Retrospective: Sonic Adventure 2

Were the Sonic Adventure games good? Throw that question out to the crowds of Twitter users and watch people fight over it, because it’s a contentious one. But that wasn’t always the case. This series had a famously rough transition from 2D to 3D, but I think a lot of the poor reputation of modern Sonic stems from the total disaster that was Sonic ’06 and from some of Sega’s less bad but still pretty bad blunders such as the endless slog of the nighttime sections of Sonic Unleashed and the entirety of Shadow the Hedgehog.

The Adventure games, on the other hand, went over pretty well at the time. The first two real Sonic games in 3D were far from perfect, with plenty of camera problems and glitches, but I remember liking them when I first played them on the Dreamcast, and I don’t think anyone really outright hated them or declared the series dead after playing them. A lot of fans agreed, and I do too, that they weren’t nearly as good as the original 2D games on the Genesis, but they weren’t considered a disgrace to the series or anything like that. Even when the Dreamcast died, these two games were at least well-regarded enough to live on as Gamecube ports with new features added. Yet now they do get quite a lot of hate, especially the first one, which I’ve even heard called one of the worst games ever made.

I’m not going to address here whether Sonic Adventure deserves that harsh assessment, though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. But I only own the Steam port of Sonic Adventure 2, so that’s the one I can write about without having to dig through hazy twenty year-old memories. I finally got around to playing this version of SA2, and I don’t feel that differently about it now than I did back when I played the Dreamcast original upon release in 2001: generally pretty all right but with some boneheaded gameplay decisions and clunky elements that make it a chore to get through sometimes.

But amazing dialogue

But you’re reading this to get specifics, so let’s get to them. SA2 opens with a nice cinematic-looking shot of Sonic being transported as a prisoner on a military helicopter for a crime he obviously didn’t commit, because he’s a good guy. So he jumps out of the helicopter and onto the streets of San Francisco using a broken-off piece of it as a skateboard (Sonic doesn’t take fall damage, so he’s fine.) It turns out that he’s a victim of mistaken identity, because the grandfather of Dr. Robotnik, now officially known in the West as Eggman, developed another anthropomorphic hedgehog as an experiment on an orbital base to be the ultimate lifeform.

When Eggman discovers this being called Shadow, he unleashes him to cause some chaos. And of course, since Shadow and Sonic are shaped in a vaguely similar way, everyone thinks it’s Sonic wreaking havoc instead. While Sonic runs from the military police, his friends Tails and Knuckles join up to help out, pairing off against Eggman, Shadow, and another new character named Rouge, an anthropomorphic bat lady and a government spy. But she’s also a treasure hunter who’s after the Master Emerald, which for some fucking reason isn’t on the Floating Island anymore.

Remember when Knuckles was the guardian of the Floating Island and sworn to keep this shiny rock on it, otherwise said island would fall into the ocean like in Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic Adventure 1? Well Knuckles doesn’t, because he never even brings that up. And this is the third time he’s lost the damn thing anyway. What are you doing, Knuckles?

And since Knuckles shatters the emerald on purpose to get it out of Eggman’s hands, he has to search for the missing pieces again while also helping out Sonic. Amy Rose is also around, though she sadly doesn’t get much to do this game other than pine after Sonic and get captured by the bad guys as usual. Other things that happen in the course of the game: Sonic and Tails meet the President of the United States, and Eggman blows up half of the Moon with a giant space laser.

More stuff happens in Sonic Adventure 2, but this is enough to see that the plot is pretty damn stupid. In places, it doesn’t even make sense. The mistaken identity part is already silly enough since Sonic and Shadow clearly look different even from far away, so why does everyone mistake Shadow for Sonic? I guess it’s because the game needs someone for you to fight/run away from in these stages. And it can’t just be Eggman now, because he’s also a playable character along with Shadow and Rouge in the second “Dark” storyline that runs parallel to the “Hero” one up until the final part of the game, when both teams have to work together to defeat a greater, more insane evil than even Eggman himself.

But does anyone care that much about the plot of a Sonic game? Some people do, and five years later the series tried a sort of serious RPGish plot with Sonic ’06, but that didn’t work at all and went over horribly. So maybe it’s better if the games don’t worry so much about plot. You can easily ignore the dumb plot, because the gameplay is the main thing.

Sonic Adventure 2 also trips up a bit there, however. The first Sonic Adventure, released in 1998/99, tried out a lot of different gameplay modes, a couple of which were famously clunky (namely Big the Cat’s fishing game that’s widely hated; people also complained about Amy’s sluggish platforming style, though I didn’t mind it as much.) Sonic was still the center of attention, however; his game was by far the longest out of the six, with many more stages to play through. SA2 cut down on the number of gameplay modes to just three: traditional fast platforming action with Sonic and Shadow, an exploration-based hunting mode with Knuckles and Rouge, and a third-person mech shooter with Tails and Eggman, each mode sharing equal game time. So when you’re playing SA2, you’re only running around classic Sonic-style for one third of the time.

This is obviously a problem if you don’t like the other two-thirds of the game. You can’t even just play through Sonic and Shadow’s stages and ignore the others like you could in SA1, because instead of individual character routes, the story is told through two separate Hero and Dark routes that alternate stages between Sonic/Tails/Knuckles and Shadow/Eggman/Rouge. So you just have to suffer through those parts if you’re not interested in them.

Do you know the Pumpkin Hill song by heart? I fucking do

I don’t hate all the non-Sonic/Shadow parts of this game. The Knuckles and Rouge hunting levels get a lot of shit, but I don’t find them that bad. The scavenger hunt element of those stages work pretty well, and the three emerald shards or whatever other three objects you’re hunting for are placed in randomized locations that you need to find by using a sort of hot/cold radar system, so each run through of a stage plays a bit differently. The horrible camera controls can make it hard to dig around in tight areas as you’ll often have to do, but the camera in this game is always a pain in the ass anyway.

No, the sections of SA2 I really don’t care for are the mech stages. It was a fun novelty to play as the villain Eggman, and it makes sense that he’d be using a mech to get around, but Tails is now also stuck in a mech throughout the game, which means the player misses out on his unique flying ability that made playing as him in Sonic 3 & Knuckles so fun. I know Tails is supposed to be an engineer, so it’s not crazy that he’d be driving a mech around, but that still seemed pretty dumb to me. You can fly, so why not use that skill?

The greater problem here, though, is that these stages are just too slow and dull. I don’t see anything special about them. Though I do know people who really like them, so this seems like one of those “your mileage may vary” issues.

excitement

But the Sonic and Shadow stages are pretty fun. They’re still not as fun as the stages in the original Genesis games, partly because they’re far more linear. But I think the main appeal of these stages in the early 3D Sonic games is seeing how quickly you can make it to the goal. This game even implements a time/score-based ranking system from E to A (no F, I guess because if you reach the goal, you haven’t technically failed no matter how long it took you to get there) along with four extra challenges in each stage and bonuses for completing them successfully. If you’re a completionist, you can get a lot of replay value out of Sonic Adventure 2.

Some of that replay value is also provided by the Chao Garden, where you can raise some weird onion-headed blue creatures with any of the six playable characters, feed them animals to make them strong, run them in races, etc. I’m not into this kind of virtual pet stuff, but if you are, it’s worth checking out.

This is pretty much how you raise Chao as far as I know

The team that ported SA2 to Steam seems to have done a pretty decent job, because it mostly plays fine.* I do get some slowdown in a few parts of stages (mainly Sonic and Shadow’s visually busy jungle stages) but I’m not sure how much of that is me having a piece of shit PC that I can only run visual novels on. For the most part, this game plays how I remember it playing in 2001. All the good and bad elements of the game are still there: the camera is still garbage and the mech stages are still boring, but the Sonic/Shadow stages and some of the Knuckles/Rouge ones are still fun to play.

The soundtrack hasn’t been touched either, which is again both a good and a bad thing. I really like some of the music in SA2, especially Rouge’s smooth jazz lounge stuff and Shadow’s extra over the top angsty-sounding themes like “Supporting Me”. The Knuckles raps are still really bad, but then again they’re so bad that they’ve become jokes, especially the Pumpkin Hill theme — and in any case, it’s hard to imagine those Knuckles levels with any other BGM. If you’re a fan of Crush 40 and Jun Senoue’s guitar-playing then you’ll also really like Sonic’s character and stage themes. I’m not a big fan of the style, but “City Escape” is still catchy. Just try to get it out of your head when you’ve heard it once.

Hey Knuckles, when you’re done flailing around like a dumbass, let’s have a proper fight.

In the end, I still have mixed feelings about Sonic Adventure 2. It’s mostly fun to play, and even the mech sections aren’t horrible to get through aside from a couple of extremely overly long stages late in the game. On the other hand, I think it also represents a shift away from the old Sonic style that I grew up with as a kid and that I liked so much. The first Adventure also added new characters and a dumb plot, but it felt more in line with those older games somehow. With SA2, we’ve now got much more “adult” characters with the extra-edgy Shadow, who looks like he was designed to appeal to depressive loner kids (i.e. me) and Rouge, who looks like she was designed to appeal to furries on DeviantArt (i.e. not me, but I guess I get what they were going for if in fact they were going for that.) And the President is a character in the Sonic universe now for some reason. Sonic Heroes is where the series really lost me, and Sonic ’06 is where it gave me a giant middle finger, but in some ways SA2 feels like the beginning of that shift into unfamiliar territory.

But does it really matter that much? Sonic the Hedgehog as a whole has had plenty of ups and downs, and even though I’ve been mostly out of the loop with the Sonic series for the last two decades, I’ll probably always have a soft spot for it. I certainly will for Sonic Adventure 2, which in my view counts as one of those ups. At the very least, this game is certainly not the disaster some critics paint it as. I guess that’s not the most enthusiastic endorsement I could give the game, but I’d say it’s still worth trying out, even with its problems. 𒀭

 

* This isn’t the case for the ports of Sonic Adventure, however. The Gamecube port Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut was supposed to be an upgrade, but it actually downgraded some of the graphics and added new glitches that weren’t present in the Dreamcast original. The PC version is even worse in this regard, taking the Gamecube version and compounding these problems, and unfortunately the SA offered on Steam is based on that one, making it a port of a shitty port of another shitty port. Thankfully, fans have created patches to fix many of these issues, doing far more for the game than Sega ever bothered to. For a comprehensive rundown of the port issue, see a video overview here (made by Cybershell, an excellent YouTube video maker who recently reappeared for the second time after years of hibernation) or go straight to the source to get all the details.

As far as SA2 goes, I also played it on both the Dreamcast and the Gamecube, and I don’t remember so many differences between the two versions aside from a few bits of added content like multiplayer battle mode, but I could be wrong about that. It’s been a long time, after all. I should also mention that the extra Gamecube content is offered on Steam as DLC. I didn’t buy it, but it’s only a few dollars as of this writing.

The Super Happy Love Award

Did you ever think you’d see such a title to a post on this site? It’s all thanks to Frostilyte, who nominated me for the Super Happy Love Award originally created by fellow anime/game blogger Pinkie to make the internet a happier place. That’s ambitious, but definitely a commendable goal, so I’m happy to do my part. Here are the rules, quoted in full:

  1. Thank the one who tagged you and if at all please tag the original post as well. This is my first blog tag and a bit of a passion project so I would like to see where it spreads! Oh and use Super-Happy-Love as a tag!
  2. Display the Super Happy Love Logo in your post Share the rules!
  3. Choose a minimum of 2 out of these 6 prompts to answer in this blog! More is always allowed! These six prompts are as follows:
    • Tell about a person you love, this can be a friend, partner but also a celebrity or even youtuber who means a lot to you. As long as they once took breath on this earthly realm you are allowed to pick them… Tell us why you love them.
    • Write something about a fandom or franchise you love. It can be your favorite game series or about just about anything that is bigger than just a single product! Tell us why you love this so much!
    • Tell us something about a character that you love. Do you have a Waifu, a Husbando, maybe a mentor or someone who taught you a valuable lesson. Tell us why you love them.
    • Tell us something about a piece of music that you love. Does a anime intro mean a lot to you? Did you have a special memory to a pop song, like your first dance at your wedding? Maybe a piece of video game music? If you love it, you should tell us why!
    • Show us why you love a piece of media so much! A Book, A Game, A Anime, A Movie maybe even a random piece of fan art, you are free to pick as long as you can show us why you love it.
    • Write something about yourself that you love! For those who like a challenge, there is a hard mode in this blog prompt as well. Tell us why you love a certain aspect of yourself
  4. Put on your rose tinted glasses. For once you are allowed to gush about the things that you love without having to balance it out with negatives so that you seem objective. In fact your are actively encouraged not to bring negativity into this tag. So no, “Nowadays is poopoo but back in my days…it was great”. Just say it was great! Love is blind after all!
  5. Tag 6 bloggers you love so they can take on this challenge as well.
  6. Everyone who comments something lovely about your post ALSO gets nominated (should they so choose).

Quite a challenge for me, but I’ll take it. Firstly, thanks to Frostilyte for the nomination. He runs a great blog over at Frostilyte Writes (now with a fancy new .ca domain, I’m jealous) featuring posts about video games and his original art. If you follow my site, you should follow his as well.

Now for the main event. I can definitely be positive about some of the stuff I like — I mainly write about stuff I like here, after all. So here we go:

1) My favorite franchise: Megami Tensei

In news that will be surprising to absolutely no one at all, I’m declaring that Megami Tensei is my favorite game series. I think I’ve declared that a lot, actually. But why do I like it? I’m thinking about writing a few more in-depth posts on the series in general and a lot of the themes in particular later on, but I can address that generally here.

It’s not what it looks like, really

One of the things that struck me first about the series when I first got into it with Persona 3 was its use of mythological, historical, and religious figures from around the world as demons (“demon” here being a neutral term for any supernatural being, not just the typically evil ones — even angels are included in that definition.) In Persona 3 and 4, these beings are the Personas, who are representations of the characters of you and your friends (and of a few of your enemies as well.) I loved Kazuma Kaneko’s unique designs, and when I discovered the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series through Nocturne I found some of the same and many more of these figures were fought as enemies and could be recruited into your party. There was a lot of novelty to that, but even after the novelty wore off I kept finding Easter egg-style bits of dialogue between related demons during combat that suggested the writers had really done their homework with regard to their stories and myths. So I was very happy to see Persona 5 include the same beings as enemies in its shadow worlds.

In that sense, Megami Tensei is a bit like the Fate series, which also makes use of both historical and mythological characters to tell its stories. Only Megami Tensei doesn’t take quite so many liberties, like making King Arthur a girl who the main character can get romantically involved with (Saber in the first route of the original Fate/stay night visual novel. If you know a better way to transfer mana, I’d like to hear it.) It also puts these figures into a very different context — instead of being purposely summoned like the Servants of Fate, the Personas are usually summoned entirely by accident or spontaneously (I know Saber was also summoned by accident in F/SN, but that’s an exception.) And in mainline SMT and some of its other spinoffs, the demons/angels/spirits/monsters/etc. typically decide to invade some place, usually Tokyo, without asking anyone’s permission, and then massive destruction usually follows that we humans have to deal with.

I just find that supernatural/human mix to be exciting. I like it enough that I wrote a whole daily Christmas series on some of my favorite demons in the series, and maybe I’ll even do it again this year.

Just because it’s the post-apocalypse and you got turned into a demon-human hybrid, it doesn’t mean you can’t get along and make friends

I could go on for many pages about Megami Tensei, and I probably will at some point not too far in the future, so I’ll save the rest.

2) A soundtrack I love: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I guess this post is going to be all about games, but that’s fine, isn’t it? Video games have had a massive impact on my life, and probably on yours too if you’re reading my site. And a big part of that impact has been the music featured in those games.

Most games have pretty basic soundtracks. If you just need passable background music to fill the silence, it’s not too hard to create. There’s also some impressively and even entertainingly bad music to be found in games. But the soundtracks I remember are the ones featuring tracks that are both complex and catchy. The 90s childhood series that come to mind when I think of game music from back then are the ones you’d probably expect: Mario, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, but to me Sonic was the most memorable.

Almost all the classic Genesis/Megadrive-era Sonic games have great music, but Sonic 2 sticks in my head specifically for some reason. Maybe because that’s the game I remember playing most as a kid, but the soundtrack is absolutely top-tier as well, written by musician/producer Masato Nakamura. Some people prefer the Sonic 3 soundtrack with the rumored Michael Jackson contribution, and that’s an amazing one as well, but if I had to pick one to own in physical form, it would be 2 for me.

3) Bonus thing I love: this video of a virtual rabbit girl playing games and killing enemies while talking like a gangster

Look, I found out about Vtubers and now I’ve fallen down the Hololive rabbit hole. That’s an especially apt term to use in this case. If you want to know the deal with this stuff, check out Lumi’s post on the subject here. Or just ignore this and move on. That’s probably your best option. All my recommended YouTube videos are now Hololive clips and it’s an endless cycle of me watching one after another. Don’t do that to yourself.

Now for the nominations. I’ll nominate Lumi, since I’ve already taken the liberty to use his post above, and also:

Ace Asunder

A Richard Wood Text Adventure

Winst0lf Portal

Peak Weebing

KS Blogs

And as stated in the rules, whoever else is reading this and feels like it gets nominated too. And as usual, apologies if you don’t do these, feel free to ignore, etc. I still have one more of these tag posts to make, but in the meantime I’ll be watching more Pekora videos.

2019 First Annual EiBfY Game Awards (and a brief site forecast for 2020)

Yes, in yet another first, I’m starting my own very prestigious annual game awards ceremony!  Hell, I have as much right to do that as Geoff Keighley and his stupid Game Awards.  Do I really have any less legitimacy than they do?  (Please don’t answer that question.)

Anyway, here are the awards.  These aren’t based on what came out in 2019 but rather what I played or otherwise experienced in 2019, and also in December of 2018 because that’s really when I revived the site again, so why not.  Congratulations to the winners, who can hopefully take some comfort (or discomfort as the case may be) in their achievements.

Best free game that should be converted into a mobile game if it hasn’t been already

Winner: Cappuchino Spoontforce VI: Girl of the Boiling Fury

In this bizarrely titled game, you have to attend to one Sajiko, a miniature woman taking a bath in a cappuccino by adding coffee to keep the temperature up.  You can add milk and sugar cubes to the coffee to gain points, but they lower its temperature, and if you hit the bathing girl in the face with any of them she’ll get pissed off.  The object of the game is to get as many points as possible before she gets so upset that she leaves the bath (again, she is wearing a towel, so this isn’t 18+ or anything.)

This is a strange concept for a game, but it’s a fun diversion for a few minutes.  Fellow blogger the Otaku Judge suggested down in the comments that this would make for a good mobile game, in fact, and I quite agree.  Never mind that most games will probably devolve into the player giving up on keeping the coffee hot and seeing how many times he can smack Sajiko in the face with sugar cubes/douse her with milk. At least that was my experience with it.  Now that I think of it, maybe this game actually is 18+.  All depends on how you approach it, I guess.

Best game of the year that I already played 15 years ago

Winner: Disgaea 1 Complete

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is an eternal classic, but it was really asking for a remaster, and 15 years after its release it got one.  I was very happy for the chance to play through Disgaea 1 again, complete with all the additions made in its mobile versions on the DS and PSP.  However, it’s hard to deny that aside from the extras and cosmetic upgrades, Disgaea 1 Complete is at its core the same game it was in 2003, which is why it gets this award.  I still highly recommend it to anyone who’s never played the original.  And hell, you can probably find it pretty cheap now, so even if you played the original you may as well get this one as well.  It probably is worth it just to have those extras, especially Etna Mode.

Most effective fourth-wall-breaking

Winner: OneShot

Yeah I was late to the party on this one, I know.  But out of the two fourth-wall-breaking games I played this year, OneShot made the more effective use of the mechanic by making me feel connected to a fictional character in a way few other works ever have.  I think this partly has to do with the game not keeping its central premise a secret.  You know almost from the beginning that Niko, the cat kid protagonist, knows you exist in a different world and that you have some degree of control over his actions and the world around him.  It also really helps that the writer managed to create a child character in Niko who is actually likable and not overly precocious and irritating on one hand or dumb on the other.  I still highly recommend this game to pretty much everyone.

The other fourth-wall-breaking game I played this year was good as well, so it gets an honorable mention, but the title is left out for those who don’t want to be spoiled on its central premise.  Even if everyone already knows its central premise, and they do.  You probably know what game I’m talking about anyway.  Never mind.  On to the next award:

Best game soundtrack that still has some really bad songs on it

Winner: Passion & Pride: Sonic the Hedgehog: Anthems with Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era

This might be the most “back-handed compliment” award ever made.  Or maybe it’s just a plain insult.  I have pretty fond memories of playing Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 way back in the day on my Dreamcast.  I know they’re not perfect games, but I still like them.

However, the music is a different story.  Some of it’s actually pretty damn good, especially the smooth jazz/pop Rouge and Amy themes that I couldn’t appreciate when I was younger because they were too “girly”.  And a part of me really likes Shadow’s theme, the part that’s still an angsty 13 year-old boy.  (In fact, I think SA2’s angsty as hell song “Supporting Me” is a great boss theme, though it’s not on this album.)  But some of this music is rough to listen to.  I hate Tails’ theme, and Knuckles’ bad rap and Sonic’s bad hair metal throwback music annoy me too.  And the lyrics, even in the songs I like, are generally pretty fucking terrible.  If I didn’t understand English, I think I’d like this album a lot better than I do.

I still like it more than I don’t, though, so congrats to all the composers and musicians, even on the lousy songs.

Best game about telephones

Winner: Strange Telephone

Okay, so this game didn’t have any competition in its category.  However, it still deserves an award for its unique and interesting gameplay and for the creepy, oppressive atmosphere it created.  Not that it’s really a horror game at all — it’s more of a psychological exploration puzzle game.  Strange Telephone barely gives you any hints and throws you into the deep end to let you figure out how to get Jill and her magical flying telephone back to her world, and that’s just the sort of thing I like.  Congratulations to the developer yuuta for making something different that worked.

Best physics

Winner: Senran Kagura Estival Versus

There was only one game I played in 2019 that truly qualified for this prize, and so it won: Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a masterpiece of physics. Lots of bounce in this game, even in the above screen if I could have posted it animated. I suppose I could have made a gif, but that’s too much effort. Just play the game yourself and you can make Yumi and her friends and rivals bounce as much as you want. Unless you’re playing as Mirai, of course. But Mirai brings that “short angry pettanko” appeal that every series needs; see also Cordelia from the Atelier Arland games.

And speaking of angry pettankos, here’s the most important award of all:

Best girl

Winner: Asano Hayase (Our World Is Ended.)

Asano is the most bullied character in a game I played last year or possibly any year.  Not that she’s alone in getting that kind of treatment — most every character in the apocalypse summer sex comedy visual novel Our World Is Ended is made fun of, both by the other characters and by the game itself.  But Asano really gets it bad.  She’s a terrible cook, a tone-deaf musician who thinks everyone loves her singing, and a lousy drunk who responds to the slightest provocation with violence.  She has an almost flat chest, a fact that she can’t help but that she gets made fun of for anyway.  And she has some extremely socially unacceptable interests, to put it politely.  She’s a complete wreck.  She could also be the mascot of this site, because I’m a complete wreck too.  So she gets her deserved recognition today.

(None of that’s counting her many good qualities, which you can discover if you play Our World Is Ended.  I’ll also give honors to Asano’s voice actress Eri Kitamura, a professional singer who had to force herself to sing incredibly badly and also record a bunch of lines spoken in drunk.  I don’t know much of anything about voice acting, but I thought Kitamura did an excellent job, so congrats to her as well.)

***

And that does it for the First Annual Everything is Bad for You Awards.  Will there be a Second Annual next year?  That depends on whether I get a minute away from work to play any games this year.  I certainly hope I do.

And now that we’re done with the big retrospective, we can look forward to 2020.  I never like to make solid plans, but I do have a few projects I’m working on, including two sets of posts about two of my favorite game series, one of which I wrote about above (points if you can guess which one, though I suppose it won’t come as a big surprise when I start it.)  I’m finding I like doing these kinds of deep-dive commentaries, even if they take a god damn eternity to write.  But I do have a few of these epic-length analysis articles mostly written up already in very rough forms, and a few more outlines for others that I think would be interesting.  If you liked my treatment of Kaiji back in November I hope you’ll like these posts as well, because they’re panning out to be just as obsessive as that one was.

Aside from continuing that deep reads series of posts along with maybe a few basic game retrospectives, I don’t have any particular plans, which is my usual approach.  If I get an idea, I’ll try to make a post out of it and hope it’s entertaining, or at least not irredeemably stupid.  Until next time, I hope your return to work from the holidays isn’t too painful (or if you also worked through the holidays, well, I hope you can take a vacation soon.)

Backlog review: Sonic CD (PC)

Yeah, I said I’d be cleaning up the backlog, and here’s the proof.  I bought Sonic CD on Steam during a sale years ago and immediately forgot about it.  I’d messed around with the game on Sonic Gems Collection on the Gamecube years before, and I remembered it being a sort of strange novelty and not much else (classic Sonic + time travel?  What a combination!)  But that’s not being very fair to Sonic CD.  It’s an interesting game in its own right, and a pretty good one too, despite its problems.  Probably more interesting than good, which is more or less what I wrote about Knuckles’ Chaotix a long time ago.

Let’s start with the basics: what the hell is this?  Sonic CD was released in 1993 on the Sega CD, a Genesis add-on that more or less flopped. Sonic CD was originally meant to be the sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog, but while Sega of Japan worked on it, legend has it that series brainchild Yuji Naka fucked off to California to get with a branch of the company named Sega Technical Institute that created what would become the actual Sonic the Hedgehog 2, aka one of the Sonic games you actually remember playing when you were a kid.  Sonic CD ended up the flagship title for the Sega CD and was pretty much forgotten until it was re-released in 2005 on the aforementioned Gems Collection, which contained otherwise crap novelty games like Sonic R and Sonic the Fighters.  Then it was semi-forgotten until it was re-re-released on Steam a few years ago with some serious upgrades and additions made by Christian Whitehead, the guy who ported this and a few other 2D Sonic games to Steam and other platforms and who also worked on Sonic Mania.

Future and Past signposts. I’d make a Moody Blues joke here but I don’t think I’ll ever be old enough to do that.

The premise of Sonic CD is that Sonic has to once again save the world from Dr. Robotnik. Yeah, very original, I know. But this time, he also has to rescue Amy Rose, a hedgehog girl who crushes on him hard (and yeah, this will come back in later Sonic games dozens of times) from the clutches of a robot version of himself that fans have dubbed Metal Sonic (or maybe the original manual called it that – I don’t know, I don’t have it.)  Sonic also has the option of changing the history of the world by time-traveling through the use of posts that let him travel into set points in the past or future and destroying Robotnik’s robot-making machines in each level Back to the Future style.

Sonic’s world also had Roman times in its past, just like our world. Coincidence???

Aside from the usual run past the final post and beat the boss at the end of each zone stuff, Sonic CD features a new style of bonus stage that I completely hate because I’m bad at it.  It’s in some kind of weird pseudo-3D track that Sonic has to run around while destroying UFOs for some reason.  Destroying all the UFOs before the time runs out nets you a Time Stone, which is this game’s version of a Chaos Emerald, because… because why the fuck not have a new kind of rock you have to collect?  Incidentally, destroying all of Robotnik’s machines in the past or getting all the Time Stones gets you the good ending and creates a good future that you can travel to if you want to see the fruits of your labor, which unfortunately does not include going Super Sonic because that wasn’t a thing when this game was being developed.  The good future looks nice and shiny and clean, whereas the bad future looks like a Captain Planet dystopia covered in oil and electrical equipment.

Robotnik still shows up to try to kick your ass in the good future, but unfortunately for him, all but one of the boss fights in this game are complete garbage.

I want to love this game.  I love Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  Sonic CD is hard to love, though.  It’s just too oblique with its ridiculous level design.  Almost every stage is stacked up in bizarre ways that don’t really work that well with Sonic’s style of play.  Other 2D games in the series let Sonic go fast, but Sonic CD tells Sonic to slow the fuck down.  Using speed to get through one section of a stage often ends with an obstacle stopping you or springing/catapulting you back to where you started.  There’s nothing wrong with that in itself – it’s not like I want a straight left-to-right course without any obstacles – but at times it feels like this game is giving me a middle finger.

This is doubly a problem if you’re going for a good ending by finding and destroying each one of Robotnik’s machines.  This requires you to travel to the past and to find and destroy said machine.  This might sound easy, but it’s not, for the simple reason that the god damn game makes it a chore for Sonic to maintain top speed for long enough to time-travel.  All too often you’ll find yourself faceplanting into a wall just before your jump.  The worst part of it is that losing momentum after a couple of seconds makes you lose the ability to jump until you hit another post, and the next post you’ll find is usually a useless Future post.  It’s frustrating, and the crazy level design only adds to the madness.

Okay, I already don’t know where to go and I’m only 18 seconds in, please help

But there is a lot of good in Sonic CD.  As much as I might complain about how much of a pain in the ass it is to navigate your way to a good future in each stage, it does add some replay value to the game.  The soundtracks, both American/European and Japanese, are also really good.  Sonic CD features a massive soundtrack for its time – each stage has a present theme, a past theme, a bad future theme and a good future theme.  This had to take a lot of effort, and it paid off.  For some reason, the western and eastern soundtracks feature mostly different tracks aside from the past themes, but I like all of them.

I also like the art in Sonic CD.  The style is pretty different from the Genesis Sonics.  I don’t know whether that has to do with the fact that it was made for a CD-based console or what, but it looks good.

The special stages look really good too, but I still hate them.

Major props go to Christian Whitehead, who made some great modifications to the original Sonic CD for its Steam release, cementing it as the definitive version of the game.  It lets you choose whether to play the NA/EU or the JP soundtrack, which up until this release was a huge point of controversy among fans.  It allows you to play with the Sonic 2-style spindash that wasn’t present in the original Sonic CD, giving Sonic more of a boost (this is a big deal, believe me.)  It even lets you play as Tails once you’ve beaten the game as Sonic, which is some Knuckles in Sonic 2-level game-breaking insanity.  Tails’ flying ability adds a new dimension of “fuck this level, I’ll fly over it” to some stages, and it’s just a lot of fun to explore parts of the stages you can’t get to with Sonic.  Tails is nowhere to be found in any of the older versions of Sonic CD, so this is a welcome addition.

Best of all, Whitehead added all that good stuff without taking out any of the weird little touches that made Sonic CD interesting, like the bit at the end of the very first stage where Amy chases after Sonic.  That’s important lore.  Establishing character and shit.

Maybe if I hide up here long enough she’ll go away

Sonic CD is the weird cousin of the classic Sonic lineup.  It’s still recognizably classic Sonic – all the elements are there – but it’s different in so many small ways that it just belongs in its own category separate from everything else.  That doesn’t make it a bad game by any means.  There’s a lot to recommend it: it’s got great music and plenty of action.  But I can’t ignore its main flaw.  Sonic CD suffers from such completely fucky, non-intuitive level design that large parts of it are frustrating to play, which is something I can’t say at all for Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 & Knuckles (it’s something I can say for Sonic 1, but Sonic 1 is still more enjoyable than Sonic CD, and it gets a break for being the first game in the series.)

Even so, I like Sonic CD.  Maybe it’s because I was the weird cousin too when I was growing up, so I feel some kind of strange man-to-game camaraderie with it.  It gets a 5 out of 7 on my stupid nonsensical scale.  It’s worth playing, but it’s not as good as any of the Genesis titles except for Sonic Spinball, which isn’t really that good at all.  If you haven’t played any of the old Sonics, I wouldn’t advise you to start with this one.  Get Sonic 2 or 3&K first and see how you like them, and get this if you end up hooked on those.  It’s probably worth it for the soundtrack alone.

Soundtrack review: Sonic the Hedgehog: Passion & Pride: Anthems With Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era

So here’s a strange one. Released in 2015, I guess in an attempt to try to profit off of my generation’s nostalgia for all things 90s, Sonic the Hedgehog: Passion & Pride: Anthems With Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era is a collection of character themes from the two Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast and Gamecube. I came across this thing while I was messing around with my 99 cent for three months trial subscription to Amazon’s new music streaming service. (This is not a paid plug for Amazon, by the way. I wish it were. I need money and I’m absolutely willing to sell out. DM me on Twitter.)

I played Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast back in those old days of 1999 and 2001, when I was suffering through the shitty ordeal known as middle and high school. I remember them being pretty fun, though not without their problems. Turns out the same is more or less true of their soundtracks. When I think of great, truly classic Sonic music, I think of Sonic 1, 2, 3&K and CD. The later Adventure music is more of a mixed bag. I guess SEGA felt like they had to “update” Sonic’s music in the transition from 2D to 3D, but the Adventure soundtracks aren’t even close to being as good as the old 16-bit works.

Hell, some of these songs are downright embarrassing to listen to, even when I’m sitting at home alone with my headphones on. Like Tails’ SA1 theme Believe in Myself, an annoyingly peppy pop song with lyrics even dumber and more straightforward than the title suggests. Or Sonic’s SA1 theme It Doesn’t Matter, which hearkens back to really shitty late 80s hair metal. Or Knuckles’ awful rap Unknown from M.E., a song so bad it twisted in on itself to become popular and feature in hundreds of Youtube music edits like this one. And for some fucking reason there are also remixes of each of these three worst songs on the album. Thanks, SEGA.

Knuckles is a meme now, thanks internet.

Most of the songs on this album can be listened to without cringing yourself to death, though. And a few of them are really good. I’m a big fan of Theme of E-102γ, a nice piano-based instrumental with a sci-fi sound. E.G.G.M.A.N. from SA2 is catchy and fun and really suits the goofy mad scientist bad guy character that is Eggman (though I’ll always know him as Robotnik.) The biggest surprise, though, was the last song on the album, Fly in the Freedom. It’s the theme of Rouge the Bat, a character I never cared for, but it’s my favorite song out of all of them – an extremely relaxing jazzy piece with nice vocals. Makes you feel like you’re at a beachside bar sipping a cocktail.

There are three more character themes on this album that fall far more into the “weird” category than into the good or bad ones. Here are my notes about them:

Lazy Days (Livin’ in Paradise) (Big’s theme) – Title makes it sound like a Jimmy Buffett song, but actually a Creedence Clearwater Revival ripoff which is at least x1000 better. Dumbass lyrics, good guitar, okay singing but this guy is definitely no John Fogerty. Stupid as hell but not really that bad.

Throw It All Away (Shadow’s theme) – I can feel the angst in my blood. All humans are trash, and happiness is an illusion. Lyrics couldn’t be more laughably edgy. Brings back memories of middle school.

My Sweet Passion (Amy Rose’s theme) – Embarrassed to say I really like this song. Cute jazz-poppy thing, I love the vocals and the electric piano. Lyrics are insane and stalkerish and suit Amy’s character perfectly.

So is this worth buying? At $30 for a physical copy? Hell no. But it does have some good songs, enough that it squeaks by with a passing grade of 4. And who knows, maybe you’ll really like the songs I hate on it. If you’re the kind of person who “ironically” enjoys 80s butt-rock and bad rap, feel free to bump that grade up to a 5 or 6. I’m not one of those people.  I can appreciate making fun of bad media (I grew up on MST3K after all) but I don’t get anything out of a second listen to Unknown from M.E.

I would definitely buy a physical copy for a few bucks, though, just for that amazing title and cover.  Sonic just needs a ripped pair of jeans and a sleeveless shirt and he’s hedgehog Bruce Springsteen.

(My) top five most nostalgic video game tracks

For those of you who were wondering, I’m still alive (I know one of my recent posts might have put that into question.) Since I quit my last job, I’ve been working as a contractor, which a lot of people don’t realize is something a lawyer can do. I’ve been told this work will be a black mark on my resume, but I don’t care. I’m not that suicidally depressed anymore, and I’m making just as much money as I was making before. What the hell is wrong with that?

Since I’ve been driving around a lot, that time mostly spent sitting in big city rush hour traffic, I’ve also had time to listen to a lot of new music. And since I attended a con last month and bought a stack of imported albums, this arrangement has worked out nicely for me. I’ll be writing some posts about the albums I picked up and why you might or might not want to check them out yourself, but first I’d like to share a list of video game BGM tracks that hold a lot of nostalgic power for me. These aren’t my favorite game tracks ever, but rather those that take me back to a simpler time when I was still pretty miserable, but in a different way than I am now.

1) Phantasy Star Online – Image of Hero

Anyone who played the Dreamcast MMORPG Phantasy Star Online has this song permanently stored in his head like I do. It’s one of my favorite character creation menu themes ever (or at least one of the few I remember, which says a lot in itself.) The soundtrack to PSO is an all-around great one, especially for the level of pure atmosphere it adds to the game’s environments.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The first character I made while hearing this song for the first time was a FOnewearl (basically PSO-speak for a female elf mage) because I thought she was cute. Turns out she was perhaps one of the hardest characters to figure out how to use, so I switched over to the boring default HUmar. The FOnewearl is still cute, though. Especially in PSO2, which I can’t fucking play because it’s all in Japanese and you have to run it through a Japanese proxy and I can’t figure that shit out.

hella cute

2) OutRun – Magical Sound Shower

I’ve written about the OutRun BGM before, but this particular piece packs the biggest nostalgic punch for me, maybe because it’s the default track that plays when you start a race. The other two racing tracks on the BGM are just as good, though. There’s something about the Genesis sound chip that gives the best music made with it this classic 90s feel. There’s also plenty of really godawful shitty Genesis songs that are trying to be funk and failing miserably for some reason.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: A vocal version of “Magical Sound Shower” was included in the PS4 rhythm game Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone sung by Miku herself. SEGA owns both properties, so they presumably didn’t have to pay for the rights. Here’s to saving money on licensing fees.

3) Final Fantasy VII – Still More Fighting

Final Fantasy VII is not my favorite game ever. It’s not even in my top ten or top twenty. It’s a good game, but it’s not the best FF title, and it’s definitely overrated. But I still listen to FF7’s soundtrack. Uematsu is a damn genius, and watching my older cousin play this game on Christmas 1997 was the first I heard his work. I have a special love for this track, basically the game’s midboss theme. Sounds extremely early 70s proggy, somewhat like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I’d say that Final Fantasy music even played a part in getting me into 70s prog and fusion in high school. Yeah, I was a pretty popular kid.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Cloud’s Buster Sword is stupid and impractical but it’s still cool.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

I’ve written about this song in particular before, but I’m doing it again. The classic Genesis Sonic games (1, 2, 3&K – Sonic Spinball is a mediocre mess with a bad-to-middling soundtrack) will always hold a special place in my heart.* These are some of the first video games I ever really played in a meaningful way, exploring levels and finding ways to exploit the mechanics. Each game also has fantastic background music. The BGM for Sonic 1 and 2 was written by Masato Nakamura, songwriter for Dreams Come True, a Japanese pop/rock band, and he clearly put a lot of work into projects that might have been otherwise dismissed as music for some dumb kid’s games. “Chemical Plant Zone” is maybe the piece of his that’s most ingrained in my mind.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Michael Jackson did not write this song, in case you didn’t read the above paragraph. Mike is rumored to have written some of the Sonic 3 soundtrack, though.

EXTRA BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The background to Chemical Plant Zone is used in the intro of Red Letter Media’s parodic “Nerd Crew” Youtube videos. It also makes for a good wallpaper, courtesy of this guy on Reddit:

Is this vaporwave? I can’t tell anymore

5) Grandia II – A Deus

This last entry is a little different from the rest in that it’s a vocal piece. The limited technology of the late 80s/early 90s consoles wouldn’t have allowed for this kind of track in a game, but the Dreamcast did. This piece is very closely tied to the plot and characters of Grandia II, a god damn classic that I reviewed here – it’s a hymn sung by Elena, one of the game’s central cast. In fact, it’s player character Ryudo’s first introduction to Elena, which turns out to be a real “jaded sarcastic bounty hunter meets bright-eyed innocent girl” kind of situation. The lyrics of “A Deus” are in Portuguese, which from what I understand is mangled pretty badly by the Japanese singer. But she still has a beautiful voice, and it’s still a beautiful song.

Later on in the game, this happens. I don’t remember the context.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: I miss my Dreamcast.

* Specifically the left ventricle.

Seven great video game tracks (part 2)

I love music and I love video games (well, some of it/them, anyway.) So how can I limit myself to writing only one post about video game music? Here’s another one.

1) Final Fantasy VII – Reunion

This is one of the most haunting tracks that ever came out of a mid-90s RPG.  If you’ve played Final Fantasy VII, you’ll know what event this track pairs with.  If you haven’t, it’s where the main character realizes that his whole life has been a lie.  Oh yeah, spoilers.

Honestly, the spoiler won't make any sense until you've played the game most of the way to the big revelation. Also, FF7 was released in 1997, so the spoilers statute of limitations has passed.

Honestly, the spoiler won’t make any sense until you’ve played the game most of the way to the big revelation. Also, FF7 was released in 1997, so the spoilers statute of limitations has passed.

Anyway, Nobuo Uematsu is a genius when it comes to video game music.  This is one of the most understated, quiet pieces in an FF game, but it’s effective as hell.

2) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

Sometimes you just want to play a game where you’re a blue hedgehog rolling around fucking everything up.  And not one of the god-awful fuck 3D Sonic games like Sonic 06.  I mean the real thing.  The old Genesis games had proper background music, and Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic 2 has one of the best tracks in the history of the franchise.  It’s a techno early 90s Sega Genesis track and that’s all you need to know.

3) Yume Nikki – Dense Woods A

Modern horror movies are garbage.  At least, the ones that are made and air in my country are garbage.  People go to the theater to say “oh no a thing moved in the corner of the screen” for 120 minutes.  But what can you expect from the same people who think Mamma Mia is worth giving money to a person to see.

At some point, anyway, you have to admit that our horror movies are garbage and to turn to video games, which keep the horror genre alive.  And among these games, old-school looking RPG Maker games such as Ib and The Witch’s House are surprisingly effective.   The great-granddaddy of these games is Yume Nikki, a freeware piece made by a mysterious man known only as KIKIYAMA.  Yume Nikki translates as “Dream Diary” and is about Madotsuki, a young girl who refuses to leave her 150th story apartment bedroom/balcony and lives her life through her dreams.  Her dreams happen to be mostly disturbing as fuck, and it’s your job as the player to guide Madotsuki through her dreams and to collect all the “effects” that let her use various powers.

Your dream always starts on the balcony. The sky is dark and the landscape is desolate. Play this game with the lights off at midnight.

Your dream always starts on the balcony. The sky is dark and the landscape is desolate. Play this game with the lights off at midnight.

Yume Nikki excels in creating a mood, and its background music adds to this effect.  The tracks are simple but incredibly haunting, and they’re extremely effective in the game itself.  Do yourself a favor and go play Yume Nikki if you haven’t already.  With the lights off at midnight.

(Ib and The Witch’s House both have really good BGMs too, and they’re far more horror in aim and theme than Yume Nikki, which is more of a surreal dream game.  So if you’re looking to actually piss yourself, go for those instead.)

4) Outrun – the whole BGM

outrun

All of it.  This is a pure nostalgia pick, because like many other people in their late 20s Outrun is one of the first racing video games I ever remember playing, in my case as a small child who could barely manipulate the Genesis controller in an effective fashion.  But that 16-bit music certainly got stuck in my brain, even if I couldn’t get past the damn checkpoints most of the time.  There are certainly better soundtracks out there – this one is really more “background music” than a soundtrack – but it’s a very dynamic set of songs that doesn’t wear on me with successive listens.

5) Digital Devil Saga 2 – Hunting – Betrayal

The two Digital Devil Saga games are worthy additions to the Shin Megami Tensei family of games.  They’re much more traditional JRPGs than the mainline SMT games and other spinoffs – DDS doesn’t feature demon recruitment at all – but they’re well-crafted and tell an interesting story.  They also feature the always fantastic work of Shoji Meguro, who fully deserves a place in the video game soundtrack pantheon along with Uematsu.  And “Hunting – Betrayal” is one of his best battle themes, maybe his best ever.  The pure tension in this piece is astounding.  Listen to it with the dial turned to 10.

6) Umineko no Naku Koro ni – Dead Angle

Umineko-no-Naku-Koro-ni-7

I’ve already taken a look at Umineko, but it’s worth bringing up again that this visual novel series has an amazing soundtrack, and “Dead Angle” is one of the best tracks in the game.  For the unfamiliar, Umineko is a very long visual novel mystery series about a family that is almost entirely murdered on a private island.  The game mixes up mystery with supernatural elements, and one of the central themes of Umineko is deals with the existence of magic and the line between reality and fantasy.  The game is honestly kind of a mess, but it’s a fascinating mess and, in the end, a satisfying story.  And the music is fantastic.

7) Final Fantasy VIII – Force Your Way

Speaking of Uematsu – again – this is my favorite Final Fantasy battle theme.  I didn’t love Final Fantasy VIII.  It was a good game, but it also had lots of problems, and the soap opera-level love story was fairly balls in my opinion.  However, the gameplay is still classic FF at this point, and the soundtrack is excellent.

I don’t normally read Youtube comments, because they tend to be so stupid that you can’t understand how the commenter managed to remember to breathe for long enough to write the comment and send it, but some user on the site aptly observed that “Force Your Way” sounds like the composer wrote eight different intros to a battle theme and shoved them all together.  And it works.  Even if the story of FF8 kinda doesn’t.

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Retrospective: Knuckles Chaotix

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As a former child growing up in the 90s, I remember when Mario and Sonic were the go-to guys for video game-related fun and time-wasting. They still are, I suppose – but in the early 90s, they were a whole lot more prominent, complete with massive ad campaigns and a running war over the world’s game console market.

As it turned out, neither Nintendo nor SEGA won that war, because Sony pretty much screwed both of them with the Playstation. But while Nintendo managed to hang on with the Nintendo 64 and carve out a niche for themselves as a purveyor of excellent first-party titles, SEGA spun completely out of control and crashed into the NASCAR bleachers, killing and maiming hundreds of spectators. The Saturn debacle could be taught at business schools as a case study in marketing ineptitude, but SEGA’s earlier hardware add-ons to the popular Genesis console were almost as misguided.

The SEGA CD system was the first of these disasters, a 1993 CD attachment that sold poorly and should have tipped SEGA off to the fact that nobody was interested in new consoles that attached to consoles they already owned. But SEGA hadn’t learned their lesson, because Christmas 1994 brought the SEGA 32X, yet another add-on to the Genesis that could run 32-bit games. As far as I can remember, none of us at school really knew it existed – and we were exactly the same little shits that SEGA was directly targeting with their ad campaigns.

Bad marketing decision, or worst marketing decision?

Bad marketing decision, or worst marketing decision?

Okay, enough of the video game console wars history stuff. The 32X, despite the general shittiness of its concept, did have at least a couple of interesting games on it, as I learned when visiting the house of a friend from school (who was also the only person I knew in the world who owned a 32X. Seriously, next to nobody bought it.) One of these was Knuckles Chaotix, a game spun off of the wildly popular Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Knuckles was supposedly an echidna, which as far as I can tell is a sort of Australian anteater thing, and he was Sonic’s rival in Sonic & Knuckles, which was and still is an amazing platformer. In Chaotix, Knuckles joins up with a new team of animal-people to do whatever the hell it is you’re trying to do in this game (I don’t quite remember, but “stop Dr. Robotnik” probably covers it.)

Yes, it says "WELCOME TO THE NEXT LEVEL IN 32X WORLD."  Too bad nobody cared to take the invitation.

Yes, it says “WELCOME TO THE NEXT LEVEL IN 32X WORLD.” Too bad nobody cared to take the invitation.

It really is too bad that nobody played it, because Knuckles Chaotix is an interesting game. It might not be a good game, exactly – but it’s certainly not a bad one, and if you have a friend to play it with, it can be pretty fun.

Having a friend around is vital, actually, because Chaotix is really a two-player game. In some ways, it resembles other Sonic Genesis titles: it’s a platformer with lots of curves and loops and straight areas that let you build up speed, and Dr. Robotnik is the bad guy you’re fighting. However, Chaotix distinguishes itself from every other game in the series by featuring 1) a mandatory policy of two characters on screen at all times 2) who are tethered together by a magical sparkly rope that never breaks. This bond allows each character to “slingshot” each other across a level, quickly building up insane amounts of speed and allowing wild leaps that would never be possible to make with a single character. Characters could also pick up and throw each other up onto higher ledges (or pick each other up for no reason and run around – not especially productive, but a great way to piss off your friend.)

This golden tether keeps you and your partner tied together and allows you to build up massive speed by slingshotting each other up curves.

This golden tether keeps you and your partner tied together and allows you to build up massive speed by slingshotting each other up curves.

Knuckles Chaotix is interesting for the way it forces teamwork and cooperation between its players. It’s also interesting for how it takes control away from the player when choosing a new level to play (picked randomly by the computer) and a new partner to play with. Each player has seven characters to choose from, including Knuckles himself, his friends (who each have special abilities) and two really shitty, slow characters called Bomb and Heavy that seem to have been inserted into the game solely to piss players off. Unfortunately, you might have to play as these guys, because in order to switch up your team mid-stride one character has to play a game akin to that ripoff carnival grabber game that features a seemingly random collection of possible new partners. You’ll need decent reflexes to grab the character you want.

The strange character select screen

The strange character select screen

So this is definitely an interesting game (how many times have I said that this review? Way too many times.) But Knuckles Chaotix does have some issues that put its overall quality into question. Firstly, the layout of the game’s stages can be confusing – it’s often not clear which direction you have to travel to reach the end of the stage. Sonic CD also had this problem, but Chaotix takes it to the extreme. This can obviously produce a lot of frustration.

Secondly, Chaotix pretty much sucks if it’s played alone. It can be played alone, but, as I learned when playing it a bit recently on an emulator, it’s quite aggravating and unintuitive to control two characters at the same time, even though it is possible through the carrying and slingshot methods. Besides, from what little I can remember about playing this game with a friend almost 20 years ago, most of the fun of Chaotix comes from screwing over your partner and laughing at the general weirdness of the game’s features and mechanics.

There are some doors that will only open through teamwork.  Also note the negative ring count.

There are some doors that will only open through teamwork. Also note the negative ring count.

So is Knuckles Chaotix worth playing? The question is pretty much moot because, as far as I can tell, the game was never re-released after the almost immediate failure of the 32X. One might have expected SEGA to slap Chaotix onto a compilation to give it a new lease on life, as they did with the equally forgotten Sonic CD, but for whatever reason they never have. If you want to play this thing, you’ll either have to go the emulator route and find a way to set up a two-player thing around your computer or buy a 32X (and a Genesis, if you don’t own one already) and a copy of the game on eBay. Knuckles Chaotix is a strange and fascinating title, but I can’t honestly say it’s worth tracking down a 20 year-old Genesis add-on for. If, however, you are a Sonic fan with lots of disposable income and you know someone else who actually gives a shit about playing this, I say go for it.

Anyway, that was entirely too many words I just wrote about this game. I blame it on the half-pot of coffee I drank. I’m going to lie down now.