Wednesday, October 20

Nerd stuff! And you thought this blog was over.

This is, apparently, my 60th post on this blog. If it were a man and each post was a year then he'd be looking towards retirement and reflecting on a life all but spent. Although this is not the case, it is definitely a good moment for reflection. It's a shame that people rarely read back-dated blog entries, there's a great story that unfolds through those virtual pages.

Well I did make it home relatively cleanly and have spent the past week seeing friends and carving a space for my life in Erin's countryside house. I also have a fairly nice chunk (900gig) of footage to address that will hopefully become the meat of a film, one I'm not yet sure what to expect from. I am sure I want to make it, but I'm unsure and perhaps rightly modest when it comes to the repercussions of it's impending release. In some secret place I'd love to see it picked up and shown perhaps on local tv and hosted online, perhaps the good people at Penny Arcade would finally feature a link to it on their own website and the resulting attention and entertainment would provide some kind of future for my brother and I. But I try to keep a lid on that and just look at making something with enough value to personally justify the endeavour.

I have been binging [bingeing?] on video games. I missed playing with my brother, and even though I did play a lot on the road (in fact that was the mission honestly) I feel like I've been missing the ceremony of dedicating a day solely to a new release. To playing games on my terms.

Scott Pilgrim and Castle Crashers were once more set upon, but this time with my brother, sister and fiancee as comrades. So important are the personalities of the people I play with that this rotation made them feel like brand new games.

Halo Reach was blown through, continuing to disappoint all the way. As soon as I learned that you couldn't play as the colourful members of the Noble team but had to instead play the completely blank 'Noble 6' (and I thought Master Chief was flavourless) I realised I was in for a weak ride. It would be easy to write pages on Reach's shortcomings but what it really comes down to is that it's not Halo 3. There was also the knowledge that Bungie are done with Halo, replacing future hopes with the knowledge that Bungie are stepping out quietly.

On a far more uplifting note, XBox Live Arcade is working hard to finally make GameStop redundant with two excellent titles: Sonic 4 [Episode 1] by SEGA [Sonic Team] and Comic Jumper by Twisted Pixel [and friends].

Sonic 4 is the awesome that I and all other Sonic fans have been waiting for for the last 16 years. That means there are teenagers who have lived their whole life never knowing a decent Sonic Game!* I just secured the last three Chaos Emeralds (after completing the game yesterday) and have been enjoying setting ridiculous act times and killing myself by moving too fast with Super Sonic. Ah Super Sonic, the traditions continue. And that really is the point here, it's pure nostalgia. This game was made for me and everyone who gave me props for my Sonic 2 t-shirt (my favourite on the trip). It is crammed full of references to the first 3 Sonic titles and just makes me smile a big stupid grin. However this is also the most obvious complaint amongst gamers; it's just the old games with better graphics. But I say no! And I say it with authority.

Sonic 4's greatest traditional nod is to the way in which the sequels always reflect the original games. All you have to do to see Sonic 4's genius (and vast improvements/innovations) is go back and play the original games. Sonic 4 has distilled the Sonic franchise to it's essence. There are four (and a half) worlds, and they are the first four that come to mind in every Sonic Game- Tropical Island, Casino/Carnival/Pinball, Ancient Ruins (in Water and Lava flavours), Industrial Techno-nightmare and then theres always Eggman's 'Final Zone'. In fact I just found someone's list of Sonic level cliché's right here. What Sonic 4 does is first take Sonic for a walk down memory lane BUT then continues to innovate on those old designs and mechanics.

The first level: Splash Hill Zone is split into 4 Acts. The first begins with a carbon copy of the first part of Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1 and continues to play on those themes. The second Act is more reminiscent of Emerald Hill Zone from the start of Sonic 2 while still identifiably the same location as Act 1. In the third Act the sun is setting giving the level an orange hue which, along with the zip-lines that heavily feature, remind me of Angel Island Zone from Sonic 3. Finally the Eggman Boss is the very first encounter from Sonic 1 but with an aggressive twist in the second half of the fight. The Eggman Boss fights in the Sonic games have more often than not been a time to set speed aside and do some carefully timed attacking, I really like the way that some of the speed has been allowed to exist with Sonic's new physics. The Final Boss (a re-imagining of the Final Egg from Sonic 2, only this time I get rings thank god) was much more fun to play and was more about fast paced combat than nail-biting timing and placement.

So basically yes, this is a nostalgia driven game and all the Bosses and levels are a mixture of old and innovated old. But that is exactly what we've been crying for so I'm very happy. And here's the kicker; at PAX I got a chance to sit on a couch with one of the developers and chat about the fact that it's 'Episode 1' and seems to be largely reworkings. He was ready for the obvious question and what he said was (and now I feel like a real journalist) that this first Episode is all about nostalgia and getting the Sonic fans on board, getting them to trust Sonic Team again (and after Shadow with a gun and Sonic as a werewolf I can understand the need) but Episode 2 and beyond are going to be about taking the traditional 2-D Sonic adventure in a new direction. Keeping it true to retro Sonic style but heading into uncharted territory. This is exactly what I think everyone needs to hear. Yes, Episode 1 is very retro and not really new or innovative enough to stand alone as Sonic 4. But it's only the beginning, and it's a very strong opening.

Now that I've spent four paragraphs nailing down Sonic 4 and establishing myself as a complete fanboy let me tell you about a new game that is just as good but without having any history at all. At PAX I first saw it briefly; a superhero with an emoticon for a face sliding down the side of a building with a woman for a board. That's all you really need to know about Comic Jumper. The combat is simple but challenging and comes in three distinct game 'modes' that are switched between on-the-fly. But you need to get this game because the story is great and it's one of the few games to make me laugh. Captain Smiley's comic gets cancelled and you must guest star in other comics to earn enough money to re-launch. It's like Gumby with guns and jokes! Anyway it turns out that parody, mediocrity and a grumpy Bender-esque star are great forms of comedic entertainment and if there's one thing I love it's Genre-based adventure**. I particularly like how much effort Twisted Pixel went into making this game their own. There are live-action cutscenes of people reading the comic, the employees interact with Captain Smiley and offer advice and tons of little touches like the Stats Screen Song that really help a low-budget title from feeling second-rate.

Oh and I also saw "Resident Evil: Whatever... 4 Maybe" last night and it was pretty good for what it was. They haven't got better, but surprisingly they havent got worse. This leaves them as one of the few sci-fi-techno-apoca-horror franchises I still look forward to seeing. You can always rely on there being Milla Jovovich looking badass and mutated zombie-dogs looking all The Thing-esque. Unfortunately it was only playing in 3D. It was good, the 3D was actually cool, but I really don't want to encourage the mainstreaming of 3D films as I still firmly believe it is a gimmick. On a gamer note, while they don't follow the story lines of the Resident Evil games (at least not anymore) they do strongly follow on from each other in spite of their improbable endings. In this way they have created their own Resident Evil mythos, although it features the same main characters and themes. What I really like is that you can clearly see that this independent franchise has been created with as much effort and attention as the Resident Evil games. I think I may actually prefer it...

Enough for now. Gotta go play Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. Finally they released a GH game with a songlist I actually want to play!

*Well Sonic Adventure was awesome in my book and Sonic Rush on the DS is a true successor to Sonic & Kuckles, just not on the big(ger) screen.
**Timesplitters, Viewtiful Joe, Psychonauts, Conker's Bad Fur Day are all great examples. Go play them!

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