Stop me if you’ve heard this before. “Sonic had a rough transition to 3D.” “Sonic will never catch up to Mario.” “Something something Sonic Cycle.” “This new Sonic game is a glitchy mess.” “Sonic was never good.” Did I get them all? I don’t think so, but these will be enough to make my point.
Sonic the Hedgehog is probably one of the most polarizing franchises in video game history. Maybe even in any industry. That’s not to say I don’t get where such mixed reception comes from, but it often feels like people would exaggerate a problem with Sonic the Hedgehog as if those problems don’t exist in other games or long-running franchises.
While criticizing Sonic is a fair (and even necessary) thing, I sometimes find myself raising my eyebrow at the criticisms, thinking, “THAT’S what you’re complaining about?” There’s much more good here than bad. Then again, people also tend to change their opinion regarding what’s good for Sonic and what’s bad for him every full moon; I don’t think it’s even possible to determine what the actual state of the franchise is.
There’s much more good here than bad.
Personally? Despite the ups, downs, and all-arounds, I’m a very supportive Sonic fan to this day. The hedgehog has been my favorite character forever; he always brought me comfort whenever I needed it. That being said, I AM honest in case I don’t like something with his face on it and I try to be fair when I judge anything regarding his many adventures across any kind of media. But just like I’m critical of the bad, I’m also going to cherish and celebrate the good, of which there’s plenty.
In fact, as of the end of 2023, Sonic the Hedgehog is in a pretty good place which I believe can lead to many great things. With the IDW comics going strong, a third movie in production after two hits, and Sonic Prime about to wrap up its run, one would ask where could the games go from here. Thankfully; we have 3 releases that could point in a wonderful direction for this franchise.
The latest 3D adventure on home consoles brought a lot to the table which I believe should be brought back and tweaked for future releases. The open zone formula works very well for Sonic as it allows switching between the speed without much thought and braving platforming challenges which require more input and attention from the player. Combine that with access to both the spin dash and the boost, a more coherent level design, and the maneuverability options introduced, and we have a great basis for the next mainline game!
The open zone formula works very well for Sonic as it allows switching between speed without much thought and braving platforming challenges which require more input and attention from the player.
The Cyberspace levels were definitely lacking in Frontiers and felt like they were there out of some weird obligation than anything else. However, I don’t think they’re something that should be ridden of, just remade to not feel as restrictive and lacking in comparison to the rest of the game. We can have linear levels between the open zones but not force the player to deal with different physics and controls once the switch is made.
I have nothing special to say when it comes to the combat, as I thought it was handled well in Frontiers. I know it’s not a deep system like much more sophisticated action games out there, but I also ask if it should matter. Sonic is about speed and I feel the simplicity of the combat helps in fleshing it out. I don’t need any encounter with a bunch of enemies to be about style and evolved mechanics. I want to get rid of them quickly because I’m the fastest thing alive. I’m not objecting to any changes the combat system may see in the future, but I also believe we shouldn’t stray too far from what Sonic is: a speedy platformer.
With the final DLC for the game released a few months ago, we saw the return of other playable characters, with Tails, Knuckles, and Amy all playable for the first time since 2006. None of those 3 were perfect, but the basis for each of them is great. They all share the same core gameplay style as the blue hero, but they all have unique attributes that set them apart. While each one of them was fine to play, abilities like Knuckles’s heavy glide and Tails’ lack of a homing attack require tweaking. Maybe these characters were impacted by being DLC, so I want to hope that the next game takes them more into account.
While not the Mania sequel everyone expected, I believe Sonic Superstars was more than a worthy successor which shows that classic games and modern games can co-exist and take inspiration from each other.
I believe Sonic Superstars was more than a worthy successor...
I want to make it clear that in terms of the basics, Sonic Superstars is an incredible game. The controls feel tight and just as good as they were in the Genesis games and Mania. Level themes are all beautiful and filled with life and the design of the levels themselves includes plenty of routes and obstacles which are fun to navigate through. Characters all control the same but each has that unique thing about them which makes experimenting and replaying the levels more fun. Even the Chaos Emerald powers were a neat little addition that adds to the many ways in which you can tackle a level.
Alas though; Superstars isn’t perfect and there are quite a few mandatory improvements a sequel to it should make if it wants to remain relevant. First and foremost are the boss battles. While the ideas for each boss were solid, most of them were slow-paced and drowned out to a ridiculous degree. These slow bits combined with a lack of checkpoints aren’t challenging. They’re pace breakers that artificially prolong the game and when Sonic the Hedgehog is the titular character, that’s quite literally no good.
The bits of multiplayer I got to experience were also something that required a ton of work for it to even function. I understand the need to put multiplayer in a game like this, considering it’s somewhat of a norm these days, but when the game is so fast-paced? I think the main solution here is to split the screen and give each player a dedicated camera. That way everyone can play the way they want to without one player zooming through the level, resulting in the control being taken away from the others. Good idea, confusing execution.
Besides those two things; Superstars is a good direction for future Classic Sonic games! Keep the level design, themes, and overall graphics style for next time. Tweak out the bosses and multiplayer. Keep Trip as part of the cast because she’s adorable. Overall? Azrest is in business and seems to be promising great things.
Sonic Dream Team
The most recent and most surprising of the games. While stuck on Apple devices for the time being, I found Sonic Dream Team to be a very good time! Yes, the touch controls aren’t as responsive as a proper controller, but we have a very solid base for future Sonic games here and I hope the right lessons will be learned from it.
I found Sonic Dream Team to be a very good time!
Like with Sonic Frontiers’ DLC, all 6 playable characters play exactly the same and share the same core moveset. However, only 2 characters can perform their own special actions. Only Sonic and Amy could light-speed dash, for example, but only Tails and Cream could fly while Knuckles and Rouge could glide and climb walls. While some levels are designed to be played with a specific character type; all characters can clear most of the stages and in some cases, switching characters mid-level is essential.
With fun platforming levels that rely on both fast reflexes and exploration, I really hope Sonic Team would take notes for level designs in the future mainline console games. Combining the open zone of Frontiers with the levels of Dream Team? That alone sounds like a fun game already and I hope they’ll give this idea a shot. Just please, let’s stick with consoles, okay SEGA?
I’ve been burned before. I’ve experienced disappointments. I know it can take a bit of time to fully get there…but I’m optimistic about the future of Sonic the Hedgehog going forward. Those 3 games showed me that while there are some cracks to fix, the franchise is about to gain its footing again and the minds behind them are willing to grow and learn from what worked and what didn’t.
Considering how many franchises hit the lows Sonic did have ceased to exist while he’s still around? Seemingly stronger with every fall? I believe the blue blur can reach the full potential that 2022 and 2023 showed us he’s capable of. They have the basis for a winning formula, multiple characters, stories that balance seriousness with some levity, and the existence of both classic and modern Sonic in separate lines of games.
We may not reach the peak of the mountain immediately. Whatever the next game is might still have some things that will require toning up, but I do believe we’re heading toward a brighter future for the hedgehog. Sonic has been my favorite character since I was a little kid, with one of the reasons being his tenacity and his willpower to keep fighting and never give up. The franchise starring him shares that drive to keep moving forward and not let anything stop it. With how things look right now? I’m happy it never stopped!
People said Sonic would break. They said he’ll lose. And yet, he’s still here. What else is new? As long as he gets stronger with every fall and faster with every mile. SEGA has built my trust these past couple of years despite how everyone made fun of them. They never bid the dust, and neither will their mascot. Sonic is on his way back to the top and I’m hoping whoever is at the helm safely shepherd him to the summit.
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