Going back to playing S4E2 as it still amazes me how Sega’s lack of care and focus managed to make a competent throwback to the times when Sonic wasn’t shit. It’s beyond my mortal comprehension.

One thing that puzzles me, however, is the presence of the homing attack.

When franchises that stared in 2D started entering the realm of 3D, a lot of differences started taking place. The games played differently, had different goals and an overall completely different feel from the olden days. Mega Man became an adventure game with shitty controls and generic Evangelion robot designs where you’re running around a city trying to activate the next cutscene, Mario did community service as a janitor, Link turned into a killer wolf sumo wrestler, Mai Shiranui got a haircut (actually doesn’t look bad), Pac Man has a spindash, and Godzilla has a proper game for once.

Sonic just turned into a full scripted process. And a large part of this is attributed to the homing attack.

Now, as I’ve said before, when games are put into a 3D context, many of it’s previous elements have to be altered in order to work in 3D without too much frustration. None was hit harder than the “platformer” genre. Mario was given kung fu moves to offset the need to jump on enemies, for one. In 2D, all you had to do was line up Mario over an enemy to basically “aim” your feet. In 3D, with bad depth perception, players spent more time looking at shadows to line Mario up with his prey. Not to much though, as it wasn’t at all difficult to jump on enemies, but quite a few times players would overshoot their jumps anyway. Melee attacks… didn’t work all that much better anyway so players found themselves avoiding engaging enemies unless they were surfing shells.

Other games handled 3D combat a little better but felt more “automatic” in the process. One was the necessity of locking onto enemies. Mega Man needed to lock on to enemies as aiming in 3D happens to be pretty fucking difficult. But it also causes problems, if you wanted to attack specific enemies, the lock on would be more of a hindrance than a boon as you end up shooting someone else rather than your intended target. I was actually disturbed seeing as I needed lock on in a Castlevania game, but seeing as whips are very thin, hitting enemies without lock on would be a big issue.

While these elements aren’t flaws as they make combat work in 3D, it becomes far more mechanical than it is automatic. Like say you run into a room and find 3 enemies. You don’t have to worry about coordinating yourself, you just slam the fire button and enemies are already dead. There’s no effort from the player. It becomes a process. It becomes too mechanical and thus no stimulation can be derived from it. Games where combat required some ingenuity from the player would often stimulate the player, making the game more fun in the long run. But with automated attack functions, the game would play itself.

This brings me to the homing attack. Now, obviously as Sonic’s main attack consisted of jumping into enemies from any direction, this was going to be problematic in 3D. Course, like with Mario, it’s not difficult to hit enemies with normal jumps. Infact, it’s much… MUCH easier to hit enemies in Sonic games via the Spin Attack. Still, when it comes to smaller enemies, it’s much easier to overshoot them as well. So Sonic games have their own variation of lock on moves, that being Gamma/Mech’s lock on lasers, Guns in Shadow, or more notoriously, the aforementioned homing attack. The homing attack simply makes 3D combat easy. Just jump into the air, find a nearby target, press the button to kill stuff.

Now, developers understood that having automated attacks would make games far too easy, so they developed rather bullshit methods to artificially increase difficult. Some enemies would have shields that had to be removed by alternative, less practical means.

Blue Tornado

 

Having it as a simple combat option wasn’t a bad thing aside from making Sonic games far easier than need be, but then the attack became essential for even progressing through a level. All games had “enemy bridges” in which you were required to kill in order to reach another portion of the level. I can’t think of anything more “mechanical” than Sonic’s enemy bridges that turns Sonic games into automated nonsense. It was needed to traverse a golem’s backside in order to hit a weakpoint. Needed to defeat the Egg Viper, etc. etc.

Given the stagnate nature of Japanese developers, seeing how overused the homing attack is would say how dependent Sega has become on designing games with homing attack in mind. So much so that for some reason, it slipped into 2D Sonic… way back in Sonic Advance 2! Now, to be fair while the handheld Sonic titles had the homing attack, nowhere were you ever dependent on using the move. It was easy to forget the move was in the games, but starting with Sonic 4 Episode 1, Sega’s automated bullshit started creeping into level design. Slowly but surely, there are enemy bridges in these games, and the bad habits players picked up in the 3D titles would surely creep into these games. When you have enemies that can damage you while you’re attacking them, the Homing Attack processing that players have likely developed would work against them.

Tell your red cousin to go fuck himself!

The homing attack was more than likely developed to make combat in 3D a non-issue. But in 2D, it’s a hindrance. On the other hand, I can see Mario’s kung fu antics working well in NSMBW and the like. All we get are wall jumps instead.

Perhaps the homing attack was simply added to keep consistency with the 3D titles (w/e consistency there was) but with the addition of enemy bridges, it’s clear that Sega wanted the homing attack to be “necessitated” somehow. The biggest problem with game developers is this obsession with “necessitating” gameplay elements that should be treated as options. In Episode 2, Tails’s flying ability is necessitated in he Oil Ocean rip off in a few sections of a long bottomless pit. Why? I don’t know. 3D Sonic is drowned in this shit. I would prefer they keep it in 3D and avoid going mechanical in 2D.

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