So, you've all seen the trailer and read the title; Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 is coming out this summer for XBLA, PSN, Wiiware, and even the iPhone! Some people are happy, others enraged. Some see this as a return to form for the series, why others think this gonna be just another nail in the coffin that is the Sonic franchise. You're probably wondering what I think, since you've gone to the trouble of reading my little blog. Well to get into that, first we need a little history lesson.
The original Sonic 1 was the first video game I ever played. As a kid, I fell in love with the character, his need for speed, and his quest to defeat Dr. Robotnik and save the world. I played the game so much, I knew the level layouts more than the insides of my own house. The music was forever burned into my head, and it wasn't unusual for me to hum the beat to Green Hill Zone during the various hours of kindergarten. I had other Genesis games, sure(don't ask me why I had Hard Drivin', its terrible), but Sonic 1 was the one I came back to the most.
Ya know, until Sonic 2 that is. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took the original Sonic formula and polished it to a shine. More levels, more secrets, more pathways, heck, more playable characters! Yes, Sonic's first playable friend Tails is introduced in this entry of the series. I remember many times my little brother would grab the second controller to play as Sonic's furry fox friend, trying to keep up with me, dying in some crazy way, and then flying down to join me again. I remember the first time I beat the three act monstrosity that was Metropolis zone(no thanks to those freaking annoying grasshoppers), and was taken to Sky Chase zone. Then, I lost a dozen lives trying to make it through the perilous Wing Fortress zone, jumping on airplane flaps and utilizing giant fans. But the biggest, craziest memory of all was that Death Egg zone, a giant rip-off of the Death Star, battling Silver Sonic, chasing after Robotnik(seriously, how is he faster than Sonic!?), defeating his giant mech, and watching that lovely ending. It was at that point that I realized Sonic 2 was my favorite game EVER.
Until, of course, the next game came out(you seeing a pattern here?). On my birthday(I can't quite remember which one), I remember getting both Sonic 3 AND Sonic and Knuckles for presents(best B-Day ever!). Before I even put the game in, it blew my mind that you can stack the games on top of each other(OMG WHAT THE HECK AWESOME). From the beginning, everything about it seemed like a steroid version of Sonic 2. There were a bunch of saves, which is good because theres over a dozen levels with both games, and the levels are HUGE. Giant, beautiful stages with multiple paths and fantastic music. The bonus stages were actually fun(sorry Sonic 2 turbo tunnel :/), there was multiple shield types, minibosses in every level, and actual story with this Knuckles the Echidna guy(who was a complete dick, but was totally awesome and cooler than Sonic at the time, IMO). I have so many great memories of this game(and a few not so great; I'm looking at you CARNIVAL NIGHT BARREL THAT TOOK ME AND MY BROTHER 30 MINUTES TO FIGURE OUT), and it has a permanent spot in my top ten favorite games of all time.
Then a long time passed without any real Sonic games. I was ok with that, I still had that great SatAM cartoon, I had still had that little anime OVA that did, my various Sonic figures to make up my own stories, and the old classic trilogy on my Genesis; I can wait a few years for another great Sonic game!
Pay no attention to the whale no-clipping that rock!
I remember first playing Sonic Adventure 1 on a Dreamcast kiosk at EBGames or Electronic Boutique as it were back then. I remember yelling at the top of my little 10 year lungs could do. Holy shit, Sonic was in 3d! And he was super fast! And holy crap I'm running on the side of a wall and blowing away everything haha this is super fun awesome! When I actually got the game, however, it was troubling how small these fun sections were. To get to them you had to run around this bare bones free-roaming area, and there was this non-nonsensical story about the Chao, and Chaos, and Knuckles turning into a dumbass suddenly. And then, if you want to get the actual ending, you gotta go through the game with all the characters. That means running around haphazardly looking for emerald shards, retreading the same damn stages with Tails and Gamma, playing through the poorly executed Amy levels, and FISHING.
Sonic Adventure 2 wasn't much better in this respect either, as the fun, fast-paced Sonic levels were constantly interrupted by the world's most boring, tedious mech levels and once again haphazardly running around looking for emerald shards(now with God awful rap music looping every 30 seconds!). This is all the game that introduced Shadow to the world, an unspeakable evil that to this day it amazes me Sega hasn't been brought up on charges for war crimes against humanity.
As the series moved on, I felt more and more turned off from it. Sure, I played Sonic Heroes and Sonic Advance series, but it felt like such a huge drop in quality from the Genesis originals. Even the 2d games like the Advance and Rush series, they were suddenly all about SPEEDSPEEDSPEED and beating the level in two minutes. Sure, the original Sonic games had speed too, but it was earned through momentum, and there was just as much platforming/light puzzle solving in there as well(something the recent games have no idea how to do). Hell, the only challenge they have is putting random pit falls in your path, artificially increasing the difficulty. I was so turned off the by the series that I didn't even play Sonic '06 and Shadow the Hedgehog(appearently, I'm not missing much).
Then all this news about Project Needlemouse came out. Well, perhaps that an overstatement, since there wasn't a whole lot of info, but I liked what I heard. Little be little, news came out about it. Its a 2d HD all new adventure. It focused on Sonic. It had Badniks again(yes, even those freaking annoying grasshoppers). The gameplay was momentum based again. Power-ups/Shields were returning. And today, we finally got a trailer and a name, something we all hoped it was called but didn't say it out loud: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is real, and its coming this summer. And, from what I can tell, it could be really good! It looks gorgeous in motion(has a NSMBW vibe to it), although that running animation is a bit odd. It has all those returned elements, and theres promise of more to come.
A friend of mine asked me why I still like Sonic. Theres plenty of reasons not to; he hasn't had a great game in over 15 years, the large cast of irritating friends, the worst fanbase in gaming, convoluted storytelling, annoying voice acting and attitude, etc. But to me, Sonic IS gaming. He was there at the beginning, and now, almost 20 years later, he's still here, racing around the world and trying to stop Robotnik/Eggman. Even though I haven't loved one of his games in a really long time, I will always love the character. Turning my back on Sonic would be like going against my childhood.
When I see the video and info above, the long-awaited Sonic 4 I've always wanted, the cynical, older gamer in me scoffs at the idea and goes back to Mass Effect 2. And yet, the inner kid in me is uncontrollable in his excitement. I always tell myself not to get hyped, look at the Sonic Cycle, this isn't gonna live up to your expectations, but some things defy logic and reason. My undying love for the character of Sonic the Hedgehog refuses to ever fully give up on him getting a great game again, something that can be one of the best titles of the year. Something I can point out to my friend and say, "This is why I still like Sonic".
And ya know what? This might be it.