Faith vs. Sonic

[9 February 2012]

By Scott Juster

This week, I take aim at an easy target: myself.  I recently reviewed Sonic CD and was a bit underwhelmed.  However, after re-reading the piece, I noticed that most of my criticisms of Sonic CD are equally applicable to Mirror’s Edge.  Both games offer fast-paced platformer experiences and both fall victim to some of the same pitfalls brought on by such a combination.  I’m on record for calling Mirror’s Edge tragically under appreciated, so I thought it might be a fun thought experiment to compare the two games in hopes of discovering why Mirror’s Edge sprints where Sonic stumbles.  Will I be able to defend my own opinions from myself?  Let’s find out.

Myself: You criticize Sonic CD for abrupt stops and cheap deaths, both of which are in ample supply in Mirror’s Edge.

Me: It’s true: both games have a frustrating habit of throwing unexpected obstacles at you, which forces you to adopt a trial and error approach to improvement.  The fact that I find this less irritating in Mirror’s Edge than in Sonic CD comes down to level design.

Sonic CD‘s levels resemble a race track designed like a race track while Mirror’s Edge presents environments more akin to obstacle courses.  In many respects, Sonic‘s long straightaways, boost pads, and loops resemble racing games.  The game’s flat nature is conducive to picking up speed and quickly vaulting over enemies in a similar way that one would boost in a straightaway and swerve around road obstacles.  Unavoidable spikes and unexpected slow platforming sequences break this feeling.  Suddenly, drag racing has turned into an offroad ATV race.

Mirror’s Edge definitely lets you experience some exhilarating momentum, but navigating one of its levels requires more action.  In addition to running and jumping, you must crawl, vault, climb, shimmy, kick, and tiptoe through environments that can be picked apart like three-dimensional mazes.  While there are plenty of unexpected obstacles, the variety of hazards and the techniques that you need to employ to navigate them are more varied in Mirror’s Edge than they are in Sonic CD, thus preventing them from getting as frustrating.

Myself: The combat and the enemies in both games are wonky.

Me: Faith and Sonic are definitely runners, not fighters.  However, Faith has a few extra tricks that add variety to otherwise dull combat.

Virtual brawling is always difficult to pull off, but Mirror’s Edge has the potential to offer fairly robust battles.  Faith has a variety of attacks that vary depending on her speed, proximity to walls, and stance.  The disarm move brings an exciting risk/reward dynamic to each battle: you can go for an enemies gun, but if you mis-time your block, you’ll have made your last mistake.  Those hungry for a bit more firepower can hold onto enemy firearms and give them a taste of their own medicine.

For his part, Sonic sticks to the basics: you can jump on enemies or spin into them.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this (after all, Mario has managed to survive all these years with the same basic move set) but that doesn’t mean that it is exciting.  Once Sonic slows down, all he has at his disposal is floaty jumping and the option to speed back up.  Conversely, Faith has a variety of options at her disposal. 

Myself: Maybe you’re just taken in my Mirror’s Edge’s graphics?

Me: Recently, I wrote a short piece about how much aesthetics matter, even in games as simple as Bejeweled.  Art and visual presentation impact personal taste, but they can also influence behavior.  Mirror’s Edge‘s unique first person perspective shapes my actions by offering aesthetic rewards.  I like the tingly feeling in my stomach when I vault from high places and tuck into a roll when I hit the ground.  I like it so much that I seek it out.  Even if it doesn’t offer me a systemic bonus in the form of points or abilities, the sensation is reward enough.  Sonic’s more traditional perspective isn’t bad; it’s just not novel.  Thus, it’s much easier for me to pick it apart and compare it to similar experiences.

On q related note, an anthropomorphic animal with a radical attitude and “baditude” simply isn’t as interesting to me as an ethnically ambiguous, strong (but not overly sexualized) female protagonist.  Mirror’s Edge makes some familiar systemic mistakes.  Its non-traditional approach to its genre and its unique main character make me more willing to suffer through its flaws, though.

Myself: You probably just don’t like Sonic because you didn’t grow up with him!

Me: I can’t really argue against this one.  Growing up, we were a pretty Nintendo-heavy household.  Most of my Sonic experience comes from playing at friends’ houses and that experience pales in comparison to the amount of time that I spent playing classic Nintendo franchises like Mario and Zelda.  For better or worse, I simply don’t have the luxury of leaning on nostalgia to augment the experience.  What I see as rough spots could just as easily be seen as quirks or even subtle references to devoted fans.

This isn’t to say that my objectivity allows for greater insight.  A stronger background with Sonic could very well offer insights that I’ve simply missed due to my lack of knowledge.  I know enough to crave the chime of those iconic rings, but perhaps if I had a better working knowledge of the franchise I’d appreciate the subtle changes that it accumulated along the way.  In addition to Sonic’s appearance, I’m sure subtle changes in the distance that he can jump or the time that it takes to reach full speed give the game a depth that I can’t perceive.  However, in the absence of a strong historical connection, I’m drawn towards Mirror’s Edge, a game whose obvious novelty gives the illusion that it is more distantly related to Sonic than I might think.

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