When Sonic Unleashed was announced, fans were overjoyed to see traditional 2D Sonic gameplay in the third dimension. However, some of us have changed our perception of the title once the werehog reared its ugly head. With the unveiling of “Sonic the Werehog,” some fans were excited at the prospect of a new gameplay element, in addition to 2.5D Sonic gameplay. The other half took its right hand to its face and smacked it in shame. Adding a new character, with an accompanying (new) gameplay style, has been a staple of the 3D Sonic games since their debut in Sonic Adventure in 1999. Each character brings something new to the table, and thus, something that is not traditional Sonic action that could take much needed polish time away from high-speed platforming and ring collecting.
Treasure hunting, mech shooting, varied team play, guns, and telekinesis have not raised the scores of reviewers or the trust of a loyal, fractured fanbase. So, that brings us to today’s topic:
Are gameplay styles that breakaway from the traditional Sonic gameplay necessary? Instead of multiple, poorly executed styles of gameplay, should SEGA simply focus on one and perfect it? Now, we are not in SEGAs inner-circle when it comes to how they create each Sonic game, so each argument is only in theory.POINT: New gameplay mechanics keep Sonic fresh and interesting.
“Mario is not innovative. Fuck Mario. Every game that he releases is the same. At least SEGA is trying something new for once!” ~ A cookie-cutter statement in defense of SEGAs decision-making, found most often at SSMB.
There is not a whole lot I can say in defense of this point that is not already established in its title. People just love to see the hedgehog try something new whenever SEGA announces a game. It gets them hard with anticipation at the opportunity to blaze new trails with Sonic and Co.
Sonic Adventure gave fans the first taste of variety when it came to SEGAs character-based gameplay. Each character finally got their own unique talents, specifically tailored to their abilities in the 2D games. The new characters (Big, E-102) introduced new ways to play altogether. The style came back in the sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, to the same, positive response. Rather than repeating that formula for the third time, SEGA unveiled Sonic Heroes, a 3D game more akin to the classic, 2D games with a twist: team based gameplay that features three distinct styles of blazing a path through a given level. The selection keeps the battle elements from growing stale by allowing you to use homing attack, punching, or “thunder shooting.”
Unleashed introduces the werehog in what looks like a beat-em-up style of gameplay. These sections could be an interesting dichotomy for fans, in that coupling a hyper-fast section with a slower, fighting section will keep the game from becoming a bore. Sonic’s attempt at remaining hip has been enjoyable for some and are the key selling points to why people still play the 3D Sonic games.
COUNTERPOINT: Everything introduced that’s not established Sonic gameplay sucks and leaves each game a genre-confused fuck up.
Everybody knows that the track record of the 3D Sonic games and it is not a respectable one. Each new 3D Sonic game has introduced some new gameplay element to ruin the entire package. How does something new tarnish each entry in the Sonic catalog?
Well, the belief here is that by implementing gameplay not of the traditional Sonic variety, SEGA creates two mediocre, rushed gameplay styles instead of polishing just a single, spectacular one. These new ways to play Sonic and Co. detract from precious development and play time on what hooked us in the first place. SEGA’s insistence on fleshing out the roles of the other characters, at the expense of Sonic-centered gameplay, sends its games off the tracks.
Sonic Adventure has not stood the test of time, as made apparent in the GameCube “director’s cut” port. The “wow-factor” of seeing Sonic in 3D has worn off, therefore making clear that each character’s gameplay is flawed, in more ways than one. In Sonic Heroes, each formation had its strange quirks and it ended up being an unremarkable, tedious experience for most players and (let’s face it) we all wanted to just play in speed formation. The speed sections of the game put the power and flight areas to shame. This trend continues all the way to Sonic Unleashed, which introduces a hybrid of 2D and 3D gameplay with these beat-em-up “second acts” as the werehog.
Sonic is not Streets of Rage or The Legend of Zelda. The Sonic franchise has its own unique, established gameplay without adding swords, guns, and alter egos, so why SEGA feels the need to add more to the mix is ridiculous. Sonic Rush has been a critical and commercial success for sticking to the formula and adding subtle improvements to it (and the best illustrations are the stylus controlled, half-pipe special stages…those were amazing). The 3D games should take a hint from the modern 2D titles (or even the canon Mario platformers, but you have probably heard enough of that comparison already).
Now, you may think that there is one outlier of the bunch of 3D Sonic games and that is the Wii-exclusive Sonic and the Secret Rings. You are probably thinking to yourself, “Hey, SatSR had only one style of gameplay: tilt-steering, on-rails levels with Sonic. That game was mediocre, too!” If that is what you are thinking, then chances are that you have forgotten about the game’s equally lackluster party mode. See? SEGA could have spent more time on the main quest and made SatSR fantastic, instead of worrying about a tacked-on party mode that nobody played, because Mario Party 8 was right around the corner.
DECISION: Where do you stand?
Come Monday, July 28th, this edition of “The Crossfire” will appear in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” forum on the Sonic Stadium Message Board. Read the article, weigh in your opinion, and do not forget to keep the discussion civil.
Next Monday’s edition of “The Crossfire” will be addressing the level design of the modern Sonic titles. Will the games eventually hold right for us or will they be a 300 mph, balls-to-the-wall, totally rad experience?
The Crossfire is a weekly debate column by Slingerland at The Sonic Stadium.