A Sonario (Sonic/Mario) for the New Year. It’s funny, I have been working on this comic for a while but it now seems even more appropriate with the Nintendo themed Yoshi DLC that has come out.
Now a little disclaimer if you haven’t seen any of my previous comics/articles/stuff: I don’t hate Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, it is very much the opposite. I’m a long-time crazy fan of the series who has played most of the games, I also read the comics, watch the TV shows and own plenty blue hedgehog themed paraphernalia.
In regards to my comic, Sonic Lost World was a big disappointment for me. Especially with the series making recent steps in a more balanced direction.
I’m not someone who views the games as being crap for ten years. At the very least, you have to admit the handheld games have a consistent quality. Furthermore, I don’t have a big problem with Sonic’s friends either. There are plenty of TV shows and comics that make effective use of the wider cast.
This leads me to believe that the root of the problems with Sonic characters has more to do with clumsy story and use of said characters. For example, what the hell is Knuckles doing these days and why isn’t he guarding the Master Emerald? Isn’t that meant to be really important. The ‘Archie Sonic’ and the ‘Sonic the Comic’ series have demonstrated that the characters can be put to good use. Even if you were to be critical of these series as a whole, one well done story proves it can be done and they have done far beyond that. This being said, their are weird moments such as Titan Tails. Oh well, it still doesn’t take away from my previous point though.
Anyway, while I think there are a lot of problems with Sonic Lost World I wouldn’t call it a bad game. It is just a painfully average one especially in comparison to recent outings.
Before I go into the details, I have to say going on graphic’s and aesthetics alone it looks like one of the best Sonic games out there. The return of the classic badniks and the super peel out are much appreciated. The music is also an interesting change of pace. While I personally found it to be a bit unfitting, I don’t think it is fair to fault quality music purely on what I feel is personal taste.
There also has been a recent free patch which included a few fixes such as collecting 100 rings now equals a life (before it was sheer platformer blasphemy) and the addition of being able to control the wisp powers with the analogue stick and buttons (instead of shoddy motion controls).
Nevertheless, it does not mend it entirely as the gameplay still feels way off. Furthermore, I have big gripes with the story and the Zeti known as the Deadly Six: Zavok, Zazz, Zeena, Zor, Zomon & Zik. I wish I was making those names up.
First the gameplay, I initially thought that the idea a run button was a good one, being able to shift gears to give an increased sense of control of Sonic’s speed. This was the case since I found that one of the few problems that came from Sonic Generations and Sonic Colours was that Sonic lacked fine movement control. This run button had the potential to be just the fix that was needed. After playing this game and hearing repeated problems of other people picking up the controls and questioning “how do I go fast?” it seems that this implementation was not a good idea. I personally think that this system of control shouldn’t be scrapped altogether but instead of a run button a walking button would make much more sense seeing as running should be Sonic’s natural state.
This leads to the second big problem that Sonic is way too slow and still lacks a satisfying sense of acceleration and inertia. The criticism of inertia is specifically in comparison to classic Sonic games, modern Sonic games (even Generations/Colours), never have had it as good as Sonic & Knuckles prior did. It is really strange to give Sonic a run button when he can’t run that fast anyway, especially when you lose momentum if you change direction in the 3D parts of the level.
The only way to get a faster speed is to press ‘ZL’ for a spin dash, let it go to then press and hold the same button down again while dashing to maintain the spin dash. Simple right? Not only is this very non-intuitive, it locks at a single ‘fast’ speed and doesn’t accelerate. Goddammit, it’s 2013 going on 2014 I think by now we should have technology to recreate that awesome feel of acceleration and inertia present from classic Sonic games.
The homing attack seems to be one of the worst states I’ve every seen it. It has a random multi-lock on feature that has limited player agency in controlling where or who it locks-on to. You also have the option of kicking the enemies instead of the traditional homing attack. Aside from the random multi-lock-on, on paper this makes sense: homing attack to chain multiple on enemies and the flying kick attack to hit enemies into one another. In practice however, it lacks some serious refinement in the accuracy and agency of this maneuver. To worsen things, some enemies will damage you if you don’t do the right attack out of the two and there is no indication of which one to do. This violates basic game design 101; if the player takes damage/is punished during a level it should always be their fault. It should be noted that all non-intuitive control issues are made worse by instructions appearing on the Wii U gamepad screen, which you probably are not looking at when playing a platforming game.
On the topic of game design, let’s talk about the rail grinding levels. Sonic’s grinding controls are in a broken state either equal to or even more so than Sonic ’06 (depending whether you think the homing attack between rails in’06 is more useful). In order for you to move between rails you have to get Sonic to physically jump unstably between them. It is beyond me why they scrapped the Generations’ mechanic (interestingly enough introduced in Shadow the Hedgehog) where you tap the direction of a rail and the character moves to that rail without any fuss or a needless chance of dying. Frustratingly there is no way to increase or decrease your speed on the rails by method of controls alone which leads to annoying deaths that feel like they should be avoidable.
Some people compare these levels to Donkey Kong Country Returns’ mine cart levels though I really don’t see the similarity aside from the simple fact that they both have rails in them.
Speaking of Donkey Kong Country Returns, this game also has a function that skips the section of a level if it is too hard for the player. However, in DKCR you get asked if you want to use ‘Super Kong’ to do the level for you and you can politely decline. In Sonic Lost World you have a little item box randomly appear at respawn and if you touch it (which you probably will) you will be teleported past that section of the level. This really annoyed me as I had to go back to levels multiple times to play the parts that were skipped. A simple question if I want to skip the section of the level would have solved the situation especially when this item box appears sometimes after two deaths in an area.
It has to be said, this game has the weakest Sonic bosses in a long time. The structure of this fights are boringly simple. The only difficulty I encountered was from the controls with the homing attacks charge up function not being explained prior to the encounter. These battles were a big let down from what was built up in the marketing as an epic clash against new foes.
And now onto the story and the Deadly Six.
**WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS** Now I can’t simply blame writer Ken Pontac (like some fans did) as it has already been said that he didn’t have full control on the project and he didn’t come up with the Deadly Six.
Trying not to spoil anything, the story’s claim to fame was it had a team up that the series hadn’t seen before (despite it either being present in previous games/shows/comics and also being invalidated by the story’s progression). The result was an unoriginal story acting like it was original. Cutscenes went on much longer than needed and felt like watching a storyboard rushed into game where each scene could have been cut down by a minute or so. I’m not expecting a story with the precision and height of emotional resonance as say ‘The Last of Us,’ but you can do a Sonic story well and it has been done before. I would like to expect more of the series.
The Deadly Six also seem flawed at a fundamental level. They look awfully generic and obviously stereotyped; the muscly one, the punk one, the girl one, the fat one, the emo one and the old martial arts master. I would have liked to see something non-typical done with these characters but there is nothing really worth mentioning about them aside from their stereotypes. Any interesting elements of roboticization, Lost Hex or what the Zeti are and why they can manipulate technological devices are barely or never dealt with. These bland characters make the game feel like the Spiderman 3 of Sonic games. The over reliance on slapstick humour (that made the point of the ‘joke’ for way too long) served as a further detriment to the story.
**END OF POSSIBLE SPOILERS**
With all this said, I don’t think it’s productive to play the blame game or stay fixed on what could have been. I hope the next Sonic game takes the lessons of what worked and didn’t work in Sonic Lost World and becomes far beyond what we have already seen. Wholeheartedly, I wish the blue blur best for 2014 and beyond. There is Smash Brothers 3DS, Wii U, Project M tournaments, rumours of another game and a new TV series to look forward to. Plus with Sega’s promise for major surprises for the blue dude with the ‘tude, I wish both him and his friends and you & yours have a rockin’ 2014!