Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Colours: Ultimate (Xbox Series X)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I have been dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 7 September 2021
Originally Released: 11 November 2010
Developer: Blind Squirrel Games
Original Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S (Remaster); Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS (Original Release)

The Background:
Despite what people would have you to believe, Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 2006) was an absolute travesty and one of the lowest points in the franchise. Sonic Team pulled out all the stops to make up for that dismal failure with Sonic Unleashed (ibid, 2008), which was a commercial success thanks to the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay despite the inclusion of the lengthy and maligned “Werehog” stages. Development of a follow-up title began soon after the release of Sonic Unleashed, and producer Takashi Iizuka aimed to not only create an equal balance between speed and platforming but to appeal to a wider, more casual audience by making Sonic the sole playable character. In lieu of Sonic’s extended cast, the developers introduced the “Wisps” to act as temporary power-ups that expanded on Sonic’s moveset, and took inspiration from Disneyland for the game’s amusement park setting. Originally released for the Nintendo Wii and DS, Sonic Colours was well-received for its gorgeous graphics, exciting gameplay, and was considered to be one of the best entries in the franchise despite some criticisms of the game’s difficulty. After years of being exclusive to Nintendo’s machines, Blind Squirrel Games were drafted to produce a remaster of the title for modern consoles to coincide with Sonic’s 30th anniversary, which included a number of graphical and gameplay updates to the original title. Unfortunately, Sonic Colours: Ultimate was mired by numerous reports of bugs and glitches, especially on the Nintendo Switch version, though the charm and fun of the original was still noted to be present.

The Plot:
After Doctor Eggman builds a gigantic interstellar amusement park in orbit seemingly as penance for his evil deeds, Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower investigate and quickly discover that the evil genius has enslaved several worlds and an alien species known as Wisps in order to harness their energy for a mind-control laser that will allow him to take over the world.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played Sonic Unleashed, or most of the main console Sonic games that came after that title, you’ll be instantly familiar with how Sonic Colours: Ultimate looks, feels, and plays. Like its predecessor, the game is a 3D action/platformer that also switches to a 2.5D perspective and has a heavy emphasis on speed, some extremely minor puzzles (mostly just sliding under walls, hopping over pits and steps, activating switches, and kicking away blocks) and a bit of exploration as you’ll need to search about to find optional items for additional unlocks. Unlike Sonic Unleashed, Sonic is the sole playable character here; there aren’t even sections where you get to control the Tornado, and hub worlds have been excised entirely and replaced with a world map, of sorts, where you can select the planets you visit and which level (referred to as “Act”) you want to play on the world. Sonic’s controls remain largely unchanged from before, however; you can still boost ahead by pressing and holding B, though your boost is limited to a meter than can only be filled by collecting Wisps and can no longer be extended or upgraded using experience points. A allows you to jump and holding it will let you jump higher while pressing it in mid-air gives you a very limited double jump. You can also press A during a jump to fire Sonic at enemies, objects, and springs with his iconic Homing Attack, or press X while jumping to perform a stomp to destroy enemies or break through certain blocks.

While you can blast through 3D sections and hop around in 2.5D, control is often taken away from you.

Quite often, Sonic will be placed in an auto-running segment where he has to quick-step to the left and right to dodge walls, hazards, or smack away Motobugs; sadly, this function is limited to the left analogue stick rather than being mapped to the shoulder buttons, which can make avoiding laser beams or obstacles a little tricky. Sonic can also perform a wall jump to reach higher areas, grind on rails, bounce off springs and balloons and other objects to progress, and players can repeatedly tap A after jumping or passing through a rainbow ring to perform tricks and reach new areas. While the 3D sections emphasise boosting and high-speed action, and often take control out of your hands and require you to do little more than quick-step or jump out of the way of hazards, the 2.5D sections focus on platforming; you’ll jump across gaps, to platforms (both stationary and moving), and use wind tunnels to reach higher paths, which typically hold more rewards and are a faster route to the Goal Ring. As in pretty much every Sonic videogame, Gold Rings are your life support; Sonic will be able to take a hit from enemies and obstacles as long as he’s carrying at least one Ring, and he can reacquire them when hit and suck them towards him while boosting. Sonic can pass through checkpoints to respawn if he falls into a death pit or gets hit without any Rings; however, while the life system has technically been done away with, this isn’t strictly true as you can be saved from a fall by grabbing a Tails pick-up, which will see Tails airlift you back to solid ground without having to go back to a checkpoint.

Sonic can grab Wisps to gain temporary power-ups and new forms that allow him to reach new areas.

As mentioned, Sonic is the only character you get to play as; Tails is relegated to a supporting role and only appears in cutscenes or as a new power-up, and you don’t even get to experience a different style of gameplay with a brawling transformation as in the last game. What you get instead are the Wisps, a series of alien lifeforms that you progressively gain access to as you play through the story. When you pick up a Wisp power-up, you can activate it with the Right Bumper and transform Sonic for a brief period of time, which will greatly expand your moveset and options for exploration and attack. The Cyan Wisp allows you to dart through enemies or bounce off surfaces and between jewels as a laser burst, the Orange Wisp turns you into a rocket and blasts you vertically upwards and allows you to float across distances, and the Yellow Wisp turns you into a drill so you can burrow through the dirt or swim through water (though you have to keep topping up the power meter or you’ll risk getting trapped in the dirt and dying). The Green Wisp allows you to hover by holding A and perform a Light Speed Dash across rows of Rings by pressing B, the Blue Wisp briefly turns you into a cube and changes blue rings into solid cubes so you can progress further, the Purple Wisp turns you into a voracious, frenzied monster that eats anything in its path, and the Pink Wisp lets you cling to any surface using spikes and perform Sonic’s signature Spin Dash to blast along at high speeds. New to the game is the Jade Wisp, which turns you into a floating ghost and allows you to teleport across distances, but the Wisp powers are incredibly limited because your power meter is so small and they essentially act as very brief power-ups to mix things up and let you blast through enemies or reach new areas and, for me, are a poor substitute for playing as Tails or Knuckles the Echidna.

Stages are nice and varied, if a bit short, and there’s a slight difficulty curve in the final area.

I played the original Wii release of Sonic Colours, and still own the Nintendo DS version of the game, but it’s been a while since I sat down with it. I don’t remember it being too difficult to play through, though, and the game is littered with hint orbs, tutorials, and warning signs to help hold your hand if you’re struggling. Luckily, you can turn these off at the main menu, which I’d highly recommend, but the game is mainly just a high-speed action adventure that forces you to get through a bit of platforming here and there to get to the next exciting sequence. Gameplay is pretty standard across the board but there are notable things to mix up each of the game’s worlds; there’s pulleys and switches and temporary stairs in Tropical Resort, popcorn to blast through and huge missiles to dodge in Sweet Mountain, and neon pathways to race across in Starlight Carnival. You’ll be quick-stepping across girders on Planet Wisp, punching your way through the gloopy water maze of Aquarium Park by rapidly tapping A and swallowing air bubbles to stay alive, and hopping between high-speed rollercoasters and Homing Attacking asteroids and springs in Asteroid Coaster. You’ll also encounter sections where gravity is reversed or skewed, parts where you need to continuously bounce on a moving spring to cross a death pit, and watch for huge blocks that will force you off the screen and to your death if you stay in their path. Overall, though, the difficulty is noticeably toned down from Sonic Unleashed; Acts are far shorter and designed to be played in fun, short bursts and there are copious checkpoints and Tails power-ups to keep you going.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Colours was always a very vivid and graphically impressive title, especially for a Wii game, and Sonic Colours: Ultimate is no different. Everything really pops here; the colours, the textures, and the environments are all really vibrant and there’s lots to see in the background and foreground. If anything, the game’s environments are a little too busy at times and it can be a bit disorientating and distracting trying to focus on what you’re doing, where Sonic is, and what can or can’t hurt you in each of the game’s unique areas. Sonic, however, continues to look fantastic; as ever, he comes with some amusing idle animations and it’s fun seeing him transform into his different forms. The switch between 3D and 2.5D continues to be a little clunky when you’re blasting through Acts and I can’t help but feel like things might have been easier if certain Acts were dedicated to each perspective rather than switching between them, but the camera is never an obstacle and platforming sections are never too tricky beyond getting your jump high and timed well enough.

The worlds are varied, vibrant, and full of life but sometimes a little too busy and colourful.

The entire game takes place in Dr. Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park, and there’s a definite feeling of being strapped in for a high-speed, high-excitement rollercoaster of an experience. This is literally the case in areas like Asteroid Coaster, where you ride a dragon-themed rollercoaster hopping between seats over the vast cosmic void, and Skylight Carnival, where you race along cyber pathways as huge neon spaceships loom nearby. Tropical Resort is probably the least interesting area of the game, which is somewhat fitting as it’s basically the entrance to the amusement park, and even that is made visually interesting with all the bright signs and rails and little details like potted plants and benches. Planet Wisp is the closest you get to actually having your feet on natural, solid ground and is a fantastic mixture of nature, foliage, and a huge construction site. Sweet Mountain is easily the game’s most bizarre area and is comprised of cakes, sweets, and desserts amidst a missile factory; blasting through popcorn and using rotating sweets to fly above doughnut plants makes this a very surreal but memorable level. There’s also a real scope added to the environments in Aquarium Park, which essentially takes place within a gigantic aquarium and sees you exploring a vast underwater area and locations heavily borrowing from Japanese temples and aesthetics.

While the lack of hub worlds is disappointing, the graphics and presentation are top-notch.

The game’s final area, Terminal Velocity, is simply a race down the huge connecting tube that keeps Dr. Eggman’s amusement part anchored to the planet, and conjures up memories of the final areas in Sonic and Shadow the Hedgehog’s stories in Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), and you’ll find a number of pretty basic, almost textureless obstacles courses waiting for you in Game Land. Unfortunately, the game does take a bit of a step backwards as hub worlds are gone entirely, replaced by a world map where you select which planet/location to visit and then pick an Act to play, meaning that the game’s focus is far less on story and exploration outside of the in-Act collectibles. Cutscenes are really well done, however, maintaining the same charming cartoony aesthetic from Sonic Unleashed and featuring some fun, if cringy, jokes and one-liners from Sonic and banter between him and Tails, and Dr. Eggman. Sonic Colours saw Roger Craig Smith take over the role of Sonic, and he’s a far better and more enjoyable voice than Jason Griffith, who I could never stand in the role. Mike Pollock continues to shine as the blustering Dr. Eggman, who’s now joined by Orbot and Cubot for some bungling shenanigans, and the game’s soundtrack is catchy and enjoyable enough. Sonic Colours: Ultimate allows players to select different language options for the dialogue and subtitles, and even switch between the original and the remixed soundtrack, but there’s some jaunty tunes on offer here from Cash Cash and composer Tomoya Ohtani to keep the energy levels high when blasting through enemies.

Enemies and Bosses:
In his quest to free the Wisps from Dr. Eggman, Sonic comes up against many familiar robotic enemies courtesy of the rotund mad scientist; these include Badniks like Motobug, Spiny, Jawz, and Buzzer, and Dr. Eggman’s more military focused creations, like the Egg Pawns and Spinners. Destroying these robots will free the Wisps trapped within, powering up your boost meter and allowing you to plough through them without worry, and you can easily cross chasms and progress further by chaining Homing Attacks of groups of enemies. Probably the most persistent and annoying enemies are Dr. Eggman’s chaser robots, the Aero-Chaser and the Big Chaser. These flying robots will hover in front or behind you, firing lasers and taking swipes at you as you desperately side-step out of the way, and can be a real hassle where you’re also fending off Motobugs or racing towards the camera at high speed with limited visibility. You’ll also face a sub-boss in Asteroid Coaster in the form of a gigantic robotic eye within a shifting gravitational field and protected by some spiked balls; you’ll need to hop between the spiked balls when the gravity field expands outwards to ram into it three times and put Dr. Eggman’s production facility out of commission.

Although the six bosses are fun, it’s a bit disappointing that they’re recycled and reskinned.

Dr. Eggman has ensnared six worlds to build his amusement park; six worlds means six bosses to face as you play through the story but don’t get too excited as it’s really three bosses that you simply battle twice, with the difficulty increased for the second bout. The first boss you’ll battle is Rotatatron, a massive Ferris wheel-type robot that has you dodging its huge claws, hopping between platforms, and ramming its big ol’ face while avoiding its buzz saws. This boss returns again on Planet Wisp, albeit reskinned as the Refreshinator and now protected by spinning circles and laser beams, but you can make these bosses (and all the game’s bosses) even easier to bring down by grabbing the Wisps found in the boss arena and dealing additional damage with their power-ups. Captain Jelly awaits you in Sweet Mountain, requiring you to Homing Attack across some cannonballs on the deck of his airship and hit a switch to force him out into the open. You then need to watch for his little minions and attack him when he stops to taunt you after hopping about, and Admiral Jelly is very much the same scenario except this battle takes place underwater and sees you luring homing missiles to the switch and chasing after the boss using the Drill Wisp. You’ll also have to contend with Frigate Orcan and Frigate Skullian, which are boss battles that take place on an endless running path and see you dodging bullets, spiked balls, asteroids, and lasers to chase each ship down and rapidly Homing Attack different parts of it to deal damage.

Go head-to-head in tough races against Metal Sonic and end Dr. Eggman’s plot by using the Wisp’s full power.

Collect enough Red Star Rings and you’ll unlock a new feature to this version of the game as Metal Sonic challenges you to a “Rival Rush”, which is basically a race through one Act of each area; while this sounds exhilarating and fun, it’s actually one of the hardest parts of the game as Metal Sonic is ridiculously quick, easily catches up and overtakes you, and you have to finish the race in one perfect run to succeed. Once you’ve destroyed all of Dr. Eggman’s bosses, however, you’ll finally face the egg-shaped madman himself in his Nega-Wisp Armour. This battle is also on an endless running path and sees you dodging various attacks themed after the game’s Wisp power-ups; you’ll need to side-step past cubes, jump over spikes, and avoid ricocheting lasers, amongst other attacks, while desperately grabbing Rings, then deliver a series of Homing Attacks to damage Dr. Eggman’s craft. You can also hit him with a boost attack and, after dealing enough damage, Wisps will be released and Dr. Eggman’s attacks will become more aggressive, faster, harder to dodge, and he’ll even combine Wisp attacks to really make things frantic and frustrating. Once you’ve freed all the Wisps, though, you can press RB and perform a Homing Attack to finish Dr. Eggman off with with the “Final Colour Blaster”; then it’s simply a case of racing to safety as the umbilical cord breaks away around you and you’ll have saved the Wisps and defeated Dr. Eggman once more.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike the vast majority of Sonic videogames, there are none of the traditional power-ups on offer here; you can collect Rings either one at a time or in increments of ten, but there are no shields, speed-ups, or invincibility power-ups to find during the game. Instead, you need to collect Wisps to fill your boost meter or provide a temporary power-up that lets you burrow through the ground, blast across surfaces, or zip through enemies in a blast of vivid colour. Each of these is timed and lasts only as long as your meter and, often, you’ll need to collect subsequent Wisp capsules to solve puzzles, reveal collectibles, or progress further but, other times, the Wisps will not respawn and you’ll be left with only one shot to bounce between jewels. Although you don’t earn or collect extra lives, you can collect the new Tails power-up to save yourself from a fall, which is essentially the same thing, but this is merely to save you a bit of time as it avoids you having to restart from a checkpoint.

Additional Features:
There are forty-six Achievements to earn in Sonic Colours: Ultimate, with the majority of them being awarded for completing each of the game’s worlds. You’ll also pop some G for defeating a certain number of enemies in certain ways, achieving an S-rank, destroying the score tally at the end of each Act, and playing/waiting through the game’s obnoxiously long end credits. Achievements can also be earned for defeating bosses in two hits instead of three using the Wisps or getting an S-rank against them, collecting every Red Star Ring, and for getting S-ranks on every single Act in the game for 100% completion.

Take on additional challenges, find the Red Star Rings, become Super Sonic, and customise Sonic’s gear!

Five Red Star Rings are hidden in each Act; the game helpfully keeps track of how many you’ve collected and in which order, which makes searching them out a little easier, and collecting them unlocks additional challenges in Game Land. Game Land sees you take control of a recoloured Sonic robot and completing short tasks that basically amount to platforming and gameplay challenges; there are no lives or time limits here, so it’s a good way to kill some time, and you can even play against a friend in this mode. You’ll need all 180 Red Star Rings to unlock every Act in this mode, however, and to collect the seven Chaos Emeralds to play as Super Sonic. You can challenge yourself further by taking on the Egg Shuttle, which forces you to play every single Act of the game on a handful of lives, and you can also collect Park Tokens in each Act or from besting Metal Sonic to purchase skins that change Sonic’s gloves, shoes, aura, boost effect, and your gamer icon. Unfortunately, this is an extremely limited mode and doesn’t allow you to apply other skins to Sonic, but you can acquire components to have him resemble his Hollywood counterpart, so that’s something.

The Summary:
I remember really enjoying Sonic Colours when I first played it on the Wii; sure, I haven’t revisited it since finishing it years ago, but that’s more due to my dislike of the Wii than of the game. When it was announced to be coming to modern consoles at last, I was more than happy to get my hands on it again, bad press and bugs be damned. Personally, I consider Sonic Colours to be one of the most fun entries in Sonic’s modern era for its focus on action and it’s a blast to play in short bursts, with a difficulty curve that’s perfectly manageable until you hit Terminal Velocity (and that’s just because I struggled with timing my quick-steps). I never encountered any graphical or gameplay glitches on my playthrough, and the only negative I had about the presentation was some lag in the menus and the lack of any kind of additional cutscenes when encountering Metal Sonic. As enjoyable as the game is, though, it is a bit of a step back; using world maps and menus in place of hub worlds is a bit of a disappointment and, while the Wisp power-ups are great, it annoys me how prominent they are here and have become since as an excuse to not include a playable Tails or Knuckles. It also can’t be denied that the game is a bit too easy at times; I enjoy how every other Act is basically like a little challenge for you, but it’s laborious having to collect every single Red Star Ring, the lack of skins or in-depth customisation is a missed opportunity, and the recycling of the game’s few bosses is really disappointing. Still, it’s a super fun time for the few hours it’ll take you to blast through it and absolutely gorgeous to look at and listen to; Sonic Colours: Ultimate shows the potential a big, triple-A Sonic game has but could have benefitted from just a few more tweaks and additional modes and such to make the package all the sweeter.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What do you think to Sonic Colours: Ultimate? How do you think it compares to the original Wii version and what did you think to the new features included? Did you enjoy the focus on short, action-packed gameplay or did you feel the game was a bit too simplified? What did you think to the Wisps and which of these power-ups was your favourite? Would you have liked to see other characters included to play or race against? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Sonic Colours: Ultimate down below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content later in the year!

Game Corner [Sonic’s Anniversary]: Sonic the Hedgehog (2013; Nintendo 3DS)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 13 June 2013
Originally Released: 25 October 1991
Developer: SEGA
Original Developer: Ancient
Also Available For: GameCube, Game Gear, Master System, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
I did a deep dive into Sonic’s complex and deliberate history in my review of his incredibly popular debut title for the Mega Drive; however, in October of the same year of Sonic’s 16-bit debut, SEGA also released an 8-bit version of the influential Mario-beater. The Master System version of Sonic was my introduction to the character as it came built-into my Master System II console; originally developed by Ancient specifically for the Game Gear, the Yuzo Koshiiro-lead team were also commissioned to make a version for its bigger brother. Since it was impossible to port the 16-bit game, Ancient started from scratch to craft a similar but fundamentally altered version of its 16-bit counterpart. Reviews were positive and, when the game was subsequently re-released onto the 3DS Virtual Console, it was again positively received and has been considered one of the best titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems.

The Plot:
South Island is under siege! The maniacal Doctor Eggman (widely known as “Robotnik” during this time) has captured the island’s animals and polluted the landscape in his search for the six legendary Chaos Emeralds and only one super-fast, super-cool hedgehog can stop him!

Gameplay:
Just like the 16-bit version, Sonic the Hedgehog is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players are placed into the red-and-white trainers of the titular blue hedgehog. Sonic is tasked with racing and navigating through six stages (known as “Zones”), with three levels (called “Acts”) each and, in each Zone’s third Act, Sonic will encounter Dr. Eggman and have to battle him to free a bunch of woodland critters from captivity.

The game’s much more focused on platforming rather than speed and runs noticeably slower at times.

Sonic’s repertoire is exactly the same as in the game’s 16-bit cousin; moving Sonic in a direction for long enough will see him break from a walk, to a trot, to a super-fast run that turns his legs into a blur of motion. By pressing any button, Sonic will jump and become a ball of whirling blue spikes; this “Super Sonic Spin Attack” is your sole form of attack and can also be performed by pressing down on the directional-pad (D-Pad) while running to smash into Badniks. Pressing up and down on the D-Pad while standing still will allow you to vertically scroll the screen and pressing down when on a steep slope and jumping at the very end will see Sonic fly through the air and travel far across the Act at times. Otherwise, that’s it; there’s no Spin Dash or anything like that. Consequently, the game remains a much slower experience than the advertising would have you believe. Thanks to the limitations of the 8-bit hardware, this version of Sonic is missing the iconic loop-de-loops that helped Sonic gain speed in the 16-bit version and replaces them (here and there) with the aforementioned ramps and a far more vertically-orientated approach. This means that the game is, at its core, a pure platformer and you’ll be jumping over (many) spiked and bottomless pits, hopping to platforms (moving, stationary, and temporary), and making your way up and across to reach the Goal Sign.

You might not be able to collect lost Rings but extra lives are easy to find and stock up on.

While Sonic can still collect Golden Rings to protect himself from harm and death, he is again hampered by the system’s limitations. When hit, Sonic will appear to lose only one Ring but will actually drop all of his Rings and cannot pick them up again, which can easily lead to you getting killed on the very next hit. There are additional limitations on the heads-up display (HUD): if you collect over ninety-nine Rings, you’ll earn an extra life but also reset the Ring counter. Your life display is also capped at nine during gameplay but you can collect extra lives and they do show up on the score tally screen. Speaking of which, yes, you do accumulate points by smashing Badniks and finishing Acts quickly but you only see this score at the end of an Act. You are also still racing against a time limit but the game’s Acts are, for the most part, much shorter than in the 16-bit version so it’s not really much of a factor. Additionally, rather than including Signposts as checkpoints, 8-bit Sonic uses Arrow Monitors, which are worth hunting down if things are getting tough and, even better, your shield will carry across between Acts this time around.

In addition to three new Zones, the game also has its own gimmicks to keep you on your toes.

As far as gameplay goes, though, 8-bit Sonic certainly mixes things up in many ways that separate it from 16-bit Sonic. Acts have different mechanics in them, such as warning signs before death pits, weight-based springboards, rapids, rolling logs to run on, and teleporters. It also includes three game-exclusive Zones: Bridge, Jungle, and Sky Base. Bridge focuses on horizontal platforming across an instant-death body of water and has you running across collapsing bridges while Jungle is focused more on vertical platforming. Both Zones include an autoscrolling section in Act 2, with Bridge Zone forcing you to the right and Jungle Zone forcing you up, which can be a pain as once the screen scrolls up to meet you, falling down will result in instant death. You once again have to find your way through Labyrinth Zone, now much more of a chore to play as it’s not only a fittingly maze-like Zone but the game noticeably slows right down whenever Sonic is in water or too much is happening onscreen. Scrap Brain, while similar to the 16-bit game, is also made noticeably different by the presence of a confusing teleporter loop in the second Act that sees you hitting switches to open certain doors, dodging numerous hazards, and going through the right tunnels and teleporters to reach the end. By the time you reach the game’s final Zone, Sky Base, the difficulty noticeably ramps up a bit; Act 1 is alive with hazards thanks to an impressive thunderstorm raging in the background and sending electrical currents running across the screen and the presence of numerous cannons. Act 2 takes place up in the sky with you suspended over a perpetual death pit and forcing you to hop across propeller platforms and dodge even bigger cannons all without the benefit of your precious Rings.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic the Hedgehog remains one of the most impressive titles on SEGA’s 8-bit systems. Since the 3DS version is a port of the Game Gear version, it’s not quite the same as I remember it; Sonic’s sprite is noticeably different compared to the Master System one and actually resembles Greg Martin’s artwork thanks to his frowning eye. When left idle, he still taps his foot impatiently and pulls off some amusing expressions when killed, skidding, or gobbling air bubbles in Labyrinth Zone, though obviously the game’s zones aren’t going to be as vibrant and detailed as in the 16-bit version. Indeed, you’ll notice right away that the backgrounds are quite sparse and lack the same depth and level of detail as on the Mega Drive but there’s still quite a lot going on in each Zone; flowers blossom and dance in Green Hill Zone, water rushes by beneath Bridge Zone, and waterfalls and vines are all over the place in Jungle Zone.

Zones are certainly shorter and more sparse but the game is surprisingly colourful and lively.

Labyrinth Zone also still has a lot of detail on the foreground elements and you still need to swallow air bubbles to breathe (though the iconic drowning music has been replaced by a simple ticking countdown); while Scrap Brain Zone remains a mechanical Hell, Sky Base is probably the most visually impressive Zone in the game thanks to its dark, foreboding first Act and the impressive scale of the second Act. One of the best additions to the game is the presence of a map before each Act; this shows your progression through South Island, displays the name of the Zone you’re about to play, and even shows Dr. Eggman hovering in to attack you, the level of pollution in the air, and Dr. Eggman’s Sky Base looming overhead. The game even has a much more elaborate introduction before the title screen and the music is even more impressive; again, largely different from the 16-bit version with the exception of the opening jingle and Green Hill Zone, the game is full of jaunty, catchy little chip tunes, with Bridge Zone, the game’s incredible Scrap Brain Zone track, and Sky Base Zone’s tracks being notable standouts for me. When you finish the game, you’ll also be treated to a large, partially-animated sprite of Sonic with a microphone while one of my favourite ending medleys plays over the credits.

Enemies and Bosses:
Even though 8-bit Sonic includes some new Zones, the Badniks remain exactly the same as in the 16-bit version; you’ll still bop on Motobugs, get blasted at by Buzz Bombers, surprised by Newtrons, and nipped at by Chompers. Some Badniks, like Bat Brain and Roller, are missing, however, and you won’t be seeing any fluffy little creatures hopping to freedom when you smash the ‘bots with your Spin Attack. Your main hazards will be the high abundance of spike pits, spike traps, and bottomless pits; spears will also try to skewer you in Labyrinth Zone, flame jets and electrical hazards try to fry you in Scrap Brain Zone, and platforms will constantly collapse beneath your feet.

Dr. Eggman attacks from overheard or underneath in his early appearances but is easy to send packing.

As in the 16-bit version, Sonic will battle Dr. Eggman in Act 3 of each Zone. Unlike in that game, Act 3 contains no Rings, some platforming hazards to navigate through, and a single extra life monitor hidden within it to help you out. Every boss in the game is also completely different from those seen in the Mega Drive version; in Green Hill Zone, Dr. Eggman simply flies overhead a few times (accompanied by a jaunty little boss theme), lowers slowly to the ground, and tries to ram into you but, thanks to the smaller screen size of the Game Gear, it’s pathetically easy to do him in as he flies overheard on the first pass. In Bridge Zone, Dr. Eggman switches to a submersible craft and pops up randomly between bridges to fire three shots at you; this actually differs from the Master System version, which sees you battling Dr. Eggman between two grassy platforms, and can be difficult as it’s very easy to fall through Dr. Eggman on his invincibility frames and lose a life. In Jungle Zone, Dr. Eggman again hovers overheard but this time you’re limited to a curved vine platform and he drops a rolling bomb at you but, just like in Green Hill Zone, it’s way too easy to just mess him up on his first pass.

While he flees from you in Scrap Brain, Dr. Eggman puts up a decent fight in Labyrinth and Sky Base Zone.

Things appear to get more troublesome in Labyrinth Zone; unlike in the 16-bit version, you actually do fight Dr. Eggman here but it’s underwater and in a small arena with a bottomless pit to worry about. While there’s helpfully (if strangely) no danger of you drowning in this battle, you do have to watch out for Dr. Eggman’s rockets and projectiles but, while it can be tricky to jump over the pit thanks to how slow the game runs underwater, this isn’t that much of a chore to get through. In Scrap Brain Zone, you won’t actually fight Dr. Eggman; instead, you have to solve a tricky puzzle and then chase him to his teleporter and you’ll go one-on-one with him in the next Zone in a battle far more grandiose than on the Mega Drive. In Sky Base Act 3, Dr. Eggman hides within a glass tube and hops on a switch, which sends jets of flame randomly up from the floor or a ball of death to fly at you. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to hop over both of these and bash into him. After he flees, a short cutscene pays that shows Sonic delivering the final blow via teleporter, defeating Dr. Eggman at last.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Sonic the Hedgehog includes all of the same power-ups as its Mega Drive cousin. You’ll find a number of monitors scattered throughout each Zone that will award you with ten extra Rings, a protective shield, or mark your progress so you can respawn later in the Zone if you die. Interestingly, the game features far more extra life monitors than it does speed-up shoes or invincibility monitors; indeed, I only encountered maybe two of these in my playthrough, to the point where I thought they weren’t even in the game.

Additional Features:
The 3DS version of 8-bit Sonic is one of the best ways to play the game thanks to not only being a portable title like the original Game Gear version, but also the inclusion of save states. While you can only create one save slot, this does make it dramatically easier to keep track of your progress and help you hunt down the game’s six Chaos Emeralds.

Bounce around Special Stages all you want but you’ll need to hunt through Zones for Chaos Emeralds.

One of the things I always loved about 8-bit Sonic was its approach to Chaos Emeralds; if you finish an Act with fifty Rings or more, you’ll get to play a Special Stage. In this game, these are timed bonus stages full of bumpers and springs (basically functioning as the game’s version of Spring Yard Zone) and Rings. Here, you can bounce all over the place to stock up on lives or break Continue Monitors to gain an extra continue but you won’t find Chaos Emeralds in these stages. Instead, Chaos Emeralds are hidden within the game’s Zones. Finding them is sometimes pretty simple, such as just taking a certain path while underground in Green Hill or running on a log at the bottom of Jungle Zone, but can also be sneakily hidden behind death traps. To reach the Emerald in Bridge Zone, for example, you have to jump from a falling section of a bridge before you fall to your death and Scrap Brain’s Chaos Emerald is reached by falling down a specific pit that looks just like any other bottomless pit. Nabbing them all rewards you with a hefty score bonus and the game’s true ending, which sees South Island freed of Dr. Eggman’s influence.

The Summary:
Even though I grew up playing the Master System version of this game, which is graphically slightly superior, I still have an immense amount of nostalgia and fondness for the 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog. The game is bright, fun, and endlessly charming and packs quite a lot in for an 8-bit title; one of the things I still really enjoy about it is that it’s not just a scaled down version of the 16-bit game. Instead, 8-bit Sonic features new Zones, new gimmicks, and changes up the way the game is played; having you hunt for Chaos Emeralds in the game’s Acts is a great way to tie into the game’s larger focus on platforming and exploration and I always kind of saw this and the 16-bit version as two parts of a greater whole that complimented each other beautifully. Colourful and featuring some extremely catchy tunes, 8-bit Sonic is both easier and slightly harder than its more popular counterpart; there are some glitches here and there (Sonic’s collision detection is a bit wonky and I found myself bounced into oblivion in the Special Stages more than once), there seems to be far more unfair death pits and traps, and the game runs much slower, especially when there’s a lot happening onscreen. Still, these issues are minor and, in many ways (again, most likely because of nostalgia) I actually prefer this game to the 16-bit version but, in my wholly biased opinion, it’s definitely at least on par with Sonic’s bigger, better Mega Drive outing.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think about Sonic’s 8-bit debut? How do you think it compares to the 16-bit version and Sonic’s other 8-bit outings? Did your Master System come with Sonic built-in or did you buy it separately? What did you think to the Chaos Emeralds being hidden in the game’s Zones rather than in Special Stages? Did you own the original Game Gear version and what did you think to this 3DS port? How are you celebrating Sonic’s birthday this year? Whatever you think, feel free to share your thoughts and memories regarding Sonic below or on my social media.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Unleashed (Xbox 360)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 18 November 2008
Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (via PlayStation Network/Now), Xbox Series S/X, XboxOne (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
These days, people would have you to believe that Sonic the Hedgehog (ibid, 2006) is an under-rated classic and worthy of your time and attention. Don’t listen to them. Play it if you must but make no mistake about it, take it from a life-long Sonic fan: Sonic ’06 is an absolutely dreadful experience. Great cutscenes and music, yes, but the gameplay (the core of any videogame) is diabolically bad and there’s a reason that the game was not only received terribly and is almost universally seen as one of the lowest points in the franchise…it’s because it’s a travesty of a videogame. Following that game’s dismal release and reception, Sonic Team scrambled to make good on their next mainline Sonic title, which started out as a semi-continuation of the Sonic Adventure games (ibid/Sonic Team USA, 1999 to 2002) but soon took on a life of its own and began the annoying trend of having Sonic be the only playable character. Sonic Unleashed saw the development of many new lighting, graphical, and gameplay mechanics for the series, chief amongst them the “Hedgehog Engine”, which allowed Sonic to boost ahead at breakneck speeds without losing graphical fidelity, while also incorporating 2.5D  perspectives to hearken back to the series’ roots. The game was somewhat controversial for also including brawling combat in the form of the “Werehog” in stages that were criticised for their length and tedium. Regardless, Sonic Unleashed was just the shot in the arm the franchise desperately needed after Sonic ’06; the game was a commercial success and critics lauded the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay.

The Plot:
Sonic is unsuccessful in his attempt to thwart Doctor Eggman’s latest scheme and the mad scientist fires a giant laser cannon at the planet, blasting chunks of the surface to the atmosphere and awakening the ancient beast “Dark Gaia”. Though outpouring of evil energy causes Sonic to transform into the animalistic Werehog at night, he resolves to travel across the world, accompanied by an amnesic sprite nicknamed Chip and his old friends Miles “Tails” Prower and Amy Rose, to restore the power of the seven legendary Chaos Emeralds and undo the damage caused to the planet.

Gameplay:
Sonic Unleashed is a 3D action/platformer that switches to both a 2.5D perspective and a third-person brawler during your progression through the main story. Very similar to Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), Sonic navigates a variety of hub worlds across the globe, talking with non-playable characters (NPCs) and performing a number of challenges and side quests in his quest to activate the seven Gaia temples (and the Chaos Emeralds) to restore the splintered planet.

Sonic boosts, grinds, and blasts his way through stages at breakneck speeds!

Players are put into the high-speed shoes of Sonic the Hedgehog; Sonic can jump with A (which you can tap for a hop and hold for a higher jump) and attack enemies either with his regular jump or by pressing X when in the air to perform his patented Homing Attack. An aiming reticule directs you towards the nearest target and you can chain together successive Homing Attacks to hit springs or cross gaps over bottomless pits to progress. Sonic can also crawl and slide (and perform a sweep kick) with a press of the B button; this doesn’t come up often but it’s essential for getting you through small spaces when running at high speeds. This is the big gameplay mechanic for Sonic in Sonic Unleashed; similar to the God-awful “Mach Speed” sections of Sonic ’06, pressing and holding X while running will send Sonic boosting ahead at breakneck speeds. When boosting, you can charge right through enemies without fear and will also suck up any nearby Golden Rings, which are essential for maintaining your boost as they power the mechanic. While this can cause you to fly right off the edge of stages later in the game and can cause the game to spaz out on occasion when Sonic’s speed increases, you can perform quick-steps with the Left- and Right Bumper to dart through narrow alleyways and such, and perform quick turns to stay on course on tight curves. Overall, the boost mechanic is exhilarating fun and it’s brilliant to fly through stages at full speed, crashing through enemies and bouncing and grinding your way towards the Goal Ring.

Fight, swing, and platform your way through slower, trickier stages as the Werehog.

Of course, you can also play as the much slower “Werehog” in the game’s night-time stages; Sonic Unleashed has a rudimentary day and night mechanic where, by attacking hourglasses in the hub worlds, passing time on the main map screen, or as dictated by the story, day will turn to night, transforming Sonic into this monstrous little brawler. Clearly taking inspirations from popular hack-and-slash titles, Sonic Team made the Werehog distinct by having him attack with his elongated limbs and perform grapples to take down his opponents. While the controls remain mostly the same, there are some differences: you can now perform a double jump with A and the X and Y buttons allow you to pull off different strikes and combos. Holding the Right Trigger allows you to dash on all fours (and can extend your jump) while LB puts up one of a limited number of shields to protect you from attacks. Pressing B lets you grab onto objects and ledges to save yourself from falls, grab objects to throw at enemies, or grapple enemies to pull of quick-time events (QTEs) to deliver massive damage. As the Werehog attacks enemies or smashes barrels and such, you’ll build up your “Unleash Meter”. Once it’s full, or hits the minimum marker, you can press RB to “unleash” the Werehog’s true power, which will dramatically enhance his strikes and speed to help you clear out groups of enemies or larger foes. The Werehog’s stages are far longer than Sonic’s and also involve a bit of puzzle solving (usually mashing B to pull switches or open doors or bringing gems to special alters to progress further) and some very tricky platforming. This involves a combination of jumping to and from platforms, grabbing to poles, and balancing on narrow beams, all of which can be extremely difficult as the game’s camera often makes it hard to judge the distance between your targets, button inputs can be a bit slow and clunky, and a lot of the platforms you’ll be grabbing and jumping to will either be moving, collapsing, slippery, or damaging in some way, which can lead to a lot of annoying deaths.

Perform QTE tricks and defeat enemies with style to get EXP and a sweet S rank.

As is the standard for Sonic titles, Sonic is protected from damage by Golden Rings. This time around, when Sonic is hurt, he won’t lose all of his Rings and, when playing as the Werehog, you have a more traditional health bar that is replenish by the Rings. Collecting one-hundred Rings awards you with an extra life, which you will also find scattered here and there around stages (usually right before a dangerous area), and you pass through checkpoints to allow you to continue from later in the stage should you die. Deaths can be quite frequent as Sonic gets a bit slippery at times and it’s pretty easy to blast off out of bounds or over the edge and to your death, and you can also fall to your death in hub worlds! When you complete a stage, though, you’ll be given a grade based on how fast you finished and how any tricks you performed as Sonic (by jumping through special hoops and performing QTEs), among other things. This, and defeating enemies, will provide you with experience points (EXP) that you can use to power-up Sonic’s base speed and Ring Energy, and the Werehog’s strength, Unleash Meter, maximum life, and learn new combos and attacks.

There are many hub worlds and Medals to collect but I could’ve done with more Tornado sections.

Out in the hub world, you can spend your Rings on food and other items and must perform a few tasks to open up stages. The main way you’ll access new areas, though, is by finding Sun and Moon Medals; I’ve heard many complain that this slows the game down as you have to replay stages or hunt around to find them just to progress but, honestly, I have never experienced this problem. There is a bit of backtracking and replaying of earlier stages required, though, as you sometimes need to farm for extra lives and need to hop from one location to another, playing stages out of order in order to access the next boss or area as part of the story. Gameplay is given a bit more variety when you acquire a camera that you can use to battle Gaia Beasts that have possessed NPCs and through the inclusion of auto-scrolling shooting sections in which Sonic mans the armaments of the Tornado while Tails flies him towards their next destination. Unlike in Sonic Adventure, this involves pressing the right buttons when they flash up on screen and alternate between mashing LB and RB to refill your power meter if you press the wrong button or are hit. Also, these sections only appear twice in the game, which is a shame as they’re quite fun, though you can replay them (and any other stage of boss) from the main world menu.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic Unleashed looks absolutely fantastic; the game has a crisp, colourful presentation and everything really pops when onscreen, especially compared to how drab and muted Sonic ’06 was. Sonic looks fun and full of energy and has a number of idle animations in both his base and Werehog form; Sonic is also constantly accompanied by Chip, who acts as an annoying guide, and is voiced by Jason Griffith who was always my least favourite voice actor for the character. The rest of the Sonic X (2003 to 2004; 2005 to 2006) voice cast are fine, with Mike Pollock absolutely nailing Dr. Eggman, but I always found Jason to be so lifeless and boring as Sonic, though the game does stand out by briefly having Sonic’s usual confidence shaken by his monstrous appearance. Graphically, though, the game is gorgeous; Sonic, the Werehog, Tails, and Amy all look vibrant and full of life and fit perfectly with the game’s Pixar-like aesthetic for the NPCs. Rather than have the NPCs be realistic-looking humans like in Sonic Adventure, Sonic Unleashed’s are exaggerated, cartoony characters with large eyes, noses, and larger-than-life properties that help them to be visually interesting even when they mainly just wander around in short animation cycles, stand in one place, or communicate using text boxes and gibberish. The most prominent human NPC is the kindly Professor Pickle, who offers advice and exposition regarding Dark Gaia and has a penchant for cucumber sandwiches and souvenirs.

Stages are gorgeous and varied and full of unique elements, gimmicks, and jaunty music.

The game’s hub worlds and stages are all based on different societies and cultures of the real world. Apotos is based on Greece, Spagonia on Italy, Mazuri on Africa, Holosoka on Antarctica, Chun-Nan on China, Shamar on Egypt, Empire City on New York City, and Adabat seems to be based on the likes of Hawaii. This means that every area feels distinctive and unique, mainly thanks to having different seasons, hub worlds of various sizes that all look and feel different, and are populated by different NPCs. This translates into the playable stages as well as you’ll blast through the air, grind on rails, and plough through alleyways, race up winding paths, and fall through the sky in a variety of colourful and action-packed environments. When playing as Sonic, you’ll naturally often blast past your environment without really noticing little details here and there but, when the game switches to its 2.5D view or you tackle the Werehog stages, these subtleties are brought to life wonderfully. This means you can see markets, animals, and entire cities in the background, discover alternative paths by jumping through boost rings or hopping up walls and rails, and run up and along pathways at breakneck speeds while dodging axes, laser traps, and blasting through enemies. Stages become increasingly bigger and more complex as the game progresses, with you hopping from collapsing ice floats and using a killer whale and a bobsleigh to progress in Cool Edge, grabbing onto rockets and hopping to spinning platforms in Dragon Road, and running across water and through ruins making tight, dangerous turns in Jungle Joyride.

The game’s high-quality cutscenes are incredible and the best in the series at that point.

As beautiful and detailed as the game’s stages are, though, Sonic Unleashed goes above and beyond with its high-quality cinematics. While these are a notable highlight of Sonic ’06, even the cutscenes that use the in-game graphics are a joy to watch here as Sonic and Chip bond and overcome numerous obstacles on their journey. When the cinematics kick in, Sonic and his world are rendered magnificently and it honestly baffles me that Sonic Team never used this style of animation to produce a CGI feature film. These sequences, and the graphics in general, are only bolstered by the game’s jaunty, uplifting, and varied soundtrack; the game’s main theme, “Endless Possibility” by Bowling For Soup’s Jaret Reddick, is a catchy little punk-rock piece that captures the high-spirited adventure aspects of the game while the ominous Gaia themes help sell the threat and menace of the monstrous Dark Gaia. Even better is the fact that the day-time Savannah Citadel stage uses a remix of the ending credits theme from the 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog (Ancient, 1991), which was especially pleasing to me since I am a big fan of that game and it was the first Sonic title I ever played.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you blast through Sonic’s stages at full speed, you come across a number of Dr. Eggman’s robots; mainly comprised of Egg Fighters, these robots will throw slow punches or swing swords at you and defend themselves with shields. Later, they’ll bounce you back with springs, blast at you with laser bolts or homing missiles, and attack with electrified swords but, for the most part, they’re largely disposable pawns that you can bash through with your Homing Attack or boost. You’ll also use the small robots (who sometimes blast at you or defend themselves with electrical shields) to get across gaps and have to watch out for spikes, Eggman-branded springs that often push you into spikes, crushing platforms, and other environmental hazards that can mess up your run.

Bash through Dr. Eggman’s robots and beat down Dark Gaia’s minions with your combos!

Although Sonic also has to fight Dark Gaia’s minions, you’ll mainly battle against these as the Werehog. Gaia’s creatures take a variety of forms, from small, annoying little critters to the larger, more commonplace “Nightmare” variants. These guys will attack as a group with their own punches and combos and even defend themselves from your attacks by putting their guard up. You’ll also have to contend with Dark Masters, wizard-like enemies who can fire elemental blasts at you or replenish the health of other Gaia creatures, and the ever-annoying Killer Bees, who always seem to hover just out of reach and dive at you with their stingers. The Werehog also has to battle the much larger Big Mothers and Titans, often while dealing with many other enemies at the same time; the Big Mother will endlessly spawn smaller Gaia creatures and its rotund belly allows it to absorb a great deal of punishment. The Titans are much worse, though; attacking with giant clubs and causing shockwaves to cover the immediate area, they can blast you into a stun (which you must desperately mash A to get out of) or even off rooftops and to your death with a ridiculous amount of ease. For both enemies, I recommend expending your Unleash Meter and using the Werehog’s QTE combos/grapples to take them down quickly.

Sadly, as fun as they are, the boss battles against Dr. Eggman are all very similar.

Just as there are two distinct playstyles in Sonic Unleashed, there are also two types of boss battles; those against Dr. Eggman and his latest contraption and those against Dark Gaia’s gigantic guardians. The battles against Dr. Eggman, however, are largely similar in each instance; when you battle the Egg Beetle, Egg Devil Ray, and Egg Lancer, you’ll be continuously running around an endlessly-looping track, collecting Rings to boost towards Dr. Eggman and ram into his cockpit. Each machine sports a variety of lasers, missiles, and bombs and tries to fry and bombard you with its armaments and you’ll have to use the quick-step and the advantages of the 2.5D sections to dodge these hazards. The battles do get more difficult as they, and the game, progresses, though; I recommend avoiding using the Homing Attack when running across walls or ceilings as you can sometimes drop to your death and you’ll also have to complete a QTE when hopping from wall-to-wall to land hits on the Egg Lancer. Dr. Eggman also erects protective shields and drops flaming hazards into the arena and also challenges you in the Tornado sections in the Egg Cauldron, though here it’s simply a case of hitting the right buttons to destroy his missiles and damage his weak spot.

Dark Gaia’s minions may be big and require more strategy but they all come down to QTEs.

The Werehog’s boss battles are much more varied and interesting by comparison. When battling the Dark Gaia Phoenix, you need to throw barrels of water at it to douse its flames while avoid its flaming shockwaves and feather barrage; the Dark Moray is protected by a shield that can only be lowered by attacking the eel heads around the base of the arena, then you have to freeze the beast (while also avoiding being frozen yourself) to attack its glowing weak spot; finally, the Dark Guardian is similar to a Titan, but a bit smaller, and must be stunned long enough for you to push blocks over to a switch to weaken it. In all three cases, the bosses become tougher and increase the rate of their attacks as the fight progresses and you’ll be tasked with performing a series of QTEs in order to deal massive damage and put them down. Thus, the length and difficulty of these fights depends greatly on how good you are at QTEs as, if you fail, you’ll have to go through all the motions to get to that point again, which can be annoying.

After conquering the gruelling Eggmanland, you’ll battle Dr. Eggman’s most dangerous machine yet!

Speaking of annoying, while the game is generally a lot of fun with only a few frustrating moments, Sonic Unleashed really kicks you in the balls when it presents you with its final stage, Eggmanland. A giant amusement park literally filled with traps, hazards, bottomless pits, and every kind of enemy and obstacle you’ve encountered so far, this stage is a true test of anyone’s mettle as you’re forced to switch between Sonic and the Werehog and take on a series of incredibly challenging platforming and combat tasks in order to progress. Easily the longest and most difficult stage in the game (or any Sonic game for that matter), Eggmanland can take up to an hour to get through and will have you tearing your hair out at its finicky platforming and frustrating sections. Once you finally get through his chore of a stage, though, you’ll have to battle Dr. Eggman one last time in his most interesting and dangerous contraption yet, the Egg Dragoon. You battle this as the Werehog and run around a small platform in freefall while avoiding Dr. Eggman’s shots and taking out his robots to attack the glowing green core on the machine’s tail. Once you do enough damage, you have to pull off another QTE sequence and then the fight moves to the next stage, which involves more aggressive attacks from Dr. Eggman and less windows of opportunity to strike. Still, it doesn’t seem as though you can fall off the platform you’re on and your attacks still do damage even when Dr. Eggman is guarding himself so just keep pressing your attack and make sure you don’t fail the QTTEs and this boss is nowhere near as intimidating as it first appears.

Plot the unwieldy Gaia Colossus then battle the tricky controls and camera to finish Dark Gaia.

Although Dr. Eggman is defeated, Dark Gaia rises from the planet’s core so Chip, finally remembering his true purposes as Light Gaia, causes all of the Gaia Temples to come together as the titanic Gaia Colossus and engage with his dark counterpart one-on-one. To do this, you need to hold X to boost the slow, clunky ass of the Dark Colossus towards the beast, guarding against or desperately trying to punch the flaming boulders it sends your way. When Dark Gaia charges up its big energy beam, try to move out of the way but for God’s sake put your guard up as it can instantly drain all of your health otherwise! Once you get close enough, you’ll have to perform another QTE and then you’ll switch to Sonic and be given a few seconds to race past Dark Gaia’s deadly tentacles and energy blasts and bash it in the eye (again, after completing a QTE). This must then be repeated twice more, with Dark Gaia’s attacks and ferocity growing each time; thankfully, your health is restored for each phase of the battle and you don’t have to restart right from the beginning if you die but this is still one of the more frustrating parts of the game. Dark Gaia isn’t so easily defeated, though, and mutates into the gruesome Perfect Dark Gaia. Of course, Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic for the final battle of the game. Unlike other Super Sonic levels, you don’t have to worry about a time limit as your Rings aren’t depleted over time; instead, you must fly/boost towards Perfect Dark Gaia, who has encased itself in an impenetrable shield, collecting Rings to fill up your health bar and dodging asteroids. While the Gaia Colossus distracts the creature, Super Sonic must fly around the shield avoiding obstacles, flaming meteors, and that same massive energy beam to attack the snake-lake tentacles that poke out sporadically through the barrier. This is easier said than done, though, as it’s really hard to see where you’re going or target the heads (there’s no aiming reticule this time); there are also no extra Rings to get and it’s ridiculously easy to get hit by Perfect Dark Gaia’s attacks or ram into an asteroid and deplete your health bar. Once you do finally destroy all of the heads, you’ll of course have to complete one last massive QTE sequence but, as long as you hit the right buttons and mash them into oblivion, you’ll finally destroy the beast and return the planet to normal.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike many Sonic videogames, there aren’t actually that many in-game power-ups on offer in Sonic Unleashed. Gone are the speed-up shoes, invincibility, and protective bubbles, replaced by simple Golden Rings and a few extra lives floating about the place. The Werehog is able to pick up power-ups that will instantly fill his health and/or Unleash Meter, power-up his attacks, increase his shield count, or bath him in a protective aura, though, which makes it worth your while to smash crates and doors in search of them.

Sonic can grab new shoes to perform additional abilities and reach new areas.

In addition to increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities with EXP, Sonic can also purchase a variety of foods that, when he eats them, will award him additional EXP (they can also be fed to Chip to increase his bond with Sonic, though this has no impact on the actual gameplay). Furthermore, like in Sonic Adventure, you can acquire additional abilities by finding special shoes in the hub worlds; the Stomping Shoes allow Sonic to perform a stomp to bash downwards through glass and blocks and onto enemies with a press of B in the air, the Light Speed Shoes let you dash along rows of Rings, the Wall Jump Shoes allow you to jump vertically up walls to reach new areas, and the Air Boost Shoes let you blast through the air by pressing X while jumping in order to cover large distances quickly.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements to earn in Sonic Unleashed; six of these are awarded simply by playing through the story and restoring the planet to normal but you’ll naturally also earn others through regular gameplay as you get Achievements for increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities and finishing stages with an S ranking. Sadly, considering the vast potential for fun and quirky Achievements, most of Sonic Unleashed’s are quite by-the-numbers; finish a Tornado section without missing a shot, talk to every NPC all over the world, collect half of (and every) the Sun and Moon Medals, and use the different shoes and you’ll snag some G but by far the most challenging Achievement sees you having to complete the various “Hot Dog” challenges in each area. The various Hog Dog Vendors will let you take on a series of challenges for the cost of a few Rings; these have you collecting a certain number of Rings, defeating a certain number of enemies, or finishing stages in a certain time limit but these aren’t like challenges in some Sonic games as you still have to finish the entire stage even once you complete the objective, By far the most difficult of these tasks you with completing Eggmanland in just forty-five minutes, which is all-but-impossible given that you’re guaranteed to die at least once during this stage and dying in these challenges means having to restart from the beginning. In the hub worlds, and scattered throughout the stages, you’ll find CDs, books, and videotapes that allow you to view the game’s cutscenes, artwork, characters, and listen to music in Professor Pickle’s laboratory. To do this, though, you’ll need to buy certain furniture from the game’s various shops, where you can also purchase some of these items and souvenirs to gift to the Professor. Other NPCs will give you side quests, such as finding lost children or clearing out enemies, or even challenge you with answering quizzes to help mix things up a bit. Finally, you can take on perilous obstacle course-like additional stages in each area and these can be expanded upon with some downloadable content that truly test your speed and reaction times.

The Summary:
Sonic Unleashed was exactly the breath of fresh, exhilarating air the franchise needed at the time; after Sonic ’06 proved to be such a broken, glitchy, disappointing mess of a game, it’s no exaggeration to say that even I had started to lose faith in Sonic Team. Thanks to the Hedgehog Engine, which allowed for crisp, vibrant visuals and high-speed action to be the order of the day, Sonic Unleashed was an incredibly fun and exciting gameplay experience that was an absolute blast to play through again. At the time, Sonic had never looked or played better and the game’s many varied locations and fantastic music and graphics really went a long way toward making up for the awfulness of Sonic ’06. And then there’s the Werehog stages. Truthfully, I didn’t really mind these all that much; yes, they could get overly long and annoying and very repetitive but they did help to break up the gameplay a bit. I think if maybe they had been a bit shorter (and fairer), and if Sonic Team had scrapped the Sun and Moon medals, these stages might have been received a bit better (or if the Werehog had been scrapped completely and replaced with, say, Knuckles the Echidna!) If there’s one area that truly lets the game down, though, it’s the entire finale. Eggmanland is an absolute ball-breaker to get through and is less a test of the skills you’ve built up throughout the game and more a test of your sanity and patience. Similarly, while I enjoyed the Egg Dragoon fight and playing as Super Sonic, the final battles against Dark Gaia and its perfect form were a clunky, frustrating end to an otherwise solid gaming experience. Thankfully, once you clear the game, you never have to endure these sections again unless you’re a sadist and can focus on replaying the games other, more entertaining sections instead.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Sonic Unleashed? Did you enjoy the boost-based mechanics introduced in the game or did you feel they made it too simple? What did you think to the Werehog and its gameplay sections and would you have preferred to see Knuckles used instead? What did you think to the story and Dark Gaia as the main antagonist? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Unleashed, sign up leave a comment below or share your thoughts on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content next Saturday!

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (Nintendo 3DS)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 27 September 2016
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
As I mentioned in my review of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (ibid, 2014), Sonic is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; even before the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic’s appearance and backstory were notably different from the Japanese designs and long-term Sonic fans saw the character interpreted as a slapstick Freedom Fighter, a rock star prince, and an angst-ridden superhero across numerous cartoons and comic books, to say nothing of the anime-inspired makeover he received in Sonic Adventure (ibid, 1998). Yet one of the more controversial redesigns for the character (aside from the initial design for the live-action movie) came when SEGA commissioned the production of a computer-animated series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). For me, these new designs actually made a lot of sense (aside from the sports tape) and I think SEGA should have started over with a complete franchise reboot with these designs. Unfortunately, concerns over this new direction and the negative reception of the Wii U spin-off title significantly soured the impact of this new series. Although not nearly as derided as its Wii U counterpart, Shattered Crystal still considered to be a disappointment so the announcement of a sequel came as something of a surprise for me. Even more surprising to many was the fact that the developers’ claims to have learned from their mistakes actually paid off, resulting in Fire & Ice receiving a far more positive reception from critics and fans alike.

The Plot:
After discovering an element known as “Ragnium”, Doctor Eggman harnesses its powers to create robots fast enough to outrun Sonic and his friends and pollute the environment to his liking. With the planet suffering from a series of earthquakes, and opposed by Eggman’s newest creation, D-Fekt, Sonic and his friends race to put an end to Eggman’s schemes using their newly-acquired powers of fire and ice.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is a 2.5D action/adventure platformer that involves a fair amount of exploration and character switching. Interestingly, though, there is nowhere near as much of this as in the previous game; because the map (helpfully displayed on the lower screen) shows the entirety of every stage, exploration is easier than ever and, since Sonic Tokens are no longer a thing and the game simply unlocks automatically as you clear each stage, there’s far less emphasis on backtracking and replaying previous stages. You’ll have to do it if you’re going for 100% completion but, this time around, the rewards for this are tied to additional gameplay options rather than story progression so you’re free to blast through stages as just Sonic if you want.

All the characters return with a handful of new abilities and a new playable character in the form of Amy Rose.

Just like in the last game, you can only play as Sonic at the start but you’ll unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, Knuckles the Echidna, and Amy Rose) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Once again, you can switch between each character on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, and all of their basic abilities carry over from the last game (they can all jump, use the Homing Attack, sprint along, and swing around using the “Enerbeam”). Their unique character abilities also remain intact but with a few added extras: when performing Knuckles’ dig move or Sticks’ boomerang throw, you no longer have to worry about a meter running down so you’re free to use them as much as you like and Tails’ Sea Fox sections have been moved to a dedicated spot on the overworld map.

Switch between fire and ice to create and destroy platforms and progress through stages.

Otherwise, things are very much the same but slightly tweaked: Sonic can still perform the Spin Dash and air boost and Tails can still hover along air currents but he now fires a reflecting laser rather than tossing bombs and Knuckles can also now perform a flying punch attack. The addition of Amy to the playable roster adds her patented Piko-Piko Hammer to your arsenal, which is primarily used to lower or move platforms and blocks with a tap of the X button. New to the game, though, are the random powers of fire and ice each character possesses; with a press of either L or R, you’ll switch between a fire and ice aura, each of which allows you to traverse stages in different ways. Switching to ice, for example, allows you to run across bodies of water by turning them into temporary ice blocks and using fire allows you to melt through ice; Tails’ laser can also be powered up with these elemental powers to reflect off surfaces and clear obstacles and, as the game progresses, you’ll be tasked with quickly switching between ice and fire to complete stages. As always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and the continued absence of a traditional life system means that you’ll simply lose Rings if you fall down bottomless pits or enter water. As long as you passed by a checkpoint, you’ll respawn in the stage you were in if you fall or get hit without any Rings, once again meaning that the game is far easier than most traditional Sonic titles.

Challenge Rooms and Dragon Rings add a bit of variety to the stages and award you with collectibles.

Sadly, while much of the game is improved (or, at least, streamlined) over its predecessor, the controls are still a bit unintuitive (at least for me) since the developers made sure to use every single button available on the 3DS this time around. Thankfully, though, stages are no longer locked out by Sonic Tokens; instead, the overworld map (which is now much bigger than before and features more stages per island than the last game) opens up as you complete each stage. You can even fast travel to a specific stage and island from the main overworld screen, which is very helpful, but this fast travel screen doesn’t tell you anything other than the stage names so you’ll need to know where you missed any collectibles when using it. When playing stages, you no longer have to worry about being slingshot all over the place by Enerbeam points; instead, traditional springs and grinding rails are the order of the day, making the game far more linear. While this is great for blasting through it, it does mean you’ll have to replay each stage from the start if you missed any of the collectibles rather than being able to backtrack within the stage as before. Again, the average game speed is quite slow, meaning you have to hold Y to sprint ahead and control is frequently taken out of your hands by loops, speed boosts, and auto-running sections. Every stage also includes a “Challenge Room” that is hidden a little bit out of the way; enter it and you’ll be tasked with completing a short obstacle course of sorts and navigating through a few hazards to grab a Trading Card. Also, you’ll find “Dragon Rings” in each stage; grab one and ten more will spawn along a path for you to collect within a time limit to earn a piece of Ragnium.

Alongside returning Sea Fox and racing sections, the new hovercraft and tunnel races add some variety.

Trading Cards and Ragnium are essential if you’re going for 100% completion as they can be used to unlock courses and Bot Racers on Thunder Island. This new gameplay element is presented alongside the aforementioned returning Sea Fox sections; now found on the main overworld map, they are much bigger and have more hazards and requirements than before but the controls remain the same (tap the screen to activate the sonar and see hazards and collectibles and fire missiles with X). This time around, though, once you’ve blasted the Trading Card, the stage will end automatically and you can try to finish them (and every stage) faster for a Ragnium shard. The racing stages also make a return, though this time they take place in a three lap format and pit you against Eggman’s Bot Racers rather than traditional Sonic rivals. Again, you’ll need to switch between fire and ice and use rails, stomps, and the Homing Attack to win and these races are often quite tricky as the computer controlled Bot is easily able to overtake or match pace with you. Also returning are the Worm Tunnel stages from the last game but without the worms and themed after ice and fire instead; while you still boost along down an auto-run tunnel and switch lanes to avoid bombs, this time you’ll need to switch to ice to run across frozen surfaces and fire to blast through ice blocks and will have to avoid more obstacles and race against much tighter time limits than before. A new bonus stage is also included, however, which sees you piloting Tails’ hovercraft in a vertical shooter of sorts. You can boost ahead by holding R and shoot missiles at icebergs with X but also have to watch out for whirlpools and mines, collecting clocks to extend your time and trying to reach the goal to earn another Trading Card before you’re destroyed or run out of time.

Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, not much has really changed from the last game; in fact, everything basically looks and sounds and plays exactly the same except with a stronger emphasis on ice and fire scattered throughout each stage. The camera is still positioned in this awkward way where your character and enemies are big enough but you don’t necessarily get fair warning of any hazards that might be in your way but, again, the game’s slower pace does somewhat compensate for this. As before, the game’s overworld is divided into islands; this time, there are seven, with six being home to the playable action stages where you’ll progress the story and the seventh being home exclusively to your upgrades and Bot Racers.

Some islands feature a bit more life and unique aesthetic and mechanics but they’re few and far between.

Thanks to the emphasis on ice and ice, you can expect to see a lot of elemental hazards and themes used throughout each stage, which again largely stick to the usual platforming clichés such as forests, deserts, and volcanoes but each island does try to add some variety in its bonus stages (such as the race missions, for example, which take place in a much more industrial, mechanical environment and the tunnels, which are all in caverns). Just like the last game, though, stages often appear largely barren and lifeless even though they’re generally much brighter and more varied in their appearance. You’ll notice that there is an abundance of spikes this time around and far more rails to grind and springs to hit than there are Enerbeam swing points this time around, which contributes to the game trying to be a bit more like a traditional Sonic title, and islands like Cutthroat Cove and Gothic Gardens try to bring some visual flair to the proceedings by including skeletal remains, haunted graveyard-like aesthetics, and having you explode barrels with your fire ability but, again, stage variety mainly comes down to a reskin of the same mechanics, meaning that the game can get quite boring quite quickly even with the added mechanics.

Thankfully, not only does the game utilise CG cutscenes for its story but Dr. Eggman is back as the central antagonist.

Thankfully, Fire & Ice ditches the boring speech bubbles and partially-animated cutscenes of its predecessor and doubles down on the CG cutscenes. Any time there’s a new story element or the plot progresses, a fully animated and fully voiced cutscene is used to show this progression and, even better, these look and feel exactly like an episode of the cartoon, containing all of the same wacky banter and hijinx you expect from these characters. These cutscenes, and the game in general, are bolstered further by the presence of the bombastic Dr. Eggman, whose absence really sucked a lot of the life out of the last game, though, again, I can’t say that I was blown away by much of the music, with is serviceable enough, at best.

Enemies and Bosses:
Although Dr. Eggman returns as the primary antagonist, many of the robots you’ll encounter are just as uninspired as in the last game; again, they don’t release little woodland critters upon destruction and generally appear sporadically throughout stages to act as destructible platforms to higher areas or brief hazards to shed you of your Rings. You can still use the Enerbeam to relieve them of their shields and many of them will respawn when you leave the screen to be used again but, for the most part, they’re nowhere near as memorable or quirky as Eggman’s usual Badniks.

Switch between the different characters to dodge Unga Bunga’s hands and avoid sticky tar.

However, this time around Fire & Ice actually includes boss battles! Four of them, in fact, with each one featuring an auto tag mechanic that has you (as Sonic) switching out with another of your team mates during the battle (unlike the last game, which ditched your teammates altogether for its one boss battle). Each boss is a massive mechanical monstrosity piloted by D-Fekt in his desperate attempt to win his master’s affections by destroying Sonic and his friends and requires a bit more strategy than just bouncing into a cockpit to bring down. The first boss, Unga Bunga, sees Sonic and Amy team up against a giant series of totem poles that tries to smash you with its flaming hands. Once you’ve dodged out of the way and scored with the Homing Attack enough times as Sonic, Amy will tag in and needs to use her fire hammer to melt the ice blocks to that Sonic can alternate between fire and ice to climb the totem pole and attack the boss’s head. Honestly, the hardest part about this fight for me was the brief moment of stupidity where I didn’t realise that Amy needed to be in fire mode to destroy the ice blocks; once you crack that, though, it’s simply a case of having the right element equipped to attack its head. The second boss has Sonic and Tails take turns battling a giant golem-like robot that drops sticky blobs of tar into the arena; if you get stuck in the tar, you’ll have to mash B to free yourself before the boss attacks with its claw-like tentacles. When these fly across the arena, hop up and use the Homing Attack as Sonic to deal damage and then, as Tails, you’ll have to use the air vents on each side of the arena to hover between the floating bubbles and avoid dropping into the damaging tar that floods to floor until the golem collapses and opens itself up for another Homing Attack. You can also use Tails’ laser blaster to clear out the tar bubbles, which is handy to know was the hazards, speed, and aggression of the bosses attacks increase as the fight progresses, making this a bit more frustrating than the first boss simply because of the limited nature of Tails’ hover.

Disposing of the spider’s mines can be quite tricky, but the final boss is the easiest of the game’s bosses.

Next, Sonic and Knuckles team up against a huge spider cobbled together from nearby junk; the spider likes to try and ram into you in its first phase, though you can take advantage of the nearby temporary platforms to avoid it and hit it with a Homing Attack (but watch out for the lingering acid residue it leaves in its wake). After the first portion of its health bar has been drained (this is the only boss in the game with three health bars, oddly enough), it’ll spit web balls at you that you must hit back at it with a well-timed Homing Attack. Finally, you’re forced to burrow into the ground with Knuckles; the spider releases a number of mines into the dirt that will explode if you don’t burrow around them in a circle with the right element equipped to send them back at the boss, which I found to be one of the more frustrating parts of this boss as it can be a bit difficult to make a circle in the restrictive area you’re trapped in. Finally, after enduring the hardest race, Worm Tunnel, Sea Fox, and hovercraft stages in the game, you’ll have a final showdown with D-Fekt on the volcanic island of Ragna Rock. This time, Sonic teams up with Sticks and must either dodge the falling boulders or use Sticks’ boomerang (in conjunction with your elemental abilities) to destroy them as they rain from the sky while also jumping over the flaming shockwaves they leave as they land. When the two-headed dragon’s tail appears onscreen, quickly hit it with a Homing Attack with the right element equipped to deal damage and, before you know it, this disappointing final boss will be done and you’ll be victorious.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessor, Fire & Ice is sadly missing many of the power-ups you might expect from a Sonic title and actually has even less on offer to help you out than Shattered Crystal as you can only find shield capsules in stages rather than ones containing additional Rings. On the flip side, though, the game is also much easier in a lot of ways since the stages may have increased but they’re also much shorter and, again, there’s little to no danger of dying and even less emphasis on collecting Rings as you don’t need to do this to earn collectibles this time around. Similar to the last game, though, each stage features a number of collectibles for you to find either by finishing the stage, completing Challenge Rooms, or exploring using the character’s unique abilities.

Trade your Ragnium for upgrades and Bots or collect hammers to equip reskins for Amy’s signature mallet.

Once you have collected enough Trading Cards, you can bring them to Knuckles at Tails’ Workshop on the overworld to complete a variation of the first game’s jigsaw mini games and unlock additional courses for your Bot Racers. You can also find junk in each stage that you must deliver to Sticks’ Burrow, similar to the crystal shards from the first game, in order to unlock a special Bot Racer. Every time you complete a stage, defeat enemies, or fulfil certain objectives, you’ll earn a piece of Ragnium; with enough of these, you can purchase additional Bot Racers and the same upgrades from the last game (an instant shield at your first checkpoint, a Ring attractor, and the ability to destroy enemies with the spring function) however these came at a much higher cost than in the last game. Finally, you’ll also be able to find hammers in each stage; collect enough of these and you’ll unlock different hammer skins for Amy that serve no function as far as I can tell other than looking different.

Additional Features:
Sadly, there’s far less on offer in Fire & Ice for 100% completion than in Shattered Crystal; you don’t need to collect every piece of Ragnium to finish the game, it doesn’t take much to find all the junk, hammers, and Trading Cards, and the rewards for finding these collectibles are minimal, at best. While you can still visit Sonic’s Shack to view cutscenes, listen to music, and read a bonus comic, the toy shop is gone so you can’t even view character models any more and you don’t even unlock a lame party like in the last game. Instead, the bulk of the game’s additional features are focused entirely around Bot Racing; you can purchase new Bot Racers on Thunder Island and use the 3DS’ wireless connectivity to race against other players across a variety of courses but I don’t know anyone else who has a copy of the game so this was completely wasted on me and I never got to experience it.

The Summary:
If you’ve played Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal then there’s not much new on offer in Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice; the game looks and plays pretty much exactly the same just with a fire and ice mechanic tacked on with very little explanation and to add a slight wrinkle to the formula from the last game. Fire & Ice is both easier but artificially longer than Shattered Crystal thanks to the stages being better spread across the overworld, meaning it’s much easier to play in short bursts, and the story is much funnier and feels more authentic thanks to the inclusion of Dr. Eggman. However, while the team-based mechanic is better emphasised in the inclusion of actual boss battles, I found myself switching characters far less than in the first game; Knuckles, especially, is massively underutilised in the game and it’s perfectly viable to just stick with Sonic and still succeed without much issue. Separating the different gameplay mechanics like the Sea Fox into their own stages helps to make things a bit more manageable and provide a bit of variety to the gameplay and not locking progression behind arbitrary tokens make the game less of a chore to play, to be sure. However, much of the replayability is similarly arbitrary as Amy’s hammers are largely cosmetic and there’s far less reward for your efforts after finishing the game and collecting everything unless you’re able to connect to another player. It’s definitely better than the first game thanks to your abilities not being tied to a damaging meter and the improvements to the story and progression but it’s still a far cry from a classic Sonic title. I appreciate all the little improvements and additions but, in the end, it fails to really be any better or worse than its predecessor even with the improved cutscenes and more action-orientated gameplay.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice? Do you think the game was an improvement over its predecessor or were you just as unimpressed with its offerings? Were you happy to see Amy Rose added to the playable roster and which of the characters was your favourite to play as? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would like to see more Sonic Boom content from SEGA or do you think it’s best to move on from that experiment? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice, good or bad, leave a comment below and check back in next Saturday for more Sonic content.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal (Nintendo 3DS)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 11 November 2014
Developer: Sanzaru Games

The Background:
Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to reinvention and adaptation; as I’ve already detailed, Sonic’s design and backstory were dramatically different outside of Japan, where he was more of a snarky rock star as opposed to a Freedom Fighter who was once friends with the kindly Professor Ovi Kintobor. Sonic’s design was further altered for his jump to 3D, where he was redesigned as a more aerodynamic, anime character and many long-term Sonic fans have seen Sonic’s lore go through numerous changes so it’s honestly strange to me that there was such a negative backlash when Sonic and his friends were redesigned once more for SEGA’s CGI Sonic series, Sonic Boom (2014 to 2017). While the over abundance of sports tape was a bit strange, I was actually very much onboard with the redesigns at the time and fully believe that SEGA should have wiped the slate clean and started over with a fresh, new take on the franchise. Unfortunately, as great as the Sonic Boom cartoon was, the accompanying videogames irrevocably damaged the spin-off’s appeal; the Wii U title, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Big Red Button, 2014) was notoriously glitchy and is generally regarded as one of the worst games in the franchise. The 3DS counterpart, however, was developed by a completely different team and, while Shattered Crystal was met with criticism for its lacklustre, repetitive gameplay, it was still received slightly more favourably than Rise of Lyric.

The Plot:
In a prequel to the Sonic Boom cartoon, Sonic and his friends race to rescue Amy Rose from the clutches of the malevolent, serpentine cyborg Lyric, the recently awakened Last Ancient who seeks to claim the fragmented Lost Crystal and, with it, the power to dominate the world!

Gameplay:
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal is a 2.5D action/adventure platform title with a heavy emphasis on exploration, character switching, and both finding collectibles and finishing stages as quickly as possible. If you don’t mind the headaches and eye strain, you can adjust the 3DS’s slider to activate the 3D effect, which adds a decent amount of depth and causes the colourful graphics to pop out nicely enough but I prefer to have this turned off to avoid being distracted by this effect. Like in Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), when you first start the game you can only play as Sonic and will unlock the other playable characters (Miles “Tails” Prower, Sticks the Badger, and Knuckles the Echidna) as you complete stages and advance through the story. Each character can be switched to on the fly using either the directional pad or the touch screen, allowing you to quickly swap between the different characters and their unique abilities quickly enough, but all characters share some basic abilities. They can all jump with B, Homing Attack nearby enemies, springs, and other objects by pressing B again in mid-air, sprint by holding Y (basically the same as the Boost function that has become a staple of Sonic games), perform a stomp by pressing down and X in mid-air, and bust out the “Enerbeam” by pressing A to swing from certain platforms and remove shields from enemies.

Each character can use their unique abilities to traverse stages and reach new areas and secrets.

Each character also has their own unique mechanics to help you explore the game’s locations: Sonic can perform the Spin Dash when on the group and a vertical and horizontal air dash by pressing up, left, or right and X in mid-air to smash through blue blocks, and Tails can hover by holding B in mid-air (which he can use to ride air currents but this isn’t the same as his usual flying mechanic as he’ll quickly descend downwards as soon as you start hovering), toss bombs with X, and use his submarine, the Sea Fox, in certain areas. Sticks’ main gimmick is her boomerang, which you can throw with X to activate switches, collect Golden Rings and items, or defeat enemies; you can even hold X to manually guide her boomerang for as long as the onscreen meter lasts but you’ll have to be very precise when trying to guide it through narrow passageways. Finally, there’s Knuckles, who disappointingly can’t glide or climb walls anymore but he can punch with X and burrow through specific parts of the environment to reach new areas and items; however, if his meter runs out when you’re burrowing, you’ll be deposited back where you started and take damage so be sure to hold Y to burrow faster, avoid any mines, and pop out of the ground before you lose all of your Rings! Speaking of which, as always, Golden Rings will protect you from damage and can be found…sporadically….across each of the game’s locations. Unlike pretty much every single Sonic game, though, Shattered Crystal doesn’t have a standard life system; collecting one hundred Rings will earn you a Token but doesn’t grant you an extra life and, if you fall down one of the many bottomless pits or fall into water, you’ll be deposited back to the last piece of solid ground you were on and take damage rather than dying. If you get hurt without any Rings, you’ll simply respawn at the last checkpoint you passed (or at the start of the stage) and can continue on, all of which makes the game significantly easier than most Sonic games as you never have to worry about running out of lives. This is helpful as I found myself struggling a bit with the controls; for some reason, I just didn’t find them very intuitive and it seemed like the developers went out of their way to use all of the buttons (except for L and R) when they really didn’t need to.

The map is a bit limited and areas are often locked out until you collect enough Sonic Badges.

I mentioned Tokens just now and you can earn these in every stage by finishing with a hundred Rings and/or within a specific time limit. If you take too long to finish a stage, you’ll simply miss out on the Token rather than having to restart, which is helpful, but Tokens are a mere distraction rather than an incentive to play as they’re simply used to purchase “Toys” from a shop and to add to your overall completion percentage. Each stage also hides a number of Crystal shards and Blueprints, both of which also unlock additional, extraneous features, but the main reason you’ll want to find these and finish stages is that they award “Sonic Badges” (kind of like the Emblems in Sonic Adventure) which are necessary to unlock stages. If you don’t collect enough, you’ll have to go back and replay previous stages and explore a bit more to find these items and earn a Sonic badge in order to progress the story, which is a bit like Sonic Unleashed’s (ibid, 2008) Sun and Moon Medals (though I never had any instances in that game where I was locked out of stages like I was here). Thus, the best thing to do is to take your time and explore every stage as thoroughly as possible and then replay it afterwards to go for the fastest time since the Sonic Badges are actually needed to progress. Stages in Shattered Crystal are unlike anything I’ve seen in a Sonic game before; you enter them from a limited overworld map (from which you can also access Tails’ Workshop and the aforementioned shop and travel to other islands to take on more stages) and, rather than being divided into or labelled as “Zones” or “Acts”, you’re simply presented with a large, multi-layered stage to explore.

Gameplay is spiced up a bit by some submarine, auto-run, and racing sections.

The game runs at a pretty slow speed for the most part; you have to hold Y to move faster and there are an abundance of automatic boost sections where you can literally take your hands off the 3DS since your input is not required, but speed is not the objective of this Sonic game. Instead, you need to explore high and low using each character’s abilities to find all the hidden times. Sometimes, you’ll need to grind on some rails and quickly chain together Homing Attacks or ride air currents and swing across gaps on the fly to reach these items, while others you just use the touch screen to slingshot your way to different parts of the stage to find them and work you way towards the exit. Gameplay is mixed up a little bit in the Sea Fox sections, which see you controlling the submarine in a series of underwater caves lined with mines. By touching the touch screen, you’ll activate the radar and get a brief look at the layout of the area and you can fire missiles with X to destroy mines and rocks that block your progress but be sure to keep an eye on the meter and avoid getting hit as this will cost you time (though you can, and absolutely should, collect the clocks scattered around the area to refill this meter). Each of the game’s islands also includes an auto-running section where, you (as Sonic) must race along a tunnel very similar to the Special Stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), avoiding electrified barriers, switching lanes, Boosting through walls, collecting Rings, and using the Enerbeam to grapple onto overhead lines. If you fail to grapple at the right time or hit a barrier, you have to start from the beginning again and you can’t switch lanes while Boosting or jumping, which is extremely annoying, but, while these sections get faster and trickier as the game progresses, they’re pretty simple to complete on one or two (maybe three) tries. Similarly, you’ll also be asked to race against certain characters (including criminally underused cameos from Shadow the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic) in sidescrolling races that remind me of those from the Sonic Rivals games (Backbone Entertainment/Sega Studio USA, 2006 to 2007) except you can’t attack your rival like in those games.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal looks serviceable enough, for the most part; the graphics seem a little distorted at times but, to be fair, I find that to be a common issue with the 3DS. The camera is maybe zoomed out a little too much, though, or in this weird, awkward position where you can’t really see enough of what’s ahead to make the split-second jumps or actions required of you. It’s also, at times, a little difficult to see what’s part of the environment and what can hurt you; I found this especially troublesome in the Ancient City stages, where it wasn’t immediately clear that pools of water or waterfalls could damage you.

The game’s a mixture of the usual clichés but they can be quite colourful and make decent use of the 3D effects.

The game is split into six islands, each with up to three stages to play. Each island is modelled after such age old gaming clichés as a beach, a canyon, or a volcano and is distinguished by little more than a slight change in the overworld design and layout of the levels. As you progress, you’ll notice more breaks in the grinding rails, for example, or more air currents and switches, or a mixture of these and other mechanics to put everything you’ve learned along the way to the test. By the time you reach the final island, Air Fortress, the game finally ditches the hint balloons and leaves you to figure out for yourself to switch to Tails at the last second or has you desperately trying to hit switches with Sticks as platforms appear and disappear beneath your feet. Sadly, there really isn’t all the much to make each island unique; the aforementioned temporary platforms and rails look the same no matter which island you’re on and it’s rare that stages get a chance to be much more than a skin swap.

Sadly, the game relies too much on speech bubbles to tell its story rather than CG cutscenes.

The Scrapyard and Robot Facility give it a go by introducing a grimy, industrial aesthetic and substituting spikes for jet flames, but you’ll see these elements repeated in the Volcanic Caverns and Air Fortress, which takes away from their distinctiveness. Some stages, like the Ancient Ruins, remind me a little of similar “Ruins” stages from other Sonic titles, which is a nice call-back if nothing else. The game’s story is told using both CG cutscenes in the style of the Sonic Boom cartoon and partially animated sequences where characters talk using speech balloons that are often way too big for the words they are saying. Voice clips are also used in these sections, and during gameplay, and the writing is about on point for the show, being an amusing mixture of bickering, confidence, and absurdity amongst the main four characters. As for music, I can’t really say I was massively impressed with what Shattered Crystal had to offer; it was catchy and fitting enough but nothing too special and the sound effects were the same recycled tunes we’ve heard over and over again from recent Sonic releases.

Enemies and Bosses:
In a rare change of pace for a Sonic title, Shattered Crystal does not feature the traditional Badnik enemies we’ve all come to know and love; indeed, Dr. Eggman himself appears only in one, very brief scene and he and his robot army are, instead, supplanted by Lyric and his…robot army. Lyric’s robots are very similar to the Badniks of old, firing projectiles your way and generally being a nuisance, but lack a lot of the character and charm of Sonic’s usual enemies. Occasionally, you’ll have to use the Enerbeam to relieve an enemy of its shield or maybe switch to Tails or Sticks to attack from a distance but, for the most part, robots exist simply to be an annoyance or act as an alternative route to new areas and goodies, often respawning in order to fulfil this function, and aren’t even made satisfying to smash since no little woodland critters are released upon their destruction. In another change of pace for not just a Sonic game but videogames in general, Shattered Crystal doesn’t actually have any boss battles except for the final bout against Lyric. Instead, you’ll race down the Worm Tunnels as a giant mechanic worm tears up the environment around you; the worm itself, however, cannot harm you and all you really need to do is stay alive through quick lane switching to win.

Lyric, the only boss in the game, is a joke and easily beaten with the bare minimum of skill.

In fact, the closest thing the game has to traditional boss battles before the finale are the racing sections, which have Sonic race against Sticks, Shadow, and Metal Sonic towards a goal, hopping from springs, rails, swinging over gaps and dashing through objects as you go. These can be a bit challenging as your rival is often only a few steps behind you so it’s best to try and take the higher path wherever possible and keep your thumb pressed to the Y button to sprint ahead. Once you reach the Air Fortress, you’ll have to battle Lyric in a three stage boss battle that is broken up by similar race sections; Sonic’s friends are all captured, completely neutering the game’s core mechanic and theme of teamwork, and you must chase after them between Lyric’s phases. When you battle Lyric, it’s on a progressively smaller and dangerous platform; if you fall or are knocked off, you’ll respawn back on it but it’ll cost you Rings or possibly kill you if you don’t have any Rings left. Lyric’s attacks increase in speed and ferocity as the battle progresses and you’re given less time to counterattack but, fundamentally, the core strategy remains the same and ridiculously easy throughout the fight: avoid his vertical and horizontal lasers, dodge the missiles (grabbing any Rings as they appear), and Homing Attack his tentacles to dispel his energy shield and Homing Attack his cockpit (which you can also attack when he fires his horizontal laser).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just as it’s disappointingly light on boss battles, Shattered Crystal is equally light on power-ups; you’ll find capsules containing Rings and a protective shield in the stages but that’s all. There is no speed up shoes or invincibility monitors here, no Special Stages to play or Chaos Emeralds to collect for a power-up, and characters are limited to their specific abilities, with no option to upgrade them or learn new ones.

Explore to find Blueprints, which can be assembled to earn upgrades and make the game even easier.

If you collect all of the Blueprints in each stage, though, you’ll be able to build an upgrade at Tails’ Workshop by completing a simple jigsaw puzzle mini game. These allow you to upgrade the map up to three times to highlight secrets and nearby bonuses, grant you an instant shield at your first checkpoint, cause Rings to be attracted to you, halve the amount of Rings you lose when taking damage, and instantly destroy enemies with the Enerbeam or whilst sprinting (effectively turning this function into the actual Boost function).

Additional Features:
Shattered Crystal makes every effort to encourage you to explore every stage with each character in order to find all of the Crystal shards and Blueprints and to meet the criteria to win every Token in the game (which you can also earn by working out with Knuckles every twenty-four hours). Sadly, as mentioned, these Tokens are pretty useless; if you want to get 100% and see all the toys the game has on offer, it’s not a bad incentive to keep playing but it’s not that great either as the toys basically amount to character models of the characters and enemies and not much else.

Read a comic, collect some toys, and watch the characters dance. All honestly really rubbish bonus features.

Thankfully, you don’t need to find all of the Crystal shards to finish the game but, thanks to the map upgrades, it’s very easy to find them all; when you find them, you can restore the titular shattered crystal at Sticks’s Burrow and, once it’s fully restored, you’ll get the grand prize of a Purple Token and a special toy of the main characters. If you then collect all of the Sonic Badges, you can unlock Amy’s House and are treated to an amusing (if awkward) scene of the five main characters dancing to a bit of disco music and…that’s it. You can’t unlock Amy as a playable character, don’t unlock any additional forms or skins, and the only reason you’d really want to go back and find everything is so that your save file reads 100%. You can also visit Sonic’s Shack to watch the game’s cutscenes and read a bonus comic, and use the 3DS’ Streetpass function and to connect to the Wii U but I have no idea what these functions do, if anything.

The Summary:
I’d heard nothing but negative feedback regarding Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal; this didn’t necessarily put me off the game as, being a die-hard Sonic fan, I’m happy to play any and all Sonic titles and make my own opinions but I had put this game off for way too long and was happy to finally bite the bullet and experience it for myself. Overall, I have to say that it’s nowhere near as bad as I was led to believe; it’s not great, certainly, and is a very different type of Sonic game but it’s pretty simple to play and complete and was fun enough as a brief distraction. Having said that, though, it’s a tough game to recommend; it’s annoying that you can’t destroy enemies by jumping on them (you have to use the Homing Attack or character’s abilities) and it’s very tedious to lock out your progression with the Sonic Badges and force you to replay other stages just to progress the story. Similarly, even with all the map upgrades, you still need to explore every stage to the fullest as Blueprints and Crystals will only appear when they’re nearby and the lack of a real reward for finding everything is a big letdown. Still, there’s enough here to distract you (especially younger players) for a day or two and it’s not bad as an action/adventure platformer if you keep your expectations low.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal? Did you enjoy the game or were you put off by the emphasis on exploration instead of speed and action? What did you think to the different characters and which was your favourite to play as? Were you disappointed with the game and, if so, what were some of the flaws that put you off it? What did you think to the Sonic Boom cartoon, redesigns, and the introduction of Sticks? Would you have liked to see SEGA replace the existing Sonic designs with those from Sonic Boom and apply them to more traditional Sonic games? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal, good or bad, leave a comment below and be sure to check out my review of the sequel.

Talking Movies: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Talking Movies

Released: 8 April 2022
Director: Jeff Fowler
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $110 million
Stars: Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Idris Elba, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, and Tom Butler

The Plot:
After defeating the schemes of Doctor Robotnik (Carrey) and banishing the mad scientist to a mushroom planet, Sonic the Hedgehog (Schwartz) is determined to make his mark as a hero in Green Hills. However, when Doctor Robotnik returns to conquer the world and exact revenge against Sonic with the help of Knuckles the Echidna (Elba) and the mysterious Master Emerald, Sonic must join forces with his new friend, Miles “Tails” Prower (O’Shaughnessey), on a globe-trotting adventure to find the emerald before its too late.

The Background:
As a principal figurehead in the escalating Console War between Nintendo and SEGA, Sonic has seen his fair share of adaptations, starring in numerous comic books and animated ventures over the years, with each one altering his appearance and backstory and making him one of the most iconic and, yet, convoluted videogame mascots. Development of a Sonic the Hedgehog movie can be traced back to 1993, when the character dominated television screens with his numerous animated adventures, but, thanks to numerous legal and creative issues, the best Sonic had to settle for was the gorgeous original video animation (OVA), Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (Ikegami, 1996). However, after Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to the franchise, development of a live-action/CGI hybrid movie finally entered production in earnest; fans, and audiences the world over, were horrified when the first teaser released, however, and the studio scrambled to redesign Sonic into something a little less nightmare-inducing. Surprisingly, Sonic the Hedgehog (Fowler, 2020) bucked the trend of most videogame adaptations by being critically and commercially successful, and a sequel was soon pushed into development. Also surprisingly, star Jim Carrey expressed interest and excitement in returning to the role and portraying a more physically accurate version of Dr. Robotnik, and the cast was bolstered not only by expanding upon Tails brief cameo at the end of the first movie but also by the genius decision to cast Idris Elba as Knuckles and introduce more elements from the videogames that were missing from the first film. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has, as of this writing, been met with fairly positive reviews that praised the action and humour but criticised the runtime and pacing. So far, the film has grossed almost $160 million worldwide, raising hopes for Paramounts plans for a third movie, and a Knuckles-centric spin-off, despite Carrey suddenly announcing his retirement from acting.

The Review:
Like many, I’m sure, I was very surprised by how good Sonic the Hedgehog turned out. Considering I felt (and, to be fair, still feel) like an all-CGI movie would’ve been a better, less restrictive, and cheaper option (with Carrey the only human character and donning a fat suit), it was a pretty fun road trip adventure that did a decent job of capturing the spirit of the videogames while also presenting a new take on SEGA’s super-fast mascot. All of the fan service definitely helped, as well; while I had the post-credits scene spoiled for me, I was very happy to see an echidna tribe cameo at the start of the film and felt like the film did just enough to establish its premise to build upon its lore in sequels.

Sonic is determined to use his powers for good, which makes him somewhat reckless and impulsive.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 finds Sonic in a much more stable and confident position than where he started in the first film; where he was once a lonely outcast, hiding out and barely really understanding his incredible supersonic speed, he’s now a happy and energetic bundle of spines thanks to being taken in by Tom (Marsden) and Maddie Wachowski (Sumpter). Pumped up from discovering his superspeed can allow him to do incredible things, Sonic has been trying to make a name for himself as a superhero in nearby Seattle, however his enthusiasm has a tendency to make him reckless; rather than simply allow local law enforcement to handle such occurrences as bank robberies and high-speed chases, Sonic feels obligated to step in and help out, which generally results in cartoonish chaos due to his immaturity. Though Tom tries to explain to Sonic that his powers will be useful in time, and that his moment to shine as a hero is inevitable, he also stresses that Sonic is still just a kid and needs to let that moment come naturally rather than force it. Thankfully, Sonic doesn’t outright reject his friend’s advice, but he does feel a duty to make Longclaw’s (Donna Jay Fulks) sacrifice worthwhile and to make her proud by using his powers to help others and protect his newfound friends. While they were a central aspect of the first film, Tom and Maddie really don’t get all that much to do here; they treat Sonic as a combination of a pet, a friend, and a surrogate son and the three have an adorable family unit going on, which is nice to see. There’s no dissension between them, even though they may despair of Sonic’s recklessness and immaturity at times, but they don’t really factor all that much into the plot beyond Tom being a loyal, if goofy, friend and Maddie being a supportive influence.

While the human characters are pushed aside, Sonic gains a new friend in Tails.

I can’t say that I’m massively disappointed by this, as I’d much rather these films focus on the videogame characters, but it does lead to some odd pacing moments. The big gag of the film is that Maddie’s sister, Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), still doesn’t care for Tom and doesn’t want him ruining her wedding. Unfortunately for Rachel, Tom accidentally swaps out her wedding ring for one of Sonic’s Golden Rings, causing her wedding to be ruined by a snowstorm, and then there’s a noticeable lag in the second act as Rachel and Maddie team up to help rescue Sonic from Commander Walters (Butler) of the Guardian of United Nations (G.U.N.) and confront her would-be husband, Randall (Shemar Moore), in scenes that really interrupt the pace of the film. Thankfully, Tails is on hand to add to Sonic’s circle of friends; here portrayed as a young mechanic from another world who is awestruck by Sonic’s speed and bravery, Tails travels to Green Hills to warn Sonic of Dr. Robotnik’s return and gets swept up in his globe-trotting adventure to find the Master Emerald. A skilled inventor, Tails lacks confidence in a fight and is plagued by self-doubt after a lifetime of bullying for his extra tail, which allows him to fly by spinning his tails like helicopter blades. However, his self-esteem is boosted by Sonic’s mere presence as he pushes Tails to accompany him to Siberia, encourages him to compete in a protracted and lengthy dance-off, and is impressed at the young fox’s inventions, which include a translator, a laser pistol, and a hologram projector. Tails arrives at just the right time as, while Sonic has found a stable family unit with Tom and Maddie, he still doesn’t really have any real friends, much less anthropomorphic kin such as himself; having observed Sonic for some time using his machines, Tails is eager to just be around him and is overjoyed when they form a fast friendship due to the pressing nature of the current crisis. Tails gives Sonic the chance to pay forward the kindness Tom showed him in the last film, but his attempts to show Tails Earth customs tend to lead to cartoonish pratfalls or are cut short by Dr. Robotnik’s repeated attacks. However, Sonic quickly takes a liking to Tails and sees him as a little brother, of sorts; he’s distraught when Tails his hurt because of his recklessness and fully prepared to put himself on the line to keep his new friend from being hurt again, but comes to trust in him, and their unlikely ally, for the finale, which requires a team effort rather than Sonic shouldering the burden alone.

Dr. Robotnik returns more wacko than ever, and joined by the aggressive and prideful Knuckles!

While Tails’s intentions are noble, he sadly arrives too late to warn Sonic of Dr. Robotnik’s return, or the presence of Knuckles, a super-strong echidna from a long-dead tribe who is as prideful as he is aggressive. Having been marooned on the Mushroom Planet for nearly a year, Dr. Robotnik has gone even more wacko than he was before; embracing his baldness and his wild moustache, he spent his days trying to brew tea from the native foliage and constructing a machine to attract the attention of other lifeforms using one of Sonic’s quills. This led Knuckles to him, and the mad scientist was easily able to foster an alliance with the headstrong echidna by leading him to Sonic, whom Knuckles blames for the death of his father and his tribe since his people never returned from their mission to retrieve the Master Emerald’s location from Longclaw. Exhibiting physical abilities similar to Sonic’s Knuckles brings a raw, primal power that, coupled with his naïvety and pride, make him a formidable foe. Thanks to Knuckles’s blind vendetta against Sonic, Dr. Robotnik s able to reunite with Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub), reassume control of his machines, and begin a quest to locate the Master Emerald to not only get revenge against Sonic but to subjugate the entire world to his mad desires since the Master Emerald has to power to turn wishes into reality. Jim Carrey is clearly having the time of his life as Dr. Robotnik, meaning he devours every scene he’s in and is a constant highlight of the movie, but this does come with some detriments; some scenes of him going off the rails drag on a little, I felt like Agent Stone was a waste of screen time, and it’s still disappointing that he’s not wearing a fat suit. Knuckles, however, was a fantastic inclusion; he has a real weight to him, and his habit of taking everything literally reminded me of Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and made for some fun moments. Rather than being a complete moron as in some depictions, Knuckles is a misguided and sheltered warrior who’s burdened by his losses and is trying to fulfil his destiny, just like Sonic, and this means he has some heart and poignancy alongside being a hostile meathead.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The first movie was all about telling a heartfelt story about the power of friendship, and helping Sonic to move past his traumatic childhood and become an accepted part of Tom and Maddie’s life. Here, the central theme of the movie is destiny; Sonic is in a rush to realise his true calling and to make Longclaw proud, just as Knuckles is so blinded by his duty to retrieve the Master Emerald that it makes him susceptible to Dr. Robotnik’s obvious manipulations. Despite his recklessness, Sonic’s heroic nature allows him to recognise when his friends (Tom, mostly) are trying to help him rather than push them away, and, while he’s determined to oppose Dr. Robotnik and fend off Knuckles, he eventually reaches a point where he can see that Knuckles has been manipulated by the mad doctor and so focuses on trying to keep the Master Emerald out of Robotnik’s hands rather than waste time fighting Knuckles. Fans of the Sonic franchise will find Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as littered with Easter Eggs and reference as the first film: Tom’s ring tone is the iconic Sonic theme, Agent Stone uses a brewery called Mean Bean as cover, and there more than a few visual cues taken from Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) such as Sonic snowboarding away from an avalanche, the Seattle sewers exploding in water geysers, and Sonic striking a pose ripped straight from the Dreamcast cover art. While I remain somewhat disappointed that these films don’t take place in a fantasy, full-CGI world, these references help to alleviate that and the addition of Knuckles only helps to infuse further visual cues from the games. The hidden temple is almost exactly like the Echidna architecture seen in Sonic Adventure, and the interior is heavily inspired by the traps, water, and layout of Labyrinth Zone.

After going head-to-dread, Sonic and Knuckles team up to put a stop to Robotnik’s mad schemes.

The battles between Sonic and Knuckles are easily the film’s biggest highlight, though; exhibiting superhuman strength, Knuckles can both keep up with Sonic’s speed, leap vast distances, and easily overpower him with a single punch, crackling with red energy, Knuckles can scale walls, catch Sonic’s spinning form in mid-air, and unleash a flurry of punches without breaking a sweat, and his incredible strength is matched only by his no-nonsense attitude as he doesn’t hesitate to smash first and ask questions later. Dr. Robotnik returns in full force with his army of drones; however, while some resemble Buzz Bombers, his traditional Badniks continue to be absent from the films. He does pilot a far more faithful Egg-O-Matic pod this time around, though, and Carrey is constantly wriggling his fingers and striking wild poses as he directs and controls his machines to unleash laser blasts and a barrage of missiles at every turn. Dr. Robotnik’s true goal, however, is to seize the all-powerful Master Emerald for himself; thanks to hacking Sonic’s phone, and his network of satellites, Dr. Robotnik is easily able to track Sonic’s movements after Longclaw’s map leads them (somewhat inexplicably, it has to be said) to a compass that will reveal the Master Emerald’s hidden temple. Stealing it and braving the temple’s many death traps using his machines, Dr. Robotnik turns on Knuckles and transforms into a literal God after laying his hands on the Master Emerald. His first thought is to unleash his newfound Chaos powers upon Green Hills, and it’s only after Sonic offers Knuckles a chance at redemption (and a hand of friendship) that any kind of hope of stopping Dr. Robotnik’s nigh-limitless powers becomes possible. After assembling a gigantic mechanical exoskeleton in his visage, Dr. Robotnik lays waste to Green Hills, and Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are forced to work together to stop him. with Tails having commandeered a biplane for their use, the three brave the onslaught of missiles and the mechanical monstrosity’s stomping feet to get close to Dr. Robotnik and lure him away from the populace by using Sonic as bait. Their combined efforts allow Knuckles to land a blow on the mad doctor, knocking the Master Emerald from his body, but he remains a clear and present danger thanks to assuming command of his robot using traditional controls. This leaves Sonic, Tom, and Maddie in mortal danger but, thanks to absorbing the powers of the seven Chaos Emeralds released from the Master Emerald, Sonic becomes empowered with a golden energy that allows him to easily lay waste to Dr. Robotnik’s mech and, apparently, end his threat once and for all. In the aftermath, Sonic willingly and humbly gives up his God-like powers and he and his new friends set about making a new life for themselves with Tom and Maddie, unaware that a mysterious new foe lurks in the shadows…

The Summary:
There’s no doubt that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 goes out of its way to be bigger and better than its predecessor; the film is full of gags, exhilarating action, and fun sequences that shine all the more from the CGI models being far more detailed and expressive than before. While there are times when the film slows down to pad out its runtime with dance-offs and lingering on Jim Carrey’s madcap ab-libbing, it still does a brilliant job of being a fun adventure film, even if it’s primarily targeted at a younger audience. The addition of Tails and Knuckles really bolstered the scope of this new take on Sonic’s world; while I would’ve preferred the films just went all-in right from the start with a CGI movie that has all these characters existing in a fantasy world like in the games, I appreciate the little references and the way these films hint at there being more behind these characters. The addition of two more anthropomorphic characters also helps to shift the focus more onto these unique and colourful characters; while this means the humans are pushed to aside and reduced to supporting roles of comic relief, I’m okay with this as it means more time for Tails and Knuckles to shine. And shine they do thanks to some intense action and fight sequences which, while breaking all the laws of physics, make for the film’s most exhilarating moments. While Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles still stand out as being overly cartoony and the film missed a film tricks by not including more musical cues from the videogames, this was a really fun escalation of everything we saw in the film and did a really good job of capturing the spirit of the source material and splicing it into this new interpretation of the world’s most famous hedgehog.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2? How do you feel it holds up compared to the first film? Did you enjoy the addition of Tails and Knuckles to the film and what did you think to Knuckles’s portrayal? What did you think to Jim Carrey’s more unhinged performance this time around? Are you disappointed that he wasn’t in a fat suit and which of the many references to the videogames was your favourite Easter Egg? Where do you see the films going from here and are there any Sonic games or characters you’d like to see make an appearance in the future? To share your thoughts on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, sign up to reply below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content in the near future!

Game Corner: Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 18 February 2016
Developer: Arzest/Spike Chunsoft
Also Available For: Arcade and Nintendo Wii U

The Background:
Nintendo’s Super Mario and SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog went head to head as their respective company’s mascots during the “Console Wars” of the nineties, resulting in some of the greatest and most influential videogames of that generation, and both company’s went to great lengths to prove that their consoles were the superior. Ultimately, thanks to many expensive peripherals and an ever-changing marketplace, SEGA were forced to withdraw from the home console market and their supersonic mascot appeared on Nintendo consoles, leading to discussions of a long-awaited crossover began between Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Sonic creator Yuji Naka.

Mario and Sonic continually face off in a series of tie-ins to the Olympic Games.

Surprisingly, the two were brought together in the spirit of friendly competition after SEGA was awarded the 2008 Beijing Olympic licence. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (SEGA Sports R&D, 2007) followed as a result; though basically a series of mini games featuring Mario and Sonic characters taking part in Olympic events, the game was a commercial success and led to a series of annual titles being released in conjunction with a number of different Olympic events. This year, I finally got around to playing the 2016 edition of the game, which was set in Rio de Janeiro after they won the right to host the games that year so, since the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are set to kick off today, I figured this was an ideal time to leech off of that event and share my thoughts about this title.

The Plot:
Players create a Mii character and choose to join either Sonic’s gym or Mario’s gym. Either choice sees them training with, and facing off against, familiar Mario and Sonic characters in a bid to win as many gold medals as possible over the seven days of the Olympic Games.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played any of the Mario & Sonic videogames before, you’ll know exactly what to expect heading into Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games; essentially, despite the presence of a story mode, the game is a collection of Olympic-themed mini games that go out of their way to take advantage of every single button, gimmick, and control scheme offered by the Nintendo 3DS. The game features forty-one characters from the Mario and Sonic franchises but, this time around, not only are your character selections limited to certain events (Knuckles the Echidna can only take part in the Javelin Throw and Boxing events, for example, while Waluigi can only be used in the Long Jump and BMX events) and come with different stats to give them more emphasis on power, speed, stamina, and the like, but you don’t even get to play as any of your favourite characters in the game’s “Road to Rio” story mode!

Pick between Mario’s Gym and Sonic’s Gym and train to level-up your Mii.

While you can select from the game’s many and varied events (each of which is accompanied by an easy, normal, and hard criteria to get bronze, silver, and gold medals, respectively, with different goals, scores, or times to hit for each) in the game’s single or multiplayer modes, the only way to unlock all of the game’s characters is to play through the story mode. Here, you take control of a Mii and play through seven days of the Olympic Games, visiting different towns in Rio and conversing with non-playable characters (NPCs) that include randomly generated Mii and Mario and Sonic characters. As is often the case, the story branches almost immediately as you’re asked to pick between Sonic’s Gym and Mario’s Gym; whichever you pick, you’ll be competing for gold medals against the opposing gym and can practise the game’s events to earn Training Points and level-up your Mii, which allows you to wear better costumes and increase your stats. The actual story itself is more basic than ever; Mario and Sonic’s Gyms are taking part in the Olympic Games in the spirit of friendly competition…and that’s about it. There are some subplots about Sonic and Mario being absent and Bowser being up to no good, but mainly it’s just a clunky narrative to let you experience the game’s events.

Levelling-up allows you to wear better outfits and improve your chances at getting gold medals.

Each location, and the bulk of the game’s action, takes place on the top screen of the 3DS; here, you navigate the largely empty and uninspiring overworld maps, interact with NPCs, and can see which day you’re playing, your current level, and how many apples and melons you have (which are needed to purchase new outfits and gear from the Yoshi NPCs located in each area). The bottom screen acts as a 2D map and allows you to manually save, view the stats of your current rival, view your stats and available gear, and change your Mii’s outfit whenever you like. Every day of the story mode is centred around you training to face a rival from the opposing gym; there are a number of smaller gyms (or “ginásios”) in each town (generally about four) where a character from your chosen side’s gym will challenge you to practise one of the game’s many events to earn apples and Training Points. As long as you finish between first and fourth, you’ll earn apples and Training Points, but the ginásio won’t be ticked off as complete unless you finish in first place (this is also the best way to earn the most rewards). You don’t actually have to beat the ginásios, however; you can tackle each day’s preliminary event and finals as is but you’ll dramatically increase your chances by beating ginásios and levelling-up so you can equip better gear to buff your stats.

You’ll need to make use of all the 3DS’s functions in order to complete each event.

To clear each day, you first need to qualify in the prelims for that day’s event: on the first day in the Mario’s Gym story, for example, you’ll need to qualify in the 100m Hurdles event before you go up against your rival (and other Mii), Silver the Hedgehog, in the finals; on the fourth day of the Sonic’s Gym story, you’ll need to take on Bowser Jr. in the Equestrian event. The ginásio training sees you playing the game’s other events but, while you don’t necessarily need to come first in the ginásio events, you do need to finish first in the prelims and finals to progress the story. Once again, many of these events are needlessly frustrating; you’ll get a brief overview of what to do before an event but this often doesn’t really help prepare you as it’ll provide basic instructions and then the actual event will throw new inputs and requirements at you that aren’t mentioned in the overview. The game’s events mostly have you rapidly tapping buttons, pressing specific button combinations, shouting or blowing into the microphone (which continues to make me feel a little woozy…), moving the 3DS about like a moron, or using the stylus or circle pad. Some of these are quite simple (Synchronised Duet is a glorified rhythm game where you must press A in time to the beat and switch reticules with the directional pad (D-pad), while Trampoline has you jumping and pressing A when you hit the centre of the trampoline and aiming yourself with the circle pad) but others can be extremely aggravating (Hammer Throw sees you holding the L and R buttons, gyrating the 3DS, and releasing the buttons at the right moment, and you’ll need to awkwardly tilt the 3DS about to aim and use L or R to shoot in the Double Trap shooting event).

The onscreen prompts and clunky controls can make even the simplest events arduous.

While there are far less doubles games, these will still crop up; Platform Diving (Synchronized) sees you pressing A to dive at the same time as your partner without the aid of an onscreen countdown, Badminton (Doubles) has you sliding the stylus down the touch screen to smack the flashing shuttlecock, and Beach Volleyball sees you moving with the circle pad to the highlighted areas and pressing either A (or X for a super shot once your gauge is full) to hit the ball back and score a point. While the events seem to be a bit fairer compared to the last Mario & Sonic game I played, they’re still incredibly vague at times and come down to a question of timing or frantic button mashing rather than skill. The Kayak event, for example, requires you to set the 3DS down and frantically spin the circle pad like an absolute madman; you’ll need to stave off a fainting spell and consistently blow into the microphone while steering to boost pads in the Sailing – 470 (Pair) event, and you’ll need to draw neat circles to swim along in the Backstroke event (but, of course, the directions for this are on the top screen rather than the bottom where you’re drawing).

“Plus” events add new obstacles and success criteria and allow you to unlock new characters.

Overall, the games are once again very hit and miss: Handball isn’t too bad and has you touching the screen to block incoming shots; Rhythmic Gymnastics has you pressing or holding buttons in time with some familiar music tracks, and the BMX event has been slightly tweaked to make cycling and hitting boost jumps a little easier but it’s still a very clunky experience. New to this version of the game are “Plus” events; you can unlock additional characters by playing these in the story mode, and they’re basically slightly modified versions of the prelims/finals you’ll take on for that day. This could mean the presence of an additional gauge to fill to gain access to helpful items, extra obstacles from the Mario and Sonic franchises that you’ll have to watch out for, or slight changes to the gameplay mechanics to speed things up or make things a bit more manic. You can only challenge the secret characters to these Plus events by qualifying for the finals, but they add a little spice to things such as adding bingo-like tiles to Beach Volleyball for additional points or riding or ducking under waves caused by Thwomps in 100m Freestyle Swimming Plus. Unfortunately, though, while many of the camera angles and mechanics have been tweaked for the better compared to the last Mario & Sonic game I played, very few of the game’s events are actually fun to play and it kind of neuters the appeal of the crossover to not let you play as Mario and Sonic characters in Road to Rio.

Graphics and Sound:
As a 3DS game, the graphics are decent enough for the most part; all of the Mario and Sonic characters look pretty good thanks to their cartoony aesthetic, but still only communicate using pantomime. This time around, the whole game is populated by Mii; even the crowd, when it is actually present, is mostly Mii this time but, once again, the game is very empty and not much to look at. The game’s locations are very sparse and all look the same, and the arenas are mostly lifeless. Similarly, the music isn’t much to shout about; there are some recognisable tunes here but mostly it’s just generic trumpets and fanfares. Cutscenes are even more basic than ever before, with still images being thrown at you for the opening scene, in-game graphics and text boxes used for dialogue and cinematics, and there are only a few very brief sound bites from the characters here and there, making for an overall very bland visual experience.

Enemies and Bosses:
As is often the case with these games, your opponents are dictated by which character and event you wish to play; you won’t be able to pit Wario against Blaze the Cat in archery, for example, but you can pit Yoshi against Shadow the Hedgehog in football. You won’t really get to battle against Mario and Sonic characters in Road to Rio, though; mostly, you’re pitted against generic Mii and you’ll only ever get a sniff of facing someone recognisable when going up against an opponent from the opposite team or battling an unlockable character.

Familiar characters will challenge you in the prelims, finals, and Plus events.

One the first day, you’ll take on either Silver the Hedgehog in 100m Hurdles or Yoshi in the 100m event; Hurdles see you holding B to charge up, tapping A to run, and then timing presses of B to hop over the hurdles, while 100m features similar controls but has you pressing B near the end to shave a few seconds off your time. 100m Plus has you going up against Nabbit, grabbing items to reach the goal and pressing B for an additional burst, while 100m Hurdles Plus sees you challenging Diddy Kong in the event which is made trickier by the hurdles moving up and down. Day two is all about Table Tennis in the Mario story and Beach Volleyball in the Sonic path; Table Tennis has you moving with circle pad or D-Pad and smacking the ball back at the right time with ether A (for a fast shot), B (for a slower backspin), or X (for a super shot) to see who wins the best of three sets, while Beach Volleyball is a doubles event and it can be tricky angling your shots correctly. Table Tennis Plus pits you against Zazz and has you accumulating more points by hitting the ball onto coloured, numbered tiles, while Beach Volleyball Plus has you playing against Roy and trying to get a bingo score going on.

You’ll need to train up in order to help you best your rival, or hope that events aren’t too difficult to master.

Day three forces you to endure Archery against Birdo and Rhythmic Gymnastics against Blaze; while this latter isn’t too bad, Archery is a pain in the ass thanks to having to use the 3DS’ gyroscopic controls to aim and the wind throwing off your arrows. Archery Plus adds a whole mess of targets to hit to screw things up even more, while Rhythmic Gymnastics Plus sees you avoiding hazards to chain together combos for a higher score. On day four, you’ll have to take on Bowser Jr. in the Equestrian event (where you must press B to jump at the right time and stay on track to fill up your boost gauge) and Espio in the Long Jump (which sees you rapidly tap A to run up, press X for a super dash, and then press B at the right time leap ahead and judged on your furthest distance). You’ll then take on the oft-underused Doctor Eggman Nega in Long Jump Plus, which adds a giant spring to propel you further, and Larry in Equestrian Plus, where giant obstacles from the Mario and Sonic series are littered across the course.

Each story culminates in one of the more frustrating events, with Golf being particularly aggravating.

Day five is all about Javelin in Sonic’s story and BMX in Mario’s; Javelin is a bit of a frustrating event that sees you swiping the stylus across the touch screen like an idiot, then trying to match the angle on the top screen without crossing the foul line (which is stupidly easy to do). In BMX, you need to rapidly tap A to cycle while staying on track with the circle pad, and hit B to make jumps and build up your super boost. When you face Dry Bowser in Javelin Plus, you get to toss a whole bunch of Javelins but this is really more for show than anything else, while you’ll need to avoid obstacles ad perform tricks in BMX Plus to beat Wave the Swallow’s record. Things pick up in day six in Sonic’s story as you get to take part in Boxing; here, you press B and A to punch, guard with Y, and unleash a super punch with X and can use item boxes to help take down Zavok in Boxing Plus. In Mario’s story, you have to best the 100m Freestyle Swimming event by drawing circles at just the right speed and tapping the screen at just the right time to turn around, but the shit really hits the fan on day seven. Everything ramps up, with some of the most finnicky games and controls, and you’re forced to play football in Sonic’s story (which sees you awkwardly passing the ball, tackling opponents, and trying to get a shot in and just goes on forever) or golf in Mario’s story (easily the most complex event, with wind speeds, angles, environment hazards, and extremely unhelpful and unclear directions meaning I won more out of luck than anything else!)

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As a glorified collection of mini games, there’s not many power-ups on offer; some events have you rapidly tapping A to recover stamina, or touching dash panels for a boost, and many reward a perfect finish with a fancy special flourish but you’ll only really see in-game benefits when playing Plus events. You can however, find hidden chests all over the game’s many locations (some even hidden behind springs or pipes) that will reward you with additional gear or melons. Every time you finish between first or fourth (or use the daily log-in/step challenge), you’ll earn both Training Points and apples. Apples can be traded for a variety of outfits with one Yoshi, while more additional items can be bought from another with melons; these items include new golf clubs, horses, hula rings, and boxing gloves that afford you additional boosts and benefits in their respective events and you can equip and unequip them at any time. Your outfits are limited by your character’s current level; the higher your level, you more gear you can equip and the better your stats will be, and you can even save sets of clothing to tailor your Mii for different events (boosting your strength over speed, for example).

Additional Features:
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games offers many of the same incentives for repeated play as its predecessors; at the start of the game, you can set up your Mii, regional flag, the computer’s difficulty level, and Street Pass to get daily rewards as you walk around. Quick play allows you to take on the computer or up to three other plays in all of the game’s different events, if you fancy testing your skill against others, and you have two story paths to play through. However, while your level, items, and costumes will transfer across each story, you can’t replay previous parts of the story at will and will need to play through from the beginning if you missed any chests, costumes, instruments, or unlockable characters. There’s also an achievement list to compare against other plays, a random medley option to mix and match events, and a challenge mode to take on but, once you’ve played through even one of the Road to Rio stories you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer.

The Summary:
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games improves on quite a few aspects of the last entry I played but still suffers from many of the same issues that have bogged down the series since day one. Essentially, it’s just a collection of Olympic-themed mini games involving some of gaming’s most iconic characters but with the weird twist that you really don’t get to play as any of these characters in the story mode. Road to Rio is so dumbed down and basic compared to the story modes in the other Mario & Sonic games I’ve played that it really makes playing even more of a chore. Couple that with the needlessly overcomplicated gameplay mechanics, vague tutorials, clunky camera and controls, and once again you’re left flailing around like an idiot as you desperately blow crafts along or try to match onscreen prompts. As a lifelong Sonic fan, I’m always happy to play one of his titles but these really aren’t games built for me…I actually struggle to think of anyone who would actually enjoy them, to be honest. There are far better party games and mini game collections out there, and definitely way better Mario and Sonic games, so it’s really more of an annoying novelty more than anything.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy the 3DS version of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games or did you prefer the Nintendo Wii version? How did you find the game’s motion controls, assortment of games, and story mode? Were you disappointed at the Mario and Sonic characters not being playable in Road to Rio? Do you agree that the concept is somewhat wasted on the Olympic Games or have you enjoyed the series so far? Which country are you pulling for in this year’s Olympic Games? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to sign up to leave a comment below, or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [Sonic 3’s Anniversary]: Sonic Adventures #1


Following a highly anticipated release, bolstered by an extravagant marketing and release schedule, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) not only improved on every aspect of its influential predecessor but also went on to become the second best-selling SEGA Mega Drive game of all time. Expectations were high for the equally-anticipated third entry, a game that ended up being so big that SEGA made the decision to split it into two, birthing perhaps the greatest 2D Sonic adventure in the process.


Story Title: “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik”
Published:
October 1994
Writer: Smoldo
Artist: Mister B

The Background:
It didn’t take long at all for SEGA’s supersonic mascot to achieve an unprecedented level of mainstream success; Sonic basically single-handedly allowed SEGA to usurp Nintendo’s position at the top of the videogame industry and the company almost immediately set about capitalising on the Blue Blur’s popularity with  a slew of videogames and merchandise such as cartoons and comic books. While the most notable Sonic comic books were the long-running series published first by Archie Comics and then by IDW and the United Kingdom’s Sonic the Comic (StC), there have been a number of lesser known Sonic books, comics, and manga released over the years but one of the most intriguing for me has always been the two Sonic Adventures comics published only in France by Sirène in 1994 to promote the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994).

Even a couple of obscure French comics were used to promote Sonic 3 & Knuckles‘ release.

The series only ran for two issues, with one being the full-length comic book I’m talking about today and the other being more of a character/game guide to Sonic 3. As a lifelong fan of the Astérix series (Various, 1959 to present), I was immediately drawn to the expressive and vibrant art style of “Dans Les Griffes De Robotnik” but what really makes this comic stand out is how obscure it is. I’ve never been able to find a copy only but, thankfully, a fan translation by Sonknuck and Manic Man is readily available to read online. Like a lot of Sonic media outside of Japan at the time, Sonic Adventures pulls much of its lore from the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline, depicts Doctor Eggman (or “Robotnik” as he was widely known then) as his Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996) counterpart, and features an interesting twist on Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ story that omits Knuckles the Echidna altogether, includes Amy Rose, and actually has some similarities to later narrative elements introduced in Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998).

The Review:
“In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” begins in the skies of Mobius, specifically on board Doctor Robotnik’s airship. Robotnik, whose design is ripped directly from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, basks in his victory and own magnificence when his Penguinators present him with Sonic bound in chains. Although initially musing on why Sonic was doing wandering about the “Marble Temple” on Angel Island, he is driven into a rage when Sonic taunts him by briefly referring to Robotnik’s origin as the kindly Professor Kintobor.

Sonic makes a desperate escape from Robotnik’s air ship.

Robotnik’s mood lightens once more, however, when the Penginators present him with a bag full of Chaos Emeralds (which Sonic had been carrying on him) and the mad scientist boastfully proclaims himself to be the “king of the world!” Robotnik’s victory is extremely short-lived, though; Sonic breaks free on his chains, punches the Chaos Emeralds from Robotnik’s grasp, and leaps out of the airship to plummet back to the planet alongside the legendary gems. Luckily, Sonic had spotted his friend, Miles “Tails” Prower, skulking about outside the ship and the two-tailed fox is able to save Sonic just in the nick of time.

After fending off the local wildlife, Sonic and Tails retreat from Robotnik’s all-out attack.

The two land in an “unexplored [region]” of Mobius; although Robotnik immediately leads his Badniks down in pursuit, Sonic’s primary concern is shaking himself loose from the jaws of ordinary piranhas using the same technique players used in Hydrocity Zone. Unlike his videogame counterpart (but similar to Sonic’s depictions in cartoons at the time), Sonic has no problem swimming once he shakes off the critters but he and Tails are soon forced to make a desperate retreat when Robotnik and his Badniks bombard the area with fire (similar to Angel Island Zone; Robotnik’s craft even somewhat resembles his contraption from the finale of that Zone).

Sonic and Tails are swept away to an ancient city populated by savage echidnas!

With RhinoBots literally raining down around them (on cute little parachutes, no less), Sonic and Tails are driven down a waterfall (Tails having, apparently, forgotten how to fly despite flying in the panels leading up to this plummet). Luckily for them, they find a cache of Golden Rings at the bottom of the river; Sonic, however, decides that discretion is the better part of valour and allows the river to carry them away from danger rather than use the Rings for a power boost. Instead, though, the river leads to another waterfall and the two are dumped into a hidden echidna society that bares a resemblance to the one seen in Sonic Adventure that is too uncanny to just be a coincidence. The echidna “savages” (whom Sonic describes as being “fools [that] are descents of Mobius’ first race” and all of which look exactly like Knuckles despite him being entirely absent from the story) attack the two with spears in an attempt to kill them, leading to Sonic destroying their wooden boats with his patented Spin Attack and a “knuckle sandwich”.

Robotnik holds the feisty Amy hostage while Sonic and Tails are condemned to death by Princess Alucion.

Meanwhile, Robotnik has captured Amy Rose (whose hair, much like in StC, has been erroneously stylised into a high sweep because of that one piece of Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993) artwork) and plans to use her as leverage against Sonic. While Amy was characterised as a meek, lovesick damsel in distress in Sonic CD, here she’s a snarky, defiant tomboy who openly mocks Robotnik at every opportunity. Back at the ruins, the echidnas have captured Sonic and Tails (mainly because the two are more used to smashing robots and didn’t want to hurt the savages). They are taken to Princess Alucion, the ruler of the echidna tribe, who has the long-lost Grey Emerald imbedded in her crown. Alucion showcases the grandeur of “the antique city of the first people” and then prepares to push them down a tube so that they can be roasted alive inside a volcano that somewhat resembles the one from Lava Reef Zone.

Once again, Robotnik seems to have claimed total victory in the finale.

Fortunately, Robotnik attacks at exactly the right moment; Sonic and Tails dive down the tube, taking Alucion with them, to avoid Robotnik’s missile attack and, while the mad doctor believes them to be dead, Sonic revels in the twisting, turning slide that carries them to their doom. When a Penguinator shows Robotnik that his prey has survived, he moves to intercept them and, in to process, kidnaps Princess Alucion. Tails saves Sonic from a dip in molten lava (again, right at the last second) and, despite the obvious trap, rushes to save Amy when she is flown past tied up to a bunch of Jawz Badniks. Amy berates Sonic’s plan, since the two are left suspended over the volcano, and Robotnik swoops in to cut the rope and send them plunging to the burning crater (taking a picture for prosperity).

After clearing the Special Stage, Sonic assumes a powered-up form to battle Robotnik.

When Robotnik moves to retrieve the Grey Emerald from Alucion, she bites him and dives after Sonic and Amy while Tails is left wailing in despair and vows that everyone will know of their bravery and courage. His lamentations are premature, however, as the volcano is home to a Big Ring, which transports Sonic and Amy to a Blue Sphere Special Stage. Thanks to his super speed, Sonic easily bests the challenge and Alucion praises his achievement and awards him with the seven “magical emeralds, the golden armour, and the power to be transported wherever [he] wants”. While Tails is regaling their friends in Green Hill Zone with the tale of Sonic’s end, Sonic and Amy miraculously materialise before them. Tails is elated to see his friends and awestruck to see Sonic transformed by the “golden armour” into a glowing, super-powered form and the comic ends with Super Sonic promising the Robotnik’s problems are just starting.

The Summary:
“In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” is one of the best of Sonic’s obscure comic tales; similar to Sonic the Hedgehog Story Comic (Unknown, 1991), the comic is full of some truly gorgeous artwork that reminds me of the Astérix comics and contains many of the gameplay mechanics and hazards from the source material. While Sonic is sporting his much-maligned Mohawk design, I seriously cannot get enough to the artwork here; characters are cartoony and exaggerated, similar to in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, but also full of snark and attitude, exactly like Sonic should be.

The comic is full of humour but also suffers a bit from the translation.

Of course, being that it’s a fan translation, there are some oddities to be found in the comic; referring to Super Sonic as the “golden armour” sticks out the most but there are a number of odd grammatical errors and inclusions to be found as well. Still, Sonknuck does a pretty good job at adapting the original French text for an English-speaking audience and the story is peppered with all kinds of quirky comedy and phrases; Sonic loves to exclaim “Darn and blast!” and there’s some amusing sayings such as “I haven’t seen the movie” and “No need to send me post cards!” Other translations don’t land quite so well, however, and I would love to see this comic officially translated and released some time.

A fun piece of obscure Sonic media with some excellent artwork and humour.

Still, “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” is a lot of fun; it appears to read like this quirky amalgamation of the Western Sonic lore and as a prelude to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, though obviously the Mobius story doesn’t really align with that presented in the videogames. The imagery used, though, is fascinating; it’s amazing how closely the echidna civilisation seen in Sonic Adventure resembles what we see in the comic and it was fun seeing mechanics from the videogames crop up. Obscurity and nostalgia also play a large part in my appreciation for “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” but that doesn’t change the fact that you should try and seek this one out online and give it a read sometime.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you ever read “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik”? If so, what did you think of it? Have you read the original French comic and, if so, how does this translation measure up? Did you enjoy the art style and quirky humour in the comic or do you prefer the Archie and IDW comics? What did you think to the original characters and would you like to see this comically officially translated and more widely available some day? How are you celebrating the anniversary of Sonic 3’s release today? Whatever your thoughts, please feel free to share them and your memories of Sonic 3 & Knuckles below.

Game Corner [Sonic 2sday]: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2007; Xbox One)


After the release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), Sonic had firmly established himself as the hot new icon on the block and catapulted SEGA to the forefront of the Console Wars. Anticipation was high for a sequel and, in keeping with their aggressive marketing strategies, SEGA dubbed November 24, 1992 as “Sonic 2sday”, a marketing stunt that not only heralded the worldwide release of the bigger, better sequel but changed the way the videogame industry went about releasing games for years to come.


GameCorner

Released: September 2007
Originally Released: November 1992
Developer: Sonic Team
Original Developer: SEGA Technical Institute
Also Available For: Gamecube, iPod, Mega Drive, Mobile, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, SEGA Saturn, Xbox, Xbox 360

The Background:
Sonic the Hedgehog was a massive success for SEGA; thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and packing the game with their all-power 16-bit Mega Drive, SEGA saw sales of over 15 million copies upon its release. And yet all was not right at SEGA; Yuji Naka, the mastermind behind Sonic the Hedgehog, quit the company and was convinced to join the California-based SEGA Technical Institute. After bringing in many of his own Japanese staff, Naka began spearheading the creation of a sequel while an entirely separate, Japan-based team worked on Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993). Debates could rage on for years about which of these two games would be the “true” follow-up to the original title, and many ideas and concepts were reused and reworked for each title but, as if the massive “2” in Sonic 2’s title wasn’t enough, it’s clear to me based on graphics alone that Sonic CD was always meant to take place shortly after the first game.

While Sonic was joined by a new friend, not every idea made it to the final game.

Yet Sonic 2’s development was mired by an influx of ideas and concepts; another internal contest was held to design Sonic’s new sidekick, Miles “Tails” Prower, and many Zones were scrapped from the final game despite being relatively close to complete. The pressure was on to top their efforts with Sonic the Hedgehog but, thanks to improved graphics and gameplay and the efforts of SEGA’s aggressive marketing machine, Sonic 2 proved incredibly successful; 400,000 copies were sold in its first week alone and over 6 million units were sold during the Mega Drive’s lifespan. SEGA’s control of the home console market shot up by 40% as a result of Sonic 2 and the game was widely praised upon its release and is still held in high regard, with many claiming that it is the best in the series. For me, I first played Sonic on the Master System but, upon acquiring a Mega Drive, played Sonic 2 before the first game and, as a result, I do prefer it over the original because of its faster, tighter, far more accessible gameplay.

The Plot:
Doctor Eggman is back! This time, he’s set his sights on Westside Island, home of the fabled seven Chaos Emeralds. Eggman unleashes his robotic Badniks upon the island, polluting and destroying the environment to find the gems and power his ultimate weapon: the Death Egg! However, Sonic the Hedgehog is hot on his heels and this time he’s not alone…

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a 2D, sidescrolling action platformer in which you travel eleven stages (known as “Zones”). Unlike the previous game, the majority of Sonic 2’s Zones are split into two “Acts” rather than three (though there is, oddly, one three-Act Zone and two one-Act Zones just to confuse things) and, this time, you’ll battle Eggman in one of his diabolical contraptions at the end of each second Act before facing him once and for all on the Death Egg. Essentially, everything that worked so well in the original game returns here, bigger, shinier, and much more refined; Sonic is faster than ever, now able to zip through every single Zone of the game at breakneck speed thanks not only to his new “Spin Dash” attack but also vastly improved level design that ditches the slower, more tedious elements on the first game and focuses on speed and split-second reactions. Improved obstacles and enemy placement also help speed up the game, as does the implementation of more loop-de-loop, slopes, the introduction of Möbius strips, and very little instances where the game grinds to a halt.

Help or hinder Sonic as Tails or simply choose to play solo with either character.

As before, you can still roll into a ball when you jump or press down while running to break monitors and smash apart Badniks. This time, though, you won’t do it alone; by default, the game has you take control of Sonic with the computer-controlled by his side but, by entering the “Options” menu, you can switch to playing alone as either character. When Tails is onscreen, though, a second player can join in at any time; Tails has all of Sonic’s abilities and essentially plays as a reskin as, though he is seen flying with his unique two tails, this isn’t a feature you can utilise in the game. When playing as Sonic and/with Tails, Tails can collect Golden Rings, destroy Badniks, and dish out damage to Eggman all while being functionally immortal and largely invulnerable. Attacks won’t damage Tails and the only way to lose him is to run so fast that he cannot keep up; unfortunately, second players can also screw you over by jumping onto temporary or crumbling platforms ahead of time, essentially sending you to your death.

Some Zones and mechanics are slower than others but, overall, Sonic 2 is much faster than the original.

Thankfully, Sonic is much faster this time around. Zones are bigger than ever, with more branching paths to take and areas to explore and, best of all, there’s no tedious pushing of switches or blocks to slow things down. Perhaps the slowest Zone is Mystic Cave Zone (which also features a notorious pit that you cannot escape from), which features far more platforming elements and instant-death traps compared to the game’s other Zones; Sonic will have to grab levers and pulleys to create bridges and avoid floating blocks in this Zone but it’s got nothing on the seriously gruelling platforming and obstacles in the increasingly maze-like Metropolis Zone but, for the most part, Sonic 2 hits the ground running and doesn’t stop.

It’s easy to get distacted by Casino Night Zone’s pinball-based mechanics and gimmicks.

Sonic 2 introduces many firsts for the series; gone are the checkpoint-creating Lamposts of the first game, replaced with Starposts that perform exactly the same function but also double as the gateway to the game’s Special Stages (replacing the Giant Rings from the last game) when you pass them with fifty Rings or more. Be warned, though, after finishing or failing a Special Stage, you’ll be deposited back in the Zone with no Golden Rings to protect you (though the Zone’s Rings (and Badniks) will have respawned).  The pinball-like mechanics of Spring Yard Zone are expanded upon in Casino Night Zone, a giant, pinball-themed Zone filled with so many little score-increasing mini games and distractions that it’s easy to run out the ten minute time limit in this Zone alone.

Many of Sonic 2‘s elements became recurring themes in the franchise.

Another first is the inclusion of Sonic’s biplane, the Tornado, which mixes up the speed-based gameplay by having you ride atop the plane’s wings in Sky Chase Zone and, of course, the final showdown with Eggman on his space station. This latter element, clearly evoking imagery from the Star Wars trilogy (Various, 1977 to 1983), would become a recurring element in the franchise from this game onwards as subsequent games sought to either recreate the success of, or cash in on the nostalgia for, Sonic’s bigger, better sequel. As before, Sonic can collect Golden Rings to keep himself alive but, when submerged under water in Aquatic Ruins Zone or in toxic gunk in Chemical Plant Zone, will find himself under threat of drowning if he doesn’t escape to fresh air or find an air bubble before the all-too-familiar sinister countdown reaches its end. You’ll still gain points for collecting Rings, bashing Badniks, and clearing Acts and Zones as fast as possible but you no longer gain bonus points by jumping dramatically at the end of an Act.

While some Zones can be tricky to navigate, gameplay is much tighter and more reliable this time around.

Thankfully, all the little niggling issues that slowed down and counted against the first game have been largely addressed and eliminated; there’s no real danger here of being unfairly squashed or glitching the game (unless you perform some very specific actions) and the only real issue the game has in this regard is that it’s sometimes very easier to run or fly so fast off the screen that the game struggles to catch up. there some instances where you’re forced to use a little more thought than just speeding ahead, though; Oil Ocean Zone, for example, requires you to think a bit before making jumps as you can easily end up trapped in the quicksand-like oil or getting turned around. Like the first game, Sonic 2 isn’t especially difficult game; there are no difficulty settings to choose from as, again, the game’s difficulty gradually increases as you progress from Zone to Zone. This time, there are seven Chaos Emeralds to collect; the now-iconic half-pipe Special Stages are arguably much easier (or, at least, more interesting) than those in the first game, and you get an actual, in-game reward for collecting these gems.

Graphics and Sound:
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 improves on its predecessor in every way: Sonic’s sprite is larger and now a vivid, eye-catching blue and Tails is visually very appealing thanks to his unique twin tails and cute appearance. Zones are as visually interesting and unique as ever; Emerald Hill Zone, while functionally similar to Green Hill Zone, has enough in it to separate it from its predecessor, such as coconut trees, Möbius strips, waterfalls, and underground areas. The game’s later Zones are some of the most iconic in the series; moving away from cliché element-themed platforming levels, you’ll roll around an industrial nightmare full of toxic waste in Chemical Plant Zone, frantically jump to escape from rising lava in Hill Top Zone (which improves upon Marble Zone’s lava gimmick in every way), and explore dark, dank caves in Mystic Cave Zone. Each Zone has different gimmicks to separate them not only from each other but those of the last game; Casino Night Zone is far less random than Spring Yard Zone, for example, with no bottomless spits to worry about and Metropolis Zone is nothing like Scrap Brain Zone beyond being the game’s toughest area to get through.

Each Zone has a variety of unique gimmicks to mix keep things interesting and exciting.

This is largely due to the Zone having three Acts, which means it soon outstays its welcome. Add to that and some annoying enemies and the Zones maze-like layout and you would have a fitting final Zone for the game if it wasn’t for Wing Fortress Zone. Taking place aboard Eggman’s vast airship, this Zone is your last chance to get any remaining Chaos Emeralds before the game’s final Zone and features a whole host of dangerous taps; for one thing, you can fall to your death at any moment, never mind precariously jumping from platforms and hooks and riding gusts of wind to progress further. Once again, there are no transitions or cutscenes or story included in the game until you clear Wing Fortress Zone, then a little cutscene plays showing how the player gets aboard the Death Egg and another shows how he escapes. Generally, though, the same obvious environmental message of the first game is repeated, but dialled up a notch as you end up in space! Both Sonic and Tails have idle animations this time around, giving them each their own distinct personalities, and the game’s soundtrack is, arguably, the best of the series. It’s everything the soundtrack was in the first game but far more bombastic and triumphant, far more foreboding and sinister, far more catchy and memorable.

Enemies and Bosses:
Once again, Sonic and Tails must do battle with Eggman’s Badniks; these cute-looking mechanical monsters are just as deadly as before but their danger increases as you progress further in the game. To start off with, it’s no bother at all to bounce off of Mashers and Buzzers just like in the first game but, soon, you’ll encounter Spinys and Flashers, both of which can throw up defences to sap your precious Rings. While their placement is generally much fairer in this game, you’ll still have to contend with Badniks like Grounder and Crawlton popping out to surprise you but the absolutely worst enemies in the game are found in Metropolis Zone. The mantis-like Slicer will toss its boomerang-like pincers at you and they’re a pain in the ass to dodge, to say nothing of Shellcracker’s massive spiked claw that will almost always catch you unawares or the self-destructive Asterons which always shoot out their damn spikes when you’re halfway up one of those corkscrews!

Dr. Eggman slowly steps up his game after a disappointing first few encounters.

As before, you’ll face Doctor Eggman numerous times throughout the game; this time, he attacks at the end of every second Act and each time he has a deadlier contraption to try and end your adventure with. If you thought the wrecking ball from the last game was easy, you’ll be begging for a challenge even half of that when you encounter Eggman for the first time at the end of Emerald Hill Zone. Rather than trying to squash or zap Sonic, Eggman instead casually drives towards him back and forth, leaving himself wide open for the attack and only being a problem when he detaches his drill appendage at the last second. This mockery of a boss battle is quickly forgotten when you take on Eggman in Chemical Plant Zone, however. Here, Eggman tries to drop sludge on your head, which isn’t as much of a problem as the temporary ground that borders the arena and it’s very easy to fall to your death after landing the killing blow or while trying to escape Eggman’s attacks. Thankfully, most of the game’s boss battles aren’t as tough; Aquatic Ruin Zone’s boss can be a chore because of the jumping involved and Casino Night Zone’s is quite tough if you struggle with Sonic’s perfectly-attuned momentum-based physics but you shouldn’t really encounter an issue until you reach the Oil Ocean and Metropolis Zone bosses; thanks to Eggman’s shielding and strategy, it can be tough to land hits on his Egg-O-Matic in these bosses but, if you have a second player alongside you as Tails, they’re a breeze.

After besting your robotic double, the gloves come off for the final showdown with Dr. Eggman!

Things really ramp up once you reach Death Egg Zone, though; no matter how you play the game, you’ll have to tackle this final Zone alone and with no Rings to help you. Unlike the first game, where the final boss was pathetically easy, Sonic 2 has you run a gauntlet as you must first take on the armour-plated Mecha Sonic (or “Silver Sonic” depending on your preference, and not to be confused with the far more recognisable Metal Sonic). Mecha Sonic is a dangerous foe thanks to its buzzsaw-like spikes and fast-paced attacks but, luckily, its attack pattern is easily memorised; it’ll stand there posing, allowing you to hit it, then charge across the screen before either rolling at you or jumping over you. it can also shoot out its spines in a spread but, if you’re quick and smart enough, you can trash this dubious doppelgänger in no time. Once you do, though, you’ll find Eggman leaping into a massive robotic suit, the lazily named “Death Egg Robot”, which takes a whopping twelve hits to put down. Thankfully, again, this boss battle is very predictable; Eggman stomps towards you, allowing you to get a few hits in (as long as you’re careful to avoid his spike arms), then flies off-screen. A targeting reticule will appear and follow you around; simply wait in one of the far corners charging your Spin Dash and blast away when Eggman comes crashing down. Stay at the far end of where you end up to avoid his rocket-powered arms and repeat until he goes down. I wouldn’t recommend getting trapped behind him as he drops egg bombs that are difficult to avoid and you can also land a hit when he comes crash down from the ceiling if you’re fast enough. All in all, though, it’s a far more dramatic, taxing, and entertaining last boss than the one from the first game with some kick-ass music to boot.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, numerous computer monitors are scattered throughout the game’s Zones to help tip the odds in your favour. Breaking these open will award you with exactly the same rewards as the first game (ten extra Rings, a shield, an extra life, a speed up, or an invincibility) with the only difference being their appearance, sound effects, and the music that plays when you acquire them. Sadly, the only new power-up to be found is exclusive to the game’s two-player mode, which is a bit disappointing considering every other aspect of the first game was expanded and improved upon.

Additional Features:
As you might expect, this version of Sonic 2 comes with a handful of Achievements for you to earn. If you’ve played Sonic 2, or any Sonic game, before, these aren’t exactly difficult to get and include standard fare such as reaching certain Zones, collecting all the Chaos Emeralds, and completing the game though the online and time limit-specific Achievements may be trickier to accomplish depending on your skill level (finishing Chemical Plant Zone, Act 1, in under forty-five seconds is no joke!)

Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic and get the game’s best ending.

As in the first game, players can access Special Stages to try and earn one of the Chaos Emeralds. This time, you must pass by a Starpost with at least fifty Rings to challenge for an Emerald, making the process a hell of a lot faster and easier. Additionally, the God-awful, head-trippy rotating mazes of the first game are gone as you now race down a half-pipe, collecting Rings and avoiding bombs. While these Special Stages are much better, they can be more difficult as it’s hard to know what is coming up without a lot of trial and error, you must collect a certain amount of Rings to qualify for an Emerald, and the delay between your jumps and Tails’ can cost you precious Rings if you’re not careful. Special Stages start off deceptively easy but, by the time you go for that damn fourth Chaos Emerald, you’ll start to notice how fast and unrelenting they can be; the seventh and final Emerald is, fittingly, the most difficult to get because it barely has enough Rings to hit the target. Luckily, you can cheese save states to make this so much easier than it was on the original hardware. Collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, though, and rather than jus earning a slightly different ending, you’ll be awarded with the ability to turn into the Super Saiyan-like Super Sonic. “Simply” collect all seven Chaos Emeralds, collect fifty Rings, and jump and you’ll transform into this super-fast golden upgrade of Sonic that has a constant speed up and invincibility. Don’t get too cocky, though, as you can still drown and be crushed and your Rings will slowly be lost over time; once they run out, the transformation ends so be sure to collect all the Rings you can to keep the form up as long as possible.

Race against a friend in the game’s janky two-player mode, or buy Sonic & Knuckles to play as Knuckles in Sonic 2!

The addition of Tails also means that Sonic 2 has a multiplayer component; not only can a second player play alongside you in the main game but you can also race against a friend in a woefully-realised split screen mode. While the screen is awfully crushed and you can only pick from four Zones, this mode was decent enough back in the day; it’s fun to blast ahead and leave your friend in the dirt only for them to smash a monitor and have you both switch places. Sadly, while this version of Sonic 2 won’t allow you to enter the iconic cheat codes and doesn’t feature any of the tweaks, upgrades, and additions for the far superior mobile port, a save state system and online leaderboards are included and, best of all, if you also purchase Sonic & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), you’ll gain the ability to play as Knuckles the Echidna. Be warned, though; while Knuckles’ abilities mean there’s much more room for exploration, his rubbish jump makes battling certain bosses (particularly the Death Egg Robot) far more challenging.

The Summary:
As great as Sonic the Hedgehog was, it’s nothing compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Bigger, bolder, faster, and better in every way, Sonic 2 is the quintessential example of how not only to do a sequel title right but how to do a Sonic title right. While the first game laid the foundation, Sonic 2 set the standard that subsequent games in the franchise tried to hold themselves up against (or surpass, with mixed results). Sonic 2 introduced numerous elements than immediately became staples of the series; add to that the fascination with all the content that was cut from the game and you have a title that continues to be relevant and influential even now, nearly thirty years after its release. While I, personally, prefer the next game in the series, Sonic 2 is still a highly regarded entry in the franchise for me and I’d always pick to play it over the first game if given a choice.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think about Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Where does it rate against the other games in the franchise for you? Which Zone is your favourite? Were you the younger sibling always being forced to play as Tails or were you the older sibling who got the privilege of playing as Sonic? Would you like to see a spruced up version of the game released one day, with all the cut content restored as originally conceived? Perhaps you think Sonic 2 doesn’t live up to the hype and prefer a different game in the series; if so why, and what is it? How are you celebrating “Sonic 2sday” this year? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic 2, and Sonic in general, drop a comment below.

Game Corner [Mega Drive Anniversary]: SEGA’s Mega Machine


On 29 October 1988, SEGA released the 16-bit Mega Drive (known as the SEGA Genesis in North America); far superior to Nintendo’s 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and bolstered by both an aggressive marketing campaign and the eventual release of Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991), this release kicked off the “Console Wars” of the mid-nineties and changed the face of home consoles forever. This year, to celebrate this momentous occasion, I’m going to share some of my memories of this sleek, beautiful machine and the impact it had on my childhood.


SEGA’s Mega Machine

I was just a kid, something like six or eight, when I had what I am pretty sure was my first ever home console (and videogame) experience; I remember being at my aunt’s house and being introduced to the SEGA Master System II and, more specifically, Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time when I sat down to fumble my way through Sonic the Hedgehog’s (Ancient, 1991) Green Hill Zone. The colours, the sounds, and the user-friendly nature of the system clearly struck a chord with me and it wasn’t long (it was probably my birthday that same year) before my parents gifted me that very same machine and, as I recall, three titles: Spider-Man (Technopop, 1991), Trivial Pursuit: Genius Edition (Domark, 1992), and the aforementioned Sonic built-into the machine.

The Master System II served me well until I got a convertor unit for the Mega Drive.

For a long time, probably something like two or maybe even three years, the Master System more than met my demands; I amassed a pretty decent library considering money was a bit tight back in those days and wasted many hours playing a variety of 8-bit titles. One memory that sticks out for me in particular was when I had a friend come over to play games (this was, of course, back in the days when kids mostly only owned one machine so you had to actually go around someone’s house to play other consoles and games) and he was struggling to get past the Green Hill Zone boss. I took the controller from him and reached the last Zone of the game for the first time, which was quite the achievement for me at the time; though I distinctly recall not actually completing Sonic that day, I did eventually, and many times over. Another memory for me was when I discovered the elaborate method of activating Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s (Aspect, 1992) level select and actually being able to bypass the God-awful Sky High Zone. My love for videogames had well and truly began; I played the NES at a friend’s house, the PC at another friend’s, and enjoyed a handful of ZX Spectrum, MSX, and Amiga titles while routinely playing the Master System, reading Sonic the Comic (Fleetway, 1993 to 2002), and watching the likes of Captain N: The Game Master (1989 to 1991), Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996), and GamesMaster (1992 to 1998).

The article I most attribute for selling me on the Mega Drive.

I bought videogame magazines from car boot sales, drooled over Master System games in the local game’s shop, and doodled pictures of Sonic and his friends at every opportunity. Then, one fateful day, I became aware of another SEGA console; one with far more detailed graphics, bigger, better games, and, more importantly, more Sonic titles. I can’t be exactly sure when I first became aware of the Mega Drive but I distinctly recall owning issue two of Mega (Future Publishing/Maverick Magazines, 1992 to 1995) which had a whole article devoted to the upcoming (or recently released) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992). I was awe-struck; the sprites were so big and colourful, the graphics so crisp and detailed. Unlike in the 8-bit Sonic 2, Miles “Tails” Prower was actually a playable character…and he followed Sonic around onscreen, too! I’m sure I must have seen other photos, articles, and gameplay footage of the Mega Drive across the other magazines and shows I watched but this particular issue of Mega really sticks out in my mind; I read that article over and over, each time more and more attracted to the power and superior graphics of the Mega Drive.

The Mega Drive was for sharing back when I first got it but that was fine by me.

Another memory I distinctly have is pointing the machine out to my parents in an Argos catalogue and trying to explain the benefits of upgrading to SEGA’s newer, sexier console. As I said, money was tight back then for us; we weren’t exactly poor and destitute but we also weren’t rolling in disposable income so I’m sure the decision to buy a Mega Drive didn’t come easily for my parents. Thankfully, however, unlike a lot of parents these days, mine were cleaver and, that Christmas, I received the coveted SEGA Mega Drive and two games (Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (SEGA, 1990) and my equally-coveted Sonic 2) on one proviso: it was to be a joint present for me to share with my older sister. I’m pretty sure that that gorgeous black machine, with its two control pads and those two fantastic games, was the only present either of us got that year, as well, but I didn’t care: I had it and that’s all that mattered.

The NES pretty much saved the videogame industry after it spectularly crashed in 1983.

In 1983, an influx of home consoles, poorly-made titles, and a vastly oversaturated market caused the videogame industry to crash in spectacular fashion; what had once been a booming, attractive business had crumbled under the weight of expectation, success, and a market inundated with machines and titles that retailers just couldn’t sell. A few years later, the industry began to recover thanks to the release of the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom); known as the NES outside of Japan, the machine was marketed not as a home videogame console but more as an “Entertainment System” (it wasn’t a “home console”, it was a “control deck” and the cartridges were “Game Paks” rather than “videogames”) to give it a better chance at selling in toy shops.

Super Mario Bros. catapulted Nintendo to mainstream success as the home console market leader.

Thanks to a lack of competition and the blockbuster success of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985), 30% of American households owned the NES by 1990 and Nintendo absolutely dominated the slowly re-emerging videogame market after the NES sold over 35 million units in the United States, a number that was far beyond those of other consoles and computers. Videogames were back, and more popular than ever, thanks to Nintendo’s efforts and high quality titles, and the industry once again became lucrative and profitably so, naturally, others wanted in on the action. Enter SEGA; formally one of the top five arcade game manufactures in the US, the videogame crash and a decline in the popularity of arcades had seriously hurt the company and led to its purchase by Bally Manufacturing and an eventual restructure towards the home console market with the SG-1000, a precursor to my beloved Master System.

Though a superior console, the Mega Drive wasn’t initially the Nintendo-beater SEGA needed.

Though the console sold well in Japan, it barely made a dent thanks to Nintendo’s stranglehold on the market so, amidst growing competition, SEGA’s research and development team, led by Masami Ishikawa decided that the only way for SEGA to remain competitive was to incorporate a 16-bit microprocessor by adapting their successful SEGA System 16 arcade board into the architecture for a new home console. Mitsushige Shiraiwa led the team that designed the Mega Drive, drawing inspiration from audiophile equipment and automobiles, and the machine was purposely designed to appeal to gamers of all ages, rather than just children like Nintendo’s console. To impress customers with the system’s power, “16-bit” was slapped right onto the console itself in impressive, striking gold yet, despite shipping 400,000 units in its first year and producing a number of additional peripherals, the console’s launch was overshadowed by the released of Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo EAD, 1988) and the system was unable to surpass the NES in terms of sales or popularity.

Aggressive marketing and strong third party support also helped give SEGA the edge.

For the Mega Drive’s release in North America, the system was rebranded as the “Genesis” and SEGA of America CEO Michael Katz spearheaded an aggressive marketing campaign to sell the power and superiority of the console compared to the NES. While the Genesis certainly did do what Nintendo didn’t, it still wasn’t enough to topple or compete with NES or their podgy little plumber. Thus, when Tom Kalinske replaced Katz as CEO, he developed a four-point plan that involved cutting the console’s price, create a U.S.-based team to develop games specifically for the American market, continue and expand their aggressive advertising campaigns, and bundle copies of the Genesis with the one game exclusively developed to overtake Mario once and for all: Sonic the Hedgehog. For a time, this plan worked wonderfully; bundling Sonic in with the Mega Drive gave SEGA the edge it needed as gamers who had been anticipating the release of Nintendo’s own 16-bit console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), bought a Mega Drive instead just to play Sonic. Sonic’s popularity also led to the Mega Drive outselling the SNES during the 1991 holiday season and, but 1992, SEGA had wrestling 65% of the market away from Nintendo and overtaken Nintendo as the home console market leader for the first time since 1985.

Had SEGA focused on the Mega-CD, things might’ve been very different for them.

With a focus more on arcade-quality titles, a willingness to consider a greater variety of genres and videogames compared to Nintendo, and Sonic’s explosive popularity as not just a videogame icon but a mainstream icon, SEGA seemed unstoppable; a sleeker, more streamlined version of the Mega Drive released in 1993 and the company even produced a special convertor unit that would allow gamers (such as myself) to play their Master System cartridges on the 16-bit console. SEGA were ahead of the times in many ways; unlike Nintendo, they released Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1993) with its signature blood and Fatalities intact through use of a special code, showing the machine (and the company) to be the more mature and “edgier” of the two, and SEGA soon began to experiment in both CD-based games and 32-bit graphics with the Mega/SEGA-CD and Mega/SEGA-32X add-ons. Unfortunately, despite showcasing some impressive graphics, CD-quality sound, and the sheer potential of these peripherals, producing such expensive add-ons to prolong the Mega Drive’s lifespan ultimately proved financially disastrous for SEGA. When research SEGA and their tumultuous history for my PhD thesis, I was disappointed to see how the company squandered all their success with blunder after blunder in this way; to me, they had the right idea with the Mega-CD and should have stuck with that. Had SEGA simply made the little-known SEGA Multi-Mega the standard and ditched all plans for both the 32X and the SEGA Saturn, producing all the games that released for those console (and the Mega-CD) as CD-based games, the company may have fared better heading into the sixth generation of gaming. I don’t know if would have been enough to make the Dreamcast more competitive but SEGA would definitely have been in a much better financial position without wasting all that money making expensive add-ons and inferior consoles.

My Mega Drive collection is still a work in progress but has always had some quality titles.

Still, it is what it is and, for many years, even when I owned a Nintendo 64, I still returned to the Master System and the Mega Drive. My library of Mega Drive games grew respectfully as I continued to indulge my love of colourful, action-packed action/platformers like Rocket Knight Adventures (Konami, 1993), Marko’s Magic Football (Domark, 1994), The Revenge of Shinobi (SEGA, 1989) and, of course, every Sonic title released for the console. However, to say that I was a fan of Sonic was an understatement; I remember incurring the wrath of my mother for not pausing Sonic 2 right as I beat the game for the first time to go for dinner and I must have played that game endlessly, rejoicing every time I got to play as Sonic and someone else got to play as Tails for a change. I distinctly remember getting Sonic & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994) for a birthday and that I got the game before I owned Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (ibid). I’m not sure exactly how that happened but I remember being fascinated by Sonic & Knuckles’ unique “lock-on” technology and being able to play as Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic 2. Some time later, while at a game’s shop in Northampton, I picked up an unboxed copy of Sonic 3 for £9 and, after reading a guide in Sonic the Comic that showcased the awesomeness of Super Sonic, Hyper Sonic, and the Doomsday Zone, eventually made it my top priority to unlock these forms and reach this final Zone in a precursor to my newfound desire to obtain as many Achievements as possible.

The Mega Drive was pretty great for multiplayer experiences, too.

It wasn’t just about Sonic, though; the Mega Drive was a great two-player console and I lost a lot of hours playing T2: The Arcade Game (Probe Software, 1991), Captain America and the Avengers (Data East, 1992), and Mortal Kombat 3 (Midway Games/Sculptured Software, 1995) even while I was playing the likes of WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation, 1997) and Quake 64 (Midway Games, 1998). While not every title I played or owned for the Mega Drive was a smash hit, I still managed to find plenty to love thanks to the eye-catching graphics, catchy tunes, generally tight controls and gameplay, and the sheer attractiveness of those black boxes and cartridges. I even got a lot of enjoyment out of games that were short-lived in my collection, like Cosmic Spacehead (Codemasters, 1993) and The Aquatic Games Starring James Pond and the Aquabats (Millennium Interactive, 1992), even though they may not have necessarily been the easiest or most suitable games for my tastes at the time. Sadly, as I mentioned, money was always an issue in keeping me from having a truly expansive Mega Drive library; I borrowed a few titles I never actually owned, like Taz in Escape from Mars (HeadGames, 1994) and Street Fighter II’: Special Champion Edition (Capcom, 1993) but, while I played the likes of Golden Axe (SEGA, 1988) and Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension (Gremlin Graphics, 1992) on the Amiga, I never actually owned them for the Mega Drive back in the day.

My original mega Drive still sits proudly in the actual, physical game corner.

Thus, once we tore down our unused garage and had a little log cabin built and my dream of having an actual, physical game corner quickly became a reality, I knew what my first priority would be: to build a respectable library of physical, complete Mega Drive games to play at my leisure. It’s an expensive and long-winded process thanks to the fact that complete versions of Mega Drive games can be quite expensive but it’s a much easier prospect than collecting for Nintendo’s 8-, 16-, and 64-bit consoles as Nintendo favoured flimsy cardboard boxes for their games so the only Mega Drive game you really have to worry about having a battered or ripped box is Sonic & Knuckles. I first made my steps towards building this library when I finally bought a boxed and complete version of Sonic 3 a few years ago and, since then, the collection has grown slowly, but steadily. I’m prepared to play the long game when it comes to completing my collection as, while my Odroid console is great for emulating thousands of games and there’s plenty of ports or collections of classic Mega Drive titles available for modern consoles, there’s nothing quite like seeing a shelving unit full of those gorgeous, bulky, black or blue boxes and slotting a physical cartridge into that very same Mega Drive my parents gifted me all those years ago.

What are your memories of the SEGA Mega Drive? When did you first play or own one and which model did you have? Perhaps you preferred Nintendo’s consoles; if so, why and share your memories of those days? Do you also believe that SEGA might still be something of a competitor in the home console industry had they avoided the 32X and the Saturn or do you think their downfall was inevitable given how crowded and competitive the home console market became? What are some of your favourite Mega Drive titles? How are you celebrating this momentous day today? No matter what your thoughts, please feel free to share your opinions and memories of the Mega Drive and this era of gaming below.