I have not played Sonic Mania.
Why I started with that will become clear over the next few paragraphs, so remember it as we move ahead, shall we?
For most of my childhood, we were firmly a Nintendo household.
I got my first console, a Nintendo 64, around the age of 9, and my first two games were Mario Kart and Star Wars: Pod Racer. I didn't specifically ask for them: I only asked for a Mario game because it was the only video game character I recognized from my time reading Boys' Life magazine, a magazine dedicated the Boy Scouts, even though I was in no way affiliated with the group.
Like the time I joined a Llama-raising 4H group when I've never even lived on a farm before. I was a confused young man.
Regardless, because it was a Nintendo household, the gaming magazine we subscribed to was, of course, Nintendo Power. Which meant I was never really made aware of Sonic the Hedgehog until it was announced he was coming to the brand-new Nintendo Gamecube. Don't get me wrong, I knew OF him, he was just never on my radar. So when I managed to convince my folks to get me a Gamecube, a few months into its run, one of the first games I asked for was Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.
And I liked it. I'll admit, I liked it a lot.
I played it like an animal. Maybe it was easier to do, given I was young and I only had so many options, but I sunk easily 200+ hours into that game, exploring each level, raising Chao, just running in circles in multiplayer it was a lot easier to bring value to games back then.
So, given I was so in love, it was only natural that I would get Sonic Heroes. Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut. Sonic Riders. Shadow the Hedgehog, lord help me. I gorged myself on Sonic games
, they were my bread and butter, one of the few series I actively kept up with. It reached a point where I was a much bigger Sonic fan than I ever was a fan of Nintendo's own mascot.
So it was with much excitement that I noticed that Sonic Mega Collection, and Sonic Gems Collection, were on sale at a local JC Penny. You'd better believe I snatched those games up. I was a Sonic fan, and these games held all the classics: surely if I could sink 200 hours into Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, I could lose whole years of my life to these collections, right?right?
Funny thing. There are two groups of Sonic the Hedgehog fans: the old guard who started with the 2D games and who hated the 3D games, and the people who started with the 3D games and eventually tried the 2D games. Obviously, I fell into the latter category
, and to be frank, I didn't like them very much.
But that's the thing, I liked the bigger stories of the 3D games. I thought the 3D games did a better job of fulfilling the go fast fantasy, and I thought the 2D games were just too slow. Death was too punishing, levels were too hard, it was nearly impossible to navigate, and getting 7 Chaos Emeralds all in one go? How on earth were you supposed to accomplish that? Perhaps my youth tainted my perception, or maybe my expectations of a Sonic game were different from the old guard, but when I was told the 3D games were crap but the 2D games were masterpieces, I adamantly disagreed.
Not aloud, of course, but silently.
But as I grew older, my options expanded, and my pallet was refined, I began to understand what people were talking about. Sonic and the Secret Ring had some great music and good moments of speed, but it felt clunky to control. It was worse with Sonic and the Black Knight. The last straw was, of course, Sonic Unleashed: where the daytime levels were actually a lot of fun, but they made up maybe 2/5ths of a game mostly dedicated to a crappy cartoon version of God of War. The Sonic cycle made sense to me. I phased the blue blur out of my life.
I skipped Sonic Colors, even though I heard it was better. Sonic: The Lost World went right under my radar, even when I was told it wasn't just a Super Mario Galaxy clone. Heck, I didn't even touch Sonic Generations
, even when I heard people proudly declare that while it was far from a masterpiece, it was at least proof that Sonic Team was getting better, and the cycle was finally breaking.
I thought about it, of course. Buying the games. But I could never convince myself
to slap down the 60-some bucks it would take, or investing the 20+ hours it would take to run them through at least once. Something about them never really grabbed me. There was always just some hook missing, something that the other games had that these just didn't.And then they announced Sonic Mania
. At first, I ignored it, as I typically do with Sonic games, but the more I saw: the trailers, the music, the cut scenes, the animation, the collaboration the more in love I became. I started looking up fanart again, looking for reviews and previews, looking at all the YouTube videos the Sonic Team would put up. I was even keeping track of the days and thinking maybe, just maybe, I would finally buy and play a Sonic game after all these years....And yet.
The thing about Sonic Mania is that it relies almost entirely on the nostalgia of its fans
. Old foes re-emerge, famous battles and stages are remixed, and loving tributes to the olden days of Sonic games are abound through the entire adventure. It should be a perfect fit for me, a nostalgic Sonic fan, but the problem is, my nostalgia for the series is very different
from the type Sega has been banking on over the past few years.
People complain that the cast has gotten too big, but gosh darn it, I like Knuckles and Tails and Shadow and Rogue and Amy. They're like my version of the Transformers, no one in the '80s would complain there were too many Autobots or Decepticons rolling around. People complained about the story, but I liked the cheesy sincerity of treating Sonic like a weird animal superhero in a complex world full of normal people who somehow navigate streets full of loops and gaping holes. People complained about the gameplay, but shucks, I liked the simple speed-based levels that threw away complicated multiple paths in favor of a challenge-based rush through a fairly linear road.
Darn it, that the Sonic the Hedgehog I grew up with, and its the Sonic the Hedgehog I miss. Talk to me all you want about how Sonic Generations is the best Sonic game to come from Sonic Team in years, but unless it has 5-minute story cutscenes and a section where Knuckles has to punch out a ghost
, I'm not interested.
That's why of all the Sonic games to catch my attention over the past few years, Sonic Forces has gotten me the closest to legitimately making me go out and pre-order it, because while it might not be a return to form for the series, it might, just MIGHT be a return to form for the Sonic I grew up with:
a melodramatic, semi-serious story where a wide cast of characters battle against a gang of dastardly villains lead by the ever-menacing Dr. Eggman. The very same thing that has made some fans cringe and wring their hands is making me actually interested. If it's the kind of interested that leads me to buy the game or the kind that makes me just eyeball it happily, like I did with Sonic Mania, well we have yet to see. November is just around the corner and if the reviews are promising enough I just might make the dive.
That's been the problem with these long-running game series: as they develop, people become nostalgic for different parts of their increasingly lengthening timeline. Even series like Mario,
who has always been diverse enough that the character would never really find himself shoehorned into a particular genre or gameplay style, falls victim to this. The New series returned the game to the 2D roots, and people started clamoring for a giant free platforming adventure like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. The more Paper Mario games they make, the more people will ask when the next Thousand-Year Door will be released.
Sonic, though, has a harder juggling act. A series as both beloved and hated by those who support it has a lot of history and a lot of tastes it has to satisfy. And that doesn't leave a hedgehog much room to grow...
...Making me wonder if it'll ever get the chance, as long as fans like myself are around.