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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 #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 #286 Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

BROSIt’s a common practice among nerds to attempt to uncover the “jump the shark” moment in a particular piece of media. As the theory goes, when a franchise has gone downhill in quality over time, you should be able to look back at previous chapters/episodes/editions, and find the exact moment everything started to decline. This expression originates from the show Happy Days, wherein The Fonz jumped his motorcycle over progressively more frightening sea animals, until it all culminated with a shark. And I guess the shark sued the production company for mental duress, and then the writer’s budget ran out, and the show got worse… or… something like that. Personally, I’ve never cottoned to the idea that there even are “jump the shark” moments, as I have faith that everything is connected, and nothing occurs in a vacuum. For a current example, I completely believe that American Politics 2017 is the direct result not of “but her emails” or anything like that, but a healthy combination of fifty years of politics being treated like a football game and a young Donald Trump getting his head slammed into a locker far too many times in high school. Our world, and our entertainment that reflects our world, is just the latest stop on a never-ending highway, and every shark along the way is just as important as every… not-shark? What’s the opposite of a shark? Bees?

But, beliefs aside, there are occasions when I need to admit I’m wrong, and maybe there is an exact moment when everything goes to hell. For the Sonic Franchise, it’s right about here:

This guy

Now, I want to be clear about why Shadow the Hedgehog is terrible. First of all, it’s not because he’s a lazy color swap of Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s not a color swap! He clearly has different shoes and he’s got frosted (blazed?) tips on his hair spikes. That makes him a totally original character, so do not steal. And, secondly, I don’t hate Shadow because he theoretically gave rise to the Sonic fandom’s bizarre obsession with slightly recoloring Sonic, calling it something like “Twilight the Hedgehog”, and then filling an entire Deviantart with hastily sketched nonsense depicting Twilight saving Sonic and being the ultimate best hedgehog forever before appearing in some barefoot-based fetish porn. I can’t blame Shadow for all of that, because, let’s face it, that was always going to happen. There are an equal number of ersatz Princess Peaches out there doing… stuff… and you know it. Shadow might be the start of everything wrong with Hedgehog Fandom (what an odd thing to type), but that’s not why he’s the forbearer of bad Sonic times.

No, Shadow’s worst transgressions are the result of his debut game, Sonic Adventure 2.

Hit a homerSonic Adventure 2 has a loose theme about good and evil. This is appropriate, as SA2 is an unholy abomination created by soldering a good game and bad game together. On one hand, we’ve got probably the best Sonic the Hedgehog 3-D gameplay ever seen. It is not by any means perfect, but, once you master the intricacies of some horrible hitboxes, you really do feel like you’re rolling around at the speed of sound. Clearing a level without stopping and just creating a blue blur of spin dashing, homing dashing, and light speed ring collection feels amazing, and that general rollercoaster feeling hasn’t been matched by any later Sonic games. On the other hand, this is the game that introduced Sonic to rail-grinding, and that has never been fun. Those stupid rails effectively turn great swaths of levels (including the final, real Sonic stage) into minecart challenges, and… no, just no. Basically, every moment a hedgehog is on-screen, it’s guaranteed that you’re either really enjoying it or participating in some manner of hell.

Which brings us to the other fun bit: you’re not guaranteed any hedgehog time from level to level. Sometimes you’re Tails, who has eschewed his normal wannabe Sonic gameplay for something more like the shooting bits of Sonic Adventure. And that’s not bad! The “robo sections” of SA were exciting in their chaos, and nothing much has changed between games, save eliminating the time limits that could make those areas stressful. And Nibbles is back in his SA role of finding emerald shards for the flimsiest of reasons, but that’s just SA’s excuse for more exploratory, less dash-y gameplay. It’s not what one signs up for with a Sonic game, but, for its epoch, it was an entertaining distraction. Though, I suppose, that is the issue, as, in order to play the Sonic game you inexorably wanted (there were two hedgehogs on the cover of this game, it should have to go fast!), you have to clear all the Tails/Nurples nonsense, which means slowing down to their levels. Boo slowdown!

But we still have the bad guy side. Dr. Robotnik is clearly the big bad of the Sonic franchise, so he’s obviously the leader of Team Bad. And, yes, he plays exactly like robo-Tails, so that kind of makes sense. But… aside from an army of generic robots, now we’re out of antagonists for the franchise. Sonic doesn’t even have a Tatanga or Wart, so I guess we need to get a Wario and Waluigi in here. Rogue the Bat was introduced as one part Catwoman and one part… No, she’s pretty much just a furry Catwoman, complete with the shifting alliances and a weird inclination toward being attracted to her oblivious rival. And then we’ve got Shadow, the escaped science experiment and preposterous dark hedgehog.

NOBODY LIKES YOUAnd Shadow… kind of works.

So he’s a cryogenically frozen hedgehog from two generations back? Sure, okay. I mean, there were already two games’ worth of echidna murals depicting a hedgehog saving the world, so it’s only natural that Grandpappy Robotnik would make his “ultimate life form” a hedgehog. Grease the wheels of prophecy whenever you get a chance, ya know? And he can pull off some magical teleporting abilities with the aid of a Chaos Emerald. That makes sense, too. I mean, Sonic and Knux are confirmed idiots, and Tails is pretty laser focused on machines, so it stands to reason there was more to those silly gems than going super saiyan. And Shadow has a bad attitude? Is that a problem? I mean, Sonic is the original animal with attitude (as far as videogames go, at least), and he’s only lost his edge over the years thanks to a decade of being merchandized by Urkel. Shadow the Edgelord is just a return to established hedgehog roots.

But the reason Shadow really works on an intrinsic level is that he is the core of the game’s plot. He was built by Grandpa Gerald to be the ultimate life form powered by Chaos Emeralds, and, by the end of the game, we’ll find that Gerald built his own Death Star and mecha-dinosaur, and it was all an insidious plot to destroy the world, and who will save us now!? Don’t worry, citizens, Shadow is here, and he’s equipped with the knowledge of the past and the support of Sad Auntie Eggwoman, and everything is going to be okay! Shadow will, at the final hour, sacrifice himself for the good of humanity, and, see? Team Bad Guy was actually Team Pretty Okay Guy all along.

WeeeeeAnd everyone knew that plot would work, because it’s the exact same plot as the last Sonic Adventure game. Shadow is basically SA’s Tikal, the ancient model swap of Noodles the Echidna that wound up wrapped up in an ancient weapon that threatens to destroy humanity and only focused caring will save us all. Except Tikal was not a hedgehog, so she was a lot more mopey than radical, and she never made it past her debut game (save a cameo or two). Shadow, meanwhile… well… Are there any games post SA2 that haven’t involved Shadow? Was he in Sonic 4? I want to say he at least got a cameo…

And that’s Shadow’s biggest problem: he just won’t go away. Shadow had a perfect little plot in Sonic Adventure 2, and, by the finale, it’s time for him to heroically perish, the end, thanks for coming by, Shadow. But, no, Shadow came back in the very next Sonic game, and he kept coming back after that. He even got his own game! It was confusing! And why did this keep happening? Was it because he was just that popular? The fans demanded it? Is it because it’s so simple to implement the Luigi to Sonic’s Mario? Does Sonic Team just want more gosh darn cussin’? Who can really provide the actual answer? I sure don’t know, but it is clear that Shadow the Hedgehog is here to stay.

The best characterAnd it’s that damn hedgehog that flushed the series. It’s not about him having too much attitude or using a gun or whatever other sins Shadow has committed; it’s about the keepers of Sonic looking at this singular, silly, dead character, and deciding to revive him because he should somehow be essential to the Hedgehog Universe. That makes Shadow the representative of the exact moment this franchise stopped being about blast processing, and more about the greater Chaos Emerald Mythology…. And Sonic got left by the wayside. It took over a decade after Shadow’s debut for Sonic and Sonic Gameplay to take center stage again, but, by that time, the damage was already done. We were cursed to live in a world where the word “werehedgehog” exists, and it all started with Shadow.

Shadow the Hedgehog, you were born the exact moment your species jumped the shark.

FGC #286 Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

  • System: Well, “Battle” technically appeared on the Gamecube (and was the first time Sonic starred in a game on a Nintendo home console… I think), but the original Sonic Adventure 2 first appeared on the Dreamcast. It was also then rereleased on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Hedgehogs get around.
  • Number of players: There’s a two player “battle mode”, and it’s theoretically more robust on all post-Dreamcast releases. Except… there isn’t much of a difference. You can play as additional characters!… that were all in the original, but had to be unlocked first. And there are new costumes? Who cares.
  • PUMPKIN HILL, YOJust play the gig, man: This is the best music in the Sonic in the franchise. I’m not kidding. At all. The original games have fun music, but I find myself humming other Genesis tunes a lot more often. And the latter games have ridiculous lyric/guitar songs, but they’ve gotten progressively more… I think “trendy” is the right word. But for Sonic Adventure 2? Oh man, they totally got the sweet spot on something that will be in your head all day and is completely incomprehensible. That’s exactly what I look for in a Dreamcast soundtrack.
  • I am an addict: Let me tell you about how I was glued to a Dreamcast VMU for a solid two months thanks to the damn Chao Garden minigame. Actually, no, I’m not going to tell you about that, because I’m pretty sure it ends with my friends flattening that VMU for my own safety.
  • Favorite Character: I mentioned it briefly in the article proper, but I really do enjoy the Tails/Eggman sections of the game. And, of the two, I kind of enjoy playing as Eggman more. He’s just so happy about winning for once!
  • Did you know? There is also a lame racing game hiding in Sonic Adventure. It is… so terrible.
  • Would I play again: Every once in a while, I get a hankering to play City Escape or… whatever stage it is where Shadow is on the bridge. City… Hazard? Something like that. But other than that, I rarely revisit this game, as I generally prefer the good ol’ days of 2-D.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pac-Man for the Gameboy! Yellow Man becomes Gray Man! Please look forward to it!

Master Emerald?  Get it?
Should we be seeing this?

FGC #197 Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

What a titleDr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a Puyo Pop clone with a Sonic skin. Dr. Robotnik is mechanizing the peaceful people of Beanville, and it’s up to you, player, to defeat the bad doctor and his robotic minions in a series of head-to-head puzzle challenges. Triumph, and the beans will be free to roam around and be joyful little loco roco rejects; fail, and Dr. Robotnik will utilize his new robo beans to conquer Mobius.

Feel like something is missing? That’s right, Sonic the Hedgehog is nowhere to be seen. Sonic, Tails, and Charmy Bee are all completely absent from this adventure. Dr. Robotnik gets the title, and Sonic doesn’t get so much as a chili dog.

And I think that’s a good thing.

Villains have a tendency to be more interesting than their heroic rivals. Dr. Robotnik is a mad scientist with an IQ of 300, a grandfather that tried to blow up the moon, and a revolutionary method of converting useless bunnies into robotic abominations. He’s dedicated to his twin goals of conquering the world and maybe building a shway theme park. Despite failing over and over again, Robotnik soldiers on, and doesn’t let a little thing like having his Egg Fortress obliterated get him down. Sonic the Hedgehog… likes to run fast.

And this happens in a lot of videogames, to the point that I’m now going to pit classic videogame heroes and villains against each other in a battle for supremacy (or at least top billing).

Mario and Bowser would be the obvious starting point… but that already seems kind of unfair. Mario is, essentially, a charismatic, well-liked soldier. Bowser is menacing toads again! Somebody call the one and only guy that ever seems to curb that dreadful dinosaur. PHOTO OF BOWSER UNAVAILABLEOn the other side of the aisle, though, you have Bowser, who is the king of a very eclectic kingdom. Peach rules a kingdom of funguys that are virtually indistinguishable from each other, while Bowsie corrals a mix of chestnuts, beetles, cacti, turtles (both bipedal and quadrupedal), and the occasional homicidal sun. And he somehow commands all those creatures to literally die for his cause. Peach can barely get her toads to venture outside the castle walls, and even her second best soldier is more likely to cower than conquer. Mario jumps, Bowser rules.

To be clear, I’m not saying Bowser is a good guy. He’s a very violent fire-breathing turtle monster, and his “grab ‘em by the Peach” policy should only be derided. But when you consider what goes into the average Bowser plan versus a Mario plan (run, jump, repeat), Bowser undoubtedly leads the more interesting life. But does Bowser get anything other than the occasional tennis match or RPG cameo? No! Meanwhile, Mario is munching on mushrooms on his 12,000th adventure. That mustache has to rescue… I don’t know… have we saved Candy Land, yet?

WIN!And this reminds me of another grand conqueror, Ganon, and I guess that damn Link kid, too. Ganon (give or take a dorf) must have the absolute worst luck. At this point in Zelda mythology, we know that Ganon is the reincarnation of a gigantic, malevolent demon that once threatened the very gods of Hyrule. It’s kind of a shame, then, that he’s routinely routed by a kid that herds cows. Ganon comes from an oppressed people, wants nothing but, ya know, water and other basic resources for his thirsty family, but is still turned away at the gate because a precocious preteen princess decided to tell everybody about some bad dream. He tries to make alliances with a shady sister kingdom, and his calls just keep going to voicemail until some damn jester picks up. Poor ginger tries to revive an entire mystical kingdom, and he gets a divinely-mandated sword in his forehead for his troubles. Link, meanwhile, seems to continually luck into the most powerful relics on the face of the Earth (“Gee, nice flute you got there, you say it controls all of time and space?”), and lays claim to these holy relics because… he’s courageous? Ya know, I’m pretty sure I could successfully poke some giant worm in the butt with a sword if the alternative meant death or falling off a tower. That should only merit The Triforce of Basic Survival, not Courage. Ganon fights for the good of suppressed others everywhere; Link usually only has one brunette in mind.

Speaking of generational heroes battling an immortal dictator, Dracula already has the title in Japan’s version of “Castlevania”, so I think he’s getting his due.

CRYDr. Wily, now there’s a guy who should get top billing. Screw “Mega Man” “Rock Man” or “Rainbow Man”, the true title of that franchise should be something along the lines of “Dr. Wily’s Funhouse (featuring some robot boy)”. Raise your hands if you wanted to be Dr. Wily as a kid. Thought never crossed your mind? Okay, but did you ever create your own robot masters? Design your own levels or weapons for Mega Man? Guess what! That’s Dr. Wily’s job! Dr. Light built one adaptable fighting robot, and then Dr. Wily built six death mazes and an entire castle to fight back. And then another eight levels, robot masters, and a castle. And then again! And again! Sometimes he built entire “dummy” castles just to screw with Rock-for-Brains! And when he ran out of ideas, he kidnapped another scientist so Mega Man could have even more robots to fight. And there was a soccer tournament somewhere in there! That is some insane dedication to his craft. Maybe mad. Obviously they can’t all be winners (Stone Man? Really?), but every once in a while you get a robot master choo choo or snake, and it all works out. Mega Man knows one big thing, but Dr. Wily knows many things, including how to build a fortress in the shape of a giant skull.

SO ANGRYBut I guess now we’re talking about Hedgehogs again. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine might not be the “The Adventures of Eggman”, but it is at least a chance for the mad scientist to shine outside of that rodent eulipotyphla’s limelight. Maybe we’ll see more Eggman times in the future, but for now, we must be content with one measly villain owning a puzzle game. We’ll get that hedgehog next time.

FGC #197 Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

  • System: Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and a menagerie of rereleases on later systems. Despite the assumed licensing issues, this game has no problem resurfacing every generation.
  • Number of players: Two player head-to-head puzzle action. Eat your heart out, Nintendo Tetris.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s Puyo Pop. It’s a match-color game. It’s practically Dr. Mario. It’s also really difficult for some reason. Like, the second stage is already pretty rough with piling the garbage blocks on the player.
  • So, did you beat it: Once, on one of the Sega/Sonic Mega Collections. I want to say Playstation 2 era? The final boss is Dr. Robotnik himself.
  • Hey, speaking of villains headlining games, what about Shadow the Hedgehog: This blog does not recognize color swaps as real characters. You heard me, Reptile!
  • Did you know? The aesthetics of this game are predominantly based on the Sonic the Hedgehog animated series. The, uh, daily one, not the one that only aired on Saturdays and was super rad because Sonic the Hedgehog was some kind of freedom fighter and there was a rabbit that was also a cyborg and I think Sonic had his own Uncle Ben. … The 90’s were a weird time to be alive.
  • Would I play again: No. I’m proud of Robotnik being immortalized in the title of this Puyo Pop clone… but it’s still just Puyo Pop. So why don’t I just play that?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ducktales, the Wayforward version! Get ready for life to be like a hurricane! Please look forward to it!

Ugh