We’ve Got The Sonic Mania! – A Sonic the Hedgehog Retrospective
The Start of it All
I feel like most people when starting to talk about modern Sonic games would start with a highly emotional nostalgia trip back to the glorious 90’s. Now as any rational person will tell you, the 90’s were anything but glorious, S Club 7 existed. But, I didn’t actually grow up in those terrifying times of Double Dare and cheesy video game commercials.
I’m actually just a filthy noughties kid, who’s first experience with the Sonic franchise was Sonic Heroes back in 2003. I wasn’t around for Sonic’s debut, or his trailblazing games that saw him even surpass Mario in terms of fan response and love. But, I’m not going to claim for a minute that I was ‘born in the wrong generation’ because for all intents and purposes that would make me a twat.
But, my love of Sonic is as well founded as any child of the 90’s, and is probably the reason that I’m not only writing this article today, but the reason I’m gaming at all today. Sonic Heroes was the first game I ever played, and while it’s considered by most to be one of the franchises weaker entries, I was 7! I didn’t have anything to compare it to, not even other video games!
The characters in their anthropomorphic animal forms were initially striking and ‘super mega cool’ to my younger self, and upon actually starting the game, I was BLOWN AWAY by it. The sheer speed, the graphics and especially the music were insane, and I often find myself humming level tracks randomly at times out of nowhere.
I’m not gonna attach any real emotional weight to this nostalgia, because that’s just lazy and I wouldn’t be telling the truth. All I can say is that Sonic has remained a very important figure throughout my time gaming. His games have had a presence through each console generation, and even each year in my life, for better or for worse. (That trip to Deviant Art was a mistake). So, why is this most recent return to the franchise so massive in the eyes of many gamers? Well, I shall explain.
A Troubled Past
The general consensus that Sonic had 5 games in the early 90’s that are heralded as some of the greatest games ever made in their genre. Sonic 1, 2 3, 3 + Knuckles, and Sonic CD. As mentioned, there was a time during the releases of these games where the great console war of Sega and Nintendo was raging. Sonic had established a huge fanbase simply by proxy, and the technical limitations of Nintendo’s consoles at the time saw Sonic look to overtake their Nintendo overlords.
However, after 3 + Knuckles, it’s hard to imagine what really happened in Sega’s offices. After making some of the most successful games of their time, instead of continuing to the trend and pumping out more and more 2D Sonic titles, they just kind of stopped. Instead, the company began to take much more experimental gambles on their mascot, with games such as Sonic 3D blast and the meme that was Sonic The Fighters being released in the later 90’s.
It wasn’t until 1998 where one of the fan favourite games, Sonic Adventure, was released for the Dreamcast, which unfortunately met its end a few years after, making it Sega’s last real console. At the time, this game was a technical marvel, and although much of it’s gameplay and voice acting may appear clunky by today’s standards, it still has a lot of love from gamers even outside of the Sonic fandom. It also was part of the trifecta of games also including Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, that really nailed the implementation of 3D gameplay.
In 2002, what is considered to be the most common fan favourite Sonic game was released, Sonic Adventure 2. Introducing iconic characters such as the (overly) edgy Shadow the Hedgehog and rather disturbingly voluptuous Rouge the Bat, it had a pretty damn good story and much refined gameplay, cementing it in the hearts of gamers everywhere. Unfortunately, this is where I consider Sonic begin to enter it’s darkest age.
While Sonic Heroes wasn’t TERRIBLY received, it was certainly the beginning of a bad time for the blue blur. 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog has gone down in history as one of the silliest and unironically edgy games ever made, and the following years ‘Sonic ‘06’ was just a technical and narrative trainwreck.
There were some good entries to handheld systems, the most notable being Sonic Rush which brought back the 2D gameplay focused more on straight line speed than the momentum based gameplay of it’s 90’s counterpart. 2008 saw the release of Sonic Unleashed, the game that introduced the ‘boost formula’. The boost formula is what is used to describe modern 3D Sonic gameplay, usually involving a very long level, with 2D and 3D elements, in which you move absurdly fast.
I personally think that the boost formula can be a shit ton of fun, especially when replaying levels and seeing what you really can do with Sonic’s moveset in order to shave time off your score. However, Unleased featured ‘Werehog’ sections, in which you played as a hulking werewolf-esque Sonic in a beat ‘em up style action game. It played as well as it sounds.
REJOICE! In 2010, Sonic Colours was released for the Nintendo Wii, and broke the chains off of Sonic’s negative streak. The gameplay, sound design, and especially its music got universal praise, and it’s one of the franchise’s best games. Sega then continued this success with 2011’s Sonic Generations. This game featured the boost formula, but also classic 2D sonic gameplay of the 90’s rebuilt for modern systems. It was safe to say that both modern, and classic fans saw it as a worthy entry into the franchise.
However, it wasn’t to last. 2014 was the release of the gaming meme that is…Sonic Boom. The game was a ruthlessly buggy, generic, and cringe worthy for the franchise, and it also spawned a TV show of which it’s initial episodes really didn’t hit the mark. But, I believe this cartoon to be one of the most important elements of the revival of Sonic into 2017, as well as SEGA’s newfound approach to how they handle their franchise.
The writers of Sonic Boom (the show), have really turned it around a full 180. Blessed with complete creative control, the show has become very popular with gamers, as it not only is it generally well written, animated, and well voice acted, but is one of the most bitingly self aware cartoons ever. Constant references to past Sonic gaming failures, poking fun at things like Deviant Art, clingy fans, classic easter eggs, etc, have helped cement Sonic’s identity as a character again.
He isn’t this cheesy product of the 90’s that had a nasty transition into the 2000’s with Youtube Nickleback AMV’s anymore, he’s just Sonic the Hedgehog. And that’s great.
With the initial trailer for Sonic Mania last year, and all the hype that has led up to it, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most anticipated games of the year. While Sonic as a character is back in gamers good graces, it’s safe to say that his games aren’t. That’s why Sonic Mania is so important, it’s the reintroduction of one of gaming’s greatest moments, recreated for a modern audience.
Sonic fans, myself included, are actually nuts. I actually think we have some form of Stockholm Syndrome, because no matter how many times Sonic seems to trip over, we always are confident he’ll get back up, much to the amusement of the wider gaming community. I think after so long though, it’s reached a boiling point. Sonic’s newest entries into the gaming world, Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces have a LOT riding on them, and although my excitement for both can’t be contained, I’m also nervous how the wider gaming culture is going to enjoy them.
I think Sonic is capable of being in some absolutely stellar games. Himself, as well as the cast of characters that go along with him, are great characters when written correctly. And if the gameplay can be further refined and improved, SEGA could be onto hits year after year after year.
All we can do now, is pray. And recite the ancient texts that teach us that we, gotta go fast.