Hey, I reviewed Sonic Mania Plus recently! Some people seemed to take issue with the fact that I said the new content was a bit of a letdown — which I think more people might be inclined to agree with now that the game’s out. I mean, the team had the opportunity to put the Love Tester back into Studiopolis and they didn’t. I had to dock a point immediately right there. (It’s a joke, people.)
But some folks seemed unusually incensed that I said the special stages were bad. I don’t know why this point in particular seemed to get folks all in a huff, because… well, yeah, Sonic Mania special stages are pretty miserable. They’re absolutely the weak link in an otherwise spectacular game, and having to play more of them was not a fun prospect, made worse by the fact that the special stage rings are still a royal pain in the ass to find (and farm in postgame).
Here’s the thing, though. I’ve played a lot of classic Sonic. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in these games’ special stages. I think I have a pretty damn good idea of what makes for a fun Sonic special stage. And, my friends, Sonic Mania’s special stages are absolutely not fun, especially in comparison to some of the other great special stages Sonic has offered us.
So, readers, I would like to once again present you with a painstakingly compiled list of mini-reviews. This time, we’re not reviewing games, but games within games. We’re going to be looking at all of the classic Sonic series special stages1 and evaluating each type… and maybe tell a fun story or two of youthful obsession.
Hey guys, did you hear the news? Ever since Sonic Mania, Sonic is good again! I mean, nevermind that Sonic Colors came out and is easily one of the best platform games of that generation, Sonic officially doesn’t suck now! Rejoice!
And what better way to celebrate the triumphant revival of one of gaming’s most beloved and enduring characters than with a lavish artbook by Amsterdam-based modern/digital art publisher Cook and Becker? Why, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I’d love to put on my shelf!
So here it is, Sonic the Hedgehog 1991__2016, a book celebrating Sonic’s 25 anniversary and packed with art, development anecdotes, and rarely-seen concepts, all printed on that sort of expensive, glossy paper that makes you feel like you’re ruining the book with your filthy fingerprint oils if you even think about touching it with your bare hands. This is the standard edition, which runs $47 USD plus shipping (which, while I don’t recall the exact amount, wasn’t as exorbitant as I expected.) There’s also a limited edition that comes with a lithograph for $125, but I decided to get just the basic book: I have more than enough prints and posters right now.
So let’s get a move on and dive right in to this hefty book!
Ahh, the early 90s. It was, indeed, time for Klax, but also time for a sharp rise in popularity of rap and hip-hop music. Anyone who was a kid watching cartoons on North American TV during the late 80s and early 90s was well aware of how companies quite cynically exploited hip hop music and culture to look “cool” and “with it” to the youth. We got all manner of terrible faux-rap theme songs, new and improved character designs with backwards baseball caps, and some of the most hilariously awful commercials ever transmitted through the airwaves.
Game companies were no exception when it came to utilizing hip-hop’s popularity for commercial means, with predictably bad results.
(To be fair, Nintendo would eventually improve Zeldarapping significantly.)
Making a commercial with a rap theme song was one thing, but taking inspiration from hip-hop and combining it with game music was something else entirely. The rapidly improving sound quality of VGM, bolstered by the introduction of CD-ROM redbook audio, gave enterprising game music composers the ability to implement things like samples and voice into their songs, allowing for them to create original rap and hip-hop tunes for games. The songs were still predominantly hilariously bad, of course, but there’s a weird and lovable kitsch to them that makes them incredibly fun to look back on. Most of them, anyway.
So today, we’re going to be looking at several of these awkward game-related attempts at jumping on a musical fad. I’ll be leaving out one really obvious track – the Street Fighter III Third Strike character select theme – since we featured it previously. (I’m also leaving out Parappa because it’s just too obvious.) Everything else on here should hopefully either jog memories or be completely new to you lovely readers. So put on your Reebok Pumps and bootleg streetwise Looney Tunes shirts, and get ready for a game music time warp!