Editorial: Sonic Lost Identity? Why Sonic should branch out, but why he should remain true to himself

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There’s little doubt that Sonic has, against all odds, cemented his place in the gaming landscape.

There was a time, and it was a time that I’m sure many reading this will remember, when Sonic existed exclusively on SEGA platforms. He was the face of the company: the representation of an edgier and more daring console competitor, and, in many ways, the total opposite of his rival, the mascot representing those other systems.

With SEGA’s exit from the hardware business, it was only a matter of time before this would all shift. Sonic Adventure 2, a game developed without any intention of ever being released on a Nintendo platform, was nevertheless met with incredibly warm reception among the Nintendo fanbase when it debuted on the Gamecube roughly eight months after its Dreamcast release. And rather then fading away like many mascots of old, Sonic was, in a sense, reborn to an entirely new audience.

It’s sometimes easy to worry about Sonic remaining true to himself, especially as he and his games have taken on several incredibly different forms over the years since. With the latest rumor that we’ll have a new Sonic game next year, I think it makes sense to look ahead at where we all think the hedgehog should be going. I’m definitely excited to see what plans SEGA has for the blue blur; it’s my hope that Sonic can continue to evolve and change while at the same time never leaving behind the essence of what defined him all those years ago.

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It really was a different type of Sonic who emerged in the post-Dreamcast era

Sonic Heroes, as the first console Sonic installment fully developed for non-SEGA systems, saw things shift notably.

Sonic Heroes, as the first console Sonic installment fully developed for non-SEGA systems, saw things shift notably, perhaps in an effort to appeal to younger platformer fans on the Gamecube, Xbox, and PS2. The game placed far less emphasis on trying to tell a story, while featuring a reduction of speed in favor of more platforming and combat-oriented gameplay. It also saw a major change in visual style, going for a much more cartoony approach to match its lighthearted atmosphere.


Sonic Heroes left the more realistic and detailed visual style of the Adventure series behind in favor of a brighter approach

Reception to the game and its changes were mixed, and Sonic Team spent the next several years attempting find the Sonic that they wanted to create, including following Heroes up with two “edgier” installments which, all in all, are probably best not talked about.

To their credit, Sonic Team knew that they couldn’t keep making that same type of Sonic game over and over again.

Sonic would again find his footing with the daytime portions of Sonic Unleashed, which combined the 2D style of Sonic’s past with all new 3D sections designed around seeing Sonic run like he’d never run before. The formula was a success, serving as a basis for Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors to follow. The games were well-received among both the critical and fan communities, and to their credit, Sonic Team knew that they couldn’t keep making that same type of Sonic game over and over again. And it’s here that we arrive at Sonic’s latest adventure, and one exclusive to Nintendo systems; Sonic Lost World.

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I’m not going to review Sonic Lost World in this editorial. SEGAbits has already written our review on the game, with Barry the Nomad praising its new speed system, control scheme, and its graphics. Plenty of fans would agree with him, while others wouldn’t necessarily see eye to eye; like Heroes, Lost World is a game that divided the fanbase. In many ways, it actually did remind me of Sonic Heroes, with its slower speeds, cartoony graphics, and cheerier tone. I feel however that Lost World is the better game, benefitting from stronger core gameplay, less filler, and better writing. I appreciated Sonic Team’s attempt to shake things up by rethinking Sonic’s speed, and seeing an HD sequel to Sonic Colors (one that runs at 60 FPS, to boot) was certainly not a bad thing.

Where Sonic Lost World definitely got it right was to slow Sonic down.

The boost-driven gameplay of his immediate predecessors was a fun rush, but there wasn’t much room to develop it further. Slowing Sonic down to focus on platforming and parkour moves leaves great possibilities for the series going forward, especially if the parkour is taken advantage of more fully than it was in Lost World. There’s also great potential in the Wisp powerups; if Sonic Team can “Sonic” them up a little bit more, maybe making them function more along the lines of how they did in the Genesis games rather than the controller-based gimmicks of Lost World, future Sonic games could really benefit from them and the diversity they’d add to the platforming experience.

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Where Sonic Lost World left me feeling a little worried for the future of the franchise was that in it, we saw a Sonic game that took some major cues from its once-rival, the Mario series, especially in its presentation. The visual style seemed to be doing its best to make Mario fans feel at home, and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t avoid mentally envisioning Mario walking through the environments on the Lost Hex.

The visual style seemed to be doing its best to make Mario fans feel at home.

The hub between levels felt more like I was scrolling through the main menu of a Mario Party game than it felt like I was exploring a lost continent. And while Sonic has always featured unique zones and its own varied level themes and atmosphere, Lost World reverted instead to the cliché “grassland, desert, water, ice, forest, fire” level themes, something that’s always bothered me about the Mario series and something that bothered me just as much here.


Can you tell the difference? Sonic Lost World featured level themes and a graphics style far closer to that of the Mario series than any Sonic game before it

Mario’s influence on Lost World wasn’t merely cosmetic. Though Sonic’s past bosses were typically epic in scope, requiring eight hits to take down and often featuring many forms, Sonic Lost World instead reduced the boss fights to a collection of mini-bosses, taking cues from the Mario series’ typical three hits. Mini-game bonus stages similar to those featured in New Super Mario Bros were peppered throughout the overworld, and Sonic Team went as far as to take away Sonic’s ability to earn lives by collecting rings, presumably to encourage the use of those bonus levels.

There are many aspects of the Mario games that Sonic Team can certainly learn from, just like they can learn from the likes of the new Rayman titles, Sly Cooper, and any other modern platformer.

The latter design choice was thankfully remedied in a patch, which I applaud Sonic Team for. I think in a lot of ways, the fan reaction towards this decision demonstrated that some changes aren’t always for the better. The addition of patches in today’s games makes it easier to correct mistakes made in development, but major game design choices like that one are still components that I feel developers need to get right the first time.

There are many aspects of the Mario games that Sonic Team can certainly learn from, just like they can learn from the likes of the new Rayman titles, Sly Cooper, and any other modern platformer. But Sonic, to me, is always stronger when he tries to be himself. What I liked so much about the Sonic Adventure series, Sonic Generations, Sonic Unleashed, and even, to a lesser extent, Sonic Colors, was that I didn’t feel while playing them that Sonic Team was trying to do anything but make a great Sonic game; namely, I didn’t envision a director trying to skew the game to work for the audience of any particular platform. Sonic Colors featured some Mario Galaxy inspiration, but the game still felt like it was blazing its own path. It didn’t feel like a follower, while Lost World, to me, did.

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The baddies in Sonic Lost World certainly looked different from what we’ve been used to

Certainly, no 3D Sonic game has ever been perfect, and I’m not discouraging Sonic Team from taking inspiration from other modern platformers.

SEGA needs to be careful moving forward that Sonic remains its own thing.

Nor am I saying that Sonic Lost World didn’t feature its own unique ideas. But at the same time, SEGA needs to be careful moving forward that Sonic remains its own thing. To become a copy of another franchise will not only dilute the brand, but it won’t allow Sonic Team to truly create the way we know they can.

Sonic has always been different from Mario; probably about as different as a platforming franchise can be. The fact that they’re on the same systems now shouldn’t mean that this has to change; if anything, it should make SEGA and Sonic Team all the more eager to differentiate themselves.

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Shouldn’t a Sonic game have a world map that feels a bit…speedier?

Sonic has, for better and for worse, been a series to embrace change. The changes from even just Sonic Adventure to Sonic Adventure 2 were massive, let alone the different faces the series has worn in the years since. Many of the franchises and platforming mascots of the 1990s have faded from existence, never managing to fit in with the modern gaming landscape. Sonic, by keeping himself evolving, has managed to remain a still-relevant character all these years later.

Sonic, by keeping himself evolving, has managed to remain a still-relevant character all these years later.

For better or for worse, this is a series that has never been afraid to throw everything out and start from scratch, time and time again. Sonic Team’s always known how to keep their fanbase guessing, but in recent years, it’s been difficult not to notice more and more of Mario’s influence making its way into this series. Sonic Lost World made some admirable attempts to shake things up, and that’s something that should be encouraged. I just hope that, for the future, Sonic Team doesn’t continue to feel the need to turn Sonic into a franchise that he always used to be (in my humble opinion) so much better than.

Comments? Feel free to leave them, both positive and negative, below!


13 responses to “Editorial: Sonic Lost Identity? Why Sonic should branch out, but why he should remain true to himself

  1. The Gagaman says:

    Visually I’m loving the look they went for in Lost World. While it doesn’t take influence from Mario somewhat, I think the style to me feels even more so like they are taking the surreal Japanese Mega Drive box arts and injecting that into the levels, exaggerating the stylized elements of stuff seen in Sonic 1, CD and Knuckles Chaotix. Sonic Colours also aimed for this feel to an extent I think.

    Sonic 2, 3 & Knuckles felt a bit more grounded in realism style wise a bit, with lots of cool machinery in zones like Metropolis mixed with more detailed greenery compared to the intentionally blocky trees of Green Hill. I think that style was replicated to an extent in Sonic 4 episode 2, especially in the later zones.

    I think what they need is to find a balance between those styles. Lost World was dangeriously close to be being too cutesy (hence the Mario comparisons) where what made Sonic stand out back in the day was a bit of edge: it just felt ‘cooler’ than Mario, but not in a forced way like Adventure onwards.

    I love that the badniks are back in full force. They were always a favorite part of the old games, and deserve to be as iconic as goombas and koopas, though if they do decide to use them more also mix them in with plenty of new badniks. I’m pretty glad the days of GUN robots and lava dog monsters are behind us, Sonic is finally going back to what I feel it should be.

    Gameplay wise I wouldn’t mind the best of the Unleashed Boost gameplay and Lost World parkor combined into a hotpot of fast, at times brutal, but in a well designed way, gameplay. I could bang on all day about this, but i just hope they don’t feel the need to re-invent the wheel too much, just learn from what worked in the past and polish, polish, POLISH that next game, and try to resist gimmicks that detract too much from the overall flow.

    • cube_b3 says:

      I formally started playing the series with Sonic 2 and 3 simultaneously.

      I never liked Sonic 1, mainly because 2 was such an improvement. Last year, I finally went back to the original and finished it unlocking every single achievement for it. I have an appreciation for the uniqueness for it but it is hardly the best Sonic game and it is extremely influenced by Mario, after all the 4 successive level in the game looks like a Volcanic castle.

      Sonic 2 onward the series forged it’s unique identity. Sonic 1 is actually a slow platformer, and the only thing that has to be Sonic in the first one our your reflexes. Naoto Oshima started off as a sadistic level designer with springs often launching you in the opposite direction or towards death traps.

  2. Ben says:

    I agree that there were some moments where Sonic Lost World looked so darn pretty, lol.

    I think the cartoony style can work very well, I just think Sonic Team needs to make it their own.

    • Radrappy says:

      That’s kind of where I’m coming from. What made me so happy about SLW’s art direction was that it was well, directed. After the semi-photorealistic styling of the past 10 years, SLW was a breath of fresh air. It was stylized in an attractive and noticeable way. There’s no reason said direction needs to be so close to Mario though.

      Great article!

  3. Ben says:

    haha thanks man, I appreciate it. =]

  4. Will says:

    I like the bright colors, i like bright colors. What I don’t like is how simple everything looks. Needs a bit more detail and more edge. More Sonic, less Mario. Also speed Sonic up a bit, I’m not saying to Unleashed/Generations level speed, but he needs to be a bit faster. I like surreal environments, but look at NiGHTS as a great example where you can be surreal but still detailed. At times Sonic Lost World looks like NiGHTS, but it’s definitely been made to appeal to Nintendo fans.

    Basically I want Sonic to be Sonic, not Mario. Just like Ben said.

  5. provingapoint says:

    I myself am not too bothered by Lost World’s aesthetics; it’s easy on the eyes, if anything. I do acknowledge that it needs to be careful how it handles that going forward.

    The parkour system deserves another shot, as there’s much potential to be had with it. Just needs some fine-tuning. Upgraded homing attack should be tweaked so that tapping the button would make Sonic attack only one enemy, and holding the button can have him rapidly attack all targeted enemies (with an option to end the chain early by releasing the button).

    The REAL culprit behind what was wrong with Lost World was the level design. I can count on one hand the number of levels that were even half-decent. One of the things I like about Sonic games is how the level design allows for some branching pathways and many ways to go through the level. What this game needed was level designs more along the lines of the Adventure games (and also Heroes, perhaps), and even the 2D sections acting like the Genesis titles. Look at Green Hill Zone and how it’s structured. Look at the number of ways you can tackle that level. Now if you were to add in the parkour system you open up new ways to handle a level like that.

    The other thing I wanna see is more playable characters besides Sonic. That’s a discussion for another time, but I’ll say this now: Genesis games (as well as the Advance series) pulls it off by having each character play basically the same, with their own unique touches. I can understand having radically different gameplay styles for the sake of variety or at least avoiding monotony, but that brings it’s own problems. Hell, having more than one playable character at all can be an issue if only because you’ll have to do a full playthrough with each of them, last story or not.

  6. Kai Hinkins says:

    Well slowing down Sonic is not helping his francise

  7. Kai Hinkins says:

    Plus he was 22 in that game… It is a possible slow-down reason

  8. Kai Hinkins says:

    I would love Sonic to not cut his identity and be more Mario then he should be but Sonic Lost World he was great at confusing his eminies while that was a great thing

    Only thing that breaks down his francise is his More-Like-Mario identity

  9. Kai Hinkins says:

    Well in my opinion I love the New Sonic Indentity!

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