MegaDriving: Sonic R

Oh boy. Here we go. Deep breaths.

So, when I first took up this offer to do a weekly racing feature for the site, the first thing that came to mind (after the assumed “oh god what am I getting myself into I’m so out of my league”) was how it’d be a great excuse to go back and play some old games I never had a chance to play in their heyday for whatever reason. And as a Sonic fan, I’d been wanting to play today’s game for the longest time, but never had the time and/or resources to play it. But I have those, and an excuse, to play it now.

So, in honor of a return to the 90s style of Sonic coming next week (for me at least. Some of you with your fancy iPhones are probably already playing it instead of reading this. FOR SHAME.), I’m taking the dive. Hit the jump for some hopefully Super Sonic Racing.

So, I think, if you’re on this site, you kinda know the story behind this game. The Saturn… For every step forward it took, it took several large steps back. And one of its failures was not having the company’s mascot in an original game on the system. I’d say we all know the plight of Sonic X-Treme, and Sonic 3D Blast, aside from the new special stage and soundtrack, was technically just a higher-res port of the Genesis version, and Sonic Jam was just a collection disc. So what does Sega do? They decide, “Hey! Let’s make the kids happy with a 3D Sonic racing game!” to make up for this.

And thus, in October 1997, the sunshine was felt around the world.

So, as the only original Sonic game on the system, how does it stack up today?

To put it bluntly… Not very well.

The graphics are nice and colorful, as a Sonic game should look, but character animations are pretty awful. Want proof? Just win a race with Knuckles, and just watch as he does something that looks like a cross between a Cossack dance and the running man. Embarrassing. Just like the Saturn itself, it took one step forward and two horribly animated steps back.

The most memorable part of this whole experience is easily the sound, being cheesy 90s Europop of the gods. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing when most of a game’s soundtrack is in the so-bad-it’s-good territory. Sure, there’s a nostalgic kick to hearing some of these tunes today, but in my short experience with the game, there was only so much sunshine I could feel before I wanted to strangle myself with my torn-apart speaker cords, although the strangulation might have less to do with the music…

And more with the gameplay. Let’s come back to the future a little bit to 2006. Another little game in this same franchise was released, and in it was contained more gaming abominations than Custer’s Revenge had, one of the worst being a little something called Mach Speed Zones. They were uncontrollable, unfair, and just downright unplayable sections of levels that would make even the most hardcore Sonic nuts not just rip a few hairs out, but literally scalp themselves.

And THOSE were more controllable than this game, at least for me. Sonic manages to be too fast AND too slow at the same time, there are no “brakes”, per se, and cornering is nigh impossible. It is simply the worst racing game I have EVER played. To be perfectly honest, I could only do two and a half races before I shut off the emulator and said “NEVER. AGAIN.”

The only way you’ll have any fun with this game is just by looking at the scenery.

The game got a PC port in 1999, and a Gamecube/Euro PS2 port on Sonic Gems Collection. It was also the first of now several console Sonic racers, as it was followed up by such games as the Sonic Riders series and All-Stars Racing, most recently.

And those would be far better buys than trying to track this down. They’re at least controllable and fun. Sonic R, at least in my opinion, isn’t. And honestly, that’s a damn shame. I was looking forward to playing it for so long, but whatever dreams I had of it being a decent little game got shattered in an instant. To me, the only thing this game has going for it is this little guy…

No. Your sunshine is NOT brightening up my day.

And there you go. I have a bad feeling about rioting in the streets or something after this, but I can’t lie. I didn’t have even an ounce of fun with this game. Got a different opinion? Of course you do. As always, I welcome and completely encourage any feedback or requests for games to be featured in future editions. Just leave it here, or post it in the forum thread. I’ll see you all back here next week, hopefully. Thanks for reading!

About the author

Brett Hatfield

Sega Addicts owner, writer, and podcast/stream host. Sarah's person and husband-to-be. Honorary Australian. #TakeTheWorld
  • Another Sonic game failure! Now I’m sad.

  • Well, it wasn’t too depressing after I went back and bleached my brain of this with some Unleashed.

  • I actually really enjoyed this game back in the day. I remember playing it thru 3 times with my buddy, who got me into Sonic initially, just to complete all 3 save files on the Saturn. Call me crazy, but this game released during my super fan days when Sonic could do no wrong.

    This was another game that was constantly in my CD player as well.

    I enjoyed the exploration portion of the game with finding all the emblems, emeralds, and secret passages.

    When I found out the PC version was 4-player, I really wanted to find 2 other people to play this game with, but sadly I have yet to do so. Perhaps I could convince someone during a crazy Lan-party to try out the multiplayer on the GameCube now… hmm….

  • grolt

    Nice to see this game on the site, but I pretty much respectfully disagree with everything. The graphics for the game are some of the absolute best for the Saturn. The final emerald level is like a kick in the face to everyone who said the Saturn couldn’t do transparencies…the whole damn level is a transparency! The frame rate is fast, draw-in is minimal (it does get worse in two player, but that’s to be expected) and the polygon count is quite high. Even the loading screen, with the aluminum reflective Sonic head, is pretty high tech for 32-bit. Sure, it doesn’t compare to graphics today, but in its day they were near benchmark, and I think the colorful designs still hold up, which isn’t something you can say for a lot of polygonal games for the time.

    The soundtrack is always going to rub people a certain way, but for me, all the tracks are incredibly catchy and fir the game perfectly. It’s a light game about racing. No tough, overwrought Sonic story as per usual. It’s a breezy run, and the music compliments the approach. Plus, I guarantee you’ll never forget it, and good or bad, how many other games can you claim the same?

    Control is probably the most hotly tested issue with this game. I’ll be honest and say that yes, right from the gate there’s a steep learning curve. However, unlike Sonic ’06, these controls can most definitely be mastered, and if you give the game time you’ll be able to really whiz through it. The control on the analog controller is particularly good, since it uses the analog triggers for acceleration and breaking, giving you a greater amount of precision (in addition to the directional analog control). For me, Sonic R has one of the most rewarding control schemes, because once you master it you can really zip through the levels.

    The levels themselves deserve some sort of praise, because they are put together in a branching fashion, sort of like how the 2D Sonic games were. You can take a ton of different routes to the finish, which makes it feel less like a Mario Kart clone and more like a 3D Sonic game. In fact, in a way, it’s the 3D Sonic game we always ask for – just all out speed throughout without any of that languid exploration or story elements.

    The replay value is also surprisingly good, since those emerald challenges to get unlockable characters are definitely a real test of skill. They take days to master. It’s a pretty gratifying feeling to be able to grab all five hidden emeralds on a level, finish first and then beat the unlockable character in a one on one race. Trust me, a lot has to go right for you to win, but like I said with the control, once you master it you can do quite well.

    The Saturn had some great traditional racers like Sega Rally Championship and ManxTT, but Sonic R tries for something fresh and different, and for that reason it’s really endured for me. Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is a polished product, but in the end it’s 100% Mario Kart clone. Sonic R is something different – a 3D Sonic speed game rather than a “racer”, and to this day it still stands out as an original. It’s one of my favorites for the Saturn.

  • Yay! Someone else enjoys this game, haha!

    It’s definitely one of my favorites as well, grolt.

  • See, this is what I was hoping for when I realized I wasn’t going to be giving this a favorable review. Respectful disagreement and intelligent discussion, not “LOL U SUCK”.

    You guys are awesome, and I thank you for alleviating some of my fears..

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