Why Sonic should get off the nostalgia train

sonic 2017

Oh where, oh where have I seen this before?

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.

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3 thoughts on “Why Sonic should get off the nostalgia train

  1. What a contradictory essay you wrote there…
    In one sentence, you praise Sonic Mania, a game with remixed old levels, and which rehashes the 2D gameplay of Sonic 1 to 3. And in the next sentence, you blame Sega for running out of ideas, because Sonic 2017 looks like “Generations 2”.
    In one sentence, you claim that Sega is riding on nostalgia since 2011 (really? Lost World and Boom were nostalgic?) and say that the nostalgia strategy is disappointing, in the next sentence you complain about Sega nearly destroying the franchise whenever they try something new.
    In one sentence, you imply that Sega should be bolder and not be so scared of fan backlash, in the next you say that Sega should listen to the fans (which fans exactly? The classicists? The Adventure fans? The Unleashed fans? The, god forbid, Sonic 06 fans?).

    In my opinion, of the Sega-made games, only Sonic 06 was a disaster. Unleashed wasn’t bad at all, it was the franchise’s savior! Sure, it had some flaws (they added way too much padding to the game in form of the Werehog and medal collecting to), but it pioneered a successful new gameplay style for modern Sonic, which was refined by Sonic Colors and Generations. And these two were legitimately good games. I wouldn’t call Lost Word a failure, it’s an okay game. The problem was that Sonic Team yet again tried a new gameplay formula instead of honing what worked previously – probably because they wanted to provide something “fresh and exciting”. If Project 2017 turns out to use Unleashed style again, I for one will be happy (and I’ve been a Sonic fan since day one, played the 2D originals to death on my Mega Drive).

    Sonic Boom was another disaster, of course. But pretty much everyone saw that coming. Even Sega. Which is why you’re wrong with your claim that Sega “relegated it to a lowly status as a spin-off”. Boom was never anything but. Sure, if it would have proved successful beyond expectation, Sega would have *elevated* it to a higher rank, but that was unlikely from the start. If Sega had really intended Sonic Boom to become the new mainline for Sonic, don’t you think they would have developed the game themselves rather than outsource it to an untested third party studio?

    “they’ve got to make a truly modern Sonic game that miraculously manages to please both young and old fans.”
    Such a game would be a miracle indeed. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to please everyone. And it’s a waste of time to even try.

    PS: If you want SA3, go play Sonic 06. That might not have been the SA3 you’ve been waiting for, but it’s the closest thing. Also, aren’t you riding on nostalgia yourself if you’re still waiting for SA3 at this point? 😛

    • First of all, I’ve actually played Sonic ’06, and it’s not nearly as bad as other people have made it out to be (it wasn’t particularly good either, the plot was retarded but the game was playable). It did kind of seem like it was trying to be like Sonic Adventure, just that they blew it.
      I praise Sonic Mania because, from the looks of it, it seems like the kind of Sonic game I wanted as a kid. It seemed like a true Sonic 4 (not like the derivative, bite-size portions Sega decided to call Sonic 4). I didn’t mention it, but I thought of Sonic 4 as part of the nostalgia problem, doing barely anything original in Episode 1, and the fans were still very apprehensive about it, which is why I criticise the nostalgia platform to begin with. Of course, Sonic Generations was an outstanding Sonic game, and probably the last one for quite a while, but I don’t think anything good will come of repeating it. I’m just glad Sega gave themselves more time to do it this time. I mainly chide the more “experimental” games because most of the resulting games attract the backlash of the very apprehensive Sonic fanbase, which causes Sega to be more averse to trying out new ideas to begin with. To be fair, it wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for games like the Storybook series, or the dreadful Sonic Chronicles on the DS.
      As for Lost World, I wanted the Wii U version but got stuck with the 3DS version, which was a very bad experience due to that game’s crummy controls (you can’t run without holding the R button), annoying level design, and annoying special stages (which require the console’s dreadful gyroscopic control). I could have liked Sonic Unleashed, but its bad plot and worse progression (you often had to get Sun and Moon medals in what are often tedious and frustrating stages in order to continue at all), along with iffy controls (especially on the Wii version) ruined it for me, and I actually think it’s worse than Sonic ’06 because the latter, believe it or not, didn’t piss me off as much (probably because the internet already ruined the surprise for me). At any rate, I certainly don’t view it as the franchise’s saviour (that would be Colors).
      I do like the modern gameplay style to a degree, mainly because Sega refined it in Sonic Colors and Generations, which I agree are superior games. As for Sonic Boom, I think it was partly a disaster because Sega played it too safe, and basically made it a mindless kids cartoon, and as you pointed out (thanks by the way, I sort of missed that detail) handed development over to a third party. I’m also disappointed that the next Sonic game to come in 2016 is yet another Sonic Boom game for the 3DS, but refused to comment on it.
      In closing, I should also mention that, though I would like to see a return to the Sonic Adventure style, I don’t want it done in too much of a nostalgic way. I certainly think there were flaws that Sega could improve on. I think Sega should listen to any fans who are willing to articulate their ideas. Even the Sonic 06 fans have some good ideas (for instance, perhaps improving on the way the ideas of Sonic ’06 were implemented). I would gladly offer my ideas to Sega and Sonic Team if they were willing to listen. Such an opportunity would be beyond my wildest dreams.

  2. Sonic is a series that can make its fan so apprehensive at times. Should we be worried? Hopeful? Angry? All of the above? I know many people will be quick to post a picture of the “Sonic Cycle” whenever a new Sonic game is released, but I suppose at this point it is justified. Sonic 2017 looks great from what we’ve seen and I want to get my hopes up, but don’t know if I should. Like you said, we can only hope. 🙂

    Great write-up by the way!

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