Sonic R by powerhouse studios Sonic Team and Traveller’s Tales was a three dimensional racing video game initially released for the Sega Saturn console and would eventually go on to be released on many other platforms. Mention Sonic R to almost any hardcore gamer of the time, and you’ll leave them with a sour taste in their mouth. Sonic R has been stigmatized relentlessly for years. But are those gamer’s opinions justified? In my opinion they are not.
We go all the way back to 1996, Sega is being beaten down by it’s competitor, Sony with their PlayStation. The Saturn promised big things, especially on the front of 3D games. But in truth, despite more powerful processing, it’s 3D capabilities were weaker than it’s opponents. Sega fans had been waiting for the new 3D Sonic The Hedgehog. They’d seen what Sonic Team was capable of with their work on Nights Into Dreams, and had been constantly teased with the prospect of a Sonic Xtreme. Sega released Sonic 3D blast, and again the people were unhappy. After all, it was just a re-release of the genesis game. Everyone was waiting for the real 3D Sonic.
In 1997, news broke out on all the gaming tabloids of a new truly 3D Sonic game for the Sega Saturn. It was real, and it was eminent. But when it was finally put on shelves, people again were disappointed. This isn’t what the fans asked for. Sonic R was a Racer.
The game ultimately received mixed to bad reviews, sighting numerous issues they felt were in the game. No doubt with a little influence of their disappointment in Sega’s Failure to produce a truly 3D platformer, something Sega wouldn’t do until 1998 with Sonic Adventure on their next console, the Sega Dreamcast.
Music and SFX:
Anyone I talk to about this game, will bring up it’s music in disgust. It was incredibly bouncy, perhaps one of the happiest soundtracks that you will ever hear. It was also vocal music, something everyone felt was a bad move for a sonic game. Of course, when Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 came out, virtually no one complained about the music, in fact many praised it. Sure, nowadays the music in Sonic R might seem a little silly, but it was the 90’s. Vocal dance numbers were big. Really big.
An actual band was put together to make this awesome, CD quality soundtrack. I’ll never understand why people hated the score even at the time. I am one known for liking depressing music and scoffing in disgust at anything that sounds even happy. I am that goth kid you remember in high school that would give you the evil eye if you even talked about music and even I like these songs. The music is arranged quite nicely. The songs are catchy, simple and danceable.
On the other hand sound effects can come off mediocre or generic. The menu sounds in particular are awful. And the sound effects are way too loud. I have to turn them down whenever I play the game.
People really didn’t know how to take this game. It was a racing game, sure but there was a distinct lack of cars. A racing game with people on foot? Well, it makes sense considering the nature of the speedy hedgehog.
People will also pointed out similarities to Mario Kart 64 that just aren’t there. Sure, it’s cartoon racer. Yes it’s lighthearted. But outside of these things, they are incredibly dissimilar. Plenty of other kart racers exist that cop elements of Mario Kart, but none are quite so ridiculed as Sonic R is. Lego Racer, Diddy Kong Racing, Nicktoons Racing and more are all influenced by Mario Kart yet manage to attain favorable review. And rightfully so. But Sonic R, no. Sonic R is the devil.
With beautiful level design, each race is fantastic. Keeping with sonic themes, multiple routes exist within each level, rewarding you for using certain character over others to make use of their abilities to navigate them. Sonic had a double jump ability, tails could fly, knuckles could glide and Eggman could fire missiles.
There are emeralds to acquire and secret characters to unlock such as Metal Sonic and the creepy Tails Doll which has since become the focus of some hilarious internet myths. There are shields, rings, and even those speed boost things. Virtually everything you’d expect to find in a Sonic game is here except one thing that fans refused to overlook. This is not a platformer. And so the terminally unhappy fans remained ever more unhappy. It’s as if they’d never seen a sonic racing game before.
Wait, you mean you didn’t know there were more Sonic Racers? Yeah, there were a couple of games in the Sonic Drift series on the Sega Game Gear which were actually tried and true kart racing games. And heck, multiplayer in Sonic the hedgehog 2 was a split screen racing game.
So why was it okay for Nintendo to make a racing game with it’s mascots but not Sega? Sega is notoriously bad at timing, always at the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition there were more than a few troubles with Sega as a company. But more than that, Sega made promises as a company they simply could not keep.
It would have been fine, if only Sega had released a decent 3D Sonic platformer. They didn’t just pawn us off with Sonic R. They had every intention to release what the fans wanted. But game after game was scrapped, thanks to Sega Of Japan and later Sega Of America’s higher ups.
Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not bashing Sega. It just so happens to be my favorite console developer and the Sega Saturn happens to be my favorite console. But there’s a reason why they’re not in the console market anymore and are only a software company now.
The Opinion of this game would be better if only Sega could have managed to release Sonic Xtreme and at that release it before Sonic R. People dislike Sonic R not because of what it is, but because of what it is not.
You want to see a bad Sonic Racing game looks like? Play Sonic Riders. Play that bologna Sega All Stars kart racer. This game is more true to Sonic’s Roots than Anything that has been released since then, except maybe sonic Advance, and even then I’m sure that can be argued. Sonic R isn’t perfect but it is okay in my opinion, and it should be a must have in every Saturn owner’s Library.
Anthony Luna is the Creator and writer for RetroFiends, the retro game reviews website that delivers you content detailing history and commentary on the best (and the worst) from video game industry history. Strap on your nostalgia goggles and visit RetroFiends at Retrofiends Retro Game Reviews [http://retrofiends.com] today!