It’s no secret SEGA’s Sonic franchise hasn’t enjoyed the best of times. Since making the jump to 3D, the offerings from everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog have left an increasingly bad taste in gamers mouths. But after the abysmal Sonic Boom on Nintendo Wii U, it seems Sonic Team is finally listening to audiences. With Sonic Mania looking to be everything fans want and Sonic Forces attempting to build on Generations highly praised formula, could this be the year Sonic finally re-emerges as a main player in the AAA-gaming scene and forever casts the infamous Sonic Cycle into the gaming abyss?
The Sonic Cycle, for the uninformed, is a meme that emerged sometime in the late 2000’s as a response to the constant disappointment delivered from the Sonic franchise.. Gamers would hope the next game would finally be the one to carry the franchise back to its glory days, only for the released game to underwhelm in major fashion. It’s become a byword for the state of the series, which has ultimately been working to try and win back those fans.
It’s not like Sonic Team haven’t tried to win over gamers. The 2000’s kept the blue hedgehog busy in a series of games with wildly meandering quality. The Sonic Adventure games, Generations and Colors were great for my money – but Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic 2006 and the bizarre Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric showcased a series that wasn’t in touch with its core strengths. Say what you want about the prevalence of Mario in Nintendo games, at least they know how to use their plumber.
This inconsistency has harmed the perception of the franchise to casual gamers, making Sonic less of an icon than he deserves to be. This is the character that was SEGA at its peak. He’s a gaming icon on par with Mario – yet you wouldn’t know this from the way he’s been handled. It’s why the upcoming Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces are so important – because these two games could finally lift the franchise from the pit it’s found itself in.
These games were announced last year as part of Sonic’s 25th anniversary. Sonic Mania is a 2D platformer following Sonic’s Sega Sprite from the 90s. Sonic Forces plays similar to Sonic Generations where players can play as modern Sonic and Classic Sonic. A cool feature is the ability to create your own avatar which is a first for the Sonic series. Each animal avatar has a different ability and can gain customization items as they progress through the game. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it’s a sign that the series is willing to try new things.
This two pronged attack showcases a change in strategy from the people within SEGA, who seem to finally be understanding what makes their franchise tick. By giving audiences the best of both worlds, the franchise can begin to move on from the early 1990’s – and branch out into new experiences. They can become the benchmark for future games – setting a standard that helps to draw in gamers.
They can also help to showcase to a new generation of gamers why so many people still hold out hope for Sonic The Hedgehog. It’s fair to say that there’s a generation of gamers who’ve grown up never really understanding why Sonic is such a big deal. Those inconsistent releases haven’t helped to endear the character to this generation – the reality is that it’ll take more than two games to change any wider perception. But if there’s positive buzz about these games, then it lays the groundwork for the series to change those negative perceptions.
I’m incredibly hyped for the two games. There’s little doubt in my mind that Sonic Team want to change how the series is perceived. The ultimate question that hangs over the games is “will they deliver on the goods?”. We’ve been here before many times, believing that the latest game could be the one to change it all. The real importance of Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces will be in how it shapes the series moving forward. Whether the lessons learned in making these games great can be replicated in the future. That’s where the problem has been in the past, and is the single biggest obstacle to the franchise finally being great again.
I just hope Sonic Team learn these lessons.