Sonic appears in the Labyrinth of the Sky. After reaching the end of the labyrinth, he travels through the Labyrinths of the Sea, the Factory and the Castle. After the Labyrinth of the Castle, Sonic fights and defeats Dr. Robotnik’s final machine.
The game ends with Dr. Robotnik running along a catwalk and dropping a green Chaos Emerald. Sonic, in surprisingly slow pursuit, seizes the Chaos Emerald, turns to an alternative route, curls into a ball and rolls away at a fast speed (smashing a barrier to escape). Sonic then runs down a curving road, decorated with black and white squares, towards an unreachable doorway filled with bright orange light, while the credits are displayed above him.
The meaning of that story may not be clear to everybody.
This is a review of the version of the game available as an extra feature on the Sonic Adventure DX game and not directly played on the Game Gear.
This game seemed to be one of the most unpopular Sonic games ever released, particularly among the games released before 2000 (where the popularity of the Sonic games diminished rapidly). I was not sure exactly why this game was so disliked, but many of the features of this game were different to other Sonic games, with some aspects seeming to contradict the most famous parts of the series. For example, the Sonic games usually used high speed gameplay (with Sonic being described as one of the fastest creatures alive), in this game, however, Sonic moved much more slowly (explained by Sonic wearing “slow-down boots”), which seemed to contradict one of the core elements of the series.
While the story for many older Sonic games were very light, the story for this game, however, seemed to be much less substantial than other games in the series. In many Sonic games, the defeat of Dr Robotnik’s final machine resulted in the retreat of the villain, destruction of his base and some resolution of the story. This game, however, ended slightly mysteriously, with Dr Robotnik escaping along a strange catwalk and Sonic leaving after collecting a Chaos Emerald. It was never really explained why this Chaos Emerald is so significant (as 7 Chaos Emeralds are usually collected as an optional extra in other Sonic games) or shown what happened to Sonic after leaving Dr Robotnik’s base. The ending itself also seemed to be a continuation of the story, rather than a proper ending, as there was no evidence that Sonic had escaped to safety.
The level designs were quite interesting. There were four levels in the game, with each level comprising of three acts of collecting keys and a forth act with the level’s boss. The levels consisted of a series of platforms, decorated with a square pattern. The first level was set high in the sky, with the background decorated with one colour and sparse clouds. The Labyrinth of the Sea level seemed to take place down the side of a wall of rock, with streams of sunlight glimpsed at the top. The Labyrinth of the Factory level was located across a sea from a city and consisted of industrial platforms rising from blackness (which created an interesting contrast in colours). The Labyrinth of the Castle level resembled a spooky castle during full-moon. A different colour scheme was used for each act within the levels, which mostly meant each act either used a calming colour scheme or was decorated with vibrant colours. The most interesting example of this effect was the first level, which gives the impression that the level began during bright morning, before continuing into an orange sunset and then finished during a dark blue evening.
There were no special stages used in this game, unlike other Sonic games. There was, however, a large doorway labelled as “BONUS” in the third act of the Labyrinth of the Sea level. I was not able to enter this room because it was blocked by a force field that I was unable to remove (despite collecting the keys and using the secret command).
These levels also seemed to differ from ideas featured in other Sonic games. The names of the levels in previous games in the series were more descriptive, rather than the vague names of Sky and Sea, and were also usually called zones, not labyrinths. The levels in the older games also consisted of two or three acts (with the boss usually appearing at the end of the final act in the level), rather than the four acts in this game, with a separate act containing the boss.
The graphics for the game were satisfactory. The designs were not limited by graphics and some visuals were a little detailed. Some of the 3D aspects of the designs, however, were not very well implemented. In the Labyrinth of the Castle level, the corners of the castle wall could be seen in the background, but the angles of the walls were not the same as the edge of the platforms, which created a strange effect. Also, the different parts of the level were supposed to be at different heights, however, because the design appears very 2-dimensional, the platforms look as if they are on one level.
The gameplay for this game seemed to be different to other Sonic games. This game was played with an isometric perspective in a 3D environment, with the player navigating a series of platforms to find three keys (a bronze, a silver and a blue key), which were used to deactivate a force field blocking the exit. An additional challenge is that the player is required to obtain all the keys and locate the exit within a set time limit or Sonic loses a life. Collecting keys and defeating enemies caused the player to regain a few seconds of time. If Sonic was hurt, the keys would escape and the player would have to find them again. The boss fights, however, function more traditionally, with rings available so that Sonic can collect them and be protected against enemy attacks. I felt this method of gameplay was innovative and interesting, as it focussed on using a different way of playing the game and caused the player to explore each level more, rather than focus on reaching the end of the level as fast as possible.
The game also rated the player for their performance. After completing the game, a screen displayed the time the player took to complete the game, the overall score, a star rating, a best time and a highest score. This seemed to be a way for the player to evaluate how well they played the game and determine if they could improve their performance. I was not sure if there was any reward for attaining a top score and felt this aspect was slightly pointless.
The Sonic’s movements in this game were also slightly different. Sonic moves slowly in the game and cannot jump (which is attributed to him wearing “slow-down” boots). Sonic could, however, use his spinball attack. In this game, the player presses a button to start spinning and, while the button is kept pressed, the potential speed he will roll across the ground (after the button is released) increases and decreases. The potential speed of the attack was represented by a series of triangles, which increased to three for the fastest speed and then reduces to one for the lowest speed. If the player kept the button pressed when the speed decreases to one, Sonic automatically launched a low speed spinball attack. I felt this negatively affected the game as the lack of a jump attack removed a precise method of attacking enemies, forcing the player to rely on using the spinball attack, which could result in the player accidentally falling into traps after defeating the enemy robots.
This gameplay method is very different to previous Sonic games. The gameplay in this game is slower, more explorative and focussed on finding objects, which is in contrast to the quick run to the end of the level in the other games. This game also focusses on beating a time limit and does not feature the rings, which are used to maintain the character’s health in the older games. The gameplay for this game is similar to Sonic 3D: Flickies Island, which uses the same perspective and features a hunt for lost birds. I have wondered if this game and Sonic 3D: Flickies Island were attempts to use 3D environments in Sonic games.
Weirdly, the power-ups in this game were slightly different. The power-ups were contained inside three triangles, which seemed to move slightly and change colour, that the player destroyed to obtain a power-up. There was no indication of what power-up was contained within the blocks and I suspected that each block contained a random power-up, which changed each time it was destroyed. This feature was different to the monitors used in the other Sonic games to distribute power-ups.
The music for the game was high pitched with metallic notes. I, personally, found the music annoying, mostly because it had a low quality and high pitch. Strangely, each level does not have an unique soundtrack, instead the acts of the level have the same background music (for example, the first act of each level uses the same music).
I have noticed that many of the Sonic games available on the Game Gear present with some strange ideas and unnecessarily difficult aspects. While the game was fairly easy to complete, the third act of the Labyrinth of the Castle level was difficult, which resembled a complicated maze. One of the weird features of the game already mentioned was the power-ups, which resembled moving groups of triangles.
One of the strangest aspects of the game was the title, Sonic Labyrinth. According to Dictionary.com, the most prominent definition of labyrinth was “an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or to reach the exit”. The majority of this game did not resemble a combination of passages, but instead consisted of a series of connected platforms, which made it unclear what the labyrinth of the title refers to.
One of the few features of the game that actually resembled a labyrinth was the use of doorways in some of the levels, which gave the game a slightly surreal feel. Usually, doorways in games connected two locations, in Sonic Labyrinth, however, entering a doorway led to another location, but re-entering the doorway did not necessarily lead to the first location (sometimes it would lead to a third location, as if it was a different doorway). Also, more than one doorway sometimes led to the same location (as if two doorways lead to one area). The doorway effect was most prominent in the third act of the Labyrinth of the Castle level, which resembled a highly complex maze and was made extremely difficult. While playing the game, it was clear that each level took place in one room, therefore, it seemed that using a doorway was not a way of entering another room, but transporting to another location within the same room. This effect could be interesting, as it added an extra puzzle element to the game, or irritating, as it meant the player continually returned to a certain area and made exploring the level time-consuming.
There were also a number of other strange aspects of the game. Despite Sonic deliberately moving at a slower speed, Sonic’s average speed was displayed at the end of each act (in Km/H) and added to the player’s score. Each act begins with a title screen containing the name of the level and the phrase “GOOD LUCK!!” and ends with a screen congratulating the player on completing the level. It felt strange for a game to encourage the player so much. During the credit sequence at the end of the game, a “secret command” appeared which described a sequence of buttons to be pressed during the title sequence. It seemed a little unusual to present the player with a hidden feature to be completed at the beginning of the game when they have reached the end as there is no incentive to replay the entire game.
In conclusion, the game was fairly enjoyable. The game was very different to play compared to other Sonic games and did not really resemble a labyrinth (I have wondered if it would be more successful if it was called “Sinoc’s Platforms” and it could be judged as an independent game, rather than a weird Sonic game). The story was unexplained. The gameplay was unique, with a focus on exploration and puzzle solving, although the controls did present some problems. The level designs were colourful and used some interesting ideas, while the graphics were satisfactory. The music was cheerful, but could be annoying.
A sudden shaking disturbs the calm ocean. A strange, dark structure slowly rises from the dark blue sea up towards the sky, which has turned into a foreboding scarlet colour. The weird mountain, completely black except for where it is lightened by the setting sun and from a hot glow at it’s base, grows to a huge height.
A small aeroplane, piloted by Tails with Sonic hanging from the bottom (an economy class ticket in his hand), flies over the sea, passing distant mountains. Somewhat nearing the mountain, Sonic jumps off from his place on the aeroplane and into the dark water.
Sonic climbs the mountains through the Toxic Pools, Lava Powerhouse and The Machine before reaching Dr Robotnik in a Final Showdown at the top of the mountain. Sonic fights Dr Robotnik, who uses a flying vehicle to attack Sonic.
Sonic defeats Dr Robotnik. Following the fight, both Sonic and Dr Robotnik’s empty machine fall spinning, through space, to the ground. From a distance, a glowing red shape is seen to fall into the mountain. Explosions suddenly break out around the mountain, which sinks back into the water.
That is how to create a story based on pinball action.
This is a review of the game available as part of an extra feature in the Sonic Adventure DX game.
The main idea for this game (and the version released on the Mega Drive) was to create a Sonic game based on pinball. Many Sonic games use pinball elements in some levels, either as a mini-game or using flippers to propel Sonic upwards, particularly in levels based on a Casino theme. This game, however, with the vertical level design, use of flippers and rounded edges to send Sonic in different directions, seemed to resemble a digital pinball game.
The story for the game is simple, the game began with an animated sequence showing Sonic reaching the mountain, the player completed each level in turn to reach the Final Boss and then an animated sequence showed the end of the game. Like most early Sonic games, the hero was silent and there was no description of the events at any point of the game. Each level began with a screen showing the player’s progress through the mountain (basically each level was the next floor higher in the mountain), which I liked as it added context to each level.
The gameplay was similar to playing a digital pinball game. For much of the game, Sonic was curled into a ball and launched across the levels. The player could slightly control Sonic’s trajectory through the air and activate the flippers used to propel Sonic. Each of the levels used curved edges (to help Sonic move around the level), features to force Sonic upwards at an accelerated speed and used suspended obstacles to impede his progress. The bottom of each level consisted of a hazard that will kill the player. There were also some parts of the level where Sonic was able to walk.
There were also a small amount of items in each level which aided the player. Small flags were placed in each level, which, when all were collected, sometimes caused a change in the level to help the player (such as draining liquid from a container). There were also small, glowing orbs which, if the player touched them, caused lightening to appear between pairs of flippers located above a fatal hazard, which prevented the player falling in. There were also a few monitors (which were more commonplace in other Sonic games) placed in secret locations, which gave the player extra lives, continues and part of a code.
Each level required the player finding a specified number of Chaos Emeralds hidden in the level. Within each level was a pathway, which allowed the player to reach the boss if all the Chaos Emeralds had been collected. The pathway would lead the player to a separate room to fight the level’s boss. Falling to the bottom of the room caused the player to return to the level and they would have to reach the path to face the boss again (I am not sure, but I believe the boss is still weakened by the player’s attack from before they returned to the level). The bosses would also need to be fought using pinball methods. I found the bosses to be quite enjoyable and it required skill to force Sonic to a specific area where the boss could be harmed.
After completing the boss, Sonic would enter a bonus stage. The bonus stage consisted of a series of connected rooms which ended in a tunnel. All the rooms were oval-shaped (which allowed Sonic to roll along the floor and climb the walls) and contained a series of platforms. Situated on the top of the platforms were large, robotic eggs. Hitting the eggs enough times caused them to open and the player was rewarded (with extra rings, score or lives). Bizarrely, each room seemed to be themed around an ancient civilisation, one room contained animal-headed statues resembling ancient Egyptian sculptures, one had a background consisting of an ancient Japanese pagoda and one seemed to contain columns from ancient Greece. The extra items obtained by destroying the eggs could only be implemented if the player reached the end of the tunnel.
I found the gameplay quite enjoyable. It required skill to use the flippers to progress through the level and it was fun to explore levels using this mechanic. The bosses were particularly fun. It was, however, frustrating to repeatedly attempt to launch Sonic in a specific trajectory, particularly if it needed effort to reach the launching area. Because the levels were vertical and the ease of propelling Sonic into the wrong area, it was also quite frustrating to accidentally reach an unintended location and spend time to return to the area before the mistake was made.
The level designs for the game were quite interesting. The game began in the Toxic Caves, which resembled a cavern with light blue water at the bottom and a background of stones, coloured using muted colours. The second level was Lava Powerhouse. This level consisted of steam-powered machinery and stone background, with bright red and yellow colours featured prominently. The third level was The Machine. This level used a mechanical design and a colour scheme mostly consisting of grey and purple (unlike other levels with a tangible hazard at the bottom, Sonic died after touching nothing). The game ends with the Final Showdown level, which resembled a construction site above lava (with a square pattern background), before Sonic flies upwards through the night sky and fights Dr Robotnik in a mechanical structure. The graphics did seem to be of a lower quality than other Sonic games on the Game Gear, with indistinguishable shapes, fuzzy outlines and box-like designs. I enjoyed the level designs as they felt different to each other and used features unique to each level.
The music for the game was quiet and repetitive. The music was slightly tense, but did not really stand out. I did not think this music was as good as soundtracks used for other Sonic games.
I have observed that the Sonic games released on the Game Gear contain some unnecessarily difficult elements and bizarre features.
A lot of the game’s difficulty seemed to come from the gameplay. The game requires the player to launch Sonic from flippers. I found it very difficult to eject Sonic at the correct angle to reach the desired areas, particularly if the target area was a narrow corridor. It was also difficult to find the Chaos Emeralds in the levels because it was difficult to explore using pinball methods. Another difficulty was preventing Sonic from falling between two flippers into a fatal area, as there was no way to transfer Sonic from one flipper to the other, so the player had to rely on catapulting Sonic to a part of the surroundings which would lead him to the other flipper.
There were also some bizarre aspects of the game. As previously mentioned, the bonus stages had a strange, ancient aesthetic. Weirdly, one of the bonus stages showed consisted of room connected vertically. Upon entering each room, Sonic would sink through water to the bottom and hit a plug, which caused the water to drain and allow Sonic to move. Entering the pipe at the bottom of the room lead to the next room.
There was also a strange, unique feature added to the game. If the player lost all their lives, the game created a mini-game before allowing the player to choose to use a continue to keep playing. Part of the score (accumulated while playing the game) would be highlighted, along with an continually increasing number. The idea of the game was for the player to push a button so the number would stop changing and resemble the highlighted number (eg. if the score was 13400, 400 would be highlighted and the player would need to stop the count near to 400). If the player is successful, they continue the game with the same score, but replenished lives. If they fail the challenge, the player has to use a continue to keep playing. I enjoyed this feature, it gave the player an opportunity to keep playing the game with the accumulated score, even if they lose all of Sonic’s lives.
The ending credits of the game were also slightly eccentric. Following the final animated sequence, a pinball machine appeared on screen and credits were shown across the top of it, which seemed to suggest that the game’s story took place within a pinball machine. The credits ended with the phrase “Thank you for playing Sonic Spinball!!! Now go to sleep”, which seemed to suggest that the developers considered the market for the game was kids playing it clandestinely at night (which gives me the image of a kid hiding in their bed sheets, eagerly completing the game at the dead of night and finally sleeping at the end).
Hidden in each level was a monitor which, when destroyed, causes a banner to appear at the top of the screen and reveal part of a secret code. I destroyed all the secret monitors (which were all located in hidden rooms in one side of each level) and the code was shown to be “08-31-71, SFX Get that???”. I have no idea what this means, I have attempted to play each of the corresponding numbers for the sound effects in the Options menu, but this seems to have no effect on the game.
In conclusion, the game was enjoyable. The story was almost non-existent. The gameplay was unique, enjoyable and required skill, although it presented with some difficulty and frustration. The bosses were enjoyable and used the gameplay well. The level designs were interesting, but the graphics were of a lower quality. The music had little impact on the game and was quite repetitive. The extra features, such as the mini-game and the secret rooms, were enjoyable and added to the game.
Dr Robotnik has taken over South Island and Sonic the Hedgehog has to defeat him to save the island and its inhabitants. Following a battle aboard Dr Robotnik’s floating Sky Base, Dr Robotnik flees using a teleporter, followed closely by Sonic. The game ends with Robotnik escaping in the egg-o-matic, before being hit by Sonic and the machine bursting into flames. I hope Shakespeare has learnt a lesson from this game.
This review is based on the version of the game released as a special feature in the Sonic Adventure DX game available on the PC, rather than the game released on the Game Gear.
I have always wondered about the attitude of the developers who made the Sonic the Hedgehog games released on the Game Gear. I always remembered the Mega Drive was the more popular console and the Sonic the Hedgehog games seem to be more well-known and fondly remembered. I did not have much experience of using the Game Gear, which I always thought was less popular than the Game Boy. I have wondered if the developers were aware of this and were less concerned about the games released on the Game Gear than the more popular games. I believe this mentality possibly affected the production of the games, as I found that the Sonic the Hedgehog games released on the Game Gear were quite difficult, but used some bizarre ideas.
The story for the game is extremely simple, Sonic has to travel through the mountainous South Island to reach a base at the top of the mountain and defeat Robotnik. Collecting all the hidden Chaos Emeralds allows the player to view an extended ending sequence.
There are six levels in the game. Strangely, the levels are either copies of levels from the Sonic the Hedgehog game available on the Mega Drive (Green Hill, Labyrinth and Scrap Brain) or levels made up for the game (Bridge, Jungle and Sky Base). Each level consists of three parts: a first part, a second part and a part which contains the boss of the level. The levels are also not called zones in this game (unlike other games in the series). For some of the levels, the game also changes between the first and second acts, such as forcing the player to climb upwards or using a moving screen. I felt the levels were interesting to play and the different acts prevented the player repeating the same playing method in each level.
The level designs were also interesting. While the graphic capabilities of the Game Gear were less advanced than the Mega Drive, the game did have some interesting visuals. I found the pixelated graphics added an artistic dimension to the designs and didn’t hinder the gameplay. The backgrounds of the levels were also very detailed and looked good. Most of the levels were brightly coloured and created a cheerful atmosphere.
I also enjoyed the music of the levels. The music did not use a tinny sound (like many games at the time) and had a good quality. I particularly enjoyed the jazzy music of the Jungle level.
The game also uses a different method of obtaining Chaos Emeralds. Instead of completing challenges in Special Stages, the Chaos Emeralds are all hidden in the levels (with one in each level) and the player has to pick them up. At the end of each level part, the player is transported to the Special Stage. This Special Stage consists of the player collecting rings, lives and continues and, because Sonic is mostly rolled in a ball and the environment consists of springboards and bouncy obstacles, the player has little control and these parts of the game seem very energetic. The stage is also timed. The Special Stage also uses bright pink blocks and a background consisting of a dark night sky with vibrant moons and stars, which gives it a dreamlike atmosphere. Collecting all the Chaos Emeralds does not allow Sonic to transform into Super Sonic, instead it just allows the player to view the hidden ending. I am not certain if I liked the collection of Chaos Emeralds in this game. While it is enjoyable to explore the different levels, finding the Chaos Emeralds removes the puzzle element of the Special Stage, also the Special Stages are quite creative in other Sonic games and require the player to complete actions other than running through landscapes and attacking enemies. I was happy to find the developers still managed to use Special Stages in this game though.
The game has a high difficulty. The game is also needlessly difficult, with some aspects affecting the gameplay. Collecting 100 rings grants the player an extra life, it also resets the ring count to 0. Because the ring count also functions as a representation of health, it is possible to collect a large amount of rings, obtain an extra life and immediately kill Sonic after colliding with an enemy. Like other Sonic games, Sonic loses all of his rings when he is harmed. In this game, unlike other games in the series, Sonic’s rings does not spread out for the player to collect, instead all the rings are condensed into one ring, which floats upwards and then downwards before disappearing. Collecting the ring also gives Sonic one ring, rather than allowing the player to return to the previous ring count. The player can only obtain an extra life from a monitor once. If the player finds an extra life power-up, they cannot use the same power-up if they have to repeat the level after Sonic dies. When Sonic is harmed while using a shield power-up, he is not also briefly invincible (like other Sonic games and when he has no shield). This means that if a shielded Sonic is harmed while on spikes (for example), if he falls back and comes into contact with more spikes, he will instantly lose his rings with no input from the player. Sonic also spends more distance skidding in this game, which can cause him to touch harmful enemies.
The Bosses used in the game are also unnecessarily difficult. Like in the other early Sonic games, the Bosses consist of Dr Robotnik using machines, each with a different method of attack, to kill Sonic. In the parts of the levels containing the Boss, there are no rings. This forces the player to battle against a difficult enemy without getting hit, otherwise they would have to replay the Boss. However, hidden in each act with a Boss is an extra life power-up, which makes the game slightly easier. After defeating the Boss, their weapon remains harmful (unlike other games where Sonic appears to be able to walk through the leftover weapon), this is especially irritating in the Jungle level where the Boss leaves behind a metal ball which, if Sonic touches, causes the player to repeat the fight with an already defeated Boss.
A part of the game I like is the map. Between ending part of a level and beginning a new one, the game shows a picture of the island where the story takes place. A path is shown to symbolise the journey Sonic takes for the next part of the level, or the location of the Boss. I actually like this feature, I feel it adds context to the story (rather than other games in the series, which use a series of unrelated zones) and makes Sonic seem like a creature defending his home. The paths also appear to be quite accurate and reflect the levels well (for example, a level which involves climbing is shown to have quite a vertical path in the map).
There are a number of bizarre inclusions in this game. In many of the Sonic games released around the same time as this game, the Sega logo is shown at the beginning of the game after Sonic completes an action (such as running past or rolling past). In this game, the Sega logo appears after Sonic frolics back and forth and lands, raising his finger at the player and a hand at his hip. The shield power up in this game is also quite small. When Sonic obtains a shield power-up a small, flashing circle will appear around his chest (instead of surrounding him), which makes the power-up resemble a fashionable coat. Following the final score count, Sonic is shown in front of a light purple screen in front of stationary gold and dark blue stars while a pink block (shown fixed to the background by blue circles) displays the credits. Sonic, holding a microphone, appears to tap his foot and move his left hand while opening and closing his mouth. I cannot work out if this sequence is intended to show Sonic singing the credits and seems like an unusual scene to add to the game (considering other games just show white credits on a black background).
In conclusion, the game is quite enjoyable. It is simple to play and uses a variety of challenges for the player. It is not too long (considering it has to be played in one go). The level designs are interesting and the music is good. It can be annoying because of the difficulty and certain aspects which make the game harder.
In this year, politics had a strange mix of restoration and change. US President Bill Clinton was inaugurated for a second time. The British returned Hong Kong to the Chinese. Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain with a song promising “Things will only get better, with another guy.” Mary McAleese was elected Irish President. Coups occurred in Cambodia and Sierra Leone. It was revealed that mercenaries (from Sandline International) was brought onto Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea, leading to their arrest and the resignation of the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. Two well-known humanitarians, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, both died. Iraq used a number of tactics to prevent UN inspectors discovering material regarding the country’s weapons programme. A number of massacres are committed in Algeria, leading to the deaths of many people. Films included defeating criminals with guns and fierce fighting (Air Force One, Con Air, Face/Off, etc.), defeating criminals with contemplation and finding solutions (Kiss the Girls, The Rainmaker, The Devil’s Own, etc.), looking at futuristic worlds and visitors from outer space (The Fifth Element, Men in Black, Event Horizon, etc.) and turning around and watching the past (re-release of the Star Wars films, L.A. Confidential, Donnie Brasco, Austen Powers: International Man of Mystery). James Bond attempting to become more relevant by switching from fighting outdated Russian spies and international criminals to a newspaper tycoon (and his Chinese coup plotters) in Tomorrow Never Dies. The polar opposites of expensive, blockbuster disaster films and beautiful romance films briefly embraced to create the expensive Titanic. Popular music consisted of RnB with soft voices discussing life (R. Kelly, Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, etc.), strange sounding music that promoted the unusual (Blur, The Chemical Brothers, Jamiroquai, etc.), joyful music that reflected a cheerful lifestyle (The Spice Girls, Aqua, Chumbawamba, etc.) and simplistic songs that reflected less optimistic views on love (Jewel, Meredith Brookes, No Doubt, etc.). Other computer games were a large mix of genres, with a number of well-known games being released (Final Fantasy VII, Goldeneye 007, Mario Kart 64 and Grand Theft Auto). Another popular franchise also began this year with the release of the children’s book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In this mix, Tomb Raider II was released.
A flock of birds fly into the air from a valley next to the Great Wall of China. A general, dressed in armour, watches them fly into the evening sky, their silhouettes visible in the orange light from the setting sun. A number of dead villagers lie impaled on spears resting in the ground near to the man. The man’s eyes, lizard-like and set among scaly skin, narrow. He raises his sword and orders his army to attack. Armed men rush forward. Archers unleash a torrent of arrows in the sky. A farmer is fatally hit by an arrow hitting his shoulder and falls to the ground. Another arrow strikes a famer in the thigh before he has time to seek shelter. The men continue their advance. A huge, red dragon joins the charge, it’s great, horned head looking over the summit of a hill to unleash a stream of fire at an enemy archer. A soldier stands on top of the Great Wall and fires an arrow over the battlements. The arrow strikes the fearsome dragon in the neck and it rears it’s head to roar in pain. The dragon, selecting a new target, walks over to the Great Wall. The wounded farmer, his blurred vision revealing a giant monster walking towards him, rears back in fear. A glowing object on the surface of the dragon’s body attracts his attention. The dragon distracts itself with killing the enemy archer, while the farmer rises to his feet and grabs the smooth handle of the object stabbed into the dragon’ scales. He pulls the object free. He realises that the object was an ornate dagger, while a mysterious red light appears and absorbs into the dagger’s blade. The dragon lurches forward and engulfs the farmer in a burst of flame emitted from it’s large jaws. The dragon unleashes a final, pained roar before slumping to the ground. Nervous archers approach, watching as the skin of the enemy melts into red liquid and slip down smooth bones. The general feels a sudden, deadly pain and sinks to Earth.
A pair of villagers, grasping the mysterious dagger and torches lighting their way, walk to a stone structure with a pair of large stone snakes sitting on spheres, guarding the entrance. Within the building is a red door decorated with a golden carving. One of the men sees a handle in the torchlight and pulls it. The door starts moving, parts of it rotating, other parts retreating backwards and a gold bar appears. The door opens to reveal a short hallway lit by a small number of torches. The more courageous of the men steps forward, seeing a red wall hanging swaying slightly in the breeze. He looks back and beckons to his more fearful companion. The two men reach an area at the end of the hall, with green brick walls and red wood ceiling. A golden structure, resembling a snake-like dragon wrapped around a pedestal stands in the centre of the room. The first man strolls into the room, his face expressing wonder at the luxurious surroundings. He draws the dagger from his belt and places the blade inside the mouth of the dragon. The dragon’s jaw closes round the blade and it’s eyes become purple. The man stares curiously at the dragon head, before backing away in shock as a bright, purple light emanates from the pedestal. The purple light encompasses the room and hallway, before the heavy, red door closes.
A red helicopter flies over the Great Wall of China. A pair of legs stand at the entrance to the machine as a rope is dropped out of the doors. Lara Croft grabs the rope, before backing to the doors and jumping down until she reaches the end of the rope. She swings in the air above the huge structure and climbs down the rope. She releases her grip on the rope and falls to the ground. When she lands, she faces a cave opening into the valley below the Great Wall.
After traveling inside the Great Wall, Lara finds a large red door and a campfire within an underground cave. While examining the door, she hears a cry and dodges a burst of gunfire. A gunman swings down a zip-wire firing an automatic gun. Lara grabs him and forces him to the ground. Lara threatens the man at gunpoint, where he somehow realises Lara isn’t a monk and reveals that the doors are waiting for the right person to arrive at the correct time to open. The man then removes a bottle of delicious poison, while stating that Marco Bartolli is the right man (who will honour his followers after applying the dagger), and takes a swig of his drink. the man chokes to death while Lara checks his laptop, where the man has put a highly artistic picture of Bartolli’s hideout in Venice as his background. Lara travels to Venice and infiltrates Bartolli’s hideout (an empty mansion). The player then enters a dilapidated opera house next to the hideout (that was used as a warehouse) and enters a seaplane moored nearby. Lara then overhears a conversation between Bartolli and a henchman with his faith shaken. Bartolli sooths this man’s doubt by punching him in the stomach before discovering his stowaway. A second henchman appears to knockout Lara with a blow from behind before Bartolli and his men have their wicked way with her (this means they steal her guns before dumping her in an escapable room within their offshore rig).
The player then navigates the offshore rig and a diving area (including climbing an extremely long ladder) until they find an injured monk. The monk, believing he has died, states that he is part of a group guarding the dagger and that Bartolli’s cult were torturing him to find out about the seraph, a key used to unlock the dagger. Lara, realising that the man is waiting for his reward of a lifetime of religious instruction, decides to provide final temptations by posing seductively, removing her clothes, launching a shoe at him and dressing in a skin-tight, revealing wet-suit. The monk seems to be dressed like a Buddhist monk, yet believes in Heaven instead of reincarnation. Bartolli appears (always prepared to do manual work) and shoots the monk and tries to kill Lara. Lara escapes and dives into the diving pool.
Lara then reaches 40 fathoms and finds the wreck of the Maria Doria, a cruise ship that sunk. The player explores the living quarters and deck before finding the seraph locked within the hold. Lara then floats to the surface and steals Bartolli’s seaplane and uses it to travel to Tibet. As an insult, she grabs a coat left in the plane (which allows her to show her legs while keeping warm) and uses the pilot’s ejector seat, leaving Bartolli’s treasured possession to crash into the mountainside and explode.
After navigating the Tibetan foothills, the player reaches Barkhang Monastery. Hidden within the monastery are twelve prayer wheels that open a secret door. The monks seem to strongly believe in self-defence so that they will not attack the player unless the player attacks them first. The monks seem determine that the dagger is not found, therefore, they hide the prayer wheels inside rooms filled with deadly traps and generally seem to politely hope that the player will give up their quest and go home. Using the seraph to open a door in Barkhang Monastery leads to the underground Catacombs of Talion. Following the catacombs downwards leads to a magnificent palace covered in layers of snow. At the end of one of the passages in the Ice Palace is a large bell next to a closed door. This is less a puzzle than an early door bell, as shooting the bell emits a loud ring that opens the door. Inside a room in the palace is an enormous gong which allows the player to pick up a mysterious object after it has been rung using a gong hammer. Ringing the gong also causes a huge creature to put down his book and answer the summons for dinner (tonight, he’s having delicious Lara Croft). The player actually has the option of either killing the creature or escaping from the palace.
Lara escapes the palace through a cave. Outside, she finds a camp of Bartolli’s followers, who have found the backdoor to the palace, but just haven’t used it yet. She steals a jeep and escapes into the night, performing some stunts to elude her pursuers. She drives all the way back to the Great Wall of China and reaches the red door far quicker than the player did when they played the level. She inserts the mysterious object into a slot on the door, which causes the door to open and allow Lara to enter the Temple of Xian. Inside the temple, Lara witnesses Bartolli set up a small ritual (or cabaret act) where he stabs himself with the dagger in front of a group of followers. The men then carry their leader through a doorway. Following Bartolli through the doorway leads to a strange place filled with islands floating in mid air. These islands are filled with buildings built in an ancient Chinese style, yet look recent and flying warriors. The player reaches a large building on one of the islands, which leads to the Dragon’s Lair. This building contains a huge room where Bartolli is lying on a platform (he’s had a busy day). The body suddenly explodes and a large, golden dragon appears. Before Bartolli can win any fancy dress contests, he is knocked down and the dagger removed (turning into a dragon was more impressive before grenade launchers were invented). The dragon’s skin and muscle melts away, leaving a skeleton, and the building starts collapsing. Lara exits the building.
Lara returns home, where she changes into a night gown, lights a fire in her bedroom and starts playing with the dagger. She hears a sound and sees a load of Bartolli’s followers outside. Not wanting to buy any insurance, she arms herself with a shotgun and defeats them all (without getting changed). After the fight has ended, she runs the shower and puts the shotgun on the floor. She starts to undo the belt of her gown, before realising there is still a pervert watching her. She makes a comment, grabs the shotgun and shoots the player in the face.
The elementary story of Tomb Raider 2 is similar to the first Tomb Raider game: starting at one location, being sent to another, travelling to another place to get an object that causes the player to go to another location to find another object, which leads to a final area (stranger than the others) where there is a fight between the player and the main villain, who has transformed into an odd creature. Unfortunately, less attention is paid to the backstory in this game. In the previous game, it is shown where the main object comes from, how it was placed in the different locations and why the villain wants to possess it. In this game, the player is just shown what the power of the main object is (through an animation at the beginning) and is directed to find objects that unlock other objects to find it. For example, the player is directed to look for the seraph, but it is never explained why the seraph is on a luxury liner, or why the key to opening the red door is kept in a mysterious palace. It is also slightly inconsistent that the first animation shows that the dragon’s user is able to generate a dragon separate from himself that he can lead into battle and send to buy milk, while Bartolli is shown turning into a dragon. It is also strange that the first animation shows the monks placing the dagger within a small, single room building, while the game places the dagger within the huge, beautiful Temple of Xian. I also find it hard to tell what Bartolli’s ultimate ambition is after turning into the dragon, it is probably implied he wants world domination, but he could be hoping to turn his noisy neighbours into ash. It is also strange for an Italian to be searching for an ancient Chinese artefact. In these sort of stories, the artefact belongs to the same culture as the villain and it is explained that the item was discussed from generation to generation, therefore, it is odd for a villain to want an object from a far-away culture.
Strangely, while little attempt is taken to explain the origins of the main object (the dagger), the game provides a small backstory to one of the keys used to unlock the passage to reach another key. Marco Bartolli describes how his father claimed that he owned a great treasure (the Seraph) and Bartolli had been searching underwater for it. The imprisoned monk states how the Seraph was stolen from Barkhang Monastery by vandals and the monks had resorted to prayer instead (which explains opening a door with prayer wheels). The monk then claims that his father bombed a ship (the Maria Doria) to keep the Seraph hidden and that the son of the ship’s owner (Marco Bartolli) now wishes to retrieve the Seraph to obtain the dagger. Considering that the story revolves around the dagger and it’s power, it is unusual for the game to explain a secondary object and not the primary object.
One advantage of this game is that the levels are clearly linked. For example, the level 40 fathoms begins on the seabed, but the player reaches the upturned hull of a ship, which is where the next few levels are set. A small door in Barkhang Monastery leads to the Catacombs of Talion. Part of the Catacombs of Talion levels takes place in the palace used for the Ice Palace level, which the player returns to while playing the latter level and links the two levels together. However, I find it difficult to explain where the Floating Islands level is and what it is supposed to be.
The first Tomb Raider game used locations from three of the most well-known ancient civilisations, which may explain why some of the places used for the second game are less defined. Exploring Ancient Chinese cultures was interesting and these levels do look good. The other locations (an opera house and the wreck of a luxury liner) do not seem to belong to a definite era and actually look older than the era suggested by the story itself. Another effect of already using well-known cultures is that some levels are set in modern locations (Venice and the offshore rig). While some of these levels are enjoyable and look good, I, personally, prefer to explore ancient structures.
The levels are also decorated in different styles. The Great Wall is stone grey with underground caves. Bartolli’s Hideout does have a nice luxurious feel and the player uses more everyday objects (such as bookcases and chandeliers) to progress. The Opera House is dark and comfortable. The offshore rig levels are dull, yet provide opportunities to progress using more acrobatic techniques and they use a clanging sound effect when the player walks. The levels set inside the wreck of the Maria Doria are interesting, the concept of having an upside down level is fascinating, it’s nice to see the ceiling take the shape of a ship’s hull and seeing the fragmented parts of the ship demonstrates the skill of the developers. Barkhang Monastery is nice, purple and comfortable. It is strange, but the levels set underground do look cold, with icicles hanging from every ledge and the surroundings built from a light brown stone. The Temple of Xian looks really good, decorated in a magnificent style (including a room filled with giant spiders). The Floating Islands are just odd.
The levels in this Tomb Raider game are less claustrophobic. In some levels, part of the exploration takes place outside and some rooms have windows that allow the player to look into other areas. This gives an extra dimension to the buildings used in the game as they appear to resemble structures with a definite shape and clear layout, rather than a collection of rooms stuck together to create a shapeless maze. The Venice level also closely resembles a city (with buildings and streets) rather than the cities in the previous game that appear more like a series of different sized rooms. In the Bartolli’s Hideout level, it is also possible to leave the hideout and re-enter it at another entrance. The background horizons mainly consist of clouds above silhouetted mountains, but these pictures are actually quite detailed. There are also plenty of cliffs and walls to prevent the player leaving the level altogether and getting a quick burger. The Floating Islands level uses grey clouds above pitch black and everything is lit by an eerie, bright light.
The lighting effects have also been improved in this game. The levels use light sources to brighten corridors and shadows in unlit rooms. The game also provides the player with flares to light the darkness, which only provide a small circle of light. This can make the game frightening, especially if enemies are present in darkened rooms and the player waits for them to enter the pool of light. The guns also provide flashes of gunfire which can be used to provide bursts of light.
In this game, the majority of enemies are human. In the other Tomb Raider games, the enemies are vicious animals or mythical monsters. In Tomb Raider 2, the player is mostly attacked by Bartolli’s henchman, which come in a range of different characters: assassins dressed for a party, mechanics in white vests, scuba divers, gunmen dressed in snug jumpers and ninjas. Other common enemies are attack dogs, usually accompanied by a disgruntled owner. In later levels, the player is attacked by warriors, yetis and giant spiders and there are a number of monsters as well. A new addition to the game is the presence of allies. Barkhang Monastery contains a large number of monks that defeat the enemy, but do not attack the player (unless the player shoots at them). This can make it difficult to fight enemies as the player has to be careful not to harm the monks, or the player will run out of friends.
The game’s combat system has been changed by the addition of weapons. In the previous game, the weapon system was very simple as it only used four guns: the reliable pistols, the powerful shotgun, the rapid-fire uzis and the mixed magnums. This game, however, has more guns, each one with their own advantages. The pistols are weak with unlimited ammo. The shotgun is powerful, but slow. The automatic pistols are rapid fire and slightly powerful. The uzis are the fastest guns, but aren’t very powerful. The harpoon gun allows the player to fight underwater enemies. The M16 is rapid-fire, fairly powerful and good at long-distance, but prevent the player moving during use. The grenade launcher is the most powerful, but ammo is hard to find.
The game’s controls are mostly the same as before, except the player can perform an unnecessary handstand, can crawl and climb ladders. The player can also drive a number of vehicles. In Venice, the player can drive speedboats. In Tibet, The player can drive snowmobiles (which sometimes have machine guns mounted on the front). Unfortunately, crashing these vehicles kills the player.
The saving system is an improvement. Instead of relying on single-use saving crystals, the player can save and load whenever they want. This allows the player to progress and save, even if they have only played the game for a little while and have not reached a goal. The player can save when they face an obstacle and when they completed a challenge, therefore, time is not wasted completing areas that are easy to accomplish. Unfortunately, the previous system only allowed the player to save when it is save and correct and the new one allows them to save when they are about to fail. Many people probably remember angrily pausing to load when Lara is falling screaming through the air, only to realise they have replaced their progress with a short film of Lara dying and will need to start the game again. A solution is to save once when entering a new level and again to have a separate save that allows the player to return to the beginning of the level when a problem occurs.
The quality of the graphics has improved. The tiling pattern is less noticeable than before and it also uses a small selection of items to decorate the walls. Unfortunately, the developers seem unable to make the decorations 3-dimensional so items, such as curtains and paintings, appear painted on, rather than being objects. This is particularly noticeable with faces (Marco Bartolli’s hair is a mystery to me). It also creates a strange effect with hanging objects, ladders appear to be built into invisible walls and that would never happen if someone actually stood on a chandelier. The beds are also strange, colourful raised platforms with a bedstead painted on the wall which can’t be comfortable. There are also less better quality animations, so the picture quality remains more consistent. The game also uses a wider range of traps than before and has adapted them for each environment. The player may be chased by a boulder in one level, chased by sandbags in another and chased by metal cylinders in another. They have also introduced smaller switches. Instead of using large, heavy switches to flush toilets, the developers have introduced small, electrical levers and switches.
The game has also changed the way it presents secret items. In the previous game, secret items were extra medi-packs and ammunition hidden within levels. Picking one up would cause Lara to say “Ah ha” and a strange sound effect would play. Hidden throughout the levels of Tomb Raider 2 are a lightweight stone dragon, a precious jade dragon and an expensive gold dragon. Extra items were only obtained if all dragons were picked up. The stone dragons were the easiest to find, the jade dragons usually seem the most hidden and the gold dragons were usually the most annoying to reach (this is especially true in the Ice Palace where the player would need to pull out an unremarkable and unnoticeable block to find a secret room).
The home level has also been expanded. The player can practice performing the moves on an assault course, that also times has long it took to complete the activity. There is a hedge maze with a tunnel that leads to a switch and two statues taken from Qualopec’s tomb. This switch opens the door to the basement for a limited amount of time. In the basement are souvenirs from Lara’s adventures and a button that needs to be pressed twice to open the door. The player can turn on the fast-paced classical music from the Venice level, visit Lara’s bedroom and lock the butler in the pantry.
A strange aspect of this game is the insertion of a Tomb Raider tradition. For some reason, some of the early Tomb Raider games have T-Rexs hidden within the levels. In the Great Wall level, the player is able to climb to the bottom of a ravine to encounter two T-Rexs and ruin the little love nest they have created. This also allows the player to reach the golden dragon, receive a grenade launcher and blow up one of the T-Rexs.
Finally, the character of Lara has been subtly altered in this game. In the previous game, the only real suggestion that Lara was supposed to be sexy was her revealing clothes, which could be what women wore in hot climates, and the fact she suggests she’s “Getting out of these wet clothes” in the home level. In this game, she becomes more seductive. She changes into a revealing wetsuit, she takes off her clothes off screen, she poses in an alluring way (hands on hips and legs akimbo), she spends the Home Sweet Home level in a small gown and finishes the game by suggesting the player will see her showering (before being killed). There was also a rumour that performing a selection of jumps resulted in Lara becoming naked, but the nearest I got to was her splitting into pieces and exploding.
In conclusion, the game is enjoyable and simple to play. The storyline is interesting, but could have an expanded backstory. The game does present some improvements from the previous game and uses a number of attractive levels.
(Later, there was an expansion pack released called Tomb Raider 2: Golden Mask which included an extra five levels of Lara travelling to the Arctic to find a legendary Golden Mask of Tornarsuk. By the way, while researching this review, I viewed videos from the game on a Youtube channel called Curt Thunder. I wouldn’t normally advertise someone else, but he doesn’t have a lot of views and I enjoyed watching the videos.)