Ever since I got my hands on Sonic Unleashed at the Tokyo Game Show, I've been Sonic daft. The game looks promising as anything, but even if this is a step in the right direction and Unleashed turns out to be good, it will still be a long road to recovery for Sega's famous mascot.
It seems that Sonic Team misses far more than it hits, and while repeated attempts to revitalize the ailing hedgehog have brought with them plenty of potential and hope, each game has fallen flat on its face, or at the very least, done very little to untarnish the troubled mascot's increasingly damaged reputation.
Let's face it -- Sonic has been over the green hill for a very long time. As someone who adored the speedy woodland creature as a child, it's horrible to have to say that, but it's true. He was introduced as the cool alternative to a "boring" Mario, but looking at the two characters today, it's easy to see which is going strong and which has aged very, very badly. It's a bitter irony, but that attitude-drenched hedgehog of yore has been a desperate, increasingly irrelevant relic for a long time.
He needs to be saved, and maybe Sonic Unleashed will throw him a lifeline. If Sonic wants to permantantly check out of rehab, however, he needs to get his arse in gear and do it right for a change, and I want to help. While some of these points may be fairly obvious, there are a few left-field suggestions in this humble list. Either way, Sonic Team should pay attention. Hit the jump for a list of ways in which Sega could, and should, save Sonic the Hedgehog.
1. Keep it simple:
Sonic Rush was Sonic Team's first attempt to bring the titular hedgehog to the Nintendo DS, and it was a quasi-success at best. While a decent game, it was by no means stellar. However, it did succeed in one area -- it spotlit Sonic's problems perfectly, when compared to another nostalgic DS platformer, New Super Mario Bros.
While Sonic Rush was an average gameplay experience, New Super Mario Bros. was an utter joy from start to finish, and I'll tell you why -- simplicity. New Super Mario Bros. was far from innovative, and never strayed far from the tried and tested mechanics of old Mario platformers, and this is why it worked. Rather than make everything needlessly busy and flashy, the game did what it knew how to do, and did it well.
With its pseudo-3D bosses and pointless tension meter nonsense, Sonic Rush had too much crap going on. Rather than stick to the Sonic Advance route of simplistic, traditional platforming, Rush was trying too hard to be impressive and as such, wasn't impressive at all.
The original Sonic platformers were simple and fun. Somewhere, that very easy concept has been forgotten. Don't even get me started on the 3D console games that are as badly made as they are confusing, which brings me onto my next point ...
2. Sonic works best in 2D:
It's a home truth that everybody knows, but one that Sega seems keen to ignore as much as possible. With Unleashed, it has to be said that Sonic Team is at least compromising and blending 3D gameplay with constantly shifting 2.5D perspectives. It actually works quite well, but most Sonic fans would likely prefer some good old fashioned 2D platforming.
Mega Man 9 has proven that retrocentric videogames are working thanks to digital distribution and a rabid fanbase of nostalgic gamers. A 16-bit Sonic sequel released online would surely do well enough to at least justify its own production, but then a 2.5D game making full use of high-definition graphics and old-school gameplay has potential to be amazing as well.
Either way, each console has its own online distribution platform that a 2D Sonic would be well served on. It's something that Sega should be thinking very seriously about.
3. Stop thinking Sonic's games are about speed:
This is a point that some would believe is erroneous at first, but let me explain. Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Megadrive was not about speed -- period. Yes, speed was a large element of the gameplay, but it was never the sole focus as modern games would have you believe -- in fact, it was barely crucial to the gameplay at all.
Modern 2D and 3D Sonic titles have forgotten this, and seem to believe that speed is all Sonic can offer. While the first Sonic Advance was able to re-introduce deft level design, its sequels failed hard and degenerated into little more than "press the move button to win." Even springs became automatically triggered so as not to make Sonic slow down, and the result was a very boring set of games in which you merely hold down a single button and jump occasionally before succumbing to a cheaply placed pitfall now and then which attempt to create the illusion of challenge.
This is another reason why the 3D games have failed so hard. The developers bust their nuts for a sense of speed so much that they forget to craft a decent level, and as such, just throw a really hard-to-control hedgehog into a world of rubbish and hope for the best. Maybe just ... forget the speed for once. Simply make a really good platformer first and think about making him run fast second.
4. Can the anime crap:
JUST STOP IT OKAY!?
Give me a hedgehog. Give me Robotnik. Give me a level full of squirrel-filled robots in between the two. That's all we need. If you absolutely must have a storyline, keep it light and, most of all, keep it in the damn manual. The day a Sonic game deserves cutscenes as story-laden as Metal Gear Solid is the day that McDonald's Happy Meals deserve to be cooked by Gordon fucking Ramsay.
5. Let us call him Dr. Robotnik again:
I know, I know. He's always been called Dr. Eggman in Japan. But Japan also has videogames about touching up little girls, so let's not pretend they are the masters of taste now, shall we? When I was a wee lad, he was called Dr. Robotnik, and whether or not that was something Sega of America dreamed up, it was better.
While we're on the subject, whatever happened to Robotnik actually being a real villain? A proper villain. He has been constantly sidelined by other bad guys over the years, and while he's not had his dignity robbed from him quite as badly as Bowser, he needs to reclaim his place as Sonic's nemesis. Even Sonic Unleashed has some big bad monster with the worryingly-anime flavored name of Dark Gaia in it.
A fat man with an egg fetish may not be the most credible bad guy, but he was a right bastard back in the day. Forcing chickens to become murderous cyborgs is pretty hardcore, but his role has diminished as time's gone by. In Sonic Chronicles, he's even an ally. That's not right. I grew up with this man as my enemy and I must finish the fight!6. No more new characters. Please!
We've had enough. I suppose Tails was a grim harbinger of things to come, but this obsession Sega has with stuffing the Sonic cast full of new and stupid gimmicky animals needs to end. So far, only one character introduction has worked, because Knuckles was the tits. Outside of him though, can we please stop introducing another watery, forgettable sidekick with each game?
I also blame the fans here, for continuing to support Shadow the Hedgehog when he proves time and time again that he's shite. I honestly tried to like Shadow, I really did, but his endeavors to sport 'tude and appear edgy are about as embarrassing as Sonic's. And if Shadow can't succeed, a stupid frigging rabbit called Cream doesn't stand a chance. I mean Cream!? That's a name now?
Still I guess one or two have their good points ...
7. Rouge the Bat needs to do a Playboy spread:
Um. Actually I never wrote that. Moving on ...
8. Bring back good music:
Come on now.
9. If you're going to be "cool," be ironic or you fail:
I was going to suggest that Sonic stop having a voice actor, or at least large chunks of speech, but instead, perhaps keeping the same voice but removing all trace of sincerity might actually work. Make him funny -- genuinely funny -- and have his nonsensical quips uttered with a heady dose of camp stupidity and I'd certainly get behind him.
What's Up? Our panel at PAX Prime 2014, Far Cry 4, Destiny Beta, Vietnam & a ferret
8:00 PM on 07.25.2014