Sonic Forces is the textbook definition of an identity crisis, as the game is stuck between being a decent 2D platformer and a mediocre 3D one. Prioritizing quantity over quality, the levels take around two to three minutes to complete, with the only sense of difficulty coming from poorly-designed boss battles. I’d be more positive if the game controlled better, but aside from the adequate Classic Sonic sections, the rest of it plays like you’re on the Moon. Throw in a story so nonsensical it puts J.J. Abrams to shame, and this was astonishingly middling for an “anniversary” title.
Did you know that there’s a Sonic game from Bioware on the Nintendo DS that launched in 2008? Well, there was, and this was it. This being a Bioware game it was an RPG that starred Sonic and his friends fighting back against evil. Combat has a touch of Paper Mario in it with you having to time button presses during actions to get the best effect from them. While it often fell foul of pesky battles, the overall experience was a lot of fun with a lot of clever nods to classic Sonic set pieces plus that Bioware charm.
The 2006 reboot of Sonic the Hedgehog is, in one word, awful. People wanted Sonic Adventure 3 and instead got an endlessly-loading, finicky to play mess of a game. Sonic actually managed to go too fast, and many times players would send the blue blur hurtling to his death. Silver’s gameplay is slow, finicky, and just not fun. Shadow was thankfully a bit slower and easier to play as than Sonic, but I’d be lying if I said I remembered anything else about his path. Asides from the… questionable human love interest (yikes), there’s nothing worth remembering about Sonic ’06.
Sonic Battle answered the important question that nobody had really asked. “What if Sonic was in Smash Bros?” Now, Sonic is in Smash Bros. now, but he wasn’t back in 2003 when this game came to the Game Boy Advance. Sonic Battle is an arena battler that stars Sonic and a host of other characters from the series alongside Emerl, who is magic and can learn the skills of the other fighters. The combat was incredibly fun but rather simple, and while the multiplayer was good, the limitations of the GBA held it back somewhat compared to a console game.
I was really looking forward to seeing how well Sonic Heroes held up after so long, and it does, although not without some hiccups. The controls are noticeably worse than Sonic Adventure- I flew off edges in ways that honestly made no sense- and the voice acting is also grating at times, but damn if I wasn’t having fun all the while, even when I somehow would blink off of a cliff. Sonic Heroes is definitely a wonderful start for first-time Sonic players, but veterans of the franchise don’t need to linger after finishing Team Sonic’s portion of the game.
Never have I played a game that celebrates itself more. Sonic Adventure 2 is a bonanza of iconic sights and sounds. Every track sounds like it could be the main theme and every level could be the primary aesthetic of its own game, making Sonic Adventure 2 a mascot of itself. You play as a rotating cast of six near-perfectly designed cartoon mascots who then create and raise baby mascots called Chaos at a liminal nightclub/kindergarten/horse track called the Chao Garden. It’s frankly brilliant. If only the actual platform gameplay wasn’t nearly broken. SA2 is a classic, nevertheless.
Sonic Adventure is exactly what it says it is: an adventure. Where in later Sonic games, including Adventure 2, would forsake the open-ended structure classic Sonic levels are known for in favor of high octane speed, Adventure revels in translating this less appreciated aspect in 3D. Whether you’re watching the sunrise as you scale the side of a skyscraper or are thrown on a snowboard mid-avalanche, Adventure’s good moments come like a rush of adrenaline. Unfortunately, the other campaigns feel half-baked, most only spanning a spare couple levels before fully exploring experimental gameplay elements. Nevertheless, Adventure captures Sonic’s liberatory joy.
X-treme is nothing but an artifact. Cancelled after two years, all that we have of X-treme is a reconfigured prototype. Yet in its state as an artifact we gain an opportunity for new ideology. You knew this wouldn’t be a finished game when you downloaded it. You knew it probably wouldn’t be that fun. Yet you came this far anyways. You had to know what could be. Perhaps this is how we can look at all games: what could be, and what couldn’t be, has been and has not, will be and will not. What then would we learn?
Tails Adventure is practically the anti-thesis of a Sonic title. Slow, clunky, and a bit obtuse, Tails Adventure is a Metroid-style adventure game for the Game Gear that isn’t all that well-known today. Tails have never been as fast as his hero, but the fox moves at a snail’s pace here, and it makes the backtracking common to the genre a little painful. That’s not to say Tails Adventure is a bad game, as it’s charming in its own right. Just make sure to play it with a walkthrough in hand, so that you don’t get too lost and confused.
Sonic R’s soundtrack is great. Even though it’s pre-Crush 40, the songs sung by Teresa Jane Davis had the same silly energy. It’s not the butt-rock that we’ve come to know from the series, but the catchy lyrics persist even to this day. I can still sing most of the tracks–
Oh, I’m sorry. What’s that? Do you wanna know about the game itself? God, Sonic R is terrible. Your racer will slip around the stage as if it’s all made of ice, and your opponents will employ extreme rubberbanding to frustrate you. There’s no sunshine to be felt here.