Sega hates Sonic the Hedgehog.
After years of watching Sega take their greatest mascot and slowly change him from excellent to terrible, this is the only logical conclusion I can come to. Look at the last handful of Sonic games, and you’ll see what I mean. Ever since his crossover into the third dimension, Sonic the Hedgehog has been a name to fear, and for all the wrong reasons.
Imagine my disappointment when I read the news that a new Sonic game is on the way – and this time Sonic Team is setting out to definitively prove that the concept can work in 3D. Feel like crying yet?
Entire generations of gamers have all but written Sonic games off at this point, and it really is a shame. The early Sonic games were brilliant – excellent level design and solid gameplay elements lent themselves to create a truly memorable and fun experience. And yet with every new release, Sega further proves to us that they now care nothing about the franchise, and I fear that this new game will be more of the same.
So why do I still hold out hope for the speedy blue Erinaceinae? At this point, i’m not really sure. I guess I just hate to see a handful of awesome games get trashed by people who’ve never played them, merely because their successors are utterly terrible.
Now it seems rather obvious to me, but apparently the knuckle-heads over at Sega have a hard time grasping this one, so let me write a couple of paragraphs about it. The underlying problem with all the new Sonic games is that the concept of Sonic the Hedgehog does not, can not, and will not translate to 3D. All it takes is a cursory look at the history of the franchise to understand why.
The original Sonic games were about exploration, speed, and control. As you ran around the massive levels, you got to explore many different routes, each with a unique set of traps and situations for the player. Often, even the slightest variation on your route through a level would result in the discovery of a whole new area – many containing secret power-ups or even gateways to special levels. Players enjoy being rewarded for straying off the main path, and the original games were genius in their delivery of this concept. Unfortunately, this notion is lost in the translation to 3D, because your view is no longer confined to your immediate surroundings; you can see the entire level ahead of you as you play. Other games, like the Mario and Zelda series, have found their own ways of preserving exploration in a 3D environment, but it is obviously a rather large beast to tame, and I am not sure that it could work for Sonic.
The aspects of speed and control are also hurt greatly by the third dimension. In 2D, you were running either left or right, and all you had to do to dodge obstacles was jump, spin, or try to stop. Massive speeds could be achieved because the options the player had were relatively simple, so the player didn’t have to think about all sorts of button combinations or moves to avoid trouble. Simple, but effective. In the newer 3D iterations of Sonic, almost all the speedy segments are usually on-rails ring collecting orgies, which I can almost understand, given the lack of control you have in any free-roaming running environment. 2D Sonic gave you ultimate control of a fast hedgehog and asked you to use them as best you could to conquer a difficult game. 3D Sonic took away your control and asked you to conquer an easy game. Guess which one turned out to be more fun?
There are certainly many more reasons why the original concepts of Sonic the Hedgehog do not translate into 3D, but I am tired of going on about this. Every time Sega announces a new Sonic game, I hope that they’ll do the right thing and make a 2D version with 3D graphics, but each time I am let down. There is so much possibility left in the realm of 2D games – and yet we move farther away from that with each new game released, for better or (usually) for worse.
One thing that does make me slightly more optimistic about Sonic Unleashed is that Sega has finally decided to stop adding weird-looking, exotic characters to the mix, and has instead settled on the three core players, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Unfortunately, this is tainted slightly by the fact that Sonic is taking a cue from Twilight Princess and will now have the ability to transform into a wolf of some sort. Ah, well.
I will (ignorantly) hold out hope that Sonic Team proves me wrong this time around. And there’s always a slim chance that someone from Sega will read my blog and remove all the things I find annoying in these games, right?
Well, I wrote it anyway. And now I’m going to go play some classic Sonic on my Xbox.
Update: Upon further inspection of some of the footage floating around out there, it seems like Sonic Team may have actually taken notes and done something right – the game looks like it just might be a 2D game with 3D graphics. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this when further details come to light, but for now, color me an excited shade of blue!