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Sonic R – Saturn

Sonic R – Saturn

Platform: Sega Saturn

Developers: Sonic Team/Traveler’s Tales

Publisher: SEGA

Release Date: Oct 31, 1997

Genre: Racing

Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Bortch

I know what you’re thinking, “what am I on that could possibly make me want to play, and review, not one but TWO bad Sonic games in a row?” Well the joke is on you because I may be the only person on this planet that actually likes Sonic R. Am I ruining the review by stating that so early on? Well you’re still reading so I guess that answers my ques… wait! Where are you going? I was just going to tell you why this game is good.

After playing the game several years ago on my parents’ laptop before losing it, I had always wanted to get my hands on a Sega Saturn so I could play Sonic R again. After finally settling down to where I live now, I discovered a store that just so happened to have both the game and the console for sale. Impulse buying can get you into a lot of trouble kids, don’t do it if you have even the slightest doubt in the back of your mind otherwise your regret will consume you. Luckily, such wasn’t the case for me; Sonic R was almost identical to its PC counterpart with a few minor setbacks that prevent it from fully living up to the PC game’s standards.

The graphics in Sonic R are the weakest point of the game. Going from a fully detailed and smooth hedgehog body on the Genesis to a blocky and slightly disfigured body on the Saturn almost made me question whether this was Sonic at all and not his neglected brother SEGA dug out of their trash to star in his own game; in fact, all of the characters in this game look like a cloning nightmare gone horribly wrong. Every character model looks like it was put together by a series of rectangles and triangles until SEGA said “close enough” and started working on the tracks which, in contrast, look much better. Most likely because they had a lot more “room” to work with, the race tracks look significantly better, displaying that the Saturn was capable of rendering curves and smooth edges into its games.

Look at those character models… stunning.

I am aware that the transition from 2D to 3D was rough for a lot of videogame heroes, even Mario on the N64 looked comical when you realize his fingers are as thick as his whole fist when he completed a stage, so I won’t take too many points off for character graphics. However, Mario was still more detailed than Sonic; this was most likely because of the sacrifices Nintendo made to their levels, displaying sprites more often in place of 3D scenery while SEGA did the opposite in Sonic R, making sure that everything in the course was a 3D model. While this was certainly an ambitious move, the attention to detail in the courses does take away from the character models which is ultimately a drawback; unless you’re going to stop and admire every 3D tree in Resort Island, you’re more than likely going to blast by, paying little attention to the tree and more attention to why Knuckles legs look like rectangles when they should be cylinders.

Graphics don’t make the game though and Sonic R, at its core, is a simple racing game. If you popped in this game and expected to headshot a guy from across the map with your customized sniper while navigating a precision lightning strike on the enemy’s base, you’re bound to be disappointed. With five courses in total, Sonic R may not have the most tracks you’ll find in a racing game but they certainly have variety in style, attempting to share very little with each other; the “attempting” referring to Radical City and Reactive Factory sharing a similar stretch of road at one point. Other than that minor detail, the tracks are very unique and have branching paths, with some paths taking advantage of certain character abilities over others. Amy’s car is capable of driving over water, giving her an advantage on the path that mostly consists of water compared to the curvy road that is more akin to Sonic’s speed and loose handling. This variety helps make playing as each character an almost entirely different experience and gives better incentive to play as others for more than “this one is faster, this one handles better, etc.” Other than Regal Ruin’s almost masochistic maze design, I recommend playing the other levels as much as possible with each character to find out who you’re best with on what track.

The only complaint I have about the gameplay is the use of the Chaos Emeralds. In order to unlock the last stage you must obtain a Chaos Emerald in each stage and finish first. In order to obtain each of the emeralds, you must first collect enough rings to access the doors they’re located behind. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, except that some of the emeralds are so far out of your way that minimal effort must be put into anything else other than making a mad dash for the finish line in hopes to even getting third, let alone first place. Grabbing all of the emeralds early into your play session will only lead to frustration, I suggest trying to learn each character’s strength’s and handling first before you tackle such a challenge.  In addition to opening doors, rings can also be used by some characters to utilize their unique abilities (such as firing missiles) or at checkpoints on the track that can give you a significant boost ahead of the competition if you have enough rings stored up.

It’s a shame that the Saturn controllers aren’t more comfortable. I can say for a fact that the PC didn’t have a problem with controls; the arrow keys and space bar gave me no trouble. However,  SEGA can’t make a decent “American” D-pad to save their life. After an hour of play, my thumb gets sore and I have to take a break before playing the game some more. I guess the main problem here is because accelerating in the game is used with the up direction instead of a button; paired with constant and fast shifting of the thumb over the d-pad typically found in a racing game, and my thumb hates me after a play session. Lousy control mapping aside, if you suffer from a similar problem, I suggest buying a Japanese Saturn controller. The D-pad feels nicer and puts much less strain your thumb, the buttons feel great, and the shoulder buttons compress more than a millimeter so it feels like you’re actually pressing a button instead of freaking out thinking that your shoulder button is jammed.  I took this picture of the difference in controllers myself. If you take anything away from this review, it should be to go on eBay, and throw your money at the cheapest Japanese controller you can find (that still works). If you haven’t done this already, you will be thanking me for recommending it later.

I know the difference really comes down to preference, but it’s worth getting at least one to see what it feels like.

However, when compared to the PC version of Sonic R, it’s easy to see where the Saturn version falls short. The graphics are slightly better on the PC version, upping the quality of the models and blending the textures together better. Are you surprised? PC graphics are better than console graphics? I’ve never heard of such a thing (sarcasm at it’s finest ladies and gentlemen). As I mentioned above, the controls feel more comfortable on the PC too. However, this also depends on the type of keyboard you’re using; I’m not saying you should go out and buy a $100 Razer keyboard but a comfortable keyboard is a good idea. On the PC you can also change the weather of each stage. While this may seem like nothing at first, changing the weather to snow practically changes the rules of the game. Now you can walk and slide on the frozen water instead of being forced to avoid it with the hydrophobic characters. The snowy weather changes some of the levels entirely and even opened up new paths that characters normally wouldn’t take. It almost feels like a missed opportunity on the Saturn and I wished they would have found a way to make it work.  

The crowning feature of the game that really makes it so great is the music. Almost every Sonic game out there has music so good that I actually will listen to it in my spare time, with a few exceptions of course *coughsonicheroescough*. Sonic R’s music, no, SONIC R’S MUSIC… is legendary. You can choose to listen to each track with or without lyrics if you’re getting distracted on the course. Not like that should matter, even the vocals are spot on and Super Sonic Racing bring out a new feeling of joy in my heart every time I hear it. SERIOUSLY, here’s a link. I even put a link to the remix if you’re into “electro”, enjoy. The CD itself also doubles as the official soundtrack for the game, put the game disc into any CD player (even the Saturn itself) and the music will start playing like it’s a regular CD.

Overall, this game hasn’t aged as well as I would have hoped when I started playing it again. The graphics are great where they don’t matter and lacking where they do, the controls can be a hit or miss depending on the controller used and the difficulty can skyrocket on some levels when the secondary objective of collecting chaos emeralds comes into play. Despite this, the game is still fun; changing up the racing formula with unique abilities gives you an experience not found in most other racing games. The levels are also fun to play and with each character interacting with the stages differently, giving the game great replay value. However, most of the ideas are great but fall short of excellence, I wish there were more levels and more unique abilities spread out upon the cast of characters. Even when I am satisfied after a play session, I wish there could have been more to play around with. Regardless, this game still stands out as a great drunk driver substitute for when you’re all Mario Kart-ed out. Not bad SEGA. Not bad at all.

6.5 out of 10

A fun diversion in short bursts with lots of replayability despite the limited content. Not the best racing game out there, but not bad either.

Written by Nerd Bacon

Nerd Bacon


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