Underappreciated Gems: Sonic – The Fighters

Yeah, you read that title right.  Wait.  Wait. WAIT! Before you digitally slap me, just hear me out.

I have a feeling I'm gonna regret this...

Over the last ten years, I have been living in a sea of spiky-haired, ‘tude-driven disappointment.  With each new Sonic release, Sega has pulled out that old and dusty Hedgehog carrot, wiped it clean of mold, tied it to the same fishing pole, and dangled it in front of my drooling jowls.  Like an idiot, I would go chomping every time, convinced that the carrot would somehow regain its delightful flavor.

Luckily, recent developments in games like Sonic Colors and Sonic 4 seem to be turning that old song and dance around.  Sonic Colors looks to bring out a whole new batch of carrots, promising the flavor of a fresh 3D experience with new elements we haven’t seen before.  Sonic 4 looks to plant the seeds of the old carrot to re-grow the same flavor I know and love.  But even without these two beacons in the distance, another Sonic game that utilized classic 2D gameplay existed just out of my reach, and this difficult fact haunted me for years.

Sonic CD was a cruel joke, a bit of Sega history that I wanted to experience more than words, but was hidden behind the wall that was an unattainable and unjustifiable Genesis add-on.  Sega’s reluctance to re-release Sonic CD drove me crazy, forcing me to push it to the back of my mind, where I could pretend that this untold piece of history never existed.  When I heard that Sonic Gems Collection on the Gamecube actually included the title that had eluded me all those years, I immediately snatched the first copy I could find and popped the disc into my Wii.

And I was not disappointed.  Sure, the music’s a little weak, and the time-switching mechanic is kind of flimsy, but the classic, well-designed, speedy Sonic experience was once again at my fingertips.  And it was as good as it has ever been.

Get it. Love it.

But as you know, that’s not the title I’m talking about here today.

When I first heard of Sonic: The Fighters, I couldn’t get past the hilariously confounding name.  When I saw a couple videos on the youtubes, I was still understandably not convinced.  The graphics looked blocky and uninspired.  The roster looked absolutely rotten with new characters, a flaw that remains one of my biggest issues with modern Sonic games.  Just the concept of The Fighters left an odd taste in my mouth.  A fighting game with Sonic characters?  This sounded ramblings of a loud-mouthed half-drunken wannabe game designer.  Surely you can’t be serious.

I'm not even gonna say it.

Once The Sonic Gems Collection was in my possession, however, my cynicism just had to collapse under the weight of my growing curiosity.  A fighting game with Sonic characters? Why the hell not?

When I started up a playthrough, I naturally ignored all the lamo noob characters and went straight for the gold.  My trusty and beloved Knuckles.

With the first couple levels, I managed to maintain my cynicism.  I forced myself to keep on criticizing the stupidy of these new characters I was facing, and the outlandish and pointless stages I was fighting in.  But something started to happen.  With each passing level, I started to realize that I was having a lot of fun.  I’m not a connoisseur of fighting games, not by any means, and this game was doing a surprisingly good job of providing an accessible, easy-to-play experience while injecting the tiniest bit of Sonic nostalgia.  Was this game actually…. Good?

Ok, I may not go as far to say it’s a good game.  But I realize that I had sorely underestimated its capacity for fun.  I know I’m probably still getting a bunch of facepalms and rolling eyes from some of you readers right now, so I’ve decided to compile a short list of the reasons that Sonic The Fighters deserves at least a little attention from any Sonic fan.  Then you can slap me.

1.  Sonic’s “friends” make a lot more sense in a fighting game

Imagine: A game where this doesn't make you angry

When a game like Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is announced, or when a new fighting title enters the fray, what is always the first thing on our minds?  The characters.   Who are the characters, and what can they do?   While the creativity and variety of the characters is not exactly the focal point of any fighting game’s strategy, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who’s not interested in having several disparate character options, providing new and unique ways to approach the game and to face your opponent.  That’s the last thing that anybody would say about a Sonic platformer.  In The Fighters, Sonic’s painfully long list of “friends” finally carries a relevant use, providing plenty of options for a colorful fighting choices.  Every time I was returning to the character select screen, I felt that intrigue that comes with any fighting game – what does this character play like?  What special moves set him apart?  This was the first bit of intrigue I have felt for a new Sonic character in some time.  Whereas new characters and their outrageously out-of-place movesets would normally send any Sonic fan into fits of anger, they actually thrive on their novelty in Sonic: The Fighters, adding to the game’s goofy fun.  I especially found myself digging Espio of Team Chaotix, with his tongue punches and standing spin-attack.

2.  The graphical style maintains that whimsical vibrance of classic Sonic games

At first, I turned my nose up rather snootily at the look of Sonic: The Fighters.  The character models are exceedingly blocky, and the environments are straight up bizarre (when do you see a yacht and a flying carpet in an old Sonic game?).  But the more I played, the more endearing it became.   The colors are loud and vibrant.  The character models are simple but extremely likeable and almost innocent in their cartoonish style (I especially love how Robotnik is basically just a ball with limbs).   Many of the stages pay competent homage to several classic Sonic environments, from Green Hill Zone to Casino Night Zone to Mushroom Hill Zone.  After playing a few stages in, it was hard not to feel a little bit of Sonic 2 nostalgia creeping up in my Sega-addict heart.

3.  It is rancid with Sonic flavor

In addition to the aforementioned stages, Sonic: The Fighters is filled with a multitude of creative references that had me repeatedly smiling and nodding in acknowledgement.  Every time you hit your character, rings will fly out.  The spin dash is a central move for all staple characters of the game.  Every time a stage is beaten, you gather a Chaos Emerald.  The time limit is displayed at the top of the screen in the iconic Sonic watermark seen at the beginning of Sonic 1 through 3.  To face the final boss (Robotnik) you have to first face Metal Sonic.  I know a lot of these would be assumed for any Sonic game, but it just felt nice to see Sega acknowledging some of the little bits and pieces that have made their flagship series so memorable.  Just be happy it was released before Shadow existed.

4.  Finally, the opportunity to beat Tails and Amy Rose within an inch of their lives

Remember all those times Tails managed to get in the way in every stage of Sonic 2?  He’d take the platform you were meant to take, flailing randomly until he accidentally killed himself over and over again.  Remember how Amy Rose…  Well, remember how you wanted to beat her with an ugly stick?  Well, you’d better be thanking Sega for finally giving you the chance.  Seriously, write them a letter.  I can’t tell you how satisfying it was the first time I sent Tails over the edge of the ring with a searing uppercut from Knuckles, or when I bitch-slapped Amy Rose using Espio’s massive hands.  So satisfying.  I think I need a therapist.

5.  It’s actually pretty fun


No, that's not Plucky Duck

Now look.  This is no hardcore fighting game.  It’s meant to be played and enjoyed only a small handful of times and then put down and forgotten.  If you approach it as that and nothing else, you might be surprised to find that there’s actually a little bit of strategy involved.  The game utilizes small defensive techniques like dodges, ring-outs and shields, coupled with offensive moves like throws, grabs, and holds to add just a tiny pinch of strategic flavor to the already super-intuitive control scheme.  This will satisfy no fighting guru, but as a brainless punch up, it’s actually a pretty fast and satisfying experience.

6. Metal Sonic and Robotnik are unlockable characters

…You want more?  You can play as Metal Sonic!  The End!

I will say it again:  this is not necessarily a good game.  It isn’t one of Sonic’s best, and it certainly will never be added to any fighting tournament, but those looking for an easy, quick, light-hearted reminder of Sonic’s less angsty days will not be disappointed.  Sonic: The Fighters may not be a gem like the game or the article says, but it sure is underappreciated.

Ok.  Now you can slap me.

Readers Comments (6)

  1. I actually love this game. It was the first fighter I 1cc’d and I played it whenever I went to Granville Island in Vancouver BC.

  2. Good to receive a positive reaction. I was a little nervous about this one.

  3. I actually enjoy this game too. I’m not good at fighting games, so the fact this one’s simple was a big plus for me. It’s like Sonic Smash Bro’s!

  4. This man must be slaughtered. Brutally.

  5. I don’t like it nearly as much as other fighters of the massive blocky era (Fighting Vipers etc), but I think the entire genre of easy-to-play wacky fighting games is really underdone these days.

    Now it seems like every fighting game feels like it deserves its own arcade stick.

  6. @ Alex B

    The Josh Newey became tame!

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