GameCrank: Has Sonic Been Saved? Part 1

Patrick

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: introductions to “Sonic the Hedgehog” are pointless. We all know who he is. We all know the franchise has a problem. We all (should) know that his games mostly stink. However, most of us don’t know how to fix any of these things. There have been spit-ball speculations as to how Sega might save the franchise, but here, I’m just going to give my take on how things are going right now and what Sonic is doing right and wrong.

First of all, I must acknowledge that I haven’t played all the way through “Sonic Generations.” I’ve played scant portions of it with friends and I’ve combed over the demo in every way I can, plus I’ve seen and read plenty of reviews on it. Overall, my impression is that it’s looking to be pretty awesome. I’ve heard from some people that the game gets too frustrating later on in the 2nd half of the story, which is a possibility that I’m willing to accept (it’s definitely happened before, even in the good Sonic games). However, I’m still going to end up buying it–not used, but, of course, new.

Why am I buying it new? Why am I passing up the opportunity to get a cheaper game when I already have very little income? Well, here we go: it’s time for a story.

You see, when people make articles and videos about ideas for Sega on how to revive “Sonic the Hedgehog,” they probably don’t realize that Sega doesn’t have to listen to them. They don’t need criticism. They know that even if they made “Sonic ’06,” which they did, they’d still make their money back. You know why?

Sonic fans don’t care about his games, not in the slightest.

Just remake “Superman 64” and replace Superman’s model with a Super Sonic model, and people would still buy it. You see, there are two main demographics for Sonic games: small children with nondiscriminatory tastes, and crazy people. Harsh generalization, I know, but that’s the truth of it, folks. Neither one of them is going to dissapear any time soon. As long as kids don’t turn picky about their cartoon characters, and as long as the nostalgia-blinded troglodytes stay happy  (being reminded of a time when they were kids who weren’t picky about their cartoon characters), then Sonic will still stay alive forever. This should be laid bare because it shows how noble Sega is for trying to get Sonic back on track and appeal to new audiences when they never had to. They could’ve kept on rehashing the franchise ’til the end of time and people would still buy Sonic games.

But now, Sega realizes that there’s profit to be made in appealing to people who actually like good games. So, instead of shoving Sonic into another storybook to make “Sonic and the *Insert Bad Parody of Famous Literature Here*,” they actually did what people had been wanting them to do for years: take “Sonic Unleashed,” remove the annoying garbage, and make regular levels.

I don’t think people realize how much effort goes into making “Sonic Unleashed” levels. You have to balance the physics with the level design, make huge, creative, expansive worlds that the player will probably just end up blazing through, and actually make sure that the controls are precise to the point where they aren’t annoying. That’s the kind of stuff about which I imagine the guys at Sonic Team have had nightmares, but now, they’re actually reality.

Unfortunately, another nightmare is that “Sonic Colors,” my absolute favorite 3D Sonic game and one of my favorite overall Wii games ever, was a commercial disappointment for Sega. It sold only half as much as “Sonic ’06” and barely one fourth as much as the original “Sonic Unleashed” (it didn’t even pass the 1 million mark). Goody.

So, after all of that, ask yourself: from a business perspective, what good reason would Sega have to make another polished Sonic game? You see, not only did Sega not make that much money off of “Colors,” but it lost a lot of time, too. All those hours poring over each little aspect, making that game as good as they possibly could, might have been spent making another “Sonic Riders” game and even another broken, handheld port of the Genesis games. In other words, Sega and Sonic Team were punished for putting time and effort into their games when they could have made a bigger profit by doing half as much work.

Well, now we have “Generations.” Apparently, those guys up there at the decision table actually had some hope. However, they knew that if they made an actually original game like “Colors,” it would appear foreign and unfamiliar to the masses. So, conveniently around Sonic’s 20th anniversary, Sega decided to literally take old levels from prior Sonic games, re-package them, and sell them as “Sonic Unleashed”-style daytime stages.

Ride on, you rainbow stallions of creativity.

I’m still not sure why I’m the only one who finds this distressing. I try to ask people why they think letting Sega sit around and not make anything new is okay. The response is always something like this: “Oh, it’s all right if they do it this one time. It’s Sonic’s 20th Anniversary!”

Now, I want you to apply that concept to any other franchise. I hate to go with the one that’s always contrasted with his old rival, but imagine if Mario did this sort of thing. This year is his 30th anniversary. What did Nintendo do to celebrate the occasion? Did they release a Mario Generations game that took levels from all of his older games and remake them as “Super Mario Galaxy” levels? No. He’s had a regular sports game, plus he’s going to have a brand-spanking-new 3D game on the 3DS. None of the boxes containing his games this year say “Celebrating Mario’s 30-Year Anniversary!”. The only thing Nintendo has done to acknowledge this occasion is make a free tribute movie that can be viewed online without paying $60. They aren’t using it as some kind of marketing hook to try to sell their games to nostalgic fans. Their hook for these games is that people know they’re going to be good, separate from nostalgia.

How is it okay to “cut some slack” for someone that you are paying with your own hard-earned (or in my case, hard-mooched)money? Sega should be catering to you, not the other way around! We’re the ones who put food on their tables. I think that entitles us to a little compensation, don’t you?

So, yes, that’s what I find wrong with Sonic now: he’s still playing it safe. I don’t know if he’ll ever let go of the “Sonic Unleashed” engine, nor do I think people will care that much. And that’s what’s wrong; but we still have what’s right left to discuss.

GameCrank is written by columnist Patrick Pontes.

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