In the past months i’ve been on a bit of a Sonic bender, playing old games and dipping into any new ones that i can get my hands on PC. I have to admit that i started with a great deal of skepticism and as a Sonic fan it has been absolutely depressing seeing the blue blur’s uneven career play out before my eyes.
I won’t blather on too much as this article is already a long one, but playing these games made me want to write about my experiences with each of the sonic games that i’ve played (and in roughly the order i’ve played them). The following aren’t proper reviews, but i do give a recommendation on some of them so take it for what it is. I go into picture and link overload here so i do apologise if this editorial comes off as a bit messy.
So come! Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings…
My pick for best Sonic Level(s) ever. Period. Another period. You’re wrong if you think otherwise.
I had played video games before Sonic 2, i remember playing Alex Kidd with my cousins on their Master System, and mashing buttons in Street Fighter 2 on their SNES. But when my ma got me my own Sega Genesis for my 5th or 6th birthday Sonic 2 was my first game. It was the first game that belonged to me and only me, as my sister wasn’t interested in it nor my Genesis and so i wasn’t obligated to share it.
Also for a period (that felt like years) it was the only game i had to play on my Genesis, and play it i did. I have many fond memories of wasting hours in front of the living room tv while my ma cut her nails in the dining room and my sister played upstairs, and for that Sonic 2 really encompasses my early childhood.
Unsurprisingly as i acquired more video games and got older, i stopped playing Sonic 2. Oh i pick it up now and again and am always surprised at how many secrets i still remember, and at how much of my skills i retain despite the years of inactivity, but even to this day i don’t return to it that often. To cut a long story short though, i love this game. I love Sonic because of this game, my admitted participation in the infamous “Sonic Cycle” is also because of this game. Some aspects of it haven’t aged well, but fuck it i love it anyway.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
This wasn’t the first Sonic game i played, and i can’t even tell you when i played it first. However i do know that one of my friends or cousins had it and i borrowed/tried it out as a young child. I never got very far in it (to my memory i never got past Marble Zone) due to circumstance or unfamiliarity. Nowadays i can say though that the music for Green Hill Zone, instantly brings back those fond memories of playing Sonic and childhood in general.
Masato Nakamura really tapped into something special, and great music (albeit very cheesy at times) is something the Sonic franchise has consistently provided.
SONIC 3/SONIC AND KNUCKLES
Looking back on Sonic 3 and its tie in, it’s surprising to me to see that my desire for familiarity and resistance to change was already present at the young age of 8. When my cousins got a copy of Sonic and Knuckles i was of course excited to play it, but i spent more time plugging it into Sonic 2 than playing it on its own (i honestly don’t think i ever played S&K by itself). As for Sonic 3, ya i was excited to play another Sonic game, but it wasn’t Sonic 2 though (i am aware that Sonic CD released before Sonic 3 but i wasn’t aware of it existing until much later).
Everything was different in Sonic 3: the menu was different, the levels were different, the music was different, the sprites were different, the animations were different, and all of it was unfamiliar to me. As a result i never really warmed up to it. To this day when i boot it up on my PS3 i can’t get past the first few zones before i turn it off to play Sonic 2, the furthest i’ve ever gotten was the Icecap Zone and that was probably going on 20 years ago at this point.
When people talk about the glory days of Sonic and how 3 was a part of that, i’m honestly willing to just take their word for it. As Sonic 3 holds no appeal to me and frankly it never will.
That’s the sentiment that i had when i played Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Finally Sonic had graduated to 3D and (at the time it was thought) was on equal footing with Mario 64.
As a young kid i missed out on the Sega CD, 3Dx, and the Sega Saturn (although Sonic didn’t really have a strong presence on the latter). So i missed out on Chaotix, Sonic R, and Sonic 3D Blast. Coupled with me not owning a copy of Sonic 3 or S&K, i had a very large chunk of my childhood years with no Sonic to fill in the void. So when i was able to get a Dreamcast and a copy of Sonic Adventure, I was blown away at the scale of the levels, the fidelity of the graphics, and the speed of the various set pieces. I also remember never skipping the intro video as honestly who could?
As time passed however Sonic Adventure has become a mixed bag of good and awful, and is a poster boy of how the fast pace of changing technology and graphics circa 98-00 from the release of Sonic 3 to Sonic Adventure made up for the game’s short comings in the short term. This game is certainly not the timeless classic that Mario 64 is. It’s clunky, horribly buggy, and weighed down by mountains of bullshit (Biggs the Cat anyone?) and it started in earnest the unfortunate pattern of every subsequent Sonic game bringing on more and more needless characters (although to be fair that started as early as Sonic 2).
Despite all of that though, i still like it. Or at least i like parts of it. I like the “open world” aspect and slight RPG elements of the game and wish that they would’ve continued on with it in Sonic Adventure 2. I love the Sonic levels that emphasise and exaggerate his speed, and i like that the developers attempted to make the game a large and varied experience (and thus earning the word Adventure to its name). Ultimately it still ranks as my second favorite Sonic game from my childhood, and will remain so until senility removes the fond memories that i wasted playing it through until the end.
SONIC ADVENTURE 2
Thank you SA2 for leading us to this awesome boss battle intro (18 seconds in).
I was delighted to get a new Sonic game so quickly after Sonic Adventure (i played the first in 2000, and SA2 released in 2001), and considering that i was in love with the previous game my excitement at playing a new one was understandably quite high. While i was again blown away by the opening level City Escape i was immediately disappointed by the game not having the hub levels that i could run around in and explore, which was one of the features that really pulled me into the original. Not to mention Sonic’s new shoes were and remain fucking stupid and ugly.
Ultimately i have mixed feelings about Sonic Adventure 2, i couldn’t actually finish the game as every time i started Cannon’s Core i fell through the god damn floor. Also i immediately hated Knuckle’s tedious treasure hunting levels and remember quite clearly that i ended many of them with rage quits. It also seems that time has been much friendlier to SA 2 than the original, with many fans still considering it one of the best if not the best the 3D games have to offer.
ProJared did an excellent review on this game and it deconstructs its flaws and honestly dispels the notion that it is an enduring masterpiece:
For my part, the Sonic and Shadow levels are the best parts of this game, and my sentiments on the missing hub and open world elements from Sonic Adventure remain. In Sonic Adventure i as a player have the option of skipping or not playing the frustrating scavenger hunts, or the mindless shooting galleries, or the bizarre and frustrating fishing levels. While i had to play through those elements in order to learn more about the story and complete the game, the various chapters offered focused experiences for each. Playing the Sonic and Tails’ chapters don’t have to come at the expense of playing through the garbage.
With Sonic Adventure 2’s linear level progression the good comes with the bad, and there’s a lot more down moments than up in SA2* (as well as with the original Sonic Adventure to be honest). If you’re curious you can pick it up on steam, but wait for it to go on sale, as while the game isn’t bad by any means it is frustrating and mediocre for most of it.
Sonic Rush was the first “new” Sonic game that i purchased, and let me tell you i did feel more than a bit weary of what i was going to get. It had been out for a bit at that point (i believe i picked it up in 2007 or 2008 i really don’t remember anymore), and i missed out on all of the Advance titles as i didn’t have an advance and frankly didn’t know they existed i was so disconnected and disenfranchised from the series due to its failures.
Thankfully i was treated to a superb experience. Sonic Rush has all of the speed of Sonic 2 and one of the most kick ass soundtracks of any video game i’ve played.
I haven’t finished it of course, as it pushed Blaze the Cat on me and i’m just not interested in dealing with bullshit. I play a Sonic game for Sonic, not his furry friends and garbage plots, thankfully the Sonic stages are good enough to keep me coming back from time to time. Pick it up if you can, maybe you will find more value in it than i.
SONIC 3D BLAST
When i heard about Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection being released i was delighted. I looked forward to having a copy of those old favorites that i could play on my new tv instead of emulation or deal with lower fidelity through my Genesis. Naturally i played Sonic 2 again and visited the other games from my childhood in turn. When it came to sampling the new titles on the disc i started with 3D Blast.
It’s fucking awful. It’s slow, it controls like shit, and it looks like shit. I tried to get through the first level but i just couldn’t get used to the dish soap traction of Sonic, and the garbage isometric presentation that robs any sense of speed from the game. If you haven’t played it, give it a pass.
After another long break (six years actually…), i saw that Sonic CD was on sale for 2 bucks on steam and considering that the critical and fan consensus is that it is the height of the series, i figured now was as good a time as any to check it out. I know i’m going to get a lot of flak for this but i just don’t really like Sonic CD.
There’s just too much back tracking and confusing level design for me to get into it. Just look at the difference in designs between Emerald Hill Zone from S2 and one of Palm Tree Panic’s time stages:
The levels in CD are too broken up, i can never find enough track to build up speed and momentum as all the endless platforms and drops makes it extremely difficult (yes i know about the super peel out, i am not a moron). When i do finally build up to top speed the game’s unique time travel mechanic kicks in and immediately stops it dead in its tracks. This makes the game feel quite tedious to play through, as it looks and moves like Sonic 2 but it encourages me to retrace my steps.
If i don’t go over past ground i feel like i’m going to miss out on most of the game, and that feeling is only reinforced by the aforementioned time travel mechanic. At the same time it’s hard for me to take my time as the game encourages speed to make the time travel mechanic work! Coupled with there being so many springs and loops and levels that i get lost just trying to complete the first zone.
I’m sure if i invest the time i can warm up to it, but as of right now i don’t agree with this getting to wear the crown of “Best Sonic Game”. Sonic 2 is more coherent and flows much smoother than CD and is my pick for that title.
Good. Lord. This game did the impossible, it made me feel like those people who cried (inexplicably to me) at the trailer for The Force Awakens. The game unexpectedly plunked me into its version of Green Hill Zone and when it did i had that feeling of experiencing something very old from my childhood suddenly feeling brand new again, and for those first moments it was heart breaking and exhilarating.
I won’t exaggerate things by saying the game is perfect, but to me at least it’s everything i want in a Sonic game. It combines memorable music, colourful graphics, and at times mind blowing speed into a game i’m not ashamed of saying that i like or even love. I’m glad i waited until now to delve back into Sonic games, as Generations felt like i was reuniting with a long lost buddy from childhood.
Truth be told i find myself playing the modern Sonic levels more than the Classic ones, as modern Sonic satisfies my desire for incredible speed and momentum. There are times of frustration for sure, but by and large there’s very little bullshit here in Sonic Generations. I say if you’re curious then give it a try when it goes on sale, especially if you didn’t bother with any of the recent modern sonic titles (Sonic Unleashed et al.) as you get a distillation of the good of those titles along with a return to classic side scrolling action that Sonic does so well.
SONIC LOST WORLD
Riding the high of Generations i grabbed Lost World on a steam sale as soon as i could, and it might be a bit unfair to it to give my impressions of it considering that i haven’t even finished its first hub area. But that’s just too bad for it as first impressions count for a lot.
It’s immediately a slower experience than Generations, which is a let down for me. My primary draw to Sonic has always been its speed, it’s the reason i love Sonic 2 and the reason i think Chemical Plant Zone (again your wrong if you think otherwise) is the best level in any sonic game i’ve played. Generations’ best moments not only nail that sense of speed they update and supercharge it. Only F Zero X manages to feel as fast and as exhilarating as holding the boost button down in the modern version of Green Hill Zone in Generations.
The menu music, cinematics, and over all atmosphere also make Lost World feel very kiddy as well. Again i would have no problems letting a kid play Generations but i haven’t cringed at anything in that game’s presentation like i have with Lost World.
To give it credit though, Lost World’s charms lie with its Mario Galaxy like level design and clever platforming. I don’t regret buying it, but i’m certainly glad i waited for it to go on sale.
This is where things get depressing, as the release of Sonic Boom proves that a franchise can always hit lower than rock bottom. I mean what the hell happened? I mean after Sonic ’06 the series was making strides to becoming good, Generations isn’t perfect but god dammit IT’S AT LEAST GOOD.
SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED!!!???
Well, if we do some post mortem we can see some issues that has led to this sorry state of affairs. Firstly Sonic Boom wasn’t developed by Sonic Team, it was developed by Big Red Button and while Sonic Team is certainly not free of mistakes they at the very least have the chance to take apart their games and see what works and what doesn’t (not that they ever have mind you). Secondly It would appear that Big Red Button also didn’t have the budget, time, or talent to secure and use the Sonic Engine to develop the game on leading to its horrible glitches and awful graphical fidelity.
Lastly and most worrying about Sonic’s future is Sega is losing money hand over fist and as a result of this they’re making Sonic into mobile free to play garbage. There’s even rumblings that they’re getting out of AAA game development entirely.
The only bright side to this is if Sega does indeed go under hopefully they will sell their IP’s off to make good on outstanding debts the way THQ did with its licenses. In that event hopefully someone buys Sonic (maybe even Nintendo? Maybe? Hopefully???) and finally does what Sonic Team couldn’t and makes a great game.
For now though there is no happy ending for the blue blur, i will end this off with Jim Sterling’s insights as to the failure of the Sonic franchise. I continue to hope one day Sonic might either come back to full and unreserved glory, but for now i have to be careful lest i waste my money on garbage.
* Yes i know about the level select, but that still didn’t stop my disappointment as a kid and it doesn’t make the game’s down moments any less frustrating to play through. In essence the story modes in “Sonic Adventure” can isolate the good parts of the game if the player chooses to do so.