Reviewing Sonic’s History Part 3: Recent Years
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Sonic Colours (2010)
Many fans consider Sonic’s 2010 offering to be a return to form for the franchise, but whilst it is certainly an improvement over the previous misfires, Sonic Colours still leaves something to be desired. Focusing on similar gameplay to Sonic Unleashed, but fortunately without the Werehog atrocity, Sonic Colours is bursting with colourful environments, and a gimmick that surprisingly functions appropriately to some degree, in the form of ability granting ‘Wisps’. However, much like Sonic Unleashed, it suffers heavily from inconsistency in its quality. Whilst some stages play wonderfully, demanding the player to run at the speed of sound whilst avoiding intelligent hazard placement, others are a painful experience to endure due to yet more difficulty spikes and poor level design. This lack of balancing once again spoils a game that could have been greater than what it resulted in being.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (2010)
If ever there was a perfect example of wasted potential, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I would be it. Whilst certain other modern Sonic games have utilised the franchise’s traditional 2D gameplay (such as Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush), Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is the first time said gameplay has been used for a modern home console release. Bearing the name that it does, fans expected Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I to be the hedgehog’s true return to gaming greatness. Upon release day, said fans were treated to shoddy physics and an underwhelmingly short adventure, which understandably created much disappointment. Despite this, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I still has many things going in its favour, including a gorgeously colourful, shiny and simplistic art style, a smartly stripped back approach to gameplay and level design, and brilliantly catchy music. With fixed physics, and the extension into a significantly longer non-episodic experience, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I really could be a wonderful game, truly deserving of its Sonic the Hedgehog 3 sequel status. As it is however, it is nothing more than a missed opportunity, resulting in yet another mediocre game to add to Sonic’s catalogue.
Sonic Generations (2011)
Sonic Generations follows the mission statement of celebrating Sonic’s (at this moment in time) twenty year long history. Revisiting and reimagining various stages from his many adventures, it serves as an enjoyable homage to the nostalgia of older fans thanks to its utilisation of classic stages (such as Sonic & Knuckles’s Sky Sanctuary Zone). Said classic stages are by far the most exciting event on offer, as Sonic Generations’ stages paying tribute to modern games feel far less engaging in regards to both their aesthetic (there are an abundance of city themed stages), as well as their flow and pacing (difficulty spikes and poor hazard placement is on full display, as per usual). Offering both classic and modern Sonic gameplay, modern style plays very similar to Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colours, which is mostly satisfactory. Classic Sonic on the other hand suffers from similar issues that plagued him in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, with his physics being miles different to the classic games he is based on, resulting in a hedgehog that is simply uncomfortable to control.
Boss battles range from the excellent Metal Sonic and Egg Wyvern, to the unexciting Death Egg Robot, to the terrible Perfect Chaos (yes, Sonic Generations succeeds in ruining what were once enjoyable boss battles). Finally, the game’s finale serves up what is quite possibly one of the worst boss battles ever to exist, with horrifically frustrating and unresponsive gameplay. With a spattering of dull mini-game themed missions offering little more than forgettable distractions, Sonic Generations makes a plethora of blunders within the category of quality consistency. However, its often overlooked and underrated feature is allowing the player to change the stage music at will. For a passionate fan of Sonic’s extensive list of catchy ear-worms, playing a modern stage with Sonic & Knuckles’s Flying Battery Zone music blaring over it never fails to raise a smile. Much like Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, Sonic Generations, offers some truly brilliant moments, but they are often overshadowed by glaring faults that yet again prevent Sonic from escaping the clutches of mediocrity.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (2012)
“Will Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II fix the problems found in its predecessor?”, fans asked in anticipation of its release. The answer is sadly a resounding negative, as Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II not only fails to fix the issues of its predecessor, but also creates new ones. With only marginally improved physics to be praised, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II fails in all other aspects. The gorgeous and unique art style of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I is replaced with visuals that offer greater environmental detail, but simply have far less charm to them. The quality of music and level design also suffers, making the entire experience feel miserable in comparison to its predecessor (which in itself is a very flawed game). Finally, the worst offender is the poorly implemented gameplay with Tails, which adds little to no enjoyment to the gameplay, and only serves to complicate the experience with unnecessary gimmicks. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II succeeds in taking the flawed but relatively fun experience of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, and removing the ‘relatively fun’ part of it.
Sonic Lost World (2013)
The finale of this long long list has arrived, and what better way to conclude than with yet another mediocre Sonic game. Sonic Lost World provides Sonic with the ability to wall run and perform other parkour inspired moves to navigate around various colourful stages. This sounds exciting in theory (and at times it is), but suddenly as a player you realise the following things:
A) Sonic’s willingness to perform certain commands can be temperamental due to them requiring frustratingly over-specific input requirements.
B) As is the case with many modern Sonic games, many stages suffer from difficulty spikes and an overall lack of consistency in quality.
The best stages in Sonic Lost World task you with zooming down a long grind rail, dodging various hazards along the way whilst being serenaded by liquid drum & bass music. Against a mystical underwater backdrop, these stages work incredibly well due to their beautiful simplicity and reliance on nothing more than intelligent platforming and timing. From analysing the faults of modern Sonic games, it can be deduced that when sacrificing tedious gimmicks and complicated commands, the focus of gameplay becomes far more streamlined. This streamlining often leads to far stronger results, where failure will almost always be the fault of the player rather than the fault of poor game design.
Another standout moment within Sonic Lost World comes in the form of a bonus stage that tasks you to fly Tails’s Tornado biplane through the sky, frantically steering to avoid hazards. Yet again, the simplicity in this stage serves to create truly excellent gameplay that is accessible and enjoyably challenging to the player. Unfortunately, these praiseworthy stages only make up an exceptionally minute amount of Sonic Lost World, with the majority of it consisting of the aforementioned difficulty spike infested ‘use your temperamental wall run ability to avoid this overly complicated hazard’ gameplay. Sonic Lost World features a small selection of genuinely good ideas, and a fair amount of charm in certain places, but they have little to no room to shine above the many bad ideas that take centre stage.
Here concludes our look back at Sonic’s long history. Despite a very strong start, the spiny hero has endured a number of mediocre adventures in recent years. However, despite suffering from ‘poor game syndrome’ for quite some time now, it can only be hoped that 2017’s upcoming offerings, Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces, can somehow restore the long lost greatness of the blue blur. Here’s to the future, keep on running fast Sonic (even if you’re not always particularly good at it)!
Sonic the Hedgehog – from best to worst:
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles – Rating: 9/10.
Sonic Adventure – Rating: 9/10.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Rating: 8/10.
Sonic Adventure 2 – Rating: 8/10.
Sonic the Hedgehog – Rating: 7/10.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I – Rating: 6/10.
Sonic CD – Rating: 5/10.
Sonic 3D Blast – Rating: 5/10.
Sonic Generations – Rating: 5/10.
Sonic Lost World – Rating: 5/10.
Sonic Colours – Rating: 4/10.
Sonic 06 – Rating: 3/10.
Sonic Unleashed – Rating: 3/10.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II – Rating: 3/10.
Sonic Heroes – Rating: 2/10.
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE