When Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in 1991, it propelled SEGA into its finest years. The mascot platformer helped surge the sales of the Genesis / Mega Drive, leading to the infamous “Console Wars” with Nintendo. The blue blur rivaled the popularity of Super Mario, spawning several games and spin-offs, a highly successful comic series that ran from 1993 to 2017, numerous animated shows (and a live-action film in 2020), and countless amounts of other media.
Despite all this success, the Sonic franchise has in more recent years become a meme of sorts for the low quality of many of their games and the missteps developer Sonic Team has made as a whole. For every step forward it seems that there are several leaps backwards, which begs the question: is there any franchise that has released more misfires than Sonic the Hedgehog?
One of the most infamous blunders in gaming history comes in the form of 2006’s reboot Sonic the Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 and PS3. This reimagining of the Sonic universe featured an anthropomorphic Sonic living alongside realistically proportioned humans, the introduction of a malicious psychic hedgehog named Silver, and the bizarre romantic relationship between Sonic and the human Princess Elise the Third. An absurd story could possibly be forgiven, but the gameplay could be considered even worse, with horrible pacing, terrible level design, and devastating glitches abound. To this day, 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog is considered one of the worst titles ever to see release.
The years afterwards saw a long string of abysmal Sonic games; Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic Rivals, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic Riders, all of these games ranged from just plain mediocre to frighteningly bad. Sonic shapeshifting into a werehog, seriously?
This downfall of the beloved property didn’t start in 2006, either, as Sonic had some mighty shortcomings prior to the next-gen reboot: Sonic 3-D Blast attempted to capitalize on new polygonal technology with bland results; Knuckles Chaotix was a spin-off that failed to generate any enthusiasm for the 32X; and Sonic Shuffle was a Mario Party clone that delivered anything but fun.
It is true that in more recent years Sonic has seen a bit of a recovery. Sonic Generations celebrated the 20th anniversary of the SEGA mascot with both side scrolling and 3-D levels, and Sonic Mania served as a love letter to the gameplay and aesthetics that made Sonic a household name in the first place. Still, there have been some colossal missteps during this time, too. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is arguably even more poorly designed than the 2006 entry, and the recent port of Sonic Colors to modern consoles contained so many bugs and glitches that it nearly ruins what was originally a very decent game. I’d be remiss too if I didn’t mention the fiasco involving the live-action film, which featured a representation of its titular character that was so bad that it forced the delay of the movie by nearly a year so that he could be redesigned. This was a rare bullet that SEGA somehow managed to successfully dodge.
While I don’t necessarily think that the Sonic franchise is the all around worst in gaming, I can’t think of another series that has managed to survive after bombing so many times. Most other franchises can hardly survive one lousy title, but Sonic has almost made it his thing. If there is a series that has had just as many (or even more) duds, then what is it? Do the great Sonic games, such as the original three titles and Sonic Adventure make up for the failings of Sonic Boom and others? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!