The Why Behind the What

FoxCordova17:  So how did we get here? How did we get from the point the Sonic franchise was at Sonic 06 to now with the soon to be released Sonic Forces in 2017? What took place after Sonic 06 was surely a “rebuilding phase” for the franchise, which everyone understood, but not many could see what that rebuilding phase would actually be.

The period from 2007-2017 is considered by many gamers, Sonic fans and non-Sonic fans, to be the “Solo Sonic Era” where the Main Series of games feature Sonic as the only playable character. Sega and Sonic Team have maintained a firm stance on how they view the Main Series, that they insist on continuous experiments with the Modern Sonic gameplay in 3D games, adding gimmicks ever so often to try and enhance the gameplay experience.

Around 2011-2012 questions from the Sonic Fan Base started to emerge, around the Summer of Sonic Q&A events, asking what has happened with Sonic’s friends as playable characters in the Main Series and why they haven’t shown up in this capacity. Sadly, Sega nor Sonic Team have been able to provide a straight-forward answer to these questions other than to reiterate what they are trying to do with only Sonic.

I will happily provide you blog readers with some information that has been found by article interviews and comments from Sonic fans on various fan forums. You can view this information below.

So a new Famitsu interview with Nakamura about Sonic Forces was recently made (along with Iizuka briefly discussing Mania a bit). Among the questions asked included the inquiry on why classic Sonic was included into the game, and Nakamura had this to say:

For story, Nakamura wanted to depict heroes that would feel like Sonic. He hopes that by controlling different characters, he can show a story that extends to explaining the world setting as well. The story concept has been “Hero Army vs. Eggman’s Army” from the start. When wondering who should be made playable among the heroes, he came up with Classic Sonic.

“It’s like nobody at Sonic Team realizes that other characters don’t have to play so drastically different to Sonic that it feels like you’re playing a different game.”

I’ve heard Iizuka is fantastic at dodging questions and giving non-answers, so this doesn’t surprise me in the least that he’s passed on his arts.

From one Summer of Sonic in the UK – (2011)
Question: “What was the decision to make Espio a Ninja in Sonic Heroes?” (hoping for some cool behind the scenes answer into the design process)

Takashi Iizuka: “Well when we created Sonic Heroes, we wanted an important balance between Speed, Flight and Power. This was so that players could work together to complete the game using all three characters. Team Chaotix were important in this regard but we hope players had fun with this and please look forward to Sonic Generations!”

Okay, this might be exaggerated a tad, but it was important to take away that he didn’t actually answer the questions at all and just sort of vaguely summarized the gameplay of Sonic Heroes..

While I’ve never met Takashi Iizuka, I remember something that always stuck from wayback when Nights: Journey of Dreams was released. It was an interview with Edge magazine where someone asked him about his games not appealing to critics or hardcore gamers.

Edge magazine: You’ve made games at the US studio that have sold very well, but haven’t been well received by critics or hardcore fans. Why do you think that is?

Takashi Iizuka: I felt that if I kept developing Sonic Adventure sequels, only core gamers would pick them up. I wanted to develop Sonic for more general users as well, so that’s why I changed the name each time. With Nights: Journey of Dreams, we didn’t call it Nights 2 because I wanted to create it for a mass market, not necessarily for fanatics who’ve waited 11 years. To make it appeal to that market, I needed to introduce the story from the beginning. There’s still the original gameplay the hardcore loves, but we’ve combined it with things that kids love – like roller coasters, or simple action-platforming with the children.

Here’s a wayback machine link to the interview.

“I’m reminded why I stopped buying Sonic games after Sonic Heroes (which I thought was an okay game honestly). Iizuka can say some of the strangest things at times but this quote, I believe was him telling the truth. The irony being that what the ‘fanatics’ want has more appeal than his ‘simple action-platforming’.”

FoxCordova17:  While Sonic Forces may have some positives going for it, the end result regarding game reviews and sales is going to wind up being close to the same it has been since the Solo Sonic Era started. Forces is a game that while ambitious in some aspects, it won’t technically move the needle as far as what the Sonic franchise really needs at this point. Forces feels very similar to the recent games that came before it, such as Generations and Colors.

While only being a 2D side-scrolling game, Sonic Mania hit the mark when it came to giving gamers what was really needed in a Sonic game. Mania is already being considered as one of the best Sonic games of all-time, whereas Forces is not looking to reach such a level of praise.  One reason why Mania has done so well is that it’s a game that was treated with love by Christian Whitehead and his team of devs, which means that Sonic, Tails and Knuckles were all given the right polish as playable characters.

It is interesting to read what went into Iizuka’s response to the Espio question above. I have titled this post “The Why behind the What” because it’s important for us to know why certain characters are allowed to become playable in a game. In order to know what makes a character so appealing in the playable capacity, you have to know why that character is involved and why that character brings value to your game.

Using this as a foundation, one would have to ask what value does Sonic Team see in bringing back Classic Sonic for a 2nd time since Generations, and then introducing the Create-a-Character feature where gamers can make their own original characters as playable characters. Some would say that this is another way of experimenting with Sonic’s gameplay. Others say that this a bridge to finally bring back Sonic’s friends as playable characters in the future. Or maybe it really is just another quick cash-grab?

So again, how did we get here from Sonic 06? And is there any end in sight to Solo Sonic? What is the main goal Sonic Team is trying to achieve, and why are they going down this route? Know the why behind the what.