Sega doesn't care about Sonic fans
Where to begin? So much has already been said about the Sonic the Hedgehog Movie trailer that I didn’t really think I needed to write about it, but the more I thought about that abomination the angrier I became. So here I am, a year after I first wrote about Sonic, and instead of a fun, light analysis about the culture, or a quick discussion about my favourite anthropomorphic woodland creatures, I’m here stewing in annoyance at a games company that has shown time and time again that it simply does not care about nor respect a fan base that has persevered with it for over 20 years.
So let’s step back a little to 1993. A film came out about an Italian plumber and his cumbersome green-clad sidekick. It was a disaster. I’ve probably seen only a few minutes of the film—if that—but it’s got 21% on Rotten Tomatoes and pretty much everyone talks about it in the same way they cry tears of blood whenever Batman and Robin is mentioned. After the commercial and critical failure of Super Mario Bros., there has never been another film like it, and Nintendo has pressed the rights to its acclaimed creation tightly to its chest ever since.
So, what about Sega? I’ll only give a whistlestop overview of the games because I think I already explained their issues in my other article, but ultimately, the Sonic franchise suffers from an identity crisis: Sega is trying to please the staunchest extremes of the fan base: those who adore the 2D era, and those who grew up with 3D Sonic. After trying too hard to force the series down overly serious narratives, and straying so far away from Sonic’s original concept to disastrous results, they stripped everything back and went too far in the other direction out of a desperate need to appease the 2D generation. So now, no one is allowed to play as any other character but Sonic; levels are painfully short, storylines are non-existent, and the whole series has assumed this tiresome self-deprecating stance, with heavy-handed self-aware jokes and a careless attitude to danger and the characters themselves: Eggman isn’t a threatening genius, just a weird old man who hangs around with robots; Sonic and Tails aren’t really best friends, but mere acquaintances who just so happen to keep saving the world together —one’s a smart science kid and the other’s an annoying dudebro who eats chilli dogs all day and runs aimlessly from town to town looking for something to do.
Over the past few years, there’s been an unprecedented union between the 2D and 3D generations, which was manifested in Sonic Mania. And who made Mania? Sonic fans. How pitiful, that the only way Sega could publish a successful game was not through their own team’s talent, but by sourcing a group of fans to take the reins. As soon as Sega returned with Forces, everything went to shit.
It’s not helped by their condescending dismissal of legit fans’ requests. Sega proved that they do make attempts to listen to the fans, if their self-flagellating nostalgia trips via one million and one Green Hill Zones is anything to go by, but Green Hill is as far as they will travel it seems, as they stubbornly refuse to properly consider fans’ legitimate desire for a Sonic Adventure 3 (or Sonic Heroes 2). I’m reminded of Sonic’s Twitter account, which started out as a fun and clever gimmick, and quickly devolved into a means for Sega to admit that their Sonic games are bad, and there is nothing that can be done about it. Why not try to improve? Why not listen to criticisms? Why not protect what is a 90s icon, a game character that shaped a generation alongside Mario and The Simpsons and MTV and all those other major cultural institutions—and is still loved by a whole new generation of young consumers today?
We’ve had issues with Sega allowing other creators to take Sonic in wild directions before. Archie Sonic, whilst boasting impressive stats and some truly enjoyable story lines, just got too swamped in drama and madness, and a lawsuit involving He Who Must Not Be Named stripped the comic of all flair and excitement altogether. Fleetway was okay, but the evil Super Sonic is a bizarre invention to say the least. Conversely, SatAM, Sonic Underground and The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog are hazy in my memory, but I remember watching them as a child and enjoying them—at times rushing home to catch them after school.
And then Boom happened. Sega gave creative control to a team who clearly cares little for the series. This was their first warning: the fandom’s reaction to a blue-sleeved Sonic and a beefcake Knuckles should have been enough to ensure that no one would get the chance to debase the series again. Sonic Boom’s third season has hardly got any hype from anyone but a small group of dedicated fans, and the game series never took off due to it replicating many of the glitching and quality issues of Sonic ‘06, and centred around a convoluted plot with a forgettable villain. But did Sega learn from this? Did they tell themselves: we need to be careful who we allow to use our mascot, the character we literally created to rival Nintendo’s Mario.
Well, the Sonic the Hedgehog Movie is our answer. Sonic’s first time on the big screen in a feature film by a major studio, and this is the result: