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Kuzu

Does the series have too many characters?

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The answer to that question, Nope.  Because there is no set limit on what is or isn't allowed in the amount of characters that are added to the series, and it's a loaded question to begin with. 

But now that I got your attention, here's the actual point of the topic. 

 

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Without a doubt, Sonic has bred some of the most memorable cast of characters in gaming as most game reviewers or even a casual fan is at least bound to know at least one or two characters. They have all left some type of mark...for better or worst. Yea, it kind of goes without saying that next to the gameplay related issues, Sonic's abundance of supporting characters tends to be one of it's most divisive elements. But why is that? What is it about these particular characters that get so many people, fans and non-fans alike, so extremely pulsed about their inclusion? For every fan of these characters, you'll find an equal amount that simply don't care or outright want them removed from the series entirely. 

So for the sake of exploring that question on why these characters tend to be so divisive, I'm going to compare this cast with a cast from another series that doesn't get anywhere near this much contention.

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That's right, Sonic's old business rival Mario; just like Sonic, Mario also has a rather large cast of characters all with their own charm and personality, but are far less controversial or divisive. You almost never see critics or fans getting up in arms over the inclusion of any of them. In fact, when they do show up, they tend to get warm receptions; remember how happy everyone was to see the Koopalings return in NSMBW? You can count on one hand the amount of times the Sonic cast get that treatment, in fact most critics tend to be happy when they're not included at all.

 

Two platforming franchises with  a large and memorable cast, but the reactions to both tend to be very different, so to explore that further, I'm gonna compare and contrast the primary characters in each respective series.  Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, and Eggman for Sonic and Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser for Mario. Time to begin.

 

Mario & Sonic

Spoiler

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So starting off with our main boys. I'll start with Mario first. Without a doubt, Mario is one the most iconic characters in the entertainment industry, with almost universal love from all over the planet. Mario's primary strength as a character is honestly just in his simplicity, both in design and personality. His design is just a standard shirt and overalls combo with a hat, but his appearance is so synonymous with the character that even when he dons different outfits, his iconic hat and mustache remain untouched. In terms of personality, he's just a happy-go lucky fellow who wants to do good for the sake of it, an everyman essentially. His everyman persona easily allows players of any age to put themselves into the game as they're controlling him, which just further adds to his appeal. Unfortunately, because he's so nondescript, it can be pretty hard to really invest in him as a character; he's a blank slate and sometimes people would prefer following a character who is more defined and has goals rather than just being an avatar that waits for things to happen that the player controls. That said there is no doubt about his place in the world.  It's ironic that by having such a nondescript personality, that he ends up with a timeless appeal not unlike the likes of Mickey Mouse and why the character has endured for so many years.

Moving to Sonic. Now as you might already know, Sonic was specifically designed to be everything that Mario was not; Mario has smoother and rounder features, Sonic's features are sharper and fierce with spines and a confident expression that just screams "I can take on anything that comes my way". Mario's personality is pretty undefined and flat, while Sonic's personality is extremely well defined and rounded; he's not the type of person who will wait around for something to happen to him, he will go out and find something out there in the world for him to explore but he's got enough of a sense of justice to help anyone along the way who needs it. Unlike Mario, it's not as easy to see yourself in Sonic, because Sonic has such a defined personality and goal, but he's still embodies admirable traits of individualism and that helps some people admire him. That said, because Sonic was made as a direct response to Mario, his personality may not appeal to everyone the same way Mario's does; Mario has a general appeal that while he may be bland, it's hard to really hate him. Sonic by comparison might have a more defined personality, but it may actually put you off putting depending on your own personality, and it's likely a reason he's had to somewhat update his character to stay appealing to the current generation. But regardless of how you feel, just like Mario, Sonic also has that timeless appeal, just for a different reason and despite how the quality of the series has fluctuated, it's no doubt Sonic has a firm spot in entertainment just as much as Mario does. 

 

Luigi & Tails

Spoiler

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The sidekicks, the second bananas, the underachievers. As usual, I'll start with Luigi. So a funny thing about Luigi is that he started off as just a palette swap of Mario; he had no defined design or personality to speak of and was just a means for a second player to join in the game. It would be quite a while before he developed the traits that he would be most well known for, namely being the taller but younger brother and being timid and somewhat cowardly foil to his more traditionally heroic older brother.  This hilariously, gave Luigi a much more defined personality than his brother and most fans tend to be a bigger fan of him over Mario because of it. Luigi's design also plays pretty well into his newer character as because he looks so similar to Mario, but isn't as brave or courageous, he tends to be commonly overlooked or mistaken for Mario a lot which just adds to the audience sympathy and makes it much gratifying when he does manage to earn people's recognition and respect after overcoming his fears. Just like his brother, Luigi is a good person at heart as despite living in his brother's shadow and constantly belittled about it, he does not resent Mario at all and in fact admires and loves his brother very much and tries to work his hardest to assist him any way he can. It's very heartwarming. The only bad thing you can really say about Luigi is that his character, while it is more defined than Mario's, is also pretty static; he's a coward who overcomes his fears and that has pretty much been the extent of his character for years now. 

Now moving on to Tails. Unlike Luigi, Tails actually has a backstory detailing his first meeting with Sonic; he was ostracized for his deformity and in his loneliness, he just happened to see Sonic blazing by as he usually does and did his best to keep up with him as he was impressed by his speed. Sonic initially ignored the kid as he doesn't really slow down for anyone, but much to his amazement, Tails was able to keep up with Sonic's speed and this impressed Sonic so much that he took the kid under his wing and gave him his trademark nickname. Something Tails was ostracized for, became an endearing trait that serves as the foundation for his bond with his idol. Tails wanted to look good for Sonic and turned what he saw as a weakness into a strength. Just from his backstory, Tails is a character that's easy to sympathize with; he wants to feel needed and impress those around him, because he was told his entire life that he was an outsider who didn't belong. Tails's design and personality pretty much evoke him being Sonic's "little brother"; he is smaller than Sonic, and has much softer and rounder features to contrast Sonic's sharper ones to evoke his cuteness. And despite his ability to fly, Tails tends to tire out pretty easily unlike Sonic, who can just keep running without getting winded at all. In terms of personality, well he's much more easygoing and humble than Sonic which makes his character much more easier to like if Sonic's more forceful personality turns you away. On the flip-side, because Tails contrasts Sonic so heavily, and Sonic's personality is so larger than life, Tails can come off as pretty bland next to the much more confident and outgoing Sonic and this is especially true whenever he's with another character or he's by himself.

 

Peach & Amy

Spoiler

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Now we come to the damsels in distress, the (not?) love interests, the ones whom our hero usually have to save from danger. Peach, like Mario, is pretty nondescript in terms of personality and design. Hilariously, we probably know less about her than there is about Mario; all we really know is that she's a princess (but not a Queen???) who is kind, and somewhat attractive. You do have some spin offs that do flesh her out a bit, but it's not really much. Peach's main role is, in rather unflattering terms, being the prize which Mario is rewarded with for beating the game, usually in the form of a kiss. There's enough justification there for the player to want to rescue her (being the classic princess being captive by the evil dragon), but it's also just as easily to be turned off by how much agency she lacks as a character.

Amy on the other hand is kind of, the anti-Peach. See, like Sonic, she's also not someone who waits for something to happen before acting; she makes her debut seeking Sonic out because she's a fan of him. Even after this, Amy usually throws herself into whatever adventure Sonic is on by forcing herself into his path. And in a spin of the usual "hero and damsel" dynamic, Sonic has no romantic interest in Amy at all despite her prodding. Sure, he sees her as a good friend, but Sonic is much more interested in seeing the world than settling down with a girlfriend, kind of emphasizing that "too cool for school" attitude, not that this deters Amy at all. Despite being somewhat of a victim though, Amy does try her best at what she does, even at things that aren't related to Sonic; she's willing to help the small people in her own way. She doesn't possess Sonic's speed to just recklessly run through her problems, she's just a normal girl with a hammer, because of that, her innate kindness shines more since she can't just beat up all of her enemies. She's so forceful in personality, that she has no qualms against standing  against Sonic if she feels that he's in the wrong, something Tails very rarely does. Her forceful personality can come off as pretty grating though, especially because she's so underpowered, she can sometimes feel like a liability to Sonic rather than a genuine ally. 

 

Bowser & Eggman

Spoiler

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The Big bads. So in contrast to the three characters above, Bowser's design and personality is very much more defined and noticeable. Pretty much everything about him screams "Evil Brute". He's large, has spikes, and horns; he is designed to be as intimidating as possible, especially in comparison to the much more atypical Mario. Bowser's pretty unique though as while most of the time he's a generic evil overlord who just kidnaps Peach, he's arguably the most fleshed out main character in the franchise, which is especially noticeable when the aforementioned Mario, Luigi, and Peach are all pretty flat and static. He's loud, boisterous, and tends to just brute force all of his problems but he's also a kind father, and a respectful leader to his troops, and some spin offs straight up say that his henchman follow him out of genuine loyalty and admiration than just fear. He respects Mario as a rival even if he wants to beat him, and its implied that he's actually rather fond of Peach to explain why he kidnaps her.  It ironically makes him so much more sympathetic and easy to root for despite technically being the villain. The worst you can honestly say about him is that most of these traits tend to be ignored and diluted to make him just as flat as Mario in most of the main platformers, but even then he still has dialogue whereas Mario does not. 

Eggman on the other hand, in contrast to Sonic's free-spirited nature, is a pretty huge control freak; he wants to subjugate everyone and everything under his rule to satiate his own ego, and refuses to settle for anything less than total domination. On the surface, he doesn't really look all that intimidating being just a fat old man in contrast to the much younger and spry Sonic. But that just kind of serves to juxtapose what he's capable of, as his most dangerous trait is his intelligence and his ability to invent extremely dangerous doomsday devices and robots that can lay waste all around. In terms of personality, he gives off the impression of being a jolly old man, but he's actually very selfish and childish and prone to temper tantrums in contrast to the cool and confident Sonic. He has also has very little empathy for others as most of his companions tend to be lifeless robots that serve his every whim and whom he discards at the drop of a hat once he's done with them, and he has no problem tearing the world asunder in his goal for conquest. He's not completely heartless though and does have some good traits; although he hates him, he does also hold a small bit of respect for Sonic in their little rivalry and has enough common sense to work with the heroes to prevent the destruction of the world around him, and depending on the medium, a part of him may actually want to be a better person that's worthy of being loved and admired. That said, his childishness and constant belittling at the hands of Sonic can easily make it hard to take him seriously.

Knuckles and....?

Spoiler

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So uh, first thing you'll notice is that unlike the others above, Knuckles has no direct counterpart that he can easily be compared to in Mario. That's because Knuckles' role is so unique that it's not really easily equatable with anyone's. The closest you can probably say is Donkey Kong, but he's spun off into his own franchise while Knuckles is still very much apart of Sonic's supporting cast. That right there kind of speaks how Sonic's cast tend to contrast Mario's in that they all can't be directly compared to each other. So I'm gonna have to cheat here and use a character from another franchise to compare Knuckles and I choose...

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Protoman. This is very huge tangent so bare with me. Like Knuckles, Protoman started off as an adversary to Mega Man and working for the villain (who also happens to be a mad scientist :V) before switching sides and becoming an off and off ally because of his rocky relationship with one of the main characters. Now on the surface, these characters have a lot in common, and they're both vastly different from any Mario character; they're both way more defined than any of the aforementioned Mario characters and tend to stand on equal footing with their respective protagonist as either a rival or as an older brother figure. And their entire designs are meant to contrast the main character in some way. Red to blue, calm and collected to rash and reckless, etc etc.  The closest Mario character you have to that was Wario, but he's diverged a lot into his own series and themes far removed from his is initial debut as the anti-Mario. Mario doesn't really have any rivals or foils the way Sonic & Mega Man do. 

That said, despite these traits, a huge problem the likes of Knuckles and Protoman face is how their characters tend to be utilized most of the time. In that, they tend to make haphazard appearances and their goals can be somewhat ill defined. Knuckles in particular kind of suffers from a lack of direction and clarity with his character in recent years, while Protoman makes very few appearances outside of cameos most of the time. A problem you don't really see ever pop up with any Mario character as far as I can tell. 

 

And that's it. I've compared an contrasted literally every major character between both series; from their conceptions and roles to their personality and goals. Just from comparing all of these characters, it seems to me that Mario characters tend to be flatter and less defined, but it gives them much more broader appeal and the ability for them to be inserted into any scenario without it feeling weird or out of place. Jack-Of-All-Trades basically, which is very much in line with the franchise itself, the ability to adapt and do anything without losing any of it's core identity, whether it's Mario going on a space journey or an odyssey it's pretty easy to keep the core definition of who Mario is because of how broad and general it is.  

Sonic by comparison, has a much more defined cast with very clear roles they play and rounded personalities, and on a conceptual level, that makes sense because Sonic is very much designed to be everything Mario isn't. Mario wants to appeal to everyone and be as inoffensive as possible while Sonic wants to make a name for himself. So his supporting cast are designed with emphasizing and highlighting the spotlight on it's main hero. Tails is the little brother who looks up to him, Amy is the girl who swoons after him but can't have him, Eggman is a dangerous adversary who is a manchild, and Knuckles is a rival who while capable in his own right and  can stand with or against Sonic, he usually ends up coming up short against him. There's a specific niche appeal about Sonic and these characters, and that can be easily missed unless the creators "update" these characters to fit into a modern setting which carries its own difficulties in keeping the series` core identity intact. 

So to sum it up; Mario characters, more broad and less defined but has much more widespread appeal. Sonic characters, specific personalities and defined goals, but will likely only appeal to specific types of people depending on the trends.

 

So what do you think about how these franchises approach their supporting cast; do you think Mario can learn to make a much more defined setting, or do you think Sonic should broaden its appeal a bit more?  Let me know in the replies. This...topic ended up way longer than I intended it to and I'm little embarrassed by it, but it's something that has been bugging me for a while and I wanted to make it, but had no idea how to make it.  So I hope everything is put together fine and feel free to give me any feedback on any information I may have overlooked. 

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Typically my opinion on the matter is that Mario doesn't really need to worry about making its characters more defined in anyway because it's broad appeal is largely what it's going for and has coasted on for 30 years now. When people approach a Mario game, they know what they're getting now and they're okay with that. After playing Super Mario Odyssey, I can say for sure that it's very good at doing what it's trying to do. Now if Mario was trying to be something a little more similar to what Sonic was then that'd be quite the tremendous failure on their part because it certainly hasn't shown. I don't think Mario has any real interest in following that route outside of something like those Mario RPGs I keep hearing about. Although, maybe it doesn't need to because the Mario cast is so popular it seems like they all have their own franchises now.

Sonic, on the other hand, allured me more to it because of it's approach. Both series have (or had, in Sonic's case) their own way of going about treating their world and their characters and I gravitate more towards Sonic's approach because it was the least boring of the options to me at the time I started getting into video games.

The two series should strive to be the best they can be at what they wish to do really. Mario's never really had a problem with that but Sonic, somewhere down the line, got extremely scared of the idea of being its own thing and tried copying, unsuccessfully, elements from Mario in a bid to be more like Mario instead of doubling down on being more like Sonic and just making sure the quality of the games and the story wasn't garbage.

The concept of the problem being the approach to these elements rather than the elements themselves is something I desperately want Sonic Team/SEGA/Whoever's in charge over there to realize. It's even more frustrating knowing that they have the tools to do it what with the internet cartoons and the comics but haven't yet taken full advantage of it. It's a shame.

As for whether or not I believe they have too many characters...? Not really, no. At least not when it comes to potential story-telling.

As far as playable characters in a game, having this many can be a bit of an issue when trying to figure out how best to develop and incorporate them but even then I would argue that there's a very simple approach to doing so that may or may not be popular with the crowd that wishes every character play 100% differently from each other. I'm more open to allowing certain characters be grouped into types (Speed, Power, Flight) and just have them be mostly skins of each other with one or two elements that make them unique from characters in their own type category. Seems like that would be the best way to have a ton in one game without giving the developers a massive headache and landing them in a position similar to what happened with 06 but that's just me. Also, for games that don't need a ton of playable characters all at once, it'd be easier to make them even more unique, naturally.

Also, it would help if they were more open to being proud of the cast they have instead of ashamed of it. I really don't like this approach they have where they're hesitant to show these characters off. Even in something where the point is to play as many of them as you can they skimp out on the opportunity so much which leads to weird shit like the revolving door of Team Rose members and Vector being superglued to everyone except literally he own established team. If there were ever a subject matter where I wanted them to proudly say fuck the haters and just go for flaunting what they got, it'd be with their cast of characters. They only seem to bother when its a mobile game though. Have you seen the cast of Sonic Forces Mobile? Goodness me, it's huge.

The series' wide cast, it's wacky (though confusing) lore, and the way it used to approach story-telling was what made it special to me. Its still around in some form or another but I really would love to see more of it capitalized on. 

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We dang 4th chaos emerald know the different between Sonic and Mario: plumber has very... "streamlined" cast. Waluigi, Daisy or Toadette basically live for Kart. Parties and cameoes. Sonic tries to have cartoony world of colorful animals with plot, lore and engaging characters...even if he fails sometimes.
I wanted to add "especially while making them playable" but 06 aside, I can't think of game that was "ruined" by additional playable characters. Heroes, SA 1-2, those were "annoyance" at worst.

That's what makes series special for me.
That's what makes series not fun for some idiots people with different tastes that I have to respect.

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It's a huge strength, it's just been often poorly executed/leveraged by Sega in the games. The comics, Archie and IDW, have demonstrated how much value is in extracting / extrapolating on the world around Sonic while staying true to the tone/style/specifics of his adventure stories.

The Mario cast is wildly dull. It's bananas how many Mario multiplayer games with big casts there are, that the Mario franchise doesn't really have; it'd be like Buzzbomber and variations of Buzzbomber in Sonic Team Racing. The difference is that Mario Kart 8D and CTR are better games with better, more earned and deserved brand loyalty. Sega still hasn't figured out how to do this with any consistency.

 

"Sonic Team" franchise should operate with 3 consistent teams/objectives, aiming to release 1 or 2 games per year:

3D adventure games (co-op focus)

Cast: Sonic + rotating/various

I think it'd be wise to refocus the 3D adventure games as having optional co-op (couch/online/AI) that can come and go as called. This was a big part of the appeal with the semi co-op of Tails in the Genesis/Mega Drive games that's never really been translated to 3D. And split-screen 2P with SA2: Battle is a style of play that is familiar already. 2nd player controller turns on, choose a character, drop into the level in a split screen (racing) or shared screen (battle). Imagine Sonic Unleashed, but it's optional 2-player co-op. The day stages are Sonic + a partner that can jump in (Shadow or Blaze or Tails in a mini-jet Tornado III so he can boost). The night stages are not all night, but a separate campaign, also optionally 2-player co-op. Werehog or Knuckles or Shadow or Blaze or Tails in SA2-mech. 

This is within Sega's capability. 

2D/3D Mania games

Cast: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles + rotating/various

This is simple. Keep the Mania team together -- reunite them, apologize for not doing this earlier, pay up -- and have them go about making the best Sonic games they want to make, in 2D or otherwise. They can also be in charge of the simpler mobile games, or they oversee them, maybe, idk. Just keep them together and tell them to continue the 'classic Sonic' adventures.

I'd love to just see them make a new full campaign of unique levels and a new story, for one thing. Just more of what they were doing. But you can see there's so much potential for spin-off solo games for Tails and Knuckles with full campaigns of levels specifically designed around their unique abilities, as opposed to being alternate routes through Sonic levels. What does a "Tails game" with alternate Sonic routes look like, how would that work? It'd be interesting to see them explore things like that.

This isn't beyond Sega's capability.

Multiplayer games

Cast: Sonic, everyone

Again, easy one because they've been on the right track a number of times. Just not in a focused way. Beat the Nintendo Mario multiplayer titles by being more inventive and different. The main cast should be the GIGANTIC roster of Sonic characters (ideally from ALL MEDIA -- why not?)  Leverage the Sega version of Smash Bros just with "Sonic Universe" characters alone. There's a deeper bench of Sonic IP than all other Sega IP combined, I'd bet.

Racing/Mario Kart style All Stars Racing Transformed = this was the right direction. The Sega "all stars" and Ralph or whatever can be unlockable but Sonic Team Racing had the right idea to center the Sonic cast, but for some reason, with less interesting gameplay. Be the "Diddy Kong Racing" everybody wants you to be!

Fighting/Smash Bros style Sonic the Fighters as a "kids Virtua Fighter" is a good idea. Sonic Battle was awesome. It can be simple. "Brawlhalla" for Sonic IP that works like a combination of Sonic Battle and Power Stone.

Minigame/Mario Party style This could be so much more fun in the Sonic world if they were playful. Instead of the monopoly-style board game of Mario Party, do Risk with minigames (that's essentially what Sonic Forces was, in a clumsier way). Different players control different teams (Dark, Chaotix, etc) and rotate between racing/hunting/battle style minigames. Sonic Risk. There you have it.

Microgames/Wario-Ware style would be wacky wonderful for minigame collections starring Eggman, and Mean Bean Machine is still a fun name, could bring that back, but just totally reinvent the gameplay beyond Puyo. There's a lot of fun bad guys and robots in the Sonic franchise, it would be fun to do a game that puts them all under stupid tests of different kinds of gameplay. 

Having opportunities and reason should also encourage Sega to continue introducing new characters and not stopping with Silver/Blaze/Cream. Comic/cartoon characters like Tangle / Sally Acorn / Bunnie / Antoine / Chuck / Sticks theoretically already belong to Sega in some capacity. Not to mention Nack/Bean/Bark and so on. This deep, wacky world should continue to expand. As long as Sonic + Eggman are centered, the rest of the cast are all just "Sonic's Friends" with their own quirks/histories, and they're at least accessible in new multiplayer kart/minigames if not in the adventure games. 

Build the "Sonic Universe" up and out. In addition to being interesting tweaks on the Nintendo establishment in the game design (and spoiler is a good role for Sega to play), it's also fitting for the Sonic lore to be compelling as a contrast to the intentional dullness of Mario. Sure these elements can be skipped. But Mario Party has a ton of lore that can't be skipped and is incredibly boring, even to young children.

Sonic's relative scale of epic-ness in storytelling makes "Sonic Risk" so much more engaging and unique than "Sonic Shuffle" or doing some pale imitation of "Sonic Party" -- it zigs instead of zags, being only slightly older in demo but also holding even more broad appeal if done well. And it has been done well, in the comics certainly. This all rests on the idea of being able to translate that good storytelling into the game writing.

Okay this is maybe beyond Sega's capability. Sonic Team Racing wanting to be story focused was horrible. Sonic Olympics, same thing. Just a ton of bad text/voice acting, terrible scripting, repetitive. They shouldn't continue on the path they're on, but having a story is nice if it's a good story and told well. 

I type things like this out for my own satisfaction to think it through, and then start getting annoyed they're not already doing this! Sheesh!

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I'd say that the Sonic series does kinda have to many characters. For a platform game series with relatively little in the way of story, it's difficult to incorporate all of the different characters regularly enough to do them justice. Some are bound to be relegated to making background cameos. Which is a shame because I do think that by and large the Sonic characters are good characters, there is just to many of them for them all to get a chance to shine.

Now, spin-off media of course is another case entirely. When it comes to something like the comics, the large cast is a strenght rather than something problematic.

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4 hours ago, Kuzu said:

...but it's also just as easily to be turned off by how much agency she lacks as a character.

This doesn't really matter when there's no story, and when there IS story...she does tend to have agency.

Both Knuckles & Shadow would fall into the Wario comparison, but I see why you didn't do this.

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Personally I am more then happy with the amount of characters we have currently in Sonic, but I think the reason most people use this fact against the Sonic franchise is because the way those characters. Think back to Sonic Adventure, why was Big there? Or in Sonic 06, why was knuckles there? OR HOW ABOUT THE ENTIRETY OF SONIC FORCES!!!!!! Think about it.

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I believe the problem with the series' characters lie on the specific roles each of them are supposed to fill.

Knuckles is the most affected by this, as he goes on with adventures with Sonic quite regularly, and is considered the muscle of the team, which is certainly incompatible with his task as the guardian of the Master Emerald and Angel Island.

Then you have others such as Shadow (does his own thing separate from the others), Silver (is from the future), Blaze (is from another dimension), and Team Chaotix (are tied to their job as detectives), who, similar to Knuckles, need to have a particular reason related to their roles for them to appear. Rouge and Omega are kind of Shadow's sidekicks, they won't turn up independently either. 

That only leaves us with Tails and Amy so far as the only characters who could act as regulars in Sonic's adventures, as both were designed to follow him around.

If you want to keep some consistency with the established lore, then you can't really ignore all these things. However, as we most know, the Sonic canon is very loose regarding this stuff.

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As mentioned, it's not that the series has too many characters, if anything it's kinda streamlined compared to other franchises. 

The problem was that for a while the series bloated itself with too many MAIN characters and diluted a lot of them of their unique agency besides 'good guy'. Sonic Heroes-Next Gen way too heavily touted having LOADS AND LOADS of playable characters and trying to balance between all of them in terms of importance and role to varying levels of success. Even in the later games where they moderate their limelight, there's generally a lack of respect for their lore, Knuckles, Silver and Blaze in particular now just randomly appear as secondary sidekicks for the sake of making an appearance, being lucky if they even get some solid scraps of characterisation. Sure some interpretations try to give reason, like the Freedom Fighter/La Resistance premise in Forces and the comics excusing everyone dropping their own agendas to team up against Eggman, but all in all, that leaves less of an opening for characters to leave a unique mark in world building. We've only just started to get some recurring non-heroic characters besides Eggman and Metal Sonic, and even they aren't exactly fully fledged.

The Crash series for example has TONS of characters, see the huge list of racers available in Nitro Fueled, however besides similar spin offs, they don't try to shoehorn ALL of those guys in without rhyme or reason. They have ties to how the Crash universe is developed and have a moderated amount of roles. Oxide and Velo are popular character for example but they aren't shoved in as a key character in tons of games that don't even involve their shtick, besides cameo gags, the games generally have to involve racing and space travel. It's easier to savour these guys if they're not interchangeable pawns.

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The topic title and the question being asked by the OP are completely different. We'll start with the title.

Short answer: No.

Long answer: 
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It's a dumb question. It's illogical. What does it mean? That too many Sonic characters currently exist? Well, that can't be. There are over two thousand Mario characters on the Mario wiki as of this writing. Too many characters in a given Sonic game? Sometimes? That's case by case thing, but this is usually a question directed at the entire franchise as if it might be a long term issue. How many playable characters did the last Sonic game have? 

Normally I would not care to make these points again, but let's make sure everyone who scrolls through this topic sees this and save ourselves some time.

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Five playable characters.

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Four playable characters. I guess the number four is unlucky in some cultures. Maybe they would have gotten a higher meta-critic if they pushed for more.

So we've established this doesn't mean anything. Why does it keep getting asked? It's just designed to be provocative. Ooooo. Are those characters you like actually the problem, sonic fans?It's also intentionally designed to blame other Sonic fans who aren't really doing anything but enjoying controversial characters and games for the series woes.  It stopped making sense to ask this because Sonic games have functionally had two or three characters since 2008, but as long as there are still Silver and Charmy fans out there we have to put them on trial, right?


Now onto the actual question being asked:

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So what do you think about how these franchises approach their supporting cast; do you think Mario can learn to make a much more defined setting, or do you think Sonic should broaden its appeal a bit more?

I don't think anyone really considers Mario the gold standard for character writing. Most people I know wish they would do a lot more them. This is a question that wouldn't really be humored in other fanbases, so I don't know why it's happening here. It's repetitive setting and bland characters are one of the few parts of the franchise that are actually derided by fans and critics alike, so it has to be succeeding in spite of this issue, not because of it. 

Doubling down on this for Sonic would really only be taking away one of the few advantages this series has over that one. The fact that Sonic Team dared to risk pissing you off by putting a bunch of different characters in front of you and asking you to emphasize with them beyond their gameplay features paid off in spades in the long run and it would keep paying off if they kept doing. They annoyed people at the time but created long time fans at the same time just by having a character that dared to be quirky enough to click with them. 

The truth about making something for the average consumer is that the average consumer doesn't exist. Every person in this world is different. It's possible to create broadly appealing concepts but you can't truly be loved without getting specific, and you can't get specific without ruffling some feathers. I'd argue that even though Mario is a beloved franchise, it's characters really aren't. It's gameplay is usually why it's successful with it's characters designed to serve that. 

And while Mario's gameplay is popular, I'd argue that part of that is because it's not concerned with being for everybody. It's designed to be easily accessible and understandable but it's not bloated with features or constantly cribbing from as many other popular releases as it can. It based around jumping around and it does that well.

If you want proof that this approach wouldn't work out for Sonic...look at some of the franchise's blandest characters.

 

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Information fairy who's species also serves a mechanical function like the Luma.

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"Master of ceremonies" character ala Ballyhoo from Mario Party 8

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Boss team ala the koopalings. Personalities strong enough for them to have banter with Sonic but nothing that they don't already know is safe from other kids shit. 


 
They've already tried this and it's just lead to characters nobody is particularly fond of. You could probably argue that the likes of Shadow and Blaze are stereotypes in their own way but the fact that you're asked to play from their perspective means the game had to dig deeper into who they were. There was nuance beyond their function. They were given goals and purposes beyond being a tool or an obstacle for Sonic. Can you say the same about any of the Mario cast? Don't you think that might be holding them down a little bit?

And I don't know about you all, but I would be heartbroken if all the quirks and wrinkles that defined all of these characters went away for them to better serve as raw, inoffensive gameplay functions with cute faces attached. It's not why I'm here and I imagine a lot of other people feel the same way considering the vast majority of discussion on this board is centered around characterization. 

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The main issue was that the series eventually became so obsessed with getting in as many of these guys as possible in playable roles that this issue occurred anyway. Tons of shoehorned characters reduced to undeveloped roles with little agency for the sake of token appearance. Take Knuckles and Blaze shoved into Next Gen, their backstories and motives completely ignored for the sake of a handful of playable moments. Even worse the characters that WERE getting developed properly were going the other direction and skewing Sonic and Eggman's role and universe to work more according to them, reducing to the main characters to almost out of place padding.

But of course the developers came to the conclusion that fans didn't want ANY secondary playables. It wasn't that they were handling it wrong or were harmfully overindulgent with it, oh no, never, it was just the concept itself that had run stale. It's like any concept they think sticks with fans. They like chocolate? They'll give them a dozen helpings of chocolate for EVERY meal, and when they complain they're feeling sick they'll come to the conclusion their readings were misleading and they don't like chocolate at all. It's not them dragging any good idea they have into the ground as a crutch without bothering to refine on it, the consumers just won't make up their mind.

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To answer the topic: No, otherwise MHA and many other franchises would be worse.

The issue is has always been the same: They don't use the characters effectively when they have a role, and they overuse or underuse them even when other characters could be given a chance to shine.

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If you take the complaint at its simplest, face-value meaning, then probably not; there's no set limit beyond which you have objectively "too many" characters, and there are plenty of series out there with more characters than Sonic that have been far more successful than he's been in decades. That doesn't mean the complaint is entirely wrong, though; what Sonic has is more characters than it knows how to handle.

Sonic's got a real problem with trying to make almost every new character it introduces into a big deal. Characters rarely exist around the periphery in solid supporting roles; everyone's gotta be either a big hero or a big villain, and it's just not sustainable. We get games with a half dozen playable characters each with their own gameplay and story pulling the game in multiple directions at once, we get games where major characters are largely sidelined in favor of some fresh new thing to push, we've got characters hanging around feeling vestigial and underused because they were never designed to be (or retrofitted into being) anything but protagonists.

This, of course, isn't the only problem with regards to the writing and use of characters in the series. Sonic has a lot of problems. Reducing the number of active characters isn't going to fix all of them. But the series needs to get a better handle on its characters, what roles they're supposed to play, when they should and should not appear, and throwing more characters onto the pile doesn't help.

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So uh, just throwing this out there; the title is intentionally framed a certain way and I answer it in the topic's first line. Guess I can edit the OP just to make that more clear from the getgo in case people miss it. 

4 hours ago, StaticMania said:

This doesn't really matter when there's no story, and when there IS story...she does tend to have agency.

Both Knuckles & Shadow would fall into the Wario comparison, but I see why you didn't do this.

It kind of does since even in the RPG's, baring maybe one or two exceptions, she tends to play a similar role as she does in the main series. And I've seen plenty of hate for Peach because of how "useless" she is. But eh, maybe I'm wrong.

Yea, I was tempted to use Wario for Knuckles or Shadow, but as I said in the OP, Wario has pretty much spun off into being his own character and series completely separate from Mario. Knuckles and Shadow are still very much part of Sonic's supporting cast, so I feel like it wouldn't be a fair comparison. 

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I really don't get where the idea there's too many comes from. I mean total of the main cast there's like 14 or 15 if you count Eggman and even then not all of them always show up.

I want to stress main cast because I would not count The Babylon Rogues as main characters since they mostly only appear in the Riders series and Marine has only been in 1 game and Sticks is from a completely different continuity. 

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1 hour ago, Kuzu said:

It kind of does since even in the RPG's, baring maybe one or two exceptions, she tends to play a similar role as she does in the main series. And I've seen plenty of hate for Peach because of how "useless" she is. But eh, maybe I'm wrong.

Peach is arguably much in the same role as Sally is the Satam/Archie universe in terms of agency (if anything maybe more squarely because there are no other family members to substitute Peach as ruler of her world). It's just that at face value, Sally has more of dignity about it, and interactions tend to make her feel more key in terms of emotional development (something Peach generally only gets in the RPGs since Mario himself is pretty two dimensional) while Peach is pretty much a tongue in cheek parody of the damsel in distress role, so of course she gets linked that primarily. Ironically she's probably MORE helpful and integral than lots of attempts at action girls, which often end up more about image and street cred (and even then often get kidnapped as often when the writers tire of shoehorning badass displays for them). Hell Peach is playable in tons of games, it's just in those games they rarely force her and others like Toad and Luigi down your throat.

I guess it's that while Mario's archetypes are often two dimensional, the franchise seems comfortable with that and a lot of the times ironically can find a better use of them than Sonic's 'try hard' strategy. Wario and Luigi maybe aren't as developed as Knuckles and Shadow for example but noticed they KEPT their side games ongoing and their personalities while more basic, tend to be respected a lot more often. There's still a quality focus here. About the only time I was wondering why the hell are they even here was Wario in the Mario 64 DS port and even then his playability makes some sense in terms of how they laid out the mechanics.

One thing to also remember is that Mario also made characters for practicality purposes in gameplay. Luigi and Toad are playable in New Mario Bros because of multiplayer purposes for example. This was fairly true in the early Sonic titles as well, Tails was made for the same reason. Add to that the focus was not only their characters but also some sort of niche and ability they had that meshed with their gameplay. Knuckles had good first impressions not just by personality and story involvement but also as a cool mechanic of playing the old Sonic titles in a different more explorational way. As the 3D titles kept coming, this became less balanced, sure SA2 and Heroes necessitated 'clone' characters, but then it started adding MORE of them and the reasoning behind became less practical and fun. Heroes had a weird mix of four separate campaigns but with four roughly identical sets of characters, while Next Gen was even more arbitrary, having campaigns but forcing you to play as tons of other character midway through the level anyway. There was becoming more a feeling that all these characters were becoming the end rather than the means and less a fun expansion and more an obligation.

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5 minutes ago, E-122-Psi said:

Peach is arguably much in the same role as Sally is the Satam/Archie universe in terms of agency (if anything maybe more squarely because there are no other family members to substitute Peach as ruler of her world). It's just that at face value, Sally has more of dignity about it, and interactions tend to make her feel more key in terms of emotional development (something Peach generally only gets in the RPGs since Mario himself is pretty two dimensional) while Peach is pretty much a tongue in cheek parody of the damsel in distress role, so of course she gets linked that primarily. Ironically she's probably MORE helpful and integral than lots of attempts at action girls, which often end up more about image and street cred (and even then often get kidnapped as often when the writers tire of shoehorning badass displays for them). Hell Peach is playable in tons of games, it's just in those games they rarely force her and others like Toad and Luigi down your throat.

I guess it's that while Mario's archetypes are often two dimensional, the franchise seems comfortable with that and a lot of the times ironically can find a better use of them than Sonic's 'try hard' strategy. Wario and Luigi maybe aren't as developed as Knuckles and Shadow for example but noticed they KEPT their side games ongoing and their personalities while more basic, tend to be respected a lot more often. There's still a quality focus here. About the only time I was wondering why the hell are they even here was Wario in the Mario 64 DS port and even then his playability makes some sense in terms of how they laid out the mechanics.

I mean, as mentioned, what works for one series doesn't necessarily work for another. You are right that Mario characters tend to have their roles and personality more consistent and respected, but that's less because of quality and more because they have such minimal personality and role to begin with to really mess up. Luigi is a coward and Wario is a greedy brute, and that's about it. Really hard to mess that up because its not as complex. Peach plays her role as damsel well enough, but you can make a good argument there's no real investment or emotional pathos for her because for the most part, she's just there for Mario to save her. 

So like, while it's easy for characters like Sally, Knuckles or Shadow to be written badly (and yes, they have) and have their roles diluted and forgotten as time goes on, there's no real doubt that they have a much more sizable fanbase and people who actually do care and invest in them as characters. I'd think it'd be a real shame for these to have to be written simpler and sacrifice their unique traits just to avoid the risk of writing them badly, because I feel like you're sacrificing potentially good characters in the end. 

It's why the more simpler characters in the series, while not hated, tend to not make waves in the fanbase as much (talking your Big, Cream, Omega, etc etc) and having a whole cast like that feels like the series just wouldn't be as memorable. 

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15 minutes ago, Kuzu said:

I mean, as mentioned, what works for one series doesn't necessarily work for another. You are right that Mario characters tend to have their roles and personality more consistent and respected, but that's less because of quality and more because they have such minimal personality and role to begin with to really mess up. Luigi is a coward and Wario is a greedy brute, and that's about it. Really hard to mess that up because its not as complex. Peach plays her role as damsel well enough, but you can make a good argument there's no real investment or emotional pathos for her because for the most part, she's just there for Mario to save her. 

So like, while it's easy for characters like Sally, Knuckles or Shadow to be written badly (and yes, they have) and have their roles diluted and forgotten as time goes on, there's no real doubt that they have a much more sizable fanbase and people who actually do care and invest in them as characters. I'd think it'd be a real shame for these to have to be written simpler and sacrifice their unique traits just to avoid the risk of writing them badly, because I feel like you're sacrificing potentially good characters in the end. 

It's why the more simpler characters in the series, while not hated, tend to not make waves in the fanbase as much (talking your Big, Cream, Omega, etc etc) and having a whole cast like that feels like the series just wouldn't be as memorable. 

Actually Big is a weird one because ultimately his simplicity is what fails to make him unremarkable to the fanbase. He's basically the dopey everyman that gets forced into the story....and they made that the whole point narrative wise. He's the intentional rando of the franchise. In hindsight that is kind of a blessing, since it means the simplicity of him makes him harder to screw up, if anything writing a proper background for him to unite him with everyone else goes against his character (some people don't think he fits as an official Freedom Fighter/Resistance member for example). He's the guy that's SUPPOSED to get dragged in often for a gag-ish reason. The larger problem with Big was more execution, since the unique gameplay mechanic he introduced was not that popular, and while a gameplay role that is the 'breather' and more of a chill out session is a cool idea, many don't think Big accomplished that with his fishing. Ultimately Big left his mark with the fanbase, for better or worse.

I think simplistic writing is a double edged sword, since it really depends on whether the writers can execute it well. Many for example say that Winnie the Pooh is the one franchise Disney doesn't screw up in sequel instalments, and I think that's owed not just to the simplistic writing and premise making the characters easier to understand, but the fact that, most of the time, the writers seem to genuinely care about them and are good at making them three dimensional in spite of their easy to understand characterisations (they somehow made FEATURE LENGTH MOVIES deconstructing Tigger and Piglet for example). Writing quality meanwhile is one of the biggest divisive elements of both Sonic and Mario.

One big roadblock with the Sonic series I believe is that most of the cast have specific agendas that are often made to compliment and drive their personalities and agency, and often the only way you can fit them all in is either with REALLY overelaborate writing (which obvious can't be done all the time even if it is done well) or just by diluting them all into generic hero roles, something that is often complained about with Knuckles, Shadow and even Sally in the past.

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6 minutes ago, E-122-Psi said:

Actually Big is a weird one because ultimately his simplicity is what fails to make him unremarkable to the fanbase. He's basically the dopey everyman that gets forced into the story....and they made that the whole point narrative wise. He's the intentional rando of the franchise. In hindsight that is kind of a blessing, since it means the simplicity of him makes him harder to screw up, if anything writing a proper agenda for him to unite him with everyone else goes against his character (some people don't think he fits as an official Freedom Fighter/Resistance member for example). He's the guy that's SUPPOSED to get dragged in often for a gag-ish reason. The larger problem with Big was more execution, since the unique gameplay mechanic he introduced was not that popular, and while a gameplay role that is the 'breather' and more of a chill out session is a cool idea, many don't think Big accomplished that with his fishing.

I think simplistic writing is a double edged sword, since it really depends on whether the writers can execute it well. Many for example say that Winnie the Pooh is the one franchise Disney doesn't screw up in sequel instalments, and I think that's owed not just to the simplistic writing and premise making them easier to understand, but the fact that, most of the time, the writers seem to genuinely care about them and are good at making them three dimensional in spite of their easy to understand characterisations. Writing quality meanwhile is one of the biggest divisive elements of both Sonic and Mario.

One big roadblock with the Sonic series I believe is that most of the cast have specific agendas that are often made to compliment and drive their personalities and agency, and often the only way you can fit them all in is either with REALLY overelaborate writing (which obvious can't be done all the time even if it is done well) or just by diluting them all into generic hero roles, something that is often complained about with Knuckles, Shadow and even Sally in the past.

I feel like a big reason that Mario characters tend to be overlooked despite their simplistic writing is that the gameplay is also similarly inoffensive and broad enough to appeal to people. Mario is intrinsically designed to be a family orientated game that anyone can pick up and play, but complex enough where veterans can probably exploit the mechanics. So you have characters with a simple charm that tend to be involved in simple and easy to pick up to play games. It's comforting for someone to just go into a Mario game and just screw around. 

Sonic however tends to ask a lot from the player from the outset, because he's a faster and more active character and forces the player to react to certain obstacles and understand the terrain to build as much as speed as possible. And with the other characters, they tend to have gameplay mechanics that's centered on their characters and personalities rather than the other way around as with Mario. The only time this really wasn't the case was with the 2D games, and even then Tails and Knuckles had specific areas designed for their abilities to be used, and that became the basis for how the series handled characters in 3D. Every new and major character came with a new gameplay style accompanying it that forced the player to learn it, and understand the character. So you gotta learn Sonic, and whoever else just happens to be the new sidekick of the week. 

 

But unlike Mario, where characters are mostly relegated to spin offs, Sonic characters tend to linger in the main series long after their initial debuts. So the Sonic series has a much larger hurdle to jump; Mario can just keep him as the sole focus and leave the other characters relegated to minor roles, but Sonic can't really do that because it has a much more defined world and setting that kind of requires more characters to be involved. 

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The funny thing is that initially, it was kind of the opposite, Sonic's early games were kind of lax on story and characterisation arcs, it's just the sprites and animations oozed personality expressively. These guys could speak for themselves.

Many people in fact compare Sonic's difficulty as initially being WAY more forgiving and approachable than Mario. You could go at your own pace so long as you kept one ring with you. Sonic levels were as one critic called them like 'skate parks' to play around on. Having other characters with unique abilities in that regard fit since it was basically a customisation option. Tails and Knuckles were extra options that added their own character and flare, and while they did sometimes change things up with a new ability or different route according to their strengths, they were still playing the same basic 'skate park', just taking their own approach. You were discovering all the nooks and cranny of this game by changing between them, but still were allowed to have a favourite method.

Sonic Adventure 1 still sort of went for this 'customisable skate park' route to some level, even if the variation was far more drastic, Sonic Adventure 2 onwards however MANDATED you switch between these custom options now and they now had to play VERY different routes and styles to befit them. Story arcs were now also thrown on you more forcibly than before. There was a greater feeling that you HAD to like these characters or else the whole appeal of the game goes down the tubes. You could no longer take them in your own pace.

Later games downplayed the characters, but also by getting rid of the practicality they offered in the first place. They weren't just no longer FORCED on you, you couldn't play as anyone but Sonic even if you wanted to, and even when one does come back they're usually in the same forced switch, a mandated gimmick level. Mania is closest to getting back the customised skate park.

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Well keeping with the Mario and Sonic comparisons, Mario never had that problem because the series always kept the focus on him and him only. To the point that after Mario 64, Luigi was all but exercised from the main series after Super Mario World, Luigi's Mansion aside, and would only start having a prominent role alongside his brother in games like the Mario & Luigi series and wouldn't make his playable 3D game debut until Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, a whole twenty two years after the franchise debut. And even then, he's only playable after you beat the game with Mario. And to say nothing of the amount of people who are sick and tired of how Peach is almost never playable. 

Usually, when Mario gets a new gimmick, it's to compliment his moveset and keep things as streamlined as possible. The series also wasn't afraid of downplaying or straight up removing traditional power ups when it transitioned to 3D too such as the Fire Flower or the power up Mushroom.

 

That's why it feels weird as hell to have all of these characters relegated to the side; because even if the approach changed over time, the fact of the matter is that the developers wanted you to get to know these characters by playing as them and learning their story. Knuckles got that treatment, as did Big, Shadow, Rouge, Cream, etc etc. Sonic WANTS you to care about these characters and give a damn about their conflict so you feel more invested in playing their stories. 

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I guess it's the problem that the developers forgot how to do such intrinsically in a way that felt like an extra versatility and enhancement to the game instead of an enforced chore for the player. That makes all the difference between a popular new character that feels like they add to the universe they are in and a Poochie that is getting forced in the audience faces in place of what makes the franchise work.

When the developers failed to realise this was the issue, they just assumed it was the fault of the characters and not their own handling of them so downplayed them altogether instead of trying to improve how they used them again.

Again a large factor in why the old Sonic format worked was because the player had a lot of choice in how they played, but these days developers don't want to give the player a choice, they want to force them to see how cool their new gimmicks are, and when it's not new characters outright, it's stuff like Wisps and different takes on Sonic himself.

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Well when you think about it, the way Sonic 3 approaches using characters isn't all that different from how the Adventure games does it. All three games feature levels that take advantage of the character's abilities, and having their own campaign to learn and understand their character. I suppose the absence of choice makes a big difference here, but execution is also paramount. 

For instance, you can say what you want about Shadow, Silver, or Blaze and how they were implemented, but there's absolutely no doubt that they made a much larger wave in the fandom than any of the characters that @Wraith posted earlier, and that would have never happened if you had never played their stories at all. 

The developers naturally want you to play with their new gimmick/character, so they probably felt they needed to force them onto the player otherwise they wouldn't really bother with them at all. After all, if you spent a bunch of time and resources on creating something, you'd want people to take notice of it and use it. But ironically enough, if the player doesn't like said new gimmick or character, being forced to play as them is going to lower your opinion and breed some level of resentment. 

 

Once again, Mario never has to worry about this, because it keeps all of it's gimmicks centered on him and new characters are generally added to support that (Fludd, Luma, and Cappy) and their characterizations tend to be pretty minimal as a result as to not take focus off of Mario. They're still forced on to the player as you still need these abilities to progress through the game, but they're presented in a way that's as unobtrusive as possible. 

Now granted, Sonic is kind known for not really being subtle about this; remember, he's supposed to be anti-Mario and he will do things that might ruffle people's feathers a bit. 

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1 hour ago, E-122-Psi said:

Sonic Adventure 1 still sort of went for this 'customisable skate park' route to some level, even if the variation was far more drastic, Sonic Adventure 2 onwards however MANDATED you switch between these custom options now and they now had to play VERY different routes and styles to befit them. Story arcs were now also thrown on you more forcibly than before. There was a greater feeling that you HAD to like these characters or else the whole appeal of the game goes down the tubes. You could no longer take them in your own pace.

I hate this argument that is bandied around about Sonic Adventure 1. No, the non-Sonic characters are not optional in that game, they are required to see the final boss and ending. They must be played in order to beat the game. This argument that they are "optional" and only need to be played if they player wants to play them is just objectively incorrect.

Both games take the exact some approach to mandatory side characters, Adventure 2 just weaves the other characters more organically into a single storyline (hero and dark) so the player has more variety.

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9 minutes ago, Plasme said:

I hate this argument that is bandied around about Sonic Adventure 1. No, the non-Sonic characters are not optional in that game, they are required to see the final boss and ending. They must be played in order to beat the game. This argument that they are "optional" and only need to be played if they player wants to play them is just objectively incorrect.

 

. You're free to ignore the challenge and get a good enough value out of the game just playing the Sonic levels. You won't get to see the final boss, but the same can be said for getting the chaos emeralds and most people would agree that those are optional parts of the game, too.

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