In 1991 the video game world was shaken up by a small, blue, spinning, attitudinous hedgehog. Sonic the Hedgehog debuted to major fan-fare in a game titled—aptly—Sonic the Hedgehog.
Since that inception, Sonic games have come to be viewed as a black sheep in the video game world. Similar to Mario, Sonic dabbles in everything from pinball to racing to shooting to puzzles. Since 1991, there have been nearly 70 Sonic games released—almost three games released a year. Unlike Mario games however, almost all Sonic games are regarded poorly. The 2006 game Sonic the Hedgehog (an attempt to reboot the series) received a 57 percent on Metacritic. The 2007 game Sonic and the Secret Rings scored a 69 percent. The 2015 Sonic Runners scored a 51.
Compared to some of the older games: Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) scored an 86, its direct sequel scored an 82, the 1994 Sonic and Knuckles scored a 94.
If the old, high-scoring games are Sonic’s yin, and the new, poorly-reviewed games are Sonic’s yang, most people stick with yin. Most normal people avoid the large majority of Sonic games. Keith Carberry and Kyle Churchill are not most people.
BACK TO BASICS
Keith and Kyle run a YouTube channel and podcast called Run Button. They set a very lofty goal for themselves to kick off the channel back in 2008 when podcasting and “let’s play” videos were still new concepts.
“The original idea was Kyle’s,” said Keith. “I didn’t even know what a Let’s Play was at the time, this was just on the cusp of them becoming huge things. We’d had an unsuccessful video game podcast called Complex/Rockets for a few years that never came close to getting anywhere, and we decided to reboot the podcast. He pitched doing a Let’s Play to sort of accompany it. We were coming up on the 20th anniversary of the Sonic franchise, and Sonic was both our first game, so it seemed like a natural fit. We were both lapsed fans so the slow trend towards the unknown was really appealing.”
The unknown Keith is referring to is also their lofty goal. For their Run Button podcast, Keith and Kyle decided to play every major Sonic game—ever. And not only play, but play through them. They call it “Let’s Play 20 Years of Sonic.”
In the first video during their playthrough of the first Sonic, Kyle mentions that he had to play the game before they, you know, played the game. To essentially save face. It’s a weird double-standard of Let’s Plays—you are presumably playing through for the first time, but you have to be decent.
“One night I woke up in a cold sweat,” said Kyle during their first Sonic video. “Like ‘Oh man I’m terrible at Sonic 1,’ and I ran out and put in Sonic 1 and played through the game multiple times to make sure that I could at least do it.”
Not only does their idea encompass playing the classics like the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Adventure and Sonic the Hedgehog 3; but they also had to wade through the garbage. Sonic Labyrinth, Sonic Shuffle and Sonic Battle are not well regarded, and these are just a few examples.
Kyle mentions they knew it was a bad idea right out of the gate. “I feel like [playing all these Sonic games] is like the beginning of Lord of the Rings,” he said during their playthrough of the first Sonic. “We are in the Shire, and we are like, 'Yeah we’ll go to Mordor whatever,’ it’s so far away it doesn’t feel real. And by the end of this we’ll be crawling on our hands and knees like, 'Why, why didn’t we just stay in the Shire.’”
One example that nearly sent them back to the Shire on their hands and knees was Sonic '06 (a 45 on Metacritic). This game did very poorly, and is considered by many the worst Sonic game of all time. Sonic '06 was the 15-year anniversary of the franchise, and was supposed to bring the series into the 21st century.
Kyle claims in the video that the game is “blatantly unfinished,” which you can see for yourself over the course of their playthrough. They already decided to play nearly every Sonic game, and technically Sonic '06 is a game. It took them on the order of five hours over eleven different YouTube videos to beat it.
Kyle gives it away at the start of the Sonic '06 series by saying, “This is hands down, easily, the worst video game I have ever played.”
He continues minutes later—before even starting—by telling Keith, “Don’t just jump to hating this game, it will give you plenty of reasons.”
This is a great example of Keith and Kyle’s hate for their own well-being, among other masochistic qualities. Here we see two (presumably full-grown) men sitting down to play one of the worst (if not the worst) Sonic games to ever grace this beautiful pixel-laden planet of ours.
“For 3D [games]—and this is controversial,” emailed Keith, “Sonic Unleashed is the worst (NOT Sonic '06 AKA worst game of all time). Mostly because Unleashed is SO long and SO boring and SO LONG, even if it’s not exactly a broken nightmare. Sonic '06 is kind of a gem of awfulness.”
It really is broken. The camera doesn’t work, the story is poor, the voice-acting is atrocious. The gameplay doesn’t make sense. The list goes on. Thanks to their can-do attitude, Keith and Kyle powered through for us into the next game.
“When you look back on it,” said Kyle during their Sonic '06 series, “A lot of things people consider staples of the Sonic series are really dumb; like pinball.”
“Yeah,” agreed Keith. “That’s why the Sonic series has so many bad games. They are trying to give everybody every staple, and then you just get a paper covered in staples. Like, hey, you only need one in the corner.”
“It’s actually a brilliant analogy,” Keith later admitted, mostly to himself.
JUST ONE STAPLE
What about the good games, the games with only one staple in the corner of the page? What about the Sonic games that made an impact and spawned the now 25-year roller-coaster ride?
“So we talk about games a lot,” said Kyle during the playthrough of Sonic 3. “And I usually try to take a metered approach and understand people have different opinions, people have different tastes. One thing I will never flinch on; if you don’t think Sonic 3 is the best Sonic game, you are wrong.”
There you have it. They could have called it “Let’s Play One Sonic Game and Then Move On With Our Lives,” but Keith and Kyle don’t know when to quit. For the viewer this is a good thing. Maybe when they are done with Sonic they can move on to something good?
“Sonic is a do-good dude with 'tude. He’s got the skill to pay the bills, he’s the fastest AND the most relaxest,” emailed Keith. “Mario is just some guy. Some wildly popular, consistently good, highest selling franchise of all time guy. I think Sonic is a way more interesting character than Mario and I’d way rather play a good sonic game than a good Mario game, but the problem is a lack of good Sonic games and Mario is always at least okay.”
According to their Patreon (a place where people can donate money on a regular basis with incentives and records of everything) and their YouTube/podcast page, they have decided to play through every Mario game. It’s called “Let’s Play 30 Years of Mario.” So you know they have a lot more work on the horizon.
Hopefully Mario treats them better than Sonic did.
Marcus Moritz lives in Colorado writing about video games and drinking beer. Follow him on twitter at @pralitemonks for more of both.