How Sonic Mania Has Already Succeeded Where Sonic 4 Failed

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It’s no suprise that the Sonic franchise has had quite the buzz surronding it over the past several months – with a slew of reveals regarding Project 2017 from its’ story, official name (Sonic Forces), and gameplay mechanics, the second season of the Sonic Boom TV series (which interestingly enough I heard has improved in quality, though I still don’t really care about it enough to be bothered to watch it), and the topic of today’s article, the second major attempt at a game in the style of the original trilogy and CD, Sonic Mania.

With an all-new trailer for the latter being unveiled to the public as of late (which by the way is absolutely amazing and you guys should like, watch it immediately), a thought that has lingered in my head ever since Mania’s announcement resurfaced, and one that really makes me hope that it turns out to be a spectacular game in the long run. However, before we get into what that thought exactly is, I’d like to take the time to give you all a brief history lesson.

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As the franchise was slowly but surely beginning to show signs of moving past the times consisting of such masterpieces like Shadow the Hedgehog…

…the GBA port of Sonic 1…

…and of course, one of the crowning achievements of the franchise, Sonic 06…

…Sega made an announcement that they would be making a direct follow-up to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, in what they deemed a “critical first step” to repair the franchise’s tattered reputation. Initially under the codename Project Needlemouse, the game’s official title was revealed to be Sonic the Hedgehog 4, in addition to the reveal that the game was also to be episodic. While expectations, as stated earlier, were generally high (for the most part), they sadly more or less fell flat at the end, as both Episodes 1 and 2 received a generally lukewarm reception, which in turn led to a planned Episode 3 now sharing the same graveyard as X-treme. With all of that out of the way, it’s time we got into the true meat of this article, as well as the previously-mentioned thought in question: How exactly has Mania succeeded in its’ goals as a revitilization of the original games where 4 failed in that department? Well, it was a bit hard to pin down at first, but after a while, I realized just what it was…

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When you take a prolonged glance at either Episodes 1 or 2 of 4, you get the feeling that it’s all too familiar – and not even in the intended nostalgic way, for that matter. Even if there are some mechanics thrown in here and there to differnate itself from them, said mechanics cannot hide the fact that they’re more or less glorified rehashes of the first two games. Episode 1 in particular is absolutely ruthless with this to the point where it reaches full-on Memberberries territory; All four zones are blatant retreads of ones from past games, Splash Hill being a retread of Green Hill, Casino Street being a retread of Casino Night, Lost Labyrinth being a retread of Labyrinth Zone, and Mad Gear being a retread of Metropolis – hell, the bosses aren’t even safe from this! Episode 2 isn’t quite as bad with this, moreso to say less obvious, but my point still remains.

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Mania on the other hand, while indeed reusing levels from the original games and being a throwback to them, is rather more like Generations in the sense that they’re both “Best Of” compilations of the series’ most fondly remembered and iconic levels, though Mania revolves entirely around the original games in contrast to Generations revolving around the series’ recent entries. It also helps that there are also a helping dosage of new levels added in to spice things up, such as Mirage Saloon (pictured above) and of course, Studiopolis Zone.

When making a throwback-style game, the most important thing above all to do is know how to stay true to the past while at the same time not clinging too much to it. This is a tatic that Mania seems to be taking full of advantage of, a tatic which most throwback-style games could honestly really benefit from. And with that, it has already succeeded where 4 has failed.

BONUS QUESTION: What games are you hoping to see get announced at E3 this year?

© 2017 A retr0pia Production

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Sonic Begins

In addition to wanting to pursure developing games, I’ve also had an interest in taking a look at various iconic properties and giving my own special take on how I’d reinvent them. However, there’s one property that I’ve had a particular desire to put my ideas towards, said franchise being Sega’s flagship franchise, Sonic the Hedgehog.

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What you are looking at are designs of a hypothetical complete reboot that’s been brewing in my head by the name of Sonic Begins. Essentially, Begins comes from a similar place where Sonic 4 and Mania came about; a back-to-the-basics fast-paced 2D side-scroller in the style of the Genesis games while also building and adding upon the formula established by them, as well as giving an all-new, unique take on the roots of Sonic/Robotnik conflict, as well as Sonic’s meeting with his eventual sidekick and best friend, Tails. If you guys are interested in seeing me develop this idea further, be sure to let me know in the comments below.

While You Wait For Mania And Project 2017, Check Out This Immensely Promising 3D Sonic Fan Game

Following a brief detour with the likes of Lost World and Boom, the Sonic franchise thankfully appears to be on the path to recovery once again. However, while we’ll have to wait and see if the two games set for release next year can truly deliever on the hype, that doesn’t mean that fans of the hedgehog are bankrupt in terms of content that will satisfy them for the time being. And as it turns out, Sonic Utopia just so happens to be that.

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Having been revealed as the big mystery project of 2016’s SAGE (for those who are unaware, it’s an internet convention for Sonic fan games), Utopia aims to bring the style of the original Genesis/Mega Drive trilogy and CD into an open-world 3D format while also expanding upon the groundbreaking formula that they brought to the platforming genre. In essence, it’s a bit like Sonic Robo Blast 2 in terms of concept, but it still manages to be its’ own unique thing at the same time. There isn’t a release date set for the project, and there probably won’t be for a long, long time, but there’s a demo available if you want to try it for yourselves. If you ask me, this could really be something special – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like most of the Sonic games outside of the original games! Not only are the music and art style beautifully nostalgic, but it also succeeds in bringing the charm of the originals into a third-dimensional format. You know, given how the ports of the originals and  Mania have actual longtime fans of the franchise attached to them, something tells me it won’t be long until Sega tries to get in contact with these guys as well.

What are your thoughts on this valiant effort to bring the hedgehog’s most cherished outings into a fresh new light? Be sure to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below. 

REVIEW: Rolo to the Rescue (1992, Genesis)

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When it comes to video game publishers with shady reputations, Electronic Arts (or EA for short) tends to lean rather deep into this category. Although the scorn for them has more or less died down, it still cannot be denied that some of their recent business practices have ranged from being at best questionable to at worst downright shady. Today, however, we’ll be taking a look at one of the titles released far before those days, Rolo to the Rescue.

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Developed by Vectordean (who were most known for the James Pond series) and published and licensed by Sega for the Genesis in 1992, the game’s story revolves around a young elephant named Rolo who embarks on a journey with his fellow critters to free his mother from a circus. With that out of the way, how does this game fare years after its’ release? Let’s find out, shall we?

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THE LOOKS

As I’ve stated earlier, Vectordean were the people responsible for the creation of the James Pond games (which interestingly enough is one of the few animal mascot platformers to pre-date the advent of Sonic). And if you really look close enough, you can see that the visual style of those games had somewhat of an influence, especially in the character sprites. The visuals go for an overall “cutesy” aesthetic, which does ultimately end up working in its’ favor. Rolo himself is pretty adorable, the use of colors is pleasing, and there’s even a good amount of variety between the levels. It might not be one of the best-looking Genesis games, but it’s certainly up there.

THE SOUND

In a similar vein to the graphics, the music aims for a generally light-hearted tone to appeal to a younger audience, and to be honest, it really works in it’s favor. The level themes, while not spectacular, are quite pleasant to listen to, and even a bit catchy. Granted, it’s not up there with other Genesis titles or even other 16-bit platformers, but for what it is, it’s decent enough.

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THE GAMEPLAY

From an initial standpoint, the gameplay doesn’t exactly offer much. However, what might seem like a generic, run-of-the-mill platformer is actually one that is surprisingly fun. Starting off with the controls, although they might feel a bit wonky at first, it doesn’t take long to master them. Next, the level design as a whole is fairly intriguing. It’s essentially built around the abilities of Rolo and the other playable animals, in which you have to jump and search your way to find secrets as well as the trapped critters whom you must rescue in order to receive the good ending. Speaking of which, the animals themselves help to spice up the gameplay quite nicely, with each of them having their own unique and fun ability which can enable them to get to places Rolo can’t. Overall, while this isn’t anything truly remarkable, it’s most certainly a nice little diversion.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Rolo to the Rescue may not be one of the best Genesis games out there, but for what it is, it’s a rather charming 2D platformer. While I can’t say that everyone will enjoy this game, I can think of two categories of people who most certainly would: children, and people who are simply looking for a game that doesn’t break new ground but is still fun to play nonetheless.

THE RETR0PIA RANKING

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COMING SOON: Top 10 Best Retro Game Sequels/Spin-Offs

When something becomes wildly popular, it’s only a matter of time before the creators or owners of the aforementioned thing start getting dollar bills for eyes. This is nothing new, though – in fact, it’s been going on for decades upon end, with practically everyone in the entertainment industry jumping to the call to make the next big franchise, and the world of video games is without question no stranger to this practice. In a few weeks, I will be starting production on a two-part list highlighting some of the greatest sequels and spin-offs to ever be released during the Classic Age of Gaming. As for a release date, I’m not quite sure on that just yet, but I hope to get it out by at least the end of fall. Thanks for reading as always, and be sure to stay tuned!

SYSTEM SMACK-DOWN: The Adventures of Batman and Robin (SNES, Genesis)

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Over the past several decades, Batman has had what can best be described as an interesting history with games. Aside from the mostly globally-praised Arkham saga and the newly-arrived Telltale mini-series, many games featuring the Dark Knight have ranged from being surprisingly decent, just okay, or simply pure garbage in every sense of the word. Today, we’ll be looking at two games bearing the same name and source material, which in this case is a pair of now relatively-forgotten titles based off of the second season of one of the Dark Knight’s major forays into cartoons, Batman: The Animated Series, or The Adventures of Batman and Robin as it was referred to by its’ second season.

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Developed and published in the year of 1994 for the Super Nintendo and the Genesis by Konami, Clockwork Tortoise, and Sega respectively, both games revolve around the titular dynamic duo as they take on some of the most iconic members of their rogues gallery who are in the midst of wreaking havoc in Gotham. With that said, which one of these versions is superior to the other? Let’s find out, shall we?

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ROUND ONE: THE LOOKS

SNES – One thing that some of you might notice about this version is how it attempts to go the full mile with being a licensed title, attempting to translate the show’s usage of the simplistic yet also complex “art deco” style into a video game format. And honestly, it actually works out pretty well in its’ favor. Unlike most licensed games which usually only marginally resemble their source material, many of the backgrounds in this version look like they’ve been ripped straight out of an episode from the show itself. The spritework is also pretty fantastic, as each character looks exactly as they should be. It’s also worth mentioning that the visuals often throw in a bit of 3D, a great example being the boss fight with the Joker. It’s not anything groundbreaking, but for a licensed games, the visuals truly stand out from the crowd.

GENESIS – You know what I said earlier about most licensed games marginally resembling their source material? Well, this is one of them. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this version does look absolutely fantastic. The spritework is impressive, the usage of 3D is even better than in the SNES version, and the backgrounds have a lot of attention to detail in them. However, the reason why I think the SNES version is superior graphically goes more to how it actually feels like you’re going through an episode of the show. While this version does utilize the art deco style, it doesn’t exactly have that feeling of being “simplistic yet complex” and just leans more towards the complex side rather than having the perfect balance of both, if you get what I mean.

WINNER – SNES

ROUND TWO: THE SOUND

SNES – Going along with the incredibly faithful visual style, the soundtrack in this version strives to emulate another aspect of the show, which in this case is its’ orchestral-esque music, and manges to do so with great finesse. Each track invokes a sense of heroism and justice that you’d expect a Batman product to have, and there’s even a fairly nifty version of the show’s theme song thrown in for good measure. Also, the pausing sound effect is the same as the one from Turtles in Time for some reason. While I wouldn’t say that this is one of the SNES’ best auditory accomplishments, it’s certainly up there.

GENESIS – In what also seems to be an ongoing motif for this version, the music discards the orchestral-esque tracks in favor of a more stereotypical Genesis/Mega Drive soundtrack, being the usual electronic synthesized tunes that you’ve come to expect. That’s not to say that the music in this version is bad; in fact, it’s actually really good. It’s just that once again, the SNES version does a better job in keeping in line with the show.

WINNER – SNES

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ROUND THREE: THE GAMEPLAY

SNES – Seeing as how both games came out long before the Arkham saga, it’s usually best to not keep our expectations high, as we never exactly know what the quality could be. However, I think it’s safe to say that this version is well above-average. It’s essentially a side-scrolling action-platform game along the lines of Mega Man X and Castlevania, the only difference being that Batman is in the lead. The controls are shockingly great for a licensed platformer, being smooth, tight and easy to get a hold of. There’s also a range of equipments that can be used throughout this version, including but not limited to the Batarang, a grappling hook, and smoke bombs. There’s also a heavy dosage of platforming and combat, both of which are executed with shockingly competent results, with the platforming truly stretching your skills to the limit and the combat being fairly addictive, though a bit tiresome. Though this version is definitely not on the same level of quality of the Arkham games, it comes pretty close.

GENESIS – There are a good number of ways in which I could describe the gameplay in this version, but if there was one that I’d have to pick in particular, it would have to be “entertaining, but nonetheless quite dull”. To be honest, there’s nothing inherently that bad about the gameplay – the controls are great, the combat is fun, and it generally invokes vibes of other games such as Contra. It’s just that when it all boils down, it doesn’t do anything that can be considered “fresh” or “new”. It’s not bad by any means, but there are superior options to be found.

WINNER – SNES

THE RETR0PIA RANKINGS:

SNES: A- 

GENESIS: B-

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AND VICTORY GOES TO…THE SNES VERSION!

SYSTEM SMACK-DOWN: Garfield: Caught in the Act (Game Gear, Genesis)

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Ever since his debut on the daily papers in 1978, Garfield has went on to earn a status as one of the most instantly recognizable and beloved cartoon characters of all time. In addition to this, he’s also made the rounds in almost every form of media, including television shows, movies, and of course, video games.

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Developed and published in 1995 for the Game Gear and Genesis by Paws Inc., Novotrade International, and Sega, Caught in the Act revolves around the titular character as he finds himself trapped inside of a television set, his only hope of escaping being some good-old fashioned action platforming throughout several programs. With that out of the way, which version is the most deserving of the lasagna-loving feline’s name? Let’s find out, shall we?

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ROUND ONE: THE LOOKS

GAME GEAR – One of the main reasons why the Game Gear ultimately died off and faded into obscurity was that a good handful of the titles released for it were pretty sloppy looking, ESPECIALLY when Sega began to wind down operations on it and the Genesis (the period when both games were released). For starters, the character sprites as a whole aren’t that great, as they’re extremely pixelated even for 8-bit standards. While you can still tell which characters from the comics and cartoons are supposed to be which, the sprites could be better. The backgrounds, while resembling what type of program they’re supposed to be based on, are nothing special, as they look as equally as unprofessional with a simplistic aesthetic.

GENESIS – One thing that’s worth noting about the graphics in this version is that in a similar fashion to The Lion King, the graphics were done by the creators themselves, this case being Paws Inc., who are responsible for the character sprites and animations, while the backgrounds and some other sprites were done by Sega. All in all, the efforts by both culminate in what is possibly one of the best-looking titles that the Genesis has to offer, right up there with the first three Sonic games and Earthworm Jim. The character sprites look like they leaped right out of some of the strips, with their animations being fluid, smooth, and appropriately cartoonish. The backgrounds are also great, as they help to suit the mood and theme of each stage. But if there is one thing that I have to ask…why exactly are the items and some of the sprites in 3D? I mean, in Donkey Kong Country it worked because it was done entirely in 3D, but in here they kind of stick out like a sore thumb amongst what is mostly a 2D game. Whatever, let’s try not to stray off-topic.

WINNER – GENESIS

ROUND TWO: THE SOUND

I just have to say that in this category, I won’t be comparing the sound of two versions. The reason why is because that they’re honestly on the same level on mediocrity, the only difference being that the Genesis one has significantly more advanced sound quality. While they do fit the levels, the tracks don’t exactly get me in the mood for platforming as much as they just kind of bore me a bit. This will most likely be the only time I do this in a SSD article, though.

WINNER – NEITHER

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ROUND THREE: THE GAMEPLAY

GAME GEAR – Looking back on the Game Gear nowadays, I feel like one of the most glaring problems that it had was that a lot of the titles released for it were pretty bland and forgettable, with this version most certainly being one of them. Aside from the somewhat muddy controls, the level design brings nothing new to the table, getting as generic as generic can possibly get. The camera is also way too close, which can make telling where you’ll land after a jump a mind-numbingly difficult task. You know, given Garfield’s personality, I wouldn’t be too surprised if this version was designed and programmed by him.

GENESIS – While the Game Gear version is just plain bad, the Genesis is a bit more middling. At one moment, the stages can be tediously designed and suffer from a bad case of cheap difficulty, but at another, they can actually be pretty fun and even a bit imaginative. As for the controls in this version, they’re pretty good, though they could use a bit more refinement. The most glaring issue with this version that I feel needs to be addressed however is the collision detection, which might just be some of the worst that I’ve seen in a while.

WINNER…KINDA – GENESIS

THE RETR0PIA RANKINGS:

GAME GEAR – D

GENESIS – C+

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AND VICTORY (SORT OF) GOES TO…THE GENESIS VERSION!