The Spin: “Yo! Ho! Ho! Green Hill Giant”

Disclaimer: The views in this piece may not reflect the views of TSS or other writers on the staff team. The intention of The Spin is to promote debate and discussion of an issue or something that’s happening in the fandom or the world of Sonic.

So I’ve seen the footage from SXSW, and the Nintendo Direct, I have a few things to say, mainly on what bugs me about Sonic Generations 2 Sonic Forces so far.

But… I’m not going to do that right now, because, reasons.

Anyway, the one thing which came out of last night’s footage and reveal which probably even took Sega by surprise just a little was the level of negative feedback that The Green Hill Zone got, one which has people now turning away from the game and to be honest, really hasn’t done much for people’s perceptions of Sonic Forces, with some writing it off as glorified DLC for Sonic Generations or simply Generations 2 in all but name.

Oh and I’m not going to talk about how bland it looks because this footage is almost certainly Alpha and given how good modern Sonic’s stage looked, I suspect it’s running nowhere near final quality… now if we get to E3 through to October and it still looks like that… Then ho ho!

Regardless as to what you may think of the game as it stands right now, one thing is absolutely clear. Green Hill Zone apathy is a real thing which Sega needs to address right now or else a lot of fans are going to backlash against the franchise, badly.

Is Green Hill Really Used That Much?

This depends on what we’re talking about, when I saw Green Hill Zone last night I groaned and said ‘not again’ then I thought about it and tried to come up with a list of Games which have had the Green Hill Zone going back to Generations and… I have to admit I struggled with this.

Here is the list I could come up with.

  • Sonic Mania (Though Act 2 is pretty much a completely different stage just using GHZ assets.
  • Sonic Lego Dimensions (if you really want to be vain).
  • Sonic Runners (If you REALLY want to be vain).
  • Sonic Generations.

There’s probably one or two others which are likely mobile games which I only played for a few seconds before becoming bored, however, aside from other minor appearances such as stages for fighting games like Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. In terms of you playing a character, going through a level, that’s the best I could come up with.

So following on from Generations which was the first game to bring back the Green Hill Zone in name and to standard for many years, we’ve had… a mobile game which barely represented the stage. A DLC/Level Pack for Lego… and Sonic Mania which isn’t out yet… whose Act 2 is barely recognisable to GHZ.

That’s… not a lot… so why does it feel like the Green Hill Zone has been in every game since forever?

Well the fact is it hasn’t… Green Hill has been barely used, it’s been used more than other stages, but it’s still a very minor stage, one could argue that Seaside Hill has had appearances or references in more games, yet nobody begs for that zone not to appear whenever something new gets announced. so what’s going on?

So if you’re Sonic Team right now, you might be a bit confused as to why Green Hill Zone has generated such a negative reaction, you’ve not had it as a real full stage in one of your games since 2011, last time it was an actual stage was the Lego game… so… why do fans suddenly hate it so much?

Well, I think it’s down to two possible explanations.

Sonic Forces/GHZ Just Looks Too Much Like Sonic Generations

I’ll keep this brief since I’ll probably be writing a lot more on this in another article.

Since Forces was announced, right from the teaser trailer… many people have compared it to Generations, since then, Sega have done very little to suggest otherwise, other than say ‘No it’s not a sequel’. Yesterdays footage has also done little to stop those comparisons, the short GHZ section just looks so much like the Generations stage… oh wait, now there’s sand… that’s different I guess?

Like I said, I’d keep this point brief, but if you pull a level out and it looks so much like a level from your last good/great Sonic game, you can’t help but feel like it’s the same old game. In fact, pretend Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 did this, had the Green Hill Zone in it, everybody would probably be saying ‘not again’.

Had it been any other zone, I suspect fans would have been much warmer to it’s reveal.

Anyway, we’ll come back to this game being too much like Generations and why it’s a bit of a problem another day.

 Green Hill Zone Is Used A Hell Of A Lot… Outside of The Games.

Just think about this for a moment… When was the last time you saw an official Sonic T-Shirt depicting the Chemical Plant Zone? Death Egg? Angel Island? Ice Cap? Hydrocity? Sky Chase?

No? How about Green Hill?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg… Oh go on have these too.

Green Hill Leggings!

How about mugs?

 

Amazingly, those three mugs came out at the same time… from the same company. Different mugs… all made to use the same level, Green Hill Zone.

Statues/Figurines?

How about art prints?

What about more general merch?

Books?

What about Sega’s booth at trade shows!?

Oh come on!

That is a very small sample, there is a lot more I could bring in. You know what is really crazy, all of this stuff is barely 5 years old, most of it is under 2 years old. Even promotional material and the social media guys tend to use the Green Hill Zone quite a lot, it all adds up.

For at least the last 5 years, without a doubt longer, the franchise has been over-saturated with Green Hill Zone imagery and products, it’s used on nearly everything, the only thing which is used more are those generic Sonic poses which are often used for merchandisers wanting to make a very cheap quick buck.

It’s no wonder fans are fed up and reacting negatively, outside of the games, everything is Green Hill, it’s rare that we get any other zone featured. With the exception of the bases on some of the recent First4Figure statues, the only Zone which I can think of that got featured on a piece of merch outside of Sonic Boom was Meccano’s Chemical Plant Zone toy.

As a fanbase, we’ve been exposed to so much Green Hill outside of the games in the last few years, that we’re bored of it, crying out for something new. This finally boiled over last night when after all that saturation of this particular Zone, finally, a new Sonic game and the second zone shown, is Green Hill… is it any wonder people reacted so negatively?

This is an entertainment product, if you keep producing the same old entertainment time and time again, people will get bored of it and reject it. So why on earth has Green Hill Zone been pretty much the only thing that has been used?

So Why is There So Much Green Hill?

Basically, there’s two reasons. One is obvious, the other annoying.

1: If you ask people who are not Sonic fans, but know what it is, to name a level from Sonic, they’ll probably name Green Hill… and honestly? That’s probably about it. It’s the most recognisable zone in Sonic, so you wanna sell your T-Shirt? Better make it Green Hill.

2: The second reason… I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think Sega wants people to use any other zones? This might be changing with the coming of Sonic Mania, but, certainly prior to it’s announcement, this felt the case.

We bring these up a lot, but frankly more people really need to pay attention to them, the style guides that we know of mention Green Hill, have assets for it, but do not mention assets or any other zones.

So if the style guides prevent people from using other zones, what chance do we have of originality?

What Needs to Be Done?

Green Hill apathy is a real thing which is having an impact, Sega absolutely needs to start taking this problem seriously or else fans are only going to become a lot more vocal in their displeasure of both games and the surrounding Sonic universe.

Last nights reaction was clear enough this has reached a boiling point. Sega needs to start promoting other zones as well as allowing licensees to use other levels and assets.

Or… do the amazing thing and let designers and artists have more freedom.

Take a look at the Drop Dead clothing line, it’s quite amazing, doesn’t use the traditional artwork or style guide designs, yet sold amazingly well because the designs were really great as well as being highly quality items. Otherwise, if you keep using Green Hill for everything, you’re going to get more people turning away.

 

And not once did I have to mention the placement of that dash pad.

18 Comments

  1. While you’re technically right about the amount of appearances GHZ had, there has been quite a few “new” levels that seem to highly resemble the look of GHZ, such as Windy Hill Zone and Splash Hill Zone. They may have different names, but they’re all just slightly altered GHZs with fancy new names slapped onto them.

    It’s just so…bland.

  2. If you ask me?

    Sonic isn’t Sonic without Green Hill.

    It would be like erasing Gotham City from Batman media or Metropolis from Superman media.

    1. I am quite sorry you feel this way. Needless to say, I cannot agree with this opinion.

      Sonic does not live on South Island nor in Green Hill. There is no constant danger that it faces, no villains that live there. Sonic saved South Island, moved on, and with it, Green Hill’s chapter closed to me.

      Based on material that Sega at one point believed in, but apparently no longer does, Sonic is a character that derives enjoyment from traveling the world and seeing new places. He doesn’t look back unless Eggman gives him a reason to. With the end of Sonic 1, the Chaos Emeralds moved on, and Eggman lost his reason to terrorize South Island. It’s sad to see that Sega/Sonic Team have forgotten that, and just want the zone to keep popping up for nostalgia reasons.

      Also, if I may be so bold, did you just suggest that every adventure Sonic has ever been on has been negatively impacted because he didn’t go back to one specific part of one specific island at the beginning of it?

  3. I am of the opinion that the saturation of Green Hill Zone in the games is more substantial than you have mentioned. Sonic 4 Ep. 1 and Sonic Lost World may not have used the name Green Hill, but if we’re going to say that Sonic Forces is Generations 2 in all but name, then I’m comfortable saying that Splash Hill and Windy Hill are Green Hill in all but name. Different gimmicks at some points, but the visuals and Badnik choices really try to make those zones remind the players of Green Hill. Also, a little thought experiment. Let’s take any of those Sonic figures and statues shown above. If they replaced the Green Hill textures on the bases we see with Windy Hill textures, who would be able to tell the difference aside from those most entrenched in the franchise?

    (Also, if I may be nitpicky, and if we’re allowed to talk Pre-Generations, Sonic Adventure 2 and its unlockable Green Hill should probably count, no? It brought back the zone by name before Generations.)
    (To be super nitpicky about its appearances, Sonic Jump also had Green Hill.)

    What frustrates me most about the Green Hill spam is that Sonic is a character that we have been told gets the most out of life by seeing new places and experiencing new things. Why then must he be done the disservice of always having to run through that one zone and its clones? Green Hill has no significant lore, and I don’t see the reason for it to keep popping up.

    Sonic doesn’t live there. If we’re going by the JP manuals for Sonic 1, Sonic only arrived on South Island after Eggman set up his base and badnik army. Sonic arrived on the island, ran through Green Hill, moved on, defeated Eggman, they both left South Island after the adventure was over, and next time we see them, they’re on West Side Island for Sonic 2. Can we please go back to some formula like that, where Sonic and crew have an adventure in a new place, and when the day has been saved they legitimately move on? Either South Island shows up more times than I think it has the right to, or there are a lot of Green Hill Zones in a lot of places on Sonic’s world for very little reason. Either indicates a real lack of creativity, and I’m quite irritated by it.

    I for one and quite tired of the mindset that the default state of being for Sonic is being in Green Hill, and then he has to claw and dig his way out of Green Hill in order to potentially reach something new we haven’t seen before. Just… just… start somewhere new for once these days. Please? It doesn’t even have to be hard. Replace the squares of the checker pattern with another shape (Sonic CD showed how viable this is) get the palette away from orange and brown, give it a name that doesn’t involve Hill, and you’re already well on your way to having a new zone. New Gimmicks and Badniks are like Second Christmas at that point. For example, it took me way too long to realize that Emerald Hill and Hill Top Zone had the same artwork for the foreground aside from color. That’s what a palette and backdrop change can do.

    I suppose I should wrap up this sort of aimless rant with a too long, didn’t read summary.

    Classic Sonic is not Green Hill, Green Hill is not Classic Sonic. Sega, stop making the ties between them so much stronger than they have any right to be. It was getting old long before this point, and now we have two more games that explicitly and shamelessly have Green Hill to try to remind people of the good old days. Where are the attempts to build new memories for future generations to regard as the good old days? Why must everything Sonic is or is allowed to be have to be funneled back to that one stage that had its time and was moved on from? Back in the 90s, they knew how to move on and make each new title a new experience (funny how that works). Now, all they can do is remind us of one specific, tiny part of the 90s Sonic experience, and they certainly don’t know how to move on.

    Alright, that’s enough ranting from me. Thanks for indulging me. Had a few things that I needed to get off my chest there. Be well, everyone.

  4. So glad there’s an article about this, I agree completely. I was so hyped for Forces, but god damn Green Hill has me really frustrated. It’s just so unnecessary! (Plus it looks way worse than Generations’ GHZ).
    I want Forces to be nostalgia-free. No reimagined levels or throwbacks, we have Mania for that. Forces better have a good reason for having GHZ and it better be the ONLY reimagined level in the game.

    Come on Sega! I’m still really excited for Forces, but you need to stop shoving pointless and overused “nostalgia” in your games.

  5. It’s not just the Green Hill name that’s tired, as you said it’s the aesthetic. So it’s not limited to just GHZ itself but it’s look-a-likes as well. So Splash Hill and Windy Hill too. And as you said, it’s been everywhere the last while.

  6. Splash Hill basically is Green Hill. I’m also pretty sure it appeared in at least one of the all-stars racing games (probably both), the tennis game and so on. And it was Sonic’s zone in Smash Bros. Wii U (maybe they called it the name of the zone from Lost World but let’s be honest: it was Green Hill).

    I’m bored of seeing it. Do other games keep using the same level in this way? It was cool to have it as an unlockable in SA2 and was an obvious choice in Generations, but why keep using it?

    Good article!

  7. I’ll say this, the actual main reason we see it everywhere is because it’s iconic. It’s literally the first place we’ve ever seen Sonic, hell Sonic 1’s title screen opens up in Green Hill Zone, it doesn’t get much more iconic than that. It’s like the first world of Super Mario Bros. or any first stage after it, it tends to be repeated in many ways similar to Sonic. Even other games with different first stages still have “Green Hill Zone” themes to them, the level itself has even become a theme it’s that iconic.

    Emerald Hill Zone? Basically Green Hill 2. Palmtree Panic? Green Hill with some 3D and more verticality. Angel Island? More of a tropical jungle, but still plenty of palmtrees, coastal and watery backgrounds, and greenery everywhere. Emerald Coast seemed to be the largest departure from that, but was still kind of like a combination of Green Hill and Angel Island, with a much more coastal theme but still with a similar spirit. And while City Escape wasn’t even a coastal stage altogether (though technically speaking, San Francisco IS a coastal city, soooo….), you did forget to mention that Green Hill itself did appear in SA2, though it IS an unlockable that granted, not every Sonic fan probably gets to experience. Seaside Hill was pretty much the definitive modern Green Hill equivalent while Wave Ocean was an explicit clone of Emerald Coast, and probably the most un-Green-Hill-esque stage ever in modern Sonic history is Windmill Isle, with the only trait it shares in common with any of the other first stages is that it’s coastal…and that’s it, it’s pretty much just Greece (yet another reason I love Unleashed, originality!). Tropical Resort can only be associated through name alone as it’s more of a resort/recreational kind of theme which is pretty rare for a first stage, though the more plant-filled areas of Planet Wisp did seem kind of Green Hill-like (come to think of it, Jungle Joyride is also a later stage that I guess shares a bit more elements with the likes of Green Hill, Angel Island, and Emerald Coast).

    So I guess people can feel like we’ve always had Green Hill Zone vicariously through similarly themed stages in other games, but you’re still right, there’s been a limited number of times that the stage has appeared as a fully playable platforming/adventure stage in a main series Sonic game. Actually, Green Hill as itself really got resurrected in Generations (unless you count Splash Hill Zone, but I feel like I’m the only guy who would associate anything from Sonic 4 with anything else…), and I guess people felt that was more refreshing because yeah, Green Hill as an actual stage hadn’t been seen since as late as SA2 Battle, Sonic 1 for most fans. Of course it was welcomed, the same with all the other stages featured (complaints about reoccurring Green Hill and City stage themes aside).

    It’s only after Generations that I really questioned the use of Green Hill in anything else. If anything felt like Sonic Generations DLC, it was Lost World, Windy Hill pretty much being a dead-ringer for Green Hill. In fact, this actual Green Hill return in Forces looks more like a fusion between Sonic Generations’ more detailed reimagining and Lost World’s more stylized cartoony simplicity.

    I honestly don’t mind having Green Hill Zone back here, nor do I mind the whole “Generations 2” vibe we all seem to be getting, mostly because it feels like a safe haven after a storm of messed up attempts at reinvention. But what I am bugged by is that it still tries to look like Lost World, in appearance, style, and even engine somewhat. Modern Sonic seems to move more like a fusion between his Generations and Lost World counterparts, like it’s how Lost World would operate if it pretty much stuck with the Boost formula but wanted to look a bit cartoonier. It’s not the stylized near-realism that I’ve come to love from Unleashed to Generations (even Colors got really beautiful at lots of times, Aquarium Park is where it actually pays to have that kind of beautiful style). If anything it looks closer to the modern Mario style, once again affirming my theory that Iizuka is trying to make the series much more Mario-like than it really should be, I’m not even joking.

    Well, uh, I guess I had a point so I’ll get right back to it now. After Generations’ success, I feel as though Sega entered a new era for Sonic, the “Neo-Genesis Era”. Nostalgia had become king, suddenly everything was being made with the “classic fan’s taste” in mind, with Lost World desperately trying to look like a classic game in 3D (sometimes), Runners essentially porting LW’s artstyle for a rather Classic-inspired endless runner gameplay, all of the iOS remasters, and the crowning achievement (and probably the one thing Classic fans were actually asking them for to be honest) was/is Sonic Mania.

    The reliance of nostalgia has gotten to the point where now instead of the common fan complaint being that “Sonic should just return to his roots, the stuff that made him great to begin with like in the Genesis days”, it’s now become “Oh god please Sega can we just see something new!?” Nostalgia can be fun to use from time to time, but over-reliance can lead to ignoring the future and actual evolution of the series altogether. The smart use of relying on past success was in returning to the Boost formula for Forces. The so far questionable use is in both trying to recreate the visual aesthetic and outright reuse of classic stages because, just like Mario, we need to live in a new version of the past all the time I guess.

    Hopefully we’re all just jumping the gun here and E3 will show us enough to ease our doubts…or maybe even tomorrow, whatever that April 14th thing is supposed to be anyway. But this does make one problem I’ve been noticing for a while very very clear. Iizuka heard the complaints about trying to return to Sonic’s roots and over time has taken it the wrong way, or at least not in the way that Classic fans and most Sonic fans in general have actually been asking for. I really hope that either he’s learned his lesson more than we may think he has and this game has more new stuff in it than we’re giving credit for, or that at the very least he’ll finally learn with this one and change his agenda for the series.

  8. Not negating anything you theorized/explained on Green Hill Zone negativity; I agree. But I think this stems more from Green Hill-like stages appearing. For one, it hasn’t been 100% confirmed that the stage shown in Sonic Forces is called Green Hill. Looks a hell of a lot like it, but not named the same yet. Emerald Hill and other first stages from 2D Sonic games have lots of similarities to Green Hill, but just enough differences in layout to warrant the name change. I think this Green Hill negativity stems more from the repeated use of first-stage aesthetics. Kind of like how Super Mario fans complain how repetitive the grass-desert-snow-water-jungle-mountain-sky-lava level aesthetic has been used in their more recent games. Sega has been using Green Hill-like first levels since they’ve started going “back to his roots”. Sonic 4, Sonic Generations, Sonic Lost World, and now Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces seem to have early levels aping Green Hill. This is wearing us down, and we think the attacked city is refreshing again (that got over repetitive back in the GameCube, Xbox 360 days). I’m personally fine if they use “Green Hill Zone” again, as long as there’s a fair reason, and they make the level layout different enough.

    1. Just wish it didn’t look so pitifully bland compared to the Generations version though. Once they started looking more cartoony simplistic in Lost World, I guess there was no going back. I miss the detail that Unleashed – Generations had. But maybe this really is an alpha or something, I don’t know.

  9. Emerald Hill from Sonic 2
    Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes
    Splash Hill from Sonic 4 ep1
    Windy Hill from Sonic Lost World

    All these levels and maybe a few others I’ve missed are all technically Green Hill clones with different names!
    The only exception of having some originality is Seaside Hill which I have no problem with because of the ancient water temples and killer whales.
    Some people look over Emerald Hill because of nostalgia, but I’m not sparing any mercy to that one.
    Windy Hill has different level design but the art style is just boring old Green hill again…. an need I say anything about Splash Hill?!

    What we all want is for brand new levels not old ones…. look at the excitement for Studiopolis and Mirage Saloon even the destroyed city level from Sonic Forces is getting some praise!
    If we must dwell in nostalgia, how about trying some other old levels…. Hilltop Zone?…. Marble Garden?…. Lava Reef?…. Oil Ocean?…. just to name a few out of so much more!

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