Posts Tagged ‘Review’

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.

Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition – Danny Elfman et al

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Nightmare Before Christmas – Four and a Half Stars
Bonus Material – One and a Half Stars

I was eagerly awaiting this record, because The Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite animated movie, and its soundtrack is one of my favorites, too. I’m a big fan of both Danny Elfman and Tim Burton. Plus its release date seemed perfect: a week before Halloween, a week to get me psyched.

What a letdown. Now don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love the first disc, which is just the soundtrack from the original movie (which I already own). I’m talking about the special material. Another reason I was anticipating this album so fervently was that it had rock bands doing covers of some of its songs, as well as demo versions of songs sung by Danny Elfman. The demos are illuminating and entertaining. Most of the songs from the rock bands, however, are not. With the exception of Marilyn Manson’s and Fiona Apple’s contributions, those are the worst songs on the disc. Since there are so few of them, I’ll go over them one-by-one.

Marilyn Manson – “This is Halloween”
Manson’s cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop” on the We’re a Happy Family Ramones compilation totally mangled the song. He doesn’t do that here, although I think his touch would have been more appropriate on this song, as opposed to the Ramones classic. Basically, manson took his horrortronica and wrapped it around the movie’s opening song. It works, although Manson’s attempts to ‘do the voices’ kind of sucks.

Fiona Apple – “Sally’s Song”
This is definately the song for Fiona Apple to cover, and not because it’s the only female lead vocal in the musical. The reason she’s perfect for it is that it fits her stage personality — brooding, lonely, and longing. It’s a simple piano, drums, bass, and vocals numbers, and it works. I think I even like this version better than Catherine O’Hara’s. Definately the best of the covers.

Fall Out Boy – “What’s This”
Fall Out Boy deserves credit for trying. This version is probably the most altered of all the covers. There are actual electric guitars here, and they do fit into Fall Out Boy’s usual style of music. But it’s not altered enough. I foresaw this version of the song to be, well, a romp, with more energy than the film’s. It comes close. I think I hear a synthesizer in the background — whatsamatter, Fall Out Boy, jealous of Panic! At the Disco?

She Wants Revenge – “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”
What a piece of shit. Elfman’s boistrous melody and tempo are transformed into this steaming, staggering electronic afterbirth of a song. I’m fairly certain the singer hits the same note throughout the whole song. And it goes on for five minutes. I think they may have been trying to convey the ominous danger that Lock, Shock, and Barrel will present to Santa, but that’s not the point of the song. It’s funny because they’re singing so merrily about beating Santa Claus to death. When it’s performed as a psycho techno death jam, it just sucks. This is either the fault of the composer or the interpreter, and I’m pretty certain I know which one it is. Way to ruin my favorite song from the movie, assholes.

Panic! At the Disco – “This is Halloween”
This version is too much like the film’s, down to the voices and instrumentation. These songs are supposed to be covers from rock bands, right? I’d love to hear either a synthesizer, ‘phat beat’, or electric guitar, guys.

The demos, on the other hand, are some of the best material on the bonus disc. They’re not simple voice-and-piano demos (like on the Little Shop of Horrors revival soundtrack), they’re fully fleshed out. There are alternate verses and extra bits that didn’t make it to the film. Some of the songs (like “Making Christmas”) go on a bit too long, but the point of a demo is to find out what works and what doesn’t, and to cut where appropriate.

To add insult to injury, I had to buy the entire record off of iTunes; I couldn’t get just the new material. I wouldn’t feel so slighted if I had only paid for the new stuff. So I can’t even recommend just getting the demos and the covers from Apple and Manson. I guess you can always rip or BitTorrent, however…

Review: Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

George Lucas had quite a lot to do in Revenge of the Sith, his final installment in the Star Wars saga. This film, sitting as it does between the other prequels and A New Hope, had to be the bridge between them. As I entered the theater I wondered, with some trepidation, whether good ol’ George could pull it off. Could he make this movie as entertaining, action-packed, and enlightening as Episodes IV-VI, or would it fall flat like its two predecessors, awash in woody acting, bad dialog, and waaaaaaay too many scenes about “tort reform” or whatever it is that the Galactic Senate is squabbling about?

The answer is — thankfully, resoundingly — yes! Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequels. Alone, this is not saying alone, but I shall be so bold as to say that it might be the best Star Wars movie of them all. This may sound like blasphemy to some, but I assure that my assertion is grounded in reason and not the thrill of popcorn and droids and explosions and soda.

This film succeeds so wildly because it is about a man. It might as well have been named Star Wars: Anakin’s Fall. The other films had character moments, especially Return of the Jedi, but none of them captures a story as powerful as the drama and tragedy of the rise of Darth Vader. The movie chronicles, in sometimes excruciating detail, what drives Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force. Anakin’s fall is natural; it doesn’t feel rushed or unexplained. We can even be thankful for the awful scene in Attack of the Clones when he tells Padme of how he killed all the Sand people, because it showed his darker and more vulnerable side. Anakin’s tears flow from the knowledge of what he is becoming, and more strikingly they flow because he knows he is powerless to stop his transformation.

It is all, to quote Peter Parker, all for the girl. And this time, believe it or not, there are even moments of chemistry between Padme and Anakin. I really felt, for the first time, that Anakin was doing everything for her.

But drama does not a Star Wars flick make. There was action — tons of it. Exploding, riveting, bodies and spaceships careening everywhere! This film had more action than either of the first two. The pacing felt right, and not spread out and thin like in the other prequels. Sometimes, Lucas even manages to meld the drama and the action. For example, when Palpatine orders the Jedi exterminated, we get to see the very real repercussions of his mandate.

In viewing this film, you have to cut your losses. You know how it’s going to turn out; you know that the Jedi can’t win. But even small victories feel rewarding as the order and ideals of the Old Republic crumble into the foundations of the Galactic Empire. Anakin loses his battle with evil and succumbs to it, scarring his mind and body, but Obi-Wan escapes. Palpatine faces Yoda, power is tested, and Yoda lives to fight another day. These are the only comforts in a galaxy that is slowly consuming itself with fear and cowardice. It is a dark, dark movie, but even in its darkest moments, there is a germ of hope: just look at the title of Episode IV.