Sonic Classics: Level Design that does what Sonic CDon’t

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So I reviewed Sonic CD a while ago and despite it’s flaws, it’s pretty good, though not my favourite in the main classic series. When it comes to the level design, Sonic seems to near enough do it right and I love them. But then I played Sonic CD. You see, when it comes to level design, I tell you if it’s good or not. At times, I can’t necessarily describe them in a way that a proper game critic probably would but I do my best to describe them so you know what the level design is. I’m the every man, someone who will play a game and simply tell you how it is, this is my own style along with my own opinions. But because it’s Sonic and this brought back my love for the series, though this could change when I do the 3D Sonic games. If you’ve seen the review for Sonic CD, my opinion on the games’ level design have been mixed to…unfavourable, to which I’ll explain further here. I do not like most of the level design of Sonic CD and I think the level design of Sonic 1, 2 & 3 & Knuckles are perfect, and here’s my full-blown analysis on why I think this…so I have a justification for my opinions.

To those who might like Sonic even more than me
And by the way, this is my opinion, you might agree or disagree with my opinions, and that’s OK. Heck, discussions could be interesting.

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What Classic Sonic is about?
And I mean classic Sonic, since 3D Sonic games like Adventure 1 + 2, Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic 06 have complex stories, for better or worse. Take Sonic 1. Sonic lives in the greenery of South Island with other animals, but Dr. Robotnik kidnaps the animals using technology and wants to take over the world, turning it into something mechanical. With Sonic’s gift of speed and spinning into a ball like a wheel, it’s up to him to save the animals and the world. It’s a nice, simple tale of nature vs technology and it’s subtle and not shoved down my throat, like Awesome Possum, but that’s for another time. And this simple narrative structure is blended with the level design. Well what about Sonic 2 & 3 & Knuckles? Well despite having small differences and the story of Sonic 3 & Knuckles is more story driven but isn’t told to you, but merely shown, that philosophy of the original game still exists in that game too.

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Looking through the TV screen
With Sonic 1, where you start with a naturalistic environment, Green Hill Zone to be precise. It felt like I was in that area, it’s nice, beautiful, it might have the odd checkerboard foreground but it’s unique and blends with everything else, I love this environment and it feels fresh and it feels like Sonic’s home. When I see the robots, they’re not supposed to be there, they’re cluttering this peaceful haven and I have to prevent that, I go to the areas in this world and then I go to Scrap Brain Zone, and it’s a mechanical hellhole, Sonic is trying his best to prevent the rest of the levels from becoming this and it’s effective when I understand the theme. Of course, there are other levels, each with their own personality and you have to make levels with personality to make them memorable. If you told me to describe for example, Marble Zone, I can do so because it has it’s own identity. Each level in that game feels like it belongs in that world and thus, I get invested in it, it naturally pulls you into that world as such. Sonic 2 & 3 & Knuckles do it very well too, each getting more detailed overtime but you still know what’s going on.

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How the world reflects ours
There are some areas you could identify since we live on this planet, we know of forests, waterfalls, ruins, cities, factories, ice caverns, rocky mountains, etc. In the Sonic games, they have their unique flairs but you and I can identify with them. But you could say that the game is set in Planet Mobius, not Earth, though Sega has scrapped that American setting in favour of the Japanese continuity, so it’s set in Earth. I know that different games have their ways of conveying worlds, but that’s other games and this is Sonic, because that philosophy is still carried on to the 3D series of games, even if the narrative structure has changed when that philosophy may not need apply. But hey, it’s Sonic.

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Remember: Another World
Now let me make one thing personally clear. I know that Sonic is in another world and that of course, the world is going to be completely different to the world we got used to in the other games. I know it’s supposed to be bizarre and sort of unique. OK, let me break it down, there are some levels in Sonic CD I do like and they do have this ‘bizarro’ version of Sonic’s world and they’re done right, like Palmtree Panic’s Present and Past, Collision Chaos’ Past, Tidal Tempest’s Past, Present and Bad Future, Quartz Quadrant’s Present, Past and Bad Future, Wacky Workbench’s Past, Stardust Speedway’s Past and Metallic Madness’ Past. These are the levels I like in terms of level design.

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Certain Patterns
Now, what’s the one thing in common with these picks? I like some of the Past, Present and a couple of the Bad Future levels, but never the Good Future levels. Why? Because in my opinion, they’re a cluttered mess. Mostly because there is way too much going on from the background to the foreground. The bright colours can be anarchic which shouldn’t be the case but it’s an eyesore. With that said, looking at pictures of levels, it’s not ‘that’ bad, but when playing the game, because there’s too much information going on, it pulls me out of the experience and I’m left put off by the experience, and what’s worse, the game provides that you explore in the levels and it makes it worse.

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Simplicity is Key
So why do I like the levels I picked? Because their designs, whilst detailed, are simple like Palmtree Panic Present, the design is a greenery world, so I know it’s a greenery world, I know what I’m seeing and I can identify with it and get invested in it, the same goes for Collision Chaos’ Past, it’s a jungle-like level and it looks like a jungle and the colours and atmosphere is simple and bizarre, but it looks nice to look at. Heck, even Metallic Madness’ Past level, whilst still having a lot, is because it’s the final level, this is Robotnik’s lair, it’s mechanical and I can accept this because I’m preventing this from becoming the entirety of Little Planet. The rest have too much going on to be able to identify with it, it’s too bright, too wacky, too much style, and I love style but again, it’s too much and there’s no balance to them.

There, I explained too much I believe
And that’s why I had a difficult time to describe some of the levels, I tried to the best of my ability and it was difficult to explain why I didn’t like what I saw. So I wanted to give an explanation as to why and to see where I’m coming from.

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The Perfect Theme
With that said, I do praise the level design for making the Nature Vs. Technology blend well with time travel, because you have to make sure that the planet has a future where nature can blend well with technology, that both ideologies can work together to make a utopian haven. It’s a shame though that that the utopian havens don’t look that nice.

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Play it like 3D
But, there was one thing I didn’t talk about, the Special Stages. The level design for most of them are fantastic, especially when playing it on the remastered version. There’s an ice planet where the sky looks bizarre but looks similar to the Northern Lights so I can identify with it and it isn’t too much. The second stage is a sky-based world with luscious clouds and a planet. Again, simple and nice to look at. Next is a water world, with a simple mechanical base. Next is a fantasy world with a palace on top of a rocky mountain and waterfalls, again simple. Next is a futuristic city and it looks like it’s on a dome, this is one of my favourite stages, it’s stylish without being a bit too much. The next one is SMOKE WEED EVERYDAY!!! I don’t like this stage. And the final stage is an alien planet, something martian-like and it’s near appealing. You see, this is where I’m kind of frustrated, they can be weird and bizarre but not an eyesore minus stage six, they feel different enough to be acceptable, that I know this would look strange in Sonic’s world but in Little Planet, I would accept it. These should have been main levels because it’s near alien to the world I see in the other classic Sonic games.

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Other people singing a different tune
But I know that people do love all of the level design and I won’t criticise anyone who does like the level designs. But I wondered, as I was writing this, I was asking myself, “Why do I find this an eyesore?” “Why does it hurt me mentally?” And that’s when it hit me, I did a bit of research and it all became clear.

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It may not be the game but…
I am someone who does not like to put my personal bits and pieces into my reviews unless it’s gaming memories so long as I don’t describe people for security reasons, but when it comes to me as a person, I pretty much keep that hidden, I don’t necessarily trust the internet for many reasons. But what I will tell you is based on my justification for over 1900 words. To simply put, I am Autistic, and as an autistic person, there are some things I can look at and have no problem looking at it and even liking it, I grew up playing Sonic and identified with the level design from 1 + 2, so many years later playing CD, it was an eyesore, mostly because to me, it is. I have an issue with too much information, sensory overload, loud sounds I don’t want to listen to upset me, new places can be awkward for me and bright and unfocused level design like Sonic CD is hard to comprehend and is one of the reasons why I had a hard time to describe the levels and had to look at images of the levels so I can describe it, even if I still don’t like the designs. I had a great time with the levels that have the feel of other Sonic games.

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The artists are to blame for my unfortunate events…NAH!
Though to cover my tracks, I will say that developers shouldn’t change the game or make it so that a minority should be happy with the product with no issues and alienate others, like adding something that doesn’t fit in the game because critics heavily judge you based on society and then if you don’t like it, get ready for a scathing, I don’t like that and I don’t want that…and yes, this can reflect something specific but that’s for another day. The developers should make what they see fit or make a compromise that everyone will be happy with. Though that’s easier said than done as you can’t make anyone happy…so…where am I going with this again?

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Exit ahead…to nowhere
So with that said, I think I may have wasted your time due to the game not being for me because of a mental condition and you’ll make fun of me because I’m autistic and I’m a Sonic fan. But even if that was the case, I don’t really mind (I’m not saying you should). But that’s what’s interesting on being a critic, everyone will have an opinion on something and their opinion will be different to you, but you never know why they have a different opinion mostly because of taste or something much more personal. It’s not a sob story or a cry for help, it’s just interesting to see the unique reasons why someone would like or dislike something, and maybe you even take a look at yourself and describe the person you are. So I don’t think I wasted your time, right?

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6 thoughts on “Sonic Classics: Level Design that does what Sonic CDon’t

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