The Spin: Five Sonic games that were just shy of greatness

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Jason Berry and dot not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TSS staff.

Guilty pleasures. Fan favorites. Cult classics. Names used for a variety of entertainment from movies to music and of course, video games. Usually, it refers to something that is flawed, but nonetheless, enjoyable. 

The same can be said for a lot, and I mean a LOT of Sonic games out there. Games that are seriously flawed, but still have some fans who enjoy them. I’m still baffled by some people who say that they loved Sonic ‘06 but hey, don’t let me tell you what not to enjoy. Heck, I kinda like Rise of Lyric and that game is in an even more unfinished state than ‘06.

But what I want to talk about are Sonic games that were poorly reviewed by critics, but still enjoyed by fans or vice-versa. Games that are on the cusp of greatness, but some element holds it back. Games that make you say “yeah, it’s not the best, but I like it.” Games that are polished in their design, but their design is ultimately flawed. These are my five Sonic games just shy of greatness.

Sonic and the Black Knight

This is low on the list because it’s genuinely a bad game in the design department, but it has two elements that really shine. Sonic and the Black Knight was the second in the short-lived storybook series just after the arguably better Sonic and the Secret Rings. So why is this one on the list and not Secret Rings? While I didn’t care much for the constant stop-and-slash gameplay of Black Knight, there were two things that really stood out for me. 

One, the story is actually one of my favorites in the series. Sonic is back in a storybook world, only this time, he has the knowledge from the previous game to know that his friends are not the same ones from his world and only look the same in appearance. Also, Sonic’s smart enough to realize that something’s off with the titular villain and the surprise twist reveal is something I didn’t see coming. It also includes a moral that, well… you don’t see very often. 

Two, the music! Crush 40 is back along with a great, guitar-heavy soundtrack by Jun Sunoe and other talented composers including Tommy Talarico. There are also a few remixes of previous Sonic music, but overall a rockin’ soundtrack to a sub-par game.

Sonic Lost World

Boy did everyone love this game when it made the early rounds at preview shows like E3 and  Comic-Con. Most people gave this new and very different entry in the Sonic series a lot of love… until it came out. It’s not that changing the formula for once wasn’t a good idea. I love the boost formula but could’ve used a break. However, once again as most games you see on this list, the biggest flaw is the game design. 

Sonic Lost World was doing it’s best to rip off Mario Galaxy and it just didn’t work. The level design, for the most part, was very good. It was the controls themselves that fell apart. Sonic with a run button just felt wrong. Not allowing a more analog run control was a mistake in my opinion, but the other problem was the game’s newest gimmick, the parkour control. Basically, Sonic could climb and run alongside walls in a parkour-style to traverse certain levels. However, it was very hit and miss. Sonic would start to slide off the wall very quickly and it was hard to bounce from wall to wall. It took a more advanced level of skill than normally required from a platformer. Surprisingly, the 3DS port had the opposite problem. The parkour controls worked very well and should have been implemented in the console game, while the level design was pure torture. Had we had gotten both solid, parkour controls along with good level design, Sonic Lost Word could have been a hit. 

Sonic Forces

Looks like classic Sonic, but doesn’t quite play like him.

Sonic Forces COULD have been a great game under the right circumstances. It’s using the Hedgehog Engine 2, Classic Sonic is back, you have your classic 2-D and boost gameplay just like Generations. You can even design your original character (do not steal), making every Sonic fanfic writer’s dream come true. In fact, it did okay with critics or at least critics who weren’t that familiar with Sonic. But as a fan of Sonic, you played the game and realized right away that something was off. It looked like Generations, but it didn’t quite play like it. 

I think the main problem lies in that a good amount of the team from Sonic Colors worked on this game including the director, Morio Kishimoto. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Sonic Colors. But that game has very different platform physics than Generations or Unleashed. However, this game seems to have the engine of Generations, but with the jumping physics of Colors. Casual game players might not notice, but if you’re a Sonic fan, it’ll throw you off a bit. Like riding a bicycle, only now the bicycle controls like a unicycle.

What also doesn’t help is the terrible writing once again from Pontac and Graff. I’ll admit, I loved the story in Colors and laughed at Eggman’s PSA’s but those two are comedy writers, and every time they attempt drama in Sonic games, it falls flat. Sonic was supposed to be captured by Eggman and tortured for months, but when we see him, he’s the same ol’ Sonic he’s always been. Crackin’ jokes with (not) Zavoc. 

Sonic Heroes

“What goes up, must come down…” Much like the quality of gameplay in Sonic Heroes.

Now, Sonic Heroes is definitely one of my “guilty pleasures”. It has a lot going for it that I like. It offers the 3-D gameplay similar to the last Sonic Adventure games, but stripped down to a level-by-level structure, much like the 2-D classics. The new gimmick in this one is that you control three characters at once. One for speed (Sonic, Shadow, Amy, Espio), one for power (Knuckles, Omega, Big, Vector), and one for flight (Tails, Rouge, Cream, Charmy). Four teams with four stories of their own. Sonic Heroes did a lot right. It brought back the Chaotix, introduced Omega, and had probably Jun Sunoe’s and Crush 40’s best tracks in any of their games. “What I’m made of” is unironically a damn good song and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise (not really). For the most part, the “three at a time” formula works and helps keep the platforming gameplay moving at a fairly fast pace. It even did fairly well by critics (for a Sonic game of that era). Seaside Hill is still a joy to play. So what’s keeping it from being one of the best?

Level design. That’s the biggest problem. Sometimes it works great (like the aforementioned Seaside Hill) while others are a disaster. Casino Park and Bingo Highway still infuriate me to this day. The game’s difficulty constantly spikes. You can be having a great time of it only to have one of the most frustrating experiences on the very next level. It also doesn’t help that this was the first Sonic game to introduce a massive amount of annoying talking during gameplay. I just want to reach into my screen and choke Tails every time he says “Look at all those Eggman’s robots!”.For a child with a high IQ, he sure has poor grammar.

Now, if you’re a big fan of Sonic Heroes, I understand. There’s a lot to love here. But it’s definitely not without its faults. Speaking of a very faulty Sonic game that I love…



Sonic Unleashed

 

 

 

I friggin’ LOVE Sonic Unleashed! But it’s definitely got its flaws. 

It starts out soooo good! That Marza animated intro is the best Sonic…. Anything! (Speaking of, when’s that “Lupin the 3rd: The First” movie hitting the western markets?) We then meet Chip and… yeah, his mileage may vary depending on if he grows on you or not. We then meet humans and OMG!! They actually fit well in Sonic’s world for once! Giving them a cartoon appearance works perfectly. Then, after some story introductions and a training level, we are introduced to our first full level in Apotos, “Windmill Isle Act 2” and OMG is it amazing!!  Sonic’s running at incredible speeds through narrow streets that blur by. Dodging buildings left and right, grinding rails and smashing through Badniks. It was the first Sonic game to introduce the 3-D boost mechanics that are still present in the latest games. It all feels sooo good and it’s over too soon.

And then it happens. The Werehog. The thing both critics and fans felt was a bad idea and frankly, still is. Now, don’t get me wrong. The gameplay of the Werehog is actually not that bad! You’re running, jumping, getting into brawls and shimmying on ledges and it works out okay. It just doesn’t feel like that kind of gameplay belongs in a Sonic game. Also, each level is about a half-hour long or more. Compare that to the Sonic daytime levels that clock in at about five minutes. I’m bored ten minutes into the Werehog levels. The one thing the Wii did right was to break them up into smaller levels so you could take a break from them. The Wii version also didn’t have the frustrating medal hunt. Don’t have enough sun medals for the next Sonic daytime level? Too bad. Back to the old Werehog levels to hunt them down.

With all, it’s faults I’d still be lying if I didn’t say that Sonic Unleashed was one of my favorite 3-D Sonic games. The Werehog isn’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are far worse Sonic gameplay options out there (I’m looking at you, Big in Sonic Adventure.) 

So what flawed Sonic game do you enjoy? Are there any you think I should have put on the list? Let me know in the comments below.

 

10 Comments

  1. I’ve always said this about Unleashed:

    1- Cut the length of the warehog levels in half but keep them as about 40% of the game.

    2- Replace the warehog with Knuckles, chip with a new kind of chao

    3 – rename as “Sonic & Knuckles 2 / Sonic & Knuckles Adventure”

    Instant hit

  2. I really really appreciate some nice things being said about Sonic Lost World AND the Storybook games man, thank you.

    I remember when Lost World came out, I got it a few days early and played it all the way through. I genuinely enjoyed the writing in this game, though it disappoints me that there was ZERO worldbuilding. I never experienced the difficulties of the parkour system, the controls came naturally to me, I just think that Parkour was never creatively used in the level design. This engine needs another chance, the game is really pretty and has some great music, just fix those awful left/right controls. It didn’t help that this game needed patching to implement STANDARD Sonic features though.

    Sonic and the Secret Rings really aint bad, for a Wii game, once you upgrade those abilities anyway. I enjoyed the stories of both storybook games but the fan service in Black Knight especially stands out as a series highlight. Secret Rings wins in the gameplay department for me, but the story had a lot of stakes and I really enjoyed the way they were presented. Erazor Djinn stood out as a genuine threat, even if his plan was a bit nonsensical, and my child brain exploded when it was revealed he was the same genie from the story of Aladin, i’m not sure how this stands up today though, it’s been a long time.

    Unleashed needs a rerelease which maxes out the fps, resolution, and tweaks to the werehog, which honestly wasn’t that offensive, it’s biggest crime was playing the SAME MUSIC OVER AND OVER during fights, instead of the night time music, which is glorious. Find me a better track than Jungle Joyride Night.

    For personal reasons, I’d like to nominate the Master System version of Sonic 2, which has captivated my imagination for 26 years

  3. Sonic Heroes cemented what I think is the best 3D Sonic gameplay, many characters, they can all be used on the same stages, the stages are lengthy enough to be satisfying in casual plays.

    It’s one of the reasons I still play ShadowTH, gameplay changed a bit but it still played like a sequel.

    But the crown Sonic game of unreached potential is 06 no matter how I look at it.

    Black Knight, even if it were the best 3D Sonic game, the Arthurian theme puts me off. Secret Rings did it better, each level felt very unique and interesting.

    For Unleashed, replace Werehog with Knuckles and bam! suddenly the night levels are tolerable.

    1. I really like Shadow the Hedgehog. I can see why some people didn’t, but I didn’t have much of a problem with the controls, and that seems to be a major complaint. The guns probably also weren’t needed, but it adds an extra level of combat that Sonic games have a hard time achieving sometimes.

  4. Meh. I didn’t really have a problem with any of these games, and I actually enjoyed the Werehog levels a lot. Sonic Unleashed is my favorite Sonic game ever since Adventure 2, followed immediately by Black Knight. Hell, Black Knight was 20x better than Secret Rings was. But nothing will ever be as bad as ’06 was, and I’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed that game lol.

  5. @Dr Ivo – not a bad idea! I still think, if they’re gonna do a sequel to the original Sonic & Knuckles, I’d just hope it’s nothing like this haha

    The writer of this article is accurate in that this game starts off SO good, but my thing is: the tasks really become quite trivial after a good two hours of gameplay. It gets hard and annoying and theres no reason to keep trying to beat the tough parts bc the game already lost its way by the time the game gets really hard .

  6. Liked the article, I thought that Unleashed needed shorter werehog levels at the time.
    Its a shame as they tarnish what is otherwise a great game.

  7. Gotta disagree with Black Knight, man. It was better than Secret Rings by a landslide in my opinion

  8. I disagree that Unleashed could be good, because the day levels aren’t good too, they’re simplistic automated messes. Heroes would be much better without Casino and Bingo. One that I think should have been mentioned is Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, since the ideas were good, it’s the execution that failed.

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