By Jeff Neuenschwander / October 23rd, 2013
The history of 3D gameplay in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has been rather trying. Up until the last three games (Yes, I said three; I’ll make my point later), there has been a slew of buggy games that brought our hero to 3D. It has resulted in terms like “Sonic Cycle”—where we get hyped at the reveal, watch it drop as the game gets close, and riot when we finally play the game.
Here’s an interesting stat: for every solid 3D game that Mario starred in, there have been two buggy 3D Sonic games to counter. Not necessarily bad or unlikable, but buggy and difficult to control.
And surprisingly, the 3D history starts almost right after the first game. Releasing in 1993, the first game to have 3D gameplay was SegaSonic the Hedgehog, a platformer that was played from an isometric perspective. The game, which introduced two characters known as Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel—because the creators REALLY had no idea where they wanted to take this series—was never released outside of arcades due to using a track ball that would’ve made it difficult to port to a console, either for the time or for modern consoles as part of a collection.
But the gameplay did return twice for the Game Gear game Sonic Labyrinth and the Genesis/Saturn game Sonic 3D Blast (or Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island for the Europeans). These games were met with much criticism upon release. But, in a bizarre way, 3D Blast is one of my favorite Sonic games, despite the fact that controlling Sonic is difficult as well as gameplay being so radically different from anything else in the franchise (aside from Labyrinth). Consider it a guilty pleasure of mine.
But for 3D games in the Sonic franchise, these isometric games are the exception, not the rule. The 3D Sonic games that we really grew to love—and I use that term loosely—started to appear with the launch of the Sega Dreamcast in 1998 in Japan and 1999 for the rest of the world.
The first was Sonic Adventure, which launched with the Dreamcast in all regions. This has been called “the game that sold the Dreamcast”. After playing the game for the first time this year, if this was supposed to be the game that sold a system, it’s no wonder why the Dreamcast failed so hard.
I have not played Sonic 06—which is widely considered the worst Sonic game—nor do I plan on playing it due to not having a PS3 nor Xbox 360. Out of the games I’ve played so far, Sonic Adventure is the buggiest, and possibly the worst.
Here’s the thing: Sonic Adventure is far from the worst game I’ve ever played (that distinction belongs to Saint on the Wii) or the most unplayable (Summoner on PS2). There are some aspects that are decent—like the pinball and some of the boss battles—and the frame rate doesn’t make me want to puke, so it’s at least playable.
But playable shouldn’t be the final goal for a game that needed to sell a system—especially coming off the failure that was the Saturn. This game needed some semblance of polish to get the system moving. This needed to be a game that absolutely wowed people. Instead, it was such a muddled mess that gamers for the most part ignored it.
I know it sold 2.5 million. But that’s way too low for a supposed console seller.
For comparison, let’s look at Super Mario 64, Mario’s first 3D outing. It had similar features to Adventure—like having a non-level area where you can run around—as well as faults—the camera. However, Nintendo made their land much smaller than Sega as well as worked on the camera enough to make it work for even the original version on the Nintendo 64. Sega failed at that.
Another thing that bugged me was THE LACK OF SONIC IN A SONIC GAME! Holy crap, what are you doing giving me limited levels of Sonic and forcing me to play as characters I either don’t care about (Amy Rose), I can’t play much as (Gamma), or are just giant wastes of space (Big the Cat)? Imagine if in Mario 64 that, instead of playing the entire way as Mario, you had to play as Luigi (racing Mario to the finish of levels), Toad (where he searches the castle for missing parts of keys), Pauline (where she escapes from Bowser), Koopa the Quick (in only three levels), and a random Genie that came out of nowhere (he wants to fish and look for his missing rug). It would sure be interesting, but that’s not what we paid for.
It got a little better with Sonic Adventure 2. They removed the sprawling layout, fixed some of the running and the camera wasn’t too much of an issue. But at that point, it was too late. The Dreamcast was finished and Sega went 3rd party.
As for Adventure 2, it was pretty good. It wasn’t the greatest Sonic game ever made, as a good portion of the fan base proclaims that it is. It is still buggy. It still needs more Sonic and less of the rest. But it was—and still is—pretty good.
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