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May 25, 2015 1:04 AM   Subscribe

Sonic the Hedgehog. Oh my goodness, Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic 3 and Knuckles came out in 1994. This means, among other things, that there are now people with children of their own who were not alive for the release of a single non-awful console Sonic game.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:40 AM on May 25, 2015 [16 favorites]

Also, these are pretty good essays!
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:49 AM on May 25, 2015

This is pretty timely, considering that Super Best Friends Play just finished their Sonic Adventure playthrough (warning: totally most seriously goddamn not safe for work).
posted by KChasm at 2:08 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll take essays over Let's Plays, though I do like when Red Letter Media called the original Sonic games overrated.

And there have been good recent Sonic games: Colors on the DS and Genetations. Plus the Wachowskis' made that awesome Sonic movie a few years ago with Speed Racer.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:18 AM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have all Sonic games for my Mega Drive (Genesis across the pond), including Sonic Spinball (still regret not buying Sonic CD from my boss's daughter). Sonic Adventure was the moment I instantly regretted sinking money into a Dreamcast. And I have Shaq-Fu.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:21 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can watch the game as a movie here. And the sequel, too.
posted by BiggerJ at 2:43 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's funny when I'm reminded of the tremendous worldbuilding that has taken place in the Sonicverse over the years. The first couple games were essentially loreless. But then, in the Genesis era Sega had a way of crafting excellent games with bleak landscapes and secondary characters utterly devoid of personality. Playing Kid Chameleon was like literally being in purgatory.

Medium pays by the word, I'm assuming?
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:56 AM on May 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

I will never really understand Sonic the Hedgehog fans.

Also this is trying too hard to sound academic and does not succeed in convincing me there's much noteworthy about Sonic Adventure, even though I was genuinely hoping it would somehow.
posted by atoxyl at 3:02 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Plus the Wachowskis' made that awesome Sonic F-Zero movie a few years ago with Speed Racer.

Ah, there we go.

Sonic Adventure was the moment I instantly regretted sinking money into a Dreamcast.

Buying a Sega console to play a Sonic game after about the second or third Genesis title has been a fool's errand since the early '90s. The Dreamcast proved its worth on the arcade ports and original IPs like Soul Calibur and Power Stone, not to mention the more experimental games like Shenmue and Seaman.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:43 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

To be honest, it was five years ago. Don't know if it makes it better (the console + SA were just €20) or worse (that I willingly subjected myself to SA believing Sonic fanboys it was a lot better than the later PS2 titles). At least Sonic 3D had a solid concept around it (Flickies), but just terrible execution - Sonic Adventure to me is a cesspit of awful: average (more accurately, bland) graphics, bad gameplay from poor controls and a camera, bad characters and oh-god-why voice-overs.

I do like some of the games in the Dreamcast - Shenmue, Virtua Tennis, Phantasy Star (although I'm more a fan of PSU for the PS2, as the extra buttons come in handy), Track & Field and Sega Rally 2, and the VMU was a neat idea. But the terrible SA is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the DC to me. It's pretty telling that SA and SA2 got stellar reviews, but SA2 dipped almost 20 points when it was re-released on the GC a few months later. People wanted it to be good so good ol' Sega had a fighting chance, but SA was the wrong game to champion.
posted by lmfsilva at 5:11 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wait sonic is a GAME? I thought he was just an erotic fanfiction character?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:26 AM on May 25, 2015 [20 favorites]

Back in the day, to me the Dreamcast felt like a massive downgrade compared to the Saturn, and the blame mostly lies in Sonic Adventure and its sequel, Resident Evil CV and other wrong purchases.
In a way it's sort of impressive how I managed to repeatedly fuck up the choice of games to play from a library with such a notable wheat to chaff ratio. At least I eventually got Crazy Taxi when it came out.
posted by Bangaioh at 5:30 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Bangaioh at 8:30 AM

posted by Strange Interlude at 5:39 AM on May 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I saw the author's tweets about the series on Twitter and may have posted this myself if I hadn't been beaten to it. It's interesting, and mostly correct I think. Note, there is a part 2 to the essay, and a part 3 is forthcoming.

Sonic Adventure's world is odd. Compare it to the gold standard of 3D game world building and level design at the time (and generally), Mario 64. And the articles don't even get into Big the Cat.
posted by JHarris at 6:01 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sonic Adventure was really hyped. There were articles about people getting motion sickness while playing, IIRC.

It's obviously a questionable game, but running around in a 3D space is inherently fun no matter how poorly designed they are. This is why Minecraft is immediately interesting before you even know what to do.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:03 AM on May 25, 2015

The Dreamcast proved its worth on the arcade ports and original IPs like Soul Calibur and Power Stone, not to mention the more experimental games like Shenmue and Seaman.

Crazy Taxi is still wonderful, and the Dreamcast version manages to have the arcade soundtrack with Bad Religion and Offspring songs.
posted by JHarris at 6:05 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

In a Sonic thread from a few years ago, Strange Interlude made this comment about the Sonic franchise being a spiral of Poochification: Sonic himself was a Poochie, and each subsequent attempt to add characters or expand the universe added another Poochie. I think of this every time I see or read anything Somic-related, and it makes perfect sense to me. I love the first two Sonic games; everything afterward feels like bad fanfic.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:58 AM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

i'm clearly much younger than most people in this thread. i played the gamecube versions of the adventure games when i was eleven or twelve and adored them, and i still do. they're silly, flawed games, but in the end they're for kids, and i think they work fine for that audience.
posted by JimBennett at 8:00 AM on May 25, 2015

How is it that none of you ever played the one true reason to own a Dreamcast, Jet Set Radio. Go and remedy this immediately. Its camera has not aged well but it is a delightful, optimistic game, with a definite sense of place, and a plot that revels in its own absurdity. It's been ported to a few modern systems as a downloadable game; sadly, the only way you can play its much-improved sequel is by scrounging up an Xbox. (It mostly works on the 360 but the last couple of levels have some severe slowdown.)

I kinda enjoyed Sonic Adventure but I have never gone back to replay it.
posted by egypturnash at 8:19 AM on May 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is a weirdly long and lore-heavy game essay. Somehow I feel like I just got tricked into reading Sonic fan fiction.
posted by straight at 8:34 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've found the gameplay on JSR a bit stiff because of the controller. But the game is one of the few that could run on style alone: visually brillant and the music fits the game like a tailored glove (I think I still have the MP3s around).

Also, I kind of lost it when some deals went sour, and I'd rather forget I had it, but that's not the game's fault.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:46 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

The first couple games were essentially loreless.

I think they do an interesting job having a consistent theme of wild, diverse nature versus sterile, depleted techno-dystopia. It's always confused me that, when Sonic needed ("needed") to start having scripted storytelling, nobody thought to reach for that.

Anyway, I love Sonic Adventure, and this isn't really clicking with me. The key to loving Sonic Adventure--since so many people struggle with this--is simple: only ever play as Sonic, and embrace all the weirdness, randomness and inconsistency. Because, actually, you don't have to do any of the unexpected pet breeding or joinky fishing minigaming or wonky shooter segments. My attitude toward all that was always, "Oh neat. But no. RUN RUN RUN RUN." Hub environments are small? Doesn't matter, they're just a neat way of segueing into platforming stages (and they were huge at the time). Mechanics get introduced and then dropped? Doesn't matter if they're not well fleshed out anyway.

There's a context here that's missing, too. Sonic Team's games always offered as much or more depth as similar games, but they were designed to be short experiences that pack as many ideas as they can coherently fit within that framework. You can finish NiGHTS in an hour or two. The original Sonic games were made to be played through in one sitting. This is a distinctly different design philosophy than Mario followed, and it really fell out of favor as hard as 2D in the late 90s. If Sonic Adventure is a great core game surrounded by a bunch of bizarre length-padding cruft, it's because no one would have bought "just" a colorful, fast moving, arcadey platformer that takes about an hour to complete in 1998/9. So we got this, instead.

It's like a delicious meal that comes with a complimentary half-baked pie. Just don't eat the pie, and the meal is wonderful.
posted by byanyothername at 9:13 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm just happy that every single game I owned on my dreamcast (Soul Calibur, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, and Seaman) has been mentioned here. I tried to get into Sonic Adventure but it was too spinny and fast for me. Now to look up Power Stone.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:10 AM on May 25, 2015

I'm having some trouble seeing the point of the article. Spyro and Donkey Kong also had hub worlds as well as Mario and Sonic. Though, it is news to me that SA was considered a bad game. I subsequently looked up complaints about these games, and they focus on completely different things. I can still hum the entire first Windy Hill theme from memory.

It seems to be a critique saying "okay but what does it really MEAN"
posted by halifix at 12:06 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sonic games always felt like a strange challenge for the developers, OK, you have to make a game that shows off our console as being superior to Nintendo's, and you have to use this mechanic where the character accelerates until he's uncontrollably fast when he runs. Yes you have to include that mechanic. Yes I know it makes everything else unwieldy.

Sonic's Homing Attack in SA, when they first show it to you, was the confirmation in my mind that Sonic's move set just doesn't really work in 3D. They gave Mario a punch attack but that was never really needed because stomping on things in 3D was pretty doable and made for a fun mechanic when you add the butt stomp. But Sonic's way of moving through space made the transition to 3D so awkward that the developers pretty much threw up their hands and said 'screw it, just jump near an enemy, hit the attack button, and we'll just aim Sonic for you since he's so hard to control." Even a perfectly-executed 3D sonic game would just be a Mario 64 level with a few half pipes to speed through and collect rings.

Mario 64 was such an unfair bar to have to be judged against. They literally built a console around the game's design, and would not have released it if it wasn't close to perfect. Meanwhile Sega has a great console and their best hope for a hit meant they had to use Sonic, who just doesn't work well in 3D.

I was a big fan of Sega at the time and I really wanted the Dreamcast to do well, but I definitely had a few stretches of 'am I having fun yet?' trying to unlock the next area in Station Square.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

How is it that none of you ever played the one true reason to own a Dreamcast, Jet Set Radio.

posted by JHarris at 2:17 PM on May 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

JSR (or as it was known in the States, Jet Grind Radio) was a wonderful game with an amazing soundtrack. From what I've seen of Nintendo's new paint-based shooter game Splatoon, it looks very much like a kindred spirit if not quite a true spiritual successor.
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:47 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, Splatoon REALLY nails the Contemporary Japanese Street Fashion thing that JSR drew heavily upon.

JSR is one of those games I remember really fondly but found to have aged rather poorly in the gameplay department when I tried the HD rerelease on PS3. On the other hand, back in high school, I loved it enough to track down a rip of the game, from which I then used software to extract the in-game music files and, more importantly, the in-game music transitions, and made effectively a Jet Set Radio nonstop mix CD.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:17 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Crazy Taxi is still wonderful, and the Dreamcast version manages to have the arcade soundtrack with Bad Religion and Offspring songs.

More importantly, the analog triggers on the Dreamcast controller (the ONLY good thing about the Dreamcast controller) made acceleration and breaking a lot more responsive over the Playstation 2 and Xbox 360 ports.

Not that I've played a crapton of Crazy Taxi or anything. LET'S MAKE SOME CRAAAAAAAYZAY MONEY!
posted by davros42 at 4:29 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

The 'point' of the essay is to capture the strangeness of games. It harkens back to the 'lonely gaming' term that the Insert Credit guys used to bandy around. As I said in my dream last night, 'remove the enemies from any FPS and it becomes a horror game'.
I like New Games Journalism because it offers new ways of looking at games beyond consumer-focused reviews.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not that I've played a crapton of Crazy Taxi or anything. LET'S MAKE SOME CRAAAAAAAYZAY MONEY!

I mentioned before that I was once in the running for the world record at Dreamcast Crazy Taxi. It's not a lot of games that I find interesting enough to expend that amount of time and energy into mastering.

I really like how there are competing dynamic systems in the game, the passengers, your time remaining, and the traffic, and you have to find a way to sort of swim between them all. In the arcade most people will last like a couple of minutes at most, because they'll treat it like a traditional driving game, and not bother reading the instructions printed on the machine that explain how to do a Crazy Dash. That one trick alone opens up the game.

But after that, to do better and better you have to keep learning how to do new things: drifts, then drift stops (slamming the cab's side into walls to kill your momentum, drop off a passenger, and then still be able to pull out quickly), then reverse dashes.

And you also end up having to learn passengers and potential routes and figure out how to get a good route around the city. Because the best runs, that give you the most time, are all those at the University where you start the game, but the only (good) way to end up back there is to loop the city.

And at the very end, although there are hundreds of them at the start of a game, it turns out that passengers are a limited resource, that every one you pick up disappears from play, so as the game continues you have to drive further and further to find fares. Eventually the time you waste finding new passengers overwhelms the time bonuses you get for dropping them off and erodes the time backlog you build up at the start of the game. In effect, the limited passenger supply naturally increases the difficulty, because the easy routes all get used up.

The later games (2 and 3: High Roller) are good as well, but both rely on you memorizing the city layout and finding your own way a lot more, which sets a much higher barrier to entry. Only in the first game does that green arrow feel like more of an aid than a curse.
posted by JHarris at 4:53 PM on May 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

(But yeah, I'll yammer on endless about Crazy Taxi if you let me. Sorry, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled, non-obsessive thread.)
posted by JHarris at 7:06 PM on May 25, 2015

For a second I thought this was about the beautiful and tragic weirdness of Sonic Unleashed.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:21 PM on May 25, 2015

Anyone who yammers on about Crazy Taxi and/or Jet Set Radio is My Kinda People.

And since we're talking spiritual successors to JSR: Hover. Hideki Naganuma, who composed the original music for JSR and assembled the highly eclectic licensed tracks, is on board for the soundtrack there, too.
posted by byanyothername at 9:51 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also by pure coincidence, I've recently been tracking down some DeAvid Soul albums and EPs to console the poor, lonely copy of "Sparkling Music" I hunted down years ago after being mesmerized by "Miller Ball Breakers" on the JSR soundtrack.
posted by byanyothername at 9:57 PM on May 25, 2015

That article could have been half the length and still gotten across all of its insights. That kind of pseudo-academic, obscurantist writing drives me crazy. Being difficult to read doesn't make you seem more intelligent.

I played Sonic Adventure at exactly the right age, when I was about 13. I loved it. I remember being especially impressed by the whole E-102 segment, where you play as one of the robot minions that accidentally gains sentience. I'm sure if I looked back on it now it really would not hold up, but man... Wandering around your sinister creator's airship fulfilling his orders while trying to conceal your actual, still-developing motives? Inhabiting the role of the lowliest enemy you'd normally dispatch tens of times a level? Finding out that your continued existence meant continued imprisonment for an innocent creature? That was actually kind of heady stuff for a kid. It's too bad his levels were terrible.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 12:10 AM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I never had a Genesis as a kid. But I did have a game gear. I suspect my memories of Sonic 1, 2 and Spinball are different for me than for many. But I will say this:

Sonic 06 is actually an aspirational game. It teaches you that there are no rules, no boundaries, NO WALLS you cannot overcome. It is only a terrible, broken game if you accept that such things should keep you in check. But you are beyond such limitations. You can do anything.

Sonic Boom (when speedrun) is a comedy for the ages. It is surrealist gold.
posted by sparkletone at 1:11 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Plus the Wachowskis' made that awesome Sonic F-Zero movie a few years ago with Speed Racer

Both of these comparisons aggravate me because the Wachowskis put such thought and care into making the non-racing stuff a really good Speed Racer plot (if you are inclined to like that show's tone). The racing bits are just how everyone's childhood brain imagined things unconstrained by cheap animation budgets. Sanic and F-Zero are way different.

Besides this standing ovation-earning playing of F-Zero GX is a purer expression of F-Zero this side of a FALCON... PUUUNCH reference.
posted by sparkletone at 1:17 AM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Againt, Part 2, and now, Part 3.
posted by BiggerJ at 7:49 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

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