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Friday, February 10, 2012

Esoteric Retrospective: On the Outside Looking In

Believe it or not, that cute little boy playing Air Zonk on his Turbo Express in his
grandmother's lap would grow into the embittered asshole you see before you.
I was six years old in 1989, and one of three children. With our Atari 2600, and Ultra Pong Doubles machines losing their luster, the three of us began clambering for a new game console. Our choice? The Nintendo Entertainment System of course. Everyday in the schoolyard I would hear tales of warp zones, rescuing the princess, and exploring the vast world of Hyrule. It was maddening! I wanted so much to join in on the conversation, but I had nothing to talk about. Nobody had any idea what the hell Crystal Castles or Space Invaders were (a cardinal sin today, I know), and I would often be teased for not owning the little grey box that could.

Our pleas would soon be answered with the the holiday season upon us and our grandmother moving in and supplementing our parents' income. Mom and Dad knew exactly what it was we wanted for Christmas, and we were certain that our months of awkward silence and being teased on the playground were fast coming to an end.

Then the day arrived. The three of us tore upstairs to gaze upon the bounty brought to us by Saint Nick. We approached a large box that could have contained only one thing, and our parents stood by, urging us to open it. Upon tearing off that first piece of colorful paper we were greeted by a bright orange box. The three of us looked at each other incredulously and continued to rip at the paper revealing the rest of the orange box and the big black rectangle on the front reading “TurboGrafx-16”. We looked up from the box-somewhat confused, to our mother who excitedly began telling us about how they had tried the NES and Genesis, but weren't really impressed until they played this strange machine that we had never heard of.

Though my first question was “Can we take it back and get the Nintendo?”, it turned out that this was the moment that made me the gamer I am today. A jaded outsider that went on to own other esoteric consoles that fell just outside the realm of what was popular, and experienced the world of videogames differently than most. I was one of the few players who didn't take part in the 16-bit console war, and would instead have the rare and wonderful experience, of growing up with the TurboGrafx-16.

This article was originally a pitch for The Escapist. Although it was ultimately rejected, I felt it was a touching enough story that it belonged here, and gave me a good reason to post that ancient picture from the Christmas after the one detailed. I'd also like to thank my parents and late grandmother for making me the man I am today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something Old, Something New...

Something Borrowed, something Blue. That actually sums up Sonic Generations pretty nicely, with the exception of one missing adjective. Something Good... for a change. In fact, Sega seemed to be pull out all the stops for the blue dude with tude's big 20th birthday celebration. Not only did we get the incredible, nostalgia-fest that is Sonic Generations, but also a digital release of the much-vaunted Sonic The Hedgehog CD that's actually a decent port! 2011 was the first year in a long time that core Sonic fans weren't counted amongst the hardcore-retro gamers that only play the classic titles, hords of 8-year-old children, or creepy Anthrocon attendees that are typically associated with the franchise. It seems Sega is finally releasing a product that we retroists want to play. This article isn't so much a review, so much as it's letting the good folks at Sega know that this is a massive step in the right direction, and we appreciate it.

This is the Metal Sonic fight we all wanted when we discovered him floating in a tank in Sonic Adventure.

Sonic Generations has been pleasantly surprising me since its announcement back in June of 2011. First I was stunned to see the classic Hedghog in his full 3D glory running alongside what was gaming's punchline for the past 10 years in the teaser. I was even more surprised when the demo came out in limited release and I didn't automatically hate it like I did when I tried the 2006 Sonic The Hedgehog. Sure Sonic was a bit teensy when compared with the larger than life HD Green Hill Zone, but the controls and the physics were pretty much what we've been looking for over the past decade, and the level design was on par with the classics we love. Playing the game was an even bigger shock when I actually caught myself having fun and wanting to go back to replay stages WITH MODERN SONIC! It took some trial and error, but it seems that Sonic Team has finally found the sweet spot when it comes to playing with Sonic in 3D.

The "story" is nothing to write home about, but that's nothing new. Honestly, this game feels more like a fan-service compilation alla Sonic Jam, than a stand-alone adventure. It might have been better without any kind of convoluted plot at all. Still, as bad as the story is, the writing is far better than past Sonic games, and there are some clever in-jokes that Sonic-faithfuls will pick up immediately that may leave the aforementioned children and perverts scratching their heads.

The Good!
• Wow! A Sonic game that didn't make me want to kill myself.
• Fun, fast-paced gameplay.
• Gorgeous environments that showcase the clever level design.
• Unique challenges both new and old.
• Nostalgic elements: There is seriously music from Sonic Jam & Knuckles Chaotix just casually thrown into the gallery room and menus!

The Bad!
• The "Story" feels more like a formality than anything else; despite the in-jokes and decent writing.
• Too few bosses... Seriously, there are only 4 actual bosses and 3 challenges with rivals.
• Too few stages. Really what I'm saying is the game is so good I wish there was more of it.
• No "Flying Battery Zone", though admittedly, that's a my own gripe.

I never thought I'd catch myself fawning over a re-release. I just never thought they could make this game look that good on an HD-TV set.
As against remakes and rereleases as I am, I found myself both buying, and thoroughly enjoying Sonic CD on my Xbox 360 and iPhone 4S. I'm not certain how they did it, but they somehow managed to get a pixel-perfect port to span my entire 47" LCD and not look like shit. If Sega keeps this up I might have to start looking forward to Sonic games again. They even introduced us American's to the fabulous Japanese soundtrack! My only issue? The lyrics for the Japanese intro theme are absent. Yes, the vastly superior intro and end-credits tracks have been stripped of their wonderfully bouncy, totally Japanese lyrics. I contacted Sega over twitter and they simply responded that there was a licensing issue. I did feel a pang of regret after my purchase when I powered it up and heard what they'd done to the best songs in the game, but that soon faded when I saw the stellar job they did on the rest of the port.

The Good!
• Wow! A Sonic game that didn't make me want to kill myself.
• Probably because it's one of the last really good Sonic games made.
• Pixel-perfect port that looks gorgeous on my HD-TV.
• The Japanese Soundtrack!...

The Bad!
• Is missing the lyrics that I fell in love with when I first played Sonic Jam.
• The look of the new menus is a bit ugly.
• Sonic is best when he leaves his asshole friends at home, so why was Tails invited to this party?
• Seriously. Fuck Tails...