Video Games That Ruled – Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is a kart racer released in 2012, and is the sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. While the former entry was content being a simple Mario Kart clone (albeit with much better track designs), the latter is not. Playing this game and writing this article were strange and eye-opening experiences, partially because the game makes me feel like I’m betraying my Nintendo roots, playing a Sega game with a PS3 controller on a game I got on Steam…and having more fun than I’ve had in any Mario Kart game.

There is a wide array of selectable characters, many of which need to be unlocked. Several current and older Sega series are represented, like the Sonic franchise, Golden Axe, Shinobi, Nights, Alex Kidd, Skies of Arcadia, Super Monkey Ball, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio, and Space Channel 5. There are also a few third-party characters (more if you’re playing the PC version), which is why they dropped “Sega” from the title of this game. These include (but are not limited to) Wreck-It Ralph, a Shogun and Willemus (representing two different games in the Total War series), and strangest of all – Danica Patrick. I normally would resent a choice like this, but the South Park episode where Cartman wanted to be a Nascar driver makes racing against her a lot of fun. Each character has five different stats: speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and all-star. These are each represented by a power level of 1-5 for each stat. You can also level your character up, although the only benefit to this is that it gives you different mods for your racer, changing your stats (the Speed mod raises your speed, as an obvious example).

The track designs are amazing, and really evoke the feeling of the games they’re based on. Like with the characters, a large variety of Sega games are represented, including After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, The House of the Dead, Burning Rangers, and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, as well as the ones mentioned in the characters segment. There are 21 tracks in total, 4 of them returning from the previous game. This is where the game really shines.

QUICK MARIO KART RANT: Mario Kart tracks are somewhat based on the Mario franchise. Yoshi Circuit is neat, it’s a Yoshi-shaped track, but aside from that it’s not really “Mario-esque”. They’ve been getting somewhat better about making more than just the Ghost House track and Bowser Castle track feel like Mario levels, but then I think about one of my favorite tracks, Waluigi’s Pinball, and despite how as awesome of a level it is, there’s nothing about it at all that screams “this is based on the Super Mario series”.

The first All-Star racing game got the track design right the first time, and this time they knocked it out of the park. The deciding factor is the “Transformed” mechanic. If you like Diddy Kong Racing because of the multiple types of selectable vehicles, you’ll probably get a kick out of this, as you turn into different forms throughout the race. For example, the After Burner track has you racing along an aircraft carrier, then flying across an ocean battle zone, with ships firing at each other and aircraft flying overhead. You make your way to another aircraft carrier, turning back into a car, and keep racing like that along the carrier. After leaving that one, you transform into a boat as you race back to the first aircraft carrier, then back into a plane halfway along the ocean…and that happens in each lap. In a lot of the races, they’re designed so that crazy things happen in the second or third lap, completely re-shaping where you can go. This is also an added incentive to be in first place, to be able to see how the tracks are being changed. In the track based on Skies of Arcadia, you’ll be driving along a bridge in the first and second lap, only to see it destroyed in the third lap, transforming you into a plane and making you go in a different direction. And for those of you who weren’t a fan of Mario Kart 7’s underwater and hang gliding segments, know that the car is the slowest vehicle of the three in Sonic Transformed, and finding hidden opportunities to change into a plane or boat can really change the outcome of a race.

The last thing I’d like to mention is about the different modes, or really one mode in particular. They give you the standard Grand Prix, Single Race, Battle games, and Time Attack modes, but there’s also a World Tour mode. World Tour is set up similar to Diddy Kong Racing in that you have to win races to get stars to unlock more races/characters/mods, but the visual set up is akin to Super Mario Galaxy 2. You go along the map and select whichever races are available, and there are also a large assortment of race types in this mode. There are normal races, but also Sprint (essentially a Time Attack race against a ghost), Boost Challenges and Drift Challenges (getting boosts/doing drifts momentarily stops the countdown timer), Ring Races (flying through a series of rings), Versus (racing one on one against a series of opponents), Boost Races (no powerups, but there are a lot more boost pads on the track), Battle Races (defeating all opponents and/or getting first place without getting killed), Traffic Attack (weaving through waves of traffic), and Pursuit (chasing after a tank to blow it up with missiles). These help to make the World Tour mode a lot more fun, and some of them change the location of the track itself. I was a little surprised doing the Ring Race on the After Burner track, as it has you flying through one of the aircraft carriers at one point, something that isn’t possible during a normal race.

Overall, this game is fantastic. Boasting a wide variety of selectable characters with modifiable vehicles, excellent track designs, and a huge amount of game types, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is recommended to all kart racing gamers, and may make you reconsider your excitement for Mario Kart 8.

DISCLAIMER: Racing games are a genre that keep getting noticeably better as technology improves. Mario Kart 8 could in fact be really awesome, and I’m not attempting to tell you not to get it. However, as someone who has been a loyal Nintendo fan since 1986 and has played every Mario Kart game in the series (as well as tons of others, like Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing, LittleBigPlanetKarting, Pac-Man Rally, Konami Krazy Racers, and Lego Racers), I’m simply asking you not to dismiss Sonic Transformed as I feel it has set the bar higher than any Mario Kart game has for a long time. Double Dash was great, but I’d argue that the series hasn’t brought much to the table since then that didn’t just feel like the same game with a cheap new gimmick attached.

DOUBLE DISCLAIMER: I’m apparently the only person in the world who thought (and still thinks) that Mario Kart 64 was an awful game.

Video Games That Ruled – Sega Genesis Collections pt 2

Click here for part 1!

After a somewhat disappointing start, we’re back with 5 more games from Steam’s Sega Genesis collections. At the time of this writing, I have purchased the Sonic Hits collection as well as the other Genesis games not in bundles, so this is going to turn into an 11 or 12 part series.

Phantasy Star II (1989, Collection 5)
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Phantasy Star II is a sci-fi RPG. It is punishing, difficult, needlessly complicated at times, and a lot of level grinding is necessary. You’re going to spend a fair amount of time hovering around the first town, fighting mosquitoes and ants, and having to go get healed every 2 battles or so. It’s at this point that I realized that old RPGs don’t hold the same charm for me that they did in the 80s and 90s. I’d love to play a remake of this game, and can recommend it to RPG fans. The futuristic setting is different enough to keep things interesting, even though the game doesn’t stray very far from old school RPG traditions.

The Revenge of Shinobi (1989, Collection 5)
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The Revenge of Shinobi is an action platformer, and if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a sequel to 1987’s Shinobi. This is a decent game, with lots of power-ups to collect, different types of ninja magic, and large, expansive levels to fight your way through. However, cheap enemy placement really brings this game down, to the point where having knowledge of upcoming enemies doesn’t really help much. For example, there’s a short underground section in the first stage where several ninjas attack you by appearing via rotating walls. I tried several times, but couldn’t get through that section without taking a hit or two. While this isn’t a great game, it is a fun one, although somewhat frustrating.

Crack Down (1990, Collection 1)
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Crack Down is a top down run-and-gun game, where your objective is to plant time bombs in marked locations and then make your escape to another marked location. There are robotic soldiers trying to stop you, and they increase in both number and difficulty as you progress through the levels. The unique feature to this game is that you can dodge enemy fire by clinging to the walls, although this won’t work on the enemies carrying flamethrowers. If you like Gauntlet/Alien Syndrome style action with a bit of stealth thrown in, Crack Down is the game for you.

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (1990, Collection 1)
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Shadow Dancer is an action platformer, and like The Revenge of Shinobi, is also a sequel to 1987’s Shinobi. Both of these games were developed at roughly the same time, with Shadow Dancer being released as the arcade sequel, while Revenge of Shinobi was a console exclusive. So which one is the “real” sequel? If you’re going according to fun factor, it’s this one. It also has brighter colors, the enemy placement doesn’t feel nearly as cheap (leading to much more enjoyable gameplay), and you even have a companion dog that you can sic on your enemies!

Columns (1990, Collection 2)
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Columns (or “Diagonals”, as I’ve come to call it) was Sega’s answer to Tetris after they lost the console rights. They had developed a version of Tetris for the Genesis, and a few copies were made available, but the infamous Tetris scandal left Nintendo with one of gaming’s first killer IPs and left Sega empty handed. Desperate to find something they could compete with, Sega developed Columns. This game is okay, but there’s really no comparison to Tetris – it’s like steak vs. cat food. If you’ve never played Tetris, you might get some enjoyment out of this one, but it’s a really simple puzzle game that offers virtually none of the strategy that Tetris provides.

So, where do all these games rank on the scale of awesome to awful? Things were definitely better this time around than the first, and this trend will hopefully continue. Once again, I’m going to put them all into 5 categories. Please note that these are based solely on my opinion, and may change to a different category as more games are introduced. New games to the list are in bold text.

Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
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Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
—–
Golden Axe
Crack Down

Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
——–
Phantasy Star II
The Revenge of Shinobi

Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
——-
Altered Beast
Columns

Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
——
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Super Thunder Blade

Next time I’ll finish up 1990 and begin 1991 with ESWAT: City Under Siege, Sword of Vermilion, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, Gain Ground, and Bonanza Bros.
Click here for part 3!

Firefly Episode Review: Jaynestown

Ep jaynestown sc110He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor, Stood up to the man and gave him what for, Our love for him now ain’t hard to explain, The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne.”

Continue reading

Video Games That Ruled – Witch & Hero

Witch & Hero is a an action RPG released in April 2013, and is available for download from the Nintendo 3DS store. You control the titular characters, although you play mostly as the Hero. The Witch had been turned to stone in a battle with Medusa, and now the Hero has to take her across the countryside with the hope that he can find a cure for his friend.

This is a very simple game, but that’s part of its charm. Witch & Hero uses NES-style graphics. They’re fairly primitive by today’s standards, but quite effective. The entire game takes place on one of three single-screen locations: the map, the store, and the battlefield.

The map serves as a level select screen, and there are a few hidden locations along the way. You can revisit a level any time you’d like. The store is where you can spend your gold on 5 different upgrades: attack power, defense, speed, fireball, and tornado. The first three are upgrades for the Hero, the other two are for the Witch.

The battlefield is where all the action takes place. The Witch is placed at the center of the screen, and the Hero has to defend her as waves of enemies advance on you. To attack an enemy, simply run into it. If you hit an enemy from behind, you have less chance of taking damage as well. Both the Hero and Witch have their own health bar. When the Hero’s health runs out, he’s knocked down for a few seconds. After that he can get back up and rejoin the fight. The Witch’s health does not refill until you begin a new battle, so you lose if the enemies manage to defeat her. On the plus side, even if the Witch is defeated, you still get to keep half of the gold and experience points you earned in that battle. When you get to the fourth stage, you will be able to pick up “monster blood” as well as gold and XP. When you collect monster blood, it fills in a bar below the Hero and Witch’s life bars. Touching the Witch will give any blood you’ve collected to her. When her bar has filled, the Witch will to come to life for a few seconds and cast either the fireball or tornado spell. This adds a strategic element to the game, as bringing the Witch to life can really help when the screen is filled with enemies.

Overall, Witch & Hero is a really fun, very simple game with a few neat touches that almost anyone could pick up and play. This is great for short sessions, or for keeping you up all night with its “just one more game” style. Also, there is a demo on the 3DS Shop if you’re not sure if this game is right for you.

Firefly Episode Review: Shindig

Ep shindig sc147Sounds like the finest party I can imagine getting paid to go to.”
“I don’t suppose you’d find it up to standards of your outings. More conversation and somewhat less petty theft and getting hit with pool cues.” Continue reading

Firefly Episode Review: Bushwhacked

Ep bushwhacked sc086They made him watch. He probably tried to turn away, and they wouldn’t let him. You call him a survivor? He’s not. A man comes up against that kind of will, the only way to deal with it, I suspect, is to become it.” Continue reading

Fyreharticles – Five Things I Liked About Arkham Origins

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Batman: Arkham Origins. If you are yet to play or complete the game and take issue with spoilers, don’t read ahead.

As I said in the previous article, I DID actually enjoy the game overall despite the things I mentioned, so on the flipside of the issues I had, here’s some things about Arkham Origins I actually enjoyed.

1 – Bane

Bane may be my favourite character from this game, simply because it finally felt like the Bane everyone kept telling me about. When Joker tells him to go away, he stays, concluding that Batman would come to Joker, and so it made sense to stay with him. Later after your first encounter with Bane, police helicopters show up, and after fending some of them off, Bane makes the decision to leave as the place is “getting too hot”. It turns out later Bane has even discovered that Batman is Bruce Wayne, causing Bruce to flip and destroy the evidence Bane had assembled in his hideout, attempting to get to Alfred before Bane, only for Firefly attacking a bridge to cause a distraction.

Near the very end of the game, Bane even seems to outsmart Batman, forcing Batman into a situation where it seems he needs to either kill Bane or cause The Joker’s death by allowing Bane’s heart rate to go up too high. Batman manages to find a way out of it, but he had to actually think his way out of it, not just muscle his way out of it. Hell, the game even EXPLAINS why Bane doesn’t seem as smart after the events of this game, with the TN-1 Bane uses as a last resort (turning him into “HULK SMASH” Bane) effectively giving him brain damage, which also works as a way around how Bane wouldn’t remember that Bruce is Batman. All things considered, I feel that Arkham Origins may have the best portrayal of Bane I’ve seen in a Batman adaptation.

2 – Anarky

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me that Anarky would show up early in Batman’s career. The reason being Anarky is essentially what Batman could’ve been like if he hadn’t gone down the path he did. I mean, sure, it may seem odd that a trust fund baby would become an anarchist, but weirder things have happened in the DC Universe. Ra’s Al Ghul is another villain people seem to say Batman could have ended up like had he not turned out the way he did, and they’d be right, but Anarky honestly seems more likely, as Bruce may never have gotten the training he did when it relates to fighting.

The fact that Batman can’t entirely disagree with Anarky is also interesting. He doesn’t disagree with his cause, just his methods. After you defeat him, Anarky himself even says he could become Batman’s protégé, eventually rejecting the notion when he decides that Batman must think he’s better than everyone else, and “beyond reproach”. Another reason Anarky makes sense to be in Arkham Origins is simply the entire set up of what Gotham is like at the time, corrupt as hell. If Anarky is going to exist, it makes sense he would get his start when it actually made sense to do so.

On top of all that, his final monologue after you defeat him lasts for a few minutes, but is actually worth listening to.

3 – Alfred’s “Death”

At one point in the latter half of the game, Bane decimates the Bat Cave whilst Batman is busy stopping Firefly, with Batman speeding back to Bat Cave to find Alfred after Bane taunts him about what he’s done. When Batman makes it back, he finds Alfred near death, and comforts him, only for Alfred to die in his arms.

Batman’s reaction to Alfred’s death goes a little like this.

Not willing to allow his butler/father figure to die, Batman uses the tech he stole from Electrocutioner’s corpse (still a dick move, but it did come in handy) to bring Alfred back to life. I must admit, the moment when Alfred came back to life actually made me tear up a bit. Like, you KNOW they can’t kill off Alfred in a prequel, but with the way they executed him dying and being brought back, I couldn’t help but be affected by it. Great writing/acting there.

4 – Harleen, Not Harley

When I found out Harley was in this I became worried; but thank the all mighty Video Game Gods that she was Harleen Quinzel the entire time. I was so worried they would’ve made her Harley, and honestly it would’ve been way too soon, especially since, Jesus, she should’ve been like a teenager at this point (aka Batman’s early years) shouldn’t she? Then again, different continuities allow for this sort of thing I guess.

Also despite being annoyed that Joker turned out to be the main villain, I can’t deny that the entire part where The Joker meets Harleen for the first time was VERY well done.

5 – The Post-Credits Tease

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

I gotta say, as someone who doesn’t even follow the comics, this tease potentially being for an eventual Suicide Squad game had me pretty hyped. Nothing much else to say honestly, it speaks for itself.

I’ll see you guys next time.

Fyreharticles – Five Issues I Have With Arkham Origins

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Batman: Arkham Origins. If you are yet to play or complete the game and take issue with spoilers, don’t read ahead.

I actually finished playing Arkham Origins a while ago, so I apologize that it took this long to do the follow up. Anyway, Arkham Origins was an overall enjoyable game, however, there were still some things that bugged me. Some more than others, to the point some are just nit-picks or fan bias, and others are things I get more annoyed than I probably should. So, here are at least five issues I have with the video game Arkham Origins.

Issue 1 – Not Enough Mad Hatter

Seriously guys what the hell? What happened? We get the promise of “Mad Hatter playing a bigger role than he did in Arkham City”, but there was still only one side-mission to complete for him. Granted yes, it was longer than his Arkham City appearance…but “his side-mission is longer” seems like a bit of a cop out when they said he’d play a bigger role. I mean, I wasn’t expecting him to be involved in the main plot, but the least they could’ve done is given Hatter more than one side-mission for us to play through. Not too hard to do either, just say he’s kidnapped several girls he thinks could potentially be Alice, not just that one teenager……at least I think she’s a teenager. If not a young woman.

Oddly enough, if they hadn’t claimed he’d play a bigger role this wouldn’t even BE an issue. But they did, and I take the result as false advertising, and thus here we are.

Issue 2 – The “Enigma” Side-Story Ended With An Anti-Climax

Might’ve been my own expectations just being too high, but the Enigma/Riddler storyline really did seem to just end on a whimper. It appears to end when you’ve destroyed his network relays, since after that he never talks to you again, even when you’ve found all the data. You unlock the secret room in his “hideout”, and all you really get as a reward is a Riddler trophy. Really? That’s it? We spend God knows how long finding all those data packs to open the room, but all we get is a lousy Riddler trophy? We don’t even get to meet Enigma/Riddler in person like we did in Arkham City? Again, this may just be my expectations going a bit high, but even the Arkham Asylum Riddler Trophy side-mission has a better ending than this did.

Issue 3 – Batman: Corpse Raider

At one point in the game, The Joker decided to kick The Electrocutioner out of a (God knows what story) window to his death, because The Electrocutioner was too busy playing games on his phone to listen to whatever The Joker was rambling on about. What does Batman do? Well, I’ll tell you what he doesn’t do. Respect the dead. Batman outright steals Electrocutioner’s tech to use as his own.

I mean, sure, Electrocutioner won’t be using those any time soon (unless someone gets him to a Lazarus Pit real quick), but it’s still raiding a dead guy’s corpse. Gotham’s saviour ladies and gentlemen. He won’t kill anyone, but hey, if they happen to die he’ll make sure their stuff goes to a “good home”.

Issue 4 – Tracey Buxton

Just…..Tracey Buxton. I mean, why does she even exist? Candy on her own was better and she appeared much less. She looks like she couldn’t decide what decade her look was supposed to be from (Punk-ish hairstyle with a Beetlejuice-like suit) and she has one of the most forced Cockney (?) accents I’ve ever heard in my life. Like, wow, Nolan North’s Penguin voice isn’t great either, but I’ve gotten used to it. Tracey sounds like someone from the US trying to mock someone from England. AND THAT CHARACTER IS SUPPOSED TO ACTUALLY BE ENGLISH…I THINK!

Issue 5


(My ACTUAL reaction wasn’t so much anger as disenchantment but you get the idea)

Seriously, this is the biggest disappointment I’ve probably ever had playing an Arkhamverse game. They build up and advertise Black Mask as the main villain, but what’s that? It’s actually Joker disguised as Black Mask? Oh. Well, that kind of sucks honestly. I get they were just trying to trick us, but come on guys. Like, did this ruin the overall experience for me? No, but it made me enjoy the game less knowing that the only true encounter you have with Black Mask is a side-quest. I do like that they actually have him technically stick around to BE a side-quest, rather than just tossing him out like nothing happened, however it is still frustrating to see Black Mask get shafted like that. Black Mask as the main villain could’ve been very interesting, and was, right up until they decided they’d screw with us.

Batman has a VAST Rogue’s Gallery, and they can’t help but make Joker the main focus of ALL THREE GAMES so far? Come on. Why couldn’t Joker just be a side-villain? Or, you know, you could’ve NOT advertised Black Mask as the main villain and just have it be Joker from the outset. It still would’ve been annoying honestly, but it would’ve been a lot less annoying. And really, less annoying is all I ask. Isn’t making things “less annoying” what America is all about?

Wait, what? This game was made by WB Games Montréal? Oh, well then, now I know what to do about this.

I’ll see you guys next time with things I actually liked about Arkham Origins.