When it comes to bad games, there’s never been anything like the rollercoaster of a ride the Sonic franchise has been. Although I’ve barely touched the Genesis-era games, it’s apparent that they were some of the best games of their time.
However, as with many early video game franchises, the transition from 2D to 3D has not been nice to the little guy. The numerous spin-off games and new characters added to the pile also don’t help.
There is always a silver lining, and the Sonic franchise does have some good and even great games to tout. With that heavy of a contrast, it seems fitting to make a Top 5/Bottom 5 Sonic Games list.
It’s important to note that only the Sonic games I’ve actually played qualify for my list. I won’t be taking part in any bandwagoning and undeserved dogpiling for the sake of dissing Sonic games on the Internet. These are my honest opinions.
The Sonic franchise is pretty well known for have games that are amazing at launch, but don’t age well. These also tend to attract a sense of nostalgia for them that clouds your judgement. I was afraid of feeling that way about Sonic Riders, but after revisiting it I found that it aged better than expected.
As a spinoff racing game before the modern Sonic games, Sonic Riders has you racing on hoverboards and other similar air-based vehicles across 16 tracks. The story and cutscenes probably aged the poorest, but the gameplay still holds up as well as I remember. The core concept revolves around your Air Tank, which you can fill up by grabbing powerups, pulling off tricks, or even doing tricks while riding someone else’s airstream. This management and that variety of ways to replenish it makes Sonic Riders stand out to me as one of the better Sonic-Adventure-era games.
As a late entry in the Sonic Adventure generation and as another nostalgic GameCube Sonic game, I expected Shadow the Hedgehog to be on par with Sonic Riders as far as aging goes. While it does well somewhat, many of the deeper problems popped out now I didn’t have a young mind clouded by the surprise of hearing profanity in this edgy T-Rated Sonic game.
The game’s main narrative pull remains intact, with your actions dictating your branch in the storyline. However, so much of the gameplay elements I didn’t mind are now disorienting. The camera is the biggest culprit in that it can’t keep up with the action, making it hard to see where you are going or predict what’s ahead. Attacking and shooting is difficult to control or read. Backtracking through levels disrupts the forward momentum and make difficult platforming or secret sections frustrating. The only real redeeming factor is the boss fights, which happen infrequently and can be tedious when they do. I find it funny that I ran into the exact opposite problem of Sonic Riders. The nostalgia was there for Shadow the Hedgehog, but the fun is not.
I know. You’re probably just as surprised as I was that two Sonic racing games would show up on this list. However, after going back through my library and taking a look at what I’ve played, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed really stood out to me as such a good experience. In fact, it’s one of the few Sonic games I still actively play.
Unlike Sonic Riders, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a straight-up kart racer that stars a variety of Sega characters (and for some reason Wreck-it-Ralph and Danica Patrick). As the comparison between Sonic and Mario games tend to go, this game borrows some elements from Mario Kart. However, it doesn’t just rip it off. The kart, boat, and aircraft forms actually control like you would expect them to and the game feels so much more arcade-like as a result. Until Mario Kart 8 came out, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was just what I needed to fill the void. In fact, I still play both to this day.
The most disappointing example in recent history has to be Sonic Boom. After the gradual comeback of modern Sonic games after Sonic ‘06, Sonic Boom brings that all back down again. Its performance is the most infamous part about it. Frame rate slows to a crawl, collision glitches are abundant, the overall quality is poor, and the infamous Knuckles Glitch lets you skip huge chunks of the game. Big Red Button had to squeeze blood out of a stone to get this game running on the Wii U when it was meant to be a PS4/Xbox One title before Sega’s platform deal with Nintendo, and I believe that this was the best they could do with the time they had.
That aside, the rest of the game isn’t really that great either. Movement is slow for Sonic and gang, and even when you do get the chance to speed up you go too fast to even react to obstacles in your way. The characters and scenarios are almost nonsensical, including a mindless boss fight through time with Shadow the Hedgehog. The only real redeeming factors are the 2D sections and each character’s special skills. Even with the game in the state that it is, Sonic Boom is still more missed potential. Besides, we’ve got more to go as well fall down this hole.
Many (including myself) would consider this game to be the turnaround point for modern Sonic games. It felt like Sonic Team was finally starting to understand that you don’t need extra characters, outlandish gimmicks, and a convoluted, yet predictable storyline. The gameplay is Sonic’s strength, and Sonic just needs to go fast.
Sonic Colors boils down the characters to just Sonic, Tails, Eggman, and his robots. The only technically additional characters are the Wisps, aliens that Eggman captures to power the Dr. Eggman’s Incredible Interstellar Amusement Park. This same amusement park also opens up the level design to be more abstract with levels like Sweet Mountain and Starlight Carnival. The Wisps also serve as powerups for Sonic, with White Wisps charging Sonic’s boost gauge and different-colored Wisps granting fun but gimmicky powers.
These wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for Colors’ only problem, the controls. Using the Wii Remote with this game sucks and makes using the Wisp powers not fun. This game does support the Classic Controller, so I highly recommend playing with that. That aside, Sonic Colors is a pretty excellent game and it really makes me hope that Sonic Team’s next game will be based on that formula.
As bizarre as the premise was, I was interested in Sonic and the Black Knight. I had yet to experience the burn of the pre-Colors modern Sonic games, so it appealed to me. The game is actually pleasant with its medieval art style and good soundtrack, having one of the best presentations of the bad Sonic games. But, you know me. Aesthetic alone isn’t enough to carry a game, and none of the other features brought to the table here hold up.
The story has an interesting premise involving Sonic getting transported to King Arthur’s realm by Merlina to fight against the evil Black Knight who has taken over. Returning characters play the roles characters like the Knights of the Round Table. It goes without saying, but if your antagonist includes the Knights of the Round Table, you’re probably on the wrong side of the fence, which is made obvious in the oh-so-shocking reveal that Merlina is actually evil.
The gameplay is probably what you expect. One weird gimmick ruins everything else which in this case is the unresponsive sword combat. The unclear direction of the level design in some cases means that just getting to the end like expected can be considered a failure. The multiplayer feature is a joke, and is fitting for a tertiary mode to put on the back cover. Sonic and the Black Knight is disappointing, but there are two more games that I consider to be worse.
After seeing Sonic Colors on this list, it was probably safe to assume that Sonic Generations would be next in line. Sonic Generations is in a special situation in time, where Sonic Team actually figured out what worked in Sonic Colors and just improved on it. While Colors stands on its own, Generations also has the advantage of being on more powerful hardware to really make the most of their visual fidelity.
It isn’t just visuals either. Gameplay for both Modern Sonic and Classic Sonic controls really well, and the gameplay variety makes each character stand out. The story and setup for Generations is paper-thin, but gives just enough of a rational excuse to play reimagined levels from throughout the Sonic franchise. With reimagined stages comes reimagined music, and Sonic Generations also has some of the best music in the series.
Each level also has challenge missions that unlock after beating the level with both Sonics, and these can be range from fun to tedious. Unfortunately, you have to beat at least one in each level, so I usually just stuck with the Shadow Sonic ones to just replay the full level. The boss fights are actually pretty good this time around. They’re not really that fun to replay, but fighting Perfect Chaos in is fully-realized form is fantastic. The last boss is the worst, but that the way it usually goes when you have to play as Super Sonic. Despite its flaws, Sonic Generations is technically my best Sonic game. Why do I say “technically”? Just wait and see.
As we near the end of the list, we get to one the games that started 3D Sonic’s downhill slide, Sonic Adventure. I vaguely remembered the Sonic Adventure games from when they came out, but I did pick them up a couple years ago on the last-gen consoles. If there was a poster child for games that don’t age well, it has to be Sonic Adventure.
The only characters that feel good to control are Gamma and Amy, and Amy is the most tedious of them all. The cutscenes feel like Sonic Team’s first attempt at rigging 3D models to animate in conversations, and the story doesn’t do much to help it. The sound mixing is notoriously bad with the background music dominating every scene and muting characters. Also, Big the Cat. Its one saving grace is the Chao Garden, as it is pretty fun to raise your Chao. Overall, Sonic Adventure just doesn’t hold up and I have no desire to go back (it’s not like I had any in the first place).
“But Macaulay,” you may be asking. “How can a Sonic Generations mod be your favorite Sonic game?” True, it seems a bit unfair to have an entry not developed or at the very least licensed by Sega. However, the Unleashed Project takes the best parts of (you guessed it) Sonic Unleashed and is recreated with the Generations engine.
As great as they are, it’s a bit hard to go back to these levels in Unleashed because of how the original game aged. Now with these levels taken out, we get them all nice and laid out for us using a similar White World level select layout to Generations. This also gets rid of Unleashed’s few sound and aesthetic quirks in favor of Generations’ more natural design.
It’s not perfect, and I wouldn’t expect a mod to be. a few assets were difficult for the developer to recreate in Generations, so stages like Jungle Joyride can look amazing and ugly at the same time. Right now there’s only 8 stages available, but the team behind Unleashed Project is working on bringing the rest of the daytime levels from Unleashed into Generations. Even in its current stage with as little content that it has, Unleashed Project is my best Sonic game. Besides, it’s not like Sonic Generations had that many levels to begin with.
Do you remember what I said a bit ago? About how Unleashed Project takes the best parts of Sonic Unleashed and put it in Sonic Generations? Well, I should elaborate. Those best parts are the only good parts Sonic Unleashed has, and those are just a fraction of what the game has to offer. Everything else ranges from mediocre/tedious to just plain awful.
Let’s be superficial and start with the presentation. Slimming down the characters is appreciated, but the game just replaces them with even worse ones like Chip and weirdly cartoonish humans that don’t meld well (even with Eggman’s design). The music is good, but the sound design is awful. Sonic makes constant wooping noises everytime you boost, and makes the weird fish-eye effect of the camera even more disorienting. Also, whoever decided that a doorbell should be the sound effect for hitting a quick-time-event prompt needs to reexamine their life.
The Werehog sections aren’t even as bad as people make them out to be, but everything around the gameplay sucks. The fact that you need to have a certain number of Sun and Moon medals to unlock progression is infuriating. If you can find them in a fast Sonic level, it’ll take you a few minutes. To get them in a Werehog level, the shortest one (the first one) is over ten minutes long. You have to play the Werehog levels to get these because there aren’t enough in the Sonic stages, so you’d better get them on your first try if you don’t want to grind through them again.
Speaking of grinding, this is also the first Sonic game I’ve had to grind for lives in to beat it. Why? The final level has you switch between Normal and Werehog Sonic and is so long and tedious and not fun, and checkpoints don’t matter when you run out of lives.
The icing on the cake has to be the final boss fight against Dark Gaia. Nothing says “Sonic final boss” like a lumbering Colossus flying slowly towards a monster throwing lava rocks, then punching it in the face with ironically slow quick-time-event punches (complete with the aforementioned doorbell sound). Intercut in these are Sonic running sequences with a strict time limit and ending with a three-button quick-time-event. If you fail this, you lose a life and start from the beginning. Perfect Dark Gaia is a little better, but you have the Super Sonic problem that all Sonic games have.
This game was the first game in a while I’ve actively hated, let alone a Sonic game. Everything just comes together in a maelstrom of bad design that all needs to be included here to drive my point home. What point? That Sonic Unleashed is my worst Sonic game of 2015 and of all time.
So there you have it, my Top 5/Bottom 5 Sonic Games of 2015. Besides a lack of Sonic ‘06, were they what you expected? Where there any that you enjoyed or dreaded more and would have put in instead? Either way, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. I’ll be back next week for my Top 10 Anticipated Games of 2016. If you missed it, you can check out my Top Ten Boss Battles here.