Geeking Out Like a Fanboy

by Rude Cyrus

Cyrus celebrates Sonic-the-Hedgehog(while the editor grumbles darkly - being a Mario girl)
I've always been a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. Don't get me wrong, I love Mario too, but Sonic has always held a special place in my fanboy heart. Perhaps it's because the first console I ever owned was a Sega Genesis, and the first game I played on that console was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I grew up during the famed console wars between Sega and Nintendo and it seemed, to me, that Sonic was aimed at an older audience, thereby making him cooler than Mario (I was 5 at the time, give me a break). The games were fun: blistering speed, awesome music, and pleasing environments – it was Sonic that transformed me into a gamer, and while Nintendo did dampen my Sega love with the release of Super Mario 64, it surged again when Sega created the Dreamcast in 1999, and with it, Sonic Adventure.

What I loved about this game was how it advanced the franchise – not only did it have modern graphics, but it had voice acting (something I still support, despite the painful quality at times) and a more complex storyline. Sure, it was basically the same “Dr. Robotnik wants the Chaos Emeralds for his doomsday device”, but there are several other plotlines, including one overarching plot that pieces together the backstory of a major antagonist. The only way to get the whole story is to play as the five additional characters, three of whom were in previous Sonic games (Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose). Finally, it had a great soundtrack, one I still listen to.

It wasn’t a perfect game, by any means. The camera was prone to awkward angles, which made it all too easy to fall into some abyss, plus some of the missions were quite poor. Knuckles, in particular, had to collect jewel shards that were hidden in random parts of the level. While I would’ve preferred a more brawler type of gameplay, it wasn’t the worst thing I had to do. No, that honor would belong to Big the Cat, whose entire gimmick is that he has to fish to proceed to the next stage. Because when I think “Sonic the Hedgehog”, I think “fishing”. Thankfully, his scenario is the shortest, so any brain damage suffered is temporary. Despite this, the game was (and still is) pretty fun.

It was successful enough for a sequel to be made, Sonic Adventure 2. The game introduced two new characters: Rouge the Bat and Shadow the Hedgehog, the latter being kind of like the anti-Sonic. This time, the player has the choice of playing either the “Hero” side (consisting of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) or the “Dark” side (consisting of Shadow, Rouge, and Robotnik), with the final segment of the story unlocking after finishing both sides. The story was much darker this time around, dealing with themes of loss and revenge – there’s a scene where Shadow witnesses the death of his best friend, and another where Robotnik threatens to kill Amy Rose unless Sonic brings him a Chaos Emerald. Finally, the ending is kind of bittersweet: while Sonic and Shadow do save the world, it’s implied that Shadow dies as a result. For a Sonic game, this was some deep stuff.

But the flaws were bigger, too. Tails and Robotnik (or Eggman as he’s called nowadays) had a new mode of gameplay, which was to run around in bipedal mechs and shoot things. While I didn’t have a big problem with this, the mechanics were awful. Firstly, the mechs are as maneuverable as barges, and there are a number of jumping puzzles in the game – add in the stiff camera and you have the potential to be in the market for a wig, due to the amount of hair you’ll have torn out. Did I mention that there’s the “hunt for jewel shards” gameplay from the original Sonic Adventure? Only the levels are twice as long and sometimes have a time limit?

Time passed, and a new game, Sonic Heroes, was released. In comparison to the previous entry, the story was much lighter and much more simplistic, and the gameplay was changed drastically. Instead of switching between different characters over the length of the story, the player would take control of different teams, each consisting of three characters with special strengths. For example, Team Sonic consists of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, whose special powers consist of running really fast, flying, and breaking shit, respectively. It’s the same for the other teams, so you could just play as one and see everything there is to see, but the game kind of sucks, so you have to play as the other three teams in order to unlock the final part.

Oh, and there are five new characters: Cream the Rabbit, E-123 Omega (a robot), and the Chaotix, consisting of Charmy the Bee, Espio the Chameleon, and Vector the Crocodile. As you can imagine, all of these Blank the Blank characters make the game more annoying than fun, especially since the voice acting is laughable at best and painful at worst. Let’s count how many characters were in the previous entries, excluding Sonic for obvious reasons. In the first Sonic Adventure, we had Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose – I’m also excluding one character because he only appeared in this game, and I’m excluding Big, because I hate him. Anyway, that’s three. The second installment introduced Rouge and Shadow, so that’s five. Sonic Heroes introduces a whopping five new characters, for a total of ten. Oh, and Big makes a return, but fuck him. Now, I can understand adding Cream, since the Sonic X anime that was airing at this time included her, and Omega turns out to be fairly badass, but the Chaotix are friggin’ awful. Imagine taking the very worst of those search missions from the first two Sonic Adventures, and stretch them out for the entire game. I’ve had groin injuries that are less painful.

The story isn’t too bad: basically, Robotnik re-creates Metal Sonic (one of the better known villains of the franchise) and Sonic and his friends need to stop them. That’s pretty much it. The problem I have with the game is that it’s as entertaining as a wait in the doctor’s office – every team goes through the same levels and fights the same bosses, so there’s no point in playing more than once. Unfortunately, you must play as all four teams, in addition to collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds, in order to unlock the final ending. I can’t tell you what happens because I could never get the second Chaos Emerald, but I have a hunch that Sonic ends up saving the world.

Eventually, Sega and Sonic Team fell into the trap of “dark and gritty equals good” when they released Shadow the Hedgehog; that’s right, Sonic isn’t the main character in this game! In the previous installment, it’s revealed that Shadow somehow survived his fall to Earth, but he has amnesia as a result. Shadow isn’t too sure if he’s actually the real Shadow, because Robotnik made a few robotic clones in the time when Shadow was MIA. It’s all very convoluted. The game is even darker than SA2, which was already pretty dark. While I have no problem with the series having an edge, there needs to be subtlety. This game is not subtle; in fact, it’s as subtle as a drag queen. One of the biggest gameplay changes is the use of guns and vehicles – yes, guns and vehicles. There are about a thousand things wrong with this, but I’ll just say that Shadow is a supersonic hedgehog; he doesn’t need to use guns or vehicles. The other thing that’s changed is that Shadow has a bit of a potty mouth – sure, it’s only words like “hell” and “damn”, but it’s still jarring to hear. Plus there’s no real context for the swearing, so it all comes off as forced – just try to say “Where’s that damn fourth Chaos Emerald?” or “With the power of these Emeralds, I’m going to destroy this damn planet!” as dramatically as possible without cracking a smile.

The game did have some good points: once again, the music was rather good, and there were multiple endings (a staggering 11 of them, in fact), increasing the game’s replay value. Unfortunately, like Sonic Heroes, you have to play through the same levels in order to get all of them. All in all, it was definitely the worst game in the Sonic franchise.
That is, until 2006 came along.

2006 saw the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, a game that Sega swore would restore the blue rodent to his former glory. Fans (including myself) were eager for the game to come out; finally, no more gimmicks, no more guns, no more bullshit – just Sonic at his best.

It was abysmal. The controls sucked, the story sucked, the characters sucked – everything sucked more than a black hole. I don’t toss around statements like “Worst. Game. Ever.” around, but…Worst. Game. Ever.

It’s so bad, there’s not enough room here for me to tell you how bad it is. I’ll save that for another time.

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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 15:32 on 2009-10-01
You know what's really strange? Seeing Sonic titles available on Nintendo systems. It still looks unnatural to me.
Rami at 16:42 on 2009-10-01
Awww, I remember there used to be a Sonic the Hedgehog magazine, with little comics in it, and I used to love when I could get my hands on a copy. All this despite my being utterly awful at playing the actual game. Oh, to be six again...
Andy G at 09:08 on 2009-10-02
That'd be Sonic the Comic, right? I used to love that, especially the Kid Chameleon story. And I have a few Sonic novelisations somewhere too. And I used to have Sonic duvets, Sonic pyjamas, Sonic t-shirts, even a Sonic toast stamp. My first guinea pig was called Sonic. (wallows in nostalgia)

Didn't they rename Dr Robotnik "Egg Man" for one of the sequels for some bizarre reason? at 13:21 on 2009-10-02
I actually rediscovered some of my old copies of Sonic the Comic a few days ago, and I've been reading through them for the past few days. It's surpisingly good stuff, despite the target audience. I always appreciate writers who actually make an effort with kid's stuff, rather than just say they're "only" writing for children.

“Where’s that damn fourth Chaos Emerald?”

You got it wrong. It's "Where's that DAMN fourth Chaos Emerald?" It's important to really emphasise the "damn", otherwise people might not notice how cool and edgy you are.

Didn't they rename Dr Robotnik "Egg Man" for one of the sequels for some bizarre reason?

Supposedly he was always called Eggman in Japan. He'll always be Robotnik to me.
Arthur B at 17:04 on 2009-10-02
Weird fact: Sonic the Comic was an exclusively UK phenomenon, in the US the comics were produced by Archie comics and were completely different. I wanted to point that our lest our US and UK users end up getting really confused by each other's memories of the comic.

Weirder fact: some people actually chose to continue StC (the UK one) online. I've dipped in a bit and I still think I made the right choice switching to 2000 AD when I hit 10, though I do think that the Sonic cast as the Bash Street Kids is pretty funny for the current cover...
Rami at 17:32 on 2009-10-02
Sonic the Comic was an exclusively UK phenomenon, in the US the comics were produced by Archie comics and were completely different
Completely different, and not very good IMO. I much preferred the UK version -- largely, I think, because it didn't take itself seriously.
Rude Cyrus at 01:29 on 2009-10-03
I used to read the US comic when I was a kid, but I stopped when I realized the tone kept switching between childish and laughably serious. Like I said, I'm fine with the franchise having an edge at times, but the writing needs to be up to par, and most of the time, it wasn't.
Wardog at 11:04 on 2009-10-05
I had a NES so I am the dissenting voice in favour of plumbers here.

Although a friend of mine had Sonic 2 so I do have some nostalgia affection.

The thing I rather like about Sonic is that it's kind of always been an anti-platformer. Most platformers require to go slowly and carefully, collecting everything - whereas Sonic was all about speed, baby, speed.
Arthur B at 13:16 on 2009-10-05
Yeah, I think that's a good point. I did remember the Sonic games being significantly easier to progress in (if, like me, you're not the sort who cares about 100% completion in games) than Mario, so I fired up a few ROMs and did a few experiments. Completing Sonic isn't trivial, but at the same time there are levels you can complete by pretty much literally holding down the "right" button and hitting "jump" at regular intervals. Sometimes you do not even have to look at the screen. This doesn't mean Sonic lacks nuances of skill and expertise, but if you tried that in even the easiest Mario levels you'd be hosed.
Andy G at 18:40 on 2009-10-05
I've been replaying James Pond 3 recently, and that seems to be a great synthesis of the two approaches. You can can wander round slowly and carefully solving puzzles and collecting items Mario-style, or you can rush and bounce around at top speed like Sonic.

The skill in Sonic was required for the fucking special zones, especially in Sonic 3 and S&K.
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