In this week of Sonic, I have embarked on quite the journey with the most iconic character that Sega has ever developed, and one of the most recognizable and lovable video game characters to ever grace video games. Sonic went head-to-head with arguably the king of all video game mascots, Mario, for years and even held dominance in sales over the portly plumber at one time. Sonic is an icon, a legend and a hall of famer. He has had quite the turbulent past, a roller coasted of ups and downs - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Ultimately, Sonic has had quite the existence, as his games have ranged from exciting and thrilling, to mundane and flat out boring. He's been a system seller at one point in his career, and a mere add-on character to another company's mascot mash-up game.
Regardless of his significance in the current landscape of gaming, or whether or not he is still a major player in the game, Sonic the Hedgehog will always be important to not only games, but gamers as well. And as proof of that, I had to play the newest Sonic game, which calls back the traditional Sonic speed but incorporates a very familiar style of gameplay.
Upon first look, the speed in which the game plays immediately takes you back to classic Sonic the Hedgehog titles. Sure, it's a lot better looking of a game than those old 2D platformers, but still, it feels like a Sonic game. And if there is one important aspect about a Sonic game that needs to be spot-on, it is the feel of the game. Now don't get me wrong, it's not perfect when it comes to how it is handled or how it feels while being played, but it's close enough to not remove you from the experience.
While his speed is prevalent in the game, you can also choose to slow down to a walking pace and explore the terrain at your own leisure, which isn't exactly Sonic-esque, but it allows you to explore the worlds freely without the constant demand of precise timing while traveling at excessive speeds. Needless to say, it makes the game more approachable for gamers who may not like the extreme speed of Sonic in his natural state, who feel like slowing down enough to smell the roses is just as good as flying by those same rose bushes at the speed of sound. You know, supersonic speed.
(Thankfully, this will be the last post with bad Sonic puns. You all can thank me later.)
In regards to the level design and overall gaming experience, well, this Sonic game is extremely familiar. Not familiar in the sense that I've played this kind of Sonic game before, but rather played this type of game before ... as Mario. In short, this game is a either a blatant knock-off or a respectful tribute to two of the most amazing and groundbreaking Mario games ever made, Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Because Sonic Lost World is exclusive to Nintendo systems (Wii U and the 3DS), I'm going to go with my hunch and guess that Nintendo didn't see the game as a rip-off, but simply Sega just wanting to acknowledge that the Galaxy games are special pieces of gaming history. If Sega was able to capture even a small amount of the magic that the Galaxy titles had, they would be on the right track to finally developing a new, refreshing type of Sonic game.
Well, after playing it, I have to say that they did capture some of the magic. The levels were fun and innovative at times, and when travelling at normal Sonic speed, they can be incredibly challenging. And while the overall aspect of the game is worth playing, to be honest, all it really made me want to do was play Super Mario Galaxy. Truth is, that's all I have really gotten from this week. The more I play as Sonic, the more I just want to go back and play as Mario.
I guess that this week has been inevitable my entire life. And so was the outcome.
A reoccurring theme for this blog over the last year has been my disdain for racing games. Okay, so it hasn't been the only theme this year, not even close, but it's been one that I have tried to avoid as much as possible yet it still keeps popping back up at unexpected times. Trust me, going in to this year, I would have never expected a racing game to make an appearance in the final few weeks of this blog project, much less a Sonic racing game. But hey, that's how the cookie crumbles sometimes, right?
Despite my total and utter lack of interest in racing games, there is and always has been one type of racing game that I don't just tolerate, but actually enjoy thoroughly. Kart racing games are the cat's meow, as far as I am concerned, and more specifically, Mario Kart games. I have wrote about a couple of them, and I think they are always fun, from the very first one back on the Super Nintendo and every one after that.
So when people I knew started talking about how this Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed game was something awesome and a lot of fun, I was skeptical at best. I couldn't tell if all the admiration for this game was because of the Sega characters in it, or the fact that it wasn't a Mario or Nintendo game. You know, some people actually do despise everything Nintendo related, as crazy as that sounds. There was an outside chance that this game was actually a good game, not because of who or what was or wasn't a part of it, but because they actually created something really cool and a worthwhile comparison to the long standing king of the karting mountain.
Because of all the hype around me focused on this title, I had to finally give it a chance. I couldn't say I expected much going in to it, but I really wanted to see if any other company could put together a collection of its mascots into one quality game, a la pretty much every collection of characters game that Nintendo puts out. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Knowing there were alternative vehicles in this racing game, my first thought went to Diddy Kong's Racing, which was okay, but nothing to write home about. What I didn't think would happen would be how seamlessly you transition between vehicles in a race, as it never felt like a gimmick or just a way to make this racing gamer different, but actually added a nice balance to each race, as well as a lot more strategy. Drifting a big part of this game, like most racers, and although I usually suck at drifting, this one seemed to go fairly well for me. Not sure exactly why, but it all flowed pretty well, and to be honest, I actually found myself enjoying what I was playing, which is a bonus for this blog.
Here's the thing, though. While I know most of the characters that are in the game, I don't have many long-standing connections with them. I've played or know of all the games they come from, for the most part, but I don't have deep-seeded memories of them from my childhood, like I would with a Mario Kart game. I just simply love the Nintendo characters, and while Sega did its best to represent the company with the characters they have to draw from, all it did was make me more excited to play the upcoming Mario Kart game for the Nintendo Wii U.
So I liked the game, which was a surprise. And it's a good place holder for the time being, but in all reality, it's just not a Nintendo game. No fault to them, and I applaud them for making me enjoy what I played. But unless you are a long-standing Sega fan, or a racing game fan in general, I can't say it's the best one out there.
I hate continuously comparing Sonic to Mario, but needless to say, that's what this week is all about. Both iconic characters have helped the game industry grow substantially over the years, and before Sega began releasing Sonic games on Nintendo platforms, the two represented not only mascots, but the faces of two competing companies. Now days, Mario is representation for growth and development, longevity and sustainability, while Sonic is merely the epitome of days gone by and all things that were once great and had their time in the sun, but just couldn't do enough to maintain relevance in the quickly growing and transforming landscape of video games.
Over the many, many years of existence, Mario games have constantly evolved and branched out to different genres in order to reach out to different audiences. What once started as side-scrolling platformers, grew to be so much more, usually with great success. The thing with Mario is that as a video game character, all of his powers and abilities come from different power-ups throughout the worlds he is placed in. Because of this, when he is put into different kinds of games and game genres than the standards that most gamers are used to seeing, it still works as a game and is as believable as anything else. More importantly, the games are still fun and enjoyable to play.
With Sonic, however, it's a much different situation. Yes, there is a tried and true formula on how to make a legit and worthwhile Sonic game, and while that has always been Sega's bread and butter for the franchise, it's not like they haven't tried to branch out and try something new. In fact, they deviated from the formula for years as a way to reintroduce Sonic to new generations of gamers, but unfortunately, they always seemed to miss the mark when it came to producing a well-done yet different Sonic games. The problem that Sonic has is that his moves and abilities and overall gameplay mechanics are all pre-existing in the character, as he doesn't rely on PEDs for what makes him Sonic. Because of this, when the core gameplay of whatever game Sonic is in changes, his charm and mystique as a memorable, lovable character disappears.
I got Sonic Unleashed for my kids several years ago, and while neither one of the boys really knew who Sonic was or had any context for his games, franchise or iconic status in the industry, I didn't get it in anticipation of of this game being what would teach them all about Sonic the Hedgehog and the epic rivalry he had with Mario back in the day. To be frank, the fact that this was a different type of Sonic game, one with a twist, is the reason I personally was interested in it and why I thought my kids would enjoy it, because in all honesty, the old and trusted Sonic gameplay doesn't reach new-age gamers.
So in this game, Sonic transforms into a Werehog at night, which drastically changes the gameplay. It goes from hyperactive sonic-speed runs through the daytime vistas (sorry for the pun), to slow and methodical platforming combat. Clearly, that is not the Sonic we all know and love, but oddly enough, I hoped it would be enough to be more than just intriguing. It wasn't until I played it again for this blog that I remember all the things that just didn't work for me.
Sure, the "classic" Sonic speed running was nice and enjoyable, even if they weren't the traditional 2D style. The game looks beautiful at times, which is refreshing for a Sonic game. While I will always favor the traditional Sonic levels, stepping outside of the box - as long as it looks this good - is suitable. That's about where the praise stops for me, however. The whole Werehog mechanic seems fine at first, but it becomes more cumbersome and flat out boring as you go. It never feels like it adds to the game, but instead takes away from the pacing and flow of the game.
Speaking of which, the stupid hubworlds that you visit and have to explore so you can talk to people and advance the game and storyline? Talk about completely taking you out of the game and forcing you to slow down. Playing a Sonic game in a slow and methodical way is not a Sonic game I want to play. Even the exciting daytime levels can't make up for everything else, which is a shame because they had something with those.
It's almost like they wanted to make a different kind of Sonic game, but were afraid of changing up the formula too much, so they only did it half way. Leaving in parts of what made classic Sonic so great into this game just made me want those classic games more, and never forced me to look at the new Sonic as something I could like.
Change is good, as long as you commit to it. If you don't, how do you expect me to?
When people look at Nintendo, the comparisons to Sega are always there in the forefront of the discussion. Naturally, the rivalry and competition that the two companies had in they heyday of the Sonic/Mario rivalry is the obvious go-to connection for comparison. However, there is another comparison that gets thrown around quite a bit these days, and that's only due to speculation and negativity.
As you probably already know, the Sega company ceased production on hardware after the Dreamcast system. Since then, Sega has focused solely on making software, which was really weird when Sega games started showing up on non-Sega game consoles. Well, some people these days think that everything Nintendo does now is a failure, and they immediately point to the underwhelming sales of the Wii U as evidence of the supposed decline of Nintendo as a company and lack of viability in the industry. They say that Nintendo is no longer relevant to the industry they all but built and established, and the common argument and suggestion is that they should just go the route of Sega and stop making consoles and only focus on their software and intellectual properties and franchises that they own.
Granted, I don't fall under the same umbrella of beliefs, as I think there are still a lot of positives about the Wii U, and for Nintendo to just give that up and release their highly regarded and special franchises on Sony or Microsoft consoles, well ... that would be a travesty to the gaming industry.
But I'm not here to argue about Nintendo, and instead talk about Sega doing their fans, especially the long-term ones, a service by going back to their roots and bringing back the beloved Sonic the Hedgehog in his truest form to date. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (and later 2) was released by Sega a few years ago. They just couldn't do it on their one platforms, obviously.
And yes, even to this day, it's still weird to see Sonic on Nintendo consoles.
Anyway, Sonic 4 took the Hedgehog back to where it all started, essentially rebooting the franchise and character after many - and I mean many - failed and disappointing attempts to feature him in different styles and genres/categories of games. They went back to the traditional 2D platformer formula, with all the same moves and capabilities as before. The game itself is fun and feels fairly accurate of the old school Sonic games, but it's also still Sonic. If you weren't a huge fan of Sonic before this game, it probably won't win over new fans. For me, I always saw the Sonic games as too fast paced and hard to control, while the collector in me freaks out every time I loose the rings I worked so hard to collect in the first place. But for what it is, it's nice to see and play it and be reminded just how important those classic Sonic games were to the industry.
Competition breeds creativity and innovation. Just too bad Sega was king of the mountain for the time that they were. Complacency mighty have been the downfall for that company. We should all hope that Nintendo never decides follow in Sega's footprints again.
Nintendo has always been known for being ahead of the times, trying new and unique things and attempting to go against the grain when it comes to the video game industry, Not everything they have tried over the years has been successful or revolutionary, but they never stop trying to change the game, one invention at a time. Sometimes their ideas are just complete and utter failures, while other times they are just way ahead of the time, and years after an idea "fails," it somehow works out eventually (see 3D technology from the Virtual Boy to the 3DS).
And sometimes, their crazy ideas work out, and are exponentially better than predicted or expected to be, which force competitors to take note and try to capitalize on the success of what Nintendo is bringing to the table. Take for example motion controls, which everyone laughed at and mocked, until the Wii became one of the most successful consoles of all time, mainly because of the motion controllers and Wii Sports.
Now days, Nintendo is constantly trying to reinvent themselves along with the wheel at the same time, mainly because they are trying to stay relevant in the gaming landscape next to the two titans of the industry, Microsoft and Sony. Back in the day, however, the competition was a little less stressful. Sega was winning the market share at one point, sure, but the market was clearly big enough for both companies to co-exist without running the other out of town. Nintendo decided early on that their main focus would be games and the first party titles, while Sega was the company determined to be different and revolutionary. Part of this thinking and business strategy is where the idea for Sonic and Knuckles came from.
Sonic & Knuckles, for the Sega Genesis, incorporated what Sega called "lock-on technology," which acted as an expansion pack for Sonic 2 and 3. All you had to do was stick the cartridges for either one of those games into the game/expansion pack. By doing this, you can play as Knuckles in those games, alternating the gameplay dramatically and opening up unseen and unexplored areas of those games. It was a cool idea, but unfortunately not one that ever really caught on past this trial run of games. Sure, expansion packs continued on, but not quite in the same way, where other games could be combined to practically make new games out of it.
I never played this as a kid, and quite frankly, never knew about this "lock-on technology" until much, much later in life. The Sega friends I had never had this game, from what I remember. Either that, or I wasn't friends with them anymore when it came out. Either way, it wasn't until it was released on the Wii's Virtual Console that I finally got to play it. I enjoyed it then, but I still wasn't unlocking the full potential of the game. You see, if Sonic 2 or 3 are downloaded on the same account as Sonic & Knuckles, the special unlocked versions of the games are available just as if you were plugging them in to the expansion pack "lock-on technology" cartridge they used at the time.
Using Knuckles is just plain fun. Whether it's the Sonic & Knuckles game itself or the unlocked versions of other games, Knucklesis a fun character. He plays completely different than Sonic, and he is a nice counterpart character. Tails was okay to use, but people never really clamored to play as Tails. With Knuckles, however, he pretty much became a fan favorite and cemented his place in the Sonic universe in connection with Sonic for as long as the blue blur continues to run.
Competition breeds inspiration, motivation and a need for improvement. Without Sega being such a wrecking ball force, Nintendo might not have ever realized how important their first party titles would be in the long run. And without Nintendo, Sega might not have felt the immense pressure and need to do new and crazy things. If only they could look into the future and see the path they would continue to blaze going forward.
Growing up, as I wrote about before, I strictly had Nintendo game consoles. I never had a Sega Genesis or any other Sega console, like the Sega Game Gear. I was perfectly content with my Nintendo, as having multiple consoles back then wasn't exactly a common thing, especially for a kid my age. It was one or the other, and despite what you think you remember about that time in game history, there was a point when Sega actually owned more of the gaming market share than Nintendo did. That seems completely crazy, but thanks in part to the crazy popularity of the blue blur known as Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega systems were actually more prevalent than Nintendo's.
Crazy part is, I knew very few kids that actually owned anything Sega related. Maybe I just gravitated towards fellow Nintendo fans, or maybe it was just sheer coincidence, but regardless, my experience with Sega's were limited to say the least. There was one kid who I considered a good friend, although we hardly ever hung out outside of school. Anyway, I remember one day he brought his brand new Game Gear to school that he had just received as a "present." It was Christmas or his birthday or anything like that, but rather just another day like every other. I was confused as to why exactly he got a present, as I was quite jealous, and discovered that him and his family were Jehovah's Witnesses.
This meant that they didn't celebrate holidays or birthdays, and in lieu of that, his parents would randomly buy him presents for no reason other than it was the right thing to do since he wasn't getting anything on the normal days that other kids would be. I'm sure it wasn't easy for him, and despite his faith he would have liked to get presents like every other kid. Either way, he had a Game Gear, and while I wasn't entirely sure why, I was jealous, if only because it was something cool that I didn't have. He was a huge Sega fan, and loved Sonic to death, as he was always drawing him, talking about him and hating on Mario.
When Sonic 2 came out, I of course knew little about it. This was of course before the heyday of the internet, where video game information was super easy to obtain. Other than magazines, we learned everything about video games that we knew from friends. As archaic as it sounds - and trust me, it was - I almost am envious of those days and how simple and stress free they were. All I knew about this game was what my friend told me. He taught me how to draw Sonic and his new friend Tails, and despite my lack of intimate knowledge of them, I knew I liked them for being different.
Sonic was the equivalent of the cool kids in school, and Mario was the nerdy kids, who might have had a better future in store for them, but in the moment, all they wanted to be was equal with the cool kids.
Anyway, it wasn't until I went over to another friend's house, who I can't even remember how I was friends with him, was it until I played Sonic 2 on a console. Playing with Tails was fun, as it was a nice change of pace for an alternate or second character to have different moves and abilities and overall just play differently than the main character. I still couldn't help think then that while I liked the characters and the premise for the game, it just wasn't as fun. It was too fast, too wild, too hard to control, and made me think everything was just a speed run and not actual levels you would need to traverse like normal platformers in order to beat them.
Playing it again makes me feel this all over again. It is a fun game, and it's fun to revisit the cool things they introduced into gaming, but ultimately, I feel like it is just trying too hard to make something different than the "norm." A two-tailed fox is perfect for being original, but as a Nintendo fan, it may have been cool back in the day, but now, it's still trying to live in the past.
And you're lucky, dear readers. I had a "what does the fox say?" joke lined up that I never used. You're welcome.
Somethings that I know now as an adult I wish I had known as a kid. I'm not talking about like how to manage finances better once you have your own source of income, or sometimes ugly reality of of your constant pursuit of love. No, the advice I wish I knew back then would still be very vague and mysterious of what the future would hold, but it would at least make me stop and think about some of the things I did and the choices I made, even if I couldn't make different ones or they were already made for me.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that the choices I would make that seem harmless or insignificant at the time, could and probably would define me as a person in my adult years. More specifically, choosing between Sonic and Mario as a kid would eventually help define me as a gamer later on in life, especially if video games would continue to be apart of my life in the future.
I have a simple theory, really. I believe there are three different types of gamers. There are Nintendo fanboys, there are gamers that absolutely despise and hate Nintendo, and then there are the gamers that are just indifferent. Obviously, everyone will fall into on of these three categories, but if you think about it, what group you belong to in this list also goes a long way in describing your gaming habits, despite how non-specific they may be
Gamers who are indifferent towards Nintendo tend to be pretty open about their game choices, and usually play a wide variety of games and platforms, especially the new hotness and whatever games are reviewed and hyped up the best. Nintendo fanboys love the Big N to death, and the company usually can't do any wrong, especially with their IP's. They also seem to be far less cynical about games in general, usually trying to find the positives before bashing them for whatever flaws they may have. Nintendo haters are on the complete opposite side of the fence, as their game choices tend to always be more "hardcore" and mature than whatever kind of games Nintendo is putting out. They are usually cynical, bitter and quite negative about games as a whole.
Clearly you should be able to figure out which side of the fence I sit on.
So like I said before, these are all dependent on which character you chose to gravitate towards and defend endlessly as a kid. Some kids chose Sonic, other kids chose Mario, and some kids just didn't care for either one, or liked them equally. Of course, most kids didn't have the choice, as their parents made it for them by getting them one video game system or the other. Whether you were a Nintendo owner or a Sega owner, your allegiance lay with what system you owned. And that, as I theorize, goes on to accurately define you as a gamer later on. '
For me, obviously, I grew up on Nintendo consoles. I did have a couple of friends who owned Sega Genesis', but I wasn't good enough friends with them to get much play time with their game systems, especially games like Sonic The Hedgehog. It wasn't until very late in my life that I ever fully experienced this game, the first in the Sonic series. As a kid, I was always intrigued by it, but honestly, it only made me want to go home and play more Mario.
Going back and playing it again, it made me think about how because I shunned Sonic, and overall just didn't have much time to enjoy it, I grew up to be a Nintendo fanboy. But that isn't what this week is about, not at all. No, in this week, I want to actually play all these Sonic games that I either missed or didn't care about before, because let's be honest. Sonic is one of the most recognizable and influential video game characters ever, and despite him taking a back seat to Mario over the years, I still feel it is pertinent and respectful to pay homage to the blue blur.
Besides, I'm a Nintendo guy, remember? I always look at the video game cup as being half full, even if that means writing about the character and brand that almost toppled the Nintendo empire single handily,
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Games played for project : 365