In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.
Sonic's been on my mind a fair bit in the past week. The most obvious reason for this is also the most topical: Sega recently announced their plans to release Sonic Generations, a bizarre old-school/contemporary new hybrid game in the blue hedgehog's series, just in time for his twentieth birthday. (I've also been listening to extended versions of tracks from the original two Genesis titles on YouTube, but that's another story.) In what's become a tradition with just about every Sonic game in recent memory, Sega's gone forward with another weird design quirk—it's not as horrible as the werehoggery of Unleashed or as distressing as the gunplay in Shadow the Hedgehog, but it's definitely still odd. Sonic Generations stars both the more svelte, sleek Sonic (who has been the principal protagonist of every game in the series since the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure) as well as the old-school classic "fat" Sonic who originally debuted back in 1991.
Stranger still is that the two Sonics seem to co-exist in the same universe (at least for the purpose of Sega's first trailer), though the idea behind here is that fat Sonic will have classically-styled 2D stages with old-school Sonic gameplay, while modern, green-eyed Sonic will run around in 3D levels that focus on the speed and camera acrobatics and theme-park-obstacle-course design that Sonic has somewhat dubiously become known for in his later years.
I know, I know, we've heard it all before—Sonic's going back to basics. This has been the same sort of idea that's been thrown around for the past five years, to one degree or another. And yet Sega never seems to learn (or listen, for that matter). Sonic's first HD reboot was rushed, throwaway trash probably only noteworthy for the sheer amount of controlling breaking frustration it yielded; with Sonic Unleashed Sega relented a little bit, making some great 2D day levels while saddling the poor hedgehog with the button mashing combat of a tired brawler at night; even Sonic 4, a supposed true return to Sonic's tried-and-true 2D gameplay formula, was somehow screwed up because of Sonic's severe lack of momentum—which made him run slower and control clunkier than in his first 16-bit adventure. Sonic Colors was actually a pretty good Sonic game, but it still had the design gimmick of changing into different forms from time to time.
Why, Sega? Why can't you just actually listen to what your fans have been saying for years and give us a totally old-school Sonic game that plays like the originals, but with modern flourishes?
Generations may be the closest we ever get to that—it could also be the actual rebirth of classic Sonic gameplay, the result of which could drastically change the development of any remaining episodes of Sonic 4, provided that Generations' existence isn't proof that they've been outright scrapped already. Right now, it's impossible to tell. I've heard a lot of gamers say that whatever Sega does to the series next will be the last straw for them, and I can't say I blame them. Sometimes I think it's just my gluttony for punishment that has me still wanting to see Sonic restored to even a scrap of his 16-bit glory, holding on by a thread (as I sometimes feel I am) to the bitter ghost of nostalgia.