Well, 2005 has come and soon it will be gone. While it’s been the drag of many Sonic fans to see years pass us by without much to cling onto, 2005 has been a year with a lot of action in it, not just for Sonic but the community. We take a recap of this year, with the highlights of what will make for a bit of an exciting 2006.
#1: SEGA Back on Track
Poor SEGA. After dropping the Dreamcast they became a pale version of their former self, reverting to unappealing ports and massmarket whoring of its IPs. E3 2005 saw a totally different company emerge from recent years. This SEGA had new versions of Afterburner, Outrun, Virtua Fighter, and Sonic running on current and next-gen hardware. And they looked absolutely stunning, dammit! We thought going third party would make them soft forever, but this generation has merely been a recovery stage. We’re about to see the real possibilities of SEGA in this new generation, and Lord knows we’re all very excited.
#2: The Walk of Game
The Walk of Game was a celebratory event congratulating video game stars and creators that had made fantastic achievements in game creation since the inception of the industry. Much like its Hollywood counterpart, the Walk involved immortalising game characters and developers in the floor of Game Fame. Alongside Master Chief, The Legend of Zelda and Hideo Kojima, Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the very first names to be placed onto the floor for all to see. SEGA took this opportunity to announce one of the biggest shocks of the last five years. See #4.
#3: Sonic Rush
Sonic Rush was a huge surprise. Especially considering it wasn’t nearly as hyped by SEGA as it should have been, compared to Shadow the Hedgehog. You’d have thought they’d have put all their marketing efforts on the release that wasn’t a turkey. What’s more, people almost passed this off as yet another Sonic Advance. The problem with the Sonic Advance series were immediately evident, no real level design, run left-to-right and you’re done – with just a hint of bottomless pits and confusing drops where you couldn’t see where you were going. Leaps of faith galore. None of that in Sonic Rush. Well, one or two. But still a vast improvement. And the levels! By George, they’ve finally done something! The classic feature of stage gimmicks return with full force, a tension meter to charge forward whenever you’re in a pickle, and a simple-but-effective storyline seals the deal in making this just about the best damn Sonic game in recent years.
#4: Shadow the Hedgehog
This was one of the biggest shocks of the last couple of years, let alone this year. Not because such a game existed – Takashi Iizuka had been banging on about the possibility of a Shadow game for ages and lord knows lots of fanboys/girls wanted one – but due to the sheer reaction of it. SEGA was probably expecting that in announcing Shadow the Hedgehog, they’d have fulfilled the wishes of all the fans. In actual fact, they had done pretty much the polar opposite. Despite the game not being nearly as bad as the caning it got from the naive print journalists out there, such a game was not necessary. We knew all about Shadow. We knew what he was about – and more importantly, we knew we weren’t going to get a straight answer out of playing this game. Shadow the Hedgehog turned out to be exactly what TSS feared – a cash cow for the black hedgehog’s “mysterious past”. A past that will probably never be revealed in full until SEGA gets every last penny out of a dying rabid fangirl’s hand.
#5: Banging Soundtracks
Call us crazy for putting musical compositions in a list of surprises, but some of the musical accomplishments in the recent Sonic releases have been nothing short of stunning. This year has also been a celebration of past Sonic music – SEGA had an official interview with the original composer of Sonic, Masato Nakamura of Dreams Come True, while Nakamura’s work was homaged in the ‘Video Games Live’ concert that had been touring the USA all Summer. Jun Senoue composes dark tracks for Shadow the Hedgehog – maintaining his excellent flow while cranking out some well-crafted techno during some stages. The big surprise this year came from Sonic Rush, wherein Hideki Naganuma – famed for his excellent audio work in Jet Set Radio – had a dab hand at Sonic composing. And wins. The Sonic Rush soundtrack is one with such groove, feeling and upbeat bounce that hasn’t been really achieved since the Mega Drive era.
#6: Sonic X Gets A New Lease of Life
When Sonic X ended its 52-episode run in Japan, we were to think there would be no more animated blue blur escapades on our screens. Especially considering TV ratings hadn’t been kind to our game hero. When a burst of images arose out of the blue featuring a green character, the world was quite taken aback. Even more surprising was the fact that the ‘Second’ (or third, depending on your viewpoint) series aired in France first, instead of Japan. In fact, Japan kindly waited until China, America and even Australia started their airing before bothering. This second season is darker than the first, with our heroes battling The Metarex, an race intent on removing the face of everyone living. Just about the most shocking thing though – and almost warrants its own bullet point here – is the death of Cosmo in Episode 77. After having a bit of a fling with fox-pimp Tails, you’d have thought she’d have stuck around for a bit.
#7: Yuji Naka Acknowledges BETAs
And here we were thinking he was just being annoying. He simply forgot about them. When being interviewed by GameSpot back in October (check out the SONIC NEWS article for more on that), Yuji Naka was quizzed about hidden aspects of the early Sonic games that dedicated fans had since uncovered. Namely, Hidden Palace Zone on Sonic 2. At first, Naka-san seemed surprised himself that us mere mortals had knowledge of anything of the sort. Then he revealed that – as is a trait with SONICTEAM – a BETA Sonic 2 was stolen at an event back in 1992. If you cast your minds back a few years ago, SONICTEAM lost some pre-release showcase PSO figures to some E3 thievery. The idea behind Hidden Palace was similar to that of Hidden Palace in Sonic & Knuckles, in that it would be a haven for the Chaos Emeralds and would explain Sonic’s origins somewhat. Time constraints prevented that from happening – and a stolen ROM cartridge probably didn’t help. But a pleasing, rare insight into the background and original concepts of the Sonic games from the horse’s mouth itself.
#8: Sonic Websites Grow Up
The Sonic Stadium has done pretty well over the years, but 2005 saw it lead the way to professionalising Sonic Fansites. We took the first steps in bridging the gap between Fansite and Official Source in 2005. We approached SEGA directly and worked on events that has ended up benefitting the Community at large. Acknowledgement from official sources that fansites exist and are there to support the cause has been a growing theme over the past year, with the Australian Center for the Moving Image even dedicating an event to the blue blur, while profiling sites such as TSS and the Green Hill Zone. As has been shown by other Sonic fansites too, professionalism has fast become an important aspect of the larger Sonic websites. The Sonic Community has also become less naive of things on a general level. We truly have grown up.
#9: Sonic’s 15th Anniversary
Even though it’s not due until next year, preperations are already underway, with SEGA chatting to TSS stating that they’re about to hype the event up big-time. Which is no real insider information, considering 15 years is a bit of a landmark, really. Just hearing of the news that Sonic will have been around for a decade and a half makes us all really happy here at TSS, and we have some things planned to make next year a real treat.
#10: New Games
2006 will bring plenty of Sonic goodness with the 15th Anniversary. The two announced headlining titles will hit in the first half of the year. These games look to be the business though, no kidding. Sonic Riders will kick off about February time and seems like it will give a much-needed revival to the Sonic Racing idea. The big title though will no doubt be SONIC the Hedgehog, due on PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360 in the Summer. No title has ever made us feel that Sonic’s classic gameplay can be represented in 3D better than in Sonic Next-Gen. The graphics are superb, the speed is amazing, the physics look fine and from what we’ve seen of the stages, it appears a lot more free-roaming. Fingers crossed that Yuji Naka has finally got it right this time, and that they don’t rush this game. They know their heads are in the noose this time, so we’re hopeful for a surprise.