Opinion: What Modern Sonic can learn from Classic Sonic

ClassicSonic
Like most long suffering Sonic the Hedgehog fans I have a love/hate relationship with the Sonic series. For every step forward Sonic takes, he takes two steps backwards or worse. I’m sure we call all agree, we’d like to see our beloved Sonic series shine again. Unfortunately we don’t all agree on how to achieve this goal. By creating various ‘generations of Sonic’ with a variety of differently play style,s SEGA have built a polarized, multifaceted fan base who all want something different from the series. From classic Sonic fans who like 2D side scrolling to Adventure fans who enjoy a varied play styles and a story driven experience and not forgetting the Rush fans that just want a good bit of fast.

Is any one group of the Sonic fan base more correct than the other? No, of course not- it takes all sorts. Though I do love the classics, I am no stranger to the modern Sonic games and I believe both have plenty to offer. I enjoy both Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations. I routinely return to Sonic Rush and it’s incredible OST. I spent an unhealthy portion of my teenage years in a stuffy dark bedroom playing the Sonic Adventure titles.

So is it possible to cater to the entire multifaceted Sonic fanbase? Probably not! But is it possible to create a Sonic game the majority of us can enjoy without it being a bloated hot mess? Maybe! Here are some of my suggestions.

Stick with 2D/3D Game Play.

Sonic-Colours-Wii-Aquarium-Park-Screenshot-12If there is one thing modern Sonic games are getting so, so right it’s the on the fly transitions between two dimensional and three dimensional game play. From the first time I saw it in action, way back in Sonic Unleashed I knew it was the right thing for the Sonic series. It transitions seamlessly and captures the essence of both old and new Sonic. I would like to see each‘World’ contain at least one entirely 3D zone, an entirely 2D zone and a hybrid of the two. Of course the more the merrier!

Custom move sets and perks

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The ability to customize Sonics moves in a main entry platformer was first introduced in Sonic Generations and in my opinion it’s the single greatest addition to Sonic games in a very long time. Customization means we can each tailor Sonic to the play style we’re comfortable with.

Perhaps I want to play in a classic Sonic style, I can create a Sonic with just the bare minimum and a spindash for good measure. Maybe I want Sonic Adventures’ bounce in the mix or I want to blast through the stages Sonic Rush style with an extra big boost gauge. All is possible with a custom move set. I think perks would be a fun edition to too, a speed boost,  and a higher jump or the ability to hold breath longer in those pesky underwater stages.

Game Play and Level Design

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Good level designed is the corner stone of the Sonic series and so very easy to get wrong. Each level needs multiple paths which cater to the rhythmic speedy nature of a Sonic games. Rewarding players that take more difficult paths with extra lives, rings and faster completion time. One game I think got this right was Sonic Colours. In Sonic Colours multiple paths to the goal were common- some zones even had multiple goals! There was an emphasis on exploring and a good amount of platforming which adds to the Sonic experience without changing it beyond recognition. The addition of power ups in the form of wisps opened new areas and game play styles without grinding Sonic to a halt.

If you want an example of everything wrong with Sonic’s game play and level design look no further than Sonic Unleashed’s mind numbing ‘Werehog’ sections. Gross.

Another staple of the classic Sonic level designs that  have disappeared in recent releases is the ‘zone gimmicks.’ Be it barrels to bounce on, vines to swing on, anti gravity, ghosts to hamper your progress or those weird spinning tops from Marble Garden Zone. A good level gimmick goes a long way.

Great Music


There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said here, for the most part SEGA seems to be on point with their Sonic game music. Sure, they might stumble from time to time with those lyrical main themes, most of which sound like someone is strangling a cat. ‘His World’ being quite possibly the lowest point in Sonic music history. My personal favourites are the Sonic Rush and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 sound tracks. I greatly appreciated the ability to choose from a variety of tracks in Sonic Generations and I would love that feature to return.

A PC Release

Every Sonic game should get a PC release, every god damn one. You only need to search ‘Sonic Mods’ on YouTube to see there is a large, talented and dedicated community of Sonic fan modders ready to fix up Sonic Team’s mess. They go as far as crating new levels, patch in all their favorite obscure characters that you didn’t ask for and all for free. There is even a mod where you can play the game as a penis, don’t believe me? Look at the video above. If that doesn’t convince you that a PC version of every Sonic game is necessary, I don’t know what will!

Competent Plots and Good Writing

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For me personally I am happy to know I am a blue speedy hedgehog running fast to stop an egg shaped man turning everything into robots. What more does a Sonic game need?

But I know for many Sonic fans a story is a crucial part of a Sonic game. So if we must have a story, let’s have something competent and well written we can all enjoy. Does a game starring a cartoony blue hedgehog need a convoluted final fantasy style plot with killer soldiers, kissing princesses and dark gods? I don’t think so.

Lets go back to basics, Dr Robotnik is a great bad guy! He wants to turn the entire world into robots and create his ‘Eggman Empire’. Sonic is the only dude cool enough to stop him! That should be the basis for every game. Each new story should simply revolve around Eggman hatching a new and ridiculous plot to achieve his goal.

The writing should be clever and humourous, self deprecating at times. I think the best bit of writing in any Sonic game to date was the Sonic Colours theme park style announcements from Eggman. They were funny, well written and really added too the madness of his character. More of that please!

Honourable mention: Chao Gardens

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By no means is the Chao Garden a vital part of the Sonic series. But I know a ton of people loved them and I admit I spent quite a bit of time raising my Chao. It adds a lot of replay value to the game and I can’t see anyone complaining about this optional addition.

Stuff that can take a hike
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  • Werehogs, slow characters and any drastic departure from the Sonic formula. If I want to play a beat-em-up or a fishing game I’d play Yakuza or SEGA Bass Fishing. Not Sonic.
  • Level enemies that take more than one hit to kill. It breaks the flow of a Sonic game and is just annoying. Keep that for the boss battles.
  • Over use of bottomless pits and grind rails. I don’t think either should be omitted form the game completely but keep them reasonable.

13 responses to “Opinion: What Modern Sonic can learn from Classic Sonic

  1. 009soulmaster says:

    Actually I knows way to keep those game ideas that you don’t want.

    Gameplay similar to Were hog could be used strictly on Extra missions. Particularly to Knuckles. The Were hog levels should have been about Knuckles. They just need him to move a bit faster is all.

    The enemies that require multiple hits should always be on the move to keep the flow going.

    Overuse of these mechanics should be used on Extra Missions

  2. Skateboard says:

    While I agree on most parts I would definitely prefer a long Sonic Unleashed kind of adventure/story/rpg game over a multi character/chao garden SA style game. The Werehog can stay, because he was perfectly fine! 🙂 Sonic Generations could have been the next great game if they had continuously released stages for it. It just was too short and didn’t over as much as Unleashed did.

  3. Skateboard says:

    offer* lol

  4. randroid says:

    Wholeheartedly agree with everything there.

    I even agree with what you’ve singled out as the enduring modern-Sonic games at the outset of the article. No coincidence that when Sonic games do follow these guidelines, they are critically acclaimed as well.

    Well done.

  5. OriginalName says:

    I had an idea right around the time of Sonic Unleashed of an arcade-style 2.5D Sonic game with branching pathways and endings in the style of Out Run. Seemed like a great way of extending play-time without resorting to story-telling which would distract from the core strengths of the gameplay.

    At one time, Sonic actually had several disparate pieces of a truly fascinating story and world. The Sonic anime from 1996, depicting Sonic’s world as one built haphazardly atop our own (with amazing set-pieces like the industrial nightmare Robotropolis, junkpile cities and villages overgrown with exotic foliage, and an entire planet frozen to Earth’s surface) really drives home the environmentalist message that was originally suggested by a single megalomaniac human enslaving the nature world in machines of his own design (http://web.archive.org/web/19970605172353/http://www.sega.com/features/allsonic/creator/naka04.html).

    I think that simply placing Sonic in the modern world is a massive missed opportunity compared to placing him in this weird, neon cyberpunk future punctuated by remnants of what we call modern and of ancient tribal civilizations (totem polls in Green Hill, ancient Grecian architecture in Marble, sunken ruins in Labyrinth and Tidal Tempest, murals in Hidden Palace). Telling the story of Sonic through the non-obtrusive atmosphere and architecture a la Panzer Dragoon feels much more natural and compelling than what the developers have been attempting since Sonic Adventure.

    A robotic clone of Sonic who is tragically programmed to believe that he is the real Sonic?; a mysterious floating island which holds an ancient secret which could destroy the world if it fell in the wrong hands?; a lone surviving human madman who preserves humanity by staving off the inevitable rise of nature which would bury their artifacts?; orbiting planets which hold their own unique stones, powers, and secrets (Little Planet)?

    There is SO much good stuff here, and you can’t say that it’s overbearing because it was there all along in the early days and most of us didn’t even notice. Everyone says “Sonic is just supposed to be silly!” and there definitely is a huge benefit to having an off-the-wall sense of humor and design (like in Eggman’s Sonic Colors dialogue), but the problem with Sonic hasn’t been over-seriousness, it’s been a lack of discipline and subtlety.

    Study the early-to-mid 90’s Sonic world and the understated story-telling techniques of Panzer Dragoon and Rez and there’s an incredible story on your hands, even when no one expects it.

  6. OriginalName says:

    Hahaha, I’m so sorry, I did NOT realize how long that was!!

  7. Blues says:

    Removing all bottomless pits would instantly raise any Sonic game’s score 2.0 full points from any publication.

    I’m not sure I agree about customizable skills. Going through the appropriate menus was a pain and I’d much rather find shields in the levels themselves as opposed to pick one at the start that goes away forever once I get hit.

    Great article, I have high hopes for the next main series entry.

  8. SonicFanScott says:

    I don’t want to be *that* guy who keeps shouting “Go back to the good old days!”, but honestly I think the series would really benefit if Sonic Team looked at the classic 2D games (Sonic 1, 2, 3, 3 & Knuckles, CD), played them all from start to finish, and see what it was that made us all fall in love with the series to start with. Build a game like those games, a 2D side-scrolling platform, for todays consoles, with the physics of the classic games. Basically, I want them to go back to the basics, prove that they can indeed make a great Sonic game. Prove not only to us, but to all the doubters and such out there that have given up on the series, that there is still life here. Show that they know what they’re doing.
    Then, once they’ve done that, and they’re ready to try a 3D Sonic game again, look at Adventure, Adventure 2, Colours, and Generations. Those are great games! Look at them, see why people liked them, and try to re-create them.

    That’s my opinion on it, anyway…

  9. SonicFanScott says:

    To make my comment a little shorter, I’m basically asking that they reboot the entire series. Not just the story, but the gameplay. Back to the start, recapture that former glory, and try not to mess up moving forward.

  10. Ryan says:

    I agree on a lot those things…but one more thing needs to be on that list: MORE PLAYABLE CHARACTERS! I miss playing as Tails, Silver, Cream, and Blaze. I want to play as more besides Sonic. Heck, Maybe make a deal with Archie and get Sally, Nicole, and the Rest of the Freedom Fighters Playable. That would be Awesome! Their redesigns make them perfect for the Sonic game universe.

    What I didn’t agree on: Werehog. I thought that was pretty ok. It brought some variety. But I understand why you want it out though.

    • Ryan says:

      Also, just to add. Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Lost World, and Sonic & the Black Knight are the 3 most underrated Sonic games of all time. people call them bad or mediocre. but honestly, they’re fantastic games. In my opinion at least

  11. Shinobi100 says:

    General consensus is that the Genesis Sonic games are the best Sonic games. Let’s use objective truths to come up with definitive answers. Here are things every Genesis Sonic game had in common:

    1. Bright & Colorful
    2. Total control over Sonic’s speed. Walk, jog, run, or spin at your own discretion.
    3. Simple & cool stories
    4. Lots of secrets and branching paths
    5. Great care in level design

    This is how modern Sonic games have deviated from that path. Bold colors instead of bright. Being forced to run constantly. Convoluted & silly stories. Forced into taking single paths to emphasis on speed. Levels are uneven and uninteresting.

    Not every modern Sonic game has every one of those problems. But every one has at least one. The reason Mario games always rate so highly is that whether they are 2D or 3D they never deviate from the things that the made the NES Mario games amazing. Mario controls the same way at the same speed. Power ups and bad guys are the same. The story for 3D Super Mario game on 3DS was that Bowser sent a letter to Mario saying he stole Peach. That’s it. Game sold well & got rave reviews. I played the demo. It felt just like I was playing the original Super Mario Bros.

    I don’t care if the next Sonic game is 2D or 3D. I want it to be bright & colorful. I want to be able to control Sonic’s movement and speed however I want. I want a simple & cool story with minimal dialogue. I want to figure out tons of secrets. I want to lose myself in perfectly put together levels. Sonic. Sonic 2. Sonic 3. Sonic & Knuckles. Sonic CD. The best Sonic games. They all had the exact same elements with minor changes from title to title. It’s not that hard to figure out what the next Sonic game should be like.

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