Monday, April 4, 2011

Top 10 Sonic Games

My very first video game system was a Sega Genesis, so, naturally I was a huge Sonic fan! I still am, but unfortunately since those glory days Sonic has had a rough time. Still there are some great games in the Sonic catalog  if you take a look. So here it is my list of the top 10 Sonic games.

10. Sonic Advance 3 (Game Boy Advance)
To start us off we have the very last Sonic game made for the GBA. While this game is very similar to it's other advance series offerings it makes it on this list for two major reasons. First, it allows you to make your own custom 2 player match-ups. This feature allows you to pick a leader and support character before you enter a level and each team combo leads to different results. It this game you can finally have Tails lead Sonic around the level or even team up Amy with Knuckles, it's a really neat feature. Secondly, it has my absolute favorite Super Sonic boss battle in the entire Sonic library. I don't want to spoil anything, but it's really worth checking out!

9. Sonic& Sega All-Stars Racing (360, PS3, Wii)
The Sonic franchise has tried to dip into racing many times, and this is the first time they really got things right. Not only do you have he choice of racing with many Sonic characters, you also have a huge roster of Sega characters from classic Dreamcast and arcade titles (and even Banjo Kazooie). The game also has great balance and simple gameplay. Personally, I like the way this game is balanced better than the Mario Kart series! For any Sega fan or kart racing fan this game is worth a look!

8. Sonic Battle (Game Boy Advance)
Many Sonic games sometimes find themselves bogged down with far too many characters, differentiating gameplay, and padding the game. This Sonic fighting game actually puts the huge Sonic roster to good use! In Sonic Battle you have 10 different characters to play as each with their own unique moves and play styles. The best part is an android named Emerl that can collect the moves of these characters and apply them to his moveset. Tweaking Emerl to be strong and suit your tastes is really a bunch of fun! The gameplay itself is fast and simple, allowing you to jump in quickly and start swinging!

7. Sonic Rush (Nintendo DS)
Sonic has always been a fast guy, but this game really gets to show off your speed! In this game you get a boost gauge, which you build up by preforming tricks and destroying enemies. You can the press a button to boost forward at awesome speeds. The game is really fast paced and gets pretty challenging towards the last levels as you try and balance speed and control!

6. Sonic 4 (360, PS3, PC)
While the "long-awaited" sequel didn't live up to expectations, it was still a pretty good sonic title. The zones to obvious inspirations from the Sonic games of old, as did the enemies, and well everything else. The only new aspect, the homing attack fits in well enough. The levels are colorful and fun, and the few new mechanics that are added in work quite well!

5. Sonic Adventure (Sega Dreamcast)
This is one of the games that really drove initial sales of the Dreamcast. And while the graphics don't impress nearly as much as they do now, the gameplay of Sonic Adventure holds up really well. The game does have some hiccups, but usually runs well. All the different gameplay modes are fun (except Big's pointless fishing levels) and suit their characters quite well. The levels are also done in classic Sonic style and are designed quite well.

4. Sonic 1 (Sega Genesis)
The very first Sonic is still one of the best. This game is a little rough around the edges, but still shows what is fun about Sonic. Awesome level design, cool bosses, and plenty of baddies to smash along the way. Levels like Marble Zone and Spring Yard Zone are both challenging and creative. This game definitely shows how Sonic was different from other platformers of that generation.

3. Sonic Advance (Game Boy Advance)
Back when this game was released, it was a shock to see Sonic on a Nintendo platform, but luckily, Sonic adapted beautifully to the platform. This games seemed to kick-off right where the Genesis games left off, offering awesome 2D platforming. The levels were well suited to each of the 4 characters, and the game had some really great music.

2. Sonic 3 & Knuckles (Sega Genesis)
Originally sold as two separate cartridges, after linking Sonic 3 with Sonic & Knuckles, you found a massive game with 13 Zones! Each and every zone in this behemoth was well designed and unique to all the others. In addition each level had both a boss and a mini-boss. This game included 3 different shields which had different attributes from reflecting bullets to attracting rings, and each shield also allowed Sonic to preform a special jumping move. Lastly, this is the only game in which you can play as Hyper Sonic, Hyper Knuckles, and Super Tails! These massively powered forms are well worth the challenge of the special stages and make the game tons of fun!

1. Sonic 2 ( Sega Genesis)
While this game has many similarities with most of the games on this list, it is simply the most balanced and well designed. The levels are all brilliantly crafted. They are fun, well-paced, colorful, and accompanied by some of the best music on the console. The special stages are the best in the series, simple and challenging. The game has a great difficulty curve growing from easy to blisteringly hard over the course of it's 11 levels. The game's best attributes can only be appreciated by playing through it, so if you've never played it do so now!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What makes a good video game story?

I recently came across a list of the 25 best stories in video games. Personally I think the list was awful, but it did start making me think about what exactly makes up a good story for video games. Thinking directly that story = plot I dismissed a whole bunch of games on the list, including ones that I really love and made a huge impact on me. Shadow of the Colossus for example was instantly dismissed, because the plot was so damn simple. Even if the setting was gorgeous, and the gameplay intuitive. I even scoffed at Ocarina of Time being in the top spot because the plot of that game was also so generic and simple.

It was almost embarrassing to see such simple plots make it into this list. If these stories were converted to the written word they would barely be able to take up a picture book! But, there's the catch! We're not dealing with the written word, we're dealing with a completely different medium! Games have a great many number of techniques to tell a story. Identifying how our basic elements of narrative affect a video game's overall story is the first way one can identify what makes a good story. There are also one or two additional elements that contribute to narrative that are completely unique to video games!

Going back to plot... A game's plot may be generic good vs. evil. it maybe something more, it may be something less. Ideally, a good game plot should not be forced, in that it shouldn't interrupt gameplay. No giant unnecessary walls of text that drag on and on, no pointless cut-scenes that drag on and on until you're finally dropped off at a place where gameplay actually happens. Plot should motivate the player to play (or continue playing), and plot should reward the player for advancing through the game.

What about the other elements of literature? Well, setting can make a big impact on a game, not only as arenas for play, but also as a way to remind a player of the story or provide immersion into the game. What would Bioshock be with out the leaky corridors of Rapture? What would Shadow of the Colossus be with out it's isolated, lonely overworld? What would Fallout 3 be without it's post-apocalyptic 50's themed world? These elements are essential to a good story.

While there are many other elements of literature we can delve into there is one more, I feel I should touch on before moving on to talking about gameplay, and that is character. In a game with several character options the characters should be unique to one another, and the overall plot and style of the game should be apply to the character's style and backstory. But, when constructing one single character for the player to the inhabit is infinitely more difficult. One of the most difficult things to address in gaming today is the continuing practice of a mute main character. Back when consoles were limited by their audio hardware, having a mute character is understandable. Nobody would want to click through dialog boxes, when the game was focus on action, but, these days we have characters that are in epic stories that still remain mute or mostly mute. Whether or not this is a wise choice, is a discussion for another post.

The last thing that contributes to story in video games is gameplay. This is the one element of story that is completely unique to gaming and yet... in many cases we find it woefully underutilized. Games have the potential to modify a users' emotions, make them feel confined, carefree, worried, or challenged just by manipulating how the game plays. Many games may have all the other elements of story work just right, but, the gameplay just never works out. Unfortunately, I have seen many RPGs fall prey to this problem. While the story and setting maybe unique, there a never any real elements in battle or in exploration that reflect these elements the battle system seems completely separate tacked on or phoned in. Many dialog heavy games fall prey to this too. If a game wants to use dialog often it should be influence by the players decisions. Luckily, games are remedying this by making the dialog take place during gameplay. Some games such as Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, or Phoenix Wright make dialog one of the primary gameplay elements, and are able to tell very complex dialog heavy stories without boring or alienating the player.

Only by having all the above elements work in sync can a game have a truly great story. While many games may have great plots, not incorporating gameplay does not do the medium justice. Only through video games can some stories be told, and have the impact that they do.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Welcome to Not Just A Gamer!

I heartily welcome you to my blog! Here you'll find posts revolving around the lifestyle of gaming, comments about current gaming events and an occasional game review! I hope you enjoy reading and thanks for stopping in!