Is There a Place for Sonic to Make a Comeback?
If you were there in the glory days i.e. the 1990’s, you may have had any of the following thoughts pop into your head about that speedy blue hedgehog in the past few years:
“I used to love Sonic as a kid, now all his games suck.”
“I wish they’d go back to the way they were at the beginning and make a good Sonic game.”
“It’s Dr Robotnik, dammit. Not Eggman.”
Sonic The Hedgehog came to Mega Drive systems in the UK in June 1991, and it was very well received at the time. It was praised for having colourful visuals, fast pace and amazing sound effects, all things that still ring true today. I bet if I asked you to hum the theme for either Green Hill Zone or Star Light Zone, you probably could do with relative ease. But that sense of memory may seem lost on you now, could you remember any of the levels in Sonic Advance 3? Are you even aware what the name of the latest Sonic title is? Probably not, because half of them aren’t worth remembering and don’t take you back to that original feeling of speed, rings and awesome music.
Up until Sonic’s demise, he was in fierce competition with Mario to steal the crown of best 2D platformer. In North America, the gap between Sonic The Hedgehog and Super Mario World’s releases were literally months apart (It took until ’92 for SMW to hit UK shores). It was the beginning of a rivalry that would last for years but was doomed to fail only a decade later. So what happened to him? 3D happened, and it almost completely ruined the franchise.
His forays into 3D were mostly forgettable. Sonic 3D: Flickies Island wasn’t great, Sonic & the Secret Rings was laughable, and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric attracted all kinds of attention for all the wrong reasons. But why are these games so bad? For me, it’s down to too much experimentation and the death of the Sega consoles that spelt danger. After the Dreamcast fell on its knees (which was a shame, Sonic Adventure 1 & 2 were both incredible) Sega still wanted to get their beloved blue hedgehog in the public eye. Only problem was now he was under the influence of Nintendo and other console manufacturers because if you want him on their consoles, you’ll have to use our control systems. The Wii Sonic games tried tilt controls and failed. Then they tried a combination of tilt controls and buttons, also failed surprisingly.
But 3D wasn’t the definitive reason why Sonic has failed, it’s fine to attempt to move with the times, but as a character he has been through so many reboots, so many reinventions, it’s reaching the point where you have no idea what the next Sonic game gimmick will be. Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed is absolutely fantastic, and that’s a racing game! What’s next, Sonic Table Tennis or Sonic Backgammon?
In 2010, Sega attempted a reboot with Sonic 4 enlisting a development team that had already been making Sonic games for 9 years up until this point (Sonic Advance on the GBA in 2001 being their first) If you look at their development history of Sonic Advance, Sonic Rush and Sonic Generations 3DS, they’ve actually been responsible for some of the best Sonic titles in the past 10-15 years. So why didn’t Sonic 4 give everyone that nostalgia that they felt with the first 4 games? It’s difficult to pin down, but for me it didn’t need to be 3D. By concentrating on visuals, it’s possible to sacrifice gameplay and try for the ‘wow factor’ instead. In addition, the music wasn’t memorable, and it wasn’t as speedy as it probably should’ve been.
Given how up and down Sonic has been in the past 15-20 years, it has definitely reached the point where people will hear “Oh, a new Sonic game? It’s a lottery as to whether it’ll be good or not”. That in itself is a huge problem, and something that needs addressing right now. Would you rather have a Sonic game every 5 years that is stellar, or one every 2 years which are consistently going to be poor?
Just make a 2D Sonic, with responsive controls, that you can finish in an hour, has an amazing soundtrack, and sell it for a fiver. You’ll make MILLIONS.