#Sonic23on23 Celebration Round-up

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A golden birthday only happens once and we at Sonic Stadium wanted to make sure there was some fanfare! That’s why we teamed up with SEGAbits and Sonic Retro for an entire week of articles, features and videos, with the intent of looking back at Sonic’s past, analyzing the present and looking forward to the future. For those of you who may have missed some of it, we thought we’d post a run-down of all the content the awesome staff of our three sites created.

Enjoy!

SEGAbits & Sonic Retro:

SEGA Channel Retro, Sonic Birthday Livestream: Sonic Retro kicked off their week with an hour long livestream of Sonic Jam, Sonic 2 on the Retro Engine and the entirety of Sonic’s story in Sonic Adventure.

Shadow the Hedgehog Review: SEGAbits kicked off their week with a review from Ben Burnham that took a look back at one of the most infamous games in the franchise’s history. One interesting spin this review took was offering a look at how the game was perceived when it was first released back in 2005, before Sonic 2006 one upped it a year later and became the most infamous game in Sonic’s history.

Visual Memories, Digging through Sonic Adventure & Sonic Adventure 2’s DLC: SEGABits’s TrackerTD takes a look at one of the more obscure features of SEGA’s old Sonic games, the free downloadable content. Take a look at what DLC was like back in the days of the Dreamcast when files had to fit within 100KB of storage.

SEGAbits Plays Episode #2, featuring Sonic, Tails and Donald Duck SEGA Pico games: Barry The Nomad livestreams a couple of SEGA Pico Sonic games. If you’ve never seen these obscure entries into the Sonic franchise, there’s no better time to take a look.

Presented Without Commentary, My 1997 Sonic Fan Comic “Sonic The Hedgehog vs. The Bots”: That same day, Barry also posted an old fan comic he drew on Sonic Retro. As someone who’s worked in fan comics, I can say that this is without doubt the most well drawn and artistically crafted fan comic ever made. I bow to your prowess, lil Barry!

The Weekly Five, Sonic Video Game Moments that Make Us Smile: George takes a look at five smile inducing Sonic moments in SEGAbits’s Weekly Five feature.

A Retrospective of Sonic’s Classic Trilogy: A Sonic Stadium guest article written for SEGAbits by Brad. This incredibly well crafted piece takes a look at the original Sonic trilogy. I would highly suggest you take a look.

23 Sonic facts to know on Sonic’s 23rd Birthday: SEGAbits ended its celebration by going over 23 facts every Sonic fan ought to know on Sonic’s birthday.

Editorial: False Positive: Sonic, the Media, and Wrongly Diagnosing the Problem: Though this technically fell outside of the week long celebration, it was meant for it. SEGAbits contributor GX takes a look at some of the most common criticisms of the Sonic franchise and whether or not those criticisms are viable.

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TSS/SEGAbits Review, Sonic Pocket Adventure: We at Sonic Stadium kicked off the celebration with a look back at a great, obscure little Sonic game for the Neo Geo Pocket, in a review originally meant for Sonic Stadium, before it was instead posted on SEGAbit, which eventually made its way back to Sonic Stadium several years later!

TSS Discuss, Sonic Boom…after E3: The Sonic Stadium staff give their thoughts on the Sonic Boom multimedia franchise after SEGA finally showed the game off to the wider gaming press and released a trailer that gave us a greater idea of what to expect.

SEGA Games for the Sonic Gamer, Part 1: SEGA makes more than just Sonic, and this little guide suggests some SEGA games that might tickle your fancy in the same way Sonic does.

The Anatomy of a Bad Sonic Game: SEGAbits guest writer Ben Burnham gives his thoughts on what he thinks makes for a bad Sonic game, and how these issues could be avoided in future games.

In Defense of Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric: I take a stab at defending this divisive game.

TSS Review, Sonic Bricks by Paladone: JonoD takes a look at these recently released LEGO-styled collectibles.

Sonic List, My Favorite Sonic Related Moments: Jason Berry relates some of his most memorable moments with the Sonic franchise. Neat pictures reside within!

Sonic on the Go, Sonic Game for the Game.com: The third part in my Sonic on the Go series (take a look at past entries here), which takes a look back at Sonic’s portable adventures To cap off the celebration on Sonic Stadium, I played and wrote about what is objectively the worse Sonic game ever made. The things I do for you people…

Be sure to look up #Sonic23on23 on twitter to check out some cool Sonic birthday tweets!

There was also some big news this week. First, Sonic 2 HD is back on, with a new engine and staff. On a much more bittersweet note, Aaron Webber announced he was leaving SEGA. We’ll miss you, Aaron!

With this post, #Sonic23on23 is officially over! I hope you enjoyed the content we created for you this week, and I hope you will keep tabs on the other two awesome sites that participated in this as we plow through another year of Sonic.

Sonic on the Go: Sonic Jam on the Game.com

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Few of you truly know the depths the Sonic franchise have sunk to. I know this because I’ve been there repeatedly. I’m not sure if it is out of some perverse pleasure of causing myself pain, or if I just feel the need to punish myself, but I have attempted to play this game repeatedly for all of you, so that I could deliver an accurate account of the experience for the #Sonic23on23 celebration. I mean, what better way to celebrate Sonic’s Golden Birthday then to talk about the worst thing he’s ever been in? Unfortunately, after staring into the awful, dark, green-gray abyss that is the Game.com screen, I come back to you defeated and with a warning: for the love of God, stay away from this thing. This isn’t just the worst portable Sonic game ever made, it’s the worst Sonic game ever made period.

I suppose, before I go into just how awful this thing is, I should give you all a little history lesson. In early 1997 the Game Gear was discontinued, and other handhelds began to rush in to fill the void it left in the market. Among the first was an awful little handheld from Tiger Electronics, a company best known in the gaming space for their portable LCD games. These LCD games were usually based off of licenses from other companies, including SEGA, which gave them the licenses for many of their properties including Panzer Dragoon, After Burner, OutRun, NiGHTS, Shinobi, and of course Sonic. Given their extensive experience in the portable gaming space with these various LED games, one would think that a cartridge based handheld game system would be a natural evolution for Tiger’s business. Unfortunately, Tiger would instead produce the worst handheld game system to ever make it to market.

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The Game.com was awful. It possesses one of the most consistently awful and poorly programmed gaming libraries of any system, it’s screen was poor and difficult to see even by 1997 standards (even worse than the Game Boy’s, released in 1989), and the damn thing just feels cheap to hold. What makes all of this even more depressing is because in many ways this system was ahead of its time. It was the first gaming system to feature a built in touchscreen (seven years before the DS), it was the first handheld system to feature built in PDA functions like a phonebook and calculator, and it was the first handheld system capable of connecting to the internet, albeit through an add on. This damn thing was ambitious, but was so poorly made in so many critical areas that this ambition didn’t really matter. As far as I can tell, this system’s most critical flaw was its lack of true third party support. Though the system features IPs from numerous companies, as near as I can tell they were all developed in-house at Tiger. At least, that’s the only way I can explain the amazingly consistent poor quality of every game in the library to myself, especially Sonic Jam.

Even explosions can't break the boredom Tails is suffering from.
Even explosions can’t break the boredom Tails is suffering from.

So what of the game itself? Well, put simply there is absolutely nothing redeemable about this thing. Nothing. The game utilizes 16 bit sprites ripped straight from Sonic’s Genesis titles, but the Game.com clearly doesn’t have the power to run them. The game runs at a constant slide show, only reaching a playable frame rate for a few faint seconds every now and then. I doubt this game is even running at 15 frames per second most of the time. The physics are the worst I’ve ever experienced. Getting up every single hill is a chore, causing Sonic to slow to a complete stop no matter how much momentum you may try to build up. It’s virtually impossible to build up momentum without use of the spin dash, which itself has been severely gimped so that it’s not possible to rev it up. Rolling down a hill will not only not gain any real speed, it also reveals another weird flaw: the game doesn’t want you to move fast. Try rolling down a hill, and you will hit the edge of the screen and an invisible wall which significantly slows your progress.

Unfortunately the level design often only intensifies these issues, with its constant slopes and hills and randomly placed springs that will shoot you into the air with no apparent destination or item in mind. There is no rhyme or reason to this game’s level design, it all just kind of feels like it was slapped together by some intern in a level editor over the weekend. My first thought was to compare the design negatively against fan games, until I realized that I’d only be insulting fan games. I don’t think I’ve ever played a Sonic fan game that even approaches how slapped together these stages feel. One stage even had a whole lower path that was just a series of flat planes, that occasionally rose or fell. That said, the one positive thing that I can say about these stages is that they aren’t linear. They are actually pretty decent in size and offer a few different paths to traverse. I mean, the design of these stages are still poor, but at least it’s possible to explore right? That’s more than can be said about a lot of other Sonic games!

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Some parts of the game don’t even seem to work at all. Near the end of the first Sonic 3 level there is a tree that you have to run around in in order to get to the end of the stage. This tree is something most of you might remember from the end of the Angel Island stage. The Game.com attempts to recreate this cool little moment, which it fails to miserably. This makes the entire Sonic 3 portion of the game completely unbeatable by any character but Tails, who can just fly up to the exit after the game breaks.

Really, Tails is the only way to play this game, since Knuckles can’t glide or climb and the level design is so awful that the game is physically painful to traverse on foot. Tails’s flight lasts long enough to get through most of a level in just a couple of goes, and is really the only way to get through any of the levels in this game. Don’t think for a moment that I’m implying Tails makes the game fun though, he just makes it a little less torturous to get through stages. The actual boss battles still tend to be pretty damn awful, since it’s really difficult to play them with the game’s horrid frame rate and they were made too large for the Game.com’s small screen.

Sonic Jam TailsThen there’s the game’s music and…well I don’t even think I’m going to bother describing it. As near as I can tell the Game.com has the worst sound capabilities of any handheld I’ve ever played (including every handheld that predates it) so I’m not sure it’s even fair to bash the poor thing for it. Instead, I’m going to go ahead and link to one of the game’s tracks below. “Enjoy”.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ay8ilo08mlY[/youtube]

Sonic Jam for the Game.com is the very definition of shovelware. It doesn’t have even a lick of passion in its design, something that I don’t think can be said about any other Sonic game out there. It’s a slow, ugly, poorly planned mess of a game made by people who clearly didn’t seem to understand the limitations of their hardware. The entire game is a mess of false advertising, too.

This isn’t a portable version of Sonic Jam, but instead just a hastily made “original” Sonic game that takes sprites and bosses from Sonic 2, 3 and Knuckles. Though the game may display the cartridges for these games in the menu, each game only actually uses the assets from the first stage of each game. In other words, Sonic 2 just has a few really crappy stages using a assets from Emerald Hill, Sonic 3 is just Angel Island and Sonic & Knuckles is just Mushroom Hill. There are a few bosses taken from randomly from other parts of the game, as well as fully realized 3D special stages from Sonic 3 (which run about as well as you’d expect) but “jammed” this game certainly is not, unless they are referring to how they jammed 16 bit sprites into an 8-bit handheld.

Sonic Jam Boss

The one positive thing that could probably be said about this game is that at the very least, Sonic hit his low point early in his career. Sonic 2006 and Shadow the Hedgehog have nothing on this travesty. After the death of the Game Gear all this release really did was rub salt in the wounds the character was dealt by the Game Boy. I can’t help but pity the few poor Sonic fans who picked this up expecting a quality title, only to discover something that was virtually unplayable, especially given that this was released when Sonic fans were starved for games and didn’t even have Game Gear releases to look forward.

Thankfully, Sonic fans wouldn’t have to wait too long to get their next quality portable Sonic fix. Released on an equally obscure (but considerably better) handheld, Sonic Pocket Adventure would not only act as the final chapter in Sonic’s pre-Nintendo career on handhelds, it would serve as a nice bookend for the classic era of Sonic, released just as Sonic was finally about to make the jump to the third dimension and change the franchise forever.

In Defense of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

SEGA Games for the Sonic Gamer, Part 1

SonicsegaLike many SEGA fans, I started out as a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog more so then SEGA itself. As I became more invested in SEGA hardware, though, I was encouraged to begin trying out some of SEGA’s other franchises. I’ve since grown to love a variety of SEGA franchises and as part of the #Sonic23on23 celebration, I’d like to share some of my favorites with other Sonic fans on behalf of SEGAbits! All of the titles I’ll be talking about in this series tickle my fancy in the same way Sonic games have for years, that any Sonic fan ought to experience. These titles are not necessarily platformers, or involve cute and furry animals, but they do share at least one key element with Sonic games.

This series will divide the different games into categories and let you know which title you ought to try fist. I hope you’ll try some of these games!

Rail Shooters:

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After Burner

Before Sonic, SEGA had another adrenaline inducing game called “After Burner”. Here, players take control of the iconic F-14 Tomcat and blast through stages at sonic speed…literally. The After Burner games are all about memorization and twitch game play. Players have to be fast and at least somewhat familiar with enemy formations in order to succeed. All of the After Burner games produce a great sense of speed that is impressive even these days.

The original After Burner is not the most easy game to pay these days, and the best versions of the game available were made for the SEGA 32X and Saturn. SEGA has released a version of the game for the 3DS, which I do recommend picking up if it ever comes over. More accessible is After Burner Climax, which is currently available on Xbox Live and PSN.

If you want to know more about the game franchise, I recommend heading over to SEGAbits and checking out our content from After Burner Week.

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Panzer Dragoon

In Panzer Dragoon, players take flight on top of a big laser breathing dragon. This franchise is slower and more methodical then the After Burner games, but makes up for that slower pace with deeper game play and longer levels. Just like any great rail shooter, Panzer Dragoon is all about twitch game play, as players get constantly attacked on all sides by waves upon waves of enemies as they blast through beautiful, creative levels. Panzer’s world and music also possess an exotic charm that sets the series apart from other rail shooters.

Panzer Dragoon Orta is easily the most accessible game in the series, as it is the most affordable and is playable on both the Xbox and Xbox 360. It is also my personal favorite game in the series and has probably aged the best out of all of them thanks to the Xbox’s capabilities. The original trilogy is currently only available on SEGA’s Saturn. Of those, Panzer Dragoon Zwei is easily the best rail shooter of the bunch, though the original Panzer Dragoon is also pretty good. The franchise’s magnum opus, Panzer Dragoon Saga, is unique and excellent RPG, though is quite expensive and doesn’t really possess the qualities that would lead me to recommend it to Sonic fans.

Sonic Team Games

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NiGHTS into Dreams

Kind of obvious, but NiGHTS needs to be included all the same. NiGHTS once had a tendency to pop up often in Sonic games, and with good reason: outside of the Sonic series NiGHTS probably stands as the best thing Sonic Team has ever made. It shares some of Sonic’s qualities: it is simple, yet inventive. Each stage has its own theme and gimmicks that make them stand out and memorable. Many of the stages have unique topography that really do look like they came out of a dream.

NiGHTS isn’t exactly adrenaline inducing, but it’s still a fast game. Many of the game’s best moments come when your quickly zooming through loops and collecting blue chips, racking up huge links and points in the process. NiGHTS is all precision and memorization, perfecting your runs through the game’s stages so that you can improve your scores and A rank all the stages. NiGHTS into Dreams in many ways invokes many of the best elements of Sonic’s best games.

NiGHTS into Dreams HD is available on Xbox Live, PSN and Steam. If you’re feeling up for playing it old school, it’s also available on the Saturn. There was also a sequel released for the Wii version called Journey of Dreams, but that isn’t really as good and shares flaws with many of Sonic Team’s modern Sonic games.

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Ristar

Though it doesn’t bear the Sonic Team name, many Sonic Team alumni apparently worked on the game. In fact, this was character designer Yuji Uekawa’s first game. He would soon go on to become the character designer for the Sonic games starting with Sonic R in 1997.

Ristar itself is considerably slower than your standard Sonic game, but features the kind of cute character design, creative level design and unique character abilities Sonic Team was once known for. Ristar is all about swinging and bouncing around stages and adapting to the unique gimmicks each stage throws at you. One musical stage has you carrying around metronomes and bringing them to song birds that, when activated, add their voice to the stage’s background music, which slowly becomes more elaborate over the course of the stage. Another has you springing traps meant for you by throwing miniature Ristar models. Even the boss fights are varied, and can range from a cute little snow ball fight with a small child to an epic confrontation with a giant robotic mole during a freefall.

If you want to know more, you can check out the content I wrote for Ristar Week, which I ran for SEGAbits earlier this year. Ristar itself can be played on the Wii and Wii U through the Wii’s Virtual Console service. It can also be found on numerous compilations including the SEGA Genesis Collection, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and Sonic Mega Collection (as an unlockable). The original game can be played on the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive.
I’ll be back later with more recommendations, so stay tuned!