Wednesday 25 April 2018

Sonic R: Sonic Ace or Sonic Arse?

Something wonderful has happened within our little gaming community. Something unexpected, that has given me the most pleasure out of my whole Saturn experiences to date - the phenomenon of the "game of the moment". It starts with someone in the community extolling the merits of a particular game... it jogs the memory of some, tickles the fancy of others and invites the curiosity (or indifference) of the rest. So far, the games which seem to have captured the imagination and interest of our little community are the following: Sega Rally, Daytona USA, Christmas NiGHTS, Virtua Racing, Sega Touring Car, Burning Rangers and most recently, Sonic R. The buzz around certain games are often, but not always, influenced by the Saturn Junkyard's regular and partially successful Facebook challenges and by the wonderful tutorial videos produced by Sega Saturn Shiro's David Lee!!

There has been little debate as to whether the other games are "classics" or not. They've almost universally been applauded as great examples of their genres. But there is dissent in the air... the disgruntled and disenfranchised are making their voices heard. "Everybody's supersonic racing"? Most definitely not.
 So why is this game so divisive? Let's take a little look...

If were going to look objectively at this game, then we're going to have to get two things out of the way first. Number one, there was great disappointment that Saturn fans never got a "true" Sonic game. Sonic R is a racing game, which has more in common with "Mario Kart", than it does with the original Sonic 2D speed-run games. The 3D Sonic game that the public wanted, didn't arrive until Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Consequently, many Saturn owners, Sega-Heads and Sonic fans felt somewhat shafted by Sonic Team when it came to our favourite 32 Bit powerhouse.
Secondly, no franchise in gaming has ever suffered so much from comparison to the success and brilliance of it's first three titles, than STH. Whilst Mario's outings were always met with love, enthusiasm and the feeling that Nintendo had "done it again", topping the brilliance of the rotund plumber's previous outings every time, Sonic's efforts were always met with a snort of derision, with the tired and hackneyed old idea that his efforts to impress us, had yet again fallen short of our lofty expectations. 

So Sonic R is a contentious release before you even get the disc out of the case. Like the UK's favourite yeast-extract-spread Marmite, (yep it's a thing!) Sonic R provokes extreme reactions of love or hate. So let's get the disc out of it's case and see what all the fuss is about. The beauty of the PAL disc and box art are awesome. The disc itself, is an engaging, highly coloured, printed disc with our favourite hedgehog and his chums emblazoned across the front. So far, so good!

When I first put this game into my Saturn, I was full of anticipation. Finally, I would get to experience the flagship Sonic release on my favourite console! I selected Sonic of course and one of the only two available modes... Grand Prix or Time Trials. I opted for Grand Prix, and was surprised to find I could access all of the courses straight away. I assumed that I would have to master the first track to unlock the second - but that was not the case. The tracks are as follows: Resort Island, Radical City, Regal Ruin, Reactive Factory and Radiant Emerald (they all begin with "r"!) and each with it's own them and aesthetic.

It seemed that it would be characters that one could unlock. Straight out of the case, you can play as Sonic, Knuckles, Tails or Amy. Eggman was a participant in the race, but couldn't be selected as a racer. Of course I selected Sonic. It would have been impolite not to... The graphics on this game are undeniably gorgeous, and without doubt stand the test of time. (The colour-palette, and track aesthetics surely a big influence on Sumo Digital's Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing?) The music, courtesy of Sega maestro Richard Jacques is almost annoyingly infectious! Pure 90s cheese tech-house tracks with a dose of Orange Sunshine and lyrics like a grade schooler's first attempt at poetry.

Then comes the moment when you race that first track. The control scheme is not intuitive, with the shoulder buttons playing a huge role in the successful control of your characters. As Sonic took off in my first race, I couldn't believe the pedestrian pace with which he pottered around the track! Coupled with the fact that he kept falling off the set path into water, killing my lead, this was a thoroughly underwhelming introduction to the game. I kept playing, however, switching characters and courses. I was mildly more successful using Amy - her character having a car to drive, as opposed to the frenetic jogging of her counterparts - but still, I was utterly cack. I fared mildly better on the Radical City track, than any other courses, but that wasn't saying much. My initial conclusion was that the game was a steaming pile of hedgehog shit. So I canned it for three months and played Sonic Jam instead.

It was only as the game began to gather momentum as a popular "jeux du jour" within the community, that I gave it a second look. On playing it, I said to my Junkyard VP, Morgan Patrick, that I thought it was "rubbish"... a conclusion with which she heartily concurred. Having the disdain of a NiGHTs champion and Sonic advocate, made my indignation feel righteous. It must be crap, right?
But, then two things happened. My Junkyard brother and Titancast colleague, Mr Brian Vines, (The Virtua Schlub) advised me to use the shoulder buttons to tighten up my cornering... and WOW! Did it make a difference!
Next, the wonderful David Lee, as mentioned earlier, presented the Junkyard with one of the tutorial videos that he is now famous for. This showed David flying, skipping and skimming with Sonic, paying scant attention to the actual track, cutting corners, taking shortcuts and progressing at what seemed like a lightening pace, compared to the geriatric speed-walking that I was indulging in. David also published a couple of guides online which were extremely helpful.

Before I knew it, I was playing a totally different game, than the one I had first experienced. I was coming first... on all courses. I unlocked Dr. Robtnik and the feelings of elation and achievement I experienced were amongst the best of my video-gaming life. I have become a total convert. I'm hooked. Not only to the gameplay, but to the aesthetic and the soundtrack. If I could,
I would live in that game. It has surpassed so many of my old favourites to take it's place in my Saturn Top 10!

As well as the racing element, there's the incentive to unlock new characters by collecting crystals and coins. The collecting of rings throughout the game can allow you to take advantage of speed boosts and there are a plethora of alternate routes and secret areas to explore, making this game so much more than a simple test of speed and dexterity.

But for all of you out there thinking this title is a broken debacle of a game and that Traveller's Tales should never have been allowed to develop the IP for Sega, I urge you to give it one more try. If you still think it's shite, I'll let it go.

As for now I can't stop thinking about those lyrics...

Everybody's Super Sonic Racing! Trying to keep your feet right on the ground,
When you're Super Sonic Racing, There's no time to look around,
When you're Super Sonic Racing, Running to the point of no return... let the fire burn!

"Living in the city, you know you've got to survive, Living in the city, you know you've got to be alive..."

"High, sky, pie, cry, fly, spy, shy, June, moon, spoon etc. etc."


Daniel Turner said...

ARSE! ... but i still like it cos it’s Sonic init:)

RoundCat said...

I'm actually a recent convertee on the game's quality. My initial experience was with the botched PC twin pack version, which lacked any of the music the game is known for. All I remember was the game was impossible to control on a keyboard, and I didn't have a controller for my computer that worked with it. Overall I wrote it off as mediocre, and ended up playing the hell out of the copy of Sonic 3D Blast that came with it instead.

I recently picked up the Saturn version, and once I got the hang of the controls, I found it to be a very enjoyable game. It helps to think of the game more like Sega Rally rather than Mario 64 control wise. You can even hold B to accelerate like you would in a typical racing game.

I just wish there was more content in the game. I ended up getting to the credits in less than an hour, Unlocking all the characters in a about 2 hours, and finding all the emeralds in about an hour and a half. I ended up playing the game over again in hard mode, and doing the time trial challenges over and over again, because I it's actually quite addicting. But I've pretty much done everything there is to do within the game, and I'm left wishing there was more.