The end of 2022 is now upon us. And boy, what a year it has been! After spending Sonic's 30th Anniversary mostly waiting for trailers, watching online events and experiencing strange mobile crossovers, it finally feels like this year has been the big global celebration of the blue blur that the decades-long franchise fully deserved.
Usually, this is around this time of year where the Sonic Stadium does its annual tradition of summing up the past 12 months and succinctly contextualises the overall landscape of the Sonic franchise and fanbase. And while the last five years have largely been a snoozefest (Sonic Movie aside), this year our job has suddenly been made incredibly difficult!
It really feels like we've had five years' worth of action happen on our doorstep in 2022 alone!
The Big Story
We're going to run through some key stories that ran throughout the year later in this feature - but, as always, there is a broader story behind everything that has happened in 2022. The key story here for SEGA, Sonic Team and the Sonic franchise in 2022 is one of 'convergence' and 'restructure'. If you were the ever-passionate Sonic Frontiers director, Morio Kishimoto, you might even use the word 'resurrection' or something.
For this has been a year where the culmination of Sonic Team's five-year crunch on the latest mainline Sonic the Hedgehog game marks not only a new path forward for the game series, but a renewed effort (through Takashi Iizuka and the Sonic Brand team, based in the US) on creating synergy between the games and the other media pillars of SEGA's mascot franchise.
With the onboarding of IDW Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn to help shape Sonic Frontiers' story, a slight re-telling of the plotlines that run through the classic 1990s Sonic games (which are then emphasised in cross-media projects such as Sonic Prime) and recent moves to establish and maintain a consistent "lore" to the Sonic franchise, it's clear that 2022 saw the fruits of SEGA's labour in performing some years-long canonical housekeeping.
Our exclusive interview with Sonic franchise creative head Takashi Iizuka this year confirmed the intention to keep the different threads of Sonic media 'connected' as much as possible.
It's likely that the most exciting results of this work will not be seen for another year or so yet, as new movies, TV shows, comics and games emerge and take advantage of this connected series of universes. But for now, fans have been blessed with an avalanche of media to consume - starting with Paramount's barnstorming sequel to the Sonic movie, and ending with Sonic Team's inspiring return to form and an engaging animation series on Netflix.
The Sonic movies may well be considered part of their own canonical bubble. But when you take into account the rest of it - the timing of Sonic Origins' re-introduction of classic games; the gameplay and design approach in Sonic Frontiers; the consistent and authentic interpretation of Sonic's world and adventures in the IDW comics; the fresh multi-verse narrative that Sonic Prime offers; and the canonical backbone that has been established to connect them all - it really does feel like the start of a brand new generation of Sonic the Hedgehog, in its entirety.
And that's an incredibly exciting thought, going into 2023.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Movie
Right at the start of the year, fans were clamouring for the imminent release of one of the most highly-anticipated Sonic media in years. And surprisingly, it wasn't a video game! Paramount Pictures' successful handling of the original Sonic the Hedgehog movie in 2020 got families and fans excited for more, and with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 arriving in theatres in late March/early April, there was a lot of opportunity to generate even more hype than before. Especially thanks to the formal arrival of Tails and Knuckles into the movie-verse.
Not that it needed much else to push hype levels up. But in case any more convincing was needed, a whole bunch of merchandise and tie-ins were announced alongside consistent releases of new renders and trailers. There were McDonalds toys, Build-A-Bear collaborations, a prequel (sorry, "pre-quill") comic that had input from Jim Carrey... there was even a promotion with Xbox where you could win a ghastly 'furry' pair of Sonic controllers.
The extra effort paid off. The movie was released (except in Russia) to mostly positive reviews from critics (including Sonic Stadium itself) and, as one of the first movies to open to a world of theaters finally escaping the lockdown grip of COVID-19, absolutely smashed the box office with over $25.5 million raked in from worldwide markets in its opening few days before it even premiered in the US!
We made a pretty good name for ourselves this year by shoehorning Sonic game titles into the headlines of every Sonic 2 movie box office earnings story we could manage (seriously, we did this a lot of times). Be proud of us. It's hard work. But, it was worth keeping up with the movie's every milestone, as it beat every cinematic rival it faced down, from Fantastic Beasts to Uncharted. By August, the movie had pulled a global gross of nearly $401 million, making it the fourth-highest grossing video game movie of all time.
The sheer colossal scale of Sonic 2's success encouraged Paramount to double down on its cinematic partnership with SEGA, quickly announcing the existence of a third Sonic movie (later revealed to release on December 20, 2024) as well as a spinoff TV series focusing on Knuckles the Echidna, portrayed on the big screen by Idris Elba. It's all part of what was announced to be a planned 'cinematic universe' for the Paramount Sonic series.
But with the success came a little bit of sad news - that of Jim Carrey's supposed intended retirement from acting. It appears that Robotnik will be one of the last characters in which the comedy legend will perform. Carrey did just blurt out the intention to retire randomly during the press junket for Sonic 2, so it could be something he's casually thinking about. But questions remain as to whether he will retire from performing as Robotnik at all for the third movie and beyond.
Bonus: The original, horrifying, Sonic movie design also saw a return this year - featuring as a cameo in the latest Chip 'n Dale live action movie on Disney+. We thought we would never have to deal with this monster ever again, but at least we can live soundly in the knowledge that someone found beauty in his ghastly visage. In another insane twist, hilarious comedy icon Tim Robinson (of "I Think You Should Leave" fame) voices the 'Ugly Sonic' character in the movie.
Sonic's classic 1990s adventures were re-introduced to a whole new generation of gamers this year, with the release of Sonic Origins in June. After originally being announced during SEGA's official Sonic Central livestream in 2021, details had been extremely thin on the ground since then. Finally, the silence was broken in April, with a South Korean ratings board filing revealing the compilation's imminent release.
Marketed as a collection of the popular Sonic the Hedgehog 16-Bit remasters that had previously released exclusively on mobile devices, Origins marked the first time these Taxman-developed games were playable on home consoles. But there was also the added bonus of special modes for each game, new areas and newly-developed missions to complete. The compilation would also include some new animated sequences to bookend the events of each game, penned by Ian Flynn (who would eventually become a kind of connecting thread canonically across all of the mainline Sonic media projects).
Most significantly, Origins was the first time SEGA had re-released the fan-favourite Mega Drive masterpiece, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, in at least a decade. This new version of the 16-bit adventure was being handled exclusively by Sonic Mania co-developer Headcannon, while the rest of the Origins package was being produced by in-house SEGA teams.
Unfortunately, because of the music rights issues surrounding Sonic 3 (which is suspected to involve contributing composer and longtime Michael Jackson collaborator Brad Buxer, who coincidentally started talking about his work on Sonic 3 weeks before Sonic Origins' release), something had to give in the Headcannon remaster found in Origins. The BGM for the game's latter stages were replaced with newly mastered renditions from series sound director Jun Senoue.
Anyone looking to find another version of the classic games to play were soon to be out of luck as SEGA delisted past releases of the 16-Bit Sonic titles (including Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles' Xbox Live Arcade releases on Xbox 360, which still had the original music intact).
Luckily, while the change in S3K's soundtrack was a little jarring at first, it didn't dampen our feelings for the overall package, and we reviewed Sonic Origins positively (as did other gaming critics across the globe). The release wasn't without its hiccups - although a bugfix patch was released, some fans couldn't get over some of the production niggles, leading Headcannon to speak out against SEGA and accuse the company of making unsolicited modifications of its work on Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Bit of a strange and sour end to a really decent product, to be honest.
Bonus: Sonic Origins (and Sonic Colours Ultimate before it) may not be the last time SEGA explores the Sonic back catalogue - in May 2022, the company told investors that it would focus on "multiple remasters and remakes for the year ahead", amidst strong Sonic series game sales.
While the Sonic franchise definitely benefited from a successful run of movies, comics, Netflix shows and other media, for SEGA and Sonic Team the priority was on the next mainline Sonic game that had been in development for five years solid.
Sonic Frontiers marked a true departure from the 'Boost style' mechanics of the last 15 years of games, with an emphasis on exploration, parkour and close-quarters combat - signalling a "new generation" of Sonic gameplay. So distinctive was this revised direction for the Sonic games, that Takashi Iizuka went on record several times to comment on how Frontiers represented a bold new era for the Japanese studio (to the point where he even suggested he'd take learnings from Frontiers towards a Sonic Adventure sequel - but then Iizuka-san has talked about a Sonic Adventure sequel for about ten years now).
Frontiers saw a change in guard at Sonic Team as well - with the new 'face' of the developer taking centre stage throughout 2022. Morio Kishimoto has been an unsung hero of the year for Sonic fans, showing his clear dedication to the franchise in every media interview. Even post-release, his open discussions with fans on Twitter and earnest desires to improve and take on feedback is winning hearts, and we can really see him becoming a great spokesperson for the Sonic game series going forward. His dream is to restore the fans' faith in Sonic Team once again. And, well, we really have to admire him for that.
Ultimately, we were impressed with our play time with Sonic Frontiers at Gamescom, and our review concluded that the game shows a lot of promise for what future mainline Sonic games lie ahead. But the game really struck a chord with the Sonic fanbase. Which is easy to see, when you have a main theme by J-Rock band One Ok Rock, a tie-in prologue comic and animation, a vinyl release of Tomoya Ohtani's incredible soundtrack, Sonic Adventure 2 throwbacks and Monster Hunter collaborations.
SEGA went hard on promoting Sonic Frontiers indeed - beyond the obligatory impressive Japanese special edition, the company gave the game a huge presence at Japan's high profile Tokyo Game Show this year (which is unprecedented, given Sonic's relatively low popularity in the country) and even sold a one-off branded car, reminiscent of marketing stunts for the blue blur's Dreamcast adventures.
After years of being in the doldrums with rather pitiful game sales, Sonic Frontiers' release smashed all expectations, with the game selling over 2.5 million units by December, making it one of the fastest-selling Sonic games of all time. In Japan, its week-one sales quickly made it the fastest-selling mainline Sonic title in twenty years. It's no surprise that SEGA and Sonic Team are supporting the game up with a full slate of post-release content throughout 2023, including a whole new story chapter. A real success story for SEGA and Sonic Team, and a great template for the next generation of Sonic games!
The final big pillar in Sonic's amazing 2022 came along right at the end of the year, courtesy of Netflix. Much like all the other projects we've discussed here, Sonic Prime was announced early 2021 and spent the entire rest of last year going dark on us. It wasn't until mid-2022 where we'd finally get some footage of the show thanks to a sizzle reel.
Even after that, details were revealed to us in a drip-fed fashion. Shadow was confirmed to be in the show a month after the initial sizzle, as was Big the Cat. But besides a snapshot of their presence in Green Hill Zone, we got absolutely no further details on what roles they would have.
We finally got some idea of when Netflix would release the show to subscribers thanks to a Japanese interview with a SEGA producer that let slip the TV series would air in December. From there, it was a quick trip to trailer town and a confirmed release date, and the series did indeed air its first eight episodes in early December 2022. But not before airing the first episode on Roblox, because why not?
Sonic Prime opened its run and we found it to be a fun cartoon romp that offers some interesting twists on a number of Sonic characters that we grew up to know and love. We reviewed the first episode here, but it's clear that many millions of people binged all eight episodes right away, as the show quickly reached the Top 5 in Netflix's Most Watched within the opening week.
What Were Your Favourite Moments of 2022?
There have been so many notable moments in 2022 beyond the four main pillars above. From IDW's 50th Sonic Issue, to Minecraft, Fall Guys, Candy Crush and Kart Rider collaboration content, a surprise Sonic 2006 release on Xbox 360, Yuji Naka's arrest for insider trading, a second Mega Drive Mini console to awesome First4Figures statue announcements.
Let us know your favourite moment/s from the last year in the comments below!