There was only one game I owned for the Sega Genesis, merely one. I am not exactly certain if the reason for holding ownership of just one Genesis game was due to my family's lack of expenses at the time, or the fact I was only four and failed to even notice. But none the less, the fact I had only one Genesis cartridge thrown atop the large pile of Nintendo games I possessed shows how much I loved the game. I do not recall if I had any skill (I just received my motor skills a few meager months before), but I do retain memories of having large doses of fun with the title, and I want that feeling to come back.
Needless to say, that game was the original Sonic the Hedgehog, the first game ever to boast the world's fastest hedgehog on the cover. The Sonic franchise thrived in the early 1990s, as the game's then "lightning speed" appealed to the maturing generation of gamers at the time (as well as kiddies like me). It had some rocking music, a mascot that could detract thousands of pre-teens from their Super Nintendos, and was faster than Mario on speed. The game and its sequels were nothing short of immaculate, and because of the franchise' excellence during this era, Sonic has a permanent spot for himself engraved in the history of video gaming.
But as the video game world made its transition into the 3-D age, the Sonic franchise has struggled exponentially. Since the original Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast, the series has never produced a solid 3-D outing. In fact, with each title that has been released, the level of decline has become more and more steep. Finally in 2006, a pinnacle of backbreaking inadequacy was reached with the Xbox 360's Sonic the Hedgehog, one of the worst releases from SEGA (or even all video games for that matter), ever. Fans who would reminisce of the old Genesis days with the Sonic of yore began to ponder the question "is this the end for Sonic?". I did as well.
Handheld games continued to flow in and out of retailers, but no information could be found in regards to a new major console release. Then, about two weeks ago, rumors hit the web concerning a new SEGA trademark: Sonic Unleashed. This was quickly followed up by rumors, leaks, and then finally, the trailer you see below.
Sonic is returning home, reestablishing himself with his original 2-D ways; the same means that brought him to worldwide fame all those years ago. With the rapid decline in quality of recent titles from the franchise, the pressure on Unleashed to be more than just a "standard" Sonic is undoubtedly high. SEGA is most likely confident they can pull it off, especially with the large amount of publicity Sonic has been receiving from his recent appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (who would of thought back in the early 90s that Mario would ever give Sonic a hand?). Unleashed will have to just pin down the problems that has plagued recent entries to franchise in order to rekindle any sense of faith that gamers may have had with the franchise.
To begin with, the games must rid itself of all the extraneous characters the series has seen come forth. Does anyone care about any Sonic characters outside of Tails or Knuckles? Maybe Shadow, but who cares. Even more of a necessity, the game must have a steady camera to replace the horrid builds that the previous games were in tune with. The past games' camera options were so painfully bad that they rendered the experiences into a nearly unplayable state. Finally, Unleashed will have to exert sense of cohesiveness that all games since Sonic Adventure have lacked. If Unleashed manages to pull all of that off, you may indeed get Sonic's return to greatness.
But then the question remains, what if Unleashed fails? After looking at the aforementioned video, would you say the game looks perfect, or does it look promising? If I recall, 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog also looked rather promising. Besides the fact that ring-based 2D gameplay is returning, does the video look all the great? The camera looks erratic, the framerate seems to pop in and out (granted it is an online streamed clip), and most importantly, is it fun to play a 2D sonic game know. In this day and age, how satisfying is it to hold one button down for an exceedingly large amount of time, with the only true gameplay mechanic involving an occasional jump? Can that style of play survive in this advanced age of gaming. I don't think it can, so in my mind, Unleashed will have to bring more to the table than just 2-D gameplay of Sonic yore.
Sonic may have given a new breath of life this past year in thanks to Mario and friends, but that same breath can be snatched away if Unleashed proves to be a stinker. If the game fails to offer a satisfying form of gameplay that can blend classic Sonic 2-D play with the advancing styles of this 3-D industry, then major reprecussions will occur. SEGA may adbandon the idea of a 3D Sonic game for years, instead sticking with handheld titles until a new generation of consoles and gamers can perhaps open up to the idea of another Sonic game. Even more depressing than that, if the release manages to sell terribly, you might see a long hiatus stamped onto the entire Sonic franchise. The truth is, SEGA's once always reliable mascot has become a shadow of his former self, and who knows if the company will reach its hands towards pulling the plug if yet another game fails.
SEGA is beginning to realize that Sonic can't adapt to this changing industry as well as Mario or Link may have. There is little doubt that the company is losing capital from developing Sonic titles, only to have them fail. It's not like creating games for a series with such a widely-known name as Sonic is inexpensive, and if Unleashed spawns major financial losses, who knows if such an unrealistic thought as a hiatus can become a reality.
An even more evident reason as to why SEGA would hammer the nail into Sonic's coffin is that the world (and more importantly, SEGA itself) would keep on turning without the spiky blue hedgehog. Unlike the Mario or Master Chief franchises, a huge uproar over the loss end of the Sonic franchise would not occur. If SEGA were to come out today, cancel Unleashed and all other Sonic products, as well as announce a hiatus, do you honestly believe that there are enough Sonic fanboys left to create a high enough demand to bring the franchise back?
Also, SEGA will realize that if Sonic is failing, and other projects are succeeding, maybe it would be best to pursue them. SEGA is a large company with numerous franchises under its belt. If the company wished to go in a separate direction involving new series, in the process leaving Sonic out of the equation, then I wouldn't protest it. Anything that ensures me a future rewarding gaming experience stands above my cravings for a resurrection of the past. Unfortunately, Sonic would fall under that category of franchises I wouldn't mind leaving behind.
It will come down to Unleashed, and SEGA is already feeling the heat of the game a mere days after information was leaked. This is the most pressure ever to be laid atop SEGA's shoulders, and if this game were to fail, consider the little hope for Sonic that remains in me to vanish forever. I'm sure countless others will follow suit. Yet, despite my instincts that tell me to move on, I yearn to re-experience my four-year old days with my Genesis...and I can only hope SEGA gives it to me.
If speed was truly Sonic's game, then it's about time he caught up with the industry around him.