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Tycho / on Wed, Feb 21 2007 at 12:30 am

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The Home Of The Gods, Part One

Illusionz was too far away to enjoy often, and even if we had made it out there our twenty bucks - administered biweekly - wasn’t going to save the place.  An imposing acre-wide indoor cavern, its unchanging arcade selection came to resemble a kind of mausoleum - still inside, with the heroes of another era laid ‘round. 

The first time we met Robert, it became clear to us that we would run Penny Arcade over a reef in our efforts to sustain it.  We didn’t know him well enough to trust him, and also we don’t trust anyone, so we just accepted that we’d never find the person we needed and resigned ourselves to imminent failure.  We talked about it on our way to Illusionz, in fact, and upon entering the establishment we saw Robert himself on the DDR machine in an umber head-to-toe sweatsuit, every inch the AZN.  For some reason, watching him drop Holic on Heavy proved something about him that our previous conversation had not. 

It has long been our fantasy to shipwreck our lives with the fabulous expense of a doomed arcade, and this dark dream sprouted anew with the collapse of that Issaquah institution.  We have chosen to do a storyline about it, in the hope that it will bind up this urge and dissipate it. 

Recent Sonic titles have been so bad that their taint creeps backward along the bloodline, corrupting the classics that begat the franchise.  Sonic Riders (for example) is a game whose perversions language cannot entirely contain:  it is almost pure anguish.  It is the arm of Cain raised over his pure brother Abel in murderous rage, its charred seed germinated in human sin. 

The recent 1up piece by Jeremy Parish re: The Sonic Problem offers real solutions to a company that has lost its mind and perhaps even its soul.  But when they succeed, we must mark it:  Sonic Rush on the DS is the most authentic series entry in years. 

Okay, we’re done. 

But Sonic and the Secret Rings I’m actually looking forward to.  Take the raw speed of the original games to bear the name, and place the camera behind our azure protagonist.  Use motion sensing controls to avoid obstacles, grab rings, and attack crabs.  So, Sonic On Rails.     

The term "On Rails" is typically used a pejorative, often produced with a sneer and accompanied by a snort of derision.  This is all according to some Gamer Law whose origin isn’t clear to me.  I think it is because the human spirit yearns for freedom, and they feel as though the rails amount to a kind of "Man" who is "coming down" on "them."  All games are on rails, and these rails are of varying thickness and ornamentation.  Characters that never change.  Environments that shunt players.  Severely constrained interactivity.  Punitive gameplay mechanics.  All of these things are acceptable.  But when you restrain certain classes of player movement, oh ho, then the game is on rails.

Superficially it reminds me of Jungle Beat, which might be one of my favorite games.  Nintendo’s insane "bongo platformer" was more about momentum than anything else, about making strings of correct choices under radical time constraints, and the best videos of Secret Rings carry this idea in them.  I played a prehistoric version of what was then called "Sonic Wildfire"  at The Last E3 Ever, enough to know that they were onto something, but tuning player input on the Wii is like witchcraft and simply takes time to smooth out.  I was unable to invest myself in the game because I expected them to shove it out the door for the system launch. 

That they did not do so has allowed this old heart to hope.

(CW)TB out. 

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