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The feeling of adventure in a Sonic game


Sonikko

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I played Sonic Rush Adventure after many years and I found myself really enjoying it. I had the feeling of going through an actual "adventure", something I haven't felt since Unleashed and I loved it. I was able to overlook the cheap level design a lot more than when the game came out, it was a thrilling experience. The graphics were good, the music was top notch, the level themes were fun and fresh, the gameplay was refined from Rush, and it felt like a Sonic game. Lost World in particular had some level tropes that constantly reminded the player they were playing a video game (Dessert Ruins is the worst offender imo). I could not feel like exploring an actual world, just running through some video game level. Generations suffered from the same issue too, but it was justified by the anniversary compilation game thing. What are your thoughts? Do you miss the Hub worlds for example? I sure do!

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Multiple characters are another factor. I liked how they handled them in 2006, the main issue there was with the engine itself though. The way they play like Sonic, just with different abilities was awesome, maybe if they didn't show up in the middle of a level and had their own zones it would have been better.

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The thing that separates a game that feels like a series of challenges versus one that feels like an "adventure" to me is simple connective context. Context has to be established for the logic of settings and short-term character motivations, as well as how these things relate back to the gameplay. The obstacles and in-game gimmicks within the stage should both reasonably reflect the hazards that would reasonably live in these locations and the narrative importance of the stage. It's a basic feedback loop between the artistic disciplines.

As an example, if the director puts Angel Island as the first location, the writers need to give narrative reason for the characters going there in the first place, such as perhaps Sonic and Tails are flying by. see that the island is in the ocean, and swoop down to investigate. Angel Island as a stage then acts like the implied plotting that would've been glossed over or put in a montage in a passive medium like film or comic (real-time travel is pretty boring to watch), serving as a way to give the audience agency within the story and familiarity with the controls and physics, and it's up to the level designers and artists to ensure that the level makes sense from a design perspective. Vines should act like swings, water should slow you down, the Badniks should be best suited towards traversing thick jungle terrain, etc.. The end of the level marks a transitional period between the first and second level, which the director could have decided is the city for example. Between these two stages, the writers come in again and must give a reasonable connecting narrative to justify the characters taking agency to go to the city. Perhaps Sonic and Tails find Knuckles knocked out, and upon awakening he gives a confused tale of a creature that stole the Master Emerald and headed for Station Square.

Rinse and repeat this cycle until the end of the game, and you'll generally be left with an overall game that reads more like an attempt at an interactive experience versus something that's more arcade-y and is less concerned with disguising its gameplay goals within an overarching narrative.

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I certainly miss the very feeling you describe, and I feel that it comes down to making the game world you inhabit be believable, and a big part of achieving that is not to necessarily make it reflect our own reality, but to make it internally consistent. All of the games that I really love, regardless of genre, at least make an honest effort to do this, and I feel like the Sonic series has not attempted such a thing since Unleashed. 

While I do like hubs, and would prefer them over level-to-level progression (as they serve to deepen the relationship between the player and the game world, and--if done properly--help foster this internal consistency), games like Sonic 3&K prove that they aren't a necessity for achieving this goal. 

These factors are what I feel majorly contribute to this "adventurous" feeling, a game that invites the player into its world and successfully makes it feel "real" through consistent internal logic. Obviously there are other constituents to this, such as good pacing, and a strong cast that one would want to follow (in the context of a Sonic game, the latter is arguably as important as a consistent world), but if a game fails to envelop me in its setting, then my desire to go see more of it is lessened.

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I agree that the last time I felt any sense of adventure was Sonic Unleashed. There were so many little touches, I could get lost in its world and it really helps to get me invested in the game I'm playing. I'm one that's always loved hub worlds and I really wish they would have remained standard since they were introduced in Adventure. Lost World was just so weird, the game as a whole just felt clunky, mechanical, and unnatural. Plus all the levels that show up to make you lose your, I don't know... immersion, I guess? I get they were being cute adding the extra 's' to Desert Ruins so they made it a candy land, but then having a casino in an ice world, then you get to Sky Road, and eventually they throw another ice level at you. I remember there being multiple instances like that where level tropes are just all over the place and to me it just makes the game feel like even more of a mess. It doesn't feel like you're traveling through a coherent world.

It's been a long time since I've played Rush Adventure's story mode but I do remember the game giving you a good sense of adventure. Traveling the world by sea was so nice, and the characters you meet make Blaze's world feel much more lively even if there were only a few, and I think that's a big part of having a good sense of adventure. Something I love about Sonic 3 & Knuckles is how the levels are transitioned into so smoothly. Jumping off of Flying Battery only to land in the sand of Sandopolis, or burrowing out through the snow of Ice Cap and popping out at a patch of snow in Launch Base, then you continue on with your journey. Those are just little 2 second cutscenes, but they add so much. It all feels like it's taking place on Angel Island and idk, it just makes sense. Getting to see the characters making it from point A to point B is critical to making a game feel whole, and gives it a nice adventurous feeling. It's the little things that can make a game feel so much more charming and grandiose. I'd like to see more of that, since I feel this series has been lacking these little touches for the past few years.

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I would say the level tropes used in the games doesn't really matter as long as there is believable context for both existing and the characters going there. They won't ruin the feeling of adventure...this way.

 

Those are the limits of having a narrative worth getting people invested. When doing this, level aesthetics need to be designed around the story instead of the story being written around the level order...because that's pretty much how Lost World handled it, Colors didn't even do that.

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