Well, that was a decade and a half wasn’t it? So much has changed in the last ten years, it’s difficult to wrap it all up in a very succinct way. But don’t worry, The Sonic Stadium is here to help you remember. Let us take your hand and chuck you down this hellish warp zone we call a Retrospective, and blitz past all the crazy stuff that’s happened since 2010.
We’ve decided this time around, to cover the decade in segments. This chapter is all about the video games side of things – from Sonic Colours and Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing in 2010 right on through to Team Sonic Racing in 2019, and all of the bits in-between. Prototypes, spinoffs, rumours and drama!
2010s in Games
There was definitely no shortage of Sonic the Hedgehog video games during the 2010s, with multiple console spinoffs such as Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, mobile titles like Sonic Dash and various Mega Drive and Dreamcast re-releases being of considerable quality.
In terms of the mainline platforming series, the decade started off on a good footing. Sonic Colours was an entertaining Wii adventure that – if you ignore the cheesy story – showed a lot of promise for the Sonic series. A more thoughtful platformer than the overly-speedy ‘Simon Says’ approach of Sonic Unleashed, with original environments that made the series feel fresh (Tropical Resort is a fantastic opening Zone). And the Wisps felt like the first true effective set of ‘power ups’ created for a 3D Sonic game, adding a layer of strategy and exploration to the mix. Fans loved it too, as the Wii and DS game managed to clock around 2 million sales shortly after launch.
The following year, Sonic Generations would vastly improve on the Colours/Unleashed formula to the point of almost perfecting it. A game made for the blue blur’s 20th Anniversary, this was a Greatest Hits collection to truly admire. 3D remixes of classic Mega Drive Zones allowed for Modern Sonic’s boost play, while Classic Sonic could plough through 2D renditions of stages from Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed. Despite its critical acclaim (and record pre-orders), it bounced about the charts rather erratically, going up and down, and got price reductions pretty quickly. It truly deserved better.
Sadly, Generations marked a high point that the mainline series would struggle to maintain until Sonic Mania’s release in 2017 – including Sonic Team’s own internal attempt to re-introduce the 2D series with Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Split into two Episodes, released in 2010 and 2012 (a third episode was planned but ultimately canned), Sonic 4 was an earnest throwback to the Mega Drive classics, but its brand new physics engine was no match for the 16-bit originals, and the level design left much to be desired. Its mobile versions got universally panned to the point where SEGA once delisted them from the Apple App Store (they’ve since been reinstated).
Similarly, in the 3D space Wii U exclusive Sonic Lost World offered an intriguing premise which unfortunately fell apart in its execution. Introducing a curious new ‘parkour’ move set, and featuring level design inspired by a kind of ‘zoetrope’ papercraft using tubes (many instead incorrectly cited Super Mario Galaxy’s spherical worlds as an influence), Lost World nevertheless felt little more than a vapid, empty and at times boring romp through a story that few really cared about. Two bizarre DLC stages focusing on Legend of Zelda and Yoshi crossovers brought some post-launch interest in the game; these naturally didn’t make it to the game’s eventual PC port though.
Speculation that Sonic Team had been having trouble with a completely new Sonic experience they had been working on for years, resulting in taking a ‘Plan B’ approach, were fired up once 3D action title Sonic Forces hit store shelves in 2017. While it tried to appeal to the DeviantArt community by allowing fans to create their own playable Sonic universe characters, its overly-edgy and faux-dark approach was a cringy throwback to similarly ridiculous plots seen in Sonic 2006 and its overall presentation and gameplay – both in the Modern and Classic sides – were rushed and unsatisfying.
Sonic Mania brought the critical, sales and fan acclaim that the franchise had sorely needed in the second half of the 2010s, but its road to market was quite unexpected. While the project was overseen by Takashi Iizuka and SEGA, Sonic Team was not the developer – rather, Mania was the result of a successful pitch by Christian Whitehead, Simon Thomley and a number of fellow indie game developers.
Whitehead and Thomley were authors of a number of Sonic 2D fan game engines in the 2000s, and Whitehead had previously worked with SEGA by using his bespoke ‘Retro Engine’ to recreate Sonic CD (a game notoriously difficult to port from its original Mega CD coding) in its entirety to iPhone. It was later released on PS3 and Xbox 360, and the success of that project led to Whitehead working on iOS re-releases of Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 – adding a number of modern enhancements such as widescreen, additional characters and even long lost content like Hidden Palace Zone along the way.
It was from there that he was trusted to handle Sonic Mania, a 2D sprite-based adventure that remixed classic Zones as well as introducing brand new ones. Its success was so great, that it warranted an update called Sonic Mania Plus, which introduced long lost playable characters Ray and Mighty into the mix.
Mania’s existence and the desire for retro didn’t happen in a vacuum, however. Throughout the 2010s SEGA made a big deal of re-releasing a number of Sonic titles. Starting with Sonic Adventure on Xbox Live Arcade, Sonic Classic Collection on Nintendo DS, Sonic & Knuckles on Wii Virtual Console, a series of Mega Drive titles on PlayStation Network and Sonic Adventure 2 on XBLA and PSN early in the decade, the ports continued throughout the years with 3D Sonic 1 and 3D Sonic 2 on Nintendo 3DS, the Sonic Advance series (1, 2 and 3) on Wii U Virtual Console, the SEGA Forever initiative on mobile devices and the revival of SEGA AGES on Nintendo Switch.
Of course, everyone was more than used to yet another re-release of 16-bit Sonic 1, but SEGA threw us some lovely surprises – Sonic the Fighters received an XBLA port and on Nintendo 3DS, even classic Game Gear Sonic titles made the jump via the system’s Virtual Console service, starting with Sonic Triple Trouble in 2012. SEGA also treated fans to the Mega Drive Mini, a microconsole featuring over 40 16-bit titles lovingly emulated by Japanese masters M2. They were also bonkers enough to create decorative plastic Mega CD, 32X and Sonic & Knuckles Mini add-ons.
In the future, Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka said that he would love to revisit and perhaps remake Sonic Adventure… and with former Sonic Adventure artist Hiroshi Nishiyama rejoining SEGA in 2019, our hype levels are rising…
This was also an exciting decade for retro Sonic fans who are interested in cancelled games and prototypes – the 2010s were full of them! Dedicated fans unveiled new prototypes of Sonic CD and Sonic 3, the director of Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island vowed to create a Director’s Cut of the game, Hirokazu Yasuhara revealed several Sonic 1 and 2 concepts, new information on Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car, Sonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol and Sonic Popcorn Shop(?) came to light, and a literal truck of Sonic 2 marketing material was uncovered. A brand new long lost game called SEGASonic Bros was also uncovered, a puzzle game featuring a red and a yellow Sonic ‘brother’. Even Sonic Adventure Dreamcast DLC was restored!
Of course, the darling of cancelled Sonic games, Sonic X-Treme, saw some new reveals including models of a playable Amy Rose, and was even made playable in 2015. New sprites in the game’s data uncovered a new character dubbed ‘Chaz’, too. Unfortunately, all of these things happened after one of the original SEGA Saturn developers, Chris Senn, called time on resurrecting the project fully at the start of the decade. Sad face.
And from one ‘Extreme’ to another… a skateboarding game called ‘Sonic Extreme’ was discovered in 2011, which was later revealed to have been the inspiration for Sonic Riders. Meanwhile, we learned that a version of Sonic Riders was planned for the Game Boy Advance… which was also called ‘Sonic Extreme’ in concept images. Coincidence?
On the spinoff front, there was a lot to talk about. Sonic Team took advantage of Xbox 360’s Kinect to bring Sonic Free Riders to the movement masses. Mario & Sonic did all of the Olympics in London, Sochi, Rio and Tokyo. On mobile, SEGA Hardlight pushed a number of quality titles including Sonic Jump, Sonic Dash, Sonic Dash 2, Sonic Jump Fever, Sonic Forces Speed Battle and Sonic Racing on Apple Arcade (SEGA Japan also announced a mobile version of Sonic’s Tokyo Olympic adventure too).
And a mobile developer in India also made a Sonic Cricket game, which was weird.
Even the arcades weren’t safe from Sonic’s reach, with a version of Sonic Dash, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games releasing, as well as Sonic Athletics and even… Sonic Brain Ranking..?
Outside of SEGA’s own projects, Sonic featured in TT Games’ LEGO Dimensions, and had a number of cameos in Nintendo games with themed costumes in Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Maker and Yoshi’s Wooly World. Sonic also invaded MMORPG Phantasy Star Online 2 (which is finally getting a Western release), bounced around in Sony’s LittleBigPlanet series on PlayStation, and most recently rolled around in a Super Monkey Ball.
One of SEGA’s more adventurous side projects was Sonic Runners, a live service mobile game that had players complete various endless runner stages to unlock characters, power-ups and stages. It was a little basic when it launched in Summer 2015, but the gameplay loop was entertaining enough to see what special events Sonic Team would cook up.
A few interesting events and crossovers took place, and the game was updated a few times as it saw some level of success, but despite its best efforts SEGA never seemed happy enough with Runners to keep it alive. After just eight months, SEGA Japan called the project a failure, and the whole thing was shut down in July 2016.
While some fans tried to resurrect the game (although data security and malware concerns marred its Open Beta), it seemed like SEGA wasn’t truly done with Sonic Runners. Out of the blue, a game by European developer Gameloft was released on mobile devices called ‘Sonic Runners Adventure’. Apparently, SEGA saw fit to license out development of the game to a third party. Which is a bit of a strange end to the story, as the new game plays almost exactly the same as the original Runners (just without a lot of the charm), but at least Sonic Runners lives. In a way.
Out of all the spinoffs released over the course of the decade, perhaps the fan favourites would have to be developed by British studio Sumo Digital. Having cut their coding teeth during the 2000s working on OutRun2 and SEGA Superstars Tennis, the 2010s saw them come into their own with the ‘All-Stars Racing’ series. In 2010, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing saw the blue blur and a number of other SEGA mascots compete for pole position in a game that was more than just a Mario Kart clone.
Everyone loved the fan service packed within – from the character roster including Virtua Fighter and Shenmue heroes to tracks covering Jet Set Radio and Samba de Amigo. In fact, there was so much fan service that one version of the game included unauthorised fan art of Sonia from Sonic Underground. Whoops.
In 2013, Sumo would produce a sequel that would take the SEGA universe crossover concept to the next level – Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed included morphing vehicles, dynamic tracks that changed every lap, and about a hundred tonnes of concentrated fan service. In 2019, after a brief hiatus, Sumo would return to work on a Sonic universe-only semi-sequel called Team Sonic Racing – a perfectly entertaining and serviceable game but it couldn’t quite hit Transformed’s highs and its budget production was heavily felt.
Of course, we can’t talk about the past decade in Sonic gaming without covering one of SEGA’s most ambitious and risky endeavours: Sonic Boom. After rumours of a brand new cartoon came to light in October 2013, the project was announced the following February with a massive surprise. This was not just a cartoon – this was a whole new direction for the entire Sonic franchise.
Comics, video games, a cartoon, books, toys and a truckload other media were announced simultaneously with this brand new redesign of the blue blur and friends – all featuring more athletic figures and wrapped in sports tape. This was originally touted as an alternative universe to run alongside the traditional Sonic Team designs, but make no mistake: Sonic Boom was a complete reboot of SEGA’s mascot, and had it been a success we’d likely have seen this be the totality of the series going forward.
But, while the cartoon series ended up becoming something of a success, the other Sonic Boom media ventures were complete flops. Most notably the video games – Wii U exclusive Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was ridiculed for its countless bugs, rushed development and incomprehensibly dull gameplay. A Nintendo 3DS game, dubbed Shattered Crystal, fared a little better but was also mediocre. The two games ended up becoming the worst-selling titles in all of Sonic history.
A third game, Fire & Ice, was released on the 3DS in 2016 with a whimper (but bizarrely came with an incredible collector’s set in Japan – the UK just got this crappy hat) and that became the end of an expensive yet daring experiment.
Dreadknux unboxed the Collector’s Edition of Sonic Generations for SEGA Europe back in 2011. Take a look!
Takashi Iizuka reminisced about the 2005 game Shadow the Hedgehog, and ‘revealed’ that the target demographic for that title was “U.S. Gamers”. Yeah, the guns pretty much gave that one away, mate.
Sonic Dash is a good mobile game, but is it ‘15 security breaches and massive data leaks on Google Android‘ good? Probably not. SEGA’s fixed all that now, hopefully.
SEGA said in 2011 that it had ‘No Plans’ to bring Classic Sonic back after Generations. And then Sonic Forces happened. Why do you lie to us, SEGA?
A super-dark pitch for a Sonic game called ‘The Shadow World’ was uncovered in 2019. It sounded like it would have been super cheesy, and grim-dark, and cack.
SEGA trolled everyone by asking them to guess the characters that would be playable in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. Of course, the only one was Sonic.
Everyone loves to talk about the environment these days, but Yuji Naka was the original Captain Planet – he revealed how Sonic 1 was created with these sorts of themes in mind. Greta Thunberg, eat your heart out.
The fate of SEGA’s Western operations were up and down faster than a yo-yo this past decade. It laid people off, then it shuttered its European community team, and moved all of its Sonic Brand team to the US. Then in the US it relocated offices to Southern California, laying off more people, and promised to ‘reinforce Sonic’… which apparently means focusing on the mascot’s ‘Hey Day’ successes. The company seems to be doing alright now, after all that.
New voice actors for most of the Sonic cast (except Mike Pollock who remained as Eggman) picked up the mic from mid-2010. We’ve been loving Roger Craig Smith ever since!
In 2016, Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka moved from the SEGA offices in Japan to SEGA America’s office in California, where he has lived and worked ever since. Can’t blame him, the weather’s quite nice there innit.
SEGA Games CEO Hiroki Satomi pulled no punches when he said that the company has effectively ‘betrayed the trust of its fans’. Cheer up mate, no hard feelings eh?
Original Sonic developer Yuji Naka stopped doing things with his indie studio Prope and moved on to a role within Japanese RPG factory Square Enix. He’s not made a game yet but he’s probably still there. Maybe.
And finally, SEGA hired a guy called Ivo to lead Sonic’s branding mission outside of Japan. Really. We hear Derek Robotnik and Jamie Egge Mann only narrowly missed out on the job.
So, despite a wobbly ride on the mainline series front, it’d be wrong to say that the past decade has . About the only thing that didn’t happen in Sonic Games this past decade was Sonic Dimensions. An obvious hoax that did the rounds several times over, and had to be flatly denied by Takashi Iizuka himself (by yours truly, in fact – you’re welcome).
Here’s to the 2020s being even more eventful (but maybe not too eventful, otherwise we’d have to make this a three-parter in 2030)!