Sonic R (Sega Saturn)

June 24, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Sonic R - Title ScreenSonic R - Resort IslandSonic R - Radical City

I debated for a while over which Saturn game I would review first. The Sega Saturn is one of my favorite platforms of all time, and I felt like it needed a worthy introduction. Would I pick one of its well known classics for a glowing review? Or one of my favorite lesser-known titles? Or something absolutely terrible so I could have a little fun with the review? In the end, I decided I’d take a look at a fairly well-known game where I might have a different view than most.

Most of the time, when people talk about Sonic R, (or Sonic 3D Blast or Sonic Jam) they start off by lamenting a bit about how the Saturn never got a true 3D Sonic adventure, and how, if it had, things could have been so much different. Well, I don’t want to talk about that. For one, it’s cliché and been done to death. On top of that, we’ve seen how the 3D Sonic games have turned out since then, and frankly, I don’t think we missed much. And most of all, I think taking all that into consideration taints the view of the game itself. How could you possibly enjoy a Sonic racing game if you’re harboring resentment that it’s not a platformer the entire time?

With that viewpoint explained, I feel confident enough to say that, quite simply, I like this game. If you strip away all the baggage that came with its release, (especially the fact that the Saturn was really struggling at the time) you’ll find an entertaining game underneath. It’s a simple but engaging game — bright and cheerful almost to a fault — and a nice technical demo of the kind of horsepower the Saturn actually had.

The main complaints about Sonic R seem to be that that the controls suck and that it’s shallow. After my first hour or so with the game, I was inclined to agree. But then I took the time to read the manual. After discovering the controls were more nuanced than I realized, I really got the hang of the game and started to enjoy it. Plus, each character has a unique feel and their own special abilities. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of drifting, braking, spin-dashing, double-jumping, gliding, and hovering; and once you do, the game starts to come alive. The five tracks are absolutely packed with shortcuts and alternate routes, some of which play to the strengths of certain characters. Think you see a short-cut, but Sonic’s double-jump doesn’t get there? Try Tails and his flying ability, or Amy and her hovercraft! There’s more to this game than initially meets the eye, and with the 3D control pad and unique handling for each character, you’re sure to find something that works for you.

As I just said, there are only five tracks, and this is a frequent knock against the game. But take a second to think about that. Consider, for a moment, how many tracks some of the best racing games on the Saturn have. Think about Sega Rally. Now think about the alternate paths and the items to collect in Sonic R (it makes me think of Beetle Adventure Racing in that regard, and that’s a good thing). Think about how exploring each track uncovers hidden emeralds and tokens that allow you to challenge hidden characters to one-on-one races for the chance to unlock them as playable. No, I don’t think the track selection is a major problem. (And don’t forget about the Two-Player, Reverse, Tag, and Balloon modes…)

But that’s not to say there are no problems. The biggest is probably the mixed-bag of graphics. In some cases, Sonic R looks brilliant. Though it suffers from the draw-in that many 3D Saturn games experience, the developers were able to wrangle the problem into submission on several tracks. Resort Island, Radical City, and Reactive Factory all look quite nice, with a subtle “fade-in” rather than jarring pop-up. Resort Island, in particular, is probably the best example of 3D I’ve ever seen on the Saturn. Unfortunately, Regal Ruin and Radiant Emerald are a completely different story. In Regal Ruin, entire sections of the stage will suddenly appear seemingly five feet in front of you, and Radiant Emerald is a total mess of constant pop-up. (Maybe it has something to do with the fancy transparency effects of the track?) When it works, this game is a wonderful demonstration of what the Saturn is capable of, technically. I just wish the developers had a little more time to iron out the kinks.

Final Thoughts: Sonic R is a generally misunderstood game. It’s not a platformer, and Sonic and Saturn fans have trouble getting over that fact. But if you can look past it, you’ll find a fun game that’s worth several hours of your time. You won’t find yourself coming back to it over and over like you would with Sega Rally or Daytona, but exploring each track, finding the hidden items, and trying out each character will keep you engaged long enough to have some fun.

Sonic R - Regal RuinSonic R - Reactive FactorySonic R - Radiant Emerald

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About Tim
My name is Tim. I live in Madison, WI. I'm a retro gamer.

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