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Dec. 25 – Daze Before Christmas

maxresdefault-18Wait, what is this? We’ve reached the final day of this year’s advent calendar style countdown of Christmas specials and it’s not even a show, movie, or stupid commercial? No friends, for December 25th we’re taking a look at Daze Before Christmas, the Sunsoft produced 16-bit Christmas video game that never saw release in North America. Christmas and other holidays are rarely captured in video games. Sometimes a game might take place at Christmas time (Twisted Metal originally did), but few actually make the holiday a focal point of the game. Daze Before Christmas, developed by Norwegian outfit Funcom, said nuts to that and made a platform game starring St. Nick himself. And you know what? It’s actually not that bad.

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Funcom was a little developer out of Norway that apparently liked Christmas a lot.

Daze Before Christmas was originally released in Australia for Sega’s Mega Drive console (Genesis to you Americans) in 1994. It was eventually ported to the Super Nintendo for release in Europe and Australia, but a planned North American version was scrapped. Apparently, Santa is more marketable outside of the US. In this game you play as Santa Claus. An evil snowman has taken over the North Pole while Santa was sleeping or something and everything is in disarray. The player controls Santa through 25 levels collecting presents, freeing elves and reindeer, and even delivering the presents as well. Along the way he’ll explore his work shop, ice caves, and the skies of the UK and other countries and even take on some bosses here and there. When Santa finds a cup of coffee though, he’ll turn into Anti-Claus – a devilish Santa wielding a sack. He’s impervious to damage, but can’t collect presents (a trade-off most will take). As Santa, players can run and jump and shoot some white substance at enemies. There’s also a power-up that allows Santa to shoot fire which comes in handy when battling snowy fiends.

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I get the impression that Anti-Claus was supposed to be the break-out star of this one. I wouldn’t mind seeing him come back in a game of his own, as unlikely as that sounds.

The levels in Daze Before Christmas vary from short, linear, bursts with traditional genre trappings (moving platforms, disappearing ones, blind jumps) and numerous enemies to other levels that are more expansive requiring Santa to explore vertically as well as horizontally. There are checkpoints in each level and finding the star icon will end the stage. In addition to surviving a level and finding the exit, Santa is tasked with recovering presents for the delivery stages. Those stages are few and far between, but in them the game becomes a horizontal scrolling flying game where Santa and his team of reindeer (only four, and I’m giving the game the benefit of the doubt there since only two are visible from the side view) have to avoid obstacles while dropping gifts down chimneys (we call that the Fred Flintstone method of gift delivery). Those levels are simple, but offer a nice diversion and it’s good to see that Funcom made an attempt at getting Santa’s central purpose into the game.

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Santa coming face to face with his alter-ego.

The thing that sticks out most about Daze Before Christmas are its visuals. When I went to play this one, almost begrudgingly, I expected a very cheap looking game. And while some aspects of it are kind of cheap looking (namely the backgrounds), for the most part this looks like a game with some real resources behind it. The Santa sprite is pretty adorable. He’s short and round and has a red nose. When he ducks he goes into his hat and when standing idle he sways from side to side with a nice rotation effect on the sprite. He’s exceptionally well animated as everything is in motion as he runs and jumps through the air and overall he just plain looks great. The enemies have a lot of spunk and personality too, be they flying toys or angry rock creatures. My personal favorite was probably the snowmen that toss their own head at you. The bosses are well-animated as well and I particularly enjoyed the Louse the Mouse boss as he requires Santa to drop anvils on his head with some nice cartoon effects when successful.

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Look out below!

The high number of animation frames seem to have one cost though, and that’s with collision detection. While I never felt robbed of a hit when attacking enemies, vanquishing them has little or no satisfaction as they kind of just disappear. There’s a disconnect there and it’s really felt with some of the bosses as I wasn’t even sure at times I was damaging them. Some of the levels, in particular the earliest stages, almost feel directionless and play rather bland. I couldn’t help but get the impression that Funcom spent most of the development time on making sure the game looked right first, then tried to construct something that was fun to play off of that with little idea for what makes a platform game fun and unique.

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The flying levels are kind of ugly, but offer a nice change of pace. Norwegians also must think footballs are just constantly flying through American skies.

That’s not to say Daze Before Christmas isn’t fun, it’s a mostly solid play through with little frustration. It’s just not particularly ambitious in what it asks of the player. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, the game is a breeze for anyone with average skill and familiarity with games from this era. The biggest danger comes from blind or near blind jumps where the player might not be certain if they’re supposed to go down a certain gap or try to clear it. Actual fatalities from repeated collisions with enemies are pretty few, and the boss fights are pretty painless. Levels start to feel repetitive and too familiar by the time the game is nearing its end, and there’s even a pair of stages where Santa runs up and down a small hill and jumps into a hole, lasting all of 15 seconds or so, which feels like an obvious attempt at padding (the game operates like an advent calendar so Funcom needed 25 levels).

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The pre-level title cards are actually pretty awesome.

The presentation extends beyond Santa’s well done sprite. The game, perhaps not surprisingly, makes liberal use of “Jingle Bells” throughout as well as other Christmas tunes, but they’re all handled rather well and I was surprised by the fact that I didn’t get annoyed with them. There’s some original music as well that’s actually really good, especially one of the cave levels. In between levels you also get some nice title cards that usually depict Santa confronting an enemy or something that are drawings as opposed to sprites from the game. The storyline, touched on earlier, is a bit confusing, but hardly essential. At the start of the game, it sounds like an evil snowman named Louse has screwed Christmas up for Santa, but the snowman is dispatched in level 5. Louse is actually the mouse character I mentioned as requiring anvils be dropped on his head. There’s a clock boss too, and the final boss is actually a cloud named Mr. Weather. Sadly, Rudolph does not offer an assist to take him out. The present delivery levels also occur in different countries and there’s little touches in each to refer to the country being presented. Maybe it’s because I live there, but the United States level amused me the most as Santa flies by the Statue of Liberty and you have to avoid footballs sailing through the air. Though Japan did feature a mouse with a rocket strapped to his back.

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There are some nice touches to certain levels, such as these cartoony wrapping machines that can disguise Santa as a present.

Daze Before Christmas, due in part to its relative ease, is a game that’s probably completed in about an hour and a half. If you really know what you’re doing, where to jump, and care little about collecting presents, you can probably complete this one in under an hour. The only incentive to revisit is, as far as I can tell, is to get a higher score by finding all of the presents, but that’s not likely to motivate many. This is a pretty average platformer, though if you think the average platformer is actually pretty bad then maybe you’d consider this one slightly above average. It separates itself from the pack with its Christmas theme, and it got me thinking about the subject of Christmas games a bit more. Perhaps a game where Santa actually has to infiltrate houses to deliver gifts, avoiding detection by nosey kids, angry dogs, and cartoon wackiness would be a fun experience. It’s certainly not a genre that’s been tapped out and exploited by any means, as the most famous Christmas video game I could think of other than this one is maybe Elf Bowling. Because this wasn’t released in high quantities or in North America, it’s a pretty expensive cart to acquire. If you want to play it, it’s certainly not worth the dollars it commands on the secondary market and you’re better off experiencing it via other means you’re likely aware exist. If you want some Christmas cheer in your gaming life, you have few other options and this is certainly better than a lump of coal. Personally, I say get your Christmas cheer from other media and just grab Super Mario Odyssey instead.

Well folks, that’s a wrap. Hopefully you enjoyed this year’s countdown to Christmas. Tune in Friday for regularly schedule programming as we return to Batman: The Animated Series with an all-time classic episode. And by all means, have a very merry Christmas!

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The Other Disney Afternoon Games

Capcom recently released a digital collection of NES games called The Disney Afternoon Collection. It’s available for Playstation 4, Steam, and Xbox One (though curiously not for a Nintendo console despite all of the games originating from one)and is a pretty solid collection of not quite classic games at a budget friendly price. And that last part can’t be understated since copies of DuckTales II sell for hundreds of dollars on the aftermarket thanks to low release totals. By most measures, the collection of games represent Capcom’s best licensed titles, but certainly not all of them. It also doesn’t capture every title released with the Disney Afternoon branding and this post is about the leftovers.

1Bonkers (Super Nintendo 1994)

 

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Expect some indirect cameos from famous Disney characters.

Bonkers was a short-lived series that ran from September 1993 to February 1994. In that window, the show managed to feature 65 episodes, the magic number for most Disney cartoons as that met syndication guidelines. Bonkers is reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as it pairs a cartoon bobcat with a human who both work for the Toon Police. They go around solving crimes in a toon world that’s basically inhabited by all of Disney’s classic characters, many of whom make cameos in the show. Disney even allowed Mickey to cameo breaking with tradition that basically kept Mickey shielded from the television properties.

 

In December of ’94 Bonkers came to the Super Nintendo. In a game developed by Capcom (who else?), Bonkers allowed the player to play as the titular character as he tried to recover some famous cartoon assets stolen from a museum. His partner, Lucky, is laid up in a hospital bed forcing Bonkers to go solo. The items he needs to recover, and the places he visits to find them, should feel familiar to Disney fans young and old as they include Mickey’s iconic sorcerer’s hat and Ariel’s voice.

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The Genesis Bonkers wasn’t developed by Capcom and took the gameplay in a very different direction.

The gameplay for Bonkers is very similar to a Konami contemporary, Buster Busts Loose, released in ’93 and based on the Tiny Toons character Buster Bunny. Both games are platformers with large sprites where a main feature of gameplay is a dash meter. Bonkers can dash as a means of attack and to navigate the levels. Special items will bestow upon him invincibility and unlimited dash for a brief period, which is also a feature of an earlier Capcom Mega Drive/Genesis title Quackshot starring Donald Duck. The dash is your bread and butter and what a player needs to master in order to make it through the game. In addition to that, Bonkers can take out most enemies Mario style with a jump attack and he also can toss bombs, though his supply is limited. The game contains just five levels, with the first three being selectable from the game’s hub menu and can be completed in any order. Bonkers never earns additional power-ups or special abilities beyond what he starts with, so there’s no preferred order to them.

 

Bonkers for the SNES is a solid title, though not really spectacular so it’s not surprising to see it’s not a fondly remembered one. The cartoon from which it came is also not one that possesses a huge following, though it was an interesting premise and is probably worthy of revisiting. Bonkers also received another video game, this one for the Genesis and developed by Sega. It’s kind of like a tower defense game in which Bonkers is primarily featured in the foreground defending a position by tossing items at enemies in the background. There are some platforming parts as well, but most probably agree that the SNES game is superior. There was also a Brazil-only Game Gear title called Bonkers: Wax Up! that I know very little about. Judging it based on some YouTube long plays, it doesn’t look like a title that needs to be sought out.

250px-SNES_Goof_Troop_BoxGoof Troop (Super Nintendo 1993)

Following DuckTales, the flagship series for the Disney Afternoon seemed to shift to Goof Troop. Starring Goofy and his son Max, Goof Troop was a mostly wholesome program about adolescence and being a single parent. It’s really melancholy for a series starring Goofy and definitely added a new dimension to a mostly one-note character. For fans of the more action-oriented cartoons like Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop was a bit of a hard sell, but I recall watching it somewhat frequently and thinking it all right.

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A standard screen in Goof Troop with a standard set of obstacles for Goofy to navigate.

The game is definitely an odd duck amongst the other Disney Afternoon titles. Once again developed by Capcom, Goof Troop is an adventure game in which the player controls either Goofy or Max and simultaneous co-op is possible. I suppose it isn’t surprising that the game is unlike its sister titles since Goof Troop, being more of a sitcom than most cartoons, doesn’t have a natural ability to become a video game. In this one, Goofy and Max somehow end up ship-wrecked on an island and need to find a way off of it. It’s basically a survival game, and the player controls one of the two Goofs from a top-down perspective similar to The Legend of Zelda. Goofy and Max can hold a maximum of two items at a time, and the player has to constantly find and drop items in order to progress. The game is more puzzle-like than the others, and since Goofy and Max can’t directly damage the enemies they encounter you’re almost encouraged to avoid conflict.

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Co-op is the preferred way to tackle this one.

The game was developed by Shinji Mikami, who was basically the mind behind Resident Evil. Yes, Resident Evil owes something to Goof Troop and it’s rather remarkable to see how some of the survival elements from that series were first born in Goof Troop. Even right down to how awkward it is to control Goofy and Max and how frustrating it can be to avoid enemies. The game feels like it’s designed for two players as opposed to one as some rooms are really hard to clear without the aid of a second player. The other player can help act as a lure for enemies allowing player one to activate a switch, move a block, or trigger something else on the screen. In two player mode, Goofy and Max can only hold one item each, but it’s an easy trade-off to make in order to gain an ally. Playing solo, I had a hell of a time trying to clear one room where the enemies could kick blocks, blocks that I needed to kick into a certain spot to pass the room. The problem was getting to the enemies and taking them out before they could kick one into a spot where I couldn’t make any use of it, forcing me to leave the screen and re-enter, also re-spawning the enemies.

Goof Troop is an interesting game, and played through the lens of knowing it’s a pseudo Resident Evil predecessor certainly adds to it. As a change of pace from the other Capcom developed Disney Afternoon games, it’s acceptable, but I found it a bit too frustrating to really want to come back to it again and again. Given the license though, this is probably the best Capcom could have done short of just making a platformer that made little thematic sense.

250px-Gargoyles_game_coverGargoyles (Genesis 1995)

Lastly, we have Gargoyles, our only featured game to only be released on the Genesis without a SNES counterpart and (gasp!) to not be developed by Capcom. This one was done by Buena Vista Interactive, and if you know anything about Disney you know that’s likely the name for an internal studio. At some point, someone high up at the company must have got the bright idea that they could make more money if they developed their own games rather than licensing them out to Capcom. Big mistake, as doing so ultimately lead to a severe reduction in quality for Disney based video games and Gargoyles is no exception.

Gargoyles is a series I’ve covered pretty extensively here. It was basically The Disney Afternoon’s answer to WB’s Batman which aired during Fox’s afternoon block of programming. Batman was a hit, so naturally others copied it and Gargoyles was perhaps the most blatant. Don’t confuse that with criticism, as Gargoyles was a pretty entertaining show and was able to develop its own identity during its run. And unlike say Goof Troop, it pretty obviously lent itself well to video games being an action-oriented show starring some pretty bad ass characters.

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At least it looks pretty good.

The game stars Goliath and is essentially another platform-styled action game with some exploration elements. It’s sort of like DuckTales on steroids and with an overt gothic theme. The game starts off in the past with the fall of the castle and the gargoyles being turned to stone before taking the player to the present timeline. All of the main baddies from the show make an appearance, and Goliath handles like Goliath should possessing powerful strikes, a running attack, and the ability to climb walls and double-jump with his wings.

Visually, the game is probably the best out of any Disney Afternoon title and is one of the better looking Genesis titles around. The music even sounds great and you could almost trick someone into believing it came from a Super Nintendo. Sadly, that’s where the positives mostly dry-up. While the music is great, the sound effects are horrendous with awful enemy death screams that sound like they were recorded through a tin can. Goliath is a chore to control as negotiating tight spaces is problematic and his ability to cling to walls is automatic, resulting in numerous occasions where he’ll grab a wall when you don’t want him to. The opening level is particularly frustrating as it features lots of tiny spaces and towers to ascend. Enemies will routinely strike from offscreen and finding enough room to get a running start to smash through a wall can also be harder than it should be. Goliath should feel like a powerful beast, but he’s too easily felled by the humans who serve as foes. The rotten icing on the cake is spotty collision detection when attacking enemies, making their defeat feel wholly unsatisfying.

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There are plenty of familiar faces from the show.

Gargoyles is one of those games that I want to like, but it just makes it too hard to do so. It’s a great license that should have lead to a great, or at least passable, game and it looks awesome. Unfortunately, it just isn’t remotely fun and I’m sure lots of people were conned into buying, or renting, this one based on the track-record of Disney Afternoon titles and because the screenshots looked promising. The game ended up being released only in North America, and there was a Super Nintendo port planned but it was scrapped, either due to poor sales of the Genesis version or because the 16-bit era was essentially over. Stay away, stay far away.


The Complicated Legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog

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If you were playing video games in the early 90’s you’ll know that finger wag from a mile away.

When it comes to video game characters, the most popular one of all-time isn’t up for debate. That would be Mario, the man of many occupations who first thwarted the mighty Donkey Kong to save his love (or was a pusher of animal cruelty depending on your point of view). Mario is a character that passes the grandparent test, which is, even your grandparents know who he is. For a time though in the early 90’s, a character rose up to rival Mario’s popularity and may have even eclipsed it for a brief moment. That character is Sonic is the Hedgehog, the mascot for the Sega company who’s responsible for putting a Sega Genesis into the homes of more Americans than the Super Nintendo.

Sonic was a hit, and he always was supposed to be. Look up how a character is created and you likely won’t find a more formulaic character than Sonic. He epitomized 90’s “edge” and “cool” and kids were supposed to love him and think he’s way cooler (way past cooler?) than that pudgy plumber on the other guy’s console. He starred in his own gaming franchise and made the leap to television and basically soared through the first half of the 90’s, but sadly his popularity would not last.

The original Sonic the Hedgehog released in 1991 is a pretty simple game at its heart. It was a platform game by name only. Very little time was spent navigating floating platforms and hunting for power-ups and warp zones. Instead Sonic just wanted you to hold down on the Right button and power on ahead. Sonic was fast, even though hedgehogs aren’t known for their speed (or for the color blue), and the object of each level was simply to get to the end. Sure there were rings to collect which triggered bonus rounds, but that stuff was secondary. Some levels would slow things down, such as the dreaded water ones, but never to the point where Sonic ever felt like Mario. Sonic would race through the level, leap over enemies, shoot through loops, bounce off springs, and really only pause to battle the villainous Dr. Robotnik (referred to as Eggman in Japan and in all modern Sonic games).

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Sonic 2 introduced Tails, Sonic 3 would add Knuckles, Sonic CD would bring Amy. Now there’s like thirty more clogging things up.

Sonic games were like an adrenaline rush. It was both exciting and nerve-racking to have Sonic zipping along at top speed knowing at any moment an enemy could pop out or a spike pit could be looming. Besting the levels was one part reflex and another part repetition. There was an element of trial and error to Sonic that rarely become frustrating. Sonic was also a single player game, but Sonic 2 would introduce the character Tails and shoe-horn cooperative play into the game. As player 2, Tails was not fun to control because the game followed Sonic and only Sonic with Tails often getting left behind off camera. He couldn’t die, so that was a plus, but he didn’t really bring anything to the gameplay experience. Players could elect to control Tails and only Tails, but he was basically just a palette swap of Sonic, only cuter. Sonic 3 would improve on the co-op dynamic by allowing players to control Tails in flight. He could lift Sonic to hard to reach places which made the Sonic and Tails adventure a little different from the Sonic solo mode.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its sister title, Sonic & Knuckles, probably represents Sonic’s peak as well as his fall. The game became bigger and introduced a new character, Knuckles the echidna (whatever that is) who could glide and climb walls with his spiny knuckles. He was an antagonist in Sonic 3, and a playable character in Sonic & Knuckles. Sonic 3 was a big game compared to the previous titles. There was more emphasis placed on exploration which slowed things down just a touch. The graphics were also overhauled and allegedly Michael Jackson was responsible for most of the soundtrack. It was also meant to be bigger, as Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were supposed to be one game, but Sega likes money so it rushed the game to market. Sonic & Knuckles was the only game to feature Sega’s lock-on technology which allowed players to attach the prior Sonic games to the cart in a pretty ingenious maneuver. For Sonic 2, this meant gamers could play as Knuckles for a new take on things. For Sonic 3, this essentially opened up the whole game and allowed for saving as well which finally made collecting those pesky chaos emeralds worthwhile.

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Sonic wasn’t content to dominate just games, he had to have television too.

While this was all going down, Sonic was also succeeding elsewhere. On television, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was airing on weekday afternoons. Featuring everyone’s favorite nerd Jaleel White as the voice of Sonic, the show was a pretty typical children’s cartoon with cool protagonists and dim-witted villains. On Saturday mornings, a separate Sonic cartoon, simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was airing on ABC. It too featured White as the voice of Sonic but this show struck a more serious tone. Robotnik was the antagonist seeking to “robotocize” the population and succeeded in doing so with Sonic’s beloved Uncle Chuck in the first episode. Sonic was joined by Tails as well as a cast of character not featured in the games. Together they referred to themselves as freedom fighters and often employed guerrilla tactics to stop Robotnik and slow his progress. It was actually a pretty cool show, and both looked and sounded better than Adventures and the serious tone helped make it stand out. It doesn’t quite hold up for adult viewing, and Sonic for some reason needed to have a food obsession (chili dogs) like a certain group of turtles, but it’s still a pretty interesting interpretation of the games. Also of note, is Sonic’s solo adventure for the ill-fated Sega CD peripheral. I covered that in a full review years ago but it’s often heralded as Sonic’s best outing, it’s just too bad so few got to play it since the Sega CD was both pricey and awful.

Together with Sonic, Sega was able to claim a partial victory, though not a resounding one, in the 16 Bit Wars, but victory would be short-lived. Sega hastily tried to bring Sonic into the third dimension with Sonic 3D Blast, a dreadful top-down platformer released on the aging Genesis and ported to Sega’s new console. The industry moved on and Sega tried to stay one step ahead of its rivals with the Sega Saturn, a CD based system ill-equipped to handle the demands of 3D processing. The Saturn quickly fell behind not only Nintendo and its Nintendo 64, but also new-comer Sony and its Playstation. And in a truly puzzling maneuver, Sonic never had a true outing for the Saturn. He would skip the whole console generation while his old rival Mario wowed industry insiders and gamers alike with his performance in Super Mario 64. Sonic would not receive a full-fledged outing until Sonic Adventure in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast.

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If we want to be positive about Sonics more recent adventures, Sonic Generations wasn’t too bad.

Sonic Adventure was the hedgehog’s proper introduction to 3D and the results were a bit mixed. People at the time seemed to be pretty delighted with the return of Sega’s mascot, and the game looked great. The title was a hit and helped get the Dreamcast off to a decent start, but the momentum died quickly as the shadow of the Playstation 2 loomed large. At that time, people seemed willing to overlook Adventure’s short-comings, namely the giant cast of characters that forced non-speed related gameplay into the mix, but they were less willing to do so when Adventure 2 arrived in 2001. Most agreed that playing as Sonic was still fast and still fun (and newcomer Shadow played exactly the same), but 2/3rds of the game was devoted to scavenger hunts as Knuckles/Rogue and mech battles as Tails/Eggman. Those slower segments were mostly panned, and rightly so. This is about the time people started yearning for Sonic to go back to his roots.

There was a brief reprieve for Sonic via Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance. By now, Sega had folded as a console manufacturer and turned to publishing its games on other systems. This helped to land Sonic on handhelds where he was free to be himself. A series of games on both the GBA and the Nintendo DS were mostly well-received, if not spectacular. Simultaneously, Sonic continued to spin his wheels on the home consoles. Games like Sonic Heroes, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic and the Black Knight were mediocre to just plain awful. Sega seemed willing to try everything and anything with Sonic, and few times did it work out.

Meanwhile, Nintendo has mostly kept its star happy with quality main titles. Yeah, Mario has been whored out to the dreaded spin-off more times than can be counted, but the main titles in the Mario franchise have mostly been great. I’m talking about games like Mario Sunshine, Galaxy 1 and 2, 3D Land, and so on. Sonic has even struggled when going back to the well with 2D as Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was a pretty big bummer of a game. Sonic’s brand and reputation has been so tarnished that it’s now a surprise when he stars in a legitimately good game.

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Archie, which has seemingly never stopped believing in Sonic all these years, is celebrating his 25th in style. Odds are their comic will be better than whatever piece of crap game Sega offers up.

So what is Sonic’s legacy? Is Sonic one of the most beloved characters in video game history? A symbol of quality and excellence on par with the rival he will be forever linked with? Or is Sonic more of a flash in the pan; a product of the times that failed to adapt with the changing tastes of the masses? Is Sonic the video game equivalent of disco? When I think of Sonic the Hedgehog I’m taken back to many days and nights with my Genesis. I remember playing the original title at my nana’s house and running out of the bedroom announcing to all of the adults that I had finally beaten the game. I remember seeing Sonic transform into Super Sonic for the first time while playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and being totally captivated. I remember days spent mastering the bonus stage of Sonic 3 in my quest to collect all of the chaos emeralds so I could experience Super Sonic in that game (I also remember doing the same with Tails hoping to uncover a Super Tails, I was very let-down with the end result). That’s the Sonic I choose to remember. Thankfully, I haven’t had many extended experiences with the modern titles, or even the modern cartoons like Sonic X and Sonic Boom. I still know Sonic’s brand has suffered irreparably. I loved Sonic when I was 10 and I imagine most ten year olds today think he sucks, and it would be hard to argue with that. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sega is reportedly planning some big announcements. Hopefully they focus less on the glitz and just make a good game already. Sonic can’t take much more of this.


Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (2013)

250px-CastleofillusionremakeWhen I was a kid Mickey Mouse was a pretty big video game star. He was always known first and foremost as the official mascot for Disney and its theme parks and for the many cartoons featuring his likeness but he was a frequent star in several video games across multiple consoles. As was often the case back then, Mickey had a different franchise for each of the major consoles. The Sega consoles featured the Illusion series while the Super Nintendo had the Magical Quest games as well as some adventure games for the NES. As the 90’s wound along Mickey started appearing in the same game on both consoles before moving onto the newer machines. Since then his appearances have been cut down, with the Epic Mickey franchise sort of representing a return for Mickey. Even though Mickey was in many games, he never did acquire the reputation of Mario or Sonic (before his reputation was ruined, anyways) and one would be hard-pressed to argue that any of his games were among the best of the era. What they were was usually entertaining and pretty solid.

Mickey was basically a B+ video game star with his hits and misses but his best franchise was probably the Illusion series which appeared on Sega consoles. Developed by Sega, these games were often featured on the Genesis and Game Gear retail boxes as signature games for the consoles. The first was Castle of Illusion and was released for the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1990 with a Game Gear and Master System version to follow in 1991. It starred Mickey as he tried to navigate his way through a castle in order to save his beloved Minnie from the witch, Mizrabel, who was basically the witch/queen from Snow White. A sequel titled Land of Illusion was released for the Game Gear and Master System in 1992 with another sequel to follow on the Genesis titled World of Illusion later that same year. World of Illusion was unique because it starred both Mickey and Donald and featured two-player simultaneous play. Its controls and visuals also represented a noticeable upgrade over the original title and its often viewed as the best of the series.

Castle of Illusion, being an early Genesis title, is somewhat crude by today’s standards. The game’s visuals were never stellar and today they’re almost downright ugly. Mickey has a very jagged, squished look and there isn’t much being animated on him. He’s very sluggish to control and the whole game has kind of a sleepy feel. Still, as an early platformer for the Genesis, it was mostly well received because there wasn’t an obvious Mario clone at the time for the Genesis. Last year Sega released a remake for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and that’s really what this review is about.

The original game was okay looking at the time, but its grainy visuals and squished Mickey haven't aged well.

The original game was okay looking at the time, but its grainy visuals and squished Mickey haven’t aged well.

The 2013 version of Castle of Illusion obviously features greatly enhanced visuals when compared with the original. Mickey looks pretty great and the game is an above average looking title for its respective consoles. It isn’t mind-blowing, but is pleasant. The game mostly follows the same path as the original though it does introduce a castle hub world from which Mickey can access the various levels in the game. It’s a little longer than the original, and the levels are a bit different in spots, but for the most part it’s a pretty faithful remake with better graphics. Sega opted to confine Mickey to a 2D plane when navigating the levels but the boss fights usually occur in a 3D environment, which gives them a different feel when compared to the original game. For the most part, I found the boss fights harder in this game than I did on the original cart while the actual stages might have been a tad easier, with some exceptions.

Unfortunately, Sega did not opt to address what is probably the original game’s biggest short-coming and thats the controls. Mickey is still very floaty and very slow. It took me awhile to get used to Mickey’s timing and early on I had difficulty navigating the easiest jumps as a result. Eventually I got used to it but that doesn’t mean I ever fell in love with it. And these floaty controls get to suck more this time around because Mickey has a third dimension to contend with. Easily the most frustrating point of the game for me was the candy level where Mickey has to jump across floating cookies in a milk river. I felt like I was really fighting with the game to get Mickey onto those cookies and I came close to shutting the game off, but managed to persevere. Some of the collision detection is also confounding, particularly with the game’s second boss the Jack-in-the-Box. I found his boxing glove attack was inconsistent. I basically did the same thing for each attack to avoid it, only sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. I could never tell what was different as every time it looked like Mickey was basically jumping on top of the glove. The final boss is a little annoying too as she attacks with these ghost things that have a green aura around them making it tough to distinguish between the aura and the ghost (which is also green).

The remake mostly goes for a 2.5D approach and looks well enough for a download only release.

The remake mostly goes for a 2.5D approach and looks nice enough for a download only release.

Castle of Illusion is currently free for Playstation Plus subscribers, which is how I experienced it. My free membership expires this week hence why I didn’t shut it off as I wanted to beat it. I downloaded it mostly because it was free, but also because I had some nice memories of the original and wanted to see what Sega did with it. The original game comes with the download and I can safely say that the remake is probably the better game, though it’s also more frustrating. I can’t really recommend it unless you really loved the original game or have a Playstation Plus membership and can check it out for free. It’s a short game and I managed to beat it in an afternoon. The production values are actually pretty nice and the game’s soundtrack is actually better than I remembered (though I kind of prefer the original game’s old school score). The plot basically exists just because it has to and you’re not going to play this to see what happens to Mickey and Minnie, but I suppose that’s better than nothing. Hopefully Sega and Disney made some money off of this remake and a World of Illusion remake is in the cards. That’s a game I’d pay money to play again.