Tag Archives: robotnik

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 #407 Knuckles’ Chaotix

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

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

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

It's Tails!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #407 Knuckles’ Chaotix

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

    Winner!

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

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

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

Sprite scaling is a scourge

FGC #354 Sonic Mania & Sonic Forces

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

That has never happened before.

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

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

Stage Length is Important (or not)

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

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

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

Bosses should be one thing (or the other)

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

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

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

Show Don’t Tell (or Shout Everything)

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

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

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

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

Knuckles Is

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

Who are those guys in the back?

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

He's knuckles!

…. Echidnas can be anything?

Tight Controls are Essential/Unnecessary

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

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

But, then again, it doesn’t matter.

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

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

Fanservice Can Go Both Ways

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

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

Chemical Plant Zone is a Scourge

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

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

Ugh. This universe is the worst.

FGC #354 Sonic Mania

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

FGC #354 Sonic Forces

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

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

THIS IS NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE

FGC #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!