by, 15 Oct 2010 at 07:08 PM (2207 Views)
Ah, Sonic The Hedgehog. Not many franchises can claim as many highs and lows. I wish I could be excited for its 20th anniversary next year but if something that was supposed to be for the old fans (Sonic 4) can be completely busted in physics and control, I have to wonder what new lows the Sega-Sammy franchise wrecking machine is striving for. I actually do think next month's Sonic Colors looks quite nice in videos but it's most definitely still guilty until proven innocent.
Anyway, while I have long lost faith in official new Sonic releases, I do think back to what made me such a fan in the first place. For the entire decade prior to Sonic, platform games in their various forms were my favourite genre. Donkey Kong was my introduction and I found its "jump and run" gameplay more appealing than shooters, sports games, and other genres. I loved experiencing the evolution of these character-based jump and run games. Single-screen games evolved into flip-screen games and side-scrollers. Pretty soon there was a co-existence of mascot platformers, action platformers, puzzle platformers, platform/adventure games, run 'n guns, etc.. Most of those labels didn't exist yet but the genre and its hybrids had become quite varied even before Super Mario Bros..
As much as I loved the genre, by 1991 I wasn't expecting much in terms of gameplay innovation. It seemed like most concepts in 2d platform gaming had been done and all that was left was to make prettier versions of existing stuff with minor gameplay tweaks. Still, my expectations were high for Sonic given the hype from gaming mags.
I was determined to play the game day one. Back then "day one" meant calling around various stores to see where it arrived first. Official release days were virtually non-existent or at least not generally told to the public. As I expected a specialty store across town called Encore Video Games got it first out of the places I knew, and so I rented it. Besides being wowed by seeing the graphics in motion, what amazed me was the that it did manage to innovate in gameplay. Sure, the basic jumping and smacking enemies was familiar but smoothly rolling in and out of curved surfaces felt incredibly fresh. I wish I could articulate it better but this new take on play style, "living pinball" physics, and multi-layered level design combined with some of the best art direction around made it something special. It rightly deserved its GOTY awards.
It wasn't just the game itself I loved, it was its impact on the industry. For years, many excellent Sega games had been denied mainstream success. Sonic + proper advertising finally let the company and its game designers get some glory. That's not to say there weren't still plenty of underdogs or that Sega's corporate side was immune to shitty things (like censorship and stopping unlicensed stuff) but it was a healthier, more balanced industry overall than in the previous console gen.
Aside from some iffy level design in parts of Sonic & Knuckles, the 16-bit sequels were very well done. I was worried that Sega was releasing too many similar games too soon, though. I had hoped they would approach things like Nintendo was doing with Mario, i.e. differentiating the sequels and not releasing them so quickly. At least they weren't anywhere near as rehash-y as Mega Man. Of the sequels, Sonic CD had the biggest impact on me. I dug the time travel aspect, time attack, and the psychedelic atmosphere.
I'm not going to recap all the disappointing 3d Sonics but I did love the first Sonic Adventure and half of the sequel. I think what bothers me more than existence of shitty modern Sonics is that it seems like they have managed to damage respect of the Genesis classics to some degree. An example - http://retro.ign.com/articles/955/955741p1.html
Now, this piece of shit fanboy probably thought the same thing back then as well but the difference is that I doubt anyone in the early '90s media would actually say something like that and have it published. It's only because Sonic's reputation has gone to hell because of recent games.IGN Insider's Michael Thomsen goes so far to decree the whole franchise a sham from the beginning, saying "Our fondness for Sonic is a generational illusion."
I don't see Sega abandoning the franchise anytime soon. The games continue to sell regardless of quality. If it were up to me, I would take the ironic route by selling the franchise to Nintendo, and having EAD Tokyo do the next one. A more likely scenario for a quality Sonic game is that fan-made polygon Sonic 2 remake coming soon.
While I would like to see some great new Sonic games in the future, it won't affect my love for gaming at all if we don't. I have plenty of other games to look forward to, and in general I prefer seeing new stuff over sequels anyway (I'm really hoping Epic Mickey with its emergent design will be the next gameplay evolution for mascot platformers). It would be a real shame if future generations don't experience the classic Sonics, though. They have stood the test of time so far and I see no reason why they won't continue to do so.
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