Friday, October 25, 2013

Top 5 Sonic Games

Sonic.  He can really move.  Sonic.  He's got an attitude.  Sonic, he's the star of my next Top 5 list! 

The Blue Blur has seen a remarkable amount of variety in his games over the years, both in terms of playstyle and quality.  With Sonic Lost World just around the corner, now seems like the perfect time to look back at my favorite Sonic games.


5. Sonic Dash (iOS)

Wait...really?  I'm really going to start off this list with an endless runner style fremium mobile game?  Yes.  Yes I am.  I love this game.  It's really fantastic.  Heck, I've played it far more than the vast majority of main series Sonic games.

The gameplay is simple and addictive.  The graphics are charming and polished.  The music is an awesome and catchy remix of Seaside Hill, one of my favorite Sonic songs of all time.  Plus, Sonic Dash has been stuffed full of features courtesy of regular updates.  Simple though it is, Sonic Dash is such a great time-killer that it warrants a spot on this list.

4. Sonic Adventure DX (GCN, PC)

The first fully 3D Sonic game made an encore appearance on the GameCube several years after its initial release.  That's where I first experienced it.  Though far from perfect  (very very far from perfect...) Sonic Adventure is still quite easy to enjoy.  Maybe a little harder to enjoy these days than it was back in ye olden times when it felt less dated, but even now the game still has its moments.

Appealing though not especially polished graphics, catchy music, interesting characters, and hilariously bad cutscenes all combine to create an experience that can easily overcome its shortcomings, and Sonic Adventure is still one of my favorite Sonic titles to revisit.  And it's totally worth playing just to hear all of Dr. Eggman's infinitely repeatable quips.  Get a load of this!

3. Sonic the Hedgehog (Literally everything ever)

I'll be the first to admit that Sonic 2, 3 & Knuckles all improved greatly upon the original Sonic the Hedgehog in virtually every way.  Better graphics.  Fun new characters.  Cooler levels.  The Spin Dash.  Awesome music.  So why on earth did I choose the original Sonic over its clearly superior follow-ups?

Honestly, it's because it has such an easy-to-remember level select code that works on nearly every single version of the game.  Since I don't often sit down and play through any of the Genesis Sonic games in their entirety, Sonic 1 is always the one I go back to the most since it's so easy to jump in and just play any level I want.  Later Sonic games improved the formula immensely, but the original classic is still the best if you just want a quick Sonic fix.

2. Sonic Advance (GBA)

Sonic's first original outing on a Nintendo console isn't the most remarkable game in the world.  It's mostly just Genesis gameplay with a Sonic Adventure coat of paint.  But, darn it, if it isn't a ton of fun to play!  Familiar to be sure, but very solid throughout.  It has all the best things about every Sonic game before it all mixed together.

I sunk hours into Sonic Advance back in the day.  That it was a portable game made a huge difference for me.  Of course, these days it's quite easy to carry lots of Sonic games around in your pocket, but at the time there weren't too many options.  Sonic Advance was a great little greatest hits compilation to carry around and play whenever I liked.  I loved it back then and I still love it now!

1. Sonic Colors (Wii) 

When it comes to Sonic games, it doesn't get much better than Sonic Colors!  Exhilarating level design, phenomenal music, some great Saturday morning cartoon styled writing and voice acting, and lovely graphics all come together to create one heck of a Sonic experience

Sure, the gameplay is a bit clumsy at times and favors 2D sidescrolling over full 3D for the most part.  But it's polished throughout and doesn't have a lot of moments I legitimately dislike.  All the levels are equally memorable, making every part of the game as fun to play as any other part.  It's rare to encounter a game that offers such an evenly paced experience, but Sonic Colors strikes that perfect balance.  It's pure enjoyment from start to finish.  And, just like Sonic Adventure, Eggman's dialogue is worth the price of admission alone.  Good 'ol Baldy McNosehair steals the show at every opportunity!

Also, an honorable mention to Sonic Generations, which would probably be on this list had it been released on a console I actually own...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Toy Story of Terror!

Toy Story of Terror!  represents Pixar's first foray into the realm of television specials.  Just in time for Halloween, the Toy Story gang find themselves caught up in a creepy turn of events when forced to spend a night at a roadside motel.  The easiest place for a toy to get lost, according to Woody, the toys do indeed begin to disappear one by one.  Is something spooky afoot?

Much like the three Toy Story Toons that preceded it, Toy Story of Terror! features lots of familiar faces, all voiced by their original actors, but focuses its narrative on one character in particular.  Jessie is our main star this time around. With her abandonment issues and fear of small spaces, she's an ideal choice to place in a horror film setting.  On top of that, it's also nice to see Pixar tell a story that deals with Jessie facing her insecurities head-on, as she never really had enough screen-time to do so in the film series proper.  Though the brisk pacing of the special's run time means that the plot has to speed along at a breakneck rate, Jessie has a nice complete character arc in this special that is surprisingly well done.

Mr. Pricklepants, the thespian hedgehog who was undoubtedly the best new toy introduced in Toy Story 3, also gets his most substantial role to date.  As a classically trained actor, or so he thinks, Pricklepants delights in calling attention to the horror film cliches that Toy Story of Terror! employs as well as predicting what may happen next based on his knowledge of classic films.  Not only is his performance hilarious, but it also leads a few sly fourth-wall-bending jokes here and there!

In keeping with Toy Story tradition, a few new toys are introduced in Toy Story of Terror!, though we don't get to see too much of them.  Indeed, perhaps the only real shortcoming of Toy Story of Terror! is its brief length.  Though the story does not feel rushed, it does move along quickly, and it's a shame that more time couldn't have been spent fleshing out the scenario.  There is little time to devote to the new characters we meet, but they make the most of their brief roles.  One new character in particular ought to bring a smile to the faces of longtime Toy Story fans who know the original movie inside and out.

It's also worth pointing out that, while Toy Story of Terror! is definitely heavy on Toy Story, it's relatively light on terror.  The first half of the 22 minute special does pack in a few well executed homages to classic horror films and there are a few mild jump scares sprinkled throughout, but the horror film pretense is almost completely dropped for the latter half of the story. 

This might be a little disappointing to those who were hoping for something a little creepier, but the more traditional Toy Story antics that follow are more than enough to make up for it.  Clever nods to both the original Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are sprinkled throughout for longtime fans to catch and the climax is thrilling enough to maintain the suspenseful atmosphere created by the special's more spooky beginnings, even if it is more along the lines of the traditional action and adventure one expects to see from Toy Story.

Ultimately, Toy Story of Terror! is a success.  The story, though brisk, feels complete and is consistently entertaining throughout.  The special is funny as well as exciting, and nods to both classic horror films and previous Toy Story films ensure that all audiences will find something to enjoy.  Pixar knocked it out of the park with their first TV special.  Here's hoping Buzz and Woody will be back on the little screen with more adventures soon!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One Change: Super Mario Bros.

Welcome to One Change, a new recurring series that, like all my recurring series, probably won't ever recur again.  In this series, I'll be examining games, movies, and other things that I absolutely love.  Except for, obviously, one thing.  That one thing that just stands out and bugs me every time I revisit these otherwise fantastic pieces of media.

Essentially, these articles will be glorified nitpicks.  Yay!

Our subject today is none other than the NES classic Super Mario Bros.  A masterpiece in gaming, it's not easy to find fault with this game.  It has a few strange design choices, mostly due to technical limitations, but is overall a perfectly solid and enjoyable platformer even to this day.

Except for one thing.

Pure disappointment in a box.

That block, right there, at the end of World 1-1.  That should be a power-up block.  But it's not.  It's just a coin.  And that bothers me every single time I play this game.  Why, you ask?  Because if you take the shortcut through the underground bonus area, you can't get fully powered up until World 1-2.  Now, yes, I'm fully aware that the very first question box in World 1-2, which is the very next question box you encounter in the game after the box that bugs me, does indeed have a power-up in it.

But, dang it, if it isn't unsatisfying as all get out to finish 1-1 without a Fire Flower, even though I know I can get one in just a few seconds.  Every time I load up Super Mario Bros. and get to the pipe to the bonus room, I'm always torn between taking the shortcut or going the long way to get my flower.  I don't really need the flower.  I don't really need the coins.  But I want to get both, gosh darn it!

That last block in 1-1 is such a tease!  If only it were a power-up I'd be able to breeze through the level, go the secret area, and head off into the next level fully equipped with my fire flower and ready to go after those Goombas at the start of 1-2.  And that's the one thing about Super Mario Bros. that bothers me.

The way it should be...