O Sega, Where Art Thou?

So I downloaded the Sonic The Hedgehog demo on Xbox Live…

Jesus fucking Christ. This just sums up everything that’s happened to Sega over the last few years. The trailblazing company that brought us so many great and innovative titles on the Saturn and Dreamcast just seems to have rotted away, leaving a festering carcass that just churns out complete pap.

The anticipation that I used to feel for a new Sega game is replaced by a creeping dread that somehow they’ll have fucked up the unfuckupable like Phantasy Star Universe. Even Sonic for that matter should be easy – run really fast through some pretty landscapes and that’s it. No digging for emeralds, no dark emo hedgehogs, no vehicles, and certainly no cats fishing for their frogs.

If you haven’t played the Sonic demo, it’s rubbish. Complete pish. For a start Sonic isn’t fast, which is like making a Zelda game where Link doesn’t have uncomfortably effeminate personality traits. The camera is so slow that it has to be a joke (maybe the whole game is a joke). You spend more time watching Sonic fall to his death than actually doing anything that resembles gameplay. Twitchy controls, slowdown, and it looks like Sonic Adventure 2 in 720p. Just wrong, and that’s even without Shadow in it. What the hell is Sonic without a sense of speed?

This isn’t the Sega that could do no wrong. Only a few years ago they gave us Shenmue, two pretty competent 3D Sonics, Phantasy Star Online, Jet Set Radio, Skies of Arcadia, Crazy Taxi, F355 Challenge; the only recent Sega game that I’ve enjoyed can’t be described without the word ‘flawed’ in there. They didn’t put out rubbish like this on Dreamcast or even in the early days of their multiplatform life: Jet Set Radio Future and Panzer Dragoon Orta were as good as anything they’ve done. Sonic Heroes wasn’t.

So what’s happened to them? Is the current Sega an evil imposter or something?


I found very little to interest me at TGS this year. Much the same as last year, in fact, where I was only interested with some of the stuff because I was there and it afforded me the opportunity to get an early play on the Xbox 360. Even so, one piece of oddness that inspired many an online debate was the price of Gran Turismo HD.

What was odd was that it didn’t herald the expected high cost of Blu-ray games, but that it takes the concept of microtransactions and runs with it. And runs, and runs. It’s still going, I think.

That’s just wrong. How can you possibly sell a car game without cars? Will you have to buy ammo in Resistance when you run out now? It’s accepted now that the horse armour in Oblivion was really stupid but it wasn’t one of the fundamentals of the game; it’s not like you had to buy a sword. Or feet so that you could actually move around and play the thing.

Microtransations are fine as a side thing so that you can get a few extra maps or something for your favourite game when your interest is beginning to wane, but when content is excluded deliberately so that you have to pay extra for it, it becomes a bad thing. £50 games are annoying but I’d prefer to pay that and have the full, undiluted game there than I would pay £20 and have to spend 50p a time for everything I want to use.

I had as much fun online in PGR3 with some friends playing around in some of the weirder cars as I did using Ferraris, and that’s unlikely to happen if it requires a monetary risk on what could be a crap car that you’ll use for ten minutes before going back to the F50 GT.

In short: bad, bad idea. Don’t support it and let it be consigned to the scrapheap where it belongs.

Hungry For The Wolf


It’s hard to believe that I’ve actually got my copy of Okami here. The last time I saw this game in anything more than video form was back at TGS 2005 and I’ve been enchanted by it since then, counting down the days until an English-language version. No thanks to SCEE and their February 2007 shite. Imports FTW.

I think most people would by lying if they said that it was anything other than the truly spectacular art in this game that attracted them to it, because it really is beautiful. Like Shadow of the Colossus it maybe pushes the PS2 a bit too far: whizzy particle effects, flying cherry blossoms, and animated cel-shading are all well and good but for all its beauty, it can chug sometimes. Did I mention that the art style looks great, though? It really negates any technical issues for me.

Of course gameplay is more important than graphics and all that guff, so how does Okami play? Pretty well, actually. Probably not as suitably godly as the visuals (more like slightly saintly – say that ten times fast) but it does some unique stuff and complements the handpainted visuals with paint-based gameplay. Enemies are finished off by painting a slash through them, raging rivers are bridged by painting a bridge between the banks, night is turned to day by painting a sun in the sky, etc. Fits the whole art motif perfectly. Did I mention it looks reeeally nice?

This is definitely one of those games that always seems to come along in the last days of a console and becomes one of the defining titles. It’ll be interested to see how well the somewhat rudimentary combat holds up throughout the apparent 30-hour length, but regardless this is one game where I actually think that it’s worth buying for the graphics alone. I feel dirty for saying that but it’s true.

I Think I Get It Now

A few months back I complained that I didn’t get on with the “marmitey” gameplay (thanks for the excellent adjective, Martin) of the Metal Gear Solid series. I take it back.

You tend not to give games that you dismissed another chance but I stuck MGS3: Subsistence in again the other day. Maybe it was the nagging sense that I was missing something or maybe it was just that I’d bought the bloody thing twice and still hadn’t had my money’s worth, but whatever it was I’m actually enjoying it. Despite the silly story and tendency to drag in the cut scenes (almost twenty minutes at the end of Virtuous Mission!), the proper 3D camera really saves it.

I still maintain that, because of that camera, MGS3 can be classified as a bad game. It worked in the first two because they were (a) angular and (b) complete with radar. MGS3 was neither and might as well have been an FPS for all the time that I had to switch to first person to see a guard ahead of me. Subsistence’s camera is a significant addition that really should have been in there from the start.

Incidentally I’m now watching US copies of MGS and MGS2 on eBay. I’m such a completist whore.

Sleeping With The Fugu


It’s not Shenmue, but Yakuza is somewhere in the vicinity. It’s a bit of a unique beast, mixing elements from Yu Suzuki’s great classic, the ubiquitous GTA, and even parts from Sega’s Streets of Rage. Probably the main thing that it’s inherited is that it’s a very flawed game and has a shitty dub (though not quite that shitty), but still manages to stay enjoyable.

Still, it’s good to have a crime game that isn’t played out entirely in Ebonics. It would have been nice if it was in Japanese being that it’s in Japan and I doubt many Yakuza bosses sound like Michael Madsen and are unable to get through a sentence without saying “motherfucker” (yes, too much swearing can get annoying and lose its potency). In all fairness it’s worlds better than the dub in Shenmue – these people can act and it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a broom cupboard – but this isn’t GD-ROM anymore: can’t they have put the Japanese dub on there as well?

In any case, while this isn’t going to attain classic status it’s a pretty good game nonetheless. I played a couple of hours this afternoon and found myself enjoying it, and my only complaint was that the names that are thrown at you in the first few hours can get overwhelming and difficult to follow, especially when some aren’t seen in person while still requiring you to keep track of them. The loading times are also a slight annoyance as you get a good few seconds before every fight, and fighting tends to happen a lot.

The combat system is nice and brutal, with plenty of weapons to grab and a growing library of suitably brutal moves. Finishing someone off by smashing their head into a wall is oddly therapeutic. A couple of hours into the game you’ll have to fight your way out of a hostile area and I thoroughly enjoyed it, with enemies surrounding you and affording you the opportunity to knock groups of them flying with a weapon. Or one of them if you can grab them.

So my first impressions are that while this isn’t a classic, it’s still an enjoyable game and worth a look. If I finish it you can probably expect a review.

Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings

Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings

I got my copy of the new Penny Arcade book in the post this morning, Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings. It not only continues their tradition of great but incongruous titles (starting with their first volume, Attack of the Bacon Robots) but brings together all of their comics from 2001 in one neat package, complete with some extra artwork and some of the best news posts.

I’ve been a fan of PA for some time – I can put my introduction to their oeuvre somewhere in the first book, circa 1999 – but, as with The Simpsons when watching the early seasons on DVD, it’s hard not to look at the older stuff with a more critical eye. Not only does it not look as good as the new ones but the writing isn’t as sharp and the characters haven’t yet found their niche.

Same thing here. The first book was good but it wasn’t until near the end that the pieces were all falling into place. This book is where things start to feel right. They of course have the endless source of material that was the early PS2/Xbox/GameCube conflict and the end of the Dreamcast (*sniff*), but it also helps that it doesn’t look like it was drawn by a GCSE art student.

They already have the next two books, titled The Warsun Prophecies and Birds Are Weird, in the pipeline, but this one gets the thumbs up from me. There are some really classic strips in there and for gamers it provides a handy chronicle of what seems like an age ago.