I was six years old when I received the Genesis/Sonic 1 bundle for Christmas in 1991. That was that. Sonic was my video game hero of choice. Mario was cool, I had nothing against him. But as fun as his games were, and despite his Italian plumber background, the mustachioed hero has always been a blank slate. Sonic had personality from the get go. From his sleek, aggressive design to his patented Super Sonic speed, Mario just couldn’t compete with Sonic’s inherent coolness.
I played and beat all the Genesis games and even a couple Game Gear titles (hello Triple Trouble). I read all the comics, watched both television shows (Sonic had 2 television shows in 1993, which is crazy), cuddled up with Sonic and Tails plushies (these were incredibly hard to find – Toys ‘R Us was constantly sold out of them). When the game quality began to dwindle in ’96 with Sonic 3D Blast, I continued to read the comic and even some fan fiction. By 1998, however, my childhood obsession drew to a close. Sonic hadn’t had a game of note in a couple years, and my interest in his extracurricular activities had all but vanished.
Tails’ glassy eyes peer through your soul…
Sonic Adventure 2: Battle on the Gamecube was the first new-ish Sonic game that I had played in years. It wasn’t perfect, but I was floored by how much I missed Sonic as a character. Even though he wasn’t in the game that much, and the platforming wasn’t at all like the 2D games (particularly the Knuckles/Rouge emerald searching garbage), SA2: Battle reminded me why I was a fan. I even enjoyed the janky platforming of Sonic Adventure DX and Sonic Heroes, but the unplayable Sonic ’06 and the almost-as-terrible Wii-exclusive Sonic and the Secret Rings made my love goggles fall right off again.
Since the mid-’00s and the Sonic ’06 debacle, Sega hasn’t known what to do with the character. Every new Sonic game is a reboot of sorts, as if they’re afraid to settle on one particular concept.
Sonic Unleashed had the much reviled Werehog mechanics, but was otherwise decent. Sonic Colors had some of the best 3D Sonic platforming in ages. Sonic Generations, with its split between old/new Sonics, was the most engaging traditional Sonic game in years, but it was released to commemorate Sonic’s 20th anniversary and was clearly a one-off. Sonic Lost World suffered mixed reviews, while the Sonic Boom Wii U game was as bad as Sonic ’06. Now, in 2016, Sega seems to be at a standstill.
Censor this filth.
To a thirtysomething gamer like me, Sonic’s a large piece of not just my gaming history, but my childhood. Younger generations do not feel this way. My eleven-year-old cousin used to think Sonic was just a random Smash Bros. character until I informed her of Sonic’s long and storied history. She was interested, but not enough to seek out any other games (to be fair, I warned her against Sonic Boom). Outside of Smash Bros., Sonic is just another old game character to her, like Pac-Man was to me when I was a kid.
My eleven-year-old cousin should be Sega’s target audience for Sonic, yet until I spoke with her, she had no idea about his past. Admittedly, she might not be representative of all preteens who play video games, but she’s also not clueless. Sonic’s just not on her radar.
Sonic weeps over the loss of his popularity (thanks to SonikkuFan94 for this piece).
Therein lies the issue: up until recently, Sega believed the Sonic name would provide the cachet needed to sell a million copies of a game. This might seem crazy to those of us who wrote Sonic off long ago, but the fact is, his games were selling millions of copies as recently as 2012. This just isn’t the case anymore. Many older gamers have moved on from the franchise, burned by one too many poor entries. Younger gamers have far more gaming options than we had in the 90s, and many of them are eschewing consoles altogether in favor of mobile devices. While Sonic has a fairly large presence on mobile with both old ports and exclusive titles alike, the platform’s transient nature doesn’t lend itself to the character’s longevity.
But can he dash into our hearts?
Even if Sega’s 25th anniversary celebration for Sonic raises public awareness for the character, Mario and Sonic are still a dying breed. They’re mascots whose respective companies still rely heavily on them for income. They are no longer rivals, but partners in a world that doesn’t really need them. If Sonic (and Mario, to a lesser extent) ceased to exist, we old-timers might be melancholy, but the younger generation would get by just fine on Minecraft and, er, whatever else kids play.
On the flip side, I’ve heard good things about the “Sonic Boom” cartoon. Supposedly, it appeals to both kids and adults with funny dialogue and well-written characters. Whoever runs the Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter page has also done an admirable job in updating Sonic’s 1991 ‘tude to good ol’ modern snark. The Sonic comic, against all odds, is still going. And with SEGA Games CEO’s 2015 comments about Sega’s desire to win back fans’ trust, perhaps Sonic’s 25th anniversary will see a revival of interest in the character at large.
Run, you tireless vagabond, run!
Who is Sonic in 2016? He’s a mildly popular anthropomorphic hedgehog represented in games, comics, and television. He’s the inspiration for terabytes of poorly drawn, morally reprehensible fan art. He’s a think piece for people like me who remember his glory days. And that might be good enough. Sonic will likely never recreate his early 90s success, but if Sega just focuses on putting him in good works – whether they be games, comics, movies, Harlequin novels, whatever – the character will continue on. If Sega blindly trusts that Sonic’s face and name will support the company, regardless of the product’s level of quality, he’ll spin dash straight to obscurity faster than you can say “blast processing.”