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Why Hasn't Sonic Worked in the Third Dimension?
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Why Hasn't Sonic Worked in the Third Dimension?
by Matthew Thomas on 02/12/13 10:09:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I've always enjoyed the company of our little blue resident Hedgehog. He's always been around and always manages to please fans. But can we talk about Sonic Adventure for a moment?

 Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast

Why do people like it? Let's ignore the current obsessive fanbase for a moment and just look at the game by itself for what it is and see what the game does right and what the game does wrong. But in order to fully explore Sonic Adventure, we have to explore the core mechanics of the original Sonic the Hedgehog.


Sonic the Hedgehog 

The original Sonic the Hedgehog was a game built on a decent, but poorly executed mechanic. The basic mechanic was that the player could run really fast, and as long as he didn't hit any obstacles, he could keep going fast. Playing as the fully accelerated Sonic was the reward, which I don't have a problem with. But the levels were built in such a way that it was near impossible to earn this reward for very long. Soon enough you would have to stop because because an enemy was in the way and you were going to fast to see him, or there would be a long jump that you would have to make, but didn't see the jump in time and missed the chance, leading to you falling to your death.

Mario attained fame by being a mechanically excellent game. It was well built and incredibly fun to play. I don't have any sources to confirm this, but I believe the main reason Sonic attained fame was due to a strong marketing campaign claiming Sonic to be the ultimate platforming rival to Mario. Mechanicly, the two games are very similar, and from a designers standpoint, Mario Bros. was done much better. The level designs complemented the mechanics and the player was rewarded accordingly.

Now that we've looked at the mechanics of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, let's talk about how poorly they translated in the transition to 3d graphics (in particular, Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2)

 sanic

The basic mechanics remained. Dodge obstacles and you'll keep running fast. By putting the franchise in a 3d environment, this gave the designers a lot of more opportunities. Some of the previous problems before were now gone. The player could see enemies coming from a mile away and could see a jump and time it just right to jump over an obstacle since now the camera could be placed behind Sonic instead of on the side. This seems like the best possible thing to could have happened to Sonic. All if would take would be some decent level design to compliment the previously held back mechanics.

I don't know what they were doing over there at Sonic Team, but they went back and made the exact same mistake they did with the original title. They placed obstacles that FORCED the player to stop and tackle them before continuing on.

Imagine for a moment that your in the desert driving an awesome new Jaguar car. You're going insanely fast, the wind is blowing through your hair and you have AC/DC on full blast (or whatever music gives you a boner). As you drive, you can see cacti, rocks and the few animals that reside in the desert and it's easy enough to dodge them, though occasionally you'll hit a bump. This may cause you to slow down for a few moments, but soon enough your right back at top speed.

Then out of nowhere you hit a giant concrete wall and have to get out of your nice car, find the switch and open the gate.

How inconvenient. Why would anyone put a concrete wall in the desert? Why do I have to get out to open the gate? When can I start going fast again?

This is pretty much the 3d Sonic experience in a nutshell. The designers clearly didn't understand what the mechanics they had built meant for the player, but it seems like they didn't care and focused more on stretching out the length of their game. Which is not entirely a bad thing to do, but when it comes at the cost of jeopardizing what makes your game "fun" in the first place, why have the player suffer. Especially the segments when you would have to play as other characters in the franchise such as Knuckles and Tails. While they are a noble attempt to keep the games fresh, they just prove to be tedious. Like a half baked minigame that your forced to play.

Knuckles Stage

It wouldn't be that hard to fix the mechanics. Either focus more on building the levels around the core mechanic (running and dodging), or slow Sonic down. Either one of these would fix the problems that Sonic has had in the past. Slow down the pace of the game and allow for more varied segments where the player can solve other puzzles or fight more enemies. Or design the levels so that the challenge isn't so much about combat, platforming or whatever else, but about going really fast.

 

Oh boy, let's talk about aesthetics now.

Now let me first point out, I really liked the aesthetics of the 2d Sonic games and even Sonic Colors. They were colorful and engaging as all hell. The music was solid, the visuals were consistent and stylish, and it was an all around good presentation. If only it had the mechanics to back it up. I'm gong to now be focusing on the Sonic Adventure games as well as the infamous Sonic 06.

They seemed to have this idea that Sonic and friends should be placed in a seemingly realistic setting. However, because of the hardware at the time they still had to make it somewhat stylized in order to meet technical limits.

Station Square Sonice Adventure 2

It still ended up just looking goofy, but it could be passed as "Stylized". But then we get to Sonic 06.Sanic06

Now you have these cartoony characters interacting in these relativley photo realistic settings.

I don't need to go much further then that because everyone should already be able to see the problem with that already. What bothers me is when people say that Sonic Adventure was much better. What they don't realize is that Sonic 06 is literally just an HD version of the Sonic Adventure games. All flaws included. The broken mechanics are still there, the terrible writing, the bugs everything from Sonic Adventure was there. People just don't seem to realize that those games were poorly made  to begin with.

So with all of these problems, why do people still like Sonic? What has kept the current fans around for all of these years and why do people hold the sonic games in such high regard when there are clearly better examples of games out there. Is there something I'm not seeing? Is it just a result of nostalgic blindness?

Don't get me wrong, I played the heck out of Sonic Adventure and for this post, Sonic Adventure 2. The moments I found when I was having the most fun were during the Sonic levels when I was able to just run as fast as possible. Go back and play some of the other Sonic games and you will see the points I've made here in their full glory. If you're wondering (probablly not) about what my favorite Sonic game is,  I'd have to actually say Sonic Rush on the Nintendo DS. It's a prime example of what I'm trying to illustrate in this piece. It's levels are built in such a way that if the player is skilled enough, they won't have to stop at all during the course of the whole level. If you haven't, I suggest playing it. The story, much like all of the other Sonic games is lacking, but it makes up for it with the finest refinement of the Sonic formula I've seen to date.

Sonic Rush

PS: I should also note that the core mechanic of Sonic also revolves around the collection of Rings to help stay alive. This is a good mechanic and I've never had a problem with it as it compliments what should be the fast paced nature of the Sonic games.


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Comments


Jonathan Jennings
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you know I have played the sonic games since I was like 7 years old and until seeing that sonic screenshot I have NEVER realized just how counter-productive the level design of sonic 1 is to ....well basically the main theme- feature of Sonic games which is speed. Very well written Article I too as a huge sonic Fan have wondered why every game after sonic adventure has more or less failed to be an acceptable sonic game to me . I will forever have the initial killer whale encounter in sonic adventure etched in my brain , though very guided it is one of the best 3D sonic moments I can remember. Sonic heroes seemed to have more variety but too me at the cost of speed in some sections there was a lot more to that game than just going fast as sonic.

also I have to ask because I am unsure if it was my youthful imagination or it actually happened( haven't played sonic in a couple of years now) was it possible to outrun the screen in old iterations f Sonic? I remember trying so hard to do it and i feel like I may have done it once but i don't have a solid solid memory of doing that.


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