“Yeesh,” really does about sum up my feelings on Sonic Forces, a game that squanders the goodwill of both this year’s fantastic Sonic Mania, and the game that this presents as a spiritual sequel to, Sonic Generations. Forces is case of the food being bad and the serving size too small; and really gives the impression that nobody working on the game tried to make anything more involved than the 2017 version of a 2003 era Newgrounds Sonic Character dress-up flash game.
It’s astounding how much each new core Mario game feels like a complete reconstruction of the franchise while also being something revolutionary. There are always enough familiar things, the feel of the jumps, Charles Martinet’s rising-and-falling exclamations, question blocks, Princess Peach and Bowser, to trigger that rush of nostalgia; but also insane amounts of novelty and creativity on display to make each game a unique experience. Super Mario Odyssey is no different, once again proving that Mario is still the gold standard for platformers, if not the entirety of video games.
I kind of resent deciding to start my review of this series here, as I’ve greatly enjoyed what Tell-Tale has done with the Batman mythos so far, but this is easily the weakest episode yet. Despite introducing some novel twists on familiar characters, The Pact feels limited in what it borrows from the Batman mythos, resulting in a plot that feels overstuffed, skipping possibly interesting scenarios by railroading the player through a series of lose-lose choices to ratchet up the drama.
Sonic games have this habit of never being as good as you remember them, and yes, this goes for the highly venerated within the fandom Genesis quad (pent?)-ology of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. I replayed as much as I could of 2, CD, and 3&K while waiting for the delayed release of Sonic Mania on PC, and while they do hold up better than following games in the franchise, with the exception of Sonic Generations; there are also scores of flaws and bad design choices: the classic Sonic games never had great physics for the more precise platforming they sometimes demanded, levels are full of enemies that pop-out of nowhere, and bottomless pits, and the camera is never far enough ahead of you to give you room to react unless you’ve memorized the levels. Plus, some of the boss battles are just, obtuse; and the special stages in 2 and CD were – to put it kindly – too ambitious for their mechanical limitations. And, on a personal level, I was never great at the special stages in 3&K, and likely never will be.
All of this gave me some trepidation as I started up Sonic Mania and immediately beefed my way through the new Green Hill Zone with Sonic and Tails, missing every opportunity to take higher paths and jumping straight into badnicks and – this is embarrassing – losing a life to the first boss. And, as I continued to fail my way through Chemical Plant, I made the unfortunate discovery that the checkpoint-bonus stages were the blue-spheres from 3&K, and the special stages to get the Chaos Emeralds were based on those from CD.
The negative reception to the recent Assassin’s Creed movie has gotten me thinking about why it’s proven so difficult to adapt videogames into movies, even as movies and television begin to resemble videogames more and more.
And I don’t just mean in terms of CG or action direction, or other things mainly focused around aesthetic. I’ve been noticing that a lot more narrative media is borrowing the narrative mechanics of videogames, and it’s not just limited to stuff like Superhero movies where at least the two share the broader traits of power-fantasy. But even as this confluence seems to be blurring the lines between dramatic-narrative and ludo-narrative, I think it’s important to understand the limits each has to storytelling.
Recently, I’ve had two very similar experiences with two very different games: Pokemon Go, and No Man’s Sky. And, as different as the two games are, my problems with them are incredibly similar. After only a short play-session, I found both games incredibly boring. And while each has its own mechanical deficits that contribute to my boredom, both share a pretty big conceit that lies at the heart of my issue with them – both Pokemon Go and No Man’s Sky aim to be entire alternate lives.
I think we can all agree now that first Watch_Dogs never lived up to that first trailer, and a big part of that had to do with its main character, Aiden Pearce. Even with his “iconic hat,” Aiden didn’t manage to pop out from the countless other angry, white, grizzly-voiced game protagonists. So, nobody was really excited when news that Ubisoft was working on a sequel leaked.
But today, after a steady stream of leaks, Watch_Dogs 2 was finally announced, and the one thing that popped out at me through the talk of free-running mechanics, improved hacking, or the ability to play non-lethally was the game’s new protagonist. Replacing milquetoast Aiden Pearce is Marcus Holloway, a black man wrongly profiled by ctOS – the game’s Orwellian surveillance system that runs everything – who now leads a hacker revolution. And given the game’s setting and focuses, Marcus being black is way more than skin deep.