Needlemouse in the House

Sega, Sega, Sega. You really had me going for a while there. I thought your consistently awful 3D Sonic titles were the result of some nihilistic campaign, a plot to assassinate the very icon that put you on the gaming map. The treatment of your flagship rodent has been so diabolical of late that the poor bugger has been seen slinking onto dual carriageways, curling up into a little blue ball and waiting for an articulated lorry to send him to the big hedge in the sky. Thing is, Sonic’s unique relationship with machinery means that these lorries inevitably explode upon contact with his jagged mane, showering the tarmac with chassis parts, entrails and golden rings. Not only are these attempts dangerous, traumatic and messy, but their repeated failure leave Sonic functional enough to take the next call from the worst character agent in video game history. “What’s that? Sonic: The Curse of the Club Footed, Faith-Leaping, Kart-Racing, Vampire-Zombie-Douche-Pirate? I’m sorry, you’re breaking up. Perhaps there’s a better signal under this lorry…”


Yet now it turns out that all this clumsy, tridimensional chasm-diving has been a smokescreen. There I was, believing that you had been eroding the credibility of one of the industry’s most recognised and adored mascots for your own sadistic amusement, like a bored child pulling the legs off kittens. In fact, you had been strategically lowering consumer expectations, so that when you announced Project Needlemouse was in fact Sonic 4, a continuation of the original Sonic the Hedgehog series that began in 1991, faithful Mega Drive disciples would jump and skip and click their heels with unfettered joy and eternal gratitude. Never mind that it’s turning up a decade and a half late. Never mind that Sonic Team has spent the last two generations playing with its 3D engine, only to fall back on design concepts from the 16-Bit era. Sonic is back on a 2D plane, charging from left to right like the sneaker-sporting woodland critter we all know and love. This is fantastic news, right? This is what I always wanted, isn’t it?

In truth, there is a huge part of me which is delighted that Sonic 4 is being made. The best Sonic games of the past 10 years have been the ones that embraced Sonic’s side-scrolling heritage: the Sonic Advance trilogy and the Sonic Rush series. I bought a GameBoy Advance for the sole purpose of playing a new Sonic game that didn’t completely suck. I’m as partial to a bit of nostalgic platforming as the next 27-year old man-boy, and it’s fair to say that there are few who have ever done it as well as old Red Shoes has.

I did my own little dance when I heard the news of Sonic’s upcoming resurrection. There were hand movements and everything. But when I sat down again I felt oddly deflated. It was the same feeling that passed through me when I realised that the new Mario Bros. Wii game was just old Mario Bros. with four player support. Many years have passed since Sonic made his Green Hill debut. The last instalment of the series proper was in 1994. Is the situation so bad that Sega needs to reach this far into the past to resuscitate its golden goose?

Sonic Evolution
The evolution of Sonic. Proof that Darwinism doesn't work.

I, like many of my kin, am of the opinion that Sonic should never have entered the third dimension in the first place. The quintessence of Sonic has always been his speed, an element that is very difficult to incorporate into 3D platformers without making them extremely tough to control. None of the current-gen efforts have come close to delivering the sub-light-speed thrill of the Mega Drive originals, so it makes sense that Sega would want to return to the format that made Sonic great. The problem is, it’s taken Sega such a long time to come around to this conclusion that it makes Sonic 4 seem like a bit of a last resort; an admission of defeat coupled with a retread of well-established territory.

Sonic 4 is a guaranteed hit, and provided Sega stay as true to the template as they have promised I’m sure it will be a welcome dose of rip-roaring retro fun. I’m equally sure it’ll be the best Sonic game I’ve played in years. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and I’m not trying to taint the undeniable glory of finally getting what we deserve. I’m just finding it difficult to reconcile the fact that after 16 years and three console generations, we’re right back where we started. Since when did going backwards feel like progress?







3 responses to “Needlemouse in the House”

  1. Susan avatar

    We’ll see what it’s like when Sonic 4 comes out, but nobody should really get their hopes up. I got really excited playing the demo of the daytime levels in Sonic Unleashed… then got the actual game and got bogged down in the crap storyline, rubbish ‘rpg’ element and the terrible nighttime werehog battles. It’s one of those things, like if they can pull it off, it’d be great. But really, don’t hold your breath.

  2. Simon avatar

    I should think they can produce a competent 2D Sonic game, in the same way that Nintendo produced a competent 2D Mario game for the Wii just recently.

    I have to say that Sonic games haven’t had much relevance to me since the mid-nineties. I got Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast and rather enjoyed the fast, pseudo 3D levels contained therein. It’s baffling to me that Sega haven’t been able to produce a title containing that core, undiluted gameplay in the last 10 years. Maybe it does present a deceptively large technical challenge, or maybe they have and I just didn’t notice.

    One thing is for sure for me. If this new Sonic game is going to be a full retail title at £40, it’s going to have to be a seriously impressive 2D platformer. Two player, stuff exploding, full and un-dipping 60 fps, etc.

    And even then, I’m going to take some convincing to buy it over current-gen titles like Dead Rising 2, Fallout: New Vegas and so on.

  3. GraeXZ avatar

    Simon I’m pretty sure I read on Kotaku that it’ll be an XBLA title, as well as being made available on PSN and WiiWare, here’s the link

    Maybe when they’ve released a few episodes they could do a retail release, I’m rather looking forward to it actually, but I do miss quality 3D titles like Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, which were in my eyes 2 of the finest games released for the Dreamcast.

    But it’s true, the past few years all the Sonic games have been immensely full of crappy characters, bad gimmicks, and a loose plot, also bad level design.

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