Sonny 2017 — third time’s not such a charm

When talking about contemporary gaming, and what dominates the interwebs of today, the “Sonny” franchise is hardly, if ever, mentioned. That’s probably because, until the tail end of 2017, the franchise was defunct, lacking a title since 2008, without one being confirmed to even be in development until very late in 2016, about 6 years after anyone who like the first two “Sonny” games or their flash brethren stopped caring about the series and flash games in general.

The first two games, while pretty good in the case of the first, and great for its time in the second, weren’t so unbelievably incredible that they were going to be engraved into the average gamer’s memory for a whopping eight years. They were pretty good flash games, not “Shenmue II.”

Even though award-winning music director David Orr performed debatably his finest work in the first two games, it was not enough to give the franchise that kind of following. And yet, it came anyways, stumbling onto the game marketplace in 2017. That said, it’s not all gloom and doom here, because as I said, the first two “Sonny” games were certainly solid in their own right. What could be the harm in making a third?

Image result for sonny franchise rpg
The “Sonny” franchise reached moderate fame in the mid-late 2000s on sites that hosted flash games, like Kongregate and Newgrounds. The franchises’s gimmick is that you play as a zombie, the titular Sonny, in a post-apocalyptic world in which you fight with traditional RPG mechanics.  “Sonny” 2017 gives the franchise new life on iOS and Steam. 
The Highlight
“In this game, you eventually unlock and choose any duo of a total of seven elements — leaving way for 49 total different combinations the player could choose, to truly give their game variety and added meaning.”

First, let’s start off with what the third iteration of the game did correctly:

1. Much, much more elemental flexibility in playstyle (at least, in theory): “Sonny” 1 brought to the table a simple “walk up to the enemy and bash his brains out” type of RPG gameplay. “Sonny” 2 took a more advanced approach, offering the player three different “elements” they could explore to give their character more powers, with differing playstyles depending on the element.

Image result for sonny 3 elements
“Sonny” 2017 allows for a greater variety of gameplay strategies, but many of those options just don’t pan out. 

“Sonny” 2017 blows this out of the water. In this game, you eventually unlock and choose any duo of a total of seven elements — leaving way for 49 total different combinations the player could choose, to truly give their game variety and added meaning.

Well, at least it SHOULD have been that way. Unfortunately, the game itself is extremely hostile to many of these options except for a few “optimal” combos, and certain combos (such as Physical + Fire) are downright unviable to the point where it becomes literally impossible to complete the game with them. However, the attempt at giving the player variety in their playstyle is a good sign that the company at least tried to give the game more replay value than its predecessors.

Veradux sonny2017
Veradux

2. The return of Veradux: “I’m gonna knock you silly!” and plenty of other trademark one-liners return along with Sonny’s best pal, the robotic humanoid-ish Veradux. The arrogant, funny, comic relief that this game needs. Funny, but capable of getting down to business when the series antagonists, the Zombie Pest Control Incorporated (ZPCI), come knocking on the door.

While Veradux’s character isn’t impacted by what you do in game, though, it is unfortunate to say that Veradux is much, much less useful in this game than in past editions. While his Area Heal and Heal are quite helpful in the early stages of the game, as the player advances deeper in the game, they will likely think to themselves “Jeez, Veradux is friggin’ useless” at least a dozen times per World.

All told, Veradux has two damaging attacks: Attack (which everyone in the game gets) and Electro Bolt. Electro Bolt does solid damage, and removing a random buff can have some oddly clutch moments. However, the potential for this to be useful is all but dashed by the mechanics of the game itself, which prevents the player from controlling or, like “Sonny” 2, even influencing Veradux’s actions, which will very often lead to Veradux using Electro Bolt one or two turns too early, rendering it useless. Given that Veradux has a very poor physical power stat, when he cannot use Electro Bolt, or when he isn’t using it effectively, he becomes extremely passive, not capable of generating much, if any, offense at all. He really just becomes a worse version of Dr. Herregods, a character who can reliably at least hit the enemy for some good damage when he isn’t buffing, debuffing, or healing. It’s really quite unfortunate that the game wasn’t particularly kind to the game’s longtime right hand man. Still, the fact that he returns will provide the player with a good jolt of nostalgia, to help the remember how good the first two games were.

Image result for Frozen God Cult Leader Arcanis sonny
“Sonny” 2017 includes beefed-up boss battles.

3. The mechanics of a few boss fights are thrilling challenges: Anybody who remembers the Baron Brixius fights from the first two games and took a moment to compare them to this game’s meeting with the Baron will know exactly what I’m talking about. For a first time player, the first three worlds should be a breeze, as they employ simple battles of “go bash this guy’s brains in.” However, the fourth world is a little different when you combat the Frozen God Cult Leader Arcanis. The fight starts off with Arcanis surrounding himself with two healing orbs which will continually heal him throughout the fight. While it’s perfectly reasonable to want to destroy these orbs as soon as possible, doing so will actually make the fight virtually impossible to win; upon destroying the orbs, the player’s party is healed to full health. It will be important to conserve this advantage, as Arcanis can actually end up one-phase killing the party if there are no orbs present as he approaches half health with the Glacial Shock attack. It’s clever little ruses like this that make the game fun for those who enjoy mental challenges.

The Highlight
“Despite having 49 possible pathways, any pathway not including the Ice element already sets itself at a severe disadvantage … It’s the lack of balancing and the need to emphasize one particular playstyle which removes a metric ton of depth from the game.”

Now, let’s analyze what’s not so great about this game:

1. There is a far too great emphasis on “crowd control” tactics towards the end of the game: As previously mentioned, this game offers a lot of variability in elemental powers for the player to explore. However, unless you’re cool spending a ton of time in training mode, only paths that include Shadow, Ice, or Electricity are actually viable. This is because these paths involve stunning, freezing, slowing, or interrupting the enemy’s ability to actually attack. It is impossible to defeat Baron Brixius, Captain Vendara, or either version of Carbon without going control-heavy. In fact, my first run through, I had to run a 100% control build to defeat Carbon, which, funny enough, resulted in him not making a single attack against me. For as ridiculous as that sounds for a “final boss battle,” I would have lost that fight had he been able to make a single attack against me, as his Area Forbid attack is a guaranteed one shot KO against you and your party after a mere handful of Frenzy DNA rounds. For this reason, despite having 49 possible pathways, any pathway not including the Ice element already sets itself at a severe disadvantage, as this pathway incorporates three absolutely critical attacks (Ice Wall, Mind Freeze, Reconstruct) that are of vital importance at the end of the game. It’s the lack of balancing and the need to emphasize one particular playstyle which removes a metric ton of depth from the game.

2. No reason, sort-of reboot: Much like “Sonny” 1, you begin this game on the fateful ship where Sonny became a zombie. Great, so you go through the whole prologue, probably just thinking this part is meant to teach you the controls and show you the ropes of the game as a whole. Much like “Sonny” 1, Louis gets shot and killed, Sonny gets angry, and away we go. So given that this is “Sonny” 2017, not “Sonny” 1, after this we should be expecting a flash forward to the “world of today.”

Except that never happens. This is a reboot, because reasons.

Except, it goes in a completely different direction that the first game, so it might as well have been a true sequel. “Sonny” 1 and “Sonny” 2017 have totally different stories and, except for Sonny and Veradux, a different cast and crew entirely.

What gives? Why take several years to release a “new” game in the series, only to halfway go back to familiar territory?

Now, rebooting “Sonny” isn’t inherently bad — it did debut as a flash game when Newgrounds was the hottest thing on the internet, but “Sonny” 2017 fails to stand above the original despite the creative freedom and greater access to resources Armor games had. If you can’t outdo a flash game in 2017, I don’t know what to tell you.

3. Lack of depth in the supporting cast of characters: Sonny and Veradux are iconic characters in this series. They’re also great characters that work in their own right, and had great supporting characters, such as “Sonny” 2’s Roald and Felicity, who became series mainstays, both blessed with good character development and solid voice acting. Perhaps the total lack of the latter in the third “Sonny” 2017 hurt the former more than Armor Games thought it would, because substituting Kara, Zakk and (to a slightly lesser extent) Dr. Herregods in for Roald and Felicity was a laughably bad decision. Zakk, in particular, bears no importance or relevance in this game whatsoever, and wasn’t impactful or memorable in the slightest, between how randomly and haphazardly he was introduced to the plot and how useless and “fluffy” he was thereafter. Kara had plenty of potential as an ex-ZPCI soldier, but her character was unceremoniously neglected. A perfect way to portray this point in particular is to compare Kara to Felicity from “Sonny” 2.

Really, they have a good bit in common; they’re both snarky, mean and like to tease Sonny a good bit, they’re actually somewhat mechanically similar in combat and are about as important to one another’s game. So why was Felicity so much more memorable? Actual voice acting is one thing, but the fact that she had an actual character and a greater emphasis on making good on Felicity’s potential made her stand out much more.

Introducing Felicity to the party to help assassinate the mayor, introducing Felicity earlier as a boss fight to make her presence as a character known, hinting at a previous affair with the mayor that added ambiguity to her character, these are great examples of what helped to make her so memorable. Kara has absolutely none of that. Herregods was okay, taking on a slightly more important role as the “know-it-all” of the zombie strain, introducing Sonny’s elemental evolutions to him and helping to process Sonny’s important tape, but he was still fairly forgettable, lacking any real personality or charisma.

Overall rating: C-

This game easily had A+ potential, and with over eight years to figure it out, you would have thought they would have made good on this potential. Sadly, they did not. If there’s a “Sonny” 4, hopefully it’s a lot better than this one. That said, the game itself is still fun, albeit severely lacking in replay value. As long as one can look past certain semantics, such as a lack of structural integrity with the story and a deceptive lack of variability in playstyle, those who played “Sonny” 1 and 2 should still at least have some fun with “Sonny” 2017, even if it falls flat on its face trying to reboot the series.

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