Opinionated Review: Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)

As I mentioned on the footnote of Shadow of Time, I published it to celebrate something very special to me. For the first time in my near-15 year experience with Sonic games, I can finally call myself an expert at one of them. I completed Shadow the Hedgehog’s “Expert Mode” (with 90 lives to spare at that. Thanks, chicken gun.), a feat which I assume most players never even get the chance to attempt. (Just a few days later, I finally got the seventh Chaos Emerald and experienced the final boss for the first time in Sonic Heroes. This has been a really good week for me.) Anyways, in working towards getting an A-rank on every single mission of the game, I got an excellent chance to really analyze its core gameplay elements, while, writing for Shadow of Time, I’ve gotten an equally appropriate chance to analyze the story. Normally, I wouldn’t want to review a game that I first started playing over a decade ago, but these are special circumstances. Additionally, with Mania done and Forces on the way, I am interested in establishing a baseline of comparison between classic games, Adventure-style games, and modern games. Now, since this game came out 12 years ago, it would be unfair of me to compare it directly to modern games (unlike Sonic Mania, which came out last month). So, most comparisons will be made to Sonic Heroes and other Adventure-era games. So, without further ado, let us begin.
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Fun is Infinite with Forces!

Another new reveal!

Certainly an enigmatic introduction. First of all, I’ve been hearing this character called “Infinite” since day one of his reveal, even though I have no idea where that name could have come from. Well, however it was known, it is correct. His voice sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it. One of the first things I noticed was the quality of the game-rendered cutscene, this being the first we’ve seen from this game. I think it kind of hit that uncanny curve for me. It looked good enough that the flaws that existed were really strongly emphasized in my perception, so the whole thing came out looking a little weird. And the colors all looked a little bright considering the darker tone of the scene, but it would make sense that I would think that having just recently spent a lot of time playing and watching Shadow the Hedgehog. On the positive side, the usage of black-and-white certainly suggests flashbacks, which can be a  very strong indicator of a good story. I have nothing more than trivial complaints, but those are far outweighed by the actual story! The initial reveal of this character made him seem more like a force of nature than a character, but this scene starts to suggest otherwise. And speaking of character, he has a character theme.

What the scene suggests, this song shouts at your face. And I love it. It is no longer a question of if, but how deep they are willing to go with his story. “I was born with this pain, it only hurts if you let it.” Sounds like the answer is “pretty deep.” I also note the implication of an eventual, final, one-on-one confrontation between Infinite and his enemy, presumably Sonic. “Who is gonna save you now?” Does this mean that Sonic’s friends will meet with a terrible fate? Or perhaps that he can’t really trust them? Could the Hero character actually be a traitor? Or in a surprise twist, could Infinite actually be talking to Hero, not Sonic? And that’s just the lyrics.

The song itself is…wow. Fist Bump disappointed a bit, but this absolutely did not. The initial tune is catchy in and of itself, but the moment when the guitar starts was just so exciting for me. The directness of lines, like with Fist Bump, was a little jarring, but in this case I feel it was executed a lot better, in addition to being more worth it for telling the story of the character. I suppose even Eggman’s theme from Adventure 2 didn’t execute the direct, first person song quite as well. Speaking of which, I have no way of knowing for certain, but I feel like I can hear Jun Senoue’s contribution to this composition, as it reminds me quite a lot of his work in Shadow the Hedgehog. Now I might be a little blinded by all the excitement right now, but, balancing that with nostalgia from long ago, I can confidently put this in my top five favorite Sonic songs of all time. And that’s all I can say for now.

-So until next time, remember what it takes to be Infinite.

Fist Bump!

(Ugh, I can’t believe I just said that.) *clears throat* What I meant to say was, because Sonic game music matters so much to me, I’ve decided to do an entire opinion piece on the Sonic Forces announcement made today. Take a look.

Since I already brought it up, let’s talk about that title first. I guess I can see what they’re going for? They want it to sound cool, and hip, and teen-like, right? Because I have some news for them. Fist bumps aren’t cool. The line which the song title appears in, “One more last fist bump” made me cringe just as much as seeing the title for the first time did, mostly because a solid 70% of the song otherwise sounded pretty good. To move along with the negatives, the first two lines, “I can’t do this alone / Even though I am strong” made me cringe almost as much as the previously mentioned line. As someone with experience writing lines to represent Sonic, having Sonic praise himself in such a context, even when asking for help, appears pitiful and out of character to me. Of course, it’s not too far off from what we’ve been seeing in the past few Sonic games with Roger Craig Smith, but everything we know about the game so far has been leading me to believe that the writers might actually be giving him back his less obnoxious, more serious character seen in games like Sonic Unleashed. Now, what these two negative factors do heavily remind me of is Sonic’s character in the Sonic Boom series, a caricature of the already less-than-desirable modern personality. Then again, I don’t think that character would even be humble enough to admit the need for help, even if praising himself while doing so. I hope I’m on the side of the majority here who wouldn’t want to see the Boom personality in a real game, right?

Now for the stuff I’m not really sure what to think about. As I mentioned before, I like about 70% of lyrics, but the first and last lines are so bad that I don’t know if I can call them good lyrics as a whole. All the stuff about working together and sharing a belief, it fits perfectly for a Sonic song. Nothing particularly special about it, but fitting. I could say the same about the singer. Apparently, the singer, Douglass Robb, sings for a relatively popular band called “Hoobastank.” That news surprised me, because I honestly felt that the singing skill sounded a bit on the amateurish side. I’ll also take this moment to say that this Douglass Robb person sounds close enough to Crush 40 that they should have just gone with Crush 40. I mean, seriously, Jun Senoue is still on the music team for this game, that’s half the band already. Even if the lyrics themselves would still have taken some getting used to (I can say that about plenty of other Crush 40 songs), Crush 40 would have left me with no qualms about the quality of the singing, and could have easily hit the nostalgia cord for myself and hundreds of thousands of Sonic fans like me. Anyways, the sum total of this song sounds…kind of like a fan dub of the instrumentals to me. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, fan dubs can have some pretty high quality when they try hard enough. And this felt like one of those high-quality fan projects to me, good and thorough, but lacking a certain professional touch. Sort of like good fanfiction, but in song form.

Even though it’s just a song, and songs have had some weird and false implications for Sonic games in the past, I feel the need to analyze the lyrics. Over and over again, it refers to two individuals. Not three. Two. So who’s getting left out? Does this mean that Sonic doesn’t interact much with the Hero character, meaning that this Hero has his own separate story? Or does Sonic not count Classic Sonic because they’re essentially the same person? I’d say either is possible. Either way, I still love the music, and I’m still excited for the Solaris Phase 2/Perfect Dark Gaia style final boss remix.

-So, until next time…one more last fist bump?

(I still don’t get it.)

Opinion Piece: Sonic Forces

The name is real! Today, a panel was held for Sonic at SXSW (South by South-West), where details were revealed for Sonic Mania, and, more importantly, this game. The game formerly known as Project Sonic 2017 now has the official name of Sonic Forces, which I believe refers to a battle between the forces of good and evil. But that wasn’t the only news announced today, and I’m here to talk about what we now know.

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In addition to the logo pictured above, we also had a full reveal of a previously shown (but cropped) concept art, pictured below. Nothing too far beyond expectations based on what we already knew, the same dark, fiery, destructive theme. It was pretty obvious before, but it was confirmed early in the reveal that the game’s plot does involve the existence of the Eggman Empire “…as I always dreamed it!” (Quote from Mike Pollock, voice of Eggman). Also clarified information that we had before, this was confirmed as a game in the style of Sonic Unleashed, Colors, and Generations. If they think that they can get an Adventure lover like myself to love that formula, I’m glad to see them try. But as it stands, I currently and always have felt like watering down Modern Sonic’s gameplay with the 2D sidescrolling that we already get from Classic Sonic is just a bad idea, plain and simple. But once again, I could certainly learn to love the high-speed boosting style of gameplay if they execute it perfectly.

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Now, on to the real news. 3. I’m not talking about a certain non-child-friendly game series that will not be mentioned here, nor about any conspiracy theories. Three playstyles. That’s what they said this game would have. Modern Sonic. Classic Sonic. And a third. I don’t even want to begin at guessing what that third style is, for risk of disappointing myself in the future. But, needless to say, that leaves potential to include the style of gameplay which I have been sorely missing for over ten years of Sonic games, in which case I would be perfectly fine with the overuse of 2D in the other 2 styles. I would also mention that, in describing the title of the game, the words “Sonic and friends” were used, inferring that this third slot could be filled by a character other than Sonic. But that’s just a theory. A game

The video above was also unveiled at this event. The main theme of Sonic Forces. The rumors have been flying around for over a year now that Crush 40 would be performing music for this next Sonic game, though Johnny Gioeli (lead singer) confirmed in an interview some time ago that they hadn’t been in any way contacted about it or otherwise involved in it by that point. However, before this theme was played, they stated that it had only just recently been recorded, meaning that something could very well have changed since that interview, and finally come to fruition. Now, as you’ve probably listened to and heard, the above song has no vocals. However, it was confirmed that the real theme song does have vocals, and that this was merely an instrumental version. Now, let’s be honest here. The song doesn’t quite line up with Crush 40’s usual style. The guitar doesn’t even come in prominently until over 15 seconds in, and even then, it isn’t nearly as pronounced as I would expect. This probably isn’t a Crush 40 song, though I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely impossible. What the musical style does remind me of, however, is that of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Lost World, the final boss fight theme of the latter in particular. And Lost World had a pretty good soundtrack. It’s not like a Sonic song has to be composed by Jun Senoue (lead guitarist of Crush 40 and music director of the Sonic series starting with Sonic the Hedgehog 3) to be good. I am actually quite fond of “Endless Possibility,” the lyrical theme of Sonic Unleashed. But as a Sonic fan of the Adventure era, anything that can make this game feel more like what I know and love can be a good thing. Now, I suppose I haven’t said what I think about the song itself yet. I’ll admit, I am very happy with it, and the piano at the end got me feeling really emotional. It feels way too upbeat given the tone of the game as we’ve seen so far, but it’s still a good piece of music.

Most importantly for today’s reveals, some brief footage of gameplay. Now, around this time, they also talked a bit about the gameplay in general. They confirmed that this game runs on the entirely new “Hedgehog Engine 2.” It looks very pretty, but in all honesty, I didn’t notice anything that made it clearly superior to the old engine. The gameplay style appears exactly the same as you would expect based on how they explained this game’s relations to old ones. Though I would point out that they did not showcase any 2D sidescrolling, which could be a very good sign for me. Of course, it could just be that they didn’t want to bother showing it because it doesn’t look nearly as pretty or exciting. We’ll have to wait and see. What we don’t have to wait for is the confirmation that Wisps are indeed returning to this game. Sigh. Wisps were a very clever and creative gimmick for Sonic Colors which did a good job in tying the gameplay together with what little story that game had. Their return for Generations was perfectly normal, in fact, the Colors levels would have been rather empty without them. Then Lost World came around. The inclusion of Wisps in Lost World was ridiculous, senseless, and, quite frankly, wrong. The end of Colors clearly established that the Wisps were gone, returned to their home planets. Now…the possibility exists that Lost World actually takes place in the Wisp galaxy (or solar system or whatever), since literally the only thing we know about the Lost Hex is that it is a “floating continent.” (Honestly, it really irritates me how little we know about that entire story.) It could be a continent floating above an alien planet, no one said it had to be above the Earth we know. I probably would’ve been satisfied with that explanation. But there was no explanation, forcing us to assume that these creatures we thought were aliens also happen to live natively on a floating continent above the planet, which, apparently, no one ever noticed. And now, here the Wisps are again, not just on this distant, almost planet-like continent, but now also on what we can only assume to be the surface of Sonic’s Earth. They fuel his boost gauge, though they don’t appear quite like the same white Wisps we saw in Colors. Since it seems like this game might have an actual story, unlike what we’ve been getting recently, I really, really hope that they actually take a whole 20 seconds out of their way to explain why the heck the Wisps are still here.

Conclusion
I can no longer say that this game has the potential to be the absolute perfect game, in my opinion. But the outlook isn’t so bad. This game could still shape up into the absolute highlight of the Modern Sonic era. The soundtrack is looking good so far, they have a chance to perfect the gameplay style, and the story is looking like it might be the best we’ve gotten in ten years. I’m still looking forward to seeing what’s in store for that third playstyle, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high. All in all, I’m still very excited for this game. Though I am more worried than ever about it stepping on the toes of my story.

-Until next time, remember to live and learn every day!
(Couldn’t come up with a good “forces” pun.)

Edit: It has been confirmed that characters including Knuckles, Amy, and unspecified members of the Chaotix appear in the game, including dialogue spoken to Sonic over a radio during gameplay. It has also been confirmed that none of these characters are playable, and that Modern Sonic gameplay does include 2D sidescrolling “occasionally.” Just because these other characters aren’t playable doesn’t mean that they have no role in the story, which is a lot of what I care about. If they acknowledge the existence of these characters in the Sonic universe in a capacity greater than the normal pathetic cameo roles, I’ll be very happy. The sorts of roles these side characters had in Shadow the Hedgehog (2005), minus the second-player playability of course, is the kind of thing I’m talking about, where we simply come across the characters doing exactly what one might expect them to do given the situation. And of course, just because these specific characters aren’t playable, doesn’t mean that some other character won’t be. As for the 2D…meh. If the 3D is good, then having the 2D certainly won’t ruin the game, it will just mean having less time enjoying the maximum that the game has to offer. I expected as much.