Sonic’s 30th may have been a slow year for Sonic games, but it didn’t stop SEGA from celebrating the event with videos, performances, and other fun and/or incomprehensibly weird features.
Sonic Central, once the branding of SEGA’s official Sonic franchise site, returned in name this year as a special news stream to show off Sonic’s many 30th anniversary projects and collaborations. Borrowing heavily from the Nintendo Direct template, the 15-minute presentation announced three games, a concert event (more on that further down), a cartoon short for Sonic Colors: Ultimate, several bizarre crossover updates for other SEGA games, a bunch of high-end commemorative merch, and a brief primer on 2022’s Sonic Prime.
The biggest highlights of the stream were the first official announcements of Sonic Colors: Ultimate, Sonic Origins, and Sonic Frontiers. Roger Craig Smith reintroduced himself as the continued voice of Sonic following his bizarre sudden exit from the role earlier in the year, we got our first footage of the Sonic Colors remake, and we got… well, no meaningful footage of the other games. Just an acknowledgement of their existence.
I feel a bit disappointed in hindsight, that they had so little information about 2022’s biggest projects. Their biggest announcement, Sonic Colors: Ultimate, released in an especially buggy manner, really deflating that whole aspect of the presentation in retrospect. That said, there were some strong inclusions that defined 2021 for me, including the concert, Rise of the Wisp, and the arrival of the Sonic mascot suit to the 2020 Olympics game and Two Point Hospital.
The Sonic 30th Anniversary Symphony
Roughly a month after its announcement, SEGA held a livestreamed concert event featuring performances from the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra, Tomoya Ohtani’s band, and Crush 40. The initial orchestral performance drew from games throughout the entire lifespan of the series, including some of Game Gear’s greatest tunes, and a SEGA Saturn medley. After an intermission, Ohtani’s band performed a selection of vocal tracks from Sonic Colors: Ultimate and Sonic Unleashed, then Crush 40 (with Johnny Gioeli remoting his performance feed in) played through several of their iconic vocal songs and remixes.
The live band performances were good; I know there’s a large group of fans who are there to see Senoue make loud and aggressive 80s guitar. But the show plucked my heartstrings with absolute bangers like Spring Yard, Sunset Park Act 3, Studiopolis, Rooftop Run, and Aquarium Park fully orchestrated. There’s a shocking gravitas to the opening bars of Wing Fortress when you hear it with real brass and percussion. You can still go watch the full symphony over on the official Sonic YouTube channel, or stream it on major music platforms.
Steve Aoki x Sonic Concert
And then this happened.
Okay, I suppose I should get a few biases out of the way: I don’t listen to this variety of electronic, and the man himself is in circles that I find completely insufferable (the kind that spends an exorbitant amount of money on crappy ape pictures). That said, I don’t think I’ve encountered a single person who watched this and had the intended experience.
To summarize what this thing was:
American DJ Steve Aoki stood at a greenscreen DJ booth, periodically swaying and clapping, while playing a club set which on rare occasions contained Sonic music, while a 3D stage was projected onto the environment, made of assets ripped from 2011’s Sonic Generations. Unimpressively rigged character models of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy periodically jumped in and out of the video to gyrate in short animation loops. A bunch of light and smoke effects (that only exist as a virtual render in the CG environment) went off in time with the beat.
My favorite moment was in the Speed Highway environment, when the Sonic model leaped off the stage, collided with a piece of street, got stuck for a second, and then just despawned.
I couldn’t quite tell you what this concert was supposed to be, but the end result was… inoffensive but inexplicably amateurish for something that SEGA appears to have sponsored. It was early 2010s-grade machinima with a live action person jammed in. In a moment of peak tech-bro nonsense, Aoki described the performance as part of “the Metaverse,” presumably because it’s available as a 180° sphere video. And it isn’t the Metaverse. The Metaverse is an intentionally vague concept that broadly refers to online social spaces. Even still, this doesn’t fit any metric.
I feel like you should, at the very least, watch a bit of this just for the sake of experiencing how inane a sensory experience it is as something SEGA officially sponsored.
Sonic the Vtuber
We’re ending still firmly in the “say what now?” realm. With the popularity of virtual streaming avatars, apparently the Japanese Sonic promotional team put together a Sonic Vtuber model to… from the looks of it, give brief and slightly awkward promotional messages on Twitter and Youtube livestreams. Nothing particularly bad or good or even noteworthy here. It’s just kinda bizarre.