Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sonic Revisionism

The biggest mistake the Sega made in regards to Sonic 4 Episode I was in naming it.  They should have named it Sonic HD, Sonic Retro, or something like that.  The game is classic Sonic on today’s consoles, but the name doesn’t convey that.

Sonic4logo It’s a minor mistake, but given the amount of complaining about it not being original and rehashing the levels form the Genesis games, a different name could have pre-empted some of that criticism.

And how ridiculous that kind of criticism is.  It’s pretty clear that the point of the game is to give us a modern-day version of the Sega Genesis Sonic games.  Of course there’s going to be a Green Hill Zone and other levels from the original games.  That’s what people wanted.  Sonic 3 for the Sega Genesis came out 16 years ago.  The original Sonic came out 20 years ago.  With all of the re-releases of old games, what’s wrong with giving fans a modern version of a beloved 20-year old game?

Of course, people mainly wanted Sonic to go back to his roots because they’re dissatisfied with recent 3D Sonic games.  I have to plead ignorance here, because the last Sonic game I had played prior to Sonic 4 was Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast, which was great game.  Wikipedia says, “The reception at the time of original Dreamcast version was overwhelmingly positive.”  Sonic Adventure 2 was also well-received.  The idea that the 3D Sonic games were terrible is just mythology.  Now, I understand that some of the more recent Sonic games were not well-received.  But that doesn’t justify asserting that the last good Sonic game was Sonic CD.

So while I like Sonic 4, I’m sad that Sega is making 2D Sonic games their main focus because of the popular (but incorrect) perception that the 3D Sonic games were bad.  I’m still excited about future episodes of Sonic 4 (especially if they add more playable characters), but I would really like to see a new Sonic Adventure-type 3D game.

As to the quality of Sonic 4 itself, I think it does what it sets out to do admirably.  I think the graphics, sound, and controls are all excellent.  It’s definitely one of the best-looking 2D games that I’ve seen.  (By 2D, I’m only referring to the fact that the game takes place on a 2D plane.  The characters are rotoscoped 3D-models, of course).

Speaking of which, I was part of baffling discussion of this topic on the XBox 360 forums.  The original poster asked, “Anyone else wish Sega just went back to using good old fashioned sprites?”  I asked what that advantage of that would be.  In Sonic 4, the characters look great, their animation is smooth – so what’s the problem?  Many people wouldn’t even be able to tell that the underlying models are 3D.  The main reason I can tell is because of their fluidity.  If you read the discussion, you’ll notice that no one answered my question.  I can understand nostalgia, but if you don’t want improvements, what’s the point of remaking the game anyway?  Just play the original.  It’s even available on on XBox Live.

Another piece of backlash against the game that I don’t understand is Kotaku.com’s “Did Sonic Fans Just Release A Better Sonic the Hedgehog HD?”, which talks about the fan-made demo, Sonic Fan Remix.  While that game does look good, with its developers deserving a lot of credit, I think people are succumbing to the power of suggestion when they say things like, “Yeah, that’s so much better than Sonic 4!  Sega should hire those guys.”  If Sonic Fan Remix was the product that Sega released and some fans made Sonic 4, I think you’d have people talking about how clean, simple, and smooth Sonic 4 is in comparison.

Sonic Fan Remix:

Sonic 4:

In any case, my main point is that the backlash against Sonic 4 has gotten out-of-hand.  It’s a good game, and future episodes should make it every better.

That being said, I do have a few minor complaints about the game.  The first is that the camera is too close for my tastes  Back in March I suggested that Sega move the camera back a little when Sonic is at high speeds.  Needless to say my advice was not heeded.  There is one boss fight in the Casio Night zone where the camera does zoom out.  So we know the game engine supports it.  I would just like it to happen more often.

Secondly, there is no local multiplayer.  I would really have liked a split screen mode, or even a mode where a second controller can control Tails, even if Tails isn’t on the screen or has trouble keeping up with Sonic.  It was a fun thing that you could do in most other Sonic games, beginning with Sonic 2.  I had to explain to my son that the new Sonic game was not 2-player, even though the old ones were.  It doesn’t make sense to a 4-year-old and it doesn’t make sense to me.  Sega, please -- put Tails in Episode 2 and let him be controllable by the second player.

There is a graphical level selector, which I was worried might not be in the game.  I’m sure Sega mainly included that feature for the purposes of the leaderboards, but I’ll still take credit for it.

Bring on episode 2, Sega.

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