Natalie Rambles About Sonic

Because you gotta go-go-go-go-go faster than the speed of sound and light combined!

If one were to peruse across this site, they would discover that within the past 3 years or so I published a review of every mainline Sonic game, barring the infamous Sonic The Hedgehog (2006), with my review of the 20th anniversary title, Sonic Generations, having gone up the past week.  If this is not a clear enough indication, I am quite partial to this series, mostly due to how it played a big part of my childhood, and after referencing this briefly in my Ramble about my history with gaming, I figured it’s time to delve into the deep discomforting recesses of my past, and pluck out everything having to do with this problematic little punk.  

Act 1: Assine Archive Zone

To recap, the original Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis was the first video game I ever played back in 1998.  I was 3-years-old at the time, at my grandmother’s house, it was my uncle’s copy, and he let me play through Marble Zone, but I pretty quickly rammed into the lava, lost my rings, and then lost a life shortly thereafter.  Being a little kid with a limited understanding of… everything, I was upset by this, feld the room, and did something else that I cannot possibly hope to remember. This began things on a positively wonderful note, and in the intervening years I paid little mind to the Sonic series.

Cut forward to 2002, when I began seeing commercials for Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the Nintendo GameCube.  A game that little 7-year-old Natalie thought looked oh-so-cool based on the few seconds of gameplay shown in the trailer, which mostly consisted of two live-action hedgehogs fannying about on a GameCube.  However, video game systems were kind of beyond my price range at that point, and I would have rather just gotten toys I could play with. Sure, I had an N64 at this point, but as I said in my history with gaming Ramble, I barely wound up using the thing, and never considered that I would get to own this game.  So instead I did the next best thing and started looking for other things that were tangentially related to Sonic, and through my prolonged aimlessly driven search I eventually discovered a few VHS tapes of the 1993 animated series, simply known as Sonic The Hedgehog, at my local library.   Along with a mail-in offer for the Archie Comics series that I think my sister received with a Betty and Veronica digest comic she got.

I started reading the comic series with issue 119, and… you know how long running comics tend to become as impenetrable as time goes on and they keep catering to their  existing reader base so people are looking for good opportunities to jump on? Yeah, this was not one of those opportunities, as I had a very slim idea of how this world functioned or really what any of these characters were trying to do, and then a big anniversary event called Sonic Adventure 2.5 Alpha happened, and Sonic went to space to fight an evil Super Sonic, before meeting Tails’ mom and dad, and then arriving back on Earth a year later.  Also Knuckles was a chaos ghost or something. It was weird nonsense that I lacked much context for, but tried my darndest to understand anyways, and… I liked it.

Then a year later in 2003, I began watching the anime series Sonic X as it aired.  A series that I have an incredibly limited memory of aside from really liking it as a child, and how it steadily shifted from a monster of the week type affair before the writers began adapting the storylines of Sonic Adventure 1, Adventure 2, and the GBA fighting game Sonic Battle.  Afterwards they got bored and then began making up this sci-fi epic that I can only faintly remember.  But the point is that it got me really interested in the series, and became a staple of my Saturday mornings for a few years.  My interests were well planted and despite owning none of the games, I began considering myself as a fan, kind of like how loads of kids in the late 90s who didn’t own GameBoys were still fans of Pokemon.  

But these interests would soon grow throughout 2004, at which point I had a GBA and GameCube, and as such was able to get my grubby little child hands on Sonic Advance, Adventure 2 Battle, and over the years I wound up getting most Sonic games available for those platforms, barring titles like the Pinball one or the Sonic Genesis GBA port.  I can’t remember the dates or order vividly, but the bottom line here is that if there was a Sonic game for the GBA or GameCube, I probably bought it, or rather had my parents buy it because I was a jobless child.  Did I enjoy these games? Well, yes, but probably not for the main reasons a lot of people did. While I am still generally pretty bad at video games, I could barely play them properly as a child due to how poor my game literacy and general coordination were.  This made the gameplay of these titles fairly difficult for me, even with the aid of cheat devices like the Action Replay, and instead I appreciated these Sonic games for their aesthetic and narrative value.

The environments of the 3D and 2D games were often enrapturing, the soundtracks were often so good that I bought the CDs so I could listen to them on my computer, and I found the stories, characters, and general world, to be incredibly endearing.  Yes, many of these games were rough, uneven, or generally janky, but there was a value to all of them that I appreciated, and captivated me in a way that most other games I played, which was largely limited to first party Nintendo offerings, did. They reinforced a generalized aesthetic that appealed to my young mind, and going back to these games I can tell how they shaped my tastes and preferences, albeit in an amount proportional to how much I played the games.

In short, as a kid I was never a huge fan of the 2D titles, and I don’t think I ever actually beat any of them between the Advance trilogy, the Genesis quadrilogy, or Sonic Rush.  I enjoyed them for a bit, got stuck at a part, and just moved on, feeling less compelled to see them through as they lacked a storyline, high quality audio, and were less catered to exploring the world, with the limited camera of the 2D games providing a less intrinsic sense of place compared to the shifting camera of the 3D games.

I know this is something akin to heresy amongst the community of ‘people who liked a Sonic once,’ but I’m still not particularly fond of the 2D games regardless of whatever qualities they boast.  The core reason for this is the fact that the limited camera and general design feels as if it is meant to funnel the player along a specific path, without providing them a full or complete understanding of their environments, due to the fast speeds.  This is a feeling that I find to be dramatically minimized when the game itself is rendered using 3D models and a dynamic camera, but then there is the matter of momentum.

I do not like momentum systems in 2D platformers as I feel that they rid the player of some control, needing to manage and prepare the designated speed of their character to accomplish predetermined goals, and failing to do so often results in a swift punishment.  I know that a lot of people learned gaming via these systems, or enjoy the… level of fluctuating control they provide, but me? My brain doesn’t like them, and in general I prefer momentum systems to be more binary. As in, either make it a walk or a run, and give the player control of switching between these two in as seamless a way as possible… just not like Lost World.

Yes, the 3D games do have their own sense of momentum, but it accumulates much faster, and I generally find it to be more in the player’s control than many of the 2D games due to the homing attack, boost button, and general movement physics.  This is an incredibly pedantic thing that I might not be explaining all that well, but the bottom line is that for as much as I can admire 2D Sonic games from an aesthetic level, I don’t have a great time when I’m actually playing them.  Mind you, I find many, if not most, 3D Sonic games to not be a great time either, but that is due to their gradual introduction of an optimal playstyle, frustrating collectibles, and somewhat slapdash design seen in the construction of many levels.

Act 2: Frantic Fanatic Zone

…Okay, so what the hell was I going on about with regards to my history with this series?  Right, the mid 2000s. The perception of the Sonic series dramatically shifted in 2006 following the release of the aptly named Sonic The Hedgehog (2006) which built off the dwindling quality seen following Sonic Adventure 2 and dug the series a spot in infamy that it really has never managed to pull itself out of.  This is when Sonic became something that people accepted and identified as a joke.  Something to mock, reticule, and the following titles did not make things that much easier.  Between Secret Rings, Chronicles, Black Knight, Unleashed, Sonic 4, and even more okay stuff like the Sonic Rivals and Riders subseries, there was not a lot of confidence in this franchise, and it was beginning to be considered an unquestionably bad entity by many individuals who were distant from the series.  

One of these people was my only friend from the years 2007 to 2014 (ages 12 to 19).  He would regularly mock me for liking the Sonic series and encourage me to stop it and start liking better games.  Eventually his more passive teasing went through and I began to distance myself from the series.  I only played Unleashed and Colors for a few hours when they came out, wound up selling my copy of Sonic Chronicles… because it was Sonic Chronicles, and stopped reading the comics around 2010.  My interest in the series was only really rekindled after I played Sonic Generations in 2013, but then it was a far more flimsy fascination that went through the ringer over the years as I went through the entire series and reached the conclusion that I only really like Adventure 1, Adventure 2, and Generations.  Which really does beg the question of whether or not I am a Sonic fan, but if the internet has taught me anything, fans are bitter vindictive assholes who hate everything they supposedly like.

But even beyond the quality of the games, part of the reason why the Sonic fandom is so warped is how the Sonic series was very much a produced joint venture between western and Japanese creators who wanted to make something marketable, resulting in a plethora of different adaptations, all of which are blasphemous butcherings of the Sonic Bible.  Take the classic Sonic games, the early 3D ones, Sonic SatAM, Sonic Underground (I watched it at 6 AM while in middle school), Sonic X, the Sonic OVA film, and the Sonic Archie comics, mix them all together in the mind of any child and you get one of the most perplexing, hypocritical, and overall baffling collective universes I have ever seen.  A cohesive idea of what Sonic is has been questioned since the very inception of the series, and has only gotten more muddled as time goes on to the point where whatever fanbase currently exists is such a fragmentary and shattered assortment that it can hardly be called a collective.

It is a predicament that stems down to the very identity of the character, which has several different interpretations between the classic, modern, and Boom iterations, but the whole distinction between classic and modern Sonic always struck me as strange.  In the late 90s, Sonic’s design shifted from this cutesy classical animal mascot character with some attitude with stubby limbs and a body made up of circles to a more slim and limber design with more exaggerated features and a more humanoid shape.  

Now, as a kid, I viewed these two as being the same character without question, and thought the reason they looked different was the same reason why Goku in 90% of Dragon Ball looked different than Goku in Dragon Ball Z.  He got older.  When people get older, they get a bit less doughy, taller, and have more limber limbs, so it seemed natural that “older Sonic” looked like he did.  But no, some people instead viewed this as more of a proper redesign, I think, and look at the newer older design as herasy. Observing this mentality, I cannot help but go back to my Dragon Ball comparison and think about how stupid it would sound if somebody looked at DBZ Goku and talked about how that “isn’t my Goku”.

Instead, I view a far more reasonable point of confusion with this series to reside in the details about what exactly the ‘world’ of Sonic actually is, and comparing and contrasting these things to form a collective mesh of hypocritical defining features.  Does Sonic’s world still contain humans? Are they all malformed stereotypes? Are Sonic and friends are considerably specially gifted individuals? Where did they come from? Where did Eggman come from? The series went from a vibrant and abstract worlds whose designs were only limited by what the developers thought looked cool to a semi-realistic world that occasionally veered into the realm of the fantastical, while still featuring some more outlandish concepts in some games, because I guess this world is really big and not everything is based on reality.  

But then come Sonic Colors, Generations, Lost World, and Forces, where I think that all humans have either been genocided, sent to the half-moon, or have been transformed into anthropomorphic animals like Sonic and company.  Wait, no, I think Forces established that a multiverse might be in play.  Because classic Sonic went from Sonic’s younger self to being from another dimensions… But there are no humans in Generations, so does that mean that there are 3 timelines?  Is this a split timeline cased by the Phantom Ruby?  Is Sonic Mania in its own timeline?  Are the spin-off games in their own self-contained sub-universes?  Is Blaze a character who actually comes from another dimension in one game and the future in another?  Did Sonic 2006 create a time paradox by changing the future?  …The Sonic timeline makes the Zelda timeline look like a straight line.

I guess it really doesn’t matter, and only autistic dopes like myself actually give a toss about the collective continuity of a children’s video game series based on an animal that coasts itself in its own excrement.  But the fact of the matter is that I was fond of this thing as a child, it never went away, and I wish that I liked it more than I did, because I like liking things, especially if I liked them back when I was a little kid.  I deeply desire for the series to please and impress me like it did back when I was at this impressionable age, and while I know far better than to expect anything other than an interesting subject to review and a neat soundtrack from every Sonic game, this desire has never fully gone away, nor do I think it ever will.  

Act 3: Deplorable Dirt Zone

I cannot talk about Sonic for this long without talking about Sonic Adventure 3.  For 15 years I have wanted a Sonic Adventure 3.  For 10 of those I knew it was never going to happen, and considered it a joke.  I know that the closest things were Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic 2006, and Sonic World Adventure, but… that doesn’t make me happy, since those games were not as good as Adventure 2.  Not even close.  Yet I grew up thinking that it was going to happen, because good things come in threes, but instead the style of Sonic that I most prefer has largely been forgotten about, and the developer behind the series has undergone such turnover that I have little if any faith in their ability to even attempt to make something as enjoyable as these two stupid janky early 3D games.

It is a somewhat bitter conclusion to come to, and one that makes me almost wish that I was truly apathetic towards this series and lacked any ties to it.  But no, it was a big part of my childhood. It was beyond the games, the shows, and the comics. I wrote Sonic fanfiction for a project at school, and still have it buried somewhere in my closet.  I watched so many flash animations on Newground. I read so many goldarn sprite comics featuring Sonic, such as Sonic and Pals and InSonicNia, both of which are dead, and while the latter has archives I found, the other one is just gone, because life sucks and connections are made to be severed by the cruel cutlass of reality.  

Then there’s… okay, I try to be very personal here, and probably indulge in far too much personal information in some instances, but I Rambled about TG, and mentioned how I used to be into it for more… masturbatory reasons, right?  Well, would you ever possibly consider that my interests would overlap, especially after I went on a tangent about the Rouge Sonic in my review of Sonic Adventure 2.  Let’s just say that I spent a lot of time enjoying stuff like this, this, this, and spent many hours futzing around with this when I was a teenager.  Yeah, I’m a goldarn degenerate who was around long enough to have archives dating back almost a decade.  Hell, I even have these three pieces that I distinctly remember were delisted in a matter of days after they were posted.  But there is one thing, one piece of fan fiction that I would easily go into an embarrassing tangent about if I could find it, but I’m pretty sure it as delisted from DeviantArt, as I spent hours searching for it, and came up with nothing!

But I’m veering away from the topic here, and what would one of these gushing fan recollection thingies be without hemming and hawing about what hyper specific thing I think I want from an upcoming Sonic game?  Well… my ‘ideal’ Sonic game with would be a stylish and fast paced 3D platformer with an emphasis on set piece levels.  There would be an easy ranking system a la Generations, very few if any collectibles (no red rings), no checkpoints on higher difficulties, an emphasis on visual clarity, going so far as to highlight everything or slow down time, heavily curated physics that have been polished to minimize bugs or anything that impedes flow, multiple characters who all have unique gameplay styles, heavy asset recycling in-game, often employing different lighting and coloring between stages.

The level design would be geared towards providing an optimal path for players to take, effectively railroading them because, hey, the Sonic Adventure levels were linear, but also really fun.  Speed would be de-emphasized in general for greater precision, and the use of numerous turns and corners to create the illusion that Sonic is moving more than they really are, because making assets to be zoomed past is just irresponsible from a budgetary perspective.  But there would also be a variety of differing playable characters, all of whom would have gameplay that is meant to serve as an extension of their abilities and personality, while maintaining a fairly fast pace… meaning that levels should not take much more than 7 minutes tops.

Some general ideas would have Tails serve as more of a traditional platformer character who uses gadgets and flight in various creative ways, and would be designed as more of a mellow affair compared to the bombast offered by the Sonic stages.  It could also have some shooter gameplay as, well, I view Tails as canonically having an arm cannon, because Sonic Battle.  Knuckles could just be a copy of what was seen in the Adventure games. Glide and climb through a small open area, following an advanced Emerald Radar in order to find shards of the Master Emerald of whatever.  It was fun back then, fun when I played it earlier this year, and would be fun to see a third time. Shadow can just be Sonic with a special proprietary chaos emerald-powered gun that could just morph into a few basic functions.  Because then the gun will shoot child safe laser beams.

Amy could be more of a puzzle platformer sort of affair, ditching the stealthy damsel thing in favor of a potentially slower gameplay loop built around simple and intuitive puzzle solving and hammer use, kind of like certain sections from Sonic Boom, come to think of it.  Rouge could be stylish speedy stealth affair that provides a number of paths the player may use to gracefully dance through the danger before them, while retaining some of the exploration elements from Sonic Adventure 2.  Omega can just be a high speed third person shooter based on building combos, and setting everything on fire with explosives.  Basically the shooting stages from the first two Adventure games, but modernized and with more flair.

As for the story, it would be an involved and prolonged epic filled with melodrama, continuity and fan pandering.  Dialog would be cheesy, stilted, edgy, and characters would behave rashly for the sake of narrative convenience. In short, I want it to be an enjoyable mess with ambition that I can see a number of flaws within it, but I like what is there too much to care.  Or in other words, just continue the tone and style set by the first two Adventure games, and avoid the writing styles of more contemporary titles.  As for the soundtrack, just fill it with butt rock, lyrical tracks, and remixes of old stuff.  All of which should illustrate why I should never be given the rights to the Sonic series, and that my opinion of what Sonic should be is rancid street trash.

…Yeah, I think that about covers it.  Not sure how to end this other than by declaring that I’ll play with you some other time!  

Image Sources:
Sonette – Eat The HELL by @kawoshiki
Sonic Timeline  by Reddit user sunstart2y
Sonic Adventure 3 Mockup Image by @europe_sega, who was suspended from Twitter.
Press Garden Mistress/Warden Sonic by @SonicPhase

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