Game Pile: Is Sonic The Hedgehog Good?

Hm.

I may need something to fit in here. Hang on a sec.

Sonic The Hedgehog, I loftily state. The blue blitzball. The quilled quickold. Knuckles’ boyfriend. The gaming icon of the 90s that headlined hit game after other game after other game. Games are a media landscape where we can cast our allegiance to all sorts of things that don’t exist like casualness or gender, but falsest of all binaries was the 90s fracas we laughingly called the ‘console war.’ For those of you who don’t remember it because it was ten years before you were born, the basic thing is that two companies wanted us to buy products, and they told us that this counted as a fight. This is not the stupidest reasons gamers have decided to fight over things, after all, 2014 was not that long ago, but it was stupid, and its stupidity has, like all stupid things that we don’t hide away in shame quickly enough, become part of a number of people’s personalities. It’s like how you know someone out there is the JNCO guy, who will angrily insist they’re much cooler than people give them credit.

Point is, people care a lot about Sonic The Hedgehog.

Now, one of the things I pride myself for, on this channel and in life, is being able to provide an interesting, insightful and well-informed perspective to conversations about games, and yes, I did say in life, and no, I am not a lot of fun at parties.

In academia, when we want to know something, we, well, we argue a lot about funding and notability, but then we go and in our own time, often do what we can to research. Research is done then with a methodology — an explicitly explained system for considering information with explanatory power.

Okay, then, so how would I determine if Sonic: The Hedgehog is good?

Textual Analysis

In 1957, French scholar and renowned author-murderer Roland Barthes released a book called Mythologies. In this book, he argued that the existing discipline of analysing complex things need not be limited to looking at what we already conventionally consider text in the form of books and plays and other media represented by words being pinned to a piece of paper. Instead, Barthes argued that textual analysis, where we examine the way that meaning is made through repeated use of symbols (usually, but not always words), could be applied to other fields like soap powder ads and professional wrestling.

I’m not joking.

Anyway, Barthes’ essays paved the way to consider the way that media makes meaning through its repeated use of symbols, and kind of solidified the widespread use of the toolset of Textual Analysis. Could I use Textual Analysis to see if Sonic The Hedgehog is Good?

After all, this is the thing that a lot of people think they want. Just analyse what’s in the text! That’s a great and easy way to get an objective analysis of the work you’re talking about. Except textual analysis isn’t that simple, and especially, when you start to use the toolset you realise what a stupid idea ‘good’ is in the context. Textual analysis can show you the way a thing tries to communicate its meaning, and maybe how that meaning is obscured or clarified, but it isn’t going to actually tell you if it’s good or bad that a text is communicating what it does the way it does.

Sonic The Hedgehog media is very consistent about communicating the meaning of interacting with spikes and rings but seemingly has no interest in explaining what spikes and rings are.

With Barthes’ one-man-band-stand toolset not up for the task, it’s time to reach wider into the research toolbox.

Comparative Readings

What if instead of interpreting Sonic myself, I instead look at all the writing about Sonic: The Hedgehog that has been made by the world at large? That way, I can compose a sort of set of notes and see what kinds of opinions are expressed regularly. Are there common readings that people share? Are there perhaps, numeric scores that can be aggregated?

If you think I’m describing Metacritic, uh, that’s kind of the funhouse mirror version of what I’m talking about.

But this presents a new problem; when you do a comparative reading or literature review, first, you need to uh, read all the things, and there are a lot of things. But also, we have to ask if the source is, at root, trustworthy. Normally we’d focus on scholarly articles, but those aren’t thick on the ground. Ironically, if I search Google Scholar for articles about Sonic the Hedgehog, I get a lot of hits, because there’s an important protein for encoding embryonic morphogenesis called that because nerrrrrds. Oh god, I wonder if that’s because it’s about morpho-genesis.

Look, this is getting away from me.

There are two problems here with just looking at all the reviews on Metacritic and using that to form my opinion. First is, Metacritic is a fundamentally untrustworthy garbage site that corrodes meaningful engagement with media. Second, even if it wasn’t that, it’d still be selecting for commercial reviews of Sonic as it relates to products within a marketing cycle. It’s not that you can’t treat ads like they’re meaningful symbols that communicate ideas, but the the communication of any given ad is usually ‘here are my values, give me money.’

This means that Metacritic is a sort of dishwasher soup of stuff that is adjacent to what I want to know, but not actually meaningfully representative. And any individual writer is going to work harder to express their ideas and experiences, but when you aggregate those out, the influence of the ad copy is going to get more and more prominent, because it’s important to get lots of voices on mass-market games to legitimise it.

Okay, that method won’t work.

Other Methods

Okay let’s look at some other methods of analysis we might use. Paratextual analysis involves looking at all the media that exists between the media (Sonic the Hedgehog the franchise itself), and the things that definitely aren’t the media. That is, this is where we look at things like the advertising, the community play, and uhhhhhh

the fanart.

Okay, moving on what about using Racial Studies? It makes sense, since Knuckles is black. Still, that won’t tell me if Sonic The Hedgehog is good.

I could use Feminist analysis, but it turns out that when you do that with videogames, you usually get to open a big door and find a lot of Yikes behind it.

There’s autoethnography, my favourite form of research, since it lets me involve the paratextual (play) and the experiential (me), and it also doesn’t try and present the cultural entity with an objective rule. That means easy, all I have to do is play the games in question, write about my experiences, then critically engage with all of that writing.

All I have to do is

uh

play

all of the Sonic games.

Okay Let’s Try Again

Alright, so there’s too much stuff for Autoethnography for me to work with. There’s another set of tools available to me — and you! — that can answer this question in a simple way. We are asking a simple question, and really, we want a simple answer.

And so I created a spreadsheet.

This spreadsheet asks a question for any given Sonic The Hedgehog game. It asks you, of each Sonic game, Is this good? And you can answer yes, or no, or not answer. If you don’t answer, that’s discarded. This sheet only tracks the things where you are willing to provide that yes or no answer.

This is important because this is removing all of the need I have to explain what good or bad means. It means that you, the person filling in the fields, gets to say, and the only answer you can give me is simply ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The spreadsheet does not ask why, and all it asks you to answer is was it good?

That means it’s nice and easy to make. All I had to do was provide a field for the list of Sonic games, a field for them to get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and a chart to react to that information. All… I had to do was provide a list of Sonic games.

Defining The Field

Turns out, there’s a lot.

This created a problem. I didn’t just want to put this out there with the idea you have to look at and talk about every Sonic game. There are a lot of them – a hundred and twenty seven at the time of this writing, based on my best information, aware that there are some I’m missing. That meant to make this list approachable, I had to work on simplifying this list. But if I simplify the list wrong, someone will want to correct me on it, because to them, those games I cut were important. Any time a researcher limits the focus of their research, they’re making a choice about what to include in the conversation.

Campster once said that Sonic’s biggest problem is that every Sonic is someone’s first and favourite Sonic. That to some people, Sonic Spinball is really the game they wished they could get more of. And that meant having to try and put together a simplified list of the ‘core’ Sonic games.

I created an initial criteria, which was very unscientific, of ‘the main Sonic games.’ It turns out that was a lot more complicated than I thought, as Pedant The Fox informed me when I ran the list past her. How pedantic is Pedant the Fox? well, she corrected the first draft of this paragraph.

Okay, so let’s go for a very simple set of parameters to make a small list. We’re going to consider every Sonic Game that:

  • Features Sonic The Hedgehog.
  • Is presented on the current-generation in-home console.
  • Is some variety of action-adventure game.

That’s great, that gets me a list that looks like this:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  • Sonic & Knuckles
  • Sonic the Hedgehog CD
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
  • Sonic Mania
  • Sonic 3D Blast
  • Sonic Adventure
  • Sonic Adventure 2
  • Sonic Heroes
  • Shadow the Hedgehog
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings
  • Sonic Unleashed
  • Sonic and the Black Knight
  • Sonic Colors
  • Sonic Generations
  • Sonic Lost World
  • Sonic Forces
  • Sonic Rangers (as yet unreleased)
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice
  • Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
  • Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal

This list here presented a surprise to me. I kind of thought ‘Sonic is a 2d platformer game’ right? but it turns out by volume, Sonic kind of isn’t. And there’s some stuff that’s kind of missing in a weird way. Like, this list doesn’t have any of the Gameboy Advance games, which are a lot more like the original Sonic games than say, Shadow the Hedgehog. That’s weird, isn’t it? How do we have a rule that expands this list without it becoming overwhelming?

To this I looked at the blessed and beloved winner of all fandom arguments: Continuity.

What about games that introduce things that show up in other things? That seems a way to build a continuity; if a character shows up in multiple games, that means those games count as part of the ‘continuity.’ That way we’ll get things like Cream’s first appearance, Rouge’s first appearance, the points where the games add these marketable characters that are part of the brand, right?

Well that gets complicated too. See, Triple Trouble introduces Fang The Nack The Weasel, who doesn’t show up again until Sonic The Fighters. Which is to say, yes, Nack shows up in Triple Trouble, meaning it belongs in this corpus of games, but Sonic The Fighters probably doesn’t. And that’s a game I didn’t even realise existed before I started on this paragraph. It’s also going to produce a lot of problems, too, when you remember how Sonic fans love not giving up on things, meaning that when a game like Sonic Mania references a joke character, oh boy, now they’re in two games.

What we get if we start including ‘first appearances’ though, we get a bit more of an expansive list:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)
  • Sonic Chaos
  • Sonic Blast
  • Sonic Triple Trouble
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  • Sonic & Knuckles
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
  • Sonic Mania
  • Sonic 3D Blast
  • Sonic Adventure
  • Sonic Adventure 2
  • Sonic Heroes
  • Shadow the Hedgehog
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings
  • Sonic Unleashed
  • Sonic and the Black Knight
  • Sonic Colors
  • Sonic Generations
  • Sonic Lost World
  • Sonic Forces
  • Sonic Rangers (as yet unreleased)
  • Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
  • Sonic Generations (DS)
  • Knuckles’ Chaotix
  • Sonic the Hedgehog CD
  • Sonic Advance
  • Sonic Advance 2
  • Sonic Advance 3
  • Sonic Rush
  • Sonic Rush Adventure
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice
  • Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
  • Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal

That’s a lot of games, that’s probably a bit too much to handle. But this doesn’t include Sonic The Fighters, from our Nack example. It also doesn’t count things like Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or any of the crossover games, or any of Sonic’s karting games – and really, isn’t racing kind of a natural permutation of Sonic’s ideas? And what about those times when there were multiple concurrent platforms of a game release? Sonic 4 was on multiple platforms, including a phone. If you were super into Sonic at the right time, you might have had a Master system, then when you got a Megadrive, you got another Sonic, and you might have really liked both those games, so why are we letting your love for the 8-bit versions not count?

Alright, okay, let’s go for a more expansive canon, this time including everything I could find that had an English release, on a console not counting re-releases that didn’t add content.

  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Knuckles’ Chaotix
  • Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games
  • SegaSonic the Hedgehog
  • Shadow the Hedgehog
  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
  • Sonic & Knuckles
  • Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
  • Sonic 3D Blast
  • Sonic Advance
  • Sonic Advance 2
  • Sonic Advance 3
  • Sonic Adventure
  • Sonic Adventure 2
  • Sonic and the Black Knight
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings
  • Sonic at the Olympic Games
  • Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  • Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
  • Sonic Battle
  • Sonic Blast
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice
  • Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
  • Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal
  • Sonic Chaos
  • Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
  • Sonic Colors (DS)
  • Sonic Colors (Wii)
  • Sonic Dash
  • Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom
  • Sonic Drift
  • Sonic Drift 2
  • Sonic Forces
  • Sonic Free Riders
  • Sonic Generations
  • Sonic Heroes
  • Sonic Jam
  • Sonic Jump
  • Sonic Jump 2
  • Sonic Jump Fever
  • Sonic Labyrinth
  • Sonic Lost World
  • Sonic Mania
  • Sonic Pinball Party
  • Sonic R
  • Sonic Rangers (as yet unreleased)
  • Sonic Riders
  • Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity
  • Sonic Rivals
  • Sonic Rivals 2
  • Sonic Runners
  • Sonic Runners Adventure
  • Sonic Rush
  • Sonic Rush Adventure
  • Sonic Shuffle
  • Sonic the Fighters
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (8-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
  • Sonic the Hedgehog CD
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
  • Sonic Triple Trouble
  • Sonic Unleashed
  • Sonic’s Schoolhouse
  • Tails Adventure
  • Tails and the Music Maker
  • Tails’ Skypatrol
  • Team Sonic Racing

And…

Surely that’s it, right?

Surely there’s nothing missing from that that this system excludes?

… except this is missing one of the Sonic games that I, personally, was the most invested in for the most raw time, which is the Sega Dreamcast VMU game Chao Adventure. This was a little digimon-style game where your pixelly little Chao wandered around and found you items and levelled up, and I saw a Chao named Zelgadis hit level 99. Which means… ugh… look okay, fine.

Fine.

Here’s the full list.

  • Chao Adventure (Dreamcast VMU)
  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Good Friend Chao!
  • Knuckles’ Chaotix
  • Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
  • Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games
  • Memory Challenge (Sonic The Hedgehog 2013)
  • Monopoly Gamer: Sonic The Hedgehog (2019)
  • Monopoly Sonic Boom (2015)
  • Monopoly: Sonic The Hedgehog Collector’s Edition (2013)
  • SegaSonic Bros. (Cancelled)
  • SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol
  • SegaSonic Popcorn Shop
  • SegaSonic the Hedgehog
  • Shadow the Hedgehog
  • Sister Sonic (Cancelled)
  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
  • Sonic & Knuckles
  • Sonic & Knuckles Collection
  • Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing
  • Sonic 3D Blast
  • Sonic Advance
  • Sonic Advance 2
  • Sonic Advance 3
  • Sonic Adventure
  • Sonic Adventure 2
  • Sonic and the Black Knight
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings
  • Sonic at the Olympic Games
  • Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  • Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games
  • Sonic Athletics
  • Sonic Battle
  • Sonic Billiards
  • Sonic Blast
  • Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice
  • Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
  • Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal
  • Sonic Bowling
  • Sonic Chaos
  • Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
  • Sonic Classic Collection
  • Sonic Classics 3 in 1
  • Sonic Colors
  • Sonic Crackers (Cancelled)
  • Sonic Dash
  • Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom
  • Sonic Drift
  • Sonic Drift 2
  • Sonic DS (Cancelled)
  • Sonic Eraser
  • Sonic Extreme (Cancelled)
  • Sonic Fishing
  • Sonic Forces
  • Sonic Free Riders
  • Sonic Gems Collection
  • Sonic Generations
  • Sonic Generations (DS)
  • Sonic Golf
  • Sonic Heroes
  • Sonic Jam
  • Sonic Jr. (Cancelled)
  • Sonic Jump
  • Sonic Jump 2
  • Sonic Jump Fever
  • Sonic Kart 3D X
  • Sonic Labyrinth
  • Sonic Lost World
  • Sonic Mania
  • Sonic Mega Collection
  • Sonic Origins
  • Sonic PC Collection
  • Sonic Pinball Party
  • Sonic R
  • Sonic Racing Kart
  • Sonic Racing Shift Up
  • Sonic Rangers
  • Sonic Riders
  • Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity
  • Sonic Rivals
  • Sonic Rivals 2
  • Sonic Runners
  • Sonic Runners Adventure
  • Sonic Rush
  • Sonic Rush Adventure
  • Sonic Shuffle
  • Sonic Speed DX
  • Sonic Tennis
  • Sonic the Fighters
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Cancelled Amiga Port)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (8-bit)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II
  • Sonic The Hedgehog Battle Racers
  • Sonic The Hedgehog Card Game (1992)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog CD
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Game (Board Game)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
  • Sonic The Hedgehog The Card Game (1994)
  • Sonic The Hedgehog: Crash Course
  • Sonic The Hedgehog: Dice Rush
  • Sonic the Hedgehog’s Gameworld
  • Sonic Triple Trouble
  • Sonic Unleashed
  • Sonic X Trading Card Game
  • Sonic X-treme (Cancelled)
  • Sonic: The Card Game (2021)
  • Sonic’s Casino Poker
  • Sonic’s Edusoft (Cancelled)
  • Sonic’s Schoolhouse
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection
  • Tails Adventure
  • Tails and the Music Maker
  • Tails’ Skypatrol
  • Team Sonic Racing
  • Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car

There.

Now you just need to go through the list and tick every one of these you think is good, or not, and then you’ll be given an easily read pie chart that will tell you just how much of Sonic The Hedgehog is actually good.

For me, my chart looks like this.

Oh.

Fuck.

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