Being a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t easy sometimes. It is easy to point the finger at the poor releases under the franchise, but I’d argue that the main reason is the fanbase itself. I’m sure there are many who are aware that the Sonic fanbase is polarizing; both in opinions and communication within the fanbase itself.
There are people who would argue 2006’s Sonic The Hedgehog is the exact point where Sonic’s reputation plummeted beyond repair, while some will now stand by it as a misunderstood masterpiece. 2010’s Sonic Colors, however, signified the franchise’s return to form. Yet some fans are now pointing to it as the ‘true’ point in which things went very wrong. Debates about why and how encompass a diverse range of topics, such as voice acting, art styles, and even characters’ eye color.
With that being said, the Sonic fanbase is also home to some of the most ambitious fan creations I’ve seen from any fanbase.
Fan animations have surged in notoriety and earned praise from many, such as Chakra X’s Nazo Unleashed, audio dramas like Emi Jones’s Sonic and Tails R, and let’s not forget about fan games such as Before the Sequel, Utopia, and many others. Some of these creators would even go on to become employed by SEGA themselves, as with Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley, the people behind Sonic Mania.
This leads us to today’s focus with the Sonic fanbase: the ambitious fan game dubbed Sonic Omens. This may not be the fandom’s first hurrah into 3D games, as several proofs of concept demos exist prior, but Sonic Omens promised a full experience. Levels, boss fights, and a story with fully animated and voiced cutscenes. I remember the hype surrounding the game when its first levels hit the internet, genuinely impressed with what I saw of the game.
I should note that I haven’t had the chance to experience Sonic Omens fully myself. I’ll get to more reasons as to why later, but the main reason is that I’m not a PC gamer. However, from what I managed to play and from what I’ve seen, I have compiled my observations here. Unfortunately, these observations are not entirely positive.
Let’s begin with the positive. I admire the game’s ambition and scope. Not a lot of fan games tried doing it and I feel like the trial should be commendable. Ouroboros Studios put a lot of effort and thought into this game and I could never take that from them. From actually crafting a story and building on elements people liked from the games, the developers illustrate a passion for Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic Omens is mostly a ‘boost’ game. This means that Sonic, and also Shadow, are placed at a linear level with several paths they could take. Both can double jump, use the homing attack to get rid of enemies, and of course boost once the meter is full. New to Omens, however, is the grappling hook Sonic now uses in places where he’ll need to swing through and grapple towards, and Shadow’s chaos powers which serve as projectiles and means to activate switches.
Here is where the problems begin. I may have described Sonic Omens as a boost game, but Ouroboros Studios seem to have tried to mesh the boost formula with the Sonic Adventure formula. It's a noble concept that doesn’t work as well as one would think.
The Adventure games work with the idea that Sonic has a capped speed. He may move faster than the average platformer hero, but his speed reaches a certain point which would allow for more platforming to take place.
The Boost games, however, are more focused on making Sonic go as fast as possible, and the platforming and obstacles are based around using that speed and mastering it in order to make it through.
These are two different game design philosophies that are bound to clash. Sonic and Shadow control much as a boost game would, but some levels are designed with the Adventure mindset (which includes platforming and puzzle solving), which does not work smoothly with the controls they’re aiming for.
I understand what they were trying to accomplish here, and that is to address the whole ‘Boost to Win’ criticism fans are throwing around. However, it only makes the problem more apparent when the boost is useless to beat a level because it’ll get you killed, or where any sense of challenge is out the window the moment you pressed it.
Allow me to shift focus to the story and presentation of Sonic Omens. As stated before, it’s clear that Ouroboros Studio is ambitious. However, it is that ambition that ended up hurting the product. Sonic Omens takes the hedgehog back to adventures with more twists and high stakes than ones with simple plots and mostly comedic moments. It’s clear Ouroboros Studios liked the more serious stories in the franchise, which isn’t a bad thing as I enjoy some of them myself.
However, the story presented here is simply a narrative mess with poor voice acting and moments which frankly made me laugh harder than any joke I’ve heard recently. I gather those moments were not meant to be comedic.
It begins with Eggman hatching another evil plan with Sonic and Tails investigating. Shadow will join the case under commands from G.U.N, and later transfer into what I can only describe as lunacy in the final few levels. At the game's start, Sonic wears the necklace of his friend Chip from Sonic Unleashed. A cute little continuity nod, which implies the game takes place after those events and before later entries, as the game ends with it being destroyed.
Not a bad idea to add a connecting piece to the main cannon, but a terrible idea to throw Sonic X into the mix. While the anime adapted some plots from the game series, it stands as its own continuity separate from the games. Why would Ouroboros Studios try to tie the two together is beyond me as it does nothing but create questions about how in the two worlds this whole thing even works. To make matters worse, they do not explain this; the game prompts players to accept that the Metarex and Chris Torendike are here, answers be damned.
Suddenly, this ambitious fan game turned into what most people often criticize about Sonic. Uneven levels, bonkers story, voice acting which is painful to the ears, glitches that actually ruin the game like rings not being picked up.
It’s an ambitious game to be sure and, again, I admire the ambition. Yet it’s also too ambitious for its own good. I’m sorry if Ouroboros Studios is reading this, but the attempt was not a success.
I’m aware that there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Sonic Omens and plenty of bad things were said about it for reasons I will not discuss here. I believe, though, that a product should be given a shot regardless of everything surrounding it. While I admire the intention behind the game, the game itself just came across as a bunch of people who can talk the talk but stumbled in the same places they claimed to have avoided.
SEGA may not always know what the Sonic fanbase actually wants from future entries, but Sonic Omens doesn’t seem to grasp it either.
The one thing which Ouroboros Studios achieved in following SEGA is a lot of mishandled ambition. While many fans are shouting at SEGA to hire fans who developed 3D demos for Sonic the Hedgehog, I hope this is the one developer they’ll ignore and never approach. The franchise needs people who know how to fix the problem, not ones with the ego to think they can.
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