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A Casual Look at the Modern Sonic Series on Steam – Guest Column

Hi all! My name is Pete “TitansCreed” Nethercote. If you’re reading this, you may be aware of me through my LP series I played with Sonic Yoda over on the YouTubes, or you may be one of the (un)lucky ones who follows me on social media somewhere.

Most recently, I can be found over on my personal twitch page streaming the odd game during the week, but for the last few weeks I have been running a new series titled “Casually Playin’”, and with season one, I have been casually playing through the Modern Sonic games officially released on the PC platform via Steam. This does mean that unfortunately there is no Sonic Heroes, Colours or Unleashed. This also means that the focus has been on the following 6 games:

– Sonic Adventure DX
– Sonic Adventure 2 Battle
– Sonic Generations
– Sonic Lost World (why do we have this, but not Colours?)
– Sonic Mania (yes, there is a reason it is here)
– Sonic Forces

As such, I thought that with a relatively fresh pair of eyes and a recent play-through done on each, that I would go through some pros and cons of each game as well as the time in which a casual play-through took. You can find my times that I finished these games at the end of this article.

Let’s start with Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2:

I’m a bit hesitant to rag on these too much. It’s a game very close to the hearts of many, and being one of the first forays into a proper three-dimensional plane and being as old as they are, the games have not aged very well at all.

But let’s do a quick focus on SADX first: the story it tells is decent. It adds some depth to the echidna race and the Master Emerald and it allows the player to see different character arcs that also interconnect with the other characters in the game.

The action is specific to each character. Want to blast through a level as fast as you can? Play as Sonic. Want to go treasure hunting? Play as Knuckles, and so on and so forth.

The problems lie in the fact that it feels too long to play in one sitting. The game really feels designed to pop in and out, rather than finish in one go. Sonic’s story is by far the longest at about 2 hours, with the rest all coming in between 45 minutes to an hour each. Which isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, as it expects the player to want to play the speed sections. It is a Sonic game after all, and as I’ve already mentioned, it definitely hasn’t aged well. Maybe that’s why recent comments from Sonic Team mentioned the possibility of a remake.

This is where we go to SA2B:

Again, another game close to the hearts of many, but what it does right is with the new characters; fleshing out a narrative that tells two sides of one story. It also disappoints by forcing different character mechanics into one story. In Sonic Adventure we could choose a character and play specific mechanics through one story. In Sonic Adventure 2 we get thrown from character to character to give us variety, but not enough time to really get to know them before we’re thrown into another piece to play, and let’s not even get started on the highway “chase” levels.

As someone who grew up with these two titles, they are fun to play… in moderation. They both feel like the kind of game where you can finish a story or two, and put the game down for a day to come back to play later. A 7-hour straight finish feels too weighty in a game these days, but maybe there comes a point where I don’t have as much free time or luxury to play video games these days?

Let’s move onto Sonic Generations:

Now, knowing full well that Steam lacks Heroes, ‘06, Colours and Unleashed, which would most likely have hit the same complaints I had with the Adventure games in terms of length, we come to Generations. I really enjoy Generations. The length of the levels get longer over time, but that’s due to length rather than difficulty. I recall a discussion I had with some of the QA team when the game released as to why if you played Planet Wisp for 7 minutes you could still S rank the level. Their answer is that the game was made more accessible for newer players. Which is a fair enough comment in all honesty. If you’re trying to get newer players into your franchise and you’ve essentially nailed the boost gameplay, why not reward those newer players on your longer levels?

Sonic Generations is very much a love letter to the series that a lot of us grew up with. My only real complaint are the challenges. Thankfully unless you’re aiming for a 100% play-through, you only need to clear 9 out of the 45 challenges to progress, so for what is a very casual play-through, it is very easy to blast through and enjoy.

Which moves us swiftly on to Sonic Lost World:

Way back when, Sonic Yoda and myself did what was essentially a launch party for this game, we blasted through it in a weekend and did a video review of the game. Overall, we enjoyed it for the most part, even if we did play it on the Wii U originally.

Sitting down and replaying it on my own, it’s very much, “okay”. Coming out at the end of what I’ll dub the “parkour” phase of the internet, which was a time that wherever you looked, people doing a parkour trick was commonplace. So, here we had Sonic wall-running climbing and doing amazing tricks and it was… different. The thing about the game is that unless you’re aiming to 100% the game, most of these tricks you don’t need to master to finish the game. Which, very much like Generations, leads to an enjoyable time even if you’re just blasting through the game.

My only gripe comes with the level consistency. Lost World tries to jump between 3D worlds and 2.5D stages. What happens is that the 3D stages end up long-winded and feel like they’re just taking too damn long to traverse, whereas the 2.5D stages are more of a wild romp which are generally shorter, but equally as difficult. The saving grace in-between these levels are the sub bosses and main boss levels. They vary from act to act, are generally shorter and relatively easy to beat. There are a couple of exceptions to this however, but it’s best not to dwell on them.

While I move on to Sonic Mania next, a few of you may have asked yourself at the beginning of this little post why I included it within the “Modern Sonic” era. The answer to that is simple:

1) Its plot device for the entire game is the Phantom Ruby, which also is used in Mania’s sequel: Sonic Forces.
2) The game was released during the Modern era.

Now here is the stickler, and I’ll throw it out from the off: I am not Mania’s biggest fan. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the team behind it, talked to some of them about various game elements, but to me, Mania doesn’t feel like a real celebration of Classic Sonic games. It absolutely has the look and feel of them and tries to emulate the visuals, but the level length, even casually playing the game, sometimes clocks in at anywhere between 5-7 minutes at a time and it kind of takes away from the overall experience.

That’s not to say it’s all bad though. It is enjoyable, and when something clicks (like working out how to drop dash for example), it’s really fun. The variety of levels, the fun bosses, the nods to the games’ history, they all lead to a fun title. I think if the levels were tuned down to 2-4 minutes per stage it could be great, and that is my biggest problem with Sonic Mania.

Now, as I talk to you about Sonic Forces, I feel like this is where I’ll lose some of you…

Out of all the games in this list, Sonic Forces is the one game I was most apprehensive going into again since it’s release. It gets a fair bit of stick from the community for a few reasons, but for me, this is the one game I had the most fun with.

It’s very strange, and I’m not sure if it was due to the apprehension of going into it and being pleasantly surprised by it, but considering my two major gripes with the game being the music for the Classic Sonic stages and the majority of the Modern Sonic boss stages being very linear dash-and-homing-attack affairs, you counterpoint that with the vocal tracks for all the avatar stages being just downright amazing (Fading World and Moonlit Battlefield being two of note), and all Classic, Modern and Avatar stages fitting in with the 2-4 minute level length is just downright amazing.

Yes, it’s story is a bit hit and miss, and if you ignore the occasional plot-hole (as you kind of have to with most Modern Sonic games), you have a really enjoyable game. Because the levels are relatively short you don’t feel burnt out, and while I contradict myself earlier with jumping between characters, there is not a massive difference in gameplay between Avatar to Modern Sonic that would cause a complaint.

So yes, to me (and I fully expect the rotten fruit thrown at me for the next remark), Sonic Forces is the best Modern Sonic game.

Which finally, brings me to the time breakdown per game, which you can see below:

I think it’s very obvious to say that the games I had the most fun with are the ones that didn’t take as much time to play, with Sonic Forces feeling like it had the most content for the time spent.

As I’ve said elsewhere in this piece, everyone has a Sonic the Hedgehog game close to their heart, and I’ve in no way meant to hurt anyone’s feelings if I’ve said anything hurtful about their favourite here. I’ve just tried to look at it from a perspective of a casual player.

I will gladly have a conversation about your thoughts about Sonic games, so feel free to leave a comment on your favourite and how you think about it. I can be found over on twitter @titanscreed, or you can go check my out on twitch.tv/projectphoenixproductions where you can also go find the playlist for Casually Playin’ series listed as well if you fancy seeing someone a little too old for video games, playing through the above list of titles.

Either way, I look forward to possibly hearing from you soon!

Written by Pete “TitansCreed” Nethercote 13/02/2019

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