Celebrating an Anniversary – Sonic the Hedgehog Part VI

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Today, we will be covering a lot of games for Sonic…..with two of them being very interesting. The other parts of this series covered a lot of positive titles in the series that while having issues, did either a lot right or had major issues but there bright spot shine brightly.

But with this part of the ongoing Celebrating An Anniversary – Sonic the Hedgehog series, we will be looking at four games.

Edgy and Packing Heat: 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog

In Sonic Adventure 2, we got introduced to Shadow the Hedgehog. This black hedgehog had the ability to use special Chaos Powers and was able run just as fast compared to the blue blur. He was an interesting character, as his past had one of his closest friends die right in front of him & his creator going mad after her death. Shadow was a character that had an interesting backstory & personality, so one would imagine that he would be ripe for his own solo adventure, more so considering his similarity to Sonic….right?

Well, people pestered SEGA to keep the character around after his ‘death’ in Sonic Adventure 2 and he came back in both Sonic Heroes & Sonic Battle. Sonic Team expressed interest in making a game using fire arms and gunplay, which would be very interesting. Considering Sonic Team’s past efforts crafting original IP like NiGHTS, Billy Hatcher and Samba De Amigo, they could make a fantastic game using guns.

But they decided to take this original concept and apply it to Shadow, making a Sonic title without Sonic as main character. This means that we have the 3D gameplay from Sonic’s levels in Adventure & Adventure 2 but with unique features like various guns Shadow can play with, Chaos powers, morality system that was scrapped from SA2 coming back, and various missions to complete to unlock new paths in a branching story.

Those ideas sounded promising and great….but how was the game announced?

Just look at this, right after celebrating Sonic’s history with a reward, we get a trailer many believed to be an April Fools joke! But more information came out, and the promising concept seemed less promising as we came closer to release. Shadow released on the GameCube, PS2 and Xbox in Late 2005 alongside the DS title Sonic Rush (which we will get to soon) and…..the reception it got was very mixed. Some enjoyed it like GameTrailers but many found the game very strange for a Sonic title and people lost respect for the Sonic series, or at least, started to lose respect for it.

But how was the game anyway? It was….mixed. The gameplay is solid and flawed at the same time; the controls are really bad for Shadow’s movement making platforming hard sometimes but the camera is better than Heroes, the gunplay works very well with a nice auto-lock for most guns and the Chaos Powers (Blast: Explosion/Control: Sudo-Level Skip) are fun to use. But the mission system cripples the game in most cases.

Tasks like killing X amount of things, trying to find & destroy every single bomb on a hard-to-control grid and exploring the Ark to hunt down EVERY SINGLE PERFECT CHAOS CREATURE. The later is one of the worst parts of ANY Sonic title I played honestly. Regardless, it is a big issue and the branching story doesn’t lead anywhere with a ‘true story’ making all the different paths/endings you can work toward getting pointless and a waste of time.

The level designs are solid in a number of places, like some of the Space levels outside the Ark being a lot of fun, exploring cyber space, running through a hunted castle & gunning through a military fortress with unlimited ammo when in Chaos form being such a fun times. But they repeat often and feel samey sometimes.

Story in Shadow is just amazing, but for the wrong reasons. The game tries hard to be ‘dark’ but really, it comes off as one of the best B-Comedies I ever watched. Sonic characters cursing for no reason, amazing lines and some dumb moments had me rolling on the floor when I first played this game. The story is very bad but if you have a dark sense of humor or like movies like Birdemic or The Room you will have fun with this plot.

Shadow’s music is good, with a lot of solid tracks that have a hard rock edge to them but also having some solid music that is a bit haunting. Personal favorites include Shadow’s take on the opening Sonic level with Westopolis, running across the Cyber space with Digital Circuit, exploring the halls of the Ark with Lost Impact and gunning down the Gun Fortress with a sad guitar melody playing in the background.

If I’m making this game sound good, well, the game can be good fun. It has some problems and they can cripple the game in many regards. But if you walk in expecting a B-Movie like time but with Sonic & friends, you can get fun out of this game. But this is a weak game and one of the weaker Sonic games.

Running Around at the Speed of Sound – 2005’s Sonic Rush on the Nintendo DS

Sonic Rush released on the same day as Shadow and is a 2D Sonic adventure not unlike the Advance series on the GBA. Dimps comes back on development duties with Sonic Team overseeing production like the Advance games and the plot has Sonic & the new character Blaze the Cat take down two different Eggmans; Sonic’s Eggman and Blaze’s Eggman Nega.

What makes this game stand out among the other Sonic games is its focus on speed. Of course, Sonic is famous for going fast but that is a core concept of Rush. Sonic’s new move, The Sonic Boost, lets Sonic run through foes, dash across water and gain a lot of speed by holding down the Y/X button. In addition, moves like Sonic’s homing attack from the console games are brought over as well. Blaze can hover in the air by holding R and her spin-dash has her roll into a tornado.

Running fast is the name of the game here, but you gotta keep making tricks when flying off ramps by pressing the B & A buttons with R helping you dash forward or upward. What makes Rush so much fun is the the level design is clearly designed around this not unlike Sonic Advance 2 being designed around its own version of the boost. Meaning, running fast feels fun and rewarding, not a punishment for not being to careful (which happens in Advance 3 due to its off level design at points).

Bosses take full advantage of the DS’s 3D abilities with them being in 3D (just like Sonic & Blaze’s character models) and they are a lot of fun to fight. Another great usage of 3D is the special stages, as they use the touch screen to have Sonic move left & right in a half-pipe like Sonic 2.

Musically, Rush is fantastic with the composer of the Jet Set Radio series making the music for this title. Tracks like Right There, Right On, Jeh Jeh Rocket, Back 2 Back & Wrapped in Black being stand outs for me personally. Rush is a very strong 2D Sonic adventure that I highly recommend.

Air Riding – 2006’s Sonic Riders on the GC/Xbox/PS2

Sonic Riders is SEGA’s second shot at making a Sonic racing series after the Game Gear-exclusive Sonic Drift games released in the 90’s. Sonic and friends ride hoverboards to race across futuristic locations.

Its a fun concept as you can keep Sonic’s speed but push more trick-like mechanics from the Tony Hawk games and blend them with Mario Kart systems (items, classes, ect). Riders released early 2006 and got mixed reception but one thing to note about Riders is this; its hard to play but very rewarding to master.

The game has a lot of hidden depth but you have to work with the game to learn everything. You have an air system which is your fuel. To keep riding on the board and going at your top speed, you need to hit item boxes having air, land great tricks when jumping off ramps and collect rings to increase the air gauge as the race goes on (as you level up when you collect X amount of rings).

Its fun once you understand everything and pulling off grinds as a speed character like Sonic then drifting around a tight edge and boosting into an oncoming racer to attack them is really fun. Level designs are creative too, with every track having many different paths you can take and the class system ensures no racer looks at the track the same way.

You can buy different boards too with your rings and they are fun SEGA references like ‘The Super-Hang On’ too even being able to unlock SEGA characters like NiGHTS & Ula Ula. Overall, Riders is a very strong racing game that just is a bit hard to fully grasp at points. If you plan on playing it, work with it and don’t give up right away. Once you learn the games mechanics, you will have a fun time.

Genesis of a Horrible Future – 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis on the GBA

If you grew up during this time in gaming history, you likely found ways to play Sonic 1 on the go. Through maybe the PSP Genesis Collection that came out in the past or on your phone somehow. But what about the GBA? SEGA was more then happy to answer and throw together Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis.

It is a port of Sonic 1 with an save system & an anniversary mode to give Sonic the spindash…..and that’s it. No playable Tails or Knuckles; just Sonic 1 on the GBA. Not a big deal right? I mean, the Sonic Advance games run great on the GBA, Sonic 1 should run on a toaster for all we know!

Wrong, you are so wrong; Sonic Genesis is the worst version of Sonic 1 for a large number of reasons. The presentation is horrible, with the sprites flickering all over the place at various points and odd glitches making effects like the bubbles on the surface of water in Labyrinth Zone animating to quickly. But the frame rate is the big problem, which has a massive impact on the game as whole.

It runs far lower then any Genesis version of Sonic 1 and because of this, the game is unplayable. Sonic moves stiff compared to how smoothly he ran on the Genesis, momentum is completely out of wack and the game just feels awful to play.

Music is bad too, as the remixes or versions of iconic Sonic 1 tracks are done so poorly on the GBA. This shouldn’t be happening, considering the Advance games had great musical scores. But why am I harping so much on this dumb port, when there are so many versions of Sonic 1 to play? Because it was a precursor to what came out on the very same day, Sonic the Hedgehog on the Xbox 360. Just like that game, Sonic Genesis feels off and broken at many points.

While we opened and closed talking about two bad games, we aren’t over yet. The Dark Age of Sonic continues with the next part having us talking about Sonic 06 but we will also be discussing the mixed Sonic & the Secret Rings and the handheld titles Sonic Rush Adventure & the Sonic Rivals series.

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