Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Azure Blue World...

I've been meaning to start this thing forever, but hey, why not start now? On Sonic's birthday (and Shadow's too!)? Yeah, I know it's ridiculously nerdy (if not plain silly) to celebrate a fictional character's birthday, but what kind of fan would I be if I ignored it all together?

No, I'm not one of "those people," the so-called "true fans" who either live and die by the Genesis classics only or the irritating as hell "I'M A TRUE SONIC FAN BECAUSE I BLINDLY LOVE EVERYTHING SONIC'S FACE APPEARS ON!!!" I guess if you had to call me something, it might be well-informed fanboy. Too much? I have my insufferably nerdy moments too (believe me), but I try not to let that take over too much...

Anyway, enough about me, this is SONIC's day, isn't it?

18 years ago today SEGA launched its "Mario-killer" on the SEGA Genesis (or the Mega Drive for the European/Japanese fans) to much acclaim. A franchise was soon born and Sonic soon started blazing through from sequel to sequel, quickly becoming video gaming's superstar icon. He even managed to overshadow MICKEY MOUSE at one point! Seriously, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG was more recognizable than MICKEY MOUSE (HOW I don't know, but that's what happened)

Sonic kind of hit a rough patch in the 32-bit age, with Knuckles stealing the spotlight on the 32X (in some ways, I don't think Sonic was too mad given it WAS the 32X we're talking about here) and the only thing close to a mainstream game was Sonic 3D Blast on the Genesis and Saturn (the latter version came about due to Sonic X-Treme's untimely cancellation, a decision that led to the Saturn's demise). He made due with Sonic Jam (the first of many compilation games) and Sonic R (a racing game, but not the first) but was soon redesigned and relaunched in a big way in 1999 (for the US) with the Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure. 2001, Sonic's 10th Anniversary, was SEGA's last year in the hardware game and thus Sonic's departure from first-party mascot to third-party licensed property, but he went out with a bang with Sonic Adventure 2. The following year, many believed hell had actually frozen over because Sonic started showing up on NINTENDO consoles (starting with the re-release of Sonic Adventure 2 and also Dimps launching the Sonic Advance series on the Gameboy Advance).

Many like to say that Sonic is either dead or is really having a rough time (read every freaking review since Shadow the Hedgehog and you'll see what I mean), but it can't possibly be that bad. 2003/4 (depending on your region) saw the release of Sonic Heroes, Sonic's first multi-platform game (Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox). 2005 gave Shadow his time to shine in a spin-off game that used guns (a game many hate, some love and others think it was OK). 2006 was sort of the "dark period" because of the release of the unfinished, unpolished next-gen title SONIC the Hedgehog (or Sonic '06). But, at least from my perspective, after a rough three year period of decent to terrible games (unfortunately, I'm glossing over most of the great handheld games just to get through this brief and shoddy history lesson. Gametap did it better...), Sonic is slowly getting back on track. Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Wii was declared by many to be the best 3D Sonic game ever (considering the act it was following, it couldn't be too hard for it to be better). Later that year, of all the things we would have expected to happen, Sonic appeared alongside Mario for the first time ever in gaming history... at the Olympics. Well, beggars can't be choosers, but it was a start. 2008 was called "the Year of the Hedgehog" (technically the year of the rat, but we all know how touchy Sonic gets about being called a rat) with just a slew of great things to come. Sonic guest starred alongside Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake in the Wii platform-fighter Super Smash Bros. Brawl (boasting speed that put Captain Falcon to shame), following up later in the year with his big console comeback Sonic Unleashed, for the 360, PS3, Wii and PS2, a game some feel (or maybe it's just me...) that things are finally looking up for the hedgehog, even if the critics will continue to hate. BioWare even jumped on board to create Sonic Chronicles: the Dark Brotherhood for the Nintendo DS, Sonic's first RPG. 2009 saw the release (so far) of Sonic and the Black Knight, a game, like Unleashed, many either love or hate (hate mostly being directed towards the concept: Sonic uses a sword).

Now it's summertime, but what's next for the blue blur? Archie Comics continues to publish their comic book series (holding the record for the longest running comic based on a video game) with the regular monthly series and the new Sonic Universe series (I'll probably be doing write ups on the first four issues soon!), and SEGA has announced Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (why not just "SEGA All-Stars Racing" I'll never know) which puts Sonic behind the wheel again and will have him race other SEGA characters like Tails, Dr. Eggman, Samba De Amigo, and many others (to be released 2010).

So Sonic has turned 18 (Shadow's 8), the franchise has seen things both good and bad, and while Sonic may never quite achieve the kind of superstar status he had when I was a kid, he'll still hold the top spot for me. Personally, even though Sonic Unleashed wasn't a perfect game, it was one of the most polished efforts to be released in years and with a lot of smart decisions being made in the course of its development, it was easily a step forward in the right direction. I see this trend continuing in the future and maybe one day we'll have a game that perfectly blends the speed and platforming we once saw in the Genesis classics.

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