Retro vs Remake: The Speed of Molasses

Don't blink, or you might miss him.

Today’s Retro and Modern Games: Sonic 1 & 2 vs Sonic 4

Sonic the Hedgehog took the gaming world by storm when he sped onto the console scene in the early nighties. He propelled the struggling Sega Genesis console to mainstream stardom and completely unseated Mario as the reigning video game mascot.

Sonic’s game was a simple platformer, much like Mario; move left to right, avoiding enemies and obstacles to reach the goal. What Sonic did that Mario didn’t was the sense of speed and action. While Mario was trudging and hopping his way through the Mushroom Kingdom, Sonic was blazing through unique and colorful worlds like his feet were on fire. The Spin Dash move, where Sonic would curl up into a ball for extra speed, also lent itself to some unique level design and exhilarating loop-de-loops. And finally, Sonic’s “spin” on the health bar or lack thereof was a nice departure from the one-hit-wonder Mario. Instead of dying after one (or two) hits from an enemy, Sonic merely dropped all the rings he had collected throughout the stage. As long as you could hold onto at least one ring, Sonic was nigh invincible. Of course if the stage or boss level didn’t have any rings to collect, you were back to the one-hit-wonder.

That little brown furry guy does indeed have two tails.

Sonic 2 was the perfect sequel, improving on the previous game in almost every way. Sonic was leaner, meaner, and this time he brought back-up. Tails the fox follows Sonic through nearly every level providing minor assistance against Robotnik and his baddies. If you happen to have a second controller, a friend can drop in at any time and control Tails themselves. Sonic could also perform/charge his famous “spin dash” move while stationary so you wouldn’t get stuck if there was a steep incline. Sonic 2 also featured a massive variety of levels, many more than the original. From the traditional Emerald Hill and Chemical Plant to Mystic Cave and Flying Fortress, you never quite knew what to expect around each corner. The Special Stages also received a, in my opinion, much needed overhaul. Instead of the dizzying, rotating, float-y mazes from Sonic 1, your sped through quasi-3D half-pipe tracks, trying to collect the required number of rings to earn the Chaos Emerald. Also as an upgrade from Sonic 1, if you managed to collect all seven emeralds, they don’t merely unlock the “good” ending to the game, they give you the “ultimate” power-up in the game: Super Sonic. Once you have all the emeralds, as soon as you collect fifty rings within any stage and jump, you transform into a glowing, invincible, yellow version of Sonic that can leap to the moon and move at ludicrous speeds. No seriously, if you’re not careful when controlling Super Sonic, you could easily send yourself off a cliff and to your death. As a way to temper this power, you don’t get to keep it indefinitely. As soon as you transform, your ring count begins to drop one a second and when it reaches zero you become normal Sonic, with no rings. So rings not only become your source of life, but your source of ultimate power.

It looks promising...

Ok, so Sonic 1 & 2 are incredible games, even today, but what about the recent Sonic 4? Originally heralded as “Project Needlemouse” this game was suppose to hearken back to the Sonic games of old. So how did it do? Let’s start with the graphics.

The visuals in Sonic 4 are beautiful HD renderings of the stages from Sonic 1 & 2. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certainly not for nostalgia, but for a game that is suppose to be a “sequel” seeing the exact same levels from the first two games is a bit odd. Enemies and bosses are also ripped straight out of the first two Sonic games. The design and layout of the actual levels is decently done, but there are several cheap “death traps” that serve only to frustrate and drain all your hard earned lives.

This game has all the makings of a good remake, except for one thing: physics. The physics in Sonic 4 are atrocious. Sonic runs like he’s trudging through molasses spread across black ice, he jumps like a lead weight and his homing attack, a carry-over from more recent Sonic games, feels clumsy and unreliable. Even the special stages, a direct clone of the spinning maze from Sonic 1, suffer from whacked-out physics.

While Sonic 4 has all the indications of an awesome remake/sequel, the blue blur ultimately falls flat on his face, surrounded by memories of what was and what could’ve been. As a devote Sonic fan, I have to say that the original Genesis Sonic games beat Sonic 4 to the goal by a long mile.

Retro vs Remake: Dig Dug vs. Mr. Driller

Dig Dug, the much loved 1982 arcade game by Namco has been ported, sequel-ed and remade a dozen times over. And why not? It’s a charming, addictive game, despite its age.

Who knew tire pumps made such effective weapons?

Gameplay is pretty simple: drill your way around in the dirt, destroying enemies by inflating them with your bike pump. Yes, a bike pump. Like Pac-man or Galaga, this game has little basis in reality. You play as a little Japanese man (Officially known as Dig Dug, but also known as Taizo Hori) that must rid the earth of monsters. To do this, you must drill underground where the monsters dwell. Moving in any of the four directions on the 2D stage automatically drills the dirt ahead of you, creating a maze of tunnels in your wake. But be careful, drilling underneath rocks causes them to fall, so make sure you’re not in the way; monsters on the other hand… The monsters spend most of their time prancing back and forth in their own little tunnels, at least until you break the walls confining them. (If you take too long, they will transform into phantoms and float through the dirt toward you) Once freed, the monster will start moving along the tunnels you’ve created and attempt to strike you before you can toss the “air hose of death” at them.

Speaking of the bike pump, its actually an interesting weapon. When you press the “fire” button, you throw the hose out in front of you and if it catches a monster, it automatically inflates them. Slightly. To destroy them, you have to keep inflating them by continuously pressing the “fire” button. Interestingly, an effective strategy is inflating the creatures partway so that they remain motionless (at least until they deflate) then you could “arrange” them in a group under a rock and crush them for bonus points.

Now how about that remake…

Mr. Driller.

Namco went from cute to absolutely quirky with this 1999 arcade Dig Dug remake. (indecently starring the son of Dig Dug) Now I use the term remake loosely; Mr. Drilller is kind of a kind of a sequel/spin-off/remake of Dig Dug all rolled into one. The basic concept of drilling underground remains, but the rest of the game is completely different. For one, there are no enemies to harm or harm you. Instead, the environment is your adversary. Your goal is to drill down through a field of colored blocks until you run out of air (you can collect air refills as you drill) or reach the bottom. The blocks come in all various shapes with like adjacent like colors sticking to each other. As you drill, you will invariably cause the blocks above you to come loose since you can and have to drill in any direction. If you’re not fast enough, these blocks can crush you, but if a falling block happens to pass a similarly colored block, it will stick to it and, if it creates a set of 4 or more of the same color, disappear. Needless to say, the falling and disappearing blocks can cause massive chain reactions either to your benefit or detriment. There are also special blocks that don’t merge with other blocks as well as poison blocks, that if opened, can drain a chunk of your precious air supply.

The sound and graphics in Mr. Driller are certainly something to behold. It’s extremely bright and colorful with obvious Anime styling and the sound is every definition of happy and quirky.

So how do these two games compare? Well they both have pretty simple and easy to pick up gameplay. Mr. Driller is certainly more fast-paced and frantic than Dig Dug’s admittedly slow trudge. On the other hand, Dig Dug does allow for more strategic planning to rack up point bonuses. So I’m not sure how to call this one. They’re both great games, but I do have a nostalgic partiality for Dig Dug.

What’s your vote? Dig Dug or Mr. Driller?

Billy Bob Thornton as Freddy Krueger? No

freddy-krueger

We are still two years out from the Michael Bay produced remake the 1980s classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street. So it may be too early to place any bets, but Freddy himself, Robert Englund, started a rumor on the radio call in show “Lovelines” last week, saying that Billy Bob Thornton could possibly be involved in this remake. Perhaps as the striped sweatered dark dreamlord, Freddy Krueger? Now that’s a rumor I could get behind. Thornton is known for his offbeat role selection and he can certainly act when needed.

Since this remake seems to be on the fast track and it is going to happen. I personally, would not have a problem with this casting decision if it turned out to be true. He could bring some depth to the role, while at the same time hamming it up when needed.