Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sonic Four's "Sonic Wars"

While I have bouts of extreme misfortune (like driving into dustbins as I reverse off my drive - d'oh), I realise that when it comes to some things, I'm extremely lucky. One of my loves in life, something that I've had a huge passion for since I was about seven years of age, is Sonic the Hedgehog. I fell in love with the games almost instantaneously - the game play, the art style...the music! Something really struck me with these games and this has resonated with me since.

In that time I've seen four generations of consoles come and go, and I've seen the on-off success Sonic has had. The Genesis / Megadrive era, I think we all agree was his golden age, with his second renaissance arguably coming with the Dreamcast era and Sonic Adventure. However he seems to have petered out since then. Granted the gameplay has varied massively from addictive to atrocious, but I've stuck with the genre because nine times out of ten the soundtrack has been delightful; from stunning orchestral pieces to rocking power anthems. The artwork always seems so novel and sheik, and like the merchandise magnet I am, I've hoovered up anything I can get my hands on as the mementos of these titles.

The one drastic change in my opinion of Sonic the Hedgehog has been my introduction into the community of Sonic the Hedgehog fans about four years ago. Now there was a time I thought I may be the last Sonic fan on Earth, so I was delighted to all of a sudden become immersed among kindred spirits. However the one real consensus in the community is that the games aren't what they used to be. In some senses this is purely others unfortunately because titles have been really, really poor (not to mention Sonic the Hedgehog '06). Naturally, this has caused cries from the older fans for a return to the old, and this is where my debate today stems.

SEGA rather hurriedly announced "Project Needlemouse" last summer, which had the community extremely excited with the promise of the return to the old 2D platforming style. This was then unveiled to be the next installment, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, in the old canon of the SEGA Genesis / MD days. This announcement, in my mind, was the dream come true for any oldschool fan of Sonic who wanted to see a return to the glory days. As usual, the announcement polarized the fan base into two camps: those fans who are widely optimistic and excited at the prospect of a new Sonic title (regardless of past experience) and those who instantly slate the for one reason or another - be it leaked information, screenshots etc... upon which they base their early conclusion. SEGA are a rare example of a company who listens to its fans (whether or not this is a good idea is debatable), and this makes their job becomes extremely hard...the problem lies within this extreme cross-section of the fan base.

The Sonic community is unique in many senses in that it has one of the biggest fan bases for a particular game -I don't think Mario has his own summer convention!. Just by looking around at events of these types, it is clear that fans transcend gender, age, background, socail stereotype, sexual orientation etc...and while this is in some cases great for diversity, it means a huge clash in opinion. As some would argue, Sonic is generally aimed at younger audiences - it makes sense as that is how he was originally marketed. However as Sonic now has a rather large adult fan base, of which many are my age and still love the games (old and/or new), this adds another layer of complexity. Throw all of this into the mix, and it's only a matter of time before there is trouble. In this case trouble comes in the form of what a Sonic title should be. When I was a kid, I never analysed the games I played to an extent I do today - I guess a more critical mind is developed with age. While this I believe is definitely a good thing, some of the most enjoyable games I play these days are the most simplistic - Portal for example. So my view is that a good Sonic title need not have massive depth of storyline and plot development - as long as it is fun to play, that has filled my criterion. Again, others like a multitude of characters, development, relationships etc...and that's cool...but now how do you make one game for both fans?

The answer is, you can't. And this is what I believe we're seeing with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. SEGA make a game aimed at younger, newer audiences, and the older fans are not satisfied. SEGA make a game based on the older style - and fans are not happy it is original enough; they want something new (even though a "nod" to an older game always goes down well). Now in my mind, we're then land back at square one - we want something old, yet something new (maybe not borrowed, definitely blue). So what exactly is it that these fans desire? In some instances, I think particular fans have already realised they will never satisfied. What confuses me more is that some of these fans won't have had any gratification since the last Sonic Advance title (the closest of the newer titles to the old style) back in 2004 - that's six years ago. Now, there are many video game series in which I have since stopped paying attention to as more sequels appeared, the games became worse in my opinion. In these instances, I've stopped buying those titles.

My question is then why are there so many people who don't like recent Sonic titles still visiting fan sites, buying the games, and actively seeking conversation about these games? I certainly don't linger on Tomb Raider forums demanding a return to square tits before I will enjoy another session of watching Lara's arse as I piss around in a jungle shooting chimps.

To end this blog I pose a question to anyone who reads this and feels they fall into that category of the dissatisfied fan who wants to return to the glory days. Please don't get me wrong; I'm not setting out to tell you your opinion is wrong, or to aggravate you or offend you in any way - there is enough of that already going on throughout too many sites. I just want to understand why I'm at this moment in time still unfortunate enough to have to read dozens of comments from people who lost their passion for Sonic the Hedgehog many years ago...

1 comment:

  1. This issue is becoming more and more difficult to understand as time goes on. My friend Sean once said that the best SEGA could do right now was to remake Sonic 1 and release it for the current generation of consoles. After seeing the first glimpse of Sonic 4 he would have appeared to have got what he asked for but his response was more along the lines of "They're just making Sonic 1 again!" and "the homing attack shouldn't be in a 2D game and that's why it's going to be shit".

    Now I think both of those reactions are a little OTT but it would appear that Sean isn't alone. There's been far too many complaints about the tiniest of things. Old-school fans seem to expect that because this is being marketed as Sonic 4, the game should include everything they remember from the original series whilst completely forgetting that Sonic has evolved as a character over the last decade.

    Sonic was never going to look like his original design because SEGA purposely had Sonic redesigned for the 2000s. Just because this is a sequel to the original series does not mean SEGA can ignore everything that's happened since.

    I think SEGA have come up with a game that is both nostalgic and appealing to both old and new fans. New look Sonic with current move set in old school, 2D environments based on platforming and not blasting through the stage as quick as possible.

    But hey, I can't be the voice of reason unfortunately. It would appear that because SEGA haven't really known what they want Sonic to be for the last decade, they've caused a lot of confusion within their fanbase. I believe this is what is causing all the arguments.