Oh, hey! It’s been a while. The last couple years have been busy for me, and unfortunately I haven’t been able to get much writing done. Not for lack of trying, either! My drafts folder has piled up with all sorts of pieces that I never quite finished. So, I thought it would be nice to tackle something a little less daunting. Here’s a brief rundown of what media I’ve been getting into in the last month or so.
EDIT: There’s some specific details with the animation and rendering of Sword and Shield that weren’t clarified or just weren’t known at the time of writing. My point still stands that creative labour on this scale requires hard work and difficult decisions, and if you think it doesn’t then… I don’t know what to tell you except that you’re wrong. Go play a video game you actually enjoy lol.
If you’ve been following the E3 coverage of Pokémon Sword and Shield you might have heard some disappointing news: The national dex has disappeared. Basically, we won’t be able to use any Pokémon not available in the new games’ regional dex because Game Freak wasn’t able to program all of them. That sucks, and if you’re bummed out like I am that’s pretty fair. But let’s make one thing clear: Game Freak aren’t lazy. The reason this happened isn’t because Masuda and co. couldn’t be bothered to press the magic Give The Fans What They Want button. It’s also not because they’re not capable or they hate you or whatever. Game development, like any other creative field, is complicated and difficult. It takes a lot of time and energy, and sometimes decisions have to be made.
THIS ANALYSIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH UNDERTALE AND DELTARUNE. GO PLAY THOSE GAMES IF YOU HAVEN’T. OR DON’T. BUT PLEASE DO THEY’RE REALLY GOOD.
Undertale is probably my favourite game ever. Look, I don’t claim to be a Hardcore Gamer™ who’s played every good game in existence. Still, Undertale struck at what I think is the most meaningful quality of games: the ability to be curious. It’s fun to be curious about all the STUFF in Undertale. But at some point you ask yourself the same thing that Asriel asks: “Don’t you have anything better to do”? We want to find all the content in video games, we want to solve all the mysteries, we want to milk them until we have nothing left to obsess over. Undertale puts a lampshade on this instinct of gaming, and for that I think it’s brilliant.
Three years after the ridiculous success of Undertale Toby Fox is back at it with Deltarune Chapter 1. Deltarune also has plenty of little things to be curious about, but let’s be honest. Deltarune isn’t about having the most things, and it doesn’t have to be.
It’s been a good year for platformers. Consistently I’ve been filled with that kinetic joy that only smartly composed platforming can give, that immediate gratification from clearing every little jump and obstacle that builds to a rich rewarding experience. And yet here’s Sonic Forces, which just happens to exist. It breezes past you, not being bluntly agitating like many of its 3D predecessors but not containing any committed attempt at an ambitious hook either. After the clever and effervescent and genuinely cool Sonic Mania earlier this year it’s fair to say I wasn’t the only one hoping that Sonic Team could deliver something special, but thankfully I didn’t set my expectations on that. Sonic Forces is a modern Sonic game. Not one of the best, not one of the worst, just one that exists and takes you through its motions.
Sonic Adventure 2 is a pretty good game. The original Sonic Adventure was overflowing with ideas and constantly vying to be on the cutting edge of its era, but it spread itself thin and ended up being seen as an awkward product of its time. By contrast Sonic Adventure 2 is a noticeably tighter game, with a more singular and solid focus that brings everything into a more complete experience. It’s a similarly bumpy ride to the original, but it manages to hit a lot more highs along the way.
Sonic is… well, Sonic. Very few things can compare to the way people react to Sonic. The adoration, the hatred, the obsession, the ridicule. For a lot of years I was an outside observer of the strange roller-coaster phenomenon of Sonic despite dabbling in most of the games. But thanks to the stellar Sonic Mania I’ve become genuinely hooked. I’ve been able to fully appreciate the original games for being truly great platformers but probably more importantly I’ve started to find the personality of the series endearing – quirks and all. So here I am with that mindset getting into the nearly 20 year old Sonic Adventure for the first time.
Pokémon Origins is a refreshing slightly grittier take on the Pokémon world, that much is true. Its battles are slightly more violent than the main anime series, its character designs and voice acting are more grounded and mature and generally it fulfils my childhood desire to see a more serious anime about an actual Pokémon game. So for all of that I think this is a pretty cool thing. But on the whole Pokémon Origins is more or less just a serviceable slice of fanservice.
Broadly speaking we tend to see society become a little more open towards different groups over time, and with that comes slowly but surely increasing media representation of them. A cynical way to look at this is that it’s simply because their existence has become profitable, and that’s certainly a very valid way to look at it given the slew of middlebrow oscar bait exploiting historical prejudice and hamfisted tokenism. A more positive way to see it is that media representation gives us a platform to humanise different groups, to become aware of their existence and their validity as individuals. I believe both perspectives can be true at once, and in that sense there needs to be conscious thought about how representation is implemented.