Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Real Life Versus Retro Games (...Or What The Hell Is Up With Sonic?!)

Whether it's through gritty realism or hard hitting story lines, video games today practically insist on force-feeding us the most realistic portrayal of their subject matter as possible. Subsequently, the latest (and no doubt future) consoles revolve around 3D interaction and utilising the player as the controller. Realism is a way for games developers to show just how good they are at what they do. The very fact they can replicate real life scenarios and create detailed maps of existing locations is pretty darn impressive.

You fight in contemporary war zones in the Call Of Duty games, interrogate suspects by inspecting body language in L.A. Noire, experience what the impending zombie apocalypse might be like with games like Left 4 Dead, learn how to play an actual instrument with Rock Band 3 or even get fit playing one of a myriad of Kinect, PS3 Move or Wii games. This is great and all but I often miss the imaginative qualities of earlier titles. They may have been irrational and non-sensical at times but their uniqueness was part of the appeal - which, to a degree, explains why certain characters are still around. Cast your mind back to the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog - now twenty years old! A simple platformer, right?

WRONG!

Pick it apart and you essentially have a blue hedgehog who enjoys running really fast, collects gold rings and emeralds, oh, and he wears nothing but white gloves and red trainers. Okay, so running at intense speeds is impressive but with gold rings and emeralds?! If the character were human we could safely assume he'd just robbed a jewellery store - think Mr. Pink running through down-town L.A. But he's a hedgehog... who collects rings... there's literally no way that makes any logical sense, unless you're pitching a really cheap Lord Of The Rings spin-off. When he's finished collecting gold rings he saves tiny animals who, unlike Sonic, don't wear shoes or accessories or have a penchant for gold rings. Oh, and he saves them from an obese evil genius with outrageous facial hair and a Cheshire Cat grin who has an obvious dislike of cute furry animals. WTF?!

I read the comics growing up and while the premise is bizarre they ultimately make more sense than the game...but honestly, not much more. Sonic the Hedgehog is a strange concept, animals saving other animals I sort of understand but anthropomorphic animals - or in this case, a hedgehog - saving actual animals is bizarre. Don't get me started on his friends either. First off there's Tails...a fox. Now, I'm no expert on animal nutrition but I'm pretty sure a fox is higher up on the food chain and would probably enjoy devouring a delicious hedgehog.


NOM! 

Then there's Knuckles, a red typhoon spawning blur. Out of sheer curiosity, I googled Knuckles to find out exactly what it is. He's an echidna (pronounced.. er.. ek..kid..no I have no idea). In Tails' defence, at least he looks like a fox, an echidna is essentially a spikey anteater that could easily be mistaken for a kiwi...the bird not the fruit. Either Takashi Thomas Yuda is an echidna fanatic and simply wanted to see his favourite (I'm gonna say mammal) mammal in a video game or - more likely - he's never seen one.

It's similar to Disney characters all having anthropomorphic best friends - I understand that kids enjoy seeing animals talk and act human (hell, I like watching videos of cats speaking or dogs opening doors) but games like Sonic the Hedgehog are more confusing. It's as if random words were put into a large Sega hat and drawn to reveal: "BLUE", "HEDGEHOG", "RUNNING".

Despite its absurd premise the Sonic the Hedgehog series is one I still hold dear, I loved it twenty years ago, I love it now. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in particular is brilliant. There's a road near where I live called Green Hills Road. I chuckle to myself whenever I see it and can't help but think of the Green Hill Zone.


It'd be nice for games to revert to the creative roots of those early titles. I don't always want a game to be 'real' - that was the thing that annoyed me most about Grand Theft Auto IV. I love open sandbox environments, introducing doors that actually work and go places, rather than existing solely for decoration, is a phenomenal leap...don't act like you've never got annoyed when you've tried to open a door in a game, only to discover it's part of the bloody background! It's infuriating! GTA IV, while it had many more doors than it's predecessors, emulated real life - which I most certainly don't love. No, that's not me admitting that I hate living and want to die. However, I came close to that after playing GTA IV for a few hours.

"GO AWAY ROMAN, NO I DON'T WANT TO HANG OUT!" 

I barely socialise in my real life, I make the effort to see my close friends or maybe indulge in a LAN-party once in a while but it's effort. As much as I've enjoyed every other GTA game, I couldn't bear the social aspect of IV. I mean, if I didn't text my cousin Roman or my girlfriend to ask them out for dinner or to play pool EVERY FREAKIN' DAY, they would act like I suggested stealing children's gifts on Christmas morning.

Needless to say, I promptly got bored and GTA IV has been resigned to it's box ever since. I've been tempted to try it out again as my gamerscore displays a rather embarassing 5G.

It's a shame really because I love Rockstar, their games are always incredibly detailed, immersive and immensely enjoyable so I know deep down it's a great game; but that's just it - it's a game, not life. I play games to chill out, relax and indulge in my own company (except UFC Trainer...that's just masochism) - being forced to pretend I have a second social life which punishes me for not having the time to spend time with it just doesn't appeal to me.

Oh, I'm sorry Knuckles...I've just received a text. Apparently, I'm being hunted down by the Russian mafia - maybe we can hang out another time and you can try explaining to me how you're supposed to be an echidna!?

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