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‘Sonic Mania’ Is Awesome, But It Doesn’t Mean That Sonic Is “Back”

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Sonic Mania is a fantastic game. Great level design, awesome visuals, 90s soundtrack, and a control scheme that feels perfect for a speed-based platformer. When it comes to retro revivals, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Now gamers can all collectively breathe a sigh a relief and declare unanimously that the Blue Blur is back…right?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. One great game does not save a franchise, especially one riddled with games ranging from decent to abysmal. Fans love pointing back to the inception of the series when discussing Sonic’s greatness, but not all of the classic titles are special. For instance, Sonic’s first outing was plagued with terrible enemy placement and an odd momentum system that made it difficult to really get going. The speed issues were mostly remedied in Sonic 2 and 3, and both of those games still offer a decent amount of fun, but compare them to other platformers from the era and they simply don’t stack up. Super Mario World is a more complete platformer than any classic Sonic title, which have NEVER been comparable to the Mario games being released during the same time, regardless of what retro enthusiasts might lead you to believe (trust me — I am one).

Not as good as you might remember…

Sales-wise, you could definitely argue that they were comparable, and in fact Sonic led to Sega holding a larger market share than Nintendo at one point. However, Sega’s obsession with prioritizing speed and “attitude” over game mechanics that were actually enjoyable would prevent Sonic from ever reaching the heights that he was supposed to. Even Sonic and Knuckles was plagued with cheap, strange deaths and confusing level layouts. Regardless of all these negative comments, I still don’t think the classics are bad; they’re just “okay,” which leads me to believe that Sonic Mania might be the first truly great Sonic game.

So what happened in between the classics and Mania? How did the hedgehog fare during the transition to 3D? The Genesis era was the only period that had some good Sonic games — the rest is an absolute crap-shoot of terrible 3D errors that were plagued with awful controls, conflicted design direction, and bestiality (well, that last one only happened once). Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 tried to shoehorn in both a serious narrative and a focus on multiple characters, while the controls were frustrating, the character animations were laughable, and the level design was just messy. However, this was their first attempt at a true 3D Sonic title, so these issues would definitely be ironed out in future installments. There’s no way Sega would keep releasing Sonic games that played like garbage!

Well, guess again. Sonic Adventure DX, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, Sonic Shuffle, Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic Riders, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Lost World, and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, etc. The list goes on and on, especially when we start mentioning some of the really weird ones, like Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.

This is not an over-generalization. Each of these titles forgets the most important part of a platforming game: the controls. There is NOTHING more important in a platforming game than the way it feels to physically play the game. Miyamoto describes the controls in Mario titles as being “an extension of yourself.” As such, it never feels as though the controls are fighting against you. Controlling Mario feel effortless, almost instinctual, whereas modern Sonic (pretty much any Sonic game after Sonic Adventure) is the exact opposite. Every single one of his 3D outings involves a certain degree of frustration in the form of broken controls, bland level design, or gimmicky abilities that seemed as if they were thrown in at the last minute. This is not a situation in which gameplay tweaks would benefit Sega’s mascot; the whole thing needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.

The Sonic franchise is not defined by the sparse number of decent releases — it’s defined by the dozens upon dozens of mediocre, unfinished titles that plague its legacy. If 90% of the games in a series are awful, then would you consider that a quality a franchise? Absolutely not, though Sonic seems to get a pass on this from many fans. Even a game as fantastic as Mania does not make up for the years of disappointing releases.

The future isn’t looking too optimistic either. Sonic Forces looks to continue the trend of corny 3D Sonic titles with an identity crisis. It wants to keep the Modern and Classic Sonic segments from Generations, but it wants to add in a character creation mode so that people can bring in their favorite Deviantart characters from their Sonic fan fictions. This is not what the franchise needed whatsoever; the entire gameplay system needs to be reworked from the ground up with these 3D titles, as the status quo just doesn’t cut it. Sega clearly hasn’t learned a thing, so hopefully, the sales of Mania will exceed those of Forces. It’s the only way they’ll see a need to change.

Please….why….

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to playing Sonic Mania.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. PlaySaviour4

    August 27, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    If there is anything that needs saving, it was that the video game industry that needed to be saved from Nintendo’s monopolistic business practices in Japan and America.

    It took only one game put an end to it and proved that the mighty Nintendo money monster can be knocked off it monopolistic throne –
    Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive!

    The game that captured the imagination of gamers and inspired budding game developers alike launching a thousand mascot games after its first release in June 1991.

    Sonic the Hedgehog has done its role in gaming and millions of people welcomed his heroism in video game history very positely.

    https://www.sonicstadium.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/sonic-pose.png

    • Rick

      September 15, 2019 at 1:04 pm

      Nintendo made video games a thing again after the stream of trash and laziness that brought about the crash in the late 70s/ early 80s. Monopoly and greed are how big companies are made. If you’re making ANY of these companiyes out to be some boy scout’s view of sainthood, you’re delusional. You have this imagined fantasy that Nintendo sat upon this throne and that they’ve been knocked off. They made video games a viable product again, which brought about their competition in the first place…which is perfectly healthy in a given industry. This ain’t no charity operation, buck. I want massive resources and development going into my video games if its possible, and some will demand less than others, but there are plenty of development models that make a game. Nintendo held a monopoly for a short time because they were the only ones standing in No-Man’s Land after the video game crash to pick up the pieces and show people that games can be reliable and fun and affordable and held to some content standards when compared to that Wild West bullshit of the proto-consoles where every pervert with a brain was making fucked up games. You have your beloved SEGA and friends to choose from because of the “big bad Nintendo”. How about play nothing? Cause that’s what you’re left with if you want to be truly consistent with this delusion you’re flouting. Do you not realize that Nintendo is essentially the Disney of the video game industry. You’re gonna find some failings, but maybe hold up your Scooby Doo lens up to the other companies too. Go balls deep with this SEGA worship if it gets you going, but don’t pretend they’re fuckin Braveheart.

  2. PlaySaviour4

    August 27, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    The iconic Sonic the Hedgehog of Sega and Capcom’s Mega Man handshake poster published in 1993 symbolized “third party developer freedom” from Nintendo’s monopolistic and draconian third party policies.

  3. PlaySaviour4

    August 27, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Instead of pouting against Sonic the Hedgehog why don’t you settle the score with SEGA themselves. They are the ones calling the shots. They are the one out of touch with the gamers much like Nintendo. That is why both of them are knocked off from the lofty throne they once ruled from.
    Sonic’s core mechanics are good and fanmade video games like Sonic Mania proves that Sonic is a great force to be reckoned with if handled by the right game developers.

    • Zack Rezac

      September 10, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I definitely agree that Sonic’s inception was super important to the industry as a whole, however what does that say about the many terrible titles that came after that? His importance as a mascot is one thing, but he doesn’t have much of a legacy when you consider the amount of quality titles compared to mediocre ones.

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