tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

A lot of Sonic fans are pretty big idiots

Now that we've got that unfortunately true generalization out of the way…

A rather amusing and somewhat depressing truth occurred to me recently. As you might recall, one of the main marketing points of the travesty of a “next-gen” title known to me as Sonic the Crapfest was its use of the Havok physics engine to provide amazing and realistic physics effects. We all know how that turned out. Yet, one thing that struck me immediately as I booted up my copy of Sonic Mega Collection+ for the PS2 puts this marketing spiel in perspective. You see, the 2D Sonics of old had pretty damn good physics engines. In spite of being layers of pixels at what would be considered ridiculously low resolutions today, the characters you controlled felt like they had weight, and behaved (within the limits of the game world, of course) as you expected them to.

Take, for example, a staple of Sonic games both new and old – loops. In the 3D games they've been relegated to “let go of the controller and watch as Sonic does something really fun before catapulting you back into boretown” moments. However, as most astute gamers will recall, this wasn't the case in the 2D games. You needed to have the necessary momentum in order to make it through a loop without stopping. Or how about when you had to go down a slope? The instinctive thing in the classic Sonics is to build up speed by rolling into a ball. This doesn't work in the 3D games, not even Sonic Adventure (which I still consider the best of the bunch). In fact, rolling in Sonic Adventure makes you SLOW DOWN for some reason, even when going downhill. Even the newer 2D Sonic games like Advance and Rush don't quite get this right (although to be fair, they make up for it in many other ways).

Anyway, that was really more of a tangent to the main point I wanted to make.

Reviews for Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity have been trickling in…and the verdict isn't pretty. And of course, the vast majority of the fanbase has responded in the most predictable way possible – by claiming that reviewers are somehow biased against Sonic games.

First off, this claim is nonsensical. A bias against Sonic games does nothing to explain the praise reviewers threw at the feet of games like Sonic Rush and its sequel (or the Sonic Advance games, for that matter), or the sentiment of redemption they expressed after playing Sonic and the Secret Rings. Suggesting that all professional game reviewers somehow hate Sonic games is therefore patently ridiculous. The lengths that some fans go to prop up this farcical argument is moreso.

The simple truth is that when compared to other platformers – indeed, other games – the Sonic series fails to measure up in innumerable ways. The writing and characterization is a joke (see Psychonauts for a good example of how to get this right), the graphics are consistently mediocre (the so-called “next-gen” Sonic lacked basic features like bump-mapping and water reflections that had been standard in video games for years) and the game mechanics continue to get worse and worse, diluting the core experience. In addition, the games are just chock-full of terrible design decisions. Do we really need to be able to play as one of 10 barely-distinguishable characters (most of whom feel buggy and unfinished)? Does a game about racing hoverboards really need a bloody story mode? And nevermind the fact that guns and Sonic generally don't mix – was it really a good idea to put in firearms without any sort of targeting system? And let's not forget about how ever since Sonic Heroes, the basic controls have been pretty broken as well. No, I didn't know that grass was like ice when you ran on it, but thanks for letting me know.

I suspect the reason for so many fans not realising this either that they've never played a game built on GOOD design principles, or they have remarkably low standards. There are people at numerous boards who can list off a bunch of significant issues they had with a Sonic game, and yet somehow claim it's a great game and that the reviewers have underrated it, tossing out 7s and 8s as if they were spring cleaning the number closet.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate numerical review scores? God I hate numerical review scores.

I fully admit I was once one of the huddled masses, worshipping the garbage Sega tossed our way on a regular basis. I think it took a game that sucked on the level of Sonic the Crapfest to make me realize the travesty the Sonic series had become – this game was essentially my “red pill,” and it helped me see the Matrix of Sonic fandom for what it really was.

(I fully expect members of aforementioned fandom to read this and reply angrily about how I'm a cynical elitist bastard who hates everything. To which I reply – no, I'm a cynical elitist bastard who hates ignorance. For some these two definitions may be functionally equivalent)

No comments

Leave a Reply