Sega Saturn Cover Art
Takashi Iizuka (Director)
Yoshitaka Miura (characters)
|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
|Release date(s)||Sega Saturn
Sonic R (ソニックR Sonikku Ā?) is a racing video game developed by Traveller's Tales and Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Sega Saturn and Microsoft Windows as part of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The game was released in North America on October 31, 1997, and in Japan, Europe and Australia the following December. It was re-released for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube as part of the Sonic Gems Collection.
Sonic R is the third Sonic racing game and the last of two Sonic games to be co-developed by Traveller's Tales and Sonic Team. In the game, players can take control of one of ten Sonic series characters and participate in races on various Sonic-themed race tracks. The game's story focuses the characters' efforts to win a series of races and prevent Doctor Robotnik from stealing the Chaos Emeralds and enslaving the world.
Sonic R was praised by critics for being one of the few Sonic games featuring 3D computer graphics on the Sega Saturn but was also criticized for its poor game controls and short length.
Sonic R is a racing video game featuring single-player and multiplayer game modes. The players select one of ten different playable Sonic the Hedgehog characters and participate in a footrace in one of five available race tracks, competing for the fastest time ahead of the other racers. The ten playable characters all have unique attributes and abilities, which fall in line with the respective character's usual abilities, such as Sonic having the fastest speed, or Knuckles being able to glide. While the gameplay is considered similar to kart racing games such as the Mario Kart series, Sonic R places an emphasis on jumping and exploration as each race track has multiple paths and hidden areas. The race tracks, while original creations, are thematically based on the art style and environments of classic Sonic games such as Sonic the Hedgehog's "Green Hill Zone" and Sonic the Hedgehog 2's "Chemical Plant Zone."
During each race the player is able to collect items scattered in various areas on the tracks that bestow advantages. Rings, a staple Sonic series item, are abundant on tracks; the player can exchange a certain number of collected rings to gain a temporary boost of speed or open doors leading to short cuts or special items. "Item Panels" bestow a random advantage such as speed increase or shields that grant abilities such as being able to run across water or attract nearby rings. Collection of other special items, such as "Sonic Tokens" and the Chaos Emeralds, may lead to the unlocking of secret characters.
Sonic R allows the player to select the type of weather ("clear", "rain", and "snow") seen during races. While mostly aesthetic, the "snow" option causes bodies of water to freeze, allowing a character to run over it, rather than sinking to the bottom and slowing down its speed. The player can also configure the game to randomly select the weather for each race.
Sonic R features ten playable racers; four characters are initially available while the other six are secret characters that become available when the player completes certain in-game objectives. Each character has individual attributes and abilities. The title character, Sonic the Hedgehog, is the fastest and possesses the ability to "double jump" (being able to perform a second jump in mid-air). Tails is able to fly through the air for a short time, and Knuckles the Echidna can glide through the air upon jumping. The last initially available character Amy Rose operates a car, which allows her to hover over bodies of water and receive extra speed from driving over boost spaces. Secret characters include Sonic's archenemy Dr. Robotnik, who flies in a hovercraft and resists differences in terrain; robotic clones of Sonic (Metal Sonic), Tails (Tails Doll), and Knuckles (Metal Knuckles); EggRobo, Robotnik's robotic assistant; and Super Sonic, a faster version of Sonic powered by the Chaos Emeralds.
Sonic and Tails are about to take a vacation when Tails notices an advertisement for a "World Grand Prix". While not initially interested, Sonic notices that series antagonist Dr. Robotnik is also participating in the race, which persuades him to change his mind and participate. It is revealed that Dr. Robotnik has recently learned of the whereabouts of the rare and powerful Chaos Emeralds, with which he aspires to enslave the world, and the World Grand Prix is actually a trap used to distract Sonic. Sonic and Tails, as well as Knuckles and Amy (who overheard of the race and plan and decided to participate) must balance both winning races and obtaining the Chaos Emeralds in order to keep them out of Dr. Robotnik's reach.
After the completion of Sonic 3D Blast in 1996, Sega approached Traveller's Tales about working on another Sonic game, this time being a racing game. Traveller's Tales, who coincidentally had been working on a 3D graphics engine without a purpose at the time, found this to be a logical progression, and accepted the project. Development started in February 1997 as a joint project between Sega's Sonic Team and Traveller's Tales. Sonic Team designed the race tracks and the game's general flow, while Traveller's Tales was responsible for the implementation and programming. A major goal of development was to maintain a consistent 30 frames per second frame rate during gameplay. A custom game engine was developed to take full advantage of the Sega Saturn hardware and a graphical technique, described as "12 layer transparency", was used to transparentize distant textures in order to conceal the Sega Saturn's limited draw distance. Game programmer Joe Burton claimed that Sonic R could not have replicated on other consoles during the timeframe, such as the PlayStation console, due to the technique developed specifically for the Sega Saturn hardware.
An early build was unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Atlanta, Georgia on June 1997, with Sega releasing screenshots of a "40% complete build" to various magazines shortly afterwards. The builds would be largely the same as the final game, with the exception of minor tweaks, such as the ability to play the "Resort Island" level in a sunset setting, where as the final game only allowed to alter the weather, not time of day. The game's final release would be first in North America on October 31, 1997, with releases in other regions occurring in late 1997 for the Sega Saturn, and into 1998 for the PC version. The PC versions allowed the user to alter graphics details in order to get the game to run optimally on different computers. Options include allowing to change between software rendering and 3D acceleration, or adjusting the game's draw distance, affecting how soon objects in the distance are visible. Like many other previous Sonic games during this time period, a largely unrelated Sonic R game was released as a Tiger Electronics LCD handheld game around the same time in 1998.
The soundtrack for Sonic R was composed by British composer Richard Jacques of Sega Europe, who had also previously worked on the soundtrack of the Sega Saturn and PC versions of Sonic 3D Blast. Work on the soundtrack began in March 1997 when Jacques traveled to Japan to meet with Sonic creator Yuji Naka to discuss the musical approach to take for the game. The first song written was "Super Sonic Racing," which would be used for the game's reveal in June at E3. British singer TJ Davis provided the vocals for the song, which Naka liked so much that he requested that she be featured in all the game's songs. Jacques wrote all the lyrics for the songs with the intention that they would compliment the on-screen action but still be appealing to someone who had never played the game. Tracks were recorded and programmed at Sega Digital Studios, and then worked on for two weeks at Metropolis Studios in London, where a week was spent on vocals, and a week was spent on producing, mixing, and finalizing the tracks. Sonic R features two separate mixes of each track, one with vocals and one without, giving the player the option to disable vocals.
Both versions of Sonic R generally received mixed reviews from critics, the PC version earning a 70% and the Sega Saturn earning a 68.92% on the review aggregator website GameRankings. Ryan MacDonald of GameSpot commented positively on the graphics and audio, but criticized a lack of depth and content in the game, stating, "Within the first hour of playing I had finished the game...[its] so short that you'll probably finish it the day you rent it." Game Revolution gave the game a "C-" rating, describing the game as "mediocre at best", citing "wily and inexact" controls and poor music as major complaints. Allgame echoed these sentiments, praising the graphics, but criticizing the controls, referring to them as "an ordeal and will take some practice".
Reception of the ported version of the game available in Sonic Gems Collection was also negative. Eurogamer criticized the game for being "...too awkward to play for any length of time", calling the controls "odd" because "...each character steers like an actual car." 1UP.com criticized it as well, focusing on the controls and graphics, stating "The grainy visuals make it hard to tell where you're going, and the frustrating controls make it difficult to get there." Several sources compared it unfavorably to the Mario Kart series. GameSpy claimed that the game "didn't hold up very well", stating that despite it playing "a bit like Mario Kart with extra exploration bits added", that the game "works better in theory than in practice...it's not an awful lot of fun". Similarly, GamesRadar cited it as "Mario Kart-style racer of the pack, while reasonably speedy, is an absolute pig to control, with each racer skating around the circuits with all the grace of an inebriated toddler."
Despite Sega releasing two Sonic racing games prior to Sonic R, Sonic Drift and Sonic Drift 2, for the Sega Game Gear, developer Takashi Yuda cited fans requesting more racing games in the vein of Sonic R would be Sega's actual inspiration for revisiting the genre in future years. This led to the development and release of the hoverboarding game Sonic Riders, although there are no connections between the two games other than both being racing games. Later Sonic racing games would include Sonic Riders sequels Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity and Sonic Free Riders, and kart racing games Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.
Select songs from Sonic R's soundtrack were included in later games featuring Sonic in their original forms or as remixes. Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a fighting game for Nintendo's Wii console, features the song "Super Sonic Racing" as background music for its Green Hill Zone stage. Music was also featured in games such as Sonic Pinball Party and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.
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