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Smith: Feasting on 90s Nostalgia

If pop culture was a hearty meal, than nostalgia would be the mashed potatoes.

I snack on nostalgia almost daily, but these past few weeks, those snacks have turned into an all-you-can eat 1990s buffet.

My favorite platforming series of all time, “Sonic the Hedgehog,” finally got a proper 2D sequel. The controversial Sega CD game “Night Trap” (another one of my favorites) was re-released at nearly the same time. A new adaptation of the Stephen King book “It” hit theaters this past weekend, stirring fond memories of marathon reading sessions in junior high.

There’s no doubt about it – growing up in the 90s was super cool.

“Sonic Mania” available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC for $19.99. Rated “E” for everyone.

I was 11 when “Sonic the Hedgehog” was released for the Sega Genesis in 1991. It was the perfect age to foster an obsession for a brightly colored platform featuring an anthropomorphic animal.

And obsess I did. I wasn’t just happy with beating the game. I had to find all six Chaos emeralds to get the true ending, and that required months of practice. The sequels were just as good or better, my personal favorite being “Sonic CD” for the much-maligned Sega CD console.

After “Sonic the Hedgehog 3,” however, the series really started to go downhill, aside from a few bright spots such as “Sonic Adventure” and “Sonic Generations.” Once Sonic entered the third dimension, Sonic became a joke rather an icon, and longtime fans gave up hope.

Ironically, it was a longtime series fan responsible for this 2D resurrection — Australian game programmer Christian Whitehead. What started out as a long-shot prototype turned into the best Sonic game in nearly 25 years.

“Sonic Mania” has the same look, feel and sound of the original games, but the level design has been greatly expanded. Featuring 12 distinct worlds (the first “Sonic” only had six), each level is absurdly massive, and can barely be explored in the 10-minute time limit. Eight of those worlds are larger remixes of previous sonic titles, but there are also four brand new worlds.

In other words, it’s everything Sonic fans have been waiting for since “Sonic and Knuckles” hit the Sega Genesis in 1994. The multiple references and nods to previous entries continually tickle the nostalgia center of the brain, and innovations and improvements that make the gameplay smoother cuts down on the frustration I felt as a child.

But you can have too much of an old thing. As much as I enjoy the remixes of the old worlds, they comprise 60 percent of the game. Considering how ingenious the new worlds are, I wish Whitehead would have gone further and made a few worlds of their own.

Of course, there’s always room for a sequel — hopefully. While you’re waiting, take it upon yourself to play the nearly forgotten 2014 indie platform “Freedom Planet.” It feels and plays just like Sonic (with a different intellectual property), but the levels are far longer than those in “Sonic Mania.”

Start with “Sonic Mania,” though. You can never replace the blue hedgehog.

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

“Night Trap” available for the PlayStation 4 and PC for $14.99

The first time I popped “Night Trap” into my Sega CD back in 1992, I was so impressed that I rushed into the kitchen to grab my parents. They’ve never given a fig about video games, but I was convinced they had to see this.

The TV screen wasn’t filled with the cartoon character sprites they had become accustomed to ignoring. It was filled with real actors, portraying characters at the mercy of the player’s controller. The future of video games had arrived, and it was going to star real people.

Or so I thought. The first in a series of titles known as “full-motion video,” “Night Trap” was cut apart by critics for its lack of interactivity. The acting was bad, the production was laughable and the video was so grainy you could barely see what was going on.

Despite the critical whiplash, I loved every second of it. It’s a cheesy horror film/game about a family of vampires who feed on co-eds staying at their house during vacation. The vampires also look after augers — poor fangless vampires who wander the house in search of blood to steal. But since they don’t have fangs, they have to use a long metal rod to extract the blood.

The player takes control of eight surveillance cameras, and each is connected to home security traps that keep the girls safe. Originally developed for a VHS gaming system in the late 1980s, “Night Trap” was moved to the Sega CD a few years later after the VHS system was cancelled before its release.

“Night Trap” gained international infamy after serving as the centerpiece of a congressional hearing about video game violence (“Mortal Kombat” was the other big offender), which led to the creation of the ESRB — the universal video games rating system. Ironically, Night Trap could have been rated “PG” for the amount of violence and nudity it shows.

While full-motion video games ended up being a fad, “Night Trap” went on to become a cult classic. I’m the only person I know who’s played it, and was quite surprised it got a re-release 25 years later.

Aside from the improved video resolution and larger viewing screen, this package features some fascinating “making of the game” documentaries, as well as improved interface. Tiny windows at the bottom of the screen provide a live view of the other seven rooms of the house, making me realize what a nightmare this game must have been to shoot and edit.

“Night Trap” will always be remembered as a bad game, and that’s why I love it so much. If the acting was better, or the budget bigger, the game would be too boring to covet.

3 out of 4 Stars

Smith: Feasting on 90s Nostalgia | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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