Tag Archives: Sega

Vanquish or: Wait For Year End to Choose a GOTY

To be fair, Vanquish isn’t my favourite of 2010, mainly because I love Red Dead that much, but also as it has a story that makes me feel less intelligent for having sat through it and can be finished off in a few hours. The four hours that was being bandied around before its release seems a touch on the harsh side – I did it in a hair under six hours on normal difficulty – but it would be enough for me to question the value of a full-price purchase. Find it for something around the £12.98 that I paid in the post-Christmas sales, though, and you shouldn’t hesitate.

Vanquish

Vanquish is just a good old-fashioned blast, of the kind that Japanese developers would have been pumping out with some regularity had they not gone to shit this generation. It takes the handful of things that I like from the Devil May Cry and God of War kind of games and mixes them with a dash of Gears-style cover shooter, and it ends up being one of the best of both styles. More accessible than DMC, more varied and deeper than God of War, and faster and more intense than Gears of War.

Although it’s developed by Platinum with Shinji Mikami at the helm, it’s published by Sega and feels like something that would have come out on the Dreamcast in its all-too-brief heyday. In that respect it’s like Bayonetta, not ashamed of the fact that it’s a video game and revelling in its lunacy and heritage. The story is utter shite most of the time, with characters who make cardboard cutouts look deep and some absolutely barking twists and turns that won’t do much to convince gaming’s detractors of its storytelling strengths, but even with these flaws and a slight feeling that it peaks too early, I can’t help but love it.

Platinum’s fast becoming one of my favourite developers, just because it’s proud of its and gaming’s heritage, and the enthusiasm shines through in its games. This and Bayonetta are two superlative examples of games from crowded genres that manage to possess great originality and polish, and they really buck the trend of the downturn in Japanese gaming so far this generation.

As long as Platinum’s fruitful relationship with Sega continues, I’m going to keep playing its games in a little time warp. Dreamcast 2: not just a console but a state of mind.

Best of 2010 #6: Bayonetta

BayonettaConsidering that I generally don’t get on with the genre at all, the fact that I liked Bayonetta as much as I did is a minor miracle. Or maybe it wasn’t, because the Platinum Games connection always seems to guarantee a deep and polished experience, regardless of genre, and Bayonetta trumped the rest in almost every respect.

First and foremost, it played wonderfully, with accessible, balletic combat and movement that flowed hypnotically, whether you were a button-mashing beginner – or a God of War fan, natch – or took the time to learn it. And I loved how the deep combat mechanics avoided a common pitfall by offering a carrot rather than a stick – mastery of the dodging system conferred a benefit, rather than punishing those who failed to use it properly.

Of course, the glorious presentations deserves plenty of credit. Beyond looking gorgeous, it was a love letter to Sega gaming – within minutes you’re driving along to Magical Sound Shower – and never failed to impress when it came to scale. Show me another game that ends with you riding a motorcycle up the side of a rocket into space to fight God, and I’ll thank you because I want to play it.

I wouldn’t have given Bayonetta some of the more excessive scores that it obtained this year, but it stands as certainly the best in breed for this year, and is up there with Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry as one of the few that I might return to without a gun to my head.

Some Old-Fashioned Hardcore Gaming

After a year dominated by good games, but games that didn’t really push the envelope any further than the number of guns featured in that particular first-person shooter, I’ve changed things up by having a good time with a couple of recent releases that have really taken me back.

Bayonetta was first, and I loved it from the moment it accompanied a drive in a red sports car with Magical Sound Shower on the radio. It’s loaded with references to classic Sega games and revels in the Capcom connection as well – many of the developers worked on Devil May Cry, most notably director Hideki Kamiya – with nods to everything from the obvious Devil May Cry through to Viewtiful Joe and Resident Evil 4. It’s far more entertaining in its homages than something like Matt Hazard, which uses them as an excuse for uninspired design – ironically bad.

Bayonetta

It’s also mind-bendingly gorgeous, outrageously silly on occasions, and unashamedly hardcore in its design. Lower difficulty levels make cool-looking combos easy and accessible through button-mashing, but play it on normal or higher and it takes skill without requiring the third hand that certain similar games can do. The combo system in particular is superb, letting you flick between two different weapon loadouts mid-combo and cancel in and out of them as you go, dodging with a tap of the right trigger. It’s less prescriptive and more spectacular than Ninja Gaiden, while also less daunting than Devil May Cry 4.

Essentially, it’s just a lot of fun to play, whether you’re out for a challenge or some classic gameplay of a sort that seems to be in decline. Just don’t play it for the story, because that’s utter bollocks.

I’m not convinced that it’s a 10/10, though. Although there’s nothing that I’d pick out as a glaring flaw, it’s very much standing on the shoulders of giants rather than forging its own path, and I like to think of perfect scores as being reserved for the few games that do the latter.

Demon’s Souls is the other game, and although it’s been out in the US for a few months, I only recently took the opportunity to import it. Its buzz has been hard to ignore and it’s even picked up a few awards along the way, and I’m surprised by how easily it seems to have found an audience considering its difficulty and plain old-fashioned bloody-mindedness. Ganged up on by a couple of basic zombies? Dead. Killed again before you manage to resurrect yourself? Dead. Oh, and you’ve lost all your collected souls as well. Brilliant…

Demon's Souls

Both games are different sides of the same coin. Bayonetta is brash, loud, and intent on having fun with its audience but also accessible, whereas Demon’s Souls wants to trip you up and is only playable by someone who can play through the frustration. It’s not fun, per se, but it’s a very compelling challenge, and the enjoyment is in getting through it and finally beating that boss who reduced you to a broken pile of bones within seconds of your first meeting.

But regardless of their wildly divergent approaches, I’m just happy to see that games like this – ‘proper’ games, as I’ll hesitantly call them – can still succeed. As much as I love Modern Warfare 2, I like to see games hewn of the bedrock of gaming history still getting out there and doing good business. Hack-and-slash action games and roguelikes – admittedly, Demon’s Souls isn’t quite that bad – were once staples of gaming, and Bayonetta and Demon’s Souls represent their modern equivalents, doing a great job of keeping the old-school flag flying. We should appreciate them for that.

But now, Atlus, how about pulling your finger out and giving Demon’s Souls a European release? This is 2010, not 1995.

Ten Years of Shenmue

In amongst the endless [something] of the decade features doing the rounds at the moment, one snippet that almost slipped my mind is that just over ten years ago, on 29 December 1999, Shenmue was released in Japan. That means that somewhere around this time ten years ago I was in the Video Game Centre, failing to disguise my enthusiasm for the imminent arrival of my import copy.

Dobuita

It had already sent me on a wild adventure of learning HTML and using it to create the imaginatively named Shenmue Fan Site, and my first couple of trial-and-error playthroughs – I didn’t speak Japanese, and no one else had yet written a guide, which made simple tasks like ‘speak to Yamagishi-san’ very difficult – were followed by my first FAQ, which directly led to freelance work with the precursor to the company where I now work. I’ve wanted to write about games for a living for a long time, but no single game had as much direct influence on my future career path as Shenmue, and that’s a big part of why I still hold it in such high esteem.

To be honest, if I was trying to choose my game of the last ten years, this would probably be it. It was highly influential – not many games had real-time weather and day/night cycles in 1999, and it’s largely responsible, for better or worse, for the continuing popularity of the QTE – and far ahead of its time. Its cult following is formidable and still rapacious, devouring every snippet of ‘news’ that comes out of Sega regarding the future (or not) of the series. My bet is that the inclusion of Ryo will be directly responsible for at least half of the sales of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Hell, that’s why I’m going to buy it.

Sakuragaoka

Playing it now, parts of it are of its time, and it may have been pushing the Dreamcast hardware further than was wise, but it still has so much atmosphere, even when playing the impenetrable Japanese version, and that’s a big part of why I love it. Yokosuka feels real – I know it is real, but you know what I mean – and, way back when, I had a place where I’d like to live, a favourite Chinese restaurant, the works. How many games do that now? Bethesda’s stuff, maybe.

The lack of Shenmue III is an empty space in gaming to me and is, sadly, likely to remain so. But, until then, we’ll always have Sakuragaoka…

Best News Ever

How could I forget to make a post about this? It’s not exactly Shenmue III, but the confirmation that Ryo Hazuki will be making an appearance in the upcoming Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, his first in-game appearance since Shenmue II on the Xbox in 2002, is the next best thing.

Ryo Hazuki in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

What’s weird is that back when the game was first unveiled I was going around making jokes about this, suggesting that Ryo and his forklift – as well as the currently unconfirmed New Yokosuka Harbor race track – would be a perfect little acknowledgement of the Shenmue series’ not inconsiderable cult following. This would have the dual benefit of also raising the profile of the series again and forcing Sega to update the Ryo Hazuki character model for the current generation, which is surely half the work of Shenmue III done.

And that’s only what’s gone and happened. The people behind it are obviously savvy enough to know that this game has a significant following, as your average character wouldn’t command such fanfare and such a self-referential announcement – “He shall appear from a far eastern land across the sea, a young man who has yet to know his potential… And he’ll be driving a badass motorcycle” – but baby steps, right?

But yeah, it’s not quite what we’re looking for, but I’m almost ashamed to admit that it’s enough to make this a probable purchase on day one, if only to complete the collection.

Sonic Unleashed Sucks

Any sane Sonic fan will know by now that the correct way to approach a new Sonic game is with trepidation. If Sonic Team has been insisting that this one will be the return to form without Sonic’s furry friends – or worse – and their shit new game mechanics, what it really means is that this one will have new furry friends with gimmicks that it hopes won’t be quite as bad as previous attempts.

Even after rubbish like Shadow the Hedgehog and and utter trash of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Unleashed is possibly the most depressing yet. It’s not that it’s worse than Sonic 2006, thankfully, but what’s depressing is how it’s such a case of one step forward and two steps back. The Sonic stages are back to basics, brilliant fun, extremely pretty, and exactly what I want from a 3D Sonic game; put a few hours of these together and I’d happily pay the asking price, regardless of what brainless story had been hung on the bones to justify it. These represent Sonic Unleashed’s step forward.

Sonic Unleashed

However…

The were-hog was, let’s face it, a bad idea from the start. Tell me you didn’t hear about it and cringe immediately.

It’s a bizarre attempt to bring in some Devil May Cry-style combat, except it’s just crap. Mash the buttons to destroy some rejects from the ranks of Kingdom Hearts’ Heartless and Twilight Princess’s shadow creatures, occasionally getting into a QTE to kill off the bigger ones, and do this for room after room, unless the game decides that some block-pushing would be better. Yes, that’s block-pushing puzzles. In a Sonic game.

Bearing in mind that the Sonic stages are over in a few minutes and the were-hog ones can be ten minutes or more, they take up a significant proportion of the game – like more than the Sonic stages.

It’s just insane to me that nobody thought during testing, when they’d just finished breaking the sound barrier as the Blue Blur, that being stuck in the same room for five minutes as you dragged a block onto a switch, twiddled some knobs to raise and lower platforms, dragged another block onto them, moved them again, dragged the block to the other one – all so that you could get to a careful, slow walk across a balance beam, which couldn’t be more at odds with the Sonic ethos if it tried – wasn’t any fun whatsoever. Once again, I’m baffled as to what’s happened to the Sega of the Dreamcast days that could seemingly do no wrong.

Throw in boring and largely non-interactive Tornado sequences – you don’t even have control over the plane like you did in Sonic Adventure – and it becomes hard not to play the game without shaking your head. I’m beyond really being disappointed because I just don’t care any more. It’s for the best if we all just forget about Sonic and leave him back in his glory days.

Until the next time Sonic Team promises to take it back to basics…