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Is Tails Flying Game-Breaking (Particularly in 3D)?


Scritch the Cat

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I got into this discussion on the thread assessing the story of Sonic Colors, and instead of letting it hijack that, get buried there, or both, I’m asking this here.  Tails can fly, at least in his best-received moments.  That is well-established now in 2D Sonic games, but in 3D his flight abilities have often been downplayed in some way or another—when you could play him at all.  

Sonic Adventure played his flight abilities mostly straight.  Sonic Adventure 2 didn’t have them at all in the actual levels (which is even weirder given that his vehicle is also a plane, and in many places transforming back into that mode would benefit him).  Sonic Heroes effectively has them as normal but with a bit more weight.  Sonic 2006 had them play normally, if badly, but only in specified areas made to use them (unless you could exploit glitches to move Tails outside those areas).  Since then, Tails’ flight has disappeared from 3D games; unless I am mistaken, his only playable appearances in 3D are ones where he can’t fly. (Also, a lot of the time those games aren’t actually 3D.) 

At one point, cutting the playable cast down to just Sonic was explained as SEGA needing to relearn how to get the basics right before adding in a lot more bells and whistles, but since it didn’t take them long before they started trying gimmicks (in fact, no time at all if you count the Werehog), it begs the question, is Tails flying not among the things they added just because flight is too much easier to exploit in a 3D environment?  Can more thoughtful level design be made to accommodate Tails flying while still leaving Sonic with his own advantages?

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The thing is SA1 also made Tails' flying extremely fast to work with the racing format of his levels, while in the 2D games it's more balanced and caps momentum in favour of explorational benefit (which also works when you wanna search and see where you're going).

Really the format SA1 went with Tails kinda blew, since it just meant quickly cheesing small segments without enough time to relish the vertical secrets (which were mostly just booster rings anyway). Compare this to Knuckles gameplay that used his abilities more appropriately for item searching and gave him larger more intricate levels, even when you glitched him into other levels it didn't feel like he often broke the game so badly since he still sacrificed speed for manoeuvrability. A 3D game that takes advantage of more platforming and searching and balances Tails' flying accordingly would likely be far easier to manage.

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Yes.

Granted this is an extreme example; entirely "downhill" level design, effectively no walls, a take on Tails' flight where he only tires if you try to ascend. But I think it clearly shows how dangerous Tails' flight can be if you aren't careful with how it's designed and used. The more freedom and power you give his flight, the less he has to interact with the level and the further he moves away from the other core mechanics of the game. But you also need to be careful when trying to balance it or you end up with Heroes, where flight is so limited and slow that it isn't any fun. It's a small target to hit, and I don't think I've seen anyone, neither Sonic Team nor fans, really dive in and figure out a good solution.

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In practice, absolutely. As @Diogenes shared, Tails absolutely breaks the game even when the levels are reconfigured to accommodate his abilities.

I don't think it has to be that way, though. With some careful level design and maybe a nerf in his range or speed of flight, it's certainly possible to make a game where his flying doesn't break everything. The trick is actually getting the Sonic Team of today to actually put the effort in. 

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hmmm... nah. not really, windy valley is just an exception.

let's all be perfectly real here: all of the stages tails go through in sonic adventure 1 & 2 WEREN'T meant for him. 1 because they were just slightly tweaked for tails to get through them, that's why he breaks them so easily (not to mention the jet anklets making tails the grand holy one). and 2 because he just blows up everything in his own freaking mech instead (I got an A on most of his stages 2 days ago, trust me).  if were gonna be technical here, tails flight (with a few nerfs, like project hero, probably w/o the flight dash thing) is just as acceptable with level design that has sonic like level design.

if were talking about tails as a whole, give him a slightly lower ground & top speed, give him a better acceleration, make his move-set be around his two tails, and air mobility, and let him be able to go through some challenges sonic would have some trouble over coming. Tails is an easy mode, remember, so having him be able to overcome some hard challenges wouldn't hurt (yes I ripped this from ShayMay, how'd you know), it also wouldn't hurt to add some more abilities to the little canine: like a flying dive, or a hover. but it may be a bit too complex for a sonic game, so compacting them to R/A and L/A respectively is a more simple approach to giving sonic characters new moves.

Spoiler

actually, allow me to go on a tangent for a little. Speaking of ShayMay, his approach to more controls with a simpler control scheme is a brilliant idea. his approach is a perfect way to give sonic characters a different approach, yet still make them be sonic-y, is something I truly respect in him and his Sonic Spitball p3 video... oh yeah and this: if tails ever does go back to mech-style, for some reason or another (besides give him better steering and control), please, let him feel UNSTOPPABLE again! I MISS being able to look utter cool blowing up stuff and not slowing down for nothing in tails levels!

okay I've been slacking from school for to long, chao!

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46 minutes ago, iambitter21 said:

hmmm... nah. not really, windy valley is just an exception.

It's not like his other stages are much better:

Honestly I think it says a lot that the end of Speed Highway, the one part of the game that is designed specifically and exclusively for him, is basically just a bunch of randomly-placed platforms and dash rings, because his flight breaks any concept of actual platforming level design.

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As excessively broken as Diogenes’ videos make Tails appear, finding out how to get through stages really, really fast has always been part of this series’ philosophy, and since his flight still has time limits and all those levels are mostly death pits, those speedruns aren’t just an indication of how broken Tails is but also how good the players are at learning stage layouts and character controls.  Also people have been finding shortcut exploits with Sonic in that game, too.  

The issue is just whether such play in such stages leads to Tails upstaging Sonic.  Because of the capped momentum from flight that Psi mentioned; Tails in 2D was often “easy mode” for getting up places (not so much over pits, as there aren’t many in 2D Sonic games), but if you were good you could use Sonic’s better speed to get through faster, going up walls and crossing chasms with momentum and slopes.  In Sonic Adventure, one has to wonder if they initially had different intentions of how Tails’ part would be, and then upon discovering he was good at cheesing stages, made doing that the point of his play.  One also has to wonder if hacks of the game that cap his momentum in flight would make it harder to do such exploits.

I’ll close this by reminding people that SA levels are mostly narrow paths winding over pits.  Put Tails in something more like the Green Hill stage in Sonic Utopia and there’s a lot less that flight can break.  Granted, though, that’s a test stage and isn’t really meant to challenge Sonic, either.  How to improve in that area is a good question, but at least I assume most people think broader terrain with more to explore is something to strive for in 3D Sonic level design.

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I think my issue with Tails flight is that I want Sonic to be a platformer, and flying isn't platforming.  While flight isn't quite so slow and plodding, it's kind of mechanically similar to the issue a lot of folks have with swimming in platforming games.

While there is something to be said for the fun that can come from figuring out how to cheese stages using flight, it's a sort of pandora's box where once that knowledge is obtained, it no longer feels like you're playing the game. I'm sure we all enjoyed figuring out that you can clear Windy Valley with a single jump the first time we managed it, but on subsequent plays it's pretty sucky to know you can do that and having to choose to take a sub-optimal route.  It's entirely psychological but as long as we're humans with brains, that doesn't make it any less a real part of the experience.

 

Another reason they kind of get away with flight in Sonic Adventure is that the graphical fidelity of games at the time was able to justify the fact that every stage was floating in a vast chasm where all the scenery was far away. There's certainly a loss of wonder when you have the ability to fly anywhere!!! ... in a floating obstacle course with nothing beyond the video game level you've been presented with.  As oppose rather than the more vivid, detailed worlds that Unleashed, Generations, Colours and Forces presented us with.  And it was jarring enough that SONIC was accosted with invisible walls everywhere in those games, let alone Tails!

In Sonic Adventure, the graphics blurred the line between these two extremes of stage design, but it's not really something they can get away with again now that graphics have progressed.

 

I sort of meandered around in this post, so to sum up, the key issues for me are:

Flying isn't platforming, the better you are at using it, the less platforming you get to play.
The superpower of flight becomes less exciting the more abstract the stage design is, but more detailed stages means harsher limits on where the player can go or a greater scope of meaningful content the developers need to create that can be accessed with the flight.

And I'm not sure how you really solve these things!

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40 minutes ago, JezMM said:

I think my issue with Tails flight is that I want Sonic to be a platformer, and flying isn't platforming.  While flight isn't quite so slow and plodding, it's kind of mechanically similar to the issue a lot of folks have with swimming in platforming games. 

...

Flying isn't platforming, the better you are at using it, the less platforming you get to play.

I mean, Banjo-Kazooie is one of the most popular and iconic platformers in gaming history, and flying is a crucial ability in the series

Of course, B&K's flight is handled in a way that keeps it from detracting from the platforming/level design, requiring both a flight pad and a finite resource (red feathers, in B&K's case). Contrast with Banjo-Kazooie's spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee, which allows flight anywhere at any time, trivializing all the platforming upon being unlocked. Which makes me wonder if B&K's approach could improve Tails' flight for 3D games; allowing him to keep his ability unnerfed but in a way that makes level design easier. Albeit at the cost of requiring both a "pad" and a resource to use...

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On 8/19/2020 at 2:37 PM, JezMM said:

I think my issue with Tails flight is that I want Sonic to be a platformer, and flying isn't platforming.  While flight isn't quite so slow and plodding, it's kind of mechanically similar to the issue a lot of folks have with swimming in platforming games.

While there is something to be said for the fun that can come from figuring out how to cheese stages using flight, it's a sort of pandora's box where once that knowledge is obtained, it no longer feels like you're playing the game. I'm sure we all enjoyed figuring out that you can clear Windy Valley with a single jump the first time we managed it, but on subsequent plays it's pretty sucky to know you can do that and having to choose to take a sub-optimal route.  It's entirely psychological but as long as we're humans with brains, that doesn't make it any less a real part of the experience.

 

Another reason they kind of get away with flight in Sonic Adventure is that the graphical fidelity of games at the time was able to justify the fact that every stage was floating in a vast chasm where all the scenery was far away. There's certainly a loss of wonder when you have the ability to fly anywhere!!! ... in a floating obstacle course with nothing beyond the video game level you've been presented with.  As oppose rather than the more vivid, detailed worlds that Unleashed, Generations, Colours and Forces presented us with.  And it was jarring enough that SONIC was accosted with invisible walls everywhere in those games, let alone Tails!

In Sonic Adventure, the graphics blurred the line between these two extremes of stage design, but it's not really something they can get away with again now that graphics have progressed.

 

I sort of meandered around in this post, so to sum up, the key issues for me are:

Flying isn't platforming, the better you are at using it, the less platforming you get to play.
The superpower of flight becomes less exciting the more abstract the stage design is, but more detailed stages means harsher limits on where the player can go or a greater scope of meaningful content the developers need to create that can be accessed with the flight.

And I'm not sure how you really solve these things!

In the context of the mainstream games as they currently exist (assuming not much changes), feasibly he could play like Sonic but with flight and without the boost and the homing attack.  In the 3D segments, that would mostly mean Tails flies to cross chasms that Sonic speeds up or homing attacks to cross.  As Sonic is faster and more offensive, he’s better for those segments.  As noted, Tails trying to fly too far out of bounds would be met with pits, invisible walls, or both.  Meanwhile, in 2D segments, which would feasibly still be where the challenge gets more vertical, Tails would gain the edge.  A weird way to split the difference, but if we have to be stuck in the boost formula’s mores, a way I would accept.

Ideally, though, Sonic levels should be more explorative.  Make them wide enough and faster characters will be worth playing just because they make the travel convenient, while flight would give an advantage reaching a very occasional obstacle.

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Reposting this because apparently it went missing overnight:

Before Adventure 1, Tails flight had a counterbalance, and I don't just mean more enclosed level design - under normal circumstances, it also had low acceleration and a low speed cap. You could break the speed cap with a spindashing start, but the acceleration still applied, keeping you from steering or stopping all that well after the fact - so if you wanted to be both fast and flying, you had to sacrifice control, in kind of a similar way to the tradeoff you get with rolling down hills or spindashing itself. Obviously the level design plays a big part in why it's so broken in SA1, but I think equally as important is that in SA1, Tails is faster and more manuverable in the air than he is on the ground at any point. Even without any corners to cut he's still broken on an incredibly basic level as long as you touch the ground as little as possible, and it honestly annoys me that I rarely see anyone talking about this.

You can sorta get a feel for how the genesis way of handling things would work in 3D through SRB2 - you can still cross pretty broad strokes of land quickly if the level design is open enough for it, but at least this way you pretty much have to commit to a vague direction before deciding to fly because changing direction actually takes a while and can be more costly than simply jumping in many cases. I'd probably dial back on manueverability even further personally so flying only benifits you when you actually need it to cheese or cross large gaps. Then if you ever have a need for a flying sort of character that can turn well, you just give that steering to Knux instead.

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It feels to me like it would require an semi open world landscape, which perhaps would be huge multidirectional zones, for Tails to be a truly intergral part of a 3d game!!

So far i think it is fair to call all of the 3D games Arcade Sonic, after all if any of them actually were arcade games, they would be considered each among the best ever made! 

In an abstract sense at least, we haven't yet truly encountered a Console Sonic game; and I do think that may be their next step! 

A simple method to allow Tails' flight to be exciting and strong but have external limits other than ceilings would be versatile and complex aerial badniks! 

That sounds like it might be too difficult but maybe some ways to defeat them would be to make them dizzy/overwhelm their compasses or gyroscopes, or simply collide with one another!  it would make sense for Tails to be able to fly backwards and as many people are mentioning, have unusual midair maneuvers such as suddenly dropping altitude! 

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If I were to summarize...

If you were to build an obstacle course/roller coaster with a bunch of fun things to play around, with the simple objective being to get from Point A to Point B, and my response is to not bother and simply fly over the course from A to B, then yes that is broken.

There should be more incentives to travel through the course and consequences for just skipping the thing entirely to balance it.

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I honestly have a blast just breaking the game as Tails in SA1. I liked how Generations mods tied his flight and boost together for some good fun. It basically cuts the flight shorter but keeps boost speed. I thought that was a fun compromise. I also thought maybe he should be a post game reward. You played normally as Sonic, now heres the game breaking option. Kinda like how Super Sonic is a post game/achievable game breaking option.

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I mean, depending on your definition of Broken, he was also in 2D. If all you cared about was beating the game, Tails was busted. He was, after all, the easy mode. You suddenly needed to platform way less. What kept him in check was that playing as intended was way cooler. Tails' slowing down after taking off made him look like a farting bee instead of the sickness of skillfully clearing a section as Sonic. It's why Ray, as fun as he is to play as, is super-busted: he gets both flight AND speed.

 

Similarly, Tails in SA1 went faster in the air than on foot, which is what allowed him to break the levels so spectacularly. Heroes shows that Flight doesn't need to be game-breaking in 3D. Of course, the balance between nerfing flight to the point it's super lame and making it good to the point of shattering the level design is hard.

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Part of the point of the ability is that it's sort of broken for less experienced players. I haven't been fond of the ability for a long time, not even in the 2D games, but I don't mind something like that as an option. 

The problems start to spring up when Tails is less optional and takes up a larger place in the narrative. Now he's not a concession to lower skilled players but a part of the game you need to experience if you want to put the whole story together. I'm guessing Sonic Adventure overtuned his flight to make him more fun for everybody but I think that if you're going 3D and you're making Tails a bigger part of the game you need to go in the opposite direction with it: make it a more deliberate, skillful ability that hopefully would have you interacting with the level more. It's inevitable that Tails would get an easier time with some parts but it doesn't have to be so extreme. 

To make things clear: I think that some cheese should always be possible with Tails, it should just be harder to do, or at least harder to get record times with. Switching between flight based play and grounded play at the right times should be the optimal way to maximize his playstyle. If you have to lean toward one, it should be the ground so that you're still playing the same type of game and not a free camera mod. 

His flight should be slower the longer you use it. Sonic Adventure gave him a lot of horizontal speed in the air, but I think Tails needs to be way faster on the ground than in the air for the game to make any kind of sense. Let him bust it out to skip some gaps and sections but slap the player on the wrist for staying up there for too long. 

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1 hour ago, PaperSonic said:

I mean, depending on your definition of Broken, he was also in 2D. If all you cared about was beating the game, Tails was busted. He was, after all, the easy mode. You suddenly needed to platform way less. What kept him in check was that playing as intended was way cooler. Tails' slowing down after taking off made him look like a farting bee instead of the sickness of skillfully clearing a section as Sonic. It's why Ray, as fun as he is to play as, is super-busted: he gets both flight AND speed.

 

Similarly, Tails in SA1 went faster in the air than on foot, which is what allowed him to break the levels so spectacularly. Heroes shows that Flight doesn't need to be game-breaking in 3D. Of course, the balance between nerfing flight to the point it's super lame and making it good to the point of shattering the level design is hard.

I don't particularly buy this assessment of Tails's flight in Sonic 3 at least. It was just as easy to fly into something, and that game was so full of different twists and turns that it was difficult to actually get anywhere while flying. Also, Tails has a harder time with bosses because he doesn't have the instashield, and he can't go super without super emeralds.

This really does feel like something that people say about Sonic games without having actually played them. I don't play a ton of Classic Sonic, but the moment I play as Tails in Sonic 3 and fly into a random flying enemy, or end up going nowhere by trying to fly over the level and just tiring out by trying to fly up a wall.

As far as 3D Sonic goes, at least Tails breaking the level design was the point of SA1. I thought that Sonic 06, jankiness aside, did a decent attempt of balancing his flight. I mean, you could break the levels, but not as gratuitously as you could SA1.

I don't think it could work with the boost formula though, because even Sonic has little trouble breaking levels that are designed to keep him on as tightly scripted as a path as possible. But that's getting into a different topic of how the Boost gameplay has been a dead-end due to how ridiculously rigid it is by design.

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2 hours ago, PaperSonic said:

I mean, depending on your definition of Broken, he was also in 2D. If all you cared about was beating the game, Tails was busted. He was, after all, the easy mode. You suddenly needed to platform way less. What kept him in check was that playing as intended was way cooler. Tails' slowing down after taking off made him look like a farting bee instead of the sickness of skillfully clearing a section as Sonic. It's why Ray, as fun as he is to play as, is super-busted: he gets both flight AND speed.

 

Similarly, Tails in SA1 went faster in the air than on foot, which is what allowed him to break the levels so spectacularly. Heroes shows that Flight doesn't need to be game-breaking in 3D. Of course, the balance between nerfing flight to the point it's super lame and making it good to the point of shattering the level design is hard.

To be fair, platforming isn’t everything in beating the game.  There’s also combat, particularly against bosses, and Sonic having the insta-shield/homing attack gives him the advantage there.  

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I don't think it's game-breaking by default; I think that it depends on the level design and game design in general.

You can skip Windy Valley entirely by just flying, ok, but you can also skip huge parts of Final Chase by just jumping and falling as Sonic. It's a problem of level design, not character skills.

Flying in platformers is something very common; it's not even a matter of "balancing", it's a matter of designing the game with that idea in mind in the first place. With this said, it's clear that if Tails has to be playable, the gameplay formula has to change and adapt to it, unless you want a reskin of the hover wisp.

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43 minutes ago, shdowhunt60 said:

As far as 3D Sonic goes, at least Tails breaking the level design was the point of SA1. I thought that Sonic 06, jankiness aside, did a decent attempt of balancing his flight. I mean, you could break the levels, but not as gratuitously as you could SA1.

To be fair, MANY characters could break the levels in that game.

2 minutes ago, Iko said:

I don't think it's game-breaking by default; I think that it depends on the level design and game design in general.

You can skip Windy Valley entirely by just flying, ok, but you can also skip huge parts of Final Chase by just jumping and falling as Sonic. It's a problem of level design, not character skills.

Flying in platformers is something very common; it's not even a matter of "balancing", it's a matter of designing the game with that idea in mind in the first place. With this said, it's clear that if Tails has to be playable, the gameplay formula has to change and adapt to it, unless you want a reskin of the hover wisp.

If they decided to repeat the SA/S06 route of giving Tails his own segments where you had to play as him, and keeping you from playing as him elsewhere, he essentially would be that.  I’d vastly prefer the Genesis route of letting any character play any stage, but even the Genesis games didn’t always do that for Knuckles, and being able to play as Tails only in specified sections would sure be better than nothing.

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4 hours ago, DaMan said:

Yeah I honestly think Sonic 06 had the right idea but poorly executed (like most of the game).

I’m going to disagree, simply on the grounds that I don’t want Sonic levels to blink in and out of regions at arbitrary points to switch characters. Exceptions exist; it was cool in Cannon’s Core, but that level was a love letter to the stuff that came before; our reward for playing through a bunch of traditional levels with those characters. The final level of 06 is acceptable in kind, but I wouldn’t want most of a game to be that.  Note, though, that this is just because I dislike arbitrary barriers in my Sonic levels; if they gave us the freedom to switch between the characters at will—not in the SH way, but rather in ways that left characters in place, as with The Lost Vikings—that would be fine.

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On 8/22/2020 at 12:01 AM, shdowhunt60 said:

I don't particularly buy this assessment of Tails's flight in Sonic 3 at least. It was just as easy to fly into something, and that game was so full of different twists and turns that it was difficult to actually get anywhere while flying. Also, Tails has a harder time with bosses because he doesn't have the instashield, and he can't go super without super emeralds.

This really does feel like something that people say about Sonic games without having actually played them. I don't play a ton of Classic Sonic, but the moment I play as Tails in Sonic 3 and fly into a random flying enemy, or end up going nowhere by trying to fly over the level and just tiring out by trying to fly up a wall.

I assure you, I've played Sonic 3 to death- although admittedly I don't play as Tails often, since I'd rather stick to Sonic.  When I said Tails was broken, I was mostly speaking form the perspective of a newcomer, who probably is not as good as platforming, doesn't care too much about going fast, and probably doesn't even know how the Insta-Shield works let alone how to properly use it, and is likely not very good at special stages. At the cost of some abilities that require plenty of skill to use correctly, Tails gets the ability to not have to give a shit about platforming. A decent trade-off in a platforming game.

 

Of course, this worked because Tails was meant to be an easy mode. Fast-forward to Adventure, and he's required to beat the game, so I guess they wanted his gameplay to revolve entirely about flight. So it was made faster, and thus, broken.

 

Quote

I don't think it could work with the boost formula though, because even Sonic has little trouble breaking levels that are designed to keep him on as tightly scripted as a path as possible. But that's getting into a different topic of how the Boost gameplay has been a dead-end due to how ridiculously rigid it is by design.

I mean, they could keep him restricted to 2D. I could see him working fine in Classic Sonic's stages.

 

Also, I just finished SRB2, and man... Tails busted. No way I'd beat that game without flying.

Edited by PaperSonic
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