Persona 5 OTP Sketch

I just finished Persona 5 and it is without a doubt my GOTY for 2017. That said, it is only mid year and so many amazing things have come out already. The latter half of the year is looking fantastic too. P5 just gave me something that I’ve wanted for a while now with JRPGs and it’s that total package feeling. From start to finish this game is polished in terms of visuals, menu mechanics, battle flow, storytelling, crafting, and everything else, top to bottom. And in conjunction with its previous entries, it’s a billion lightyears ahead of its predecessors. Persona 3 and 4 were in no way bad games, and are still in my top lineup for solid JRPGs, but Persona 5 just took every aspect of them to a new heightened level.

In honor of my completion of the game and just before I spend another 120 hours on my New Game + playthrough, I’ve sketched my OTP (One True Pairing) favorite couple for Persona. Futaba and Akira. It may seem odd, since she is considerably younger than the fans of the series, but in terms of both she and Akira, the age gap is very small. Her bond is unique compared to all the others because it’s one of perfect trust on a very vulnerable level. Futaba has to overcome both her trauma regarding the death of her mother and her own fear of socializing after years of seclusion. Akira brings out the best in her and supports her in a way that nobody else could. Combined with Sojoiro’s moving story about her, the story makes perfect sense for Akira to take care of her heart as someone that both she and Sojiro trust.

Also, she’s awesome and takes no shit. Strong-willed and super smart with a kind heart and a cruel sense of humor. This girl deserves the world.

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LET’S TALK: GAME INFORMER

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Growing up I remember when gaming grew tremendously and publications were sprouting up everywhere.  Nintendo Power was big and GamePro as well, but the one that stood the test of time was Game Informer.  It was small at first, but once it graduated from its 6-pages to a full monthly magazine it quickly gained a following.  Old Funcoland stores, the originators of the magazine, got bought up by Gamestop and now the gaming giant rules the used and new game market with an iron grip that will doubtfully ever fail.  Most GI subscriptions come through their stores and almost everyone who plays games has heard of the magazine.  Game Informer is the definitive gaming news publication.  But on the internet, that’s a different story.

Ask anyone and they’ll likely tell you their favorite sites without a single mention of GI.  You’ll hear Kotaku, Polygon, and probably IGN as their top news outlets.  That’s because GI has always remained formal in a sense that drove the budding generations of casual gamers away from it when they wanted to see people more like them.  They wanted to hear crass jokes and watch goofy videos about the people who play games.  It’s why Let’s Plays on Youtube are a thing.  They wanted to see themselves in other people.  Meanwhile, GI wanted to provide you with in-depth knowledge of the business and detailed reviews about the medium.  They wanted you to understand and dig deeper into your interests in a way that seemed academic compared to some of the other more casual outlets.  And there was nothing wrong with that for the magazine.  Hell, it sells 6.7 million copies a month, so it’s definitely doing something right.  So why is it that their online comments on articles are so few?  Why is it that their likes and shares aren’t as strong as that silly-ass IGN video you watched the other day?  It’s because the internet has become a place for everyday people to seek surface level knowledge about the things that interest them in a casual way, and GI refuses to just give you surface knowledge when you deserve to have so much more.

That’s why it’s amazing that they are now doing personal columns.

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Just the other day GI announced and released two of their new columns that will be released weekly.  Topics like Science Fiction and how games intersect with our real lives.  Sports and humor and all about games and people.  And these aren’t just puff pieces or deep looks into the universe, but instead are personal accounts and musings on the topics that resonate most with people.  You may have gotten some personal tidbits here and there in the past about some of the writers on staff, but not like this, I promise.  Newbie Associate Editor and a close college buddy of mine, Javy Gwaltney, started his first column “The Virtual Life” with a talk about death in real life and death in games.  It was poignant and it read like a conversation he and I would have and not like some click-baiting headline or an essay on death.  Andrew Reiner’s first Science Fiction post outlines his life in the form of his influences in Science Fiction. The rest is just talking about the upcoming Science Fiction bits in pop-culture that he’s excited about.  It’s refreshing and it comes on the heels of a very personal piece he did recently about video game violence and explaining it to his child—something I was happily shocked by.   He opens up and he’s talking to you, the casual human, like a casual human, because they seem to finally get it.  GI has spent so many years doing the best damn job at gaming journalism and setting the bar so very high for the rest of the world’s outlets, but it never seemed to develop the online following and the community that the others did.  Now, I think that’s about to change.

Gaming is a complicated thing.  It can be isolated or it can be social.  It can be full of long-form, riveting storytelling or it can just be a casual challenge every now and again.  But most importantly it’s something we have in common.  We enjoy these windows of escapism and we cherish the time we get to devote to it, because it frees us and opens us up to ideas and worlds we couldn’t quite experience in our own imaginations.  And though we can consider games an art, with deep and fascinating layers worthy of criticism, we need to remember that art is at its best when it’s simply enjoyed by people, who then share it with other people.

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Game Informer is finally doing what I had hoped all of game journalism would eventually embrace—keeping the heavy critiques where they need to be, but talking more about real life.  Because we live in real life and these games, though just fantasy, are made from bits and pieces of our real lives.  We relate to them and they resonate with us through either personal connections to a specific thing in the games themselves or just reminders of what used to be when we played them in the past.  Games are life and we want to enjoy it, not spend all our time analyzing its every blemish.

So go over to Game Informer and check out their new columns.  It’s the beginning stages of something they’ve been trying to roll out for a while now and I can sense how excited they all are.  They felt it too, and it’s just really nice to know that the future will be a little more personable without removing any of the quality pieces that they put out.  Reward their efforts and make sure you comment and share if you like it.

Cheers,

Javy’s:  The Virtual Life

Reiner’s:  Science Fiction Weekly

Me on Twitter

Yokai Watch VS Pokemon

Yokai Watch 2 was just announced for North American release and the most talked about part of the news is that it will release in 2 separate games just like Pokémon versions.  The Yokai Watch brand was born in the shadow of its predecessor and is rightfully compared to a lot of the clearly influenced parts of its structure and overall gimmick.  But as a long-time Pokémon fan who played Yokai Watch during the long wait between Pokémon games, I found that Yokai is not only its own game,  but it honestly does a lot of things better.

Let’s start with the obvious—catching them all.  Pokémon is about the variety of creatures with a variety of types and a variety of abilities to be used in a variety of situations.  You could spend all your time trying to collect them all, or just building your own specialized team for any challenge that may come your way.  Yokai Watch simplifies that and says, “Sure there are many types, but pick the ones you want,” and then that’s it.  There’s no drive to collect them all unless you have that kind of compulsion inherently (I do).  And you don’t get anything special for collecting them all either.  That’s because Yokai Watch has more to sell you on than just its critters.  It has personality.

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The difference between Pikachu and Jibanyan is that one is a mascot that can do cool stuff and the other is an actual  talking, feeling, and funny companion who gets into its own trouble and you get to interact with it on a social level.  And that goes for all of the Yokai, really.  Each one is so specifically geared toward its purpose in affecting the world that the very premise of the game would fall apart without them.  Pokémon are animals just like ours in real life, but Yokai are spirits who possess and influence everything around us.  Feeling kind of sick?  It’s probably a Yokai.  Don’t want to do anything?  That’s a Yokai too.  There’s even a Yokai that gives you gas!  How could you not interact and build stories around those kinds of specialties?  With Pokémon it’s simple—catch them and make them fight until you’re the champ.  With Yokai, there’s no champion to beat or trainers to go against.  It’s just you and your Yokai friends that you’ve made so far versus any other Yokai that may be messing with you that day.  There’s an overarching story, sure, but there are more sidequests and Yokai to explore that there’s never really a push to keep focus.  Pokémon has only one true narrative and most of the sidequests are at the end, after you’ve battled a zillion people and Zubats to get there.

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And the battles are the biggest difference of all.  Pokémon allows 6 critters and so does Yokai, but in Pokémon you have to use one at a time unless you’re doing a specialty battle of doubles of triples.  With Yokai the battles always use 3 at a time and it’s active not turn-based.  Enemies are always attacking as soon as they can and so are your Yokai, but if you want them to do special abilities then you have to be constantly engaged.  The lower screen shows your energy gauges and when they fill up on a Yokai you can perform mini games that allow them to show off their strength.  It’s randomized between tracing a series of lines, popping some bubbles, or spinning a wheel.  Each of which needs to be done quickly in order to be effective.  Another aspect is that you can rotate your Yokai out of battle at any time with a swipe of your stylus instead of having to wait a whole turn to switch in and out with a turn loss penalty like Pokémon.  And if you run into random encounters that you don’t care about there’s a fast forward button that allows you to speed up the fight so you can just move on.  You and your enemies will high  speed slap each other until one of you loses and you’re on your way back to whatever you were focused on.  That’s what I love most about Yokai—it demands engagement when it’s necessary and doesn’t punish you when you disregard it for the sake of personal preferences at the time.

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Pokémon may be the forerunner here in terms of collectible critters, but honestly I felt the games were vastly different.  A Pokémon game has a linear story with a few silly comments while Yokai Watch gave me a really funny story with parts all over the place and hilarious characters at every turn.  It never tried to be anything like Pokémon and amidst all the comparisons that’s worth noting.  Yokai Watch may be launching with two different versions, but unlike Pokémon you still can’t trade Yokai to another player.  Pokémon was able to capitalize on the social aspect of their games with trading, but Level-5 doesn’t seem to be focused on that kind of model at all.

If you’re a fan of Pokémon, then you’re probably going to love the variety of critters and the more engaged battle system.  But don’t go in thinking that it’s going to be the same.  Yokai will introduce you to far more interesting characters and it will never take itself seriously enough for you to feel like you should over-invest your time and energy. For me, it was everything I needed to quell my Poké-Fever between games and I ended up enjoying it probably far more than a Pokémon game anyway.  It’s not a competitive romp or a deep rolling thriller–It’s just a fun time with some cool spirits.  So enjoy!

yokaifunny

Review: Tales of Link

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Finally released in the U.S., Tales of Link hit the android store and summoned up 300,000 players in just one week.  Longtime fans are familiar with the Tales Series’ characters and their numerous composite games like Tales of the World, but this one brought us a brand new system made just for the mobile market–without all the pay to play nonsense.

Tales of Link is a matching game where you link the shapes and colors underneath your characters on a 3×3 grid to have them attack and simultaneously build up mana for special abilities.  You can get all your favorite characters from levels 1 to 5 stars which indicate the tiers of their abilities to use in battle.  The game runs on Hero Stones which are awarded at the end of every completed quest and they allow you to continue if you lose a match, buy new characters, or expand the limits on how many characters or materials you can hold.  The materials are used in a very in-depth crafting system to create weapons and armor for your characters to use in battle.  Most of this part is still unearthed in that there are no guides that really explain how most of the synthesis works, but some of it comes in the form of Events.

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Weekly events pop up in the Notice box that allow you to test your skills in order to gain higher level characters or rare materials.  Luckily, in the first week, one such event actually detailed the progression of a synthesis that created multiple new items if you gathered all the materials together.  Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t explain or include any information on the progressions for any of the other weapons or materials, so it’s all just guessing from here.

The game follows a well thought out story that surprisingly features lots of dialogue and voice acting.  Most of the game is in the form of the Tales Series’ well known skit features, so it’s really just anime stills talking to each other, but it’s clear there was a lot of work put into it since the game introduces over 75 new characters just for this game alone.

The difficulty increases as you go along and the whole story took maybe 3 weeks to complete off and on since you’re given a stamina meter and only so much play time per meter.  You can use items to recover your stamina, but once you’re out you’ll have to purchase more with real money.  You can even purchase more Hero Stones as well, but honestly the game practically throws them at you.  And that’s what really kept me hooked—the game never forced you to buy in and never gave you a reason beyond your own fandom.  Sure you can buy as many characters as you want, but once you reach the end of the game there’s no reason to.  I finished with about 30 Hero Stones to spare and I was able to spend 150+ just getting characters without buying them.

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The downside is that when you finish the game, there isn’t much to do other than replay levels or wait for weekly events.  Replay value is really non-existent since you don’t need to get more Hero Stones and you don’t need to get new characters.  As a pay-to-play model, I’m not sure Bandai-Namco really thought it through, but maybe that wasn’t their intention.  Maybe they wanted you to play just to enjoy it and if you wanted more you could buy more.  The best comparison I can make is to Pokemon Shuffle, where the puzzle play is limited to 5 an hour and if you want to play more you buy in.  If you have a difficult time in the game you can buy items to help.  This forces the player to purchase if they want to continue, which works for some, but mostly makes me play for a short time and then turn it off.  For Tales of Link, I get the feeling they wanted you to play it and get as much enjoyment out of it at all times as you would one of their full length RPGs.  Pay to play only if you have a hard time.

As a free game, Tales of Link is solid and mindless fun until you hit the higher levels.  Then it becomes a game of timing and resources to make sure you survive.  I still play it for fun and I still play the events, but I do wish there were more story missions or new levels.  That’s one thing that mobile puzzle games have on this one—infinite play versus capped.  But as a whole, Tales of Link is for the fans and it feels like it through and through.  Pick your favorite characters and run a team of them against all odds for the hell of it.

My team:  Reala, Philia, Cress, Leon, Sophie, Kohaku, Lloyd, Hubert, and Leia

You can pick up Tales of link on any Android device today.

 

LET’S TALK: Virtual Reality News

Let’s talk about Virtual Reality.

This past weekend I got to experience firsthand exactly what VR is like through the Oculus Rift.  I have to say…I had expectations and I had a bit of pre-knowledge going in after trying out the Samsung VR, but what I experienced with the Oculus was beyond what I thought it could be.  Everything from the rendering to the sound quality blew me away.

The coolest part of the whole thing was definitely the level of immersion.  I thought maybe some peripheral stuff would be added and maybe it would have some kind of 3D effect similar to what the Samsung had shown plus maybe some of that 3DS stuff, but NO—this was a fully immersive, fully rendered, 360 degree world.  Even something as cartoony as Lucky’s Tale was an amazing feat to behold.  To everyone outside the headset, it looked like a typical platformer like Sly Cooper, but inside the headset it was a completely different experience.  You and your eyes are literally the camera and when you stand up, it adjusts to where your camera in the game is.  When you move forward to look at something closely it adjusts your camera closer to whatever that is.  It could be behind you or above you and the camera will react the way your vision would in real life.  It may sound simplistic, but when you’re in it it’s different.

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So, I’m excited.

VR seems to be taking off and it honestly has way more bite than bark.  Not only is it selling well, it’s also picking up even more universal steam.  HTC held a conference in China where they announced a brand new investment endeavor that will likely skyrocket VR to the very top.  They created an organization called the Asia-Pacific Virtual Reality Industry Alliance (APVRA) that would be tasked with accelerating the development of the VR market.  Huge names involved like Warner Bros., Disney, Lionsgate, NVIDIA, Ubisoft, and more deep pockets to sweeten the deal.  The project will no doubt launch many ventures into exploring the technology and building up every single use for it.

And there are TONS of uses.

VRS.org has put together a list of applications for VR and it is mind-blowing.  Everything from Sports to Engineering to Film…there’s no limit to what a simulated reality could be used for.  And that gets me even more excited.  I’ve been lucky enough to be alive during a huge technological boom and this is just the next step upward until we have flying cars.  Maybe even hover-boards for real this time?

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Anyway, If you haven’t tried it out yet, some select Best Buy stores have VR to sample.  I recommend it because it really doesn’t do it justice just seeing Markiplier play around with it.  Inside that world it is a fulllworld that will captivate and hold you.  It’s real and once we start developing environments that look like our own, you might not even recognize the difference.

Cheers

Got thoughts or expectations on VR?  Where do you think it will take us and are you excited to find out?  Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

LET’S TALK: Nintendo’s Future

Today I’m introducing a new segment entitled Let’s Talk.  This will be a place for strong opinions about gaming news and the industry and hopefully a place for conversation amongst fellow fans.  So without further ado…

Let’s talk about Nintendo.

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It was a bad day for them and honestly it looks like it’s not going to get any better for another year or so.  Another consecutive year of losses was a big bummer, but the cherry on top was the announcement that not only will their new console, the NX, release in 2017, but so will their last big thing on the WII—The Legend  of Zelda.

Now this hurts and a lot of people have thrown in the towel and loudly voiced their groans online already.  But that’s not what I’m here to do.

Let’s talk about why this may be the best decision they could have made.

We’ll start with the sad facts.

The Wii was a huge success and it put a lot of money in the Mario bank, but the Wii U has literally eaten up all of the gains.  It flopped hard and here’s why—the technology is a dated concept.  The appeal of a second screen was useful for a portable console, but not entirely necessary for a home console.  Sure, some games have used it well enough to validate its existence, but most of the time it’s the “I don’t want that controller to beat your ass in Smash Bros with, gimme the Gamecube controller” controller.  Its other use was to free up the TV so Mom and Dad could watch the news and you could still play your big-girl games at the same time, but what Nintendo failed to understand was that the world was past that.  TVs didn’t need to be freed up anymore, because TVs exist everywhere.  Phones, tablets, laptops, on freakin’ watches now–EVERYWHERE.  And TVs aren’t as hard to come by anymore either.  So you playing your little game isn’t hindering anyone else from pirating that new episode of Game of Thrones and watching it wherever they want.  It was a bad idea and it flopped, because Nintendo lost their connection to the outside world.  If they were paying attention, they would have come up with this idea way back before the age of streaming.

Okay, that was harsh, but true.  Let’s get scarier.

I’m betting by 2020 we will either have a Nintendo or we won’t.  Simple as that.  And I think they know it and I think they are preparing.  Investors and fans are losing faith over years of lackluster products and negative sales figures.  Their only hope was pushed back another year and we still don’t even know what the hell it is yet.

Now to the good stuff.

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Many fans are upset that Zelda isn’t gracing the Wii U until next year and then there’s nothing else in between.  They say it’s a slap in the face of Wii U owners everywhere and it won’t sell anymore consoles.  I say, “Duh,” and I bet Nintendo would echo that.  They know the Wii U failed and they know that any more money thrown into that broken basket is money wasted.  So why not send it off with some fireworks that were already being prepped anyway?  They shouldn’t spend money or time on the Wii U and that’s why there are all these rumors about developers working on “secret projects” for Nintendo.  Newsflash:  It’s probably stuff for the NX!  And here’s another prediction I’m making—Nintendo will reveal the NX as a next gen console on par or greater than the current systems.  Why do I think that?  Because it would be an instant flop if it wasn’t.  No gimmick and no nuance design choice can save them against a market dominated by Sony and Microsoft.  VR is taking the world by storm and right now only PCs and those consoles can handle it.  Nintendo is the odd plumber out.  So they will make a grandiose console that can match weights with the big girls.  So if the NX is such a huge deal then why is it so far out?  Because Nintendo is smart enough to survive long enough for the biggest cash cow in their stable to finally hit the scene and you’ve probably already forgotten about it.

A mother****ing theme park.

Universal announced earlier this year that a Nintendo theme park was in the works for worldwide distributions and Nintendo was sinking lots of dollars into its investment.  There was no release date and no official statements other than the initial announcement so it’s been off the map for a lot of you.  Just think about it.  A gamer/ nerd heaven based on everything you loved and still love in the industry.  A Disneyland of Gaming.  And it’s going to make so much damn money that Nintendo will no doubt bounce back up to where they need to be to stay in the game indefinitely.  You think Sony could pull that off?  Or Microsoft?!  Only Nintendo has a legacy stable so strong and consistent that they could pull a Mickey Mouse with their main man Mario.

 

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So that’s the game plan.  Stay afloat until the money rolls in.  And hedge all bets on the NX being a competent console that will have consumers begging for the next Unreal engine-looking  Zelda.  But there’s a scary part to that too.  All the eggs are in one basket.  It’s a long game gambit that will either make or break Nintendo in the next 3 years.  Yeah, the portable market is still their bitch and yes, they could always do ONLY handhelds, but that’s not who they are.  They are Nintendo—the Godfather of gaming.  They invented most of what the other companies are beating them at and it’s high time they started re-claiming that throne.

Here’s how I see it—if the NX isn’t a hit based on first impressions alone, Nintendo is up the creek.  And if it is, then that’s icing on the cake that will take them just long enough to eat that the theme park money will make it just in time.

Nintendo did the right thing for once—they planned ahead.  And hopefully they will find themselves more involved in the current state of worldwide technology so that they can develop stronger products to compete in their field.  It will all depend on whether or not the NX is good enough, but one thing is for sure:  either way we’re getting the coolest ****ing theme park ever and Nintendo will remain alive in some form or another.

Hail Bowser and tell me what you think!  Did Nintendo screw the pooch so badly that there’s no coming back, or do you think what I’ve said could save them?  What else do you think they should do?  Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @RAT_FOX .

Cheers!

Unpopular Opinon: Reviving Sonic

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It seems like only yesterday that Mario, the King of Games, was dethroned and a blue blur took his place.  He was faster.  He was cooler.  And damn his games were fun as hell.  But for decades now the supreme ruler of the modern console has been a dusty shadow of his former self—and I don’t mean to bring up his asshole counterpart.  Sonic the Hedgehog used to be the poster-child for what modern gaming could achieve in terms of speed, level design, and sick music tracks until supposedly 3D ruined his reign.  Sonic Adventure failed to impress with a sequel that was only half better.  But if we’re being honest here, 3D wasn’t the thing that tripped up our attitudinal speedster.

It was us.

With greater graphical demands and technology booming all around, we pushed the industry into thinking Sonic needed to be like the other games.  It needed to be more realistic; it needed a better more intricate storyline; and it needed a huge cast of diverse characters.  But that’s not what made Sonic fun to begin with!  Sonic was always about the high risk and reward for moving at speeds that other games couldn’t imagine without dipping in framerates or freezing up.  Sonic could leap off of the freakin’ stage completely from how fast you launched him and maybe you were going to land safely somewhere on the stage or maybe not,  but you didn’t care because of how cool it was.  The platforming didn’t get in the way of the speed mechanics and the bosses didn’t sacrifice difficulty for the sake of complexity.  It didn’t need a story beyond “run real fast and beat up the bad guy”!  And sure, Tails was great as a co-op 2nd player character that shut up your nagging siblings or friends’ cries to play too and Knuckles was an interesting new movement mechanic, but once we hit Adventure it went too far.  The speed dropped and those differing mechanics took over.  And where did those mechanics come from?  Other games that were popular at the time.  Action adventure, strict platformers, dungeon crawling, and mixed up mini-games were taking over the market and from a money-view it made sense.   We were buying those games and we were telling the industry over and over that this was the future of gaming.

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But we killed Sonic.

And now we can bring him back.

The answer almost returned in the first level of Sonic: Unleashed where it showcased the game mechanics for its regular high-speed Sonic level.  In that level, there are minimal threats and a hyper focus on maximum speed.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed that level for the sheer fun of it.  And though the rest of the game was a pile of blue crap, I found the answer to Sega’s problem thanks to another technological demand and it might be the bolt of lightning that can bring this beloved mascot back to rule.

Virtual Reality.

VR has taken the world by storm and now is the time to bring back the speed.  Imagine a 3rd Person, or better yet, 1st person experience behind those wide hedgehog eyes as you launch yourself feet first down massive slopes and through insane loops at dizzying speeds.  It would be like a roller coaster simulator on crack!  Toss in some lite platforming mechanics and keep the homing system to attack enemies and I honestly just don’t see how it could fail.  Well, for the squeamish and those prone to motion sickness it would fail.  But for everyone else it would knock them out of their red and white shoes!  And more importantly it wouldn’t need anything else.  It would refocus on what made the character and his franchise cool and different from all the rest—speed.  That experience of going fast is all that is needed to put Sonic back into the headlines and back into our homes as a unique game.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Sonic is too long gone for us to bring him back now.  Maybe all the money-grabbing techniques and the attempts to fit in with the cool kids already did him in.  Either way, I still stand by the fact that we pushed the market to believe in everything that Sonic wasn’t and we drove him to that end.  And I think we owe it to him to get it back to what made his games special in the first place.

If we don’t, we’ll end up with a roller-coaster simulator eventually anyways.  So why not let it be his?  Should he stay or should he go?  Let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.

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