Tag Archives: sonic the hedgehog

FGC #488 Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I can hear this GIFLet’s talk about when gameplay storytelling succeeds and fails.

Give or take a title screen or maybe a level select menu, there are practically zero words in Sonic the Hedgehog (1) regarding anything but the eponymous mammal and his clearing of a zone or two. But we still learned everything we needed to know about Sonic from the moment-to-moment of his first adventure. He’s fast. He’s brave. He squashes his nefarious opponents with the greatest of ease. And, while you could ascribe these same traits to any ol’ videogame hero, we also know what sets Sonic apart. He’s got attitude! Mario would be happy with being the player’s best friend. Mega Man is an unfeeling, occasionally blinking robot. Pit is having a really tough time of it. But Sonic? Sonic really would like you to move fast, player. He doesn’t have any authority over his own body for the duration of this game, and you could ram him straight into the closest badnik if you’d like, but… could we hurry this thing up? This erinaceid has got places to be.

Gotta stay in place fast

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has much the same script as Sonic the Hedgehog 1. There are some zones, an egg-shaped dude who likes robots perhaps a little too much, and one shining hero that is here to save the day. Oh, wait, my bad: there are two heroes! Sonic the Hedgehog 2 introduced Miles “Tails” Prower, and he’ll be assisting Sonic on this adventure. And what’s Tails like? Well, according to his debut game, Tails is a complete moron.

Let’s look at the evidence. Tails is, while participating as the second player, invincible. It has been mentioned before that this was and still is a revelation for cooperative platforming gaming. A little over twenty years before Nintendo figured out invulnerable Nabbit might be a fun way for Little Timmy to participate, Sonic the Hedgehog was blazing through levels with a buddy that could not be stopped by literally anything. Tails might fall victim to spikes, a bottomless pit, or the occasional squishing block, but he’s back literally seconds later to help Sonic all over again. The second player is never a burden upon the likely more experienced first player, and, give or take occasionally bonking a baddie at the wrong time, literally all a second player/Tails can do is help. A second player could enjoy a breezy, low-impact experience throughout Sonic 2, and help player one along the way.

Stay bossyLet’sHowever, in a way, this deviation from the norm seemed downright wrong in 1992. Being “less” as the second player, the mere sidekick to player one’s hero, seemed to justify all the punches thrown over who “has to be” Luigi back in the Super Mario Bros. days. What’s more, in a decision that still seems maddening today, Tails wasn’t even allowed to participate in the final levels. Hey, Sega, I’ve got an idea! Let’s promote this cool, accommodating new feature in the Sonic the Hedgehog mythos, and then not even allow it for the final, most difficult levels! That sounds wonderful! And, even if you’re not worried about sitting out the finale, playing as Tails means knowing you’re not steering the ship: the scroll of the level and the reactions of the baddies are always going to be firmly pivoting around the irreplaceable Sonic. Playing as Tails might be fun for a toddler or a mate that isn’t interested in paying attention, but there’s nothing empowering about Tails. It’s easy to consider yourself an afterthought when Sonic is constantly leaving you far behind.

And, unfortunately, single player mode portrays Tails in a similar light. It is wonderful that Sonic has a buddy, and said buddy doesn’t immediately turn the entire game into an escort mission. Anyone that has ever played an adventure-RPG knows that, given the chance, the AI can and will drain all your precious resources as Goofy downs the last ether. In short, Tails could be a burden, but he continues to be helpful… assuming you wait around for him. Tails is prone to losing time to traps and tribulations, and there is essentially zero reason Sonic would ever wait for his partner to recover while the clock is still ticking. Tails might be generally helpful here and there, but you’re never given a reason to really care whether Tails lives or dies.

Except when you want him to die.

Let's roll!

Like right here.

Everyone that has ever played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 knows what they’re seeing. Sonic and Tails collect rings to earn the precious Chaos Emeralds, and the only way they’re going to receive those gems is through grabbing every last ring they can find. And when Tails grabs a ring, that’s great, but Tails also can’t dodge a bomb for his furry little life. Tails can and will run straight into mines one after another, and, whether Sonic deftly leaps around the stage or not, Tails is still going to bleed rings like a jewelry store having a going out of business sale. While it’s clear that AI Tails is following the player’s lead on movements, he’s not following those movements nearly fast enough, so Tails is lagging behind. Tails is too slow for this special stage, and he’s bringing Sonic down as a result.

Red?And what does it mean when a character is continually being tripped by traps, falling behind the leader, and costing Sonic valuable rings due to slow reactions? It means Tails is slow. Tails is stupid.

(And don’t try to tell me Tails is a genius because he flies a plane in one level. That’s a standard videogame trope. The boys from Contra can steer a tank with ease, and those nimrods can’t even figure out basic shirt technology.)

Later games portrayed Tails not only as intelligent, but as a downright genius. Sonic Adventure 2 firmly placed Tails as the equal, benevolent balance to the evil genius of Dr. Eggman, but earlier Game Gear titles already portrayed Tails as an ingenious lil’ dude with access to a number of gadgets. Sonic has his speed, Tails has his smarts. But in the maiden voyage of Tails? Tails is a nitwit. And when Tails returned for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, he didn’t fare better at all. He’s 33% of the playable cast, but he’s the one dummy who can’t figure out how to gain hyper emerald powers. And later games portray Knuckles as the “all brawn and no brains” protagonist of the franchise, but that’s only because he got tricked by Robotnik a time or two (or six). But I don’t see Tails escaping from Knuckles’ frequent traps. Tails! Why are you falling down one of Knuckles’ pitfalls? You can fly! We would have never had to suffer through the Hydrocity Pronunciation Wars if you could have remembered to literally get your ass in gear! Use your brain, dullard!

What just happened?So here’s the sad truth of Sonic the Hedgehog 2: after immediately and successfully establishing Sonic’s status quo with nary a word in Sonic the Hedgehog (1), StH2 dropped the ball completely with Tails. Later games would have to tell us Tails was smart, but those who remember his debut will never forget the tagalong that didn’t have enough IQ points to get out of the way of a bomb.

Tails could have at least had one idle animation where he does math homework…

FGC #488 Sonic the Hedgehog 2

  • System: Much like Mega Man 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is now available for every system that has ever existed, save the Nintendo 64. Okay, maybe Sonic is not as prolific as Mega Man, but he’s at least available on the Switch.
  • Number of players: If you don’t know the answer to this, you’re dumber than Tails.
  • Speaking of Special Stages: I hates them. I hates them so bad. Why are they so difficult? Why do they require pinpoint accuracy? Why in blazes did anyone think it was a good idea for them to wipe out your ring cache after every attempt? And why the hell has the stupid opening fanfare of the bonus stage theme been stuck in my head for twenty years!?
  • And speaking of hate: The final boss can go to hell. There. I said it. Can we move on to things I enjoy, yet?
  • Seriously?!?Wanna talk about how you manage to get three eggmen every time you ever try the slots in Casino Night Zone? Nope. Moving on!
  • Favorite Zone: Now we’re getting somewhere! Mystic Cave Zone has music that really slaps, and it has a lovely aesthetic to boot. I’m ambivalent about murderous lightning bugs, and the spike pit is rather unpleasant, and I could live without those hanging switches… Did I mention the music was great? Because the music is great.
  • Super Sonic Racing: This was the first game to feature Super Sonic. And he completely breaks everything in the game in every conceivable way, occasionally even glitching out and completely breaking himself. And that’s just fine, because no one is ever going to complete those bonus stages without save states anyway.
  • Did you know? Apparently Sonic the Hedgehog 2 takes place on “West Side Island”. We have no idea where West Side Island is on the Moebius world map, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s somewhere in the east.
  • Would I play again: This is not my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game (which more deliberately includes Knuckles), so I’m not itching for more Sonic 2 trouble in the near future. It’s a great game! But I feel it is less fun than 3 or Mania, so it might be another decade before I return to the Oil Ocean.

What’s next? Random ROB is closing out this two for twofer with… Breath of Fire 2! Join the second best Ryu from Capcom on a quest to slay the second best Jesus. Please look forward to it!

Respect?

FGC #478 Popful Mail

I have no idea what this name meansSonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is a success. It has reviewed generally well across the board, made a Master Emerald’s ransom worth of money, and, in ten years’ time, people will remember it more fondly than Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. While you could chalk this success up to any number of factors (I always say you can’t discount the unending charisma of Lee Majdoub), the internet at large has decided to take credit for this one. See, the original trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog featured a very toothy, un-Sonic looking hedgehog homunculus. This infuriated The Internet, and, in its anger, it slashed its mighty tentacles across the landscape, forever sundering the gulf between studio and creation. In the aftermath, Paramount and Sega had no choice: they had to rebuild the cinematic hedgehog, and produce an all-new cut of Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie. Thus, months later, we were presented with the new hedgehog, and all was right with the world. And now that Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is a success, the fanbase that “made them change” has claimed any and all rights to this victory. And why don’t those crazy executives just listen to the fans all the time, ya know?

And you want to hear the kicker? This isn’t the first time that happened. This isn’t even the first time this happened with fans, executive meddling, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

In order to understand this little story, you have to understand the early 90’s. This was the heyday of Sonic the Hedgehog, when a mascot with attitude would inevitably be successful, whether you added that trademark arrogance to a t-shirt wearing cat or a particularly acrobatic bat. However, while begloved anthro animals were riding high in the sky, anime as a whole was still exotic “Japanimation”. Yes, it seems weird now to separate Japanese created cartoon creatures like Sonic from the very concept of anime (particularly after Sonic Adventure), but these were the heady days of Sonic’s birth. Anime was often disguised when it hopped across the pond, and our Journeys to the Wests suddenly became Whomp ‘Ems. Gotta go fastAny and all anime-based media, like games starring Goku or Sailor Moon, never made it to our shores, and when something was too anime to ignore, it was heavily modified, and promoted as more Dungeons and Dragons than Record of Lodoss War. So it would only make sense if someone were to, say, drop the anime trappings from a game and replaced it with that hedgehog fellar all the kids are talking about.

And that was how, in 1993, one issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly mentioned a new game might premiere at the May Toy Fair. That game? Sister Sonic.

EGM’s Gaming Gossip section in its Issue #47 (with, naturally, Mortal Kombat on the cover) makes mention of a Donkey Kong follow-up for the Super Famicom CD, the Atari “mystery machine” codenamed Jaguar, and “a new spin on the Sonic saga called Sister Sonic… apparently an RPG starring Sonic’s lost sis”. That’s all Quartermann wrote about Sister Sonic, and EGM wouldn’t mention exactly what happened to the good sister until after another twelve issues (and it was Electronic Gaming Monthly, so that was.. if I’m doing my math right… sixteen years later?). While covering a level select code, it is mentioned (almost in passing) that the Sister Sonic project was scrapped, and now what was going to be modified to be Sister Sonic would be… Popful Mail! Hey! That’s today’s game!

What happened? Well, according to that same article (/oblique mention) in Issue #59, the original plan to mutate Popful Mail into Sister Sonic was dropped when word of this “localization” leaked, and fans of both franchises agreed to inundate Sega with requests for the real Popful Mail, and not some heavily modified localization. What does that mean? Well, obviously, the Sonic fans did it again! Or… the Mail fans? Whatever! Fans beat back those terrible producers in 1993! Hooray for our side!

Not an egg!Unfortunately, the only confirmation we ever had that this even happened seems to be from the pages of EGM (and mostly from a section literally called “Gaming Gossip”). This is a shame not only for historical accuracy reasons, but also because I would give my prized Battletoads-honed gaming skills just for a chance to see what the hell Sister Sonic was supposed to look like.

Popful Mail is not a game that plays like a Sonic title. Popful Mail seems most like The Adventure of Link (well, it’s really like Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, but no one played that), as it is a 2-D action game with towns, dungeons, and upgrades. The world map is little more than a course selection screen, but other gameplay elements, like healing in town or hording gold for fun and profit, is all about that adventure game lifestyle. And, while Mail starts with a stubby little sword like some kind of Hylian, she quickly distinguishes herself by upgrading to throwing weapons. And she has allies! We’ve got a little Castlevania 3 in here, as there are different party members that are always available for quick switching and slightly different movement mechanics. Mail’s adventures are a little aggravating for the rote repetition required in some dungeons (if you see a door that requires a key, you’re in for a bad time), but it’s a generally fun 2-D exploratory action-adventure. Oh! And the bosses pretty neat, too!

… But they ain’t no Eggman.

Magic!Popful Mail doesn’t run. If Popful Mail so much as saunters at an increased pace, she quickly loses half of her health to a skeleton monster. She’s got health, not rings, and it depletes far too quickly. She lives in a swords and sorcery fantasy world, not some loop-de-loop planet lousy with flickies. There is the occasional golem or sentient puppet, but there is not a badnik to be found. And, while Miss Popful Mail does seem to possess that general “spunky heroine” mentality that was popular in early 90s anime (I’d say she stole her whole shtick from Lina Inverse, but that would imply Mail and Lina could be recognized as wholly separate characters), she isn’t even on the same attitude echelon that Sonic achieved with the simple wave of a finger.

Is Popful Mail’s distinctive setting and gameplay a bad thing? Of course not. Players were hungry for 2-D RPG-ish titles in the early 90’s, and that genre is still only seen in a rare Wonderboy or two today. But does it put Popful Mail in a good position to be “Sonic’s Sister”. Absolutely not. If we’re going to say Popful Mail stayed Popful Mail thanks to complaints from the fans, then chalk this one up as another win for gamers. It’s impossible to imagine what Sister Sonic would even look like, left alone…

Blooby

… Okay, maybe that’s a start. But Popful Mail is still nobody’s sister!

FGC #478 Popful Mail

  • System: Sega CD in America, but also the Super Famicom and the PC-8800 in Japan. But what does that matter? How many people could possibly live in Japan? Like… six?
  • Number of Players: One player at a time, but three selectable adventurers.
  • Back to Work: Working Designs ultimately was responsible for Popful Mail’s translation. This means there are a number of Western cultural references that have aged about as well as the concept of Sonic’s Sister. And, just because WD was vaguely sadistic, the difficulty was bumped up with enemies being stronger and Mail taking way too much damage. So, ya know, thanks for that. Also, thanks for…
  • Language, people: It’s funny/sad to remember how far colloquialisms have progressed since the 90’s.
    This is not cool, guys

    Remember, kids, this was supposed to be an all-ages title for the pre-teen Sonic fans. Just imagine that passing standards today (well, except as a specially designated “gamer word”).
  • But the fact that a prime villain is named “Nuts Cracker” doesn’t bother you? Nuts are supposed to be cracked. He’s like some kind of wee puppet man. What’s the problem there?
  • Happy Little Critters: There might be some Sonic-adjacent beings in this universe, as Gaos are blue and loosely spherical. On the other hand, they’re born of the typical “anime whatsit” creature mold, but aren’t nearly as distinctive as a moogle or cabbit. But at least they’re hopelessly addicted to nicotine!
  • Dem BonesFavorite Boss: Boney Rubbler is a skeleton riding a skeleton horse, and sometimes said skeleton horse splits in two. It is possibly the most interesting thing that happened on the Sega CD this side of Night Trap.
  • Did you know? Like practically everything in Japan, Popful Mail wound up with a manga and a half a dozen drama CDs. But poor Mail didn’t get an official anime. Apparently a pilot was developed, but it was never picked up for a full series. And, considering that pilot sees Mail and the gang being pulled into “the real world”… well, actually, it was probably ahead of its time. Sarcastic elf girl from another world!
  • Would I play again: Popful Mail is conceptually fun, but it is an absolute bear to make any progress with the Working Designs-mandated difficulty changes. I don’t think I’ll be trying Sister Sonic again any time soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse for the Nintendo Entertainment System! What a horrible ancestor to have a curse. Please look forward to it!

No smoking!

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWLet’s talk about stones, and how much blood you can get out of them.

It all started back on the Super Famicom with Shin Megami Tensei. The SMT series was, at its core, a JRPG about playing Pokémon while the forces of Order and Chaos battled for the very soul of humanity. It was philosophical. It was deep. It was banned in the West, because Satan may or may not have made an appearance. And it kicked off an entire franchise of titles based on the simple dichotomy of order and chaos and a general need for humanity to steer penis monsters riding chariots. SMT wound up a success for Atlus, which spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, the most popular (eventually) being Jack Bros. Persona.

The Persona series started as, essentially, a slightly less apocalyptic version of SMT. Yes, there are demons, angels, and the occasional Hitler running around, but they’re all operating on the fringes of society, and not outwardly participating in the end of the world. It was basically the Harry Potter to Shin Megami Tensei’s Lord of the Rings. Many of the SMT trappings were still all over the titles, though, and no one was going to mistake Persona for an entirely independent franchise. Then we hit Persona 3, and things started to… mutate.

Persona 3 features demons, monsters, and a particularly homicidal version of Jungian psychology. It is also Day Planner: The Game. Persona 3 has frequently been referred to as “Japanese high school simulator”, but, even more than that, it is a game about balancing your (avatar’s) life. Do you go out tonight (and fight monsters), or do you stay home and study for that test tomorrow? Are you going to spend the afternoon hanging out with your girlfriend, or your best friend? The nerds dance, tooAnd would you like to spend time with the kindly old couple that is obsessed with a tree (?), or is it time to while away the afternoon playing a MMORPG where your homeroom teacher is inexplicably hitting on you? Decisions, decisions! Persona 3 isn’t only about choosing your battle tactics, it’s also about choosing your friends, afternoon plans, and how you combine trading cards into demons that may or may not summon the apocalypse.

Persona 3 wound up becoming a pretty noteworthy hit. While there are a number of potential reasons for the success of the title, one significant factor is likely that you, the all-important player, so fully inhabit the life of this protagonist. In making practically every decision for this “hero” for one year of game life and about seventy hours of real life, it is rather inevitable that an audience would grow overly attached to their individually curated protagonist. And what happens the moment the main character is separated from the player? (Spoilers for a thirteen year old game incoming!) He dies! The protag literally cannot live without you!

The death of Persona 3’s hero is substantial for a number of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is how Persona 3 is all about death. Death, dealing with death, and the broad knowledge that one day you too will die are all general themes that pop up again and again in this title where you can also summon Thor to cast a lightning spell. But beyond that, there is the simple explanation that this is a focused, self-contained story that starts when a strange boy enters a strange city, and ends after that man has made meaningful relationships with people that will live on after his adventure and life have concluded. Persona 3, whether by thematic or simple writing convenience, is meant to be a wholly contained, limited story about the significant, last year of a teenager’s life. Persona 3 is not a story that is meant to go beyond its own borders. Persona 3 is a deliberately claustrophobic tale that is enhanced by its own limits.

And then, naturally, we had Persona 4. And it was a success. So we saw Persona 4 Super. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game Turbo. And Persona 4: The Animation. And Persona 4: The Rhythm Game. By about the time we got to Persona 4: The Rogue-Like, a certain pattern had emerged: the enormously successful Persona 4 was, perhaps from its inception, built to be less a self-contained story, and more a franchise unto itself.

And then Persona 5 finally emerged. Persona 5’s fame may have peaked with this…

It's a whole new game

But we are also talking about a protagonist that practically launched alongside his own canon fursona…

Sonic Heeeeeroes

So it is pretty safe to say that Persona 5 was designed with a slightly different goal than the title that “started” the (most profitable version of the) franchise. Shin Megami Tensei gave way to SMT: Persona that gave way to a series that was simply known as Persona, and now it appears that individual Persona titles are attempting to be franchises unto themselves. Please look forward to Persona 5: The Shoot ‘Em Up.

And here’s Persona 5: The Rhythm Game right next to its simultaneous release of Persona 3: The Rhythm Game.

And, honestly? These twins seem to prove that both titles are equally lacking in meat on their respective bones.

SO BLUELet’s cover the good first: the soundtracks of both Persona 3 and Persona 5 are amazing, and an entire game based on their respective OSTs is incontrovertibly a good thing. Any excuse to listen to some of the iconic tracks from either series is a welcome pretext to press buttons along to the beat, and we’ve got an excellent GUI on our hands here, too. Some rhythm games can get a little confusing with their various “press this now” prompts, but there is no such screen muddling here. And you’re not expected to free-style for extra points, either. The game portion of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is excellent, and a fine way to re-experience one of the best parts of both “origin” titles.

But it couldn’t just be a simple rhythm game. No, the Persona series seems to demand that every spin-off be somehow “canon”, so there is a full introductory scene that explains exactly why the casts of both games now must dance. It’s all a dream! Orchestrated by dueling sisters! There are no consequences for losing! There are no consequences for anything! But we’ll be damned if we let one Persona title pass without a novel’s worth of words that amount to absolutely nothing. It’s not nearly as egregious as Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode (which, reminder, was an entire visual novel’s worth of dialogue and twists and turns that only amounted to “believe in yourself”), but, if you want to play the full game (and why wouldn’t you want the full experience available to you?), you must participate in “social link”-esque dialogues with various party members. Ever wanted to learn exactly what Mitsuru thinks about dancing? No? Well, too bad! It’s the only way to complete this escapade!

But the twin release of dance parties for Persona 3 and Persona 5 conveys a very telling tale: both supporting casts are boring as hell.

VIDEO TIMEOkay, that might be a bit harsh. And, frankly, it even feels wrong. In the case of Persona 3, I finished the title, and immediately wanted to dive back into a New Game+ just to revisit all my old friends at Magical Dungeon High School. Similarly, Persona 5 had an unforgettable cast to the point that its fans could talk for hours about how some characters are violently underserved by their forced interactions with other (likely misogynistic) characters. In both cases, it seems like there’s a reason people would want to see the entire cast pop up again in new spin-off titles… or at least hang around in the background of a Smash stage. I liked Futaba! I could deal with more of her!

But the writing for this rhythm game (that may or may not simply be a way to further capitalize on an unforgettable soundtrack) truly underserves these casts. They are left as simple caricatures of themselves, and certain characters blend together across titles into one indistinguishable blob of archetypes (Ryuji and Junpei are the same guy, apparently). What’s the difference between the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 3’s team and the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 5’s team? Ostensibly, not much!

The worst teamAnd this seems significant, as the cast of Persona 3 was only really meant for one (albeit long) adventure, while it is obvious that Persona 5 meant for its Phantom Thieves to go on and steal the show in other franchises and Persona byproducts. Joker is going to stop by Sonic World and the Mushroom Kingdom, but is he any more developed than Jack Frost? Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight seems to indicate that he’s not. He’s just as remarkable as the other cypher that didn’t even survive his maiden adventure.

In the end, the support conversations of P5: Dancing with the Stars and P3: Dancing with the Doomed -the entire plot of both “adventures”- prove one thing: there isn’t much difference between Persona casts. And, considering one gang was meant for bigger and better things, that is rather demoralizing. Persona 5 was built to be the Big Mac to Persona 3’s Dollar Menu cheeseburger, but, once you’ve got your order, it turns out they’re both little more than a chicken nugget.

Just remember this moral when we hit Persona 5: Shin Arena Diving Space Tractor 2 Turbo. The Persona 5 well is already feeling a might dry…

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

  • System: Playstation 4 and… Playstation Vita? Really? Are you… sure?
  • Number of players: I’ll be dancing with myself.
  • Two Games? Let’s face it: the separation of these games into two different versions is a pretty obvious cash-grab. Persona fans are suckers, and pretty much every brand manager involved is well aware that those losers were always going to buy Persona: Dancing Red and Persona: Dancing Blue. And they’ll buy the special edition, too, because it comes with a plushie or something. And that plushie is still sitting on my desk as I type this. Damn fans.
  • The best teamYou’re complaining about the plot of a rhythm game? It’s not about the plot per se, it’s about that someone had the idea to make this a cool “hang out” game featuring both casts… and the “hanging out” seems less fun and more like a job required to earn a new hat. If I’m interpreting having a conversation with Ann as a boring slog now, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen in another seven spin-offs.
  • Favorite Track: Rivers in the Desert is severely underappreciated. Then again, Persona 5 has an amazing soundtrack all on its own, so there is some steep competition.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Most of the songs are accompanied by random characters bopping around to the rhythm, but two tracks per cast are dedicated music videos featuring either the boys or the girls. In general, one is kind of goofy and silly, and the other is sexy and sultry, complete with costumes and swimsuits. Want to guess which gender gets assigned to sexy times?
  • Did you know? There’s probably a universe where someone decided to model all the social links for dancing, but Dr. Tae Takemi still refuses to get out of her chair.
  • Would I play again: This (these?) title holds up as a great rhythm game, so I’m probably going to revisit some tracks in the near future. Unfortunately, I’m never going to touch the “plot” ever again. I have better things to do. And these Phantom Thieves should, too…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Startropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge! Oh no! Zoda is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Yuck
This is just… awkward.

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