Given that a lot of things are riding on the new Sonic the Hedgehog game on XBOX 360 and PS3, it’s good that journalists are able to get the chance to really get a feel for the apparently ‘make-or-break’ title. Of course, having a rather dodgy demo released on XBOX Live probably doesn’t help — I had the chance to play the early E3 2006 demo in August at SEGA HQ and it played better than the half-a-level with stodgy controls given to us through our XBOX hard drives (PSU on the other hand was sublime, but I digress).
So I was quite pleased to read on buddy fansite Sonic CulT that one of the contributors had played an advanced demo of the game at a SEGA America press event. General concensus is that Sonic 06 is shaping up well, which is somewhat relieving. Other interesting facts concerned the reason of Sonic Wild Fire’s name change, and some pretty good tidbits all round.
What caught my eye however – and appeared to be the centre of a bit of a ‘debate’ on Sonic CulT – was the mentioning of the Sonic voice actors. According to the report, Sonic X has finished its run (which, coming from a SEGA Rep, likely means it’s totally finished, sorry Sonic X fans — mind you, were you even surprised what with all this Metarex nonsense?) and that leaves the future of the 4Kids voice actors uncertain. While the 4Kids voice actors could still be used in future games, it appears unlikely that they’ll do it. Without a reason to link the cartoon to the games (which evidently appeared to be a complete waste of time and money to put priority over a cartoon with a short shelf life) the likes of Jason Griffith and Mike Pollock could be no more.
Sonic X had a good run while it lasted, but it wasn’t going to go on forever.
Naturally, upon hearing this news, this is the bit where a lot of you will jump up in the air in joy and try to make love to the nearest dog, due to a possible dislike to the 4Kids voice actors. My opinions have been clear on this in the past, culminating in a Joke Petition that aims to mock those who believe that voices are the be-all and end-all to a game. Hell, they all sounded the bloody same anyway, just because Griffith used a slightly different intonation than David Humphrey for Shadow means you can all riot? Honestly.
It appears Sonic characters are getting less of a vocal role in the games anyway. It’s obvious in the handheld games due to a lack of memory to support a lot of dialogue, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Sonic Rivals or Secret Rings will feature any dialogue-heavy cutscenes. Sonic 06 could well be the last of the heavily-vocal Sonic games, but then who’s to say SEGA aren’t going to replace the 4Kids cast or even get rid of them in the first place?
Sonic the Hedgehog has largely been a character that speaks through his actions and body language. Early Megadrive games lacked support for voice acting, yet some consider Sonic 3 & Knuckles to be more atmospheric and engaging in its storyline than say, Sonic Adventure 2. The recent Sonic 06 trailer — where Sonic bounces around enemies and then taps a robot lightly with his foot to tip it over a ledge — was an excellent example of this attitude and charisma that the character exudes. I’d have much preferred a voiceless Sonic doing cheeky stuff like this instead of a surfer American ‘duuude’ saying “Look it’s a giant talking egg!”. But that’s just my humble opinion.
Ignoring the massive, and obviously oh-so-important matter of the voice acting cast and who was better and why Ryan Drummond rocked etc, let’s take a look at the bigger picture. A side of the picture not a lot of people have noticed. SEGA reps told me several months ago regarding the lack of new Sonic merchandise that 4Kids had effectively bought all the rights to Sonic the Hedgehog, let alone Sonic X. It certainly explained things when the only blue blur material we got was ‘Space Battle Sonic’ figures or whatever they were (seriously, Sonic in a Spacesuit/Power Ranger guise, what the hell?).
With Sonic X gone, 4Kids may not see a point in keeping the merchandising rights and would either give it up, have the contract expire or it’ll be returned to SEGA somehow. Effectively meaning, a better chance for Sonic the Hedgehog crap to be made. Just like 1993, where you could get Sonic the Hedgehog pants and not be ashamed (… if you were 5).
So if this whole voice acting business is true enough, then don’t think of it in terms of voice acting and whatever — that debate’s old, tired and pointless. Instead think of the avenues it could open with 4Kids out of the Sonic frame entirely. Having said that, how long was it until Disney decided to release boxsets of SatAM….?