The Sonic the Hedgehog series has been going through this sort of renaissance phase over the past couple of years. While we saw flashes of brilliance in games such as Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic Unleashed, which nailed the speed element of the series in some aspects and completely floundered in others, it was 2010 that really saw Sega attempting to bring the iconic blue hedgehog out of the dump and into the limelight once more. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was the publisher's attempt at recreating 2D Sonic, and Sonic Colors on the Wii and DS tinkered with both the 3D and side-scrolling formulas, respectively.
Ultimately, some people really liked Sonic 4: Episode 1, while most absolutely detested it. And Sonic Colors, well, the argument can be made that those games were stellar examples of how to make both 3D and 2D Sonic games right. Though I've also read plenty of individuals' opinions all over the internet, and many weren't happy with those games either. Regardless of that, though, Sonic Generations was the true shining moment in the blue blur's renaissance. Not only did the game hark back to the old, but it embraced the new.
Sonic Generations is a great game, but it's also a bit of a strange game. Though it's not without its faults, the game manages to cater to the old school Sonic fan while exuding a ton of modern charm. The game is, for all intents and purposes, a tribute to the legacy of Sonic, warts and all. Sega is currently prepping for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2, which is set to feature new visuals and new physics, and there's no doubt that the company can expand upon the formula of Sonic Generations with a direct follow-up. But after all of that, where does the company take Sonic next?
It's a bit challenging to formulate an idea as to where the long-running series can go from here, especially since Sonic Generations is still so fresh in all of our minds. The game's definitely not without its flaws, but its highs manage to outnumber and outshine its lows to an incredible degree. The 2D stages are a true testament to the glory the series has had in the past, and they show that 2D Sonic still works, it's still fun, and it's really what the fans want. Meanwhile the 3D stages say, "Hey, 3D Sonic games can be pretty awesome, too!" Hell, I'm going to be honest: I probably enjoyed the 3D stages a tad more than the 2D stages, and that's OK, because they were done so well.
The next chapter in the Sonic franchise will likely be the forthcoming Sonic 4: Episode 2. That game will be yet another throwback, and hopefully one that more fans get behind. With a new physics engine that's more like that of the Genesis games, there's certainly a lot to be excited about if you're a Sonic fan. Then again, Sonic fans seem to be really tough to please, so Sega and Sonic Team (and possibly Dimps) are going to have to really turn out some level designs that gamers can care about. Classic power-ups, tons of loops, and springs galore are all elements we love about Sonic games, and with Tails returning as Sonic's ally, the next chapter in the episodic series definitely looks to play the nostalgia card.
I'll certainly vouch for more 2D Sonic, but is there room for a game that features only 3D stages? Sonic Colors for the Wii was not only a solid 3D platformer, but it was flashy with beautiful visuals and a magnificent soundtrack. Still, there were plenty of naysayers who complained that the game was slow and yet another blunder on Sega's part. While I won't deny that there were a few bumps in the road, Sonic Colors for the Wii was a true example of Sonic succeeding in the 3D landscape.
I genuinely believe there's hope for a 3D Sonic game once Sonic 4: Episode 2 has come and gone. If Sega and Sonic Team take the foundations they set in the Modern Sonic stages of Sonic Generations and base a new game around them, eliminating the slow, methodical filler and replacing it with more loops and springs, gamers will eat it up. But it has to be pure. We haven't seen a werehog in years, and anyone you ask will tell you that it should stay that way.
Whether he's in a 2D or 3D environment, our pal Sonic is all about speed, and Sega needs to exploit that every chance it gets. I enjoy challenging games, but I didn't particularly like the areas in specific levels of Sonic Generations where I constantly plummeted down a pitfall or fell down an area that required me to keep climbing … only to fall again. Some games are built around the concept of dying and retrying. While the classic Genesis Sonic games could get away with that, I don't think there's room for constant death in a 3D Sonic game because 3D Sonic games are a completely different animal from their 2D brethren in this respect.
I play games like Super Meat Boy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Demon's Souls if I want to see my characters being massacred. A 3D Sonic game doesn't really mesh well with the element of death, because the best moments we have in these titles are those instances where we're guiding Sonic through a level at full speed, watching as the beautiful environments around him become a pretty blur of bold colors and shiny textures. We love seeing Sonic run through a loop and hit springs high above a city skyline. Falling down a crater or into some lava? Yeah, not so much.
So what's next for Sonic the Hedgehog? Well, it appears that Sonic 4: Episode 2 is next. But what will that be followed up by? If it's a 3D Sonic game, let's hope Sega and Sonic Team eliminate the elements that slow those games down and give us a thrilling ride through wondrous zones. It can have its challenging spots, but these should be few and far between. 3D Sonic games are all about fast-paced, free-flowing gameplay, and if Sega can give us more of that and less cheap deaths and traps, what's next for Sonic the Hedgehog may be a classic we won't soon forget.