Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sonic 4: Episode 1 & 2: Game review

Sonic 4 Episode I and II are downloadable games released on numerous platforms including PC and iphone. Here are my thoughts.

Episode I
In my opinion Sonic 4 Episode I is more like Sonic Remix. It features a handfull of levels which can be described as remixes of previous levels in previous games. It even includes the same enemies and even the same bosses! Graphics are okay but opening Splash Hill backgrounds feel dull washed out. In Splash Hill for example, the background are paper cut outs! It's probably not noticeable on an iphone but for on a PC or console it looks horrible!

It feels like its struggling because it was developed for handhelds and the iphone which have less processing power rather than just consoles. Instead of using 3D models which don't look that great I personally wouldn't have minded if they had used pixels and sprites instead.

Episode II

Episode II feels more like its own game. Levels feel better and less recycled and better paced. The inclusion of Tails with co-op and the ability to use Sonic and Tails moves was a good move. Graphics have been improved greatly and now feel brighter, shinier and include more animations. Bossess are completely new and not copied from other Sonic games.

Metal Sonic levels are unlocked if you have Episode I but these are just levels from the first game which are a bit harder and aren't really that exciting.

As a package, overall, Episode 1 is skippable in my opinion. You're better off just playing Sonic 1,2 or 3 & Knuckles. Episode 2 on the other hand feels like a solid attempt at a Sonic game. The Metal Sonic levels don't really add much to the game so I would say save your money and just get Episode II if you must get Sonic 4.  You also only get 4 zones per episode which makes each Episode feel like half of a Sonic game. Don't buy these games, if you're playing on the PC and console, you're better off just getting Sonic Generations, the far superior game which has both classic Sonic and modern Sonic and which was designed to be a console/PC game.

The Ball: Game Design Review

The Ball was originally a mod for Unreal which was eventually turned into a full proper game. Its an action puzzle game where you control a giant Ball and use it to solve puzzles as well as crush enemies. The Ball is fairly well polished, is mechanically sound and has a great atmosphere. However there are certain things that irk me about the game.

What I disliked:
Mine cart sequences- Every now and then there will be a long mine cart sequence for over 30+ seconds just waiting around for you to get to a different location. There is no interactivity with it so it's pretty much just a theme park ride. While other games might use this opportunity to get you familiar with a new environment or tell a story nothing actually happens during these rides except occasionally enemies will pop up growl at you. Not sure why these even exist.

Instant death platforming- Platforms are difficult in a first person perspective and there are a good number of puzzles which require jumping in this game. Some of them leading to instant death which is frustrating. Puzzles like that don't often happen but when they do, they are quite noticeable.

Levels are kind of long- Being a puzzle, the level were kind of long and alot of the game centres around walking around the levels to the next puzzle. It's okay but I miss the more compact rooms of Portal and other puzzle games. Especially when you accidentally knock the Ball off and have to try again.

Boss battles are kind of boring- A lot of boss battles don't take advantage of the Ball. For example, there's a worm boss where you have to step on plates around the room to activate the solution. You don't even take the Ball into the battle as it is blocked at the entranced of the room. I can't think of single memorable battle.

Vehicle is useless- Near the end of the game, you find a vehicle you can stick the Ball to. What does this cool vehicle do? It just allows you to travel faster. That's it. I was hoping that you might have used it as a catapult or something but no, the Ball just acts as a third wheel.

Puzzles- For me the puzzles were a bit hit and miss. Some were okay and others were a bit boring.

I'm not the kind of gamer that enjoys puzzle games, I prefer action games and RPGs so I'm not the core audience for this game. For me the Ball was an average experience at best and full of untapped potential. I don't really enjoy playing puzzle games so you might like it if you're that sort of gamer.

Descent 3: Game design review

Descent 3 is the 3rd in the indoor FPS space shooting series where you control a space ship and fly around tunnels and shoot enemies. The third in the series was released back in 1999 and was recently re-released on with the base game and the Mercenaries expansion pack. Here are my thoughts on it.

What I liked
Gameplay- The game play remains solid and fast paced.

Level design- The tunnel level designs are solid and feel interesting.

Guide Bot- The navigator does a great job of leading you around and adds personality to the game. It can also perform actions like putting out fires and even act as a virtual camera. More games need a guide bot like this!

Variety of weapons- Lots of weapons and missile variety

What I disliked:
Imbalanced weapons- Like most games of its time weapons are somewhat imbalanced. There are some weapons which are really good while others are at best situational like the mines or napalm.

Controls- Controls can be tricky with a standard mouse and keyboard. The mouse is simply too fast causing me to overshoot the target. I found using the keyboard alone made the game easier to play at some points because the turning and aiming speed was more manageable.

Guide Bot could be even more helpful- As guide bot, it can guide you around, put out fires and even damage the enemy if it picks up a powerup. I kind of wish the guide bot had the ability to attack regularly or assist in some more ways rather than rely on power ups. For example, maybe the Guide bot could merge with your ship to temporarily power it up, act as a prism for energy weapons so you can fire around the corridor or generate a cloaking field. I feel there's a lot of untapped potential here.

Outoor level designa and gameplay- The game is pretty fun while indoors in tunnels however once you get out doors, the speed of your ship feels way too slow. Obviously you can't go charging around in the tunnels so your craft is in actual fact slow but highly manueverable. Outdoors however, you have much more space to manuever and need to limit the craft is less of issue. Unfortunately there is no 'flight mode' so you'll find yourself seemingly crawling across the surface to try and get to the next tunnel entrance.  The aiming is also unchanged meaning that outdoor battles become very difficult as it's almost impossible to hit from a distance from your guns but somehow the enemy can.

Difficult levels- Last few levels are a bit to tricky and frustrating to navigate more so than the previous levels.

Desecent 3 in my opinion is still fun and despite its age and shortcomings. In fact I'm surprised no new games were produced like this until the recent Miner Wars 2081.

Sonic Adventure 2:Game Design review

Sonic Adventure 2 original came out on the Dreamcast and was updated for Gamecube several years later. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on Steam is the PC port of the Sonic Adventure 2 game and Battle DLC from the Gamecube version of the game. Note the DLC is still sold separately on Steam although I purchased this as a bundle.

What I liked:
Playing the game is definitely a retro throw back to the good old days. The music is so loud and full of energy its hard to criticise it. The Sonic and Shadow speed levels are still quite fun especially the later levels on the space station where gravity can change the entire perspective. The Hero and Dark story format are kind of cool and provide two perspectives of the story. From a gameplay perspective, the Hero story should be played first as the Dark story goes through the same levels but are generally harder. At the end of the game there is also a final chapter where everybody teams up.

What I disliked:

Boring reptitive boss battles- Most boss battles are rival battles. Regardless of which side you take however, these battles play out exactly the same. E.g. If you play the Hero side, you play as Sonic fighting against Shadow while if you play the Dark Side you play Shadow vs Sonic but both of them are almost exactly the same. The bosses that aren't rival battles are also nearly same but with a slight twist depending on the side you are on. Overall, kind of boring.

Levels- In the game you alternate between 3 types of game play: 1) Speed levels, where you play as Sonic or Shadow where you have to race through the levels. 2) Exploration levels where you play as Knuckles or Rouge and have to find gems and solve puzzles 3) Shooting levels where you play as Tails or Dr Eggman and go through the level as a third person shooter.

As mentioned above, the speed levels are still pretty fun. However it is worth noting the controls aren't precise even when playing with an Xbox 360 controller and awkward jumps to your death are frequent in certain places. One of the worst levels for this is the last few space station levels which are both some of the best levels in the game and worst levels in the game particularly the parts where you have to switch and grid between rails and where missing means instant death.

The exploration levels are either alright or aggrevating depending on what you look for in a game. There were times that I got frustrated at them greatly because of all that searching. It is unique from most other games and some of them were pretty cool such as the level taking place in space where each meteorite has its own gravity. I don't really like their inclusion but they were more pleasant than I expected.

The shooting levels are probably the worst not because there was anything mechanically wrong with them but because they were mediocre. If I wanted to play a third person shooter with platforming, there are tons of other games out there which do that better.

Overall,  2/3's of the game is simply average and not very fun making it difficult to recommend. Time has moved on. With the release of the original 2D Sonic games and the superior Sonic Generations on multiple platforms including the PC, I just can't recommend buying this game. Save your money and buy Sonic Generations instead.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Saturday Morning RPG: Game Design review

Saturday Morning RPG is an episodic RPG game where you play Marty, a guy who is given a magical notebook to stop the evil Commander Hood from taking over the real world. It's a homage and parody of 1980s shows and toys. Commander Hood and his goons for example are a paraody of Cobra Commander and his henchmen from G.I. Joe. The game really nails the atmosphere of the 1980s with its heroes, villains and supporting cast.

What I disliked
For me there are three main gripes with the game.
Combat System- Before combat, you can scratch stickers on your magic sticker book which grant you special bonuses such as extra health or magic. You have to do this by rocking your joystick around before the time runs out. I like the concept of being able to choose what bonuses you get before you encounter the enemy however but its repetitive and not necessarily fun after the 20th time you do it

During the combat rounds you rely on items as your main attacks and skills. Each has a limited use within a combat round. For example, you can only use the basket ball deals a small amount of damage and makes the enemy burn and can only be used a certain number of times. There's no way of restoring your items so once you've used all of them up you're out of options.

You also have a charging mechanic where you use your magic to multiply the damage your attack. There are three different methods of charging. One by button mashing, two by automatically charging and three by timed method. They are result in the same effect and its really about which one you prefer the most. Personally I find having 3 methods little bit silly and almost like the developers didn't quite know what they were doing so decided 3 methods

Blocking is also interactive and by pressing the block button at the right time, you can reduce damage and regain magic.

The game is clearly geared towards this charging mechanic because you get magic for blocking enemy attacks and have a special attack which charges your magic. At the same time you have limited items with normal weak damage.

Finally, when you attack some attacks require timed attacks, others require button mashing while others require you to memorise a sequence.

 In a genre where repetitive combat is already a problem, all these factors serves to lengthen the combat more so then I liked. I think that's a problem here because it means that literally half the combat is charging your next attack.

Overall the combat system feels like a drag rather than joy. But I have would rather have a more strategic system rather than relying so many button presses. Its fine to have interactive bits in the combat but not all the time otherwise it becomes boring.

Atmosphere- As mentioned, the game nails the 1980s atmosphere perfectly. Because I grew up in the 1980s, I understand the numerous refernces to toys and cartoon series and the characters. However that's also the problem, the game literally revels in the 1980s. If you don't understand the references, I fail to see how the  mish mash of 1980s characters and people would appeal to you.

Rather than focusing on various villains that parody several 1980s cartoons, they should have instead focused on parodying just one cartoon series and then slowly drawn the players into that particular world. For example, they could have just focused on parodying GI Joe and followed the fake TV series episode by episode. At the same time they could have some sort of encyclopedia or something to help introduce a larger cast.

Unfinished- The final gripe I have is with the unfinished nature of the game. Because its "Episodic". The developers haven't finished the game despite it being already out for so long and even on Steam. I'm looking forward to playing it but when will that be? There is no release schedule for the next episode nor any sign of closure.

Saturday Morning RPG wasn't terrible by any means and I enjoyed my time with it but the combat system, multiple button pressing really annoyed me. The atmosphere was great but even I had to ponder for a moment and try to figure out who some of these characters were parodying. I can recommend this to people who love RPGs and also those who enjoy 1980s cartoons but its hard to recommend to anybody else.

Jade Empire: Game Design review

Set in asn asian fantasy setting, Jade Empire by Bioware is a story about you and the current trouble in the Empire. It's the usual "Save the world" gimmick but set in an Asian setting.

What I like
Unique setting- The Asian setting is very rarely used in games and this sets it apart from many other games. I especially liked the cool looking statues in the game and the outdoor environments.

Fun character- The characters are all very interesting and unique. Some might say cliche but I genuinely enjoyed my time with them.

Martial arts- Who doesn't love martial arts fighting? This is one of the few games where you can actually see Chinese style martial arts in an RPG.

What I disliked
Unfortunately there are significant problems with the game which really drag it down.

Combat system- When you play the game, the combat and targeting system is for one on one fighting and simply unsuited for a brawl. For example, if there are three people infront of you and you attack, you will only hit one person and very rarely hit the other two or three. There is also sweep attack which allows you to knock people away and basically isolate and finish them off individually, again with a focus on one on one.

The targeting system itself seems to rotate through the enemies rather than focusing on the enemies closest to you or in front of you again feeling extremely out of place.

There is a free targeting mode but again this feels clumsy, you will simply attack in whatever direction you're facing, regardless of whether there's an enemy there. This might sound okay for the melee attacks but your ranged magical attacks in particularly will simple fly in a straight line rather than where the enemy you're targeting is.

Finally there is the issue of transformations where everytime you swap to a body transformation you will find the entire screen glow, the game paused and your character replaced by a demon form. This happens every single time making swapping between demon and human annoying.

Overall, the entire combat system is average at best and frustrating. Considering you're stuck with this for the entire game, it can get very frustrating when you're fighting mobs.

I wonder why they didn't just have a side scrolling fighting system like Final Fight or Golden Axe. I think that would have made the game much more bearaeble.

Bioware Morality system- Choices are way too black and white. Unfortunately nearly all the moral choices in the game are way too extreme. Here's an example, one of your characters has a good spirit and an evil spirit living in her. Part way through the game you have to choose between one of them to gain permenant control. The good spirit will co-exist peacefully with her. The evil spirit will torture her for all eternity. This is the type of moral choice you face in the game. Doing the sane normal good approach or the insane psychotic approach.

The same thing happens for teh ending choices which again feel like an extreme choice between good or evil.

Story pacing feels uneven- The first few chapters move somewhat slowly because of the hub cities. 
The game has two hub cities, three if you count the opening village and a world map. Just like in Knights of the Old Republic you get a flyer to travel around the world map. But there are only two hub cities so its almost strange and pointless having such a large world map.
 Once you hit the latter half however, things move at a brisk pace because it becomes a linear succession of levels. I don't hate linear levels necessarily, it just feels strange that it suddenly became so linear.

I like Jade Empire despite its very obvious flaws. I have to admit the combat is below average at best but the game has a unique atmosphere, solid characteristation and good overall writing. I would say try it at the very least, you might just get sucked in assuming you can withstand the terrible combat.

The Baconing: Game Design Mini Review

The Baconing is the third game in the Deathspank series and the so far the final one. Its a top down action game where you go around as Deathspank to destroy certain magical items and save the world.

What I liked about the game
Atmosphere and graphics- The game oozes charm everywhere, from the enemies, to the towns to the voice work and descriptions. The descriptions are funny and the various themes poke fun at the typical science and fantasy tropes.

There are plenty of hilariously described items and equipment through out the game although many do the same thing for example the food you get can heal you but each zone has a different food with its own picture and flavour text.

What I disliked

Combat- Mechanically the combat is solid, but Deathspank takes way too much damage and as a result it becomes extremely frustrating fighting through the hordes of enemies that keep mobbing you. Even on easy and using the special items you can find around the game it is still extremely difficult to keep yourself alive. You'll die alot or find ways of cheating the AI to stay alive.

The game is a bit too simplistic as well and is actually closer to a beat-em-up like Final Fight with some lite RPG elements such as status effects. It's okay but as mentioned, the cobmat balance is so terrible that you'll barely notice the RPG elements except when you need for example to attack enemies which only take damage from poison.

Considering the entire game is pretty much combat, loot and getting more stuff, the unfortunate difficulty of the game and the simplistic combat means in my opinion  it might be better spend your time and money on a different game. The frustration factor is way too high that unless you absolutely love Ron Gilbert's sense of humour you're better off just buying a different game.