Recently, Gametrailers ran a feature which looked at the worst blockbuster games of all time. This top ten list analyzed titles that sold well, but for all the wrong reasons. Included were the usual suspects: Enter the Matrix, Hey You Pikachu, Iron Man 2 and Stars Wars: The Phantom Menace to name a few. While each of those titles has deservedly earned a spot on that list, the number one choice for this inventory took me by surprise, and quite frankly left me slightly offended. Gametrailers ultimately topped off the feature by crowning the entire Sonic franchise as the pinnacle of worst blockbusters of all time. While I can certainly understand feeling less than fulfilled by many of the Blue Blur’s adventures over the past decade, naming a franchise, which has produced several critically acclaimed installments both in the recent and distant past, seems absurdly obtuse and irrevocably short sighted.
Now, I’m by no means a Sonic “fanboy,” and I’ll be the first to admit that the blue hedgehog hasn’t had the most impressive history. In fact, it’s been an inconsistent lineage checkered with pitfalls and mistakes. Hell, even that might be an understatement. The mid-2000s were a particularly rough time for the hog, starting with Sonic’s first foray into the high-definition realm of gaming, Sonic the Hedgehog, or as most call it, Sonic ’06. Despite his best efforts, Sonic just couldn’t find solid ground with this outing mostly due to three core issues: poor controls, schizophrenic level design and a multitude of glitches.
The main problem here, unfortunately, is that these issues weren’t confined to just this entry in the series. These issues would end up rearing their ugly heads in the next three consecutive games with Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings as well as Sonic and the Black Knight. What’s more is, not only did these games all carry with them the same flawed game design, but they also fell victim to strange, outlandish gimmicks. Werehogs, storybook settings, combat weaponry… these were bizarre ideas featuring less of classic Sonic, and more of obscure, out of place, seemingly random, Twilight Zone-esque concepts. Seriously, though, a werehog. Like, what? Who decides that’s okay? It was these calamitous design choices that left gamers frustrated, exhausted and jaded with Sega’s famed mascot; and it would be this disillusionment that would later serve as the catalyst, and basis, for arguments against Sonic’s mere existence in the modern gaming world.
This is how I felt playing Unleashed.
And yet for every bad installment in the franchise, I can find a counterpoint, or a title, that is worthy of a gamer’s time and money. Whether it’s the recently released Generations, which was a solid experience of equal parts nostalgia and innovation, the sleeper success known as Sonic Colors, or even the controversial Sonic 4, Sega has worked diligently over the past two years at giving fans consistently sound installments in the franchise. In spite of these titles not earning the praise of the wistful Genesis trilogy, they nonetheless earned in the high 70s and low 80s according to both Metacritic and Gamerankings. That ain’t too shabby in my book.
Of course, if we dig further back in the archives, we come upon the Sonic Adventure, Advance and Rush series, all of which are considered quality titles by critics and fans alike. Naturally, somewhere in the mix is the forgotten, or off-shoot, games such as Heroes, 3D, R, Shuffle, etc. While none of these are particularly earth shattering, they’re also not bad, perhaps just mediocre.
And this is where things get frustrating with regards to those who vehemently oppose everyone’s favorite hedgehog. Due to the mere existence of titles like Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Sonic Unleashed, the rest of the average, above average, good and even excellent titles starring Sega’s blurring moniker get seemingly overlooked and dismissed. Here’s the thing though: a few bad apples don’t, in fact, spoil the whole bunch. That kind of thinking is just simply faulty or perhaps plain ignorant. After all, claiming the entire series is bad would, by definition, refute the Genesis trifecta entirely. By doing this, one would be invalidating the successes and influential factors of the original titles, which have without question helped paved the way for gaming as we know it today.
When Sonic’s done right it can look, and play, pretty well. Note the absence of werehogs.
As indicated by the aforementioned Metacritic and Gamerankings, the Sonic franchise as a whole isn’t a failure. At best it’s pretty darn good, and at worst completely average. The last time I checked, though, “average” doesn’t qualify something as earning the top spot on any worst-of-all-time list. Yes, Sonic has seen some rough times, as have a lot of franchises that have been in existence for two decades. In truth, nothing will ever erase Sonic 2006 or Unleashed from the depths of my mind. And yet, I’m okay with that because most everything that came before, and even after, does a good enough job at reminding me that the Blue Blur still has plenty of fight left in him.
Thus, it’s become clear to me that those who believe Sonic should pack up and call it quits are merely basing their opinions off a few bad games, and not the entire library that hosts several good, if not great, ones. At some point, I may have concluded that it was high time for Sega’s flagship character to retire, but those days have long since passed. With each release since 2010, we’ve gotten bigger and better Sonic games. Does Sonic Team still have a ways to go with the venerable franchise? Yes, they do. Have they recognized the error of their ways completely? No, probably not. Have they, at the very least, attempted to atone for these sins by forgoing the outrageous gimmicks, inexplicable werehogs and unbefitting combat weaponry in exchange for experiences that are far closer to those found in the nostalgic 16-bit era? Absolutely. Quite frankly, that’s enough for me to stick around and show my support to one of gaming’s founding fathers.