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Feature: Sonic: The Nintendo Years - Part Two

Posted by James Newton

The second instalment of our look back at gaming's favourite blue dude with attitude

Sonic: The Nintendo Years — Part One detailed the hedgehog's first few years on Nintendo consoles, but by the end of 2005 it was clear that Sonic games had changed very drastically, and nowhere was that more evident than in the next two 'hog-related outings.

First came the debacle that was Shadow the Hedgehog, another notorious low point in the hedgehog's career. Putting a gun in the hands of a Sonic Team character was a terrible decision, and it was sadly followed up by another, with the appalling airboard racing game Sonic Riders. You'd never have had to put up with this in 1994.

2006 saw Sonic's last hurrah on the Game Boy Advance, yet it was hardly the swansong the console deserved. Confident following the strong sales of the previous Sonic GBA games and the Gamecube compilations, Sega converted the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game to the pocket portable, which ended up as a new low point for the series. Horrendously slow compared to the original with countless bugs and glitches, this was a black mark on Sonic’s revered debut. As some consolation, it wasn’t just Nintendo owners who had a bad time with Sonic games in 2006 – it also saw the infamous Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 released on Xbox 360, an even more broken game than the GBA release.

Reclaiming the old magic

No doubt wishing he could erase 2006 from memory, Sonic persevered into 2007 with Sonic and the Secret Rings for Nintendo Wii. Taking its cues from the Arabian Nights series of books, Sonic and the Secret Rings greatly simplified previous 3D Sonic experiences by placing him on a preset path which required the player to steer left and right, brake and jump. Such a brave decision could have gone either way, but thankfully it greatly reduced the number of accidental deaths and camera issues by always keeping Sonic on the straight and narrow. Secret Rings probably got more stick for introducing a level-up and skills system, which saw you gain experience for completing levels quickly, which was then used to unlock enhanced speed, jumping distance and other abilities.

On the one hand, making Sonic his slowest at the start of the game was probably not the most crowd-pleasing move to make, but it did let players adjust to the new style of gameplay, and allow them to improve their best times and scores by equipping higher level skills, balancing out the lack of available routes. Although the heavy-handed tutorials deterred some players, those who persevered with the game discovered one of the best-looking titles available on Wii, with bursts of unbelievable speed, sizeable levels and some superb graphics. It continues to sell well at its current budget price, proving very attractive to new Wii owners.

Nintendo owners undoubtedly got the two best Sonic games for many years in 2007, with DS fans receiving Sonic Rush Adventure, which took the boost-based original and added in extra touch screen-based sea navigation sections with a shoot-'em-up slant. With hidden islands to explore, online multiplayer and fewer bottomless pits, Sonic Rush Adventure was a big improvement over its prequel, though in no way perfect owing to its increased reliance on storytelling and the introduction of an raccoon named Marine, whose language is so stereotypically Antipodean you want to stick her on the barby and toast her with a few tinnies.

The following year Sonic showed us more of his familiar recent form with the release of Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity on Wii, a sequel to 2006's poor airboard racing game that featured a new gravity mechanic, allowing players to race along walls and ceilings, creating an even more chaotic experience than its predecessor. Quite why Sega continued allowing Sonic to feature in games like Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is a mystery to Sonic fans and gamers everywhere, although it's presumably something to do with making lots and lots of money.

The match-up of dreams

Then, just as we were all becoming accustomed to the idea that Sega and Nintendo were friends now, we all got a shock when their iconic mascots teamed up for the first time in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. M&S may have seemed a strange and frightening prospect at the time, but combining the overwhelming success of Wii Sports and the universal appeal of the two most recognisable faces in gaming gave Sega its biggest hit since Sonic Twosday all the way back in November 1992.

For all its sales – somewhere over the region of ten million units shipped worldwide – it’s easy to forget that it’s actually an enjoyable game that’s as much fun for long-term gamers as it is newcomers to the cause. Admittedly not all the control schemes are as intuitive, but very few events fall below a decent standard, and with Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games you can bet there’ll be even more red vs. blue sporting action finding its way into millions of homes across the world this year.

If the sight of the two old adversaries joining forces was enough to boil your blood, Super Smash Bros. Brawl let you get rid of some of that frustration by pitting Sonic against Mario, Luigi and some of Nintendo's most famous characters. While Sonic is one of the last characters to be unlocked, his Green Hill Zone stage, remixed music and moveset are worth the effort, and kicking Mario's head in with Sonic proves every bit as satisfying as you'd expect.

Following Sonic's dabble with Mario's crew, he returned to his own fold with Sega Superstars Tennis on Wii and DS, engaging in a few rallies with Ulala, NiGHTS and more. A decent tennis effort from Virtua Tennis veterans Sumo Digital, the game hardly set the world alight but offered some enjoyable fan service: taking down Kong from Virtua Cop with nothing but tennis balls ranks as one of the game's best moments.

If two games featuring old rivals Mario and Sonic shocked fans, what happened next must have caused heart attacks for the longest-serving Sonic devotees. Sega announced it was enlisting Bioware to create a Sonic RPG for DS called Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, which saw the light of day in October 2008 to predictably mixed reviews. One thing everyone agreed on was the fantastic artwork and atmosphere Bioware created in tackling an extremely difficult property – how to turn something so fast into a slow-moving story-based game? By making the turns-based battles fully interactive with plenty of touch screen actions, of course. Bioware succeeded in creating an engaging and exciting battle system that took the best elements from classic Sega RPGs such as Skies of Arcadia and Shining the Holy Ark and mixed them with aspects from the Mario and Luigi series.

With a surprisingly complex storyline involving Knuckles’s ancient race of Echidna and the reappearance of Gizoids, a large cast of playable characters each with unique skills and plenty of side missions and objects to collect, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is probably the best first attempt at a Sonic RPG anyone could have expected. It didn’t sell brilliantly, so the sequel that’s already been set up may never materialise, but Bioware should still be commended for creating not only a decent Sonic game but also a great use of the DS hardware for a first handheld game.

When the night falls

Having taken it slow for a year, Sonic broke his own speed record with Sonic Unleashed. Glossing over the regrettable Werehog fighting sections, the combination of 2D and 3D in the Sonic platforming sections made for some of the most exhilarating action the old chap has seen in many years. The Wii version doesn’t quite exceed the next-gen versions: Nintendo's console lacks the 3D cities and the ability to level up Sonic's skills, and the graphics lag behind the much-hyped Hedgehog Engine.

And then they went and buggered it all up with Sonic and the Black Knight, the second in the Storybook Series following Sonic and the Secret Rings. S&BK largely retains the on-rails system introduced in Secret Rings, but its big innovation is in giving the fast and spiky Sonic a large, cumbersome talking sword he must swing to dispatch countless generic enemies in the time of King Arthur. With none of the fluidity of Secret Rings or the 2D appeal of Unleashed, S&BK gives Sonic’s recovering name another good kick in the privates, prising the inauspicious title of worst Sonic game on a Nintendo console from Sonic the Hedgehog on GBA. You can check out our Sonic and the Black Knight review if you don't believe us.

The long road uphill

After the disastrous Black Knight, Sega brought us more sports action with a winter slant, as well as another attempt to cram the hedgehog into a car with Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing on Wii and DS. While easy to dismiss the game as a Mario Kart clone, it has enough quirks of its own to justify a purchase, and although it's hardly brimming with new ideas it works well as a celebration of Sega franchises including the much-loved Shenmue.

DS owners got a taste of the hedgehog's 16-bit heritage with Sonic Classic Collection, offering irritatingly imperfect emulation that caused some games to run less smoothly than in their original 16-bit forms. While nowhere near as bad as Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis on GBA, the quest for a perfect portable port of Sonic's original outings continues.

It wasn't just DS fans getting some 2D Sonic action though, as Sega announced Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I for WiiWare, an attempt to take the hedgehog back to the events following Sonic & Knuckles in true Mega Drive style. Those expecting a game that played and felt like the original games were disappointed by the game's homing attack and inconsistent physics, but others were pleased by the wide array of homages to the adventures that originally stole our hearts. It's certainly not a perfect attempt at a 2D Sonic game, but hopefully the follow-up due this year will make the necessary improvements.

By far the biggest Sonic games of 2010 however were the Nintendo-exclusive Sonic Colours on Wii and DS. When first announced the games would only place you in control of Sonic, the much-quoted Sonic Cycle kicked-in, but the games broke free and proved to be among Sonic's best outings in years.

Whereas the DS release is essentially Sonic Rush 3, Sonic Colours on Wii plays like Sonic Unleashed without the Werehog fighting, cramming in more speed and set pieces than before, but its main new feature was the inclusion of differently-coloured Wisps. When activated these give Sonic various powers, turning him into a drill, laser, rocket and more, opening up different routes in each stage. Graphically superb, musically excellent and critically well-received, the Wii version proved that 3D Sonic games can work and has hopefully paved the way for a prosperous future for the 'hog.

Good Future or Bad Future?

With this year marking Sonic's 20th anniversary, Sega is honouring its mascot's milestone with Sonic Generations on 3DS. A celebration of the hero's past exploits, players take on iconic zones in gameplay that merges the classic 16-bit stages and more modern Rush-style action. We got to play the game at E3 2011, so expect to see our first impressions soon.

Generations aside, Sonic fans have the second downloadable episode of Sonic 4 to look forward to, as well as more Olympics shenanigans on 3DS and Wii. With Sega recently confirming it will be bringing high definition Sonic games to Wii U it looks like the special relationship between the two old rivals is stronger than ever.

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User Comments (25)

madgear

#1

madgear said:

Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 was relased ... never (it does not exist) - not 2006. :P

Lan

#2

Lan said:

correct me if i'm wrong, bur wasn't Shadow the Hedgehog released in 2005?

FonistofCruxis

#4

FonistofCruxis said:

Great feature!! I hated Sonic and the secret rings though, especially the skill ring system and while Mario & Sonic at the olympic games was fun at first, I found it got boring very quickly. I would much rather they made a Mario and Sonic platformer crossover than continue the olympics series.

Token_Girl

#6

Token_Girl said:

Reading this just makes me realize - Sonic's overused. Instead of main series mario titles which only come out every other year or so, Sega churns out at least one sonic game a year. Some focus and extended development time would be beneficial. At any rate, I'm excited about Generations, and I haven't had the chance to play colors yet. Secret Rings was good, the only really bad thing about it was having to go to the menu screen after every level.

It's nice to hear something positive for the Sonic RPG on DS. Maybe I'll pick that up at some point. I was worried it wouldn't be any good.

pikku

#8

pikku said:

I'm gonna wait for reviews of the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, but for now color (ha, get it?) me intrigued.

Hyperstar96

#9

Hyperstar96 said:

I guess I'm the only one who didn't like Sonic Colors (Wii). Terrible graphics, bad story, short levels, bad voice actors... I'll take Sonic 06, thank you very much.

The_Fox

#10

The_Fox said:

Occasionally I feel as if I'm too hard on Sonic, but after reading these articles I've come to realize if anything I'm much too lenient.

Rapadash6

#11

Rapadash6 said:

@Hyperstar96

I fell into the trap myself, hearing all this praise about the game. When I played it, though, I couldn't see why Sonic Colors was a step in the right direction as everyone was saying and any better than the garbage Sonics put his name on in the last 12 years.

SilverBaretta

#12

SilverBaretta said:

Nice part two, James. I surprisingly liked Shadow the Hedgehog and Riders, and I never even really complained about the Werehog sections in Unleashed, I just thought of it as if Knuckles had his own section of the game. On top of that, I actually prefer the Wii version over the HD versions, since I always seem to crash into hundreds of walls in the Day stages. :P Not really a point in saying it, I'm just stating my thoughts.

kurtasbestos

#13

kurtasbestos said:

I wonder if SEGA will ever release a 3D Sonic Compilation sort of game in the distant future... I would buy it so I can try all the games that I've missed (and then quickly get sick of them and move on to the next game) over the years ever since I bought Sonic Heroes and decided that I no longer needed to buy every Sonic game released. Or any of them. Although I will admit that I bought Sonic Riders and actually liked it.

gojiguy

#15

gojiguy said:

Hahah this article said that Rush Adventure was better than Rush! Hahahaha oh casuals. How you make me laugh!

JamieOStaff

#16

JamieO said:

This feature actually highlights how much I have enjoyed Sonic games in recent years - from the hectic, on-rails feel of Sonic and the Secret Rings, to the 2D design skill that Dimps and Sonic Team brought to both Sonic Rush games.

I really think that Sonic has reached a high-standard with his recent output, including Sonic Colours and I have lots of time for Sonic 4: Episode I. I actually consider the PS3 version of Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing to be one of my favourite kart racers. Sumo Digital injected so much energy into that title.

Ha ha, I think I will use this article as a reference point in the future, as proof that Sonic games have emerged from the shadows of a few less savoury titles (games like the 2006 PS3/Xbox 360 Sonic the Hedgehog, that are regarded as being unworthy of his classic character status).

Davidmoreaux

#17

Davidmoreaux said:

@ 12 I wish they put Knuckles in for the night levels instead of having the werehog that would have been cool.

James

#18

James said:

@gojiguy I'm as casual as they come all right, having no knowledge of Sonic games at all. Give me a good sudoku game and I'm happy!

SwerdMurd

#20

SwerdMurd said:

The Dark Brotherhood is one of the worst RPGs I've ever played in my entire life.

NeoShinobi

#22

NeoShinobi said:

I actually kinda liked Sonic & the secret rings from what I've played of it. Perhaps I should pick it up since it's so cheap these days.

Oh, and I still need to get Sonic Colors some time.

Sylverstone

#23

Sylverstone said:

...And the introduction of an raccoon named Marine, whose language is so stereotypically Antipodean you want to stick her on the barby and toast her with a few tinnies.

Wow... that was so Australian.

BulbasaurusRex

#24

BulbasaurusRex said:

A good camera and great graphics would've been nice for Sonic and the Secret Rings if the whole gameplay system wasn't completely terrible. The first couple of worlds (excluding Lost Prologue) are alright, but as the worlds get more complex and rise in difficulty, the gameplay keeps getting worse, even with the equipped skills. Sonic gameplay in general just does not work well on rails, the motion steering and acceleration are pretty unresponsive at times, the slide-to-jump mechanic is a horrible joke, the boss fights are awful, and the motion control to switch the rails you're grinding is flat out broken. I forced myself to beat the game and then sold it. Needless to say, I've never bothered with Black Knight.

@LosAngeloTip What's wrong with The Dark Brotherhood? That's a serious question, as I've heard complaints about the game in general before but never any specific complaints about what's wrong with it.

The guns aren't the real problem with Shadow the Hedgehog. Sure, it contrbuted to the suckiness of the game, but the real issue is the flat out bad platforming/speed gameplay and level design, including their tendency to cause an incredible amount of cheap deaths. If they had kept the same excellent Sonic/Shadow gameplay system and level design from Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 but just put in the guns instead of somersaults, it would've been a pretty good game.

Does anyone else agree with me that while the Unleashed style 3D gameplay is very good, the levels are too much of a race, now? I miss the 3D Sonic/Shadow gameplay of the Adventure games that includes plenty of speed but also plenty of slower platforming moments, like a 3D version of the Genesis/MegaDrive games instead of a 3D version of the Rush games. I wish they'd go back to that style of 3D gameplay.

Also, why does the Sonic series have such trouble with competative multiplayer? Only 3 Sonic games have had a good competative multiplayer mode: Sonic the Fighters / Sonic Championship (which might not count, since it's a fighting game), Sonic 2, and Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.

UnseatingKDawg

#25

UnseatingKDawg said:

Guess what world? I actually liked Sonic 2006. I ain't kidding, either. It was my first 3D Sonic game, and it introduced me to the cast. As for Unleashed, the 360 version does best the Wii version (both are still great though). The Black Knight was a great title, and Colors is excellent too.

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