Sonic the Fighters (unedited) – 5/10
(This is the original unedited draft of the review. To read the edited version, check out GamerCheese: http://gamercheeese.com/2012/12/01/sonic-the-fighters-review/)
Sonic the Fighters is a strange beast. It began with a programmer throwing Sonic and Tails into Fighting Vipers and Yuji Naka liked the idea so much it evolved into a full game. However the game itself was little more than a novelty and was so rare that few folks are even aware that the actual U.S. name of the game is “Sonic Championship”. Though plans for a Saturn release were in place, it didn’t actually see a home port until a decade later in Sonic Gems Collection. But now, thanks to XBox Live Arcade, the game gets another chance.
If you expect incredible plot in a fighter from 1996, you’re crazy. Dr.Eggman/Robotik has built an evil space station and someone needs to collect eight (yes, eight) chaos emeralds to power a single seater rocketship to destroy it. The cast, however, is definately eyebrow raising and makes you realize that even in the good old days of Sonic, there were a lot of characters. Bark the “Polerbear” (sic) is the only original character, with Espio hailing from Knuckles Chaotix, Fang from Sonic Triple Trouble, and Bean from Dynamite Dux. Obviously the mainstays of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy are all here too.
The visuals are surreal for many reasons. For one thing, the game uses the pre-Adventure character designs and is incredibly cartoony. Characters squash and streatch with limbs growing in size as they fight. It definately gives the game a unique flavor as I have never seen such a cartoony fighter in my entire life! But the other reason the game is surreal is because this port is in HD, with 1080p graphics and a 60 FPS framerate! Flat shaded polygons have never looked this good before! Even the game’s few textures look surprisingly high-res!
But what really matters is the gameplay and it’s here that you either love or hate the game. At its core, the game is a simplified Fighting Vipers with a few tweaks. Instead of blocking you have a limited number of breakable barriers that can also be expended to go into a Hyper Mode. Each characters movelist is somewhat small for a 3D fighter and many moves are shared between multiple characters. However, each character has a couple of special moves. Sonic can spindash, Amy can throw her hammer or squash enemies with it, Knuckles can glide, and so on. That may sound typical on paper, but 3D fighters seldom had such distinct moves back then. Go try Fighting Vipers if you don’t believe me. The resulting game is very basic and a little stiff, but far from mindless. In many ways, it’s a beginner’s fighter and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing to some people. Others though, will find the sparse moveset to be restrictive and will quickly drop the game. Lets not mince words here, the game is incredibly shallow and really meant more as a novelty than a legitimate fighting game.
Perhaps the most interesting element of this release is what has, and hasn’t, been added to it. The mode selection is definately sparse with nothing more than Arcade, Versus, and Online play avalible. The lack of a training mode is very strange. However, options to adjust the screen size, music volume, and all the dip switch settings are avalible. Also, as I just said, it has online play. The very idea of playing Sonic the Fighters competitively over the internet is worth the cost of admission if you ask me! It’s a basic game, so it’s not hard to get into and it’s something that has not seen any competitive play before. But this isn’t even the best new addition. The game now features three new secret characters! Two of them are the bosses, Metal Sonic and Dr.Eggman, who can only be used in offline versus and Player Matches. The third, however, is truly peculiar: Honey/Candy from Fighting Vipers, as a Sonic-styled cat. Hackers found her data in the game code a few years back, but she was unfinished and didn’t emulate properly. Now though, she is completely finished and functional and can be used in Arcade mode (but not Ranked Matches). Online play and Honey are probably this game’s strongest selling points.
This being a Sonic game though, the soundtrack is phenomenal. Upbeat techno tunes fill the game and the grand majority of them are awesome. In fact, pressing LT and RT on the main menu allows you to cycle through the game’s music and here you’ll find even more amazing tunes! Seriously, there are like four or five music tracks that I absolutely cannot place but are amazing.
Presentation – 1080p 60fps flat shaded polygons look surprisingly good!
Optimization – Game runs completely smooth and the netcode is so good I could play against my friend in Hawaii without issues.
Ingenuity – A very simple game, but the cartoonish moveset gives it a unique flavor.
Sound – Fantastic upbeat techno and fittingly cartoony sound effects.
Entertainment – You’ll either love the simple pick-up and play gameplay or hate the sparse and shared movelists.
Unfortunately I cannot score this game highly. I personally find immense merit in having a fighter that is easy to pick-up and play. Not to mention the cartoony style is unlike anything I have ever seen in a fighting game. However, from a serious competitive standpoint, the game is just too shallow. This is a love it or hate it kind of game and really more of a novelty than anything else. Thankfully, SEGA was smart enough to price it at $5 and at that price? It may just be worth it for the novelty value alone.