Well, it’s Sonic’s birthday again. June 23rd 2004 – it’s amazing how time flies: not long ago we were all celebrating Sonic’s 10th anniversary! But what have we got to show for it? This would be the part, naturally, where most people would sit down, take a deep breath and count all of Sonic Team’s mistakes non-stop for the space of ten minutes: “Sonic Heroes… countless ports… Shadow’s still alive (well, the Shadow haters would say that anyway)”. Not that this whinging doesn’t stop anyway, but during the birthday period, it’s generally a time to reflect on how far Sonic has come since the previous year.
Call me a strange one, but I rather think that Sonic is on his way up. Upon reflection, Sonic really has come quite far over the last year. You may recall my most recent article before this one, about the general state of games being crowded, over-complex or simply ruined by the addition or placement of too many characters. Although there is a trend there that is really rather worrying – Emerl effectively is ‘reborn’ in Gmel in Sonic Advance 3 – perhaps not literally, but the fact that Gmel is pretty much a copy of Emerl and is obviously there for those fans of the boring belated robot in Sonic Battle – Sonic Heroes is really the only instance in which the character roster reaches breaking point.
Speaking of which, the only real disappointment of Sonic games as of late, if you don’t count the ports, has only been Sonic Heroes. Which, to my knowledge, is the first and only Sonic/Sonic Team game to date that has made me feel that standards are slipping. The first, probably the only, substandard Sonic game.
But no matter what people think of it, people still bought it. And a half. In fact, Sonic Heroes is so popular it’s still in the top 5 of every console chart to date since it’s release in February. Not many games these days actually last this long at all. In this sense, things have turned out very well for Sonic, for Sonic Team and especially for SEGA Europe, who had the massive pressure of making the game a success in our continent.
“But Sonic Heroes is crap!” So bloody what? You bought it didn’t you?
Play the damn thing instead of blasting it, if only for half an hour.
It’s all about having fun, remember?
Now we got Sonic Heroes out of the way, Sonic’s presence elsewhere has been felt with, for the most part, happiness and good feeling. Whatever your own personal opinions about Sonic’s offerings outside the games is your own. Whereas Sonic Heroes is to be admired for it’s popularity and success, the rest have been generally decent all round.Sonic Advance 3 was released just before Sonic’s 13th. Which was quite nice, wasn’t it? Perhaps we notice anniversaries more when a game is released in close proximity to it… Sonic Advance 3 does not disappoint, and is a very enjoyable game indeed. What with all this bad feeling flying about regarding Sonic recently, playing this game just about lifts all of those doubts about the blue blur’s future, if only for a little while (until you stop playing it). Indeed, many ideas in Advance 3 have been adopted from past games, although unlike Sonic Heroes they have been done a little bit more tastefully and Advance 3 manages to pull it’s own little twists on the homages. Playing as Sonic with Tails running around after you instantly reminds you of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but rather than make you wish it really was Sonic 2, it stands out as a decent game in it’s own right. Seeing Tails being as dumb as usual will no doubt raise a smile.
Go on, play Sonic Advance 3. Let Tails run around erratically a bit. He may even unexpectedly jump down a pit for no reason. Let’s see that smile. Come on, raise that grin.
That’s better! That’s what this is all about!
Oh, look, it’s cynicism! My, aren’t YOU funny?
When was the last time you genuinely smiled when something Sonic was within your presence? It was most likely something regarding a Mega Drive or a SEGA Saturn. Or maybe even Sonic Adventure 1 on the Dreamcast. Even after Sonic Adventure’s release on SEGA’s last console, the “fans” have found constant things to nit-pick and complain about. All things that come back to bite them in the arse some years later.Take the aformentioned Sonic Adventure. A truly great game, and a perfect example of taking Sonic into the third dimension. Sure, it had a few faults here and there, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed in a future sequel. Some decided to voice their dislike in the Adventure Field; that these free-roaming sections made the game boring, tedious, and resulted in them calling Sonic Adventure a seemingly average game. Fair enough, people have their own opinions. After the release of Sonic Adventure 2 and even Sonic Heroes however, these very same people are exclaiming that Sonic Adventure was the best of the lot and even cite the Adventure Fields as a point for future games to base themselves on!
These hypocrites are everywhere, and constantly fans seem to find more time to nitpick a certain game rather than comment on it’s good points. It’s a little bit different for Site webmasters like myself; we review Sonic games for your convenience, and thus if a decent review is to be executed, good and bad points must be focused on. And if a game has more bad points than good, then so be it. It’s the ‘qualified decision’ of the reviewer. This addiction of slamming Sonic games for no due reason go far beyond the reasons of simply ‘self-reviewing’ a game.
Yes, you see people on Message Boards, who don’t own websites, effectively voicing their opinions on a particular game. People are perfectly within their own rights to effectively “review” a game themselves. But when it comes down to it, many people don’t even make very good opinions on them – if you only have bad things to say about a game, people will just think you are out to bash Sonic and the games that spawn from him. And in this day and age, I’m looking at many people’s opinionated topics, and would have to say this is not very far from the truth.
“I’m an oldie fan, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the best, SA2 sux, blah blah blah!”
Unfortunately, much of this bad feeling originate from a particular fan group – the ‘oldies’. ‘Oldies’ are Sonic followers that claim they have been a fan since the very beginning. And what do these people have to show for it? A bunch of abuse for anything new that appears with Sonic’s name on it. They will say everything after a specific point has been total crap. Some people will say Sonic R, some Sonic Adventure. The worst ones will have a high disgust for anything immediately after Sonic 3 & Knuckles.Much of the criticisms thrown towards Sonic games these days is the classic quip “It’s nothing like the classic Sonic games”. These traditionalist Sonic fans will chuck this line at you all the time, attempting to denounce anyone who likes anything sub-Sonic Adventure (or whatever) as a “newbie fan” and that you’re not worth the dirt on the bottom of their shoe. These people give the real ‘oldies’ a bad name, and many people who have loved Sonic since the beginning and are more level headed in their judgement avoid this title like the plague. Indeed, “oldie fan” has now become the new “N00b fan”. And is it any wonder?
Heading back to Sonic Heroes again for a split second, while this may have been the first real disappontment in a mainstream home console Sonic game, it’s undeniable that it has its fun points. Any review will tell you this – at least the ones that know its ‘gameplay’ from its ‘GamePro’. We’ve already noted that Sonic Advance 3 is quite a worthy game to commemorate Sonic’s birthday this year. The Sonic Archie comics get more flak than most, but at least they are still in circulation and keep many fans happy, and Sonic X has kept many people gripped with the latest storylines revolving around Sonic trapped in a foreign dimension.
These things will all be called upon as some sort of dumbed-down fanboy hysterical rubbish by the ‘oldies’ and they’re almost fascist beliefs (Sonic-wise that is). But their suggested alternative – “Make games more like the originals” – how much would that work, if you actually put that theory into practice?
So, you like ‘classic’, eh?
Perhaps the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) case for detailing a Sonic game with elements adopted from the classic games – Sonic Heroes. Classic tunes, sound effects, cliches, techniques and ideas were used in Sonic Heroes to make the older gamer feel more at home. But did this work? Unfortunately not, for Sonic Team. And yet many of these ‘oldies’, who preach to us like we don’t know what we’re talking about, hate the game themselves. I smell a whiff of irony about the place. Justified for other people to like or dislike it, because although people like you or I would have liked a return to Sonic’s roots, we never paraded around saying anything else was utter crap. A stern realisation in Sonic Heroes is that “classic” just does not translate well into 3D.Another thing to point out, is that much of the ‘Sonic Team’ that worked on the Mega Drive projects of yore no longer work at today’s Sonic Team: they have either since left to follow their own pursuits, or were part of the American ‘SEGA Technical Institute’ team that Yuji Naka abandoned after Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The point is, you will never get a game like Sonic 3 & Knuckles in today’s gaming, it’s just as impossible as you’d never get a Sonic Adventure in the classic days, or in the very far future of game evolution.
Game franchises need to evolve with new technologies, they need to breathe. Sonic Adventure is the “classic Sonic games” of the new generation of Sonic fans, it is now the benchmark for excellent Sonic games. Much like Super Mario 64 is the benchmark for excellent Mario games now rather than Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros 3. That is not to say people should forget all about the classic games – look at Sonic Mega Collection – but you don’t see many Mario fans parading around saying Super Mario Sunshine should have been more like Super Mario World, do you?
SMILE, BE HAPPY YOU CRAZY FOOLS
Why have I been going on about ‘oldies’ for the last half an hour? It brings me to the earlier point, and the whole point of this article – there is too much cynicism in the Sonic Community these days – too many people think that the classic games are the epiphany of ‘excellence’ and should be revived. My suggestion? Leave classic games as they are – bloody classic!The main reason for everyone acting so bloody glum all the time is that they WANT Sonic to be more like his 2D Mega Drive outings. Sorry, but what exact part of Sonic Adventure did you hate so much? These people that think the only way Sonic will get better if they revert are just deluding themselves – the real fans will know that the future of Sonic is the most exciting part of being a fan, and if a Sonic game brings a new element into gameplay while giving good grounds for a storyline and a gameplay mechanic, and there is a potential future for this new line of Sonic game, then let this new Sonic game be tried. By restricting Sonic to just the classic games, you are doing nothing to Sonic games in general, and you yourself are limiting Sonic’s ability to evolve into something that is as equally exciting in this generation of gaming as Sonic & Knuckles was in the 16-bit generation. What impressed in the 16-bit era will not impress anyone, not even yourself, in this generation of gaming.
As I close this birthday article, I urge you to take a look around you, take a look or think about what is here and what lies ahead. You have a line of classic Sonic games that broke the mould in the 16-Bit era. You have Sonic Adventure, which broke the mould for platforming games in general, in much the same way the original Sonic the Hedgehog adapted to Super Mario Bros. own game. We have the Sonic Advance series, and most recently Sonic Advance 3, which is the closest you can get to the ‘classic’ gaming while still managing to impress with it’s own style of platforming gameplay. We have Sonic Mega Collection, a homage to the games we all loved so dearly. We have Sonic Heroes, which does have some great gameplay mechanics and is an enjoyable ride, even if it all does seem dumbed down. We have Sonic DS round the corner, which will introduce us into a new way to play Sonic that no-one can even guess yet, and we have Sonic X and the comics in America, which provide ample entertainment when you’re not being anti-social playing games ;). Now you know what we have around us, just stop being pessimistic over your favourite game character, stop moaning about his direction, stop preaching the classic games, and just sit there, play, read, watch, and enjoy. Listen to no-one and ignore everyone, and revert yourself back when playing Sonic Adventure or Sonic Heroes and imagine yourself as a kid again, reliving this new Sonic world through the eyes of yourself when you played Sonic 2 for the first time.
Be happy, enjoy what we have. Sonic, like all gaming and entertainment mediums, are there to make us happy and let us enjoy the product. Cast aside all your doubts, if even for a day, and just relax in a world of Sonic, rather than regretting a world of Sonic.