elitism in gaming!  Up with accessibility options!  Would letting everyone play be such a bad thing really?