Monday, August 24, 2009

O Sonic, Where Art Thou?

I saw this article on gaming blog Kotaku titled "Sega: Impossible To Please All Sonic Fans With One Sonic Game". It's an interesting read for me, considering Sonic and I went to college together (in a matter of speaking — Sonic the Hedgehog was released right before my freshman year, and Sonic & Knuckles came out in my senior year).

I'm certainly one of those who looks at the Sonic games today with a great sense of disappointment. The Sonic I knew was a high-speed side-scrolling platformer, games that excelled in their simplicity and playability. But when I picked up Sonic Heroes for the Xbox, I found this 3D adventure platformer overloaded with characters I had never heard of, trying to be… I don't know exactly what.

What I did find, though, is that my kids absolutely loved it. In fact, they still do. Despite the fact that I look on the game with a certain level of disdain, and I wish they would gain an appreciation for the original Sonic from the retro collection discs I have (and they have played it from time to time), the fact is, they do like this game.

Then came this Sonic Unleashed game, and you could hear the sound of thousands of old-school Sonic fans collectively screaming, "He turns into WHAT?!?" They released a demo on Xbox Live, which was a single level, with Sonic running at high speeds through a very Mediterranean-esque town collecting rings. If the entire game was like that, I would've been thrilled. My kids loved the demo, too. So I ended up buying the game for them, fearing their disappointment when they found out half the game was a much slower fighting game instead of the mach-speed running.

Imagine my surprise when they had almost as much fun beating up on Robotnik bad guys as a werehog as they did at other times.

So back to this interview published by Kotaku. I'm reading this, and suddenly, it all makes sense. If there were two bits that really summed it all up, it would have to be this one from Sega of America's VP Sean Ratcliffe regarding the criticism aimed specifically at the Sonic Unleashed werehog:

"If you read all those things, and we do — maybe not quite every single one, but the vast majority of them — and it's amazing the sort of diatribes you get. But if you sit down with a group of 8, 9, 10 year-old boys, completely different story."
And then this:
Sega's core Sonic target, in fact, isn't those who grew up with Sonic. It's those who are growing up now. "It very much is in that under 12 group," [head of Sega of Europe and America Mike] Hayes said. "And what we have to do is make a Sonic that is of a quality that delights that audience, first and foremost. I'd argue that we very much achieved that with products like Sonic Heroes[…]"

Yes, I'm disappointed in what Sonic is today. But as it turns out, it's more or less according to plan. I'm not the target audience. My kids are. And, as it turns out, they're doing very well hitting their target.

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