Zooming into middle age
That original Sonic the Hedgehog game has spawned a number of sequel games, in addition to a comic book series published by Archie Comics, at least two animated shows (the original, poorly drawn cartoon featuring the voice of Steve Urkel, Jaleel White, and a later series with higher production value and an anime inspired style), and a live action/CGI movie.
The story told over the course of those games, shows, comics, and film is convoluted, inconsistent, and sometimes downright confusing. The basic premise is that Doctor Robotnik, née Eggman, is an evil genius who wants to take over the world (or the multiverse) and Sonic and friends have to stop him. They do this by running really fast, collecting lots of rings, and then fighting Eggman and his goons by jumping at strategic moments or launching a spin attack by running fast and tucking into a ball.
If you’ve played the games before, you don’t need the explanation. If you haven’t, it really is as ridiculous as it sounds.
And, ridiculously hard.
It seems so simple. You run. You jump. You don’t get hit. But execution can be insanely difficult. You need to have twitchy fast reflexes, and to either make decisions in a fraction of an instant, or be fine with whatever situation chance throws your way.
For a gamer like me, who wants to explore every nook and cranny of a world before moving on, it’s excruciating. The Sonic the Hedgehog games aren’t ones that inspire gamers to slow down and smell the metaphorical roses. It’s one that screams at you to go faster and zip through to the level’s boss encounter as quickly as you can. It’s a 2D side scroller, so there really is just one final destination for each level, but there are numerous ways to get there. If you are a completionist, and want to explore every possible path, it’s going to take multiple runs. Not only does the game not encourage a leisurely pace, it punishes it. If you come up to a jump or, worse yet, a loop-the-loop, and you don’t have enough speed, you aren’t going to make it. And going back and building up the speed you need isn’t always easy.
I’m sure there are plenty of metaphors to be mined in there for life – and for the generation that shares a youth with Sonic – but that’s not what we’re here for this week.
What we are here for is to let you know that on June 24, the day after Sonic’s 30th birthday, Sonic Mania is free on the Epic Games Store. Sonic Mania is a 2017 release, designed as an homage to those early Sonic side scrolling games, and a celebration of our favorite hedgehog’s 25th anniversary.
Right from the outset the game plays with the reality warping characteristics of the chaos emeralds and the phantom ruby seen in later games and other media. They use Robotnik’s/Eggman’s discovery of the ruby as a setup to send Sonic, Tails, and – later – Knuckles, off on a series of levels inspired by the Sega Genesis era of games, with some new twists to surprise those who think they know those original games and the levels that inspired Sonic Mania.
It’s a lot of fun, if your reflexes still allow you to respond the way you did three decades ago. If not, it’s one the kids can enjoy while laughing at mom’s or dad’s stories of how the game played in their day.
Sonic Mania, rated E for Everyone, is available to claim and download, absolutely free, from www.epicgames.com/store/ beginning Thursday afternoon (6/24/2021), and will be available to add to your account for the next week. The PC version of the game, which is what Epic is offering for free, can be played with a mouse and a keyboard, but you’re really going to want a controller to get the full Sonic experience.
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