Monday, September 28, 2020

Sonic Team September Round-up

During the Console Wars of the 90s, my camp was firmly established on the Nintendo side of the schoolyard (see The Sega Gap for more info). Recently, the availability of Sega's library on PC has made catching up on the games I had previously skipped due to childhood biases quite easy. With this month being #SonicTeamSept, I thought this would be a find time to tackle several Sega games in my Steam backlog in one fell swoop on my Twitch channel.

Nights Into Dreams

My first and only prior experience with Yuji Naka's Sega Saturn title, Nights into Dreams, was at a department store demo kiosk. Back then, I could not make heads or tails of how to play this bizarre fever dream of a game. Two decades and a very careful readthrough of the instruction manual later, Nights is still a really difficult game to figure out; it doesn't neatly fit into any existing game genre. 
Here's a short summary of how the gameplay works in a level of Nights Into Dreams:
  • Nights flies through fixed 2D planar routes within a larger 3D environment collecting orbs
  • By collecting at least 20 orbs within the time limit, Nights can destroy the Ideya machine
  • After destroying the Ideya and returning to the starting point, the flight path changes and a new Ideya spawns
  • Destroying 4 Ideya machines warps Nights to a separate battle area to take on the level boss
It took a while, but once I got the hang of soaring through the air, collecting orbs, and the somewhat opaque boss battles, I found that I was having a pretty good time. It also helped that the gameplay was accompanied by colorful, stylized graphics and a poppin' soundtrack. After finishing it in a single sitting (it's a pretty short game), I was struck with the feeling that the game was a bit too barebones for a major console release, yet too esoteric for the arcades. I'm really glad I got to experience it as an affordable Steam release in order to better understand its place in gaming history but I don't think I would have been satisfied if I would have bought it as a full-priced Saturn game back in 1996.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 4 hours and 20 minutes
Flying through rings and collecting orbs as Nights

Sonic Generations

Since Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the few Sega series that I have considerable experience with, I was pretty excited to play this game that serves as a celebration of the franchise's history. In Sonic Generations, you alternate between playing 2D platforming stages as retro Sonic and 3D platforming stages as modern Sonic. Each stage is based on iconic locations from previous Sonic games such as Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. It was awesome to see high-definition reimaginings of classic areas; they also sported some interesting rearrangements of the music from these stages as well. The gameplay itself, however, was a mixed bag. In many cases, the game successfully captured the smooth and snappy gameplay of classic Sonic games, but in other cases, either the level design or controls felt janky. As a long-time Sonic fan, I had fun with Sonic Generation's retro-modern nostalgic mashup but it may lack the polish to reel in people who aren't already invested in the adventures of Sega's blue hedgehog.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes

Green Hill Zone as depicted in Sonic Generations

Sonic CD

Among the classic 16-bit Sonic games, this is the only one I've never played (due to it being confined to a Sega Genesis add-on system for so many years). This game's use of CD technology provides a notable boost to the graphical detail and music quality compared to the standard Genesis titles. It was quite nice. However, I found the level layouts and time travel mechanics (a concept unique to this entry in the series) to be quite confusing. Perhaps if I had spent more time with the game, I could have come to appreciate these aspects of Sonic CD but I generally come to retro Sonic games for a straightforward pick-up-and-play experience. On the other hand, this game does some cool things with boss battles, many of them added a puzzle-like element that made them much more interesting than traditional Sonic battles. Overall, this was a solid 2D Sonic but it didn't come close to touching Sonic 2 and Sonic Mania as my favorite 16-bit Sonic games.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 2 hours and 18 minutes (Bad ending because I don't understand time travel)

I loved the rich color pallet of Sonic CD

I found playing all three of these games to be interesting and worthwhile experiences, though I don't think I would put them on the same level as some of Sega's timeless classics. That being said, seeing three very different phases within the evolution of Sega's aesthetics and gameplay design in a single month was a lot of fun.

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #SonicTeamSept event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020

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