Far From a Happy News Year, But We Can Do Better
Sonic Lost World embodies, in many ways, the year that was for Sonic fans. It was unsure of itself, far from perfect–even mediocre at times–and while it was there it never performed the way anyone hoped. 2013 showcased more than a lost world; it was a lost direction, a lost opportunity, and truly a lost year.
How can that be? It’s not like we haven’t seen significant philosophical changes on many fronts; at least attempts at improvement. Sega and Nintendo, once bitter enemies in the beginning of the console wars, have forged newer, closer ties than ever. Whether that has truly benefited Sega and its bottom line remains to be seen, but given how Wii U systems have only shown signs of life in the wake of XBOX One and Playstation 4 sellouts, it’s going to be an uphill climb assuming it’s the new normal. As someone who grew up in the console wars era, it’s even a bit disheartening.
Perhaps I’m just stubborn; perhaps I just don’t want to see Sonic succeed under these circumstances because of that war. But back in the 90s, Sonic was always modeled as the anti-Mario, the blue dude with attitude that would run circles around worlds and ideas a virtual plumber wouldn’t touch. With various highs and lows, the formula basically worked on its own for 20 years–even as Sega exited the console business. Now, to potentially see the fate of a once powerful flagship mascot rest on the success of a one-time competitor’s flailing console worries me. It should worry everyone. Talk of Nintendo expanding its reach beyond their own systems has been around for some time now; what if it happens? Will Sonic be forced back into a multiplatform marketplace more competitive than ever? Can he still compete against all the Call of Duties and Battlefields and Maddens and Grand Theft Autos and any number of high budget, high marketed fare?
Even once longtime foe Super Mario is now struggling to make a mark for himself these days, something I never thought would be a problem. If the proud Mario franchise is struggling, how can the Sonic series, in confidence, be considered a success today? If anything, there’s plenty of skepticism. Not that many attended the annual Sonic Boom event–having it in a city riddled with crime doesn’t help much–and as for the Sonic Boom TV announcement, too many took a look at what’s believed to be a redesigned Knuckles silhouette and feared the worst.
I suppose one could look at the tens of millions of downloads of Sonic Dash as a start. There are plenty, including myself, who wonder if it’s a curse more than a blessing. That Sega can capitalize on what is, in effect, ripping off others’ ideas, as simple and marketable as they may be, gives cause to wonder if this is the true direction of Sonic going forward: Making the most off of menial and arguably unimaginative mobile mini-games. It would be a shot in the gut to both Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley–both to them and to ourselves–to see their incredible efforts this year remastering classic Sonic titles for mobile take a backseat to apps riddled with ads, bugs, and endless begging to buy more rings.
But in a way, we are fortunate the Taxman/Stealth combo emerged in the first place. With such miscommunication and lack of communication between Sega divisions, it’s a wonder any games are released at all. We could, easily, have seen a remastered Sonic 1 and 2 on the Nintendo 3DS, and I bet few would have cared whether it had 3D effects or not. Instead, the mothership does its own thing, and for the moment, limits the reach of a labor of love. Clearly, Sega of Japan is calling the shots, and though how much Sega West’s hands are tied isn’t exactly known, it’s never a good sign when the continuation of entire franchises outside of Japan can only be seen as bones thrown to the most diehard. Hatsune Miku, admittedly, was a good start. There’s at least some emerging evidence that Phantasy Star Online 2 is not completely dead in the West. But Yakuza seems out of the question, and many are now worried about the Atlus franchises, and perhaps Atlus’s US division itself, in the wake of Sega Sammy’s acquisition.
Then, there’s Archie. Ken Penders didn’t embarrass Archie in court; they humiliated themselves. That there’s no significant paper trail for the publisher of one of the world’s most circulated adventure series to fall back on if a former writer cries foul should warrant the entire replacement of management up in Mamaroneck. Instead, it appears the managers are fighting with one another, with storytellers on the front lines like Ian Flynn having to pick up the pieces. I’ve been tough on Ian this year, and in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been. None of what’s happened is necessarily his fault. But the reality for him and for all is not whatever I publish here; it is the truth, and the truth is that he has now reset canon twice in two years arbitrarily and without the polish many fans and readers expect of him. The deep lore of Sonic comic continuity built over 20 years now appears forever lost, and even with pressure from above, Ian could have handled it better.
Sega is lost. Archie is lost. With a typically annual SAGE pushed back in February and a community of fan games that has, aside from LakeFeperd’s work, run stagnant, it could be argued the fans are lost. Now is the time for calmer, clearer heads to prevail, regroup, and change.
I know this year has been a bit of a reserved one for us, and that’s something I would like to change in the new year. Though I conceded a few years ago that I, too, needed to change, I know I’m not there yet, and I along with the rest of the team hope to continue to earn your trust and understanding. Though it does get snarky around here a lot of times, we know the good that exists in this community and in each other, and we know that, with the right kind of spotlight, it can harbor plenty of good–even in the face of despair.
In the coming months, in addition to reporting the news and views of all things Sonic and Sega, I hope to share with you a Sonic-themed initiative I plan to spearhead through this site, this community, and my extended offline community that is near and dear to my heart. If successful, it should be fun–hilarious, really–and maybe make a big difference for a group of people who always need to know their fight is meaningful. I know I can do better, and maybe this project can be a start towards that change.
To a better, and hopefully happier news year.