Sonic’s 30th Anniversary Is Coming!

Happy Saturday! It’s Ryan here, for another round of Games with Coffee. Hope everyone had a way past cool week! I know I did – got my jab, the writing’s going well, streaming is way past awesome and work is ramping up with new challenges in front of me, which I’m pretty excited about taking on. 

Speaking of exciting, this Sunday marks one more month until the 30th Anniversary of the Sonic the Hedgehog series! I know, I aired my grievances on my last post to SEGA and Sonic Team on their lack of merchandise up here in Canada, but I’m still hoping that the 30th Anniversary celebration merch will make up for that. 

Not only that, with SEGA announcing that they’ll be in attendance at several trade shows this summer, coupled with hints about how bright Sonic’s future appears to be, I’m sure we’ll hear some game announcements for the series.

To that end, I want to share what I think we’ll see ahead of the 30th Anniversary celebrations and put together a wishlist of items I definitely want. And we start off with the obvious:


Game Announcements

What’s a celebration of a world-famous hedgehog without info on new games, eh? I do hope that SEGA does announce something, rather than just tease us and say “Hey, we’re doing something, can’t tell you what tho!”

I’ll tell you this – I really and truly hope we see something ground-breaking for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and I’m talking “Breath of the Wild” level ground-breaking here. Modern Sonic games have been hit or miss (with more misses than hits, really) and it would be good to see a good Modern Sonic game for a change, like Sonic Generations for example. It would be interesting to see an open-world Sonic, but I can’t imagine how that would look or how it would work? It’s just too foreign in my mind right now. However, I hope they bring back and improve on the parkour mechanics from Sonic Lost World. While the idea was solid, the execution needed some polish and I think a new title has potential to showcase a fluidly moving Sonic to the masses.

With Classic Sonic, I think the right direction here would be to keep him and Modern completely separate. Apparently, putting him in Sonic Forces ended up being a bad move in terms of optics. I understand that SEGA really wanted to force Classic Sonic in for the 25th anniversary, but maybe putting him in Forces wasn’t the best move. Mind you, I haven’t played Forces (A surprise, huh!?), so I can’t say too much on that. As I was saying though, making a Classic Sonic game separate from Modern Sonic would be a great way to both celebrate the classic series and diversify the franchise portfolio at the same time. Maybe we’ll see a Sonic Mania 2 announcement? Or something else altogether?

As far as remakes go though, I doubt we’ll see any mention of Sonic Adventure. However, if the rumors are true, then we may see a remaster of Sonic Colours, which would be way past cool! A rerelease of the Sonic Advance series of games or even other classic portable Sonic games would also be welcome.

Oh, bump that! An Anniversary Collection! Every single classic Sonic title, including portable and obscure adventures, available in one, convenient package! That would mean a re-release of Sonic 3 and Knuckles, as well as Knuckles’ Chaotix! That would be a sweet deal in my eyes!

Merchandise!

Going into merchandise, I want, want, WANT the Anniversary Collection threads available on the SEGA Europe shop! Honestly, the stuff looks so dope! The blue T-Shirt featuring all the different iterations of Sonic’s design over the years has to be my favourite of the bunch. 

I also want this 30th Anniversary Mug, the design is so great!

SEGA of America, get this stuff over here so I can order it for myself!!! Please, for the love of all that is holy in this world, that’s all I wish for, y’know?

I pre-ordered the deluxe edition of the Sonic Encyclo-Speed-ia (of course haha). Just recently, I got this incredibly corny children’s story book about Sonic for my son. I’ve read it twice now to him and he LOVES it. Plus, the stickers on the back look so great! I want to see more Sonic reading material though, so that I can keep reading it to my kid.

Though Volume 1 of the IDW comic series is coming out very soon (which I’m also getting), I want to hear news about any additional volumes so I can catch up with the series! It sounds really good and I can’t wait to start reading it for myself. Will elements from the IDW comics be seen in future Mobius VII works? Maybe? I’ll need to read the comics and see.

I’m looking for a new Sonic hat for streaming. No, the old Sonic hat will not be retired, don’t worry about that, but a new hat to commemorate the milestone is definitely on my wish list. Again, SEGA Europe has a pretty nice looking one.

Speaking of wishlists, I entered a contest about 10 years ago at The Sonic Stadium, where winners were chosen for suggesting the most interesting toy ideas. My suggestion was a transformable Tornado, based on the design from Sonic Adventure. My heart would soar (and my wallet would be threadbare) if something like that were announced, just saying.

Finally, I think enough time has passed from the Sonic Movie’s release for Puma and SEGA to team up again and release a shoe based off of the one in the movies. I know that one model was made, but it wasn’t available to the public. In short – give us shoes like Sonic’s damnit! I have a mighty need for it!

Give us these shoes!!!!!

So, there you have it; the things I expect in terms of game announcements and the things I want for myself to celebrate! What about you guys? Any predictions of what to expect for games? What merch are you looking forward to getting for yourself? And what would be on your wishlist? Let me know in the comments!

With that, and obsessively refreshing my feeds for any breaking Sonic news, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Believe in Yourself, Live with No Regrets and Chase After the Impossible! See you again soon!

The Legend of Zelda – What The Series Means to Me After 35 Years

Hey, welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! I hope everyone had a great week! 

It’s been a pretty productive time for me, post-Mobius VII Book 1. The worldbuilding for Book 2 has commenced, writing for the podcast series – Mobius VII Story Notes – is progressing fairly well and streaming has never been more fun than it has today. Today, however, I’ll be putting aside all talks about Sonic and Final Fantasy and I’ll be putting a spotlight on a third series that has had an enormous impact on my life.

That series is The Legend of Zelda, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.


In The Beginning…

My journey with Link started off with the old 1989 Zelda cartoon that would air on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. I was in kindergarten during that time and I remember (albeit, vaguely) coming home at lunchtime to watch this show and it was there that I first watched that Zelda cartoon. It was set in the magical land of Hyrule and starred an irascible, rascally hero, a sassy princess, a mischievous fairy and a villainous pig monster/wizard who tried to steal the Triforce of Wisdom in order to rule the land. The moment I saw that show intro, I was HOOKED.

I remember at one point back in kindergarten that I pretended to be Link and had magical adventures with friends… but I could be misremembering things? Memory works in strange ways, sometimes.

In fact, looking back now, I credit the Legend of Zelda cartoon as the first instance where I was exposed to High Fantasy, my favourite genre of fiction. I was always swept up in the fantastical worlds that existed within these stories, with their crafty characters, deep and introspective lores and zany, over-the-top adventures and I have to thank the series for introducing that into my life. 

Anyway, we fast forward to around the summer of ‘94, when a neighbourhood friend introduced me to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. This was my first foray into the Zelda gaming universe and, in my eyes, it did not disappoint. Despite its status as the black sheep of the series, Zelda II was an incredible stroke of genius. With its focus on action and exploration instead of puzzle solving, the game has Link traversing the entirety of North Hyrule to place crystals in six palaces and unlock the Great Palace, said to hold the Triforce of Courage, the third piece of the Triforce. Before playing this title (and Dragon Warrior, which I played right after this one), I found that at a young age, games weren’t very immersive. They were simple affairs, like getting from one end of a level to the goal or beating a boss at the very end. With Zelda II, there was a story to be had, even though it was simple. Playing it made me feel as though I was a part of the adventure and my actions had an effect on whether or not Link succeeded in his quest to revive Princess Zelda from her eternal sleep. 

Also, as I’ve mentioned several times before, Zelda II was also a test of patience. It’s not enough to just hack and slash at everything in sight, there’s strategy involved in this game. Ironkuckles can easily be defeated by aggressively advancing forward, jumping and stabbing at them. Daria’s (Axe-wielding monsters) can be defeated in several ways – orange ones are eliminated by crouch-stabbing while advancing forward while the red ones can be defeated by timing their axe throws and slashing at their heads when an opening presents itself.

By far, my favourite enemies to fight are the Lizalfos and they’re simple to beat once you nail the strategy. While advancing forward, jump up, hold down (as though you’re initiating the downstab) and then immediately stab forward. If done right, Link will look like he’s crouching in mid-air and almost 80% of the time, it catches the Lizalfos off guard, making for an easy kill. It also means easy experience, considering the orange ones give off 150 xp per kill.

If I haven’t mentioned it before (and if it wasn’t obvious from the above), Zelda II is by far my favourite game of the series. There was a point in time where I thought all Zelda games were like Zelda II, but I was sorely mistaken once I started delving deeper into the series.

From Side-Scrolling to Traditional

Christmas of 1998 was a special time for me, as it was the year that I picked up my very first Game Boy – a Game Boy Pocket in Electric Green. I’m actually kicking myself for selling that unit all those years ago as it was just a wonderful little thing, but alas, hindsight’s 20/20, right? Still, the first game that I got with the system was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, released in that same year to coincide with the release of the Game Boy Colour.

Compared to Zelda II, Link’s Awakening was a completely different beast. It was more puzzle based than the side-scrolling action adventure title. I struggled to wrap my mind around the mechanics around the different items. I remember on my first playthrough being stuck in the Mysterious Woods with the raccoon blocking my path forward. It took some time, but I realized that I needed to use the Magic Powder to proceed further. At the time, I thought the only source of the powder was through the Crane Game mechanic and I remember spending hours chopping grass over and over again in order to get the necessary Rupees needed to play the game and get the powder. I only realized years later that I could have gotten the Toadstool within the woods, hand it over to the Witch by the graveyard area and receive a free sack of powder instead!

I also remember getting stuck on the last three dungeons for the longest time. As a kid of 11 or 12, I found those to be particularly difficult. The final boss was also a nightmare (pun intended) to deal with, but eventually I persevered. Link’s Awakening would be the first Zelda game that I would finish – I hadn’t beaten Zelda II until I was in my mid-teens and that was with save states and cheats and such! The message within the game, in that the whole island and its inhabitants are nought but illusions, flew over my head at the time, but I started to understand what it meant as I got older. The fact that your existence may be nothing more than a conjuring within someone’s dream and that it can be erased as soon as that individual awakens… that’s pretty terrifying to realize haha.

Transitioning to 3D

At around the same time I was struggling through Link’s Awakening, I also got to play the next evolution of the Zelda series with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, thanks to an older cousin of mine who had an Nintendo 64. He and I would journey through the vast lands of Hyrule together, fighting off monsters, solving problems for folks and trying to stop a madman from conquering the kingdom. The time travel twist was so awesome to behold and I remember sitting with my cousin and my brother watching all our efforts go to waste once we picked up the Master Sword and thinking, “Wow, we just got played.”

The dungeon difficulty went up several notches at that point, as each of the Temples had tons of tricky sections that really threw me for a loop. The most infamous of them all was the Water Temple, and I remember that we were stuck in that particular area for a good couple of weeks!

Such a pain to deal with…

Ultimately, this was a game that we didn’t get to finish together as a group. School and life got in the way and my cousin ended up finishing the game without me. He had also picked up Majora’s Mask – the sequel to Ocarina of Time and we spent a fair deal of time playing that one until his system and games got stolen during one of his baseball practices… Meanwhile, I didn’t get a proper chance to finish OoT until I picked up the Collector’s Edition for the GameCube for Christmas of 2003. I admit, I used walkthroughs to get through the rest of the game, particularly for the bloody Water Temple, which I still detest to this day haha. 

The final battle between Link and Ganondorf – transformed into the demon Ganon – was one of the most iconic and memorable fights that I experienced within gaming. The music, the atmosphere and the backdrop of the ultimate fight between good and evil, it was something that could only come from an epic High Fantasy tale. In this case, it was better because I could control the action, I could feel the tension between these two forces. I remember my hands gripping the controller tightly as I felt each blow of Ganon’s twin, forked swords. I remember gritting my teeth as I sought a way to hit the Demon King’s weak point on his tail. And I remember the jubilation I felt when I landed the final blow to his head and his subsequent sealing into the Sacred Realm. That moment solidified The Legend of Zelda’s place as one of my favourite gaming series of all time, ranking up there with both Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy.

After Ocarina of Time though, things just got better and better. Majora’s Mask – while not within my top ten Zelda games – was still an awesome and dark entry to the series. Wind Waker’s cel-shaded graphics didn’t deter me from experiencing a fantastic and compelling story set in a waterlogged Hyrule. Twilight Princess was, at one point, my favourite 3D Zelda game, because it combined everything that made Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker great into one complete and dense package. My only complaint was that it started off a bit slow, but once the first scenes were passed, the enormous world of Hyrule really opened up and it was what I’ve always imagined it to be. A land full of fantasy and mystery and wonder.

The Rest of the Series

I played the original Legend of Zelda game for the first time around the same moment that I got the Collector’s Edition. Seeing where it all started from gave me both a better appreciation for the games that came after it and a sense of gratitude that the series even existed and improved so much over the years. I followed that up with A Link to the Past – arguably the most talked about Zelda title prior to Ocarina of Time – and I understood why it was so highly regarded.

Oracles of Ages and Seasons, a pair of GBC Zelda games, marked the first games in which the events of one game would affect those in the second. My brother and I owned both copies of this game (Ages was his, while Seasons was mine) and the two of us would work together to figure out each game’s puzzles, unlock the mysteries of Holodrum and Labrynna and ultimately defeat Ganon once more.

The Minish Cap was styled in the same way as Wind Waker and featured a fantastic shrinking mechanic that allowed players to explore Hyrule in completely new ways. Speaking of Wind Waker, I’ve also played the two DS sequels to the game: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. I adored Spirit Tracks’ iteration of Zelda – she is my second favourite version in the series thus far. Plus, you can’t go wrong with trains!

There are some titles I haven’t touched yet, notably Skyward Sword, which is coming out this year, and Link Between Worlds for the 3DS. There’s also the Four Swords series, both for the GameCube and the GBA, as well as the Triforce Heroes games. I dare not mention the CDi games though haha. I don’t know if I’ll ever play those…

What I appreciated about the Zelda series was that it never stopped trying to improve itself in every way. Each and every game built up from the previous ones, while introducing new and innovative mechanics to keep things from going stale. And while the timeline ended up being a confusing mess, all the events eventually coalesced into one, singular stream and transported players 10,000 years into the future…

Breath of the Wild and the Future of Zelda

From the moment Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch were announced, I knew I had to get both. Due to shortages in both supply and in cash, I wasn’t able to get a system on launch, but I did end up getting a Switch and a copy of Breath of the Wild around my birthday. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience that I was about to undertake the moment I inserted the cartridge and turned on the system.

The stories of previous games had faded into near obscurity and the current game takes place after Ganon, now known as Calamity Ganon – more a force of nature than an individual – was unleashed and devastated the world. Link, the final hope of the land, had awoken 100 years after its release and now must free the Divine Beasts from Ganon’s control and defeat the monster with Zelda’s help. Zelda herself was trapped in Hyrule Castle, holding the beast at bay using the Triforce. As he was now, Link wouldn’t stand a chance, but by going to shrines, offering Spirit Orbs to the Goddess in exchange for power  and exploring the land for new weapons, armour and techniques, he’d be more than ready to stand toe-to-toe with the creature of Malice.

I mentioned before how Twilight Princess had an enormous version of Hyrule to explore. Breath of the Wild makes Twilight Princess’ version look like a speck in comparison. The moment Link awoke from the Spring of Resurrection and walked out towards that grand, sweeping vista overlooking Hyrule Castle, I knew for a fact that this was the Hyrule I’ve always dreamed of. A world filled with mystery and magic and even some ancient technology thrown in to deepen the intrigue.

The introduction of the Champions, coupled with a deeper focus on Zelda and her conflicts between her responsibilities as the Princess of Destiny and her desires to be a scholar, really made this game memorable. The only other game that made me feel so invested in the story in the series was Twilight Princess

The release of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity years later filled in many gaps within Breath of the Wild, while also providing a satisfying twist to the story and opening the series up to new interpretations. The Dynasty Warriors-styled gameplay was a perfect match to showcase what the war against Ganon was like before everything went south. Here, you got a sense of how truly powerful Link was before his defeat at Fort Hateno. I also enjoyed how the story focused on Zelda herself and how she had to battle back her doubts and low self-esteem in order to be the leader everyone knew she could be. 

Now, with the sequel to Breath of the Wild in development (and hopefully we can hear more about it in the summer!), I’m excited to see what the future lies within the Legend of Zelda series. There is so much to talk about, from its characters, to its settings and its lore that I could just go on and on if I wanted to! Alas, I’ve drawn out this post long enough, I suppose haha.


With that, we’ll call this edition here. What’s your favourite Zelda game? What is it about the series that makes it so special to you? Let me know in the comments below?

Also, I’ve been working my way through numerous Zelda games on my Twitch channel. I’m currently on a playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If your Tuesday nights are open, drop by and say hi! I start up every Tuesdays at 9:30pm EST.

Until next week, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Live with No Regrets, Believe in Yourself and Chase the Impossible. See you next time!


Espresso Shot [Movie] Review – Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another edition of Games with Coffee!

First question: Did you see the Sonic the Hedgehog movie that released on Valentines Day? Second question: If you haven’t, why are you still sitting here? GO. AND. WATCH. IT. NOW. (Or not… considering the current events… but still.)

Ahem.

That’s it. That’s the entire post.

Oh wait, you want me to write a review of the movie? Well… I did mention in my comeback post back in January that I would do one… And I always endeavor to keep my promises…

Alright then! So, we’ll do this properly: Games with Coffee’s first ever Espresso Shot [Movie] Review! Similar format as the regular reviews, but with minus Gameplay (for obvious reasons, of course.).

Let’s get to it!


Image result for Sonic the hedgehog movie poster

Wow. What a timeline we live in, huh folks?

When the very first teaser images for Sonic the Hedgehog were released by Paramount Pictures some time early last year, I thought it was a joke. “There’s no way that this is what it’s really gonna look like?” I thought cynically.

Image result for sonic the hedgehog teaser images

And then the teaser trailer dropped. Humanoid Sonic? Gangsta Paradise? Muscular calves?! No gloves?! Shoes with laces?! Cyclops!? TEETH!? Oh my goodness…

Image result for sonic the hedgehog uh meow gif

Dear god, what an abomination.

Right there and then, I was ready to throw it in and declare Sonic the Hedgehog’s media career dead and gone. I planned on reminiscing on the good times, back when the retro games were king, when the 3-D games did some experimental fun stuff – some were good, others, not so – and when Sonic used to be cool. “Now,” I thought, sadly watching my favourite character spiral into oblivion, “Now, he’s a joke…”

Thankfully, other Sonic fans like myself thought the same thing and they demanded action. You want to know who else teamed up with us fans? Kids. They, too, thought that the design looked horrible. Nightmare-fuel really. So then, Paramount did something that was completely unthinkable:

They listened.

Director Jeff Fowler acknowledged in a tweet what everyone else was thinking: the design wasn’t acceptable. They’d go back to the drawing board. They’d make him better.

And then they did something even more unthinkable: They went to Tyson Hesse.

Now, who’s Tyson Hesse? Well, he’s the god who descended down from the heavens the artist who saved the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. He’s the guy who put together the wildly popular and entertaining Sonic Mania Adventures and Team Sonic: Overdrive shorts. He’s also one of the artists working on the IDW comics run of Sonic The Hedgehog, which looks way past cool! (I still need to start reading this series…).

On November 12, 2019, Paramount proved that did the right thing in bringing him aboard when the new trailer of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie dropped, showcasing the brand new design. It was, in a word, EPIC:

To this day, this trailer has over 33 million views. I myself had it on repeat in the background at work. For two weeks. This, THIS was what I wanted to see: a proper looking Sonic the Hedgehog!

Fast forward to February, the hype was REAL. Paramount released a hilarious Super Bowl commercial, where athletes of all kinds were extolling the virtues of our blue, supersonic hedge-hero. Social media was abuzz and Sonic was EVERYWHERE. And I? I was still skeptical. “Sure, they redesigned his look, but there’s no way in hell that this movie was going to be any good. According to history, video game movies are supposed to be terrible. Yes Detective Pikachu was an exception to the norm, but that’s all it was.”

Watching this movie at an advance screening on the Thursday ahead of its Valentines Day release made me realize that I shouldn’t expect the most negative of outcomes. I’ll admit, I shed a few tears on my way home from the theater. It’s not just because I’m a hardcore Sonic fan who just saw his icon on the big screen, but because the story was so heartwarming and so familiar to me.

Isolation, loneliness and ADHD do go hand in hand in hand after all.

Story

(HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Clocking in at 100 minutes runtime (referencing the fact that Sonic needs 100 rings for an extra life), Sonic the Hedgehog introduces how our lovable blue hedgehog ended up on Earth in the first place. The film opens in media res with Sonic and Robotnik battling it out in San Francisco. It’s here, where Sonic tells his story.

Born with speed-based super powers on an alien world resembling the one in the video games, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) lived a life of hiding with his mentor/mother figure, Longclaw, an owl. When he accidentally leads a pack of echidnas back to their safe house, Longclaw hands Sonic a bag of rings and instructs him to get to safety.

Rings play a vital part both in the video games and in the movie as well. In the latter, they’re used as a mode of transport, allowing beings to travel great distances by just thinking of their destination. In a sense, these operate with the same principles as the Giant Rings in classic Sonic games or the Warp Rings in the latter issues of Archie Comics’ run of Sonic the Hedgehog (we’re talking Pre-Super Genesis Wave here folks, keep up!). Using these rings, Sonic had been planet hopping and evading those who would want to exploit his powers for their nefarious purposes.

His travels eventually led him to live on Earth in the sleepy town of Green Hills, Montana (another reference to the games!), where he had holed up in a cave for the last ten years. With no one but himself to keep him company, Sonic argues in movie that he’s “living his best life on Earth.” In reality, his existence is a lonesome one. His interactions with the residents of Green Hills are limited to him standing on the sidelines as an observer and pretending that they are his friends. Two people he has great interest in are Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) – a local cop – and his wife, Maddie (Tika Sumpter) – a veterinarian. Sonic affectionately nicknames them “The Donut Lord” and “The Pretzel Lady” respectively.

His loneliness doesn’t truly settle in until he tries to emulate a Little League game he saw one afternoon, using his super speed to play practically every position from offense to defense and even coaching! When he scored that home run, crossed home plate and raised his hand for a high five, only to find that there was no one there to give him one, I’ll admit, I lost it.

It took me back to when I was 9, when my ADHD and my self-esteem were at their worst. I was alone. I was friendless. I spent my recesses playing in one of the baseball diamonds at school, alone, with nothing but my imagination to keep me company. And instantly, I identified with the character. Well, I’ve always identified with Sonic, but the movie version more so than ever before.

His rage and frustration manifests his speed based powers and sends the entire Pacific Northwest into darkness. The military decides to send their top technology guy, Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate, which leads Sonic and Tom to cross paths. Tom, who’s recently accepted a job as a street cop in San Francisco, shoots Sonic with a tranq when he catches him in his garage. Sonic was just about to escape to the next destination of his escape map – the Mushroom Planet. This causes the hedgehog to drop his warp ring as he blearily mutters  the words he sees on Tom’s shirt: San Francisco. This opens a portal on the floor to the city. His bag of rings drops into the portal and lands on top of the Transamerica Pyramid.

Robotnik tracks Sonic to Tom’s place and the two escape with the doctor on their tail. The second act of the movie becomes a buddy act between Sonic and Tom, where Tom helps the hedgehog retrieve his rings. He goes on to explain what a bucket list is and helps Sonic to live out his last day on Earth enroute to San Francisco. Sonic tries to do everything on his bucket list and acts nonchalant but he secretly wants to have true friends. Being alone with only yourself as your source of companionship really drags on your soul, y’know?

Meanwhile, Robotnik retrieves one of Sonic’s quills from Tom’s house and determines that it holds almost unlimited power – enough that he could use it to his own devious purposes. This results in a sort of victory dance, in which Jim Carrey goes full Jim Carrey and it is fantastic.

Everything comes to a head in the third act. An explosion injures Sonic and Tom takes him to his veterinarian wife, who’s apartment hunting in San Fran. After being gifted his iconic shoes, Sonic and his human companions retrieve his bag of rings, only for Robotnik to show up, his machine now powered by Sonic’s quill. Sonic eventually decides to stop running and use his powers to save his new friends, which culminates in the movie’s spectacularly visual final act. At the end, and with help from Tom and the people of Green Hills, the hedgehog defeats Robotnik with his patented Spin Attack, banishes the Doctor to the Mushroom Planet and ends up getting his high five, new friends and a home to live in.

OK, sure the acting’s a bit wooden at times, but Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey really nail their respective roles. Jim Carrey really stole the show. He brought his traditional, old school 90’s visual comedy back to the screen and it made Robotnik much more dimensional than his game counterpart. Ben Schwartz really shined as Sonic. He put in so much expression and emotion into the character that it makes the other Sonic English VA’s look like amateurs in comparison. His interpretation of Sonic makes the character so endearingly irritating and it’s great! Also, James Marsden did a great job as the straight man who befriends a talking animal. It looked as though he actually enjoyed playing this role. Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub) and Maddie (Tika Sumpter) were real stand-outs, despite the limited screen time both characters had. Bottom line is, the movie’s wholesome and full of fuzzy feels. Thankfully, there is only one fart joke to endure and a couple of Floss Dance moments, but otherwise, the rest of the jokes were funny. The story’s pretty predictable and I wished that they pulled more from the game lore, however as a starting point to the character and the series as a whole, I think Paramount did a fine job with the script.

Also, can we just take a moment to relish in the feels at the part when Jojo gave Sonic his iconic red and white shoes?

Image result for sonic shoes movie jojo

So wholesome…

Visuals

Compared to when it first was teased, Sonic the Hedgehog looks amazing. Sonic truly looks like Sonic, thanks to Tyson Hesse and the exhaustive effort of the animators who went back and revamped all the CGI. The visual effects also look pretty good. I really liked the electricity that comes out of Sonic when he goes whole hog. I do wish they incorporated more of the game world into this movie, but as it’s an introduction to what could be a franchise film series, it’s understandable why they went this route.
I greatly enjoyed the visual Easter eggs they included in the movie. From Sanic, to the rings around the Paramount logo, there was a ton of references to the games and I loved it all!

I originally had misgivings about Robotnik’s appearance, but I found those to be unjustified. As this is an origin story for both characters, it made sense for Robotnik to look anything unlike his original appearance in the games. That said, Jim Carrey really nailed the evil genius – he turned from a one-dimensional character into something that could be expanded on in future installments. His transformation at the end to his iconic look was simply marvelous.

Audio

Oh. My. God. As a Sonic fan, I LOVED the audio. I also loved the fact that it wasn’t overstated. Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) did a superb job with the soundtrack. He really showed respect for the source audio. He even snuck in some motifs from the animated series. There are certain parts of Dr. Robotnik’s theme that sounds similar to his theme in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s wild!

Whoever made the decision to use “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen deserves a freaking raise. Best decision ever made! It was like the song was made for the movie, really. I nearly jumped out of my chair and cheered when it was playing. It’s one of my favourite running songs and one of my favourite songs in general from the band.

That piano version of Green Hills Zone that plays at the final parts of the movie gave me freaking feelz. I think that’s the one covered by Jean Baptiste, the pianist featured on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Regardless, it was a perfect way to set up the end of the movie.

Rewatchability

There are so many visual nods and Easter eggs referencing the Sonic franchise in this movie that it will take a couple of trips to catch them all. Plus, there’s that end credits scene that sets things up for a sequel.

Beyond that, there are a few good reasons to rewatch this title. Kids and adults will enjoy the fun story, wacky characters and the power of friendship. This, despite the fact the whole “Alien befriends human on planet Earth” plot has been overdone. Also, Sonic’s story of a lonely existence is a universal one that every one can relate to. And Jim Carrey’s performance is just fantastic. It’s well worth a second watch.

The Last Drop

Sonic the Hedgehog may, in fact, be the one that breaks the video game movie curse. As of writing, the movie has grossed almost $300 million overseas, despite its 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It doesn’t do anything original or groundbreaking, but it provides a great jumping on point for those who are unfamiliar with the character and the series. For fans, this is basically a love letter to them. It tells them that they are heard and that they are understood in regards to their favourite characters or series.

However, I do want to stress here that outrage culture shouldn’t be the solution to all our problems, especially when it comes to the things we love. I shall shamelessly plug the first episode of the STORY MODE Podcast – hosted by my good friends, The Well Red Mage, Blue Williams (@wrytersview) and Ryan from RetroGameBrews – in which they discuss the Sonic movie and the circumstances surrounding the fan input that resulted in the design change.

I’m of the opinion that video game adaptations should be handled by those who are intimately familiar with the source material (OK yeah, I kinda copped that from Red, sue me :P). Video game moves should not be treated as cash cows by film execs looking for a quick buck because people truly and genuinely care about these IP’s. I mean, Sonic to me… well, he means a lot to me and it’s great to see that the character his being treated with the respect he deserves, especially after years of neglect and being the butt end of a joke. I just hope that other big name film companies recognize this for other upcoming adaptations.

Pros:

  • Cute, charming story that will draw in kids and adults.
  • Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey really nail their respective characters.
  • It’s action packed and pretty well paced with lots of great visual effects.
  • Solidly leverages the IP to fit the narrative.
  • Sonic looks like Sonic.
  • Lots of great Easter eggs for fans to pick out.

Cons:

  • The story could have been a bit more ambitious
  • More elements from the IP could have been used, but they may be saving it for a sequel.
  • Some sections felt a touch wooden with regards to their acting.

Score: (Personally, it’s a 5/5, but I gotta be objective here:) 4.5/5

4.5 out of 5

Super Mario Multiverse – Super Mario Odyssey: An Odyssey of Our Own

Happy Mar10 Day everyone and welcome to a special edition of Games with Coffee!

Finally, after much waiting, the day has come! It’s the Super Mario Multiverse collaboration, brought to you by my good friend: The Well Red Mage!

Picture this: A hundred Mario games and a hundred writers talking about said Mario games. That’s what this collaboration is all about: celebrating the iconic plumber and his numerous appearances in over a hundred video games!

Mario has touched the lives of all of us at one point, even those who are fervent Sonic the Hedgehog fans (like myself!). Then again, it could be said that without Mario, Sonic wouldn’t even exist! Alas, I digress.

Without further ado, here’s a story I’d like to share with you all as a part of the Super Mario Multiverse. Enjoy.


Homer’s epic, the Odyssey, tells the tale of Odysseus and his ten year long journey to return to his family after the Trojan war. Since then, the word has been used to refer to voyages most epic and grand in nature. Therefore, the use of the word “Odyssey” in Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch pertains to the epic worldwide journey Mario and Cappy undertake in order to rescue Peach from Bowser’s latest scheme: to marry her. Cappy’s sister, Tiara, was also held hostage to be used as a wedding prop and thus spurred the sentient hat spirit-thing to team up with the plumber.

https___blogs-images.forbes.com_davidthier_files_2017_10_super-mario-odyssey2

Super Mario Odyssey was a truly vast adventure and possibly the best Mario platforming game I’ve played since Super Mario 64. I received a copy of my own as an anniversary gift from my wife, who was seven months pregnant at the time. The game featured various locales filled to the brim with colorful characters, awe-inspiring scenery and plenty of challenges and collectibles to keep one busy for quite a long time.

What made this game memorable for me however, was the calm and steady reassurance it provided my wife and I during the start of a great and life-changing odyssey of our own.


Friday January 12, 2018 is a day I consider to be one of the most important in my life. 

The weather that day was the most variable and chaotic it had ever been. It went from warm in the morning, to freezing cold in the evening. It went from light rain to freezing rain and then finally to thick, heavy snow at the end of the night.

I returned home early that day just as the weather started turning. I was in the kitchen with my wife, observing the weather and mentioned offhand to my unborn child, “I wish you were out here to see this crazy weather we’re having.” 

You know that saying, “one shouldn’t tempt fate?” Yeah, well, turns out that kid listened very closely to Dad that day. Not even an hour after I said that, my wife went into labour. 

It started off as minor contractions, but they ramped up in intensity very quickly. Outside, the weather got worse: going from freezing rain to a full on blizzard.

At the three hour mark, we finally grabbed our stuff and headed to the hospital. I packed my Switch with Super Mario Odyssey on deck in a small travel bag along with all the necessities we would need to take the little one home. The game was in the furthest corner of my mind at the moment; I had to concentrate both on navigating the snow and ice covered roads and on the excruciating pain in my hand as my wife gripped it for dear life.

After an hour’s drive, we made it to the hospital that we booked a private room for. The snow was roughly four inches deep at that point and the storm was still raging. We dashed to the maternity ward, checked in and my wife got examined and prepped for delivery.

Four hours into labour and she was already three quarters of the way dilated. This kid wanted out. Now. If that wasn’t enough, when the doctor delivering our child did a secondary examination he discovered (to our collective surprise) that he was breach. He freaking flipped between the first and second examinations!

The doctor gave us our options on how to proceed and we both decided on a Caesarian. Half an hour later at 8:02 pm, January 12th, my son, Arjun, was born. I held him in my arms as my wife rested from the surgery. He was skin and bones and weighed no more than four and a half pounds.

Because of his low weight and blood sugar levels, he had to be placed into the NICU. Being separated from our child was the scariest moment we as a couple have ever faced. The minutes felt like hours as we awaited status updates about his condition. We barely slept as we constantly worried about the little guy. Remembering that I packed my Switch, I took it out and passed the time playing Super Mario Odyssey. The sight of the portly, jump-happy plumber travelling the vast worlds with his hat-shaped companion helped me to keep things in perspective as we awaited the news of our son.

Eighteen hours later, we got the OK that everything was going to be fine. The OB let us stay another night at the hospital to get some further rest before being discharged the following day.

Relieved of our collective constant state of fear and worry, I pulled out my Switch, turned it on and started playing some more Odyssey while my wife was napping. Some time later, she called out to me and asked me to sit on the bed with her. System in hand, I reclined next to her. She cuddled into my shoulder and watched me play through New Donk City and then Bowser’s Castle, looking for more Power Moons, completing side quests and picking up costumes to wear. 

2018010923012700-8AEDFF741E2D23FBED39474178692DAF (2020_01_17 15_41_22 UTC)

It was that moment, with our son resting nearby and my wife and I sitting side by side, playing Super Mario Odyssey, that I knew that everything was going to be alright. We were parents now, yes, but Mario’s calm demeanor and unwavering, unflappable resolve helped to make that realization feel less scary. And though I’m a Sonic the Hedgehog fan at heart, I still have to thank Mario and Cappy for getting my family through such a frantic and stressful time.


Wahoo! You are a Super Reader! But the adventure doesn’t stop here… There’s more of this project in another castle! This article is just one level in an entire Super Mario Multiverse, a galactic collaboration between writers around the world sharing a bit of our hearts and memories about our favorite Mario games. Visit the Center of the Multiverse to see more:

smm logo FINAL transparent

Kingdom Hearts III & Final Fantasy XV: My Disappointment in These Long-Developed Games

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Folks, as I’m sure you’re all aware, I love RPG’s. Specifically, those created by Square-Enix (formerly Squaresoft), developers of the timeless Final Fantasy series. And while the series and developer are venerated as one of the most popular and well-known, some of the latest entries in the last few years have fallen short in my opinion.

Today’s edition analyzes my disappointment with two specific titles: Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III. While I initially enjoyed both games and thought they were well worth the wait, as I played through and got deeper into them, I found myself feeling disappointed at the final product. More often than not, the story lines had started off fairly strong before tapering into an incoherent mess. The combat and gameplay was interesting until it turned tedious and monotonous. There were some interesting side quests, like the rare hunts in FFXV and the Gummi Ship treasure collecting in KHIII, but I found myself wishing that the developers took more time to focus on tightening up the story rather than packing more content.

FINAL FANTASY XV_20161202211045

With FFXV, the last few chapters of the story felt rushed. The pacing was off and I found that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the base game. And then there was the additional DLC, implemented long after the story had been completed. While I enjoyed the focus on the other characters, what I didn’t like was that the director (Tetsuya Nomura) shoehorned these additional parts. It’s as if he and his team showed precisely that their original product was rushed and not ready for the mainstream. I’ll admit, the original ending did tug at my heartstrings. Saving the world requires sacrifices and it’s a theme that I enjoy exploring in stories.

Image result for kingdom hearts 3 title screen

Kingdom Hearts III felt short and unfinished compared with Kingdom Hearts II. Every time I finished a world, I thought to myself “Is that it?” I always felt that there was more story to glean from each world, like in Thebes, where Pete and Maleficent accidentally unearth Pandora’s Box. Speaking of those two, I didn’t like how they were regulated to the sidelines. And what is up with that box?! I swear, I’m kind of tired of getting more questions instead of answers.

What really set me off was the ending for KHIII. I foresaw this game to be the conclusion of Sora’s story, but instead, it turns out to be another “To Be Continued.” No happy endings for both Sora and Kairi. This, among other things, is what really disappointed me; those two have been through the ringer since this journey started and once again they are separated. Sora, once again looks to be embroiled in another master plan hatched by a guy named The Master of Masters. All I’m asking for, is when will we get a complete and definitive ending?

Image result for kingdom hearts 3 master of masters

When will it end??? T_T

Now, don’t get me wrong, these are still pretty good games. The level of detail put into them was stellar. Again, I just wished that Square-Enix and the director put as much effort into the stories for each game as they did with the gimmicks, mini-games and other little things they put into these titles. I hope that they learn from these two games and keep the focus on the story this time with the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but I have my doubts that they would. We’ll see, come April.


What are your thoughts on these two games years after their release? Do you think they did a good job with the story or do you share my opinions that they could have polished the story more? Do you think FFVII: Remake will suffer the same fate? Let me know in the comments below or on social media.

This has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, always reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.


Did you enjoy this and other content on Games with Coffee? If so, please consider lending your support by buying me a cuppa! You can click that blue “Buy me a Coffee” button on the sidebar, or click here to be taken to my Ko-Fi page. All funds go directly towards maintaining and upgrading this site for a more reader-friendly experience.

Presenting The #SonicSunday Power Hour!

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

This is a bit of a delayed post, but I am excited to announce the start of my stint in streaming. I’ve always wanted to go this route, but I felt that I never had the proper resources to do so. That is, until last November when my dear cousin (and sponsor for this endeavor) decided to gift me a gaming rig composed of parts he no longer needed.

Suffice to say, I totally appreciated the gesture!

Long before I received the rig though, I was thinking about jumping into the streaming game. Back in Christmas of 2018, I picked up a capture card with the goal of starting up a channel. I hadn’t realized however, just how difficult it was to take up streaming. I needed a space and time to play and a proper audio/visual set up and I just never had those things at the time. I streamed maybe twice in 2019 and both times were not that great. I was awkward. My mic was terrible and I couldn’t get into the groove. I shelved the idea of streaming and moved on.

So, what changed? Sonic, that’s who. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to talk about how the speedy blue hedgehog made a difference in my life in “The Characters That Define Us,” the massive collaboration effort brought to life by Matt and Nikki of the blog, Normal Happenings. I poured my heart out into my piece and as I did so, I remembered all the things that Sonic did for me throughout my life and continues to do for me still in the present. My contribution has not been released at this time, but it will be publicized sometime this year.

Meanwhile, I decided that 2020 was going to be a banner year for me. Besides my contribution to Matt’s epic collab, I also was ready to complete, edit and publish my longstanding fanfiction, which I talked about in my first post of this year. I still wanted to do more to celebrate the character and the franchise that has given me so much. And so I decided.

I wanted to return to streaming and focus solely on playing Sonic the Hedgehog games. So without further ado:

Introducing The #SonicSunday Power Hour!

The premise is simple: between February and June, I’ll be playing one title from Sonic’s illustrious history for one hour every Sunday at 9:30 pm EST. It’s my way of showing how much I love Sonic.

There will be 21 episodes and each game has been hand-selected by me. Some games will be the first time’s I’ve every played them and some games will come with challenges. Excitement abounds.

If you want to see what game is coming up for the week, either check my events timeline on the sidebar or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

I’ll eventually put each episode up on YouTube, but for now, you can catch Episode 1, featuring Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear) on my Twitch channel. Episode 2 will come this Sunday!

SonicSundayPowerHour-Sonic 1 (Genesis)

Edit: The first episode is now up on YouTube! Episodes will be uploaded every week on Mondays. 

Hope to see you on my stream! And as I always say, remember to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!


Did you enjoy this and other content on Games with Coffee? If so, please consider lending your support by buying me a cuppa! You can click that blue “Buy me a Coffee” button on the sidebar, or click here to be taken to my Ko-Fi page. All funds go directly towards maintaining and upgrading this site for a more reader-friendly experience.

Beans and Screens Ep. 4 – Enter Team Star Fox!

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Beans and Screens here on Games with Coffee! I’m your host, Ryan.

Woo, it’s been a minute since we last aired an episode here huh? I’ve decided to number these babies, so we’re at… number four now? I think?

The last few months of 2018 have been quite insane and have left me little time to find new guests for the show. Thankfully, the Christmas break has given me some opportunity to invite a bunch of interesting characters to be interviewed. I traveled far and wide, searching high and low. And, in this particular case, beyond the skies and stars themselves. Which leads me to today’s featured guests on the show:

They are a crack team of space faring mercenaries piloting advanced starcrafts known as Arwings. The team consists of a veteran pilot, a technical expert, an ace flyer and their leader who inherited this team from his late father. Together, these four protect the Lylat system from a variety of threats including, but not limited to, evil scientists, parasitic hive-minded organisms, raging dinos and the occasional crime boss or two. They’ve even recently assisted the Starlink Initiative with liberating the Atlas System from the grip of the Legion. And today, they’ve taken time off of their busy schedules to talk with me about their recent adventures!

Everyone, put your hands, paws, feathers and other appendages together and join me in welcoming… Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi and Fox McCloud of Team Star Fox!

*The audience erupts in raucous cheers as four anthropomorphic animals walk onto the set, waving to the crowd. Fox McCloud stops mid way and throws a quick salute and a smirk to the audience, which only serves to intensify the cheers and applause. The other three members make their way to the two guest couches.

Fox soon joins them and they all sit down. Fox is sitting with Falco, who has been smiling cockily at the audience the entire time. Peppy shares a seat with Slippy, who gazes wide-eyed at the stage and the audience with all the wonderment of a child.*

Ryan: Welcome to the show! I’m so glad you’re all here, I’m sure the audience is more than ecstatic that you all are here –

*Audience erupts in loud cheers.*

R: Woah, hey all, settle down! *motions the crowd to settle down* We have an interview to start here!

Fox: Thanks for having us here today.

Slippy: Yeah, this sure beats getting shot at!

Falco: You’re only getting shot at because you rush headfirst into a dogfight only to get overwhelmed. And then one of us has to save your hide from getting blasted out of the sky.

Peppy: *To Slippy* Slip, I hate to admit it, but Falco’s right. You need to exercise some patience and restraint. You should carefully assess your surroundings and trust your-

Slippy: Fooox! They’re ganging up on me!

Fox: *Looks at his three teammates.* Knock it off, boys, we’re in a professional setting here! *Turns to me.* Sorry about that, they can get a bit rowdy at times. But they’re the best teammates a guy could ever ask for.

R: *Laughs.* Well, you all certainly get along with one another well! That’s good to see. So, let’s start this off right: Anything to drink? Water, tea, juice? Coffee perhaps? 

Fox: Coffee for me, please.

Slippy: I’ll take some water!

Falco: Got anything with alcohol?

R: *shakes head* Sorry pal, no dice. Apparently, it’s in my contract to not serve alcohol on set. My hands are tied.

Falco: Tch, fine. Coffee for me too.

Peppy: Water, if you don’t mind. These old bones can’t handle coffee the way they used to.

R: On it! *Digs behind the couch and produces four bottles of water, a percolator, ground coffee and three mugs. Handing two of the bottles to Slippy and Peppy, I prep the coffee* Now that that’s going on, how’s about you tell us what you all have been up to lately?

Fox: Well, Falco and I were invited to participate in the Smash Ultimate Invitational Tournament.

R: Oh, nice!

Falco: Yeah, except for the fact that it was all a trap set by Galeem, some Lord of Light, or whatever. *Scoffs.* More like the Lord of Losers. Seriously, those spirits were hardly a challenge.

Peppy: Says the guy who was royally embarrassed in that Geno spirit fight! *Laughs.*

Falco: *Muttering.* Zip it, old man…

Fox: Anyways, before that, me and the boys here were on the hunt for a guy by the name of Wolf O’Donnell, leader of the Star Wolf mercenary team –

Slippy: Our eternal rivals!

Fox: *continuing as though Slippy didn’t interrupt.* – who went into hiding some time after our last encounter on Venom. A while back, Slippy picked up a faint transmission from a nearby star system called Atlas. It was a bit of a garbled mess, but Slip managed to untangle enough of it to determine that Wolf was in that part of the galaxy for a particular reason.

Peppy: And not a good one at that.

Fox: Turns out, he found some sort of ancient alien technology and planned to take it back to Lylat. Now, normally we wouldn’t be concerned with something like this – Andross was dead and gone, Wolf was out of our hair in another system far away and Lylat was at peace. But there were two things that made this pretty fishy.

Slippy: One – this is Wolf we’re talking about. He’s always up to no good and I bet he’s out looking for revenge. We really screwed up his operation when Andross and his goons tried to take over the Lylat system.

Falco: And two – That alien technology might not be so friendly, considering point one.

Fox: So, we decided to head out to this Atlas system and find out what Wolf was up to.

R: Woah, that’s crazy. So, you guys get to Atlas, tell us what happened next?

Peppy: Well, we get to this system and wouldn’t you know it, we get dragged into a skirmish between this space exploration crew calling themselves the Starlink Initiative and some tough looking drone fighters. We sat on the sidelines watching until Fox has the crazy idea to join in and help them out.

Fox: What can I say? I couldn’t just sit there and watch? It looked like they could use our help, anyway. *Shrugs*

Peppy: *Places a hand on his head, massages his temples and sighs. Looks back to Fox.* You’re just like your father, Fox. *Smiles at him.*

Fox: *Smirks.* Anyway, we fended them off, but not before the enemy got in a last shot. The enemy rammed a small interceptor into the hull of Starlink’s flagship, the Equinox, stole the ships main power core and kidnapped their captain. The loss of the power core sent all of us heading towards a planet called Kirite.

R: Wait… How is that possible?

Slippy: The power core that the Equinox uses is really unique. Any ship that’s tethered to the core’s energy signature leeches off of it in order to accomplish interstellar travel at nearly the speed of light. So naturally, if the core is lost, then our ships can’t achieve flight. It doesn’t mean we can’t move though, since we could use the ship’s own power to activate the null-gravs and skirt along the planet’s surface.

R: But how did it affect your ships then?

Slippy: It seems like when we entered the fight, the Arwing’s engines synchronized with the Equinox’s core. So, when the core was stolen, our ships were affected as a result, despite the technology being vastly different from one another.

Falco: I dunno Slip, it seems like one huge and convenient plot mechanic or something.

Slippy: *Shrugs at Peppy* Well, that’s the explanation Mason gave me when we did a diagnostic on our ships after the Equinox was fixed?

Fox: In any case, we crash landed on Kirite and we had to gather up a valuable substance called Nova to restore power to the mothership. Once that was done, the folks at Starlink were kind enough to help modify our Arwings to use their technology, as well as help us track down Wolf. We, in turn, assisted them in fighting off the Legion and their leader, Grax.

R: Grax? *Pours coffee into three mugs, hands two to Falco and Fox.*

Falco: Yeah, this whacko obsessed with an ancient civilization called the Wardens, or something. They created the Legion using that Nova energy and now Grax was using them to take over Atlas. Go figure. *Adds half-and-half, stirs and takes a sip.*

Fox: With the Legion, Grax took over all the planets within the Atlas system and we were the only ones capable of stopping them. With Starlink, we traveled to each world, liberated them from Legion control and established an alliance with the residents to prevent the Legion from taking back control. All while we researched a way to get to Grax’s stronghold. *Doesn’t add anything and takes a sip*

Peppy: On top of that, we sniffed out Wolf’s trail and found that he’s made a few buddies before we showed up. It seems that they were assisting him with transporting Legion tech back to Atlas. That included developing his own Spindrive for faster than light travel.

R: I see. That must have been quite the experience. What were some of the best parts about this journey that you can tell us?

Slippy: *Grins* I think the best part was all the exploration we got to do! Atlas is covered with lots of flora and fauna. Plus, the Warden technology was really interesting to research. It really helped stimulate the mind. Did you know that none of the planets in the Atlas system rotate?! They’re all set in a fixed position, which is really weird! The Explorers believe that the Warden’s may have been involved with that, among all the other weird things on each planet. Like Kirite used to be an ocean planet before a supposed Warden terraforming accident turned it into a desert, and-

Falco: OK Slip, calm down buddy. *Shakes head.* As for the best part about this trip: I’d say the dogfights. There’s something about taking down a bogey that really sends a tingle down my feathers. Oh, and ruining Wolf’s parade. *Chuckles.* Ahh… the look on his face when Fox took down his ship full of Warden tech, it was priceless!

Fox: *Smirks at Falco.* Yeah, that was pretty fun, actually. *Turns to me.* I’d say that helping out the citizens of Atlas was rewarding in of itself. Getting to know the folks at Starlink was a treat as well.

Peppy: Mmhmm, that’s right. Best bunch of flyers I’ve seen since my days flying by your dad’s side, Fox. What I enjoyed was meeting the citizens. They’re a hardy lot; surviving out there in some of the harshest conditions imaginable, exploring every corner, either for science or for riches… I respect that.

R: That’s awesome! OK, now that I’ve gotten the obligatory stuff out of the way, allow me to say this one thing: I’m still freaking out that you guys are actually here! The legendary Team Star Fox! Here! On my set! I mean, you’re exploits are legendary here on Earth! Even before you met Starlink!

*The four members bow their head sheepishly, flattered as the audience cheers loudly.* 

Fox: Again, thanks for having us here, we’re glad we have a lot of fans here on Earth.

Slippy: Yeah, you humans are pretty cool!

Falco: Eh, they’re not bad.

Peppy: *Nods in agreement.* Mm-hmm.

R: *After the audience settles down.* OK, so what’s next on the docket, team?

Fox: *Laughs.* Well, we plan on returning home. I think General Pepper – the leader of the Cornerian Army – might have some new work for us. But other than that, it would be nice to kick back and relax for a ch-

*Suddenly, a shrill beeping noise cut off Fox mid-sentence. He digs into his pocket and pulls out a square device.*

Fox: Ah, sorry about that, I have to take this. *Fox activates the device. A hologram of a gold robot with a thin, rectangular head, a thin, visor-like red eye and a lantern jaw with slats running vertically where its mouth would be.* Hey ROB, what’s up?

ROB64: *In monotone.* I have received a message. Sender is unknown.

Fox: Alright, play it back for us.

ROB64: Affirmative.

*The screen flickers as the video playback begins. Mason Rana appears on screen. He looks agitated.*

Mason: Hey Fox, it’s been a while? By the time you get this message, I think about a week or two of Earth time may have passed, but anyway. *He lets out a deep sigh.* OK.

Look, we’ve picked up some chatter along the outskirts of Atlas, near the Dark Sector. Normally, I wouldn’t bother you with this sort of thing but… It involves your old enemy Wolf. Give this a listen.

*Mason plays an audio recording.*

Wolf *on recording.*: Hmph, so you lot finally decided to show up, eh? About time.

Peppy: *Stands abruptly.* What the heck? I thought we showed Wolf the door-

Leon *on recording.*: I’m so sorry we’re late. You didn’t exactly give us clear instructions on how to get here.

Andrew *on recording.*: Yeah, what gives? Do you know how hard it was to find a warp space gate not controlled by the Cornerian army?

Wolf *on recording.*: Shut it! Look… there’s been a setback to the plan, but the tech described in Andross’ research does exist. Almost had my hands on it too until that whelp got in the way…

Pigma*on recording.*: Fox again? That no good, boy scout daddy’s boy? Well, grease my-

Leon *on recording.*: Aren’t you worried about this transmission being intercepted?

Wolf*on recording.*: Let ’em. I want Fox to hear this. I’m not leaving this system empty-handed, nor am I gonna let him and his team get away with humiliating me. I will have my revenge. Meet me at these coordinates. It’s time to go to work.

*The recording ends here.*

Mason: That’s what we picked up. *Sighs.* I got a bad feeling about this. I hope this message gets to you sooner than later. See ya Star Fox.

ROB64: That is the end of the recording.

Fox: Thanks ROB.

Falco: Fox, this smells like a trap.

Fox: *Nods.* I agree. But we can’t let them bring the Warden tech back to Lylat. *To me.* Sorry Ryan, we’ll have to cut this interview short. ROB, prepare the Great Fox! Boys, let’s move out!

*Fox and the gang get up, wave to the crowd and swiftly head backstage. A few moments later, the roar of engines could be heard as four starfighters launched into the stratosphere.*

R: …Well, there they go, out to save the galaxy once again! Thanks for being here guys! Hope to see you back here again soon!

Well, another day, another episode completed. Audience, what do you think, was that rad or what?!

*Audience cheers loudly.*

And to you reading this, I hope you enjoyed it as well! If you want more, drop a line in the comments or send out a tweet on who else you want me to hunt down and share a coffee with! Let me know also what you liked, what you didn’t like or if you want to say hi!

My next episode will hopefully feature an awesome guest I’ve been dying to interview for some time! I’m telling ya, it’s gonna be electric! Beyond that, keep an eye on the Twitter feed: I’ll be sharing some sneak peeks of future guests at random, so if you’re not following me, you’d better do so!

With that, I’m signing off! You’ve been a great audience! See ya next time on the next episode of Beans and Screens!

Espresso Shot Review: Severed (2016) [PSVita]

Good afternoon and welcome to the first edition of Games with Coffee for the new year!

Yes, I’m back after a couple of months off. It’s important for Mature, Distinguished Gamers to take a little R & R every once in a while and boy, did I need one. That’s not to say I wasn’t busy; nay good friends, I’ve been working away on new content that I can’t wait to share with you for the coming year! 2019 is sure to be an exciting one, filled with new games, new stories, new interviews and (of course) more coffee.

Speaking of which, let’s get to our subject.

Today, I’ll be taking a look at a quirky, touch-based game that originally was released on the Playstation Vita, before being ported to other platforms like Android, iOS and even the Switch. It consists of hack and slash mechanics and RPG elements revolving around using the severed remains of your enemies to level up and get stronger. It’s set a land heavily steeped in Mexican influences, with labyrinth-like environments filled with terrifying monsters, secrets and hidden areas to find. Finally, the game presents a captivating, mature story starring a strong-willed female protagonist armed with a living sword, suffering from severe losses in both the familial and physical sense. From Drinkbox Studios, this is Severed.

H2x1_NSwitchDS_Severed_image1600w

Background

Severed was developed by Drinkbox Studios, a Toronto based developer known for the popular Guacameele! games. Originally pitched during an internal game jam by concept lead Augusto Quijano, Severed was initially released for the Playstation Vita, before being ported to other platforms.

It was met with high praise from critics and has won several awards, including 2016’s Apple iPad Game of the Year and the Canadian Videogame Awards for Best Musical Score.

As of now, the Playstation Vita is officially dead. I figured that to celebrate this underrated handheld, I would shine a spotlight on one of the system’s most interesting indie games. So, let’s get into it.

Story

Severed tells the story of a girl named Sasha, living with her family in small farmland with her mother, father and brother. One day, Sasha mysteriously finds herself in a strange, parallel version of her home, alone, with the stench of death surrounding her. Entering the ruins of her home and looking into a mirror, she discovers that she had her right arm mysteriously cut off, a bloody stub of a limb being the only thing that remains.

severed-sasha-intro

The mirror reflected another figure behind her. Turning around, Sasha briefly encounters the Stranger – a skeletal, alien-like being who gives her a living sword to protect her from the monsters she would encounter in this world. He instruct her to find her family, taken away by a monster only known as the Dragon, before promptly disappearing and leaving Sasha on her own. Now, she must journey through three sprawling areas to recover her family and escape from this world before the Dragon finds her.

big-toothed-monster-severed-110216

Severed’s story is told through Sasha’s perspective and is very metaphorical in its presentation. Sasha is desperate to find her family, even if it means cutting through and killing everything in her sight to do so. With every enemy that she cuts down, she uses their severed remains to strengthen herself. This is especially prevalent with the bosses, as she gains a new ability after cutting out a body part of theirs and then wearing the dismembered piece as part of her armor. However, the more progress she makes in her journey, the less human she looks and acts until she’s barely recognizable at the end of the game.

severed

At the onset, Sasha feels hopeful from the Stranger’s words that her family could be found. Upon finding each member of her family however, she discovers to her horror that they are already dead; their bodies in a state of decay with some sort of fungal/coral-like organism growing out of them. With each member she returns to her home, her rage and hopelessness only grows until she reaches the Citadel, the third area of the game. Here, two important plot points happen.

First, after reaching the top of the tower, Sasha reunites with her mother’s body only for it to be taken away from her by the Dragon. It then steals her other two family members, creates a portal within the mirror in her home and dares Sasha to come get them.

Second, Sasha reunites with her severed arm within the Citadel; now an autonomous, multi-coloured appendage which gives her enough power to possibly defeat the Dragon. Yet, during the final battle, it’s revealed to her that the Dragon has influence over the arm, as the arm rebels against her at random moments throughout the final battle. This suggests that that the creature had a hand in it’s creation (via its removal at the start of the game) and has possibly shaped Sasha into what she was at that moment; a creature of rage and despair.

In order to free herself from those feelings, Sasha makes the decision to re-sever her right arm. The Dragon then swallows the arm and mutates into its final form; a terrifying, multi-headed beast. After finally slaying the Dragon, Sasha removes all the armor and severed pieces of monsters that she had accumulated and gives her family a proper burial. The Stranger appears and tells Sasha she has a choice: stay in this alternate realm or return to the real world. The ending is then left to the player’s interpretation as the game cuts to the credits just as Sasha moves.

There’s very little dialog within the game and much of the story is left to player’s interpretation, but the visual style of the game does a really great job in portraying the environment that Sasha currently inhabits on her quest, which I’ll discuss later on. Along the way, she encounters only two other individuals that are not out to kill her: a friendly two-headed crow and an overly-paranoid old woman holding a dark secret. Literally.

severed-suffering

Overall, the story is very dark, but it captures the essence of what it must feel like to go through a heavy loss and what it would take to move on. It’s also short; clocking in at roughly eight to ten hours total, so it’s great for those who don’t have a lot of time on hand to play. I also like how the story requires a lot of player interpretation to get the gist of what it’s all about.

Gameplay

The decision for the game to be heavily touch-screen based was met with some criticism from other publications, but ultimately I felt like it was the right choice. Controls for the game utilize both the thumbstick/D-pad and the Vita’s touch screen. The D-pad is used to move Sasha while the touch screen is used to perform several actions. For left handed players, the face buttons can be also used to move the character.

Tapping objects on the screen allows Sasha to interact with them, whether it be eating fruit to restore health, picking up dropped items, reading signs, examining things or talking with NPC’s. Sasha can also slash things on the field to reveal hidden objects and secrets or break objects to reveal their contents.

Encounters are fixed and denoted by a black and white wisp on screen. Approaching and touching it starts a battle where Sasha must kill the creature in front of her. Swiping the screen makes Sasha slash in the direction of the swipe and is her main form of attack when she encounters enemies. As shown in the game’s tutorial, the longer the swipe, the more damage is done, so the player must make sure to make long, sweeping slices back and forth against enemies in order to deal tons of damage. Later in the campaign, Sasha gains the ability to charge up her slash by pressing down on the screen for a short time until the charge is ready and then slashing in the direction of choice. This can be used both on offense and defense, as some enemies have attacks that can break through a normal parry.

Severed-Switch_08-08-17.jpg

Enemies don’t just stand there and take the punishment though. A circular meter is associated to each monster. When it fills up, the monster will perform an attack. The meters fill up in two ways, depending on the enemy: one type of meter fills up constantly and a second type decreases as Sasha attacks. When an enemy is about to attack, it displays a tell of sorts; an animation that shows it’s about to attack and in what direction (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, etc.). When that happens, the player can execute a parry to block and avoid damage by swiping in the direction of the attack. So, if the enemy’s attack is going horizontally from left to right, the player must swipe horizontally from right to left in order to parry the attack. This attack and parry mechanic allows for fast and frantic combat.

severed-screen-03-psvita-us-21apr16

The training wheels come off after clearing the first area, the Domain of Crows. Enemies from that point on have buffs that affect many stats, such as Attack Up, Defense Up, Health Regeneration and the like. Luckily, Sasha gains a few abilities along the way that help make battles much easier, like the Blind spell (stuns enemies) and Devour ability (steals buffs).

download (1)

 

Also, some encounters spawn multiple enemies, up to four at a time. Tapping on a direction on the D-Pad in battle will allow Sasha to face whatever enemy is associated in that direction. Each of those enemies will either attack or charge up their attacks in real time, so the player must be aware of when to strike, what enemy to attack, when to defend, when to stun enemies and what buffs to steal in order to survive.

The Focus Meter is at the top of the screen, represented by Sasha’s sword. As she attacks, the meter slowly fills up. The meter fills up faster as you keep chaining slashes, but the multiplier resets if you are hit. Parrying attacks sustain the multiplier though. When the meter is full and the enemy is defeated, the game enters what’s called Severed Mode and is the main mechanic where the game derives its title from.

severed-screen-04-psvita-us-21apr16.jpg

In Severed Mode, the enemy is briefly suspended in midair, its limbs splayed out with markers showing where to cut. Cutting through these markers allow Sasha to pick up the remains and use them to enhance her skills through the Skill Tree in the menu screen. Players have to be quick to sever as many limbs and parts as possible, as there is a brief time limit before the monster disappears permanently. The game offers plenty of opportunity to gather parts though, so there’s no need for the player to worry about not gathering enough parts to enhance skills.

severed-upgrade

The skill tree is a big part of enhancing the Severed experience. Skills require severed parts of monsters, such as arms, eyeballs and such, to acquire. They range from basic attack increases to improving efficacy of special abilities. Skills are practically a requirement to progress further in the game, as the battles only get more and more challenging. New skills also unlock when Sasha gains a new ability to use.

Sometimes, players won’t have the parts on hand to improve on a certain skill. In this case, they can transmute small components called giblets to create the part they need. Giblets are found virtually all over the map in breakable objects that Sasha can slash open on the field.

Health and Mana (used for abilities) can be increased by collecting hearts and brains. Sasha must find five Heart Pieces or Brain Stems and then devour them to gain the upgrade. It’s a visceral and interesting way for a character to increase their life or magic.

Out of battle, there are many puzzles that Sasha has to solve in order to progress further in the story. Some include finding crystals, hitting a gong to open or close doors, travelling to parallel dimensions even creepier than the realm she currently inhabits and the like. The puzzles are fair to the player; not too hard, but not too easy at the same time. There are also plenty of secrets and hidden passages to find. Some of them require some exploration within the room to open, some require certain abilities, while others require having a certain item in your possession (Such as the Mask of Birds or the Jaws of the Cryptolith) and touching a symbol on the wall to open a passageway to the secret.

One criticism I have about the gameplay revolves around how uncomfortable it felt playing on the Vita. After a prolonged period of time, I found that my left hand ached as I held the system while using my right finger to swipe. The ports released after the Vita version addressed this by making the game fully playable through the touchscreen. I’m unsure of what Drinkbox did for the Switch version, but I would like to think they learned from the Vita version of the game.

Beyond that, the gameplay itself is very tight and engaging. The difficulty curve feels natural; there doesn’t seem to be any point within the game that the difficulty spikes up intensely during the main story. There are some difficult battles, yes, but many of them are optional and are not required to complete the story.

Visuals

Despite the dark and depressing atmosphere presented in game, Severed has a striking artistic style, to the point where it looks like it was drawn on paper. The visuals are colorful and bright and the backgrounds are look fantastic.

severed_screenshot_11

The enemies look like something out of a horror film, with multiple, grotesque limbs, jagged teeth and quivering tendrils. Speaking of which, the enemy animations are incredibly well done. Everything, from the way they move their limbs, to the slight twitches they make when they are stationary, looked so polished and fluid. I was very impressed.

The bosses also look incredibly well done. Not only were they difficult to defeat but they looked fearsome as well.

The most visceral image in this game though is when Sasha sees herself in the mirror at the beginning of the game, her arm freshly cut off. It’s a haunting image that really sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Audio

The soundtrack certainly fits with the game’s atmosphere. Home is a very poignant theme and reminds me of the feeling of loneliness and despair, while Death (the theme when you see The Stranger for the first time) evokes a foreboding feeling, like there’s something underneath the surface as he explains what Sasha needs to do to leave the alternate world.

The music within the areas of Severed are divided into two types: Exploration and Battle. Exploration music seems to be influenced by Mexican/Central American sounds, with plenty of drums, bells, chimes and the like. The Battle themes however are grungier, remixed versions of the Exploration music. They fill the original with guitar riffs and more percussion to increase the tension while fighting.

One of the best songs in the game is when Sasha returns to her home at the end of the game. It’s a haunting track filled with despair and accurately reflects how Sasha may have felt at the very end after the Dragon stole her family. It’s a great setup piece for the final battle.

Replayability

To be frank, Severed is a fairly short game with little to do once completed. The most a player could do is take on the optional and highly challenging battles in hidden rooms within the three main areas. Defeating the enemies under special conditions yield special items called Mementos which serve two purposes – powering up Sasha and changing some of the final scenes in the game’s ending.

However, this game is one of those titles that’s easy to pick up and replay at a moment’s notice, due to simple nature of its control scheme. I’ve replayed it already a couple of times since and I found myself changing my strategies when fighting and severing limbs on each playthrough – trying to do one full swipe to sever all limbs instead of doing quick, individual swipes, for instance.

The Last Drop

Severed is one of the most interesting games I’ve played in recent years. It really takes advantage of the Vita’s touch-screen/direct control dynamic and presents a very compelling story that’s tied together with some solid gameplay. It’s short, but had it been any longer, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it the same way I do right now. It’s definitely a game worth checking out if you are able to.

ResizedImage820615-Photo-Dec-12-11-33-24-PM

Pros:

  • Tight gameplay mechanics that combine elements from Action and RPG games.
  • Uses the Vita’s touch-screen effectively.
  • Beautiful visuals.
  • A great story centered around loss and grief.
  • Has a great lead character, whose silent nature belies an fierce spirit that’s relentlessly pursuing a way to save her family

Cons:

  • It’s fairly short, but this is only a minor issue for me.
  • Not much to do once you’ve neared the end of the story/not much post-game content.
  • Holding the Vita can be awkward and uncomfortable after prolonged periods of play.

Score: 4/5

4 out of 5

Espresso Shot Review – Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition

Hello and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

As part of the Writer’s Raid collaborative effort started by the one and only NekoJonez to celebrate the Tomb Raider franchise, here is the second of my major contributions! Check out the hub here and be sure to check out the works from my other fellow bloggers on this amazing franchise!

Now, I’ve written about the first game and the impact that Lara Croft had on the gaming industry and on society as a whole and you can read up on it in the hub or check it out here. Today, I’ll fast forward ten years after the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to talk about Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition. I was quite intrigued about the game on its release, but as I was a broke university student at the time of its release, I was not able to get it. Luckily the game is now available on Steam at a reasonable price, so I made the decision to pick it up for myself.

I played the original Tomb Raider to death and while the game itself is incredibly dated and had plenty of frustrating moments, I enjoyed it still. So I was curious if the remake was either just the original game with a fresh coat of paint, or a completely new experience that uses the original game as a base and builds up from it? I’ll tell you in today’s Espresso Shot Review!

download

Background

After the success of Tomb Raider: Legend, developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos, Core Design (the developers of the first six Tomb Raider games) proposed to develop a remake that would commemorate the tenth anniversary of the series. With Eidos’ permission, Core started work on the remake in 2005 and planned for it to be released in late 2006. The idea was to rearrange puzzles and the layout of levels to make it simpler for new players but retain the story and the overall flow of the game for fans. Lara too would have been updated to look closely to her appearance in Legend.

Midway into development, Core Designs was bought out by a developer named Rebellion Developments, known for the Sniper Elite and Alien vs. Predator series. The remake was subsequently cancelled after the sale, with the general assumption that Core didn’t want the game to be developed by third-party studios like Rebellion. Prior to and after the cancellation, some footage of the game was leaked, garnering attention from fans and creating the demand necessary for the remake to happen.

Eidos then requested Crystal Dynamics and Buzz Monkey Studios (who created the Legend port) to create the remake planned for release on June 1, 2007. Tomb Raider: Anniversary was first released for the PlayStation 2, PSP and PC. A Wii version was released afterwards which uses motion controls to solve puzzles or interact with the environment. Later, the game was ported to PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PS3 version released as part of the “Tomb Raider Trilogy” series, which included Legend and its sequel, Underworld. A Mac OSX port was also released a year after the game’s launch on console and PC. While the game was received well by critics, it only sold 1.3 million copies worldwide, making it the worst-selling game of the series. In the United Kingdom however, both the PS2 and the PC versions topped the charts on its release. Despite the low sales numbers, the game helped pave the way for more Tomb Raider games to be developed, culminating to the second reboot of the series titled Tomb Raider.

Story

The team brought on Core Design’s Toby Gard to work as the story designer. Crystal Dynamics stated that the story in the original game was sparse and one-dimensional but also desired for the story to fit in the new rebooted universe, so one of the main goals of the remake was to flesh out the story and tie it to Legend – that is Lara’s search for knowledge that her father sought, which eventually leads her to search for her mother. Gard also expanded upon the lore of the game and on Lara’s character, describing her as a woman with an unstoppable madness contained within a proper British lady. They also revamped several characters, with Larson undergoing the most change. His death late in the game in the Atlantis levels (written in as Lara’s first human kill) was written in a way to show players how far and what moral boundaries Lara would cross in order to achieve her goals – tying into the unstoppable madness I mentioned earlier.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-11-10 1_45_36 AM.png

The story stays the same for the most part: Lara is approached by a man named Larson, who is under the employ of a rich industrialist named Jacqueline Natla. After introducing herself, Natla proposes a challenge for Croft – retrieving the three pieces of the Scion of Atlantis.

Initially, Lara is dismissive, but becomes intrigued when Natla dangles the fact that her father also sought after the artefact for the knowledge it possessed. This is where the story differs from the original, since in the first game, Lara was convinced to take the job based on the challenge and thrill it possessed. The rest of the story progresses in the same fashion, but with the original characters being more developed. Pierre, for example, is shown as a rival raider to Croft. He was more sarcastic and conniving than he let on in the original game, which made for an interesting character. His untimely death with the Centaurs at the end of the Greece levels was also different from the original, since Lara kills him off after a gunfight in the first game.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-09-19 1_28_35 AM.png

Overall, I liked these small story enhancements. They added plenty of depth and purpose that was sorely missed from the first game and it allowed Lara’s gritty and sardonic nature to shine forth.

Gameplay

Tomb Raider: Anniversary uses a mouse and keyboard set up and has controller support. I played the game using an 8Bitdo NES30 Pro controller, which is what I’ll be referring to throughout the writeup. Compared to the clunky tank controls in the original game, I found that Lara controlled more smoothly and naturally with this control scheme and I enjoyed how fluid and natural her movements were. One major difference between the original and Anniversary was how Lara traversed across outcroppings and cliffs. In the original, you could grab ledges and such and shimmy left or right, but you couldn’t leap to or back towards other ledges, unlike in the Anniversary edition. What I also liked was how most of the puzzles were revamped to make them more intuitive and easy to navigate. The first game’s puzzles had a lot of trial and error associated to them with a focus on item collection and switch pulling, but they are not as prevalent in the Anniversary edition and I welcomed that change.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Along with updated climbing mechanics, Lara also retains the grapple rope introduced in Legend. Grappling and swinging to platforms was a very satisfying feeling for me and I wished this was introduced in the original game, since it would make things much more exciting. The wall running mechanics with the grapple could use a bit of work, like a visual cue to let players know they can jump backwards from the wall once they reached the apex of their run, but it’s not enough to write it off.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-11-10 1_59_30 AM.png

Combat also received a massive overhaul. When faced off against enemies, Lara can either quick draw (best for small creatures, like rats and bats) or lock on (for all other enemies). When locked on, Lara will always face the direction of her target. After shooting an enemy for a period of time, it will get angry and start to charge at Lara; dodging at the perfect moment slows down time and causes two reticles to overlap. Shooting once they overlap and turn red instantly kills the enemy. This mechanic is called the adrenaline dodge and it makes combat very exciting. I only wish there was a better visual cue to initiate the dodge, but I suppose with enough practice I wouldn’t need it.

Another thing that was added to the game was the use of Quick Time Events (QTE), famously used in the God of War series. QTE’s are the game mechanic that you either loved or hated; in my case, I was indifferent to it. Had I played this when it first came out though, I would have said that I liked its inclusion.

What I really liked about the new combat system compared to the old one is that switching weapons is a breeze; no need to go into the inventory and select a weapon like in the old version. Anniversary allows Lara to quick-switch her weapons mid-combat by tapping left or right on the D-pad. This mechanism extends to healing as well; tapping up uses Large medi-packs, while tapping down uses the Small medi-packs. It’s a major improvement from the inventory navigation from the old game.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary pushes the player to prioritize item and ammunition management In the original Tomb Raider, Lara could collect as much ammunition as she could want without worry. In comparison, Anniversary limits how much ammo that Lara can carry, with the exception of her default pistols. This brings an element of strategy into combat; do you spend your ammo to get through an area quicker or save your ammo for when you’re surrounded? It also helps that there are plenty of ammo pickups tucked around in nooks and crannies in each level.

While I enjoyed the remade levels, my personal favourite was Lara’s House. In the original, her house was touted as a tutorial level designed to introduce gamers to Lara and her actions. The Anniversary edition overhauls the home to be a test of how well a player can manipulate puzzles. There are no enemies but there are eight artifacts for players to find. Finding them requires a sharp eye, a bit of reading and some thinking about how the puzzle mechanics operate. Plus, the music is relaxing to listen to (more on that below).

Artifacts and relics are hidden throughout levels and can be used to unlock extras in the main menu, like additional outfits, commentary and such. There is even a time trial mode. Beating time trials for all levels unlocks cheats that can be used in the main game, such as having all weapons, or having infinite ammo.

The only gripe I had was the camera controls, which were finicky at certain points, but I found that they didn’t affect my experience too much.

Visuals

One of the stated goals of the remake was to recreate iconic locations from the original game on a grander and more detailed scale while designing levels under modern gaming conventions. Large parts of the games original levels were cut out, including hallways, complicated and nonsensical puzzles and traps, to give players a clear sense of where to go. It was a smart move on their part as I found the levels in Anniversary easier to navigate than those of the original game. Some of the cuts were jarring; in particular I speak of the combination of the Cistern and the Tomb of Tihocan in the Greece levels, but I welcomed the change as in the original, the Greece levels dragged on for a while. Condensing two levels into one helped with the overall flow of the game. Overall, the levels look like they popped out of a movie set – in that they look alive and lived in compared to the dull aesthetic presented in the original game.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When Tomb Raider: Legend was released, one of the criticisms was that the levels were too linear, so Crystal Dynamics addressed that by emphasizing multiple pathways and exploration in Anniversary, all while remaking the levels. Doing so allowed them to recapture the feeling and exhilaration of exploration from the original game.

Graphics-wise, Lara looks well detailed and her animations are fluid, in comparison to her first outing. A neat extra feature in the game allows for Lara to change into iconic costumes, from her Legend look, to her training look from tutorial level in the original.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-11-10 1_49_53 AM.png

The enemies Lara faces are a lot more imposing and dangerous looking than in the original. I remember the bears, lions and gorillas being much smaller and less intimidating than the remade versions. The audio cues that go along with some of the encounters only heighten the danger associated with these creatures. I have to say that two of my favourite encounters has to be the T-Rex in Peru’s Lost Valley and the Centaurs at the Tomb of Tihocan – both being boss fights. They were both visually impressive to look at.

 

Audio

Audio-wise, the music was orchestrally scored, similar to the first game. Much of the original game’s soundtrack was remade, with a few additional tracks created to suit each area, all while sticking to to the symphonic style of the original game. Also similarly to the original, the audio relied mainly on environmental ambiance, with musical cues indicating dangerous or interesting/awe-inspiring locations.

My favourite track has to be the one played in Lara’s House. It’s a play off of the original Tomb Raider theme and it gives me the feeling that I’m solving a mystery within the house.

Replayability

There is a multitude of things to do in Tomb Raider: Anniversary after the main game is completed. You can return to levels to pick up missing artifacts and relics, undergo the time trials for each level and access the commentary, in which the developers talk about designing the game the levels and the ways they differentiated the remake from the original source.

The Last Drop

I really enjoyed this remake – it captured the spirit of the original game while removing its more frustrating and tedious parts. The game, in my opinion, was more than a fresh coat of paint, it was a transformation that helped to reinvigorate the series. However, the game is definitely not perfect; there are a few spots like the grapple sections that could’ve used some work, along with the camera. But overall, as a fan of the series, I have to say that Crystal Dynamics did a wonderful job remaking the original game. It added more depth to the story and fleshed out Lara’s character, which I appreciated.

4/5

4 out of 5

Tomb Raider – The Legacy of Lara Croft

Good day and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! As a part of my friend NekoJonez’s “Writer’s Raid” collaboration, today I’ll be talking about the first game of the Tomb Raider series titled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We’ll cover the history of the game, my experiences with it and I’ll be delving deeper into the enduring legacy of Lara Croft herself, one of gaming’s most iconic characters.

Background

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’s development started back in 1993 by the now defunct Core Design, a British-based developer consisting of six people. The director, Toby Gard, was the individual credited for Lara’s creation; he initially started with a male character but then added in a female character to give players a choice on who to play as. Realizing that the second character would double the work required for cutscenes, Gard cut the male character and instead developed the female further, intending to counter the stereotypes surrounding female video game characters. He notes that Lara was inspired by Swedish songwriter/rapper Neneh Cherry and the comic book heroine, Tank Girl. He also cited Virtua Fighter as an influence, saying:

“It became clear to me watching people play Virtua Fighter, which was kind of the first big 3D-character console game, that even though there were only two female characters in the lineup, in almost every game I saw being played, someone was picking one of the two females.” – Toby Gard

Originally, Lara was to have a cold and militaristic personality and hail from South America under the name “Laura Cruz.” Gard and his team decided instead that she should be British and for her personality to be a combination of Indiana Jones and a proper, English lady. This expanded Lara’s character and showed players that she was more than some grave robbing adventurer with a knack for murdering vicious creatures using dual-wielded pistols. We’ll go into this a bit later.

As for her first adventure, bringing Tomb Raider to life was not an easy task. Programmer Gavin Rummery explained that the game was only possible by building it on a grid-like system. It’s the reason why squares, rectangles, slopes and planes are so integral to the gameplay, in terms of lining up for jumps, finding pathways through levels and even discovering secrets, among others.

Musically, the game was scored like a film, playing at certain times for dramatic emphasis, like finding secrets or during action sequences. For the most part, the only audio that was played throughout the game were atmospheric in nature, such as footsteps, Lara’s grunts the growls of animals, rushing waterfalls and the like. It made Lara’s journey far more isolating and increased tension within the player, forcing them to listen closely to see what may or may not be ahead.

header

Tomb Raider was released for both the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. Despite the game being developed for both systems, it was first released for the Saturn as a timed exclusive as part of a deal between Sega and Core. Timed exclusivity meant that the game would only be released exclusively on one console and would be released on other consoles after the exclusivity period expires. After its release, Core Design discovered that the Saturn version was riddled with bugs that would also affect the Playstation version. Since the game was a timed exclusive, the team was able to fix the bugs for the Playstation version. While three sequels were released for the Playstation, no subsequent titles were released for the Saturn.

Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed on its release in 1996. The cinematic approach with its gameplay and music combined with state-of-the-art graphics was a sight not seen in gaming until its release. Major publications, like GameSpot and EGM praised the title, with GameSpot calling it a potential Super Mario 64 killer, referencing the iconic Nintendo game released in the same year. Finally, Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider herself, cemented herself as one of gaming’s greatest icons, her appeal as a character and as a strong, independent woman captivating gamers and non-gamers alike.

The Legacy of the Tomb Raider

Lara Croft was considered a revolutionary when her first adventure was released. Her introduction changed the conversation about women in video games, in that their games can tell a story similar to or even surpassing that of their male counterparts at a time when female protagonists were scarce. Just like what Chun-Li in the Street Fighter series did for female representation in fighting games, Lara too was instrumental in ushering in a new age of games starring charismatic and strong female protagonists.

cover-image

Lara is a statuesque and athletic individual with brown eyes and auburn hair traditionally tied in a plait or a ponytail. Her standard outfit consists of a turquoise tank top, brown shorts, calf-high hiking boots, fingerless gloves, a backpack to hold various items and holsters for her arsenal of weapons, such as her iconic dual pistols. She is highly intelligent, having excelled in various scholarly pursuits and is fluent in several languages; useful for navigating the locales of where her next raid is going to take place. Unlike the stereotypical female characters gamers we were used to seeing before, Lara was not a woman to be trifled with, thanks to her no-nonsense attitude and her dry wit and it really showed itself in her first game.

tomb-raider

Throughout the campaign, Lara had to face insurmountable hurdles in recovering the fabled Scion of Atlantis. Examples include deadly traps that activate if Lara makes a wrong move, tricky puzzles that required logic, speed and a little luck to solve and a plethora of nasty beasts out to kill her, either for food or for sport. However, she faced them all, head-on and, most importantly, on her own. Lara required no help from anyone – male of female – to overcome the challenges in front of her. I believe that her strength, her determination and her perseverance in overcoming anything and anyone that stands in her way garnered her claim to fame more than her looks.

Culturally, Lara forged a path for more female leads in video games. Without her, we would never have had the opportunity to experience the stories of other strong and inspiring women, like Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII, Yuna in Final Fantasy X, Faith Connors in Mirror’s Edge and 2B in NiER Automata. Even video game heroines from established series, like Samus Aran from the Metroid series for instance, had their characters further fleshed out. Lara’s influence extended beyond gaming and into mainstream media: she currently has three live-action movies under her belt, has been featured on several hundred magazine covers, been involved in various print and television advertisements and has been a spokesperson for various causes. Furthermore, she has several Guinness World Records to her name, including most recognized female video game character and most official real world stand ins.  

Furthermore, even though the game was developed with a male audience in mind, Lara ended up garnering a serious female audience. Authors from several publications stated that the character appealed to women and drew them more into gaming simply because they see in Lara an emancipated heroine that they could emulate.

However, with accolades also comes controversy and Lara’s introduction to the gaming industry sparked quite a bit of it over the years.

Controversy

Much of the controversy surrounding Lara centers around her looks. Lara is an attractive, tall and buxom woman and has been described as a sex symbol because of those traits, despite Toby Gard originally intending for her to be “sexy only because of her power.” Critics have argued that Lara reinforced unrealistic ideas about the female body and that she was developed as the embodiment of male fantasies. That latter point fueled rumors in print magazines and the internet about a potential code to remove her clothing; it was revealed that there never was one in the first place. There was, however, an unofficial patch that could be used on the PC version known as “Nude Raider” that was used to remove Lara’s clothes. Eidos eventually shut down the website hosting the patch, but the damage was done nevertheless and it remains as an infamous footnote in her history. Further criticisms include that the character was developed in a way to make male gamers feel like “chivalrous protectors” who were trying to protect Lara from harm and that her character’s appearance does nothing to detract men from the notion that women are sex objects.

The Last Drop

I’ve first started playing Tomb Raider in 1998, right around the time that puberty hit. I’ll admit, I had a huge crush on her when I first played the game; she was extremely attractive, not just in looks but in attitude as well. However, I’m sad to say that at that young of an age I felt that I gravitated more to her looks than to her character, which was in line with the criticisms noted above. As I grew older and more mature, I revisited the character and found that I resonated more with her spirit, her determination and the fact that she could do such impressive feats of physical and mental strength. She was really like the female version of Indiana Jones (a character that I rather enjoyed) and I found myself wanting to learn more about her, beyond the original versions (which I found to be a bit one-dimensional). To that end, I’ve picked up Tomb Raider Anniversary – a remake of the original taking place in the rebooted world of Tomb Raider: Legend and the recently rebooted (again) Tomb Raider (2013), an origin story featuring a more realistic depiction of Lara. I’ve played through the majority of the Anniversary edition and I’ve yet to play the Square-Enix reboot, but I’m looking forward to it.

I do want to argue that, despite the various criticisms surrounding her, Lara represents a step in the right direction towards more female representation in video games. As a guy myself, I personally want to see more stories of women in gaming, as their stories are just as important (and in some cases, more important) than the stories of overly-masculine, broody and square-jawed males (think Joel, Nathan Drake, Cole MacGrath, etc.) that have been the focus for the last decade or so. I, for one, feel like the future of women in gaming is a bright one, all thanks to Tomb Raider and one Lara Croft.

Hope you enjoyed this introspective into Lara Croft: Tomb Raider! If you want to delve further into the Writer’s Raid, I suggest you check out the hub at NekoJonez’s blog for the full list of other posts written by other amazingly talented bloggers!

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!