How Sega Can Bring Sonic the Hedgehog Back To Its Glory

sega-bring-sonic-back

After my rant on How Sega All But Ruined Sonic the Hedgehog, I thought it would be most appropriate to expand on how Sega can actually transition Sonic into the next-gen consoles without making their down-slide worse. I figured the best way to go through this is to take the core elements that did work of all the past games and explain how they could be pieced together to build a new Sonic classic.  (BTW: I’ve updated this post since it got submitted to Digg)

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Make Sonic Fast

With a Sonic game, you obviously need speed, and while the 3D Sonic games were still faster than your other 3D platformers, they still did not have the same sense of speed of the 16-bit predecessors. One of the main advantages of 3D action games is the ability to roam around and have complete directional control of your character. In Sonic, however, I believe that really takes away from the speed of the game.

One flaw that seemed to more prevalent throughout the Sonic Adventure and Sonic Heroes series is the fact that when hitting the side of a track at full speed results in the character coming to a dead halt. This is aggravating, especially when it happens more often than it should. If a Sonic game was a bit more limited in terms of 3D control — maybe to the point of putting it on two-dimensional rails, you would be able to maintain more of the high-speed feel and bring it back to the old-school roots.

Stick With Two Dimensions

 When Sonic is in 2D, players had limited vision when it came to their enemies and obstacles. While at times this brought frustration, it also required players to have quick reaction time, and also rely on either quick instincts or a bit of memorization in order to succeed.

Tying this back to the previous point about speed and the limited movement, I might be advantageous to completely bring the series back to a sideways view with limited 2D movement similar to modern games like Viewtiful Joe.

Viewtiful Joe was an interesting success story. It was a franchise that came out of nowhere in a crowded video game market. What made Viewtiful Joe so successful is that it was something completely different in addition to being simple and fun — all because it was 2D.

A two-dimensional environment works best for games like Viewtiful Joe and Sonic the Hedgehog because they thrive on the simplicity of 2D gameplay. When the gameplay basics are simple, it allows both the developer and the gamer to benefit. The developer can spend less time on getting all those 3D camera bugs and other complex issues taken care and focus more on developing beautiful landscapes, amazing speed, and killer boss battles. The gamer also does not have to learn a complex control scheme or all the little quirks of getting stuck in a 3D environment and focus more on quick response time and enjoying the actual game.

Viewtiful Joe enjoyed quite a buzz in the gaming community through both critical reviews and word-of-mouth as more and more gamers got their hands on the title. But why did a new beatemup get so much attention? Because it was different. It stood out. It was basically the only new, 2D action game on the market. It combined 2D gameplay with the capabilities of modern consoles.

Make Electrifying Bonus Rounds

For me, one of the most exciting parts about the classic Sonic games on the Genesis was the bonus rounds. As fun as the main game was, sometimes you were excited to have a chance at the bonus rounds. Back then, the bonus rounds were not only loads of fun, but also a showcase for sweet graphical advancements and trippy visual effects. With the power of next-gen consoles, developers have unlimited number of effects possibilities to create some incredible bonus rounds.

Sega is also well-known (or at least they were) for making some incredibly quirky but fun games. This is an opportunity to insert some of this quirkiness without worrying about messing up the main part of the game.

Bottom line: Fill bonus rounds with an insane amount of eye candy and quirky gameplay and gamers of all ages and skills will eat it up.

Make Monster Robotnik Bosses

Sonic has benefited from a number of incredible level design. But one of my favorite parts of each 16-bit level was making it to the end and seeing what type of mechanical creation Dr. Robotnik would bring to battle me.

The original Sonic Adventure game was a real let-down with its focus on the Chaos water creature. Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes returned a bit more to the more mechanical bosses, but I really think Sega could work a bit harder to create something that takes advantage of the current generation of consoles and would actually strike fear in the hearts of Sonic fans.

Bring Sonic Back to Mobius

Just like Mario has the Mushroom Kingdom, Sonic once had a magical place of his own. His unique planet was not detailed by name in the original games, but was later expanded on in Sonic comics and animation as Mobius.

However, once Sonic went into 3D, Sega felt that Sonic was better suited on Earth and had him and the other animal-like characters to interact with humans. While many video games should obviously be based around life on Earth and a realistic setting, games that have a more fantasy element such as Mario and Sonic should be treated to a unique world/universe the gives them more personality and builds on the specials strengths of the characters.

Have Creative Level Designs With Personality

The orignial Sonic games had a ton of creative level designs that were each very distinct and featured an interesting gimick. Many themes were repeated thoughout the series, but were always given a fresh flair. Examples are the fresh-but-fast Green Hill Zones, your colorful and zany Casino zones, and your don’t-run-out-of-air Underwater Zones.

Many of these unique zones were lost in Sonic Adventure and the later 3D games. Sonic Heroes brought back a handful of these themes, which was one if its few saving graces.

Resurrecting some of these colorful level designs could not only give the Sonic series its personality back, but it would also add new gameplay elements and strategy requirements to keep the gamer interested.

Limit The Amount of Playable Characters

When more people pick up a Sonic game, they want to play as Sonic. I don’t think they by it to play as Tails, or Amy, or some fat cat with a fishing pole. They like to be Sonic. Other Sonic-like characters like Knuckles and Shadow are ok as long as the play like Sonic for the most part.

Sonic and Knuckles on the Genesis was great when it let you play as Knuckles. He did run around like Sonic, but he also had some additional powers like the climbing and gliding capabilities. His levels were, for the most part identical to Sonic’s, but it allowed you to think differently about how to approach the level.

However, in games like Sonic Adventure 2, I dreaded playing as Knuckles because you had a completely different level that, instead of blazing though and exciting landscape, you were forced to fly around until you found a certain number of jewels. I only wanted to complete those levels so I could play more Sonic afterwards.

Don’t Let Sonic Talk

I have to admit, once I heard Sonic and the other characters talk in Sonic Adventure, I was embarrassed to have anyone else see me playing the game. Back in the Genesis days, I viewed Sonic and Knuckles both as being “cool” (for lack of a better term) while each having a distinct personality. Sega did a good enough job with their facial expressions and body language to make them into a character that we could relate to. Tails was once viewed as a dependable sidekick, but once he opened his mouth, he was nothing but an annoyance.

Nintendo doesn’t have Mario speak audibly very often for good reason. If he did, it would be absolutely grading on the nerves. (Unless you are really into the cheesy Italian accent for long periods of time). A few little phrases here and there (like those used in Sonic CD) are fine, but that’s about it.

Slick Graphics Are Fine

Sweet Graphics + 2.5D Sidescrolling = Bliss

Even though I am an old-school fanatic, I still love high-end graphics as long as they are used properly and the game does not rely on them as a crutch. When it comes to many 3D titles, including Sega’s 3D Sonic games, it seems like developers use 3D “because they can” and its what is mainstream — not because it actually suits the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog on the XBox 360 looks phenomenal. I cannot deny that it has some real stylistic potential. But as I mentioned before, I truly believe that combining those graphical capabilities with a 2D gameplay engine could really turn into a landmark game in the Sonic series.

Focus On The Core Gameplay

You’ll notice that one of the biggest differences (besides the graphics) between the 16-bit Sonic games and their newer siblings is Sega tried to greatly expand what a Sonic game included. In the first Sonic Adventure, this was very apparent with the exploration mode after the first level. I can still remember the first time I played Sonic Adventure — I was blown away by the first level and all of its excitement and beauty. I couldn’t wait to jump into the next exciting, blistering fast round. Instead, I had to wonder around some town trying to figure out where to go.

Obviously, Sega toned that element down a bit, but they still have a tendency to drift away from the core Sonic gameplay we all love. Let me clarify to those that think I hate 3D Sonic games: I actually enjoy playing those Sonic levels. Obviously, I think they can be improved, but at least they are much better than many other parts of the game.

Sega (and any other game developer, for that matter) needs to take a look at what elements are actually working well for them. Then, examine the areas that aren’t working and throw them away. If you want to experiment with one or two things, that’s fine. But don’t keep that new thing around for the next installment if it’s a dud.

Take Your Time

Learn from Nintendo

If you take a look at the games that have the highest review scores over the years, you can probably think back and remember that those games were in development for quite a while. Perhaps there were even a delay or two before reaching the final release date. As disappointing as delays might be for fans, they usually mean that the developers are making sure the final product is as good as it can be.

To strengthen my argument, lets take a look at the 3D installments of both the Mario and Sonic franchises. The core Super Mario series has only had three console releases in a span of 12 years (Super Mario 64 [1996] , Super Mario Sunshine [2002], and Super Mario Galaxy [2007]). Sonic, on the other hand, has had six games (if you include Shadow the Hedgehog) in only nine years. Now consider the acclaim the Mario games have received (especially, the recent Super Mario Galaxy) in contrast to the ridicule the Sonic games have received.

What Is Your Opinion?

Obviously, this is a hot topic for anyone that is interested in Sonic games. I’ve already had a large number of people (usually in their early teens) that have criticized me for what I’ve said in my previous articles, and if they enjoy these newer games, that’s just fine. Perhaps Sega thinks it’s better to cater to the younger crowd. But I would like to think that I’m not the only one that thinks that Sega should put the effort to create a game that gamers of all ages can enjoy — much like Nintendo fans are with Mario Galaxy.

I’m not holding my breath for Sega to take these ideas into consideration. But until they do, I’ll be playing much more of Sonic Mega Collection and Sonic Rush than any of the newer console installments.


222 Comments

Weston says:

As for Sonic talking, I think he should talk. It would be like copying of Mario if he didn’t. I certainly would want Sonic being only able to nod and make grunt noises like Mario.

And then there’s the fact of Robotnik. He’s human, Mobius is a land of animals. It didn’t make sense how only one human lives there. So they moved it to earth. I know this raises up the question as where did sonic and his friends come from, but honestly, if you think about that, you’re way too into this series. Those kind of things really don’t matter. What I mean is, so what if they moved it to Earth, who cares?

Naturally they would bring in some other bosses other than eggman. Mario couldn’t continuously fight Bowser could he. No. sonic needed some more evil, and villanous things to really test his skill out on. Fighting Eggman alone is boring.

As for the 3D stuff, it makes sense if you think about it. They would do it and change the course of Sonic alltogether. For example, Luigi’s Mansion. Completely different from the other Mario games. You couldn’t jump, which is totally unlike the Mario games, you used a vacuum cleaner to catch ghosts, yet that game was a hit. Sonic needed some kind of thing like that. A big change to change the course of everything.

The amount of playable characters. Oh, come on! Boo-hoo, you don’t play as only sonic. What about the other characters? Do they not matter? And the fact that they have different objectives and movements different from Sonic is really annoying to you guys? Do they not have their own lives. Knuckles collecting pieces of the master emerald? Not a bad change. Knuckles is a different person who needs a different objective. Sure Big is a total veer away from the other characters, and has a weird storyline, but in a lot of stories there’s that one guy who doesn’t know anyone but some how gets involved.

The main things I’m seeing is that changing the Sonic games from what they were is bad. Well, for many it’s not. The Sonic games are very popular, despite what some of you say, sure, a lot of people don’t like them, but a great many do! Sonic was only 2D because that was technolgy’s limits. finally they made a 3D game which I assume was very popular. So what if sonic is changing from 2D to 3D. So what if you can’t play as much as sonic and just blast through each level and just fight Robotnik. So what if there are different levels, so what?

As for the animation, I can’t say anything. You know why? I don’t animate. I don’t anything about animation. If you all are animators then you can say these things about the animation. But if you don’t, you’re not in much place to talk.

All in all, I think the Sonic games are pretty good. The rest of you just don’t think so because it’s not what you grew up to. I don’t see anyone complaining about Mario, who also went from 2D to 3D. I think you all are just making too much of a big deal about this. Who are you too say that the Sonic games are that bad, just because that not what you grew up to? Things change. Next I suppose you’ll be complaining that Sonic’s character design is to different! Geez, grow up.

Alex says:

I loved Sonic adventure 2,mainly cuz of the chao,but it was awesome.(Expesially with cheats to go super fast and to fly)But i see your point.It would be nice to do some of the things you said,but i think sonic should stay 3D.I havnt beaten it yet,but i got the sonic next gen for ps3.I like it,because it has exploring levels,and super speed levels.IT has levels where you do nothing but run,evade,and jump on stuff,and its awesome.But i beleive sega does need to do some improvement.

4n0n says:

O my god yes!!! finally someone who understands this….lol
i hav did a sonic fan for my entire life and it stinks to see him slide down to mediocore games.

Swagger says:

After playing New Super Mario Brothers, with its familiar but modernized gameplay, a similar Sonic title might work really well. Just make simple cool levels in 2d, make Sonic at least as fast as the Genesis era, and make it remind us of our childhood but challenge our current skills.

K'hast says:

I liked the old Sonic games a lot more than the new ones. Even the DS Rush series is better than the 3D versions, in my opinion.

It isn’t about the graphics capabilities of the systems, if you can pull off the feel and mechanics, and have a camera which doesn’t constantly hinder the game, more power to you.

As far as the multiple playable characters go, I don’t really mind that, BUT I would rather be able to play each character in the same levels, maybe having the special abilities allow you to go to areas in the same level that other characters couldn’t go. (AKA Knuckles in the 2D games.)

If using 3D, make the physics feel more classic sonic. (For those who remember…Blast Processing…yeah I know “blast processing” was just a gimmick…but heck it was catchy, and yeah Sonic games always used to stand out because of the seemingly fast they went. The 2D levels were huge, fast, and had a unique feel to each level.

Matt - London says:

I remember the buzz that used to go round when there was a new sonic game coming out. Sonic 2 was great and the countdown to sonic 3 had me buying anything that reviewed it. The original sonic games always had new creative designs whilst keeping to the core structure of what the game was. Once Sonic started talking and having loads of other characters involved in the game I left it. I got a DS last year to play Sonic in 2d but it was no way near as good as the old games and felt cheap because none of the original beauty was there. A well developed 2D sonic franchise with no voices, just Sonic and Tails vs Robotnik in some fast non puzzle style game play would have me buying the console that launched it.

klaue says:

i have to totally agree with you. i loved the old sonic games on the megadrive (genesis)(though i never managed to finish sonic 1 until i took an emulator with save functionality). once i tried one of the 3D-games, sonic was lost for me.. now i am even unable to name most of the new characters.. The only sonic game i liked in 3D was Sonic R. And it was rubbish and full of bugs (i can not explain why i like it)

oh the memories.. i would like to play dead egg zone in Sonic 3 right now.. i have to search my old megadrive (thought only one gamepad still works)

Greg says:

Man, I’ve been saying this for years. Glad I’m not the only one out there who thinks this. I’ve been hoping to see another side moving sonic for a while. In fact just 2 days ago I was talking to my friend about games today, and how they are all losing what made them great, such as sonic, and I figured that the point sonic began to suck was when they branched into 3D games. completely loosing out on the whole ‘feel’ of the game. 2D vector, or 2D plane with 3D graphics would make the game so much better, going back to its roots.

PENIX says:

All your points are well taken. The old 2D games were great, and the recent 3D games just fall flat. Sonic Adventure 2 has a few fun courses, but the Knuckles and Tails levels are terrible and boring. Since Sonic, Knuckles and Tails are each a third of the game, it means that 2/3 of the game was crap.

The Genesis was the last console I purchased, and the last time I ever really enjoyed a Sonic game. If they were to successfully incorporate all the points you made, they would have a killer -must have- game.

TapeMan says:

It’s a very good point, and it’s very true. Since Sonic Adventure 2, pretty much every Sonic game sucked. The only reason I can’t see Sonic truly “Coming back” is because the little kids still buy into the whole thing. Every time, even though the gameplay gets worse each time, and the story is nothing short of ridiculous… the kids buy it.

To bring fans of the original stuff back, I think you hit the nail on the head, a Viewtiful Joe type 2d/3d game would be perfect. And yes, he should STFU.

A good article.

NeoChaos says:

As far as moving Sonic “back” to Mobius, it’s not going to happen in the games. The original Japanese games were set on Earth; it was only the English translations that came up with Mobius (and later adopted by the comics and cartoons). Sonic Adventure just made the world name more consistent.

So unless you can convince Sonic Team over in Japan to change the name to one they didn’t even think of, it’s not going to happen.

CroniAggression says:

They need to hand this franchise to another studio. Since DC its been the same crap time after time. Music that gets old way to quick, unlikeable characters, the dreaded rail system, overall games that don’t feel like they were finished in the first place. If they can’t think of anything remake sonic2 for the next gen consoles and put some effort into it.

Carlos says:

The following need to be adressed:

-Mobius does not exist in the Sonic video game universe, Sonic lives in planet Earth since the very first game;

-Regardless of how Mario games are made, the true 3D Sonic game are normally released with a 3 or 4 year difference, while spin-offs, understandably get released every year;

-Contrary to popular belief, Sonic 360/PS3 is the only Sonic game in existence to have received a bad rating, Sonic games are normally within average(for spin-offs) to very good;

-Oddly, most critics of Sonic Adventure 2, back then, never had a problem with the fact that Sonic only had 6 playable levels out of the 30 available, the bad camera system also didn’t stop them to rate ths game as one of the best platform games ever;

Just needed to point this out.

racketboy says:

I’m well aware of all of them — except that you are wrong about the 3 or 4 year difference issue. I’m not sure where you got that.

Also, many reviewers had issues with the cameras. And even if they didn’t mention it, it doesn’t change what I felt about the game.

As for the Mobius/Earth issue, I know the background behind it, but even if it was technically on Earth the whole time, how Sonic Team portrayed earth has changed.

Bluehog says:

I have to really agree that Sonic needs to look back at his older, orignal days.

Sonic is about the speed, not anything else. And I agree with you, 3D speed is not as impressive as the speed in a 2D enviroment, unless your getting to the point that the player can’t react.

Sonic really could use a return to his 2D days. Mostly because his original style of gameplay, which SEGA has tried to stick too, worked for 2D but not 3D. When Mario went 3D the gameplay style changed dramatically. (No supermushrooms or breaked bricks over your head). The only 3D Sonic level I have played which I believe captures the original feel of Sonic is Final Rush from Sonic Adventure 2.

And yes, SEGA needs to STOP churning out a Sonic game every year. I’d rather play fewer quality games then more horrible games.

Most of the points you mentioned are captured by the Sonic-Fan Game makers these days.

Jenny says:

I can’t play Sonic to save my life. But it is a really awesome game. And I have the anime. 🙂

CroniAggression says:

heck yeah the old cartoon was great (non abc)

Squishmeep says:

I agree and disagree with many of these points(gee what a surprise).

Let me start by saying I like the 2-D and 3-D version of Sonic. However, I believe that 2-D and 3-D should completely seperate. That way if they seperate then Sega can vocus seperately on each type of game to make both 2-D and 3-D outstanding. Let me give everyone an example, old Zelda type games(Minish Cap, Four Swords etc) and new Zelda type games(Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess etc). When they seperated old from new they managed to make fantastic games. Try it Sega! You have nothing left to lose!

Put Sonic back on Mobius: No, only because whenever people say Mobius I picture Sally Acorn(and I hate her). Maybe in the 2-D versions of Sonic though. But not 3-D Sonic.

Make Sonic defey gravity: Yes, in both 2-D and 3-D.

Talking Sonic characters: Only if the voice acting gets better and consistant. Stop changing the freaking voice actors! Oh, and give Sonic back his attitude and stop making Shadow freaking angry and depressed!

Bonus stages: Bonus stages should be given back to 2-D and never enter 3-D ever again. For the 3-D games, Sega should come up with something original.

Bring back the old Tails and Knuckles: Yes and no. I’m not going to go into details(it would take too long, Strengths of a character/ weaknesses of a character and how they should properly be incorperated).

One last thing, stop trying to impress new or future audiences. Sega is losing their original fanbase. Fast.

Sorry in advance for the wall of text…

Andrew says:

Oh, man I completely agree with you and your opinions.

Omochao says:

Tails should have his own 3D game for Wii.

-Insane Kid- says:

Amazing, simply amazing. I agree with you all the way, you have some great points, and took the words out of my mouth. (And gave them a manicure. 😉 if you know what I mean.)

Jon says:

While I do agree that Sonic has to return to his roots, focus on fast pace gameplay and eye bending environments, I can’t help but wonder maybe the adventure formula could’ve worked better as a side franchise (like what paper mario is to mario.)
And perhaps a competant team behind sonic team. It kinda seems that the quality behind their games has kinda taken a pitfall since yuji naka and Naoto Oshima left.

Katie says:

your right. they killed sonic. He was much more likable in his old games.#1 He was fat!#2 He wasnt a jerk!#3 He had better games!! Same goes for tails. i dont mind his new look, but he looked a lot cuter back then. Seriously, sega. Get a life. Jeez.

PS This is coming from a kid too(me)

Andrew says:

Absolutley agreed. The new games are fun, sure, but I’d much prefer Sonic Team just take their time, and make some good games. Sonic Rush and Sonic Advance are good too, but they need to, as you’ve said, make atleast one solid 2-D game on the console, like Viewtifull Joe.

My advice to Sega:
Fix the camera’s
Take your time, delay if you must
No more glitches.

Ein says:

Wow, thank you so much for that insightful rant! I completely agree with you on all points. The newer games make Sonic look so retarded with him trying to be “cool” and everything. I just want Sonic to SHUT UP with the cheesy lines.

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