Blast (Processing) From the Past
Posted on Monday, February 16 2009 @ 19:42:52 PST
If you've been reading my blogs much in recent history, you're probably aware of my affection for the Sonic games of yore. That spiky haired blue hedgehog defined a lot of my childhood; from the plush Sonic I slept with, to the cartoon I'd watch every morning before school, to the video game I'd fire up as soon as I got home. While I do enjoy revisiting those days every now and then with my trusty version 2 Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the obvious pinnacle, recent events have had me considering these aged gems in a more contemporary light.
Whether its invaders descending from space, a yellow rotund fellow with noisy eating habits, or just a bunch of freaks beating each others' faces in on the streets of the world, developers are cashing in on classic franchises. The great thing about the examples I alluded to is that they're ****ing awesome. Space Invaders Extreme, Pacman: World Championship Edition and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo: HD Remix are all prime examples of developers taking dusty properties, cleaning them off and making them appeal to a modern market. What sets them apart from my inspiration for this blog, Sega's Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, is that they're all completely aware of what is still fun about these games. Rather than repackaging legal emulations of the originals and calling it a day, they took the time to update them, giving them a legitimate second life instead a few minutes of nostalgic attention.
Tossing aside the gradual pacing instilled in your father's Pacman and Space Invaders, which made enough sense when game length was determined by pocket depth, these new incarnations embrace the idea of playing for brief stints. In accepting what Roy Batty couldn't, that the candle which burns twice as bright dies twice as fast, they offer more varied and complex gameplay in a shorter period. You do own the game, after all. Why should it take a half hour of faux credit insertions to get to the exciting part?
SF2THDR, conversely, wasn't constricted by the same issues. Its characters weren't cute little iconic pixel clusters. They were valiant attempts at making characters of anime quality with 16bits of processing to work with. To this day, the gameplay of Street Fighter 2 Turbo is completely fulfilling. The combat is fluid and complex, but all that complex fluidity is still hidden under appears to be crumbling fossils. Having Udon draw HD quality sprites and backgrounds for Street Fighter 2 has slathered pounds upon pounds of dino-meat back on those fossils. Breaking both first-day and first-week downloadable game sales records, SF2THDR made it clear to all that classic gameplay can't be tarnished by age, even if graphics can.
What of the classic gameplay that isn't receiving its due in modern times? With all these developers looking to the past for future success, where is my once beloved Sega? Where has that spiky haired hedgehog gone off to? Moronic marketing and branding aside, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection is a grand value. Despite the name, there's more than sonic games in there- a lot more. Unfortunately, the biggest advancement they've made is in offering creative achievements. Sure, you could play emulated Genesis games just about anywhere, but now you get meaningless points! This is the kind of technological advancement that would cause our cave dwelling ancestors' heads to explode were they to ponder it.
Seriously, Sega, what the ****? They've delivered 4 fantastic Virtua Figher games, only missing the ball on refining the famous gameplay without changing it too drastically. Every time they roll a new Sonic game out, every PR person in screaming distance informs the world that they're, "finally getting back to classic Sonic gameplay." Despite their success in other areas and promises in this one, they just can't seem to deliver. Not a single sonic game since Sonic 2 has shown any evidence that the developers understand that intricate, variable and occasionally high-speed levels are what made the first two Sonic titles amazing. It wasn't just running fast, or collecting golden rings, or saving animals from robots, or any of the interspecies nonsense beloved only by furry folk. The joy of Sonic was blasting through a level at high speed, miraculously bouncing off an enemy, hitting a ramp and, as you're careening aimlessly through the air, noticing a platform with a bunch of rings or an extra life way up where you'd never imagine it. Contemplating, "how the **** do I get up there?" and either figuring it out, or giving up and bouncing off some springs to the end of the level, that was the basic beauty of Sonic. The music, graphics and furry nonsense were just layers of icing, ever sweetening the deal.
Now, in an age where Sega offers more and more icing to sate the sweet teeth of the buying masses, they should take some time and gaze in to a mirror. Look at what you are, Sega. Then, consider what you were. Finally, look in roughly eight other directions. Your old games were fantastic, Sega. Call me crazy, but there are plenty of cues you should be taking from your competition. With a little elbow grease and genuine care, Sonic could be launched back in to the land of relevance and, maybe, Sega would get to come with him.