During E3, I came away with an opinion of Sonic Boom that was a little sunnier than most. It didn’t blow me away like Lost World’s crazy cylindrical stage had the year before, but I came away from it smiling and entertained, but not blown away. As I was writing up my preview, Ben Burnham (who wrote the Anatomy of a Bad Sonic Game article, which you should check out) contacted me on Skype and we began talking about the game’s quality. His opinion, based on the various previews he had read, was very bleak. “It sounds like it’s going to be an awful game, man”. I disagreed, but not strongly. Though I didn’t find the demo to be particularly great, I certainly didn’t find it to be awful either. Towards the end of our discussion he asked “How can you defend mediocrity?” It was late, I was busy and tired, and I wasn’t quite sure how to address that.
Last night, after we finished recording our latest, biggest episode of Sonic Talk yet (seriously, we had four guests on) to celebrate #Sonic23on23, it came to me as two of the guests stayed up afterwards debating the game’s quality in the chat. Ben brought up the question again, “How can you defend mediocrity”. As GX and he really got into it, it finally came to me.
Gamers these days, I think, get a little too caught up in the idea that every game needs to be a “triple A, top quality game”. Certainly, it’s not a bad standard to have. When you’ve got a limited time and budget, why settle for anything less than the best? But then, I would need to ask that person: why are you even playing a Sonic game to begin with? Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors are fun games to be sure, but why play those games when you could be playing Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D World, Ratchet and Clank Future and other superb platformers currently available either physically or digitally? Even the best Sonic games of the last several years have been considered only “good” at best in the face of other triple A platformers, not to mention the numerous other triple A games being released in other genres every year.
Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have high standards and that you should excuse games for being less then what they could be, but not being as good as some of the best rated games in the genre doesn’t really make a game “bad”. I have played and enjoyed numerous games over the years that have had serious flaws. Among them have been Rhythm Thief, Shinobi 3DS, Batman Arkham Origins, Resident Evil Mercenaries, and most recently Entwined. Criticisms have ranged from these games being too hard, too shallow, or too much of the same. You know what though? I had fun with these games. I don’t regret the time or money I expended on them. In the end, whether or not I had fun, regardless of the quality, is what matters to me. For the record, Shinobi 3DS stands as one of my favorite games on the system and I’m glad I gave the full game a chance despite the somewhat tepid response it got from the gaming media.
Really, the same was true for the Sonic Boom Wii U demo. I did not regret the time spent with it (well, aside from the fact that it ate up most of the time I was supposed to spend writing my preview) and I came away a bit happier with it then I thought I would. Sure, the graphics were average, the combat was typical and the stage layout was ho-hum. The demo had its flaws, but it also had one very important element that separated it from numerous other Sonic games I’ve played: it was at least entertaining.
I loved beating the crap out of enemies as Sonic. He has an awesome spin move that jets him quickly around the battlefield and lets him slam into enemies, which can be followed up with a series of quick jabs. Enemies could be dispatched quickly, which allowed for a certain flow from battle to battle that seemed to at least move faster than Unleashed’s werehog stages, which had a tendency to really drag with the amount of enemies that would spawn in a given area.
I loved exploring the demo as the various characters, since each stage on display had completely different methods of traversal for each character, which gave me more to see then I was used to for an E3 demo. I liked digging around as Knuckles and popping up under enemies, I liked hitting them with Amy’s hammer and I liked tossing the smaller enemies around with the enerbeam, which worked well. I enjoyed the funny banter between the characters, which probably stands as some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a Sonic game outside of Robotnik’s Sonic Colors quotes. It’s all simple, story driven beat-em up fair, but it’s functional and it’s fun.
So for me anyway, the Sonic Boom demo did its job. Should it be aiming higher than “just okay”? Should it be aiming for Super Mario Galaxy? While that’s certainly a noble sentiment to have, it’s also an unrealistic one. There can only be so many games that have the talent, budget and time put into them to become Super Mario Galaxy. The very reason games like Galaxy are held so highly is because there can’t be many of them. I think that when it comes to Sonic Boom, it’s good to approach it for what it is: an okay beat-em up platformer (that will have a variety of speed segments, according to the game’s developers) that aims to make itself accessible to a new generation of Sonic fans. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m not “defending mediocrity” because I don’t need to. The level of fun in a game, for me anyway, is irrelevant. The game just needs to be fun.
When it comes down to it, fun is all a game really needs to be. If you have higher standards then me, I respect that. Just remember that there is a much bigger difference between a game that isn’t fun and one that is, then there is between a game that is amazingly entertaining and one that just provides an okay experience. That is the difference between an awful game like Sonic 2006 and an okay game I actually enjoyed like Sonic Unleashed. That is also, in my opinion, the difference between this game and Sonic 2006, or Shadow the Hedgehog, or (shudder) Game.Com’s Sonic Jam. I can’t speak to this game’s final quality, but if the demo is any indication it will at least be okay. When the game does finally come out, just be sure to look to reviews from critics you can trust, or friends whose tastes you know well, or even better try the game for yourself before you buy. Another man’s trash can and often is another’s treasure, after all.