As many of you know by now, I am a fan of SEGA’s franchises and after 30+ years of being on this Earth, I still love the Street Fighter franchise, Jet Set Radio, Phantasy Star, and others. Out of all of them though, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise is still in my top five favorite game franchises of all time. However, over the past few years, it seems something hasn’t been right with Sega’s direction of the franchise … so much so it may be suffering from what I feel is an identity crisis.
Where does this stem from? Well, there are a few factors but before we get to that, let’s look at what the head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, stated in 2010. During an interview, Iizuka-San was noted saying: “A lot of our fans want to play as Sonic — just Sonic …” It really doesn’t feel like it nowadays, but in 2010, playing only as Sonic in the main game series was a big deal. And I remember a large crowd that wanted this. That large crowd no longer exists … but guess what? Do you know what also had a large crowd in 2010?
Bringing back classic Sonic gameplay.
The amount of hype that appeared in the fanbase when Sonic Generations was first teased was enormous. Only Sonic being playable, classic Sonic making an appearance, and boost gameplay were all a big deal back then because these were all brand new things.
But it wasn’t just because they were new. They also had enough fan demand that it couldn’t be ignored. The thing is, I don’t think people realize how much Sonic ‘06 impacted SEGA in the five years that followed. Yes, because of Sonic ‘06, things have changed at SEGA. It’s a large reason that I feel SEGA has been playing it safer nowadays.
After Sonic ‘06, SEGA took a step back, re-evaluated things, looked at what worked and what didn’t, and put out Sonic Unleashed in 2008. They read feedback, concluded that they were going in the right direction, and then used that feedback for Sonic Colors in 2010. Further feedback was received and out came Sonic Generations in 2011 to evolve the Colors formula.
Once again, SEGA looked at the feedback it received and saw that people wanted SEGA to be more experimental again. So, in came Sonic Lost World in 2013 and the Boom sub-franchise the following year. They failed … Hard. So much so that they have given all their games the development time they need. Thus SEGA went back to the drawing board and stuck with what gameplay has worked previously.
So, we got Sonic Forces in 2017.
Now, perhaps Forces/Lost World/Boom wasn’t executed properly, and that’s fair. But it’s not the point. The point is, SEGA didn’t get to this situation for no reason. And it all started post-Sonic ‘06. Every Sonic game from 2009 to 2014 is a virtual time capsule of the Sonic fanbase. The problem is that we’ve now gone from “What does the Sonic fanbase want Sonic to be?” to “What does SEGA want Sonic to be?”
In 2010/2011, SEGA knew what Sonic should be. This was helped by influence from fan feedback. Nowadays, SEGA has been influenced by so much fan feedback that it has dominated their development cycle, creating a game that tries to appeal to all sides of the fanbase. Appealing to everyone is a great concept to have; the more accessibility, the more people that will be interested in your game.
Here’s the problem though.
You’re appealing to the SONIC fanbase. A fanbase of multiple sectors of various gameplay formulas. You have adventure fans, classic fans, boost fans, storybook fans, racing fans, comedy Sonic fans, serious Sonic fans, even Sonic Boom and Sonic ‘06 fans. How can you possibly make a game that appeals to all of these?
But SEGA tried this.
It’s called Sonic Force.
I liked Sonic Forces, but I also acknowledge that we shouldn’t have had Classic Sonic in this game. I came out playing the game satisfied, but I was also concerned. You have three gameplay styles, all with the player playing basically as Sonic himself.
So … what is Sonic supposed to be exactly?
Imagine Sonic Adventure 1, instead of the various characters having their own identity with these gameplay formulas, it was just Sonic himself, or Sonics from a different era, or Sonic tag-teaming with someone.
That’s what Sonic Forces feels like to me — Awkward.
Sonic platforms with an emphasis on speed and … that’s it. Whenever you diverge from this, even a little, that’s when you bring in Tails or another character that isn’t Sonic to give that character life and their own identity.
People want to play as other characters besides Sonic. This wasn’t the case during Colors, but that is no longer a problem for SEGA now. Just make sure it doesn’t detach itself from the core of Sonic gameplay too much, and you’ve got solid Tails/Knuckles/Amy gameplay.
I really feel like gameplay should be in various pillars like they’ve been doing, but it should be more enforced.
Classic Sonic should be 100% for 2D Sonic. When there’s a new modern Sonic game, classic gameplay should not be included.
If there’s an adventure game in development, as rumors suggest, then that should be its own separate pillar too. By focusing on one core gameplay for Sonic games, and letting other characters handle any large/small divergence in this, you can let the characters (and especially the game) really shine. It would solve the identity crisis that I feel SEGA has with Sonic.
You’re still appealing to the fans of these gameplay styles, but doing so in a way that keeps Sonic’s identity intact with no confusion — and if executed right, creating a damn good game.
A lot of ideas they’ve done in the past wouldn’t pass nowadays. Since then, SEGA has a new problem with Sonic to deal with. I hope they have a good answer to it in the next game. I have faith that they do! The Sonic IP is still alive for a reason, and it has been through much worse than this. It’s understandable why SEGA got to this point, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. So … we’ll see!