Sonic the Hedgehog 4
Thursday, 4th February 2010, 8:34am (UTC), 6 Comments
The rumours are true...

I think I'll come back and compose my thoughts a little later, but at the moment I'm feeling like I'm done with the whole "critical, whiny" attitude that many fans seem to think is cool nowadays. Sure, that's a fairly generic looking Green Hill clone, but if any game has permission to use it, it's this one. It looks fantastic and I want to feel like a ten year old again, eagerly awaiting and thinking over the possibilities of the next game in my favourite series. Well done Sega, you did it!

*Later that day*

Well we've had a few hours to let it sink in and a few more details to trickle out. I recommend the Q&A with good 'ol Ken if you haven't read it already. Also now lives and breathes. The design of the site is a little generic-Sonic, the kind of default styling they give to most of their general purpose Sonic websites, but hopefully it might mutate into something more appropriately retro. They're probably still establishing the branding characteristics of the game as a whole.

All in all everything that we suspected is true though;
- A direct continuation of the original series, picking up where S&K left off. The official site even mentions Angel Island and the Death Egg having just been dealt with!
- High res 2D graphics (there's a lot of talk of 3D around, but I suspect it relates only to the characters, not the environments, and even then it could just be pre-rendered).
- Classic moves such as the spin dash. Homing attack also pops in.
- The first game of at least two parts, exactly like Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
- The first download only Sonic game, through XBox Live, PSN, and also Wiiware will not be left in the cold afterall. And interestingly, unofficially uncovered, iPhone. Christian Whitehead's Retro Engine perhaps..? Hmm..
- July release. That's not long!

Overall, I love what I'm seeing and reading and I love the whole approach. As I've said somewhere before (or maybe just in my own head, I can't remember now), making it a smaller downloadable title ultimately makes it more likely to be of a higher quality because the developers won't feel like they have to pad the game out by introducing other mechanics, which everyone always hates - it won't matter if this game can be completed within a couple of days and only really has one central gameplay mode. Plus, its cheaper price is perfect for the 'normos' who stopped paying attention after Sonic & Knuckles, will one day come across a Sonic 4 advertised on their XBox, download a quick demo, love it and buy the whole thing there and then.

Now I make no secret about reservations over their choice of first level. I was holding out for something more original, however I will admit that a Green Hill clone does shout "look at me, I'm Sonic like you used to know me!!" to lost, casual fans, whom I think this is partially aimed at, in addition to the ones like you and me who have hung around and spent years building complex websites (or maybe that's just me). It does, however, look gorgeous. It's bright and colourful as it should be, and I love the extrusions and intrusions on the individual checkers, creating lovely lighting and shadows. It bodes well for the graphics of the game as a whole, because you just can't find this kind of quality in the world of fan gaming, and I can't wait to see this applied to the other levels too. Those also downhearted by the lack of originality behind this level should hopefully be comforted by the fact that at least one more game will follow this one with a whole new set of levels, and between the two of them, I'm sure they can concoct some more interesting ideas. It's hardly the end of the world.

Inevitably, this game will be nitpicked and such evidence can already be found. I can understand resistance to be excited if you've felt let down multiple times, but clearly some people will never really get the big picture. I speak mostly of those shouting at their monitors about how Sonic has green eyes, how the homing attack will make an appearance, etc etc. I think each Sonic fan needs to realise that the franchise does not revolve around the exact specifications of what they, individually, deem to be a worthwhile Sonic game, that anything less than that is not automatically crap, and that their opinions do not necessarily reflect, even by majority, the opinions of the whole fanbase. Whatever the specifics are that you want, you are unlikely to get all of them in one go, because everyone has different needs - I think some of us need to be a lot more accepting, and less fussy over the details.

Also, I think it's unlikely that any future Sonic game will ever really be better or possibly even as good as your favourites among the original Mega Drive selection - in a way, their quality is time-locked, it's directly linked with the nostalgic memories of playing them in their own time period, when you were probably a youngster and because of all that you've seen and played since, nothing will ever quite live up to that. I personally, have come to accept that and I urge fans not to have those kind of high expectations for new titles, official or otherwise, because they'll probably never really be met. Each game should be judged on its own merit, with its own approach, in my view.

But lets be excited for once, for goodness sakes, this is SONIC 4! This is a game I remember dreaming about a decade and a half ago, and sure it's not going to be as it would have been had it been released in 1995, but I think that's for the best. I think it would have been a shame to see them use Mega Drive technology to represent this game here and now, when it can look as good as it does in those brief 3 seconds of footage. Emulating S3&K's 2 part nature is a fantastic idea, and I'm hoping the two will then be playable together in one massive chunk. Who's to say that episode 2 won't feature Tails and Knuckles, who could then be played in episode 1 and access whole other routes? What I'm most excited about is the fact that all of the classic staples; spin dash, badniks, end of act signposts, hopefully item boxes and potentially just about anything from S1-K is being reintroduced into the modern flow of Sonic design. All of these features have gradually been phased out of modern games to be replaced by new mechanics. I'm all for trying new things but this stuff should never be left to die completely, and Sonic 4's mere presence ensures that won't happen. plus I can't wait to just play through a whole new, classic 2D game. By the time of release, it will have been a good three years since any fully 2D game, and many more years since one of this nature.

Unsurprisingly, the real meaty stuff, like level design decisions (multiple routes, unique objects and layouts per level, water, fewer death drops, etc) still remain to be seen, and these are the kinds of things, along with general control physics of Sonic himself that will really determine whether Sonic 4 sinks or swims with many fans, however so far, everything is going rather well I would argue, and in general it's a great choice of game for Sega to do, at the time when Sonic really needs it.

I always knew that Sonic the Hedgehog 4 would come one day, in pretty much this kind of packaging. Having known that the game would be announced at 8am this morning (UK time) I was like a kid on Christmas Eve last night. I even kept dreaming about various different forms the game could take, from Mega Drive graphics, to full on 3D, and waking up after each. I think it would certainly be aided by slightly more retro branding than what's currently on the official site, but I really hope this game inspires the kid in every twenty-something or late teen Sonic fan to come bursting out into life again and jump up and down at the prospect of a new, full on 2D adventure, simple and brilliant.

Oh, and to all the people who have, or will be interested in writing guides for Zone: 0.. dibs on Sonic 4. Both/all episodes :P
Comments   6 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by Svend Joscelyne / Dreadknux on Thursday, 4th February 2010, 12:06pm
A lot of people were unreasonably expecting Mega Drive style graphics or something - this game looks more like it's channeling New Super Mario Bros. Wii's approach than, say, Mega Man 10. And that, undoubtedly, is a good thing. A very good thing.

Excellent article, mate. I agree pretty much wholeheartedly. It finally looks like we're getting the game we've been waiting for. Why sully the celebration with the colour of Sonic's eyes, eh?
#2. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Thursday, 4th February 2010, 12:17pm
Exactly. The details like that don't matter, it's the overall spirit of the game and effort gone into creating a fun and engaging experience, through great level design and character momentum. We still need to see evidence of that but if you can't get excited about something new now and then, then what's the point?
#3. Comment posted by Meph on Thursday, 4th February 2010, 3:51pm
It's kind of the Sonic Team to do this. I think it would be rude if we were to lash out at them over minor details.
#4. Comment posted by Speeding Hedgehog on Thursday, 4th February 2010, 9:38pm
I dunno. call me a spoil sport, but I'm kinda disappointed to see new Sonic, especially since this game takes place RIGHT AFTER Sonic 3 & K. It doesn't ruin the whole game, but it is kinda a letdown. I'm also not too thrilled with the inclusion of the homing attack, but as long as it takes a back seat and isn't used to travel over bottomless pits by attacking still enemies (ala anything after Sonic Adventure), It'll be fine.
#5. Comment posted by supersonicsmash on Wednesday, 10th February 2010, 9:09pm
Already seen it on Youtube. Also, someone predicted this that it would be SOnic 4, I thought it would be a remake looking at the wikipedia thing. I recently did of course look it up. remake of Sonic Mega Collection and Sonic Gems Collection.
#6. Comment posted by Chaos Shadow on Friday, 12th February 2010, 3:49am
Whether it turns out to be closer to a remake than an original game, or we get back to the real good stuff from the 90s (Sonic Advanced/Rush, you try so hard, but you never quite -make it-; it's like an uncanny valley of fun, where you know it should be but it just feels more like busywork), I am excited. This looks absolutely gorgeous, and if the gameplay remains true to the original Genesis titles (or Sonic CD), this is going to be a blast.
Secret talent for fake Needlemouse concept art
Thursday, 28th January 2010, 2:01pm (UTC), 5 Comments
Sega are playing interesting games at the moment. They've already revealed who's going to be in Sonic 4 - whoops, I mean, "Project Needlemouse", and teased toward its content with concept art of a classic badnik design, all by connecting to the fans directly and more personally, through setting us challenges on their blog. We complete the challenge, we get the info or media that, like crack addicts, we desperately desire! I must say I think it's a much more original and involving approach than the traditional "we release trailer, press release, screenshots, you talk amongst yourselves kthxbye" way of doing things, and particularly appropriate for the subject matter. They know they've got something big and probably franchise-shaking on their hands, if that's a term, and they're being charmingly sneaky about it. Crucially though, as a fan, I feel like more of a part of this than I would otherwise. They could have gone to all the big gaming sites who facelessly slam their games when it comes to review time and ask them to pass on this kind of stuff, but I do admire their alternative marketing strategy here. It makes a world of difference to have this kind of thing delivered in such an informal way, and cut out that unnecessary middleman.

Today they've launched another challenge, and made big promises about what's at stake; The game's real name, concept art from the first Zone (note that they use that term rather than level or stage) plus a "very cool" bonus surprise, which I might predict would be artwork of Sonic himself, perhaps in his original form. Tantalising, but this time the task is a little more strenuous than just answering a few questions that everyone knows, we need to get our creative hats on and come up with our own concept art of our favourite classic badniks, a challenge inspired by Trakker, an artist who in turn was inspired enough by the first Shellcracker Needlemouse artwork to come up with a couple of his own. We have until Monday to get a hundred of them over to Sega.

In what I probably saw as a perfect excuse not to do work, I've decided to play along this time and jump through their hoops, so here's mine, on what must really be the coolest (no pun intended) badnik ever..


I had fun with the eyes. It strikes me that adding a touch more realistic detail to a character with really cartoony eyeballs must be quite difficult. I've kept their shape but made them a bit more synthetic - rather like webcams. The irony of this choice of course is that Penguinator has already reappeared since Sonic 3 (in Sonic Advance). Submit links to your own designs to their blog post

They also sneak in an additional, official return of Moto Bug, just to show they mean business. Now, while it's all very well to bring back classic designs, it's a relatively small aesthetic compared to overall focus on level design and pace in the game, which one would hope matches that of the classics. Is there any word on that yet? It's easily missed, but at the bottom, a small poetic paragraph offers, I think the most exciting thing about this post:

Speed is something that is not given; but rather earned through dedication. Speed is not found by simply pushing a boost button, but by building momentum. It is the reward for skill in the face of difficult challenges – this kind of speed is the most exhilarating, not only because it is fast, but because of the pure perfection such speed exemplifies. This is the truth of the original Sonic games – and this is the truth of Project Needlemouse.

Seems like they're really putting some thought behind this - an excellent indication that they've finally done what they should have done years ago and really looked in depth about what made those early games so great. It's my hope that in searching for inspiration behind every design decision in this game, they haven't even glanced at anything that didn't precede Sonic Adventure. I don't know about you, but I cannot wait for next week!
Comments   5 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by Meph on Thursday, 28th January 2010, 3:45pm
I bet that IGN and the like are still going to give it a zero, even if it does turn out to be the best game of the year! Lately, the review sites are being extremely negative at everything they see.
#2. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Thursday, 28th January 2010, 3:56pm
I think this game will probably have the best chance of any to appeal to them, but whether they like it or not, I don't read anything they have to say about Sonic anymore. Sonic will keep going as long as fan interest still drives up sales high enough, so it's pretty irrelevant what they think. Fan opinion is the only thing that matters these days.
#3. Comment posted by Mercury on Friday, 29th January 2010, 10:08am
It's so huggable! I want a big plush Penguinator! ^_^

This new little challenge of Sega's is much cooler than the first. It's fun and creative as opposed to those brainless trivia questions, and we also know what we're aiming for (zone concept art, w00t!). The "Who's gonna be in the game?" was just too obvious to be that thrilling.
#4. Comment posted by Zeupar on Saturday, 30th January 2010, 7:23pm
You got a really nice piece of concept art there! Its style is similar to the official Moto Bug art. I guess you did that on purpose.

I agree that that last paragraph is the most interesting thing of the whole entry. It looks like Sonic Team's members are learning from their mistakes (or at least that is what I want to believe).
#5. Comment posted by supersonicsmash on Monday, 8th February 2010, 9:15pm
DARN! I missed it. Easy come easy go.
A Retrospective of Sonic's Second Decade
Thursday, 31st December 2009, 9:55pm (UTC), 6 Comments
I was all set to wave the year, and the decade off as quietly as always, but last night I was struck by a good idea for a little article. It's been a fascinating decade in Sonic's life, filled with ups and downs, innocence, optimism, pessimism, dramas, diversity, disappointments, sadness, rage, passion, dedication, anticipation and excitement. Come with me now as I take you back on a journey through them all. It's a rocky road at times but it accounts for over half of Sonic's life and by the end of it he's still as alive and exciting as ever..

The Adventure Continues (2000 - 2002)

We began the decade still knee deep in the joys of Sonic Adventure, particularly if, like me, you were lucky enough to get a Dreamcast for Christmas in 99. This is the game that valiantly broke the Sonic drought of the late nineties, kick starting this new generation of Sonic that reminded everyone of the once adored blue icon. It would run rampant in the noughties with its new emphasis on dialogue heavy cutscenes, a larger cast of characters (who all now looked older and funkier) and large, slightly more realistic worlds. Speaking personally, I liked SA1, but by its release I'd lost touch with Sonic somewhat, and though this new game was still Sonic, at the same time it felt quite different and alien, and as such the couple of small releases in the year 2000 passed me by. Dreamcast's Sonic Shuffle was a party game game akin to Mario Party that saw Sonic and co do battle with the Void through the deadly medium of a large, life-sized board game. I caught up with it in 2003 and have played it about twice since. Sonic Pocket Adventure meanwhile was a handheld platformer sitting very quietly between the Game Gear titles of yesteryear and the Advances, and defying the new age of Sonic by essentially providing a shrunken down, portable version of Sonic 2. Its appearance on the Neo Geo Pocket meant that it was technically the first proper Sonic game to appear outside of a Sega console.

Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)
We didn't have to wait much longer for our next juicy steak though, Sonic Adventure 2 was right around the corner in 2001, and if there's only one game that represents this whole generation of Sonic, its values and boom in fan culture, it's definitely this one. It was released worldwide to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the series and boasted the ability to play as the bad guys just as much as the good guys, as they wound their separate ways through a genuinely involving and exciting plot. While Sonic Adventure neatly tied up the big question of the backstory of Knuckles' lost race from the nineties, the first half of this decade brought with it a new mystery - that of Shadow the Hedgehog, cryogenically frozen ultimate life form who attempts to destroy the world through anger but later falls to his death after realising his wrongs. This game is the king of variety and replayability, with over 30 levels, stackloads of missions for each, and a chao mode which feels like a whole other game, it is still unbeaten in this regard. Playing it, I could feel my love of Sonic being restored and by the end of that summer I was a devout Sonic fanboy once again. I wasn't the only one either, the game's re-appearance on the Nintendo Gamecube the following year seemed to gather up a whole new army of Sonic fans, who amassed on forums, and who started producing fan art, fan fiction, fan games. A new legion of kids, pre-teens and teens whose earliest memories of Sonic pit him not against speechless cartoony robots in colourful lands but against military forces and secret government conspiracies of murder - this was a more mature generation of fans, used to a darker tone of Sonic games. Still, it was a carefree time. A time of passion and innocence. While there were some who questioned this new direction for Sonic, the online fan community had been created and support for Sonic had never been more tangible and active. It was the strength of this community forged here that would see him through the storms ahead.

Sega had officially been defeated in the console wars, with the Dreamcast unable to recoop the losses of its older sibling Saturn and the various Mega Drive add-ons, and the strength of Sony's Playstation and the shadow of its successor left the company no option but to admit defeat and become a software-only company, leaving Sonic a free agent. He could now go where he pleased and has subsequently managed to set up a home on every single games console, not to mention many phones and other games-playing devices that have since been released. This would become an exciting - albeit expensive for fans - opportunity for the series to explore new ideas and interactions. First, identifying a similar nostaligic ethos compared to the realism and maturity of Sony, Sega turned to their once rival to bring that which no one ever thought they'd see - Sonic on Nintendo consoles. Not wanting their great new masterpiece to die a quick death, it was ported with a few bells and whistles as Sonic Adventure 2 Battle for the Gamecube. A little later on, the console hosted a fine collection of all of the classic Mega Drive titles in the form of Sonic Mega Collection. Nowadays we do nothing but groan at yet another re-release of these titles, but back then it was a welcome treat and an opportunity for everyone to catch up with true favourites from their youth, especially as it was later ported and enhanced to the Xbox, PS2 and PC.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, the new Gameboy Advance also offered another opportunity in 2001, as Sega recognised that we were taking a bit of a departure from the old times, and so enlisted the help of a company called Dimps to work on a new classic styled 2D platformer to save that particular legacy from extinction. Sonic Advance was born, the first in a line of 2D handheld titles to sit alongside the larger 3D series, to ensure that there was something for everyone. It wasn't quite as big, level-wise, as any of the classic four Mega Drive titles but it's still the most similar game to them of this decade, with a great choice in multiple routes and a no-frills story. A sequel was on the cards and Sonic Advance 2 burst onto the scene, at first in late 2002. It was sprite-based 2D as we all knew and loved but in response to concerns that the first game lacked speed, this one certainly didn't. Its levels are long and filled with gradually downward sloping paths, curves and loops all designed to get you running fairly constantly. While its predecessor was firmly routed in tradition, some of Sa2's levels such as Music Plant took on a unique, very abstract style all of their own. It was different, but fairly popular and with its relentless pace, Dimps had unwittingly sowed the seed of a mechanic that would later on be developed, and gradually transformed into something that could eventually be said to revitalise and save the series.

Need a Hero? (2003 - 2004)

Sonic X
2003 was a massive boom year for Sonic. Sega by now had recognised how popular their mascot was becoming once again as he flourished with Nintendo and began forging a new name for himself. The road toward the next big Sonic title was underway, but first, some further promotion of the franchise was required. 2003 was the year that Sonic X, the fourth Sonic animated series first hit Japanese airwaves. I rather liked the slapstick "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" cartoon when I was a kid, (although I'm not sure newer fans really "get" it), and I was raised on the thoroughly British Sonic the Comic, so my lack of knowledge of the American Archie comic series left me bewildered and frightened by the alternate universe of the second, SatAM cartoon. Frankly the less said about Sonic Underground the better. Sonic X was different though, it was a Japanese anime series eventually running to 72 episodes and now that the game's storylines were a little richer, there were loads of characters and concepts that it could take on board and incorporate. I prefer to have only one, consistent Sonic canon that makes sense without contradiction, and with its fairly true to game adaptations of both Adventure titles, this series was a hit for me, despite the occasional dodgy episode and animation that ranged from absolutely awesome to appalling. The Metarex stuff from season 2 was a punishing ordeal though, I must admit. However, the Japanese version proved a big hit with the Sonic community and it was dubbed onto Western TV for the youngsters where it may not have been a huge success in the vein of Pokemon, but it at least spurred on a range of new merchandise and paraphernalia, cementing Sonic's presence firmly into the noughties generation of kids.

The year saw a cavalcade of announcements for new Sonic games too. Sonic Adventure followed the success of its own sequel by reappearing on the Gamecube in the form of Sonic Adventure DX. With improved textures and character models, it looked great but the translation was not as smooth as was hoped for, as annoying bugs weren't fixed, several were added, and the game had a puzzlingly inconsistent framerate, jumping between 30 and 60 by the second. Its still playable and enjoyable but its quality left a concerning sense of fallibility to the series. There were gaps to fill of the non-platformer variety as well, so Sonic Pinball Party was released for the Gameboy Advance, following the lead of 'ol Sonic Spinball except Sonic didn't have to be the ball this time. Sonic Battle, also for GBA, was a more adventurous take on the fighting game genre, placing the characters on a 3D board and allowing them to knock the crap out of each other. It had a surprisingly involving storyline, even a fairly well written script, that helped to alleviate the fairly monotonous fighting but the computer AI you fought against was often merciless, and I never got more than about half way through if I'm honest.

Sonic Heroes (2003)
Turning blind eyes to any of the disappointments above was easy enough though with the hype surrounding Sonic's next proper big outing. With the return to a more traditional approach of Sonic gameplay, Sonic Heroes was the first multi-platform game in the series, spreading its wings wide across Gamecube, XBox and PS2. Not wanting to seem stale, Sonic Team took the concept of Sonic gameplay and multiplied it by three to create teams of characters to run through levels together. Players could instantly switch between Sonic, Tails and Knuckles as and when they liked, using the speed, flight and power advantages of each. This game, perhaps more than any other, fragments the opinions of those who played it by quite a wide range. On the build up, just about everyone was extremely excited by it, proving that the concept seemed to work - it was a refreshing idea that made sense, given Tails' history of accompanying Sonic in levels anyway. Their promise of bringing back 75% of Chaotix, a group of characters thought to be left to die in the uncertain second half of the nineties, was a great alternative to introducing any more new characters, which most people were sick of by this point. Those who disliked the game though were disappointed after such hype, for reasons including glitches and occasional control issues, bad bosses, somewhat lazy and precarious level designs (this game really brought home the now commonplace overuse of death drops) and a general belief that the team system just didn't work. I, however, liked Sonic Heroes, I still like it and will defend it. Though I wouldn't particularly want to see it used again, I don't think the team system slows the game down or reduces it in any way at all really, and I love the visual style of the level locations. A blend of classic Sonic tradition in the form of the Green Hill and Casino Night clones, with completely new ideas such as a railway suspended over a wild western canyon, a futuristic city, a jungle of gigantic proportions and a true haunted house. This kind of thing, I think, is the epitome of what Sonic's worlds should be - imaginative and colourful but not too abstract. Granted though, I wouldn't recommend playing as any team other than Sonic's posse, and this is where Sonic Team began their misguided love affair with character voice overs nattering away while you're trying to enjoy a level. The game is not perfect by any means, and Sonic's future became uncertain.

2004 was a relatively quiet year for announcements, as Sonic Team got busy with the next wave of games for the following year. It did however see the release of Sonic Advance 3. The twist here took its cues from Sonic Heroes, by allowing any one of five characters to follow any other of the five, as only Tails had traditionally done before. This was a pleasant novelty that actually influenced what moveset your main character had, however the levels didn't accommodate this variety particularly inventively so it didn't really matter anyway. The only thing I feel that holds this game back is its rather slippery controls, which it inherits from its predecessor, but while Sa2 kept you going forward, the more interesting level design here pushes and pulls you in various directions, so more grip should have been considered. That said, it had a range of interesting new design ideas, like Heroes, and the best soundtrack of the three, and I would still recommend it. It is, in many ways, the last truly traditional 2D Sonic game in terms of things like badniks and classic, complex level structure.

Guns Don't Kill People, Hedgehogs Do (2005 - 2007)

By 2005, the Sonic community was a force to be reckoned with, keen to try and make Sega pay attention to them. With all the Mega Drive titles now easily accessible and even both Adventure games living on, there were a few in between that have managed to slip out of the net, and we couldn't have that. Most wanted was 1993's Sonic CD, so, in what to most players outside of the community was essentially just a vehicle for it, Sonic Gems Collection, a kind of sequel to Mega Collection, was released. This was one very much just for us, as it contained other misfits such as racer Sonic R and Sonic the Fighters, plus the remaining six Game Gear games that weren't on Mega Collection Plus. These outdated, odd relics weren't enough for the general public, but it is nonetheless useful for the Sonic collector.

Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)
In February though, great disaster struck, ripping right through the community and inciting anger and hatred from just about every site within it - Shadow the Hedgehog was announced. The community collectively dropped their heads into their hands as they witnessed Shadow (who of course had been revived for Sonic Heroes) dismantle the reputation of the series by drawing a gun and shooting his way through the trailer to his own upcoming game. Partly a response to the fan's love of the character (though often criticised by older, more 'intelligent' fans), partly to cash in on the current gun craze in games such as Grand Theft Auto, and party to tie up the loose ends left by the plots of SA2 and SH, Shadow hit store shelves in November and most were not pleasantly surprised by its quality. Now I'm going to shock you here, you may need to make sure you're sitting, but I didn't really mind the game that much when it came out, nor was I mortified of the gunplay in it to begin with, I have a fairly open mind. It doesn't feel like a normal Sonic game, it's designed like a normal platformer with slightly out of place and awkward character speed, but then it's not supposed to be a normal Sonic game, and I fail to see why it was treated as such. It's an experimental spin-off, not part of the main series of 3D titles, I would argue, and it shouldn't have mattered if it failed as much as it did, but sadly the critics had already noticed that the series was on uneven ground as it was, and they pounced on it. It became a subject of ridicule, and the community were not arguing in its favour either. What I did like about it was its experimentation with a non-linear arrangement of levels - depending on what mission you completed in a level, you would then be taken to one of two or three different following levels. This created a rich tapestry of possible storyline outcomes and journeys for the character to go on, leading him to different conclusions toward his good/evil allegiance - of course the downside of that is that you have to play that same dull first level at least ten times in order to see every ending and every level. I must admit, in more recent years I pick it up and play it rarely, and spend little time with it when I do. I'm not particularly obliged to defend it from criticism.

All was not lost though, as an alternative Sonic experience, Sonic Rush was released on the very same day over here in Europe. Dimps hopped over to the new Nintendo DS for their next 2D Sonic, and it actually, perhaps somewhat embarrassingly to Sonic Team, turned out to be probably the most critically acclaimed Sonic game of the whole decade, proving to most that 2D Sonic ruled over 3D. Rather than attempt to do something fancy with the style, it instead had Sonic or new character Blaze burst between the two screens throughout the level, a beautiful idea. They also took on board the speedy style of their Sonic Advance 2 and built on it with a new, instant boost move, single-handedly creating an entirely new type of 2D Sonic game that combined relentless, crazy speed and, in contrast to Sa3, really tight controls for the occasional slower platforming bits. I was a bit unsure of this game at first, it seemed a bit too different to me, with an odd, unorthodox soundtrack and slightly uninspired levels, not to mention the fact that it was really hard too. I slowly grew to accept it though and its more frenetic gameplay inspired a whole new way forward, and a new niche for a hedgehog struggling to remain relevant and make his mark on ever evolving gaming community. Sonic Riders, for home consoles followed soon after in early 2006. This was a fairly exciting return to the racing genre, one of the few that really makes sense for Sonic, and set in a kind of alternate futuristic world where everyone has to wear big shoes and sunglasses, and of course race on hover boards. It almost tries too hard to be cool in a way, and gameplay mechanics go out of their way to be interesting and unusual, leaving them all a bit too confusing. It definitely doesn't have the pick-up-and-play appeal of a Mario Kart or any mascot racer really, but it was fairly successful with fans. I quite liked it.

Shadow the Hedgehog left fans and non-fans alike very unconfident about Sonic Team's ability to make a truly solid 3D Sonic game, which we were really needing by this point. The franchise was down, but not out, it could still be saved, and in early 2005, a behind-closed-doors viewing at E3 showed off what they were capable of in the upcoming next generation of consoles - a movie of a Sonic sequence in next gen graphics. This gradually transformed into an exciting new Xbox 360/PS3 game, the next true big primary title set to make us forget about past mistakes. It was billed as a re-imagining of Sonic's world into something new, and as such, was bestowed the simplistic, honoured title Sonic the Hedgehog, aimed to commemorate the 15th anniversary of its namesake original. This one is commonly differentiated as Sonic '06. It appeared to follow the blueprints, very religiously as it would turn out, of Sonic Adventure, with adventure fields and action stages. The plot was deep and the environments, serious. A human princess that required saving, and a new rival, Silver the Hedgehog from the future set to destroy Sonic in order to change time. Fans were cautiously excited as it reminded them of the carefree Adventure days, in essence this was Sonic Adventure 3, and it was set to be the start of a return to form. Limited previews leading up to the game's release only made the shock of its colossal failure more powerful. We didn't see it coming.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
The game was simply unfinished and rushed out in time for Christmas in a poor attempt to compete with the likes of Gears of War, so ridden with bugs that avoiding them to stay alive became the central gameplay challenge, plus loading times were long and the slowdown in some levels was shocking (try Tropical Jungle as Silver!). I would love to know the behind-the-scenes story on this game, because I believe there's something akin to Sonic Xtreme's story of labour, internal descent and politics there, though unfortunately this game was actually released. Even if the bugs were fixed, it's almost as if the game lacks any of its own personality, rattling along with a story and world that may have seemed like a good idea on paper but gradually became more and more odd and inappropriate as production went on, yet no one bothered to fix it. Sonic's physics seem more like the developers had cut corners and taken shortcuts to provide an approximation of the true Sonic experience without actually making one. There was a Youtube video doing the rounds that demonstrated, for example, that you could simply walk all the way through a loop without falling down and maintain the same momentum, as if it were a flat path. Sonic's top speed, based on his own volition was limited, only increased artificially by touching a speed zipper - there was no sense of the kind of flow that makes Sonic gameplay feel so unique and entertaining. It was supposed to be so much more, but it's as if they lost all their passion for it and just wanted it out of the way. Neither critics, nor the community responded lightly. It was decimated by most reviewers, fans were outraged and disillusioned, and Sonic's reputation lay in tatters. Unlike Shadow it couldn't hide behind the excuse of experimentation and alternative ideas, this was a big new game, the first of its console generation, carrying the name of the original Sonic 1 title and emulating Sonic Adventure, the two most influential Sonic games in history. This game could not possibly be any more important and yet it was a spectacular failure by every measure of success. This kind of thing should not be possible, but it was, and it became probably the lowest point in Sonic history.

I remained in denial. I knew there was good in there somewhere. Indeed, someone in the level design department had flashes of brilliance when they actually did what no other 3D Sonic game has done and provided areas of three of the levels with interesting, diverse multiple routes heading in all directions and with great complexity. Silver's new telekinetic gameplay was actually quite well made and innovative and I think it remains the most entertaining form of combat in the series. Sonic's speed sections are completely mental, but if you learn them well enough, they can provide an amazing glimpse of his speed not seen anywhere else. There was no denying its overall shortcomings though, they just proved too much for most people. Sonic's once mighty kingdom was crumbling around him, after all the hope and optimism of the early years of this decade, the king had well and truly been dethroned and it was a stressful and depressing time to be a Sonic fan. If Sega had relied on him any less, and if he didn't have such a long and storied history, this may have seen him off completely, but fortunately they already had an alternative game. Coming up fast behind was Sonic and the Secret Rings, our debut for the Nintendo Wii that attempted an entirely new method of control. The camera was set behind Sonic and the player, holding the remote on its side directed his motion left and right as he ran automatically through the linear, though colourful, very unique and appealing stages. This works great when avoiding obstacles in a corridor, but in my opinion is pretty useless for anything else. Despite this, this is quite a popular game that faired better in reviews, and gave us some saving grace. Also around at this time was Sonic Rivals for the PSP by Backbone entertainment. They provided a more classic-centered experience, this time in 2.5D, with 3D graphics on a 2D plain of control, which seemed to feel right. Furthermore, they blended it with a racing game, placing emphasis not on getting through a level, which was straightforward, but actually beating an AI controlled opponent to the end. It doesn't make for the definitive Sonic experience but for an alternative little game with an interesting idea, it doesn't fair too badly.

It's interesting though that despite several minor successes and games that were reasonably well received in this period, it was the failure of two big ones that lost all of the patience with critics and general gamers. The 21st century has become a different place for games with the evolution of graphics and methods of interaction. People either seem to want realistic, gritty cinematic experiences from highly sophisticated games, or very simple pick up and play party games for their granny, and Sonic can't quite fit into either. However, the Sonic community has remained sturdy. Regardless of their own individual opinions, few desert the franchise entirely. There's something about the character and the nostalgic experiences we've all enjoyed that makes us stand our ground and support Sonic in his hours of need, and it's this loyalty that allowed him to survive triumphantly into the final chapter of the decade...

The Long Road to Redemption (2007 - 2009)

Sega remained quiet for a few months to regroup and create a plan for recovery. I don't think they had cotton wool in their ears, they knew exactly what their situation was and they needed to restore excitement into the Sonic brand for both developers and consumers. They quickly reached for the most recent success, Sonic Rush, and whipped out a sequel, Sonic Rush Adventure. Despite this haste, Dimps pulled out a real cracker here and though it may not have attained the same critical success as its predecessor, in my opinion it improves upon it greatly with more interesting (albeit dramatically easier) levels and bosses and well made additional minigames and a rich set of challenges. The maritime theme really gives it a special sort of personality. Sonic's return to glory was underway, and what followed was a defiant pummeling of Sonic games and appearances to prove to the world that you cannot keep a good hedgehog down, all building up to the next big title. First stop: the casual gamer. In an incredibly unlikely move, the hedgehog and once sworn plumber rival teamed up in Wii party game Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. It sold fantastically well, allowing Sonic to get his face back in front of the normo's and stand alongside Mario as they defended the honour of the videogame mascot. To improve Sonic's image amongst the more seasoned gamers, an appearance in multi-series cartoon fighter Super Smash Bros Brawl paid off very well as Sonic used classic trademarks in a Green Hill Zone arena to great crowd-pleasing effect. Not forgetting the fans who stood by him, Sonic Rivals 2 also popped up around this time providing more of the same 2.5D racing hi-jinx with more characters and some great levels. Another big surprise in 2008 came from RPG developer Bioware who announced work on their first DS title for Sega, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, an exciting first foray into the RPG genre that made use of the rich story heritage and characters of the series. A new Sonic story handled by professionals? It would seem so - Bioware had done their homework (except perhaps when it came to the scale of Angel Island) and brought characters to life with glowing personalities and an intricate, focused plot. I'm yet to see what actually happens in the end, but I'm sure I will one day, and it was perfect for the long time Sonic fan hungry for this sort of thing. Lets briefly gloss over Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, a racing sequel that did away with all of the confusing elements of its predecessor and replaced them all with its own entirely new ones. It's easily forgettable.

Sonic Unleashed (2008)
Sonic was starting to restore the lost faith of the fans, but if the previous few years had taught us anything, it's that it could all collapse once again with a big, proper platformer that is unsuccessful. The stage was set once again, with Sonic Unleashed, first leaked to fans through early screenshots and a trailer in April of 2008. It would need to be something pretty damn exciting to break the barrier of hesitation and bring fans to their knees in unrestrained anticipation. Fortunately, it was just that. The game had a couple of aces up its sleeve, the so-called "Hedgehog Engine" capable of rendering stunningly realistic lighting environments and a passionate director. Sonic Team took everything that had worked well in recent games, including the fast paced 2D nature of Sonic Rush and its sequel for one type of gameplay, the behind-view of Secret Rings for another, crossed with the concept behind super speed sections of Sonic '06, plus the fan demand for a larger 2D game. The result was an incredibly fresh, simple and beautiful adrenaline rush experience that ultimately proved every bit as wonderful to play as it first looked. Sonic's daytime levels in the game constantly switched between 2.5D to 3D, where the camera was typically positioned behind Sonic. His boost move, borrowed from the Rushes, lended a thrillingly hectic quality. The buildup to the game was not without its sense of jeopardy however, as a mysterious image of Sonic with a shadowy werewolf version of himself standing behind was a concern, if only because it seemed so perfect without it. The "Werehog" gameplay, which emphasised slow-paced precarious platforming and relentless combat, would account for nighttime levels and get an even portion of the game (though in reality, much more game time as the levels were so much longer). I'd argue that it's fairly well made, though not well implemented, as fights break out too frequently and platforming is too uninspired, with unforgiving pits of death. It was this gameplay mode that gave some critics difficulty in swallowing this world adventure, however most seem to agree that the daytime levels, while still not perfect, are certainly on the right track to 3D Sonic glory. That seems to be enough for many Sonic fans, who tend to spend time replaying levels at leisure long after completion, and its here that the daytime stages really shine. It's certainly the big improvement over Sonic '06 that we all needed, bettering that game in just about every conceivable way, brimming with its own personality and as glitch free as you would want. It's difficult for any one game now to appeal to both first and second generation Sonic fans, plus new kids as well, but with its blend of old and new gameplay, just the right amount of story telling and a good sense of humour, I think Sonic Unleashed has something for everyone.

After a splurge of Sonic delights, 2009 remained a pretty quiet year, but started with a game that many feared would send the whole house of cards tumbling back down again - Sonic and the Black Knight. A return to the world of fairy tales that followed Secret Rings this time gave Sonic a sword as he fought through an ancient Arthurian kingdom. Funny that this became an almost exact opposite of the events of 2006/7 - the main title in November was relatively successful while the following, more secondary one in March was less so. The story and overall presentation was nice enough here, with some genuinely new material, but the gameplay was a tedious swing-a-thon as the sword was controlled by, of course, the swing of the Wii remote. The imaginative worlds seen in Secret Rings lacked any presence here, with much duller environments. Finally, the decade was rounded off with casual-ware sequel Mario and Sonic and the Olympic Winter Games ..which I'm yet to play.

It's been fascinating to look back over this turbulent but rather amazing decade, from an age of optimism and new beginnings to a slippery slope that eventually hit rock bottom. There was a time there where the Sonic community was collapsing in on itself and all anyone could do was criticise, but now I think there's definitely been some progression. Things aren't perfect, there's still enough for the odd complaint but generally I think we're all in a more stable and comfortable place with our favourite franchise, especially as Sega end the decade with everyone waiting with baited breath for the tantalizing Project Needlemouse.

It's been a decade of explosion in fandom, from humble beginnings where fans were disconnected and isolated from each other to the first pioneering websites and forums of the community. We started with Japan always getting games first with all the coolest stuff, when support for Sonic in the west has always been so much higher. Now UK fans have a direct connection with Sega Europe and real ties, and as such an annual community gathering in the form of Summer of Sonic has become possible. The hacking and fan-game community has grown and become amazingly sophisticated at providing perfect Sonic physics and designs and is growing all the time. I'm amazed when I look back at my own Sonic interests throughout the decade, from a point whereby it took about two years after first getting the internet to even think about typing "Sonic the Hedgehog" into a search engine, to developing my own fan-game, to considering drawing my own series of comics to eventually settling into the origins of my Zone: 0 guides in 2004. I've loved following the series as fanatically as I have done and it simply wouldn't be the same without the internet and the news and fan creations from the community, which have really kept the franchise alive and buzzing for its most dedicated followers.

Writing this article has almost been a bit like an autobiography of some celebrity who's been through some sort of ordeal of drug or alcohol addiction, but sooner than just give up has come out the other side, all guns blazing ready to rebuild their life and turn over a new leaf. Sure we've been through rough times, but it's made the series what it is today and makes for a thrilling story to behold. Look at it this way, can you imagine how boring a retrospective of Mario's decade would be? Where's the drama?! The truth is that even though Sonic's glory hasn't been fully restored in the eyes of many critics, who still didn't like Unleashed, there's surely no denying that 2007 and 2008 saw some major improvements over where we were, with the relentlessness of good quality and/or successful Sonic games shouting to the world "We will not die!!". I'd like to think that most fans don't even care what reviews say anymore, we're in our own world where Sonic is still king, and if our loyalty can bring him through those lows then he can keep on surviving for so many more years to come.

Here's to a bright and blue new decade and a fantastic twentieth anniversary! Happy New Year.
Comments   6 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by Mercury on Friday, 1st January 2010, 8:47am
Great article to close out the decade with! You wouldn't believe how many Sonic retrospective articles I've read off of gaming sites that just don't know their stuff and have no point at all. What a contrast!

It has been quite a ride.

I have to take you to task, though, for calling Sonic Pocket Adventure "essentially... a portable version of Sonic 2". Some folks (like some of the writers at bad gaming sites) are ignorant enough to think it literally IS a port of Sonic 2, and dismiss it. So I cringe whenever I hear it described that way, when it is almost more essential to any Sonic collection than Sonic Advance 1. Yes, it borrows mechanics from Sonic 2, but it borrows graphics from both Sonic 1 and 2, and music from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The layouts and bosses, however, are all new, and are almost equal to the 16-bit titles - not to be missed. I've described it before as a "love-letter to Mega Drive Sonic", and it can almost be played as a spot-the-Sonic-reference game.

Oh, right - Happy New Year (and Decade!)

Should auld Adventures be forgot
and days of auld lang Zone? =P
#2. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Friday, 1st January 2010, 10:51am
Thanks for reading :)
Ah yes, my apologies, you're quite right. I am aware that it isn't merely a port of Sonic 2, and combines elements of Sonic 1, 3, &K too, along with completely different layouts anyway. Still, it is heavily based on Sonic 2 principally rather than being a completely new game, which is all I was trying to illustrate, in a kind of shorthand way.
Happy new year!
#3. Comment posted by Tailsspain on Friday, 1st January 2010, 6:41pm
Great Post! I mostly agree with your points of view. I started to play Shadow the hedgehog last year and it wasn´t an awful experience after all. Yeah, A Gun is not a Hedgehog thing (But, now it seems that Swords are!) but the multiple path thing works quite well in my opinion, not a bad game.
#4. Comment posted by Speeding Hedgehog on Saturday, 2nd January 2010, 4:48pm
Very good article! I agree with you on a lot of points. You were incorrect on one point though, you said SatAM was based off of the Archie comics. Although the Archie comics were released first, the people who made SatAM (ABC), had sent character and story material to Archie while the series was in development, so the Archie Sonic comics are based off of SatAM, not the other way around.
#5. Comment posted by GreenBird on Saturday, 2nd January 2010, 6:45pm
Excellent article, feels good to know hope resides in faithful Sonic fans, I've been debating with my oldest brother ever since Sonic '06 not to give up on Sonic himself. Let's just pray this year provides the redeeming my brother needs for the good 'ol hedgy.
Best Sonic memories of the decade: Spending an entire summer collecting emblems on my cousin's SADX; getting SA2B and Sonic the Movie on my birthday; raising chao for several years; getting Sonic and Knuckles Collection while visiting my brother during basic training; experiancing the rivival of Sonic through Rush; Blasting through Spagonia for the first time on my Wii.
#6. Comment posted by supersonicsmash on Friday, 19th February 2010, 11:30pm
Shadow is my favorite character and my favorite game tied with Drawn to Life SpongeBob Edition. Wiat a minute that's 3 (bad) games. 4 if you count shadow. The guns should make it in the top for worst Sonic games.
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