This month’s In-Depth article, which gives a case study on a Sonic subject with research and the historical record provided as evidence, will be an interesting one. It’s something that has been a hot topic as of late, but it’s one that may not be so conclusive as others may be. Today, I wanted to provide a case study on the ratio of Modern Sonic games compared to Classic Sonic games. Of course, part of why I say this may not so conclusive as others is because, ultimately, what is considered a Classic or Modern game is up for debate. And some Sonic games have elements of both. That said, here is the general guideline I will be using for what tends to be considered a classic or modern Sonic game in the community:
A classic game is typically labeled for Sonic games released in the early to mid 90s. The gameplay tends to be more simplistic. There is much more platforming than in modern gameplay, frequently in 2D. Sonic the Hedgehog is shorter, fatter, has black eyes, and will not talk. Usually, this version Sonic will be the focus of this game. Classic Sonic typically has few moves, having nothing more than the Super Sonic Spin Attack (jumping into enemies to bust them) and the Spin Dash. Occasionally, he might get one extra move in that game to make it stand out. You may see elemental shields. Levels tend to end with a sign-post that spins when Sonic runs past or a capsule to free animals from. Stories in Classic Sonic games are small in detail, and dialogue is usually few and far between. The graphics are very colorful, sacrificing realism for cartoony effects and flashes. Badniks are present. These games tend to be more cartoony than serious.
A modern game is typically labelled for Sonic games that released from 1998 and onward, when Sonic was given a taller and skinner look with green eyes. Where as classic games are simple, modern games are more complicated. Even the “modern” label itself is complicated to use, as there is no singular gameplay that defines this label, because the gameplay varies. Anything new goes. However, typically platforming is less frequent and running/speed has a greater focus, frequently in 3D. Sonic, as I said, will be taller, skinner, and have green eyes. Usually, this version Sonic will be the focus of this game. Modern Sonic maintains his classic moves, but unlike Classic Sonic, he will have a lot more to do. The Homing Attack, Sonic Wind, Lightspeed Dash, parkour system, boost, and more are among his capabilities. There are no elemental shields. Levels tend to end with a giant ring or with the Sonic character striking a pose. Sonic’s friends will get a greater emphasis. The story is more fleshed out, with full cutscenes with plenty of dialogue. There are less badniks, but you may see enemies like Egg Pawns. The graphics tend to take a more realistic route, and you will see great detail added to the scenery. It blends cartoony environments (such as Eggman bases) with scenery you might see in the real world, such as forests. Note that, because this can fall in line with the uniquely created spin-off games, they will be included in this label. These games are typically serious, with a pinch of comedy thrown in.
So now we get to the fun part, and that’s seeing where each Sonic game falls. In some cases, there are games that have both Classic and Modern elements. In this case, they will be labeled as a hybrid of the two. I’ve included notes to explain certain inclusions and why they’re there.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Sonic 3D Blast
Sonic Triple Trouble
Sonic The Fighters (Although originally an arcade game, it was included in Sonic Gems Collection and on online platforms like Xbox Live. As such, I’m treating it as a full on console game)
Sonic 4: Episode 1
Sonic 4: Episode 2
Sonic Drift 2
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Tails Skypatrol (I realize these games, from Labyrinth to Skypatrol, were released in the classic era and have classic characters, but the gameplay strays way too far from classic gameplay)
Sonic Adventure 2 (Some fans consider the Adventure games to be its own era, but the gameplay is so modern-like, and even gave birth to it in the first place, that it’s hard to put it elsewhere)
Shadow The Hedgehog
Sonic Rivals 2
Sonic Rush Adventure
Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity
Sonic Free Riders
Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal
Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice (Although the Boom games are part of a separate branch, spin-offs are not considered a separate area in this instance. It is purely modern/new gameplay vs. classic/old gameplay)
Sonic Advance 1
Sonic Advance 2
Sonic Advance 3 (The Advance games are literally modernized classic Sonic games)
Sonic Lost World (While Sonic is in his modern form, and there is some new elements in this game such as parkour, there are also quite a few elements that remind people of classic games)
Sonic Project 2017? (Only because of the presence of Classic Sonic in the teaser trailer. The question mark is because we still don’t have an idea of gameplay yet)
Assuming that you, the reader, go by this standard, and all of this can be entirely up for debate depending on what your own classic/modern standards are, then there have been 12 Classic Sonic games and 25 Modern Sonic games. That’s a lot of Modern gameplay. However, by no means am I going to reach a conclusion here. Although I feel that the “nostalgia pandering” argument is exaggerated, I can’t say it’s wrong. There isn’t really a right or wrong argument here because, ultimately, one cannot be drawn due to the difference in opinion that I know will come from this. Sonic fans have their own opinions on if a Sonic game has “too much nostalgia pandering” or not. But one observation can be drawn from this case study: the inconsistency of Sonic games are very evident when comparing classic and modern gameplay. Classic Sonic games have elements of modern gameplay, and modern games have elements of classic gameplay. In the long run, a Sonic game is a Sonic game. And we’re getting two next year. However, I would be lying if I said that the inconsistent gameplay was not an issue and nonexistent. There may never be a singular standard of what a Sonic game is like, because SEGA has experimented with this too many times. Because of this, the Classic and Modern game ratio will always have complications.
Sonic fans that feel that there is too much nostalgia pandering are neither right or wrong. As with any Sonic fan, they just want the kind of gameplay they love the most the kind that may have even got them into Sonic in the first place. And that’s not a bad thing at all.