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segastardust's blog

Simplifying Syndicate: A Missed Opportunity for EA
10:56 PM on 08.23.2014
For Your Re-Consideration: Crystal Monsters
3:17 PM on 08.04.2014
Let's talk about Ouya!
9:32 PM on 03.09.2014
For Your Re-Consideration: ObScure - The Aftermath
12:53 PM on 11.26.2013
It's Hunting Season! What does that mean again?
1:58 PM on 05.23.2013
For Your Re-Consideration: Sonic Unleashed
12:28 PM on 05.08.2013





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About
For as long as I can remember, I've been a gamer. I was born in the 80s and grew up during the 90s. I was first introduced into gaming by my father when I played video games with him on our family's DOS PC. Some of those old titles included Commander Keen, Duke Nukem, Jazz Jackrabbit, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Wing Commander.

What really cemented my identity as a gamer was when he bought my brothers and I a SEGA Genesis for Christmas in '95, that was the day I was introduced to Sonic the Hedgehog.

From that day I've been fascinated with all facets of gaming and the culture that surrounds it. And despite starting out as a notorious SEGA fanboy (a habit I admittedly haven't entirely shook) I now spend my free time playing a wide assortment of genres across a variety of consoles.
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A recent venture to the local dollar store yielded a small surprise for me. Amongst the eclectic selection of public domain films and K-Tel CDs I found a copy of 2012's Syndicate, appropriately priced at only one Canadian dollar. While only vaguely familiar with the series I couldn't resist promptly purchasing the oddity, if only to satiate my curiosity. I hurried home to begrudgingly install Origin (and I was successful after only two failed attempts) and after squashing a runtime error I was finally granted access to the world of Syndicate. Three hours later as the credits rolled I couldn't help but feel like the entire game could have been so much more. I'd like to preface this overview by stating that I have never played an entry in this series before, but I am aware that this iteration is a major departure from the originals. With that out of the way, let's take a look at Syndicate.

The game has an interesting premise, one that is becoming more and more relevant with each passing year. In Syndicate, the world is controlled entirely by large corporations and the majority of the populace is augmented with cranial implants. You play as Kilo (kilobyte?), a corporate raider/hired gun who fights for the large conglomerate EuroCorp's interests. You've just been implanted with the company's latest prototype chip to make you a more efficient killer and when one of EuroCorp's rivals readies to unveil a similar product you're sent in to stop them. One of the conceivable advantages to shifting the series' focus from isometric strategy to first-person action could be to tell a more personal story while letting the player explore this interesting future firsthand. Unfortunately Syndicate accomplishes neither, you're never given more than surface level details regarding Kilo and the moments when you're allowed to simply look around and explore are too few and far between. I wasn't expecting the same level of exploration seen in titles like Deus Ex, but Syndicate doesn't even offer you a guided tour like the BioShock series would.



The story is also woefully underdeveloped. Without pouring through data logs players will understand only the basics of their surroundings. Starbreeze Studios have engineered an attractive soapbox to discuss issues of globalisation or transhumanism and the opportunity has been completely squandered. Also, at only three hours long, the entire campaign feels like the first entry in an episodic series instead of a full fledged retail release. Kilo can't even be considered a hero for a majority of the game because he doesn't have his obligatory change of heart until you're two thirds of the way through the story. It's too bad because the game's presentation is top-notch with a competent voice cast and style to burn.


All of this would be excusable if actually playing Syndicate was fun & exciting. While the gunplay is fast & frantic it never manages to reach the absurd heights of Rise of the Triad or Bulletstorm leaving it largely forgettable. And while you have access to special abilities allowing you to hack enemies and environments you'll rarely need to make use of them. Halfway through the campaign I was having difficulty finding the motivation necessary to continue. My feeling of ennui is an unfortunate side effect to the development team's unfocused talent. Syndicate can sometimes be a feast for the eyes despite it's modest system requirements, it's just a shame that the game's large budget was wasted on such a disposable experience. It's certainly worth the price of a gas-station cup of coffee, but not much more.










Gameloft has a dubious standing in the game's industry. While they're known for almost consistently delivering a respectable level of quality with their efforts, the studio is almost universally looked down upon for what most feel to be an uncomfortable level of unoriginality or even downright plagiarism. However, littered throughout their catalogue are some of the best efforts the handheld scene has ever received, especially in regards to mobile phones. That of course brings me to the subject of my article today, Crystal Monsters. A brief examination of the game's promotional material would lead even the most casual of gamers to conclude it was simply a Pokémon rip-off of sorts. They'd be correct, at least, mostly.

Crystal Monsters is a curious release, initially made only available to Japan in 2008 for mobile phones under the title Monster Chronicles. Crystal Monsters was then ported to Nintendo DS in 2010 and released by way of the now almost irrelevant DSiWare service. It's not that I can't understand Gameloft's choice to make the title available for DSi, it's an inherently natural fit. What I can't understand is why they would choose to release it exclusively on DSiWare in our territory and entirely forego a release on Google Play or the iTunes App Store. On the Nintendo DS, Crystal Monsters would essentially have to compete for players' attention with the perpetually red-hot Pokémon franchise. On the mobile market, they would have almost no competition. Especially back in 2010, it had the opportunity to print money. Instead, Crystal Monsters will have to settle for being a largely forgotten footnote in the history of video games.


The game opens with a short text crawl explaining that there are many different realities and that in this story two separate realities have come closer together. One is a world much like ours and the other is a world inhabited by monsters. Your character is something called a "Neo-Seed", a genetic mutation that can see these creatures as they naturally roam the countryside. These monsters are otherwise invisible to normal people who call themselves "Pure Breeds". Many Pure Breeds blame the recent appearance of monsters and Neo-Seeds for much of the world's problems and some radicals have formed a political organization called the Pure Faction to lobby for the control of breeders and their companions. When your home town's celebrity breeder is injured before a regional monster tournament you're given one of three monsters to start your own career as a breeder and are promptly sent in his place to compete. However, it isn't long before you're swept up in an adventure to save the world from certain doom.


In short, the story is a bit ridiculous. But it is, at the very least, somewhat original and a great starting point for a series of interesting events. It's easy to imagine this as the set-up for a children's animé series. The game's presentation has taken significant inspiration from Pokémon but the gameplay has more in common with the Dragon Quest Monsters series with a greater emphasis on breeding and three vs. three combat. The differences persist as Crystal Monsters features a much more involved capture process. The game's creatures are effectively divided into nine elements and each requires a unique stone to capture. Later in the game, a crystal will prove to be quite ineffective when used by itself and capture will require the use of other items in conjunction with them. Also, you'll rarely find yourself in competition with other breeders, instead most battles will be with wild monsters or boss monsters. That's not to say that other breeders will never challenge you to a fight (Pure Faction will challenge you themselves in regular Team Plasma fashion), they simply do not make up the bulk of your obstacles.


Speaking of combat, that's where Crystal Monsters truly excels. Players need to exploit type advantages to chain together attacks much in the same way the Shin Megami Tensei series requires. Successful chain attacks are accomplished with on screen button prompts akin to Super Mario RPG. And your plan of attack will have to be thought out beforehand because you're limited to a team of three monsters and you can only have a grand total of twenty captured monsters. Your inventory requires similar scrutiny as you're limited to carrying a grand total of only fifty items including consumables used in battle. Halfway through the game, my inventory was always full and I was forced to carefully weigh the pros and cons of discarding any item in favour of another.



The systems in place are different enough to make the game feel fresh and playing Crystal Monsters for the first time was invigorating as I was flying blind (there is little to no information available online regarding this title outside of a half-dozen reviews and some dead forum threads). The creature designs are also similarly praiseworthy as they manage to be original, distinct and visually appealing. This game had been in the corner of my mind since first seeing it on the eShop and I'm glad I finally took a chance on it. At only $5 USD it comes highly recommended and I hope that it's sequel is eventually ported as well.
Crystal Monsters is available now on the DSi Shop for 500 Nintendo Points








There comes a time where, as a consumer, I feel it's necessary to put up or shut up. Among gaming circles throughout the internet it's become a widely adopted philosophy to vote with your dollars to see the change you want in the industry, to show financial support for enjoyable and innovative ideas. For example, I adamantly refused to pay for cable television until the provider in my area offered the chance to pay only for the channels I wanted. When I received a flyer in my mailbox advertising just such a service, I felt the need to put my money where my mouth was and pony up the dough. I wasn't actually shopping around for cable providers at the time but it was a service I had always wanted nonetheless.


During Christmas I found myself in a similar scenario. While I had intended on supporting Ouya since it's inception a year and a half ago, I had been unable to pledge my support due to owning an SD television. Everything about the product and Ouya's philosophies regarding indie development, game distribution and a low-barrier open platform deserved my support but I was unwilling to upgrade my television to do so. However, my father gave me the gift of a brand-spanking new 42" HDTV and I felt it was once again time to put up or shut up and I found myself purchasing an Ouya the very next day. I was planning on writing this blog shortly after but I've been (surprisingly) too busy actually playing the damn thing to find the time. I didn't want to write a hardware review for the device until I was convinced I had played all the top-shelf games available for the console. Now that I feel I have, I'd like to share my experience with the Ouya.


The hardware itself is rather unassuming. Looking about as small as a Rubix Cube, the Ouya will have no trouble finding a place among your home entertainment system. The console sports a Tegra 3 chipset, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage (16GB in the most recent revision). Most commentators have lamented Ouya's implementation of the Tegra 3 over it's successor, but the inexpensive chipset allows for a small price point and significant performance for your dollar. Much has been said about the Ouya's controller, and while I can't say I've experienced any of it's well documented shortcomings, I do feel like I should point out that a firmware update was released the day I hooked up my console that supposedly addresses these issues. Installation is about as simple as a modern-day console can get and setup is similarly a breeze. In no time you'll be browsing the Dicover store and trying out new software.


Likely, the Ouya's greatest standout feature is the implementation of the Apogee software model across the entire platform. Everything is free to try and while it may seem like such a small point, it's particularly empowering once you realize that all of these developers have to prove themselves to you before they can see a dime of your hard earned cash. In practice, you'll find yourself trying out games you probably wouldn't have otherwise and skipping titles that you may have thought would've been a good buy in a more traditional retail environment. The console already has a wide variety of games (almost 700 different games at the time of writing this article) covering a wide variety of genres and while Ouya suffers from one of the worst good:bad ratios in hardware history, it's small selection of standout titles really shine on the platform.

A common misconception regarding the console is that it's library consists almost entirely of mobile ports. While a few of the Ouya's titles were originally released on iOS and Android devices, the bulk of the Discover store's selection is much different than you would expect. In fact, the selection is wide and diverse enough that I believe there would be a little something for every type of gamer. Whether or not the Ouya (or any microconsole for that matter) is a good fit for you will depend entirely on what kind of experience you're looking for. The games available for the Ouya right now are largely proportionate to the size and cost of the console itself. I'm of the opinion that a console like Ouya would greatly complement anyone's console collection.








It's no secret that the internet can be an overtly negative place to hang out sometimes and when it comes to bloggers and journalists, there's certainly no shortage of the angry critic. While several internet personalities are quite talented at implementing their perceived rage when approaching a review or retrospective I see no point in trying to do something that has been done before on countless prior occasions. Instead, I'd like to try things a little differently and speak up for the underdogs out there. For Your Re-Consideration is a series of overviews that highlights the brighter aspects of games, hardware and other things in nerd culture that seem to be the whipping boys in their respective fandoms. To be clear, these articles are not meant to be unbiased critiques, many of the negative attributes surrounding these subjects are well-known popular opinion. Instead, this is just an encouragement to give something another look.


The original ObsCure has become something of a cult classic amongst my fellow gamer friends. While the series has never enjoyed any sort of wide spread acclaim the first entry in this little known franchise seems to be regarded as an interesting experiment in the Survival Horror genre, an interesting experiment that deserved a second attempt by series' studio Hydravision Entertainment. I'm a huge fan of Survival Horror and Obscure had been recommended to me by my friends at least a dozen times before but whenever I asked about the game's sequel everyone I knew seemed to hold it in low regard. It's a shame really, because ObsCure: The Aftermath is one of the finest examples of Survival Horror I've seen on the Wii.

The atmosphere in ObsCure 2 is reminiscent of other classic horror titles

This game really seems to be a celebration of what made the horror genre so fun and unique in the mid 90s. Keeping the game's tone in the realm of the ridiculous, ObsCure 2 seems to have found the inspiration for it's plot in teen slasher films. You'll control a whole cast of college-age stereotypes as they fight desperately to survive when the school's populace is infected by a parasitic black flower. What makes ObsCure 2 unique today is it's strict adherence to Survival Horror conventions. You'll have severely limited supplies, infrequent save points, threatening enemies and restricted cameras that feel like they're right out of a PSX game.

A big part of the game's appeal to me is just how well Hydravision utilized the Wii remote. The motions used make sense and feel very responsive. Firearms are used in conjunction with the pointer and reloading is done by shaking the Nunchuk. Melee attacks are accomplished by swinging the Wii remote and surprisingly enough the game can differentiate between vertical and horizontal swings. All other motions are contextual but they're all very well implemented without any of them feeling gimmicky. It's a shame that more developers couldn't competently apply motion controls to their games like this during the Wii's heyday but it's always refreshing to see when somebody out there seemingly "gets it".



Also worth noting is ObsCure 2's environments. All levels are logically laid out with traditional Adventure puzzles impeding your progress. Thankfully all puzzles are relatively logic based and can be figured out pretty easily if you're paying attention. The game's cast each have separate special abilities that you'll need to utilize to advance in certain situations. During some of ObsCure 2's more clever puzzles you'll need to take advantage of two specific characters' abilities simultaneously in tandem to progress. This interesting dichotomy stands out as being unique in the genre and allows for some really stand out co-op moments without ever devolving the experience into a 2-player shooter.

Co-op is especially well implemented

That's right, the game features 2-player drop-in, drop-out co-op. Normally such a statement would be a death sentence for a horror game but ObsCure 2 manages to present a multiplayer experience without sacrificing good scares. And the title has it's fair share of good scares, really building up tension with it's moody atmosphere and excellent sound design. Often you'll be given a preview of the horrors you'll face much later by hearing monsters shambling around elsewhere in the building. Finally, the story is just plain silly fun. Much like a Resident Evil title the cause of this nightmare is absolutely ludicrous but played with enough sincerity to keep the game from slipping into parody.

The supposed disappearance of Survival Horror in our industry is easy to understand. The very things that make these games nerve racking are the common complaints associated with this title. Combat is difficult, supplies are limited and one or two enemies can feel over-powered enough to defeat you in an instant. But taken for what it is and given the opportunity ObsCure: The Aftermath has the potential to be a really captivating game. I was glued to my television start-to-finish and I suspect many other fans of 90s horror games will have a similar experience if they show it a little Re-Consideration.

ObsCure: The Aftermath is available on PS2, PSP, PC & Wii. This overview was written after having completed the game on Wii.








I have a few new blog posts that are still in the planning stages but Microsoft's Xbox One reveal made me decide to visit the community earlier than planned to get a feel for the public's general consensus regarding the future of our industry. I've always used my blog as a way of organizing my most topical thoughts and the sense of foreboding dread I feel for the future of gaming has never been more at the forefront of my mind.



After the grand reveal of the Xbox One, the Internet's biggest personalities all wasted no time chiming in with their thoughts. The verdict is in and nobody is excited for what's coming next. I've been a gamer for almost two decades now and in that time I've seen dozens of console launches, no matter who the machine came from there was always something to be excited about. Admittedly the landscape for the console wars has changed since the mid-90s when there were significantly more than three machines to choose from, and with a current lack of competition Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo's underwhelming first step into the eighth generation is to be expected to some degree. They've become complacent and lazy, no longer seeing the need to win their audiences over. They expect us to follow blindly and wait for the games that will justify our investments.



When Nintendo unveiled the Wii U at E3 2011, I walked away underwhelmed. When Sony revealed the PS4 I was confused and Microsoft's Xbox One press conference has left me along with the majority of the gaming public a little angry. The gaming press, developers and publishers alike have been clamoring for a new generation for the past three years but the gamers seem perfectly content to stick with their current hardware. During the eve of the fifth generation I didn't know a single person who wasn't chomping at the bit to upgrade to a PlayStation, Saturn or N64. Fast forward to 2013 and gamers everywhere are filled with apathy towards their own favourite pastime. Why? Because the manufacturers are out in the wilderness shooting for the next big thing and Nintendo is aiming too low, Sony is aiming too high and Microsoft doesn't even know where to aim the business end of their rifle (at their head?). It's like they're all hunting deer and can't determine whether shooting at the birds or shooting at the fish would be the best way to bag a buck.


How do we make money again?

When did the idea of a dedicated device that connects to a display in order to play interactive entertainment become such a foreign concept? That's what we want! It may be funny now to watch these companies stumble around in mediocrity from one stupid idea to the next but what does this mean for us. We need to be very careful and very selective about how we spend our money in the coming year, more so than ever before.








It's no secret that the internet can be an overtly negative place to hang out sometimes and when it comes to bloggers and journalists, there's certainly no shortage of the angry critic. While several internet personalities are quite talented at implementing their perceived rage when approaching a review or retrospective I see no point in trying to do something that has been done before on countless prior occasions. Instead, I'd like to try things a little differently and speak up for the underdogs out there. For Your Re-Consideration is a series of overviews that highlights the brighter aspects of games, hardware and other things in nerd culture that seem to be the whipping boys in their respective fandoms. To be clear, these articles are not meant to be unbiased critiques, many of the negative attributes surrounding these subjects are well-known popular opinion. Instead, this is just an encouragement to give something another look.


I wasn't planning on talking about another Sonic title so early in this series but since I've been playing Sonic Unleashed again for the umpteenth time and I decided now would be the perfect time to talk about my absolute favourite title in my absolute favourite game series. Sonic Unleashed is, for a myriad of reasons, a game that noticeably divided the Sonic community right down the middle. Fans were divided much like the dual nature of the game itself with many fans saying it was, at long last, Sonic's return to his former glory. Others had decided it was further evidence that SEGA had lost it's way or simply didn't know what to do with the brand anymore. However, in spite of all that's been said of the game before I think Sonic Unleashed is simply misunderstood.


To understand my story with this particular game we're going to have to go all the way back to March of 2008 when a large assortment of materials for the latest installment of Sonic the Hedgehog were "leaked" online. Fans have since speculated that SEGA purposely left the back door to their corporate FTP server open for us to find these images and hype the game up for them, but that's neither here nor there. Key amongst these resources was a single gameplay trailer and soon after it's discovery every Sonic message board lit up like wildfire. Rumors were flying left right and center regarding the mysterious new entry in the series but we wouldn't get the real scoop until E3 and that's when the proverbial shit hit the fan.

The 2008 E3 Trailer for Sonic Unleashed

After having seen the E3 previews I was sold, I must have watched that trailer on continuous loop for at least an hour and in the following months SEGA revealed more and more details about the game accompanied by a slew of gameplay trailers showing off the new zones and game mechanics. Unfortunately for SEGA many didn't share my enthusiasm. Questions were raised regarding Sonic's new form, the Werehog, and why the decision to give the game two separate gameplay styles was made. The game's lead designer and then head of Sonic Team Yoshihisa Hashimoto explained that it was his intention to give the game a proper tempo. Instead of giving the player all speed, all the time he would instead complement Sonic's traditional running gameplay with it's antithesis. And if Sonic's game design was built around the use of his legs, then the Werehog's play style would be built around the use of Sonic's arms. Hashimoto believed that the variety introduced into the game by this initiative would keep players from feeling fatigued and capable of playing longer sessions. Looking back at the original Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis it's easy to see where he got this philosophy. After all, even that title was split between fast zones the player could dash through without stopping and zones that forced the player to slow down and carefully traverse the environment at a deliberate pace. Yoshihisa Hashimoto's departure from Sonic Team is a loss SEGA cannot overestimate, possibly their biggest since losing Tom Kalinske. It's obvious the young designer understood the franchise better than most and it's his influence on the series that led to success stories like Generations and Colors.



What's immediately apparant from booting up Sonic Unleashed is the level of quality shown in the game's presentation, in what's probably SEGA's most earnest attempt to revitalize the brand to date they spared no expense. Sonic Unleashed began development as Sonic Adventure 3 and was even released as Sonic World Adventure in Japan. This time Sonic is on a globetrotting adventure visiting continents based on real world locales. Sonic Team put a lot of care and attention into the design of these new zones and the effect is stunning. All of the places Sonic visits feel like living, breathing cities that mesh well with Sonic's already established aesthetic design. It all has the effect of really fleshing out Sonic's world, moreso than any previous effort, it's a more concentrated effort that put's Sonic's world on par with the Mushroom Kingdom.


You have an entire planet to save and Robotnik's ambitions have finally been realized with the construction of Eggmanland. The stakes have never been higher and there's a real sense of urgency to the entire matter. When I played Sonic Unleashed for the first time in 2008 I was completely blown away by just how fast Sonic could go and how easy it was to maneuver through each act. It was the first time I was really impressed by a game this generation. Sonic's skillset has been completely reworked with with the intention of allowing the player to play through his stages without stopping. New moves like drifting and wall jumping can be utilized throughout the game's levels to maintain your momentum. On the flipside you have the Werehog, the subject of much debate since Sonic Unleashed's unveiling. The Werehog's levels play much more like a traditional platformer in the same vein as Crash Bandicoot or Donkey Kong Country. You'll climb, swing, jump, fight and even solve rudimentary puzzles. It's all very good and I don't understand why it's the cause of such scorn. I can't help but think that a radical change like the Werehog would have been better received in the 90s.

While we wait for the reveal of a new Sonic title from SEGA maybe it's time to give Sonic Unleashed some Re-Consideration. I think everybody would be surprised at just how enjoyable the game is when judged on it's own merits.

Sonic Unleashed is available in stores everywhere for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PS2. Sonic Unleashed can also be found on Xbox Live Games on Demand. This overview was written after having replayed the game again on Wii.