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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?