A few months ago, I saw a commercial for Progressive Insurance. This was nothing earth-shattering, as the company has certainly struck gold with their advertising campaign featuring Flo. What struck me about this one was that it opened with Sonic the Hedgehog, sporting his usual 3D CG look he has utilized since the Sega Dreamcast, spinning all over the Progressive store in a desperate search for low insurance rates.
“Wow,” I thought. “This is what Sonic has come to? Playing second fiddle to another company’s mascot? A company who isn’t even involved in video games and had the money to pay Sega to use him?” After this thought passed, I realized I shouldn’t be surprised. Take a look around retail shelves over the years as well as what is available on the Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Store and Nintendo Virtual Console. Sonic has been bundled and sold in the same form over and over again for years, and Sega seems to be okay with continuing to do this until somebody tells them they need to stop.
…okay, I’ll be that someone.
Watching that ad might give you a pang of nostalgia for the 2D glory days of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. This was long before hub worlds and Chao gardens. You were Sega’s blue mascot, their answer to Mario, and you were fast. The first three games were difficult as all hell, and playing them now should remind you of how old school games were designed back then.
What I am reminded of is how Sega never really made it as a hardware manufacturer, and I am honestly surprised they lasted as many generations as they did. The Genesis was the only time a system realistically competed with its main competition in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, selling 20 million systems in the United States compared to 23 million SNES consoles. Sonic was, of course, a big part of this success. I can remember the ridiculous school cafeteria arguments that would break out as to why Sonic was better than Mario, thus making the SNES better than the Genesis, and the eventual verbal disputes would often resemble what you now see on comment threads across the internet.
We all know now that both systems had their ups and downs, and while both companies struggled to innovate in the next generation which ended up seeing Sony become the dominating force in the world of video games, Sega was the first to make some serious mistakes.
That mass of plastic and chips remains the most ridiculous setup for a home console in the history of gaming, but the picture above is what you were expected by Sega to have if you wanted the “latest” in technology. A combination of the Genesis, 32X expansion and Sega CD peripheral did nothing to outshine the SNES, and aside from Nintendo’s incredible additions to their existing lineups of Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and others, they got exclusive support from big time third parties like Squaresoft, Capcom and Konami that could only be played on a Nintendo system. One generation later on the Sega Saturn, Sega had already released Sonic Jam, a collection of Sonic 1-3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
This became a pattern. Looking up the list of Sonic compilations released for each and every console is enough to make you never want to look at Sonic the Hedgehog again. The first three games in the series have been released on disc or digitally on the Genesis, PC, Game Boy Advance, Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, Nintendo DS, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. As if this hasn’t been enough, a new handheld Genesis emulator will be released today by AtGames containing – what a shocker – Sonic.
I would like to get a real look at Sega’s financial numbers and wonder how the hell they still exist. If you remove these retro bundles and look at what Sega has in the works, the biggest name that comes up is Aliens: Colonial Marines, a game that was originally unveiled on an issue of Game Informer in 2008. While Gearbox is developing it and has proven its track record with ports and expansions of Half-Life as well as two Borderlands games, they are not going to restore Sega to prominence with one game. How much longer before Sega has to pack it up?
Furthermore, why does nobody give Sega the same amount of shit about rehashing these same collections over and over again when the subject of milking a franchise gets brought up? We complain about the dirge of downloadable content and yearly releases from sports games and Call of Duty, but Sega has done nothing to attempt to innovate with Sonic in decades. If you start to tell me the newer 3D releases on modern consoles are innovative, you’re fucking dead to me. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episodes 1 and 2 have not even been able to recapture what made the original Genesis games so great, and considering that those two were made with the intention of doing just that – recapturing the magic – I think it’s time Sega finally called it quits when it comes to Sonic.
That game above is simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog and saw a release on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Whether the simple name was meant to be a reboot, I don’t know, but it was regarded as a complete failure in every regard. We are always good for a Mario and Sonic crossover at the Olympics every two years, and none of those games have ever fared well under the eye of critics. Sonic games continue to sell reasonably well with each subsequent release, but year after year they cannot match the formula that came together to first make Sonic a household name.
How many times has Mario been forcibly repackaged and shoved down our throats? Admittedly, a bit, but the difference is that we have been given new classic titles in the vein of Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, as well as the throwbacks of New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii and DS. Nintendo has known how to get it right for a while, and the fact that their collaborations with Sega have done nothing to rub off on the house of Sonic is a shame. I’m not going to completely give up hope that we may have a gem of a Sonic game in the future, but I expect we will see Sega shut its doors and hand off Sonic to somebody else before it happens.