Reasonable Assessment: The Green Hill Problem

Reasonable Assessment: The Green Hill Problem

by April 21, 2017

People who are disappointed by the recent reveal of Green Hill’s inclusion in Sonic Forces are not crazy, raging Sonic fans. They are justified.

Semantic satiation – “a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener.”

Green Hill Zone has long lost it’s impact. It has appeared in over fifteen Sonic games. And that’s not even counting its list of “only-slightly-different” counterparts: Emerald Hill (Sonic 2 in 1992) Seaside Hill (Sonic Heroes in 2003), Sunset Hill (Sonic Advance 3 in 2004), Splash Hill (Sonic 4 in 2010) and Windy Hill (Sonic Lost World in 2012), which are also reoccurring in their own right (these zones re-use Green Hill aesthetics in varying degrees, even though they aren’t literally named “Green Hill Zone”). That’s also not counting Green Hill’s appearances outside of Sonic games such as the Super Smash Bros series or the various spin-off sports games like Sega Superstar Tennis or Mario & Sonic. It’s not even remotely hard to see why people would grow numb to it.

It wasn’t always like this. In 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2, you could unlock a 3D recreation of Green Hill Zone for 100% completing the game. Yes, there was a time where Green Hill’s presence was rare and novel enough to be considered a reward in and of itself! That couldn’t happen today. Now, Green Hill is so ever-present and commonplace that it feels like just another item on a checklist.

In fact, by the time Sonic Forces comes out holiday 2017, it will be the fourth Sonic game to have Green Hill Zone in just a year’s time. (Sonic Mania, Sonic Runners Adventure [based on the cover art], and Sonic In Lego Dimensions)

I mean….it’s got sand I guess?

And what about Sonic Generations? I’ve previously opined that Classic Sonic teaming up with Modern Sonic in Forces has lost all novelty since the exact same thing happened as recently as the last mainline multi-platform Sonic game,  Sonic Generations. The footage that we saw of Green Hill Zone in Forces looks to play exactly like the way it did in Generations, except it looks worse aesthetically. The level art is a slight downgrade in detail compared to a last-gen game from 2011. I’m honestly baffled. What’s the point? There had better be a good reason.

And what about Sonic Mania? Why give us both Green Hill and Classic Sonic when we have a dedicated Classic Sonic experience coming out in a few months? Does that not just emphasize how pointless it seems to have Green Hill in Forces? Let’s be real, the Classic Sonic levels in Forces aren’t going to be anywhere near as authentic as Mania. The entire impetus behind Mania‘s development is the desire to create a genuine Classic Sonic experience that feels like it belongs on a Sega console in the 1990’s down to the letter. The Classic Sonic gameplay in Forces feels like a close approximation that is simply inferior by comparison. Again, what’s the point? Why bother including Classic Sonic if it’s only going to be a compromised version?

Are they hoping that surface-level nostalgia is going to make things good by default?

I can’t help but feel as though Sega misunderstands why we liked the Genesis games in the first place. Sonic Team’s portrayal of Classic Sonic seems completely shallow. We didn’t fall in love with Sonic 1, 2, and 3K because Sonic had black eyes and the dirt had checkerboard patterns. We fell in love with those games because of their heart, style, context, and gameplay. (Giving us a boostpad before a standard loop-de-loop certainly doesn’t show an understanding of the latter). It doesn’t feel genuine. It feels “by the numbers.”

Can we just have this please?

And why can’t Modern Sonic stand on his own? What we’ve seen of Forces‘ modern stages looks great. There is a clear opportunity for Sega to make a clean divide between two equally strong pillars for the Sonic brand: classic and modern. Haphazardly including Classic Sonic in what should be a modern-focused game dilutes the strengths of Modern Sonic that Forces could have capitalized on and sabotages the messaging of Sonic’s identity in 2017.

But the apologists say, “We haven’t seen enough of the game yet! Stop whining!” Yes, we have only seen a small fraction of Sonic Forces at the time of this writing. But what we have seen is enough to be disappointed. Ruined? No, the game is not “ruined for me” by this and I am still very much looking forward to this game. It is very possible that new information will come out that will turn this boat around. But it’s gonna have to be pretty hefty to justify Classic Sonic. Replacing water with sand isn’t enough. I’ve seen the fanbase go nuts over the stupidest stuff countless times. This is not one of those times. This is completely rational.

I don’t say these things because I dislike Green Hill Zone or Classic Sonic; it’s quite the opposite! Everything I’ve said comes from a place of love. I simply cannot deny the influence of Green Hill. The stage itself is just as much a gaming icon, almost as Sonic himself. That’s why the saturation and sanitation of Green Hill is so disappointing to me. I want to enjoy Green Hill. It deserves to wow us again. It’s just hard to be wowed by something that has become common and banal.

Put Green Hill away for a bit. Bring it back when it has meaning again.

And that…

…is a reasonable assessment.


Noah Copeland is a somewhat-interesting human. He makes music, makes films, and stands at exactly average height. He reads all your comments, but can also throw things at him on Twitter @NoahCopeland.