Why Sega should just give up and die

When I got my Megadrive in the early 1990s, it was for one single game – Sonic the Hedgehog. I’d played it often at the local game shop, and didn’t just want it, I needed it. Once I had my own Sega console to play it on, I was hooked on Sega games. In fact, for a good decade or so, I loved pretty much all of Sega’s major-title output – I suppose I was a Sega Fanboy (although Mario was still, perhaps, the best game series I’d ever played at the time).

When the Dreamcast failed to take over the world, and Sega decided to become a software-only company, they still produced a few excellent games. For a while. A port of Sonic Adventure 2, and the new Super Monkey Ball title were launch-day purchases for my Gamecube. Super Monkey Ball 2 and Beach Spikers were also excellent.

But something was happening. Several wrong turns (notably with the Sonic games – Sonic Heroes and the awful, awful Shadow the Hedgehog) turned into complete car crashes, and soon the good games left were ports or updates of earlier Sega games.

Systematically, Sega set about burning each and every quality series to ruin. Super Monkey Ball Adventure was dire, and missed the entire point of what made the series enjoyable. Iteration after iteration of the Phantasy Star Online series turned to mush with C.A.R.D. Revolution – although I never liked PSO anyway, as in my mind it’s not worthy of  a place in, or relevant to, the Phantasy Star canon. The “Shining” RPGs – once so great, now just meh. Virtua Fighter stopped being good after  the third game, and Sonic? Poor, poor Sonic.

By the time the Wii and Xbox 360 were around, Sega’s above-par output (both as a developer and a publisher) had dropped to almost nil. From useless racing shooter Full Auto to knackered MMO The Matrix Online. Some excellent old Sega games were revived, but invariably all they served to do was sour the memories – Samba de Amigo, NiGHTS and yet more monstrous abominations of the Sonic series (not least the 2006 “reboot” simply called “Sonic the Hedgehog”).

It is quite telling that my favourite Sega games of the last 5 years have been Wii Virtual Console, XBLA, and onna-disc compilation re-releases of Megadrive games. Those new games I’ve enjoyed can be counted on a single hand; House of the Dead: Overkill, MadWorld and The Conduit are three, but none of those actually had any real Sega involvement.

But let’s get back to Sonic. Of all the Sega properties, he’s the poor sod who has been bum-raped into irrelevance the most. He’s dead Sega. Leave his twitching corpse alone!

There’s a Thing On Teh Tinternets(TM) called “The Sonic Cycle”. This, in fact:

Each and every console Sonic game since Sonic Heroes has followed this cycle. Thankfully, handheld Sonic titles have been less awful, although the PSP’s Sonic Rivals games are not exactly stellar, and although fun, Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure on the DS still don’t compare well with earlier titles.

With every new game, Sega insist they’re “listening to the fans”. They’re “fixing $previous_game’s faults”. Yet somehow, they end up making them worse. What we really want, Sega, is no more “extra powers”. No more “friends”. No more gimmicks, weapons, “alternate universes” (hello Sonic and the Black Knight and Sonic Rush Adventure!). We want a nice, ideally 2D, happy Blue Skies Sonic platformer with TV screens containing rings, lives and shields, a boss at the end of every world, and absolutely NO MORE FURRIES.

Earlier this year, it looked like Sega had finally decided to do this. They announced Sonic 4. It looked exactly like what everyone had been after for almost 10 years – a proper 2D sequel, with pretty graphics and platforming fun. And no furries! Then the videos were leaked, and the true horror was revealed: it was broken. On the surface, it looked like Sonic, but the movement and physics were all wrong. There was a mine cart level where you tilt the level around and it was horrible. And for reasons that make no sense at all, Sonic had a homing attack. Yes, he did in Sonic Adventure, but that was 3D and jumping on baddies’ heads would be tricky without it. Here, it is totally unnecessary and drives a wedge between “what Sonic should be” and “what Sonic 4 is”.

That’s not all. They then went on to announce Sonic Colours for the Wii, which introduces more “friends”. More recently, they previewed Sonic Free Riders – a new game in the broken Sonic Riders snowboard racing game series, which not only retains the rubbishness, but manages to add even more by making it impossible to control with the Xbox 360 Kinect device.

Last week, Sega re-released the original Sonic Adventure for Xbox Live Arcade. An excellent move, you’d have thought, since Sonic Adventure was one of the last great Sonic games. And yes, it is still great on XBLA. However, they still managed to bodge the release by porting the shonky PC version over, complete with jerky animation and feeble draw-distance, rather than the original (and superior) Dreamcast version, or even the Gamecube re-release. Similar shenanigans seem to be the case with Crazy Taxi (also on XBLA). Even when they get it right, they’re still getting it wrong.

Back in 2003, following the commercial death of the Dreamcast, Sega were financially wrecked. A buyout by Sammy injected a bit of cash, and since then they’ve returned to reasonable sales success. At the time, we all had a collective sigh of relief that our lovely Sega weren’t going to die, and Good Things were to come.

They didn’t. The quality of the games dropped. Old favourites were sullied. Sonic became the company’s whipping boy, and my respect and love for Sega have become sadness and anger. I now wish Sammy hadn’t bailed them out, and they could have died on a high. Then I could remember them for the good games, the great times, and the fun.

RIP Sega Video Games, 1989-2004.

10 thoughts on “Why Sega should just give up and die”

  1. Didn’t know that SA came out on the Gamecube. But anyhow you’re spot on here, Sega are an embarrassment these days, limping along with ever more laughable output.

  2. I have to say that Sonic was a great series back in ‘the day’.. I still have copies of Sonic 1,2 and 3 ported across and play them on my macbook pro and they run like a dream! Ahhh for the good old days of not seeing the same graphics engine or ‘concept’ ported endlessly with a costume and name change making developers think that deserved 40 of our hard-earned pounds every year.. dream on…!

  3. I’ve never been a huge Sonic fan, but I do like Sega. And I think that’s Sega’s problem: it’s become obsessed with its past glories, not least Sonic. The first Sega console I owned was the Dreamcast, and when you think about it, the best games on that were the innovative stuff: Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5, Shenmue, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, etc.; things that had never been seen before. That was always Sega’s forte: yes, there were the bright blue skies, the beautiful worlds with no worries, but even Sonic was different when it was new, and OutRun was a refreshing new twist on the driving game. Sega just doesn’t innovate any more.

    Personally, I think the move out of the console market sparked a fear in the company that it still hasn’t got over. New Sonic games, new OutRuns, harking back to the glory days, are a safe bet even when the results aren’t much to write home about. It’s scared to take the risks it used to.

  4. @JoyrexJ9: SA came out on the GC a couple of years after SA2B, as Sonic Adventure DX.

    @Duncan: Super Monkey Ball for the DC? I think there was a prototype, but that’s it 😉

  5. I think you’re being too harsh. sure, games like ‘sonic unleashed’ and ‘the black knight’ looked too gimmicky (although I never actually played them so they could be quite good??) but people just jump on the sonic hateing bandwagon these days. ‘Sonic the Headgehog’ on xbox 360 (I think it was on ps3 as well) I though was really good. I like a good storyline in a game these days (although sonic 4 fits in with the older ones so is and exception) and the whole story of how the future was a hellish waste and silver is tricked and the sungod being contained and all that really made an epic storyline. And the gameplay was equal to that of the ‘sonic adventures’ which were brillient and also had (especially 2) good storylines. I only just bought ‘sonic colours’ today and all I can say so far is that even though the comedy aspect to all the cutscenes seems a little out of place and unneeded, the gameplay is solid and the classic mario style ‘unlock and return’ thing they have (similar to hitting ‘the red swith’ to make ‘red blocks’ appear etc) with the wisps is a very good idea to keep people moving back and forth through the levels.
    I think that to keep going they should continue with more episodes of sonic 4 and every now and then bring out a new big sonic game with and epic plot. The only problem I can see is they brought too many games out too fast and had to think of a way to make them all different.

  6. I’m guessing you’re a younger gamer, right?

    I love a good story in games, and quite often a technically poor game can still be great if the story works. Thing is, the story in Sonic 06, Sonic Heroes, Sonic & The Black Knight, etc. was not enough to get around the fact the games were fundamentally broken – either by bugs, terrible level design, or whatever.

    Sonic was never about the story anyway – it was about the game.

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