It seems like only yesterday that Mario, the King of Games, was dethroned and a blue blur took his place. He was faster. He was cooler. And damn his games were fun as hell. But for decades now the supreme ruler of the modern console has been a dusty shadow of his former self—and I don’t mean to bring up his asshole counterpart. Sonic the Hedgehog used to be the poster-child for what modern gaming could achieve in terms of speed, level design, and sick music tracks until supposedly 3D ruined his reign. Sonic Adventure failed to impress with a sequel that was only half better. But if we’re being honest here, 3D wasn’t the thing that tripped up our attitudinal speedster.
It was us.
With greater graphical demands and technology booming all around, we pushed the industry into thinking Sonic needed to be like the other games. It needed to be more realistic; it needed a better more intricate storyline; and it needed a huge cast of diverse characters. But that’s not what made Sonic fun to begin with! Sonic was always about the high risk and reward for moving at speeds that other games couldn’t imagine without dipping in framerates or freezing up. Sonic could leap off of the freakin’ stage completely from how fast you launched him and maybe you were going to land safely somewhere on the stage or maybe not, but you didn’t care because of how cool it was. The platforming didn’t get in the way of the speed mechanics and the bosses didn’t sacrifice difficulty for the sake of complexity. It didn’t need a story beyond “run real fast and beat up the bad guy”! And sure, Tails was great as a co-op 2nd player character that shut up your nagging siblings or friends’ cries to play too and Knuckles was an interesting new movement mechanic, but once we hit Adventure it went too far. The speed dropped and those differing mechanics took over. And where did those mechanics come from? Other games that were popular at the time. Action adventure, strict platformers, dungeon crawling, and mixed up mini-games were taking over the market and from a money-view it made sense. We were buying those games and we were telling the industry over and over that this was the future of gaming.
But we killed Sonic.
And now we can bring him back.
The answer almost returned in the first level of Sonic: Unleashed where it showcased the game mechanics for its regular high-speed Sonic level. In that level, there are minimal threats and a hyper focus on maximum speed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed that level for the sheer fun of it. And though the rest of the game was a pile of blue crap, I found the answer to Sega’s problem thanks to another technological demand and it might be the bolt of lightning that can bring this beloved mascot back to rule.
VR has taken the world by storm and now is the time to bring back the speed. Imagine a 3rd Person, or better yet, 1st person experience behind those wide hedgehog eyes as you launch yourself feet first down massive slopes and through insane loops at dizzying speeds. It would be like a roller coaster simulator on crack! Toss in some lite platforming mechanics and keep the homing system to attack enemies and I honestly just don’t see how it could fail. Well, for the squeamish and those prone to motion sickness it would fail. But for everyone else it would knock them out of their red and white shoes! And more importantly it wouldn’t need anything else. It would refocus on what made the character and his franchise cool and different from all the rest—speed. That experience of going fast is all that is needed to put Sonic back into the headlines and back into our homes as a unique game.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Sonic is too long gone for us to bring him back now. Maybe all the money-grabbing techniques and the attempts to fit in with the cool kids already did him in. Either way, I still stand by the fact that we pushed the market to believe in everything that Sonic wasn’t and we drove him to that end. And I think we owe it to him to get it back to what made his games special in the first place.
If we don’t, we’ll end up with a roller-coaster simulator eventually anyways. So why not let it be his? Should he stay or should he go? Let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.