It will be news to some but common knowledge to others that a long time ago, Sonic the Hedgehog died as a gaming franchise in most people’s eyes. Nobody knows why, but lately, SEGA’s repeated attempts to create games off the back of this beloved character have resembled trying to draw blood from a stone.
It is of no doubt that the Sonic the Hedgehog series was once extremely lucrative. From its first outings on the Sega Genesis it was clear it was a work of platforming genius. From the slight influence of the Super Mario series it built itself around levels innovated by the ‘Need for Speed’ element. Its fast-paced action, cool main character, comedic yet menacing villain and innovative level design created a moment in gaming history that would never be forgotten.
Soon, it introduced a variety of new, diverse characters, Tails, Knuckles and the love-interest Amy.
But then came a daunting prospect. The crossover from 2D to 3D platformer – an obligation that made Sonic the Hedgehog the fluctuating series it is now. Promising beginnings came with Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2: Battle but soon descended into chaos. Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight and the god-awful Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) all but left the reputation of the once loveable blue hedgehog in tatters. Poor, inconsequential characters were introduced, level design became lazy and unintuitive and stories became downright ludicrous. They were shams. Shells of their former selves.
Indeed some redemption was garnered through Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors but, the dismal reception of Sonic Lost World once again put Sonic on the edge of the cliff for gamers. In SEGA’s reluctance to bid farewell to one of their beloved cash generators came a reboot nobody expected (except those that saw the spoilers on a leaked poster)- Sonic Boom.
My reaction upon first hearing the news was a begrudging groan and shake of my head. But the question genuinely needs to be asked: can this reboot save Sonic?
Slated to come out some time this year as well as spawning off a series of toys and a new cartoon show this seems like an all out attempt by SEGA to reenergize this rather limping series. The trailer (amusingly set to Skrillex’s ‘Bangarang’) reveals a complete redesign of the whole cast: Sonic with an all new scarf and looking like he has been stretched; Tails sporting some goggles and belts…or what I think are belts; Knuckles seems to have taken up steroids and Amy, well relatively nothing has changed there.
Gameplay looks fresh, back to the sort of 3D, top-down environments we have seen in earlier 3D titles like Sonic Adventure and recent titles like Sonic Colors. More importantly, it looks fast, like you can actually be breezing through levels and feel like you are a hedgehog that can move at supersonic speeds. But yet, with the nature of trailers, you are never given a hands-on experience.
And this is the problem with most bad 3D Sonic titles – their controls are abysmal. Yes, you may move fast but not being able to move out of the way of enemies or respond in an apt enough time means frustration and disappointment. It is all in the balance of responsiveness and speed – something SEGA have been getting unforgivably wrong and it is my hope that they can address it.
Be sure to check the trailer out for yourself because, who knows, this series could be Sonic’s big break for the eighth generation. But equally things can invariably go down the toilet just as quickly. All I know is that it is going to take a lot for this series to please and there are a lot of crimes of the past that need appeasing. For now, we can just pray that SEGA does not rush this and manages to muster the creative processes and logic needed to create a truly epic Sonic the Hedgehog game.