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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
by Darwin Hang
Darwin Hang takes on the PlayStation 2's latest Sonic the Hedgehog-based racing game...

An object’s velocity is equal to its displacement divided by the time of travel.  This means that an object which starts and ends its voyage at the same position has a velocity equal to zero.  Now, let’s say that that object A is Sonic the Hedgehog riding a hoverboard.  Object B is a robot chasing object A in the story mode of Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.  Both objects start at position X and end at position X, giving both of them a velocity of zero miles per hour.  The story mode, like Sonic on his intergalactic hoverboard, goes nowhere.


Sonic’s distinguishing trait has always been his speed.  He was fast without any technological aid.  That was the point.  He was able to use his natural skills to defeat Mr. Robotnik, or Eggman, who was obsessed with technology.  This racing-obsessed version of Sonic does not appear to be made within the same continuity as the original Sega titles.  It fails in its inability to retain the spirit of the Sonic franchise.  Sonic doesn’t need a vehicle, he needs to run and jump and spin fast.  Eggman has become comic relief.  Because the story mode has to be played through to unlock features of the game, there should have been some course alterations so that the races would feel like a natural progression of the story.


When the game sticks to racing, it’s tolerable.  The courses play differently for different characters, and a slow motion “drift” function is well designed.  Sometimes gameplay is exciting.  The courses play differently for different characters as long as you stick to Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles.  The “Rogues” are feathered mirror images of the mammalian main characters.  The racing is fast and there are many gimmicks which work well and many gimmicks that don’t.  Because of the gimmickry, there is not an even playing field, meaning that this does not make for a good party game.  Once a course is played through with each character, it loses its charm.


Like its intended tween audience, the Sonic franchise is going through an identity crisis.  Does Sega keep churning out Sonic titles that no one cares about until people just start ignoring him and pretending he doesn’t exist?  Will Sonic someday have MTV Made help get his singing career started?  Too bad these questions could not have been addressed earlier, before Sonic reached his mid twenties.


As someone who grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog (yes, I was that kid who had a Sega Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo), it was hard for me to play Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.  I am going to keep typing that name, because it is part of the problem.  My generation grew up on side scrollers and 2D first person shooters.  Most of the time we had no idea what the plots of the Sonic games were or if they even existed.  Then, it didn’t matter.  Now it does.


Art builds upon its predecessors.  It doesn’t rely on nostalgia to retain an aging audience.  It connects generations while creating gaps between them.  Art causes friction.  Art makes us question our limits as a human race, our future, and our past.  With all the mediocre, thoughtless, effortless, useless titles I play, such as Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, the more I wonder if I was wrong about stating that video games are art.  Maybe, like Van Gogh, this game won’t be appreciated until the Sonic franchise is finally dead.


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Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Video game trailers are becoming more and more important to the success of the games they depict. What are the best ones you've seen this year?

Having been the one to plaster the trailers at the bottom of the game reviews you’ve been reading on PopMatters for the last year and a half or so, I’ve had the privilege to watch hundreds of these game trailers over that time.  Given the increasing prevalence of YouTube, Google Video, and more specialized spots like the aptly named GameTrailers, the videogame trailer has become as important as the movie trailer in their respective media arenas.


As it turns out, they have awards (“Golden Trailers”) for game trailers!  This is a fact of the industry that I had no idea existed until I got an e-mail announcing the winner of this year’s award:


Yes, “Medal of Homer” actually beat out the Halo 3 “Believe” ads, which is actually pretty incredible for the folks at Hammer Creative, who made the thing. 


The leading contender so far this year?  I’ve seen some excellent trailers for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, GTA IV, and even Persona 3, but the leader in this particular race right now has to be Metal Gear Solid 4, for a trailer that’s less than 48 hours old.  The reason?  The mere presence of Don LaFontaine, a.k.a. “The Movie Voiceover Guy”, elevates pretty much any trailer to must-watch status (a fact not lost on Sega, who actually hired him for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games), and the sheer drama of Metal Gear Solid 4 only adds to the weight.  Here it is:


 


Hell yes!  Whoo!  When the end of it—that “...but Courage is SOLID” part—happens, I want to get up and cheer like a 14-year-old who just watched Saw.  It’s so, so cheesy, but it’s so earnest about it as to actually be kind of endearing.  And AWESOME.  Have you seen anything better?  Pop it in the comments.  I wanna see.


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Monday, May 12, 2008
In the sixth installment of the Zarathustran Analytics series, L.B. Jeffries explores those games that fall outside the boundaries set by his guidelines.


As any classification system necessitates, there are exceptions to the four basic categories being used in the Zarathustran Analytics. Going beyond the mere nitpicks of innovative games that strike careful balances or parallels, it is important to identify the games that specifically lack one of the three variables. When analyzing a video game by its experience rather than game design or player input, one might conclude that a game that does not feature all three variables isn’t really a video game. You don’t classify them this way to be belittling, though, you do it because these games create a different experience and should be judged by different criteria. Why criticize a game for not having a story when it wasn’t created with that in mind to begin with? Why criticize a lack of options when they would have served no purpose? There needs to be room for purists in the medium of video games and the exceptions to the four forms addresses that.

The most obvious place to start is with games that don’t have plots. Note the difference between that and not caring about the plot for a moment. There are plenty of games where the plot is entirely forgettable or the plot is one sentence long. Save the princess. Get to the end of the level. Or at the very core: beat the game. I contend that the goal of winning is in and of itself a story in a game. It has a beginning, middle, and end. The game may consist of nothing more than jumping off platforms or wanting to be “The Guy”, but that’s simply an incredibly small story. It has finality and the player puts in all the details. That doesn’t always make it a good story, but it definitely should be considered one.


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Monday, May 12, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-05-12...
This is Pop.  You pop bubbles.  I guarantee it's more fun than it sounds.

This is Pop.  You pop bubbles.  I guarantee
it’s more fun than it sounds.


Oh, I know, WiiWare is out this week, but I already posted about that at length.  Given the list of WiiWare releases, LostWinds certainly looks like the one to get (though Pop is a nice surprise for WiiWare release day)...I certainly know what I’m doing when I get home from the day job today.


So…is there anything that’s not WiiWare worth picking up today?  Well…you fans of Narnia-related stuff are in for a treat, as you get a game to go along with your movie this week.  Released for pretty much every major system (except the PSP, oddly), Prince Caspian looks just about the same as any other movie-related game this week.  Hudson’s releasing Deca Sports, which actually seems kind of fun, not to mention that it’s the first Wii curling experience available, which may make it a must-buy.  Come on!  Curling!  Who doesn’t like curling? 


Atlus's Drone Tactics.

Atlus’s Drone Tactics.


Still, the DS looks like the software platform of choice if you’re not into downloadables this week.  For one, Myst is finally making its way off the PC.  I mean, it only took 13 years.  Still, I have to give this week’s cookie to Atlus, who is abnormally active for this time of year.  Do you like bugs?  Do you like robots?  Do you like tactical warfare?  If you answered yes to the previous three questions, there is no way that you will not like Drone Tactics.  Honestly, it looks like a can’t miss formula on paper, as you get to customize your little bug things to your hearts content and sic ‘em on (presumably) evil robot bug things.  Okay, I honestly have no idea if the thing will be any good, but Atlus + Robot Bugs + Turn-Based Strategy should = AWESOME.  I hope that equation holds.


The full list of releases and a Drone Tactics trailer are hidden after the jump.  CLICK IT:


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Thursday, May 8, 2008
While we've had clues thrown our way, we really don't know for sure which games will be part of WiiWare's launch on Monday. Here's what one writer is hoping for...

Well, here we are.  This is like lying in bed on the day before my birthday, or Father’s Day, or Christmas.  I have a vague idea of what could possibly be in that shiny, enticing giftwrap when I get up, I know what I’m wishing for, I know what I asked for, but I don’t know exactly what I’ll be opening when morning finally arrives.


Yes, Monday brings with it the launch of WiiWare, or Wii Live Arcade, or whatever you want to call it.  Is it an innovative idea?  Well, no, Microsoft and Sony have been offering original downloadable content for quite some time now, some of which defines the consoles it resides on (Everyday Shooter, flOw, Geometry Wars) as much as the big ticket items that get all of the publicity and the numbers.  That it took this long for Nintendo to get on board is both a testament to the power of the library of old games Nintendo had at its disposal via the Virtual Console and yet another aspect of the online experience that Nintendo is shamelessly behind on.


This is not the time to dwell on the Wii’s shortcomings, however; the stable of games that WiiWare has lined up looks immediately appealing and very, very creative.  Remember two years ago, when we were first hearing about the Wii and its nutty little control interface?  Remember the promise that it held, as we dreamed of virtual swordfights and endless tennis volleys that actually increased our heart rate?  Occasionally, that promise is fulfilled, but I don’t think anyone was suspecting the onslaught of minigames and PS2-with-waggle conversions that have ultimately come to define the system for those who would detract from it.  WiiWare, on the other hand, is like a new beginning.  Having independent developers create software for the Wii is like handing the reins to people like us, people who once saw the Wii as a system of infinite possibilities, now offered the chance to realize some of those possibilities.


Much like the Virtual Console, however, we really have no idea which of those possibilities we are going to get to experience come Monday afternoon.  With that in mind, after the jump are five WiiWare games that would look great inside Monday’s shiny wrapping paper…


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