The jump to the third dimension has been quite the journey for gaming icon Sonic the Hedgehog. Though initial titles such as both Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast were well-received back in the day, many of the titles that followed, from Sonic Heroes to Sonic Unleashed, suffered from various issues in gameplay and control that led to poor critical receptions. Thankfully, Sonic seems to be making a comeback these days, if the more positive responses to Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations are any indication.
Now, SEGA has dug up a nearly-forgotten piece of 3D Sonic history in the form of Sonic the Fighters, and while it’s not going to blow away those who have never played it before, it’s a pleasant enough diversion.
Originally released in arcades in 1996 and previously only available on home systems through the 2005 compilation Sonic Gems Collection, the game takes familiar and not-so-familiar Sonic characters and places them into a 3D tournament fighter. There technically is a plot, involving Sonic needing Chaos Emeralds obtained from other fighters to power a rocket into space and stop Eggman/Robotnik (referred to in the intro text as “Dr. Robotonic” for some reason) from rebuilding classic foe Metal Sonic. Don’t expect any cutscenes outside of the opening and ending, though. There’s not even any voice acting during battles.
The character lineup consists of both series regulars as well as some original characters who never appeared in later Sonic games. Familiar faces include Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Espio, Dr. Eggman, Metal Sonic, and Fang the Sniper, A.K.A. Nack the Weasel. The newcomers consist of Bark the polar bear, Bean the bird, and Honey the cat, the last of whom was unavailable in previous versions of the game. Character move sets, as expected, vary to differing degrees between each fighter. Some, like Sonic and Tails, control similarly, while others, such as Fang, are more projectile-heavy.
In terms of graphics, the game has aged fairly well for being made when 3D polygons were still getting off the ground in terms of popularity. Environments are bright and colorful, and the character models, while blocky and angular, move fairly well. Unfortunately, the game’s HD remastering didn’t get the same attention previous rereleases like Sonic Adventure 2 and NiGHTS Into Dreams got, meaning there’s no widescreen support, with a plain blue border taking up the left and right sides of the screen.
The music is generally forgettable compared to some of the classic tunes the more well-known Sonic games use, though. Another complaint comes in the form of a reference to a well-known mechanic of Sonic platformers. Every time a character is hit, rings pop out of them and scatter across the field. This is purely a cosmetic touch that doesn’t affect anything, but it also means you’ll hear the same jingling sound effect every time you land a hit, which gets annoying fast.
The controls work quite well, with many conventional fighting game moves being used. Combos consist of combinations of punches and kicks, and players can throw their opponents when given the opportunity by getting up close and pressing two buttons simultaneously. One unique feature the game can boast is the barrier system. Essentially a limited block mechanic, pressing a certain button brings up a small forcefield in front of your character that can protect them or reduce the damage from various moves. Stronger attacks can destroy a barrier, though, and players only have a limited number that they can use per round, adding a strategic element.
If Sonic the Fighters had added more unique gameplay mechanics like the barrier system, maybe it would be remembered more. As it is, what the package does offer is a perfectly serviceable basic fighting game. Online and offline play is fully supported as well. Some features like full widescreen support would have been nice, but the game is still perfectly playable. Considering it only costs $5 to download, hardcore Sonic fans and those who like tournament fighters might want to check it out.
This review is based on an XBOX 360 copy of the game which we received for review purposes.