5 Games That Outstayed Their Welcome

They go on and on and on and on and on and on an………..

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I remember not so logn ago, that the internet was filled with arguments over value for money in games.  This often came down to how many hours of content was there for your £40 purchase.  There were a number of arguements over this in Call of Duty games due to their campaigns being rather short compared to other FPS games.  I felt that this wasn’t entirely fair as those games tended to have a rather extensive multiplayer mode in each release.  I suppose if you were only playing them for the single player aspect then that might be worth pointing out.  But I digress.

CoD
A game cover with a soldier walking towards the camera. How unusual!

As I get older I find myself valuing time more and more, so shorter games often get my attention more readily than ones that I will probably never have the required number of hours to finish.  I’m all for good, interesting content over a substantial campaign (so long as it actually is interesting and not just filler) or through other features in a game. However there are some really rather good games that just didn’t know when to call it a day.  Games that kept on going long after their mechanics and story had become a touch on the stale side.  Here are 5 such adventures that ventured on for a little too long.

Oh, and I’ve only included ones that I’ve actually played obviously.

Metal Gear Solid V

MGSV The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V (2015)

This was one of the first games I wrote a blog post about.  Interesting fact there.  If you read that in the past (or if you just gave that link a little click), you may have found that I really enjoyed the game when it let you get on with sneaking into enemy encampments and advancing the utterly bananas plot.  Solid mechanics and well made cut-scenes certainly helped too!

METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN_20160321200253
A vast open world that’s ready to be explored.  And then explored again.

Around half way through the game though, you need to complete missions to advance the plot (shocking in a video game, I know).  You can do this through sub missions or story missions.  Of course most gamers would go for the story missions, only to find that they were the same as earlier missions but with an added stipulation.  This broke the flow for me quite a bit and put me off carrying on with the game.  It got to the point where I just wanted it to be over.  Maybe the pain of carrying on was the real Phantom Pain…

Or not.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity

Assassin's Creed Unity
Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014)

This was the death knell of the series for me.  I found Assassin’s Creed III fairly tedious, but I assumed the more focused environment of a city might help.  And to an extent it did!  I liked that everything was fairly close together (although the crowded map made finding things harder than it should have been) and that the movement and combat was still fairly fun if you weren’t hot by bugs.  It wasn’t horrible.

assassinscreedunityglitches6
Time to wheel this classic out again.

But I just did not care about the story one bit.  There were various famous histroical figures doing things because the plot demanded they did to make them good/evil, and characters died before I had any reason to care about them.  The reasonably engaging mechanics couldn’t hold my attention for long without a solid purpose driving me forward.  Before long I was rushing through story missions just to get the game over with.  Maybe Assassin’s Creed Origins will be more engaging for me.

Still Life 2

Still Life 2 game
Still Life 2 (2009)

Still Life was an interesting enough murder mystery point and click adventure (which was a sequel to Post Mortem, which has aged horribly).  The story followed an FBI investigator searching for a serial killer in Chicago.  Through flashbacks and investigation, you eventually confront and shoot the killer who manages to escape.  The follow up, Still Life 2, finds our investigator on the trail of another killer.  Due to the lack of resolution in the previous game, it seems reasonable to assume we’ll find out who the previous killer was here.

Still Life 2
The whole thing looks like it would fit into a Saw movie.

Still Life 2 starts well enough, with standard puzzles in a seemingly abandoned house.  But, as is often the case in point and click games, the puzzles become more and more obscure as you basically guess what the developer was thinking.  This, combined with the pace being unbelievably s-l-o-w meant that I didn’t bother getting to the end.  Once I ended up in an entirely new area that I would have to gradually find my way around, I decided that enough was enough.  Even the reasonably interesting plot couldn’t save this one.

Serious Sam 3: BFE

Serious Sam Before First Encounter
Serious Sam 3: BFE (2011)

I loved the Serious Sam games.  I remember staying up for hours upon hours one night playing the first game in the series.  The second one was pretty good too.  Fighting off literal hordes of enemies with powerful weapons was tremendous fun.  This entry in the series carried that on, but in a more modern way with finishing moves, more up to date (and realistic) visuals, and other such features.  And it’s fun for a while.

Serious Sam 3 BFE
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was any crappy Steam game released in the past 2 years from this screenshot.

It doesn’t half drag on though.  There are only so many combinations of enemies you can fight before it starts to get a little stale.  It’s around 10 hours long and could have done with being maybe two-thirds of that length because by that point I’d grown tired of stepping into another arena, fighting off a swarm of enemies before moving 8 steps forward and fighting another horde.

The soundtrack was pretty great at least.

Alien: Isolation

Alien Isolation
Alien Isolation (2014)

This game was scary.  The atmosphere was tense.  The robots were scary.  The xenomorph was terrifying.  There was even a good story in there that follows on from Alien too.  There was a crafting system that actually made sense in the game’s context!  Imagine that!  It shapes up for a pretty great 8-10 hour horror experience.

Alien
You’ll spend most of your time either using the motion tracker or the flamethrower. For 20 hours.

Then the second 10 hours kick in.  The alien is less scary now as you’ve seen tons of it.  The coridors looks similar no matter where you go (the bits outside the station are still pretty cool at least), you’ve crafted everything worthwhile, and know most of the story.  All that’s left is to slog through half the game to get to the conclusion.  This game is a perfect example of less is more, and for the first half it absolutely nails that.  Encounters are rare and intense, and you don’t even see the xenomorph until a good 3 hours in.  The second half forgets that and has used all the tricks it has.  Disappointing after such a great start.

A couple of games worth mentioning (but don’t quite fit).  Borderlands 2 became a bit of a slog for me towards the end.  This was more because I was trying to do all the side missions so the gameplay had started to become a little stale by that point.  Still a good game mind!  Most of the Warriors games could fit in here for me too (Warriors Orochi 3 is the one sticking in my mind) simply because the story mode goes on for so long in most cases.  But the story is never really why you’re playing those so it gets something of a pass.

How about you?  Any games you loved playing before they got beyond tedious?  Any that you gave up on through sheer boredom?  Tell me about it!

 

 

5 Great Modern Roguelike/lite Games

If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again.

Dying happens a lot in video games.  It tends to be the main threat to the player, being the ultimate fail state in a game.  Most of the time death sets you back to a previous checkpoint or save (I hope you’ve been saving often!) and doesn’t really cause a great deal of lost progress.  In fact some games even demand you die to progress.  Death has been rather devalued in games over the years.  It doesn’t really mean much.

Which is where Rogue and its likes and lites come in.  Death here matters.  You die, and that’s it.  All your progress, items, levels, lost forever.  Potions don’t do the same thing each time you play, dungeons have different layouts, enemies change.  Whilst I’m uncertain if Rogue was the first game to do this, I know that there are a lot of games that have taken on its ideas to the extent that it now has its own genre.  Games that match its core mechanics almost exactly are referred to as Roguelikes, whilst those that do away with certain ideas or include some element of permanence after death are often called Roguelites.  Both are excellent game types.  Both are hard as hell most of the time.

Rogue ASCII
Mmmm, look at that sweet ASCII.

Here we have a list of my favourite Roguelikes/lites (because I don’t want to fuss about the differences between them too much).  To be included, I have to have played and enjoyed it, and it has to have permadeath and procedurally generated content in some way.  To keep it modern, I’ve gone for games released in 2010 or later.  There are loads so it was hard to narrow this one down.  Anyway, enjoy!

The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac Rebirth (2014)

Obviously!  There’s no way I couldn’t include one version or another of this.  Rebirth is probably the definitive version right now, but any version is excellent.  Playing as Isaac, you are forced to hide in the basement of your murderous mother’s house, only to find it is full of horrific creatures who also seem to have your demise at the forefront of their minds.  Playing somewhat like a twin-stick shooter crossed with the top down Zelda games, you have to find items to strengthen your character, defeat bosses, and possibly even make deals with the Devil himself.

The Binding of Isaac
Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s friendly.

Death is permanent, but will unlock new items to be found in the randomly generated dungeons on future playthroughs as well as characters to play as.  It plays very, very well and feels incredibly polished, which makes sense considering how much development its had over the years.  There’s so much content here too, with hordes of bosses, items, endings (if you can make it that far), and has even had real world treasure hunts.  If you haven’t tried it before, then go take a look now!

Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea
Sunless Sea (2015)

Sunless Sea is great.  It’s funny, creepy, and has a variety of interesting stories to take part in.  You take on the role of a captain, sailing the Unterzee, in a fictional world in which London has sunk below the Earth’s surface.  You set your own goal at the beginning of the game (become legendary, earn a ton of money, etc.) and set sail to discover the lands underground.  You’ll find lands ruled by rodents, spiteful gods, and possibly the end of the world itself.  That’s assuming the stress of the journey doesn’t drive you and your crew mad…

Sunless Sea
Fallen London is your home for most of the game, but that doesn’t mean it’ll always be a friendly place.

The stories don’t change upon death, but the layout of the world and your captain (and maybe your goals) do change.  Whilst repeating some of the stories can become a little tedious, there are enough different ones to play through to keep things interesting.  The world is twisted and sinister, with dark twists on stories you may already know (Santa is a complete **** in this place).  There’s a follow up called Sunless Skies that I’m pretty keen to have a look at too.

Everspace

Everspace
Everspace (2017)

This is an odd one, as it’s from a genre that not only doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a Roguelite, but also because it’s a genre that gets very little attention these days.  Everspace is a space sim/shooter that’s two parts Elite and one part FTL.  You pilot a ship through environments filled with asteroids, abandoned space stations, and other ships, some neutral, some much less neutral.  You select nodes to travel to and explore (much like FTL) as you journey towards a specific destination (no spoilers).  Along the way you pick up new weapons and resources to build in power to survive the threats that await you.

Everspace
Everspace looks great in motion. There’s a photo mode included that makes the game look absolutely beautiful.

Each death allows you to spend money on improving your ship for future runs, and each node is randomly generated each time.  Some times you’ll discover ancient alien relics, other times you’ll come across characters from your past.  I like this approach to building the world.  The game controls more like Descent than most space sims, with you able to strafe as well as fly as you might in most games in the genre.  It’s also utterly gorgeous and runs very well.  If you’re looking for a game that stands out as something a bit different, you could do a lot worse than this.

Diablo 3

Diablo 3
Diablo 3 (2012/2014)

Or any of the Diablo games with Hardcore mode in really.  A contentious one this, as the main game wouldn’t really fit into the who Roguelike/lite genre.  However, when you make use of Hardcore mode I feel it fits in.  And it’s MY LIST DAMMIT!  Sorry.  I’m better now.  If you don’t know Diablo, where have you been?  It’s a action RPG in which you murder ALL the demons.  Then get new weapons to murder all of them again.  You select your class and go adventuring alone or with buddies.  Then there’s Hardcore mode.

Diablo III
It can get a little crowded at times

In Hardcore, your character will be deleted upon death.  Pairing this with the randomly generated areas and loot means that I feel it fits the genre well enough.  Fighting your way through hordes of demons only to be felled due to a careless mistake can be infuriating, especially since you could have poured hours upon hours into the character beforehand.  Add all the extra content that Blizzard keep releasing and you’ve got a hell of a Hardcore package here.

Sword of the Stars: The Pit

Sword of the Stars
Sword of the Stars: The Pit (2013)

First off, I have never played Sword of the Stars, a fairly popular 4X/strategy game.  The Pit is a spin off set in the same universe, in which you need to delve into a series of underground labs for reasons.  As in many others, you select a class and venture into randomly generated dungeons with items that change their function each playthrough.  This one is somewhat different however, as it ties into Rogue a lot more than others in this list.

Sword of the Stars
Lines of sight are very important for firing and knowing where enemies are.

This is turn based.  When you move, everything else also moves.  Combat happens all at once, with you selecting your target and then everyone resolving at once.  This means getting into a confrontation with multiple enemies can be brutally hard.  Even on the easiest setting this game is incredibly tough (I’ve never made it to the end).  There are plenty of wikis to help with recipes the can give you buffs, which is nice if you’re really stuck.  You can save thankfully, as the game is rather long, but death will delete the file.  It’s quite moreish, but be prepared to never win.

Some honourable mentions!  I touched on FTL earlier which is a very hard node based space exploration game with plenty of content and ways to play.  Spelunky is a very popular platformer that fits into the genre rather well.  I didn’t enjoy it much as the controls felt to slippery for my liking.  A different one is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG if you like).  I feel this fits as every game is different based on weapon placement and when you land and includes permadeath.  It’s not a game I’m particularly interested in, but feel it’s worthy of a mention.

And that’s the list!  Are any of these games that you particularly like?  Are you interested in the genre at all?  Are there games that I should have included or should try out sometime?  Let me know!

5 Video Game Developer Tricks – Games are clever.

In spite of what I may have said, it turns out that games may not be stupid after all.

So after my recent post about games being stupid, I found out about a tweet from game design expert and all round clever person Jennifer Scheurle.  She asked developers to share the secret mechanics they’d put in their games to promote a certain feeling or reaction from players.

It turns out that games may be really rather clever thanks to some smart thinking from those smarty pants designers.  From a feeling of intensity to keeping you engaged in a game you may not enjoy, it seems that some game designers have thought of great ways to manipulate the player’s experience from behind the scenes.  Here are just a few of those tricks.

Rubber banding – Racing games

forza horizon 3 beach photo
This is less common in modern racing games, but more arcade style racers often have it.

Let’s start with one that many gamers are aware of.  Rubber banding is a trick used in racing games to ensure the race is somewhat close, regardless of the player skill level.  Should the player get too far ahead, then the AI opponents get a little extra speed and control to keep up and maintain the tension of the race.  On the other hand, should the player fall too far behind, then the reverse happens, giving the player a chance to catch up.  In my opinion this isn’t such a bad thing in most single player racers, but does paint something of a false picture of your own ability level if you choose to take your skills online.

Mario Kart 8 Delux
This THING combined with rubber banding is pure evil.

Now, I haven’t played a Mario Kart game for a long time, but I can imagine that rubber banding + blue shell = utter rage.  Does the AI get to use the blue shell?  If so I can see this being a horrible way to end a race.

You live longer when your health is low – DOOM, amongst others

Doom shotgun
Get shot in the face and somehow survive even longer.

There’s nothing quite like surviving a boss encounter, or wading through a horde of enemies with just the last sliver of health remaining.  “I can’t believe I made it!” you might think.  “How did that last explosion not kill me?!” your brain my cry.  Well there’s a good reason for it in a number of games apparently.  That last little bit of health lasts longer than the rest.  The ones mentioned in the above thread are Assassin’s Creed and DOOM.

assassinscreedunityglitches6
Don’t worry about your lack of face, friend.  You’ll live longer with less blood inside you.

As your health drains away, you can suddenly take a few extra hits before finally succumbing to your assailants.  This is to give you that “just made it” feeling of barely making it out alive more regularly than you might by just playing as normal.  A cheap trick perhaps, but one that can certainly make encounter exciting.  Until you know they’re tricking you anyway.

Two Brains – Alien: Isolation

Alien Isolation motion tracker
It won’t find you.  Unless its secret second brain gives you away.

I love this one.  Alien: Isolation was trouser-browningly terrifying at times, with the titular xenomorph liable to appear at the most inopportune moment.  I’ve mentioned before that my wife yelled “OH SH*T!” whilst watching me play this as the alien slithered out of a vent right in front of me.  The xenomorph’s AI was praised in many reviews, for constantly giving you the sense of being hunted, and that the alien was using its senses realistically in an effort to find you.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that the alien has TWO BRAINS!

Alien Isolation
It doesn’t even have eyes! It should be easy to sneak around!

This is an interesting AI trick.  The alien has two brains, one that knows exactly where you are, and one that has no idea.  The first brain gives hints to the second about your location.  This prevents the alien for making a bee-line for you whilst also avoiding it from wandering off aimlessly.  This maintains the tension of being hunted and prevents you from ever feeling truly safe.  The downside is sometimes you can be caught out when you thought you were well hidden.  And occasionally you can be standing out in the open and not be spotted.  Not flawless but still pretty cool.

You get buffs the first time you play online – Gears of War

Gears of War 3
Don’t worry if this is your first time.

Gears of War can be pretty tough in competitive multiplayer.  Take it from me (I’m terrible), it’s quite possible to play a match and get absolutely nothing from it which can be pretty disheartening.  As it happens, the developers found this to be true as well.  According to them, 90% of players would not play online again if they didn’t get any kills in their first game.

Gears of War
Extra buffs for if your buff soldier isn’t buff enough.

To counter this and to try to keep players invested, in your first online game, you get additional health and damage over your more experienced opponents..  This advantage obviously helps you feel successful and to carry on playing.  These bonuses gradually get reduced over time to ease you into the game proper.  A nice idea, but it may suffer from the similar rubber banding issue of expecting to be far more skillful than you are, and getting destroyed once the training wheels are taken off.  On the other hand, the gradually reduction in bonuses may help players get used to the game over time.  Either way, it’s a nice way of keeping weaker players playing.

Coyote Time – Platform games

Mega Man 10
Don’t worry about falling to your death Mega Man.  Wile E. Coyote has got you covered.

An interesting one this, and one I don’t really understand.  This is named for the legendary Wile E. Coyote and his ability to hover in the air before plummeting to his (none) death when running off a cliff.  In many platformers, you can do exactly this.  Your button press for jumping will still work for a split second after running off the edge of a platform, allowing you to jump in mid air to an extent.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Go fast without fear of death by gravity.

I wonder if this is related to reaction time added to time taken for the button to be fully pressed.  I can’t really understand why this would exist in most platforming games beyond that, but it’s quite interesting that so many platform games use this, even to this day.

A couple of other ones that I found interesting were in Bioshock and System Shock.  In the former when enemies appear, their first bullet will always miss to give you a chance to react whilst still making the enemies seem like a threat.  In the latter your final bullet in a weapon does double damage to hopefully finish off that enemy you were taking on.  This is somewhat like the “last sliver of health” tweak mentioned earlier.

bioshock-big-daddy-and-little-sister

Do you find any of these particularly interesting?  Better yet, does knowledge of any of these make you view the games or your experiences in a different light?  Let me know!

5 Stupid Moments in Video Games – Gaming no be smart.

Sometimes games go just a little bit off piste…

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before (I’m too lazy to look through my posts to find it) that video games are a great medium for creating whatever the hell you want.  Fancy a cooking game in which you’re an elephant chef plotting world domination through amazing cuisine?  You could probably make that.  Somehow.  Having said that, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Here are 5 games that decided on including something bizarre and out of place.

Mario
Is this as weird as the internet’s reaction to finding out he has nipples?

Oh, and spoilers obviously.

Assassin’s Creed 2 – Fist Fighting the Pope

Assassin's Creed
Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009)

This is generally considered to be the best in the series (although I preferred Black Flag) as it refined the previous game and removed the tedious bits but hadn’t quite reached the level of feature creep of the later games.  As Ezio (and sometimes Desmond) we murder our way around renaissance Italy to find the piece of Eden that can control people’s minds.  Or something to that effect anyway.  At any rate, the magical McGuffin ends up in the hands of a bad man who has become Pope!

Assassin's Creed 2
Doesn’t exactly make the most intimidating opponent really.

Cue a final boss battle to prevent the evil Pope’s dreams of world domination by punching a fat old man in the face repeatedly.  After all that had come before, it was something of an anticlimactic final confrontation.  If they’d played it for laughs then they might have gotten away with it, but instead it was done with all the gravitas of any other final boss confrontation.  The cutscene afterwards was confusing (although fairly cool if you were into the overarching plot) and the whole thing felt a bit of a let down.  At least they didn’t have him summon Jesus for a final beatdown.

Final Fantasy X – Tidus Laughing

FFX
Final Fantasy X (2002)

I couldn’t not include this.  Whilst at this point in the game, FFX was fairly light-hearted, this seemed completely out of place.  Tidus is told to laugh at the ocean for reasons. And laugh he does!  With the most painful fake laugh in the history of mankind.

I’m sure I read somewhere that this scene comes across better in the Japanese version of the game.  But that doesn’t matter to me.  This was cringey and painful.

999 – Elevator Sex

999logo

Yep, you read that right.  999 is basically Saw with time travel (sort of…it’s complicated).  9 people are trapped in a sinking boat full of numbered doors and potential for nasty, violent death.  As our hero and his newly found comrades explore their seafaring prison the find themselves occasionally split up from the rest of their group.  Our hero and his childhood friend find themselves alone and contemplating exploring the lower decks via an elevator.

9 doors 9 persons 9 hours
This is how it starts. Seems pretty harmless to begin with.

At least that’s what it’s meant to be (and in fact is).  But due to some extremely painful miscommunication, our character thinks that his friend is propositioning sex in an elevator.  “Down there… I’d get soaking wet…” June says with Junpei assuming she means something other than the elevator traveling down to a flooded deck.  It felt like such a bizarre scene in an otherwise pretty serious game.  It stuck out like a sore thumb to me.

Mass Effect 2 – Mordin Singing

Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Out of place or not, this was just brilliant.  Mordin is a seriously successful Salarian Scientist (say that after 3 pints!) who is added to your crew part way through the game.  Pretty handy in a fight and always on hand to do offer insight whilst Garrus is busy calibrating everything, he apparently has a soft spot for singing.  Gilbert and Sullivan songs in particular.

Press him enough and he sings.  And boy is it funny.

I am the very model of a scientist Salarian
I’ve studies species turian, asari, and batarian
I’m quite good at genetics as a subset of biology
Because I am an expert which I know is a tautology.

It was completely out of left field for me, and whilst it stood out as an oddity in an otherwise fairly serious game, it was funny (and well done) enough to stand out in a positive way.

Heavy Rain – Press X to Shaun

Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain (2010)

This is cheating because it’s a glitch but IT’S MY LIST AND I’M CHEATING SO WHAT!  Heavy Rain is a game full of heavy themes.  Self mutilation, childhood trauma, and sexual assault can come into it depending on the routes you take.  All this can be made a whole lot lighter thanks to the Shaun glitch.

Heavy Rain
SHAUN!

I have no idea how this is triggered, but doing it results in the lead character, Ethan, yelling “Shaun!” every time X is pressed, regardless of the scene he is in.  Driving?  “SHAUN!”  Having a conversation?  “SHAUN!”  Having awkward sex with your new lady friend?  “SHAAAAAAUN!”  It’s utter gold.

What do you think?  Are there any stupid or bizarre moments that you’d like to include?  I almost mentioned what’s hidden in Papyrus’ head in Undertale but I feel it fits into the game pretty well.  How about you?

 

 

 

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!

 

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!

Desert Island Digital Downloads

Trapped on a desert island? No hope of rescue?! Better get some video games out then.

Have you heard of Desert Island Discs?  It’s a very British thing really.  It was a show on BBC Radio 4, originally created in the 1940s.  The idea was you would be stuck on a desert island for an indeterminate amount of time and you would have to choose 8 songs to have on the island with you.  It’s a really neat concept that’s had a huge number of celebrities on over the years, and I’m very much going to steal it and make it about games.

Now, the assumption here is that I would have access to a machine that could play any game from any system, and would be powered by some unknown electricity source.  There would be no internet though (otherwise I’d just e-mail the nearest boat) so multiplayer only games won’t be allowed.  In spite of the title, these don’t have to be digitally downloaded titles meaning disc based ones are fine but I’m assuming that all currently available content is included with the game.  Also, one game per franchise, otherwise this would turn into a Dark Souls love-in  Finally, I don’t have to have played these games, meaning that I could be flat out wrong with some of these.  So feel free to call me out on my idiocy in the comments.  So, it’s time for me to crash land on an island.

The IT Crowd
E-mailing the emergency services is always the best option.

XCOM 2 + Long War 2

XCOM 2 Logo
XCOM 2 (2016)

Alright, let’s get the obvious one done.  I love this game.  I poured 150 hours into the previous entry (which is a lot for me) and probably even more into the classic.  I would have spent more time on it if this sequel hadn’t arrived.  It improves on XCOM in almost every way.  More content, new aliens, greater challenge, and with the Long War mod this a single game could go on for hundreds of hours.  And I very much doubt I would get bored of it.  Every battle feels different, and allowing your soldiers to die eliminates them forever making every decision count.  And die they will, assuming you don’t save-scum it…

Diablo 3 – Ultimate Evil

Diablo 3
Diablo 3 (2012/2014)

Ok, I know it’s better when played with other people, but I find this quite cathartic to play alone.  Mowing through hordes of demons with your chosen class, forever finding more and more powerful loot to take on greater challenges is really rather satisfying.  This version of the game game with the Reaper of Souls expansion which included a new act and a seemingly endless Adventure mode.  Add to that the seasons (I know it’s online, but it’s still a great feature) that changes the game on a regular basis and you have a lot to play with if you have to time to play it.

Persona 5

Persona 5
Persona 5 (2017)

This is an inclusion that I haven’t played but I’d dearly like to.  In fact I’ve never played a Persona game at all (although I have dabbled in a couple of the other SMT games).  The style of this is what grabs me.  I love the art style, the cutscenes, the story (what I know anyway) interests me, the music sounds excellent, the time management aspect in which you live your double life is right up my street too.  Apparently it’s also enormous, with a lot of high quality content for those willing to spend the time on it.  Perfect for if you have the time to spend on it.

Baldur’s Gate 2

Baldur's Gate 2
Baldur’s Gate 2 (2000)

I know the logo above is for the re-release, but I love this game either way.  Baldur’s Gate 2 is based in the Forgotten Realms world of Dungeons & Dragons and contains a fantastically complex story (I mean, it is Bioware), interesting and varied characters, and dragons!  It’s old fashioned, ugly (by today’s standards) and a bit clunky at times, but it’s a game that I would love to spend the time to go back to this, find all those quests I never experienced and the party members I never spoke to.  It’s hard as hell too!

One Finger Death Punch

One Finger Death Punch
One Finger Death Punch (2013)

This is an odd one, as games like this tend last just a few minutes, but this is one of those that will result in hours being lost.  One Finger Death Punch is based on the old stick figure Flash games from years back, but made so immediate and simplistic, yet challenging and varied that you’ll find yourself in a Zen-like state for hours on end.  Entirely mouse driven, a left click attacks to the left and a right click attacks to the right.  Enemies will approach you from one side or the other and your job is to punch their faces in.  There are weapons to use, knives to deflect and light sabre rounds.  It sounds so simple (and in essence it is) but it can become supremely challenging in later stages, and the survival mode can last hours if you’re good enough.

The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac (2011)

So much content!  I suppose a rogue-lite would be perfect for this sort of situation, as it’s forever changing.  The Binding of Isaac has you fighting hordes of grotesque enemies using your tears as weapons.  Along the way you’ll find items to power you up and chances to sell your soul to Satan for even more power.  It’s hard, varied, and unpredictable.  Plus the expansions add a huge amount to the game in the form of new items, characters and game modes.  This game has been out for years and still has a huge following, and with good cause.

Heroes of Might & Magic

Heroes of Might and Magic 3
Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (1999)

There are plenty of games from this series to choose from, but the ones I remember most fondly and the second and third entries.  I’ve played the more recent ones, but they seem to go for a more serious approach and feel less fun.  This is a turn based game in which you improve a stronghold with buildings that generate creatures and items for your heroes.  You then send you heroes out to explore the land, collecting resources, conquering new strongholds and defeating your enemies.  Games can take a huge amount of time (especially if you set up an 8 players game) plus there’s a campaign to play through.  Many an evening was lost to this game, and it may well help me keep my sanity on this sweet desert island.

Civilization V

Civilization V
Civilization V (2010)

I struggled to decide which entry to go for here.  I had tons of fun with the second entry in the series when I was younger and I very much enjoyed Civ IV as well (although the unit stacks made it a pain to play).  I felt that, after a ropey launch, Civ V is the best one that I’ve played.  Taking my empire from fledgling village to world spanning colossus is consistently enjoyable.  Add the fact that games can end up being nigh on endless (this short article sums up how some games can end up if you let them keep running) with that dreaded “one more turn” feeling and you can lose yourself forever in this.

That’s 8!  I wonder how many hours that would keep me going for.  There were others I considered, such as Football Manager, Bloodborne/Dark Souls, and Cities: Skylines but I ended up settling on these.  How about you though?  If you were stuck, what would you take?  I’m sure you’ll have ideas that I haven’t even considered so let me know!  I’ll be sure to pack them on my next flight…