Archive for September, 2012

Racing Games – F-Zero X

F-Zero is a series that is unlike any other. There are currently only a few games in the series, the most recent being the highly praised F-Zero GX (2003) on the Nintendo Gamecube, but the game I want to write about exists on the Gamecube’s predecessor, the N64. F-Zero X was released in 1998 making this game 14 years old. This series of unique racers is made exhilarating, fun and incredibly challenging by the incredible speed that the vehicles in the game travel at. The F-Zero games are best described as high speed racers, because that is the main aspect that sets them apart from other racing games.

F-Zero X is a particular noteworthy because it was the first game in the series that entered the realm of 3D. Graphics wise, the game looks good although it hasn’t aged particularly well, although that is true of almost all of the N64’s library due to the polygon style of 3D  that was popular in the late 90s. At the time, the game was in fact criticised for low visual detail but this is for a very important reason. The game sacrifices some detail to maintain a solid 60 frames per second and in a game of the sheer speed of F-Zero X I much prefer a higher FPS over graphical quality. As far as the games overall look,  it is incredibly colourful and bright which again is important to allow distinguishes bewteen different racers and parts of the track etc. If you don’t go into F-Zero X expecting stunning visuals, you will be disappointed. But you’ll barely have time to complain about the shitty draw distance and lack of detail because of how much fun the gameplay is.
F-Zero X’s gameplay is just good. There’s not much to say about it, there’s an accelerate button and a boost button and it even uses the L and Z buttons to kind of strafe left and right which allows you to easily knock your enemy racers off the track and into oblivion. The game is nicely challenging and it may take a while to get used to the speed of the game. Consistently winning races either requires you to know the tracks pretty well or to have fast reaction times as the speed is very fast and the corners are very tight. I don’t really know how much could be improved gameplay wise. It’s all very tight and it just works well, there’s nothing awkward or unintuitive and I can’t really find much bad to say about it.

As far as the rest of the game goes, it’s all good. There are a large number of racers to choose from (30) and they all have different stats and mostly different visuals allowing for easy distinguishing between racers. There’s a good amount of tracks, there could be more but the tracks take long enough to master that they have plenty of replaybility and they vary between short fast tracks to lessons in frustration as you repeatedly slam into walls and die because you weren’t cautious enough. All in all, the game is fantastic. Fun, fast and colourful the game controls well, looks passable and offers a nice challenge. Completing a Cup feels satisfying partly because of some of tracks are difficult and partly because the game is just so damn fun to play. In short, I consider this game an overlooked classic and  I would recommend F-Zero X to anyone looking to play a racing game, or an N64 game or just looking to have fun.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

So this is an article I wrote for my university’s entertainment publications and it can serve as my first blog post as well I guess.

Sonic the Hedgehog was originally released on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) in 1991, this marked the beginning of a series of video games that would strike a chord with their players and spawn a huge fan base as well as create a mascot and figurehead for Sega that jostled for superiority with Nintendo’s own mascot, Mario. As the years went on Mario’s popularity stayed high whilst Sonic, and the quality of his games, declined and entered a deep spiral of bad, forgettable titles and irritating characters. However, in this review I want to look past Sega’s more recent mistakes and concentrate on the game that started it all.

Oddly enough, I never played Sonic the Hedgehog when I was younger. My parents don’t approve of video games much and it doesn’t help that the game is two years older than me. I first played the original Sonic the Hedgehog very recently and I was astounded by it’s quality and by how much I enjoyed it. I had played a bit of Sonic Heroes (2004) at a friends house once and I was thoroughly unimpressed. The original has a few things that more modern Sonic games lack, above all of these is fluid control. In a platform game control is incredibly important, a lack of control can lead to increasing frustration as the character you control tumbles into pits and death traps, not due to your own mistakes but due to bad or stiff control. In Sonic the Hedgehog the control is just right, you move fluidly and, by holding Up or Down on the d-pad you can move the screen in that direction, this allows you to see things off screen to avoid ‘Leap of Faith’ game-play and cheap deaths.

Another aspect of Sonic’s control that deserves mentioning is the speed of the game-play, this is where the game separates itself from other 2D platformers. Sonic can move fast and I often find myself trying to keep going fast for as long as possible. The reason for this I have to put down to just it feeling damn good to blaze through the levels at speed as you do get a higher score for finishing the level quicker,  score means nothing so there is not really any bonus to be gained by going fast. On top of the stellar control, the level design is excellent, with a wide variety of enemies and multiple ways to complete each level. The music is also brilliant, each Zone has it’s own score that is catchy and pleasant to listen to which you will grow to appreciate the more you play through each Zone.

However, there are a few problems with Sonic the Hedgehog, even if they are dwarfed by the games good points. The main problem is that this game is hard. Each level individually is not particularly difficult, and there aren’t even a lot of them. There are seven Zones with three ‘Acts’ (levels) in each Zone, except the last Zone which is actually the final boss fight. So this is not a longest game either, so why exactly is it hard? This can be summed up with one phrase; three lives, no continues. When you start the game by pressing the Start button you have three lives and if you lose those lives it’s back to the start of the first level. There are 1-Ups along the way and secret stages that can be used to earn continues but that doesn’t change the fact that you will be playing Green Hill Zone, Act 1 a lot. Despite this classic ‘retro’ difficulty this game is good, plain and simple. On top of this, most levels are hard to complete on the first time as there are many traps that are not immediately obvious and this often result in a frustrating death. Although once you learn your lesson on caution it’s a game that is fun to play and the fun easily outweighs the occasional frustrations.

Overall, Sonic the Hedgehog reminds me of a simpler time. The game is basic and yet provides equal, if not superior, amounts of fun in comparison with some modern games. In fact, in comparison today’s games seem bloated and unwieldy, when was the last time you got to gameplay thirty seconds after turning on your system? There’s no Digital Rights Management, no Downloadable Content and no tacked-on Multiplayer. This game creates a euphoria of 2D platforming and it’s simplicity only improves it, maybe this is something that game developers today would do well to remember.