How Sega All But Ruined Sonic the Hedgehog

 Sega’s Blue Blur was a whirlwind of excitement in the early 1990’s. Nintendo had a magical formula in the Super Mario Bros series and every other developer had their run and jump Mario clones. Sega on the other hand, took the platforming genre to the next level by taking advantage of their new Genesis console (and it’s infamous “Blast Processing“) to introduce a new blazing-fast rodent by the name of Sonic the Hedgehog.


Speed, however was not Sonic’s lone gimmick. The landmark series on the Genesis also introduced unique elements such as the then jaw-dropping loops, super spin dash, psychedelic bonus rounds, and impressive boss battles with Dr. Robotnik’s mechanical creations.

While the Super Mario Bros. franchise was definitely colored with personality and great gameplay, the Sonic the Hedgehog titles on the Genesis and Sega CD offered an very exciting alternative to those that weren’t Nintendo fanboys.

Powered by the success of Sonic and their other cutting edge games, Sega had a great marketshare during the 16-bit era. However, they started to fall apart as they aimed to jump ahead of its competitors in the 32-bit market and beyond. The commercial failure of its newer hardware was unfortunately timed with the decline of the Sonic franchise.

While I love the Sega Saturn and its cult classic favorites, it never brought Sega fans the real Sonic game that it desired. Sega started with a Genesis and Saturn release of Sonic 3D Blast which turned out to be slow-paced and boring at times — quite the opposite of the Sonic games fans had been used to.

Sega had a great deal of inner conflict trying to develop a true 3D Sonic game (which was known as Sonic X-treme) and the closest substitute Saturn owners experienced was Sonic R, which was essentially a cart-racer without the carts.

 Sega eventfully gave up on the Sonic X-treme project (and the Saturn for that matter) and set its sights on the possibilities that the Dreamcast held.

With Sonic Adventure, Sega fans finally had their fully 3D Sonic action game. Sonic Adventure had a tremendous amount of promise as the first level (which was playable on the pre-launch demo) was incredibly fast and was filled with breathtaking graphics that seemed to exceed how every Sonic fan had envisioned the Green Hill Zone would be in a 128-bit wonderland. (Nobody can forget the killer whale-bridge scene)

But all was not perfect with Sonic Team’s newest creation. In reality, very few of the subsequent levels even came close to living up to the high standards that the demo created. Instead, the game was filled with slow and annoying “exploration” areas that turned off many gamers that were expecting fast-paced action.

Sonic Adventure 2 ditched the exploration areas, but instead added more levels that required you to play as other less-interesting characters that had you perform more tedious tasks such as “find the lost emeralds”. Not the idea of fun for a typical Sonic fan. To make matters worse, once words started coming out of Sonic’s mouth, the game was to the point of being an embarrassment to watch. Characters we all used to enjoy such as Tails and Knuckles all became an annoyance and a joke.

 It was clear at this point that Sega had lost sight of what worked in the minds of Sonic’s most dedicated fans and had also failed to bring the sense of speed and tight control to the 3D world.

Once the novelty of Sonic Adventure’s slick graphics wore off, the more experienced gamers realized this wasn’t nearly the same game they had grown up with.

Gone were the intense sense of speed and the awe-inspiring loops. Instead, you were treated to a temperamental 3D camera that was more of an annoyance than a benefit.

The Dr. Robotnik we grew up with and his sweet robotic monsters had also experienced a peculiar makeover for the worse. Sonic Adventure ushered in re-branded “Dr. Eggman” and replaced his cool mechanical boss battles with strange creatures and dim-witted schemes to collect Chaos Emeralds.

Once Sega made its full transition away from the hardware business and developed multi-platform games, they unloaded a series of quickly-developed titles that pulled even further away from the core focus and did more to damage Sonic’s reputation.

Sega’s first original multi-platform Sonic game was Sonic Heroes. Heroes took some of the best aspects of the Sonic Adventure series and put a new spin on them. However, that spin consisted of forcing players to use teams of three characters at a time, when the entire time, fans wanted to play ONLY as Sonic. It also seemed to focus less on speed and reaction time and brought it more into the league of typical platform games as opposed to the high standards that Sonic was once known for.

To give Sonic Heroes some credit, it did go back to the 16-bit roots in terms of level design and the overall look and feel. Sonic Heroes got a little bit closer on fixing some of these crucial things but still managed to screw up other aspects. It’s such a shame that things went downhill after that.

As much as everyone tries to forget about it, Sega somehow thought that the best way to solve the fact that the Sonic franchise was getting tired was to have a game centered around Shadow the Hedgehog. Shadow was supposed to be the Sonic for the hardcore gamers that needed a ro ugh edge. (And I thought all this time, Sonic was the cool hedgehog with the attitude.)

As soon as everybody laid their eyes on the promotional artwork and screenshots filled with the pistol-packing hedgehog, the gaming community knew Sega was losing it.

Instead of renewing interest in the Sonic universe, Shadow the Hedgehog fell on its face and was mocked by reviewers around the globe. Again, some players enjoyed the game, but it really strayed from the Sonic formula.

Sega followed up Shadow with Sonic Riders, a racing title that was essentially “Sonic R 2.0”. While I appreciate Sega trying to emphasize Sonic’s speed capabilities (even though the game was not as fast as it should have been), it wasn’t a true Sonic games and was way too rushed to be taken seriously. Instead, it turned out to be a shallow F-Zero clone thrown out on the marketplace to make some quick change.

As the new generation of platforms emerged, Sega used Sonic as a way to show off their newest graphical technologies. There is no doubt that the new Sonic the Hedgehog for the XBox 360 looks nice, but as the abysmal reviews indicate, graphics are not everything.

 In order to push its cutting-edge graphics to the limit, Sega, in their infinite wisdom, felt the need to bring Sonic and his friends into a more realistic world, filled with life-like humans. As you can see from this video, there is something creepy about some giant hedgehogs interacting with humans.

My point is that Sega doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with Sonic. It seems like Sega assigns various quick-and-dirty development projects in order to see what ideas sticks with consumers. Unfortunately, Sega fans have had to suffer through this process.

Sega’s one redeeming endeavor has been the portable titles. The Sonic Advance series has at least replicated the original Sonic experience about as much as the GBA could, and Sonic Rush on the DS was probably the best Sonic game in over a decade. (Although, the really botched the new Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis for the GBA)

Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush are essentially the only Sonic games since the Genesis (sans the initial buzz of Sonic Adventure) that the majority of hardcore fans have actually spoke positively about. One would think that maybe Sega would try to go back bringing the series back to its roots more in order to succeed. (Read How Sega Can Bring Sonic Back To His Glory)

As we turn back to look at Nintendo and what they did with the Mario franchise, you will notice that The Big N took their time developing the N64 (remember THAT wait?) and polished Mario 64 in order to maintain its magical feel and bringing a consistent experience to the third dimension. Even though Mario fans would gladly welcome more traditional Mario games, Nintendo kept the pace slow in order to keep the standards high.

Sega needs to take a long look at Sonic and decide where the games of the past really shine and focus on those aspects and those alone instead of doing even more damage.

Personally, I believe the Sonic thrives in 2D and the third dimension should be used on Sonic Team’s other fan favorite NiGHTS into Dreams. Once Sega stays focused on creating killer gameplay in stead of the quick dollar, Sonic may be brought back to his former glory.

Part 2 – How To Fix Sonic
I followed this post up with my expanded thoughts on what Sega can do to make Sonic successful with both hardcore and casual gamers.

Related Posts:
Sega Still Commited To Reviving Old Franchises
Sega’s Best Genesis Moving To PSP and PS2
Getting The Most Out of Your Dreamcast
New Nights Into Dreams Coming To Revolution?
Classic Franchises That Actually NEED a Resurrection
Classic Game Franchises We May See Again Soon
The Best Graphics on the Dreamcast

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jemsic says:

Sorry, I just don’t agree with most of this article. I’ve loved both Sonic Adventure games and never came upon any annoyances some claim to have. But, to each his own… 😉

Moathon says:

Sorry but you’re wrong. Sega sucks now.

racketboy says:

That’s cool. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that Sonic Adventure are BAD games. They just don’t do Sonic justice.

Would you rather play Sonic in full 3D or have a more 2D-ish perspective like Viewtiful Joe?

jemsic says:

Well actually, I don’t really need any more Sonic games. And here’s the logic behind it:

There are plenty of 2D Sonic games that rock, and there are a couple 3D Sonic games that rock.

I think that the Genesis Sonics (which I still play, like, every other day) are Sonic’s peak. Playing Sonic and Knuckles is the highest enjoyment I can get out of Sonic, and I’m not sure that new animations fitted into the 2D spectrum would match my nostalgic thoughts.

But saying that, I wouldn’t mind seeing one brand new 2D Sonic game on a powerful system – just to see what Sega can do with it.


Moathon says:

It took 11 years for sonic to deliver the 2D sonic game we always wanted.

rond556 says:

I agree for the most part, but I’m hoping Sonic and the Secret Rings will put Sonic back on track

Neek says:

I really enjoyed reading this article, and I cannot even begin to say how much I agree with everything here…

I personally don’t know why Sega have gone to add more characters, and more exploration, and more nonsense (the moment I saw Sonic+princess, I knew the new game would be rubbish), when it is clear from Sonic Rush that they still know how what makes a Sonic game brilliant.

I have to say that as a big fan of the 16 bit Sonic games, the series has really gone downhill ever since, and Sonic Heroes marked the first Sonic game I ever traded, after I got sick of Knuckles dashing himself off the cliff for the umteenth time.

I really hope someone from Sega is reading this…

Anonymous says:

I agree with what the author of this post is saying completely. 3D Sonic games got progressively worse from Sonic Adventure onwards.Sonic R, I’m disregarding as an offshoot. Adventure was actually pretty fun, had lots of character and impressive level designs.Adventure 2 had some cool ideas, the level-based focus was great, and so was the 3D Green Hill you got for getting all A’s.

Heroes broke it, and it’s been breaking worse and worse ever since. Shadow was so appalling, I didn’t even try to finish it properly. I want a good Sonic game. Rush was fun, but not long enough, not expansive enough. I just feel ripped off by Sega, as I buy every new Sonic game on the hope that I will enjoy them, and have been almost invariably disappointed for at least the last three years. sigh.

Timerever says:

The awnser is simple, Sonic Team simply don’t know how to do 3D games. As simple as that, should they continue in the 2D land where they know how to code and the new Sonic games would be nice.
If you really need a good 3D Sonic the awnser is also simple, just hire another outside team to do the work, a team that konws how to code and work in 3D.

I for one think the best solution is for Sega to fire the entire Sonic Team and put someone else in charge.

Adam Hyland says:

Great article…..

I do have to ask where you found the Mario picture….also, his tiny, tiny shoes are a bit creepy. Look closer.

racketboy says:

hehe — never noticed the feet.

The picture is from the iam8bit art show.

You can find a wallpaper of this piece on the site

MiGs says:

I agree with everthing in this article, I am not a sega fan boy, I’ve never played any sonic games after sonic and sonic and knuckles on the genesis. Recently though, I’ve played Sonic Rivals on the PSP and its a 3D 1v1 racer with a 2D perspective, far from the speed platformer of old, but it does get pretty fast and hectic, boss battles are pretty fun too, yes there are more playable characters other then sonic (silver = wtf, shadow = allright, knuckles = red ownage) that don’t really need to be there at all, and just clutter things up. Although the game is decent, its just the production quality just isn’t totally there, I’d expect more from one of sega’s hit franchises you know. Sega has put sonic on the back burner for the longest time now, and I think its about time they pick it up and strive to make another hit sonic game, without shadow, silver (again, wtf), and other random characters, but bring back tails, and knuckles and sonic spinning in a blue ball of speed (every 3D sonic game lacks this, and is probably why they don’t do well).

SovietSlayer says:

Sorry but i dont agree with you either.

Sonic Adventure series were good games and even tho they had their flaws; like treasure hunting quests they were very fun games. The sonic stages in Sonic Adventrue 2 were a great transition of 2D to 3D.

But after the DC games sonic went to pieces and Sonic Heroes didnt even come close to being a good game.

jemsic says:

I was just playing Sonic Adventure 2 last night, to see if I could see any of the flaws that some mentioned. And here are my findings:

-The camera angles are always focused on your character, so you always know where you are. But it is hard to see the enemies sometimes.

-People who claim this game doesn’t have the speed that previous Sonic games have have obviously never played it. Sonic 360 may be slower imo, but the Sonic Adventure series was pure speed, and the levels were perfectly structed so that you’d never have to stop. If you wanted to stop and fight enemies – then that’s your problem. Because just like in Sonic games past, you can pass the enemies without fighting them. It’s just hard. And it should be, the enemies are there to try and make you stop.

I urge all who criticize this game to go back and play it again, preferrably on a vga screen. Every time I go back to it, I’m amazed.

racketboy says:

I don’t deny its fast.
It just doesn’t have the same sensation that the 2D games have.

I will still argue that there is nothing faster than having the speed power-ups and whipping through a bunch of loops.

Sonic Adventure just doesn’t match it.

As for the camera, it did improve in SA2, but I would still prefer it to be fixed on the side so that it would be similar to the old games.

I just don’t get the same Sonic feel by seeing what’s in front of me.

Part of the fun of the old games was quickly reacting to enemies you couldn’t see until they go close to you.

When you can see way ahead of you, you lose a lot of that.

I’m glad people still have fun with Sonic Adventure (I do to a certain extent), but I just don’t feel compelled to play it like I do with the 2D games.

jemsic says:

🙂 Just so I don’t sound biased, I was also playing Sonic and Knuckles last night for about an hour. I can’t seem to beat the boss at the end of Death Egg 1 – the one with the spinning platforms around him.

Anonymous says:

Face it – Sonic’s glory days were stuck in 2D. Unless Sega decides to actually turn out another honest 2D Sonic game on a next-gen console (not bloody likely), there is no hope for a decent Sonic game. The same fate befell Metroid, the king of side-action scrollers: it got turned into (yet another stupid) first-person shooter… and the same goes for a great many of the 2D heroes of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. It seems the only series that successfully jumped the dimensional barrier were Zelda and Mario – and Nintendo isn’t telling what’s in their secret formula. So the only foreseeable way for Sonic to ever again rise to any prominence is to appear in the next Smash Bros. game. (Added bonus – watching Sega fanboys and Nintendo fanboys still arguing like the tools they are twenty years later.)

Snowbank says:

The Review is almost right.
The Adventure Games where the best 3D games. And I still Play Them.

But your right Afther the adventure games they lost there minds to create something new for sonic.

Anonymous says:

It seems you are ALL forgetting about the greatest 3D sonic experiment ever, Sonic Jam’s ‘Sonic World’!

Kami68k says:

I agree with most of the article. I like the old Sonic Games and Sonic Adventure a lot (even the bosses and the “exploration” stages), but after that I didn’t really got much from the next titles. I dont even care much about sonic titles now and stick to the older ones. The GBA and DS Sonics are mostly nice though.

Anonymous says:

I must say I do agree with pretty much everything said here, sega lost it and desperately tried anything and everything to boost ratings.. but like most things people pull out of their ass.. it smells like crap. Sonic Adventure was ok.. a little dodgy, and the adventure areas didn’t annoy me that much, but it just got tedious.. it was like a 2-5 minute loading screen eventually, when I first saw Shadow.. nah.. .. then Silver.. I mean.. ” Hey lets make a silver colored hedgehog and name him Silver, hyuck, and get our 3 and a half foot hero getting it on with a human girl twice his height “.

Anonymous says:

I’ve been hyping about this for YEARS, and I’m so relieved someone finally sees that these new games just aren’t Sonic! I grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, and being young and enamored with the games, I naturally absorbed the “feeling” or the essence of the sonic games which gave them their magic. But playing game after game these days, they just feel so fake, amateurish, and disappointing. Instead of keeping to roots and branching off of that, Sega consistently ruined the game by creating a monstrosity based off of bad programming, cliched storylines, gimmicks, and worst of all, changing everything in its attempt to just CONFORM to other mainstream videogames.

First off the running mechanics. The new 3D games have no physics involved in them whatsoever. Basically, Sonic team has resorted to having sonic run on train tracks, with a few gimmicks strewn in here and there, and all the player has to do is press “forward”.

Second…THE FEET. Personally the rush I got was seeing sonic’s feet spin insanely fast when he was running at top speed. Running with sonic these days feels slow and cumbersome. He seems to be ice skating when running, and the long legs flopping everywhere…blech.

Third, I feel sonic was mainly made for ROLLING. I’m surprised they haven’t introduced any ball mechanics ala monkey ball into the sonic series. That was the main concept in the first sonic anyways and that’s how super fast speeds were obtained – by rolling down hills or what not and using gravity.

Fourth, the graphics are too “glossy” and fake to me. I know Sonic is a cartoon, but something about the graphics makes me feel like i’m in a plastic world. Because of that, the immersion level isn’t as great.

Finally, Sonic’s faith to it’s original story is long gone. It was the fuzzy animals being attacked by creatively insane mechanical monstrosities, not thousands of mediocre “sonic pals”, water monsters, and super dragon ball z powers. Sonic has become way to pretentious. I would love to see a game with ONLY sonic…battling giant metallic machinery in huge landscapes…rather than restricted to simple runnning tracks. Sonic was meant to RUN FREE! so LET HIM!

Unfortunately, my ideas are meaningless, but I’m still waiting until someone revives videogames into something meaningful and bring out the TRUE sonic.

Anonymous says:

Unless Sega decides to actually turn out another honest 2D Sonic game on a next-gen console (not bloody likely), there is no hope for a decent Sonic game.

Many feel SA1 or SA2 fit the bill. I’d lean towards SA1.

The same fate befell Metroid, the king of side-action scrollers: it got turned into (yet another stupid) first-person shooter…

While I liked Metroid Prime, it WASN’T classic Metroid. Comparing the two is like comparing Super Mario Brothers to Mario RPG. Same universe, different game.

and the same goes for a great many of the 2D heroes of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. It seems the only series that successfully jumped the dimensional barrier were Zelda and Mario

Mario was based on mid-air maneuvering and power-ups. Now it’s based on gimmicks. Mario 64 and Sunshine Mario may be fun, but neither follows the SMB / SMB3 / SMW series that everyone cried out for. What once was a race to the finish (or walk, but always point a to point b) is now exploration and random mini-games. You don’t plow through enemies like you used to, you don’t toss fireballs (which small as they are could be maddening in 3-D) and don’t even get “Super” anymore.

Zelda is less changed, keeping the crucial elements, exploring / re-exploring with the latest new item / figuring out the latest boss’es clever weak spot
The new Zeldas are also good enough games on their own merits that if they weren’t named Zelda, people would still buy them. (Well, maybe not Wind Waker, too much sailing, not enough playing)

Sonic, like Mega Man thrived on the theory, games don’t need to be movies with each radically changing from the last. Find what works and give people more of it. There’s nothing wrong with episode style games. Sega and Capcom did more than release new levels every few years. They released these new levels (and occasional gameplay upgrades) to eager buyers, happy to snap up a known brand of play they already know they like.

If McDonalds randomly fiddled with the recipe every time you went, it wouldn’t be so popular.

Nights was well liked, trying to beat Sonic into being Nights would have been laughed at. Games like SA can be awesome, but they can’t be what people are wanting, if you build them up with hopes for something else, which you do when you use an existing, well-defined franchise.

Anonymous says:

Quote from racketboy:
I just don’t get the same Sonic feel by seeing what’s in front of me.

Part of the fun of the old games was quickly reacting to enemies you couldn’t see until they go close to you.

My comment:
Well, maybe you remember spring-yard zone in “Sonic the hedghog” on the Genesis? There’s that blue little robot which looks like a ball. It’s extremely fast and you often can’t see it, you enter one of those small tunnels and suddenly it appears, runs away and you already lost all your rings. Don’t get me wrong, I love those game, just yesterday I finished Sonic 2 with all chaos emeralds, it’s just that it can be annoying to always get hit by a monster you can’t see.
I played Sonic 1,2,3 Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic Spinball, onic 3D, Robotniks mean bean machine (although it was simply tetris), Sonic Adventure 2 and sonic heroes. Out of those Only Sonic 3D, Sonic & Knuckles and sonic heroes are really bad. I loved the others, an I was -AMAZED- when I played SA2 🙂 Just the opinion of a stranger x)

Anonymous says:

Well, I am sorta getting tired of Tails, and the fact that you had to use certain characters in sonic heroes, but sonic adventure 1 and 2 were NOT bad. I didn’t even have to play the game to see how good it is. Another thing is that sonic advance 1 2 and 3 and rush were not for me. On the other hand, the first three, or four sonic games were good.

Anonymous says:

Sonic games are about speed. But u guys think 2d is great, make your own. with Sonic and the Secret Rings,
Sonic brins back something like CHAOS CONTROL. Speed is in there. If u want a fast game, tell Sega to make a Sonic game that when u go as fast as u can, u can’t even control him because he’s going to fast.(770mph)

Anonymous says:

I definitely agree with most parts of this article; I feel that sonic team have lost their way by focusing on making a 3d sonic game rather than making the sonic game benefit by 3d. Sonic adventure 1 and 2 had alot of good points and I, by far, perfer to play those (and the classics sonics) to this very day.
Most of the 3d sonic games, including the adveture series felt unfinished and the stories never concluded properly, save the sonic 360. The problem is not so much as it being 3d, that makes the sonic games feel less like the old sonics, it’s just that sonic does not react, interact or manouver the same way; for example, when was the last time sonic ran up a ramp or been able to roll freely around his environments? He no longer speeds up offically down hills,able to run on ceilings, jump off walls he ran up or do any other ball-like physic- stunts. The whole physique formula of the 2d sonics needs to be placed in to the 3d environments of sonic.
And also, get rid of the crappy characters who have no true meaning to the game. And what’s the hell with all the headgehog rivals? I mean, can’t the sonic team think of a more original idea than hedgehog enemies who so not see eye to eye with sonic?

All sonic team needs to do is focus on sonic and his pals from the 2D classics, and if need be incoparate some characters which are not playable. They need to bring back the formula and take their time on making sure the game is finished properly as well as great storyline. And also bring back the serious attitude sonic once had.
(sry guys, had to get that off my chest)

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