Sonic Mania Review (Editor)

[Written by Blessing Adeoye Jr. Edited by Alex Van Aken]

Sonic The Hedgehog is back. Refreshed and re-energized, Sonic Mania cracks its knuckles and reinvigorates 2-D platforming without ever stepping on its own tails. Through creative level design, satisfying callbacks, and excellent new additions, Sonic Mania is a wonderful return to form for everyone’s favorite hedgehog.

Sonic Mania is a best hits collection of Sonic the Hedgehog; it contains levels and references from the 2-D Sonic games along with some new levels and a brand new coat of polish. It is more vibrant and visually detailed than any of the Sega Genesis games yet it somehow keeps the spirit, feel, and tone of the originals. Sonic Mania feels pulled right out of the Genesis era and that’s where the charm of the game stems from. Most of the time while playing Sonic Mania, I forget I’m playing a game released in 2017. Minor tweaks to the feel of speed and jumping help make the gameplay feel modern along with prettier levels and updated music. The music from Studiopolis Zone highlights some of the best the game has to offer with varied instrumentation, upbeat melodies and a smooth piano section.

It would be an insult to call Sonic Mania a remaster. The game comes packed with an assortment of levels, most of which are from previous installments of the series. These classic Sonic levels are updated and rearranged just well enough so that they keep the feel and moments from the classic games but possess enough variety and difference to keep the player guessing. The new levels are where the game shines the most. The genius of the design shines most in these new stages as there are multiple paths, unexpected twists and turns, and a large amount of spectacle for the player to enjoy.

While Sonic Mania adopts many of the best aspects of Sonic, unfortunately some of the series’ weaknesses also come along for the ride. Sonic Mania can be difficult at times. The difficulty is reminiscent of the challenge of classic Sonic games and so it is to be expected. Though, there are cases where Sonic Mania can be unfair. Most notably, when Sonic gets caught in between two closing surfaces, the player receives an automatic loss no matter whether or not you have rings. I was okay with this the first and second time this happened to me but by my eighth “Game Over” after being caught by these closing surfaces, I’d had enough. Other cases such as being kicked back to the beginning of the first act after a “Game Over”, although heartbreaking at times, provided a welcomed challenge.

Sonic Mania is purely Sonic at its core. It’s a game with moments, complexity in level design, and accessibility in gameplay. Though at some parts in can be brutal, all in all the challenge is reminiscent of the Sega Genesis games we all loved. Sonic Mania has all of the style and flare that the classic Sonic games had and it is successful in being a true homage.

LawBreakers Review

Published on OK Beast

Just as LawBreakers wastes zero time in communicating its intentions and goals to the player, I’m not going to waste your time with this review. LawBreakers is the best twitch shooter, bar none, that I’ve played in the past five years. The title harkens back to the days of Unreal Tournament, when alternative fire modes and fast movement speed were crucial to interesting FPS design. After the literal slowdown brought forth by games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, LawBreakers is a refreshing change of pace. However, what’s more interesting is how Boss Key marries reflexive combat scenarios and fluid avenues of movement to create locomotive gunplay, which – as I stated in a previous video essay – is the idea that movement and marksmanship can serve two masters.

The Harrier, a class whose laser boots serve as both a mode of transportation and as a weapon, is the total embodiment of this idea. With proper fuel management, Harriers can ski around the map in a Tribes-like fashion; with the ability to pull backwards on the analog stick at any moment to kick their feet forward to damage oncoming enemies. It’s an absolute blast launching the Assassin across a map, using her futuristic grappling hook to swing around tight corners and her arc blades to slice through waves of opponents, in ways that often feel exploitative. Seriously, at times LawBreakers feels more like a first person Spider-Man game than a first person shooter – and I love it for that.

Continuing with the super hero similes, the Enforcer is quite reminiscent of a certain D.C. Comics speedster, utilizing his distortion field to boost both his base movement speed and his weapon’s rate of fire. The Enforcer became a much more interesting role to play after my realization that I could combine his speed and LawBreakers’ backwards blindfire mechanic to propel myself through an anti-gravity zone. Using these tricks while engaged in combat makes for an energetic and downright fun battlefield; and while some classes in the game trade excessive mobility for a more balanced playstyle, every character in LawBreakers capitalizes on the game’s locomotive elements in some way. This, in turn, transforms nearly every map into a playground of sorts, filled with various hallways, rooms, and secret paths to explore.

Vertigo, a map based in the skies of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, certainly stands out among its counterparts. The map’s aesthetic and overall layout has been conducive to several special gameplay moments during my time with Boss Key’s new game. Promenade, Grandview, & Mammoth are also strong selections, each equipped with an anti-gravitational zone that serves as a pathway across the middle of the map. Redfalls, which finds its home somewhere in the Grand Canyon, is the only map in LawBreakers that doesn’t feature a zero gravity zone in a prominent location. Instead, Redfalls relies on a smaller, more symmetrical design to create pockets and bottlenecks within the environment for players to vie for control over; and it serves as a great palette cleanser when shuffled into the rotation of the matchmaking playlist.

Unfortunately, the game’s matchmaking infrastructure seems somewhat slow in its current state; often making players wait several minutes in between each match. I’d imagine that this is to accommodate those in the lobby who want to analyze their stats, equip new skins and stickers, and so forth; but honestly, it feels counterintuitive to a game that’s so obsessed with speed. Sure, it’s a minor grievance, but it’s one that annoyed me several times, especially when coupled with LawBreakers’ sluggish menu. Luckily, the rest of the game is incredible and I have no problem looking past its somewhat minor flaws.

At its worst, LawBreakers is a competent first person shooter with a few back and front end UI annoyances that should be addressed. However, at its best, LawBreakers sets itself apart from the competition effortlessly by way of its interesting classes, fluid movement, and innovative anti-gravitational map design; the latter of which makes other futuristic shooters seem amateur in hindsight. While I’m not sure it’s a game that was designed with the casual player in mind, LawBreakers, like last year’s Overwatch and DOOM, is a fresh take that injects life back into the veins of a genre that’s grown somewhat stale over the years; and it’s a video game that absolutely deserves your attention.

Oh, and those skins? They’re SO good!

Stories: The Path Of Destinies Review

Fantastic combat centered around a mediocre story, set in a gorgeous world.

Stories: The Path of Destinies, the latest project from Spearhead Games, is centered around Reynardo the Fox, who has reluctantly joined forces with the Rebellion to win a war against the Emperor and his evil armies. Stories has some of the best combat I’ve played this year, and is only enhanced by its rewarding skill tree and upgradeable weapons. All of this is made even more enjoyable by its beautiful world and vibrant artwork. Players will navigate through a choose-your-own-adventure book filled with many branching paths. Unfortunately, the narrative is often mediocre and quite frankly, cheesy.

Arkham Acrobatics

Nearly seven years ago, Rocksteady Games released Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game that was critically acclaimed for not only its story, but its streamlined combat system. Arkham’s strike-and-counter combo system was a refreshing change of pace; and has since been implemented and built upon by countless developers. Stories: The Path of Destinies capitalizes on the beloved combat system and is a better game because of it. Controlling Reynardo is fluid and tight. Players are able to build their combo chain with ease by experimenting with the various tools at their disposal. While typically used for navigating the map, I found disarming enemy shields with the Hook Shot to be very useful. When I wasn’t bouncing back and forth between enemies with one of Reynardo’s four elemental swords, I often found myself using his dash to evade harmful area-of-effects. Players can switch between different swords mid-combat by utilizing the D-Pad, which allows for a plethora of different slice-and-dice strategies. I cycled between all four swords, but mostly swung the Hero and Fire swords, which allowed me to spread fire damage amongst my enemies while still maintaining the ability to heal myself on the fly. Reynardo became stronger with each new acquired skill and weapon upgrade; and as my evenings progressed, I found myself often saying, “just one more fight.”

Everyman’s RPG

The aforementioned elemental swords — as well as gems that improve Reynardo’s stats — are crafted by using collectable ores and essence, which are gained by completing story arcs and discovering hidden chests throughout the world. Honestly, half the fun of Stories’ crafting system was navigating the colorful world as I hunted down more and more treasure chests. XP is awarded for every successful enemy encounter. When Reynardo levels up, players receive a skill point to be allocated in the skill tree. Upgrading his skills and stats actually made a noticeable difference in the way I played. As the game progressed, Stories’ combat mechanics seemed to grow better and better. I never felt overwhelmed by the RPG elements of Spearhead’s game, and was frequently rewarded for my hard work.

Stories’ Story

Stories: The Path of Destinies is wrapped up in a charming storybook aesthetic that is complimented by fantastic art direction. The game’s protagonist is Reynardo the Fox, a once-retired swashbuckler who has now reluctantly decided to join a rebellion against the evil Emperor and his armies. Along his journey, Reynardo is often accompanied by old friends, which is great, except for the fact that their interactions are awkward and super cheesy. The characters’ motivations are often confusing and just leave me with more questions. In a Bastion-like fashion, Reynardo’s on-screen actions are narrated by a charismatic story-teller. Have a habit of breaking boxes or over-using your frost sword? The narrator will tease you with some sort of cheeky remark. Within the first ten minutes of Stories, I was excited to hear a quip relating to the infamous Kessel Run from Star Wars. Regrettably, the sheen wore off and the game’s pop culture references soon became hackneyed. Each chapter of the story is book-ended by a batch of narrative decisions that the player must choose between. Every decision matters and ultimately helps build up to one of many different endings, which is then retained by the player as a collectible. The story often ends poorly for Reynardo, and players are encouraged to navigate through the game several times over until a successful ending is unlocked. Upon completion of each story, the player receives a revelation that will somehow help them in their next play-through. Luckily, Stories: TPoD takes players to new and interesting locations throughout the game, which really helps mitigate the feeling of repetition. Again, let it be said that these locales are absolutely gorgeous.

While Stories’ visuals and controls are quite polished, I wish more attention had been given to the game’s technical problems. The loading times are grueling, sometimes taking upwards of a minute. I fell through the floor on multiple occasions, even once during a fight, which resulted in me having to restart to my last checkpoint. Frame rates stuttered throughout the game, but it was most noticeable during big fights or cluttered environments.

The Verdict

Stories: The Path of Destinies has some of the best-feeling combat I’ve played this year, which is only made better by the game’s skill tree and weapon crafting system. It is an absolute delight to explore the vibrant world that Reynardo’s adventure takes us to. Ultimately, Stories’ mediocre narrative and technical issues keep it from being a truly great game.