All Hail Sonic!

Shawn Williams | 20 Feb 2007 07:04
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Sonic Doom
With the arrival of the high-performance gaming platforms like the PS2 and Xbox, gamers were expecting new Sonic titles to really shine. In 2004, what gamers got instead was Sonic Heroes for the GameCube (then ported to the PS2, Xbox and PC).

The Sonic Team was trying to do the right thing, visually: Heroes harkened back to the original Sonic series in its look, but little else. Terrible control schemes haunted the game, and again poor camera control and numerous bugs plagued its release. Instead of focusing on Sonic and his speed, attention was split between a dozen characters with much more focus on combat.

But if combat was more of the focus in Heroes, it was all the focus in Shadow The Hedgehog, released in November 2005. Although the game focused on Shadow instead of Sonic, Sonic was a character in the game and was featured extensively. The game earned an ESRB rating of 10+ (the first Sonic title to do so), and it bombed commercially.

Ironically enough, it would be Sega's old rival and their superb handheld platform that managed to save some of Sonic's dignity. That same November, Developer Dimps avoided the mistakes that Sonic Team made. When they released Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS in 2005, it paid homage back to the speedy rush of blazing through levels that made the original Sonic games such fun. It was what gamers expected in a Sonic title.

Sonic Riders was released in celebration of Sonic's 15th anniversary on the GameCube, PS2, Xbox and PC, in 2006. The game was supposed to be about speed - only this time utilizing "Extreme Gear" (though we still have no one shouting "To the max!"). It was another tough turn for Sonic fans, as the game was "Extreme"-ly difficult and frustrating. This time, the attitude was right, but the gameplay was wrong. Most fans liked Sonic better before he started slumming with Tony Hawk.

Then came Sonic The Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 (and soon the PS3). Instead of re-imagining Sonic, as the title seemed to imply, the game followed right along with much of what had come before: poor control, buggy code, and horrific camera control .

Sonic Symbol?
Sonic is no longer the mascot gamers grew up loving. His image is completely muddied and iconic of nothing. He can't be counted on for fun gameplay, he isn't symbolic of a powerful and fast system - you can't even associate him with family-friendly titles. Perhaps it was because Sega no longer focused on a sole platform, or perhaps it was because of too many incarnations to keep straight, but Sonic himself is no longer focused on a central message. Sonic, is no longer Sonic.

Sonic may never regain the market significance he once had, but few other mascots ever single-handedly played such a pivotal role in the world of videogames. No matter what came after his first appearance, no matter what is still to come, Sonic was an incredible influence on the world of gaming and will always have a place in our hearts. And maybe some day he'll be fast again. Maybe someday, once more, he'll scream. We can only hope.

Shawn "Kwip" Williams is the founder of N3 (NeenerNeener.Net), where he toils away documenting his adventures as the worst MMOG and pen-and-paper RPG player in recorded history.

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