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True Axiom's blog

1:01 PM on 02.21.2011

Groundhog's Day: Dead and Dead Again

The true goal of the Western RPG is choice: the choice to do things differently, to be able to make your choices, not the characters, and experience a different world. That choice becomes replay value, which becomes playing a game obsessively, over and over again, until you've done everything in every way.

But why make different choices? There are some games where I feel like I've made all the proper choices the first time, defined the character how I want him to be, and therefore I feel no space, no room to do things different. And yet I still play them over and over again.

Planescape: Torment is one such game. In at least ten playthroughs, I have always gone the exact same path: a practitioner of the magical arts, as instructed by the midwife Mebbeth, the stoic, goodly, yet joking hero, who cannot quite believe his predicament: that he must die, and die again. And live the same life, over and over, until his memories are snuffed away.

Torment is fascinating for being a video game version of groundhog's day, where you attack a puzzle, die, and then do it differently until you succeed. There is no game over, there is no loading, just victory or a quick death on the road back to victory. A recursive progression into a mad, incredible fantasy world.

My love of Torment (which sounds so very, very wrong) came from a repressed love of Dungeons and Dragons and an appreciation for its sibling, Baldur's Gate, which featured almost exactly the same gameplay and a very similar setting. Planescape, for those unaware, was a setting of 2.5 Edition D&D, the system behind the Infinity Engine games. They were brothers and, while Baldur's Gate was harsh and impenetrable, Torment featured a reiterative designóyou can't dieóthat served to make the game a lot more playable. Dangerously playable, some would say.

Really, there are two moments that draw me back into the game, over and over. The first is the unbroken circle of Zerthimon quest, one of the first and most involved party member quests in video games. Effectively, you are taught about the religion of the githzerai by Dak'kon, a party member, only to discover that you, in fact, taught Dak'kon the religion, in a different incarnation. The other moment is much simpler, and is a puzzle, found beneath the city, where you have to repeatedly kill yourself to advance. At the end, you find out that you, yourself, built the puzzle, because you were the only man who could die a half-dozen times to get through it. It's the simple moments, like those, that make the game sing.

But why do I always play it the same way? It's pretty simple, actually. The main character, despite having a history and backstory that is intricately woven through the present events (really, it's a monument to good games writing, even if it falls short in a couple areas), is a complete blank slate upon start up: he remembers nothing, and is just someone you create. When your character is such a blank slate and put into such an immediately shocking situation as waking up on a slab in a mortuary, well, it's hard not to react how you, yourself would react. Other open ended RPGs let you create your character and slowly dip yourself into the adventure, which allows you to really create a fictional presence, but in Planescape that is thrown out the window. You have no back story you remember. There's nothing that would motivate you towards evil besides a personal tendency, something I tend to lack, so I cannot see the point in not being good.

So every visit to this marvelously open ended game ends up going the same: a generally good character who likes making fun of Morte the floating skull for having sexual attraction to the undead, a character who uses magic because, frankly, there's no other good mage in the party and because magic is just so much cooler than punching people in the face with fist irons. It is always the same, and yet every time it's different. There's new layers I uncover. I find quests I've missed before. There's happenings I flat out forgot about.

And in that way, this is a story that is always novel in its brilliance.   read

7:35 PM on 05.03.2010

Death and Pathos: Saving the Princess

Video games arenít serious. Thereís a reason for this: we gamers are more interested in doing absurd things, or feeling a sense of accomplishment, than in exploring the dark, untouched places of the human psyche. Given the choice in Grand Theft Auto 4 between a chilling, mature narrative and giving Niko a magic phone that heals him and lets him summon cars floating in the air, many players pick the latter option. And publishers are no better. Given the opportunity to publish one of the most intelligent games ever made, Nintendo decided Mother 3 wasnít quite up to American standards, which means there werenít enough explosions and too much death, not enough good guys beating bad guys and too much critique of society.

In short, we gamers are afraid of death, and developers and publishers are afraid of pushing death onto us. There are exceptions to this rule, and these exceptions prove that interactive media could be well-equipped to deliver serious, heartfelt narratives in a way perhaps surpassing ďtraditionalĒ media.

(Post contains spoilers for Shadow the Colossus, Mother 3, Bioshock, Final Fantasy VII, Braid, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins (very minor), and Planetfall (which is from 1983). You've been warned.)

The knock against video games as a serious medium is that for much of their history they were amusements driven by points and little men jumping. No matter how you cut or slice it, most retro games outside of text adventures donít feature what weíd call plot, let alone serious central moments. Sure, Pac Man can die, but then he comes back, ready as ever to gobble ghosts, who canít die forever either. Mario has to save a princess, and the princess is always in another castle. Of course, this could become serious and heavyweight, but Super Mario Brothers didnít tread that territory. Even such plot based games as the original Final Fantasy didnít tread anywhere near serious conflict; the bad guys were bad because they were jerks, and you were the heroes because you had little shiny bits of crystal.

The concept of a serious video game was born at one specific point: Aeris dying. It wasnít the first instance of character death in a video game (the earliest we can come up with is Planetfall, a text based adventure from 1983 Ė three years before I was born), but it was the most spectacular. Never before had the death of a playable character been such a central point to a game, so much so that it influenced millions of gamers and thousands of game designers. You have to wonder if Yoshinori Kitase knew, when he was writing that plot point, that he would spawn an entire generation of memes, the spoiler tag, and so much serious discussion on games.

Sure, it wasnít the most elegantly used plot device. It was followed by a random, throwaway boss battle (Jenova, the most throwaway of bosses), and while Aerisí ghost haunts the story the rest of the way, if we made a list of plot points in Final Fantasy VII, it would probably barely crack the top five in terms of importance to the narrative. But it served its function well: it turned Sephiroth from a crazy guy with a master plan to an evil villain who had killed one of your own. Sephiroth is perhaps the most enduring villain in all of gaming, and that is in no small part because of Aerisí death. Even if it didnít come back in the plot with much vigor, it colored the whole work with an air of tragedy. Without death, the story would have been a soulless work about the evils of corporations and running around. With it, it became a weight discussion of life and death, a game that we gamers would beg Square Enix to remake for years and years.

And Square Enix never quite recaptured that magic. Very few developers worldwide have, for good reason: they took the wrong things away from the game. The guys at Square looked at Final Fantasy VII, and thought, ďGamers love this because it has full motion cutscenes, because of the production values, and because of the emotional storyline.Ē The bullet point wasnít death, it was emotion. And you can see the results in all the succeeding Final Fantasies: an emphasis on film-like cutscenes conveying a story disconnected from the game play, big budget production values, and ďemotionalĒ characters who donít die engaging in ďlife or deathĒ scenes (usually, but not always, emphatic hugs).

But no one has died in a Final Fantasy game since Aeris, and none of the games have been nearly as enduring. And I can tell you the exact reason: the villains. I canít remember a single bad guy from a Final Fantasy game post VII. VIII had some sorceress or something. IX had the queen who was fat and some other guy who dressed like a slutty girl. X had Sin, which I remember because it was funny. XII had a very reasonable guy named Vayne who disappeared for 60 hours in the middle of the game before coming back and becoming a huge, crazy guy for some reason. XIII hadÖwell, in the 25 hours I played of XIII before giving up I had yet to encounter anyone remotely villainous. VII had Sephiroth, who might not have been explicitly evil but sure seemed so after he killed one of your own. Aeris dying was the best thing Final Fantasy VII ever did.

The thing that VII did not do, though, was make this scene part of the game. It showed games could convey scenes like movies do, but not the actual benefit of them being games. VII could well have been a movie, and while there was a very robust, engaging game part, it was removed from the meat of the story. Replaying it with a modern eye, it is a very schizophrenic experience, skipping between traditional JRPG segments and captivating story, neither really building off the other.

For games to build truly engaging narratives, there canít be a separation of action and storytelling. The things youíre doing when pressing buttons has to relate, directly or indirectly, to the plot that is unfolding for it to gain true dramatic weight. Sure, VII was one of the first games with that sort of narrative that demanded serious consideration, but it only possessed the most tenuous connection between emotion and gameplay, much like a gumball machine: the more quarters you put in in terms of hours and steps, the more gumballs and emotion you got.

What Final Fantasy VII did have, thought, of importance to us, is consequence. Sure, it was disconnected, cutscene consequence, a consequence that was not within your power to control, but there were real, negative results coming from your journey. Aeris died, and anyone else could die, too. You saw that there were bad things that could happen, and this informed you the rest of the time you played. The ability of the game to kill a player character gave a consequence to failure, and made that game that much more enthralling.

This connection between narrative and game play, between consequence and emotion, is something we are just now figuring out how to achieve, and even then only on the periphery, in the best and brightest. Itís a topic that developers are only recently realizing works in getting the player excited, into getting the player involved into their work of art.

One of the best examples of this, or rather one of the first games that very consciously played with this idea, was Braid, and this comes with an astounding caveat. The little text between game screens is a profound disconnection from the actual experience, and unfortunately the part of the game that is being copied left and right. The little books are something that is an integral bulwark to holding the piece up, but they are forgettable and kind of over the top.

But the kernel of good? Itís there. The actual game play relates to the plot, and develops the powers of Tim in the powers he uses to solve puzzles, and how they make him, and by extension us, feel. Timís powers of time travel are fascinating, as they provide us with a physical definition of Timís mental situation, as well as an enthralling game mechanic. There is development of his character in every puzzle that is solved. This is then magnified a hundred times in the conclusion, where the player, as Tim, is told to do something good, something he knows is good, and then watch it turn back on them using the game mechanics. Itís a scene where real consequences are visible to the player, and it is effective because the consequences occur in the game play.

Another game that employs these consequences is Bioshock. Bioshock, too, is an odd bird. The audio diaries seem like a good idea, but theyíre just narrative thatís tacked on: instead of being in books, its spoken to you while youíre doing something else. This makes it less immersion breaking, and therefore a more practical solution than reading walls of text, but still frustrating. No, where Bioshock succeeds is in its central narrative, where it combines the two most effective story telling things in video games: the death of a developed character and turning the playerís expectations backwards. Going to visit Andrew Ryan, you expect him to be the villain and Atlas your friend: in the end, Ryan turns out to be probably the only person on Rapture who cares about you, and Atlas turns out to be a murderous traitor, a man who tries to kill you multiple times. Itís a brilliant balance, because in one scene youíre forced to kill the man who cared most about you, while you are discovering that Fontaine is the bad guy, trying to destroy you. That turn of expectation makes him a memorable villain (until his terrible final boss fight, at least), and gives the story some heft.

A third, different example of this narrative swing is in Mother 3 which, in my opinion, has the most compelling plot ever penned in a video game. Mother 3 opens with perhaps the most dramatic, effective raising of stakes ever employed in a video game: what starts as a frantic, happy JRPG in the tradition of Earthbound suddenly turns an entirely different direction when you find out, no, you were too late, Hinawa, the mother of Lucas and Claus, the wife of then PC Flint, is dead. Thereís nothing you can do. This is one of the most impressive and important scenes in video games (that people from the west will never be able to play, except through fan-made patch), because it employs a tactic that is so effective but so alienating to the player: making the player lose. We, as gamers, hate to lose. We may not love to win as much as some people, but we donít like feeling like weíve failed, either. And when weíre told that we couldnít save the princess (Hinawa being nothing if not a princess), weíre devastated. Just like in Braid, where we realize we canít save the Princess, that she doesnít want to be saved. Just like in Final Fantasy VII, where we come so close to saving the Princess but watch her die at the last second. Here, we find the Princess dead, and we hate. We hate the thing that killed her, so much so that one character, and then another, go out to find the things that destroyed her (one a PC, one an NPC). And in the process, they are destroyed themselves. Itís only Lucas, the timid, shy boy, who finds any hope in the situation, and comes to a sort of conclusion.


Forcing the player to lose, or to commit morally reprehensible acts, gives video games their one leg up on other media: the player can be made to do things, to feel complicit in their action. This is something that a lot of games are trying to do, but many are failing at. Mass Effect 2, for instance, is a spectacular game, but the consequences of the ending feel like a multiple choice test: choose right, either through guesswork or by going on the internet and finding the right choices (as Iím sure a lot of gamers did) and you can have the ďperfectĒ playthrough, where all the companions make it. There are no consequences, only mistakes that you can scrub away. Dragon Age, Iíve been told, is better about this, and offers you a collection of choices you can make, each with horrible consequences.

One final enduring example of consequence in game design is Shadow of the Colossus. You are presented with a task: kill Colossi. Itís not a task you can choose to do or not, except in the sense that one can choose to play or not to play the game. Through the very act of turning it on, you are complicit in the actions committed by the character. As the weight of these actions, the killing of Colossi, dawns on the player, they begin to feel the weight of the consequences, and this weight, this heft, is what makes the game something we remember now, rather than a beautiful, esoteric game about mountain climbing that we forget about under a pile of other games.

This comes to the problem, sometimes, with game designers: they take the wrong things away from games. That, or they refuse to acknowledge that the consequences are what made the games memorable. They look at the internet, that cesspool of knowledge, and they see people loved Braid for the kooky, reimagined retro aspects, and bemoaned the consequences that came with them. They develop their own retro platformer, and itís fun, probably, but the weight isnít there. They take the game play of something like Final Fantasy VII and the plot clichťs, but donít look at why we hate Sephiroth, or what motivates us to save the Planet. And thatís a shame, because gaming, like any other artistic medium, is about heart, is about soul, but many of its leading lights seem to think itsí about the hearts and the souls and the platforms and not emotion.   read

11:09 AM on 04.26.2010

Goldeneye Coming Back, Followed by a Collective Yawn

Activision (Scion of Darkness) recently registered the domain Now, either Activision is trying to make a really bitching fan site for one of the classics of gaming that they didnít make, or else the rumors are true and theyíve discovered yet another franchise name in their stable they can shake and shake and shake until all the money falls out.

Iím betting on the latter. Apparently I missed the memo which said that Activision had to ruin at least one thing a day, and they were behind on their quota.

I donít think Iím alone in thinking a sequel to Goldeneye is a phenomenally terrible idea. Letís take a gander at the various James Bond games released over the years:

Goldeneye: Classic
Tomorrow Never Dies: Awful
The World is Not Enough: Crap
007 Racing: Totally exists, not to mention one of the worst ideas ever.
Agent Under Fire: Bad
Nightfire: ďThe best game since GoldeneyeĒ. Which isnít a ringing endorsement.
Everything or Nothing: Unmemorable
Goldeneye: Rogue Agent: Wait. Wait. Theyíve done this already?
From Russia With Love: Meh.
Quantum of Solace: Again, not good, but not bad.

Seeing a pattern here? Developers seem to be figuring out James Bond, and by figuring out I mean theyíre realizing he doesnít make a great game protagonist. The lure of Bond is in his ability to go into a really bad situation and pull it out. Think of all the movies, and how most of them involve him getting captured, put into a deadly trap, and pulling it out with guile and gumption. This doesnít work in a video game, because either there is an obvious, contrived solution that removes the illusion of being in a bad situation, or you die a million times and the game stops being fun.

Goldeneye worked for the precise reason that it didnít play like a James Bond game. It played like a horrible mash up of Doom and a huge joke draped in a James Bond suit. Playing Goldeneye now is like stepping back into a fever dream where first person shooters we myopic and more based on luck than twitch. And honestly, that was a good time, and itís why I still enjoy the occasional proximity mine multiplayer match in Goldeneye. Itís decidedly more chaotic and terrifying than modern first person shooters, which depend on (scoff) skill and strategy, rather than dumb luck.

Why would you make a sequel to that, though? How would you make a sequel to that, without creating another generic Splinter Cell like stealth shooter? James Bond in video games has proven that itís very hard to create a suave badass game, and really easy to create a game with explosions and the proverbial lols. Goldeneye had soul, but it didnít have James Bondís soul. It had the soul of someone completely ludicrous, who blew his friends up with proximity mines because he had nothing better to do. And he controlled like a boat.

Could you make a good Bond game? Sure you could. This isnít going to sound like a ringing endorsement, considering how bad the prospective game is shaping up to look, but Alpha Protocol is on the right track. The lure of Bond isnít shooting, or stealth, but rather the suaveness, the finding the right place to go, infiltrating it, and being a badass. To go back even further, a Bond game in the style of Deus Ex would be phenomenal. Something where a problem is put in front of you, and you have all these neat gadgets, tools, and your own charm to solve the situation. Imagine, for instance: you end up in a small fishing village in the Dominican Republic. Thereís a big drug lord living in a massive manor at the end of town. You are given x number of tools, y connections, and have to infiltrate the manor and steal, say, plans for a nuclear device that the lord is selling to terrorists. Or something. Whatís important is, youíd have all these different options. Youíd be deciding how Bond was supposed to play, whether he shoots the place up Goldeneye style, whether he sneaks his way in, whether he charms his way in the front door. Youíd have the choice, and youíd be defining how you want to go about things. Doesnít that sound so much more enthralling than a linear shooter through an insipid Bond knockoff plot, coupled with a generic multiplayer mode inferior to every other game of the type?

But when Activision makes a soulless Splinter Cell clone out of one of the silver screen's greatest leading men, donít say we didnít warn you.

(cross posted from .)   read

6:34 PM on 04.22.2010

E for Effort: I Tried

There are some games you are expected to like, especially if you fall into the games as art camp. Braid, Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, even some more mainstream titles like Half Life 2. Not liking them is seen as a sort of crime, akin to thinking The Godfather or Lawrence of Arabia is a bad film.

And I can stomach most of these games. Thereís only one, one small, significant game, that I cannot stomach. That I respect, but I cannot, for the life of me, play for more than an hour before I give up on it in rage.

That game is Ico.

And itís difficult because Ico is pretty much *the* game. Every time I look at screenshots of it, or watch videos of it, I am compelled to play it. Even though I have tried to play it at least a dozen times, and each time I give up, for different, insignificant reasons. Writing this article is difficult, because it is, in some way, an admission of failure. Look at me, Iím not good enough to get Ico. I might as well just pack up my bags and find another hobby.

The worst part is, I donít even know what I donít get. Itís very atmospheric and minimalistic, but I love atmosphere and minimalism. Any game that has, at any point, been compared to Ico I love almost unquestioningly. Independent platformers shy on mechanics and high on design are my favorite games. I love loose narrative. I adore that the characters canít really talk. I think the shadows are frightening, and made more frightening because you donít have a proper weapon to fight them off with. Iíve always compared it, aesthetically, with Breath of Fire V, which is one of my absolute favorite games. And Ico, in an objective analysis, is both more playable and more exciting than that game.

Really, I love everything about Ico, but I donít get it. It is like some esoteric puzzle that is not meant for me to solve. I am trapped in it, but I canít solve it. But even as my tormentor, I am happy Ico exists. I am happy because I know it is a fantastic, fascinating game, and that it has gone on to influence, even make possible, many of my favorite games. Itís one of the first games that really stops and asks us what a video game could do if it was made not for millions of dollars but instead for the love of gaming, and the love of making games. It may not be something I can play, but it is a game that I want other people to play.

And I know Iíll feel like an absolute fool, too, one day, when I fire it up for the seventeenth time, and fall in love with it, as Iíve been fated to do. Itíll happen much like my experience with Shadow of the Colossus: one day, very quietly, very peacefully, I will play it, and I will love it. I have never been more sure of anything in my life.

But that time is not now, and for now I can only appreciate Ico the way one appreciates a painting, or the way Roger Ebert appreciates video games: by looking at pictures.   read

6:56 PM on 03.23.2010

Review: Pokemon SoulSilver/Heartgold

One could say writing a review of Pokemon SoulSilver is utter folly, and they'd be pretty close to right. After all, Game Freak have made the same basic game since the mid nineties: find pokemon, catch them, level them up, find a better pokemon, and dump the first by the wayside. It's an alluring mixture that doesn't change, especially not in a remake of the second entry in the franchise.

The strength, the immersiveness of Pokemon comes from one simple fact. In most RPGs, you're playing a dude who hits things. You feel like you are the player character, and this makes the whole menu system occasionally difficult to swallow. If I am this character, I reason, why don't I just stab the other guy in the throat and be done with it? Why do I need a move that does 3214 arbitrary damage points to do that?

Pokemon, on the other hand, has every reason to be arbitrary and statistical. You are some guy, who catches monsters, who he commands. If they don't like you, they won't do it. They have the intelligence of an especially vibrant piece of gum, and can't remember how to do a whole lot. Your influence revolves around picking commands from a list, which is, coincidentally, how an RPG plays. In my happier moments I like to imagine Tajiri Satoshi and the other founders of Game Freak sitting around a table wondering how they could make something like Dragon Quest immersive, and not just something bound by technical limitations. They'd be on top of a gold mine! And, funnily enough, now they are.

This immersiveness only adds to the thrill of the game. The thrill isn't in the competitive battling (where it has become something of a standard, probably because of its rather robust multiplayer options and being literally the only game like it with those options), but rather the exploration. My best moment was going onto a new Route and finding a sheep (named Mareep) who I could catch. It's the new pokemon that keep the adventure going, and the new locales. And SoulSilver has the most of those, with a long, engrossing campaign, with an entire past game world being unlocked after the ďfinalĒ boss. It's like if, when you beat Kefka in Final Fantasy VI, you could return to the World of Balance and complete a metric ton of side quests.

If there is a failure in Pokemon SoulSilver, it is that it doesn't go very far as a remake. It is basically a copy-paste of the previous games, polished ad absurdum. There are two problems with this. For one, Pokemon Gold and Silver were surprisingly uneven games difficulty wise; I am not opposed to grinding, but I find it difficult to stomach when the first 8 hours are grind free, followed by a forced session of 4 hours of grinding, followed by 14 breezy hours running up to a brick wall of grinding. Some of the gym leaders (gyms 4 and 8, specifically, or, as I prefer to call that, fucking prick and goddamn bitch lady) are obscenely broken, and all the gym leaders are so much higher leveled than random ďwalking hazardĒ trainers that the difficulty curve is a null line with eight massive spikes.

This kind of builds into my other complaint: the Pokemon. And I will take this in the entirely opposite direction of most of the fans who didn't buy the game, anyway. There are 500 some Pokemon now. Using all of them would have been difficult, certainly, but some additional variety would have been nice. For example, one of the later bosses uses (literally) 6 Koffings (the Pokemon who taught Japan that smoking was cool). Now, while this isn't awful, some variety, some use of the hundreds of Pokemon made since Gold and Silver would have let them do more interesting things before you got to Kanto, and made for some scintillating battles, as opposed to the slugfests most difficult battles in Pokemon turn into.

Pokemon is one of the most important games ever made, and SoulSilver, like almost all the other versions at release, is the defining entry. It's the uncomplicated, pure ideal, in a world where plots are unnecessarily complicated and poorly written (*insert stern look in the direction of other beloved fantasy RPG franchise here*), a game where the good guys win because they're good and not because they sat around moping about their feelings for twenty hours only to realize they too are good. It is simple and yet an almost perfect slice of Japan, nostalgia for some and idealism for others.

Two thumbs decidedly up.   read

10:12 PM on 03.02.2010

The Demo Team Episode One: The Phantom Menace: Sonic and Friends Happy Fun Time

If Sonic was a celebrity, he'd be Macaulay Culkin: a few good years in his early career, a brief, perhaps fictional flirtation with Michael Jackson, then nothing but cocaine and Wrestlemania appearances for the rest of his life. Sonic's life hasn't been pretty, by almost anyone's definition, after Sonic 3: a couple almost good appearances (Sonic Adventure, Sonic Advance, I'm looking at you!) surrounded by a veritable pile of shit.

Then something funny happened. Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, decided to reward Sega for all their hard work supporting the Wii by giving them a freebie: Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. Mario was involved, copious copies were moved. Suddenly Sonic was viable again. It would be like Macaulay Culkin being cast in a zombie John Hughes movie (let's call it Forty Two Candles) and suddenly being successful again.

He was so successful, he got his own kart racer. This is where we come in, and we play the demo.

Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing

Let's be honest, here: Sonic and Sega All Stars racing is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, I've liked my share of Sega games in my day. Super Monkey Ball was a fun time. But, Sonic's basically all Sega has going for it, now that they've cut the naughty bits out of Yakuza 3. Honestly, besides Madworld, I can barely remember another Sega game, and I had a Dreamcast. And I only remember Madworld and the Dreamcast because of the amount of crying.

So let's fire this baby up. There's Tails in a plane! It's Emerald Island! I bet they want us to think that all Sega games take place on one tiny island, but I know better. You can't have nearly enough stock world types on one piddly island for a Sonic game, let alone anything else. And hey look! It's whatshisname, from that game I don't care about. Boy, a normal Japanese guy looks out of place surrounded by...a monkey. And another monkey. And a girl with pink hair. Actually, that's pretty normal for Japan. Sega's all-stars look like they got a random dude off the street, half the monkeys in China and a Japanese pop star. Sure. Not everyone can have dozens of acceptable characters. And wait, Tails has a plane. Of course he's going to win. Oh, no, wait. Sonic's going to win, and save everyone because he's just such a cool dude.

Okay, let's get to the...wait. Was that the announcer from Super Monkey Ball? I hope not. I sure hope not. That would just ruin my day. Seriously, he sounds like he should be announcing movies. I hope he goes away, and they just needed him to remind you you were playing Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing. I mean, how could you forget? It's hard to think you're just playing Generic Kart Racer X when you have this star-studded cast!

Single player it is! I can pick between...well, Sonic and Dr. Robotnik. This demo is fully featured, I see. I can pick the characters anyone would want to play as: the fat guy and the fastest thing alive. I wonder which one would be better at a race. The fat guy does have his charms, but I got to think the weight would get in the way. Sonic it is. And we'll race on...Rampart Road. From Billy Hatcher. Billy Hatcher is a game? I'm never going to remember this. His game will be Billy Mays, from now on. Goodnight, sweet prince.

Okay, Billy Mays Road from Billy Mays the Video Game. Hm. Looks cold. Nothing like this could possibly exist on Sega Island. I call bullshit. Okay, let's see. I'm racing against Dr. Robotnik, so he's coming in last. And Shadow. And hey, it's normal japanese man! And some monkeys! And Billy Mays himself! This'll be great!

Wait. The announcer' a thing? He's going to be here, and he's going to talk while we race? That's okay, I guess. I mean, I don't like his pleasing baritone, but someone's got to tell me when I corner beautifully. And hey, the tracks a rainbow! I wonder what The Wizard of Oz would be like if Billy Mays was Dorothy. No, Billy wouldn't be her. He'd be the Wizard, and she'd get there and he'd shout them all to death. Bravo, Billy.

And we're off...wait...wait. X is not accelerate. Why is X not accelerate! WHY IS X NOT ACCELERATE! None of these buttons work not square not triangle...R1. R1 works. Why is R1 accelerate? What kind of strange, perverse god would allow this? R1 is the shoot people in the face button, not the make your car go button. Whatever. We're in last, but we'll catch up.

Billy Mays is in the lead! God bless you, Billy Mays! Truly, may your game be long and glorious! Hey, I got some missiles. They work like red shells. Seems Sonic and Sega's All Stars remembered to take all the equipment from work when Nintendo got rid of them.

Let's go...dammit the track doesn't go that way the track ought to go off into the void of Sega Island! Wait. Fallout, announcer? Fallout? You are from Super Monkey Ball! Get back in your cage!

Of course I can't pass anyone, due to the Mario Kart Corollary: if you're doing awful, you get all the weapons. You use these weapons on the people adjacent to you, who then kill you, meaning advancement is impossible. Except it's worse here because everything is much more accurate and the computer doesn't forget where it is every ten seconds. They should make all children play Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing, just to teach them about how the real world works. You succeed a little bit, then someone with three missiles comes and screws you over, making your only option getting one missile and screwing him over.

Hold on! Hold on! Chaos emeralds? Does this mean! We! Could! Go! All! The! Way! I'm so happy, I'll forgive the announcer for the ďWhen you're in all star no one can hear you scream!Ē Seriously, that guy's gonna keep talking, huh? He's like that friend who sits behind you and never shuts up and doesn't know what video game you're playing anyway. He thinks you're playing Bomberman and wonders why you don't drop bombs all the time. Except Bomberman isn't even a Sega character, and I'm clearly Sonic. Though Sonic would clean up in Bomberman. He's so fast, he could trap people in corners like it was nothing.'s over. Final tally: some stupid monkey in first, Billy Mays in last (apparently he died mid-race. May choirs of angels sing to you in Heaven), myself in sixth. Wonderful. Hey, I got Sega Miles. They're like regular miles on your odometer, except if I just drove 1000 miles I would have been going over 10000 miles per hour, and when you go over 3000 miles you don't have to replace the disk. You might have to replace the xbox, but that's neither here nor there.

And that's it, folks. This fully featured demo gave me about five minutes of gameplay and a two minute cinematic, all for 800 megabytes of storage space! It took longer to install than to play!

You want a grade for it? Okay. I'll give you a grade. I give you a B. You had trouble with some of the big words, but you got this far, I'd say you're ready to pass the fourth grade. Seriously, the game was less bad than it could have been, but that's like finding an edible pie in the trash. Sure, it's edible, but...there's been a sock on it for six hours and some of the sock flavor has to have seeped in.

Sonic and Sega All Stars: a trash sock pie.

(Lucas Says lots of things. He's the head of the Demo Team, which is unrelated to The A Team. He tends to do his own thing in his space,, and posts here when he writes about video games. He wishes he had a sultry enough voice and the technological know-how to produce his vitriol in video form, but alas.)

(All pictures stolen shamelessly from this very site, and one from wikipedia! They add very little!)   read

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