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Sonic Runners – Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Sonic Runners – Where Did It All Go Wrong?


39154-Sonic_the_Hedgehog_(USA,_Europe)-1If ever there was a game capable of being the death knell for a franchise, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was it. Sega’s continual meandering with Sonic and co. finally hit a brick wall with the glitched out mess of poorly designed platforming, low graphical fidelity and a reliance on badly written characters, all in some sort of an attempt to capitalize on the momentum of Sonic Generations. Rise of Lyric was such a low seller, such a complete failure in every way, that it has meant that the next official Sonic venture from Sega is Sonic Runners, which is the most devastating of all things for such a beloved character – a free-to-play mobile game with micro-transactions.
Untitled-5But what makes Sonic Runners so utterly horrendous to look at isn’t actually anything to do with the game, it’s the level of self-loathing I feel when looking at it and actually feeling excited for what its showing. For the first time in a long time, there’s a Sonic game that looks to deliver on exactly what Sonic fans want; fast running across a diverse pattern of platformed terrains while collecting some form of game currency and jumping on silly looking cartoony animal hybrids. That’s it. No big driving narrative, no masterful character play, just a blue hedgehog with some similarly color-uniformed animal mates jumping about a vividly animated set of zones.
After this initial cognitive-dissonance has simmered down, Sonic Runnersfirst gameplay trailer acts like a neon sign of sorts, endlessly blinking over-and-over the question I find myself asking almost every time the blue hedgehog is brought up – how did this happen? What did Sega’s executives do or think to screw up the cash-cow of a mascot they had embedded into popular culture’s psyche once Green Hill Zone first loaded up on everyone’s Sega Mega Drive? That’s a tricky question, because there’s 20 years of mistakes, miss-steps and false starts to go on, and in each one is a possible answer to where Sonic’s downfall started. Was it Sega’s lack of own home consoles to sell him on, forcing him to compete on other machines against other more profitable and well sold platforming creations? Was it the constantly shifting spotlight on a group of characters that players were forced to play as in each game? Or was it the lack of clear direction for each of Sonic’s outings, with Sega constantly shifting the axis on whySonicHeroesWallpaper31024 he’s doing what he’s doing in each game? Jim Sterling of the Jimquisition believes it’s this latter element, the ceaseless attempts at reinvention that sunk the hedgehog without an air bubble.
The reality is that it’s all of these factors combined. Sega’s lack of firm footing in the gaming market has meant Sonic hasn’t had a proper identity in 20 years, and the ample usage of side-characters in an inane effort to flesh out Sonic’s world has only diminished the appeal while the lack of solid byline of evolution from game to game has killed any excitement that could possibly build around a new Sonic title. Games like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Heroes and Sonic and the Secret Rings just reeked of clinching at some form of relevance, whether it be as a hack n’ slash or a team-based platformer or a straight adventure, and they’re muddled reputation scuppered what chance the actually interesting games like Sonic Colors had at really grabbing an audience.
Of course, it would be remiss to say that this was a sudden change from Sega’s already troubled past, what with their commonly questionable business decisions through-out the nineties as they tried to match Nintendo’s every move, and when one considers the roots of Sonic the Hedgehog, the irrefutably classic trilogy and a bit that still flies the flag for the blue spiked hero, it’s plain to see where the drop-off happened. Somewhere between Sonic 3 and Knuckles and Sonic Adventure, Sega took the greatest thing they ever had and just couldn’t leave the drawing board with it, taking the character selection that worked so well as a culmination of a generation of gaming and making it mandatory, with fishing sections, and just kept on drawing and drawing and drawing. And just like Sega’s hardware arsenal, it eventually caught up to them.
Sonic is now the name and face of two of the worst AAA games of all time, and his future currently shows zero chance of returning to the market outside of the next Smash Bros. game. But at least we finally have our fast running, quick jumping pal back speedily scaling tribal ruins again, just like we always wanted in the first place, with a little bit more self-loathing added for good measure.