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Silvereyes

Sonic Games With Themed Zones

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For the most part, Sonic games tend to go for alot of standard tropes when choosing the themes of each Zone. Opening level set on a sunny hillside, final level set in some kind of base owned by Dr Eggman, which may or may not be in space. Lava level, ice level, jungle level, desert level, water level, city level etc. Not that can be a neccesarily a bad thing mind, just because a zone goes for a standard trope doesn't mean it can't stand out in terms of aesthetic, gimmicks, music or just great level design in general.

However, what I'm interested in is games that don't tend to just go for a variety of zones, but actually have a theme that ties all the zones together. To me, the most obvious would be the two Sonic storybook games, Secret Rings and The Black Knight, since they take direct inspiration from a 1001 Nights and Medieval lore respectively. But you have other examples, Sonic Rush Adventure builds its entire game around a plot surrounding pirates, and with a sailing minigame inbetween levels, the zones tend to feature lots of things like coral reefs, pirate ships and even a sortof steampunkish level.

Sonic Unleashed was interesting in while having a variety of zones, really took a spin on established traits like a desert level, a city level and an ice level being very obviously inspired by real world locations. The Japanese title was Sonic World Adventure, and I think it gives the game a great theme, with the plot centered on travelling a cartoonified Earth, encountering different people in different locations. It gives each zone its own flavour, differentiating it from past and future zones. Colours would have its entire plot focused on Eggman's outer space amusement park, and really I think one of the few Sonic games where the setting of the game actually matters, since the setting in space feeds into the design of every zone.

Considering how much of a "meh" reaction Forces received, I wonder if a good direction for the next major Sonic game might be to try and have the game limited to just one location. Like a new Angel Island or Little Planet or Planet Wisp etc, a theme of some kind that every zone builds off of, and helps give the game a unique identity. Also curious to see if any other games have their own themes, I'm sure I missed out on a few. I think it is an angle worth exploring, since I do feel that alot of Sonic games are quite happy to just go the normal route of having a variety of zones with little in common with each other.

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50 minutes ago, silvereye27 said:

For the most part, Sonic games tend to go for alot of standard tropes when choosing the themes of each Zone. Opening level set on a sunny hillside, final level set in some kind of base owned by Dr Eggman, which may or may not be in space. Lava level, ice level, jungle level, desert level, water level, city level etc. Not that can be a neccesarily a bad thing mind, just because a zone goes for a standard trope doesn't mean it can't stand out in terms of aesthetic, gimmicks, music or just great level design in general.

However, what I'm interested in is games that don't tend to just go for a variety of zones, but actually have a theme that ties all the zones together. To me, the most obvious would be the two Sonic storybook games, Secret Rings and The Black Knight, since they take direct inspiration from a 1001 Nights and Medieval lore respectively. But you have other examples, Sonic Rush Adventure builds its entire game around a plot surrounding pirates, and with a sailing minigame inbetween levels, the zones tend to feature lots of things like coral reefs, pirate ships and even a sortof steampunkish level.

Sonic Unleashed was interesting in while having a variety of zones, really took a spin on established traits like a desert level, a city level and an ice level being very obviously inspired by real world locations. The Japanese title was Sonic World Adventure, and I think it gives the game a great theme, with the plot centered on travelling a cartoonified Earth, encountering different people in different locations. It gives each zone its own flavour, differentiating it from past and future zones. Colours would have its entire plot focused on Eggman's outer space amusement park, and really I think one of the few Sonic games where the setting of the game actually matters, since the setting in space feeds into the design of every zone.

Considering how much of a "meh" reaction Forces received, I wonder if a good direction for the next major Sonic game might be to try and have the game limited to just one location. Like a new Angel Island or Little Planet or Planet Wisp etc, a theme of some kind that every zone builds off of, and helps give the game a unique identity. Also curious to see if any other games have their own themes, I'm sure I missed out on a few. I think it is an angle worth exploring, since I do feel that alot of Sonic games are quite happy to just go the normal route of having a variety of zones with little in common with each other.

Concerning how Lost World handled this, they’ll have to be very specific for good results...

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I think trying to stick to a single theme throughout the entire game would only hinder the game rather than help it, as it would mean they have to be very creative within the confines of a single theme. Considering that the recent Sonic Team games did jack with pretty much any and all of the stage themes when it came to stage design and instead opted to use the "boost" as the stage design of the game, good luck hoping they have the creativity to use a single theme throughout a game and not make it super boring.

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16 minutes ago, Tarnish said:

I think trying to stick to a single theme throughout the entire game would only hinder the game rather than help it, as it would mean they have to be very creative within the confines of a single theme. Considering that the recent Sonic Team games did jack with pretty much any and all of the stage themes when it came to stage design and instead opted to use the "boost" as the stage design of the game, good luck hoping they have the creativity to use a single theme throughout a game and not make it super boring.

I think it can go either way to be honest.  Lost World didn't stick to a theme, and in fact had some stages that went completely against what seemed to be the established theme of individual zones - and yet it has the feeling of one of the most uninspired, boring stage theming in the series to date.

 

Meanwhile, Secret Rings, a game that does stick to a theme, has some of the most creative and unique zone themes to date.  The Arabian Nights theme informed the architecture, but most of the zones either went off the deep end in how they adapted locations from the stories (if I recall, Dinosaur Jungle is just based off a story about an island filled with ancient beasts or something like that), or it almost felt like they were coming up with varied typical Sonic tropes and being very creative in how they applied the Arabian Knights to it  (how can we make an airship level in Arabian Nights?  Bam, ruins flying atop giant manta rays in the sky, obviously!).

 

I think following a theme for the whole game is fine as long as the limitations cause the developers to explore new ideas.  It would've been so easy for the Secret Rings team to do the old favourites "but there's middle-eastern buildings in the background too" but they really went wild with it.

 

Another good example would be Sonic Rush Adventure.  When you think about it, Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure share a lot of themes: Jungle, Underwater, Industrial, and Sky, but aside from maybe the first, no-one would say SRA just retreaded three zones from the first game, thanks to the nautical/pirate theme making them think outside the box on those stages.

 

 

Basically, I think a themed Sonic game can work great, as long as the "expected" idea of the trope is only used for a few stages (Sand Oasis, Evil Foundry, Night Palace), other inspirations from the theme's source are adapted in a creative (Dinosaur Jungle) or flashy (Pirate Storm) way and there are at least one or two zones that are just completely out there compared to what's expected of the franchise AND the theming (Levitated Ruin, Skeleton Dome).

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Even Sonic Colors had one distinctive theme over the course of the game.

Tbh I do think that a game similar to Forces, but using Angel Island with a new take on it, playable Tails and Knuckles could perform better than Forces.

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I'd want Battle for Angel Island to be a game 

Battle for Angel Island is the first major arc that is happening in the new IDW comics,  set after the events of Forces. Metal Sonic has awoken once again as Neo MS,  but this time,  he conquers for his missing master. Yes, Eggman is confirmed missing,  but Sonic and Chaotix come across him as Mr. Tinker,  with no memory whatsoever of recent happenings.

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I forget where I read this, but I know what explanation for the Lost Hex was that it may have made up of pieces of Sonic's World that broke off a long time ago.

And even if that isn't the case, it is apparently also known as a Continent of Illusions.

So I honestly didn't mind the eclectic NSMB-esque stage settings and some of the out of theme levels since the art direction kinda helped distinguish most of it from previous locations in a minor way.

With that said, I do think they should've taken more advantage of either of those premises in terms of delving into it's possible history and geology throughout the game.

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OP mentioned Angel Island and Little Planet as examples of settings that have a cohesive theme. But I disagree that they do. Stages like Ice Cap Zone and Sandopolis are as far apart as you can get in terms of theme, after all. So I'm less sure if it's varied level themes that are actually the problem you have here. Maybe it's more about the games having a more unified style?

I would like to see more revisiting of established locations in the universe in a way that makes sense based on what's been shown before. Real world building as opposed to Sonic Forces "80% of the world is Green Hill Zone", jeez. SEGA seem intent on treating Sonic's world the same way Nintendo treat Mario's. As something malleable that can be molded to whatever they want the content of the new game to be. However on a case by case basis, the locations in the series have more relevance to the story and Sonic is a more story driven series. So when they then treat it as though the places have no real permanence they undermine the player's investment.

It was really frustrating to see the Lost hex introduced as YET ANOTHER mysterious flying landmass in the sky when you already have Angel Island and Little Planet. Just how many of them ARE there in the sky of Sonic's world? It just feels lazy to me. Done with no respect of what came before it.

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24 minutes ago, Emerald Chaos said:

OP mentioned Angel Island and Little Planet as examples of settings that have a cohesive theme. But I disagree that they do. Stages like Ice Cap Zone and Sandopolis are as far apart as you can get in terms of theme, after all. So I'm less sure if it's varied level themes that are actually the problem you have here. Maybe it's more about the games having a more unified style? 

I actually didn't mean to in terms of theme, so much as I meant as iconic locations in the Sonic universe. You are right, I mean Angel Island is a bit silly with it either being the size of a continent to support so many biomes, or it has more clustered biomes than a Minecraft map condensed onto a single island. I think if the next big Sonic game basically said "it takes place in location X, which is unique because of reason Y, and as such all zones will be tied together under theme Z", it would help the game stand out, rather than it just being vaguely across the planet.

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3 hours ago, Emerald Chaos said:

OP mentioned Angel Island and Little Planet as examples of settings that have a cohesive theme. But I disagree that they do. Stages like Ice Cap Zone and Sandopolis are as far apart as you can get in terms of theme, after all. So I'm less sure if it's varied level themes that are actually the problem you have here. Maybe it's more about the games having a more unified style?

 

I think he meant more in the sense that they're all on Angel Island and thus have ruins & traps left behind by the Echidnas.

3 hours ago, Emerald Chaos said:

 

It was really frustrating to see the Lost hex introduced as YET ANOTHER mysterious flying landmass in the sky when you already have Angel Island and Little Planet. Just how many of them ARE there in the sky of Sonic's world? It just feels lazy to me. Done with no respect of what came before it.

To be fair, Little Planet is a literal periodic appearance, while Angel Island has an established history and main character attached to it already.

From the game's title, it seems the running idea behind it was indeed to have an another adventure in an unexplored location, particularly to introduce the Zeti in.

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4 hours ago, Emerald Chaos said:

OP mentioned Angel Island and Little Planet as examples of settings that have a cohesive theme. But I disagree that they do. Stages like Ice Cap Zone and Sandopolis are as far apart as you can get in terms of theme, after all. So I'm less sure if it's varied level themes that are actually the problem you have here. Maybe it's more about the games having a more unified style?

I would like to see more revisiting of established locations in the universe in a way that makes sense based on what's been shown before. Real world building as opposed to Sonic Forces "80% of the world is Green Hill Zone", jeez. SEGA seem intent on treating Sonic's world the same way Nintendo treat Mario's. As something malleable that can be molded to whatever they want the content of the new game to be. However on a case by case basis, the locations in the series have more relevance to the story and Sonic is a more story driven series. So when they then treat it as though the places have no real permanence they undermine the player's investment.

It was really frustrating to see the Lost hex introduced as YET ANOTHER mysterious flying landmass in the sky when you already have Angel Island and Little Planet. Just how many of them ARE there in the sky of Sonic's world? It just feels lazy to me. Done with no respect of what came before it.

Only three to my knowledge; Angel Island, Little Planet, and Lost Hex. There’s a couple more at sea level, though. Mirage Island and Flickies Island to name two. 

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