Vertical Slice: Doom, Gloom and Sonic Boom

Vertical Slice: Doom, Gloom and Sonic Boom

by December 12, 2014

“Paging Michael…” read the subject line of a recent email by TSSZ owner Tristan Oliver. He wanted to know if another entry in this column was on the way, and rightfully so; Vertical Slice is long overdue.

You see, I’ve been sitting on my hands, hoping that additional details on the Big Red Button walkout would surface. As you’re all aware, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric turned out to be an incomprehensible mess of shallow storytelling, bland level design and a horrific number of bugs. Therefore “Rise of Lyric – How Did This Happen?” would’ve been an excellent topic for an opinion piece. But as it stands, the mystery of Rise of Lyric‘s clearly troubled development is shrouded in, well, mystery.

I couldn’t watch the Sonic Boom television programme even if I wanted to for reasons discussed in a previous article. And I don’t have a Wii U to play Rise of Lyric on. Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for the 3DS is an option, but after playing through the underwhelming demo and reading Ryan Bloom’s review, I’ve decided to save my pennies.

And since I can’t give my opinion on games I haven’t played and a TV show I haven’t watched, what on earth is there for me to say about Sonic Boom?

sonic_boom_tv_series_header

It’s crazy to think that earlier this year I was imploring fans to wait until the Sonic Boom reboot had fully unravelled before judging it. Yet here I am, the last of what little hope I had for the future of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise evaporating into the steely December clouds above.

We all remember the teasing, the secret “Year of Sonic” press event in New York and the numerous interviews that followed. Sega of America made it very clear that it’d invested considerable time and money to ensure that the Sonic Boom cross-media reboot would be the next big thing. But the games’ panning by critics and their inability to chart in their UK launch window, the Big Red Button walkout, and the myriad Sonic Boom glitch videos speak for themselves. Now all Sega of America has is egg on its face, a shed load of bad press and a further disgruntled fan base.

What a waste of time and money.

The only thing keeping Sonic Boom from being a complete failure, at least from a creative standpoint, is the well received TV show. But Sega can’t benefit financially from a TV show on creative merit alone – it needs to sell the videogames and it needs to sell merchandise. As mentioned earlier, the small amount of sales data that’s available is less than encouraging — and it’s only recently that either Sonic Boom game has appeared in the UK Top 50 charts. I shudder to think of the sales data in the many, many countries, including the United Kingdom, that won’t see the TV show until autumn 2015. [Again, read: Wherefore Art Thou Sonic Boom?]

But lets say Sonic Boom somehow becomes profitable over the Christmas period and Sega of America decides to greenlight future seasons of the TV show. It’ll only result in more half-baked tie-in videogames. After all, if the creative mind behind Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter couldn’t work with whatever resources Sega provided, who can?

The alternative is that the entire Sonic Boom franchise flops, in which case I suspect Sega Sammy will considerably downsize Sega of America. I mean, it’s not like Sega of America has actually done much recently aside from Sonic Boom.

That and battling Gearbox in court over Aliens: Colonial Marines

Say it three times in a mirror. I dare you. A glitched out Xenomorph will appear and sell you a season pass. My friend did it I swear.

Speaking of the Alien franchise; many of Sega’s subsidiaries, such as Creative Assembly, Hardlight and Sports Interactive, are based in Europe. Sega Sammy could simply divert resources from Sega of America to Sega Europe, resulting in a smaller Sega of America that simply deals with North American publishing and with PR that’s almost completely outsourced anyway.

So with Sega of America out of the hypothetical picture, we’re left with Sega Europe overlooking the development of Hardlight’s free-to-play Sonic mobile games, and Sega of Japan developing educational Sonic games for high-end Japanese HD televisions…?

Oh dear…

TSSZ Sonic Japan mystery SHARP

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. If Sonic Boom succeeds, Sonic fans lose. And if Sonic Boom fails… Sonic fans lose.

It’s honestly difficult to see the Sonic series having a mainstream videogame presence for much longer. Sega Sammy has stated numerous times over the last few years that the future of the company’s software efforts lie in digital and mobile gaming; in May 2012, October 2013 and November of this year when it also announced a loss of $18.5 million.

Of course, no one would be particularly surprised if Sonic Team tried to knock out one more “conventional” Sonic title for consoles. But considering the in-house dev team’s track record, I find the idea less than comforting.

Thinking back to Sonic Boom‘s initial announcement, I definitely remember feeling like part of a minority of Sonic fans who actually welcomed a radical update of the tried and tested Sonic formula. I honestly thought the Sonic series needed Sonic Boom, and I still think it does, just not the Sonic Boom we got. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that as long as Sega holds complete control of the Sonic the Hedgehog IP, we’ll never see, even via a third party developer, a competently crafted modern Sonic game

Bring the doom, bring the gloom. Show’s over kids.

What I do hope though is that sooner rather than later, Sonic’s devoted fanbase will take a step back from the angst and frustration that comes with taking the brunt of Sega’s never ending incompetence and realise that there’s fun to be had elsewhere.

TSSZ Sonic Chrono Adventure

Despite its problems, the Sonic fan community has produced some of the most impressive feats of fan-driven creativity I’ve ever seen. Be it fan created remix albums, fan games, mods, ROM hacks or even Sonic-inspired indie games, there’s always been new and interesting Sonic related content for me to engage with. And it’s telling that a lot of said content has been created as a response to Sega’s inability to bring the same passion and creativity to its own Sonic projects. With all this, plus the plethora of Sonic forums and fan sites, why ruminate on the achingly slow death of modern day Sonic the Hedgehog?

I hope you all have a nice Christmas. I’m actually planning to have a Sonic binge over the holidays and finally get stuck into LakeFeperd’s fan games, Better SADX and Unleashed Project; the latter of which I’ll be using with the PC version of Sonic Generations I got with Sega’s eerily familiar (*cough* THQ *cough*) Humble Bundle.

Oh and Sonic Adventure 2 still sucks.