The past decade has not been kind to Sonic fans. While his rival mascot Mario hopped into the 3D realm brilliantly, Sonic kind of just limped along. In fact, it was almost like watching a poor old dog that needs to be put down just continue to suffer, half-blind, bumping into walls, and whimpering.
In my opinion, one of the aspects of the 3D Sonic games that makes them simply not as fun as their 2D counterparts is that they basically put Sonic on rails. You've got one path to speed down; there's absolutely no element of exploration. In the case of Mario, reimagining the series in 3D opened up little nooks and crannies of the Mushroom Kingdom for us to discover. With Sonic, the world managed to somehow feel less expansive in 3D than it did in 2D.
Sonic Team eventually realized that Sonic fans have been craving a return to 2D, and they came up with Sonic 4 Episode 1. However, there has been an endless deluge of negativity spewed at what was supposed to finally be a true sequel to Sonic and Knuckles. I have to admit that I actually enjoyed Sonic 4, albeit as an admittedly flawed execution of what could have been a glorious idea.
In fact, looking back, there were really only two major flaws in my opinion that kept Sonic 4 from being Sonic's triumphant return to 2D. First of all, the levels didn't feel fresh. They were just rehashed versions of stages we all played in the original 2D Sonic games. However, this could have been more forgivable had it not been for the other flaw, which is what truly killed this sequel: the physics were off.
In the old days, Sonic's speed came with momentum. He could run fast and accelerate quickly. When he was riding a halfpipe, he gained speed and height every time he came down. However, the new Sonic had a bit more trouble accelerating, and his momentum was off. To top it all off, they gave Sonic the lock-on ability from the 3D games.
One more thing should be pointed out that was probably much less consequential than I give it credit for: Right around the time Sonic 4 was getting ready to launch, there was a fan-made HD remake of the Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic 2, dubbed Sonic Fan Remix. It was a thing of beauty, with an excruciating amount of detail. As you progressed through Acts 1 through 3, you could see the world slowly healing around you. For example, there was a Roboland sign in the background, and you could see it being built as you progressed through the acts. There were even different weather patterns for each act, and phenomenal scripted background elements, like Robotnik hovering behind you in his robo suit from the Death Egg stage. While Sonic 4 was graphically a huge improvement over the Genesis Sonic games, when compared with Fan Remix, it just looked bland. Anyone who had seen Fan Remix prior to playing Sonic 4 was greatly disappointed.
But now Sonic is coming back to the 2D space in a time-traveling adventure. No, I'm not talking about Sonic Generations, though that one may have a time-traveling element as well. (How else do you explain the presence of both Classic Sonic and 3D Sonic?) I'm actually talking about Sonic CD, which, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of the Sonic series. This classic Sonic game is coming to XBLA and PSN, as well as iOS, and it's about time.
I must admit that it's a bit strange to see Sonic CD coming to current gen consoles. It may have been an excellent Sonic game—maybe even the best—but it never got the popularity or respect it deserved because it was on SEGA's doomed SEGA CD platform. Finally, Sonic CD is coming to the broader audience it deserves, but is it perhaps a bit too late to pick up anyone besides the select few who got to play it back in the SEGA CD era?
It almost feels as if it's a last-ditch effort to make 2D Sonic cool again. I mean, we have Sonic CD coming to current gen consoles, Sonic Generations just around the corner, and the announcement that Sonic 4 Episode 2 is still in production, all relatively close to each other. Could this be Sonic's last stand?
If sales figures and reviews for Sonic Generations don't work out as planned, Sonic 4 Episode 2 is just around the corner to appease disappointed fans. However, with the negativity generated by Episode 1, can Episode 2 possible make things right? I think it can, but only if we get Sonic's old physics back. However, if Sonic CD, Sonic Generations, and Sonic 4 Episode 2 all tank, this could very well be the end of 2D Sonic as we know him.
My prediction: SEGA's really focusing on 2D Sonic right now, and that's a good thing. However, this is an extremely delicate project. If Sonic Generations and Episode 2 don't bring back the chubby little Sonic we all remember from the 90s, I guarantee Sonic CD won't see as many downloads as it deserves. In that case, we could very well see 2D Sonic disappear for another decade; very bad news for fans of Old School Sonic like myself. Let's all cross our fingers and hope SEGA gets 2D Sonic right again.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*