People bashing Sonic around gaming publications isn’t anything new, but a new trend seems to be developing lately: attacking the original trilogy and claiming it’s overrated. This week’s Round Table is a direct response to Red Letter Media‘s video where they gave their opinions on classic Sonic. This week, we’d like to chime in with our two cents.
People’s perspectives on what relates to good game design will always change based upon taste. Sonic games do require a good amount of memorization to get the most out of the old classics, but that’s in part of how people were able to get games differently back then. These days if we get bored with a game we spent two dollars for on Steam, you can always take the hit and move on to something else, or even get trapped by the Skinner Box techniques that are used by many free to play titles. In the older days, games required a longer time investment to really understand how the game works, especially since Sonic required a greater understanding of it’s momentum based gameplay. The core mechanics of a Sonic game, both 2D and 3D have changed overtime because the advancements of technology helped make one of Sonic’s biggest aspects about that kind of gameplay receive a better refinement, that of course being speed. Now you have better chances to get people into high speed segments, have a better viewpoint or enlist flashy cinematography that wasn’t possible on the Mega Drive. With these changes in gameplay, you also receive a difference in taste for what people look for in a Sonic game.
Is it fast enough? Is it too fast? Why are all of these characters here, why can’t I just play as Sonic? Where are Sonic’s friends? Where are Tails or Knuckles? How about Amy? Why are the physics terrible? Why does the game play itself? Why is it so hard to move Sonic in 3D? As we move further on into the future the things people look for in a Sonic game are going to vary widely amongst veterans and newcomers of the franchise. If anyone goes back to play old Atari classics, almost unanimously people will be happy about the fact that technology has been able to make gameplay experiences more inviting, though you’ll also get a number of people saying that something like Pong or Adventure are bad games. These games were considered revolutionary during their era. But based upon their limitations, they will have difficulty holding up. Looking at the horizon of video game technology, we’re seeing virtual reality as the next step in providing an engaging experience. It won’t be the same kind of experience, and the Sonic franchise may or may not try to make that kind of leap, if it does, it very likely won’t offer the same experience that we’re used to for our blue hero.
To put things on a more refined aspect, I have a friend whose five year old kid is obsessed with Sonic. He isn’t at the point where he can beat a Sonic game by himself, but if he dies, he doesn’t get nearly upset as some other adults that I know of. The only thing is you don’t get to hear his opinion because his parents won’t allow him his own YouTube channel or some other social outlet to broadcast his opinion.
I knew this was going to happen eventually. For years, critics have been rewriting critical and fan reception of Sonic games, usually bent towards a “all 3D Sonic games have always sucked” narrative, regardless of how well critical and consumer reception actually was for these games at the time. I knew, eventually, this would start spreading to the classic Sonic games as well. Cue Red Letter Media, which has claimed that the classic Sonic games are not only poor platformers now, but that they were never particularly good games to begin with.
I really did not want to watch their video, because these kinds of videos that call into question the quality of old classics normally come down to “this game sucks because its hard”, and sure enough what I ended up sitting through was a fifteen minute long rant from a pair of Nintendo fans about old Sonic games being difficult. My hopes for watching an intelligent deconstruction and criticism of Sonic’s original trilogy may have been dashed, but at least now I can rant about it!
Their main complaint centered on the alleged contradictive nature of Sonic games: fast characters hampered by level design that “wants” you to go slow. The main issue I have with this complaint is that it misses the point of these games. Yes, the Sonic games have their moments of cheap hits and blind-sided attacks, but ninety-percent of time obstacles and enemies are fairly easy to avoid or destroy, and the moments they highlight in their video are fairly rare. Yes, Sonic games do require some rote memorization in order to master, but this is true of virtually every action game of the 8 and 16 bit eras including Mega Man, which they cite in the video as a classic. I mean, my god, have they played Donkey Kong Country lately? Do they remember those god damned mine cart levels? This is just how platformers were designed back then! Where do they think the term “Nintendo hard” came from?
“…it’s a fast, physics based platformer with loads of rolling and bouncing and flying that provides the kind of exhilaration Mario fans could only dream of.”
No, the classic Sonic trilogy is not overrated, and the brilliant marketing is only part of the story. Great marketing can account for only a fraction of game franchise’s ongoing success, the game has to be providing something for the consumer to enjoy if they are going to keep coming back to it for sequels, spin-offs, comics, and TV shows. Sonic is great because it’s more than the Mario clone these two guys claim it to be: it’s a fast, physics based platformer with loads of rolling and bouncing and flying that provides the kind of exhilaration Mario fans could only dream of. It’s great because it’s the ultimate speed runner’s game, rewarding memorization and exploration with quicker runs through levels. It’s more than just pressing right, it’s memorizing the placement of every spike, enemy, spring and short cut and getting through the stage as quickly as possible with as many rings as possible. Sonic stages are labyrinthine in design not because you are meant to move through stages slowly, but to give you the option to explore and reach better paths to the end of the stage.
This roundtable entry is already running too long, so I will conclude with this: gaming icons aren’t just made, they are found, and the numerous corpses of other well marketed platforming characters that Sonic has had to step over to get where he is is proof enough of that. Though the fact that his old games are regarded as classics by millions of gamers certainly helps. For the record, I don’t have an issue with dissenting opinion. It’s fine that these guys don’t like classic Sonic, no game is everyone’s cup of tea. What I don’t care for, is the broad claim that the games weren’t worth any of the acclaim that they received, with common design flaws of even the best old school platformers being the only reasons given.So, after dealing with the gaming press constantly forgetting that they’ve actually liked numerous Sonic games over the years, including Sonic Adventure, Sonic Heroes, Sonic Advance, Sonic Colors, and Sonic Generations, this is where I draw the line in the sand: no, the original Sonic games are not “horribly overrated”. They are not “bad games”. If a speedy platformer that challenges your reflexes and requires some memorization isn’t your thing, fine. We did not, however, “forget how bad they were”. We liked them because there is a lot to like about these games, even twenty-three years after they were released. The question of whether or not the original Sonic games were classics was settled a long time ago and that won’t be changing just because a few people on the internet think it’s too hard.
Not just as a SEGA fan but a gamer in general, it is pretty sad that there are so many people touting Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA Genesis as being ‘overrated’. Was Sonic the Hedgehog a perfect game? No, the second game really refined a lot of the ideas and really made the blue blur legendary. But just because a sequel is better than the original, does that make the original game overrated? Of course not. But let’s talk about where Sonic the Hedgehog ‘falls short’ on people’s list.
One of the common complaints is that its physics are ‘wonky’ or just slippery. I do agree that the game’s physics are completely different than anything Nintendo has done but I never felt like they where slippery or that I didn’t have control of my character. I think lots of people forget that being different doesn’t mean a game is bad. One of the best moments for me in Sonic games was finding high jump points in levels that would allow me to soar across the maps. Sure, they are rarer in the first game than the sequels, but it is still a testament to the physics in the game that you can even do that. I never had a issue where the physics in the jumps caused me to fall to my death or miss a jump.
I think one of the reasons these complaints are coming along now and not as much as in the 90’s is because Sonic the Hedgehog has now reached out to new crowds after SEGA went third party. Nintendo fans now got a taste with exclusive games like the Sonic Rush, Sonic Lost World and Sonic Colors. The issue is these games have a high emphasis on going one direction as fast as possible with bumpers, homing attacks and grinding rails that only move the player forward. I can see why these people, getting used to the new Sonic would find the classics a bit strange when they focused more on platforming and timing.
I like to think of the original Sonic the Hedgehog game the same as Star Wars: A New Hope, a great entry to the franchise that got overshadowed by how good its sequel was. Regardless if people online like it or not, Sonic the Hedgehog is a big piece of gaming history and is going to be considered as one of the important video game in video game history.
I hate to sound like an old man, but in my day we didn’t call into question the classics. Whether they were classic video games, movies, or comic books, I never recalled mid-90’s discussions centering around whether some classic piece of entertainment from the 1970s was “overrated”. Sure Atari 2600 games were graphically inferior to the cool new SEGA Genesis and SNES, and the original Star Wars had effects that paled in comparison to The Fifth Element, but by and large it was understood that there was a reason why such pieces of entertainment stood out from the rest and why they deserved respect.
“The original Sonic was an evolution of the platforming genre, and each Sonic game up to Sonic & Knuckles was an evolution of the Sonic formula that only improved with each game.”
Welcome to the internet, where stuff once good is now “cheap”, “bad”, and “overrated”. Where a websites call out classic pieces of entertainment, citing them as being not as good as we once thought in an attempt to make us do a digital double take and click on over to their page to see what sort of information they’ve gathered that will make our minds do a 180. Suffice to say, Red Letter Media’s Previously Recorded Sonic the Hedgehog video is bullshit. It’s simply clickbait, making an outrageous claim and then going on for 15 minutes with little to back up the notion that Sonic the Hedgehog is “The Most Overrated Game Ever”. I almost feel guilty holding a round table, as we’re only giving into their attempt to make their video something worth giving a shit about. But, as evidenced with the Red Letter Media Star Wars videos, video game fans who have a bone to pick with Sonic fans will likely point to Previously Recorded’s video in the future as “evidence” that the backbone to the Sonic Franchise is somehow incredibly flawed, awful and overrated.
My fellow SEGAbits writers have gone into detail breaking down Previously Recorded’s claims, so I mainly wanted to air my grievances over the “Is X Overrated” nonsense that has flooded the Internet as of recent. I will, however, say that the video is a lot of nothing. The first third has the hosts playing off each other with a “gosh golly! How can we make such controversial claims!?” attitude, followed by a pointless discussion over how badniks work. Aside from the fact that there IS an in-universe answer, how does this affect their main argument against the gameplay? Did they forget that Mario’s world makes even less sense than Sonic’s? The second third features two grown men playing Sonic so badly, that even a 6 year old me could have put them to shame. The final third, which Nuckles and Bartman covered, is the meat of their argument, and as evidenced it is an incredibly weak one. In the end of the video, Previously Recorded’s hosts give their answer to “Is Sonic the most overrated game ever?”. Their answer: Sonic’s place in history is as a successful marketing mascot. People don’t remember how bad the original Sonic games actually are. It is not the “most overrated game ever”, but it is an “incredibly overrated game” and he is a marketing gimmick not remembered as a marketing gimmick.
My mind is going to mush trying to make sense of their final analysis, so I’ll keep it brief. Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles are fantastic games. The original Sonic was an evolution of the platforming genre, and each Sonic game up to Sonic & Knuckles was an evolution of the Sonic formula that only improved with each game. Gamers loved them then, and as seen with Taxman and Stealth’s remastering of the first two games, gamers love them now. We call him “classic Sonic” for a reason, because the games were and are classics. The character itself took down Mario for a short time, which says so much about the design and appeal of the character. The notion that Sonic was a “marketing gimmick” is such a silly claim, as marketing in and of itself is a gimmick. If Sonic’s speed was highlighted in the marketing of the game, it was because it was the selling point. Any SEGA and Sonic fan of the era remembers SEGA’s marketing of the classic titles, and we were all fully aware that the “gimmick” SEGA sold was speed, and did they deliver on their marketing promise? You bet they did. But as fans learned once playing the games, there is a lot more to Sonic than simply run right to win.