Handheld

November 13, 2011

Sonic Generations

It’s official. After years of fumbling around with strange topics and awkward, seemingly untested gameplay, Sega has pulled out a truly excellent Sonic the Hedgehog game. Although short, it’s a sweet ride that hopefully will get the Spin-Dash ball rolling again.

The game follows an incredibly simple storyline. Sonic’s friends are in the process of throwing him a birthday party when a giant monstrosity (which I shall henceforth refer to as the Flying Purple People Eater) appears out of nowhere and creates a vortex which sucks in all of Sonic’s friends. Sonic chases them into what appears to be a giant white limbo. Eventually, he and the rescued Tails note that the areas and enemies are suspiciously familiar. Upon stumbling on versions of themselves from the past, they discover that they’re traveling through time. It sounds kind of silly, but the storyline of this game isn’t the point.

The person really travelling through time is the player. Every level in the game comes from some Sonic game in the past, spanning the whole history of the series from the very first Sonic the Hedgehog to the recent Sonic Colors. You play through each level as both Modern Sonic, who handles like you’ve come to expect from Colors or Unleashed (or, if you’re unfamiliar with those, Sonic Adventures, only with a few new powers and occasionally sidescrolling) and Classic Sonic, who handles the same way he did in the Genesis days. Each level is brilliantly reimagined, ranging from incredibly familiar feels with the “correct” Sonic for the level to fitting and interesting spins with the other Sonic.

Everything about this game is designed to tug at the nostalgia strings. The levels both look and feel familiar, with the same enemies and many of the same recognizable areas as in their original titles. What evoked the most nostalgia from me, however, was the music. Each level features two takes on the original music for that level, ranging from almost-cover reperformances to new and interesting remixes. I took far longer than I should have to beat the game because I probably played my most memorable level, City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2, ten to twelve times before moving on.

Apart from the main story arc and stages (which is, sadly, an incredibly short ride that lasts under 5 hours), the game is full of challenges of all sorts using portions of each stage. Some revolve around other characters, such as having to use a searchlight to find a camouflaged Espio, or running through a level with no rings save for the ones that Cream the Rabbit drops for you. Others involve using specific items from past games to clear stages within a limited time, or racing a doppelganger Sonic. If you really feel like having a nostalgia journey (or you’re too young to have experienced it and want to see what it was like), you’re able to play the original Genesis version of Sonic the Hedgehog after buying a controller in the item shop with points you earn by playing levels.

I loved this game, and without taking anyone else into consideration, I would have given it a 10. However, there are a few drawbacks to Sonic: Generations. As I’ve already said, the game is rather short, but bears the weight of a $50 price tag. That’s $10 less than the usual game price, but still a rather hefty cost for the amount of time you’ll spend with it. Also, some of the dialogue is incredibly childish. I understand the need to be able to market a Rated-E game to children whether it’s nostalgic or not, but a few select lines made me feel like I was watching Nick Jr. or PBS Kids. Lastly, some of  the bosses took a while to beat, not due to difficulty, but due to sheer confusion. The final boss, namely, was so confusingly “simple” that I had to double-check my methods by looking on the internet. Yes, for a Sonic game.

Complaints aside, Sonic Generations is an excellent game for all ages, but most of its effect comes from nostalgic value. If you were ever a Sonic fan, you’ll definitely enjoy this game. It is a massive step in the right direction after Sonic Unleashed (seriously… a werewolf?) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 (a game so broken I’ve dubbed it my biggest personal gaming disappointment of all time and considered giving it an AVGN/Spoony-style Let’s Play beatdown.), and proof that Sonic is NOT dead. With Sonic certified “alive”, perhaps all hope is not lost for what could be the greatest Sonic game of a generation, should it come to be: Sonic Adventure 3. Hear me, Sega? Sonic Adventure 3. We want it, preferably with Crush 40 creating the title theme.

 

Pros:

  • Nostalgia
  • Excellent, solid gameplay
  • Nostalgia
  • Quality soundtrack, creative remixes
  • Nostalgia
Cons:
  • Very short for a $50 game
  • Dialogue rather childish at times
  • Not much of a plot to speak of
  • Boss fights can be confusing
  • A bit too reliant on Nostalgia

October 21, 2011

Gunnar Optiks: Yellow-Tinted Gaming Glasses

While I typically tend to ignore most of the ads on the side of my Facebook page, I occasionally find one that interests me. That’s how I found out about my now-favorite game store, and it’s also how I first heard about Gunnar Optiks. Gunnar Optiks produces glasses that reduce eye strain and enhance contrast on screens, and are marketed towards both frequent computer users who suffer from various eyestrain related symptoms, and towards the professional gaming community. Two of the gaming models in the Gunnar product lineup are endorsed by MLG, and a few more bear the SteelSeries name.

When I first heard about these, I wondered about them for only a few minutes before I moved on. They bear a pretty hefty price tag for something that may or may not actually help you at all. However, a full year later, curiosity and incredibly sensitive, frequently bloodshot eyes got the best of me. I got the “PPK” model from Best Buy for about $80 on Tuesday.  My opinion of them has fluctuated, but after using them for a few days, I’m happy with my purchase. I’ll talk you through my experience.

One thing to note is that these are not “glasses” in the traditional sense; they’re designed for people with normal vision and are more comparable in function to sunshades. If you use glasses, I might suggest wearing contacts underneath these if you truly feel you need the strain reduction. However, in that case, I’d recommend talking to your optometrist to see if there’s a better solution.

When I first put on the Gunnars, I was quite underwhelmed. They turn everything yellow. That’s pretty much all it looks like they do. Look at a screen, and everything’s yellower than normal. I was fairly disappointed in them within the first hour or so, but I decided to keep them on throughout the day to see how well they worked. It should be noted that an advertised feature of these glasses is screen glare reduction. It does this moderately well, but if your screen is kind of dirty and has an enormous window shining on it like mine does, there’s only so much it can be helped.

I really began to notice a difference on the first night of using the Gunnars. The primary light source in my room is a giant fluorescent bulb built into my desk, less than two feet from my face when I’m using the computer. It’s typically a bright, shiny punch to the eyeballs, but the Gunnars really cut down on the strain that it generally causes. It turns out that these glasses are far more effective at combating strain in settings where your primary light source is fluorescent or incandescent. In daylight, they’re less necessary. When I woke up the next morning after first using the Gunnars, I was incredibly impressed by the lack of redness in my eyes. Typically, they’re bloodshot if I use the computer past midnight.

After a few days of playing all sorts of games with these glasses on, I can attest to their performance enhancing capabilities. However, these aren’t “100 meter dash” glasses, they’re more suited to gaming marathons. Wearing them during a competitive match won’t really do much more than cut a bit of screen glare and possibly increase the contrast a bit. However, if you’re planning on playing a fairly ocular intensive game (such as a first person shooter or a game with a lot of small things on screen to pay attention to) for hours on end, these will definitely save you a lot of headache (literally). Play for five hours straight with a naked eye, and try again the next day with Gunnars; you’ll definitely notice a difference.

While the Gunnars do a pretty good job of performing their advertised functions, they also have to be judged on the same qualities as any other sort of eyewear. They’re still, in essence, a clothing article, so comfort and style come into play. The PPKs are some of the most narrow of the bunch, and they look nice, sleek, and professional. They’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and the temples are thin and flat so as to not interfere with headset-wearing. They’ve worked with every headset I’ve tried wearing with them, but there could possibly be an issue with especially large over-the-ear headsets. All of the Gunnar gaming models are designed with headset-wearing in mind, and they come in a variety of styles (especially popular are the MLG Legends, which are an “Aviator” style).

All in all, I feel as though the Gunnar Optiks PPK glasses were a good addition to my set of gaming gear. Those of you who don’t pull long stints ingame and don’t have sensitive eyes or headaches might want to give them a pass, but for me, they’re great performance enhancers. You can order Gunnars online, or buy them at Best Buy and a number of other stores. The Gunnar Optiks website has a handy store locator.

Pros:

  • Comfortable and stylish
  • Good for sensitive eyes, strain-induced headaches, and long gaming sessions
  • Don’t interfere with headset usage
Cons:
  • The yellow tint can sometimes be hard to ignore
  • The beneficial effects aren’t immediately noticeable
  • Not as effective in natural light as in artificial light, however in natural light they are less necessary