Opinion// Sonic and the Retro Revival

Posted 5 Feb 2010 17:46 by
There's probably no gaming character more loved than Sonic the Hedgehog (go on, search deep in your heart. I bet you'll find him sitting there, wagging his finger at you). Which makes his sharp fall from 16-bit gaming grace all the more painful for gamers around the world. But after more than a decade of spinoffs, reboots and misfires, Sega is going back to basics and giving the gamers what they've been asking for ? Sonic the Hedgehog 4.

As a man at the forefront of the Sonic the Hedgehog community, I can say that Sega has never had as large a reaction as the wake of Sonic 4's offical reveal yesterday. Shit went down. Today, the consensus is that Sonic Team is ticking all the right boxes so far, although there are many fans who are cautiously optimistic ? which is as good as positive in my book. I mean, can you blame them, after the dreck that was Sonic 2006?

What We Want
The three-second clip of gameplay footage in the trailer has shown some very good signs. The graphics are simply gorgeous, and the style and rendering of the 'Jungle with Green Hill Zone highlights' backdrop suits Sonic the Hedgehog completely. We see a corkscrew twist from Sonic 2 and one of those double-loops from Sonic 3 ? in that small segment alone, we know that there will be ample speed rewards for players to dash along.

Although we can't possibly judge the nature of the entire game on that short clip (rabid fans, take note), there are still a lot of classic elements that we should mention, that need reviving in order for this game to work. This shouldn't just be 'Sonic Rush 3' ? the same gimmicks cannot apply.

Chief of these necessary elements is level design, combined with a good physics engine. The former should allow for some proper platforming while rewarding success with uninterrupted speed segments, while the latter should take advantage of Sonic's rolling ball skills.

The two go hand in hand though; good physics is nothing without good level design to use it, and vice versa. See the number of ramps, curves, loop-de-loops, pinball arenas, badnik-bopping opportunities and momentum-based pathways that are present in the early Sonic games, and you'll see what I'm talking about here.

Sonic's key attribute is speed, but it is in no way the primary factor of enjoyment in a Sonic game ? in contrast, games such as Sonic Advance 2 which focus on speed amount to nothing more than 'hold-right-to-win' exercises. Even in Sonic Unleashed, the speed boost blew apart any chance of inertia or momentum-based play. Without it, it's just an interactive rollercoaster ride.

What We Fear
Of course, the trailer didn't set the entirety of our retro hearts at ease ? although some have been vocal against the use of a psuedo-3D Sonic model, in reality it looks completely fine. One legitimate complaint about it though, is in the model's running animation ? Sonic could or could not be going at top speed in the video, but either way he should have a running animation akin to Sonic 1's 'wheely-legs', or even Sonic CD's 'figure eight' style.

I'm personally hoping that the animations leading up to the gameplay footage was simply mocked up by a video company as well, because the badniks ? awesome as they looked ? moved as if they were part of a Flash animation. In the final game, Sonic should be getting some real bounce after smashing a badnik open. It's all part of the ball physics mentioned above.

Concerns over the aforementioned level design have arisen as well, and despite the world not knowing anything more than that one strip of virtual real estate, I do wonder whether Sonic Team is capable of introducing some truly inspired, multi-tiered level design. We need it more like 'Sonic the Hedgehog 2' and less like 'Sonic Advance 2'.

The Fanbase
Perhaps the biggest thing to fear about the game is the unreasonable minority of the fanbase itself ? proof that no matter how hard Sega tries, it cannot do anything right. There's nothing wrong with having concerns, and I'm hardly being overly-optimistic for the title, but making snap decisions based on a three second clip is asinine.

Using the fact that Sega is not using classic, black-eyed podgy Sonic as a basis for boycotting the game says loads about how ridiculous this fanbase can get sometimes.

Perhaps the best thing I heard from an auto-pessimist was the complaint that the game - based on that one clip alone - is a complete rehash. What exactly were you expecting in a back-to-the-roots Sonic game? Let's not forget that, for all intents and purposes, Sonic 3 & Knuckles was stylistically a rehash of Sonic 2 (which was a rehash of Sonic 1).

Personally, I wonder whether the refreshed Sonic Team has the goods to make Sonic the Hedgehog 4 as much of a classic as its spiritual predecessors. I can only judge the game based on those short three seconds of footage, but it seems like Sega's studio is seriously analysing every little thing that made the 16-bit games great. Let's hope that really is the case.

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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Comments

Iceman Etika 5 Feb 2010 18:48
1/5
Excellent article Dread, it's easy on the eyes and not some over complicated big word mess. It appeals, and speaks the absolute truth. I'm hoping that it won't be months before more info is released on this massively anticipated title.
Svend Joscelyne 5 Feb 2010 22:13
2/5
Haha, thanks. But, not 'Dread' here - people will think I paid you to come here and say that!
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PorpoiseMuffins 6 Feb 2010 16:07
3/5
Well said. I'm one of the ones wishing they had used a more classic character design (and a less horrible running animation--even if the one we saw isn't top speed), but I'm not going to rule out the entire game based on that.

I'm cautious, but there's still some optimism there.
Elson 'Darkspeeds' Wong 6 Feb 2010 22:08
4/5
Fudge me, you continue to be what I call 'saint of the Sonic fandom.'

Love readin' your articles Svend. You inject personality, care and balance in what you write. When it comes to 'Sonic' it's too easy to get passionate about it especially when you're a fan yourself but you continue to maintain composure about what you say and making sure that it doesn't end up too bias.

Thanks for the update on your thoughts on Sonic 4. I've read Brad's article on TSS and surprisingly I agree a lot on what he said too despite the fact that I told T' the other day on Skype that I hate this kind of bullshit that goes around everytime a new Sonic game comes out, and that bullshit I'm talkin' bout' is fan boys being extremely critical and harsh about how SEGA/Sonic Team execute their games.

I'm like you, I give the guys a chance, it was only a 3 second trailer - not the full game. No point thrashin' the game developers/publishers/marketing team when you haven't even pick up the control pad and made Sonic run through a level. It's ridiculous. But I can understand that speculation and voicing opinions (that eventually run into heated arguments) through minute details on a new Sonic game (classic or new generation) is inevitable in the Sonic fandom at this stage of it's evolution.

Nevertheless I'm going to try and avoid as much of the 'heat' in the Sonic 'gaming' community, though I'm not to say that I won't be 'aware' of it. You ever wonder why Darkspeeds continues to stay on a happy chap and being one of the more optimistic Sonic fans out there on a consistent basis - that's because the dude focuses on the other Sonic stuff (i.e. comics, art, music, merchandise and community events) with a passion. Fair enough it's the games that 'made it to be' but Sonic's brand is so huge now that the sub-elements that make 'Sonic' so popular to people around the world are already becoming as big as it is - I'm only doing my part to promote the awesome stuff that comes out from those sub-elements.

So yeah. You never cease to impress me dude. Keep on rockin'. *thumbs up*
deleted 8 Feb 2010 02:00
5/5
Cautiously Optimistic, theres an oxymoron if i heard one, and quite fitting seems as its sonic were talking about here, still time will tell!

still couldnt they apply some 3D based graphics in New Super Mario Bros Style? there is nothign wrong with progress, but wadda i know.
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