Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Brad:Well, we all knew that before the end of Sonic Week, we were going to run out of unpopular Sonic offshoots to eliminate, and now that we’re left with nothing but highly regarded titles to choose from, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and start pissing some people off.There are a lot, maybe even a majority, of Sega fanboys who say Sonic 3 is the best game of the series, but as I’ve said before – if these people were rational, they wouldn’t be Sega fanboys in the first place.The fact of the matter is that Sonic 3 represents a pretty significant change of style for the series, and not necessarily for the better.

The first two games of the series were damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead-at-all-costs affairs.That’s not to say that you didn’t occasionally have to wait for a platform, or time a jump, or proceed with a bit of caution.But you’ll notice that the path through each stage is almost always pretty obvious, and you rarely have to repeat a section if you screw up.Miss a jump?You usually either die or fall onto an alternate route.Exploration was more a diversion than a necessity – many of the stages had branching paths, but since they all led to the same end, you didn’t have to try to figure out the “right” one.And puzzle solving in these two games was usually limited to pushing a block, hitting a switch, or in a few really inspired cases, pushing a block onto a switch.

Things get a bit more methodical in Sonic 3.There are parts where you have to really try to figure out how to get through a section, and if you screw it up, you’ll have to keep trying again until you get it right.There’s also a lot more parts where you’re just kind of watching the little blue furball bounce around without really interacting.The length of each zone (often about twice as long as in the previous two games), makes the game feel slower, regardless of how fast the action on-screen is.And some of the stages get so repetitive that you sometimes wonder if you aren’t backtracking.It’s slow and its frustrating, two things that we previously appreciated the Sonic series for not being.

Understand that I’m not arguing that Sonic 3 is a bad game simply because it’s not like its predecessors.And I’m not saying I don’t understand why changes were made – by the third installment of any series, there is a serious risk of things starting to get stale if a conscious effort isn’t made to shake things up.The problem is that these changes made the game less fun than the first two of the series, and to a certain degree, less unique.Sonic 3 is an above average platformer from an era when games like this were a dime a dozen.Even if there weren’t any other Sonic games to compete against, I’m still not sure I’d call this of the system’s Top 100 games.

Stryker:I have to admit I enjoyed Sonic 3 a bit more than Brad did, but for me, it’s a numbers game.How many Sonic games do you need on a Top 100 list?We decided anything more than two would be pushing it, which is why we came up with Sonic Week (the fact that there were a couple of unworthy spin-offs worked out rather nicely for us).And what are the best two Sonic games?The first two.Sorry, Sonic 3 – you’re good, just not good enough.


Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Brad:This is a nice little puzzle game – kind of the Genesis’ take on Dr. Mario – that’s fun for a little while, but nothing substantial.It kind of reminds me of some of the jobs I would get when I was doing temp work – decent in the short term, but nothing you’d want to stick with for very long, and on your last day you’ll probably start a few small, controlled fires in the warehouse that nobody will find out about until you’re long gone… actually, that last part doesn’t really apply to the game.Anyways, DRMBM is a cute puzzle game that’s kinda fun, but not nearly enough to hold our interest for very long.And certainly not Top 100 material.

Stryker:Hey, have you designers ever heard of something called a learning curve?Gradual difficulty?It’s really not that much fun to cruise through the first two stages, and then spend the third getting crushed mercilessly.I could play the game the “right” way for about 5 minutes, and then had to resort to basically just dropping beans wherever I could fit them and just hoping for the best.

Sonic & Knuckles

Brad: It’d be easy to blame this game’s problems on the addition of a  “Poochie-rific” new character (who coincidentally, looks to have been Rastafied by about 10%), but Knuckles isn’t really the problem here.There’s just too much stuff going on in this game – we’re climbing walls, using machines, getting held up by vines and lots of other unSonic-like activities – that makes the game feel disjointed and crowded.This is too bad, because the game’s bosses are some of the best in the series.Unfortunately, everything between boss battles is kind of a letdown.The game ultimately loses a lot of the streamlined aspect of the earlier titles, and as a result, it feels much less like Sonic and a lot more like mediocrity.

Oh, and here’s some unsolicited advice – If you want people to take your game seriously as its own entity instead of just thinking of it as an expansion pack for the previous game, you may want to avoid using technology that literally allows you to plug the one game into the other.

Stryker:Why did the marketing for this game make such a big deal about the “lock on technology” (that basically turned it into a Game Genie for Sonic 3), yet downplayed the fact that it was a whole new Sonic game on it’s own?Oh, I understand now!It’s because this game kinda blows, that’s why.

Sonic Spinball

Brad:Believe it or not, I’m not actually opposed to the concept of a console pinball game.I like pinball, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to fit a Genesis in my living room than it is a pinball machine.The problem is that few console pinball games are anything like real pinball.Freed from the real-world constraints of actual pinball – those annoying things like gravity, physics, and the fact that the table has to exist in real space and therefore can’t be 3 miles long – video game pinball developers start taking liberties and the results are almost never good.They also tend to turn the whole thing into a series of ridiculous quests.Case in point:Sonic Spinball.

Real pinball is a pretty simple concept – keep the ball in play and try to rack up as high of a score as possible.But given the unlimited freedom of making a virtual pinball game instead of a real one, the developers went ahead and tried to cram in anything they could get away with, regardless of whether or not it made sense or, you know, made the game better.Sonic Spinball has tables within tables, warp zones, and the object of each stage isn’t to get a high score, it’s to complete certain tasks, which ultimately allow you to beat a table and go on to the next one.Since you can only see a fraction of the playing area at once, and the method for completing an objective usually isn’t clear, it makes the whole thing kind of confusing and not much fun.

Stryker:You ever give a 6 year old a box of 100 crayons and ask him to draw a car?I guarantee you he’ll use all 100 colors in the car, regardless of how ridiculous it looks.Sonic Spinball shows the same lack of restraint – if they could put it in there, they did.You know what would have worked?A table with a theme based on the first zone of Sonic the Hedgehog.Get a high enough score, and it unlocks a table based on the second zone, and so forth.Is that really so hard?

Welcome to Sonic Week

This week will be Sonic Week for our little Genesis Project. We’ll spend this week studying the remaining Sonic games (and games starring Sonic characters) on our list, and eliminate one every day, until only two remain. This means breaking our usual “Ten Quick Reviews” on Wednesday, but it’s all for the greater good. I mean unless your a really huge Sonic fan, in which case you may want to just take this week off from reading the project and spare yourself the aggravation. For those of you scoring at home, here are the remaining Sonic games:

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic and Knuckles

Sonic Spinball

Sonic 3D Blast

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Anyway, be sure to check in all week to see which iterations of our favorite Blue Hedgehog made the cut, and which ones didn’t.

Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

Console:  Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo

Grade:  F

Publisher:  Accolade

Year:  1993

Genre:  Mascot Failure

Next week is going to be Sonic the Hedgehog week, where we look at the various Sonic games on the list (as well as a few Sonic-themed excursions) and thin out their ranks a bit.Before we can talk about what makes the better Sonic games so great however, it helps to take a look at a game that desperately tried to emulate Sonic but failed:Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

One look at the really awful pun in the title of this game ought to tell you everything you need to know.I mean, honestly – “Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind”?Is there any chance that anyone – anywhere – in the world would ever find that funny?Of course not, and don’t fool yourselves, the publisher knew that too.But there it is, in the title anyway, stinking up the place like a rotting corpse at a garden party.And that’s pretty much par for the course for this game – it knows its awful, it just chooses not to care.

Bubsy himself is his own little nightmare of character design.He looks like he came out of the brainstorming sessions of a bunch of guys who knew nothing about making games, but were making wild guesses at what might be popular with the kids these days – you know, a marketing department.Fans of The Simpsons call this the “Poochie Effect”.For those of you not familiar with the Poochie Effect, just imagine a bunch of corporate types crowding around an artist’s desk, shouting out ideas for how the character should look and act, while the artist indifferently draws whatever idiotic things they suggest.

And what ideas they had!”Make him some kind of cute animal, but with more attitude!Make him run fast like Sonic!Have him act cool!”Bubsy’s the anti-hipster, except in a way which makes that way less appealing than that sounds – he’s a walking collective of every mainstream trend in both gaming and pop culture that the marketing people could think of.He’s so formulaically cool that he ends up being painfully lame.We’re lucky they didn’t give him a football (“No, a basketball!No wait, soccer – that’s what all the kids play these days!”), and some wacky stereotype of black people to be his sidekick.

Oddly enough, one person at that brainstorming session must have been shouting out “More death animations!Lots and lots of death animations!” because Bubsy has more animated deaths than any other character I’ve ever seen in a game (including that guy from The Immortal).Drop him off a high ledge – there’s multiple animations for that.Have him run into an enemy – several animations.Drown him in water?Yeah, that’s covered.Whereas Sonic and Mario are happy just to hop up and fall off the screen, Bubsy hams up every death scene like a dinner theater production of Hamlet.

And here’s the thing – This isn’t an Evel Knievel simulator.Killing off the main character isn’t supposed to be the most entertaining part of a game like this.The idea isn’t to reward failure.You want death animations?Put ’em on the enemies.Make them die for our entertainment.

Here are some general rules for making a good mascot-based platformer:

  • They need likable characters – Bubsy’s not – he’s so trendy it’s annoying, he stares at you with this smug look on his face all the time, and he’s more fun to kill than to keep alive.
  • They need to be consistent with their ideas – Bubsy fails here too – he can run real fast like Sonic, but unlike Sonic, he dies immediately if he runs into an enemy or hazard, or falls very far. This forces you to play cautiously and not use all that really fun speed they gave you.Which is actually stupid enough to make you want to slap yourself in the head.
  • They also need good music – That may not sound important, but good music is that little bit of extra motivation for when you’re about to jump onto the back of your 10,000 turtle, and wondering what the point is.In fact, I bet you can remember all the tunes from your favorite Mario and Sonic games.This is a problem for Bubsy, as most of the game’s music sounds like it was stolen from whatever TV jingles they have in hell.

The people who made Bubsy tried to cash in on the success of Sonic, but did so without understanding what made those games good, putting more emphasis on making a “cool” character than on the logical, tried and true design ideas that were the real secret to the hedgehog’s success.The end result is a game that is below average in every way imaginable.

Cutthroat Island

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times – if you’re making a game do not, under any circumstances, make it similar to Battletoads.That’s a pretty simple concept, yet here we are again.Cutthroat Island follows the Battletoads formula a little too well – even opening with a brief beat-em-up level – just long enough to make you think that hey, maybe this game will be fun after all – before throwing you into the nearly-impossible obstacle-dodging level.

What I found most interesting though, was the game over screen that you are treated to when you inevitably fail the second level.The game shows you the two main bad guys, plotting and scheming.And what evil are they up to?They’re going to go to Jamaica!And then they’re going to eat a feast! Oh no, not that!

If story is supposed to provide some kind of motivation for playing a game, then there ought to be an inverse relationship between how good a game is and how bad the consequences for losing are.Anyone remember Rebel Assault, the shitty FMV-based arcade shooter based on Star Wars?When you lost at that game, Darth Vader blew up your home planet.As bad as the game was, that was usually enough motivation to get someone to make at least one final attempt at playing it.What I’m saying is that you can’t really motivate anyone to play all the way through such an excruciating game just so they can stop two guys from taking a tropical vacation and having a nice meal together.