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Sonic Takes You To School

Sonics's SchoolhouseThere was a time when it seemed like a smart idea to force gaming mascot powerhouses like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog into edutainment titles for the kiddies.  It's almost as if Nintendo and Sega were trying to prove that their products could be a positive force in a child's life.  Nintendo licensed their famous plumber into Mario Is Missing! and Mario's Time Machine (among others), while Sega shoved their blue blur into learning experiences of his own.  Hardcore Gaming 101 walks us through the low quality shovelware that is 1996's Sonic's Schoolhouse for PC.

In Sonic's Schoolhouse, you don't play as the hedgehog himself, but instead a poorly-rendered cartoon animal that Sonic has presumably abducted to "play in his schoolhouse". Sonic, as far as we're all aware, has never had any formal education, making his sudden interest in schooling children more than a little sinister. Sonic's pretty much everywhere in the game, from the menus to having multiple copies of himself following you around at all times in the game itself. Every time he speaks, he'll attempt to explain things to you in a voice so nasal and high-pitched that it could make Jaleel White sound like James Earl Jones in sheer comparison.

The game itself takes place in a first-person view, rendered in an engine that's only barely above the Wolfenstein 3D engine by virtue of having floor textures. What you're supposed to do is look at the many blackboards across the walls, look at the question they asked, find the letter or number bouncing around, and then bring it to that blackboard. This is all you ever do regardless on if you've chosen Spelling, Reading, or Math. You probably won't notice much of a change in difficultly regardless of whether you're playing on Kindergarten or 4th Grade level, either. It's not even really that educational, either, so it fails there, too.

We don't see this sort of thing much anymore, thankfully.  Sly Cooper isn't teaching kids to read, nor are Ratchet and Clank instructing children in basic arithmetic.  While I'm sure it's possible to create a quality edutainment game featuring beloved characters that is as entertaining as it is educationally sound, publishers like Nintendo and Sega just didn't care enough to make it happen back then and it's sure not a priority now.  These kinds of learning programs were only ever meant to provide a passable defense for placating angry parents who felt that Mario and Sonic were rotting the minds of their children.  Now that yesterday's children are today's parents who grew up with video games and appreciate their innate positive influences, there's little need to try and pass Sonic off as a teacher.