Road Bumps: Sonic the Hedgehog

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There are a lot of great series and developers, but not everything that comes from them is a gem. Road Bumps is a column that will focus on the games that are just plain bad or didn’t quite get everything right from a revered game series or developer. It will cover anything from bad games, to decent games with a big design flaw, bad decisions overall, and more.  This time we look at Sega’s long time mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Sonic the Hedgehog has been rolling around at the speed of sound since 1991 and has a long library of great games. Not all of them, however have been so good. From the Sega Genesis, all the up to the Wii; Sonic has let loose a few stinkers. Probably after eating a few too many chili dogs. Sonic’s real shaky start started with his introduction to 3D, where his life was a big mess for all of the Saturn years at Sega. There was a lot of hype over Sonic’s first 3D game (which was just top-down isometric 3D, not full 3D other than the special stages on the Saturn version), Sonic 3D Blast. But then people got to play it. Sonic 3D Blast was okay, but very mediocre by Sonic standards. The levels were fairly boring and repetitive which revolved around saving Flickies over and over again. It also didn’t help that controls were overly touchy and didn’t work as well as they could have. Sonic 3D Blast was Sonic’s first appearance on Sega’s new console, the Sega Saturn(it was also released on the Genesis though) and it was a shaky start that was never resolved until the debut of the Dreamcast quite a few years later.

Sonic saw some more mediocre outings in the arcades and on the Saturn. Sonic R was a semi-decent racing game but there isn’t much excitement. From the graphics, to the control, and the level design; everything is acceptable but also sub-par and the game is only worth a run for an hour or so. The only reason to check it out would be for being different, as Sonic and friends stuck to racing on foot in stead of kart racing. The Sonic Rivals games for the PSP are better though.  And Sonic the Fighters which was released in arcades(and rereleased recently with online play for PSN/XBLA) was a shallow fighter that is fun for a few minutes but doesn’t come close to being comparable to other Sega fighters from the time such as Virtua Figher, Fighting Vipers, or Fighters Megamix. Sonic was treated poorly on the Saturn all-around.

With all of that, those didn’t become anywhere near the biggest Sonic failure at the time. The biggest hit to the Sonic franchise, was Sonic X-treme. Sonic X-treme was set to be the first fully 3D proper Sonic game and was set to release for the Sega Saturn but it never happened. It was supposed to release early in the Saturn’s life, at the end of 1996 but development was hit with too many problems and delays so it ended up being cancelled. That left with a slightly upgraded version of Sonic 3D Blast to fills it’s shows and it wasn’t enough. This left the Saturn’s complete life cycle with only one good Sonic release, Sonic Jam which was only a slightly enhanced port of the three Genesis games. It did have a 3D mission mode which showed a taste of what a fully 3D Saturn Sonic would have been like.

Over all the Dreamcast years were kind to Sonic. Sure both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 had some lame levels that veered from the fast and frenetic Sonic game play but they were great additions to the series. Sonic finally had some 3D games that could compete with Mario. Those Big the Cat from Adventure and Knuckles/Rogue exploration levels were pretty poor though. So parts of the Adventure games were a chore to play through. Not all Dreamcast Sonic games were a success though, he had to try and party. Sonic Shuffle was a poor attempt to compete with the Mario Party series with poorly done mini games and long load times.

After Sega’s dropout from producing consoles, Sonic’s years were pretty good for a while. He had quite a few decent(if not quite spectacular) Gameboy Advance games, enhanced Adventure ports to the Gamecube, and Sonic Heroes which were all worthy of Sonic. Shadow the Hedgehog was a terrible attempt at appealing to mature gamers that featured Shadow using guns. At least Sonic kept his name off of that one. Then the next generation came along and Sonic had his biggest failures ever. It started with Sonic the Hedgehog(2006) was a poor and rushed attempt to reboot the series. The level design wasn’t bad but the game was filled with bugs and a non-coherent story where Sonic romances a human girl. The game featured another playable character Silver, and those levels were just as bad.

Then, came Sonic Unleashed which had some great, fast paced Sonic action. But then players were forced to suffer through the Were-hog stages which play out as a poorly made, repetitive, shallow beat em’ up. The early previews looked quite promising and the normal Sonic day time levels were quite fun so it was disappointing to have to slog through the night time werehog levels. This was the final nail in the coffin before Sega decided to stop trying to experiment with Sonic so much after a while. So this may have been a good thing because it led to us getting great Sonic games like Colors and Generations.

The Wii also saw two Sonic titles which weren’t all that great. Sonic and the Secret Rings was a decent game overall but it was hampered by poor controls. The motion controls just contained waggle and felt forced. It could have been a much better game if only the controls were designed better. Sonic and the Black Knight had the same problems and then some. It also had lame combat and boss battles is probably Sonic’s second biggest failure next to 06. As a way of saying sorry, at least Sonic Colors was released later on the Wii and is one of the best 3D Sonic games. So at least they learned from their mistakes. The final mention goes to Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episodes 1 and 2. Episode 1 had some iffy controls and lacked co-op but over all was decent. Episode 2 improved on both those things. The problem here is the episodic content as a Sonic game with only four levels just doesn’t feel complete, even at a budget price of 15 bucks.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a great series but everyone makes mistakes. Some of Sonic’s were pretty big but he has bounced back from them for now. He is likely to have some more great and possibly some bumpy years ahead for him.

Note: Haven’t played any of the Sonic Riders games, so they might deserve a mention but that is why they’re left out.

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