Monday, July 14, 2014

DOUBLE GOT 'IM - Sonny and Sonny 2

Here's something different: I review two games at once, and they're both games I've beaten multiple times over the years.  A double review for a very nice double act: the Macromedia Adobe Flash-made browser RPGs, Sonny and Sonny 2. 


Way back in the day (...5 or 6 years ago) I actively sought out browser games made in Flash.  I would trawl websites like NewGrounds, Armor Games, and Kongregate (mostly NewGrounds) for interesting Flash cartoons and videogames.  Honestly, there are many worse places to spend free time.  Those sites have built strong communities over the years and the stream of content is consistently varied and amusing.  I don't hit NewGrounds every day like I did in college, but I still have affection for the place.

In the early goings of me sampling dozens of Flash games, one standout was Sonny.  Made by a grad student named Krin (I think he's Danish or Dutch, but lived / worked / studied in the UK), Sonny is an RPG about an amnesiac, intelligent zombie.  It clicked with me immediately.  I played through it multiple times, and Sonny 2 launched a few months after I got into Flash games.  The timing couldn't have been more perfect, and Sonny 2 was a bigger and better game than its predecessor.  I used replay Sonny 2 every year or two, but it's been awhile.  I haven't brought it up on this blog before.

My Sonny 2 fandom peaked when I unlocked all of the game's achievements, wrote an extremely detailed guide on Sonny 2 Hydro builds on Krin's website (which is lost to history, unfortunately), and started checking Krin's site profiles and blog weekly, hoping for some news on Sonny 3.  Krin went off the grid for a year or two, but eventually popped up again a few years ago with news on Sinjid 3 (Sinjid is Krin's other series, about a ninja.  Not as good as Sonny).  But then a few weeks ago Krin popped up again with some Sonny 3 news, and I happened to look it up a few days after the post.  It got my mojo working again and I beat Sonny and Sonny 2 back to back in mid-June.  Sorry for the delay in writing this review, but... fuck you. 

Story and Characters

The story of Sonny begins with our main character waking up on a boat with a man named Louis.  Louis calls our memory-less friend Sonny and seems interested in helping him out, while a number of other zombies (who aren't intelligent like Sonny) are interested in eating him.  Louis doesn't make it, but Sonny manages to escape the boat and find dry land.  There, he encounters a large number of hostile natives, a zombie-killing police force called the ZPCI, and a another speaking zombie, a medic named Veradux. Veradux and Sonny immediately team up; in Veradux's words "until death do us part."  Hilarious. 

Sonny and Veradux encounter and defeat some more ZPCI (and an evil intelligent zombie named Brixius) to end the first Sonny and bring us to Sonny 2.  Another intelligent zombie, Felicity, steals one of Sonny's keepsakes from Louis (an audio tape) and leads them on a merry chase.  Sonny gets his tape back, but after Felicity lets on that there might be some answers in "Utopia," Sonny and Veradux seek out the path to the city of Hew.  On the way they meet a sympathetic freedom fighter, Roald, who used to be a scientist on a research team developing a cure to zombification.  Sonny, Veradux, and Roald hit the road to try and uncover secrets about the zombie plague. 

That's Sonny 1 and 2.  There are a bunch of one-off characters that are bizarre and memorable in their own way; Brixius is probably the most memorable villain, but many of the story encounters are against distinct, interesting enemies.  The multitude of evil hobos, the explosive, deadly bunny rabbit, and a few of the boss encounters stick out in particular.  The enemies met throughout Sonny and Sonny 2 (mostly Sonny 2) are well-designed enough that you wish that the game was a bit longer. 

Playing the Game

These gameplay details are true of both Sonny and Sonny 2 unless I specifically bring it up. The games have two basic interfaces: zones and combat. Each zone consists of a static background with three types of icons on it: story battles, practice battles, and item shops.  You click on what you want to do.  That, plus a world map for going between zones, is the closest thing to navigating spaces that either game has.  Kind of like a point-and-click adventure game, but with very few areas to check out.  Sonny has three story zones plus a bonus zone, and Sonny 2 has five story zones plus two bonus zones. 

Battles are more interesting (mostly).  Your team of Sonny and one or two allies lines up on the left, and enemies line up on the right.  The player controls only Sonny; your other characters are AI-controlled and don't even have customizable skillsets.  That's all Sonny.  Turns are round-based, with your team and the enemy acting in separate phases.  To act, you mouse over your target (whether it's an enemy, an ally, or Sonny himself) and the skill wheel of your eight equipped skills will appear.  Select your skill, and then it'll activate.  On regular difficulty settings you have as much time as you want to perform moves, but on higher ones there's a countdown clock.

Yeah, it's pretty simplistic.  The strategy involved is mostly in how you build Sonny and set up your skill wheel.  Sonny has eight slots on his wheel, and each slot is one instance of a skill.  If you have a skill that can be equipped multiple times, then go ahead and load it up!  Each skill has a slot limit and also a cooldown, so managing your skill set, skill order, and passives is important.  Right, you can also learn passive skills, but they don't take up space on the skill wheel.

In Sonny, skills are learned each level by navigating a giant skill web with (generally speaking) strength-based skills on the left, instinct-based skills on the right (basically magic), and healing and buff stuff in the center.  All four classes use the same skill tree, with the only differences between the four being starting stats.  Destroyer has the highest Strength and Health, Gunslinger has huge Instinct and Focus, Assassin has balanced stats with high Speed, and Guardian has balanced stats with high Vitality and Health.

In Sonny 2, skills are much different.  There are three separate classes, but each has its own skill tree with two or three obviously-organized types of builds.  The Biological class has several abilities scaling to Strength and Speed, with abilities concentrating on physical damage and poison damage over time.  The Psychological class is mostly focused on Instinct, with shadow skills, psychic skills, and lightning skills with good synergy within those attack types.  The Hydraulic class, my personal favorite, has "cold" skills that inflict damage based on Instinct and hinder enemies with debuffs and "hot" skills that focus on huge physical damage scaling with Strength and Focus, but draining Focus each turn.

All three Sonny 2 classes have defensive and healing backup spells, but the obvious builds are speed bio, poison bio, shadow psycho, electric psycho, hot hydro, and cold hydro.  There are a ton of variations within those six builds and even some skill interplay between those six builds, but generally your character in Sonny 2 is going one of those six ways.  I love it.  I've done each of those six builds, and my favorites are the electric Psycho and cold Hydro.  There are full skill respecs that you can buy, so there is plenty of room for experimenting on your build or even changing your build just for particular boss fights. 

The combat is easy to understand and the difficulty scales nicely, especially on higher difficulties.  If you're completing achievement challenges (which I recommend, for extra goal-setting) then the difficulty can get pretty frustrating.  Since nearly every skill in the game has associated buffs and debuffs and there are so many skills, combat gets quite tactical, with managing so many elements at once.  I'm a big fan. 

Visuals and Audio

Look, they're Flash games. The visuals are clearly-drawn and colorful, but animation outside of icons is limited to battle, and techniques like palette swapping are employed obviously and liberally.  But it all works.  The action is varied enough to stay fresh for the (short) length of the game and it never looks janked. Each character has his/her armor and weapons show up on the character in battle, which is an RPG touch that I always appreciate. 

The audio is a mixed bag.  Voice work is surprisingly pretty good, and the script is limited but far from unappealing.  The soundtrack is only a few songs each game (normal battle, boss battle, navigation screen, and some cutscene tunes) and they're aren't bad, but sort of wear out their welcome.  I should stop typing that before the battle theme gets stuck in my head again.  And not necessarily in a good way. 

The Final Word

I have tremendous affection for both of these games, especially Sonny 2.  I will probably continue to beat Sonny 2 every year or two, especially if my cookies cache clears (alliteration!) and I lose my save and achievement data.  If you like RPGs, have a few hours to spare, and aren't turned off by in-browser games, I implore you to give Sonny a shot.  Or maybe jump ahead to Sonny 2, since it's significantly better.

But you know what else?  I'm a little leery of Sonny 3.  Krin is doing away with character classes, not continuing the story of Sonny 1+2 (WHY!?), and trying some new gameplay ideas out, keeping his skill wheel but experimenting with how skills are implemented.  It could be really cool, could be disappointing, but who cares?  I'll play that the moment it's out.  In the meantime, I implore you to give the series a shot.

Here's a link to the original Sonny
Here's a link to the sequel, Sonny 2

Games Beaten: 2014 Edition

1. Ys Seven
2. Rayman Origins
3. Assassin's Creed II
4. Dust: An Elysian Tail
5. The Walking Dead (season one)
6. Frog Fractions
7. Mortal Kombat (2011)
8. Digital Devil Saga
9. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
10. Persona 3: Portable (FeMC)
11. Sonny
12. Sonny 2
13. Dragon Age: Origins
14. Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening
15. Retro Game Challenge
16. Batman: Arkham City

Targets: 8/14


So that's what I've been doing for the past few weeks: Sonny and Dragon Age.  I finished replays of Origins and Awakening, and I might do stripped-down reviews of both of those games, since I did review them when I first played them in 2011.  Not sure how that's going to shake out.

Anyhow, in terms of gaming projects I'm a little ahead of the game, mostly because I've been playing games instead of writing reviews.  I'll have reviews of Retro Game Challenge and Batman: Arkham City up shortly, hopefully. 

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