Why Sonic Is Still Important to Me After 25 Years

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I probably noted it when I charted all the major gaming anniversaries of 2016 back in January, but this wave of anniversaries caught me by surprise. This week saw not only Quake and Super Mario 64 hit major anniversaries, but also Sonic the Hedgehog. I feel like I have to type something about Sonic because it was a pillar of my childhood.

I may have already stated it once, but let me start by saying I still collect Archie’s main Sonic comic book. That’s how important the franchise is to me despite my not having played a new Sonic video game in years. I haven’t been in deep with the fandom in over a decade but internally I still care about Sonic, or maybe I just care about what it used to be.

My anniversary post for the Sega Genesis back in 2014 included a bit about how big a deal Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic 3 were for me. I don’t mince words when I say Sonic 3 is my number one video game. I don’t at all believe it to be objectively the best video game, but it’s probably the most important one in my gaming life. After Sonic 2 was my first experience with a console generation transition and a staple multiplayer game for a while, Sonic 3 was probably the first game I really loved enough to master through constant gameplay over a lengthy period of time. When I think of what most represented the idea of “cool” during my childhood, Sonic 2 and 3 are the most comprehensive images that emerge.

I guess a lot of it was what was then called the era of “tude.” I feel like it’s more than what was in the advertising though. If you go back and look at the Genesis games there’s a certain simplicity to how they look and feel compared to SEGA’s attempts to pack each new Sonic game with voice acting and stories that are supposed to be A Big Deal. Sonic back then didn’t even need to talk to display “tude.” He just sat there and waved his finger at the camera or looked at his watch. Things like that maybe what makes for the best examples, but it was really everything: the colors, the graphics, the fluidity of the games, and especially the music. Sonic 3 still has my top video game soundtrack.

Maybe Sonic back then also felt a bit more technologically forward-looking than other platformers like Mario. The Genesis games at times flirted with 3D graphics and gameplay. This was a bit after SEGA established itself at the bleeding edge of arcade gaming with After Burner II or Galaxy Force II, and not long before it maintained that position with Virtua Fighter. Maybe Blast Processing was a myth, but SEGA was indeed pushing ceaselessly ahead back then. Of course the subject of the blog post immediately preceding this one is proof Nintendo is the one that eventually got 3D platforming design right, but I still appreciate how much SEGA tried to be in the future back then. Heck, Virtua Fighter 3 came out in arcades in the same year as Super Mario 64, compare and contrast the graphics.

I think that need for Sonic games to be at the bleeding edge of technology and production values is what has driven it into its current state. SEGA could never just make the games stick to their guns, each one always had to be packed with enough “content” to make it seem like a AAA game, even if much of that content was unnecessary. Maybe SEGA saw Mario 64 as a challenge it had to meet. Maybe it saw how Mega Man and Castlevania stayed 2D for so long and and thus drifted into niches and eventually irrelevance. Ironic then how Nintendo has been able to get away with charging $40-plus for sidescrolling platformers in this day and age.

In any case, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of this franchise, but it’s been over 20 years since the last indisputably great Sonic game, and I say that as someone who thoroughly enjoyed Sonic Adventure in 1999. People should probably choose to enjoy this as the anniversary of those Genesis games.

BULLETS:

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