In June I had an opportunity to complete the set of SEGA-affiliated fan events and attend SONIC FEST 2014, SEGA of Japan’s answer to Sonic Boom and Summer of Sonic at SEGA’s Tokyo theme park, JOYPOLIS. SONICFEST this year was also a celebration of Sonic’s golden birthday (the birthday for which the age in years matches the date of the month of birth) which is a big deal in eastern culture. Although I’ve had a lot of contact with fans based in the Europe and the US, I’ve not spoken to many Japanese fans; whether this is because there are fewer of them or because there is a language barrier, I was unsure. Suffice to say we arrived at the gates of JOYPOLIS on Daiba island, unsure what to expect in regards to both the order of the day and turnout.
I was pleased to see Japanese Sonic fans are just as enthusiastic as the rest! By the time we had arrived (about 45 minutes before doors opened), the queue was already down the boardwalk, heaving with fans dressed for the occasion, excitedly talking and greeting each other as the queue built. The first 200 fans through the door were given special individually numbered tickets, which allowed them access to the “golden circle” for the main stage event at SONICFEST (other fans could watch but from further back from the stage).
The park itself was open as usual on the day, albeit dressed a little more Sonic-themed than usual. In addition to these extras, the park recently underwent a large refurbishment, removing a lot of the old and outdated features and replacing them with attractions more akin to Sonic’s more modern appearance. A large portion of the first floor in the park is now an area known as the “Sonic Carnival”, an area dedicated to Sonic-centric games, as well as a very impressive Sonic statue, who exclaims various statements (in Japanese) when activated; fittingly, Sonic had been adorned in a crown and fur coat for the day. Several of the games are typical fairground affairs in which the most skilled players are rewarded for their efforts in the form of a lovely Sonic plush.
Amongst the standard affair are three unique Sonic games. Sonic Athletics sees players take to treadmills, in order to compete in three track events including sprints, long jumps and hurdles. The players physically run on the treadmill, with the forward pressure applied dictating the velocity of the chosen character. Conversely, Sonic Brain Training requires competitors to flex their grey matter through a series of five of a possible ten games, involving memory, mathematics, fast reflexes and a keen understanding of Japanese! Players stand at podiums containing touch screens, and compete to score the highest each round. Those scoring above 1,000,000 were rewarded with a keepsake card to mark your achievement, with those exceeding 1,200,000 earning a special card (the latter being just out of the reaches of my abilities!). Children can also enjoy the Sonic Ghost Shooting game, where a small cart takes players around a small track while blasting Sonic Adventure 2 era ghosts with a gun.
For the seasoned merchandise hunter, JOYPOLIS is heaven. The gift shop is filled with a huge range of current, generally available items, as well as a lot of exclusive pieces which can only be purchased at JOYPOLIS. More excitingly, the UFO machines had been especially stocked for one day only with the entire range of seasonal Sonic plushes, which included Surf Board and Water Melon Sonic (Summer exclusive), Halloween Vampire Sonic (Fall exclusive) and Santa Sonic (Winter exclusive). While some were easily obtained by unhooking a ring holding the plush in the catcher machine, others required you to destroy a load-bearing paper tie with a needle-like UFO arm – One Japanese fan pumped thousands of yen into a machine in order to obtain their prize!
For those feeling a little peckish, a special drink and chilidog combo was available, which came with a sticker to prove you’d devoured the foot-long. A limited edition range of sweets were on offer, including a special branded E-MA capsule which contained little cherry candies.
The main event of the day was a 90 minute show on the main stage, hosted by a gentleman in a SEGA boiler suit [EDIT: The guy is called Sexy Saito! Good to know! Thanks to Shane for the info – T]. He was soon joined on stage by Takashi Iizuka, who introduced the trailer for Sonic Boom (branded as “Sonic Toon” for the eastern market), after which gameplay was demonstrated by Iizuka-san himself, Jun Senoue played a selection of Sonic songs accompanied by Sonic himself with fans accompanying by singing along. AiAi from Super Monkey ball made his presence known for the blowing out of the candles of Sonic’s birthday cake.
Iizuka-san then issued a challenge to the audience for three competitors to go head-to-head against at Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, with participants receiving a goodie bag of Sonic goods. Amusingly, none of the challengers has the skill to beat Iizuka-san, who came in first in the race!
Yuji Uekawa, best known for his signature Sonic the hedgehog designs that have graced the franchise since the days of Sonic Adventure, also made a rare stage appearance at SONICFEST to talk to the fans during the show. Soon after, a raffle also took place on stage, with the numbers of the 200 golden circle audiences being drawn at random to receive a special prize. After several of these prizes had been amusingly “modeled” by Senoue-san, we were ecstatic to realise that one of our number had been drawn (The winner being Lewis from Segadriven)! Not only that, Uekawa-san also presented three hand-drawn original Sonic sketches, which were also given away to three lucky winners (unfortunately my number was not picked!)
After advertisements for several SEGA games, the stage events concluded, and fans were invited to a meet and greet session with Iizuka-san, Senoue-san and Uekawa-san, with an impressive range of rare Sonic items being brought out by fans for signing (Kieran also got an opportunity to present Uekawa-san with a hand drawn gift). Post-signing session, I had an opportunity to talk to some Japanese fans and take some photos; some of the hand-made items were incredible, and it was obvious to see that a lot of them were extremely passionate about Sonic. More impressively, we saw an attendee wearing a Summer of Sonic shirt! We also got to meet Act, one of the drummers from Crush 40’s live shows, who was also in attendance for the day.
SONIC FEST was a fantastic day out, and it is great to see that community events like this have also caught on in the east. Hopefully SONIC FEST will be a reoccurring event, and I implore you to go if you’re in Tokyo next year! JOYPOLIS is open all year round, with admission starting from ¥800 ($8 / £5) – you can find more information about the park on the English JOYPOLIS page.