20 Days of Sonic: Week 1, Part 2 – Under/Overrated Edition

Week 1 has proven to be one demanding mistress. Somehow, I managed to condense just about every Sonic entry that has ever been called a masterpiece into a mere seven days. It’s not surprising, then, that I had to split my ramblings up into two separate articles. The first of these Sonic love-fests focused purely on the first two games of Sonic’s career. I spent just about all of the article ranting and raving about two of my favorite titles of all time. I’ll bet some of you even felt a toothache coming on with all the saccharine love swimming around.

Well, it’s not going to be all rainbows and bunnies in Week 1, Part 2. I’m a jaded rebel, and it’s time you saw my darker side. I might even eat ruin my appetite with a plate of cookies. That’s right. I said it.

Anyway, you can expect me to be a little more concise once I hit Week 2.  If I continue to drone on about every Sonic game the way I did about 1 and 2, you’re liable to get really freaking sick of me by the time the 23rd rolls around.  If you’re going to have to watch me play Sonic games for 24 hours, I’ll spare you a little bit of Josh-related boredom now.

If your memory’s too foggy to recall or you just can’t be bothered to give a damn (I don’t blame you), hit the jump for the list of games I played…um…*ahem*… Last week.

Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)

Sonic 2 (1992)

Sonic CD (1993)

Sonic & Knuckles (1994)

Knuckles Chaotix (1995)

I also finished Sonic Advance, but I will be combining all 3 Sonic Advance games for a future post.


As you can see, there’s still quite a bit of authentic quality in this here catalog, so you better believe that I’ve still got that blue hedgehog passion coursing through me… Well, I did for a few days, anyway. I played Shadow the Hedgehog this past week, so let’s just say that the passion is running a bit lower today. For more of my interesting commentary accented by vapid attempts at being funny, check back late tonight for my next entry in this ongoing debacle. It’ll be fun for the whole family.  Or just you, I guess.

Anyway, on to the games.

SONIC CD (1993)

Aaaaahhh, 1993.  The historic year of Jurassic Park’s release, and the infamous year we all first got our hands on a Sega CD.  What?  You didn’t get one?  Oh.  Yeah, uh, me… me neither.  I totally never played or really liked Sewer Shark.  Seriously.  Never played it.  Moving ON.

It’s hard to deny that Sonic CD brimming with some really wonderful ideas.  While it retains just about all of the breakneck speed and gorgeous aesthetics of the Genesis originals, there are some wonderfully unique elements that help to update the experience in some really absorbing ways.  For one, the visual style is unlike any other Sonic game in history.  The colors are vibrant and varied, and the ambiance and themes of the zones are often irreverent and wonderfully abstract.  The time travel mechanic also offers a multitude of different takes on the same world, giving an extra layer of visual and gameplay variance that really should be experienced by anyone interested in seeing something new from the same old generic Sonic worlds.  The stages feel deep and open, inspiring a lot more exploration and platforming than many modern Sonic titles.  There are a ton of interesting new ideas, like elastic floors that send Sonic miles into the air, treadmills that fill entire stages, and bosses that force the player to consider regular Sonic gameplay in a whole new light.

All those praises aside, I was stunned to find just how much I really didn’t like about Sonic CD and Sega’s uneven structural choices.  The spin dash is completely neutered in this iteration, disallowing the speedy ignition that originally made it so useful.  While the time travel mechanic adds a refreshing flavor, its execution feels clunky a bit useless in the overall flow of the game.  The bosses, while admittedly clever in design, are far too easy to defeat.  My biggest annoyance is that stages are disappointingly short in length, trading out the normal labyrinthine paths of previous games for enormous height and multi-layered construction. Even when I took my time exploring an area, I rarely took more than a couple minutes to finish a stage.  I was always left wanting more.

All in all, I need play it through once more to really formulate an opinion.  There are genuinely inspired bits here that I wish Sonic Team would try to implement in a modern game, but for every successful idea, there’s a flawed and uneven execution waiting around the corner.

Favorite Zone: Stardust Speedway The look of this zone is utterly charming.  Constructed purely out of what looks like trumpet tubes, this world pits Sonic into a maze of springs and pipes that propel our hero into every direction imaginable.  While there are a few times when the bizarre design of the stage gets confusing and a bit aggravating, the pleasant aesthetics and pacing of this zone just makes it stick in my mind long after playing.

Least Favorite Zone:  Wacky Workbench The crazy bouncy floor of this zone makes jumping incredibly fun… and makes overall navigation incredibly frustrating.  I appreciate the unique design and bizarre title, but I just can’t get behind a level hazard that is so consistently distracting to the normal flow of play.

Is There a Casino? It’s hard to identify any of the areas in Sonic CD, as each independent zone feels nebulous and appealingly abstract.  There is a zone full of the standard bumpers and pinball flippers, though.

Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 13 This is Sonic on a three week acid bender.  This is the kind of trip that has his peripheral visuals wiggling around for days after he comes down.  Sonic trips so hard that he actually enters another game… on a whole other console.  Sonic jumps into the combination his world and F-Zero, running around a faux 3D path and jumping at exploding mines to get items and rings.  It’s like he went to bed with an SNES hooker at a crazy party and woke up the next morning with no memory of it.  This bonus stage is the resulting lovechild.

 


SONIC & KNUCKLES (1994)

A few weeks ago, I chose Sonic & Knuckles as my one Sonic game for all eternity, and for good reason.  The most obvious motive for anyone to adore this 2D lovely is the ever-so important inclusion of the endless rock-your-face awesome that is Knuckles, but there’s a lot more that makes this game one of Sonic’s greatest adventures.

Spectacle has been a go-to gimmick in Sonic games for a good decade now.  Whereas the first few games in Sonic’s career tended to place their focus on a type of fun that is above all else exhilarating and whimsical,  S&K really represents a transition to design that is more sweeping and thematically coherent than previous titles.  I adore the way individual acts meld together in this game (and its close counterpart, Sonic 3) to create single, gigantic levels that stand as their own individual experiences.  There’s Mushroom Hill Zone, with its beautifully shifting seasons.  There’s Lava Reef Zone, with its cascading mountains of rock and waterfalls of molten magma.  There’s Sandopolis Zone, with its infuriating ghosts and open, sweeping landscapes of sand and rock.

Another great element of S&K is the inclusion of mini bosses, a welcome addition that really helps to spice up the constant and predictable onslaught of Robotnik battles found at the end of every zone.

My only real gripes with S&K are as follows:  It feels a bit short (and don’t give me that “Oh, it’s two games cause it’s Sonic AND Knuckles” BS), and Sandopolis Zone… I. HATE.  SANDOPOLIS. ZONE.  But more on that later.

Favorite Zone:  Mushroom Hill Zone This one was a tough call, as I want desperately to give some love to my favorite Sonic zone theme of all time (Flying Battery Zone).  Even so, Mushroom Hill just keeps flooding my mind with its gorgeous visual style and memorable sense of scope.  I can comfortably say that I’ve played it more than almost any other Sonic stage, and that’s got to count for something.

LEAST FAVORITE ZONE:  GOD I HATE YOU SANDOPOLIS ZONE. I have played through S&K countless times, and I doubt I’ve ever beaten the second stage of this stupid zone in under seven minutes.  Those goddamn ghosts bring on a profound anxiety I have not seen in most games, which is only aggravated by the constantly rising sand and ominously closing doors.  Sandopolis Zone can go eat an ass.

Is There a Casino? You know, I never realized this before, but no.  Maybe it’s because S&K is essentially split with Sonic 3, but there’s nothing resembling a casino in this entire game.

Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 4 tabs of acid, 2 tabs of ecstasy, and a handle of gin. Sonic and Knuckles have an out and out party in this game and in Sonic 3. They are no longer content with just one or two bonus levels.  No, instead, they romp through three mind-fuck realms, each with their own variance of drug-induced insanity.

 

KNUCKLES CHAOTIX (1995)

Chaotix is one odd beast. I have to admit that I’ve always been attracted to its rather nebulous mystique. Even as my friends inundated me with warnings about the game’s awkward, disjointed design, I’ve always found its relative obscurity quite alluring.

After playing a large chunk of the game, I have to say that all of those warnings were very much grounded in reality. Still, that isn’t to say Chaotix isn’t an experience that every Sonic fan should try just once.

It’s important to keep in mind that Chaotix came out in a time when the Sonic formula was in need of something fresh and rejuvenating. While Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Knuckles had pushed the blueprint of the series to its very peak, the constant speed and simple gameplay of the series was admittedly threatening to stretch a tad thin.

The gameplay of Knuckles Chaotix keeps a lot of what makes Sonic great at its core. There’s a fantastic sense of momentum and speed that drives the stage design. The art style has this wonderfully abstract style similar to Sonic CD and a surprisingly gorgeous color scheme.

While the basic physics remain the same, the premise of 2D Sonic receives a complete overhaul in Chaotix. Two characters are tied together by special tethered rings.  Players must traverse each stage by flinging characters across the stage with the rubber band elasticity between them. It’s sort of like that episode of that cartoon show where those two enemies get glued together. By the end of the show, they overcome their differences and we learn things. In the case of Chaotix, we only learn to stay away from the 32X.  I kid, I kid.

What I did find myself adoring about this game was how much momentum plays a role. Once you manage to overcome the awfully muddled controls and frustratingly stop-and-go nature of the game, you can occasionally experience a real burst of exhilaration that’s different than any other type of Sonic thrill. While it happened rather rarely, I really did enjoy those few moments when I managed to slingshot my characters again and again, keeping my speed up and utilizing the game’s unintuitive concept relatively competently. It’s just a shame that the physics of these new mechanics will so easily send your characters flailing into an enemy.  It wouldn’t be half as bad if Ttrying to wrangle these physics didn’t slow things down so significantly. This is especially apparent when you are repeatedly asked performed painfully slow tasks like jumping between platforms or meticulously placing your characters on two separate door switches.  It just doesn’t feel right in a game that’s been birthed from loins of speed.

The basic platforming design of the stages is much different than your average Sonic game as well, focusing less on running left to right, and more on flinging back and forth. In other Sonic games, I’ve often found myself a little disappointed by just how little the world matched my favorite new character’s special powers.  Everything was originally built for Sonic, and playing as Knuckles in another character’s world never felt particularly appropriate.  Since Chaotix is Knuckles’ game, though, everything is designed with him and his new friends in mind. While speed is of course still a huge factor, a lot of the game has you traveling in every direction possible, forcing you to utilize your climbing and gliding skills a lot more.

I’m also a huge fan of the new level select system. Whereas most of the older Sonic titles forced you to play in the continuous progression through all the acts of each zone, Chaotix lets you choose the next act from any zone you want in this bizarre little vending machine room. As someone who often grows tired of the same visual aesthetic of certain areas, I very much appreciate the chance to switch things up whenever I want.

I will admit that I haven’t finished Chaotix yet, but that’s only because my 32X keeps freezing on me. I don’t know if it’s the game or the add-on, but this constant issues is just unacceptable. Fix it Sega. Now. Go back and fix your fifteen year old add on.

Favorite Zone:  Amazing Arena The concept of this zone is honestly one of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in a Sonic game.  The look and sound of the zone is drab and depressing at first, but if you hit a switch hidden within, the stage fills with pretty colors, and the music speeds up to something perky and whimsical. This is also the first Sonic stage that can actually refuse to let you clear it if you don’t perform said task.

Least Favorite Zone: I’m not going to list one, just because I haven’t finished the game yet, and I haven’t really experienced a stage that I truly didn’t like.

Is There a Casino? Yes. It’s called Speed Slider Zone, and this rollercoaster-based stage is actually the most fast-paced area I’ve played in the game.

Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 2 tabs of bad acid The bonus stages in Chaotix are pure, unadulterated terror.  Knuckles (or whoever) runs through a blocky, glitchy three dimensional maze. Knuckles can run on the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, but if he manages to step on an area without a platform, Knuckles will fall off into the inky blackness of space forever. The other stage sends Knuckles rolling into a spinning green vortex, all the while collecting rings and lives and desperately trying not to chew through his own tongue. If this isn’t a bad trip, I don’t know what is.

 

My Morale: 7.5/10

Despite several frustrating issues with the underrated Knuckles Chaotix and some minor disappointments with the slightly overrated Sonic CD, I’m still going strong. I got a huge dose of my man Knuckles this week, so it’s still pretty hard to get me down. If you’re looking for some real misery, Week 2’s post is the one you’ll want to read.

Since this is all part of Week 1, the prize remains the same – awesome Sonic shirt. I will be lumping the comments of this article and the first article together for the prize, so keep commenting on that one, or add more to this!  Remember, I won’t be tallying the winners until the 24th, so you can keep commenting on each of these articles if you want to win a specific prize. Each comment gives me a much-needed ego boost, and gives you an extra chance to win.

Keep an eye out for my Week 2 post, which should be hitting this part of the net later tonight or early tomorrow.

 

Toodles!

  • ninjajosh

    are you somehow gonna play the sega sonic arcade game??

  • Ah, Sonic CD. I played that on the PC, so many good memories!

  • Stevie Grant

    There was a Sonic arcade game?

  • ninjajosh

    @stevie
    yeah, it was an isometric view sonic game that was controlled with a trackball

  • Stevie Grant


    ninjajosh:

    @stevie
    yeah, it was an isometric view sonic game that was controlled with a trackball

    How come I havent heard of this?

  • ninjajosh

    @stevie
    well its not very popular but you can watch youtube videos of it, its called sega sonic the hedgehog

  • Josh Newey

    @ninjajosh
    As fascinating a relic as it may be, I won’t be playing the Sonic arcade game. I’m sticking only to immediate console games, even if a few are on compilation discs.

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