The Crossfire: Take A Break, Sonic

The Crossfire: Take A Break, Sonic

Happy New Year, Happy New Crossfire. I finally have something to talk about that is not a repeat of 100 threads on the first page of the Sonic the Hedgehog forum on the SSMB. Let’s get on with it., a site founded by former GameSpot employees, were handing out “Game of the Year” awards this past week, as so many gaming websites do. To differentiate themselves from the thousands of wanks telling people what their favorite games were, Giant Bomb added some entertaining joke awards and dubious honors. One such dubious honor was the “Take A Break” award, where a particular franchise should lay low for a while for it being over-saturated, of poor quality, or all of the above. Well, Sonic is once again the butt of everybody’s joke:

2008 continued the trend of Sega producing bad Sonic the Hedgehog games. It’s a trend that’s been ongoing since, well, depending on your perspective, you could claim it went all the way back to the Genesis. Personally, we pin Sonic’s continuing failure to please on polygons, and the gameplay’s failure to stay true to the series’ high-speed roots. There’s only one problem: Sonic Unleashed has moments that attempt to stick to what Sonic does best–running too fast for you to do anything other than watch–and it’s totally boring.

Aside from a few handheld outings, the franchise has been a mess since Sonic & Knuckles. Perhaps instead of continuing to bash their head against the hedgehog year in and year out, the folks at Sega should take a few huge steps back, take a break, and figure out a new direction. Because it’s become pretty obvious that what they’re doing now isn’t working.

With that said, would a break actually help the franchise or does it really matter how much time there is between games? Can a break put an end to THE ALL-KNOWING CYCLE?! Bring on my personal viewpoints already…

POINT: Take a break, Sonic.

In 2008, Nintendo did not release an entry in the Legend of Zelda franchise, one of their biggest cash cows. Not since 1999 (the year between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask) have we had a Zelda-less year…and I didn’t even notice until I read the story on Kotaku. I had to think about this statistic for a second and relate it to a trend in Zelda titles. We are well aware that practically every Zelda game is the same, but on some days you have a magical instrument(s), or are a wolf, have an abnormally large head, and/or are in two worlds. We are also well aware that a majority of us love those games despite them being rather similar. I chalk that up to time away from the franchise.

When I get my one Zelda game a year, I am usually starving for it, thanks to time in between adventures. I begin to say to myself that “it has been so long since I ventured through Hyrule.” I am conscious that this game will be treading familiar ground while uttering those words, but I still yearn to play it. Nintendo, to me, seems to take its time because too much of the same thing could be bad. By spacing out adventures, I think Sonic can benefit on not only the fan’s desire for another game, but gamers as a whole (oh, and I guess critics, too).

Next, let us look at Guitar Hero, a franchise that can only innovate by adding more instruments. Quite honestly, GH should have received the “Take A Break” award for releasing five games in 2008. However, that is not the case, as the nod went to Sonic for quantity in addition to mediocre/poor quality of games. Guitar Hero, quite frankly, is one concert that I am absolutely sick of seeing. However, it is a winning formula that gamers of all ages and experience level can pick up and enjoy. Activision is rehashing a solid product.

Both Zelda and Guitar Hero build off of an established, successful product. The difference between them, to me, is that Guitar Hero got old by making too many repeat appearances and Zelda shows up like it were a holiday. Sonic could benefit from making that special, one-time offering. Hell, even if the game was mediocre and once in a year, I would be complacent. I would not be so annoyed at the franchise if I weren’t realizing the true power of teamwork three to five times a year.

Moving onto the obvious point of a break: A break could help Sonic Team reassemble and collect their thoughts in order to make a better product. With more time to develop, the end result, in theory, should be better than the previous attempts to recapture the spotlight. If a game comes about that is a success, Sonic Team can replicate it with more sequels to please us time and again. Still, even if they find something that sticks with the fanbase and the critics, I think that one “traditional” game a year is still the way to go.

COUNTERPOINT: Taking a break wouldn’t fix a damn thing.

SEGA and Sonic Team have no idea what they are doing over there. In fact, I bet if they took more time to develop a Sonic game, we would get even worse ideas than a werehog and even more characters to boot. The back of the box would probably read like so:

Join Sonic the Hedgehog on another high-speed adventure! This time, Robotnik plans to break open Mount St. Helens St. Ultima’s Peak to release an ancient beast, the Ultima Cobra! With something that dangerous, Sonic’s going to need back up. Enter Babs the Boxer Kangaroo, the robot beatin’ tomboy who is obviously the love interest for Knuckles, and Shadow Techno the Hedgehog, a green recolor of Sonic who is his polar opposite in every way and more powerful (they get along, though…trust us). Sonic and his new friends must seek out Ricky, a sage mongoose who knows how to slay Ultima Cobra. Can Sonic and his new friends speed to victory?

We would all, collectively, smack the shit out of our foreheads, except for that one half of the community that will fervently defend the concept and call us all “retrofags,” “nostalgos,” or “past-ies.” Sucks for them, because the argument is about how stupid the idea is and not whether or not the game is “retro enough.” I bet that half would ask us what flavor pie we would like one day, only for them to say that “cherry is inferior to blueberry” and wrapping up their argument with the completely relevant buttoner of a phrase, “go hump your Genesis.” Good job, team. Or, you could just open all of your posts with “you nostalgic fanboys.” You cut to the chase quicker.

I digress (I’ve had the above in my system for the past month, sorry), but you get my point. Sonic Team and SEGA do not need time, they need a wholesale change of personnel. Quantity of titles is not the concern – it’s just the quality. You can make an awful game, wait ten years, and still make an awful game. You can take three years to develop a sophisticated lighting engine, hype it up to be the return of Sonic, and still make a mediocre game. You could be the most athletic and coordinated kid ever, blast through the first half of the temple, and still fail to put together the silver monkey.

Time can be a factor in whether or not a team that can “revive” the Sonic franchise, but I do not think going cold turkey with the series is going to help. It is all about the people who work on the game. When your team goes 0-16 in the regular season, you fire your head coach. When your video games are averaging in the 60-percent and below range with the critics and your franchise is on countless “must die” lists, you fire the people in charge.

Or, you could be of the school that Sonic Unleashed is a fantastic game and that Sonic Team doesn’t need a break, as he is on the right track. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. While I, personally, don’t think Unleashed was awful, just mediocre, there still needs to be a personnel change of some kind. By change, I mean whoever invented the werehog should be canned first.  If Sonic does not take a break, Sonic Team should look at the success with the daytime stages and build a winning formula around those high-speed romps.  I would not have a problem with that at all.

DECISION: Where do you stand?

Sound off in the SSMB thread. Try not to be a huge asshole. See you next time shit goes down.

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Slingerland is a staff writer and editor for both The Sonic Stadium and Sonic Retro. His area of emphasis is the inner-workings of the games and laughing at everything.