By TGB 19 Comments
Nintendo has been very careful, very conservative about when they release a core Mario game. A Mario game is typically released once or maybe twice a generation cycle and every single one of those games has had a minimum level of quality. Each one could be described as being one of the best, one of the most important games of that generation. They have long tails and the quality of Mario as a product assures that Mario's name will have cache when his name is placed on less stellar franchises, like when Mario throws a party or decides to play a game of baseball with his friends. Mario has a stable and happy relationship with Nintendo, Sonic...not so much.
Ever since the death of the Dreamcast, the reorganization of all of Sega's internal parties and Sega being bought out by Sammy, Sonic has been lost and listless. The Sonic Adventure games may not have been the most inspired games in the world, but they were generally fun. Games like Phantasy Star Online and it's iterations also showed that Sonic Team was a quality studio that could produce games from multiple genres. I think that ever since the fallout that followed the death of the Dreamcast Sega has been bereft of leadership, of vision. Producing consoles gave Sega an identity, it allowed them to be creative and proactive as any game they produced internally that was unique would help diversify the market for their console. Sega has since lost that creative spark, their Pachinko producing overlords have led them into a strategy that has made them too dependent on licensed products and has sent them from being one of the biggest game producers in the world to a middling company. Sega is going through one hell of a mid-life crisis, it doesn't know what its purpose or what its strong points are any more, and Sonic games have suffered as a result.
Sonic has been Sega's trump card, their ace in the hole. He is the one character in their line-up who has enough cultural cache to naturally create sales, no matter the gameplay. Unfortunately, this means that Sonic is overexposed, that the lack of innovation in his games over the last decade or so has been made woefully apparent. Sega does not know how to evolve Sonic, they just know that their bottom line requires them to release a main line series game featuring his name. So they keep on handing Sonic back to his torturers, back to the people who have been unable to find a working formula for Sonic since the Dreamcast apocalypse, Sonic Team.
Rather than attempting to move the series forward, Sonic Team has tried to tart up sonic, to patch him up with gimmicks. Sonic Team has so overloaded the franchise with unnecessary mythos, with new "Focus Test approved" friends and nemesis' that I struggle to see him appealing to anyone over the age of ten. Sonic has the worst friends imaginable, the kinds of friends who gum up the gameplay and make the story sickeningly juvenile. Whether their giving him a sword, turning him into a Warehog, having Shadow shoot a gun, have him kissing a realistically made woman, forcing us to use his shitty friends rather then Sonic, every last one of these things is just gaffer tape applied to the Sonic brand to cover up their lack of creativity. And this is from the company that gave us the Dreamcast! That gave us Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, Seaman, Phantasy Star Online, Sega gaga and Jet Grind Radio, the most off the wall creative games of their day. And now Sega and Sonic team are just a drunk with no direction, life has been cruel to them and in return they have taken their frustrations out on Sonic. They've made Sonic games no fun to play.
Now, I may not be a huge fan of Sonic over the year, but I always loved to play Sonic games when I was a kid. I loved the speed, the rocking music and the awesome casino levels in the Genesis era. I don't know if it's possible to represent those levels, those feelings that people had when they were playing those Genesis games on current generation hardware, but it would be worth a shot. Good platformers are hard to find these days and I'm always looking for an excuse to buy one, but Sonic Team's efforts have sickened me so much to the point that I don't even know if I am even going to pay attention any more.
The Best Sonic game in the last five years has been an rpg made by Bioware. Bioware! Sega needs to realize that the visionaries and engineers that they have working at Sonic Team are just not up to snuff, that those who still life Sonic games deserve better then what Sonic Team is making. The most successful and popular franchise in the history of Japan is Dragon Quest, that Enix produced RPG that is almost always the highest selling title in a major consoles sales life in Japan. Since the SNES Enix has not been afraid to give their most important product to other development houses, DQVIII and DQIX are both games that have been or are being produced by Level 5, a separate entity to Square-Enix. If the most important games of the last 5 years in Japan can be produced by outside developers, why not Sonic? It would allow a plucky developer to give Sonic fresh legs, to come in with new and different ideas. Sega could also use this as an opportunity to treat their brand better, Enix has never been afraid to delay their games until they are immaculate, until they have distilled that special Dragon Quest essence into a playable experience. Frankly, Sonic deserves better then Sonic Team. Sonic needs to pack his bags and move in with a developer who will treat him right, and give the world the kind of game we've been expecting from a name that big for a decade.
Note: will further edit for grammar and syntax when I feel like it :)