Monday, June 27

The Demo Downlow: Sonic Generations and El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Supervising my dog's convalescence made for a pretty rough weekend, but when he did finally sleep, I managed to fit in quite a bit of game time. I could dedicate yet another post to inFamous, as I have nearly completed an evil playthrough on Hard difficulty, but it's time my writing escaped from the sandbox. In between bouts of my powerfully-frustrating endeavour to experience Cole McGrath's adventure in its entirety, I fit in some portable retro goodness and multiple trials of two somewhat-disappointing demos. It's not like I expected anything much from Sonic Generations but El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of those games that the (gaming) media will be talking about for years to come. Expect to hear the words "cult hit," "sleeper hit," and "under-rated," thrown around with gay abandon when this Old Testament-inspired title is discussed in lists that typically appear on IGN and Gameinformer.  

Sonic Generations (Played on Xbox 360)
Sega is parading the Sonic Generations demo as a limited-time only affair, giving players twenty days to soak up the trial for what will be an inescapably-mediocre final release. The game - from what I can gather - is supposed to be some sort of Sonic retrospective; which is odd, given that most of the games in the franchise's storied, twenty year history aren't worth playing. My thoughts on Sonic's post Mega Drive adventures aside, the demo treats players to the Green Hill, Zone 1; the first level of the first ever installment of Sonic the Hedgehog. Rather than simply regurgitating classic examples of level design and platforming action with pretty, high-definition graphics, the developers instead opted to spoil a sure thing by introducing a lackadaisical camera and momentum-killing physics. The latter, found in Sonic 4: Episode 1, is one of the contributing factors to Green Hill, Zone 1's length being extended to two and a half painstaking minutes as opposed to the original which can be bested in forty seconds. Jumps always seem to fall shy of their intended targets, movement through loops often stops abruptly (even though I'm still pressing forward on my controller) and that afforementioned camera fails to keep up with the action. Sure there is only one instance where the camera actually has to move to track Sonic's movement up a looping track that traces a mountain, but it lazily stutters behind him. The only positive things I have to say about it is that thankfully, the original music has been retained and the action is far easier to track than it has been since Sonic's games switched to a third-person perspective from his first adventure on the Dreamcast.

Our childhood favourite is in another castle

As much as I hate to say it: it may be time we put the hedgehog down for good. In all honesty, the blue blur hasn't been in a good game since the early nineties (mid ninenties if you want to push it). I used to think Sonic Adventure and its sequel were something of worth, but they have not aged well. Sonic Generations does not look like it is set to break the trend that's been running for the majority of Sega's mascot's lifespan. 

The Verdict
Just over two minutes of mediocrity. Save some bandwidth and download the original instalment and its wonderful sequel instead. 

El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (downloadable via use of a  US Playstation Network account)
I know I'm being cynical, but be prepared to hear about El-Shaddai until the day you die. It'll be mentioned alongside Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Psychonauts and many others that were darlings with the critics, but didn't necessarily enjoy commerical success. It'll be thrown into any "Are Games Art?" argument you'll encounter after its release. It will haunt videogame journalism until the end; and it won't deserve to. Well it won't based on what I've played so far, that's for sure.

It plays similar to games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta with fixed camera angles and mainly-melee combat. The difference with El-Shaddai however, is the arsenal at the player's command; instead of an inventory of devastating weapons, you procure them from your enemies after "purifying" them. Again, as per DMC and Bayonetta, you can perform dazzling combos that can be launched into the air with the proper input. It gets old pretty fast - in El-Shaddai's case -  on account of only being able to hold one weapon at a time. Further to that, I couldn't understand what the implications of the weapons' colour were. I found that after spamming attacks, my purified weapons turned brown; did that mean they were no longer effective? Truth be told, I like the unarmed attacks I could use before equipping anything; but I'm sure that those attacks wouldn't be effective against a great many foes.

Apart from the confusing combat, there's some uninspiring platforming set to some pretty impressive backgrounds. The jumping mechanics felt a bit stiff (once again, very much like DMC) but that wasn't really of much consequence given the simplicity of these sections. The reason that I'd possibly return to El-Shaddai is not the gameplay though, it's the visuals. They aren't particularly impressive from a technical perspective, but artistically, the game manages to tick a few boxes. Jumping across lashing waves didn't feel too fresh, but it looked freaking beautiful.

 Imagine waves crashing against a mass of floating rock

Finally, the demo affords players glimpses of El-Shaddai's seemingly nonsensical, religiously-themed narrative. Lots of finger clicking, people in suits, a denim-clad hero and an old man in transforming armour isn't making for anything coherent as far as the demo is concerned. That being said, it's not really selling me on the final product either.

 Are those True Religion jeans?

The Verdict 
Looks interesting enough, but with uninspired action and a seemingly-muddled narrative, El-Shaddai may only be memorable because of its distinctive visuals.

What demos have you guys engaged with recently? Were they for games that you're looking forward to?

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