Tag Archives: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic Forces is 3D Sonic Done Weird

I got my hands on Sonic Forces a couple of days ago, and it was pretty eye-opening.  The excitement for this game had built up for a year before giving way to terror, as the game hadn’t seemed to progress beyond what we’d seen an entire year before release.  It released to average reviews, but I thought it looked pretty fun, and I was determined to keep thinking that until I’d at least played it.

I was desperate for Sonic Forces to be good, but for everything I like, it just can’t let me think of it that way.

Every time I see something in Forces i just enjoy, the game takes at least two steps back with the horrific flaws in its gameplay, its blatant lack of polish, lack of ingenuity in stage design, and abundance of pointless deaths.  So let’s break it down like a fraction.

The camera in this game is so zoomed out all the time that sometimes I couldn’t see where I was on-screen.  This is opposite to the problem I had with the original trilogy of Sonic games, but it’s still really rough not knowing where I am spatially.  The modern stages are the closest I’ve seen any Sonic game come to “hold boost to win.” In fact, you could beat the demo with one button, and the rest of the game is not as far off from that as you might hope.  Enemy placements are useless about 70% of the time because most of them are put there to be boosted through.  Even the best modern Sonic levels in the game consisted mostly of timing a series of 5-10 homing attacks or a few rail jumps precisely in 3D.  It also had 2.5D precise platforming sections, which I didn’t mind in other games, but they’re a nightmare in Forces because of its awful momentum.

The player’s momentum causes them to continually speed up when they don’t expect to.  You might be going for a running start for a jump, but then go 0 to 60 and lose all mid-air control.  This will usually result in death, frustration, or being stuck on a worse path through the level that somehow manages to be more boring than the stage already was.

Sonic Forces is a walking identity crisis.  It blends a bunch of Sonic’s mechanics from the past 10 years or so, without giving them much of a proper home in terms of level design.  Modern Sonic himself is meant to be somewhere between Colors and Unleashed in terms of control, but his boost feels less satisfying.  His double jump, which was great for air control in Colors, fails in Forces because of its unrefined momentum.  Boosting is now also tied to Wisp capsules from Colors, which return once again for no reason in greater numbers than ever before.  This hampered my sense of urgency, since most of the time these capsules were placed specifically where I needed to boost.  I always feel the need to go forward as fast as possible in modern stages, but the placement of red rings requires you to explore levels like in Colors, and so the game gives mixed messages.

The Avatar stages are similar, but I do enjoy those for the way they’re laid out.  Using different weapons unlocked through the game gives you access to different Wisps.  These Wisps give you access to different areas or shortcuts in each level, encouraging you to go back and experiment with different routes.  This could be a great feature, although sometimes these different paths overlapped in confusing ways, and it’s not always easy to tell which Wisps you’re allowed to use.  The Avatar’s weapons are often jittery, unsatisfying, and sometimes downright confusing (like the drill), and the inclusion of Wisps sometimes annoys me because the Wisps used to be very situational, but now work in such short bursts that I find myself having to constantly re-grab capsules to get the necessary items.  Avatars also have different abilities depending on speed.  For example, birds can double jump to get more height or distance.  But the same problems arise because Sonic Forces doesn’t give you adequate mid-air control or momentum.  Things like the double jump end up getting you killed or damaged about half the time.  Not to mention the fact that Avatar stages feel so linear and scripted that the game practically plays itself in places.

Speaking of the game playing itself, the classic Sonic levels in this game are some of the most unnecessary and poorly implemented stages I’ve seen since Big the Cat.  Forces ties in explicitly with Mania because they have the same maguffin, so Sonic Team decided to bring the little guy back for a second outing.  Despite being teased from day one, these levels feel like an afterthought.  Whenever classic stages try to be inventive, something about the physics or control hamper them once again to make them feel like a chore.  In the level Iron Fortress, I took over 10 minutes and a number of deaths because of a screen-scrolling segment that required defeating enemies on very small platforms using half-baked platforming physics, as well as hopping between giant spinning wheels that will literally drop you off the stage to your death if the invisible wall catches up.  This pattern of unnecessary frustration due to broken mechanics is common in the few classic Sonic stages, and I didn’t enjoy a single one, with the possible exception of Chemical Plant.

The sound design in Sonic Forces is odd and somewhat disappointing.  In some places the music is catchy and great, but in others like Classic Sonic’s, the music feels generic and low-effort, which doesn’t do much to cover up the gameplay.  And it’s sad, because soundtrack is something Sonic has always done well.  Sound effects don’t feel as punchy either.  I found myself really missing the satisfying thunderclap of Sonic’s boost.

I don’t really even want to mention the game’s story because it’s so blatantly stupid and the dialogue so insultingly bad that it clearly took no priority.  The only thing I will really criticize is the fact that with all these old characters brought back, and with all of the mission-oriented narratives behind the stages, and with all the cinematic QTEs (which totally need to be there), it would’ve been cool if the characters interacted with the stages.  For example, I would’ve liked a Sonic level where Silver was defeating enemies in the background the whole time, and then helped me get through a normally impassable part of the level.  This would’ve been a creative move.

All this being said, I actually didn’t hate playing Forces that much.

The better stages feel fun to go back and earn S-ranks on, and the game’s mission system gives you tons of new gear to customize your avatar.  While I admit most of it is really ridiculous, some of the equipment is pretty cool and I genuinely had fun decking out my “OC” with the new stuff I got.  The game gets a little better with replays, and some alternate paths make the levels feel deeper and more variable.  A few bosses also stood out as having decent design.  For example, I like some of the fights against Infinite because getting hit by his illusions puts you in a more dangerous situation temporarily, creating a nice push-and-pull.

The game is also drop-dead gorgeous, but this might be a potential short-fall itself.  Despite being the same length as GenerationsForces feels like half a game to me.

If I had to suggest some ways to fix Forces, I’d say its biggest downfall was ambition.  Instead of having 30 short, low-effort stages to accommodate Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic, AND the player avatar, I would rather have seen a few longer stages with more focus given on one or two playstyles instead of having three.  It was like they introduced multiple playstyles to generate hype, but forgot to deliver on satisfying gameplay in the long run.

Developing ports for Xbox, PS4, Switch, and PC was also a huge ask.  I realize Sonic Team was put between a rock and hard place with the finicky fanbase, but anyone can distinguish between a polished game and an unpolished one, and I think a polished one would’ve fared better.  I think Sonic Team’s method of making modern games has is beginning to fail them.  Its standard of creating huge, detailed 3D backgrounds leads to some really beautiful stages, but gives way to linear gameplay that’s over in 2 minutes.  All that work is wasted on visuals that impress the player for a fleeting moment.

Sega needs to do something, somehow, to make sure that Sonic delivers on the meat of the gameplay.  If you’re going to give the player visual spectacle, it has to be worth it for the gameplay.  This is why Mania is one of the most highly-praised Sonic games of all time.  Granted, it worked with much, much simpler assets, but its simplistic formula gave it room to explore dozens of unusual mechanics.  It also made a smart, tactical use of rings either as a reward for a small mechanical challenge or as a way to indicate secrets or alternate paths.  I think most of us would rather have this than the Forces approach of giant, empty backgrounds and levels overstuffed with hundreds of pointless rings that make the player feel like a speck of dust floating around in a boring vacuum.

I think the Mania is important because despite being a fanmade project, it appealed to a massive audience.  It showed that even with a series as inconsistent as this one, charming visuals, tight level design, consistent gameplay tones, and good pacing win the day.  In a sense, the amount of tropes Mania abandoned gave it room to become something spectacular.  I’ve always admired Sonic as a series because even though it fails constantly, it insists on trying different things.  I still think it should do so, but it needs to be careful about what it invents and what it recycles.  Otherwise it turns out Sonic Forces, a game that tries to please everyone but doesn’t know how.

Horrible Boss Battles: Sonic Rush

Can you remember your favorite boss in any game?  Can you think of three you really enjoy?  How many do you absolutely hate?  For me, I dislike way more boss battles in games than I like.  So many of them miss the mark of making a fun, challenging encounter.  I haven’t talked much about this problem as of now, so I want to start with a boss battle that annoyed me recently.  It’s at the end of Sonic Rush.

I love Sonic Rush.  I think it’s a very fun game, and the best of handheld Sonic.  But its final boss is one of the worst I’ve ever played.  This series has a very bad history with final bosses.  They usually end up being a drudge, impossible, or overly-time consuming.  But I haven’t yet found one in the series worse than Rush.

Let me set the stage for you.  Rush has two campaigns, consisting of the same stages with different layouts.  One is played as Sonic, the other as Blaze the Cat.  They control slightly differently, but end with the same boss.  After getting all the emeralds as both characters, the true final boss can be beaten after completing both stories.  As I said before, the same boss must be fought as both characters.

I’ll try to explain it as best I can.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS

The enemy: Eggman/Eggman Nega in a massive mech suit.  Nine rings are available to the player in total.  The goal is to hit the mech’s cockpit eight times (on Normal) by baiting it into getting its arm stuck on the stage and running up its arm.

The boss has six attacks: 1) slamming the stage with alternating fists, which send out damaging energy waves; 2) a similar delayed slam with both fists that can kill instantly; 3) a repeated laser attack that automatically trails the player; 4) a series of drones that arc electricity across the stage in succession; 5) one similar drone that automatically trails the player and traps them, forcing them to follow under it or get hit; 6) slamming the stage to create energy 4-5 waves that the player must dodge to get on its arm.

Now, attacks 1 and 2 are the only ways to trigger 6, meaning the player has to wait for them and land a counterattack just for a chance at doing damage.  As the boss progresses, it will attempt to shake the player off its arm as they try to attack.  The player must crouch down and wait to stay on the arm.  If the player doesn’t, or takes too long, the player gets knocked back to the stage.  On top of everything else, it will also send rolling spikes down its arm that can not only do damage, but make the frame rate drop, which adds an unnecessary layer of challenge.

THE PROBLEMS

Three things make this fight fundamentally broken: length, random chance, and unpredictable attacks.

This boss drags on for about 7 minutes for each attempt.  Over the course of two fights, I had to take about 20 tries.  This part of the game took me over two stressful hours.  It should’ve taken maybe 30 minutes overall.

The attacks that Eggman will use at any given time vary randomly — sometimes it’ll take a couple attacks to make him vulnerable, sometimes it’ll take four.  Sometimes he’ll use the same attack twice in a row.

The problem here is that attacks 3, 4, and 5 that I mentioned above are impossible to truly learn.  That is, chance determines how well the player will fare against them.  4 and 5 are both virtually undodgeable.  What rubs salt in the wound is, these attacks are most common when the boss is nearly beaten.  This means that the player has to complete over half the battle before dealing with three attacks that basically come down to luck.  Again, this comes back to time-wasting design.

I wanna re-iterate, you have to fight this boss twice.

As difficult as this boss is, the true final boss is a chore.  It consists of hits with virtually no consequences, and collecting rings to avoid death until the player can deal out a hit.  Most of it is spent in meaningless hitstun.

But hey, the music is awesome.

SOLUTIONS

The final boss sequence of Sonic Rush is some of the most frustrated I’ve been playing a video game.  Here’s what I’d do differently for the Eggman boss:

  1. Reduce the necessary hits by 2 or 3.  If the undodgeable attacks are staying in, the fight has to be shorter, and get to the point.  This is less than ideal.
  2. Only include attacks with discernable patterns to which the player can adapt, to create a sense of progression.  Attacks that are virtually a toll on rings only create a sense of rage.  This improves the fight.
  3. Since the player attack sequence lags, remove the spikes.  They have no reason to be there except frustration.
  4. My best solution is to make every attack an opportunity to make the boss vulnerable.  This would cut down on wait time, leave room for learning patterns, and force out random strings of attacks.

On a fundamental level, a hard boss should be quick and dirty, and it should be something the player can improve at dealing with.  It should be less a gauntlet, and more a tug of war.  If the player fails repeatedly, they can become more efficient instead of waiting on a lucky run.

Again, this game is great.  The boss is not.  If the player is going to relive the same fight over and over, the number one priority is to give it nuance and ways to get better.   Sonic as a series should take that to heart.

My Top 5 Favorite Sonic Games

I’m an unusual Sonic the Hedgehog fan.  Although really, I guess that means I’m a normal Sonic fan at the same time.  Right around my high school years, I became absolutely hooked on the franchise.  The major appeal for me was the music, but I also love the universe itself.  Sure, it’s been overcomplicated and overhauled too many times over the years, but there’s just something lovable about it.

Sonic games vary in quality so much that two people liking all the same games is extremely rare.  But some things are consistent.  I like Sonic and his cast of friends.  The games’ worlds are always unique.  And the music is almost always spectacular.  In fact, without Crush 40, I probably wouldn’t have discovered my love of 80s metal.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of Sonic games I don’t like.  But there are a few that made a great impression on me, and I decided to talk about them!

5 – Sonic Rush

Few people seem to remember Sonic Rush for Nintendo DS.  I first picked it up for one reason: the soundtrack.  It’s composed by Hideki Naganuma, my favorite video game composer of all time, responsible for both Jet Set Radio soundtracks.  If you played those games, you could guess that Sonic Rush‘s soundtrack is eclectic, unique, and catchy as hell.

You’d be right.

In other news, the game was developed by Dimps, who make some pretty great 2D Sonic games.  It was also the first to use the boost mechanic, which carried over to most of the series’ major releases afterwards.  Blaze the Cat is a new character to the game — she has the ability to hover and rocket higher into the air.  Otherwise, her formula is pretty much the same as Sonic’s.  This is kind of a failing I guess, since the stage design is only slightly different for the two characters.

Thing is, Sonic Rush is really pretty fun.  For a DS game, its control is more solid than you might expect, and doing tricks on rails and in the air is a blast.   Sometimes the stages feel cheap, since they stretch across two screens by default.  They get pretty vertical, and some levels halt your progress until you defeat a gauntlet of enemies.  This kind of design drives me crazy, but it’s not a deal breaker.

In my humble view, Sonic Rush is the very best handheld game in the series.  Give it a swing.

4 – Sonic Colors

Fun fact, Colors was my first Sonic game ever.  And man, what a great entry point.  Critics complain that it’s not much of a Sonic game, and that’s fair.  The game is more generally about level exploration than speed, but it works as a more typical platformer.

The wisps add an incredible dynamic to the game.  The drill wisp lets you speed through earth and water, the laser wisp provides opportunities for crazy shortcuts, and others like the rocket wisp have levels design around them really well.  They worked so well that they were actually reused in more than one game afterwards, for better or worse.

Colors was a breath of fresh air for a series that many claimed was dead.  It was the debut of Roger Craig Smith as Sonic, and it took a somewhat Guardians of the Galaxy approach to its aesthetic.  It goes from lush vegetation to flashy amusement park at the drop of a hat, and its soundtrack is the perfect complement.  This game was the one that roped me into the franchise, and I can’t recommend it enough.

3 – Sonic Generations

Just when people thought Colors was an exception, Sega decided to go all-out for its 20th anniversary and make Sonic Generations.  Everybody was floored when they decided to compile the most iconic stages from Sonic’s history, and bring back classic Sonic himself to boot.

What we got was a pretty short game, but a great one.  The boost formula is the best it’s ever been, and the classic formula is reworked pretty faithfully.  Stages are beautifully remastered and remixed, with pretty neat minibosses.  It also has awesome features like buffs and custom music (which I love in any game).

The last couple bosses of the game are terrible, and not all of the levels feel like they fit the gameplay.  But I love this game particularly because of how much room there is to blaze through a level.  It even checks your time at every checkpoint.  The levels were built for speedrunning, which I assume is why it gives you so many lives.  I always have a blast playing this game, and to me it’s the standard for Sonic Team.

2 – Sonic Mania

I never dreamed Sonic Mania would be one of my favorite games in the series.  I have so many problems with the classic trilogy of Sonic games that fans seem to love.  Their design always strikes me as outdated, cheap, and contradictory.  But Sonic Mania, their eventual successor, is the classic game I’ve been waiting for.

I could go on and on about Mania.  Actually I already did, you can read it here.  The point is, this game not only optimizes an old formula, it puts that formula in a supremely creative game.  What drives it home is that it was basically made by highly talented fans of the franchise.  Honestly, I think they did the job better than Sonic Team ever could have.

Mania still has some god-awful insta-crush deaths and restrictive lives from the old games.  Also the true final boss is a drudge.  Nevertheless, it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a Sonic game on first playthrough.  It’s overflowing with love and care, so for now, it’s one of my favorites.

1 – Sonic Adventure 2

About 5 years ago, Sonic Adventure 2 was ported to seventh generation consoles.  That was when I first played SA2, and five years later, I don’t think it’s objectively very good.  The story and voice acting are awkward, and it only has about one and a half fun gameplay modes.  The speed stages are fun, and the hunting stages are kinda fun.  The mech stages are a drag.  All of the game is inconsistent and glitchy as hell.

I love it anyway.

SA2 just has an overtone that I think really works for the series.  It’s silly and over the top, but strangely moving in a way.  The plot of Shadow and Maria at its core is interesting for Shadow’s character, and a good doomsday picture of what might happen to Sonic if he were to risk it all and fail.  The story is goofy, but endearing somehow.

The gameplay is also some of my favorite in 3D — it’s linear, but well-paced, and it’s picky about rewarding good maneuvers.  Getting an A-rank is difficult, and I appreciate that.  Grinding is also viscerally fun to do, and I’m glad it was carried through the rest of the games.

And the soundtrack.  Never have I seen acid jazz, metal, and hip-hop synergize so well to create such a fantastic soundscape.  I could honestly listen to Pumpkin Hill on loop for a half-hour.  Everything in SA2 just comes together.  In a lot of ways, it’s a mess.  In others, it’s magical.  I prefer to see the magic in it.

Sonic Mania: The Second Coming of Sonic

The early Sonic the Hedgehog games are not my cup of tea.  I wrote about this last year.  I’m the exception, though. Sonic 1, 2, 3, and CD mean a lot, to a lot of people, and although I think their design is rough and dated, I respect them for how they make people feel.  I never expected Sonic Mania to give me that feeling.

After Sonic Boom, Sega decided to pull out all the stops, and make 2017 Sonic’s year no matter what.  The plan was to hit the gaming world with a double whammy of back-to-basics gameplay and the most popular cutting-edge gameplay in the series.  For the summer they would release Sonic Mania, and for holiday they’d release Sonic Forces.  Forces is meant to be a mixture of Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, while Mania is meant to be a love letter for the longtime fans of the series.

After the reveal at the beginning of the year, I was excited Sonic Forces.  Granted, I still don’t know  at the time of writing this if Forces is any good.  The formula is just what I’m used to.  Mania looked creative and all, but I didn’t trust it.  Sonic 4 was mediocre, and I never really enjoyed any of the Sonic games before the Dreamcast Era.  I figured Mania would just come and go as a nostalgic cash-in by a desperate company.

I was severely wrong.

As soon as it came out, Mania became the best-rated Sonic game in years, even beyond the redemption of the series around 2010.  I took the scores with a grain of salt, since people seem to enjoy the classic formula more than I do.  Then I learned something very interesting.  I learned that Mania is, from a developer perspective, a fan project.  It was developed by Headcannon, PagodaWest Games, and Christian Whitehead, who spearheaded several mobile ports of classic games in the series.  It’s a labor of love and creativity, and its execution is magnificent.

Source: Sonic the Hedgehog via YouTube

The fact that Sonic Mania was developed by experienced but young fans made it fresh, but it also led to some fantastic refinement of an old formula.  Almost every complaint I had about the early games is fixed in Mania.  For example, my favorite addition is the new Drop Dash ability, which allows Sonic to spin dash directly out of a jump.  This makes the pace of each level faster, and makes it easier to gain momentum quickly.  The best part, though, is it eliminates the need to come to a complete standstill before spin dashing.  This especially helps with sloped terrain like the kind you see in Green Hill Zone.

The game just feels like a better fulfillment of the series’s original intention: a sense of thrill and speed.  Instead of using speed like a carrot on a stick (like the originals) or sticking the player with deadly road blocks when they try to go fast, Mania lets you get through a level at a good pace and isn’t harsh about imperfection.  This philosophy reminds me, in concept, of Sonic Generations, where getting through a level was relatively easy, but the fun challenge was being efficient.  It also lets you go back and do levels over again to explore.  Even if you narrowly miss a shortcut, you can go back to it and experiment with different paths.  It just takes longer.  All in all, I find this better than making the rest of the level a pain just because of a failed maneuver.

Mania doesn’t use nostalgia as a crutch.

Every level in Mania is a joy to experience, and the selection is a mixture of old and new stages.  Old stages are laid out in a complex but balanced way, and feel much better with Sonic’s improved mobility and tighter controls.

Meanwhile, the new stages give me faith that there are still ideas the series hasn’t tried yet.  My favorite is probably Press Garden Zone, where you bounce off of zooming newspapers and platform across printing blocks in a giant greenhouse before sliding through a forest of cherry trees in winter.  The new mechanics are different and well-used, while the old ones are given new life.  Ziplines in Green Hill are a surprise, but a welcome one.

Some things still bother me.  The system of lives is still unfair, especially because you can still die instantly by getting caught between two objects.  The 1-up system and Game Overs that send you to the start of a time-consuming zone get tiresome, especially near the end.  Bad apples are bad apples.

But I never imagined myself getting so much enjoyment from this kind of Sonic game.  I have no great love for the games that inspired it, nor do I need it.  Sonic Mania oozes care, effort, talent, and love from every pore, a perfect expression of Sega’s recent change in attitude.  It’s the kind of thing that happens when we trust talented people to create products of genuine merit.

In short, play Sonic Mania.  It’s a joy, and I think it marks the beginning of a new era for this company.

HOW TO FIX: Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

I firmly believe that Sonic Adventure 2 is actually a good game.  Maybe that’s being too generous…but I still really enjoy this game despite all its faults.  But what are its faults?  How can they be fixed?  What would it take for Sonic Adventure 2 to become a masterpiece?

First of all, this game has a lot of positives.  Given its cult fanbase, this makes sense.  The soundtrack is amazing — it’s my favorite soundtrack in the series.  Honestly, it’s probably one of the best rock soundtracks I’ve heard in a game.  Its combination of acid jazz, 90s pop rock, and metal works well with the psychedelic style.  And although the rap tracks in the Knuckles levels are cheesy as hell, I still nod my head to them constantly.

Overall, I like the characters in Sonic Adventure 2.  Sure, they border on being parodies of themselves, but I think characters like Rouge and Shadow are endearing.  In fact, I think the depiction of Shadow in this game is better than in any of the other Sonic games.  There’s actually some emotional content to his character, and by Dreamcast standards, his voice actor David Humphrey puts on a good performance.

Some of the environments in Sonic Adventure 2 are amazing.  City Escape is iconic, and has an awesome theme to boot.  Radical Highway has a cool aesthetic, Green Forest is nice and elaborate, and I honestly love Pumpkin Hill.  My favorite thing about this game is its overall tone and aesthetic, even if it sometimes borders on absurdity.  The feeling I get from this game is the feeling I think all Sonic games should try to give its players.

But I acknowledge that I have a better-than-average tolerance for iffy games, and SA2 is certainly iffy.  The levels where you play as Shadow and Sonic are considered pretty solid, but the gameplay of every other character is where things fall apart.  Let’s diagnose these other two level types one at a time.

The levels where you play as Dr. Eggman and Tails revolve around using mechs to shoot up enemies.  There’s also some simple platforming to reach the end of the level.  The more enemies you can lock onto and destroy at once, the better the score you rack up.  These levels struggle in part because locking onto enemies at different heights using a straight reticule involves an annoying combination of jumping and spinning an analog stick.  Since you’re usually trying to platform at the same time, this doesn’t help.  What’s more is that the control of the mechs themselves is clunky.  They don’t move at a consistent speed, and turning on a dime is not an option.  Combine that with occasionally glitchy surfaces and you have a recipe for disaster.  Bonus problem: the targeting beam makes the loudest, most obnoxious beeping sound ever.

The solution: place enemies so that locking onto them requires fewer acrobatics.   Locking onto enemies should be faster, and once you lock on, enemies should be destroyed instantly.  It might require better processing, so the better option might just be to have fewer enemies.  These levels just have to move faster.  The next step is to make movement more fluid, give the player more space to maneuver, or both.  The player has to feel in control at all times to have a good experience.  (Also, just get rid of the beeping noise.)

Next up, we have Rouge and Knuckles treasure hunting levels.  In these, you have to navigate a set space with no goal — the mission is to find three hidden objects somewhere in the level.  The locations are always set, but there are a lot of different possible locations.  Even worse, the locations are random every time you do a level.  You have a radar that tells you when you’re near an emerald (sort of like hot-and-cold) and you can get hints from sentries in the level.   I didn’t mind these levels quite as much, but they need fixing.

For one thing, bring back the same radar system as the first Sonic Adventure.  In Sonic Adventure 2, the radar will only let you track them emeralds in a certain order.  This means you can find an emerald by accident but not be able to grab it.  The first game never did this, and for good reason.  If you got close to any emerald in any order, you could track it.

This is the most concise and fair way of doing things.  Beyond that, some of the locations need to be more logical and some of the hints more accurate.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a wild goose chase in these levels.  Otherwise, some of the level layouts need to be simpler.  There are so many levels where you have to go through several steps to reach an area, and half the time there won’t be an emerald and you waste your time.  Others are just too darn big and complicated (like Mad Space).

Is that the bottom of the pile?  Mostly.  There are a lot of issues with this game that deal with the fundamentals, like control and level design.  Sometimes the enemy placement or design is unfair, or the controls unreliable.  Caddicarus put it pretty well when he said he would lightly flick the control stick and suddenly go “flying off to Mercury.”  I can’t really argue with that.  Sonic Adventure 2 often isn’t as fun or solid as people might like.  The story is often completely ridiculous and contradictory.  The voice acting is pretty terrible.  But do I think it deserves hate?  No, not at all.  There are lots of things this game does that I hope more Sonic games do.  It may not be a great game, but it will always be in my heart.

Also, the Chao Garden must be its own mobile game.  Get on it, Sega.

Why I Prefer 3D Sonic Over 2D Sonic

Sonic Logo
The Sonic the Hedgehog logo! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Sonic the Hedgehog fanbase has gotten a lot of hate over the years.  There are good reasons for it that I won’t get into, because that’s not the point.  Despite the hate, though, Sonic is a universe that I’m happy to be a fan of.  It’s unlike any other universe there is.  You can legitimately question the quality of any game in the series, but I still love the series.  It has a lot of creativity, heart, and innovation (for better or worse), and a spectacular Twitter feed.

But being a part of the Sonic fanbase, I’m extremely aware of the passionate divide that exists among fans over the franchise’s true golden age.  That’s the thing about the this fanbase — very rarely will you find a fan who genuinely loves every game.  Through all the formula changes, cast changes, and strange narratives, it’s easy to love one game but hate another.

Sonic 1 title screen
The Sonic 1 title screen! (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

Even the first three titles in the series, the OGs that started it all, receive hate from certain Sonic fans.  Likewise, there are a lot of fans who like the originals and nothing else.  Personally, I like to think of myself as someone who likes the original trilogy (plus CD)…but these games don’t like me.

There’s anything inherently bad about early Sonic games.  I have the utmost respect for what they are, the foundation they created, and their unique style.  It’s just that whenever I go back and try to relive the classic Sonic experience, I always end up giving up the ghost as soon as I started chasing it.  The design philosophy of these games is revolutionary, but it doesn’t click with me and the way I play games.  Let me explain.

Sonic 1 Green Hill Zone
The first level of Sonic 1, Green Hill Zone. (Photo: Chris Dorward via Flickr)

The beginnings of these games are simple enough.  They build you up fairly well, and most people get through the first few stages of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 (and Knuckles) without much difficulty.  Yet, just being adequate at these games isn’t enough, because that’s when its design starts to get strange.

What’s the first thing everybody says about Sonic games?  You go fast.  That’s it.  Now, I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment.  I feel like the core gameplay varies, but thrilling platforming is the common thread, and the end goal should be speed.  This is where the 2D games falter in my opinion.

Take the first Sonic the Hedgehog, for instance.  You make it through Green Hill Zone feeling pretty amped, but then comes Marble Zone.  Marble Zone consists of a pretty slow crawl.  There’s lots of waiting on platforms to cross lava, dodging tiny fireballs, and dealing with unstable terrain.  It gets tedious, and you lose so many lives if you don’t know what you’re doing.  One might argue that this is good design, because it’s challenging and it rewards the player for knowing the level.  But the issue is, you basically have to have the level design memorized to get through without taking a lot of frustrating hits.  And even then, there’s so much waiting involved that you lose the game’s sense of urgency.

But this is just one example, right?  What about Sonic 2 and 3?  These games added things like the spin dash, which you use to immediately generate speed.  The new elemental shields help you combat enemies, and they make platforming easier.  You would think this would fix the problems.  But again, in my experience, the game just isn’t built that well for the way Sonic moves.  The camera angle still shows a very limited range around you, so you can’t see very far ahead of yourself, and whenever you try to randomly spin dash to gain momentum, you find yourself unknowingly plunging into a lower path full of traps and grueling platforming meant to punish you for being reckless.  Don’t even get me started on corners that stop you completely and then spear you with spikes before you can even react.

In other games I would understand this, but again, my idea of Sonic is that it’s about urgency.   The games encourage you to go as fast as you can, but within a certain set of limitations.  If you don’t know where you are and what you’re doing, you’re going to get yourself in a sucky situation.  Again, I can imagine people saying this isn’t a problem.  The need to focus on your surroundings and play well to be rewarded with speed sounds appealing, but it’s so much more easily said than done.

Sonic CD
Sonic CD gameplay! (Photo: McCatTeam via YouTube)

The best way I can sum up the design of these games is that to reach the pinnacle of early Sonic takes tons of repetition.  The game doesn’t give you a whole lot of feedback at any given moment — it takes a lot of playing the same levels over and over to really have a sense of where things are and how to avoid frustrating gameplay.  In the meantime, though, you can expect to get your ass handed to you a lot trying to get through levels quickly but instead running into constant setbacks.  Being good at these games takes commitment.  This makes me respect people who get really good at these games, because they’ve put in the work and earned their quick times.  But for the rest of us average joes, early Sonic is a cruel mistress.

I suppose that’s why I like Sonic Adventure 2.  It sounds bizarre, but I have good reason.  I appreciate that you have a clear sense of what lies ahead, so it’s easier to take in information and react.  Even the 2.5D levels of Sonic Generations are a huge step in the right direction for me.  The camera moves more dynamically and the level layout is always clearer.  Things are just better for me in those games because they give me exactly what I look for out of this series: a quick, straightforward platforming experience.

I should make it clear that I don’t think 3D Sonic is fundamentally superior to 2D Sonic, or vice versa.  I wish more of the Sonic fanbase saw it this way.  Every game in the series does something extremely experimental.  The mechanics of one game might be completely different from those in another game five years later, and they won’t all work for everybody.

Sonic Mania title screen
The Sonic Mania title screen! (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

If we can just appreciate the things that each game does right and be willing to realize that not everyone will like the same things in their Sonic games, we’ll be better for it as a fanbase.  Let’s hope that the big 2017 lineup, including the throwback action of Sonic Mania, does a good job of bringing us all together again!