When I posted my favourable first impressions of Cartoon Network's Sonic Boom animated series last month, one reader jokingly commented "The Sonic Cycle is finally broken. All you had to do was strip out the gameplay entirely." He might be on to something.
The games launched alongside the Sonic Boom animated series were not received well by fans or critics -- they were sloppy, unbalanced and in some instances completely broken. That said, I did find some small amusement in Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U. It just had nothing to do with the gameplay.
During the game's opening sequence, Sonic and Tails are hot on Eggman's trail when the villain turns to them and asks, "Oh Sonic? You know what's better than an ambush?" Tails replies "An ambush with ice cream?" to which Eggman says "That sounds delicious, but no!" You can check out the scene at around 1:40 in the video below.
Later, around 11:10, Amy and Tails encounter a robot that's searching for Sonic, but it refuses to tell them why. Amy protests: "Come on!" The robot returns with "Peer pressure acknowledged. Acquiescing in 3..2.."
I was not enjoying the gameplay at all, but damn if I didn't laugh my arse off. It's the same sort of clever writing that's made the Sonic Boom animated series a hit on Cartoon Network -- many of the same writers contributed to both the video game and the TV show.
Strip away the gameplay from Sonic Boom and you've got some 40 minutes of cutscenes that range from the required boring exposition to some truly clever bits of dialogue. When all is said and done, those 40 minutes are much more enjoyable than the hours of gameplay they frame.
So why bother? Sega has been struggling to find the right Sonic the Hedgehog game balance since 2003's Sonic Heroes -- and some would say earlier than that. Each new 3D iteration feels more and more like a licensed property shoehorned into a video game instead of something that originally sprang to life in 16-bit form. Spin-offs like Sonic All-Stars Racing are nice enough, but without a solid core game to back them up they lack the weight of something like a Mario Kart.
And it's not just Sega who've lost sight of what makes a great Sonic game. Fans are divided as well. For years each new 3D monstrosity was greeted by old-school fans calling for a return to the original 2D side-scroller formula that made the franchise popular in the first place. Then Sega goes and makes Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and despite mostly positive reviews the episodic game just felt dated, lacking the character we've come to expect from the series.
The problem, as I see it, is that Sonic the Hedgehog has outgrown his games. Between the comic books and the various cartoon series and now Sonic Boom, he's just too much of a character. I'm at the point now where I'd rather see Sonic like this...
...than control him in a video game.
It's a problem Nintendo has managed to avoid with characters like Link, Kirby, Yoshi and Mario. Despite some early cartoon appearances and the odd sound bite, Nintendo's stable of characters is a quiet bunch whose actions speak for them. You never see Mario having an extended conversation with Boswer, Luigi or Peach. Kirby never cracks wise. Yoshi doesn't battle Mario for top-billing. Nintendo's characters show up for a grand adventure and then go home until the next one.
In contrast, Sonic's been receiving character development since voice in video games became a viable thing. Between colourful cutscenes, comic books, cartoons and piles of questionable fan fiction, Sonic and friends have taken on a life far greater than the one they were originally given by Sega.
It's incredibly difficult to contain this much character in a video game. You wind up with a strongly written game balanced atop a poorly designed one. You wind up with Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric.
As it stands, I don't feel like Rise of Lyric for the Wii U and its 3DS counterpart, Shattered Crystal, ruined the Sonic the Hedgehog series. With the release of the Sonic Boom animated series on Cartoon Network, these two games the same sort of poorly-made licensed games generated by successful television and movie properties that we've been seeing for decades now.
Sonic is continuing the evolution his been undergoing for years, from video game character to multimedia star. Perhaps its time he left the past behind and focused on his acting career.