Once again, Sonic the Hedgehog is in a rut. That’s nothing new for the blue marsupial — I mean, who could forget the consecutive years of gun-toting hedgehogs, werehogs and hedgehog/human smooching? But it’s especially more poignant this time: just when things were looking up with Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations back in 2010/11, the brand started heading south again with Sonic Lost World and Sonic Boom.
A recap is necessary: Nintendo scored a deal with Sega to develop three Sonic games for Wii U, beginning with 2012’s well-received Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed. Unfortunately, things started to go wrong with 2013’s Sonic Lost World — the game was a messy hodgepodge of Super Mario Galaxy-inspired concepts that hardly worked, complete with awkward controls and a level where Sonic turns into a snowball for no reason.
Fans asked themselves why Sega and Sonic Team didn’t simply build off what worked with Colors and Generations, but the worst was yet to come. 2014 marked the launch of the Sonic Boom spinoff brand, which was revealed to a widely-negative reception (in no small part due to the lanky character redesigns). While the cartoon is doing fine, the Wii U tie-in game released with game-breaking glitches not seen since the dreaded Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
So with a new Sonic game coming in 2017, fans are naturally worried where the Blue Blur will head next. With no details are known about the new title, speculation runs rampant on how the infamous Sonic Cycle may arise again. But will it?
Call it Stockholm Syndrome, but I feel a spark of optimism for the next Sonic game.
Yes, I know, the first stage of the Sonic Cycle and all that. But it’s not because I’m wowed by the nonexistent screenshots for the new game; rather, there’s several clues I’ve noticed that imply Sega’s working hard to meet fan expectations.
For starters, take note of the one detail we do know about the game: it’s launching in 2017. But wait — that means it’s missing Sonic’s 25th anniversary this year! What about the 25th anniversary event being held this month? All the constant teases from the Twitter account? The official 25th anniversary logo? Are they really going to drop the ball here?
Well, not quite. Remember what happened the last time a Sonic game was rushed for the sake of an anniversary? In case you don’t, here’s what we got for Sonic’s 15th anniversary. Some say even Generations, lauded as it was, lacked enough meat to meet the 20th anniversary deadline. Ask yourself this: is it worth even aiming for such a deadline if it results in a rushed dud?
What this means to me, at the very least, is that Sega is listening. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice interview. The previous 3DS Sonic Boom wasn’t nearly as critically panned as the Wii U’s Rise of Lyric, but it was still subject to much criticism that developer Sanzaru Games aims to address. For starters, you can say goodbye to the maze-like design of the first game, as it operates in a linear fashion like classic Sonic games.
And even then, Sonic Boom does not represent the series as a whole. Let us remind ourselves that Sonic Boom is a spin-off brand, and that we have not seen a genuine entry in the mainline Sonic series since 2013, when Sonic Lost World was released to mediocre reception. This is not the era where Sonic Team would consecutively develop tone-deaf stinkers like Shadow the Hedgehog or Sonic and the Black Knight; it’s an era where they realize they can actually make mistakes and don’t wish to repeat them.
In fact, Sega has admitted to this. Sega Europe’s marketing director, Jon Rooke, remarked last year that Sonic‘s recent output hasn’t been entirely acceptable, and that Sega/Sonic Team aim to have the new games inspired by how they played in their heyday. Furthermore, Aaron Webber, the man behind the infamous official Sonic Twitter account, has also admitted that 2014’s Sonic Boom disaster was a rough time for Sonic, while also elaborating on Sonic’s ups and downs.
So, does Jon Rooke’s comment mean we may see a new game in the vein of Generations?
Well, not so fast; that the game is coming out in 2017 means it’s likely not based on any recent gameplay concepts. We would’ve probably seen a Lost World sequel by now had it been similarly well-received, and while many asked themselves why Generations’ gameplay hadn’t been built upon, bear in mind that a) that was the third consecutive title in the “boost-to-win” style of play (following Unleashed and Colors) and b) it was also subject to much criticism, albeit more so with Unleashed‘s werehog nonsense.
Of course we want to see Sonic return to to the quality of the Genesis classics, where there weren’t any edgy plots, intrusive glitches and embarrassing gimmicks to ruin our fun. The key here is that while Sega can’t simply rehash what worked twenty years ago, Colors and Generations succeeded at avoiding their contemporary peers’ pitfalls.
Flawed as it was, Lost World was not overtly bug-ridden or far too angsty for a game starring a talking blue hedgehog. We aren’t anywhere near the depths of Sonic 06, so where is there to go but up?
We lack any concrete information on the next Sonic game to make a definite guess on what it is. However, its prolonged release date and constant communication with fans and media imply Sega and Sonic Team have our best interests in mind. Unless the first screenshots show off the likes of Big the Cat or the wedding of Sonic and Princess Elise in space, let’s not panic just yet.