Friday, December 7, 2012

Top 10: Worst Sonic the Hedgehog Games

For many years, I've had a huge affinity for Sonic the Hedgehog.  Seriously, this guy was like the Mickey Mouse of my generation.  (Ironically, designer Yuji Naka used vintage cartoons as an inspiration for creating him.  And they were both rabbits at some point.)  Yet for as much of a fan as I am, I'm not blind to some of the franchise's... lesser moments.  I'll not argue over when this "dork age" started, as I'm sure you all have your own interpretations, but there's definitely been a trend in poor quality going on.  In fact, there have been enough bad Sonic games for me to fill an entire Top Ten list of.  Why Top Ten?  Because when you do top eleven or nine lists often enough, it becomes its own cliche.  And I hate cliches.  So, let's not waste any time!  (Sonic would've wanted it this way.)

10) Sonic Blast
Platform: Sega Game Gear
Developer: Aspect
Release: 1996

We start our list with an entry which isn't so much bad on its own as it is bad compared to everything that came before it.  Sonic Blast (not to be confused with Sonic 3D Blast) is the last of five Sonic platformers for the Game Gear, and whilst it does distinguish itself by co-starring Knuckles as a playable character, the too-tight collision detection, languid sense of speed, and a graphics engine which wasn't exactly suited to its console make it the weakest of the bunch.  Previously reviewed here.

9) Sonic 3D Blast
Platforms: Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release: 1996

Looking back, it's amazing how little it takes to impress you as a kid.  Playing this first game in toy stores was a wow-inducing experience, due in large part to the art style which uses 3D-CG models rendered as 2D sprites.  So, bonus points for this game showing up when 3D graphics were starting to take off.  However, sooner or later you have to wake up and smell the coffee, and on later playthroughs I couldn't take my mind off the loose controls and the gameplay structure which requires you to perform scavenger hunts to move on.

8) Sonic Labyrinth
Platform: Sega Game Gear
Developer: Minato Giken
Release: 1995

Does everybody have a mental picture of #9?  Good, now imagine that on the Game Gear... only Sonic can't run.  Because of a contrivance plot point, Sonic went and had his shoes replaced with a pair that slowed him down, but for his Spin Dash.  That means if you want any decent mobility to scoot around the confusingly-designed stages, you'll have to deal with an unintuitive mechanic and all the infuriating sound effects that go along with it.  Previously reviewed here.

7) Shadow the Hedgehog 
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, XBox

Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2005

A Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff that has the use of guns, mild profanities, and vehicles, all based on the living-on-life-support Sonic Adventure engine.  This is gonna suck, innit.  If there were any good concepts to be taken from this clusterfail, it would be the different missions you can undertake to influence your path throughout the story.  But they had to ruin that, too: you also build up separate Hero and Dark scores based on whih enemies you take out, and if you clear a mission for one side, your score for the other side gets subtracted from your total.  Kinda hard to focus on that when everyone's gunning for you.  (Protip: The GameCube version is less awful.)

6) Sonic and the Black Knight
Platform: Wii
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2009

Before Sonic Team got their act together (pun?) with the one-two punch of Sonic 4: Episode I and Sonic Colors, they were still in the business of tacking lame ideas onto their products.  Enter Sonic and the Black Knight, the second entry in the Storybook spin-off series, and thankfully it looks to be the last.  In this story which transplants our furry friends into the legends of King Arthur, Sonic uses a sword - a talking sword no less.  I wouldn't mind so much, but it's the sluggish controls and short campaign that do this game in - not its other crazy ideas.

5) Knuckles Chaotix
Platform: Sega 32X
Release: 1995

No wonder the 32X bombed.  The expansion console never got a true Sonic title, and the franchise's sole offering was a torrent of poor ideas.  Knuckles Chaotix stars not Sonic but Knuckles the Echidna, joined by the Chaotix, a cast of generally unendearing supporting characters.  (Except maybe Espio the ninja chameleon.  Because... ninja.)  But you'll have to deal with them, as during gameplay, both characters you choose are linked by an elastic "ring tether" at all times.  Having this thrust upon you, combined with the generally-uncooperative AI of your partner, renders precision platforming (as in commonplace tasks like running up a quarterpipe) nigh impossible.  As an intended showcase for the 32X's abilities, Knuckles Chaotix is visually all up-in-your-face with fluorescent bright colours and zooming effects, but without fun gameplay backing it up, it falls flat on its face.

4) Sonic R
Platform: Sega Saturn
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release: 1997

The Saturn was another infamous Sega flop (at least in America and Europe), which was also underrepresented by the Blue Blur.  There was Sonic Jam, a rerelease of the Genesis trilogy, a port of Sonic 3D Blast, and Sonic X-Treme which... got cancelled.  (I know that feel.)  That makes Sonic R the only original Sonic game on the Saturn, and being not a traditional platformer but a racing game, that's not a good sign.  Actually, since most of the characters run on foot, Sonic R is more of a cross between a platformer and a racer, so there are (once again) some good ideas to be had.  But (once again) all hopes of entertainment are dashed by the touchy controls which will bounce you all over the overly-complicated track and into one of the many branching paths, and by the inane, bouncy vocal-pop songs.  For the record, the controls are less awful if you're using the analog stock on the 3D Pad (the one NiGHTS Into Dreams made famous), but if you have to buy an alternate controller just to make a game playable, then you're gonna have a bad time.

3) Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis
Platform: Game Boy Advance

Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2006

As if it wasn't enough that Sega had to ruin Sonic's 15th anniversary with that other infamous reboot, they also dumped upon us Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, a remake of the original 1991 title for the Game Boy Advance.  The low frame-rate does an incredible disservice to the GBA's potential, the chintzy sound quality does an incredible disservice to Masato Nakamura's incredible compositions, and the physics glitches (to which I have previously alluded) do an incredible disservice to everyone else.  In fact, it was so bad, that a fan re-made the first levels of the game in GBA rom form and did a much, much better job.

2) Sonic Spinball
Platform: Sega Game Gear

Developer: Polygames / Sega interActive
Release: 1994

My beef with pinball video games is that they sheperd you to knock your ball into specific locations, even though you're using a control mechanism based partly on luck.  Either that or I need to practise harder...  Whilst Sonic Spinball, a 1993 spin-off for the Genesis, fell victim to this inherent pitfall, it otherwise functioned perfectly well.  The same cannot be said about its Game Gear port, which suffers from muddled, unresponsive controls, and a broken physics engine -- and that's just the pinball segments.  On the rare occasions where you must traverse on foot, such as the mandatory bonus stages, these problems are exacerbated to the umpteenth degree.  Previously reviewed here.

1) Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform: PlayStation 3, XBox 360
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2006

I wasn't going to put this at number one.  Going after easy targets isn't my style.  Enough has been said about this title already, is it not so?  But no, I have decided that this attempted reboot deserves its place as the best of the worst Sonic has to offer.  It's not just the constantly glitching, lifeless physics engine (Seriously Havok, you were in Half-Life 2; how could you mess this one up?), or the unendearing character models and animations (They gave Dr. Eggman full human proportions.  Scream and run.), or the unforgivably inefficient loading times, or the non-functioning new mechanics built onto the already non-functioning Sonic Adventure engine (That's very North Korean of you, Sega.) that do this game in.  It's the way all these problems combine to form the perfect clusterfail.

And now for a long-lost feature which I call the Wildcard Entry, which I haven't officially used since this guy.  Basically, it's something I would've included on the list, but had to disqualify for whatever reason.  So, after what we've been through, what could have taken the dubious honours this time around?

Wildcard) Sonic Free Riders
Platform: XBox 360
Release: 2010

The reason this is on this list is because of Angry Joe's review, in which he deemed the game literally unplayable, due in large part to the mandatory use of the Kinect camera.  If his experiences are anything to go by, neither the game nor the Kinect reads your body movements properly, rendering the entire game -- right down to the menus! -- completely unplayable.  So why is this merely a wildcard entry and not on the list proper?  Well, I don't own an XBox 360 nor a Kinect, and have no interest in pursuing either within the immediate future, so I can't legally quantify something I've never played.  But if the game really is as non-functioning as I have led to believe, then I would have no choice to place it at number one.  As it stands, I'll merely stick this with a "results may vary" disclamer and one of those "I'm watching you" eye-pointing poses.  In the meantime, I suggest you stick around and watch out for the top 10 best Sonic the Hedgehog games, next time on the SDP.

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