Note: The following is an opinion article. Its content does not reflect the opinions or views of all of the members of Source Gaming.
This guest article was written by Source Gaming fan Zebei. If you wish to contact Zebei for more information about his work then contact him over on Smashboards.
Sonic was a series that always eluded me. I was far too young to have ever even owned a SEGA Genesis, so my exposure to the series was mostly in passing. Playing the Mega Collection on Gamecube at a friend’s house, playing Sonic Heroes, and beating Generations, but otherwise not very much. So when I did play the original Sonic the Hedgehog years later on the Wii and proceeded to only hold down right on the d-pad and never stop, I wound up hating the game and swearing off Sonic games. I thought it was crazy people could love a series where all you do is run into spikes you could have never seen because they were off-screen until the last second. I was a bit hasty, but I suppose that goes with the territory of a series all about speed. And yet here I am writing this article, so something must have changed, right? Well, recently SEGA started their SEGA Forever initiative, which let me download Sonic 1 onto my phone for free. I needed some mobile games at the time so I decided to give it one more try just for the fact the Sonic series was so important to gaming.
Playing a game with a phone wasn’t entirely new to me, but playing a game with speed as a focus seemed like it would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, but that difficulty may have been what made things better for me. I was forced to slow down and take my time to some degree just from the lack of precision of the controls, and this caused me to quickly discover what I was doing wrong when I first played. Sonic games aren’t meant to be mindlessly running forward trying to react to whatever happens in the blink of an eye. While speed is definitely a part of the game you’re supposed to actually be platforming and slowing down along the way, along with the speed when you can safely get it. This is probably common sense to most of you, but to me this was a revelation. I can’t really say I suddenly loved the rest of the game too much since Marble Zone was downright painful and Labyrinth Zone showed why it is so infamous, but I gained a newfound respect for the game. With the exception of those two levels I was able to have a lot of fun for the rest of the game running around at the speed of sound and doing all sorts of cool things like those iconic loops and fighting Robotnik and his army. I had enjoyed a game that had previously made me give up on a series, so I knew I had to keep digging and see what I could find.
I nagged a friend into letting me borrow his copy of the Sonic Mega Collection so I could play 2 and 3 (& Knuckles) as well as his copies of Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 that he conveniently had. Soon after starting Sonic 2 I could tell this was a completely different beast. The much smoother control from a Gamecube controller, along with much better level design made for a sublime experience. Levels gave me plenty of freedom with different paths, as well as properly segmenting speed and platforming sections, so I never ran face first into some poorly placed spikes. I was able to “get” what people loved about the old 2D Sonic trilogy. The rush of running through levels at high speed, along with fun platforming sections with fun little gimmicks like catapults, cool looking locations, and great music. I was finally able to feel the flow I had been looking for ever since the idea of a 2D platformer designed around speed had come into my mind. Having Tails run along with me was pretty cool too. It was nice having a sidekick to keep me from feeling too lonely, and he was helpful too. Not too powerful so as to be overpowered, but not too weak that he just kind of feels like not worth adding. But unfortunately, I really can’t excuse the game’s continue system. I’m assuming it’s an artifact of Arcade style gameplay, or just a way to pad out the playtime but either way it is not good. If you run out of lives and have no continues left you get booted back to the very beginning of the very first level, no exceptions. At the final boss but just lost your last life? Hope you enjoy playing the entire game over again to get back to the boss. Truly not fun at all, and a major blemish on an otherwise spectacular game.
As I was playing Sonic 1 and 2, people were constantly telling me to jump straight to 3 & Knuckles since it was “the best.” Naturally I had high expectations from that and from how great Sonic 2 was. For trying to live up to a lot of hype, it did pretty well. I do think it has some higher highs, but some lower lows. I didn’t really have any levels I disliked in Sonic 2, but I had one or two here, like Marble Garden and Sandopolis Zones. But this game is absolutely packed with content that puts the other two games to shame to make up for it. The levels are generally more interesting, the improved shields are pretty cool, and the level design and graphics are still spectacular. This time, I was also able to get all of the Chaos Emeralds and unlock Super Sonic, and eventually Hyper Sonic. The thrill of running so fast while nearly invincible is pretty exciting, if laughably overpowered. However, my friend’s copy was a bit buggy, leading to the special stages to be pretty much unplayable from weird graphical glitches. Getting all of the spheres without really being able to tell what was going on was a challenge until I figured out I could just pause for the glitchiness to subside for a second, but I managed to get through it all.
Knuckles made a pretty decent rival, although I wish he did a bit more than hit buttons for the first 90% of the game. The final stretch of the game was pretty great and chasing Robotnik in space was a nice end to the game after having just fought yet another cool boss. One major improvement was this game’s save system though. This isn’t something that should be impressive, but compared to Sonic 2, it was liberating being able to play without worrying about losing all of my progress because of a bad string of deaths. I’m not sure which of the two games I would say is my favorite if you ignore the continue issue. Sonic 2 was very consistent with its quality and felt very fresh. Sonic 3 had a few lower points to go with its higher points, but absolutely destroys Sonic 2 in the amount of content it has. Either way, both games made me quick to say “I’m a Sonic fan now,” and even though I had finished three Sonic games in a week, I didn’t feel burnt out at all and was ready to jump right into Sonic Adventure.
Well, straight off the bat the game’s presentation has aged like milk. A lot of animations in this game (especially the facial animations) are pretty bad. There are also issues to be had with the game’s frequent voice acting, with frequently having little emotion when it is needed or just sounding weird. Basically, the cutscenes in this game aren’t that great. But who plays Sonic games for the cutscenes? The game is split into six different stories, all with their own bits of the full story and their own gameplay styles. Sonic is normal gameplay, Tails can fly and has to race people, Knuckles basically is a scavenger hunt, Amy has to run from a robot chasing her, E102 Gamma has a time limit, and Big . . . fishes. All in 3D of course. Some succeed and some fail. Sonic’s story is the “main” story and is probably the cleanest. It does have some issues though that you can probably attribute to the transition to 3D but the levels are ok. Nothing mindblowing but a firm “good.” There are some issues to be had with the camera or minor little things dealing with the controls, but the overall experience is pretty fun. Tails’ is good, but the ability to fly and go through shortcuts using big green rings is really overpowered, and many of the races will be won by huge margins. Knuckles’ story is actually pretty cool. Even though none of the levels are made for exploration, it’s pretty cool to do it anyway. Amy runs so slow that I didn’t enjoy her very much, but thankfully her story is very short. Gamma is probably the weirdest “normal” story though. Having plenty of speed, the ability to hover, and a gun that locks on is pretty crazy and makes you absurdly overpowered. All of the threats stop being threatening when you can shoot them from miles away or just hover over them. The time limit is probably going to always be the biggest threat, but it is pretty forgiving when you get more time for beating enemies so it isn’t much of a problem either. Last is Big the Cat, who fishes. This is certainly the strangest story to be sure, and it isn’t good either. Fishing is more annoying than it should be and is required to beat the game and get the last story, which makes it worse than if it was just optional. Thankfully, it isn’t very long so you don’t have to spend too much time fishing in a 3D platformer.
After beating those six stories however, you unlock Super Sonic’s story. In the final level in which you fight Chaos, the game’s final boss, as Super Sonic. This time, just holding forward is actually rewarded. Fighting a giant monster while invulnerable is pretty satisfying. The exposition dump before it is less than ideal, but it’s worth it to be fighting an apocalyptic monster in a destroyed city. It’s something only possible to look and feel like this in 3D and it is at least one thing that worked really well in the transition to 3D.
After that comes the much more positively received Sonic Adventure 2. Starting off, the presentation is a bit of a side-grade. The mouth animations aren’t terrifying anymore, and the animations are more varied, but they still aren’t good, and the voice acting is still pretty bad. Characters talk over each other and frequently either have no emotion or manage to show the wrong emotion for certain lines. The gameplay, however, has a lot more focus, with only three playstyles instead of six, so I assumed that gameplay would be a lot more polished, and I was right. Sonic/Shadow run like dreams, and Knuckles/Rouge have treasure hunting levels that are actually designed to be explored instead of being reused levels. Tails/Eggman levels on the other hand are not for me. They are definitely better than Gamma’s levels since they are actually designed around the player having ranged attacks, but the gunplay isn’t interesting enough to compensate. You are a slow mech where combat pretty much begins and ends on waiting for a lock-on. It is rarely exciting, but occasionally fun to blast things to smithereens. Back to Sonic/Shadow, the two have pretty cool levels. Most have a good balance of speed-running and actual platforming, but there is a bit more focus on theatrics this time around compared to the 2D games, especially levels like Radical Highway, to the point where it gets to be a bit too much. The biggest problem is that the Sonic/Shadow levels are very short because of this being the only gameplay style that is fast, which is a bit sad since Sonic is, well, the main character. The treasure hunting stages with Knuckles and Rouge are pretty great. The levels are fun to run around in and there is only one little problem. These levels are really big because they are designed to be explored, but the radar got nerfed so that it can only track one objective at a time. This means that you might pass one Master Emerald piece four times but not know it, and then eventually have to do some backtracking to get it, which just isn’t that enjoyable. For the Sonic and Knuckles playstyles I didn’t have any levels I disliked which is always pretty great, with the Mech stages being the only ones I didn’t like. Apparently, there is even optional upgrades that I missed, which means there was more of this game to explore that I missed, which is nice to know. I unfortunately never got around to the Chao Garden since it seemed to delete my save data whenever I tried it, which is a shame since a lot of people seem to love that part of the game.
With the game being split into two stories, there is some unfortunate overlap between the campaigns sharing levels and themes, but it isn’t terribly long with some levels being drastically different or using completely different styles. After completing both stories, you unlock the Last Story. A level where you play as every character in quick succession using their unique styles for different objectives to stop a space colony from slamming into the Earth. Of the five sections, Knuckles gets the very short end of the stick, with the only swimming section in the entire game, and yes, the limited air supply is back. I don’t think I need to go into detail why I didn’t like it. Afterwards, Shadow gets to fight a boss, and then you get to do something pretty cool.
Fighting a giant lizard in space, while Super Sonic and Super Shadow, while some great music plays, all to save the Earth, is a pretty great finale to the game. In the end, the game has a few minor problems, like the camera, homing attack being weird sometimes, the cutscenes, and the mech sections, but the experience is overall pretty good.
I went from a series that I had pretty much given up on, to playing five games in about two weeks, and having Sonic avatars on other websites. All from one free game on mobile. I still plan on playing the rest of the games in the series but don’t want to burn myself out. I’ve quickly fallen in love with the series and would gladly replay any of them if I had more time. Frankly, I’m just glad I was able to enjoy these games as much as I did so I can be a fan of another venerable series. Especially with the hype around Sonic being as high as it is with the two new upcoming games, Mania and Forces, both coming to the Switch. Old games to play in the series and new ones being made is pretty great, and I’m hoping to enjoy the series for a long time after this as well.