Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Video Game: Sonic Generations

I have always been a pretty big Sonic fan.  From the first games on the Sega Genesis, the combination of speed and platforming really appealed to me.  When the Sega Dreamcast came out, I was highly interested and ended up receiving Sonic Adventure for my birthday.  While some had concerns with Sonic's leap into 3d, at the time I had a blast playing it.

The majority's consensus is that Sonic games have been on a general decline since the beginning, many regarding the fault with the leap into 3d, accusing the series of never fully finding a foothold of success in modern gaming. I've personally played the majority of Sonic games that have come out from the Adventure series up through Sonic Colors, excluding the Black Knight Wii title which I heard was awful.  That list includes the likes of Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic 2006, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Rush and Sonic and the Secret Rings.  While each has had their share of respective flaws, some being universally panned by critics, I nonetheless trudged through them all and found something noteworthy about each of them, even if the games themselves didn't shine as a whole.  Now though, with Sonic Generations, I can finally once again recommend a Sonic game without the requirement being that one be a die hard Sonic fan that is willing to look past some subpar elements.  It's fast and looks great.  Sonic Generations is genuinely a good game.

As an homage to Sonic's 20th anniversary, Sonic Generations sees the classic Sonic as well as the modern incarnation of Sonic play through levels from other games in two different perspectives.  Classic Sonic plays the levels in a 2d sidescrolling with 3d elements, while modern Sonic plays through in a 3d field with some 2d sidescrolling.  Classic Sonic utilizes the spin dash, while modern Sonic uses homing attack and a boost feature.  Although this may at first sound like a rehash, it is pretty awesome.  The levels are handpicked from different iterations,  some being from the classic 2d Sonic games, some from the Adventure era, and some from the not so stellar modern era.  Regardless of which era the levels come from, each and every one of them is great.  All of them have been reimagined and play differently, while still retaining their original concept.  This makes for some very inviting nostalgic moments.  Even the music is similar to the original levels, but redone in certain ways.  Ever imagine hearing Chemical Plant from Sonic 2's catchy tune with the main instrument being jazz flute?  Well now you can bring that dream to realization.

The story is what you would expect from a Sonic game.  It really is just there to set the stage to be able to do what the game does, bringing you through Sonic history, so the story is largely not what the game is about.  What is really great about this game is its re-playability.  After you go through the actual levels, in both classic and modern sonic mode, as well as the bosses, many other unlockables remain, such as 5 challenges per level x2 taking into consideration that both classic and modern Sonic have 5 per level, plus S-ranking each of the actual levels, boss hard modes, and challenges.  As well, collecting red rings per level.  Each of these things unlock art, music and skills that can be applied to Sonic.  On top of that, you can compete on the world wide leaderboards against other people's fastest times, so there really is a lot to do in this game.

Potentially the greatest thing about this game is that it goes back to what made Sonic fun originally.  Rather than speed taking a backseat to other tacked on gameplay elements, it instead takes the forefront here.  Sonic is once again all about speeding through a level, looking for the fastest routes, mastering twitch reaction with, for the most part, tight control. 

If you were ever a Sonic fan but have been put off by the games as of late, give Sonic Generations a try.  It is available for the HD consoles, soon for the 3DS, and cheap on Steam for $30.00.  At least, it will bring you back to a different time in Sonic's career, when he could actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk with weird voice acting.  This is probably the best Sonic game ever made.  Welcome back, Sonic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Television: Prison Break

Over the past couple months, I've taken the time to watch the show Prison Break, which originally aired on Fox from 2005 to 2009. The entire series is currently viewable on Netflix.  After recently finishing the last few episodes of the series, I'm pretty taken aback at how incredibly captivating the show really was.

This show felt big budget.  I suppose that's rightly so, being on network television, with the later episodes budget being around $3 million per episode.  So many startling over the top twists and turns would happen in each episode, by the end I would be extremely curious as to what would happen next.  Like many of the suspenseful shows I've watched archived in the past, I can't imagine how suspenseful these episodes must have been for die hard fans watching each week, or waiting for the next season.

Prison Break really brings to the forefront what we often take for granted on a daily basis; that being our freedom.  Prison Break tells the story of two brothers, one being wrongly accused of a high profile murder and sentenced to death.  When there is no hope of stopping the execution by legal means, the other brother, a brilliant structural engineer takes matters into his own hands, landing himself in the same prison to attempt to break his brother out.  The brothers soon realize that they are in way over their heads and must try to clear their names while trying to just survive.

The complex dynamic story and well done character development, each with their distinctive unique personality, results in one really caring for the characters, even at points the antagonists.  The writers use this to their advantage to really shake things up from time to time,  by placing the characters in perilous situations.  Any time things seemed to be calm in the show, I started to get concerned and begin to brace myself because of the sheer fragility of the characters.  Any one character you may have paid attention to and grown to care about may be plucked away and gone for good in a matter of seconds.  While the vast majority of action and events in the show made a lot of sense and panned out very cleverly, there would be the occasional blip of some inconsistent action done by some character, or something that would happen that would seem utterly stupid which would cause upset because everything until that point would lead one to believe the characters or the show itself was too smart for that.  I think that just stands as a testament to the shows ability to mesmerize, when some inconsequential action could be picked up upon because the story called for close attention.  It often would leave you guessing whether a character was genuine or had their own ulterior motives.

A lot of what I'm describing may not make sense without going more in depth, but that would also serve to ruin plot points and surprises, so I'll stop there and finish with a resounding suggestion that if you haven't given this show a chance yet, you do so.  It's an amazingly suspenseful and intriguing series that may keep you infatuated with it until the end, leaving you wanting for more after such investment in the characters and story.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Video Game: God of War

Simply put, God of War is a great game.  it is a near perfect blend of action, platforming, puzzle solving and storytelling.  I had always wanted to try it and had heard good things, but for some reason never did wind up getting it for the PS2.  More recently, I found the God of War collection fairly cheap for PS3, which contains the first two PS2 games with enhanced graphics.  I was not left disappointed.

Pulling from Greek mythology, God of War tells the story of Kratos, a mortal Spartan warrior, who's thirst for fighting never seems to be satiated.  From ancient Greek cities, to the multiple notable Greek Gods, God of War paints an epic story from start to finish, revealing the history of Kratos as the game progresses.  Eventually, this bloodlust results in Kratos having to make some difficult sacrifices.  Everything comes at a price.

As you journey through the game, you do a lot of killing of various demons and skeletons and collecting red orbs that upgrade your weapons and magic.  Seamless transition from fighting to puzzle solving is a trend the game makes as well.  The puzzles aren't anything mind boggling, but leave you with a sense of accomplishment once you've completed one and a grand entry to a previously blocked pathway opens up grandiosely.  At the end of each major area, you fight a major boss, smiting it with a combination of attacks and strategy, normally ending the fight with a cinematic QTE (Quick Time Event originally introduced in the game Shenmue and imitated in many other games henceforth). 

God of War is very atmospheric.  You really get the sense that you, as Kratos, are this coldhearted warrior with an unending drive to finish your objective.  Anything else is irrelevant and anything that stands in your way must be disposed of.  The game does a great job illustrating that Kratos is no ordinary human, as you watch as soldiers of various cities crumble or meet their demise, while you stand to the side and do nothing to help their situation, or worse, directly involve yourself with their demise.  A strong sense power and weakness is prevalent, with Kratos seeming like the only one who stands a chance against the conjured demons throughout the game.

If you have never gotten the chance to play God of War, pick it up cheap for the PS2, or the collection for PS3.  You're sure to have a blast.  After beating it, I'm anxious to try the second one and eventually the third specifically made for the PS3.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Movie: Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood is an animated film, currently available on Netflix.  Batman has had a stellar career when it comes to his animated adventures.  If you are a fan of the 90's series or any Batman that is not really campy, you will feel right at home watching this.

Most people don't adapt well to change.  Consistently, in most of the animated films and tv shows revolving around Batman, Kevin Conroy has voiced Batman, while Mark Hamill has voiced the Joker.  The most recent (and perhaps final appearance of these two voice actors together in the same media) would be the new Batman games, Arkham Asylum, as well as Arkham City.  At first I was a little disappointed to discover that neither of them were involved in this film.  Even further, I was disappointed to find out that the story would revolve around Robin.  A good majority of Batman fans will attest that when Robin is included in a story, it often times results in a less than appealing outing for Batman.

I was really content to learn that although most of these factors seemed to spell out disaster for this film, it is probably one of the better, if not the best animated Batman I've seen.  The film really captures what is so cool about Batman.  It also tells a pretty touching tail that makes one rethink Robin's position in the series.  It definitely made me eat my words.

If you're a fan of Batman, I highly recommend you give this a shot.  It is really well animated, dark, action packed and intense.