Unlike a good many fans though, I don’t inflate into a ball of indignation whenever anyone says a word against the series. I write about games, so I’d be pretty poor judge of quality if I was blind to what is an incredibly flawed series at this point. But I still hold the series very dearly and would love to see Sonic Team get it really and completely right.
Over the years the Sonic the Hedgehog series has changed drastically, even from one entry to the next, some of the games are unrecognisable from one another apart from the blue garden mammal in ostentatious footwear. As each title in the main console ‘series’ of games comes out looking like something totally new. While the optimist in me wants to think that the team are just trying to be creative with each new title, the pessimist thinks that they’re struggling to get what they want. So that leads me to wonder, does anyone really know what they want out of these games anymore?
The most recent release in the series, the inspiration for this post, was Sonic Lost World. After two really enjoyable titles this most recent release goes back to living up to the Sonic Cycle. (I concept I can’t stand by the way. I feel people are too trigger itchy to judge a game properly before just quoting the thing; it’s a lazily applied label that replaces actual criticism. Unfortunately, it holds true in this case.) I felt that Sonic Lost World was very pretty game but loses out in several key areas, namely its gameplay.
While the game was highly polished and looked great on with the Wii-U with creative and yet familiar level design it was frustrating to play. There were decisions in the design I was a fan of, for example I felt the game was returning focusing on platforming akin to the early games. The main problem was how poorly it was executed.
At this point I heard the game wasn’t being received well at all by the critics. It was only after reading up on a few of the reviews posted on some of the highly respected sites out there, I found they all had diverging opinions about what the game lacked and what they felt it should have been. So not only are we getting the developers can’t make their minds up, but even the critics can’t agree on what this series should be doing.
While critics all had divergent opinions on the game, there were a few common themes within their reviews. Many would speak about the game’s slower overall speed and complain that to them Sonic games should be all about speed, split second reactions and basically make the player a passenger on a roller coaster ride, essentially the experience Sonic Generations gave us. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sonic Generations, it’s just that it wasn’t a game as much as it was the player being pressed into a seat, having the controller smacked from their hand and simply told to enjoy.
On the heels of this Sonic Lost World took a step back, it seems like it took a look at what the series had become and then looked back to what it had once been and tried to go back to those platforming roots. Sure, the older Sonic games were about speed, it was the thing that made the Mega Drive/Genesis stand apart from its competitors consoles at the time, but between the roller coaster loops and springs there was a game in there, wanting you to play it.
With this in mind, I felt that Lost World was designed with much more of this old school design ethic in mind. It focused not just on the speeding sections, but also adding sections require finesse, patience and the ability to let go of that right trigger for just a damn minute. While we did see this in Colours too, the newer game seemed to want to make this aspect more important than the split second reactions of Generations.
With that being said, intent is one thing, but execution is another. While I can appreciate what the developers were trying to do here, controlling Sonic can be nightmarish at times and is the biggest failing of the game. Making his jump arks much floater, and the inclusion of a double jump, makes Sonic much harder to control through the more platform sections of the game.
Sonic being so floaty is the main issue with the control in my opinion; he loses his weight and thus his momentum that the series was originally based around. This, in conjunction with a much reduced top speed and the total unreliability of taking out enemies without using the homing attack, frustrates veteran players who think they should know how to play already. Jumping on an enemy, it should really kill them.
There has been a lot of ‘back to basics’ talk floating around this series for the past couple of years, after a few truly terrible experiences that proved the direction Sega and Sonic Team were trying to take the series into wasn’t going to work. Games like Sonic Generations and the Sonic 4 games have attempted to recreate the classic gameplay seen in the games of the 16-bit era. But continued use of some of the more modern design sensibilities tended to hold them back
With this in mind it’s not actually all that surprising that some of the best Sonic games of the post 16-bit era have been the ones that have appeared on handheld console, on the GBA, DS and 3DS. They’ve kept things relatively simplistic and had similar goals and focuses to the developers of the original three & Knuckles.
I think Sonic’s biggest setback has been the extra space to work in, like many older non-Nintendo characters, Sonic has struggled to find a place in the modern gaming generation, a place where platforming has been mainly relegated to indie and Mario titles. But with titles like Rayman Legends out there showing there is so much potential left, fans like myself ask, ‘why not Sonic be this good too?’
So what is it I, personally, would like Sonic the Hedgehog to be in an ideal world. Well, I thought that both Colours and Generations got their approach to gameplay spot on, alternating 3D and 2D sections, with a focus on various movement mechanics during the 3D sections encouraging players to go as fast as they can while the 2D sections focus on the challenging platforming sections backed by a solid speed and momentum mechanic. In this respect, I think Sonic Colours was the best game in terms of its gameplay.
The problem is that when reading this, it could be easy to interpret my descriptions as any of the ‘bad’ Sonic games out there. Which is why I think that nobody really knows what they want out of this series anymore, it’s easy to say what you want, but doing it and getting it right is something else all together. If Sonic Generations was about three times as long and had a stronger focus on its platforming and Sonic Lost World gave players much better control over Sonic, there would be no need for this article.
Of course it goes without saying that you can take any game and give this treatment. I think what sets Sonic aside as having such a reputation is that while everyone is voicing what they want, things never seem to go as plan. Even when all the game’s pre release footage seems to imply that all our hopes and dreams are finally going to come to fruition, the final release always seems to fall some varying degree of short of the mark.