Archive for November, 2012

Sonic 3D: When good series go bad.

If you read my review of Sonic the Hegdehog, you’ll know that I liked it. If you didn’t read it, why not? Read it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait until you get back.

Okay, so now you’ve read that you’re aware that that game was amazing. It was fluid, the controls were great, most of the levels were great and the music was pretty awesome. In contrast, Sonic 3D marked the point where Sonic started his slow spiral into a haze of mediocrity and drug abuse. Sonic 3D: Flickies Island (or Sonic 3D Blast in NA and Japan) was released in November 1996, 5 years after the original. It marked a brave and foolhardy step in a new direction for Sega, they had decided it was time to take Sonic into the realms of 3 new and exciting dimensions. It was a decision that they probably didn’t give much thought to, because it was a terrible, terrible thing to do.
For a start, Sonic made his name as a 2D platformer, so why fix what isn’t broken? Maybe they ran out of ideas or perhaps the piggy bank that funded the cocaine ran low, after all it was the 90s. Maybe they just wanted to try something new. Either way, 3D in 1996 was a horrible idea. Because of limitations at the time, the game is isometric which isn’t a huge problem in itself, Diablo and Diablo 2 were both isometric and those games were very good. However, when the isometric game in question has platforming elements and is controlled using the D-Pad of a Sega Mega Drive controller, massive gaping holes in the ‘let’s make Sonic 3D’ plan start to emerge. Problem number one is that, owing to the isometric viewpoint, you can never really see where it is that you’re jumping. A key problem when the enemies in the game, who must be killed to advance, need to be jumped on. This is also a huge problem with any kind of platforming that the game halfheartedly wheels out as if to remind us of Sonic’s golden past, I could only bring myself to play through about 8 levels (not including boss fights) and any bits that required a precise jump were thankfully few, but the ones that were there took me many, many attempts to get right.
Controlling a 3D model in a 3D environment with a D-Pad is awkward enough as it is but when the isometric element is added along with the need to make precise jumps then the game may as well just come with a warning label advising you not to play it.

However, the introduction of 3D brought in another problem. Due to the limitations at the time and the fact that the game was made to be released on the elderly Mega Drive (Genesis) as well as the Sega Saturn the graphics are somewhat lacking. I could go into more detail about the graphics but all that really needs to be said is that it looks like ass. Seems like the Mega Drive didn’t have enough blast processing to make this game look any good. The graphical disappointment is most apparent in the  flooring tiles each level is covered with. Each level has 2 different colours of untextured tile that make up the floor for the entire level. It just looks so bad, there’s really no excuse for it at all.
Another problem that game has, is that the gameplay is horrible and tedious. The story goes that you have to go round Flickies Island killing Robotnik’s mechs and turning them back into Flickies (small birdy friends of Sonic, apparently). Each section of each ‘Act’ you have to collect 5 Flickies before jumping into the magical progression ring and moving on to the next section of the level. Already we can see some problems. For a start, the completion of the level requires you just to kill 5 enemies, wouldn’t that be really easy? Well yes, it certainly is incredibly easy and, because of this backassward decision to have this be the major challenge of the game, Sonic Team lifted their faces from a bucket of wacky dust long enough to decide that this required an artificial lengthening of gameplay. Yaaaaay! So the game has you wandering round multiple times per ‘Act’ on what is essentially a fetch quest to find birds that you get from killing enemies. In essence, this game has no challenge. The challenge comes from obstacles like jumps that are only made into obstacles by the aforementioned bad controls and horrible choice of an isometric view point. The game is boring. It is dull. It is not fun to play. So I stopped, I got more than half way through but I just couldn’t go any more. There are only 7 levels, making this game not particularly long but incredibly tedious and to make matters worse, there isn’t an easy stage select code like in Sonic 1. I did find one, but I couldn’t get it to work so maybe it only works on  the American and Japanese versions or something. Either way, having to replay this boring, badly designed, ugly to look at, frustrating to play game from the beginning every single time is a prospect that makes me feel physically ill.

Overall, Sonic 3D is a game that I would never want to play again. Everything about it is bad. With the original few Sonic games, Sega built themselves a golden mountain of brilliance and Sonic 3D came along and poured petrol all over the mountain and set it on fire. Everything about this game is inferior to the preceding Sonic games, there is literally no reason to play it. It doesn’t even have any good music. Compare that to Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1, then you’ll know what I mean. Sonic 3D disappointed me in every single way and I’m playing this game 16 years after it’s release, I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible it was for a fan of the franchise back in November 1996. Nice one Sega.

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