Retro gaming

Remembering Sonic the Comic

A lot has been said about the American Sonic the Comic, but there aren’t too many resources online for the British version. Looking back on my collection today though it’s become clear just how diluted the Sonic franchise has become.

Ladies and gents I’d like to take you back to the early 1990s, back to my early gaming childhood when Sonic mania was at it’s peak; and the console war between SEGA and Nintendo was reaching mammoth proportions.

A lot has been said about the American Sonic the Comic, but there aren’t too many resources online for the British version. Looking back on my collection today though it’s become clear just how diluted the Sonic franchise has become.

Ladies and gents I’d like to take you back to the early 1990s, back to my early gaming childhood when Sonic mania was at it’s peak; and the console war between SEGA and Nintendo was reaching mammoth proportions.

The background to SEGA v.s Nintendo

The Nintendo side of this saga is well documented, but in Europe at least SEGA’s wave of influence was building, and the power they mustered within our young minds was exciting. The Sonic games in particular were unlike anything else we had played – fast, slick and obviously instant classics. Collectively as a fanbase we felt like a wave of energy pushing against the tide that was the mighty Nintendo.

Sparkster flies upwards in the Rocket Knight Adventures comic.

The sense of vendetta built into us was mischievous – but we were kids and we loved it because it tapped into the playful banter and rhetoric of the playground. The old mantras of the SEGA side of the divide are still so deeply ingrained into my mind to this day that I still get a sort of taboo like tingle when I turn on an old school Nintendo console.

I think Sonic the Comic had a lot to do with that, obtensively a cog in the SEGA marketing machine, but more than that, a much-needed avenue for the fans, a delicious appreciation of everything that we were – our passion manifest on pages, and this was long before the comfort of the internet. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in enjoying games was deeply cathartic, and for that reason buying Sonic the Comic was the first moment that my young mind understood that I was a gamer.

The control zone of the comic contains sales charts, the Megadroid intro and other SEGA-related news.

Sonic and the planet Mobius

The simplicity of the original Sonic games hid a beguiling world, and vibrant cast of characters. They were games that could be sped through as quickly as possible, or played perfectly noting every step to achieve a perfect Super Sonic ending. Sonic the Comic built on that with the main Sonic strip, initially with light-hearted storytelling which pandered to our childhood aspirations of Sonic as a flawless, arrogant hero. Later on the comic would lead our imaginations down darker paths, into long winding backstories including our favourite characters, as they were pushed together in an underground resistance against Dr Robotnik’s growing dictatorship.

This was Sonic the Comic as it’s best – when it moved away from the patronising stance of other kids comics and acknowledged that it’s young readers were imaginative young people able to deal with the vast array of issues thrown at their heroes.

We loved to understand Sonic’s story, how he came to be, as well as the origin of Dr. Robotnik and his motivations. The gameworld we knew and loved began to manifest into the vast and magnificient planet Mobius, and rather than departing from the brief lines of text in the game manual, the world began to grow as each installment of the Sonic franchise added more, and the comic and game world blurred together into one wonderful collective canon.

Sonic and Tails grapple with an enemy in the Chemical Plant Zone.

And that was just the storytelling, the comic sounded and looked the part once it found it’s feet. This was particularly evident under the guidance of artist Richard Elson and writer Nigel Kitching. I hate to single out two names out of a sea of people whose collective energy brightened my childhood, but whenever I saw their these names in the white space next to the comic I knew I was in for a treat. The most recent designs for Dreamcast era Sonic onwards do him no justice, but on a personal note, I think Richard Elson was the only person that was able to get Sonic’s iconic look over perfectly in every single frame.

A growing cast of characters

While I didn’t agree with some of the later additions to the cast (namely Amy Rose) the comic largely benefited from the extra faces in the early days. It was nice to see Tails take centre stage in his own comic, to have his backstory, bravery and intelligence properly explored in a decent way. This is a distinct contrast to his treatment in newer Sonic games – as he becomes increasingly more juvenile, but able to juggle obtaining a pilots licence while harbouring a penchant for invention…

Knuckles though was a welcome addition, and is probably the only character to have survived intact through various recent redesigns. Sonic the Comic was the first time many of us got to meet this new character, leading up to the pre-release hype of Sonic 3. These were exciting times, but like many others I started to lose track as the hero and enemy list grew past the original band of heroes.

Dr. Robotnik tells off a trio of suspiciously familiar looking Italians.

As time went on the Sonic’s power came less out of his solo efforts and more out of the sense of camaraderie that surrounded his growing circle of allies. In particular I really enjoyed the exploration of the animal characters which were originally just creatures trapped in the badniks. These simple animations in the game(s) became actual characters within the comic, (such as the rabbit and pig becoming Johnny Lightfoot and Porker Lewis respectively), each original character added their own unique skills to help solve each fortnights problems, and perhaps this best shows off the comic’s inventiveness at creating new, believable characters (if only the recent games followed this lovely design pattern).

This was also the time when Dr. Robotnik was a proper evil genius, (who clearly earned his doctorate) as he frequently got close to beating Sonic. I miss the times when Robotnik used to be a believable, and genuinely disturbing bad-guy – the man that you loved to hate, and it efforts made it abundantly clear that Sonic was not infallable, as Robotnik’s growing resourcefulness forced Sonic’s character to reinvent new ways to take him down each time, it was no longer enough for his character to rely on pure bravado.

Sonic aside for a moment – it was also really nice for other SEGA franchises to benefit from the comic treatment, with all of the aplomb and personality of the Sonic trips. Suddenly the characters of some of my favourite gaming series were no longer silent, but bright, vibrant characters on the page in front of me, speaking their motivations aloud. Golden Axe, Wonder Boy, Shining Force, and Shinobi were among many others series immortalised in print by the fabulous artists and writers at STC, the quality of these strips are so great I may have to return to each of them at a later date to point out their individual merits.

Ecco the Dolphin explores Alantis.

We miss you Sonic…

I consider myself a fan of the SEGA and Sonic Team of old, first and foremost, and Sonic the Comic helps me to tap into the preciousness of my youth. These were the moments when every penny spent on games, and related merchandise were appreciated and treasured. Every game I owned was played repeatedly until they were not just completed, but memorized and mastered. Although the comic was by no means perfect, the British version is an undeniable reminder of the moments when I was most patient and to a greater extent in awe with my gaming.

And Sonic was much better then too.

Retro gaming

How buying used games got dull

These quieter summer months mean I am catching up on a pile of games that I have yet to play. Many of them bought second hand – titles that I missed the first time around that I am just getting around to.

But I have noticed that as each summer approaches, the availability of exciting second hand games has reduced dramatically. My appetite for second hand titles hasn’t gone – but there aren’t as many to be found anywhere other than the internet, or so it seems.

The lost art of second hand games

The days of picking up a genuine bargain at Car Boot sales, garage sales and flea markets have long gone. Internet auctioning sites seem to mean that every game in even the most casual gamers collection can be looked up and sold on at a premium. Most of the old avenues for retro titles seem to be favoured by dealers wanting to resell in-demand titles on, moving focus away from people who buy games to actually play them.

Even specialist game shops are guilty of this, many only buy in games and consoles from the previous generation or newer, because doing otherwise is no longer profitable. As a result we’re losing a lot of gaming history from our high streets, as even the smaller chains and independents are starting to become extremely picky about what they buy in.

A stack of games including; Sonic Chaos, Castle of Illusion, Kurushi and Frequency.

The quality of what’s on offer

Most larger game shops don’t seem to take any pride in the work they do anymore – and this isn’t a pop at the hardworking sales staff of most video games shops, but the senior managers who force them to tow the company line which is a shame as it often takes all the personality out of the shopping experience.

Taking the quality of the stock itself as a major example. The condition that some stores are prepared to sell games and consoles in is laughable at times, and further perpetuates dwindling sales as customers feel less inclined to part with their cash.

  • Conveniently misplaced collectors items

    If the game requires an addon to play it then they should be included when sold on. Case in point: Animal Crossing on the Gamecube which came with a free memory card because your town data would use up an entire card – except if you bought it second hand it seems.

  • Labels in inappropriate places

    Sticky labels that can’t be easily removed really bother me, especially on old cardboard boxes when the box art starts to peel away. Also why write on the games in permanent marker or put labels on the manual?

  • No manual

    I’m not asking for the plastic wrapper to still be in there, or even the special edition art cards that were originally bundled with the game, but is a lot to ask that the manual should be in there, especially as it is the thing that tells you how to play the game – if it’s not included then you should be charged less.

  • Scratches on discs

    If the game is scratched it shouldn’t be allowed to be traded in. Some shops will buy in discs of any condition and use a cleaning machine to remove the top layer of the disc making it playable – but the vast majority don’t, and won’t show you the condition of the disc unless you specfically ask.

  • Dirty stock

    Sticky game boxes, or something just ingrained with dirt. Things do get dirty, but selling things on from the shop in that condition is equally disgusting. Everything bought in should be cleaned completely with a cleaning product and clean cloth. Discs, boxes, consoles and pads. The customers will thank you for it.

The inside of the Frequency box, with the manual damaged by a sticker.

Why not head online?

It’s becoming harder to track down something out of the ordinary in game shops, or any other location other than online. The removal of older titles from the shelves mean that all shops start to become the same bland sea of branding and empty cases. Older titles are resigned to discount bins or dark corners of the store – or worse museum pieces behind glass with inflated prices that you have to specifically ask to view.

You start to see the same copies of games on each routine visit to the store. Older games should be preserved and bought, not left to languish in a store purely to serve as padding for an otherwise dull shop. Heading online to find your desired title is becoming a requirement for more and more gamers, as smaller shops start to put their rarer stock on ebay – but there are a couple of reasons why this is equally undesirable.

  • You end up paying a premium

    If like me you like to collect things based on recommendation you’ll often find that the games spoken about most highly are becoming increasingly more difficult to acquire at a reasonable price. At least the internet gives you the often of always finding a copy of something though.

  • The thrill of the chase

    The enjoyment I get from finding a copy of of a game I have been after for an long time outsides of the wild of the internet is an experience in itself. Shopping online takes all the fun out of my hobby – which is finding a title or console I have not seen in absolutely ages.

Don’t forget about the pleasure of finding something worth playing nearer to home, often the expectation of trying to find a game you’ve been after for a while matches the enjoyment you get from actually playing it, and in doing so you’ll be supporting the network of independent game shops who particularly need support during this recession.