October 10, 2007. My 19th birthday. I happened to wake up before my alarm went off, so I was at a bit of a loss for time. Try -- and fail -- to go back to sleep? Or boot up the internet on my PSP? With a sigh, I opted for the latter, and with good reason: in those days, the gaming world had been caught up in the Smash Bros. Brawl
fever. You may remember those wonderful days, checking the daily updates with fearsome regularity, eager to find the meaning of “The Subspace Emissary”, or wondering just what the Ice Climbers’ Final Smash would be, or praying with all your heart for Captain Falcon to make a repeat appearance.
But the master of the Falcon Punch wasn’t revealed that day. Someone else was.
“Sonic confirmed for Brawl.” Those four words erupted across the internet in a fiery blaze of fanboy delight. Sonic! THE Sonic the Hedgehog, brought to the gaming forefront once more! The blue blur so cruelly dangled before us in an EGM April Fool’s joke, now ready to fight against Mario for the first (important) time!
When reviews came out for Brawl
, many a gamer rejoiced -- a 9.5, an A minus, a 5 out of 5. Damning Zero Punctuation review aside, everything seemed safe, and for the first time in ages, it seemed Sonic could finally appear in a good game.
Which had to be the most depressing news ever.
Sonic’s last, universally-considered-to-be-good game, a Nintendo game. No classic speed and loops (without hacks), no Robotnik to bop, no animals to save. Long-time Mario fans may have been stroking their mustaches in triumph, but Sega veterans wept silently. Time and time again, our beloved mascot had failed us: the blood-boiling inclusion of so many of Sonic’s annoying friends (EVERYONE loves Big the Cat!) in Sonic Heroes
and beyond; the mind-numbing decision to give an anti-heroic hedgehog that can move at the speed of sound guns and a motorcycle in Shadow the Hedgehog
; a disastrous love affair with a human automatically reset at the end in Sonic ’06
; poor controls in most, if not all games, carrying over into Sonic and the Secret Rings
; ASININE gameplay additions, chief among them the werehog in Sonic Unleashed
and the sword in Sonic and the Black Knight
. Thankfully we had a reprieve since those dark days thanks to titles like Sonic Colors
(which I like, even if no one else did) and Sonic Generations
; unfortunately, talk of a franchise reboot along the lines of the Skylanders toys
-- along with some unflattering reviews for Sonic 4: Episode 2
-- does not inspire confidence. It DOES inspire utter confusion, gut-wrenching terror, and occasional bouts of suffocating rage, but I digress.
If I remember correctly, Sonic
games are aiming towards a “new demographic” of sorts (commence the nerd rage). Though the developers and PR agents and everyone else involved with the blue blur’s bastardization admitted that it’s going to take time to fix Sonic, they also said something along the lines of “pleasing both fanbases is difficult.” So the problem may lie in appealing to new, or casual gamers, or kids, or whatever. Fair enough; still, why are they putting so much effort in appealing to them? Remember when we were all kids, and we didn’t give a damn about new gimmicks being added on a yearly basis? Remember when it was about the gameplay, with characters being added sparingly? Remember when Sega wisely decided NOT to give Charmy the Bee a voice?
So, just as there’s still hope, there are countless ways -- COUNTLESS -- for the game to fail horribly. On top of that, it’s possible that this is just an experiment, or a proving ground that shows Sega can take lessons from past successes. Or they can screw it up, and suddenly Sonic’s got eight new friends and decides to go save the rainforest or something. Don’t’ get me wrong, I want to believe. I really, really want to believe. I don’t want the hero of the first game I ever played
to spiral into an abyss of mediocrity. I want him to stand on equal ground with Mario once again, and not be confined to tennis courts, Olympic events, or kart-racing (HE’S SUPER FAST! WHY DOES HE --?!)
To that end, in the event of another hedgehog humiliation (worst-case scenario), I’ve collected my own team of crack game designers, artists, directors, and writers. We’ve put our heads together, and -- for an exorbitant fee -- will sell our ideas and work to Sega, all for the sake of bringing Sonic back to the forefront of the industry.
Pitch 1: Sonic is Paralyzed from the Waist Down
Joe Swanson is one of my favorite characters in Family Guy
. Despite being handicapped, he’s obviously one of the most capable cops in Quahog, and the fact that he’s voiced by Patrick Warburton definitely helps. It’s like an afterschool special gone right -- paraplegia can be cool! (Though the less said about the current, headache-inducing badness of Family Guy
, the better.)
Now I know what you’re thinking: take away Sonic’s ability to run, and you might as well take him to the back shed with teary eyes and a hunting rifle, right? But think about it -- if Sonic’s legs can handle supersonic speed, then it follows that the rest of his body should be capable as well, right? True, he’d have to rely more on his arms, and essentially re-teach himself the art of extreme speed, but it could work. Plus, it would finally give him at least some modest rationality for EVER using a vehicle, planes notwithstanding.
And imagine the possibilities, Sega! A dark and gritty tale, starting with Sonic’s speed being taken by an unknown assailant, and Robotnik (we’re gonna start calling him Robotnik again, by the way) is behind a new scheme. Rush through cities and drift through the streets! Hit sweet jumps and blast through roofs! Upgrade your wheelchair with new armor and weapons! Unravel the mysteries behind Sonic’s assault! (Spoiler alert: Tails did it.)
Sonic must explain the details of his handicap to children, using branching dialogue like Mass Effect. Players can choose either a neutral response, a noble, detailed scientific response that inspires hope, or just run them over with his upgraded spike wheels.
Pitch 2: Sonic and Master Chief Cross Paths
Sega. Listen to me. You’ve done some good things recently -- had it not been for you, we might never have had Valkyria Chronicles
. And again, Sonic Colors
and Sonic Generations
(though opinions may vary). I give my thanks to you, and hope you can pull off this whole “restructuring” business without too many issues. But still, I think there’s something that needs to be said -- something on the minds of every Sonic fan alive, regardless of age.
The guns. Never do it again.
They’re ridiculous. The fans say they don’t work well. They add meaningless tripe to a once-pristine formula (a formula already covered in grime, for that matter). It’s ridiculous to try and make a three-foot-tall talking hedgehog with a head the size of a watermelon some sort of badass gunslinger. The answer, then, is DO NOT TRY IT.
And what better way to emphasize your reformed ways by having Sonic face off against the face of the first-person shooter, Master Chief?
The story should be simple enough: the Chief and a few of his buddies crash land on Sonic’s planet, and seeing plenty of anthropomorphic critters running around (there are no humans, by the way) doesn’t sit well with the space marines. What unfolds is an epic tale, a struggle between two heroes and two armies fighting not for glory or conquest, but for survival (for argument’s sake, let’s just say Big the Cat went and killed one of the Chief’s…guns or something).
You play as Sonic, and maybe Tails, and maybe Knuckles. They all run really fast, and glide, and fly, and bop marines on a regular basis. Boss fights occur. Robotnik, being a bastard, teams up with the humans. You collect the chaos emeralds and why are you even listening to this? It’s SONIC versus MASTER CHIEF. It will sell like the iGrail -- that’s Apple’s Holy Grail, by the way, coming 2019. It’s a crossover battle. And it will be epic, by the sweat of 343 Industries’ brow.
Sonic’s vast army of friends is controlled via real-time strategy commands. Each character controls a different type of unit, for a grand total of 873 unit-types. Unnamed characters count too, in case you were wondering -- bet you’re regretting bopping all those robots from the Genesis days, aren’t you?
Pitch 3: Sonic the Secondary School Teacher
All right, you’ve got me Sega. I’ll concede if you decide to focus on the younger audience; they ARE our future, after all. And they’re going to be the next generation of gamers once we’re all wrinkly, senile, and walking into kitchens with our pants around our ankles. Therefore, if you’re going to do this thing, I only ask that you do it right.
Make the next Sonic game a…hold on, there’s something in my eye. Oh, tears. Okay, got ‘em.
Okay. So make the next Sonic game an edutainment game. (What the hell? Edutainment is actually getting cleared by Word’s spell check?) You already gave the green light on it once -- and lightning always strikes twice, right?
All right, next step. Gameplay should be a breeze; Sonic and company are the teachers, have some sort of Mii or Avatar support system, and plug those babies in for some hardcore learning. From primary school to middle school, you get to answer questions from Tails, have gym class minigames with Knuckles, resist peer pressure from Shadow and the rest of the cool critters, and show Principal Robotnik that school is about having fun, too -- via some wacky egg-throwing showdown. Or a mock quiz show. The point is, it’s impossible to screw up thanks to some bad controls or a wonky camera.
Moving your Mii/Avatar around the classroom is an exercise in frustration due to the new “Speed Boost to Class so You Won’t be Late” system. Selecting answers to the teachers’ questions requires five separate motions of the control stick. Perpetual waggling with the Wii Remote/Sixaxis/Move/your body are required to keep the console on.
Pitch 4: Sonic Rush…off of a Cliff
I’m sure this is pretty much a given, but Sonic’s downward spiral has probably alienated a lot of fans over the years. Some are nicer about it than others; some wait in front of their computer screens, hands locked in prayer for the next Sonic to be the turning point. Some take note of new info, but keep the blue blur an arm’s length away at all times.
Some want Sonic to die. And I say, let them have what they want.
3D Sonic games -- the disastrous ’06
chief among them -- have an undeniable stigma. What gamers need is a streamlined experience, a single, overarching goal that overcomes all others. Therefore, sending Sonic to his doom -- repeatedly -- is as simple a task as any other, with immediate satisfaction for the players. Throw him off a cliff! Fling him into traffic! Dodge a firing squad (unsuccessfully)!
Graphics are the name of the game here -- not brutality, but with so much horsepower devoted to killing Sonic in this straightforward experience, it’s only natural that the murders are done in true HD quality! Top-notch animations with maximum production values…even if the game sucks, it’ll be the most beautiful death(s) ever brought to the small screen!
Sonic is given some rationale for his continuous suicide attempts. Big the Cat is involved in more interspecies romance.
Pitch 5: Sonic the Legal Disclaimer
Sonic. His name once evoked the joys of high speed and aerodynamics. Bashing robots, leaping off springs, collecting chaos emeralds, and transforming into the hyper-kinetic Super Sonic.
Now? Now, he can turn into a werehog. Damn it all.
But even so…even so, I will not abandon hope. Even if my nights should end with tear-soaked pillows, and my sunless days filled with bleak lamentation, I will believe. I want to believe that Sonic can bounce back -- that after countless tries and countless promises, we’ll have our blue blur back in full form.
I want to help, Sega. And that’s why I suggest Sonic the Legal Disclaimer
Sonic isn’t controlled in a traditional way; his movements are transmitted via the player piecing together a puzzle. The puzzles in question? Excuses as to why the Sonic games are suffering. Put together a logical argument, then add a disclaimer at the end, and BOOM! Sonic performs every action onscreen the way it was meant to be. And not just on a set animation track; countless solutions and possibilities, opening up opportunities for speed runs, no-damage runs, all the best moves and flips and tricks, and -- should the player wish -- the chance to meet with Sonic’s friends on branching paths.
I don’t know. Big the Cat wants to go fishing. That fat bastard’s always mucking things up.
That’s it. I’ve done all I can do. It’s in your hands now, Sega; I’ll believe in whatever you put out, but should it fail, then I’ve got your back. I’ll always…always be there.
Sonic…he can really move. Sonic…he’s got an attitude. Sonic…he’s the fastest thing alive. He’s the fastest thing alive.
He’s the fastest…*sniff* thing alive…