Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: Sonic the Fighters

Availability: This game was originally released in arcades in May 1996. I am unsure of how wide of a release it had internationally but in America it was very limited. A Sega Saturn version was intended but later scrapped. It wouldn't see a home release until 2005 when it was included on the Sonic Gems Collection released for Playstation 2 and Gamecube. Lastly this game became available on it's own on PSN and XBLA on 11/27/12, and the only reason I know that is because when I logged on to my PSN account to check on the new releases the surprise of the day one release came up on my radar.

Version I Played: PSN download.

Review: I have been waiting to get my hands on this one for a long time. The first time I experienced anything related to this game was in the Sega Saturn fighting game, Fighters Megamix, my favorite fighting game of all time and would buy a Saturn again to get that game alone. Among the many characters that were included it included a couple of the characters featured in Sonic the Fighters. Only partially to my surprise they were secondary characters, not anyone like Sonic, Tails, etc. FM also included a couple of stages from the game. Safe to say my experience with the game and it's elements were very limited. All I knew was essentially a demos worth of material and whatever I could find online. It wasn't until I played the full game on the Sonic Gems Collection at a friend's house that I would see what the rest of it was like. It has been years since I've touched that one, and I would tend to play Sonic R when I went over to his place anyhow because I had a personal attachment to that title.
I have been interested in spending more time on Sonic the Fighters for quite some time now. Part of it is in the novelty because it was unavailable for many years due to a cancelled Sega Saturn release. Also the Sonic Gems Collection is pretty limited and hard to find as well. I was just lucky a buddy of mine had it. So when I found it popping up on the PSN for a reasonable price of $5 I was all over that. On a side note I must say that the PSN has been treating me very well as of late. First there was Tokyo Jungle, then Nights into Dreams came up along with another Sega Saturn classic Daytona USA, now there's this previously unavailable Sonic title (for the most part) as well as a couple more Saturn titles!
Well while I was excited I knew not to keep my excitement too high. I remember this one having a lot of problems. I'm a big fan of being part of the history of a subject or franchise I am fond of. So I am willing to participate in most or all of the installments. However I am also realistic and not a super hardcore fanboy about things. I am able to recognize when something is crap. I have been a Sonic fan for an eternity. I am willing to recognize the horrible track it has been going down for the last few years, though. The 2006 Sonic "next gen" game was garbage but was too stubborn to admit at the time. Lots of the Wii titles have been terrible (Although I have heard Sonic Colors is pretty awesome). Essentially there hasn't been a super high quality, legitimate Sonic game since the first Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast.
That brings me to Sonic the Fighters. Excitement high, expectations low. I feel I should sandwich this title by complimenting it first, tear the piss out of it in the middle, and then finish off with something nice. It's my way of criticizing it as it rightly deserves, but I don't want the gaming companies to stop releasing these hard to grab titles.
So, the good. The fact that a Sonic fighting game exists I think is pretty cool. Something about these cute and cuddly characters beating the crap out of each other is really exciting! You could also finally play as Sonic against Tails so you can destroy him in your fantasies if you were the type to hate on Tails. Also the game's overall design looks great. It knows who the fans are so they want to give the fans their due. The character lineup is just about everyone from the Sonic games up to that point. Keep in mind this was before the Sonic extended universe expanded into the realms equivalent to fan fiction. It of course had Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. But it also had Amy and of course Robotnik (Dr. Eggman) and Metal Sonic, but the later two are only playable in the recent HD re-release. Aside from the main expected characters it also has a couple of lesser known characters like Espio from Chaotix on the 32X. On top of this the stages are based on levels from Sonic the Hedgehog. This means it'll have a forest setting, an industrial setting, casino setting, and at the end the Death Egg. These all give the feeling of the Sonic universe, although only a few really inspire nostalgia. Lastly the concept design is clearly very Sonic if not a bit overdone. Each time you make a hit on another character a ton of rings come flying out of the character understandibly. Also the moves are unique to each character. Sonic spins, Tails does flying moves, Metal Sonic has freaking lasers! But where it may have been a bit overdone is in the cartoony execution. It feels like the concept design was inspired first by the games that came before this and then secondly inspired by the Sonic cartoon, and I'm not talking about the SatAM cartoon that had a more serious tone, I'm talking about the one for really young kids that was really wacky. My prime example for this is that it is possible to land a move that momentarily flattens the other fighter... literally.
Sadly a lot of the good things to say about this game end here. It's not the complete list but there just isn't a lot of good to say about this one. I am not going to complain about the lack of variety in the game. It is essentially a direct port of the arcade game, meaning that there is one and two player modes and that's it. Also it was $5 and I'll probably wind up spending more time on this game that I would on a boxed game whether it's single player or multi-player, whatever comes up I will want to keep playing. I'm also trying to keep this in context. Despite it never coming out on the system this is essentially a Sega Saturn game ported onto a modern console. At it's core that is what it is. Virtua Fighter 2 had the same amount of variety in the selection of what you can do and that game was amazing. I would love to spend many more hours on that game as well despite having all these fancy new games with fancy additional features. You play a fighting game for the fighting.
The fighting. How is the fighting? The core mechanic of the game? Not good. The biggest problem is how sluggish the game feels. The controls are un-responsive and you never really feel like you're in full control either. Many fighting games can warrant button mashing but you still feel like you're in something of control. I was button mashing just to stay alive and I felt like if I wasn't for even a second it would have been disaster. A couple problems with it being unresponsive is the control layout and the animations. I was never sure of what all the buttons did minus the block. I would hit what I think is punch or kick which would sometimes work but other times would do something else. Mostly it would turn into a spin. I would think maybe it's because of the position of the joystick but even that was inconsistent enough for me to doubt that. Secondly, to go along with this confusion on the controller is the confusion on what's going on, on screen. The animations play out too long and feel like they cannot be interrupted. It's like once I do a move it has to go through the full animation before I can move into the next move, making combinations next to impossible. Also a lot of the jumps or jump moves feel pre-determined. I feel like I cannot control where I'm jumping whether it's at a specific angle forward, back, or straight up to avoid an attack. Watch this youtube video to try and grasp what I'm trying to say.
While I consider the game to be visually appealing enough for it's generation, the game as a whole feels stripped down and empty. As what is essentially a cash in game based on the Virtua Fighter franchise it's not supposed to bring the house down. Even with expectations so low it is surprising how poorly executed this one was. This was also before Sonic became so desperate for attention in a game that he would star in anything (I'm looking at you Mario & Sonic at the Olympics). Also with such great source material it really is even more surprising. This was made by the exact same people who made the Virtua Fighter games. An exact clone of Virtua Fighter wouldn't work because it would be too slow. There are much better ways to speed it up and make it more cartoonish. I remember Virtua Fighter Kids which was still a great, legitimate fighting game. That game was super cartoony what with having all the Virtua Fighter characters having gigantic heads. But again, same company, still a great game. Why couldn't this be the same with Sonic the Fighters?
So essentially what this game boils down to is a Virtua Fighter attempt at a fighting game but without the core mechanics that made Virtua Fighter as great as it was. Sure there is the poor game mechanics but it doesn't help there's a real lack of moves. With the animations and handling making it feel like combos aren't even a possibility you're boiled down to simplistic moves by simplistic moves. Ironically some of them are so staggeringly powerful or stunning that if you get hit by the time the 30 minute animation ends you or your opponent will be able to land their move right away. Now, even with these simplistic moves the time it takes to lower the health on either character is way too quick. It feels like even the tiniest of moves can chop off such a large chunk so quickly. It leaves next to no time of tension like in other fighting games. When I first booted the game up I left it at the standard settings. It was at medium difficulty, 2 rounds, 30 seconds a round. Everything through that seemed standard except the time limit. I felt the 30 second time limit was pretty short. It's actually half the standard round time in other fighters. This means that by default it is a lighter fighter than the standard fighter. And all in all it can be lighter but this one is way lighter than it should have been, which brings me to the difficulty.
This game is borderline insultingly easy. Yest I did continue a couple of times but I feel that was due to the poor mechanics of the game. I was able to blaze through the entire arcade mode on my first try in no time at all. Also I was able to obtain all but one of the trophies in that same run through. What blew my mind the most was at the very end of the arcade mode. After fighting the final boss of Metal Sonic on the Death Egg you're treated to a quick bonus stage against Robotnik himself. This is a one round fight that will determine if you get the good or bad ending. You only have one chance and the round time is cut in half to 15 seconds. I won on my first try. So after I play through arcade mode with all the characters I'm wondering what sort of replay value this game will have especially since it's such a pain to play through as is.
And now I feel bad for crapping on this game so hard. I say that because I can't help but feel there were great intentions behind it. This was in an era where there weren't Sonic games being blazed out left and right. Remember that there was never an exclusive, mainline story Sonic game for Sega Saturn. All it had was Sonic 3D Blast (A Genesis port), Sonic R (A racing game) and Sonic Jam (A compilation of older Sonic games with additional special features). So I don't believe this one was just thrown together and kicked out the door. If that was the case it would have gotten a release on Saturn regardless. It's just that Sega wasn't working the way it does now. In that era of Sega you wouldn't see, for example, some of the kinds of games the Wii has released featuring Sonic (I have heard Sonic Colors is pretty awesome, though). It's just so unfortunate that what could have been a great game was such a disappointment, not that people had high expectations in the first place anyway.
I think the best way this game could have been improved would have been with a complete overhaul and approach to the game. The first thing I can think of is if it were more like the Marvel vs. Capcom series. A 2D approach could have worked so much better. Also the MvC games are crazy fast paced, making the speed worthy of it's source material. At this time Virtua Fighter and soon thereafter Tekken were the only ones to do 3D fighting with great success. This game will not be remembered through the ages aside from hardcore fans like myself interested in the history of the character as well as Sega itself... and I find that sad.
As a P.S. to this review I just hope one day that the other arcade game that was released three years earlier, SegaSonic the Hedgehog will be released on PSN or some sort of re-release one day. Unlike Sonic the Fighters, SegaSonic has never seen a release outside of arcades.

If America Made It: I'll put this in context as this game came out more than 15 years ago. At the time America may have taken the approach at a Mortal Kombat clone. I don't feel an American company would have been comfortable enough with taking on a 3D fighter quite yet. I'm just imagining the visual style of MK but with Sonic characters. Pretty freaky. Either that or, dare I say, something in the art direction of Clay Fighter. I don't see much of an expansion or difference with the character list, though. There weren't a lot of characters in the franchise at the time. I wouldn't imagine they would have included a couple of them simply because of their obscurity. And now that I think of it I imagine an American company may have included some of the machines you fight in the original games (i.e. robotic bee, crab, etc). I think the only way this game could have been worse was if an American developer made it.

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