Sega tried a lot of different things with its 3D Sonic The Hedgehog, but none of them have been as popular as its 2D versions.
Sonic Frontiers is the latest major game to star Sega’s iconic blue hedgehog, and it’s been a long time coming. Though there’s still a lot we don’t know about the long-rumored game, it’s the series’ next big 3D entry, which could have both positive and negative implications. Frontiers look exciting, but another 3D game may not be what Sonic needs to restore the franchise’s popularity.
Here’s why Sega should have put Frontiers on the back burner and focused on Sonic Mania 2 or a similar game instead.
Sonic Adventure was Sonic’s first foray into the third dimension, though more adamant fans might argue Sonic 3D Blast. Despite the fact that Adventure and its sequel were well-received, they struggled to bring the franchise’s fun to life in 3D. It was all downhill after that, with the 3D games becoming increasingly bad. This resulted in such abominable games as Shadow the Hedgehog and the even more heinous Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.
Many of these games had glitches, bugs, and other technical issues that were more akin to dollar store shovelware than Sega’s mascot series. After a string of mediocre to bad games, the Sonic franchise’s star has plummeted, with even diehard fans wary of giving an experimental new 3D game a fair chance. However, there is one path that the hedgehog can take that is almost certain to lead to success.
Sonic Mania, a modern game made in the style of these Genesis-era titles, was a resounding success among fans and critics alike because of how beloved this formula is still. Mania, a fan-made game that was eventually absorbed into Sega’s official franchise anniversary celebration, was a much bigger critical and financial success than Sonic Forces, a middling 3D game that flopped at the stores.
Sega should have rushed a sequel or another game in the same vein as soon as Sonic Mania became a success. Many fans said that they wanted to revisit the old levels in a new light, and a Sonic Mania 2 would be an excellent and perfect way to do so while maintaining the 16-bit feel and aesthetic.
Similarly, 2D side scrolling Sonic games, which are far more popular than almost any 3D game, do not have to adhere to this retro aesthetic. Even as Sonic’s 3D games deteriorated, he continued to have a number of excellent side-scrolling spinoffs, which were ironically released on Nintendo’s former rival Sega’s handhelds. Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush for the GBA and DS were 2D/2.5D side scrollers in the style of the classic games, but they weren’t as 16-bit or nostalgic as Sonic Mania. The big-budget version of this in the future could be the way to go and keep the franchise close to its successful roots while also keeping it modern.
The graphics could be pixelated or old-school, but the aesthetics could remain 3D. Instead, the game could incorporate modern Sonic designs and voice actors into a game with only two-dimensional levels. A modern and important tone could be maintained in this way without sacrificing what has made the franchise successful thus far. No word on a project like this, whether it’s a Mania sequel or a collection of Advance and Rush games. Sega seems to be hedging its bets on its upcoming Sonic Frontier for being a success, but if it follows in the footsteps of the other 3D Sonic games, the company should consider returning to its roots to ensure Sonic’s future success.