Sum of Its Parts: 3D Sonic Sequel

I always find it somehow comforting when things come full circle. The first article I wrote for the Sum of Its Parts series – as long as you don’t count what I’ve retroactively folded into this little category – was my attempt at designing a new 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game. When I wrote that article, the Sonic series seemed to have found its footing in the 3D realm but struggled to make headway in the sub-genre in which it originated. My, my, how much has changed in four (almost five) years. 2017’s Sonic Mania was developed by several key figures in the Sonic fan game community and has taken the world by storm, effectively declared as “the best Sonic game since the Genesis era” by a vocal majority of reviewers and fans alike. Meanwhile, Sonic’s 3D renaissance has since fizzled out: while the (criminally underrated) Sonic Lost World was torn apart by a majority of fans, Sega’s following two efforts didn’t fare any better. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s poor quality was as memetic as Sonic ’06 and while reactions to Sonic Forces were mixed overall, it was generally considered a letdown in terms of being the long-awaited follow-up to the beloved Sonic Generations.

While Sonic’s future in the realm of 2D has been all but secured – so long as Sega doesn’t decide to cut Christian Whitehead and his collaborators loose without at least giving us Mania 2 – its future in the third dimension has once again fallen into question. Sega’s winning formula has finally gone stale and it’s time to reevaluate the way things are done with their 3D titles. Maybe the best way to look into the Blue Blur’s path forward would be to look back at how they transitioned into the three-dimensional space in the first place.

There are effectively two main schools of thought when it comes to 3D Sonic games: the “Adventure” and “Boost” formulas, both with their respective die-hard (and by extension, irreconcilable) fanbases. While Sega themselves advertised Sonic 3D Blast as one of the fastest thing alive’s first forays into the third dimension, it was more akin to isometric platformers of old, on par with earlier titles like Marble Madness, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll or even earlier Sonic titles like SegaSonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Labyrinth. The Adventure style originated with (what else?) the Sonic Adventure games for the Sega Dreamcast and inspired later titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U. This early style of 3D Sonic game relied more on exploration, effectively allowing players to run through expansive levels that were far less linear than the 2D games in the franchise. They would also often rely on multiple playable characters, generally with unique playstyles – though this gimmick would deteriorate in further titles. The Adventure games relied on a free running mechanic which was clumsy at its worst, leading to unfair deaths, but offered the kind of freedom that the 2D Sonics thrived on. In order to compensate for these growing pains, Sega introduced the homing attack – which allows Sonic to home in on nearby enemies – which would become a staple in both future 2D and 3D Sonic games.

The Boost formula is a bit more recent, making its first appearance in 2008’s Sonic Unleashed. This style would also appear in Sonic Colors, Sonic Generations and most recently, Sonic Forces. While the Adventure-style titles focused on trying to recreate all of the elements of past 2D Sonic games in a totally 3D environment, Boost games generally shift between two different perspectives. There are 3D-perspective running segments that are essentially auto-runners where the player’s main input is either choosing to use the Boost mechanic – a metered mechanic which allows Sonic to run faster, surrounded by a blue aura, that can smack enemies out of the way with ease – or aligning Sonic’s path, either manually with the analog stick or using the quick-step to keep him properly aligned with the shoulder buttons. Occasionally, these running segments may be broken up with some obstacles that need to be dodged with jumps, but the bulk of the game’s platforming takes place in 2D segments that take cues from the later Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush titles.

Of course, there were other 3D Sonic games that didn’t adhere to either of these formulas directly. Sonic R could arguably be considered the true first 3D Sonic game, though it was developed by Traveller’s Tales and recontextualized the Sonic gameplay into a racing setting. There was also the Sonic World mini-game present in the Sonic Jam compilation for the Sega Saturn, supposedly built from the remnants of a scrapped fifth-generation 3D Sonic title. Likewise, Christmas NiGHTS contained “Sonic Into Dreams”, which allowed the Blue Blur to run through the game’s levels on foot. Sonic Heroes implemented 3-character teams with various formations based on each member’s attributes and had stage designs that clearly attempted to recreate the conventions of the classic Genesis games in a strictly 3D space to mixed results. Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic and the Black Knight – the two releases in what was meant to be at least a trilogy of “storybook” games – are effectively first drafts of the 3D running segments of the Boost games, albeit with their own unique gimmicks to keep things interesting. Finally, there’s Sonic Lost World, which was experimental in its own right. The game was still broken down into 3D and 2D segments like the Boost games before it, but the former now allowed players more freedom to explore. To manage Sonic’s speed, a controversial run button was added, but even that wasn’t nearly fast enough for those speed freaks. On top of that, a new parkour mechanic was added to emphasize the level design, which was said to be inspired by Nintendo’s own Super Mario Galaxy games – but die-hard Sonic fans often compared it to the cancelled Sonic X-Treme, originally planned for the Sega Saturn. New variants of the homing attack were also added to the Fastest Thing Alive’s repertoire, allowing him to attack armored enemies with a kick or outright charge it by holding down the button to deal extra damage.

With all of the pieces in place, I guess it’s time for me to explore exactly what I would personally want out of the next 3D Sonic title. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: while many players just outright associate the Sonic games with “speed”, in reality they rely far more on a related but distinct concept: “momentum”. As such, in order to create a truly satisfying 3D Sonic title, we’re going to have to find a way to recreate the beloved mechanics of 2D titles – new and old, from the 1991 original to Mania – in a 3D space without giving up the same sense of control that one less dimension gives players. I could write an entire diatribe on my distaste for the Boost formula, but let me boil it down to a base concept: for the most part, they seem to be an attempt at recreating the so-called “hold right to win” 2D Sonic titles, focusing more on getting to go fast, without implementing enough of the platforming one should expect in a platformer, relegating that aspect of the game almost entirely to the aforementioned 2D segments. If you can’t – or rather, won’t – bother translating all of the earlier titles’ elements into 3D, then what is the point of moving past 2D in the first place? That isn’t to say that the Boost formula should be completely discarded, but rather that by taking elements from it, as well as other styles that the 3D Sonics have explored in the past, perhaps the Sega’s mascot can finally be properly welcomed to the next level.

…honestly, it was a choice between that line or doing a title drop. I think I went the less cheesy route, but results may vary.

I guess the best place to start would have to be with the game’s storyline. As per usual, I’m not going to go into any specifics, keeping things broad just to avoid stumbling into fanfic territory. One of the key arguments I disagree with coming from the Adventure fanbase is that Sonic needs to go back to doing an outright serious storyline, like the epic stories present in the Dreamcast era. Unfortunately, at this point, these can either come across as pointlessly melodramatic (Sonic ’06), easily mistaken for parody (Unleashed) or illustrate that Sega’s writing staff is no longer up to the task of making a truly serious storyline with any weight behind it (Forces). At the same time, other Sonic stories have attempted to rely on comedy – a difficult objective, especially given the interactive nature of the video game medium.

Attempting to bridge the gap between these two concepts hasn’t really worked all that well in the past – after all, since he first started talking, Sonic’s snappy one-liners have become more and more prominent, which tends to undercut any sense of drama. So, against all logic, I think that Sega should probably attempt to stay the course on blending humor and drama. As much as it pains me to say this, the only advice I can really give is “do it better this time”.

As shaky as that advice comes across, a bad story doesn’t necessarily mean a bad game. Indeed, the primary focus of this article should be on gameplay – just like always. Admittedly, this article will be much more of a challenge than previous ones. Usually, I’d just piece together various base elements of earlier games to present a much better future. This time, I’m going to have to dig a little deeper, specifically focusing on specific mechanics from different games, as opposed to just choosing one game to base the entire engine on.

I guess I’ll start with something simple. 2D segments: yea or nay? Despite my criticism, I’d keep them – with several tweaks. For starters, the majority of the game’s platforming shouldn’t be relegated to them. 2D segments should be significantly rarer in this new Sonic game compared to previous entries. In fact, the gameplay should only revert to the classic style whenever obstacles can’t be properly rendered in a 3D space. The 3D platforming genre has come so far – both during the sixth generation and with the recent renaissance with such games as Super Mario Odyssey and A Hat in Time – that locking any and all platforming challenges to a two-dimensional space seems like an insult to the concept of a 3D Sonic game in the first place.

Likewise, auto-running segments can still remain as set pieces – after all, even the original Sonic Adventure had that bit with the killer whale – but they should likewise remain fairly rare. The majority of the gameplay should be conducted through 3D segments that allow players full control over Sonic the Hedgehog, as opposed to just boosting through what feels like miles and miles of corridors. We’ve actually seen a lot of fan games experiment with this style of concept, with some going even as far as experimenting with full-on open world concepts. If small fan groups can do that, then surely Sega themselves should be able to experiment with more than just simple corridors broken up by the occasional 2D segment.

Another important element to keep in mind would be Sonic’s “moveset” in this new adventure. Personally, I’d ditch the boost mechanic in general: it leads to just mindlessly running through enemies and feels like a slapdash solution to the momentum problem with the 3D Sonics altogether. On the other hand, the run/walk toggling present in Sonic Lost World isn’t a particularly favorable solution either, though it’s definitely a step in the right direction. In my opinion, Sega should just revert to the momentum-based system that they used in Sonic (et al.)’s gameplay from the Adventure games and maybe implement some kind of a braking mechanic, like the spin dash drift in some of the Boost games or even just straight up reverse-engineer the run button from Lost World into a “walk button” or even just a brake. To compensate for the loss of the Boost attack, I’d just suggest bringing back the Spin Dash: if Lost World proved anything, it’s that Sega has finally found a way to balance it out in 3D play as opposed to the uncontrollable iterations found in the Sonic Adventure games and Sonic Heroes.

Keep the homing attack. I’m torn about including the variants found in Lost World: as much as they added strategy to the game, they had a tendency to misfire, so it would probably be for the best to stick to the standard version for now. Aside from that, I’d keep many of the abilities from the Boost games: the stomp and rail grinding still seem like perfect mechanics for a 3D momentum-based platformer. Likewise, bring back the bounce mechanic from Lost World. I’d even consider the double jump from Colors, SLW and Forces as a viable move, just so long as they can be tempered in a way that would both prevent activating it accidentally or cluttering the controls. Likewise, the parkour mechanic could make a return, albeit in a far more limited fashion – stages shouldn’t be built around it but exploiting a hampered version of the mechanic to access risky shortcuts seems like a perfect concept for a Sonic game in general, let alone one in 3D.

This ties in quite nicely with the next segment: stage design. This is one area where the Adventure games truly excelled, even if the gameplay itself wasn’t polished enough to suit them properly. The stages in Boost games generally comprise of three types of segments: 3D corridors, the aforementioned 2D segments and a wider 3D area, generally swarming with enemies. Not exactly exciting stage progression in my eyes. The Adventure games, on the other hand, tended to focus more on open-ended roaming areas that still maintained a sense of linearity – they just lacked the overbearing structure that many modern 3D Sonics tend to revel in. Sonic Heroes, on the other hand, seemed to outright attempt to recreate many of the conventions of the Genesis-era titles in 3D to (admittedly) poor results, though this was mostly a consequence of a Sega’s relative inexperience with 3D platformers in general. Meanwhile, the spherical design of Sonic Lost World’s stages added something that simply wasn’t present in the typical Boost formula games that both preceded and followed it: it allowed for much more freedom of movement as stage designs varied depending on which portion of the level itself Sonic was traversing. I’m not suggesting that spherical levels make a return in the next Sonic game, but emphasizing numerous pathways as opposed to just building straight lines with one fast path to the finish. After all, part of the fun of the 2D Sonic games was exploring the various paths present in each level: while most players tried to find the quickest (which was generally the highest path), others would revel in exploring them, taking in all of the details and quirks that the developers put into each and every level. Having said that, the next 3D Sonic title’s stage design should take far more inspiration from the Adventure titles, Sonic Heroes and Lost World. The best 3D conversions of classic 2D video games focus on the most beloved elements of their predecessors, rather than just trying to recreate them in a superficial manner. This is a problem that has long plagued the Sonic series, ever since it grew beyond the fourth console generation.

Speaking of 2D gameplay, Lost World also managed to retain this element common in the Boost games but with a lot more in the way of variety compared to even top-notch Boost-era games like Colors and Generations. As such, while I’d say that while 2D segments should definitely be present in a new 3D game, Sega should draw inspiration from the ones in Lost World and Colors, as well as the Classic Sonic stages in Generations. That last bit may be something of a cheat, but it is still technically part of a 3D Sonic title. The level design just relied entirely on 2D principles, so they could allow for much more intricate layouts – and that should be the entire point of these segments in the first place. Let me reiterate that Sega should strictly save these for concepts that would be far too difficult to accurately represent and implement in a 3D space. In other words, they should be far rarer compared to most modern 3D Sonic titles.

Boss fights are another fairly important element of the Sonic games at their best. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard for me to choose any particular standout examples from the 3D era of games. I mean, the majority of games in the series had at least a few fights I enjoyed, but these didn’t seem to reflect the entirety of the game. As such, it’s difficult to draw from any particular games for a method to follow – all I could really write up here would be a list of boss battles I particularly enjoyed from previous games. That wouldn’t really do much in terms of building new fights, let alone an underlying concept that could be used to frame them. I guess the best advice I would really have would to draw from the various styles we’ve seen in previous games: the arena-style fights that originated in the Adventure games, the endless runner fights that outright embodied the Boost era, and even the 2D boss fights. Though ideally, if the latter end up returning, they’ll end up better resembling those from games like the Sonic Advance trilogy, the Sonic Rush games and the Classic Sonic fights in Generation and Forces, as opposed to the somewhat lame fare present in Colors.

Aside from that, there are a few miscellaneous suggestions I have. Just like in my last article, I definitely think that the Red Rings should return in any new 3D Sonic. They add a certain element of replayability, at least when it comes to completionists. Likewise, I’d like to relegate any Super transformations to an endgame state – likely a “true” final boss – like previous games, though I’m torn on whether the Chaos Emeralds should just be obtained through the story, relegated to a bonus for collecting all of the aforementioned Red Rings or even hidden in special stages. Hey, that’s what Sonic Heroes and the 3DS version of Sonic Lost World did. Though admittedly, that would probably be a poor choice. What I’d really like to see would be hiding the emeralds in stages themselves, but no 3D game has ever attempted anything like that before – just the first two Sonic games on Game Gear. Aside from that, I’d probably stick to traditional power-ups: shields (both standard and electric), speed shoes, ring boxes and 1-Ups. I don’t particularly have anything against the Wisps, they just kind of felt like they were intended to be the special gimmick in Colors, so cramming them into future titles almost seems to dilute their importance. Maybe they could be brought back in further titles, but it’s probably best to just leave them out until Sonic finds his footing once again instead of trying to rely on gimmicks from popular games. Which brings me to my final point: leave Classic/Mania Sonic out of this game. I honestly feel like trying to shoehorn him back in not only hurts the 3D games, but his own reputation. Treat him as a totally separate entity, exclusive to the 2D games.

The graphics and art style don’t really offer me much to go on. Honestly, the main question just sort of comes down to whether this new game should utilize the standard “Modern Sonic” look or go with unique designs to differentiate them from the mainline series. On the one hand, segmenting the franchise even further seems like it would just backfire. However, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric utilized an entirely new (albeit controversial) set of designs and the backlash against that game didn’t seem to translate to the rest of the series in general. In the end, given the franchise’s need for redemption after Sonic Forces’ tepid response, it’s probably for the best if Sega just goes with the now-traditional look: there’s very little left to protect with regards to Sonic’s reputation at this point, so a new artstyle could dilute any goodwill if the game itself ends up beloved by fans.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those series that is renowned for its music: even if the gameplay is abysmal, the sound team always seems to put in their all. Tomoya Ohtani has been taking the lead lately when it comes to the Blue Blur’s musical exploits and he’s been doing an excellent job as of late. In the previous Sonic article in this series, I suggested that Richard Jacques be allowed to take the lead, but since then, he’s managed to head the soundtracks for all three games in the Sonic Boom series, so he’s certainly gotten his due – well, to some extent, anyway. Considering their collaborations in the past have been limited, I’d love to see the two of them collaborate on a new Sonic game. That doesn’t necessarily preclude other Sonic composers from joining in the fun but giving Ohtani and Jacques equal billing in a mainline Sonic game just seems like too interesting of a concept to pass up.

I have to admit: this article was probably one of the more difficult ones to write in this series. It seems like the best path for Sonic’s 3D titles may be a full-on reinvention, discarding what have become familiar gameplay concepts in exchange for ones that are both new and evocative of the series’ 2D halcyon days (past and present). However, maybe if Sega were to attempt to bridge the gap between the Adventure and Boost formulas – using aspects from some of their more experimental titles to smooth over particularly incompatible elements – they could find a way to please both fanbases with a single title. That seems like a far less risky experiment than potentially splintering the Fastest Thing Alive’s fanbase across yet another brand-new formula. Regardless of Sega’s decision for future games, it seems that staying on their current course is primed for disaster, so whether they refine the current formula with elements of earlier titles or build something entirely new from scratch, change is necessary for the Blue Blur’s continued longevity.

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Turn Based #9 – To Sleep, Perchance to Dreamcast

Professor Icepick: For many, Sega’s Dreamcast was a perfect swansong to their legacy as one of the major console manufacturers in the video game industry. Heralded by many as one of the best consoles of all-time, it boasts a small library with an impressive concentration of beloved games. When Sega gave up the ghost and decided to go third-party, it impacted a lot of gaming fans: I personally took a long sabbatical from modern gaming shortly after the Dreamcast bowed out, simply because I didn’t see anything worthwhile on the horizon in the mainstream. But does the Dreamcast truly live up to its reputation or is it just an overrated hunk of junk and nothing more than an overpriced doorstop? Today, in this installment of Turn Based, SNES Master KI and I will be discussing the final Sega platform and its worth from a strictly modern viewpoint.

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Goodbyes hurt the most, when the story was not finished…

If you haven’t guessed yet, I will be arguing in favor of my beloved Dreamcast. KI and I have had many discussions on this topic in the past, so I think I know what his primary avenue of attack will be: bringing up the fact that many of the Dreamcast’s killer apps — particularly ones that were exclusive during the Dreamcast’s short lifespan — have been ported to various other platforms since. Simply to nip this line of reasoning in the bud, I’ll just remind him that if he decides to go down this avenue, then several platforms (especially those among his favorites) are similarly exempt from greatness and worse yet, that would make the personal computer the greatest gaming platform of all-time by a wide margin: truly a bitter pill for him to swallow.

With that out of the way, I’ll start by pointing out that the Dreamcast’s library was impressive for its time. There are few other platforms that truly embody the concept of “quality over quantity” when it comes to Dreamcast games. Best of all, the Dreamcast acted as a bridge between the fifth and sixth generations — offering the definitive versions of several PS1 and N64 games by taking advantage of the Dreamcast’s substantially improved hardware.

SNES Master KI: There’s a difference between ports from Dreamcast and ports from most other systems: they were done in the same generation. In our last Turn Based, you made it clear that GameCube games which later wound up on PlayStation 2 were not exclusives. I’m perfectly willing to count games like Jet Grind Radio and Soul Calibur (that eventually made it to 7th or 8th gen systems, right?) as Dreamcast exclusives. But Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Grandia 2, Skies of Arcadia, Resident Evil Code Veronica, Crazy Taxi, Phantasy Star Online, Chu Chu Rocket? Those all came to other sixth generation systems, and those are just the prominent ones I knew off the top of my head. Dreamcast really did get hit harder by losing exclusives in its own generation than other systems, and it doesn’t help that many of the games it managed to retain got sequels on other sixth generation systems (the aforementioned Jet Grind Radio and Soul Calibur).

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I love this game, but hard to count it as a Dreamcast asset when every single sixth generation system got it, even GBA.

Regardless, I never really intended to make that the crux of my argument. My argument isn’t that the Dreamcast is a bad system, or even an average system. It’s that it isn’t a holy grail of perfection as many ordained it after its death. It had a great run, but the only truly exceptional part was launch day in North America, which was almost a year after the Japanese launch, giving it a big advantage in getting games ready. I’ll leave PlayStation 2 out of this since that’s showing up in this series later, but I think there are other systems which sold less than they deserve which at least match Dreamcast, including GameCube and Saturn.

Icepick: I suppose the most important thing to determine is what we’re considering here: are we keeping our sights locked on the reception to the Dreamcast in North America exclusively or worldwide?

KI: Well, this is more about retrospective, so I don’t think it makes a huge difference. Aside from the launch lineup quality, I’m not aware of any gaping discrepancies between the North American reception of Dreamcast and other regions. I would probably say worldwide if I had to choose, but like I said, I’m not sure where that makes a big difference.

Icepick: I only bring it up because you brought up the Sega Saturn as a potential contender for the Dreamcast’s reputation. If we’re talking about its Japanese library, then I’d be willing to agree. But its library in North America was horrifically truncated by various terrible decisions. And while the Gamecube wasn’t specifically neutered in America, there are some noticeable gaps in its Western libraries as well.

KI: Well, with Saturn it gets kind of complicated. Shining Force 3 Parts 2 and 3? Unplayable for the average westerner. X-Men vs Street Fighter or Radiant Silvergun? Aside from price, not much of an issue. If we’re making a precise standard, I’d say any game you can reasonably play only reading/speaking English counts.

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Japanese language proficiency optional.

Icepick: Fair enough.

Regardless, the Dreamcast had many exclusives that remain to this day that are clear to anyone who does more than the standard surface-level overview of the platform. There’s Project Justice, the sequel to Capcom’s cult 3D fighting classic Rival Schools; Dynamite Cop, the direct sequel to Sega’s own Die Hard Arcade; Zombie Revenge, a 3D beat-em-up taking place in the House of the Dead universe and the only existing home release of Virtua Fighter 3, labelled “Virtua Fighter 3tb” due to the addition of a team battle mode.

There are also several games that, while no longer “pure exclusives”, are still synonymous with the Dreamcast. Capcom’s Power Stone duology, the second Crazy Taxi, the original home release of Ikaruga (a Japanese exclusive, but no less accessible to Westerners) and the original Shenmue are all synonymous with the Dreamcast to this day and beloved by many.

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On an unrelated note, I also miss Capcom’s Fighters Edge brand.

KI: Shenmue 2 at least was also on the original Xbox, and unless there was a significant difference between the original home version of Ikaruga and the GameCube version, that wasn’t exclusive either. I don’t think public perception of what system a game is associated with can be used to count the games as exclusives.

I never said Dreamcast had no exclusives, I said that its stockpile was decimated during its generation, to a much greater degree than any other system I can think of. But even if you give it every timed exclusive, I don’t see why it should be put into the holy pantheon of consoles ahead of other underappreciated systems like Saturn, GameCube, and Wii U. I’m not saying Dreamcast was by any means a bad system, just that I think people have given it a sacred status based on its timing (being Sega’s last console) more than its library.

Icepick: Perhaps, but adoration is never determined by logic. The Dreamcast was clearly Sega’s last shot at remaining a first-party developer and they clearly gave it their all. It’s almost like a folk tale: the end of Sega’s glory days were predicated by one valiant last stand against the young upstart, Sony, only to be literally obliterated when their shiny new gamebox launched in North America, forcing them to throw in the towel. That’s where a lot of the love for the Dreamcast comes from: its death was poetic. Even if Sega had made the perfect move throughout the Dreamcast’s lifespan, there was no guarantee that they would be able to survive as a console manufacturer.

You’re right when you say that the Dreamcast’s high status stems from its untimely demise (and that its company went down alongside it), but that is an important thing to keep in mind. The tragedy of Sega and its Dreamcast’s shared ending only serves to amplify the latter’s beloved library, granted it a legendary status among the pantheon of dead consoles.

KI: Well, I think we’ve come to an impasse. My main argument is that I don’t think it’s fair to rank the console above others with libraries of similar quality just because it was historically significant. After the 10th time I hear “don’t say Wii U is another Dreamcast, Dreamcast is SO MUCH BETTER!!!” it’s hard not to get some kind of resentment towards Dreamcast’s sacred status. There’s also a bit of “well where the hell were you when the system was alive?” going on, Dreamcast didn’t sell badly, but if everyone who praises it now had bought one when it was alive I feel like it probably could have hung in there.

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No, it isn’t sacrilege to compare this to Dreamcast in both sales and game quality.

I guess in general, I think deifying consoles for untimely deaths is a bad practice because it doesn’t help the console itself and causes the next system to join the too good for this Sonyful Earth club to get even more negativity while it’s alive. Similarly to how I think giving Super Mario Bros. a good but not great score today is a better testament to its quality than giving it an automatic 10/10 Best Game Ever label because of its significance, I think we should let Dreamcast’s game library in the face of a sadly short life speak for itself instead of deifying it for being Sega’s last hurrah.

Icepick: The thing is, the Dreamcast’s legacy persists to this day. Compared to other discontinued systems, the Dreamcast has a thriving indie scene, producing both ports of existing titles and original games at an impressive rate, even to this day. Games like Neo XYX, Gunlord and 4X4 Jam prove that the Dreamcast still has life in it to this day. Few platforms manage to have any thriving homebrew scene and the Dreamcast is clearly the most advanced platform with any significant support. Some have even speculated that the Dreamcast may technically live on in perpetuity through its dedicated fanbase. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

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Also available on the Neo Geo!

But what do you think? Is the Dreamcast overrated or is its legendary status wholly earned? Does the loss of an exclusive neuter a platform’s library? Is the fan support of the Dreamcast to this day a labor of love or a misguided waste of time and resources? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and weigh in on Sega’s final platform. And stay tuned, because we have something extra special planned for our tenth article in this series next month: a topic I’ve anticipated so long, it feels like I’ve been waiting to write since 1999.

Turn Based #7: Dari’s Advocate – A New Venture

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another installment of Turn Based! We’re going to be doing something a little different this time. Dari will be joining us again, but instead of a focus group we will be doing a debate in the style I have with Professor Icepick. But since there are three people and only two sides, I will be acting as support for Dari, since he’s new to the cut throat world of Retronaissance debates. Today’s topic will be Sonic Adventure 3. Should it be made? Icepick says yes, Dari says no, and I don’t really care but will be arguing for Dari’s side. Icepick will begin the discussion, followed by Dari’s counter and my support, before repeating that order. Let’s begin!

Professor Icepick: It’s been argued lately that there are three major sub-series within the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The most obvious is “Classic” Sonic, the 2D games that were made during the heyday of the Genesis or later titles that attempted to recapture the magic of the age when Sonic was considered at his peak. There’s also the more modern style of gameplay, which I’ll refer to as “Boost”-style games. These games have a tendency of shifting between 2D and 3D perspectives, focusing on speed above all else, especially in the 3D segments.

However, the third — and as of right now, most obscure — sub-franchise are the “Adventure” games. It’s difficult to even categorize which games exist within that branch of Sonic history (aside from the ones with the name in their titles), but they still have a fairly dedicated fanbase, an ever-increasingly loud faction that continues to cry out for a new game in this particular style. The Adventure games probably did the most heavy lifting when it came to defining Sonic’s setting and any and all characters outside of the Blue Blur himself; his best friend, Miles “Tails” Prower; Knuckles the Echidna, Sonic’s friendly rival and the devious Dr. Ivo Robotnik, better known by his nickname “Dr. Eggman”. While I was first introduced to Sonic during the 16-bit era, I’ve always had a soft spot for the original Sonic Adventure and, to a far lesser extent, Sonic Adventure 2. So I believe that, considering Sega’s current strategy of trying to appease fans of both Classic and Boost Sonic, that they may as well make a legitimate attempt at revisiting the Adventure formula.

Dariwan: Aside from world building, there isn’t really much else there is to an Adventure game. I personally feel like it’s the red-headed stepchild of the Sonic series and it’s a side series that should be noted for what it did but it shouldn’t continue. The Boost Sonic era has soured itself, and the Classic Sonic, as Sonic Mania has obviously shown us, that Classic Sonic will never die. I still remember playing Sonic 2 on my cousin’s Genesis and being amazed and having SO much fun going fast. Adventure didn’t do that for me at all. As the saying goes, (that I’ve edited a bit) “Sonic Adventure games should be seen not heard.”

KI: The issue with trying to bring Sonic Adventure back is that it never works. Sega made a quite significant attempt to revive it at one point with a little game known as Sonic 2006. Then, almost a decade later, we got something initially promoted as another attempt: Sonic Boom on Wii U. The fact is that the Adventure game style really doesn’t seem to work without built in nostalgia.

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This is Sonic Adventure 3. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

To expand on Dari’s point, the things people like most about the Adventure style games (story, music, character development) don’t actually require something that plays like them. There’s no reason they couldn’t be added to a game that played like Sonic Generations or even Sonic Mania, imagine a game that played like Sonic Mania but had a story told in the style of the animated shorts that Sega is making based on SM.

Icepick: The problem with attempting to inject story into Classic style gameplay is that it would likely be met with resistance from the die-hard fans. In-game cutscenes using the game’s own art assets are one thing, but outright breaking away from the in-game engine itself seems like too risky of a strategy.

As for your point about the previous two attempts of revitalizing the Adventure being disastrous, I have to acknowledge your point. However, considering the two games in question were a game that was rushed out the door in order to meet some arbitrary anniversary deadline — something Sega’s been avoiding these days — and a game being developed by an unknown developer that clearly didn’t live up to its supposed pedigree, I don’t think the Adventure style has been given a fair shake since the death of the Dreamcast.

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Yes, dear readers, believe it or not, this was a Sonic game.

I don’t disagree that Classic Sonic should remain a thing: as a matter of fact, I love that Sega has apparently decided to break off Classic Sonic into his own timeline. But Dari betrays his own argument: I’ve never been particularly fond of the Boost formula. In fact, my favorite 3D Sonic game was the unfairly maligned Lost World, which was as far from the Boost gameplay as humanly possible. The Boost gameplay may appeal to speed freaks like Dari, who simply… if you’ll excuse my terminology… “gotta go fast”. But Classic Sonic was about more than just holding right to win and the Boost formula only serves to represent a shallow parody of the Sonic formula in general.

Dari: Well now you see, I’d put Lost World in its own little section by itself with Colors as they were their own games with new things that have their own fanbases, as the Sonic Advance and the Rush games. So I wouldn’t say that they have suffered from the “Boost Curse” but I digress. I think that it would be best to inject story into another Sonic Generations game. and I don’t count Sonic Forces as anything related to the Generations thing even if they had the different sonics in it…that game is as trash as the Adventure series is to me but again I’m digressing.

There’s more to classic Sonic than just going fast. there’s puzzles and boss fights to conquer, even if the game is simplistic in nature, there’s a layer of complexity that isn’t appreciated by enough people…which makes me think that’s why Adventure exists and why it’s just so…bad.

KI: The only non-DIMPS boost game that focused on speed to the point of not having platforming was Sonic Unleashed. Colors, Generations, and yes, Forces all managed to do platforming as well as the Adventure games. And it’s not like the Adventure games didn’t have parts focused on speed and nothing else, compare the truck chase in Sonic Adventure 2 to the one in Sonic Generations, Generations’ is much more interactive. I’d also say Lost World is much closer to Sonic Colors than to the Sonic Adventure games, it had the same story style and level layout, wisps, and only one playable character.

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Not exactly “hold boost to win.”

Icepick: I’d have to agree with you on Lost World being its own beast, Dari. That’s why I brought it up in the first place. Colors, on the other hand, was clearly built from the Boost mold that was originated by Unleashed, for better or worse. It’s probably the best example of that particular format, but only just so.

However, you missed the point of my argument regarding the Classic games. I know that they had puzzle solving, platforming and boss fights. The problem is that many Sonic fans only focus on the “gotta go fast” meme, to the extent where — as KI has harped on in the past — Boost fans had to invent a new slur in “block platforming” to bash the game because they couldn’t simply hold right to win and had to…you know, navigate platforms. In a platformer, no less. What a public relations nightmare!

Circling back to the argument that the failures of Sonic ’06 and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric should nail Adventure’s coffin shut once and for all, that argument seems a bit reductive. By that logic, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 should have made it impossible for Sonic Mania to exist. Likewise, the mixed reactions toward Sonic Force should likely spell doom for the Boost formula under the same.

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Behold: the pinnacle of interactivity.

But I’ve spent far too long on the defensive, time to make my strike. If anything, the existence of Sonic Mania has seemed to emboldened the Adventure fanbase’s demand for a new game in that style. Sonic Mania took what worked from the Classic games and fixed various elements that didn’t. For example, even Sonic 2 — generally heralded as the series’ apex — was filled with death traps that had to be memorized to be avoided. Sonic Mania opted for smarter level design, avoiding the unfair difficulty of the Genesis glory days. In the process, they ended up with a game that relied on more than muscle memorization and it paid off for them, with many proclaiming Mania as the best game in the series.

By that logic, isn’t it possible that a developer with a similar affinity for the Adventure games could rehabilitate the engine into something that could be enjoyed by modern audiences? Take what worked from the Adventure games — the multiple play-styles, the overarching storyline woven into gameplay and the exploration — and simply drop what didn’t? Or better yet, even fix the clunkier elements with modern gameplay concepts? Why is that so impossible?

Dari: Yes, the things Sonic Mania did really help the series and made Classic stand out for what it was when it got the problems fixed that plagued it for decades. But what exactly does that mean for the Adventure series? Aside from some cheaply made minigames almost reminiscent of the Pokémon Stadium games or something that’d be easily thrown together as a mobile game or some really shoddy episodic play reminiscent of the multiple play styles — that they tried and failed with Sonic 4 no less — I really don’t see why this needs to be done. The only way I can see this working now is through a mobile game that cheapens sonic to nothing more than a Mario clone with different Sonic characters doing mediocre platforming throwing the story to the wayside as something even simpler than even the Sonic Mania story to try and pass off as something canon. And I refuse to have something like that just for you to have your Adventure trip.

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This is what I expect Sonic Adventure Mobile to be.

KI: While it’s certainly possible for someone to come in and make a good Adventure style game, there’s a difference between that hypothetical game and Mania that you’re missing. I think you’re underselling the Genesis Sonic games, Sonic 2 really didn’t have many cheap traps as long as you didn’t gotta go fast at every opportunity, approach it like a platformer and it’s very manageable. Sonic Mania worked so well because a solid base was established, the Genesis Sonic games. Sonic Adventure 3 would have to make far more alterations if it was to reach the quality of Mania, and have a much higher budget. A few dedicated fans aren’t going to be able to make a AAA (which is what Sonic Adventure would translate into when you adjust for inflation) game the way they made Sonic Mania. A Sonic Adventure revival comes with higher risks and greater obstacles than classic Sonic ever did.

Icepick: Perhaps, but your citations for why an Adventure game is misguided clearly had much more pressing issues working against them that simply being an attempt to revitalizing that style of gameplay. On top of that, Forces’ mediocre reception seems to be implying that the Boost formula is beginning to wear out its welcome. Also, I feel like you’re being extremely disingenuous when you think I’m expecting a full-on 1:1 remake of the previous Adventure titles. Taking what worked from them and applying them to modern gaming sensibilities seems much more likely.

Plus, I think we’re all ignoring the elephant in the room. The sheer antipathy the Sonic fanbase has felt toward “Sonic’s dumb friends” has all but evaporated in recent years. Sonic Mania proves that the floodgates can be relaxed, as the return of everyone’s favorite two-tailed fox and knuckle-head were met with nothing but applause. Likewise, the recent reveals of both Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel as playable characters in Sonic Mania Plus have been well-met. In fact, I think the only criticism I saw in relation to those two returning was from people who wanted other characters instead, particularly Sonic’s abhorrent admirer, Amy Rose.

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Adventure 1 had whack-a-mole, for crying out loud! How can you not love this?

If there’s one thing the Adventure series excelled at, it was using playable characters besides Sonic, particularly ones that played nothing like him. Considering how big Sonic’s cast of characters was even before Adventure hit the scene, making an Adventure 3 would be a great excuse to revisit more forgotten characters, especially the ones that were left behind for no reason.

Dari: Yes, but a lot of Sonic’s friends were left in the dust, Looking at you Blaze the Cat, and a few others that most people don’t even know exist. (Wave the Swallow? and seriously who thought of that name…) I think if you’re gonna talk about a new Adventure game and all of Sonic’s friends, EVERYONE should be included. And I personally don’t think Sega’s gonna even try to do that so let’s go to a different topic that may even be feasible. Trying to make a Sonic Adventure game fun for modern gamers. In the age of PUBG and Fortnite, do you really think that anyone’s gonna even care about a bunch of animals running across platforms to get rid of some scientist with some overarching story that no one’s gonna care about except people who remember the Adventure series…it’s almost as bad as the new cartoon remakes that are coming out these days.

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Wave the Swallow….WTF is this? This hurts me!

This current generation of gamers don’t care about story, they just wanna as you’ve claimed “go fast” and not have anything in their way. Unless they can see the story all at once and not have to do anything gameplay wise to see it. So we’ve hit a crossroads, either have a great sonic game with great gameplay, or a sonic that’s pretty much a story with little else aside from some small gameplay that really doesn’t amount to anything fun. You choose.

KI: Sonic’s friends are like the Koopalings. Remember when everyone wanted them back, then after a couple appearances people were shouting for their deaths? If we ever play as Big the Cat again, I promise you everyone will hate him twice as much as they originally did. While people obviously do want story in games, the massive layering of nostalgia the Sonic Adventure games had slathered on means that a new game in that style is likely to enrage most of the fanbase. I’m not saying you couldn’t make a good game in that style, but presenting it as Sonic Adventure just seems like a needless handicap. And like I said, it’s a bigger risk than sticking with either of the currently active Sonic formulas.

Icepick: I suppose it’s time to make our final arguments. The Sonic Adventure games, while flawed, aren’t even remotely anywhere near the worst games that have been associated with the series in general — even if you discount the various spin-offs. Likewise, these games have such a fan following that even after what’s steadily approaching two decades without any true successor — again, Sonic ’06 and the Sonic Boom game clearly don’t count.

I could go on about my personal affinity towards the original Sonic Adventure, and how I didn’t even hate using the characters that seem to make every other fan’s skin crawl: really looking forward to Big’s Big Fishing Adventure 3, by the way. I could go over how much I detest the Boost formula and how shallow it seems overall.

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Seriously, I think I’m the only person on Earth who didn’t outright hate this.

But I think I’ll go with something that would probably hit closer to home to my opponents in this debate. If Sega were to make a Sonic Adventure 3, a game that has that title and recreates the various elements of the previous games to at least some degree, then the Adventure fanbase would finally shut up about it.

Let’s be honest here, Sega’s doing pretty well in terms of their finances lately and they’re not exactly hurting for money at this point. Likewise, the Sonic series has already endured several terrible games and yet its fanbase has yet to give up on that blue dude with the ‘tude. I just don’t see what Sega could lose from making a third Adventure game. I’m sure these days, the fans would expect a game with a budget on par with Sonic Generations at best, so it clearly wouldn’t be that big of a financial risk, there are clearly enough Sonic fans that would buy it based on its name alone to prevent it from doing any actual damage to the company, both in terms of their finances and reputation. At worst, the Adventure fanbase would no longer be able to clamor for an “Adventure 3”. That alone’s got to be considered a win for you two, right?

Dari: Even though Sega’s not hurting for money and it wouldn’t really hurt then to do it, I really am disparate to the “popular” opinion on this. I personally think if they did do a third Adventure game if it did more than break even we’d have another drought of terrible games and we’d not see anything else like Sonic mania for ANOTHER 5-10 years like we did when t the first atrocity came out. This is my fear of the Adventure series returning, we’ll get a bunch of really bad crappy side games that don’t even hold a candle to the original Sonic formula and we’ll have to see another crash of Sonic to see another game like Sonic Advance, Sonic Generations, or Sonic Mania again. Seeing something appear just to shut a fanbase up usually doesn’t work. All it truly does it open the floodgates for more inane things that people say they want but don’t realize the ramifications of what would be if it actually did happen. To close, I’ll use another famous saying. “Be careful what you wish for……you just might get it.”

KI: Like I said at the start, I’m really not that invested over whether this does or doesn’t happen. All I really care about is that Sonic can remain relatively stable, and whether that means Sonic Adventure 3/5 or not isn’t too important to me. As long as a Sonic game is playable and a platformer, I’ll usually manage.

Icepick: And thus concludes the first installment of Dari’s Advocate. I’m not sure just how well it went, but it was certainly an interesting experience. One I’d like to repeat in the not-too-distant future. But what say you, dear readers? Do you think I managed to upset the odds and argue that Sonic Adventure 3 deserves to exist or were the combined forces of KI and Dari just too much for me? And are there any other topics you’d like to see us discuss in this format? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to do this article for a long time. Over a year and a half ago, I made a ranked list of what I consider the ten most overrated video games of all time. Due to having limited freedom in what my articles could be about at the time and then constantly feeling like I was doing too many lists after returning to Retronaissance, it has taken until now to finally give this list the articles I always wanted to. But the waiting hasn’t been for nothing, I recently (well, it was recently when I started this article, then I got sidetracked yet again) came up with a gimmick for this list: in addition to listing overrated games, I will also be including an antidote, a game that is similar to the game on the list but fixes my issues with it. So, with 20 games to cover, let’s get right to it!

Number 10: Super Mario 64

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As controversial as this choice is, I can’t help but feel that it also acts as a personal safeguard. Starting with an entry from my favorite publisher in my favorite series (on my least favorite console they made, but let’s save that for another time) seems like a pretty good shield against accusations of bias when we get to non-Nintendo choices on my list (although I promise this isn’t a token Nintendo entry, more are coming…). But while this is easily my favorite game on the list, hence it being number 10, it’s still a genuine pick. Super Mario 64 may have been a gigantic leap forward for 3D games, but damn it, it is not retroactively the sole arbiter of a “true” Mario game. It does not get to make linear Mario games a bad thing or deviation. It also isn’t an avant-garde work of horror that later Mario games ruined with their “kiddiness.” The eel isn’t trying to scare you, it just doesn’t have a lot of polygons to work with. And this isn’t even getting into the control and camera improvements that later 3D Marios made. It may sound like I hate this game, but I really don’t, it has just been given a sacred status that went way too far, even if a lot of it is earned. It’s overrated mainly in comparison to other Mario games, which is why it’s only number 10.

Instead You Should Play: Super Mario Odyssey

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While I may prefer linear style Mario games, I’m not going to use this category as a bludgeon against non-linear ones. After a decade of complaining, Nintendo made another sandbox style Mario game (sandbox Mario games coming from the timeline initiated in the Autumn World ending from Super Mario World, while the linear ones came from its normal overworld palette) and while it wasn’t my first choice, they did such a good job with Super Mario Odyssey that it was the first game I felt my old level of hype and excitement for in years. Super Mario Odyssey improves on Super Mario 64 in every conceivable way, with more jumping tricks to exploit, more actual platforming, and way, way more to do and find in its levels. 120 stars? Odyssey has 880 moons. No, not every moon matches the main stars, but SMO is still going to take much, much longer to fully complete. Super Mario Odyssey also makes exploring more pleasant by not forcing you back to the start of the level after almost every star/moon, and it is filled with the brilliant platforming that Super Mario 64 often came up short in. Odyssey may not quite be my favorite Mario, but it gives me hope that an even better direct sequel could make a style of Mario game that fully satisfies fans of both linear and sandbox style, which is not a hope that Super Mario 64 ever gave me.

Number 9: Final Fight

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I don’t really have as much to say about this as the previous entry, although I’m just now realizing it could be considered something of an inverse. While Super Mario 64’s status as the supposed unquestioned best 3D platformer of all time leads to an absurd level of worship for it, Final Fight’s status as the most iconic beat-‘em-up of all time leads to the genre as a whole being thrown under the bus. Brave journalists who want a controversial opinion that no one will get mad at them for often announce that they consider the entire beat-‘em-up genre an outdated relic that was never that good in the first place. The claims that go with this, that they are repetitive button mashers, do apply fairly well to Final Fight in my opinion. Overly large, not very mobile characters fighting a few main enemy types over and over again in levels that are mostly window dressing without much technique in combat. Final Fight isn’t a terrible game, but it just doesn’t hold my interest very well and doesn’t deserve to be considered the main representative of its genre. Sure, some people would say the Genesis’s Streets of Rage series deserves that title, but I have a different choice for the SNES’s champion in that contest…

Instead You Should Play: TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

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Now take every complaint I had about Final Fight and reverse it. Reasonably sized, fast characters with jumps that could handle most Mario levels and lots of moves which almost all have their own purpose. Tons of enemy types and level obstacles. And instead of having a watered down SNES version, the home version obliterates the arcade game with more levels, bosses, and greatly improved controls. Turtles in Time is what a classic style beat-‘em-up has the potential to be, and the greatest argument for their value. I’ve loved this game for almost all of my life, but it was relatively recently that I realized just how much it excelled compared to other beat-‘em-ups even if you completely ignore TMNT nostalgia. Turtles in Time will be just as fun as it ever was in 2020: Neon Night-Riders and beyond.

Number 8: Bioshock

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This is the game on the list that I made the least progress in. While I beat most of the overrated category games on this list and made a lot of progress in the couple others I didn’t, I just couldn’t make myself keep playing Bioshock. Yes, the story and atmosphere are good, but it had been generations since I played an FPS with such clunky control and poor hit detection. I felt like I was playing one of those action-RPGs I can’t stand where you essentially have to trade hits (yeah, stay tuned, we’ll get to one of those later). Regardless, I’m sure I could have beaten it if I really wanted to, thanks to its checkpoint system. Really, if it wasn’t for that checkpoint system, I’d almost file this game under “just not my thing” and leave it off the list. But that checkpoint system, not only do I hate it with a burning passion, it spread into and poisoned other FPSes. In its default mode (turning off this feature will result in unfairly huge gaps between checkpoints) dying in Bioshock will make you spawn at a checkpoint equivalent. However, everything except your health meter will be exactly as it was when you died. Enemies stay dead/injured, ammo and consumables you used are still gone, you just have to walk back to where you were. So, the penalty for dying is now tedium, solely tedium. Sorry, no amount of men, oceans, and lighthouses can make up for that.

Instead You Should Play: Metroid Prime

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This is probably the antidote game that’s the most different from its counterpart, but I think there are still enough similarities to justify my choice. Metroid Prime is an atmospheric, lore heavy, varied mix of weapons and abilities sort of-FPS, like Bioshock. While it trades an emphasis on direct story for puzzles and platforming, Metroid Prime shows that gameplay doesn’t have to be sacrificed for atmosphere, and that’s why I picked it as the antidote. Metroid Prime is a faithful recreation of Super Metroid’s formula in 3D, and it pulls off everything it tries expertly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it since, again, this is more different than its counterpart than would be ideal, but if I get an itch for the type of experience everyone describes Bioshock as, Metroid Prime is my first choice for scratching it.

Number 7: Strider

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Now what could I dislike about this legendary action game with great, buttery smooth control and a high but always fair difficulty level? I guess the biggest issue would be the fact that I have no idea what game everyone praising it is playing. I’ve played both the arcade and very faithful Genesis versions of Strider, and neither one matches the game everyone else apparently played. Strider’s controls are as stiff as the original Castlevania, and the level design is definitely not built around them to the extent that it is in that game. Strider is also among the most prominent examples of one of my biggest gaming pet peeves, your character is way too big and it makes dodging even more difficult. I can’t make any progress in the game without tedious memorization to compensate for how big, slow, and clunky the title character is. That is not my idea of a well-designed action platformer, and unlike with Bioshock, this is a genre I definitely have enough familiarity with to judge. I genuinely don’t understand the disconnect I have with everyone else when it comes to this game, but it’s huge and I have to put Strider on this list.

Instead You Should Play: Hagane: The Final Conflict

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This is the most obscure antidote game on the list, but it’s also one of the most perfectly fitting. Hagane was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and sadly it is currently only available in that form and at an absurdly high price. Regardless, it is the game everyone seems to be describing when they talk about Strider. A very hard but always fair melee-focused action platformer, Hagane is everything you could want from this type of game. I feel like the agile ninja that everyone says Strider is when I’m slashing through enemies and dodging projectiles in Hagane. This is one of the best hidden gems of the 4th generation, and it deserves the praise and great 2014 revival game that Strider got.

Number 6: Sonic Adventure 2

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There’s a third of a good game in here. The Sonic and Shadow levels are some of the best examples of 3D Sonic platforming even to this day, but they are only a third of the game. For the other two-thirds, you get two play styles from the original Sonic Adventure, but for some mind-baffling reason they’ve been made worse. The shooter levels have become mindless and tedious thanks to your reasonably agile robot from Sonic Adventure being replaced by clunky, slow walkers. And the treasure hunting levels… someday I’m going to play Sonic 2006 just so I can justify saying they are the worst thing ever in a 3D Sonic game. Wandering around levels with a horrific camera that was not designed for any kind of backtracking, possibly walking right by a buried master emerald shard because the radar will only track one shard at a time for absolutely no reason. I don’t care how much you love the music or how you think this is the only game ever made where Shadow is cool instead of an edgelord, two-thirds of this game ranging from boring to atrocious means it doesn’t deserve to have praise heaped on it. Also, I hate the Chao Garden with a burning passion.

Instead You Should Play: Sonic Adventure

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As I mentioned, the worst crime Sonic Adventure 2 committed was making two of the gameplay styles from the original Sonic Adventure worse in every way. So it’s pretty easy to see why I’d recommend just playing the original. Sonic Adventure has the same amount of Sonic style levels, much more enjoyable versions of the other level types from Sonic Adventure 2, two other styles that are pretty fun, and one level type that is poorly executed but represents a much smaller portion of the game and can be breezed through instead of the drawn-out torture of the SA2 hunting levels. The open adventure fields aren’t great, but they’re mostly simple and painless, much better than what Sonic Adventure 2 makes you go through for the majority of its duration. The music is at least as good as SA2 and the story is similar in quality, just make sure to pick up the DX version so that you don’t have to deal with unskippable cinemas showing the same scenes in different characters’ stories. I still hate the Chao Garden, however.

Well, I finally did it, halfway there and ready to post the first part of this article. Writing about games higher up on my lists is usually easier for me, so hopefully it won’t be that long until we get to Part 2, stay tuned!

Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

Sum of Its Parts: 2D Sonic Sequel

Ever since I was a child, I’ve dabbled in the idea of imagining perfect sequels to some of my favorite games. Back before the real one even existed (and damaged the series’ reputation), a childhood friend and I came up with our own version of Mortal Kombat 4 (with the addition of several new palette-swap ninjas!). We scribbled on wooden blocks, pretending they were a game system, two controllers, the cartridge and even the screen as we had many imaginary battles with one another. A fun little childhood memory, but even to this day, I still look at old games I loved growing up and try to figure out just how to give them new life in the modern video game industry. Hell, you could probably tell that if you’ve read “Turn It Up To Eleven”, one of my Megaman Anniversary Rants from last year.

I know it’s pretty arrogant to believe that an outsider like myself could ever hope to run circles around the employees when it comes to handling games that I have nostalgic feelings for, even to this day. After all, that’s part of the reason I’m not employed in game development in any capacity. Then something like the ill-fated 2010 reboot of Rocket Knight happens and my arrogance just starts swelling up: what an insult to the memory of an obscure game that still holds up even to this day! Fortunately, the point of this article isn’t telling the world how much better games would be if I were left in charge. Instead of just dictating what proper sequels would entail, this series is meant to simply build hypothetical sequels in existing series by using elements and aspects of earlier games in the series. Only on rare occasions will I make an entirely original suggestion for new directions. Of course, leaving my own personal biases for new ideas out of the equation will be part of the fun of writing these.

Which brings us to today’s topic: a brand-new 2D Sonic sequel. Listen, I understand why Sega’s been focusing more on 3D Sonic games lately: they finally achieved something great with Sonic Colors and have continued to refine their efforts with Generations and even Lost World (yes, I liked Lost World. Deal with it.). However, I recently replayed Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II and I had forgotten just how fun the game was, especially compared to its mediocre predecessor. Sure, the more recent 3D Sonics have incorporated several 2D platforming segments into their gameplay, but at the same time, Sonic 4 Episode 2 (or Sonic 4-2, for short) reminded me that we haven’t really had a good 2D Sonic in a very long time. Even taking Episode Metal into account, Sonic 4-2 (Episode 1 was really flawed, don’t let the reviews fool you) just wasn’t long enough to satisfy my then-unknown urge for a new, entirely 2D Sonic adventure. Sure, there are plenty of fan games that attempt to recapture that magic, but there’s just something unique to Sega’s releases that even the most polished fan project just can’t match. To make things interesting, I’m not going to even bother mentioning the revered Genesis trilogy (I count Sonic 3 & Knuckles as a single game, deal with it) or their counterpart, Sonic CD. Because, let’s be honest, as good as they were, there were other games in the series that had their good qualities and relying strictly on nostalgia is so passé.

Starting off, let’s discuss the backbone of the entire game: the engine itself. Frankly, while there has been a shaky start, Sega has finally gotten Sonic’s physics working on modern platforms for the most part. So if they take the engine from either the 2D “Classic Sonic” segments from Generations or Sonic 4 Episode 2 (and I specify Episode 2 for good reason), Sega will be off to a good start on that front.

A more important aspect would be Sonic’s set of abilities. First of all, keep Boost out of these games, it’s pointless. Sega’s dropped the boost in more recent Sonic games like Sonic 4-2 and Sonic Lost World, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve honestly always felt that boost was a tacked-on ability, even in 3D Sonic games where it actually works to some degree. It places more emphasis on mindless speed segments than level design, which was one of the cornerstones of the deified Genesis-era Sonic games. Use the spin dash instead, it’s far more versatile. Homing attacks, on the other hand, I think should stay, mainly because there was really nothing inherently wrong with them being in 2D Sonic in the first place. Hell, it’s literally a necessity in the 3D games, just due to the fact that in Sonic games, you literally attack enemies by somersaulting into them. Recent 2D Sonic segments have done a far better job of balancing the homing attack by adding hit invulnerability to boss fights and actually turning it into a platforming tool through clever enemy placement. Hell, Lost World even revamped the homing attack itself, giving it a new charge property that allows Sonic to do more damage based on how long you lock onto your target while in the air. Plus there’s that new homing kick attack, which allows you to kill multiple enemies in one strike. Speaking of Lost World, bring back the double-jump and bounce jump from that as well. Just toss out the run/parkour button.

Next, let’s look at the relatively risky question of playable characters. After a few years of solo adventures, I think we’re about ready for Sonic to team up once again. Of course, we should probably start things slow: why not just start with someone who never went away entirely? That’s right, I think that Miles “Tails” Prower should make his playable solo return in a new 2D Sonic game. Ideally, there would be three potential options: Sonic alone, Tails alone and Sonic w/ Tails (with the potential for co-op), just like in the good ol’ days…of Sonic 4-2. Give Tails’ his traditional set of abilities: flight, the corresponding ability to swim through water and maybe that kick-ass tail slash he had in the Advance games. Maybe give him some new attacks as well, to keep up with Sonic’s homing attack. This would also of course mean improving the level design to the point of providing unique paths for both characters, but I think Sega’s at the point where they can handle an undertaking of that caliber. Also, with Sonic/Tails mode, retain the team-up moves from Sonic 4-2, but reduce the start-up time on them, that was the only thing that made them awkward in my opinion. Of course, bringing in any of Sonic’s other friends without first testing the waters would be suicidal, but seeing Knuckles and possibly Amy come back in future games would be most appreciated. Just start by easing players back into the idea of playing as someone besides Sonic or some clone of him.

I’ve always felt that one of the most important aspects of any Sonic game would be the quality of the boss fights. That was one of the areas that Sonic 4-2 really shined in, especially when compared to the hit (Metal Sonic, Silver, Egg Dragoon) or miss (Shadow, Time Eater) bosses found in Generations. Lost World also had some pretty good 2D boss fights, like the second bosses in Silent Forest and Sky Road or the game’s penultimate boss fight. Seems like some of the best boss fights I’ve encountered have a few common attributes: there are usually patterns at certain points that somewhat resemble a puzzle, they tend to deviate from the traditional “8 hits and you’re dead” formula commonly seen in Sonic bosses and they tend to put measure in place to prevent spamming attacks to kill the boss in seconds. Keep these design elements in mind when designing 2D Sonic bosses in general, Sega.

Of course, the most important part of any platformer would be the levels themselves. Don’t worry, I’m not really going to go into great detail here, as long as there’s a plethora of stage themes (as opposed to mostly just city themes, looking at you again Generations) and Sega keeps up their emphasis on real platforming over mindless boost “hold right to win” segments, I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’m more worried about the breakdown of each Zone (or Level/World/etc., I call ‘em Zones). One of the things I didn’t really like about Colors was the breakdown of levels: sure, they had 7 Acts per zone, but some of them were pathetically short. Stick to the distribution of either the Sonic 4 games (3 Level Acts, followed by 1 Boss “Act”) or preferably, the Wii U version of Sonic Lost World (4 Level Acts, two of which have boss fights at the end).  Of course, extra levels wouldn’t hurt: just bring back either Colors’ Game Land stages, Generations’ mission mode or Lost World’s unlockable bonus acts.

Finally, here’s a few miscellaneous suggestions for the gameplay itself. First of all, I’d like to divulge a theory that my fellow writer SNES Master KI has regarding the Red Star Rings in the recent Sonic games. They first appeared in Sonic Colors, which we both consider a great game, and we’ve both loved every game they’ve appeared in since: Generations, Sonic 4 Episode 2 and Lost World; I loved them all. So I would suggest bringing them back, even if just due to superstition. Sonic 4-2’s method of hiding one in each level would probably work the best. Speaking of the red star rings, I think that as with Colors and Lost World, collecting them all should unlock Super Sonic, as opposed to the traditional “collect 7 Chaos Emeralds in special stages” method. Also, I don’t care how many people whined about it: bring back the rail-grinding stages from Lost World. They were like superior versions of the mine cart levels from Donkey Kong Country and I loved those. Also, bring back the competitive multiplayer race mode from Colors and Lost World and do some free DLC stages like Lost World is currently doing.

So with gameplay out of the way, let’s move onto some less important but still necessary aspects this new 2D Sonic should also include. First up, the game’s storyline: I’d like something a little more substantial than the pantomime “Genesisesque” story we got in the Sonic 4 games. I’ll be honest, there was a time where I would’ve been okay with this. From the time the original Sonic Adventure came out, I had nothing but disdain for the voice acting in Sonic games (“I’d better get going!” comes quickly to mind) until Sonic Colors came along and fixed most of my major problems with it. I’d like a more substantial story that stays somewhat comedic and episodic, not unlike the stories from Colors, Generations and Lost World. Trying to turn Sonic the Hedgehog’s story into a serious, grimdark epic rarely works out well, even when done in jest. Aim for a Saturday Morning cartoon atmosphere, put cutscenes between stages and make them skippable.

The graphics, I honestly don’t care that much about. Keeping it 2.5D should be fine, but what would really be amazing would be if you tried for some 2D high-definition graphics, not unlike those in Rayman Origins or Legends. Sure, this is pretty much just shooting the moon, but seeing more classic series attempt this type of graphical style would be nice. At the very least, it would help to set it apart from most modern 2D games, which tend to prefer 3D models used on a two-dimensional plane. It would also allow for the designers to have a little more fun with various characters’ designs, which have, with a few notable changes, remained fairly stagnant since the Dreamcast days.

And what’s a Sonic game without a good soundtrack? Even the worst of Sonic’s outings have shined in the music department. While Jun Senoue handled the soundtracks for both episodes of Sonic 4, I have some other people in mind for this one, both of whom I think deserve a shot acting as main composer for one of the Blue Blur’s adventures: Richard Jacques and Fumie Kumatani. Richard Jacques composed the amazing Sega Saturn soundtrack for the otherwise mediocre Sonic 3D Blast and recently worked on Sonic Generations and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, while Kumatani has been providing some of my favorite Sonic songs since the original Sonic Adventure, going for more of a jazzy style compared to her contemporaries. As far as I can tell, both still work for Sega. Whether either of them work on it or they both do, I’d love to hear their takes on a full Sonic soundtrack. Also, please don’t use the synths from the Sonic 4 games in any capacity ever again. They were so awful that they managed to completely obscure the quality of the compositions from those games and I’ve heard some rearrangements that can prove it.  Either use something close to the Genesis’s actual sound chip (if not the original thing itself) or the instrumentation you’ve used in the 3D games. A combination of the two would work pretty well too.

In the end, I can kind of see why Sega has sort of forsaken development of 2D Sonic games in favor of focusing solely on 3D. The Sonic 4 series, despite undergoing significant improvement in its second episode, proved to be a dead end due to its unpopularity, leading to future episodes missing out on being greenlit. Meanwhile, Sega has finally found success with 3D iterations of the franchise, ironically enough by incorporating well-designed 2D segments that resemble the best parts of the games of old with sections in 3D that attempt to recreate the same feeling. In spite of the 3D games’ newfound popularity and success, I feel that 2D Sonic games still have a place in the industry. If Mario can occupy both styles, there’s no reason Mr. Needlemouse can’t do the same.