Forgive me, but I am going to have to split Week 1 into two separate articles. Since this week includes Sonic’s very first and arguably best games, I will primarily focus on Sonic 1 and 2 for the purposes of this first entry.
Hey out there, all you Sonic fiends! Remember me?
I know, I know. You probably assumed that I’d have already given up on my masochistic Sonic mission. Perhaps you imagined me snapping under the pressure, running naked into the streets clutching a broken Genesis controller and shouting, “He’s the fastest thing aliiiiive!”
Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, people. I put my well being on the line and you just assume that I will crumble in a few measly days. I post photos of myself dressing up like an idiot for your amusement, and all you can muster is a half-murmured, “Well, this guy’s doomed.” Ouch. Really. Ouch.
Well, I’ve got news for you. I did it. Well, I did the first week, that is. After two broken controllers, three nervous breakdowns, a puppy adoption and not one but two power outages, I have done it. I have survived Week 1 of The 20 Days of Sonic Challenge. To be frank, it hasn’t been too difficult… yet.
Hit the jump to read about the first moments of this ludicrous challenge. Make sure to read all the way to the end, as I am announcing some prizes that I will be giving away at the end of this whole ordeal!
Games I played this week:
Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
Sonic 2 (1992)
Sonic CD (1993)
Sonic & Knuckles (1994)
Sonic Advance (2002)
Knuckles Chaotix (1995)
After seeing that list, it probably doesn’t seem like this week should have been too much of a challenge. To be honest, I feel like I’ve been pampering myself for the past several days, and I know I’m going to be kicking myself for it. My original intention was to burn through Sonic’s career chronologically, but now the godawful middle years of Sonic’s career are going to be bottlenecked to a single week. How the hell can I expect to sit through Sonic 2006, Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog all in one week? It’s like trying to disembowel myself, all the while consuming eating raw ostrich eggs and kicking a family of angry shrews. I’ll be dead by the end of just one of these activities. How can I expect to survive the agonizing pain of all three simultaneously?
After much deliberation, I have decided that this will not be the process for the precious few remaining days. I didn’t mention it in the list, but I also started up Sonic Advance 2 and 3 this week, and threw the beginning of Sonic and the Secret Rings. As time goes on, the amount of games I will be playing will increase exponentially, but I won’t mention them until I have finished the game or I just can’t take the torture any longer. But enough of my rationalization and regret. How were the games?!
Sonic The Hedgehog (1991) (Genesis)
It’s been a long time since I’ve played through the first Sonic. While I have always adored the title, I have to admit that the stop-and-go pacing of some stages has always crawled under my skin. Anyone who’s started this game can agree that the opening moments do a fantastic job of establishing the essential rules of momentum that have always driven the series. Once you step beyond that threshold and into the rest of the game however, that exhilaration is suddenly ripped out from under you, grinding the game’s promisingly speedy pace to a halt. Marble Zone and Labyrinth Zone are equally guilty of this sin, taunting the player with slow moving platforms, prohibitively slow water physics and so many environmental hazards that running becomes virtually impossible.
All that being said, I have always managed to find quite a bit of enjoyment in this game, and before now, I couldn’t understand just why. More and more, I’m starting to realize that my gratification comes not from the empowerment of Sonic’s speed, but from the satisfaction of overcoming the game’s attempts to slow me down. It may not make any sense, but I realized this time around just how much I appreciate the lack of a spin dash in Sonic the Hedgehog. I used to consider the spin dash to be something essential, as it gives the player 100% control over Sonic’s pace, and effectively overcomes the dead stop aggravation that drives players crazy in so many Sonic 1 zones.
I’m realizing now, though, that the lack of this crutch really puts a new emphasis on the importance of momentum. Without the knowledge that I can go from 0 to 60 in a second, I found myself anticipating upcoming baddies a lot more. Once I was able to get myself into any kind of rhythm, that increased pace was not a result of the game’s snappy processing, but rather of my strategic analysis and adaptation to the stage’s enemies and hazards. Sure, Marble Zone can be a real pain to navigate considering the falling spikes and lava pits, but any time I decided the bite the bullet and jumped through certain hazards in a couple seconds, the resulting thrill was nothing short of awesome. Having never noticed this before, I now want to try other Sonic games without using that spin dash, just to see if that same emphasis on momentum and analyzing one’s surroundings takes the forefront.
Favorite Zone: Green Hill Zone If there’s one thing I can consistently say about the Sonic series, it’s that the first levels are always done beautifully, and Sonic 1 first established that tradition. It’s a great introduction to Sonic’s colorful universe, and its design perfectly showcases the lightning fast gameplay that makes Sonic so addictive.
Runner Up: Scrap Brain Zone Partially due to the name. Partially due to the awesome music.
Least Favorite Zone: Labyrinth Goddamn the water physics in this stage. Sonic looks like he’s walking through molasses in the submerged areas of this zone. If that’s not irritating enough, the zone is filled with little nuisances, like that repeating water slide at the beginning of one act. That water slide is like a dream that you try and try to wake up from, but somehow find yourself falling back into as soon as you go back to sleep. Fuck this zone.
Is There a Casino? Well, not really. It’s more of a party factory, with bright, pastel colored platforms and those trademark pinball machine bumpers. It’s kind of generic, really. What does “Spring Yard” mean, anyway?
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 4 Sonic enters a nonsensical, surreal oblivion of fish and peppermint bumpers. He floats through this spinning nebula, unable to regain an understanding of gravity, all the while smashing into gems and avoiding flashing edges that will send him back to reality. His floating trek through this labyrinthine fantasy is a metaphor for life, man. Tooootally.
Sonic 2 (1992) (Genesis)
What can I possibly say about Sonic 2 that hasn’t already been said over and over again? What fresh ideas can I glean from a game that I’ve played at least fifty times front to back? Sonic 2 is and probably always will be my very favorite of the series, and that’s not just because it was the first one I ever played. It boasts an incredible amount of additions and modifications, including the aforementioned spin dash, Sonic’s adorable (albeit pathetic) sidekick Tails, vastly improved pacing and level design, and some of the most distinct and beautiful areas I have ever seen in a platformer. I feel like anything I say about this game is just reciting pages from a Sonic manifesto that was written ages ago. Oh well. Here come the praises.
Whenever thinking about any single point in this game, it’s hard not to wax nostalgic. I often find myself lovingly sifting through memories of each and every zone as their own unique experience. There’s Mystic Cave Zone, whose arresting visual style is unlike any other Sonic zone out there. There’s the ever-so challenging Oil Ocean Zone (Sorry Mr. Grant), whose mere concept and theme are so refreshing that I can’t help smiling when I recall even its most frustrating moments. There’s the relaxing and refreshing Sky Chase Zone, which adds a clever twist on the normal Sonic gameplay. All in all, there are so many stages, enemies, and infectious tunes in Sonic 2 that it’s really hard to isolate a handful that stand out.
My biggest problem with Sonic 2 is appropriately two-fold. First off – as much as I love him, Tails does a lot more harm than good. His adorable attempts to follow Sonic through every moment of the game are admittedly endearing, but for every “aw, shucks” adorable moment, there are a hundred GODDAMMIT, TAILS” frustrating moments. He will inadvertently take crucial platforms away from you, ruin your chances at ever finishing certain bonus stages, and just generally throw a wrench in the gears every once in a while. Having the occasional inadvertently obtained item or extra attack on a boss is a blessing, but nearly everything else Tails does ranges from useless to infuriating.
My other issue is the way Sonic 2 allows access to bonus stages. I am a big fan of accumulating rings throughout a stage, and then being rewarded with a bonus level if I’ve managed to hold onto a good amount by the end of an act. In Sonic 2, you can jump into a bonus stage if you have enough rings at any checkpoint marker. While it is nice to have the opportunity to access these stages several times within a zone, I can’t stand that you lose all of the rings you worked to accumulate every time that bonus stage is finished. It’s not that big of a deal, but I really hate accidentally jumping into a bonus stage when I really need to hold onto my rings for an upcoming boss, or when I desperately want to earn an extra continue.
Favorite Zone: Oh Geez.. So hard… Ummm… Hill Top Zone I’ve gotten crap for this before, but I most often find myself getting really excited whenever Hill Top Zone rolls around. The level design isn’t anything all that special, but I just love everything about this area – the theme music, the color palette, the see saw springs, the lava-faring robot plesiosaurs… It all just comes together so beautifully.
Runners Up: Mystic Cave Zone, Chemical Plant Zone, Emerald Hill Zone
Least Favorite Zone: Metropolis Zone Another thing I adore about Sonic 2 reduction of the number of acts in each zone from three to two. It opens the game up to more varying stages, and keeps things from getting boring or frustrating for too long. So why the hell is that new rule dropped with Metropolis Zone? This area is brimming with infuriating hazards and horribly cheap enemies. God I hate that hammer punching asshole crab thing, or the cowardly praying mantis that creeps at the top of a ledge so he can rip off his own arms and lob them at you when you’re unable to defend yourself. Or what about those damn exploding starfish who blend in so perfectly with the environment? GAAH!!! Turning this into a three-act zone is just unfair, Sega. It’s just flat-out mean.
Is There a Casino? Boy howdy, you better believe it. Casino Night Zone proves to me once and for all that I need to stay away from real life gambling. I can’t get enough of throwing my rings away, just so I can get that satisfying Jack Pot sign just once. NO! LEAVE ME ALONE! JUST ONE MORE PULL OF THE LEVER!
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 1 This is probably the most rational of the early Sonic games. Sonic and Tails speed down brightly colored faux 3D chutes, collecting rings and avoiding bombs along the way. Sonic doesn’t seem to be tripping too hard in these stages, as his feet are at least planted on the ground, and all the items he’s collecting are tangible in the established reality of the main game. It’s like Sonic took one tab of some strong acid before going out and joining a televised Olympic race. Those bombs are just hurtles, and Tails is just an imaginary demon following and destroying Sonic’s progress.
My Morale: 8/10
So far so good. I’m a little annoyed that I couldn’t shorten my words just a little bit in this first entry, but there’s just so much to say about these first two games. You can expect much less blabbing in future entries.
I’m enjoying this thing so far. The pain that awaits in the coming days does not scare me in the least.
Now, on to the good stuff.
Ok, folks. If the disturbing pictures that came with the first article didn’t scare you away, you probably noticed that I mentioned some prizes that will be given away at the end of this challenge. Well, I’m a man of my word. I am happy to announce the Twenty Days of Sonic Challenge Comment Challenge Challenge!… Challenge.
Over the next few weeks, I will be posting these annoying and rambling bits of Sonic love, and all you guys need to do is post at least one comment once you’ve finished reading my irreverent bologna. Once the challenge has finished, I will drag myself from my comatose stupor to read every comment you guys have left, and I will choose my favorite to win that week’s particular prize! This is different from our usual bi-weekly contest, as I will not be choosing the winner at random. Instead, I am looking for the funniest, most astute, clever, or just plain unique comment that I can find. You’ll have plenty of time to formulate your genius comment/question/criticism/flamewar ignition, as I will be announcing the winners for all the prizes at the end of the entire run. Leave as many comments as you like, but remember that the number of comments won’t improve your chances. It’s the quality that counts.
Please note that I am looking for a minimum of three comments per article, as it just doesn’t feel like a contest if I get any less than that. If there are less than three comments from three different readers, I will likely just hold the prize until the 24 hour marathon and give it away sometime then.
What’s this week’s prize, you say? Not one for suspense, eh? All right, all right.
IT’S A KICKASS SONIC SHIRT!
There are a ton of Sonic shirt designs out there, but in my humble opinion, this is the cream of the crop. Developed by the awesome folks at Shark Robot, this is an image of Sonic’s head, comprised completely of little tiny Sonic sprites. I have had my own for over a year now, and I am madly in love with the damn thing. I’ve even had Sega employees take pictures of it just because they had never seen anything like it before!
The size I have for you guys is an XL. If you wear a different size, let me know, and I will try to accommodate. There’s no guarantee that I will be able to obtain any and all sizes, as this thing is pretty damn popular on their site.
Well, what are you waiting for? Get commenting! Keep checking back every week to see new prizes (trust me, they get even better!) and to leave more comments.