In Search of Hate

As a rule of thumb, I tend not to write about games that I do not like. The idea that it’s easy to denigrate and much harder to praise is not a theory I subscribe to. Perhaps this mindset is something that came about with the inception of the YouTube internet critic, with figures like the Angry Video Game Nerd propagating foul-mouthed rants against low-hanging fruit as the ultimate form of insightful commentary. This is not to say that negative criticism is unwarranted, or indeed, unfunny – it is usually necessary, especially within the realm of consumer-based products. You can’t always see the good in everything, because in the end, wouldn’t that mean that a ‘bad video game’ doesn’t even exist to begin with? It was with this question in my head that I went about purposefully searching for a title to play that I knew I would actively dislike, so much so that I would be forced out of my comfort zone in order to admonish it. The internet, after all, has provided me with countless fish in a barrel, and there are no shortage of critically panned meme (for lack of a better term) games to sink my teeth into. Balan Wonderworld, Shaq-Fu, Superman 64 are all games that you’ve likely never even played, but you know they’re terrible, right? Endless YouTube videos, articles and snarky tweets have probably been rammed down your throat at this point and given these games a level of popular notoriety that outshines a lot of games that actually deserve to be talked about. Arguably, the most famous of these trash video games is Sonic the Hedgehog, or as it’s colloquially known, Sonic 06. The Blue Blur’s general place within the critical spectrum is a popular in-joke among gamers, and the unfortunate hedgehog has several games that rank on the cultural ‘worst of all time’ spectrum (Sonic Boom, Sonic Forces, etc.). While early 3D Sonic games were received pretty well, their reputation souring over time, 06 was a disaster from the get-go, not even granted the cheap dismissal of ‘aged badly’; a 46 on Metacritic proves the general critical consensus at the time. There are so many reasons for the game’s failure; rushed development cycles, poor management and, if you want to take it a step further, Sonic’s place within the medium as, first and foremost, a product – a character designed specifically to sell, not born of artistic intention, but through the desire to move units. All of this was, for me, the perfect excuse, the ultimate reason to boot up a terrible game and engage in the art of hate.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Sonic 06 is not a good game. It is, however, disappointingly functional. Despite what most internet hyperbole will lead you to believe, the game does not explode when you put the disc in the tray, instead it begins with a well-rendered, expensive-looking cutscene. Yes, the game does look like Final Fantasy (specifically XII, in an odd kind of way) and the realistic human proportions do feel at odds with the general aesthetic in a way they didn’t in Sonic Adventure 1 & 2, but it’s still impressive. When the game begins in-engine, it’s clearly held together with glue and paperclips, and suffers from the usual kusoge classics of long loading times, stiff animation, poor controls and dull environments, but you can at least play it. Sonic bounds about the place with all the grace of an elephant on ice, somehow too fast and painfully slow at the same time. Without the use of boost pads, the hedgehog reaches top speed very quickly, but that top speed feels too slow in hub-world environments that expect you to jog across long expanses of nothing. That said, you do get used to the erratic control scheme quite quickly, and I never found it particularly difficult to bounce off enemies and get Sonic to the location I actually wanted him to go – it is, for the most part, adequate. In fact, you can get used to a lot in Sonic 06, even the camera that seems intent on killing you at every turn. Any sequence that alters the game’s perspective commits the sin of altering the controls at the same time, which is often confusing and totally unnecessary. There are several moments (like in previous games) where the camera will have Sonic running towards it, but (unlike previous games) when it switches to this new angle, it expects players to alter their thumb stick position to match the new direction and momentum. What this usually results in is the player careering Sonic backwards into whatever nasty thing is chasing him, or at least killing enough of the hedgehog’s momentum that it guarantees watching his little life snuffed out before your eyes. It is, honestly, inexcusable game design, but it’s inexcusable game design that you can at least accommodate for. I suppose your patience for 06 is really going to depend on what little tasty juice you can squeeze out of it. Can you, as a person, put up with all the flaws in order to find something to enjoy? Apparently, I’m one of those sickos that kind of can.

Playing through Sonic’s campaign, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I kind of liked certain aspects of the game. I was even semi-charmed by the opening level, a throwback to Adventure 1’s Azure Beach, complete with rocking background track, killer whale chase and a speedy romp through sun-kissed beaches. The moments where the game functions show a modicum of potential and stringing together homing strikes on robots and deftly weaving your way through obstacles can be enjoyably fluid, leading to moments of genuine, fast-paced enjoyment. Players should, however, be prepared for a rocky relationship with the concept of ‘fun’ in general when experiencing 06. Pulled off a sweet homing attack that just sent an enemy flying into a pile of boxes? Nice. Now watch the framerate stutter to sub ten as the game struggles to deal with the copious amounts of debris that just appeared on screen. The game hobbles along on a Zimmer frame constructed entirely from firearms, consistently shooting itself in the foot with every crooked step taken. To give a generous estimate, seventy percent of the time you’ll be taking loops and on-rail sections the way that they’re intended, rushing through set-piece after set-piece with no problems, while the other thirty percent will see you clipping through level geometry into bottomless voids. All it takes is hitting one slightly off-angle to send Sonic careening into nothingness and said angle could be something as insignificant as a small pebble on a strip of sand. Like I mentioned previously you will, consciously or unconsciously, adapt to this strange, clearly unintended mechanic, altering your play style in order to focus on traversing empty space and paths of least resistance. This attitude towards the game, should you choose to adopt it like I have, might tell you something a little something about your personality. In my case, perhaps it’s my ability to put up with bullshit in order to experience a game with an incredible soundtrack and a story about an anthropomorphic hedgehog falling in love with a human woman, or perhaps I’ve just got a little chunk of my brain missing. Putting up with all of these poor gameplay moments only treated me to a terrible, mind-numbingly dull plot (with pockets of unintentional hilarity) and a muddy, yet warm nostalgia for Sonic Adventure 1’s semi-open world. Maybe part of me kind of likes Sonic 06 because it reminds me of a better game, recalling those older design elements that have long since been forgotten by the industry. Maybe, I just feel sorry for it.

Like anything the internet feeds through its indomitable hate machine, Sonic 06 is not as bad as you’ve been led to believe. Is it good? Far from it. But much like games like Bubsy 3D, it is not broken on such a fundamental level that it cannot be played and finished. There are tiny little veins of fun to be mined from playing the game, whether those be interesting level aesthetics (Radical Train is a genuinely top tier stage), a great soundtrack, or even laughing every time another weird little furry rubber bands into a cutscene to talk about the literal devil. You can play Sonic 06, you can have a decent time controlling the Blue Blur and ricocheting him through competently designed locales, but that does involve shutting a part of your brain off and adapting to the nonsense. I take full note that the Shadow and Silver campaigns may be genuine, unsalvageable garbage, but I haven’t played them yet – and maybe that fact is more a review for the game than anything I’ve managed to tap out in a Word document. I think that the critical back and forth, as well as my failure to establish a singular train of thought when writing about 06 is also an accurate summation of my feelings for the game, saying more than the written word can. Am I charmed by this poorly animated virtual puppet show because everyone led me to believe it was the coming of the anti-Christ? Is it enjoyable purely on the virtue of not being quite as bad as the internet has led me to believe? Maybe I was doomed from the start, moulded by the discourse and led to attempt a mild defense of a rushed game that was barely worth the ten quid I dropped on it about a decade ago. There is no solution to this problem – the current state of media consumption defined by the number of hate clicks it can generate – discussion and, to an extent, negative reception means publicity for both content creators and developers alike. Even that ridiculous Morbius film re-entered cinemas recently purely because of the fact the internet couldn’t stop talking about it, regurgitating image macros, dead memes and Cinema Sins style ‘angry reviews’. Hell, even Jared Leto himself took to Twitter to lap at the dirty puddle of self-deprecation. Look! He’s reading the Morbius 2 script, and he said the line! The worst possible outcome for every party involved.

Part of me feels like this is indicative of the consumer path that we are being led down by a focus on negative criticism. Sonic 06 has already somewhat entered the Morbius-sphere and landed back on the Xbox 360 Microsoft Store for the bargain price of £3.50. Granted, it is not backwards compatible with modern consoles, but I fully believe it won’t be long until it is (maybe even with an improved framerate). Publishers will falsely believe that the general public will want to play 06 purely based on the discourse that surrounds it, the kind of attitude that screams ‘oh, I have to try this’. I mean, that’s exactly what I did in this case, and I’ve walked away feeling a strong sense of guilt, like I’ve just contributed to the problem – I might as well have gone to see Morbius in the cinema. In that sense, I guess the exercise in searching for something to hate was not only unsuccessful but also something I never want to attempt to do again. My desire to write about the things I love and believe have value has been reignited and for that, I have to say thank you, Sonic 06 – you only kind of suck.

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