Sonic Jam - "Sonic Shuffle" (2000)
I really want to write about Sonic Adventure 2, you know. I have a lot of thoughts on that game. How it's a letdown after the breath of fresh air of the first game. How it introduced a lot of the problems that would lead to people hating Sonic. How all the praise for it is honestly overblown, and people who call it the best 3D Sonic title are, really, just wrong. So many thoughts, honestly.
But I can't share those with you right now. Why? Because Sega decided, seventeen years ago. to make my life harder. They did this by releasing Sonic Shuffle. Not only did they do this, though, but they decided to stuff it to the brim with content. So, in order to talk about it, I had to play way more of it than I would've liked. Hilariously, it's probably the longest time I've spent with a game for this column so far, outside of Sonic Chronicles. Yeah, I played that one in advance. Sue me.
It's unfortunate, then, that Sonic Shuffle is basically what happens when bad intentions crash and burn in real-time. Because I don't believe for one second that any intention behind this game was noble or good. At its core, Sega decided to copy Nintendo by ripping off one of their worst franchises, and in what must have taken some kind of herculean effort, they made an even worse game. You see, Shuffle could be summed up as, "what if Mario Party, but Sonic, but also worse?"
This ignoble blight of a concept results in an eleven-hour torture session, with Sega's implements of choice being horrible storytelling, janky minigames, and egregious RNG - not to mention broken AI.
Yeah, I said storytelling. This thing has a story, and dear lord, is it ever bad. People are quick to hop on the bandwagon of Sonic '06 having the shittiest story in the series, but I'd like to throw my hat in the ring for Sonic Shuffle. It's some nonsense about Sonic and Co being sucked into a dimension comprised of other dimensions' dreams. There's a shattered crystal (no, not that one,) something about Eggman wanting said crystal, some bad guy who wants to throw all the dimensions into chaos for reasons. From start to finish, it's inscrutable garbage and an excuse to get players to spend 11-12 hours playing a fucking board game.
And what a board game it is! Sonic Shuffle is like one of those board games you get as a kid that has cool packaging and a familiar brand name on it. It looks real fun, but when you open it and start to actually look at the instructions, and all the pieces, and all the rules, you realize that it's a bunch of elaborate, convoluted stupidity and break out Scrabble instead. On the surface, Shuffle seems like a copy-and-paste job of Mario Party, and don't get me wrong, it kind of is, with Emblems taking the place of Stars.
If it were just that simple, maybe I wouldn't be that hard on it. Sonic Shuffle is anything but simple, though. Instead of rolling a dice, players are given a deck of cards at the beginning of each round. The numbers on these cards dictate how many spaces players can move. Numerical cards range from 1-6, and to make things even more fun, players also get wild cards thrown into their decks. Some of these are "S" cards, which can allow you to move seven spaces if you play it with the right timing, but can also allow you to swap decks with another player. Some of them are Eggman cards, which randomly generate bullshit that happens to all players on the board.
Confused yet? It gets even worse.
There's barely a rhyme or reason to how the card system in this game works, outside of a few stock rules. As per the Sonic News Network wiki:
The special format and layout of the card distributing system prevents the player and computer from receiving the same deck twice, as there are over 33,145,523,100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations. Additionally, some restrictions are placed on which card a character gets. For example, the player will receive no more than three of the same number, since there are only four of each, and if the player receives three 4's, 5's or 6's, they will most likely not receive the S card and get the Eggman Card instead. On rare occasions, excellent hands are dealt to the player or the computer (e.g. one 4, two 5's, three 6's and an S card), but terrible hands may also be given out, such as three 1's, one 2, two 4's and the Eggman Card. This causes a great equilibrium in both the game and the player's strategy.
Jesus fucking Christ.
To sum it all up, it's a bunch of RNG, and can screw you before the game's even started in some instances. Isn't that fun? See, that's what I don't get. When you rip something off and decide to tweak things, it's generally in an attempt to make it simpler, or in some cases, even improve upon it. But Sonic Shuffle looked at the Mario Party franchise and decided that the one major chance they needed to make was to complicated rolling a fucking dice. Because that's good game design! At least the Story Mode's RNG is a little more balanced and less garbage.
Making matters worse, though, is the absolutely busted AI. People with kinder hearts and more patience than I could ever muster have broken down the myriad ways the computer cheats players, and it's pretty egregious. We're talking Mario sports games levels of cheating. The AI know where almost every item is. They're perfect at almost every minigame. They constantly shuffle their decks. They get critical hits against monsters in the tedious Battle stages.
Oh, and this is at the easiest difficulty, by the way. It only gets worse as it goes up. The only way harder difficulties get offset is by the AI throwing in the most hilarious ways possible, once in a blue moon. Otherwise, players are generally screwed when going up against them. It's best to never play against them if possible. That is, if you even want to play this game. Which you shouldn't, if that isn't clear by now.
Not even the core gameplay is worth coming here for. There are fifty-ish minigames, a good portion of them built around racing or running away from something. There are mini-events, which can range from guessing games to quizzes to challenges that rely entirely on blind luck. There are Battle stages, which are stage-specific boss fights that utilize card combat. It's... it's all bad, guys. There are some mini-games which, I guess, could be considered fun, but they're tiny snippets of a game that's unfun to play across the board. No pun intended.
Sonic Shuffle's terrible, guys. I could go deeper into the story, the gameplay, the different maps. But come on. Do you really care? Isn't enough if I just tell you that it's bad, complicated Mario Party? It is, right? Okay, good. We're done. On to "better" things.
I tell you why your fave is problematic! Scratch that, actually. I tell you why it's just plain bad.