Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Completing a Sonic Game

Amongst my generation there is a meme, or a trope - you might even call it a myth as its truthfulness is somewhat in doubt, although it is a story that we tell to tell us about ourselves and who we are as a people. It is to do with the two great tribes of the playground. Or rather, one delineating line in the ever shifting allegiances of the two great tribes of the playground; one aspect of the eternal war that is childhood, whose main battlefront is drawn up in the spaces between lessons.

 The facet of war in question is the 16-bit games console, and the banners one could fight under were Sega and Nintendo. The legend tells that a child could have only one of these mighty machines, be it Mega Drive or Super Nintendo - ownership of legacy consoles such as the NES or the Master System might sway one's allegiance, give rise to traitorous thoughts or test the loyalty of a child-warrior, but as these were usually the cast-offs of an older sibling, or bought when one was too young to understand the issues involved then they did not necessarily define you.

The way the story is told, in pubs and at house parties and games nights and other late-night meetings, at least by the winning side, is that Nintendo, whilst seemingly the choice of the overprotected with it's cuter graphics and safe mascots, was the cauldron wherein true gamers were born. It was the cool kids that owned Sega consoles; that played their flashier looking - more violent, more totally radical - games. Kid's whose parents let them have anything they wanted, which meant of course that they got total style over substance. They got Sonic instead of Mario.

I had a SNES.

Having said that, I've always loved Sonic, at least in principle if not in practise. The games feel like they should be amazingly fun. Unlike Mario games, which invariably start in a sort of threatless nowhere with a jaunty theme tune, Sonic games start with that driving theme urging you forward, in a pastoral world tinged with uneasiness; an Eden about to fall. I can play the Green Hill Zone, or it's later equivalents again and again, I just can't get any further. Maybe it's me, but they just have never lived up to the promise of the first world.

The only Sonic game I have ever come close to completing was Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast which my cousin bought while he was staying with us for a few months. He didn't have a save card for it, however, and at the time we had no way of knowing that we'd actually reached the last level, so we decided to give up. I recently tried to play that game again - you can get it as DLC on XBox Live- but I just couldn't get into it.

And so, while everyone says that playing Sonic is all about the speed I have always found them to be full of tricksy, pixel perfect jumping, punishing water rules and counter-intuitive, backtrack-based exploration. This is why they disappoint me so much; because I love a good timing-based platformer, which is why I love the Donkey Kong Country games: games I play with my left thumb firmly and permanently on the run button. Sonic doesn't even have a run button. No wonder I get so confused.

(Also, I can never work out: when Sonic changes direction on screen mid-run due to an s-bend or whatever, are you supposed to change the direction you a pushing on the controller, or just keep pushing forward? I always do it wrong, and so get stuck at the bottom of half-pipes. Always. But then again, I had a SNES.)

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