Thursday, October 14, 2010

The White Van Speeds Off | Sonic the Hedgehog 4

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is an interesting game in quite a few contexts, I mean that. Before I start ranting though, I should open up with a few things.

After completing it for the first time today, I'm even more adamant that Sega either has absolutely no idea what they ever had with the series to begin with, or their perspective has developed into a radically sick sense of humor (in the latter case, BRA-fucking-VO). I personally 'gave up' on Sonic a few years ago, as even if I got the game I actually wanted, my apathy would likely take precedence anyway. I'd much rather learn how to make my own ripoff of it than bitch too righteously about Sonic Team these days.

You see, many have come to rest at Sonic's status of never being that good, hence his troubles now. This is usually lazy thought processes at work though, as the arguments presented behind these stances can typically be used to tear down the likes of any platforming series period. Yes, Sonic was actually good at one point, get the hell over it. If you didn't like the damn game, that's on you. Trying to use arbitrary rulings to justify why the entire formula is broken is just plain idiotic.

I should give the game some praise though before I attack it, so I'll admit that while I hate most of the soundtrack, some of the music actually does mesh with the rhythm of the levels' play. Mad Gear and Lost Labyrinth in particular get away with this successfully. The entire package did eventually come together for me, but still only managed to leave a mediocre taste in my mouth.

The game proves that at even such a level, it can maintain a certain spark that can't be crushed when Sonic is running around in 2D format. The only problem is that it's in such a decayed state at this point. This is where I'll begin bleeding things into a rant, as the game is just Sega tossing an elaborate comforter on top of it all and telling us it's pretty.

If one can play through this game and tell me there's no difference in palpability between it and the games it's trying to pay homage to, I'd love to hear their statements (seriously). The game does get pretty fast, but the premature complaints of it being floaty and 'weird' weren't off the mark at all. It took me about an hour to get used to how Sonic even moved. It takes him a full three seconds to actually get going, and this becomes a very big deal for some of the platforming too. He comes off feeling rather clunky as hell, so it's not really all that nit-picky given how much it bleeds into the basic flow of the game.

The game would have been a much easier pill to swallow if it weren't 2.5D (or whatever the hell this is) either. Did I miss something here though? Is it just harder to design such a game? I'm not a programmer, I honestly don't know---so somebody needs to enlighten me here. Would more resources be required to use something like handrawn animation to bring Sonic back to life instead? And yes, the whole initial green eyes post-2000 look backlash by fans was excessive in the complaint department, but it wasn't necessarily unwarranted. This is mostly because Sega touted the same bullshit since the game was first announced:

"DIS GAME IS SO CLASSIC, ITS GONNA MAKE YOU REMEMBER YOUR CHILDHOOD YO."

Adopting a true 2D aesthetic would have actually honored the hype that the fuckers built up. Instead, it appears as if everything was meant to scream this instead:

"THIS IS SONIC NAO, WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT."

The HUD, Sonic's basic appearance, and even the layout of the levels just feels cheap and forced. Here's my brief breakdown of the entirety of episode one, just to further illustrate my point here:

Splash Hill - This could be the culmination of any of the generic 'vegetative first zones', but mostly it just apes Emerald Hill in feel (Sonic 2), while masqurading with a Green Hill Zone disguise. It concludes with the obligatory swinging-ball fight that's from Sonic 1's Green Hill Zone.

Casino Street - This one jacks Sonic 2's Casino Night zone almost completely, with the same exact boss (with one dumb new move of course to spice things up!).

Lost Labyrinth - Yup, the Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1, complete with mine carts and torch lighting. It half steals the boss fight from Sonic 1's Labyrinth Zone with a pinch of the game's Final Zone encounter too.

Mad Gear - This apes Sonic 2's Metropolis Zone and end-act boss. It's actually one of the better levels, but still suffers from a lack of imagination like the rest.

The final zone rips off (out of all things) the Mega Man franchise, with a boss rehash Sonic has rarely seen before, complete with a nonsensical difficulty spike. Oh yeah, it also climaxes with the same damn robot we fought at the end of Sonic 2 (you just have to hit it like thirty more times now...).

All of these levels feature cheap touchstones that are meant to harken back to the 1990's era Sonic games. The trouble is that they do it arbitrarily and specifically, so it feels insanely forced. An example would be the Lost Labyrinth's Zone's 'infinite fall', in which Sonic keeps sliding down the water surfaces until the player jumps to hit a switch in order to change the layout.

It's creepy, it's one of the creepiest fucking games I've ever played. It tries to appeal to me in such a way that's not unlike a child molester's tactics1 (get the relevance of the title now?2). Is Sega really trying to transcend time and creepily appeal to the child in me? I can guarantee you that kid would tell you to fuck off with this too.

I could go into the aesthetics of Sonic as well, but do I really need to bring up the whole Dante thing
again3? Most of those same rules apply here, so just go read that instead.

Many have tried fruitlessly at satirizing, addressing, or expressing indignation at claims similar to mine, but most (i.e. all) have failed miserably4.The problem there is that fans can rarely articulate any kind of dialect to make a worthwhile point, so they just wind up ranting about rampant subjective perversions instead. This lets the indignant silly-heads win, as they simply appear as the more rational beings. Granted, Sonic fans are insane, but wait a minute---can't the same be said about Nintendo fans too? Or let's put it this way---fans of anything?

You see, the classic defense mechanism for such claims usually revolve around the methodology of derailing5 otherwise worthwhile topics for some personal idealistic nonsense and exaltation of thought-terminators6. Just what the hell is it with people doing that anyway? I'm going to chalk it up to some spineless need to avoid conflict. It's not all that bad to be hostile and you know---raise standards. God forbid you make yourself look like an ass to someone, can't have that.

I'm going back to Boleteria now. Just make me another Rush game next time Sonic Team/Dimps, don't waste my time with episode two if it's just more of this.