Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

Sonic Playthrough: 1995

By 1995 a few years had now passed since the success of the Mega Drive Sonic games, and Sega were looking to continue the series through new platforms. With the Saturn in development, another Mega Drive addon was created to try and extend the machine’s shelf life to fill the gap until it was ready. Mostly though, 1995 was the year of the Game Gear spinoffs without any real ‘main’ game for the first time, something that we’d sadly need to get used to over the next couple of years..

Sonic Drift 2

Starting the year surprisingly strong, the Game Gear sequel Sonic Drift 2. The first game was rather unexceptional but, while I’m not quite sure exactly what it was about it that was different, I found myself enjoying the sequel a lot more. Released over here without the ‘2’ so as to hopefully not confuse people as to what had happened to ‘1’ (though the number remained on the title screen) this was to Western audiences at the time the first Sonic racing game. In terms of control and style it’s very similar to its predecessor, but the larger selection of characters and increased variety of tracks really help make it stand out.

Knuckles’ Chaotix

The only game of the year not released on the Game Gear was one of the flagship titles for the 32X, the year’s latest Mega Drive addon. Hoping to drive sales for the hardware with a Sonic game, the odd decision was made not to feature him and instead make the first (and only) Knuckles solo game. And so we have Knuckles’ Chaotix. Fans have torn apart the game and various beta versions for years trying to find out the full history of the game and it appears that Sonic and Tails were present in early versions prior to it being turned into a Knuckles game.

And it’s quite the odd game. While on the surface looking a lot like the logical continuation of the Sonic 3 art style, it doesn’t really play much like many Sonics of the past due to the ring bond between the two characters that fundamentally alters the physics and gameplay. The stages are also typically larger and more bare, with fewer badniks than you’d expect from one of the Mega Drive games and perhaps the biggest change in formula – no lives or continues. It’s got a pretty decent soundtrack and a good (if frustrating at places) 3D special stage, as well as several new characters in the Chaotix team of Vector, Charmy and Espio. They’re also joined in this game by the return of Mighty from SegaSonic Arcade though this would end up being his last appearance – at least until his hopefully triumphant return alongside Ray in Sonic Mania Plus this summer.

Tails’ Skypatrol

And we’re back to maddening spinoffs. This was my first time properly playing either of the Tails Game Gear games, and I wasn’t a big fan of this one at all. Tails can fire a ring at enemies while constantly flying but there are so many cheap moments where the level design intentionally kills you, to the point that I started my run twice after dying a couple of times in the training level.. Thankfully it turned out to be quite a short game with only 4 levels, but it’s hardly a hidden gem.

Tails Adventures

Tails Adventures, thankfully, was much better. This time around Tails is starring in a light RPG with collectible items and upgrades that plays pretty well and looks surprisingly good for a Game Gear game. As I mention in the video I cheat a little bit with this one by saving as there’s no lives system, just passwords when you return to Tails’ house that I didn’t want to have to write down every time (though I think I ultimately finished the game without dying anyway) and if you forgot to take note of these passwords while playing back in the day you could very easily lose a lot of progress. That aside though, it’s pretty fun and probably the best example of a supporting character spinoff in the series.

Sonic Labyrinth

And finally for the year, it’s Sonic Labyrinth. Off the bat the concept is pretty dumb – a game that intentionally makes Sonic go slow seems like the complete antithesis of what you’d want a Sonic game to be. The gameplay is pretty clunky and I ended up dying far, far too many times on the bosses but it wasn’t the worst once I got used to it. Certainly not one that I’ll be revisiting any time in a hurry though.

Sonic the Comic: 1994

As I played through the Sonic games from 1994, I continued reading along with Sonic the Comic. 1994 was a big year for the comic, with Sonic still a massive success for Sega in whatever media they put him into. The release of Sonic 3 early in the year allowed the comic to do an adaptation of a major Sonic title for the first time.

The year gets off to a fairly rough start with the story Sonic the Human that’s just never worked for me at all. It all ends up being a Robotnik induced hallucination, but what’s the point of a Sonic story where he isn’t Sonic? It didn’t go down very well with readers either, and ended up being writer Ed Hillyer’s first and last script.

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It improves quickly from there as, after a strong beginning in 1993, the team of Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson end up firing on all cylinders in 1994. The pair contributed strips to nineteen of the twenty five issues released that year. The team’s two part Casino Night story, which introduces the Mario Bros/Marx Brothers knockoffs the Marxio Brothers, is probably their weakest of the year but it’s quickly followed by the introduction of Amy Rose in the story that also features Robotnik encasing himself in an egg to turn into the version of himself from The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a really odd choice, and something that I can only imagine was editorially mandated for synergy with the cartoon which was on constantly over here at the time – though it did make me realise that Elson’s pre-transformation Robotnik was always oddly off model with an outfit that’s a combination of the classic game Robotnik design but with the addition of the central yellow trim and circle that both TV versions had…

The team also introduced Captain Plunder and the Mystic Cave Pirates, who would return a number of times over upcoming issues and eventually end up with their own series. While the crew lineup would change down the line, the two most memorable are Plunder himself and his sidekick Filch – who is now a ghost after being killed by Plunder, though Sonic ends up not believing in ghosts a number of issues later.

Those stories were just a warmup for the epics to come however, as they were soon followed by the five part ‘The Sonic Terminator’ which adapted the events of 1993’s Sonic CD before moving on to Sonic 3 over the course of six issues – they’re technically titled as three two part stories, but that’s not how they read. These two stories are what I remembered most of Sonic the Comic from reading it as a kid, and they still hold up really well all these years later. Elson’s art on these stories in particular are what formed my mental image of the characters for so many years to come. The Sonic 3 story of course introduces Knuckles, and sets up his long (and originally not so friendly) rivalry with Sonic, as Robotnik had tricked him into thinking that Sonic was the villain.

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Kitching also wrote a number of stories illustrated by other artists, including the standalone story The Sentinel which somewhat impressively would end up being followed up on over 100 issues later..

1994 also saw Lew Stringer join the team as alternating Sonic writer with Kitching, and the two would write the vast majority of the lead strip for the remainder of the comic’s life. While I enjoyed some of his later strips, I’m not too fond of Stringer’s early work and in particular his pet character Metamorphia who features in the first two.

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1994 saw a huge increase in Sonic related stories in each issue. The final issue of the year, the larger sized issue 41, featured six stories of which three were Sonic related – including Amy’s first solo story penned by Stringer.

Amy wasn’t the only one though as Knuckles began a first solo story from Kitching and Elson while they took a break from the main strip featuring, unfortunately, the Marxio Brothers again as they set up the Carnival Night Zone on the Floating Island.

Tails wrapped up his first series from the previous year and would go on to have several more goblin fighting adventures in the Nameless Zone before ending up back on Mobius in the Chemical Plant Zone to become the trenchcoat wearing Zonerunner.

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There were also several stories published under the Sonic’s World banner. Initially these focused on the history of Mobius, Sonic and Robotnik before becoming additional stories that followed other characters. The first story in this manner followed Burt and Cam of B.A.R.F., Robotnik’s Badnik repair team.. Somehow as a kid I don’t think I ever noticed Burt constantly referring to the Buzz Bombers in the story as Moto Bugs, I guess he could do with the Badnik Spotter cards that were given away later in the year, as could the editors of some other stories as it’s not the only time this mistake is made.

Meanwhile, despite the increasing emphasis on Sonic and crew, there were still plenty of stories based on other game properties. Ecco and Golden Axe wrapped up both of their stories from 1993. Ecco would eventually be back with a sequel, but unfortunately that was the last we saw of Golden Axe – despite the last part ending with the promise of more.

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The first completely new series of the year, Eternal Champions ended up having two stories over the course of the year. The first featuring all of the team members, while the second focused on arguably the two leads from the ensemble, Larcen Tyler and Shadow Yamoto. The first story begins with Brian Williamson on art before being replaced with Shinobi‘s Jon Haward, who then returned for the second story. A fairly straightforward comic at first, Haward brought his distinctive style to the series and improved it substantially.

The Eternal Champions also got their own special issue near the beginning of the year to introduce the characters and setting to coincide with their series starting in issue 19 that had three new stories. I believe this was part of a big push by Sega for the game’s PAL release in early 1994 (I recall most Sega themed games magazines at the time making a really big deal of it) as they hoped that the game would be popular enough to stick around for multiple sequels.. It almost worked, with a Mega CD sequel being released in 1995 and a couple of spin-offs, but by the time the Saturn rolled around the series was never seen again. Despite their high profile, the Eternal Champions didn’t appear in STC again after 1994.

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The final series from the first issue, Shinobi, made a comeback in 1994 as well. Joe Musashi continues his war against the evil Neo Zeed organisation, this time taking the fight to the enemy and attacking their headquarters to rescue his girlfriend. Jon Howard continues to draw the series, pulling double duty with finishing off Eternal Champions as both series were running at the same time.

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Next, we had a return of one of the second wave of stories, Streets of Rage that actually had two storylines start this year. First was Skate’s Story, which introduced the popular Streets of Rage 2 character. Still quite an enjoyable read, the series continued to be somewhat more violent than pretty much anything else in the book. This would turn out to be Mark Millar’s last story for the series, as Nigel Kitching would take over and pen all future appearances of the team. Right at the end of the year, the third storyline ‘The Only Game in Town’ began, which would finish in 1995.

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Wonder Boy was also back for a second story, this time adventuring in Ghost World. As with Golden Axe this would also be his last appearance. There’s no giant death mushroom this time sadly, though there are ghost dinosaurs so I guess that’s ok.

Rounding out the returning series, was another Decap Attack story. I still couldn’t get into it at all. Maybe I should give the game another try?

By far the strangest story of the year (and probably the entire run of the comic) was Pirate S.T.C. To this day I’m still not quite sure what this series is actually about, and it features the ‘Demon Barber’ character and skull logo from the Sega Pirate TV advertising campaign. A comic about an advert about games that the comic is based on.. what?

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Next up, and looking like the most sensible and normal strip by comparison, was Mutant League. Based on the game of the same name, which has just this year gotten a sequel/re-imagining, it features mutants (shocking, I know) playing a futuristic version of American Football. Sports games and stories don’t really do anything for me so one that I mostly glossed over.

Finishing off the year, the ‘mega sized’ issue 41 featured two completely new stories. One was the first part of Marko’s Magic Football which is about a kid called Marko with, you guessd it, a magic football. As with Mutant League, having never been a football fan as a kid or played the game, another one that completely passed me by.

And last of all, series host Mega Droid got a story of his own. Set as a behind the scenes look at a fictionalised version of the Sonic the Comic offices, Mega Droid takes readers on a tour before ending up answering letters for the letters page.

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As well as the regular comic and the Eternal Champions special, 1994 saw a number of other spin-off issues. The Poster Mags continued throughout the year, and now featured a short comic strip on the other side of the poster. Seven issues were published in total, with five Sonic stories and single issues of Streets of Rage and Shinobi. These all featured standalone stories, and had no bearing on events of the various ongoing strips.

Finally, summer saw publication of a holiday special. Included were a number of text pieces such as a history of Sonic and a fictional interview with Doctor Robotnik, and of course some comics. A two part Sonic story bookended the issue with solo stories for Tails and Doctor Robotnik in between that were all largely forgettable, but the most noteworthy piece was a four page Knuckles story that directly led into his then upcoming appearance in the main comic.

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Sonic Playthrough: 1994

1994 took me a bit longer to get through than expected due to a combination of working out how to actually play the Pico games, Christmas and putting off one that I really didn’t want to suffer through (Sonic Spinball) but I finally got there in the end.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Starting the year off strong Sonic 3 introduces everyone’s favourite meme machine, Knuckles. Initially Sonic’s enemy due to being duped by Dr. Eggman, Knuckles will of course eventually become one of Sonic’s most common allies.

Sonic 3 is a gorgeous game even now, with some great artwork and level design. The music is also really good, it plays great and.. well, I just wish the rest of the games released in 1994 were as good.

Sonic Drift

The first of Sega’s many, many attempts to try and come up with a Sonic game to counter Mario Kart, they immediately hobbled it by making it a Game Gear game instead of a Mega Drive one. This first Sonic Drift is a pretty barebones affair, featuring only 12 tracks and 4 racers and mediocre gameplay so there really isn’t an awful lot to recommend it. It does however feature the first playable appearances of Amy Rose and Dr. Eggman so that’s something.

Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio

This is another of the ‘oddity’ entries that only get classified as Sonic games on a technicality. Despite being central on the cover art, Sonic barely features as all aside from being the home screen cursor, though Tails does at least get some animation. It’s essentially a really basic (at least by modern standards, maybe it was interesting back in 1994) interactive sticker book, you can place what are effectively stickers of a number of Sega characters and other weird things onto one of several different landscapes and colour and animate them. And that’s about it!

Tails and the Music Maker

Noteworthy for being Tails’ first title role and solo appearance, Tails and the Music Maker isn’t really worth remembering for much else. A edutainment title for Sega’s Pico platform, it comes with a simplistic several page book that shows different locations for Tails to interact with. Changing the page on the book also changes what you see on screen. So far so good, but unfortunately the minigames that you play on each page are at best incredibly average and generally not even that good. To make matters worse, it sounds pretty bad too which would seem to be the exact opposite of what you’d want a music game to do.

Sonic the Hedgehog’s Gameworld

Very similar in structure to Tails’ solo game, Sonic the Hegehog’s Gameworld is another collection of fairly simplistic minigames for the Sega Pico. I thought this one was a bit better, with I’d say improved graphics as well as better games but there’s still really not a lot to it (though of course I’m nearly 3 decades older than the target audience). It also sounds better, which doesn’t do the music based game any favours.

Sonic Spinball

Thought I’d already played this? Yeah, me too. After Dave mentioned he’d seen a speedrun of the 8-bit version of Spinball and that it was different I had to check it out to confirm and unfortunately he was right. While it largely follows the layout of the Mega Drive version, there are some different bosses, special stages and of course everything was made from scratch as the 16-bit assets couldn’t simply be ported over. Meaning, by my own criteria, it’s a distinct separate game and I should play it. Ugh. Thanks Dave.

While the Mega Drive game can be frustrating for its difficulty, the 8-bit version is frustrating for everything else. The addition of continues means its not actually hard to complete, but the awful controls, wonky physics and complete misunderstanding of how momentum works make it a chore. It’s just a bad game. Sadly, I doubt it’s going to be the worst I end up playing on this playthrough..

Sonic & Knuckles

A superb palette cleanser after the garbage that came before, Sonic & Knuckles is essentially Sonic 3 Episode 2. I play the two games separate for the purposes of this playthrough, and as I didn’t really want to have a third run of the two locked together I instead just pick up a Sonic 3 & Knuckles save at the end for the bonus final zone.

Just like Sonic 3, it’s still a good looking game that plays and sounds just as great now as it did in 1994. Plus you get to play as Knuckles! The only real downside is that it’s the last proper 16 bit Sonic we would get.

Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble

Another one that I’ve long known about and own at least one copy of, I’d never actually gotten around to playing Triple Trouble before. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was, with graphics that are a step up over the previous 8-bit platformers and some pretty good levels. While prominent on the artwork, Knuckles isn’t playable here and instead just functions as the deuteragonist and eventually becomes friends with Sonic at the end – the other two opponents who make up the titular trouble being Nack the Weasel/Fang the Sniper and of course Dr. Eggman. Nack in particular is an interesting character, simply because of how much he’s remembered as being a big thing from this era despite not really amounting to anything.

Much like Sonic & Knuckles before it, Triple Trouble was the last proper classic 8-bit platformer. The end of an era..

Sonic the Comic: 1993

While playing some of the earlier Sonic games for my playthrough, I thought it might also be fun to re-read the Sonic comic that I remembered fondly from the time.

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Sonic the Comic was launched by Fleetway Editions in May of 1993, while the Sonic games were arguably at their peak of popularity. Following a similar format to many other UK comics at the time, STC was a 30 page fortnightly series that featured several 5-7 page comics per issue as well as a number of features such as game reviews, news and of course a letters page. While most of the comics were rotating features, as you can probably guess from the title every issue opened with a Sonic story. Later in publication, the stories based on other games were less common, with 2-3 Sonic related stories regularly appearing in each issue. Much like 2000 AD’s Tharg, each issue also featured the host character Mega Droid who introduces the issue as well as answering the letters page.

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The first issue featured the Sonic story Enter: Sonic which acts as a largely standalone introduction to the character (though does end with a plot thread that’s picked up in the next issue) as well as the first part of Shinobi and Golden Axe stories. Rounding out the issue are several pages of reviews, a news feature which highlighted the then upcoming Mega Drive and Mega CD 2 hardware updates, tips and a preview of the two new strips that would be starting in issue 7: Streets of Rage and Kid Chameleon.

The very early Sonic strips are largely forgettable affairs, with changing writers and artists each issue. It’s not until issue 7 that we get the first Sonic story from Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson, the team who will end up being the primary Sonic creators for the life of the series. Over their initial four issue run, Kitching and Elson introduce Super Sonic, cover the origin of Sonic and Robotnik (which is largely in line with most versions of the contemporary western backstory) and have Sonic end up several months in the future where Robotnik has taken over Mobius in his absence. These four stories are definitely the high point of the first year of Sonic comics, and clearly readers at the time realised this too as the more simplistic standalone stories became less and less common over time.

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One thing that is quite noteworthy about the stories not by Kitching and Elson from this era is that some feature very early work by now comics superstar Mark Millar though sadly, these are among the worst of the Sonic stories. It’s certainly not helped by the fact that the majority of Millar’s stories have different artists, and feature some of the worst artwork seen in the first year of the series. Most of the characters don’t quite have their established personalities at this point in the series and while Kitching was also guilty of it at times, Sonic under Millar seems to lean too far into the ‘Hedgehog with Attitude’ slogan of the series at the time to the point that he’s pretty much entirely unlikable. Sonic’s Super Sonic alter ego is also completely different: unlike the games which depict him as simply Sonic but powered up, the comic instead has him as basically a deranged psychopath – something which will become much more pronounced in future stories.

Tails is also noticeably out of character compared to modern versions as he’s regularly portrayed as dumb and clumsy instead of the genius inventor he is these days – a role that will be played by Porker Lewis later in the comic. Millar’s stories also were apparently written in a batch early in the series’ production, aside from a footnote at the start of each that mentions that the planet is ruled by Robotnik this doesn’t feature in the dialogue. Tails is largely useless in these early stories as he’s regularly being rescued by Sonic though he does get his own solo series at the end of the year where he does a bit better.

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Aside from the Sonic stories, most of the Mega Drive’s biggest titles of the time all have stories. In the first year of the comic Golden Axe, Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Wonder Boy, Kid Chameleon, Ecco the Dolphin and Decap Attack all have stories.

The first non-Sonic story in the comic, Shinobi follows the titular Shinobi Joe Musahsi on his mission to defeat the evil Neo Zeed and save his girlfriend. This is a pretty fun comic, and has stylish artwork from Jon Haward.

A favourite game series of mine, the Golden Axe strip is another enjoyable one. Featuring all three of the main characters and with a comedic tone, the story follows on from the end of Golden Axe 2. A second series that followed on from this one began with issue 13, but this was sadly to be the last Golden Axe story in the comic.

Wonder Boy was the first series that I couldn’t really get into that much. I think it may be that I didn’t really play any of the Wonder Boy games as a kid and so didn’t have any real affection to the character. It’s not a terrible story and the art was fairly decent though. Plus it had a giant death mushroom, so that’s something.

Streets of Rage is again by Mark Millar, though he’s a much better fit for the series than Sonic. Featuring a fair amount of violence for a comics arguably aimed at younger readers and with some quite cool art by Peter Richardson, it’s a pretty fun series that made me think fondly of one of the better Mega Drive series of games.

Kid Chameleon is based on the story of the game, and follows Casey who gets trapped inside a video game and can turn into different characters. The characters are all completely different types and genres which doesn’t really make all that much sense, but hey the ’90 were simpler times..

After a pretty rocky start with some sub par artwork, the first Ecco the Dolphin story really picked up with the shift to some lovely painted artwork by Steve White. An expanded adaptation of the first Ecco game, it has a scene where a dolphin is being carried in the sky by a Pteranodon. Sold!

The last new series (aside from Tails’ solo story) to debut in the 1993 is also probably my least favourite, Decap Attack. I’m honestly not quite sure what it is about the series that I didn’t like, as I like Nigel Kitching’s writing usually. It’s another series where I never got into the game that it’s based on though, so that could be it.

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The latter end of the year also saw the publication of the first two issues of the spin off Poster Mag title – these two issues didn’t contain any comics however (that starts with issue 3) and just acted as additional news and information about the series with the first issue in particular being worth mentioning due to showing artwork of a prototype Sonic cartoon that never aired.

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Sonic the Comic of course wasn’t the only Sonic comic of the time. Over in America Archie Comics were publishing Sonic the Hedgehog, which closely followed the setup of the darker Sonic cartoon and featured characters like Princess Sally, Antoine and Bunnie. This Sonic series outlived STC by a long stretch, and only ended in 2017 when it disappeared from Archie’s schedules. I never read this Sonic series back in the ’90s, coming to it about five years ago so as it’s not the one I have nostalgia for I won’t be covering it.

Sonic Playthrough: 1993

1993 was a huge year for Sonic. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was still high in the sales charts and breaking records, there were cartoons on TV and comics on both sides of the Atlantic (one of which I’ll be talking about shortly). There was merchandise, books, stuffed toys, t-shirts and pretty much anything else that you can think of. And, of course, there were a lot of games:

SegaSonic the Hedgehog

Sonic’s first full length arcade outing, SegaSonic the Hedgehog features Sonic and newcomers Ray and Mighty have to escape from seven stages of Eggman’s island full of traps. It’s a game I always wanted to play due to the great cartoon style graphics which still look pretty nice now.

It’s a kind of tricky game to play through emulation these due to the original game using a trackball controller and this input mismatch greatly increased the difficulty of the game – the inability to continue at the end certainly doesn’t help either. I’d love to try and track down the original hardware one day and give it another try, and hopefully it would be a little less frustrating that way.

Sonic CD

Released as a flagship title for the Mega Drive’s Mega CD expansion, Sonic CD will be instantly familiar to players of the Mega Drive titles, using the same art style and very similar sprites for Sonic. The big gimmick is the ability to time travel between the past, present and future of each act – early advertising for the game would tout ‘over 75 levels’ as a selling point which is fudging the numbers a little really as it counts each time frame of each act as a level.

While a good game in its own right that features a fantastic soundtrack, Sonic CD is mostly remembered for the introduction of Amy Rose and Metal Sonic. It would be a couple of years before Amy would be seen again, but Metal Sonic became a recurring villain almost immediately, and both now appear in the vast majority of new Sonic titles.

Sonic Chaos

The last ‘proper’ Sonic title of the year, Sonic Chaos was the only 8-bit title for 1993. In terms of structure and gameplay it’s very similar to the 8-bit Sonic 2, and consists of three act zones with the third act being a boss area.

I didn’t have a Master System or Game Gear in 1993 so I missed this at the time and hadn’t properly played it before, so most of the game was a complete mystery to me going in. Aside from a few new power-ups there were no major new features or characters introduced, but it still provides solid Sonic gameplay and was quite an enjoyable run. As a bit of an oddity, as I discovered on my playthrough, if you don’t find all of the Chaos Emeralds you don’t even get the end credits on completion.

Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball

Ordered as a last minute fill in for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 as it wasn’t going to be ready in time for the all important Christmas sales window, Sonic Spinball was apparently made within just a couple of months.

I definitely remember playing it over and over as a kid and finally being very impressed with myself once I completed it, but looking back it’s a very harsh and unforgiving game. There are no continues, and extra lives are very sparse. The slightest mistake in some areas can lead to death, and if you game over on the last level there isn’t even a password system so you have to start all over again. While that’s not entirely uncommon with older games, it’s not very player friendly by modern standards and I had to start this run several times just to be able to finish the game.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

The first Sonic title not to feature Sonic himself (though not the last), Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is yet another oddity in the franchise. It wasn’t originally even a Sonic game, but it was decided at the time that Puyo Puyo wasn’t particularly marketable in Western regions so the characters were all scrapped and replaced with Robotnik and a number of his badniks from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon.

The gameplay was completely unaltered from the original game, with you needing to create groups of at least 4 of the same colour beans. Chaining multiple strings of beans is the key to success, as bigger combos will cause solid beans to drop onto your opponents screen and give them trouble.

Sega Sonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol

Much in the same vein as Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car before it, Cosmo Fighter was a short game built into a childrens ride. This time around, Sonic flies a space fighter jet and uses it to shoot through a number of Eggman’s robots before finally confronting him while he’s piloting a dragon mech. With Eggman defeated, Sonic makes it to a space station filled with his friends and celebrates.

As I mention in the video, a ROM for this game was only discovered earlier this year making it quite fortunate that I’d not decided to do this earlier.

Sega Sonic Popcorn Shop

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about this one, as it’s barely even a game. A Sonic branded popcorn machine from Japanese arcades, it’s really more of an interactive animation that plays while the popcorn is being cooked. You mash a button to make Sonic run along a conveyor belt, and then spin a wheel to cook the popcorn, the end. It does feature some pretty nice animation at least, in particular Eggman’s fabulous running.

Sonic Playthrough: 1992

There were just two Sonic games released in 1992, but in no way was it a small year for the franchise.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (8-bit)

First up was the Master System version of Sonic 2. The most notable element of this of course is that it’s the very first appearance of Sonic’s best friend and sidekick, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower. Terrible pun name aside, Tails is a huge part of what makes the Sonic series what it is, and appears in almost every game from this point on. While Tails is generally characterised as a super smart inventor, here he’s just a plot device. Kidnapped by Dr. Robotnik in the intro sequence, he doesn’t appear at all until the end of the game aside from the title cards for each act.

As I mention in the video, the Game Gear version of the game was massively more difficult due to the smaller screen and this was particularly evident from the first boss – you can’t see the balls that are being thrown at you until they’re very close and while I only got ones that were going low they can also bounce higher so you got hardly any time to decide between jumping or going under. I honestly can’t remember if I ever beat it as a kid.

It’s also slightly odd in that the bosses are all mechanical animals, you don’t fight Robotnik himself at all until the very end – and even then that’s only if you get all of the Chaos Emeralds as otherwise you finish the game on the Scrambled Egg Zone after beating Mecha Sonic. Much like the 8-bit Sonic 1, the boss stages are all completely devoid of rings, adding to the difficulty quite substantially.

Much like the first Master System game the music is pretty solid all the way through, especially the Green Hills Zone which is presumably an early version of Sonic CD’s title track You Can Do Anything.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)

As good as the 8-bit version was, November’s Mega Drive version was the main attraction. Released in a media blitz on ‘Sonic 2sday’ it was a huge success and is widely regarded as one of the very best games in the franchise. For me, it’s always been my favourite. I got it along with a Mega Drive 2, my first brand new games console I’d ever owned, for Christmas that year as it was a revelation. There were more stages that let you run fast and the special stages, particularly for the time, were fantastic looking.

While I somewhat intentionally didn’t get all of the Chaos Emeralds on this run (I’d usually play as Sonic by himself so Tails can’t lose any rings in the special stages, and I’d hunt out all the Star Posts in the first couple of stages to get them while rings are more plentiful) collecting them all gave us the first appearance of Super Sonic which absolutely blew me away as a kid but does make most of the game far too easy in retrospect.

Plus of course Tails is now fully playable, either by himself or along with Sonic with a second player in pad 2. Tails, and more specifically his ability to fly, brings additional exploration abilities to the game (which will in later games be added to with Knuckles’ climbing)

Sonic Playthrough: 1991

So, my big new project to take up all the free time that I already don’t have: I’m playing every Sonic the Hedgehog game ever released in (as close as I can to) the order they came out, and streaming them too.

After each year’s worth of games I’m then going to collect my streams and write a little about each game. For this first post, it’s of course the very earliest Sonic games.

Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)

July 1991 marked the release of the the first ever Sonic the Hedgehog game and he quickly became Sega’s new mascot, leaving poor Alex Kidd all but forgotten.

Gamers at the time were blown away by the faced paced gameplay, colourful graphics and catchy soundtrack. While I don’t quite feel the speed aspect is quite there yet, particularly after the Green Hill Zone, it still holds up really well and is an enjoyable play.

A lot of enduring elements of the series are set up right from this first installment including the Chaos Emeralds and of course Dr. Eggman (although at this point he was called Dr. Robotnik in the West) as well as the iconic rings that I’ve heard jingle several hundred million times over the years.

Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit)

Seeing how massively popular Sonic was on the Mega Drive Sega was quick to make sure that he made it over to their previous console, the Master System. While Nintendo were the market leader in North America it was a different story elsewhere in the world such as Europe where Sega had a sizable lead. Naturally, they wanted to continue this and so a number of Sonic games were eventually developed for the console – lower sales in the States meant that this was the only Master System title released over there and the remaining 8-bit Sonic titles were Game Gear exclusive while we continued to get Master System versions.

Featuring a mixture of stages similar to the Mega Drive version as well as entirely new ones such as the Bridge and Jungle Zones, it’s a pretty faithful interpretation of the spirit and gameplay of the original game. Invincibility and barrier power-ups function in the same way, and Sonic himself has the same moves (though at this point really that’s just jump and roll so nothing too complicated) however some small differences like the inability to collect dropped rings and third acts that are entirely roads leading to the boss without any rings do stand out.

As you’ll hear me lament if you watch the video, the Master System has a rather irritating mechanic on the second act of the Jungle Zone where the screen is unable to scroll back down. This means that you die if you drop off the bottom of the screen, even if there was a ledge just below you that’s out of sight. The Game Gear version fixes this and makes the stage substantially easier as well as improving the colour palette and some additional animations, at the expense of a significantly reduced resolution.

Sonic Eraser

The Sonic series is littered with odd little entries, and this is just the first. Sonic Eraser was released only in Japan on Sega’s online service for the Mega Drive. It’s a rather simple puzzle game and almost certainly had Sonic added to it to make people more likely to play it – other than appearing in the middle of the screen in competitive games and occasionally if you pull off some impressive combos he’s barely in the game and there’s nothing other than his sprite to really link it to the series.

Like many Japanese exclusive games from the era, this was once thought lost until Sega re-released it on a Japan only download service in 2004 and it was subsequently ripped to a ROM.

Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car

The last Sonic game to be released in 1991, Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car was kind of a cross between a full size arcade cabinet and a kid’s ride that are fairly common in the west. It featured a plastic police car that kids could sit in as well as a screen and steering wheel to play the game. The game itself is very short, taking only a couple of minutes to finish which is about the amount of time most of the western equivalent rides last.

For reasons unknown Sonic drives a police car in this game (despite being quicker on foot) and drives up a road. Using the steering wheel you can avoid traffic, and move lanes but there’s no alternate paths to take. Eventually Dr. Eggman turns up, you fight him by jumping from your car to his while avoiding the bombs that he throws and when he’s beaten Sonic returns to the police station and the game is over.

While short and largely forgettable, Sonic Patrol Car is notable for being the first time Sonic (and also Dr. Eggman) have voices recorded for them.

Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow

Futurama is one of my all time favourite animated series – I’ve always felt that it’s far superior to The Simpsons and never understood why it’s the one that’s now been cancelled twice, perhaps outside of the fact that science fiction is generally a harder sell that a standard family comedy. So, I generally make time for any new Futurama related things that come along such as the new game Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow.

Despite Futurama being around for nearly 20 years now, Worlds of Tomorrow is only the second game based on the series (the last was the imaginatively titled Futurama: The Game waayy back in 2003) and again comes out after the cancellation of the current TV run of the show.

 

Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow follows the same basic structure as previous mobile games based on Fox animated properties, namely The Simpsons: Tapped Out! and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, both of which have you building a town of signature buildings from the show in question as well as collecting key characters. The characters can then be set on tasks and of varying lengths, as well as story quests which earn ingame currency to buy more buildings and unlock more characters and so on. Having played Tapped Out! several years ago this all felt very familiar, as it’s very similar to that game.

Worlds of Tomorrow opens with a fully animated introduction, featuring the voices of all of the main cast of the series, and features the universe once again in danger with only the Planet Express crew to save it. A rip in space and time cause The Hypnotoad to meet his equivalent from another universe and breaks the galaxy. Nibbler saves Fry from being caught up in it and, back in New New York, then has to start collecting Hypnotons to clear the city and get everything back to normal.

 

One major new feature that Worlds of Tomorrow has that Tapped Out! didn’t, unless it’s added something similar since I quit, are the space ship missions. You can use the Planet Express ship to fly to a number of planets and select from a variety of routes through the map which will take you up against different enemies. Completing all of the quests on each planet will unlock and artifact that opens up a new area of the city that has unique buildings and characters in it.

The main type of missions that you’ll face in space are turn based battles, where your crew of characters go up against a variety of different monster and enemy types from the show. Initially you can only have three characters on a space mission, but as you collect the artifacts and open up areas of New New York this will gradually increase first to four and then five. The combat is fairly straightforward, as your characters have only a single attack and a special that charges as you take and receive damage. As you attack each enemy, a white circle will appear around their feet which will quickly fill up, tapping the screen as soon as it is full causes your attack to cause extra damage, and you can do the same while being attacked to reduce the damage taken.

 

There are five different types of character class in the game. Delivery Boys, such as Fry and Kif, have a single enemy attack with their special being a higher powered version. Scientists like the Professor or Amy have an attack that can hit enemies on either side of the target, while the special attack hits every enemy on screen. The remaining classes all do buffs with the special, and a single attack as standard. Bender and other Robot class characters have a defense buff, Captains like Leela have an attack power buff and finally Influencers like the Planet Express janitor Scruffy heal all player characters.

There are also a number of missions that give multiple choice options on how you wish to proceed or talk to other characters, depending on the choices you make you can end up with either rewards or potentially taking damage. As you complete the space missions you’re given career chips that come in either generic or class specific varieties. These are used to level up the characters to give them additional abilities as well as increasing their health and attack power during battle missions.

 

The majority of the art in the game is very much in the style of the original show. While in New New York you can see all of the characters that you have unlocked and, if you zoom in, the level of detail is actually quite impressive. They’re well animated and look just like the show, and that level of detail carries over to each of the buildings too. I wouldn’t have minded the ability to place some of the travel tubes that you see all over the city in the cartoon around my buildings. Maybe in a future update..

In the turn based battles, the art style shifts to 16-bit pixel art. The characters all have slightly shrunken proportions but are all easily recognisable. I do prefer the clean art from the rest of the game, but it does still look rather cool. When performing a special attack the character picture fills the screen which lets you see them in more detail.

All of the main voice cast return to their characters for the game. Each will have a few sayings when clicking on them, and it’s nice to hear new work from all of the actors again. There’s so far been once celebrity guest character, George Takei, and he performs all the voice acting for his character. The music and sound effects are all also spot on Futurama, and it really does sound like the show. Several writers from the show also contribute to the script writing including showrunner David X. Cohen, so as well as sounding right all of the characters speak just like they should too.

I started playing just after the launch week which, annoyingly, means that I missed out on the chance to get the Nixon and Agnew character (Arrrooo!) but he was a premium character and only available through the game’s paid currency of pizza – as much as I love the character in the series I don’t think he’s worth the frankly ridiculous £15 of real money he would have cost, so it’s not the end of the world. It does highlight a problem with this game that I also had when I used to play Tapped Out!, that some content and characters are only available during specific events and may not be available at all again in future.

 

The situation is potentially even worse with the current ongoing event, Lrrr Strikes Back! This massive chunk of new story and content, running for a whole month and labelled as Episode 1, has Lrrr and the Omicronian fleet invade Earth (for the fifth time) and has a number of new missions and actions for characters to complete. The event will be finishing in a couple of days, and it has had nine characters and several costumes that are only available during the event. This is a huge proportion of the twenty six characters available in the game at the moment, and will leave any newcomers at a disadvantage compared to other players when it comes to producing resources through character actions. The game is of course still quite new, so it’s entirely possible that these episodes will be re-run in future allowing new players a chance to experience the story and earn the characters.

One of the game’s biggest issues is that it’s one of the least stable mobile games at least that I can remember playing. It fairly frequently just crashes out completely with no error messages, gives random errors on start up (though these don’t seem to have any effect) and perhaps worst of all fails to reconnect if it’s lost internet access – the screen with Scruffy as pictured below has never reconnected for me. It gets stuck in a loop of asking you to reconnect and then telling you to wait 10 seconds so that you can try again and every time I’ve seen this screen I’ve had to kill the app and launch it again. The stability has increased somewhat since it first launched, but it’s definitely something the developers should be working on as a priority.

While I don’t know if it’s something I’ll keep playing long term like I did with Tapped Out!, as I have a lot more ongoing games that I’m playing these days, I’m really enjoying Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow so far and I’ll definitely be sticking with it at least until I’ve unlocked all of New New York and finished the storyline. As a Futurama fan, having what amounts to another series of episodes is definitely something I can’t pass up.

Games Backlog – Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Between big new releases and starting a new job a couple of months ago, I’ve not had a lot of time to continue working through my backlog of older games. Considering it’s now August and I’m writing about a game from ‘A’ still, it just goes to show how well I’m doing. I think I’ve already somewhat tired of just working down the list in alphabetical order though, so I think I’ll end up playing something that doesn’t begin with an A next. But that’s next time, today is Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

While I’ve been aware of the series from a distance for quite some time, I’d never previously gotten around to playing an Ace Combat game. I’m not even sure why, really.. I enjoy arcade flight games in general and there aren’t all that many of them so I’d have expected to actually play one before now. Perhaps it was mostly down to them not being released on a platform I have while that was my dominant console, at least in the early days. I played almost exclusively on the Nintendo 64 and PC during the late 90s, and by the time I was playing on consoles concurrent with a game release it was already 4, 5 or 6 titles into the series and that always feels like something of a barrier to entry to me.

All this means that Assault Horizon is my first Ace Combat. Even before I started playing, I was aware that series purists weren’t exactly fans of this one so I went in with somewhat lowered expectations.

 

Most of the previous games in the Ace Combat series had been set in an alternate universe, known as Strangereal, on a version of Earth with different continents and countries but with (generally) real designs of fighter planes. Assault Horizon on the other hand, is set on what’s intended to be the real world so all of the missions are set in and featuring existing places and countries. I understand that, on release, many at the time felt that this was intended to be a reboot of the series (if that was the case, those plans are no more as next year’s Ace Combat 7 is back in Strangereal) into a more gritty realistic one which very likely will have contributed to the general dislike from the fandom.

None of this meant anything to me going in of course, and in a way I’m somewhat glad that it’s a break from previous games as it meant I wasn’t ever wondering if I was missing anything. Assault Horizon follows a joint NATO group of fighter squadrons led by Colonel William Bishop of Warwolf squadron. It’s honestly not all that memorable a story and mostly exists as a framework for making you go to different parts of the world – while playing it I felt very much that it was the Modern Warfare of flight sim games which I still feel is somewhat accurate. The plot isn’t really all that memorable to be honest, and has your these days standard Modern Warfare/Tom Clancy kind of thing with traitorous Russians and experimental superweapons and the like. It’s basically action movie level of plot engagement – I didn’t particularly care about the logic or details of what was going on, because the things going on let me fly shiny fighter planes and blow things up.

 

And what shiny planes they are. Assault Horizon features nearly 40 flyable aircraft, made up of mostly fighter planes but also a small selection of other types of craft such as helicopters and bombers. The majority of the craft are real world designs of planes past and present, as well as a few that are currently prototypes but there are also a couple of completely fictional aircraft from other games in the Ace Combat series. The vehicle models are incredibly detailed, and look exactly like you would expect them to with tons of moving parts like flaps and exhausts and so on. Each craft also has a number of selectable camouflage styles. These include a mixture of real life styles, ones based on previous games as well as promotional skins for other Namco games such as the very subtle Pac Man deco I flew a mission in that most definitely wouldn’t have made me an incredibly obvious target.

While the vehicle models look great, the characters that populate the cutscenes between missions don’t fare so well unfortunately. Even bearing in mind that Assault Horizon is an slightly older game, having been released in 2011, the characters are poorly animated and unrealistic and have this plastic look that was more common in the early Xbox 360 days circa 2005. I’ve seen far worse, but they’re astonishingly average. This isn’t a terrible problem, being as they’re only present in the cutscenes and never in any gameplay but it does feel a little jarring going from really pretty and detailed fighter planes to rubbish characters, and it probably didn’t help all that much with me paying attention to the story either.

 

Most of the game’s missions are based in fighter planes with you playing as Colonel Bishop. These missions are essentially the classic Ace Combat gameplay but with an extra feature that’s drawn most of the fire from some long time fans of the series, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. Despite the simulator level of detail on the planes, Ace Combat is an arcade style game so there isn’t excessive levels of detail to the controls. You accelerate with the right trigger and decelerate with the left, the bumpers roll the plane left or right and the face buttons are target selection and weapons. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, but really effective and I never found myself in any real difficulty maneuvering the plane around.

The controversial feature, at least as far as a lot of the fandom are concerned, is the Dog Fight Mode. When you’re attacking an enemy fighter and have it in a target lock at close range, a circle will appear around your targeting reticle. As you get closer this circle will shrink until it finally turns red and if you then press both the bumpers together you enter Dog Fight Mode. When you’re in DFM the camera shifts to the underside of the plane or to just over one of the wings and focuses on the weaponry there while giving a clear view of the target, as well as entering esssentially an auto pilot. You can move the reticle around on the screen to better target the enemy fighter and attack with greater accuracy to bring them down quicker. I personally quite liked DFM as it made some of the fights feel even more intense, but I can see how such as massive addition or change to a series’ established gameplay can draw some criticism.

The handful of missions where you’re not in a fighter have you playing as an airman from one of Warwolf’s various supporting squadrons. A couple of missions give you direct control over a helicopter which I found to be quite clunky, especially when compared to how well planes control, and instead use the triggers for attacks which felt somewhat counter-intuitive after hours of using the face buttons. There are also missions where you man the side guns on a helicopter gunship, fly a bomber to destroy some larger targets and finally the now-obligatory AC-130 gunner sequence that so many games in the post-Modern Warfare world have felt the need to include. None of these were particularly terrible, but they weren’t as fun as flying a fighter so in some ways feel somewhat pointless but I understand the logic of trying to give a bit of variety in gameplay.

 

I did feel that most of the missions were a little too long, many were paced into several acts or phases that I feel would have been better split into separate missions. Some later missions can take over half an hour to finish, and I think that’s too much for a single unbroken section of arcade gaming. The auto save in missions is quite generous though, and you can quit mid mission so on the odd occasion that I was playing during my break I didn’t have any real issues with just quitting and picking back up where I was.

One thing that stuck out to me almost immediately when I started the game up was the score, as it’s really really good. In particular the main theme that’s peppered through the score and comes up regularly during epic fights comes back to that feeling of being an action movie and really works well, but the rest of the tracks are almost as good and there’s tons of atmosphere from the music alone. The character voices, rather like the models themselves, are entirely unexceptional though at least are largely serviceable with the exception of a few dodgy accents. At least all the action noises such as the planes, weaponry, explosions and so on sound decent enough.

Despite the mission length, there aren’t all that many of them so it isn’t a terribly long game overall. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it never wore out it’s welcome and the 11 hours or so that I spent on it felt to me like a decent length for the game. The missions can all be replayed once you’ve completed them should you wish to try out other planes, go for any missing side objectives or achievements and the like, which can extend your play time somewhat too.

 

All in all, I rather enjoyed my first Ace Combat experience. I’m now very much looking forward to the release of Ace Combat 7 on PC next year, and will certainly consider going back some of the previous games in the series before then – the confusingly titled Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy on the 3DS (which is actually a remake of Ace Combat 2 with no story links to Assault Horizon) will probably be my next Ace Combat before 7 comes out.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Bioware’s original Mass Effect trilogy were some of my favourite games from the last generation of consoles. While each of the games had their own flaws – the first was somewhat lacking in terms of combat but amazing at world building but I felt the second scaled the RPG aspects back a bit too much and then the third had that ending – each were truly enjoyable games and built a fantastic sci-fi universe.

Expectations were high then, when Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced. Initially I was a little sceptical when the first information was released; that it was set in a different galaxy, centuries after the trilogy. It sounded like it was going to be completely removed from the great universe and lore that Bioware had spent three games building and we’d spent hundreds of hours playing.

Thankfully, I needn’t have been too worried in that regard. Mass Effect: Andromeda follows members of the Andromeda Initiative, a group of explorers who left the Milky Way galaxy at some point around the events of the second Mass Effect. As well as wisely removing the story from having to suffer the effects of the ill-considered ending to Mass Effect 3 (where, no matter what choice you make, it fundamentally breaks the universe) it does mean we still get familiar races and technology so it still feels like Mass Effect.

 

The Andromeda Initiative launched a number of colony ships towards the Andromeda galaxy with the intention of settling there, and the story opens as the human ark, the Hyperion, awakes it’s crew from over six hundred years of cryogenic sleep to an emergency. Unlike the original trilogy, where you always play as Commander Shepard and choose their gender, this time around you select one of the two Ryder twins, Scott or Sara, while the other remains an existing character. I played the trilogy with a male Shepard and, having also heard that femshep was the better choice, decided to go with Sara.

With your choice of sibling appropriately selected and customised, Ryder then awakens to trouble on the Hyperion. The ship has arrived at the intended human colony world, Habitat 7, however the surface of the planet isn’t as it had appeared on scans and the space around it is filled with a mysterious dark substance called the Scourge that causes massive damage to the Hyperion that results in the Ryder that you didn’t select being stuck in their stasis pod for a good chunk of the game. There’s a fairly lengthy prologue with exploration on Habitat 7 including the discovery of some advanced technology that can terraform the planet and the introduction of the primary antagonist of the game, the Archon. The Archon is the leader of the kett, a militaristic and hostile race,

 

After leaving Habitat 7 Ryder and the crew of the Hyperion travel to the Nexus, which is where things really kick off. The Nexus is basically the Andromeda equivalent of the Citadel from the original trilogy, and is crewed by more members of the Andromeda Initiative. The crew are made up of all of the major alien species, with the Nexus team having set off for the Andromeda galaxy a little while before the ark ships. Here Ryder is given the major quests that will drive the rest of the game, to track down and defeat the Archon as well as discovering the fate of the other species arks. On your travels you’ll encounter new alien species as well as another faction of enemies, the robotic Remnant – because every science fiction game franchise needs to have robots!

There’s more of a sense of exploration in Andromeda than in previous Mass Effect games, especially as they’re in a new galaxy where everything is unknown. While there were somewhat unexplored planets in the original trilogy, the exploration aspect was always somewhat lessened by the fact that the galaxy was already colonised by races that we knew by that point – sure, the asari homeworld is a new planet for us as the player to explore, but it’s filled with asari and we know them already. In Andromeda though, particularly early on, there’s a feeling that there could be anything on each of the new planets that you explore. As with past games, there are major planets that act as quest hubs as well as less important locations that you just scan from orbit to see if they contain any useful items. Most of the major questing planets let you use the Nomad, Andromeda’s replacement for the original games’ Mako, to travel between locations in a fairly standard open world game manner. Finally, Ryder also has a scanner that works much like detective mode in the Batman: Arkham games. Depending on how you play, you may only use the scanner every now and then for investigating quest items, but if you’re a completionist then you’ll find yourself scanning every new enemy and item you see and sweeping it around each area you enter to see if anything new comes up.

 

Andromeda was the last major game that I played before my big upgrade in May, and I was playing at significantly below recommendations with a three year old AMD APU and a 2 GB GTX 960. Thanks to the games scaling options however it meant I was able to play with a higher graphical quality than I’d expected, and all of my screenshots here were taken on that hardware. The simplest recommendation for increasing game performance is to lower the resolution, but this is something I’m generally loathe to do as it results in blurry text and interfaces. In Andromeda however, the scaling allows you to choose the main resolution that all of the interface is displayed in, and then a separate resolution for the more demanding 3D engine. With that set to 900p and around medium settings, I was able to sustain 45 fps on average, though that did take a bit of a hit on the rainy planet of Voeld but still generally stayed above 30 fps. After my upgrade, and on other hardware that did meet the requirements properly like my test bench at work, it’s almost entirely stable at 60 fps and subsequent patches by Bioware have also improved that.

I really liked a lot of the music in Andromeda, particularly the main theme which was reminiscent enough of classic Mass Effect while also being its own thing. The voice acting was a bit more hit and miss, however. Sara Ryder was pretty decent I thought (having not played as Scott I don’t know how good he would be over the course of the game) but the default team members Jacob and Cora both grated a little – to be fair though I don’t know how much of that was the voice acting performance or the script as Jacob’s lines in particular were pretty terrible. Their replacements in my squad however both had good performances and actually felt like they had chemistry in dialogue that featured them both, and they were the asari PeeBee and Jaal who is a member of the new friendly species in Andromeda, the aya. Sound effect wise, it’s all fairly standard gunshots and explosions that you expect to hear in a science fiction game – nothing either particularly stand out or noticeably bad really.

 

On the gameplay side, it’s possibly the most fluid of any game in the series. The cover and shooting mechanics are generally similar to how I remember Mass Effect 3 playing and the boost pack built into Ryder’s suit that basically acts as a power jump means that you can traverse the game like never before in a Mass Effect. Over the course of the original trilogy, you could see how it started with the focus on the RPG elements and the gameplay of the third person shooter elements feeling almost like an afterthought and as each subsequent game came out there was less RPG and more shooter. While a lot of work clearly went into the shooter side of things, Andromeda also puts a bit more emphasis on the stats of weapons and equipment through both items that you collect as well as a sizable selection of craftable gear.

The Nomad controls really well too, with some nice features like a toggle between fast and all terrain modes to be able to scale steep surfaces and both a boost and vertical jets. All of this makes the Nomad quite a versatile and fun to drive little vehicle, though I wouldn’t have minded some weaponry on it even if you had to stop to deploy it first.

 

Bioware games are also well known for the conversation options, and the classic dialogue wheel returns once more in Andromeda. The traditional good/evil (or in the case of Mass Effect case, Paragon/Renegade) system is no more however, with Ryder being a much more grey character. I tend to go good guy with most RPGs so I tried to make the decisions that I would consider closest to that but there were a handful of moments in the game where I genuinely had to stop and ponder the possible ramifications of either option. I’m not sure they had any real effect on the end of the game, mind, but I’d not be at all surprised if some of the choices were planned to pay off across the course of any possible future sequels like in the original trilogy.

The internet, as it’s known to do, massively over exaggerated problems with the game in my opinion. Yes, there were some bad animations (the worst of which Bioware have already fixed) and yes, there’s some fairly cringe worthy dialogue. Graphically it doesn’t quite match up to AAA titles of today, and feels more like something that would have been released a couple of years ago – it still in my opinion looks pretty good, but it lacks in some of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a top end title. Despite all this however, I didn’t really find any game breaking bugs or major performance issues. I think I might have had a single crash in my nearly 100 hours with the game, and there was one time that my Nomad fell through the world and I had to reload my last autosave but I then wasn’t able to replicate it again. There is an issue with the quest log where it and the ingame codex of information on new species, ships etc show there as being new items even if everything is read that even the ‘mark all as read’ button that was added a little while ago hasn’t fixed but that hardly impacts on gameplay other than being a slight irritant. I’ve had far worse issues with games that haven’t been as heavily panned for being buggy in the past.

 

Honestly, the biggest complaint I’d have against it is that there’s just a bit too much to it. Even after 100 hours, on a single save file, I’m only at about 97% completion with a bunch of small side missions that are both uninteresting and, in perhaps a greater sin in a game this large, not tracked on the galaxy map that I don’t think I’ll ever bother going back to unless they get proper tracking on the map like all the rest of the quests – I know the majority of these are meant to be exploration based objectives such as ‘find kett subjugation devices’ and so on, but at least a general area to search in would be helpful. There were a few times that I’d finish everything I had to do on a planet, go back to the Nexus and then be sent right back where I’d come from that weren’t exactly great either and shuffling these around somewhat to minimize the travelling back and forth would have been greatly appreciated. At least a skip button was added to the animations on travel within a solar system, as that took far too long when the game first came out.

Finally, one that did annoy me was one particular side quest. Since it’s Mass Effect, you have a number of romance options throughout the game. One of the side quests allows you a potential romance with an asari reporter on the Nexus, and as I hadn’t as yet decided who to go for I started the romance side of the conversation with her. By the time that finally got anywhere though, I’d then ended up in a relationship with a member of the crew. While all of the other romances, as far as I’m aware, give you the option of declining, when you meet the reporter back on the Nexus towards the end of the game there’s no option of turning her down – the quest simply continues to where you meet her in the bar and then back to her apartment. As it’s a roleplaying game, I feel like that’s not how my character would play it and would respectfully say ‘No, sorry, I’m in a relationship now’ and end it there leaving me with a decision to either stick to what I feel is the character and have an unfinished quest or just finish the quest and not be happy about it.

 

While I absolutely feel that more time should have been given to Bioware to continue testing and improving the game, given the stories of the game’s time in development it’s frankly astonishing that it all holds together as well as it does. I’d definitely agree with the general opinion that it’s not up to the overall quality, but to say that it’s an outright bad game is something that I’d argue against. Sadly, the general internet opinion seems to have been reflected in the games sales, and Bioware at present have put the series on hold. We still have a little more Mass Effect to come, with the Dark Horse comics and two more novels in an Andromeda trilogy due later this year (the first, Nexus Uprising, was released around the launch of Andromeda but I haven’t got round to reading it yet) but the future for the series generally is looking fairly bleak.

Me? I’d spend another 80+ hours with Sara Ryder and her crew without hesitation.

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