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FGC #407 Knuckles’ Chaotix

KNUX!Behold the future of Sonic the Hedgehog that never was.

Right from the starting line, Sonic the Hedgehog was known for one thing: goin’ fast. Blast processing was the buzzword (phrase) du jour, and roughly 90% of Sega’s advertising relied on the slick, hypersonic speeds that defined that crazy hedgehog. And, should you have played a Sonic game for longer than ten seconds, you’d immediately notice (and, more importantly, feel) that raw, unbridled Sonic Hustle, so it certainly makes sense that Sega, and the world, focused on the supersonic nature of Super Sonic.

But that means that, starting with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, everybody missed Sonic’s other great innovation.

It's Tails!

It’s that dude there. You know? With the tails? Wait! No! I’m not saying that Sonic the Hedgehog should be celebrated for its eclectic cast of animal buddies; no, my point is that Sonic the Hedgehog innovated in a dramatic way with the introduction of a cooperative, optional, second “player”.

In the context of 8 and 16-bit platformers, Tails is fairly unique. He’s a secondary ally character, but he doesn’t require control. He is often helpful, though also (rarely) a detriment (please do not bring your fox to collect chaos emeralds). He can contribute to the cause, and is effectively invincible (or at least infinitely respawnable), so he does not require protection (in other words, he doesn’t turn the entire adventure into an inadvertent escort mission). And, best of all, Tails does not require a player to “wait their turn” like in Super Mario Bros. or other platformers of the time. Tails is a second player that can actually be controlled at (almost) any time. And Tails is still mostly invincible, so he’s ideal for a pair of real-life humans that are not on the exact same gaming echelon. Or a parent and child. Or babysitter and child. Or Wee Goggle Bob and his neighbor Jimmy, who is terrible at videogames, but really wants to participate. Jimmy kind of sucks, but Tails was an amazing innovation in the gaming world.

So it’s kind of funny that, by and large, the lesson of Tails has been largely forgotten in the gaming universes of yesterday and today. When Mario dips into multiplayer, it’s only with human companions, and they’re generally not as invulnerable as Tails. And if we look back to Sonic’s contemporary Mario game, Yoshi’s Island, we find a title that nearly dropped two players altogether. In fact, it seems the only 2-D action title that cribbed from Tails’ presence was Kirby and his always helpful helper characters. It worked great in Kirby Super Star, and similar gameplay pops up in every other Kirby title, too. And as for Sonic? Well, Tails had a good run until Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and then he put in a little effort as a sidekick in Sonic Adventure, but past that? 2-Player Sonic is largely forgotten, give or take one of the best games of all time. Which is a shame, because, had Sonic focused on its Tails functionality as its main gimmick, we might have seen an entirely different trajectory for the franchise.

We might have seen a lot more games like Kunckles’ Chaotix.

WeeeeKnuckles’ Chaotix began life as a “for real” Sonic the Hedgehog game titled Sonic Crackers. The original pitch was for a Sega Genesis game that featured Sonic and Tails tethered together by a magical ring. In time, this concept grew into a 32X game featuring the recently introduced Knuckles and his own band of animal sidekicks. The title then mushroomed into something featuring seven playable characters (five if you only count characters that are actually useful), five brand new zones, and another appearance by everyone’s favorite Metal Sonic. But, through it all, it maintained the “tethered ring” gameplay, and, thus, created a whole new way to play a Sonic game.

And, surprisingly enough, the tethered ring features work well. Sonic the Hedgehog always had buttons to spare, so giving the B button over to partner commands is quick and effective. With just a tap, you can command your buddy to stand in place, which is ideal for activating switches or building momentum off your stationary partner. This effectively eliminates the need for the spin dash, and, frankly, it feels damn good to snap that rubber band and speed off at top speed. But wait, there’s more! You can also carry your friend, which is great for when you want to toss your companion straight into a hidden giant ring. Or maybe you want to offer that piggyback ride just because you don’t feel like dealing with the AI right now. That would be unusual, though, as, by and large, your computer controlled friend is generally as smart as ever, and will rarely be a bother. And, while your dude might not be quite as invincible as Tails, he’s still never a burden, and could only, at worst, waste a shield by running into an enemy. In short, this ring partner system seems very well considered, and, when you’re bouncing around like a pair of ping pong balls, it really shows how this version of Sonic could have been amazing.

Unfortunately, it’s a shame that Knuckles’ Chaotix sucks otherwise.

GET READY TO GOIn what would prove to be a prescient move, KC completely eliminates the lives counter, and offers infinite tries for its fifteen levels. Which sounds great… except the game manages to be completely toothless, so every level is overly long and far too uninteresting. It seems like some zones have three, maybe four badniks total. And none of the stages have interesting gimmicks at all, so they all blend together into a single mass of tedious almost immediately. But the bosses are kind of appealing! So it’s another shame there are only six spread across fifteen otherwise boring stages. And, while there aren’t any lives, there aren’t any checkpoints, either, so a loss against a boss means repeating an entire (already tedious) level all over again.

And then there are the special stages. The special stages might be the greatest source of tension in the game, as they are literally the only reason to collect rings (as, again, there are no lives, so 100 rings means absolutely nothing). Every ring grants an extra second in the bonus stages, and, like the rest of the Sonic titles up to that point, completing a special stage means earning one of the six precious Chaos… Rings. Okay, weird twist, but whatever. But what’s important is that each special stage can only be accessed at the end of a stage, so you only have eleven chances for those six rings (boss stages do not host bonus stages). Win those Chaos Rings from the six different, extremely unforgiving special zones, and you’ll win… nothing. No Super Sonic Knuckles. No special character. No Chaos Ring-based bonus. No, all you win is a better ending. And by “better”, I mean “an ending where Robotnik doesn’t conquer your island and burn everything else to the ground”. Miss even one Chaos Ring, though, and Robotnik laughs as a Knuckles Mech hovers menacingly over a burning cityscape. Thanks for playing!

But if you get those rings… maybe everybody didn’t die? At least you didn’t have to watch the carnage…

And if you’ve been saving all along, you can’t even reenter completed stages to correct your mistake. You just get to load your file and rewatch your failure over and over again.

This is neatSo, for some reason, Knuckles’ Chaotix was an enormous failure. It was the only Sonic-esque software on the 32X, and some might even argue that Knuckles’ Letdown was a significant reason the 32X couldn’t maintain support for even a year. And, with the fall of Knuckles, so too did the idea of a Sonic the Hedgehog exploring the depths of its two player mode also fold. There were some great concepts that could have been further explored by a successor to Knuckles’ Chaotix, but they all sunk on this echidna’s ship, and have been lost forever beneath a sea of indifference.

Knuckles, you could have brought a whole new future to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, but it was not to be. Now no one will respect Knuckles’ Chaotix.

FGC #407 Knuckles’ Chaotix

  • System: Sega 32X. There have been a number of calls for this title to see rerelease somewhere, but they have fallen on deaf ears. On a related note, like 90% of those calls were coming directly from me.
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, for one of the last times in the franchise.
  • Favorite Team: Mighty the Armadillo will give you leprosy, and he’s a Sonic expy, so he’s my number one pal. For his buddy, I’m going to choose Vector the Crocodile, because he had the presence of mind to bring headphones to this snoozefest.
  • This is horribleOther weirdness: The other reason to collect rings is to power a screen clearing special attack that costs ten rings. This is never useful, as there are never enough evil robots around to warrant a screen clearing attack, left alone one that costs precious rings. But you might hit the activation button anyway, and, if you do so with zero rings, you can actually accumulate a ring debt. Name another Sonic the Hedgehog title where you can have -10 rings.
  • Punishing Achievement: You can still access the special stages after earning all of the Chaos Rings, but, as an added challenge, the stages will now be entirely wireframes, with none of the platforms “shaded in”. This makes everything completely impossible, and is maybe the worst thing in an already pretty bad game.
  • An end: If you get the good ending, Sonic and Tails appear as part of the final cast picture.

    Winner!

    Did you guys just show up to hog all the credit after the entire adventure was over? Or…

  • Did you know? There are Super Sonic sprites hidden in the rom. Not Sonic sprites, or Super Any Other Character In the Cast sprites, just Super Sonic sprites. It’s entirely possible those Chaos Rings were intended to summon Super Sonic for a slam-bang ending, but that was cut at the last minute, as adding something interesting to this title would have been just too much effort.
  • Would I play again: You only really need to play a level or two of this game to get the full experience. I will likely fire it up again to do just that, but I doubt I’ll ever take the time to finish this title ever again. I would have to be really bored.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Emily the Strange: Strangerous for the Nintendo DS! That sounds… unusual. Please look forward to it!

Sprite scaling is a scourge

FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection

SEGA!Home videogame consoles have been around since 1972. That means we have had nearly fifty years of videogames being sold to consumers. And in those decades, we somehow still have not figured out what people want from videogames.

Almost by accident, we pretty much had it right for a console generation or two. Back when all we had to work with were limited cartridges, you had a videogame, and it was simply that videogame. Super Mario Bros. was Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda was The Legend of Zelda. There was not some random point in Mega Man when the whole thing turned into Gradius, nor did Final Fantasy ever dip into suddenly becoming Contra for a dungeon or two. Men were men, women were women, and the good old days were always good for a round of Ice Climbers. You picked up a chunk of plastic, you played a game, and that was that.

And today’s Sega 3D Classics Collection harkens back to those halcyon days. It’s got the original Sonic the Hedgehog! There’s Altered Beast! Puyo Pop 2 for those of you that enjoy mean beans! Some Fantasy Zones! I’m sure somebody, somewhere appreciates Thunder Blade! And Power Drift is at least pretty! This collection represents what is unmistakably the good old days of Sega arcade/Master System/Genesis games, and, by and large, you really can’t lose with any title in this group. Heck, I could play Sonic the Hedgehog alone for hours on end.

And that’s the problem. I have.

VroomLet’s take a step back to talk about music. The concept of the album has lost some luster in the recent age of MP3s, but, prior to about the last decade or so, musicians were expected to support their number one hits with an entire disc’s worth of alternate songs. You might have been all about Will Smith gettin’ jiggy with it, but in order to properly jiggify yourself, you had to buy a CD that contained a few other tracks, like that one about Miami, or that other one about the lil’ dude from Austin Powers. Sometimes this was a good thing, like when you discovered an artist with a style wholly different from the hit single, and became a Ben Folds Five fan for life. Other times… well, they say that if you are quiet, and listen very closely late at night, you might still hear my father complaining about purchasing “that one Smash Mouth album” where “all they do is suck”. But that’s true of any music fan (older than about 20), you buy enough records, tapes, or CDs, and, eventually, you’ve got a list floating around your head until the end of time regarding whether or not you should have blown fifteen bucks on that one Jethro Tull album. And, yes, you should have waited for the greatest hits release.

But that’s the thing about almost all albums: they’re specifically by one artist. Love or hate Meghan Trainor’s unethical praising of the booty, you pretty much know what you’re going to get if you sign up for a solid twelve Trainor tracks. And, while we may have no idea what Chumbawamba was up to during the final days of the twentieth century, you could go ahead and pick up Tubthumper and find out. There are certainly Now That’s What I Call Some Arbitrary Ditties albums out there, but, by and large, you can count on an album to have a general flow from start to finish that is… familiar. Blink 182 isn’t going to suddenly dip into European Death Metal on its third track, and P. Diddy Kong is never going to take a quick break from his phat rhymes to introduce his barbershop quartet. In other words, when you listen to a musical album, you can count on about forty minutes of a familiar experience. It might be a new familiar experience, but you’ll find that it’s generally consistent within the confines of its own disc. And a five disc “best of” special compilation? That’s going to keep you in a familiar holding position all afternoon.

STAR WARS!Now back to videogames: despite being on the same system and being from the same general era, would you consider Sonic the Hedgehog and Altered Beast to be similar experiences? Okay, similar might work, as they are both 2-D, and… involve jumping? Bah! They’re barely similar at all! One is a sort of proto-beat ‘em up with a really fun gimmick, and the other is a supersonic hedgehog simulator. Mad speed vs. mad dragons. If they were songs, Altered Beast would be some kind of “angry” heavy metal, and Sonic would have places to go, because he’s gotta follow his rainbow. And those are the two most similar games on the collection! Opa-Opa’s adventure is a shoot ‘em up, while Maze Hunter 3-D may as well exist on another planet. And, including that one boss in Sonic Mania, nobody wants to play a puzzle game five seconds after zooming around at the speed of sound. Variety is fun an’ all, but, short attention spans aside, when you sit down to play a game, you have a certain kind of gameplay in mind, and rapidly switching between different options is unusual and unsettling.

Get 'emBut videogames make it customary! Starting as early as the 16-bit days, videogames had a tendency to randomly veer off into unknown lands with alarming frequency. “Minigames” went from something generally innocuous like a slot machine or shell game, and rapidly transformed into entire games onto themselves. Chrono Trigger is the best JRPG of a generation that incidentally includes the worst racing game ever. Final Fantasy 7 pulled a similar stunt with Cloud Strife 1080° Snowboarding. Even the Sonic the Hedgehog series decided to lean heavily into being a number of different games soldered together. In some cases, these gameplay changes were welcome, in others, it would be nice to not have to participate in a fishing simulator to make progress; but in every example, it meant you were playing something you absolutely did not sign up for. Or maybe I’m the crazy one? Maybe I missed all the times Final Fantasy X made a sale in the name of “incredible water soccer action”.

Now, look, I remember being ten. I remember only having one game a year, and if that game had a mini game that was anything but mini, it meant, oh boy, I got two games. I still remember that feeling. But I also remember the end of Solar Jetman turning into the worst approximation of a shoot ‘em up ever. I remember Devil May Cry pulling the same stunt. And Kirby! A whole bunch of times! Why can’t games just stay their courses! Why do they try to jump the tracks mid train ride like some kind of mixed and poorly worded metaphor? Let the whole album play out! Leave your experimental tracks for the B-sides!

Pew PewSega 3-D Classics Compilation is not one single game, and it seems silly to fault it for being a tremendous collection of superb games. But every time I boot up S3DCC, it’s to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I never play anything else, save the rare occasion I feel like shooting fireballs at chicken legs. There is nothing like Sonic the Hedgehog on this collection, so I only play Sonic the Hedgehog. Full compilation of wonderful games, but the rest never get played, because they’re nothing like the hit single that got me to buy this album. I would have been better off with just the lone MP3.

So learn something, videogame industry. In the age of “binge watching”, people do not want random pauses from Breaking Bad to watch Star vs. The Forces of Evil. People do not want a ska album to break into rap (we still want ska, though). People do not want lame action game wannabe minigames during their JRPGs. People do not want compilations of games that vary so wildly, they may as well exist in different dimensions.

There are enough choices out there. Grant individual genres and games the flow they deserve.

And people wonder why Mega Man Legacy Collection was a tremendous hit…

FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, thus the whole 3D thing. Most of these games can be found on the Sega Genesis or Sega Master System, too, but in a format that will cause me to complain less.
  • Number of players: Altered Beast has two muscle dudes, so it’s gotta be two.
  • WeeeeeHey, smart guy, this is just a collection of games that were (re)released individually, and only packaged into a compilation to get the attention of nerds like you that fetishize physical media: Well, yes, but my point still stands. If they had packaged together games that were a skosh more similar, this whole game would actually get played, as opposed to just 16% of it. Man, if I only played 16% of Persona 4, I’d declare it a complete failure…
  • Favorite Game (this compilation): Err, gee, you think that might be Sonic the Hedgehog? Second place is Altered Beast, and third is Puyo Pop 2. Everything else is just gravy, albeit the kind of gravy that sits in a can in your pantry until the end of all time.
  • Favorite Improvement: Naturally, it’s in Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s the presence of the spin dash in a game not at all designed for such a thing. It is glorious, and now I want a spin dash in Altered Beast.
  • A word from the Professor: I think this rabbit wants to see the end of mankind.
    Go Bunny

    Don’t listen to him, Trump!
  • Favorite Thing that Makes me Sad: Randomizing the beast transformations in Altered Beast does practically nothing. Considering this is something I begged for when I was a kid abusing the AB cabinet at the local Pizza Hut, I now know that my entire life is a lie.
  • Did you know? There were two other 3D Classic Collections in Japan. The first included Ecco, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage, and Space Harrier… which probably tracks as the most focused compilation. The third and final collection is all over the place, but it includes Gunstar Heroes and Sonic 2, so its absence is keenly felt.
  • Would I play again: I really like Sonic the Hedgehog.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 2! Rawr! Let’s murder all of Ancient Greece! Please look forward to it! (NOTE: Goggle Bob and the Goggle Bob Blog do not condone the murdering of all of Ancient Greece for entertainment purposes.)

Spoooooky

FGC #324 Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure

We're all a little looneyTiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure is a videogame based on the highly popular (with 90’s kids that watched Fox) series, Tiny Toon Adventures. While it would make perfect sense for this game to be fairly original, bad news, this is yet another fuzzy mascot Sonic-alike for the Sega Genesis. The NES got a couple of interesting platformers, the SNES got a TTA adaption that had no idea what it wanted to be (“Am I… playing football now?”), and the Genesis got a Sonic the Hedgehog wannabe. This is how the world works.

But, thanks to poor scheduling compliments of my daffy plucky robot, I managed to play this game between sessions of Sonic Mania. This does nothing for a Sonic-alike game, but it does give me an excuse to elucidate why Sonic Mania works without having to actually “review” that game. Hooray! So let’s all enjoy a quick list of things that absolutely do not work in Sonic-ish games.

Hit Points are the Enemy

To this very day, everyone claim’s Sonic’s one major innovation was speed. He’s gotta go fast, etc. etc. But the speed is a lie! Yes, it’s cool to run through loops and barrel along like you’re a living rolling coaster, but even in the best Sonic games, that barely lasts past the first level. Then we’ve got a host of lava rivers, watery labyrinths, and a maybe an airship or two. Want to know what happens when you try to run at top speed on a high altitude platform with no guardrails? Spoilers: it ends with your femur being found in another county.

Here we go!The real innovation of Sonic is the one thing everyone takes for granted: rings. With just a single ring, Sonic is invincible! Or… at least he won’t die after a tap from a giant egg robot. And that makes all the difference! As long as you’ve got a ring (which is easily obtainable… anywhere), life is wonderful, and you can run around like an idiot with zero repercussions. It’s the joy of Sonic: just run and run and run, and if you hit an obstacle, no big deal, you’ll survive to run again. You only need worry when you’re down to zero rings, and, well, if you’ve let that happen, you probably did something wrong. Were you not moving fast enough? It was probably that.

Buster of Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure tries to emulate the Sonic “gotta go fast” formula, but with basic hit points. On one hand, yes, it would have been a little too obvious if Buster collected trails of “carrots” and had to maintain a single veggie to avoid death at all times, but… that would have been so much better. Buster has 3 HP, which means the game always flows like this:

  • You have full health, hooray, run around like a coked up rabbit.
  • You have lost a health point, not good, but survivability is still possible.
  • You have 1 HP remaining. Life is pain. Now please move as slow as possible, because one more hit means…
  • Death
  • Repeat

Every single level works out like this, because nobody wants to repeat a stage thanks to one random misplaced frog. Life is hunky dory while the health is topped off, and everything slows to a depressing crawl when hearts are a scarce resource. A game plainly made for running is no fun when you’re creeping along at Bookworm’s pace.

Rings are the thing, and their only natural enemies are…

Instant Kill Traps are the Worst

It's deathLet’s be clear here: there is a difference between an “instant kill hazard” and an “instant kill trap”. On one hand, you have something like a pit. You see the pit, you know that the pit is going to kill you if you fall in there, and, thus, you do everything to navigate your digital avatar around/over said pit. That is a hazard, and, while it means instant death regardless of health/rings, it’s a clear and present threat, and the challenge is in discovering how to overcome this problem. An instant kill trap, meanwhile, is the inevitable result of going fast in an area where there are A. pits B. spikes, or, my personal favorite C. things that make you go squish. This is horrible, because it punishes the player for doing the one thing that feels fun in these games (gotta go ____).

Sonic Mania is wonderful about this, because it almost never deliberately routes a fun, spring powered bit of blast processing right into an immediate death (I say “deliberately” because there are more than a few squishy deaths that seem rather… accidental). This is in sharp contrast to every other 2-D Sonic game for the last twenty years. Sonic Rush decided to stick a bottomless pit every seven steps, and Sonic Rivals was far too fond of vast chasms of gaping death. The Advance series mitigated this somewhat with multiple paths, and remembering to always “stay up” was a route to redemption. But honorary bad Sonic game Buster’s Hidden Treasure sticks to only one route, and it’s one fraught with instant death. The second “world” starts with a drop that seems survivable… until you watch helplessly as Buster is crushed by an insurmountable slab of moving granite. Whoops, sorry you didn’t intuitively know this was an instant death trap! Please try again!

And while we’re talking about instant death nonsense…

Never have a “chase” boss

It’s easy to see the confusion here: you want a villain that compliments the hero’s powerset. Batman needs a villain he can outwit. Goku needs a villain he can outpunch. And, when you’ve got a hero that has a power that can be described as “I like to run”, then you need a villain that can be outrun. This stands to reason, and, conceptually, makes a lot more sense than how Sonic, the fastest furball on two legs, defeats all his opponents by bouncing off of ‘em like some manner of plumber.

However, with the possible exception of racing games, “chase” bosses and challenges are terrible. This is because a chase is basically a race, and there are only so many ways you can make a race consistently entertaining/interesting. Too much of a gulf between first and second place? Boring. Both racers aren’t even on the same screen? Boring. There are hazards on the track, but the racers are ignoring them? Totally boring. So, naturally, most chase bosses spice things up with rubber band AI, impossible-to-predict traps, and our old friend instant death loss conditions. It doesn’t end well.

What’s the one part of Sonic Mania that everyone is complaining about? The chase/race against Mecha Sonic. Same for Sonic Generations and its ridiculous “rival” races. Same for Buster’s Treasure Hunt and the final race against Elmyra. None of this is fun, and, while it is thematically appropriate, none of it is any better than the average “bop a boss” playstyle. There might not be much reason for Sonic or Buster to have a damaging hop attack, but it sure does beat another Turbo Tunnel wannabe.

Nobody likes Spelling Errors

Look, this is really simple, it’s spelled “You’re”…

Hello Dizzy

And who knows where this whole “Eggman” thing came from, but it’s spelled “Robotnik”. Is it that hard to get the little things right?

And I guess that’s the moral here. Anyone can make a Sonic-alike game, but the little details are what is most important. If you don’t cross your t’s and dot your bottomless pits, you’re going to have a bad time. Making a good Sonic game isn’t impossible, you just have to follow a few rules. Get through that, and the good stuff will go fast.

FGC #324 Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure

  • System: Sega Genesis. Again, this game is entirely different from Tiny Toon Adventures on other consoles of the time.
  • Number of players: Could have wedged Babs Bunny (no relation) in there as a second player, but no, it’s one player.
  • Speaking of which: This is another game based on a kid’s property where the entire female cast gets sidelined for no good reason. Babs, Shirley, and Fifi are all kidnapped during the opening narration, and, while the boys are fought as (mind controlled) bosses, the female cast is stuck bound and gagged for the entirety of the adventure. Lame! I guess this means the only girl that appears during actual gameplay is Elmyra. What a pain.
  • Away we goFavorite Boss: Gene Splicer (who appeared in like two episodes of Tiny Toons, but somehow every videogame port) is technically 90% of the bosses in this game, but he’s usually joined by a brainwashed toon. As per videogame adaptation tradition, Dizzy Devil is the first and probably best boss. The rest of them are… remarkably boring. Hampton Pig attacks with a vacuum cleaner? Who thought that was a good idea?
  • Other problems: The final world has one of those areas where magical doors might send you to the next area or back to the beginning of the stage. This isn’t really a Sonic problem, but I feel I should note that the platformer teleporter maze is one of the worst things ever.
  • Did you know? Little Sneezer is one of the assist characters in Buster’s Hidden Treasure. Many people believe Sneezer is the protégé of Speedy Gonzales, but, no, he’s actually supposed to be a match for another obscure Looney Tunes character, Sniffles. Speedy Gonzales actually matches up to Lightning Rodriguez, a character that doesn’t really exist.
  • Would I play again: This is my least favorite Tiny Toons title. Yes, that includes that one Mario Paint wannabe game. So that’s a no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wizards and Warriors 3 for a live stream tonight! Be back here around nine or so for a live play through of one of the worst games of my childhood. Please look forward to it!

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

SANIC!The Sonic the Hedgehog games should get more praise, because they’re everything you ever wanted.

(Though, to be clear, I’m not saying Sonic the Hedgehog games are good.)

I’m an old school gamer. I’ve been playing videogames literally longer than I can remember, but I do remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. in the same way most people remember receiving a beloved pet. Sitting in my neighbor’s basement, SMB was a revelation the likes of which would take decades to truly understand. And in the intervening years, I have yet to see a “bad” Mario game (note: I do not own a CD-i). Nintendo has carefully curated the franchise for ages, and we, the unwashed public, are only entitled to a new Mario game when Miyamoto sees fit to release one. And, what’s more, there is usually a reason for a new Mario release. Super Mario World was released to commemorate Mario finally getting a dinosaur mount, and Super Mario Sunshine would be a very different animal without the Gamecube’s analog shoulder buttons. Other franchises are similar, from Zelda to Final Fantasy, and, while they all obviously exist to fill their producers’ coffers, one does get the distinct impression that each of these releases is carefully crafted and calculated to be as much a “designer’s vision” as possible. Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy 15 were obviously built by a small army of programmers, designers, and composers, but the direction of these games seem singular and focused. In the same way that one could point to a Spielberg or Cameron film, one can recognize a Nintendo or Square-Enix AAA title.

WeeeeeBut there is a flipside to these carefully crafted games. When a game is one director’s vision, there isn’t much room for anything else. And, what’s more, there isn’t room for anything else that the audience might enjoy. To be more precise, was I the only ten year-old that was disappointed that Super Mario Bros. 3 didn’t ever reference The Super Mario Super Show or The Wizard? Would it have been too much for The Adventure of Link to give us a passing reference to Captain N: The Game Master? Or, speaking of which, could we get another Kid Icarus game? I know it doesn’t fit your image of the franchise, Nintendo, but could you throw a bone over to the kids who have been devouring your Nintendo Cereal System like candy? Also, Nintendo candy? The fans demand it!

But the future refused to change. These “franchise caretakers” have gotten better in recent years, but when even your Disney crossover games have become as serious as a Russian history lecture, you know that maybe these singular visions have gotten in the way of your toys. Remember when rom hacking first became a thing? And everybody and their mother replaced the Mario sprite with everything from “Wheelchair Mario” to Kenny McCormick? That’s what the fans want to see! It obviously wouldn’t be “right”, but sometimes you just want to see Cloud Strife fight Mario while Bayonetta poses in the background. And only one game in history has ever done that! There should be at least five of those by now!

And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic… he gets it. Sonic has been trying to please his fans for years.

The fans demand it!It started with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sonic the Hedgehog (the game) does not naturally lend itself to two players, as the whole speed factor means someone has to slow down to stay on the screen, and “two player alternating” is going to be boring as playing Phantasy Star as you wait for your turn. Tails was introduced as a stopgap 2-player mode. Sure, he can’t really “do” anything, but you can now play through Sonic’s zones with an active buddy participating in the fun, and maybe the wee fox can take a few hits on his bro’s behalf. And if that’s not your thing, here’s a 2-player competitive race mode. It’s not “the whole game”, but it’s more entertaining than Excitebike. See, fans, we listened, and even though that two-player suggestion doesn’t really work for the format, here’s a way to make it work! Yay!

And that kind of thinking continued in even subtler ways. Want your next videogame to start the minute the last one ended? Sonic & Knuckles 3 is here. Want to see Sonic’s answer to Mario 64? Sonic Adventure time, baby! Sonic getting too kiddy, and needs to be more “modern” and “edgy”? We’ve got just the Shadow! And he comes with a sexy bat, because we know what you want, wink wink, nudge nudge. Not digging the 3-D? Check out our Gameboy advance releases! Or that PSP thing! In the meanwhile, we’ve got a Sonic game where you can play as all of Sonic’s supporting cast and Sonic at the same time! Next gen Sonic with a serious plot for a serious fandom? Watch your favorite hedgehog die metaphorically and physically! Oh, and if anybody wanted a Ristar revival, we’ve got something for that, too. Long live Sanic!

Now, you may have noticed a few contradictions in the previous paragraph. Most obviously, it’s impossible to have a sexy bat and tell a serious story. That’s just science. And, let’s be real here, a lot of these concepts might work on paper (Sonic, Tails, and Nipples work together to fight Metal Sonic!), but fail horribly in the execution (Sonic Heroes destroyed all fun within a twenty yard radius). But the thing of it is that Sonic, and his handlers, tried. They listened to fans, heard that someone actually wanted to see the Chaotix Crew again, and did their best to make that happen. It didn’t always work (and you could argue that the franchise languished because it never worked), but it was clear someone was trying.

I hate you, 2006Sonic Generations seems to be the apex of this thinking. At this point in the franchise’s history, there were an equal number of people that wanted Sonic to “just go back to basics” as there were people that would sing along to the Sonic Adventure theme and demand that Sonic never revert to his “basic” origins. So let’s just make a game that is, uh, both games. Here’s classic Sonic over in this corner, and we’ve got modern Sonic ready and raring to go, too. And they can play through adaptations of each other’s levels, so you can finally live in a world wherein OG Sonic can experience the joys of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. What’s not to like!?

Against all reason, Sonic Generations, the game that did its best to placate both sides by essentially welding two games together, became one of the most beloved in the franchise. Yes, the bosses sucked, and some of the minigames overstayed their welcome after about three seconds, but you could largely ignore those flaws (just youtube the ending if you didn’t feel like dealing with that rancid final boss), and play some damn fine Sonic the Hedgehog level design. And the chaos emeralds are back and able to activate Super Sonic during regular levels, too! They got my letters!

And, ultimately, Sonic Generations is a great game not only because it’s fun to play, it’s a great game because it perfectly encapsulates the design philosophy of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s not about making the perfect game or using current technology to get the hedgehog to commit to some new gimmick; it’s about making a game that the fans want. It’s about looking back at decades of Sonic history, and getting hyper with all the avenues available. Sonic is about experimentation, taking risks, and knowing that, even if the latest ideas fail, there’ll be another Sonic game next year, and maybe this time we’ll forgo the scarf. This kind of “willing to fail” experimentation is something Sega does that Nintendon’t.

Sonic might be shamed. Sonic may have made mistakes. But Sonic gets over those failures fast. He’s gotta.

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

  • System: Playstation 3 for my collection, but also available for Xbox 360 and PC. There’s also a 3DS version, but it’s different enough to be considered an entirely separate game.
  • Number of players: There’s some sort of multiplayer mode in here, I believe. Never tried it myself, though.
  • GrrrrrFavorite Boss: There’s something satisfying about beating Perfect Chaos as “regular” Sonic. You’ve come a long way, hedgehog.
  • Favorite Level: Maybe it’s because of the prevalence of skateboards, but the classic version of City Escape seems to be my favorite here. The GUN truck is used to great effect, and the remix of a certain theme song is pretty great, too.
  • I have to ask: Okay, which one of you actually likes Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone? I’ve always hated that level, as it combines the twin joys of drowning and moving platforms. But, somehow, it keeps popping up again in later games. Why? Why must I deal with this creepy purple liquid again? Why hast thou forsaken me!?
  • Also: Speed Highway being the rep for Sonic Adventure is… weird. And they chose the one non-theme park level from Sonic Colors, the game that was all theme park.
  • Speaking of Sonic and Fans: As BEAT mentioned on the stream, Sega really seems to tolerate Sonic fan projects, which leads further credence to the idea that the inmates are running the asylum in the house of hedgehog. This seems to have culminated with Sonic Mania, basically a game created by graduated fans that is, incidentally, the best Sonic game I have ever played. But, then again, it’s basically just Sonic & Knuckles 4, which does seem like cheating…
  • Did you know? Sonic Generations was built from the remains of Sonic Unleashed, so there are a lot of Unleashed assets lying around the backend of the game. This just makes me think that I could have tolerated one (1) werehog stage. I mean, if they dropped the quicktime event nonsense, of course.
  • Would I play again: I doubt I’ll ever “play through” the game again, but I’m certainly going to test drive a few of my favorite stages again. There’s some part of my brain that is just never going to get tired of Green Hill Zone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Injustice 2! Time for Superman to punch everybody! Please look forward to it!

Vroom?