With the release of yet another attempt to take Sonic the Hedgehog back to his roots, I began to wonder if going back to the beginning is really all the Sonic can hope to achieve?
I should probably reiterate that I always preferred Sonic to Mario (at least, back in the days when Sonic games were still good). I realise that the Mario franchise has been much better managed over the years, with games like Smash Bros and Mario Kart adding much needed fun and variety to the constant remake of Super Mario Brothers. I also realise that there hasn’t been a really good Sonic game for at least a decade, but is Sonic’s future really so bleak?
Sonic through the years
I still hold the original Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog games as amongst my favourites of all time. Unlike many of the more hardcore purists, Sonic 3 (& Knuckles) is probably my favourite. However, I have to admit that I actually enjoyed some of the more recent Sonic games – or at least parts of them.
I didn’t really like Sonic 3D, but I still own both of the Sonic Adventure titles that were released on Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast. While playing as Amy or Big the Cat was just stupid, the levels where you actually got to play as Sonic were quite good (at the time). I thought Sega did a good job of transferring Sonic gameplay into 3D and adding extra features.
Then things started to go downhill. We got entries like Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic Unleashed, which introduced new ideas, many of which just didn’t make sense. These ideas, while I kind of admire them for experimenting, turned out to be awful. Silly storylines, ridiculous gimmicks and annoying characters only served to distract and detract from the core Sonic experience. That said, even in the particularly dubious Sonic Unleashed, I still enjoyed many of the proper ‘daytime’ Sonic levels…
Sonic’s furry friends
This is another controversial opinion, but I don’t actually mind the menagerie of woodland creatures that have accompanied Sonic over the years. While it is true that the companion character in Unleashed is one of the most annoying characters in gaming, Big the Cat is fat and pointless and I’ve never exactly been Amy Rose’s biggest fan, I don’t hate all these extra creatures in the way that some purists do.
No-one ever complains that there are too many creatures in Mario. In fact, Mario Kart (and most of the other games in the series) just wouldn’t be the same if it was just a fat Italian and a clearly psychologically damaged princess. The characters add variety to the gameplay and the story. Tails and Knuckles were around when the series was still great, and Shadow was quite a good and interesting character (though he shouldn’t have been allowed to have his own game, but that’s a rant for another time). This is why it makes me sad that several recent attempts to reboot the franchise have ignored all of these characters, especially Tails and Knuckles! I’m not saying many of them aren’t annoying or pointless and I certainly don’t want to play as them all the time, but they can serve a useful purpose if used correctly.
What can be done?
While I am, in theory, against the idea of a reboot of the series (after all, how many times have the re-made the damned Green Hill Zone!), I think a re-telling of the story of the original games might work well. You could tell part of the origin stories of Sonic and his nemesis Dr Robotnik.
While we’re on the subject, another controversial option is that I don’t mind that people call Dr Robotnik ‘Eggman’. Its fine for Sonic and his friends to refer to him as that. The only objection I have is to him calling himself that (or indeed the theme-park/space-station or super weapon that he has built).
But again, this idea is treading old ground. I’m sure there is something they could do that would capture the essence of Sonic but take it in a new direction, rather like Nintendo did with Mario Galaxy. The team just have to remember that, at the end of the day, they are making a Sonic game and not something else (The game that was trying to be Final Fantasy had Sonic in a beastial relationship with an under-age girl was just weird!).
I genuinely believe that there is the potential for Sonic to be great again. But there have been so many disappointing games that I fear that the recently announced Sonic Generations could be the hedgehog’s last hope. I doubt they will ever stop making Sonic games, but for the fans – those of us who have been let down time and time again -I think one more bad game could make us loose interest all together…