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What makes a Sonic game "good?"


Magic Goathole
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After a lot of thinking, I began to realize what makes a Sonic game good, and what does NOT. So, here's what I believe makes a good Sonic game.

 

First off, allow me to say that there really isn't a true definition on what makes a Sonic game "good" or not. That's entirely based off of preference and opinions alone. For example, many have stated that Sonic and the Secret Rings has terrible controls and awful mechanics. However, if this were to be your first Sonic game, chances are, you'll probably enjoy it. Either that, or it will hold a special place in your heart. Either way, it's entirely based off of preference. Granted, I personally grew up during the Sonic Heroes era, so that might affect this post a little bit.

 

I think I'll talk about the story first. Granted, this is a video game, and video games aren't meant to have such huge and critical stories, but rather something used to give the player motivation to progress through the game. For example, in Banjo-Kazooie, the plot is entirely based on rescuing Banjo's sister from the hands of a witch, who plans on using her to turn beautiful. It's a simple plot, but luckily, the game was a blast. With that, it was worth it. Now, compare that element to Sonic '06. It had probably one of the largest, if not THE largest, plots and storytelling in any Sonic game. There were elements of time travel, and it even discussed the powers of a royal family and such. For a Sonic game, this makes a mess of a story. Take a look at the very first Sonic game for the SEGA Mega Drive, or Genesis. The story was simple. Sonic needs to stop Dr. Robotnik from taking over the world. That was basically it. Regardless of such a simple story, the game was loads of fun. Over the years, though, the writers began to throw in some new elements to the canon, like the Master Emerald, Chaos, the Eclipse Cannon, Solaris, Gaia, the Wisps, the Time Eater, Planet Hex, and so on.

 

In my personal opinion, the story isn't too important in a video game, but it needs to also be a driving force. It doesn't exactly work too well in games like Sonic Adventure or Sonic Unleashed. The story was essentially "Dr. Robotnik is about to grab the Chaos Emeralds! Go get them first!" Sonic then goes and finds them in order. There's not much storytelling going on when the story tries to blend in a treasure hunt. On the other hand, take a look at Sonic Adventure 2. The plot is CONSTANTLY moving, and the stages are based on where the story is currently taking place. Technically, Sonic '06 does this too, and regardless of how the game turned out, this comes in second for having this element. Now, it's not really present in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors, because mainly the mission is "go here, do this."

 

With that said, what would actually be good storytelling for a Sonic game? Well, you have to use the basic characters and their traits. Sonic is a cocky, blue hedgehog who likes to run. Tails is shy, but loves to build planes and such. Dr. Robotnik is an evil scientist who wishes to build his ultimate utopia. Knuckles is a loner who guards the Master Emerald. These are a few examples. If the writers were to recognize these traits to the fullest, there'd actually be well-written stories. Sadly, for games like Sonic Colors and Sonic Lost World, there isn't much storytelling involved. Instead, it's dialogue after dialogue after dialogue.

 

What about on a realistic world view, though? It's not enough that the characters must keep their traits. The creators of the game must also animate them well (unlike Sonic '06 or Sonic Adventure), as well as have proper voice actors. In my opinion, Ryan Drummond hit the spot for the best voice of Sonic. In fact, I regard the Sonic Adventure 2 cast as nearly perfect. They had the best delivery, and they really bring out the true characters. The 4Kids voice actors also did a good job, but they took the characters in an awkward direction. By the way, I'm aware of the death of Deem Bristow, so they had no choice but to use a replacement. That's why I think Mike Pollock was the best fit. Sadly, though, I don't believe the Sonic Adventure 2 cast is coming back. As for the current cast, the voices don't really match what the earlier fans are familiar with. It's not that they're bad, but they make the characters awkward in a way. That's partially because of Pontac and Graff, but the voice actors are partially responsible. By the way, let me reiterate that Mike Pollock is a good filler for Deem, so I'm not necessarily talking about him.

 

With that out of the way, maybe it's best for me to talk about the most important aspect of the games, which is the gameplay. Quite personally, I think that Sonic controls the best in Sonic Adventure out of any of the 3D games. Why? Well, remember the classic titles for a moment. Sonic could use his momentum to navigate, as well as explore freely using his spin dash and speed. Now that Sonic is capable of controlling well in the third dimension, the third axis needs to be considered. Take a look at Sonic 3D Blast. Notice how Sonic can control properly in any of the major directions? Regardless of the true objective of the game, we got a little taste of how Sonic can play in the third dimension, and I quite enjoyed that. With Sonic Adventure, we got what was probably Sonic's best handling in any game. He wasn't TOO fast, but he was fast enough to feel the speed. He could spin dash like the classics, as well as homing attack, similar to Sonic 3D Blast.

 

Now, here's why I believe that Sonic Unleashed's game-play is NOT Sonic's best. First of all, Sonic feels a LOT more stiff when navigating through the stages without boosting. Plus, when Sonic boosts, he reaches full speed instantaneously, and without extreme precision and caution, it can lead to pure frustration and anger. In Sonic Unleashed, there were too many elements that caused Sonic to die upon impact, mainly because my brain is panicking and is reacting too much, or even too little. I've never been able to complete that game. In Sonic Colors, there's a lot less boosting, and a lot more 2D platform navigation, which I will get to in a minute. In Sonic Generations, there was a proper balance with the Modern Sonic, but it still felt like it was a bit hard to control. As for the Classic Sonic in Sonic Generations, he controls fine. However, he cannot roll anymore.

 

Now, let me explain how the levels work. There are usually two routes to go. One is the more challenging, yet quicker path. The other is the less challenging, yet longer path. In 2D games, it's represented by the actual height of the stage. In 3D games, it's represented by hidden pathways that can be explored if noticed, such as going around loops. This part shows up a lot in Sonic '06, believe it or not. With that said, that means that the 2D gameplay and the 3D gameplay are two totally different styles, obviously. However, since 2008, the Sonic Team thought it was a good idea to mix the two together. However, it's a BAD idea. Why? Well, like I said, they are two different styles, and suddenly losing or gaining an axis can confuse or bother the player. I enjoy them when they're separate, but I don't enjoy it when they are mixed in the same levels.

 

What about the actual platform navigation in itself? Well, there's Sonic, who obviously is the standard for controlling through the stages. Then you have Tails, who is commonly known for flying. He can fly over major gaps and chunks of platforming. While this can be easier and more beneficial to the less experienced players or for those who enjoy exploring, this can lead to stages ending MUCH quicker. Same with Knuckles, who can climb and glide over the stages in a very similar fashion. However, if the stages are much more boxed in, then Knuckles really has no reason to glide, and Tails doesn't have much room to fly, so might as well use Sonic. Now, Shadow can also navigate normally as well, as he technically IS a Sonic avatar. When you introduce other characters, it can either increase or decrease the length of the stage, rather than shifting the main focusing on playing the stages in the first place. By the way, Knuckles has been used for exploration rather than stage navigation, giving him somewhat of a gameplay purpose.

 

Also, I think it's worth noting that Sonic stages have traditionally gone stage to stage. In Sonic Adventure, the hub world was introduced, which some personally believe breaks up the pacing. While I don't really have much of a problem with it, the flow can go much faster if they didn't require a certain task in the hub worlds. Many have complained that Soleanna was too big, and that the Mystic Ruins forest was confusing. The hub worlds in Sonic Unleashed seemed like a bit of an improvement over Sonic '06's hub worlds. The hub world in Sonic Generations is bland and doesn't even need to BE a hub world at all, or at least a 2D hub world. In a white void, a 3D hub world would do wonders. Regardless of these hub worlds, it would be a lot easier to go directly from Tropical Jungle to Kingdom Valley without having to do the trials, for example.

 

Then there's the controls. Sonic controls the best in Sonic Adventure. In Sonic Adventure 2, the characters feel a bit too heavy, but still okay. Sonic Heroes was somewhat slippery, but that's not my main issue with the controls. With two other characters technically "attached" to your main player, it gives a sense of false weight that feels like you're losing a bit of speed and balance. The same applies for Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic '06, who also has attached characters. Sonic '06 had controls that felt extremely loose, and could cause some extreme slip-ups if you're not careful. Then there's the Wii games, which don't handle properly. They take control away from the player, and they can't move around freely. I've already explained how tight and awkward the modern games feel. Then there's Sonic Lost World, which I've never personally played, but it looks somewhat like Sonic Colors without the boost.

 

Okay, so now that I've went on and on about how Sonic should be, I think you get the image. As for the music, it needs to match the tone and emotion of the situation, which I believe most of them do just fine. So, I hope you now understand what makes a proper Sonic game.

 

TL;DR: Sonic '06 minus its story, but with Sonic Adventure's control scheme and Sonic Adventure 2's style of story, would essentially be the formula for the best Sonic game. :P

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