Spinoff games are always hit or miss, but never is there surer to be a miss than with edutainment software. Sonic is no exception, and his forays into the format range from the intriguing yet flawed to the stuff nightmares are made of. Let’s take a look.
Because local stores never carried it, for the longest time my only knowledge of Sonic’s Schoolhouse (PC, 1996) was a tiny screenshot in a video game catalog. The internet, that robber of innocence, finally rectified this as anyone with the inclination – and a strong stomach – can watch the game on YouTube.
I miss those sweet years of ignorance.
Sonic actually has a voice in this game, and it’s by far the worst he’s ever sounded – and that’s saying something, given the existence of this commercial. Basically, Sonic describes the rules of the schoolhouse and how to work the game’s systems in excruciating and condescending detail.
Player’s don’t even get to control Sonic – instead you can choose from a plethora of pre-rendered animal “characters”, each more hideous than the last and accompanied by ludicrous and mildly terrifying sound clips. If this game teaches children anything, it’s that animals are gelatinous heaps of unbridled horror that must be avoided at all costs.
It’s an urban legend that anyone foolish enough to try and use this as their avatar will be haunted by visions, go utterly mad, and die within days – and I can assure you that this is one of those true urban legends, like the one about the exploding cactus full of spiders.
Sonic X / Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic X (Leapster, 2007) and Sonic the Hedgehog (Didj, 2008) are games for LeapFrog’s handheld learning systems. Sonic X focuses primarily on math, while Sonic the Hedgehog covers spelling.
At least these games make some attempt to incorporate Sonic gameplay elements, which I can respect despite their clunkiness. Sonic X is loosely based on the continuity it shares its name with, with Chris Thorndyke making an appearance, but Sonic the Hedgehog is much more traditional, ripping background graphics from the 16-bit classics.
Probably the most notable thing about these games are Sonic’s sprites, which are mostly borrowed from Sonic 3 but with a few additions from the Sonic Advance games adapted to keep the style consistent. I think they look pretty cool actually, and having good quality rips would be pretty nice. A fair amount of progress was made on this front when the games were dumped, but nothing was ever completed. Perhaps some good soul will take up the task once more; information can be found here.
Tails and the Music Machine
Tails and the Music Machine (Pico, 1994) is ostensibly about teaching kids some musical basics, but it winds up being more of a cheesy minigame collection than anything.
Tails is pretty cute though, and it’s fun to see him working his way through Green Hill Zone accompanied by classical music, even if as the stage progresses the palette swaps rival n00b hacks for sheer amount of eyeball-blood spurted. Come to think of it, this is another time Tails was in Green Hill Zone, serving only to further repudiate his dialogue in Generations suggesting that he was unfamiliar with the zone.
You would also think that, for a game teaching music, it could have been made for a system that had better sound capabilities. The tunes in this version sound like a pocket calculator quarreling with a Tamagotchi.
If you’ve been thinking to yourself as you’ve been reading about all these shining examples of high quality Sonic fun, “Gosh, I’m itching to actually play a Sonic edutainment game!”, then you’re in luck – Sonic Edusoft (Master System, unreleased) can be played in an emulator, meaning you could be experiencing its endless delight within mere minutes. Hope you like doing sums and unscrambling letters!
Despite never being released, the game is functional, and contains many levels and a handful of minigames. Thanks to the efforts of one GerbilSoft, the ROM is available and hacked so that it will run.
While the gameplay is just really basic and boring, the graphics in the game are worthy of note. Even though it’s on the 8-bit Master System, Sonic’s sprites are based on the 16-bit Sonic 1 ones, and it’s really interesting to see the additional frames they added for Sonic to walk around on the isometric world map. And if you’ve ever wanted to see Sonic in a little red helicopter, today’s your lucky day.
After those delightful morsels, I think it’s safe to say that Sonic should stop trying to distort his games into some kind of half-assed teaching tools and just stick to educating kids the old-fashioned way.