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The idea that the other characters need to "play like Sonic (with an extra ability)" is narrow-minded and limiting


The 3rd Option

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Way too many people like to hate on the 3D Sonic games, particularly Adventure 1 and 2, for having characters that don't play like Sonic. They almost never judge on how playing as other characters is executed; they instead just hate the idea of the other characters diverging from Sonic on principle.

And believe me, I was one of those people. I used to not like the idea that the characters aren't playing like Sonic and are off doing their own thing. But is this really a bad thing?

I've come to believe that the idea of other characters "playing like Sonic" is just narrow-minded and limiting for the series. Sonic's friends are all characters with very different abilities in canon, yet people want them to just do the same "go fast and get to the end" thing? That feels like forcing Superman to patrol around Gotham and Batman to prowl around Metropolis. If the Sonic characters have very different abilities, the games absolutely should reflect that by giving them different goals and level designs that are tailored to their abilities. It just gives the games a proper sense of variety.

Besides, the characters are nowhere near as divergent as some people seem to think. A lot of them tend to share general core principles, as seen by ExoParadigmGamer's video here. As long as a playstyle in a Sonic game has:

  1. A sense of Speed
  2. A focus on platforming
  3. Staple Sonic elements like springs, item containers, and robot enemies
  4. And simple and focused goals (not necessarily just "get to the end")

...then it's good for Sonic Team to push the boundaries of what it means to play in a Sonic game. Again, this sort of gameplay is what gives the games variety. If it wasn't for variety, Sonic would constantly get repetitive games like Colors and Heroes. It's also not like games such as Breath of the Wild or Mario Oddyssey where you pay $60 just to have things like Korok Seeds and Moons thrown at you for cheap satisfaction. The variety of different playstyles is what adds real value to the Sonic games they are in, since you're always doing something unique from moment to moment.

In my opinion, I think it would just be best for the "play like Sonic" philosophy to be limited to the 2D games. In those games, the level design is consistently more balanced to handle multiple characters. For the 3D games, the characters being as divergent as possible while keeping true to a few core Sonic elements is the better way to go. 

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The core principle are "good", but you also need often core elements that make the game. The problem with alternate gameplay, is that it can also give a game a less focused and often clunky experience, especially if they take too much space, and don't let the game have a "core".

 

And that's where I'll make my first remark : there is a difference between "playing like Sonic" and "having a core gameplay with characters that build upon it". That's what 3D games like Sonic Adventure (for most of its gameplays) and Sonic Forces already do. There is a core gameplay, physics, etc… and most of the character respect that and build with different goals and abillities (I'll take later about the problem of "different goal for every characters, because it could be a bit different"). In Sonic Adventure, most characters actually plays like Sonic (for me even Amy, I just would have made her a tad faster because it can be a bit frustrating sometimes), in a way really similar to Sonic Advance. Basically what distinguish them is their aerial and basic actions (plus some other stuff), like in the 2D titles. The biggest difference is that in the 2D everybody have the spindash and spin attack too.

Having this "core gameplay" that character build give to the player some recognizably, and make the experience of learning the game faster, while getting new possibilities in term of playing the game thanks to abilities and limitation that can often be game-changing : Amy not having a spin-jump, Tails being able to fly, Knuckles having basically every vertical surface being a way to go for him… Sometimes, going too far in the difference between (like the clunkyness of SA2 mech shoot, a gameplay that I really liked for Eggman but that felt limitating for Tails) break that recognizability, and might pain some players as it'll divide the experience of the game. (and they'll feel less refreshing if they take 2/3 of the game like in Sonic Unleashed)

 

Second point for me, this :

48 minutes ago, The 3rd Option said:

the games absolutely should reflect that by giving them different goals and level designs that are tailored to their abilities. It just gives the games a proper sense of variety. 

A "proper sense of variety" ? You don't really define what is a "proper" sense of variety vs an "improper". Personally, for me the variety is the diversity of the experience given by the game.

And that's why I disagree with that, because I think that tailoring the goals of a level to the character make the game less varied. That's where Adventure made a mistake for me (even if I love this game), by making that *every* stages of Knuckles were Treasure Hunting, *every* stage of Tails was a race (even forcing them a bit, often). Different goals and . You can make the character having a "main goal", but not having them have only one goal like in SA and having some stages with different goals (for instance timed mission (something that SA2 already do), finding something, destroying stuff, not being detected by the enemies…). That's something that I liked in Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic Heroes' Chaotix Team, even if I think that they could have done a bit better the implementation.

In Sonic Unleashed, werehog stage become a lot repetitive because they have choose that "Werehog = plateforming + beat them all" and "Sonic = gotta go fast". And that's a place where a good common core can for me add way more variety. Because you have the variety of different abilities and way of playing the stage of the character + the stage variety. Having a common core is a good way to make sure that the different characters will scale on the different rules you create on different stages.
 

So that's why I think that nope, it's not "narrow-minded", as the diversity and "openness" isn't tied of only one way of handling the gameplay 😉

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I think a big factor that is also often forgotten is that often the games that make the character mechanics more subtle in difference are ironically the ones that make every character optional. Amy has a more diverse gameplay in Advance, but that's far more sporadically complained about due to players having the choice to just not use her (at least until you get the last boss, but even then I hear as much complaint towards parts where the necessities interchange for each character such as having to find and complete all the special stages four times in a row).

For most of the 3D games they not only switch up the gameplay more drastically but make it so you are FORCED to switch between all these characters and genres mid game. I think Next Gen was the straw that broke the camel's back not just because it had a dozen characters with rather varied game styles (many broken) but because it elevated how often you were shanghaied into using them, to the point you couldn't even get through ONE SINGLE LEVEL as Sonic without being forced into some genre roulette. You're not big on Rouge or Tails' gameplay and want to just play all or even just most of the game with standard Sonic gameplay...WELL TOO FREAKING BAD!!!

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2 hours ago, The 3rd Option said:

Besides, the characters are nowhere near as divergent as some people seem to think. A lot of them tend to share general core principles, as seen by ExoParadigmGamer's video here. As long as a playstyle in a Sonic game has:

  1. A sense of Speed
  2. A focus on platforming
  3. Staple Sonic elements like springs, item containers, and robot enemies
  4. And simple and focused goals (not necessarily just "get to the end")

...then it's good for Sonic Team to push the boundaries of what it means to play in a Sonic game.

That checklist is strong enough to designate Super Smash Bros. Brawl as having the "general core principles" of a Sonic game.

You can move fast, you fight on giant platform stages, platforms appear in various stages, and there's an entire platforming campaign in the game itself (Subspace Emissary). Sonic's Up-B has a spring and springs do exist in certain stages and as an item. Various item containers show up between matches. You can fight ROB, who is a robot, and various bosses/Subspace Emissary enemies are also robots. The general goal for Smash Bros. gameplay are to defeat your enemies by knocking them off the stage--simple and focused. Surely this means Super Smash Bros. Brawl has the essentials of the Sonic playstyle, right?

The point being, the notion of making a checklist of the most surface, shallow, and superficial materials that can be found or extrapolated to exist in virtually any product that has the series' name on it might not actually make for a strong identity or strong core design for the series' gameplay. If that list is honestly what you believe is all that is necessary to make "a Sonic game", then you'll probably never understand why people don't share the same standards and expectations as you do when it comes to not just playable characters, but Sonic games in general.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric can be said to also meet everything that checklist requires. So why was it universally rejected across the board by reviewers and audiences? Because the whole world actively wants to see Sonic games fail, I guess?

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I get that you may like the other play styles, but the more you try to throw into the game, that's less time, budget, and resources that goes to other things, like, you know, the other characters. Like Sonic. Sure, you can have all the alternate playstyles you want, but it's going to mean a less polished, less refined game.

Look at Sonic Adventure: now personally, I love that game, one of my absolute favorites. But it's a mess. An unpolished, unrefined mess. If you look at any other series with multiple playable characters, like Mario for instance, there's a core style that everyone follows and builds off of.

That's not a bad thing or narrow-minded, that's smart design.

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1 hour ago, DreamSaturn said:

I get that you may like the other play styles, but the more you try to throw into the game, that's less time, budget, and resources that goes to other things, like, you know, the other characters. Like Sonic. Sure, you can have all the alternate playstyles you want, but it's going to mean a less polished, less refined game.

Look at Sonic Adventure: now personally, I love that game, one of my absolute favorites. But it's a mess. An unpolished, unrefined mess. If you look at any other series with multiple playable characters, like Mario for instance, there's a core style that everyone follows and builds off of.

That's not a bad thing or narrow-minded, that's smart design.

I think one key problem with all the characters having rather different objectives and mechanics was that they still shared levels. Sonic going through Knuckles' sandbox areas usually make for very quick and messy routes for example). Also the fact some didn't have quite the time to be fleshed out meant some of them felt more akin to a mini game rather than a proper gameplay campaign. Tails especially is just flying through small bits of Sonic's levels with a basic AI opponent and not all that intuitive. Even as someone who didn't find Big all that bad, I admit the fishing game was kind of basic and repetitive, with the lead in platforming as Big not being remotely developed for the large part.

It is a shame as well because you can see places where they TRIED to compromise and those are usually the better levels.

The better levels for all the characters are often the ones where they are all compatible enough to work through the same area with odd deviations and subtle but creative changes in pathway (eg. most of Amy's levels are almost as fully fledged as Sonic's since her gameplay is versatile enough to pass through the same terrain as Sonic and Gamma's), and thus there we often have a fuller more smoothed out level design.

I will credit SA1 for this though, while it maybe tried to do too much with too little time, it knew the first priority was Sonic. His campaign mode is by far the largest and most developed and, up until getting Super Sonic at least, the players have the option of just going through the main character's gameplay with no diversions besides the odd quick mini game. They knew which character the players would want first and fore most.

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I can get where your coming from TC but the reason why people give the other gameplay styles crap is because of how sonic team went about designing them. I agree with the fact that the characters need their own gimmicks in order to breathe and really sell the gameplay styles they perpetuate but it doesn't need to be done in a way where the genre shifts around them. Like, take the characters from sonic adventure, they all control the same but arguably only two of them actually have the same goal in mind of getting to the end in a fast and efficient way (Sonic and Gamma, arguably tails and amy fit into this too but the conditions for them are so wildly different it's hard to say) and while I can say I have enough fun with all the different gameplay styles (except for big) it's hard to deny that they would've been better if they all had stages similar to how sonic's were structured but with their unique abilities in mind.

 

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While I understand the premise of this topic, I feel you're kind of ignoring a few important details on why having these alternate styles has been so divisive. 

 

While the alternate styles got a lot of flack for not really feeling anything in a Sonic game, the main issues is that they were just poorly implemented to begin with. Thing of all of the technical issues that apply to standard 3D Sonic games and add in something that's blatantly unlike Sonic to begin with. It just kills the game's pacing and it makes you feel like you're not playing a Sonic game at all. That's why they got so much flak, it's not so much people hated them for simply not being Sonic, they were just bad gameplay styles in general.

I do agree to an extent that Sonic characters do have too many different abilities for them to be constrained within the basic Sonic mold, and having levels designed for them sounds interesting. But for me, it sound way too impractical and big budget, especially for a company like Sonic Team to really do it justice. Like, how are you supposed to implement somebody like Silver into a satisfying gameplay style while still making him feel like he plays a Sonic game?

This is why the classic mold gets next to no complaints from anybody; yea, you can call it bland and safe and whatever else. But it's shown time and time again to be effective in what it does. Can it get repetitive and stale? Absolutely, but it's on the developers to find a way of keeping things fresh without compromising the game's core foundation. So really, at the end of the day, it falls more on Sonic Team's own mishandling of the series than anything really inherently wrong with what the series is doing. 

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18 minutes ago, MegasonicZX said:

I can get where your coming from TC but the reason why people give the other gameplay styles crap is because of how sonic team went about designing them. I agree with the fact that the characters need their own gimmicks in order to breathe and really sell the gameplay styles they perpetuate but it doesn't need to be done in a way where the genre shifts around them. Like, take the characters from sonic adventure, they all control the same but arguably only two of them actually have the same goal in mind of getting to the end in a fast and efficient way (Sonic and Gamma, arguably tails and amy fit into this too but the conditions for them are so wildly different it's hard to say) and while I can say I have enough fun with all the different gameplay styles (except for big) it's hard to deny that they would've been better if they all had stages similar to how sonic's were structured but with their unique abilities in mind.

 

I'd say Amy and Tails sort of fit the A-B route method as much as Gamma, just Tails' depth in gameplay was cut down by the fact that he was just going through truncated versions of Sonic's levels with loads of speed boosts. If they had been longer designs and the shortcut method was more developed like say routes Tails could search for akin to the old games, it might have worked, but the way it was, it was kind of bland (besides maybe the final level against Eggman). Gamma had the same problem in cut down level span, but at least a lot of the time the levels were designed in a more clever way to make use of his abilities and make subtle diversions from Sonic's paths.

Amy was pretty much doing the same depthful platforming as Sonic, just with ZERO on her back, an extra bit of pressure like Gamma's time limit or Tails' Sonic AI that isn't too hard to keep track against. The main issue with Amy is that she goes a bit superfluously slow (slower than Big even), while Gamma feels slower and heavier than Sonic but still keeps some palpable pace to keep things frenetic. It sometimes feels like Amy's sluggish speed is actually working against her gameplay, with her abilities and objective to avoid ZERO usually pushing the player to stay reasonably fast.

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In a platformer like Sonic and Mario...variety mostly comes from stage gimmicks, something that makes the level really feel different from the others.

Sonic the Hedgehog isn't the type of game where it needs different objectives to get through levels...you certainly can, but it still has to fit Sonic's core design.

Honestly the way SA1 had every character's thing be delegated to their own story wasn't really a good way to handle that (especially with 6 characters). I think the SA2 approach works better for that idea, but the mech controls and treasure hunting stages were negative...so it still failed.

 

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1 minute ago, StaticMania said:

In a platformer like Sonic and Mario...variety mostly comes from stage gimmicks, something that makes the level really feel different from the others.

Sonic the Hedgehog isn't the type of game where it needs different objectives to get through levels...you certainly can, but it still has to fit Sonic's core design.

Honestly the way SA1 had every character's thing be delegated to their own story wasn't really a good way to handle that (especially with 6 characters). I think the SA2 approach works better for that idea, but the mech controls and treasure hunting stages were negative...so it still failed.

 

The problem there is that then the player is being forced to play as all the different genres before Sonic, which punctuates the problem if people don't like those genres. At least in the Mega Drive games and SA1, you had the choice.

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I don't think choice is really a problem there, it certainly sucks for some people...but I think it's just more to do with how the mech and treasure hunting stages weren't really worked into styles we'd be all that eager to play, so whenever it happens that a Sonic stage is followed by either Knuckles or Tails...it's really unfortunate. 

At that point we'd just rather play Sonic followed by Sonic because everything else is worse.

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7 hours ago, Diogenes said:

Variety should come from differences in level design and gimmicks and from the variations between characters, not from forcing entirely different genres or radically different kinds of platforming into the game. This really shouldn't be controversial; this is how the vast majority of games that aren't minigame collections work. You start from a solid core concept (or maybe a couple of ideas that work well in concert) and you build from there, exploring different ways to apply the concept(s), different gimmicks that can add to it, different variations of it, etc.

Sure level designs can provide variety, but characters that play differently from one another (while still having some bare shared elements) adds more variety.

7 hours ago, Diogenes said:

Seriously? BotW and Odyssey are both highly rated and fantastically well received games, how are you going to rag on them while trying to make Sonic's divisive and consistently sketchy genre roulette into a strength?

I'm not ragging on them, it's just that those and many other exploration-focused games tend to be repetitive since you just do the same thing throughout: find place, do thing, get collectible. They're great, meaty games, but past the amount of content, you're just getting the same thing throughout.

The Sonic Adventure games thrived on letting the characters do their own thing. Not only did it add a lot of value to the game, it enhanced the characterization of the characters; they're not just trying to do the same thing as Sonic, but they were using their abilities for purposes that suited them.

6 hours ago, Yeow said:

The point being, the notion of making a checklist of the most surface, shallow, and superficial materials that can be found or extrapolated to exist in virtually any product that has the series' name on it might not actually make for a strong identity or strong core design for the series' gameplay. If that list is honestly what you believe is all that is necessary to make "a Sonic game", then you'll probably never understand why people don't share the same standards and expectations as you do when it comes to not just playable characters, but Sonic games in general.

Well maybe the core principles have to be as surface as that. Could you imagine if aside from that, Sonic needed an obligatory Green Hill Stage, Lava Stage, Underwater Stage, Casino Stage, City Stage, and Factory Stage?

If people have overly strict standards as to "what belongs in a Sonic game", it's going to get as rigid and stale as Dynasty Warriors, New Super Mario Bros., and Call of Duty.

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20 minutes ago, The 3rd Option said:

The Sonic Adventure games thrived on letting the characters do their own thing. Not only did it add a lot of value to the game, it enhanced the characterization of the characters; they're not just trying to do the same thing as Sonic, but they were using their abilities for purposes that suited them. 

It mostly "forced" them, not "let" them. Even if I love these game, other characters having a different goal was pretty much forced on them more than made an organic addition to their character. On some, it worked. On some, it felt pretty much forced (Tails, for instance), and some other the reason it didn't felt forced was because they had a stupidly low amount of level (Amy). And in SA2, Tails doesn't even use a lot of his ability as he is forced down into the Cyclone to have an Eggman adversary.

The game have a better "variety" if the objective are context-dependent, and not some forced goal that doesn't change through the story. Because it can tie more organically the story and the gameplay.

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9 minutes ago, The 3rd Option said:

The Sonic Adventure games thrived on letting the characters do their own thing. Not only did it add a lot of value to the game, it enhanced the characterization of the characters; they're not just trying to do the same thing as Sonic, but they were using their abilities for purposes that suited them.

Here's the thing: different characters already did that. I think you're underestimating just how much difference a single move can make between characters, because even the differences between the original three was already more than enough to give them completely different routes through the same levels without sacrificing the element of familiarity between them. The SA games didn't actually add anything by distancing these characters further. Rather, it removed the common ground between them and enforced elements of mutual exclusivity that really had no right to be there, and that's not even getting into how much more effort it takes to polish six playstyles with very little in common than one shared across the cast with small but crucial differences between.

You can't go into game design expecting one game to be a jack of all trades, because a focused core always wins out. Sonic is already distinct enough from its platformer competition that it doesn't need to fragment itself into irrelevant bullshit to stand out, so why Sega keeps doing this is frankly beyond me.

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I can see why some can compare the over simplicity against Tails for example, since he is basically just Sonic but with the ability to fly. His gameplay in that instance was not really varied enough to justify a second round of, and since he had few flaws over Sonic besides the lack of a Hyper form, he kinda made the main character feel redundant (at least until Mania introduced the exploitable Drop Dash as classic Sonic's signature unique move). This is likely also why Tails' gameplay translated into something rather derivative in SA1.

Playing as Knuckles was interesting for example because while he had a LOT more exploration points due to gliding and climbing, he also had some set backs, his actual jumping was capped compared to Sonic which was a subtle but incredibly effective shortcoming in certain parts of the game, forcing both characters to sometimes take radically different paths at times. Even in Sonic 2 you can see this come into play. It starts off a breeze as Knuckles and a fun new experience breaking levels with his abilities, but later on his jumping starts to be a severe hindrance, especially during the last boss.

I haven't really studied the differences with Mighty and Ray to an extreme level, though I suppose there Sonic's Drop Dash evens things out better, and abilities like Ray's glide have an addictive flow while still requiring some mastery to use effectively.

Advance's version of Amy was probably the most divergent of the lot, she was brought down severely by the lack of spin attacks, but her own hammer abilities were exploitable. While it wasn't QUITE used effectively enough due to the weak thrust of some of them, it felt like they were going for a lethal joke character who if mastered well enough, could go from the worst character to the most flexible and exploitable one. *SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION INCOMING* I tried to play on this in the Amy hacks by boosting her abilities slightly as well other benefits like making her compatible with both Sonic AND Knuckles' routes. Hell nearly all my character hacks rely on trying to make play styles divergent but loyal enough to the standard gameplay to be compatible with the original game but warrant a unique second turn on it.

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1 hour ago, The 3rd Option said:

Well maybe the core principles have to be as surface as that. Could you imagine if aside from that, Sonic needed an obligatory Green Hill Stage, Lava Stage, Underwater Stage, Casino Stage, City Stage, and Factory Stage?

If people have overly strict standards as to "what belongs in a Sonic game", it's going to get as rigid and stale as Dynasty Warriors, New Super Mario Bros., and Call of Duty.

Sure, you can have a series that doesn't have to have "overly strict standards" outside having fun, rings, and a blue guy. Evidence within and outside the series though shows that's actually a pretty shitty strategy to operate on if you want to have a successful franchise. Videogames are aren't a charity, they're commerce, they're still products expected to sell and make money. Videogames also don't exist in vacuums where expectations and comparisons to other products magically don't exist or don't matter. Maybe this reality exists for the diehard fans who will happily spend their money on anything as long as it's Sonic; but the rest of the market certainly doesn't work like that.

Case in point? Look at where the series is now compared to ten years ago, let alone twenty. This series used to be a showcase, now it's barely registering as above niche, recent games can't even be guaranteed to sell past one million units. People blow off the idea about the series being outright shelved because the franchise "survived" two of the worst games in the history medium; but it's pretty obvious that as of now, Sega aren't putting anywhere near as much resources into this series anymore as they used to in the past. 

By the way, the internet whipping boys that are the New Super Mario Bros. and Call of Duty series, the "stale" games with "overly strict standards"? ...those franchises have and still are reviewing and selling better than Sonic could ever hope to. But hey, at the cost of critical reception, positive PR, and now even basic profitability; Sonic hasn't given up having "new things" and "variety", so it was totally worth it, right?...

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32 minutes ago, Diogenes said:

And you don't need radically different gameplay to communicate a character's personality and traits through gameplay. Even in a game like Mania where the characters are almost exactly "Sonic +1 move", each character has a recognizably distinct way of moving that reinforces who they are. Sonic has the drop dash, which emphasizes his ground speed and his buzzsaw-like spinning. Knuckles is a heavier, stronger character, reflected in how his moves are a bit stiffer and how he bashes through walls effortlessly. Ray is peppy and energetic but not very tough, and his glide lets him float and swoop around levels while leaving him more vulnerable than other characters. And there's room to go further than this while still not making a mess out of the game like SA did.

That is a fair point really, I mean Mania is the first game in ages to really boost a lot of playable characters, and it was actually a big appeal for many fans. Part because there was actual substance in there of course, but still it averted the usual 'Sonic's shitty friends' outlook that even SEGA hopped on the bandwagon for and has promoted unique abilities and play styles to the point of making trends of it (SEGA AGES even adapting the Drop Dash to their rereleases to play to its popularity, one can hope their Sonic 2 rerelease adapts Tails flying as well). It even follows on with Knuckles and Mighty having occasional deviations in route. It is new characters and gameplay styles done shrewdly but effectively.

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Sonic has no focus in the games with multiple play styles. As much as I love Gamma (not SA2 Tails), his style of play has no business in a Sonic title. Just being fast and having platforming can make ANY game, not necessarily a Sonic game. There are actual mechanics and physics that even Tails and Knuckles had to abide by back in Sonic 2 and 3, which slowly died out during and especially after the Adventures.

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Even if I did agree that it was narrow-minded and limiting, the games are in desperate need of prioritizing "fun and functional" over more insane, Captain Crunch fueled, work-loaded tech demo bullshit.

Sonic Team and SEGA can worry about trying to impress us by showing us what clever motherfuckers they are after they get their shit together. 

If the characters play like what one typically associates with and wants out of a Sonic game that both provides an avenue for them to contribute to the gameplay and be way more flexible in terms of the story, which is largely the point of having different characters in the first place, than thats a good thing.

Let it be known that as a huge fan of Adventure 2, Heroes, and Unleashed (my top 3 favorite games in tbe series) I'm in full support of letting the alternate playstyle nonsense stay dead.

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