Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Socket (Mega Drive)

So, if you only know one thing about this game, you'll know that it's a blatant Sonic clone, to an extent that no other game before it had been. Every other review I've read of this game, whether it was in a magazine at the time of its release, or on the internet many years later, has focussed entirely on that fact, and then descended into tedious hyperbole about how terrible and unplayable the game is. The fact is, Socket is a very flawed game, and a very unoriginal game, but it does have a few ideas of its own, and it is a fun game to play.

The eponymous character is a weird kind of time-travelling electric duck from the future, who has to stop an evil time-travelling winged fox called Time Dominator from doing evil stuff throughout history. Socket can run, jump and kick, and has an energy meter that serves as a combined time limit and health bar, something usually only seen in games where the player controls a vehicle of some kind.

But the stage themes tread the familiar platform game ground of grassy place, lava caves, factory, futuristic city, and so on.  Stages come in sets of three, though each stage of the three fills an explicit role: The first stage will be a "High Speed Zone", which always takes place in an amazing-looking future city, and is what it sounds like: go really really fast util you get to the end. It's not challenging, but there is a good sensation of speed as you whizz around. The second will be Athletic, a pretty traditional action-platform stage, with a focus on running and jumping and so on. The third part of each set of stages is the "Labyrinth", a huge, sprawling stage with puzzles and traps and so on, with the emphasis being on actually finding your way to the end of the stage.

As for how Socket plays, it's mostly pretty good. Definitely leagues ahead of the other "poor man's Sonic", Bubsy, at least. There's a few moments where the cracks begin to show: for example, there are lots of very Sonic-esque places in stages that use ramps and momentum and even running up walls, but they're just a little bit too stiff and unco-operative, and jumping from non-flat surfaces can sometimes feel strange an unpredictable. Another problem is that it's incredibly easy, even compared to the Sonic games, which themselves aren't incredibly challenging. Socket's massive heath bar, means there's very little consequence to getting hit, so you can just speed your way through stages, ignoring enemies, spikes, lava pits, and so on. You're likely to complete it on your first or second attempt.

If I were to compare Socket to any game, I would actually choose the Playstation 3D action game Speed Power Gunbike. Though SPGB hides it better, there's a shared thread between the two games of being Sonic-inspired attempts at high-speed action games that are just almost great, being held back by a few small, but damning flaws. Also like SPGB, I'd recommend Socket to anyone who has an interest in a kind of alternate interpretation of the Sonic games' ideas.
This game is also known as Time Dominator 1st

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