Six Things a Sonic Game Needs to be Great

Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s blue, spiny mascot, has been running for a long time. And while he never has found the fame enjoyed by his mustachioed rival-turned-athletic-partner, Sonic has built and maintained a substantial fanbase over his 22 year career. However, the developers at Sonic Team have been anything but consistent in their production of quality Sonic experiences in the last few years, leaving fans more than a little frustrated. The last release, Sonic Lost World, looked immensely promising in early gameplay videos and demos, but ended up being another great idea with poor execution. With such a stark contrast between the Sonic of Genesis days and our modern-day Sonic, it’s time we examined what exactly combines to create a great Sonic game.

Speed

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When Sonic the Hedgehog launched on the Sega Genesis in 1993, the game’s biggest selling point was its speed. Sonic captured a sense of agility and momentum that simply wasn’t available in any other games at the time, and became the first legitimate challenger to Mario’s platforming reign. Sonic’s speed is still his most notable attribute to this day, as it should be. In fact, it’s more prevalent than ever; the DS title Sonic Rush introduced a boost system, rewarding players for defeating enemies with automatic boosts to full speed at the push of a button, further emphasizing the importance speed plays in Sonic’s gameplay. Without speed, there is no Sonic. Or rather, there is a Sonic, but he’s just a blue hedgehog then. And that’s just not as fun.

Tight Controls

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When you’re controlling a character as fast and nimble as Sonic, it’s incredibly important to have precise and reliable controls. For the most part, this hasn’t been a problem in Sonic games, but there have been a few, particularly the hedgehog’s 3D outings, that simply haven’t been good enough in that department. Sonic and the Secret Rings on Wii was built around a clever tilt-based control scheme that unfortunately just wasn’t refined enough, and the game as a whole suffered because of it. You would be forgiven for thinking that Secret Rings was a one-off; subsequent entries have featured at least passably solid controls. And you would be right, save for the puzzling release of Sonic Lost World, which featured a slippery control scheme compounded by an illogical double-jump system that resulted in an ultimately frustrating experience. Controls are the first thing a developer needs to nail down, and how Sonic Team passed over that crucial area is beyond me, especially when they have done it right so many times before. They must do better in future releases, or risk tarnishing Sonic’s reputation beyond repair.

Exploration

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Unlike many platforming games, Sonic stages aren’t always linear. Instead, there are often several branching pathways that each provide unique experiences and challenges. This is something Sonic Team need to utilize more, as it adds an enormous amount of replay ability to each stage, as well as an opportunity to build in secrets for the more committed explorers. Arguably the best example of this is in Sonic CD, an oft overlooked gem in Sonic history that put a real emphasis on exploring and experiencing every portion of each level. The more recent Sonic Advance trilogy also featured vast, towering stages full of collectibles for the completionists among us. The Wisp system in Sonic Colors has the potential to carry on this tradition, though we have yet to see it fulfill its promise completely. Whether it’s by time travel as in Sonic CD, labyrinth-like stages like Sonic Advance, or an arsenal of power-ups like those of the Wisps, Sonic games need that element of exploration to become more than a speedy platformer.

Simplicity

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The Sonic formula, at its core, is simple: Run, jump, spin, repeat. And you know what? It works. Overcomplicating the gameplay is the last thing Sonic Team need to do to help Sonic back to his feet in the industry, but unfortunately we’ve seen more than a few failed attempts at innovation in the past. Sonic Unleashed introduced the Werehog, a bulky powerhouse transformation that sacrificed speed for destruction, spoiling an otherwise beautiful Sonic experience. Sonic and the Black Knight saw the hedgehog unsuccessfully brandish a sword, for absolutely no good reason. However, the addition of the Wisps in Sonic Colors brought a surprising variety to the gameplay, and while the balance wasn’t perfect in either the DS or Wii versions of that game, there is promise in the future of the system, especially as we’ve seen it return in Sonic Generations and Sonic Lost World in a more balanced form. Simplicity doesn’t have to mean a lack of innovation, but overcomplicating the experience is something that needs to be avoided at all costs.

Fantastic Music

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Anyone who has ever played the original Sonic games on the Sega Genesis knows exactly how terrific the franchise’s scores have been since the beginning. Geen Hill Zone…’nuff said. Luckily, most of the core Sonic games have kept up that great track record, experimenting with different genres and orchestration with each new entry, but always maintaining a high standard. Without it’s fantastic and memorable music, Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t be the same. It is, without a doubt, a crucial aspect of the franchise that can’t be overlooked.

Challenge

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Spikes. Badniks. Moving platforms. WATER LEVELS. These hazards and more are the bane of every Sonic player’s existence, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Deftly avoiding enemy contact throughout a difficult level, or even completing it at all, is a tremendously proud achievement, and it’s that sort of rewarding gameplay that helps keep Sonic games fun and interesting.

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Whenever times get tough for Sonic (which seems to be most of the time at the moment), Sega seems to always point us back in the direction of his Genesis days, reminding us all just how great Sonic games can be when done right. But the problem is that by refreshing our fondest memories of the franchise we then expect Sonic’s next outing to play in a similar fashion to those classics; we want to play a Sonic game that actually works. So please Sonic Team, take Sonic back to basics. Give us that classic Sonic experience we’ve been craving. But please, do it right.