2016 marks the 25th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog. For someone like me, whose only childhood memories are those with a Sega Genesis controller in my hand, this revelation makes me feel both extremely old and extremely sad for what’s become of the speedy, anthropomorphic, blue hedgehog.
Though I will always love Sonic the Hedgehog, I can still look past my affection and objectively say: the second half of Sonic the Hedgehog’s tenure in video game culture has been marred by plethora of nearly unplayable games. This is largely due to the fact that Sonic’s gameplay never successfully adapted to 3D once it became the industry standard. Sega Europe Marketing Director Jon Rooke even admitted as much when he said:
Sega has publicly apologised to the fans as the quality of console games in the Sonic franchise hasn’t been acceptable over recent years. It’s been tough translating that iconic side scrolling 2D experience from the 90s into 3D but Sonic is still huge for us so the new games will be more inspired by how it played in its heyday.
After the Dreamcast flopped and Sega decided it would bow out of the console wars, Sonic the Hedgehog games seemed to give up on innovating, preferring to rest on the laurels of familiar imagery. Like a ronin, Sonic was masterless and thus phoned it in. Over time, Sonic the Hedgehog games grew to have reputations as being glitchy, oversimplified and too familiar. As competition swelled, Sonic fell by the wayside.
Sonic Boom was the latest game from the long-running franchise to be criticized, with one reviewer stating that “The Sonic name deserves better than this, and so do consumers.” Last summer, SEGA CEO Hajime Satomi seemed to agree with the sentiment and expressed hope the company could win back the trust of its loyal fan base.
For the 25th anniversary, Sonic the Hedgehog is set to get a new logo and there have been rumblings that he’ll get a brand new game (not counting Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice for 3DS). It could be as simple as anniversary game, repackaging the passable entries in Sonic’s tumultuous 25-year gameography. It could be a complete reinvention of the character (though that didn’t go particularly well in 2006). Whatever Sega has planned for Sonic’s 25th anniversary, this is the question they need to be asking themselves:
How can Sonic’s legacy be saved?
Until Sega reveals their plans, I–regrettably–believe that Sonic’s legacy cannot be saved. He will continue to be cherished by Sega nostalgists like myself, but beyond that, I have a hard time seeing how the new generation of gamers will be wowed by a blue hedgehog that collects rings and runs fast. Considering how bad his track record has been for the last decade, it’s amazing that Sonic is still around at all.
If you have an idea on how Sonic’s legacy can be saved, please share it with us in the comments.