Archive for the ‘Your Review Sucks!’ category

Skylander’s Progressiveness and the Unwinnable War

May 15, 2014

If there’s one thing I hate about what is being called the “Videogame Culture War”, it would have to be the excessive amount of negativity. It’s claimed that videogames just ARE the single most sexist and mysoginistic thing on the planet and they need to COMPLETELY CHANGE in order to get with the times; anyone who disagrees? They’re a big sexist part of the problem, “proving” just how systemic it all is! Problems, problems everywhere! There’s no acknowledgement of the good games, the positive games, and the ways that videogames can help!

The recent announcement of Skylanders Trap Team got me playing around with Swap Force again. The first two games really weren’t that good, but Swap Force completely changed that and was a blast. As I played through a quick Arena Challenge with Punk Shock, the electric eel-folk Princess with a crossbow, I took a moment to marvel at just how unique the women of Skylanders were.

All the ladies in the game are colorful and interestingly designed, arguably without being sexualized, and able to fight right along side any of the male characters. Heck, a few of them aren’t even humanoid! I say “arguably” though because the term “sexualization” is kind of vaguely defined. Its definition is “to take something that isn’t sexual and make it sexual”. That of course raises numerous questions about what is and isn’t sexual and what it takes to make something sexual. Generally speaking though, most folks would classify that as sultry poses, come-hither bedroom eyes, exaggerated breasts, and slinky body language. However some might include lipstick, eyelashes, and any noticeable breasts at all. Either way, all jokes about Smoulderdash aside, Punk Shock is about as “sexualized” as Skylanders gets. (Well, her and Ninjini’s 3DS walk animation)

PunkShockPose

Yeah, not exactly the walking definition of sex. I mean of course it isn’t, it’s Skylanders! It’s a videogame that uses toys sold at Toys R Us for ages 5 and up! Sexualized women are the last thing you’d expect to see in such a game! Heck, women in general are the last thing you’d expect to see!

Which is what impresses me about Skylanders. I mean sure, the more characters you have in a game, the higher the probability of a female character showing up. Considering Skylanders started with 32 characters and now has about 80, yeah there should be some ladies in there! But exactly how many female characters are there in other classic Boy’s Toys lines like He-Man and Transformers? They were very few and far between. Probably because folks weren’t exactly comfortable with their little boys playing with girl figures.

But that’s the catch isn’t it? Skylanders is not a “Boy’s Toy” series! It’s honestly rather gender neutral! I’m not sure if this was intentional or if they were too busy hyping the whole toy-to-game inter-connectivity to engender the ads in any meaningful way, but the series has caught on with girls too! Thus we have toys of action girls that aren’t in “the pink aisle”.

More than that, the figures are designed to just plain be awesome. Not to be super pretty fashionistas or to be gruff battlebros. They’re just supposed to be appealing to whoever the heck likes them. They aren’t separated into some offshoot group, like the SkyLadies or something either. They are a part of the Skylanders just like everyone else! As such, you’d find many boys who would gravitate towards characters like Sprocket, Stealth Elf, or Scratch and be utterly unashamed of having a girl character. This is especially true when you factor in the collection element and the fact that the games sometimes come with a female character.

While we’re on the topic, you might have noticed that the female Skylanders also lack typical girly names. Stealth Elf, Smoulderdash, Star Strike, Whirlwind, Punk Shock, and Sonic Boom are not names I would assume belong to women. Hex, Cynder, and Ninjini are the most feminine names of any of them and they’re still surprisingly gender neutral.

The game itself also has a sizeable number of female characters in supporting roles. Enough to really prevent the world from feeling engendered in any way. Yes there is a point in Swap Force where one of the ladies is kidnapped (by a female villain, but still), but it’s hard to get mad at that when the character did so much before and there are so many other capable women in the game.

Now, yes, there aren’t that many female Skylanders. Out of the now 80 Skylanders, only 14 are female. However, 14 isn’t that small of a number and a choice of 14 female heroes does mean a lot. Especially because they’ve been here since the beginning!

The very first game in the series, Spyro’s Adventure (you almost forgot this was a Spyro game, didn’t you?), introduced five female characters.

SkyLadies_Series1

Immediately you’ve probably noticed that these are not your typical female characters. I mean, three of them aren’t even humanoid and one of them is so utterly devoid of gender signifiers that being told she’s female surprises people in spite of the fact that her main means of attack is laying eggs and sending baby griffons after you.

Yes, an utterly gender neutral designed female character who is also a mother. If we were judging characters based on strict checklists instead of who they are as characters, then Sonic Boom would undoubtedly come out on top!

SonicBoom

Skylanders Giants, disappointingly, only added 4 new females rather than the 5 the previous game had. In many ways it felt like they were just covering bases, being sure to get a female in all 8 elements and making sure there was a token female in the game’s title gimmick line of giants.

SkyLadies_Series2

However, for whatever it’s worth, this game did introduce special editions of characters. Series 2 re-releases of old characters in new poses with new moves, the light up Lightcore figures, and store exclusive alternate colors. I bring this up as it seems as though female Skylanders are highly prone to getting special editions. All five female Skylanders from the previous game saw Series 2 re-releases and three of them even made it to Series 3 (meaning they got re-released once for each game). Stealth Elf and Chill got Toys R Us exclusive Legendary versions, Flashwing got a Jade variant, and of course there’s Scarlet Ninjini and Lightcore Chill.

Again, I’m not exactly sure what “We only have 14 female characters, but we re-release them a whole lot” is worth, but they certainly aren’t ignored.

This brings me to Swap Force. Disappointingly there were no female Swappable characters, though there is probably a good reason. Namely people didn’t want questions to be raised about putting a female top on a male bottom. This is a kid’s game afterall and could you imagine how awkward that would be for parents to talk about? They could have restricted swapping to only figures of the same gender but that would take a lot of work to introduce an arbitrary limitation that would further engender the game and restrict players.

Interestingly the Swap Force team was asked about this in an interview and they insisted that the Swap Force characters were designed to be “gender neutral”. While this claim is questionable, their response does show that they are aware of the issue and do recognize the number of female players they have.

Honestly, it seemed like they had put in more female core Skylanders to make up for it but in reality it’s another 5. Same as the first game. However, one shouldn’t complain when said ladies are this awesome.

SkyLadies_Series3

Laying them all out like this, you do begin to notice trends. Namely that they add one non-humanoid in each new line and that a striking majority of these women have glowing pupiless eyes. Thus far Punk Shock is the only humanoid female with normal eyes. Just some odd observations.

I get that it seems like I’m making a big deal out of a bunch of minor observations. So what if the female characters lack engendered names? Why does it matter that they aren’t separated into a separate group of SkyLadies? What is the point of recognizing these things?

However, these very points are usually the kind of things folks complain about. These are the little stumbling points other products often have that cause some people to wag their finger in dismay. They’re minor on their own but it does add up. Here we have a group of 14 women that are a part of the same team as the guys. Them being female has little to no effect on their abilities, backstories, or their place in the team. Much of this stuff seems so normal that we take it for granted and often make the same mistakes over and over again. The fact that Skylanders avoided so many of these pitfalls, I feel, is praiseworthy. That is no easy task.

What’s more, this isn’t from some socially conscious arte haus indie game that is trying to hamfistedly “make a point”. This is from Skylanders, a multi million dollar game series that is THE name in toys right now. A game aimed at kids of all ages with gameplay designed to be fun. I think that has a far more significant impact, whether it’s intentional or not.

Now, yes, only 14 out of 80 Skylanders are female. I won’t say the series is devoid of issues, but it is important to note everything it does right. It’s important to recognize the good those 14 female Skylanders do and say “Yes, we would like some more!”.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Skylanders is quickly becoming a yearly thing. With the announcement of the next game, Trap Team, comes another handful of new ladies joining the fight. Keep in mind they have barely announced anyone at this point (as this article is written pre-E3) and there are already 3 identifiably female Skylanders expected to be coming in Trap Team!

SkyLadies_TrapTeam(the Bat Girl on the right is part of a Frito Lay contest to pick and name the next Skylander so she may or may not make it in)

I would expect at least one, if not two more (a Trap Master and a non-humanoid). Hopefully, though, we’ll see a whole lot more. Let’s take those pictures and put ’em all together one more time to see all the female Skylanders together!

SkyLadies_Series1SkyLadies_Series2SkyLadies_Series3

Now THAT is one unique set of female characters!

 

So, there you go! Skylanders, intentionally or not, is doing a whole lot of good and shows how videogames aren’t a den of vile evil! Why I’d have a hard time imagining anyone complaining about this!

That is…until I started using Google Image Search to get the pictures for this article wherin I stumbled accross an image of most of the female Skylanders together. Surely this was part of an article about how awesome the female Skylanders are! So I looked and found the article “Why Boys Need Female Heroes Too”. This is off to a good start!

“I love [Skylanders] for what it is teaching my son. Like with any game, my son is learning hand-eye coordination and improving his reaction time; his brain is learning to process information and learning to do it quickly. In addition, my son is learning what would be considered more tangible school-taught skills like reading and problem solving.”

Good! We’re off to a great start! Look how awesome videogames are! Hooray!

“But there’s one important thing that Skylanders is teaching him that I hate: that heroes are male.”

Yeah! Skylanders is gr-wait what?!

Hold on…what?! But…you have a picture of a bunch of female Skylanders in your article! The header for the article has Stealth Elf front and center! How can you say it is teaching your son that heroes are male when you are clearly displaying the number of female heroes in the game?!

“I’m sure none of the artists or developers sat down and specifically decided that only 15% of playable characters will be female (at least I hope not), but what this subconsciously suggests to players is that you need to be male to be a hero.”

…how does it suggest that when 15% of the playable characters are female? Just because there are less of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist!

“If you look at the list of the total of 80 playable characters in Skylanders, only 12 are female. Even worse, the number of female characters is decreasing with every new release”

…umm…no? No it isn’t. I can only assume this mistake is because the article was written before Punk Shock and Scratch came out as it keeps mentioning only 12 female characters instead of 14 and the picture on the page lacks both of the aformentioned Skylanders. As such it is an honest mistake as it would thus seem that there were 5 new females in the first game, 4 in the second, and 3 in the third. An honest mistake, but it undoubtedly adds to the negativity of the article.

“When my son is choosing a character, I want him to be able to pick from an equal number of male and female character because this tells him that both sexes (and I say sexes because I am making a biological argument and not a gender one, which is another story altogether) are equally likely to become heroes. That they are equally likely to want to protect that which is theirs.”

This is of course where someone would talk about the number of male teachers versus female teachers or crap like that, but this is fantasy so that’s a stupid argument. Having an equal number of male and female characters is definitely a nice thought and it would be cool if it happened. However, while there are a sizeable number of female players chances are the largest playerbase is male. More than that, Skylanders is all about weird creatures that would often be considered genderless. But since genderlessness is a weird concept we often default to male. These gender neutral characters often appeal to both genders anyway so they are an extra safe bet. I agree the way we default to male is an odd social hiccup and it would be cool if Skylanders made a larger effort to change that. However it is a difficult hurdle to overcome.

“What makes it worse is that the few female characters in Skylanders are very much female. The dragons are pastel in colour and the human-looking characters have longer hair and tighter fitting clothes. It’s not surprising that the human-like characters would be associated with human sexual stereotypes (lithe bodies, greater hip-to-waist ratios, enlarged mammary glands), because we are drawing from our own species’ differences. That’s not really the problem.”

I…disagree with this statement. Cynder is deep purple and not particularly overly feminine. When I think “girl dragon” I don’t think of bladed tails and chrome head spikes.

Cynder

This also ignores the aformentioned Sonic Boom who does appear in the picture of “all” the female Skylanders so clearly the writer recognizes this character.

However, on the human characters, I continue to disagree. Only Ninjini, Stealth Elf, and Roller Brawl have long hair (in a braid). Sprocket has shoulder length hair and Chill has short hair hidden by a helmet. Hex is wearing a hood, Star Strike is a black void with eyes, Smoulderdash is made entirely of fire, and Punk Shock is a fish with a mowhawk-esque fin instead of hair. As for the tight fitting clothes? That’s questionable if, outside of Smoulderdash, the clothes really fit any tighter than they do on the male characters. I will give them Stealth Elf’s bare midriff for whatever that is worth as well. However I do not see anything indicating that Hex’s dress is tigher than Free Ranger’s armor.

Also, how does female characters looking female “make it worse”? Doesn’t that just highlight that women can be heroes too?

But “that’s not the problem”, so what is?

“The problem is that some of the human characters (left column) could easily have been females. Chop Chop and Ghost Roaster are literally skeletons, couldn’t either of them be voiced by a female? Why is a witch doctor assumed to be male?”

I would like to point out that there are very few really human-esque male characters. The majority of those are female in Skylanders which does indeed shine a light on this exact same issue. However it does explain why Fright Rider is male.

“Every single animal-based character (examples in the centre column) could easily have been female.”

Warnado and Hot Dog, yes. However, Dino-Rang and Scorp aren’t animals but humanoid animals and actually do have a relatively masculine physique.

“Finally, with many of the imaginary creatures (right column), you can’t even tell their sex until they speak and use a male voice.

The main point here is that many characters could be female and they wouldn’t need to be designed any differently. Given that the sex of the characters doesn’t matter, we should ask why the developers and designers thought most of the characters should be male.”

Alright, this is a good point for the most part and it loops back to what I said above: When something is genderless we default to calling it male. If I stuck googly eyes on a stop sign, chances are you’d call it Mr.Stop Sign and not Ms.Stop Sign unless I put a bow on it or eyelashes or some other gender signifier. It is strange that we consider the default to be male and the exception to be female. Even the words male and female are like this when, biologically speaking, one could argue that the opposite is true.

However, I want you to re-read that: the words male and female are engendered in this same way. Male or Male plus Fe. This is a concept so deeply rooted into our very culture that expecting someone to break the mould takes a conscious effort.

Again, most of these characters are genderless and appeal to both genders. However it is difficult to discuss sentient characters without gender and thus they default to male because human culture sees male as the default.

I do not see this as a reason to ignore the positive aspects of Skylanders.

“Wouldn’t girls also want to play Skylanders and prefer to use female characters? Or god forbid, wouldn’t boys want to use a female character too? The reality is that all gamers need more female characters.”

Umm…they do and they do? What does this have to do with genderless character designs not being female? The fact that the number of female characters is so low and all they’d have to do is choose female voices and use the word “she” instead of “he”? A fair point. However these designs are genderless and often appeal to girls anyway regardless of the gender of the characters and if they wanted to play a girl character chances are they would want one that looks like a girl. What’s wrong with female characters looking female? I think your message is getting muddled.

“Eradicating sexist perspectives is easiest in if we can demonstrate that both sexes can fight to protect what they love and that sex (and gender) has nothing to do with becoming a hero. Skylanders seems like the perfect opportunity in which to demonstrate equality because all the characters are imaginary.

Although you may not realize it, Acitivision, you have an amazing opportunity to do something incredible with what you have created. Along with teaching my son all these wonderful life skills, you could teach them that all people are equal and that his mom can (and wants to) protect him just like his dad.”

HOW DOES THE GAME NOT ALREADY DO THIS?!

Skylanders has female characters who can fight. Why does the fact that there are less of them and that they actually look female invalidate this? Wouldn’t having an identifiably female character on the battlefield have a greater impact on teaching that both genders can fight rather than a genderless design with a feminine voice?

The message this article sends is baffling to me.The first time I read the article it honestly came off as though female characters looking female makes them not count as female characters; a statement so utterly baffling (and honestly incredibly sexist) I could not wrap my head around it. I understand this is not what the writer was trying to say, but it was the message I received.

However, even after I re-read it, the message is still a mess:

Because there are less female characters than male, it acts as though the female characters don’t exist. Rather than supporting what is there and encouraging more of it, it chooses to completely ignore it and complain about it.

This article right here is basically a microcosm of the “Videogame Culture War”. Ignore the positive, scour every pixel of a game for negatives, then emphasize the crap out of it and complain. Anyone who disagrees is a part of the problem, right? However, this accomplishes nothing.

When push comes to shove, me and the guy who wrote this article honestly agree: more female Skylanders would be a good thing. I just feel that we should praise what we have and ask for more, rather than tossing it aside like a spoiled child and yelling “It’s not good enough!”.

Also, this doesn’t answer the burning question on my mind: What about Sonic Boom?! Is she still not good enough or do you want more characters like her? Your article suggests that Sonic Boom is the kind of thing you’d like to see more of, but completely ignoring her raises the question of if she is good enough.

PTRU1-10990291dt

This is the problem with doing nothing but complaining: You don’t give anyone a clear idea of what you want.

What makes it all worse is that the guy who wrote this article is not the typical angry ranting loon. The article is actually quite nice, written is a calm voice and not particularly accusing either. It sees the positive in videogames in a significant manner. However it feels as though it got caught up in the zeitgeist behind this “war” and thus fell in line. Everyone says videogames are awful and sexist so it must be true! Anything that could be considered otherwise just isn’t noteworthy enough! Much like how we default to male on the gender of genderless things, folks often default to sexism when discussing videogames; an act which can often backfire.

If you ask me, Skylanders is good, but yes it can do better and I encourage that and if you ask me, that’s what gaming needs: encouragement.

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Your Review Sucks: 1UP Magna Carta 2

May 4, 2012

You know, I was just thinking about grabbing a new copy of Magna Carta 2 as I can’t find my second disc, something got spilled on the case (and I definately want that case in good condition!), and I want to beat the game. So, reminiscing about the Eastern RPGs of this generation I decided to look up Magna Carta 2 and discovered…it disn’t get nearly as good of reviews as I had thought!

Really quite shocking if you ask me! The game is rock solid and I consider it one of the best RPGs on console this generation! The fact that it’s one of the few I’ve nearly beaten is testament alone to that. Scrolling through the reviews though, 1Up’s stuck out like a sore thumb:

“Sometimes, stereotypes exist for very good reasons. Korean role-playing games have a reputation as low-rent incarnations of their more polished Japanese counterparts, and Magna Carta 2 does nothing to combat that perception — instead, it embraces it wholeheartedly. “

Wow. That’s pretty harsh. Shoot, it borders on racist! Exactly how many Korean RPGs have we played that aren’t MMOs? No, seriously, I’m curious as I have not seen enough Korean console games to make any sort of judgement like that! So I decided to dive right in.

“One of the biggest fallacies about “gaming journalists” is that we’re supposed to, somehow, approach games from an “unbiased” perspective. Well, we’ve all got our biases, “

Okay, honestly? This is true. No one can be completely unbiased. It’s just not possible. I applaud the reviewer’s honesty and agree with this statement…however the general tone of this review quickly turns this from an honest footnote to an admission that this guy should not be reviewing this game.

“and so I’ll admit it: Magna Carta 2 raised several red flags in my eyes. For one, the original game was probably the worst pile of dreck that the otherwise reliable Atlus has published in the last five years. And a Korean-developed action-RPG? I’ll trust Koreans when it comes to real-time strategy, but after the wretched Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom and other assorted failures, there’s not too much rely on when it comes to emulating Japanese RPGs. “

Hooboy. While yes, many did not like the original Magna Carta, Circle of Doom is a whole other beast entirely. In fact, to this day it’s one of the better multiplayer dungeon crawls on 360. But what I find interesting is that this is all he can list in terms of “bad Korean games”. Honestly it’s all I could list too! Phantom Crash might be Korean, but it’s a cult classic. There have not been that many Korean games. Not enough to make such a harsh judgement based on them!

“Here’s the good news, though: In spite of its walking cliché of a protagonist, Magna Carta 2 isn’t terrible. But the bad news: That’s only because Softmax rips off every successful formula from seemingly every conceivable Japanese RPG and stuffs it into the most generic, derivative package possible”

This is true, Magna Carta 2 takes inspiration from other games. Indeed it is that inspiration that lets it be so good. However, all games take inspiration from other games. That’s just a fact. Claiming a game is bad purely because you’ve seen mechanics elsewhere is just sad. If that were the case, Skullgirls would be a pile of shit because the entire system is a mish-mash of Marvel vs Capcom, Darkstalkers, and Guilty Gear. Xenoblade would suck just as much as it takes an equal amount of inspiration from the same sources as Magna Carta 2! Let’s not even get into the FPS genre.

But no, where this review goes from being hate filled and overly biased to just downright sad is when he lists where the inspiration comes from.

Final Fantasy VII‘s Materia system”

You mean a socketing system? Like Diablo and many other RPGs? Yeah I guess Kamonds are like Materia in that way. We can go with that.

Final Fantasy X‘s skill tree”

Umm…no. This game has no Sphere Grid. It just has a skill tree. Like, you know, every RPG with a skill tree. They’re a pretty common thing.

Final Fantasy XII‘s real-time combat”

Yeah it did remind me a bit of FFXII…except that it’s an action battle system rather than a psuedo-turn based one. Alternately one could say that it’s very MMO-like.

So…they’re inspirations are…generic things many other RPGs have done? How is this bad? As I said earlier, if this is your only complaint then you could make the same argument with Xenoblade or really quite a few other RPGs. Heck, Xenoblade does include a socketing system, a skill tree, and even more FFXII-esque combat than this game! The only reason it seems so bad in Magna Carta 2 is because it’s Korean and you want to believe that the only things Koreans are capable of is ripping off Japan. This is literally your entire argument.

“And while it’s clear that Softmax wanted to emulate the expansive vistas of Dragon Quest VIII

Because that’s the only game with expansive vistas. It couldn’t possibly because they’ve built the world like an MMO!

“they forgot the reason that those work in Square Enix’s PS2 masterpiece — they’re actually fun to explore! Magna Carta 2’s environments are a confusing mess of dead ends and poorly laid-out paths, so frustrating to navigate that I actually had to look at the minimap in the upper-right corner to see where I was going, and not the actual in-game visuals right in front of me! “

Heaven forbid you actually use a map to navigate!

“From the moment I turned on Magna Carta 2, I got the sense I’d played it all before — and that’s because I practically had, in this case. I suppose the game might be a decent way to kill time, though…if you’ve somehow already played every single other RPG on the 360. I will continue to recommend the stellar Tales of Vesperia till I’m blue in the face, and you’d be foolhardy to choose Magna Carta 2 over that — or just about any other Eastern RPG on the console, for that matter. “

This is the kind of elitist thinking that has practically doomed Eastern RPGs. Since Magna Carta 2 isn’t the best freaking entry in the whole genre ever, it is looked down upon because there are “better” games. This isn’t even getting into how few Eastern RPGs there have actually been this generation! If you’re not playing your DS, then it has been slim pickings! It’s perfectly plausible that someone has played all the other Eastern RPGs this generation! Especially when Magna Carta 2 hit!

While it’s impossible to review a game completely without bias, a game should be judged on it’s own merits. Who cares what it purportedly “borrows” if it puts the pieces together in a good and interesting way!

What’s more, this is practically then entire review! It’s a very sparse throw-away piece with little to no information on the actual game. At no point do they go in-depth about what makes the action battle system unique. Heck, they don’t even mention that it is an action battle system! They barely discuss the plot, don’t touch at-all on the graphics, and make no mention of the side questing!

This review is just a sparse, hate filled rant that borders on racist. Even as a racist review it sucks as it makes no mention of how MMO-esque the Magna Carta 2 experience is!

Generally when I read a bad review, I don’t think the actual person behind it is bad. Just that they did a bad job in this one case. This review, however, is an exception as every single word in it delivers only one message:

Andrew Fitch is a hateful, elitist, asshole who needs a swift punch in the face. Go fuck yourself.

Castlevania HD coming to PSN without all of the DLC

August 23, 2011

Kotaku is the sleezy tabloid rag of game journalism. This is a fact we are going to see play out time and time again. Latest on the list is their posting about the upcoming release of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair on PSN.

http://kotaku.com/castlevania/

(excuse me if the link fails to work, Kotaku’s site is set up oddly)

The title of the article is:

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Hits PSN Next Month With All of the 360’s DLC”

Now, can you find one of the key words in that title? All of the 360’s DLC. This quote will no doubt rile up Castlevania HD players who have already purchased the DLC on 360 and cause PS3 fans to claim they were glad they waited. It is blatant flame war bait. It’s also wrong.

Reading further into the short announcement, you would find this:

“It will also feature a new, local four-player cooperative mode in addition to the six-player online cooperative mode, the “Beauty, Desire, Situation Dire” map pack and characters Julius Belmont and Yoko Belnades.

That is not “all” of the DLC. Rather that was the early first batch of DLC. Omitted is the character packs for Richter, Maria, Simon, and Getsu Fuuma as well as four different map packs. (Honestly it feels like I’m forgetting at least one more piece of DLC)

What is interesting though is the addition of 4-player local co-op and if that will be added to the 360 release or not. So a better title would have been “Castlevania HD coming to PSN in September with 4-player local co-op” or something along those lines.

Your Review Sucks: Destructoid’s Sonic Colors Review

November 20, 2010

Let’s be honest, 3D Sonic games have not been good. Passable, perhaps, to serious fans willing to tolerate their flaws. However, there’s no denying that they do have numerous issues. It eventually got to the point where reviewers just stopped caring. Each new Sonic only received a few minutes of playtime before being awarded their inevitably low score. While the reviewers were seldom far off, titles like Sonic Riders did prove to be an exception and resulted in a “Mass Failure of Reviewing” as everyone in the industry failed to comprehend the core game mechanics (namely “do tricks to get fuel”).

However, all that has changed with Sonic Colors. Here, at long last, was a Sonic game that was undeniably good! The graphics were the finest the Wii had ever seen, the stage design brilliantly challenging, and the flaws incredibly minute! Sonic Colors, at long last, nailed it and has received glowing reviews from almost every single member of the gaming press!

Note that I said almost as it appears old habits are hard to break for some reviewers. Such is the case with Jim Sterling’s inevitably infamous Sonic Colors review on Destructoid.

http://www.destructoid.com/review-sonic-colors-187691.phtml

“It’s strange to think that in the same year Sega launched a traditional 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game that finally gave the fans what they wanted, it was the announcement of a Wii game that continued in the same vein as the undesirable “modern” titles that captured the excitement of the fans. “

You know, he does make a good point here. It is rather strange how Sonic Colors excited fans more than Sonic 4. That said, much of that is because it looked like a significant change from previous 3D Sonics, and not continuing in the  “same undesirable vein”.

“Sonic Colors, despite its status as a “3D” Sonic, complete with a focus on narrative, gimmicks and brand new colorful friends, has somehow convinced everybody that this is the legendary “return to form” that Sonic fans have been waiting for.

All I have to ask is … how has Sonic Team managed to pull the wool over our eyes again?”

So just because it’s 3D means it focuses on narrative, gimmicks, and new characters? To be blunt, Sonic Colors has a very sparse narrative with about two cutscenes per world (before and after the boss), the new characters are just the Wisps (who will probably only appear in this game) and Cubot (Eggman’s second robot sidekick), and the “gimmick” is nothing more than power-ups.

What I really dislike is how much Jim tries to nail home the idea that it’s “the same old 3D Sonic” even though anyone with eyes can clearly tell it isn’t. This is a fact he continues to drive home throughout the review and I find it the most irritating thing about it. Anyone who played Sonic Unleashed knows what I’m talking about. Most people acted like Sonic Unleashed was “exactly the same” as all other 3D Sonics and just continued to whine even though the day stages were a radical change for the better.

“Then come the laggy controls … and broken homing attacks … and pitfall deaths … and 2D platforming sections so badly presented, you’d think they were patched together by chimpanzees. Then you realize that Sonic Colors is a case of the same old problems, in a brand new package. “

The problem here is one half not knowing what “the same old problems” are, and one half blatant lies. Broken homing attacks and laggy controls are indeed “the same old problems”, however Sonic Colors has no control issues and the lock-on icon that tells you what your homing attack is going to hit makes it no longer “broken”. “Badly presented” 2D platforming segments, however,  are decidedly not the “same old problems”. Meanwhile pitfall deaths are just a Sonic staple since the old Genesis days since having rings prevents you from being killed by normal enemies (usually).

“The level layout is atrocious, putting the focus on cheap pitfall deaths instead of real challenge”

I love this line. I mean seriously, what is “real challenge” anyway? Any time a reviewer claims a game is cheap instead of providing “real challenge” you can basically read it as “This game is hard and I suck at it”. As I said, pitfall deaths are a Sonic staple and are really the only real way you’re gonna get killed in any Sonic game due to how rings work. For the record, there are less “cheap” pitfall deaths here than in Sonic Rush anyway.

“and various platforming sections that clash with the game’s very physics.”

Once again “physics” are being dragged out as a complaint.

“Sonic floats mystically in the air with every jump, making precision landing next to impossible. The jumps possess an otherworldly inertia that one never quite gets used to, making these segments feel laggy and uncomfortable.”

Sonic’s jumps have always been a little floaty. Emphasis on a little. For the most part Sonic just jumps really high.  Not to mention I had absolutely no issues precision platforming in Sonic Colors, which is actually an improvement over the slippery Genesis originals. (Yes I just called the Genesis games “slippery”, they still worked despite that fact though.)

“For instance, you’ll need to make liberal use of the double jump, but if you double jump when there is a homing attack target nearby, you’ll whizz over to the target instead. Sometimes this can land you in trouble, especially during the sections where the camera zooms out to such a degree that all the graphics look like a muddy blur and you don’t even know where Sonic is, let alone how to get him across a network of moving platforms.”

This is the closest the review comes to a legitimate complaint. Yes, there is a double jump and it is preformed the same as a homing attack. However, the double jump does not need to be used that much. On top of that, you can tell when it’s going to do a homing attack based on if the lock-on reticle appears on screen.

“There are also sections where Sonic must quickly zip from left to right while running along a path. These were among my favorite parts of Sonic Unleashed, mostly because Sonic’s movements used the left and right triggers, which felt rather satisfying. Not so with Colors, even on a Classic Controller. In Colors, you have to push the movement stick left and right, while still pushing forward to keep Sonic running. I’ll let you guess just how great that feels. “

This sounds bad at first until you try it. These segments in Unleashed snuck up on you and since you could do them with the regular controls you would often forget about the side-step button. Here though, you’re warned about them ahead of time and when the game goes into side-step mode you know quick dodging is going to be required. In a way it’s a blessing disguised as a curse and ultimately comes down to simplifying and streamlining the game.

“Of course, sometimes the speed at which the game moves makes missing Wisp opportunities far too easy, and it seems Sonic Team expects you to replay levels over and over again to learn where everything is. Unfortunately, the fun levels are so few that you’ll be angry you played most of the stages once, let alone multiple times. “

Wait, did you just complain about replay value? Yes, stages are designed to be played repeatedly to find new paths. This is a good thing.

“Sonic seems to have had a personality makeover, now becoming an affable idiot with a terrible sense of humor. His new voice actor, and this amusing personality shift, make for a much more enjoyable hedgehog than the “cool dude” we’ve seen in the past. The jokes don’t always work, but the writing is vastly improved over previous games.”

It’s really less a personality makeover and more the fact that the game plays out like an episode of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

“It seems, however, that the further the game goes, the less the developers gave a crap, and every instance of inspiration soon gives way to the same sloppy, slapdash construction we’ve witnessed a dozen times before. Even when a stage starts brilliantly, the game invariably finds a way to muck it up with some sort of new environmental trap that wasn’t introduced properly, or a slice of transparent trial-and-error gameplay that has been designed purely to force a replay.”

So you’re complaining because the game throws a curveball every now and then? If you read between the lines you realize this is just what happens when a cocky older gamer plays a legitimately challenging game. They expect their innate gaming skills to carry them through, at which point they complain about the game being too easy. The moment a game is actually hard though, it becomes “cheap” and not a “real challenge”. The only exceptions to this rule are when games blatantly advertise themselves as being “challenging” for “hardcore gamers” like Ninja Gaiden or Demon’s Souls. At which point they are then declared “the greatest games ever” and reviewers complain about the lack of challenge in modern games. It’s a vicious cycle of stupidity. Ultimately, Sonic Colors is infinitely less “cheap” than either of those two titles, whether you define “cheap” as “having to memorize stage layouts” or “unexpected instant death”.

I think one thing Jim Sterling is caught up on here is the way the nature of the levels. Sonic Colors has two different kinds of levels: long, flashy, “real” levels and short “challenge” levels. The challenge levels are required in order to progress, but they are kept short to prevent hair pulling. It seems to me like Jim didn’t really recognize the split between the two. Admittedly there is no discernible in-game indication that a stage will be a “challenge level”, but it really should be obvious to a reviewer. “Wow, that stage was really hard and really short, it must exist to introduce me to a mechanic and test my skills with it”.

“The Wisp idea is pretty cute and remains fun throughout and there are a smattering of well crafted stages, but the rest of the game provides absolutely nothing you didn’t already play in Sonic Unleashed or any other 3D Sonic game released in the past ten years. The problems are exactly the same, and shoddy levels are just as bad as always, and death-by-pitfall is in as much abundance as ever.”

Once again the problem here is that Sonic Unleashed was radically different from previous Sonics so trying to lump Colors and Unleashed in with Adventure and Heroes just doesn’t work.

“Sonic 4 had its problems, but at least it was an improvement. Sonic Colors feels like a step right back into the same crap this series has drowned in for the past decade. If I had to pick a color for this game, it would be brown, for very obvious reasons.”

Sonic 4 also did absolutely nothing new and desperately tried to cater to unpleaseable fans (and failed). What this ultimately sounds like is a prejudice against 3D Sonic games regardless of their quality.

While certainly not the dumbest review ever, it does have issues. When carefully examined you realize the complaints are few and far between and ultimately come down to “this game was too hard for me”. To be blunt, there’s a reason why SEGA drew this lovely picture of Jim Sterling and attached it to Destructoid’s review copy of Sonic Colors on DS.

Nice.

Your Opinion Sucks Sequel: This is True

November 7, 2010

Hey, remember that guy who whined about the Move looking like a sex-toy? Well he’s posted his opinion on the Kinect:

http://gamasutra.com/view/news/31356/Opinion_Despite_Flaws_Kinect_May_Be_Just_The_Thing_For_Microsoft.php

There’s no real morbidly idiotic lines this time. The article merely shows yet another part of the problem with motion controls, one that has been bugging the crap out of me. See, no one looks at motion control from a gaming or functionality perspective. It’s always anecdote caked yammering about how they fare with casuals and their potential sales. To most gamers, motion control means nothing to them and that’s terrible.

What he says is mostly true though: The Kinect has plenty of issues but it won’t matter because of the marketing campaign and it’s general coolness factor. The Kinect is a really neat piece of hardware, it’s just not very functional.

Your Opinion Sucks: PS Move – Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

November 3, 2010

Let’s face facts: The Move, regardless of how well it works (which is incredible, by the way), is going to be fighting an uphill battle. Regardless, this opinion piece for Gamasutra hurts my head. While it makes some good points, it is also filled with double standards and misinformation. Let’s take a look:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/30467/Opinion_PlayStation_Move__Between_A_Rock_And_A_Hard_Place.php

“A little over a week ago, my wife fell asleep early when we were watching TV. I knew if I played Halo: Reach, it would likely get too loud, wake her up and I’d be in the doghouse for the rest of the weekend, so I figured this would be a good time to do some testing with the new motion control device for the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Move.”

I’d just like to point out that this was a terrible idea. Motion control implies MOVING and as such you’d wake your wife up with it, be it the actual motions, the inevitable stomping sounds caused by said motions, or the big glowing ball on the end of the controller.

I’m just sayin’

“I had just set things up and was turning the system on when she woke up. She looked over at me, got a confused look on her face and asked, “Are you holding a vibrator?”

When I stopped laughing, I started thinking. If someone who pays absolutely no attention to the inside jokes of the gaming community automatically leaps to that conclusion, the Move could be in for a rough time with the mainstream world.

Aesthetics matter – especially when you’re pursuing the general audience. This isn’t news to Sony, which wisely dumped the George Foreman grill design of the PlayStation 3 for the slimmer model last year. But it’s a lesson the company seems to have forgotten when they were in the design phase for Move.”

Oh lord…you’re serious aren’t you? That’s right, the majority of the article is about how “looking like a dildo” is going to scare away audiences. Now there’s half a good point here, aesthetics DO matter and the Move’s somewhat bizarre shape and variety of fruity colors will turn people off. My point, however, is that ALL LONG OBJECTS LOOK LIKE DILDOS! Seriously, I remember when a friend of mine saw an old rusted 1950s flashlight and mistook it for a dildo. IT WAS FREAKING RUSTED, made of metal, and sitting in the middle of the dining room! Yes, of course it’s a dildo.

And speaking of double standards…

“Part of what has made the Wii so successful, beyond its introduction of a new way to play video games, is that the controller isn’t intimidating. It’s sleek, familiar and simple to understand – even for non-gamers.”

…and do you REALIZE how many dildo jokes were made about THAT? FOR FUCK’S SAKE IT’S CALLED THE WII! The freakin’ WII!

“Move, which takes pride in its inclusion of buttons, isn’t as intuitive – and that learning curve could frustrate some players and ultimately hurt future software sales.”

Actually the Move has LESS buttons than the Wiimote for the exact reason of appearing unintimidating! It doesn’t even have a d-pad!

“And having to calibrate the controller before every game is another step that’s bound to frustrate the mainstream player.”

*sigh* I knew that complaint would be brought up. I’m sorry but which is worse: having to calibrate your controller when you start a game up, or a controller that CAN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEFT AND RIGHT!

If nothing else, the wanton recalibration of Wii Sports Resorts doesn’t seem to have hurt it’s sales. Though, admittedly, being a sequel to Wii Sports also helped.

“There is, of course, a school of thought that Move isn’t meant for casual audiences – but instead more for the “tween” gamer, someone who’s ready to graduate from the Wii’s antiquated graphics and often simplistic play to a high definition system. Take-Two CEO Ben Feder, in fact, discussed that Tuesday at a Kaufman Bros L.P. Investor Conference.

“What Sony and Microsoft have really done with Kinect and Move — especially Move, is provide a bridge for guys that are used to playing the Wii system with the wand and bringing them over to a HD system,” he said.”

While not the writer’s fault I’d like to point out that this school of thought is really fucking stupid. The point of Motion Control isn’t being “intuitive” and “simplistic” but rather to add a greater degree of control, depth, and complexity to gaming. The beauty of it is that this incredible depth *IS* intuitive and as such can appeal to casuals as well as the hardcore. But that’s a topic for another day.

“Move’s pricing is steep – indicating Sony once again seems to be forgetting its missteps from earlier this generation. (PS3 sales only began to ramp up when the system’s price left the stratosphere.)

For people to get the complete Move controller set, which consists of the primary Move device, the navigation controller and a camera, they’ll have to spend $130. If two people wish to play cooperatively on the same machine, the price increases by another $50-$80. That’s not much incentive for current PS3 owners to pick one up – never mind the $400 bundle (plus another $30 for that navigation controller) for folks who don’t own the system.”

This is where things get dicey. First of all, the navigation controller is unnecessary. Few Move games use it and you can use a regular controller in it’s place as well (though that would be decidedly less comfortable). Secondly, the Move really isn’t much more expensive than a Wiimote. It’s the $30 camera that mucks with the price, but that’s a non-issue with the starter kit. I’d also like to remind you that a Move controller costs $5 less than a normal PS3 controller too. The big difference is that the Move doesn’t come with the system.

I won’t lie though: ALL controllers are preposterously overpriced this generation.

“With Kinect, Microsoft has never hidden the fact that it’s trying to extend the lifecycle of the Xbox 360 by several years. Sony has shied away from being that direct, but given the costs that went into developing the PS3 (and its mantra that PlayStation consoles have a 10 year life cycle), its goals are likely similar.”

This sentance comes immediately after the last one. Not only has Sony never really hid that it was hoping to extend the PS3’s life (or more accurately: It doesn’t need extending, it’s lasting 10 years anyway!) but this somehow justifies the fact that the Kinect costs significantly more? I mean okay I guess they’re even if you’re talking about how you don’t need any more controllers after the base Kinect but…well…let’s just say I don’t see multiplayer working well on the Kinect anyway.

The next part about the Move seeming derivative while the Kinect LOOKS fresh is unfortunately true though. It’s going to be difficult to explain to people how the Move is everything the Wiimote SHOULD have been.

“Just to be safe, though, the design team that did the system’s successful makeover might want to start working on some early sketches for Move 2.0.”

Good luck with that. The unfortunate truth is that the fruity colored ball on top of the controller is the secret to it’s success. It’s also probably impossible to pull people’s heads out of the gutter enough to make anything not look like a dildo.

I’m just sayin’!

Dragon Quest IX: Game Misinforming

November 3, 2010

Well I’m over 50 hours into Dragon Quest IX and in the home stretch. I’ve nearly beaten it! …the story anyway.

As such, there’s one complaint from Game Informer that really stood out:

“Questionable design choices are also apparent after a couple of story moments where you are separated from your party; the game does a poor job of communicating when you’re allowed to head back to an inn and re-recruit your allies.”

Okay…wow…let’s see:

#1) There is only ONE scene like this!
#2) It is VERY late in the game.
#3) It’s rather brief.
#4) There is absolutely NO combat in it.
#5) THEY TELL YOU TO GO AND GET YOUR PARTY THE MOMENT YOU CAN!

It’s not even worth MENTIONING! The only other time you’re separated from your party, they automatically re-appear when they can and again there was no combat.