Deeper Waters – Sonic the Hedgehog, Part 8

Sonic iconWow. When I started this series last year, I didn’t expect it to go on for so long!

As I mentioned back then, it was originally inspired by Jeremy Parish’s Anatomy of Games series, in which he analyzes how level design subliminally teaches the player the basics of the game. I quickly veered from that kind of minute detail to looking more at the overall flow and presentation of the game. I’m not sure if it really turned out to be very insightful. Looking back on it, it’s almost a let’s play in text form.

Still, I see Sonic the Hedgehog as a classic platform game that deserves praise for taking the foundations set by Super Mario Bros in a whole new direction, and establishing its own unique identity. Sonic is extremely momentum based. He starts off walking slower than Mario, but can reach much higher speeds. The physics are extremely well done for a game of the era, and mastering them is the essential skill of the game. The level design complements it nicely, constantly throwing new obstacles and gimmicks into the mix, and the alternation between “faster” and “slower” zones creates a tempo that keeps the game from becoming monotonous.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised to still see the classic Sonic games get occasional flak for their control and level design. Back in the day, I chalked it up to the rivalry between Nintendo fanboys and Sega fanboys. After all this time, I would think that kind of mindset would have subsided. But I think a lot of people get hung up on Sonic‘s speed gimmick, and can’t see past it. Underneath it, however, is a traditional yet clever platform game. The speed is occasionally used to put some new twists on the running and jumping and give the player a quick rush of exhilaration, but it isn’t really the focus in and of itself (at least, not in the first game). It’s ironic that the hook that makes it unique is also what holds it back.

So, now that I’m finally done with Sonic the Hedgehog, what’s next? I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to analyze another game, although I have one in mind that I think would be interesting. If I do, I would try a different approach. But for now, I’ve got another project to work on!

Screenshot - Sonic the Hedgehog

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