Archive for February 2010

New Releases: March 2010

February 27, 2010

What a month to kick things off with, huh? It seems Christmas was moved to March this year for some reason.

Actually there is a reason. Many Christmas releases were delayed because they didn’t want to compete with Modern Warfare 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii for one thing. For another, March marks the end of the first quarter of the business year. As such, if companies don’t want to kick off the year in the red, they need to release something!

As such, many big name titles are hitting one after another in rapid succession. Let’s take a look and see what we see!

-Week 1-

Nothing. The calm before the storm I guess. Oh there’s some first person shooter that stole the themesong from Jak X, but that’s about it.

-Week 2-

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/360)


The first next-gen installment of the infamous Final Fantasy series hits America right at the beginning of March, making many developers wish they had challenged Modern Warfare 2 instead. FFXIII has had a long and strange development cycle though. Originally a PS3 exclusive, it was one of the primary reasons anyone bought that system only for it to recieve a (U.S. exclusive) XBox 360 port, much to PS3 fans dismay. It has also stirred up controversy because the original Japanese themesong is being replaced with “My Hands” by Leona Lewis, an American Idol winner. Again, much to the dismay of everyone. Lastly and most intriguingly, however, is that it’s Japanese release a few months back has caused many to question if it’s even an RPG anymore! Supposedly the most cinematic yet also most linear Final Fantasy yet, FFXIII is lacking many RPG elements. Most infamously, it lacks towns. While not the first RPG to do this, and indeed it may not even be a bad idea, it has raised many eyebrows. From my standpoint, FFXIII is an all or nothing gamble. It will either be a surprisingly fantastic spectacle, or it will be the next FFVIII. Either way, there’s absolutely no chance in hell it will be better than Final Fantasy XII to me. Still, I’ll pick it up for the spectacle and hope for the best. I mean, if nothing else it has a guy with a baby chocobo in his afro! That must be worth something!

Yakuza 3 (PS3)


Some call it “The GTA of Japan”, others call it a “Modern Day Action RPG”. Some Japanese magazines even call it “Shenmue Done Right”! Regardless, the Yakuza series is damn incredible. Telling the epic tales of Kazuma Kiryu, a former Yakuza member, the series is a smash hit in Japan right up there with Final Fantasy! In America? Not so much. Both Yakuza 1 and 2 bombed horrendously for various reasons. Yakuza 3 wasn’t even going to come out originally! However, the fans begged. You really can’t blame them either as Yakuza 3, with it massive hyper-detailed (and accurate) world and numerous optional side activities, could well be the single greatest game on PS3! One of the few that honestly could not be ported to 360 as it’s Blu Ray disc is bursting at the seams with content! Unfortunately, SEGA has revealed that due to budget and time constraints, a few side activities have been cut. Most notably, the ability to run the Hostess Club. This act alone has caused 75% of the people who were going to buy the game to boycott it. Of course much of this is the fault of bad PR on SEGA’s part as they failed to mention that the dating and hostesses would still be in the game. Hopefully they’ll clean up this mess before Yakuza 3 bombs and Yakuza 4 is rightfully denied to Western audiences. Before anyone calls me on it though, I admit that dressing up the hostesses was half the reason I was buying Yakuza 3 and the part I was most looking forward to. However, the game will still be great without it. I just hope the text is readable on a standard definition TV.

Spectral Force Genesis (DS)


Better late than never, huh? This was supposed to be released in America months ago but was pushed to February at the last minute and now March. Odd because it was already translated into English and released in Europe last year! The game it’s self is part of a long running series I am only vaguely familiar with. However I am very interested in this entry. From what I can tell, you pick one of a handful of different fictional countries and try to conquer the fantasy world of Neverland. Combat involves swarms of 2D sprites in a 3D battlefield all commanded in realtime via touchscreen. A tantalizing Japanese RTS for the DS with a Risk/Dragon Force-esque world conquest set up? Sign me up!

-Week 3-

Pokemon Heart Gold/Soul Silver (DS)


An enhanced remake of what is widely considered the best Pokemon game ever made. Heart Gold and Soul Silver adds tons of new features like the ability to have Pokemon follow you as well as the ability to download them to a Pocket Pikachu-esque device! While Krys has been replaced with Kotone as the female trainer of the game, much to my dismay, I still look forward to more Pokemon training action. This is probably the only game coming out in March that can seriously go toe to toe with Final Fantasy and win. Now if only I knew where I put my copy of Pokemon Pearl so I can get my Lopunnies back! I need my Lopunnies!

Rage of the Gladiator (WiiWare)

While it was supposed to be the first Wii Ware title to use the MotionPlus, Ghost Slayer beat it to that. Still, this looks to be Punch Out!! but medival and with a hammer. That’s good enough for me!

Resonance of Fate (PS3/360)

A new Tri-Ace RPG being released on both PS3 and 360. Resonance of Fate  seems to involve a unique combat system that focuses on flashy over-the-top gunplay. I know very little else about it beyond the fact that I need to give it a shot. Oh sure the character designs look bland and the plot will probably be dreary, but the combat looks awesome! Also, apparently there will be some degree of customization in it and that’s even more awesome!

Fragile Dreams (Wii)


A highly experimental game on Wii. In Fragile Dreams, you play what may be the last person left alive on Earth. He finds a girl but she runs off and now he looks for her while piecing together what ended the world. From what I hear, there is no combat at all. No action whatsoever. It’s all exploration. It’s a daring idea and, like Heavy Rain, could either be incredibly boring or shockingly amazing.

Infinite Space (DS)


SEGA does what Derek Smart don’t. Infinite Space is a massive hyper complex game where you command a custom starship and explore two massive galaxies. It seems a lot like what was attempted with the infamous Battlecruiser 3000 AD, except (if the Japanese reviews are true) actually good! While it’s no doubt a niche title with a steep learning curve, it is destined to find fans. Tell all your Star Trek fanatic friends to take a look!

-Week 4-

Cave Story (Wii Ware)


Everyone’s favorite freeware Metroidvania gets an enhanced Wii port! If you haven’t played it yet, look it up! Chances are, Cave Story will be well worth the price of admission even though it was originally free. It does make one wonder if they’re adding any new content though.

Red Steel 2 (Wii)

Looking absolutely nothing like the original launch day disappointment, Red Steel 2 promises me first person sword swinging action with MotionPlus support (and also guns). That’s about all I need to hear! Let’s pray that it finally provides me with the sword swinging action I’ve been craving since the Wii launched! Of course, I’m not counting on it. Still, the new graphics and atmosphere look nice and FPSes work well on Wii when they’re competently coded. So, this should be worth a look at least. It’s really great seeing a developer put actual effort into a Wii title as this actually looks good.

Cheer We Go! (DS)

Planned in the US and programmed by Natsume, Cheer We Go! looks like a blatant knock off of We Cheer. Very little information about it is available, outside of DSi camera support in a mini-game. Still, I like to live on the edge and plan on giving this a shot. Chances are it will be a rythm game and probably bare a striking resemblance to Elite Beat Agents.

Sakura Wars 5 (Wii/PS2)

The first of the long running Sakura Wars series to ever come to America, and boy is it late! The fifth and possibly final entry in this long running series takes place in an alternate 1930s America where girls in mech suits battle demons. The game provides a pleasant mix of strategy and dating sim elements and should be a joy to play for fans of this type of stuff. What’s most interesting though is the nature of the release. Sakura Wars 5 was released on PS2 in Japan five years ago! As such, it is being ported to Wii exclusively for it’s Western release. Even more interesting, however, is that it’s more expensive PS2 release will be a 2 disc special edition with the English dub on one disc, and the original Japanese voices on the other. Let me tell you, many of us have dreamed of releases like this ever since Final Fantasy X. Words cannot express how grateful I am to Nippon Ichi America for this.

Squishy Tank (DS)

Supposedly based on a series of Japanese flash animations, Squishy Tank is supposed to be some kind of puzzler. In fact, it looks like a very generic one. You know what? I don’t care. The writing alone has me sold. Not to mention it’s a game about a Squishy Tank!

-Week 5-

Wario Ware D.I.Y. (DS)

A Wario Ware where you get to make the microgames and upload them to the internet. Anyone familiar with the series’s “story” will no doubt know that Sean Malstrom will be laughing his ass off at this one. Still, this could be potentially awesome if there’s a way to just download a random handful of microgames, turning it into an potentially infinite Wario Ware. We shall see when it hits.

Samurai Shodown Sen (360)

Another massively delayed title, Samurai Shodown Sen a.k.a. Edge of Destiny, is a next-gen 3D Samurai Shodown. Unfortunately the graphics look terrible and you can bet it will get abysmal review scores. This is made worse by the almost universally awful new characters which are all bland and barely fit with the original cast! Still, I love my fighters and plan on giving this a shot. It could be a pleasant surprise! Just don’t count on functional online play. SNK never does that.

Monster Rancher DS (DS)

I thought this would never come out here! Monster Rancher DS is actually the more recent second DS title, which was released in Japan two years ago! It seems being bought by Koei is helping Tecmo be less retarded. For those unfamiliar with it, Monster Rancher is an incredibly deep monster training simulation series. One’s first reaction would be to call it a Pokemon clone. However, it is absolutely nothing like Pokemon at all. In Monster Rancher, you input data to make a monster and then take it back to the ranch to raise it for battle. Sure adventures happen every now and then, but it’s more about raising the monster than merely leveling it! Sadly it’s going up against Pokemon itself this month meaning it will probably sell quite poorly. Oh well, it’s a wonderful birthday present for me! Thanks Tecmo and Koei!

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What Is: New Releases

February 27, 2010

Being a hardcore gaming nerd, I often look up releases lists at the beginning of each month. I then write down any games I want, look up information on games I had never heard of but intrigue me. I then make estimates of their prices and plan ahead as to which games I intend to purchase.

Now, with the start of this blog, I’ve decided to share this with all of you. Note that this is not a complete list of all games being released this month. It’s not even a complete list of all Big Name games being released. This is just a personal list of everything I’m interested in.

So, why do you care? Well as you may quickly discover, I have a peculiar taste in games and am willing to look into titles most other sites would turn their nose up at. I assure you, if you have any interest in straying from the beaten path and finding something bizzarre to look forward to, this is the place.

So, strap in and brace yourself as I completely ignore the latest first person shooters and gush over obscure Japanese simulation games and brightly colored nonsense!

Sonic and the Worst Fandom Ever

February 22, 2010

Fandoms by nature are usually pretty horrible. Get enough people together who like something and you’ll quickly find their personal opinions clashing violently. Have something that has been around long enough or had enough changes in it’s lifetime and you’ll find yourself with a fanbase divided and constantly at war with it’s self. Lord knows merely posting about any Final Fantasy is fuel for an instant flamewar.

However, of all the fandoms out there, the Sonic fandom is easily the worst of them all. There’s just no competition. No fanbase is as mind shattering as the blue hedgehog’s own. It’s what we like to call a “Broken Base”, a fanbase so utterly unpleaseable it’s pointless to even try. But, even amongst other broken bases, Sonic’s stands out. It’s that bad. What happened? How did we get to this point? Why is the Sonic Fandom a writhing, screaming, Lovecraftian nightmare? It’s a question many have asked and some have even partially answered. But only partially, because it takes a lot to get a fandom to this point of unsalvageability.

Chapter 1: Genesis of Sonic

The best place to start any story is at the beginning and while many Sonic fans will claim that nothing went wrong during the “glorious” Genesis era, they couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sonic the Hedgehog was not SEGA’s first mascot, but he was their first serious attempt at competing with Mario. You see, the SEGA Genesis was not originally created to compete with the Super Nintendo. It predates it by two years and competed with the original NES. When the SNES came out, SEGA was in a jam. Nintendo’s new system was clearly more powerful than their own, but it had one weakness: the Genesis had a faster processor. But how does one show off their console’s superior speed? The answer was to make a fast game. That game, of course, was Sonic the Hedgehog.

While the game was made to showcase the speed of the Genesis, the character was made to appeal to a wide demographic. If SEGA was to compete with the well known Mario franchise, they’d need to play hardball. As such, they designed Sonic to be “cool” and took this goal very seriously. Knowing full well that what’s “cool” in one country might not be “cool” in another, SEGA of Japan worked closely with SEGA of America to create a universally cool character. Indeed the tale bears a striking resemblance to that of the infamous Poochie from The Simpsons. Creating such intentionally “extreme” characters usually results in groans and backlash. However, SEGA did it right. They did their homework and showed restraint when necessary. This resulted in one of the only successful “Poochies”. In fact, Sonic was downright beloved.

Chapter 2: Continuity Chaos

With all this in place, Sonic proved to be a success. Not only was the character cool, but the game itself was a truly unique twist on the platformer genre and didn’t feel like just another Mario clone. It wasn’t long before companies were propositioning SEGA to let them put Sonic on everything, including giving him his own cartoon and comic! This is where things get interesting. The story presented in the Sonic games was nothing more than “Mad scientist traps animals in robots, Sonic sets them free and runs fast”, a sparse plot open for interpretation. Was the villain comical with robots perhaps powered by hamster wheels, or was he a threat to organic life? Was the world silly and cartoony, or did the factory stages suggest something more grim? It’s amazing how many different ways one can interpret the world of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now, SEGA knew that what was “cool” in one part of the world might not be “cool” in another and as such they let each country form it’s own continuities so that they could better serve Sonic’s coolness. After all, it was the 1990s! What were the chances that these continuities would intermingle? As such, Sonic ended up with more than 5 different continuities. In fact, America ended up with two different Sonic continuities at the same time! On one hand you had the lighthearted and silly “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog”, which portrayed Sonic as a mix of Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner. On the other hand, you had Archie’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” or SatAM as it’s now called, which portrayed Sonic as a Freedom Fighter in a grim world being overtaken by an evil mastermind and gave him a sizable cast of characters. These weren’t the only continuities either. Europe had it’s equally grim but decidedly different Fleetway comics as well as a series of light novels while Japan had all manner of manga, one of which even portrayed Sonic as a normal school boy who transforms into a blue hedgehog! This would serve to be one of the first major fractures in the fanbase’s stability. Even before the internet, there were many arguments over whether weekday or weekend Sonic was better. Once the internet opened the international floodgates and the fervent fanbases began to intermingle.

See, when you give a character a fleshed out story like Archie and Fleetway did, you give fans a little too much to latch onto. It makes them less susceptible to change. The more characters you add to the story, the worse it gets as well as fans may grow to love some of these added characters. Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto intentionally avoided this, actively claiming all his games have no continuity as he doesn’t want story to prevent him from doing whatever he wants to with the game. But Sonic had multiple stories now, all clashing with one another.

Things got worse when SEGA decided to start adding real stories to the games as well. It left a lot of people annoyed not only because the continuities they had grown to love had been thrown out the window, but so had the characters they had grown to love as well!

Of course, when it comes to beloved characters from regional continuities, most Sonic fans know exactly who I’m talking about. Archie comic’s Princess Sally Acorn, the Sonic fandom’s Helen of Troy.

In the Archie continuity, it was decided that Sonic should have a love interest. This posed a difficult problem at the time. Sonic’s target demographic was young boys, many of which still thought girls were “icky”. So, having Sonic be interested in a girl would make him so much less cool to them. As such, the people at Archie crafted the single most awesome female character they possibly could: a tech savvy, 100% capable, no nonsense leader of the Freedom Fighters. Looking back on it, the TV series was really more about Sally than it was about Sonic! However, this worked and for many young boys, Sally was their first crush. That’s a powerful statement and one that digs deep into the nostalgia centers of our brains.

Unfortunately, being Sonic’s love interest made Sally too important! So when other continuities lacked her and SEGA decided to move on without her, fans of the Archie continuity were left asking, “Where’s Sally?”. However, for a time, fans were able to cope. They wanted Sally back, but they were still fans. Still, it was a fracture in the fanbase and something that would ultimately contribute to it’s screaming collapse.

Chapter 3: Missing the Flight to Saturn

As I had mentioned earlier, Sonic was created for the sole purpose of promoting the strengths of the SEGA Genesis. However, the Genesis would not last forever. SEGA’s next big console was the Saturn, a 32-bit disc based powerhouse capable of incredible 2D graphics. Unfortunately, this generation brought a kink in those plans: 3D polygonal graphics. Widely touted as “the future” by many companies and gaming magazines, 3D graphics allowed for exciting new experiences and many things that were just not possible in 2D. Everyone was excited to see their favorite franchises make the big jump to the third dimension in the hopes that it would make everything even more awesome. There was just one problem: the Saturn kinda sucked at 3D.

In retrospect it seems like the logical choice would have been to flaunt the Saturn’s superior 2D capabilities the way SEGA had with the Genesis’s speed. However, that just wouldn’t have flown back then. We were stupid back then, 2D was old while 3D was new, and that’s what we wanted. While the thought of a 2D Sonic that pushed the Saturn’s capabilities to their limits is downright drool worthy in retrospect, if it had been released back then it would have been an admission of defeat from SEGA. No, Sonic had to make the jump to 3D.

That presents plenty of other problems. Sonic, SEGA’s living tech demo, would now be flaunting the weakness of SEGA’s latest console rather than it’s strengths! We weren’t even sure if the 3D graphics of the era were capable of handling Sonic’s signature speed on any console! But perhaps more than that, how do you make Sonic’s gameplay work in 3D?

This left companies floundering to find a way and we ended up with a number of bizarre experimental attempts at a 3D Sonic. We saw a pre-rendered isometric world in Sonic 3D Blast, we saw limited polygonal race courses in Sonic R, we even saw a miniature world for Sonic to explore in Sonic Jam! But none of these really worked or could be called Sonic’s big jump to 3D. They were all experiments and nothing more.

There was, of course, one serious attempt to bring Sonic to the third dimension: Sonic X-Treme. However, the game was continually delayed and internal strife eventually sank it. Now it is considered one of the most intriguing oddities of Sonic’s long history with everyone wondering what it would have been like. Videos of the game in action show a freakish and disorienting fish eyed camera, generally slow stage progression, confusing level design, and tons of difficulty seeing where you would be going.

It was a valiant effort and years worth of work, yet it still seemed questionable. Placing Sonic’s signature speed in a 3D world would prove more difficult than our young minds could have ever imagined at the time.

Still, what this meant was that it would be a full five years before we would see Sonic make the big jump to 3D. That’s five years of Sonic fans growing older while playing the same handful of Genesis games over and over again, dreaming of what the future had in store.

Chapter 5: Adventures in the Third Dimension

Five years after the release of Sonic & Knuckles, gamers finally saw Sonic make the move to 3D on SEGA’s newest console: the Dreamcast. Clearly the product of years of development, Sonic Adventure broke new ground in many ways. The graphics were incredible for their time, it features six different characters each with their own storylines and playstyles, an explorable hub world, numerous side activities, and a fleshed out fully voiced storyline. There was absolutely no other platformer quite like Sonic Adventure and it blew us all away.

Unfortunately, the changes it made were radical and would cause numerous cracks in the fandom’s foundation. For starters, the entire cast was redesigned for the new era.

While one would think this would cause a massive uproar from purists, at the time it didn’t; not yet anyway. The redesigns were done incredibly well, making the characters look more awesome than ever before without making them unrecognizable. For the most part they were just added details, more consistent artwork, and proportion tweaks. Amy received the most drastic design change, but considering how ridiculous her original design looked, not a single person complained.

The game design was a little more questionable though. There were many “just hold forward” segments, moments where control was almost completely removed from the player. Sonic himself only made up one sixth of the game, with five other characters having almost as much screen time as him. The camera proved to be a problem every now and then, and odd glitches like falling through the floor were a bit more common than they should have been. However, the game’s strengths made up for it’s weaknesses and it proved to be a good first attempt at Sonic in 3D.

Unfortunately, circumstances prevented SEGA from ever topping Sonic’s first 3D outing. It’s direct sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, was developed in a much shorter amount of time than the original and as such it proved to have even more camera issues and glitches than the original on top of forcing players to play as other characters when they didn’t want to. One misstep doesn’t destroy a series though. Fans gritted their teeth and squeezed enjoyment out of it and hoped the next one would be better.

Sadly, this was when the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sonic, did: the Dreamcast died and SEGA stopped producing consoles. Without a system to flaunt and a development team that knew it inside and out, it would be  difficult to continue on. However, SEGA tried with Sonic Heroes. The concept was solid: a good old fashioned stage based Sonic, but in 3D and with a team of three different characters. Each character had their own unique abilities and you switched between them on the fly in order to overcome various obstacles. The problem occurred when Sony decided to interfere. According to legend, Sonic Heroes was originally going to be on Gamecube and XBox only. However, Sony told SEGA the same thing they had told Capcom numerous times: “Release this on Playstation 2 or you’ll never be allowed to release games on a Sony brand console ever again”. The PS2 was the dominant console that generation and being prevented from releasing titles on it could doom a company. However, SEGA was terrible at programming for the PS2. They had even produced a number of Dreamcast titles in the past that flat-out could not be done on PS2. But now, SEGA had to take a title they had already partially finished and move it from it’s own proprietary engine to something that could easily be ported to all three consoles: Renderware. This sudden engine shift probably put them far behind schedule and messed up any chance to really polish the game as much as it needed to be. This caused SEGA to produce yet another sub-Adventure title.

With two titles in a row being playable but not as good as the now aging Sonic Adventure, fans were beginning to grow concerned. Not only had their problems with Sonic Adventure’s game design not been ironed out, they were getting worse. The cracks in the fanbase were beginning to show as the fans question many design elements and the growing overabundance of characters. The games were still playable though, but in baseball it’s three strikes and you’re out and the last thing Sonic fans expected was to be hit over the head with the baseball bat.

Chapter 6: The Shadow of Destruction

One character who ended up becoming more popular than expected was Shadow the Hedgehog. Essentially an “evil” Sonic, Shadow made his debut in Sonic Adventure 2. However, he died at the end of that game. But, due to his popularity, he found himself alive and well in Sonic Heroes. Wanting to try something different, SEGA created a poll to see which Sonic side character was most popular and Shadow won. While some question if this poll ever actually happened, one thing was certain: Shadow was getting his own game. This lead to the event that finally shattered the already fractured and crumbling fanbase. No, it wasn’t the release of Shadow’s self titled game, it was this picture:

When SEGA released this promotional image for Shadow the Hedgehog, the fanbase finally crumbled. Sonic had done something that would forever doom him in the eyes of the fandom: he jumped the shark.

Sonic was now “trying too hard to be cool”. From this point onward, the fandom seemed to apply a zero tolerance rule. Everything the Sonic series did would be put under a microscope and scrutinized to see if it’s “trying too hard to be cool”. However, we’re talking about Sonic here, the embodiment of “cool” and a “Poochie” from day one. Everything he has ever done could easily be labeled as “trying too hard to be cool”.

Suddenly, things we were fine with only a few years ago were “going too far”. The storyline which set Sonic Adventure apart from all other platformers and gave it a unique cinematic flair? Now it’s too much and is “getting in the way”. The side characters who helped provide a colorful and varied cast and fleshed out Sonic’s world? Now they’re stealing the spotlight and “ruining” the game. The unique real world-based setting? Now it’s terrible because it’s not what we grew up with. Even Sonic’s exceptional redesign was considered going “too far”.

It seemed to seep backwards as well. Things Sonic had been doing since the Genesis era were too “extreme” as well. When Sonic Riders was released, many reviewers spent an entire page complaining about Sonic being on a hoverboard when Sonic has been boarding since Sonic 3!

With the leap to next-gen, however, Sonic fans were willing to give Sonic one more chance. Sadly, this last chance is what nailed the coffin shut. In 2006 a game called simply “Sonic the Hedgehog” was released on XBox 360 and Playstation 3 and with the restrictions of the previous generation’s less powerful consoles gone, Sonic fans hopes this could bring about a true revival to the series. Unfortunately, programming on next-gen systems takes more time and money than the previous generation and Sonic 2006 found it’s self rushed for a Christmas release. The end result was undeniably the worst Sonic game ever made, full of numerous bugs and some of the worst load times ever seen. A modern day E.T., Sonic 2006 was so bad it sent shockwaves through the industry and developers almost never rush their titles for Christmas anymore  in the dreaded fear that they would produce the next Sonic 2006.

SEGA had run out of chances and the fanbase was more utterly shattered than ever before. A shame too as immediately after that,we finally started to see some forward progress for the Sonic series, but it was too late. No, now Sonic needed to be “saved” and a plethora of articles were written detailing how. It’s here that one realizes exactly how fractured the fandom is as each and every “How to Save Sonic” article is radically different from one another. Some were mere ranting opinion pieces that offered little to no discussion of the gameplay. Others were very specific, demanding that the next Sonic be exactly like one specific previous Sonic from the Genesis era. More frightful still were the ones that demanded drastic overhauls to the entire Sonic mythos, guaranteed to piss off a large amount of the fandom if they became a reality. The fanbase began to spiral into madness.

Chapter 7: How the Fandom Crumbled

So here we are, the Sonic fanbase is finally broken beyond repair. However, our story is far from over. But, before we continue, let’s recap because it’s here we find the answer to the big question asked in this article: Why?

As we’ve just spent the past couple thousand words describing, it was more than just one thing. Numerous events throughout Sonic’s long history caused “cracks” in the fanbase. Many of these events were not bad at all, they were often justified and made good sense at the time. Meanwhile, some events were outside of SEGA’s control. Regardless, they were all things that added a bit of conflict to the fandom. The only reason things stayed civil for so long was due to the fact that everyone could agree that the games were great.

One cannot overstate the effects of Sonic practically skipping a console generation though. In those five long years, the nostalgia linked to the older Sonics became more and more powerful. Our glasses were becoming increasingly rose tinted.

The consistently high quality of Sonic’s previous titles served as the “foundation” for the fandom. Once SEGA started making mistakes in the 3D entries, it weakened that foundation. On top of that, it further divided the fandom as some had a higher tolerance for the game’s issues than others. This caused much of the fanbase to be divided on which 3D Sonics, if any, were “good”.

The shark jumping of Shadow the Hedgehog was what finally did the fandom in. It was a paradox of sorts: the embodiment of cool was trying too hard to be cool and now needed to be less cool which would in turn make him less Sonic and thus piss off the fans. Sonic’s own “coolness” was his downfall, or rather, the fandom’s downfall.

What this ultimately means is that the fandom is now split very harshly. Sonic means so many things to so many different people and everyone wants Sonic to return to his “roots”. However, every single person has a different definition of what counts as Sonic’s “roots”. It’s an unwinnable battle.

Chapter 8: The Five Unsung Heroes

In the midst of all this turmoil there were five unsung heroes of the Sonic franchise: the portable Sonics.

The Sonic Advance series was a beautiful blend of old and new, with classic 2D gameplay based off the older Sonics yet fresh new sprites and artwork based on Sonic’s newer entries. What’s most surprising was that each and every one of them was different, never feeling like a mere rehash.

Sonic Advance 1, for example, is the closest to the Genesis originals with stage concepts and level design based heavily off of Sonic’s earliest entires. They even brought back things like the plungered container full of animals that Sonic frees at the end of each zone. While the music and bosses were less than stellar, it was still a very good Sonic game that held up well next to the originals.

Sonic Advance 2 took what had been learned from Advance 1 and tried something new. Kicking the speed up, Sonic Advance 2 proved to be one of the fastest Sonics ever made and was truly jaw dropping.

Sonic Advance 3 took it’s cues from Sonic CD, being slower and more exploration based. It introduced a team mechanic that allowed different teams of characters to have different abilities that would allow them to progress.

Sonic Rush took the concepts of Advance 2 and kicked both the difficulty and speed way up. Meanwhile, Sonic Rush Adventure smoothed things back out, providing a more polished experience while adding surprisingly enjoyable “adventure” elements and some of the best bosses in the history of Sonic.

Playing these and the Genesis titles side by side, they compare quite favorably. Sure they may not be exactly like the originals, but they’re still undeniably Sonic, undeniably good, and most definitely new. It would seem that these portable Sonics would be the perfect cure for what ails the fanbase. Sadly though, this is not the case. For some reason, portable titles “don’t count” and much of the fanbase ignores the existence of the portable series. Now, as the fanbase continues to crumble, even these exceptional titles aren’t “good enough” for them.

Chapter 9: Blame the Children

With the fandom spiraling into a shrieking madness and spewing increasingly bizarre theories as to how to “save” Sonic, many fingers tend to get pointed. Everyone had a theory as to what exactly was “ruining” Sonic. Was it the overabundance of characters? Was it the increasingly overblown storylines? With everyone asking “Why?”, SEGA revealed the horrifying truth: “Well, the kids seem to like it!”

Except that truth isn’t horrifying at all! In fact, a sane person would call it blatantly obvious! Sonic is a blue hedgehog, of course children are his target demographic! But Sonic fans are far from sane at this point. They took this as a revelation. SEGA openly admitting that they market Sonic to kids means they’re taking advantage of them. The theory is that kids don’t know any better and thus SEGA can produce complete garbage and the kids will still love it because they’re stupid. More than that, kids have no appreciation for Sonic’s long history or staying true to his roots. As such, kids became the prime scapegoat for everything anyone didn’t like in a Sonic.

This is both sad and hilarious. Here we have people in their 20s and even 30s arguing with children about a blue hedgehog. What’s more, in a sort of sick ironic twist, the kids actually want the Sonic series to be less childish while the older fans want it to be more childish! One can’t help but wonder if the entire Sonic fandom comes from Bizzarro World.

Chapter 10: Mission Impossible

With a fandom this loud, SEGA can’t help but listen. Hearing the numerous complaints and suggestions, they decided to make a game specifically for the most hardcore unpleaseable fans. From what SEGA could gather, fans wanted a classic 2D Sonic with Sonic as the only playable character and for it to be released as a downloadable. As such they began the noble experiment knows a Project Needle Mouse, which would later become known as Sonic the Hedgehog 4.

Here it was, everything the fans had asked for, and yet it wasn’t good enough. Some fans complained about the lack of side characters, some complained that it looked too much like the Genesis games and felt lazy, while others complained that it didn’t look enough like the Genesis games. Some even went so far as to claim that it was nothing more than a DS port and that it was just an HD version of Sonic Rush. First of all, this was false. Sonic 4 didn’t look like Sonic Rush in terms of graphics or gameplay (from what little we have seen as of the time of this writing). But more than that, these fans were now complaining that Sonic 4 looked like a perfectly good Sonic game. Why? Because it was Sonic 4, making it the direct successor to Sonic 3 & Knuckles and it’s supposed to be as good as that. This was, of course, impossible. Fans were viewing that last Genesis Sonic through rose tinted glasses and nothing could ever compare to it.

The real question, however, was “What is SEGA doing wrong?”. Even the fans couldn’t adequately explain this and their complaints became more and more nitpicky until finally reaching a point where they literally could not properly articulate what exactly was wrong.

It honestly seems like the fans refuse to be pleased. In some places we even have “fans” claiming to have played beta copies and making up blatant lies about the game just to make it look bad. Why so called fans would do this is so far beyond the realm of logic and reason that nothing could ever explain it.

But one look at the fandom’s shrieking face and you know we’re not dealing with normal or sane people here. They might be perfectly fine elsewhere, but once the topic of blue hedgehogs comes up, all logic and reason goes right out the window.

What you see right here is the worst of the Sonic fandom distilled into a single person. In this video, the fan complains because of Sonic’s eye color. He then complains that, due to Sonic’s eye color, that Sonic 4 is nothing more than a DS port of Sonic Rush (again, a spectacular title though it bears little to no resemblance to Sonic 4) and that the game is not enough like the old Genesis titles. Keep in mind, this is all based on about 6 seconds of gameplay footage. Best of all, like any truly insane Sonic fan, he then blames the children.

It’s worth noting that the person in the video had tried to make his own Sonic fan movie, which also used a green eyed Sonic almost identical in design to the one in Sonic 4. His reasoning being that he didn’t want to alienate newer fans and created a middle ground between the old and new Sonic designs. Why he is able to do this, but SEGA isn’t is beyond me. Though I’m sure it has something to do with the number four being in the game’s title.

Of course, the fans would point out that what we are looking at here is a vocal minority. Many have complained because this one person does quite a bit to make the fandom look bad. However, sadly, he’s not nearly as much of a minority as we would like to believe. Take a look at this article:

Skewered Retro: Opinions of Sonic the Hedgehog 4

Here we have almost the exact same rant, but done in a more professional and tasteful fashion. It’s less embarrassing than a man in his late 20’s telling SEGA that they should be ashamed for disappointing his stuffed animal friends. However, at it’s core it’s the same argument: Sonic 4 is not good enough because SEGA is using a more recent design of Sonic and the children are to blame.

As one might notice, the article comes from an actual gaming website. This is perhaps one of the biggest problems with the Sonic fanbase: it’s bigger than you think, to the point where one could call it an epidemic.

Sonic was one of the most popular video games of the 16-bit era, going toe to toe with Mario. As such, many people have played at least one Sonic game and if not that, then they could have easily seen one of his two cartoons or even his comics. This means that a large percentage of the gaming population has fond memories of Sonic.

This causes a chain reaction. First, the obsessive Sonic fans make a big deal out of something minor. Then, one of the more sane Sonic fans will convert their raving lunacy into a more respectable format, like the article linked above. From here, a gamer with fond memories of Sonic could stumble across said article and due to it’s clever wording, be fooled into thinking it’s a bigger deal than it actually is. This is usually made worse because these more normal gamers may have little to no knowledge of Sonic’s recent history. They then spread the word to other non-Sonic fans and soon the entire gaming community is caught in the grips of madness.

Now, no matter how hard Sonic tries, he almost always comes out looking bad for it. SEGA just cannot win. At this point it’s hopeless and one wonders why SEGA doesn’t just kill the franchise off.

Chapter 11: …Because He Still has Rings

So then, why doesn’t SEGA just quit making Sonic games? The answer is simple really: because Sonic still sells.

Sonic is still a big source of SEGA’s profits and as such it would be stupid to kill off the franchise. But why does Sonic still sell if his games are so terrible? Well, it’s because they’re not that terrible. Sub-par, perhaps, but nowhere near as bad as many fans make it out to be. This is actually a part of why the fandom is so wretched as well: despite the decrease in quality, the games are often still enjoyable if you can tolerate their issues and different fans have different levels of tolerance. More than that, however, it’s because of the kids.

The fandom loves to blame children for why “bad” Sonic games continue to sell. It’s true that they are the main reason why titles like Sonic and the Black Knight sell well at all. However, the fandom believes this is because kids are stupid and have no taste. In reality, it’s because Sonic is one of the better kid’s games out there.

This is a problem that has plagued the industry as a whole. As long time gamers get older and graphics get more sophisticated, we find ourselves with more and more “Mature” rated games. It has gotten to the point where if one were to look at the entire XBox 360 or Playstation 3 game library, they’d find barely a handful of E-rated titles and more than a few of them make even the worst Sonic look good by comparison. This is something Nintendo has noticed for awhile and has been a large part of their business strategy. At this point, Nintendo is practically the only company producing quality kid friendly titles. With a few exceptions like the Ratchet & Clank series, most other E-rated titles are lackluster licensed cash-ins. Nintendo alone is not enough to satiate the gaming appetite of kids and whether you like it or not, Sonic is often the next best thing.

It’s more than that though. See, even to kids many E-rated games feel a little bit too “kiddie”. This is where Sonic really scores big. Despite being consistently E-rated, the Sonic series continues to have dramatic storylines and epic scenes. Sonic has mastered an odd sort of family friendly badassery. Just take one look at Sonic’s battle with King Arthur in Sonic and the Black Knight and you’ll instantly understand what I mean.

Regardless of what you think of the game it’s self, the scene on display here is incredible. Sonic dueling a massive knight on horseback against a dramatic sunset while driving rock music blares on. It’s awesome no matter what age you are. However, there isn’t a single thing one could really find offensive or bad for kids in there either. This is something that, really, no other developers are doing. They’ve become so focused on catering to a much older demographic that they forget that kids still play video games.

Yes, one could make the argument that this allows SEGA to slack off. But this is only because SEGA has almost no competition. It’s also here that one has to realize the harsh truth of the matter: who are the real Sonic fans? Is it the fickle, unpleaseable, goalpost moving “hardcore” Sonic fans who will write endless petitions and boycott a game at the drop of a hat? Or is it the kids who buy and enjoy every Sonic game SEGA puts out?

Well, who are the ones keeping SEGA in business? Is it really any surprise that SEGA prefers to cater to kids? No, it isn’t. All one needs to do is step back and look at things from an outside perspective. Put aside your opinions and put yourself in SEGA’s shoes. Video games don’t grow on trees, they cost thousands upon thousands of dollars to make (often more in this generation) and countless man hours to build. Video games are a business and that means you have to make money.

Yet, despite all of this, SEGA still tries to do something for the hardcore fans. As much as they like to claim that SEGA has abandoned them, they really haven’t. After all, they are still making Sonic 4 and you’d have to be completely delusional to think that this is just a mere cash-in aimed at children.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Sonic fandom is. Good thing it takes more than that to kill off a blue hedgehog!

UPDATE:

A few colleagues of mine have corrected me on one minor factual error. As it ends up, DiC’s Saturday morning cartoon came first and the Archie comic was based on it. Furthermore, the comic slowly became a spin-off of the cartoon with it’s own parallel canon. This adds yet another continuity to the pile and I didn’t even get into Sonic Underground (due to it being produced much later)!

Personally I feel this detail, while important and intriguing, doesn’t really change the message of this article. If anything, it only solidifies it more. Still, to all hardcore Sonic fans (whom I just bitched out), please excuse this oversight.

Stuff No One is Talking About: Ninety-Nine Nights 2

February 16, 2010

When Dynasty Warriors struck at the dawn of the PS2 generation, it was truly incredible. Koei, a company normally known for it’s overcomplicated strategy games, had suddenly crafted a fast-paced action title like no other and single handedly re-birthed the beat ’em up/hack n’ slash genre!

However, over time Dynasty Warriors began to stagnate. Competitors arose but many of them fell short of the Dynasty Warriors series with the closest competitor being Capcom’s Sengoku Basara/Devil Kings series and even that fell short.

Fast-forward to the dawn of this generation and the release of the first Dynasty Warriors-style game made exclusively for this generation: Ninety-Nine Nights or N3. A collaborative effort between Korean developer Phantagram and Japanese developer Q Entertainment. It boasted incredible graphics, rock solid combat, varied characters, beautiful battlefields, and more. Aside from it’s lack of split-screen co-op play, it actually managed to challenge Dynasty Warriors! Sadly though, it was strikingly incomplete with only a handful of characters and stages. It almost felt more like a demo than a complete game, but I definitely wanted more.

Fast-forward to now and the impending release of Ninety-Nine Nights 2:

Right away this trailer shows afew intriguing things. First of all, Dwingvatt the Goblin ninja and a personal favorite of mine, returns. Secondly, it shows that N3 II will have one thing I always wanted to see in a Dynasty Warriors-style title: gigantic screen filling bosses! I don’t know about you, but when you give me a guy capable of single handedly destroying an army of thousands, I kinda wanna see him go up against some kind of gigantic monster!

However, what’s also interesting is that Korean developer Phantagram is not involved at all with the title. It is being handled entirely in Japan by Q Entertainment and Feel Plus. It’s hard to tell if this is a good thing or not, but we shall see when it is released. Hopefully this will stop reviewers from whining about the lack of strategy elements.

That, right there, is the last question: Will reviewers give it a fair shake? While nothing can be certain until the final product is released, what is shown in that video looks like an incredible action game. Sadly though, the Dynasty Warriors series has become the Japanese equivalent of Madden and as such reviewers seem to take out their frustrations on the poor series. No matter how much better or worse a Dynasty Warriors-esque title is, it always gets the same review: “Dynasty Warriors clone. Repetitive button masher. Identical to the rest. 5/10”. Will Ninety-Nine Nights 2 be the one to break the cycle? One can only hope.

Tatsunoko vs Capcom VS Street Fighter IV

February 12, 2010

Back when Street Fighter IV was in the works, Capcom bragged about how the specifically designed the game so the gameplay and graphics were separate so that way they could port it to any console. “Why, we could even port it to DS!” they said.

Naturally, Wii owners assumed this meant they would be seeing a Wii port of Street Fighter IV with downgraded graphics. I mean, they just said they could do it, right? Sadly this never came to pass and a surprising number of Wii owners were quite angry about this.

There was one consolation though: Tatsunoko vs Capcom. However, there was no way it could come to America, right? Well, after over a year and the removal of one character yet the addition of five, Tatsunoko vs Capcom has finally made it’s way to America.

However, many people are shortchanging it; saying that it’s “lacks the depth of a serious fighter like Street Fighter IV”. These people are wrong. They never really paid much attention and merely assumed that a silly, flashy, anime cross-over fighter on the Wii could never come close to the depth of Street Fighter IV!

There’s a touch of irony to that isn’t there? The entire concept of Street Fighter IV was to basically go back to Street Fighter II. It’s a good concept though, fighters have become overcomplicated in recent years. As such, going back to basics was a good thing for Street Fighter IV to do.

But, Tatsunoko vs Capcom handles things differently. It doesn’t roll back fighters the way SF4 does, but it does make things more accessible. One point of common contention is the 3 button control scheme. However, this is basically the industry standard now, used by many fighters. It works too. 3 buttons is perfectly suited for a high-speed game like TvC. Also, for the completely hopeless, it has an easy control scheme as well that takes away some of the control and options but makes things alot easier.

Then we get to the sub-systems. The tag and assist mechanics alone add plenty of depth to the proceedings. Not only are you able to switch between two characters, but also call them in to preform a singular move before hopping out again as well as combine your super moves together for some potentially deadly combinations. Especially interesting as you can add your partner’s super to almost any of your own supers, leading to tactics like having one character’s beam super cover you while Saki loads the armor piercing bullet or Yatterman-2 charges her super up to max. You’d expect this out of a VS series title, but there are some newer twists as well like “Variable Air Raid”. With this you can actually switch characters in the middle of an air combo and continue it. It costs one super meter but that’s because it resets the damage scaling!

Of course, there’s a mechanic to help defend against nasty combos: Mega Crush. For the cost of two super meters, you can break out of any combo and send your opponent flying across the screen, possibly ridding the world of the ever irritating infinite and 100% damage combos. It’s costly enough not to be abused, but not so much that you won’t use it in a jam.

The other intriguing feature is the oddly named “Baroque”. This technique allows you to cancel any attack at the cost of your red lifebar (i.e. the part of the life bar that recovers when tagged out, usually indicating recent damage taken). It also gives you a power boost which gets bigger the more red you sacrifice. This is an interesting revenge mechanic and much more fair than Street Fighter IV’s questionable Revenge Meter and Ultra Combos. Lord knows I’ve won far too many matches solely through my Ultra Combo. Here, however, every time you take damage you get a “slightly nastier combo chance” if you’re willing to give up the chance to recover health. On top of that, since the more damage you’ve recently taken determines your power boost, the more BS combos you have to eat, the more damage you can send right back. It’s truly an interesting mechanic.

That’s not even getting into the characters. Street Fighter  IV tried to be “Street Fighter II Again” and took that a little bit too literally. In the end we had only 5 new characters running on overly familiar play mechanics. Tatsunoko vs Capcom, on the otherhand, not only has fresh play mechanics that feel similar yet different from the rest of the VS series, but it also has a plethora of new characters. Best of all, they really went all out on making each one unique. Almost every character has some kind of “twist”. Frank West can set up traps with zombies, Karas has chain sword attacks, Doronjo is entirely summon based, Saki’s entire fighting style revolves around loading different bullets and firing them, the list goes on. Even more normal characters like Ken the Eagle don’t play like the usual shoto clones. For once it honestly seems like Ryu is the only character that plays like Ryu.

Also, I have to mention the controls. While Street Fighter IV worked, it’s controls did feel a bit stiff with the jump physics being especially rigid. It tried to be like a classic 2D fighter but didn’t entirely succeed. Tatsunoko vs Capcom, on the other hand, does a much better job. The controls are noticeably tighter and more responsive while the jump physics actually feel about right! This makes a world of difference to me.

Also, kudos have to be given for the graphics. Yes, up close TvC may look a bit off (mostly in the faces), but from the usual camera angle it looks fantastic. The cel-shading on display here does a great job of capturing the colorful feel of old Capcom sprites and I love the specialized shading on pants and muscle definition. The stages even seem to go out of their way to flex their graphical muscle as each one has distinctly different lighting, making the characters look unique in each setting. That’s before getting into the effects. Flashy effects are Eighting’s forte (yes, TvC was actually made by the Bloody Roar people) and Ryu’s hadoken has never looked so spectacular.

It’s difficult to honestly compare Tatsunoko vs Capcom against Street Fighter IV as we’re talking about a fast paced combo heavy fighter versus a slower and more methodical fighter. However, I personally prefer Tatsunoko vs Capcom. It’s fast pace, flashy, incredibly fun, and deeper than one would expect and brings alot of fresh new things to the table. While Street Fighter IV is good, I feel the same way about it that I do about New Super Mario Bros. Wii: it rolls things back a little bit too much and as such forgets to bring anything new to the table. If it weren’t for C. Viper, I’d honestly just play Super Street Fighter II HD Remix and be better off for it. However, TvC provides a new experience and I appreciate that.

That said, I do have to give Street Fighter IV one thing: the online play is a lot better.

Japan: Less Sexist than YOU!

February 11, 2010

You know, if there’s one thing that drives me insane, it’s when people point at the scantily clad heroines of many Japanese games and talk about how “sexist” Japan is.

Now, I won’t deny that sexism still exists in Japan. It still exists in America too and gender equality is a difficult nut to crack. These days I even hear people complaining about women doing the same things as men as it essentially makes them male but with breasts for some inexplicable reason. You wanna talk about goalpost moving. Yes, apparently women doing the same things as men isn’t equal enough.

But I’m getting off topic. Frequently when the discussion of women in videogames comes up, people will point at Japan for how incredibly sexist they are. The girls in their games are frequently cute, attractive, young women in skimpy impractical outfits. I am not going to deny this fact. But I ask you, what has America done better?

This is a sticking point with me because of one very strange fact: I got into anime at a very young age because of my sister. Why did my sister get into anime? Strong female characters.

This is neither a joke nor an exaggeration. If my sister’s stories are to be believed, back in the early 80’s (pre-She-Ra), the strongest female character on TV was Pauline from Donkey Kong (yes, Donkey Kong had a cartoon).

Reflect on that for just a second. However, one misplaced anime in the kid’s section of the video store later and everything changed.

Sure they were wearing barely any clothing and had improbable body types; so did Barbie. However, unlike miss “pink and shopping”, the girls of anime could often kick ass just as well as the men could. Sure there were exceptions, but anime was far more progressive than what we had in America at the time. Yes it’s true, beneath it all it was mostly “sex sells”, but it was still more than what America ended up with.

As I said, there were exceptions. Comic books frequently had female characters, who were often just as sexualized as the girls of anime but could also kick just as much ass. There was, of course, Charlie’s Angels as well. Jem was also more respectable than most girl’s shows and yes, eventually, She-Ra. But these were all few and far between.

Japan’s sexy heroines carried over into videogames as well, far earlier than one might imagine. I remember that while all of America was making a big deal about Lara Croft being a strong and sexy female character, I was left scratching my head as to what the big deal was. I had played Valis, El Viento, and Alisia Dragoon to name just a few. That’s not even getting into the number of fighters who featured a token female ass kicker. Perhaps more than all of that, though, was RPGs.

Any JRPG worth it’s salt features at least one female character, usually more. While the superior graphics we see today frequently diminishes the impact of women in RPGs (due to the fact that they are often drool worthy, much like most men in JRPGs), back in the 16-bit era it was very different. It’s hard to play tiny little 16-bit sprites for sex appeal and the women were often strong. While the Final Fantasy series’s Celes and Rydia spring to mind quickest, there was far more than just them. Lufia, the title character of the Lufia series, was a particularly intriguing character. All three of the girls from Chrono Trigger were commendably awesome as well. However, I think Alys Brangwin from Phantasy Star IV sticks out the most as being a strong female character who instantly endears herself to you.

We could split hairs all day about the idealized character frequently featured in videogames and the rest of the media. What if men were as sexualized as women? Aren’t they already in some cases? (Vaan of Final Fantasy XII says “Hi!”)  Do men care if they are sexualized? We could do this all day. It’s an argument as old as time.

However, if one thing drives me absolutely insane, it’s how constantly Japan is held up as the pinnacle of sexism with it’s plethora of scantily clad girls in media. But the reality of it? Japan is only featured so frequently because America has so few strong female characters to show.

As I said though, there are exceptions. There are always exceptions. Not to mention that I, myself, am male so I can only say so much. Every person is different after all. Some women might like characters you’d never expect while others might be offended by the whole lot of them while others still might prefer to play men just as much as I prefer to play scantily clad women. I can’t speak for women and one woman can’t speak for an entire gender either.

All I’m saying is that if I hear one more person whine about anime girls I’m going to punch them and if that makes me a sexist pig, then so be it.

Mario Kart must be Challenged!

February 10, 2010

When the original Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo was released, it changed everything. With it’s bright colorful courses and delightful item system, it birthed the kart racer genre as we know it, Mario Kart became a smash hit and inspired a deluge of knock-offs.

Sadly, however, that’s all they were: knock-offs.

Despite the sudden creation of literally hundreds of kart racers, none really bothered to challenge Mario Kart’s dominance. None of them put in the time necessary to create something truly good. About the only thing that came close was Crash Team Racing, a rock solid effort from Naughty Dog still spoken of to this day. However, it lacked that certain something Mario Kart had.

Since then, the kart racing genre has nearly died off. You’d see one or two quick cash-ins every now and then but no one even bothered to try anymore. Mario Kart was even more undisputed as the single greatest kart racer on the market.

But with this market dominance comes sloth and indeed Mario Kart has begun to stagnate. Yes, Mario Kart Wii was enjoyable, but there are cracks in it’s foundation. The item system, for example, has been stretched to it’s limit. The concept of distributing items based on what place you are in has utterly unbalanced them. An item will either grant you near instantaneous victory or be utterly worthless dependent entirely on your placing. The feeling of mid-racing combat has been almost completely removed from the Mario Kart experience now as most items are merely tossed aside in the desperate hopes of getting something half-way decent.

Someone needs to challenge this.

Enter Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing. Created by Sumo Digital, the fine folks who brought us Outrun 2, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is one of the first serious attempts at a quality kart racer in a long while. Will it truly challenge Mario Kart? Probably not, but it’s doing a better job than most.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was probably made to fill the kart racer niche on every console other than Wii. Let’s face it, your only kart racer choices on 360 are Burger King’s Pocket Bike Racer, Madagascar Kartz, or some lackluster XBox Live Arcade offerings. Needless to say, Sonic & SEGA Racing is already at the top of the list. While it is receiving a Wii release as well, it’s hard to say if it will be able to compete.

With the demo having recently hit XBox Live, I decided to give it a shot. I must admit, I am pleased with what I see. The graphics are incredible looking and the game has a very definite sense of speed. A variation on Mario Kart Wii’s drift mechanics is implemented nicely and the track on display has a lot more personality than the average Mario Kart track.

It’s not perfect though. The items, while more useful than what you’d end up with in Mario Kart Wii, lack variety. Minor framerate hiccups have been seen here and there as well. Also, the track roster on display draws from very few sources with most of the tracks coming from either Sonic, Jet Set Radio, or Super Monkeyball.

Still, it is just a demo and one can be certain there will be some form of hidden content in the full release. While it may not crush Mario Kart as much as I’d like it to, it will come far closer than anything has in years.

Sadly, I do not expect it to be well reviewed. These days Sonic has an odd stigma to him that causes every reviewer to roll their eyes. Combine this with the overplayed nature of kart racers a few generations back and you can bet that the majority of journalists will merely write “generic kart racer featuring Sonic” and be done with it. But, you never know, they might pleasantly surprise me as much as the game has.