In-Depth: The Sonic Cycle

In-Depth: The Sonic Cycle

by July 1, 2017

Welcome to this month’s In-Depth article! If you don’t know what these monthly pieces are that I do, the In-Depth articles serve to provide a case study on a particular Sonic subject. Usually, I do a massive load of research on that topic, with the biggest asset being the historical record.

This month’s article is a doozy. It talks about something that a lot of the Sonic community is aware of in some shape or form. This is mainly due to the fact that it’s a meme that just won’t go away, despite the meme being outdated and no longer accurate. I am, of course, talking about the Sonic Cycle. Let me explain.

The Sonic Cycle is old. Very old. Its origins can be traced back as far as April 7th, 2008. when a NeoGAF user by the name of Baiano19 posted one of the earliest forms of an image that would be heavily associated with the meme. The image was later reblogged by PlayAsia that same day. Coicidentally, this around the same time frame that Sonic Cycle searches began to appear. Another thread created on Digg on January 18th, 2009 evolved the Sonic cycle, when the thread ended up on the home page of Digg’s website. A user by the name of goldhearted coined how the Sonic cycle actually goes:

This is the typical sonic cycle these days

1. New info release of new Sonic game, people say it’s gonna be Sonic’s comeback.
2. More or less, hype is generated as info, screens, vids, etc. releases.
3. Game comes out, it ends up like mediocre-shit. People say nothing can save Sonic.
4. Go back to #1

We will actually examine the steps of the cycle in a moment. But I want to direct you to the image itself, the one so heavily associated with the meme:

This is the Sonic Cycle. A nearly 10-year old picture. This goes into more detail about the cycle that the Digg post elaborated on. But let’s actually tackle this cycle, bit by bit, to examine just how inaccurate this cycle has become, or at the very least, how outdated it is. So let’s look at step one:

  1. First info on new Sonic game. Now, firstly, the “lack of friends in screenshots”. At the time that this cycle was created, SEGA was a lot more secretive about new characters, including Sonic’s friends, both returning ones and new ones that would be making their first appearances. For example, Chip was not revealed until August 2008, four months after Sonic Unleashed was announced. However, this was 2008. Nowadays, SEGA is more open to confirming that Sonic’s friends will be having prominent roles in Sonic games, and new characters are usually confirmed pretty early on in a game’s road to release. Just a week after Sonic Lost World was announced, The Deadly Six was confirmed. Now, of course, you may argue “these aren’t screenshots” but here’s the thing. Sonic’s friends, since 2008 and onward, have not had the significant roles in Sonic games that they once had. They are rarely seen outside of gameplay, and when they are, it’s usually from radio communication. This is why screenshots rarely have Sonic’s friends in them. Because Sonic screenshots typically show off the levels and gameplay, not the story. That said, SEGA has been clear in the road to a game’s release that Sonic’s friends will show up in the game and have their own roles to play, regardless of how significant that role is or not. But let’s move on to “hopes are raised” and “fans begin to claim this as Sonic’s return to form”. Because here is where the cycle already gets off to a poor start in today’s world. This is not how Sonic fans are like at all. Fans don’t “raise hopes”. Cautiously optimistic, perhaps, but it’s not the raised hopes that the cycle claims. Fans also don’t claim a new game as “Sonic’s return to form”. Sonic Forces is a classic example of how the community reacts to a new Sonic game as more information comes out about it, especially nowadays. Some people will be interested in playing it, but you will also see fans dislike what they’re seeing, sometimes since the original trailer came out. Our TSSZ comment sections can support this well. This fanbase is not stupid. We don’t blindly support games, and we don’t get hyped at a new Sonic game just because it’s a new Sonic game. But, nevertheless, moving on.
  2. More screens and info on new Sonic game. So here, step two begins with “pictures of friends” and “pictures of Sonic’s new friends”. If it’s not already evident, the cycle has a strange obsession with Sonic’s friends. But, I’m digressing here. I did an image search of Sonic Unleashed screenshots. For the record, this has been a reliable method I have used to search for Sonic images in my research, especially for my In-Depth pieces. Anyway, there were screenshots of the opening cutscene, a couple of the HUD world, but Chip-wise, he was nowhere to be seen. The few screenshots he shows up in were either in the Night Of The Werehog movie, or after the game had already released. Sonic & The Black Knight? The same problem. There were no images of Merlina, except post-release images from fans. It’s worth noting that I didn’t just look at the first section either, further pages of images offered no results. So, based on this, I feel it is worth concluding that the “pictures of Sonic’s friends” part of this cycle is wrong. SEGA simply did not publish any. So let’s move to “gameplay looks to be the same old”. What does this mean, exactly? Is the “same old” talking about bad quality? Gimmicks? Too much reliance on Sonic’s friends? It’s not unreasonable to feel that Sonic’s friends may have something to do with the “same old”, as the cycle notes this in multiple steps. But it clearly states the gameplay is the “same old”. Interpretation of this bulletpoint is very much up for debate. You may argue that “it’s clearly referring to bad quality”. Okay then. Colors. Generations. They were arguably great games, due to their massive success in sales (they both sold well over a million copies), and well recieved reviews from critics (more on that in a moment). Even Lost World’s fate wasn’t a “disaster”. Divisive, yes, and the Wii U’s lackluster state at the time of this game’s release did not help sales at all (and even then it sold nearly a million copies), but not the crappy state and most definitely not the “same old” the cycle says. Maybe it can be argued that there’s a new “same old” nowadays, but it’s most certainly not the “same old” that this cycle refers to. Which is the point I’m making here. As for “hopes hit the ground”, no. Nobody’s hopes in the Sonic community hit the ground anymore. And even when they do, it’s not as we learn more info. For example, hopes didn’t hit the ground for Rise of Lyric until the game leaked just days before release. Hopes didn’t hit the ground for Lost World. People either liked the game or were meh about it, and even those who were disappointed were usually not hopeful to begin with. Sonic Forces is also going down this route. So, again, this is an inaccuracy, especially nowadays. If there’s one thing you should never do, it’s put “Sonic” and “hope” in the same sentence. Because it just doesn’t happen. This cycle was made at a time when bad Sonic games were more of a “new thing”, a classic example of the post-Sonic 06 era. Nowadays, we’ve had games like Sonic Free Riders and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. Nobody is hopeful of a Sonic game being good anymore, and if they are, they don’t raise their expectations to the point where those hopes hit the ground. But there’s no shock value anymore. This cycle was made when there was.
  3. Game released. Now we get to the finale. This is where the cycle really shows just how outdated and inaccurate it truly is. Firstly, let’s tackle “Reviews slam the game”. At the time of this cycle’s creation, yes, Sonic games were frequently getting slammed by reviewers. Unleashed and Black Knight would get heavily criticized in the media. However, as I stated previously, Sonic Colors and Generations received positive feedback from reviewers. Even Sonic Lost World wasn’t as criticized and slammed as Unleashed and Black Knight was (not by much, but still, it’s a very divisive title, something that couldn’t be said for Unleashed and Black Knight when they originally released). I’m not even counting the two All-Stars Racing titles, which were also well recieved, especially Transformed. Rise of Lyric was the only exception to this, and it being an only exception does not validate a cycle. Because a cycle is just that, a cycle. It repeats. We have not seen a repeat. And even if Sonic Forces is slammed, there’s a certain Sonic Mania out there that could negate this anyway. “Massive disappointment” is bulletpoint number two. This doesn’t happen anymore. I mean, yeah, people aren’t pleased that a Sonic game fails, but nobody’s “disappointed”. Unsurprised, but not disappointed. And even if there was disappointment, this wasn’t on a massive scale. Again, the only exception to this has been Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. And, again, one exception does not validate a cycle. And, I know, some of you may be wondering “Sonic Free Riders was mentioned earlier, so why not now”? Because this game was an obscure one, released on the Kinect. It being a Kinect title made it doomed from the start, and even then, it has been largely forgotten since. You may also ask “what about Sonic 4”? It’s a divisive title, not a bad one. See, that’s the thing. A lot of what this cycle has isn’t factual. It’s not a general guideline on how Sonic fans behave, or even the gaming community as a whole. It’s an opinion that got blown up into a meme, which got blown up into a gaming media talking point. Yes, at the time of this cycle’s creation, Sonic’s quality was very much a problem. But it has improved since. Granted, “divisive” isn’t “good”, but the cycle implies that Sonic games are bad and ruins expectations. And that’s just not the case. So, “Fans proclaim they will never be fooled again”. This is not true. At all. Sonic fans don’t get fooled by anything. As I said earlier, we’re not stupid. We’re not blind fanboys and by no means do we get fooled by new Sonic games, thinking they’ll be fantastic. Even the most positive Sonic fans with the lowest expectations will tell you that there have been questionable Sonic games in the past, including ones released during Sonic’s dark age. Even during Sonic Unleashed and Black Knight, I recall lots of criticism from fans prior to their releases. I don’t think the general gaming community knows just how much the Sonic community is open to criticizing SEGA and letting them know what they think. It is more than you may think. And even if fans were fooled, they sure as hell don’t “proclaim it”.

So with that, a full analysis of the Sonic Cycle has been done. I honestly didn’t think I’d have to write an article about the Sonic Cycle, let alone examine every bulletpoint it brings up. And in 2017, no less. But here’s the nail in the coffin for the constant mentioning of this cycle. You see…it was already declared dead in 2010.

This image was created post-Colors. Some of you may remember it, as it became somewhat of a meme of its own back then. To add even more weight to that declaration, remember NeoGAF? You know, the forum I sourced as being the origin of all this? Yeah, even they don’t see the point in the cycle either. And that post was made a few years ago. Even after Rise of Lyric released. Even GameSpot had a thread that was entitled in honor of the cycle’s death. In fact, since 2010, multiple variations of the Sonic cycle have come out, all of which either criticize the cycle being brought up in the first place or give some praise to how Sonic has come since the cycle was born.

So why, then, is a cycle so criticized as irrelevant, outdated, and dead still showing up? So much so that it has gotten to the point where I’ve actually had to write this article? Because of the mainstream gaming media. They still bring it up. Again and again. Part of why is that one theme that shows up in the cycle: Sonic’s friends. The hatred never went away after 2008. Sonic Generations recieved criticism in IGN’s review for merely having Sonic’s friends appear in the game, and the NeoGAF community is none too pleased about the presence of Sonic’s friends in Sonic Forces either. Sadly, this is why a playable 3D Knuckles or Tails may not happen anytime soon. I would love nothing more to play as Knuckles or Tails in a 3D Sonic game again, and I fully understand those of you who do, but from a business standpoint, it may not be the best thing to do if you want to bring in new fans. SEGA can’t rely on just the Sonic fanbase. The fandom would just stall out and gradually decline. If SEGA’s going to pull off successes, you have to bring in new fans too. And that includes those that may not be so welcome to Sonic’s friends. It’s not so much “playing it safe”, but more so trying to not let the Sonic community decline and, especially, for good sales. Sonic’s sales history has shown that the fanbase is not as large as it may seem. Yes, there’s loads of people who don’t interact with the online community, but it’s not the 500,000-1,000,000+ fanbase that some may think it is. And the Sonic fanbase alone is not going to deliever a Sonic game that sells well. There’s a reason why SEGA relies so much on the gaming mainstream media to get the word of their games out, such as E3 interviews, even though some feel that the gaming media isn’t that fair to the Sonic brand. Like it or not, the mainstream gaming media is how you PR, and it is, perhaps, the #1 asset to have in making your game a success. Sonic fans, and even a gradual increase in sales from word-of-mouth, won’t do it. But I’m digressing a lot here.

Nevertheless, despite all this, the Sonic Cycle is flawed. It’s outdated. And, most importantly, it’s dead. Regardless of how you feel about Sonic’s friends, there is absolutely no point to bring it up anymore. The fact I even felt that this entire article needed to be written, and in 2017, still confuses me. I feel like I’m contributing to beating a dead horse, so to speak. But at least, now, you know why it feels that way. As for how the Sonic community sees the Sonic cycle, it is largely ignored for the exact reasons I have already given. In the case of Stadium’s message boards, it is even banned from being discussed. The simple fact is, even with how critical the Sonic community can be towards new games, the Sonic Cycle is just tiring. The media keeps bringing it up, when people want to move on from it.

And so do I. It’s time to move on.