Monday, April 7, 2008

The Competition

Because of my lack of updates and inability to update on designated dates, I am posting this editorial in hopes for an exoneration. To what will probably many reader's dismay, I am not going to dissect any recent gaming news, but instead address an issue that is problematic in the communication between gamers and developers:

Value systems.

What I mean by "value systems" stems from political, moral and cultural history of a people, but plays no less an important role in the video game industry. Specifically, when a people plays a video game, their reactions and opinions to the said medium are completely based on their value systems which are orchestrated by outside forces. No matter what sources tell you, there is no unbiased, objective review of any digital media. We should know this from opinions on art and music, which have defused to being strictly industries of critiques rather than consumer reports.

From this comes the cliche "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion." A true statement that illuminates an ideal no one would want to be robbed, yet a predicament revolves around this. What is quality? What is good or bad? Surely subjective questions, yet industries thrive on imposing on a people exactly what fits in each category. People assuming they know exactly what "quality" means in a video game is then the springboard for which future video entertainment is made; for further proof see every action movie produced after The Matrix.

So a people says "we like it" and an industry creates more. The people who say "we don't like it" have to have a stronger voice at times to counter the others, and sometimes it is vice versa. To examine such a phenomenon, I am going to take two different video games, yet of the same name, and examine their reception and possible counter points. These games are both aptly titled Sonic The Hedgehog 2 for Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and Game Gear / Master system.

In 1992, Sega stole the majority market share from Nintendo with its release of Sonic 2 for the Sega Genesis. The game, developed by Yuji Naka, broke most of the rules of its predecessor in order to feed gamers their thirst for fast gameplay via "blast processing." The game is marked as Sonic's high point in the series and even today it has its large share of fans. The game was of simple mention - hold forward for 20 minutes, learn to jump at the right times, and have a blast watching your blue sprite fly across the screen in creative ways. Marked with the "rings" mechanic and special stages, the game was undeniably of a different mold than its mario counter-part. Among its differences lie difficulty, in which Sonic 2 almost has none. After a few trials, a player can expect to see the ending fairly quickly. Getting all the chaos emeralds with Sonic unlocks Super Sonic, which makes the game relatively easier with exception to a few points in the later levels. After that, the game has been fully explored. Yet the game is ranked as one of the best Sega games created.

Zoom back several months earlier and you have Sonic 2 for the Master System. An entirely different breed of game, it sets to take the fundamentals of the original and expand upon it. Due to the lack of graphic intensive hardware, pseudo-3D stages are non-existent and the game travels at a slower pace. The game no longer reaches the eye-candy bliss its son would soon outdo, but more or less creates a solid platforming experience. Its release in Europe met much praise and love from fans.

The game was also released America via Game Gear as a port. Trimmed down considerably in resolution, the game met anger among Sonic fans in the US. Common complaints arose among all Game Gear owners - the controls were sloppy, the screen was too small, one couldn't play as Tails, the game was "too hard." First, let's examine the last aspect of this list before delving into possible explanations for this divide in opinion.

What is "too hard?" I know not one person qualified to answer the question, yet I find issues in its vagueness. Too hard in comparison to what? Sonic 2 Genesis? Of course then, because Sonic 2 is a forward romp. Contra games have been known to be more less forgiving, yet no one in that crowd will say a Contra game is too difficult. Sonic 2 Game Gear can in fact be beaten, so there is no argument to say it is impossible. This then falls on a gamer's determination to complete the task before them. Is it easier to moan and perhaps allocate funds to a prettier, more visually rewarding experience? Perhaps. But to a people who decide not to take this route, little bickering will be found and instead be replaced with smiles and bittersweet memories that were not wasted.

To be fair, the Game Gear version of Sonic 2 is not the same as the Master System version. The game screen is cropped and in many circumstances the developers did not choose to compensate for it. Because of this issue, it is difficult to see any obstacles in advance and the game becomes a test of trail, error and memorization. Added to this the complaint that, despite the blatant advertisement on the box art, title screen and Zone introductory screens, Tails is not playable. The game doesn't state a false claim in its "Sonic The Hedgehog 2 - With Tails," but merely makes a suggestion gamers took literally. Since the same name was titled to a game that did have Tails playable, such aggravation is understandable. But even that complaint is in congruence with the other arguments for Sonic 2 GG's flaws, which are completely subjective to cultural constructs that founded a framework all critics use. The main point - comparison is a fine line for use in critical arguments when the clarity in developer's intentions is muddy.

As you can tell, my language in this piece is vague and based on opinion, just as are others that claim such positions as facts. Something to ponder next time you read a review on any media.

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