I have a restless soul as you know, one that can’t be held back by petty, earthly concepts like meeting a regular deadline, responsible parenting, healthy eating habits, not contaminating offshore marine life habitats, and as such I spent the majority of the last two weeks in Milwaukee hanging out with my D&D group. I only stumbled back home at midnight on Thursday with a fried cheese curd hangover and another arrest warrant on me from the coastguard and as such only had one day to play something for this week’s ZP. How thoughtful of SEGA to put out a new Sonic the Hedgehog game on April 1st that can be played in slightly less than the time it takes to watch this video. Plus it’s free, which means I have no right to complain about it. Aw, Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s cute that you genuinely believe that, he said, as he laced up his favourite curbstomping boots. You absolutely cannot fault the title of the Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog at least. I mean, what a beautifully eye-catching premise. Equally so had it been the title of a Youtube video essay about Sonic Team’s handling of the franchise from 2000 onwards. Or an item on my to-do list. The trailer was fucking masterful. First thing you see is Sonic’s big fat corpse. Ooh, someone’s been reading my dream journal.
We then see Sonic’s usual stable of toothpick puppets masquerading as wildlife recast as stock Agatha Christie characters tasked with uncovering the dual mystery of who murdered Sonic the Hedgehog and what phenomenal degree of restraint they must have had to have waited this long. So this is jumping on the bandwagon of marking April Fools with a silly non-canon visual novel with an air of slightly desperate aw-shucks corporate manufactured self-awareness that already stopped fooling people around the time the Wendy’s Twitter account was a meme. Same energy as that dating sim the Dead by Daylight people put out to show everyone they’re not just about hideous violence and licensing every horror IP that can be cornered in a convention bathroom. They probably rejected the idea of doing a Sonic dating sim for the obvious reason that the fanbase absolutely should not be encouraged in this area. I mean, the other day I was curious to know how rising interest rates had affected the sale price of original Genesis game cartridges and the results I saw from googling “Sonic the Hedgehog inflation” will haunt me to my dying days. So the next most obvious visual novel sub-genre was of course the crime mystery in the Phoenix Wright – Danganronpa sort of area.
I won’t lie, it was partly the trailer and the premise and partly the Overwhelmingly Positive rating on Steam that made me want to play the game. And having done so I assume that the majority of those positive reviews are for the premise alone, or perhaps from people thinking this was some kind of referendum on how Sonic the Hedgehog should be handled in future, because I can’t imagine the majority of those twelve thousand reviewers actually played the fucking thing. If they had, they’d probably have been as disappointed as I was when it turned out that Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t actually get murdered in the Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog. Turns out he and his brigade of noodle-armed dinner plate-eyed pals are having a murder mystery party on a train and we’re just figuring out which of the cast is pretending to have murdered Sonic the Hedgehog. Fuck you, Sega, I wanted blood. That’s the trouble with an incredibly strong premise – so often the moment they have to exist for more than the three seconds it takes for the joke to wear off, the whole thing falls apart. I’d have preferred if they’d left it as an April Fools’ gag. And if you tried to open the game it was just a picture of Sonic wiggling his bum at an abstract representation of consumerism.
But no, attaching an actual playable game to the gag was apparently important to someone, so here we are. Sonic the Hedgehog and Tails the Fox and Knuckles the Echidna and Amy the other Hedgehog and all the rest are doing a murder mystery larp for Amy’s birthday and we play as Original the Character, a lowly steward given the job of solving the mystery while soliloquizing about how cool Sonic and his friends are and how cool it would be to fist bump them and kiss them on the bum. We then proceed through a micro murder mystery in which we internalize the alibis and known locations of all the participants and then use all your powers of logic and deduction to assemble a mental algorithm for the truth that you can use to pick the correct answer out of three dialog options. With infinite tries. Oh, and sometimes you have to present a piece of evidence, but never from more than two or three things because the game empties your inventory with the regularity of a psychotic anti-hoarding therapist. Always with a different excuse, too. “Oh, that piece of paper and stained fingernail clipping were just too heavy for my noodly arms so I ditched them before I moved on.” “I threw away the incriminating polaroid and recently fired pistol with clear fingerprints on the grip because I decided they didn’t spark joy.”
Alright, maybe the joke’s on me for expecting anything at all, but when it comes to gag games, if you’re going to actually follow through on making it then you might as well go whole hedge hog, at a certain point the degree of effort you’re putting into the gag game becomes the gag. Hatoful Boyfriend has a surprising amount going on once you get past the initial joke that it’s a game about snogging pigeons. What effort did go into Murder of Surder the Hurder feels misplaced, especially in the fucking thinking minigame. After you pick the correct option Original the Character’s thought process is represented by a little isometric Sonic level where we must collect a minimum amount of rings to proceed, and anyone who remembers Sonic 3D Blast knows that Sonic and isometric gameplay go together like teabagging and a kitchen waste disposal. It feels very out of place for this Sonic the Hedgehog game to let you play as Sonic the Hedgehog running fast and collecting rings. Don’t worry, I’m encroaching upon my point, which is that this April Fools gag game fails at the one metric by which such things can be judged: it’s just not stupid enough.
By the end it’s just another bloody Sonic game about Sonic being great and slapping Doctor Eggman in the face with his big smug hedgehog willy. A certain light is shed, however, when the end credits roll, and after the actual development team of like, four dudes has gone past, there’s a laundry list of SEGA higherups who all fingered the pie, including more than one person credited as “lore consultants.” I wanna meet the person whose job title is “Sonic the Hedgehog lore consultant” and ask them what their mother thinks they do for a living. It’s clear now: Mofo of Sofo the Hofo is a game that should have sought forgiveness rather than permission. It fell into the Epic Mickey trap – getting us all excited about some mad subversive vision for an established IP, but then decided to run it past that IP’s controllers and ran into a bunch of humourless cunts who want to make sure they don’t veer from the established style guide and wouldn’t understand irony if you melted down Alanis Morrissette and poured her scalding liquid form down their underpants. It was non-canon, guys, this was your chance to have Sonic do something nuts. Turn into a Zojirushi 3-cup rice cooker with detachable vegetable steamer. Or get a job as a data validation consultant for Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Or star in two games in a row that don’t suck.