Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sticking Points: Track & Field II

First of all, I would like to make a correction to my review of Track & Field II. When I brought up the fact that you have to play a harder version of Championship Mode after going through it once, I said you were unable to continue if you failed an event the second time around. I only said that because I couldn't get to what would have been the first milestone. But, I recently bought myself a decent turbo controller (the SNES Super Advantage), and it worked well enough to take West Germany all the way to the end. Now that I have finally beaten the game, I would like to retract what I said before and officially state that you are indeed allowed to continue in the finals. As in the preliminaries, you are given a password after every third event. It's just that the game ends immediately after failing an event instead of waiting for the next checkpoint. I admit it's something I wish the game did before, since having you go on if you were already doomed to a game over didn't make sense to me.

Well, now that I got that out of the way, I figured it would be a good excuse to take an in-depth look at all the events found in this game. Some are good and some are bad; the rating of 60% that I gave this game reflects that.

Fencing: A simple versus-fighter game. The first player to land five hits on the other wins. You stab with A, holding Up or Down to aim high or low, and block by holding B. It's not a very polished game, as was nearly every fighting game before (the first) Street Fighter II. The easiest way to win is to always aim low, so skill isn't as important as luck.

Triple Jump: Since this is the first sport that involves button-mashing, this was a major roadblock for me, and we're only two out of twelve sports in! You mash A to build up speed, and when you get up to the foul line, press B to jump. Holding B for longer increases the angle of your jump; I recommend aiming for 45 degrees for each jump. This sport returns from the original Track & Field, and I imagine not much has changed.

Freestyle Swimming: This is another button-masher, but this time you have to deal with two buttons instead of one. A builds up speed, while B builds up oxygen. If your oxygen meter depletes, you'll stop for a moment to breathe automatically, which kills your chances of making the qualifying time.

High Dive: To start out, you select the type of dive you want to take (your choices vary between Forward, Backward, Reverse, Handstand, and Twist), but there's really no difference that I know of. Then, while you're in the air, you perform tucks and pikes by pressing B with Left or Right pressed. Ideally, you're supposed to stop just before you hit the water in order to get the best angle. The truth is, I have not found any consistent way to get high grades; I would even go so far as to call the judging completely random. At least you have four attempts to be lucky enough to get a qualifying score.

Clay Pigeon Shooting: There was a similar event in the first Track & Field, but it's much more straightforward this time around. Press B to manually launch your targets, the Control Pad to move a cursor, and A to fire. It's pretty fun, except for the fact that at 40 targets total, it drags on for a while.

Hammer Throw: Here's an interesting twist: instead of mashing a button to build up power, you "rotate" or hit directions on the Control Pad clockwise to swing the hammer around. Then, once your athlete starts flashing, hold and release A to throw it. Because of the control mechanism, I was able to score well on this even without a turbo controller, but it all goes wrong when you try to throw it. Unlike in the Triple Jump, you have to hold A for a while before the angle starts going up, and if your timing's off, it may not respond at all.

Taekwondo: Another fighting game, except this is possibly even more broken than fencing. The A button punches and B kicks, and you have to whittle down your opponent's stamina bar before he does the same to you. The problem is, every so often you or your opponent might collapse from a hit. It's not like in Punch-Out!! where you have to mash buttons to get back up; as long as your life isn't at zero, you'll always get back up. So, it's nothing more than a waste of time. Besides, the punches are useless; it's way more effective to just spam kicks. Two-player enabled.

Pole Vault: Similar to the Triple Jump. You start out by selecting your starting height, and (once again) you have to mash A to build up speed. Then you have to press and hold B when the blue tip of your pole is over a box on the ground, then release it when you're over the bar. It takes practice to get the timing right without being fouled out, but I got it down quickly. A successful jump will increase the bar height for your next at

Canoeing: This one is interesting. You have to go through a series of gates, mashing A to move forward and B to go backwards. Some of the gates make you enter from the back or in reverse; missing adds a 30-second penalty. Strangely, the qualifying targets are given in points instead of time. The physics are a little off, too; if you run into a wall while going too fast, your momentum going in makes it tough to get away.

Archery: This event plays completely differently than the arcade-oriented version in the first Track & Field. Mash A to build up strength and press B to fire the arrow. You don't need to be at full power to hit the closer targets, and in fact I would advise against it, too. The catch is that you also have to adjust your aim with the Control Pad, taking wind into account. The directional arrows in the wind meter correspond to the mimi-map at the top of the screen and not to the main view, but other than that there's not much wrong with this event.

Hurdles: Another revival from Track & Field, plus the closest thing this sequel has to a straight-up race. Mash A to run and B to jump over the hurdles. Oddly, the hurdles all have a shallow pool of water behind them, as if it were a horseback steeplechase. Still, there's to complain about with this event.

Horizontal Bar: Way to end on a low note. This, the final event in Championship Mode, combines nearly everything wrong with this game into one. It's a button masher, the non-mashing controls are poor, and like the High Dive, it's based on a grading system which seems to have no relation to what you just did. Building up power by mashing A changes the tricks you can do by pressing B, but loading your routine with high-powered maneuvers won't necessarily earn you the best grades. You can help things along by sticking the landing (press and hold Up just as you land), but really you'll be lucky to get at or above the qualifying mark.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Game Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Aspect
  • Platforms/Release:
    • Master System (Europe only): October 1992
    • Game Gear: November 1992
    • Wii (DLC): December 2008
  • Genre: Action
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • Game Gear: Very common (US$1-5)
    • Master System: Moderate (US$10-20)
    • Wii: N/A (US $5)

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is not only the best-selling game for the Sega Genesis, at 6 million copies, but for me it's the most iconic Genesis game of all time.  Yes, even more so than the first one, which I wasn't familiar with at first.  Despite my equating the sights and sounds of that game with the system as a whole, I was never able to get through the Chemical Plant Zone, only the second zone out of about nine.  Chalk that up to the fact that I never used to own a Genesis, and could only play it on the rare occasions when I visited someone who did.  I did have a Game Gear, however, and they did release a version for that handheld.  The experience, however, was nowhere near the same.

Right off the bat, there are two things that should tip you off that you're not playing the Genesis version.  One, the new character, the orange fox Miles "Tails" Prower, is not a playable character.  He was captured by Dr. Robotnik, as told by the opening cutscene.  Instead, you must play as Sonic and make it through seven zones to reach Robotnik and, if you have all six Chaos Emeralds, free Tails.  The second difference is that Sonic's standing spin dash ability from the Genesis version is missing.  I'll explain why later, but what that means is if you have to break down a wall, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by getting a running start, rolling your thumb roll to Down, and rely purely on Sonic's momentum.  If you're used to revving up from a standstill, then this will take practice, but if you weaned yourself on the first Sonic the Hedgehog, then more power to you.

Lava in the first level.1
The seven worlds in this game are also quite unlike the itinerary the Genesis version makes you go through.  For one, you don't start out in some variant of the Green Hill Zone, the first level of the first Sonic games.  They have one of those (here called the Green Hills Zone...  Lazy.)  No, you start out in the Under Ground Zone, which has caves, mine carts, and lava.  Yes, lava in the first level.  I've got a bad feeling about this.  On the other hand, the level design is much improved from the first Game Gear Sonic, which suffered from not having much of what made the Genesis series famous.  For one, there are actually loops in this game!  You'll also take on some rides: mine carts, hang gliders, giant bubbles, and sling wheels.  I'm sorry if that has sent veterans of Shadow the Hedgehog into post-traumatic stress disorder, but they're tastefully executed here, albeit nothing memorable.

When I played this game as a kid, there were two spots that gave me serious trouble.  First, there was the boss of the Under Ground Zone - the first one in the game.  It's a pair of robotic crab pincers, but you can't hurt it by jumping or rolling into it.  Instead, you have to let a series of metal balls bounce into it, until Robotnik crashes his craft into it to deliver the final blow.  If any of these projectiles hits you, even if you're curled up, you die.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: like in the Game Gear's first Sonic title, there are no rings in the shorter levels where you fight bosses, so one hit of any kind will cost a life.  Given how many rings you can find in the normal stages, it's easier to stock up on lives, but that's beside the point.  Back on the point, what makes this boss hard is A) the ground is sloped down towards the boss, making it hard to move, B) the balls each follow one of three patterns that are selected randomly, and C) the Game Gear's low-resolution screen makes it hard to see the balls in time to react, especially when they bounce higher.  Even to this day, I blow much of my existing stock of lives on this guy - and let me remind you, this is the first boss.  Oh, and to rub salt in the wound, the Master System version not only has a larger screen resolution, letting you see farther, but all the balls follow the same, easy-to-jump-over pattern.  Bite me.

If you can manage to survive this boss, then you've pretty much gotten past the hardest segment in the game until the final two zones.  The second sticking point I was leading up to is in fact an optional objective: gathering the Chaos Emeralds.  Like in the first Game Gear Sonic, you have to pick up the Emeralds in the action stages themselves instead of in special stages, although they're only found in the second acts of each zone this time.  They are easy enough to find if you choose to follow directions online, except for the second one, in the Sky High Zone.  Hint: it's really high up.  Also note that without collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, not only do you get the "bad" ending, but you don't even get to play in the final zone!  Considering how much trouble I, personally, went to find them, that's a real ripoff.

Left: Master System.  Right: Game Gear.  See the difference?1
Oddly, the Game Gear version was released days before its Genesis counterpart in America and Europe (same day in Japan).  There was also a version released for the Master System in Europe (and possibly Brazil) even earlier than that, but since people elsewhere had moved on to the Genesis/Mega Drive, it was never released elsewhere.  That's a shame, because the Master System version is superior.  I had mentioned the screen resolution issue earlier, but being able to spot danger from farther away makes a world of difference.  There's even a speed power-up that was taken out in the Game Gear version (yet left in its instruction book - again, laziness abounds)!  You can always import it from Europe and play that, but it since it's synced to the PAL format's 50 fps rate, the music will play faster on NTSC-format consoles.  But on December 2008, the Master System version was released in all 3 regions through the Wii's Virtual Console, allowing Americans and Japanese to finally experience this game the way the developers intended!

The 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 have the odd distinction of improving upon their predecessor, yet feeling completely dated next to not only the 16-bit but (most of) the later 8-bit Sonic games.  If you were expecting an experience like what you knew from the Genesis, you may feel disappointed.  And for those of you unable to get past the first boss, it's okay to feel cheated.  It's not your fault; it was the developers.  But if you can forgive them for this big problem and all the other little ones, it is a decent platformer you could do far worse with.  Game Gear users, however, could do far better.

Control: 4 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Design: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
Graphics: 3 Chaos Emeralds out of 5 (GG) / 4 Chaos Emeralds out of 5 (MS/Wii)
Sound: 4 Chaos Emeralds out of 5
The Call: 65% (C) (GG) / 70% (C+) (MS/Wii)

1"Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) Screenshots". MobyGames.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Music Review: Like a G6

First of all, I would like to make some amendments to my review of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister". Some time after I wrote my first review, ToddInTheShadows took a whack at it himself. Despite being a negative review, as is par for the course on his show, he's made a number of points I agree with.  Everything in the lyrics is either trying to be cute but is creepy when taken literally, or is just hackneyed.  They were apparently trying to emulate INXS1, but failed miserably.  Cribbing a line from "Need You Tonight"   And no, you can't dance to Mr. Mister.  P.S. "Droppings of Jupiter", that's a hot one.  So, I would like to revise my rating to a 1 out of 5 (F).  I'm not sure if I can call this so bad it's good, either.  Perhaps this next song will make the mark - but should it?

So this is "Like a G6" by this new band, Far★East Movement (they spell it with a star on their album covers, but I won't bother you with that).  And what is a G6?  Officially, it's up to your interpretation, so whatever you think it is, you're right.  But the official story from band member Kev Nish is the following: "A G6 is not a Gatorade flavor. It's not a car, convertible, four-door. It's not a watch, [... b]ut Drake, Drake talks about having G4 pilots on deck, so we said, 'What's flyer than a G4?' Of course, it would be a G6"2.  By which he means the upcoming Gulfstream G650 airplane.  Also yes I realized I just contradicted myself by saying there were two official stories, but it's true.

Thankfully, this song is not specifically about airplanes.  That would just be stupid (if you're not B.O.B., that is).  But what is it about?  Let's dive into the lyrics.
Poppin' bottles in the ice, like a blizzardWhen we drink we do it right gettin' slizzard
...Turns out this is a drinking song.  Even the music sounds drunk, what with all its slidy synth.  Oh, and they painted themselves into a corner by ending a line in "blizzard".  This forced them to resort to Carney Talk on the next line.  In Carney Talk, you add "iz" after the first syllable of each word, or at the beginning if it's already one syllable.  For further research, consult half of everything Snoop Dogg has ever released.  Thus, going backwards, "slizzard" turns into what sounds like "slurred".  Yes, that is an unfortunate side effect of alcohol.
Sippin' sizzurp in my ride (in my ride), like Three 6
Uhhh... you got me on "sizzurp".  When going back from Carney Talk, "sizzurp" becomes "surp", and there's no such thing I'm aware of.  Perhaps she meant "slurp"?  Well, that wouldn't make sense either, because "slurp" alone isn't a noun.  Oh, and do you think it's too early to reference the rap group Three 6 Mafia?
Now I'm feelin so fly like a G6
This is where the song gets its name.  Well, technically, this whole chorus was lifted from another song by the girl who just sang it.  And it's also a shame that Dev never changes her pitch when singing.  Did they just auto-tune her talking or something?
Gimme that Mo-Moet-etGimme that Cry-Crystal-stal
Looks like the drinking theme is here to stay.  And I'm warning you, there's a lot of stuttering in this song.  So much that it comes off as lazy, especially given how many segments of lyrics are reused.  It's way too easy to run out of words when you're drunk, as Ke$ha can attest to.
When sober girls around me, they be acting like they drunk
I never noticed the atrocious grammar of this line until I saw it written.  These sorts of things happen to me; when I listen, I don't care as much for some reason.  But girls around him acting drunk, even when they haven't had any alcohol to drink...  Is this a turn-on for this guy?  He doesn't say.  Well, you'll have plenty of time to ponder the meaning of this line, since it's repeated and stuttered for the next two lines.  I'll give you to the next verse to figure it out.
Sippin on, sippin on sizz, Ima ma-make it fizz
*sigh* We're back to that "sizzurp" thing again, and they still didn't tell me what it is.  So I looked it up.  It's another name for Purple Drank, a drink made with cough syrup.3  And it's a really strong drug, like lethal strong.  And Far East Movement's not even from the Atlanta area where it was popular.  For their sake, I pray that they're just posers.  Speaking of auto-tune, it even sounds drunk when these guys do it.  Way to make a theme, guys!  ^v^
Girl i keep it gangsta, poppin bottles at the crib This is how we live, every single night
Gangsta, huh?  Whew, I guess you really are posers.  I never though I could say that and mean it in a good way!  Although it would take a lot to live like that every night, so I guess the lie can't last.
Take that bottle to the head, and let me see you fly
Being the square that I am, I just have to take things like this literally.  In this case, that entails someone hitting themselves in the head with a breakaway bottle.  I doubt that would let him or her catch air.

That's everything notable in the lyrics, but the final bridge changes the beat.  It makes things interesting, but they only do it for four lines; that's not even the whole section!  Consistency please?  Oh well, I guess that's impossible to ask for from what could be the most drunk song ever.  Apart from that, the lyrics are stupid, but again, that's too much to ask for.  You'll only consider it so bad it's good if you're into this kind of electronica music; for everyone else, it may not be grating, but definitely on the boring side.

The Call: 1 out of 5 (F)

1Richards, Dave.  "Train adds ukelele to make Hey, Soul Sister a chart topper". 07 Nov 2009
2Leong, Evan. "Far East Movement Explain Chart-Topping 'Like a G6'". MTV. 30 Sep 2010
3"Sizzurp". Urban Dictionary