Yesterday, Sonic Forces celebrated its third birthday. The game tends to be maligned by fans for its short runtime, and lack of iteration on mechanics introduced in 2011's Generations. While I'm actually a pretty big fan of the title, and honestly prefer it to Mania, there's no denying it wasn't exactly the breakout hit many wanted it to be.
But after that, something curious happened - something that Sonic fans are all too familiar with. After the game's less-than-stellar reception, Sonic kinda just... went away for a while. Yeah, we got a good movie and an okay racing game, but in terms of actual mainline projects, we've heard jack-all out of Sega.
Now, like I said, this is something Sonic fans should be used to at this point. After Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric dropped (as in, "dropped straight into the garbage, where it belongs") we didn't hear a peep out of the Blue Blur for a bit. For damn near two years, we weren't exactly sure where Sonic would go next, and it'd take almost three years until we got our hands on the little dude again.
(Yes, I'm ignoring those Boom 3DS games. Fight me.)
Contrast this to 2006's Sonic The Hedgehog, which was similarly (although undeservedly) panned at release. Despite the game being a memetic failure, Sega was undeterred. Shortly after that, we got two decent Wii entries, followed by a series of genuine bangers - Unleashed, Colors, Generations, and Lost World were all pretty great games in their own right. Even a critical failure as catastrophic as Sonic '06 wasn't enough to slow the series down until Rise of Lyric happened.
So... what gives, exactly? Sonic's been mostly MIA as far as gaming is concerned, and his '90s competition is leaving him in the dust. Longtime rival Mario has run laps around the little dude, with more new games and spin-offs than you can shake a ring at, not to mention a shiny new Universal Studios park set to open soon. Meanwhile, Crash and Spyro have returned from the annals of licensed spin-off hell to deliver six killer remakes, as well as a pretty great revival for the former.
These fellow '90s flagship mascots are all on store shelves right now, entertaining a new generation of children and their nostalgic parents with games and merch galore, while Sonic is kinda just... existent. Yeah, his movie did gangbusters, but Sega hasn't done much in the way of capitalizing on that. There was no tie-in game, no new game, no remastered game... no game at all, actually, unless you count a handful of new skins for the (admittedly very good) mobile endless runner.
Many fans, myself included, hoped for a Detective Pikachu-esque marketing blitz with that movie. The Pokemon Company went all-out for their live-action debut, with a new series of trading cards, multiple new games releasing within the year, and tons of merch and cross-promotions. By contrast, Sonic got... Tiny Tacos at Jack in the Box? Some t-shirts and backpacks, I guess? That's about it. If you were a little kid who walked out of the Sonic movie, excited to beg your parents for new toys and games, you were kinda SOL. What could've become a watershed rebirth for the series was, ultimately, just the last big blockbuster movie before COVID-19 hit.
And that's, really, where we still stand. Sega's obviously been busy this year, with new games like Sakura Wars, Hatsune Miku MegaMix, Yakuza 7, and next month's Puyo Puyo Tetris 2. The company has made a concentrated effort to tap into their other franchises and to lead with them, instead of just relying on Sonic's appeal. Of course, that's ultimately for the best - history has proven that a diverse Sega is a stronger Sega.
But Sonic used to be a power player for the publisher - and numbers-wise, he still is. Despite fans' insistence that it was the worst game ever made or whatever, Forces did pretty well for the company, as did Mania. The mobile game is still trucking, and even that "eh" racing game did pretty well. People still want these games, despite the protestations of overzealous fans and certain people who have an axe to grind against the Blue Blur. There's still a market for them.
While I understand Sega's cautious approach - something that's being done by design - I ultimately think it's doing more harm than good. Longer gaps between games means more kids (y'know, the ones that mostly play these things) moving onto other things, and the more that happens, the harder it'll be to recapture the mascot's mid-90s and mid-aughts popularity. Plus, in terms of quality, there's no way around it: Sega's never going to make a lot of adult fans happy. There's a contingent of people who will never be happy with 3D Sonic, and trying to go after those players is like the DNC trying to go after the elusive "moderate conservative": a fool's errand that only hurts the cause.
Next month, on December 2nd, Sega will wrap up their 60th anniversary festivities with an exclusive "content drop" for Sonic on their website. In the previous weeks, the company has doled out new wallpapers and avatars themed after many of their popular properties. Some fans are speculating that we'll hear something about the future of Sonic there, but I'm not so sure. It'd be nice to know where the series is going. It'd be nice to hear about that rumored Adventure remake. It'd be nice to know if Sega has literally any plans for Sonic right now.
Because, while he's the fastest thing alive, it's starting to feel like Sonic is stuck in reverse.
Players prefer tractors to tanks.