This Week in Games: The Sonic Adventure Music Experience at MAGFest

by Heidi Kemps,

Welp, we are officially a week and a half into 2018. Everyone been making progress on their backlogs?

… yeah, that's what I thought. Anyway, did you all watch Pop Team Epic?

I think that even fans of the manga had no idea what to expect from this descent into madness, but man, that was one hell of a trip, full of some incredibly deep cuts for gaming fans. One's already been spoiled via a popular tweet, sadly, but there's just so much more. Even if you're not a fan of Pop Team Epic's raucous, profoundly inexplicable sense of humor, you have to appreciate the depth of the references involved.

I'm deliberately not saying much here because not being spoiled makes Pop Team Epic all the more amusing. Why not go watch it? I'll wait. Just remember: we've still got several weeks of this thing to look forward to. I'm not sure if I can survive with my senses intact, but I'll still look forward to every new outing.

EVENT REPORT: SONIC ADVENTURE MUSIC EXPERIENCE

MAGfest 2018 took place last weekend at National Harbor, and it was a supremely fun time. Compared to a heavily corporate convention like PAX, MAGfest feels more like a gigantic nerd party, filled with music, gaming, cosplay, and just hanging out and having a good time. You won't be waiting three hours in line to play a game that releases next month for fifteen minutes at a official booth, but you will see an eclectic selection of independent nerdy creators showing off artwork, music, and games. There's also a massive arcade, an equally huge console gaming room, numerous panels for both general attendees and aspiring game and music creators, even random jam spaces where you and your pals can have a sweet dance-off in your Final Fantasy cosplay.

One big draw for MAGfest is its gaming-inspired musical acts: there's a concert hall seemingly open at all hours of the day with acts rotating in and out. MAGfest goes out of their way to secure some really top-tier talent for these concerts, and for the past few years, they've made serious efforts to bring well-loved musicians from Japan. Recent years have seen the likes of Saori Kobayashi (Panzer Dragoon) and Manami Matsumae (Megaman and other CAPCOM classics) showcasing their work, but this year saw one of the biggest Japanese events the show's ever booked: The Sonic Adventure Music Experience.

So on January 6th, 2018, Sonic music maestro Jun Senoue, along with bassist Takeshi Taneda and drummer Act., came to MAGfest to play live versions of some of Sonic Adventure 1 and 2's most memorable tunes. While this wasn't Senoue's first time playing music abroad -- he's toured with his personal band Crush 40 before -- it does mark the first venture overseas for this particular concert series, which had only played shows in Tokyo and Osaka before now.  It was undoubtedly this year's biggest draw for MAGfest -- and, for the most part, it didn't disappoint.

Now, game music concerts are nothing new at this point: there have been national tours for Final Fantasy- and Zelda-themed concerts, among others. But it's still pretty rare to hear music from games played by the very people who made it outside of Japan. It has happened  before, though: when Japan Expo was trying to make an impact Stateside, they brought over Noriyuki Iwadare and Akira Yamaoka, who put on amazing shows that were severely underappreciated.

There was no such issue with the Sonic Adventure Music Experience: this show absolutely PACKED the huge MAGfest concert hall with eager fans. No matter what anyone thinks about modern Sonic, anything with his name on it can still draw an excited crowd. (Of course, it helps that everyone agrees that Sonic music is awesome regardless of how the games play.)

The theme of the concert was Sonic Adventure, so the focus was overwhelmingly on the Dreamcast games’ music -- though there was one track from Sonic Heroes dropped in around mid-set. Senoue began with Emerald Coast from Sonic Adventure before moving along to Prison Lane and Mission Street from Sonic Adventure 2. With every new song, the in-game title card for the level and footage of the stage flashed on the monitor behind the band, earning excited cheers from the audience.

The setlist went back and forth between the two Sonic Adventure games, with occasional pauses for Senoue to interact with the audience. Senoue clearly has enthusiasm for his work and Sonic in general, which was evident from the moment he switched from a custom Sonic-colored guitar to a custom Shadow-colored guitar for the sole purpose of playing several Shadow themes from SA2. (“Shadow is my favorite Sonic character,” he told the audience, laughing visibly when a group of fans started a fevered “Big the Cat!” chant in response.)

The hype the audience had for this music was just as exciting as the songs themselves. Besides the cheers whenever a new title card flashed onscreen, people would chant and jump around for some of the vocal parts in songs like Speed Highway. Everyone was having a fantastic time getting caught up in nostalgia for the Dreamcast Sonics. Some of you might be muttering something about Sonic being bad rose tinted glasses right now, but had you been in a giant concert hall hooting and hollering with hundreds of other nerds for the song from Green Forest, you certainly would have been swept up in it, too.

If there is one disappointment from his concert, it's that there were no vocal-centric songs . No Open Your Heart, no Live and Learn… not even City Escape. I assume this is because they didn't have a vocalist, but come on, if you would have played Ciy Escape, the entire hall would be singing the lyrics for you. The lack of an encore (despite audience pleas) was also saddening. I know there was a schedule to adhere to, but come on, this is the highlight of the con for many people!

As a whole, however, it's hard to argue with how incredibly fun this concert was. Senoue and his bandmates were great, the crowd had a ton of fun, and the music was as rockin’ as it ever was. Here's hoping that this concert can score a few more North American venues… and have a bigger setlist. Seriously, no Sonic Adventure 1 Death Egg music? That guitar bit was practically made to be done live.

AWESOME GAMES DONE QUICK IS BREAKING YOUR BRAIN RIGHT NOW

Perhaps it's a good thing that gaming news is so quiet his week, because it gives us all the opportunity to kick back, relax, and watch our favorite games get utterly destroyed by speedrunners for a charitable cause.

Yes, Awesome Games Done Quick is happening again. It started this Sunday, and it'll still be going for a few more days by the time you read this. There have already been some really great runs of games like F-Zero GX, Fire Emblem: the Sacred Stones, Dragon Warrior, and one hell of a Megaman X race. Other upcoming speedruns include an original Megaman relay, Mario Galaxy, Super Monkey Ball, Zone of the Enders 2, and both Link to the Past and Breath of the Wild. Strangely, Super Metroid is off this year's schedule, depriving us of the eternal “save or kill the animals” argument.

Unfortunately, by the time you all read this, the Wednesday-Thursday overnight Awful Games Block will already have ended. This is always the highlight of AGDQ for me, and with a lineup of games like Bubsy II, Superman 64, Animorphs, Earnest Evans, and the mysterious Enviro-Bear 2000, it looks like it will provide lots of quality entertainment worth staying up all night for. (Yes, I'm weird.)

THE JAPANESE CONSOLE GAME INDUSTRY SEES ITS FIRST GROWTH IN ELEVEN YEARS

We all know it's been rough times for the Japanese console game business lately, as mobile games are eating away at the time and money players once reserved for quality time huddled in front of the TV or handheld console. But it seems like things got a kick in the pants last year, as sales of both consoles and games saw their first year-over-year rise in over a decade, and it's not hard to figure out why…

The Switch has been a massive success worldwide, but it's been a particular boon to the ailing Japanese console business, giving consumers a new and unique console they can feel truly enthusiastic about. Almost three and a half million Switch consoles sold in Japan this year, with Splatoon 2 taking the crown as the console's biggest seller. What's crazier still is that this number could have been bigger if it wasn't for frequent console shortages! Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild all charted in 2017's list of biggest sellers -- in fact, aside from Monster Hunter XX and both the 3DS and PS4 versions of Dragon Quest XI, the top 10 bestsellers are totally Nintendo dominated. Not that Sony had a bad showing, either -- NieR Automata and Resident Evil VII both sold very well, but fell just under the top 10 sales threshold.

Now the question is: can Nintendo manage to keep this momentum going? This is a company with the industry's most valuable IP in their coffers, and I'm hoping they have things prepared to wow fans both old and new this year. We know Metroid Prime 4 and Kirby Star Allies are coming, but what else could be waiting in the wings? As much as I want a new F-Zero, I would wager that an enhanced Smash 4 port is probably next on the priority list.

That's all for this week! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to caffeine up so I don't miss a perfect run of NES Deadly Towers.


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