Sonic’s Road to Redemption: 2006, the Fall

This six part series looks at the disaster that was Sonic’s 15th anniversary, and how the series slowly redeemed itself over the following five years, culminating Sonic’s next anniversary title, Sonic Generations.

It’s a little hard to believe that it’s already been five years since Sonic the Hedgehog or “Sonic 06” as it’s called by fans, made its debut. It feels like only yesterday that this infamous train wreck of a game was released and utterly destroyed what little credibility the character had left in gaming. Of course, by 2006 bad Sonic games were nothing new for anybody. Even in his halcyon days Sonic still churned out stinkers, like the infamously not 3D Sonic 3D Blast, and the utterly horrible (and largely forgotten) Sonic Jam for the Game.com. Heck, the franchise had churned out a whopper of a stinker just a year before in the form of Shadow the Hedgehog, the first Sonic game from Sonic Team to average in the 4s on Game Rankings. Even so, Sonic 2006 represented something new for the franchise: it was the first main entry considered utterly deplorable by both critics and fans alike. Sure, Sonic has had his “controversial” games. Sonic Heroes sparked some massive debates on the SEGA forums back in the day and the Sonic Adventure series had its share of dissenters in the press that grew ever more vocal as they were re-released on other platforms. None of them have received the amount of vitriol and did the same amount of damage to the franchise that Sonic 2006 was able to do with its released.

The 15th anniversary was the last time I remember seeing any of the “old faith” Sonic fans used to have in the franchise by virtue of their love for the Adventure and Advanced games. Even people who utterly hated Sonic Heroes and Shadow  the Hedgehog were looking forward to Sonic 2006. After all, this game was meant to be a “back to basics” sort of game. It would have no guns, no team play, no weird game changing gimmicks that would ruin their game. Sonic 2006 was going to be a call back to the Sonic Adventure series. It would have a focus on an epic storyline, let people run around in adventure fields, and let people finally run around solo as Sonic for the first time since Sonic Adventure 2  five years prior.

I remember having many excited discussions with people over how awesome the Tokyo Game Show demo of “Sonic Next Gen” looked. It looked beautiful at the time of its debut. It looked like Sonic was going to celebrate his 15th anniversary in amazing, high-def style. Of course, then the first inkling of disaster began to show themselves, with the debut of Silver the Hedgehog at E3 2006. Otherwise known as “Pot Leaf”, Silver the Hedgehog was the first aspect of 06 that really seemed to annoy the fanbase. He looked ridiculous. He looked like a Shadow rip off. His voice was lame. While all superficial complaints, they were also the first signs of a larger problem. E3 impressions weren’t good, and while the code was technically incomplete, some show goers could tell that this game might not be ready for prime time. Over the rest of the year, the signs only began to grow worse. When the E3 demo was released onto the Xbox Live Marketplace that September, the fanbase exploded. The reaction to the demo was terrible, as many fans began to experience for the first time just how buggy and unfinished the game felt. Many fans explained away the demo’s problems, claiming that it was merely the E3 demo, and that the final game would be better. A few, such as myself, enjoyed the brief demo, and decided what problems it did have where not indicative of what the final game would be like. After the demo, even more proof of the game’s poor quality began to surface, as videos of various levels were released. Naysayers began to use these videos to prove their point. Of course everyone who wanted to have a positive outlook ignored them, because of course they hadn’t played the game.

Anyone with an even remotely positive outlook was, of course, wrong. Sonic 2006 went down in history as the worst game in the franchise. It drew nearly universal ire from the fanbase. Critics almost universally panned it, the sole outlier being a very strange review from Play Magazine, which not only sported the game on its front cover but gave it a nine, getting the hopes up of many fans who genuinely thought this game would be the one. Strangely, Play Magazine would later give the PS3 version a seven, claiming that this version was “inferior” to the Xbox 360 version. The two games where, of course, identical, but I think the fact that the magazine no longer even exists says something about its credibility. After this game, Sonic hit rock bottom. The character was now a laughing stock, and what little credibility the brand had left was gone. I personally nearly abandoned SEGA entirely because of how terrible the game was. How could SEGA allow such a terrible game to bear their mascot’s name?

Sonic 2006 wasn’t even the only disaster that year, or even the lowest rated Sonic game the month of its release. SEGA also decided it would be a great idea to release a glitchy, broken version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Gameboy Advance. After Sonic 06, I decided to avoid this game like the plague since I had heard enough about its awful sound, terrible frame rate and crappy scrolling to know it simply wouldn’t be worth picking up. The game averaged 32% on Game Rankings, making it one of the lowest reviewed Sonic titles ever, even below the main subject of this article.

A few things kept me on board, though. 2006 wasn’t all bad for the hedgehog. Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics were finally exiting the dark ages that they had existed in for over five years, with the debut of fan-turned-professional-writer Ian Flynn and artist Tracy Yardley. Together, the two brought back to the book a sense of fun that hadn’t existed in the comic in years. For years the likes of Karl Bollers and Ken Penders had turned what had been a fun adventure book into a melodramatic soap opera starring Sonic. The dialogue was often stilted and there was little characterization to keep the reader involved. The comics rarely acknowledged their video game roots. To make matters worse the comic’s art was very inconsistent and often ugly, largely thanks to artist Ron Lim, whom made Sonic look like a Cyclops and gave the furry characters an ugly, jagged look.

With the debut of Ian Flynn came the return of fun and character to the book. Sonic was funny again. The characters oozed with personality again. For the first time in years I was actually laughing with the book, not at it. For the first time in years I actually found myself engaged in the stories again. Ian was able to reinvent lame characters like “Evil Sonic” and Finitevus into characters that had genuine personality and motivation. These improvements where only the tip of the iceberg as Ian spent the next several years cleaning house and fixing up the many problems that had been building up in the book over the years. Flynn’s debut wasn’t flawless, of course. His second story, a three-parter called Darkest Storm, was nearly as poor as works from the writers he was replacing. It was rushed and had no character to it, largely acting as a quick and dirty way to clean up the continuity and reach several goals Ian had for fixing up the book, such as eliminating magical relics and killing off characters he or fans didn’t like.

Despite this, the comic’s overall quality sky rocketed and reached a level I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. The comic began to acknowledge the games more often and took steps to bringing itself more in line with its source material. Tracy Yardley became the comic’s regular artist and Ron Lim was never seen again. For the first time since I was in middle school, I began reading the comics on a regular basis. They would only get better from here.

In addition to the comics getting an all new creative team, Sonic also had some racing titles debut this year. Sonic Riders was a mediocre title with poor handling, but Sonic Rivals for the PSP was a bit more notable. It was a combination racing and platforming sidescroller, where players raced one of Sonic’s friends through a variety of 2.5D levels. The game offered some nice thrills, but the “racing” part of the game seemed to only distract from some solidly fun side scrolling levels, and ended up only hampering the experience. Rivals ended up averaging a 66% on Game Rankings. A fairly mediocre score, but compared to the other titles Sonic starred in that year, 2006’s only bright spot.

Finally, a little Wii exclusive Sonic game that quietly debuted at E3 2006. The game received surprisingly positive impressions. While it was unconventional, featuring on rails game play and extensive use of motion controls for movement, it also appeared to solve many of Sonic’s longstanding problems, particularly the franchise’s penchant for terrible cameras. As 2006 came to an end with the franchise laying in shambles, it would take this game and games like it to slowly pick up the pieces…

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28 responses to “Sonic’s Road to Redemption: 2006, the Fall

  1. teirusu says:

    i think that sonic 06 its the best sonic game and i am not joking i don’t know why so many people hated i know the loading times and other stuff like the glitches but its not bad believe me got great music great graphics great story and not only sonic playable

  2. radrappy says:

    banned

  3. teirusu says:

    lol hhaahahahahaha XD come on

  4. GamerTB says:

    It’s a well written and documented article. I can relate to most of it. But by “most of it” I still call BS on one single thing.

    Sonic 3D Blast wasn’t THAT bad. Express whatever opinions you have on this game, but it was at least decent and fondly remembered by plenty of people. You can’t compare it to the likes of Sonic Jam on Game.com.

    @teirusu

    The music was indeed great, but don’t kid yourself about praising what was the most horrible excuse for a time-travel plot and including a plot-relevant human not named Robotnik in a Sonic game. I’m sorry, but the game deserves the flak it gets.

  5. radrappy says:

    3d blast wasn’t that bad no, but it was Sega’s answer to Mario 64 and the first sonic game to take a critical dip. Worth noting? I’d say yes.

  6. Skateboard says:

    I have very fond memories of Sonic 3D Blast. Mastered the controls rather quick and had lots of fun with it on my Mega Drive back then when I was a kid. I played the PC version some years later and still listen to some of the music tracks every now and then. Loved the intro. 🙂

    I wonder if the European PS3 version of “Sonic the Hedgehog” / “Sonic 2007” is actually more polished… ^^

  7. Shizzle says:

    This article is extremely opinionated and is trying to sell it sell off as a fact. The fact that you think Shadow came out a few years before Sonic 06 shows how well you know your facts as they are less than a year apart (11 months to be precise.)

    SEGA has acknowledged that Sonic has had a few stinkers. The March issue of ODM (UK) had a section highlighting the stinkers with the heading “Not all of them were Smash Hits” (or something to that effect).

    While Sonic 06 had a lot of hype and the final product did not come close to what it promised (Playable in game Super Sonic), the game still sports excellent music and the most expansive open world levels to date.
    Kingdom Valley, Crisis Zone, Radical Train are some of the excellent levels which were often divided in 3 separate sections for example Crisis Zone starts with Sonic skating down, Running and Railing section Act 2, Platforming Section Act 3 and finally Mach Speed even the Generations remake doesn’t live up to the original level.

    Further more, in terms of content and when I say content I mean individual Stages not the missions or alternate level design like in Sonic Heroes, Colors, Unleashed and Generations and like we have in, the game has several original stages where as recent games like Unleashed and Colors having as low as 5 stages with repetitive and identical bosses.

  8. nuckles87 says:

    Yeah, this article IS opionated. In fact, I daresay you’d be hardpressed to find any article of history that isn’t. History, as they say, is written by the winners. One people’s hero is another’s tyrant. One gamer’s piece of shit shovelware is another gamer’s favorite. All that can be done is to make sure these articles don’t lie, and this one certainly does not. It’s kind of meant to be opionated. But it’s also a simple fact that this game was horribly reviewed and nearly universally hated by the media and fans alike. Defend it all you like, your in the minority.

    I said Shadow the Hedgehog came out a year before. They both came out in November. Nitpick all you want, but I said “just a year before”.

    “Heck, the franchise had churned out a whopper of a stinker just a year before in the form of Shadow the Hedgehog, the first Sonic game from Sonic Team to average in the 4s on Game Rankings.”

    So you liked the game…that’s nice. But most people did not, including myself. This article is MY experience with the game, and what I’ve seen from the greater community and critics.

    For me, some decent level design doesn’t make up for horrid bugs, slow game play (aside from the totally uncontrollable automatic sections), and a nasty frame rate. There where areas that I kinda enjoyed running through, and I do LOVE the soundtrack, but when a game has this many problems they don’t really matter.

  9. -nSega54- says:

    This isn’t an article, it’s an editorial. Nothing in the piece itself states that this is an article or some sort of news story, this is an op ed piece.

    Chastising something that’s clearly an opinion piece for being “too opinionated” is pretty unnecessary.

  10. GamerTB says:

    That you didn’t like Sonic 3D Blast is fine, it’s your opinion and experience. Straight out calling it a stinker and implying it was a notably terrible game is where you cross the line: that doesn’t count as a mere opinion anymore, but as a claim not the entirety of the fanbase can agree with. This is where an article (or an editorial) can start receiving flak, so mind your audience.

    SEGA has nothing to redeem itself over with Sonic 3D Blast: it was at least a decent game, especially during a time approaching hardships. Crossing the Sonic and Flicky franchises into a 3D setting was a nice premise and it was well presented, despite the few quirks. In comparison, Sonic ’06 simply hadn’t this excuse, not in 2006.

    As for the rest, I’ve nothing to question about. Just wanted to clarify that out here.

  11. Shizzle says:

    I apologize for my over reaction, but this article to me suggests hyperbole – just like critics poorly rate rereleases of classic Sonic games it has become a trend.

    Just like it has become a trend to call the new Sonic games good, even though a significant part of the fan base “hate” them.
    Are the new Sonic games bad – not really but you can make a case based on the thin content, and monotony… i’m getting offtrack… bottom line the new Sonic games are good with critics and fans (excluding a significant minority).
    The old Sonic games are critically, commercially, and with fans (excluding a small minority) SUPER HITS!
    Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes all were trend setters for the franchise pushing the envelope leaps and bounds.

    With the failure of Sonic Genesis, Sonic 06, Sonic Riders a hyperbole movement started that suddenly made all Sonic games of the last decade bad when that is certainly not the case.

  12. Jonboy101 says:

    Sonic 3D blast was a decent enough Genesis game, but was an embarrassment on the Saturn. It also gets hate because it reminds people of Sonic Xtreme.

  13. Shigs says:

    Nuckles article Is opinion of course. Not fact, but opinion. it is an editorial after all. The first part of several.

    It is a fact however that Sonic 3-D Blast was not very well received by critics even back in the day (and I liked the Saturn version okay).

    It is an even bigger fact that Sonic ’06 was the biggest pile of putrid crap to ever be thrown upon the fanbase. It was trashed by critics and most Sonic fans who aren’t blindly loyal 12-year-old’s playing through insufferable controls while wearing their Sonic X shirts. It was not only incredibly buggy, it felt like it was a year off before release. It had the worst story out of any of the Sonic games thus far, introduced ANOTHER unneeded character in the form of Silver. It was advertised as having Sonic, Silver and Show playable only to have you playing as every other character as well. Not to mention the horrible loading times, poor sub-missions and the ridiculous Final Fantasy story. It felt like Sonic was dropped into someone else’s game instead of one of it’s own.

    There are some people who get enjoyment out of it, but mostly it’s either the kind of folks who have a morbid curiosity and wan’t to see just how bad it gets, people who see it like “Dark Souls” where getting past a horrible, buggy mess of a level is a huge accomplishment or people who want to just go “Ha! HA! Look how bad this game is!” As they fall through a floor for no reason. Either that or the kind of f’ed-up Sonic fans who masturbate to their own Sonic/Elise fanfics. That’s it.

    There is no defending this game. It is pure putrid bile. If you like it, goody for you. Now take your damn plush Sonic hat off and join reality.

  14. CosmicCastaway says:

    I genuinely like Sonic 06. It is not my favorite game in the series by any means, but I do find it to be quite enjoyable.

  15. nuckles87 says:

    lol, honestly, I don’t hate Sonic 3D Blast. But it WAS a dissapointment, and as far as I am concerned was mediocre at best. This was also a general critical consensus, and the opinion I’ve seen from most of the fanbase. Comparable to Sonic 06? Not really. But for a “3D” game, and Sonic’s answer to Mario 64, and as a Sonic game in general, I do consider it a disappointment.

    As a matter of fact, Shizzle, I always hated Sonic 06. It has always been the bottom of the franchise, since it’s inception. I still have fond memories of Heroes and the Adventure games, and other games since then.

    As for the notion that all Sonic games of the last ten years suck, that is something I tackle several times of the course of the rest of the article series. Next entry brings a form of it up, in fact.

  16. CosmicCastaway says:

    Also, Shigs I might have misunderstood you, but it seems like you are saying that Dark Souls is a buggy mess and after a very extended time with that game that is not true.

    I don’t know, when it comes to games like Sonic 06 I don’t really see what the big deal is. I can play through the game just fine and I rarely encounter problems. (Loading times don’t really bother me either) Most of you will disagree with me on this, but in my opinion there is no such thing as a bad game. There may be a certain genre I don’t find very entertaining, but I’m always sure someone out there will find the game fun so I don’t see how that can make it bad. It just comes down to your personal enjoyment. Games are all about having fun, and too me Sonic 06 is a fun game. It’s perfectly alright if you guys don’t share the same views, but I don’t think you should insult others for enjoying something.

  17. Shigs says:

    No, no. I love Dark Souls. I’m saying some people may enjoy the enormous challenge of Sonic ’06 like Dark Souls has. Big difference being that Dark Souls is a well constructed game that is very challenging on purpose. Not because of it being broken like ’06.

  18. Aki-at says:

    Sonic 3D Blast is not a very good, you can enjoy it sure, but it is just not a very good game outside of the music.

    Sonic 06 is also a terrible game, expansive levels? Those levels are terribly designed and the quality I’d expect to find in fangames based on the blitzSonic, Sonic GDK or whatever engine they have now for 3D Sonic games.

    And my opinion has nothing to do with the current hyperbole of chalking which Sonic game was bad or good, I’ve held opinions about Sonic Adventure 2 being not so great and Heroes being bad since both games were released.

  19. CosmicCastaway says:

    That’s what I thought Shigs. My bad. =)

  20. matty says:

    I got to know, was Knuckles pissed in that scene? Seeing Sonic mackin’ on a hot chick?

  21. CosmicCastaway says:

    No, considering it was Elise who was doing the kissing, not Sonic.

  22. matty says:

    “SEGA has nothing to redeem itself over with Sonic 3D Blast: it was at least a decent game, especially during a time approaching hardships.”

    Sonic 3D Blast sucked shit through a straw, so, as far as I’m concerned, that was where SEGA’s “hardship” of Sonic games started. Nothing was decent about that game except the color palette.
    The special stages in Sonic CD looked liked it handled better than whatever Blast was set to accomplish.

  23. GamerTB says:

    I don’t see in the slightest where you give it such flak for, Matty. 3D Blast is a fond classic, especially for its music (and the display of colors in the game, as well). Maybe if you could elaborate the points of the game and put them up for debate instead of trying to talk tough…

    On another note, Sonic Blast was poorly translated into handheld though.

  24. nuckles87 says:

    Graphics and music don’t make a game. It’s the game play people didn’t like.

  25. Shizzle says:

    @ Aki-at: See this might be a difference of opinion cause I think Kingdom Valley is one of the finest Sonic levels I’ve ever played in my life. Same for Crisis City – I actually prefer the original over Generations…

    The Generations Re-imagining of Crisis City is what I would call terrible as it was nothing more then a speed fest with terribly slow side scrolling sections where Sonic has do the whole ground smash crap.

    Crisis City you start off Skate Boarding – Railing and Sprinting with Action Pieces – then a dedicated platforming section – finally capping the stage off with a Mach Speed segment.

    I’ve not played the classic version of it yet but the Modern Re-imagining fell very far off the original I was hoping to just play the same stage with better controls and camera angels instead I got a wanna be.

  26. CosmicCastaway says:

    @ Shizzle

    The Classic Sonic stage of Crisis City rocks. It’s one of my favorite levels in Sonic Generations.

  27. Shizzle says:

    WOW. This is unbelivable. The classic imagining of Crisis City is more true to the 06 version than the modern imaginig had it had a skateboarding segment it would’ve been 100% faithful but I am not going to complaint on that since they actually made an attempt at a 2D version of a 3D stage. They even got Iblis in the background and the entire Tornado sequence.

    That said, it just makes the modern imagining look worse as that version doesn’t even pretend to be inspired from Crisis City – the defining feature of the level was unarguably rail grinding something that seems to be almost absent.

  28. metalriders says:

    @Shizzle
    I disagree. While moderm Sonic had the skateboarding part (which controlled like bollocks IMO) it more than made up for it with a lot of platforming, alternate routes, and a speed sections that wasn’t cheap as heck and had actual level design instead of a bland straight line. Also the rail grinding in the original was boring.

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