Sunday, March 25, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

Game: Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

System: Xbox 360

Developer: Sonic Team 

Publisher: Sega

Player: Tony

Experience: Played the game briefly beforehand

Whenever a new generation begins for video games, some companies see it as the opportunity to reboot their franchise characters to spur new life into them. For Sega, it was an attempt to bring Sonic the Hedgehog back into favor with his fanbases, both the old Genesis and new Adventure-driven audience. Leading up to the creation of their first HD Sonic title, Sonic Team had gone through quite a lot with their blue hedgehog.

In 1991, Sega created a new franchise character to counteract Nintendo’s Mario in the upcoming gaming generation. Sonic the Hedgehog pushed the graphical and musical properties of the Genesis, and it became a national success. Sonic was ultimately the creation of three developers: Yuji Naka was the programmer, Naoto Ohshima was the designer, and Hirokazu Yasuhara was the game planner and director. Together, they brought the blue hedgehog to stardom.  With Sonic's release, Sega was able to more effectively fight Nintendo in the western markets, bringing the rivalry to its peak.

Following the original’s release, Yuji Naka and some members of Sonic Team left to work with Sega Technical Institute in America. From there, Naka helped produce what would become Sonic the Hedgehog 2, introducing Tails “Miles” Prower and multiplayer modes to the series. Meanwhile the Japanese Sonic Team, led by Ohshima, developed what became Sonic CD, a special Sonic title involving time travel and the introduction of Amy Rose and Metal Sonic. Shortly thereafter, STI developed the highly-acclaimed Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles some six months apart; in reality, both games were meant to be released as one adventure but were split into two and connected via a unique lock-on cartridge. As Sega began to move onward with its newest console, Sonic was at his peak of performance.

However, things would not work in Sonic’s favor for some years later. When the Sega Saturn began full development, Yuji Naka returned to the helm of Sonic Team to produce NiGHTS into Dreams, while Sega Technical Institute attempted to bring out a unique 3D Sonic adventure: Sonic X-treme. The game was meant to use larger, 3D levels with a unique fish-eye lens to provide faster speed and better views around Sonic. However, communication issues between American and Japanese Sonic developers grew to their worst, and eventually the small team began to collapse under pressure to release on time. The unfinished game was eventually cancelled, and STI was closed. Sonic Team would remain focused on other projects, leaving Traveler’s TalesSonic R and Sonic 3D Blast as the only major Sonic titles on the Saturn.

Sega pushed for its next console, the Sega Dreamcast, after the Saturn began to fumble against the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, especially in the US. In order to launch its new system, the Sega Dreamcast, newly-formed Sonic Team USA was given the task to create a game to push the system as far as they could with the familiar blue hedgehog: Sonic Adventure. Sonic Adventure brought a deep, multi-character plot into the newly-3D Sonic platforming aesthetic. Each of the game’s six main characters were playable, each with their own unique gameplay goals and inter-weaved plotlines. Sonic Adventure was highly-praised and brought a large amount of focus on the Dreamcast upon its launch. However, the hype for the Sony Playstation 2 would eventually kill the sales of the system, and in late 2001, the company announced it would drop console development and become a full third-party publisher. The sequel Sonic Adventure 2 would be the last Sega title on the Dreamcast, and its port to the Nintendo GameCube would be the first major Sonic title on a non-Sega console.

During the next few years, Sonic Team USA lead the development of the Sonic franchise on consoles, and Sega worked on porting Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut and producing both Sonic Mega Collection (and Plus for PS2 and Xbox) and Sonic Gems Collection. In 2004, Sonic Team USA brought out Sonic Heroes, which put trios of characters together through the adventure, playing as each group simultaneously. Later, Sonic Team USA would emerge once again to bring out Shadow the Hedgehog, a game dedicated to Shadow’s mysterious history (and arming him with weapons and a darker storyline). While it was successful, many older Sonic fans showed great disdain for this title, calling it the end of Sonic. Meanwhile, Sonic Team, NOW Production and United Game Artists in Japan focused on Sonic Riders, an air-board racing game.

After years of developing Sonic titles on those platforms, Sonic Team decided to bring Sonic to the next generation with their most ambitious title yet…but would it please the multiple groups of Sonic fans?

The core concept that they’ve been talking about is a return to [Sonic’s] roots, but another one of the things that they’re really working for at this point is, it’s his fifteenth anniversary—there have been 15 years of Sonic games—and they really want to make this the definitive Sonic. There are things like the town stages, which are far more involved than stages of earlier games, and the vast majority of the characters of the past will make appearances here. It’s basically something that they’re trying to put together—the best moments from 15 years of Sonic gaming, and really try to give back to the people who’ve supported the series.
-Sonic Team (TeamXbox)
The reason why we probably ended up with what we see today, involves a lot of reasons. One is that we did want to launch the title around Christmas, and we had the PS3 launch coming up, but we had to develop for Microsoft's 360 at the same time and the team had an awful lot of pressure on them. It was very hard for the team to try and see how we were going to come out with both versions together with just the one team. It was a big challenge.
—Yojiro Ogawa, Producer (Kikizo)

As Sonic’s 15th Anniversary game, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is a Sonic Adventure experience in HD form, with multiple character pathways for different plot perspectives and unique gameplay twists. In Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, Sonic and his friends exist in the kingdom of Soleanna, a peaceful land ruled by Princess Elise. During a Sun’s Opening ceremony, however, the kingdom is attacked by Dr. Eggman, who plans to use the Chaos Emeralds and the ancient Flames of Disaster to conquer the world, which requires him to kidnap the Princess. In the midst of saving her, Sonic eventually finds out that there is something much more dangerous looming on the horizon than Dr. Eggman, and things become even more hectic when Silver the Hedgehog, claiming to reside from the future, attempts to kill Sonic – the Iblis Trigger, as Silver calls him. And that barely describes the unique friendship forming between Princess and Hedgehog and other plots that intertwine over the course of the story.

The game is split into two main elements: Town Stages and Action Stages. The Town Stages bring back the Adventure Stages of Sonic Adventure, taking place within the city of Soleanna, both up and downtown. While wandering around the city, Sonic can speak with citizens who provide information and occasional missions to gain useful rings for powerup stores. At specific points in the city, the game’s story continues onward to Action Stages. As Sonic, the game splits these acts into two: a normal stage similar to Sonic Adventure games and a Mach Speed section where Sonic runs at such a speed that hitting anything can result in great harm, all while completing nearly impossible feats. The other two lead characters, Shadow and Silver, have their own special elements, too. Shadow moves slower and occasionally enters vehicles for shooting segments in each level, and Silver moves the slowest, using psychic abilities to grab and launch select items at enemies to progress. All the while, the game occasionally replaces one of the main hedgehogs with another character such as Rouge or Tails to complete particular locations in each level.

The game has two multiplayer modes: Tag and Battle. In Tag, players cooperate to collect all Chaos Emeralds in a stage, and in Battle, players race against each other to complete a level first.

Post-Release, there are a few downloadable extensions to the main game. The game has a Very Hard mode for enhanced difficulty, a Boss Attack mode which plays through each boss in the game, and a Team Attack Amigo mode, in which players go through levels as different friend characters until culminating in a boss. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) was said to have a patch in development to fix and add more content, but it never released.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) was seen as a great failure for the Sonic franchise, called the worst modern Sonic game for many in the Sonic fanbase. At the same time, the last remaining member of the “Sonic Trio,” Yuji Naka, left Sonic Team to create his own development studio, PROPE. Meanwhile, the division of Sonic Team from Sonic Riders (alongside assistance from NOW Production) created a unique on-rails adventure game for Wii, entitled Sonic and the Secret Rings. Sega originally wanted this game to be a port of the HD title, but time constraints pulled this new adventure into existence. This title received some concern over the control system, but it was more highly regarded than its complementary HD title. Its eventual sequel, Sonic and the Black Knight, added a sword to the on-rails concept, but it received more negative comments for its controls and clumsy design.

After great negativity spawned within Sonic’s fanbase, Sonic Team went back to reevaluate Sonic and the franchise’s gameplay elements. The company worked to create a specific engine for rapid movement known in the Sonic franchise: the Hedgehog Engine. This engine would be used in the company’s next big game: Sonic Unleashed. Unleashed focused on worldwide travel and a day-and-night cycle, all while starring Sonic and nobody else. In Day Stages, Sonic shifted between 3D and 2D running segments, focusing on boosting and platforming alternatively. Meanwhile, in Night Stages, Sonic became a Werehog and acted more in a beat-em-up style world with occasional climbing segments. People saw this as an improvement over the previous game, but it still gained some disdain from classic Sonic fans. The Wii version was co-developed by Dimps, the developer of Sonic’s GBA and Sonic Rush titles on DS.

Approaching Sonic's 25th anniversary, Sonic Team brought together older Sonic worlds and elements and combined them with the newly developed Sonic traits created in Sonic Unleashed. While that game was being developed, another part of Sonic Team expanded the Hedgehog engine for Wii usage, and by bringing Sonic to space, the developer released Sonic Colors in 2010. The game, complete with its unique environments and Wisp transformations, received positive reception overall, accelerating the series forward with the release of its 25th anniversary title, Sonic Generations.

In Sonic Generations, the worlds of older Sonic games and new games alike appear together for both retro and modern Sonic to venture through. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)’s level is Crisis City, and while the 3DS version lacks a level from this game, Silver the Hedgehog plays as the Rival Boss in the third era for both titles. Currently, Sonic Team is no doubt making its next major Sonic product alongside Phantasy Star Online 2, while Dimps produces Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 for release soon.

We begin our playthrough of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 pretty aware of what is going to happen. Tony has played some of the game before, and you can see it shows. He knows all of the issues behind the game’s physics, and he compensates for it. Still, how far can he possibly go in under an hour? We explore the game’s first two major Action Stages and even get to fend off Egg Cerberus and Silver the Hedgehog. However, can we possibly find out where to go next?

No. We can’t. The game is still full of a number of problems, and some of them befall Tony in a most hilarious manner. Nonetheless, the biggest issue at hand is that the game does not provide any particular explanation where to go at some points in the game, and ultimately this causes us to freeze in place within Soleanna. We cut down this segment in order to shrink the final elements of the episode, but the point is that none of us know where to go and end the episode on that enigmatic note.

The game is not good. It just does not feel like enough was put into it in order for it to be finished and released the way it was. The story is pretty poor, but the graphics and music are at least of high caliber. The biggest flaw I see with the game at this point is the game’s cumbersome city. Sonic Adventure 2 dropped the Adventure Stages for a reason!

Either way, we might return to this game in the future, but there are so many Sonic games we have covered and will cover, it might as well stay as far away from our capture card as possible.

 3RM Says: Listen, I understand it's no use!  I'm sorry I mentioned Flock of
Seagulls to you!  Please put me down!  Pleeeeease!

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