Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Top Ten 3D Sonic Games

Sonic the Hedgehog's newest 3D entry, Sonic Forces, had debut footage last week at a SXSW panel. With the prospect of a new Sonic coming fresh in my mind, it seemed like an opportune time as any to take a look at past 3D Sonic games with a special SuperPhillip Central top ten list. Sonic the Hedgehog has had it rougher than most franchises trying to transition from 2D to 3D. Some of his attempts were quite good. Others? Not so much. This list details some of his best and brightest as well as some of his worst and wackiest.

10) Sonic and the Black Knight (Wii)

Let's start with an entry on this list that more closely walks the line between a good Sonic game and a bad one. Sonic and the Black Knight continued the fairy tale series of the games that was established Sonic and the Secret Rings. Unlike Secret Rings, however, Black Knight wasn't an on-rails game. It was controlled with both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, using the analog stick for Sonic's movement and the Wii Remote to use Sonic's sword. Yes, Sonic had a sword in this game, which started off the "okay, this was probably a bad idea for a game" line of thought that most players had with Black Knight. While the level design offered more in the way of exploration, the controls themselves weren't as responsive as many would have liked. It made for a game that was sometimes frustrating and never quite as precise as players craved.

9) Shadow the Hedgehog (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Here's a game that's a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, or at least it was back when I originally played Shadow the Hedgehog. It's a game in the darkest era of the 3D Sonic games, coming out near the 2006 abomination on then-next gen consoles. What can you say about a game with a hedgehog with enough edge to be a Gillette razor using guns, driving motorcycles, and with a story that takes itself way too seriously? You can say a lot of things, all really bad (like wow, how edgy, how cringe-inducing), but overall, Shadow the Hedgehog wasn't overly awful. The level structure had players choosing between doing one of two tasks (one good, one evil), which determined which level they would move onto next. With multiple endings to the game based on these choices, Shadow the Hedgehog certainly contained lots of longevity for those that could stomach the game.

8) Sonic Adventure (DC)

The developers behind Sonic Adventure had a good amount of pressure when developing this game. Not only did they have to create a competent transition from 2D to 3D for Sonic much like Nintendo did with Mario with Super Mario 64, but they had to make a killer app to debut with Sega's Dreamcast. Overall, they nailed the latter point. The former? Maybe not so much, especially now that a lot of time has passed since. Sonic Adventure featured six characters to play as, each with their own level goals and play styles. While Sonic was a speedy trip through levels, Knuckles needed to search 3D areas for rare treasure, and Omega was required to lock on and blast foes through linear levels. What was impressive then isn't so much now, and even then, Sonic Adventure possessed plenty of problems such as an annoying camera, various bugs and glitches, and having to play as Big, which made the pace of Adventure slow to an almost full stop.

7) Sonic and the Secret Rings (Wii)

I mentioned Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) earlier. Sonic and the Secret Rings had part of that game's development team picked from it to work on this Wii exclusive title. The story took Sonic into the fairy tale world of the Arabian Nights, doing his best to save the magical world from being erased by a djinn tyrant. Taking the Wii Remote's motion control functionality and using it to craft a unique Sonic game, players tilted the controller to move left and right down on-rails style levels, making Sonic's mobility a lot more limited than in other games on this list. Still, levels played out relatively well, and with the customization system available in the game, Sonic could get updated to feel extraordinarily nice (he's a bit sluggish in the beginning). Sonic and the Secret Rings doesn't have the traditional feel or freedom of a 3D Sonic, but that doesn't make it a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.

6) Sonic Heroes (PS2, GCN, XBX)

Anything's possible through the power of teamwork! That's the mantra of Sonic Heroes, the first all-new 3D Sonic game in what was a good while after Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic Heroes contained four teams of three to play through the game's dozen+ levels. Each team had a character of these types: speed, power, and flight, and players could switch between these characters on the fly when the necessity presented itself. The teams consisted of Team Sonic (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles), Team Dark (Shadow, Rouge, and Omega), Team Rose (Amy, Cream, and Big), and Team Chaotix (Vector, Espio, and Charmy). Sonic Heroes sort of possessed the two act system from the 2D Sonic games, as there were two levels with a common aesthetic theme followed by a boss battle, and then a new set of two levels were played. Despite the new team-based mechanic, old haunts from the series remained, such as a poor camera and numerous bugs. Still, I hold fond memories of my time with Sonic Heroes.

5) Sonic: Lost World (Wii U, PC)

At first glance, Sonic: Lost World seemed like an attempt by Sega and Sonic Team to have level d
esign based off Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy games with floating platforms of varying curved dimensions in the skies of each level. Unfortunately, the execution of Lost World was nowhere near as good as the Galaxy games gameplay-wise. A parkour-like system of movement for Sonic was available, and it took a lot of practice to nail it down. Really, the first half of Sonic: Lost World was quite good and held a great deal of promise, but by the second half, half-cooked or totally uncooked ideas made for a rough go of it. I'm looking at you, Frozen Factory pinball stage, Lava Mountain boss fight against Zavoc, and more! While I enjoyed the game overall, there was definitely room for improvement.

4) Sonic Adventure 2 (DC)

Sonic Adventure laid the foundation for many of the 3D Sonic games that followed. The direct sequel of that game, Sonic Adventure 2, took the foundation and ran with it, offering an abundant amount of content and gameplay. Instead of six gameplay types, there were a more reasonable three, meaning that these were more nuanced in feel and design, though still somewhat problematic at times. There were your standard speedy Sonic levels (sporting some of the most memorable levels in Sonic series history); there were levels where Tails or Eggman piloted mechs, locking onto and blasting away at foes; and there were treasure hunting levels where Knuckles or newcomer Rouge moved through 3D arenas searching for pieces of the Master Emerald. Combine these two stories, the hero and the dark sides, and a highly addicting Chao Garden attraction with mini-games, and you have a popular game within the Sonic fandom.

3) Sonic Unleashed (PS3, 360, Wii)

What could have been a truly masterful 3D Sonic game was brought down by the need to add some kind of gimmick to it. Sonic Unleashed's daytime stages, where Sonic rushed and platformed through gorgeous levels, were absolutely divine gameplay experiences. What brought the entire Sonic Unleashed experience down, however, was the gameplay seen in the nighttime stages, the dreaded Werehog. This brought the fast pacing of Unleashed down to sluggish at best levels. It turned the game into a slow brawler with some very frustrating platforming portions. That said, it says something about Sonic Unleashed that the daytime Sonic levels are so good and enjoyable that they keep the game from being bad despite the Werehog portions of the game, and they are portions that I truly dreaded playing. The HD versions of Unleashed and the Wii version have different levels to them-- all named the same but different in design-- so it's worth checking out both games if you have the time.

2) Sonic Colors (Wii)

After Sonic Team tripped themselves up with the Werehog mechanic in Sonic Unleashed, the team's next title managed to be a seriously good game-- and that's without any asterisks like "seriously good for a Sonic game"-- it was just seriously good in general. Sonic Colors saw an impressive blend of 3D Sonic with some 2.5D design brought in for pleasant measure. There was some fear there when Sega and Sonic Team announced the implementation of a new feature called Wisps, as in the past, any new feature generally brought the overall game. However, Wisps lent themselves well to the overall game, allowing Sonic a myriad of powers and abilities based on the Wisp type. The level design featured a mix of short and sweet levels as well as lengthier, traditional affairs. Sonic Colors also wasn't overly serious to a point of being absolutely ridiculous. Overall, Colors was a terrific 3D Sonic game, something that Sonic Team hadn't been consistent at making.

1) Sonic Generations (PS3, 360, PC)

A 20th anniversary Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Generations brought the worlds of Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic into one stellar and speedy experience. Taking levels and zones from Sonic's past and present, Sonic Generations was a wonderful love letter to Sonic series fans, many who had been disappointed time and time again by Sonic Team's efforts. Thankfully, this effort was hardly a disappointment, offering mostly 2D gameplay with Classic Sonic and more 3D-style gameplay with Modern Sonic. Whichever Sonic was controlled by the player, they were going to get a highly capable, highly competent Sonic the Hedgehog game more than worthy for the 20th anniversary. Here's hoping that Sonic's upcoming entry, Sonic Forces, gives the franchise the game both the fans and the franchise deserve.

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