My Day At Summer of Sonic 2016

“Are you going to do the Summer of Sonic retrospective?”

“Sure” I say! How hard can it be?

Well… it’s surprisingly hard. I’ve tried reading other peoples thoughts on the day for some inspiration, when I realised my problem. Because I’m on the SOS staff team, I don’t get to experience Summer of Sonic in the same way as someone who isn’t on the staff team, which is most other people.

To illustrate, in the early hours of Saturday 6th August, nearly 1000 Sonic fans are waiting in line, talking to one another, singing songs, some are even dancing and others are having fun posing for photos with cosplayers.

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I however am not.

I am currently running down a nearby street with another Summer of Sonic staff member, in an area of London we’ve never been to before, running into every pound shop we can see, checking every store which may sell stationary supplies, and we have only 30 min left before the venue is due to open.

With cash in hand, we find the items we need, at the final store we hand over both out budget and own money just to get that little bit extra paper. We then ran back to the venue with the new art supplies well before doors are due to open. An extra 2000 sheets of paper, colouring pencils, erasers, sharpeners, we carried them all and ran like the wind.

Why?

Well… We didn’t want to risk disappointing anyone who really wanted to draw stuff, we wanted to ensure the art tables would be fully stocked for the whole day.

This was one of my early duties on the day. But whilst I’m doing this, everyone else is waiting in line, making new friends, meeting old friends for the first time in years. Meanwhile, other staff members are rapidly doing last moment checks, making sure the ticket scanners are working, making sure the goody bags are all ready, making sure the room is clear and clean, making sure… well… just making sure everybody has a great day.

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When the doors open, a cheer goes up from the crowd, and in they come, the old, the young, the cosplayers, entered they did, and at that moment a cascade of goody bags, running towards stalls and game pods.

I’m also running towards the game pods, briefing Sega Europe on who I am and what my role is for the next 2 hours or so. Then I meet the first guests, and then have to watch their faces as they learn the pods won’t be open for a while, but everybody seemed fine with it and willing to wait.

Talking to the fans in the line was great, asking them which stage they were going to play and listening to how excited they were was a blast. Some of the fans asked ‘have you played it yet?’ to which I said ‘No…’ suddenly realising, huh I might not get to play this today! Same for all staff, we’re all so busy that it becomes virtually impossible to find time to wait in line to play games at these events.

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With my shift on the pods over, I had a few moments to get ready to host Buzzbombers. Quickly gathering all the stuff together I introduce myself to Mike Pollock and let him know who I am and roughly what Buzzbomber’s is like, but there’s no time for autographs, no time for photos, we have 800 people to try and entertain.

Well we’re all ready to go and then just before I’m to go on stage I’m told ‘We need to cut Buzzbombers down! We’re really over-running’ So I sorta smile and say ‘Ok no problem!’ Then I’m rapidly thinking ‘how the hell do I cut it down?’ well, that’s a skill all Summer of Sonic staff have, the ability to quickly problem solve and come up with solutions on the fly.

With an entire round and most of the jokes out the window, I get to do the thing most people now recognise me for. And it’s great, I love hosting Buzzbombers, it’s so much fun and I get a huge kick when you guys cheer and join in with the fun. It’s why I put so much effort into preparing it, I just love the fact it entertains you guys and you join in the way you do.

I believe this is true for all staff, this is why we all put as much into it as we do, we want the day to go well, not just because it makes us look good, but because we love watching you guys react to the day when it goes really well, the buzz we get from seeing your satisfaction is incredible.

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So Buzzbombers is over and someone comes up to me with one of the masks which seemed to have found it’s way into the crowd, the girl hands it to me and I say ‘Oh you can keep it if you want’. Her reaction is quite amazing, she gasps and puts her hand to her mouth and says “Are you serious!” I’m a little confused and say ‘sure, it’s fine’ she thanks me a lot, turns to her friends and says ‘Look what I got!’ she was so happy it was really nice to see.

I think the reason for why she was so happy was that later I found out she was a huge Crush 40 fan, and the mask was the one that Johnny was wearing, so I was really pleased to make her so happy… and it freed up my suitcase space too! Seeing the photos she posted later of the mask in her ‘pickups’ photo made me smile too.

Popped back to my room, dropped off the Buzzbombers stuff, then realised my shift on the Mike Pollock signing was about to start. So grabbing a bottle of water I head back down.

Another quick briefing with my team we open the line to meet Mike Pollock and wait for him. During Mikes signing session we realise it’s going a lot slower due to the fact Mike was really pulling out all the stops to make peoples day, posing for photos, selling packs of Evil Ham, signing utterly everything. So again we have to make quick decisions, staff offered to take photos for people, heck at one point I even played ‘bank’ as I changed notes with my own money so it sped up the line.

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Why did we do this? Because we wanted as many fans as possible to meet Mike, we hate having to turn away people if the time runs out, we try as best we can to ensure everyone gets chance to meet their hero.

So the signing came to an end and finally I was due for a break, now you’ve probably read stories about the onsite pub, well… due to time reasons, I couldn’t possibly go there… so I had to head back to my room where I had my lunch, a banana and a glass of water.

Well I had some more free time so I decided to do a bit of an SOS tradition, film my tour video which you can see above. However if you think this was a way for me to enjoy SOS, it wasn’t. The lines to see the comic guys were really long, the line for Sonic Mania was also really long.

But hey, I shrugged it off and got ready for my next task… and it was the big one, Yuji Naka & Takashi Iizuka’s signing session. Then came a really interesting job, “Find Mr Naka” he had sorta wandered off to enjoy the convention, I eventually found him, he was in a secure area taking photos of the stage, so I had this odd moment of ‘I have to tap Mr Naka on the shoulder and ask him to come to the signing desk… Whilst he’s enjoying himself and taking pictures.’ Which… took me a few attempts before I got the courage to do it.

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Anyway, this was by far one of the most challenging jobs of the day, the goal was simple, we wanted to get everyone who wanted to meet Naka and Iizuka the chance to do so, however, almost instantly there were problems, everybody wanted photos, and they were taking a very long time. We knew time would run out long before everybody would be able to meet the two developers.

So the very difficult decision was made to stop people from taking pictures.

And this is the point where everybody in that line did something awesome, we explained to everyone that ‘we can’t have people posing for photos, it’s taking too long, please don’t pose for photos or else somebody might lose their chance to meet their hero’ And do you know what? Not one person violated that request.

You guys in that line were awesome, not one person protested it, not one person complained, everybody understood and everybody complied, everybody knew how important it was to everyone’s day to meet these two men, so everybody made a sacrifice to help another fan.

If you want an example of what Summer of Sonic is like for staff, that moment was it, making sacrifices in order to let other fans have a great day.

To further add to how amazing this moment was, when the end of the singing time came, Mr Naka and Mr Iizuka had a small chat to themselves, then told myself and the other guys working the line ‘they would stay on until Crush 40’s performance if we would assist.’ So we did, we gave up our last break, one staff member hadn’t had a break since the morning as a result, nearly 100 extra people got to meet Mr Naka & Mr Iizuka.

With Crush 40 on the stage I’d suddenly realised how tired I was, so managed to find a small chair to sit on… then I noticed the free Generations posters we’d been handing to those who didn’t have anything to get signed and decided to do one more thing.

I carried them into the corridor out, along with a sign which read ‘Free’ I don’t know how long they were there for, but I must have carried around 200 of the things out, not one was left when everybody left.

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With the final song and the goodbyes, Sega turned the Mania pods back on for staff to have a play on, but… I couldn’t play just yet, there was a guest who required assistance to get back to their hotel room, so I agreed to help them back.

I came back to the venue to help with the strike/clear down and finally managed to get some time on Sonic Mania (thoughts on that later this week), to thank us for all our hard work, all the special guests agreed to come and meet us all, so I was able to meet my heroes at last, after helping hundreds of others meet them first. Another final surprise was a gift, Adam started handing everybody a Sonic 25th Anniversary USB stick (until he ran out), thanking us all again for our hard work.

When the clear up was done, I went to a pub called ‘The Goose’ to which I got told they had stopped serving food, so back to the Hotel Ibis’ pub where they agreed to make me a burger. Where I got to meet my friends again and have another final meal with them before we returned home.

And that’s roughly what my day is like, what most people who are staff at Summer of Sonic is like. I know that there is a perception with some fans that being staff on Summer of Sonic is an amazing experience… well… yeah, you’re right it is, but not for the reasons you think.

See, up until about 7:30pm on the day, I had no idea if I would be able to play Mania, I had no idea if I’d be able to meet Mr Naka and Mr Iizuka, yet I still volunteer to be staff, I’ll go running to a shop to buy art supplies in the early hours of the morning, or like I did at SOS 2010, spend half an hour taking cardboard boxes out to a recycling bin, just so the venue was tidier for other fans. Yes I was able to grab an art print or two before opening, but only through very fortunate luck, and… I’d rather have been able to spend some time actually chatting with Tyson and the STC alumni than just buying something.

When I was helping the line for Naka & Iizuka a guy came upto me and said “You have the best job right now!” well… yeah I do… but… probably not for the reasons you think.

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See, I get there exists an impression from a lot of fans, for a long time I was kinda known as ‘the guy who hosts Buzzbombers’ and people think that’s all I do, that stuff like that is all any staff do, what they don’t see are these faces running from place to place to ensure the event runs correctly, they don’t see staff members offering to carry the bags of someone who can’t walk so well back to their room, nor do they see staff rushing out for water to a guest who has become ill, nor do they see staff trying to track down a single fan out of 800 because they found something that belongs to them, or looking after a lost child.

But it’s worth it, it’s worth all that effort to see how happy people are on the day, to see their enjoyment, regardless as to what crap is happening to them outside of the doors, for one day at least we try to make it the best day possible for people. SOS is a day to make new friends and to continue conversations left over a year prior, as staff, our view of SOS is to ensure you guys can do that. Even if it means we can’t meet everybody we’d like to.

That said, I did get some chance to meet some of the special guests and pick up some items, but, yeah… I can quickly purchase something, but I’d gladly give up that chance for a good conversation with a guest, the night before I was hanging out with Richard Elson, Ferran Rodriguez and his family, Richard Elson even asked me how my university course was and bought me a drink! When they left I found Steve Lycett of Sumo Digital, we had one hell of a conversation which… well… that’s stuff I really can’t talk about, maybe one day, but not today. But then we just started chatting about work and the beer. That’s what I enjoy most from SOS, meeting and talking to people.

Then to new friends I made, I wish I could have spent more time talking to Matt of the Tails Channel, yes we will have to collaborate in the future on something. To Peter Robinson of the Sonic the Hedgehog Collections Facebook page who agreed to help my partner carry her stuff around for a small chunk of the day.

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And a huge thank you to everybody, everybody in the Naka and Iizuka line who agreed to forego photos, to everybody who did something just to make someone else’s day just that little bit better. Hell they even made my day so worth it, I asked them to sign an old Sonic Pin gift set that I have, Mr Naka saw it and he gasped and then called Mr Iizuka over and they reacted very well to it. Inside this gift set are the words ‘Thank you for your support, past present and future.’ Mr Naka signed it and very carefully handed it back with a huge smile on his face, Mr Iizuka also signed it, and as he handed it back, he looked me in the eyes and said “Thank YOU for your support, past present and future!” You could just tell that he wasn’t just reading it back, he was thanking me for the work and effort I’d put in. That… absolutely made my day!

So that’s what my day at Summer of Sonic was like, a lot of work, not a lot of being able to stand and take in the day, and I’m actually one of the lucky staff members, we have one staff member on our team who has been to every Summer of Sonic, but has never actually seen it, he’s always on the door ensuring that people don’t don’t come in who are not supposed to be there, that everybody who is in the building should be there. And he does this because he knows his job is helping to keep everybody in the venue safe and the days events that little more secure.

Probably a better way to summarise it, take a look at the video at the top of the post, skip right to the end, you see the guy in the glasses who laughs and falls over, pretty much summed up all our feelings.

Will Summer of Sonic return again? Well… there’s plenty of other years left in the 21st Century. Also if that Svend “Dreadknux” Joscelyne guy finally builds me a Death Egg, I will personally fly it around and pick up everybody who wants to go to then next one.

And here is what I was able to get from a days hard work, as well as a few more stories for the day and the like.

Image Sources:

Side Scroller Sanctuary: A Classic Trilogy Retrospective

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Art by Veronica Vera, Not Enough Rings

This is a retrospective I did of the classic trilogy of Sonic games for SEGABits, celebrating the hedgehog’s 23rd anniversary week last year. I decided to spring (get it?) new life into it, since I was feeling pretty nostalgic today and recently played through these fantastic titles again I remembered how much of a treat they are. Let’s get to straight into it!

Ah, birthdays. The perfect times for parents to get out those old, embarrassing pictures of you when you were a baby. Our spikey blue hero is no exception to this, however his own classic outgoings were never something to be embarrassed about. In fact, many fans still refer to the original trilogy of games as some of the best games the series has made. I’m not far removed from this ideal, and as such I wanted to look back at these old gems of classic gaming, chronologically.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Filled with the sights of chequered hills, loop-de-loops, and the iconic sound of the SEGA chant on the boot up, the original Sonic the Hedgehog released in 1991, setting the stage for a future 23 years of Sonic. So much about this classic has been said already, but it’s worth giving it another run through, right? Let’s look at why this title is so iconic, and how it laid the groundwork for the future.

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Sonic’s well known for his speed, yet this title doesn’t really capitalise on that gimmick during your time with it. A key element with Sonic is that speed is earned as a reward for your skill and mastery of a level, and this really is the title which began that train of thought. Green Hill Zone is easy enough and gives the player plenty of freedom to get used to Sonic’s top speeds and style of level design, but immediately after, Marble Zone punishes you for trying to charge in without thinking.

This isn’t the only zone which forces a player to slow down and plan what their next moves are. The iconic Labyrinth Zone brings Sonic to the speed of snail underwater, all while avoiding deadly enemies and remembering to collect those all important air bubbles to ensure you don’t drown. Fortunately, in between these two platform heavy zones are Spring Yard and Star Light. As long as you’ve mastered rolling by that point, there’s crazy high speed thrills to be had.

Rolling is the key way you’ll be the speed demon this time around. Since the hedgehog has a speed cap on foot, putting yourself into a ball lets you bypass that. This is where the idea of rewarding a player’s mastery of a level comes in – you’ve gotta know what dangers lie ahead and the layout of the acts so you can most efficiently beat the clock and overcome the obstacles in your path. My current best on Green Hill is about 24 seconds.

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To finish the game 100%, you’ll need to defeat the final boss with six Chaos Emeralds in hand. Collecting the emeralds wasn’t much of an easy feat back in the day, especially when you’re going in blinded – the rotating stages could often get frustrating, especially if you didn’t know what you were doing (GOAL? That’s not my goal, that’s the exit!), and accessing them in certain zones was a nightmare (specifically, holding onto 50 rings). More recent versions like the current mobile ports allow you to quit and retry special stages, making it significantly easier on the player. A change I welcome, since it’s totally optional.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a solid title. It’s a little overrated nowadays, but without the iconic ideas it introduced we wouldn’t have its two sequels that built on the ideas and created fantastic experiences. The level design is solid, the visuals for its day were great, you can achieve a great sense of speed and the bosses are nice mix of challenging to simple. If I was going to recommend a version of this game to you, it’d certainly be the rebuilt mobile version, even with the touch screen controls. It’s the best port of this game to date.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)

Jump to a year later, and say hello to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Building upon its predecessor, Sonic 2 features more zones, more Chaos Emeralds, more bosses, more characters… and is commonly referred to as one of the best titles the Sonic series has ever made. It’s certainly one of the most popular and best selling, and only helped to propel Sonic to further mainstream popularity back in the day.

I think part of what makes Sonic 2 so successful are its zones. Sure we start with the typical green hill-ish zone once more, but immediately after we’re thrown into Chemical Plant, sporting purple water and giant ramps to roll down. Later on down the line there’s an ocean of oil, a bright casino, a chase in the sky… these unique level tropes were fantastic to look at and run through. All of these are enjoyable in their own way, sporting some individual platforming and exploration ideas in all of them. Not all of them live to this standard, but even then they still have some great level design.

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Something that should be noted about Sonic 2 is that the design has shifted to push much more of the “speed” gimmick. You’ll find yourself flying down giant hills and soaring into the air often, and loop-de-loops are common. This makes for some exhilarating moments you feel in control of. This speed focus can also be seen in the inclusion of the brand new move, the Spin Dash, now a staple of the franchise. Revving yourself up and releasing to a top speed is extremely satisfying, and helps to overcome those ramp issues you might have struggled with once before.

This doesn’t mean Sonic 2 is devoid of the platforming that Sonic 1 embraced fully. You’ll still need to slow yourself down at points and slowly make your way through areas. However, I can’t deny that Sonic 2 feels more linear. As long as you’re not playing blind, for most of the game you can comfortably charge forward and not get punished too often – apart from one or two zones. You can make up your mind if this is a strong suit for the hedgehog or not.

Sonic 2’s lowest points for me come in two areas – Metropolis Zone, and the special stages. Metropolis Zone is well known to be Sonic 2’s most difficult stage for good reason. The badniks are the toughest in the game and most cheaply placed, often found in almost unavoidable spots. You’ll find Shellcrackers waiting at the top of high ledges to knock you back down, or running ahead where a Slicer will suddenly appear and throw its twin blades at you. But aside from these guys, there’s platforming blocks with spikes that stick out of them, conveyor belts above lava, gears that you travel across, corkscrews to run up and black platforms that crush you. The corkscrews should be noted as one of the more challenging obstacles since they’re almost always littered with the exploding Asterons who will knock you down to the ground the minute they detect your presence. And the worst part? All of this goes on for three acts, rather than the usual two.

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And anyone who played Sonic 2’s special stages will understand where my pain comes from. Like the previous game, you’ll need 50 rings to access them, however this time it’s via checkpoints via levels. Never assume past the first few zones you’ll get to the special stages without actively trying to keep your rings. The special stages themselves are now iconic, sporting a half pipe design and littered with rings and bombs. Often though it’s difficult to see what’s ahead of you, I feel the design of them tries to confuse you in later stages. There’s no chance you’ll complete all of them blind. It took me many tries on later special stages to get to the end, and remember if you get thrown out you’ll have zero rings and have to collect 50 again. And of course, there’s nothing more frustrating than having the ring count needed and reacting to a sudden bomb in your way, but Tails just isn’t fast enough and you lose out on the goal. It could be just me, but I’ve always found these stages a nightmare, even more than Sonic 1.

Overall, Sonic 2 is a much more enjoyable title than its predecessor to me. It builds on the good of the original and expands on it. The level design gives more freedom for thrilling moments, the spin dash is a smart and satisfying addition to Sonic repertoire, the music is catchier and captures the essence of each zone brilliantly and the visuals look great and really capture the atmosphere of the zones. If you pick it up on mobile platforms, you also get access to the once forgotten Hidden Palace Zone through a certain pit which many remember the misery of…

Sonic 3 & Knuckles (1993/1994)

And finally, we come to the big one. Famous for making use of “lock-on technology” and creating the biggest 2D Sonic game to date, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the true version of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. There’s so much more content here and improvements, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles to date still stands as my favourite title in the series, and my most played one too.

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Pushing on from Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles goes on to push more of a mix of high speed sequences and platforming. For me, it’s almost perfectly balanced here. There’ll be times where the hedgehog will do his thing and curl into a ball and zoom across the screen at a thrilling speed, and the game won’t punish you for having that fun. But then it slows down, and you have to methodically make your way through areas. Even the famous water zone Hydrocity contains high speed, water slide based segments. The design of the levels is expansive and feels far more immersive to travel through in general, since all acts and zones have transitions here.

Storytelling is a much bigger thing in Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Unlike its predecessors which story was told in the levels themselves (to such a subtle point, you wouldn’t be reprimanded if you didn’t know it existed), this title actively shows the adventure which the speedy blue hero has through effective zone transitions, and events within levels which change their atmosphere (see – Angel Island setting on fire). The story isn’t intrusive, but still pushes you to want to keep moving and defeat Robotnik and his scheme to build the Death Egg. It’s also nice to see the rivalry between Sonic and new character Knuckles build and build to a point where they butt heads, and eventually unite. Seeing the Death Egg rise again above the clouds in Sky Sanctuary Zone feels suitably like a challenge to the player, and works on a great story level also.

The game contains fourteen zones overall, which is a pretty comfortably long adventure. These zones also continue with the unique zone trope ideas, creating a collection of enjoyable levels which never feel like retreads of ones you’ve already been to. What’s even better is that zones can be different from act to act – it might just be visual differences like Mushroom Hill’s seasonal changes throughout the zone or seeing the Death Egg in the background of Launch Base, but certain zones like Sandopolis go from traveling a outside in the desert to being inside a pyramid haunted by ghosts, and Lava Reef goes from being a scorching hot cavern to being a crystal wonderland.

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Alongside the focus of storytelling and unique level tropes, Sonic 3 & Knuckles also contains music unique to each act. This aids the progression idea significantly, but is just downright a pleasure to listen to. Act 2 is commonly a remix of Act 1’s music which feels just different enough to be both recognisable and brand new. It really helps create an atmospheric change too, such as Launch Base Act 2 feeling like a calm before the storm, or Hyrdocity Act 2 feeling like you’ve travelled to the deepest part of the waters. A special exception is Lava Reef Act 2, which completely changes its music style to suit a complete new area, and an idea of a mystery unravelling itself – this area leads to the discovery of Hidden Palace Zone where the prophecy of the Doomsday fight is, and where the Master Emerald lies.

The special stages here are the most enjoyable I’ve played in the series thus far – Blue Spheres is even a little addicting. The idea is to turn all the blue spheres into red, but touching a red sphere kicks you out of the stage. Unlike previously where you had to collect 50 rings, these stages are accessed via hidden giant rings in stages. This encourages the player to explore these large stages high and low. The stages themselves contain I believe the right mix of challenge for those who are blindly going in or are experienced – obviously, if you know these stages well, it’ll be smooth enough sailing to fight against the increasing pace, with only a little pressure kicking in at top speeds in later stages. But a newbie player will feel that pressure each time they enter a new stage. I never found myself wanting to throw my controller in rage even when I was kicked out once or twice on my first tries, it often felt like a mistake on my own fault. Either way, it’s always satisfying to create a square of red spheres and turn them into rings.

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There’s a few other little improvements I want to mention about Sonic 3 & Knuckles too. First off is the ability to have multiple save files which comes with level select, meaning you can pop in to any zone you fancy after you’ve finished. Second run throughs with Super/Hyper Sonic is something you may do often, I know I did. I also enjoy how each character feels just unique enough to want to use all three – Sonic’s has a insta shield which gives momentary protection, but more importantly he can take advantage of the new elemental shield powers which are a lot of fun (my personal favourite is probably the electric shield – double jump plus a ring magnet), Tails’ flight ability is finally usable here and helps out newbie players in difficult area and to find hidden secrets, and Knuckles has his own unique pathways and specifically designed sections (and story!) only he can traverse through. Because of this, replayability is far increased from what was there previously. Finally, I think the game’s multiplayer needs a little shout-out. These aren’t anything much more than races against a friend, but there’s fun to be had and the music found in these levels are hidden gems.

The reason why this title will stand among all other to me within this franchise might be partially down to nostalgia, but everything it does it does so brilliantly to me. It succeeds on a lot of levels – it takes steps visually with the environments, the music is lovely and easy to get addicted to, the level designs feel sprawling and fun to speed through, the story is told non-intrusively but is still surprisingly engaging… it feels it took all the best and worst elements of the previous two and made it all just downright fantastic. All three of these games will always stand on a pillar to me for their impact of the franchise, but this game especially holds a special place in my heart.

What are some of your favourite memories of the classic games? Sound off in the comments below and let us know.

Retrospective: The Colours Still Feel So Right

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2010 was an interesting time to be a Sonic fan. At the start of the year, the franchise was at one of its lowest points, with jokes about the Sonic Cycle being thrown around every which way following the downward spiral of quality in the games – Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic ’06, Sonic and the Black Knight… even 2008’s Sonic Unleashed, the closest thing to a step in the right direction we’d seen, was critically panned and bogged down by poor design choices. Luckily, there seemed to be a shining ray of light on the horizon, one that the entire fanbase was clinging their hopes onto, something that promised to set the series back on track at last…

That game was Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. And we all know how that turned out.

Yes, rather unjustly in retrospect, it was the disappointing sequel to the classic Sonic trilogy that garnered the most attention in 2010. Instead, there was another, far better, far more memorable Sonic game released that year that deserved to receive the lion’s share of fan interest. Announced slap bang in the middle of the Sonic 4 hype, Sonic Colours – or Sonic Colors, for our American readers – was eternally in the shadow of its downloadable counterpart, with only a month separating the two games’ release dates in October and November respectively. It’s understandable, of course – the game’s rather obscure title and lack of concrete gameplay details upon its initial reveal made Colours a bit of a harder sell compared to the prospect of a follow-up to Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Even I’ll admit, I thought Sonic Colours would be a puzzle or spin-off title when I first saw its announcement… but fast forward a few months, and it ended up being one of my favourite Sonic games of all time.

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Whereas Sonic 4’s hype train went out of control before well and truly coming off the rails, the more quiet and subtle excitement surrounding Sonic Colours actually worked in its favour. When the astonishingly good reviews came rolling in – that all important first score of 86 from NGamer and an 8.5 from IGN, to name but a couple (let’s just forget that 4.5 from Destructoid though, eh?) – it caught us all by surprise and made us appreciate the game even more. It not only surpassed Sonic 4, it trampled all over it and gave us the first genuinely good Sonic experience in years. Say what you want about the game, but you cannot deny that Sonic Colours set alight the hearts of several fans and critics again after oh so long.

So what was it about the title that sparked off such acclaim? Well… a bit of everything, really. Presentation-wise, Colours definitely delivers on its title – this is a bright, quirky, visually appealing adventure that really pushes the graphical boundaries of the Wii to their limits. While we’ve since seen the likes of Planet Wisp and Starlight Carnival recreated in high definition in Sonic Generations and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, their original incarnations still hold up beautifully on Nintendo’s last-gen system. What really stands out about Colours though is its sheer imagination, fusing recurring Sonic tropes into entirely fresh new locations such as the tropical casino aesthetic of Tropical Resort and the watery Chun-Nan that is Aquarium Park. Despite being a modern 3D title, Colours captures the vibe and essence – and, dare I say it, magic – of the classic era better than ever before (arguably better even that Sonic 4 did), to the extent that famous badniks like Motobugs even make their long-awaited return with a few new twists of their own.

Sonic Colours Wii screen 1 1st Aug

Musically, the soundtrack is also up there with the finest in the series – and that’s an impressive feat considering how consistently brilliant Sonic music tends to be (Chronicles notwithstanding). Almost every tune is a joy to listen to, ranging from the adrenaline-pumping sounds of Terminal Velocity to the gentle and serene Planet Wisp tracks. It’s also the last time we had a vocal song as the main theme of a Sonic game – can you believe it’s been four years already? – and, while Cash Cash’s Reach For The Stars and Speak With Your Heart aren’t to everybody’s taste, they’re serviceable enough and undeniably catchy for those who want to sing along as the credits roll.

Most importantly, Colours nailed the gameplay. Taking the day stages from Sonic Unleashed as a basis, cutting out all of the nonsense like medal hunting and Werehogs, every stage was a high octane blast of speedy Sonic fun. The level design is top notch with some hugely enjoyable courses to overcome right from the off – there’s no messing around with opening cutscenes or tutorials, you press Start at the title screen and you’re straight into Tropical Resort Act 1. It’s a platformer at its most straightforward – clear one level, move onto the next, rinse and repeat until you face off against the world’s boss, then move onto the next area – and it’s all the better for it, with nothing to get in the way of the fun and preventing it from becoming sidetracked by anything unnecessary.

Sonic Colours Pink Wisp screen 1

It’s the Wisps that really steal the spotlight here though. Before 2010, if you heard the words “Sonic” and “gimmick” in the same sentence, you’d shudder in horror. Fishing, treasure hunting, guns, motion controls, stretchy armed brawling, talking swords… you name it, Sonic had probably tried it, often to disastrous effect. But the Wisps did something that none of these other gimmicks were capable of – adding to the basic Sonic gameplay rather than detracting from it or outright replacing it. Each of the different coloured Wisps grants Sonic a new kind of Colour Power to utilise as he traverses his way through a level, be it a quick-firing laser, the ability to hover, or a drill to dig through the earth (or cake, if you happen to be in Sweet Mountain). Each is a bite-sized burst of fun, never outstaying its welcome and often leading to some previously unexplored section of a stage. In a game where the gimmicks are almost entirely optional, you’ll be actively wanting to use them more than ever, going back to previous locales to seek out those hidden Red Rings you missed first time around because you hadn’t unlocked the right Wisp yet. They’re a joyous addition, and it’s a shame that they were used much less gratifyingly in their comeback appearances in Generations and Lost World.

This isn’t even scratching the surface of what Colours brought to the table – a brand new voice cast featuring Roger Craig Smith in his Sonic debut (if you conveniently ignore Sonic Free Riders, as most people do), a more simple and streamlined narrative focusing on just Sonic and Tails rather than the cavalcade of sub-par sidekicks seen previously, the infamous Eggman P.A. announcements, and the first time we’ve seen Super Sonic playable in regular levels in a 3D game. It was a total shift for the Sonic series, both tonally and reception-wise, and it was just the ticket to dig the hedgehog out of the hole he’d dug himself into over the preceding years.

All praise aside, it’s not the perfect Sonic game – there’s some awkward difficulty spikes, it’s only a few hours long, and the story is rather minimal with some love-it-or-hate-it scripting – but it’s by far the most original entry we’ve seen in the franchise in recent memory, Generations included. There’s a certain magic and a certain joy that I get from playing and looking back on Sonic Colours, and that’s something that’s distinct from any other entry in the franchise.

Sonic Colours Wii screenshots 21

In this uncertain age where Sonic is once again descending into mediocrity, it’s enlightening to remember that once upon a time, when even the most promising of projects led only to the bitterness of disappointment, a game like Sonic Colours came along out of nowhere and revitalised the series in a way no one expected. Who’s to say that lightning can’t strike twice…? And, if nothing else, it proves that Sonic can do Nintendo exclusivity right when it puts its mind to it. Sorry Lost World and Boom, but you’ve got nothing on this gem.

With Sonic Colours, SEGA reached for the stars – and boy, did they come close. Four years on and the colours still seem as right and as bright as they ever did. Long may they continue to shine.

What are your feelings and memories about Sonic Colours? We’d love to know your thoughts too, so sound off in the comments! Don’t fall apart, speak with your heart!

Summer Of Sonic Documentary now released!

Every year since 2008, the Sonic community have come together to bring it’s fellow Sonic fans a place where they can play new games, meet their idols and finally meet people face to face.

This is an event that means so much to the staff here and we are always looking at ways to share that with a wider and wider audience. This leads us to this years Summer Of Sonic Retrospective. Our annual documentary celebrating the years festivities.

Featuring interviews with Jun Senoue, Kerry Rizzo (of Sega Europe), The Megadrive Band, Sonic himself plus many others (including you guys who came!)

We hope it sheds some light to those around the world, why we love Summer Of Sonic so much, and acts as a memorable souvenir for this years attendees.

Edit: Some people have said the video isn’t showing. Please click here if thats the case.

Game One to Air Sonic the Hedgehog TV Retrospective Documentary in France

SEGA Mag reports that French TV channel Game One will soon be airing an exclusive TV retrospective documentary looking back at the 20 year history of SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. No other details have been shared, but it should give us an insight into how SEGA’s mascot has grown into such a success since 1991.

The documentary will air Wednesday, November 2 at 2:35 pm CET, which will be 1:35pm on the same day here in the UK.

Source: SEGA Mag

Destructoid Takes a Look Back at Sonic

Jim Sterling of Destructoid is a funny man.  His video series, “The Videogame Show What I’ve Done,” is the perfect parody of bad YouTube video game reviews, right down to the Windows Movie Maker titles.  In this episode, Sonic stops by to take a look at his past games.

Stray observations:

  • “Sonic the Hedgehig is gaming.”
  • I really want to play “Sonic Charonicles.”
  • “I was Unleashed as fuck, son.”

Watch “The Videogame Show What I’ve Done: Sonic the Hedgehog 4.”

Pocket Gamer’s Handheld Sonic Retrospective

With Sonic 1’s arrival on the iPhone, popular handheld gaming website, Pocket Gamer UK, released a short, two-part retrospective on the hedgehog’s adventures on mobile devices.  From the Game Gear, Game Boy Advance, and mobile phones, Pocket Gamer touches base with all the hits and misses with a brief synopsis and review.

It’s a fun read and a quick trip down memory lane.  Oh, Sonic Labyrinth, we all love you thiiiiiis much.

Part 1 of PCUK’s Retrospective

Part 2 of PCUK’s Retrospective

Game Tap give four part Sonic Retrospective on Youtube!

SSMB user ‘Ultrasinc‘ alerted the forums earlier today with news of a new Sonic the Hedgehog Retrospective video by downloadable game provider, ‘Game Tap.‘ The video itself consists of four parts, all of which are uploaded to Youtube for your viewing pleasure.

The fantastically made retrospective has some extremely interesting information- some of which is completely new. For example, did you ever know that Sonic’s shoes were based off Michael Jacksons boots from the front cover of his ‘Bad’ album? And that the colour of them was inspired from the worldwide known figure, Santa Claus? Game Tap interview the likes of Naoto Ohshima, Yuji Naka and a large variety of other developers and project managers from along the years as they discuss how SEGA of America took to the little blue critter, his changes of appearance and why he became so popular.

You can view the four parts of non-sonic-bashing goodness by clicking on the following links:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Source: Kotaku.