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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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