With SEGA confirming two new Sonic games for 2017 during San Diego Comic-Con, one Game Rant writer looks at why the year could be make or break for the super-fast hedgehog.
Although fans of Sonic the Hedgehog have had a few years in the wilderness in terms of good games, there was an undeniable level of excitement after SEGA announced not one but two new Sonic titles during San Diego Comic-Con. In Spring, a 2D platformer named Sonic Mania is going to be released, providing both new levels and reimagined versions of classics from the Genesis era. Then, later in the year, a brand new as-yet-untitled Sonic game is also going be available.
A new game was something that many Sonic fans were certainly expecting soon. After all, Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka had already confirmed that a new Sonic the Hedgehog game was in development. With the hedgehog himself also reaching the milestone of 25 years since the first game was launched, there was always the notion that SEGA would have something major planned for its popular mascot.
However, in spite of the fact that many fans will now be counting down the days until these two new Sonic games see release, there is also an uneasy sense of trepidation. The gaming community has lost more than a little faith in SEGA's ability when it comes to Sonic games. Indeed, in the eyes of many there has not been a Sonic game of genuine quality since 2011, when Sonic Generations was released.
A simple six year gap between good quality games would not necessarily be an issue for other franchises – as Half-Life fans know all too well – but the sheer number of games released under the Sonic brand means that followers of the franchise have been buried under plenty of other titles since Generations saw release. Although Sonic: Lost World came in for middling reviews, other games released for the IP have not had as good a reception at launch, with Sonic BOOM the worst culprit.
The 2014 title was supposed to be a brand new re-imagining of the Sonic brand, but instead became a notorious example of yet another Sonic game released in a near-unplayable state. In the end, the title was an unmitigated disaster for SEGA, proving to be a bomb for both critics and fans, resulting in extremely poor sales. What's more, Sonic BOOM was such a tremendous failure that it left a serious black mark against the name of the Sonic property as a whole.
As such, SEGA will be desperate to try to provide some quality gaming experiences for fans of the franchise, in order to bounce back and once again make Sonic one of the top video game brands. Sonic BOOM caused SEGA to lose a lot of good work it had done to re-energize its most beloved character, with the moderate critical successes of Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations. However, that work has almost entirely been erased.
It unfortunately comes down to the fact that Sonic has not been on the receiving end of any stand-out classics for some time – perhaps even since Sonic & Knuckles in 1994. Neither Colors nor Generations achieved must-have status, but were instead seen merely as good games that could provide a solid foundation on which SEGA could work. With that in mind, it was easy for gamers to forget about them when faced with the messes of Sonic BOOM and Sonic '06.
Both Sonic Mania and the as-yet-untitled new Sonic game need to achieve at least the success seen from Generations and Colors in order for SEGA to win back fans once again. A quick turn-around of form would allow the publisher to help gamers forget about this new branding altogether, in favor of something new. Indeed, although the Sonic BOOM animated series has been renewed for another season, and Sonic BOOM: Fire & Ice is set to launch this September, it would not be surprising to see this version of Sonic and the gang retired in the near future.
So, what are the chances of SEGA being able to pull off two solid Sonic games in the space of a year? As it turns out, Spring's Sonic Mania already looks like a good bet to be a success. Fans of the franchise have been calling for a return to the excellent 2D platforming of old for an extremely long time, and the title has been entirely designed to tap in to this desire. With games such as Shovel Knight showing that retro platforming is still extremely popular, this new game should be able to easily find an audience.
Hopefully, Sonic Mania will be able to cater to fans in a more successful way than Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and a quick look at the team behind the game certainly points towards this being a possibility. The addition of Christian Whitehead to the development roster is definitely a positive one, as Whitehead was involved in a number of highly popular homemade Sonic ports before being brought in officially by SEGA to work on the successful re-releases of early Sonic games. Those at SEGA's Sonic celebration when the game was announced were given the chance to play a sample of the game, and so far opinions have been extremely positive.
However, the success of just Sonic Mania is unlikely to be enough to make sure that gamers see Sonic in a positive light once more. Instead, a lot still lies on the success of the new Sonic project that is due to be released by holiday 2017. That's clearly where SEGA's true focus lies, with the game being developed by the same team that made both Colors and Generations.
The stakes, therefore, are much higher when it comes to this new Sonic project. The trailer itself, by showcasing both a classic and a modern Sonic design, appears to suggest that it will act in a similar way to Sonic Generations, and a continuation of this theme or general design would no doubt suggest that SEGA was attempting to steer Sonic back in the right direction. There are, however, issues that need to be addressed – even if the new game is effectively Sonic Generations 2.
For starters, SEGA will be hoping that Sonic Team will be able to provide a solid framework for 3D gameplay. Even with Colors and Generations, the 3D sections felt more awkward than they ideally should have, and some may argue that Sonic has never quite got to grips with the jump to the third dimension. 3D Sonic games have always been rife with bugs, and gameplay has often felt more than a little ropey, so if Sonic Team can deliver on an improvement to this, then fans could be in for a treat.
What's more, the title may also need to provide one hugely important aspect – proof that Sonic is a necessary franchise in modern gaming. Aside from obvious bombs such as Sonic BOOM, the franchise has been treading water for some time, and without the character's status as one of the most important historical figures in gaming it's unlikely that a publisher would have persevered for so long on such mediocre critical returns. Now is the time for SEGA to actually give Sonic a place other than as a nostalgic callback.
Releasing two good games in the space of the year is, of course, easier said than done. However, by simply removing some of the typical Sonic game issues (such as awkward gameplay sections, a lack of focus, and serious bugs) these two new titles could easily take the franchise up a step. All that remains is to see exactly how the duo fares, and whether Sonic can finally take its rightful place back alongside the likes of Mario as a top tier gaming franchise.