There are few things that Sonic the Hedgehog fans feel more passionately about than judging the quality of the troubled mascot’s adventures. None of us can agree on the best and worst Sonic games; I for one think that Sonic 3 and Knuckles is a thing of beauty. One of my friends thinks it’s “absolute garbage.” How to decide once and for all?
Well, unfortunately we can’t… It’s subjective. Not even the combined power of the Chaos Emeralds can deliver this answer. (We’d probably get in a tizzy on Twitter about whether the Chaos Emeralds were even the best type of emeralds to utilise in the first place.) So – this piece will be formed solely of my own opinions, based on my experiences of playing Sonic games since the tender age of 11.
Okay, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first. For starters, full disclosure – I’ve never played Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. I know it’s gone down in history as being one of the worst moments in Sonic history, and yes, the YouTube videos that I’ve watched certainly make it a tough game to defend, but it wouldn’t be fair of me to cast judgement on a title that I’ve not had the pleasure(?) of experiencing.
I have, however, played the 2006 ‘reboot’ that is the blandly-named Sonic the Hedgehog, and I can safely say that this is one of the worst Sonic games in the history of Hedgehogdom. Why? I base this entirely on how I felt when I was playing it, and the dominant emotion is recurring frustration. I plummeted to my death more-times-than-was-reasonable in this game, and more often than not it was because of the broken controls or some other ridiculous bug that was conspiring to bring my blurry blue travels to an abrupt end. There were also moments when I couldn’t walk more than a few paces before I’d encounter a looooong loading screen, only to realise I’d walked in the wrong direction and would have to go through another looooong loading screen to get back. Rinse and repeat. There is nothing fun about sitting staring at a TV screen and having your immersion constantly broken… Ever tried to enjoy a movie when it buffers constantly? That. Sonic ’06 is an unfinished mess.
Next we have Sonic Unleashed from 2008, and I feel very conflicted by this game. It confuses me, because it somehow manages to be one of the best and one of the worst Sonic games simultaneously.
The positives? Sonic Unleashed is visually stunning. It has a very gripping story, and its slick Hedgehog Engine – presented here in its maiden outing – delivers 3D / 2D action stages of high octane, dizzying wonderfulness. Yes, you’ll die a lot, but those colours though. In fact, I don’t think there’s a duff ‘daytime Sonic’ level in there, apart from the sadistically-executed Eggmanland, but that’s not striiiictly a ‘daytime Sonic’ level, so in my opinion it doesn’t count.
The negatives? Oh boy. Well the ‘nighttime Werehog’ levels (also known as the ‘nightmare Werehog’ levels in my house) are monotonous and a complete waste of disc space. They’re pretty, but they’re crazily overlong and repetitive. Moreover, the Werehog controls are glitchy and semi-responsive, meaning that you frequently plunge into the abyss through no fault of your own.
Also the act of actually getting to the next level is enough to trigger a nervous breakdown. You must navigate an Escher-like labyrinth – posing as a fun-filled mission hub – in order to locate the portal that will take you to your next adventure, but the game will only let you progress if you’ve collected enough Sun and Moon discs. Invariably, you won’t have done, meaning that you have to replay a ton of the title’s most painful levels again and again and again, reliving the torment over and over a bit like a cat returning to a burning house.
In the end, I only completed Sonic Unleashed out of sheer stubbornness and determination, because the game had sapped so much of my time and emotional energy; I refused to be beaten by it. As The Escapist puts it: “This is gameplay I would expect from a ******* ROM hack designed by Hitler.” He’s not wrong.
However, let’s end on a positive note. What, in my opinion, is the best Sonic game of all time? Simple my friend. It’s Sonic Adventure. I know, I know, it hasn’t stood the test of time, and yes it’s full of bugs, and yes some of the animation is ropey, and yes the camera system is haywire, etc., etc. I can’t deny that my love for Sonic Adventure is largely rooted in nostalgia as it was my first 3D consoling experience, and indeed my first Dreamcast experience, and indeed my first 3D Sonic experience. But come on, find me an unlikable level in Sonic Adventure – I defy you! Name me a boring part of the story. Listen to that soundtrack and tell me that’s a pile of steaming cheesiness (it’s not.) Instead, let your eyes glisten as the sublime, merry-go-round chimes of Twinkle Park trickle from your speakers.
But what do you think? Is Sonic Adventure perfection incarnate? Is Sonic 3 and Knuckles really a piece of garbage? Does Sonic 3D Blast deserve to be remade in 4K 60fps? The debate starts here. Let me know what you think are the best and worst Sonic games in the comments below.