2021 was the Year of Online Events

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.

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2021 Was the Year of Weird Mobile Crossovers

Sonic is no stranger to the FOMO demon that is mobile game limited time events. He’s hung out with PAC-MAN, he jammed with Taiko no Tatsujin, and Puyo Puyo Quest… is also a thing. That happened. And I really, really wish didn’t.

Pictured above: A mistake.

Anyhow, SEGA went mad with Sonic guesting in mobile games left and right. Here’s the breakdown:

Ulala: Idle Adventure

Ulala is an idling RPG where you and three other pre-historic adventurers team up to travel many lands, grinding experience and taking on bosses in automated battle. You’ll incrementally upgrade your fighter with equipment, abilities, and animal friends. This was one of the few games I legitimately enjoyed my time with and continued to play regularly for six months. You get some pretty significant benefits chipping in about $5 a month. If you’re after event cosmetics, the cost is miserable, but if you just want to play the game, it’s pretty generous.

During the Sonic event, the blue boy himself has been thrown into this world by a portal, and he’ll need you to recharge enough energy to send him home by playing a very basic Sonic Dash-like minigame, and then inflicting as much damage to Eggman as possible. Your reward for completing tasks (and/or spending heaps of premium currency) is Sonic and Eggman cosmetics, the coolest of which is Eggman’s mustache, which lets your character pilot the hovercraft between encounters.

Fist of the North Star LEGENDS ReVIVE

I’m a bit of a Shonen Jump fan, and my heart leapt at the thought of just how profoundly asinine this would be. I was not disappointed.

Legends Revive is a gashapon (or gacha) character collecting RPG following the events of the Fist of the North Star manga and anime, where expert martial artist Kenshiro walks the wasteland of the post-apocalypse and punches brawny Mad-Max rejects until they explode into viscera. So yeah, perfect game to add Sonic to. There’s no context to why Sonic’s there. He just is, bringing along a bunch of music that either doesn’t quite fit the tone of the game, or fits it perfectly.

The game itself is a mess of a design. The RPG part is simple, just tap your characters in the order you want to attack, do it at the right time to maintain a combo, and occasionally pop off super moves. But there are so many menus and modes and stores and daily missions stacked on top of it. The menu is awash in icons, it’s barely navigable and incredibly disorienting.

It’s not a good game, not in the slightest, but it had me hooked for a solid month on the novelty of running through the story and watching an extremely overpowered Sonic go super with his 1980’s beefcake anime buddies as Live and Learn blares out my tablet speakers.

Dx2 Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation

I’ve seen that game’s title arranged about five different ways, so I don’t know what word order is supposed to be the most accurate anymore.

Sonic as a demon in an SMT Digital Devil-style world is conceptually funny, but the game just couldn’t hold my attention very long. Your avatar is conscripted into a war between two factions of fighters, each battling SMT style with digital demons on your phones. Much like the series proper, you’ll be recruiting, fusing, and building elemental combos with various demons, though this edition lets you recruit via gacha.

It isn’t bad. The visual style is very SMT, the characters can get a little wild, and boy is there plenty of story. But I think my hesitance just comes down to my lack of experience with the primary series. If you’re an SMT fanatic and don’t mind juggling your standard free-to-play complications, it seems like it has a touch more depth than you might expect from a mobile RPG.

I’m mad that I like this game. It doesn’t deserve praise, but darn it, it has really solid production values, fun characters, and entertaining writing. It’s also EVERY irritating mobile game design wrapped into a single package. Not only is it a town-building timer-waiting resource-tapping slog, but it’s also a gacha-collecting RPG-incrementing money-dumping grind.

The Sonic content was pretty entertaining, but it was designed for players at a much higher level than you could likely get to in the brief time the event ran. You could get adorable cookie version of both Sonic and Tails, but only by exchanging rings for pulls from a specialty limited-quantity gacha. If you got seven Chaos Emeralds from it, you could unlock one of the two heroes, but it sure seems like that seventh emerald was rigged to be the VERY LAST item you’d nab from the lot.

The production value of the Sonic content itself is great, with Smith and O’Shaughnessey doing voicework for the duo. With the event’s town-building decor, you can fill your town with Green Hill palm trees and chili dog stands. The cookies are cute, and they can do anything that any of the other characters can… but if you wanted them to get you past the third stage of their special Green Hill Eggman Battle stages, you’ll be out of luck. The power requirement jump between each Sonic RPG stage was huge. But don’t worry, for only $20, you could get the big pack that might net you 60% of a Sonic. Or one of the dozens upon dozens of subscriptions and packs in their store. I’d legitimately love to see the story to its conclusion, but I just don’t think I have the patience, persistence, and fortitude to do so.

It was beyond unusual to get a continuous stream of Sonic mobile game guest appearances, but I predominantly have three takeaways:

First, the best crossovers are the ones that are just completely nonsensical and provoke the strongest dissonance possible.

Second, trying to grapple with three Japanese/Korean gacha RPGs across three months is both expensive and spiritually draining.

And finally, Puyo Puyo Quest currently has somewhere in the realm of 2500 characters and character variants, and many of them are deeply upsetting. The Sonic event from a previous year returned, and I got Ringo cosplaying as Shadow. The game is a worse version of Puzzle and Dragon. I’m ending this article with a picture of Arle dressed as Eva Unit 001:

Happy New Year, I guess?

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2021 Was the Year of Waiting for Trailers

While it may still feel fresh in everyone’s mind, Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces were released in late 2017. We are four years divorced from those games (five by the time we get the next major release), with only one Sumo Digital racer and a piece of significant DLC between. We as Sonic fans don’t typically have to wait as long for the next big thing, even if the next big thing is a disappointment. We’re hungry, and we can’t stop thinking about what’s next.

2021 came with multiple new game announcements, a couple new trailers, and in spite of all that, we still don’t have a firm idea on what that next thing is.

May’s Sonic Central was a firehose of announcements, from the first official reveal of Sonic Colors: Ultimate to King Ice’s big gaudy necklaces to putting fictional doctors and athletes in Sonic mascot suits. But wedged in there were announcements for Sonic Origins, a collection of the core 16-bit Sonic platformers, and some sort of game where Sonic runs through the woods with digital effects (we now know as Sonic Frontiers). Despite these reveals, both slotted for next year, we have not actually seen their respective games. We’ve seen messaging, aspirations, and broad genre and style proclamations, but we’ve not seen an actual fully-formed game idea that will clearly go on to become a retail product.

While I don’t think the infamous Sonic Cycle has held real power for over a decade, SEGA’s marketing strategy remains as frustrating as ever: they seed teasers and extremely limited reveals long before they show any context, letting everyone’s mind go wild with possibilities before eventually grounding us in the reality of the game they are actually making. I’ve seen so many fans envision what Sonic Frontiers would be/could be/should be based on slow pans of landscapes and 4chan leaks from 2019, but the hard reality is that we still know very little of what that game is now and what it will be a year from now. The Game Awards trailer only contains three real pieces of information about the game:

1. The next Sonic game is open world.

2. It has open, natural environments with ancient-civilization-style points of interest dotted throughout.

3. There are one or more giant enemies.

At the very least, these core concepts have been around long enough that a CG animation studio (Marza or otherwise) was able to complete pre-rendered cutscenes for the trailer. What they don’t show during this trailer is what Sonic does, which, you know, is kind of important for a game. But the goal here admittedly wasn’t to show the game itself. The goal was messaging, and the message is, “We are working on the next game, and we’re winding up for a big risky swing.”

Weirdly, Origins is an even tougher nut to crack. We’ve either seen 60% of the game already if the collection compiles the Retro/Star Engine remakes (or some modification of them) while finally adding Sonic 3 & Knuckles to the lineup, or we’ve seen literally nothing if they’re using some other engine to recreate these games in 16:9. That said, development must have been incredibly early when SEGA announced it, since the Sonic Central reveal contains no actual video of the collection itself (as denoted by the “Original Gameplay” disclaimer in the corner and all the 4:3 footage of Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles).

In the same vein, we still know precious little about next year’s new animated series, Sonic Prime, save for some concept art we weren’t supposed to see. We know it’s some manner of multiverse show coming from Man of Action and WildBrain, two groups whose outputs vary wildly in quality and demographic aim. If there’s any room for more definitive feelings about a future Sonic project, the one space where we did get a trailer with plenty of information was for Paramount’s Sonic 2 movie. It’s more Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey antics, but with game references and Idris Elba. You probably already have a sense of whether or not that appeals to you.

I’m left excited and anxious for 2022, not because I can point to anything and say “I think this will be good” or “I think this will be a trash fire.” I just need to know. 2021 wasn’t an appetizer, it was looking at a menu and imagining the best and worst possible scenarios. Making a satisfying open world game is difficult and time consuming for any development studio, but Sonic Team certainly have plenty of time. Templates for really satisfying open world games exist, such as Breath of the Wild and Shadow of the Colossus, and the Frontiers trailer has an interest in both.

These 2022 projects are still a ways out, it’s worth reiterating that. But who can blame us for walking away from 2021 disoriented. We were told so much, and yet we were told so little. Until we actually have a clear vision of what next year’s games and cartoon are, we’ll be entering 2022 still waiting for trailers.

The Sonic Stadium may link to retailers and earn a small commission on purchases made from users who click those links. These links will only appear in articles related to the product, in an unobtrusive manner, and do not influence our editorial decisions in any way.