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Spooky Mulder

Super Sonic Odyssey: Can Sonic Learn From Mario's 3D Sandbox Adventures?

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With Super Mario Odyssey out and a lot of debate around the future of 3D Sonic thanks to Mania and Forces, I thought it might be interesting to discuss how (if at all) our beloved blue hedgehog might be able to learn from Mario's latest 3D outing. Over the years, I have seen a lot of skepticism toward the idea of a sandbox Sonic game but with more 3D fangames like Sonic Utopia exploring this concept I think it is a perfect time to reconsider what Sonic would look like in a sandbox world especially as Mario reinvents the traditional 3D platformer in Odyssey.

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For a while, I was pretty skeptical myself about how well Sonic could work in a non-linear environment but playing Utopia and Odyssey have led me to reconsider that. When I first played the Utopia fan demo, I was shocked by how well the feeling of Classic Sonic momentum had been transferred into 3D, but like many others I worried about how something like that would translate to a complete game. Then, while playing Odyssey, as I rolled down dunes as Mario in the Sand Kingdom and chained jumps in the Metro Kingdom to collect bountiful hidden power moons, my mind kept drifting back to Utopia. I imagined that somewhat directionless sandbox filled with hidden "power moons" or some equivalent and suddenly the idea of a sandbox Sonic game started to make sense to me.

Since the Sonic 4 days, there's been a lot of talk about how 2D Sonic should be about "speed as a reward" maybe the key to making 3D Sonic work is to flip the script and instead make it about "reward for speed." There are so many areas in Utopia that you can only reach by exploiting the environment to build up speed, imagine a Sonic game that rewarded you for accessing a new area like that in the same way Odyssey does. Let's say you base the game around finding missing Chao because *insert Eggman plot here* and you need to find a certain number of Chao in each Zone to reach the next Zone in the game again because of *insert plot here*. Like in Odyssey, these would be on top of whatever progression-based objectives were built into the plot.

So what kind of missions would you encounter in a 3D game like this? I imagine they would focus a lot on stopping Eggman's corruptive influence on environments. Perhaps in a Chemical Plant-type zone, there's certain switches you need to find and activate to disable the plant. In a Zone inspired by Angel Island in Sonic 3, maybe there's dams you can break to clear fires that have broken out due to Eggman's actions.

Additional missions and mini-games could be hidden throughout Zones on top of this too, perhaps some of which would only unlock after the main game is over. Each Kingdom in Odyssey features the "Roving Racers" which are a team of Koopas that challenge you to a race in each Kingdom after you've cleared them in the main game. With online leaderboards, speedrunners around the world have been honing their speedy platforming skills to lower their times or share impressive/creative/humorous ways of reaching the race's goal. I can't help but imagine how perfectly something like that could be adapted to a sandbox Sonic game.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the idea of a sandbox game and specifically what Sonic Team might be able to learn from Super Mario Odyssey or other sandbox platformers from over the years. Do you think a sandbox Sonic game could work? How would you adapt the franchise to fit into that playstyle? Would you be willing to abandon the traditional A-to-B level design we've had for decades in favor of a new system? Is there a middle ground? What concerns do you have and what do you think would work well?

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I honestly think it could work, with an actually careful attitude to the game's physics and a genuine passion for creating individualised worlds rich with the kind of secret nooks and crannies as the classics had.  In fact, I actually pitched a very similar idea in a Forces thread somewhere before the game came out, so it's hard for me not to be on-side.  I was thinking that the collectibles could be something more like Chaos Emerald Shards; seven zones, collect enough shards to draw Eggman's attention and activate a boss fight, if you get all the shards and restore each zone's Chaos Emerald then you unlock a true ending.  But there are lots of approaches which could work.

This idea is arguably the culmination of the more explorative and playful style of games like S3&K or Mania, brought perfectly into 3D.  Instead of adventuring towards a single goal, you're adventuring in every direction.  The linear direction of Sonic's speedy movement style is no longer problematised in 3D because of this; rather than every direction other than forwards being redundant, forwards is now everywhere.

The best part is, other playable characters wouldn't be broken in this model.  Tails's flight and Knuckles's climbing and gliding aren't easy shortcuts to the goal when your actual objective is more simply to explore; they just become what they originally were, alternative means of getting around certain challenges.

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Meh. This is absolutely me but I've never been too much a fan of a sandbox Sonic game nor a collectathon one. I think Sonic should stick to a A to B formula. With large open 3D stages the openness should be present for the sake of how fast you can reach the goal and using all sorts of directions to get to the goal as fast or slow as you want. It does sound a little strange but I do think Sonic games should remain with a mostly linear progression despite the open stages. 

And besides I think Utopia is a little too open for me actually. The perfect size would probably be like Windy Hill Beta except a bit more expansive. 

 

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Yes, it would also be a great way to bring in other characters. They could easily save unlocking Tails for later on in the game, to avoid having Tails break the game early on by flying over everything. They could have certain areas that allow Sonic to swap between other playable characters. The game could start out with Sonic, eventually, he could find Amy, who could use her hammer to defeat certain armored enemies, or smash open certain obstacles.

Eventually, Knuckles could be unlocked, and used to glide over gaps, climb walls, and dig under tight spaces. In order to add more challenge, they could give Knuckles a stamina bar, to prevent players from climbing up everything, or gliding across everything. Maybe Silver and Blaze could be playable as well. Mario Odyssey was amazing, and it makes me want to see Sega do more with the Sonic games and characters.

I’m sick of the boost games, I’m sick of only Sonic being playable, and I’m sick of 3d platforming being upstaged by nostalgic sidescrolling gameplay. I actually liked the sidescrolling segments in Mario Odyssey, they were short, stylish, not too challenging, and were only required to get through once. You’re not forced to go through the side scrolling segments everytime you want to revisit a certain area, you can just warp past those sections upon revisiting those levels.

It’s a shame how Rise of Lyric could have been a game like that, but it was too sluggish, the rings were mostly useless, and enemies took too long to defeat, and there were too many repetitive combat sections. It would be great to be able to collect rings, and use them to unlock new areas,  upgrades, abilities, and custom gear.

I would love a new open 3d Sonic game with many characters and unlockables for replayability. Sega has been relying too much on retro or boost gameplay, and I want to see them try something different, yet better for once. Everyone seems to act like all Sonic games must be sidescrollers, must be about racing to the goal, or boost mechanics, and I am getting kind of sick of it. Not every game has to be the same thing.

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I Ugh no. The open world sandbox design shouldn't be in a Sonic game or at least in the levels. They should be more hub world's. 06 proved how lame and boring that type of concept is. Sonic has always been a point A to B type of game. It's why I'm not biggest fan of Utopia. Don't get me wrong open level design isn't bad for Sonic games. The Adventure Games (more so SA1. I mean SA2 Sonic and Shadow levels has its but you get what I mean) Unleashed, and Generations are great examples of how open level design in a Sonic Game should be. In my opinion at least

 

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37 minutes ago, Ultimate Victory 64 said:

I Ugh no. The open world sandbox design shouldn't be in a Sonic game or at least in the levels. They should be more hub world's. 06 proved how lame and boring that type of concept is. Sonic has always been a point A to B type of game. It's why I'm not biggest fan of Utopia. Don't get me wrong open level design isn't bad for Sonic games. The Adventure Games (more so SA1. I mean SA2 Sonic and Shadow levels has its but you get what I mean) Unleashed, and Generations are great examples of how open level design in a Sonic Game should be. In my opinion at least

 

Counter argument: Mario was also only a point A to B type of game until it wasn’t.

One of the things that’s occurred to me was that depending on the size of the zones and the speed at which Sonic travels, you could basically build two games in one like this as an experiment with the style.

Sonic could move through 9 zones with a boss fight in each with Tails and Knuckles also being playable with different “main” routes through the stage. That would basically be about a total of 27 acts plus boss fights, so about the normal length of a Modern Sonic Boost game.

Then, after completing the main story, a secondary campaign opens up that utilizes these environments in a sandbox collect-a-thon. This would ideally be longer than the first campaign and would be the real focus of development time. Basically, they could build these sandboxes, fill them with secrets, and then chart “main” paths through them for Sonic and Co.

If it works, maybe the style sticks. If it doesn’t, fans of traditional A-to-B Sonic still get a game that isn’t much shorter than what they’ve been getting for years.

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13 minutes ago, Miragnarok said:

Considering most Mario games have only Mario playable, i’d say no. 

Hmm.. Mario's done well with only a single playable character after all these years... or at least ones nearly identical Mario.

Guys, maybe.. maybe Tails and Knuckles were mistakes?

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Just now, Razule said:

Hmm.. Mario's done well with only a single playable character after all these years... or at least ones nearly identical Mario.

Guys, maybe.. maybe Tails and Knuckles were mistakes?

Platformers have more diversity than one would think. Sonic NEEDS its playable characters, end of story.

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1 minute ago, Miragnarok said:

Platformers have more diversity than one would think. Sonic NEEDS its playable characters, end of story.

Not really, I mean tails and knux are great but sonic himself is (and for the most part) always has been the key player here with other playable characters more or less just being an option that you can choose to ignore (talking mostly about the 2D games cept for rush, rush adventure and advance 2). Just having sonic there really wouldn't be that big of an issue if you just make him fun enough to play as on his own and give him a good amount of depth in his controls with areas to reach that accommodate them. I'm not saying that we shouldn't get other playable characters but they are FAR from necessary to have a good game.

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What if they got the LEGO Dimensions guys? The Sonic pack seemed neat.

Made more of an attempt than Sonic Team ever did to give Modern Sonic physics after Adventure. Even has Sonic go through loops with the camera following him, like Utopia or GDK.

It's actually kind of amazing the effort they must have put in for this one of many other franchises. But maybe with focus on just Sonic (the series itself, not Solo Sonica) alone and more polish, it could be something great..

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1 hour ago, Razule said:

What if they got the LEGO Dimensions guys? The Sonic pack seemed neat.

Made more off an attempt than Sonic Team ever did to give Modern Sonic physics after Adventure. Even has Sonic go through loops with the camera following him, like Utopia or GDK.

It's actually kind of amazing the effort they must have put in for this one of many other franchises. But maybe with focus on just Sonic (the series itself, not Solo Sonica) alone and more polish, it could be something great..

It is a shame, I really liked the Sonic Lego pack, but what held me back from fully enjoying it was the fact that it was stuck to Lego Dimensions. There were times where I just wanted to play the game, without the tiring need to keep swapping figures around to play. Lego Dimensions would have worked better as a game with dlc packs, instead of the annoying toys to life gimmick. It is not fun to have the game’s flow constantly interrupted by the need to move figures around in real life. I don’t see how even a kid could have fun with the constant need of having to place certain characters around so frequently, especially for the puzzle solving segments in the main game’s story mode.

Other than that, the Sonic pack was fun, and I would play it more, if it weren’t for the annoying toy swapping gimmicks. It would have been neat to play as the other characters as well.

The writing was both fun and hilarious, I thought the jokes and continuity were much better than the ones in Colors, Generations, Lost World, and Forces. How did a parody game manage to have more faithfulness to the series than Generations or Forces?! Generations and Forces were official anniversary games, yet had rather mixed up stories with screwy continuity, wasted potential, and a lack of focus.

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32 minutes ago, SpongicX said:

How did a parody game manage to have more faithfulness to the series than Generations or Forces?!

Because it was developed by people who have more passion for the franchise than those who actually own the IP.

I would honestly be very interested in seeing what a new spinoff game headed by modern Traveler's Tales would be like. Keep your "It would just be another Lego clone" jokes to yourself. The Boom branch should have been handed to them, game-wise, at least.

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Mario Odyssey is your standard Mario game(in terms of the level design). So I don't see how should this apply to Sonic unless we're talking about how Mario has been better realized than Sonic's development.

Not really feeling the sandbox(by the way, the utopia creator said the sandbox is just a temporary template).

This largely depends on how Sonic's speed is calculated, how the stages are designed and what mechanics are used to support him. That isn't mentioning that Sonic requires far more work than the average sandbox game. Granted, I'm not saying it can't work...But you'd have to make the game at least more linear for Sonic with interesting mechanics to work with rather than some power ups or peel out.

From what I've seen from GDK or Utopia, It's an idea for sure and something I wouldn't mind exploring..

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I think it could work. I mean, who would've thought Mario, the poster boy of "point A to point B" gameplay, would have worked in an open world environment before Super Mario 64 was a thing?

I dunno if I really want Sonic Team looking to Mario for inspiration, though. That's how we got the bizarre hodgepodge of ideas that was Sonic Lost World.

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A game that takes the creative spirit of this game and/or the reunion factor of the movie “Sponge Out of Water” would be a good idea, though. Taxman might end up taking this sort of direction rather than playing to Dreamcast nostalgia if he ever gets his 3D Sonic concept off the ground. But with Sonic Team, they clearly have no juice to do so, and even if they were forced to it, it probably would turn out more as a shallow ripoff of the game. Sanzaru’s take, on the other hand, would probably be the same.

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Well, certainly, so long as they take away the right lessons from witnessing what Mario's done here and don't try to do just copy it. If you just copy it, then you're not really applying it to what Sonic's strengths are. There are broad lessons the Sonic series needs to learn about being more open, being more creative with its environments, having a ton of secrets, and utilizing a gimmick that enhances the experience rather than take away from it. 

However, they seem to confuse this idea a lot. That's why Sonic Lost World didn't pan out well. Not many recognized it as a superb Sonic game that managed to take what Sonic was and enhance it based on lessons learned from what other games did to enhance their own franchises. People saw it and were like "This is a tech demo that's clearly just trying to copy this specific thing this Mario game did." That one was specifically Super Mario Galaxy but it doesn't really matter which one it was. If you've made something that people can look at and recognize immediately which game you're trying to copy then you didn't take the right lessons from it. Either that or you're going for something that not many people aside from Mario try because he has a monopoly on the genre. Like Kart Racers. Everyone's going to compare your mascot kart racer to Mario Kart no matter how good it is I'm afraid.

Either way, it's important they apply these lessons correctly. If the take away from Mania's success, for example, is "WE NEED 3D SONIC TO HAVE EVEN MOAR 2D" than they clearly don't understand what that game did to be successful. 

If 3D Sonic could have his equivalent to Odyssey, I'd love that. I still haven't played Odyssey but I want to. It's the first Mario game since Sunshine that I've ever had any interest in playing because it hit all the notes that 3D Sonic used to hit for me when I saw the trailer, aside from maybe the tone but that's an easy trade off for all that fucking adventure. 

 

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A Sandbox Sonic game exacerbates the biggest and most obvious problems posed by the more linear Sonic games. The Hedgehog simply moves far to fast to populate any realistic stretch of terrain with enough obstacles to constitute of living level, let alone a living world.

The level design team is on record stating that Unleashed approach was downright unfeasible due to how fast the titular character can blow through environments. We've seen countless attempts to simplify the art-style, and asset re-usage left and right to try and compensate for this to no avail. They even went as far as introducing Lost World to re-define Sonic as something more "developer friendly" and caught a swift slap on the wrist for their actions.

 

You cant just drop Sonic in a sandbox and call it a day. Even if you built up the perfect 3D engine to recreate that physics based euphoria, Sonic's sheer top speed makes for a problem. It would take too much development time and resources to create a world brimming with discovery at every turn simply because that world would have to be so unsustainable large just to contain Sonic's speed. You'd either have to create a sandbox tight on content but small on overall size, or a desert with spaced out challenges and long stretches of nothing in-between. From a development standpoint, there really isn't a middle ground for this. Outside of a 5 year dev cycle, you're kind of screwed.

 

and all that s just an issue with a core concept. Thats before you even get started on balancing or pace, or any of that noise.

 

Until procedural generation becomes a feasible alternative - I'm fairly confident in saying that a large open world / Sandbox game is a waste of time.

 

 

 

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