Friday, August 24, 2012

Let's Meet Socket Part 1

at 8:08 PM
In Part 1 of each Let's Meet, you'll find an introduction to a game's history and gameplay. In Part 2, you'll come away with something neat about the game.

So Yourself says to me, he says, “I'm gonna need youse guys to cover the blog while I'm on the run. Try to think of something that will score some serious hits.” Of course, I knew just the thing. As we get closer to yet another US presidential election, what is the one game that people are clamoring for?
Socket (US/EU)/Time Dominator 1st (JP)
Developed and published by Vic Tokai
Genesis – 1994

That Japanese box art makes Socket look so cool. So cool.

For those of you not in the know, Socket is part of that era of gaming when everything needed a platforming animal mascot. As you can tell from its western box art, it relies pretty heavily on being confused for Sonic. Heck, the first world is called Emerald Forest, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Green Hill Zone. It's worth noting that my esteemed colleague Yourself has mentioned that Socket isn't developer Vic Tokai's only copycat IP.

Each world consists of three stages. The first is fast and linear, the third is a maze, and the second is a middle ground between the two. This sort of level progression is something you see every now and then in old platformers like Kid Icarus, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, and plenty others.

Unlike a good number of those games, not many people are aware of Socket. In general, Vic Tokai didn't put out memorable games. Among the best known ones are Psycho Fox, Decap Attack, Clash at Demonhead, and Trouble Shooter. When these games are remembered, it's fondly, but you'd be hard-pressed to find them on a top 10 list. Vic Tokai made neat games with fun mechanics, but never anything truly compelling. There's no mindblowing developments, but there is enough to leave a smile on your face.

That's where Socket comes in. It's what happens when a Vic Tokai game doesn't have any unique charm: the only appealing part has been left out.

Most of the time, you'll hear it called a poor Sonic clone and dismissed immediately. If the writer has given it some time, like this guy, you'll hear of the maze stages. I tried to find a blog post with someone who didn't like the maze stages, but instead I found that post where the guy actually liked the game. He seems to enjoy the mazes, too.

Regardless of whether or not it's a good idea to put maze stages in a game that masquerades as Sonic, I'm going to talk about those mazes next time.

A maze can be an arbitrarily-constructed sequence of hallways, where finding your way through is a matter of memorizing what to do at each juncture. Or they can follow a theme, where knowing what to do at each juncture is a matter of pattern recognition.

One thing I've always liked about Socket is that its mazes belong to the second camp. They're simplistic, but they still know how to follow a theme. And that's what I'll talk about next time.

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