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What do you consider Sonic gameplay?


Sonic Fan J

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It's a topic that comes up a lot when people are discussing multiple playable characters and why they can or cannot work but no one ever really brings it up except in defense of their argument. So for a change, let's talk about what we consider Sonic gameplay free of the obligation to defend a viewpoint in another topic. I'll go ahead and start and include an explanation as to why.

So, for me, the ideal Sonic gameplay is derived from statements by Sonic's creators and having started in the franchise with the original game back in 1991. That gameplay is of course the running, spin jumping, and rolling gameplay that relies on bumping into enemies while rolling to defeat/damage them. I'm not limited to that gameplay on it's own as I instead typically see it as a base or core gameplay that is expanded upon by unique character derived abilities that effect movement. Now obviously it has it's limitations and the idea of bumping into enemies to defeat them is also handled by the boost as well, but to me the imagery of a hedgehog character curling into a ball to attack and roll through the environment is indicative of what the franchise was created around. Adding additional character specific abilities helps differentiate them and as long as it affects how they traverse and does not compromise the core concept of a curling into a ball to attack and roll almost any extra ability is welcome as long as it does not complicate the control scheme.

So those are the basics for me, what about everyone else here at SSMB? 

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It's about momentum, slope physics, and the kind of fluid movement that they allow.

Most platforming characters have relatively little inertia (they either snap directly to set speeds or accelerate quickly to them) and exist in primarily blocky environments where most surfaces either don't affect their movement (floors) or bring them to a dead stop (walls). Sonic, on the other hand, has relatively high inertia (leading to a wider and smoother range of playable speeds) and exists in a world filled with slopes and curves that modify and redirect his momentum as he interacts with them. The continuity of momentum, the gradation of speed, and the manipulation of both through inherent abilities and interaction with the fundamental level geometry allow for movement that is fast, fluid, and nuanced, and unlike the movement in any other game I've ever known.

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An extremely coherent connection between specific player input and very nuanced movements both intrinsically set in the character and the varied environment that surrounds said character. Movements are always extremely clean and infinitesimally smooth in change, in other words no instantaneous or awkward changes in accelerations, and are subject to outside parameters i.e. different slopes, curves, and others, which can often be the difference between success and failure to any sort of degree. Different sorts of movements by said character are always tapered by contrast to one another for balance. Rolling attack is subject greatly to friction forces while standard running leaves one more vulnerable and so on. 

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As in the basics?

Right, what I consider Sonic gameplay is that Sonic can run fast but that's not all. He needs to earn his speed like a car, you can be fast in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini but not too fast to lose control of the steering so you have to slow down around the corners. So with Sonic, he needs to slow down when he gets to a dangerous area full of spikes and jumps to avoid danger. The best drivers try to not stop and start with their car but to slow a bit then speed up as smooth as you can that Sonic tries to take account (Sonic 1 does have a bit of this issue though).

The level design has to be natural with hills and slopes to take advantage of his acceleration and decelleration. They can be steep or gentle. Having loop de loops, curves and corkscrews in the design are also natural to Sonic due to that he curves into a ball. Again with the car example a course that is a straight line isn't exciting to watch but with some curves, corners, S bends, maybe a slight hill can make things more interesting and exciting to watch. There are alternative routes too and how you can get to any of them regardless of skill but the easier/faster one needs some skill to reach. Using Mario has a example, Sonic is more closer to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World rather than Super Mario Bros since they featured hills and slopes with some acceleration, some alternative routes too if you have the right powerup. SMB by comparison is blocky gameplay where movement is not natural, basic foreground and backgrounds, stop and start gameplay due to its physics. Many of the levels are one route straight lines, maybe two with the pipe shortcuts/later levels and even then with the boss levels, you would have to go through the only correct route to progress otherwise it loops.

Since Sonic is also a ball, he also has to have some pinball physics as well working with the level design. A bit like the car example, professional pinball players can play fast and have full control of the ball however unlike pinball Sonic has some control when things go wrong seperating between a player and a pinball.

Also Sonic was originally designed for the arcade styled of gameplay such as the time limit, the simple control scheme of one button with a D-Pad (or a Joystick) and a steeper difficulty later on the game to take advantage of his skills.

Even with all that said, there were Sonic games that don't follow what was written up there. Such as Sonic Rush where the focus is on the speed but the level design is mainly downhill slopes and straight lines to keep the speed yet retain the loops and corkscrews to try to keep some of the level design in tact. Back to racing, Sonic Rush is like a drag race on a hill while the classics are your traditional road courses.

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At the most basic, it's just a platforming game (2-D or 3-D) with a speed element thrown in.

Now if what you mean is something more specific like, say, the Genesis style gameplay, then it's the basics of a platformer but with the extra depth that comes with the concept of physics that simulate momentum (and other mechanics such as pinball-like bouncing) that along with a clever level design that uses well placed curves and slopes, allows to not only build speed in a more natural way, but can also be aplied towards the action of platforming given how speed and inclination affects the height of the jumps. Curiously, jumps can also be used to build and achieve speed just as good, if not even better, than rolling allows for, giving the jumping ability (THE ability that defines the genre) a new use other than just for reaching higher ground, perk that as far as I can recall, no other game in the platforming genre has ever displayed.

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  • 1 year later...

well, sonic was and always will be about one key thing, that some sonic games get wrong: Physics. ever since sonic 1, sonic has changed the gaming industry not just with his speed, or his sense of momentum, but with his satisfying physics, and feeling of gravity. To see what I'm talking about, lets compare Sonic to Mario

Mario -

goes at a slow pace not matter what slope he is on and runs after pressing another button, jumps in a set height all the time and it doesn't change.

Sonic -

goes at a more faster pace and doesn't need another button to do so, his movement is affected by terrain and his jump of affect by slopes.

Which game sounds more appealing to you? personally, sonic is the more fun option. Sonic's physics is what broke the grounds of the gaming industry, and is what put him above Mario and made him the best IP in the 90s. AND is what made sonic 3 my most favorite game of all time.

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It's hard for me to say what I consider to be Sonic gameplay, but I think I CAN say what I feel is GOOD sonic gameplay. The best sonic games are the ones that encourage experimentation and mastery of the game mechanics in order to blaze through levels at incredible speeds. Whether via learning the Classic games' physics, abusing Spin Dash jumping in Adventure, or Boosting at the correct times in order to clear a platforming section, my knowledge of the level design and the game mechanics allow me to clear levels effortlessly.

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