Half-Life: Source Review

Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know that I haven’t completely went with my promises, but I get really lazy and forgetful then real life priorities get in my way. I was originally going to strictly follow the review schedule, but felt that it would be repetitive reviewing games of the same franchise within a short timeframe. HL:S was actually one of the more recent games I played – in fact, it was over the summer and early fall that I was still actively playing it! As with every Valve game except VR and FTP titles, I purchased the Valve Complete Pack back in December 2016 through Steam. I could’ve gotten into PC gaming earlier yet I was preoccupied with mobile gaming.

I’ll be reviewing the Source port of the original Half-Life, as opposed to the OG version on the GoldSource engine or Black Mesa, the fan remaster still in early access.  I don’t know why Valve ported HL1 to Source engine other than to maybe test out its capabilities, and at first fans liked it only for a major update to Steam in 2013 to turn it into a buggy mess. HL:S released earlier than other ports like Counter-Strike: Source and Day of Defeat: Source, hence why the graphics are extremely barebones as those I mentioned use assets from HL2 and a modified (and virtually original) Source engine.

Aesthetics

Let’s get over the worst and obvious aspect of HL:S – its shitty visuals. Even for 2003 standards, the game looks very bad as it literally looks like a slightly better variation of the original HL1. The only improvements that HL:S has over the original is increased bloom and lighting for players to see better as the GoldSource engine virtually has no bright lighting whatsoever, as well as “HD” models for characters and weapons (if you even consider them that). Everything from polygon count, map textures, particle/detail effects, and map props look exactly or barely better than its original.

Since there is next to no cosmetic upgrades, the game runs extremely well even on low end PC’s from the 2000s and Valve has updated it to work on Windows 10. With my laptop, I can run the game easily over 120fps at 1080p max settings though to avoid overheating, I play at 900p ultra and get 60fps locked with v-sync enabled. Sadly, many of the assets are broken thanks to Valve, so some characters and objects are floating or they are invisible. The flashlight and explosions can lower the framerate to console level though sadly that just seems to be a problem with Source engine.

The soundtrack is unchanged and for the better as the music in HL1 was phenomenal and people love it even to this day. It does have a 90s and techno/sci-fi vibe to it, though unlike most games at the time, music only plays during specific events like after killing a strong enemy or progressing through an important plot moment. Many of the compositions are catchy and pleasing; however, they’re too similar to one another so they can be forgetful and some are atmospheric. Sound effects are low quality in terms of the design and how it makes my ears bleed. They’re either too loud, unconvincing, or very hard to hear in comparison to other noises nearby.

I don’t know if this is just me and the silent minority, nonetheless Half-Life attempts to convey realism yet fails at this very task. Many of the assets like doors, crates, and switches are not in proportion to their real-life variations; either too big, too wide, too short, etc. Several of the map textures show almost no lighting or shadow effects, and if it does it’s static or the dynamic shaders is very limited (entire wall reflecting light bulb).  Overall, Half-Life: Source looks like an average 64-bit game at best looking worse than titles like Ocarina of Time and Sonic Adventure from that generation.

Plot Analysis

You play as a scientist that is silent and apathetic to his environment, Gordon Freeman, a research associate working in Black Mesa research facility in New Mexico, USA. All seems to be normal as Gordon starts another day of work as he rides the tram throughout the transit system. He arrives to the appropriate sector, goes through security checkpoints, acquires his trademark HEV orange suit, and heads off to the test chamber to experiment with a new crystal sample. As Gordon makes his way deeper to the lab, he notices a strange man in a suit (later known as G-Man) and some few problems with the machines and concerns from co-workers.

Just as the experiment is running smoothly, the crystal appears in a cart for Gordon to push into the generator. The instant the two collide, all hell breaks loose as the scientists scream in pain, green light and electricity run rampant, and Gordon himself is teleported to various dimensions and places. When he wakes up, Mr. Freeman races his way back to the surface as other scientists and security guards are trying to. Machines, elevators, computers, and doors are all breaking down around him – crabesque creatures that seem to morph their victims into zombies appear out of thin air.

Eventually, Freeman does make his way close to the surface, calling for help from the outside and having others assist along the journey. Only for it to all be in vain as the military, specifically the marines, were called in to take out anybody that is aware of the top-secret project that caused this apocalypse. Gordon must fight not just the marines and aliens, but also black ops soldiers silencing the marines too. As you make your way throughout the enormous facility, taking detours by visiting hazardous and discontinued areas, Freeman gets ambushed and killed by two marines.

With the HEV suit absorbing most of the bullet dmg, Gordon narrowly escapes death from a trash compactor and explores laboratories on the surface. Things get tougher with a higher presence of the army and encounters with higher-ranking alien soldiers and monsters lurking about. On the advice of some scientists, Freeman forces his way past it all to reach the Lambda complex, an area of Black Mesa containing teleporting technology that can potentially stop this catastrophe. Marines don’t make it easy for him since they introduce sand bags, barricades, tanks, and attack helicopters.

Xen is a dimensional world in between universes that contains many of the aliens enslaved by a creature known as the Ninhilanth. Once there, Gordon visits strange planet-like structures, defeats countless aliens including the mother of the headcrabs, and observes the slavery of the Vortigaunts. At last, Mr. Freeman fights the Ninhilanth one on one, using conventional military and prototype sci-fi weapons to take out the fetus monstrosity once and for all. Gordon then gets teleported elsewhere where he meets up with G-Man, and he admits he was manipulating events from the unknown, and offers Freeman a job, putting him in stasis for 20 years till HL2.

Honestly, the story might seem intriguing though sadly this is all observed and collected over a long period of time. In most of the game, you simply walk around, fight enemies, explore the areas, and talk to people to figure out what to do. Valve decided to be innovative by avoiding the use of cutscenes or still images for plot presentation, rather they opted for real time interaction and scripted events. This is actually a smart move as technology at the time didn’t allow for the cinematic stories we enjoy today. Unlike later iterations, HL:S lacks any meaningful events aside from the beginning and end as the revelations are presented strictly through character dialogue.

Aside from Gordon, G-Man, scientists, aliens, military, and security there are nobody. The Xen aliens include head crabs, Vortigaunts, flying manta rays, bullsquids, elite orc-like soldiers, and some tentacle octopus thingie. The characters just repeat the same lines, except G-Man and select allies (and the two marines that ambush Freeman) that convey important advice critical to game or story progression. Character development and realistic expression is non-existant as we only see each character briefly. Okay, and the limited technology didn’t really allow for fluid animations.

I honestly can’t agree with most of the Half-Life community and claim this is one of the most story rich games of all time. There have been games released around HL1’s time and slightly later, such as Ocarina of Time and Resident Evil, that have a more prominent and complex story with cinematic animations and deeper messaging. Perhaps if Gordon could actually speak or interact with characters more, HL would’ve been more immersive. Even in the gameplay, it doesn’t feel like progressing really gets you anywhere aside from going to point A to B based on what others say.

Amount of interactions are minimal and vague, and can even be avoided if you so choose to do so. Aside from some scripted events, everything else you have to piece it yourself by thinking outside the box or reading between the lines as they say. Relying on assumptions to quick conclusions is a bad thing and often times it can lead to messages totally unintended by the developers. I understand technology was primitive in the day, but having assets repeated over with little that is remarkable does not improve or even make up any sort of atmosphere within a game’s environment.

Gameplay

Mostly being a first-person shooter, players use a variety of guns, explosives, and other sci-fi based weapons (and the crowbar) to kill your enemies. There are also platforming and puzzle elements added, as you must solve specific puzzles in order to advance to the next area or to complete specific “story-critical” objectives. Since it is Valve’s first title and a late 90s game, the platforming is extremely mediocre made worst with first person. Collision detection, lack of first person model, and small/narrow platforms – which some can break or slippery, only worsen it.

As Freeman, you are a scientist and can have your fellow co-workers follow you to open specific doors or activate certain machines that you should be able to? Security guards can also follow you to give combat support and gain access to restricted areas; both can give you some advice while scientists can even heal you. Should you be low on health or suit energy, simply charge up to a nearby first-aid or HEV suit station. Ammo and weapons can be picked up randomly or after an enemy dies while enemies, turrets, explosives, and traps are laid out as obstacles.

It seems that the Source port is extremely sensitive with the mouse as I don’t have to use much effort in moving my hand or clicking to perform repetitive actions. For the GoldSource engine, it’s the opposite even with a higher sensitivity enabled (probably using older software or code from older OS). I don’t know why Valve included keybinds for controls that are never used in-game like looking up or down or swimming, and I’m not explaining which keys do what since on PC you can rebind them. Video settings include features like motion blur, colour correction, and multi-core rendering, as well as common options like texture/shader quality and anti-aliasing.

Unlike most games from the 90s, you do not have to go through a hubworld or travel in an extremely linear level. Rather, you can from chapter to chapter, which contain several levels and sometimes you may have to backtrack or pass by old areas (unlike in Portal lol). There are several major fights but nothing significant like boss battles, only several strong enemies, a horde of marines or aliens, and one big “boss” that can’t be killed with your own weapons. There are no extra lives or ways to permanently increase health (or passwords to skip levels) – you may save and load whenever you want, and dying respawns you back to the last manual or quick save.

Besides that, methods of travel include crawling through vents, swimming through sewers, riding rail-based vehicles, climbing ladders, riding elevators, and later on going through portals. It may seem diverse but they’re all just gimmicks or disguises of basic controls. The Source engine is vastly superior to the GoldSource, as I can see much better with dynamic and reflective lighting while the physics allow easier platforming. Playing in GoldSource showed me how slow and heavy characters would be and it stinked. Much like Counter-Strike, there is recoil but no weight added to the guns.

Other than the story mode, there’s a multiplayer mode called Death-Match which is its own expansion in the Source port. The servers are few and empty with maybe a few dozen players at most at any given time and is barebones. Difficulties range from easy, normal, and hard, with no differences besides stat boosts for enemies and less aiming accuracy for your guns. Valve included a VR mode but some people can’t get it to work and who would want to play a sub-par game with 64-bit graphics with a headset? Oddly, only the original HL1 actually has Steam Cloud support.

Just forgot despite it being in the name, the Source engine is Valve’s own engine unlike GoldSource that was a heavy modification of Quake. It has been updated and heavily modified itself multiple times over the years, with this one used for early ports the “beta” version as all future titles are adaptions of the one used for HL2 and Valve’s mods turned games like Left 4 Dead. Had Valve decided to release HL:S later, then graphically it would have looked better along with the physics. The bad graphics and bugs are why fans later made the now de facto remaster of HL1 Black Mesa.

Content

Sadly, most of the weapons have very negative stats; either they are too inaccurate, have very little ammo, poor firing range, high recoil, or do very little damage. The enemies seem to have no issues at all and get even better with using them, which is as strange and unfair as the bots in CSS. Weapons consist of crowbar, M4 Carbine (MP5 in HL1), Spas Shotgun, crossbow, military grenades, two prototype energy beam cannons, alien that shoots its babies (I think), RPG, pistol, military laser-triggered bomb, and military remote-triggered bomb. Unfortunately, many of these weapons are also unoriginal, lack a sci-fi vibe, or very hard to replenish or find.

Enemies are not that diverse and are extremely easy to kill except for the marines and the Black Ops. Sometimes the military will use turrets or machine guns to kill you, and aliens will teleport in large numbers. Even with crates, walls, and other obstacles, it’s still hard to avoid being damaged as they have good accuracy and do high damage even on easy difficulty. Boss enemies that can’t be killed normally must be avoided completely or only killed with a machine that must be activated with generators. I did forget to mention some but they’re literally so forgettable so whatever.

There are literally no other NPC’s aside from scientists, security, aliens, and the military and those mentioned serve basic and often only one purpose. It’s sad that the supporting “cast” aren’t given more roles aside from providing health or combat support and vague or obvious advice to progress further. The community has overhyped that Half-Life is acclaimed for having a rich story with characters that aren’t brain dead useless idiots, since…both friend and foe are idiots only guided by scripts to seem smart. The AI in this game is one of the laziest designs ever, second only to Left 4 Dead (that’ll be expanded upon in a future review) and aided with unfair advantages.

Black Mesa is the only setting throughout the whole game, and damn is it so huge. Places range from stereotypical corridors, offices, and laboratories, to transit rail systems, sewage networks, and desert. What is total ass is how bland and boring the designs are, and how repetitive the layouts and textures become overtime. The more interesting areas are only seen once or are filled with annoying puzzles and/or enemies you’d avoid going there again despite the view. Each time you leave a “level” the game freezes for a few seconds and has to load the next area, rarely can result in crash or may disorient some players with the transition (loading is faster in original HL1).

Xen is the dimensional rift that exists between universes, acting as the habitat for aliens that were escaping some unknown threat later revealed in HL2, only to be enslaved by the Ninhilanth. In particular, the Vortigaunts I keep mentioning were an intelligent species like humans that are good forced evil, hence the green wristbands. They play a vital role in future Half-Life games and yes side with humans becoming allies. Xen itself is a bottom of the barrel, unimaginative void filled with floating rocks and caves, the only unique feature are the shit ton of enemies, rare amount of supplies, strange plant life, and finally low gravity because outer space totally just has that.

The lack of any side missions, collectibles, game-modes, or non-linear progression honestly makes Half-Life in general a garbage experience. Sure, sometimes you can collect energy packs to boost your suit’s energy without charging and hidden areas reward you with ammo and health…and that’s it. Literally it feels like I’m playing an 80s style game, switched with 90s mechanics and graphics for “innovation”. All you do over and over are press this button, climb this ladder, crank this valve, kill enemies in enclosed space, go from point A to point B – lame!

I may seem being too harsh and pessimistic for Valve’s first title ported to Source; however, the community and critics at large put this on a pedestal. They kiss the asses of Gaben and his crew while hyping the shit out of this franchise, with some claiming it’s way better than Half-Life 2 (it’s not by the way) by a landslide. How people see HL1 as being innovative, visually appealing, and fun is beyond my logical comprehension. Okay sure, some issues I pointed out are caused by the massive bugs apparently caused by the major update I told you guys about earlier in this review.

Though I cannot remember all of them, here are just some of the major and minor bugs that either break the visuals or progression of HL:S itself. Many characters and items are either invisible, misplaced, or harmless; bad hit registration and collision detection resulting in unexpected (or no) damage and frozen in tight spaces; memory leaks causing crash to desktop; two chapters causing graphical mess entirely unless an option is disabled and so on. I won’t mention specific examples to prevent spoilers as HL:S is a short game and this is a review, not an encyclopedia.

Verdict

Contrary to everything I wrote demonizing towards this game/port, Half-Life: Source is quite addicting and fun to play on repeated playthroughs. The predictable and linear levels with action-based sequences and simplistic puzzles turns this into a speed runner friendly masterpiece. Ironically it’s much like a multiplayer online game where you can easily hop in and out of specific game segments then leave when you get bored. The chapter system and quick save/load makes up for the difficulty spikes and frustrating enemies. With the developer console, you can even skip entire levels as to not repeat through those sections in the chapters you disliked.

The campaign can be beaten within 10 hours total and less than 5 on speed runs. Sadly there are no achievements, making the lack of collectibles and side missions contribute to my salty impression of this industry changer. I think Gearbox, the devs behind the expansion packs (later on to make the Borderlands series), wanted to port them to Source nonetheless never went through it. Half-Life doesn’t need to be played to enjoy or understand why everything occurs in the sequel, and strangely most of the lore taking place before the franchise is explained in HL2 too.

Overall, I’d have to be mixed towards Half-Life: Source, neither completely rejecting it nor accepting it for what the community told me it was. If you’ve played the big games from the late 90s then you aren’t really missing out, and playing series like Metroid Prime and Bioshock are very similar that it’s not that unique. Maybe if I tried the original Half-Life instead of Source, I’d be more positive though not favourable either. What I appreciate about this is that it’s just like any other console game I grew up with: story-driven, levels with enemies and platforming, and a general objective.

Many games on PC that are unique to the platform suffer from little or no story, repetitive multiplayer matches, and bad business practices. Valve is much like Nintendo but for adults, creating innovative (or at least imaginative) games that influence and forever change the gaming industry. Half-Life is their poster child and is what led to other franchises like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. And originally the Source port was fine and free of the bugs it had before 2013. I wholeheartedly believe budget was the main limitation back in 1998.

If you’re not into shooters with a story and puzzles to solve, then please just stick to Battlefield or Fortnite. Otherwise, this is worth your while if you hate extremely old games on Windows 10 or can’t run Black Mesa. It’s best to purchase this with the Valve Complete Pack or another bundle during a holiday sale. Half-Life 1 may have not lived up to my expectations; nevertheless, as you’ll soon read in the future, HL2 definitley did and I hope you see it when it’s published. (I know I failed to publish reviews monthly and I blame myself for being lazy and not managing my time better.)

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Portal Review

It seems that after two years of mostly neglecting this site, I’m finally back to writing and publishing reviews full time. And I even promised myself and to my followers that I wouldn’t continue the reviews until after graduating from university, but things don’t always go the way you want them to. I did also promise to publish reviews for mobile games though honestly it’s better if I don’t to prevent the quality of my site from decreasing. Anyhow, Portal 1 was literally the first video game I played on PC that wasn’t a flash game, mobile port, or some low-quality indie title.

I originally wanted to play Left 4 Dead before but realized that Portal was a platformer so why not play something familiar before jumping into new territory? Since Portal 1 is quite a short game, I never really spent that much time playing it (only about 36 hours) before moving on to Portal 2 and the L4D games. Originally Portal 1 was just some minor game by Valve to demonstrate the concept of creating and traversing through portals to progress through simple puzzles. It was bundled into a collection of games called The Orange Box, and quickly became a success, later spawning Portal 2 and that Portal spin-off for current-gen consoles and PC.

Gameplay

Much like the Half-Life games preceding it, Portal is a platformer-puzzle based game where players must solve puzzles by interacting with the items in the environment to unlock access to another area. You, the player, are equipped with a prototype device called the…Portal Gun (via quantum physics?); at first, you can only shoot one portal, but later on orange and blue portals can be shot to connect them both through space-time. Puzzles usually consist of activating switches, placing cubes or spheres in the right locations, defeating turrets, or reaching seemingly out-of-reach areas.

Knowledge of platforming and physics as well as trial and error can help in solving many of the difficult puzzles later on. Most of the entities in the game are inspired or taken from Half Life 2 (in fact, many of Valve’s games recycle old assets), such as conveyor belts, energy orbs, hydraulic pumps, accessible vents, etc. As this is Valve’s first attempt at this kind of gameplay, it’s extremely easy and predictable with the first half of the game having easy and straightforward puzzles. Then of course puzzles get longer and more confusing, have multiple goals and obstacles to be overcome, and some may even result in death if not careful.

Portals can be placed just about anywhere except for black walls, water, doors, and the puzzles themselves. Therefore, Portal 1 gives players lots of freedom of where to place them and some puzzles can be solved in multiple ways. Unlike other of Valve’s games, there are no enemies to fight except for turrets that can be knocked down and no open-ended areas to explore. The crosshair is very thin and opaque, however the two icons allow players to see it better – plus this isn’t an actual shooter so who cares. Aiming the gun is extremely sensitive so it’s best to lower the DPI/sensitivity.

If you use your brain a bit, you can solve some puzzles by sending objects, projectiles, or even turrets across the portals or even bypass them entirely! Early on in the game though, you must use default portals that appear in the chambers but later on it progresses to using one portal with the gun while relying on another default portal until you can create both portals without help. As Portal is a platformer, you must crouch and crawl in tight spaces, go along narrow or sensitive platforms, or time your jumps and portals or you must start over from a previous save.

Contrary to what the store page claims, I believe it’s possible to use a gamepad controller but it has to be X-input (Xbox 360 or similar) to work. Otherwise, just stick to keyboard and mouse which is perfect for this kind of game. I can’t really criticize the controls any further other than it being a copy-paste of Half Life 2’s without the running. Physics are superior to Half Life 2 as moving objects won’t make me go through a seizure, movement in the air is more fluid, and I won’t get stuck randomly. And yes if you’re asking, you can go through an infinite set of portals just for laughs!

This mechanic is prevalent across all Valve games and is what makes up for the difficulty later on in the campaign. Saving can be done anywhere, either automatically by the game after reaching pre-determined save points or manually. Only manual saves can be loaded with a key bind whereas autosaves must be loaded through a menu, but either way that means players can save/load anywhere without restrictions. So no more having to go through a long area over again to reach a certain puzzle only to mess up and start over. Unlike other games with manual save, you will not be warped to a pre-determined location – careful selection when and where to save/load is…key.

When you fail to complete a puzzle, at first you can just try again with GLaDOS ridiculing you for your incompetence at worst. Then you may either die, mess up in a way that requires loading a past save file (getting stuck in a non-portal area), or start over as the puzzle is timed from projectiles or a temporary switch. The last few parts of the campaign are not test chambers and more Half-Life inspired, thus it is best to anticipate incoming dangers and constant manual saves as needed. Unless you’ve never played a platformer and games in first-person, Portal should be mostly easy.

Aesthetics

Even to this day over a decade later, Portal 1 can still hold a candle to more recent games and has aged beautifully minus some low-res textures. Pretty much any computer that came out after the early 2000’s can run Portal, so no need to worry about getting bad performance even for low-end potatoes. Yet the graphics are equivalent to games released years later in the early 2010’s with the polished models, (mostly) high resolution and detailed textures, good polygon count, use of HDR lighting and shadows, and that realistic looking water! Expect to run Portal at 1080p ultra and still get over 60fps constant on potatoes and 4k max and get 300fps on gaming PC’s.

This might seem like I’m exaggerating, but the visuals sometimes give the illusion of photorealism in respect to the test chambers, though some assets like the Portal Gun, switches, and “industrial” props give off a cartoonish vibe. Sometimes the light reflections are too bright which make said exceptions to look like rubber or plastic when they’re made of metallic alloys. A few textures look fake and/or pixelated up close, light sources are not convincing for some floors and walls, and some areas look as if there is something blocking off or giving light when there’s nothing to do that.

Like every other game Valve has made, music isn’t really heard in the levels and environments unless it is plot specific or in some scripted events. You won’t be really hearing any catchy tunes like in Mario, but rather atmospheric and maybe some rock ‘n roll, techno, or orchestrated compositions. They aren’t really memorable as their main purpose is to let the player know something is about to happen that is new or significant to the plot/gameplay progression. I believe some music are recycled from HL2 – the credits theme is an actual vocalized song. The official soundtrack can even be downloaded as DLC free of charge for your hearing pleasure.

Unlike previous Valve titles, the atmosphere is more light-hearted and cheerful yet still maintaining somewhat of the dark, post-apocalyptic setting. Portal isn’t really violent except for turrets shooting bullets and receiving blood from injuries. The choice of solid contrasting colors and simple yet clear textures combined with cartoonish design of map entities really gives the appearance of a more youth-friendly game. Later on, you will encounter industrial-based areas that try to make players feel like they’re exploring some hidden, staff-exclusive parts of the facility. All in all, Portal is a great game to play when you feel like relaxing and escaping intense action of other games.

Plot Analysis

You play as a silent protagonist (not Gordon Freeman), an African-American woman by the name of Chell with an orange jump suit, some kind of feet spring for fall protection, and equipped with nothing but a gun shooting portals. The goal of the game is to please some sadistic and humorous robotic AI who calls itself GlaDOS, whose only designed purpose is to run strange experiments for science. The facility which each level called test chambers are located in is called Aperture Laboratories, and you soon find out they’re a rival company to Black Mesa (yeah, takes place in HL universe).

Each test chamber consists of a or many puzzles that must be completed in order to grant access to the next level via an elevator. There really isn’t much of a plot to this game until you reach the last few levels, where GLaDOS is exposed by some former scientist only known as Rat Man through his graffitis that “she” was the one responsible for killing all the scientists with the turrets and neurotoxic gas. You have to then find her before she gets to you after she failed to kill you with a trap; by this point, her tutoring skills have paid off as you overcome the challenges she provides.

Eventually, Chell reaches the lair where GLaDOS is located and then a boss fight begins right after you have a little talk and develop a strategy to defeat her. After all her balls are thrown into the incinerator, she self-destructs bringing down the entire facility with you sucked in the vortex of metal and debris. Chell wakes up on a parking lot and presumably the front entrance of Aperture Laboratories, only to be dragged back in by a robot off-screen. If you read the comic in Portal 2, it reveals that Rat Man was still alive and spying on Chell while saving her from that robot in the end.

Just like Half-Life, there doesn’t seem to be any cutscenes however unlike it there are no character interactions except between you and GLaDOS. I like how everything seems so innocent and the AI is helping you benefit a greater cause only to realize it’s all part of her manipulation tactics to do her bidding and be eliminated after serving your purpose. This is a great metaphor to tyrannical governments and organizations that at first deceive naïve people into doing all the dirty work only to be betrayed after. But I think that’s my assumption and I’m being way too philosophical here.

GLaDOS speaks in a sophisticated manner with language used at the university level that can seem strange and confusing to younger audiences. Her satire is very dark and sometimes I have laughed a bit or understood the context at least. Since Chell doesn’t speak or interact directly with anybody, there’s a huge lack of character development and a sense of an immersive world. The only good thing I can point out is that the voice actress for the AI (including the turrets) was done very well and I applaud Valve for smoothly converting the dialogue to sound robotic. There isn’t really any specifics that tell when Portal takes place but probably shortly after Half-Life 1.

Content

After beating the story, you are given access to additional game modes that don’t offer any new levels or enemies but specific conditions or new puzzles. The actual term is Challenge mode, with several sub-modes that aren’t necessary to complete except for earning achievements and bragging rights. One is least portals, another least footsteps, and the third one least time. A fourth sub mode is different and basically you have to beat a few test chambers over (not consecutively), but with new obstacles and hazards that make the puzzles extremely difficult.

Mentioned before, the only characters are Chell, the turrets, and GLaDOS…Rat-Man doesn’t count since he was retconned by the comic and he’s not in-game. Only the Portal gun serves as the main tool and weapon although with the developer console, you can give Chell all the weapons from Half-Life 2. This does seem weird because Portal does use the same engine yet that shouldn’t automatically grant access to HL2’s assets when other Valve games lack such functionality (Gmod is an exception). Yes, that means you can even access the maps and spawn NPC’s from HL2 as well lol; however, I’m not sure if it’s possible to spawn anything else.

For those of you unfamiliar with PC gaming, some games allow access to a console (as in control unit, not a way of comforting others or video game systems). This lets players input in cheat codes and commands, called cvars, that can manipulate the server or client (as in what occurs from your end). It’s not really unique to Portal as pretty much all of Valve’s games have a developer console; since there’s no online capabilities, don’t expect to change cvars for a local or dedicated server. Just a warning that enabling cheats will disable achievements and game stats and yes, you can bind commands to keys instead of typing them out each time for more fun.

Valve’s approach to progression is quite different from most developers; either a story driven hub-world to access the levels, or consecutive levels completed in a linear fashion later accessed in a level-select menu. Portal tends to go more for the latter as players start from the first test chamber and reaches the next one after completion until the game ends after defeating the final boss. However, much like the former style Valve titles tend to focus heavily on plot though instead of cutscenes and RPG-style interactions, it’s usually scripted events, character dialogue, and some immersive interactions.

Essentially, Portal much like Half-Life combines the two by offering a sense of exploration while limiting it to linear levels. This is achieved by directly connecting the areas from one point to the next, though unlike in HL, Portal’s areas are either separated by elevators (not so explorative) or brief frozen screen that loads the next area in larger levels. And unlike traditional level progression, you can in fact bring over items, stats, and sometimes even NPC’s to the next levels. After each chapter is completed, you can go back and complete it again though at the cost of receiving default assets (i.e., only receiving a small amount of ammo) though you can skip disliked sections.

Since Portal was only meant to be a side-project to experiment with a concept that Valve liked, the level design resembles that of a very long tutorial. Majority of the levels are all test chambers as there’s not much to do than solving puzzles – sorry for repeating what I wrote before, this is what happens when I review short games. Later on the levels do get longer that brings more exploration and consequence of death, but other than that it’s extremely barebones. I literally went through two thirds of the game feeling like I was going to explore outside after the chambers which never happened.

This isn’t to say that Portal is boring as the Portal Gun makes platforming extremely innovative as you can literally go wherever you can shoot a portal. With basic concepts of physics such as momentum, velocity, gravity, acceleration, mass, and more, the possibilities of solving puzzles and reaching far places was almost limitless. No longer were players restricted from completing levels in a rigid way that had to be performed in a precise manner or not be able to go to areas of interest and out of reach. From flying, floating, and reaching fenced rooms, there’s just so much you can do.

Reiterating from earlier *sighs*, the only items/entities are cubes, balls, energy orbs, conveyor belts, and hydraulic pumps, in addition to timed-platforms, switches, weight-based buttons, orb receivers, sliding doors, portal fizzlers, turrets, etc. NPC’s are GLaDOS, turrets, and those sphere bots; again, not much to list and discuss about them other than that they fill their designated roles. I believe there are two types of Portal guns: the first being able to shoot one portal (either blue or orange, I forget), and the other can shoot both blue and orange portals unlocked shortly after.

Literally the only enemies in Portal are the turrets and GLaDOS her/itself. The turrets are exactly like the ones from Half-Life 2 albeit with a different cosmetic skin, while GLaDOS and the spherical robot orbs attached to her are the main enemy. She serves as the final boss in case it wasn’t so damn obvious and you have to fight her indirectly as a Portal gun can’t do any sort of damage (especially to a sentient AI). The boss fight is just place all the orbs into a nearby furnace, while using portals to redirect the missiles she shoots back at her – while doing it within 5 minutes or die from toxic gas. Again, this is nothing significant other than the use of portals to strategically defeat them.

Verdict

Portal can be completed within 2-3 hours, or maybe a little longer if you like to check tiny details and go for some achievements like me. Since it’s extremely short and easy, it’s great for speed-running, with the chapter selection a great way to avoid specific levels that you hate playing. This is a double edged sword as the extremely short playtime may discourage people from ever reinstalling it once GLaDOS dies. The extra game modes are optional and mostly for bragging rights and some achievements that aren’t important.

Unlike consoles, PC gaming was the first to introduce the concept of achievements and stats into the platform instead of none or in-game. There are only about 15 achievements, half of which I believe can be earned simply by beating the game. The others are for completing the challenge modes or finding hidden easter eggs. Since this isn’t a multiplayer title, there are no stats though they do exist for challenge mode in-game if you like. The extra “content” doesn’t really encourage players to continue Portal unless you’re someone like me that suffers from OCD.

For my first official PC game that wasn’t free-to-play or flash, I must admit that this gave me an excellent first impression of how amazing PC games are. The many advantages that PC gaming has over consoles was true and breathtaking to experience it for myself – framerates beyond 30fps, resolutions that were native, and an interactive game without the bullshit long cutscenes and quick time events. Since I love platformers, it only made my love for Portal grow even stronger, and unlike Metroid Prime 3, platforming wasn’t extremely awkward in first-person perspective.

Combining multiple genres, gameplay mechanics, and progressions into one is extremely innovative and that creativity is probably why I enjoy Valve’s other titles. I originally planned to play the Left 4 Dead games first but shooters weren’t so familiar to me. It amazes me how even to this day Portal has graphics, gameplay, and dialogue that still holds up to today’s games. Sadly, the lack of quantity just puts a sour taste in my mouth as in this case, quality won’t always make up for quantity. Thankfully, Portal 2 is superior in every possible way (which will be for another time).

Without the initial and quick support of this game, Portal 2 and its subsequent spin-off sequels and mods would’ve never been released. I’m not necessarily claiming the first game in a franchise is always the best, but Valve is known for its innovation much like Nintendo so why not? This is a must-have for any PC enthusiast or just those that enjoy platforming and puzzle games in general. As this is a short game, it’s best to purchase it alongside the Orange Box bundle or Valve Complete Pack during a holiday sale. And who doesn’t like shooting portals out of a gun to reach impossible areas?

Smash Bros. Brawl VS. Smash 4 (Wii U): Comparison Review

I originally wanted to write a comparison review between the Mario Galaxy games, but seeing how they’re too similar and the sequel is better I decided to not do it. Instead, we’ll just compare the two most recent entries in the Smash franchise: Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii released in 2008 and Super Smash Bros. 4 Wii U that came out in 2014 for that console. After this review as promised, I will start working on reviews for PC games exclusive to Steam, such as Portal, Counter-Strike: Source, and Left 4 Dead (1) and then we’ll see where to go from there.

Sorry for constantly procrastinating and while I did have the time to write this review long ago, I just didn’t want to being the lazy ass that I was. Of course, I’m in college so I spent most of my time attending lectures and tutorials, cooking and eating meals (stove at my current rented place is slow as fuck), writing essays and assignments, and playing video games. Yes, I know that I’m supposed to play the games before I review them and that I don’t own a Wii U, but last year I managed to play Smash 4 on the Wii U belonging to a distant friend at that time so now everything is settled!

Gameplay – Brawl 0; Wii U 1

SSB Brawl -> As with almost any Wii game unfortunately, the developers decided it was a good idea to dumb down the mechanics to make it easier for casual gamers. This really annoyed the hell out of the competitive Smash community and ironically allowed Melee to not be replaced in pro gaming tournaments even to this day! Honestly, I mostly don’t mind the fighting mechanics being more casual, although it makes it feel too easy at times which can bore hardcore gamers. Essentially, almost all of the hidden techniques like L-Cancelling and Wave Dashing were removed for simplicity.

On top of that, the physics were modified so the movement of characters were more “floaty” allowing even less skilled players to not get knocked out easily. Thankfully, lots of characters from past Smash games that were extremely powerful got nerfed (i.e., Bowser) and those weak got buffed (i.e., Zelda), despite many newer characters like Meta Knight and Sonic being too overpowered or unfairly balanced. Newer game modes seemed to focus more on concepts appealing to casuals like cinematic cutscenes, arcade mini-games, and collectible items rather than fighting.

SSB 4 Wii U -> After realizing the mistakes they made, Nintendo and other companies involved decided to go back without making it too “hardcore”. I believe in some official interviews Sakurai himself stated how the fighting physics were superior to Brawl but still inferior to Melee. And when I tried out Smash 4 on an acquaintance’s Wii U, I realized how much more challenging it was compared to Brawl but still not as difficult as Melee. A lot of the casual features as mentioned above have been removed or dumbed down in favour of gameplay improvements and newer content.

Verdict -> This is a given as we all know Smash 4 has the superior gameplay, although due to nostalgia, I’ll probably state how Melee is the best in this department. Yes, Smash 4 still did not revive the advanced techniques from Melee…except like L-Cancelling through gear (I think), but at least it’s not as unbalanced and casual as Brawl. Later in this review, you’ll notice how increasingly similar Brawl is to Wii U even more so than how Melee was to 64 – actually, content was more or less the same for them while Brawl emphasized on content from Game-Cube era while Wii U the Wii era.

Content – Brawl 1; Wii U 1

SSB Brawl -> Brawl was the first game to take advantage of the IP from recent games during the Game-Cube and early Wii era instead of just NES, SNES, and N64. Quantity wise, Brawl probably has at least double the amount of content than Melee, with older characters and items having rebooted redesigns (like Link and Zelda resembling their Twilight Princess versions). Newer stages are much more interactive, have more unique transitions such as weather, time of day, and 2.5 D, featuring more locations than just traditional maps (Mushroom Kingdom and Corneria comes to mind).

Adventure Mode got the most changes as it became a full out cinematic, plot driven campaign in which you could play with different characters, go through levels not available in other modes, and be able to combine platforming and adventure. Then older game modes like Classic, Event Match, Stadium were changed slightly though still enough to be different from Melee and 64. Newer game modes were added like the one where you can play demos of Virtual Console titles, build your own freaking custom stages, and fight all the bosses from Adventure Mode back-to-back!

SSB 4 Wii U -> Sakurai claimed due to the internet sharing videos of in-game cutscenes, that was the reason for omitting Adventure mode in Smash 4 smh. But hey, at least they further improved upon older game modes, such as how in Classic mode you can choose which fighters to battle with and get more rewards the higher the difficulty. Also, they finally added 8-player Smash which apparently was supposed to be in Brawl and almost didn’t make it to Smash 4 due to hardware limitations. At this point, there’s not much Nintendo can add without making it become the next COD of fighters.

Ok, in the 3DS version there are some differences and the game mode that replaced adventure mode is far superior. But for the Wii U version, instead of playing in a labyrinth map with a free-for-all battle royale, there’s a board game simulator. I kid you not, you choose your preferred Mii and move them around the board and occasionally fight gaining or losing characters until a final match at the end which you use all the characters you acquired against other players. Oh yeah, and the online fighting is still barebones and you can’t even voice chat or use custom gear.

Verdict -> Quality is more important than quantity and while Smash 4 technically surpasses Brawl in both, I’m only reviewing the Wii U version. Brawl was the first in the series to introduce so much new and expanded content and changed the franchise forever, whereas Smash Wii U did little and even went a step backwards. Literally one third of the stages are from past Smash titles, and at least half the characters being from Mario which shows lack in diversity. I do admit that Smash 4’s inclusion of more third party characters and wider variety of past systems is a big step up.

Graphics – Brawl 2 ; Wii U 1

SSB Brawl -> Despite the hardware of the Wii being slightly more powerful than the Game-Cube, PS2, and Xbox while being inferior to the PS3 and Xbox 360, Brawl has still managed to produce visuals on par with early HD titles on those two systems. Everything from the polygon count, textures, models, particle/detail effects, lighting, shadows, etc., were beautifully well done and made Brawl the most realistic Smash game yet. No other Wii game aside from maybe Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Sonic Colors surpass the aesthetics; goes to show that like Half Life 2 strong hardware isn’t needed.

SSB 4 Wii U -> This time around Nintendo decided to stop with the realism approach and designed the graphics to look more cartoony (also lowering the ESRB rating). Polygon count, textures, and lighting and shadows are even more enhanced with the better hardware that the WiiU provides. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as good as PS4 and Xbox One titles that released at the time of Smash 4’s launch and official screenshots show that some visual assets haven’t improved that much from Brawl. Still though, it looks better than most WiiU titles and isn’t as ugly as Smash 3DS’ cel-shaded graphics.

While all Smash games run at a consistently smooth 60fps, the resolution for Smash 4 is not only HD and progressive scan but also in full 1080p FHD! This is a huge benefit as Brawl being a Wii game looked ugly on newer flat screen TV’s for being 480i/p (while Brawl and I believe Melee has an option for anti-aliasing to reduce the pixilation). Brawl also was pretty much the same resolution as Melee which also ran in 480i, being upscaled to 480p if being played on a Wii. The only way for Brawl to be played in HD resolution would be to play it on Wii U or Dolphin emulator.

Verdict -> Depending on your preference for either realism or cartoonish graphics, that will determine which game has better visuals. Overall though, I’d have to give Brawl the point for this comparison as unlike Smash 4 it was a huge leap from Melee’s visuals and actually could compare to games released for PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2008. I also got turned off by the cartoony graphics a bit as I’ve gotten used to the realism implemented in Melee and Brawl (and a little in Smash 3DS). Perhaps if Smash 4 continued the realism approach or could compare to PS4 or Xbox One titles then I’d change.

Controls – Brawl 2 ; Wii U 2

SSB Brawl -> For the first time in Smash history, players can use a variety of different controllers and even customize their controls much like on PC! Thankfully despite being a Wii game, there are no motion controls aside from I think one attack that could be assigned to a button anyways. Players can choose from using the Wii Remote (on its side), Wiimote & Nunchuk, Classic Controller (/Pro), or the Game-Cube controller. You can even save custom bindings to individual names so that if you invite friends over no need to worry about having them overwritten.

SSB 4 Wii U -> Smash 4 continues Brawl’s legacy of diverse controls by allowing the Wii U tablet controller, Wii U Pro gamepad, and even all options used for Brawl (albeit a GCN adapter is sold separately). Hell, you can even have 4 extra players with their controllers and those that own the 3DS port can use their handheld device as a controller too! I guarantee most people would simply use the Game-Cube and Wii U Pro controllers over the other options available. Anyhow, the new physics in Smash 4 also make controls more “hardcore” for those that enjoyed Melee and hated Brawl.

Verdict -> I’m gonna have to award Smash 4 with this one as it’s clearly obvious that not only did they expand upon the concept but also didn’t fix what wasn’t broke. Of course it’s going to be rare to actually have up to 8 players play with you locally, but this is a dream come true for hardcore fans and fighting tournaments. Oh right, forgot to mention that those toys called Amiibos can be bought then have its virtual content downloaded to the game allowing you to have a true AI-based fighter! Not much else to write about as the controls don’t really have any issues.

Soundtrack – Brawl 2 ; Wii U 3

SSB Brawl -> Again as a series first, almost all the music have been completely remastered for the fighting stages as opposed to majority being ports. A variety of different genres like orchestra, rock ‘n roll, techno/synthesizer, and more can be heard in the many compositions available. Hell, even music from third-party titles and from software like Mii Channel have been included for more diversity. However, I do have to complain about many of the original themes in Brawl simply being modified compositions of the main Brawl theme much like Twilight Princess.

SSB 4 Wii U -> Whereas Brawl only had music from games for the NES, SNES, N64, GCN, Wii and DS, Smash 4 has remastered music from later Wii games, early Wii U games, and even the entire soundtrack from the 3DS port of Smash 4! Plus, the Smash 4 theme is better orchestrated and while it does suffer from being used over and over in other themes, overall the Smash 4 soundtrack gave me more eargasms that I could count. Also like Brawl, the announcer/Master Hand’s voice is just as deep, enthusiastic, and professional if not even better as he sounds like a radio host.

Verdict -> Yeah we all know that Smash 4’s soundtrack surpasses Brawl’s in both quality and quantity. Just because a game may be the first to implement an amazing concept that gets copied by others later on, does not make it better (I’m looking at you Half-Life 1). Lots of other games that feature franchise crossovers will produce remastered and maybe some ported music so praising Brawl as if it was the first or one of the first to do that is pathetic. Who knows what kind of soundtrack will be made for Smash Ultimate – although to be honest, I won’t support that game or the Switch sorry.

Replay Value – Brawl 2 ; Wii U 4

SSB Brawl -> With a cinematic and exploration based Adventure mode that can take up to 30 hours to beat and a fuck ton of new/improved content, Brawl can be played easily for several hundred hours by oneself or with friends. While the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service got discontinued back in 2013 after IGN bought out the dedicated server provider for Wii games, it’s still best to play locally where you can socialize with people you know well and not deal with lag and toxicity. Extra arcade and casual game modes only adds more fun when you’re bored with the typical fighting.

SSB 4 Wii U -> 8-Player Smash alone brings so much possibilities that couldn’t be a reality back in its predecessors and has so much replay value. Add to the even more amount of new and old content, combined with custom gear and Amiibos to drastically change the core gameplay, and we’ve got ourselves a winner here. If other people are hogging the TV, simply just play on the touchpad controller or get a 3DS and play Smash 4 on the go…albeit with less content and worse graphics. I believe the online service for the Wii U may still be up so you can still play online to your heart’s content.


Ok I’m finally done with this review and I honestly am ashamed of myself for delaying it for over 3 months when I should’ve released it in May. Anyhow, now that I’m finished I can finally publish reviews for PC games and believe me, it will be almost like two years ago when I regularly published many reviews for Wii games. Since I’m quite passionate about reviewing games I just beat you needn’t worry about me delaying them, although I’ll straight up tell you right now that I may publish less than promised. Unlike in highschool I have full access to a PC allowing me to spend more time.

Literally the only reason for writing these two comparison reviews were because I didn’t write any reviews for over a year (now two years) so I needed some practice. Now that I have acquired such practice here on WordPress and on Steam, I can assure you that my reviews will have a writing quality better than ever before…plus writing essays and reports in college have helped too. I’m not going to provide a summary because it’s just me rewriting everything I wrote and I didn’t really want to write these comparison reviews to begin with. Hope to see you all in late August/early September!

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Review

Foreword

Okay, I know I haven’t been reviewing video games for quite some time, but I’ve been focusing on high school exams to get accepted into university for a brighter future. With that out of the way, let’s get straight into reviewing Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega for the Windows PC, Mac OSx, Xbox 360, Play-Station 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS in 2010. It was also released for iOS and Android systems, being developed by Gameloft and released from 2011 and 2013 respectively. It was meant to serve as a reboot with Sonic racing games, and the indirect sequel to Sega SuperStars Tennis.

I got this game originally for iOS back in 2010, but after watching gameplay footage and video reviews of the more superior titles, I urged to get the console port. I originally wanted the HD port, but since I don’t have such a console, I opted for the Wii port instead. Seeing how the Wii version was similar to the HD ports, besides the graphics and online gameplay, I decided to purchase it (the Wii port usually gets the worst treatment when it comes to multi-platform games.) This was bought along with 4 other games in downtown Toronto during August of 2014, after I was satisfied with what I bought before.

Being a kart racing game, one can correctly assume that Sumo Digital ripped off of Mario Kart with the gameplay (and replacing Nintendo with Sega’s content). Despite this though, the game is still unique in its own way as innovating from traditional racers; taking what worked, leaving behind what doesn’t, and adding new concepts that are well-liked and “safe.” That’s not to say that this game has few flaws, as the aesthetic quality is obviously inferior to the HD ports, and there are many glitches due to Sumo Digital’s inexperience with racing games though nothing major.

Gameplay: 9/10

The goal of playing this game is like any other –  you try to beat others in a race with as much speed and skill as possible. In addition, there’s the drifting/boosting mechanic that lets you take sharp turns without losing speed and to go faster after turning or performing tricks. You can also use items and power-ups to get ahead of other players by attacking them or gaining incredible speed momentarily. The race tracks are unique being different and extremely creative compared to that of conventional racing games, with obstacles, enemies, and hazards to avoid.

New game mechanics include performing tricks in the air and the different types of vehicles, and the All-Star moves. While you can perform a trick only once in Mario Kart, you can actually perform many here with good timing. The distance and air time determines the amount, usually between one to three and rarely four to five, with smaller characters performing more. All-Star moves are essentially like the Smash Ball from Brawl and Smash 4; you undergo a transformation or acquire a powerful item unique to each character enabling high speed, invincibility, and strong attacks for a short period of time.

Just like in Mario Kart Wii, you can choose either racing with a kart or bike, but now you can even choose a hovercraft (and a plane and living spaceship LOL). As the name suggests, they do not have wheels , having the best acceleration and handling, being unable to be slowed down by terrain. However, they have mediocre drifting and boosting capabilities. Bikes aren’t that different, except performing a wheelie allows boosting if done successfully; along with being lighter, smaller, and maneuverable than karts, clearly making them superior over other vehicle types.

Sonic & Sega Racing enables compatibility with the Wii Remote (preferably with Wii Wheel), Wiimote + Nunchuk, and the Classic Controller/Pro (sorry Game-Cube fans). The last option (Pro version) is recommended since there are no gimmicky motion-controls, the handles and shoulder/trigger buttons, and the two control sticks offer complete control over the steering. Being good at drifting and boosting results in winning or losing a race; motion controls are inaccurate while using buttons are imprecise – analog sticks provide both accuracy and precision.

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Steering is done via turning the Wii Remote, pressing the d-pad, or tilting the left control stick; pressing the A or 2 button activates acceleration while the B, 1, or R buttons enable drifting/tricks/brakes/reversing. Pressing the Z, L, or the d-pad activates the item you currently have, while pressing the C, ZL, or ZR buttons gives rear camera view. Tilting the right control stick allows steering the vehicle even when drifting! So while drifting, steering the right analog stick turns the vehicle to go through 180 and 360 degree turns without slowing down (instead of just 90 to 135 degree turns).

I have to conclude that it is vastly superior to Mario Kart, since the more precise controls allow for sharper, faster, and accurate steering and drifting as well as pulling off expert techniques (snaking and fire-hopping). Such controls is why there are courses with tight turns at high speed without issues (*cough* Mario Kart 8 200 CC). Sonic & Sega Racing is more difficult due to the controls, race track design, and overall speed, so newcoming players need to adapt. Unlike Mario Kart, there is virtually no luck-based system and rubber-band AI, but the AI is more intelligent using expert techniques, taking shortcuts, and strategizing with items.

What adds unfair challenge are the collision detection issues due to the inexperience of Sumo Digital. I can’t even begin to recall the thousands (literally) of times I got assaulted by other racers and/or fell through the track because of the poor collision detection – often resulting in losing races with high frustration. It makes racing very difficult and on occasion unplayable for certain track segments; other issues like being stuck in the wall, items not working properly, and the in-game achievements malfunctioning are expected for players too.

Content: 8.8/10

Now the content is strikingly similar to Mario Kart yet still somewhat different, which the game modes serve as a good start. There consists of Grand-Prix, Time-Trials, Single Race, and also Missions for single player; Racing and Battle for multi-player; and all of the above except for Grand Prix and Missions for online. Players can also check game statistics and achievements, adjust in-game settings, view unlocked content, purchase more content, and the like. All these game modes are very self-explanatory included with gimmicks and improvements.

Time-Trials not only lets you race for the best time on a track, but also against your own and a staff ghost simultaneously  – you can also unlock a “Sumo” ghost which is more skilled, enabling three instead of two racers in Time Trials together. It lets you record best lap time instead of track time making it more generous. Mission Mode lets you complete challenges with set conditions not just limited to racing, which includes battling, collecting, drifting…and going through rings. There’s a rank given at the end but not after Grand Prix which is weird. All other game modes are sadly just direct knock-offs of Mario Kart with small modifications.

Being the forgetful person that I am, let me explain some things I missed earlier: the Sega Miles and the Sega Shop. Whenever you complete anything, it nets you points called Sega Miles which calculates your performance. The better you are, the more miles you win, representing in-game currency and experience points. You can then use these points in the shop to but locked content – ranging from characters, music, and race-tracks – instead of having to fulfill set conditions the traditional way, allowing players to progress through the game at their own pace.

Most characters in the game are, you guessed it, from the Sonic franchise though the remaining represent other IP’s (but it’s only one per franchise). We have the following from Sonic IP: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Shadow, Dr. Eggman, and Big. Exclusive to the Wii are the Miis, the Xbox 360 has Avatars and Banjo+Kazooie, while DLC for all HD ports offer Metal Sonic. Then there’s Billy Hatcher, Amigo, AiAi , ChuChus, Ulala from Space Channel 5, Jacky & Akira from Virtua Fighter, Opa Opa, Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue, Beat from Jet Set Studio, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Bonzana Brothers, and finally Alex Kidd for the rest.

Despite the vehicle stats putting characters to similar categories – those excelling in speed and boost against those in acceleration and handling – each racer is still different in vehicle, appearance, weight, and controls. There are no clone characters or vehicles as each racer is tied to their own vehicle, which a blessing and a curse. It’s recommended to have more acceleration and handling than speed and boost, whereas the weight has little effect as Sonic & Sega Racing is skill based and not luck based like Mario Kart.

Honestly, the items is where Sonic & Sega Racing resembles Mario Kart the most, as they’re all direct rip-offs replaced with Sega content. There’s the Red Homing Missiles, Green Boxing Gloves, Rainbow Goo, Confusing Star, Pine Cone Mines, Bubble Shield, Giant Rocket, Speed Shoes, and also the Mega Horn. Of course, there is a variation which you have three times the original, each racer has their own special All-Star move. Those items mirror the Red Shell, Green Shell, Blooper Squid, Bananas, Blue Shell, and Mushrooms. Only the Mega Horn, Confusing Star, and Bubble Shield are original ideas not copied from Mario Kart.

The items are fun to use, add more variety to the race, and best of all are skill-based that is balanced. None of them have the issues associated with Mario Kart; no items are overpowered, all racers are entitled to most items regardless of position, and many stronger power-ups can be countered with the weaker items. Skill is now on your side as it is possible to dodge the effects of any item (excluding the All-Star moves and the Giant Rocket) with enough practice! This bundled with the Ai makes Sonic & Sega Racing more and fair than compared to that of Mario Kart.

Where Sonic & Sega Racing truly shines is the race tracks because of the superior level design, which is creative and innovative, filled with gimmicks that compliment and improve the courses. These stages aren’t just filled straight paths, curves, bumps, hills, and ramps; they include new features that are shuttle loops, half-pipes, twisted and circular turns, open ended sections, multiple pathways, and anti-gravity segments. The non-linearity is something rarely seen but provides exploration, shortcuts, and natural transition blending in with the racing and tracks.

Just the way these courses are designed are not only superb, but also corresponds with that of the theme and franchise it represents creating relevancy. So you’ll see a ramp cleverly disguised as a ramp in an urban city track, or a glass tunnel built underwater to allow racers to travel to another island instead of random set of bridges. It shows that Sumo Digital is being more creative and realistic, rather than just copying Mario Kart with illogical race tracks. Shortcuts and alternate pathways not only allow faster race times, but also gives another perspective and appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of the tracks.

Obstacles, hazards, and enemies are common throughout the game, while “bosses” are rare although these track features should be avoided at all costs to win the race. They obviously relate to the track and franchise they represent, with no newer enemies and hazards originating here but do seem out of place of their location. Proportions and design have changed from past games to accommodate to the racers and tracks in general. Overall, these gimmicks are sadly nothing but lame rip-offs of what’s available in Matio Kart, so don’t expect to be amazed by anything.

Several missions throughout the game take advantage of them and used within the conditions and objectives. You may be required to attack certain enemies, dodge all obstacles, or computer players may slow you down intentionally with items. It’s quite fascinating how something so simple is implemented to serve a complex purpose. Skill is something not needed to dodge and defend as they at most slow you down, but Sumo allowed players to defeat or destroy them by boosting into them. There are a few like that stupid stereo box only avoidable with good timing.

Presentation: 7/10

Because I’m strictly reviewing the Wii port and not all versions, I will refrain from complimenting the graphics of the HD port and instead be much more honest and critical with this port. Sonic & Sega Racing runs at native 480 i SD with an inconsistent and pathetic frame-rate of 30 FPS maximum. You’d think that they would render a racing game at 60 FPS or consistent at solid 30, but all the console ports suffer from this issue. This combined with the glitches sometimes make Sonic & Sega Racing sometimes even more unplayable than Sonic ’06!

Polygon count, lighting, and modelling range from average to good, but I’d have to conclude the graphics engine and low-res textures are atrocious. While the former makes it look close to being HD, the latter mentioned downgrade it to that of the Nintendo Game-Cube, thus demoting it to standard definition graphics. Color is done well with the vibrant colors to give a child-friendly environment and cartoony look, resembling somewhat the CGI models. Many of these complaints excluding the frame rate are only present in the Wii version, with the HD ports looking very very sexy (trust me on this one).

Resolution is also poor with both the textures and screen, with many things looking blurry and ugly to look at. Animation hasn’t changed that much but still awkward; particle and shadow-effects are dull and not realistic enough to be appealing. Many special effects and lighting in the HD ports have been removed to adjust with the limitations of the Wii. These shortcomings are what causes the Wii port to look inferior to the HD ports. This is such wasted potential because it would have looked much better if Sumo Digital tried like Sonic Team did with Sonic Colors.

What’s recycled isn’t just the characters, but also the audio, as literally every single voice clip, sound effect, and music is taken directly from older games. The only exceptions are the CGI intro scene (which is just an extended cut of the E3 trailer), the menu theme, post-racing theme, and the corny yet hilarious racing spectator. He actually comments as the race goes on, making jokes and references to older games to entertain both young and old gamers, making it feel like you’re part of the racing event. Unfortunately, he says the same lines after awhile and he never got credited, thus remaining anonymous to the public (but not to Sega and Sumo Digital).

Of course retro music isn’t necessarily bad, but Sega could’ve at least made remixes to make already good compositions sound even better. Genres range from rock ‘n roll to hip hop to jazz to even techno and much much more. There’s a several dozen songs available, and there are just too many good tracks to list that I find very memorable. Sound quality isn’t what I would say is great but not terrible either for sound effects, but the music and voice is top-notch. Consequently, the aesthetics don’t seem to impress me as it’s downgraded from the HD ports.

Verdict: 8.7/10

Like any Sonic game, Sonic & Sega Racing has an abundant amount of replay value, thanks to several fighters such as the point system, rank performance, racing rules, locked content, and specific game modes. These are all self explanatory and increase the gameplay time manifold; playing it with friends and strangers both locally and online take it to unimaginable scales. Since everything is for fun and no main game objective exists, Sonic & Sega Racing varies with each person, but it usually takes 30 hours offline and at least double of that time online.

I pretty much enjoyed playing this game from start to finish, being amazed in awe with how good racing games can be, if it were more creative and the mistakes were fixed. There was virtually no complaints or frustrations besides the inconsistent frame rate (which I adjusted to) and the collision detection issues. Sonic & Sega Racing was more difficult to play than Mario Kart Wii at first, but it was easy to master and only skill was needed along with speed to win the races. Sumo Digital has definitely earned a new follower and I will look forward to playing the sequel of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on the Nintendo Wii U.

All in all, I’d have to say that Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a fair and fun game that improves and innovates upon Mario Kart DS and Wii.While a lot of ideas and content are unoriginal, it at least builds upon them to prevent it from becoming a game based on luck instead of skill; bad design and rubberband AI; and mediocre controls and aesthetics. Its friendly and simplistic environment immerses players to enjoy it alone or with others having just so much to do. Sometimes the copy is indeed superior to the original unlike what most people would have you believe.

There aren’t exactly any pros and cons that I still have that wasn’t included in the review, but I do say they should innovate more as well as fixing the issues. I would also love to point out how realistic the in-game physics are especially with the momentum. Despite being released in 2010, I still highly recommend gamers interested in vintage games to buy it through online shopping or at an antique shop second-hand. As I keep repeating myself, get Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing for a more superior experience and game compared to the likes of Mario Kart DS and Wii.

Final Review Score: 8.4/10

Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

Foreword

Oh I remember playing this game! It was extremely difficult and frustrating, forcing me to be very precise with the controls and have fast reflexes, or risk dying over and over again…but enough about my rambling. I bought this game at Wal-Mart in February 2014 after getting only one game (Other M) at Downsview Flea Market two months prior, which was a disappointment. I already knew what I was getting myself into after reading online reviews; however, it would change everything I knew and experienced about video games (like with Twilight Princess).

After the barrage of mediocre games that plagued the IP on the Nintendo Game-Cube, the big N wanted to reboot DK the way Metroid was with the Prime series. Since they were pleased with the results, they asked Retro Studios to develop another game for them. A few years back, they decided to make Donkey Kong Country 4 on the DS as a side-project, though they brought the idea over to the Wii in 2009. This was a smart move, since the console could accomplish feats not possible with the original trilogy first seen on the Super Nintendo and later the Game Boy Advance.

Returns is an excellent reboot that has superb graphics and a heartwarming soundtrack, simple yet precise controls and a superior gameplay, redeeming the reputation of the franchise. It’s faithful to the original trilogy, full of references that invoke nostalgia in veteran players, adding new concepts and mechanics that will captivate newcomers. As mentioned before, this is a highly challenging game that requires fast reflexes and precise button mashing to overcome the obstacles which are real brain teasers. Therefore, this is not something for casual gamers to play.

Presentation: 10/10

The graphics will immediately blow you away, with near high definition visuals in a colorful and vibrant world all rendered at native 480p SD and consistent 60 FPS. Retro Studios went for a more cartoony look, so you won’t be seeing realistic fur or photo-realistic backgrounds (though Tropical Freeze takes that route). Unlike Mario though, this is a 2.5 D sidescroller in terms of both graphics and gameplay; thus, you’ll occasionally control the ape in the background and foreground, which enemies and obstacles can harm DK in the middle (I find this to be awesome).

Background of levels corresponds with map, such as seeing the edge of the jungle upon entering the beach. Diversity is key as the color and lighting change for different environments that adds realism and beauty. Few levels have an art style of water-color painted background and a foreground (including the apes, enemies, and hazards) rendered in black vector silhouette…beautiful. Animation and modelling is breath-taking though the sharpness makes everything jaggy. Unfortunately, textures are rough from being a mix of cartoon and realism.

As soon as the title screen appears, you are immediately greeted with the original title theme, followed by familiar melodies in levels. These come from the original trilogy remastered to appeal to veterans, but that’s not to say newer tracks are neglected. Games ranging from jazz to blues while instruments including piano, bongos, and sxaphone all add something to spice up the soundtrack. This plus being rendered in glorious high definition (the audio, not graphics), and perfect balance between sound effects and music make Returns very rewarding to the ears.

Plot Analysis: 5.0/10

Story starts off with a volcano on a tropical island that erupts, releasing lava and a dozen fireballs that transform into sentient musical instrument – wooden carving hybrids called Tikis. A gigantic Tiki that is made of stone and lacks being an instrument is erected at the top, commanding its minions to hypnotize the islands’ animals. They are then brainwashed into stealing all the bananas on the island, including Donkey Kong’s banana hoard. Diddy Kong notices and gives chase, while DK is taken hostage by a Tiki, who fails hypnotizing the ape (guess he’s too stupid to know).

Now he must re-claim both the island and the banana hoard. Along the way, he is aided by Cranky Kong, Squawks, Rambi…and that pig. The couple fights many beasts that are brainwashed by the Tikis which are all eventually defeated. We soon a discover a factory manufactures that bananas and mined resources into Tiki minions. When they climb to the top, the apes discover Tiki Tong, the mastermind behind all this and uses bananas to power-up. But Tiki Tong is successfully defeated and peace returns to the island once again when DK punches the moon to crush it.

The plot isn’t something that is as good as say Zelda, though simple enough to captivate players and immerse them to play the game. This target audience is obviously kids, so get used to the corny jokes and sheer stupidity of the characters (yes, it’s worse than Colors). No words or speech are present, although the body language is very expressive to make up for the lack of dialogue. What’s a damn shame is the plot is bare-bones compared to more recent DK games, but I guess that’s just a consequence of rebooting the classics instead of the 3D installments (DK 64 was the only 3D game, sorry).

Cutscenes are few and far in between, and besides the intro and conclusion (rendered in stunning CGI), all else simply depicts them of the apes interacting with the Tikis and bosses. These mundane clips repeat the same formula: they arrive in the boss’ lair, Diddy Kong notices it, Donkey Kong stares and growls at it, Tiki hypnotizes the monster(s) and the fight commences. While the animation, camera, special effects, and choreography are done very well, the lack of quality and quantity of these corny cinematics are weighing the game down negatively – not good for a reboot.

Gameplay: 8.0/10

There is a limited amount of health that makes this extremely challenging, forcing players to be extremely cautious. You start off with only two hearts and can upgrade to four if equipped with Diddy Kong or even five with a power-up. Back then, it was only one to two HP with no checkpoints so be grateful. The young chimpanzee allows DK to hover with his jet-packs for longer and more precise jumps; a friend can join in and play as him for co-op, as Diddy is lighter and more agile than the gorilla. Different modes of transportation such as mine-carts, rocket barrels, and barrel cannons add more fun.

A new feature is the rocket barrel, which is what its name suggests and is an inspiration for the mobile game Flappy Bird…though less difficult and more fun. Another is the foreground/background concept I mentioned earlier; however, it’s hard to see DK so far away (background) though it helps you predict upcoming enemies and hazards (foreground). Vine walls and ceilings are a plus but Rambi is the only returning animal (for some reason the ostrich and swordfish are gone). So overall you can tell that it’s a game worth to be played.

You can either use the Wii Remote alone or combine it with the Nunchuk extension to play. The d-pad is to move; 1 button is for running, grabbing, and climbing; 2 button is to jump and maneuver rocket barrels and barrel cannons. Shaking the Wii Remote (and the Nunchuk if used) enables rolling, stomping, blowing, and beating the ever-living shit out of the Tikis and barrels. Diddy Kong hovers and shoots instead of jumping and stomping, while the control stick, A button, and B trigger do what the d-pad, 1 and 2 buttons do if you’re using the Nunchuk variation.

Precision is a must with the consequence of immediate death or health reduction. This creates many issues like added difficulty and small reaction time, with more frustration for the player. I did notice a benefit as it allows temporary invincibility when hit and poor collision detection in some instances (just like with Mario). It’s very simple to learn and master the controls, making the game welcoming to newcomers and casual gamers. There are no glitches that make this unplayable or unfair, so just keep practicing and you should overcome the aforementioned setbacks.

Believe me when I say this – Returns is the hardest game you’ll play on the Wii and for the 7th generation (okay, besides Dark Souls and Monster Hunter). It’s just as frustrating and challenging as the originals, if not even harder if you aim to be a completionist. This game is fair though since Cranky Kong has a shop that sells extra lives, heart booster, puzzle finder (Squawks), and map key…though you can choose to ignore these. Also, there is a Super Guide available if you die 8 times in a row. Returns does stay faithful by making you play until you quit from sheer frustration.

Content: 8.8/10

If you think beating the game alone wasn’t a challenge, then 2 player co-op and Flip Mode should make you want to pull your hair out. A friend or sibling can join in and play as Diddy Kong; however, both players do not share lives (just like Brawl), rocket barrel and mine cart levels is solo. To top it all off, Diddy Kong’s fast speed, great agility, and light weight makes it unfair to play as the gorilla. Flip Mode is simply playing the whole game again and with added difficulty: DK only has one heart, Cranky Kong’s shop and Diddy Kong are off-limits, and all levels are mirrored.

(But hey, if you’re a veteran and want extra challenge, then go for it). By having two controllers, one person can choose to play as Diddy Kong only, which is this game’s easy mode. Levels can be completed faster, enemies and hazards more easily avoided, and platforms are easier to cross – even the boss scenes and CGI ending changes. All these advantages make him superior to his…uncle? Time Attack Mode is a must for completionists; you basically beat a past level as fast as possible without checkpoints, being rewarded with a medal based on your time.

Level selection is achieved through a map of the island, rendered as a 3D tropical island with 8 different environments that somehow don’t blend into each other. Levels are represented as red dots and have landmarks to give you an idea of what to expect (much like NSMB.Wii). Beating them turns it blue and unlocks a single or multiple paths – you do need the map key to unlock the secret level. Defeating the boss unlocks access to the next world, while collecting all K-O-N-G letters unlocks a bonus level called a Kong Temple (clear all eight for a surprise post-game).

At first it may seem like a typical map hubworld, but it totally triumphs NSMB and rivals that of Sonic Colors. The eight worlds are brilliantly designed, with the landscape rapidly changing as you transition to the boss with different landmarks and scenery (not just the levels). As you climb up the island, you’ll also notice that the areas are in a specific order that transitions smoothly at an aesthetic and gameplay level, plus being very realistic. The island consists of jungle, beach, ruins, cave, forest, mountain, factory, and volcano (too bad there’s no desert or tundra).

Level design is what I have to admit is the strongest point of Returns. Retro Studios managed to successfully reboot the DK franchise to its former glory and retcon the flaws. Common but creative features such as hazards and enemies of giant proportions, enemies and areas from fore/background, platforms bringing danger and rhythm, and being chased by enemies and/or hazards are just too amazing. And with the unique levels like the rocket barrel, mine cart, barrel cannon, vector silhouette, and Rambi levels makes Returns a very enjoyable game.

Special memorable levels include the vine climbing, giant octopus, tidal wave, bat cave, insect swarm, giant musical instruments, and rising volcano all come to mind. If I were to describe a particular level, you’d instantly recognize it as each level is unique for being creative, frustrating, or amazing to play. They contain mechanics that appear in those levels never to be seen again. They’re filled with K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces to collect, as well as hidden rooms that serve as free mini-games. While there is only one goal, there exists multiple paths for some levels.

Most of the enemies are Tikis while others are animals respective to the specific world. This is underwhelming for such a diverse game – the enemies that are unique only appear in a few levels like the octopus or bat. You can easily defeat them by jumping, rolling, blowing then attacking, stomping, or throwing a barrel (works against all enemies). Because of this, they’re extremely forgetful, which brings down the fun of playing the levels. Tropical Freeze no longer has this issue though, as Retro Studios noticed and learned their mistakes by preventing it in the sequel.

I would have to say that the bosses are somewhat better but not by much; most are what you expect while some lack imagination. Fighting them is much, much better as they have multiple phases which they use different attack strategies, and take 6 to 9 hits defeat just like Zelda or Metroid. They’re not hard in the sense that they require you to problem solve, but their attacks are difficult to dodge and you can easily die if you’re too reckless. You fight two rhinoceroses, a team of pirate crabs, giant bird in a pot, mole crew riding a train, sentient fruit caterpillar, chicken in mech, and Tiki Tong itself.

Verdict: 8.3/10

Beating the game without collecting anything takes 4 hours; collecting all K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces increase it to 8. Clearing Time Attack Mode takes 16 hours, and completing Flip Mode takes 30 hours plus. As you can tell, trying out everything is where Returns truly shines and is heavily dependent on for fun…just like Colors. Collecting puzzle pieces unlock concept art, music, and dioramas whereas Time Attack Mode increases your skill, reflexes, and ego. You can even track your progress with a percentage on your save file for you completionists.

While this is a frustrating game, if you play it safe or only attempt harder tasks later on, it will be a fun experience. Returns is still forgiving in the sense that it offers ways to let you “cheat” without forcing it on you, and the levels are designed in a way to guide the players…just like Metroid. Beating the game with the amazing aesthetics does wonders for your senses, as well that practice does lead to perfection for mastering the controls. But believe me, trying hard and having a fast-processing brain to fix mistakes and have great reflexes is needed or you will die frequently.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a superb game that not only rebooted the IP, but also brings difficulty in an era when games have become way too easy. It defies our expectations by implementing both great gameplay and aesthetics, something that is also rarely achieved. I personally enjoy playing the extraordinary levels – rocket barrel, mine cart, barrel cannon, silhouette – while I despise collecting the K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces. If you’re a DK veteran fan or just a hardcore gamer looking for a challenge, then Returns is the game just for you.

Final Review Score: 8.0/10