Is it possible for me to troll myself?
So... I've been wanting to do another Retrospective for a looooooong time. And I don't mean an ongoing Retrospective like the One Piece one I'm doing (Syrup Town will still come out in February, promise), but an honest to goodness, sum up an entire series from beginning to end in one post Retrospective. The last time I did that was for my Star Wars Retrospective, and that was when The Force Awakens was coming out. So why Sonic the Hedgehog? Why the punchline of the video game industry?
Well first of all, I want to just take a moment to explain that I've been meaning to do a Retrospective like this for a long time. The problem with me doing Retrospectives, and longtime readers will know this well, is that I burn out on projects fairly easily. For really big and in depth projects, they usually fall through because they're too big of a task for me or that I get swamped with other work. I was going to do a Ratchet & Clank Retrospective for last year, but by the time I had only three games left in the series to beat, I was tired of the series' mechanics and I was busy getting ready for the 100th review. Maybe I'll get back to it someday, but for now I'm putting my foot down and tackling a behemoth of a Retrospective as retribution.
Anyway, Sonic the Hedgehog! A meme of a franchise if I've ever seen one. A game series that has no many negative jokes around it, a hypothetical "Sonic Cycle" for every new entry in the series, a a quality rating that soars from being generation defining to some of the worst video games ever made. Make no mistake about it, if you're a gamer, you're at least familiar with Sonic the Hedgehog, or at least the jokes he represents. Sonic doesn't have much staying power anymore in 2017, and even with two new games on the horizon this year, I'm doubtful that anyone outside of dedicated Sonic fans will pick them both up.
But that's the thing with Sonic; people are dedicated to the franchise because there is always a chance for each new game to be good, and I want to bring that to light. I'm not going to say that every Sonic game is good, far from it, but I want to give an objective and honest look at a franchise that's a hollow shell of what it once was and see whether or not it was any good to begin with.
Now I need to set up a clear guideline of what I count as a Sonic game for the sake of this Retrospective and so that I don't hang myself from all of the speed and memes. In order for a game to count on this list, the game has to be a platformer, has to have been released on a home console (sorry, no handhelds this time), and had to have been released on physical media. The first two are self explanatory for why, but I included the third point to narrow down Sonic games that Sega wanted to highlight and show off the franchise. I can appreciate a game like Sonic 4 for trying out a digital only approach, but honestly, no one really talks about Sonic 4 to begin with, so I just wanted to stick to games I can hold physically and loan out to friends. So for your pleasure, here's the dreaded Sonic the Hedgehog Retrospective.
|Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) - Genesis|
In this game, your goal was to run at the speed of sound as Sonic the Hedgehog and to defeat the evil Dr. Robotnik from taking over the world. Simple and clean, but my lord was this game fast for it's time. The processing power and graphical achievements of the original Sonic could not be ignored and made millions of Sega fans for a reason. The idea of going fast and maintaining a sense of speed was a great gameplay mechanic, but the original Sonic highlighted the biggest problem that I have with the game, namely the platforming.
When you're going fast and blazing through stages, the game is a joy, but there are several levels where the speed just stops and you're left to do some very slow, very mediocre platforming. I played this game originally as a kid, and I could not stand Marble Zone for how it slammed all sense of speed to a grinding halt. The levels were simply alright witht he exception of Green Hill Zone, but that's the level that everyone remembers. It allowed you to go fast, explore the level however you wanted, and didn't throw bottomless pits that killed out, spikes that stopped you, or slow platforms that didn't make you go fast. I know I'm harping a lot on the speed aspect here, but Sonic, as a character, is meant to go fast. When he isn't, it's either the player's fault for not being good enough, which is somewhat acceptable, or the level design restricting the player's speed, which is not acceptable. I'm not going to say that the original Sonic is a bad game, but you'll be hard pressed to find a Sonic fan that lists it as their favorite game in the series.
|Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) - Genesis|
Now that isn't to say that anything about the game is bad. Frankly, I think my personal enjoyment just comes down to taste if anything, but later Sonic games were just able to engage me more than Sonic 2. I look at Sonic 2 the same way that I look at Super Mario Bros 3, it's a great game, but further sequels have just done the formula better.
|Sonic CD (1993) - Sega CD|
Minor gripes aside, what works in Sonic CD really does work. Sonic games are known for their very good soundtracks, and Sonic CD's is easily one of my favorite soundtracks of the whole series. The sense of speed here is brilliant and even though the gameplay really didn't change that much, it still felt like you were going faster in some capacity. To make the game even better, you had a multitude of ways to go about a level with the introduction of time travel. You could go to the past, present, or future when you gained enough speed, making each level feel different enough so that I can play the game in a couple of different ways. Plus the challenging boss battles were the first time I could actually say I had trouble in a Sonic game. An underrated game, but still a great one.
|Sonic 3 & Knuckles (1994) - Genesis|
Sonic 3 & Knuckles allowed for two playable characters, Sonic and Knuckles (duh), but that alone was enough to make the game worth playing in my opinion. Yes, Sonic 2 featured the introduction of Tails, but he was really only a co-op character that controlled as a less fun Sonic. Knuckles here had actual differences in his gameplay like gliding, climbing walls, and not being as fast as Sonic, which made him a breath of fresh air in comparison to the previous three games.
The game is huge as well, boasting two game's worth of levels, most of which are just great levels. Casino Nights and Mushroom Hill Zones are fantastic levels and the game somehow looked better and had highly catchy songs in comparison to Sonic CD. Just let that sink in. A Genesis game, with less processing power, has better music than Sonic 3. Not higher quality music, but catchier tunes that stay in my head longer. There are some downsides to Sonic 3 though, like was it just me or were there more water levels here than in previous games, and that you can get tired from having to blaze through one extra long Sonic game instead of beating two shorter ones. Nitpicks aside, I easily think that Sonic 3 & Knuckles was the best Sonic game of the Genesis era, hands down.
|Sonic Adventure (1999) - Dreamcast|
Here, you play as six different characters, each with their own mechanics and gameplay. Sonic runs fast through levels, Tails flies around and races characters, Knuckles glides and hunts for treasure in stages, Amy is slow and has to outrun a killer robot, E-102 Gamma is a shooter where he has to defeat a boss at the end of a stage, and Big the Cat is a fisherman that has to fish for his pet frog. On one hand, I like the variety of gameplay, but each section is way too unbalanced for my liking. There are 10 Sonic stages, which are fine, but then you have 3 Amy stages, 4 Big the Cat stages and 5 Tails stages? If your name isn't Sonic, your section is drastically cut short and doesn't do much to advance the plot.
Oh yeah, the main plot! The story of Sonic Adventure is told from each character's perspective and how they fit into stopping Dr. Eggman from fully reviving an ancient monster from taking over the world. Some characters have a significant purpose, like Sonic and Tails, while every other character just feels like an after thought. Big the Cat's awful, awful section has nothing to do with the main plot, as does Gamma's section, so why include them in the first place?
As for putting a Sonic game in 3D, the levels are fantastic... for the most part. When you're playing as characters that are meant to go fast, each level is fantastically designed, but not every level was designed with each character in mind. For example, Knuckle's levels usually put him inside of a room with a lot of nooks and crannies that he has to search through to find pieces of the Master Emerald. That's fine, but those same levels don't work when Sonic has to run through them because of hos confined they are. Same with having Big the Cat search for Froggy in pools of water which can range from being a fountain to the goddamn ocean!
I mean, overall Sonic Adventure is fine, but man do I have a lot of issues with it, especially when each character's storylike begin to overlap with one another and you have to go through the same levels repeatedly and fight the same bosses again and again with the exact same results. You know, I have a lot of frustration with Sonic Adventure's structure, so let's just move on before I spend another five paragraphs going into microscopic detail about a 1999 Dreamcast game.
|Sonic Adventure 2 (2001) - Dreamcast|
From a gameplay perspective, not much has changed from Sonic Adventure. There are still six characters, but instead of every character having a campaign, the campaigns are divided between the heroes and the villains, each of which featuring three gameplay mechanics. One characters runs through levels like the Sonic stages from Adventure, one character searches like Knuckles, and one character goes through a shooter stage like Gamma. Plus each campaign jumps fairly frequently between the three, so you never feel bored with each campaign, plus every stage is original. There are no repeated stages for characters to go through again and again like in the original Adventure. It helps break up the monotony and makes the game much more easy to digest.
As for the story, its remarkably better than the original Adventure and features two new characters, Shadows the Hedgehog, a doppelganger of Sonic that ties in heavily to the overall plot, and Rouge the Bat, a government hired treasure hunter that's trying to spy on Dr. Eggman. The plot isn't anything special (it actually has several massive plot holes in it now that I think about it), but the execution is completely genuine so you're actually able to overlook the plot holes as they appear. It doesn't make the voice acting all the good (wow some lines are delivered terribly here), but I can safely say that I enjoyed myself.
And that's just the overall experience I had with Sonic Adventure 2; I enjoyed myself way more than I expected myself too. The story was fun, I enjoyed the characters, and the gameplay was never all that tiring for me. Yes, some of the levels weren't all that designed well, especially the space ones, dear lord those spaces levels were garbage for Rouge and Knuckles, but on the whole, I enjoyed more parts of the game than I disliked.
|Sonic Heroes (2003) - PS2, Gamecube, Xbox|
Here, the story is worthless, which isn't that bad in all fairness, but the game's fatal flaw is that you have to complete four separate campaigns in order to reach the final boss. On the surface that isn't bad, but each campaign is the exact same thing. No, for real, every stage each "team" as they're called go is the exact same stage that every other team goes on. One team is easy mode, one team is medium mode, one team is hard mode, and one team is a special challenge mode where the goal of each stage changes. Now that would mean something, but all four teams have to do the exact same levels with the only difference being their length. Some levels are shorter, some are longer, but the level design is the exact same. It's draining to go through the same game four times without any changes in gameplay.
As for the actual gameplay, each team has three characters that race through each level together. One character runs fast, one can fly for a limited amount of time, and one character is about beating the tar out of enemies. And none of these three modes really have any impact behind them. You could change modes at the press of a button for convenience, which is nice, but it doesn't matter if the game stops you at certain points and forces you to change modes to complete a section. There's just a lot about Sonic Heroes that irks me, and it's all downhill from here.
|Shadow the Hedgehog (2005) - PS2, Gamecube, Xbox|
Shadow the Hedgehog is an action oriented Sonic game that has more combat than any other Sonic game and less of a focus on speed. Oh sure, there are speed oriented sections here, but they last for a couple of second before you go back to fighting enemies with wonky controls in huge areas where your speed just makes it more difficult to shoot enemies. And did I mention that all of the intense "maturity" make the game feel dumb as hell. As in, Shadow is the definition of an edgelord who wants to watch the world burn or find out who he is and blah blah blah! I don't normally get into plot spoilers in these retrospectives, but Shadow's arc was perfectly done in Sonic Adventure 2. He didn't need a game where the focus was on discovering who he is, which makes the story just pointless to go through.
Or at least, one of a hundred or so stories. In a twist that I actually enjoy and will defend Shadow the Hedgehog for, the game had a choose-your-own adventure plot where each story has six levels. The thing is that you can beat the first stage in one of three ways, by being evil, neutral, or good, and each path you take will affect the next stage you play. So if you beat the first stage on the good route, you'll go to the good route's next stage, then you can choose to be good, evil, or neutral again and continue onwards until the very end. There are 10 possible endings, and you need to reach each ending to get the final chapter. So in theory, it's a good idea, but it's marred by making most of the levels a droll to play through.
Not only will you have to play through the intro stage no less than 10 times during your run through, but some stages are impossible to get to because of ridiculous requirements. Like for one stage, you need to kill 85 enemies, yet the entire level is massive and the enemies are placed in incredibly hard to reach places. No joke, it took me well over half an hour to beat just one stage. One stage! In Sonic games, a long stage is six minutes, not 30! The gameplay is at least functional, but when the level requirements are so challenging and uninteresting, then there's so little I can do to actually care about playing the game. But can you believe it gets worse from here? Cause it does! Oh God does it get worse!
|Sonic 06 (2006) - PS3, Xbox 360|
|Sonic Unleashed (2008) - PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2|
|Sonic Colors (2010) - Wii, DS|
|Sonic Generations (2011) - PS3, Xbox 360, PC, 3DS|
|Sonic: Lost World (2013) - Wii U, 3DS|
|Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (2014) - Wii U|