While this topic has been done to death over and over, with the announcement of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 the expected results have happened; Hardcore Sonic fans bitching about anything they can find, and other fans excited about a return to form, with a smugness as they tell Sega "we told you so". I'm going to state that I'm pretty excited about the upcoming game, the chance to play another 2D game on a console instead of a handheld is a pretty cool thing, and right now from what we've seen, I think it's looking great. That said, I find it unfair to state that something is inherently flawed with a 3D Sonic when they actually came really close to getting it almost perfect. Oh sure, he has definitely had his clunkers I won't deny that, but the overall goal is to show why despite that, it is a problem with developers and not the character or how he operates.
Sonic was, and has always been, a platformer at heart. One of the complaints you hear in most games is that he is "too slow". In the golden age of the franchise, Sonic wasn't really that fast. The levels were generally designed to train platforming segments followed by speed gimmicks, and then back to platforming. Speed in those games came in two flavors; Skill and reward. What I mean by this, is that if you were to get past a tricky platform segment, you would come to something designed to instantly push Sonic at top speeds until he got to the next platforming segment. You can see this is zones like Chemical Plant, Hydrocity zone, Icecap zone, most other zones actually. To draw a parallel, the speed areas were essentially Sonic's take on things like Mario's Launch Stars in Super Mario Galaxy, just a tool to get him from challenge to challenge. When have control of Sonic, he always moved slowly enough to be able to react to enemies and threat in time.
Of course, it was possible to go pretty fast on the platforming segments, but that generally required good use of the spin dash, as well as memorization of the level itself.
The point I'm trying to make here, is that while Sonic could go fast, you generally couldn't go particularly fast constantly. In addition to that, Sonic's running speed was momentum based. You had to build up speed, thus allowing Sonic to be able to go slow should you need to, and to go fast if you're skilled enough to pull it off. Other aspects of Sonic was that almost all of his early levels had multiple paths, so part of the challenge was figuring out which route is the best choice, and that most levels had something unique about them to keep them unique from other levels, such as Death Egg's gravity screw. So to recap on what makes a good Sonic game;
1. Solid Platforming.
2. Speed Gimmicks.
3. Ability to go slow and fast depending on skill.
4. Multiple paths.
5. Levels that are unique from each other.
Is this inherently impossible to pull off in 3D? I don't believe it is. Why do I think so? Because they came very close to doing it once before.
Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast is still arguably Sonic's best stab at 3D both critically and as far as its sales. It isn't perfect by any means, but they managed to recreate the feel and game play of the classics in 3D and by and large make a very good game, even with its flaws. All of the problems with this game can be traced back to one thing; Bad ideas on the part of the developers. I'm going to recap the problems that held this game down;
1. Bad use of secondary characters;
Sonic's friends get a lot of bad rap these days, and this game was the start of what caused that to snowball from a positive reception, to general dislike of some of them, to flat out hatred of them. I the root cause isn't the friends in themselves, but the fact that the existence of characters other than Sonic almost always means sudden genre change from what players want to see. More than anything else, that Sonic Team should have stayed with the Genesis era design of side characters. They play very similar to Sonic with a few minor changes that effect how they progress through the levels. Tails could fly, allowing him to platform easier than Sonic and there were additional routes only available to him. Knuckles could break through walls and climb. This provided enough of a difference for them to be more than just clones of Sonic, but their additional powers could allow for areas only they could explore keeping game play unique to the character, but they still shared many of the same abilities so there wasn't a radical shift in genre change. Tails pretty much followed this rule, but the other characters all differed, some in more unpleasant ways (DAMN YOU FISHING AND TREASURE HUNTING) than others. That said, this game is also the only 3D game I recall that had the decency of giving you a character select screen. To be frank, every
sonic game that has secondary playable characters should have this. If you don't care to play as Tails or Knuckles or whoever, just don't, pick Sonic and go. That's the way it should be. Don't mind us, Sega is paying us by the hour.
2. It's fairly unrefined. The general problems with early 3D games are present here, bad camera, a few really obnoxious glitches, and things such as that.
If you were to cut off all of that extra fat, would you have a good or at least decent 3D platformer with Sonic? I think you would. The sad thing is, is that after going to Sonic Adventure 2, they made a few bad design choices and seemed to get kind of lost as far as what to do. Even more tragic, is that with the rise of the internet, Sega had an easy way of receiving feedback from fans who would give suggestions that Sonic team would listen to. Of course somehow, Sonic Team for whatever reason seems to twist suggestions into really bad ideas. For example, Sonic Team did a poll to see which side character would star in his own game. The result?
Remember that people asked for this.
Believe it or not, after Sonic Adventure 2 Shadow was a fairly popular character. Now you'd think that because shadow had all the same abilities of Sonic, and after the trial and error they had with the first two adventure games that this would be a pretty good Sonic platformer, just with the anti hero instead. Somehow Sega took the request and made was should have been an at least decent game and twisted it into...this thing.
Another example is that after the success of the two Rush games, fine games in their own right, Sonic Team got a lot of requests to do a 3D game with Rush style game play. The result?
Remember that people also asked for this.
While definitely a step up from his previous outings, and the day time levels are a fun experiment in trying to translate the speed Sonic has in the out of games fiction, it's just littered with bad ideas. It just goes to show that Sonic team has a bad example of taking simple requests and twisting them.
Even with all of the problems of his recent 3D outings, the basics of what makes a good Sonic game do still work in 3D, and I feel Sonic Adventure, while not perfect, proves that. I'm looking forward to Sonic 4, but I do still feel that the fans who say he is inherently unable to do 3D are wrong. The Sonic Adventure formula works, the problem is that they are always bogged down by bad ideas implemented by Sonic Team. It'd be nice if they were to take what worked in that and perfect it. They also need to be reaaaaaally
careful about what fans ask. Some of them (Like me) aren't exactly the brightest bunch around.
LOOK WHO CAME: