Can Sonic The Hedgehog Work In 3D?
There is no doubt that Sonic the Hedgehog has had a big impact on the gaming world. He is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic gaming characters. From the first Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, all the way to 2017 when Sonic Forces came out, the “Blue Blur” has seen some different iterations in terms of play style. But with the recent disappointment of Sonic Forces and the recent success of Sonic Mania, the question remains; do Sonic The Hedgehog games work in 3D? With 30 different Sonic games both 2D and 3D, I’m going to analyze what works and what doesn’t in these two very different styles for Sonic The Hedgehog.
Sonic In A 3D Landscape
Before we get into each game and what makes them good or bad, I’d like to address Sonic as a character.
When the industry hit the 3D revolution, a lot of games made the switch and thus their gameplay elements changed. One major change was that characters, like Sonic, started to get some characterization and also voice acting. This led to the edgy, chilidog eating hedgehog that we all know and love.</>
When Sonic Adventure landed, we were hit with a new rendition of Sonic. He had a voice, a personality, and wasn’t just this silent blue blur running across green hill zone. The series also tried to do a more deep story. In my opinion, I think this is where the series hit one of its ruts. Let’s compare it to Mario, as Sonic often is. When Mario first hit 3D in Super Mario 64, the story was still simple, saving Peach from Bowser. He also wasn’t given much voice acting or personality, he only “Yipee’d” and “Yahoo’d”, but other than that, he was pretty silent. From there onward, the series hasn’t really changed.
Super Mario has followed Shigeru Miyamoto’s philosophy of games just needing to be fun.
Enter Sonic, who’s stories get edgy.
They tried to be serious while at the same time still trying to market to a younger audience. Not only did Sonic get a personality, but so did Tails, Knuckles, Amy and the rest of the cast. It’s easy to not care about these things when they were never there to begin with. Sure it’s possible to ignore the story in a Sonic game but it could be damn hard. You can play Dark Souls and ignore the story elements because they aren’t being thrown in your face. Sure you might get more engrossed with Dark Souls if you follow the story, but it’s still fun nonetheless. In Sonic, the characters will speak during gameplay, there are cut scenes and an overall purpose to why Sonic and his pals are racing along each zone. There is nothing wrong with having a story, but Sega has to understand that they cannot be split between trying to be super serious but also childish. It’s hard to take talking animals seriously.
The Sonic 3D franchise is known for being cringe-y and that’s not a good image to have. Take Sonic’s new game, Sonic Forces; the story is that Dr. Eggman successfully takes over the world and Sonic gets captured and EVEN TORTURED. The world as they know it ends and nobody seems to be changed, no one cares and Sonic is no different after a year of being tortured. It’s been clear that throughout his history, Sonic’s personality has clashed with the overall tones of his games.
Sonic, Tails, Knuckles & Friends
Let’s take a look at the first four Sonic games; Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
The premise is simple, stop Doctor Eggman from destroying the world. The gameplay is even more simplistic, run across the stage, dodging enemies and running as fast as you can. That’s basically what Sonic is all about, fun obstacles while going as fast as Sonic can go.
Sonic 2 brought the aspect of 2-player when they introduced Tails, Sonic’s little fox friend. It was a great choice for Sega to introduce having a friend play with you and I’m sure there were plenty of people who lost weekends to those games, playing with their friends.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles again adds a new character and long term rival, Knuckles. The story was nothing in depth but it was more of a story than the previous 2 games. Many people even consider Sonic 3 & Knuckles to be one of their favourite games and the best Sonic game. There is no doubt that the first 2D Sonic games were and are great, and they are great because of the focus on speed and simplistic idea of fun.
This is where the issue of 3D comes into effect.
3D Sonic games had a bit more focus on platforming. You, the player, could actually see where Sonic was going and what the obstacles in front of him were. There was something more challenging about not knowing exactly what was coming your way in 2D. It was trial and error and you have to remember where some of the hazards were just to make it through the level. Kinda weird that games all about going fast, punished you for abusing such power. Like I said before, the 3D games became more about platforming and in a way, that also made the games easier which wasn’t always a good thing.
Now, lets take an in depth look at 3D Sonic.
He made the transition to 3D around the same time as everyone else and it was met with skepticism. Here were the key issues right off the bat.
In Sonic Adventure, the story is split into multiple chapters with different characters being the main protagonist in each. You played as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big, and E-102 Omega. Each has a different play style and TO THIS DAY, I have PTSD when I think about playing as Big the Cat, that boring, purple, fat PIECE OF… sorry, lost my temper there. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having multiple characters in a Sonic game, but when there is a gimmick to how they play or even the entire gameplay of their story, than I take issue. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind playing a Big in a future Sonic game if the gameplay was still fast and maybe if he could just bowl through enemies but until then, no thank you.
Now, where did Sonic Adventure shine? It had fantastic music, it was upbeat and I can still remember some of it in my mind till this day. Some of the level design was fun and creative but there was also an issue with the hub world. The hub world was designed for you to get from level to level but it was empty and honestly a bit confusing at times. I know there was small hints on what you should do and where you should go, but if you put the game down for a bit and then pick it up again, it can be difficult. Although, I did have fun just messing around, flying with Tails and gliding as Knuckles.
As a small note, I’d also like to mention Sonic Heroes. In my opinion, Heroes improves on Sonic adventures formula of having a larger cast and making the game a bit faster at some points. The game focuses on teams that have 3 characters that either focus on speed, power or flying. There are things that definitely could have been better, like the story or the repetitive gameplay when you play as each teams. But again, it would be nice to just play a regular Sonic game in this fashion with this large cast and not this strange twist on what should be fast platforming. I wouldn’t mind playing something like Sonic Mania but I can pallet swap Charmy Bee for Tails, Espio for Sonic or Vector for Knuckles.
Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Black Knight & Sonic 06
Whew, these games… they’re hard to talk about. Mostly because not many people like them and there’s a plethora of reasons why. Sonic 06 is even considered one of the worst games of all time. For Unleashed and Black Knight, the problem is that the games are just gimmicky. Unleashed has Sonic turn into a “wer-hog” at night and his fast paced speed grinds to what seems like a crawling pace. Yes, this can be considered creative, but it’s just not right for a Sonic game. I never want to be slowed down and redo the same levels at an even slower pace. It’s such a shame too, because this is the game where they introduced the boost mechanic that made modern Sonic go so fast and it seemed like they finally figured out how to get his speed right in a 3D game. Sonic and the Black Knight was guilty of this offense two fold. It featured Sonic using a sword, made the player use motion controls to do combat, and the combat they introduced was incredibly repetitive and shallow. The story was strange and the gameplay was laughable at some points.
IT GETS EVEN WORSE
Sonic Goddamn 2006. I spent years trying to find this game so i could finally try it out for myself. Hearing about it was equivalent to listening to a strange old man in a cave tell you a long forgotten legend, only to have him disappear afterwards. I recently learned that Sega took the game off of retailer shelves because they felt like it was hurting their brand. I finally got the game and whew, lemme tell you, the game is rough. It lacks any kind of polish. The gameplay was super clunky and buggy. The story was just weird and the hub world sucked. on a positive note, the graphics were nice for the time. Playing it, you can tell that the team behind this game were clearly on a tight schedule and rushed the game. There was so much promise but none of it was fulfilled in any way. 2D Sonic games were fluent and you knew what to expect while also expecting a but of innovation. But it seems like when Sega was making games like Sonic and the Black Knight and Sonic o6, that they just took a steaming dump on everything to do with the brand.
Sonic Generations, Mania & Forces
Now we’ll take a look at Sonic games like Generations, Mania and Forces. In Sonic Generations<, boosting in current Sonic levels was so fast and fun, if not a bit easy, and playing as classic Sonic was such a good throwback. It had a super simple story and the music was great, the game was bright and it was a good trip down memory lane. Current Sonic handled very well and it seems like they finally knew how to handle his speed. The only downside was the difficulty because you could just blast through tons of enemies. Yes the game didn’t really do many knew things besides including two different ways to play with two different Sonics, but overall, it was pretty good.
This is where it gets good.
Sonic Generations</> was my favorite Sonic until Sonic Mania came out, which was an absolute blast. When Sonic got a return to classic form within Sonic Mania. It wasn’t just a love letter to classic Sonic, it was a love essay. It was fun, incredibly creative with its level design and the music was bloody fantastic. Fans were raving and honestly, it’s my favorite Sonic game. The game was received well, it sold well and like myself, a lot of people considered it a contender for their favorite Sonic game. I’d like to give huge praise to the level design as half of the game is a throwback to classic levels with some interesting twists, and the other half is just brand new levels that are wickedly fun. As an example, the Studiopolis Zone is set in a city filed with television studios, camera equipment and wacky things like popcorn machines. It was s cool playing as Sonic and running on films reels to get yourself higher on a platform. It was this level of creativity that really made this game and was never seen from a Sonic game before. I found myself literally smiling as I played these levels because they were pure joy and that’s basically what I think of the whole game.
But with the Sonic franchise, it seems like 1 step forward, 2 steps back and that’s what happened with Sonic Forces. Yes they were released and made at nearly the same time so it’s not like Forces could build off of what people loved of Sonic Mania, but it was clearly not as loved or critically acclaimed. One of the main problems was they again included the classic Sonic character without giving any explanation to why he was there and also muddled the identity that it should have been a current Sonic game with the current Sonic character. Like I mentioned before, the story tries to be very dark and serious but for some reason still tries to cater towards kids. It’s a game about talking animals that run really fast, why try to add some apocalypse story to this? It’s just really strange. The inclusion of the avatar character was smart. People have always wanted to make their own Sonic characters so it’s a cool thing to add. The game has things that work well, and things that don’t and it just shows that still, in 2018, that 3D Sonic games still haven’t found their mark.
The answer to the question
Does Sonic work in a 3D game/setting? So far, not really.
Only a few games make it work in some way that is enjoyable, and even the games that make it work really haven’t perfected it. I don’t believe any of the Sonic games are terrible things, some of them just have many flaws and a lot of fans feel like Sonic has really changed for the worse lately. I’ve said before that Sonic can really take 1 step forward and 2 steps backwards. There just needs to be no gimmicks, they need to figure out what kind of stories they want to tell and what kind of audience they want, and they need to figure out how to balance platforming with the great speed of Sonic.
A lot of it is down to opinion, just like many things are. But as sales, reviews and over all fan reception has showed, 3D Sonic just isn’t as loved as 2D Sonic. 3D has hit some good strides with getting Sonic’s speed right finally and having colorful and great music. But the stories are just so cringey and edgy, they need to balance their large cast better. They’re trying to focus on more than just the fun aspect of what the classic were and they need to find out how to do that first with the 3D games. Sonic has a long and important history in video game history. He pushed Sega into the market and really helped platformers become popular. I love Sonic and I know a lot of people do so I really hope that Sega and Sonic Team can find out what works and just keep making good Sonic games. Only time will tell and until then, I’ll just read the Sonic Twitter page for a good laugh.