Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Sonic the Fighters

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The third title in SEGA’s first sweep of the Model 2 arcade re-releases for modern digital platforms, Sonic the Fighters is perhaps the most curious of all. Not because of its popularity (being a relatively minor release in both arcade and home console editions) nor for it’s technical qualities (being largely based on the same fighting system seen in Fighting Vipers). Instead, it’s a matter of intrigue, as Sonic the Fighters is a rare change of pace for the mascot that’s unlikely to ever be repeated.

As stated above, Sonic the Fighters follows the pattern established by an earlier Model 2 release almost to the letter. Running on the same engine that was developed specifically for Fighting Vipers, it would come as little surprise after just five minutes with the videogame to learn that Sonic the Fighters was born of an in-house joke. The team developing the original Fighting Vipers used Sonic characters as placeholders during the production phase, and when these character models were discovered to remain present in the final build they obviously received a great deal of attention from ardent Sonic the Hedgehog fans. Thus, the erinaceinae was granted his own fighting title years before Nintendo took the plunge with Mario et al.

However, lining-up Sonic the Fighters alongside the title upon which is based will only ever work to it’s detriment, as there are far fewer novel ideas and far less reason to suggest that this is anything more than a quick money grab or, at our kindest, fan service. The small selection of playable characters (artificially extended for this digital re-release) coupled with the incredibly limited and unquestionably unbalanced movesets makes Sonic the Fighters a videogame that is to be considered a fun evening with friends, not a tournament quality beat-‘em-up.

Sadly, that’s where the entertainment ends: a single evening. Sonic the Fighters simply doesn’t have the depth of its Model 2 brethren to be taken seriously. It’s one and only innovation is that of its Barrier system, which sees each player given a specific number of barriers to use in a match (options allow for this quantity to be replenished between rounds or offered as a single stock for an entire fight). Barriers prevent all damage against the defending player but can easily be broken should the attacker land every attack of a long string combo or heavy attack, at which point the barrier tally is reduced and the blocking player is left vulnerable to a follow-up attack.

The visual quality of Sonic the Fighters is actually the most appealing aspect of the production, despite the age of the hardware upon which it was originally built. The high-definition (HD) makeover has obviously tidied things up considerably, but the environments are detailed enough to stand out as being impressive in their own right. The character models look somewhat stunted and certain animation sequences could clearly do with a few extra frames, but nonetheless Sonic the Fighters remains an interesting presentation visually.

It’s a real shame that Sonic the Fighters doesn’t manage to stand-up to its peers as a deep and satisfying beat-‘em-up experience, as there is a lot of potential here. However, more than a decade after its initial release its potential that’s gone unexplored and is unlikely to ever receive any further attention outside of this HD re-release. Given that the greatest achievement that videogame made was never been adopted by the core audience, Sonic the Fighters is quite obviously a one-shot product that’s not intended to be married to Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers in the way it has been on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, sadly casting a harsh shadow upon this cult release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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