Once again, I apologize for neglecting the blog the past couple of weeks, but I’ve had a lot of personal things to deal with this past month.
I don’t want to say the blog is going on hiatus because I do want to keep working on it when I can, but at the same time, I have to give it a lower priority while I deal with other things. So, output will probably continue to be sporadic for the time being.
Yeah, this is kind of a cheat since South Town is a location and not actually a character. But in a way, it is a character because of how much personality it adds to the games that use it as a backdrop.
South Town is the setting for many of the games in SNK’s Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series’, and even makes occasional appearances in The King of Fighters. It’s an American seaside city that bears resemblance to Miami, Florida, and is the home of another of my favorite characters, Terry Bogard.
Call me crazy, but it looks like it would be a cool place to visit. It’s got beaches, amusement parks, themed restaurants, fighting tournaments, crime lords overtaking it every other week—it’s a happening place!
I think there are two main reasons that South Town strikes me as such a vividly realized locale. First, with it being the backdrop for so many games, it had time to develop and evolve. Areas like Sound Beach, Howard Arena and Dream Amusement Park reappear throughout the Fatal Fury series, and we get to seem them from different angles and at different times. It contributes to making these places feel more “real.”
Second, a lot of fighting games have an international setting, which allows for a big variety of backgrounds all over the world. But when the game was limited to only one city, the developers had to create a lot of variety within that one area to keep things interesting. Additionally, they made the backgrounds very dynamic, filled with animations and with time passing between rounds. As such, South Town became a very detailed and fleshed-out place.
For me, one of the biggest appeals of fighting games is the characters. But I have to admit that, with a few exceptions, the character designs in the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series’ are not the most interesting to me. But really, it’s South Town, itself, that creates so much of the appeal and personality of those games, and makes up for the somewhat bland cast.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I would love to see SNK Playmore make a game with a freely explorable version of South Town. Preferably a River City Ransom-style beat’em-up with the Fatal Fury characters. It would be great to wander around the city and have my own adventures.
So, yeah, South Town isn’t really a character, per se, but it is definitely filled with character. It’s vivid depictions make it memorable, and it’s always fun to revisit it through the various games it’s featured in.
As you can imagine from the name, the Spring Yard Zone is filled with springs, but it also contains another new gimmick: pinball bumpers. As with the Special Stages, it seems that Sonic Team was having fun with the idea of Sonic being able to roll around as a ball. But the whole idea of Sonic in a pinball machine is such a clever and natural fit, that it would be a recurring theme throughout the entire franchise, including two dedicated Sonic pinball games. (Was there ever an actual Sonic pinball machine? I’m not aware of one.)
Still, the pinball theme of the Spring Yard Zone is a little more rudimentary here than in later titles. There are no actual flippers, and no slot machines or other such gimmicks are present. However, the level design is certainly reminiscent of a pinball table, with springs launching Sonic up shafts into fields full of bumpers and more springs. There are also many tall vertical wells that Sonic will bounce up and down in, and all of the springs and bumpers offer plenty of opportunity for him to build up speed.
But as is the case with Sonic’s first game, there are also quite a lot of slower sections that force him to come to a complete halt. Most notorious are the staggered moving blocks that Sonic must slowly and carefully move between, lest he get crushed or hit by the attacks of some annoyingly placed Buzz Bombers. But even these slower parts demonstrate that the Spring Yard is the most vertically-oriented of all the zones in the game.
There are more secret areas here for clever players to find, but something I neglected to mention in the previous part is that starting with the Marble Zone, they’re implemented differently than they are in Green Hill. Sonic is no longer required to spin and crash through walls to find the secret areas, he simply has to walk through them. Perhaps this was a more practical game design decision, as until the Spin Dash was introduced in the sequel, it was challenging to build up enough momentum to crash through walls in this first game.
An interesting detail to make note of in Spring Yard is the background. It depicts foliage close to the foreground with a silhouetted cityscape behind it, and mountains in the distance with a purple sky. The time of day seems to be dusk, suggesting that time has passed from the first two zones.
The confrontation with Dr. Robotnik gets even more dicey here than in the previous fights. Robotnik flies back and fourth in his Egg Mobile, and occasionally drops down to destroy the strange looking blocks that make up the ground, leaving nothing but a death pit below. It’s a simple pattern, but it imposes an inherent time limit on the battle. Once all of the blocks are gone, Sonic will have nothing left to stand on and he’ll plummet to his demise. For the most part, Robotnik hovers just out of Sonic reach, so the main opportunity to attack comes when he drops to destroy a block. Still, aggressive players should be able to make short work of the Doctor in only a couple of cycles.
The Spring Yard Zone is a fun gimmick that shows off the style of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s fast and goofy, and it returns to the wide open level design that highlighted Green Hill. The increase in enemies and traps, as well as the presence of bottomless pits, make this the most challenging zone yet, but things are about to get much more perilous.
Screenshots captured from a longplay video by RickyC.