Authors: Veronica Vera and Oliver Bareham
Genre: Gaming, Parody, Comedy, Furry
On his Tumblr, Oliver Bareham tore into Boxer Hockey for its Sonic parody (archived here). He criticized it's abuse of exaggerated facial expressions and body poses, non-sequitors, out-of-character behavior, and tired fandom references. He concludes that “You can satirise elements of the games that are odd, dated, don’t make sense or reflect other interesting realities. You can make jokes that play off the characters and gameplay mechanics. Make jokes that relate to what players of the game experienced, or truths about the development of the game.”
Why is all this relevant? Because Bareham and his wife Veronica Vera (of the previously reviewed Bittersweet Candy Bowl) are huge Sonic fans who created Not Enough Rings, a parody of the 16-bit Sonic games, and when creators set standards for what's good or funny, it's worth examining how much they adhere to them. In this case, the team do adhere to those standards, and show an understanding of the source material. But do some of those standards actually lend themselves to humor?
Not Enough Rings is a parody of the Genesis/Mega Drive era Sonic games. Specifically, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic and Knuckles (but no Sonic 3D Blast. That must be a bummer to everyone who loved that game. All five of them). In contrast to most video game parody comics, rather than jump around between funny moments between games, this comic follows the storyline of the games closely, each strip based on one act, boss, or bonus level of the game.
In a way, this is a refreshing change of pace from the usual parody comic. You can tell that the authors have more than a basic understanding of the video games, as they make jokes that are based on actual sections of the levels and not just duplicating the setting. Either they know it by heart or they looked up the level maps online. It still shows attention to detail. Further, there are some scenes where Sonic seems to be enjoying himself on parts of the levels. Since Sonic is controlled by the player, it can be seen as the player projecting their feelings about the game onto Sonic. Based on Sonic's emotions, you can see that the authors clearly love the games they're parodying.
The jokes are kind of hit or miss though. There are three running jokes that get repeated throughout the comic: 1) Sonic complains about hard parts of the level design, 2)The boss has obvious weaknesses, and 3) Killing Tails because he has infinite lives. Problem with these running jokes is that they rarely modify or expand upon the joke, so it's just sheer repetition and gets old quickly. Not to mention that in regards to the first running joke it's not really a joke, so much as an observation. Wow, this game is hard, am I right? This isn't exactly observational humor, because observation humor uses the observations as a setup for making fun of eccentricities or inconsistencies in the shared experience. The second running joke is fairly common in video game humor, not exactly breaking new ground here. The other one stopped being funny after the first few times.
That's not to say that the comic isn't funny at all though. For example, this comic is a good example of using an observation on the level design and contrasting it with the cutesy character design. There are quite a few jokes that work in here, such as making fun of Eggman's boss designs, inconsistent rules, and ways that Sonic and Tails do things that are seemingly heroic like releasing animals from their robot shells, but making things worse. But the miss to hit ratio isn't enough to make me a regular reader.
The art is done traditionally on Bristol board and in full color with Copic markers. According to the authors' Kickstarter, this was a happy accident, the markers soaking into the board giving the strips texture and a more natural look that would be difficult to replicate in a purely digital environment. It certainly is the strong point of the comic. The colors are bright and vibrant like the games, and some of the marker overlapping gives more texture to the art, using the medium's weakness as a strength. The authors also use some creative paneling and more dynamic angles.
It's not perfect though. The panel borders are also done in Copics, and variations of color that aid the art negatively affect the art, lacking the bold uniformity that borders really need. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles aren't drawn using the proportions used by the games during the era (In the games, they are about two heads tall while they're portrayed as being about 2.5 heads tall in the comic, which is more in line with the Sonic Adventure era). Finally, Tails is shown with a neck, making him look more like the characters from Bittersweet Candy Bowl than anything. These are minor nitpicks though.
After looking through the comic and comparing it to Bareham's comments, I would say that the comic does meet the standards that he expects other parody comics to meet. It makes fun of odd mechanics of the game and tries to relate to the people who have played through the games. But is it a good thing to relate to the player or reveal truths about the game if this merely results in idly leaning on the setpieces and saying “How about them spikes, huh?” and expecting recognition to be a substitution for wit? I think not. Still, there are some good jokes in the comic, but the comic probably works better with the best material shared on a forum or social networking site rather than as a whole.