Overall, some solid gameplay, and it turns out there are various secrets and unlockables that are not so obvious. That means the pack ends up being bigger than what it seems to be at the end of the campaign, which I find a plus.
The not so great? There are at least a few levels that are heavily reliant on the idea of button hunts and maze solving. I am not completely against finding buttons, but one of the maps essentially resolves around going between A and B a couple of times with an exit that is almost hidden in the dark (which is why I would recommend OpenGL for this pack because of the lack of truecolor lighting in Software). There is also the realization that you can skip the emerald hunt in the first zone and go straight to the exit (which leads me to think it is redundant unless one of the unlockable maps was enabled by it). There is also that last emerald hunt with the inconsistent breakability of the iron fences, a different texture should be used for the ones that can be spun through.
The bosses meanwhile are standard, but not so bad considering the geometry they are paired with, and the emerald stages are among the better ones I have seen of the Blue Sphere type. This pack has a lot of potential though, so keep practicing those design skills and I am sure it will get better with subsequent versions.
While the first 4 non-unlockable levels were nice the unlockable levels are not worth it I understand the "past" and "old" sapphire hills I understand are old versions of stages they are older versions and werent made to be an unlockable stage but act 5 is annoying as hell and the last part is real bad since it doesnt have any rings near it I literaly created an account just to say put more rings, the emblem placements arent that bad but arent that good some are too easy and some too hard overall just make sapphire hill act 5 easier and its good this review is bullcrap since its my first so dont mind me
Oh man, this pack was an odd experience for me. I played through this when you released it.
The first time I ran through this I just kinda wrote it off as someone's rough first few levels. A demo with four okay acts. Solid 3 stars and nothing more.
I only decided to look deeper today when I was reading that update note... that was from a few months ago, but still I only read it today, lol.
I noticed an "Arial Ruins". My immediate response was "holy shit, a new zone!" so I played through the pack again, only to find no new zone.
This piqued my curiosity. My options were then reduced to "this is an emblem secret" or "this is an emerald secret". I decided to go for both by taking it slow and thoroughly exploring all the stages.
That is where this pack changed for me.
On the surface, the stages are very messy in composition, with very inconsistent level design. Some areas have more gameplay than others, some areas have more decoration than others. Looking deeper, these ended up being some of the most engaging levels for me to explore.
I eventually found the Arial Ruins I was looking for, nice hidden exit haha.
It took 3 hours and 35 minutes to crack all of the secrets of this pack (I'm reading the statistics page). And overall, I had a damn good time. Even without hints, I found the emblems generally pretty enjoyable and intuitive to collect, except for Sapphire Hills 5, the emblem that was just hidden behind a square platform that eluded me for FAR too long! >:|
What really stood out to me was the special stages though.
Maybe it's because I tried to perfect bonus each of them.
But the special stages were the highlight of this pack for me. They're 2.0 styled blue sphere collectable stages, but trying to get the perfect bonus in each of them was incredibly fun.
Let me go through the level list.
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Act 1 --
Overview: An Emerald Hunt stage! Quite a unique way to start the pack.
Pros: The aesthetic of the stage fits very nicely with the palette. It is overall very pleasing to look at. The emblems and emerald tokens were hidden in intuitive but fun to find locations, and the house was a very nice touch.
TARDIS house! Bigger on the inside than on the outside! I don't think that was the intention though, haha.
Cons: The scale is far too small. It makes the jagged cave EXTREMELY cramped. The level is too small for the player to have any breathing room platforming, moving their camera, or rolling down slopes. It also makes it incredibly easy to get blindsided by enemies, which is super frustrating. I think if you go back to this level, you should make the playing field larger, with more breathing room. This is especially apparent in the house, in which I had to go into first person mode to even see what I was doing.
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Act 2 --
Overview: Our first action stage.
Pros: A very fun quick romp. I loved searching the nook and crannies for emblems and powerups. It was very rewarding to find the hidden exit. The stage is overall pretty. I think this is mostly because of the palette. You definitely have an aesthetic going here!
Cons: This stage starts to show an issue you have when designing action stages. I want you to consider this:
The first 10 seconds of this zone takes place at the same floor height.
ZERO changes in floor height anywhere. It is a very long hallway, with some pretty lighting, full of springs and crawlas... But the composition is a long flat hallway. There's nothing to do, no sector decoration, no ebb or flow with the gameplay going up and down.
Then we fall into a water pit, that seems to introduce the gimmick of the stage, swinging maces!
...Psyche! This is the only place in the zone swinging maces appear.
You really have to reuse your gimmicks throughout the level. Reuse the maces, find interesting and unique places to use the maces. Don't just introduce them and then throw them away never to be seen again!
-- Arial Ruins Zone --
The ruins of a neo-grotesque typeface? Absolutely insane!
If you don't get it, Arial is the name of a font, and not a way to describe a location.
The word you're looking for here is "Aerial". Gotta add the e!
Pros: This has got to be my favorite stage in the whole pack. It's massive, that skybox is absolutely beatiful. It has this grand massive scale with you springing around gigantic heights and falling into these grand, massive rooms.
There's a real sense of progression here. I really felt like I was going somewhere as I progressed through the stage. Springing around, narrowly evading turrets, careening off a massive slope, falling into a flooded part of the ruins. Falling into a MASSIVE room full of brambles. It was incredibly exciting to progress through this stage. The music change really helped accentuate this sense of progress.
Judging by the checkpoint directly before the signpost, I'm going to assume this stage is unfinished. I'm super excited to see whatever grand climactic ending you have planned for the stage.
Cons: That gargoyle push is the most frustrating thing in the entire world.
...Was that supposed to be an UNDERWATER MAZE? I got past it in 10 seconds but I had to use first person because it was super cramped. Mazes are suckass so don't use them, also open up that space a bit.
You have to use more textures! This stage's aesthetic really suffers from tiny textures used on massive walls. It's a super grainy and bad effect.
These ruins have no composition to the architecture, I don't feeel like it was a real place.
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Act 3 --
Overview: The second action stage in the pack... Or the third, if you unlocked Arial Ruins.
Pros: This is the most solid act of Sapphire Hills in my opinion. It's fun to run through with various cool setpieces, I think it has the best secrets in the pack. There's a cool music change but I don't know why it happens. The massive spring launches, tree climbs, and waterslides made this a really nice experience! The decoration is pleasant as always, but a bit too minimal. You could really dial up the aesthetic more.
Cons: This level has the same issues as Act 2, with some areas just being extraordinarily flat for some reason. You gotta add decoration and gameplay to these massive hallways! I swear there are parts where I just hold forward and turn through a big hallway for 10+ seconds.
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Act 4 --
It's a vanilla boss. I don't need to pro/con this. We've all seen it before and we've all played it before. Nuthin' new.
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Act 5 --
Overview: 20 Emblem Unlockable Action Stage! The Sapphire Hill... at some mysterious architectural structure. How mysterious!
Pros: Another stage with a great sense of progression. That massive outdoor area at the beginning is super grand and cool looking. I could really feel what you were going for with the climb up to the structure in the distance.
Once you entered the structure, the whole button gauntlet that proceeded was a feat of your linedef executor knowledge, you really went all out!
The massive slopes and callbacks to other part of Sapphire Hills were really cool. The scale of the structure is spot on. This level was really cool on first playthrough.
This was a really strong unlockable, very rewarding for 20 emblems.
The place feels eerily undecorated. The reliance on badnik battles to progress throughout the entire stage isn't necessarily a bad thing. The issue with this stage is that you fill the kill all enemies rooms with really annoying badniks that blindside you and gang up on you. It doesn't feel fair, it's always annoying. I think these rooms would be far more engaging if you found creative ways to build rooms around specific enemies.
WOW this level is LONG! On first playthrough I think it makes it feel like an adventure, but on repeat playthroughs it becomes a bit overbearing.
I'm actually okay with the length though. :P
...Why is this Sapphire Hills? This massive architectural level is not a Sapphire Hill. If anything, this is more of an Arial Ruin Act 2. The level name makes no sense here.
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Past --
Overview: 30 emblem unlockable emblem hunt stage! A reskin of Sapphire Hills Act 1.
Pros: Everything Sapphire Hills Zone Act 1 does correctly is still done correctly.
Cons: What a flaccid 30 emblem unlockable! It took me 3+ hours to get to this point, for a reskin of Act 1. It makes the honeycombs... green for some reason? It also makes the water green. Damn this place was ugly in the past!
-- Sapphire Hills Zone Alpha --
Well, all I can say is that you have come a far way since this. I won't rate it pros and cons as it's obvious just in here as a historical preservation of what Sapphire Hills used to be. Good work on how you've remodeled the entire thing since!
-- Special Stages --
Overview: 6 fully original 2.0 styled special stages... And a 7th unfinished one.
Pros: These stages are extraordinarily fun to Perfect Bonus. It adds just the perfect amount of extra challenge to turn these into tense, engaging special stages.
Cons: I don't really have any other than Special Stage 7 is unfinished.
Overall, for this pack to be enjoyable you have to look at it from a different perspective. These levels are super mid when just running through it as a quick romp. With level design inconsistencies and passable texturing, some cool music and nothing else.
However, when taking the entire pack super slow, analyzing each corner for secrets, trying to crack each stage as perfectly as possible, getting all the emeralds, and collecting all the emblems. That's where this pack shines. Each stage is surprisingly in-depth, and Arial Ruins and Sapphire Hill 5 are super massive unlockables. By the time I got everything* I felt very satisfied.
*I had to check in Zone Builder to confirm this: The last emblem in Sapphire Hill 3 is not collectable because of a broken linedef executor. The door moves into the ground. Arial Ruin's has definitions for 5 emblems, but there are only 4 emblems placed in the map. Tag 0, 1, 3, and 4. Other than that, I collected every emblem.
It's obvious you were just learning Zone Builder making these, they have all the marks of a kids first level. And that's okay, you'll improve a lot from here! I can't wait to see how this pack progresses in the future! You have the foundation for something great here. Take these four stars.
...One more thing I needed to add, but couldn't fit in with all the level comments.
This level pack is 60.8 megabytes large. That is an absurdly large filesize proportionate to the scale of the pack. Inspecting the pk3, 59.29 megabytes of this is music. Fifteen out of twenty-five of the music tracks included in the pack are over 2mb. You really need to compress your music.
You can compress your music by importing all of it (except for O_CCBOSS, that one is as compressed as possible) into Audacity, then exporting as OGG Vorbis, Quality 0. This should significantly reduce the filesize.