The Crossfire: Grinding

The Crossfire: Grinding

What’s up? It’s “the bad guy” here and in honor of introducing new features to the front page, and respecting both sides of the story, I have got another one up your sleeve: The Crossfire – where two sides rise, but where do you fall? Now that opinions are at the forefront at this time and other bloggers are sweeping up tidbits to fulfill your traditional “Sonic News,” I guess I can take this route. Let’s begin!

Today’s topic: Sonic has been in a lot of adventures. I mean, a lot. Like…totally…lots. However, it was not until 2001 in Sonic Adventure 2, that we were introduced to the concept of “grinding.” Grinding has appeared in every single game since, but has it worn out its welcome in the Sonic world? Or, has it kept itself fresh and interesting to remain relevant?

POINT: Grinding sucks. It’s overused, boring, irrelevant, and a pathetic cop-out that artificially extends a level.

Sonic fans, you should not second-guess that this point is where I place my opinion. However, since we have had a fun time lately defending the right to give an opinion, you pro-grinders can read about your point in the “counterpoint” below.  Let’s start with what you’re going to say right off the bat – “Slingerland, you hate grinding, because it is not ‘classic.’ It was not in the ‘classics,’ so shut up.” Yeah, that works? If that is indeed your response to “grinding sucks,” then you have not been paying any attention to this front page lately. If you’ve learned a lesson, then please read on.

Grinding used to be a neat stage gimmick. I, personally, used to enjoy it Sonic Adventure 2 when it was introduced. Grinding was that game’s “thing,” made even more evident by Sonic’s SOAP shoes. However, it has made its presence felt in every other game since and quite frankly, I’m tired of it.

To me, nowadays, the whole purpose of grinding is to breeze over a large portion of space, either empty or otherwise, with virtually no activity (that includes making the rail a corkscrew, etc) going on while doing so. Look at the screenshot above of Sonic grinding on a rope from “Sonic and the Black Knight.” There is a whole city below him that is being used as nothing more than a graphical afterthought which could instead be the focus of higher saturation platforming. It feels like a mid-game cutscene in more recent Sonic outings and watching all the eye candy below me, while I grind away, makes me wish I were down there running and jumping around instead. I would jump down there myself, but I am either hovering over a bottomless pit or I am afraid that the ground will just kill me anyway. GRIND OR DIE is the mantra that SEGA has instituted with grinding.

Grinding is a gimmick . “Gimmicks” in Sonic games usually stick to one level, whether it be the spike bridges in Green Hill Zone or the anti-gravity turbines of Final Chase. A gimmick’s appearance in just one level enhanced the level’s memorability and made each zone a unique experience. However, grinding has now become a “universal gimmick,” akin to a spring or a set of spikes. A spring’s appearance, for example, in a level is about 1 active frame and results in a simple and quick experience that is not hindering to the zone’s uniqueness. However, grinding can repeat forever and having it do so in every level is tedious, monotonous, and boring. In this stage demo from Gamespot, Sonic grinds on a rail for almost 20 seconds before he stops playing, with more grind rail in the distance. That is way too much time.

Let’s take it back to Sonic Adventure 2. In City Escape, there were grind rails on stairwells, for example. Those were optional and you did not have to use them, but you could to reach higher areas. It still felt like you were in a city, regardless of their use. Sonic Advance had a grinding in Neo Green Hill and those were, again, totally optional, and unique to that level to boot.

Finally, it seems like you can just grind on anything and just not have to run at all. From a rail, to a rope, and hell…why not, probably even Princess Elise’s vagina. It’s just simply overkill when coupled with the rails that are insanely long.

To sum up this side of the discussion: Sonic can run fast and jump high, so why should he have to grind?

COUNTERPOINT: “Grinding is still fun and has become a staple of the Sonic franchise.”

I am going to think like a pro-grinder for a second and think about what I can come up with here. Give me a second…mmmmm…aaaahhhh…ooooo…kay…

Like alcohol, grinding is enjoyable in moderation. When it is not over-used or filled with many obstacles in your path, it can be a roller-coaster thrill ride and made of win. The introduction of the trick/combo system in recent games has spiced up grinding to make it a bit more interesting and less monotonous, by offering up the challenge for Sonic fans to get as many tricks as possible in before the end of the rail.

Grinding has also been around so long that it has assimilated itself into the mind of Sonic fans and has definitely worthy of being a “universal gimmick.” Similarly to springs, grinding can be useful way to string various areas together if there is no other possible way to do so.  Rather than having a bunch of springs lead to different routes, you can spice up level design with routes involving a spring, a grind rail, or both.  It can also lead to secret paths and power-ups to either enhance re-playability or help you along in your run of a zone.

A grind rail can be unique, too.  Someone can even claim it to be incredibly diverse.  By changing its appearance to suit a level, a grind rail can take the form of a vine in a jungle or the I-beam in the construction yard, for example.  This diversity allows it to take many different shapes to make it unique to a level.  To use the previous example, a jungle vine is all curvy and an I-beam is stiff and rigid.  Grinding will not become stale due to this adaptability.

Or, if you could care less about what you just read, then you just like grinding for what it is and you still believe that it is simply an enjoyable experience.  Nobody can argue with your right to simply think that grinding is flat out fun.

DECISION: Where do you stand?

Since a comments system is not in tact at the moment, I’ll be posting this article at the SSMB in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” forum, so that you can add your opinion to the mix.

Please remember to be respectful not only your fellow forum members, but to the author of this article as well: me.  I will see you next Monday for another installment of “The Crossfire.”

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Slingerland is a staff writer and editor for both The Sonic Stadium and Sonic Retro. His area of emphasis is the inner-workings of the games and laughing at everything.