Mon. May 16th, 2022

I’ll cut right to the chase: I love the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise no more and no less than I did when the first installment was released on the Sega Genesis in the early 1990s. From the moment the blue hedgehog became the flagship mascot for Sega Games Co., Ltd. in 1991, myself and countless others couldn’t believe the scale, speed and vibrant colors featured in the port.

When Sega first developed the character under the supervision of programmer Yugi Naka, they initially envisioned an armadillo, but when the staff opted to elect between the former and a hedgehog, the spiny rodent emerged as the victor. Moving forward with their plans of establishing a console mascot, the team named the hedgehog “Sonic” conceptualizing his ability to run at the speed of sound and take on the form of an orb when jumping or traveling underground in which the maneuver would be famously coined as the “spin dash.”

The basis of the series typically involves Sonic questing to defeat an evil scientist known as Dr. Robotnik from conquering the world. A side-scrolling platform video game, players navigate the titular character through several zones featuring approximately two or three acts in which they are required to collect rings for health, defeating robotic enemies, race through the acts’ iconic shuttle loops, gathering seven magical emeralds, and defeating a boss or bosses in order to advance to the next level.

Since its first 16-bit release in 1991, the Blue Blur has enjoyed a successful 26-year run gaining pace as one of the most recognized video game franchises of all time, becoming a staple in modern animation, ushering a comic book series which lasted 24 years, spawning five television adaptations and a feature film in 1999, generating a ton of merchandise and sponsorship from and selling over 80 million physical copies of games and over 350 million units when combined with packaged software games and mobile phone downloads.

The franchise skyrocketed following the release of the eponymous game inspiring three sequels, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” “Sonic CD,” “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” and “Sonic & Knuckles” with each installment improving upon its predecessor. However, upon entering the early 2000s Sonic experienced a fall from grace when the Sega ventured into the 3D gaming realm.

Much of the recent criticism of the Sonic franchise has primarily derived abandonment of the side-scrolling format, the overabundance of characters, the horrendous voice acting and occasional jettison of defining qualities such as running. Throughout the 2000s, Sega struggled immensely to release a 3D Sonic product that could match its 16-bit style and prosperity the character sustained in the 1990s.

Lesser titles such as “Shadow the Hedgehog” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2006” would veer away from the cheery energy of the original series and cover darker concepts such as death, military violence and profanity. Thankfully, last month, Sega released a new 16-bit title known as “Sonic Mania” which was inspired by the original Sonic games released for the Sega Genesis and features remastered versions of stages from previous games alongside original ones.

The premise of the game involves Sonic the Hedgehog and his faithful companions, Tails and Knuckles, as they gallantly journey to trounce their longtime adversary Dr. Robotnik and his newly collated minions known as the Hard-Boiled Heavies from seizing possession of the seven chaos emeralds.

Development of the game was spearheaded by application programmer Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, who had previously compiled enhanced ports of “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” for cellular usage via purchase through smart phones. The game’s art, level design, audio, and additional programming handled by the independent studios. With this combination, PagodaWest Games and Headcannon, “Sonic Mania” became a nostalgic project for fans who yearned for the salad days of the franchise.

Critics praised its level design, soundtrack, presentation, and faithfulness to the early Sonic games, with many viewing it as a return to form following a number of poorly-received Sonic games released after the 1990s. When trailers of the new game premiered earlier this year online, I was truly lost for words after watching the game footage. Although I have been an enormous fan of the 3D installments, seeing the character in its original 2D form is truly breathtaking.

Given that other animated properties have been revived to excellence such as “Samurai Jack” and “Crash Bandicoot,” it comes to no surprise that Sonic would be the next high profile animated figure to get a complete revitalization. “Sonic Mania” from beginning to end offers a ton of fan service providing hedgehog lifers and longtime gamers with re-imagined level designs, a splendid soundtrack composed by Tee Lopes, a ton of Easter eggs scattered throughout its gameplay reference the Sega brand, exclusive character sprites and fresh storylines, new moves and techniques, and evenly glossed with act transitions that embodies one giant world which was a prominent attribute in “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” and “Sonic & Knuckles.”

“Sonic Mania” is simply a must-buy for diehard fans who have been clamoring for a throwback release since the mid-1990s. It is undoubtedly a return to form for the character who lost his way when Sega released “Sonic Unleashed” in 2008 taking on the form of a werewolf.

Fortunately for his loyal fanbase, “Sonic Mania” is the epitome of reclamation as it has signaled a new era for the franchise. With the upcoming release of 3D platformer, “Sonic Forces” slated for November, it is apparent that Sega can right the wrongs of their previous gaffes and issue a 2D 16-bit game and 3D platformer in a single year, drawing fans young and old and with new interest and enormous praise engulfing “Sonic Mania;” a new strategy has materialized for the company.

Similar to how Nintendo balances Mario out with a 3D release and a 2D release, Sega would be wise to follow in their rival’s footsteps and allocate Sonic with more room to run. If not, it could be more of the same for our speed demon friend.

Drew Mattiola is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.

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