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)

Digg!

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

ALSO MYLES PROWER, YOUR COMMENT IS A PINGAS!

LONG LIVE SILVER THE HEDGEHOG!

The SEGA DREAMCAST Sonic Games were masterpieces, they were about bringing in multiple gameplay styles in the first place.
And all gameplay styles were all fun.
Sonic should be in 3D.
Hubworlds should be a standard in all 3D platformers.

FACT.

gh
gh

Someone that agrees with me. Finally! it’s about time that Sonic games were in 3D and not in 2D plus roughly pixelated graphics. It is the modern age after all and you don’t want to be left behing playing the so called “Classics” for the rest of your life.

@racketboy thinks 2D is better than 3D but I can keep ranting here forever.

Nachtholm says:

1) REBOOT! Kill the story DEAD and replace it with something that makes SENSE. While you’re at it, give Sonic a reason to fight Robotnik that isn’t “Because I feel like it”
2) 2.5D FTW. If you HAVE to make a 3D game:
–a )Ensure that the Camera can be adjusted easily without annoying auto-shifting
–b) Use a control scheme that takes advantage of the modern controller and the 3D environment
–c) Kill the auto-pilot (boost pads etc.)
–d) I’m thinking MASSIVE levels with multiple paths, all of which can be taken at high speed.
3) For the love of all that is holy, BETA TEST THE GAME
4) Limit the playable characters by making Sonic’s amazing pals OPTIONAL unlockable extras.
5) Give each character a SIMPLE to use advantage. (ie: Sonic light-dashes and homing attacks, Tails flies and swims, knuckles glides and climbs, Shadow has a LIMITED time freeze, Amy has acrobatics and teh hammer (a la Prince of Persia) Blaze throws fireballs and such and so on.
6) Allow me to play Super Sonic in whatever level I want to. If I collect the emeralds, I want to be able to use Super Sonic for more than just a boss fight. I want to actually PLAY the game with those abilities.
and finally
7) Get the Emeralds OUT of the main story. Yeah, an extra level or two and a boss are a great extra for collecting the Emeralds, but FORCING me to get them to actually END THE STORY is lame. Whatever happened to alternate ENDINGS?

3D would be just as good as 2D if SEGA actually bothered to spend the time to get it RIGHT. Sonic Adventure was a solid game in 1999, but it really hasn’t aged well. The bar has been raised, and the quality of Sonic games has not followed suit.

Altrenate endings are a very big waste of time. One ending is enough and can they just make a game about Silver and Blaze. Yep, just take a break from all the “OH NO! Robotnik attacked…” blah blah blah. And for Pete’s sake it better be in 3D because 2D has roughly pixelated graphics and they freeze every second. 3D games have better quality, I mean just look at UNCHARTED 2 or DANTE’S INFERNO. They are obviously epic enough and so are Sonic games.

Characters tha should be in the next game
1: Silver and Blaze
2: Shadow
3: Sonic
4: Espio
5: Tails (Even though I hate him to the 3rd degree)
6: Knuckles (Our bit red idiot)

THINGS I WANT IN THE NEW SONIC GAME:

1:More Silver and Blaze
2:Limited abilities
3:Thing you collect to refill your ability meter
4:Ability Meter
5:FINISHING MOVES
6:MEPHILES THE DARK’s revenge
7:Mephiles the Dark
8:NO ROBOTNIK AKA EGGMAN
9:Other demensions
10:Minigames

~~~~END OF DISCUSION~~~~

Bill says:

By getting rid of Shadow that is how Sega can become better. Shadow sucks, he is a bad character, and need sot be removed, pisspoor character that Shadow.

Bill, I agree to the 3rd degree. Shadow doesn’t need to have a game because you people know that Silver and Blaze deserve another game. We need to take a little break from Sonic here. ADMIT IT!

Bill says:

Speak the truth Silver speak the truth.

In other news, Sonic Unleashed combined great 2.5D with 3D and it was perfect for the PS3 which I have, phenominal action, but the night levels were starting to bore me after a lot of repetative gameplay. If it wasn’t for the enemies and the music tracks then I would have thrown my controller at the ground and picked up another game. I still support the Were-Hog thing though, I don’t want a comeback of that though.

IN ALL OPINIONS: Sonic was great for the classics SEGA GENISIS, I know because I have SONIC’S ULTIMATE SEGA GENISIS COLLECTION for my PS3. But we are in the new era of technology so why keep waiting in the past with freezing 2D graphics instead of 3D. I think I made my point quite clear to you people…

André says:

Nice article. I don’t know if any of you guys share this view with me, but one thing, one core ingredient that I have been offered in past sonic games and the new ones only seem to diminish it is the sense of “freedom of speed”. What is that? The simple fact you can boot the game and simply run with sonic at absurd speeds. Not stopped by stupid 3D walls. Could you guys imagine a game which we would be just left there in some sort of Green Hill-esque 3D world where you can speed ridiculously, jump through obstacles and enemies in an epic “Le Parkour” if you will, just giving the character and the players what Sonic is al about? Speed. No holds free speed. And epic Robotnik battles.

Richard says:

another featur they need to bring back is to put super/Hyper sonic back to buissness… I getting really tired of the 3d games where you can only play as Super Sonic in the level at the end of the game… you know what I mean SEGA!!

Greggory Harris says:

You know, to be honest, Sonic hasn’t really disappointed me at all. I know that may sound weird, but the only game that kind of pissed me off was Sonic and the Black Knight. That game was terrible. Seriously, Sonic doesn’t need a frickin sword! Sonic was meant to go through loops, not slicing and dicing other people with a sword. I agree with most of your points in this, but seriously, I REALLY don’t care about the gameplay and story and all of that, because I am a true Sonic fan. If people seriously want a 2D Platform game with the same old school mechanics, then by all means go back to the Genesis. But if Sega seriously doesn’t want to change their Sonic model, why doesn’t Sega ATLEAST use Sonic Advance Graphics? I mean, Sonic Advance was an awesome game! It was just like the Genesis. Only the fact it has Amy as a playable character, and their newer models, but SAME FRICKIN GAMEPLAY! I’m just saying, If Sega REALLY wants to make a good game, then they should think about the new and the old fans alike and go with Sonic Advance graphics and gameplay! And PLEASE BRING THE CHAO GARDEN BACK! I loved that idea! 🙂

Greggory Harris,

P.S, I have Xbox LIVE, anyone want to hit me up in COD or Halo Reach? Gamertag is Zion9466. If you add me, message me why and how you found my gamertag. Thanks! 🙂

dominick says:

ok heres my opinion and please someone give me feedback

I loved sonic adventure 1 and 2 but i agree with you about the voices and exploration levels, other than that those games are gems

sonic heroes was the first 3d sonic game i played its pretty awesome if your playing the gamecube version, most people have played the ps2 version which sucked, the gamecube version is really good

shadow the hedgehog was ok, i like how it was dark and stuff but sometimes it was too eery

sonic 06 sucked, we all know it lets just let it go, every series has a few bad games

the riders series is kind of bogus, i liked the setting and music but thats it

secret rings was ok I give it the benefit of the doubt cause its the first sonic game with motion controls

unleashed was awful i hated it, end of story

black knight was an abomination

colors kicks ass

sonic chronicles was actually really good and i hope they make a 3ds sequel, if so ill actually buy a 3ds

the rush series is really underrated

so basically i think sonic can be in both 2D and 3D they just need to make a few adjustments to 3d, i enjoy multiple playable characters as long as they all have fun gameplay thats unique like in a 3d game id want knuxs levels/story to be a beatem up style that would really suit knux as far as im concerned, and they need to make special stages and have super sonic in the main levels, and maybe even have super emeralds and hyper sonic

as far as voice acting goes i dont really care who does it

Sonic Messiah says:

Sonic Generations was made. It has some of the things you’ve been looking for for a good while, but sadly, the game was pretty…short… in comparison to other games.

Giancarlo leblanc santucci says:

i agree with you, i miss the old fun games like sonic R, sonic 2,3,1, and knuckles. I hope sega makes a comeback and returns to old 2D like the genesis era.

The Effect says:

Everybody has a different idea about what would “fix” Sonic. Your list is presented in a very mature and calm way, and there’s a certain amount (oh, okay, a lot) of what you want that would make good 2D Sonic games for 2D Sonic fans. But the mainstream series merely needs some tweaking and adjusting.

A) Sonic can only be so fast, in 2D or 3D, before the game is just playing itself. Look at the Sonic Storybooks and Colors/Generations. They pretty much play themselves with no input from the player. All the Sonics have a slight problem with this, but it’s a bigger issue in the recent games. Sonic’s never been all about speed.

B) Sonic as a 2D-only game is over. It’s never been a viable option. SEGA should absolutely pay homage to the original greats by releasing 2D games on the side (preferably without some of the cited issues in Sonic 4), but the series needs to have a primary hand in the 3D gaming pie as much as anyone else’s franchise does.

C) Unfortunately, they’ve tried that every once in a while. Heroes tried that, and it was horrendous. The Sonic Advances tried to do it in different ways, too. That’s kind of a Catch 22. It could be done well in a full-fledged Sonic game – which would require 3D-only gameplay – but it would have to be very specifically placed and done for VERY good story reasons. It worked well in the old games’ story – and yes, they did have stories – so it could be done well in recent games, too.

D) The bosses usually annoyed me. They meant painstakingly trying not to die so that I didn’t have to use up all my continues and replay the entire damn game again. Not that they weren’t creative and cool-looking, and once you knew what to do, they were pretty fun to play. Some better bosses would be great… but that isn’t necessarily because the bosses you face aren’t Robotnik’s mechs.

E) Not that Sonic was ever on Mobius, since I don’t remember that concept making it past the comics. But it depends on what type of fantasy you’re talking about. Lots of people view Sonic as a fantasy thing that should be left in its own world. And that would have been fine if they’d fleshed out a properly-large and scaled fantasy world to begin with. But that ship has kinda sailed. They moved Sonic to Earth, and honestly it seems like he’s always been there, anyway. The old games didn’t have very fantastical environments. Mario was clearly on crack, and it worked wonders for him, but Sonic wasn’t. It was more grounded in an element of realism. An element that would only naturally translate to Earth and humans as video gaming progressed.

F) This one goes hand-in-hand with the way Sonic has progressed. It’s sort of like the bonus rounds. It needs to be done very carefully. The pinball zones always made me want to go out and kill a cow, though. I dreaded them like nobody’s business when I used to play Sonic 2. In Heroes they were worse, but in Adventure… in Adventure, they fit well with good story reasons. And the way they looked, the music, the feeling… I liked them in Adventure. Of course, that doesn’t mean that that’s automatically the way it is. The truth is subjective.

G) I definitely want to play as Sonic more than the others, but that’s just not all there is to Sonic as a universe. They may (or may not) have introduced too many characters too fast, but those characters are there now, and they’re not going away, and they need to be put to good use. I believe you mentioned a great example here. Knuckles VS. Knuckles. Knuckles in SA1 was actually pretty fun, and although I had a good time in SA2, simple things like only being able to find one Emerald at a time were a pain. So, it’s down to simple improvements like that. If all characters play similarly to Sonic, it takes the point out. And playing as Sonic only gets old pretty fast. Mostly because that’s all the two most recent games focus on: going fast.

H) Sonic needs some proper voice actors who aren’t afraid to truly emote when they do their voice acting, but this issue has been pretty over-blown by the majority of modern haters – or even just people who aren’t particularly fond of the voice acting. Some people say Sonic should have a voice just because it’s Sonic. That’s almost as shallow as saying Sonic shouldn’t have proper stories just because it’s Sonic. Voices need improvements – and not all that much with a bag of chips – but not removed. That’s something that would hurt the franchise more than benefit. Regardless of what Sonic’s more longtime fans want, gamers expect voices. It’s better that way, anyway.

I) I personally loved Sonic 06. And no, I don’t deny that it has flaws. Perhaps not as many as it may have been made to appear by some, and perhaps not as bad, but it’s flawed definitely. The taller characters, more realism in the style, stages like Crisis City and Kingdom Valley with visual hooks that were very effective… Yeah, it was good. Some people feel that Sonic shouldn’t try to have realism. Okay, it doesn’t have to. But it needs to be more (so much more) than Mickey Mouse graphics. *shudders*

J) I would agree that Sonic needs to be the primary focus like he was in the Adventures – as in that he should have more stages and longer story portions than other characters. And having six playable characters is overkill. But, still, Sonic is still not just about speed. So having other characters is probably a good thing in the long run.

I do appreciate the calmness and recognition of how it’s a matter of opinion, and not fact. Most Sonic fans, both old and new, think that what they think and only what they think is the truth. Hopefully, I have been calmer and more civilized about it than most Sonic fans have been, as well.

Jake says:

The Effect’s claim that Sonic 06 is great, but Colors and Generations are interactive movies, is beyond offensive. It’s simply self-evidently absurd.

Moathon says:

You got exactly what you wanted. Sonic mania came out 11 years after this article was written unfortunately.

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