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The case for fans being defensive about Sonic's identity, in light of recent events and commentary.

Scritch the Cat

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Posted (edited)

It seems like ever since Richard Kuta published his legendary video rant against Sonic 4, there's been a growing and worrying tendency of pop-culture rhetoric to smear every fan who cares about what a brand has or had been and worries what it's becoming, as an intolerant manbaby who needs to touch grass, and naturally in light of the above fan, Sonic fandom tends to get it worse than many others.  But while that's natural on one level, on another I think it's rather ironic.  The broader gamer culture and many game journalists have been of the widespread opinion that the Sonic series has not aged well since the 1990s, and so in many cases a negative attitude towards the latest Sonic thing goes by without a hitch, even when it's phrased in really juvenile and uninformed ways.  But Sonic's fans have become such a widely despised group that the moment they say anything displeases them about new Sonic stuff, they get derided as butthurt no-life losers.  The implications of this double standard seem to be, oddly enough, that it's socially acceptable to hate something for the sake of hating something but hating something for the sake of wanting something to be better gets painted as the more negative and fringe attitude, and that a bunch of people who mostly stay within the confines of their households rather than taking their beefs into public are somehow more culturally ruinous than billion-dollar corporations that think they can get away with anything.

And I've had it with that mindset.  I don't care how some people take me, I am going to make a stand on behalf of every fan of Sonic who wants to make a stand, for the importance of what Sonic had been, and against some of what it might become.  Mind you, I'm not calling for less tolerance in this fandom.  Constructive dialogue needs to happen between all people who consider themselves Sonic fans, and without having an overall attitude of tolerance (for each other, at least; more on that later), the dialogue will just descend into a lot of insults instead.  But when constructive dialogue is achieved, I think it needs to work towards coming up with a broad consensus about what Sonic is and isn't, should be and shouldn't be.

I was inspired to talk about this due to recent discourse about the Knuckles series on Paramount+, in particular a statement by Channel Pup on the Sunset City podcast.  As he sees it--and I agree--there's such a thing as being too open-minded and too willing to give every new iteration of an old series a chance to prove itself good for what it is, not criticize it for what it isn't.  That attitude might make you less likely to be bothered by cultural shifts you don't like, and maybe you'll be less bitter as a result, but it's potentially devastating to the cause of having a diverse artistic landscape to imply that all art can just be a non-specific, vague type of "good".  As he puts it, "At what point are we going into a cinema and just asking for a random movie ticket for a random movie, walking out, going "'Yeah that was a great Sonic movie'"?  Because to say that all that a Sonic movie needs is to be good in the same way every other movie needs to be (as if there was a singular definition of good even outside Sonic), is to say, in effect, that making Sonic movies is pointless, at least as anything other than a marketing gimmick.  Again, we'll come back to this.

His statement there was echoed by another recent video addressing a different aspect of the series, The Stagnation of 3D Sonic Gameplay.  While a lot of it provides insight on some very specific gameplay mechanics, the first thing to focus on is this bit: "If this series, not counting explicit crossovers and spinoffs, can truly be anything, then the concept of Sonic means nothing.  If there's nothing particular about Sonic that we like, then why do we like Sonic at all?" 

It's these sorts of existential question that lay bare everything wrong with the excessively coping mindset of "I don't care so long as it's good."  Because lots of good games get made all the time, lots of good movies get made all the time, and lots of good TV shows get made all the time.  But if the Sonic fanbase is going to ignore a lot of those good games, movies, and TV shows and pay attention only to the ones that happen to have Sonic stamped on them, then what that tells opportunistically lazy and stingy creators is that Sonic being in something matters more than the thing being good, on either a Sonic-specific or more general level, and tellingly enough, a lot of times when creators think they can get away with making Sonic anything, the result is flawed on both levels.  Shadow the Hedgehog often interrupted the series' signature speed to focus on gunplay, and this sacrifice did not remotely earn it a spot alongside the Mega Man, Metroid or Ratchet & Clank series as platform-shooters held in high regard.  Sonic Unleashed interrupted the same speed and spent the majority of its runtime trying to be a God Of War clone, in the practice not coming anywhere close to God of War's appeal.  Sonic Frontiers spent so much time trying to give a flashy combat system like the Bayonetta series that that it neglected to maintain the control and grace of past 3D Sonic games, recreating them so horribly that they were only excused as much as they were because most of the time Sonic wasn't in conventional Sonic levels...and in the practice, it did not succeed at becoming a good spectacle fighter like the Bayonetta games.

Also, even if those alien revamps had succeeded, so what?  A major reason I've grown to hate the allegation that persnickety old gamers, et al, are just bitter "Cranky Kong" types unable to accept or enjoy new things, is that oftentimes the changes they oppose are not new things; they're the trends that inundate the media landscape and often have already worn out their welcome by the time others jump on the bandwagon.  The people who hated seeing Shadow wield guns, hijack vehicles, be amoral and swear gratuitously didn't hate it because it was new to Sonic, they hated it because it was an act of cultural homogenization at a time when more and more games and game series thought they needed to be like Grand Theft Auto to succeed.  People who hated seeing Sonic go to an open-world with an empty feeling and somber tone didn't just hate it because that wasn't what they thought Sonic should be (though that was undoubtedly part of it), they hated it because they had gotten sick of seeing characters look into the distance over hills while hearing sad ambient piano music.  People don't just resent the Sonic movies being live-action/animation hybrids because this isn't typically a live-action franchise at all, they resent it because of how overdone the "CGI-version of a cartoon character meets live actors, hijinx ensue" trope has become.  The results arguably turned out much better than the Garfield, Alvin, and Smurfs movies, but can you really blame people for worrying they wouldn't, especially as the Knuckles series did end up falling into many of that format's traps?

So I say again, we need to draw the line somewhere and we need to be more supportive of people who do.  We can say we enjoyed a new, unconventional Sonic product on its own merits (assuming they exist), but let's do everything in our power to show the corporate heavies that this is not an acceptable bar for Sonic to shoot for.  Because who are we, and what are merits?  We're many different people who have many different tastes, and if something can be deemed a valid Sonic product because someone, somewhere, liked it for some reason, then how do Sonic product creators have anything definitive to shoot for as a safe bet?  If they replace any sense of concrete brand identity with something far more subjective, then they're going to come up with ideas that are the trite and derivative version of "good" at best, and just plain repulsively bad at worst.  The Knuckles series is a success, with there obviously being enough people who enjoy its style its humor, but it's obvious there's also a lot of people who don't, and if the series wasn't going so all-in on that humor for its content and bothered to include more Sonic (or Knuckles)-related things to fall back on, there's every reason to believe it would be an even bigger success, since then it would be able to redeem itself even to people who didn't find it funny.

To reiterate, courtesy when addressing each other is a must, and in many cases humility is, too, but in either case it should be in service of telling developers what "good" is in a very Sonic-specific way.  As I see it, this paradigm should cut in multiple directions when assessing Sonic things.  Let's use games as an example.  If we overall like a game, we can say so, but we should acknowledge its problems.  If we like aspects of a game but those aspects don't really fit with the ideal of what Sonic is, then we should have the humility to admit that.  Likewise even if we don't like a game, we should acknowledge things we think it does right and/or things that are good ideas in theory, but also let's try to judge right and good based on what fits Sonic, not just what we personally enjoy.

For some personal examples, I love Omega.  I love his gratuitously technical approach to situations and speech, and I love his attitude and gameplay style being based on excessive firepower.  However, I won't pretend my affinity for Omega makes him anything near to the ideal of what Sonic gameplay is or should be, and I don't expect many other Sonic fans to love him.  Maybe there's some potential appeal to people who have fought Sonic bosses and thought they might like to experience that from the other perspective, but that doesn't seem like the way to bet.  By contrast, I overall don't enjoy Sonic level-design that is based on avoiding obstacles, as with many zones in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the mach speed parts of Sonic 06, but it's self-evident why that sort of level design fits a series about going fast.  I enjoy the mech stages of Sonic Adventure 2 more than the treasure hunting stages, but I don't deny that mech stages don't fit well with Sonic's gameplay ideals, while the treasure hunting, though it needs work, fits much better.  I feel it was always a bad idea to cut the series down to the only playable character being Sonic, and I demanded other characters back the whole time, but I acknowledge that what playable characters are reimplemented need to play enough like Sonic to not create a backlash.  I unsurprisingly don't have an overall high opinion of Shadow the Hedgehog, but the idea of Sonic levels having several different goals and what levels you go to next being based on which of those goals you do, I think is a potentially great one for the Sonic series.  I don't like the way Sonic Frontiers implements Sonic gameplay into an open world, but I love the idea of Sonic gameplay in an open-world done better.  I also don't think the Cy-loop is a very good mechanic as implemented in that game, but tying it more to Sonic's speed and how tightly and often he encircles things could make it great.  I don't really enjoy the fangames Sonic GT or Sonic Encore, but I do like the idea of doing Classic Sonic in 3D.

So there I'm being the change I want to see in the world of Sonic fandom.  I hope you'll all join me, if not in opinion, then at least in principles.


Edited by Scritch the Cat
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It's sad seeing accounts like The Complete History of SatAM and Sonic Rejuiced consider leaving thier platforms over the flame wars that's been whipped up. Complete History of SatAM for context: Twitter thread

Having a splinter cell canon's supposed to be fun not splinter the fanbase. This in fighting is uncalled for.

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Posted (edited)

You know what? I totally agree! After reading this page for 3 minutes or so, I realized that this is something I want to fix. Stereotyping is a problem that should be fixed. This problem even brings us, Sonic fans hating on each other! And the "Sonic was never good" thing is getting out of hand. I have many games I enjoy for the fun it brings me, but not meet the most obscure needs of my brain! 

Edited by Maple Syrup
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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

I can see where you are coming come from. The Sonic fandom is very diverse and we all expect different things from the Sonic franchise. The problem is that we are not always civil about discussing those ideas.  I remember how Pontaff and Graff mentioned how they did like dealing with the fandom when they were writing for Sonic. I will admit that I did not like every aspect of their writing but that still doesn't excuse what the fandom did to them. 

Edited by Guergy
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11 hours ago, Guergy said:

I can see where you are coming come from. The Sonic fandom is very diverse and we all expect different things from the Sonic franchise. The problem is that we are always civil about discussing those ideas.  I remember how Pontaff and Graff mentioned how they did like dealing with the fandom when they were writing for Sonic. I will admit that I did not like every aspect of their writing but that still doesn;t excuse what the fandom did to them. 

It seems like that post is missing a "not" or two...

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