With Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and Sonic Colors out, it seems like Sega has a better grasp on what to do with their flagship hedgehog. That’s a really good thing, because the message sent by ol’ Sonic’s recent history is “we, Sega, have no idea what we’re doing, but we’re going to pump these things out anyway”. How did this once-proud spiky azure franchise turn dull and…less blue? Well I’ll tell you, and luckily for me and my column format, there were exactly five big mis-steps!
5. Adding Characters
This was a big case of learning the wrong lesson from success. “Hey, we introduced some good characters, like Deformed Fox Sidekick and Rastafarian Monotreme Wolverine! That means we should add a million more characters!” The Chaotix was okay, if a bit uninspired. Then you get to Big the Cat, a fat slow feline known for fishing. Perfect for a game series built on speed! Shadow and Silver were just indicators that they were running out of ideas, but the worst error here is Rouge. When your game with cartoon mascots and one of them has breast physics, you’ve definitely gone down the wrong path.
4. Putting Him in a Human World
Speaking of cartoon mascots: they are things you shouldn’t put into a human world! Next to somewhat properly proportioned human beings, any cartoon creature will look monstous, especially if your creatures are as tall as a human being! A real hedgehog is pretty darn cute, but if you enlarge it and give it humanoid legs and tennis shoes, it turns into a sideshow attraction. Not only did Sega do this, they kept Dr. Eggman as a malformed not-person in this real world, creepily realistic moustache and all! Well, to be fair, they never went as far as having a realistic girl kiss Sonic on the mouth.
Oh. Right. Moving on!
3. Going for Milquetoast Pop-Punk Instead of Awesome Chiptune Music
The music in Sonic used to be amazing. The theme for Zone 1 of Ice Cap Zone in Sonic 3 alone has ten remixes on OC Remix! For comparison, Aeris’s Theme from Final Fantasy 7 has four. They even did a whole album devoted to just that stage’s music. Sadly, younger gamers may not know the chiptune bliss that a Sonic title used to herald, since Sega decided to ditch this style of audio in favor of what rock experts call “bad” music. Now firing up a Sonic game bombards your ears with tracks that Blink 182 threw out early in rehearsal. You could kinda get away with this in the nineties, maybe even the late nineties, but when you promote your new game with the same type of screechy-voiced pop-rock track in 2010, that’s a sign that you need to hire a new music director.
2. Aping Mario So Much
For a series that started as the antithesis to the Mario series, they sure copied it at every turn, except for the whole “doing what Nintendo did right” thing. “Mario favors exploration and deliberate platforming? Let’s put that in Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles! Surely that won’t break up the pace. A racing game starring your main characters? Sure, we do fast, let’s make a crappy racing game and make it the only Sonic game on one of our systems! We’ll name it R for Red, which is what our budget is going to go into. Oh, Mario 64 favors 3D exploration and a central hub world? Sonic Adventure to the rescue! Five minutes of somewhat-Sonicish gameplay in-between walking around a boring city – good times! Okay, let’s throw in a knockoff party game and call it a day.”
1. Making it the Flagship Series
By now, you may think that I hate Sonic and his games. I really don’t! In fact, I grew up with them, being a Genesis kid. They were tons of fun…but there’s only so much you can do with the central “run-jump-hit-fat-guy” concept. If Sonic were just a Sega series instead of the Sega series, maybe the creators would have had time to figure out some new ideas and polish the game even further. But that wasn’t the case. They pretty much milked their cash cow dry and it kinda sorta died for a while. Only now do they seem to be getting their act together, and it’s been nearly 20 years since Sonic 2. Even though he’s a fast little dude, it seems like all he needed was time.
(Thanks to Anatotitan for the column comic!)