VG Tribune

The Past: Sega’s and Sonic the Hedgehog’s Key to Success

January 30, 2015 / 3:42 PM

By: Matthew Williams


In a statement released earlier this morning, Sega announced plans to relocate its North American operations from San Francisco to southern California. In addition, the publisher also noted that it would be downsizing its operations, in an attempt to focus on “smartphone and PC online gaming”. As a result, the company could be slashing up to 400 jobs over the next year. Relocation packages are being offered to the company’s more talented employees.

Not surprisingly, the news comes amidst a rather cloudy time for the major video game publisher. With lackluster sales from its latest game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series (Sonic Boom) and the gradual shift from ‘physical’ to ‘digital’ distribution, Sega has had difficulty keeping pace with the rapidly changing needs of the industry. With the relocation, Sega of America President John Cheng is confident that this decision will give Sega’s operations the boost of confidence it needs to provide “millions of fans a strong pipeline of content across gaming, TV, merchandising, and more”.

Having been a fan since the days of the Genesis, reading about Sega’s downfall is hard to accept. I can’t help but wonder though, if the correlation between this and demise of the Sonic the Hedgehog brand are directly related. Once a pioneer of 2D side-scrolling platform games, the nonconforming, trendsetting and badass Sonic the Hedgehog I knew from 1991 no longer has a place in today’s modern gaming era. Sega’s attempt at ‘redefining’ Sonic in the 3D world has actually turned into more of an identity crisis. Taking a brief glimpse into the roles Sonic has played since entering the 3D landscape, we see such clashing examples like: becoming a werewolf (Sonic Unleashed), an Olympic participant (Mario & Sonic Olympic Games series), and extreme racer (Sonic Riders series). What kind of role will our beloved hedgehog take on next, a Paperboy? Oh wait…

I’m all about experimentation for fresh game design ideas among existing franchises, but this ‘new’ Sonic has been introduced into too many genres. Racing, party, role-playing – you name it, Sonic has been in it.

The key to Sonic’s (and ultimately Sega’s) survival is easy to understand, but rather difficult to admit and administer: keep to the platforming genre and start creating modernized, side-scrolling platform games that made him popular in the first place. Bring back the Sonic the Hedgehog games of the past that sold millions (which, back in the 1990s, was huge sales volume for any game).

I know what you are thinking – Sega already did that with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Please understand, I’m in no way harping on this game. In fact, I loved every second of it. But even as a side-scrolling platformer, it still didn’t feel like the original Sonic, as it was modeled in 3D graphics. The ‘original’ Sonic was designed in 2D. To truly resurrect Sonic’s prime, Sega needs to start making modernized, side-scrolling platform games with 2D graphics. The Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic 2s of the current generation. Modernized video games with 2D pixel art are more artistic and beautiful than ever. Who says a video game created with pixel art can’t compete in today’s saturated market of games with stunningly realistic 3D graphics? Especially if the brand is already recognized (and Sonic still is, in spite of its recent struggles), then the game’s nostalgic experience would provide a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room full of cookie-cutter, rehashed first-person shooter clones.

If Sega ever capitalizes on this idea, transforming the ‘Sonic we know today’ into the ‘Sonic we knew before’ could ultimately be the saving grace for the beloved brand and company.

Here’s to you, Sonic.

About the author /

Matthew, a graduate from Texas Christian University, now works as a Senior Digital Analytics Consultant for Ernst & Young. With a passion for video games (mostly retro and survival horror) and data, Matthew is pursuing a career in game analytics.

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