Sonic the Hedgehog: A Smooth Criminal?

Hey hey, this is Smiles here with another blog post. This past week, I was listening to my music when I came across “Beat It” and started jamming to some old Michael Jackson tunes.  I can’t believe it’ll almost be 3 years since the King of Pop left this world. Nowadays, his image is used to promote the less than stellar “Michael Jackson: The Experience” videogame. But back in my day, Michael Jackson made some serious contributions to the videogame industry. And no, I’m not referring to “Moonwalker,” although it was a good game.

If you couldn’t tell by the title, I’m talking about Sonic the Hedgehog. More specifically, Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Despite the fact that Jackson’s name isn’t in the credits, it’s been heavily rumored that he composed the music for the game. This isn’t some baseless conjecture from a raving fan of Sonic and Michael, there’s some merit to these claims. For one thing, interviews with both Michael Jackson’s people and SEGA allude to this.

Sonic and Michael meeting up. Maybe MJ taught Sonic how to moonwalk.

A while back, SEGA Technological Institute head Roger Hector said Michael Jackson was brought in early in the project. His claims have repeatedly been called into question by other interviews stating that no contracts or formal agreements exist between SEGA and Jackson.

Of course, the biggest clue  is simply listening to the music. Immediately, you can tell similarities between Carnival Night Zone and Jam, and The End Credits and Stranger in Moscow. I’m no expert on music theory, so I can’t go in depth as to how the chord progression is similar. There’s an awesome YouTube video that goes more into depth about this.

Posthumously, the cat was let out of the bag in an interview with Black and White magazine. In 2009, Brad Buxer, who worked with Michael Jackson, confirmed that Jackson and him were involved in Sonic 3 and that the base from “Stranger in Moscow” came from the End Credits theme. So the King of Pop actually did contribute to the music of the blue hedgehog. But why wasn’t he credited? That would have surely been a great marketing strategy to claim that MJ composed the music for their game.

There have been many theories behind this. One is that around the time, child-molestation charges were pressed against Jackson. Another is that he wasn’t happy with the output sound the Genesis made, and didn’t want his involvement known. A third yet odd reason could be similar to what he did in the Simpsons episode “Stark Raving Dad.” Michael was credited under a pseudonym to see if his brothers could guess if he was really the singer or not. It’s quite possible he had the same idea with Sonic 3.

Michael Jackson’s involvement with Sonic 3 was one of videogaming history’s longest running mysteries. It’s pretty amazing that Michael lent some of his talent to one of SEGA’s best games. While the King of Pop may no longer be with us, I’ll always think of him when I kick it old school with my SEGA Genesis.

 

Edit: Some people asked to see the article that Brad Buxer confirmed Michael’s involvement. I don’t have the actual article, but Sonic Retro posted a translation of the article on their website. http://info.sonicretro.org/Brad_Buxer_Interview_%28Black_%26_White,_November/December_2009%29#Page_74

-Stephen “Smiles” Ramirtha

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Skyward Strike! A Rebuttal of VGHL’s “Skyward Sword” Review

Hey hey, this is Smiles here with a blog post! I originally wanted to write the review for the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. But at the time, I didn’t beat the game and didn’t have my Wii on me, so Ryan wrote it. Granted, I knew that he had some problems with the game, but I didn’t think he’d give it that harsh of a score! Before you continue, I recommend watching his review:

Yep, he gave it a 7.5. Talk about unfair. It’d make any true Zelda fan cringe to hear that number. So, I’m going to write my rebuttal. A review of a review so to speak.

Ryan complained that Twilight Princess had formula fatigue where “you would go from dungeon to dungeon, collect an item, and beat a boss to save Zelda.” Then he goes on to say that little has changed in Skyward Sword.

Wait a minute…what about backtracking? In Skyward Sword, there are many times when you have to backtrack to previous areas after obtaining new items. New items unlock new paths and areas that were previously unavailable the first time around. For instance, you find a whole water area in Farore Forest after obtaining the Dragon Scale. The idea of backtracking usually isn’t employed in Zelda games and provides a fresh look on things. Ryan’s very critical on the matter, but I find it refreshing.

There was also the stamina gauge that Ryan didn’t mention in his review. That was something completely new to the Zelda series and played a huge part in Skyward Sword! Running up hills as Bokoblins threw rocks at you was always fun. It also prevented you from continuously spinning in battle. The stamina gauge put a limitation on Link’s abilities which adds a new challenge to the game.

Another one of Ryan’s complaints is that the storytelling was weak. Granted, he mentions the plot twist that Zelda isn’t necessarily kidnapped and Ganon isn’t necessarily the bad guy. But what about Groose!?!

All up in Link's face!

Skyloft’s resident Gaston. Groose goes through some serious character development as you get further in the game. It’s a shame Ryan forgets to mention him, or other characters for that matter.

Ryan also complains about the fact that characters don’t have voicework and instead relies on text with “minimal matching animation.” “It can really take the impact away from dramatic moments when you have to look away to read paragraph after paragraph of dialogue.”

Of course you’re going to get minimal matching animations! This game is originally a Japanese game. The character mouth movements wouldn’t match English words obviously. Try making animations for every language this is launched in. Third, voice acting in videogames is a dangerous thing. Remember Megaman X4?

I can go on and on about how voice acting have ruined games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Megaman. Point being, voice acting in a Zelda game would be horrendous. Remember the language thing we talked about earlier? Yeah, you’d have to get voice actors FOR EACH CHARACTER IN EVERY LANGUAGE!

The one thing that Ryan fails to talk about is how the presentation captivates the mood. For instance, when you’re at the Silent Realms, the use of green gives off an eerily calm until you awaken the guardians. The background quickly changes to yellow, the music becomes fast paced and chaotic, and you’ll quiver with fear as the guardians get ready to strike. Ryan doesn’t talk much about the visuals for this game, which is a shame really. Skyward Sword has one of the most beautiful visuals in modern games and really stands out as a creative title. I’m personally happy they didn’t go full Wind Waker because that art style’s been used in 5 Zelda titles already (Minish Cap, 4 Swords Adventure, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, and Wind Waker).

It's cool but it's been done

Mr. Evans evaluation of the challenge Skyward Sword brings is contradictory. At one point, he says that the dungeons are quite challenging, the bosses quite clever. At another point, he argues that Nintendo doesn’t know who is exactly playing their games because the game “holds your hand the entire way.” Wait, I’m confused. So is it challenging or not? Did he even think about the Silent Realms or the stamina gauge as he was writing this? I for one say this game is challenging, but not impossible. Granted, it does feel easier than other installments like Twilight Princess, but it offers a good challenge.

This is the part where you run away

Don’t think I’m only bashing Ryan completely on his review. We both agree about the controls…to a certain extent. The combat controls aren’t the most fluid, but I believe Ryan is over exaggerating about how bad it is. According to him, many of the misreads from the controller would lead to “life-threatening consequences”, but I’d have to disagree with that. More often than not, you’re attacks will bounce off your opponent so you’ll have to strike and restrike again. One trick I used to overcome this was to use my slingshot on Bokoblins. After the Deku seed stunned them, I’d rush in and flail the Wii mote around. There were workarounds to the controls which made them bearable.

Ok, so now for my breakdown of the score

Story-9

Presentation- 10

Gameplay- 8.5

Design- 9

Replay Value- 8.5

Overall, Skyward Sword deserves a 9.3. Honestly, Ryan was too harsh on this game and didn’t really give good enough reasons as to why his score was low. I loved Skyward Sword, and I feel it’s a great Zelda experience.

-Stephen “Smiles” Ramirtha

And My Axe – My Journey Through Rocksmith, Pt. 1: Origins

I’m a huge fan of the Rock Band series. I play expert on every instrument, I own an uncountable number of plastic instruments, and I’ve spent hundreds on my immense song library. Unfortunately, I realized that Rock Band was getting me next to nowhere on actually learning useful skills, so about four years ago, I bought my first electric guitar. It was a cheap beginner’s toy, and I never took any lessons, but the desire to learn some of my favorite songs provided the inspiration to learn. And learn I did. I can now play a good number of songs well enough to impress some ignorant non-musicians, or just jam along to my iTunes library, which is quite different from my Rock Band library.

See, I found that the songs I like to play in real life are quite different from songs I like to play in Rock Band. In Rock Band, it’s all about finding the most challenging tracks. Playing a real guitar is challenge in and of itself, so instead, I just choose songs that I genuinely enjoy. That’s what really led me to picking up Rocksmith – the soundtrack. Ubisoft made some really smart choices when building Rocksmith’s soundtrack, picking songs that musicians can enjoy playing.

These blog entries will chronicle my descent into Rocksmith, as I do what I enjoy most about playing guitar: learning new songs.

Let me catch you up to where I am now. I have played the game for around 10 hours, mostly sticking to the events until now. Each event consists of a set of songs, each one with a minimum score to attain. Once you qualify with each song, you can play the full event with every song in a row. The game opens in a pretty neat fashion. You are thrown right out on stage, where the crowd goes nuts over you tuning your guitar and plucking the first few notes. Gradually, more notes began to fall in a row. Before long, I realized that I had been learning the main riff to The Rolling Stones “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” without even realizing it.

That’s the beautiful thing about Rocksmith. Every time you play a song the first time, you only have a few notes to hit, but within two or three runs, you are playing a simplified version that sounds like the real song.

I have completed about six of the events, and highlights include “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure, The Horrors’ “Do You Remember”, and Muse’s “Unnatural Selection.” I knew I would like those, but what really blew me away were the surprises, such as Ubisoft employee Seth Chapla’s “Jules”, “Islands” by The xx, and The Dead Weather’s “I Can’t Hear You.” In particular, I spent a good hour or two on “Islands” alone, and was immensely satisfied to finally master it completely. That ending is a little rough in Leveler mode.

Rocksmith has had some consistently good DLC as well. I have spent a lot of time attempting to learn “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” and while I almost have the main riff down, there’s still work to be done on that solo. “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys is an easy crowd favorite that I fire up pretty consistently, just because it’s so fun.

Here’s a video of me leveling up Muse. It’s a song I already know how to play, so I just try to level it up as much as possible. It should only take a few more sessions before I get it up to Mastered status.

For next time, I will begin work on Boston’s “More than a Feeling”, and I will continue work on the moderately difficult “Plug In Baby.” Thank you for joining me on my journey, and I hope this will inspire future musicians to take up guitar. Rocksmith is absolutely one of the most fun ways to learn I’ve ever seen.

-Ryan Evans