Get off that couch, lazy bum, and spindash your way to 5K

Sonic Advance (2002)

The long summer days are rolling in, and you know what that means – it’s a return to exercise. Of course, by this time it’s too late for the summer bod; I’m very committed to avoiding that each and every year. Still, motivation and ambition are fleeting things, and sometimes you just get this burst to get out there and be the best you can be.

I’ll be honest, always my primary motivation for exercise and weight loss is to look good naked – or probably you could say that’s a nice side-effect to my real objective, which is to impress the knickers off women. But you see, being a happily committed man as I am means that this type of motivation is at rock bottom.

But I can’t get to age 40 or 50 being a stall-fed pudding, now can I? So it’s back to the regime for me, which means meticulous calorie counting, hiding my salivation over other people’s takeaways, refusing any birthday or wedding cake that may come my way, and most heart-breaking of all, transitioning from full cans of baked beans to mere half cans.

You could probably do the weight-loss biz through calorie reduction alone, or maybe you could only do this at age 18. Get long in the fat tooth like me though, and your metabolism makes noises standing up, wakes up with random pains and has to be helped up the stairs. So it may be that I have to supplement my latest and greatest regime with a spot of exercise. And since I regard all weight machines as deathtraps, any free weights as killing instruments and pull-up bars as a surefire way to bring down the house, it’ll have to be cardio.

I know that any gym-bros reading this are probably furiously shaking their head now at the mention of cardio, and I recognise that there is an absolutely miniscule overlap of gym-bros and retro game enthusiasts. But cardio always does beautifully for me. Running is the only form of exercise I’m halfway good at, and I even somewhat enjoy it.

Sneerers among you might point out that this is because running costs nowt, unless you count the cost of a decent pair of running shoes. But guess what, I outrun the creditors there as well: I’ve employed the same set of running shoes since I started running in 2014, and I haven’t even thought of swapping them out. They never once hurt my feet, they’re durable as hell, great in all weather, provide me with a turbo speed boost if I really concentrate hard enough, and they even give me an extra inch or two in height. They’re fantastic, and once I had this kind of a headstart, I was away.

The next step was to impose some sort of plan onto it all. You could just get out there and haul your arse around the local field of course, but you could knacker yourself pretty damn quickly this way, and generally you’re not going to know what you’re doing, and without any idea on how to progress, you’re far more likely to give up. I promise you that’ll be the last of my know-it-all gym veteran act. God, do regular exercisists get insufferable and angry or what?

Anyway, enter the Couch to 5k, the beginner running plan for any fat potato looking to make a difference in their lives. 9 weeks, three runs a week, 5 kilometres the target and a lollipop to treat yourself with at the end. I have to say, and with no melodrama, the Couch to 5K has changed my life. I can never get over how perfectly judged each week of activity is, each run taking just about everything out of you, but leaving just enough in you that you could throw on an extra minute or two if you really had to.

But no, no, leave that for the next run, and just bask for now in the shining light of your athletic triumph. Mind you, I never felt any of those endorphins they always talk about, or that runner’s high thing. What a load of nonsense that is, eh? Forget about being high, I’m actually bent low, trying to catch my lung before it falls out, hallucinating and gasping for the coldest air I can get.

Still, the C25K marked a profound change in my life. See, I used to think that my body could not do exercise, and that was that. That it just wasn’t built to run. Some people are born deaf, some people are born colour-blind, some people cannot whistle. Some can’t learn languages or do maths. And I can’t exercise.

But it’s quite unbelievable how the programme changed my fortunes, my status. I can now call myself a runner, an athlete, something I would have considered quite unbelievable previously. You are now part of a special club, you can give the knowing nod to other passing runners, and delight in getting out of their way. How good is that?

I’ll tell you another runner whose status has changed shall I, and that’s Sonic the Hedgehog, if you hadn’t guessed. And it was a pretty incredible transformation in fortune when he began to crop up on Nintendo consoles, the independent smaller man having to swallow his pride, look weak in front of everyone and go to work for the big bully.

Sonic Advance for the Game Boy Advance was one of the earliest appearances of Sonic on the Nintendo consoles, although given that it was so long ago, 2002, we should probably be more tactful and not mention Sonic’s awkward time, similar to how you wouldn’t bring up an athlete’s old fat days.

Instead, better to just clock the game for what it is – a better than average GBA platformer. That sounds like a real damning with faint praise moment, but remember that Sonic 4 and many of the 3D titles are way below average. Indeed, I think Sonic Advance will be better than you remember, if you give it a go these days. And yet it seemed to become forgettable, never to be held up as a genuinely great Sonic game, not that there are many of them anyway. I wonder why that is?

I reckon a lot of it is down to the music and sound capabilities that the GBA is notoriously low on – not much in the tank at all. If I’m honest, whenever I think of bad GBA sound, my first thought runs to the Sonic Advance games, it all sounds less than 8-bit at times. This is a bit of a cardinal sin in Sonic’s world – even if the run goes bad, you ought to at least ensure that the soundtrack is banging.

Still, I’m not going to write Advance off for that. In fact, I’d kill for a few more games in Advance’s ilk these days, especially if Sonic Mania 2 never comes. This is a 2D Sonic game before that wretched Homing Attack, and before dash-plates cropped up everywhere. The level design is pretty decent really, and it takes some of the right cues from the best Sonic, Sonic 3 & Knuckles – two acts per zone, different music in each, that type of thing.

You’ve even got 4 selectable characters, including the classics – Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and they all play differently. The challenge is alright, the levels are varied, there’s a 4-player multiplayer mode, there’s even a Tiny Chao Garden although it’s pretty damn basic. There’s a lot more to this game than meets the eye, even if the gaming press and mags just dismissed it as an unholy matrimony of Nintendo and Sega and cared for little more beyond that.

I’d actually call Sonic Advance an underrated game, just like running in the rain is an underrated bit of fun. You might make yourself sick in both instances, especially when the portable blast processing of Sonic Advance is so fast it sends the hedgehog way off screen. I reckon I could run that fast too, you know, if I didn’t keep giving up my running regime at around 7 kilometres. Or when a girl finally smiles at me, whichever happens first.

11 November 2022

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