If there is one thing most old school gamers can agree and lament on, is the slow and painful death of Sonic the Hedgehog. I remember a time when Sonic was one of the hottest properties around; Sonic Team was a well respected development house that we all couldn’t wait to see what would come next from them. Ever since the fated jump to 3d we’ve seen the series go down hill; with already negative reviews of Sonic’s latest game the trend is continuing. This leads me to ask “what the hell happened?” over the course of this entry I’m going to look at Sonic’s past for the cause and give my own answer to saving this once beloved franchise.
Let’s begin by going back to the early 90s, before the time of memory cards, 3d and Xbox live, a time where the console war was being played out on two fronts, Nintendo and Sega. Sonic beat Mario to be the first character on an updated platform with the Sega Genesis, however Nintendo would release something that would win the war in my opinion and seal the Hedgehog’s fate. Super Mario World was released and became a system seller for the Snes if there ever was one, also it was in my opinion one of the greatest 2d platformers ever made. I believe this is where the war turned for Nintendo and sealed Mario’s place as the winner. While Sonic was technically more advanced then Mario we never saw the series advance game play wise as Mario did from the NES titles to the SNES. That’s not to say that Sonic never had a hit, I consider Sonic and Knuckles with Sonic 3 linked in to be one of the best Sonic titles ever made. Even when Sonic moved to the Sega CD and we were given a new Sonic title with Sonic CD, it was still more of the same. This leads me to ask the following “why did we ever enjoy Sonic titles in the first place?”
I’ve spent a good portion of my child hood playing both Mario and Sonic; yes I was neutral during that console war. Even though Mario was slower paced then Sonic, I believe that Sonic had a greater skill level then Mario, thanks to their views of power ups. In all the Mario games you can keep whatever item upgrades you have from level to level which can make a huge difference in difficulty. However in Sonic you begin each new level with a blank slate requiring that the player to have the skill to continue on or Sonic is done for. I also think in my opinion that Sonic had a greater variety in boss fights, with fond memories of eagerly waiting to see the next contraption I’d have to fight. Now let’s look at when things turned south for the Hedgehog.
3D was a major factor in the games industry and required most franchises to change to keep up with the times. Mario with its slower game play style was easily adapted to the new format with Super Mario 64, but it wasn’t so easy for Sonic. While Sonic tried to emulate 3d earlier with Sonic 3d Blast, the game failed to impress thanks to the camera system which would become a constant problem in future Sonic titles. Sonic fans had to wait till 1999 with the Dreamcast before getting their hands on a new sonic platformer . I admit I enjoyed Sonic Adventure but it never captured the joy of the original titles. After the adventure series wrapped up, came one debacle after another for the franchise. There was that Sonic teams game which was just stupid in my opinion, taking one character and weakening him down requiring two others to have one complete character. Then there was Shadow the Hedgehog which tried to make Sonic extreme, because nothing screams Sonic the Hedgehog more then dual wielding Uzis, personally I hope someone was fired for this game. Now while some hope has been restored with the handheld Sonic games that have been released, 3D Sonic is in the coffin at this point.
The two main problems with 3d Sonic titles these days are the camera and the game play. With the camera, there is no way for a traditional 3d camera to keep up with Sonic’s speed. This has lead to numerous deaths from the camera, mostly with jumping. When jumping is the weakest part of a platformer you know there is a problem. Game play however is the big concern; to be frank the classic Sonic game play isn’t enough for a full 3d retail game. Sega knows this and have been trying to alter the formula with recent Sonic titles, however while it isn’t enough it is still great game play that Sega keeps on breaking with every new game. The reason why I liked Sonic Adventure was that Sonic Team got the game play right, it had Sonic’s speed and fast game play, with each character providing something new. Sega has to learn not to take away from Sonic, but to add in other departments. This at long last leads me to my epiphany and how I think we could save the series.
I don’t know if you ever read the comics or watched the cartoon series like I had, but after going through the cheesy world of the games, the creators decided to mix things up. The series rebooted into a dark world where Sonic was a part of a resistance group fighting Dr. Robotnik (I will never call him Egg Man, just like Princess Toadstool). Instead of having a fat bumbling oaf as the villain, Robotnik was a maniacal mix of Darth Vader and the terminator. There was a sub plot of him turning Sonic’s grandfather into a robot who wanted to capture Sonic. Robotnik had already won with the world looking grim and polluted and it was up to Sonic to try to take things back. This leads me to my grand plan, a complete reboot of Sonic the Hedgehog, or in other words “Sonic Begins” cue ominous music.
I can picture an open world game before Sonic gets his blue coat. Where Robotnik has won and the world is ruined, showing the steps of Sonic turning blue and joining the resistance. Similar to Crackdown with jumping becoming the main attraction, Sonic’s speed would be here. As the game goes on Sonic becomes faster allowing him to run up walls, over water and just about anywhere. Sonic will be able to use vehicles along with his trademark spin attack, blasphemy I know as he attempts to take back the world. I can also picture huge boss fights with the variety seen in the classic Sonic titles as Robotnik uses his robotic generals to stop you. No more plot devices of the power of friendship and rainbows will save everyone; this is a fight for survival.
My plan is high risk and treads that fine line between a clever reboot bringing back the old fans and making new ones and destroying everything the fans held dear to the franchise. However at this point, I think a huge risk like this is needed for the franchise. All the good will from the classic series is just about gone and while Sonic can continue in 2D on handhelds, a big budget Sonic title will still have the negative stigma of past failures. I hate to sound vain but I hope somewhere a Sega exec is reading this, I was once a huge fan of the Sonic series and I’ve been burned too many times supporting Sonic Team to buy a new title. I do believe that if this takes off, Sonic could become a contender again to Mario and finally have a successful 3D game.