Reasonable Assessment: Sonic’s Design Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Reasonable Assessment: Sonic’s Design Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

by March 4, 2019

Yeah, I know. I’m just a clingy fanboy that hates change, right?

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely seen the leaked Sonic The Hedgehog movie design.

And you’ve also seen the thousands of reactions to it as well. Negative reactions, I might add.

I’m trying to think of a witty comment about this, but I also feel numb to Sonic redesigns at this point.

There’s one word that comes to mind when I see this design: “Pointless.”

Not “cringy.”
Not “bad.”
Not “ugly.”
Not “I’m sorry Boom Knuckles.”

But “Pointless.”

Before the development of the original Sonic The Hedgehog (1991), SEGA artist Naoto Ohshima drew several conceptual designs to help determine what Sega’s mascot would be going forward. While on vacation in New York, he took it upon himself to stand in Central Park and ask random people which design they preferred. The clear winner was the drawing he made of a speedy little hedgehog named Sonic.

Even before he was a thing, Sonic’s design was instantly appealing. It’s the one thing about Sonic that we can all agree was perfect from the start.

It’s iconic. Instantly recognizable. Kid-friendly, but cool. Attitude, but age-appropriate.

It’s spiky, so it’s got edge. It’s cartoony, so it’s fun. It’s blue, the favorite color of his target audience.

The strengths of Sonic’s design have been proved over and over again. He’s got plushies, pillows, toys, comics, posters, and cartoons. His design became the face of an underdog company that took down a 90% market-share giant that no one thought could be dethroned. His commercials, loud and in-your-face, were the anthem of the counter-culture kids on the playground.

And he’s still here. Any random kid on the bus or adult behind the counter of a gas station recognize him. Game after game, good or bad, you simply can’t kill Sonic. His design won’t allow it.

Yet every time someone new gets a hold of the Sonic brand, the first they want to do is muck with the design. “Here, this will fix Sonic!”

…Except it won’t. Because it’s not broken.

Classic Sonic (left) and Modern Sonic (right). Two designs, both are timeless.

I’m not outraged. I’m not hot with anger. I am not touting Sonic’s design as some holy sacrament that can’t be altered or you commit blaspheme or whatever. After all, Sonic’s modern design is technically different from his classic one, but it’s perfectly acceptable because it still understands the central essence. Sure, this new movie design might be somewhat cute in the right light, but I am ultimately puzzled by the pointlessness of these decisions.

What case is there for changing Sonic’s white gloves to white fur-hands? What problem does that solve? What previously-excluded market demographic does that appeal to?

Why get rid of Sonic’s trademark “mono-eye”? According to executive producer Tim Miller, “it’s going to look weird if we don’t” change the mono-eye.
Why? Is this all part of the effort to make Sonic more realistic? What a fruitless task. Sonic is a walking, talking hedgehog with sneakers. He’s never going to look grounded in reality. He was never meant to and never should because it just doesn’t make sense. The closer you push him towards reality, the more absurd he becomes. And to what avail? Is our suspension-of-disbelief supposed to flow much easier now that this anthropomorphic rodent nose has nostrils?

I leave you with a quote from Ohshima-san, the aforementioned artist that drew the first Sonic The Hedgehog, the single man whose opinion should weigh most on the subject of Sonic’s designs.

“Sonic is a fairytale of a hedgehog, so he doesn’t need to be designed closer to a real hedgehog, even in live-action. Mickey doesn’t become a mouse in live action, does he?”

Sonic’s design ain’t broke. There’s no need to “fix” it. That’s my assessment. Hope it’s a reasonable one.

 


Noah Copeland is a somewhat-interesting human. He makes cool things and stands at exactly average height. He reads all your comments, but you can also throw things at him on Twitter @NoahCopeland