Even though this year marks the 25th anniversary of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, I’ve heard startlingly little about Sega’s upcoming plans for the Sonic series until now. At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Sega showed some of the more jaded fans of the series (myself included) that they haven’t quite given up on the blue blur. After the failure of Sonic Boom, you’d think that they haven’t got anything left, but they have, though you might not be totally thrilled.
They unveiled two games, both intended for release in 2017, which is rather odd if you consider that this is meant to celebrate Sonic’s 25th anniversary. The first of these is by far the most exciting prospect – Sonic Mania. That game is basically a love letter to fans of the older Sonic games, with remixed levels from past games alongside new levels, complete with the style of the classic games. It’s basically what Sonic 4 should have been, and I want to get my hands on it. The other game, which so far has no title other than “Project Sonic 2017”, is somewhat less encouraging. It’s presented as a far more serious foil to Sonic Mania, and it worked until Classic Sonic showed up again. It’s like Sonic Generations all over again, as if Sega really had run out of ideas.
Both of those games have one key thing in common – they appear to be milking nostalgia once again. With Sonic Mania, I totally understand, because at least they want to introduce elements to the classic formula (the “drop dash” being a new addition), but with the other game, I can’t exactly stand by that. Of course, we’re told that “Project Sonic 2017” isn’t a sequel to Sonic Generations, but figuratively speaking, it might as well be. It’s made by the very same development team, and will probably have the same kind of gameplay, but saying that, with the game’s darker and visibly more serious approach, I may be inclined to doubt that it’s a Sonic Generations rehash. Indeed, the head of team, Takashi Iizuka, was keen to state that this is not a sequel to Sonic Generations. If it isn’t that, is it the Sonic Adventure 3 I’ve been waiting for?
As for nostalgia, it feels to me like the Sonic series has been riding on nostalgia for the past five years, all in an obvious attempt to preserve the market value of the series. Due to how badly the brand had been badly damaged over the past decade, I’m not surprised. I’m a lifelong Sonic fanboy who’s played most of the games (though I stayed away from Sonic Boom, partly because I don’t have a Wii U, and I knew it was going to be disaster). I’ve lived to see Sega make one mistake after the other, and like much of the fanbase, I’ve been disappointed more times than I can count. From my experience, the fanbase is only really satisfied by games that are as close to the classics as possible. We all love the original Mega Drive games, along with Sonic Adventure and its sequel. Those games (particularly the oldest Sonic games) are considered the benchmark, and Sega always tries to match that, and they end up being very averse to risk.
For me, “Project Sonic 2017” also comes across as an attempt to once again reform the series, but I doubt it will go down very well. I remember a decade ago when Sonic ’06 was announced, and how that game was supposed to modernise the series and take it into a radical new direction, and we all know how that turned out. Every time Sega tried to radicalise the franchise, it nearly destroys it, tarnishing the brand with one inferior product after another. For example, Sonic Unleashed was bad, Sonic 4 was a minuscule and ultimately pointless disappointment, and Sonic Lost World could have been good but was ultimately a failure. Sonic Boom also tried a radical new direction, but Sega was so scared of a fan backlash that they relegated it to a lowly status as a spin-off cartoon with tie-in games, and they still managed to screw it up.
With that in mind, I get why Sega is so eager to jump on the nostalgia train. They’ve been doing this for years, but they can’t keep doing it forever. As a lifelong fan, I think that if all future Sonic games were driven by nostalgia, it would be a complete disservice to the fans who want something fresh and exciting. I don’t doubt that Sonic Mania will definitely be good, and I’m somewhat interested in what that mystery game has to offer, but at the same time, I think Sega should listen to the fans. I don’t want Sega to focus on how great Sonic was in the old days, because if they keep doing that, they may as well be saying that there’s nothing left. What Sega should be doing is reminding the fans that Sonic is still great, but in order to do that, they’ve got to convince the public that Sonic isn’t just a relic of Sega’s glory years, and they’ve got to make a truly modern Sonic game that miraculously manages to please both young and old fans. Can “Project Sonic 2017” do that? I can only hope.