Sonic 4 review

Sonic 4 is pretty much what I expected it to be: a rehash of the Genesis Sonic games in 2.5D with one or two new gimmicks, and most of the flaws that come with modern Sonic games: sub-par level design, frustrating bottlenecks, and a misunderstanding of the physics that made the original Sonic games fun.

That’s not to say it’s not worth playing – it’s a fine addition to the Sonic library, but I’d say it’s not as good as Sonic Rush or Sonic Rush Adventure.

Being episodic, the game has only 4 zones, but each has 3 acts and a separate boss battle. The zones are basically Green Hill, Casino Night, Labyrinth, and Metropolis, but with new names. There are no new enemies – just ones from the first two games. The stages play almost exactly like the old ones, with the exception of a fun card-based stage in the casino zone, where you run through, on, and over cards which reward you richly with coins and extra lives. You have stage select access after you beat the first act of the first zone, which makes the game somewhat non-linear – but you’ll probably end up playing it from start to finish anyway.

The special stage is from Sonic 1, only you rotate the stage itself instead of moving Sonic around. I preferred it the old way. The final boss (spoilers I guess) is Mecha Eggman from Sonic 2, only it drones on for about 4 times as long and throws some very unfair punches your way.

As for the misunderstandings: it seems like the entire team that put this game together forgot that the original Sonic games were all about momentum – when Sonic starts rolling or flying through the air, you don’t need to control him to keep moving him forward. Instead, this game has you basically holding down the D-pad at all times in order to get Sonic to move. Otherwise, Sonic rolls to a stop extremely quickly. That’s not how the game is supposed to play. Not even the Sonic Advance or Rush series made this mistake.

Sega might have changed the physics around because of the addition of the homing double jump, which is really a game-changer, I guess you could say. You use it all the time. You have to. If you don’t, you’re in danger of falling down a pit and dying – and there are a lot of unexpected pits in this game, echoing the poor level design rampant in Sonic Advance. There are some truly frustrating parts that took me 5 lives to get through, when they really shouldn’t have.

There’s no voice acting in the game, which is intentional – it’s supposed to appease old-time fans (duh, the entire game is nothing but a giant appeasement), but there are times at which it almost seems as if Eggman is having a dialog with Sonic, where he flails around for about 10 seconds and you have to wait for him to finish not saying whatever he’s saying. It’s a little awkward. The music is also kind of awkward – you’re supposed to be reminded of the synthy stuff from the Genesis titles, but I’m just not feeling it. It could have done better with a recorded soundtrack, or more realistic instruments. I guess I should just be happy that it’s not another rap-rock debacle.

If you’re a long-time Sonic fan, I’d say get the game. $15 (Wii) is a little steep for a downloadable title, but it’s a nice thing to have in your collection. I think I’ll get episode 2, but I truly hope they’ll work out the physics and level design problems – not really holding my breath, though.

Final Fantasy XIV Impressions

I played Final Fantasy XI for about half a year back in 2004 so I definitely wanted to try FFXIV while it was still in beta.

I am quite disappointed!

Let’s start with the main bit: the game is way too much like FFXI. I understand that Square Enix was trying to reach some sort of balance of new and old, and tries to stay true to FF roots by reusing themes from games past (in this case: the same races with new names), but I think they could have created an entirely new world instead of taking an old one and multiplying the polygons by a few.

The locales are also not as imaginative as I expected them to be. So far I’ve traveled two cities, a forest, and plains, and they’re… well, boring. Limsa Lominsa (my starting place) is a city spanning coastal rocks, but it’s bland as hell. Its outskirts are green with gray rocks, forever, with not much variation. The only way you can really tell one place from another without the usae of a map is by seeing how far away you are from a big city.

The game’s graphics don’t feel optimized. In fairness, my computer’s starting to dip into “low-end” territory (GeForce 8800 GTS 512), and the game is still very playable, but things still feel sluggish, overall. Low frame rates, especially compared to something like a Source Engine title.

And talking about sluggish – I can barely use the UI! The mouse just drags along the screen like molasses, trying to buy/sell items is nigh-impossible due to the game seriously freezing up when you try to navigate from menu to menu, and this clumsiness also translates into battle, where it’s exceedingly difficult to select enemies or party members. The unresponsive UI alone is reason enough for me to stop playing the beta, for free.

More reason to not buy the game: it seems as if you can run out of things to do quite easily. You’re only allowed to initiate 8 quests in the period of 48 hours. Maybe this is just a beta thing, but, uh… I can complete 8 quests within the period of ONE hour. Does Square Enix honestly want people to play an MMO, one of the most addictive electronic things you can do, for only one or two hours every two days? Do they expect the player to take up the rest of the time trying to craft shit and work with the clunky UI system to set up a bazaar?

The beta provides almost zero documentation about how everything works, and I hope – for the sake of people who will actually buy the game – that this improves by the time it’s released next week. But I’m still totally in the dark about the most efficient way to make money in the game (there is no Auction House system), whether it’s better to solo or party up, why the game seems to put so much emphasis on working on multiple classes rather than focusing on a main one, etc. etc. etc.

Did I mention that the game still crashes regularly?

The whole game seems unfinished and poorly thought out in a number of ways. It’s a shame that Square Enix has decided to proceed with the release rather than spending more time working out some serious kinks. Hopefully the poor experience by early adopters won’t detract players who try picking it up down the road when (if?) FFXIV has got its shit in order.

iPhone 4 The Tie

I reserved an iPhone 4 the day preorders opened – I didn’t actually order one since I couldn’t get through Apple’s website; I reserved one via the Apple Store iPhone app instead. Turns out this was about as good an outcome as waiting for it to just be available, since I wouldn’t have had to wait in a 6-hour line, like I did. I even made fun of the people waiting overnight to get their iPhone so they don’t have to wait during their workday, but there I was. I am such a tool.

Now whether I’m a tool for actually BUYING the new iPhone is debatable. Getting a new phone usually results in me MAKING money, because I can sell the old one, sans contract, for about the same price of a new one, plus AppleCare, plus tax. Disregard the fact that I took time out of my work day to get this phone, which cost me almost that amount in lost pay. It’s not lost! I’m on contract! I can make it up whenever I want! Ugh!…

No, the reason I might be a tool is because of Early Adoption Syndrome. The new iPhone has two flaws, both of which I’m not sure if Apple will have a solution to anytime soon.

First, it’s the infamous left-handed signal loss issue, which does affect me, because I am left-handed. Almost all of the calls I’ve made so far have required that I move my hand from the natural phone-holding position, lest the calls be dropped. It’s a real shame. I can’t start holding it in the other hand because it’s still difficult to lift my right hand to my face. I really don’t want to buy a case because I keep the phone in my pocket and I can see the rubber conflicting with the ease of taking it in and out of my pocket. That, and I don’t feel as if I need to buy something extra to correct an inherent design problem.

Second, it’s FaceTime: it might work right out of the box, but it doesn’t when you restore your old iPhone’s backup onto the new phone. You can’t re-enable it: the option just plain disappears from the phone settings screen. The only way to get FaceTime to work is to restore your iPhone to factory settings and start from scratch, which would be fine, if it wasn’t for one thing: Final Fantasy II. The game, and many other games I have on my phone, have save data which I want to keep around (the data screen reports I have spent 23 hours and 18 minutes on the game so far). So basically, I need to finish up the game – which, by the way, runs just amazingly on the new phone compared to my old one – before I can restore and enable FaceTime. Which is fine, because I don’t know anyone else with an iPhone 4 and the feature is a gimmick just like video chat has always been.

Overall I’m glad I upgraded, mostly due to speed concerns. The OS and apps just blaze along. The new higher-resolution screen is pretty, but doesn’t really affect my experience that much. Due to the reception problem, I might have been better off buying an iPhone 3GS, which is also pretty fast. But I’ll deal with it. Maybe Apple will come out with a software update that will solve both problems. Probably not. But there’s always hope.