Ausretrogamer Fun Factory – Number 1 for Fun

After one helluva gruelling week, we are glad to be in the Ausretrogamer Fun Factory!

We always feel at ease and relaxed when we are inside of our Fun Factory. We can sit here and pick an item to stare at (even a joystick!) and we immediately get flooded with nostalgic memories. Sometimes we may even turn something on to play.

For today, we are just enjoying the view and letting the nostalgia wash over us. Hang on, that didn’t last long, we have a hankering to play some Amiga games on the CDTV! And perhaps pinball to finish up…….

 

The Existential Horror of Sonic Adventure

Since his debut in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog had been more than a mascot for Sega. He was the lifeblood of the company, a saving grace that finally allowed the Mega Drive / Genesis to gain a foothold in a market utterly dominated by Nintendo. Next to their portly Italian plumber, Sonic was a revelation, a zippy speedster filled with rad 90’s ’tude.

Flashforward to 1998. Nintendo and Sony had entered the 3D space with spectacular results due to Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, their dominance further cemented by the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and Spyro the Dragon. Thanks to these titles, a solid formula was emerging for 3D platformers. Create a vibrant world, pop a cutesy character into it, and give the player responsive controls with which to steer them.

While these genre defining works were being released, Sonic the Hedgehog was suspiciously absent in the 3D realm. He’d failed to make an appearance on the Sega Saturn, due to a dysfunctional development cycle that caused his 3D debut to be cancelled. In turn, the Saturn died a quick death on the market, which some attributed to the lack of a Sonic title on the system. With the imminent release of their 6th generation console, Sega were not going to make the same mistake.

Hell or high water, Sonic Adventure would be the flagship title for the Dreamcast at its Japanese release, even if that meant a mere 10-month development cycle. In a post-Mario 64 world, Sonic Team sought to create large adventure fields for Sonic to travel through between the more traditional action stages. There would be a greater emphasis on story, quests and exploration. The action stages themselves would be expansive and frantic, fully exploiting Sonic’s foray into the 3rd Dimension. This would be a Sonic game for the next generation, proving that both Sega and their blue mascot were here to stay.

That was the idea at least. In practice, it tells a very different story.

Walking through the adventure fields, the player is immediately hit with an eerie sense of isolation. They’re huge, sprawling areas for sure, but for the most part, utterly devoid of any landmarks or NPCs. It’s easy to lose sight of your objective or overlook the key needed to open the next progression point, so the player often wanders aimlessly through the dull, lifeless environments. For a game starring Sega’s famous speedster, you spend a lot of time trapped in areas, going around in circles. Metaphorically, someone’s put lead in Sonic’s boots.

It doesn’t help that the longer you stare at the adventure fields, the more unsavoury questions raise their head. Why is Sonic suddenly a giant blue hedgehog living amongst humans? Why are ancient Inca ruins a train ride away from an American metropolis? Why is there a ladder that leads down to a solitary wooden pier, seemingly daring the player to jump to their watery doom? Beneath the bright colours and cheery J-pop, there’s the ever-present sensation that Sonic doesn’t belong in this strange world.

When you finally unlock a new action stage you feel nothing short of relief, though it’s short-lived. Simply put, Sonic is way too fast to control in a 3D space, and the fixed camera angles often have a stroke trying to follow Sonic at top speed. These issues are exasperated by a multitude of glitches that cause Sonic to get trapped in tight spaces, or plummet through platforms to his death. This makes later levels like the Egg Carrier and the Mystic Temple an utterly tortuous ordeal.

image source: Nerdbacon

Sonic Adventure feels like a surreal nightmare from which its titular character is trying to escape, and that’s quite fitting. Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot had proven that 3D platforming was the future, but for Sonic, it was his greatest existential threat; his iconic speed proving too much to handle in a 3D space. It makes sense then that Sonic doesn’t fit in this odd world of Inca ruins, garish casinos and lumpy looking humans, because in retrospect, he never should have abandoned his 2D origins.

The dissonance between Sonic and his game world are captured best in the unskippable cut-scenes. The dialogue and voice acting aren’t fit to lick the boots of the worst Saturday morning cartoon, but it’s the lip sync that’s truly abominable. Mouths pulsate and stretch in all directions, like a snake unhinging its jaw to eat an egg. Eyes enlarge and bulge. Nothing comes close to matching the dialogue spoken. In moments like these, the game feels like a horror-show, as Sega pushes these simple characters into dark areas they’re not equipped to handle.

In 2001, the Dreamcast was discontinued, and Sega exited the hardware business, surviving to this day as a third-party developer. For the first time, Sonic was not enough to save Sega from its financial woes.

Though Sonic Adventure continues to be remembered fondly, it’s patient zero for the problems that have plagued the franchise for the last 20 years. The dull adventure stages, the broken gameplay, the insipid storytelling – this is where it all began. In fact, it may be the first existential horror game in the platforming genre, in which a revered icon faces his complete obsolescence in a new era. The real antagonist of the game isn’t Dr. Robotnik or a cranky water god or even the horribly broken controls, but rather the steady march of technological progress. And that’s something not even Sonic could outrun.

Special thanks to Shannen Hogan for introducing me to the madness that is Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.

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Jack O’Higgins
Jack is a freelance journalist based in Dublin. He covers music, film, comics and video games. If this article angered you, please complain to him on twitter at @jackohigginz, as he really needs to raise his social media profile.

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Wolfsbora’s Tour Of Shenmue – Part 1

Shenmue_Part1_HDRWhy is Ryo always asking the wrong questions? That is what I am internally mulling over as I try my hand at Shenmue for the very first time. An epic ‘open-world action-adventure’ game (according to its Wikipedia page), it is also considered an RPG that was developed for the long deceased, but ultimately timeless Sega Dreamcast. Shenmue stars Ryo Hazuki, a teen who looks more like a 30-something man who jumped straight out of Virtua Fighter and onto the streets of Japan. There appears, however, to be a reason for that. The creator of the game, Yu Suzuki, originally intended for the Shenmue series to exist in the same world as Virtua Fighter, but then decided to drop the connection. Still, they could have tried a bit harder to make him look more like a pubescent, acne-riddled teen and less like a haggard, street-fighter who always looks like he is waking up from a Scotch-induced bender. As for what brings the advanced-in-age-looking protagonist to the beginning of the game, Ryo is seeking revenge for the murder of his father. As you proceed through the quest, you fill in a notebook with clues which you must follow to continue on with the story. There is also quite a diverse collection of items that you can buy, receive, and earn, but I haven’t quite figured out what I’m doing literally with any of them.

Man-child seeking fight
Shenmue_Part1_30YearOldTeen

Can’t find a fight? That’s fine, Ryo will just fight himself
Shenmue_Part1_RyoFightsRyo

Regardless of the main character’s appearance, the game definitely looks and “feels” amazing, especially considering its age. Shenmue has the appearance of an early Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game, which is saying something, considering the game came out in 1999, six years before either of those systems came onto the market.

By this point, you’ve either forgotten about my initial question, or you’ve been frustratingly clenching your teeth and demanding some serious answers because you’re a very serious person (it says so on your resume). But here it is: why does Ryo ask the wrong question in almost every scenario where there will be dialogue between you and another person? Well, I don’t know. This is my only gripe with Shenmue up to this point in the game. I wish that they had decided to give you dialogue options because not only is he asking the wrong questions, he’s usually rambling on about things that have nothing to do with the story, let alone the fact that the responding dialogue typically makes even less sense. Here’s hoping that the dialogue starts to fix itself!

Tom has no idea what is going on, but he has some amazing dance moves and delicious hot dogs
Shenmue_Part1_Tom

Finally, within the first couple of hours or so, I find that Shenmue is more adventure than action. You spend most of your time wandering Dobuita street, fists always clenched, asking people silly questions and getting even sillier answers. I have, so far, been involved in one quick time fight, in which you press the correct corresponding button to the label on the screen. Yet, I’m somehow still enjoying the game thanks to the ability to explore the graphically pleasing city. I think I’ll stick around for a while.

Where can I find a fight?!
Shenmue_Part1_StreetView

That is all for Part 1 as I, Wolfie, take you on an adventure through this retroland called Shenmue. Stay tuned for Part 2 as I get further into the story. Thanks for reading!

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blahjediWolfsbora
U.S.A. based arcade cabinet & retro game collector. Lover of all (good) games and the people that play them!

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