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June 23, 2017

An Episode In Gaming: Sonic Boom (Part 1)

(Gonna try to have a title card soon.)

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4

Going back to reviewing a TV show adaptation of a video game series – I was planning to keep this for a Sonic Month, but then I realized I’d have too much planned for said month. Two Sonic Wii games, maybe Episode 4 on WiiWare… I got Generations on Steam… Well, I have to make choices.

So… Sonic Boom. This new spin-off line of the Sonic franchise was announced in February 2014. I can’t remember all of it, but I’m certain some reactions were, “they’ve only now started using that stupid pun?” The reveal of the character designs didn’t help matters, in particular the much bulkier Knuckles the Echidna, a design which has been on the receiving end of all the jokes. Even Brawl in the Family joked about it!

For the record, Sonic is saying
"Bad timing, Knuckles..."

I mean, no Sonic game will ever be as
bad as Sonic '06, but there are quite a
few runner-ups.
Granted, Sonic Boom was meant to stay as a spin-off series, meaning it couldn’t affect the continuity of the regular Sonic games – continuity that is, we’ll agree on this, already messy enough. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, Shattered Crystal, and Fire & Ice are their own world, and I will try to treat them as such – despite the few links to the original franchise here and there. SEGA giving the creation of the first two games to the less-experienced Big Red Button studios in California was a point of critique from Sonic purists. Rise of Lyric had a rocky start when it was revealed that review copies were not handed out prior to its release (that’s never a good sign). SEGA even had some early Let’s Plays of the game removed from YouTube, as a poor attempt at hiding the quality of their mascot’s latest adventure. The game was at first a mess of glitches which immediately drew comparisons to Sonic the Hedehog 2006. And man, when your new game in a franchise gets compared to the worst game in that franchise, you know you done fucked up. Big Red Button eventually released a patch, totaling a full gigabyte of changes to the core game, which corrected many of these issues – including a certain glitch that speedrunners had been using to beat the game in a ridiculously short amount of time. This helped increase the fans’ opinion of the game, but only brought it from terrible to mediocre. From utter joke to simply meh.

The 3DS title that followed, Shattered Crystal, was received with a bit more warmth from fans, lacking many of the awful bugs of Rise of Lyric, although the reception was lukewarm at best. Listening to the fans, SEGA delayed the release of Fire & Ice, making sure to take criticisms of the spin-off so far into consideration. Thus the third game came out, also to lukewarm reception. We’ve yet to know if the games will go back to the Boom-verse (as I feel like calling it) following these three entries that were far from stellar. At the moment, a regular-universe Sonic game is in the works for release on the Switch. Sonic Forces actually looks very promising! And we even have a classic 2D adventure, Sonic Mania!

But I’m here to discuss the TV show tie-in. Actually, no; the TV show was planned first, the games were added to the equation later. Doesn’t really matter, in the end. Let’s just focus on the show, shall we? Sonic has had a long history on television. Of course, there’s the anime movie released in 1996, but we have, in order of appearance:
-Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, a silly, Looney Tunes-esque adaptation that never took itself seriously.
Who's having nostalgic flashbacks right now? Sadly,
not me, because I didn't grow up watching this show.
-Sonic The Hedgehog (known as Sonic SatAM by fans), famous for introducing multiple characters who then joined the ranks of the various Sonic comic books as major characters. Princess Sally, Bunnie-Rabbot, Antoine D’Coolette, Rotor the walrus – and for the villains, Snively and a Doctor Robotnik more threatening than ever. This show had a surprisingly serious tone, and is still well-regarded by fans to this day for it. I’ve yet to watch it, but all I ever hear is praise, despite a cancellation before the show had a proper finale, with a cliffhanger as the last scene to boot.
-Sonic Underground, which introduced Sonia and Manic, Sonic’s siblings, and made them into rock stars or something. I’ll admit, this is the iteration I’m the least interested in. Also, something something royalty.
They're all pretty great. Except that human kid. He sucks.
-Sonic X aired much, much later. Following the plot of the games up to that point, and featuring many members of the cast introduced to the Sonicverse since the last animated adaptation, this anime feature probably the best animation in a Sonic show so far. It’s still remembered somewhat fondly today, except for one thing: Chris Thorndyke. Also possibly, some people remember the show for its second arc and Cosmo, Tails’ potential love interest… and I bet the mere mention of her has already made some of you cry.

Example of "slice-of-life": Sonic is late to return a book
to the library to avoid late fees. Spoiler alert: Despite his
speed, he fails.
And now, in 2015, we got the fifth TV series. Sonic Boom, produced by French studio OuiDo!, aimed from the beginning for a goofier tone, although it still had plenty of action… despite following the recent trend of featuring slice-of-life situations. Yeah… I believe we can all name at least one cartoon that went that route, and messed it up royally – especially if it’s a cartoon featuring famous action characters. Am I right, Teen Titans Go? I could have named Powerpuff Girls 2016 as well… Writing Kids Cartoons 101, stay away from adult hot button topics AND don't make episodes that are nothing but attacks on your critics.

Showing Sonic and friends in a relaxed, slice-of-life environment, isn’t what you’d expect. The Blue Blur is often depicted as having a need for running that borders on a pathology, and here he seems to spend most of his time just lazing off and spending time with friends. To be fair, when you’re the fastest thing alive, it’s not like you need a lot of time to deal with threats, so the rest of your days has to be pretty uneventful. Although, just because the show goes the more comical route doesn’t mean that it won’t deliver in adventures. Eggman is still around, causing mischief and chaos and attempting to kill defeat his longtime nemesis. Sometimes he takes out his ire onto the rest of the village. Orbot and Cubot are there, too, so if you enjoyed their interactions from Sonic Unleashed onwards, you’ll be happy to see them here again as supporting characters on Eggman’s side.

Plots usually go one of two ways:
-Sonic or one of his friends encounters a situation, usually one that real-life folks can relate to, and will try to find a solution – in typical comedic fashion, because that's the kind of show that Sonic Boom is;
-Or it’s another attack from Eggman that the characters have to fend off, although it’s not always Eggman behind the villainy.

The Sonic Boom TV series: The only place where you'll ever
see Sonic defeat Eggman... at BINGO.
Sometimes both plotlines combine. Very few episodes don’t feature Eggman at all; and when he does appear, whether he’s the villain or just another supporting character changes depending on the episode. Villains have their own little lives outside of fighting heroes too, you know? On the plus side, this allowed OuiDo! Productions to create their own new villains, although due to the comedic nature of the show, they tend to be underwhelming or weak, but I’ll go back to discussing those sometime later.

Ready to kick ass and eat Meh Burgers. And they
never received their order.

And so we have our main characters: Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Sticks and Eggman. I count him in as a main character because, like I said, he’s in almost every episode, and not always as a villain. I believe it would be a good idea to finish this first part by discussing the design and personality changes of each character, before I can move on to explaining the setting and the episode plots in Part 2. Let’s get to this right away.

Speed'as his name, blue's his game! ...Wait.
I got that mixed up.
First is our hero, the Blue Blur himself. The character design team at OuiDo! really tried to update the characters, without making them too different from what we know. Yes, Sonic’s arms are now blue instead of peach, but almost nobody cares. The first major change to the Mobians is, of course, the inclusion of sports tape. Lots and lots of sports tape. Sports tape everywhere. Considering the athletics accomplished by the main case, it makes sense that they’d want a better protection on their hands and feet. Sonic has also gained a few more spikes at the back of his head, with some smaller spikes among the regular ones. On top of that, his design now includes a scarf, because let’s be honest, when you’re running at Mach speeds all the time, the last thing you want is to catch a cold in the throat area because of the winds. He’s also gotten lankier, taller, which fits rather well with his status as the speedy guy of the group.

Personality-wise, he’s still the smartass we know, overly confident in his abilities, able to beat up anything Eggman sends his way and crack jokes while doing so. In the end, not much has changed, though he’s a lot more laid-back outside of doing heroics and seems to be appreciating just lazing around here and there. He’s still cocky, reckless, and slightly egomaniacal (especially about his speed), which can lead to problems when he’s interacting with the townspeople. In normal games canon, he’d just blast through everything without as much as a word.

Of course he's seen piloting his plane. Thankfully we
dn't see him crashing it. Oh wait, we do, a few minutes
into the first episode, no less.
Next up is Tails, Sonic’s friend since pretty much forever. His new design includes gloves that seem tailor-made for work – which makes sense since Tails is still a proud mechanic and inventor in this continuity. On top of that, he now has a belt around his waist and is usually seen carrying a wrench. Have you ever been hit by a wrench? It hurts. A lot. It’s a surprisingly effective blunt weapon. His design now includes goggles, which makes sense since he frequently pilots open-top airplanes – although whether he uses said goggles enough is open to interpretation. So far, there isn’t a single design change that I can’t justify somehow. Though, come to think of it, those goggles look too smalll for his big cartoon eyes. As for his personality, Tails is still loyal to his friends, although by being more than just a supporting character on the TV show, we can see more traits of his. On top of being an inventor, he’s now also the team’s strategist, as well as the provider of gadgets. He can still fly with his tails, don’t ask how that works…

Ah, Brawl in the Family. I never get tired of
referencing you.

That panel never gets old, I swear.

Tails also seems to exhibit nerdy traits, like a sort of social awkwardness outside of his circle of friends. And of course, much like the kid he still is, he tends to be joyful but naïve.

I always wondered why it was called a Piko Piko Hammer.
No, really; that's such a weird name!
What about Amy? She’s seen quite a lot of changes, both in looks and personality. The original Sonic series’ Amy is impulsive, extreme, and madly in love with Sonic, almost to stalker levels. It’s unsettling to say the least – but at least she has access to that endless supply of hammers, so she’s a priceless ally when something has to be smashed. I’ll admit it, her obsessive, stalker-ish tendencies towards Sonic were never that funny to me; stalking just isn’t the sort of thing I find funny. Maybe I read too many stories where that trait of hers became her only defining trait, and it made her annoying. Her defects are greatly toned down in the Sonic Boom show, turning her into the sane woman of the team, sympathetic to everyone, and also quite smart. In general, she’ll be nice, even to villains, but will kick with extra force if she gets betrayed. In this continuity, she tends to hide her crush on Sonic, which is a nice change of pace. She’s also protective, and a bit of a fashionista – although as the show progresses, she reveals herself to be bossy and kind of a control freak.

Unlike Sonic, Amy’s hair quills haven’t changed much. She also lacks the athletic tape on the hands and feet as worn by some of her friends, but makes up for it with a sarashi – this band of cloth around her waist, originally worn by samurai to sustain injury, likely an added measure by Amy to avoid getting hurt when swinging her hammer. Also of note, she still wears a red dress, but one much more different than the one the original Amy wears. And I’m thankful for that, because the original Amy’s dress was open wide at the bottom, making some camera angles show off more than they should. And I’ll live a lot better without seeing surprise panty shots on a character who’s supposed to be twelve years old. That’s just creepy.

How many cartoon characters can you name who can
cause an eruption by just smashing the ground?
On to Knuckles. Oh, the changes on this guy have been mocked since the first time he was revealed. I’ll make something clear, Knuckles in the Sonic franchise was always thought of as the most physically-capable, the strongest, despite being of the same build as everyone else. His new design reflects this reality, giving him more prominent muscles – but pathetic legs, I agree on that too, yeah, yeah, cue the “skipping leg day” joke. Now, the echidna really looks the part of the “strong, brawny guy” of the group. And sports tape, again, because of course. In the games, Knuckles was also known to be quite gullible, frequently falling for Eggman’s plans, and sometimes being too much of a hothead to think things through. Here, he’s… basically a moron, but a kind-hearted moron. Also an improvement over his original game counterpart, who was mostly a loner; the original Knuckles would rather keep watching over the Master Emerald than socialize with people. Also, while not frequently the focus, it seems that this Knuckles has some artistic talent!

"I drew it myself! In 5 seconds!
I call it Impossibly Quick Autoportrait."

She went by too fast on the English theme song, so I
cheated a bit. But that's alright. This one's better tham
any screenshot I could have taken.
Next is the only actual new character of the group, Sticks the jungle badger. Obviously I can’t compare her to her old design, she didn’t appear until Sonic Boom. However, her design highlights many elements about her. For starters, she’s an uneducated badger of the forest, freshly integrated to society, explaining her self-made attire. Even her shoes don’t match. She uses a boomerang as her main weapon, and for some unfathomable reason her hair is shaped like a boomerang. Makes you wonder if some characters fashion themselves after the weapons they get, or if they end up picking said weapons because it reminds them of what they look like already. Sonic purists will repeat that she looks too much like a lesser-known character named Marine the raccoon, and I can see the resemblances (however accidental they may be), but I think we should judge the character as she exists in her continuity, not by comparing her to previous characters who look a lot like her. She’s also still acting like a wild animal sometimes, clearly having issues adapting to society – there’s a few episodes about this plot. Screeching, defending her territory… yeah, she still does that. She’s also a conspiracy theorist nut, which is usually a pet peeve of mine, but they did it mostly correctly here. I’ll discuss this in greater depth later.

It's not Eggman if he isn't surrounded by an army of robots.
Last but not least, Ivo Robotnik, AKA Doctor Eggman. The evil doctor’s design in the regular Sonic series gives him a sort of egg shape for the body, thinner at the shoulder, wider at the waist. His new design for Sonic Boom inverts this, giving him broader shoulders but a thinner waist, making him seem more muscular than just fat. I kinda prefer this body shape for Eggman, actually. It looks a little closer to a real human. I also like the design of his new suit.

This Eggman is definitely friendlier with the main cast than his original
game version. Almost as if villainy is a 9-to-5 job for him, and outside
of "work hours" he doesn't mind hanging out with some of them. 
Personality-wise, Eggman hasn’t seen a lot of change, although his original personality was adapted for the more slice-of-life direction the show takes. He’s still an evil doctor trying to take over the world – but he first needs to seize the unnamed village the show takes place in, and that already proves difficult with Sonic and his team always thwarting his plans. The goofier nature of the show also caused his plans to get sillier from time to time, usually trying to undermine the heroes in some way. It’s not like the villains in a slice-of-life show are always going to attack in grand fashion! When it comes to level of danger, Eggman variates from harmless and comical to brilliant and dangerous – but still comical. It varies from episode to episode, all depending on the needs of the plot or the idea that the script writers had in mind. All in all, this Eggman is generally nicer and friendlier to the heroes, and while he still tries to defeat them from time to time, he had had genuine moments of friendship with them – he’s still their enemy, but in a rivalry kind of sense, it seems. Not that it has ever stopped him from being a threat.

Of course, there’s also Orbot and Cubot, but those… haven’t changed at all. Orbot is still the smarter one, Cubot is still an idiot. And the “smart-and-stupid” routine they have together makes for pretty great comical moments. They often get their own episodes to shine, which helps in developing their characters, probably moreso than the games ever would. I guess that’s all I had to say about them. 

Alright, see you in Part 2 as I start discussing the plot of the show!

June 16, 2017

Top 12 Video Game Environments

Like any story, video games are subject to feature a myriad of environments of all kinds. Need your story to take place in a populated city? In a desert? In a factory? In the sewers? There are so many options! One thing about video games is that by their composition, they can often feature multiple environments. Remember Super Mario Bros. 3: Grass, desert, islands in the ocean, a world of giants, a world in the clouds, an ice world, a maze of pipes and a fiery world! There is a very wide variety of locations that can be visited.

I doubt there’s a game out there that has them all – there are so many! Although their strength lies in how they're used. so it’s interesting to see how a developer approaches them. I recall Rayman Origins, which I reviewed two weeks ago; it had a desert world made of musical instruments, and a food world that also included frozen and burning lands.

I decided to pay tribute today to my 12 favorite video game environments. The ones that allow for the most creativity, the ones that offer great visuals. The ones that are tied to the plot, the ones that tend to be memorable. Considering that there’s at least three dozen different possible environments, I had to carefully pick my choices for the list, so if there’s an environment you like that is missing from the list, be sure to share it!

12. Locomotive Levels
Jump from a car to another, and don't fall on the
tracks. These wheels are deadly.
Screenshot from: Road Runner's Death Valley Rally
Instant danger: Have the characters travel across things in movement – like, say, the top of an airplane. But that’s kind of outlandish even for video games, so let’s settle for a train instead. Plus a train could actually be long enough to make levels of a decent length. Trains make for interesting 2D platform scrolling levels – as long as you don’t mind the blatant lack of wind pushing back on the hero, in some cases. Oh wait, did you mean “inside” the train? That’s possible too. Less jumping there, more fighting – I could see the interior of a train wagon being a set in a beat’em-up game. But the top of the train is bound to be a dangerous place, one where the winds play against you. Not to mention the possibility of falling off!

Note, if your game or show is set in a mostly realistic world, don’t do that. Ask Archer.

11. The Lethal Lava Land
Fire everywhere, lakes of lava, artillery everywhere,
and a nopn-stop sense of dread. But our target audience
is kiddies, so we can't call it Hell.
From: Super Mario Bros. 3
Speaking of conventions and physics conveniently ignored for a cool world idea… The convection would kill someone in real life! Merely standing near lava is enough to die, there’s a reason no one goes near that! But in video games, lava is usually harmless as long as you don’t directly step into it. Therefore, it’s perfectly possible to feature multiple levels in such locales. Due to the destructive nature of fire, this tends to be the setting for final worlds in many games – what’s better than a world of friggin’ fire? Some go even further, featuring literal Hellish imagery, making it effectively a world of fire and brimstone. It fits, no? I rank it pretty low on the list because it’s a very common setting, and most gamers can attest to seeing this at least once. Now, though, the really great thing is if you actually apply the physics and have the main character lose life points by just being near the lava if they’re unprotected, like in Super Metroid…

It's not just magma. It's alien magma. That makes it worse!
From: Super Metroid.

10. The Eternal Engine
What are those smashing pieces of machinery and these
spiky wheels for? We'll never know.
From: Rayman Origins.
Is it a factory? It can be. Is it a villain’s lair? It also can be. What it is, though, is a giant machine that is never turned off. A machine so large, you can run, jump and fight your way through it. Giant cogs, worker robots, moving parts that can crush and break any intruder… And of course, since it’s never turned off, one can only imagine how hot it must be in there, from the machines that have seemingly been working for eternity – hence the name. Now, will you enter an eternal engine that looks like it was made in the Industrial Era, or will you walk into a sleek, futuristic place? Probably the former more than the latter.

9. The Most Heavenly Level
You know things have gotten bad when even the Afterlife
is endangered.
From: Super Paper Mario.
The opposite of the Hellish world, the Heavenly world. For some reason, Heaven is just as dangerous as Hell. Is it because of the angels? Is it because the demons have overtaken it? Is it because the characters have no choice but to meet their maker in order to solve their problem? It’s like the solid cloud platforms of a level in the sky, with added symbolism. Throw in some temples for good measure. Maybe do like in The Simpsons Game and have the Simpsons battle folks like Benjamin Franklin or Shakespeare? You could also create a Stairway to Heaven like in Super Paper Mario and have the heroes jump upwards towards Heaven. Gotta say, though, one has to be gutsy to be heading out to beat up God.

This level from The Simpsons Game went
a step beyond and had you battle in
the afterlife the dead opponents you
killed in previous levels. Awesome idea.

8. The Ice Palace
Doesn't look very "Ice Palace"-y.
The slippery floors would beg to differ,
From: A Link To The Past.
Even better than the ice world: The castle made entirely of ice. A perfect fortress for the local cool king or queen. A lair formed by the crystallized, frozen water. Its interior could have been made through magic, to create a beautiful interior with decorations and all. Or, it could look like it’s been handcrafted by a thousand mooks, with the finesse of a jackhammer – in which case the inside may feel like a natural ice cave, no matter how pretty the outside may be. Places like this aren’t unheard of in real life, either; in Quebec, during our winter festival, an ice hotel is built each year, so I can buy that some ice-based villains get themselves a cozy, cool place to live in. Or build it themselves. Obviously, not all of them are Elsa, not all of them can build from snow and ice in a matter of seconds, but please! A bad guy commands respect, and thus a respectable lair! If possible, a lair that follows their theme. Thus, ice palace.

7. Band Land
My wheels! These piano keys, they do nothing!
From: Mario Kart 7 (Music Park track)
It’s a common locale in Rayman games, but it’s been seen in various other games: Simply put, it’s a world entirely made of musical instruments. Platforms make sounds when you land on them. The trampolines are bongos. The enemies follow the theme in a way or another, either by being instruments or by toying around with nearby instruments in the décor. Level developers will frequently show off their creativity here, featuring every single darn instrument and musical element they can fit in. Be careful, though. Music can reveal itself to be quite the vindictive kind…

6. The Maze
Going back to the Mario well... Remember the Forest
Maze? The toughest part is to follow Geno and
remember where he went.
From: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re built in such a way that you return to the start if you lose your way. Mazes have always been an interesting element to add to a game, and they can definitely give that little boost in difficulty. On top of that, mazes can be applied in many genres – top down action game? Yes! Metroidvania? Those can sometimes feel like one huge maze where you can’t progress until you’ve found the equipment necessary – forcing the player to visit more areas of the maze to find what’s missing. Platform games? Oh yes, it’s entirely possible. Remember Level 8-4 in the first Super Mario Bros.? You had various rooms connected by pipes, and had to find the right path! What about World 7, the Pipe Maze, in Super Mario Bros. 3? It’s also very easy to turn dungeons into mazes, whether it’s in action-adventure games à la Legend of Zelda, or in RPGs. Other Mario example: Anyone remembers the Forest Maze from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars? Mazes can be infuriating to visit in games, but they nonetheless offer a very interesting experience – as long as you don’t quit in rage from not finding your way out.

5. The Amusement Park of Doom
In Video Game Land, always check who owns the park that
you're about to visit. Or you're gonna have some nasty
From: Sonic Colors.
Another favorite of book and film action climaxes, the amusement park. Moving parts much like in the eternal engine, giant machines normally built for the enjoyment of the masses – only to become deadly to our adventurer! The Ferris Wheel will try to kill you! The haunted house will contain actual monsters! What about the security? …What security? If it exists, it’s probably hostile to the characters. The bright and colorful landscapes of amusement parks makes them an ideal location for a level, or two, or five, or more – amusement parks are common level types in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, often bundled in with the casino-themed levels. Sonic Colors takes place entirely in an amusement park! Ah, no matter how tempting it is, our poor heroes can’t take a break by riding the roller coaster…

4. Hailfire Peaks
The trope namer, featuring frozen tundras and fiery caves
in close proximity.
From: Banjo-Tooie.
This list has had fire; this list has had ice. Opposites attract, and nowhere is this truer than in video games where physics can be bent to great effect. Thus we have a world that is all-cold on a side, all-hot on the other. You could argue the logistics of that place don’t make much sense… but it makes for a friggin’ awesome setting. At one point you’re helplessly slipping left and right on the surface, avoiding the waters so cold they burn like dry ice… and moments later you’re in a fiery world, dodging streams of flames and jumping above the lava. Now, the name of the trope actually refers to any video game world that combines two regular settings (fire and ice, desert and music, temple and mountain)… If the two portions blend together, it can result in worlds and locations that have never been done before in video games! But I do have a preference for the fire-and-ice combo, I think it’s one of the more interesting mixes in video games, even if it’s one of the most common setting combinations.

3. The Abandoned Laboratory
Some freaky amoral things have been going on here.
That's, like, the most frequent reason for laboratories to
close down in fiction. Realistic reasons, like a lack of
funding, are far behind.
From: Undertale.
As a huge science-fiction fan, I associate laboratories with scientific experimentation and study. And also, laboratories are where the most amoral experimentations can take place. Freaks created from a geneticist doing things he shouldn’t have done, creatures born from unholy combinations. Dangerous machinery all around. Of course, you wouldn’t expect the original scientist to stay in this Hellish place, so most such laboratories are abandoned – and old enough for the walls to be dusty and cracked. The lights have stopped working long ago, giving the location a creepy atmosphere. And you can never tell what is lurking in the dark… what may be the monsters you’ll encounter. Many video game settings have a horror element to them (the ghost mansion, the creepy circus), and the abandoned laboratory is a shining example of those, as long as the developers know how to use the setting to its fullest.

2. The Macro Zone
This is an example of a game where your character is
naturally small, so everything else is big.
From: Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (NES).
A bit of an unexpected entry, the Macro Zone is any occasion where the Hero steps into a world much more gigantic than themselves. Maybe they shrank; maybe the world they’re in is naturally bigger in every way; maybe they’re naturally tiny and only now are they stepping into the big world. Rats become large enough to be bosses, tiny toys become enemies to defeat, and everything has to be scaled. It’s like World of the Colossus. The Pikmin franchise is famous for this, and so are various other game series that have featured a few worlds based on this idea – as a big Mario fan, I can list off World 4, Giant Land, in Super Mario Bros. 3, as well as the Micro and Mario zones in Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins; one is a house visited while Mario is shrunk, the other is like a toy box made gigantic.

1. All the Worlds Are A Stage
Imagine that every single one of these connected rectangles
is a stolen piece of land from plains, peaks, volcanoes,
abandoned zoos, towers, and so much more.
No rhyme or reason, just all connected together by
From: Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
The video game equivalent of settings being back for the finale: When all the previous locations somehow merge into one. The Great Maze in Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s The Subspace Emissary is the biggest example (literally so, being a 2-hour long level), but other games achieved this in different ways. The fight against Zant in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, as an example (video below), sees Link being teleported with his enemy and battling him in previous boss areas. It could also be a way to reminisce on previous locations, by seeing them all together – it’s even better if they’re still in the same order. A wonderful throwback to an adventure that is coming to a close, a nice reminder of trials and challenges passed, or a strong return of many of those (as this type of level may often feature the puzzles encountered in previous levels, or the bosses defeated previously). I always thought this particular type of level was enjoyable for those reasons. Sure, they can be frustrating – if, say, the levels return with an increased difficulty, or if this particular setting drags on – but they’re well worth it.

Alright, that was my list. I hope you enjoyed. Tell me, are there video game settings I could have forgotten? Cutting it down to 12 means I had to take out many, many interesting video game settings. Are there any others that you enjoy, that you would have put in your own Top 12 list? Feel free to share them!

June 9, 2017

Steam Pack 4

I’m back with another of those, yes! Why, you ask? Well, because I had time to play some other games in my collection since the last one. Yes, I know, it’s only been… er… six weeks? So what, I have so many Steam games – so many that I got almost for free, others that were pretty cheap… if I want to get through this humongous collection, at some point I’m gonna have to speed up a little. And if making more Steam Packs is what it takes… then, why not? Here, have my thoughts and comments on four more titles in my Steam Library. I’m hopefully gonna get out of the Bs and Cs of my collection soon enough!

Beat Hazard

I wish spaceships in real life could shoot bullets
that threw out so much color into the depth of space.
Audiosurf let you ride your music. Made by Cold Beam Games, Beat Hazard sets a complete shoot’em-up to your music. In some ways, it’s better. In others, it’s worse. Ever since I reviewed Audiosurf last year for Steam Pack 2, I found myself less and less interested by it as I soon realized that the game was too easy even on Normal difficulty (I got so used to moving around catching colored blocks that the game didn’t seem all that tough now, except on the hardest difficulty). It got monotonous after a bit. Meanwhile, Beat Hazard manages to be even more creative… and even more difficult, which is always welcome.

Oh, and fear the bosses, because those can be a pain
to fight. Especially in the special Boss Mode.
Here, you are a little spaceship floating in deep space, and enemies come at you from all around the screen, in rhythm with the music currently playing. A level usually starts with a few floating asteroids, after which actual enemies show up. Then the enemies get stronger – we get some that actually shoot at our ship, then we get some that are equipped with magnets attracting our ship to them, or pushing it away. Then we get others that release a dozen ship-seeking missiles when destroyed. Others fly around the screen, releasing little destructive spheres. What about these that look like worms, with indestructible heads, forcing the player to destroy only the body segments? Oh, and let’s not mention the few different types of bosses that can appear mid-track for you to battle!

Thankfully, like any good shoot’em-up, you’ve got a wide selection of spaceships to use in this quest. Some are slower but pack a bigger punch, some are fast and can easily avoid projectiles, and some others shoot instantly as soon as there’s an enemy on the screen… And so you can see them all explode into bits, leaving colored lights in the blackness of space in the background. Blow up a whole ton of enemies and see the world around like a mural of explosions of color! So much light, so much brightness! Thank God I’m not epileptic, or I’d be having a seizure! Hell, even without epilepsy, this thing hurts the eyes!

"Complete 3 tracks on Insane"? Sounds alright.
I'll just pick 30-second tracks. Oh, what? I have to
pick a song longer than 210 seconds? I'm doomed!
If you’ve got the Shadow Operations Unit DLC, a whole new world opens for you; all the available ships in the hangar come with three missions to complete (whether it’s collecting a few million points in total, beating bosses, that sort of thing – most of which require you to avoid dying). In-game, you can collect 10$ powerups that get added to your “wallet”, with which you can buy upgrades for your ship, whether it’s extra bombs and lives when you start a level, bigger score bonuses, and extra powerups like enemy-seeking missiles, repellent shields, or death rays. However, you can only equip a number of those upgrades, so choose wisely! You can even use that money to unlock two harder-than-hard game modes, labeled Insane and Suicidal… just in case the game wasn’t already hard enough as is. Oh, there's also a multiplayer mode, if you have a friend to share the fun with.

...This is so bright! And what an impressive boss!
...But where the **** is my ship?
For, you see, this game is pretty hard. It’s a very awesome idea to have the music radically change the incoming enemy waves from a track to the other. Things can be pretty hectic, though, especially if the density of enemies on the screen makes it difficult to see incoming weapon blasts and other attacks. Worse even, remember when I said that enemies exploded into colored lights? Well, that too can make it hard to spot the deadly blasts. The intensity of these flashing lights can be bothersome too – and while you can set that intensity anywhere from 50% to 200%, even setting it at the lowest doesn’t help much. Your eyes might tire after a while playing this game. Thankfully, if you’ve got a big collection of music, and a desire to buy and complete the Shadow Missions, you’ll have hours upon hours of fun. All in all, despite these small issues, I find Beat Hazard to be pretty damn awesome – as long as you’re not epileptic…

If you’re interested, you can buy the base game for 9.99$ USD, or buy the bundle that also includes all DLC for 16.99$ USD. Enjoy!


Hello WALL-E! Oh, it’s not WALL-E? Well, it sure fooled me!

Ready to explore the universe... or overtake it.
Big Fat Alien’s indie game BEEP is a story set in the future, where armies of robots were sent to explore the galaxy. These robots have jet engines to float, a cannon to shoot at hazards, and an antigravity beam to move around giant rocks and other pieces of the surroundings. Since the spaceships can build an endless reserve of BEEPs, there’s no worrying if you lose a few… or many. Someday, a BEEP ship finds a solar system that can be visited…
And thus BEEP begins. Your task is simple: Collect bits of antimatter. There are four in every level, with three that can be found by exploring, and one that is created by gathering all the smaller pieces in that level. You need them to unlock new areas. And thus, BEEP visits various worlds, collecting antimatter, needing 60 to unlock the final world.

For such a small robot, BEEP certainly has a lot of room
inside for these many large bullets.
The game turns quickly into a puzzle platformer, a term you’ve most likely heard already as it’s a popular indie genre. It soon becomes necessary to drag around items with BEEP’s antigravity beam, in order to reach higher ledges and get more antimatter. Not to mention every time where you need to move a bunch of things around. Later levels include even more elements of puzzles and precision games. And indeed, per video game rule, things get pretty difficult as BEEP gets more antimatter and unlocks planets closer and closer to that solar system’s sun. From the early. grassy lands, to the fiery pits of Hell of a planetside that always faces the Sun… have fun exploring these 24 levels and collecting all 96 antimatter parts!

The game ends as your umpteenth BEEP finds an alien tower on a moon near the final planet. That place contains the control command for all the enemy robots met during your robot’s journey. Upon learning that they eradicated all biological life in this solar system, BEEP decides that they must be dealt with… and thus heads out to these robots’ home world. The adventure continues!

Well that sure looks like a planet on which life forms
had a chance to survive...
It’s a concept we’ve seen many times before, a puzzle platformer protagonist who’s able to move around elements of the scenery in order to access the next areas. On this, BEEP does fairly well, presenting some puzzles that really make you think about what you have to do. The 24 levels, spread over six very different worlds, are pretty fun to visit, and BEEP’s abilities make for interesting gameplay. However, the difficulty is increased in part by the fact that BEEP has only six hit points, and by many enemies having also their fair share of HP, especially the wheeler robots that will shoot at BEEP whenever they see him, and take at least four bullets to go down. These are, without a doubt, the biggest obstacle after the many endless pits. Also, while the camera can be moved left and right to view upcoming sections, you also move around stuff through the anti-gravity ray with the mouse, making it impractical when the camera controls decide to play along. And of course, BEEP often has to move while the anti-gravity ray is working, making it often difficult to move an item properly… All in all, not a bad experience, there are definitely some good elements in this, but it’s rather middle-of-the-road. You can check it out on Steam here, if you’re interested. Right now, it’s free… If you buy a large bundle comprising many other games, which I’ll all be reviewing someday for the blog…

Biodrone Battle

We had a robot on a mission… so here, have another robot on a mission. Sort of. In Biodrone Battle, from indie developer voodoosoft, you control a machine in an abandoned lab (Or arena?). Your robot is grossly under-armed for the task, possessing only a basic cannon and a weapon that takes control of other robots… wait, what? That’s actually pretty cool! You can possess other enemies and use them on your quest! Okay, it's cool... on paper, at least.

Tell me, is there anything of interest here?
There are 21 floors in the first mode, named Man or Machine, with a few rooms being unlocked when you’ve collected enough keys. You usually have to defeat all the enemies on a floor in order to complete it. That’s how you get keys, I suppose. A task that isn’t helped by the large amount of hit points the enemies have – and the simply insane speed at which they can shoot bullets before you’ve had time to deplete their life bars! All robots have their own playstyle, and it becomes possible to switch between those collected thus far at will. Not like you’ll actually see much of that… Most of the rooms are in complete darkness, with the lights coming from the robot you control as well as a few shining points here and there.

It could be an interesting concept. But the execution is so damn dull. There is simply nothing of interest here. There is little music to get you pumped and willing to go forward, and the environments are grey and boring. The worst part about this one, though, is the difficulty. You can barely make it past the tutorial, with how brutal the opponents can be. The first few enemies encountered can kill you in mere seconds, while you need a number of hits to kill them! You “could” try a stealth approach, but it’s tricky since, as I mentioned, your robot emits freaking light! In this completely dark environment! Most of the time, you’ll get killed brutally either by an enemy that you didn’t see in the dark, or cornered with no way to fight back efficiently. It’s not even worth playing past a few floors…

Oh. I died. I got bored by this one in record time anyway.
On to something better.
…oh sure, you could try, if the game didn’t decide to stop you in your tracks. I’ve been lucky not to run into any glitches, but apparently those are common in the game. I did have issues connecting to the single-player mode, seeking a server to play in... for a game that’s not nearly popular enough to need a multiplayer mode and servers, much less 9 of them! It’s incomprehensible!

This… this is just bad. Seriously, don’t buy it. But if you must, well, it’s over there on Steam, where you can waste spend a dollar on it.

Choice Chamber

Let’s end this on a game for all you streamers out there. Choice Chamber, made by Studio Bean, allows full interaction with a streamer’s audience in order to personalize the single-player adventure. Every once in a while, a question pops up on the screen, offering a choice. The viewers respond to it, and after a certain length of time has passed, the most popular option comes in to impact radically the game.

Nondesript alright. Not like the character needs much of a
personality for this game, anyway.
In Choice Chamber, you follow Nondescript Unnamed Colorful Protagonist #274, as they go from room to room. Enemies pop up at random, kill them all, move to the next room. Collect special hearts, refill your health, learn to use your weapon. Every playthrough should be different! Just be sure to amass an audience that will make the game worth it. Would be a shame if you connected the game to your Twitch account and ended up voting by yourself on all the changes, by posting in your own chatroom…

Destroy the enemies! Your fans want you to!
How far can you go? How many rooms can you cross? How long can you last until you lose all of your hit points? Aim for a high “score”! (If you equate “score” to “number of rooms”…) New option: Do you want more normal enemies, more flying enemies, more large enemies? Do you want more hit points, more speed, more strength? Best case scenario, your viewers fight for the control of modules that will follow the character around and protect them from the monsters!

There’s even a multiplayer mode where you can race against another player to the top of a tower to climb, with the viewers’ choices still affecting the gameplay. All of a sudden, sticky platforms! Or maybe icy ones? No, wait! Bouncy ones! And this can lead to a fairly long race, too, with the length decided before the game starts.

Literally powerd by your fans. Or dictated by what your
viewers decide. Either way, no fans/viewers...
not much of a way to play.
All in all, it’s a pretty great concept; the game looks polished, pretty – I quite enjoy the art style – and has decent music. Unfortunately, it’s one of those games that is best played when you’ve got an audience. And not every Twitch streamer can brag about getting a large enough audience to make this game worth buying and playing. Oh, certainly, it’s fun if things work and you have anywhere from 5 to 80 people watching you and commenting – and the game will keep track of every response – but if you can barely get an audience of two or three people… well, good luck getting any enjoyment out of this game… Without interactions from viewers, the game is bland at best. If you are not a streamer – obviously, don’t buy it. If you are a streamer but you can’t get an audience worth it – again, don’t buy it. Only buy it if you can have at least some people contributing to the choices in the game. After all, this costs 10.99$, and it would be a shame if you bought it and ended up never using it…

Well, this covers all four games for this week. Be sure to tune in next Friday for a Top 12 list!