At SXSW, over the weekend, Takashi Lizuka announced there is a new Sonic the Hedgehog game in development. Whenever a new Sonic game is announced, I feel like one of those school children in the 1950s who were trained, in the event of a nuclear emergency, to take shelter under their desks. What a bizarre state of affairs. It’s telling, and perhaps a little sad, that Sonic Mania – a swift and sure retreat to the sober days of 16-bit – was received with such open arms. Whatever shape this new game takes, let’s review a few key standouts from Sonic’s CV and consider the dos and don’ts of Sonic game development.
Don’t give him a sword
Sonic and the Black Knight – presumably – ended a long-raging debate: what would happen if a hedgehog known for being able to run very fast indeed (on its hind legs no less) were to wield a sword. The trouble was that the debate must have been going on behind closed doors at Sega, because nobody out in the wild would have considered it a question that needed answering. To add further spice to the already outlandish premise of Sonic and the Black Knight, (something about Merlin – it was something about Merlin. Consider that.) the sword in question also talked.
Don’t put guns in it
You thought swords were a step too far? Well, I mean, they were – obviously – but Shadow the Hedgehog, which starred Shadow the Hedgehog, had submachine guns in it. He took the notion of Sonic’s beloved rude ‘tude and knocked it up a notch. But it was a notch-knocking too far and involved submachine guns, so it wasn’t great. That was in 2005; three years earlier Nintendo really pushed the boat out by having Mario use a water-pistol jetpack, so Shadow the Hedgehog must have been an attempt at one-upmanship from Sega. But it had submachine guns in it, though. Look at this trailer:
Don’t mess about with werewolves
In fairness, Sonic Unleashed actually features a Werehog, not a werewolf, but it’s the same sort of lunacy. If you’ve already pushed a hedgehog beyond its natural boundaries – making it talk, making it bipedal, making it run at the speed of sound, possibly giving it a rude ‘tude (though it may have already had one) – then you’ve done enough. We needn’t see the beleaguered beast mutated beyond all reason. He wasn’t even unleashed anyway; he was tied down with motion controls. Sonic and the Black Knight director Tetsu Katano has said (threatened) that the Werehog may reappear in future games.
Don’t be making out with a human
The sight of a princess smooching a sleeping anthropomorphic hedgehog that looks made out of plasticine is one you won’t soon forget. In Sonic the Hedgehog – the one that was released in 2006 – that happened. That game was also host to long loading times, an awkward camera, screwy level design, and poor controls, but the kiss is worse.
Don’t have a disturbing body
Do make a BioWare RPG, if you want
The strangest thing about Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is that it was quite good. Developed by BioWare, it featured turn-based combat (surely the antithesis of speed, but there you go), puzzle elements, and little collectible critters called Chao. It was out on the DS, and you could swap critters with other people and tend to a little Chao garden. It wasn’t Sonic, but it was delightful. Fun fact: it’s actually the only BioWare RPG I’ve played.
Do release a game for the Game Boy Advance
Sonic Advance was just pretty good.
Do reimagine your series’ key figures as characters from Arabian Nights
Sonic and the Secret Rings was one of the better games from Sonic’s dog days on the Nintendo Wii (the games were certainly wee (urine)). Seeing Dr. Eggman imagined as Shahryār was a treat, and there were plenty more than that: Knuckles the Echidna was Sinbad the Sailor, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower was Ali Baba. There were also other good things about Sonic and the Secret Rings – it had a decent take on 3D platforming, which the series has often struggled with, and it managed that despite leaning on motion controls – but mainly it’s brilliant for the Arabian Nights stuff.
Do have a crack at pinball
It can hardly be called experimentation, really. It’s pinball, and sonic already spins like nobody’s business. But pinball is still great, as Yoku’s Island Express recently proved, and besides, Sonic Spinball had this music in it:
(This entry could also be called ‘Do have brilliant music.’)
Do stick to 2D
It’s fair to say that Sonic games have never really been able to handle 3D. His little legs just go mental when there’s extra polygons, and he gets drunk on his own power. Sonic Generations proved that just because you can do 3D, that doesn’t mean you should. It was the 2D levels that shone in that game, and it’s 2D Sonic that’s always shone.
So there you have it then. What we want is a largely 2D Sonic, which incorporates pinball elements, reimagines several of its characters as if they were in Arabian Nights, doesn’t feature a Sonic with a nightmarish body, doesn’t make Sonic transform into a Werehog, doesn’t make out with humans, will possibly feature a Game Boy Advance port (despite that console being out of production), will possibly be a BioWare RPG (with a Nintendo DS port, despite that console being out of production), and that doesn’t feature automatic weaponry – or swords. Easy. So easy.