Franchises are a volatile aspect of long standing game series. The balance of convincing people into a franchises offerings and sustaining its demographic’s interest and loyalty is a trial for any game developer. The greatest video game series stick to refining their most pure mechanics and add design and features enhancing that foundation.
This golden rule of game development seems to have been forgotten by Sega when concerning Sonic the Hedgehog. Once the Genesis captain of a war against Mario’s Super Nintendo in the 90’s, Sonic has been making do with unnecessary innovations in his line up in recent years. From sword fighting, werewolves and guns, there isn’t any Sonic game now that doesn’t have some form of wild innovation in them. But this precisely is why he hasn’t been favoured with current critics and audiences.
In the Genesis era, Sonic was the golden example of how refinement of mechanic purity leads to a quality game. The classic trilogy is well designed speed and every game after the first improved that design with new mechanics that didn’t change the basic rules. The complete engagement and design overhauls in titles such as Black Knight and Rise of Lyric reinforce how Sega handicapped their mascot by having him do something radical, rather than improving on the great foundations of the classic trilogy.
Sonic still enthrals many people in the gaming landscape. It has even been demonstrated that his main point of attraction still works today, with Generations and Colours being competent because they were able to stay put with what worked and deliver a more refined experience. But any hope for Sonic to start becoming great again was quickly killed by Sega’s irrational paranoia for their mascot. The total make over of every aspect of Sonic’s established appeal and design in Rise of Lyric lead to the worst game in the series. Lyric is an especially egregious title because it is devoid of everything that people enjoy about Sonic and instead is a dull and lifeless husk of an adventure game, only meeting the bare necessity’s to be playable.
Gaming’s icons know that as franchises, it is a gamble to change why people invest in them. It can lead to audiences abandoning them and once they leave, it is a uphill battle to restore good will if the change leads to inferior titles. Sonic the Hedgehog has no reason to be lampooned as gaming’s dead horse that Sega madly beats out of desperation. It is in this madness, this non existent belief Sega has that their mascot must change to be relevant with audiences, that has Sonic stuck in a limbo no franchise wants to be in.
Franchises such as Dragon Quest, Mario and Pokemon are praised by critics and prosper with the times in their unique ways. Most importantly, they have made the reason people invest in them more enjoyable and richer with every game. By giving new tales in a game’s universe or just improve and remove what worked and failed, they have become greater with age as the industry evolves. None of them suddenly became shooters or add mechanics at odds with their appeal and are the quintessential examples of what game franchises should strive to be.
With the bad taste Rise of Lyric left with Sega, it would be more productive for Sega to revisit their dormant or forgotten I.P’s for future inspiration.They have recently admitted their past mistakes. This admittance of fault shows that Sega could start following the golden rule again. If so, then all of Sonic’s previous shortcomings won’t be for nothing. The games instead, will serve as a example of how not to sustain a gaming franchise.
“Sega in the 90’s was known for its brand…we’ve lost trust, and we’re left with nothing but reputation,”
Innovation is a necessary step to moving the industry forward. But very few outside of indie developers can develop great games, while illuminating the way to a new path in video game development. People still love investing in a game series that grows to become a richer and greater experience and franchises lose a wonderful aspect of themselves if they keep rewriting their purpose and qualities in a multi-billion dollar industry.