Back in the early ‘90s the Sonic series was the pinnacle of platform video games.
The 1991 original helped shift millions of Sega Mega Drives, and its sequels are still regarded as some of the finest games ever made.
But fast-forward to today and Sonic – still one of the gaming’s most iconic stars – isn’t quite the hedgehog he once was.
There have been some quality games that have sold well, but for every Sonic Rush there’s been a Sonic Unleashed that hasn’t exactly lived up to the gaming icon’s stellar reputation.
But now Sega says it wants to change all that. There are three Sonic titles due this Christmas, Sonic Riders for Kinect, the episodic download Sonic 4 and Sonic Colours for Wii and DS. The latter two titles are key because they represent Sega’s new plan to focus on the core principles that made Sonic such a hit in the first place – namely speed and the character himself.
“Sonic Team has done an amazing job,” says Sonic’s new brand director David Corless, who took the role this summer. “They have gone back to the original games for inspiration and come back with three games that, so far, we’ve only had positive feedback on.”
FOR THE FANS
The fact there is now a dedicated brand director for Sonic in Europe and North America proves Sega is set on pleasing the hedgehog’s widening fanbase.
Sonic appeals to the millions of kids and families that played Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Games, but it also sells to the fans that loved the original games.
And it’s for this reason that Sega has split the Sonic brand, with Sonic 4 aimed squarely at the core fans and Sonic Colours targeted more at the mass-market.
“I don’t think Sonic fans are hard to please. There is just a lot of them and they are all hugely passionate and have their own ideas on what the ideal Sonic game should be,” continues Corless.
“The core fans are very vocal and get a lot of attention but we also have a huge, younger fanbase that we need to consider too. So it presents a challenge. It’s hard to please everyone.
“Colours will play well to our younger fanbase but should also appeal to the older fans once they realise there are no unwanted surprises. It’s the first console title for a while that’s clearly influenced by Sonic’s platform past but also keeps the series moving forward with new ideas that complement that legacy.
“Sonic 4 on the other hand is old school and for those core fans that remember the originals. Having said that, there are also a number of younger gamers who’ve recently discovered the classics on iPhone or WiiWare, XBLA and PSN so we know it’ll appeal to them as well.
“We want to create games that respect the heritage of the brand whilst also moving it forward.”
Sonic 4 follows in the footsteps of New Super Mario Bros as a title based on one of gaming’s biggest classic IPs. But why bring the original Sonic series back now?
“Given the demand for a new classic Sonic experience amongst the core fans – and the ambition from Sonic Team to bring it back – it was only a matter of time before it appeared,” says Corless.
“But the incredible success of the digital platforms, both console and iPhone, has certainly helped. The audience fit was right and has allowed us to develop a game as close to the classic games as we could make. And the reception for the game so far has shown it’s been the right decision.”
Sonic is still one of gaming’s biggest stars. The franchise still performs strongly, the Sonic cartoon is still shown on TV and there’s even a Sonic rollercoaster at Alton Towers. And in just a few weeks time we’ll know if Sonic Colours and Sonic 4 can not only please the hardcore, but pull in new Sonic fanatics, too.
But then what comes next? Where will Sonic be in five years?
“Daft Punk put it well – better, faster, stronger,” concludes Corless.
And surely that’s what Sonic games are all about?