The Sonic series has always struck me as a curious oddity – I started playing games a bit too late to experience of the glory days of Sega’s famous mascot in the early 90s on the Mega Drive/Genesis, and growing up with a PlayStation meant that I had a litany of other characters to worship instead. Then as time has progressed, Sonic has always been in the background more as a running joke (no pun intended) than a character to take seriously – the likes of Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 and the most recent games, Sonic Boom: Rise Of Lyric & Shattered Crystal, while extreme are also prime examples of a once proud franchise falling on particularly hard times. However, even my unfamiliarity and large indifference with the series didn’t stop me snapping up a bunch of Sonic titles on the cheap during a Humble Bundle sale last year, one of which was Sonic Generations.
Sega have announced a new spin-off universe for the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise called Sonic Boom; which will incorporate Wii U and 3DS games (the final game in an exclusive deal with Nintendo which has also produced Sonic: Lost World), a new range of toys and a 52-episode CGI TV series to debut on Cartoon Network. While Sonic Boom will not replace ‘Modern Sonic’, it has led to a redesign of the cast of Sonic characters – with everyone getting taller and Knuckles the Echidna developing an addiction to steroids.
“SEGA is constantly looking to feed the appetite of Sonic fans, new and existing alike…the various pieces of the Sonic Boom project, such as its unique look, mix of comedy, and action and its focus on the whole ensemble with Sonic as the star, offer another exciting part of that universe for people to explore and enjoy. It will be at once familiar but also new.”
In 1990, the SNES was released in Japan. Two years earlier, SEGA had released the Mega Drive console, and had achieved a fair slice of the market. Faced with the competition from Nintendo’s new toy however (bundled with Super Mario World no less – and if you have been reading these articles then you will know what an impact a bundled Mario game could have), SEGA had to find a new killer app. The answer was to be found by offering a new game bundled with the Mega Drive, featuring a mascot who epitomised everything Mario wasn’t – he had to be cool, radical, and most of all, fast. The answer was Sonic The Hedgehog.
Released in 1991, the gamble paid off. Consumers were wowed by the speed of the game, the groundbreaking momentum physics, the impressive colourful graphics and the catchy soundtrack. Most of all, the hero of the piece captured the imagination. Sonic was brimming with attitude, tapping his foot impatiently when not moving and aiming to show that “SEGA do what Nintendo’nt”. During the 1991 Christmas season, the Mega Drive (known as the Genesis in the Western world) outsold the SNES by almost 2 to 1, and had 65% of the North American market by mid 1992 – almost all of which was attributable to Sonic. The significance of this game is that it helped to start off the console wars between SEGA and Nintendo, which led to some of the best games ever made being created as the two companies looked to outdo each other, and set the base for further wars to be fought in the future between Sony/Nintendo and Microsoft/Sony respectively. It also marked the high point for SEGA, before the company started to slip out of the public focus over the next decade.
6 – DOOM (1993) – ID SOFTWARE
You may have heard of this one – if you have ever played a first person shooter and enjoyed a second of it, then you owe a great deal to Doom, the game that popularised the genre and is commonly cited as one of the greatest games ever made.
Before I start, let’s clear up the argument once and for all – Wolfenstein 3D (1992) is the rightful origin of first person shooters. However, it would be Doom that raised the bar. Pitting a nameless space marine against the demons of hell, Doom introduced dynamic 3D levels enhanced by improved levels of lighting, textures and sounds, and via the use of ‘WAD’ files was able to feature custom content, leading to the first game modding communities. The game is also well remembered for its high levels of gore and violence (blamed in part for influencing the Columbine High School shootings in 1999), and the wide range of weapons the player could utilise, including the now legendary BFG 9000. Doom also helped to popularise the idea of power ups in games, and allowed something called a ‘deathmatch’ if people could connect their PC’s via phone lines…I think that mode may have been used once or twice in recent first person shooters.
The fact that the phrase ‘Doom clones’ existed well into the latter part of the decade should be a testament to the popularity and quality of Doom: few games could match its popularity (fun fact: in 1995 apparently more computers had Doom installed than the Windows 95 operating system), and it wasn’t until an intrepid British company made a game based on a popular film (which you’ll see at a later point in this list) that FPS’s could finally break out of Doom’s shadow. A true trailblazer in every sense of the phrase.
Today marks the day when one of the icons of the gaming industry celebrates its 20th anniversary. Yep, its time to wish a happy 20th birthday to Sonic The Hedgehog; he’s almost as old as me, and a damn sight more successful as well. It seems ridiculous that it was so long ago (June 23rd 1991 to be precise) that gamers were first popping the Sonic The Hedgehog cartridge into their Mega Drive’s and hearing the Green Hill Zone theme for the first time, but time stops for no man…or hedgehog.
Although I cannot consider myself a true fan of the series (my boyhood mascot was another marsupial, Crash Bandicoot), I can at least appreciate the impact that SEGA’s mascot has had on the gaming world; it was due to the impact of Sonic in 1991 against Nintendo’s Mario that we got the fantastic Mega Drive vs. SNES battle in the early 90’s (which led to the production of some of the finest games ever made and the advancement of the industry as a whole), and over the years he has come to represent all that is good (and bad as well it must be said in recent years) about SEGA. And to celebrate in style, SEGA are giving the world Sonic Generations, a game which aims to recreate the classic Sonic experience and mesh it together with the modern Sonic game that started with Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.
Now I’ve covered Sonic Generations before on my blog, because it interests me whether or not SEGA can truly bring back the glory days of the franchise; Sonic The Hedgehog 4; which also promised to do the same thing, left a bitter taste in many gamers mouths. Happily, a demo of the first stage (a remake of the iconic Green Hill Zone) was released today for a limited period of 20 days on both Xbox Live Arcade and the PSN Store, and I have had some hands on time with it to see what’s up.
First things to notice; the classic menu music is present and accounted for, and there is an option for changing the camera for 3D televisions. Since I still live in the world of 2D, I’ll pass this over for now, but its nice to see they have already incorporated it for a demo. Time to start methinks…
The loading screen, which is heavily reminiscent of the original, comes on and boldly states ‘Green Hill’. And we are straight into the action, and they’ve left the classic music! This already improves my opinion of the game (the trailers showed had dance music and stuff).
You take control of Classic Sonic for this demo, and the controls are as beautifully simple as they always were: the A button lets you jump, you can spin dash by repeatedly pressing the X button and you move left or right. Everything that was present in the original is here: the rings, the crab and bees that serve as enemies, the bridge with the jumping fish, the spin dash tunnels and those loop-the-loops which stunned people 20 years ago, but then there’s lots more added. There are platforms to jump across which help to break up the level a bit, dynamic camera views on certain parts of the level (including a circular passage of a mountain and a big jump across land), and they even threw in a corkscrew from the Emerald Hill Zone right at the end. If you played the original, I can only think you will be experiencing an acute sense of nostalgia when you play this level.
The best thing about the gameplay though is that it feels fast, and that has always been what Sonic should be about. It’s a breakneck run through the level, and at the various checkpoints you get a time for the section that you just passed, encouraging faster runs through the level. If you remain stationary, Sonic will even start looking at the screen and tapping his foot, ready to get going like he did in the originals. A fantastic little touch.
There’s only one stage to look at, but my word this game looks good. The backgrounds are fully 3D, and full of colour and animation; you can see the water trickling along in the background as well as the trees swaying in the breeze. The foreground where you do the running also looks pristine as well, the aforementioned dynamic cameras are unobtrusive, and the game manages to keep looking good when Sonic is flying through the tunnels and loop-the-loops. I would be very impressed if the whole game looked like this.
Unfortunately you only get the one stage, but it was enough to leave me coming away with a smile on my face. I went back and played the level a few more times to explore what I had missed, and there’s a lot to look at. I think those who were sceptical of Sonic The Hedgehog 4 will be won over by this. Let’s just hope the rest of the game, and in particular the ‘modern’ stages, don’t let the game down.
So 20 years after its birth, it looks like SEGA have finally got it right again with Sonic Generations. Download the demo now (remember, it’s a limited trial demo) and see for yourself; I would be interested to see what people make of it and you can of course comment on this post to let me know what you think. And if you want more Sonic action, check out my post from yesterday which outlines details of the upcoming deals promotion that will be running on PSN and Xbox Live.