Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Thought to Chew: Sonic Unleashed and Level Progression

Yes, I know. I'm a sucker for some pedantics. Whether it's camera angle changes or color schemes, these things matter to me. And no, I may not be a smart enough person to dissect them in some brilliant, insightful way, but if enough people for me to require both hands to count see it, it's worth it for me. Sort of.
I am a complete sucker for a game like Sonic Unleashed and I don't know why.
Actually, I do know why, and maybe I'll talk about it in a bigger picture some other time, but if there's one small thing that I really like, it's this: the night levels have progression.
'Night levels?", your naive mind asks. Yes: this game has levels. At night. And the gameplay here is completely different, what with Sonic turning into an accursed werewolf. Or werehog. Whatever.
The gameplay itself is fine. It just doesn't work for a Sonic game. Again, though, I'll save that for later, so back to the topic.

The stages are sliced into segments- you almost always start in the city and work your way through to the outskirts. Sure, it might not sound inspired, but it's progression, You feel that you're getting somewhere and it makes sense. While other games like the Super Mario Bros. 3 (while a lot better than Unleashed) just kind of plops you somewhere with the same aesthetic, Sonic Unleashed guides you, with each stop on the tour being a new stage to transverse.
Let's look primarily at Adabat, the most miserable set of stages. You start off, as per protocol, at the town itself.
We understand the aesthetic, but we're not sure where it will take us. While other words tend to be more direct, usually having the city featured in a fair deal of the acts, this one is, by design, small, so the first stage is short and simple, with you going from one end to the other.
The second level almost entirely disproves my point, but it ends with exactly what I'm talking about- after crossing the worst stage in the game (two whirlpools. If you though the game was slow already, get a load of THIS.), you reach the end ring, showing a long, desolate trail through the forest.
The next level is, naturally, exactly that- a gloomy waltz through a forest followed by climbing a tree, with the end showing the facade of some washed-out ruins (for those curious, a reference to Angkor Wat. The game honestly nails its source material).
And, of course, you get dropped off directly behind the end of the stage, having to go deeper into the ruins. This is pretty much the point of no return, so once you complete that, it's the end of the set.
The game always does this- in Shamar, a region inspired by the Middle East, you start within the city (as per usual), working your way out towards the desert and canyons outside of it before reaching more ruins. The same goes for Apotos (a rip on Santorini), and for Spagonia (a rip on Rome), the lack of specific ruins is filled in by you climbing an aqueduct. The coolest transition though, arguably, is in Chun-nan, with one level ending with you grappling to a chunk of the Great Wall before dropping you smack-dab in the middle afterwards.
I'm sure a lot of other games do this, but Unleashed is the only one I've seen to use it as seamlessly. It's akin to how New Super Mario Bros. has world cannons that forecast the type of world you're about to be rocketed towards:

And how Super Paper Mario shows a mansion in the distance towards the end of Gloam Valley- a peek at it from a distance before it plucks you onto its front porch.

It shows thought in how the games are created- for instance, in Super Paper Mario, taking you from neon wetlands filled with swirling plants and cheery music and sticking you in a haunted mansion with no explanation feels super forced, and while it is definitely weird for there to be a mansion in this world in the first place, the peek at least sort of justifies it.
While it could be argued that this fizzles out an element of surprise, it's through actually doing those levels that you get the surprise. The games don't have a giant, floating sign saying "Hey, this is exactly what's up ahead"- it's a slight indication. You may see a mansion, but the first thing you get from that is, "Wow, that's spooky!", NOT "I bet I'm about to be imprisoned for breaking a vase and have to work my way out." (And, on another side note, THAT'S why I love Super Paper Mario. It's outlandish and exists in its own strange logic... among other things.)

For the last Interview with Final Smash, CLICK HERE.
For the last A Thought to Chew involving the color schemes of Super Mario Galaxy, CLICK HERE.

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