All Hail Sonic!

Shawn Williams | 20 Feb 2007 11:04
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Such was his popularity at the time, he also starred in not one, but two animated series - Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog and Sonic The Hedgehog. Both series were produced by the same company, starring the same cast. Merchandising for the franchise took off, and Sonic could be seen in every conceivable market, from shampoo to a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Sonic - and Sega - was everywhere. From 1989 to 1993, Sega went from $800 million in annual sales to over $3.6 billion. Sonic wasn't a mascot, he was a leviathan.

In 1994, Sonic The Hedgehog 3 came out for the Genesis, to be followed later that year with the "other half" of Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles. The two games made use of "Lock-On" technology - the ability to plug the Sonic 3 cartridge into the back of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, which then plugged into the Genesis. What did this do? Lock-on worked to fuse both games together, which allowed players to move through the two games seamlessly.

Adding a bit of dimension into Sonic's usual adversaries, Knuckles went against Sonic because Dr. Robotnik had tricked him. In Sonic & Knuckles, Robotnik betrayed Knuckles, and now Knuckles joined forces with Sonic. It was a bit more depth than previous Sonic titles, and with fantastic gameplay to accompany it, the game was (and still is) held in very high regard as a pinnacle of 2-D gaming.

But soon, Sonic became a victim of his own success: Never mind shampoos and cartoons - because he was such an icon, it seemed developers felt they could slap his face on any game, and it would sell. From 1994 to 1999, a number of "Sonic" titles came out on a variety of platforms. From the truly horrible Sonic Drift for the GameGear to the downright blasphemous Sonic Schoolhouse for the PC, Sonic's once-golden image was badly tarnished.

Sonic Redemption?
Sonic Adventure came out for the Dreamcast in 1999 and successfully transitioned Sonic to 3-D. The game played differently than other Sonic games; it featured a mix of platform gameplay, puzzle solving and even exploring. It was a triumph, not only in restoring Sonic's good name but also in restoring him to the status of loved and trusted mascot. Once again, Sonic demonstrated the capabilities of a game system, this time proving the Dreamcast's power. Although Adventure suffered from difficult camera control and some troublesome control schemes, its sum was greater than its parts, and the world loved it.

But just as the Sonic brand was making a successful comeback, Sonic Shuffle arrived for the Dreamcast, in 2000. It was a disaster. Abandoning any pretense of original gameplay, it was a clone of the hugely successful Mario Party on the Nintendo. With ear-shattering music, terrible gameplay and horrific load-times, it accomplished the exact opposite of Sonic Adventure: Where Adventure demonstrated the advanced capabilities of the Dreamcast, Shuffle made it look like a technical disaster.

While Dreamcast fans were still staggering from this brutal treatment, Sonic Adventure 2 arrived in 2001 and promptly delivered a swift kick to the Chaos Emeralds. Although, in design, it wasn't a bad game, the Sonic gamers had grown to love was suddenly no longer a fun, carefree hedgehog. With the introduction of Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic's villainous rival, the series seemed to be trying to shed the fun image that made it such a favorite. In its stead was a new game with a darker, grittier hedgehog. A hedgehog so gritty, he grinds like a rollerblader. Sonic and Shadow ground so hard, they had their own model of SOAP shoes and inspired kids to get their own and grind along with them.

As a result, Sonic ended up looking less like a cool, hip re-imagination of himself, and more like a joke - a mockery of "cool," brought about by boardroom executives and a PR department. All the game lacked was an "X-treme" athlete with his baseball hat cantered sideways, screaming, "To the max!"

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