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Is Classic Sonic back for good?

Tangent: is Classic Sonic back for good?

With the E3 hype dying down, it might be interesting to consider what Sega will take from Sonic Generations post release. Sega’s current strategy seems to be, especially when considering the improvements from 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog to Sonic Colours, which some regarding as a potential end to The Blue Blur, bringing the best aspect of each game and improving upon it. So what is Sega going to take from Sonic Generations? Purely gameplay elements, or will they consider altering their strategy? Either away, Classic Sonic’s role certainly carries weight now more than ever.

A little background: for years fans have wanted Classic Sonic to return. Since the Adventure series there have been outcries and finally, at last, those fans got it. Well, sort of. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 aimed to bring Sonic back to his 2D, platforming roots. The problem however was not only did his aesthetic design look akin to today’s Sonic, but the classic platforming skill-set had been changed heavily. Sonic’s physics were different, with the heavier jumps of Classic Sonic not featuring and instead he seemed to be lighter (much like in Sonic Colours). Further, the homing attack had been included: a core feature of the 3D Sonic games. This was a problem because it removed momentum-based gameplay, which is, coincidentally, being touted as a core feature of Generations, with Sonic skipping forward quickly to enemies when he was able to lock on to them. Speed was not a reward. The result, as we know, was harsh criticism from many corners. Sega had failed, and had ruined what they marketed as the sequel to Sonic 3/and Knuckles. Though just when some fans thought they would be stuck with Modern Sonic forever, Sega surprised us. They announced Sonic Generations, and Classic Sonic too.

Fast forward to today and we have now seen Classic Sonic remerge, with his chubby self being reincarnated in glorious High Definition. We’ve also seen Green Hill Zone and City Escape (and possibly some others), as well as a drastic change from the physics and gameplay that featured in Sonic the Hedgehog 4. The philosophy behind these changes has even been hinted at, with Aaron Webber saying during E3 that they wanted to “correct” the physics that were seen in Sonic 4. However, is this a one-time feature? Is Sega purely trying to bring ‘classic’ fans back on board, before they lock Classic Sonic away? Or are Sega recogising gameplay elements that have been missing from the franchise for all this time?

For starters we have to realise why Sega have done this, and that reason is to commemorate Sonic. Sega had to bring back Classic Sonic, otherwise they wouldn’t have been fully representing the franchise. A plausible argument, but with all the effort gone into replicating that experience would it make sense for Sega to put this version of Sonic away once the project is finished? Consider Sonic 4, and the answer could very likely be no. Sega have openly said that Episode 2 of Sonic 4 is underway, and they are taking the criticisms from fans and reviewers into account. With fans already cautious towards the next installment, an aesthetic change will be as good as (and, in some cases, perhaps better) than a gameplay change. The reason for this is simply that seeing Classic Sonic in a trailer or advertisement will resonate immediately, purely because what he as a gaming icon represents. Of course Episode 2 will not be a success without gameplay changes, or any other Sonic game that features ‘Classic Sonic’ for that matter, but nailing the design of the character is half the battle. Sega have demonstrated with Sonic Generations that they can replicate a Genesis-esque experience. The only remaining question is whether they would ditch a potential Episode 3 of Sonic 4, and instead lengthen Episode 2 and create a full retail release. This is a difficult question to answer until we see more of Episode 2; it’s lengthened development time, after previously being estimated at just three months after Episode 1, perhaps indicates Sega are making some big changes.

Though let’s consider outside of Sonic 4. As we saw with Sonic Colours it seems that Sonic Team are not afraid of taking development cues from others games, notably Super Mario Galaxy/Galaxy 2 (compare Wisps to the Mario’s hats). Therefore, much like Mario, what is to stop Sega coexisting Classic and Modern Sonic? Alternating their trajectory to have alternating games featuring each character alone hardly sounds too problematic. Of course, there may be a sequel to Sonic Colours (and rightly so) but the option is there. It’s known plenty of fans are looking forward to Generations because of what it is bringing to the franchise with Classic Sonic, not what it is bringing back with Modern Sonic. Even though Colours was a very big step forward, Sonic Team are only as good as their next game. Some fans have even stated they are going to try to skip the Modern Sonic stages (which I personally believe is a detriment to their experience) because of the negative associations. Though we don’t yet know how Modern Sonic is going to handle, whether Sonic Team are looking to combine platforming with Classic and Unleashed style gameplay with Modern Sonic or are creating different elements across both versions. If I had to guess, and this is strictly a guess, I would say that we won’t quite see the 70/30 majority we saw in Colours in favour of platforming but something closer to a 50/50 split. My thinking behind this is as aforementioned: Sega would like to create a distinction between the two styles, especially for old(er) fans who are coming back to the franchise.

Whatever happens, Sonic Generations and its aftermath are going to be significant for Sega and Sonic Team, and may provide a launchpad for their future strategy and their hopes of repairing damage that has done to the franchise over the years. Let’s hope in the future we’ll be going back in time more often but, for now, we will continue to speculate what may be on that elusive level list.

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