Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Vision Issue 211

Note: My articles were a good deal longer, but ended up being compressed to fit the guest article on the page. Thing is; I didn't save the extended versions. I'm a idiot! =D

Reach For the Stars Tonight - Sonic Colours (Wii)
The modern gaming era has not been kind to Sonic. Depending on whom you ask, some will say the day the blue hedgehog appeared in 3D was the day the Sonic franchise died. Though you could argue that Sonic in his Sega Genesis days was far from perfect (but offered a certain polish the later games lacked); recent games have undeniably been dancing around a general theme of "enjoyable, but mediocre".

So when Sonic Team's newest project - Sonic Colours was announced at last year's E3 - the responses of Sonic fans and regular gaming enthusiasts alike were just that little bit tepid.

Previous Sonic games had generated a large amount of hype in the developmental stages; often claming to recapture some of that elusive game design magic the Genesis games were said to have; but upon release smacked of disappointment and missed opportunities. This happened with such regularity that the process was dubbed by fans as "The Sonic Cycle".

Now that Sonic Colours has been released into our anticipating - yet wary - midst; I can say with relief that it's finally a solidly-made and fun to play Sonic game. Which doesn't sound like overwhelming praise; but it's definitely a good step in the right direction.

This time around Sonic has gatecrashed a gigantic outer-space theme park; created by evil genius Dr. Eggman. Refusing to believe that his long-time rival has actually turned over a new leaf; he finds out that among the rollercoasters and ferris wheels is a plot to capture alien life-forms called Wisps - who hold the secret to an incredible power source.

As cheesy as the plot is; it results in a game that relishes in not taking itself seriously. The planets the theme park's made up of are vibrant and expansive (an aesthetic lovingly lifted from the Mario Galaxy games); and utterly breathtaking to dash about in. There's nothing like tearing around Sweet Mountain - a planet made entirely of cake, gingerbread, and oversized doughnuts - while the jazzy, upbeat soundtrack accopanies.
When it comes down to gameplay ideas, Colours has that covered too. Stages frequently switch between speedy into-the-screen dashing and slower, more methodical side-scrolling. Some levels require more planning and forethought to complete in one piece; not to mention a decent score.

The Wisps also add to how the game handles; certain colours of Wisps transform Sonic to allow him shortcuts. The Cyan Laser ricochets off enemies and through wires; the Yellow Drill plows through soft ground and underwater; the Green Hover serenely drifts you to high-up areas; with more powers besides. It's a great system - experimenting with your Wisps rewards you with collectables and adds longevity to the game; as does the intentionally retro Co-Op mode, complete with chiptune music remixes of the soundtrack.

As for downsides, Sonic's floaty physics can make him hard to control initially, until you get the hang of things. The game's intentionally childish nature make some cutscenes overly camp. Many deaths can occur from an awkward jump, or a Wisp power not working as intended; which can be frustrating. But persevere - Sonic Colours is well worth your time. The Sonic Cycle has been broken.

Nerds only? Not really...
"I'm such a nerd," he said as we sat in The Courtyard, both of us munching on burgers. "I've spent so much time playing Pokémon HeartGold; my house mates totally don't approve."
I blinked in surprise. I wasn't expecting the conversation to turn to video games. Outside of a certain crowd, bringing up gaming often feels like some kind of filthy taboo.
"I get what you mean," I replied. "Ever since Fable III was released, I've just burned so much time on it." An awkward pause hung in the air; and a puzzled look crossed his face.
"What's 'Fable'?"

Maybe I expected too much - even if he did self-profess to be a "nerd"; it's now cool to identify as one - whether it's true or not. I guess we have Scott Pilgrim to thank for that. It sounds incredibly pretentious to assume that only a special few can discuss your hobby; but despite the best interests of many, gaming (as compared to books or movies) is still something of a niche interest. And that's just a little bit unfair.

Enthusiasm for a film you've watched or an album you've listened to - even when the listener hasn't - isn't a conversation breaker; but an attempt to discuss a game can often be swatted aside with a "Sorry, I'm not into games," leaving the conversation cold, and the speaker feeling like more than a bit of a loser.
It might be something of a pipe dream to picture a world where games are treated socially the same way as any other media (though let's not get into a "are games art?"-type discussion here, they don't end well); but there has to be a solution we can use.

Firstly, it's up to us gamers to talk about interesting games. No one is going to care about your World of Warcraft raid, nor know what "Kill:Death Ratio" is. If talking about different games assists in you discovering new genres or old classics - so much the better.

Secondly, all you non-gamers out there: please don't run a mile when someone brings up their PS3, or new favouite game. We're sharing it because you might find it interesting! If it's something new to you; take comfort in learning something new about pop culture.

Finally, it's down to the game developers and producers to release interesting games to play. Call of Duty: Black Ops is a good game, but it has little in the way of discussion scope for people who haven't played it. Remember when The Sims was a new phenomenon? There was near infinite potential to chat and laugh about the TV Drama-like events that the game offered - and it was so accessible that near everyone played it.

So take my advice - be proud of your hobbies and interests, if they're as worthwhile as you feel they are; others will take interest. And please don't feign 'gamer-cred' by calling yourself a nerd. It's a bit embarrassing.