Tag Archives: knuckles the echidna

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 #354 Sonic Mania & Sonic Forces

SONIC!In the year of our Lord 2017, two Sonic the Hedgehog games were released within months of each other. And both of those games were really good.

That has never happened before.

This is an unprecedented event. This is the kind of thing that shakes your belief system. This is akin to discovering that your soul mate is and has always been a 90 year old retired construction worker named Danielle. How does something like this happen? What does it say about you? Does this mean that other “impossible” goals in this reality were actually achievable? Was there some secret way to breed ponies and kittens together to create the mythical/adorable pitten? All things are possible in this post-Sonic the Hedgehog Can Be Good Twice world, and we should all live in constant fear of the next shock to our collective system. Next, Aero the Acro-Bat is going to come soaring in to rave reviews, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it!

But before that happens, we are going to look at the differences between Sonic Mania, an amazing 2-D Sonic title, and Sonic Forces, an amazing 3-D/2-D Sonic title. Maybe we’ll discover the secret to Sonic success? Or does only madness await us? Let’s find out!

Stage Length is Important (or not)

Weeeee!Sonic Mania is, for all intents and purposes, Sonic 4 & Knuckles. Or Sonic & Knuckles 2? Look, what’s important is that it is very much a sequel to the Sega Genesis titles, and it employs a number of tricks and tips from that era. Included in that bag of tricks is the ol’ “giant stages full of secrets” standard that became popular with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its many hidden giant rings. Sonic has never been about exploring, but Sonic 3 did add the joy of pushing on all “solid” walls at all times. Could there be a secret in this direction? Or maybe over here? Let’s explore every nook and cranny until time runs out. Or… wait… that’s terrible! We don’t want to run out of time! These stages should be smaller! … But we don’t want to lose any content! This is confusing!

Meanwhile, Sonic Forces is all about shorter stages. The average Sonic Forces stage can be completed within all of two minutes. This is something of an accomplishment, as 3-D platforming games have a tendency to take hours just to burn through the “introduction” portion of a level. Traversing 3-D space takes a long time! But, despite the existence of these short stages, there are a myriad of routes available, so, like in Sonic Mania, there are secrets to discover up and down Sonic’s world. You’re unlikely to ever see ten minutes on Sonic Force’s timer, but levels can still be played for hours in an attempt to find new and fascinating routes.

Basically, we’re looking at two completely different approaches to level design and how to discover secrets. One takes the “old school” concepts of 2-D design, but expands them to possibly unwieldy levels, while the other shrinks 3-D sensibilities to bite-sized nuggets that are over before they begin. And they’re both great! Bah! That doesn’t make a lick of sense!

Bosses should be one thing (or the other)

He has somewhere to beYou finished a stage, and now it’s time for a boss. Sonic Mania throws everything at poor Sonic, up to and including a kitchen sink that will eventually be transformed back into a penguin. Some stages end with a simple “jump here” boss. Some levels lead to a high-speed chase. Sometimes the boss is a puzzle that requires careful observation, timing, and bouncing. Sometimes you have to fight Shinobi. And, if you’re particularly unlucky, you might be faced with that one damn boss from Hydrocity wasn’t any fun the first time, so why the hell did some nitwit decide it was time for that jerkass to return!? Er-hem. The bosses of Sonic Mania are an eclectic bunch, and a lot of stress is derived from whether or not you’re going to face Heavy Rider & Jimmy or goddamn Metal Sonic. But, stupid Metal Sonic aside, nearly all of these boss battles can be completed inside of thirty seconds, so there’s not much to complain about.

Sonic Forces, naturally, features bosses that take much longer. By and large, the bosses of Sonic Forces are generally more cinematic affairs, and do their best to utilize the story telling potential of 3-D adventures with epic clashes between Sonic (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and his most dangerous foes (and that one dork from Lost World). Thus, these battles generally contain multiple phases, wildly changing patterns, and the occasional finale that features any number of hedgehogs powering up to supersonic speeds. In general, this leads to more interesting battles, though at the cost of having to hear about Sonic believing in you over and over again should you hit a particularly rough spot. Sonic, dude, I know we can beat this boss, just shut up about it and get your damn homing attack working properly. I’m just as tired of this Virtual Boy dimension as you are.

So, once again, both games take completely separate paths to reach the same generally enjoyable but somehow flawed destination. Huh.

Show Don’t Tell (or Shout Everything)

I like the look of these guysSonic Mania contains the typical Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis plot: Dr. Eggman is up to no good, and it’s time to stop him. Not a single bit of dialogue is spoken, and the new antagonists, The Hard Boiled Heavies, are not given names during actual gameplay. But, in the same way you learned everything you ever needed to know about Knuckles from his ability to jump on switches (he’s kind of a dick), the Heavies are clearly defined by their actions. In the end, Sonic saves the day (of course) and puts down a minor robot uprising while sending Robotnik packing. Oh, and there might have been time travel involved, too? Doesn’t matter, a rollercoaster doesn’t need a story to be fun.

Sonic Forces has the most bonkers plot to ever grace Sonic’s elongated snout. Sonic the Hedgehog is dead! Forever! And Eggman has conquered the entire planet inside of a couple of months! Our last hope is Original the Character and a resistance of whacky animal pals! And Tails had such a sadgasm over his dead buddy that he summoned another Sonic the Hedgehog from another dimension! And it turns out (regular) Sonic is alive again! And all of this happens before the fourth stage (of thirty)! I’m not even going to get into how Eggman gave a magical rock that controls reality to an anonymous moron that is cataclysmically annoyed by Shadow the Hedgehog. And then somebody summons the freaking sun like gravity ain’t no thang!

Sonic Forces’ plot never shuts up, and that makes it glorious. There is not a single sane person on this planet that ever needed to see Knuckles the Echidna and Vector the Crocodile discus the horrors of war, but here it is. Sonic instantly makes best friends with the player’s haphazardly created deviantart avatar while Tails wanders around with his mentor’s inter-dimensional ghost from another timeline. I’m pretty sure Amy Rose makes a joke about having an all Sonic threeway somewhere in there. The story moves at breakneck speed, it’s completely demented, and it’s magnificent. If you’re going to have a plot where a group of rebel furries un-conquer a planet inside of four days, this is the way to do it.

So completely silent, gameplay-based storytelling versus senseless talky talk that spirals around exclusively for lunatics. Either one works

Knuckles Is

In one adventure, Knuckles is the noble leader of a resistance movement that is humanity’s last hope. … Or what passes for “humanity” in this world.

Who are those guys in the back?

In another world, Knuckles maybe has the pattern recognition of a goldfish.

He's knuckles!

…. Echidnas can be anything?

Tight Controls are Essential/Unnecessary

Weeee?Sonic Mania controls like a dream. It feels like the Sega Genesis titles never ended, and, after years of terrible approximations, “real” Sonic has returned. Sonic’s momentum is untouchable, and, whether you’re navigating between moving platforms or over an ocean of flaming oil, you’re completely in control. Sonic can spin dash up to mach speed at a moment’s notice, but he can also handle shifting blocks like a pro. Give or take a few accidentally deadly “squishing” spots, Sonic Mania provides perfect Sonic movement.

Sonic Forces, unfortunately, carries forward many of 3-D Sonic’s movement problems. During the 2-D areas in particular, it is nearly impossible to get Sonic to 100% follow your inputs, and not instantly break into some uncontrollable, inevitably deadly forward momentum. This Sonic is designed backwards from his constant need to barrel forward, and that leads to a number of terrible, unwanted deaths at the hands of bottomless pits or stationary spikes. Sonic the Hedgehog should never be defeated by an inanimate object!

But, then again, it doesn’t matter.

3-D Sonic is also built for his homing dash, and Orginal the Character has an inexplicable grappling hook. Both abilities allow Sonic/Original to instantly dash forward and onto a specific point, and the stage design is generally built for that essential ability. And, more often than not, it works wonderfully. Sure, you can steer a freight train into a parking space a lot easier than this Hedgehog, but why bother? Sonic is the King of Speed, so keeping your goin’ fast. There might be an accidental death or two, but you don’t have any lives to lose, so don’t worry about it. You want to put brakes on your bumper cars? Don’t be silly.

Just because you’ve got the same hedgehog in two different games doesn’t mean he has to control exactly the same.

Fanservice Can Go Both Ways

Sonic Mania is a love letter to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Not only are stages remastered and remixed, but there are an amazing number of “little touches” that recall Sonic’s decades-long history. There are traps originating from Game Gear titles. There are bosses that crept out of ill-advised arcade fighting games. There are loving homages to the Sonic fan community and its myriad of modders. You could spend a day reading the Wikipedia pages dedicated to each individual zone. Did you know that Sonic’s shake at the start of Chemical Plant Zone was a reference to Sonic Spinball? Of course you didn’t know that! Nobody played Sonic Spinball!

Sonic Forces primarily speeds off in the other direction. Rather than dwell on Sonic’s past, Sonic has made a brand new friend: you! You are Original the Character, an anthropomorphic animal of your own creation, and Sonic totally wants to be your best friend! But don’t worry, it’s not just because he loves your sparkling (and completely silent) personality, it’s also because you’ve got the skillz. In an effort to create the most beloved original character in history, the kindly creators of Sonic Forces combined your chance notebook sketches with the one and only Spider-Man! Grapple around the city like an avenging arachnid! Get ready to employ all sorts of amazing acrobatic techniques to save and stand by your favorite hedgehog. You love Sonic, and now Sonic loves you! You’re the best Sonic Fan ever!

Chemical Plant Zone is a Scourge

I HATE THIS LEVELBoth Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces contain remixed versions of Chemical Plant Zone. Sonic Mania adds bouncy chemicals, while Sonic Forces adds the occasional sprinkling of lasers. This proves that, even with a basic theme, you can have riotously different interpretations of the same level. Unfortunately, as good as these zones may be, they still come from the same base of the cruddy Chemical Plant Zone.

So, there, that’s it. All good Sonic games contain a Chemical Plant Zone.

Ugh. This universe is the worst.

FGC #354 Sonic Mania

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: There’s Sonic & Tails mode for multiple players, and some manner of race mode that I am never touching.
  • Favorite Zone: Oil Ocean becoming combustible thanks to the fire shield is the exact kind of “remix” the world needed.
  • Something special: The special stages are very reminiscent of Sonic & Knuckles as well, as they seem difficult initially, but are second nature in no time at all. This is a tremendous step up from the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 special stages, which are impossible.
  • Thanks, JimmyJust play the gig, man: Everything about this soundtrack is amazing, but the way each stage is remixed for various areas and events is amazing. Flying Battery might not be my favorite zone, but its second act gets the best tunes.
  • Did you know? Sonic Mania was one of the top selling Switch titles, outselling even Minecraft. Like, it didn’t outsell Minecraft on every system, but go ahead and tell your know-it-all nephew that Sonic is more popular than Minecraft.
  • Would I play again: In a heartbeat. Sonic Mania 2 is all I want from this sick and twisted world.

FGC #354 Sonic Forces

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: You can be all sorts of crazy characters, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Zone: Null Space is a stage that takes place in “null space” for all of ten seconds before becoming another random city level. You would think this would bother me, but, come on, takes a special kind of game to trump up some alternate dimension and then utilize it for less time than it takes to blow a fart.
  • Head Canon Corner: In Sonic Generations, “old” Sonic is stated to be Sonic’s younger self. In Sonic Forces, “old” Sonic is recognized, but Tails claims he is from another dimension, not the past. My theory? This is not a retcon, and when Old Sonic the Hedgehog saw his 3-D future during Generations, he decided he wanted nothing of it, and caused a split timeline/dimension when he decided to never leave the joys of 2-D exclusives. And that’s where Sonic Mania originates.
  • EggyThe disease is inside me: Okay, full disclosure? I may have been mentally working out my Original the Character’s backstory while I was bored during zones. She’s purple, so I figure she’s the adopted sister of Fang the Sniper, and one day she decided…
  • Did you know? It sounds crazy, but the last time Shadow the Hedgehog was a playable character in a “main” Sonic game, it was 2006. Yes, that 2006. That game really killed the poor hedgehog’s street cred.
  • Would I play again: Not as quickly as Sonic Mania, but I am going to return to 100% this title at one point. It’s just too fun! And how often does that happen?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, and we’re going to pair it with Pocket Fighter aka Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix! It’s time for a whole pile of chibi street fighters! Please look forward to it!

THIS IS NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE

FGC #189 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

October is a crowded month. Most significantly, it is LGBT History Month, which, seriously, get on that, people, it’s not like we have any LGBT commemorative holidays (is Lincoln’s Birthday still a thing?). October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Cyber Security Awareness Month, and Disability Employment Awareness Month. I’m not going to get into it, but all four of those things I am very aware of. It’s also Polish American Heritage Month, and, ugh, I guess this means it would be in poor taste to make a Polak joke. October is also the general home of pumpkin spice and the great holiday of Halloween. And I guess Columbus gets a holiday somewhere in there, too? Was he gay? I feel like we’d know if he was.

Incidentally, August isn’t bloody anything.

But, thanks to the capricious choosing of a random robot, I’ve got one more for October. I propose that October be Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Month. I have prepared a FAQ for your inevitable questions.

Why Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Month?

Because StH3&K is a game that should be celebrated. It is the finale of the Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis glory days, and, in my humble opinion, it’s one of the best Sonic games in existence. Sonic the Hedgehog has its share of problems, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is great, but it contains those hateful half pipe bonus stages that preclude Super Sonic’s involvement for all but the most dedicated players. It also lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that only a belligerent It's... kind of fun?echidna can bring to the table. StH3&K is one of the few Sonic the Hedgehog games throughout history to feature a final boss that is anything but a grueling slog of memorization or tedium, too. And I’m pretty sure there are like four final bosses in this game, so that’s kind of an accomplishment.

How are there four final bosses?

Well, there’s the final boss of the Sonic 3 portion, the final boss of the & Knuckles portion, the “secret” final boss that can only be fought by Hyper Sonic, and the final boss of the Knuckles portion, Super Metal Sonic. I realize this may be confusing, but we have an entire month to work out the details.

What’s this about portions?

StH3&K is a hybrid game. In the beginning, there was simply Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and it was good. Then Sega begat Sonic and Knuckles, a game with hitherto unforeseen lock-on technology, which allowed the two games to combine into one shining gestalt of a gigantic adventure. Once combined, the two games allowed the player to play through every level in both games, collect double the chaos emeralds (well, technically the same number of emeralds, the emeralds just got bigger), and play the stages as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, all with slightly different gameplay styles. This effectively made Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (the completely combined form) its own game separate from both Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.

ARGHDoes this make StH3&K some kind of perfect, super game?

Not quite. There can be issues with combining two comprehensive games. Related to the multiple final boss “problem”, there is a definite climb in difficulty to reach the final stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 3… and then you’re right back at the relatively easy difficulty of the start of Sonic & Knuckles. And, while S&K may be a shorter, faster game than StH3, it still feels rather limiting to conquer the Death Egg and Heavy Arm, only to float down to a stage that is roughly as difficult as cooking ramen. And I don’t care what anyone says, it sucks to arbitrarily lose Super Sonic/Knuckles between games because you’re trying to earn Hyper Sonic. I want to run around at the speed of sound right now! Oh, and somehow the two games contain two zones that are mostly ice stages, and that’s one ice stage too many.

So we should be aware of StH3&K just because it’s a mostly good game?

A chief reason the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Campaign exists is that it seems like Sega itself randomly forgets about StH3&K. Sega has a tendency to rerelease Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles separately, but offer no way to combine the two games. This is preposterous! Yes, there are versions (on Wii and Steam, if memory serves) that allow for that all important lock-on, but there are many compilations and downloadable releases that forsake the game’s greatest contribution. We must be aware of StH3&K because, unless we are ever vigilant, Sega will again forget to release the greatest entry in the Sonic canon. As it currently stands, it would be akin to Nintendo repeatedly releasing Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and World, but never 3. Do you want to live in a world like that? No! What’s the point in breathing if you can’t steer Knuckles through Marble Garden Zone? And the idea that you wouldn’t be able to revisit Mushroom Hill Zone as Hyper Sonic? Preposterous.

So it’s all about bullying Sega into releasing the game you want?

Well… Yes. But there’s more to it than that. It’s because we must never forget.

Have you gone insane?

YAYI’m not talking about that. I’m talking about properly remembering the past, and not just conveniently forgetting the ugly parts.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is a famously incomplete game. It was originally intended to be the whole of StH3&K from the get-go, but a Christmas season and Sonic’s unbridled popularity pushed the game out the door before it was truly “done”. Sega made lemonade out of these lemons, though, and released Sonic & Knuckles and its lock-on technology shortly thereafter, thus making the game complete with the kludgiest of kludges.

And we, the good little Sega brats of the day, had to buy an entirely new game to get one complete game.

If this kind of thinking sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to how DLC works nowadays. Released an incomplete game? No problem! We’ll patch in the whole version later, and you can download ten gigs of updates to make the fractured whole. Maybe extra levels cost some extra dough, maybe you’re getting a new story mode for free because the original game is so lacking, but, one way or another, developers know they can release “partial” games, and make it up to the player later. Hell, it might even help with that damn used game market. Hang on to that copy of Street Fighter 5 until it’s actually a viable game, kiddies!

But, as much as anyone ever complains about DLC or developers releasing incomplete games, it used to be so much worse. If your copy of Pokémon Red kept deleting your save file because you surfed into a Missingno, bad news, that’s not getting better. Boobeam Trap is the worst part of Mega Man 2? Well, there’s no patch coming that makes that better, it’s a scar forever. And you say you’d step over your own mother just to get Like Saturnmore Super Mario Bros. 3 levels? Well good luck there, the next Mario is going to have completely different gameplay, though you might get some new challenges through playing cards in about a decade.

There are more levels available for Sonic the Hedgehog 3? And a new playable character? That’s great! You only have to buy an entirely new game. Hope it’s in your budget to buy the same game twice!

So the next time some new game promises the full experience with additional DLC, or an Assassin’s Creed is released without faces, remember that that used to be it. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles is proof that, even going back to the ol’ 16-bit days, sometimes a game needs a little more time in the oven to be perfect, but how that “update” gets to the player (and its cost) can change drastically. Which is worse: “Game of the Year Edition” or “Buy an Entirely New Game”?

I think that’s something worth remembering.

So why not Old DLC Methods Awareness Month?

That doesn’t include Knuckles the Echidna, now does it?

FGC #189 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

  • System: In honor of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Month, the only systems that support the full game are: … Okay, there’s too many to list. Sega Genesis, Wii, and Steam are relevant to this article, but I’m also going to include the Sonic & Garfield Pack for PC.
  • Number of Players: One real player, and a second Tails that can do whatever he wants. That should be in more games
  • Favorite Character: Knuckles gets the respect knux.
  • Sonic 2 & Knuckles: You may also combine Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic & Knuckles to get Knuckles to play through Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It’s not that exciting, but it makes that one bit in Chemical Plant Zone a lot more tolerable. … Has this “version” ever appeared on rereleases?
  • It gets in everythingFavorite Zone: I realize that this is most people’s most hated zone, but Sandopolis Zone is my favorite. I love how the pyramid puts an emphasis on “gotta go fast” without some lame timer or generic flooding segment. Sand flooding is a totally different thing.
  • Just play the gig, man: Famously, Michael Jackson did or did not contribute music to Sonic the Hedgehog 3. It apparently got downplayed thanks to… personal matters… in Mr. Jackson’s life, but he did at least contribute background tunes for… Carnival Night Zone?! That’s that worst one!
  • Did you know? You may access the “locked to a character” stages through the debug cheat code. This means that Sonic can fight Super Metal Sonic, and Knuckles can explore the Death Egg. Wouldn’t recommend taking Tails to the Doomsday Zone, though.
  • Would I play again: Well, now I have to every October, right? I can live with that.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Street Fighter EX 3 for the Playstation 2! That’s… not Street Fighter 3, is it? Why is everybody so blocky? Oh well, guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!




That’s better.

FGC #125 Sonic Rivals

WoooSonic Rivals is the worst Sonic the Hedgehog game ever made.

Yes, it is also the worst Sonic the Hedgehog game made in 2006.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 is a bad game. Heck, just using the word “bad” seems like a disservice to other bad games. Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 is right up there with the likes of Primal Rage for “how did someone think this was okay?” Was it poor coding? A complete misinterpretation of the appeal of Sonic the Hedgehog? A burning desire to shoehorn a balrog (not that kind of balrog) into a fuzzy animal universe? Designers who had never heard of the concept of momentum? Whatever the case, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 was ridiculously bad, and was a failure in nearly every way. It seems to have literally been wiped from the Sonic canon at this point, and that’s probably for the best.

And yet, I will still say Sonic Rivals was worse. Why? It’s simple. It’s because Sonic Rivals does so much right, and then throws it all in a dumpster fire, presumably just to watch it burn.

Let’s review this game, and I’ll let you know exactly where it goes wrong.

First of all, this game only features the prime runners of the Sonic franchise. Your choices are Sonic the Hedgehog (he’s gotta go fast), Knuckles the Echidna (do you even run, bro?), Shadow the Hedgehog (the coolest character in the franchise), Silver the Hedgehog (at least he’s a hedgehog!), and Metal Sonic (literally built for speed). Completely absent from gameplay are Tails, Amy, Cream, Big, Charmy, Mighty, Fang, and every other one of Sonic’s hangers-on. This means that the gameplay is 100% Sonic the Hedgehog, and there isn’t a random shooting stage, “find the emeralds”, Gotta go somethingDDR flying, or fishing stage to be found. This is great! It’s a Sonic game with Sonic the Hedgehog! Hooray!

Speaking of which, it’s a pretty straightforward Sonic plot, too. Yes, for like the billionth time in the franchise, it turns out it wasn’t Dr. Robotnik behind the caper, but his nefarious and generally calm descendant, Eggman Nega. It’s stupid, but it’s a Sonic kind of stupid, and no one stands around for hours contemplating paradoxes or worrying about the space time continuum, they just move on to the next level, and recycle any and all egg-puns. As a result of this forthright plot, Sonic never has an occasion to makeout with a human, and the world is better for it.

Oh, and the whole thing is “classic” 2-D, too. That’s always a plus.

So, by all accounts, we should have a good Sonic the Hedgehog Game on our hands. It might not be Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but we’re looking at a portable game that features the things that the Sonic Franchise is actually good at. 2-D run ‘n jump gameplay is what made that blue hedgehog a star, so anything that retraces those steps with any kind of attention to detail should be a good game.

It really, really should.

Down to the wireSonic Rivals has one new twist on the Sonic formula: every level is a “race”. This isn’t a completely new concept for the Sonic Franchise: even if you ignore the myriad of Sonic racing games, you’ve still got 2-D “Sonic Gameplay” racing going back as far as Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sure, a lot of people ignored it, but there was a competitive 2-player mode, and I will admit that I had a lot of fun with friends racing Tails against Sonic back in the day (how many competitive 2-player games were on the Sega Genesis, anyway? Ignoring Sports titles..). This game is that optional mode writ large, with every single level a competition in one way or another. The first two stages of each Zone are a race, and then the third stage is a boss battle wherein you have to score more hits on the Egg Device than your opponent. It’s an easy to grasp concept, and it makes the “Rivals” portion of the title more relevant. Everyone is working toward the same goal, but they’re rivals, so let’s see who can save the world the fastest.

Except there’s one giant fly in the ointment: You must not lose. And, again, this does make a certain kind of sense. It’s your chosen mammal against the other three, and, yes, of course the game wants you to “win”, that’s how video games work. But… it’s a one-on-one race. There’s first place, and then there’s the loser, and that’s all that’s allowed. If you lose, there’s no “best two out of three” for the zone, you simply lose, and have to play the level again. From the start. And, of course, it’s a Sonic Game, so there’s no kind of EXP or other helpful prizes rewarded to the loser, you’re right back at square one. A loss is, effectively, death, and there are no checkpoints.

What does this all mean? Welp, looks like Sonic Rivals is the game where you could spend an hour attempting to get past the first stage, and not have anything to show for it.

Stupid bearNow, this could be true of any game. Heck, on my first introduction to Super Mario Bros., I probably scored a Game Over before seeing my first flagpole. However, it’s possible to make progress, even if it’s slight, within Super Mario Bros 1-1, even if you’re terrible at the game. There are checkpoints, 1-ups, and even a shortcut that will aid a neophyte’s journey. In Sonic Rivals? Nope. It’s a racing game with a brutal AI, so your only hope is memorizing the “track” from start to finish, and utilizing every powerup along the way. Lose, even by a quarter of a second, and it’s back to the beginning all over again.

Even Sonic the Hedgehog 1 had checkpoints…

It gets worse: the AI cheats. Okay, maybe it doesn’t cheat per se, but it certainly seems to have stacked the deck against the player. This is actually a problem you see a lot in modern Mario Karts: you’re flying over a random lake, gleefully enjoying being in first place, and then, whoops, someone used a lightning bolt, and something that would mildly inconvenience you in any other situation causes your racer to drop like a rock, and, whoops, you’re in fifth now because Lakitu took his sweet time fishing you out of the bog. This happens a lot in Sonic Rivals. Get anywhere near a bottomless pit, and your opponent will use a fireball, iceball, or similar ball of death, and your digital avatar will plummet to an entirely too slow death. Yes, you respawn quickly, but not quick enough to ever catch up again. OwieTechnically, you could use this same technique against your opponent, but it’s incredibly rare for both racers to be on the same screen simultaneously, so good luck knowing exactly when that ‘hole is over a hole.

And then there’s the boss stages. While the main stages are 100% races, the battles against Eggman Nega are in arenas that are much more like “classic” Sonic stages, with floating platforms and barrages to avoid. This would be good, except these stages highlight how the race stages modified Sonic’s physics, and forgot to turn ‘em off for slower stages. Sonic Rivals Sonic is no longer so great at precision platforming, as the slightest momentum will send the hedgehog blasting into the next county. Now try using that kind of control to hop up small platforms to nail an Egg Jet. It’s not so great.

This all adds up to an incredibly frustrating experience. While there are no real “lives” or “continues” to manage, repeating every stage over and over again is nowhere near fun. These are Sonic Zones, they’re not meant to be memorized and overanalyzed, they’re meant for hurtling past and never seeing again. In my memory, even my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog Zones are blurs, because that’s exactly the feeling you’d experience if you were zooming around at the speed of sound. Sonic Rivals practically wants Sonic to be Super Meat Boy or some other “precision” experience… except the controls aren’t built for that. At all.

The good news is that the franchise got better. Sonic Rivals 2 introduced “free mode”, and now a neophyte player could actually play the damn game, as opposed to the first level over and over again. Though that just raises more questions: did no one that playtested Sonic Rivals 1 acknowledge that maybe being forced to play the same level over and over again was a bad idea? Were all the playtesters Sonic savants, or did they all meekly believe their own skills to be inadequate, so it was their own failing? Or did no one play this game before release? Who knows? What’s important is that the people behind Sonic Rivals realized that there was something wrong with Sonic Rivals, they just didn’t do it before they released Sonic Rivals.

And, ultimately, that’s why Sonic Rivals is the worst. It’s so close to being a good (even great!) Sonic the Hedgehog game, but it zigged when it should have zagged, and we were stuck with a game that is practically impossible.

I’ll take a ridiculous failure over a damaged masterpiece any day.

FGC #125 Sonic Rivals

  • System: PSP, though also available for download on the Vita.
  • Number of players: Two, and it’s probably the reason this game exists. There was this big push on the PSP for multiplayer games practically from the system’s inception (let’s all play Darkstalkers together!), so I’m going to guess the game blossomed out of that desire (and Sonic is always eager to please).
  • Favorite Hedgehog: In this situation, it’s Sonic. I usually prefer whichever character is available with the most cool moves, but everyone is practically exactly the same in this. Metal Sonic might be the winner if I could tolerate this game long enough to unlock him (it?).
  • Ouch againFavorite Power: Shadow has a special move that screws up the rival player’s screen. Again, it’s hard have eyes on the AI at any given moment, but I’m going to go ahead and guess that this does absolutely nothing against the computer. Silver can also fubar your controls, and I’m guessing that falls into the same category, but without a cool visual effect.
  • Ring is the Thing: There’s a special attack that transforms rings from, ya know, rings into electrified death traps. Anyone that makes rings “bad” in a Sonic Game should be shot. Looking at you, romhackers.
  • Did you know? Eggman Nega has a very confusing backstory involving either being an alternate dimension version of Eggman or his descendant from 200 years in the future. I want to say the alternate dimension explanation fits best, as I don’t see Eggman hitting up Match.com anytime soon.
  • Would I play again: Noooooooope.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Adventure Island 2 for the SNES! Wow, we’re really on a 2-D kick all of a sudden. At least we’ll be seeing the game where Master Higgins finally scores a shirt. Please look forward to it!