My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time’

Throughout my middle school and high school years, I was a huge fan of Game Informer. Aside from game coverage on G4 TV’s X-Play, it was my biggest insight into what was going on in the gaming industry. Every month, I would be super excited to tear through every single page to see new game previews, reviews and even the entertaining bits of trivia that ended the magazine.

When I came home from football camp during the summer of 2009, I was greeted with the July edition of Game Informer. I can still see the cover clear as day. It was all black, with the only image being that of an old, disheveled Max Payne. And at the very top of the cover, above even the Game Informer logo itself, was a line of text advertising a preview for Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. 

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Although I was familiar with the name Ratchet & Clank, I had never played a single game. I had both a Playstation 2 and a Nintendo Gamecube, but my PS2 was almost exclusively used to play Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Ball Z and Naruto games, so I would miss out on quite a few notable games on the system, Ratchet & Clank being one of them.

The Playstation 3 is where I would really consider myself having become a true Playstation fan. I was a teenager, so my gaming taste was a bit more refined than when I was a kid, so I ended up playing all types of different games, including most of Sony’s first party offerings.

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I distinctly remember pouring over that issue of Game Informer for what must’ve been hours. I couldn’t believe how cool A Crack in Time both looked and sounded. So for Christmas that year, in addition to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and LittleBigPlanet… I also got Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Even back then, I was a sucker for continuity, so I really wanted to start with the first game in this new saga of Ratchet & Clank.

Needless to say, I ended up really enjoying the game. Although the gimmicky motion control stuff was really off-putting, everything else in the game was awesome. I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I REALLY loved the gameplay. I couldn’t get enough of mowing through hordes of enemies, leveling up my weapons and collecting bolts while I explored the vast locales that the game had to offer.

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So the following year, I got A Crack in Time for my birthday (which is just one day before Christmas), and I spent the entire day playing. I was amazed at just how much fun the game was. I really liked Tools of Destruction, but I absolutely adored A Crack in Time, and it’s the game that made me a Ratchet & Clank fan.

Before I go more in depth with the game itself, I wanna talk about how it got me into the rest of the series. Not only have I played (and gotten the platinum trophy for) every Ratchet & Clank game that has come out since A Crack in Time, but I’ve also gone back and played the PS2 iterations (I also have the platinums in these games, except for Deadlocked).

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With the experience of just about every Ratchet & Clank game that isn’t a spin-off under my belt, I can confidently say that A Crack in Time is the best Ratchet & Clank game. The only aspect in which it has been surpassed is its presentation, and it took an installment on the Playstation 4 to do so.

As far as A Crack in Time is concerned, I’ll start with the story. Whenever I think about how I want the story in Sonic the Hedgehog games to be presented, my mind immediately jumps to this game. It’s everything I want out of a story, game or otherwise. It’s funny and comical, but knows when it needs to convey genuine drama and emotion. It takes itself just seriously enough to keep the audience engaged, but never gets so serious that you forget you’re playing a game about an anthromorph that fights aliens with crazy weapons.

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I won’t say much more about the story, as I really don’t wanna spoil how good it is, but I do have loads to say about the gameplay. In my eyes, the Playstation 2 games have a very clear trajectory. The first game was mostly a platformer, with bits of shooting thrown in for some added fun, while Going Commando was a pretty even split between platforming, exploration, puzzle solving and gunplay. Up Your Arsenal had a much greater focus on the weapons, but still had bits of platforming and puzzles, while Deadlocked is exclusively a shooter.

Similar to Going Commando, A Crack in Time is a perfect balance of everything that makes the series so great. There’s plenty of time to tear through the galaxy’s most fearsome creatures, but there’s also no shortage of platforming and exploration, the best example being the myriad of mini-planets that Ratchet can explore.

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These planets typically have a collectible that can be obtained by completing it’s challenge, and the challenges can range from defeating enemies, conquering platforming and swingshot challenges, or demonstrating mastery over your hoverboots.

One major thing that I feel like doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in the gaming industry, is how amazing the Clank sections are in A Crack in Time. In most Ratchet & Clank games, Clank’s sections are where the bulk of the puzzle solving takes place, and A Crack in Time is no different. But man, I can’t believe how innovative these puzzles are, nor can I even fathom how Insomniac Games came up with them.

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If I remember correctly, it was Ted Price that did an interview sometime during 2009 where he discussed the Clank puzzles. He said that he couldn’t accurately describe how they worked in words, you would just have to play them to understand, a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with. If a man that had a hand in making the game can’t describe the puzzles, I certainly can’t expect to do much better, but here’s a nice little video to give you a taste.

The weapons and gadgets are essential components of any Ratchet & Clank game, and A Crack in Time has a whole slew of them. While there are a few returning weapons like the Negotiator and Mag-Net launcher the game also introduces the Constructo weapons, and to this day, A Crack in Time is their only appearance. The Constructo weapons were an attempt to spice up the standard pistol, shotgun and grenade weapons. In addition to the normal benefits that are gained from leveling up, these weapons could also be outfitted with various mods that changed up their functions on the battlefield.

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I said before that I believe that A Crack in Time is the best Ratchet & Clank game, and I don’t know that any game will ever dethrone it. This isn’t because the game is perfect or anything, but it I can’t imagine it being any better than it already is. Again, aside from its presentation, there isn’t a single element of any Ratchet & Clank game that followed or preceded A Crack in Time that I think wasn’t done better in this game.

The story is much more engaging, the gameplay is Ratchet & Clank at its finest, there’s plenty of exploration for worthwhile collectibles, tons of post-game content, the list could go on and on. Not only is A Crack in Time my favorite Ratchet & Clank game, but it’s one of my favorite games of all time.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’

When I discussed my love for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Super Mario Kart, I put quite a bit of emphasis on two of my older cousins. As I said before, these two were incredibly influential on my early gaming years, and are largely responsible for making me a gamer today. Amongst the many games that I discovered because of them, is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Unlike games like Sonic Spinball, Link’s Awakening isn’t a game that caught my eye by being on display on their entertainment center. I actually found this game by rummaging through some of their old Game Boy games (which is also how I came across Kirby’s Dream Land). The Legend of Zelda, just the name alone caused my imagination to run wild. At that point in my life, most of the games I loved featured flashy, or at least attention grabbing cover art. But Link’s Awakening was a different case entirely.

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A bronze background with a rusted shield and sword at the forefront, what kind of adventure could this little Game Boy cartridge hold? The story begins with a young boy named Link being washed ashore by a vicious storm. He’s discovered by a young girl named Marin, and after a bit of exploration around the island of Koholint, encounters a strange owl who recounts the tale of the Wind Fish to our young hero.

In order to return home, Link must awaken the Wind Fish by gathering a series of magical instruments that are scattered about Koholint Island. Along the way, it is eventually revealed that Koholint Island is a dream of the Wind Fish, and rousing it from its slumber will cause the island and all of its inhabitants to disappear.

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I have a very limited experience with the Legend of Zelda series as a whole, but Link’s Awakening easily has my favorite story of the ones I’ve played. The characters are simple, but memorable, and waking up the Wind Fish is a genuinely bittersweet moment in the game. As a player trying to out myself in Link’s mindset, I had to consider whether or not it was even worth leaving such a fun and peaceful island lifestyle.

As much as I love the story, it’s not what made me fall in love with the game as a child. In fact, I didn’t even complete the game until just a few years ago (it was a bit too complex for my childhood self). It was the sense of wonder that the game gave me that kept me enthralled and entertained for hours on end.

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As a child, I only ever got as far as obtaining the third instrument, but the fact that I never could beat the game really bothered me. I loved simply exploring Koholint Island, and interacting with all of the locals. I’ll never forget the layout of the beach that Link washes up on, or the fact that Marin’s brother gets transformed into a Tanuki.

It sounds like it should be really frustrating experience. After all, the main objective of most games is to complete them, right? In the case of Link’s Awakening and games like it, the exploration is a huge part of the experience. In real life, I could only explore as far as my backyard and playground would allow. But Link’s Awakening took me to far more interesting locales.

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Another thing I’ll never forget is the music. The soundtrack along with the sound effects will forever be ingrained in my head, and I mean that in the best possible way. The ominous track that plays over the game’s intro, the quaint piece that accompanies Marin’s village and the head-bopping tune from the Mysterious Woods are just a few of my favorite songs from the game. Not to mention the jingle that plays when Link acquires a piece of power.

Compared to other Zelda games I’ve played, I love how different Link’s Awakening is. It’s far removed from series conventions like the Triforce, the Kingdom of Hyrule and even Princess Zelda herself, but this makes it a very unique installment in the series. It put an interesting spin on traditional Zelda stories, and ambitiously tried to fit a fully featured Zelda experience on a handheld. I’ll always treasure my memories of Link’s Awakening, and beyond my own personal nostalgia, I genuinely believe it is a great game.

Sonic The Hedgehog, Power Rangers And Embracing The 90’s

Sonic The Hedgehog, Power Rangers And Embracing The 90’s

I recently went to see the 2017 Power Rangers movie, and I had an awesome time with it. The Power Rangers have always been a huge deal to 90’s kids, but my only real attachment to the series is the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie game on the Super Nintendo. Having said that, it’s odd how much I knew was going on in the film, given my limited knowledge of Power Rangers. They are so ingrained in 90’s pop culture, that I was extremely familiar with all of the tropes and terms that are associated with the series.

My primary thought during my time with Power Rangers (again, as somewhat of an outsider to the series) was, “man, this movie really gets it.” Basically, I felt like the movie captured what I personally considered to be the essence of the Power Rangers, but with a modern twist, so much so that I actually got pretty excited when they played the classic theme song.

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The movie can be very 90’s at times. There’s plenty of cheese, cheeky one-liners, campy humor and fight scenes that feel like modern renditions of the Power Rangers’s classic fight scenes. It knows it’s a silly concept, and has fun with it. It’s very self aware, but never so much so that it detracts from the quality of the story.

For all of the laughs and humor that Power Rangers 2017 aims to provide, it also takes the time to lay the groundwork for an engaging story (as well as the eventual sequels). I really grew to love this new cast of teenagers, and I’m actually genuinely excited for the next installment.

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My overall feelings of Power Rangers 2017 are very reminiscent of the ones I have for Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, and to a lesser extent, Transformers. These movies have their haters, plenty of them in fact, but I’ll always defend the TMNT films as legitimate homages to the franchise. Unlike Power Rangers, I did grow up loving the Turtles and their various incarnations, and I consider myself to be pretty familiar with their story and personalities.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always been silly, and they’ve always been an incredibly 90’s franchise. The 2014 TMNT movie has a fairly decent story, but great characters, action and humor (especially the elevator scene). In a similar vein to Power Rangers 2017, the Turtles felt much like how I remembered them being.

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The overarching theme between the modern versions of the Power Rangers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is their embrace of their 90’s and late 80’s heritage. The 90’s are often looked at as a pretty divisive time. Some people cringe at the extremely in your face, and rebellious nature of the 90’s, while many other absolutely love it, big pants, neon colors and all.

As far as the Turtles and the Power Rangers are concerned, many of the complaints that their classic versions receive come from them being style over substance. They’re super charming, and have memorable moments and characters in spades, but many people argue that they didn’t have any real appeal if you weren’t in the target demographic (this is why these shows are negatively referred to as glorified commercials).

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This is something I’ve wanted Sonic the Hedgehog to embrace for a couple of years now, but I couldn’t really put it into words until I saw Power Rangers 2017. For some time now, I’ve been saying that I want Sonic games to become like Pixar movies, similar to modern Ratchet & Clank games. In short, this means fun and high energy stories, likeable characters, and engaging stories, and to be fair, the series has been trying to do this at least since 1998’s Sonic Adventure.

Ever since then, the story in Sonic games have become increasingly important, and while many of them have had various levels of quality, I do think there are some genuinely good ones in there. I love the stories of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors, and as weird as this is gonna sound, I really feel that Sonic & The Black Knight has the best written story of any Sonic game. But I guess I forgot that Sonic the Hedgehog is a 90’s property, and maybe even Sega themselves did too.

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Sonic the Hedgehog is the embodiment of what defined the 90’s. He’s got plenty of attitude, lives by his own set of rules, and mocks anything slow or boring (even the famous Italian plumber himself). Somewhere along the lines however, Sonic started to get away from this. He lost a bit of his attitude, and became more of a standard hero character.

The past couple of years have seen Sega and Sonic going back to the ideas that made the hedgehog famous in the first place (especially the Twitter account). 2010 saw the entire voice cast of the series being replaced, save for Mike Pollock’s Dr. Eggman. And ever since then, Sonic has been much closer to his older, 90’s self. He’s got tons of snark and attitude, and dialogue from games like Sonic Colors wouldn’t feel at all out of place in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

As awesome as Sonic Colors is, the game’s that followed represent the inverse of what I said about the modern versions of Power Rangers and TMNT. Sonic Generations, Sonic Lost World and the entirety of Sonic Boom are all jokes and no substance. To be completely fair, this works in the case of Sonic Boom, as this was its entire premise, and there have been some legitimate deep references that only hardcore fans would pick up on, as well as plenty of jabs at the history of the series.

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But in the case of the main series, the constant onslaught of jokes has started to fall flat. Moving forward, I would love for Sonic to follow the trend set by Power Rangers 2017. I’ll say it again, that movie has a really good story, tons of humor and unabashedly embraces the 90’s. Sonic stories have embraced the 90’s as well, they just need to work on the substance factor.

I don’t wanna be the guy that asks for deeper stories in my Sonic games, but if they are going to be there, I at least want them to be well written. In summation, my ideal Sonic story would be something that has the tone and plot of Sonic Unleashed or Sonic & The Black Knight, but the self aware humor of modern Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even other Sonic games like Colors and Lost World.

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My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Super Mario Kart’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Super Mario Kart’

I’ve talked at length about how much I love Sonic the Hedgehog on numerous occasions, and even how important he was in making me fall in love with video games at an early age. In spite of my childhood fascination with the blue hedgehog, I never owned a Sega Genesis as a kid. The very first console I ever owned was a Super Nintendo. When I wrote about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I talked briefly about the time I spent playing games with my older cousins, and it’s these same two cousins that I associate with all of my memories of the Super Nintendo.

At a very early age, I was given a Super Nintendo and numerous games by one of my older cousins (a different cousin than the aforementioned duo). And man, he really gave me some classics. Turtles in Time, X-Men Mutant Apocalypse, Final Fight II, NBA Jam, Super Play Action Football, Family Feud, I could sit here all day listing off amazing SNES games. But the ones that stuck out to me the most were the Nintendo franchise games, namely, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World, Super Mario Paint and Super Mario Kart. 

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The Mario Kart spin-off series is kinda of a weird one for me nowadays. I will always love the original game, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart Wii, and if I’m being fair, Mario Kart 8 is probably the strongest entry in the series. But as my gaming taste has changed, and the series has added in more and more items that stifle skillful play, I’ve found myself preferring games like Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed (similar to the people that say Crash Team Racing is better than every Mario Kart game). But we’re not here to compare and contrast mascot racing games, we’re here to discuss how much I adore Super Mario Kart!

Personal memories aside, I genuinely love Super Mario Kart, and I still think it holds up as a really good game. For the first entry in the franchise, it has very few things that I would consider flaws. The driving is very fluid, the courses are simple in design, but provide a decent enough challenge, and items, while beneficial in certain situations, aren’t overpowered like later ones in the series (no Bullet Bills or Blue Shells). My only major complaint is the fact that the computer controlled racers can activate item abilities at any time they want (especially Luigi and the Star powerup). 

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Playing Super Mario Kart gives me a similar feeling to the one I got when I played Pokemon Red on the 3DS Virtual Console last year. I didn’t bother going out of my way to get that game’s version of the Experience Share, nor did i spend anytime grinding. So for the first time in forever, I was noticeably underleveled for my Elite Four Challenge. This made for not only a much more engaging overall playthrough, but for one of the most memorable Champion battles I’ve had since I started playing Pokemon games.

Whenever I play modern Mario Kart games, I generally breeze right through the courses with very little problem (when I’m not getting peppered with shells and banana peels anyway).To be fair, this is largely due to the fact that I’m just better at the newer games than I am at Super Mario Kart, but this doesn’t change the fact that the game’s 100cc races still give me a mean case of sweaty palms. Special mention to the various Bowser’s Castle courses and Rainbow Road.

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One of the most notable things about the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis generation of games is the timeless sprite work. Many of the games that looked great back then, still look great to this day, and Super Mario Kart is no exception. Each racer’s victory animations is forever embedded into my head, and courses like Ghost Valley never fail to keep me on the edge of my seat. The game also has an awesome soundtrack and array of sound effects. As I’m writing this, I can hear the all too familiar sound of Lakitu’s countdown that comes with the start of each race, as well as the chipper tune of Koopa Troopa Beach.

What truly defines Super Mario Kart for me is the game’s battle mode, which is odd because I’m not a fan of the battle mode in any other Mario Kart game. This is where my relationship with my older cousins comes back into play. We spent hours and hours firing off shells at each other, so much so that I still remember the best strategies for each battle mode course.

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Now that I’m really thinking about it, battle mode may be the reason that I love games that reward skillful play. When I used to play with my cousins, the loser would always have to pass the controller, meaning I spent a lot of time just watching the game. So if I wanted to spend more time playing than watching, I had to get better at the game. While I never got quite as good as my elder cousins at the game, I did get good enough that they had to actually make an effort to beat me.

Super Mario Kart is by no means the best kart racer out there, but I do firmly believe that it holds up as a solid game to this day. It’s not as flashy as later Mario Kart games, nor as mechanically fleshed out as modern racing games, but for a racing game on the Super Nintendo, I feel like it holds up well against the test of time. Some of my most treasured childhood memories are centered around Super Mario Kart, and I’d love to hang out with my cousins one day to just play a couple of rounds of battle mode.

The Argument For And Against Multiple Playable Characters In ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ Games

The Argument For And Against Multiple Playable Characters In ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ Games

For almost two decades now, the expansive cast of the Sonic the Hedgehog series has been a controversial topic of debate. If you take a look at any professional review of a Sonic game in the last 10 years, you’re practically guaranteed to see at least one paragraph either deriding the presence of Sonic’s friends, or celebrating their exclusion altogether. As the title suggests, this essay is going to discuss the the argument for and against the inclusion of multiple playable characters in Sonic the Hedgehog games, in both the 2d and 3d ones.

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Sonic the Hedgehog’s history with multiple playable characters dates all the way back to the 1992 release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Sonic 2 introduced the world to Miles ‘Tails’ Prower, Sonic’s twin-tailed partner in crime. Two years later, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 served as the introduction for Knuckles the Echidna. One of the things that people love most about Sonic 3 is the fact that every character shares the same basic moveset. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles can all jump, run fast, perform the Spin Dash and even transform using the Chaos and Super Emeralds (though Tails can only transform using the Super Emeralds).  

However, each character also has their own unique set of abilities. Sonic, in addition to being the fastest, can take advantage of the Insta-Shield, as well as the various elemental shield abilities. Tails can fly and swim, and Knuckles, while having a lower jump compared to the other two, can glide, climb walls and break barriers to reach certain level routes that are exclusive to him.

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This design philosophy extends to the majority of the 2d Sonic games that followed the Classic era. The Sonic Advance trilogy on the Game Boy Advance saw the return of the classic trio, along with Amy Rose and Cream the Rabbit. Even the Sonic Rush games on the Nintendo DS, which featured a new evolution of 2d Sonic the Hedgehog, perfectly executed on this idea. Sonic and newcomer Blaze the Cat have access to all of the standard 2d Sonic abilities, the new boost technique and their own unique trick moves.

The main point I want to stress about the 2d Sonic games is the fact that every character plays similarly. As I said before, every character can do things like run fast and Spin Dash (with the exception of Amy in the first Sonic Advance title), but they each have their own unique abilities that make subsequent playthroughs more enjoyable, as you are able to take on previously beaten levels with new perspective, and the potential to find new routes. And it is this very point that serves as the one major criticism for playing as Sonic’s friends in the 3d games.

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Let’s start with Sonic the Hedgehog’s 3d debut, 1998’s Sonic Adventure. Sonic Adventure features 6 different playable characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big the Cat and E-102 Gamma. Sonic plays about how you would expect in his transition from 2d to 3d. He can still do all of the things he did in 2d, just in a bigger, more stylish 3d environment. Tails is a similar case, the only major difference between their objectives being the fact that all of Tails’ levels are races, as opposed to Sonic’s simply being “get to the goal”.

Knuckles also plays about how you would expect, with his speed, gliding and climbing abilities being fully intact. But rather than put him in speedy 3d platforming stages like Sonic and Tails, Sonic Team decided to put Knuckles in open sandbox environments, and force him to collect Master Emerald shards. Knuckles still feels great to control in Sonic Adventure, it’s just odd that they made him into a treasure hunter.

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Sonic Adventure’s remaining bunch of playable characters is where things start to get a little tricky, as none of them play anything like the aforementioned trio. Amy Rose plays like a more standard 3d platformer with no real speed, Gamma is an arcade style shoot-em up, and Big the Cat has to fish.While an argument could be made for Amy not being too bad to play as, and Gamma’s stages are so short that they don’t feel very intrusive, there’s really no excuse for Big’s fishing gameplay.

Sonic Adventure was the first game that started to move away from the ‘similar movesets with unique abilities’ design philosophy that I mentioned earlier, and it’s sequel didn’t really do anything to rectify this. Sonic Adventure 2 has six playable characters, but there are only 3 different gameplay styles this time around, as opposed to the first game’s six. Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog play similarly to how Sonic did in the first game, Tails and Dr. Eggman continue Gamma’s shooting levels and Knuckles and Rouge the Bat are, once again, looking for Master Emerald Shards. This effectively means that only one third of the game features the high speed platforming gameplay that the Sonic the Hedgehog series became famous for, and herein lies the problem with many of the 3d Sonic titles.

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In an effort to pad out the game so that players don’t see everything there is to see in a handful of hours, Sega and Sonic Team notoriously added in different gameplay styles in order to extend the runtime of the majority of their Sonic games released in the 2000’s. This is why many people groan when they see Sonic’s friends in a 3d game, as they feel that the only character that has ever really been done justice in 3d is Sonic himself. Nobody bats an eye when someone besides Sonic is playable in a 2d game, and in fact this is something that is expected, as games like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 were criticized by fans for the lack of Tails and Knuckles.

This isn’t to say that secondary characters don’t belong in 3d Sonic games. As I said before, characters like Tails and Shadow, at one time,  played similarly to how Sonic played in the two Adventure games, and the reason Blaze the Cat is one of the most popular characters in the series is because she has played exactly like Sonic, but with her own unique abilities (tired of this phrase yet) in every single one of her playable appearances. To this day, the only 3d Sonic game that has perfectly nailed this idea is, weirdly enough, Sonic & The Black Knight. Sonic, Knuckles, Shadow and Blaze all share the same basic moveset, but have their own unique skills (ha, I didn’t say abilities this time).

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One argument against secondary characters in the 3d games, is the modern Sonic boost gameplay as a whole. While games like Sonic Adventure and Sonic Heroes featured a pretty even split between speed and platforming/exploration, the boost gameplay that started with Sonic Rush and Sonic Unleashed is all about speed. As such, I don’t really know what characters like Tails and Knuckles add to this style of gameplay. Their abilities are much better suited for the more exploration friendly Adventure games, or even Sonic Lost World (though I think Sonic Team is pretty much done with this gameplay style), something that the boost gameplay just isn’t really about.

However, I could definitely see Shadow and Blaze as Sonic’s modern boost counterparts, and idea that I’ve fallen in love with over the past couple of years. It’s pretty much accepted that Tails and Knuckles are staples of 2d Sonic gameplay, and we even occasionally get to play as Amy Rose and Cream the Rabbit. None of these characters have any abilities that are well suited for the speed centric gameplay of Sonic Unleashed or Sonic Generations, but Shadow and Blaze have both proven to play exactly like Sonic does in these games. They both have variations on Sonic’s boost and homing attack, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that they should both easily be able to drift, stomp, slide and quick step.

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Sonic’s friends can and have worked in a 3d space, but Sega and Sonic Team never go all the way with it. They were somewhat close with Sonic Adventure, but have went farther and farther away with every subsequent 3d game, with the exception of Sonic & The Black Knight. The boost gameplay seems to be the future of 3d Sonic games, and I would love to be able to eventually play as Shadow and Blaze, as I feel that they would add in the variety that many fans have been looking for in recent games. And should they ever return to the Sonic Adventure format, I would love to see a genuine attempt at making Sonic, Tails and Knuckles into the speedy power trio that they were in the 2d games.

What ‘Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep 0.2’ Learned From Previous Games

What ‘Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep 0.2’ Learned From Previous Games

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep 0.2- a fragmentary passage is a really interesting title for a number of reasons. Besides being the first console game in the series since Kingdom Hearts II, it also serves as our first glimpse into how Kingdom Hearts III will look and play. But what intrigues me the most about Kingdom Hearts 0.2, is the fact that it seems to have both inherited the good traits from previous games, and corrected their mistakes. Today, I’d like to touch on a few main elements, as well as how Kingdom Hearts 0.2 goes about utilizing them.

For starters, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 really nails world traversal, something that it picked up from Dream Drop Distance. Series director Tetsuya Nomura’s main goal for Dream Drop Distance was dynamic action, which is why the development staff came up with the idea of Flowmotion. Flowmotion gave Sora and Riku the ability to zip and dash off of walls, rails and flag poles, allowing them to cross that game’s rather large maps in no time.

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While Aqua doesn’t have full access to Flowmotion in 0.2 (Sora will have many more Flowmotion options in Kingdom Hearts III), the spirit of traversal remains unchanged, and this is due to both Aqua’s overall control, and the level design itself. Aqua just feels really good to control in this game. She’s way less floaty than her original Birth By Sleep counterpart (something that could be said about 0.2 as a whole), and it helps that you have access to moves like High Jump, Air Slide and Doubleflight really early on. In addition, Aqua can slide down slopes, and automatically run and jump across specifically marked obstacles, two tricks we’ve seen Sora do himself in trailers for Kingdom Hearts III.

Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep have been criticized for having really flat level design with very obvious arenas, and I can’t completely disagree. Dream Drop Distance was the first game to really open up the map (though I should say that the Cavern of Remembrance area in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix did so as well). Kingdom Hearts 0.2 continues this trend. While there are still plenty of flat and open arenas to fight Heartless in, the level design is much more varied and interesting overall, something I noticed as early as the game’s Castle Town area. Castle Town puts you in fights against Heartless on the rooftops, around the water fountain and in underground caverns, and it’s only the first level of the game.

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 Kingdom Hearts 0.2’s level terrain is much more interesting because it isn’t designed with rooms that are a linear path from one end to the other. During my time with the game, I had to go left right, up, down and even upside down a few times to make my way across the Realm of Darkness. Environments are big enough that you’ll have plenty of fun exploring to find treasure chests and hidden secrets, but never so big and complicated that you’ll ever get lost.

To briefly circle back to Aqua’s control, it’s, once again, something that Kingdom Hearts 0.2 gets very right. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 is supposed to play like a mix of the original Birth By Sleep, and Kingdom Hearts III. While I obviously haven’t played Kingdom Hearts III, I can definitely say that 0.2 feels like Birth By Sleep mashed up with elements of Kingdom Hearts II. To quote Youtuber Soraalam1, “it feels like they took Aqua, and placed her in a Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix like environment”. As I said before, Aqua’s movement and control is much more fluid this time around. While she’s not quite as fast as Sora in Kingdom Hearts II, she still plays much smoother than her original self, and I’d be fine with Kingdom Hearts III controlling similarly to 0.2.

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The original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II were developed by Square Enix’s Tokyo Team. After production wrapped on Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, the Tokyo Team was tasked with developing Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which eventually became Final Fantasy XV, and this kept them busy for a while. Since the original Kingdom Hearts team was busy, Square Enix’s Osaka Team became the primary developers for Kingdom Hearts games. In addition to being responsible for Kingdom Hearts 0.2 and the eventual Kingdom Hearts III, the Osaka team created Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance.

The biggest point of contention with these two games is the boss design, and this is for a number of reasons. These games gave players a large variety of combat options, but there were only ever a handful that were ever really useful against bosses. While Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II let you take on bosses with your own strategy to a certain extent, Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance made it so that there was really no reason to ever use anything besides the one effective plan of attack against them.

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Many players favorite thing about Kingdom Hearts II is the challenge that comes from that game’s human sized bosses. While Kingdom Hearts II’s bosses rewarded players that payed close attention to their patterns of attack, and how to exploit them, Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance outright punish you for doing so, especially Vanitas from Birth By Sleep. I’ve said for years now that he would make for an amazing boss in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, but he’s just kind of a mess in Birth By Sleep.

He has a decently large number of attacks at his disposal, each requiring a certain degree of skill to avoid. He can teleport, attack with Thunder and Blizzard magic and even ride a wave of Keyblades. He should be a ton of fun, but he’s not. Skillful players should be able to find holes in his attack pattern and retaliate, but Vanitas can break out at random intervals. At times, you’ll be able to hit him with a full combo, while at others he’ll teleport away after the first hit. This is a subject that has been discussed at length before, so I won’t belabor the point here. But, I will say that the Osaka team has come a long way from the days of Vanitas.

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A phantom version of Aqua is one of the bosses that is fought in 0.2, and not to jump the gun or anything, but she is amazing, and feels like she was pulled straight from Kingdom Hearts II. I’ll admit, as soon as I saw her teleporting all over the place during my first encounter with her, I had instant Vanitas flashbacks. But as the fight went on, and I eventually played the postgame encounter against her, I was genuinely surprised by how well she was designed.

I was observing patterns, improving my timing, learning how to avoid attacks, learning when I could counterattack and being rewarded for doing so in an effective manner. Slowly but surely, I was getting better at the fight, and I never felt frustrated because every death along the way felt like it was my fault. I got to use actual boss strategy in a Kingdom Hearts game again!

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I’ll say it once more, Phantom Aqua is a smartly designed boss that feels like she was lifted directly from Kingdom Hearts II. She’s tough but fair. She has a discernible movement and attack pattern, as well as the Revenge Value feature from Kingdom Hearts II. This fight was easily my favorite part of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, and I really hope Kingdom Hearts III’s bosses are designed like this (I really need secret boss fights against the Foretellers by the way).

The Osaka team was also responsible for the HD collections on the PS3, and they said that they were going to be paying close attention to the design of those games, as they continued development of  Kingdom Hearts III. While I could see traces of this statement in certain Kingdom Hearts III trailers (combo finishers, tech points etc), I was never really convinced it was true. As of the release of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, I am more than happy to take back all of my initial misgivings.

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While 0.2 is still lacking in many ways that made Kingdom Hearts II my favorite game of all time, it honestly got as close as I can reasonably expect, all while implementing it’s own new features such as Situation Commands, costume customization and revamped Command Styles. From a gameplay design perspective, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 has given me a lot of hope for Kingdom Hearts III.

While my dream version of Kingdom Hearts III would be a bigger, more exciting and more dynamic version of Kingdom Hearts II, I know that that’s somewhat of an unrealistic prospect. Kingdom Hearts II is over 10 years old, and was designed by a completely different team than the one creating current Kingdom Hearts titles. But I’m honestly impressed with just  how much they learned from Kingdom Hearts II, and as I said before, 0.2 is as close to that game as I could reasonably expect. If Kingdom Hearts III is going to play like 0.2, utilize Phantom Aqua styled boss design and give us access to Keyblade transformations, revamped Drive Forms, Attraction Flow and Flowmotion, then I’m even more excited for it than I already was.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the game that got me through freshman year of college. I’ll never forget spending hours and hours on end huddled together in one dorm room participating in round after round. Sometimes we would load up on snacks and drinks and just play all weekend, and other times we would sneak in a few matches between classes and before dinner.

Since the days of the Playstation 2, I’ve been a really big fan of Bandai Namco and CyberConnect2’s Ultimate Ninja fighting games, especially the Ultimate Ninja Storm series. Outside of my own personal reasons for picking Storm 3 as my favorite Naruto game, I honestly just feel like it is a really fantastic gaming experience, Naruto or otherwise. As far as Naruto games are concerned, Storm 3 just does a lot of things right. The story and cinematics are incredible, and even outshine the anime in many instances.

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This is due in part to the fact that Storm 3 has the luxury of being able to tell the Naruto story without all of the filler that the anime was plagued with. But even beyond that, Storm 3 is a fantastic example of a developer that is really passionate about the source material. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 was released in 2013, meaning CyberConnect2 had been creating Naruto games for an entire decade! While one would think that being apart of a franchise for so long would cause a decline in interest, the Ultimate Ninja Storm games caused quite the opposite effect.

The original Ultimate Ninja games on the Playstation 2 weren’t really known for their visuals or cinematic flair. They were fairly simple 2d fighting games. With the advent of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, CC2 was given the opportunity (and the budget) to make a really spectacular Naruto experience. CC2 was able to flex their technical muscles, and make a truly beautiful anime game.

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The debut trailer for the original Ultimate Ninja Storm was the first time I was ever blown away by a game’s visuals. I couldn’t believe how amazing the game looked. CC2 had somehow managed to create a game that looked like I was playing the anime. And that’s a statement that holds true for every subsequent installment in the series.

There’s no better example of CC2’s love for Naruto than the story modes in the Ultimate Ninja Storm games. They are incredibly authentic to the original events of the story, while also throwing in their own unique elements when appropriate. The Storm games, especially Storm 3, just do a great job telling the story overall. Storm 3 has cutscenes that feel like an episode of the anime, and they never skimp on the important details of the narrative.

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As far as actual gameplay is concerned, Storm 3 does a lot of things really well, and just one thing wrong. The awakening system in Storm 3 is pretty broken. While it’s really cool that the finally allowed awakened characters to be grabbed and hit with ultimate jutsu, Storm 3 still features plenty of really overpowered transformations. 

Each of the Jinchuriki, as well as a handful of the Uchiha have giant awakenings. These transformations have really big hitboxes, and can dish out a ton of damage. In addition, certain characters have the ability to instantly awaken. While the trade off for this is the fact that your chakra is constantly draining, you should usually be able to finish the match before this becomes an issue.

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Broken awakenings aside, Storm 3 feels great to play, and is second only to Storm 4 as far as overall fluidity of control is concerned. The beauty of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games has always been their simplicity. Melee combos are mapped to a single button, and characters each have a handful of movement options and unique jutsu and ultimate jutsu. Basically, the Storm games are fairly easy to pick up and play, but take time to fully master.

Epic boss fights are what the Ultimate Ninja Storm games are known for, and Storm 3 features the probably the best ones in the series. The spectacle of these fights is incredible, and I honestly feel that they are somewhat underappreciated when it comes to video game set pieces. I’ve seen things in Storm 3 that rival scenes in really big, blockbuster triple A game franchises.

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Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 pits you against standard human sized fights against opponents like Sasuke Uchiha, the Third Raikage and Danzo Shimura, but also against the likes of the Nine Tailed Fox, Madara Uchiha’s Susanno and the Gedo Statue. These encounters are truly a sight to behold, and their scale and intensity is enough to get anybody’s adrenaline pumping.

Naruto was a huge part of my adolescent years. In middle school, I spent pretty much every weekend at Lucas Sapaugh’s house, one of my best friends in the world. As soon as the Toonami block came on, it had our undivided attention. Out of all of the shows in their lineup, Naruto was easily the biggest draw for us.

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Naruto was very much the anime of my generation. While I adore Dragon Ball to no end, that show already belonged to another generation of kids by the time I was old enough to fall in love with it. Naruto hit at just the right time to become an iconic show to people my age. In the case of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games, they are a large part of what kept me invested in the series after the ending of Part I on Toonami. The english version of Naruto Shippuden went through a weird phase from around 2009 to 2010, so I got my Naruto fix from games like Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 and Ultimate Ninja Storm 3.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 represents not only what I believe to be the best Naruto gaming experience, but a game that I hold many memories with. To this day, I sometimes find myself thinking about the times I spend during my first year of college just loving everything that this game has to offer.