Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

Sonic 4: First Impression

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

To say that I’ve been looking forward to this game has been an understatement. I’ve never taken to the 3D Sonic titles, and although I’ve flirted with trying the handheld games, they never quite clicked for me. So after all the talk about how this game is supposed to be the spiritual successor to Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, I was quite excited. I counted down the days, I got up bright and early today, and I waited until the afternoon to download it. I’m not sure when it finally was available, but I finally got it a little while ago. I had to sign up for a full PlayStation Network account just to buy the game, but that’s a tale for another day.

The graphics are amazing, eye-popping, and just what I’d expect. Part of the reason why I waited until today (and waited most of today as well, as it turned out) was to get the PlayStation 3 version. The sound interestingly is more of a throwback to the older games’ soundtracks. I like it. The Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog music is some of my video game music; probably because I would hear it for hours on end back when I was in grade school.

Unfortunately, the best graphics and sound can’t save a bad game. I’m not ready to declare Sonic 4 a bad game just yet, as I’ve only played through the first zone. But so far I haven’t liked what I’ve seen.

First, the play control is bad. This game is supposed to be a direct throwback to the older Genesis games. Too bad they didn’t spend enough time replicating the controls. I noticed this almost immediately as my mind and motor controls went into a ‘retro Sonic’ mode. But the behaviors of Sonic after each button press, which are ingrained into my gray matter, didn’t work as expected. The most jarring example is Sonic’s momentum. In earlier Genesis games, Sonic had momentum in the air if you run and jump off the right side of a cliff, then let go of the right D-pad button, the blue hedgehog would still continue to go to the right. Not so in this game. In fact, it’s quite unrealistic no matter what type of game it is. When you jump into the air and let go of the D-Pad, Sonic immediately stops moving horizontally. In previous games, you had to jump at a small platform, then press the D-pad in the opposite direction, to compensate for over-shooting. Not so in this game: just jump until you’re over the small platform, release the D-pad, and you fall onto. Whether or not this is better is irrelevent. It’s different. That’s what counts. From the very beginning, I had to re-train my brain. For a game that’s supposed to pick up right where the last Genesis title started, how could this have gotten by all the quality control?

The other major fault I’ve noticed with the game is a problem I’ve noticed with the other recent Sonic 2-D platformers. In Sonic the Hedgehog games, you’re supposed to go fast, right? That’s kind of the point of the whole thing. Unfortunately, in this game if you go fast the developers punish you. There are enemies and obstacles in the way that hurt you. Unless you know the layout of a level beforehand, you don’t dare go fast (unless you want to lose all your rings). A video game should not be about rote memorization. You should get fair warning before getting hurt; a clever player should be able to go pretty far before losing his rings. This has been true for the last few Sonic 2-D games (Sonic Rush comes to mind). Who is behind this? Why are they still allowed to make Sonic levels?

It could be that this is a fluke, since I’ve only played the first levels. There’s one more infuriating thing about the first zone, and that’s the little chameleons that pop out of the walls and shoot you. The problem is that you’re given zero time to react after one pops out. Every single one I came across zapped me. So maybe the first level was designed by a sadistic jerk, and they kicked him off the project before he could ruin any more levels.

I’ll play through the whole game before passing judgement, because I still hold a hope that this game will be just as good as the classic Sonic games. Please fulfill my hope, Sonic Team.

Smash Bros Brawl Has a Broken AI

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Try this experiment:

  1. Start a game of Smash Bros Brawl on Free For All. Use stock mode.
  2. Just play with one player, set the rest to CPUs on level 9.
  3. Start the game, and time how long it takes for the game to end.
  4. Now, replace yourself with another computer on level 9, and time that match.

Which game took longer? Nine times out of ten, it will probably be the all-computer match. Does the first game end quickly because the AI on Smash Bros Brawl is just that good, that three of them can usually beat a human player? Does the second game take longer because the computers are excelent players?

No, it’s because the AI is biased against humans. In FFA matches, the computers actually target the human players, leaving each other alone relatively. If you need proof of this, play FFA with two humans and two CPUs. If you and your friend are halfway decent and unbiased, you will probably be the last two standing. You can also try a 1v1 in FFA, you against a computer. It’s a lot easier. Even 1v1v1 is better. But when you get three computer players all ganging up on the one human, the game becomes a lot harder.

Need some examples of this bias? Read on. From what I’ve seen, Free-for-All with 3 CPUs is really a team match, human vs. 3 computers. The game has been kind enough to activate team damage, so every once in a while they’ll hurt each other. Here are some examples:

Final Smashes

This is where it gets ridiculous. They computer will, without fail, target the human players. If you happen to die right before a CPU gets the Smash Ball, that player will wait until you have come back to use it. If you wait up on your platform while you’re invincible, so will the CPU. He will not even consider using his Final Smash on his teammates. The other CPUs will not even consider trying to take it from him. The most ridiculous cases are Lucas or Ness. It looks like the programmers gave each character a final smash AI, so they know how to use it. A lot of characters (Captain Falcon, Meta Knight) need to be close to use their smash. Ness and Lucas don’t, however. Their final smash is screen-wide. But they usually try to get near the human player before they deploy it.

Even worse are the Final Smashes that involve controlling direction. For example, the Star Fox characters use their big, stupid tanks. Sonic flies around the stage, as does Pikachu. It’s especially fun to get into a corner where Fox’s tank can’t reach, or to lead him somewhere he’ll get stuck. If you stand still, he’ll try to get at you but not go anywhere, even if the other CPUs are easily accessible. Similarly, Super Sonic or Pikachu will try and hammer you. They might hit another CPU in passing, but they’re not fooling anybody.


This is the most infuriating. True, you can dodge it, but you need split-second timing. If one CPU gets this, he will target you mercilessly. Even if the other two CPUs are standing in a tempting cluster, the CPU will prefer hitting the human player for one kill over getting the other two computers for two. Like with the Final Smash, if you die just before they get it and wait to come out, the CPU will wait until your invincibility wears off before attacking you.

The Chase

Try playing a large stage, like the Zelda Castle or the custom ‘Maze’ stage. Right at the start of the match, run from the CPUs (all three will immediately begin chasing you when the match begins). You can lead the other three CPUs on a chase, round and round the stage. They will occasionally take swipes at each other, but they’re only love taps.

No unbiased person can argue that the CPU itself is unbiased. They hate human players. They even taunt the humans after they’ve killed them — but not other computers. Way to rub it in, guys.

So what can you do? Well, you can always play with at least one other human. People may develop grudges from time to time, but they usually mix it up after they’re told to piss off and stop targeting one person. You can’t do that for the AI. Unfortunately, if you just want a quick game by yourself, you’re SOL.

I’ve tried playing 1v1v1 in team mode, with me on one team and the other two players on different team. It seems to end up the same way.

For now, I guess we’ll just have to treat FFA like a team match, humans vs. robots. The Smash Bros Brawl AI is not the hardest alone, but with three ganging up on you, the sheer force of the numbers is enough to trip you up. The only upside to this situation is that if you keep practicing, you’ll probably get really good against other humans.