Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 - One Piece of Advice for Sega

If these Sonic the Hedgehog 4 videos are legitimate, the game looks good and about what I'd expect from a 2D Sonic on a current generation console.  Since it will be an XBox Live Arcade game, I'm sure I'll be willing to shell out $10-$15 for it.

But I would suggest this to Sega -- zoom the camera out at times.  Perhaps you could have it zoom out in proportion to how fast Sonic is moving.  Capcom used a variable zoom level in Bionic Commando:Rearmed to great affect. I actually think anyone releasing an updated version of an old school game should look closely at all the things done right in Bionic Commando:Rearmed. The way it handles 2 players would also be a good model for Sonic. The camera zooms out as the players get further away from each other. When they get too far about, the screen splits. I don't know if Sega plans to make Sonic 4 two players, but if they do they should use the Bionic Commando system or one like it.

Batman: Arkham Asylum -- Playable Joker Levels -- So Wrong

The playable Joker challenges in Batman: Arkham Asylum are exclusive the Playstation 3 version of the game, but my criticism of them is not due to the fact that as an XBox 360 owner, I can't play them. I would feel this way even if they were an XBox 360 exclusive.

The playable Joker levels are so, so wrong. It's not that they're completely out-of-character for the Joker, which they are, but mainly because they diminish Batman's abilities by making them reproducible by a lanky, undisciplined lunatic. See for yourself:

I appreciate the fact that they gave him a gun and electric hand buzzer which he uses occasionally. It shows that they tried, a little, to make these stages consistent with who the Joker is. But it's still obvious that they basically re-skinned Batman as the Joker, retaining the fighting mechanics. So now the Joker has striking and countering skills that rival those of Batman, who honed his skills over years of intense training and extreme mental and physical conditioning. It does not make any sense and just looks ridiculous.

If they were going to do this -- which I don't think they should have -- they should have given the Joker meager hand-to-hand combat skills. Let him keep the gun and electric hand-buzzer and use them a lot more. Give him henchmen to do most of the fighting. Yeah, that would have been more difficult to execute, but if something's not worth doing the right way, it's not worth doing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Batman: Arkham Asylum Delivers a Critical Blow to 16-bit Nostalgia

Last year I read a review of  Batman: Arkham Asylum that called it the first good Batman game.  I immediately objected, "But the Sega Genesis Batman was great!"  But after playing B:AA and seeing how good a Batman game (or any kind of game) can be, my nostalgia for the Genesis version faded, and that game seems like a cookie-cutter action platformer.

It may seem unfair that I'm comparing a game made 20 years ago to a game made last year.  But what's makes B:AA great isn't just technological, but the fact that it tries to encapsulate the character that it's about.  The games of that era couldn't have been expected to be anywhere near as good, but they at least could have made an effort to convey the essence of the character. What the Genesis Batman did was try to capture the atmosphere of the Tim Burton Batman movie that it was based on.  It performed admirably in that regard, given the limitations of the Genesis. But when you strip off the visuals, you're left with a generic jumping / punching / throwing protaganist in a mediocre game.

If you've never played Batman for the Sega Genesis, here's a video of the first level:

You can see that stealth is not a element of the game at all. The detective aspect of Batman is not represented. Gadgets are barely represented. The Batmobile and Batwing levels are generic shoot-'em-ups with Batman window dressing. The NES game Metal Gear -- for all its faults and bugs -- showed that stealth could be implemented with the technology back then. The technology wasn't the big hindrance though. I guess the main thing preventing more creative gameplay was either laziness or lack of imagination from game developers.

There are good games from the 16 bit era, but Batman: Arkham Asylum really opened my eyes to how good games can be, and made me wonder why the games that came out in the '80s and '90s weren't better than they were. I'll have more thoughts specifically about B:AA later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


This blog will be the reflections on video gaming from a veteran but casual gamer. It will not be comprehensive in any way, and the games and topics I talk about will be based on my constantly fluctuating whims, which will probably seem arbitrary to most readers.

I'm back into video gaming after a 10 year absence. I skipped the XBox / PS2 generation, and only bought a current-generation system (XBox 360) within the last month.

The main reason I bought the 360 was to play games with my son, who is almost 4 years old (and eventually my daughter, but currently she's only 1). (I know there aren't as many kid-friendly games for that system as there are for the Wii, but I had other reasons for choosing the XBox, and there are enough kid-friendly games for it.)

I'll be posting my thoughts on the games I've been playing as well as other observations about video gaming in general, especially how it's changed during my life.

My perspective has been shaped by owning a Colecovision, NES, Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Sega Dreamcast, spending a lot of time in arcades, and playing my share of PC games -- all over the last 25 years