hat pops into your head when you see these next three words?
"Sonic the Hedgehog."
Were you thinking about a fighting game? Probably, because you've more than likely seen the title of this article, and you're reading this review. But hold on there, did you think of a good fighting game? Probably not, right? Well, buckle up, because this could be an interesting ride.
Along side the recently released HD versions of Sega AM2's arcade versus fighters Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers on PSN and XBLA comes Sonic the Fighters, a game which not only defies the genre it's in, but also all expectations. Seeing release in arcades back in 1996 and a home release only as an extra feature in the Sonic Gems Collection for Gamecube and PlayStation 2, Sonic the Fighters never had a wide reach, especially in arcades due to violence concerns.
So what is Sonic the Fighters all about? Well, if you've been paying attention to my other reviews as of late, you'd probably have guessed that since this game was also produced by Sega AM2, Sonic the Fighters plays rather similarly to Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers. And you would be correct.
Featuring a cast of characters from the original Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sonic CD and even Knuckles Chaotix, Sonic the Fighters has you fight tournament style for control of the Chaos Emeralds to ultimately defeat Dr. Eggman in the Death Egg II.
Thankfully, accomplishing this is a pretty fun task. Sonic the Fighters features some pretty decent gameplay, which includes sidestepping for better evasion, trademark AM2 move sets that, even if they are a bit limited, still go a mile long and have the kind of Sonic charm I haven't really seen in decades. There's also an added layer of game play in the form of limited barriers in place of chip-damage blocking and Hyper Mode. Activating the barrier while blocking will allow you to better guard against some of the larger attacks you'll face. However, the barrier can only take so much abuse, and eventually becomes unusable after a certain amount of damage is received while activated. Hyper Mode allows for an expanded move set and bigger combos at the cost of one barrier, which is great in a pinch.
In fact, the gameplay here could be described as pretty darn good, despite the strange perspective and more-limited moves. Each available character has unique abilities that differentiate them from each other, and come off as feeling more or less balanced. Any of the fighters can be chosen and should be able to be used to beat the game without feeling too over-powerful or defenceless. That said, the fighting engine and hit detection feels much more solid and precise than the HD versions of both Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2. In addition to the solid single player action, local and online versus modes and leaderboards allow for a good time with friends both in your living room or around the world.
The arenas, character models and visual design scream classic Sonic, and the comical animations your fighters perform are not only expressive and over-the-top, but also fun to look at, despite low polygon counts. The HD presentation and textures certainly don't hurt. The BGM also captures a lot of that “OG” Sonic magic, which is sure to please fans. Well, it made me smile, anyway.
For $5, if there was any one game in this AM2 trio you should be buying and playing, this is it. I went into this game kind of dreading it based on word of mouth. But for whatever reason, Sonic the Fighters surpassed my expectations and ended up being my favourite HD AM2 release of the bunch. Buy this one with confidence.