First of all, kudos if you get the article title. 2017 is amongst other things the return of the mascot platformer/collect-a-thon. Yooka-Laylee, Crash Bandicoot and Mario Odyssey make up a holy trinity of games which hark back to the foggy days of PS1, Dreamcast and N64. In between these releases comes a double-edged spike ball of fury (furry?); Sonic. Could this finally be the return to glory for one of gaming’s original trend setters?
In the 90s, 2D Sonic arguably peaked with Sonic 3 & Knuckles – the ‘complete’ version of Sonic 3. The game refined power ups and level variety whilst having the best balance of furry sidekicks which would in later games get out of hand. The transition to 3D was as awkward as a human-hedgehog romantic relationship. Sonic Adventure wasn’t Mario 64 quality and is difficult to play in 2017 due to some extremely clunky 3D work. However, it was fun and had some memorable, iconic moments. The 3D games got progressively worse – always trying to shoehorn in alternate mechanics which were at odds with Sonic’s simplicity. No wonder Knuckles always loses the Master Emerald if all he has is that annoying blinking radar thing.
Over in 2D Sonic world, there has been more consistent content. Sonic Advance and its sequels were good and were followed up with strong Nintendo DS games. However, monstrosities like Sonic 4 (both episodes) and the first Sonic Boom smart like spring jumping straight into a Buzz Bomber.
Back in 3D land, things got weirder. Sonic became a werewolf, went to Camelot and vastly expanded his band of forgettable sidekicks. For the record, the Chaotix crew is where the line should be. Shadow, Silver and any other X the Z diluted the already diminished quality of the series. False dawns like Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 rubbed salt in the wounds of SEGA fans who had already begun to accept the seemingly inevitable. Occasionally a game gave a speck of hope. Sonic and the Secret Rings on Wii begun the ‘rollercoaster’ style game style and was built on in Colors and Sonic Unleashed. An uneasy balance was finally found in Sonic Generations which reimagined stages from all eras of Sonic, mixing 2D and 3D gameplay. It was great fun and most importantly wasn’t a chore to play. All non-Sonic shenanigans were optional. This all brings us to 2017’s offerings…
By the year’s end, we should have 2D retro-inspired sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles; Sonic Mania as well as Generations-esque Sonic Forces. Between the two games there looks to be something for everyone and – hopefully – games which finally restore the honour to Sonic’s name. Like Mario, it was once a symbol of quality and you knew exactly what you were going to get. The faux 16-bit graphics of Mania will draw the attention of lapsed gamer 30-somethings who will instantly recognise the blue blur. Plus for a sub-£20 price tag it is a no brainier purchase. Sonic Forces aims to build on Generations’ more consistent 3D environments and deliver a 2017 Sonic adventure. Interestingly the ‘build your own sidekick’ feature seems like a master stroke. No one can moan of the suspect supporting cast if they are user created. It gives big kids like us the chance to recreate great characters like those from the UK’s now defunct Sonic the Comic or more recent fan-favourites like Big the Cat.
We wait with bated breath to see if these two Sonics can deliver after 20 years of false starts. As the Sonic Adventure theme says:
‘Gotta open your heart!
Can’t hold on much longer!
But I will never let go!
I know it’s a one way track!
Tell me now how long this’ll last!
I’m not gonna think this way!
Nor will I count on others!
Close my eyes and feel it burn!
Now I see what I gotta do!
Open your heart, it’s gonna be alright! Yeah!’