Sonic Advance 2
Game Boy Advance – 2002
Released one year after the first Sonic Advance, Sonic Advance 2 focuses a lot more on pure speed. As a result, the levels have been made slightly more linear but you still have different routes throughout each level. The game features five playable characters, including newcomer Cream the Rabbit. You start out as Sonic but will unlock new characters after beating certain levels. Again, each character has their own ways of progressing through the stages. The graphics look crisper than the original, with Sonic receiving a blurring effect when you hit his maximum speed. The levels range from your standard entry grass zone, to a musical zone and then the usual egg factory zone. Along the way, each level is accompanied by a wonderful score. These are probably some of the hedgehog’s finest ever tracks. Each zone has two acts with a boss stage at the end. Almost all the bosses are moving and Sonic has to chase after them. At first, it’s a novel idea compared to the standard boss arenas of old but after a while I (and my left thumb) yearned for a standard boss stage. The game does have some difficulty options, with Easy mode and turning time outs off. They make a marginal difference as you’ll be going so fast that you’ll rarely get a time out. The difficulty on the other hand has been boosted since the first game. It will start off easy enough but by Sky Paradise you will notice a significant difficulty spike. At the centre of this spike are the boss battles, with Final Zone ending in a boss rush. The game also features one of the worst looking stages I’ve ever seen, Techno Base. It’s a novel idea, with flashing lights and flickering effects but by my 5th attempt, I just wanted it gone. Since the game is built on speed, I also found myself holding right a lot as I blasted through the different stages. It’s a challenging game that encourages repeated playthroughs to unlock everything, which is helped by each character having their own special moves to help you along.
Game Boy Advance – 2001
Developed by Sonic Team and released on Nintendo’s popular handheld, Sonic Advance would be the start of the blue blurs “Advance” trilogy on the GBA. You can take control of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy as you whizz through 13 stages (and a secret one), split across 6 acts and a Final Zone. Each character has their own skills, meaning each level feels slightly different depending on who you choose. The levels are well thought out, taking full advantage of each character’s special trait. Playing as Sonic, the game feels like a blast, with the player having to slow down very little. The controls can feel a bit floaty in places but overall, the characters are easily controlled. The game introduces you nicely, before slowly cranking up the difficulty. If you do find it a bit too challenging, you can change the difficulty or even turn off “Time Up”. The camera is zoomed out far enough for you to see what’s coming next, an issue other handheld Sonic games suffered from was not being able to see far enough ahead, but there are times when the game requires you to take a leap of faith. The bonus stages, required to collect the Chaos Emeralds, can be a bit challenging due to the 3D camera. Collect all of these Emeralds and play through the game with the game with all characters and you’ll unlock the true final boss. This is something Sonic games have done previously and encourages you to experiment with the other characters, increasing replayability. The graphics look impressive, even to this day, with the sprite work running smoothly. The levels look gorgeous and there is a nice variety to them. The music is wonderful, taking full advantage of the Game Boy Advance’s sound chips. I played this one through the Game Boy Player on the GameCube and had an absolute blast.
PlayStation – 1996
Set in the decaying world of Filgaia, Wild Arms follows a trio of travellers as they adventure across the world and beyond. Developed by Media Vision and originally released in Japan in 1996, it would see a North American release in 1997 while Europe had to wait until 1998. Demons, once thought to be a myth, have returned to Filgaia to awaken a dormant evil. The three protagonists, through a series of circumstances, join together to stop this evil force from destroying the world. At the start of the game, you can choose one of the three protagonists and experience their prologue, a short introduction to each’s fighting style and story. After this, they’ll join up and help each other out with their own unique traits. Each character has a set of tools to use outside of combat, for example Rudy can use bombs to clear boulders, Jack can use a grappling hook to traverse gaps and Cecilia can use a wand to speak to animals. As you journey together, you’ll unlock more tools. In combat, the three party members have their own unique abilities too. Rudy can use Arms, a special type of gun. This uses ammo that can be replenished in towns and new Arms can be found in dungeons. Jack uses Fast Draws, sword fighting techniques he can learn along the way. Cecilia is your mage and can learn acquire news spells after obtaining a Crest Graph. Battle is your standard turn-based affair, where you’ll select your actions before a round starts and your characters (and the enemy) will play them out in turns dependant on your speed. It’s a system that is very simple to master. The game’s graphics are very reminiscent of 16-bit era JRPGs, failing to take advantage of the PlayStation’s 3D capabilities outside of battle. As a result, it looks less impressive when stacked up to some of the JRPG power-houses. However, it should be remembered that it was released before Final Fantasy VII and Grandia. The game utilises a chibi art style for both the overworld and battle maps. One issue I had was the text font. I found it to be difficult to read in places. The game’s standout moment is certainly its music. It features a fantastic soundtrack, full of emotion, and reminded me of several JRPGs from this era. It’s a bit on the short-side for a JRPG, even if you defeat the optional bosses, but it constantly keeps you moving without ever being punishingly difficult.
Xbox One – 2020
DOOM Eternal is the latest entry in Id Software’s first-person franchise. Following directly on from DOOM, you once again step into the shoes of Doomguy as he battles the minions of Hell. The gameplay has more of a narrative to it. Earth has been invaded by demons and you set out to stop them. It’s not as in-depth as other games but it’s a bit of a step up from its predecessor. The game looks as gory as ever. Enemy models will have lumps fly off them as you blast them, the environments look beautifully detailed and diverse, and the cutscenes are presented well. The music is just as blood-pumpingly excellent as usual. Once that beat hits, you know it’s time to rip and tear. The game controls slightly slower than the previous game but you can still run and gun your way through enemies. You have some new abilities this time too, from a dash which is useful to get around and avoid damage, to the ability to climb certain walls. The game also changes how you recover health, shields and ammo. Health can once again be recovered by using “Glory” kills but shields are recovered by using a flamethrower called a “Flame Bletch” and ammo is recovered using the chainsaw. Unlike the first game, the chainsaw will recharge after use. There’s also a fair number of collectibles to find, from codex entries to figurines and even cheat codes. These will have you replaying levels until you find everything. The game does a lot of things well over DOOM but I feel its level design lets in down. There is a much heavier emphasis on platforming this time around and it doesn’t always flow as well as the previous game. Another issue I encountered was in battle I would often find myself cornered easily or knocked off a platform without a way to get back up without falling down and respawning. Some levels were fun adventures similar to the first game, while others were sometimes chores. The enemy selection has been greatly increased, with new foes and new tactics abound. Certain enemies have a weakness and exploiting these is key to survival. While playing the main campaign, I enjoyed the variety but some of the new enemies in the Ancient Gods DLC were a pain. Overall, it’s a fun game that doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor but both the main campaign and the Ancient Gods DLC are worth a bash.
Xbox One – 2016
Id Software’s DOOM sees the Doomslayer return to take on the hordes of Hell. The game is a fast-paced, frantic first-person shooter that successfully recreates the feel of the original games. The combat is exhilarating as you battle off the demons of Hell, while taking them out in all sorts of gruesome ways. These “Glory Kills” are encouraged as they help to restore health, provide armour and replenish your ammo. The game controls incredibly well, with the Doomslayer a joy to behold. It did feel a little oversensitive at first but this is all part of the experience and you’ll get used to it very quickly. You have a large selection of weapons to choose from such as shotguns (my personal favourite), chainsaws, assault rifles and, of course, the BFG. Most of these weapons can be upgraded by finding a weapons drone and then accruing certain points. You can also upgrade your ammo, armour and ammo by discovering certain items. In fact, there’s a decent chunk of collectables here, from Runes that will give you certain abilities to DOOM figurines and even Classic Maps. The game’s plot is incredibly simple, kill the demons, get to Hell, yadda, yadda, yadda. It actually suits the game really well. The game also features an Arcade mode and several difficulty levels to sink your teeth into. The graphics look fantastic, with dark corridors, blood-soaked walls and the red Marsan service all standing out. There was an odd bit of texture pop-in but it never took away from my experience. The soundtrack is simply fantastic. It’s good old DOOM! Once the metal track kicks in, your blood will be pumping and you’ll be ripping through demons. A fantastic FPS that definitely stands out among the rest. Rip & Tear!!!
Super Nintendo – 1995
One of the greatest JRPGs ever released, Chrono Trigger places you in the shoes of Crono and his companions as they travel through time. The story sees our heroes travel to the Prehistoric Age, Medieval Times and a Post-Apocalyptic future. There, they will uncover the great mysterious of their world and come face to face with a cataclysmic force. The game features multiple endings, obtained by meeting certain criteria, as well as a New Game+ mode to sink your teeth into. Crono is your typical silent protagonist but his companions have enough wit, charm and humour to see you through. The game plays like a standard turn-based JRPG, with an Active Time Bar similar to the Final Fantasy series. You can also learn new abilities and perform Double and Triple Techs with your teammates. The game doesn’t feature random battles, instead the enemies are present on the screen and entering a certain area will trigger an encounter. Unlike some other JRPGs, these encounters all take place on the dungeon map and don’t load a unique battle arena. The sprite-based graphics are beautiful and hold up even to this day. The character animations really help to capture their emotions too. The soundtrack is composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, with some contributions from Nobuo Uematsu and Noriko Matsueda. As a result, it has a wonderful blend of styles that help to complement the games art style. With plenty of endings to find, a fairly intuitive battle system and a wonderful adventure, Chrono Trigger is a must have for JRPG fans.
Persona 5 Strikers
PlayStation 4 – 2020
Originally released as Persona 5 Scramble in Japan in 2020, Persona 5 Strikers would eventually make its way worldwide in 2021. The game is a collaboration between Atlus and Koei Tecmo, developed by Omega Force and P-Studio. As a result, the game has a lot in common with the Dynasty Warrior series. Gone is the turn-based combat of Persona 5, instead we have a hack‘n’slash action RPG where you have to mow down hordes of enemies. Set across the month of August, Joker meets up with his companions in Tokyo to spend his summer holidays. While in Tokyo, Joker, Morgana and Ryuji accidentally stumble a “Jail”, a cognitive reality similar to the “Palaces” from Persona 5. This kick starts the Phantom Thieves adventure as they travel across Japan to discover the true power behind these “Jails”. You’ll be joined by the original Phantom Thieves from Persona 5, along with two new companions. Each character has their own elemental style, with Joker being able to obtain personae with different elements, similar to how Persona 5 operated. Despite being a hack’n’slash action RPG in the vein of the Dynasty Warriors series, the combat never feels repetitive. You can ambush Shadows to give you an advantage in combat, there’s a wide variety of spells to use, as well as your melee combat and gun. The game also features “All Out Attacks”, which can be used to devastate large groups of enemies. Also added are “Show Time” attacks. These are built up through combat and can be unleashed to great effect. The game’s “Jails” are inventive and fun to explore, even if they are a bit linear. The art style of Persona 5 returns and looks as beautiful as ever. The game does offer a Framerate or Graphics option but while playing in Graphics mode I never encountered any framerate drops, something which does happen in Koei Tecmo games. The confidant system is gone, instead you have a “Bond” bar that levels up through side quests, main quests and combat. This can be used to unlock new abilities for the team. The side-quests are scaled back from Persona 5 but there is still a decent amount here, including ones that see you assist your team mates with different “challenges” (such as gathering sweets for Ann). The fantastic music of Persona 5 returns, along with some new tunes to sink your teeth into. The only issue I had with sound was that sometimes the background music would drown out the voice acting. It’s a great game and my favourite of the “Dynasty Warriors” style so far. The story is excellent and it’s nice to see the Phantom Thieves one last time.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Xbox 360 – 2012
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is another entry in TT Games long running Lego series. All the familiar tropes are here such as secret characters, minikits, red bricks and gold bricks. The game’s hub takes place in Gotham City. Here, you can explore the city to find new characters, red bricks that unlock cheats and even vehicles to drive or fly. The map is a nice size and there’s just the right number of collectibles where it never feels overwhelming. You can also access the Batcave. From here you can progress the main story. Unlike the first Lego Batman game, this one’s main story is a single narrative. You’ll play as Batman, Robin, Superman and some of the Justice League as you attempt to stop the Joker and Kex Luthor. The levels have a little variety to them, from the standard side-scrolling smashing levels to on rail shooters. Each level also contains its own set of items to find that require at least two visits. The game looks crisper than the first one, with Gotham’s gothic setting well detailed. The music is great, if a little repetitive. It features some recognizable Batman tracks as well as the Superman theme whenever you fly as him. The game is the first in the Lego series to feature voice acting. The voice actors all play their roles well and the kookiness of the non-voice acted games is still here, if dialled down a little. Gameplay can be fun or frustrating. During the levels, the characters control well, with flight easy to master. In the hub world, it’s a different story. Flying is frustrating, with acceleration controlled by the A button and altitude and direction controlled by the right stick. This can be frustrating as your character can accelerate suddenly, making some of the gold bricks frustrating to collect. The game features split screen, which is a great improvement over the first game. Now you and a friend can explore the different areas without the game dropping you out randomly. Glitches are back and in our playthrough we had the game freeze, a level award us an extra minikit (we ended up with 11/10), a random gold brick just popped up with a glitched message and an Achievement unlock without us actually fulfilling the criteria for it. The game is fun, especially when played with a friend. It’s one of the finer entries in the Lego series but the controls just let it down.
PlayStation 4 – 2016
Atlus’ long awaited fifth entry in the Persona series is a wonderful experience. A turn-based JRPG with a compelling story, you step into the shoes on a young student who’s been wrongly accused of a crime. As a result, he’s been sent to live with a coffee shop owner in order to keep him out of trouble. As he begins his new life, he discovers there’s a hidden world built from people’s cognitive desires. Here, he and a group of friends will steal these people’s treasure and stop their distorted desires. Persona 5’s play style is slightly different from other JRPGs. Here, everyday life, such as school, friendship and hobbies are as important as dungeon exploring. In the real world, you’ll interact with several characters, call confidants. Building your bond with these will help you to understand the world but also unlocks cool features that will help you in battle. Taking part in hobbies and school helps to build up your skills and in turn, these will help you to advance confidants, make tools and unlock items. The dungeons are large and involve you making your way to the treasure before sending a calling card. The idea behind the dungeons is that you don’t do it all in one go but instead mix it up with real world activities. As the loading screen says, “take your time”. The combat is turn based but the main protagonist, Joker can persuade the games enemies, called Shadows, to join him. They each come with their own strengths and weaknesses, abilities and stats. These shadows can also be fused together to make even more powerful persona. The game looks amazing, from its in-game presentation to its anime cutscenes, and even its wonderful menu screens. The music is catchy, if a little repetitive. The heist music will get you pumped though. Persona 5 was my first entry in the series and it is a jaw-dropping experience, if a little slow in places. Overall, it’s a fun adventure that leaves you wanting more when it’s over.
Xbox One – 2017
F1 2017, similar to Codemasters’ previous entries, is a visually stunning game, from the details on each car to the track and even the race weekend presentation. TV Presentation is here, with commentators going through the Grid order and podium celebrations after the race. The career mode now features a paddock type hub, similar to how the first entries in Codemasters’ F1 sims. Here, you’ll interact with a laptop to go to the next session, change engine parts, see the championship standings and develop your car. Other characters will approach you to tell you of a new rival, how a new part has progressed or to invite you to a classic car event. It looks fantastic but the only downside is it increases the load times. The car development is much improved over the previous entries. Using a system F1 2016 introduced, you complete objectives over a race weekend and earn resource points. These are then spent to improve your car’s performance or reliability. These accrue slowly as a way to encourage you to remain loyal to a team rather than jumping around. Replacing car parts may incur a penalty, similar to how it would in real life. My issue was I found my car parts to wear very quickly so I ended up investing most of my development into durability to avoid grid penalties. When you start out, you create a character, customise their helmet (some helmets allow you to change individual colours) and pick your car number. Then you can choose any team to start with along with your teammate. The career mode is 10 years long but unfortunately other drivers don’t switch teams. This was an issue with all of the F1 games until recently. Classic events will pop up every now and again but they can’t be skipped. It’s a nice addition to be able to play as old McLarens, Ferraris or Williams but after a while I just wanted to get on with my season. Outside of career mode there’s Championships, which allow you to partake in different championship events such as Classic Championship Season and Sprint Challenge, as well as the Invitational Events you’ll encounter in Career Mode. The game has the usual wealth of options from assists such as Pit Limiter to weather setting but now you can change the time of day and difficulty is a sliding bar so you can find the driver AI just for you. There’re also a few variances on tracks such as Bahrain or the USA. On the track, the cars feel fantastic. With the right set-up, you will be gliding around the track with ease and thanks to the track acclimatization programme in practice, you’ll soon pick up how to manoeuvre around each course. Overall, it’s a great experience, even a few years after its initial release.