Sonic the Hedgehog Full Series Analysis
While this is technically just an extension of game mechanics, I do think that the abilities require some special attention because they’re not consistent; different games have different move sets, which means ranking all abilities under the header of “mechanics” feels unfair to me.
Let me just start out by saying that special moves and power-ups are a good way to keep the StH series fresh and fun, and that I think it’s a good thing that not all of them are universal. If every game included every single move that Sonic ever performed, as well as every item he’d ever collected, two problems would arise. The first is that certain moves and items would never get used because the player will automatically pick and continually use their favorites, which makes the untilized data a waste of space that could’ve been used to expand levels or include more unlockables. The other problem is that, by having everything available at all times, no item becomes special. Limited items are valuable because they’re limited. By restricting certain moves to exact conditions and certain power-up to specific games, those abilities instantly become far more precious than they would have been had they been available at any time. This makes finding and using those abilities all the more exciting when we actually get to do so.
That having been said, I do believe that certain things ought to be universal across the series. As the gaming world has advanced, the challenges have ramped up, and without certain concepts built into the game, the StH series can occasionally prove to be more frustrating than it’s worth, especially in 3D games.
I’m pleased that Sega’s incorporated the Homing Attack as a given in pretty much every three-dimensional game. I firmly believe that attacking enemies would be all but impossible in a 3D space without this one mechanic. This move was created in the game Sonic 3D Blast, which was a game that had a lot of flaws, but luckily they were flaws that Sega learned from and improved upon. I think the Homing Attack was quite possibly the most valuable thing gained from this game — especially now that StH games don’t have convenient grids on the ground to help you line up your attack, and the player can aim the character in more than eight directions. I will point out, however, that I do think that any 2D game that would attempt to use this move would be cheating a little bit. There are far fewer calculations expected of the human brain in only two dimensions. It’s not unreasonable to expect the player to have to actually hit the baddies all by themself.
The presence of the Spin Dash has been very on-again-off-again in recent times, largely due to the fact that it’s much harder to control in a 3D space. Sega has made some reasonable attempts to improve upon this, and the results have been mixed. Popular consensus seems to be that the Spin Dash doesn’t really have a place in 3D gaming. I’m not so certain I agree with this, because I think it could be patched up if it were to operate more like the Homing Attack. If the player were to Spin Dash in the general direction of an enemy, the programming could adjust the player’s trajectory to automatically roll into said enemy. This could also apply to obstacles, bumpers, or power-ups. If nothing worthy of targeting were present, the Spin Dash could then just go in the current direction the player is facing, as the Homing Attack does.
Personally, I would take this one step further and auto-align even a non-targeted Spin Dash with the closest of the basic eight movement directions. The reason for this is that a Spin Dash will naturally cover far more ground than a Homing Attack when done without a target, and trying to line Sonic up without smashing him into a wall has proven difficult in the past. Having the aim off by just a fraction — which can easily happen when using a control stick instead of a d-pad — can result in Sonic going way, way off-course. If he were given a ‘track’ of sorts to naturally roll along by following the eight basic d-pad directions, this would eliminate much of the frustration.
Despite the fact that these are almost the same move in terms of what they accomplish, I find the Light Dash to be more essential for one very important reason: Rings.
Both of these moves are essential to 3D gaming because they help immensely with the flow that I discussed in the above section on Movement. When playing a 2D game, there’s only direction that’s considered “forward”, which makes it easy to line up with rings, because they’ll be directly in your path. However, in 3D gaming, there’s a wide angle of directions that may be considered “forward.” This is why moving along a track of some sort is so helpful. The Light Dash outweighs Rail Grinding in importance due to the fact that rings are often found without rails nearby, and collecting rings is a constant goal of all StH games. Trying to align Sonic’s path just right so that he can pick up all of the rings without having to stop and go back is asking a lot — especially if those rings are located on a curve. The Light Dash solves this for us by making Sonic pick them up automatically, allowing the player to continue on with the same rhythm and fluidity that they entered with. This move also allows the level designers to come up with more creative ways to fling Sonic into the air whenever they want him to cross large gaps, as well as rewarding particularly skilled players that are able to navigate levels exceptionally well.
The Light Dash works so well that I really don’t have any critiques for it. All I have is one suggestion: I’ve intermittently imagined what a level would be like that was completely built around Light Dashes. That is to say, the object of the level is to keep Sonic in the air and flying along trails of rings, just as some levels are currently built around Rail Grinding. Not only could this be a fun challenge, but it could also serve as a balancing point for a player that’s just entered or just exited a particularly unforgiving part of a game, as every 100 rings grants extra lives.
Since we’ve breached the subject of ring collection, I’ve decided to segue into one of my pet peeves. It’s been a tradition in the StH series that Sonic drops all of his rings when he takes damage — a reasonable enough challenge given that ring collection is one of the main goals of the game. However, as games get more advanced, the challenges get more unforgiving. This makes the need for rings far more critical just so Sonic can even stay alive long enough to advance. During particularly brutal levels (such as any given mach speed sequence in StH2006), dropping your rings can almost guarantee that death is soon to follow.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that not every game in the StH series has followed this formula, which surprisingly few people realize. In the game Knuckles’ Chaotix, there was a blue ring power-up that would essentially take on the value of all of the rings the player collected. In the event that the player took damage, they would only drop the one blue ring — and if they recovered that ring, they got all of their rings back. It made an amazingly satisfying difference, and given that it was a power-up (meaning, it was gone after one use), it wasn’t something that the player could abuse. Regaining a blue ring also failed to reward the player with more extra lives if it was worth over 100, as those lives had already been earned. It’s always surprised me that the blue rings never made their way into other StH games, even as a rare, hard-to-find item.
Interestingly enough, Knuckles’ Chaotix wasn’t the only game that was forgiving with rings. For a long time there were only two other games that cut the player a break, and by a strange coincidence, neither of them star Sonic, either. In the games Tails Adventure and Shadow the Hedgehog, players still dropped rings when they took damage, but it wasn’t necessarily ALL of their rings. Like the blue rings in Knuckles’ Chaotix, this made the games far less frustrating, especially during sections with a high volume of enemies. Luckily, this mentality has seen a comeback in more recent games, and I sincerely hope it’s a trend that continues. I prefer the idea of losing rings in proportion to the amount of damage that was dealt, rather than instantly losing all of my life in one hit. All I need to say is the word “Eggmanland” to remind some players just how dire rings can be in modern Sonic games. I’m all for challenge, but I do prefer fair challenges.
But, I digress. I suppose it’s possible that blue rings could’ve been considered a game-breaking feature, but I personally don’t agree; I think carrying a blue ring offers at least as much risk as it does reward, especially when coupled with the concept of ring loss being proportional to the implied damage amount. If a character is using a blue ring, and doesn’t manage to recover that ring after dropping it — perhaps it bounced off a ledge, or the character couldn’t get back on their feet in time — then the player has now lost all of their rings when they might only lost a portion of them otherwise. That’s a considerable risk, and one the player would need to choose to take. It’d be a way to empower the player without actually offering any additional control.
Despite a few changes in appearance over time, shields have been part of the StH series from the beginning. I happen to think that they’re essential to the games (if largely due to the ring situation detailed above), but I also think that they could be explored more than they have been. The blanket purpose of any given shield is to allow the player to take damage without losing rings, but in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the shields were divided into three types, each of which allowed the player some additional advantage (fire shield protecting from fire and lava, electric shield attracting nearby rings, and water shield allowing breathing underwater). I like this more creative angle on what is otherwise a very static game element, and I’m surprised that this was never revived or expanded upon. I did mention in the beginning that certain unusual power-ups are probably better off restricted to the games in which they appear, but I’m not positive that different types of shields fall under that umbrella. (The fact that each shield gave Sonic an additional special ability probably should be left behind, however; Sonic has more standard abilities these days than he did at that time.)
Fire, electricity, and water shields all have their strengths and weaknesses, and they seem to even each other out well. If one were to add additional shield types, the balance of advantage would have to be carefully considered before calling it fully ironed out. Personally, I’m not positive I would add any new types, but rather just lightly sprinkle those three around on occasion, with the bulk of the games continually dominated by the standard shield. As stated above, special items are only special if they’re hard to find. Getting one of the specialty shields would be a nice reward to especially dedicated, explorational, or clever players.
I can already feel people recoiling over the fact that I’ve created a subsection for this move, as it was only actually used in Sonic CD and nuanced in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I’ve decided to bring it up because I feel that there’s a collection of various game elements that all seem to have relation to the same idea, but have never really been amalgamated into a single, solid ability. The Peel Out is one of these elements.
To make this more clear, allow me to list the things I’m talking about:
- The Peel Out, which allows Sonic to take off at full-speed from a stand still (like a Spin Dash done while standing)
- The speed and ring energy meters from the daytime levels of Sonic Unleashed
- The ability to give Sonic a burst of speed from time to time in recent titles (Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Rush, for example)
- The fact that Sonic’s entire namesake comes from breaking the sound barrier
The point that I’m slowly migrating my way toward is that I’m shocked that Sonic’s never been given an ability that revolved around sonic booms. I honestly had expected something like this years ago. Sega seems to have sort of addressed it, but it seems that they keep dancing around it rather than just doing it. I really don’t understand why this is. In other StH media, particularly the cartoon shows, sonic booms are frequently audible, so this isn’t a new concept to the fans. Why does Sonic not have a Sonic Boom ability?
If it were up to me, such an ability would make use of all of the things listed above. I think it’d make an appropriate revival of the Peel Out from Sonic CD, complete with the distinguishing red figure-8. The major benefit of this move would be the concussive shockwave that real sonic booms are known for, which would be able to destroy enemies and break open item containers. This is something that the games already make mild use of, but it would be on a much bigger scale, since we’re dealing with breaking the sound barrier. I would make the Sonic Boom usable from both a standstill and while running, but certain conditions would apply. This is where the speed and ring meters come in.
While Moving: The speed meter would indicate to the player how close they are coming to performing a Sonic Boom. When (and only when) the player reaches Sonic’s top speed, the player would have the option to use their ring energy to push him past top speed, which would perform Sonic Booms. The shockwave would eliminate any enemies and items on-screen at that moment, and this would only last so long as the player has ring energy to burn. The player may use it all at once or in short bursts if they choose. Using ring energy when Sonic is NOT at his top speed would not produce Sonic Booms, and would simply give him the same burst of energy that it does in Sonic Unleashed.
While Standing Still: This is where the ring energy bar becomes even more important. If the bar isn’t completely full, the player would only be able to use it for short bursts of speed while running; however, if the player allows the meter to fill, they would be eligible to perform a Sonic Boom from a dead stop. The advantage of this would be that there’s no speed prerequisite, and the ring energy could be banked until needed in a particularly ugly situation, just as with special move meters in Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog. The downside of performing a standing Sonic Boom would be that doing so would take the entirety of the ring meter energy, so it would force the player to use it wisely.
I think having these existing elements collaborating together into one technique would be refreshing to the series and true to its nature, while also making this group of features more concise. Just as I mentioned in the Characters section, sometimes simply putting a new spin on something from the past is all one needs to keep things fun and interesting.
Super forms of any character can be a tricky business, and the StH series is no exception. The main problem with any given super form is that it’s essentially a free game-breaker. While I admit that I myself enjoyed zipping around Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles as Super Sonic or Hyper Knuckles, I also feel that it almost lets the cat out of the bag too early. At the same time, however, I also recognize that in those games, the super forms had to be earned; if you didn’t get the Chaos Emeralds, you didn’t get the super form, and that was that. Considering what the player has to go through TO get those forms, allowing them to be used in the main body of the game is a fair reward.
Still, games usually have some degree of ramping involved, and being able to pull out the super form at any time can seriously break that. I suspect that this is why Super Sonic and the other super forms have been reserved only for final battles for the last decade or so. It helps both in keeping the game’s difficulty under control and in pacing the story arc. This has been coupled with the method of taking Chaos Emerald collection out of the player’s hands and making it part of the story instead, which disallows the player to qualify for a super form before the game designers intend on it.
I really can’t say whether one technique or the other is better, because I can see the pros and cons of each. I know anyone that actually played through StH2006 would’ve liked to pull a super form out of their back pocket whenever they wanted, whether it conflicted with the story or not, because the game was just that unreasonably hard. My feeling is, perhaps Sega could take a nod from the Legend of Zelda series and build a “second quest” of sorts into future games. Traditionally, a second quest begins with the protagonist beginning with all of the items and abilities they ended the first quest with. If this were incorporated into future Sonic games, it would allow the writers to reserve super forms for the end of the game on the first play through, then allow the player to use them whenever they wanted on the second. If nothing else, it would certainly increase the title’s replay value, and it would make a great reward for players that went all the way through and finished.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG characters © SEGA, SEGA, the SEGA logo and Sonic The Hedgehog are either registered trademarks or trademarks of SEGA Corporation. All rights reserved.
This analysis, however, is mine, and screw you if you try to steal it. No part of this article may be reproduced without my written permission.