Sega is intensely aware that the glory days of its onetime mascot are well in the past, and does intend to fix it - but it'll take some time.
Earlier this month, I was able to attend a Video Games Live concert down here in Raleigh, NC, and one of the series paid homage to was Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. As the orchestra went through the classic Sonic theme, the screen played footage from every single game in the franchise in chronological order - and I wonder just how many people in the audience other than myself were wishing that the footage would just stop after Sonic and Knuckles.
It's no secret that Sonic's latest outings haven't been ... well, to be charitable, they haven't been all that good. On Metacritic, the highest-rated version of Sonic Unleashed is the Wii version, sitting at a thoroughly mediocre 66. Even that was a step up from 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog, with a rating of 46. It's obvious to all but the most strident of Sega fanboys that the best days of the Blue Blur are behind us.
Apparently, it's obvious to Sega, too. Sega of America Marketing VP Sean Ratcliffe told IndustryGamer that the criticism for the recent direction of the Sonic franchise was "warranted" and that Sega was spending "a lot of time and effort...discussing how we develop Sonic."
Unfortunately, this was a year ago - before Sonic Unleashed came out last November to a lukewarm-at-best reception. When pressed for a followup, Ratcliffe responded that the quality of the franchise was "something that will be fixed over time. It's not something where you wake up one morning and say, 'You know what, we're going to improve our quality on this franchise,' and it magically happens. A lot of hard work goes into striving for quality."
Still, Ratcliffe doesn't necessarily think Unleashed was all that bad - while older Sonic fans might have been rather unhappy with the "Werehog" segments, those very same sections were "very well received" by younger children.
On the one hand, okay. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, here. It's true that Sonic Unleashed was a step up from Sonic 2006, much like getting punched in the stomach is a step up from being punched in the groin. But is it really that hard to say "Right, let's make a good game this time"? Is it really so hard to make a Sonic game free from poorly-executed gimmicks other than "running really fast"?
Ratcliffe won't rule out a return to 2D, either, citing the series' success on the iPhone, and PSN and XBLA as two platforms that made cheaper arcade-style games viable once again:
"[T]hat's a big part of our strategy, in terms of taking classic IP and making it available digitally, rather than spend a huge amount of money trying to re-imagine that IP on 360 and PS3; there's a lot more financial risk attached to that."