Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the most iconic video game characters ever created. He spent the majority of his early days riding along the highway of fame, arguably even surpassing that of Super Mario and Mickey Mouse for a period of time. Most 90s gamers, even if they weren’t Sonic fans, can recall that he was just about everywhere. SEGA even got Michael Jackson to work on the soundtrack for Sonic 3. Indeed, the Blue Blur was a big deal.
As time went on, SEGA themselves began to develop a very big problem. They couldn’t stick to simply holding onto one system, which led them to create a variety of different devices. With all the trouble they were causing for themselves, this eventually began to interfere with their game development, naturally including their prized mascot. This was the beginning of Sonic’s fall from grace.
After SEGA’s final system, the Dreamcast, went bust, Sonic was left without a proper home. This was where the tumultuous ‘reset’ truly began. With Sonic becoming a multi-platform franchise, as well as the changing trends in the industry, Sonic Team tried hard to capture the magic that Sonic was originally known for, only in a new light. This led to many reinventions of the formula, most of which proved to be less than stellar. But the real rotten fruit of the batch was none other than the ‘next-gen reboot’ of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.
Sonic 06 was set to be a very important entry into the series. The reason being was that it would usher in the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3, and even the Wii, originally. Since all of those systems were brand new at the time, added to the fact that HD gaming was also a new thing, Sonic 06 had the perfect opportunity to give the series its first big shot at being a new third-party IP.
The Dreamcast’s demise came early on during the 6th generation, which caused SEGA to be consumed by a huge wave of embarrassment and disarray. While they were able to collect themselves and get back into game development fairly quickly, it wasn’t until the turn of the 7th generation that they got their real ‘second chance’; now being to able to reinvent and reestablish themselves properly.
In the beginning, Sonic 06 actually looked rather promising. Many fans were very impressed by its initial announcement trailer, as it showed off Sonic like we’d never seen him before. He was faster and more agile. When the game was finally shown off in motion, the excitement grew even more. Mach-speed levels and being able to control multiple characters were now confirmed; it was definitely looking good. And of course, this was all being complimented by the shiny new HD graphics.
Unfortunately, the level of excitement would soon be diminishing very quickly.
Sonic Team, the studio behind the game, was put into a very difficult position. SEGA wanted them to have the title done by the time the PlayStation 3 released. At this point, the team had been divided; as mentioned before, Sonic 06 was originally intended to be on the Wii as well, but then the decision was made to have a game that would properly take advantage of the system’s motion controls. Thus, Sonic Team was split in half.
With the development of the game now put under more pressure, the team’s morale began to decrease rapidly. It was frustrating enough that they were trying to create a new game on hardware that was still foreign to them, but no doubt the time limit and team split just made things much worse. What was probably the biggest monkey wrench thrown in the gears is the fact that Yuji Naka, one of the founding fathers of the Sonic franchise, had announced his resignation from SEGA during the game’s development. Indeed, this was an incredibly tumultuous period for the team, and is appropriately called the ‘dark ages’, as a result. Finally, towards the end of 2006, out of this troubled studio two games were birthed and neither of them were anywhere near the state the level of quality that Sonic fans approved of. Sonic 06 went on to become ranked as one of the worst video games ever created and, while better received, Sonic & the Secret Rings was considered to be a very unorthodox and frustrating debut title on the Wii.
So then, how has Sonic fared since his massive fall from grace?
Well, Sonic Team went on to once again try and reinvent the series with the 2008 release of Sonic Unleashed, which ended up being along the lines of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Once again, it was obvious that having conflicting ideas interact with each other just didn’t work, causing the game to be a controversial success; while parts of it really sucked, it became the blueprint for Sonic’s eventual return to fame a few years down the road. 2009 saw the release of Sonic & the Black Knight, the sequel to Sonic & the Secret Rings. Still relying on motion controls, the game was dismissed due to its poor attempt at trying to utilize the Wii’s unique features. After this, Sonic Team put the Sonic Storybook Series to bed permanently. Now, here’s where things started to get good.
2010 was a breakout year for the franchise, with 4 games releases spread out across the calendar. With 3 spin-offs and 1 main entry, Sonic experienced his best year in a very long time; nearly 10 years to be exact. The highlight of this event is none another than Sonic Colors. Once again being a Wii (as well as DS) exclusive Sonic title, Sonic Team decided to try things the more traditional way. Using the acclaimed super-speed formula from Sonic Unleashed, Colors gave fans exactly what they wanted. The game went on to sell over 1 million copies across the two platforms.
Finally, Sonic Team truly brought the house down with Sonic Generations in 2011. Being the 20th anniversary for the series, Sonic Team sought to create a massive celebration of the Hedgehog’s life up to that point. This resulted in the game sporting iconic stages from past entries in the series across the different eras, in new, re-imagined forms. Releasing on the 360, PS3, PC and also 3DS, Generations was the title that fully ignited the flames of hope that Sonic actually had a good thing going again.
2012 was also a decent year with the releases of Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, as well as Sonic 4 Episode II. Both of these titles were well received and released on all major platforms. The 2013 release of Sonic Lost World on Wii U and 3DS was rather controversial. While the game itself wasn’t truly bad, like Sonic 06, Sonic Team once again decided to uproot and recreate the formula from scratch, thus resulting in a title that had quite a number of ideas jammed into it all at once. Really, it wasn’t until 2014 that things started to look bad again.
Sonic Team took a step out of the spotlight, bringing the studios of Big Red Button and Sanzaru Games to the forefront to work on the tie-in titles for the Sonic franchise’s newest branch, Sonic Boom. Each studio handled a different title on Wii U and 3DS, respectively. Unfortunately, neither did a great job. While Sanzaru’s story hasn’t been brought to light, Big Red Button’s dirty laundry has been hung out for the world to see.
Responsible for Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, BRB’s track record left fans quite surprised at the product they received. Consisting mostly of former members of the acclaimed studio Naughty Dog, BRB seemed like quite the competent bunch, yet Rise of Lyric greatly disproved that notion. The title’s development journey was all too similar to that of Sonic 06, with the team once again being pressured to have the game finished quickly, all while trying to learn foreign hardware. Conditions were so bad that the majority of the staff actually resigned throughout the time of the game’s creation. The end result was a title that somehow ended up even more broken and appalling than that of Sonic 06; a feat that no Sonic fan could have ever imagined.
At this point, we’ve just about caught up to the present. Sonic has been relatively quiet since his surprising new slip-up in 2014. With it now being his 25th anniversary, SEGA has already began hyping up the big event. While no official details have been released yet, one can only hope that whatever the new game is, it’s going to be huge. Putting aside the Boom titles, we actually haven’t gotten a new Sonic game since Lost World. The new anniversary title will more than likely release towards the end of this year, like most big Sonic games, thus resulting in a 3 year gap between releases. An event like this hasn’t occurred since the 90s when SEGA was flopping between the Saturn and Dreamcast, thus resulting in the Saturn ultimately not getting a real Sonic game at all.
Truly, the series is in a very delicate position. It’s amazing that the it has even managed to survive for this long with such a terrible record. It’s been going for 25 years, and over 10 of those have been filled with great turmoil. Due to the big screw up of 2014, Sonic Team now has the duty of once again trying to redeem the brand and sparking new hope. Can they do it? Well, if Colors and Generations are anything to go by — Sonic’s new game is probably going to end up being pretty amazing.