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Was Sonic ever really in a good state after the Mega Drive era?

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Well you saw the title.

I sometimes feel that when looking at the franchise as a whole, there is really no era after the classic Mega Drive era that one can with complete confidence call a good era for the franchise.

In the first half of the 90's, Sonic basically had it all. The games were successful, and acclaimed by both general gamers and professional gaming journalists. And Sonic as a character tapped into the zeitgeist among young people perfectly, being the very definition of cool, with his personality being shown and expanded upon by two popular cartoon series. There was also merchandise of every immaginable kind (rivaled in scope only by Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers). The franchise knew what it was and how to appeal to it's audience, and in short, it was on a roll.

The period directly following the release of Sonic and Knuckles was one of relative inactivity for the franchise, with the only high profile game released at that time being Sonic 3D, to mixed reception. After having been spoiled during the 1991-1994 period with a new acclaimed standout Sonic game each year (or, in 1993, two standout games) the years directly following afterwards were dull in comparasion, and the Sonic mania of the earlier half of the decade started to fizzle out.

The release of Sonic Adventure was somewhat of a renaissance for the franchise, but was it truly a successful one? The Dreamcast itself was a financial failure, limiting how big an impact Sonic Adventure could really have. This was also when the seends were sown to the series identity crisis, as SEGA began to experiment wildly with the series, not limited to a misguided attempt to essentially move the setting of Sonic to the "real world". Sonic Adventure 2 continued this trend. I remember reading about the then upcoming Sonic Heroes, and I recall how gaming journalists were hoping that the game would "set Sonic back on track". The proof that SEGA temselves doubted their decisions with the Adventure games can clearly be seen in that their very next main series game, Heroes, undid a lot of the Adventure games' inovations,, as it returned to surreal and colorsful environments, and also dialed back on trying to tell an epic story and on featuring darker elements... all of which was undone again with the game Shadow the Hedgehog.

But even with all that said, I feel that the years 1999-2004 period of Sonic was probably the closest that the series has ever come to a true second golden age. Even though the Dreamcast failed, Sonic immediately found a comfortable new home on the Gamecube, where a new generation of fans fell in love with the Adventure games. Sonic Adventure 2 (Battle) in particular seems to almost be the Sonic 2 among younger fans. I think fans of this generation responded to to basically the same thing that fans of my generation did a decade earlier; Sonic was cool. Young fans responded to the dark tone, to the epic storylines, to the rock and hip hop soundtrack, and to Sonic's devil-may-care attitude. And much like how SatAM and AoStH had helped the franchise reach new heights in the 90's, Sonic X introduced even the smallest kids to Sonic and his friends, and was a major hit in the ratings. The Adventure era might not be exactly what I or many others of my age wanted exactly, but it had the right ambition, and for the most part it did it's job.

As for the entire period after 2004 though, I couldn't even with the best of will consider any given point a golden age of Sonic. The mid 2000's saw the games critical receptions sink to embarassing lows, and the aforementioned identity crisis of the series became extremely apparent. SEGA dabled in everything from grimdarkness to hyper-realism to... werewolfs. Then after that, the series did temporarily settled on an identity... it just happens to be a very ill-advised idenitity. Namely, it was decided that Sonic should be a series makred by whimsy and comedy. In other words, the attitue that the series has always lived on went out the window. And, unsurprisingly, fans didn't take kindly to this change. Though to be fair, the most important element in any video game series is of course the actual gameplay, and this era did give us some acclaimed games, namely Colors and Generations. But then again, we also got Lost World and the disastrous Rise of Lyric, so speaking of the 2010's as a whole we can at best refer to it as a mixed bag. And call it anecdotal, but I for one don't really see loads of new fans joining the fanbase. I can just compare this era to the 00's, when the fanbase was absolutley flooded by kids who had just discivered and fallen in love with the then-new Sonic media.

The latest notable chapters in the Sonic saga is of course Forces and Mania. The former being a somewhat lackluster return to the tone of the Adevnture games and a poorly executed version of the Colors/Generations gameplay, and the later being a ray of sunshine on the rainy Sonic sky and a love-letter to those of us who stuck with the franchise since the beggning. Time will only tell where SEGA goes from here.

In summary, I don't think the series has ever even gotten close to the absolutley delerious heights it acchieved in during the first few years of its existance. But with that said, the first half of the 00's came closer than any other point in time to truly bring Sonic back on the map. What do you think?

 

 

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52 minutes ago, Badnik Mechanic said:

Yes he was in "a good state" for a couple of years.

Which years? Can I be bold and guess that you're either refering to the Adventure era or the Colors-Generations era?

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I think it's more complicated than either side makes out.

It's true that critics were very quick to criticise the 3D Sonic games. I remember that Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 got good reviews at the time, but even by before the release of Sonic Heroes they were beginning to be seen as a decline in quality. This was cemented by Sonic 06 and the stigma has never gone away.

But I think you would have to be pretty crazy to say Sonic Adventure 2 wasn't very successful. It was incredibly popular on the Gamcube because for a lot of people it was the first chance they had to own a Sonic game. This was in the time when households usually owned one console and brand loyalty had more sway. I know a lot of people who are disinterested in Sonic, or even hate it, and have played at least parts of SA2. It's easily the most important game in the series culturally since Sonic 2.

I also think it's easy to underestimate just how successful Sonic Heroes was. It was the first multiplatform game and it sold very well on the PS2. I'm 29 now, and I know a lot of people who are around 20 who grew up on Sonic Heroes. I think part of the reason why the game gets so many of its levels re-used in spinoffs and recent games is because it's the childhood Sonic game for many people.

So yeah, while the Gamcube SA2 and Sonic Heroes weren't critically successful, they were commercially and hold a special place in people's hearts.

 

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I don't think it's that Sonic has never been 'good' after the Mega Drive games, it's just he's kinda suffered a massive identity crisis.

Sonic Adventure 1 struggled to translate a lot of the key mechanics and physics of the original games to 3D, so ended up compensating and ending up a bit divergent and unfocused, if still pretty fun. The main problem was that, rather than trying to work out these obstacles and get things back on track, the later games just deviated EVEN MORE from the original Sonic gameplay, and sometimes missed the mark even when they DID try to emulate the old style again (eg. Sonic 4).

Evolution and trying new ideas is of course important in moderation, but the problem is that, besides the odd nostalgia game like Advance 1 and Mania, most of which are side projects not even made by Sonic Team, Sonic has slowly discarded its vital 'core' and never really managed to recover it. There are some good games still there, but not always good SONIC games.

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I'm shocked to see someone not bash the Adventure era for once.

I'm honestly surprised I haven't see anyone add this to their "Sonic team cycle", or maybe I'm forgetting. But each era seems to have it too. You've got a few years of praised content, to be followed by a lull of either less liked games or less games in general. (Classic trilogy vs 1995-1998, Adventure Duo vs 2005-2008, Colors & Generations vs 2012-2017 or present depending on if you think Mania was enough to save it)

48 minutes ago, Plasme said:

But I think you would have to be pretty crazy to say Sonic Adventure 2 wasn't very successful. It was incredibly popular on the Gamcube because for a lot of people it was the first chance they had to own a Sonic game. This was in the time when households usually owned one console and brand loyalty had more sway. I know a lot of people who are disinterested in Sonic, or even hate it, and have played at least parts of SA2. It's easily the most important game in the series culturally since Sonic 2.

I also think it's easy to underestimate just how successful Sonic Heroes was. It was the first multiplatform game and it sold very well on the PS2. I'm 29 now, and I know a lot of people who are around 20 who grew up on Sonic Heroes. I think part of the reason why the game gets so many of its levels re-used in spinoffs and recent games is because it's the childhood Sonic game for many people.

I did have SA2 on Dreamcast, but it was one of the only games I owned for the system due to it's quick downfall. There was a time I'd get every Sonic game I could get my hands on, but around 06 I couldn't due to console exclusives. Which does mean I missed out on 06 due to only having a Wii, but if that was for better or worse it's hard to say. I had played the store demo, but it also means my perception of the game was colored by Let's Players and I never got to get a first impression by playing it myself. Then around Wii U era I did actually own one, but ironically by trying so hard to appeal to Nintendo fans I lost interest in Sonic. I got into Sonic because he was different from Mario, if I wanted to play Mario he's right there. lol

I also watched Sonic X on FoxBox (later called 4kids). I remember seeing an advert for it at a theme park and thinking how cool it looked. I also owned videos of the various Sonic cartoons before X, but those only included specific episodes like Christmas Blast. So between that and the Classic rereleases on Gamecube I had a lot of access to both Classic and Adventure era back then.

I must admit as a kid I liked Heroes, but not as strongly as SA2. It's only as I got older I was able to understand why. As much as I like some of the level art work and music, the rest I don't find as enjoyable. I'm not a fan of the plastic look SADX and Heroes has either.

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of course he has.  The adventure era up to 06. Go read some old game magazines people used to be beyond hyped for sonic games back in the day. The excitement people had for the adventure games and even 06 had a ton of excitement and hope from many game books back then and Sega flubbed hat up hard. . But every time Sega has just dropped the ball and does not really try. I look forward to the day a 3d game gets the praise like a mario game does.

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19 minutes ago, Meta77 said:

I look forward to the day a 3d game gets the praise like a mario game does.

I think if they ever did nail that sense of the 2D gameplay in 3D in more than a fan demo, with a decent enough story and characters, it would do so. But anything less? I highly doubt it.

It feels like the only 3D games that get praised are the ones that copy 2D Sonic, even when they suck at it (Sonic 4 Reviews). That's more on the critics than the fans though. While it's a good idea on what non Sonic fans think, it really doesn't accurately reflect the fandom. It makes sense considering most reviewers are playing tons of games and probably 10-20 years older than Sonic's biggest fan base.

As I said in another thread, I'd be more shocked if they approved of it as that would be like an adult praising Fortnite dancing. Sorry I don't have a more recent example than that.

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In terms of sales the franchise has been pretty consistent until recently. It's harder to measure his impact as a cultural icon, but it'd be healthier not to expect Sonic to ever be as omnipresent as he was in the 90s again. Before we get into how much of that is actually his fault, platformers just aren't the dominant genre anymore and I doubt they will be for some time. Games nowadays are cultural cornerstones through some kind of multiplayer or cooperative element, which the genre isn't really suited for.

The odds are stacked against him but of course sega's poor handling of the series doesn't help. This is anecdotal, but while poor quality releases are usually to blame, I've actually seen more people express that they didn't know that the series was still going or that a Sonic game had come out than anything else. The marketing is too low key. Even if the games were supposedly mediocre or even poor, they should be treated like they're gold by marketing. 

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I know it's easy to point fingers at the game's declining quality and Sega's mishandling, but even if Sonic was at the top of his game after the Mega drive, he was never going to be as popular as he was afterward. The marketed shifted, mascot platformers were starting to be phased out by the mid 2000's as gamers demanded "mature" and "real" games and brightly colored cartoon mascots were starting to be seen as childish relics of the past; aside from Shadow, I don't think it's coincidence that most mascot platformers focused more on trying to be "edgy" to keep up with the times with examples like Ratchet Deadlocked, Jak 2 and beyond, and the Sly Cooper games. Mario didn't have many major releases in this period aside from re-releases of older games on the handheld, and he dabbled in the "edge" craze with Mario Strikers. And Super Mario Galaxy is significantly more "epic" in scale compared to any game before or after. 

Nowadays, the platformer genre is mostly relegated to indie titles released by small time developers from the people who grew up on those games (aka Us); which leads us to a funny conclusion, in a market that is saturated to the brim with "real" games, Mario and Sonic are really the only ones left still supporting the platform genre and stick out as the only children friendly products around. Sonic has a pretty appealing design to young kids, and you only have to look at the movie to see that, and a legacy to boot supported by a passionate fanbase. 

So hilariously, despite the games being nowhere near Mario in terms of quality or polish, Sonic is still as relevant as he's ever been out of sheer endurance.

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4 hours ago, batson said:

Which years? Can I be bold and guess that you're either refering to the Adventure era or the Colors-Generations era?

It's kinda obvious isn't it?

You can't say that Adventure - Heroes was bad. 

You'd also be really hard pressed to convince people that even Unleashed to Lost World was bad. Like, Unleashed wasn't the most amazing thing ever, but it showed they were going in the right direction, Generations was fantastic for the time, Lost World is just a bit meh.

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1 hour ago, Wraith said:

In terms of sales the franchise has been pretty consistent until recently. It's harder to measure his impact as a cultural icon, but it'd be healthier not to expect Sonic to ever be as omnipresent as he was in the 90s again. Before we get into how much of that is actually his fault, platformers just aren't the dominant genre anymore and I doubt they will be for some time. Games nowadays are cultural cornerstones through some kind of multiplayer or cooperative element, which the genre isn't really suited for.

The odds are stacked against him but of course sega's poor handling of the series doesn't help. This is anecdotal, but while poor quality releases are usually to blame, I've actually seen more people express that they didn't know that the series was still going or that a Sonic game had come out than anything else. The marketing is too low key. Even if the games were supposedly mediocre or even poor, they should be treated like they're gold by marketing. 

You mean you don't want a Sonic Battle Royale? lol

I remember seeing commercials often around Sonic Heroes, but after that I can't think of many. I think I mostly heard from online when a new game was coming. I did see a ton of ads for the Sonic movie though, way more than I ever have for the games but that's likely due to more of a marketing budget.

 

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I also think it's very easy to overblow how popular Sonic was in the 1990s. Sonic 1 and 2 are perhaps some of the most important games ever culturally. In the 1990s Sonic was one of the most recognisable characters ever. He was on the level of popularity of something like MW2 or GTA5.

But even by Sonic 3 he was starting to lose relevance and that game's sales are far lower than Sonic 2. Not to say it's a bad game, because it's my favourite Sonic game ever made after Mania, but it definitely came out after the Sonic fad ended.

And then in 1995-9 (here in the west) there was a whole bunch of nothing. No one cared much about Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic R. 

So Sonic Adventure 2 was actually the most popular Sonic had been since, if we are being generous, 1995. It's an important point to make.

 

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2 hours ago, Wraith said:

The odds are stacked against him but of course sega's poor handling of the series doesn't help. This is anecdotal, but while poor quality releases are usually to blame, I've actually seen more people express that they didn't know that the series was still going or that a Sonic game had come out than anything else. The marketing is too low key. Even if the games were supposedly mediocre or even poor, they should be treated like they're gold by marketing. 

I can't say for sure since I don't honestly know, but I imagine whatever staff there that handled their more mainstream marketing avenues were cut during Sega of America's layoffs and relocation out of San Francisco as part of the 2015 restructure. Namely because the layoffs and restructure were done as part of the company's broader refocus more towards digital games (PC/mobile), with streamlining overseas operations of packaged games listed as a specific goal. So I think there's some definite truth in what you say, starting from that point.

Although with that said, I'd say Unleashed was the last mainline game that got a really big push marketing-wise, which I feel goes hand-in-hand with how it's also said to be the last Sonic game handled with high production values. My anecdotal takes are that for Black Knight through Lost World, the advertising space on television, print, product/store tie-ins, physical floor space, etc. were drastically cut back. They tried to improve this with the launch of the Boom series, but that blew up in their faces and was probably what was the final straw for any future mainstream marketing. (Not like that approach has worked out all that great, based on how games like TSR and Forces to a lesser extent have performed.)

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I see what you're getting at, but I would say that Adventure 1 & Adventure 2 and Colors & Generations were both fairly good states for the franchise (in terms of being perceived as such at the time, at least - maybe even in retrospect too, depending on who you ask). Granted, those both were only two games long, which I suppose is saying something. At least the series has pretty consistently had more minor/non-Sonic Team titles that are usually considered at least decent, and occasionally great (Mania being the biggest example, but then you also have your Advances and Rushes and stuff like that).

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1998-2004 was when Sonic was good, given the quality of the adventure games and Heroes. If we're taking things out of context regarding consoles, then we'll likely fit the Advance series in there too.

Sure, Sonic 06 was bad, but not as bad as Boom or Lost World. I'd rather play that game over those two because it had a sense of 'adventure' to them.

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There were commercials for Sonic Lost World; not a lot, but it was something. But yea, the marketing push for this franchise has been extremely low aside from Boom, and that shit tanked hard. Think Boom taking is a significant reason they've cut back so much on this series. If something is deemed a failure, then they're not going to be as inclined to put as much money towards it. 

But yea, the Adventure Era (1998-2004) was probably the best time for the series outside of the 90's; Sonic Adventure were huge hits and introduced a new generation to Sonic, you had Sonic X airing, the advance series was going strong, and while Sonic Heroes as well as the Adventure titles, the game had a decent reputation. He wasn't as big of a fad as he was, but he still had a pretty good name. As I said, the fact that Sonic was still so popular despite the era of mascot platformers coming to an end was amazing.

And then everything went to shit from 2005-2010; Unleashed was a small reprieve, but its reputation was tarnished by the Werehog; and the only notable spin offs from this time were the Rush, Rivals, Riders and Storybook series which were only considered passable at best, and forgettable at worst.

2010-2013 was the only time the series had a bit of an upturn with the double whammy of Colors and Generations, with the minor hiccup that was Sonic 4, and even then the second episode was considered a step up over the original.

And then from 2013-Present, everything just went to shit again lol; With exception of Mania, everything since Lost World has just been painfully mediocre, and Boom was seen as just a desperate attempt at staying relevant that crashed and burned and probably costed Sega TONS of money. This is the longest time that Sonic has ever under performed. You had mediocre games in the dark age too, but you had some decent spin offs to offset it somewhat. There's no games to offset the mediocrity this time though with the exception of Team Sonic Racing, and even that's considered inferior to it's predecessors. 

If I had to divide things up: 1991-1994 (Golden Age, or the Genesis :V), 1995-1998 (The age where nothing happened), 1998-2004 (Silver age), 2005-2010 (Dark Age), 2010-2013(The Renaissance), 2013-Present (The Modern age, also a second Dark age depending on who you ask)

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42 minutes ago, Wraith said:

Not in the slightest but now that you mention it I wouldn't put it past them.

I was joking, they can barely handle it with just Sonic, let alone tons of him.

28 minutes ago, Kuzu said:

And then everything went to shit from 2005-2010; Unleashed was a small reprieve, but its reputation was tarnished by the Werehog; and the only notable spin offs from this time were the Rush, Rivals, Riders and Storybook series which were only considered passable at best, and forgettable at worst.

I think Unleashed was done dirty. The media acted like Colors started it all when Unleashed introduced Boost to begin with. Yes the Werehog had issues, but it really felt like the last time they tried to make the game the best it could be. It honestly looks better visually than Forces. Hub worlds were back. Great soundtrack. The levels weren't as narrow as they would be later on. Even Chip I find less annoying in the JP version. The short with the ghosts was cute too. And also the trivia of it being called Sonic World Adventure outside of the US. I honestly think if it wasn't in the middle of 06 and Black Knight it'd have gotten less complaints. So what Sonic is a were wolf? I didn't see anyone complaining about Mario turning into enemies as being "too edgy" or "too far for the series". It's almost like the gameplay matters more than the concept, and that an odd concept can be liked if the gameplay for it is done well.

I also agree about this period feeling worse. Dark age had bad games, but there was so much coming out that you could let things slide because something new was already out. If Forces had been right before another game people would just move on as it being a misstep, but because it'll be 3 or 4 years now without a main title, it's just like the dark half of Classic with a 4 year gap between Sonic 3 and Sonic Adventure. I can only hope it'll be an upswing again. The movie brought a lot of attention and hope I haven't seen in years. Even the online shorts help.

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Sonic the Franchise has always been troubled. I would say actually now, present day, is one of the strongest periods to date. Sonic Mania was great, and popular; made by fans. The Sonic IDW comic books are great, and popular; made by fans. The 2020 film was good, and popular; Jim Carrey was in it and he was funny. It broke box office records!! The reaction to the first trailer and the finished result is massive evidence that, despite years of middling products from Sega, there is still a deep reservoir of love for Sonic the Hedgehog across multiple generations, from Gen X to Gen Z.

Even in the Genesis era, as I lived through as a boy, was majorly flawed. Yes, the "core 4" games were universally recognized as Great and Cool. But there were from the beginning a ton of spin-off products that did not live up to that same standard, and the flood of Sonic games and products diluted the "core 4." 

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2 minutes ago, DryLagoon said:

I was joking, they can barely handle it with just Sonic, let alone tons of him.

I think Unleashed was done dirty. The media acted like Colors started it all when Unleashed introduced Boost to begin with. Yes the Werehog had issues, but it really felt like the last time they tried to make the game the best it could be. It honestly looks better visually than Forces. Hub worlds were back. Great soundtrack. The levels weren't as narrow as they would be later on. Even Chip I find less annoying in the JP version. The short with the ghosts was cute too. And also the trivia of it being called Sonic World Adventure outside of the US. I honestly think if it wasn't in the middle of 06 and Black Knight it'd have gotten less complaints. So what Sonic is a were wolf? I didn't see anyone complaining about Mario turning into enemies as being "too edgy" or "too far for the series". It's almost like the gameplay matters more than the concept, and that an odd concept can be liked if the gameplay for it is done well.

If Unleashed had came out just a few years later, the Werehog likely would not have gotten the scorn that it did. But it came out just two years when 06 was still pretty fresh in people's mind. All of the production values and presentation in the world wasn't going to make the Werehog appealing, because at that point the public were burnt out and tired of how gimmicky the series had gotten and just wanted something simple and to the point. This is when Sonic cycle debuted keep in mind, because when Unleashed was first unveiled, the biggest selling point was that Sonic was the only playable character and "there was no bullshit" according to people. It looked like just a simple and fun Sonic game, which was once again, the main thing people wanted.

So when the Werehog was unveiled as yet another gimmick, people flipped their shit because it felt like Sega had not learned a goddamn thing and was still trying to throw in gimmicks in their games. People went into Unleashed with a negative attitude towards the Werehog, and so the problems the game had were accentuated.

 

And see, I agree because that is the most tragic thing about Unleashed; you could honestly tell they wanted it to be a return to form after 06, they put their heart and soul into that game but because they failed to understand what the public wanted, it just damaged the game's reputation as a result. Like, it really does pain me because there has not been a game like Unleashed since.

 

Mario has good will on his side; he's consistently had solid and good games, so when he does weird shit, people are willing to give the series the benefit of the doubt. When Sonic does weird shit, the quality tends to be questionable which doesn't exactly instill faith in your product. If Unleashed came out from the 1994-2004 era, it probably would have just been accepted as an experimental but solid title. 

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4 minutes ago, Kuzu said:

If Unleashed had came out just a few years later, the Werehog likely would not have gotten the scorn that it did. But it came out just two years when 06 was still pretty fresh in people's mind. All of the production values and presentation in the world wasn't going to make the Werehog appealing, because at that point the public were burnt out and tired of how gimmicky the series had gotten and just wanted something simple and to the point. This is when Sonic cycle debuted keep in mind, because when Unleashed was first unveiled, the biggest selling point was that Sonic was the only playable character and "there was no bullshit" according to people. It looked like just a simple and fun Sonic game, which was once again, the main thing people wanted.

So when the Werehog was unveiled as yet another gimmick, people flipped their shit because it felt like Sega had not learned a goddamn thing and was still trying to throw in gimmicks in their games. People went into Unleashed with a negative attitude towards the Werehog, and so the problems the game had were accentuated.

I think that's true, but as you also acknowledged, the Werehog was always going to be a tough sell, in the best circumstances. It's just such a departure from what Sonic is -- in terms of gameplay, but also in terms of his character design. Sonic's design is like 50% of his appeal; the other 50% is that he's a speedy pinball critter. Werehog takes both away. Whether it's successful on its own merits almost doesn't matter, because it feels like a bait and switch from what you actually want.

That said, I strongly believe Unleashed could have been much more successful when it was released, had the Werehog stages simply been Knuckles during the day (or at least not all at night). 

Sonic & Knuckles Unleashed, or Sonic & Knuckles World Tour, or (drumroll) Sonic Adventure 3 & Knuckles 

I'm convinced that would've hit people completely different. 

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1 hour ago, Kuzu said:

If I had to divide things up: 1991-1994 (Golden Age, or the Genesis :V), 1995-1998 (The age where nothing happened), 1998-2004 (Silver age), 2005-2010 (Dark Age), 2010-2013(The Renaissance), 2013-Present (The Modern age, also a second Dark age depending on who you ask)

No, that's not right.  Sonic Mania, IDW series, and Sonic 2020 Movie are all definitely part of a different era. Yeah, you have "Sonic Forces" in there but that's the outlier. 2017 — Present: A New Era

It's more accurately broken down along the lines of the console generation. The brand media (cartoons, comics) are an extension shaped by that, more than the other way around.

1991-1995 — Genesis era. This era doesn't end with Sonic & Knuckles, it ends with Sonic 3D Blast. Even the golden era of the franchise was marred by inconsistency across Game Gear, spin-off titles (Spinball, Mean Bean Machine), two very different cartoons, and an insane amount of brand exposure through marketing. Sonic was very much around, and the "core 4" games were Good and Popular, but the franchise was always a little suspect and was never "universally cool" despite the revisionist take that focuses only on the "core 4" games.

1995-1999 — Saturn era. Dead period. Archie comics. 

1999-2001 — Dreamcast era. Sonic Team takes stronger command of the franchise lore with Adventure/Adventure 2, but also Sonic Underground and the Archie Sonic comics are weird and bad. Sega drops out of the console business and Sonic's future becomes cloudier.

2001-2008 — 1st Nintendo era; Gamecube/PS2/Xbox. Begins strong with Sonic X and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle creating a much wider net of exposure to Sonic, and both are good. But the post-Dreamcast games stumble, without the bonus shield of "well I bought a Sega console and this game is our Mario" and also a bunch of very questionable creative decisions, so the franchise takes a nose dive. Heroes is noticeably worse than Adventure 2, and Shadow and Sonic 06 only make things worse.

2008-2017 —2nd Nintendo era. Wii/Wii U/etc.  Sonic appears in Smash Bros Brawl, and there's huge enthusiasm for it. The games don't match the enthusiasm; Secret Rings & Unleashed are panned by critics and fans, although both have defenders, but even they admit the game is mediocre at best. Black Knight is worse. Colors is better. Lost World is worse. All Star Racing Transformed is better. The Archie comics are better with Ian Flynn but the overall perception of them with things like Ken Penders and the insane online fan community is worse. Sonic Boom the TV show is better, Sonic Boom the games are worse. Sonic is in Smash Bros Wii U, but the view on the franchise is that it's all over the place, and the good isn't good enough to overcome the bad which at its worst is awful and embarrassing.

2017-Present. The New Era. 3rd Nintendo era- Switch/etc. Fans like Christian Whitehead and Tyson Hesse and Ian Flynn and many others have taken over the means of Sonic production and shown what the franchise looks like in capable, loving hands. 2020 Movie being saved by the redesign & Sonic Forces both make compelling arguments that Sega/Sonic Team ought to outsource everything to this new generation of fan creators, because they know how to do it better.

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Sifting through what is "spin off" and what isn't in Sonic is functionally meaningless outside of head canon, but that's a separate issue. They're all spin off since the original creative team left.  

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