You probably don’t need me to remind you of Sonic the Hedgehog’s battle for relevance over the past decade.
Indeed, this franchise was once top of the video gaming world before it slipped into a creative quagmire cursed by a near endless parade of mediocre or outright terrible games that achieved little except to tarnish the famous brand more and more as the years have rolled on.
I will be honest, the last game in the series I played first-hand was Sonic Generations; a release that many outlets declared to be a triumphant return to form and a shot in the arm for a series that has needed one for so very long.
The reality I see though is far less apologetic than that.
Sonic Generations is a middling effort at best. It’s a game seeped in giddy callbacks, familiar settings and a ruthlessly comprehensive soundtrack of classic tunes. But so too does it suffer from poor camera angles, childish writing and the sort of decade-old mistakes that Sonic Team just can’t seem to avoid making.
Generations tries to bring the disparate worlds of 2D and 3D platforming together, but it doesn’t really succeed in this mission at any point. The game is at its best for the first three levels or so when the levels are bright, quick, and simple. Once that first major boss battle begins however, it all takes a predictably sour turn with dodgy physics, bottomless pits and generally low quality gameplay taking over duties from then on.
Sonic Generations was no doubt a calculated gamble on Sega’s part; a rather forlorn and desperate exploitation of nostalgia intended to revitalize a stale series of games for an audience that had largely given up on them.
The game’s subsequent marketing blitz, that hit hard across television, comics and social media, certainly succeeded in turning a few heads though. Sonic Generations would go on to become the most preordered title in Sega’s long history, but trust me when I say nostalgia – which is all Generations really has going for it – is not a permanent solution to deep-rooted problems so far ingrained as the ones in Sonic’s modern software library.
The controls routinely lack fluidity, the level design tends to be aggravating, and the physic systems range from inconsistent to downright stodgy.
Sonic Generations failed to create a meaningful narrative to support its celebration of past glories and now that the novelty has worn off, what has the franchise done since? Derivative mobile phone titles, more dodgy ports (PC Gamer not long ago described the Sonic Lost World conversion as “infuriating”) and a calamitous spin-off that has freshly squandered all that recently accrued consumer faith.
It has to be clear by now that Sonic really needs to offer more than mere fan service if he wants back into the mainstream and the real problem Sega must surely be facing is: what else is there left to try?
Sonic Heroes already played the “going back to roots” card and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) swiftly killed the idea of a reboot. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 then tried an episodic format, before screwing up as early as the second installment, and the latest effort (Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric) accomplished a feat that can be generously described as completely shitting the bed.
That latter Wii U exclusive is a sad case too as it was surely an ambitious game on paper at the very least. A cooperative 3D action/adventure spin-off that scales back Sonic’s posse to a few original faces whilst redesigning their look and personalities for a new generation of kids ready to follow the series through a slew of tightly-planned sequels published by Nintendo and supported by an animated tie-in cartoon program featuring all the same voice actors and character designs – that could have worked!
Plagued by troubled development, Rise of Lyric clearly went bad somewhere along the line though, and you only have to watch a quick gameplay video online to see that the finished product is woefully unfit for release due to its mountain of bugs and exceedingly poor design choices that go some way to claiming that coveted title of “worst Sonic game ever.”
And trust me when I say: that’s quite a dubious accomplishment indeed.
In a year very soon to be alight with anniversary celebrations (The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon franchises also have a big milestone coming up), I would really like to believe that Sega could surprise me with something promising on the Blue Blur’s 25th birthday.
As I asked before though: what is left to try that hasn’t already been tainted? Sega has burned a lot of bridges for itself over the years, but in terms of Sonic the Hedgehog specifically, there’s only one real option I can see left.
Sonic Adventure 3.
This name is the only link that Sega can make to a new Sonic game that might still generate excitement and better yet, it’s a link that comes via a pair of modern Sonic games that not only aren’t hated, but also did form a recognizable realization of its characters and setting that fans have gravitated to ever since.
Bolstered by a decent budget, a meaningfully mature story, and a renewed focus on what problems need addressing with the 3D formula, Sega could definitely do this. If they could also just stop pissing everybody off, we might actually get somewhere.
It likely won’t happen, but whatever announcement they do decide to make on Sonic’s 25th anniversary this year, I hope for their sake that it’s damn good, because this is one disgruntled former fan that isn’t returning to the fold any time soon.