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There are some similarities, the opening stage is a version of Green Hill Zone (Complete with a nifty version of the level music) as are two others leaving 50% completely original locations. The general gameplay and structure of the game is also the same with several levels per each of the 6 zones followed by a fight with Robotnik and freeing the animals he captured as was the original game's premise.
The rest of the zones contained are different for both better and worse:
Zone 1 - Green hill - I like this zone, it's an easy going classic, there are reasons it or variations of it are normally starting zones
Zone 2 - Bridge - this is weirdly for a sonic game an auto scrolling zone. It kind of works though as this is a much slower paced platformer like it's Mega Drive counter part
Zone 3 - Jungle Zone - I have issues with this one listed below
Zone 4 - Labyrinth Zone - Another similar level from it's big brother, I like the underwater Sonic levels though I know I'm a minority there
Zone 5 - Scrap Brain Zone - So much better than it's big brothers version again, easier and less frustrating
Zone 6 - Sky Base Zone - I liked this level, had a great atmosphere
Of all the zones the only one I wasn't keen on was the Jungle zone. there is a section that's a bit tricky where you climb up a waterfall jumping on ledges and rocks. once the screen goes past a platform though it locks meaning if you try to jump back to it you instantly die even if it's a millimetre which is just kind of stupid. Other minor gameplay annoyances including how the rings work as the amount only matters for gaining extra lives. If sonic takes a hit he loses them all with one visible ring dropping you can't collect so essentially you only have the one hit to take regardless. The boss levels you don't have any rings at all though I kind of liked that as you had to learn the pattern and play skilfully. The bosses themselves aren't brutally hard though, especially to a seasoned Sonic player. Interestingly when you collect a bubble shield from a TV though it does transfer between levels so you can head into a boss with one as a possibility, I liked that.
There are Special Zones accessed through non boss stages when finishing with more than fifty rings as the only other use for them. This gives you the chance to get extra lives or continues by bouncing on springs to the end of the level in a time limit. There are no chaos emeralds here though, for a bit of a change they are actually hidden in the main levels requiring good jump control, using invincibility boxes to reach in spikes etc.
The game handles really well, the jumps and animations feel like a Sonic game should. The visuals and art design are the level of coloured and varied as I would expect, though the tiny enemy models are hilariously cute. The backgrounds are pretty static but Sonic's character model and animations are really well done. Interestingly this is actually the first game made by Ancient, the company formed by legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro. It was initially created to make this game specifically and it's Game Gear counter part before going on to later fame making Streets of rage and Beyond Oasis.
Overall I had a good time with this and the thing is I didn't expect to. It looks really nice for an 8-bit game, has a banger OST and plays well with some neat little ideas. Not everything works but overall it's a good little game.
+ Nice visuals and music.
+ Zones are fun and varied.
+ No ring bosses and emeralds on stages are different.
- Jungle Zone instant death isn't very well designed.
- Losing rings all at once is kind of lame.
It's been a long road getting to this point for both myself and Yakuza's main star Kiryu Kazama. Like many people I got into this series with Yakuza 0 through word of mouth in 2017 and wondered what I had missed all that time. There simply isn't another game series like it. It's a Frankenstein's monster whose separate parts on paper don't feel like they should work but amalgamated together they create something magical. They are serious crime dramas, only they are off beat comedies. They are beat 'em ups yet also adventure games, RPGs and dating simulators. It's all of these things and yet none of them. Not all it's ideas work, when they throw so much at the wall some things don't always stick but without fail for me they are always emotional, hilarious and entertaining.
The series' big selling point to me though is actually it's world design. This series along with Deus Ex made me realise I don't dislike open worlds, I dislike vast areas for the sake of being vast with empty meaningless content, sometimes less is more. Yakuza games are open worlds done right, not gigantic bloated icon maps usually used for those descriptions but smaller denser hubs. Locations have meaning, they have personality, the cities feel like characters in the game as much as the cast. If the game tells me to go to a shop or street I normally know where it is without having to bring up a map. They are full of life, small compact and focused.
Yakuza 6's story follows this same thought, whether it was because this was the first game on the Dragon Engine at the time meaning they cut back I don't know but I appreciated the sharper focus on Kiryu rather than the overly large games before that were getting a bit too big for themselves. Kiryu was really the heart of this game, it's his personal story about his own values and dedication to family. Hard to discuss without spoilers but whilst the overall story wasn't quite my cup of tea generally resulting in some pacing issues it still has some fantastic characters, moments and voice acting. This is partially because Yakuza's cinematography for it's cutscenes are a step above most games to me. The camera angles, facial details and expressions have always been extremely impressive but I truly noticed it here.
Like every Yakuza game the side content is often as important as the linear main story. Yakuza 6 scales back on this too but there is still a wealth of content here I spent a lot of my 70 hours playing through on. Spear fishing in an underwater on rails shooter, building up a clan for street fights in a mini strategy game, helping a small baseball team beat their countryside rivals (I'm not into baseball but this is making me consider some other games for it) as well as the usual suspects like cabaret clubs, video chat dating, mahjong and arcade games. It even has the full arcade game of Virtua Fighter 5 as optional content which is pretty crazy as far as a throw away mini game is concerned.
Honestly except some story beats I just don't have anything negative to say about this game. The combat is a little simpler than some other titles though that doesn't concern me much as the moment to moment narrative beats and atmosphere are the core to the series to me. I started it because I needed to play it to play Gaiden as I skipped from 5 to 7 initially but then had a feeling of regret I hadn't played it sooner as the Yakuza magic took hold of me. I love the world, the characters, the side content, exploring and taking in the sights of the locations. Yakuza as I discussed is a lot of things but to someone who grew up as a Sega fan it really shows to me that they still have that spark that made me a fan of theirs in the first place and may it long continue.
+ Hiroshima is a great new location.
+ Cinematography and voice acting are superb.
+ Baseball, spear fishing and clan fighting are pretty fun side content.
+ It's Yakuza.
- Storyline is a little up and down.
No, it's just that playing House of Ashes in online co-op was a miserable buggy experience.
You see I played this with a friend, we play together nearly every evening and are always looking for a new Playstation co-op experience. We had enjoyed Man of Medan despite some issues and heard this game was supposedly all around the better of the two. We ran into constant technical problems though. Characters getting stuck, locking up for no reason. The game taking forever to actually perform an action, even picking up an item to look at was a complete chore of waiting 10 seconds to see if they would actually move. We had to quit out and restart half a dozen times to get past various sections and by the end we were frustrated by it all. The thing is it wasn't just the technical problems but a variety of issues built up leaving a bitter taste in our mouths. We beat the game, kind of hated it and moved onto Wild Hearts. The thing is, I decided to go back to it to see if the game was better playing it on my own and my second experience has left me softer towards it overall though certain flaws continue regardless of player occupancy.
For those unaware The Dark Pictures Anthology is a series of horror games by developer Supermassive Games that are more like quick time event interactive movies. Your inputs decide the outcome and the wrong move at the wrong time can see characters permanently die and adjust the story outcome slightly. Our first issue with this game is the button prompts for these events. They are based on the PS5 controller with white buttons with the Cross, Triangle, Square and Circle symbols overlayed in grey. They aren't clear without colour to tell them apart and when you only have a second to work it out...well the design is awful. I went into the accessibility options to change them all to cross because it was implemented so badly when playing on my own. I will at least give them credit for those features.
A lot of the rest of the game has it's ups and downs as well. I really liked the setting going with a Mesopotamian historical influence which isn't something seen in games all too much. The modern plot setting there of the 2003 invasion of Iraq looking for chemical weapons however certainly is...a choice. It did allow a good relationship build up between two characters of Jason a lieutenant in the US marines and Salim a sergeant in the Iraqi army. Their characters and relationship are the two best parts of the whole game with some well written dialog and voice acting that bring them to life as being both professional and empathetic. If only the rest of the writing was as good or even competent because most of the other characters are just unrelatable buffoons. I didn't care for the forced interpersonal drama between 3 of them and was quite happy for them to die. They are needlessly confrontational, rude and in a lot of cases completely inconsistent. In one scene as an example:
Character 1: "What's there to think about? We go and save him"
Character 2: thinks about it for a second
Character 1: "He isn't one of us lets leave him"
It's like they are different people from line to line at times completely breaking immersion when they 180, never mind in the same conversation. Frankly except Jason and Salim they are all extremely unlikeable. I understand the developers want to build a varied cast that will leave difficult decisions for the player with conflict but they went overboard leaving a negative experience in a lot of scenes because I just didn't care about what happened to any of them.
The story also kind of lacks suspense and scares which I was surprised by. It has an interesting setting and atmosphere but it never really uses them to build up any tension or fear of the unknown. Except for a few scenes early on the game is more just a military shooter than a horror title. The magic is gone when the monster is revealed and the curtain gets drawn back. In this case it just happens all too early.
I will say my second playthrough was far more enjoyable overall regardless of the issues above. The only bugs playing solo was a trophy not unlocking (I had to disconnect from the internet and restart my PS5 replaying the scene to unlock it as a work around found by the community). I really like the visuals and general ideas presented here, they just needed more polish and to iron out the cast to a better degree. Still I am glad I went back to it as it has convinced me to play the second game in the series Little Hope which I had initially written off after my first playthrough of House of ashes, I just won't play it online...
+ Jason and Salim are great characters with an excellent comradery.
+ Visuals are gorgeous.
+ Mesopotamian setting is a nice choice.
- The other characters could all rot for all I care.
- Playstation quick time buttons are unclear.
- Online is a constant buggy mess and a semi bugged trophy.
- Not scary, no tension or build up.
- War setting is...a choice.