Thoughts on Sonic Level Design

Alright it’s official, I am sick of talking about Mario games. Thankfully we have a new month ahead of us for another themed topic. The question was simply what should be cover next? Well, since I had Mario on the brain a lot the previous month, it is no surprise that the first thing that came to mind was his oldest rival Sonic. The main problem is that I am not a Sonic fan. That isn’t to say that I don’t like his game, but I haven’t played the majority of them. If I’m being honest, I don’t think there is a single videogame series where I have played every game to be fair, hence why I refer to myself as that casual gamer guy. However, I am willing to challenge myself and at the very least even though I haven’t played them, I have seen playthroughs for every Sonic videogame ever made. Figured it was a good way to kill some free time and now it’s coming in handy. Besides even if I could, I wouldn’t dream of touching Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Before we even start talking about 3D Sonic, we should look at 2D Sonic and what made it different from other platformers such as… Mario. I have a feeling I am somehow going to keep referring back to Mario this month, but hey I brought this on myself so let’s just keep it rolling.

The most important aspect of Sonic’s character is undoubtedly his speed and the best levels allow you to go fast. What would be the point of tracking your time if that wasn’t the intention behind this style of platforming? But that isn’t all there is to a good Sonic level. It is best if you can go as fast as possible but there is no point in doing that if you are just going in a straight line. There’s no challenge in that. So obviously the levels have with each having different paths for you to reach the goal. Some paths are more challenging, some are more rewarding, and some are just more fun to whizz through. Having the ability to go through different routes each time you play a level leads to encouraging multiple playthroughs. Especially if there are hidden goodies in each route. The best part about playing Sonic from what I can tell isn’t just getting to the end, but finding the best way to do it in the least amount of time. Otherwise you wouldn’t try so many different routes to see if you can use them to go even faster. Obviously not every 2D Sonic level follows this formula, but in fairness those levels tend to be the least popular from what I’ve heard. So I’ll wrap this up by saying that a good 2D Sonic level allows you multiple pathways which allow you to keep a certain pace.

Now I understand that is a pretty big generalization there, but I don’t think it is that far off the mark. Although, understanding 2D Sonic games on their own doesn’t tell us anything. What really starts to tell us something is when we transition from 2D to 3D gameplay. Sonic has had a lot of trouble with this transition. It makes sense considering the game is one with a heavy emphasis on using physics and momentum in order to achieve speed. If you mess up the physics and Sonic doesn’t handle right, then you won’t be able to achieve your desired velocity no matter how hard you try. So the best way to incorporate Sonic into 3D would be to have levels designed where using Sonic abilities would allow you to go through more pathways in a more open level design. That’s the ideal at least. However, it seems that more recent Sonic games have trouble figuring out what they want to do with 3D Sonic. Sometimes they incorporate 2D sections into the game because it seems that is easier to design. Sometimes they have you keep boosting in a straight line and doing homing attack chains. They have alternate pathways sure, but half the time it is not for getting a faster time. Instead you just find a random collectible at the end of it. I’m not saying there is anything not with collectibles, but why do I get the feeling that sometimes levels are designed more around the collectibles than Sonic?

I am not saying that the recent games are bad. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations were definitely good games. Sonic Colors tended to rely on the wisps to liven up the exploration of the stages and I feel that more than half of the stages were 2D sections of level. That’s fine and all but what about the whole 3D gameplay thing? Sonic Generations was definitely better, but the game itself was never really challenging enough that you needed to play through a stage too many times. Besides you were more likely to explore alternate pathways to find red rings than trying to get a better time, since acquiring an S rank does not require much effort. Sonic Lost World was an okay game and that was partly because the levels were kind of bland. In fact, one of my biggest problems with the game is that it had an interesting parkour system, but the developers barely made use of it and instead decided to turn the game into another Super Mario Galaxy for some reason. I mentioned Mario again didn’t I? Well, whatever. The point is that the systems they put in place feel like wasted potential since parkour never feels like it is required. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a game and that is all I need to say about it. As for Sonic Forces, I honestly don’t remember much of the game, but I doubt it didn’t have any of the fallbacks I listed previously. I could be wrong, but I doubt it considering the mediocre reviews I’ve heard. I’m not trying to hate on recent Sonic games though. I just want to say from the look of things recently, I feel that Sonic games have fallen into a bit of a rut. I am not saying we can’t have good 3D Sonic games with the current way of making games. I just think the current system is not the best translation we have for Sonic in 3D. As for what could be done better, I think I’ll save that for next time. See you next week.

Published by thatguy377

Nothing much to say. Just a guy who enjoys talking about games and has too much free time on his hands.

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