Flatiron Hot! Gamer: Things are Finally Looking Up for Sonic the Hedgehog
Written by Max Shapiro and Edited by the Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Staff
Where do I begin with Sonic the Hedgehog? Sega’s speedy blue mascot has been up, down, and everything in between over the past two-and-a-half decades. I won’t say that I’m the biggest Sonic fan in the whole world, but I have played a handful of games in the series in recent years. I’ve played the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 though the 3DS Virtual Console, as well as the more recent games Sonic Colors, Sonic Generations, and Sonic Lost World, and have genuinely enjoyed all of them. However, the inconsistent quality of the series as a whole has caused a lot of people to become quite cynical about the current state Blue Blur. To better understand this, let’s take a quick walk (or run) though the series’ history. Now even though I haven’t played every Sonic title, I think I’ve garnered enough knowledge to get a general idea of how people feel about these games.
Sonic was at the height of his popularity during the 1990s. The universally acclaimed Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic CD Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles for the Sega Genesis were what established the hedgehog as a gaming icon. These games seamlessly combined 2D platforming with fast-paced gameplay. At this point, Sonic was considered to be toe-to-toe with Mario as the king of platforming.
But then things began to get hairy once the series made the jump to 3D. The first 3D games, Sonic Adventure and Adventure 2, were released for the Sega Dreamcast (the company’s last console before they went third-party). These games were well-received in their time, though nowadays a lot of fans believe they haven’t aged superbly. However, even though people have very mixed opinions on the gameplay for the other playable characters’ levels, I think what’s most important is that these games nailed the gameplay of the levels for Sonic himself. After the Adventure games came Sonic Heroes, which was never quite as well-received, generally being considered an okay but very flawed game. But the title that really caused the series’ reputation to take a nosedive was the 2006 title Sonic the Hedgehog (dubbed Sonic ‘06 by most fans). It was a glitchy, unfinished disaster that was critically panned and cemented most peoples’ mindset that 3D Sonic is terrible and the series as a whole is dead.
Many people looked to the next installment, Sonic Unleashed, for the Blue Blur to finally get back on his feet. And he did—sort of. The “daytime” levels of Unleashed played how a 3D Sonic game should: they were fast, fun, and well-designed. However, the game’s “nighttime” levels had Sonic transform into a werewolf-like creature called the “Werehog,” trading in exhilarating high-speed action for tedious, clunky beat-’em-up gameplay. This aspect of the game was widely panned and led to lower than expected review scores. Though an improvement from Sonic ‘06, Unleashed ultimately failed to substantially restore people’s faith in the series. And the mediocre spin-off titles Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic and the Black Knight that were released around the time of of these games didn’t help either.
However, it gets better. Next came Sonic Colors, which took and further refined everything from Unleashed that worked and got rid of what didn’t, adding up to one fantastic game. The following installment, Sonic Generations, not only continued with and further polished this gameplay style, but also included classic 2D Sonic gameplay alongside it. Both Colors and Generations received high praise from critics and fans, and it seemed that peoples’ faith in the speedy hedgehog had finally been restored.
Unfortunately though, this didn’t last. Not too long after, Sonic Lost World was released. The gameplay of Lost World was a departure from the Unleashed/Colors/Generations formula, featuring an entirely different control scheme and placing less of an emphasis on high-speed action and more on experimental and occasionally gimmicky level design. Though Lost World definitely has its flaws, I personally found it to be an alright game. However, its critical reception was lukewarm enough to get fans genuinely concerned about the state of the series once again. And unfortunately, those concerns were justified when Sonic Boom was released the next year. Boom barely played like a Sonic game at all, and like Sonic ‘06, was a bug-riddled mess that was absolutely torn apart by critics and fans alike. And just like that, Sonic was back to where he was in 2006: seen by the gaming community a complete joke, as a series that has fallen from grace and is now all but irredeemable. However, people are wrong to assume that Sonic Boom is the final nail in the Blue Blur’s coffin. This is because Boom was not actually a main-series Sonic game—what many fail to realize is that this game was a spin-off that was not developed by the Sonic Team, the studio behind the main-series titles.
But this rollercoaster still isn’t finished, folks. This year happens to be the series’ 25th anniversary, and to celebrate Sega held a massive Sonic-themed party at Comic-Con last month. During this event, two brand new games were announced for next year. The first is Sonic Mania, a 2D game that perfectly emulates the visuals and gameplay of the classic Genesis titles, but with brand new levels. And as you would guess, fans were overjoyed when they saw this return to roots. But that wasn’t all: we also got a sneak peak of Sonic Team’s next 3D entry in the series. We don’t know what it’s called yet, as it was simply referred to as Project Sonic 2017 (update: we now know it’s called Sonic Forces). No actual gameplay was shown, only a CGI teaser trailer, but from what it showed it seems like this title is indeed returning to the Unleashed/Colors/Generations style of gameplay, and that can only be a good thing.
Now before I wrap this up, I want to briefly switch gears and talk about how some people believe that 3D Sonic is definitively terrible and the series should have just stayed 2D—I honestly don’t agree with this at all. While there have definitely been some mediocre and bad 3D Sonic games, the Adventure titles, Unleashed, Colors, and Generations have all proved that the core Sonic formula can and does work in a 3D space. And it always baffles me when people clamor for 2D Sonic to come back when it never went anywhere. Most of the games I’ve talked about so far are 3D ones, but all this time Sega never actually stopped making 2D ones, and they’ve all been well-received. Sonic Advance 1-3 for the GBA, Sonic Rush and Rush Adventure for the DS, the Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episodes I and II for various platforms, the DS version of Colors, the 3DS version of Generations, and of course the upcoming Sonic Mania should all satisfy any fan’s desire for an enjoyable 2D Sonic title.
Between these two upcoming games, the surprisingly good Sonic Boom TV show, and a movie due out in 2019, I’m very optimistic about the Blue Blur’s future. There is no doubt that Mania will be fantastic, but some people have expressed skepticism about Sonic Forces. But let me tell you why there is very little reason to be worried: Sonic Team is clearly taking their time with this title, as it’s not coming out until the year after the series’ 25th anniversary. The reason why Sonic ‘06 turned out the way it did was that it was rushed so that its release would align with the series’ 15th anniversary, so the fact that Sega and Sonic Team are not worried about meeting deadlines this time gives me a ton of hope that Forces will turn out to be great.
Sonic’s had it rough over the past few years. But it seems that Sega is finally trying to wipe the slate clean and enter a new era for the series, where it’s not only great, but consistently great. We’re not terribly far away from the release of these games, so let’s hope that Sonic can finally charge into his future at full speed.