While I said in my previous post that I didn’t actually mind Sonic Forces, there is no avoiding the fact that it just has not been a hit with the vast majority of Sonic The Hedgehog fans or gaming fans/ professionals in general. This has resulted in a lot of people asking “what’s next” for the Sonic franchise, myself included.
In my reading of various fans opinions of what the next move for Sonic could be I came across several incredibly interesting videos by fans Billiam and TheKazeblade on YouTube. While all of their videos are well worth a watch, they made two points that really struck out at me;
- Sonic is – and has always been – reactionary. (Billiam)
- The Sonic franchise is now so fractured that the brand identity is at risk of becoming completely obscured. (TheKazeblade)
Billiam and TheKazeblade were making their points in regards to gameplay decisions and designs throughout the Sonic franchise since (roughly) Sonic Adventure. Let’s take a look at those points a little more deeply.
Sonic As Reaction:
Since the very first game, Sonic The Hedgehog has been a reaction by Sega against something else. In 1991 it was Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. series. Arguably, if it was not for the Mario Bros. series, Nintendo would not have wiped the floor with all competition – including Sega – during the third generation of video games. With their new console, the Mega Drive, up and coming Sega wanted a title that would be able to wow gamers so much they would feel that had to buy a Mega Drive. They wanted a “Mario-killer.” In short, without Nintendo and Mario there would be no Sonic (although, arguably, a similar situation would have happened wherein the players are simply different).
It can be argued that this reaction-based development of games did not appear again until Sonic Shuffle in 2000, which was a reaction to the then popularity of party games such as Mario Party. Examining the Sonic releases from this point on it’s fairly easy to see what Sega was reacting to with each release.
- Shadow the Hedgehog was trying to ape the whole “dark is cool” thing into a prominently lighthearted series.
- Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood can be argued as being a response to the successful Mario RPG series.
- Sonic Unleashed‘s Werehog sections are thought to have been an attempt to implement some of the beat ’em up action that was popular in games such as Devil May Cry and God of War at the time.
- Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episodes 1 & 2 can be seen as reactionary for two reasons. Firstly, a very vocal portion of long time Sonic fans had been crying out for the return of Classic Sonic (the 16-bit Sonic) for some time. With each new release this cry grew louder. Sonic 4 was an attempt by Sega to placate these fans. The game also uses the episodic delivery method which had previously been made popular by games such as the Half-Life 2 episodes and Telltale‘s various adventure games.
- Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is an obvious reaction to the popularity of kart racing games, which first came to large scale prominence with Mario Kart.
- Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric / Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal were attempts by Sega to make the Sonic series more palatable to younger gamers who they felt were more interested in the combat and exploration gameplay of titles such as Banjo-Kazooie and Jak & Daxter.
- Sonic Mania, like Sonic 4, was another attempt by Sega to keep happy those fans who wished for a return to Sonic’s traditional roots. Unlike Sonic 4, however, this one was successful.
- Sonic Forces‘ inclusion of the Avatar character has been said to have been included because Sonic Team was aware how many fans enjoyed creating custom characters through fan art and would like to actually see these in game. It could be argued that this feature is more a “gift” from Sonic Team to fans than a reaction to their want to have original characters appear alongside their hero, but as I’m really not sure how big that desire was I’ll just leave it here.
A Fractured Franchise:
There currently exists three versions of Sonic; Classic Sonic (1991-1997 plus Generations, Forces and Mania), Modern Sonic (1998-on apart from Mania) and Sonic Boom Sonic. Of these, only Sonic Boom Sonic is really well defined in what he is and what he is about, due to the obvious differences in the Boom series’ gameplay, story and Boom Sonic’s appearance.
The problem with both Modern and Classic Sonic is that apart from the visuals there is not really any way to tell them apart. Both have the same story line, both have many similarities in playstyle and they both, a lot of the time, appear in each other’s games. TheKazeblade talks about this much more succinctly in his video Sonic Forces: The Problems We Are Ignoring, which you can see below.
While I’m sure that story is not the first consideration for many fans, or indeed Sega, when it comes to Sonic games, for myself it’s one of the things I look forward to most. One of my favourite aspects of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles is the ingenious way it tells its story via vocally-silent cut scenes.
Sonic‘s story had been a bit all over the place pretty much since Sonic Adventure when suddenly humans were included in Sonic’s world. There have been one or two attempts to clarify the timeline but for the most part things still weren’t all that clear. However, everything took a whole new turn for the worse with Sonic Forces.
In Generations, it’s stated that Classic Sonic is a younger Modern Sonic whom Eggman has pulled out of time and thrown into the White Space dimension. The next time we see Classic Sonic is in Mania, a game that takes place directly after S3&K. At the end of Mania, Classic Sonic is transported by the Phantom Ruby in to the future again and the events of Sonic Forces take place.
Or so we thought.
In two separate instances it’s stated that Classic Sonic is now not Sonic from the past, but rather a younger Sonic from a parallel dimension. This is stated by both Tails and Eggman. However, Modern Sonic, upon greeting with his other-dimensional self, says “I haven’t seen you in generations,” confirming that this Classic Sonic is indeed the same Classic Sonic from Generations.
So, in short, Sonic Forces reconnected the whole Sonic the Hedgehog timeline, basically saying that Classic Sonic has experienced everything Modern Sonic has just in a different dimension, but is only up to Sonic & Knuckles thus far, then everything splits with Mania. Or something.
We don’t actually know if Modern Sonic experienced the events of Mania as well, but it would seem he didn’t as during Forces he’d never seen the Phantom Ruby before. There are many other questions this retcon brings up, such as how the two Eggmen escaped from the White Space dimension, among others.
My problem with this is that it adds another layer of confusion to an already cumbersome story/timeline. It also negates the importance of Classic Sonic by making him the “other” Sonic. As it was both Modern Sonic and Classic Sonic were the same character, just at different periods of his life. One was just as important as the other. Now, rather than Mania being a previously unknown adventure of one unique character, it’s now the adventure of the “other” Sonic that only takes place in a side-series, not the main line, suggesting it isn’t as important.
So Why A Reboot?
Reboots have something of a bad name at the moment. Once the “thing to do,” Hollywood has turned them into the quick money grab of the creatively exhausted. However, the recent reboots of Tomb Raider and Wolfenstein have proven that they can be done well.
Reboots have the ability to re-focus a series and trim its fat, and this is something the Sonic series badly needs. As stated, Boom is already well defined so we don’t need to worry about that, but the other two really need to be sorted. Perhaps Classic Sonic should be a dedicated 2D, side scrolling platformer as we saw with Mania, while Modern Sonic concentrates on 3D, boost gameplay without the reliance on 2D-elements. As for the storyline they can be different Sonics from different dimensions, but make their experiences individual. At the very least, get someone who can write good stories (Ian Flynn, anyone?)
A reboot would also allow Sega to put aside the negative press that has been heaped on Sonic games of the past and start afresh. Before the release of Mania, Sega admitted that the quality of previous Sonic titles had suffered due to a lack of development time and promised fans that going forward they would concentrate on quality rather than getting games out for the holiday season. However, we know that those promises were somewhat hollow as both Mania and Forces were rushed towards the end of their development cycles. Should Sega wish to revisit this promise and take it seriously a reboot would give them the ability to do this with a clean slate. However, it would probably necessitate the complete change of the Sonic Team, er, team.
Personally, I doubt we will see a Sonic reboot, especially after the failure of Sonic ’06 and Sonic Boom. Still, I hold out hope that at the very least Sonic Team will start treating the Sonic series with the care and professionalism that the character and his fans deserve. They need to decide how they want to handle both the 3D and 2D games and stop treating Classic Sonic as a fall-back plan. They need to give their games the time they deserve to come out in the best shape as possible. They need to look back at what made Sonic great in the first place and start from there.