Monday, July 4, 2016

Top Ten: Worst Sonic the Hedgehog Games (Revisited)

With the recent anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, whose first game was delivered unto us in June of 1991, I've decided to finally relaunch my video series by adapting my list of the franchise's top ten worst games, previously written and posted in 2012. But in re-writing the script for that episode, I made so many changes and additions that I decided to post a new article for the new edition of my list, whilst keeping the older version intact for posterity. In fact, I even managed to add an extra slot to this list, making it a top-eleven. Why top eleven? Because when you're as big a fan as I am, you’ve got to go one step beyond. So, let's not waste any time! Sonic would've wanted it this way. Here are the new top eleven worst Sonic the Hedgehog games!

11) 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 game in toy stores was a wow-inducing experience for me, since this was the first Sonic the Hedgehog game presented in 3D! ...Sort of. Really, it was just 3D models pre-rendered as 2D sprites a la Donkey Kong Country, which is a look that hasn’t aged all that well if I say so myself. But the gameplay’s still good, right? ...Not exactly. This isn’t one of those games where you can just rush to the level exit. No, you have to find and kill five enemy robots in each section, free the Flickies within, and bring them to the goal. But the controls are still good, right? Eh, no. Sonic in this game has a floaty feel to his movements which throws all attempts at precision out the window. But at least the soundtrack’s still good, right? ...Actually, yes. In fact, this happens to be among my favourite Sonic soundtracks, because I’m weird like that.

...Aww yeah. I wish I could stick around jamming to this, but I really should go on.

10) Sonic and the Black Knight
Platform: Nintendo 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. As evidence to that statement, enter Sonic and the Black Knight, the second entry in the Sonic Storybook spin-off series.  (I love alliteration.)  The Storybook series was a duology of Wii titles, the other being Sonic and the Secret Rings, which transplanted the Sonic universe into different pieces of world mythology. In the case of Black Knight, that would be the mythos of King Arthur and Camelot. Secret Rings was kind of okay, but Black Knight... not so much. See, Sonic uses a sword -- a talking sword -- no less. I wouldn't mind so much, but the combat is stop-and-go, with every swing of your sword killing Sonic’s momentum, and detection of your Wii Remote waggles to swing the darn thing are iffy at best. And some of the missions are completely dumb, too. There are some moments where you have to give rings to townspeople... by way of quick-time events. Why can’t I just give them the danged rings? What were they thinking? Now, I honestly think the concept of this universe was an interesting one with lots of potential, but it's the sluggish controls and short campaign that do this game in -- not its other crazy ideas.

9) Sonic Adventure 2
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2001

Oh, I’m not gonna make any friends for this one. But that’s not why I’m here. This entry has some polarizing opinions, from people who either strongly love it, or strongly hate it. And I... don’t like Sonic Adventure 2. For a time, every new Sonic game seemed to take one step forward, and two steps back. Take Sonic Adventure for example.  It featured six gameplay types, some of which had nothing to do with our concept of a Sonic game and/or just weren't very fun.  Adventure 2, meanwhile, pares them down to three types, and you don’t have to waste time in a hub world to get from level to level. But that just means you have to get through those different modes in order to get to the next chapter. And somehow they’re implemented even worse! Also, the voice-acting is lame, cutscene animation is wonky, and the story is... kind of dumb, too. There are some good bits, namely the Sonic and Shadow levels, but seriously, don’t let them blind you to the rest of the game’s problems.

8) Shadow the Hedgehog
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, and XBox
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2005

A Sonic spinoff that has the use of guns, mild profanities, and vehicles, all based on the broken Sonic Adventure engine. This isn't going to end well. 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 which 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. The game has ten possible endings, but if you want to go for a different one, you’ll have to start a whole new game. Sure, there are only six possible levels in each play-through, but that means you’ll have to do the first stage ten times to get them all. What were they thinking? Supposedly the GameCube version is less awful in how well it runs, but it’s not much help against such a poorly-designed, poorly-conceived mess.

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

Does everybody have a mental picture of Sonic 3D Blast? Good, now imagine that on the Game Gear... only Sonic can't run or jump. I just broke you, eh? Because of a contrivance -- I mean, because of the game’s story, Sonic went and had his shoes replaced with a pair of shoes that slow him down. Sonic still gets to use his spin dash, but that just means if you want any decent mobility to scoot around the stages, you'll have to deal with an unintuitive mechanic and all the infuriating sound effects that go along with it. Even without those limitations, navigating the game’s labyrinths, shall I say, is still a chore. Not only do parts of each map look the same, but later levels rely so heavily on warp doors and one-way moving platforms that they’ll make your head spin! As bad as you thought 3D Blast was, Labyrinth proves things could always be worse. And case in point, this isn’t the only Game Gear port on this list. Previously reviewed here.

6) Knuckles Chaotix
Platform: Sega 32X
Developer: Sega
Release: 1995

Well, no wonder the 32X bombed! I mean, apart from its poor timing of going on sale when consumers were already holding out for the Saturn, PlayStation, or Nintendo 64. The problem with this expansion console was that it never got a Sonic title! Well, it did, kind of, but it was still a torrent of poor ideas. Knuckles Chaotix stars not Sonic, but Knuckles the Echidna from Sonic 3, joined by the Chaotix, a cast of generally uninteresting 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 uncooperative AI of your partner, leads to some unpredictable physics, and at worst case renders precision platforming nigh impossible. And I’m talking about in commonplace tasks, as in... running up a short quarterpipe. 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.

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

Speaking of failed Sega consoles, the Saturn was another infamous Sega flop which was also under-represented by the Blue Blur. The only original* Sonic game on the Saturn was Sonic R, which was not a traditional platformer but a racing game. Actually, since most of the characters run on foot, Sonic R is more of a cross between a platformer and a racer, so once again, there are some good ideas to be had. But, once again, all hopes of entertainment are dashed by the touchy controls which, I have to say, may be the worst controls I’ve ever had to deal with in any video game ever. I ended up discovering shortcuts completely by accident! Not even the 3D Pad, with its analog stick, makes any big difference in improving those controls. And the soundtrack, with its high-energy house music and inane, bubble-gummy lyrics, is all kinds of cheese. But little did we know, Sonic R served as a warning for the problems that would plague this series for a decade to come.

*NB: The only other Sonic titles for the Saturn were Sonic Jam, a compilation of the original Genesis trilogy, and a port of Sonic 3D Blast. You see what I mean when I called the Saturn a flop?

4) Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Big Red Button
Release: 2014

Okay, I honestly haven’t played this one, because I don’t own a Wii U. And depending on how Nintendo’s next console turns out, I might not ever. But seriously, do I need to? Sonic Boom's failings have been well-documented all over the Internet! The game is riddled with frame rate drops and collision glitches, the platforming and combat are dull and boast few innovations, and the hub worlds are so barren, they make the ones in Sonic '06 look teeming with life. I will say that I, for one, like the character redesigns. Although if that’s the case, why not just stick to the Sonic Boom cartoon? I might as well… I’m just happy to watch any show whose sense of humour isn't just butts.

Meh, good enough.

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, and believe me, I’ll get to that one in short order, 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 do an incredible disservice to everyone else. I mean, yeah, you can play with the Spin Dash from Sonic 2, but that’s like tying a fancy ribbon on a bag of dog doo.  Of course, we don't have to worry about that anymore because there are much, much better ports of the game available, including the one for iPhone and Android which not only run perfectly, but you can also play with the Spin Dash, plus you can unlock Tails and Knuckles, plus you can save your game, plus it's got acheivements, PLUS IT'S ONLY 99 CENTS -- seriously, go out to your favourite app store, buy that game, and leave the GBA one in the dust!!

2) Sonic Spinball
Platform: Game Gear
Developer: Polygames / Sega interActive
Release: 1994

Have you ever played a pinball video game and stressed out about trying to hit specific targets, even though you're using a control mechanism based partly on luck? Either that or I need to practise harder... This was the case for Sonic Spinball, a Sonic spin-off made in 1993 for the Genesis. And while it fell victim to this inherent design pitfall, it was otherwise playable. The same cannot be said about its Game Gear port, which suffers from muddled, unresponsive controls, and a broken physics engine. Sometimes Sonic will stick along walls when it seems he should just bounce off them, and sometimes he phases right through objects. 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. If you absolutely have to satisfy your pinball fix, just stick to the real thing. And I’m not talking about the Genesis port, I mean a real pinball machine. Previously reviewed here.

Before number one, I’d like to shout out a few honourable mentions. ..."Honourable" in the sense that they didn’t suck enough to make the list proper. So let’s have at it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Game Gear. It’s not within striking distance of its big brother on the Genesis, but it’s alright… except for the bosses, which are all kinds of unfair. Especially the first one. Oh, and if you don’t find all the Chaos Emeralds, you can’t even play the last zone. Because [verb] you, that’s why. Previously reviewed here.

Sonic Blast for Game Gear. You get to play as Sonic or Knuckles in this one, which is cool, but ugly art style, poor sense of speed, and overly precise hit detection make this the worst Sonic platformer on the Game Gear. Previously reviewed here.

Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast. This game introduced so many problems that plagued the franchise for years to come -- new characters with play styles that have nothing to do with the idea of Sonic, annoying voice-acting, awkward animation, and a control engine ill-suited to 3D platforming -- but for this game, they were just minor enough that I gave it a pass.  (Plus, I ran out of room on this list.)

Sonic Free Riders for XBox 360. This is another one I haven’t played because I don’t own an XBox 360, let alone a Kinect. But because of the technology of the Kinect, I’m willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt. Although, if my experience with the PlayStation 2’s EyeToy is anything to go by, I’m not expecting much.

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for Nintendo 3DS. Like its companion game on the Wii U, the 3DS Sonic Boom doesn't have a great sense of speed, plus all the backtracking and collecting you have to do to unlock new levels makes this even worse. But unlike Rise of Lyric, it’s still kind of, what’s the word I’m looking for... oh yeah, competent.

And now... You might already know what’s coming up, and let me tell you, I didn't want to put this at number one. You see, going after easy targets isn't my style. I would have loved to surprise you with something like Spinball on the Game Gear, or that Sonic GBA remake. But no, this one offended my sensibilities like nothing else on this list could. Let’s address the elephant in the room and find out why.

Platforms: XBox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer: Sonic Team
Release: 2006

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 the innumerable glitches and uncooperative camera. It’s not the unendearing character models and animations, like Dr. Eggman with full human proportions. Scream and run. It’s not the unforgivably inefficient loading times. It’s the way all those problems come together that prove Sonic Team have learned nothing from the mistakes made since Sonic Adventure. And all those underlying problems, combined with Sonic Team’s insistence on slapping new unwanted mechanics on top, is very North Korean of Sonic Team. And knowing what I do about North Korea, that is a very, very strong insult. Previously reviewed here.

So after witnessing the worst Sonic has to offer, I feel I should restore the balance. To that effect, join me next time when I count down the top eleven best Sonic the Hedgehog games. But until then, this is Kevin, and you are the resistance.

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