Glorious, jaw-dropping graphics, an action-packed scene in which Sonic blasts through robots, an epic storyline involving an all new hedgehog character, three different playable characters each with their own special controls, a giant celebration of Sonic’s 15th anniversary…
And it failed, so said the fan community.
As soon as Sonic the Hedgehog was released, the internet was barraged with negative reviews. There was little positive, it seemed, to say about the game that was supposed to be the most memorable in Sonic history. But has the media merely over-exaggerated its claims? If not, why is this game doomed to such failure?
Soleanna, the beautiful city of water, is in the middle of its yearly Sun Festival. All seems to be going according to plan… until Dr. Eggman shows up. Instantly, robots cover the area, terrified citizens scream, and the doctor himself descends from the air and demands the Chaos Emerald be given to him by the hands of its protector–Elise, princess of Soleanna. Before anyone can act, a blue blur blasts into the robot army, saving the moment and taking off with the princess. Sonic makes a valiant effort, but in the end can’t save Elise from Eggman’s grasp and she is kidnapped. Why Eggman is after this girl remains a mystery, but no matter. Sonic is determined to save her at any cost.
Elsewhere, Shadow the Hedgehog is deployed as a government GUN agent to rescue Rouge the Bat from Eggman’s base. After a cutting-it-too-close-for-comfort battle, Shadow and Rouge get away with the item they were sent to retrieve–a mysterious scepter of ancient power. When Eggman cuts off the two escapees’ retreat and the scepter is accidentally shattered, Shadow is introduced to a villain out of his worst nightmares. Worse than that, the two look exactly alike, and the evil character even appears to know Shadow from somewhere in his past…
Thousands of years into the future, a young but desperate hedgehog named Silver views the flames devouring his homeland. The fires of the dark creature Iblis have engulfed everything for as long as he can remember. Only he and his friend Blaze the Cat remain in opposition to Iblis and his evil ways. Though Silver is often successful in holding back the powers of this wicked monster, he knows of no way to successfully destroy it… That is, until a sinister character comes along, claiming that he knows the answer. If Silver can hunt down the one responsible for releasing Iblis into his world and destroy him, Iblis will also be destroyed. As Silver looks into the dismal past to catch a glimpse of the one responsible, the figure of a blue hedgehog drifts into view…
Sonic is always the caring, golden-hearted hero. Throughout the story, his bond with Elise grows strong, and he takes visible compassion on her when she tells of her father’s death. Although Elise often sees the bad side in everything, Sonic encourages her to just “smile,” and everything will be alright. “Nothing starts until you take action!” he encourages her, “If you have time to worry, then run!” As a result, we see dynamic changes take place in Elise throughout the game.
Throughout the story, characters depend on each other for teamwork and success. There are countless times when one character will throw himself/herself into harm’s way to save another. Shadow comes to Sonic’s rescue in a dire time. Omega saves Shadow’s life not a moment too soon. One character vows to always stay at another’s side, even if the world itself turns against him (as it threatens to do). Likewise, Silver, Sonic, and even Dr. Eggman (by the end, anyway) give aid to others in vital-to-the-story moments.
Scattered all through the game are side-quests which enable the player to help citizens and reap rewards for doing so. These missions include everything from rescuing a lost kid, to retrieving a stolen item.
Elise is an honorable ruler. When Eggman threatens her people, Elise chooses of her own free will to personally meet with the crazed doctor rather than have harm come to her subjects. She also shows a great respect for her deceased father, always keeping her promise to him.
Silver is as naive as they come, but his strong sense of justice and child-like innocence give him an interesting side. He enjoys the simple things in life, having grown up in a world of chaos. When in the present world, he gazes up at the sky, remarking, “This looks so beautiful. Everything is so great here, isn’t it? The sky is gorgeous, and everyone’s happy… ”
Throughout Shadow’s story, Mephiles continually tries to convince Shadow to join his side. After Shadow is given a cryptic glimpse into the future, and sees that the humans will blame him for the destroyed world and seal him away (his form of death), Mephiles’ arguments seem reasonable to the vengeance-minded, “After the world was devastated by Iblis’ flames, what do you think happened? A search for the guilty. Who did this, you may ask? Humanity wasn’t just jealous of your power. They feared it. They used this incident as an excuse to hunt you down. Come with me, Shadow. Let us punish this foolish world of humanity. It is only fair to give back what was intended for you. You have every right to want justice.”
However, having made a promise to humanity, Shadow will not go back on his word, even if it means his death, “That’s absurd. Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it alone.” Mephiles motions to the vision of the future in which Shadow is sealed off by the humans, “You forgive humanity this folly then? …It’s futile. The world will betray you. Why fight at all? Why risk your life for those who will persecute you later?” Shadow’s final, legendary response is: “If the world chooses to become my enemy, I will fight like I always have!”
Through the entire ordeal, we see that Shadow is unwilling to harm those who will inevitably bring harm to him in the future. There’s a sense of forgiveness and noble acceptance at play, and Christian gamers will easily connect these to the mandate that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).[/toggle]
The Chaos Emeralds play a major part in the game. Various characters utilize their powers throughout the storyline. At the end of the game, Elise prays (referred to as a “wish” in the game) to the Chaos Emeralds. “I wish to save this world. I wish to cleanse my father’s sin…” she says.
The city of Soleanna is very religion-oriented. The style is rather reminiscent of the Catholic church, with priests, bishops, and other figures of importance dressed in pope-like attire. There are names scattered around the city, such as “fountain of the goddess,” “fountain of the priest,” and “holy ground” (a reference to the royal castle).
Sonic the Hedgehog is also the first Sonic game which heavily revolved around, not only its fantasy religion, but also praying to the gods of this religion. Elise prays a prayer to Solaris during a religious festival in the opening cinematic and again at the game’s end.
The plot revolves heavily around the sun god of Soleanna, Solaris, also known as the Flames of Disaster. Long ago, Elise’s father prayed that her soul would be the vessel of the Flames of Disaster in order to stop them from wreaking evil. Only when Elise cries at the end of the game are the flames released and Iblis allowed to rejoin with Mephiles (Solaris is split into two parts–Iblis and Mephiles).
When Silver at last stuns Iblis in a final fight, he tries to get the flames to “enter his soul” so he can seal them away. As the flames try to unsuccessfully enter his body, Silver grunts in pain until Blaze steps in and takes his place. The flames accept her because her “soul is already alight with flames.”
Mephiles the Dark is said to have “resurrected” in the form of Shadow’s shadow.[/toggle][/toggles]
Cutscene Violence. For a Sonic game, there are a few incidents that are a little bit more violent than the usual. Many scenes involve the stereotypical “robots-blowing-up” battles that have become so stereotypical of Sonic. Silver is kicked in the head. Shadow is flung into a rock. Rouge is struck in mid-air (off-screen) and plummets into Shadow’s waiting arms. Sonic is tossed around a few times by Silver’s telekinesis. Amy gives Silver a bit of a slap/shove when she first meets him.
Though completely off-screen, and almost subtle, one scene in the game involves the crashing of the Egg Carrier while Eggman and Elise are on board. Both are suggested to have been killed. Elise’s father dies on-screen after sealing Iblis within her. Sonic is shot through the back (on-screen) by a beam of energy (dubbed Dark Chaos Lance) and falls to the ground, dying on-screen.[/toggle]
Gameplay Violence. Gameplay violence is, if anything, tame. When robots are attacked, their parts sometimes scatter on the ground. Some of the enemies in the game are creatures, but there are no human enemies (with the exception of Dr. Eggman). All enemies quickly vanish after defeat. There is no blood in this game.
Silver calls Iblis the “cursed Flames of Disaster.” Language typical to Sonic, such as “darn,” “what the-!?,” “dang it,” and “shoot,” is used. However, there is very little of it, and it’s spaced out enough to where it’s pretty rare to hear it at all.
Rouge the Bat is in the game quite a bit during Shadow’s story mode. She wears a low-cut top that, fortunately, isn’t too revealing. Elise’s dress is also a little short. Thank goodness no strong winds ever spring up!
Amy Rose openly confesses her love for Sonic many times. She accidentally hugs Silver when she mistakes his identity.
One test that Sonic must pass in order to enter the castle of the royal family is the “Test of Love” in which he must choose between Amy and Elise as the love of his life. The choice has no effect on the story, however.
Though you would think nothing more than a simple “friendship” would exist between Sonic and Elise, it doesn’t. Love is in the air, and several cutscenes reveal it. Though Elise seems to be a lot more interested than Sonic, the idea of a human falling in love with an animal is… rather creepy. At the end of the game, Elise kisses Sonic mouth-to-mouth. Later on, she cries, saying that she doesn’t care what happens to the world as long as she can have Sonic.
Other Negative Content
After Silver’s deployment to hunt down Sonic (who he believes is the Iblis Trigger), a discussion springs up concerning whether or not it’s right to kill someone to save his world. The question is dodged completely by Blaze who says, “Whether it’s right or wrong, I can’t really say… If we don’t take this chance, the future will remain exactly as it is.” By the end of the game, Silver is corrected in his thinking, but only because he discovers the truth about Sonic.
Elise throws herself from Eggman’s ship, claiming, “I would rather die than be your prisoner again!” Fortunately, Sonic is there at the right time and catches her. “I was desperate,” Elise explains.
As per SEGA’s standards, graphics are impressive. Being Sonic’s first installment on the Xbox 360 and PS3, it’s no wonder that they look so good. The opening and ending cinematics of all story modes are incredibly movie-like and make good use of the CGI. The effects of shimmering water and flickering fire–in a character’s eyes or as the backdrop to some seriously realistic scenery–are especially note-worthy.
Likewise, gameplay graphics have also been raised a notch or two. A variety of levels, which take players everywhere from a medieval castle to a futuristic base, show off the graphic capabilities of the next-generation consoles. The atmospheres are nicely presented.
The character models are a tad off when it comes to the “regular” cutscenes, however. The characters’ shading flickers and texturizes awkwardly, and their color schemes seem a little too bright. The characters’ eyes are also something to note, as they look bright and overly glossy, often giving the characters a bit of an emotionless gaze.
It is a known fact that Sonic the Hedgehog was a rushed project. As an unfortunate side-effect of this, the gameplay is riddled with broken control schemes, sensitive and unstable movement, glitches, and other nasty things.
Compared to their movements in previous games, Sonic and his friends are very slow. And as this is a Sonic game–a series which was put into public awareness because of its unique use of speed–this is especially flagrant. In the few non-stop racing segments of the game, Sonic goes so fast that he’s almost impossible to control… and death is almost impossible to avoid.
Glitches are as common as golden rings in this game. Some of them are merely aggravating, such as being frozen in place while Sonic vibrates on screen. Others are more threatening. For example, in one level, if you hit a glitchy spot while running sideways along a wall, Sonic will fall to his doom. Rouge and Knuckles are tough to control, and their segments are full of glitches. Climbing is awkward. In Shadow’s levels, vehicles are a nuisance to climb into. One level, which involves chasing Eggman while on a motorcycle, has such sensitive and difficult controls that it will take your entire patience reserve–and a bucket-full of lives–to get past.
However, one of the worst aspects of Sonic the Hedgehog is the loading screens. When you want to take on a challenge, you talk to a citizen and accept. There’s a long loading screen. The citizen tells you what you must do. Another loading screen. You begin the challenge. If you fail, there is a loading screen, followed by the citizen stating the obvious fact that you failed, and then another long loading screen. If you want to try the side-quest again, you have to go through the same tedious process over and over until you are successful. What should take about a minute ends up taking five.
New abilities, such as Silver’s telekinesis powers, are valuable assets to the game. Ironically, because Silver is the slowest of the characters and his attacks are all long-range, he is probably the most enjoyable to play. His mode is also the most glitch-free.
Sonic and Shadow’s attacks are more direct. Sonic uses the infamous homing attack, while Shadow uses a combination of kicks and punches in a similar lock-on move. Shadow also has the ability to paralyze enemies with a Chaos Spear, or go into a more powerful attacking mode when his gauge fills up.
A special two-player mode enables two people to play through levels via co-op styled gameplay or a VS battle race-to-the-finishline.
One thing is certain: whether due to mere difficulty or bad controls, the bosses in this game are tough. I found myself keeping an eye on my life count more often than not.
If everything else in this game were as good as the music, it would have been a wholesome experience. SEGA always does an amazing job with the music in their Sonic games and Sonic the Hedgehog is no exception.
Orchestrated scores compose the majority of the game’s repertoire. Touching, pulse-pounding, or comedic cutscene themes are among the best of the bunch. Elise’s theme, which is used often for cutscenes in Sonic’s mode, is one of the most beautiful pieces. Choir is used within several of the tracks, and level-based music is appropriate and exhilarating.
Voice acting is iffy and backed by a cardboard delivery. Some characters just don’t express much emotion or sound wooden or off-putting when they try to show it. Sonic says some pretty goofy stuff, particularly during his levels where he states painfully obvious facts such as: “We’re going through this cave,” “That tornado’s carrying a car,” “Let’s go up,” etc.
That being said, Dan Green gives a rather solid performance as Mephiles, and Mike Pollock once again steals the show as the mustached villain, Eggman. The remaining cast is a mixed bag of strained delivery and melodrama.
Was Sonic the Hedgehog a failure? For the most part, yes. Its horrible glitches, sensitive controls, and unnecessary hedgehog-meets-girl love story (not to mention all its misplaced religious ties) pigeon-hole it with preposterous problems (try saying that five times fast).
The media has dubbed this attempt to create the most memorable game is Sonic history as “the worst game in the franchise.” Known fact: the week it was released, it was the 2nd worst seller on the shelves.
Yet, at the same time, I just can’t completely slam this game. The storyline was original and–convoluted as it was–I found it impressive that SEGA would venture into such deep, dark, uncharted territory; going so far as to discuss ethical topics about the value of life and whether fighting for an unforgiving populace is worth it. The plot might have been excellent if it weren’t for the over-complication and reliance on religious themes and romance to carry the day.
Needless to say, this Sonic adventure has some beautiful visuals and a gripping story, but its gameplay is utterly detestable. The amount of fantasy religion packed within is also a step in the wrong direction on the part of SEGA. At best, it feels misplaced. Along with that, I don’t think it should ever even be implied that Sonic is in love with a human girl–ever! It’s just… icky. Stick with Amy, blue guy.
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The Bottom Line
Broken controls, numerous glitches, convoluted spirituality, and a wacky hedgehog-meets-girl relationship makes Sonic the Hedgehog a wild ride for even the die-hard fans.