I’m the worst kind of Sonic the Hedgehog fan. I love the franchise, but I’ve not played every game. Yet I still think I deserve to have opinions on everything Sonic related, including the games, characters, cartoons and comics.
It’s been about 25 years since I was first drawn into the #Sonic universe. There’s been ups and downs, and somehow in the last few months, the hype has returned. I even bought a stupid Mystery Box toy, but got possibly the least desirable outcome:
So what's the reason for my newly restored Sonic frenzy? Why, it's all because Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces are coming. But why am I so excited for something I’d pretty much given up on?
Is It Nostalgia?
The obvious answer is sentimentality. Ten-year-old Brice had much more time and tolerance for things. Especially bad things. Any other version of Brice is much more critical. Ask for a gamer’s opinion on the Sonic franchise and you’ll be blasted with statements like, "The early games were the best," and, "Sega jumped the shark way too many games ago." Statements that the Brice of today agrees with.
My personal Sonic history started with my very first console, the Sega Master System II. Aside from Wonder Boy in Monster Land, the original Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first games I ever owned. The simple mechanics meant that I could play it easily. For someone that wasn’t into #Nintendo until an embarrassingly amount of time later, this was my formative platforming game. I loved it. Even if people counter that it was only good for the time, there’s no denying that Sonic was a win for Sega.
My second major foray into Sonic was in high school, with Sonic & Knuckles. Y'see, in high school, when a friend gave me a disc that housed a large number of Super Nintendo and Mega Drive games, I didn’t know that emulation was frowned upon. Regardless, I played them all. A lot. And Sonic & Knuckles was one of them. So even though I missed out on a #Sega Mega Drive, I still have some great high school Sonic memories from that generation of consoles.
The game had its detractors, but it was fun. Plus, it has Knuckles the Echidna. It’s a much larger scale than the first game in the series, adding more story and even a race mode!
This was during the Nintendo 64 years, so I'd say it was my first wave of Sonic nostalgia. Not having owned any other Sonic game since the Master System, I took the opportunity to catch up on what I’d missed.
The Social Aspect
Maybe my excitement comes from the fun-with-friends element. I remember playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on a friend’s Mega Drive. I remember playing as Tails and constantly dying. I remember having fun and noticing the improvements, even to that darn hang glider.
Then in high school, a friend picked up Sonic Advance (or was it Sonic Advance 2?). I a few of us, playing a lot of race modes during our lunch breaks, joined our Game Boy Advances together using link cables (all fun gaming memories involve link cables). I don’t think I ever won, and I don’t think I ever played the story mode, but I do remember laughing at others when they lost, which I believe is the meaning of truest friendship.
There’s a missing dialogue about the social aspect of the Sonic games. As a single child, maybe I'm the only Sonic fan just realizing this, but it turns out they’re fun with friends! It's not just about collecting Chaos Emeralds and rescuing cute animals.
The Disappointment Begins
Post-high school was my gaming dark age. I had a PlayStation 2, but primarily used it as a DVD player. Maybe it was while at university, or the idea that I should be maturing or whatever, but I did not play a lot of games. It took a friend's Wii for me to seriously get excited about gaming once again.
Part of my personal gaming renaissance came when I bought Sonic Heroes, a game that tried, and failed, to catch up to the 3D platformer crowd.
The cast of characters was huge. And they were all in teams fighting and racing against each other to — I don’t know — do stuff? The teams were exactly the same. I wasn’t feeling it, and it made me sad. The #PS2 is known for a lot of gems, and lot of dirt. For me, this was dirt.
But this game was nothing special. And by this time I was truly on the Nintendo bandwagon, so perhaps it didn’t hit me that hard, but I still remember being disappointed.
Which leads me to Sonic Unleashed, the game that made me declare I had given up on Sonic. A single game helped me realize that Sonic was done and that the creators had no idea what they were doing. It had bad controls, writing, camerawork — everything.
I’d given up. I skipped the Sonic 4 games, Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, which I heard were were OK. Then there was a brief stint with Sonic Dash, a free phone game that involved occasionally touching my thumb to my phone. It was fun, but one note. It had unlockable characters. It turns out the way to get me to play a Sonic game again was to make it free to play. But it did get some things right. Somehow, it gave me a little bit of hope.
Which brings me to the future. Are Mania and Forces the games that are going to restore my faith? Am I going to regret buying this on launch day? Will it give me Big the Cat?
Judging by everything I've written, I guess my life has been spent playing several bad Sonic games for every one good Sonic. Maybe it’s not a question of how much I appreciate the franchise and my own personal schoolyard memories. Maybe the '90s nostalgia is truly effecting my world right now, and if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t care about Sonic and his friends.
But I’ve found myself watching Let’s Plays of some of the older games. The more I think about them, the more I think they hold up. Maybe it's going to be a vanilla, 2D side-scrolling, platforming Sonic game like Mania to truly restore my faith. I just want to run from one side of the world to the other, jumping on robots. I don’t even think I need to go fast.
Either way, Sonic Mania comes out sometime in the next few months, and Forces will follow. And I’m willing to give Sega money again. I’m willing to do this potentially on launch day. Heck, I’m almost willing to pre-order a fancy-looking collector’s edition.
Are you a Sonic fan current or past? Tell us your thoughts on the franchise in the comments below.