Grand Theft Hedgehog — The next great Sonic game

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I’ve been playing Sonic the Hedgehog games since the original came out. So more than most people, I get frustrated when Sonic tries something new and fails.

As Sonic Generations demonstrated pretty clearly, the Sonic faithful are divided into two camps, the kind that prefer his old fashioned platforming that allows players to explore a massive area, and the modern one that emphasizes speed over everything else, catapulting players through roller coaster thrill rides. Also, new Sonic has like 40 annoying friends he can’t seem to lose.

Classics! Like Bark the Polar Bear.

While it’s pretty clear which side of that line I stand on, I’m not going to argue that Sonic needs to ditch his friends and get back to the classics, because Sega has been trying unsuccessfully to do that for years, and it’s clear younger fans are too much in love with the hipper Sonic and his cavalcade of mascot buddies to ditch that route completely.

At the same time, modern Sonic has become stagnant and yet convoluted. Every game since Sonic Adventure incorporates a new system on top of the existing ones, to the point of excess. It’s tired, and to recapture the attention of the general public, Sonic needs a true reinvention. Sonic needs a reimagining like Mario had when he breached the third dimension.

Sonic needs to go open world.

And I’m not talking about Station freaking Square here.

Imagine a network of loops, tracks, and rails snaking through a giant, open metropolis, full of hidden collectibles and power-ups. Taking a page from Metroid, maybe you’ll see a goodie at the top of a tower, but you’ll have to look around and find some equipment or unlock that lets you run up metal walls before you can return to it. There’ll be missions and boss fights, sure, but it all takes place in the context of this massive city, with the scope of Just Cause 2, but the verticality of Spider-Man 2.

Don’t panic. I’m not saying Sonic has to start shooting guns and jacking police cruisers.

Shadow has that covered.

Imagine doing footraces through the streets, but having no set path the reach the finish; take the road, grind the monorail, wakeboard through the sewer… whatever! You could try different approaches to see what works, compare your strategies with your friends later on, and maybe spot some new area or item you can come back for later.

And while this probably isn’t the most popular opinion, I don’t think having a story is necessarily bad for Sonic. In the scenario described here, I think it’s pretty much necessary. Sonic’s friends (which we need to accept are never going away) are best utilized when they’re in supporting roles. Do a footrace against Shadow, collect emerald shards for Knuckles, do a wing-walking mission with Tails… minigame opportunities abound!

But as for what game we are actually going to get, I can only assume Sega will continue putting out the same mediocre, unpolished games with arbitrary nonsense like werewolves and magic swords, all the while declaring that they’re bring Sonic back to his roots, and they’ll and keep making enough money with them to propagate that cycle.

Being a Sonic fan has taught me nothing if not this: Don’t get your hopes up.

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