Is Sonic the Hedgehog still relevant?

A new Sonic game is hitting store shelves and Don Reisinger wonders if anyone will actually care. Is Sonic still relevant?

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
4 min read
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog Sega

In the next week, a new Sonic game, called Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood will hit store shelves for the Nintendo DS. Some are anxiously waiting for the title to be released, while many don't care all that much. Why is that? Probably because Silent Hill: Homecoming will be released during the same week and, well, Sonic has lost his stride over the past decade.

Practically any poll you search for on the Web about the most popular video game characters will say that Mario is tops. In fact, a recent survey in Japan [Google translation warning] returned similar results showing Mario as the popular game character in the country, followed closely by other big names like Cloud from the Final Fantasy series and Yoshi.

Other surveys feature Sonic in the Top 10 -- usually around the middle area -- and the vast majority of people I surveyed on my Twitter page agreed with the public: Sonic isn't the best video game character of all-time, but he's certainly up there.

So what happened to Sonic? A decade ago, the blue hedgehog was at the top of his game and battling it out with Mario for the top-spot as the world's most popular video game character. Since then, even though he has been featured in a number of titles, his popularity has dropped significantly and his money-making potential has fallen with it.

All the while, stalwarts like Mario and Link have clung to the top spots with nary a drop in popularity.

During the heyday of the Sega Genesis, I can still remember the fights that would break out over whether Sonic or Mario was better. The Sega fanboys would support their mascot until the end and the Nintendo fanboys would do the same for their plumber. Little did we know that that really was the beginning of the end.

As soon as the Nintendo 64 hit store shelves and Mario become the centerpiece of the 3D platforming world, Sonic's decline started. Sega couldn't muster a real competitor and its own desire for speed trumped its necessity for fun and exciting platforming gameplay.

In the meantime, Sega itself was declining at a rapid rate and its blunders is ostracizing developers and retailers turned the company into pariah. And as Nintendo continued its charge as the de facto leader in innovative gameplay, Sega and Sonic were left out in the cold.

Finally, with the release of the Sega Dreamcast, Sega made an effort in the platforming space and released Sonic Adventure, which, to this day, is still one of my favorite games to play when I'm bored. But alas, it was too late and the once-proud Sonic was forced to endure as his creators bailed out of the hardware business in favor of software.

Sure, it wasn't long ago that Sega dropped out of the hardware business, but it really has been a long time since Sonic was on-par with Mario. In fact, I'd say that Sonic hasn't been considered an equal to Mario for at least a decade. During that time, all the kids that stayed true to Sonic have moved on, grown up, and found gaming love in titles like Halo and Gears of War. And all the younger kids who don't remember the days of Nintendo-Sega fighting only know and love one major player in the space: Mario. Sonic games are relegated to the bargain bin for these children.

And perhaps that's why few people are getting excited about the latest and greatest Sonic game. The people that once cared are too old to get excited about Sonic anymore and the younger people who should be getting excited barely care he exists. They would be much happier playing the latest Mario title or checking out any of the other major franchises in the industry.

I still look back at the old days when Sonic was at the top as some of the greatest days in gaming. It was a time when derivative gameplay was the exception, not the rule. And it was a time when gaming didn't have to be about sexy women or killing prostitutes to be fun. It was a time when gaming was real and it was unique.

And unfortunately, it's becoming clearer by the day that Sonic, a stalwart of that time, is dying of old age with each sub-par title from Sega trying to revive the old hedgehog.

Thanks for the good times, Sonic. We loved every minute of them.

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