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Sonic the Hedgehog and the Decline (and revival?) of Rails in 3D:



Hello there. I'd like to discuss something that's been brewing in my mind for the past week and it's about Rails. Oh rails, an alternative to the usual past pace acting with the rather slow and bare bones automation. But rails never used to be this way. Take a seat friends, as we discuss The History of Rails in Sonic the Hedgehog.

It all began June 2001, when Sonic Adventure 2 was released, the first game that featured Grind Rails. these type of rails functioned similarly to how they are today, except you can accelerate down the rail even faster, creating momentum allowing you to fly off the rails if you wish. Rails also had the caveat of the having any sort of "pull" for the player to gravitate towards it, meaning the player has to be very precise in order to proceed. This becomes heavily used within Final Chase, the second-to final act of the game. Rails are absolutely everywhere here, and utilizing them to reach far off distances, alternate paths, and crazy maneuvers throughout.

Rails appear once again within Sonic Heroes, functioning very similarly. The differences really come in the level design, specifically from the two levels that feature rails heavily: Rail Canyon, and Bullet Station. The level design here places greater emphasis on switching between rails to gain rings, powerups, and defeat enemies. Personally, I believe this to be the best incarnation of rails, relying more on the level design to keep them interesting, having more of a puzzle, or tactile flow to them.

After that, I believe that Sonic Colors is the first domino in Rail Decline, featuring rails as more of an automation section of each act rather then a more puzzle and tactile way of getting from start to finish. To be fair, Colors does feature some sections with you having to hop between 3 different rails to gain Red Coin and such, but those are very few and far between, being about less then a dozen of them throughout your experience.

Rails are a bit tricky in Lost World, since the majority of rails within this game are incredibly bare bones due to the level design doing nothing with them. However, Tropical Coast Zone 3, and Lava Mountain Zone 2. In those acts, Rails make up the entire act, featuring rails that slow down, or speed you up depending on which one your on.

Sonic Forces, some love it, some hate it, others think it's mediocre. Similar to last time, used purely for automation, nothing interesting going on, so there is nothing interesting to talk about.

Lastly, were at what I think is the most interesting era for Rails: Sonic Frontiers. Frontiers features more of the automation of Rails have been rocking for about a decade now...partially. See, it's this strange split down the middle where, half of this game features automation, while the other half is something different. Rails that are short and require jumping fast, rails where you hop between then similar to Colors, circle shaped Rails where you have to aim Sonic at the right angle to proceed, large circle shaped rails where you have to make a full circle 3 times to defeat a boss, all of these mechanics are making Rails, in my opinion, actually interesting again, with not just letting automation be Rails' secondary name!

To summarize: Rails used to be another form of transport featuring more of a tactile or in the case of Heroes, more puzzle-esque design philosophy, but afterwards, Rails got reduced to nothing more then wasteful automation, but hope seems to be on the horizon for our grindy friend, and Frontiers has been playing around with the potential of Rails, and perhaps we'll see more innovation with Rails in the rumored Frontiers 2 being in development.

So, that was Sonic the Hedgehog and the Decline (and revival?) of Rails in 3D. Feedback would be appreciated as I'm gonna try to make this a weekly thing.


Edited by KingKnucklesFan134


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