Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Super Sonic Racing - Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

If there's one subgenre of racing that has a bit of a rocky history, it's kart or mascot racing. A subgenre made most popular, if not outright started by Nintendo's own Mario Kart series and said series in fact has handily dominated the genre. several companies have tried over the years to make a racing game like Mario Kart, but there's not much in the way of major success stories, at least that I'm aware of. Which makes this game kind of a surprise.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a racing game about games made by Sega. It's worth noting that almost everything about the game comes from or is some nod to Sega's past as a game developer and publisher. The music, racers and tracks are all based on various games made by Sega, and there's actually a good amount of Sega's history covered here, everything from the old master system and arcade days, up to the Dreamcast and beyond. This game is very much a love letter to all things Sega, and if you're one of those people who like myself grew up playing Sega Games instead of Nintendo, there's a lot of recognizable stuff here.
This is a game about racing as Sega characters on tracks based on Sega games
All-Stars Racing is an arcade style racing game and the driving feels solid, cars can readily power slide through turns, catch big air on jumps or charge over boost pads for an additional burst of speed. Races feel nice and fast and it's honestly fun to speed through the games various tracks. What really impresses me is the game's big gimmick. Throughout the race cars will transform between three modes: a car, a plane, and a boat, to handle specific sections of each track and it's honestly impressive that the game can take three completely different vehicles and get them all to work as well as they do, although the planes can feel a bit weak. Drifting with them is difficult and the controls make throwing items backwards while flying somewhat problematic. Even with those problems however, everything holds up well enough and I don't find myself dreading having to drive in any of those three modes.

The game has a large number of characters to race as, again from several Sega games. There's over 20 of them, which gives a lot of gameplay options, but what makes this even better is mods. Each character has access to about eight different mods, unlocked through a leveling system that gives characters xp as you race as them. These mods alter how a character plays and some of them have a drastic impact on how they perform, giving players a lot more options that it initially appears. The characters cover a good amount of Sega's history. Alongside fairly obvious picks like sonic and Tails, AiAi from Super Monkey Ball or B. D. Joe from crazy Taxi, there's a lot of picks you might not have initially expected. like Vyes from Skies of Arcadia, or Gilius Thunderhead from golden Ax. There's even a good number of guest characters, like Ralph from Wreck-it Ralph or even several characters from Valve's Team Fortress 2 on the PC version. Overall there's a good selection here.
Races see you switching between car, boat, and plane mode on the fly.
The tracks, like the playable characters also cover a good bit of Sega's history. Alongside obvious picks like Samba De Amigo  or House of the Dead, there's tracks for titles like Panzer Dragoon, Afterburner, and even a track based on the Saturn game Burning Rangers. The tracks are fairly complicated and can change drastically over the course of the race, to the point that one lap can seem completely different from the previous one. how varied this gets varies a lot from track to track though, some like Temple Trouble, barely change between laps, while others like Rogues' landing greatly change things up each lap, so this ability for the track to change over time can feel pretty under-utilized in places. The tracks are fun to drive through however, and do a good job of representing the games they come from, and include little touches that fans of the respective games will recognize, such as Professor K DJ-ing over the music in Jet Set Radio's Graffiti City, or the various Nightmarens and Nightopians that populate NiGHTS' Dream Valley.

The game comes complete with several different modes to play in, outside of single race and the Grand Prix, which has several cups to race through, There's the world tour. The world tour consists of a map from which you can pick various events to play in, covering not only single races, but special challenges like dodging traffic or hitting chains of boost pads, all of these events have 3 levels of difficulty and earn you stars, which allows you to unlock things like mods and extra characters. There's a large number of events to go through although some of the special challenges, particularly battle races, can be something of a pain to deal with.
The world tour map is fairly large, and covers dozens of events.
Graphically, the game is very nice looking. Characters look like you'd expect, with properly updated models where needed on older characters, and the oldest characters from 2D games being given a proper 3D makeover. Track environments are nice and varied and again look like something out of the games they're based on. There is however, one major problem in that the game seems to suffer from some graphical issues, with things failing to load properly after I've played for a while. I'm not sure what the reason for this is, if I had to guess however, I'd say that the game might be a bit resource hungry as the solution seems to be lowering the graphics settings. It's a bit weird as my system is close and even beats several of the recommended system requirements, though I'd expect It wouldn't be a major problem for people on beefy newer PCs. For people on slightly older ones like myself, it might be best to crank down the graphics and try not to play for too long at once.

One of this games biggest strengths is it's soundtrack. not content to simply port songs over from their respective games, several of the songs have been updated and remixed, and the results are amazing. A few standout tracks include Carrier Zone's take on Afterburner's stage 1 theme as an 80's style rock song that sound like something out of Top Gun, or Burning Depths version of "We are Burning Rangers", There's a lot of good music here. Sound holds up just as well, tires squeal, weapons fire with a satisfying fwoosh, and vehicles make this nice mechanical sound whenever they transform, of particular note is the game's announcer, who's fittingly loud and energetic and who's voice actor clearly had way too much fun with this. This is a good sounding game.
Each racer has several mods you can unlock, which alters how they perform.
As much as I like the game, there are a few flaws worth pointing out, the first is that the items, while useful without being overly disruptive, are somewhat generic. In a game where almost everything ties back to a Sega IP, it's sad that we only get simple fireworks and speed boosts to use. It would of been nice if the items were also based on stuff from Sega games. For example: Summoning a swarm of hornets is nice, but why not make them full-on Buzz Bombers from Sonic the Hedgehog? Also, while it's nice that they included a few tracks ported from the original All-Stars Racing, they didn't update them to account for the games new mechanics, so the tracks use cars only and nothing changes between laps, meaning they tend to stick out a bit as a result.

Overall, this is a good kart style racer, which is impressive given how rare it is to see one outside of Mario Kart. If you're looking for a game like Mario kart to play on your PC, or other system for that matter as this was a multi-platform release, this will do nicely. That alone is enough to make the game worth looking at, however beyond that the game's biggest strength is how much of a love letter to all things Sega it is. If you like Sega and grew up with their games and systems back in the day? This thing is pure Sega fanservice and you'll find a lot to love here.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega. It is available on Steam.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

More spells than you can shake a wand at - Magicmaker

With the rise of games like Minecraft and Terraria. Several games have followed in their wake, offering large, randomly generated open worlds with complex crafting systems and plenty of character customization. Even when games aren't trying to follow directly in the footsteps of those titles, some games have taken those ideas and incorporated the into their own designs. One of the games to do this would be Magicmaker, a platform game that uses procedural content and a simple crafting system to create an amazing amount of content.

Magic maker sees you as an unemployed wizard who's taken on a temp job as a security guard at Dörwall Community College, being sent out on various tasks, risking life and limb in the name of a steady paycheck. The game actually has a fairly quirky sense of humor, the game's text includes a lot of wit and sarcasm, characters are weird when they're not being smart-assed and the game very obviously does not take itself seriously. That said while this can be amusing it should be noted that story is very much not the focus of the game and what story the game has exists simply as a cheap excuse to make spells, then go out into the world and hit things with them.
There's a lot of interested spells to play with.
Gameplay in Magicmaker is fairly straightforward, you choose a randomly generated level to take on, using the spells you've made to fight off enemies as you search for new spell materials and make your way towards the exit. The game is actually good at keeping levels interesting, there are several zones you can visit to complete missions, each of which has it's own enemies and gimmicks to deal with, such as the desert zone's periodic sandstorms, which require you to hide indoors. Missions are also rarely if ever a simple case of beating the boss and find the exit, and often require you to search the level for hidden objects, or avoid killing a certain kind of monster.

A big part of the game is customization. You're allowed to carry three spells and a single robe into each level, making these spells and robes is actually fairly detailed as there's millions of possible spells and robes to make and use. going beyond simple mechanical effects, you can even tweak their appearance, and there's a lot of options to change the look of your character. The game even lets you save what you've made to reload later. This is actually somewhat important as the game's levels make good use of this customization: you'll often have to tailor your spells for the mission ahead. for example, if a level doesn't want you to kill a certain kind of enemy, you'll likely want a spell more controlled than the one that rapid fires exploding projectiles that home in on enemies and bounce off walls.
You have a lot of options for editing your character.
One of the game's biggest strengths is how it handles making spells and robes. While the game offers a wealth of options for making the perfect spell or robe. Actually making them is surprisingly simple. Each of your spells or robe has a number of slots, and you fit the materials you gain from clearing levels into them.  Each material has 2 effects, one for use in spells, and one for use in robes. You simply simply pick the materials you want, limited by the number of slots you have, and the game will create the spell or robe by combining their effects. There's no special rules or complex systems to deal with, as long as you have the materials, you can quickly throw a new spell together and get right back into the action.

Perhaps even better than how the game keeps it's wealth of options simple to handle, is how quickly it gives you access to them. Most game that make heavy use of crafting tend to save the interesting things you can make for later. Spending most of the early game with fairly simple, straightforward things. Magicmaker wastes virtually no time on getting to the good stuff. Even in the tutorial, you'll have to make a projectile spell that lights things on fire to deal damage over time, and has a limited ability to pass through walls, and it only gets better from there. Almost immediately, you'll be making spells with crazy abilities. Even better, you can freely replace the materials used for spells and robes without penalty, meaning not only can you readily make fun and interesting spells, but are free to experiment and try out new things. This is a game that wastes no time in getting to the good stuff.
Each level ends with a fight against a gigantic boss.
Graphically, the game's art style is made to look like paper cutouts, complete with little folds and crinkles. The result is a actually pretty nice looking, everything is bright and colorful. Characters, bosses in particular are nice and detailed. The few things that don't look like paper, namely your spells, are nice and flashy without sticking out much. While the game isn't a graphical masterpiece, it's a very cute style that makes a nice change of pace from all the pixel art out there.

Along with the graphics, Magicmaker has a lovely soundtrack. The songs all fit the light tone of the game, though they do get a bit more serious for the boss fights, each zone of the game has several songs to use, so the soundtrack avoids getting repetitive. Everything holds up well wither your exploring or fighting, and it again makes a nice change of pace from the usual chiptunes found in a lot of indie games. Sound effects meanwhile are unfortunately fairly minimal. There's a handful of sounds for firing spells and enemy attacks, along with effects going off, Everything works and sounds more or less like you might expect but there's nothing really exceptional about any of it.
The game's levels are spread between several different zones.
While playing the game, I haven't encountered any major bugs, but I did encounter some issues. namely, when saving spells, every time you click save, you save a new copy of the spell, you can't overwrite saves, so when you adjust or add to a spell, you have to remember to delete the old version, otherwise you end up with a bunch of redundant spells in your list. A larger problem is, at least going by the requirements on Steam the devs seem unsure of the game's ability to readily run on any operating system besides windows 7. Fortunately there is a demo available to make sure the game will run properly, and the GoG version claims to be compatible with Windows 8 and Vista. If in doubt, remember to try the demo first.

In the end, this game is very good at what it does: Allowing the player to set about making various crazy spells to go blasting enemies with, and it wastes virtually no time in letting players get to the good stuff. While the main campaign is only a small handful of levels, random level generation, and plenty of side missions along with a new game+ option ensures plenty of replayability. If you like tinkering with options and trying various equipment loadouts, there's a lot to love here.

Magicmaker was developed and published by Tasty Stewdios LLC. It is available with a demo on Steam and GoG. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. It's homepage is available here.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


With the new year starting today and my previously mentioned RL issues starting to clear up, I figured I should take a little time to fix up the blog. I have an FAQ written up now, there should be a link to the side. It's a bit of a rough draft at the moment, but should shape up nicely as I improve things and get feedback.

Speaking of feedback, I also added a contact forum so people can send feedback, questions, etc. through it. I saw a lot of little gadgets and add-ons I can readily use while setting this stuff up. so if there's anything people want me to add, feel free to yell at me and I'll see what I can do.

Here's hoping for a good year for the blog.