Remember that old childhood limerick “I am rubber, you are glue/Anything you say bounces off me and sticks to you?” As lame as it sounds, it serves as an effective summary of the relationship between Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog: The Blue Blur will seemingly never outrun flops like Sonic ’06, while Mario’s Teflon shield lets him star in games like Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Mario Party 10, and Hotel Mario and still come out smelling like a rose. The result of this dynamic is that SEGA is forced to constrain their use of Sonic to tried-and-true formulas (Sonic Mania looks fun, but it also looks like a remake of the original Sonic The Hedgehog), while Nintendo can dump Mario into crazy games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (a game that I’m personally hyped for but a lot of people seem to regard as an absolute travesty) without fear of the consequences.
So what can SEGA do to flip this script and turn Sonic back into the Mario-esque multipurpose mascot he was designed to be? The overly-simplistic answer is “put him in more good games,” but what genres would be best-suited to the franchise? With a hat tip to Mario’s upcoming Rabbids crossover, I propose that SEGA make Sonic the star of his own RPG series.
No, this isn’t a new idea, as SEGA and Bioware teamed up for the RPG Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood back in 2008. While the game received decent reviews back in its day, it’s been mostly forgotten today (if not for Google, I would never have known that it existed). Still, I think the game made a case for how well the genre fit the franchise:
- The Sonic universe is certainly big enough to support an epic adventure. Sonic Chronicles took us all across Sonic’s world from Green Hill Zone to Angel Island, and then expanded into the Twilight Cage and introduced several new alien races to the franchise. (Sonic Mania has also promised to include some new zones to explore.) There’s more than enough here to explore, and the series has never been afraid of using unconventional methods in the name of creative level design.
- That massive roster of characters that people can’t seem to stand? It’s a perfect fit for the massive worlds featured in standard RPGs. Sonic Chronicles featured eleven playable characters even without including some obvious possibilities (Metal Sonic, Blaze, etc.), and groups like the Chaotix and Babylon Rogues could fill some recurring NPC roles. (Who would you rather interact with: Jet, Wave, and Storm, or three palette-swapped Toads?) Eggman and his crew could either serve as antagonists or join Sonic to fight an Ix-esque supervillian. (Perhaps even Sonic Forces OCs could play a role as well?)
- Sonic Chronicles introduced a limited equipment system, but the series could easily be adapted to handle a more-complex one. While Sonic generally limits his equipment to his killer kicks, he has used a sword in the past (Sonic and the Black Knight), and other characters are known for using certain weapon classes (Amy’s hammer, Shadow’s gun) that could be adapted into a classical turn-based format. Magic and special abilities could revolve around the Wisps from Sonic Colors, and powers could be switched amongst characters like the Espers from Final Fantasy VI. The multi-character team attacks from Chronicles could also return as well.
- The complaints about Sonic Chronicles seem to be more implementation-specific than genre-specific. Most of these were focused on specific quirks (frustrating touchscreen controls, low difficulty, etc.) that could be easily remedied in a new game (and the touchscreen controls would have to be dumped anyway, unless the game comes out for the 3DS).
Of course, it’s not a perfect fit: For example, finding ways to incorporate Sonic’s speed could be a problem, as it’s more suited to fast-paced platformers than long, slow RPGs. Still, the original Mario RPG showed that platforming and RPG elements could co-exist quite well in the same game, so there are certainly ways for Sonic Team to work in their hero’s trademark ability.
In short, I think there’s enough potential here for SEGA to take another crack at the RPG genre and expand Sonic’s horizons. With Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces set to headline the franchise this year (and both of them look pretty impressive) and both Mario RPG series feeling a bit stale (and neither one likely to publish a new version soon, since both released games last year), the time is ripe for SEGA to capitalize on its momentum and push the envelope with their leading hedgehog.
Hey, it can’t be any more out there than a Rabbids crossover, right?