Alright, everybody! I know you haven’t forgotten… Have you?
Well, I’m sorry that I’m so unbelievably late again. These articles are still gargantuan, and I’m having a bit of a tough time finding a way to give every one of 20 games its due without blabbing for hours. Well, I failed again. Check out Week 2, and if you can’t stand reading it all, at least scroll to the bottom to see this week’s PRIZE GIVEAWAY!!!
Anyway, these are the games I burned through this week:
Sonic R (1997)
Sonic 3 (1998)
Sonic Adventure (1999)
Sonic Advance 1 (2001) 2 (2002) and 3 (2004)
Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)
A lot of good and a lot of bad this week. I’m starting to feel the burn. I want to go to bed. Hit the jump for a hell of a lot more.
Sonic R (1997)
Let’s get this out of the way – Sonic R is a mess. The game is sloppily constructed, with confusing tracks full of overly sharp turns and incoherent crisscrossing paths. The characters are horribly balanced, with an obvious edge given to anyone who’s running on foot. The visuals are as terrible as you might expect from a Saturn game, but their blocky 90’s goofiness is undeniably charming.
Like Sonic Fighters, the highest praise I can make of Sonic R is just how faithful it is to the series. Each character is imbued with their own special move (Sonic does a double jump, Tails can fly and sounds like a broken motorboat, Robotnik can shoot at people, etc), adding a much-needed strategic layer to the game. Obligatory franchise staples like rings, Chaos Emeralds and Sonic’s varied shields all help to flesh out the paper-thin game just a tiny bit. Amy Rose does inexplicably drive an obnoxious SUV, so I guess Sega’s ideas can’t all be winners…
The real magic of this game, though, is its glorious soundtrack. Yes readers, I can indeed feel the sunshine. In each of the game’s five tracks, players are treated an awesome new tune that 90’s audio geniuses La Bouche would have been proud to add to their library. I found myself laughing like a damn moron to some of the stupidly perky lyrics that kept wiggling their way into my ears. Usually, Sonic’s worst music fills me with uncontrollable rage, but at some point you just have to throw your hands up and laugh at the weirdos that make these games. I love you, you silly, silly nincompoops.
Sonic R was the first non-platformer that I picked up in this whole marathon, and for that reason alone it garnered an admittedly undeserved smile. I love Sonic platformers, but just galloping through these bright and blocky environments was like breathing in a nice gulp of fresh air. I mean, yeah, Sonic R isn’t good, but its many many flaws can’t stop it from being a brief burst of goofy fun. And goddamn it this game has the best soundtrack EVAR.
Favorite Zone: So many different things to see
There’s no time
So many different things to do
But there’s no time
So many people all around
So many feeling to be found
Living in a city where no one lets you down
Least favorite Zone: Another day is like a new beginning
And so today I know that it’s a new start
I know the bad times are disappearing
Cause now I know that we’ll never be apart
You’re the one that makes me feel so high
Just like the diamonds in the sky
I never want to hear you say goodbye
Cause you’re my diamond in the sky
Is There a—-Can you feel the sunshine?
Does it brighten up your day?
Don’t you feel that sometimes, you just need to run away?
Reach out for the sunshine.
Forget about the rain.
Just think about the good times, and they will come back again.
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 1, 2, 3, 4! All I need is you.. ( For always and forever. )
All you need is me.. ( Remember when I say.. )
All we need is love.. ( For us to be together. )
‘Cause you’re my number one.
Sonic 3 (1998)
Since Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are really two parts of the same game, it’s pretty difficult to criticize one more than the other. Sonic 3 really is a wonderful title, with many of the same positives and negatives as its other half. The stages are once again constantly evolving and beautifully expansive. These include such memorable environments as the fiery tropical Angel Island Zone, the beautiful if frustrating Ice Cap Zone, and what is arguably the best underwater stage in all of Sonic history, Hydrocity Zone. Since the late great Michael Jackson was involved with the music of the game, it’s no surprise that the tunes in Sonic 3 are arguably some of the best as well. I’m especially fond of the effectively ominous boss theme, which in my humble opinion is the best in the series.
Another great feature found in both S&K and Sonic 3 are the three new shield types. I adore these clever additions, as their specific powers really offer some needed depth to Sonic’s admittedly bare-bones gameplay. There’s the bubble shield, that allows you to breathe underwater (DEAR GOD THANK YOU!), there’s the fire shield, which lets you rocket forward and makes you impervious to flaming attacks, and there’s the electric shield, which makes rings magnetically attracted to you and gives you the ability to double-jump. These shields are some of the best bits that 2D Sonic has to offer, and it’s a shame we don’t see them popping up in more modern Sonic fare.
Another very welcome addition that sets Sonic 3 apart even from S&K is the inclusion of save files. This is something that would have improved Sonic 2’s invested campaign greatly. Too bad Sega instead decided to add it to the shortest game in Sonic’s Genesis library.
This brings me to my biggest issue with Sonic 3—Once again, it’s just so criminally short. After an experience as diverse and substantial as Sonic 2, it’s hard not to feel gypped once you’ve hit Launch Base Zone in Sonic 3. By that point, you’ve gone through a handful of the standard Sonic environment clichés (fire, water, ice, casino, ruins), without ever touching on something truly new or original. The gameplay of Sonic 3 is admittedly frustrating at some points near the end, but I still find myself wanting a whole lot more once I’ve gotten through even the most aggravating bits of the game. What a way for Sonic to finish his Genesis days.
Favorite Zone: Marble Garden Zone. To be honest, I’m not sure why I enjoy Marble Garden so much. Maybe it’s because it’s full of my favorite Sonic 3 item (the electric shield). Maybe it’s because of the fun little blue spinning tops that send you flying across the stage. Maybe it’s just the fantastic visual style or catchy theme. I don’t know. I just know I adore it.
Least Favorite Zone: Ice Cap Zone. There’s not a lot you have to do to make me hate a Sonic stage. Does it have a tepid, stale theme at its core? Check. Does it force you to repeatedly slide down the same slippery ramps over and over and over again until you escape the cycle? Check. Is there one moment that keeps holding me back with a single unsurpassable level hazard? Check. The only thing I like about Ice Cap Zone is the bit with Sonic on a snowboard. Cause that’s adorable.
Is There a Casino? Yep. They throw a festive coat of paint on it and call it Carnival Night Zone, but they can’t fool me. It’s a damn casino.
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: Sonic and Knuckles hit the same party. Sonic 3’s bonus stages are the same as S&K’s, so it’s kind of like Sonic and Knuckles are back experimenting with the same drug concoctions. Someone needs to get these guys some help. They’ll tell you they can stop when they want to, but if you believe that you’re just enabling them.
Sonic Adventure (1999)
When I first got a Dreamcast, I could not stop singing the praises of Sonic Adventure. Janky physics aside, there was just something so captivating about the game’s sheer girth and sense of scale that had me convinced that Sonic was headed in the right direction. I can still remember the way my jaw dropped the first time I was sucked up into a tornado in Windy Valley, or the way I squealed uncontrollably while racing down the side of a sky scraper in Speed Highway. Sonic was a character that needed a lot of room to explore, and Sonic Adventure gave us more than enough of that room. It was the hope spawned by this promise that really blinded me to the game’s niggling flaws. I think that same blindness infected just about all of Sonic’s fans, as Sonic Adventure is still beloved today, even though most of us will admit that Sonic Adventure is nowhere near as good as we want to believe.
I was honestly kind of scared to approach the game for this reason. My last playthrough really shook me to my core. I suddenly realized how much fluff was jammed into Sonic Adventure to feel bigger than it actually was. For years, I had somehow convinced myself that E-102 and Big the Cat were essential to Adventure’s story and character. They weren’t. I convinced myself that the Chao Garden helped to bring Sonic’s world to life. It didn’t. I’ve come to realize that all of these things were just needlessly tacked-on afterthoughts meant to give Sonic Adventure the illusion of depth– a depth that Mario had not yet reached.
Don’t get me wrong; I still adore this game. Maybe it’s that worn and decrepit pair of retro goggles that I can feel wasting away inside of me, but there are moments in this game that really work better than almost all of Sonic’s modern 3D endeavors. A lot of this comes from the game’s greatest stages, but I suspect that my affection also stems from Sonic Adventure’s semi-open world feel. The odd mix of colorful, exotic locations and mannequin-inhabited cityscapes falls perfectly in line with the silly style of Sonic’s past games. I don’t know why, but exploring these open and essentially needless areas continues to compel me even today.
I love you, Sonic Adventure. Now stop pissing me off.
Favorite Zone: Sonic’s Windy Valley I recently picked Windy Valley as the stage I’d most like to see remade in Sonic Generations. I will grant that it’s burdened by some awful floaty wind physics and glitchy level hazards, but the very best moments of this stage deliver exactly what I want from a game with this name—an authentic feeling of adventurous exploration with a jaw-dropping sense of scope.
Least Favorite Zone: Big The Cat’s Ice Cap Huh, that’s funny. Two of my least favorite stages in Sonic history are called Ice Cap. Coincidence?
Anyway, all of Big The Cat’s stages are nauseatingly slow. I have attempted to will myself through all of them numerous times, but the inescapable feeling that my time is being carelessly wasted is infuriating. Add this to the stupid bits where Big has to break the ice to even begin fishing and you have one of the worst ideas ever stapled to the ass of a Sonic title.
Is There A Casino? Yes. For some reason, Sonic Team thought it might be fun to run around one or two rooms for ten minutes, doing nothing but building a pile of rings in a giant Scrooge McDuck vault. The best parts of this stage are the Sonic and (GASP!) NiGHTS pinball machines that you can fiddle around with. Makes me want a new Nights or Spinball game pretty badly.
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: Zero Believe it or not, Sonic has gone sober in Sonic Adventure. Maybe it’s because Sega didn’t want to build individual areas for all of the characters, but there is not a single bonus stage in this game. Someone cancel Sonic’s episode of A&E’s Intervention.
Sonic Advance 1 (2001), 2 (2002) and 3 (2004)
Everyone always loves to say how the Sonic Advance games really managed to keep the true flowing magic of Sonic going even when his 3D counter part was stuck in a vicious downward spiral. Ok, well, those people are right. Before this marathon, I had only gotten to try out Sonic Advance 2, but I remember that I thoroughly enjoyed the thing, despite that awful Cream the Rabbit and her nuisance Chao friend.
All three Sonic Advances are really fantastic games. Playing through them one by one reminds me just how well Sonic’s gameplay works on a handheld. I often say how much I prefer to see Sonic’s blistering visage on my TV, but the bite-size stages of speedy entertainment just work so well in fits and spurts.
This is further strengthened by the streamlined method that Dimps decided to use with the Advance series’ design. There’s an interesting urgency to these games, as you are rarely if ever encouraged to stop running. Advance 2 even starts each level like the start of a race, with Sonic poised to sprint like an Olympic runner.
While this type of gameplay does work beautifully on a handheld, it does come to bite the developers in the bum every now and then. There are a few stages, especially in the first Advance, where I found myself repeatedly running off edges, simply because I fell into groove and I was inspired to keep moving when the game asked me to slow down for some platforming. Every once in a great while, a certain crucial spring or fatal level hazard just asks you to stop dead, and if you don’t you will die almost immediately.
Level design like this is the most glaring problem I have with the first Sonic Advance. There are just too many instances were I’d keep falling behind in the level because of a confusing layout issue or disjointed flow. Those issues really disappeared with subsequent entries in the Advance series, though.
Sonic Advance 3 does the best job of avoiding this issue, and thus is probably my favorite of the three. Stages have an exhilarating, nonstop pace. They are full of entertaining little gimmicks and gadgets that help to make the player feel like they aren’t just running from left to right. Many would probably consider the game to be too easy, but I just find the pacing and flow of the game far too exciting for difficulty to be an issue. The visuals are also top notch for a GBA game, with vivid, fluid animations for Sonic, and impressive faux-3D models for the backgrounds.
My favorite bit of Advance 3 is the little nod they throw to Sonic 2 by throwing two characters in at once. Instead of being restricted to the usual Sonic/Tails combo, players can pair up any of the major characters of the series (once they are unlocked, of course). Having certain members on your team give you extra abilities (Tails can help you to higher places, Amy Rose has her hammer, etc). While this isn’t an essential addition, it’s an appreciated little nod to my very favorite Sonic of all time, and I can’t ignore that.
Even with all these praises, let me say that all of the Sonic Advances deserve a try. Advance 3 is my personal favorite, but Dimps did make an odd misstep by throwing in this confusing and pointless hub world into the mix. Sonic Advance 2’s layout is probably best, as it gives the player the ability to go to any level they’ve beaten whenever they want, but they don’t have to go searching for it like they do in 3. Sonic Advance 1 allows players to scroll through a list of the levels, but this lacks any kind of visual flair whatsoever.
Favorite Zone: Music Plant Zone, Sonic Advance 2 Sonic Advance 2 probably boasts the best environments of the series, and Music Plant Zone epitomizes that fact. Truth be told, this zone may very well be my favorite conceptual design of any Sonic zone ever. There’s something so carefree and enjoyable about bouncing off of keyboards, jumping from cymbal springs and rocketing from trumpet tubes. Every one of this zone’s hazards and gimmicks is exceedingly clever, making it extremely difficult not to play through it without cracking a smile or two.
Least Favorite Zone: Egg Rocket Zone, Sonic Advance God this zone got under my skin. It’s one of those areas where there really isn’t consistent solid ground to stand on, and there’s nothing worse than that in a Sonic game. Over and over again, I found myself climbing to a certain area, going in the direction I thought I was supposed to be heading, then falling almost all the way back to the beginning of the stage because of a poorly indicated platform. This is the best example of my issues with level design in the Sonic Advance series.
Is There A Casino? Sonic Advance – Casino Paradise I feel like Dimps realized how tired Casino Zones were getting and stopped before Advance 2. Thank you, Dimps. I just wish you did the same with Sonic 4.
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: 1 These are some of Sonic’s most sober bonus stages. Instead of balling up and rolling around in some disturbing fish-filled vortex, these stages at least have you using real objects. Advance 1 has you riding a badass snowboard down a tunnel, whereas Advance 3 lets you ride on Tails’ plane. The colors are still trippy and the vibe psychadelic, but you can tell that Sonic was holding back on the partying that day. Maybe he had a job interview.
Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)
Now, I’ll totally admit that there’s a lot of entertainment to be gleaned from a shitty game like Shadow The Hedgehog. However, not a single drop of this fun has anything to do with the actual gameplay. The only real enjoyment I got from Shadow was in the game’s ludicrously hilarious presentation. Sounds of bullets being fired and clips being loaded accent ominous black and red menus… In a Sonic game. Shadow picks up lasers, tommy guns, and even tree branches to beat and murder human soldiers… In a Sonic game. Passionate nu-metal craps out of your TV’s speakers as Shadow hover-skates around blocky, muddy environments and shouts “DAMN” everytime he’s hit and loses rings… In a freaking SONIC GAME.
Really, these flailing attempts at a brooding attitude don’t come off as threatening or hardcore, but instead inspire images of a metal-head teenager stomping around his room and calling his mom a whore because she won’t let him pierce his ears. Shadow is a manifestation of all your most embarrassing teenage experiences.
The most embarrassing element of this game, though, is not the pubescent angst of its presentation. No, it’s the unfailingly atrocious gameplay. It’s hard to say what drove up my blood the most. Could it be Shadow’s sloppily designed, loosely controlled hover skating? What about the broken aiming system that repeatedly mistakes your attempt at shooting or jumping on an enemy as a desperate attempt to hurl yourself off the side of a nearby cliff?
More than anything else, the ceaseless rage that I now feel bubbling from within the blackest part of what used to be my heart can only be tracked back to the enemies of Shadow the Hedgehog. In each stage, you must choose from one of several possible paths. Either A.) take the Hero Path by completing whatever mundane collect-a-thons that Sonic and his pals ask you to, B.) take the Dark Path by killing humans or protecting monsters, C.) fuck everybody over and just get the Chaos Emerald for yourself, or D.) Get frustrated and stop playing this stupid goddamned game. It seems like the developers were intent on getting you to choose D, as no matter who you decide to help in the game, everybody will be shooting at you incessantly. While I appreciate Sega’s attempt to offer branching story paths based on the player’s choices, I never felt myself compelled enough to put myself through the horrible targeting and frustrating combat just to see an optional story sidebar. Instead, I just kept taking the path of least resistance (speeding through to the Emerald at the end), to minimize the agony.
Nevertheless, it’s a nice to know that several alternate stages surround the path I’ve chosen. It gives a nice boost of motivation, even if the rest of the game is almost unplayable.
Favorite Zone: Of stages I did get to play, I’d probably go with Sky Troops. The mech they make you drive in this stage is a good representation of the laughably clunky vehicle bits of Shadow the Hedgehog. That’s right, a mech… in a SONIC GAME. It’s ridiculous, but enjoyable for that very reason. A lot of other areas are pretty damn ugly, but there are certain points of Sky Troops where I was enjoying the open spectacle of looping paths and the like.
Least Favorite Zone: Prison Island It’s hard to really pinpoint why Prison Island got under my skin. I died repeatedly for all of the moronic reasons I listed above, and ended up playing through 90% of this inconsequential stage more than any other area of the game. I tried so damn hard to follow the Dark mission of this stage, but I just grew so frustrated with missing poorly indicated checkpoints and accidentally throwing myself into pits that I almost dropped the game then and there. Oh, and Charmy Bee squeals into your ear for the entirety of the stage. I wanted to rip out my toenails and jam them in my ears, just to puncture my eardrums and forever save myself from having to hear that sound again.
Is There a Casino? I believe the closest thing I found was Circus Park, which infuses the regular awkwardly dark feel of Shadow the Hedgehog with old Sonic’s lighthearted party stages. Makes for one awkward experience, hear you me.
Bonus Stage Acid Tabs: Zero Shadow is that kind of goth who tries to look like he’s a broken soul burnt out by all the wear and tear that life has put upon him, but then goes home and refuses to drink coffee because caffeine is a drug and his parents told him not to do drugs. There are no bonus stages in Shadow, but that’s OK. Implying that extra stages would have been a bonus in Shadow the Hedgehog is like calling Jeffery Dahmer’s final victims “the icing on the cake.”
There I go promising to stop with all the blabbing, and here I’ve written at least twice as much as I did in previous entries. Ugh. I’m tired.
My Morale: 4/10
This week took a LOT out of me. It thankfully started off beautifully with the endlessly enjoyable Sonic Advance series. Sonic 3 was as wonderful as ever, but playing five hours of the uneven Sonic Adventure and trying to will myself through the poop-smelling mud of Shadow the Hedgehog has really taken its toll. If that’s not bad enough, my puppy has decided to be terrified of video game controllers of any kind, so trying to play these things has become nearly impossible.
And the worst is yet to come. Kill me. Please.
SONIC GIVEAWAY: WEEK 2!
First off, don’t forget that last week’s prize, an awesome kickass Sonic shirt, is still up for grabs. Comment on either of Week 1’s posts with the best comment you can think of, and I will choose the winner come the big 24 hour marathon later this week. God, is it this week already? Oh dear…
Anyway, this week’s prize represents the next step up on the Sonic Stairs of Cool™. You, my loyal readers (do I have loyal readers? Hmm…) have the chance to get your very own copy of…
Wait for it…
Wwwwaiiit for iiiit…
Waaaaaaait ffffffoorrrrrr iiiiiiiiiiiit…
(Can this article get any longer?)
A GENUINE COPY OF SONIC CD!!!
That’s right folks! I’ve got a copy of a Sonic CD, and no Sega CD on which to play it. This is a very important piece of Sonic history, and possibly the greatest Sonic that you’ve never played. Eh, knowing you guys, you probably have, but do you own a genuine Sega CD copy? I doubt it.
Anyway, the contest is the same as last time. Leave me as many comments as you like, and at the end of this whole run, I will sift through all the ramblings and pick the best one in that week’s bunch to win the prize. You could leave an insightful question, make a profound statement, or just insult me for my lack of fashion sense. If I like what you say, you will be the proud owner of Sonic CD!
If this prize isn’t your speed, remember to check back for two more 20 Days of Sonic articles, where I will be giving away a couple more blisteringly awesome items that may be your speed.
Godspeed everyone, or should I say… Sonicspeed?
Did I really just type that?